Monday, 28 November 2011

Words words (kosher) words

Letters (not) published in The Write Lines, the famous letters page that arrives from parts other publications won't acknowledge to exist

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Dear Editor

Like all heimishe yieden everywhere I was overwhelmed by hakoras hatov for the dedicated chosheve askonim who have made available the kosher dictionary. I immediately went out to the Hill to get one so that my children ke"h should no longer cholilo come across posule words when doing their homework. (Mentioning homework reminds me of the letter I wrote last year about the geferleche load of homework the girls are given so that they can't help their mothers in the evening, but now I am writing about something else.)

I had barely sat down to browse the new dictionary when I landed on my behind after noticing the word 'bum'. I didn't chas v'sholem go looking for such words but it literally stuck itself in my face. Luckily my children were not yet home so I could stick the pages together because oi lorosho v'oi lishcheino and I can't bear my children knowing other words that are tome from sitting so close to that disgusting word. But it made me realise that, like lettuce, how important it is to check even something with a hechsher. If rachmone litzlon that word crept in who knows what else might chas v'cholilo have been overlooked.

I am mamesh trembling with shock after searching a bit deeper at some of the words the Rabbonim didn't get to notice. I know I must be careful at the words I use in your publication which spreads yiros shomayim and ruchniyes to our kehille but it is equally important that parents are not chas vesholem nichshel. I ask those with heilige oigen to please look away but how can we tolerate our teiere neshomelech looking up words like 'butt', 'buttock', 'bottom' and 'breast'? I am ashamed to say this but even the word 's-x' was not taken out. What kind of chinuch are we giving to our precious kinderlech by including such miese verter? My father olev hasholem would wash our mouths with soap if we mentioned much more eidele words and here we have the worst possible words noch with a hechsher!

I immediately called my husband who told me not to do anything until he comes home from koilel because it's a sha'le if you must put it in sheimos as it has a hechsher or whether you are allowed to burn it because of those words. He agreed absolutely that such a book has no place in a yiddishe shtib and we must be so careful not to fall into the hechsher trap. I can now understand how meat from the same hechsher came to be transported with dovor acher after seeing those chazerishe words in a book certified by a lemehadrin authority.

What I think is even more shameful is that I saw in the Tribune by my friend's house (we don't buy beshite any papers) that Rabbonim who are fluent in English went over this dictionary before giving it a hechsher. First of all are such Rabbonim really suitable for us erliche yieden? And second of all how can we now trust a rov if we know he has sifted through all this shmutz? Maybe that's why there is no haskome because even the Rabbonim were ashamed that they had to read such treifene books. And third of all maybe that’s why they left in all those words and it's a simen they can't even talk such good English. They for sure can't talk French because they left 'lingerie' lying about in full view of the boys and rachmone litzlon even 'thong' was stuck in. Do they know the achrayus of publishing such a book? No wonder so many children are going off the derech if their precious neshomolech get to see such tomene words.

But I don't want to be nichshel with loshen hore and rechilus and also we must be dan lekaf zechus. The Rabbonim did include ‘spank’, beat', 'pinch', 'smack' and 'hit'. Boruch Hashem the Scrooges shlito also remembered to leave out 'Christmas' and even had the seichel to cut out 'fossil'. But couldn't they also remove 'evolution'? Isn't there enough kfiro that we need some more with the best hechsher in the world?

I also hoped at least they would include some heimishe English words like cheder, yeshive and shiduch. No wonder those chachomim from Oxford were so nispoel of the request for such a dictionary (besides that they required the cost of 2000 copies to be underwritten). The Rabbonim allowed them to teach our children narishe words like 'lugubrious' and 'rumbustious' which no one will anyway ever use but were ashamed to allow Hashem and mezuze? The Tribune thinks it was a kidush Hashem but it's really a huge chilul Hashem if you can't include 'God' and not even 'G-d'!

May we be zoiche to kedushe and to be nitzel from all the nisyoines that today's dor produces even with a hechsher.

A Dedicated Yiddishe Mame

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Dear Editor

I heard rachmone litzlon that some children have developed a new game where they have to guess words and then look it up in the kosher dictionary. If the word’s in they lose a point and if it's out they gain a point. My eyes are filled with tears writing this that such a michshoil could come out from a koshere dictionary and the musar haskeil is to avoid using Rabbonim who can speak English which boruch hashem is not so bad by us.

An Experienced Mechanech

Monday, 14 November 2011

Know not the Tribune their Scriptures?

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We’ve always known the Jewish Tribune to fill its pages with buffoonery, fundamentalism, propaganda, selective facts, myopia, amnesia and even to suffer from the occasional bout of racism if Geoffrey Alderman is to be believed. But at least we read it secure in the knowledge that whatever else they may be, heathens who know not their Scriptures they are not and from the Tribune shall go forth the Torah.

