Hastiness to Judge Other People Unfavorably as One of the Main Causes for Anger

In his weekly musar lecture this week our teacher Rabbi Naftali Weinberg showed us, using a real-life example, how problematic it could be to hasten to judge other people unfavorably. I had to agree with him completely and have realized that actually I myself am not different very much from some anonymous person mentioned in his example. Being a born cynic who is critical of everyone and everything, including, of course, myself, I have a tendency to hasten to judge other people unfavorably.

In a book I happened to read this week ("Anger Management for Dummies") I found that such hastiness to judge other people unfavorably can be one of the main causes for anger. I also had to agree with this book. We can never know for sure why someone did or said what he did or said. I used to haste to interpret any deed or speech unacceptable to me in a most negative way, which in tern made me get angry not only with that deed or behavior but even with the person who did or said it. Again I can never know why someone else did or said something, though there seem to be insensitive people.

When I lose my temper, my tongue can become a "lethal weapon". I used to directly criticize anyone who made me angry with his deed or speech unacceptable to me. But now I understand clearly that this response of mine was only destructive and even doubly in that it destroyed not only my relationship with that person but also my inner peace of mind.

It is not easy to start judging everyone and his deed and speech favorably, but I am trying now at least not to judge anyone unfavorably, leaving room for a possibility that I do not have enough information about what made him do or say what he did or said. This conscious effort to change my mindset seems to have already started helping me to get angry far less frequently. But I fear that I still have a long way to go to tame this "monster" inside myself.


Weekly Musar Lecture

Last week I started participating in a weekly musar lecture by Rabbi Naftali Weinberg in Jerusalem ("musar" means '(Jewish) ethics' in Hebrew). The lecture itself is fascinating, and the topics discussed there touch my soul deeply, but the way I got acquainted with the rabbi is no less interesting.

Every shul, including ours, receives copies of various weekly Torah bulletins. It did not take me a long time until a bulletin called איש לרעהו caught my attention; it is different from many other bulletins I have read in that it focuses on one aspect of Judaism that is often neglected even by otherwise frum Jews and is not covered by many other bulletins - Jewish ethics, or issues of interpersonal relationships from the Torah perspective. About a year ago I finally got acquainted with the author of this bulletin in our shul, and about a few months ago I found myself sitting in front of him to consult him about some serious problem in interpersonal relationships I had been experiencing with a certain group of native Israelis. Since then I had been corresponding with him by email, until I was invited to participate in his weekly musar lecture last week.

Until I joined his weekly lecture, I was feeling that the positive spiritual energy I had saved in the yeshiva on sabbatical last year was running out. Having started in participating in this lecture, I feel that I have been reconnected to a source of positive spiritual energy on a regular basis. I also benefit from this lecture at least in two other ways in addition to its thought-provoking content.

Both Rabbi Weinberg himself and his lecture neutralize the negative effect brought about upon me by the insensitivity of so many native Israelis with whom I have to cope constantly now that my sabbatical has ended and I cannot live any longer in an English-speaking ghetto.

Another benefit is that I know that I have someone knowledgeable about Torah and human psyche whom I can consult on a regular basis when necessary. I have come to a conclusion that the root of many of the problems I have been experiencing in the Israeli society is the insensitivity of many native Israelis, which manifests itself in various, sometimes, totally unexpected, forms. I simply do not want to react to these manifestations of insensitivity in an equally insensitive way, thus becoming like one of these insensitive people myself. And the lecture itself is meant to develop, among others, sensitivity to others, including insensitive people.

What I would like to develop through this weekly muser lecture by Rabbi Weinberg is becoming a source of positive spiritual energy for myself, in addition to positive character traits, so that my internal light may not be weakened by most insensitive people.

PS: Any Jewish man in Jerusalem who is interested in participating in this lecture is welcome to email me for further details. The lecture is in Hebrew, though the rabbi himself is a native speaker of English.


How to Make the Best Use of Slack Time

One of the main causes of my frustration in Israel is that I cannot rely on the timetable of buses, both inside the city and between cities; they are generally late, but sometimes they also arrive earlier. While waiting for a bus that did not arrive even after 30 minutes of delay in Jerusalem, I calculated how many hours I waste a year because of the unreliable timetable of buses. I was stunned to find that I waste as many as 100 hours at least and 200 hours at worst a year, which amount to about four and eight days respectively, waiting for buses!

Having found the sheer amount of this slack time, I have told myself that I have to plan to do something systematic to make the best use of it. One of the main problems in using slack time systematically is that when I wait for buses that do not come on time, I can never know for sure until when this slack time will continue. If I knew in advance, I would take a seat at the bus station and do some work that requires concentration and creating thinking as I often do when I am already inside the bus.

Having thought of and even tried several things, I have decided to broaden my intellectual horizon by reading introductory ebooks on other academic disciplines that are not related to my research interests and on practical issues. I finished my first ebook during slack time this week. This has also become my first use of my hybrid computer as a tablet on a regular basis. The tablet part of the computer is rather heavy, but this new arrangement seems to be working very well.

I also observed how other people waiting for their bus used their slack time. Few people seemed to be making any clever use of it. This is not surprising to me if I consider that fact that quite a few people in Israel do nothing special even while they are sitting in the bus between cities for more than an hour.


Possible Influence of the Yeshiva Experience on teaching

Before I resumed teaching last Sunday, I had a mixed feeling of worries and expectations. I was worried because I did not teach for a whole year because of the sabbatical I had in the last academic year. I also expected that my yeshiva experience, including Talmud lessons by rabbis and the Talmud study with a partner, would have a positive influence on my style of teaching.

When I was still waiting for my students in the classroom, I still had worries. But the moment I started speaking, all my worries disappeared. I felt as if all the positive energy I had received in the yeshiva but had not used in this specific setting burst out.

As I went to teaching with no more worries, I saw myself getting excited more easily than before. And once I got excited, I spoke both more energetically, that is, with a louder voice and with sharper expressions, and more associatively, that is, by jumping more frequently from topic to topic but without losing the main thread and by asking more spontaneous questions on the spot, than before. I short, I felt as if I were teaching in a style similar to that by one of three teachers at the yeshiva.

