Monday, May 31, 2010

Saying "Good Shabbos"

Why is it that in most communities I have been to, people walk right by you without wishing you a “Good Shabbos” or “Shabbat Shalom”? I grew up in an “in-town” community, which was considered small for “in town,” i.e. we had way less than 10 shuls and 5 pizza stores, and even if you didn’t say hello to every other frum person you saw on the street, at least on shabbos if you passed someone frum, you would say “Good Shabbos,” even if you didn’t know their name.

I do think this is more of an “out-of-town” thing, as people who live in smaller communities tend to know all or most of the other frum people living there, so they are friendly enough with everyone to say “Good Shabbos” and then have a longer conversation than that. “In-towners,” on the other hand, tend to have the attitude of, “If I don’t know you, why should I say hi to you? There are a million frum people around, and if I say hi to you, then I have to say hi to everyone else.” I think this is ridiculous, and that even if you have to say “Good Shabbos” to every person you pass by, every 2 seconds, it is Kavod HaBriyot to say “Good Shabbos” to every person you meet.

This applies even if it is a woman and a man who are passing each other on the street. If a man doesn’t want to look at me, even though I’m dressed Tznius, I understand and respect where he is coming from. Look down when I pass you, but at least say “Good Shabbos.”

At this point I am not offended if I say “Good shabbos” with a smile and receive no response, but when I see newly religious Baalei Teshuva or someone who is becoming a Baal Teshuva, greet the person passing by with a hearty “Good Shabbos” and see their face fall as they don’t receive a reply, I wonder how many times a person can be ignored before they are turned off to Torah Judaism. Perhaps you have your own reasons for not initiating the greeting, but to ignore someone is an active lack of respect. And it bothers me even more when the ignorer is someone who is machmir in other aspects of Halacha. If you truly love Hashem and have devoted your life to Him, then how can you not devote yourself to His people, as we are commanded so many times in the Torah? Bein Adam L’Chavero is just as important as Bein Adam L’Makom, that’s why it takes up half of the 10 commandments.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Different approaches to "The Shidduch Crisis": Analyzing the causes and solutions

Recently Yeshiva World News and YU/ YUConnects each put out videos addressing the problem of “The Shidduch Crisis.”

To sum up, the Yeshiva World News’ video (click here to watch) explains that many girls ages 24-29 are not married- according to their survey about 14%. They attribute the problem to “The Age Gap,” which means that “In a growing population you have more younger people than older people,” and since guys marry girls who are 2, 3 or more years younger than them, there end up being a lot of girls who have no one to marry.

The YUConnects video, (click here), which is considerably longer (about 19 minutes) does not clearly define the problem and does not clearly define the solution. The tone of the video is more casual and informal. It is discussion-based and includes interviews with singles and shadchanim to paint a picture of some of the problems with the shidduch system in what I would call “YU type” communities.

Both the Yeshivish world and the YU world agree that there is a problem that exists which they call “The Shidduch Crisis.” However, there seems to be debate on two points: What is the Shidduch Crisis/how do you define it? And secondly, what is the cause of the shidduch crisis? It is only once you have answered those two questions that you can try to come up with a solution.

For the Yeshivish world, it seems that the problem (the definition of the Shidduch Crisis) is that there are many older girls who are still single and cannot find guys to marry. This premise assumes that the problem is mathematical (more girls than guys) and therefore the solution is about numbers. While it would be great if it was that simple, I have two problems with this:
1. If the problem is really the age gap, then how come there was never a Shidduch Crisis before? The population in the world has always been growing, and guys have traditionally married girls younger than them, (and in fact I would argue the age gap was larger in the past), so why wasn’t there a Shidduch Crisis 100 years ago? This makes no sense to me.
2. The solution of “Close the Age Gap, Solve the Shidduch Crisis,” only makes sense if the problem is the abundant number of single girls. Maybe in the Yeshivish world the problem is only that girls are single, but in the YU community at least, there are plenty of guys who are single as well.

So for the “YU world”, so to speak, what is the problem? What is the crisis? It seems that the crisis is that there is high number of both men and women who are single and who would like to be married, who have been dating for a long time. Now comes the second question: What is causing this problem of so many singles who cannot find a spouse? The way I see it, there are two possible points in the dating/marriage timeline that could be the source of the problem:
1. The right guys and girls are not being set up with each other, so they never meet, and so they never get married. Problem: They don’t meet.
2. Guys and girls are being set up, and they do meet, but after they meet they never progress from the stage of going out to getting engaged. People are too quick to break up. Problem: Relationships have no problem beginning, but they do not continue.

From the YU Connects video it seems that they believe the answer is choice #1, that the problem exists because singles are not meeting each other. In fact, I have yet to hear someone attribute the problem to #2; it seems the problem is that singles have difficulties meeting each other. As one of the guys in the YU Connects video said, “There could be a guy who is right for a certain girl, but they may never meet.” Why are singles not meeting each other?

