Bein Adam Lchavero

Bein Adam Lchavairo is a blog dealing with interpersonal relations within the Jewish community and the interactions of the Jewish and Gentile worlds. We're new. Be gentle.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Was Douglas Adams Right?

In his book series The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy , the late author included a device called the Somebody Else's Problem field (or SEP). The Someone Else's Problem field is a field generated by the user, which causes the mind of the observer to ignore it/him/her and generally think it's "someone else's problem" ergo it is not the observers problem, ergo it does not. In a sense, exist for the observer (who we should probably call the "would-be-observer", now that I think about it).

The sad part is this isn't much of a stretch from how the world works these days. Genocide in Daffur? Oh it doesn't affect me, so I'll ignore it. The fact that slavery still exists in this world? The politicians can handle that. That beggar over there? There are shelters to take care of that sort.

This is very much not a Jewish mindset, at least not according to how I was raised. When I was in 8th grade I had an amazing Rebbe. It was he who pointed out to me that when something bad happens we should not be thinking "Why did HaShem> let this happen?" Rather, we should be thinking "What can I do, somehow, to help prevent this from happening again?" It is for this reason that I feel it is the obligation of every frum Jew to be aware of politics and vote (although I respect that not everyone feels this way). It is for this reason that I think it is important we be aware of what is happening around us. Not just in the outside world either, but in our own backyards.

How many Jewish parents know the names of their children's friends? How many of them know the parents of those friends? How many of them let their children go under the Shmeirah of people who are practically strangers without a second thought? How many of us don't know what books they are reading and or what movies they are seeing or what video games they are playing?

What brought all this up?

A friend of mine's sister was admitted to the hospital last night. You see, she has an eating disorder. One of her friends convinced her that regurgitation was the key to remaining thin and beautiful.

This is a teenage girl. A frum teenage girl, in a loving home. Her parents are kind and wise and have raised her and all her siblings to be good people. Yet this happened. I'm sure they didn't think it could happen. I don't know if they were even aware of the evils of bulimia and anorexia and the rest of that ilk.

This got me wondering: Who is making sure that frum Jews are aware of such things? Rabbanim take the time to speak out against the evils of living in a mudna society and while there may be dangers, this isn't something that came from "outside". It came from inside our own communities.

And don't say "well it's a corruption that first came from outside." Talk to a Shadchan. Ask her if she's ever had to tell a potential Shidduch that the other person was not interested because of size. Ask her if she's ever refused to help someone because of size (I know of at least two cases). Yet we wonder how something like this can happen?

My wife and I know a lovely girl. When we came for Shabbos we would have to sit and hear the father making constant cracks about this girl's appearance. "Why are you so fat?". This girl was maybe 120 pounds if she even weighed that much. This, obviously, did wonders for her self-esteem. She is now, Baruch HaShem, married with a husband who loves her.

Not everyone ends up that lucky. We know an adult who is obsessed with her weight. She looks forward to catching stomach viruses because then she can throw up and not feel guilty about it. When other people get sick she is jealous. She treats anyone who's large like less than human.The fact that this woman is raising daughters scares me. For that mindset to be imprinted on anyone else...

"That's horrible but," says the average person "how is it my problem?"

How is it not?

When mindsets like this are allowed to exist in frum homes, when we essentially stand by and watch our fellow Jews commit suicide, we may as well be killing them.

Stand up, Klal Yisroel. Talk about this. Talk about the drug use in Yeshivot. Talk about the problems of alcohol abuse. Talk about what happens when people with no knowledge of sex suddenly decide to be sexually active. Talk about respecting yourself. Talk about whatever.

But for the love of HaKadosh BarachHu, talk.

Before it's too late.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Internet: Threat or Menace?

As the J-blogsphere is awash with the fallout from the Monsey Internet "conference", I thought I would chime in. I've been running this over in my head all morning and it keeps on boiling down to this:

They're right. They're also wrong.

No I'm not letting my Liberal Democrat upbringing show through. Let me explain by way of a story.

Reuven is hammering a nail into a wall so he can hang a picture. His friend Shimon comes up to him.

"Hey Reuven. What'cha doing?"

"Hammering this nail."

"Wow. Oh hey, be careful!"


"That hammer is dangerous. If you hit someone with it, you could really hurt him."

"Well, I don't plan on hitting anyone with it, so we're okay. I'm just using it to hang this picture."

"But you could!"

"But I won't."

"But you could if you wanted to!"

"But I don't want to!"

This goes on and on until a frustrated Reuven dashes Shimon's skull open with the hammer just to shut him up.

Too subtle a point?

The internet is a tool. It can be used for good or for bad. You can use it to glorify HaKadosh BaruchHu or use it to make the world's largest Chilul Hashem.

HaShem gifted us with Free Will. He also gifted us with the ability to make tools and shape our environment. The car, the telephone, the television� all inventions that have fundamentally altered the world. Also all inventions that can be used for assur purposes. They can also be used for Mitzvot.

The key is the people using those tools. What sort of children are we raising? Are we raising children who cannot be exposed to the potential for evil? Are we raising children who know the difference between right and wrong on their own? Further, what kind of parents do we want to be? Do we want to actually parent, or do we want the community/government/television to do it for us? Do we want our child to know what is right and proper and understand it, or do we want them to be blindly obedient robots?

