Saturday, September 20, 2008

Was Rashi a Fool?????!!!!!!!!!

Early in my makeover process, before I fully verbalized my doubts to my family, I was having a conversation with my brother, and he said something that knocked me clear off my feet. I was just hinting at my inquiries, and he asked me "was Rashi a fool?" He wasn't screaming, he wasn't angry, he was just asking me in genuine interest, if I thought all the brilliant Rabonim that we look up to, of the past three thousand years were wrong. But to me it was a roundhouse kick to the jaw, I was speechless!

For days all I could think about were those words, they reverberated in my head over and over again, "was Rashi a fool?" Maybe I was wrong after all, how could I be smarter than the Rishonim?! It wasn't a revolutionary concept, but the simplicity and starkness of the the question, made it seem like a huge hurdle.

I came to understand though, that the fact that Rashi and everybody else we see as giants, believed in what we now know to be superstition and fairy-tales, doesn't diminish their greatness. If a huge number of Americans, in the 21st century (!) can believe in the impending Rapture, how can we judge people hundreds and thousands of years ago for believing what they did. Science? Science Shmience! If the Pope can go to Africa and declare that condoms don't lower the chances of spreading AIDS/HIV, how can we not forgive people in the Bronze Age, for thinking thunder and lightening was a pissed-off, old man in the heavens.

But that begs the real question, the Pope or for that matter any thinking religious person, should see right through the hog-wash, is it all a huge conspiracy, or just willful ignorance.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

My love Affair with Jewish Music

Some roll their eyes, a few are curious, and my wife laughs, but I can't seem to shake Jewish music. I love music, and I have about 150 gigabytes of it on my computer - two thirds of which are Jewish. And when I say Jewish music, I don't mean Neil Sedaka, or even Carlebach, I'm talkin' Lipa Schmeltzer, Avraham Freid, and Mordechai Ben David.

Don't get me wrong, I listen all kinds of music - everything from Opera to Eminem, but nothing does it for me like a zaftige new album from say - Shwekey, or Lev Tahor. I was excited to get Rihanna's new single, but The 8th Note made me rejoice, and while I love a good Michael Buble Shtickle, he could never satisfy me the way Ohad, or Baruch Levine can.

"How could you listen to that?" My wife asks me all the time, and I really don't have a good answer, I vehemently disagree with most of what is said in these songs, and often find myself laughing at what I'm saying when I sing along with them, yet I persist. As I type now, I'm listening to Yeedle's new album, (it's not bad).

It's gotten to the point where I don't even hide it anymore, and I've had to explain what the hell it is that I'm listening to-to more than one Lieutenant Colonel, (don't ask). I've even gotten a buddy of mine - who's Mexican and has never met a Chassidic Jew - hooked on The Yeshiva Boys Choir! At the gym in the morning, there's only so far you can go with the Rocky theme, but give me J-Walking, and I'm good for hours, and there's really nothing like pumping iron to The Chevra.

I listen to hours of podcasts weekly, but the one I look forward to most is The Sameach Music Podcast, and one of the web-sights I frequent most is The Jewish Music Review. I was highly disappointed - yet not surprised - when The Big Event was canceled, although I wouldn't have been able to attend, I was looking forward to the videos.

In other words I'm obsessed with Jewish music.

I do realize that if I where to have a conversation with any one of these Jewish music stars, I would be annoyed to no end by them, in fact I have met several of them, and I wouldn't want to associate myself willingly with them, but somehow when they put their words to a tune I can't get enough of it.

Growing up in the Chassidishe community, music was the only thing I whole heartedly embraced, while I didn't quite feel comfortable with many aspects of my upbringing, music always made me happy. And what a fan I was, I would go to every live show I could, memorized every detail about every Jewish music star, and built a huge CD collection. But I never paid much attention to what was being said, although I knew and understood all the lyrics, and I feel the same way now. For that reason, I can listen to Christian rock, The Gipsy Kings, or sappy love songs, and enjoy them, as long as the melody is nice, the musicianship is good, I can dig it.

Sometimes my wife will say things like "are you sure you don't agree with what their saying?" While she and I both know better, I still wonder - what is it that has me so hooked? Is it just that I grew up listening to this kind of music, or is there more to it?

