Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Handel Ehrlekh - A Wigged-Out Photo Blog

One of the perks of playing Khasidic weddings is the opportunity to buy specialty items that aren't available outside of the community.

About eight years ago, I had a couple of extra minutes before a gig in Williamsburg. So, I went into a local gesheft and picked up the following souvenir.

This is a board game called "Handel Ehrlekh". It's hard to translate the title accurately. Idiomatically, it means "Dealing Ethically", but "handel" often has somewhat of a negative connotation as well, as in financial wheeling and dealing, or "bargaining down".

Essentially, this is a Monopoly rip-off with an educational message aimed at teaching Torah values to kids. There's something deliciously ironic about infringing copyright [ Whoops! Meant to write IP] to teach ethics.

At any rate, the game works much like Monopoly, but with some key differences. Here's a photo of the game board.

I've pictured it sideways so you can more easily see some notable parts of the board. These include the jail or "tefiseh", which is an old Eastern European jail, naturally. It's located in the bottom right hand corner. Don't miss the "shtreiml gesheft" on the bottom center. The bottom left corner is a picture of the swirling hellfires of "Gehennom" (Hell). Continuing clockwise around the board, the box with the arrows at ten o'clock points to a second box called "Mikhutz Lamakhane" or excommunication (i.e. Kherem.) The text reads "Harkhek mekhover ra, keyner tor zikh mit dir nisht khavren". (Stay away from a bad neighbor, nobody is allowed to act friendly towards you.)

It's not all about hellfire and excommunication, though. Sprinkled throughout the board are various Hakhnosas Orkhim (hospitality), tzedoko, and yeshiva/kollel squares. The concept behind these is to teach the values of Torah study, charity, and hospitality. The Hakhnosas Orkhim squares are of particular note. As in Monopoly, a player needs to own a full set of properties before they can start building on them. Every set of properties includes one Hakhnosas Orkhim. If someone lands on a Hakhnosas Orkhim, the owner is required to fulfill the mitzvah and host him free of charge.

The game is played pretty much like Monopoly, with a few additions.

Some of those are:

The oldest player plays first as a sign of respect.

While one who lands on a "wedding hall' has to pay rent, he also receives a $50 stipend from charity towards "Hakhnosas Kale" (marrying off a bride).

There's a "tzedoko" in addition to the bank. Every profitable transaction requires players to donate ma'aser (a tenth) of the proceeds to charity. Of course, if a player runs out of money, he receives charity. This results in the game being never ending, for, if you run out of money, you immediately receive a tzedoko (charity) stipend.

My favorite instruction in the rules addresses what happens should the tzedoko pushke run out of money:
"Az es treft zikh un di tzedoko pushke iz shoyn leydik, makht der gabai tzedoko a groysn 'appeal' un yeder shpiler zol gebn khotsh $50. (Es farshteyt zikh tomer men hot.)"

If the tzedoko runs out of money, the adminstrator should make a giant appeal, and each player should donate at least $50 (if he has it).
Here are the full rules:

As in Monopoly, there are two kinds of cards. In Handel Ehrlekh, they are called "Iberashung kartelekh" and "Kheshbon Hanefesh kartelekh" (soul searching cards).

The cards tell you something you've done, comment on it, and then tell you what to do. The "Iberashung kartelekh" are positive and the "Kheshbon Hanefesh kartelekh" are negative.

Here are some sample "Iberashung kartelekh":

As you can see, the values being taught with these are typically admirable. For example: "Gebakn khale lekovod Shabes koydesh!" (You baked Challah in honor of Shabbos), "Host gegebn a sakh tzedoko mit a gute hartz" (You gave a lot of charity with a good heart), "zikh ayngehalten fun kas" (You restrained your anger), "rakhmones gehat oyf yenem" (You had mercy on another).

There are some unusual ones though. My personal fave is "Yiddishe tokhter! Du hust dikh gerukt in a zayt ven a mans perzon iz gekumen antkegen" (Jewish daughter! You moved to the side when a man was approaching." "A tzniyusdike gefil un a khoshevkayt fun di neshome."

