An old secular friend of mine told a Torah friend that he should not expect much sex after marriage. When my Torah friend later repeated that, I told him that he should not consider the opinions of anyone who’s not a Torah personality (except in technical matters). I believe the Torah comes from God and it is our guide to life.
I am not (yet) an authentic Torah personality, so if I ever say anything you think is wise, run it by someone you trust.
Is this ruling normative Judaism? No! An Orthodox rabbi tells me: “No it is not normative. He actually has a great deal of influence on many people. It is one of these things which is found the talmud which is absolutely not law nobody really recommends it today and yet he thinks it’s wonderful thing I love the part where he guarantees that will be no illnesses and no genetic problems. Brody is the one translates into English lots of the writings of Breslin specifically the teachings of Rabbi Arush.”
An Orthodox rab tells me about the below: “That is correct, but today it is very rare, and was never very common, if there is a genetic problem would depend upon how often it occurred. You would have to contact a geneticist.”
Dear Rabbi Brody, am I allowed according to Halacha to marry my niece or my cousin? Would there be any medical or genetic dangers? Thank you, NK from the Great Neck area
Your superb question is mentioned in the Gemara, tractate Yevamot, 62b, on the bottom of the page. Indeed, our sages both encourage and bless anyone that marries a niece. Rashi states that the Gemara is referring specifically to the daughter of a sister; since a man naturally loves his sister, says Rashi, he will have a special affection for a wife who is the daughter of his sister. The Tosephot argue as follows: Rabbenu Tam agrees with Rashi, and says that the mitzva is to marry the daughter of a sister specifically (more than a brother), because the daughter of a sister will bring her husband good fortune and sons who resemble the father. The Rashbam disagrees with Rashi and with Rabbenu Tam, and says that marrying the daughter of a brother is just as good a mitzva as marrying the daughter of a sister. The Rambam, in agreement with the rationale of the Rashbam stipulates (Hilchot Issure Beia, 2:14), that it’s a “mitzvat khakhamim”, a rabbinical ordnance, to marry a niece, whether she’s the daughter of a sister or a brother. As far as practical Halacha goes, The Rama rules that Ikar HaDin (Principle Halacha) is, “It’s a mitzva to marry the daughter of a sister”, then adds, “There are those who say that it is also a mitzva to marry the daughter of a brother. (See Shulkhan Oruch, Even Ezer 2:6).” In other words, the Rama tends to agree with Rashi and Rabbenu Tam, but doesn’t ignore the Rashbam.
Joe emails: It seems to me that hanging out at 12 step meetings is of diminishing returns for the rational mind. I suppose the first few times you go, you get some rush thinking, wow, it is not just me who is a drunk, drug addict, or gambling addict. But after a time, spending time with sinners is futile. As for sex addicts meetings, such meetings are obviously inappropriate due to the presence of sexual offenders who need to go to prison for criminal acts causing continuing harm such as possession of child pornography and/or pedophilia, A drunk’s only crime is perhaps driving drunk, and if no one was hurt, then there is no continuing crime. Sex offenders, on the other hand, must go to prison, and then, perhaps, go into recovery.
In any event, you do not see the Rambam, in his explanation of repentance, advocating support groups with other evil doers. No, he advocates this simple test:
What is complete repentance? When a person has the opportunity to commit the original sin again, and is physically able to sin again, but one doesn’t sin because of repentance. Not out of fear, or because of physical weakness. For example, if a man had forbidden sexual relations with a woman, and then at a later time found himself alone with her, even though he still loves her as much as before, and he has the physical strength to sin, and was in the same country as when he sinned, yet he refrains and does not sin, he is a baal teshuva (‘master of repentance’). (emphasis added)
The 12 Step program tells you that you are not in control of your addiction, and that, essentially, even with the program, you are never a master, you are always an alcoholic. I believe the inventor of AA actually got into drugs, and on his deathbed asked for a drink. Telling someone that they cannot master their conduct is infantile and talk therapy.
To take alcoholism as a “sin”, then what you must do is to completely repent from alcoholism. And for the Rambam, there is no serenity prayer or 12 steps, but only 3:
“That the person should abandon his sins, remove them from his thoughts, and resolve never to do it again.”
So, you take all the drink out of your possession, do not talk about the drink or associate with others that drink, and resolve never to drink again. None of these is precisely part of the 12 steps – they are all too difficult and demand too much in the way of acts, not words.
If you want to stop exploiting people, as you say you do, then assist people. Commit everyday to do at least 3 separate acts of kindness. It can be as simple as cleaning up a part of the street that is dirty so that others derive pleasure from your acts, it can be as involved as helping an old person with their needs. You will abandon exploitation, it will be removed from your thoughts, and you will resolve never to do it again.
But 12 steps is just more spirituality in place of reality.
>>>Do you think frum jews are any more ethical than anyone else? If not, as I think, then am not sure the worth of your suggestions.>>>
Not sure what ethics have to with anything.
I focus on rationality, and anyone alive from the neck up realizes that the 12 step program is not rationally based.
Your analysis of spirituality and its lack of rationality is why you converted to Judaism and why you deify Prager.
12 steps portray human beings as creatures who need the assistance of others to stop certain action. It is really not rational and it is essentially cult-like to follow a group as your god, versus an idea as your god.
>>>Why do you think frum jews are so indifferent in their ethics?>>>
I think that the Ethics of the Fathers has been replaced by the Talmud of the Brisker Dynasty.
Status in Judaism is now much more dependent on mastery of the presumption accorded to someone who is in possession of a garment, rather than dependent on one’s acts of kindness. It is partially driven by Orthodoxy’s repulsion to Conservative/Reform’s concept that being a good jew and being for social justice are one and the same. That concept leads to the end of Judaism because any teenager quickly realizes that keeping kosher has nothing to do with being ethical, and then, the teenager simply becomes a secular jew and his children are out of the religion from intermarriage.
So, Orthodoxy eschews true ethics because preservation of the religion is more important than kindness – anyone can be kind, but not anyone can learn 10 hours of Talmud a day sitting in a single spot.