In Bereishit, when HaShem commands Adam and Chava not to eat of the fruit, it is they who add a Chumrah and say to the Nachash "we were warned not to even touch it." When the Nachash caused Chava to touch the Tree and nothing bad happened, that opened the door for them to ignore the actual command.

Every parent and teacher needs to learn from that lesson. Being Machmar can be a good and wonderful thing. For adults. However, if we tell our children "If you look out of Tatie's Talit during duchining you will go blind" and it doesn't happen, the child will begin to wonder what else the father has exaggerated.

I have more to say on the topic of the internet and will, Im Yertza HaShem, say more soon.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Loshon Hara or News?

A recent news report has several Jewish blogs talking. To give the gist of it, a major airline and a major Rav have allegedly made an agreement wherein there will be no Stewardesses on the same flight as this Rav to avoid Tzniut (modesty) problems. The article then goes into how the Rav went so far as to buy out all of first class so there will be no women present at all.

Now, one blogger very rightly points out that there is no issur against looking at women. S/he is 100% correct. However, there is an issur on being Mkabal Loshon Harah.

As the airline in question refuses to comment on the matter, all we can do is speculate. Speculation is often tainted by our own biases. For example, one could assume that the Rav in question is a spendthrift, wasting money (which would make the story ironic, as it's for a fundraising trip). One could also wonder if maybe the Rav requested that the Stewardesses' uniforms be more Tzniut (because let's face it, no matter what the airline, those uniforms are far, far from it Tzniut) and the airline decided that this would be an easier solution.

One thing I want to speculate on is where the newspaper is getting its sources. I doubt the Rav in question issues a press release. I also doubt that the airline would, given the fact they refuse to comment. Instead, one would assume that someone decided to "leak" this. Why? How does this help us as a people? Do we need to know this at all? I know it doesn't affect me. Two people made a business deal. Big deal. By "leaking" it (if, indeed, that is what happened), the source only gives ammunition to those who wish to bash those frummer than them, which of course results in those that view themselves as the target of the bashing going on the defensive. Harsh words will be said, flamewars will be had and feelings will be hurt. I don't see where there's any good in reporting this.

I'm reminded of the portion of the Torah wherin Miriam contracts Tzarras as a result of speaking Loshon harah about Moshe Rabainu. One thing that was always impressed on me is that Miriam had the purest motives: she was worried about her younger brother's marriage. However, regardless of motive, it was still Loshon harah and still assur.

It's hard to avoid Loshon harah on the internet or even in our local paper. I believe it is a necessity to know what is going on in the world around us. I am not a fan of internet bans or willful ignorance. However, on occasion one has to wonder if we're interested in something because we need to know it or because we want to hear something juicy.

It's the difference between getting Time Magazine every week and getting People.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Think You're Jewish? Think Again.

This week's Jewish Week has a troubling article:

The gist of the article is right in the first paragraph:

"In what appears to be a direct challenge to the legitimacy of the largest branch of Orthodox Jewry in America, the Chief Rabbinate in Israel is refusing to accept conversions performed by several leading Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) rabbis here."

O� boy.

I found out about this story from my wife, for whom this story hits very close to home. You see, my wife is a convert, and the Beit Din that converted her was, I believe, an RCA Beit Din. Now what happens if we decide to go on Aliyah?

The example given in the story of a young woman who studied at Lincoln Square Synagogue for three years prior to her conversion, performed by three Rabbis I know and respect greatly, is heartbreaking. Here is a woman who has made a conscious decision to be Jewish. Forget the three years of her life spent studying; How about the rest of her life? Here's someone who made a conscious decision to be Jewish. She wasn't born to it. She didn't have to chose a lifestyle that essentially limits what jobs you can hold, where you can eat, what places you can live or what clothing you can wear. She didn't have to separate herself from the lifestyle that surrounds her. She had a choice and she chose to be Jewish�. and we honor that choice by telling her she's not Jewish.

Another troubling quote from the article:

"Some rabbis feel that the chief rabbinate has become more haredi in recent years and is seeking to raise the bar in terms of halachic standards."

Hnh? I know that as a religion we dissuade converts, and I think that's a positive thing in some ways. However, by setting the bar too high we risk loosing those we already have. If we start by holding all converts to this matter, how long before we begin holding all Jews to that standard? I don't like that idea. Let each person be as frum or not frum as they can be and leave that between them and HaKadosh Baruch Hu.

On the other hand, there's one thing I do sort of agree with in the article:

"He intimated that the Chief Rabbinate will no longer accept conversions performed by community, synagogue or other rabbis who do not specialize in conversion"

While I�m not 100% in agreement, I do think that Rabbonim who are not "up" on the topic should refer potential converts to specialists on the topic. I think that's just a good idea, especially in light of the Rabbinate's position.

I think it is very important that anyone who knows a convert that is planning on going on Aliyah or who is planning on marrying or having any sort of Simcha in Israel make them aware of this change at once.

All-in-all, this saddens me. More barrier building between Jews in general, a slap in the face to many converts and many more Rabbonim, and on a personal level, a reason to make some phone calls.

Comments are welcome.