Let Anthropologie Run Local Schools

December 14th, 2017 Posted by On Our Mind No Comment yet

Our local government schools had a late starting time today due to inclement weather. There had to be at least an 1/8 of an inch on our lawn this morning! Here’s an idea. I have no clue what the most popular mall stores are with children and teens, but how about linking school closings to store closings? I’m not the only one who notices that malls are packed on days that schools cancel classes because of weather. If you can get to Nordstrom, you can get to class.

Comfort Reading

December 14th, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 39 comments

I went to the library yesterday to get some comfort reading. You probably know about comfort food. After 9/11, even fancy restaurants began serving  mashed potatoes, chocolate pudding and other common staples of childhood. As people were reeling from the ominous events that shook the world, eating simple old-fashioned favorites emotionally connected them with a safer time and place. Don’t most of us have a food or drink that we associate with feelings of security and protection?

Comfort reading is similar to comfort eating though it has the advantage of being calorie-free. I went searching for, and found, books that I had previously read, ensuring that there would be no unpleasant surprises. They weren’t necessarily my favorite books, simply decently written and rather undramatic ones; books with only happy events. Or at least the problems that do occur are minor, reparable and not stress-inducing to me as a reader. Books like Mrs. Mike or Little Women, as wonderful as they are, don’t fall into this category. Quite frankly, (spoiler alert) one or more beloved character dies in each one. Since getting older seems to correspond with my becoming more of a blubbery mess as I read those scenes, those books clearly won’t serve my purpose.

I didn’t write this Musing as a plea for sympathy. By God’s grace, my life is wonderful. But I’m a little more tired than usual after a bout with a severe cold and a number of people I love are going through tough times. I don’t need to tell you that the United States and the world are facing enormous challenges. Add increasingly cold weather and darkness falling earlier each day and it all adds up to a pretty normal and blessed winter life. But it has been evoking in me a desire to curl up with a book that engrosses while making no demands. Sort of like My-T-Fine chocolate pudding.

My other, more important, antidote to a slight case of “the downs” is Chanuka. Chanuka is the only Jewish holiday that straddles two months. It starts on the 25th of the month of Kislev as the moon almost disappears and concludes eight days later in the early days of the month of Tevet as the moon starts waxing.  On the first night of Chanuka we light one candle but by the last evening eight lights burn merrily.

Like every special day in the Jewish calendar, layers of complex insights and intriguing byways reveal themselves to those who look at Chanuka more deeply.  But even on the surface, each night is a reminder that times are sometimes dark, but will grow light again. We each have the ability  to increase the light in our own lives and we are the most important person with the power to actually do so.

With a pile of comfort books next to me, as we head into the third night of Chanuka this evening, I think that over the next five days I’ll be ready once again for reading that stretches and challenges me rather than books that envelop me in a protective cocoon. I hope your winter is full of light.

To access some deeper meanings of Chanuka be sure to look at 
Festival of Lights: Transform Your 24/7 Existence into a 25/8 Life

To entertain your kids while educating yourself be sure to look at
Aleph-Bet: A Fun, Rhyming, Bible-based Introduction to the Hebrew Alphabet

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Why is this word capitalized in the Bible?

December 12th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 2 comments

In Psalms 42:7… “in this land of Jordan and Hermon, in Mount Mizar, where deep calls to deep in the roar of Your cataracts”…..  “Your” is capitalized.

Are the scriptures simply referring to waterfalls that belong to Hashem… or is there a deeper truth?

Gilbert M.

Dear Gilbert,

We agree with you that the editors of the English translation you are reading capitalized the word ‘Your’ to emphasize that the pronoun refers to God. We also agree that there is deeper meaning in every word in Scripture. However, there is no deeper meaning in the capitalization of ‘Your’ or any other word in Scripture because the original Hebrew text, from Genesis to Chronicles has no capitals!

The Hebrew language possesses no capital letters. Each letter looks the same whether it starts the first word in a sentence or a paragraph or whether it starts the name of a person or of an object. (There are five special letters that take a different form when they appear at the end of a word, but that is another and much longer story.)

To make things even more complex, a Torah scroll, consisting of the five books of Moses, in all its nearly 80,000 words, contains no periods, commas, exclamation marks or question marks either. There aren’t even any vowels.  There are however paragraphs.

