Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Jewish time

This is also posted at, but if you don't wish to be bombarded by the pictures and ads on that site, you can read it here.

In common usage, "Jewish time," like "New York time", indicates the opposite of "sharp" for starting time. However, there really is a different sense of Jewish time orientation that defines our calendar.
You have to let go of the assumptions we normally hold in the western world to appreciate them, just like we have to not take it for granted that everyone orients toward the north for direction with east to the right and west to the north.. In Biblical orientation, the forward direction is east, so what is to right is south and what is to the north is left.
In the Jewish calendar, we count both days and months. As mentioned in, the first month of the year is Nissan, the start of the spring season and the month in which we celebrate Pesach [Passover]. It used to simply be called the "first month," and the name for it, as for the other 11 months came later. But the days of the week in Hebrew remain just "first day," "second day," etc. The only exception is the seventh day, which is called Shabbos/Shabbat [Sabbath]. In fact, each of the designated shir shel yom, chapter of Tehillim [Psalms] that is designated for each day of the week, begins with "Today is ___ day of the Sabbath," filled in with first, second, third, fourth, fifth, or sixth.
This is part of the fulfillment of the injunction to remember the Sabbath day, which is in the portion of the Torah will be reading this Sabbath, Yithro. Every day of the week, we are not only counting up to the Sabbath but thinking about it in the course of our daily activities. We accomplish this by following the principle of Shamai as recounted in Beitza 16a here (even though we normally follow the practice of Hillel) in looking out every day for something special for the Sabbath table. (for more on this topic, see what Rav Moshe Taragin wrote in
The idea is if you see a nice piece of meat on Sunday, which you can safely keep in the freezer until you cook it on Friday, then you buy it then. If on a subsequent shopping trip, you see something that looks even better, you can then buy it for you Sabbath dinner and then prepare what you bought earlier in the week for your weekday dinner. You may buy a melon on Wednesday and then see a nicer one on Thursday and so eat it that melon you bought earlier on Thursday while you keep the nicer one for the Sabbath. In that way, every day's meal becomes a step in honoring the Sabbath.
That brings me to two points on the Sabbath that Rav Goldwicht shared this past Monday night. One is in connection to the days that we always introduce as "of the Sabbath." He said that according to a Midrash, the week was set to be made of 6 days of 28 hours (to correspond to the 28 year cycle of the sun that is commemorated with a special blessing, as last observed in 2009). Each day gave up 4 hours in order to add on a seventh day, the Sabbath. Consequently, each day of the week has its share in that day.
The second point he made was in connection to food preparation for the Sabbath. It is considered meritorious to taste the food in advance to be sure it is spiced just right. In fact, the reward for this is good health. Rav Goldwich pointed out that this is a Torah-true segula, recorded in venerable sources, unlike the ones that simply sprout up in marketing ploys today, as detailed in What works in Jewish tradition and an open letter.

PS After I posted the link to this article on a LI group, someone argued that it is not possible for there to have been the idea of 6 28 hour days a week. While I never doubted Rav Goldwicht, I wanted to locate the source. My husband (AKA Divrei Chaim) was able to find this