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Intelligent design? Not so intelligent.

I hate the words "intelligent design"- it's a lie, and an affront to all things scientific and/or intelligent. How much intelligence could be in the design of cancer, toothaches, headaches, or organs like the appendix and tonsils that only get infections and cause grief. What about the notoriously fragile human spine, or the pelvis that makes it harder, and more painful for humans to give birth than any other species. And what possible reason could there be for halitosis, acne or flatulence? Tailbones, male nipples, I could go on...

Intelligent Design can't answer any of these questions, evolution and natural selection does.

Creationists are at best ignorant, otherwise they are lying scum of the earth

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Of convert's and BT's

I always wondered what it is that Ba'alei Teshuvah (BT's) see, that I don't see. What do all those people cutting their pony tails off, and putting on Kipa's for Amnon Yitzchak hear that was so convincing? I'd listen to hours and hours of tapes, read books, and talk to countless people, but all I got was fluff, I remember thinking - "he wouldn't get me with that".

My favorite example is when I asked a close relative who became a BT at 18, what was it that made him leave his home and change his entire life, seemingly giving up a promising future, his answer was - "I watched The Fiddler on the Roof". That's it?! I was shocked! Here's a smart guy, who could have gone to college, and gone on to be anything he wanted. Instead he went to Yeshiva, got married, and became one of the many shlubs just barely making a living, and looking like they just immigrated from 1800's Europe, and all that because he watched a corny movie? (my retort to that was "I watched Big Love, and it didn't make me want to become a Mormon")

Another person I know, was on his way to becoming a Catholic priest, and (the story goes) the night before he was to graduate from seminary and be confirmed as a priest, he climbed out the window, ran to a Yeshiva and never looked back.

I have a little theory going, and I've recently discovered some others agreeing with it. I think the big Ba'al Teshuvah movement (makes me think of "bowel movement", but that's just cruel) of the sixty's and seventy's, was fueled by drugs and the counter culture of the time. People ran off to Ohr Someach in Jerusalem, for the same reason others ran to Ashrams in India, or hippie communes in San Fransisco. It was more about (the illusion of) the Shabbos table, or the tight-nit community, than a "seeing of the light", or a serious debate about belief.

Before they know it, it's thirty years later and they have a family, an entire life built, and whether they still feel the way they did years earlier or not, their stuck. Now they have to justify their actions to themselves and to others, so they bash the "outside world", mock science and lie to themselves. I'm sure some of them are sincere and believe in what they're doing, they've taken the bait hook, line and sinker, but many of them know better, they just don't see a way out.

There have been instances of BT's going back to their old lives, even with entire families, but those stories are and few in between, Why? Because as I can attest, it's not easy to uproot your family and make a huge life altering change like that, especially when the kids are old enough to understand what's going on.

Speaking of BT's, I would like to add my own take on Chabad and their Kiruv work. I have no problem with Mitzvah Tanks, or Tefillin Stations, but in my [humble] opinion, where Chabad went wrong was, first of all they went Rebbe-crazy. Everything is about the Rebbe, the Rebbe this, the Rebbe that, it's all about the Rebbe instead of about God and Judaism, in fact they worship him so much it's hard to distinguish between Meshichistim and Christians.

Secondly, instead of bringing their new recruits up to their level, they lowered their own standards in order to better suit the modern society they are trying to reach out to. The result was, instead of Lubavitch becoming a huge Chassidik group on par with Satmar, or Gur, they separated themselves from the mainstream Chassidim and became their own quasi religion. I've said this before to Lubabs and they get very defensive, but it's true, their standards, in Tznius for example, are not even in the same league as those of mainstream Chassidism. Much like Democrats, who strive to make everybody equally poor - unlike Republicans who want to make every body equally rich - (neither are unsuccessful), they've lowered themselves to the level of the people they were supposed to be raising up. But enough about that.

That's my theory, what do you think?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

You're a non-believer too, you just don't know it.

For some reason people look at "Atheist" as a dirty word, as if being an atheist makes you mean or angry. Personally I think it is often misused, it's almost implied that if your an atheist, you want to forcibly convert all religious people of the world to your way of thinking.