The "Kheshbon Hanefesh kartelekh" are less impressive. Mixed in with the admirable "Nisht gefolgt Tate Mama!" (You didn't obey Father and Mother), "Farshemt Yenem!" (You embarrassed someone), and "Gegesn un a farleslikhe hekhsher!" (You ate something that didn't have an acceptable Kosher certification), are some, umm, less universally acceptable ones.

Here are some sample "Kheshbon Hanefesh kartelekh":


Some faves:

"Yiddeshe Tokhter! Du host aroys gelakht ven mener hoben gehert! Zeyer a groyse pritzus! Shtel dokh in 'mikhutz lamakhane' un blayb aroys 3 gang." (Jewish daughter! You laughed when men could hear you. Very immodest! You're excommunicated! Lose three turns.)

"Geredt English tzuvishin zikh! Yiddish redn taylt up fun di goyim! Shtel dokh in 'mikhutz lamakhane' un blayb aroys 3 gang." (You spoke English amongst yourselves. Speaking Yiddish separates us from the Gentiles! You're excommunicated! Lose three turns.)

"Getantzt mit shtrik in gas! Vi iz dayn gefeel fun tzniyus? Batzol shtrof $50 un blayb aroys a gang." (You jumped rope in the street! Where is your modest sensibility? Pay a $50 fine and lose a turn.)

"Geleynt a treyfene bikhl! Tomey, Tomey! Arayn in Gehenom un blayb aroys 2 gang."Ungevoren di 2 tayereste pletzer vos du host." (You read an unkosher book. Unclean, unclean! Got to Hell and lose two turns. Lose your two most valuable properties!)

My all time fave is this one:

"Geholfen di Tziyonistishe medinah! Fun a shaykhes tzu reshoim kumt keyn guts nisht aroys! Nor shoden! Tu teshuvah! Zitz in a yeshivah 2 geng, un tzol far di yeshiva vifel es kost far yededn aroys gebliben gan $50 far tzedokoh!" (You helped the Zionist country! No good can come out of an association with evil people, only bad! Repent! Sit in a yeshivah for two turns, and pay $50 tuition per day to charity).

Fundamentalist Monopoly. Freyt far di gantse mishpokhe!

Incidentally, speaking of "gefeel fun tzniyus" (modest sensibilities) and yeshivos, perhaps this game might be marketable to the good folks at Yeshivas Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin.

According to Yeshivah World news, the Rosh Yeshivah, Rav Aaron Schechter has called on his community to boycott a wig store located "directly across the street." Read the Yeshiva World post first, then come back here for more. It's OK, I'll wait...

Note that they've posted a copy of Rav Shechter's letter. Their translation is not accurate, so you should really read the original Hebrew.

Over at the appropriately named Hirhurim, Rabbi Gil Student agrees that the pictures are provocative and seems to suggest that the store is in the wrong.

I disagree. Strongly.

I saw a photo of the wig storefront on DovBear, and it seemed to me as though this was a gross overreaction on the part of the yeshivah and its supporters.

So, having some free time last night, while on a music researching expedition in the general area, (more about that sometime soon, perhaps), I decided to check out the scene of the crime myself.

A few things are immediately obvious. One is that those criticizing the storefront as immodest are certainly not using a Halakhik definition of immodesty. That's an important point, when you consider that they're trying to impact someone's livelihood.

Here's a photo of the "offending" store.

Frankly, I see no problem with this display; certainly there are no Halakhik issues with it. For the record, this doesn't mean I think the store owner shouldn't consider his neighbor's concerns.

On this topic, I feel that is very important to note, the frankly dangerous approach, seeming to be a trend in the Chareidi community, of changing the rules in the middle of the game, as it were. This impacted on musicians when the Agudah attempted to impose their limitations on the size of wedding bands. (For a somewhat related post on arbitrary legislation resulting in a diminshment of Kavod haTorah, see here. Better yet, read Rabbi Cohen's entire essay. You can pick it up on disc at the upcoming SOY Seforim Sale.) Musicians who had spent years developing their craft, were suddenly effectively notified that they were out of business immediately. (It mainly, but not exclusively, affected those who played instruments not considered essential in a five-piece band setup for Orthodox affairs.)

