Saturday, November 24, 2007


Jews own the world. We dominate science and literature (even science fiction!). Particle physics and cognitive psychology. Banks, news-media and the entertainment industry. So how come I can't find a single nice Jewish gymnast? We are a failure!

Chanukah is a beautiful holiday -- it truly is. The lights, the songs, the family parties. But we do need a Santa figure to complete the picture. I think I'll tell the little ones that the Rebbe comes down the chimney to leave them presents under the menorah. (They already know that he knows who's been naughty or nice, so we've got that part covered.)

After some experimentation, I can report that Jingle Bells is a nice song to sing to yourself while soaking in a hot bath, particularly when it's snowing outside. For the shower, I recommend singing Hava Nagila -- dancing a little jig doesn't hurt. But don't slip!!! (I can't overstate the importance of this last step.)

Xenon forms way too many compounds to be called a noble gas. I mean, xenon hexafluoride? Come on!

A tetrahedron is a beautiful thing.

Is the fact that as pervasive and important a mathematical constant as Pi is an irrational number a simple cosmic accident, or a sign of an intelligent designer with a wicked sense of humor?

Is the fact that sex is messy and sticky and makes you assume weird and bendy positions you'd never assume otherwise a sign of an intelligent designer with a wicked sense of humor, or a sign of an intelligent designer with an adolescent sense of amusement and a slight sadistic streak?

Does Jacob Stein really mean all the mean things he says, or is he simply a misunderstood soul in desperate need of a hug?

Thursday, November 15, 2007


He's dying, apparently.

"Eight months -- at the most." The doctor, wearing a cool matter-of-fact demeanor wholly inappropriate to the words coming out of his mouth, shifts from foot to foot, eager to run to his next patient. He's a busy man; he has additional death-sentences to deliver and poisons that bring destruction but with it, a hope for that most precious of commodities, life, to administer. There's no time today. He rushes off -- morphing from angel-of-death to bearer of good news and later back again, like some grotesque gargoyle sprinkled with pixie-dust -- leaving only shocked silence behind.

Impossible! He's much too young!

"Six months," the second-opinionator said, a bit more glumly. "With treatment."

"And without?"

"Two months. And," he adds casually, "that may be the better option from a quality-of-life perspective."

"No way!"

Yes, way. And so it is. Another person falling victim to the vicissitudes of an indifferent universe. As much as it sucks watching someone close to you watch someone close to her die a slow, painful, confusing death, I imagine it sucks even more to actually die a slow, painful, confusing death. 'Suck it up,' I think to myself. 'Try to lighten the mood. Where's the wit and the humor? Leave the gloom for the blog!' Indeed. Jokes are easy. Some understated absurdities delivered with a twinkle and a phony oh-I-just-thought-of-that spontaneity and you're set. He laughs and laughs, and I feel much better about myself. But when nobody is watching, I can't help but think.

And think.

And think.

What will I tell the children? They're very close to him, and they'll have questions -- lots of them. Even if they won't articulate them, it'll probably be better if I speak with them about it eventually. Of course, we'll need a different approach with the teen-aged children than we do with the younger ones. I cannot in good conscience reinforce the nonsense everybody else will be selling -- heaven and hell and eternal life. Although, I will not be cruel and contradict it -- that wouldn't make any sense either. But I doubt that brings much comfort anyway. All it does is cause you to make stupid decisions.

Like, deciding treatment based on what this or that Rebbe said -- someone they dug up from the far sides of the earth. Are you frigging kidding me??? We're talking about life-and-death here, and you're making decisions on a senile old man's word because you think he is holy and has a special connection to God? The same God that brought this on in the first place! I seethe and simmer, but I don't say anything; it's futile. I have no real word in this, and it'll only cause further pain and suffering. I calm down when I realize we are really talking death-and-death here, not life-and-death. When you don't have much to lose, making decisions based on whatever brings you comfort makes logical sense. Even lighting candles and promising to be good so God won't punish him anymore. Wait....... punish HIM??? Why, you think God misplaced your address and decided to punish him to get back at you? He can't find you on Google? What kind of pathetic deity is that? Oh well. Anyway, what to tell the children? The best approach is probably to explain your own view of life (and death) and how you deal with it yourself, made more palatable for younger ears of course. So, how do I deal with it myself? Good question!

Life is fleeting; death is inevitable. We all need to live a life meaningful to us in the here and now, and enjoy every day as it comes. Life is a wonderful gift, not to be squandered on ruminations of fear and death. Live a good life as best you know how, and you'll have no regrets when the inevitable catches up with you -- be it today, tomorrow, or hopefully, many many years from now. Grab life by the horns and enjoy the ride, because all too soon you'll be thrown off. Most important, make sure people around you enjoy your ride as well -- bull riding in an empty arena is a joyless and meaningless and pointless exercise. Live every day as though it is your last, yes, just like our sages said. You will not go wrong.

What a hypocrite!

What would I do if I knew I'll most probably be dead in, say, eight months? I'm pretty sure it will not be what I'm doing now. There are things I need -- absolutely need -- to say, things I must -- must! -- do, places I'd like to go, before I'm finished here. So what am I waiting for? For a death sentence lovingly delivered, wrapped in white and green with the sweet-sour smell of disinfectant and the cacophony of beeping machinery all around? Or maybe death will come suddenly, like a silent monster sneaking out of a child's worst nightmares and with a sudden whoooosh! is gone again, taking your most prized possession with it? Who really knows? Why am I not taking my own advice? Maybe because some things are best left unsaid and undone. Or maybe, just maybe, because I'm a cowardly fool. Perhaps something in-between those two?

Meanwhile, watching a car roll off a cliff in slow motion -- getting increasingly battered on the sharp and menacing rocks on the way down, each dull thud! a sure sign things are worse and the bottom is closer, waiting for that final terrible sound it makes when it reaches bottom, soon, soon, too soon -- just makes me cringe. Poor passenger. What can I say? Death just puts a crimp in my step.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Recently, I found myself at a family simchah (celebration), seated next to some pious and scholarly friends and relatives. While I don't particularly enjoy the scholarly kind of discourse this usually entails, it's certainly better than the stupid and inane discussions of Hasidic politics and which Rebbe now hates whose brother and who exactly is going to which Hell that usually passes for pleasant chit-chat at these events, and I have much more to contribute, too. So the discussion is going along swimmingly -- Talmudic quotes, halachic nitpickings, comments on the food -- until the attention turns to the poor guy sitting at the other table in jeans and brown shirt, small kippah perched atop a head-full of unruly hair, the neat store-bought folds clearly identifying the kippah as new and the wearer as an 'outsider'.

"Who's he?" someone asks.

"Oh, he's Yankel's brother," someone else says, "the one who went to live with his father after the split. Remember?"

