27 August 2012

A story we heard over Shabbos

is too complicated to explain here, but the punchline is that the protagonist went to R' Chatzkel (Sarna, I think) and described how he had protested something he found offensive.

"It's not kanaus, it's kinaus!" cried R' Chatzkel. --'You're not zealous, you're jealous!'

You think you're protesting on principle. No: you're just jealous.

Uff da! Amazing that it takes so long for these stories to get around, they are so helpful.

22 August 2012


So much life has been happening lately - travel and projects and sudden revelations and meetings and phone calls - I kind of forgot about living it instead of sitting in front taking notes.
Right then. Back to business.

Sequoia and I were walking around discussing resolutions. It is all very well to know that you want to, say, spring up in the mornings; but it is quite another thing to make that knowledge real to yourself when it is not quite light out and the baby is dozing on your head and it seems equally sensible to wait another half hour or so to get up... but by then you have lost the sense of purpose that is the gift of early rising.

I think it is the Alter of Novhardok who says that there are two ways to work on your character: you can keep careful track of what you think and do and analyze what drives you to do it and what would effect a change; or you can put your foot down and do it.

We also thought of...

...writing down the resolution at the moment of making it together with the feelings attendant upon it, as those are so easily forgotten. (Sequoia suggested this because we are both words-people; I don't know if a person who gets uptight in trying to commit his thoughts to paper would find it so helpful.)
...learning material relevant to the resolution, so that one is constantly having new insights into it.
...mutual accountability: I'll do it if you will.

21 August 2012

The Town Mouse and the Suburb Mouse

The Suburb Mouse grew up in a suburb where computers outnumbered civilians. He was accustomed to living among perfect green lawns and perfectly square houses and one car per human and not much in the way of crumbling Victorian woodwork or burly trees shedding leaves which would turn to mud on the sidewalk.

One day, he overheard the Town Mouse muttering the lyrics of
Little boxes on the hillside
Little boxes by the Interstate
And they're all made out of ticky-tacky
And they all look just the same
There's a pink one
and a green one
and a blue one
and a yellow one
And they're all made out of ticky-tacky
And they all look just the same.

and requested a translation.

The Town Mouse explained that this was a song about the suburbs, and that the little boxes signified the identical houses plunked down in perfectly straight lines.
"What's wrong with that?" asked the Suburb Mouse.
The Town Mouse, to her surprise, was hard-pressed to come up with an answer. Was there something wrong with building an efficient but uninteresting neighborhood?

"Anyway, the houses in my hometown don't all look alike," said the Suburb Mouse. "There are four different models of houses, and they are painted in five different colors."
The Town Mouse thought he was kidding. He wasn't.

I suppose (concluded the Town Mouse) that ideally, architecture and city planning should be a positive influence on a city and on those who live in it. Imaginative planning can completely alter the character of a city -- Portland's row of Park Blocks is a classic example.

I guess (said the Town Mouse) there are people who find the suburban aesthetic uplifting, or at least reassuring. Personally I find the old, intricate, and be-foliaged more conducive to keeping my head on straight.

Until recently (reflected the Town Mouse) I did not believe that attractive suburbs exist. But I actually found one the other day, when I was driving around Tualatin and wound up on Tookbank street, and then on Withywindle.

19 August 2012

A Day in the Woods

Ramona Falls, OR.

New York hasn't changed much since 1704.

"The city of New York is a pleasant, well-compacted place, situated on a commodious river which is a fine harbor for shipping. The buildings brick generally, very stately and high.... The inside of the [houses] are neat to admiration.... The hearths were laid with the finest tile that I ever see, and the staircases laid all with white tile which is ever clean, and so are the walls of the kitchen which had a brick floor.
"....They are sociable to one another and courteous and civil to strangers and fare well in their houses. The English go very fashionable in their dress. But the Dutch, especially the middling sort, differ from our women...wear French muchets which are like a cap and a headband in one, leaving their ears bare, which are set out with jewels of a large size and many in number. And their fingers hooped with rings, some with large stones in them of many colors as were their pendants in their ears, which you should see very old women wear as well as young.
"...Their diversions in the winter is riding sleighs about three or four miles out of town, where they have houses of entertainment at a place called the Bowery, and some go to friends' houses who handsomely treat them. Mr. Burroughs carried his spouse and daughter and myself out to one Madame Dowes, a gentlewoman that lived at a farm house, who gave us a handsome entertainment of five or six dishes and choice beer and metheglin, cider, etc. all which she said was the produce of her farm. I believe we met 50 or 60 sleighs that day--they fly with great swiftness and some are so furious that they'll turn out of the path for none except a loaden cart. Nor do they spare for any diversion the place affords, and sociable to a degree, their tables being as free to their neighbors as to themselves.
"Having here transacted the affair I went upon and some other that fell in the way, after about a fortnight's stay there I left New York with no little regret."
--The Journal of Madam Knight, Dec. 6, 1704

12 August 2012

Judaism and Charlotte Mason

A lot of people find this blog by Googling "Jewish Charlotte Mason", and I am sorry there is not more here on the subject to welcome them. So I'll take a stab at it, although I am no expert.