I would think that it might make sense for jewish high schools to have courses in Gemilut Hasadim, just like they have courses in Talmud. Of course, it would not be so much study, as action, but again, remind me how helping someone cross the street, feeding the homeless, etc, is exclusively Jewish in such a way to make permanent one’s jewish identity?
The operator of the site, Chaim, responds to my questions:
I am doing this because as part of the frum community I have seen the need for a resource for people going through a din torah to help them avoid giving undue power to Dayanim and Batei Din and to help them avoid getting stuck in a bad din torah experience. I believe that the Chilul Hashem caused when a B”D acts (or is perceived to act) in an inappropriate manner is among the biggest Chilul Hashems there are.
I hope with this website to:
1.) Educate people as to what their rights in a Beis Din are
2.) Provide a resource were people can research a beis din before they sign a submission agreement to them
3.) Help people understand what they are signing away when they sign a Shtar Berurin and point out what they are not obligated according to Torah law to sign away.
4.) Provide a confidentiality/quality practice agreement that does not ask for anything beyond what the Torah and secualr la require that both parties in a Din Torah should request Beis Din to execute.
From TorahMusings.com: An interesting article raised the question of whether you may schedule e-mails or social media updates to occur on Shabbos. For example, I can post to my blog and schedule the post to appear on Friday night. Within an hour of that post’s publication, a third-party application Tweets the blog’s title, first few words and link to my personal Twitter account. And if I could ever get the technology to work properly, it would also post a link to my Facebook account. The next morning, at 5am on Shabbos, the application sends an e-mail of the full text of that blog post to this blog’s distribution list. Am I allowed to schedule all of this to happen on Shabbos?
* Rabbi Berel Wein writes: “It seems that the breaches of the covenant do not occasion immediate and sudden punishment and tragedy. Jewish history has very few incidents of instantaneous punishment or reward. It is always part of a long process of events…”
This is true in our personal lives as well. You can take up Torah and it won’t necessarily have instantaneous results. I’m on a good path that should lead to marriage and children, but there have been no quick results, no massive immediate pay-offs to my hard work.
* Many of the great things that Judaism has done, we’re not aware of because we take them for granted.
Rabbi Wein writes: “Much of our world has outgrown these forms of idolatry and this is due greatly to the unremitting struggle of Judaism against such practices.”
For most of us, sins such as incest and homo-sex are unthinkable. When people start considering them as normal, society will crash.
* Rabbi Wein writes: “God’s wisdom and judgments are inscrutable and are beyond even elementary comprehension by us mortals. As such we are left wondering as to the tragedies that descended upon the Jewish people and that continue to plague us today. Though there are those amongst us that are prepared to give and accept glib answers to the causes of tragedy, the wise men of Israel warned us against such an approach. Observance of commandments is enormously difficult to fulfill completely and accurately.”
When I meet someone who links bad times in Jewish history to the specific failings of specific Jews (such as that a terror attack on an Israeli town was the result of failing to check mezuzos, or that Reform Judaism caused the Holocaust), I know I’ve met a fool. To speak for God in these instances of extreme Jewish suffering is foolish.
If you want to interpret your own suffering as God’s message to your life, that is beautiful, but if I tell someone in pain, this is because you have not fulfilled such-and-such a mitzva, that’s foolish. It’s not for me reprove someone suffering.
* Rabbi Wein writes: “Though we pray regularly for health and serenity, we must always be cognizant of how precarious situations truly are.”
Judaism is a great recipe for a good life and it is also great preparation for when times turn terrible. On the other hand, meeting hot chicks is great fun but it is not a form of sustenance when your life falls apart. Someone you’ve picked up in a club for a night is not likely to stand by you when you lose your job or your legs or your mommy dearest.
* I don’t think most non-Orthodox Jews understand how little tochachah (reproof) Orthodox Jews give to each other. If you go to shul, you’re not likely to get called on the carpet for your sins. You’re not going to get a going over as to your beliefs. There are no beliefometer operators. Most shuls and most shul rabbis are glad when Jews show up and the amount of reproving they do is small. It’s not the Orthodox way to constantly reprove people for their sins. Orthodox Judaism is not focused on sin in the way that Christians obsess over sin and their sinful human condition.
Where you will get blowback at shul is if you advocate behavior and belief incompatible with Orthodox Judaism or if you are doing things publicly that violate Torah.
* Rabbi Wein writes: “Warning people about what will happen to them centuries later down the road of history rarely affects their current behavior. People do all sorts of things when they are younger that they know will be injurious to their health and even eventually shorten their lifespan.”
Do you know why I did some things risky to my health and to my soul? Because they were exciting (or because I was in thrall to my addictions rather than to God).
*Rabbi Wein writes: “There are two prophecies recorded [in the Bible] regarding the future of the Jewish people. One predicted that a fox would emerge from the ruins of the Temple. The other prediction was that Jewish old men and women would sit in joy and contentment in the streets of Jerusalem and watch children at play.”
When you go to most Orthodox shuls in the world, they are filled with children at play. It’s heartening. I remember when my parents met some Jewish kids for the first time, they said, “They’re very rambunctious, aren’t they?”
The goyish kids I’ve known were generally more restrained and polite than the Jewish ones I’ve known.
* There are many benefits to obeying God’s commandments but that’s not why we observe them. We do it because God said so and God is in a better position than us to know what is best.
Rabbi Wein writes: The opening commandment in this week’s parsha deals with shemitta – the sabbatical year for the Land of Israel when the ground was to be allowed to lie fallow and the farmer abstained from his regular routine of work. The traditional commentators to the Torah emphasized that even though the ground and farmer would benefit in the long run from the year’s inactivity this was not the reason for the commandment.
There are always side benefits from obeying the commandments of the Torah but these are never the reason or the basis for the commandment itself. The underlying lesson of the sabbatical year is its obvious kinship to the weekly Sabbath. Just as every seven days brings with it a holy day of rest, so too does a holy sabbatical year bring with it a rest for the earth itself.
