Michael's Portfolio

Cover Letter

Hi everybody,
Welcome to my final portfolio page of this semester. Like last semester, some of the work for this class seemed overwhelming. Last semester it was the Unit 3 research report. This semester it was the group project (again Unit 3). However, now the work has finally been completed!

I am right now going to briefly share with you my 3 picks for the additional pieces of writing and why I chose them.

1. My first CHC 101 paper (last semester) on the arts in my life. I chose this paper because it was one of the first papers I wrote in college, and I believe I produced a fine piece of writing (for my standards at least). I spoke about something I truly love: music. It tells my history of music in a well organized and well worded fashion. It was a valiant first effort.

2. My last CHC 102 report. For my 2nd Macaulay seminar class (this semester), I had to a 1 to 2 page report of each place in New York I visited. For my last visit I went to the 9/11 memorial. In these reports we were supposed to find something controversial about the place visited (for example some unknown history about the place). What I really liked about this report though, was how I used many sources in such a hort span of paper. I have never done anything like it so that's why it is special.

3. My World Civ. 101 paper on the creation stories. I just like this one, so enjoy it.

3 Pieces of Writing

The Arts in My Life

I am sitting on the bus to Jerusalem on my last Saturday night in Israel. Staring out the window and into the night I see vast landscapes of desert hills and lights of a city in the distance. With my Bose in-ear headphones, I listen to my IPod touch. The heavy double bass kicks and wailing guitar of heavy metal band Avenged Sevenfold are erupting in my body as I think about my first cousin Ezra, whom I will not see for, at least, another six months. This is a typical experience I have with music. I encode memories of a person, time, or event into a song. The next time that music reaches my eardrums, I feel a strong, deep connection to what I remember through those special, intangible sound waves.
Music and I go way back. It all started with my mother’s music. When I was around three, I was sitting in the back of my mom’s Land Rover as she played “Blessed”, by Elton John. Ever since that point, whenever the song came on, I felt mixed emotions of excitement, sadness, and hope. It was my first favorite song. As time went on, music had not been an essential part of my life until I was thirteen, upon exiting seventh grade. My older brother had just showed me the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s new album Stadium Arcadium, and by doing so, he had reopened my world to the art of music. Whether it was their fast, catchy tunes, their ‘chill’ songs, or their music that just gave me goose bumps, the Red Hot Chili Peppers took over my summer.
When I entered high school, I further explored my love for music through the video game, Guitar Hero. Although it was an unrealistic way to play an instrument, it was an opportunity to experience music in a way that I had never done before. More importantly, the game broadened my horizons to other genres of music, and eventually inspired me to pick up a real guitar.
Being able to play an instrument added another layer to my love for the art of music. Jamming to a song with friends, or just simply playing along with a song caused me to enter an unexplainable world of spiritual energy. The more I practiced, the sharper my musical ear became. I started picking up on the small intricacies in the songs I listened to, whether it have been a triplet, a harmony, an ignorable note, etc. Additionally, I learned to separate all the instruments being played in a song, and to concentrate on each instrument individually. The culmination of all these small details allowed me to shed new light on all of my old music, and experience them in an entirely new fashion.
In eleventh grade, I went to see Metallica perform live at Madison Square Garden. Till this day, I have never experienced anything like seeing (and hearing) them play “Master of Puppets”. I was part of a crowd of at least 10,000 people singing in unison what is one of the most well known metal songs ever recorded.
Over the years, I had taken for granted the role that music plays in film. I would simply watch a movie and be entertained, while ignoring the fact of how lacking the film would be like with out a soundtrack. As my knowledge of music began to grow, I realized more and more the significance of soundtracks in films and how they affected me. The way a film could set a mood or tone of a scene with a simple melody could cause me to feel happiness, fear, disappointment, and even regret.
It was not only in films that I noticed the imperativeness of a soundtrack, but also in video games. There were times when I had to mute my television for some reason or another, and my gaming experience was significantly worse with out its accompanying compositions. Furthermore, over the years of playing these games, I had begun to realize how complex each individual piece of music was. I started to listen to these tracks on their own, with out the screen in front of them. It was amazing to notice how much the wordless music had moved me. Not only did video game music eventually fill up more than half my ITunes, but also it had taught me to appreciate the art of instrumentals.
Over the course of my life, music has evolved from being something just merely playing in the background, into a central and integral part of my existence. Whenever I go for a run, my IPod is in my hand, pushing me to go for that extra mile. As I sit on a bus, those familiar melodies are there to accompany me on a journey of emotions. The incredible art of intangibility that is called music, aids me to express my feelings to myself when there are no words left. It has become a spiritual piece of my soul that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

