Tuesday, March 27, 2007

U'Shmuel B'korei Sh'mo

This review is long overdue.

As much as I love music in general, Jewish music usually comes up in the "What were you thinking?" department similar to Milli Vanilli and Vanilla Ice. Since the late 90's we've started to see a new trend in Jewish music and this past year was a landmark year. I purchased four albums this past year that blew me away, in their musicianship, the song writing, the producing (something that has been sorely lacking) - but it really just comes down to this: They cared.

MOChassid published U'Shmuel B'korei Sh'mo in honor of his late father Shmuel. If I were him I'd be truly honored by this - there is not one thing about this album that is not done well. Some things are done better than others, but all done well.

Even though I have tons of music on the computer - mp3's, Shn's, and FLACs - I love being able to hold the CD in my hand and read the linear notes while listening to the CD [as I'm doing now]. The CD is visually stunning - the artwork is respectful and tasteful though not sad in anyway. After reading the dedication on the inside cover I cannot help but be reminded of a celebration of life instead of a mourning of death. Truly a fitting memory

The music is beautiful. The musicians - most of whom I've met and own CD's of - are world class. I particularly like the fact that none of these songs appear on other albums. The list of musicians that appear is enough to make my jaw drop: Chaim David, Shlomo Katz, Eitan Katz, Nochi Krohn, Avraham Rosenblum, Yosef Karduner, Ben Zion Solomon, and Aron Razel. I started off this review by listing the change in the past decade - these are the artists that have been at the forefront of this change. Except for Avraham Rosenblum and Ben Zion Solomon (if you don't know both of these guys were in Diaspora Yeshiva Band). This is truly a collection of the gedolim of Jewish music.

I'm tempted to list my favorite tracks, but that would be very time consuming since they really are all fantastic. Only one song I don't think fits and that's Chaim Dovid's "Brach Dodi". Listen, it's good but not great and the placement is not great. "Brach Dodi" is the segue between Shlomo Katz's "Shuvi Nafshi" and Aron Razel's "Yom Shaboson" which are both up tempo sing-a-long's.

The only real criticism that I have is the number of times each artist appears on the album. Shlomo Katz appears 3 times, Chaim David Nochi Krohn and Aron Razel each appear twice. Yet Ben Zion Solomon, Yosef Karduner, and Avraham Rosenblum only appear once. There will aparently be a follow up album and I look forward to it's release - hopefully many of these same artists will reappear.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Haggadah, Rosh Chodesh, and Denzel Washington

Since it's Rosh Chodesh I thought this was appropriate:

The Hagaddah Reads:
It could be from Rosh Chodesh, but the verse says, "On that day." If on that day then it may be during the day, the verse says, "Because of this." Because of this I only said at the hour when matzah and maror are before you.
Light of Redemption: A Passover Haggadah Based on the Writings of Rav Kook:
The Midrash Mechilta (Bo 17) from which this passage is taken suggests that we should be able to fulfill the mitzvah of relating the story of coming out of Egypt from the beginning of the month of Nisan. This is due to an interpretation of the verse in the Torah that commands us to relate the story of the exodus from Egypt to our children. This verse is a crucial source for the entire mitzvah of the Seder night.

"You shall tell your son on that day, 'Because of this God did this to me when I left Egypt' " (Shemot 13:8). The midrash suggests that theoretically we could perform this mitzvah starting from Rosh Chodesh Nisan.

This is because the redemption from Egypt actually started on the 1st of Nisan. On this day the Jewish people recieved the first mitzvah, that of establishing a lunar calendar (see Shemot 12:2 adn Rashi on the Torah, BeReishit 1:1). At this point the Jewish people introduced their own way of counting time and had control of their time; they started to be free from the slavery of Egyptians.
Rav Kook continues to go on and explain why Rosh Chodesh could not be the time, but the point here is beautiful. We became free when we were given the mitzvah of Rosh Chodesh, we were no longer slaves. We looked like slaves, we acted like slaves, but in our minds we were not. We made our own time.

This reminds me very clearly of a scene in The Hurricane where Denzel Washington's character Hurrican Carter refuses to act like an inmate.
I will bend time to my own clock.
When the prison is awake, I will sleep.
When they sleep, I will wake.
I will live neither in their cell...
nor in my own heart,
only in my mind...
and my spirit.
It works, when we control our own time we are no longer their slaves.

We're Moving to Israel

Well now it's official. Naomi and I are moving to Israel on July 30th. We bought our plane ticket today; they're one way. It's a very strange feeling, I've never gone to Israel before without known when I'd be leaving.

It's not "Aliyah" - she's only been there for a total of 20 days, so right now it's for one year to see how it goes likely it'll last about 4-5 years before we move back to the States. I'd like to stay in Israel and I'm hoping that after 4 years so will she.

We're going to a new program run by Darche Noam / Midreshet Rachel - their Married Couples Program. 12 Couples coming together and learning for the year. We know 3 other couples planning to do it and their mostly UMD graduates too, so watching the NCAAs next year should not be a problem.

After that year I'm planning to continue for Smicha, while Naomi's not quite sure just yet. She's got ideas of going to grad school there or continuing to learn someplace else (Nishmat?). We'll see, but July 30th is only 133 days away but who's counting?

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Kosher for Passover Gasoline

There is a certain e-mail circulating around the Jewish e-mail world right now that is supposedly an article written in the Bergen County Jewish Times suggesting that ethanol-free gasoline will be made available for people who do not wish to use a derivative of corn on Pesach.