* Torah commandments can be very difficult. Sometimes they can just be an ideal that we can’t reach yet, such as shemitah (Sabbatical year of rest), which Jews have never fully observed. I notice that a lot of people have an all-or-nothing approach. If you can’t fulfill every commandment in every detail then there is no point in keeping anything. I had a secular girlfriend who used this argument to express her contempt for my flawed religiosity. This is stupid.
Rabbi Wein writes: “Shemitta has always been a difficult test of faith for the Jewish people. Even in Temple times it appears that the commandment was never fully fulfilled. There are many reasons for this apparent laxity in observance, the most obvious one being the seeming impracticality of its observance.”
Rabbs, there’s no need to feel down
I said Rabbs, pick yourself off the ground
I said Rabbs, ’cause your in a new town
There’s no need to be unhappy
Rabbs, there’s a place you can go
I said Rabbs, when you’re short on your dough
You can stay there and I’m sure you will find
Many ways to have a good time
Is a Jew allowed to stay at the YMCA? They have everything for young men to enjoy. You can hang out with all the boys.
* How do you run a modern state according to Torah law? How do you run a modern Jewish community in a Gentile nation according to Torah law?
In his sixth lecture on R. Chaim Ozer Grodzinksi for Torah in Motion, history professor Marc B. Shapiro says: According to Rav Nissim of Girona (aka The RaN) says that in our Jewish system, there are two types of governance — Torah law and the law of the king. Take a look at how difficult it is to convict people in Jewish law. You have to have two witnesses. The perpetrator needs to be warned. How do you run a state like this? How do you put people in jail? Every single person in jail would not be in jail by Torah law. First, there’s no jail in Torah law. None of these people were warned before committing their crime.
According to Wikipedia: “Nissim ben Reuven (1320–1376, Hebrew: נסים בן ראובן) of Girona, Catalonia was an influential talmudist and authority on Jewish law. He was one of the last of the great Spanish medieval talmudic scholars. He is also known as the RaN (ר”ן, the Hebrew acronym of his name).”
Marc: The standard view is that the Beit Din has the authority to do whatever they want to do as an emergency measure. There’s a famous case in the Talmud where the rabbis executed someone for riding a horse on Shabbos even though that’s only a rabbinic prohibition. To establish Torah law, the rabbis are allowed to break with Torah law and to do extra-judicial measures. The Beit Din can do what it needs to do. That’s the way Jewish society worked in medieval time. All sorts of punishments were given to people that were forbidden by Torah law.
The RaN said that Torah law and real law (law of the king) operate in different spheres. According to Torah law, you need two witnesses to convict someone but the law of the king can set up any proof it wants. The king sets up a parallel legal system.
You could conclude that Torah law is only meant as some theoretical law. It is clearly impossible to run any sort of society based on Torah law. It’s almost law for a messianic society and not meant for the real world.
The RaN is not talking about emergency measures. He’s talking about a complete parallel legal system. Many people aren’t aware of this. They think that if you don’t have at least two witnesses warning someone, you can never convict. I think this is a disgrace to the Torah because it makes people think that Jewish law can not function in the real world.
If someone has half a brain and they’re in yeshiva and learning all the laws and that’s all they’re told about how a Jewish system will function, they will have to conclude that Jewish law is not suitable for a real society. How can you have a society where you can’t send criminals to jail?
Obviously Jewish law can function in a real society. It has functioned in a real society. If you want to know how Jewish law has functioned in a real society, look at the responsa literature. There you see what Jewish societies did with criminals. They did what they needed to do. Some punishments were quite barbaric. Cutting off noses. Yitzhak Baer discusses this in his book A history of the Jews in Christian Spain. The Tzitz Eliezer has a great teshuva on how Jewish law functioned and how the courts were able to punish people. Simha Assaf has an entire book, Punishments after the close of the Talmud.
If I were to go in to most shuls and to talk to people, even learned Torah scholars, and say that Jewish law was not practical and that if we had a state, we’d have to punish people in non-Torah ways, they’d say I’m a heretic. The amount of ignorance on this issue about how Jewish society has functioned and how leading rabbis have said it should function. I don’t know any area where there is such ignorance.
* A friend of mine is old. He’s a cohen (priest). The Torah prohibits him from marrying a divorcee. My friend is not particularly religious. Should he allow this Torah prohibition to prevent him from finding love? What priority would you give this mitzvah? Couldn’t he just take the spiritual lesson of not marrying a slut and then do as he pleases? Rabbi David Wolpe has a liberal position on this mitzvah.
* Those of us who are not Cohenim (priests), what’s our excuse for not getting married? We are permitted to marry prostitutes. For me, once I’ve seen a girl get done on video, I don’t feel like she’s a jewel. I can’t marry her.
* Do you have any particular expectations for cohenim (Jewish priests)? I don’t. They could be gangsters and I wouldn’t be surprised.
Rabbi Berel Wein writes: “Part of the problem of leadership is that one who achieves position and prominence is always held to a higher standard of behavior and accomplishment than we ordinary humans. In this week’s parsha the Torah sets out special and stringent rules for the descendants of Aharon, the kohanim/priests of Israel.”
* Would you like to see us bring back stoning for blasphemers? I think Islam has the death penalty for blasphemy. Is Islam like Judaism without western civilizing influences?
* Rabbi Berel Wein writes: “It is interesting to note that the Torah in this week’s parsha lays down many rules about the actions and behavior of the kohanim regarding their own personal lives. Apparently, nowhere does the Torah deal with public policy issues and the national direction in which the kohanim are to lead the people of Israel.”
“That is why throughout Tanach we find the leaders of Israel being judged not so much by their public persona, policy decisions or by their wars and victories and reverses, as much as by their private behavior and interpersonal relationships and actions.”
* I need a lot of sex. How can I be sure that the woman I marry wants a lot of sex too? Many women have sex drives that equal men’s for about a year, their first year together, but after that it drops away.
Psychologist Roy Baumeister says: “Going back over the past century, women’s sexuality has changed in a variety of interesting ways while men’s desires have remained more constant.
“Young women in the mating phase, this is a period of high sexual interest in both genders. There is a period when they get close.