There's an audible gasp and from the audience around the table with eyes opened wide in pained surprise, as if an invisible boot just collectively kicked everyone in the gonads.

"Him??? Wow. Look at him. He's a regular goy now!"

This is followed by much clucking of tongues and shaking of heads. An unbelievable sight, he is. He could've grown up such a nice Chassidish young man, just like his brother. Instead, he doesn't look like us at all!

We didn't get much time to digest this tragedy when the most pious at the table quickly turned the discussion back to practical matters. First, there's the matter with the wine. He surely doesn't keep Shabbos even in public, and thus can turn the wine into yayin nesech -- unkosher wine, just by touching it. There's some discussion on that, and I start feeling uncomfortable. Next, the discussion veers to more weighty matters: are we allowed -- nay, are we commanded -- to kill him, as we do a heretic? Again, there's some discussion pro and con -- while I can't help thinking, Jeezus christ on a stick! here we go again! Are these people listening to themselves? Are they totally unaware that they sound exactly like the despised Muslim Jihadis? I need to say something. But what?

At last, the most learned of the group pronounces the verdict: we're not allowed to kill him, but we're also not allowed to save him from mortal danger -- a concept known as lo ma'alin v'lo moridin. After this exhausting scholarly dialogue, the conversation turns back to the mundane. Needless to say, I'm totally exasperated at this point. "What a pity," the fatwa originator is now saying, "he could've grown up such a nice young man, instead of the worthless, brainwashed secular soul he is now."

I see my chance. "You realize" I cheerfully intone, "that he thinks exactly the same of you?" That elicited a smug chuckle, exactly as expected. Seeing me as an ally, he couldn't help interpreting my words the opposite from how I intended it. Everyone around the table was quick to agree. Sure, he thinks the same of us. He thinks WE are brainwashed. Ha ha, how incredibly silly of him -- he can't see the truth in front of his very eyes! I give some time for this self-congratulatory groupthink to sink in. Finally, the gabble subsided.

"You know the difference between him and us, though," I lean in conspiratorially. Of course everyone knows the difference. He's wrong, and we're right! He wants to eat pig and have lots of degenerate sex, while we're holy and pious! He's silly, we're smart!

"Well, he wouldn't even dream of killing you, and I'm pretty sure he wouldn't have second thoughts about saving you if he sees you in mortal danger!"

Silence. Some uncomfortable shifting in the seats. "Huh???"

"As I said. Doesn't that mean he's actually right about the brainwashing, while you are all wrong?"

More uncomfortable silence. "Uh, uhm, err, well, see, I certainly would save him in THIS day and age. Those things are not applicable today."

"Thank God! You sounded pretty self-righteously serious when you discussed this just five minutes ago."

And we all went back to eating the food. To the Jihadi's credit though, I'm pretty sure he finally thought about it. Twice.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A Play

A synagogue. People are walking about, mumbling and periodically shouting at an invisible presence in that disembodied manner of the subway tramp. Suddenly:

Moshe: "Shhhhh!!!!"

Baal: [Icy stare; goes back to discussing the merits of the Kuzari and the chemical differences between protium and deuterium]

Moshe: "Shhhhhh!!!!" [Thump, thump, thump]

Baal: [Glare]

Moshe: "Hisssssssssss! We're davening!!!"

Baal: [Sarcastically] "We are?"

Later, Moshe and Baal meet outside:

Moshe: "Sorry for that; I understand we all have a yetzer hara (evil inclination), and I sometimes fall prey to it as well. But have you ever thought about the terrible calamity you bring about by talking in the middle of prayers?"

Baal: [Sweetly] "Oh, thank you for worrying about my soul and my eternal reward. At least somebody does! That's so kind of you."

Moshe: "You don't understand. It's not you I'm worried about, it's me! If I don't say anything I'm liable to get punished myself!"

Baal: "Wow, now I've lost all respect for you. I thought you were selflessly worrying about my wellbeing. Turns out you're just being a selfish crank! All you care about is yourself?"

Moshe: [Stare]

Baal: [Fuck you, too]


An apartment. Children and adults are walking about mumbling to themselves, and periodically shouting (but not at an invisible presence).

She: "Seen the latest news out of Iran? See how they oppress women? How messed up they are!"

He: "Yeah. I think we should move there. We'd be happy."

She: [Smile] "What makes you say that?"

He: "Well, we live in Iran now. We might as well go all the way."

She: [Huh?] "How?"

He: "Have you tried going out with uncovered hair lately? Uncovered arms? How about with colored stockings? You'd be burnt at the stake, pilloried, and if that's not enough, run out of town! How about if you dress in a way considered too modern? Didn't work out too well for Toby."

She: "That's totally different."

He: "How, exactly?"

She: [Uh, uhmmm. Hmmm...] "I don't go out with that stupid looking chador!"

He: "You're right. You do shave your hair clean off, though. Don't you think those frum chador-wearing women think that is stupid?"

She: "Let's finish this conversation."

He: "Okay." [Damn it!!!]

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Sufi Hakafos and Sheine Meidelech

How I spent my Simchat Torah: (Run at double speed to get an almost exact approximation of my hakafot. Can you spot me?)

(Hat-tip: Ben Atlas)

How I'd rather spend it: (Sheine meidelech... swimming in the sea, according to the singer. Can't argue with that logic, can you?)

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Yom Kippur Reflections

Beseech, beg, shout. Again and again. Is God deaf? Is he impressed by tears, by gal, by song? How many times does he need to hear how great and wonderful He is, how we are all sinners, slaves, and the very embodiment of Nothing next to His infinite greatness? Is his infinite ego that fragile?

"Forgive us, for we have sinned!" The list in the prayers is long and complicated, and of course repeated often. Sins that I've never even dreamed of, and wouldn't want to be in the same room with those who have. I'm weary. Did anybody commit these?

And of course the promises. Totally sincere. "I'll never do that again!" It's Yom Kippur after all -- a time for repentance. What hypocrisy! Why the mask? We know you'll be back to the same shenanigans as soon as the day is over! Is your God so feeble minded that he's fooled by the same faux sincerity display every single year, like the travelling side-show fooling the foolish with the three-card Monte every year again?

And so, locked away in my humble little hideaway, I reflect: will I live another year under my mask? Will I continue to live but not live, love but hate, be passionate but stay empty, yearn for nothing, laugh heartily -- but more so, bitterly? Can I afford to do that again? Can I afford not to?

Time to go. Musaf is coming up. And I'll have you know that thanks to Larry Craig, I did NOT take a wide stance here. That would be inappropriate; it's Yom Kippur, for God's sake!

