Monthly Archives: October 28, 2013

“Must You Go?” Sometimes, the Answer is “Yes”

Lady Antonia Fraser, a critically acclaimed biographer and a married woman, was about to leave a dinner party in 1975 when she met the Nobel prize winning playwright, Harold Pinter, for the first time.  Fraser writes that Pinter stared at her with “his sparkling black eyes and a feeling of adventure,” and said: “Must you go?”  She recalls weighing her answer; she considered saying “I need to get home to my children.”  But something made her stay to talk with Pinter, who was also married, and their ensuing conversation ignited an affair which scandalized English society and left two broken families in its wake.

Pinter writes: “Deep down, I felt this is the romantic love for which I have been waiting all my life… Perhaps we all are waiting…  Some lucky people find it early, but perhaps I felt this is the little girl who was waiting for Prince Charming or whatever. You know, romantic love.”  (Antonia Fraser, Must You Go?: My Life With Harold Pinter) Fraser and Pinter later divorced their spouses and married each other in 1980.

Antonia Fraser and Harold Pinter’s affair is hardly unique.  Countless people drift apart from their spouses over time, and find themselves in a painful quandary when they fall in love with another person.  Should they act upon their feelings, and pursue their “true love,” at the expense of their spouses and children?  Or should they remain in unsatisfying marriages, sacrificing their own happiness for the sake of their families?  In a 2010 article that generated significant controversy, the New York Times described a man and a woman who fell in love, and eventually left their families in order to be with each other.  The new couple argued “We’re […]

By |October 28, 2013|

Dog Droppings and Social Norms

Dan Ariely, a highly regarded behavioral economist, was asked the following question by one of his readers:My partner and I live in a pretty 250-townhouse condo development, but we have a problem with people who don’t clean up after their dogs… Our condo fees pay someone big bucks to clean up after the dogs, and there’s a $50 fine when owners fail to clean up after their dogs. But you have to know who the dog owner is, catch him in the act, and report him to the condo corporation. This policy is not working. What can we do?Ariely’s answer is simple, but highly instructive for many aspects of human behavior:A great deal of research shows that what people do is less a function of what’s legal than of what they find socially acceptable—social norms. If dog owners see a lot of droppings around the condo area, they will find it perfectly acceptable to continue in this tradition, but they would feel guilty leaving doggy souvenirs behind if the grounds were pristine. Research on social norms tells us that violators are not only acting selfishly but are also making it more likely that others will follow their example. This means that you should work extra hard to establish a better standard of conduct—because once the social norm is set to clean up after the dogs, the good behavior will maintain I make the extra effort to daven with a minyan during the week, or should I just daven at home?  What kinds of television shows will I allow my children – and, for that matter, myself – to watch?  And what kinds of leisure activities are appropriate for Shabbat afternoon?Although Halacha (Jewish law) […]

By |October 21, 2013|

Stay Single?

J.F. Powers, a Roman Catholic American novelist, once wrote to a friend, Robert Lowell: “Ah, well, let me be a lesson to you. Stay single. That way you can afford to be yourself.”  Powers felt that he was often forced to sacrifice his art to the “secondary things” required of a husband and father, like a job that would put food on the table, and the time required to help children with homework.  He referred to this sacrifice of artistic ambition on the altar of parental responsibility as the “the American Tragedy.”There is, without question, a tension that exists between the ideals of parental responsibility, on the one hand, and the absolute, single minded dedication that is a prerequisite for achieving greatness in any field of endeavor.  History is littered with examples of famous people who sacrificed their family lives for a “higher cause.”  The Broadway show, “Golda’s Balcony,” told the story of Golda Meir’s sacrifice of her marriage and family life as she devoted more than five decades of her life to establishing a homeland for the Jewish people, and creating and safeguarding the state of Israel.Sometimes, however, the choice between greatness and familial responsibility is not quite as clear as it may seem. When Avraham first arrived in the Land of Canaan, the Torah tells us that he came to Beit-El, built an altar, and “called on the name of God.” The Midrash explains: “This teaches us that he taught all creatures to call on the name of God.  Another explanation: “He called” – he began to convert proselytes and bring them under the wings of the Divine Presence.”Avraham believed that it was his life’s mission to teach the peoples of the world about the […]

By |October 14, 2013|

Texas and Talmud

Texas public schools have long been a hotbed for controversy, with debates concerning evolution and intelligent design taking center stage.  But the controversy concerning the curriculum used in Texas schools has broadened to other subjects as well, particularly American history.  The Texas Education Service Center Curriculum Collaborative, a quasi-state agency, develops lesson plans that are used in about 70% of Texas public school districts.  A number of the lesson plans have come under fire, with critics arguing that they demonstrate an anti-American bias.One example concerns a high-school history exercise on terrorism in which teachers are instructed to ask students whether they think that, from the perspective of the British, the Boston Tea Party was a terrorist act.  State senator Dan Patrick, a chief critic of the lessons, said “This is the United States of America, and I have a real issue if we are calling Boston Tea Party patriots terrorists.”  On the other hand, Heath Burns, superintendent of Abilene Independent School District in west Texas, defended the lesson, saying “To offer only one perspective about these patriotic men cheats students out of an opportunity to engage in critical thinking and participate in a robust dialogue.” (Texas School Lessons Spark Fight over Patriotism, Wall Street Journal, August 19, 2013)The issue being debated in Texas – whether to teach children perspectives that differ from our own core beliefs – is one that our own community struggles with as well.  On the one hand, if we hope to inspire our children to live lives that are guided and inspired by Torah and Mitzvot, we must present our beliefs to them in a manner that is clear and straightforward.  Constantly exposing our children to other perspectives threatens to […]

By |October 7, 2013|