Monday, April 30, 2007

When Bad Things Happen to Good People

The Book: When Bad Things Happen To Good People. Author: Rabbi Harold S. Kushner

This is not a book review. These are the words I'm inscribing in a tombstone of a long post on this book that will never live to see the bloglight.

I read "When Bad Things Happen to Good People" and for the first time I turned pages with the back tip of a highlighter stuck in my mouth. This book was so thin, easy to read and written right home, I 'had to' underline almost every sentence.

The author, Rabbi Kirshner, a father of a very sick child that died at 14 due to early aging, confronts struggles with divine providence while still maintaining belief in God. When a tragedy strikes a blow, like it did him, a believer must re-examine the atypical belief in three major religious factors:

1. God is all-encompassing. He is powerful, and everything that happens is through his order.

2. God is just and fair, and stands for getting people what they deserve.

3. We are good human beings.

How could a good, powerful Lord punish a good human being? Trying to make sense of it, it is popular habit to eliminate the third leaving God's stance in tact. We blame ourselves. We hurt ourselves more than the hurt already inflincted.

Having been through these emotionally-entangled questions myself, this book took apart my doubts with amazing clarity. Gathering bits and peices, I composed a collection of arguments the book makes against believing in just 1 & 2. It was an impressive list of strong arguments.

After my husband read it, he said it was good. Good, you may need to know, is not a positive adjective in my lexicon. "You're saying it's really bad?"

"Yes, eh, No" he answered quickly, trying to be busy with something else.

Yes-eh-no! The kind of feedback that doesn't especially come with a standing ovation. After probing a bit further, he admitted that he didn't appreciate the context. "s'z bittereh, frecheh, smack-in-the-face kafira". If you'll eat kafira, you have to do it all the way, hot sauces poured over it, expensive side dishes and fine wine. But sour, boring kafirah? Nisht yiddish.

On second thoughts I'm not publishing the post. I realized the book doesn't especially make it necessary for me to do so. If you feel like reading it, or if fate has urged you to confront those question--- then please share your thoughts.


Please share title suggestions here.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Animal Farm

The Book: Animal Farm, A Fairy Story. Author: George Orwell. Satire.

Review by our esteemed guest Rabbi, Harav Shtreimel Dear, who was kind enough to employ his popular pen and sharp knife to serve us this almost-kosher, great review/opinion-piece on Animal Farm. (Oh, don't you mooo me! I said 'almost kosher'.)



"תורה איז דער בעסטע סחורה!"

"ס'בעסער צי לערענען די הייליגער תורה, מער ווי אלע גאלד אין זילבער"

My kids like to sing it in chorus, as did I, as a youngster, as we all liked to. That is what we are implanted in cheider from day one, with the very first lick of honey.

This week I tried a little experiment to see how much of the mantra really jammed their thinking. I took out two packs of gum from the cabinet and offered my boys a choice:

“Would you rather we learn a little, or would you prefer a gum?” I asked them separately.

Oh, what a tough question.

* * *

“Animal Farm” by George Orwell is similar in style to his later novel “1984” and as thought provoking.

British farm animals, frustrated with the laborious tasks they have to undertake daily for the benefit of humans, successfully overthrow their oppressors and govern themselves as a collective, or as a communist state. Sadly, the pigs, the smartest of all animals, take advantage of their situation and convince the other animals that their life has changed for the better while ‘readjusting’ (deducting) their meager rations. From the 7 original commandments, commandments that looked so great on paper, or painted on the wall, as was the case in Animal Farm, only one commandment stayed, and in a very corrupted version.


Orwell started writing the novel back in 1943, a time when communism was still seen as the epitome of socialism, when Stalin was still the greatest comrade, and McCarthy still served as a captain in the US Marine Corps. The book smartly depicts the sad nature of power and its corruption, and how with the right propaganda you can ruse entire nations (or farms) to follow whimsical resolutions and self-destroying projects, not to mention following orders in the name of the “party” that clearly violate the rules of the party itself.

Of course, conservatives all over used his writings as propaganda to push forward their causes. Orwell, while prophetically alert to human nature, remained committed to socialism his whole life. What he lectured against was the corruption of great ideas by using “doublespeak” (a word he would invent a few years later).