My wife is subscribed to a community based list-serve where she was sent a copy of this e-mail. This list-serve has dozens of e-mails going back and forth discussing the various halachic reasons why such a product would be good to use on pesach. Only a few people have realized that this is a joke.

Here is the text of the e-mail:
Bergen County Jewish Times
By Danielle Wolfberg and Henry Lorman
Teaneck, New Jersey
March 1,2007

Yaniv Ban-Zaken, a local gas station owner, will be selling Kosher for Passover gasoline during the holiday this year. The move, Ben-Zaken says, has become necessary due to the increased ethanol content in gasoline required by the government. The ethanol is typically derived from corn, which is a forbidden food for Jews on Passover. And, according to Ben-Zaken, underJewish law, it is also forbidden to derive any benefit from corn.

"We will be providing a number of services to anyone interested in making their motor vehicle Kosher for Passover," Ben-Zaken says. Services will include siphoning off the non-Kosher gasoline and replacing it with the Kosher gasoline. The entire process will be supervised by Rabbi Yitzchok Mendelbaum. A special exemption to the EPA rule regarding the plant ethanol content of gasoline had to be obtained from the government to allow for the use of this gasoline.

The move has created some controversy among local community leaders. Rabbi Shalom Silver, of Congregation Ohel Emeth in Teaneck, has recommended to his congregants that they not buy the gasoline. "Although Jews of Ashkenazi descent are not permitted to eat corn on Pesach, they are permitted to derive benefit from corn byproducts, such as gasoline with ethanol additives," he said.

However, Rabbi Mordechai Silver (no relation to Shalom Silver), of Yeshivas Torah Ohr in nearby Englewood, disagrees, and maintains that while it might technically be acceptable to use mass-produced gasoline, those who can afford to purchase the new alternative should. "In Jewish law, we have a principle of lifnim mshuras hadin--going above and beyond the basic requirements of the law," he explained in an email. "Thank G-d, many people in the area can afford to do so in this case."

Some local Jewish leaders have also complained about the high price of the ethanol-free gas, which Ben-Zaken estimates will be $9.69 per gallon, but Ben-Zaken insists that it is necessary. "The Kosher gas is made in small quantities and not mass produced, so the costs are high." In fact, Ben-Zaken, an immigrant from Israel who is not himself religious, claims that he will not be making any profit on the sale of the Kosher gas. "I'm doing this more as a community service. My hope is that people will be more likely to patronize my station the rest of the year." Julio Sanchez, one of Ben-Zakens employees, also expressed some concern over the high price, explaining that it might drive away customers and reduce his income from tips. Co-worker Naveen Samhari disagreed, because, as he says, "Orthodox Jews are among the best tippers in the area."

Ben-Zaken also says he will be contracting with a local car rental agency to provide customers with a Kosher for Passover car if they would prefer not to use their own. This will also save the time of having to clean chametz from the car before Pesach--time that many local two-income families do not have. "Jews use different dishes for Passover. They ought to be able to use a different car, as well." Ben-Zaken says.

There is no such newspaper as the "Bergen County Jewish Times" and the people named in the article only show up (in a Google search) as being linked to this article.

What bothers me is not that someone is still having some Adar fun, but that people are actually believing this. Some of the people responding to the original e-mail are suggesting that this is some sort of Government plot to lift the embargo on Cuba, as well as discussing the halachic problems of eating peanuts on Pesach - since they might be Kitnyot. And even if they are we shouldn't be using derivatives of Kitnyot on Pesach.

[No one seems to remember that until a few years ago only Peanut Oil was Kosher L
L'Pesach when finally other Pesachdik oils came out.]

The discussion came to new hights when raui la achilat kelev was brought up and someone suggesting that we take a bowl of gasoline and give it to a dog.

Well someone has certainly had their fun, but I seriously hope that no one takes this too seriously and next year we actually see this type of nonsense.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Another Historic Cover-up: The Ben Ish Chai

In the recent issue of Hakirah, Dan Rabinowitz wrote a very interesting essay regarding the Halachot of wearing a Yarmulke. He goes on to discuss the trend within the past 50 years that completely removes any discussion regarding the obligation to keep one's head covered at all times.

Rabinowitz printed three photographs to help prove his point (two where the subject's head is uncovered and one where one of the previous photos has mysteriously grown a kippah). He also spoke about - though unfortunately did not provide the picture - that a common photograph of the Lubavitcher Rebbe that originally had him without a kippah.

I find it interesting that we try to re-write history to remove any of that evil "C" word (change). I noticed two months ago a similar revising of history.

This is the Ben Ish Chai, R'Yosef Chaim Baghdadi (1832-1909):
This is the only picture of him that ever existed. As the story goes he refused to have his picture taken, until the rich supporter of his Yeshiva requested one, and he relented. If you notice there is a black stripe on the right side - yes, he wore Tefillin all day long.

This is the cover of Peninei HaBen Ish Chai published by Feldheim.

If you notice he has suddenly grown a Peyah on his left side. I'm pretty sure that he did in fact have peyot, but this is clearly an addition to the photograph. I'm stumped as to why someone would want to add this, the man wore Tefillin all day long, it isn't like there are no signs that he is frum. A friend of mine suggested that the artist who colored the picture may have thought he saw one and drew it in, but until I bought this book I never thought there was a peyah there, if anything the beard in the original just needed to be combed.

This is nowhere near the "scandal" that Rabinowitz speaks about, but peyot are not even Halachikly mandated which is why is seems so strange to me that, of all things, it would be added.