This is just unfair. Arbitrarily taking away parnasah from people involved in melacha nekiah (honest work) is unjust. At this point, the storeowner has a lot invested in this location. Restricting his right to do business, especially when he isn't violating any halakhos or laws, is unjust.

There are halachos about "hefsed merubah" (large financial loss) that allow for permitting 'questionable' meat in certain situations -- that might otherwise have been ruled unkosher-- in a case of grave financial loss to the meat producer. Why do we worry less about 'real' halachik issues with regard to kashrus, then about arbitrary 'hashkafik' reasons? Is a shokhet or farmer more worthy of having the halakha look out for his financial health then a wigmaker?

What if it was a different industry -- one that more members of our community participated in -- like accounting or law? Imagine if one day they banned those and similar jobs. A lawyer would wake up and find that his entire legal education was useless, he had no job, and would never be able to use the skills he/she'd invested so much time in acquiring. Same for doctors, electricians, plumbers, whatever. It would be viewed as unfair and rightfully so. Why is it fair to do to musicians? Or wigmakers?

I recognize that the situation in this case is not exactly analogous, because the wig seller isn't out of a job, and does have options to remain in business using his/her skill set. However, it's a slippery slope. For, if these photos are indecent, by implication, so ought be the wigs he sells. Is a ban on them next? Even if not, consistency would seem to demand the avoidance of anyplace someone might be wearing one of these, including most Chaim Berlin simkhos.Is this where we're heading?

It seems to me, that at the very least, Rav Shechter and Yeshivas Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin have an obligation to try to work with the storeowner to help protect his business, even as they ask for his accommodation. It has to be a two-way street. It's very clear from Rav Schechter's letter (posted at the Yeshiva World link above) that he hasn't even personally spoken to the store owner.

Another point that's unfortunately clear from Rav Shechter's letter is his disdain for the storekeeper. Frankly, I find it hard to understand -- let alone justify -- the rationale behind his writing "Hu 'yarad', verotze lehorid ta'am Torah shebeyneynu" in a public letter. (He's referring to the owner having made 'yeridah' -- moved from Israel to the US.) Is this approach in the spirit of "derakheha darkhei noam" and "Tzedek, tzedek tirdof?" Is this the proper response, even if the seller was rude to the people asking him to change his window dressing?

Incidentally, by way of comparison, here are some photos of a wig store on 13th Avenue, a neighborhood that's more Chassidic than Coney Island and Avenue M. These were also taken last night.

I haven't seen a letter urging anyone to boycott that store.

Another misrepresentation people have been making is that the store is "directly" across the street from the Yeshiva. It's not. It is diagonally across the street from the Yeshivah at some distance, and the street it's across is Coney Island Avenue, a heavily trafficked four-lane road.

Here's a Google map of the area:

View Larger Map

The store is one storefront in from Avenue M on the opposite side of Coney Island Avenue from the Yeshiva. It is directly across the street from a funeral home. Next to the funeral home is a diagonally placed street called Locust Avenue, which does not bisect Coney Island Avenue. The yeshivah is on the other side of both Locust Avenue and Coney Island Avenue.

Under normal circumstances, it is simply not necessary to pass the store when walking to the Yeshivah. When leaving the Yeshiva, one could easily cross Avenue M before crossing Coney Island Avenue, and avoid walking near the store that way.

Here's a photo of the Yeshivah taken from the front of the wig store.

It was dark, and the photo isn't so clear, but you can tell how hard it is to make anything out through a window at this distance, even when backlit.

Finally, here's a photo of the wig store taken from Chaim Berlin. I was leaning against the corner of the Yeshivah building closest to the store when I took the shot. The wig store is to the left of "The Modern Chemist".

As you can see, it'd be quite hard to make anything provocative out at this distance (assuming something in that window was). The people claiming that this storefront provides an unavoidable provocation are misrepresenting the reality.

Perhaps we should start marketing Handel Ehrlekh to the folks at Yeshivas Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin?

A note about transliteration; I flunked YIVO as a second language.