Monday, March 27, 2006

So I’ve been getting bugged for a while to follow up on my offer to blog about the hat. THE hat. That’s right... THAT one. Whatsit all about? Why wear one? Does it symbolize anything? Am I a bad jew for not wearing one?

Firstly, who wears hats? For the most part, the hat belongs to the orthodox. The ultraorthodox to be specific. the yeshiva boys and the fathers of said yeshiva boys. This alone should be enough to convince most that the hat is unnecessary and something that has been forced on the right wing for reasons that they cannot comprehend.

Halachically, the reason one might want to have a hat around is for tefillah. You should have a double covering on your head when praying and so, the hat is convenient in that aspect at least. Of course, a baseball cap or a lined velvet kippa is just as effective, but a borsalino works well too.

The reason though, if you were to ask a yeshiva guy or a yeshiva-specific rabbi, is because it is a dress code. To wear a hat is to state that you are in the service of HaShem, seemingly implying that if you don’t wear a hat, you are not. It helps one stand out as part of the right wing community of orthodox Jewry.

Why is a dress code necessary? To answer that, we go back to the late 50's and early 60's.
Christian America, particularly with its large percentage of protestant faithful, is a dangerous place for Judaism. In times of glaring hatred and anti-Semitism, the two religions would never see eye-to-eye and assimilation was low. Christianity today holds no such outstanding grudges and has even renounced certain theological differences with Judaism such as "replacement theology," wherein Christians replaced the Jews in G-D's plan for the world. In times of such acceptance, liberal Jews can have a hard time differentiating their religion from that of liberal Protestant Christianity with its weltanschauung of good living and hard work. They no longer view themselves as distinct from their neighbors and choose not to identify themselves as different either.

As this assimilation occurred, a counter-assimilation movement took shape in the underground of Jewish activity. As culture was lost in tandem with this loss of Jewish identity, small groups or individuals performed "reculturation" where outrageous exaggeration or even brand new concepts of Judaism were practiced. Small technicalities became central tenets of the religion and mystical or existential ideology became the outward face of that particular sect. What inevitably happened was the confusion of "standard" Judaism with these private practices, those not authenticated by the Rabbis, leading to a further befuddling of what is or isn’t Jewish.
More recently, Kabbalah has been dummied down for celebrities and those who wish to attain spirituality overnight, and has lost all its meaning and purpose in the process. This has not stopped it, however, from becoming a major part of visible Jewish culture which in turn drives another nail into the coffin lid of American Judaic culture.

To deal with this spreading of "false Judaism," the different major branches of Jewish pluralism adopted different methods. Conservatism, the traditional middle-of-the-road sect, has done little to address the change in public opinion of the last 40 years save for making its positions on matters of Jewish law more flexible than Orthodoxy without breaking recognizable continuity with traditional understandings. The Conservative movement has stayed in the middle without picking a side, hoping blindly that people will return to them, despite the obvious trends.
The Reform movement since the early 60's, has taken a much more open-minded approach, attempting to attract those who have strayed, by allowing all who identify with Judaism to fall under the Reform umbrella of Judaism. This opening of the floodgates has done its own damage to Jewish culture by being non-discriminatory in what it envelopes. As privatized forms of Judaism are accepted, the definition of Judaism is forever in fluctuation. By accepting all believers as Jewish, the Reform movement has destroyed the old standards of belief and custom and has watered down the culture of Judaism by accepting all.

If the Reform movement has been accused of being too accepting, then the exact opposite can be said of the right-wing ultraOrthodox. In every instance where the Reform have chosen to be open-minded the RWUOrthodox have drawn their borders tighter, becoming more and more severe in their control over their schools, summer camps and other organizations. Where once there was moderate leniency, there is now absolutism in what is and is not acceptable according to Jewish law. In direct contrast to the consequences of the Reform’s actions, the raising of the RWUOrthodoxy’s ramparts around their culture has done its own harm, keeping out those who once would have belonged. The severity of RWUOrthodoxy, as a result of its insecurity in these modern times, has alienated many former believers and has even created hurt feelings and class "wars" in Jewish communities.

