YUTOPIA’s Greatest Hits Volume 1: 2003-2013

YUTOPIA's 10 Year Anniversary SpecialTen years is a long time to be blogging, and even with numerous hiatuses (haiatii?) I’ve amassed quite the collection, well over 500 entries. Of course this doesn’t account for quality but truth be told I never anticipated anyone reading this blog let along taking it seriously or building any type of audience or readership.

At any rate, to paraphrase the immortal Strong Bad, my blog posts are like my childrens. I love them all! But if I had to play favorites… Let’s see…

The Historical Meaning of Tish’a B’av (9 Av)
This post came out of an IM conversation at work when someone asked an innocuous question what happened on Tisha B’Av and turned into the first significant piece of “internet scholarship” I’ve done. Simply put, thanks to the ever increasing accessibility of information on the internet, we can easily evaluate the validity of many religious assertions. As a bonus, this is also a perennial favorite of DovBear.

Masechet Bava Commie
For some strange reason I’ve developed a reputation for making bad puns. Yet there was a time when I actually did more substantive shticks, and I call this time “college.” While I was quite proud of the Hamevaser song and even Les MIS, I don’t think anything I’ve done comes close to Masechet Bava Commie. I must also point out that this could not have been done without working with co-collaborator Ben Sandler, in yet another instance of how my best works has almost always been predicated on working with or off of someone else.

The Pluralism Equation
The Pluralism Equation actually predated the blog by a few years, but the subject comes up regularly enough that I still link to it often and the ultimate point remains the same: “pluralism,” as often employed is simply a scam.

Structuralism and Brisk
I had never encountered Levi-Strauss’ Structuralism until I attended the University of Chicago, but doing so was a revelation. The feedback to this was also gratifying. Academics finally understood Brisk and Yeshiva students (the ones who cared anyway) finally understood Structuralism.

The GNU Testament
It’s rare that I can naturally combine my Torah and Technology backgrounds, Douglas Rushkoff’s metaphor of Open Source Judaism was a great opportunity. While the pun in the title was intentional, specifically publishing it on December 25th was not.

Jewish Guitar Chords
Before www.JewishGuitarChords.com became it’s own site with hundreds of songs, it was a simple blog post. Gradually I had to make manual updates as I added more songs and took submissions by email to the point it just became easier to create a standalone site – and it provided a wonderful practical opportunity to teach myself PHP. The blog post itself now serves as a message board, but this is still where it all began.

When Does the Fast End
As a Rabbi I get a lot of questions and have many discussions and disagreements with people over just about anything. But after a while I noticed some topics come up more than others and at this point my innate laziness kicks in. At some point it just becomes easier to write everything out once with sources and send links than engage in a new discussion with dozens or hundreds of people. This was my first attempt at not so much of an internet “psak” as much as justifying one of my many halakhic quirks.

Drinking on Purim
It does not mean what you think it means. Bonus: uses academic talmud methodologies to prove point.

Talmudic Theodicy
At some point in rabbinical school I started articulating my annoyance at students who would quote one or two sources – in or out of context – and present those as the definitve “Jewish position on X.” I was even more upset when I found this pattern at the University of Chicago’s Divinity school. I had been taking a class on “Evil” taught by two world renown scholars of religion who felt completely comfortable saying that X was the Jewish position on Evil, basing their opinion on an English translation of Job. At this point I was not offended as a Jew or even a Rabbi but as a graduate student in that two professors whom I knew were illiterate in Judaism felt completely comfortable making intellectually irresponsible statements about what they were teaching. The result was a paper I did which I summarized in this post.

Lonely Men of Faith
Rabbi Steve Greenberg visited U of C to promote his (then) new book Wrestling with God and Men. Coincidentally, I was taking the Little Red Schoolhouse writing class (and amazing experience in its own right) and I needed a final essay topic. Little did I know that this would begin an unintentional foray into the discussion of gays in the halakhic world. Also, I loved the title.

Mixed Blessings
This was just a cute story, but notable for being the first time it got me printed outside of the blog.

