Posted by: gruvenreuven | March 9, 2011

Guilt-free Tachanun

This morning after the Chazan finished the Shemoneh Esrei repetition, our Rabbi announced “No Tachanun, we have a Bris Later!”. You could just see the smiles and feel the elation that we got to skip Tachanun unexpectedly. I think that reaction is typical in most shuls that I’ve been to. But why? It’s not like on Rosh Chodesh when add Hallel and a sundry of other Davening insertions that we bemoan the extra tefilliah. Actually, some of us, (myself included) enjoy saying Hallel (Which is longer then Tachanun). So why the feeling that we got a ” bonus” when we get to skip Tachanun unexpectedly?

My theory has to do with the actual text. Tachanun also called nefillat apayim (“falling on the face”) is a collection of prayers of supplication. We ask Hashem for forgiveness for all the transgressions that we did, boldly listing them out in detail. (Willfully sinning, doing violence, evil counsel, disobedience, etc..)

When reading tachanun, I can’t help but felling guilty as I clop my chest. Yeah, done that one… Yup, could have been better there… Ok I won’t do that again…. In essence I think we dislike Tachanun, not for the added tefillah, but because we are reminded as to what a schmendrek we are. So we put out heads on our selves and ask for forgiveness. We even ask for forgiveness for all that stuff we did when we were young and stupid. Yeah, Tachanun is a total bummer. On the flip side of course, we need to remind our self how wonderful Hashem is for continually accepting our tshuvah.

Even so, I always feel guilty for being happy when we get to skip Tachanun. What did Woody Allen say about Jewish Guilt? But I shouldn’t… Tachanun is omitted on festive days. Baruch Hashem we can put our feelings of guilt a side for a day to share in a simcha.

“If you’re happy and you know it, No Tachanun”

Posted by: gruvenreuven | March 7, 2011

Chodesh Tov

A guten chodesh Tov! With the chilly temps this morning, it’s hard to believe that in less then two weeks it will be Purim! I love Rosh Chodesh Davening. 4-Aliyah Torah reading, , Hallel!, Barchi Nafshi, the Rashi/Rebbenu Tam tefillin swap and the Yaaleh Ve’yavoh insertion into the Shemoneh Esrei.

In most shuls a reminder prior to the Shemoneh Esrei is given in the way of the gabbi banging his schtender to alert everyone not to forget the Yaaleh Ve’yavoh insertion. I speak from experience, failure to remember the insertion, may cause you to repeat the Shemoneh Esrei. I wish our Gabbi would bang his schtender just prior to me getting to Yaaleh Ve’yavoh, but of course that is not possible. Despite the advance warning, and despite me fully knowing it’s Rosh Chodesh, I still have the tendency to blow by it. (Which screams that I need to be more careful in my Davening – I know… I’m working on it)

Today after our Gabbi banged his schtender, I snickered with a Joke I couldn’t articulate out loud. Normally the bangs are loud and slow. Today they were short and fast. Almost as if someone was knocking at the door. So naturally my mind went to what would have been a totally inappropriate response…… “Whoooo is it?”.

Inappropriate because after all we are standing in front of the Kadosh Baruch Hu during what is the pinnacle of our avodah, but also because according to Halacha we are in a “no taking/interruption zone” in our davening.

By thinking the joke did I cause an interruption? Since the Aibishter knows all, I wonder if he thought my joke was funny? Regardless, I haven’t forgotten Yaaleh Ve’yavoh once this whole 2-day Rosh Chodesh Davening. (I still have Mincha & Birkat Hamazon to go, so I’m not totally out of the woods)

Chodesh Tov, as I get my pre-Purim silliness on 😉

Posted by: gruvenreuven | March 6, 2011

Eisner: A Contract with G-D

A Contract with G-d by Will Eisner, click to enlarge

Today marks the Birthday of Will Eisner (March 6, 1917 – January 3, 2005). Will was born in Brooklyn New York, the son of Jewish immigrants (His mother was from Romania, his father from Austria)

Will became an American comics writer, artist and entrepreneur. He is considered one of the most important contributors to the development of the Graphic Novel medium. If there were a Mt Rushmore of comic creators, Will would be right up there along side the likes of Jack Kirby & Stan Lee. Best known for his comic series, The Spirit, Will also created many graphic novels. One of my favorite Will Eisner graphic novels is with “A Contract with G-d and Other Tenement Stories

The work consists of four Short Stories: “A Contract With G-d”, “The Super”, “The Street Singer”, and “Cookalein” All the short stories are set in a Brox Tenement in the ‘30’s. The stories are semi-autobiographical, with Eisner drawing heavily on his own childhood experiences as well as those of his contemporaries.