Towers of Controversy

Over eleven years have passed since the destruction of one of New York City’s greatest landmarks. The Twin Towers soared over its neighbors with a height of about 1350 feet each tower, and, for a short while after their construction, they were the tallest buildings in the world (The World Trade Center History). They were truly tyrants among their fellow skyscrapers, yet in under only two hours from when the first plane crashed on that sorrowful morning, both towers melted like sticks of butter, and almost 3,000 people departed from this earth.
Most Americans, especially New Yorkers, probably remember the towers as one of the most significant symbols of New York City. Indeed, the Twin Towers’ memory may live on as one of the greatest landmarks known to the U.S. After such a tragic destruction, many forget about the controversy that surrounded the World Trade Center during its construction period.
Before the construction of the World Trade Center, there existed, in its place, an area of the city termed “Radio Row” (basically an urban area focusing on the sale of radio and electronic goods). This district contained hundreds of commercial and industrial tenants, property owners, small businesses, and about 100 residents. Much of these people vehemently protested their relocation when construction commenced (Gillespie, 42-44). This led to some of the small businesses to file an injunction questioning the power of eminent domain being expressed by the Port Authority (Clark). The case even made it all the way to the Supreme Court, but only to be thrown away by the court (Martin). Thus, these residents and entrepreneurs were forced to move out.
The towers also received architectural criticism, and were referred to as “just glass-and-metal filing cabinets” (Whitman). The construction of the World Trade Center was further critiqued, as it would block the enjoyable view of the New York waterfront (Alexio, 78). The Trade Center was also felt to be very imposing and unnecessarily large, and was regarded, by some critics, as disrupting the complicated traffic flow of Manhattan (Mumford, 342).
Over the years, these conflicts seem to have faded out of the people’s memory. The beloved Twin Towers attracted around 70,000 tourists and commuters a day (The World Trade Center History). They evolved into a staple icon of New York City and of the United States at large. Today, in their place stand the two memorial reflecting pools, containing the largest manmade waterfalls in North America with the names of the deceased engraved on the edges. Physically, the memorial is the opposite of the towers; the towers soared up into the sky, but their monuments soar down into the ground.
The new World Trade Center is now in the construction process. Will it lead the same paradoxical life of admiration and controversy that its ancestors led? Only time will tell.

Works Cited

Alexiou, Alice Sparberg. Jane Jacobs: Urban Visionary. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 2006. Print.

Clark, Alfred E. "Injunction Asked on Trade Center." The New York Times 27 June 1962: n. pag. Print.

Gillespie, Angus K. Twin Towers: The Life of New York City's World Trade Center. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 1999. Print.

Martin, Arnold. "High Court Plea Is Lost by Foes of Trade Center." The New York Times 13 Nov. 1963: n. pag. Print.

Mumford, Lewis, and Lewis Mumford. The Pentagon of Power. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1970. Print.

Whitman, Alden. "Mumford Finds City Strangled By Excess of Cars and People." The New York Times 22 Mar. 1967: n. pag. Print.

"The World Trade Center History." 9/11 Memorial. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 May 2013. <http://www.911memorial.org/world-trade-center-history>.

The Creation Stories

Part I: Introduction

Perhaps some of the most famous creation stories come from the book of Genesis and the Enuma Elish. Both of these stories share subtle similarities and vast differences. Additionally, the not as well known Hindu creation story found in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad shares similarities and differences as well. Much can be learned from the differences about each of the respective cultures pertaining to the creation stories.

Part II Section A: Synopsis of the Enuma Elish

The Enuma Elish opens with two primeval gods: Tiamat, represented by the oceanic body of water, and her husband, Apsu, represented by the body of fresh water. More gods are then created (such as Ea and his brothers) and reside in the body of Tiamat. These gods make a lot of noise, which greatly disturbs Apsu and Tiamat. Apsu wishes to destroy the gods, but Tiamat disagrees. Tiamat warns Ea about Apsu’s plan, and, learning this, Ea kills Apsu. Ea then has a son, Marduk, who is very powerful. Marduk is given wind to play with, which he uses to create tornadoes and dust storms. This greatly aggravates the gods in the body of Tiamat, as they are unable to sleep due to Marduk’s actions. Some of the gods propose to Tiamat to avenge her husband’s death by destroying the other gods. Tiamat then takes a new husband, Kingu, to whom she assigns a high status. Tiamat creates eleven monsters and torments the gods who have not sided with her. Marduk then offers to take on Tiamat in a battle under the condition that he would become the leader of the gods even after the battle. The gods who are against Tiamat agree, Marduk challenges Tiamat to a battle, and he destroys her. He then rips her corpse in two, and from it, he fashions the earth and the skies. Following this, Marduk creates a calendar and regulates the seasons. The gods who have sided with Tiamat are enslaved to the gods who have sided with Marduk. This eventually ends when Marduk kills Kingu, and, with Kingu’s blood, he creates humankind to serve all of the gods. Finally, Marduk is named the king of all gods, and is hailed with fifty names (Enuma Elish).

Part II Section B: Synopsis of the Genesis Creation Story

The Genesis creation story begins with the world being in a state of chaos. God creates the world by speaking the creation. The creation is split into seven days. On the first day, lightness is created and God separates lightness from darkness. On the second day, God created the waters and the skies. On the third day the land and vegetation were created. On the fourth day- the sun, moon, and stars. On the fifth day, God created the sea creatures, crawling creatures, and flying creatures. On the sixth day, the animals and Man were created. Finally, on the seventh day, God stops creating and sanctifies the day known to day as the Sabbath.
The second chapter of Genesis restates the creation of Man and all other living organisms. The chapter mentions that Man was placed in the Garden of Eden by God, as well as provides a description of the location of the Garden of Eden. Man is then asked to find a helper. After searching and naming all of the animals, Man is unable to find himself a partner. Following this, God puts Man into a state of sleep and creates a woman out of a rib bone from Man to be his helper. God commands them not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge [Good and Evil].
Chapter Three tells the tale of the sin of the snake, Man, and Woman. The snake persuades Woman to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, and she then persuades Man to eat from it. Lastly, God punishes the snake, Man, and Woman for their actions, and they are exiled from the Garden of Eden (Genesis 1-3).