This is where it becomes unclear. The video seemed to suggest a few possible sources of why singles aren’t meeting:

1. There is a problem with the shidduch system. Some argue that singles need to meet naturally and not only through being set up. Often two people do not appear to be compatible on paper, but when they meet in real life they work perfectly, and visa versa. Singles never meet because the system doesn’t allow them to. As they put it in the video, “Young people are not meeting in a normal fashion” because there is an “increasing tendency to separate the sexes.” If this is the problem, then the solution is not only create more singles events, which can be awkward and forced, but to create more events where singles can meet naturally, where the main goal isn’t necessarily dating, but just for fun.

2. There is problem with the mentality. Some say that the Shidduch Crisis exists because people focus on ridiculous details that are not important. Things such as the color of a table cloth on shabbos. (Side note: I have never actually met someone who cared about that- is that one of those things that is for real or people just like to use it as an example because perhaps one person asked it once and it is so outrageous?) I feel compelled to quote my favorite line from the video here, when one of the shadchanim interviewed says, “Don’t ask what Yeshiva he went to, ask if he’ll change diapers at 3 in the morning.” (If only it were possible to find that out!) This is the point where I feel shadchanim accuse singles today of being too picky, as that same woman said, “Maybe go out of your box and try it. Maybe that’s why you’re not married yet.” So, according to this reason, singles never meet because they refuse to go out based on unreasonable criteria.

If this is the problem, then the solution is to try to change the mentality- of the entire community, not just of singles- to focus on things that are important. This problem is not a problem only singles have, unfortunately many people today stick people into boxes and categories largely based on how a person dresses. A lot of this problem is a focus on the external and not the internal. As one of the shadchanim points out on the video about guys who only date girls who are sizes 0-2, “She might not be a size 2 after you marry her. Are you gonna throw her out?” While attraction is undeniably important, true love should prevail no matter if a persons appearance changes. That is just one example.

Obviously these two issues are not completely independent of each other; the fact that people focus on insignificant details exacerbates the problem with the shidduch system where couples are set up based on pieces of paper and not chemistry.

I have some problems with the first option, that there is a problem with the shidduch system and singles should just meet naturally. My first problem is that those of us who are products of YU type communities are being given mixed messages. All through high school and Israel girls are told not to talk to boys and guys are told not to talk to girls. We are separated, and I believe this is a good thing and that is how it should be. When girls and guys build relationships without the intention of it possibly leading towards marriage, then things get complicated. I know there are many couples who meet in high school and continue dating and get married, but my teachers always discouraged this citing the reason that being shomer negiah for that long is very difficult.

One could argue that although interaction between the sexes is discouraged before one hits a marriageable age, once a person is ready to get married, interaction should be encouraged for the purposes of shidduchim. This is what I think the argument is for singles meeting naturally, not through a shadchan. The problem is that since we have been trained not to interact with the other gender, it’s hard to suddenly begin interacting. I remember when I first started Stern College and all the sudden the administration was pushing us to attend co-ed events. I had just come back from Israel where talking to guys was extremely discouraged, and all of the sudden it was like, “Go! Talk to guys!” It was quite overwhelming and I had no clue where to begin. I was way to shy to start talking to a guy at an event (still am somewhat, but less so) and there was no way a guy would dare approach me- it would come across as being way too forward. Bad For Shidduchim has a post about this where her parents were disappointed that she had barely even looked at a single guy who she had a meal with, and she comments how her teachers would be so proud. So while meeting naturally sounds like a great idea, in reality there needs to be some sort of transition from “Don’t talk to the opposite gender!!” to “Talk to them now!!!”

And after you’re married, you’re expected to go back to not talking/interacting. That’s why it makes more sense to pick one- the Yeshivish approach that it is never OK to seriously interact with the opposite gender except on a date, or the more modern approach that it is always OK to do so. I think the middle approach is possible- that it’s not OK before and after you’re dating, but when you’re in the dating period, it is OK to break that rule- but there needs to be some serious coaching and assistance in the transition from one to the other. For both the guys and the girls.

My second problem with singles meeting their spouses “naturally,” is that there is a very fine line between interaction that is for the purpose of marriage and interaction which is not for the purpose of marriage. (I put the word “naturally” in quotes because meeting your spouse through a shadchan is also a natural process- the opposite would be a miracle, which would involve no median, but rather being handed your Bashert directly from Hashem. People tend to overlook that. Hashem is equally involved in making a shidduch whether two people meet at an event where they start up a conversation or whether another human being thinks of the idea and appears to be the cause behind the shidduch. Hashem is ultimately the only One who truly makes a shidduch.)