There are no superheroes here, just a portrayal of ordinary Jewish immigrant families. “A Contract with G-d” is the story of Frimme Hersh, who made a deal with Hashem when he was a boy in Poland, that he would do his best in life and G-d should look out for him in return. He comes to America, becomes quietly successful, is respected by his neighbors and his synagogue, and things are going okay. Then his adored adopted daughter dies suddenly. G-d has broken the contract, and Frimme thinks he is no longer bound by it, either.

Will Eisner was so influential in the creation of the Graphics Novel medium that The Will Eisner Comic Industry Award, commonly shortened to the Eisner Award bears his name. The Eisner Award is a prize given for creative achievement in American Comic books. Established in 1987.

So, “Happy Birthday” on what would have been Will’s 94th Birthday

Posted by: gruvenreuven | March 4, 2011

SuperMench vs The Yetzer Hara

Click Image to enlarge

A big Todah Rabah to Mike Gallagher (Artist and member of the Comic Geek Speak Podcast) who sketched the attached picture of me. He turned me into SuperMench, who he described as, a “Kind Super Hero”. Nice, A Chessed-Hero! I look forward to meeting Mike at the CGS Super show May 1st in Reading Pennsylvania. The Show starts April 30th 2011, but that falls on Shabbos.

I like to think, we are all Super Heroes who battle the Yetzer Hara from the moment we get up each morning. Batman has his Joker, Superman his Lex Luther, Spiderman his Green Goblin and we have our Yetzer Hara. The Yatzer Hara plays dirty, and requires much more then a Chessed-Hero.

Yetzer Hara can be definited in Hebrew as “the evil inclination” and refers to the inclination to do evil, by violating the will of G-d. The yetzer hara is not a demonic force, but rather man’s mis-use of things the physical body needs to survive. So the need for food becomes gluttony due to the yetzer hara. The need for procreation becomes sexual abuse… and so on. Judaism teaches that humans are born with a yetzer ra (physical needs that can become “evil”), but that humans don’t acquire a yetzer tov (“a good inclination”) until an age of maturity—12 for girls and 13 for boys.

The phrase yetzer lev-ha-adam ra “the imagination of the heart of man [is] evil” occurs twice in the Tanakh, in Genesis 6:5, 8:21.

Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, also known by the Hebrew acronym RaMCHaL, wrote in Derech Hashem (The Way of G-d) “Man is the creature created for the purpose of being drawn close to G-d. He is placed between perfection and deficiency, with the power to earn perfection. Man must earn this perfection, however, through his own free will.…Man’s inclinations are therefore balanced between good (Yetzer HaTov) and evil (Yetzer HaRa), and he is not compelled toward either of them. He has the power of choice and is able to choose either side knowingly and willingly…”

Battling an alien invasion of kitten attacking robots is easy, Battling our Yetzer Hara, now that requires are real SuperMench!

Posted by: gruvenreuven | March 3, 2011

Convert your iPad into a j-Pad

All the media is a flutter with the news of Apple’s iPad2. Here’s all you need to know in converting your iPad into a j-Pad! Be the envy of your Yeshiva, Beis Medrish or Kollel.

Although useless on Shabbos (apart for the Shabbos Alarm Clock apps), the iPad/iPhone is an amazing portable device that allows you to study Torah whenever and wherever you’d like.

Aside from Internet connectivity, which brings to life endless online Judaic resources, I found these apps to be “essential” in helping turn my iPad (and iPhone) into an awesome Torah study device.

These are the essential Rustybrick apps:
Siddur HD. Shacharis, Mincha, Maariv, Brachos, bedtime Shema. Just select your nusach from Ashkenaz, Sefard, or Ari. The app also Includes Luach, Mizrach, Zmanim times based on your location & a near by Minyan locator

Tehillim App. Tehillim by chapter/day/book. In both English & Hebrew

Kitzur – Complete Kitzur Shulchan Aurach in Hebrew/English

Torah – A Tikun to help with leining.

