Sunday, January 26, 2014


One of the proofs given to me that Orthodox Judaism is really enlightened was that Jewish marriage guaranteed a wife that her husband provide her with "food, clothing, and marital relations."  These rights are guaranteed in the ketubah signed by every Jewish couple just before they go under the chuppah.  This was usually framed in a very feminist, sex-positive way.  As I like to put it, "On the eighth day, G-d created the orgasm--and it was GOOD!"
Sounds great in theory.  But as usual, context is everything.
This particular list of a wife's rights caught my eye as Queen Mom and I were reading the parsha last Shabbos.  Only it was not in the context of marriage.  It was in the context of buying a slave, or as the text put it, "a Hebrew bondswoman."  Not really much to argue with there.  Apparently, bride purchase was a common practice in the time of the Torah.  And these wives had the status of wives--sort of.  If the master decided not to marry them, they had to be released after six years.  (Sounds like there was a "try before you buy" option.  Nice.)  They also had to be paid off for their betrayal, adding to the theory that these men were "test-driving" their slaves before deciding whether to make them a permanent fixture in the harem.  (And, yes, there were multiples.  That line about food, clothing, and marital relations was the guarantee given to these slaves just in case Massa decided to get himself another slave wife.)
Disturbed enough?  It gets better.  Understand that I use the term "bondwoman" rather loosely.  See, according to the commentary, these "bondwomen" were roughly the same age as my daughters.
I wish I were making this up.
Straight from the commentary of my Stone Chumash, now considered the standard in Orthodoxy, "For example, if she had been sold when she was five years old..." Yuck.  Stop right now.  Put down the book, and back away slowly.  Children?  Seriously?  Grown men are buying CHILDREN for their harem?  This is the Torah?  And, please, spare me the cliché about how children were more mature back then, blah, blah, blah.  This is little more than the permitting of baby rape.
Makes you rethink that immortal line from the ketubah, doesn't it?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

What did I sign up for--Hilchos Jail

Years ago, I remember Rebbetzin Jungreis saying over and over again, that Torah is like no other study.  Studying Torah will make one a better person, a more moral person.  A Torah person.  And the Torah has all those rules about how to behave.  Rules about not stealing.  Rules about honest business dealings.  Rules about how to treat people.  Rules about not hurting people.  The most famous Hillel story has him saying "That which is harmful to you, do not do to your neighbor.  That is the whole Torah--the rest is commentary.  Go and study!"  That, to me, is what Torah observance means.  However, I would guess not everyone agrees.
Last spring, Misaskim magazine had a whole article about how to conduct oneself if one should be unfortunate enough to get arrested.  Now I have read many service magazines in my time, and I find that most of their articles get a tad repetitive.  However, I have never seen a secular magazine carry an article about arrest.  Had they really become so commonplace in the Jewish world?  What about the Torah?  What about following all those rules on theft and honesty and moral behavior?  What about the Ten Commandments?  Sure, you can study the damages paid when your ox gores your neighbors' bull, but what about that strong moral code?  Shouldn't that be enough to keep pretty much any Torah-observant Jew out of legal trouble?
I didn't think it could get any worse.
It got worse.
Coming out of uber-frum Boro Park--an entire two-volume sefer devoted to the laws, prayers, and inspirational stories for the Orthodox Jew in jail.  I hate to imagine.  (Since the book was written entirely in Hebrew, I'm afraid that I CAN only imagine--can't read well enough for a sefer.)
The big issue is not that this book was written.  If someone can write a volume thicker than the Brooklyn Yellow Pages basically saying "cover up and avoid men," then anyone can write anything.  The issue is that publishers will only publish books when a market exists.  Is there really such a large number of Orthodox Jews in jail that this book needs to exist?  Is there enough of a market for a book geared to frum prison inmates?
What does that say about us?
Child molestation.  Tax evasion.  Insurance fraud.  Theft.  Domestic violence.  Being a slumlord.  Assault.  All of these are--or should be--off limits to anyone who calls himself frum.  And, hopefully, there will never be any more need for seforim like these.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

So, what does 2/3 of a kid look like?

Recently, an article came out decrying the rates of women in poverty.  The article quoted the statistic that 42 million women and 28 million children live in poverty.  This, of course, leads to the inevitable comments about welfare queens with multiple baby-daddies having kids they can't take care of.
I know, after all, if you do the math, 28 million kids distributed among 42 million women works out to--about 2/3 of a kid per woman.
Less than one.
I would love to meet the baby-daddies performing this feat of nature.  Seriously, which two-thirds?  Is it divided from the feet up or the head down?  Or is it laterally?  Those poor children hopping around with only a vestigial second leg.  I have never seen a 2/3 kid, but I feel sorry for them.
Now of course, this does not mean that we have a rise in partial children.  Statistically speaking, it means that at least one-third of the women living in poverty HAVE NO CHILDREN AT ALL!  Yeah, so much for blaming the welfare moms.  Also, since this is not China, women can have multiple kids.  Therefore, this means that every woman in poverty with more than one child, means another woman with none. 
So much for "can't feed 'em, don't breed 'em."  So much for the multiple baby-daddies. 
So, what is the problem? 
Wage price inequities.  Henry Ford famously paid his employees enough to afford the cars they produced.  Today, the minimum wage barely covers rent.  When I was single and worked full-time (with a college degree and no children), my salary barely covered an illegal converted shed that I called home.  My car was falling apart (and this was in California--you don't have a car, you're nowhere), and I once considered not using it because it needed repairs that I couldn't afford until payday three days later.  Fish and cheese were luxuries--forget meat.  I was in that statistic--and I had done the "responsible" thing by going to college and not having kids.
Plenty of people do the "responsible" thing and get burned.  Remember that.  And before you cry foul, do the math.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Remind me again about kol isha

Seriously.  Two of the songs in Shabbos Shira are sung by women.  Why is that never brought up?

Good Shabbos!  And enjoy Beshallach!

Monday, January 6, 2014


I have said many times that Judaism is not monolithic.  We divide along so many lines--level of observance, type of Chassidus (or not), country of origin, approach to chumrot, hashkafah--the list is endless.  However, most can agree that there are two types of Orthodox Jews--the type that were born observant, and the type that were not.
Oh, if only it were that simple.
I posit there is at least one other group besides the FFBs and the BTs (I include geirim in the same category as BTs--in some cases, a similar level of acculturation is needed.  Moreover, kiruv seems to have the most success with the least observant among the born Jews.)  This group is the BT3CK--third culture kids.  The FFB children of BTs and geirim.
These are the children whose parents have stumbled through Kiddush with the help of the NCSY bentscher (transliterated in italics).  The ones who learned Hebrew or Yiddish helping their kids with homework.  The ones whose parents are just a little more liberal.  Who listened to the Beatles or Metallica along with Lipa Schmeltzer and Uncle Moishy.  Or, at the other end, the ones whose parents drank the Kool-Aid and out-chumra everyone else, making sure they "do it right."  The ones those grandparents don't understand that Oreos aren't cholov Yisrael.  (See, it has the little U on it!  Why are you such a fanatic?)  The ones who have seen pictures of their mothers in jeans and their fathers bareheaded.  The ones who never visit aunts and uncles because "it might set a bad example."
Now, my children do not truly fit this category.  While Builder may be evil, he is still an FFB, and the Things have a nice big extended Jewish family which would like nothing more than to cut me and my evil secular influences out of their lives.  However, they are still the daughters of a coastal nomad and the grandchildren of some pretty laid-back products of the 1970s.  Will they fit in the world of frum Brooklyn?  Will they want to?  All I can do is make sure they follow the rules, try to love G-d, and hope for the best.