Have an easy fast -- even though by the time you read this the fast is
probably over.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Bite Your Tongue

"Hi!" he smiled sweetly, turning to face me with the air of a man who just bumped into a really pretty girl (which, just to be clear, I most definitely am not) at a bar (which, just to be clear, it most definitely wasn't) and has great hopes for the conversation that might ensue. I fix him with a quizzical look -- the look that silently expresses 'do I know you from somewhere? Can't you see I'm busy? Do you know where the nearest bathroom might be, or my ten year old might pee his pants soon? Where did the oldest wander off to? Oops, the little one is kicking the display that says 'Do Not Touch!' again. Why is it so dark in here? There you go, just throw up. I'll get a tissue. Hey, how did the baby get THAT?!?! Yes, I'm enjoying myself -- aren't we all? Why do you ask?'

"Are you from around here?" he continued cheerfully, seemingly oblivious to my thoughts.

"Yes. You?"

"No. From France -- Marseilles."

"Oh." Apparently, there aren't that many Jews in Marseilles, and this typical French tourist decided that now is a good time to talk to the Jew right here in the museum. Great.

"You know, this is really tough," he continues, vaguely motioning in the direction of the huge flat screen modeling the big bang and the formation of our planet over and over and over again in an endless loop, like the movie Groundhog Day writ large. "After all, we KNOW Hakadosh Baruch-Hu created the world out of nothing, less than six thousand years ago. It says so explicitly in the Torah. Right? What are we supposed to think?"

Oops. I do a quick double take, adjusting my mental image from 'typical French tourist' to 'bare-headed, bare-shouldered, Chareidi French Jew' as fast and with as little facial expression as I could muster. What tipped him off that I might help him with his predicament? Was it the long payos? The big black velvet yarmulke? Damn. Now this is really great. He traveled all the way from France to New York so he could discuss theology with........ me! The irony is delicious. Dark thoughts start forming in my head. I'll explain to him the stupidity of what he just said. I'll laugh in his face. Or maybe I should tell him he can be a believing Jew and still believe in the big bang? It's possible -- many pull that off. Or should I tell him I don't believe in his ridiculous God?

"I know," I shrug, "it's tough."

"But........ it's really tough, isn't it?" He sighed a long drawn-out sigh.

Oh man. This is too much. I shrug again, smile the sweetest smile possible under the circumstances, bite my tongue, and hurry off to find a bathroom.


"Look, there are so many goyim in here" I vaguely hear my oldest saying to my second-oldest. I wasn't really listening up to this point, so much as being happy they are entertaining each other instead of arguing or fighting. But now my interest is piqued. "I know what we should do," she continues. "Lets refrain from looking at some of them and then we can pray for whatever we want and our prayers will be answered. My teacher said if you keep holy and stop yourself from looking at a goy, you can pray for whatever you want."

What an excellent education she's getting! And I'm paying for it, even. How proud that makes me! But my second is unconvinced. "Yeah? I'll refrain from looking at the next one and then pray for Moshiach. And when he doesn't come, I'll know it isn't true!" A budding scientist, I think to myself. I wonder how long it'll take until he applies the scientific method to everything she's taught. Oh well. Anyway, I need to say something. I can't let the 'dirty goyim' bromide pass without a comment, lest my own children turn into the very people I cannot stand with a worldview I cannot stomach. But as soon as I open my mouth, my wife shoots me a dirty look. She knows my views on this particular subject and we have agreed to disagree. But of course, I better not confuse the children with my poisonous opinions. I understand that look well. It says 'you better bite your tongue, or I'll do it for you, and not in the good way.' So I do as told, and bite my tongue -- again.


"A food stand!" I exclaim enthusiastically. I need to get something to eat, or at least a drink. Maybe even for the children as well. "Everything has an OU" I add helpfully, with faux enthusiasm. It has an OU-D, but does it really matter? But my poor wife is horror-stricken.

"Not in front of the children!" she hisses. "You know we have to be careful with their chinuch -- their upbringing!" Yeah, I know. Start them off on OU-D and soon they'll think there might be nothing wrong with looking at goyim! Next thing you know, they're dancing with a shiksa while balancing a pig on their heads. I bite my tongue yet again -- really hard this time. It hurts (no, not the tongue), but is still better than the alternative. Or is it?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

In the spirit of Tish'a Ba'av

Blue and green and wind, a beginning full of hopes,
A future sight unseen, yet to know the ropes
Shimmering glass, glistening, as far as you could see
Eyes blinded by light, surely that's for me

Oh laugh and run and stumble, wounds are never sore,
See! It is life, forever more

Dreams haunting and fresh, and sweet as apple pie,
Disturbed by angry diamonds, telling you a lie
Worry and distemper, the sharp horizon etched
Shadows stamp and shout, not as far-fetched

Laugh and run and stumble, shaken to the core,
See! It is life, never more

Atop glistening stars - gauzy heaven blown by air,
Beneath - flaming marble, you look and stare
Cry and shout and bellow, in deafening silence beseech
Back - a hellish hollow, forward out of reach

Laugh and run and stumble, remember days of yore?
See! It was life, tossed out the door

Ring of Fire burns, without any fuel at all
Scorched around the edges, when the flames were small
Yellow and red and white, much bigger than he
And so it burns a hole, where the soul used to be

Laugh and run and stumble, don't listen to lore,
See! This is life, and so it will be more

A lonely figure on a ship, on the waves of space,
Chilled by the mist of time, finding no solace
Battered, crushed by Nothing, black irony is thus
Chased a phantom, from a dream, that never even was

Laugh and run and stumble? Not like before,
It was life indeed, but now it is no more

Monday, July 23, 2007


I've long thought that if we would republish the stories in Nach (the Hebrew biblical books outside of the Pentateuch) under a different cover, dressed up in modern language and perhaps illustrated by a skilled illustrator, it would put any modern history text or popular work to shame. The narrative is so varied and stories so numerous that a skilled storyteller should be able to regale anyone, whether young or old, ignorant or educated, for hours and hours on end.

There are tales of war and intrigue, ghosts and angels, prostitutes and generals, kings and rebels, outsized heroes and frightening villains, loss and grief, guile and innocence, religious devotion and pagan tomfoolery, horrible rape and tender love, wanton murder and miraculous resurrection, terrible revenge and great reward, irony and revelry, and what not? They run the gamut of the human experience in both fact and fiction, sprinkled with poetry throughout and all set in the great arc of Jewish history. No wonder we, entertainment-averse Chassidim, refuse to teach Nach in our schools!