Part II Section C: Creation Story from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad

The story commences by stating that in the beginning there was nothingness, and a single being. He (the being) thought: “Let me have a self”, and with that the mind was formed. Water, earth, and fire were then created from his actions. He then divides himself into three parts: fire, sun, and air.
The story then states that in the beginning, the world was only comprised of his being. At first, he was afraid, but then, realizing that he was alone, and that there was literally nothing to fear, he was no longer afraid. He was then sad because he was alone and desired to be with someone else. Following this, he grew until he was the size of two people, and then split into a husband and a wife. They mated, and from them came humankind. The woman realized that she had mated with someone that was once part of herself. To avoid this occurrence from happening again, she decided to hide by disguising herself as a cow. The man then transformed himself into a bull, and mated with her once more. From this union, cows were created. She then disguised herself as a mare. Following this, the male disguised himself as a stallion, and mated with her again. From this union, horses were created. This cycle continued until all animals and creatures that live in pairs were created.
Afterwards, the male realized that he, the mortal self, was creation. The story concludes with him creating Fire, the god of fire, and Soma, the god of the moon (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, 1.4).

Part III: Similarities

Similarities can be seen throughout these creation stories. All of the three creation stories state that in the beginning of creation, there was some form of chaos or nothingness. The Enuma Elish and the Hindu creation story both display polytheism. In Genesis, God speaks the creation, and in the Hindu creation story, the self creates the mind by speech. Additionally, in both those stories, the man is upset because he does not have a partner. There is also a theme of hiding in both; Man and Woman hide from God in Genesis because of their sin (and nakedness), and the female in the Hindu creation story hides from the male because she attempts to prevent mating with him. The Enuma Elish is written on seven tablets, and the Genesis creation account spanned over seven days. Man was created on the sixth day in Genesis, and the creation of humankind is recorded on the sixth tablet of the Enuma Elish. Lastly, some scholars equate the Hebrew word tehom in Genesis, to Tiamat in the Enuma Elish.

Part IV: Differences

Many differences can be seen throughout these three creation stories. In the Enuma Elish and the Hindu creation story there are multiple gods present. Contrasting this, the book of Genesis displays that there is only one God. In the Enuma Elish, the gods are physical beings, where as in Genesis, God is a nonphysical being. The gods in the Enuma Elish are subject to magical incantations as well as nature, however, God in Genesis is outside of nature and rules over it.
In the Hindu creation story, a mortal being creates the gods. The Enuma Elish states that there are two primeval gods that create other gods. The book of Genesis presents that God always existed and is not subject to time.
Marduk, in the Enuma Elish, must create by hand, but God in Genesis speaks and creation is spontaneous. In the Hindu creation story, the self mainly creates by mating, yet also spoke part of the creation. Creation in the Enuma Elish occurs as a result of a great battle, whereas in Genesis, God simply speaks and creates in peace.
In the Hindu and Babylonian creation stories, there is no distinct structure to the creation. On the contrary, Genesis provides an organized structure to the creation, starting with the waters, the earth, and vegetation, then moving on to fish, creatures, and animals, and finally ending with Man (Shamah, 8-9).
The creation of humankind is exhibited as an irrelevant afterthought in the Enuma Elish. Contrasting this, the creation of Man in Genesis seems to be the prime focus of the story. Man names the animals and is displayed as the ultimate form of creation, as he is created in “the image of God”. Lastly, Genesis shows a strong focus of morality throughout its creation story (for example: “Tree of Knowledge Good and Evil), whereas the Enuma Elish focuses on the desires of the gods.

Part V: Outcomes/Significance of the Differences (Conclusion)

The differences stated above characterize each respective creation story. Each of the above creation accounts display an overall prime focus or agenda of its respective culture.
The Hindu creation story seems to display that humankind is the most dominant type of being, since the entire creation of the world (even the creation of the gods) comes out of a person. The creation story also seems to display an importance between the connection of people and the earth, as, according to the story, the earth was created from a human.
The primary agenda of the Enuma Elish is to show that Marduk is the supreme god (opposed to Ancient Mesopotamian belief). It was said that Hammurabi (the sixth king of Babylon of the first Babylonian Dynasty) was granted his kingship from Marduk. This would convince the Babylonians to also accept Hammurabi as their king, as Marduk, their supreme god, elected Hammurabi to be the king.
The central concern in Genesis is to show that there is only one, nonphysical God who rules over all, and is not subject to time or nature. Another fundamental focus of Genesis is the importance of humankind. Man is told by God to fill the earth with offspring and to conquer it. Twentieth century Jewish philosopher and religious leader, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik interprets this as a command from God to humankind to explore the world and strive to understand it (Soloveitchik, 7-19).
Creation stories provide useful insight into their respective cultures. They are a vital piece to understanding the civilizations of ancient and modern history.

Works Cited

"ENUMA ELISH." ENUMA ELISH. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Nov. 2012. <http://www.sacred-texts.com/ane/enuma.htm>.