I have also noticed that many of the spontaneous questions I ask now in class are more or less of the same type as typical questions the Talmud itself asks and we its learners ask each other when we study it in a traditional manner, that is, in pairs.

This new teaching style of mine, influenced by my one-year yeshiva experience, also helps at least me as a teacher enjoy teaching more, though I do not know how they see the way I teach, whether in relative or absolute terms.


Simplicity and Power of MultiMarkdown

Since I stumbled upon MultiMarkdown last week, I am more and more impressed with its simplicity and power, two attributes that can seldom coexist in computing. In one sentence, MultiMarkdown is a way of writing text in plain text format, adding human-readable markups about its structure and for possible formatting when converted to other formats. It is simple as these markups you add are minimal in number and easily memorable and readable. It is powerful as it uses plain text, which is the surest future-proof document format, and can be converted easily to other document formats, including HTML, OpenDocument, and PDF, instead of writing the same content in different formats.

Now I am converting my existing text documents to MultiMarkdown by adding its markups. I spent a few days this weeks to establish my workflow to start using MultiMarkdown as the default input format. Anyone who appreciates the power of plain text can also appreciate the power of MultiMarkdown. I wish more people, not only programmers but also researchers in the humanities, became acquainted with plain text and started using it.

Although MultiMarkdown is not an official standard yet (I hope it will), it has a community of users and tools. Probably the best place to learn the basics of MultiMarkdown is MultiMarkdown Guide, written by its inventor himself. He also has a more detailed guide called MultiMarkdown User's Guide. MultiMarkdown Support and MultiMarkdown Discussion List are good places where beginners as well as advanced users of MultiMarkdown can ask questions.

Since MultiMarkdown is in plain text with human-readable markups, also in plain text, one can compose text in this light-weight markup language with any text editor such as EditPad Pro, my favorite text editor for Windows, and EditPad Lite, its free little brother. The inventor of MultiMarkdown made a text editor that also shows the preview of text when converted to HTML - MultiMarkdown Composer - but unfortunately, it is only for Mac. There are many other similar editors for this platform, but there do not seem to be many for Windows. The only one I have found (and purchased) is MdCharm. Although one can convert MultiMarkdown documents to other formats from command line after installing MultiMarkdown package, I find it far easier to do so with Scrivener, which has become my favorite tool for writing long and complicated text documents.

My workflow as of now is the following:

  • 1 Compose text with EditPad Pro or Scrivener, depending on its length and complexity.
  • 2 Convert the document to one of the following formats with Scrivener: HTML (.html), Flat OpenDocument (.fodt), LaTeX (.tex).
  • 3.1 If it is in HTML, fine-tune the code, if necessary, with EditPad Pro.
  • 3.2 If it is in Flat OpenDucment, fine-tune, if necessary, and convert the document to one of the following formats with LibreOffice Writer (it is necessary to install OpenDocument-Text-Flat-XML.jar): OpenDocument (.odt), Word (.doc), PDF (.pdf).
  • 3.3 If it is in LaTeX, fine-tune, if necessary, and convert the document to PDF with LyX.

This workflow may seem too complicated, but in practice it is not. Besides, the advantage of composing text documents in MultiMarkdown is too big - you write them only once and convert them to other formats without changing the text itself. Having found the power of plain text years ago, I have always preferred this format, but only when its physical layout is irrelevant. But having found MultiMarkdown, I can also use plain text now even when its physical layout matters. Now I feel even more strongly how stupid and inefficient word processors are.


Scrivener - Integrated Writing Environment with MultiMarkdown Support

I am truly sorry for people who (still) use a word processor for all the imaginable types of writing, as it is, in my humble opinion-shmopinion, a bad (or even very bad) compromise of several functions that can be performed far more efficiently by other, dedicated, software programs: 1) a sophisticated text editor (my favorite is EditPad Pro) is much faster in handling huge text documents; 2) there are other file formats and tools for the physical layout of text documents (e.g., LaTex and LyX respectively); 3) a word processor encourages its users to blur or totally forget the distinction between the logical structure and physical layout of text documents.

For the first reason I use my favorite text editor exclusively when the physical layout of a text document is irrelevant. But it has two limitations: 1) of course, it cannot format text; 2) it is not an efficient tool for dealing with long and complicated text documents like books (in this respect text editors are not better than word processors).

Rather recently I found a solution to the second problem - Scrivener, which I would define as an integrated writing environment. The user manual of this amazing tool descrives the problem it solves as follows:

Most word processors and text editors aimed at writers assume the creative process will take place in linear form; that is, they assume that the writer knows how his or her work will begin and will start at the beginning and continue through until reaching the end, and for those that do work that way, they assume that a linear form is a useful format for a text that spans hundreds of pages. Planning and restructuring is therefore forced into a separate workflow - the writer must either plan before beginning and keep track of hundreds of different files using the computer or face the laborious task of cutting and pasting numerous chunks of text to restructure a long piece of work at the end. For shorter pieces of writing, this is not a massive problem, but for longer texts - such as novels or academic theses - the writer can often find him- or herself battling against the tools of their trade. What a word processor does get right is in not presuming anything of your working methods. It is, at the core, ruthlessly simple.

I used to think that Scrivener was a WYSIWYG tool like a word processor. Actually, it is. But I have just found that it can also be used as a WYSIWYM tool, and that in a very convenient manner with a lightweight markup language called MultiMarkdown, which, unlike XML, does not get in the way of the actual process of writing, especially when one writes in an RTL script like Hebrew. Scrivener can convert structured text written with MultiMarkdown into a number of appropriate physical layout in various formats like plain text, ODT, Word, LaTeX, PDF, EPUB etc.

In conclusion, I would even say that at least as far as I am concerned, the switch from a word processor to this amazing integrated writing environment, especially after I have found its support for MultiMarkdown, is even more fundamental and revolutionary than the switch from a typewriter to a word processor. But it goes without saying that I have nothing against all kinds of "creative" uses of a word processor, especially Word, other than writing per se. ;-)


Reflecting on the Sabbatical

This first sabbatical of mine still has a little more three weeks until it finishes officially, but psychologically it has already finished for me as I am starting to prepare materials for the courses I am supposed to teach in the new academic year. So this seems to be a good opportunity to reflect on this first experience and learn lessons for the future sabbaticals.

