Category Archives: Jewish Culture

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Seeing Red At Sinai

It seems that everyone’s favorite shidduch website Saw You At Sinai has been going through some changes as of late. On 1/16/2006 the SYAS support staff sent out the following in an e-mail:

    As of February 1st, all new Gold members can select two matchmakers, instead of the current three. This will allow matchmakers to have more time for each of their members allowing for improved relations and even better quality matches.
    We wanted to inform all our GOLD members in advance of this change. Should you decide at any point to cancel your GOLD membership, you would then only have TWO matchmakers upon upgrading to GOLD again. This change will take effect on February 1st.

There have also been some changes on the matchmaker’s side as well. According to my sources, matchmakers can no longer decline a single who requests them if they have fewer than 20 “clients” – regardless if the single is appropriate for that matchmaker’s network. There have also been issues with matchmaker’s offering suggestions on profile changes such that some are told to lay off critiquing profiles.

I’m going to guess that whatever official changes have been made were done in response to common complaints. The need for quality matches is obviously essential. Members lack the autonomy to conduct their own searches and are instead dependant on the judgement of others who may not know them or don’t take the time to read a profile carefully. Such suggestions can be very discouraging, especially to paying customers.

I’ve also heard some horror stories involving rude, pushy, or obnoxious matchmakers. Some matchmakers give very constructive advice about a profile. For example, blurry pictures ought to be replaced and profiles should be written using complete sentences. However, some matchmakers have been outright insulting, in one case telling someone that she’s single because she wears glasses.

Sometimes matchmakers take rejection worse than the singles and have berated friends of mine for daring to use their own discretion. For privacy reasons I won’t get into details here, but yes there have been stories even worse than my own experience.

The point is that there is definitely room for improvement. However, I am not entirely sure how the new policies will really help the singles find decent matches. Finding an appropriate match is a very nuanced endeavor, and I would think that from a significant quantity, the singles could choose their own quality. Also, there are quite a few profiles out there which could be improved and may help that person find for what s/he is looking by refining the content to attract the desired person.

From people with whom I have spoken, I’ve found that there is a great deal of frustration and cynicism about the site. One even made the argument that the site is more interested in keeping customers than getting them married. While this is an interesting charge against the overall business model of such a site, I’m not sure I’d go that far as to say the recent changes are intended to be subversive.

For the record, I haven’t e-mailed the site or Marc Goldman about any of these changes but I am curious if there are any single’s or especially matchmakers out there who can share their experiences with the site and its new policies.

Posted in Jewish Dating.

Frumstats – 2005

A little over a year ago, I wrote the entry “Frumstats” in which I used the popular Jewish dating site Frumster to conduct socio-demographic research on the Jewish dating population. In that post I focused on the percentages of divorcees in the dating pool for two reasons. First, data on Jewish divorce rates can be hard to come by, but with dating sites like Frumster, the users themselves enter in their personal data thus making otherwise unattainable information available. Secondly, Frumster is after all a dating site so its usefulness for complete demographic studies is understandably limited.

I reran those searches from a year ago and conducted a few others as well. Again, the same disclaimers from last year apply. First this data must be taken in its context. Frumster represents only a small cross-section of the dating pool and an even smaller sample of the larger Jewish community.

However, even with these disclaimers some results are in my opinion significant enough to make people notice some of the ramifications of the modern day shidduch system.

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Posted in Jewish Dating.

Bobbing For Mitzvot

One of the Jewish rites of passage for moving into a new place is the trip to the Keilim Mikvah. For reasons we’re not getting into here, certain new vessels and utensils must be immersed in water to “purify and uplift the vessel” (B. Avoda Zara 75b). Even if someone went for their parents once or twice before, few things compare to schlepping multiple sets of brand new plates, silverware, and cookware to a polluted lake or glorified leak.

Ironically, the body of water used for “purifying” the vessels is usually more contaminated than the Hudson River. Sure there are some exceptions – the one by Breuer’s is relatively clean – most of the ones I’ve seen are in dire need of cleaning, or in some cases, sulphuric acid.

Case in point, I spent part of Sunday at the Springfield keilim mikvah helping out the folks with some of their dishes and without exaggeration, there was at least a full inch of black “stuff” lining the bottom of the basin. Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t care – I’d just lower the objects in the laundry basket, move things around making sure they’re totally submerged with no hatzitzot, lift, dry, and repeat.

Today however, when going through the place settings, my mother noticed that a spoon was missing.
Now we know it wasn’ t on the outside of the mikvah, but even though I didn’t notice anything escape the firm clutches of the laundry basket, we’re still short one spoon. Were this a cleaner mikvah, I’d just be able to look in and see, “hey! there’s that spoon!”
Not this one.

The crud at the bottom of this thing swallowed up virtually everything that had the unfortunate fate of coming into contact with it. Think of the black goo from Creepshow 2 only without the whole jumping out of the water flesh eating part. That’s what I’m talking about.