I stand by my premise that dating sites are gold mines for statistical research, though it’s much easier if you can use the backend SQL as opposed to the standard site search. Either way it’s still boring to do yourself, that’s why we have grad students.

Personal Hashkafa Series
One of the most important series of posts for understanding my thought and approach to Jewish problems and questions. In previous redesigns this link was embedded on the sidebar. In particular, the distinction between “Orthodox Judaism” and “Shomer Torah” turned out be an essential (and useful) recurring theme in this blog and in my rabbinate.

The Pirate of Penance
A nice devar torah with a fun title.

The Chag Hasemikhah Drinking Game
A collaborative shtick with Rabbi Avraham Bronstein, because you should never take yourself too seriously.

Double Standards
When the Israeli conservative mess first started, few people were pointing out that converts are a biblically protected class such that oppressing them violates a positive and negative commandment. In theory the doubt of a convert’s status ought to favor the dual biblical laws, but in theory you’d also expect Rabbis to prioritize Torah over politics.

Adieu To Edah
Once upon a time there was an organization called “Edah” whose motto was “The Courage to be Modern and Orthodox.” It held its first conference in 1999 where I scored an interview with Rabbi Dr. Saul J. Berman, and more importantly met my first girlfriend. It seems strange to think that back in 1999 Edah was considered to be a huge threat to Orthodox Judaism, and depending on your definition it probably was. In 2006 Edah ceased to function as an entity but with Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, Maharat, and the International Rabbinic Fellowship, you could argue that Edah is no longer needed because it had accomplished its goals.

9 Av, The Hurban, And The Lessons of Sodom
An important devar torah on the dangers of misplaced religiosity.

The Jewish Wedding Checklist
Getting married? This post will help keep you sane.

Existential Teshuva And The Incredible Hulk
‘Nuff said.

A Response To The Conservative Teshuva On Homosexuality
When Conservative Judaism came out with its statements on homosexuality, I initially had no intention of responding simply because I thought it would have no impact on my Orthodox community. But for several gay Orthodox friends of mine, the Conservative responsa were extremely significant in that they were well researched and well argued solutions based on traditional halakhic literature. Orthodox Jews tend to automatically dismiss Conservative halakhah but for the Orthodox homosexuals who live with constant struggle these responsa could theoretically have provided a solution. No one in the Orthodox world was going to dignify the Conservative responsa with a serious rebuttal, and so several homosexual friends of mine asked me for my thoughts, expecting a coherent response. This post also won the 2006 People’s Choice Award, and ultimately led to me completing my Master’s Thesis from the University of Chicago.

How to Handle Negiah.org
A rare instance of rage blogging, but in my defense this idiot misread gemaras and compared rape victims to vegetarians.

The Yeshiva And The Bazaar
Another computer science metaphor, but one which I think accurately depicts the differences between YCT and YU, and perhaps two different models of Orthodox Judaism as a whole.

The Consolation of Nachamu
This devar torah has personal meaning to me, and something which I’ve thought of formally expanding (I’ve given several follow up derashot on the shiva denechimta)

Franchising Judaism: The Politics Of Exclusion
Along the lines of viewing Judaisms as communities, this post explains Jewish societal conflicts as a matter of protecting one’s perceived brand.

The Real Laws of the Three Weeks and Nine Days
Another post which came out of not wanting to constantly repeat myself, and a good example of differentiating between law and custom.

A Fair And Balanced Approach To Jewish Social Justice
This essay was originally written for Conversations, a publication of Rabbi Marc Angel’s Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals. The requirement was to write for a popular audience using no footnotes, which I admit was a challenge. The ideas in this essay formed the basis for my entry into thinking about “social justice” from a halakhic – as opposed to political or partisan – perspective. Many of these were developed into a shiur / class series listed below.