Megillah app – complete with built in Graggers

Crowded Road also puts together the follow essential list of Apps for Torah Study:
iTalmud – Complete Talmud in Hebrew & English (with selected commentary!)
iMishna – Complete Mishna in Hebrew & English
iTorah – The Torah (English/Hebrew) with Rashi Commentary (Hebrew)

HebrewBooks app – Over 10,000 Hebrew book (some English titles too) available to download free in .pdf format (and view in iBooks) or View online with the app

Search for “Jewishcontent.org” on iTunes yields dozens of books (Chabad Sichos) published in English by sichosinEnglish.org. They also offer a yearly Luach for Lubavich davening & minhagim.

There is also quite a few Tanya apps. My favorite is by “watersmuggler”. It’s essentially the 5 volume “Lessons in Tanya” in one app. View the Text in Hebrew, View it in English, toggle in the commentary. The app gives you a number of ways to study Tanya.

Those are my main “Davening/Study” apps. There are also a plethora of apps from Jewish music to Shabbos alarm clocks to gematria calculators and Hebrew dictionaries.

The main draw back to the jPad (other then you can’t use it on Shabbos) is there is NO native Hebrew writing support. In other words you can’t write in Hebrew in the notes app. You will need to install an additional app like the “Hebrew PB” app to be able to write in Hebrew. From there, Hebrew text can be cut and pasted into other apps. (i.e. Safari, email or Notes, etc.) It’s a kludge, and fortunately there IS native Hebrew support on the iPhone. ****Udpate 7-mar-11: Later iOS updates now provide native Hebrew Support!

I remember the first time I used my iPad at the Kollel. One of the Kollel Rabbis stopped by and said “You know Reuven we have books here”, pointing to the walls of seforim. “That’s true”, I said, but went on to show him all the bookcases of books on one little device that I could take with me wherever.

Judaism?? Yeah, there’s an app for that.

(Feel free to add some of the Jewish apps you find useful in the comments section below)

Posted by: gruvenreuven | March 2, 2011

Blue Fringe Benefits

Tekhelet, is a blue dye mentioned 48 times in the Tanach. Its uses include the clothing of the High Priest, the tapestries in the Mishkan, and the tassels (known as Tzitzit) to be affixed to the corners of one’s garments. Following the destruction of the Temple by the Romans, the sole use of the blue dyed strings was in the tzitzit.

The Talmud in Menchot 44a teaches that the source for the blue dye is a marine creature known as the hillazon, which is translated as “snail” in Modern Hebrew. The Talmud also mentions a counterfeit dye from a plant called Kela-Ilan. The Talmud goes on to explain that it is absolutely forbidden to use this counterfeit dye intentionally. The Tosefta explains that Kela Ilan is not the only invalid dye source, but in fact everything but the hillazon is unacceptable for making the blue dye.

Following the Roman exile of the Jews from the land of Israel in 70ce, the actual identity of the source of the dye was lost and as a result the Jews have worn only plain white Tzitzit.

Over the last two centuries, attempts have been made to identify the ancient source of the dye by comparing Talmudic sources to physical evidence. Three types of mollusks have been proposed as the lost “hillazon”. None have been universally accepted, as such most Jews continue to wear only white Tzitzit.

With all this in mind, I find the 28-Feb-11 New York Times article by Dina Kraft quite interesting.

Apparently, Professor Zvi C. Koren (Described in the article as CSI Meets Indiana Jones) using a 2,000 year old patch of fabric discovered in the ’60s during an excavation of Masada, Professor Koren has identified the first known physical sample of tekhelet. (See attached Photo). What is also interesting is that the Rambam describes the color of Tekhelet as being light blue like the sky on a sunny day. Rashi describes Tekhelete as being either green, or dark like an evening sky. Either case both the Rambam or Rashi’s account do not match the color of the uncovered swatched (Albeit 2000 years old!)