Radhakrishnan, S. The Principal Upaniṣads. New York: Harper, 1953. Print.

Shamah, Moshe. Recalling the Covenant: A Contemporary Commentary on the Five Books of the Torah. Jersey City, NJ:
KTAV Pub. House, 2011. Print.

Soloveitchik, Joseph Dov. The Lonely Man of Faith. New Milford, CT: Maggid, 2012. Print.

[Tanakh] = JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh : The Traditional Hebrew Text and the New JPS Translation—second Edition. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1999. Print.


Initial Draft

Conflict: The 7th Categorie

Michael Safdieh
April 11, 2013


"Perhaps one of most debated topics among scholars is the subject of discourse communities. He should have added a seventh characteristic; a discourse community must possess conflict amongst its members. First and foremost, much of my knowledge on the topic is based on the fact that I was born into the community. This subject is almost infinitely dense; therefore I have chosen to discuss only three examples of conflict: views on secular culture, how the Torah (Jewish Bible) is learned, and the view of working vs. learning. Good and bad can be derived from both the rightists and the leftists. Accordingly, something so great is likely to be vastly complicated, and thus will result in many interpretations."


Perhaps one of most debated topics among scholars is the subject of discourse communities. With such a vague term, many definitions have been given, and many works have been written on the matter by academics such as Ann M. Johns, Elizabeth Wardle, Sean Branick, and James Paul Gee. Among all the masters in the field, however, John Swales seems to have defined the term discourse community in the most organized, concrete fashion.
In his work “The Concept of Discourse Community”, Swales listed six criteria in order for a community to be defined as a discourse community. The following are his criteria:
1. A discourse community has a broadly agreed set of common public goals.
2. A discourse community has mechanisms of intercommunication among its members.
3. A discourse community uses its participatory mechanisms primarily to provide information and feedback.
4. A discourse community utilizes and hence possesses one or more genres in the communicative furtherance of its aims.
5. In addition to owning genres, a discourse community has acquired some specific lexis, or a form of colloquial speech.
6. A discourse community has a threshold level of members with a suitable degree of relevant content and discoursal expertise. In other words, its members range from being experts to novices (Swales, 471-473).

Swales then goes on by giving an example of a discourse community: the Hong Kong Study Circle (or HKSC), which is a community whose purpose is “to foster interest in and knowledge of the stamps of Hong Kong (the various printings, etc.) and of their uses (postal rates, cancellations, etc.).” He also notes that there are 320 current members (at least at the time Swales wrote this piece) (473). Gathering the facts of Swales claims, it would seem that he intended a discourse community to be a very specific, and rather small community. Although it is not the purpose of this paper, I will display how a very large-scale community can fit into Swales conditions of a discourse community.
The community I speak of is my very own Jewish Sephardic Community located primarily in Brooklyn, New York. The community fits well into Swales’ six characteristics as shown below:
1. My community most definitely has a broad (and sometimes broad is even too specific a term to use) set of goals. Some universal goals include: serving (praying to) God, following Halakhah (Jewish law), living a life of morals in the modern world, and educating the youth.
2. Our “mechanisms” of communication vary widely. They can range from law books, forums, e-mails, personal communication, articles, newsletters, and such. Basically, since the community is so large and that we all live, for the most part, in close proximity to one another, almost every form of communication is used.
3. The participatory forms of interaction, when referring to the goals of the community, do always provide feedback and information. One way this can be observed is through the many books of She’elot U’Teshuvot (literally meaning “questions and answers”) written by the many rabbis of the community. These books provide actual questions raised by individuals pertaining to Jewish law and morals, and the rabbi’s intricate response and bottom-line of how to take action.
4. The genres that we use, such as the above-mentioned question and answer system, are definitely used to further the aims of our community. Just take the Q&A example; the essential purpose of these questions is to further understand what to do in specific situations in order to effectively fulfill the ambitions of the community.
5. Our community, as I’m sure you already picked up on, most certainly has acquired some specific lexis. In conversation, Hebrew words are thrown around as if they were English. Hebrew is an essential piece to the larger scope of communication in almost any Jewish community.
6. Lastly, our community contains different “levels of membership”, and each category of people feed off of each other. The “experts” can be referencing the scholars, spiritual leaders, organization heads and much more. There are many different types of “experts”, as there are so many different and relevant aspects to the community. An individual can be the chairman of a charity organization while at the same time not posses sufficient knowledge to answer a question about the Jewish law. Thus, this individual is an expert and a layperson all at once.

From all of the above statements, my community can be considered to be extremely broad when it comes to discourse communities, yet it still can be defined as one. In essence, the Sephardic Jewish Community of Brooklyn serves as a mother discourse community to many smaller discourse communities within it.
The goal of this paper is not to prove that my community is a discourse community (which I have just done anyways), rather it is to present a problem that my community faces every day. Swales missed a central point when he defined discourse communities. He should have added a seventh characteristic; a discourse community must possess conflict amongst its members. The conflict concerning my community is one that is present in almost every society; the right wing versus the left wing.


