Category Archives: Special Features

Collection of special posts and series

Rav vs. Rosh Yeshiva

Of the positions in the orthodox rabbinate, perhaps the two most noticeable and influential are those of the Rav and the Rosh Yeshiva. The Rav is more commonly known as a “pulpit rabbi” and is employed by a community to oversee and establish religious policy for his congregation.1 The Rosh Yeshiva is not necessarily the “head of the school” as its title translated,2 but rather is a Torah scholar who often teaches those who will eventually become Rabbis.

In contemporary halakhic disputes, it is not uncommon to find these two groups on opposite sides – especially regarding modifications to existing practices or customs. A Rav may wish to innovate, and a Rosh Yeshiva would wish to preserve the status quo. The real question is not the nature of the new or modified practice, but who has the real authority to promote change in normative Judaism.

Continue reading

Posted in Jewish Culture, Jewish Thought, Theology, and Machshava, Rabbi Week.

What is a Rabbi?

This is what would have been part one of the comically misnamed Rabbi Week. Yes, I’m back writing, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to get everyone out in a week’s time. Many apologies for the delay. I might even write something at a later point about it, but it does get somewhat personal. At any rate, better late than never.
Let the fun begin.

Continue reading

Posted in Jewish Culture, Rabbi Week.

Rabbi Week On YUTOPIA

For most of my life, I have been involved in the rabbinate. I grew up with a father who was a pulpit rabbi for almost 20 years. I was in the YU system for 7 years, studying with many rabbis-in-training and eventually becoming ordained myself. Most recently, I served as intern for at the “Bridge Shul” in Washington Heights.
Between my varied experiences with the rabbinate, my studies this year, and the evolving nature of the profession, I have been constantly refining my thoughts on the rabbinate. This week, I?ll be posting a series of essays about the rabbinate based on my studies and experiences from just about every perspective.
I have decided to organize my thoughts into three or four posts. The first will be about the Rabbi as an abstract institution, focusing on the halakhic role and authority of a contemporary Rabbi. Then I will address the realities of the current state of the rabbinate, including the nature of communities and how it effects the future of rabbinical schools. Finally, I?d like to elaborate on the existential side of being a rabbi while maintaining a personal identity (such as it is). If there is time or interest, I might add in a post on why I made the educational decisions that I did. I?ll probably conclude with a post responding to comments.
Disclaimer: Although I will focus on the pulpit, I will not be referring to any specific community or congregation in particular, but to my collective experiences.

Posted in Jewish Thought, Theology, and Machshava, Rabbi Week.

YUTOPIA’s Guide To Jewish Dating

For a prelude, first see the last post. For now, let’s get right to it.
Jewish dating stinks.

Everyone has their reasons and explanations. I’ve heard people blame the men, the women, the shadchanim, the Rabbis, and the whole culture at large. Of course, none of these discussions are productive. Even assuming one could find fault with any element of society, it’s unlikely that change will happen on an institutional level. More importantly, it doesn’t help the singles with their current situation.

As a friend and Rabbi, I’ve spoken to many people about their struggles in the Jewish dating world. As a single myself, I’ve personally experienced my share of disappointments and frustrations. I am not a professional therapist, nor am I trained in psychology. I’m hardly an expert in relationships, and I don’t have the greatest track record. However, I do think I have a decent understanding of the situation and of the many people affected. I also have a tendency to think too much.

I’ve started putting together my thoughts on dating and I’ve tried to offer some practical advice for singles. Unlike many comments I’ve seen and heard, I’m going to focus on what you, the individual, can do. Men, women, shadchanim, and rabbis are all out of your control. If you’re having trouble finding someone, no one can simply create a person for you.1 If you’ve fallen for someone, you can’t control if that person will respond favorably. However, you are in control of yourself, and only you are responsible for yourself.

My thoughts on dating are constantly evolving, and therefore are subject to change.

Continue reading

Posted in Jewish Dating, YUTOPIA's Guides.

YUTOPIA’s Guide To Purim Shticks

Apologies to the Loyal Readers for the lack of Purim shticks this year. I have too much real work to do at the end of the quarter, so it’s just not gonna happen.1 But I do feel the need to write about another dangerous practice of Purim: The Shticks. Each year, some people overdo it and wind up sick, hospitalized, or worse. The problems are exacerbated by a society which forces people to be clever – whether or not they actually have a sense of humor.
If you’re going to do some Purim shticks, don’t go in without preparation. I’ve been involved in more shticks than I care to admit, and I’ve found that “being funny” is easier said than done. Some people simply aren’t funny, and others might be funny but have no idea how to make a good shtick or just try too hard. So allow me help with some rules to make this Purim safe, enjoyable, and hopefully lynching free.

