Sunday, February 24, 2013

Antifragility and Jewish Survival

When I read  Nassim Nicholas Taleb's latest book, Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder , I thought of how that applies to Jewish thought on both the individual and national level.

On the individual level, we have the teaching of Rabbi Abahu, who said, 'Where baalei teshuvah stand, people who have never sinned cannot stand!"  (Berachot 34b). One who has been broken, so to speak, and then put himself back together again has proven his strength in a way that cannot be claimed by one who has not been put to the same test. 

 For the nation at large, the antifragile nature of Jews is illustrated by Vehi She'amda in the Haggadah:

And it is this that has stood for our Forefathers and us. For not just one enemy has stood against us to wipe us out. But in every generation there have been those who have stood against us to wipe us out, and the Holy One Blessed Be He saves us from their hands. 

What is this in the passage? To put it in grammatical terms, it is a pronoun with no antecedent.  Some say what is referenced is the covenant that G-d originally made with Avraham. But it is also possible to read the "this" as referring to what follows -- the persecution itself. With each bout of persecution, the Jews grow stronger.

We see that manifestations of antifragility as early as the Egyptian enslavement. The more the Egyptians oppressed the Israelites, the more they multiplied. In fact, Chazal observe that the Levites did not grow in population as much as the other tribes precisely because they were not subjected to slave labor. 

Centuries later, it was the very threat of annihilation that the Jews faced under the regime of Achashverosh that occasioned their triumph over their enemies and a renewal of the acceptance of Torah that gave rise to the flourishing of Oral Torah. 

In fact, the situation the Jews faced in the original Purim story is paradigmatic for their spiritual survival. Chazal (Sanhedrin 97b) say  that if G-d sees the Jewish people constantly transgress the laws of the Torah and do not repent, He will bring a king to power whose decrees are like those of Haman.  Then the nation will be forced into becoming ba'alei teshuvah ansd so gain the merit to be saved. 

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Sunday, February 17, 2013

New site

New site set up at

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Friday, February 15, 2013

Shidduch dating and the rest of the world

I shared the tips that Saw You At Sinai lists  for young women in shidduch dating in

Interestingly, when it comes to questions of dating etiquette, the world at large is still debating whether or not a man has to foot the bill. See the range and consensus of opinions in  Who Pays for the Date?

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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Thought experiment for frum parents on Feb. 14

Imagine that your child comes home from yeshiva or day school with pictures of George Washington or Abraham Lincoln and compositions about the accomplishments of the first or sixteenth president of the USA. Of course, that would be in honor of Presidents' Day. 

I'd venture to say no one would have a problem with that, as it is about history and national identity.

Now, picture this: your kids comes home, saying, "Guess what we did today! We made 
Valentines! We're supposed to bring in money for a heart-shaped boxes of chocolate to give out with them on Thursday. That's Valentine's Day, and our Morahe said that the whole world celebrates love on that day." 

Would you think the teacher is seriously out of touch with her audience? I would think so. Now remember, I'm only talking about frum schools, the kind that do not put up red and green stuff in December or witches and bats in October.

Given that it is not something we would like to see in our school curriculum, I wonder at people getting downright hostile at my suggestion that it is inappropriate for stores that cater to a frum clientele to market items for Valentine's Day. I don't say they can't sell the items, especially for the stores in locations where there are no nonkosher bakeries or candy stores anyway. I only say that I see Valentine's Day as ranking about the same as Halloween. It does have religious roots (see , even if they are forgotten.

In other words, it's not the same as Presidents' Day or Memorial Day or Thanksgiving.

One other note: I found a number of articles that identify the "Jewish Valentine's Day" as Tu B'Av, so for those who feel they need a day of that sort, there's a date already set for you.

P.S. I want to add this in from a post of one of my FB connnectins, "Since so many people are dedicating their fb status to Valentines day I would like to as well: "900 Jews were burnt alive on 14 February 1349 in the "Valentine's Day" Strasbourg massacre .Many hundreds of Jewish communities were destroyed in this period." Happy V-Day? If you would like a day to celebrate ur love tu' b'av would be a more kosher day!"

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