Until last week that is when under the photo of the visit of some C-class celebrity to the tomb of the matriarch Rachel the Tribune placed the tomb in Shchem. Although there is some debate over the correct location no one but the Tribune has to date placed it in Shchem.

I find it most humbling that it has come to this but let me teach the Tribune a posuk in the chumesh that many a child has shed many a tear over for not knowing anything from the context of the posuk in the chapter to the context of the tomb on the way to Bethlehem and not to mention Rashi’s multiple translations of kivrath eretz.

וַאֲנִי בְּבֹאִי מִפַּדָּן מֵתָה עָלַי רָחֵל בְּאֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן בַּדֶּרֶךְ בְּעוֹד כִּבְרַת-אֶרֶץ לָבֹא אֶפְרָתָה וָאֶקְבְּרֶהָ שָּׁם בְּדֶרֶךְ אֶפְרָת הִוא בֵּית לָחֶם

And as for me, when I came from Paddan, Rachel died unto me in the land of Canaan in the way, when there was still some way to come unto Ephrath; and I buried her there in the way to Ephrath--the same is Beth-lehem. (From the JPS 1917 edition)

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

The Remaking of a Godol

As you read in the weekend press the inevitable hyperbole on the passing of Reb Nosson Tzvi Finkel with tales of him knowing shas by the age of 5 and his teachers being unable to teach him shortly after, consider his school card where in his teens his ambition was still ‘Undecided’. Is this ‘child father of the man’? Born and raised in the USA will unfortunately make it slightly more difficult to deal with that nuisance called history but trust our papers to find a way round it.

Nosson Tzvi Finkel

Here though is an inspiring piece concerning Reb Nosson Tzvi by Howard Schultz, chairman of Starbucks.

(Credit: On The Main Line)

Friday, 4 November 2011

In The Beginning…

We may well be reading the third portion of the Torah this coming Shabbos but since it's the third out of 50 odd sidros it's fair to say we've barely started. We Jews are fortunate for many reasons. Like Paddington Bear we get two birthdays and even two new years: one for getting blasted, the other for getting plastered. In fact it often feels as if we get a third new year when after the celebrations of the first weeks of the new year we roll back the Torah to the beginning at the opening chapter of Genesis and start again In The Beginning…

That was two weeks ago yet in that time a world's been created and destroyed, humans have come and gone with alarming frequency, man got his woman and together they sinned (what else?), were cursed and expelled. Naturally enough man 'knew' his woman, for if you're not in the Eden you were given you might as well create one for yourself, and they begot offspring. And this is basically what has been happening ever since.

There's also been fratricide, a deluge, inebriation followed by indecent exposure (some things never change), attempts at building a skyscraper, attempted rape, a battle, abductions, celestial visions, bitching wives, men falling out over money and yet we're only up to the 3rd portion. Some book Bereishis is and though unfortunately I'm not always the most decorously behaved in shul when it comes to the reading during these weeks I sit enraptured and devour every word.

We wouldn't be Jews if we weren't always seeking the 'deeper meaning' and God knows how the verses of His books often pass through so many hoops that I'm sure there are times He blushes when He sees the meanings attributed to His words. And yet it is difficult to read these chapters without seeing in them a universal message. Both Darwin and the Bible agree that we began in complete ignorance and without clothes on and the argument appears to be whether we evolved to Gucci via Primark or whether it was a fig leaf from Victoria's Secrets at the outset and we've been going downhill ever since.

Moving on to tomorrow's portion which begins Lech Lecho, meaning 'Go for your sake' (Rashi), or, 'Get thee out' (JPS following KJV), when God told Avram to leave his 'land, birthplace and father's home to the land I will show you.' There is a mystery at the heart of it as to why God chose this particular chap and told him to abandon everything in return for untold richness and greatness. The rabbis came up with tales of how Avram came to know his creator, his zealotry, what we now call 'outreach' and attempted martyrdom. They all seek to answer the central question, why him?, and by extension, why us?

When in Jewish-centric mode I see in the story of Avram the story of the Jewish people wandering from pillar to post to a land they have yet to be shown. We left the land and birthplace of the father of our nation to go to a land we were then driven from and we're basically back to where we started. It also makes us somewhat homeless: always on one place looking from and to elsewhere.

