Wednesday, July 17, 2013

It's not just the best policy (part 2 of 2)

Continued from part 1

I was absolutely amazed by Rabbi Paysach Krohn's approach because I always feel out of sync with the rest of the world in my belief that you should only say what you mean and avoid lies, especially to children. Though it was more than 20 years ago, I vividly recall hearing a man get up to say a speech in honor of his elderly mother on her birthday. He recounted that one time she was going out with his father, and he was upset about her leaving. To quiet him, she said she would buy him a special toy (he said it was the equivalent of an Erector set). She didn't buy it, though, admitting that she only said that to get him to behave the way she wanted. I was doubly  appalled: One, at the fact that she lied to her son in that way, and two that he publicly recounted this story as if it reflected well on her. Though I was years away from being a mother at the time, I thought that 's really not the most vivid memory I'd like my kid to have about me. But here's the thing: no one looked as horrified as I felt. They must have seen it from his point of view as a clever instance of the end justifies the mean. And I had to think, if everyone else sets the norm for behavior, what does that mean for my standards?

So it was a real relief to hear Rabbi Krohn say that this kind of thing is absolutely wrong. He cited the Gemara in (Sukkah 46b  that enjoins parent to to keep their children from lies,  warning they they should always keep their word to their children. He also referred to the famous story of Rav who told his son not to lie to his mother even for the sake of shalom bayis (I copied it from with some modification):
Rav was vexed by his wife. If he asked her to make lentils, she made peas. If he asked her to make peas, she made lentils. When his son Chiya got older, he (Chiya) would reverse the request (and then his mother would make what the father wanted).
Rav said to his son: "Things are going better with your mother."
Chiya said: "I am switching your orders to her." 
[While this was very clever and seemed to be toward a most commendable end of shalom bayis, his father still insisted that his son cease and desist]
Rav said: "This is what people say (a Talmudic expression for a popular adage): The one who comes from you teaches you good sense. You should not do this, as the verse says, 'They have taught their tongue to speak lies and weary themselves to commit iniquity' (Yirmiyahu 9:5)." (Yevamot 63a)
Becoming used to lying -- even white lies that seem to cause no harm -- can dull one's sensitivity to adhering to truth, and that set one on the slippery slope of dishonesty. Rabbi Krohn included a number of examples of children who either lied or requested that their parents lie on their behalf after seeing their parents misrepresent the truth for their own gain.

His last story was about a father who refused to allow his son to lie even for a virtuous act. The family had a preemie who needed regular transfusions. The father decided that he would like to give blood -- to add to the blood bank stores, if not to actually go to his baby. His sixteen-year-old son said he'd like to give blood, too. So the father took him along. The room for blood donation bore a sign that declared the minimum age for blood donation was 17. The father told his son that he can't give. The son tried to argue that he's close to 17. His father wouldn't hear of it. The son offered to ask a rav if he can misrepresent his age in this case. His father wouldn't hear of it. He said, "no rav can make you 17." And that was the end of the son's attempt to give blood that time. I'd be happy to end the story here, but it does go on.

About a week later, the 16 year-old was in a terrible car accident. He lost a huge amount of blood and needed immediate transfusions of concentrated blood before even being transported to the hospital. The doctors said that he was very close to dying from loss of blood. Had he donated blood the week before, he would not have had enough in his body at the time of the accident to survive. The boy's mother declared that this is an example of the apt juxtaposition of "Mi haish hechafetz chaim?" [Who wants life?] with the injunction to avoid bad and false talk: "Netzor leshoncha mera usfathecah midaber mirma"

It's not just the best policy part 1 (of 2)

According to the shiur I heard from Rabbi Paysach Krohn on Tisha B'Av, honesty is essential. Toward the end, he mentioned the pasuk everyone quotes for avoiding lashon hara with a reminder of what the last part of it says. "Netzor leshoncha mera usfathecah midaber mirma" It's not just a matter of avoiding evil speech but of avoiding twisted speech, that is prevarication.

