Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Unpious - אהן פיאות

The good old days. Hasidic Rebel churning out tantalizing pieces of art. Baal Devarim's masterful creations. Nostalgia sets in every time I turn to the right side of this blog to look for links to new posts. The blogging of yore when posts generated comments in the 100's. Back when posts were talked about in Shul, in Mikveh, and even at family Shabbos tables.


Nostalgia no more. The giants got together and created a new community so much missing. An online community where the ideas flow, topical issues discussed, and our flag raised proudly. Creatively named Unpious - אהן פיאות this new website, created by us, about us, for us is now up and running at http://www.unpious.com/.

Many names of fame - names we have missed for too long - have gotten together to create this project. Not everyone can be revealed yet, but I can promise you surprise posts by people long deemed dead. A resurrection and revolution all at once.

Contributions are also encouraged. Email them to unpious.submissions@gmail.com

And now a round of applause to HR who really gave this project a lot of effort and detailed attention. Perhaps even sleepless nights. Please reward this fine young man I proudly call my friend by checking out his blog and clicking on the advertisements. Reading his posts are optional but highly recommended. If you're new to HR's blog (shame on you) check out the best post ever written (in my opinion at least), “No Return". Of course, while you're reading that post click on some of the ads to the side and bottom of the post. Thanks.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Noah Noah

It has become a yearly tradition to look around during leining (if I make it on time, that is) and see who else follows the what is being read. Most of the time it turns out that no one is listening. No one stops the Ba'al Korah trying to understand why he keeps on repeating himself, and reads the story twice. I never see anyone turn the pages back and forth trying to understand the Torah. Well, not that I got it myself back in the day when I was still doing the שמו. Maximum, when a problem arose, I took a quick glimpse at Rashi and everything fell into place.

Let's take a look at the story:

And the LORD said: 'I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and creeping thing, and fowl of the air; for it repenteth Me that I have made them.' But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.

The 'Lord' (יְהוָה) takes a liking to Noah, but then 'GOD' (אֱלֹהִים) saw the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth. So God tells Noah Make thee an ark of gopher wood, do this and do that, and bring of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee; they shall be male and female. Of the fowl after their kind, and of the cattle after their kind, of every creeping thing of the ground after its kind, two of every sort shall come unto thee, to keep them alive.

Noah is not the lazy type, Thus did Noah; according to all that God commanded him, so did he.

Moving on - the LORD said unto Noah: 'Come thou and all thy house into the ark; for thee have I seen righteous before Me in this generation. Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee seven and seven, each with his mate; and of the beasts that are not clean two, each with his mate.

Ooops. Good thing he didn't do everything according to all that God commanded him, for now the Lord got involved too and he wants seven and seven of each. He's a good fellow Noah, so now he does according unto all that the LORD commanded him. It is hard blame him, poor Noah, I wouldn't argue with the deities myself. God commands I do, the Lord says and I listen. It's not smart to pick fights with the Almightys.

All Noah had to do now is wait and see which of the Gods is going to bring the flood. And so, in his 600th year the flood of waters was upon the earth. And Noah went in, and his sons, and his wife, and his sons' wives with him, into the ark, because of the waters of the flood...here went in two and two unto Noah into the ark, male and female, as God commanded Noah. So God won. Nice. And it came to pass after the seven days, that the waters of the flood were upon the earth.

But wait, not so fast Noah. Suprise! In the six hundredth year of Noah's life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened. Again? Afraid so Noah, you've gotta cram up that boat again. Indeed, In the selfsame day entered Noah, and Shem, and Ham, and Japheth, the sons of Noah, and Noah's wife, and the three wives of his sons with them, into the ark. This time the obedient man takes only two and two of all flesh. God is in the details.

Pity the man yet? Wait until he wants to get out. He sends the raven out and...well, no one knows what happened next. He had to send the dove the second attempt.

Noah has two gods, God forbid (יש מרבותינו דורשים אותו לשבח, ויש שדורשים אותו לגנאי). After leaving the ark he builds and alter to the Lord who likes the sweet savor and promises to not again curse the ground any more for man's sake; for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done. As soon as the Lord is done talking Noah makes a convent with God who tells him something about the end of the rainbow.

Not one single person in shul looks astonished. Not one cares.

