October 24, 2009

You are not required to finish the work…

Filed under: Greater Boston, Judaism, Personal Blog — marcstober @ 10:57 pm

I received the following e-mail about a program from CJP. Working out in the suburbs, it’s not something I can attend, but I’d like to, as it’s on my favorite bit of wisdom:

The Genesis Forum, a free noontime adult learning program, features Rabbi Seth Farber at our next session on October 28. Rabbi Farber is a dynamic speaker whom the New York Times describes as a “pragmatic idealist.” Formerly of Boston, Rabbi Farber now directs Itim: The Jewish Life Information Center in Israel. Together we’ll explore the modern day ramifications of Rabbi Tarfon’s ancient teaching, “You are not required to finish the work, nor are you free to desist from it.”

All sessions held from 12:00 – 1:15 p.m.
9th floor of CJP
126 High Street, Boston

I’ve pretty much adopted “you are not required to finish the work, nor are you free to desist from it” as my philosophy of life, in secular matters even more than religious ones. I see it meaning “leave the world a bit better than you found it.” Or more specifically, as I wrote in my Facebook profile, “Repairing the world, one byte at a time.” Not just fixing software bugs, but “repairing the world” in a Lurianic sense. Get it?

January 21, 2009

Why Rick Warren Was Actually a Good Choice for America

Filed under: Judaism, Politics — marcstober @ 8:24 am

A priest, a rabbi, and a minister walked in to an inauguration. Sounds like a joke, but this was the normal way of doing things at one point. Water down the religious elements so much that they would be palatable to the majority, and not very religious. It almost makes religion the joke.

Much was made about Rick Warren being the minister to deliver the invocation at Obama’s inauguration. He is against gay marriage and used the name of Jesus in the invocation. I think this was actually a good thing. I don’t agree with him; I don’t believe Jesus was the son of God and my rabbi permits gay marriage.

I think that we have actually improved the separation of church and state by recognizing that people of various faiths don’t have to agree on their religious beliefs, so long as we can all participate in our democracy.

December 31, 2008

Madoff, Evidence, and Confidence

Filed under: Business, Economics, Judaism — marcstober @ 8:31 am

If we’re going to learn from the Bernie Madoff scandal it needs to be this: Some people suspected him all along. So why did people keep giving him money?

He was a true con man, because he had investors’ confidence. There are two ways to make decisions: either you have evidence to make a rational, scientific decision; or you rely on instinct and trust. The hard part is that you rarely can gather enough evidence to make a scientific decision on your own; especially in complicated, important decisions. Gadflies abound who tell us any successful corporation, drug, zoning change, or other powerful person will ruin our economy/enviroment/health, so what’s to say Madoff’s critics weren’t just jealous competitors?

Maybe we need look at how so many Jewish investors were defrauded. Being Jewish doesn’t give you any special power with money. Let me repeat this: Being Jewish doesn’t give you any special power with money. Nefarious stereotypes aside, I suspect these investors simply placed their confidence in a fellow Jew. Even more likely, they placed their confidence not just in Madoff, but in the fact that investors like themselves (in certain Jewish social circles) trusted him. People misplace trust like this constantly–how many people believe that asking a friend, neighbor or co-worker is the best way to find a plumber or a dentist? I think this is confusing general trustworthiness with whom to trust for a specific decision. You might give someone the key to your house, but should you trust them over your doctor for medical advice?

I’m not sure what would have helped Madoff’s investors, but the rest of us should remember to trust what we hear but also get the facts.

November 10, 2008

Star Market considered kosher butcher in Chestnut Hill?

Filed under: Food, Judaism, Newton — marcstober @ 10:01 am

Cross-posted to TheGardenCity.net.

An article in Friday’s Jewish Advocate said that Star Market had been considering, but decided against, including a kosher butcher in their store being rebuilt in Chestnut Hill. The company didn’t comment on the plans in the article, citing only that they would be including a kosher bakery as part of balancing customer needs within the “footprint” of the store. The source for the article was Rabbi Mendy Uminer of Chabad Lubavitch of Chestnut Hill, who said had been in discussions with store management and he believed it was financial decision.

Of course, a kosher butcher, which would requires a whole second butcher operation, needs more room than a kosher bakery, where you are basically just certifying the same products you’d be selling anyway. The whole south of Newton seems to be under-served by grocery stores, probably a result of Newton zoning that makes it very difficult to build commercial structures as large as most new grocery stores, so it doesn’t seem like a problem specific to kosher-keeping Jews.

