Monday, July 23, 2012

Defining Terms

I went with a friend to a lecture/discussion about the rules of the nine days.  Those in attendance were from a truly wide number of shuls/observance groups.  This year there were some differences in what was being said about what is permitted and what isn't, according to various rabbanim.

For one thing, those rabbis present all seemed to finally agree that the prohibition on wearing freshly laundered clothing does NOT include underwear, undershirts and socks--a decided change from last year. They also specifically mentioned that for very young children laundry may be done if they have nothing clean to wear. 

Then there was the discussion on wearing freshly laundered clothing during the nine days.  At first each rabbi said it was not permitted unless one had put on those clothes before the nine days so they wouldn't qualify as freshly laundered.  Okay, I teach English and yes, I tend to want my definitions as exact as possible.  I also know that certain words have more than one definition, so I want it to be clear as to which definition is meant when a word is used.  I raised my hand and asked if I could please have an exact definition for what "freshly laundered" is.

At first they looked at me as if I were some kind of alien being.  One member of the panel asked which particular word I didn't understand.  I answered  "freshly."  And that's where the fun began.  Two people immediately answered that "freshly laundered" meant not having been worn after laundering.  I responded that that was incorrect according to the definition of the terms.  "Freshly laundered" has nothing to do with whether or not clothing was worn but does have to do with the time period when the laundry was done.  Freshly has the meaning, in English usage, of having happened in the immediate time before today, of having happened recently.  Its opposite would be something that was laundered in the past--note: this does not mean dirty or already having been worn but refers strictly to the timeline of the laundering. Some were not happy to do so, but they begrudgingly agreed that "freshly" would apply to the time period that something was laundered in.

So the next question was what precisely was considered as "recently"?  Would laundry that was done yesterday be considered as done recently?  All agreed that it would be.  The next question asked, what about laundry that was done 1 week ago?  Was that recently?  A few were scratching their heads and said no, but most agreed that that, too, would be recently.  Then I stretched back in time and asked if laundry done 2, 3, or 4 or more weeks ago would be considered as recently done.  Now there was not a consensus.  Most finally agreed that anything washed that far back would not be considered as something cleaned recently.  So I said that if I took out a blouse that had last been washed 2-3 weeks ago and put it on today, I would not be putting on freshly laundered clothing and could therefore wear it without having tried it on before the 9 days.  Should have seen the looks on some of the panel's faces, but given the definition of "recently" they agreed that clothing laundered 3 weeks ago would not be considered as freshly laundered.

On of the rabbis on the panel decided to change things and said that what was meant was that "clean" clothing could not be donned during the nine days.  I pointed out that the opposite of "clean" was dirty, so was he saying that only dirty clothing could be put on?  His argument to me was that "dirty" is not the only opposite meaning of clean.  Really?  At that point I decided to shut up.

Frankly, the members of the audience were quite happy with my questions, and the rabbanim were not quite that happy.  But yes, this was a matter of definition of terms.

My female readers out there, do you own more than 6 skirts that you wear during the summer?  Might that number be more in the 12+ range?  Do you own at least the same number of tops, if not more?  I'm no clothes horse, but I counted the skirts I can wear during the summer (keeping mind that I don't throw out any clothing bought in  many previous years), both for Shabbos and for weekday wear, and I counted 20.  According to that number I've got a lot of skirts (and the tops to go with them) that would not qualify for freshly laundered even if not worn.  They've been hanging in the closet or on a shelf in the closet for quite some time.

So, it would seem that some of the prohibitions for the nine days hinge on terms and terminology that is not correct, or is not exact, or that can be defined in more than one way.    And oh that it were only this particular issue where a lack of proper word usage causes problems. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Bite me!

While summer weather has some real plusses for us, it also has some minuses.  Among those minuses are the mosquitos that populate our outdoor world.  Some people don't seem to be bothered by the pests, and some people spend the summer scratching  all the strange places the mosquitos seem to like to attack us.  Ever wonder just why some people seem to be mosquito magnets and others aren't?  Interesting and informative article at the link below.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

And so the War continues

I am not attesting to the facts in the story I'm about to repeat.  Whether or not the details are as reported is almost irrelevant.  The fact that such a story could be making the rounds now is enough of a concern.  What went viral over Shabbos in my community is the following story.