Of course, there will be much debate as to whether or not the un-earthed swatch is really Tekhelete. But regardless…. It is still very interesting to see the picture, and specifically the hole in the middle where the Tzitzit is to be tied, and look at the Tzitzit that I/we wear today. Looking at the hole were my Tzitzit are ties I can see very little has changed. (Other then the fabric I wear is probably oodles more comfortable then the fabric pictured which looks way scratchy)

Posted by: gruvenreuven | March 1, 2011

Shema Prelude to Nocturnal

No, I’m not trying to turn this blog into a “Jews in Comics blog”, but while I’m on a roll….

Sunday, I finally got around to reading “Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes” by Neil Gaiman. The Book has been recommend to me many times by pretty much everyone I know that reads comics/Graphic Novels. I picked the book up cheap from Instocktrades.com (Which is a fantastic site for Graphic Novels as most books are discounted up to 42%, with free Shipping on orders over $50).

I pretty much blew through “Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes” in a day. Spent and hour at the Laundromat (Yeah, Out washer is still broken), then called my wife to see If I could hang out at Startbucks (So I could read a bit more) before heading home. That got me most of the way through the book, so after my Torah Studies, and chavrusa at the Kollel, I finished the book before going to bed.

Holy Smokes! All the praise I’ve read or heard didn’t come close to accurately portraying how wonderful this book really is. (At least story-wise) I wasn’t too keen on the looseness of the Art, but that’s just my personal preference as I know many folks really love the art of Sam Kieth & Mike Dringenberg. Even so, for me the art didn’t detracted from the book in any regards, and there were still a handful of panels/pages that I found gorgeous.

In “Preludes & Nocturnes”, an occultist attempting to capture Death to bargain for eternal life traps her younger brother Dream instead. After his 70 year imprisonment and eventual escape, Dream, also known as Morpheus, goes on a quest for his lost objects of power. I don’t want to spoil too much of the book if you have plans to read it. Lets just say the book is pretty bizarre, and on a number of occasions I think audible gasps and interjects could be heard by folks sitting around me in Starbucks. The book also includes the story “The Sound of Her Wings,” which introduces us to “Death” who is a perky Goth girl.

I’m digressing with a book report… Getting back to the Jew in Comic theme… The below page which is taken from the “Sound of Her Wings” story, Death comes to the house of an elderly Jew, who recites the Shema before leaving this mortal coil.

Saying the Shema on one’s death bed goes back to the times of our forefathers. The Gemara, Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish said: “And Ya’akov called his sons and told them, ‘Gather around and I will tell you what will happen to you in the End-of-Days.'” (Bereishis 49:1). Ya’akov wanted to reveal the End-of-Days to his sons, but the Divine Presence left him. So he said, “Perhaps, G-d forbid, there is something unfit from my bed (i.e., a spiritually unworthy child), just as Yishmael was born to Avraham, and Eisav to my father Yitzchak?” His sons answered, “Shema Yisroel, Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem Echad (Hear O Israel, the L-rd our G-d, the L-rd is One): just as in your heart only (G-d is) One, so too in our hearts, there is only One.” At that moment, Ya’akov said, “Boruch Shem kevod Malchuso l’olam va-ed (Blessed be the Name of His glorious kingdom forever)!” (Pesachim 56a)

We also learn in the Gemara that Rabbi Akiva recited the Shema as he was tortured to death by the Romans (Berachos 61a)

Also fitting for a book dealing with sleep/dreams is the mention of the Shema, as the Shema is typically said right before retiring at night.

One of the basic lessons of the verse Shema Yisrael is that “Hashem is Elokeinu.” By saying Shema, we acknowledge that there is only One G-d, despite the fact that we see various manifestations of Him. For example, Hashem is sometimes merciful and sometimes strict. (The Name “Hashem” represents G-d’s Attribute of Mercy, while the Name “Elokim” represents G-d’s Attribute of Justice.) Although we rarely understand how this is so, what we perceive as G-d’s strictness is ultimately for our own good; in the long-run, it is merciful.

Posted by: gruvenreuven | February 28, 2011

More Jewish MARVELS

Referring to yesterday’s blog post, It’s A Jewish Thing, a friend of mine on twitter asked “when do we get a gay Jewish super hero?”.

Ah, my friend… Marvel is already one step ahead of you!