If you just want to see it in practice, check out my friend's blog at Al Pi Darko Academy.
If you want the opinion of someone who is an expert, read this nineteenth-century essay.

The post here that gets the hits is Charlotte Mason on Secular Studies. That post is just the tip of the iceberg, though: CM is a complete theory of education.

I'll start with her attitude toward secular studies.
What Charlotte Mason has in common with Torah is the understanding that one's life as a religious individual is a whole into which certain general studies can be incorporated, without resulting in a religious-secular "double life".
Off the top of my head, I would hazard that under rarefied conditions (and there is a spectrum of opinions on just what that means):
-Good science can help you to live sensibly and appreciate the wisdom and love of the Creator.
-Good humanities can also show you what is in a person or what is in the world, can illustrate poignantly and poetically principles of how to live or how not to live.
-It can be helpful for a person to be exposed to beauty, order, and genius.

Where Charlotte Mason and Torah part ways in general studies is on whether the arts and sciences are seen as an end in themselves.
Charlotte Mason's branch of Christianity, so far as I can make out, seems to have adopted the Classical Greco-Romans as its honorary forebears, and so to have inherited the Classical values of beauty, order, and genius for their own sake: of beauty as an end in itself. Thus, in CM it is an independent moral duty to study nature and to acquire discriminating artistic taste.
CMers, do I have this straight?

How Charlotte Mason, and the religion behind her, decided which Classical principles to accept as eternal and which to reject, I cannot make out.

In Judaism, things are valued according to whether they are used to bring G-dliness to the world. Judaism is keen on beauty, order, and genius, but only "in the tents of" truth: in the service of the Torah principles of love, justice, and education. So artistic taste and knowledge of botany are excellent things to have; but if we ever find ourselves back in the Stone Age, we will miss botany and art, but we won't feel less Jewish for lack of them.

What I like about Charlotte Mason, then, is not why she teaches the arts and sciences, only how. I do think her methods are excellent, and a lot closer to Jewish ideas than a lot of educational theory out there. But one can't pluck the religion bits out of a CM education, tack a Judaic Studies curriculum on the CM general studies, and call it Jewish Charlotte Mason. Her reasons for studying secular studies inform her approach to them and her choices of material. If you want Jewish Charlotte Mason, you'll have to look into a truly Jewish approach to secular studies. Personally, I like the one Rav Hirsch spells out in Vol. VII of his Collected Writings, which is here [not to imply that I think this blog lives up to it].

Thus far, general studies.
There are more obvious differences between Charlotte Mason and Judaism when it comes to issues like Bible study and theology.
We have an oral tradition that explains the text and helps us draw life-lessons from it. (As Rav Hirsch puts it, reading the written text without the oral tradition to reading shorthand lecture notes.)
Charlotte Mason was not heir to the Jewish oral tradition; she engages less with the text and when she does draw lessons from it, ten to one they are incompatible with Jewish tradition.

This is just one point in a whole host of differences to be expected given that Charlotte Mason was not Jewish. You will not find "Jewish Charlotte Mason" in her chapters on religious education. Go to the original sources.

What about the area of overlap between general and religious studies, values and the development of good character? How much of that do Charlotte Mason and Judaism have in common?
Here I must confess that my Vol. 4 of Charlotte Mason is lent to a rebbetzin down the hill so that I can ask her this question.

[I have to tell you, just because I find it amusing, that the form of this volume is peculiarly reminiscent of medieval Jewish texts on the same subject: the preface says, more or less, I searched for a treatise on character traits, but could not find one; I therefore presumed to write one; I shall list the character traits, together with the means of acquiring them, the obstacles to acquiring them, and the means by which these obstacles may be overcome....]

I did ask one teacher of mine what we think of Charlotte Mason's value of loyalty: Miss Mason opines that it is immoral to shop in other neighborhoods that offer lower prices, that one should be loyal to the shopkeepers nearest one's house, so long as the price is fair.
This teacher answered that in Judaism there is a value of chesed, lovingkindness, according to which one should allow one's neighborhood shopkeeper the peace of mind that comes with having a regular, familiar customer; and that chesed must be balanced with the value of being financially responsible; but that the kind of loyalty Charlotte Mason demands, independent of its effects, is not a separate Jewish value.
Two Jews, three opinions; the next teacher I asked was not so sure. So I am not going to pull apart Charlotte Mason's Ourselves for you and attempt to identify what is a Torah-sourced idea and what is not. A good address for this sort of thing is Mussar Truffles.

In sum: my feeling is that Charlotte Mason (and, from what I've seen of it, the Classical Education movement) is a great resource for how to teach general studies, but not why, and only sometimes which. They are definitely not helpful in figuring out how or why to teach kodesh. And my jury is still out on her treatise on character traits... but it's not really necessary to go there: we have a  mesora on those; do Mesilas Yesharim instead, with something (or someone) like Rav Leuchter dot com to unfold it for you.

Scandinavian Festival

Scandinavian Xing
Junction City, OR is a small farming town founded by Scandinavians. Every summer, a very few blocks of it are roped off for the inhabitants of nearby Eugene, and all the small farming towns in the area, to come stroll around in Scandinavian costume and watch demonstrations of Hardanger embroidery and rosemaling.