In overall terms my biggest problem was time management. Ironically, but quite expectedly, since I had far more free time than when I used to teach, I used it less efficiently. I am afraid that if I had not spent my morning hours at a yeshiva, I might have used my abundant free time even less efficiently.

But even if I had used my time efficiently, I might not have been able to do everything I planned and wanted to do on sabbatical - to read as much as possible in six areas of linguistics. But in the first month of my sabbatical I already understood that this plan was too unrealistic and had to adjust my plan drastically and concentrate on two of them, which are directly related to my current research topic. Although I could read quite a lot in these two areas, there still seem so many things to read, and this is nothing but a beginning in a seemingly long path to attain my self-imposed goal, as I also have to think about what I read on the topic and propose my own thought on it. I have also started wondering if I am good enough to reach this goal at all. I remember this feeling from the days when I was still struggling with my dissertation, but this time the feeling is far more overwhelming.

Another reason why I could work less efficiently is that since I spent more time with myself, various fundamental questions of life, about which I was too busy to think otherwise, did not stop bothering me, which in turn prevented me from concentrating on academic reading. The biggest anxiety was and still is the fear of the future, especially because I am an immigrant who has no family here, either by blood or by marriage. In a sense this sabbatical was also a kind of simulation of life after retirement.

In short, this sabbatical has made me realize so keenly how limited I am both as a researcher and as a human being and in which areas I am specially weak. Now I am asking myself how I can overcome or at least compensate for my own limitations and weaknesses. This is the "homework" for myself until my next sabbatical.


Encyclopedia of Hebrew Language and Linguistics: private thematic list of entries

Encylopedia of Hebrew Language and Linguistics, which is probably one of the most ambitious and important initiatives in the modern scholarship of Hebrew linguistics, was finally published by Brill a few weeks ago, both as a print version and as an online version.

The following is a private thematic list of entries I have prepared from the online version, which only lists entries alphabetically. I have classified them into eight nine major categories. Although I have prepared this list for my own private use, it might also be of some use to some other people who want not only to consult this encyclopedia alphabetically but also to read it thematically as I, especially if the print version, which I have ordered but have not received yet, does not have a thematic list of entries, either.

This epoch-making reference work, especially its print version, has one serious "problem" for many potential personal users - it is too expensive! But someone who only wants to read it thematically can purchase an online access for a short period of time at an affordable price. Of course, I have no commercial relationship with the publisher of this encyclopedia, though I myself have contributed six entries, and this non-exhaustive thematic list of mine does not reflect the views of the editors.

1 Periods of Hebrew

  • Afroasiatic and Hebrew: History of Scholarship - Aaron D. Rubin
  • Afroasiatic and Hebrew: Linguistic Features - Rainer Voigt
  • Semitic Language, Hebrew as a - John Huehnergard
  • Northwest Semitic Languages and Hebrew - Holger Gzella
  • Biblical Hebrew, Periodization - Aaron Kornkohl
  • Biblical Hebrew, Archaic - Alice Mandell
  • Biblical Hebrew: Linguistic Background of Masoretic Text - Geoffrey Khan
  • Biblical Hebrew: Pronunciation Traditions - Geoffrey Khan
  • Masora, Tiberian - Viktor Golinets
  • Masora, Babylonian - Yosef Ofer
  • Tiberian Reading Tradition - Geoffrey Khan
  • Vocalization, Babylonian - Geoffrey Khan
  • Vocalization, Palestinian - Shai Heijmans
  • Vocalization, Palestino-Tiberian - Shai Heijmans
  • Second Temple Period - Matthew Morgenstern
  • Dead Sea Scrolls: Linguistic Features - Steven E. Fassberg
  • Tosefta, Hebrew of - Shamma Friedman
  • Amoraic Hebrew - Yochanan Breuer
  • Rabbinic Hebrew: Karaite Sources - Ofra Tirosh-Becker
  • Paytanic Hebrew - Michael Rand
  • Medieval Hebrew - Angel Sáenz-Badillos
  • Samaritan Hebrew: Biblical - Moshe Florentin
  • Samaritan Hebrew: Late - Moshe Florentin
  • Karaite Hebrew - Aharon Maman
  • Ashkenazi Hebrew - Lewis Glinert
  • Hasidic Hebrew - Lily Kahn
  • Maskilic Hebrew - Lily Kahn
  • Revival of Hebrew: Grammatical Structure and Lexicon - Yael Reshef
  • Revival of Hebrew: Hebrew Component of Jewish Languages - Yehudit Henshke
  • Revival of Hebrew: Sociolinguistic Dimension - Yael Reshef
  • Modern Hebrew Grammar: History of Scholarship - Yael Reshef
  • Modern Hebrew: Language Varieties - Ora (Rodrigue) Schwarzwald
  • Modern Hebrew: The Language of Literature - Maya Fruchtman
  • Modern Hebrew: Features of the Spoken Language - Esther Borochovsky Bar-Aba
  • Diaspora, Modern Hebrew in - Nava Nevo

2 Areas of Hebrew Linguistics

  • Alphabet, Origin of - Peter T. Daniels
  • Script, History of Development - Edna Engel
  • Orthography: Biblical Hebrew - Chanan Ariel
  • Orthography: Rabbinic Hebrew - Michael Ryzhik
  • Orthography: Modern Hebrew - Barak Dan
  • Phonetics of Modern Hebrew: Acoustic - Rina Kreitman
  • Phonetics of Modern Hebrew: Articulatory - Rina Kreitman
  • Phonology: Biblical Hebrew - Gary A. Rendsburg
  • Phonology: Rabbinic Hebrew - Yochanan Breuer
  • Phonology: Israeli Hebrew - Shmuel Bolozky
  • Morphology: Biblical Hebrew - Gary A. Rendsburg
  • Morphology: Rabbinic Hebrew - Yochanan Breuer
  • Morphology: Modern Hebrew - Ora (Rodrigue) Schwarzwald
  • Syntax: Biblical Hebrew - Tamar Zewi
  • Syntax: Rabbinic Hebrew - Moshe Azar
  • Syntax: Modern Hebrew - Rivka Halevy
  • Pragmatics: Biblical Hebrew - Marco Di Giulio
  • Pragmatics: Modern Hebrew - Noga Balaban
  • Discourse Analysis: Biblical Hebrew - Robert D. Bergen
  • Discourse Analysis: Modern Hebrew - Yael Ziv
  • Stylistics: Biblical Hebrew - Robert S. Kawashima
  • Stylistics: Modern Hebrew - Rina Ben-Shahar
  • Lexicon: Biblical Hebrew - Leonid Kogan
  • Lexicon: Rabbinic Hebrew - Moshe Bar-Asher
  • Lexicon: Modern Hebrew - Ora (Rodrigue) Schwarzwald
  • Lexicography: Biblical Hebrew - Shalom E. Holtz
  • Lexicography: Middle Ages - José Martínez Delgado
  • Lexicography: Pre-Modern Period - Marie-Louise Craig
  • Lexicography: Modern Period - Reuven Merkin
  • Sociolinguistics - Maria Maddalena Colasuonno
  • Corpus Linguistics - Benjamin Hary