For this project, I used several methods of research. First and foremost, much of my knowledge on the topic is based on the fact that I was born into the community. Therefore, a lot of the information I give cannot be sourced, because it is just second nature to me. Additionally, I looked into a few books and articles that represent the right and left wing positions on certain topics. Furthermore, I included some things that I heard from certain people within my community, and have tried to the best of my ability to reference it as a source, but was not always successful. Finally, I have combined my results and discussion sections, as they complement each other, and must be written together in order to produce the best results.

Results and Discussion

This rightwing versus leftwing conflict happens to be specific to the realms of Jewish Orthodoxy, which is generally wholly viewed as right wing altogether. My research shows that this generalization is not true, yet the main goal of my studies remains to present the two conflicting sides.
The right wing is referred to as “black-hat”, as many of them wear black hats, suits, and white shirts. Black hat is a commonly used term in many Jewish communities, however my community coined the term “white-hat”. This, obviously, is the nickname for the leftwing group. They don’t actually wear white hats; it is just a mere term.
Most people think that right wing is associated with being more religious and vise versa. This is not true. Religiosity and the right/ left wing stance on it are two totally different things. A scale from 1 to 10 must not be only used for measuring how right or left someone is (1 being leftmost, and 10 being rightmost), but also for how religious someone is. There are 10s and 1s in piety on both ends of the rightwing-leftwing spectrum. It all comes down to a philosophy; how do we think of Judaism, and what are its values.
This subject is almost infinitely dense; therefore I have chosen to discuss only three examples of conflict: views on secular culture, how the Torah (Jewish Bible) is learned, and the view of working vs. learning.

Examples of Conflicting Views

1. Secular Culture

Some of the most extreme rightist outlooks can be found in the book Keeping Holy. The general aim of the book, as its title suggests, is to teach the individual how to remain “holy”. This includes abstaining from seeing incorrect images (meaning nakedness and such) and from thinking of “impure” thoughts. In one section, the book discusses how one is to abstain from idolatry and is not even allowed to look at idols (which is part of Jewish Law). The book then goes further by relating this to television, by stating “Knowing all this, what can we say about the abomination called television, on which can be seen every abomination in the world?” (42). In other words, television presents many foul images such as nudity, bloodshed, and opposing values to Judaism. It then continues by saying that one who watches television regularly will fully lose his faith and fear of Heaven (in other words fear of God) (42, 43).
Indeed, the black-hat position on television is that it is prohibited to watch under any circumstance. Some of the yeshivot (Jewish schools) in the community require that the homes of their students do not even contain a TV. Once again, this is an extreme viewpoint, as some right-wingers do have TVs in their homes.
Expanding the TV argument into a broader picture, one will see that, generally, the black-hats prefer to shield themselves off from secular culture. They believe that only the Torah contains truth and substance, and that everything else is a distraction and a temptation. Furthermore, they feel that one can become “lost” or fall off the Jewish path if they open their minds to secular knowledge. It is for this reason that they created a sub-society, in which closed themselves off (figuratively, but sometimes even literally) from the secular world. I can give an example from a conversation I had with my driving instructor. He told me that one of his students, a religious rightist sixteen year-old girl from Brooklyn, thought that she was in the Bronx while, in reality, she was in Coney Island (personal communication). The right-wingers believe that sheltering will ultimately result in their children remaining faithful to the religion. For the most part, they do succeed at this, yet this statement by itself warrants its own discussion, however, this is not the place.

The leftwing stance on secular knowledge is that a Jew should embrace it and allow it to enhance their view on Judaism. In the Bible, Man is told by God to fill the earth with offspring and to conquer it (Genesis 1:28). Twentieth century Jewish philosopher and religious leader, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (also considered by many to be the father of Jewish Modern Orthodoxy) interprets this as a command from God to humankind to explore the world and to strive to understand it (Soloveitchik, 7-19).

2. How the Torah is to be Learned/ Interpreted

This is a topic of debate among Jews all around the world, and, of course, also exists in the Sephardic Jewish Community of Brooklyn. The more rightwing view is to take the Bible literally (word for word). This leads some black-hats to believe that God created the world in six days (as stated in the first chapter of Genesis), and that the world itself is only over 5000 years old.

According to the more leftist views, the Bible is not always there to teach us history, but rather a much more significant message. Most white-hats believe that God created the world and humanity through evolution. Rabbi Moshe Shamah, rabbi of Sephardic Congregation, holds that “The Torah is a sophisticated work that was designed to be understood at more than the surface level” (Shamah, xix).

3. Working vs. Learning

This may be the most sensitive topic among the community. In some rightwing sects of Orthodox Judaism, there is a practice that men, after attending Jewish yeshiva high school, go on to study in a “house of study” (or in Hebrew, beth midrash) all day every day. They don’t get a job for a living; rather they get paid to learn from donations. The men study mainly Jewish law in order to become a certified rabbi, and then supposedly give back to their community by teaching others. The reason why I use the word “supposedly” is because in many instances the men just end up continuing to learn for the rest of their days instead of teaching in someway.
This trend, of course, found its place into my community. The white-hats vehemently reject this way of life and argue that, while it is essential that a Jew learn as much Torah (in this case I mean Torah to mean anything in the realm of Jewish studies) as he can (and they mean this with the utmost sincerity), a person must work in order to support his family. There are, indeed, exceptions; such as if it is observed that there is an exceptional youth with great wisdom and knowledge, he will be supported to learn all day as he will likely develop into a great leader of the community. An organization that may be considered as an exception is the Sephardic Rabbinical College (or SRC). As you’ve probably guessed from its title, it is an organization where students, after high school, learn for several years to become rabbis of the community, and are paid to do so. What makes it stand out is that the students have a contractual agreement to “give back” to the community after they attain their rabbinical license for at least seven years.