He mentioned that the three letters of Emes in Hebrew, aleph, mem, and taf are stretched all over the alphabet because you have to really look around for truth. In contrast, the three letters for lies -- shin, kuf, and reish are all together because lies crop up all the time.

Rabbi Krohn included setting appointments that you don't intend to keep on time under the dishonest category. Saying directly that this is important for all doctors, he said, it is dishonest to double (and triple, quadruple) book appointments because, then the time you tell your patients to come is a lie. He pointed out that it works the other way, as well. Patients who come late to their appointments are also in the wrong. However, whereas doctors and dentists often have a policy to bill patients for missed appointments, patients have no such recourse. The cartoon pictured here is still just a bit of wishful thinking.

And I find that doctors are not the least bit contrite for keeping patients waiting. In fact, I once had one tell me that her phone call (with another patient) was far more important than my appointment. I had been kept waiting so long, both in the waiting room and in the exam room that I was ready to walk out. I really wish I had. The one time I did do that at a doctor's office, I felt very liberated. But they still don't seem to get it. Just calling you to warn you about a delay or at the very least an apology for keeping you waiting would go a long way in preventing malpractice suits.

While Rabbi Krohn also stressed that honesty applies to other businesses in terms of promised times for delivery, as well as monetary transactions, of course, he stressed its centrality in family life. The references get a bit lengthy, so I'll continue in part 2.

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Friday, July 12, 2013

The younger, the better?

I've addressed so-called solutions to the shidduch crisis, that include bribing people to match younger men with older girls,  in the past Orthnonomics also address it:
Chaim Yudkowsky point out in  In Response to the Proposal Encouraging Our Young Men to Marry Very Young, it's not all positive.

I have suggested that instead of pushing for younger bachurim, they should not  push girls of 19 into shidduchim at all. That's not to say that that no one should marry young, but as
► Myth: Marrying young is a good thing, say age 19 or 20.
► Truth: Marrying young is great in the short-term, and gives parents a sense that they have “made it.” However, no couple that age can be financially independent. They need to be totally supported by parents and in-laws. Often, parents will dote on children and einiklach and meddle in the couple’s life. After all, they are entitled to manage their financial investment in any way they please. This not only leads to shalom bayis issues but also contradicts Chazal, who say that a person would rather have one measure of his own toil as opposed to a handout of nine.
In the long term, marrying young is often a disaster. Let’s say that all of the eligible 20-year-oldbachurim in yeshiva, most without a plan of how they will support their families, would get married. Such a solution to the shidduch crisis would exacerbate the already suppressed reality of the “parnassacrisis.” Financial distress in a marriage is the number one basis for divorce, according to many studies both in the frum world and secular worlds.

He also makes the point that at that age, they still have some growing to do in terms of finding themselves. Now, that does vary, as some 19 year-olds are more mature than some 22 year-olds, but still the one-age-fits-all criterion that pushes for a uniformly young age as the ideal one for shidduchim disallows for individual differences. Another thing that does is the shidduch system in general. While he critiques it as being a product of the 1980s rather than of the idealized Litvish world of pre-war Europe, it really has grown far worse. In the 80s and even in the 90s, no one was sending out shidduch resumes - something that people now consider essential to the system. I've discussed this at length in
Also see

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Thursday, July 11, 2013

On Paragons

I recently heard a speaker give an inspirational talk about doing better, aspiring higher, etc. She referred to someone in her life who had great difficulties and suffered more than most people, yet she declared, that was always smiling and never complained.  My rebellious internal  response, was that sounds most admirable but beyond human capacity. We even see that such paragons as Moshe, as well as the avos and immahos  had their moments when they were, shall we say, not smiling.

(It's possible that this person was careful never to show a feeling of misery around others, as in the story of a rabbi who said he suppressed his crying when his mother was around and only let himself go -- as a baby yet -- when she would not hear).

