This weekend, some of us decided to forgo our Shabbos naps (a pretty major sacrifice) and went to a shaloshudes (third Shabbos meal) talk at the apartment of the inimitable Chippy Hait. Chippy, a Hadar alumna from this past summer, decided for her project to initiate a series of talks on Shabbos. There to inaugurate her first one was Ben Mernick, a Hadar summer fellow from 2008, who spoke about the halachic approach to risky behavior. Drawing on sources from the Talmud’s discussion of which women are allowed to use diaphragms (or the ancient equivalent) to Rav Moshe Feinstein’s teshuva regarding the halachic permissibility of smoking, Ben described four categories of risky behavior:
- Taboo and dangerous
- Not taboo, not dangerous
- Taboo, not dangerous
- Not taboo, dangerous
While it was relatively easy to find examples for the first two categories, in discussing what would go in the latter two, it became clear that much of what is considered taboo or dangerous can depend on an individual’s upbringing, ideology, and/or the subgroups of people he or she interacts with. In other words, it becomes a statement about values. Rabbinic texts don’t deal with the first two categories; the second is simply living life nondramatically, while the first has no reasons why it should be allowed. When it comes to the other two categories, it becomes difficult, both for those of us in the room, and for the rabbis, to draw the line between what should be avoided, though luckily if one doesn’t God supposedly protect fools (such is the claim in Psalms), and what is simply too dangerous and should be forbidden. When Rav Moshe writes that smoking should not be assur because most people who smoke do not end up dying from it, he is expressing a different outlook and set of values than the Tsitz Eliezer, who argues that the health dangers associated with smoking renders it forbidden. And those of us in the room who were appalled by Rav Moshe’s teshuva were biased by our own cultural and social values.
Ending the weekend on a high note (literally and figuratively) was the Uptown Salon, which also began as a student project from the summer of 2008. For almost a year, artists have met once a month at Andres’ apartment to share their work and creative visions. It was a privilege to be in a room with so many talented people. There were musical performances, poetry and prose readings, and one woman showed us her artwork inspired by Shacharis. Andres’ band will be performing at 8pm, Wednesday October 28th, at 254 W. 72nd St, and the Uptown Salon will be meeting again next month. The Salon was a wonderful reminder of how many creative people there are in the world (both in and out of Hadar), and that sometimes Torah can be learned through media other than ancient or rabbinic texts.