Good Shabbos. Now I'm really off to work.

I start work on July 1st, this Saturday. Wish me luck!

I don't know how many of you faithful readers have been following the discussion over at House Of Gil about "shomer-shabbos residency programs." I commented a few times there, but let me air my objections in my own daled ames (personal space), where I'm not afraid of injecting non-Orthodox heresies into a cozy Orthoblog. I assume I'll have my own Ortho commenters here, at any rate. (Hi, Dov.) And feel free to remember that I am very much not an unbiased party in this discussion (see the first sentence in this post).

I think it's yet another instance of confusing leshem shomayim (for the sake of Heaven, i.e. honest spiritual striving) with a race to Chumraville. Consider the following facts: nearly everyone in, for example, an internal-medicine residency will be taking care of dangerously ill patients the great majority of the time. ("Dangerously ill" is the relevant halachic category, allowing for translation losses. One can act in certain ways to treat such patients on the Sabbath.) Secondly the great problem with regards to shmiras Shabbos (keeping the Sabbath) in a hospital is electricity, the bane of the observant Jew's existence on Saturday. Yet there is room, on the left end of the spectrum, for leniency with regard to use of electricity. Lastly, it appears that at least some of the Orthodox poskim, well-respected and, naturally, massively erudite Torah scholars, who have weighed in on this issue are not fully informed about the metsies (the facts on the ground) that obtains in modern-day residency programs.

All of these would seem to militate for a reconsideration of what it means for a resident, or a residency program, to be shomer shabbos, Sabbath-observant. It would be wonderful for the Conservative movement to have a crack at it. Or, at the very least (from my way of thinking), it would be greatly preferable to aimless speculation if the two eminent Conservative poskim I have written about my personal situation would answer my e-mails.
Getting used (again) to medicalese

A man is (God help us) a "male". Patients "deny" some condition or other. A person with vascular disease is called a vasculopath. All such usages are defensible logically and, of course, save precious seconds here or there that can be used to get more coffee (or save lives -- whatever). But they grate. And I hope not to use them, unless, of course, my resident makes fun of me for talkin different. Then I will submit. Quickly and cravenly.
One yoke of servitude, check.
We who are about to be beeped salute you.


Secular conversion to JudaismOr Israelism?

The Head Heeb discusses the matter.


Devil take the translator
"Not really a translation, but a conversion, Judaization, or transference."

I didn't know that Baudelaire wrote something called Les Litanies de Satan ("le plus savant et le plus beau des Anges"). It's remarkable and off-putting to read a translation of that poem into Hebrew -- for those of us whose Hebrew is religious and literary, not vernacular, it causes a visceral reaction when literary tropes associated with the Divine are used to describe the "samekh-mem."


Green Squall
Is awesome.

Here, read this.


It's not the lost lover that brings us to ruin, or the barroom brawl, or the con game gone bad, or the beating
Taken in the alleyway. But the lost car keys,
The broken shoelace,
The overcharge at the gas pump
Which we broach without comment -- these are the things that eat away at life, these constant vibrations
In the web of the unremarkable.

The death of a father -- the death of the mother --
The sudden loss shocks the living flesh alive! But the broken pair of glasses,
The tear in the trousers,
These begin an ache behind the eyes.
And it's this ache to which we will ourselves
Oblivious. We are oblivious. Then, one morning -- there's a crack in the water glass -- we wake to find ourselves undone.

* * *

You see from the above, too, that Hopler could be this century's redeemer of the poetic long dash.
Parsha question too late for Shabbos
As usual.

If Eldad means "beloved of God," what does Medad mean -- "beloved of water"?


Hiatus prep

It's not like I post that much anyway, but soon I'll be blogging even less, what with the start of my residency on July 1st and other writing projects. As General MacArthur did not say when leaving the Philippines in 1942, I really hope to be back here at some point soon -- with further hospital tales, poetry, Jewish curiosities, and the like.


A Valediction: Forbidding Rap Music

Schorsch's speech was strange, to be sure. Rap is not a devil whispering in the ear of Conservative Jews. It is, rather, a genre of popular music. (Perhaps Schorsch missed the essay in the back of Etz Hayim, written by R. Tupac Shakur, which makes this important distinction. Tupac is nothing if not inert.) Students writing random words in the snow is symptomatic of nothing but rabbinical students looking to have a little fun. Has the chancellor really forgotten his own yeshivah days?

But there is something very important that the rabbi said:
The history of Jewish spirituality is the never–ending effort to keep halakhah and meta–halakhah in creative tandem. Halakhah is the deed; meta–halakhah, the disposition. Halakhah is fixed, meta–halakhah fluid. Halakhah is legal, public and objective, whereas meta–halakhah is theological, private, and subjective. The intent of meta–halakhah is to inform, enrich and spiritualize our fulfillment of the mitzvot. Or to revert to my image of the aquifer, what is concealed is no less vital than what is visible.

The malaise of Conservative Judaism today . . . is that its adherence to halakhah is devoid of a spiritualizing meta–halakhah.