“What happens over and over again if you track couples, when they fall in love, and their sexual interests match closely and they both think I’ve found someone who’s close to me and we’ll go on having sex every day. A year or two later, after the commitment’s made and they’re married, they revert back to their separate baselines.
“If married people have conflicts over sex, more than 90% of the time the men want more sex than the women. The women seem to lose sexual interest in their partner after a couple of years and the man, and the woman, often don’t understand what’s different.
“Women are not catching up to men in the illegal stuff. Men have a higher sex drive and are more likely to do illegal or immoral things to get sex.”
* Rabbi Berel Wein writes: “Kohanim are held in high regard in the Jewish world and are entitled to certain special privileges and honors in the Jewish religious society.”
Not among the Jews I know. We couldn’t care less who’s a cohen except for when it comes to calling people out to the Torah and other ritual matters that few Jews I know give two turtledoves about.
* Rabbs, there’s nothing wrong with you that two turtledoves couldn’t fix. And there’s nothing wrong with me that two black (Ethiopian Jewish) women couldn’t fix.
* Rabbi Wein writes: “Though it seems that it is permissible for a kohein to waive some of those privileges if he so wishes, preferred behavior dictates that he not do so.” So if you’re a cohen and you want to marry a divorcee, can you waive your cohen (kahuna) status?
Rabbi Wein writes: “Not every person who claims to be a kohein is really a kohein. Since true pedigrees are very difficult to truly ascertain today, the halacha adopts a position that who is really a kohein is a matter of doubt. Therefore great rabbinic decisors, especially in the United States, have often, in cases of dire circumstances, “annulled” the kehuna of an individual.”
How much does it cost to get your kehunna annulled?
* Rabbi Wein writes: “In the confusion of immigration to the United States at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries there were people who disguised themselves as kohanim in order to earn the monies of pidyon haben – the redemption of the first born son from the kohein. These people were charlatans, but many other simple Jews assumed that somehow they were kohanim without any real proof of the matter.”
Did you know that an Australian penny weighs as much as a dime and therefore you can use Aussie pennies to trick public telephones? Is this permitted by the Torah?
* Rabbi Berel Wein writes: “Is it not sufficient that he perform his duties – especially his detailed Yom Kippur duties – in a competent and efficient manner? After all, is not one entitled to a private and personal life, even if one holds high public office? Apparently the Torah does not feel so. Being the High Priest is not a job. It is not even what our non-Jewish
friends refer to as “a calling.” It is rather a position of moral leadership and a role model stature in Jewish life.”
* Did Rabbi Rabbs feel like God called him to be a rabbi to minister to the people Israel?
* Rabbi Berel Wein writes: “One of the signs of corruption that doomed the Second Temple Commonwealth of Judea was the unethical behavior of many of the High Priests who served in the Temple during that period of Jewish history. The Talmud teaches us that many of them died when entering the Holy of Holiness because of their unworthy private behavior.”
I’ve often felt like God was going to strike me dead after I stepped into a shul after engaging in unholy behavior. Sometimes I’ve had much more guilt stepping into a church than a shul.
* I think a large part of the reason I am religious, maybe the biggest part, is that I am convinced I would destroy myself (and perhaps those around me) if I were not religious. That’s the primary reason I go to shul every day — not because I want to learn Torah or to pray to God or to do mitzvas, but to keep myself within the Torah corral. If it weren’t for shul, I’d be out chasing women.
* Rabbi Wein writes: “Holy and honest people inspire holiness and honesty in others.” This is so true. I am profoundly affected by the people I roll with. That’s why I go to shul every day. Otherwise, I’d be out chasing women, and some of them have low morals. The ones I’d bed would probably be bipolar, tatted up and have drinking and drug problems and try to charge me. Afterward, I’d be filled with self-loathing. It takes a special kind of woman for me not to loathe her after sex. Sometimes I just look at her and if she’s a mess and fat and smelly and slovenly and not very bright and disciplined and successful, and I just hate her and hate myself. I speak from experience. I think about the things I’ve just done to her and I think, what kind of woman would allow me to do such things? Only a slag. Oy, I fear my misogyny is coming out, just when I thought I had it all nicely contained. I need to get to a 12-step meeting.
On the other hand, I only feel like a man when some woman validates me. Oy, I’m very mixed up. It’s easy to get stuck in this cycle of perpetually going on the prowl to find validation in the arms of a woman and then to hate her and yourself afterward.
I wonder if I have been negatively affected by my Christian upbringing and have all this unnecessary shame and confused feelings?
* I used to be shomer negiya (would not touch the opposite sex). I’d have this woman up for the weekend. Friday and Saturday I’d lecture her about how I couldn’t touch her. And then Sunday, I’d give her a ride to the bus stop and on the way I’d lose it.
* Do you spend a lot of time in cemeteries? I find them sobering. I like to walk around in them. It puts things in perspective and they’re often great places to hide from the police.
* Rabbi Wein writes: “Even though we are all tamei today in non-Temple times, nevertheless there is an implied message here that no Jew should gratuitously allow one’s self to become impure unnecessarily. In kabbalistic thought, especially in the tradition of the Ari, visiting graves and cemeteries was discouraged because of the unholiness of the spirits that reside in the place where the dead are buried. This trend of thought has not gained wide popularity in Jewish life – witness the many thousands who make the pilgrimage to the grave of Rabi Shimon ben Yochai in Meron every Lag B’Omer – and graves of loved ones and of great holy people that play an important role in everyday Jewish life. Yet, this idea of not allowing one’s self to become tamei, as exhibited in the special commandment to the kohanim in this week’s Torah reading should at least give us pause and room for thought on the matter.”
* Whether we like it or not, we are each role models to someone and our behavior affects them. You can’t just say, “I’m not a role model.” It’s not a choice. It is thrust upon you, particularly if you host a Torah Talks show.
* Rabbi Wein writes: “Thus the kohanim represented the two most necessary ingredients for decent society – the devoted public servant and the moral educator and teacher.”