1 Thank God for Rashi. 2 Give thanks to the Lord for Rashi.

Monday, October 05, 2009


I am a Baal Tesuvah that was recruited by Aish Hatorah. I am interested in leaving Judaism since the Orthodox lifestyle is way too difficult for me. However, there is certain circumstancial evidence used to prove Judaism that scares me into believing that maybe I should be frum. Here are some things that worry me:
1. In Deuteronomy there is a prophecy that Israel would be taken away in captivity (fulfilled during the Babylonian captivity) and that Israel would one day return from being scattered across the nations( did occur) and that people would return to Judaism (Baal Tesuvah movement).
If some prophet foresees events that happens many years after they were proclaimed one may entertain the idea that this prophet got his messages from someone who knows more than a normal human being can know, although one may argue that it was a coincident. But...
What if the relevant verses in Deuteronomy were written after the first set of events happened (after the Kingdom of Israel was dispersed), indeed way after - perhaps during the Babylonian period when all of the Jews (the important ones at least) were already exiled? What if refers to the return of the diaspora from Babylonia? In order to be phased by the prophecy we must be surer that it means what we now see as the events that unfolded, and was indeed foreseen before the events happened.
Also, while our history verges on the miraculous, culminating surely, with the return of many Jews to a homeland dispersed almost two millennia prior. A large contributor to our return to the land must be the constant yearning, daily prayers and seasonal reminders - these have been enforced by the promises Jews believed to have been given by the almighty. Perhaps a self-fulfilling prophecy.
2. The fact that we were persecuted by so many nations, yet survived so long.
That is extraordinary indeed, but it is hard if not impossible to use that as proof of anything other than it being extraordinary. Some may find an easy answer in a deity that prescribed the history of the Jews in the diaspora, but in reality a deity raises more questions than answers - it becomes the unnecessary added explanations not allowed with Occam's razor.
3. Evidence geological and in stories across cultures that there may have really been a flood.
Geological evidence supports localized floods that contributed to the stories many cultures have about floods - there is no evidence to believe that there was a central flood all across the world. From this evidence to the belief in a very confused biblical account - with a deity involved - requires a huge leap of faith.
4. The torah stated correctly that there is only one animal that has split hooves and does not chew its cud.
An interesting twist on the proof of the torah's divinity originated in the Talmud that there are only 4 animals in the world that have only one of the two kosher identifiers but not the other.
Aish apparently had a problem with the talmudic proof for a few reasons, kangaroos being one of them. In addition the hare and hyrax are not ruminators at all, rather, like hamsters they are coprophagous animals. So the proof was tweaked a little.
Truth is, the Torah never stated anything of the sorts. It just lists, erroneously, 4 animals that have one of the two kosher signs but never claims them to be exclusive.
5. Many aspects of Greek philosophy were stolen from Torah.
Suppose it's true, and it's hard to do so without specifics, so what?
That is the circumstancial evidence that scares me. Here are some philosophical arguments that worry me:
1. How could Moses managed to convince so many people to obey the laws of the torah?
It would be a hard task to do, even in those days. But who says that there was a Moses that managed to convince so many people? Could it have gone down differently?
2. Without monotheism we would be sacrificing babies to Moloch.
Said who? Fads change.
(Monotheism was, according the torah, hundreds of years old when Jews still practiced human sacrifices.)
3. Judaism was the first monotheist religion and how could someone invent the concept and ideas of monotheism?
1) I'm not so sure it was the first. 2) reading the torah critically clearly reveals a transition from monolatry to monotheism. 3) Why couldn't someone invent it? Some one had to invent the wheel too - surely a much harder invention as it actually had to involve trial and error. Although, just like most other ideas it evolved over the time from simpler ideas.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

5 Years and Counting

The first post was typed up while chatting to a friend I have been talking to a while already. She helped me with the name of the blog (I wanted something to resemble the 'machanie'im books' “der roov der ba'al agooleh”, “der kamtzen der noodiv” etc.), my nickname (which came right after we discussed what a “shtreimel” is), and after a few pitiful tries also taught me some basic English lessons I must have missed in school. At that point it had only one reader.