3 Subareas of Hebrew Linguistics (Partial)

3.1 Phonology

  • Intonation: Israeli Hebrew - Pavel Ozerov
  • Stress: Biblical Hebrew - Joshua Blau
  • Stress: Modern Hebrew - Evan-Gary Cohen & Adam Ussishkin

3.2 Parts of Speech

  • Adjective - Fritz Werner
  • Adverb - Galila Mor
  • Noun - Noam Faust
  • Verb - John A. Cook

3.3 Morphology

  • Binyanim: Biblical Hebrew - Barak Dan
  • Binyanim: Rabbinic Hebrew - Yitzhak Hilman
  • Binyanim: Modern Hebrew - Edit Doron
  • Derivation - Ora (Rodrigue) Schwarzwald
  • Gender - Ora (Rodrigue) Schwarzwald
  • Inflection - Ora (Rodrigue) Schwarzwald
  • Mishqal - Ora (Rodrigue) Schwarzwald
  • Number: Biblical Hebrew - Bill T. Arnold
  • Number: Rabbinic Hebrew - Yochanan Breuer
  • Number: Modern Hebrew - Ora (Rodrigue) Schwarzwald
  • Root: Modern Notions - Tamar Zewi
  • Verbal System: Biblical Hebrew - Jan Joosten
  • Verbal System: Modern Hebrew - Tsvi Sadan
  • Word Formation - Tsvi Sadan

3.4 Syntax

  • Agreement: Biblicah Hebrew - Yaakov Levi
  • Agreement: Rabbinic Hebrew - Avihai Shivtiel
  • Agreement: Modern Hebrew - Nurit Melnik
  • Argument - Tania Notarius
  • Diathesis - Jan Retsö
  • Object - Rivka Shemesh
  • Subject: Biblical Hebrew - John C. Beckman
  • Subject: Modern Hebrew - Mikhal Oren
  • Valency - Michael Malessa
  • Word Order: Biblical Hebrew - Adina Moshavi
  • Word Order: Rabbinic Hebrew - Avihai Shivtiel
  • Word Order: Modern Hebrew - Noga Ilani et al.

3.5 Semantics

  • Aspect: Modern Hebrew - Nora Boneh
  • Mood and Modality: Biblical Hebrew - Scott N. Callaham
  • Mood and Modality: Rabbinic Hebrew - Mordechay Mishor
  • Mood and Modality: Modern Hebrew - Nora Boneh
  • Tense: Biblical Hebrew - Galia Hatav
  • Tense: Rabbinic Hebrew - Gregor Geiger
  • Tense: Modern Hebrew - Nora Boneh

3.6 Pragmatics

  • Speech Acts: Biblical Hebrew - Andreas Wagner
  • Speech Acts: Modern Hebrew - Shoshana Blum-Kulka

3.7 Lexicon

  • Neologism - Azzan Yadin
  • Technical Terminology: Modern Hebrew - Nathalie Akoun

3.8 Onomastics

  • Names of People: Biblical Hebrew - Richard S. Hess
  • Names of People: Hellenistic and Roman Period - Tal Ilan
  • Names of People: Middle Ages (Islamic Lands) - Elinoar Bareket
  • Names of People: Personal Names in Pre-Modern Europe - Alexander Beider
  • Names of People: Surnames in Pre-Modern Europe - Alexander Beider
  • Names of People: Modern Hebrew - Judith Rosenhouse
  • Names of People: Modern Hebrew: Philosophical and Sociological Aspects - Michal Ephratt
  • Toponyms: in the Land of Israel - Yoel Elitzur
  • Toponyms outside of the Land of Israel - Esther Adamit

3.9 Sociolinguistics

  • Diglossia: Biblical Hebrew - Gary A. Rendsburg
  • Diglossia: Rabbinic Hebrew - Elitzur A. Bar-Asher Siegel
  • Diglossia: Medieval and Modern Hebrew - David M. Bunis
  • Gender and Language - Malka Muchnik
  • Lingua Franca: In the Mediterranean - Cyril Aslanov
  • Lingua Franca: Jewish Studies - Tsvi Sadan
  • Normativism - Einat Gonen
  • Purism - Orly Albeck
  • Slang, Israeli Hebrew - Malka Muchnik

4 Foreign Influence on Hebrew

  • Contact of Hebrew with Other Languages - Azzan Yadin-Israel
  • Arabic Influence: Medieval Period - Simon Hopkins
  • Arabic Influence: Modern Period - Roni Henkin-Roitfarb
  • Aramaic Influence on Biblical Hebrew - Christian Stadel
  • English Influence on Hebrew - Judith Rosenhouse
  • German Influence on Hebrew - Cordelia Hoestermann
  • Greek Influence on Hebrew: Late Antiquity - Nicholas de Lange
  • Greek Influence on Hebrew: Medieval Period - Nicholas de Lange
  • Italian Influence on Hebrew - Michael Ryzhik
  • Judeo-Arabic Influence on the Emergence of Registers in Modern Hebrew - Yehudit Henshke
  • Judeo-Spanish Influence on Hebrew - Ora (Rodrigue) Schwarzwald
  • Latin Influence on Hebrew - Cyril Aslanov
  • Slavic Influence on Hebrew - Keren Dubnov
  • Turkish Influence on Hebrew in the Ottoman Empire - David M. Bunis
  • Yiddish Influence on Hebrew - Hava Farstey

