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Ask Shifra

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

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Monday, February 27, 2006

Questions I've been avoiding - Part One

I've not been posting a lot of "Ask Shifra" questions lately.
I've got a few good reasons:

1) I've been busy and blogging less overall
2) Many of the questions I've been receiving and answering have been handled privately via email at the request of the questioner.
3) The questions sent to me are either too broad, too personal, WAY beyond my depth or offensive.

Still I must press on!
This question, posed quite innocently, is both beyond my depth and somewhat offensive but I will do my best with it.

My employer pays me a decent salary to basically do nothing. Is it ethical for me to continue working? Is it ethical to spend my time at work doing something more constructive, for example blogging (or learning)? My employer is not Jewish.


Before I answer this question I have to speak my mind about the last bit of this question.
While halacha may disagree with me, to my mind who you are working for makes NO difference with regard to the general ethics. While the readership of this blog is primarily Jewish I'm pretty sure there are a few non-Jews who stick with me despite the language barrier and frankly that kind of talk embarrasses me. If you are a moral person you will treat everyone with the same respect and ethics regardless of their religion or ethnicity. If you believe that you are among the chosen people then why not be a light to the nations rather than try to screw everyone who doesn't belong to your tribe.

Ok that was kind of a tirade, and hopefully an undeserved one but that sort of this really gets under my skin and I felt it had to be said.

OK anonymous if you don't hate me by now lets get to the rest of your question - and if you do hate me and have navigated away from this blog never to return, perhaps there are others who might be in a similar situation.

I've written some posts in the past about slacking and blogging at work in the past but your situation is a little different since you don't seem to have any actual work to do!
I suppose it depends why you have no work:

I know there are some people who practically make a career out of avoiding work, like Wally in the comic strip "Dilbert." These Wallys avoid work by passing it off onto other people and that I would say is unethical because you are being paid for work you are shirking.

If things are just "slow" around the office (or wherever it is you work) and your employer is keeping you around in the hopes that things pick up then I suppose you might as well make good use of your time - blogging, learning, reading, and perhaps sending your resume around because this situation never lasts very long - things will either pick up or it will be layoff time before you know it.

Another possibility is that you have a specific talent or skill which makes it work keeping you around for only occasional use. If that's true LUCKY YOU! As long as you do your work when you are asked to do it then why not enjoy your free time. They are lucky that you grace the office with your presence at all.

To sum up: As long as your boss knows what you are up to (ie nothing) and is OK with it I can't see any reason not to use your time as you please as long as it doesn't hurt your employer or cost them money (like running a side business stealing office supplies and selling them out of your car in the parking lot for example.)

I don't think you are required to ADVERTISE that you are doing nothing but as long as you do whatever your boss asks of you and don't try to pretend you are working on things that you aren't you might as well enjoy your days... Situations like this rarely last long.

The Modern and the Orthodox - Episode Five

Episode Five
Setting: The home of Rabbi Baruch Rosenberg - later the same evening.

Rabbi Rosenberg, stunned by the news of his adoption drove his mini-van home in complete silence. His wife Malky resisted the urge to ask him "what are you thinking" every ten minutes and focused her attention on the kids and the Uncle Moishy CD playing for the 3rd time that evening. Malky knows that her husband does not like to speak when he is upset or angry until he's had a chance to think things out. This is something she finds both incredibly admirable and incredibly frustrating.

When they arrived home Baruch kissed the kids goodnight and disappeared into his office (really just large closet off the playroom/laundry room in the basement) while Malky put the already over-tired, over-stimulated, and over sugared kids to bed.

Attempting to give her husband as much space as possible Malky took her time putting away her mother-in-laws leftovers, playing the messages on the answering machine:
Three calls from Mrs. Rosenberg senior asking if everything was OK,
One call from the shul president about a stopped up toilet in the shul's men's room,
Two calls from congregants with halachic questions they didn't want to leave on the machine, and two hang ups (caller ID showed the number as Rosenberg.)

After showering and changing Malky finally went downstairs to check on Baruch, she knew he needed his space but she needed to know he was OK.

Malky Rosenberg: (knocking on the office door) Baruch... Honey? I'm sorry to disturb you, but I wanted to see you were OK.

No answer

Malky: Baruch? (opens the door)

Baruch is intently focused on the screen of computer.

Malky: BARUCH!

Baruch: (Startled) Oh, hi. Sorry I didn't hear you.