As I have mentioned earlier, this conflict runs way too deep to be able to discuss it fully in this report. Literally thousands upon thousands of pages could be written on the subject. That being said, it is very difficult for an outsider to make judgments about either side of the conflict. This problem must be dealt with the utmost care in order to even attempt to mend it.
Good and bad can be derived from both the rightists and the leftists. For example, the black-hats may have a strong background in Judaic studies through their sheltered society, but it may be that very same sheltered way of life that turns some of its own away from the religion. For the white-hats, their way of open acceptance to the secular world may actually cause some of their own to forget their Jewish roots and “fall out” of the religion (which is exactly why the black-hats fear secular knowledge).
The reason why this problem is so important to the community is because the religion is extremely significant to us. It is what guides us. It is what we were brought up with. It is what we believe to be the ultimate way of life. Accordingly, something so great is likely to be vastly complicated, and thus will result in many interpretations. This, I believe is the source of the conflict.
All in all, the central idea of this report was to present a taste of the conflict of this discourse community, and thus demonstrating how a true discourse community should most definitely contain conflict for it to be categorized as one.


Keeping Holy. (n.d.).

Personal communication. March 29, 2013.

Shamah, M. (2011). Recalling the covenant: A contemporary commentary on the five books of the Torah. Jersey City, NJ: KTAV Pub. House.

Soloveitchik, J. D. (2012). The Lonely Man of Faith. New Milford, CT: Maggid Books.

Swales, John. "The Concept of Discourse Community"

[Tanakh] = JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh : The traditional Hebrew text and the new JPS translation—second edition. (1999). Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society.

Revised Midterm Proposal

For my revised midterm piece, I will be focusing in on the third part of my Results/Discussion section of my midterm: “Working vs. Learning” (or “the Kollel issue” as I like to call it) in my Sephardic Orthodox Jewish community. I will write it as an argumentative essay, showing the sides of the rightwing vs. the leftwing, and, ultimately, I will agree with the leftwing side.


My audience for this piece will be insiders of the community. It is an extremely significant topic amongst community members as the issue of kollel greatly affects the community. A kollel usually produces rabbis, which become leaders of the community and represent what the community stands for. More importantly, the kollel represents a lifestyle, which the right-wingers agree with, and the left-wingers vehemently disagree with. The community insiders are well aware of this conflict; this essay won’t necessarily state anything new. Nonetheless, the essay will provide much of the points of both sides of the argument in one place, and will offer my view.

Key Questions:

What is the exact conflict?
Why is it so important to the community?
What are the opposing sides of the argument?

Writerly Challenges and Concrete Goals:

1. To properly represent BOTH sides of the argument

This is important because I will be siding, for the most part with one side of the problem, and hence may misrepresent the other side. If I succeed in doing this, then it will only strengthen my side of the argument, as I will try to disprove my opposition.

2. I would like to be free of all mechanical errors, such as an extra word, a missing one, etc.

An essay looks unprofessional when it has minor annoying errors. My essay will seem foolish with them.

3. I would like to properly articulate my points in the argument.

This topic is very significant to me, and therefore I would not do my side of the conflict justice if I do not argue well.

Genre Models:

I am writing this as an argumentative piece. This means I will be following this general guideline:

- Introduction
- Opposing side of the argument
- My side of the argument
- Conclusion

What I am saying here is that I am going to use the “they say/ I say” method we learned about last semester from “They Say I Say: The Moves that Matter in Academic Writing” as my basic genre model. I will be mainly using the methods described on chapters 1 and 4.
Additionally, I plan to hopefully to use Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ work “Arguments for the Sake of Heaven: Emerging Trends in Traditional Judaism” as a kind of guideline. In it he very well presents different views within Orthodox Judaism. I am hoping to emulate his ability to very thoroughly explain conflicting views of prevalent situations. I intend for Rabbi Sacks’ book to be more of an inspiration rather than an exact model; meaning I will use his stylistic choices here and there, but not use it as my official genre model. The “they say/ I say” method will be my official genre model.

Revised Midterm: The Kollel Issue

NOTE TO ANDREW: Since my audience of this piece are members of my community, many terms or details don’t need explanation. Being that you are an outsider I defined these terms (or elaborate on something) in parenthesis for your convenience. Additionally, for arguments sake, I use the terms rightwing and leftwing. In reality these terms are all relative. For example, I take the leftwing view in this essay, yet, to me, this is really a centrist viewpoint.