Rabbi / Obama Health Care Conference Call
During the height of the Universal Health Care debate, President Barack Obama held a conference call with hundreds of rabbis of all denominations from around the country. His message was simply that we, as rabbis, should advocate for health care reform from the pulpit during the High Holidays. Rabbi Jack Moline had tweeted Obama as saying “We are God’s partners in matters of life and death” which some took to be yet another indication of the President’s messianic delusions. This media scrutiny to an otherwise innocuous PR stunt led mainstream media reporters to this post, which I was pleased and relieved to say was received very favorably. The most gratifying comment was from Volokh who wrote, “More rabbis should heed this wisdom: “‘Rabbis have enough difficulty understanding the nuances and intricacies of their own religion to be promoting specific policies in areas for which they have no expertise.'”

The R. Moshe Feinstein Eruv Opinion No One Likes Quoting
Few things on the Lower East Side are argued as much as R. Moshe Feinstein and Eiruvin, which is a shame given how mature, professional, and dare I say “pluralistic” this teshuva is.

Mechirat Chametz Fail
Sometimes you just can’t help people.

The Politics of Ordaining Orthodox Women Rabbis
With Maharats in the news again, this post is an important read. While I stand by my argument, I think some ideas are worth updating or at least revisiting and revising.

Episode 4 – The Jewish Communities of Medellin Colombia
In one of the most memorable opportunities of my rabbinate I was sent to Medellin Colombia to work with conversions and investigate the Jews of Bello.

Land of Confusion – A Response to R. Broyde on Women Leading Kabbalat Shabbat
Just because a rabbi says something does not make it so.

Episode 19 – Politics of Exclusion: David Berger vs. Chabad Lubavitch
I was exceptionally pleased with how this class turned out in that I felt I was able to redact Dr. David Berger’s book into a logically coherent argument, and in doing so reduce a volatile controversy into a relatively “simple” matter of facts and theology.

Economics and Social Justice in Jewish Law Class Series
One day I hope to turn this series into a book, perhaps even a PhD if I can get into a program.

Why Orthodox Jews Should Not Oppose Legalizing Same Sex Marriage
Why Same-Sex Marriage Violates Jewish Law
These two go together for the simple reason that the first got me called “an agent of the gay lobby out to destroy aggudah” and “an evil, evil man” while the latter got me described in right-wing media as a “leader” against gay marriage. Since I need to be explicit I will summarize my opinions thusly: 1. Any and all same-sex commitment ceremonies intended to mimic marriage are forbidden according to halakhah 2. Just because something is forbidden according to Jewish law does not mean we ought to start imposing halakhah on the secular public.

The Myths and Realities of “The Shidduch Crisis”
I wrote more about Jewish Dating earlier in the blog’s life but I think this relatively recent one addressed the most salient, and overlooked, aspects of the shidduch world.

“Gadolatry” In Orthodox Jewish Discourse
Seriously, how can someone not like the word “Gadolatry?” Well I guess it is kind of easy…

The Selective Sanctimony of Orthodox Judaism
By far the most shared and distributed essay I’ve ever written, though in fairness, Facebook and Twitter didn’t even exist when I started blogging. Still, it looks like I hit a nerve with this one.

Ep. 55 Current Jewish Questions 2 – Tzniut / Modesty
This class gets a nod for redefining “modesty” by inductively defining the full range of the word.

Blame Rabbis For Agunot, But For The Right Reasons
Rabbis ought to be held accountable for their failures, but to do so requires ignoring self-righteous rhetoric and evaluating facts instead.

Daf Yomi Tweets – Masechet Berachot
I started Daf Yomi with the new cycle this past summer and I began tweeting with the hashtags #DafYomi and #DafChat, often to the annoyance of Facebook friends whose walls were inundated with Torah and bad jokes. Berachot provided a good starting point for figuring out a tweeting daf yomi voice with its accessibility, familiarity, and good mix of halakhah and aggadah.

Ep. 101 Current Jewish Questions 23 – Biblical Criticism and Orthodox Judaism
In which I solve one of the greatest theological challenges to Judaism since the 19th century, and all because of two little words.

So this is my self-selected list of “Greatest Hits” from the past 10 years. If there was one I’ve listed or forgotten which resonated, please drop a line in the comments!

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