Malky: Sorry to disturb you, I know it's been quite a night. (she sits down in the chair across the desk from her husband)

Baruch: (still looking at the screen) yeah, sorry about walking out... it's just a lot.. too much... I feel like I don't even know who I am anymore... like my whole life was just some strange roll of the dice. I don't know what to think, but now that I know I can't..not know.. you know?
(he smiles faintly.) Is every thing OK upstairs?

Malky: The kids all conked out as soon as their heads hit the pillow. They were tired! Oh and your mother called.... five times...

They both smile.

Well whatever you decide to do I'll support you, I know you'd do the same for me.

Baruch: Well, I've got some research to do first but then I think I may need to do a little traveling.

Malky: Are you coming upstairs?

Baruch: I'll be up soon I've got a few more things to look into first.

They wish each other a good night and Malky heads back upstairs.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

A word from our sponsor

Yes it's true - I get at least as many weird questions in real life as I do as I do online. Today's question comes from my daughters:

Mommy why do you smell so weird?

Answer: Vicks VapoRub.
I've been sick for two weeks now and I'm starting to think that a daily diet of antihistamines, decongestants and analgesics, washed down by a gallon of tea, may not be the best thing for me. Although I'm starting to take a turn for the better I've decided to move on to treatments that do not need to ride through my whole blood stream... So I looked to Vicks to make me feel better.
I have not used this product since I was a kid but I don't think they've changed the formula one bit. In fact it's making me feel a bit nostalgic (if a person can feel nostalgic for feeling sticky, warm, and mentholated.) Mmmmm menthol....

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Fantasy Island

Hi Guys,
I've been getting lots of nice emails and instant messages asking me if I'm OK since I'm not blogging or commenting much. Honestly I'm not doing so well. My brother is back in the hospital, I'm overwhelmed at work, there has been a lot trauma (deaths in the family and illnesses) in my neighborhood and I'm sick as a dog (arf!)

I'm not much in the mood to complain or even talk about my problems so instead let me take you on a tour of my own personal fantasy island, which unlike the show of the same name, is not creepy at all and does not star Richardo Montelban.

My island is small and uninhabited except for a few indigenous animals, lizards and birds of the small, cute, and harmless variety It is slightly below the equator and is a pleasant temperature between 75-85 degrees year round (slightly colder at night) - raining infrequently as needed to keep the lush flora green and flowering and the tropical fruit trees fruitful. There would of course be fresh water available as well.

Since I would not be shipwrecked but rather intentionally visiting this island I would be well stocked with the things I would need. I'd try to keep it simple. Food, clothing, first aid supplies, sunscreen (I'm very pale) a guitar, paper and pencils, books, a knife, rope, fishing gear, some sort of collapsible shelter, a signaling device to let my helicopter pilot know I'd like to come home, and of course I can't forget my towel!

Since this is an island of complete fantasy it would not be subject to the laws of time. I could be there for a day or a week and no one would miss me. Just like in Narnia all the time I'd spend on my Island would correspond to very little time in the real world - leaving me with no messes to clean up upon my reentry to my regularly scheduled life (or at least no bigger ones than I left behind.) I could completely relax, free from responsibilities, guilt, and pressure. Just me, the sun, the sound of the ocean and an occasion pineapple.

If only.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Where I've been (or how to get vomit off your sneakers)

Yes, I know I've been quiet lately. One of the pleasures of being an "occasional" blogger is that when life gets busy I don't feel the pressure to blog. Well OK I do, but not the way the "daily" bloggers do.

Still even for me I've been pretty silent so please allow me to catch you up.

Work- Work has been pretty crazy we had a re-org at work and I now report to a new manager. Although she is quite nice since we started working together I can't seem to do anything right! It's not her fault it's just been a lot of weird coincidences - database glitches, mickey mouse mistakes, budget problems, and added volume but it all adds up to crappy first impression.

Family- My youngest AKA "Chavi Kaufman" has been sick. She had strep two weeks ago and is now suffering from a relapse. In my expert medical opinion this was caused by her hiding of her chewable antibiotic tablets under the couch cushions for several days until I got wise to her.
Now she's on liquid medicine after a second thoat culture yesterday morning. She really hates those, they make her gag. After a quick swab of her throat yesterday she promptly puked all over my shoes (pictured above) I'm pleased to report that A) Converse hightops are machine washable and B) Chavi is feeling MUCH better today.