In our community (the Sephardic Orthodox Jewish Community of Brooklyn consisting of mostly Syrian Jews, and is referred to as The Syrian Community colloquially) today, we have a problem. This problem is by no means the only one we have nor is it specific to our Jewish community, yet it seems to be linked with an ongoing controversy. Some can argue that it has created a split in the community. I am, of course, talking about the kollel issue (A kollel is a place where Jews gather, usually to study Jewish Law books in order to become a rabbi, or just to study Jewish studies freely). As, we all know, generally, the right-wingers say that a man should be studying in a kollel all day, and the left-wingers say that a man should work during the day and learn whenever else he can.
This problem stems from the age-old problem in Jewish Orthodoxy of the right-wingers versus the left-wingers, or, as we like to call them, black-hats and white-hats (respectively). Both sides argue that their view is the correct one on Judaism. There are countless conflicts with opposing arguments throughout Jewish Orthodoxy such as how to interpret the Bible, how to educate the youth, and how to dress. Nonetheless, when it comes to our community, the kollel issue seems to be the most prevalent.
In this essay, I will be presenting both sides of the argument: the black-hat view and the white-hat view. More importantly, however, I will be arguing for the leftwing position, which, as I see it, is the correct approach.

The Rightwing View

It is widely known that many black-hat men have the custom of learning in a kollel all day after high school. This conveys the rightwing ideal that everything in Jewish life revolves around learning Torah (what I mean by Torah here is not only the Bible but also works of Jewish law such as the Talmud). Indeed, Torah is most certainly the center to Jewish existence, as it represents the divine words of God to Man. It consists of the Jewish code of law, along with priceless lessons that we are supposed to absorb in order to fulfill our purpose on this earth, whatever that may be. Following this train of thought, how can one not study Torah at any given moment?! Hence, the right-wingers take this very seriously, and hold that the ultimate Jewish life consists of learning Torah all day everyday.
In the Talmud (one of the main sources of Jewish law) it states that if there is even a moment when there is not one person in the world studying Torah, the world would cease to exist. So, in the black-hat mind, they are essentially saving the world whenever they are studying Torah.
Usually, one studies in a kollel in order to become a rabbi. One would then move on as a rabbi to further spread his knowledge to others, while still learning and amassing more knowledge. In the black-hat circles, there are many rabbis, as many black-hats learn in the kollel all day. Even if one is not so intelligent, he is still encouraged to learn all day as he fulfilling his purpose in the world by studying God’s words.
Lastly, a common rightwing assertion is that staying inside the kollel all day protects Jews from the dangers of the outside world. Secular culture consists of many abominable things such as public nudity, violence, and evil temptations. If one studies Torah all day he will rid himself of these vile aspects of life. Additionally, secular knowledge can also be dangerous, as it can contradict Jewish thought, and can ultimately lead Jews to veer off the religious and righteous path.

The Leftwing View: My View

I will now personally represent the white-hat position. I will attempt to refute many of the above arguments of the black-hats, while also adding in points to further back up the leftwing view.
The black-hats say that Jewish life revolves around learning Torah. While I most definitely agree that at the heart of Judaism lies the Torah, studying in a kollel all day is not the answer to a Jew’s purpose. It is a devastating misinterpretation to say that one must learn all day everyday. The Bible explicitly states “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your God: you shall not do any work” (Exodus 20; 9-10). The Bible states this idea in five other locations. It is clear that it is God’s will that we work during the week and rest on the Sabbath. Yes, one should learn at any moment that he has free, rather than watch movies or play videogames. It is the most productive way to spend your free time (however, if you must give your mind a break, then by all means relax, listen to music, play sports, watch some television etc.). But to say that one should learn 24/7 is just absurd. One has to work in order to make a living so he can support a family. How can you support a household by studying all day?!
When considering the approach that one is saving the world at any given moment while he is learning Torah, I say that the right-wingers are yet again misinterpreting an idea. A lot of what the Talmud says is not to be taken literally, but rather allegorically, and from that one can see a much deeper meaning to any given Talmudic statement. A possible interpretation of the statement mentioned in the above section (that the world would not exist if there was not somebody studying Torah at any given moment) is that the Torah is so essential, as it contains fundamental morals and human rights, that it is the life and blood of every Jew and the world at large. In other words, without the values expressed in the Bible, society could, indeed, fall into chaos.
Many black-hats study to become rabbis, as I mentioned above. Rabbis of the community are forms of leaders of the community and they certainly spread their knowledge and values to the youth and beyond. Then again, how many rabbis does the community need? If there is such a mass of rabbis, there are bound to be many who are truly unqualified. A rabbi is supposed to be a man of great Jewish knowledge that can answer questions concerning the most complicated and intricate laws, to the deepest philosophical questions of Judaism. It is very unlikely that kollel institutions which contain hundreds upon hundreds of students, produce hundreds upon hundreds of rabbis of this caliber.
One of the most concerning parts of it all, as we all have noticed, is that many of these institutions collect money to pay these men to learn all day. Not only are the kollel goers not working, but many of them are receiving monthly checks just to learn! There are, of course, exceptions; such as if it is observed that there is an exceptional youth with great wisdom and knowledge, he should most definitely be supported to learn all day as he will likely develop into a great leader of the community. Additionally, I would consider the SRC (Sephardic Rabbinical College) to be an exception. The SRC is a kollel that does support its students with monthly checks to learn to become rabbis of the community. Each student, however, must sign a contract that commits them to “give back” (essentially teach) to the community for at least seven years after they attain their rabbinical license.
There are also, as we know, many rightists that do study all day without official payment. They usually end up getting support from their fathers. Then again, this system cannot go on for long. Eventually these people will get married and have families, and the older generation will not be able to support all these emerging households. Only poverty will follow, and it is likely that this lifestyle will fall apart.
Moving on, the black-hat notion that the secular world and secular knowledge are dangerous is a totally foolish position. God’s world includes everything, secular knowledge and Jewish knowledge. One has to know how to appreciate all knowledge and integrate it into being a Jew.
Lastly, as mentioned above, according to the rightwing, the ultimate Jewish life is to learn Torah all day everyday. In my view, A Jew must do the Torah as well as learn it. This means a Jew must work tirelessly to support his family. A Jew must learn Torah whenever he can. A Jew must absorb secular knowledge and culture to enhance his Jewish existence, not to hinder it. These are very difficult things to handle; yet they are the heart and sole of a true fulfilling Jewish life.