On a positive note: I noticed while shopping in Shaw’s in Newtonville yesterday the return of pre-packaged Empire kosher chicken along with Meal Mart kosher beef. A while back they switched exclusively to the Rubashkin’s brand, which has since gotten a lot of bad publicity for its labor practices. I’m not qualified to judge them, but I’d rather not buy a brand tainted by scandal. Still, a couple sections of pre-packaged meat really doesn’t compare in terms of price and selection to what you can get at a place like the Butcherie in Brookline.

I guess if Jews have waited thousands of years for a return to Zion and are still waiting for the Messiah, we can wait a bit longer for a place to buy kosher meat with adequate parking. 🙂

September 17, 2007

The Mitzvah Highway

Filed under: Judaism — marcstober @ 11:23 pm

I wrote the following for a project at Temple Emanuel where is was published as one of 70 essays in a booklet titled Blades of Grass and Angels distributed to each family at Rosh HaShanah morning services.

Growing up, we “weren’t” kosher, although we knew other families who were. At some point, being an annoying teenager, I started to correct the other members of my household: food “is kosher,” people “keep kosher.” It’s a fine point, but Jewish learning is about questioning the fine points, and I think there’s a real difference. While knowing who “is religious” makes menu planning easier, observing mitzvot isn’t an ascribed characteristic or something to be treated as a shellfish allergy. Life is a journey, and mitzvot are the way God has given us to get somewhere. “Halakhah,” which means “Jewish law,” literally translates to something more like “The Way.” It’s ironic that we tend to focus on its limitations. I prefer to think of it as a highway: you are constrained to follow the road, but there is no limit to how far you go.

My own religious path has had many stops along the way. My mother’s family attended Reform synagogues in Connecticut since the Victorian era. My father converted to Judaism. I began to explore my own Jewish identity in high school and college. I participated in the March of the Living, traveling with several thousand young Jews to Poland and Israel. This experience opened my eyes in two ways: first, by seeing the range of Jewish practices among my fellow travelers; and second, by learning how traditional Jewish life was present in pre-Holocaust, twentieth-century Europe. Tradition hadn’t been incompatible with modernity; it was simply wiped away with the people who practiced it. In college, I started going to the Conservative minyan at Hillel, and, after a variety of twists and turns, majored in Jewish and Near Eastern Studies. I traveled throughout Israel for a semester, where I absorbed enough Hebrew and culture to feel comfortable anywhere in the Jewish world.

As an adult, my life is a little more stable, but I still find ways to grow. This year, our family is planning to build our own sukkah for the first time. It can feel like the Goldenfelds always build a sukkah (or some other observance) and the Rosensmiths don’t and when we’re in synagogue, we don’t ask about it. Well, I need to ask things. How do I make it so it won’t fall over? What do I use for skakh? Will you come and eat with us, even if our level of kashrut isn’t rabinically correct? What if we invite a family member who doesn’t keep kosher and they bring a dish? We Jews have always had questions, Halakhah is literally a book of questions (the Mishnah), and wrestling with our real questions can only be a good thing.

In fact, I think that’s what this project is all about. We say that the Conservative movement is a “halakhic” movement, but what does that mean? It doesn’t mean that other movements recognize our authority, and it certainly doesn’t mean that we all keep all the mitzvot. There’s a common myth that our grandfathers went to shul every day in Brooklyn, our mothers were scrupulously observant at home, and we all had a second-to-none Jewish education; we just lack willpower. But this underestimates the difficulty of doing mitzvot in the real world. Perhaps there’s a fear that if we talked about Halakhah, people would say it’s not for them. But this is a simple interpretation of mitzvot as something you feel guilty about. What binds us together as Conservative Jews is that we care about Halakhah; it is special and holy. Whether you are observant, want to be observant, or even if you just want to know the Rabbi and Cantor are observant, Halakhah and mitzvot are central. Discussing our relationship to mitzvot—including how we find them challenging—can only strengthen our commitment.

Marc Stober, along with his wife Cheryl, has been a member of Temple Emanuel since 2003 and you will most often find him with his daughter in Tot Shabbat. He lives in Newton Highlands and is employed as a software developer.

November 28, 2006

What Web 2.0 has in common with Reform Judaism

Filed under: Judaism, Software Blog — marcstober @ 6:41 pm

When I started this blog I thought I would have clearly delineated categories, with professional posts about software development and personal posts about other things. But I always end up writing about themes that crosscut the personal and professional.