* Most of the Torah is not democratic. The more religious Jewish life, the more it is elitist. The more traditional, the less likely you are to march up to some rabbi you don’t know and start asking questions. When I bring secular Jews to shul, they often think that the Orthodox are so eager to make converts that they will welcome their questions and challenges. Not so much.
I remember taking this big magazine writer to shul and pointing out a great rabbi. So my friend marched over to the rav and asked him a question. The rabbi ignored him.
Out for a walk the other day, I ran into a rabbi I knew. So I slowed down to fall into step with him until I realized to my chagrin that he had no interest in walking with me.
I have this thing. I want to get close to a rabbi I admire but that carries with it responsibilities that I don’t want and so the rabbi usually ends up rejecting me. If I had just hung back all along, I could’ve kept my freedom and the arms-length relationship.
* Rabbi Berel Wein writes: “The very concept of an elite class among Jews is somehow disturbing to our modern mindset and societal value system. Our slavish devotion to the ideal of democracy has forced many Jews to forsake all Jewish values and traditions in order to prove ourselves truly democratic.”
The undemocratic nature of Torah Judaism rubs most secularists the wrong way.
* Rabbi Berel Wein writes: “For many centuries there was a concept of noblesse oblige in European and American society. The wealthy, the powerful, the talented and gifted were felt to have an obligation to work for the betterment of their society as a whole, simply because they were blessed with an unequal and favorable share in life’s bounties. This concept was based upon the foundations of Torah thought…”
* I had a therapist who encouraged me to work on my problems with other people when the emotional temperature was low. Once things heat up, it’s hard to make much progress.
* Rabbi Wein writes: “The Torah reading of this week concludes with a discussion of the sin of blaspheming the name of God. The Torah places this prohibition within an anecdotal context, describing an event that occurred in the camp of the Jewish people in the desert of Sinai. Two Jews had a quarrel that rapidly disintegrated into a public fight. The quarrel originally had to do with the ancestry of one of the Jews. When the quarrel between the two Jews finally went out of control, the act of blasphemy of God’s name took place.”
* Charles Wheelan writes in the WSJ: “10 Things Your Commencement Speaker Won’t Tell You: Your time in fraternity basements was well spent. The same goes for the time you spent playing intramural sports, working on the school newspaper or just hanging with friends. Research tells us that one of the most important causal factors associated with happiness and well-being is your meaningful connections with other human beings. Look around today. Certainly one benchmark of your postgraduation success should be how many of these people are still your close friends in 10 or 20 years.”
I was always interested in success but not always invested in making friends. So when I got sick at age 21 and was bed-ridden until 27, I was bereft when none of my friends my age gave a damn. They were all going on with their lives. I found that only people I knew who were in the second half of life were compassionate.
If you don’t want to end up like Rabbs and me, invest in friends.
* Rabbi Berel Wein writes: “My insight is that the High Priest brings forgiveness to Israel through living – through a life of holiness and public service. The High Priest blesses the people and he is aware that he bears the responsibility for their behavior and is charged with being the proper role model for his fellow priests and for all of Israel generally.”
The High Priest was like a Hasidic rebbe.
* This week’s Torah portion deals with forbidden sexual relationships. I have not committed any of these sins.
Rabbi Wein writes: “The Torah pays no attention to the modern world’s “two consenting adults are allowed to do whatever they want” theory of proper human behavior.”
“Perhaps in no other area of the Torah is the contrast between the Torah’s value system and that of modern Western society revealed so clearly. The Torah recognizes no possibility for the existence of “alternate life-styles.” The ultimate question that lies behind this clash of values is that of defining what is the goal in one’s life. Is it to be pleasure and narcisstic self-satisfaction or is it to be the attainment of the goal of being kedoshim – a special, unique, spiritually developed human being?”
* Rabbi Berel Wein writes: “Somehow it is fashionable in the current day Jewish world to associate holiness and spirituality with the mystic, the supernatural, the irrational, the unknown and the not understandable. The plethora of books being written and published about Kabbalah, most of them of dubious content and scholarship, is one manifestation of this current trend. Another example of this trend is the ascent of “holy men” who dispense blessings or amulets, and their popularity amongst the masses.”
By contrast, the Torah’s teaching on holiness in the book of Leviticus are practical and prosaic. It is about self-control and following the dictates of your leaders.
Rabbi Wein writes: “The Torah defines holiness in concrete, easily understood, human terms. The definition of holiness in Jewish life is always expressed in terms of self-discipline. Self-discipline, control of behavior, speech and actions are the ingredients of holiness as the Torah sees it. Now, I will admit that this is unexciting holiness. It is much more glamorous to receive a blessing from a holy man at three AM in the morning, or to engage in meditation, transcendental or otherwise, or to dance in the aisle during a prayer service or create a more spiritual prayer service than the tired, old-fashioned traditional fashion of prayer, than to refrain from slander, sexual promiscuity or dishonest monetary behavior.”
* Just because Jews are sometimes weak and sinful does not mean that our rabbis will lower our standards. We don’t change the Torah to accommodate our own desires.
It’s not uncommon for me to pour my heart out on Torah Talk (though most of the time I hide behind my cynicism). Tonight was particularly painful. I told the truth about a letch who hit on girls during kiddish and groped them — against their will! — in the kitchen while a guest at Shabbat tables (during 1994, 1995) and made them cry.
On the one hand, I feel I am oh so noble to confess my sins publicly. On the other hand, I know that by spreading word of my cruelty far and wide, I’m recreating the painful ejections of my past.
We train people on how to treat us and I keep training people to reject me.
I am driven to recreate painful dramas from my furthest childhood, no matter what the harm to my present. I feel in the grip of certain self-destructive compulsions.
No matter where I go, there I am.
The one good thing about the frequent moves of my childhood was that they kept giving me a chance to get it right. I’d move to a new country and before the internet, nobody there knew I was a loser. For a few weeks, I could even be a curiosity. I had an accent after all.
Then the ugly truth about me would inevitably reveal itself and I’d be back in the unpopular crowd (or, at best, I’d be the least popular of the popular crowd).