The second post, the first one with substance set the tone for what I was going to be, the bad boy of blogsphere. Of course it wasn't on my mind then but writing thoughts down, things I do, makes me think it over twice, as to why and how. Just a year or two before that post I wrote to the now defunct “Yoshev Al Hageder”, a plainspoken Israeli Charedi who, as him name suggests doesn't belong to any camp but sits on the gate ready to fall down either way. The email was short, perhaps a one liner “Are you planning on fasting this Yom Kippur?”. I've read his rants, knew perfectly what he meant, as I've had doubts of my own surfing in my head questioning everything I always believed in, but never found the guts to take it to the next level. I even had a hard time believing that someone else had the guts to do it. His answer, shorter than my question affirmed what I had hoped he would say. “Why should I fast?” or something like that was his answer (before Gmail, there was AOL with their policy of erasing emails after 7 days or so. Oy, what I would give to recover my innocence of those days.).

The third time I wrote on the blog I got some responses, both, comments, and emails. People found me, found what I wrote to be significant enough to respond, and to be honest, quite shockingly, significant enough to re-visit.

Then things got rolling, I got noticed, requested links to my blog by the gedoilim. More people emailed, commented, and debated than I ever imagined. In no time this blog business consumed me, it was on my mind constantly. I can't complain, times were good. I confirmed what I had suspected, I'm not the only one, I'm not even one in a thousand!

That was 5 years ago.

Now when the hate mail is too occasional to excite, the comments on posts as few and far between as are the posts itself, when googling “shtreimel” doesn't bring up this blog on top, when I'm conveniently mentioned in the list of former glory I can reflect on the changes these years have brought in me.

I'm missing the hindsight I may eventually have to be able to summarize the last 5 years fully, yet, there's plenty I can see this moment. I know I have matured with 5 years, especially with my main concerns of then. The questions I naively sought an honest answer I find unanswerable at the very best – sometimes I even think that I have the answer, and it isn't a fun answer for someone living in this community. But more than that is the change in attitude from “something must change, this cannot go on” to “living a double life isn't so hard at all”.

It isn't as hard as I thought it to be. Surprisingly most frum people care so little, or are so occupied with saving their own house of cards that one can be suspiciously heretical but still count as a tzenter – a tenth person required in a quorum of Jewish prayer. There is comfort in the status quo. People may find me hypocritical as if anyone asks me I advise to get up and leave before the comfort sets in, but once the comfort is there it's not as bad and monstrous as I thought it will be. I often wonder why I still hold by this advise, telling myself that not everyone is built for this kind of double life.

Analyzing the last 5 years leaves me with one question: what next?

If I get to write the answer I'd have it similar to the last 5. As long as it works it is fine by me.

Alas, as luck may have it, just when I come to terms with living this life, just when I think that this may be me for the rest of my days, something may happen to turn things on it's head. Someone may be ticked off, someone who couldn't care less until today. It may be a good thing for me, for everyone around me, it may not.

Time will tell. Hope to report back in 5 years. And also at times in between, even though I don't have much to say.

Gmar Chasima Tovah Ya'll.

Friday, July 10, 2009

On Fasting

Today is one of these days, days that I wonder why I bother with the charade at all.

Once upon a time there was a city (most probably a village, or town, by modern standards) in a continent far away, a walled city that had the misfortune of being in the way of the Romans and their legions. Jerusalem succumbed to the foe, and the series of events from the day the outer city walls were breached, the 3 weeks of fighting that ensued to the complete destruction of the temple some 2000 years ago on the 9th day in Av is commemorated the by mourning in these three weeks starting with a minor fast day and ending with a major fast day.

The Lord may work in mysterious ways but His people are way more predictable. Ever since that set of fateful events the commemorations were held faithfully, and true to rabbinic form it became ever more restrictive. A whole set of laws now exist to make sure that the destruction is not forgotten. In a way it worked, the Land of Israel was never forgotten and the astonishing return and establishment of a Jewish country there can only be attributed to the laws that govern the mourning. Only, we still abide by that rules, and aren’t too happy with the State of Israel (to say the least). Go figure.

Napoleon was right, if the story ever happened, and even if it never happened the moral of story sure did occur. As the story goes, Bonaparte once walked the streets of (enter the name of the city here) and saw Jews sitting on the floor and crying. Upon hearing that their temple was destroyed he got visibly agitated – it didn’t fit in with his emancipation theory. The rabbis then assured him that this actually happened 2000 years ago, in Jerusalem, by the Romans. Napoleon was moved “A people that could still mourn over their temple after so many years of exile will eventually find their way back home” he exclaimed.

