Sunday, January 29, 2006

Bug Juice and Kosher Food

E210 is a dye added to yogurt and ice cream, lipstick, fruit drinks, and more. Reddish in color, also known as Carmine, it is made from the body of the female, cactus sucking insect called Dactylopius coccus costa (picture). Other bug juice is known as cochineal extract.

Many Orthodox Jews know about this. When trying to figure out if ingredients are kosher, especially dyes, these number codes (E210) always send up a warning sign. That's about to change.

The FDA has just proposed a rule that would require ingredients to list Carmine or cochineal extract. According to CNN, comments on the proposed rule are due April 27. This will eliminate one problem when figuring out if ingredients are kosher or not.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

24 columns, 7 windows, 364 bricks

Mt. Sinai is one of the shuls in Washington Heights. Established in 1959, the shul boasts a large crowd of young singles and marrieds, mostly in their 20's.

When entering the shul, the aron kodesh is straight ahead. To the left and right are pews, facing each other. A mechitzah exists after the 6th or so pew, separating the men and women. Because the pews face each other, the men and women can easily look into the opposing sections.

The aron is set into the wall, and on the side are rows of bricks with empty holes, 13x14 holes per side, for a total of 26 rows of 14 holes.

Why do I tell you this? I'm not an architecture person, but next time you walk into the shul, notice;

-There are 24 columns of stained glass windows. Either for 24 hours a day, or alternatively, in 2 sets of 12, each side representing one column per month of the year.
-Each column has 7 windows. Days of the week.
-There are 364 holes in the bricks by the aron. But the year has 365 days! You could take the idea of gematria and just be off by one, or add the aron kodesh and have 365. Or, as pointed out by a friend, 26*14 is the same as 52*7, or 52 weeks in a year and 7 days per week.

Coincidence? I think not.

Of course, the archiect who designed the building 50 years ago is at least retired, but I'm sure he'd be glad to know that *someone,* even 50 years later, and not an architecture student, noticed.

And no, I didn't figure this out during the Rabbi's speech.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Hamas Election - A Good Thing

For the last 10+ years Israel has been dealing with Fatah and the PLO. While they may have had a majority in the past, they have obviously lost it. Which means that any peace agreement would need to be enforced by a minority of the population upon the majority.

And when the majority are Hamas supporters, that's probably not good.

Keep in mind that Fatah has become riddled with corruption, a by-product of not being challenged. Hamas on the other hand provides hospitals and social services. They've denounced corruption. We're most familiar with their terrorism (for obvious reasons) but they have a strong social base in the community - presumably not all of whom support Hamas for terrorist purposes.

The election, and Fatah loss, are a good thing. Fatah, not being in the majority, would have a hard time imposing their views on the people. Any agreement made with Israel would only represent a minority view. And since Fatah is unlikely to use force against Hamas, further talks with Fatah might have been pointless. The elections will force Fatah to rebuild their party and clean up corruption. It should also moderate Hamas, who will, for the first time, need to do more than just run their hospitals and suicide bombers. Government has a lot more overhead. They can't pin problems on Fatah anymore, they are the government.

Competition is a wonderful thing.

David Bernstein, over at the Volokh Conspiracy, writes:
Meanwhile, in my view, the gloves are off. If Hamas doesn't recognize Israel right away, I can't see any reason why Israel wouldn't be perfectly within its rights to destroy all PA government buildings, given that they are now the assets of a terrorist group that demands Israel's destruction. There may be practical reasons (let Hamas implode on its own accord), but Israel has no more reason to treat Hamas as a legitimate government than the U.S. had to treat the Taliban as such.

He's right of course. Looking down the road I see two options. A moderated Hamas, recognizing Israel and saying no to violence (at least officially). Similar to the transformation of the PLO over time. Or, a speeded up security fence, like the one in Gaza, which has yet to let a suicide bomber slip by.

Monday, January 16, 2006


I'll post my thoughts on this once I have time. Suffice it to say that what's happening in Hebron is a major chilul Hashem, not to mention very irresponsible. And no, I'm not talking about the IDF's actions. They've exercised remarkable restraint. But restraint has its limits. As should our silence.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Fake Gun

Late last week, an 8th grade boy, brandishing a pellet gun, was shot by police. He has since been declared brain dead, and the family is planning on donating his organs. [Sidepoint: Great article in the latest Tradition issue on Brain Death and Halacha].

The family's attorney has stated that police were told, before they fired, that the gun wasn't real. Both the father and younger brother of the child told that to police. The gun had been painted black to look more real. The student had held a classmate hostage, who thought he was going to be killed, until he realized the gun was a fake.

Presumably, this will be the subject of a lawsuit.

But there's an interesting question. If everyone, sans police, thought the gun was fake, why did they continue with the whole situation? Once they realized it was fake, the principle could have walked up to the child and taken the gun. Granted, the police were in control of the situation at the time, but if everyone was so sure...would the cops have shot the principle if he walked in?