In the years since the beginning of this war RWUorthodoxy has transformed. Where once there was a legitimate branch of Judaism, the staunch rightness of the group has turned it into a paranoid bunch of old men with beards, frightened of the future, and so, returning to the past. Once there was open-mindedness about issues of gender, the workplace and individual minhagim. Now we face daily publications of chumras that have no basis in halacha. Instead of facing the modern world head-on, with faith in Gd as our backbone, we have decided to turn tail and flee, using strict adherence to halacha and the torah as an excuse. We have decided to lock ourselves in the bait medrash and abstractly study non-applicable gemaras while we remain ignorant of basic Nach and halacha. If we do not ask questions, we don’t need to come up with answers. Its unimportant if we only keep the Torah, but ignore the Avoda and Gemilas ChaSodim aspects of our religion. After all, heaven is just one big Beit Midrash so you’d better enjoy learning. Ahavas HaShem? Whats that? I have some Yiras HaShem though if thats what you meant.

The black fedora is an embodiment of this concept. No one is quite sure why they wear it or if it has any halachic basis. Why a fedora came to represent RWUorthodoxy is anyones guess. They do know, however,as they were taught, that if you do NOT wear it, you are not a good jew and will probably go to hell. It transcends being a part of the dress code. It is actually fully symbolic of everything RWUO has been doing for the last fifty or so years.

So why do I wear one? Makes my dad happy :)

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Ok, firstly wanted to apologize for not posting for a while.

Stuffs been going on, keeping me busy. Theres been the wholepurim thing, then I had a med skool interview today, then theres the assload of midterms coming up next week, all combined with the endless dating. It can keep you away from a computer for quite a bit.

Purim was great as was the interview though. So those are behind me. Still got Ezzie's tag to get to. Will do that real soon. Thanks Ez.

Just keeping you posted. Ill be back.

Also, PS, changed the blog title. Lemme know if I should seitch back. This has more of the feel of my more recent writings, I thought

Sunday, March 05, 2006

As a funny aside, while having broached the topic of those Danish cartoons yet again, I stumbled upon a short-lived blog that pokes just a wee bit of fun at the subject. Check out Mohammed and Me. The kid got a lot of nasty comments.

Some signs of the coming apocolypse and the doom of all mankind:

War in Iraq?

Flooding of New orleans?

Iran/South Korea getting nucular capability?

"The" tsunami?

Pamella Anderson's breast reduction surgery?

Turkis earthquakes?

The crumblong of New Hampshire's Man in the Mountain?

Greatest snowfall in NYC history?

International condemnation of some cartoons?

Boston RedSox victory OVER THE YANKEES in the world series?

Ever-growing population and GNP of communist China?

Selling our ports to Dubai, UAE?

Unexplainable popularity of Robert Patterson novels?

Unmitigated rising of oil prices?

Global Warming?


Do you know what I saw that finally convinced me that the world is coming to an abrupt and violent end?

Tonight, at the academy awards, three statues were awarded to the composers of the original track : Its Hard Out Here for a Pimp.

Ladies and gentlemen of the blogosphere... 3-6 Mafia has an academy award!

Moments after the anouncement was made, I walked back outside to make sure the sky wasn't falling. The moon, still in the shadow of the earth, was hanging in the firmament, together with what few stars one can see from Brooklyn. But will humanity remain in the morning?

Friday, March 03, 2006

So, The Pragmatician was talking about the olympics and how he dosent get what the fuss is all about. He also was talking about elementary and high school discussions on sports and how he had nothing to do with it. Well, I sympathise with that, being a massive couch potato myself from a very early age. I had very little nothing to do with sports during my early school years, although Ive come to appreciate football a bit in my later years. I did wanna say a bit about the olympics though.

Sports is what we watch most of the time. Its the local basketball games and the football and hockey games that have no particular meaning, that are repetitive and that are played much too frequently for anyone to care. Those are commercial endeavors and they are used to bring money to team holders and stars. They create a celebrity lifestyle for the players and so it is not too different then reality TV, its just geared more torwrads men.

Sport on the otherhand is eternal. Its is the struggle of man vs. man and nation vs. nation under rule regulation. It is a celebration of strength, intelligence and grace. It can exist as a sort of pride for nations as they can be represented by their "barbarians." Sport has existed as long as man and competition has and is a healthy expression of personal or national tension. This particular exhibit of sport, the olympics is the ultimate display of sport. It accepts all recognized nations and allows them to compete for dominance on a global scale. When else can Micronesia or Turkministan truly be represented as a powerhouse? Not in the UN.

