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Ask Shifra

Something Different... Answering questions and making curious observations (online) since 2005.

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Friday, September 30, 2005

Drinking the Kool-Aid

Lately I've been seeing a lot of the expression "Drinking the Kool-Aid" on the blogs.

For instance: Aston Kutcher got married in a Kabalah ceremony? He's totally drinking the Kool-Aid. OR Talk about drinking the Kool-Aid! You get your political opinions from Rush Limbaugh!

My parents never let us have Kool-Aid (or the infinitely cooler Hi-C) when I was kid. As a result they both always held a certain coolness or mystique for me and my younger brother.
Can you imagine a third grade with a cheese and alfalfa sprout sandwich on whole wheat bread in 1980? That was me. My mom was totally ahead of the curve.
In retrospect both beverages seem pretty vile and I didn't miss much- Thanks Mom.

This expression, however, really has much less to do with that oversugared nutrisionally void beverage than it does with a certain cultlike way of thinking. A cultivated departure from reality if you will.

...When someone who should know better succumbs to marketing influences and actually begins to believe the propaganda being dished out by a vendor, they are said to have drunk the Kool-Aid. Usually the decortication process is slow and almost unnoticeable until one day the victim emerges as a True Believer and begins spreading the faith himself. The term originates in the suicide of 914 followers of Jim Jones's People's Temple cult in Guyana in 1978. What the Jonestown victims actually drank was cyanide-laced Flavor-Aid, a cheap knockoff, rather than Kool-Aid itself...

Ol' Jim Jones was too cheap to spring for the real thing eh? Oh well, who's gonna complain...
(That was insensitive, I take it back.)

Anyway I had a point - oh yes, here it is:

I find this expression a little odd since once a person gets to the point of "drinking" or "having drunk" said Kool-Aid wouldn't that make them...um.... dead, and therefore no longer a victim of poor reasoning right?
Perhaps "Willing to drink the Kool-Aid" or "About to drink the Kool-Aid" would be more suggestive of someone who has bought fully into a faulty believe system- whereas "Pouring the Kool-Aid" (see the link above) suggests someone serving up said faulty logic. Try keeping that in mind the next time you can't come up with a more witty comeback.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

My Obsession

I'll admit it... I'm a little bit obsessive once I start a project - and my lastest project is building a new sukkah.

"What?" you protest "It's MUCH too early to be building a Sukkah."
Well not for me!
I have Rosh Hashana shopping and cooking to put off until the last minute, two projects due at work, a mountain of clothes to wash and iron, a pile of bills to pay and/or file, and a general disorganised mess all around...
In other words: It's the PERFECT time to build a Sukkah.

Mostly I'm excited because it's something new. For the past few years we've been using an old (third hand) 8'X8' Israeli metal poles and blue/yellow canvas job, with an addition I made of 1.5" PVC pipes and connectors and some plastic tarp. It works (unless there is a strong wind) but it looks like a shelter a homeless person might have cobbled together near the Hudson River (prior to Guilianni's stint as mayor of course- but I digress.) Sufficed to say it's embarressing.

I wanted to buy one of those clever pre-fab jobs but at $600 and up for an 8X10 (sans schach) it was just out of my reach. Luckily a friend of mine suggested the sukkah project out of North Carolina. They send you directions, a list of wood you will need and these clever metal brackets to put it all together. All you need is a power screwdriver! I got my self a 8X12 sukkah kit with canvas, and all the wood I needed for about $150! I'm not quite done building it but it's looking great already.

Check out their link - it's a great sukkah at a great price! Tell 'em Shifra sent you (They don't actually know who I am, but if enough people call maybe they will!)

Skepticism and Coincidences

My oldest (Bas-Shifra) had a rough day in school yesterday. In the morning she got into some kind of fight with another girl (who we'll call "the tattletale" for the sake of convieniance) and the tattletale rammed her desk into Bas-Shifra's desk causing her some injury. Knowing that this girl is quite a tattletale (and also a liar according to Bas-Shifra) she decided to let it go thinking that if they went to the office the tattletale would turn things around and get her into trouble instead (this happened once last year.)

