Friday, February 24, 2017

The Oldest Profession?

The goal of this email s... honestly? to avoid the guilt of not writing it. Do what you want with it.
Ethical crossroadsFor twelfth-graders like our daughter, it is the season of acceptance/rejection letters for next year.

In that spirit, here's a doozy that you're probably not going to believe.

Or else you'll call me naïf.

I knew we had an ethics crisis ever since Michael Krasny's esteemed guests agreed that the Enron debacle was caused by greed.

"It wasn't greed!" I shouted at the radio (the first and last time I every shouted at the radio). "It was a lack of ethics!"

That said, I simply had not known the world had come to this. I'm not surprised, but I simply hadn't known about this.

Look, there have obviously always been cheaters in the world.

And who is surprised that high achievers are among them?

There is OF COURSE software for professors to detect plagiarism.

It may even be true that most people will cheat, under the right circumstances.

But what happens when the teacher aids and abets?

What happens if a professor offers his or her services to the highest bidder, to research and write that paper for the lazy student?

Beyond the pale, right?

One hesitates to give them publicity, but if I don't show you the site, you might think this is some kind of pre-Purim joke.

It is no joke, and here's the proof:

100 scholars (if they are to be believed) are competing with each other to prostitute themselves to the highest bidding cheater.

One of their star writers describes himself as "PhD: Harvard (Philosophy / Political Science").

Another claims, "I have taught in a professorial capacity at universities in both the US and UK.....Along with English, I am also fluent in Spanish, German, French, Italian, Hebrew and Polish."

(Wait - you have all that talent and your chosen career is ghost-writing for college students? Where's your self-respect? Why don't you go sell your sevices to the KGB or something?)
Reportedly, many of their clients are foreign students who barely speak English, yet are turning in A+ papers. (Which is of course entirely forgivable if their only motive is to avoid deportation.)

You always wondered why that paper you were so proud of only got a "B"? It may have been competing with papers written by professional academics.

There are so many questions this topic could generate for your table, but I'll leave you with just two.

For the young kids, fill in the blanks: What these guys are doing is ____% legal and ____% ethical.

For the older kids, note that each prostituting professor has online reviews, and most are glowing - "Thanks to you Prof, I got an A!"

But among all those satisfied customers, negative comments stand out, such as:

HP should feel ashamed after writing my 6 page paper over the easy topic of the american dream. I recieved a 72 percent on the paper... Thats right a 72 percent.
The assignment was accepted by HP 3 weeks before the due date, so ample time was allowed and I was contacted a few days before with questions on the paper. REALLY? I feel like a portion of the $165 I paid for a D on that paper should be refunded immediately. To make this situation right this is the only solution. If need be I will post the entire paper and show every mistake and final grade. I am disappointed and will never recommend this site to anybody unless it is handled accordingly.

Here's the second question for your table:

Does this person have cause for complaint, since his paper got a "D"?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - If you were wondering how your faithful correspondent, armed with PhD, can possibly avoid the temptations of scholarship-for-hire, the answer starts here ....

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As always, this message can be read online at

Rabbi Alexander Seinfeld PhD
Jewish Spiritual Literacy, Inc.
3700 Menlo Drive
Baltimore, MD 21215-3620
(410) 400-9820
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Friday, February 17, 2017

Learn It Again, Sam

The goal of this blog is to create an epic Shabbat table ...  Please share.
play-it-again-samThis week, a brief story and seven questions for your table.

Last week's Soul of a Strawberry inspired some happy responses.

Some people sent pictures of their favorite fruit. Someone thanked me for the limerick about resurrection.

But the biggest surprise was when someone said that the email made him more conscious about healthy eating.

Five questions:

1. How long can that last? How do you keep an inspiration going for more than a few days?

2. Did you ever know someone who for years has tried - and failed - to change a single habit? (I see one every time I look in the mirror.)

3. What's worse - to keep trying to turn over a new leaf yet to fail, or never to try at all?

4. Is there such a thing as a personal habit that is impossible to change?

5. If you knew you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

For me, these questions became more focused this week when I was in San Francisco for a very, very special event, a very big simcha.

For six years, a group of women have made the habit of attending a class Friday morning where the teacher doesn't even bother to come - get this - he shows up via Skype.

Why would busy people show up week-in-week-out, year-in-year-out, for so long?

(Certainly not for the teacher. I know him personally and know he won't mind my saying so.)

The main answer I think is very simple: the class is called "The Wisdom and Beauty of the Chumash" (AKA the 5 Books of Moses, AKA the Torah).

But I think the secret to that group is three things:

1. They are learning Torah, the world's greatest book of wisdom;
2. They are learning together. Some people learn best in a group, and this group are all deep thinkers;
3. They take turns bringing breakfast.

Question #6 for your table: Which of those three reasons do you think is the most important?

So this week we celebrated completing the entire Torah together. Yes, it's a "mazal tov".

