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Sunday, June 04, 2006
Jameel and I have been sharing books lately, so I might as well officially announce the formation of the Joe-Jameel Book Club.

Among the books we are reading are The Tipping Point, Blink, Off the Derech, Nosson Slifkin's books, and various Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society Books (Rabbi Jacob Joseph School)

Why do I bring this up? Mostly because of ‘Off the Derech’ opened my eyes to how cynical I and others have become to various rabbinical halachic ‘decrees’ as of late, and how it can affect one's religiousity.

I mean seriously, how can you take the concept of Avoda Zorah wigs seriously when the pronouncements come from the same circles that have actually forbidden pizza shops in Bnei Brak?

More so, A lot of women in the Chareidi world (not those that burned their wigs right away) found it curious that that this happened right when some of the same rabbis are trying to get rid of ‘Custom’ wigs which they keep rallying against, or worse, simply trying to make money by requiring a ‘kashrut certificate’ (which as they predicted, every Jewish wig store now prominently displays).

Or invisible bugs in the drinking water! After no one noticed bugs in the water for, well, forever, suddenly when NY Jewish society is driving itself even more rightward in an attempt to be externally yet even more makpid as it compensates for something internally lacking, this becomes an issue.

How is it that things that were 100% OK for years (such as no mechitza on buses) are suddenly no good any more? Coincidence?

Do you see why I may have become a little cynical?

As it happens I picked up the Spring 2005 issue of the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society Books which discussed Copepods and Wigs (in separate articles).

I can honestly say that while the articles were inconclusive regarding the final psakei halacha, at least I now understand the issues, the origins, and the positions - pro and con. I understand why some people take the problems seriously and why some don’t (but after all the talk of eyeballs and antennae running from the tap – forget halacha, the heebie-jeebies alone have converted me to bottled water).

My point is that Jewish society is not what it was 100 years ago.

Many people no longer accept blanket halachic pronouncements. There’s so much abuse of Halacha and obvious attempts to use it to modify society into someone else’s ideal that we tend to view all pronouncements with the same skepticism and cynicism.

Out of necessity we’ve become the (Sym’s) Jewish Consumer. You want to sell us something, then educate us. Explain it fully. If not, we may ignore you (except those that need to be more rightwing for (or than) their neighbors).

And that has become the big problem.

We read in the newspapers half truths and incomplete accounts about what a certain rabbi said or paskened and you can guess what our immediate reaction becomes. More cynicism. Just look at how many yeshiva students will defend ‘daas torah’ to the end while chain smoking their cigarettes. Look how many people are attacking the Chief Rabbi with no knowledge of what he really said or wants to do.

I happened to pick up the JHCS books and got a better insight into the problems of copepods and wigs. Knowing all the facts I can now make up my mind if this makes sense, if I should follow it (well I don't wear a wig, but you know what I mean), or if there is some ulterior motive or other nonsense behind the rulings.

I am making myself into a better educated Jewish consumer (well I always have been, I think, but Shavuos gave me some time to catch up). But how many other Jews out there are not getting the information they need to make informed decisions? How many are becoming more cynical and ignoring things they shouldn’t be? How many may have even left Judaism because of this?

If the rabbis want us to start having a better appreciation and more respect for what they have to say, they are going to have to start working on their hasbara. Partial information from third party sources is not enough, and in the internet age where getting information out is not a problem, they had better get with it – and that includes those that say that the internet is treif.


Anonymous said...

great post.We won't take it any more.
With the 'chumra world' we live in ,I say IF you want chumras start with bein adom lachavero.

JoeSettler said...

That, btw, was one of the points in 'Off the Derech'.

How we need to concentrate more on how we interact with students, children and other people we meet, because it is specifically the 'frum' people that influence how others view Judaism. When people or their questions aren't treated with the proper respect, that is a major step in turning Jews off to Judaism.

My friend 'Rechavam' likes to tell people that have been 'turned off', "See what Judaism has to say about it, not the Jews!"

the only way i know said...


funny, today i was just thinking of the avoda zara wigs -
and how the issue swelled and then seemed to have disappeared...

in response to your post - i think it all boils down to 'ash lecha rav' - find one you can trust and feel comfortable with -
no one can go with all the hundreds of different views out there - it's impossible...