Rule 1: Know The Types of Humor

Humor is an art. It’s more than just throwing out one-liners or insults. I recommend reading A Netizen’s Guide to Humor for some general pointers. Intelligent satire is better than the one-liner insult. Insulting one-liners aren’t funny unless you’re a professional like Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. You’re not. Use some creativity.
Satire is generally the best way to go for Purim shticks. Here are a few suggestions:
If you’re too lazy to come up with something from scratch, just take something popular and redo it. Songs, gemaras, ads, articles, or whatever. What you do will normally depend on your forum. Some shticks need to be performed, others are better in print. If you’re doing a magazine, be sure to mix up the styles.
The original piece should be serious, thus increasing the comedic impact. If you try to modify a comedy piece, you run the risk of extreme lameness. The only way you could pull it off, is if your version is better than the original. Try to pick something that would be familiar to your audience. The Hamevaser song, although funny, was lost on most people. In YU people either read Hamevaser, or they heard Dennis Leary. Few people knew both.
Any idiot can fool around with Photoshop, but few posess the twisted talent of Ephraim Shapiro.2 If you don’t have the ability of Shapiro, use minimal image editing, and put more effort into the caption. Take this for example. Initially, they just imposed “YU Registrar’s Office” on the guy’s butt. I’m sure you will agree, the end result was much funnier.
Reuven summed up the problem with puns nicely: the better the pun, the worse it is. They can be useful for a change of style to to give the joke another level of humor. Just remember to use them sparingly. And never make a shtick completely out of puns. You will get beat up.
Trust me.
Remember that details are important. A poor choice of words can turn a funny shtick into a tasteless one. A good idea with poor execution just isn’t funny. Even worse, you’ve wasted a good idea. Finally, don’t make a joke if it’s too obvious. If there is a joke that just has to be made, find a clever way of doing so.

Rule 2: Know Your Audience

You have to know your crowd. What will they think is funny, what jokes won’t they get, and what will they think is offensive? Since you never know who is going to come across your shtick, try keep it tame or nuanced. Remember that “funny” can be measured quantitatively by how many people think it’s funny, and qualitatively by how funny it is. Ideally, you’d like to maximize both, but realistically this is just about impossible. If you can, layer the shtick with multiple meanings so it will work on a peshat and derash level.
If you’re writing a journal of some sort, remember that you don’t have to have each article be funny to everyone. Actually, it would probably be better to direct some shticks to certain types of people, provided the range of your readership is covered.

Rule 3: Avoid Redundancies

If it’s been done before, don’t do it again. Fortunately Hamevaser hasn’t had a Purim issue in years because they had this problem. Essentially, most of the issue was written by one person. While he was funny, the jokes got stale after the fifth year. You’d have to go way way back to the Beis Grinky days to see some good original humor.

Rule 4: Know Your Limits

It’s really important to know when you’re not being funny or your just forcing it. If your idea is lame, then drop it and move on. If you have a good idea and need help with details, get some help. Personally, I’ve done my best shticks while collaborating with people like Ben and Avraham. Friends can tighten up details, and make sure it’s funny to other people besides yourself.

Rule 5: Safek Shtick Lehumra

If you’re unsure if it’s funny or offensive, use discretion. There is no shortage of lame, unfunny, and insulting shticks out there, and we don’t need another one. If you need filler, go for the surreal. Some people might think it’s lame, others will be too drunk to notice. Odds are someone will be offended by any given shtick. You don’t have to be overly sensitive, but avoid gratuitous attacks.
Again, if you’re not sure how it will be received (or worse, you are sure), better to leave it out.

Rule 6: There is NOOOOOO Rule 7

Don’t take yourself too seriously – this post included.
If you have your own suggestions or warnings, add them to the comments.
I’m about to become even more reclusive3 as I go on a non-stop writing binge until Spring Break. Expect blogging to be slow for the next two weeks or so unless something comes up.
Purim Sameach

1. Or at least not in time for Purim. I might post some of them later, but we’ll see.
2. Although, I must give props to Ben for this one.
3. Yes, that’s possible.

Posted in Shtick, YUTOPIA's Guides. Tagged with .