All in all, the kollel conflict has been an issue among the community for decades, and will likely continue to be one for a while. The positions, ideals, and ideas that I have presented above are not new. The purpose of this essay was twofold. The first was to present the essential arguments of the white-hats and black-hats on the issue in one single document. The second (and the more significant) was to argue the white-hat position as the correct perspective. This issue is so significant to our community because it represents two major conflicting philosophical paths of Judaism. God willing we will all choose the right path and achieve our ultimate purpose in this world.

Revision Self Assessment

1. The Story of my Revision

Initially, in my first midterm draft, I had written about my Sephardic Orthodox Jewish community. I first described how it was considered a discourse community, and then went on to speak about major conflicts between the leftwing and rightwing within the community. I chose to speak about 3 major conflicts: secular culture, how the Bible is to be learned/interpreted, and working vs. learning.
When it came to the revision project, I planned to turn my piece into an argumentative essay. Since my initial midterm covered too many topics, I decided, with the help of Andrew, to focus in on the topic of rabbinical education in the community (which I briefly discussed in the “working vs. learning” section of my initial midterm). The plan was to present both the rightist and leftist views of on the issue and to ultimately agree with the leftist position. As I was writing my revision, I realized that there was more that I wanted to talk about than just rabbinical education. I had now made my topic too specific, which was the opposite of my initial draft, which was too broad. There was more that had to be discussed in the argument, and then it came to me. Why not just take the ENTIRE “working vs. learning” section of my initial midterm and completely revamp it? It was perfect. So, I started to make the necessary changes in my revision and my revision proposal. I renamed the title to “The Kollel Issue”. Now that my topic was broader (but not too broad), I was able to elaborate on several points. My hands just kept thinking of ideas. I even incorporated some of my other sections from my initial draft into the revision, which focused on just one section. For example, I used an aspect of the view of secular culture to enhance the description of the kollel issue.
Since this was an argumentative piece, I used the “they say/I say” method as genre model. I first described the opposing sides position in the first body section of the essay (the “they say”), and then in the second body section, I refuted the arguments of the first (the “I say”). Sources were not necessary; after all, my audience was intended to be fellow community members, and I was speaking about issues that are well known within the community. Overall, I was very pleased with my final result.

2. The Successes

First off, for my piece I define “success” as when my essay fulfilled the requirements of my revision proposal. I will now go into how the essay was successful.
The audience of my piece was pretty clear. In my proposal I said that I would be targeting the insiders of my community. In the essay, I spoke about a topic that was very relevant to the community. To show that I was speaking to fellow community members, I used phrases such as “as we all know”, “us”, and so on.
I answered all of the key questions I posed in the proposal. The exact conflict was stated in the last sentence of the first paragraph, and was then further elaborated on throughout the essay. I displayed why the conflict is so important to the community indirectly throughout the paper, and directly at the end of the conclusion. As describing what were the opposing sides of the argument, I think it is very clear that I successfully answered that question.
When it came to the challenges and goals section of my proposal, I also accomplished a good deal. I definitely presented at least the white-hat side of the argument well. As for the black-hat side, I presented it pretty well, but it could have been better (I will discuss this in the next section). Mechanically, everything seemed right, as I had read over the revision several times, and corrected it when necessary.
Now, for what I felt was my biggest success fulfills two of the requirements of my proposal. The first was my third goal, which was to properly articulate my argument. The second was to use the “They Say/ I Say” genre model. When I was discussing my view (the general leftist approach), not only did I present my points well, but I also picked apart the black-hat argument. For basically every rightist point that I presented, I disproved with my own leftist one. To me, this was an extremely well used “They Say/ I Say” method, and I definitely plan on using it again in my future writing.

3. The Not So Successful Parts

The main part of my essay that I would term not so successful would be my presentation of the rightwing views on kollel. While I did present the side pretty fairly, I could have done a better job. What made it difficult was the fact that I live the white-hat (or the way I see it, the centrist) view. I use it as a guideline for my Jewish life. Much of the black-hat side of things, to me, just sounds ridiculous, and therefore some of the points I made for the black-hat argument may have sounded sarcastic. If I had had more time, I would have emailed some of my past rabbis who have articulated some pretty good arguments for the rightwing side (even though they themselves are not rightwing), and used these arguments in my piece. Then, my essay would have been near perfect, but you can’t have everything I guess. Additionally, I feel that maybe I could have used some better vocabulary to spice up the piece, but do to the fact that I was writing some of the essay in the wee hours of the morning of the 24th of May, it was not so easy to accomplish this either.

Thanks for reading!!
Group Project Final Written Report will be posted to the blog by one of my group members.

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