Occasionally good people would adopt me and shlep me along for weeks or months or even years (the Muths at Pacific Union College, the late Lane Van Howd in ninth grade, Shannon Anderson in twelfth grade, Cathy Seipp 2001-2007, rabbis), I had the illusion that I had changed for the good and could now live on a higher plane. But this borrowed functioning always ran its course, leaving me in that familiar slough of isolation and despair.
At age 12, I thought that running marathons would get me lots of attention and transform my social status. I envisioned myself setting world records. I’d be the next Derek Clayton (the Australian world record holder for the marathon).
I finished five marathons in seventh grade, but my fastest time was four hours and fifteen minutes.
Discouraged, I started training twice a day, averaging more than 60 miles a week.
At a race in San Francisco, I met Derek Clayton. “I’m going to break your world record,” I told him. “I’m training twice a day. Ten miles a day.”
“At your age,” he said, “you should be running track. Run the mile. Don’t run long distances yet. Your body can’t handle it.”
In my next race, I was on track for a 3:30 marathon at the 18 mile mark but felt wretched. I dropped out. Knee trouble over the next few years (Osgood-Schlatters disease) ended my running career.
I took away from my 18-months of running long distances an unshakable belief in my ability to discipline myself to achieve anything I wanted.
Running hadn’t led me to prestige or to records or to fame, but I’d gained some friends (one is still my Facebook friend, David Nieman), some focus, and some taste of achieving goals through hard work.
In high school, I thought that by displaying my journalistic talent, I could get lots of attention and transform my social status. It did not work.
I envisioned myself becoming the next Dan Rather but vocal trouble limited my radio career (from 16-21) and I never made the next step to TV.
The more I worked on my voice during these years, the worse it got. I quit in utter humiliation and felt a quiet burn over the next two decades until I started studying the Alexander Technique in 2008. By 2011, my voice troubles were gone and I’d love to get back into radio and give it another shot.
A few years ago, I sent a Facebook friend request to my former news director at KAHI/KHYL radio, Pete DuFour. He’s yet to respond. I find it frustrating that I haven’t stayed in touch with anyone from these years.
I never earned more than minimum wage at KAHI/KHYL. I didn’t get any dates from radio and little fame, but I always had the sense I could be huge if I just conquered my vocal trouble. I was unshaken in my belief about my potential greatness as a journalist and as a scholar.
In college, I thought that by achieving straight As and preaching Marxism, I could get lots of attention and transform my social status. It did not work.
I envisioned that being a Marxist would make me chic on campus and get me laid. It did not happen. Not even a little bit.
Marxism was the greatest acting exercise of my life. For about two years, I acted as though the opposite of what I truly believed was true. I read dozens of books on Marxism and learned to talk the talk (OK, at times I really believed there was something to Marxism).
I was terribly amused when I told people from 1987-1989 that I was an “atheistic communist.”
This ability to enter the thinking of those inimical to me served me well as a blogger when I ventured into hostile territory and spoke to people I hated in their own language and allowed them to feel I was on their side.
After discovering Dennis Prager, I thought that by converting to Judaism, I could jettison an unwanted self and recreate myself as a righteous man who received lots of attention and transformed his social status. It did not work.
I envisioned that converting to Judaism would allow me to let go of my lifelong habit of using people, that I would become righteous and normal and that I would marry and have kids and be a respectable part of a holy community and a blessing to those around me.
I thought that by moving to Los Angeles in 1994 and getting close to Dennis Prager, I could transform my life. It did not work. I just perpetuated my lifelong habit of first idealizing and then devaluing.
Dennis Prager is the most significant of all the substitute father figures I’ve adopted. I’m not quite sure why I do this. My relationship with my own father is perfectly fine. Still, in high school, I noticed myself at times wanting to spend more time with the fathers of my friends (such as Robert McKee, Joe Hamelin) than with my friends (Kevin and Scott).
Dennis was just the ultimate father figure. He was wise and good. A great role model. I wanted to be close to him. I wanted to work for him. I wanted to take his values to the world.
My break with Dennis was the most significant rupture of my life. I lost all the friends we had in common. Distraught, I entered psycho-therapy (and have been in it ever since). I wanted to understand why I was destroying my most important relationships.
One day my therapist explained that I had learned so much from Dennis, that I wanted to show him what I could do. From that day on, I stopped wasting my therapy time talking about Dennis and the friends we’d had in common.
By leaving Dennis, I was able to do my own thing, and, at times, to do it brilliantly. I wrote what I wanted without worrying about how my work reflected on Prager.
From now on, my writing would come first for me. That had become clear. I’d sacrificed all my friends to write on Dennis. From now on, I would sacrifice everything to write what I wanted. I would not let anyone or anything hold me back from pursuing my life purpose. All loss would be bearable if I could just craft a true sentence.
I envisioned that working for Dennis Prager would be my path to meaning, to excellence, and to normality.
When that part of me died, other parts of me came alive.
From 1994-1998, I thought that by attending Aish HaTorah, I could remake myself like many of its baalei teshuva (penitents), and transform myself. It did not work.
I envisioned that I might marry and have kids and be a part of the warm, loving Aish community. I dreamed that I would leave my compulsions behind and be 613 all the way.
I didn’t quite make it, but the sweetness of what I tasted was not forgotten, and even though Reform Judaism was easier, I soon made my way back permanently to Orthodoxy because that was where I knew the best people.
And in the various Orthodox shuls of Pico-Robertson, I met many people who like myself had been m’kareved (brought closer) by Aish but had since moved on.
In 1995, I thought that by writing on the porn industry, I could get lots of attention and transform my social status. It did not work.
I envisioned that I would become a best-selling author and quickly move on to other more socially acceptable topics. Instead, I got stuck in the salt mines of porn for most of 1995-2007.
While it was not the topic I wished for myself, and while it was the only way I found to make a living writing, I found many compelling stories during my time in XXX. There was rarely a dull day. Porners may not be polite but they are hilarious.
In 1998, I began years of psycho-therapy. I thought I could transform myself. It did not work.
For years, my therapy was largely crisis management. It helped to stop me from completely destroying myself by holding me accountable. Every week I had to check in and share what I was doing and we would talk about how that compared to what I wanted for my life. How did my deeds compare to my stated ideals? I had converted to Judaism. What did that mean for my choices?