We see multiple instances of great people having difficulties and not remaining calm. There were points at which Moshe lost patience with the complaints and rebellions of the people he had to lead.  Rachel had an altercation with Yaakov, who responded fairly harshly.  Leah expressed her own resentment to Rachel when her sister asked for the flowers that Reuven gathered. Yaakov gave Lavan a piece of his mind that showed he did feel resentful for all the difficulties he endured in his father-in-law's employ. The fact that the Torah reveals all this to us shows that even they had moments when they got overwhelmed. That does  not diminish from their greatness; on the contrary, it shows that even those who feel that way can can achieve the pinnacle of spiritual heights. I find that more inspiring than hearing about someone who never, ever cried out because I simply can't relate to it.

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Monday, July 08, 2013

True bridal beauty

This is not the time when we think of weddings, but one of the points here was recounted in this morning's shiur by Rabbi Frand, and the theme was the 9 Days, so do bear with me. .

The traditional praise sung for a bride is "kallah na'ah vechasudah" [the bride is pleasant in appearance and kind] (rather like the fairy-tale descriptions that say "she was as good as she was beautiful"). Certainly, brides aspire to look their best for their wedding day. Some even demand that the women around them only wear certain colors to set them off in what they consider a flattering setting. But the Jewish ideal of beauty is not that of a self-absorbed bridezilla (a word Rabbi Frand brought up in his talk).

Rabbi Frand recounted a story that a rabbi from Dallas told him. The source of the story was a pediatrician who worked in a hospital emergency room in Israel. She said that one day a bride came in in full bridal regalia --the gown, veil, etc. She asked why she had come. It wasn't because she was coming to check on a particular child that she knew. She came into the hospital practically en route to her chuppah because she wanted to use the power of bracha given to bride and groom to push for the recovery of all the children there.

Now that t really was an amazing [and I don't use that word lightly] thing. Most brides are totally self-absorbed on their wedding day, concerned to avoid the possibility of a hair being out of place. But this one saw her role not just as a beautiful bride but as a spiritual power source that she intended to use in the best possible way.

This reminded me of a much older story of a bride who thought of others on her wedding day, as recounted in Shabbat 156b:

Astrologers told R' Akiva that his daughter was doomed to die from a snakebite on her wedding day. [If this were a fairytale, you can imagine he'd prevent her from having any contact with anyone who may wish to marry her, but this is the Talmud, so the story goes very differently.]  Nevertheless, R' Akiva's daughter became betrothed. On the day of her wedding, she stuck her  brooch into the wall.  The following morning, when she took the brooch out, she found the snake that had been killed when the pin penetrated it.  ‘What did you do?’ her father asked her. ‘A poor man came to our door in the evening.’ she said. ‘Everyone was busy at the banquet, and no one attended to him. So I took the portion which was given to me and gave it to him. 
R' Akiva recognized that her act of charity is what saved her from the death sentence. Charity does have that power in general, but it is particularly striking for a bride to take note of someone that everyone else is ignoring rather than just thinking "It's my special day and not my job to take care of someone else." 

For more insight into the significance of the Jewish wedding, see
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Tuesday, July 02, 2013

My lifetime of dressing modestly

Obviously, my title is a twist on Lauren Shields' "My year of modesty"  (it should be 9 months of modesty, if the title were precise) In some ways, here project parallels that of Pheobe Baker Hyde, who was also featured in Salon for her year without makeup. Both seem to have inspired by some protest against the beauty industry. Shields makes that clear in this paragraph:
Why, if beauty didn’t matter to me, did I have more than $600 worth of makeup in my closet (and I never left the house without at least some of it on) and more shoes than any sane individual needs? Why was I convinced that if I didn’t look “sexy” or at least attractive no one would listen to what I had to say?

In eschewing  a lot of makeup and hair products, I'm not exactly motivated by a protesting an industry that suggests that women have to shell out a fortune in order to feel confident about themselves. However, I can appreciate that point. As for me, it's really more a combination of not feeling any need to dress to impress, preferring a natural look in general, and just being a low-maintenance type of gal. I can get dressed in under 5 minutes.

 I actually have grown more low-maintenance as I've grown older.  For a while, I was careful to use blush to add some color to my pale complexion, but that didn't last long. A few years ago, I wouldn't have wanted to walk out of the house without any mascara on (with long-lasting formulas applied before Shabbos). Now, I don't really care, and leave it off more often than I put it on. I was never really into lipstick, which tends to come right off,  though I dutifully buy a tube every couple of years or so. I never wore nail polish, except, perhaps the clear variety a few decades ago.