Apparently, the entertainment and business potential of all that wasn't lost on one Suleyman, an Arab dragoman living in 19th century Syria. A clever and witty fellow, that Suleyman, and one who obviously knew his trade well and understood how to tailor his services to his clientele, all while amusing himself with his ability to befuddle his charges with what should've been very familiar stories. And so, here is his unique take on Sampson's revenge (Judges 15) and Elijah's slaughter (1 Kings 18:40), courtesy of the memoirs of Marmaduke William Pickthall:

One English parson he [Suleyman] bedevilled utterly by telling him the truth--or the accepted legend--in such a form that it seemed false or mad to him.

As they were riding out from Jaffa towards Jerusalem, he pointed to the mud-built village of Latrun and said:

'That, sir, is the place where Simpson catch the foxes.'

'Ah?' said the clergyman. 'And who was Simpson?'

'He was a very clever gentleman, and liked a bit of sport.'

'Was he an Englishman?'

'No, sir; he was a Jew. He catch a lot of foxes with some traps; he kill them and he take their skins to Jaffa to the tailor, and he tell the tailor: "Make me one big skin out of these little ones." The tailor make one thundering big fox's skin, big enough for Simpson to get inside of it. Then Simpson, he put on that skin one night, and go and sit out in the field and make the same noise what the little foxes make. The little foxes come out of their holes to look; they see one big fox sitting there, and they not know it's really Simpson. They come quite near and Simpson catch hold of their tails and tie their tails together. Then they make the noise, and still more foxes come, and Simpson catch hold of their tails and tie their tails together, till he got hundreds and hundreds.'

'Whatever did he do with them?' inquired the parson.

'He set fire to them.'

'What on earth did he do that for?'

'That, sir, was to annoy his wife's relations.'

'And would you believe it,' added Suleyman when he told me the story, 'that foolish preacher did not know that it is in the Bible. He took it all down in his notebook as the exploit of a Jewish traveller. He was the Heavy One.'


One afternoon, when I was riding round the bay from Akka towards the foot of Carmel, supposing Suleyman to be a hundred miles away, I came upon a group of tourists by the river Kishon, on the outskirts of the palm grove. They had alighted and were grouped around a dragoman in gorgeous raiment, like gulls around a parrot. The native of the land was holding forth to them. His voice was richly clerical in intonation, which made me notice that his audience consisted solely of members of the clergy and their patient women.

'This, ladies and gentlemen,' the rascal was declaiming like a man inspired, 'is that ancient riffer, the riffer Kishon. It was here that the great Brophet Elijah bring the Brophets of Baal after he catch them with that dirty trick which I exblain to you about the sacrifice ub there upon that mountain what you see behind you. Elijah he come strollin' down, quite habby, to this ancient riffer, singin' one little song; and the beoble they lug down those wicked brophets. Then Elijah take one big, long knife his uncle gif him and sharben it ubon a stone like what I'm doin'. Then he gif a chuckle and he look among those brophets; and he see one man he like the look of, nice and fat; and he say: "Bring me that man!" They bring that man; Elijah slit his throat and throw him in the riffer. Then he say: "Bring his brother!" and they bring his brother, and he slit his throat and throw him in the riffer ... till they was ALL gone. Then Elijah clean his knife down in the earth, and when he'd finished laughin' he put ub a brayer.

'That was a glorious massycration, gentlemen!'

The preacher was Suleyman, at struggle with the Heavy Ones.

(Hattip: BAR)

Sunday, June 17, 2007


Take note: a great blogging gadol, the inimitable Shtreimel, has been hacked, his blog defiled, his email stolen. The Hassid (--and The Heretic) lost its Shtreimel, and it is not pretty -- but x-rated. For the time being, you can reach him at

He's back!

Thursday, June 14, 2007


(A repost from something I've written elsewhere)

יומו של הקב"ה אלף שנים שנא' כי אלף שנים בעיניך כיום אתמול
A day to God is a thousand years, as is said: "For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by"

So I read the above and think (yeah, yeah, I shouldn't do that, I know): exactly at what speed is God traveling to achieve this kind of time dilation? And given that, how big a distance did God manage to travel so far?

For simplicity's sake, let's assume for now that God is traveling at constant velocity. (I think -- but may be mistaken -- that we can achieve a more dramatic effect if we have God maintaining constant acceleration. But I'm not sure even a deity can sustain that indefinitely.) Also, let's discount the possibility that God is permanently parked right next to a black hole (although that would explain a lot).

For starters, I'm trying to get a Lorentz transformation calculator working. But I'm woefully ignorant on how exactly I should deal with velocity figures. My calculator doesn't understand v. ;-) So, anyone else ever wondered about this question? (Thought so.)

Why I need to know God's speed, you ask? Well, first of all, as Orthoprax knows, we need to know these things. "If the issue is important to [us], then practically we cannot let it remain undecided." But mostly, I'd really like to know if I can beat Her in a race to the End.

Update 1:
Since nobody offered to help, I was forced to think about it some more. We need to express v in terms of the speed of light, of course! Duh, what a stupid question.

Since a mean Hebrew year has 365.2468 days, we need a time dilation factor of 365,246.8.

So, to simplify {1day / sqrt(1- v^2 / c^2) } into {1/ sqrt(1- 0.999999999996251^2)} (we take c=1 to simplify the calculation) gets us pretty close. That means God is traveling at (approximately) 299,792,457.998876 meters per second, or 670,616,629.381881 m.p.h., right?

Hmmm, I think I may need a new minivan if I hope to beat that!

Update 2:
All this further means, of course, that to find the speed necessary for any time dilation factor f (in this case 365,246.8), all we need to do is {sqrt(1- (1/f)^2)c} (simple, huh?), which, with c expressed in meters per second of 299,792,458, gives us the correct answer of 299,792,457.998876! (And also yields a more accurate figure for v: 0.999999999996252)

Was it that difficult to say {sqrt(1- (1/f)^2)c} instead of letting me figure it all out with pen and paper??? Gee, thanks! ;-) So now, how about we add acceleration into the mix? Anyone?

P.S. To those who inquired (or wondered but didn't inquire): the picture on the previous post is not of a real person, but rather of a larger-than-life sculpture by the incredibly talented artist Ron Mueck. Click here for a gallery of his work. (Warning: some images may be offensive to some. Proceed with caution.)

Tuesday, May 08, 2007


Nineteen Eighty-Four

He knew that sooner or later he would obey O’Brien’s summons. Perhaps tomorrow, perhaps after a long delay—he was not certain. What was happening was only the working-out of a process that had started years ago. The first step had been a secret, involuntary thought, the second had been the opening of the diary. He had moved from thoughts to words, and now from words to actions. The last step was something that would happen in the Ministry of Love. He had accepted it. The end was contained in the beginning.
נעץ סופו בתחילתו, ותחילתו בסופו

Monday, April 16, 2007

JIB awards

It appears that unbeknownst to me, some kind-hearted soul decided to nominate this here humble blog for a JIB award in the Jewish Skepticism category. I'm flattered. And bemused.

