Monday, September 20, 2010

Selecting Arba Minim

Arba Minim has always been a special Mitzva to me, partially because growing up in New Zealand, getting Arba Minim was extremely difficult.

I owe a big Hakarat HaTov to Rav Chaim Fischweicher who was in Wellington when I became Bar Mitzva and in the years following my Bar Mitzva made sure that I had access to Arba Minim, often at my home (which was a long distance from the shul), even if it meant that there would be one less set in the shul.

I could tell you interesting stories about acquiring arba minim in New Zealand, almost every year between my Bar Mitzva and my Aliyah 9 years later there was a complication getting kosher Arba Minim. On more than one occasion it was davka the Haddas that was the problem.

Anyway, because growing up Arba Minim required so much effort, I feel particularly lucky to now be living in a community where this Mitzva is relatively easy to perform (even if prices are excessive due to corrupt suppliers – but that’s a different story).

If you are planning to select your own Arba Minim (as opposed to buying a closed box from a reliable source), you should always review the Halachot before heading to the Arba Minim Shuk.

An excellent brief summary of Hilchot Arba Minim is available from Torah Live. There are 4 short videos, each summarizing the Halachot of one of the minim in a clear, concise, and entertaining method. You can also download a very practical source sheet.

Well worth taking a look.

Hat Tip: Gruntig

Thursday, September 16, 2010

גמר חתימה טובה

To all my readers - best wishes for an easy, meaningful, and successful fast and a גמר חתימה טובה

And to put you in the right mood, here is classic MBD from the early 90s singing Kol Nidrei

Have you seen this Headline Before?

Newspapers are again showing headlines like "Leaders Call for Peace as Mideast Talks Begin" (headline, New York Times, Sept. 2)

Well to save yourself money, instead of buying a current newspaper, pick up any paper from 1978, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1985, 1988, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005, or 2007.

You’ll see the same headlines, same issues being discussed, same hysterical “This is our last window of opportunity for peace”, same unrealistic demands, and same probable outcome: increase in violence.

Maybe we should take a break from peace talks for a while and let the violence subside.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Does Religious Activity make you happy?

The New York Times has an interesting article on a research that suggests that as people shop on Sunday instead of attending religious services, happiness goes down.

It makes sense that people who take a day off every week for spiritual matters are likely to be happier, but interesting to see that research backs this up.

Wonder if the researchers from Ben Gurion university could do a follow up study in Israel to see whether attending shul on Shabbat (or having a family dinner on Friday night) leads to more happiness.


Sunday Shopping Linked With Less Happiness


Dan Gill for The New York Times Skipping church to go shopping meant feeling less happy for some.

How do you spend your Sunday? For many, this traditional day of rest and churchgoing has become a day to shop, but it may be taking a toll on happiness.

Researchers from DePaul University in Chicago and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel tracked church attendance and levels of happiness among Americans living in states that had repealed so-called blue laws, which once required most retailers to stay closed on Sundays.

The researchers found that allowing stores to open on Sundays was linked with a decline in church attendance among white women, which led to a subsequent decline in happiness. Among black women, the repeal of the blue laws had no measurable effect, although that may be because the sample size was too small to draw any statistically meaningful conclusions.

Notably, the finding was true only for women. For men, the repeal of blue laws didn’t seem to influence church attendance or levels of happiness.

Since the repeal of blue laws, women are about 17 percent less likely to report being “pretty happy,” and more likely to report being “not happy,” according to the study, which is still awaiting final publication.

“People know there is a correlation between religiosity and happiness, but there’s not conclusive evidence that there is a causal effect,’’ said William Sander, professor of economics at DePaul. “Our paper tends to provide more conclusive evidence that religiosity among women does affect happiness.’’

The researchers studied data collected from the General Social Survey, an ongoing sociological survey used to collect demographic information from United States residents. They compared respondents in 10 states where Sunday shopping had been banned and then allowed, compared with six states where there had been no change in rules for retailers. The study specifically focused on the behavior of Catholics and Protestants because they were most likely to attend church on Sundays.

So why would Sunday shopping make women less happy? Part of the reason may be that some of the women were required to work on Sundays after the repeal of blue laws. “People don’t like to work on Sundays,’’ Dr. Sander said.