Back to my point, if there is a singles event where singles have the opportunity to meet, then hopefully the guys and girls will be talking and building relationships. Firstly, this brings us to the whole platonic relationship debate, of whether it is possible to have a platonic relationship and whether Hashem approves or disapproves of such relationships. Secondly, in this environment there is a possibility that a guy and girl could meet who are completely not shayach for each other, but they do have chemistry and so they develop feelings for each other. While sometimes these feelings have the potential to override the hashkafic or other differences between the two people, sometimes feelings are not enough. Then what you are left with is two people who are deeply in love, but should not be getting married. Perhaps one could argue that these are risks worth taking. No matter what there will be pros and cons, and if this method results in less singles and more marriages, then it’s worth it.

For those two reasons (mixed messages make meeting naturally difficult and meeting naturally could result in tricky relationships), I’m not sure that the solution is to drop the shidduch system entirely and just have singles meet at events or without being set up. I find the second reason I mentioned as to why singles aren’t meeting (a problem with the mentality) to be a much more compelling reason. This brings me back to the debate as to what is considered an insignificant detail that should not be used as criteria, and what is considered to be settling. The bottom line is that you never know what you would be willing to give up until you actually meet the person. It’s not that there are certain criteria that one should never give up and there are others which you should never be picky about. The mentality of focusing on details which might not be important is a problem and that should be changed. But that is not an easy thing to do, nor do I propose that it is the only way to solve the shidduch crisis.

So how do we solve The Shidduch Crisis? I definitely don’t claim to have the answer to that question. Perhaps by closing the age gap, by adjusting the shidduch system and by working to change the mentality of our community. Perhaps by being open to meeting people outside our box, and by trying to find ways for singles to meet each other.

Food for thought: How do you define “The Shidduch Crisis”? What do you think the cause is? How would you solve the crisis?

Update: There are a number of things I forgot to mention in this post.
1. I forgot to point out that even on the YUConnects video, they say that the problem affects girls more than guys- more girls are single.
2. In terms of the Yeshiva World News video, is 14% really such a high number? I suppose it is if you are one of the people counted in the 14%. I would be curious if they did the same survey in Yeshivas to find out what percentage of guys are single. I assume it would be lower, but it would be interesting if it wasn't off by that high a percent.
3. Another problem with the "let singles meet naturally at events and not through shadchanim" approach is that the Yeshivish world would never go for that.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Two videos about the Shidduch Crisis

I am in the middle of writing a review of the following two videos which each discuss "The Shidduch Crisis."

The first one, click here, was put out Yeshiva World News, and the second one, click here, is from YU Connects. The first one is short, the YU Connects one is about 19 minutes.

So for now, enjoy the videos, and get ready for a post comparing and discussing the two.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Take a number

A while ago, my friend went on a date with a guy, and although the guy was very nice, at the end of the date they both realized that they were not for each other. They felt comfortable enough sharing this with each other since they both could tell it was mutual. Being friendly, my friend offered that she had some friends that she would like to set him up with. The guy hesitated uncomfortably and explained that he has a whole list of girls to go out with. I think he may have offered to set her up, or maybe not, either way he never did.

(Side point: Why is it that guys rarely set up girls they went out with, while girls are always trying to think of friends for guys who they previously dated??)

Anyway, I had heard of guys having lists before, but thought it was one of those things you hear about as a theoretical, and that was my first time actually encountering it. Is it really true that guys have lists? Why is that? Why don’t girls have lists? Are there really more girls in the world? This is something that I don’t understand. My friend was bothered because she felt like a number, and I completely agree. Thoughts?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Chag Sameach!

This year is my fifth year in a row making it all the way to Shavuos counting Sefirat HaOmer with a bracha. Every time I try, I make it all the way through. Amazing what we can accomplish when we set our mind to it.

Wishing everyone a meaningful Shavuos, filled with lots of Torah, learning and growth, and lots of cheesecake as well.

Chag Sameach.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Stern College Poll

I recently noticed that the student newspaper of Stern College, The Observer, had a poll on its website which asked, "What is the most challenging aspect of religious observance?" After reading the nine different options, I curiously clicked to read the poll results. The category with the most votes was "Sexual Propriety," which did not surprise me, and the second biggest category, "Lashon Harah/gossip," unfortunately, did not surprise me at all either. What actually shocked me was the third biggest category, which at the time that I'm writing this post has 14% percent of the votes, and that is belief in G-d.

The reason that this shocked me was that belief in G-d is the biggest foundations of our faith. It is the very first commandment of the Ten Commandments given to us at Har Sinai when we received the Torah- "I am Hashem." The majority of Stern students grew up religious/Torah observant and have attended Jewish schools their entire lives. It boggled my mind that so many people who are religious struggle with such a basic concept as whether G-d exists or not.