Against all odds there were a few items which reflected the limited sunlight, so there was some hope. The good people of Springfield were kind enough to supply a pole with nothing attached to either end. This allows unfortunate klutzes to push around the gunk thinking they can get their plates back, but in reality they’re just making it harder to see through it.
When I thought I saw something resembling the wayward flatware, I reached in as far as I could, but was still a good 4 inches too short. Going Jacques Cousteau wasn’t really an option but we did try some other unconventional alternatives.1

Skipping right to the good stuff, we had the best success using a combination of a snow shovel and a reaching/gripper thingie left over from when my mother was recovering from the hip surgery. While we did manage to fish out 2 plates (one of which was shaped like a fish) and 3 spoons and knives covered in at least 25 types of dirt, but sadly the lost spoon is still lost in the abyss that is the Springfield keilim mikvah.
I did get a few things out of the experience. First, shuls really ought to clean their kelim mikvahs. Second, thanks to lefum tzar’ah agra (M. Avot 5:23) on both tevillat kelim *and* kibbud eim, I’m set upstairs for a while.

Still, I am curious if anyone else out there has had their own bizarre experiences with a keilim mikvah and/or the absolute worst keilim mikvah you’ve ever seen.
In the meantime, I’ll be in quarantine until I stop glowing.

1. If you’re asking yourself why make a big deal over one spoon, the answer is: “because.”
2. And I just *know* I’m not the only one here

Posted in Jewish Culture, Jewish Law / Halakha.

9 Av Readings

The good folks over a KesherTalk have done a blogburst collecting tidbits regarding Jerusalem and 9 Av. Very informative and well worth reading over the fast day.
(It was also nice of them to link back to my own take of the fast).

Posted in Jewish Culture, Jewish Law / Halakha, Jewish Thought, Theology, and Machshava. Tagged with , .

Dating vs. Aliyah

After years of horrible dating experiences, you finally find The One. She’s (or he’s) pretty, funny, smart, a dynamo in the kitchen, and even with your impossibly high standards, she’s (you get the idea) everything you’re ever been looking for in a spouse.

Well … almost.

As it turns out she doesn’t want to make aliyah. Or vice versa, she does and you really don’t. For some reason, this little detail got overlooked by both of you and/or the shadchan never bothered checking. While there are many factors one considers in dating, aliyah is unique. There are significant halakhic, hashkafic, and practical considerations, and there is little room for compromise. You’re not choosing between city and suburban life, but living in Israel or not living in Israel.

At any rate, you’ve now got a choice to make. Do you marry the girl of your dreams and give up aliyah, or go ahead with your life and take a chance with the dating game for however long it might take?

Naturally, there’s not going to be a definitive answer to the question. But for those who are facing this dilemma, perhaps we can help sort through some of the factors to consider.

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Posted in Jewish Dating, Jewish Law / Halakha, Jewish Thought, Theology, and Machshava.

Rabbi Saul J. Berman: The Lost Interview

Way back in 1999 when I was a senior in YU I worked for both of the major undergradutate publications: as a co-techie/webmaster with Ben for The Commentator and a short-lived editor-in-chief for Hamevaser (alav hashalom). So when Edah organized their first conference, I scored a free press pass to cover the new Modern Orthodoxy for either paper.
I also scored an interview with Rabbi Saul J. Berman himself.
It wasn’t a long interview; Rabbi Berman was extermely busy and preoccupied and the fact that he gave me any time at all was generous on his part. However, while Ben’s analysis got printed in The Commentator, my interview got buried in Hamevaser’s quagmire and was never published.
A recent cleaning of my YUCS account turned up this lost piece of history, still in its Word Perfect format. Since the interview was intented for publication, and it’s not like Hamevaser will do anything about it, I don’t see too much of a problem posting it up here.
And of course, many thanks to Fresh Samantha for the loan of her tape-recorder.1

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Posted in Jewish Culture, Jewish Law / Halakha, Jewish Thought, Theology, and Machshava.

Guitar Chord Seach Plugin

One last interlude before I get to the next post in my hashkafa. For all you Firefox users out there, I wrote a mycroft search plugin for the chord directory.
We’ll pick up with the hashkafa soon – maybe 2-3 more posts for now, and then perhaps back to more normal blogging.

Posted in Jewish Guitar Chords.

Fractured Frumkeit

Anyone with a cursory knowledge of Jews and Judaism should be well aware of the fractured nature of the religion. Some may be able to identify a denomination or two, and the differences between them. Certainly most would recognize the superficial differences between Orthodox, “ultra-Orthodox,” and everyone else.

There are of course many more nuances within each denomination, with a seemingly endless supply of labels to classify each of them. Some Orthodox are “modern” others “yeshivish” and varying shades of “frum.” Not surprisingly, the definitions for these terms are elusive and will vary depending on your background and biases.

There is however one common theme to these distinctions; the labels, camps, and denominations, all reflect differing religious practices and/or ideologies. This of course is not surprising considering that we are discussing sub-groups within a religion. What is notable however, is that within the Orthodox camp, there are fundamentals to which all people allegedly adhere. Specifically, Orthodox Jews tend to believe in the religious authority of the written and oral laws.

