Tuesday, January 26, 2010

YU Sforim Sale

In preparation for my first ever YU Book-sorry, Sforim-Sale trip, I asked the Roshei Yeshiva to send me a list of sforim they thought every budding yeshiva bukhur (with an unlimited budget) should have.

Happy book hunting!

Midrash Rabbah
Shas Mishna
Rambam Mishna Torah
Minhagei Yisrael

Thursday, January 21, 2010

In Defense of Religion

Some chizuk, courtesy of Jen Taylor Friedman:

Here's an old question: How can you be religious when there is zero evidence to support the idea of Gods and no reason to think such a thing exists? Is it not foolish to act so illogically?

And here's one perspective.

I live with depression. Depression is very clever at erasing evidence. You can list all sorts of reasons for being glad and enjoying life, and depression can knock down every last one of them. When depression is masking your brain, it truly seems as though there is no reason at all to keep going.

But you keep going nonetheless, because you have some hazy idea that there's something beyond what the evidence suggests. Some days faith in that idea is the only thing that keeps you from giving up and swigging lethal quantities of codeine and whisky.

Most people around one agree that giving up is a bad idea. They encourage you to keep it up with the blind faith, against all perceptible evidence and rational analysis. Thus, apparently, sometimes blind faith, against the evidence and contrary to logic, is not wholly a bad thing.

I live much of my life on the basis that there is a state of being better than the one I presently perceive, even though the depression in my brain makes me unable to reason out how this could be. Even though all the available evidence suggests that such a belief is entirely unfounded, I choose to believe it, and no-one would say me nay.

As a religious person, I also live much of my life on the basis that there is a state of being beyond my present perception, even though reason and observation cannot support it.

Just as sometimes the depression lifts and life can be enjoyed, sometimes life's perspective widens and transcendence can be experienced. Both of these add value to my life.

The frames of mind which lead to each are precisely similar. One does not require any more suspension of disbelief than the other. It is not about living one's life entirely by rational scientific principles and then having a whole different set of rules for religion that require reason to be abandoned; from this perspective, it is simply about how much one concedes may be beyond the evidence. If it is not unreasonable to live with irrational faith concerning the one, it does not seem unreasonable to live with irrational faith concerning the other.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Two Items

1. Miep Gies, one of the rescuers of Anne Frank and the others hiding in the attic, and the woman who actually kept Anne's diary throughout the war, has passed away at the age of 100. She was a remarkable woman, who risked her life to try and save a group of people, some of whom she barely knew. I can’t help but be inspired by the way in which she refused to accept the evil that was present in the world, and who, regardless of the danger to herself and her loved ones, had a moral compass that was unwavering.

2. On that note, everyone is doubtless aware of the recent earthquake in Haiti. When others in the world are suffering, it is our responsibility to step in and help however we can. Below is some information that I received from my shul about how to help:

1) Hope for Haiti - an organization supported by NBC News and the American Red Cross—is collecting:

• Aspirin (Tylenol, Motrin, Children's Advil, etc.) • Basic First Aid Supplies • Chlorine Tablets • Sutures • Bandages • Antibiotics • Casting Materials • IV Fluids • IV Kits • Wound Cleansers • First Aid Creams • Sterile gloves • Masks • Tapes • Medical Instruments

2) UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, together with the Jewish Federations of North America, are partnering with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) to provide urgently needed aid and relief. Donations can be made here.

I will try to have more updated information about any projects to help out that are happening at Hadar once I return to the yeshiva.

Mazel Tov!

A belated mazel tov to R"M Avital Campbell-Hochstein and Yisroel Campbell on the birth of their baby son-and on R"M own recent birthday!
That kid is going to be the funniest Torah scholar alive.

Sunday, January 10, 2010




Two articles that appeared in the Times this week that were particularly interesting, considering the recent discussions that have been taking place at the yeshiva regarding egalitarianism. The first of our official sichot was a discussion about the different types of egalitarianism, and the discussion was framed around Yehuda Kurtzer’s three categories of egalitarianism:

1. Sociological Egalitarianism-Men and women participate equally (i.e there is equal participation, but not necessarily mixed seating)

2. Anthropological Egalitarianism-Men and women are considered identical (i.e there is mixed seating, but not necessarily equal participation)

3. Theological Egalitarianism-the language used (liturgically and otherwise) to express egalitarian principles.

The discussion was thought-provoking, with issues being raised from the issues surrounding gender roles, to God language, to dealing with non-egalitarian sociological baggage in an egalitarian space. It was the beginning of a conversation, and no conclusions were drawn, except that there are far more than three categories that can be drawn up.

One of the most interesting elements of the sicha for me was that these categories, and much of the discussion, revolved around davening. I’m trying to figure out why davening in particular makes people anxious when traditional gender boundaries are broken. I have never had a discussion in any educational setting—religious or secular—about the issues surrounding men and women sitting in class and learning together. There’s no fear that we will be so overcome by sexual desire that we won’t be able to focus*, and there’s also no angst that if we give everyone equal access to the learning, as well as to all the spaces within the room, there will be some erasing of sex differences.

I’d love to hear thoughts on why davening, specifically, seems to be the focus point for many of these discussions, and what categories of egalitarianism you find most relevant.

*Which is not to say this concern isn’t ever articulated. But the assumption seems to be that while it happens, at the end of the day students need to get over themselves and study. I should also note that in general, when all of the above issues are discussed, the assumption is that there is no one in the space who is attracted to members of the same sex.