Perhaps the 15% of voters were ones who did not grow up religious and were in the process of becoming Baalei Teshuva, but even so, I would think that belief in G-d is one of the first things a person would believe in when growing in Judaism. Or perhaps those who chose that option intended what I would call “Trust in G-d,” which is something that I believe many struggle with, trusting that everything in our lives is a result of Divine Providence and is for the best or ultimate good. But that would have been “Trust in G-d” and the option reads, “Belief in G-d.”

I guess it goes to show you that you never know what people’s challenges are. Even when things look perfect, you never know what’s going on inside. As I once heard, life is like a duck. On the surface it looks like it is smooth sailing, but underneath the water the duck is paddling furiously. May Hashem grant us the strength to be victorious in all of the struggles we face.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Spiritual Chizuk

The road of Avodas Hashem is a bumpy one, and we could always use a little encouragement. One thing I do when I’m feel motivated is I write it down so I can read it later on when I feel like I’m making no progress in my efforts in spiritual growth. I wrote this a long time ago, for myself to read, so I’m posting it in the hopes that it will bring others chizuk as well. Disclaimer: Different things inspire different people, so this may not be your type of thing.

A relationship with Hashem and Avodas Hashem are a constant struggle, and like everything in life, there are ups and downs. Just like you bend your knees and lower yourself in order to jump, sometimes you will have spiritual lows, but they will bring you up. It’s hard to see sometimes, but the struggle is an important part of the process.

Don’t ever doubt for a second that G-d loves you and is constantly playing an active role in your life. Look at all the wonderful things and people in your life. Think about all that G-d has done for you today, the opportunities, the kindnesses. G-d helps you on the path that you want to go on. If you want Torah and growth, G-d will help. Don’t forget who you are and who you could be. With your unique Kochos/abilities and life situation, only you can fulfill your Tafkid/purpose.

People think that you need to do something big to change someone’s life, but for most people, life doesn’t change in a second. It isn’t one smile, but it’s every smile. Maybe each drop on its own is not enough to make a hole in the rock, but when they all come together they can do it. Even though one drop doesn’t seem to make a difference, they are each doing something small, and although it’s not a visible difference, it counts. Don’t doubt the significance of small steps.

Every second of the day you are influenced and affected a bit, and every day you impact people a bit. It’s hard because you don’t feel it, you don’t see it, but like G-d- who cannot be sensed by human senses- growth and change is slow, but it exists. Don’t get discouraged; believe. Just try.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Is being single bad?

Is being single a bad thing? My first response to this would be, “Of course not, why would you even think it might be?” What prompted this question is when I notice lists of people to daven for and it says "For those who are sick," “for those who are unemployed,” and then "For those who need a shidduch." All on the same list. The first time I saw something like that I was a bit take aback. How can you compare someone who is ill and in need of a recovery or someone who is not able to put food on the table to someone who is single, who is perfectly healthy?

I’m not saying people shouldn’t daven for themselves or for singles to find a spouse, I think that davening is crucial. It just doesn’t seem it belongs on a list with categories of things that are truly terrible. Just because you’re not married doesn’t mean people have to pity you and feel bad for you.

But if being single is a good thing, then why daven to find a spouse at all? If this is what Hashem wants, why not just accept that and not daven? The truth is you could really ask that about davening in general. If Hashem always does what’s best for us, then why should we ask for anything? I’ve heard a bunch of answers, but basically Tefilla is supposed to change you, because you internalize the idea that everything comes from Hashem. It changes you and you become a different person who now deserves different things. The power of Tefilla is awesome- it’s incredible that we have the ability to do something to cause Hashem to change our lives.

Being single is good and being married is good too.
Sometimes I find it difficult to find the right balance. On the one hand I do want to get married, but on the other hand I enjoy being single. It's hard to feel both at the same time: To accept the way my life is right now yet to want to be in a different stage of life. If I really truly want to get married, shouldn't I be upset that I'm single? If I'm really truly happy with my life, how can I want to change it so drastically? Obviously I am able to feel both simultaneously, but I also feel the contradiction.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mother's Day and Shavuos

For all those who forgot, today is Mother's day, so quick call your mother. Or don't, it depends on how you feel about Mother's Day. You see, every Mother's day there I end up in debate. Some people are completely against mother's day and insist that "Every day is mother's day," and that the holiday is a ridiculous invention by hallmark. Mothers should be appreciated and celebrated every day.Then there are people like me, who understand that point of view, but think that the fact is that mothers aren't always appreciated and it's great to have the opportunity to say, "Hey Mom, you're awesome and I just wanted to make sure you know that I feel that way." Why not take advantage of the chance to do something nice for your mother and do Kibbud Av V'Am? It's like birthdays. You're alive every second, but once a year it's nice to take the chance to recognize that fact.