Bas-Shifra continued to stew over the argument and at lunch the tattletale decided to continue bating my daughter. Not one to be able to resist baiting Bas-Shifra raised up her friend's soft sided lunch box as if to hit the tattletale with it (she claims there was no contact, I am unsure on this point, it was a soft lunchbox though, and Bas-Shifra is no George Foreman.)

A big panic insued and the tattletale immediately told the teacher (natch) and the two of them got sent to the office of the Jr. High Disiplinarian. The tattletale got to bring a friend to confirm that Bas-Shifa indeed hit her, and went on and on listing her injuries "I couldn't breathe" said the tattletale "it still hurts when I cough..." Bas-Shifra was not allowed to bring her witness to confirm she did not actually hit the tattletale.
As the tattletale smirked, Bas-Shifra was told that if she ever raised a hand to another child she would be suspended. This is a first major offense (although not much really happend) in all her 6 years at this school, and she was pretty distraught over it. "I didn't even hit her.." she repeated over and over

Moving on to later that evening...
I came downstairs to find Bas-Shifra with her head down on her Chumash.
She was reading the Rashi about Bnei Yisroel crying out to Hashem when their babies were being drowned in the river by the Egyptions. "What kind of a God is this!?" said Bas-Shifra "He knows babies are being killed why did he wait for the Jewish people to cry out to Him, that's sick!" (Bas-Shifra minces no words) After some apologetics, haskafa, commentaries, etc... etc... we moved on to the next Rashi on the list.

Guess which it was?!
The one about the Mitzri (Egyption) being killed by Moshe after merely raising his hand to strike a Jew! I thought that was a crazy coincidence, Bas-Shifra was less impressed.
"Look!" I said "it's just like what happened to you today, and here was are learning this rashi on the very same day!"

"Well, we started the Rashi yesterday..." said Bas-Shifra "Its not that big a deal."

It's not easy raising a skeptic.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Hashkafa Lemaaseh (TM)

Here's a little post I came up with after too much time reading The Godol Hador's blog:

So it’s almost Rosh Hashana but your emunah is waning.
You haven’t been to Shachris in weeks and you hardly remember what a shofar sounds like. Maybe you’ve been hanging out on the J-blog scene late at night...talking to people who have given up on God, left Orthodox Judaism or are suffering from doubts can give a person lot of scary perspective sometimes. Much of it is worth exploring but it’s Elul now and this is no time for a Hashkafic meltdown!

So let me try to bring you back from outer space just a little (and myself too) but without all the philosophy and stuff, just some Haskafa l'Maaseh™.

Let’s assume that you believe in God
(and maybe even spirituality.)

Well, what else do you want?
You want to live a good life, be a good person, raise your children well, and do what God wants you to do.
Why do you want to do that?
Because you acknowledge that G-d is the Supreme Being, and if He created you there must be a purpose for your existence.

That said, how does the current state of Torah / Orthodox Judaism fit in with these goals?

Q Will it give us a good life?
A Yeah I think so, community, Yom Tov, Family, History etc... I'm pretty happy with all that.

Q Will it help us to be good people?
A Oh for sure! As GH has said many times before religion is a serious motivator in the morality department even if it’s not the ONLY way to get there. Even if we are only moral because we hope for rewards or fear punishment – ‘metoch she lo lishma bah lishmah’ etc.

Q Will it help us raise our kids?
A I think so- it sets limits and that's a good thing for kids.
When I took my kids to the grocery store when they were younger, they used to plead with me to buy them cookies, or other junk that was not on the list. When I would say no to them they would continue to whine or fuss until I gave it or threatened to remove them from the store (which I’ve actually done more than once.)
On the other hand when I tell them (honestly) that the cookies are not kosher the argument stops. What do I learn from this? Consistency is very good for children and the OJ lifestyle is very consistent (when it comes to observance of halacha).

