Sunday, October 22, 2017

Parashat No-ah

October 21, 2017

This week we read the story of the flood and how Noah and his family were selected the save the world. The week's parasha is a sharp contrast to last week. Last week we read about the creation of the world; this week is about the destruction of the world. The parasha is a testament to the nature of free choice. When God created the world put people in charge, and gave mankind the ability of free choice, some messed up. God selected Noah and his family to save before he destroyed the earth. The generation of Noah didn’t practice the laws of justice such as don’t steal that are required for a society to prosper. When people work together all have the potential to prosper. When they waste time arguing, fighting, and not respecting each other’s space, no one wins.

One thought is that Noah must have been an extraordinary person who despite the idolatry, corruption, and moral depravity, Noah remained a righteous individual. A second thought is that he was only relatively righteous and choose to avoid everyone on their corruption.

This debate as to whether Noah was absolutely righteous or relatively righteous is old. But there is no debate as to his leadership skills. He was not a teacher or leader for anyone but his family. There is no Torah text saying anything about leading or guiding people to a more righteous life. As far as we know, Noah retreated to his own world. Building the ark may have required project management skills, but business and project management expertise are not what we remember him for. Noah was not one of our “founding fathers.” His ability to teach his own children was limited. Noah was someone who gave up on the world. Abraham and his descendants never gave up on the world and thus were the first Jews.

The management lesson is that justice and respect are a requirement for prosperity. Retreating to your own place may save you, but it will not save the organization.

Note: Rosh Hodesh Heshvan is the anniversary of my bar mitzvah. It does not always coincide with Parashat Noah. This year, 2017, it does.  The above thoughts are a combination of my remarks from 2016 and 2017.

Shabbat Headgear

In my previous blog, Librarian’s Lobby, I published in February 2001 an article titled, “A Question of Proper Headgear.”  You can read it at: .  This article examined (tongue in cheek) the question: “On Shabbat in Chicago is one permitted to wear a kipah with a New York Knicks symbol on it? “ You will have to read the article for the development of the arguments and reasons.  The conclusion was that one is not permitted to wear headgear from another city on Shabbat because someone entering the shul may get confused and end Shabbat at the wrong time.

This article was based on a class I gave in 1990.  While the original was Purim Torah, that means it was satire for the purpose of amusing the reader, I did analyze the relevant Jewish law.  In later articles[1] I wrote more on headgear and the etymology of the word, “yarmulke.”  See the footnote for detailed citations.  Just a disclaimer—I am a librarian and researcher, I am not a posek or a rabbi. 

In preparation for the original article and class I discussed the halacha with the late Rabbi Ya’akov Frank.  He said that since mourning on Shabbat is forbidden, wearing Chicago Cubs[2] regalia on Shabbat is forbidden.
Since the Cubs won the World Series in 2016 and were in the National League championship series in 2017, I think Rabbi Frank’s opinion is now superseded by new facts. A Cubs kippah is a sign of pride, not a sign of mourning. There should be no hesitation to wear a Cubs kippah on Shabbat or Yom Tov if you hold that wearing a sports symbol is appropriate for your head. However, one should refrain from wearing work clothes on Shabbat. If your normal work uniform includes sports regalia, you should not wear them on Shabbat. If you normally wear business attire such as a coat and tie and an outsider couldn’t tell difference between business attire and Shabbat attire, then there is no question.

In the previous articles I just talked about headgear because there are many minhagim (customs) associated with the wearing of headgear for both men and women.  There are few traditions associated with body wear.  This past Yom Tov I saw two men wearing New York Yankees jerseys.  One had a jacket on over the jersey and the other used the jersey as a jacket. I wondered if my reasoning for not wearing a New York themed kippah worked for a jersey.  The reason wearing a New York kippah was not allowed was because someone walking into shul would see it and think s/he was in New York and end Shabbat at the wrong time. That reason did not apply to the one wearing the jersey under his jacket.  One would really have to be almost next to him to even see the New York symbol.  For the other person, wearing the jersey was part of a joke and everyone knew he was wearing a costume.  I conclude, while not forbidden, the practice is frowned upon because it is not in the spirit of Shabbat or holiday.


[1]  See the Librarian’s Lobby articles:  “The Yarmulke : part 1 Etymology of the term”  August 2008 and “ The Yarmulke : part 2 Head Gear in General”   September 2008.

[2] I am a total non-sports fan.  I do not pay attention to any professional or college team.  I have no interest in watching organized sports.  I was a weekly softball player until my body refused to do my bidding and it took 4-5 hours to recover from a game.  I only talk about them as an intellectual exercise and because so many other people think sports teams matter.