The allegorical animals have been masticated ad nauseum. The quarrelsome pigs unmistakably symbolize Trotsky and Stalin, and the others have been found to resemble other figures of communist Russia, but it wouldn’t take much for us, Chasidim raised in our schools, to notice the similarities to our own life, to see the connotation to the corruption of some good ideas that the Torah originally stood for and mainly to be amused by a religion that resorts to slogans and phrases that need to be imbedded in the brain from childhood on.

The experimentation I tried on my kids wasn’t really necessary. Kids are kids, and you know what they will chose. No use in trying to prove a point to their father either.

The older one smirked dejectedly, said he likes the Torah, but for now he prefers the gum. My younger son stood forlornly, not knowing how to handle himself. Apparently to this very moment he hasn’t thought of applying his ‘love for the Torah over anything else’ theorem in practice. It didn’t take him long to come up with the same line as his older brother.

I got some hope in the future generation…

Thursday, April 12, 2007


The Book: Unchosen, The Hidden Lives of Hassidic Rebels. By Hella Winston. Nonfiction.

This book, from what I gathered from several other blogs, had caused quite a storm after its release, due to the controversial topic. As with everything, I'm late for this discussion too. That isn't unusual and I'm not making excuses. Just about now that I'm stumbling out of the cave, blinking, and pouncing on very old stuff with amazemed appreciation as if it's just been invented. It doesn't matter to me that to everyone else this is old news.

Unchosen is very well written, and uses many real-life examples of Hassidic Rebels. It had a nice sprinkle of drama, a lot of the real Williamsburg facts and I dare say, it must have been an eye-opener to nearly anyone. I consumed it quickly because its subject is near and dear to me, it wasn't too big, hard to hold or endless, and it evoked an interest in its characters.

1. Issues from Inside: Some, of course, are bothered by the book due its general subject. Despite the fact that the book clearly proclaims to be about the rebels only, it still does not do a lot of PR for the non-rebels, which naturally will cause a stir. I have been doing some surfing, trying to find a good argument against it in all the ruckus, but have yet to find one. One of our faults is that we refuse to accept that we have faults. I'm sure those stories wouldn't be so tragic if we would embrace the subject with more compassion and less kicking and screaming (such antisemites!!!).

2. The Rebel's Perspective: Anonymous (in a comment) claims that the main character is a 'well known loony' and therefore does no justice for the rebel. First off, there were a fair amount of other examples, and the main character enables you to see a balance of general rebel issues and intriguing personal struggles. Also, it seems you're judging the character from your first hand knowledge, not from the book's portrayal, as being unfamiliar with this individual in real life, "Yossi" didn't seem like a 'loony' at all. I am wondering what it is about him that you felt incorrectly painted the 'misfits'. Is it his emotional problems, the complicated relationship with his family, his inability to settle in the goyish world, his intellectual sophistication, his experiences in 'modernizing'? Please expound.

3. Chassidis and Facts: Most of the cultural and religious experiences mentioned were very familiar to me, as if occurring right in my own home. A lot of research seemed to have gone into it, for which I commend the author.

4. Project Chosen: I imagine even a strong believer from our community must also be a little impacted by the new dimension this story brings to those that object to our system. However, I think the book leaves you wondering how anyone in their right mind could actually live with our restrictions without wondering WTF this lifestyle is about. The introduction does note that many people are happy, but how one would be happy under our circumstances you cannot logically figure. In truth, many people are happy, and I think it would be an even greater challenge to crack and write about the underlying cause for such a demanding, controlled, yet (often) content society.

5. Update: I wonder if the statistics have changed since, if more people left the community, if people now have more comfort when leaving, and if footsteps is successfully putting men and women through college. From what I gather online, these outlets are attracting the repressed like ants over cookie crumbs.

!. Next Up: Hopefully a book & review by guest 'Rabbi'!!

ספרים שראנק

זעטס אייך, זעטס אייך, ר' איד צי רעביצן אידענע

!הנני מוכן ומזומן לשם "יחוד" צווישן די לעידיס און די מען

So, I've opened a little blog, a shtible, for learners. A place to discuss the sefarim we've extracted from the public library..............

Please share suggestions on book titles of worthy reading on the wall of this post. I may or may not read it, I may or may not review it, but I most probably will look through its back flap with interest.

With much appreciation. A sheinem dank.