There was a wedding that took place up in Monsey.  Two men were called up to be edei chupah.  When they got up to the chuppah, the mesader kiddushin asked them both to take out their cell phones.  He examined them and then told one of the men that he had no filter on his phone and therefore was a posul eid and could not be used as a witness for the chupah.

Let us assume that this story is true as it was reported.  Has our community, or at least parts of it, lost its mind?!  Phone filters as the final determiner as to whether or not someone is frum enough to participate in Jewish ceremonial life?

Hmmm, I wonder if the mesader kiddushin also checked the cell phones of the choson and the fathers of the choson and kallah.  Would he have refused to be mesader kidushin for this couple if a filter had been missing from one of their phones?  Wouldn't bet against it.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

What Will be on the Menu?

The three weeks first begin today but some of us are already thinking ahead to Tishe Ba'Av, basically because of the way the taanis begins.  This year we go from Shabbos into the taanis, and the question has come up as to what is going to be served at that last meal on Shabbos that will get people through the fast day comfortably.  Keep in mind also that many men will not be at home  right before the fast, able to eat their meal then, so their pre-fast meal is going to extend that fast day by a couple of hours, since they will be eating earlier.  Hot food will probably also be a problem.

So, what type of meal, types of foods are you planning for the taanis?  Have you used these types of meals before, and were people "full enough" to get through the taanis comfortably?  Please, share.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Germany on a Roll? Not This Time!

So, you think that history can't repeat itself?  Think again.  A German court recently banned brit milah in Germany.  Once again the German state is mixing into matters of religion, and not to the benefit of those religious practitioners. 

The Jewish Press has a petition up against this intrusion into religious life which will be given to the German ambassador in Israel.  Wait, I know what you are going to say--so what, what can one petition do?  Really?  The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.  And unless you take that first step, no other steps can follow.  No one is all that busy that they cannot take one minute to protest an act of barbarity clothed in judicial robes.

And please, pass on the link to your friends and acquaintances.  Unlike pre-WWII, our voices can, will and must be heard.

Thanks to Joe Settler at the Muqata for the link below

Monday, July 2, 2012

Another Plus for Computers

Among those things that can be done with computers and the Internet, our right wing friends are vociferously against playing computer games.  They consider them as time wasters, as brain and thought dulling--well you take your pick.  In this our right wingers are in good company, as many others have complained about what they see as the ills of playing computer games.  Certainly a primary complaint has been that those who play these games tend to get "addicted" to them and can spend hours and hours a day playing them.  Many blame this game playing as a cause of the obesity epidemic in the US and elsewhere.

However, in the past few years dozens of studies have been run--and dozens more are now being run--that show the benefits of computer game playing for both children and adults at all stages.

What the studies have shown is that regular computer game players have better thinking abilities and perception than those who do not play.  The studies show that hand/eye coordination not only improves in those who play games, but that the "elderly" or older adults who play these games retain their hand/eye coordination, unlike a majority of older adults who lose that coordination as they grow older.  One study was quite fascinating.  It followed adults with cataracts that were interfering with their vision.  To date the only solution for these cataracts when they reach vision blocking stages is surgery.  The researchers found that a steady dose of computer game playing that required rapid eye movement 5 days a week pretty much "fixed" the cataract problem in 80% of the participants. 

Regular computer game playing has a beneficial effect on memory.  Those older adults who play regularly are seen to have less memory loss problems than those who do not play.

And no, it does not only have to be those action games that get some parents in a tizzie.  Any game that requires strategy, size/shape/color recognition, information retrieval and memorization and, obviously, hand and eye coordination will work.

Scientists are excited about the results of these studies and are jumping in to do more and broader studies of the benefits of computer game playing.  Anything that can keep us agile, both mentally and physically, without expensive and painful medical intervention is a plus for me.

If Klal continues to be divided over the benefits of computers and the Internet, we're going to be a perfect study population for scientists in the future.  One group in Klal does use the Internet and it does play computer games.  Another group does not play computer games.  Down the road, when today's youngsters and middle agers reach the border of "old age," we will see which of the two populations has less trouble with vision and with memory as they age.  We will see which population retains its physical adeptness and adroitness. Sigh, of course we would first have to convince our "righties" that science is not black magic and that scientific studies do have validity.