In the “Avengers: The Children’s Crusade”, Billy Kaplan (Aka Wiccan) states he is gay and Jewish. (issue #3) As the term “Wiccan” is clearly Avoda Zorah, it’s appears as if ol’ Billy clearly fell off the Derech.

We also know the Scarlet Witch is Billy’s mother, and her birth name is Wanda Maximoff. The Scarlet Witch is also reported to be another Jewish Super Hero (with an Avoah Zorah name). In Issue #1 of “Avengers: The Children’s Crusade”, we learn that Wanda is the granddaughter of Magneto (Who was born Max Eisenhardt. Max’s origin is that of a Jewish Holocaust survivor whose actions as a X-Men villain is driven by the purpose of protecting the mutant race from suffering a similar fate)

In the below panel, interesting is the text “I’m the son you thought was dead, but whose soul migrated into the body of a gay Jewish avenger”.

Now the origin of that statement is that the Scarlet Witch was so desperate to have children that she used her reality warping powers to create twin sons out of fragments of the soul of Mephisto. When the boys’ souls were reabsorbed into Mephisto, because of the power Wanda put into the soul fragments, they destroyed him and their souls were reincarnated as Thomas Shepherd, the Young Avenger Speed, and Billy.

Oy, what a bunch of Mishugas!! Sounds like Marvel Chassidus. One thing is for sure… The Marvel Universe is in desperate need of a shliach to do a
little Kiruv work.

Posted by: gruvenreuven | February 27, 2011

It’s a Jewish Thing

In Fantastic Four issue #588, the Marvel comic universe is still reeling over the death of Fantastic Four team member Johnny Storm (aka The Human Torch). Johnny’s untimely death in the “negative zone” can be read in Issue #587.

In reading #588 (Which hit the comic book shops 23-Feb-2011), I came to the conclusion that Ben Grim (aka The Thing) MUST be Jewish, for the following fantastic 4 reasons….

1) In the Credits of the Book, Both Stan Lee & Jack Kirby (Both Jewish) are listed as “Grieving Parents”. Of course since Jewish linage is based on the Mother, I can not submit this as evidence.

2) Look at the below picture: Clearly The Thing is sitting Shiva on a stool. There are 3 other panels that show The Thing sitting low as his Super Hero friends stop by to pay their condolences.

3) The book shows the family at home for 7 days. “Getting Up” on the 7th day, the book takes you to the 8th day where the family leaves their home for a memorial service at the Cemetery. (Note: Since the body remains in the “Negative Zone”, this is NOT a funeral, but simply a memorial service) Doctor Doom attends and is driven by what appears to by a Lubavitcher Hasid. (See the Picture Below)

4) And my hands down proof that “The Thing” is Jewish, comes from his own admission. See the below panels taken from Issue #3 of Strange Tales II – Harvey Pekar (z”l) meets The Thing.

Need I say more… 🙂

Posted by: gruvenreuven | February 8, 2011

Book Review: Foreskin’s Lament

“I believe in god, It’s been a real Problem for me” -Shalom Auslander

I am certain Shalom Auslander was absent from his Talmud class the day his Rebbe taught over the sugya in Avoda Zora (17a) of Rabbi Elazar ben Dordaya. Actually from most accounts it seems as if Shalom was absent frequently from Yeshiva (or not grasping what was really taught) Either way Baruch Hashem, as we might not have this hilarious account of his pretty twisted view of Life, Orthodox Judaism and Hashem. This is a sad tale masked by humor. Despite the laughs I found on nearly every page, as a reader one can not help but feel sorry for Shalom’s personal struggle with Hashem. Shalom is a modern day Tevye with an adolescent attitude and a thirst for all things Treif.

There are few 300+ pages books that I will plow through in the span of 24 hours (as I did with Foreskin’s Lament). A psychological humorous case study if ever there was one. Not sure what I would make of this book if I wasn’t an Orthodox Jew myself. I would probably walk away with a slanted view of Orthodox Judaism, that’s for sure. For some, the book might be considered a Chillul Hashem. But then again, I don’t think Orthodox Judaism is going to crumble based on one neurotic Author’s account. I can safely say that this guy needs more then a $375/hr psychologist.

Chillul Hashem or not, it’s a fun read.

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