Each word, column and page is written following a precise formula passed down in ancient Jewish wisdom. Learning to read from a Torah scroll is the work of many hours and much effort. Not only does an English translation lose much of the treasure in the scroll, but even a printed copy of the text in Hebrew misses out on many important messages.

Today, we can understand this more easily if we compare it to computer coding. When we see words on a page, thousands of lines of code are unseen and beneath the surface. The “code” in the Bible is the Oral Transmission, what we call ancient Jewish wisdom. Not only does this make Torah study the work of a lifetime, it will always be an unfinished work for any one human being. There is always another layer to uncover.  Many of these layers only reveal themselves according to the depth of understanding and level of wisdom of the reader.  Our books, audio CDs and DVDs are our attempt to give, at least, a glimpse into the richness of Scripture.

We hope this explains somewhat why translators and editors have reasons for what they write and how they format.  We need to be both aware of the limitations of translations and wary of their occasional agendas.

Perpetual students,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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Faith, Fertility and Fear

December 12th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 9 comments

Almost everyone notices that religious couples tend to have more children then secular couples.  Among American Jews the trend is pronounced.  American Jews fall into two categories, religious and secular.  I define religious as those who believe that God gave His message to mankind through Moses on Mount Sinai about 3,300 years ago and who regard that message, the Torah, as the constitution of Judaism.  Only about 20% of Jewish Americans are religious.  In the United States, where the national average is 1.8 births per woman, secular Jewish women average about 1.6 births per woman. The figure for religious Jewish women is just over 4.8.  During our family excursions, Susan and I were always amused when strangers, noting our seven children, would nod knowingly and, leaning in conspiratorially, whisper to us, “Catholic, right?” 

It was not hard to discover that many doctoral dissertations in many universities have been written attempting to explain the correlation between religiosity and large families.  They range from fatuous to foolish and from pedantic to perplexing.   They assume religious couples know no better or are backwards and unable to accept modern science.  Almost without exception, they ignore the positive effects of religion on family formation. I would like to suggest three benefits.

We are more comfortable exercising authority over our children.  Susan and I do not run a democratic household; we eagerly solicit everyone’s views and preferences but the final decision is ours.  The reason is because the fifth commandment, “Honor your father and your mother…” (Exodus 20:12) appears in the first tablet of the Ten Commandments, which detail man’s obligations toward God.  Commandments six through ten detail obligations humans have towards one another.  One might assume that honoring parents should fall into the second set since it addresses the obligations that one set of humans (children) has towards another set of humans (parents).  But no; its position in the first five indicates that it is not our parents demanding honor, but God insisting that we deliver such honor to our parents. 

When I insist that our children respect Susan or when she demands that they honor me, neither of us does so with any diffidence.  We confidently assert God’s wishes, not our own.  We are not acting like tinhorn dictators but like responsible parents carrying out our Creator’s wishes.  Based on what I have read in popular child rearing articles and books, secular people tend to grapple with the question of by what right do they exercise authority over their children.  If you feel uneasy about this question, having a child can be quite frightening. 

Second, it is also frightening to feel powerless over the direction of our children’s development.  We know that it is our obligation to initiate guidance for our children rather than merely reacting to their foibles.  It goes without saying that, “If your child asks you tomorrow, saying…” (Deuteronomy 6:20), you are obliged to provide the answer.  But how about if your child doesn’t ask you?  Then, “You shall tell your child…” (Exodus 13:8) 

However, if you don’t feel comfortable directing your family’s trajectory, you will feel out of control and fearful of how your children will turn out.  Obviously there are no guarantees when it comes to one’s children but parents who comfortably and confidently shape their children’s development are far more likely to succeed than parents who allow their children to shape their own destiny out of misguided obeisance to trendy ideas of child autonomy.  One of King David’s most disastrous children was his fourth son, Adoniyah.  About him Scripture records, “All his days, his father had never saddened him by saying, ‘Why did you do this?’”  (I Kings I:6) Leaving aside the question of how David failed in his duty as a father, we know that religious parents do not mind ‘saddening’ their children by asking, “Why did you do this?”  Thus religious couples tend to feel less trepidation about their children because they feel confident about actively teaching them and they have a pretty good idea of what to teach them.

Finally, religious parents tend to feel more confident about gender specific education which generally works better than imposing contemporary fads upon little kids.  Teach the boys one way and the girls another way just as God told Moses to teach the Israelites.