What are the JIB awards, you may wonder? The winners of the JIB awards are awarded with a JIB award, which consists of -- you guessed it -- an award called the "JIB award". It's a contest whose purpose is to identify -- in no uncertain terms and in categories split into as many sub-atomic classes (and sometimes provoking the associated Sound and Fury) as is humanly possible -- the blog-writer who can attract the most readers of the kind who are idle, bored and soft-minded enough that they can be goaded, by endlessly repeated and hollow entreaties, into mindlessly and vigorously bleating "this blog good, that blog bad" over and over and over again, like good little sheeple.

In that vein, I urge everyone to vote for DovBear in the Jewish skepticism category. Thank you.

P.S. To the entity that nominated this blog: Should you chose to identify yourself, you will receive the coveted Hamlitze"l (*) award.

(*) הנותן מתנה לחבירו צריך להודיעו

Monday, March 19, 2007

Smoke and Mirrors

"Here," he said, "let's try this one."

"Why not?" I shrugged. "Let's." I shot one last, furtive glance all around and quickly ducked inside. "Think anyone took a picture?" I quipped, only half-jokingly. He seemed annoyed.

I stopped to get my bearings. We were standing in the entrance of a dimly lit and somewhat gloomy diner on an unfamiliar street in an unfamiliar neighborhood. Since my visage makes it apparent that I should be eating only kosher, and it is equally apparent that this diner doesn't quite serve glatt meat, I sincerely hoped the neighborhood is unfamiliar to any other Orthodox members of the wandering tribe as well. I'd rather this delightfully incongruous sight not be the talk of the town tomorrow morning, as it is liable to be if someone heimish spots me here.

We didn't stand for long. Soon, a perpetually smiling waiter with a pleasant demeanor approached and offered to seat us at a table of our choosing. We chose one with an unobstructed view of the comings and goings outside, but not one close enough to the floor-to-ceiling windows to allow the passers-by to catch sight of us. You can never be too safe.

"Menus" the waiter said, as he dropped them at our table. I picked one up and halfheartedly scanned the strange choices offered, almost disappointed when I couldn't find kugel or chulent or even chicken soup. Nothing seemed worthy of trying, which was just as well. I wasn't very hungry, anyway. It wasn't food that compelled me to come all the way out here, but rather ... what exactly? I wasn't entirely sure, but I knew this: it was a rare chance of spending some time with friends who knew my true self, and it promised to be an interesting time. A time away from never-ending obligations, away from an emotionally taxing charade, away from an impossible two-faced existence, away from soul soiling duplicity, away from pervasive and repugnant judgmentalism, away even from too many years of exhausting philosophical and theological ruminations, arduous debates and the total destruction of a worldview I was taught to hold dearer than life itself. Away from it all.

"You're not going to eat?"

"I guess I should," I muttered as I picked up the menu again, looking -- without success -- for something I might call food. A flash of inspiration suddenly hit. As long as I'm here, I thought, I might as well pig out.

"Get me number thirteen," I told the smiling waiter next time he came around. "And don't go overboard with the sauce."

He took the menu from me and looked at the number I indicated. Canadian bacon, it said, served with something uninteresting and tasteless. To his credit, he didn't flinch or even skip a beat. "Sure," he said simply, though I can only imagine the tale he must have told the kitchen staff or his friends later at the pub.

The first bite was rather delectable, I have to say. I savored the delicious taste -- the taste of freedom and autonomous choice. The second was a bit smoky and heavy on the palate. The fifth tasted positively slimy, the next was nauseating, and by the time I finished the first slice I was ready to throw up. "Pig is horrible," I kvetched. "Let's move on to better things."


Better things, it turns out, involves a bigger crowd. We were a motley crew assembled in an apartment set in a motley neighborhood far from prying eyes, with a prominent crucifix serving as droll silent commentary and a comical finishing touch to what surely would have been an amusing scene in turn-of-the-20th-century Yiddish theatre -- only this was more of a reality show. We were a crowd of friends -- chasidish and yeshivish, some frum-looking and some obviously frei, some apparently men and some obviously women -- assembled for no particular reason other than to meet and pass the time in pleasant company. Just like a shalom zachor, I thought, only better.

To my surprise, I soon felt more at ease than I've felt at any chasidish farbrengen in a long while. The feeling of stifling uniformity I get each time I attend a community event -- which feels like attending a lemming convention -- was noticeably absent. So were the mind-numbing spirit-rotting arguments about chasidish politics, discussions of the latest rabbinic prohibitions and proclamations and news about who else had a baby (yet again) or got engaged at the ripe old age of eighteen to someone they've met for a grand total of thirty minutes and conclusively determined their absolute compatibility since, see, one of them is a boy and the other a girl.

I was busy enjoying the atmosphere when some kind-hearted soul produced free beer (thanks!). Things were taking an interesting turn. Soon, someone else produced free hugs (much appreciated!) and yet another ... free pot (dude!). I felt strangely transported -- to an alien civilization, a different age, or perhaps an alternate reality. Am I dreaming? I imagined how it must have felt for those living in the restrictive conformity of the 50's suddenly finding themselves thrust right into the hippie culture of the 60's and 70's. We were far from being a bunch of counterculture hippies, of course, but the cultural disconnect was similarly disorienting -- and exhilarating.

I stared at her hands as she slowly, carefully, ground the cannabis flowers into a form she claimed was more conducive to smoking. I was getting an education, though not exactly the one I always wanted. She was giving an education, though not exactly to the people she ever imagined. She seemed bewildered to be teaching this to a couple of Hasidim in full regalia, but I couldn't blame her: I was fairly bewildered myself. Should I try it? I contemplated this for a while. On the one hand, I'm way too old and have too many responsibilities to start experimenting with drugs and alcohol, and I'm still too young to have a mid-life crisis. On the other hand, There's a time for everything, as the astute poet claims in Ecclesiastes, and this seemed a good time for losing my mind. The poet won out.

A horrible minutes-long coughing fit accompanied the first puff I took out of the pipe. I never knew I could go this long without catching my breath. What did I just do? And then everything changed.

I giggled at the slightest provocation. How amusing, I thought to myself, about nothing in particular. I tried to explain a great epiphany I just had about the way lobsters are killed and eaten -- but was interrupted mid-sentence by my own laughter. I never finished the thought, suddenly grasping that it doesn't really make any sense -- and neither does anything else. We live in an absurd world, I concluded, and I like it that way! I had a couple more epiphanies, but was having a hard time trying to articulate them. The English language seemed foreign and unfamiliar, totally useless for expressing whatever it is that was going on in my mind; Yiddish didn't have the desired effect either. I realized that shutting up is the prudent thing to do; how amusing!