I was thinking about this and how it is also true for Shavuos. The Torah does not give a specific date for Shavuos, rather it tells us to count 50 days from Pesach. Why is that? Because accepting the Torah and keeping the Torah is something we should do every single day. Each day we are supposed to accept Torah as though it was given to us today. Like we say in shema, "Asher Anochi Mitzavcha Hayom," that I commanded you today. So if we do it every day, why have a chag at all? We need Shavuos because the reality is that we don't always keep the Torah as though it was something new every day, and we need the chance once a year to celebrate, to remember Matan Torah, and to accept the Torah on ourselves again.

As Shavuos approaches, may we all be zoche to use these last days of the omer to absorb the messages of the omer and learn to live Torah as though it was given to us brand new every single day.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Awkward Moments

Oh, gotta love awkward moments. In retrospect, anyway. They are so much fun to laugh about after they happen, but while they are happening things are just so uncomfortable and…well, awkward.

The epitome of an awkward situation, is when you’re walking along happily, when you see far ahead of you someone who you know. But you don’t know them so well; you kind of know them a little. They are the type of person you might have met only once or twice, or you’ve seen around, and you might not even know their name. You are far enough away that you wouldn’t be able to hear them if they said hello, and so as you walk towards each other, you wait for them to get close enough to see if they’ll say hello.

Suddenly, their eyes fall onto yours and you see that they see you, and their eyes light up and they smile and start waving. Being the naturally reciprocating beings that we are, you smile back and start to wave as well. You are happily surprised because you weren’t sure if they remembered you, or if they were friendly enough that they would wave. You aren’t friends, after all, and this kind gesture comes as a slight shock. By this point in your thought process you are now slightly suspicious, and the slightly guilty look on the other person’s face confirms your suspicions.

Almost in slow motion, you nervously turn you head behind you and see someone else, who I’ll call Person #3, waving excitedly at your acquaintance. You had every right to be surprised that the person who you knew was waving at you, since as it turns out, they were not waving to you at all, but rather the person behind you. At this point, you are now in earshot of each other and you hear the person say to you half-heartedly and awkwardly, “Oh, um, hey, um, yeah, um…,” and then they continue walking and give an enthusiastic “HEY!!!!” to the person who they were really trying to wave to.

You continue walking, as well, slightly flushed and slightly lacking in confidence. If you’re quick at getting over things, then you walk a few steps more, laugh to yourself and think, “Wow, that was awkward!”

If you overanalyze this situation and replay it in your head, then at some point you wonder, “Well, what else should I have done?” After all, if they had in fact been waving at you, then it would have been plain rude not to wave back. If you’re not sure, it is far more polite to err on the friendlier side than to possibly offend them. Putting them in an awkward position is much better than hurting their feelings by not waving back.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Hashkafa Part 2

In my previous post I was talking about trying to define myself and how the two categories I was in between were Modern Orthodox Machmir and Yeshivish/Black Hat. I realized that there was one point I forgot to make, and that is why I was so hesitant to define myself as “Modern Orthodox.” The main reason why I was hesitant is because many people associate “Modern Orthodox” with what is really “Modern Orthodox Liberal.” What’s the difference?

Well, to start with what they have in common:

1. They believe in G-d and that G-d gave us both Torah SheBichtav and Torah Shebaal peh and that Halacha is binding for today. Although we constantly have to apply halacha to new situations that modernity presents, we do not change or allow halacha to evolve, which is what the conservative think. Some people get confused about that last sentence. A practical difference between application and evolving, is application means when electricity was invented we tried to see what Halacha would say about its use on shabbos, evolving means that since they didn’t have electricity, it’s OK to use on shabbos. I think that’s oversimplifying it, and feel free to correct me on this one.

2. They both agree when it comes to the philosophical differences between Modern Orthodox and Yeshivish, which I mentioned in my last post.

The difference between “Modern Orthodox Machmir” and “Modern Orthodox Liberal,” in my opinion, really comes down to a few things which the “Liberal” believe are halachically permitted, while the “Machmir” do not believe those things are permitted:

1. Women wearing pants and short sleeves
2. Women singing in front of men
3. Women covering their hair after marriage (they believe women are not obligated to cover their hair after marriage.)
4. Men and women touching/ Negiah
5. Perhaps more recently- women becoming Rabbis, although this is an extremely controversial topic, and I think it depends on what you mean by Rabbi or “Rabbah” or “Rabanit” or whatever.

Please feel free to differ with me on this, I am quite curious to hear what others think the differences are. Are there differences that I didn’t mention? What do you think the difference is? I think this is much less clear and straightforward as to how to define these categories. What are your thoughts? Again, please feel free to disagree.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Hashkafa: Modern Orthodox or Yeshivish/Black Hat?

A common question that people ask when comes to shidduchim is, “What is your hashkafa?” In case you thought that was a vague question and you weren’t sure what it meant exactly, dating websites are there to assist you by listing categories for you to choose from including: Modern Orthodox Liberal, Modern Orthodox Machmir, Modern Yeshivish, Yeshivish/Black Hat, Chassidish, Carlebachian. Some include Modern Orthodox Middle of the Road (short side rant: really? Modern Orthodox needs 3 whole categories?? Oh, and does anyone really categorize themselves as Carlebachian?) , and some try to incorporate more general categories such as “Shomer Mitzvot.”