Problem with aseh lecha rav , these days, is that people like to have a rav that is tailored made to their reqirements... a rav that will say whatever it is they want to hear, sorta..

i don't have feels scary to me..
i live in a community that is not exactly suited to my needs and haven't found one whose opinions i would be willing to make my own..

actually recently, i am looking to one that i think i would feel comfortable with..

still - it is interesting to hear the many different views..

JoeSettler said...

Right or wrong, I tend to view Rabbis like doctors.

For the more common things I spent enough decades in Yeshiva to know how to find the answer myself if I haven't learned it already (i.e. like taking an aspirin).

I do have a Rav whom I generally ask the more difficult questions of, and I view him as a GP (General Practitioner). I also know who he goes to, to get answers from when my questions are even more difficult than usual, as he first asks me if it's ok to go to that particular Rav.

Occasionally though, if I have some very serious specifically difficult questions I will go directly to a known Specialist in that field.

(Some people will get upset by this) I sometimes ask for a Rabbi's opinion on the matter, not his psak, and I will then go and get more than one opinion, because I know that certain Rabbis will be giving me their answer according to their Hashkafa which is not necessarily my hashkafa, but I still need to know what the various opinions are and why. צדיק באמונתו יחיה. :)

(That's also why I like the JHCS books and they give complete explanations not psak.)

Either way, I usually request a full explanation as to why they gave their particular opinion rather than just simply accepting a simple kosher or not.

I believe that I am the one that will have to give a reckoning for all my actions, and I wherever possible I want my reasoning to be as consistant as possible. I don't believe in writing things off 'well the Rabbi told me it was OK'. While a Rabbi may hold some responsibility for giving me a correct psak/opinion or not, I am the one that is doing or not doing the action, and therefore the ultimate responsibility and consequences lies with me. (Not everyone accepts this hashkafa, or they accept it only with people who have reached a 'certain level'.)

On the other hand, if it is made 100% clear that this psak is the psak and this is the halacha, period, and no further questions/opinions about it, even if I disagree I will do it that way, because that is how Judaism works.

Anonymous said...

Bottom line........can i drink unfiltered tap water, in New York, by anyone's opinion?

anonymously confused

JoeSettler said...

Maybe yes, maybe no.

There are a lot of variables (even including where you live and the season because not everyone has them and the difference of a few blocks can make a difference).

But as the article points out, the 'nos' will probably start having a lot of influence on everyone else and the implications will be if you don't, then your home won't be 'kosher' simply due to social pressure!

But of course, the permisibility of filtering the water on Shabbat then raises some interesting questions which the article didn't examine beyond to raise the point.

Personally, the icky idea of drinking copepod eyes, and antennae, and shells is enough for me to not pick up that glass.

JoeSettler said...

There is a very serious problem with filtering water on Shabbat, and everyone who demands filters might as a result be performing 1 of the 39 melachot on Shabbat!

Gil Student discusses the problem here:

The OU gives their and says "• Water should not be filtered on Shabbat or Yom Tov because of the prohibition of borer (selection). Rather, filtering should be done before Shabbat and the water should be stored for Shabbat use. One may, however, filter water for non-food purposes on Shabbat and Yom Tov. "

Anonymous said...

One could wonder if some Kashrut rabbis/organizations didn’t already know of the extent of the problem and a decision was made to not publicize it due to the tirchot and halachic repercussion and ramifications that publicizing it would cause to the tzibur.

Rumor has it, that the whole story began when someone went purposely looking for bugs on Gush Katif lettuce with a magnifying glass. He then wrote them a letter that their lettuce wasn’t kosher. They wrote back that the bugs aren’t native to Gush Katif so the problem was at his end.

At which point he must have apparently decided to make sure that every blissfully unaware Jew in NY know that they were potentially being over a safek d’oraita, which means what may have been a shogeg at worst is now potentially a meizid in both the bugs and the filters.

Anonymous said...

I'm confused.

Do you view the extreme right wing tilt in "orthodoxy" as correct or not?


JoeSettler said...

