29 August 2006

On Sexuality

After reading MCAryeh's incendiary post on homosexuality and orthodoxy, I felt the need to throw in my opinion. I agree with his support of the individuals involved as people. I admire his listening and his care.

However, just looking at the issue in itself...

Where do we find that a person has a god-given right to have sex with who they are attracted to?

For the past nine years, while I have been halachically observant, attracted to women, and unmarried - I haven't had any sexual relationships. This is not for any lack of desire, trust me. That's the way the law goes.

And there's reason to the law. Sexual contact has an enormous power to damage individuals, corrupt societies, and twist the world to fit its animalistic image.

I saw the world it created as I grew up a sexually active teenager in a sexually driven society.

The law aims to contain a volatile force - allow its positive expression, but keep it from finding its full, and damaging, expression.

Is the attraction to people of the same sex natural? Sure. Is a strong sexual attraction normal? I don't think it's terribly rare. Is the expression of that sexual attraction helpful in any way to the individuals involved or society? I strongly doubt it.

I think that for a Torah Jew, the homosexual act is like any other act of conscious breaking with halacha. Generally, it serves immediate desires and does long term damage.

Am I dooming the person who can't bear to think of heterosexual sex to live a sexless life? Uhh, yeah. I've been there. It's liberating.

It's part of the damage that rampant sexuality has done that we think this is a fate worse than death.

20 August 2006

Me' Bookish Lad

Tagged by MCAryeh w/ the book meme that's floating around. (I still haven't made good on the four meme that he tagged me with. Do memes have a shelf life? I hope so.) Throughout, I take 'one' to mean 'one or more.'

1. One book that changed your life?
Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, Gershom Scholem
It's a long story, but in short - 3am inspired by the Chassidei Ashkenaz gave up smoking for good and found the passageway out of rock-bottom.

2. One book you have read more than once?
I haven't read it cover to cover, but I often reference and re-reference
A Treasury of Chassidic Tales, Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin
R. Zevin (who is best known for the still-in-production Encyclopedia Talmudit) put together this collection of Chassidic tales. He wrote that he only included stories for which he had a reputable line of transmission. The included indexes are a priceless help. Every single character that appears in any story has a capsule biography in the back and a complete list of every story he appears in. Great for getting to know somebody. This was originally written in Hebrew, but was blessed with a great translation to English. The indexes are also translated (and if memory serves, the English indexes may be even more informative than the Hebrew.)

3. One book you would want on a desert island?
A Pattern Language, Christopher Alexander, et al.
Christopher Alexander and his gang of cohorts explore patterns of building, from countries to cities to cobblestones to corners. If I'm going to be on a desert island, I might as well start to develop the place, no?

4. One book that made you laugh?
* Nearly every book from Mark Helprin. If you're the type of person who tunes in on his frequency, he's a god-send.
* Nearly every poem from Hafiz - how can any soul not collapse in joy?

5. One book that made you cry?
Errr. Movies can make me cry. Stories. Maybe Songs. I can't remember a book that made me cry.

6. One book you wish had been written?
Thoughts On The Novel I've Been Working On Forever And Have Now Finished - MCAryeh

7. One book you wish had never been written?
We get to a theological knot with this one. I can't wish non-existence on anything that exists without violating my belief in the unity of God.
That being said, as a teenager, I disliked Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry with a passion.
We spent ages with this book in high school. I made all sorts of plans on how to destroy it in creative ways. I don't remember what foul fate my copy met with in the end.
It could be that the book is fine, but just became the embodiment of my visceral teenage dislike of the French language.

8. One book you are currently reading?
* Generation to Generation, Avraham Yehoshua Twerski
* Kaddish, Leon Wieseltier

9. One book you've been meaning to read?
Ok, I'm going to spin this off into the Wish List Meme - Scrape your wish list from Amazon, and post it up. No censoring. My list has some entries on it that have to be at least 5 years old. It's not so much what I want to read as what I have wanted to read in the past (and never read.)

* The History of Love: A Novel, Nicole Krauss
* The Light and Fire of the Baal Shem Tov, Yitzak Buxbaum
* Being the Strong Man a Woman Wants: Timeless Wisdom on Being a Man, Elliott Katz
* Becoming a Writer, Dorothea Brande
* The Systems Bible: The Beginner's Guide to Systems Large and Small, John Gall
* Metamagical Themas: Questing for the Essence of Mind and Pattern, Douglas R. Hofstadter
* Striving Towards Being: The Letters of Thomas Merton and Czeslaw Milosz

So that's that!

I'm turning around and taggin MCAryeh with the wishlist meme, and I'll trust him to make it into the biggesting thing since root beer.
I'd like to see what sort of literary treats Wanderin' Stu serves up as well.

18 August 2006

Radio America

Driving from Westborough to Connecticut scanning the radio constantly - classic rock, country, hollow-pop, rear-view-vibrating-drum-and-bass. Realizing that I don't like most of what's on the radio, and thinking about what sort of music I do like.

I like soul music, and when I say soul, I mean music that comes up out of a place so deep that the player is amazed, at wonder, and full of thanks that he was given the opportunity to be the channel for this God-stuff - music that comes up from the depths, comes down like rain, or rips you open and leaves you breathless, crying.