5 Loanwords in Hebrew

  • Borrowing in Modern Hebrew - Yitzhak Shlesinger
  • Akkadian Loanwords - Paul Mankowski
  • Arabic Loanwords - Haseeb Shehadeh
  • Aramaic Loanwords and Borrowing - Talya Shitrit
  • Egyptian Loanwords - Aaron D. Rubin
  • English Loanwords - Judith Rosenhouse
  • French Loanwords - Cyril Aslanov
  • Greek Loanwords - Shai Heijmans
  • Indian Loanwords - Dennis Kurzon
  • Italian Loanwords - Marco Mancini
  • Judeo-Spanish Loanwords - Ora (Rodrigue) Schwarzwald
  • Persian Loanwords - Thamar E. Gindin
  • Slavic Loanwords - Julia G. Krivoruchko
  • Sumerian Loanwords - Aaron D. Rubin
  • Yiddish and German Loanwords - Israel Bartal

6 Hebrew Loanwords in Other Languages

  • Arabic, Hebrew Loanwords in: Pre-Modern Period - Simon Hopkins
  • Arabic, Hebrew Loanwords in: Modern Period - Roni Henkin-Roitfarb
  • Castilian Spanish, Hebrew Loanwords in - Mª Teresa Ortega-Monasterio
  • English, Hebrew Loanwords in - John Huehnergard
  • Esperanto and Hebrew - Tsvi Sadan
  • Ethiopian Semitic, Hebrew Loanwords in - Olga Kapeliuk
  • French, Hebrew Loanwords in - Michel Masson
  • Germanic Languages, Hebrew Loanwords in - Esther-Miriam Wagner
  • Hungarian, Hebrew Loanwords in - Viktória Bányai & Szonja Ráhel Komoróczy
  • Italian, Hebrew Loanwords in - Riccardo Contini
  • Latin, Hebrew Loanwords in - Matthew Kraus
  • Portuguese, Hebrew Loanwords in - Cyril Aslanov
  • Romanian, Hebrew Loanwords in - Cyril Aslanov
  • Rotwelsch, Hebrew Loanwords in - Gary A. Rendsburg & Robert Jütte
  • Tigrinya, Hebrew Loanwords in - Leonid Kogan

7 Traditions of Hebrew in Jewish Communities

  • Algeria - Ofra Tirosh- Becker
  • Ashkenazi Pronunciation Tradition: Medieval - Ilan Eldar
  • Ashkenazi Pronunciation Tradition: Modern - Lewish Glinert
  • Ashkenazi Talmudic Intonation - Zelda Kahan Newman
  • Baghdad, Pronunciation Tradition - Nimrod Shatil
  • China - Yiyi Chen
  • France - Yishai Neuman
  • France, Pronunciation Traditions in Pre-Modern South-Western France - Moshe Bar-Asher
  • India - Shalva Weil
  • Italy: Roman Period to Late Antiquity - Giancarlo Lacerenza
  • Italy: Middle Ages - Michela Andreatta
  • Italy: Pre-Modern Period - 1500–1700 - Fabrizio Lelli
  • Italy: Modern Period - Marco Di Giulio
  • Italy, Pronunciation Traditions - Michael Ryzhik
  • Karaite Pronunciation Traditions: Modern - Tapani Harviainen
  • Kerala, Pronunciation Tradition - Jarmo Forsström
  • Kurdistan, Pronunciation Tradition - Yona Sabar
  • Morocco, Pronunciation Traditions - Natali Akun
  • Netherlands - Irene E. Zwiep
  • Provence - Simone Mrejen- O'Hana
  • Russia - Yeshayahu Gruber
  • Scandinavia - Tapani Harviainen
  • Sephardi Pronunciation Traditions of Hebrew - Yehudit Henshke
  • South America - Edson de Faria Francisco
  • Spain - Gregorio del Lete Olmo
  • Tunisia - Yosef Tobi & Tsivia Tobi
  • Tunisia, Pronunciation Traditions - Yehudit Henshke
  • Ultra Orthodox Jews: in Israel - Dalit Assouline
  • Ultra-Orthodox Jews: in the Diaspora - Lewis Glinert
  • United States - Shalom Goldman
  • Yemen - Yosef Tobi
  • Yemen, Pronunciation Traditions - Doron Ya'akov

8 Hebrew Component in Jewish Languages

  • Jewish English, Hebrew Component in - Sarah Bunin Benor
  • Judeo-Alsatian, Hebrew Component in - Cyril Aslanov
  • Judeo-Arabic, Medieval, Hebrew Component in - Joshua Blau
  • Judeo-Arabic, Egyptian, Hebrew Component in - Gabriel M. Rosenbaum
  • Judeo-Arabic, Iraqi, Hebrew Component in - Aharon Geva Kleinberger
  • Iraq, Hebrew Component of Judeo-Arabic - Yitzhak Avishur
  • Judeo-Arabic, Libya, Hebrew Component in - Sumikazu Yoda
  • Judeo-Arabic, North Africa, Hebrew Component in - Moshe Bar-Asher
  • Judeo-Arabic, Syria, Hebrew Component in - Werner Arnold
  • Judeo-Arabic, Yemen, Hebrew Component in - Ori Shachmon
  • Judeo-French, Hebrew Component in - Marc Kiwitt
  • Judeo-Georgian, Hebrew Component in - Reuven Enoch
  • Judeo-Greek, Hebrew Component in - Julia G. Krivoruchko
  • Judeo-Italian, Hebrew Component in - George Jochnowitz
  • Judeo-Malayalam, Hebrew Component in - Ophira Gamliel
  • Judeo-Persian, Hebrew Component in - Thamar E. Gindin
  • Judeo-Portuguese, Hebrew Component in - Devon L. Strolovitch
  • Judeo-Provençal, Hebrew Component in - George Jochnowitz
  • Judeo-Slavic, Hebrew Component in - Cyril Aslanov
  • Judeo-Spanish - Judezmo, Hebrew Component in - David M. Bunis
  • Karaim, Hebrew Component in - Henryk Jankowski
  • Modern Jewish Aramaic, Hebrew Component in - Yona Sabar
  • Polish Slang, Hebrew Component in - Andrzej Zaborski
  • Yiddish, Hebrew Component in - Tsvi Sadan

9 Miscellaneous (Partial)

  • Internet - Tsvi Sadan
  • The Academy of the Hebrew Language - Ronit Gadish
  • Universities, Hebrew Studies in - Pablo Kirtchuk

PS: Having browsed these entries to prepare this list, I have realized that I mistook the title of one entry I had been asked to write on and wrote on something else instead. What a shame!