For years, I used therapy as another forum for showing off. Eventually, however, I reduced the acting out in my sessions, reduced the boasting about the details of my sex life, and began to talk about my true feelings of shame and loneliness.
In 1999, I began homeopathy. I thought I could transform myself. It did not work.
For the first couple of months, I felt like I was leaving Chronic Fatigue Syndrome behind but then it returned with a vengeance. I kept consulting my homeopathic doctor until about 2003, when I gave up.
In 2000, I began attending Young Israel of Century City and was befriended by a prestigious man. I thought I could transform myself. It did not work.
I envisioned myself becoming like those around me at YICC — successful in Torah and successful in the world. But I had taken the easy route to infamy and confused it with lasting success. I was not in the same league as these guys.
Booted from Young Israel of Century City in June of 2001, I began attending Beth Jacob. I thought I could transform myself. It did not work.
In August of 2001, I began attending Chabad Bais Bezalel. I thought I could transform myself. It did not work.
In August of 2001, I quit writing on the porn industry. I thought I could transform myself. It did not work.
I envisioned myself making the same impact on Hollywood with my writing as I had made on the porn industry with my blogging. That didn’t happen.
In October of 2001, I began attending Bnai David-Judea. I thought I could transform myself. It did not work.
By this point, I was so shell-shocked by this point by my multiple shul ejections and from feeling like a pariah around my community of Pico-Robertson, that I retreated from most of those around me and became increasingly isolated in the shul.
In September of 2002, I quietly began writing on the porn industry again. This time I had no illusions and only wanted to get out.
I did not use my full name of “Luke Ford”. I was just “Luke” or “Deep Under Cover” or some other such name.
In October of 2007, I stopped writing on the porn industry. I thought I could transform myself. It did not work.
In July of 2008, I took up the Alexander Technique. I thought I could transform myself. I thought I could become more successful with women. It did not work.
In January of 2009, I took up Kundalini Yoga. I thought I could transform myself. It did not work.
In May of 2011, I began 12-stepping for sex addiction. I thought I could transform myself. It did not work.
In December of 2011, I began teaching Alexander Technique. I thought I could transform myself. It did not work.
How come complete strangers can read my thoughts and know that I am no good?
A doctor emails: “You do realize that from the outside, it appears over the last few days that you had a hypomanic episode followed by today’s depressive appearing posts? Might you require attention for some bordeline bipolar issues? I mean this seriously.”
* Most people today don’t give a flying fig about matters such as purity and impurity. And yet purity is what I want most in a spouse. I want someone who’s not been plucked and yet will be grateful to reap all the benefits I’ve gained through my varied experiences with many different races and religions.
* What is impurity? Rabbi Wein writes: “Impurity of heart and mind is what allows one to mock the righteous and ridicule the pious.”
I knew this talent agent (Shylar at Reb’s Pretty Girl International) in the industry who liked to watch Little House on the Prairie. That was his way of getting pure. In between booking girls for various scenes of degradation, he watched Michael Landon and co.
* Rabbi Wein writes: “We literally wallow in a sea of impurity of thought and evil behavior and we are bombarded constantly by messages and examples of gross impurity and maliciously evil behavior. And we are alone in combating these evils, since the impurity of society ridicules any public attempt at raising the level of purity of that society.”
Ain’t that the truth! I’ve seen so much filthy material on the internet. I even made some of it in my weaker moments. Maybe I’ll read some of the reviews on my past documentary efforts.
* Is it permitted to sing Gentile hymns in the bathroom? If they are about the God of Israel like Abide With Me? Do the goyim’s incorrect notions about the Almighty render it permitted to sing their songs in unholy places like clubs etc?
I think in my Gentile upbringing, it was discouraged to sing Gentile hymns in the bathroom.
* From a Torah perspective, is it good to spend as much time as possible alone (a la Rabbs) or as much time as possible with other Orthodox Jews (a la Luke)?
Rabbi Berel Wein writes: “The traditional translation of tzoraat as leprosy is undoubtedly misleading and inaccurate. The rabbis of the Talmud treated this disease as mainly a spiritual one, albeit reflected in actual physical symptoms. Slander, narrowness of vision, jealousy of others and bad character traits were assigned by the rabbis as being some of the potential causes of the onset of the disease.”
* Rabbi Wein writes: “The Parsha of Metzora deals with the plague of tzoraat – according to the Rabbis of the Talmud, a product of the sin of slander and abusive speech. “Life and death are in the hands of speech and the tongue.” In a society where everyone demands the right to know everything about everyone anytime, it is difficult to promote the ideas of privacy, correct speech and avoidance of gossip and unnecessary curiosity about others.”
* Rabbi Wein writes: “Legend has it that the famed ARI (Rabbi Isaac Luria of sixteenth century Safed) was able to tell a person what one’s sins and spiritual defects were simply by looking at the person’s face.”
I think there are rabbis like that today. My father, the college professor, could tell by looking at his students which of them were masturbating. They’d have a sallow countenance and shifty eyes. I inherited this detective ability. On Monday night’s show, Justin will say a few words in the chat room about “shomer bris.”
* You can try to improve yourself all you want, but whenever you’re confronted with powerful stimuli, your habitual responses to stimuli will take over and your social position will remain unchanged. All of my life I’ve been in the least popular segment of the popular crowd or the most popular segment of the losers. And I’ve been pursuing self-help since about age 11. I’ll meet someone I want to impress and my face will give me away. I won’t be able to sustain my lies or self-delusion when I’m confronted with a truly righteous man.
* Rabbi Wein writes: “In Biblical times the Lord, so to speak, forced us by physical symptoms to come to the kohein and confront our true spiritual state. This was a blessing, albeit in disguise, for it allowed for the necessary diagnosis that could eventually lead to spiritual repair, improvement and advancement. This is the supreme task of the kohein in helping others achieve their betterment. It was therefore a spiritual experience of advancement for the kohein as well. Helping others always helps to cleanse one’s soul and advance one’s spirit.”