But in reality we are all non-believers, ever heard of Zeus? Or Xenu? How about Apollo? Bet you don't pray to them, do you? Well guess what, millions of people either did or do. Many Christians despise atheists yet they don't believe in Mohammad, Jews don't hesitate to disregard Jesus - but still call themselves believers. So what makes atheists so different - we just believe in one less God than everyone else.

Believe it or not, all modern religions are just ancient ideas that have been rehashed. There's nothing original in any of them, even in Judaism which is the father of "The Big Three". Religion - like human beings - has evolved over thousands of years, into what we see today, every generation wholeheartedly accepting what the one before taught them, without rethinking what they'd been told. Imagine applying that same rule to astronomy, or medicine - what was thought to be true only a few hundred years ago is now laughable, but I digress.

When I started exploring the world of knowledge, outside of what I was raised with, one of the big questions to me was, how could there be so many people out there that are just as certain as I am in my beliefs? I'm a pretty cynical guy, but I don't think the Pope is consciously trying to deceive anybody, I'm sure he believes every word he says. As terribly misguided as I think the Tusher Rebbe is (just an example), I still think he means well, and is sincere in his convictions. If these guys are so certain that they are correct, how could I be so sure of myself? I understand the arguments for and against belief, but one belief against the other is just two straw men - it doesn't work.

It was kind of a big mental hurdle to get over, but it force me to think. If every religion says that theirs is the right way, and the others are 100% wrong, than whom do you go with? Don't they all cancel each other out? Is it purely by chance - I was born to Jewish parents so I'm Jewish, but I could have easily been born to anyone else and raised to believe in something else entirely?I asked my dad that question, and he had an angry and expletive-filled answer for it, but that's a story for another time.

The bottom line is we're all non-believers, we just pick and choose what not to believe in, I personally have chosen to throw God out along with The Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, and The Boogy Man.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Memories of July 4ths Gone By

The fourth of July meant very little to us growing up, all we knew was that the goyim were going to put on a fire-works show, so let's go to RCC and watch it.

The first 4th of July I ever spent away from that, was during boot camp in Fort Leonard Wood misery, I mean Missouri. Our Drill Sergeants would have loved to have made it a miserable holiday, but Army policy says they have to give us the day off. I was only a few weeks into training, but it was a welcome day of rest. The first few weeks of basic training are generally the toughest.

We were marched over to a parade field where there was an Army band playing some of the worst music I've ever heard, but I didn't care - to me it sounded beautiful. Before we were let loose, we were told in no uncertain terms, that if we did anything stupid, especially anything that would embarrass our Drills- that day would end very badly. (My First Sergeant made me reconsider my belief that there is no devil)

So after that happy thought, we were released into the field to drink soda, eat candy and junk food, all things we hadn't been able to do for weeks now. The most exciting thing to me was walking normally again instead of marching, which is how we got anywhere during training, it was such a relief not to have to stay in step with an entire formation of people.

Like the rest of basic training, it was extremely surreal, and alas it was over too soon. But it was the first time I felt happy and proud to be doing what I was doing. I always loved my country and secretly dreamed of joining the Army, but I felt like an outsider and never expected my dream to come true, and here I was actually living it out.

It will definitely stay with me forever.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Random Rant

Religion - at it's best- is an answer to a question, that's already been answered. It has outlived it's usefulness, it no longer serves any purpose, it does more harm than good. Statistically the less Religious a society is, the more successful, advanced, and developed it tends to be, not to even mention all the violence and killing in God's name. Science has filled in the void that Religion used to, and does a better job at it! The more we learn about the universe, the more we see how wrong Religion is, the vast majority of scientists, doctors, physicists etc. are atheists.

Religion was born out of pure ignorance, and has evolved into a monster, it's costed thousands of years of wasted focus, eight-year olds today know more about nature, the universe, and science than the biggest scholars knew just a few hundred years ago. Just imagine if all the effort that went into writing books over the last few thousand years bisecting and dissecting every aspect of religious belief, was instead spent on understanding our beautiful universe, how different would our world be today?