PPS: In my humble opinion, at least the following entries are missing: Rabbinic Hebrew; Semantics: Biblical Hebrew; Semantics: Modern Hebrew; Electronic Lexicography; Language Planning; Language Policy; Computational Linguisics.


Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde inside Me

I keep repeating the same mistake of writing emotional (mostly aggressive and sarcastic) email messages in the evening after supper, when I also drink wine. It is known that we tend to be more emotional in the evening, and wine certainly makes us even more emotional. In face-to-face communication I can control myself well enough, but when it comes to email, I seem to be drifted away so easily by emotions in the evening, especially after drinking wine.

I often find it very difficult to reread in the next morning what I wrote in the evening, as I sound very aggressive, saying things I would not dare to say in other occasions. This does not mean that I did not think that way. The difference is whether I say or nor what I think. For this lack of self-control, I started to impose upon myself a new rule of closing my email program before supper and not reopening it afterward until next morning. But it sometimes happens that I have to reopen it when I am expecting important and urgent work-related messages, then I also notice other messages, to which I often find myself replying emotionally.

I am not sure anymore which is my real personality, "Dr. Jekyll" or "Mr. Hyde", or probably both. Certain people who have never met me probably know me only as "Mr. Hyde" if the only chance to judge me was from my aggressive and sarcastic email messages written in the evening. As "Dr. Jekyll" now in the morning I am also afraid that "Mr. Hyde", who often collaborates with wine and takes control of me in the evening, has already caused irreversible damage to my reputation in certain circles. What is done is done, but "Dr Jekyll" inside me does not know what he can do with "Mr. Hyde" inside me in the future.


Independent Study of the Talmud

Now that I finished all the talks I was supposed to give this summer in academic conferences here in Israel and abroad, and the month of Elul, which is the beginning of a new academic year in the yeshiva world, started this week, I resumed my study of the Talmud this week. But this time it is independent as I cannot continue it at the yeshiva. During the week I prepare one page of the tractate מכות by myself, and on Friday I have two weekly sessions with my study partners. In the first session I study that page with a new partner who has a similar academic background and a similar level; we study in bekhavruse in its accepted sense of the word. In the second my second partner, who is FFB and far more advanced than I, explains the same page, so this is more like a shiur.

This new challenge of learning the Talmud with no yeshiva environment has already shown me two important things: 1) the benefits of a yeshiva as a learning and supportive environment; 2) the study tools I seem to have acquired through an intensive formal study of the Talmud at an Ashkenazi haredi yeshiva.

The greatest benefit of studying at a yeshiva is, of course, that we can learn directly from rabbis who themselves learned directly from other rabbis in this unbroken chain of the traditional Jewish teaching and learning. Another, no less important, advantage is the atmosphere of the yeshiva. We are surrounded daily not only by inspiring rabbis but also by like-minded fellow students, which produces a supportive environment, which in turn helps us persevere in this highly challenging intellectual pursuit of ours.

The main purpose of my spending one academic year at Ohr Somayach was to learn how to learn the Talmud independently after leaving it. Having struggled with a new page of a new tractate, I think I have achieved this goal in overall terms, though I can always strive for a higher level. Now I can, for example, read unvocalized Aramaic texts of the Talmud quite fluently, punctuate them, anticipate questions, and follow the logical flow of arguments that can stretch over pages. What I have attained in one year may be comparable to what I have attained in an intensive swimming lesson.

I am especially indebted to Rabbi Dovid Kaplan of this amazing yeshiva in Jerusalem for this feeling of mine. He has inspired me beyond words both as a Torah scholar but also as a human being with his deep knowledge and unwavering faith. When I started learning there, I was not sure what would await me. But what Rabbi Kaplan wrote in the introduction to his own book The Ohr Somayach Gemara Companion has come true: "Talmud study is a fascinating, challenging, stimulating, thought-provoking, wholesomely addictive activity which has experienced and enjoyed by millions of Jews throughout history. So to you, dear reader, we say: jump into the "sea" of Talmud and allow yourself the exhilarating experience of being swallowed up by the waves. But be aware - once it takes hold of you, it will never let go."


98th World Congress of Esperanto in Reykjavik

I was in Reykjavik for the first time this week to participate and give a series of talks in the 98th World Congress of Esperanto. This was the third time to participate in the World Congress of Esperanto. In my second participation two years ago in Copenhagen I noticed a few things I had not noticed four years before in Bialystok. And actually my talks were on one of these things - problems of intercultural communication in Esperanto.

The main claim of my talks was very simple - it is not enough to share a common language in order to communicate with people from other countries without misunderstanding each other; the problems can be more severe in Esperanto ironically because it is culturally neutral and every Esperantist can use his or her cultural norm.

But this time I realized that there are at least two problems that are more fundamental than these in communication between Esperantists. The common denominator between the two is that for many Esperantists intercultural communication in Esperanto does not even constitute problems for very ridiculous reasons. First, in order to experience problems of communication, one has to communicate first. I have seen that many people participate in the World Congress of Esperanto only nominally and do not take the trouble of coming to the congress venue even once; instead, they are busy sightseeing in the city where the congress takes place and/or its vicinities, and many of them continue to speak their native language with those from the same country. Second, there seem to be quite a few, even among participants in the World Congress, who do not know Esperanto to communicate in Esperanto with speakers of other ethnic languages. They will definitely experience no problems of intercultural communication simply because they cannot communicate.

Not everything was negative. I have also had two new positive experiences. The first is that having participated as a new member of the Academy of Esperanto in its public session, I was so instigated by witnessing the depth and breadth of the linguistic knowledge of some of the more experienced members of the academy. This has made me realize that now I have a new responsibility and I have to improve my language more and more to live up to it. The second is that for the first time in my life as an Esperantist I had a conversation that was not superficial with two Japanese Esperantists, except for two fellow sociolinguists of mine in Japan.