* Rabbi Wein writes: “One of the many explanations given as to the connection between lashon hara and tzoraat is that lashon hara attempted to “kill” and defame a person in private and secret – a discreet stab in the back tactic – so the punishment was a public physical disfigurement able to be seen by all.”
According to Rabbi Yaakov Emden, it’s not lashon hara (gossip) if you say it publicly.
* Rabbi Wein: “Lashon hara – evil, gossipy speech – dehumanizes us all. It takes a holy vessel, speech and communicative ability, and defiles it and turns it into an instrument of harm and tragedy.”
* “The Pianist is a 2002 biographical war film directed by Roman Polanski, starring Adrien Brody. It is an adaptation of the autobiography of the same name by Jewish-Polish musician Władysław Szpilman.” Much of the time I was watching this film, I was making out with my shiksa girlfriend of the time. What is it about Holocaust films that makes so many Jews horny?
The Pianist is often called a great film and yet the protagonist doesn’t change. You watch this whole long wrenching film and there’s no development in the main character. It’s not like he became religious or left religion. He didn’t decide he could no longer believe in humanity or in God. He didn’t decide to give up classical music because it led to Auschwitz and to decide instead to play nothing but rock n roll as a celebration of life.
* In the second season of Boardwalk Empire, *spoiler alert* this mother and son get drunk and go home and fornicate. And the whole time they’re locked in the clinch, the son on top, the mother tells the son, “This isn’t wrong.” The Book of Leviticus, however, would strongly disagree. A girl I used to date, she knew a brother-and-sister at yeshiva who used to bang each other. The whole yeshiva knew. I wonder what that would do to your shidduch prospects?
* Who should we blame for the declining birth rate of Jews? I say the primary blame is for Jews who don’t observe Judaism. Those who do, generally speaking, marry early and have lots of kids. Those who want lots of spare time to study poetry and Alexander Technique, these guys tend to not marry.
* Rabbi Wein writes: “Compounding the problem is the high number of abortions undertaken by Jewish women every year, the numbers of these abortions being measured reportedly in the tens of thousands.” Too often, Jewish women use their vaginas as toys while Palestinian women use theirs as cannons. (Chaim Amalek)
One Jewish girlfriend of mine wouldn’t tell me whether or not she’d had an abortion. Another said if I got her pregnant, she’d just get rid of it. (I confess that made me happy because I could plook her all I wanted and not worry about fathering a kid. I was still young in my Jewish journey then, more Reform than Orthodox.) Another said that while she’d never had an abortion, every woman she knew had had one. “It’s just something that every woman goes through.”
One woman I knew threw a party after her abortion. Cold.
Rabbi Wein writes: “We may be heartened by the fact that in the religious Jewish community there is currently a high birthrate, 7.6 in the Charedi society and 4.2 in the Dati society. Eventually, this will cause a vast change in the life, politics and behavior of our country.”
* Rabbi Wein writes: “The Lord told us in advance that we would not be a people of great numbers – “for you are the smallest of all nations.” Nevertheless, we have an obligation to promote increased Jewish population and numbers. Family, children, generations, these are the values that Jews are judged by. It is our way of guaranteeing that the message of Sinai will continue to be heard in a world that so desperately needs to hear it.”
* Rabbi Wein writes: “Having children, how many, when, etc. is really a very personal decision. People from the outside have no right to interfere in other people’s personal decisions regarding so intimate a subject.”
* Rabbi Wein writes: “The laws of plagues, purity and impurity are purely chukim – laws that defy our limited rational capabilities to understand. But this is perhaps the very message that the Torah wishes us to learn and internalize. Much of life is not rational and does not fit into our accustomed schedules and plans. And even the most hardened secularist and/or rationalist must admit that much of life is inexplicable.” You’ll find this particularly true if you ever try to have a relationship with a woman, as I have tried and failed to pull off on countless occasions.
Rabbi Wein writes: “Weird things happen to all of us. There are forces in the world, dreams, inspirations, as well as strangers that suddenly appear that are present in our lives and are real to us though we have no idea how or why they influence us.”
“It is the unseen and intangible that truly carries us through life and its vicissitudes. And that is why the Torah devotes so much space and teachings to such a seemingly esoteric subject.”
* Robin Gibb came out of his coma and spoke to his family thusly, “Well, you can tell by the way I use my walk I’m a woman’s man no time to talk Music loud and women warm I’ve been kicked around, since I was born
And now it’s all right, it’s okay And you may look the other way We can try to understand The New York times’ effect on man”
* Rabbi Wein writes: “All halacha, or for that matter all systems of law in the world, is based on the concept of reasonable presumptions. In Jewish law this is called the concept of chazaka – the presumption that what was, still is. Thus halacha presumes that a husband to still alive even if he has somehow disappeared from sight. It presumes that things found in a certain place were at that place before and were not dragged there. It presumes that if there are no known faults in a person’s pedigree then that person’s pedigree is deemed to be faultless. There are many other examples of how chazaka works as an operating principle in Jewish law. In fact, the Talmud exclaims: “gedolah chazaka” – chazaka is a great and overriding principle of law. The basis for this halachic reliance on chazaka is found in this week’s Torah reading.”
“Presumptions in life are valid. People are judged on their past behavior, on family history, on pedigree and on past experiences. It is foolish to ignore presumptions that are based on legitimate grounds. One cannot ignore the realities that stare one in the face even if those realities do not conform to one’s ideology or wishful view of life. This applies in all areas of personal and national life. One cannot presume that one’s child will turn out all right if he or she is not given the basis of a strong Torah education. There is a chazaka that speaks against such wishful thinking.”
“One cannot wish one’s enemies away and become convinced that the tiger is no longer carnivorous. But the main lesson of chazaka is to be aware that human nature does not easily change and that what was is most likely what will be now as well. The lessons of Jewish history, of what works and what fails, form a strong presumption – gedolah chazaka. All of the “newness” of ideas in today’s Jewish society has, in reality, existed before and failed to contribute to Jewish continuity and national strength and security. The past is a hard taskmaster and a coercive instructor with regard to current choices…”