Its reasonable to assume that not everyone was convinced the gun was fake. Its also reasonabl e to assume, that when the boy pointed his pellet gun at the officer, the officer felt his life was in danger. Taking into account that the father and brother of the child, who have a vested interest in their family member being kept safe, even at the expense of others, were the ones who told the cops that the gun was fake, I see no alternative other than to shoot.

When someone points a gun at you, threatening you, and you feel you life is in danger, you shoot. Especially when you have the training to recognize what a gun is, and how to use one. I'm sorry the boy died, it seems obvious that there were other problems, be they family or social. But failings of friends or family doesn't place the blame at the feet of the officer. His life was in danger. He shot. As he should have.

[Update: I've purposefully left out some of the facts, which make an even stronger case for the cop. At a press conference, the pellet gun, and a real 9mm handgun were displayed side by side. According to CNN (see link above) "To the naked eye, there was little difference between them." Yes it was a tragedy, but that doesn't place the officer at fault.]

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Your Major

I just took this quiz. I'm currently in law school and majored in computer science while in college. My result?

You should be an Engineering major!

Mathematics 83%
Engineering 83%
Chemistry 75%
Philosophy 67%
English 67%
Biology 58%
Theater 58%
Linguistics 50%
Psychology 50%
Sociology 42%
Anthropology 42%
Journalism 33%
Art 33%
Dance 33%

What about you?

Thursday, January 12, 2006


Someone wrote up a compilation of comments from Hirhurim and other blogs, responding to R' Miller's letter against R' Slifkin. Once I figure out how to upload a file, I'll post it. Otherwise, please email me and I'll send it to you.

I got this email a week ago, but haven't been checking it due to my recent trip.

[Update]: Not a Rav Miller Fan points out that the file can be downloaded here

Tuesday, January 10, 2006


As many pointed out to me, I did a very silly thing. I flew, from Israel to America, today, on 10 Tevet. Which means my fast was about 7 hours longer than that of everyone else.

So why did I fly back today? The conversation with the travel agent went something like this:

Romach: "Are there any tickets to Israel?"
TA: "Not for the dates you want, but I'll call you if something opens up."

TA: "We have a ticket, returning on January 10th."
Romach: "I'll take it."

As you can tell, I didn't have much choice.

On a funnier note, I flew SwissAir, and suffice it to say, the flight attendants didn't know today was a fast day. So they went, throughout the plane, asking many Jews if they wanted their kosher "meal." And they were turned down. Constantly. Twas quite humorous to observe.

Yeshiva & Internet

[I'm writing this at 35,000 feet, on little sleep. The next few posts will deal with issues and questions I've thought about and dealt with while on my latest trip to Israel. Stay tuned.]

During my recent trip to Israel I spent some time at the yeshiva where I learned for two years after high school. Enough time has passed that I only know the rebbeim and those of my friends who went back this year. Quite refreshing actually, to be there with no one bothering you.

When I first got to Yeshiva, only a few people had laptops, myself included. Since then the number has skyrocketed. But more than that, our world has become more interconnected. Nearly everyone uses email and surfs the web.

And the largest changes are yet to come.

Historically, all there was to do in Yeshiva was learn. Going into town was a shlep. Now, instead of going to town, town comes to us. Within a couple of years, everyone will be connected all the time. Cellphones with internet access, Wi-Max, and a myriad of acronyms will pretty much guarentee it.

Imagine sending an instant message to someone across the beis medrash, asking what a rishon says. Or getting the mekoros for shiur via email. Chat room chavrusas. Ridiculous you say? Not at all. Incredulity was expressed when the Internet first started, but look at the Virtual Beis Medrash, YUTorah, eDaf, and hundreds of other Jewish related blogs.

And what about the dangers? Pornography is ever lurking. Imagine a spyware infested laptop in the beis. Or, for the more mundane, people constantly checking and responding to emails and IMs, looking at the news or downloading their latest TV show.

But the point is that the changes are coming, and unless yeshivas install jammers in the beis, or ban cellphones, laptops, and PDAs, they'll be caught flatfooted. One morning, rabbonim, many of whom are not technologically adept, will find themselves confronted with issues they never dreamed existed.

The time to act is now. Not to stem the tide. Indeed, we should take advantage of what the Internet has to offer. This transition period, which has already begun and is rapidly progressing, is the time for community leaders to experiment, to try and figure out ways to promote a culture in yeshiva where mundane Internet use is frowned upon. Or to adapt themselves to allowing it.

I hope to address options in a future post.

Monday, January 09, 2006


I'm writing this from Ben Gurion airport, where the entire place has free wifi (and outlets) for people. Definitely helps pass the time...