Napoleonic stories, as are Franz Joseph anecdotes are quite the favorite amongst Chasidim. It always ends with a quick witted response of a clever rabbi or the emperors’ acknowledgment of the superiority of the Jews. The Baa’l Ha’Tanye worked as a spy for the Russians and snuck into the French camp when the emperor found him he put his hand on his chest to see if his heart is pounding. Nothing. Rabbi S Zalman was a master over his heart. I bet the French don’t know to this day that they were defeated due to the heroics of the said rabbi. And then there’s this truism: Napoleon once found Observant Jews mumbling outside the shul ostensibly talking to the moon, upon inquiry the rabbi explained that once upon a time the sun and the moon were the same size and the moon told god that ‘two kings can’t share one crown’ upon which the almighty punished the moon to become a trillionth the size. Highly impressed Napoleon then and there decided that he wants to convert “A people that have no other trouble than praying to God about the size of the moon sure must be a happy people”. No one knows who talked him out of it.

And there I am. It is almost the end of the day, the end of the workday. I’m salivating on the thought of eating the coffee roll while sipping the coffee. So why am I complaining? My poor co-workers are going to fast until the better part of the evening. Until the stars show at night they will be roaming all over the place with dried mouths and splitting headaches.

Maybe I am complaining because they seem to have a purpose in that, while I don’t.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

But I'm not the only one...

.בחלומי, והנה-גפן לפני
I'm at tish. It is quiet - this is what they mean when they say “dead quiet”. You can hear the knife cutting into the big challah that the Rebbe just blessed. It is being cut in many pieces then distributed to the congregants standing on the bleachers all around. Everyone gets to eat a little piece, a leftover, shereim, from the Rebbe. Sitting at the head of the table the Rebbe starts to sing a slow Chasidic song. The words escape meaning but the tune is full of lust and want – nothing earthly - spiritual, inexplicable, at least by me. I sway along with the crowd. It is hot, sweaty, and not very comfortable leaning on the guy in front of me while the guy in the back leans on me. But who cares. My eyes are closed. I love this part.
The Rebbe gets up, claps his hand together with his head cocked sideways and upwards a motion usually retained for the depressed. He may very well be depressed, but no one cares. I certainly don't care. The religious high, the ecstasy, is real.
The dance stops abruptly – the Rebbe sat down. It is time to bentch. With bated breath the whole congregation waits to see who the Rebbe will give the silver goblet to make the required blessing. Will it be the old semi-rival Rebbe that came to show his respect to the younger but more influential counterpart or will he give it to the brother in-law that has finally broken to come pay his dues. Although these games nauseate me, when I think rationally, now I am one of them. Now I care.
.בחלומי, והנה שלשה סלי חרי
His hair is coming down for the first time in his life. We are all excited, the older sisters, the little aunts and uncles, my wife and I. Everyone but the three year old whose hair we are cutting today. He is happy with his new tiny tzitzis we got him, he adores the alef beis puzzle set that the married uncles got him as a gift and he is quite enamored with the attention bestowed upon him. He is ambivalent about the felt kapel that has to remain on his head now, forever.
Avrumi was excited when we first bought the kapel with his name written on the side, he begged to wear it every now and then, but today he threw it off. “Maybe the clip’s bothering him” the grandmother helpfully suggested, referring to the clip that keeps the kapel from sliding down the long combed set of hair.
But as much as the kapel bothered him the shaver petrified him. And that was even before the machine was switched on and the noise started. The neighbor from upstairs who is the designated barber in our building, puts little Avrumi on the table and forms his peyos to be out of his hair. The child hates it, while he doesn’t cry, yet. The tears are already forming, and the frown is heart wrenching. But, it is for his own good. It’s the pain of growing. He is getting closer to adulthood. Now, since he turned three he gets to wear the distinct Jewish symbolic look.
For a moment I think that the first celebrations in the life of a boy is cutting, genitalia first, then the hair. The boy doth protest but the parents celebrate. Such is life. I had to go through this, so did my father, his father, and so on. I can't complain too much, it is, after all, nachas.
.בחלומי, הנני עומד על
Check out was at 11am. The suitcase I entrusted with the receptionist and was left with 13 hours to kill until the flight. There was one place I hadn’t visited this time in Jerusalem, underhandedly I was trying to avoid it all along, not even wanting to think about it.
There’s no point in going there, I rationalized, it’s not that I’m going to pray by the Wall, and there isn’t much else to do there. On the other hand, the previous time I had been there, back when I was in Yeshiva, this place symbolized everything that I believed in. while some in my family seem this place as the antithesis to consecration of God’s name I knew that this place talked to me – this is where I felt God’s presence. I really did. But now, things have changed. As I walked in the huge plaza after passing the relatively newly installed security station I felt naked. I wasn’t used to walking these holy stones without the full regalia on. The lack of a hat and long overcoat made me consciously aware of my change. I walked slowly, taking it in. nothing has changed.
It was still the same wall, the same people, the same prayers books and the same mendicants hunting for the next big meal. I stood a few hundred feet away from the kosel, the great white wall adorned with green shrub lazily imitating the body movement of the people below and decorated with cracks filled with paper in all colors and sizes, and searched for my inner Jewish soul.
Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
“You can’t discard feelings” the rebbe told me last night. “What you call feelings, or instinct, is in other words your ‘soul’!”
That place still kept pulling me to itself. The power of dead myths. It may have died in my brain but I wanted to see it dead. Or Not.
“Your brain”, the rebbe explained, “is constantly looking to compartmentalize any new information it gets to make it fit what it already knows. That is why so many times you process information you get wrongly to make it fit your weltanschauung”.
“Maybe. Maybe your brain is the culprit here.” I didn't say it.
Around me a group of fevering young man dancing in circle, asserting their allegiance to the king of kings. A group of Breslovers paired with young hippies, probably Americans, dancing. I looked on, numb. What I felt, I now realize, was the same thing other people feel just a few hundred feet away in the Al Aqsa mosque, or thousands of miles away in churches, museums, burial sites and stadiums across the globe.
.ויוסיפו עוד שנוא אותו, על-חלומותיו
And I have a dream too. In this dream all of the above is gone.
Without the above and much more I am not me and I'm not entirely sure that I would like the alternative me, but it would not bother me in the least bit if all of it is gone. Gone by choice, not by force. If people, my people, start realizing that they are immersing themselves in silliness first class, utter rubbish and shit loads of nothing. If only. Then those that do get the revelation if they would only be a little more daring, dare tell others how they feel, think and act. Dare make a change. Dare to start with their own families, their own kids.
You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. I hope some day you'll join us.
I dream of walking the great Shul where the Rebbe had his headquarters and bemoaning its emptiness. I want to feel a tinge of regret at the loss of the little good and hope it gave to the congregants and then rejoice in the loss, in the gain of normalcy, education, happiness, morality and livelihood. The gain of truth, the sad, stark TRUTH.
.ונראה, מה-יהיו חלומותיו