When I first signed up for a dating website, I had to make the decision: What do these categories mean and which one do I belong to? I used to believe that labels were essentially evil terms created by those who needed words to express their prejudiced opinions. After all, if there is no name for a group, then it is much harder to define them and thereby discriminate against them or make sweeping generalizations. Then I changed my opinion because I became prejudiced and needed those terms. No, I’m just kidding. At least I hope I’m just kidding, but what really happened to me is I realized I needed to describe people in certain social groups, so I conformed and started using the terms that everyone else was using.

When it came to picking what category I fell into, I was torn. I grew up in what I would call a Modern Orthodox home, but as I grew older I became more religious and took on more halachot. My high school consisted of students who were Modern Orthodox and Yeshivish. “Modern” was used almost as a bad word, interchangeable with “less religious,” as in “Oh, they are frum, but they are Modern,” or “She’s modern.” I never defined myself as Modern Orthodox for that reason- in my mind it has a negative connotation. But I never defined myself as Black Hat either, since my family and community is not Yeshivish. But my choice came down to one of those two.

When trying to decide, I remembered something that one of my Rabbis in high school said. He was discussing the differences between “Modern Orthodox” and “Yeshivish” and I think he put it quite nicely. He said that there are 3 main philosophical differences between “Modern Orthodox” and “Yeshivish/Black Hat.”

1. The secular world: The Modern Orthodox believe that there is something to be gained by being a part of the secular world and that there is nothing wrong with it. Therefore they make sure their children receive a good secular education, and are more likely to own televisions and listen to secular music. Black hat/Yeshivish on the other hand, believe in more of an approach of separating from the secular world. That is why they are against television and secular music etc.

2. Women: The way that roles are defined for women in Modern Orthodoxy and in the Yeshivish world is very different. For example, MO emphasize the importance of women learning Torah and believe that women are allowed (and some would say encouraged) to learn Gemara. Yeshivish/Black hat encourage women to channel their energy privately, not publicly, in a more Tznius way. I’m not sure if my Rabbi didn’t explicitly state this, I think that one thing that falls under this category as well is the separation of the sexes. Modern Orthodox weddings will often be mixed seating, while Yeshivish/black hat will be separate. Modern Orthodox often send their children to coed schools, while Yeshivish send their children to single gender schools. This also includes interaction between genders. Many Modern Orthodox have no problem with guys and girls hanging out or being “just friends.” Yeshivish/Black Hat approach says that guys and girls should not just be friends and each gender should only have significant interactions with the other gender if it is for the purpose of marriage (or if they are related).

3. Israel- Modern Orthodox believe that the State of Israel is the beginning of the flowering of Mashiach coming- Reishit Tzmichat Ge’ulatenu, whereas Yeshivish/Black Hat love Eretz Yisrael and focus on it’s holiness, but are not such fans of the State of Israel because it is anti-religious.

Going over how I feel on each of these issues, I end up a little bit of both. On certain issues I agree strongly with the Modern Orthodox philosophy, while with other issues I agree very strongly with the Yeshivish approach. After attending Stern College, part of Yeshiva University and therefore a Modern Orthodox institution, I would say there are two other small differences that I have observed between the two groups, aside from those big three. (Feel free to disagree, as this is only my opinion.)

1. Approach to Studying Torah. The Yeshivish/Black hat approach to studying Torah is entirely from a religious standpoint. They view studying the Torah as a means to keeping Mitzvot, becoming closer to Hashem and spiritual growth. This goal has a large emotional component. Modern Orthodoxy agrees with that viewpoint, but also approaches Torah from an intellectual, academic perspective, where the way they study Torah is comparable to studying a piece of literature, except that they keep in mind that the Torah is from G-d and therefore the greatest piece of literature that could be written.
2. Approach to Halacha: The Yeshivish/Black hat approach is to be machmir whenever possible. They are completely devoted to doing as much as they can to serve Hashem. As I like to say, “If Hashem created us to serve Him, how can we not give up everything to do so?” Why not be machmir if you can be? They like chumrot and going that extra mile, taking that extra step to serve their creator. The Modern Orthodox approach is that being machmir is the easy way out. If you’re not sure what to do in a halachic situation, the easier approach is to just be machmir. It takes lumdus and intellectual effort to find a valid way to be Maikil and find a halachically permissible way to be lenient. If you are unnecessarily strict, then it might be too much. If something is permitted, why add on extra prohibitions?