Q Will it help us do what God wants?
A Well that's the hardest one to answer - but I have to believe that He doesn't want us trashing this beautiful planet, or killing each other, or being selfish, shallow, bastards... Plus we have this facinating work called the Torah which even our Mis-nagid recognizes as beautiful. So maybe we should take our clues from there. In addition, some of us are lucky enough to feel spirituality (even if it’s not as often as we'd like.) If even just a taste of it here and there draws us to want to be close to Hashem- we'll find a way to make it happen.

Frumkiet and pharmaceuticals

Dear Shifra,
When talking about Niddah, we always say two weeks a month of not touching, but with the ability to use the patch/pill continuously, one can really go months without having a period. Do most orthodox Jews who are on the patch/pill use it for consecutive months to avoid Nidda and mikvah, or do they use it in monthly increments? And if they use it in monthly increments, why?

Two Weeks Every Four Months

Oooh interesting question!
I too have been seeing those commercials for seasonale- the birthcontrol pill that allows a woman to have just four periods a year... and why not?
If it's medically safe why should a non-pregnant woman have to separate from her husband monthly if there is no halachik need for it.

Since birth control seems to be such a private matter (especially in frum circles where it tends to be looked at as a concession at best) I really have no sense of what most people do.
I will admit to having skipped the placebos a few times when I was on the pill. I know many non-Jewish women who have done the same to avoid getting their periods while away on vacation etc...

Maybe we can take an informal survey here if people are willing to be open about it under the cloak of anonymity... Go ahead and post under a fake, fake name if you want to distance yourself from your answer.

Relevance and Halacha

On a recent post on the subject of women's hair covering a reader named "Fish Stix" writes: (Note: I cleaned up the grammar a little to make the writer's point more easily accessible)

"...I believe that women should be able to choose, and in today's society I don't find the need to cover the hair relevant. I do think that when people grow up with a certain belief, they more readily 'think' that uncovering the hair is wrong due to tznuis.

I don't think that the average person (whatever average means) really spends all day thinking about women in "that" kind of way, so that when they uncover their hair they are immediately 'attractive' as if it is some huge difference."

Evaluating laws and customs based on their "relevancy" is hardly a new concept but not one that is endorsed by Orthodox Judaism. If anything it is quite the opposite - OJ never seems to toss anything out!

One could argue that many of the mitzvos we keep today are either generally or personally "irrelevant" and no longer require our observance:

Do I "need" Shabbos to remember that G-d created the world in six days and rested on the seventh?
I could mark it on my shul calendar in red crayon like I do my dental appointments- I don't forget them!

Do I "need" to remove every crumb of chometz from my house for a week to remember that He redeemed us from our enslavement in Egypt?
Perhaps watching the Donny Osmond version of "Joseph and the Techinicolor Dreamcoat" on television every Spring would be enough to jog my memory.

In fact, many laws and customs that were picked up under very specific (and no longer existent) circumstances are still held today despite their obvious "irrelevancy." For example, the observance of a second day of Yom Tov outside of Israel when we know with great precision exactly when each Holiday occurs.

Many commentaries note that the reason that the Torah does not specifically state the rationale behind many mitzvos is so that people will not judge for themselves whether or not it is necessary for them to observe each specific Mitzva. So essentially, if you choose to accept the "yoke of mitzvos" upon yourself you must relinquish the criteria of relevance.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

The New York Times J-Blog Review- Part I

Ok, it's not Sunday, and I don't write for the New York Times but that's no reason I can't do a little blog reviewing of my own.

Think of it as an elaborate blogroll if you will.
Don't fret if I missed you this time, my blogging time is limited especially on a Thursday night (the kugels don't bake themselves you know) - so I'll continue the series as I find the time.
If you want your blog reviewed here let me know- I can't read every blog but I can make up some random stuff and hope for the best.

Here we go!