However, since I prefer to spend my time in a universal state of mind I like to see the story of Avram as as a metaphor for the human condition. To acquire greatness and riches, be they intellectual, spiritual or material, or to improve the human condition one must shed dogmas and baggage of the past. You must leave your intellectual 'birthplace and father's home' and go to a land that will be shown to you. The journey may start simply by leaving the past behind despite not knowing whence it is heading. For greatness lies not in certainties and absolutes but in the confidence to admit that what has been cannot continue and a burning desire to find something brighter and better.

And now let me bring in the protestors round the world dwelling in tents like Avram and calling for change. Many have criticised them for not having a solution to the problems they complain about. But that appears to say that what is must remain until there is a viable alternative. That may sound practical but is not how real and fundamental change is brought about. The Torah teaches us that one may leave behind a corrupt past even if the route ahead is unmarked and the destiny unknown. In the beginning shed the past for abandoning what has been is the first step of the journey and like all first steps it is often the bravest.

Good Shabbos!

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Touchy feely chareidim

Occasionally one comes across a statement so audaciously outrageous, so leap-from-your-seat politically incorrect, so preposterously preposterous that you simply freeze on your first encounter. You then go back to the beginning of the sentence to make sure you actually read those words. Still reeling from incredulity that such sentiments could be uttered in our prejudice-free era you reread the paragraph, restart the article and even check the cover of the book or masthead of the paper to ensure that the context, the tone, key and pitch of the words which so profane all our sancrosanctities are not only there and carry their usual meaning but were actually intended to mean as they do.

Such were the words in Geoffrey Alderman's article in last week's JC which I reproduce here in their full glory.

It is, however, well known that charedi men are notorious harassers of the opposite sex.

And then when you finally thaw and are sitting comfortably again you are at a loss at how to respond? What does one do and say in such instances? Pitch tents outside the JC's offices or Mr Alderman's home with banners reading 'members of the opposite sex welcome?' They'll just use it as further proof of our roving fingers. Initiate a chesed campaign of holding doors open for the fairer sex to show what a gallant and chivalrous lot we are? For goodness sake we don't even look at them so how are to we know when they're coming and going. Perhaps get the Neturei Karta involved to walk to Trafalgar Square on Shabbos with banners pinned to their bekitshes, 'Chareidi and not Harraser'. Or, preferably, 'WE FRESS NOT HARASS'.

Alderman is a man of many talents but impartiality is unfortunately not one of them. Let us not forget that Alderman is also the columnist who publicly rejoiced at the brutal murder of a peace activist because he happened to favour the Palestinian cause. There appears to be nothing the Israeli government can do that will condemn them in Alderman's eyes and nothing chareidim can do to win them his praise. Heaven help us were a similar sweeping statement to have been made against Israelis. You'd have Melanie Phillips squalling in the shrillest tone she has yet to muster and Alderman himself collapsing apoplectically from his perch smothering Jonathan Freedland below him. Yet when it comes to the frummers you can malign, slander and impugn us with impunity and none of the Jewish anti-bigotry campaigners on the left and media obsessives on the right will take up cudgels on our behalf.

But before the unnaturally gifted columnists of the Hamodia and Tribune indignantly dip their quivering quills in their seething inkpots it is worth considering what leads a commentator to make such a sweeping statement. As outrageous as it may be the fact of the matter is that tales of harassment, child abuse, violence, fraud and a whole panoply of crimes are reported against chareidim with increasing frequency such that they are hardly news items any longer. Yet they are met with total silence from chareidi leaders and press.

When a London couple were arrested in Israel last year for allegedly abusing and trying to abduct their daughter, Tehilim was recited for the suspects and the victim was instantly declared mad and wayward. In Israel violent demonstration have been held in defence of murderers and abusers often with the tacit if not express support of some leaders. Yet these leaders are not shy of heaping a curse or two for anything from the misdemeanour of too short a skirt to the cardinal sin of possessing a blackberry.

Besides, without getting too talmudical about it, Alderman didn't say sexual harassers but merely harassers. In my shul on simchas torah small kids were slamming doors and knotting curtains in front of adult women to block their view of the men's dancing. In other shuls women were yelled at and threatened for not clearing the exit. From young girls to adult women, the opposite sex are constantly made to feel that there isn't a malady in the world that hasn't been caused by their lapses in tznius and which won't be cured by an inch on the skirt and off the sheitel respectively. One would indeed require a heavy dose of talmudic ingenuity to argue that these are not forms of harassment.

So before our apologists and 'spokesmen' get onto their soapboxes and cry wolf yet again they may wish to reflect how their whitewashing over the years has led to criminals feeling safe in the knowledge that they can always rely on support from the home side, while those on the outside will not believe a word uttered in our defence. We revere the leaders who lead us astray and by our reverence and blind obedience we come to be tarred with the crimes they condone by their silence and inaction when not by their express approval and encouragement.