Yes, I flew across the country for less than 24 hours just to celebrate that siyum. Yes, it is that big of a deal.

It's a big mazal tov for those who came every week and it's a big mazal tov for those who came even once and it's a big mazal tov for those who never came. It's a mazal tov for all of us.

I asked the women to share one special thing that they have learned from the Torah. Their answers were all inspiring and too much to quote here. But here's one that I think resonates universally:

"Everything in life is a test to make you a better person."

Wow. If you could hold onto that idea every day, you would never worry.

So today the class resumes. After all, warns the Talmud, the second question they ask you in the next world is, "Did you schedule regular times to learn Torah?"

And there is an obvious question - which I'll leave for discussion at your table....

Question #7: What should the group do next? Continue through Tanach, or go back to the beginning?

Mazal tov and

Shabbat Shalom

PS - If you'd like to test your own Chumash-knowledge with the 26-question "Final Exam" I gave them, shoot me an email.

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Friday, February 10, 2017

The Soul of a Strawberry

The goal of this email is to get to the true essence of the Shabbat table ...  Please share.
.Continuing to wish a speedy recovery to Tamar Adina bas Kayna Shulamis.
Happy birthday to our daughter Goldy, who turned 18 this week.

billy_martin_the_soul_jets-strawberry_soulTo you and me, a strawberry is a strawberry...

... is a strawberry?

But this week, to our 7-year-old, understanding the essence of a strawberry was an urgent matter.

The anecdote begins with a loosely-enforced rule chez Seinfeld: you eat a vegetable every day.

But what counts as a vegetable?

If you ask me, among other factors, it should be green.

If you ask my wife, other colors qualify.

But we agree that white (eg, pasta, potatoes) does not!

So what about strawberries?

Our seven-year-old urgently argues for the vegetability of strawberries.

It seems she had in mind to eat a bowl of strawberries immediately after her bowl of pasta, with nothing green in-between.

"If they are not vegetables, then why is their bracha (blessing) 'borei pri ha-adama' (who creates fruit of the ground)???"

(How much tuition are we paying to her Jewish school? Maybe we should send her teacher a tip. She's obviously doing a stellar job.)

"But wait a second," another child parries, "Why is it fruit of the ground? Doesn't fruit grow on trees?"

A third child: "Are tomatoes fruits or vegetables?"

This is getting out of hand.

Tonight is Tu-bishvat. That's the tree holiday.

Tu-bishvat gives us our annual ritual to head down to Whole Foods Market and remind ourselves what pomelo, kiwi, mango, papaya etc. actually taste like.

And all those wonderful varieties of apples.

We try to create the ultimate centerpiece table arrangement - with 30 different "fruits" of trees on the table - that can include maple syrup, wine of course, and olive oil. And a glass of wine.

(A fruit of tree is one that gets a "borei pree ha'aytz" bracha. Gotta grow on an eitz (tree)

On this note, here are this week's two questions for your table:

1. What about fruit juice - should that count as "fruit of the tree"?

2. The Torah likens a person to a tree, but doesn't say in what way(s) — how is person like a tree?

On this theme here is this week's question for your table:

The Torah likens a person to a tree, but doesn't say in what way(s). How do you think a person is like a tree?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - Speaking of trees....


There once was a preacher with lofty inflection
Who chanced to read Stein in the poetry section
But read it "Arose
Is arose is arose"
And thought it concerned resurrection


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Friday, February 03, 2017

Your Dough is Rising (But don't panic...yet.)

The goal of this blog is to promote alacrity at the Shabbat table ...  Please share ASAP.
Continuing to wish a speedy recovery to Tamar Adina bas Kayna Shulamis.

matzah wall clock
To start you off tonight, here's a question someone asked this week about Passover:

If we're supposed to be reliving the story, how come we open our door at the end? After all, in the story, they had to shut themselves inside in order to avoid the Angel of Death.

(Of course, we don't ordinarily put blood on our doorposts either, but maybe...?)

Are we so different from them?

(If you're really stumped, you might try re-reading the Haggada.)

Second question for your table:

Why is the rabbi talking about Passover in February?

Could it be because of the nifty new count-down timer on the homepage? (

(Try mousing over it for the animation.)

So now that we're in the Pesach mode, are you ready?

Of course not. There are a thousand and one things to do.

And you haven't done a single one.

Good place to start: new books, activities and gifts for the Seder.

To get you started, we've been updating - our searchable database of recommended books, activities etc. for kids and adults. Try searching by age and subject matter. Or search for "afikomen".

(Yes, we even put in there five amazing Passover cookbooks.)

(The site is a public service, not a store. But if you use the links, amazon contributes about 5 percent towards the JSL mission.)

On this theme of preparation, a final question for your table:

What's more important - preparing for Passover or celebrating it?

Shabbat Shalom

PS -

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