It was my turn again. I inhaled deeply, keeping the smoke in my lungs as long as I could. Then I exhaled slowly, and reality as I knew it vanished in a puff of smoke.

I tucked my chin into my chest like a pugilist squaring off against a feared opponent, closed my eyes and lost myself in my own mind. What an interesting and remarkable place to be lost in! Wow. I didn't want to find my way out!

The background chatter seemed like so much white noise: comforting, but unintelligible. From time to time I glimpsed little vignettes of the reality around me, like the one-second stills in an advertising reel attempting to impress some sort of subliminal message. And what an amusing message it was! I listened to short one-sided snippets of the ongoing conversation -- something about hand-cream and wine, about chicken and college, about porn and chulent -- and smiled knowingly at what they mean to me, even though I was sure they mean something else entirely to whoever was uttering those words.

Touching my own skin felt oddly sensual and invigorating. I ran my fingers through my payos and longed for the pure bliss and divine pleasure it must be to run a hand through a woman's hair -- something I've never experienced. And then I thought about how easily I amuse myself, and was greatly amused.

We're sitting in some sort of restaurant again, but I can't be bothered to find out how we got here. "Do I seem weird to you?" I ask whoever is sitting next to me. "Because I seem weird to me." We were eating dinner -- or breakfast, I wasn't sure. I knew it's very late and time to go. A drunken Arabic woman is sitting right next to me for some odd reason, something I find amusing at first, until she starts cursing the Jews. I shoo her away. Someone was being very friendly to her in Arabic and there's some discussion and general befuddlement as to why she suddenly turned spiteful. I smile to myself, wondering why it doesn't occur to anyone that our friendly colleague who exhausted his Arabic vocabulary trying to flirt must've thrown in some juicy Arabic curses without realizing what he did. A simple miscommunication -- the root of most hostilities. An epiphany, but not one I have the vocabulary to share.

"Hey," I say to my chauffeur. "I know I may be out of my mind right now, but it seems to me you're driving between lanes."

"I know," came the reply.

"You know?! Get the hell back in lane, then!"

"I'm trying."

"Nice!" For the first time in many hours, I'm not amused.


I get up with a start. The sun is shining brightly through the window, and it seems a day like any other. Did I just dream all that? I wonder. I never had such lucid dreams. What a silly and self-indulgent escapist fantasy, writ large by an especially vivid dream! Or was it? I look around; the bed seems familiar, but it definitely isn't mine. Neither is the room, or the house. A tangy and bitter aftertaste assaults my taste buds, and a pungent smell lingers in my nostrils: the taste of bacon, and the smell of weed. What is going on? Did I really escape my own little prison, leaving everything I cherish behind? Did my past, my history, my identity, my very self, just vanish in a Puff of Smoke?

I stumble into the bathroom and stare blankly in the mirror. A man is staring right back, a wry, mocking grin painted on his face.

"What do you think you're doing?" the man in the mirror sardonically asks. "Flee? From what? 'Prison?' Whom are you kidding? Look at yourself! Look where you are, who you are, what you have! You know where you belong, and that's that!"

A nasty little man, this man-in-the-mirror. Can I not back up a couple of decades and start again? I'm traveling down a track that's going to the wrong destination. Can I not at least jump over to the neighboring track?

"You dim-witted, feeble-minded klutz. This train doesn’t go backwards! You can't get there from here. You want to forcibly rip up the track you're on and try to reach that track over there? You'll travel in the sand, you say? Ha! And what do you think will happen to all the little cars you're pulling behind? You'll wreak a great amount of havoc, and the ensuing dust and debris will so gum up the works that none of you will ever make it over there anyway!"

You stupid, malevolent, and pessimistic little shit. You're lucky I'm still all kinds of mellow, or I might have socked you in the kisser right here and now -- whoever you are, Mr. Man in the Mirror. Stop with the stupid metaphors and leave me be! Please? Pretty please?

"Now, now, look here. You seem rather disheveled. Brush the knots out of your beard, comb and curl your nice payos, and go get with the program before you get into real hot water. You know I mean the best for both of us. That's all you can, and will, do."

Fuck! I need another toke.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Meaning of Meaning

What is the meaning of life?

At one time or another, all thinking people grapple with a variant of this question. It is a dangerous and subversive question, in a sense; a question that causes one to seek, compels one to challenge, and tears one away from the spider-web of complacency. It is for this very reason that religion seeks to prevent its adherents from asking this question, and it does so by pretending it has the most compelling answer. It is unfortunate to me to see how, as Chasidim, we inculcate our young with the precarious notion that meaning is only to be found in God and religion. An obviously erroneous idea, but so powerful and appealing that once caught, like a virus, it is very difficult to shake.

I've never seen the logic in that claim. How is doing everything that an invisible and incomprehensible sky-monster commands somehow moral and meaningful? You are nothing more than a slave following the whims of his owner, toiling in fear of punishment and in hope of reward, and oh yeah, for the "love of thy master." Where is the morality? How is that the pinnacle of meaning?

"Subverting your desires," the adherents of this mind-numbing atrocity claim, "for the desires of God -- that is the very height of human achievement." How much more so, then, if instead of subverting our desires for the benefit of an imaginary being -- who, even according to believers, has no real needs or desires and can gain nothing from our meaningless actions -- we subvert them for the benefit of very real beings who have real needs and desires and have a tremendous amount to gain? How much more admirable that is! Expending energy placating an invisible bogeyman with ancient rituals doesn't seem especially moral to me. Instead, take away from the time and energy spent chasing your desires and go help the needy, visit the sick, feed the hungry, brighten the melancholy, take out the garbage, and save the world. That is true morality!

"Expressing ultimate fealty to your creator is the height of human accomplishment!" so goes an alternate version of the theory above. But why? Any creator sophisticated enough to create such an amazing machine can have no use for my stupid, vacuous and necessarily limited attempts at fealty. It can have no affect on Her! "It is for your own good, not for the creator's," the hangers-on will argue. How is this a laudable accomplishment, then? For my own good? That is pure selfishness! Fealty should be expressed -- even at the expense of your own comfort -- to humanity as a whole, and to specific humans in particular: friends, family, children, spouse, lover. That is a triumph of the human spirit!

From a very young age, our children are brainwashed to regard any human pursuit outside of Avodas Hashem (service to the Lord) as inherently meaningless. The filthy secular culture, we are repeatedly warned, is adrift in an abyss of purposeless pursuits and worthless endeavors. It is the way of ultimate meaninglessness, darkness, and futility. (Meaning, of course, but never quite mentioning, sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll.) Only God can add meaning to life.