...With respect to our most crucial problem, the construction of Jewish commitment, no pat solutions can be offered, especially ince many of the relevant factors are mostly, if not entirely, beyond our conrol. However, one element is clearly and urgently needed: the examination and recommendation of priorities, and this at the highest level. We are what we are, and simply don't have enough fingers to dam all the dikes. However, given a clearer sense of strategy and purpose, we can surely..we can strive to utilize our resources most effectively. Should, for instance, the effort currently being expended to maintain standards of kashruth superior to those of the Shulkhan Arukh be better diverted to education? How many of the average talmidim filling our kollelim could serve K'lal Yisroel better through outreach? Does our educational structure strike the optimal present balance between quantity and quality?

Leaves of Faith, Volume 2, R. Aharon Lichtenstein, pg 358-9 "The State of K'lal Yisroel"

That paragraph can fit in almost anywhere today, not just to what R. Aharon was referring to

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Sharon - II

Oh, and if anyone blames the stroke on Sharon's withdrawal from Gaza I'm gonna scream.

Sharon - Israeli Mood

Last night we found out that Ariel Sharon had been taken to the hospital. At first it was for chest pains, and the news rapidly deteriorated. A stroke, then a major stroke, cerebral hemorraging, surgery lasting until the morning.

At least one Yeshiva brought their talmidim to the kotel to say tehillim. I heard that R' Aharon Lichtenstein, in a sicha to the non-Israeli students, said he had heard some did not want to say tehillim for Sharon, and that it was a terrible thought (that someone would not want to say tehillim).

Meanwhile, at a local shwarma place in Jerusalem, I asked if there was any news. There wasn't, the standard is that Sharon is in critical condition, the surgery was a success, and the next 24 hours are crucial. But the response from the Israeli behind the counter was interesting. "Bulldozer. You know what is bulldozer? Sharon is bulldozer. He'll bulldoze through this also." From his mouth to God's ears.

Nonetheless, people seemed to be going about their daily routine. Bar mitzvot at the kotel, Birthright trips everywhere (I met a British fellow, non-religious, on Birthright and flying out tonight. We met at the stairs down to the kotel and had a nice shmooze).

And of course, every hour radios are turned up, listening for the latest chadashot.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Blog Groupthink

I was speaking with one of my rebbeim regarding science and torah. During the discussion I brought up R. Feldman's letter and mentioned that I found it condescending when he said that he would address the questions in a future article.

My rebbe asked me why I thought that. Why not assume that he meant to write such an article, that due to subsequent events and pressures, he just hasn't had the time to write it.

A valid question. Why not give him the benefit of the doubt? I give it to others, people whom I have far less respect for.

The letter wasn't written in a vacum. The background for the letter, the pressure to come up with a response to arguments, and other factors all point to this being a...unique situation. The letter doesn't address the underlying fundamental questions, and lots of time has passed since its publication. In that case, I'm not sure I'd give anyone the benefit of the doubt.

One of my rebbeim, who hadn't really followed the affair, had a different take on the letter. Valid or not, it triggered the realization of groupthink in the blogosphere. We like to say that if there's a defender to the banners, with coherent arguments, raise your head and be heard. We'd love to hear it. Many have wondered how they can follow some rabbonim after the Slifkin Debacle.

To a certain extent, that's just our justification for holding to our views. If you have an opposing view, speak up. But that's an external reason. It doesn't prove the consistency or correctness of our views, just that no one is standing in opposition. An opposition which, for the most part, isn't as technologically advanced as we are.

So are we following the herd? Or are we a bunch of individual goats who happen to be going in the same direction? I pray its the latter, but we should be careful its not the former.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Trusting Kashrus

Many American shuls and halls have set caterers. They are the only ones allowed to bring food into the shul. And not just any caterer, but only those who have signed contracts with the shul.

This isn't without controversy. The somewhat cynical attribute this to the caterer's contract. If you can't bring in outside food, they make more money because you *must* use them for the kiddush or meal. The shul gets a kickback, either per affair or a flat fee, for allowing the caterer to operate in the shul.

Nor is this without reason. Some standard must be applied, be it to the caterer or food brought into the shul or yeshiva. So, in our communities (at least for the most part) we take the view that only certain caterers are allowed, only prepackaged foods may be brought into yeshiva for distribution, etc.

"You're not good enough for me" seems to underlie these rules. Notwithstanding that most people don't know the ins and outs of kashrus (an assumption, but I think a reasonable one), we don't want to cause strife because we won't eat if caterer X or friend Y made the affair. In fact, the lack of knowledge pushes towards having standardized rules.

In Israel, at least where I was for Shabbos, the atmosphere couldn't have been more different. The food at the kiddush had been purchased at local stores, by various persons in the shul. What's to stop them from fibbing? Going to a place without a teudah? Nothing. They all trusted one another.

We don't trust our fellows to say that the food came from a package with an OU. Here they don't even ask.