So where does all this leave me? Am I Modern Orthodox or am I Yeshivish? Which one do I tell shadchanim? Which one do I put down on the dating website? I am a bit of both, since I am split when it comes to the philosophical issues. I understand both sides and think both sides are valid in their approach on all the issues- neither one is right and neither one is wrong. I have opinions of what I believe is right for me, but those opinions are evenly split between the two. And that is what I say when I am not forced to choose, but on dating websites I have to pick one.

There is another factor that went into my decision and that is the social aspect. Socially, my community is not Yeshivish. I am a proud alumnus of Stern College, which is as an institution is Modern Orthodox (this is not to say that there are no students who are Yeshivish, there definitely are. And the Yeshivish world looks down on them. Just kidding again, about that last sentence.) Despite agreeing with many Yeshivish outlooks, I had to face reality after much, much thought (a lot of thought). In the end, I selected Modern Orthodox Machmir. But since I do not define myself as “Modern,” I was not entirely happy (and I’m still not entirely happy) about picking this.

So what about “Modern Yeshivish,” you might ask? This category is the least well defined category of them all. It is my experience that some people think that “Modern Yeshivish” refers to people like me- partly Modern Orthodox and partly Yeshivish. But my actual experience is that most people do not define it that way. Most people define “Modern Yeshivish” as someone who grew up Yeshivish and then became more “modern” in the sense that now they watch TV and listen to secular music and they have jobs in the secular world (as opposed to learning in Kollel- another issue that divides MO and Yeshivish that I didn’t even touch upon) and are more involved in the secular world.

Since this happens to be one of the issues on which I lean more towards the Yeshivish approach, I do not want to define myself as Modern Yeshivish. Those are the two aspects that I am not. I’m not Modern and I’m not socially Yeshivish. “Modern Yeshivish” people are Yeshivish people who moved to the left, and I am a Modern Orthodox person who moved to the right. (Side point: Once someone tried to set me up with someone with this hashkafa, and after looking into it, it made no sense since we had completely different backgrounds and we were going different directions in our life. He had moved to the left religiously and I had moved to the right. I guess the shadchan thought we would meet in the middle. Completely illogical in my opinion.) Some people define “Modern Yeshivish” as both Yeshivish moved left and Modern Orthodox moved right, but I don’t define it that way.

My conclusion is to pick “Modern Orthodox Machmir,” when I have to pick one. (Side point: The counterpart should really be Modern Orthodox Maikel, and not “Liberal” or else “Machmir” should be changed to “Conservative,” but that would get way too confusing to be called Modern Orthodox Conservative, that would really mix people up. I think they should just go with Modern Orthodox Right Wing and Modern Orthodox Left Wing, but that’s just a technical point about how to call things, the definitions would still be the same.)

Why did I write about this? So now you can all stick me into a box in your brain and apply all the stereotypes about “Modern Orthodox Machmir” to me? No, I am writing about this because I think most people, once you’ve gone over the issues I’ve mentioned and how you feel about them, don’t completely fall into either category. I am writing about this to discuss my struggle to define myself and where I fit in.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Kol Isha

This past shabbos I was a guest at my friend’s shabbos table, and as I sat there enjoying the meal, the host suggested that we sing zemirot. Since she is female, this was a hint to the males at the table to begin singing. All the guys present, however, were too shy to start singing. Although in the end one of them started and we all joined in, I could not help but feel slightly envious of guys, who can start singing whenever they want to without worrying about violating halacha. In some situations I am the leader type, and if it had been only females at the table, I would have had no problem starting the singing, loudly and fervently (as I often do). This is not the first time that I have been in a situation like this before.

Before I go further I feel obligated to point out that although some poskim say that women are permitted to sing together with men for davening and zemirot etc., most men (at least in my circles) would feel uncomfortable if a woman starting singing in front of them, even if it was just a zemirah for shabbos. I personally feel uncomfortable, from a halachic standpoint, singing in front of men when my voice can be audible, even if it’s just zemirot. If I’m in shul with over 100 people and everyone is singing Lecha Dodi, for example, I have no problem singing. But at a small shabbos table, I would sing along, but try to be more careful about being heard.

Starting zemirot at a shabbos table is one example of a situation where Kol Isha is difficult for me. When I say difficult, let me clarify, I don’t mean that I’m tempted to violate halacha. It’s more comparable to a situation where you’re in an amusement park on a hot summer day and you see some non-Jews eating delicious looking ice cream cone. Part of you is like, “Wow, I really want that ice cream! I’m sweating so much and it looks so cold and good!” Despite that thought, you are never even tempted to go up to the ice cream stand and ask for your favorite flavor.

Another situation in which Kol Isha is difficult is that secretly, I would love to be a chazan and lead davening. There are certain tunes in davening that I love, and instead of sitting there on the women’s side trying to send telepathic messages to the chazan of what tune I hope he’ll sing, I wish I could be the one choosing the melodies and putting my heart into every syllable. But Kol Isha isn’t the only halacha stopping me from that. But I’m OK with the fact that I will never be able to lead davening. It would not be Tznius for one thing, and singing in front of so many people would be way too intimidating for me anyway.