 The Shearis Yisroel, written by the great, Rabbi Yisroel Dov Ber of Vilendik, zy”a, (Shaar HaZmanim, Succos, 2), teaches us that HKB”H created the Shabbos from the contributions of the six weekdays; each day contributed four of its hours with which the complete twenty-four hour Shabbos day was formed. After much research into the matter, I found the original source for this concept in the sefer Gevul Binyamin written by the heavenly kabbalist Rabbi Binyamin Hakohen, printed in Amsterdam in the year 5487; he attributes the concept to the Ramak, the heavenly kabbalist Rabbi Moshe Cordoverao, z”l.
He points out that at the beginning of creation, the days were each supposed to last twenty-eight hours; however, since each of the six days were equal to one another, they lacked a leader and dominant force. They requested that HKB”H appoint a king to reign over them. HKB”H responded that the king must arise from among themselves. By receiving four hours from each day, the king will have dominion over them. These donations resulted in the formation of the twenty-hour day of Shabbos.
The Gevul Binyamin adds his own explanation, why the six days of the week originally consisted of twenty-eight hours each. The hours in a day corresponded to the twenty-eight times, “itim,” enumerated by Shlomo HaMelech in megilas Koheles (Chapter 3): Everything has its season, and there is a time for everything under the heaven”.Note that the twenty-eight “itim” are separated into two categories—fourteen negative and fourteen positive.
HKB”H created the six days of the week, consisting of twenty-eight hours, to correspond to these twenty-eight “itim.” The fourteen hours of the day, during which there was light, represented the fourteen positive or good times; whereas, the fourteen hours of the night, ruled by darkness, represented the fourteen bad or negative times. Afterwards, however, each of the days contributed four of its hours—two from the day and two from the night—to form the day of Shabbos.
Shabbos repays the six weekdays by giving them all her blessingsBased on this understanding, we can comprehend what we the Zohar hakadosh (Yisro 88.) teaches, that all blessings of the six days of the week depend on Shabbos. Due to the fact that Shabbos was created from the donations of the six weekdays, Shabbos recognizes its debt of gratitude and returns the favor to the weekdays by imparting to them an abundance of good and a new lease on life for another six days.

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Monday, January 28, 2013

What works in Jewish tradition

Back in 2009, the blog devoted to Rav Aviner ran his take on segula at I can't put it in any better, so here is the text:

[from "Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah" – Parashat Shoftim 5769 – translated by R. Blumberg]

People often times turn to Rabbis asking for "segulot" [spiritual aids or shortcuts] to help the sick. Besides going to the doctor, they look for spiritual tricks, recitation of a particular verse, or an amulet, just so there is some change for the better. Unfortunately, they are searching in vain for something that does not exist.

Some will respond: “Who says? My aunt had no children, she used a 'segulah' and now, thank G-d, there are children around her table.” Yet someone else had a childless aunt who used no "segulah," and children were born to her anyway. The fact is that ten percent of barren couples experience spontaneous cures without knowing the cause.

It is impossible to build one’s life on "segulot!" If someone has financial, health, or family problems, the answer is this: “Repentance, prayer and tzedakah ward off the evil decree!” One should pray to G-d, recite psalms, recite the regular prayers printed in the prayer book with feeling, from start to finish. All of this takes great devotion. And, he should repent! Yet people then ask: “How should one repent? Should one pray at the Western Wall?” Certainly the Western Wall is a holy place, but a person has to repent for his sins, those between man and G-d and those between man and man. He should give tzedakah to the poor, increase his kind acts to everybody, to his friends and neighbors, near and far, and to his parents, his children and his spouse. He should give of his money and his advice, his time and his energy. He should visit the sick, etc...

“Repentance, prayer and charity ward off the evil decree!” These are our spiritual resources, and there is no need to look for all kinds of strange things. Where are all of these strange things mentioned? In the Torah? In the Tanach? In the Mishnah? Is it written that when our great Sages had troubles, they used "segulot," with mezuzot and amulets? Where have we heard of such a thing? Not in the Torah, not in the Mishnah and not in the Talmud. Rather, they prayed and they repented and performed kind deeds. “The iniquity of Eli’s house shall never be purged with sacrifice nor offering.” (Shmuel 1 3:14). The Rabbis ask how is it that Abaye and Rava, who were from the line of Eli, lived long lives? They answer that Rava learned much Torah and performed many kind deeds. “A living Torah and lovingkindness” have the power to ward off a decree as harsh as dying young. Torah learning is certainly a genuine spiritual aid.

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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Roshei yeshiva-protest desecration of torah-advise...

My thoughts exactly The Partial View: Roshei yeshiva-protest desecration of torah-advise...: letter on shidduchim from RY The major leading Roshei yeshiva in the US issued a sharply worded letter  about recent advertisements in t...
Also see

Rabbanim issue letter- NO Guaranteed segula

Rav Avrohom Schorr, rabbi Moshe tuvia Lieff and Rabbi Yisroel Reisman issue letter in this weeks issue of FJJ on inserts and ads in frum papers and magazines promising yeshuos shidduchim and refuos. Despite the letter these ads are posted in all heimish and frum newspapers and magazines.
 click on image to enlarge.                                                                                                      

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

At what age do Americans marry?