Or the decline in women’s happiness once Sunday shopping is allowed may be linked to the behavior of their children, many of whom may start hanging out at shopping malls on Sundays. Earlier research has shown that the repeal of blue laws is linked with more risk-taking behavior by teens.

Or it may simply be that the lure of shopping is more powerful than the desire to attend church, even though it brings less happiness.

“Shopping is kind of addictive, and even though it doesn’t make people happy, they’re doing it and they don’t return to church as much because of that,’’ Dr. Sander said. “There is instant gratification from shopping compared to the benefits of church, which may occur over a longer period of time.’’

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

שנה טובה

To all my readers, best wishes for a Shana Tova.

My the coming year be a year of peace, health and prosperity for all of Klal Yisrael and the entire world.

To put you in the right frame of mind before Yom HaDin, here is an old recording of ונתנה תוקף from Mordechai ben David, and a more recent one from Avraham Fried

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Of peace and Peace Talks

Well Bibi and Abbas are at it again. Last week they both flew to Washington to promote the illusion that there is some type of peace, or at least a peace process happening.

I don’t think that anyone actually believes that this process will lead to peace, or even an agreement; it seems pretty clear that the main reason for the latest round of negotiations is to help the Obama (well the Democrats) in the mid-term election in November.

In case this point wasn’t obvious by itself, did anyone else notice that even though Bibi and Abbas have offices about 25 minutes drive from each other (remember that Ramallah is a suburb of Jerusalem), they had to fly to Washington to meet each other.

No doubt there will be pressure on Bibi to extend the building freeze, which is to be expected, and is not even an unreasonable demand from the point-of-view of Abbas. However it is crucial that if Bibi is contemplating giving something tangible, like an extension of the freeze, it must be for something tangible in return.

Here are a few suggestions of things that Bibi could insist on before extending the freeze:

  • For the PA to live up to its commitment to allow full access to Kever Yosef in Shchem. This would be a great opportunity for the PA to prove that they are serious about Peace and that their US trained and armed “Police Force” are able to secure a single building so that Jews have free and unlimited access to the sight.
  • That the PA live up to its commitment to remove all incitement from schools. They could start by withdrawing all textbooks that deny Israel’s existence or deny the Holocaust.
    If they cannot control their own schools (which are financed by the International community), hard to see how they could create and control a viable state.
  • That the PA conduct a full investigation into the terrorist shootings last week and that the perpetrators are caught and brought to trial. An important question is whether the guns or gunmen were supplied or trained by the US/Israel.
    If it turns out that we are arming or training terrorists, it should be obvious that there be no future guns or training provided to the PA security forces until they are able to guarantee that these resources will not be misused again in the future.

If Abbas is unable to deliver on any of the above, Bibi should restate that Israel is prepared to make peace if and when their is a Palestinian leadership willing to prove that it is serious about peace, but in the mean time, given that there is no partner or possibility of peace, Israel will look at other unilateral options, such as full annexation of Judea and Samaria, as proposed my MK Tzipi Hotovely.

Oh – and take a look at Dershowitz’ Blog pointing out how unwarranted criticism of Israel, such as the Goldstone report, makes it almost impossible for Israel to take “risks for peace”, because it is clear that if the “risks” blow up in our face in the form of attacks against us, there will be no way do defend ourselves without Goldstone or his ilk raking us over the coals.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Who changed the uniform?

Grunting posted a video of Slichot in 770 in 1965.

I thought that the video was interesting because it is rare to see pictures (let alone footage) of the Rebbe that were taken before the 1980s. Almost all the pictures that we see plastered over everything were taken in the last few years of his life.

What struck me as interesting is that no one in the video is wearing the wide brim hatmobile that we associate with Chabad today. Today the Chabad dress code is extremely rigid, A Fedora with a very wide brim often worn with a long “frock coat" and of course an un-trimmed beard.

In contrast in the video Most people (including the Rebbe) are wearing hats with much smaller brims, a few are wearing homburgs, and many are clean shaven.

I know that when Chabad moved to America they replaced their Chassidic Shtreimel with a more modern American Fedora. But at some point since the 60s they decided to codify their uniform with a much more distinctive look (although not as destinctive as the elaborate dress code worn by other Chassidim)

At what point in the last 30 years did Chabad adopt the hats and jackets that we see today? Who made the decision?