The tragedy of this lie is not hard to see. What happens when someone fearlessly stares into the mouth of the abyss, and decides he likes it? Rock-and-roll is fun, drugs are pleasant, sex is divine. Never having acquired the skills to negotiate the minefield of self-destructive temptation and never having the chance to rethink the meaning of meaning, mindless hedonism, nihilism, guilt, depression, and aimlessness are his likely lot. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy, a cruel and terrible lie foisted on the unsuspecting and malleable minds of our youth.

The pure logic of "love others as you would yourself," an eminently reasonable rule once we realize we are all truly equal, is suddenly -- to those who never had the opportunity to think about it in this way -- lost when divorced of the idea of an enforcing deity. Any suggestion that altruism is also possible, nay, only truly possible without a belief in God and an ultimate reward will be met with a look of contempt and incredulousness. A suggestion that real meaning is derived by bringing happiness to other humans and not to Gods will garner the same reaction. Unconscionable!

But you know what? We don't need the promise of ultimate reward and the threat of ultimate punishment to bring meaning into our lives. Basking in the glow of an incomprehensible feminine Deity-figure (Shechinah) for all eternity is bound to get tedious anyway. I bet that after only, say, ten billion years one is bound to die of boredom. Even if, as rumor has it, Her skin never wrinkles. I'd rather take my chances and bask in the glow of a (sometimes) comprehensible feminine deity-figure in this world, not in the next.

And punishment? O Yahweh mighty son of El, whatever I may have done, I have nothing on you. The depths of your depravity is impossible to fathom with our puny human minds. Need I enumerate the destruction you have wrought on guiltless children throughout the ages? Plagues, drownings, burnings, impalements, the blood and guts of innocents. The commandments, proudly inscribed in your magnum opus, to murder and kill for any perceived slight against you. And you go around boasting about our father Abraham, who was all ready and eager to murder his own son on your command. You can rest assured that you'll never get me to do that! Kill? No thanks. You want him dead? Do it yourself, O omnipotent one!

So, in the end, what brings meaning to human life? Remember the golden rule. Do whatever you can to increase human knowledge, so you can leave the world in a better condition than the one you found it in. Be altruistic, so you'll be the cause of more happiness than the opposite. Help others, so you increase compassion in this world. Be selfless, so you, and others, can be content. And do it all without waiting for a bag of candies in the hereafter. Let the human spirit soar; it is the path to eternal bliss.

And what about sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll? Of course. As long as you don't hurt someone -- or yourself. In the spirit of Purim, gather your associates and dance a little jig, gather round your family and knock back some drinks, and go have hot and passionate monkey-sex with your lover and best friend.

Simches Peerim

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Head in the Sand

Some of my brethren, fellow Chasidishe bloggers, have practically made a sport of something most would consider very unsporting -- burying their heads in the sand. They like to trumpet their faith loudly and stridently, seeing themselves as vociferous defenders of all things Orthodox in general and Chasidish in particular. All the while refusing to engage in rational debate anyone not prone to see things in the exact way they do. That is a failing common to fundamentalists of all stripes, and not something we can ever hope to eradicate. Some people are beyond the reach of reason.

I do not take particular pleasure in knocking others' most cherished beliefs, and I generally do not go around seeking out blogs proclaiming faith in the God of our fathers just so I could attempt to dissuade them of notions I consider hopelessly erroneous and dangerously flawed. Sometimes, however, when one of those self-proclaimed Chasidim puts up an invective filled, inane screed against those "rotten heretics" of the chasidishe persuasion, I am tempted to reply in kind. That is a failing of mine I hope to rectify some day.

That is what happened here ( For some odd reason, that blog owner chose to delete my comment. I'm sure he would love an opportunity to debate his point of view, but doesn't want to upset the sensibilities of other delicate souls reading his blog and give them indigestion -- or worse. Therefore, I've decided to repost my original comment here, in order to give anyone who wants to comment on this issue an opportunity to do so. I'm kind, like that. Here is my deleted reply: (Please make sure to read the original post first, or the following will make no sense. Italics is text quoted from Nuch's original; regular text is my reply.)

"What have I been thinking..."

Always dangerous...

"Their goal is to plant those into every one visits their blog for a good read, the innocent come there just to read something light enjoy and have fun, when in fact they are fed poison, and are caught in a web of 'kefira' and Apikorses."

Are you fond of conspiracy theories in general, or is it only this particular stupidity that caught your fancy? The goal of most blogs, such as it is, is simply to express the opinions, musings, frustrations, and views of the blog owner. There is no cunning scheme to force-feed anyone the "poisonous" truth, as you seem to think. Is your goal with the blog to brainwash others with the lie of Orthodoxy?

"Never ascribe to an opponent motives meaner than your own." -John M. Barrie

"These rotten bloggers who are missing the proper education to know what Torah or mitzvahs are "

While that is no doubt true for some, I'd bet many of "those" are better educated in what Torah and mitzvahs are than you are yourself (not to mention less rotten).

"Emunah is something that our parents and grand parents gave their life for"

Some of them did, indeed. However, arguing the truth based on someone else's conviction and sacrifice for that supposed truth is a logical fallacy. (For example, many others gave their life for Christianity -- and Islam. That says nothing as to whether those faiths are true.)

"If one doesn't believe in the thirteen principles of Jewish faith the ANI MAMIN he is officially considered a מין and is not a part of 'klal yisroel'"

A pity, then, that the Rambam himself didn't believe in the simplistic formulation you have in mind. For example, he didn't believe in a gehenom in the afterlife -- and neither did he believe in your conception of gan eden. Or didn't you read his perush on Sanhedrin on which the thirteen principles are based? Talk about not getting a proper education!

"Now, they claim to be intellectual apikorsim, but the truth is that it's not intellectuality that brings them to stop believing, but solely temptation"

An old canard, based on nothing more than wishful thinking. Did you even attempt to determine the truth in that claim? Or do you simply accept it because it is mighty convenient, so your puerile world view can remain unthreatened by the inconvenient reality that others have honestly investigated the bedrock on which your childish faith is based and found it lacking?

"They claim to have come to the conclusion of "apikorses", but the truth is that they are non believers because they don't know enough, or anything at all or about the subject to believe it"

Or, perhaps, they know more about the subject than apparently you can wrap your mind around.

"It's like I don't believe in the nuclear technology, it doesn't exist, and so I have a ton of questions on the whole 'sugya' of aerodynamics, it must be a lie, it cant be"

Projecting, much? Do you think that because you are woefully undereducated others must be the same? Did you attempt to understand the opposition? Did it even enter your mind that perhaps they have a point? Did you attempt to listen? Debate? Educate yourself?

"that brings them to come to conclusions that are not based on knowledge, but on suffering"

Another canard, based on the feverish imaginings of someone unwilling to consider his own biases.