As for hair, it's not just a matter of "who cares when it's covered" (with a tichel or hat more often than a sheitel)  I really never put much time into it. It's naturally curly, and I never straightened it or fussed with complicated arrangements.  As for eyebrow, etc., well the positive side of being fair and having rather thin lashes are brows that are anything but bushy. So not maintenance needed there either.

As for clothes, well being a WAHM, I don't really have the need to invest in business clothes. So I dress in mommy-friendly clothes, by which I mean casual clothes that allow freedom of movement and are easy to care for.  I also live in sneakers, which make walking so much pleasanter than any other type of shoe. While definitely modest in style, I don't aspire to the formal style that some yeshivish women maintain at all times. 

That brings me back to some of the interesting observations that Shields makes in recounting how Hasidic women looked to here:

Mind you, these Hasidic women were stylish: They looked good. They just didn’t look like everyone else. These women were not “fashionable” first, like most of the women I saw everywhere else — they seemed to be focused on something else, something more important than what was trendy. They had a very good reason for not dressing like the train-squishing crowd of Fifth Avenue, and I wanted a reason too.....
Eventually I scrapped the idea: I had no excuse to buck the trend. Plus, it would be a little ridiculous: “No, I dress like this because I’m pretty sure the beauty industry is a ploy to keep us from thinking about how to break into the boys’ club of corporate America, and obsession with your appearance is frivolous and time-consuming!
It takes some time, but then she decides to launch her experiment:
With the support of my seminary community and my then-boyfriend, I designed the Modesty Experiment, in which I took my cues from Jewish, Muslim and some Christian modesty practices in order to loosen my death grip on the idea that youth and beauty were prerequisites to relevance. I started a blog and a journal to stay accountable, and I gave away more than a third of my clothes. The clothes I couldn’t wear during the Experiment because they had no sleeves or were too short or tight, I gave to a friend, along with all of my makeup. It was hard — I actually cried on the way home from the clothing drop box.

And for nine months, I covered all of my hair, wore nothing that was so fitted that I felt like I had to sit or stand funny to look good, and never exposed my knees or my shoulders, except at home. With rare exceptions, I wore no makeup or nail polish. It was kind of brutal, and really liberating. 
It's interesting that she regards it as "liberating." I wouldn't say that all women who abide by religious stricture of modesty feel truly liberated by it. Some always try to push the boundaries as much as possible, with skirts that really are borderline, at best, clothes that may cover but fit like a second skin, high heeled shoes that draw attention from across the street, eye-catching jewelry, alluringly styled long-haired wigs, and as much makeup as a runway model wears. Come to think of it, Shields herself found the appeal to fade when she felt that this style of dress didn't work for her:
But in nine months, I learned that yes, you do get more done when you’re not obsessed with your shoes, but you do still need to look put-together for your own self-confidence. I learned that looking good isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but when it becomes the cornerstone of your identity — like the advertising industry tries to convince us it is — then you’re doing nothing but damage to yourself.

I learned that if you put down the Beauty Suit you will be ignored by people who think you have to look a certain way to be worth their time (men and women included), and that that is a small price to pay for not having to put on a costume every time you think you’ll need to impress them. I learned that you will feel invisible until you open your mouth, and then people will be amazed at what you have chosen to do in protest of the Western beauty ideal. And then those people probably won’t date you because you’re kind of outspoken. Or whatever.
Now here's where her article doesn't quite make sense. She says she launched this with the cooperation of her boyfriend. So it seems that he didn't mind her dressing this way. Also if she already had a significant other in her life, why would she be concerned about dressing in a way that make her look like  a candidate for a date?

So back to the reality check of those of us who dress modestly for life: being modest doesn't mean you have to look unattractive. If you feel you need some makeup to look polished for work or whatever social event you are going for, you can apply it. Onl,y like everything else, it should be done in moderation.

Related posts (really good comment there)

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