DovBear is a very popular J-Blogger whos self-titled blog mixes religion, politics, humor and good writing and receives a wealth of comments from Jews (and a couple non-Jews) of diverse backgrounds and experience. While consistantly missed by the mainstream media this hardly below-the-radar blogger is well known for his sharp insights on his own blog and quick witted responses on other J-blogs about town.

Orthomom is my blogging buddy and is really responsible for the birth of this blog. Her keen insights into world and local Jewish news have attracted the attention of bloggers, lurkers, and unscrupulous newsmen alike. Her series on famous Jewish women is definately worth reading and sharing with the young Jewish women in your life.

You've gotta love Mirty.
Her openess, quick wit and absorbing story telling make her blog a pleasure to visit.
I'm very excited about her new on-line book club, which I look forward to joining just as soon as I can get a copy of the book.

The Godol Hador is like a modern day Thoreau (if Thoreau was born and raised in an Orthodox Jewish environment, and went to a cubical to write instead of the woods.) His exploration of what it means to believe, feel, and observe the Torah is a journey upon which his many readers' ideas are welcome and addressed (except maybe those of underage yeshiva boys on break.)

That's all the reviewing I can manage for today, until next time, happy blogging!


Inspired by a conversation on GH, Jameel has a very interesting post up with some beautiful photos of Sukkot and Mezzuzot Shomronim-style!

Note: Sukkot, with fruit for Schach, built inside of one's house, (while quite lovely) do not fulfill the Mitzva of Sukkah.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

The Business of Headcovering

There has been quite a bit of banter among the menfolk here at GH's blog about women's headcoverings.

I find this rather odd since my own husband makes every effort to stay out of my business regarding the level of modesty in dress that I choose to take upon myself.
"I have no opinion, it's your head!" is what he usually says when I ask him about matters of Kesui Rosh. This mode of thinking, however, seems to be unrepresentative of most men based on last night's head covering debate. I suppose it is to be expected - was it not MEN who decided upon these restrictions in the first place (based on the word of God of course....) without so much as consulting a woman?

Perhaps the covering of our heads is not even our OWN business but rather the business of rabbanim and ba'alim?
Now THAT's disturbing.

Speak up women! Give me some hope!
(comments from men are also welcome as long as they are respectful and on topic)

Monday, September 12, 2005

From the Oh PUHLEEZ department

Well everyone's favorite domestic goddess is now unshackeled and she has quite an interesting perspective on the matter. According to this article Martha Stewart says her home confinement was tougher than doing time in federal prison. Apparently the pressure of returning to her mansion on time (after her allotted time out of doors was up) was quite draining on the poor woman.

Well back up the waaaahmbulance. Clearly someone missed the whole point of her supposed punishment. Those criminals without fabulous lawyers to get them off the hook sure have it tough...

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Slap Happy Granny

Dear Shifra,
This weekend my wife's Grandmother slapped her son (my father-in-law). The disagreement started over the grandmother's treatment of my mother-in-law in which my father-in-law intervened in favor of my mother-in-law. The slap came when 'grandmother' and father-in-law sat down to discussion some of the things that have been bothering mother-in-law, and father-in-law caught 'grandmother' in a lie and pointed it out to her.

What is the best way to deal with this situation?

-Son-in-law of a Son-in-law

Dear SIL of a SIL,

There are just a few too many relatives in that little paragraph so let me try and sort this out…

So basically your wife’s mom and dad are having trouble with his mother, who went ahead and slapped him in the heat of an argument?

This is a tough one because it involves an old lady, and I’m inclined to cut old ladies a lot of slack. Still you can’t go around lying and slapping people so it’s a tough call.
My first thought is that you and your wife should probably stay out of it. This is really between your father-in-law and his mother. I don’t know what Granny was like in her younger days but it’s possible that her mind is failing somewhat leaving her feeling agitated (I personally live in fear of what my own mother-in-law will be like as an old woman since she’s such a delight now.)
If Granny has had a bad relationship with her daughter-in-law lo these many years it’s unlikely that there is much anyone can do about it now. I guess the best your father-in-law can do is to let his mother know how he feels about the way she is treating his wife and keep an arm’s length away from her when ever the conversation starts turning into an argument.
Now I’ll turn you over to the readers- any advice?