I can't find statistics on frum ages, though from the pressure some girls have on them, one would think the answer is 20 for girls, that is if they can't make it by 19. Single males seem to enjoy a bit more latitude, as no one pressures them at 20, and many only begin to entertain shidduch suggestions at 23. But for the rest of the American population that leaves records with the Census Bureau, the answer depends on the year.

You may be aware that people are marrying older as compared to history stretching back to the middle of the 20th century as graphed in graphed out by

But as the site says, that upward projection doesn't really give the whole story. If you go back further, all the way to 1890, you find that the actual curve of points first goes downward. Back then the median age for a man at first marriage was just over 26 years old. The average bride was four years younger, at 22. At the lowest point, the average age for men was 22.8, 20.3 for women. Interesting, how the age gap narrowed there and actually remained close to constant at its new high point of 28.2 for men and 26.1 for women in 2010. By 2011, the ages rose even further, according to Bloomberg   28.7 for men and 26.5 for women.

You can see a graph of spousal age differences  from

I don't have any particular conclusion to draw from all this, except to observe that expectations about age are products of the times and circles.

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Monday, January 14, 2013

A woman learns about dating by posing as a man

I frequently write about big data analytics. While that seems to be far afield from the topics I cover here, they do sometimes intersect, as in discussions of John Gottman's analytics of relationships and dating data. While some people claim good experiences with online dating, others found it a waste of time at best and an invitation to miserable encounters at worst.
One woman got so tired of hitting her head against the wall in attempting to find someone through JDate, that she decided to find out what really is going on in those algorithms that claim to match people up harmoniously. To do that, she went undercover as a man -- actually as ten men.
In Hacking the Hyperlinked Heart, Amy Webb recounts both her own history with online dating as a woman and what she learned when she set up ten different male profiles and interacted with 96 women in the guise of a man online:
While JDate doesn't publicly release its algorithms, at the time of my experiment I observed that the more popular profiles come up higher in search results, allowing one to get a quick-and-dirty ranking of who's hot (or not). I quickly realized that the popular women seemed to know something I didn't; they were clearly attracting the sort of smart, attractive professionals who had been ignoring my profile. Being hypercompetitive, I wasn't about to let some bubblegum-popping blonde steal the neurotic Jewish doctor of my mother's dreams.
What did I discover? Popular profiles used aspirational language (like "I want to travel" or "a big ambition of mine is…"), kept descriptions short and generic and lied about various physical characteristics (though not the ones you think). Their style was easygoing, youthful and spontaneous. I'd never once referred to myself in writing as "fun" or as a "girl." But it was easy to see that I had been far too stuffy and professional in my presenting myself (I'd gotten lazy and cribbed from my résumé)
.So much for the what not to do. What should you do then?
  • KISS: keep it short and sweet. She suggests no more than 500 words. Describe enough to pique interest, but don't ramble on.
  • Show only up to a point. She finds 3 photos in the gallery suffices. Five or more is overkill.
  • Interests and activities are fine, but avoid ones that are not self-explanatory or that can backfire. She illustrates with her own experience: "'I have a black belt in aikido.' (I actually do, and I put it on my profile at one point, which prompted some men to challenge me to a fight on the first date, which was as horrible and awkward as it sounds.)"
  • Humor can come off the wrong way; better to sound straight than sarcastic.
  • For faster responses, use Instant Messaging rather than email.
And here we come to two pieces of advice that I would never tell you myself. So take it from Amy, if you like, and not from me:
Women: Don't mention work, especially if your job is difficult to explain. You may have the most amazing career on the planet, but it can inadvertently intimidate someone looking at your profile. I realize this sounds horribly regressive, but during my experiment I found that women were attracted to men with high-profile careers, while the majority of men were turned off by powerful women.
• Women with curly hair are at a distinct disadvantage online. I have no idea whether men prefer blondes, but I can say definitively that most men prefer women with healthy, long, straight hair. If you have curls and feel comfortable (and look good) straightening your hair, give that a try.
Well, at least she didn't advise cosmetic surgery. I don't agree that curls are inherently less attractive than straight hair, though they are considered more markedly Jewish. (see and my discussion of the "straightening syndrome"  BTW the curls that illustrate are my daughter's; she gets compliments on her hair all the time.)
Back to Amy's story: she integrated all that she learned about popularity in online dating to create her own (woman's) "super profile." She found 60 fish on this hook, and went with the one she ended up marrying. Oh, and she wrote a whole book on this called "Data, A Love Story: How I Gamed Online Dating to Meet My Match," to be published Jan. 31 by Dutton..