I like exploration music - wondering what would hey happen if we jammed a little violin over this synth track, beat-box-harmonic, fusion, fantasy, tone-poems.

Fun is also good, time to time, switching up the rhythms, tapping on the lines of connection, breaking the fourth wall, playing with the medium, goin' into a little self-ironic brainspace.

And we can't forget beauty - masterworks, craftsmanship, those echoes of eternity somehow woven into metered measures by angels come in the form of men.

So that's it - it's gotta be real, or beautiful, or groundbreaking, or playful. Otherwise, why should I tune in just to be manipulated, drained, pandered to, or marketed?

Maybe it all comes down to one thing - it's gotta be alive.

13 August 2006

Shaken Loose and Reforming

About two months ago by landlord called me up and let me know that he needed me to leave my apartment. I'm happy to say that from the first moment, thank God, I looked at it as an opportunity.

I had such a great apartment...

that it would have taken a whole lot for me to shake myself out of there; this gave me the nudge that I apparently needed.

A lot of folks have passed through the old place. It had a great location, and a lot of space for people to crash out when they needed to. When I first looked at it, more than 3 years back, the sweet old woman who owns the place told me to go up and see if it 'found grace in my eyes.' It found grace in my eyes.

But there I was, out on the tiles. I started tossing around a couple of ideas. Rent again in the neighborhood? Look into buying a place in Jerusalem? Maybe move out to Bat Ayin. Hey, yeah - maybe move out to Bat Ayin.

I gave Rav Yehoshua a call and we started throwing around ideas of how I could make my way out to Bat Ayin. Turns out there's a rule on the books that says a single person can't live in the community, but the yeshiva has a sort of exemption to that policy. Barring major effort, I'd have to find a place in the Yeshiva. Probably best that way, anyway.

Now the problem is, the normal dorm rooms aren't exactly designed for guys like me who have taken on the roles of amateur scholar, geek, and housewife and come fully loaded with things like ovens, computers, and a whole world full of books. The place I crashed in last year wasn't quite going to do it.

So we started looking at the caravans out there, thinking maybe I could fix one of them up, and move myself and all of my craziness in there.

This one just screams out "potential", no? It did for me.

We lined up a contractor, and I started taking measurements. I have a love for all things design, and I stared having fun.

We got to work.

I was really fixated on a window. The above picture is of the wall that faces the view you see two pictures back. It's one of the best views in the world...but there's no window.

So I got down to business.

Worrying about small panes, low sills, the golden ratio, structural support, opening, air, etc. etc. etc.

I ended up with this window.

And then a big hole in the wall

When it came to the final decisions, worrying about price and timing, I had to scale back the fancy plan, a bit.

Meanwhile I'm packing everything into boxes. The first wave of boxes, everything was well organized, books boxed by theme, clothes by season, etc. By the end of it, I'm packing boxes like these:

Every few days I schelp'd out another carload of boxes and stuck 'em in a room I grabbed for the purpose, all the while scheming how all of this stuff would fit.

We went over schedule a bit, and had to do work during the nine days, the period leading up to Tisha B'Av, when the first and second temples were both destroyed. During this time, we don't generally look for projects to do. Since I was going to be out on the streets, and this was not a superfluous dwelling, we had reason enough to continue. I made sure to leave a spot unpainted...

After about a month's worth of work, the caravan's starting to look good.

And I'm on the move.

We moved the last load from Jerusalem last Monday, and I've been spending the week unpacking and sorting, forming and reforming. Digging the view and the sun and the small group of great folks holding down the fort out here for the summer.

The place is starting to come together.

Right now there are three rooms - living room/kitchen, bedroom, and dumping-ground-for-everything-else-room. I'm hoping to improve on that last one.

I'm really exited about the opportunity to be out here, in God Country, investing and encountering and experiencing and, with God's help, shaking some more assumptions loose to be able to grow beyond the boundaries of my current conceptions.

11 August 2006

Great Titles

The Book of Knowledge
The Book of Love
The Book of Time
The Book of Women
The Book of Holiness
The Book of Vows
The Book of Seeds
The Book of Service
The Book of Encounters
The Book of Purity
The Book of Damage
The Book of Aquiring
The Book of Judgement
The Book of Judges

Great titles, no?

So what do you think these are?

03 August 2006

Seven Alphabets of Why

It's about having a vision of what should be, and mourning that reality falls so far short of the vision. Tisha B'Av is about being in love with Zion and dying that she's still, in some ways, in ruins. It's mourning the people we should be, but aren't.

I went to the funeral, today, of Michael Levin. It was terrible and heart breaking and beautiful and tragic. His unit was there with the paratrooper's red berets, eyes of battle, some in casts, many probably headed back to battle. His family was there in a strange nightmare coming off of the plane to their dead son and men in uniform commending him in a language they couldn't understand. A lot of us came out not because we knew him, but because somehow, on a deeper level, we needed to know him. We were there for him? We were there for ourselves?

A friend of his from kibbutz said that the two of them had been talking a month ago, asking why it is that the good ones, the real strong ones, always seem to be the ones who die. Michael said, "Maybe the real war is up there, and God needs 'em"

God Speed, Michael. God Speed.