Tuesday, September 06, 2005


I don’t talk my about love of alternative/indie rock on the J-blogs much (somehow it never seems to come up) but here’s something fun I’d like to share.

I recently came across this much downloaded adorable/hilarious/ironic homemade dance video from the band OK GO.

I don’t know what it is about this little video, the choreography, the outfits, the obvious work that went into it, or the fact that these guys are really not dancers that make it so enjoyable to watch but it’s definitely got something!

If you like the video the band's website has a lot more of their music (better music in my opinion) that you can listen to for free.

Click here to see the video (it’s totally clean and safe to view at work, obviously you’ll see sound to fully appreciate it.)

Saturday, September 03, 2005


Like so many of us I've been thinking about Hurricane Katrina pretty much non-stop for days now. Unlike my feelings over the disengagement in Gaza my feelings on this situation are not at all mixed. It is simply devastating on so many levels.
I thought maybe I'd be able to focus my mind elsewhere over Shabbos but it was not to be.
I heard two speakers talk about the situation (both very good) and said tehillim with two seperate groups (in addition on davening Shachris and Mincha with the victims in mind.)

On a less tragic note, perhaps in tribute to their seafaring brethern on the Gulf Coast, all my tropical fish dropped dead within 24 hours this Friday/Shabbos.

So tonight I need a break- just some kind of distraction for a bit to refocus my thoughts and clear my mind.

And then I found it!
Two words... OK three words... Ok two words and a four digit number:


How did no one tell me that show is back on the air?!

For those of you who don't know it "Doctor Who" is an impossibly long running Sci-Fi television series broadcast by the BBC which has been off the air for a decade at least!
It's great and crazy budget sci-fi with British accents, what's not to like!

How much of a Doctor Who fan was I way back when?
I like to tell people that Doctor Who is the way I knew my husband was the one for me.

My husband and I were on one of our very first dates, in fact we weren't even dating yet- we had gone to a movie as friends. After the film we were both hungry and went to a pizza place for something to eat. My (future) husband was wearing a very nice warm sweater and the pizza shop was boiling hot and crowded. Within minutes my husband was starting to sweat. Finally and with great reservation he pulled off his sweater to reveal a black T-shirt with a huge glow-in-the-dark Doctor Who logo.

This guy's alright with me I thought!
And the rest, is history!

I'm downloading the first episodes now...
I hope I won't be disapointed.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Guest Blog - Back to School!

Once again my daughter, now know to the J-Blog world as "Bas-Shifra," has offered to guest blog for me.

Here's her take on going back to school, enjoy!

Going back to school isn’t fun for anyone (well not for me anyway.)

Here’s why:

1. Because even though the work might be easy, it’s still kind of hard because all of your brain has leaked out of your ear over the summer.

2. You might have a mean teacher. It’s probable. I’ve had lots of mean teachers and I went to the teacher’s lounge once and they had a ton of mean teachers in there... or maybe they were just ugly.

Here are three ways to tell if your teachers are mean or not:
If they give you lots of homework for no reason.
If they are really ugly and they shout at you the first time you meet them- that’s a bad sign.
If they are trying to give you detention for no reason- that’s a bad sign too – plus you’ll have detention.

3. LEARNING! No one wants to learn anything because when you learn things you get tested on them and when you get tested you get graded and when you get graded it isn’t so fun.

Here are a few tips for Middle School:

1. If you have a small locker and a really big book don’t put it in or you won’t be able to open your locker, I did that today. Some people have to learn this the hard way.
2. Don’t talk between periods or you will be late.
3. Take notes during class in case you forget something for a test, or get someone else to do it if you are not paying attention.

Ok that’s all I’ve got I have only been in Middle School for three days. I’m going to need tips too so please send in some!!

See you later alligator!!
-Bas Shifra