Luckily most of the time Kol Isha is not a problem at all, and I find appropriate means to channel my love of singing. The bottom line is that almost everything in life has pros and cons and the positive aspects of keeping Kol Isha outweigh the negative ones.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Jewish Music

It’s Lag Ba’Omer, and I have to say, although I enjoy acapella music, I am very glad to be able to listen to music again. I love music, mainly because it is a form of expressing emotions that can’t be communicated by words. No matter what situation I’m in, no matter how I’m feeling, I can always find a song or tune that goes with it. I love Jewish music because the combination of spiritual tunes and psukim from the Torah have the power to inspire in ways which previously seemed impossible.

One pet peeve of mine is that the more recent Jewish music artists who put words to tunes which completely don’t match at all. If the words are upbeat, then why is the tune somber? If the words are serious, an upbeat tune just doesn’t match. I think this happens when Jewish singers and composers attempt to compete with modern pop artists in the secular world. My favorite example of this is a song by the Miami Boys Choir (who I am a big fan of, don’t get me wrong) to which the words are “Simon Tov U’Mazel Tov.” Thos lyrics are usually sung on joyous occasions, yet the melody is slow and melancholy. Why would you put Simon Tov to that tune? It doesn’t fit at all.

In honor of Lag B’Omer, I was thinking of making a list of my top 10 favorite Jewish songs, but when I started to make the list, I realized that there were too many songs that I wanted to put on the list. So I changed it to “top 15” and that just wasn’t enough either, since there are certain songs I enjoy when I’m exercising/working out, while there are other songs that I prefer to listen to during “down time,” such as on a long car ride or train ride. So I decided to create 3 categories (the third one is shabbos songs, which deserves its own section) and make a “top 15 for each of those categories. Here are my “Top 15” Playlists (the song and who sings them/the CD that they are on):

Top 15 Jewish work out playlist (in no particular order):

1. Yavo- Miami boys choir
2. Ogil- Sheves Achim
3. Hisytzvu- Avraham Fried
4. Chazak- Miami boys choir (Side note: This song is awesome to listen to while exercising because the lyrics are saying “Be strong,” which is a message I always need when I’m sweating and breathing heavily while exercising)
5. Lecha- The Chevra (2)
6. V’Ishei Yisrael- Eli Gerstner
7. Kos Yeshuos- Yehuda! (Generations of Song)
8. Omar- Shwekey (Yedid)
9. V’Ahavta- Yeshiva Boys Choir (2)
10. Emes- Shwekey
11. Higid- Baruch Levine
12. LeGabay by Dovid Gabay
13. Ufduyey Moshav Band
14. Sameach- Avodas Tzedaka
15. Biglal Avos- Shlomo and Eitan Katz

Top 15 “down time” playlist (in no particular order):

1. Hashem Yimloch by Dovid Stein on the CD Melech
2. V’atoh Kisvu- Menucha
3. Ozreinu- V’Havienu 2
4. Adon Olam- Yeshiva Boys Choir
5. Ovinu- Shwekey on Ad Bli Dai
6. V’Nikasi- Ananim by the Nochi Krohn Band
7. Ashrey Tivchar- Eitan Katz on Boruch Hu
8. Odcha- Chevra 2
9. All D’veykus songs. And actually, all Carlebach songs/tunes as well. It’s impossible to pick just one. They are all my favorite.
10. Esah Einay- Kol Achai on the CD Hashkifa
11. Im Eshkachech- Lev Tahor 2
12. Yehi Shalom- Shalsheles 2
13. Chatzos by Miami Boys Choir on Torah Today
14. Melech Rachaman- Shlomo Katz on U’Shmuel B’Korei Shmo
15. Habeit- Aish CD

15 Best Shabbos Songs:

1. Yismachu- Shlomo Katz on Vehakohanim
2. Yedid Nefesh- Avraham Fried on the CD “We are ready!”
3. Kel Adon- Benny Kton
4. Kol Hami’oneg- Lev Tahor 4
5. Ma’ein Olam Haba- Eli Gerstner on V’Ishei Yisrael
6. M’leim on Yeshiva Boys Choir 2
7. Ana BiKoach- Omek Hadavar
8. Lecha Dodi- Six13
9. Mein- The Secret of Shabbos
10. Nishmas- Shalsheles 3
11. Shabbos Kodesh- Moshav Band (This one is probably in the top 5 shabbos songs- if it’s Friday and you want to get in the mood for shabbos, turn this on, and you’ll be ready to go by the time the song is over!)
12. Horachaman- Ophie Nat
13. Anim Zemirot- Kol Achai
14. Aishes Chayil- Shwekey
15. Ilu Phinu- Shalsheles Junior

I would be very curious to see other people's Top 15 (or 10) Jewish songs that they enjoy!