My brother is back in the hospital today for some minor repair work on one of his incision sites... He's getting better but it's been a long haul. If you wanted to put in a good word with the Man Upstairs I certainly wouldn't mind.

My in-laws came for the weekend and no one yelled or cried. I try to set the bar low, and happily my expectations were exceeded.

Blogging- I see that people are still commenting on my "head covering post" with some very diverse and interesting stuff. I hope to do another segment on that topic in the future. I love the way people are comming at this topic from all sides, it's very eye opening (at least for me.)

I hope all of you are doing well, and hopefully you'll see more of my when I dig myself out from my database problems and mountains of laundry.


Sunday, February 12, 2006

Chavi Kaufman - on Valentines Day

Today I went for a walk with my daughter Chavi Kaufman (not her real name.)
When we passed by a house with some pretty serious V-Day decorations she looked quite impressed.
"Very Creative" she said.
"I know about Valentines Day." she continued "That's when Jesus shoots Christians in the butt with an arrow and makes them fall in love."

It was hard to know where to start on that one...
We've got it all squared away now though... and we don't say "butt."

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Kesui Rosh (head covering) and Kurt Vonnegut

Emunah Threat Level Medium

I get a lot of mild to moderate headaches (I’d say daily) particularly between the hours of 7AM and 6PM Monday through Friday. As much as I’d like to blame the speakerphone abusers around my office I don’t really think it’s their fault. I think it’s my hat/sheitel/scarf that’s doing it. Having something tight (or loose for that matter) around your head for more than a few hours can be quite uncomfortable. I’m a very animated person by nature and the strain caused by limiting the movement of my head and neck to keep my hat/headwear on straight (often without realizing it) can cause headaches as well.

I know that I’m not the only woman who feels that way – C.B. (who you may remember from my carpool stories) complains of a “sheitel headache” nearly every time we drive home together. My mother-in-law does not cover her hair unless she is in Shul. My sister-in-law told me that she asked her about it (something I would NEVER dare to ask, but my SIL is gutsy) and heard this story:
When my MIL was first married she started covering her hair but after suffering from daily headaches she asked a Rav (no, I don’t know which one but I have a sneaking suspicion his initials are Y.B.S.) who told her that she could give it up. I had never heard a story like that before and I can’t imagine that this psak is standard issue.

All this “enforced suffering” reminded me of a gripping short story by Kurt Vonnegut which many of you may be familiar with, called “Harrison Bergeron.”
It’s a futuristic tale of extreme equality. In this dystopia, above average citizens are handicapped mentally or physically to render them exactly equal to everyone else. Oh just read the story.
It’s short.
Sad, but short.

Anyway, it got me thinking. While I understand many aspects of religious modesty hair covering has me baffled. A woman’s hair may be attractive but it is no more attractive than a woman’s eyes, or her smile especially in a society in which head-covering is not the norm. In fact, when a woman’s hair is covered by a gorgeous custom sheitel she may look sexier than ever! Is the forcing of women to covering their hair just another way of keeping women suppressed and limited from achieving their potential?
If you can’t think straight you can’t very well rebel and overthrow the world of men can you?

Imagine what I’d be today if not for my years of head-covered suffering! If I could be headache free I imagine I’d be more productive and patient. So is kesui rosh just man or God’s way of handicapping women? Or should I just turn my headphones down to a reasonable volume and kick my caffeine addiction and see if things improve?

Tuesday, February 07, 2006


I dislike being stuck in traffic but for me the lamest reason of all to be stuck in a non-moving car full of chit-chatting freeloaders...ooops, I mean carpoolers is VOLUME.

When I get stuck in traffic I want to see some action when I get to the end of it.
I don't mean (God forbid) that I'd like to see an accident or any injuries... but I'd like SOME explanation other than just a lot of CARS on the ROAD. I mean it's a HIGHWAY there are supposed to be a lot of cars on the road, that's why it was built right?
So when I get to the end of a hour long bumper to bumper yawn-fest I want to see some live chickens running about or some watermelon rolling all over the place, or maybe even a puddle the size of a small lake... Something to talk about when I show up late to the office. Volume is just not doing it for me.

PS: More Ask Shifra questions and Part five of the Modern and the Orthodox coming soon... Work has been keeping me busy and speakerphoneman makes it hard to concentrate.