The olympics are not an American event. They are a global spectacle and a beacon of pride for many countries that do not necesarily have the power... or the weekly/daily sports, of the world superpowers. That is why they have lasted so long and that is what the draw is till today.

F#$K! S%$T! P&##$R!

It did it to me again! I wrote a whole freakin post... I tried to save to the editing board so I could finnish it after shabbat/shabbos, and whaddya know? I get an error message, and the inability to load my previous page!


Shabbat Shalom*

*Translation: A Gutten Shabbos

Judaism is a religion of food. Undisputed. They say that you could sum up the entire faith in nine simple words: "They tried to kill us, we won, lets eat!" This of course only applies to holidays, but food is an integral part of the culture and faith in other ways.

When gauging one's progression through Jewish milestones in life, there is always an abundance of food at said milestones. The baby is born? Family get together for dinner. Bris/Kiddush? Breakfast for the community/Shabbos mini-meal in shul or hall. Upsherin? Repeat. Bar/Bat mitzvah? Lavish feast in catering hall for a few friends of the kid and all acquaintances of the parents. Wedding? See bar mitzvah, multiply by three. The loop then continues as the married couple proceeds to procreate their own little feast-bringers into this world.

No meal is quite as lavish as the wedding though, and therein is the segway to my real post:

I read Sara's post today, the one about her friend getting married, and I realized just how out of hand we jews* may have gotten. The reason the weddings have become so lavish is two-fold. On the one-hand is the actuall wedding aspect. As a celebration of the binding of two souls in unity under holy matrimony etc... culture has expected a nice celebration with all the fixins'. In the Jewish sense though, there is a further celebration: The reaching of the pinnacle of one's life.

It has gotten to the point where if a female is 20 or a male is 22 and they are not yet married, the community becomes concerned.** The importance of marriage has become the utmost driving force for many jewish people in their late teens and early to mid twenties. Many people base their career choices, their five year plans and their summer jobs around the expectation of meeting someone and getting married wthin the next six months. Marriage (or is it just getting married?) has become the central focus of existence for many jews and its been causing problems. Now... Im not gonna get into trhe shidduch issue. Evereyone has their wag-of-the-finger or tip-of-the-hat torward that system and its not the point. Im not gonna get into the issue of underage weddings where the guy, or the gal, or both are in no way nearly financially able, or mature enough to care for, provide for or create another human being. I just wanna vent about societal pressures.

Its gotten so rediculous, that people will accept date prospects from complete strangers with zero information about a girl/guy. Its gotten so ludicrous, that when a guy wants to pursue an interest as a career that may not pay as much as... oh, I dunno... being a lawyer might, that he is looked at as strange. Its gotten so flabbergasting, that girls come home from seminary, never having had an actual job, responsibility or experience of life, already in love... just not knowing to who. Yet.

Now, Im not saying people shouldnt get married. I think it is a wonderful thing to find someone that you believe you can spend the rest of eternty with. I think its wonderful to be with someone that you completely trust with every facet of your life and who you want to raise children with. I think its a beautiful thing to perform the mitzvah of P'ru U'revu and I reccomend starting even before marriage. I do not, however, think its wonderful to demand that someone find this person as goal in life. Love should be discovered, not thrust upon us. It should not be demanded that we find true love before 25, or 30, or maybe even ever if thats how the cards land. Its, as I said, rediculous.

I call for an uprising! Feel some self-respect in yourself and your accomplishments without feeling that they are tainted because you are not married. Dont feel the NEED to start dating at 17 and having your formative twenties forcefully stripped from you as you become 19 going on 35 with two children and one on the way. Allow yourself to remain uncommited after three dates even if the rules tell you to start thinking matrimonally at that point.

But mostly remember: You are not defined by your relationship status or your significant other. They are merely additions to the wonderfulness that is you. We can exist just fine without them for as long as we need to.

*For the remainder of this post, "jews" refers to right-wing, religious, orthodox yiddin of ashkenaazic descent. This is the only sect I can confidently report as an insider on.

**By concerned, I of course mean talkative but unhelpful.

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