“…and God called to [Moses] from the mountain saying, ‘thus you shall say (AMaR)  to the house of Jacob and [thus shall you] speak (TaGiD) to the sons of Israel.’”
(Exodus 19:3)

Ancient Jewish wisdom assures us that this is no mere poetic repetition.  ‘House of Jacob’ refers to women, while ‘sons of Israel’ refers to men.  What is more, the Hebrew word AMaR, is a more gentle word for speaking than TaGiD, which specifies speaking  in a very firm way. 

The identical usage of AMaR (gentle) and TaGiD (firm) is found again here:

Ask your father and he will firmly speak(TaGiD),
[ask your] grandparents and they will say (AMaR) to you.
(Deuteronomy 32:7)

Everyone knows that one gets far more gentle treatment from one’s grandparents than from one’s father.

Being more gentle in how we instruct our daughters and firmer with our sons doesn’t come easily to the secular parent swayed by current notions of gender fluidity and other destructive ideas about boys and girls.  Again, the advantage is to the religious parent who, with good reason, embarks upon the entire child-rearing enterprise with ever so much more confidence that the secular man or woman.  It is truly no wonder that religious couples tend to bring more babies into the world with confidence and joy.

Of all the holydays in the Jewish calendar, the most popular with the under twelve set is Chanukah.  (I am not saying that this has nothing to do with eight days of presents.)  Particularly for young children but also appealing to their parents is a our book Aleph Bet: A Fun, Rhyming Introduction to the Hebrew Alphabet. It makes a great gift.  And strictly for adults, is our audio CD program Festival of Lights: Transform Your 24/7 Existence into a 25/8 Life.  It is filled with sophisticated insights into Chanukah that can guide you in relating to time, technology, beauty and even Tesla. Catch both these resources on sale now.

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A Time for Cynicism and a Time for Wonder?

December 7th, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 28 comments

One can be too cynical. Obviously, one can also be too trusting. Sometimes people do the right thing, not because it is right, but as a strategic move on their life chess board. Perhaps, they are doing this right thing for ignoble or self-promotional reasons rather than as a brave and idealistic stand.  Nevertheless, right is right and whenever right is done regardless of the motivation, it is good and worth celebrating.  Needless to say, it is even more praiseworthy when done as an act of courage and nobility.

Several very right things have been done recently. For the moment, I want  to accept them at face value and pray that no matter the back story, they yield blessing.

New York Democrat, Rep. Kathleen Rice, walked out of a Democrat caucus meeting telling reporters, “I don’t have time for meetings that aren’t real.” By articulating that, she was actually announcing that, “The Emperor has no clothes.”  She condemned the way that Congress winks at the sexual harassment of its own members. She ripped off a mask that will be difficult to don again. She deserves our thanks.

President Donald Trump acted upon a campaign promise and acknowledged the truth, that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.  Politicians and presidents on both sides for decades have been promising to do the same thing knowing that their words were meaningless.  President Trump set a new standard for politicians sticking to their words. He deserves our thanks. 

Seventy-six years ago today, at Pearl Harbor, thousands of American men were called upon to pay the ultimate price for loyalty to a country they pledged to protect. Most of them were young. While most were good and decent human beings, it doesn’t actually matter if some of them were dishonorable scoundrels. It doesn’t matter if President Roosevelt knew what was about to happen or didn’t. What happened was greater than the troops’ individual lives and cemented them in history as American heroes. They deserve our thanks.

Could America actually be moving in a direction that will clean up the political Augean stables and usher in a new period of American greatness? If enough citizens reclaim our willingness to be discerning rather than swallowing whatever stories are temptingly placed in our paths, if we renew our commitment to study and understand the foundations of this country, and if we demand a higher level of integrity from those in office, it is possible that real change can come. For today, I’m opting for idealism over cynicism.

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Character, Not Chromosomes, Is the Culprit

December 6th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 16 comments

Like English cuisine, French fortitude, and Italian military, the term toxic masculinity is an oxymoron.  If it is toxic, it’s not masculine and if it’s masculine it isn’t toxic.  Okay, I was joking about those old national slurs (I apologize, you social Stalinists, yes, I know it wasn’t funny!) But think of the phrase ‘cowering courage’.  Again, if you cower you’re not courageous, and if you’re courageous you don’t cower.  If you’re masculine, you’re not toxic; no, you’re a colossal asset to your family, your community, and your country.