Here is where everything breaks down, and again, not surprisingly, the problem is one of conflicting definitions. What is considered part of these canons of Jewish law? Furthermore, assuming one can define these canons, what are the correct, legitimate, and plausible interpretations of these sources? The answers to these questions will most likely determine your religious practice and thus your place in the Orthodox spectrum.

Despite the importance of simply defining halakha, there are few if any coherent and descriptions for how halakha works. There are numerous codes, collections, and letters, but each author is usually working with a different set of assumptions or perspectives – not all of which will be articulated, or even written as an objective model applicable to all Jews at all times.1

The consequence of such ambiguity is that effectively how Halakha is interpreted does change from time to time.2

Furthermore, resolving such issues will inevitably lead one back to the questions of canon and authority. Some would argue that the Halakhic system allows for changes to be made to Jewish law. However, if changes are not regulated somehow, the result could easily be anarchy. Others prefer to restrict any changes by creating a myth of an uninterrupted chain of authentic tradition dating from Moses to contemporary times, ignoring or suppressing any uncomfortable historical data.

There is of course an alternative, and conveniently enough, it is found in the oral law itself.
The oral law does not only contain random acts of jurisprudence, but it also outlines the system of how Jewish law ought to work. It describes the nature of rabbinic authority and the rights and limits of personal freedoms within the law itself. Granted, most Orthodox Jews do not follow this system in practice and some reject it outright and we will deal with the reasons in due time.
However, one could assume that as Orthodox Jews, we would first know how the universally canonical Torah Shebe’al Peh defines Halakha, so that we can intelligently apply Jewish law to our ever changing world. For the sake of efficiency, the next post will focus specifically on the role of custom and the role of Jewish society in determining Jewish law. This will help elucidate not only individual practices, but what role a communal consensus plays in determining Jewish Law.

1. One notable exception would be Rambam’s introduction to the Mishnah Torah. However, many disregard that halakhic system saying, “that’s only for Sephardim” and “we don’t pasken like that.” It is also no coincidence that most of Judaism’s socio-religious divisions developed within the Ashkenazi communities.
2. By “Halakha,” I do not refer to the specific interpretations and rulings, but of the rules and system through which such rulings are formed and evaluated.

Posted in Jewish Culture, Jewish Law / Halakha, Jewish Thought, Theology, and Machshava, Personal Hashkafa Series.

Much Edah About Nothing

Last week was Edah’s 4th International Conference. The stated theme of this year’s conference focused on Modern Orthodoxy’s challenges and opportunities. No stranger to controversy, Edah had listed as a session, “The Legal Philosophy of Rabbi Hershel Schachter and Its Challenge to Orthodox Moderns.”
Most of the pre-conference buzz was devoted to guessing what this session would be like. The initial schedule did not list the presenters, so there were several theoretical possiblities. Most of the people I spoke with before the conference were concerned that this would simply be a “hatchet job” on Rav Schachter. Certainly Edah would have the motive to “bash Rav Schachter”, considering his positions on Edah and his recent controversial comments. Consequently, the opinions I had seen ranged from skepticism to outright pessimism.
By now, most of you will know that the lecture was given by my father, Rabbi Alan J. Yuter, and it was upon his request I didn’t enter into the pre-conference fray,1 and as such I had some insider information. First, the title of the session was not his, and it was eventually changed to the more neutral “The Legal Thought of Rabbi Hershel Schachter.” Second, I knew it wasn’t going to be the hatchet job people were expecting. Those who have heard and/or read my father’s academic presentations know that he doesn’t resort to personal attacks and any statement he makes will be supported.
As it turned out, after the conference, people were disappointed that my father didn’t take the shots at Rav Schachter that they were expecting. It appears that some just wanted to see someone give Rav Schachter his comeuppance or perhaps exact a measure of ideological revenge. For one example, when my father began by saying Rav Schachter is neither a fanatic nor a sexist, one friend of mine admitted tuning him out. What I find interesting is that this mentality justifies the skepticism levied upon the conference. Many didn’t give Edah the credit to present a critical analysis of Rav Schachter because of emotional reactions or personal biases. If some attendies had their way, the critics would have been right.
In truth, the nature of the presentation really speaks more to the skill of my father. There were criticisms of Rav Schachter in the session2, but it was done such that only those interested in first understanding Rav Schachter would notice. Those that were interested in a verbal smackdown left empty handed – no catchy sound bytes and no critical comprehension of what they had just heard.
For those who missed the session – either literally or figuratively – worry not. The presentation was a condensed version of a comprehensive fully footnoted article which is nearing completion.

1. My father’s position was that Edah would eventually publish the speaker’s list. He was more focused on preparing the actual session than dealing with the rampant online speculation.
2. Although I wasn’t there, I’ve discussed the topic with him enough to know approximately what he said.

Posted in Jewish Culture, Jewish Law / Halakha, Jewish Thought, Theology, and Machshava. Tagged with .

Guitar Chord DB Goes Live!

To all guitarists out there, the chord archive has moved to a spiffy new PHP/SQL architecture. The new location is:

Posted in Jewish Guitar Chords.