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Allein Allein

Alone is when you sit at a special gathering, a simche, amongst family and friends, but you are not one of them. You sit at the table with your friends, some even childhood friends with whom no secrets were hidden, no holds barred but now, with nothing to share anymore. Nothing to talk about. You end up listening to the repetitive heroics of shomrim and or hatzolah turning into quotes from this week's Limbaugh drivels chanted in unison only to wish you are truly allein.

Alone is when you sit in shul, passing time while the baal koreh reads and the gabbai pleads for silence. You sit with your friends, but you prefer to read Talmudic passages or Chasidic exegesis over joining the hushed conversation about the latest police chase or the season finale of 24.

Being alone is when you sit at the Shabbos table, test the kids on what they learned in school and you realize that the ones closest and dearest to you share absolutely nothing with what you truly believe in. They don't know you, they won't recognize the true you. Chances are that you may even die alone. Alone with these heretical thoughts.

Alone is something you can achieve with a minyan, a quorum of 10 or more. You are in a group, you fulfill their obligatory need, you pray with them, you are part of them, but you are alone. Only you look around with the same thought scurrying your mind “will they ever know better?”. Only you say the words and think about what they mean, how meaningless they really are. Allein.

Alone is also when you sneak out to be amongst the only people that get you. Former Hasidim, and the very few others who know enough to understand you, but there again you stick out. You are the only one that hasn't shed the garb. You wear the bekishe, Saturday night because changing it is a bigger bother than walking down the streets of Manhattan with it. You are alone because you look so.

Alone is a state achievable even amongst people who speak like you, act like you, and even think like you. Alone is not always a bad place to be in. It's the other times when I'd rather not be allein.