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Thursday, January 10, 2013

Online marriage course now available for free

For hilchos taharas hamishpacha and more. It includes options for kallahs, chassons, and married couples  -- even in Spanish. See

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Sunday, January 06, 2013

When silence is acquiesence

"I have often regretted having spoken, never having kept silent" -Publilius Syrus
I saw this quote in my Twitter stream today. Silence is a wonderful thing, and we do respect it in Jewish tradition. However, there are times when silence is cause for regret. That is the lesson of a Midrash about Pharoh’s 3 advisers.
This past Shabbos, we read the first parsha in the Book of Shemos [Exodus], which shares the same name. It tells the story of the enslavement of the descendants of the children of Israel. Not content with slavery, the Egyptians moved onto oppression and a form of genocide -- killing all the baby boys.
According to the Midrash, it was Bilaam (to be encountered again in the parsha of Balak) who gave the evil advice to kill all the newborn boys. Yithro opposed the idea. He had to flee for his life, but then got to the honor of becoming Moshe’s father-in-law. There was a third, who appeared to be neutral. That was Iyov [ Job] He didn’t promote the evil plan, but he also failed to oppose it.
Because he opted for neutrality when opposition was called for, Iyov had to endure the severe suffering recounted in his book. Iyov did not start out as a bad person. He thought his protest would be futile and didn't wish to be a hero. But there are times when the situation calls for heroism, and anything less puts one into the category of acquiescing to evil through one's silence.
As one of my teachers was fond of quoting, "Silence is acquiescence." He would add, "If you do not acquiesce, do not silence."
I touched on this concept with further ramifications in relation to another Biblical character in

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Friday, January 04, 2013

Is it a mountain or a hair?

While I was walking out to fetch a couple more groceries today, I noticed a smudge on my glasses that looked quite large while I was wearing them but really tiny when I took them off. That made me think of the account of the future slaughter of the yetzer hara described  in Sukkah 52b. To the righteous, the yetzer hara  appears like a high mountain and to the wicked as thin as a hair. Both cry. The righteous cry, "How could we have surmounted something as great as this?" The wicked cry, "How could we not have overcome something this hair thin thing?" Even the Almighty expresses astonishment.

What occurred to me is the matter of perspective. For example, the sun and the moon both appear to be about the same size, though the sun is so many thousands of times larger, due to their distance from the earth. At a great distance, even a tall mountain can appear to be contained within your fingers, that is, no larger than a coin. But even a speck can look quite substantial when it is right in front of your eye, like on your glasses.

My take is that the tzadikim keep their  yetzer hara far away, and so it has to grow larger and larger to register in their line of vision at all.  In contrast, the reshaim keep their yetzer hara so close that it can get down to minimal size and still receive their full attention. That also fits with what Chazal say about "Kol hagadol michavero, yitzro gadol mimeno" 

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Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Torah thought for World Introvert Day

See Divrei Chaim: inner reserve: the antithesis of shibud: " A person who has no inner compass, who has no sense of self that is reserved and never of display in public, is someone who by definition is beholden to outside fores and influences.  He is a slave to how society defines him, how his job defines him, what others in his community think of him, what the world makes of his existence."

Also see, Some like it Quiet
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