The Bible is packed with inaccuracies, contradictions, inconsistencies, and fallacies, not to mention racism, homophobia, sexism, and violence. As an historical document, it doesn't match any other records, nor is there any evidence to back up it's claims. Today we pick and choose what we want to take literally and what not, and we explain away anything that doesn't fit our agenda.

It wasn't that long ago that Religion was the only way to explain all the things that science does so wonderfully today, yet millions of people still stubbornly cling to Religion, mostly out of sheer ignorance. Ask any five-year old, what do you do when you get a head-ache? You pop an aspirin. Well let's think about this for a minute, aspirin (or any other medicine) was discovered by doctors, and we accept it without doubt, yet when those same doctors tell us that we share between 97-99% of the same DNA with mice we laugh at them (I won't even mention the chimps). At what point do we choose not to believe what the doctors say? When I was a kid and we would to to go to the Museum of Natural History in NY, we would skip the areas covering human evolution, and dinosaurs, and instead go to the astronomy exhibits, and all the other animal galleries, or we would be told something silly like, "all the dinosaurs were killed in the Mabul". We trust the scientists, and biologists when they teach us about birds and fish, so why do we stop trusting them when they are talking about us?

I myself was once a firm believer in God, I would laugh at the notion that we share a common ancestor with modern apes. The earth is 4.5 billion years old? Ha! What a joke. I was ignorant, I had no frame of reference, I had never been to a science class, I had never read a book about evolution or the big bang, yet I mocked them. It's easy to laugh at these notions, if all you know is what you've been taught in Cheider and Yeshiva, but as I started to educate myself they became less and less laughable. It's too easy today to get information, through the web, books, documentaries and so on.

Believe me - once you have an understanding of nature, evolution and the universe, the silly fairy tales we were taught as a kid will seem like the joke they are.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Confessions of a Koifer

I'd like to welcome you into the office for my first session, let me get comfortable on the couch, collect my thoughts, and decide where to begin. Get yourself situated too - after all, I'm not paying you hundreds of dollars an hour to listen to me complain, so I might go on for a while. I'll start with what authors call "the hook", which is supposed to grab the reader so they don't put the book down till it's done, here goes.

I was born a little while ago in the west coast to a newlywed Orthodox Jewish couple. Four years and three more kids later, my parents decided that Washington state wasn't conducive to the ever more strict Orthodox life they where leading. So we moved to a quiet little Jewish culdesac in New Jersey. Jersey brought us two more kids, and an even more rigid lifestyle, but when that proved insufficient, we moved about an hour north, to the second largest Orthodox Jewish community in North America: Rockland County, New York. In the eighteen years that followed my parents had five more kids, (that's a grand total of 11 for those of you keeping track) married off six of us, and joined a group who - ironically - very closely resemble the Taliban - minus the homicidal and/or suicidal tendencies. In the meantime I got married, had a child of my own, was hired and fired from a couple jobs, opened and closed a couple businesses, tried but failed to go to college, moved twice, but in all that time I was a good Frum Jew.

And then all hell broke loose... In the few years since then, I have cut off my beard, cut of my payes, took off my yarmulka, and I am currently enlisted in the U.S. Army. I went from being a ma'amin to a koifer b'ikor, from a true believer to an atheist, from a hard-right conservative to a libertarian, from listening to Lipa Schmeltzer to listening to Linkin Park.

What happened? What changed? Was it an early mid-life crisis? Did I lose My Mind? Was I upset at my Rebbe's for hitting me? Am I doing all this just to piss off my parents? Am I sad inside, and just running away from myself? Maybe I'm just rebelling the way many kids do as young teenagers, and if so why did it take me this long do it? How could I go from sitting in Kollel, and representing the OK, to joining the Army. Rachmunah Litzlan! (All these are questions and suggestions that people have raised about me).

These and other topics is what I hope to sort out here with your help, you'll just have to excuse my grammar, this is a learn as we go operation. (Praise Xenu for spellcheck)

I have discovered that telling my story, is at once very relieving and emotionally draining. In addition to that, it's hard to relate all the details in one sitting, I'm hoping that this setting will help overcome these issues.