Perhaps he was too high-falutin in his language and snobby in his approach, but the problem is there and cannot be denied. There are many people working on pushing the cart of Conservative Judaism out of the theological-spiritual mud its stuck in, but the effort must be made. Criticising Schorsch for his criticism won't help us.
To the Rabbinical Assembly

I just had a chance to daven (as shliekh tsiber) from the newish Sim Shalom siddur for weekdays, known as "Slim Shalom."

One request, though. Can I ask you esteemed rabbis -- when you next publish a book, and it includes a Yiddish selection, can you please, please proofread it? Pick a spelling system. Any spelling system; you have several to choose from! (I have a soft spot for YIVO, but it is a sefer, after all, so you might go with Standard Charedi.) Even Soviet spelling. Anything's better than what-the-hell-it's-only-Yiddish-let's-spell-it-however-we-want. Ditto for the transliteration.

Pretty please? Look, I'll do it for free.



The 11th Street Bar was as packed as a herring barrel. The reading started on time, every reader stuck to the time limits, and no fakery was evident. Miraculously, everyone read work that was worth hearing. Hopler was vigorously lyrical, not as bawdy as he represents. Siken was knotty, associational. Strekfus was mythopoetic. Glück prophesied.

Afterwards, tipsy from a beer on an empty stomach, I walked and talked with a friend. At dinner, I read a poem to him. With generosity, good will, and enlightenment, this friend then ripped the guts out of the poem, splayed them out in front of me, and explained their pathology. Such criticism beats any praise.

On the bus home afterwards, I started some new poems. I didn't say they're good, but they're different.


Stately, plump Boaz Mirsky

Has Joyce's Ulysses been translated into Hebrew? My desultory searches are turning up nothing. (Same question goes for Yiddish, though it's easier to guess what the answer is.)


Tales of a Twenty-Sixth Grade Nothing
Not a student anymore. Can I handle it?

MEDICINE MENSCH: Bidding the Classroom Adieu

For some people, 12 years of school is enough. Add four years of college and 10 years of a long M.D.-Ph.D. program. Finally, at the end of all that, I can say that I'm no longer a student. I'm ready to enjoy the benefits of my new station in life: sleeping late, meals at my leisure, freedom from subordination to institutional requirements.

Just now, though, medical residency stands in the way. I will be working the hours I am told; my schedule of rotations includes more than a few lectures. During my three-year program, I'll have to pass several challenging exams, including the feared American Board of Internal Medicine certification. I'll have to make presentations, turn in written reports, be deferential to my instructors, and remember everything I'm told in case I have to repeat it at a moment's notice. I'll have a locker and eat in the cafeteria. The cool kids will wear better clothes. Sundays will be for laundry and homework.

Suddenly residency seems a lot like the past 26 years of schooling.

I could leap to the cliché that we are all life-long learners, and that my transition from student to residency is merely an example of the transitions we all undergo. More accurately, we are all both teachers and students, with the two roles assuming various proportions during different stages of our lives.

Becoming a resident doesn't mean that I quit being a student; it just means that the teachers, modes of evaluation and goals are different. It also means that I have become a teacher myself, counseling and tolerating medical students who are just like I was two weeks ago. Someone will throw themselves to the floor in a patient's room, trying to find the cover of a ballpoint pen, and I'll have to strike the teacher's balance between friendly sympathy and calibrated advice. ("Maybe you should get one of those clicker pens?" I'll suggest, and the student will nod dutifully.)

I'll have to teach each patient as I give treatment, not knowing if my words are making a dent — or if the patient is just smiling and agreeing with me in order to get the heck out of my examining room (or so that I can leave him at peace in his hospital bed). In return, every patient teaches the doctor, though it's often not immediately obvious what is to be learned from the umpteenth sick person you've just met.

Something else came to mind during my graduation from medical school, a carefully arranged, flowers-and-champagne event with more popping flashes than pomp and circumstance. The commencement address was the customary sort, reminding us that now is an extraordinary time in medicine: Unimagined advances in science and technology can be brought to bear in the struggle against disease, but, on the other hand, premiums for malpractice insurance are high, and the wolves of overregulation are at the door. (Because the acoustics weren't so great, I might have missed a metaphor or two.)

But there are many times when nothing is being taught or learned and no death-defying struggles are being waged, long stretches of workaday medicine where no high-tech progress is made. It's just doctor and patient waiting for the most recently agreed on medical strategy to take effect, saying hello to each other yet again — like co-workers who keep passing each other by the water cooler in the hall, wondering whether they have to say "Good morning" every single time.

There will be times over the next three years when I'll be neither teacher nor student, just an average guy doing a job day in and day out. But if I'm to keep a proper balance, this ordinariness carries with it its own sort of responsibility: to remember that my job is not, in the final analysis, an average one. This means, among other things — and with every bit of my well-earned humility, sense of insignificance in the larger scheme of things and healthy respect for my own fallibility — that what I do is important. Thus, even as I trip over myself countless times during the first year of residency, I still have value, and my patients need me. I want to remember this during the first night on call, when my first bonehead move makes a nurse slap herself in the forehead once I've turned my back. And since this is my final column, I hope I'll still have the opportunity to write about my mistakes — and have readers to point them out to me.

If you'd like to follow the Medicine Mensch through his residency, you can read his blog, http://zackarysholemberger.blogspot.com. Bye for now!