"and you need to filter out the heretics and atheists"

Or maybe, just maybe, you actually need to figure out if you hold a tenable position? You can't keep sticking your head in the sand, you know. (Well, you can, actually, but it isn't very useful advice to give to others.)

"I will not get into any debates" said he, knowing he will lose. What makes you so sure you are right, then? The cosmic accident of your birth to observant Jewish parents? Had you been born to observant Christian parents, you'd be sure that Jesus was the messiah and son of God, and condemn all disbelievers to hell!

Time to grow up and realize that the particular circumstance of your birth has no bearing on the universal Truth.

Monday, February 12, 2007


"You know," a co-worker -- secular, worldly, well-educated -- causally said to me recently, "you really should enroll in an institution of higher learning and get a degree. "It seems like an excellent -- and well suited -- opportunity for you."

I was taken aback. Has he read my mind? To the best of my recollection, I've never mentioned to him my burning desire to get a higher education. That thought has been occupying a large part of my sub-conscious lately, an uninvited nuisance which took up permanent residence in some dark nether-region of my mind, popping up periodically to harass me and beg for attention like a too-cute squirrel popping out of an attic to beg for food from the other side of the window. Something you vigorously try to shoo away in the daytime while busy with the hustle and bustle of everyday life, but in the stillness and quiet of a lonely winter night secretly wish would keep coming back to beg and pester, just so you know you're still alive.

"To what end?" you may ask. I wonder about that myself. Will an education bring any practical benefits, at this point? Is it worth pursuing just for the sake of it, for the pure sake of gathering knowledge? Should I indulge just because I want to?

Certainly, there must be an element of rebelliousness in that desire. An irrational but human need to stick it to The Man, to a system that, while providing a solid religious education, quite deliberately and perniciously tries to keep us ignorant of all secular human knowledge and progress in the past couple of centuries. The system fears knowledge, and inculcates in its followers an absurd arrogance about the correctness of its worldview and the folly of the idiot "scientists," a word mentioned with the same derision and scorn that "communist" used to illicit in mainstream America in the McCarthy era. All the while, social pressures assure that very few are educated enough to question that world view. If you mention that you believe the world is older than 6,000 years you will literally be laughed at, and if you persist, people will wonder if you have a screw loose for believing in such a bizarre notion.

It is remarkable to observe the baseless haughtiness of the uneducated, extremely ignorant of their own extreme ignorance. That is what an education -- and, arguably, an effective brainwashing -- grounded in anti-rational polemics will do. I've often wondered, doesn't anybody else wonder why we are so afraid of the free exchange of ideas? Can our worldview not withstand the scrutiny of differing ideas and opinions? Of course, the true answer is that it cannot -- at least not in its current form, as history has shown. And the leaders and policy makers instinctively know and understand that! Yet, I believe they -- and most everyone else within the community -- are genuinely and deeply convinced that they are the sole bearers of the ultimate Truth. Self-reflection is apparently not a human strong point.

With the advent of new technologies, this prison of enforced ignorance may be breaking down. Anyone with knowledge of the English language (itself kept to a minimum within the community), a basic post-high school secular education (What??? totally unheard of!), and enough perseverance (okay, so we've got one out of three) can now take most courses offered at MIT, totally free! Just click here to get started. This in itself isn't enough to get someone who is starting from scratch educated, but eventually technology and educational goodwill will progress far enough to put all the necessities of a basic education online, and the mighty chains whose links are forged of nothing but illiteracy will crumble into dust. At least, here's to hoping.

And so, I ponder the questions: Should I get my GED, apply to college, and pursue a post-secondary degree in mathematics, biology, or physics? Perhaps try for a doctorate? Is it possible to pull this off while providing for a family with more than a few children? If I find a way, will this be the beginning of the unraveling of my two-faced existence? If it won't, will I -- and more importantly, my family -- be able to withstand the inevitable tongue-wagging of the community busybodies? Will it be another cautionary tale of the terrible destruction the evil Internet has wrought? Should I simply do it?

Maybe I should. And, maybe I will.

Monday, January 08, 2007


A question that is debated every so often in the frum-skeptical community is this: Are we witnessing the beginnings of a new social movement in our communities, a new Haskalah that has the very real potential of carrying away large parts of the younger generation on the sweeping winds of social change, forever transforming the face (and viability) of the community as we know it? Or is the community of hidden skeptics much smaller than it seems at first glance -- the voices deceptively amplified by the narcissistic and self-referential nature of a burgeoning online community -- and destined to go the way of the dodo bird when even our children are effectively brainwashed to obediently toe the line and grow up (or already grew up) to be good little believers?

In other words, is this the painful beginnings of an exciting new social development -- incubated in forced ignorance, hatched by a sudden burst of freely available and easily accessible information, and nourished by the freewheeling Internet spirit of effortless and ubiquitous human connection? Or are we merely witnessing the few grotesque offspring of the goose that laid the golden egg, soon to be effectively crushed (or expelled) by a community that does not tolerate deviant geese and suffers not such aberrations as golden eggs?

I've been meaning to post my thoughts on this for a while, but the day is short and the work is long, the workers are lazy and the reward isn't great. Instead, I'll repost something from the comment thread on the previous post, something that touched on this subject.

Writes Mikeskeptic:
Do we frum skeptics aspire to be the vanguard of a new Enlightenment that could slowly unfold over the next generation or two or are we content to be just the most recent links in a chain of secret apikorism that undoubtedly stretches back 25 centuries, but remains an obscure sideshow to the continuing successful transmission of fundamentalist Orthodoxy?
And I reply:
"Do we frum skeptics aspire to be the vanguard of a new Enlightenment that could slowly unfold over the next generation or two"

Yes, I think many of us would love that. The hitch being that unlike the great social movements -- such as Socialism and Zionism -- the original Enlightenment piggybacked on, we don't have much to sell. We need a movement with lofty goals and a great promise of social change that inflames the passions of the heart and stirs the depths of the soul. Something that inspires the famed idealism and passion of the young and ignites the zeal of the old. A movement that inspires yearning for something bigger, something more, and something better -- with a strong intellectual bent to wrap it up and make it all smooth and palatable, like a glass of fine wine.

Simple disbelief does not a movement make. Where is the inspiration and excitement in that? And unlike what some would have us believe, mindless hedonism has zero pull as well. Otherwise, half of Williamsburg's youth would've been hipsters or "artists" by now. There's a reason this doesn't happen.

Additionally, it needs a fearless and brave leader to get the ball rolling. It's really hard to be the vanguard of anything while hiding behind a cloak of anonymity. (Well, unless you're going for some sort of Trojan horse tactic. ;-) )
What do you think?