I have also realized how deeply I have been affected by the study of the Talmud in the way I think and speak. I cannot fully enjoy anymore shmoozing with those who have never studied the Talmud in a traditional manner, so think and speak differently than we. In this respect it was a great relief to be interrupted and questioned when I shmoozed with a few friends trained in the Talmud upon my return to Israel.


End of the Formal Study of the Talmud at the Yeshiva

Unfortunately, the formal study of the Talmud I started in the middle of October last year at Ohr Somayach, an English-speaking Ashkenazi haredi yeshiva catering for those with little or no background in the study of the Talmud, came to an end this Sunday. This was one of the most challenging but exciting and unforgettable learning experiences I have ever had in my entire life so far. It has also made me decide to commit myself to a life-long study of the Talmud, though, unfortunately, not in the framework of the yeshiva.

What was the main purpose of this study? It was to learn how to learn the Talmud independently. I cannot say that I can already learn the Talmud fully independently without using modern commentaries like Schottenstein Edition Talmud Bavli and Koren Talmud Bavli. But I feel I am on the right track. The fear of Aramaic, which used to be the main obstacle that prevented me from jumping into the sea of the Talmud, has also disappeared. Now I fully realize that the language is only a technical issue. What is far more important and difficult is to follow and understand the logic and dialectic of the Talmud.

While I studied at the yeshiva, I also continued learning the Talmud once a week with a Hebrew-speaking good old haredi friend of mine, who is far more advanced than I as he has been learning it since childhood. We will continue our weekly study. I am also supposed to start learning once a week with an English-speaking new study partner, who is also a linguist and studied the Talmud at another Ashkenazi haredi yeshiva in Jerusalem. This weekly study with two partners alone might not be the same as the formal study at the yeshiva, but it is the best I can afford now. I may also use an amazing online shiur called Daf Hachaim.

I am already planning to give a talk about this experience of mine at the yeshiva to a group of those interested in Jewish culture in Kobe, Japan during the next winter vacation in February 2014. I have even finished preparing the gist of the talk while my memory of this experience is still fresh. If I am to be sincere, I seem to have no choice to tell them, among others, that the Talmud is not what they think it is: its pages on the halakha, or Jewish law, which constitute the majority of the pages of the Talmud, are irrelevant to non-Jews (as well as non-observant Jews); unless one is a super-genius, one cannot learn the Talmud without learning first how to learn it from someone who is part of the unbroken chain of the Oral Torah.


Society vs. Culture

Ironically, it was not when I received Israeli citizenship but when I started kvetching about Israeli society that I felt that I became an Israeli. And I do continue to kvetch about it. So I was been looking for a trip to New York this week, though for only five days, as I remembered feeling so comfortable there in my previous visits and saw this one as an opportunity to have some rest from Israeli society.

But this time I felt something totally unexpected - I was so relieved to return to Israel. I have realized that in spite of all the complaints I have about this society I can feel more relaxed here than in any other society in the world. I seem to have had this sense of relaxation because I can say or do something to someone else here naturally without asking myself twice in advance and I am most natural when I speak Hebrew.

This new realization has also made me realize that actually society and culture are not always synonymous as I used to think before, that is, one can live comfortably in some society without necessarily feeling identified with its (mainstream) culture. And this is what I feel so intensely now about Israeli society and its native culture, whether secular or religious.

In retrospect, my sense of alienation from native Israeli culture seems to have started quite a long time ago though it is only rather recently that I have come to be aware of it. By "culture" I mean both arts and mentality. No native Israeli art appeals to me, be it literature or music. Nor do I feel identified with the mentality of many average native Israelis. All in all, I feel no need to acculturate here to the mainstream, and I even find myself distancing myself from it though I am not sure if this is conscious or unconscious. Although this may make my life here more difficult, I cannot cheat myself. But fortunately, there are enough people around me, even including those who were born here, who feel as I do.


With How Many People One Can Keep in Touch Electronically

I have been unable to remain in contact with people who do not use email except for a handful of special people. I wonder with how many people average netizens keep in touch by email. As for as I am concerned, 200 people seem to be the maximum. On the one hand, new email addresses are being added to my email address book, but on the other hand, I am forced to clean it up by deleting those addresses of people who consistently ignore my sincere questions by email or with whom I have not exchanged any message for a long period of time (let's say at least a few years). Then the number of email addresses never exceeds 200.

Rather recently I read an online article to the effect that 250 seems to be the maximum number of people average email users can keep in touch with. So my number seems to match this number if I add the addresses of about 50 mailing lists and email newsletters I subscribe to. With these addresses included my email address book has never exceeded 250 email addresses, but I have no idea why this number is the maximum for me, too.

Email is not the only way of keeping in touch with others electronically. There are a plethora of social network services, including Facebook and Twitter. They seem to have grown in popularity so much that someone who does not have a Facebook account does not exist electronically for many netizens. Personally I have never felt any need to join such services for a number of reasons, including my impression that many postings there are quite narcissistic, though I do find one advantage of social network services to email, which is that they are far less binding.

In spite of the reservations I have about these services I have been using one social network service for quite some time, and it is for purely academic purposes - Academia.edu (my account is http://biu.academia.edu/tsvisadan/). In this service you can follow the academic activities, especially publications of your fellow researchers. I wish more researchers, especially those whose scholarly outputs interest me, joined this highly useful service, and more of those who have already joined it updated their respective pages, for example, by uploading their new publications. Unfortunately, I know quite a few researchers who are addicted to Facebook and/or Twitter but have not used this academic social network service.

Again its advantage is that it allows me to keep in touch electronically with those researchers with whom I would not be able to do so by email. But there seems to be a limit to the number of researchers you can follow in this means of electronic communication, too. Even if all the researchers on the planet joined it, I would not be able to follow more than 200, including those researchers whom I know personally and those who are towering figures in my research interests.


Intercultural Communication as a Rediscovered Area of Intellectual Interest

Having celebrated my 50th birthday a few months ago, I am now rediscovering two things that seem to have fascinated me intellectually and physically respectively more than three decades ago when I was still a high school student in a small rural town in the north of Japan - intercultural communication and yoga.