For example, a post on another blog with the same complaint about certain technical communities that my Mom makes about her Reform Jewish synagogue; i.e., that by always keeping things simple for newcomers you make things less engaging for those who literally do know the lingo.

November 9, 2006

Gordon and Alperin

Filed under: Food, Judaism, Newton — marcstober @ 9:21 pm

I made my first trip to the new Gordon and Alperin kosher grocery store.

The first thing I noticed is that their meat department is full service. That means no reaching in the case for meat on foam trays: you order at the counter. It’s no different, really, than a deli counter (in fact their deli is the other end of the same counter), and you can get more exactly what you need, and you have some options of how they pack it for you. It’s great, but I’ve never shopped this way. (Actually, they don’t use foam trays; they vacuum pack your order in plastic. I’ve seen meat packed like this for restaurants. Just don’t expect to see the plastic-wrapped trays of hamburger you get elsewhere.)

I do wish they would put up some signs at least. Maybe they have something, or have a good price on something, that I’d like but I don’t know about. (Seems to be a pattern among small shops in the area. I go to Lincoln Street Coffee a few times a week, and can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard them recite their muffins and bagel selections until they finally put up a small sign.)

I tried a couple new items. I bought both Country Apple and Smoked Andouille sausage from Neshama Gourmet (these were in a self-serve freezer case) because I’ve never seen kosher versions of these varieties before. I also bought some Osem bread crumbs from Israel that looked better than the leading brand of pareve bread crumbs.

The meat is glatt kosher, which is never cheap, but the prices on groceries seemed good. They have a produce case, but no produce. I asked about it and was told (by who I assume was the owner) that because of the cost of electricity, he can’t compete with larger stores. That’s too bad; I’ll end up elsewhere when I only have time to make one stop. Everything is shiny and new, and there’s lots of space for growth.

September 14, 2006

A Kosher Conscience?

Filed under: Judaism — marcstober @ 6:18 pm

The Jewish Advocate Blog speculates about why people are afraid of unknowingly eating non-Kosher meat. Apparently, a butcher in Monsey, NY (home to many ultra-religious Jews) has been falsely selling blatantly trief (non-Kosher) meat as kosher.

But why, exactly, would you be “afraid it can happen to you”? Of course, I’d like to think that kosher meat–if for no other reason than that it’s more expensive–is higher quality. But I recognize the general meat supply in the US is pretty safe; it’s not like being falsely sold a food a was allergic to.

Keeping kosher is, after all, between you and God, and I would think that as long as you had no reason to suspect your meat was trief, your conscience should be clear.

(Disclaimer: I don’t really keep kosher right now; and while I wasn’t raised keeping kosher at all, I do buy only kosher meat to use in my own kitchen, and I have tried keeping kosher more fully at some points in my life.)

But I recognize that it does bother people, I think especially those who have always kept kosher (no pig has ever passed these lips…well except when those !@#$% lied and said it was a kosher beef hot dog), and I’m curious why? Are you somehow halachically liable, even if you did your due diligence about the hechsher? Or is there more of an emotional attachment to the law; which, after all, has to be there to bind people to religious law in a free society?

August 5, 2006

Text of a Message I Sent to Senators Kerry and Kennedy

Filed under: Israel, Politics — marcstober @ 7:45 am

I think that Hezbollah is not only a threat to Israel; they are a threat to freedom and democracy everywhere. They are a threat to the religious freedoms, civil liberties, and national sovereignty valued by Americans and others throughout the world.

In 6 years I can only think of two policies of George Bush that I have really agreed with. One is his proposal for immigration reform that would make it easier for hard-working people (like my own great-grandparents) to immigrate to this country, and second is his support of Israel during the recent conflict.

Please do whatever you can to support Israel in this conflict.

August 3, 2006

Israel Defense Forces – The Official Website

Filed under: Israel, Politics — marcstober @ 3:36 pm

I posted an anonymous comment on a blog the other day, and then today came across this official statment from the IDF about the incident in Qana, saying that 150 rockets had been fired from that area.

To be more direct than my last post on the war: why do the people in that area–or their local and national government officials–allow Hezbollah to fire rockets from their communities? Why do they let their children be killed while they refuse to make peace?
Do they think that a Shiite Islamist regime is worth putting their families at risk? Ok, I can respect that–but not really. Are they just helpless themselves against Hezbollah? That would be sad, but in this case the IDF is being realistic (in comparison to the US in Iraq) to remove the threat without trying to be welcomed as liberators.

« Previous PageNext Page »