It is a small festival -- there are no major exhibitions of anything except folk-dancing, which is presented by the local children. Elderly ladies with very blue eyes sit in the shade tatting bookmarks. Elderly men with very Scandinavian faces sit in the shade and look on. One man made dainty bobbin-lace snakes. I saw no identifiable Norwegian costumes -I think most of the folkdrakt was generic- but I did see lots of Vikings, and a diminutive troll casting an admiring eye at the flower-wreath headbands for sale as it fought to keep its glitzy golden slippers on.
I will be a happy girl the day folkdrakt comes into popular fashion -- especially those flower-wreath headbands with ribbons hanging down: very elegant.

We got into a fair amount of "where in Scandinavia are you from?" with the older costumed locals. I had not anticipated that they would have the same curiosity about us: "You look like honest, valid Jews! I always wanted to meet one of you folks. I read the Bible a lot, you know, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, so much that I feel like I know 'em."

"Are you Scandinavian?" I asked one younger woman.
"Everyone in Junction City is an honorary Scandinavian for four days," she explained.

"Are you Scandinavian?" I asked another woman.
"No, I'm Jewish," she said.

My family actually is Swedish, but only since the 19th century.

09 August 2012

Why Opposites Attract

"Opposites attract," someone quoted yesterday, in conversation.

"Why do opposites attract?" asked Rabbi Gadol, who was visiting from Brooklyn, and answered:
"It's one of two things. Suppose you have a shy person who wishes he could be more outgoing. Then he looks up to the other person for being bold. But sometimes, you have a shy person who hates a loudmouth. Then it won't work.

"You should know why."

08 August 2012

Cannon Beach

Four-fifths of Oregon is cowboy country, all dry and pastel and sage-dotted, but when most people think of Oregon what they see in their minds is the Willamette Valley, which is green and protected by blue, snow-capped mountains - snoring volcanoes, technically.
And those of us from between the snoring, soaring Cascade Range and the evergreen hills grow up "pitying people who weren't born in a vale", who grow up on a street like Coney Island Avenue in Brooklyn, which you could just roll down forever, with no interruptions in the grid to stop you from rolling off the edge of the world.

So when we drove down to Cannon Beach, I was a bit perturbed to see the ocean looking so very flat. At seven I was taught never to turn my back on the ocean; now it seemed tame and short. Since when are you, beloved Pacific, such a New York avenue, huh?

That might be the nature of this particular beach; or maybe we caught the tide at the wrong time. But the ocean at Cannon Beach was still broad, and impressive, and extremely cold and windy. Cannon Beach has become a bustling little town, but the beach itself is not like the cozy, friendly, pebbly beaches I remember from New Jersey. When you leave the pines and cross the dunes, you leave behind all feelings of civilization.
I remember my grandmother reading a picture-book that mentioned the lonely seacoast of California, and pausing to observe that "Oregon has an even lonelier seacoast." It occurs to me only at this moment that hers was an isolated literary reference: that grown-ups probably do not go about comparing the loneliness of seacoasts the way they compare gas prices.
But, Oregon's is a lonely seacoast.

02 August 2012

Daf Yomi

Over this week, some 300,000 people worldwide will attend a siyyum celebrating the completion of a seven-and-a-half year course of study, which covers the entire Talmud.
Last night, there were over 90,000 people at the MetLife Stadium siyyum alone.

This was the twelfth cycle of the Daf Yomi program, which moves at the (extremely swift) pace of a page a day. People all around the world study on the same schedule. It's a gorgeous bit of unity.

I hope someone will put the speeches up online -- it was quite a wonderful event. To hear a rav challenge 90,000 people with words of inspiration, with a and before you leave tonight, make a plan and do it! attached to them, applauded enthusiastically by 90,000 appreciative, newly inspired, focused and committed people - well! It was a thing not to be missed. But all I found to put on the blog for you was the film above.

The thirteenth cycle of Daf Yomi starts tomorrow. In Portland, the Daf Yomi class will be given every morning at Cong. Kesser Israel, in Hillsdale, just before morning services.

A couple of us in these parts with less time on our hands (read: ladies) want to try following it in the Ein Yaakov, which is the non-legal portions of the Talmud: less material, and less intricate, insanely inspiring when understood properly, but opaque without a commentary. Drop a line if you'd like to join us.

Wilderness skills in Portland -- come one, come all; we're starting a course

There's an organization in Portland called Trackers PDX that teaches all sorts of wilderness skills - among them tracking, building shelters, archery, blacksmithing, spinning wool. (Those of us who lump certain of these skills together under a mental heading of Lord of the Rings ranger skills will be pleased to know that the site references ranger all over the place.)

They have agreed to offer a course on a weekday or Sunday (or several, depending on interest). There's a discount for groups of six or more; we have at least four people already (really great people) and we're looking for more.

Please drop a line at jewsintherain at gmail.com indicating what sort of things you'd like to learn and when you're available. Their prices are reasonable: friendly to a student budget. (It's not worth listing them here because they vary depending on course content.)