I view it as bad. Perhaps resulting either from overcompensation for something spiritually lacking or fear that the neighbors will think you are less religious than them.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Joe: Perhaps the "educated consumer" philosophy is really the crux of what differentiates Modern Orthodoxy from Ultra Orthodoxy.

JoeSettler said...

Jameel: Perhaps. On one hand I know of a variety of Ultra-Orthodox reactions to the wig thing. Some immediately burned their wigs (yet most turned out to be OK after they were destroyed), some women temporarily put their wigs away, and some ignored it and simply said what I said they said in the above said post.

On the other hand, when I discuss these things with UO I occassionaly notice that when they can explain their position, they are usually unaware (or immediately dismissive) of any reasons why someone else holds differently - their way or the highway.

JoeSettler said...

I view it as bad. Perhaps resulting either from overcompensation for something spiritually lacking or fear that the neighbors will think you are less religious than them.

To clarify. I don't think being "extra-frum" is bad if that is what you believe is right (or right for you). But when the whole sector starts moving over and taking on extra chumrah's (or going the other way) on non-halachic societal restrictions, I think there is an external reason for this massive change in herd behavior.

Anonymous said...

Joe- Is this the Rabbinate we look up to?,7340,L-3258450,00.html

Injunction protects cussing parrot

What is the sentence of a parrot who cusses? Rabbis who were asked to decide ruled: The parrot should be slaughtered, or at least have his evil tongue cut out

Zarif, a holistic doctor from Ramat Gan, acquired the parrot for NIS 15,000 from one of his patients, a religious man who was having problems with the parrot’s dirty mouth. When the original owner consulted his rabbi, the rabbi told him that since the parrots “sins and leads others to sin,” he should be put do death.


JoeSettler said...

This perhaps could fall under the header of some of the rabbinical decrees that I mentioned before.

Maybe they should read Natan (no longer Nosson) Slifkin's new book 'Man & Beast', recently read in the Joe-Jameel Book Club and mentioned here:, where it discusses, among other things, the esoteric issue of animals being brought to trial.

tafka PP said...

Looking forward to hear both yours and Jameel's scores on the "connector" test at the beginning of The Tipping Point...

JoeSettler said...

I got a 1 and Jameel broke 100.

The back of the hill said...

When orthodox women first started wearing sheitels, there was no possibility that such could be mistaken for real hair. The situation today is different.

Is it not distrubing that now one can spend several thousand dollars on a wig that looks better than real hair?

In what way does such a thing contribute to modesty?

FrumGirl said...

I think its important to be wary of the books you choose to self-educate with. The wrong book, as well meaning as it is, can certainly take you down the wrong path...

Now about the slifkin controversy, can anyone please fill me in on this once and for all?

My email address is:

JoeSettler said...

tboth: Who says women wear wigs because of modesty? Maybe only they need to know they are wearing it? Maybe it's just a custom?

We aren't given any information for women wearing a head covering other than the implied fact (from Sota) that married women seem to cover their hair.
If the idea is not because of modesty, but rather just so other people will know she is married, then consider that most women don't have hair as nice as a shaitel's, so when you see a frum-looking woman with amazing hair, you immediately realize that it must be a wig, and she is married.

frumgirl: It is also important to have an open mind and consider the true value of the ideas that you accept or reject as well as being wary of those trying to tell you to be 'wary' of certain books.

Just because a a book is not on the 'accepted' list of reading material in your oilom doesn't mean it may not be true and instead someone is trying to supress your thinking process to fit their restrictive ideals.

For instance, in some yeshivas, Steinzaltz gemorahs are banned! Difficult to believe, but true. The funniest thing about that is that the gemorah format we commonly use today (Vilna) is only a few hundred years old, and even had a competing version published at the same time that looked very different (but they went out of business and that is another story).

rockofgalilee said...

Before I ask a rabbi a question, I make sure to know the issues involved first. That way if I get an answer I don't like, I can point to the book say but what about... A little knowledge is dangerous, but it really helps with the halachic negotiation.

thanbo said...

> the heebie-jeebies alone have driven me to bottled water

Aha, just as the wigs were a plot by the rabbis who wanted to profit by wig-kashrus certificates, copepods are a plot by dentists, who want to push people off of fluoridated water, which increases their need for dental services.

It's All A Plot.

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