As the brave feminist professor, Camille Paglia, put it in her 1990 book, Sexual Personae, “If civilization had been left in female hands, we would still be living in grass huts.”  Her point: most of the dangerous and grueling jobs that make our comfortable lives possible are done by men.  Yet we’ve heard this mendacious phrase ‘toxic masculinity’ repeatedly uttered by hysterical pundits of both genders in the context of horribly behaved men in entertainment, politics and news media.  They usually intend more than a wisp of a suggestion that all men manifest ‘toxic masculinity’. 

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Burial and Second Marriages

December 6th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 15 comments

Burial question: My wife died after 30 years of marriage. We raised 2 children and have a large extended family. At the time I bought a double plot (vertical) for her and myself, and next to that, a double for her parents. Her Mom is next to her now. After 5 years I remarried. My new wife would like to square away our burial needs. I’m sure the kids would like me near their Mother and Grandparents, but that’s rather awkward for my new wife and her family. Do you have any advice?

Dear Mark,

God puts us all on this planet in an imperfect state.  It would be fairy-tale-awesome if every man and woman lived in a long enduring and happy marriage and both return to their Creator at the same time.  However, that is not how the world REALLY works!  You know this, and you’ve heard all the platitudes about how sensitive this situation is and how everyone involved should try to be understanding, and that there’s no easy solution, and so on.  Let’s deal with reality.

First, we want to express our delight that you seem to have found happiness again after a long marriage.  Many widowers don’t get this second shot, so accept our congratulations along with the wish that your second marriage brings you joy.

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Your taxpayer money

December 1st, 2017 Posted by On Our Mind 2 comments

Speaker Ryan and prominent GOP leaders held a press conference Wednesday addressing the issue of sexual harassment and announcing an upcoming vote on a resolution that requires mandatory training for members, staff, and interns on appropriate and inappropriate behavior.

Right. They’re going to use taxpayer money to tell members of Congress not to walk around naked in front of their staff. Obviously the people who take our money and spend it and who who tell us how to live our lives are too dim to figure that out for themselves. How about just emptying the Augean stable instead and starting over? 

Modern Games

November 29th, 2017 Posted by On Our Mind 3 comments

When you were younger, did you ever do those pages in Highlights magazine that featured “Spot the difference”? You were presented with two strikingly similar drawings and had to look for subtle changes between the two. Perhaps the flower in one drawing had four petals while the one in the other drawing had five.

Every once in a while I play a variation on that game. I pull up both CNN and Fox news on my computer and try to, “Spot the similarities.” It is striking how frequently I need to search before finding any story that both outlets are covering, let alone reporting the same facts.

Maybe it’s time to drop both CNN and FOX and go back to Highlights. It certainly would be more uplifting.

If I Lived in Alabama

November 29th, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 66 comments

Go to jail. Do not pass Go; do not collect $200. If you grew up playing Monopoly, as I did, those words sound familiar. How about these words? You have scads of Get Out of Jail cards; pass Go whenever you want; and feel free to collect however much money as you can.

In a nutshell, the first set of rules applies to most of us while the second set applies to our elected officials. The sexual harassment spotlight is obscuring that fact.

I’m getting tired of reading that sexual harassment is a product of our patriarchal society or hearing politicians and pundits (especially females) paraphrasing the famous line spoken by Captain Renault in the movie Casablanca by pretending that they are, “Shocked, shocked to find that despicable behavior is going on here,” in the higher echelons of Hollywood, newsrooms and Congress.

Can we get real? People treating other people badly has existed since the Garden of Eden when Adam tried to evade responsibility for his sin by blaming it on Eve. Turn the page and Cain kills Abel. Keep turning pages and you will find examples of all sorts of human failings. If you aren’t drawn to the Bible, look at history and literature.

As Lord Acton famously said in 1887, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” We have granted, and allowed our politicians to grab, way too much power. Certainly many, and very likely the majority, of  the anointed men and women have strayed far from public service and probity. In many ways the system is now designed to encourage them to do so. Sexual misconduct is one example of bad behavior, but focusing only on that is the equivalent of treating a high fever with aspirin. You may reduce or obscure one symptom of a serious problem, but you haven’t eliminated the underlying ailment.

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