When I was in high school, there was a time when I seriously dreamed of becoming a yogi. ;-) But since then my life has taken a very strange path which even the wildest imagination could think of, and I have ended up a linguist specializing in Hebrew, Yiddish and Esperanto in Israel. ;-)

I rediscovered intercultural communication as a subject of study (as well as a matter of personal curiosity), ultimately when I experienced serious problems in communicating with Esperantists from other cultures I met in two world congress of Esperanto I participated in four and two years ago respectively, and directly when I decided to deal with these problems rather systematically and give a talk on subject in the forthcoming world congress of Esperanto this summer.

Actually the first two books I read on linguistics in my life when I was still a high school student were those on intercultural communication; they analyzed problems of verbal communication between Japanese and Americans and between Japanese and Europeans respectively. But even when I started majoring in languages and linguistics in the university, it never occurred to me to study intercultural communication systematically, nor does it seem to have been established as an independent discipline of linguistics.

Preparing now a talk on problems of intercultural communication among Esperantists, I am simply amazed to have found such an amazing quantity of such high-quality theoretical and empirical studies on intercultural communication.

Having read some of these studies, I now realize clearly that actually I have been living intercultural communication not only outside Japan but even inside Japan ever since I left the place where I was born and spent the first 18 years of my life. In this respect intercultural communication seems to be different from other areas of my academic interest as it is not only academic but also personal.

(* About yoga as a rediscovered area of physical interest some other time.)


The First Attack of Gout

Unfortunately, the "fateful" day has finally come to me. Gout started its first attack on me this Wednesday morning. Since then my right big toe started to swell up, and the resulting pain became more and more acute, until I could not walk at all yesterday. Before I reached this stage, I succeeded to shlep myself somehow to my family doctor and receive some painkiller the day before yesterday, though I have not benn able to feel its effect very much.

Although I am not a medical doctor, I know exactly what has caused gout to me - daily consumption of a large quantity of alcohol: until this first attack I used to drink, at least in the last few years, 2-3 liters of beer every weekday and one bottle of red wine for each of the three Sabbath meals from Friday evening until Saturday late afternoon. When consumed in a large quantity, alcohol, especially beer, is known to elevate the level of uric acid in blood, which in turn crystallizes and deposits in joints, especially in those of big toes. And the result is a swollen joint and excruciating pain, which you would prefer never to know.

Having checked the archive of this blog of mine, I have found that actually in March 2007 one of my big toes got swollen a little, though there was not concomitant pain. Then I saw this as a kind of early warning of gout and decided to stop drinking beer and switch to red wine. This decision seems to have lasted only for about three years. Little by little I resumed drinking beer, and I also found myself drinking more and more beer daily on weekdays.

This time the attack was real. I had no choice but to make a resolution of stopping beer and allowing myself the pleasure of drinking red wine, but up to two glasses per meal, and that only on Sabbath and holidays. Since Wednesday I have not drunk any alcohol. I do not even remember when I refrained from drinking alcohol for two consecutive days last time. I have also reexamined my diet and other daily habits according to the recommendation by my family doctor and those by other experts I found online. Except for the exaggerated daily consumption of alcohol, I have not found anything wrong that must be changed fundamentally.

Another factor that is known to elevate the level of uric acid in blood is stress. I am afraid that it must have been another cause of my gout. Probably the worst kind of stress I feel in Israel is sociocultural both privately and occupationally. At least on sabbatical this year I am spared this sociocultural stress as the people I meet regularly are rabbis and other students at an American haredi yeshiva. But I am afraid that once this sabbatical has ended and I have returned to "normalcy", I may experience the same sociocultural stress even more intensively. Actually, one of the reasons for drinking was to relieve this stress, though I admit that this is not a healthy way. I have to start looking for other ways to cope with this stress as more than half of this sabbatical is over and I have no less than two more months at the yeshiva.


Is Esperanto Really an Easy Language?

Because of some coincidences I find myself these days thinking again quite intensively in and about Esperanto, but this time I cannot help applying the Talmudic way of thinking to the same mantra many Esperantists, for example, in Japan, repeat without thinking about it more deeply. This mantra is "Esperanto is an easy language". Is it?! ;-) I cannot help wondering why I have met few Japanese Esperantists speaking Esperanto very well in terms of the pronunciation, lexical richness and eloquence if this mantra they repeat is really true.

When talking about the difficulty of a foreign language, one must distinguish between the difficulty in relative terms and the difficulty in absolute terms. And the difficulty in relative terms is further divided into the difficulty in comparison with other languages and the difference in the difficulty between speakers of different native languages. If we take native speakers of Japanese as an example, Esperanto is definitely much easier than European ethnic languages such as English, German and French, but it is far more difficult for them than for native speakers of these European languages. So in the first sense of the difficulty Esperanto is equally easier for everyone, but in its second sense it is easier for speakers of certain languages than those of other languages.

But the real problem is with the difficulty in absolute terms. It is true that Esperanto is easier than any other socially functioning language though the degree of difficulty depends on the native language of its learner. But in absolute terms Esperanto can be difficult for native speakers of all languages equally after they have mastered its grammar and acquired more than enough lexicon. The next step is to learn to use Esperanto actively. In this respect it is not different from any other language, so it is equally difficult. Those who repeat the above mantra are either unaware of this type of difficulty or ignore it on purpose for the sake of propaganda, though they themselves do not speak Esperanto well enough.

In short, the above mentioned naive mantra does more harm than good. It should be taken with the utmost caution, but I do not know how we can warn every possible learner of Esperanto of it. Because of this kind of propaganda, many beginners leave the study of language as they themselves find that it is not so easy as they were told. Do I find Esperanto difficult? Yes, I do, especially after I passed the initial stage more than two decades. But I consider the time and money I spent for learning Esperanto further as one of my best intellectual investments in my entire life. A Jew has to finish everything he writes with optimism, doesn't he? ;-)


Taming Windows 8

As far as I am concerned, Windows 8 is a mixture of a blessing and a curse as an operating system. It is a blessing mainly in that it starts and shuts down much faster than its predecessor. But it is a curse in that its new UI is less easy to work with, especially when I do not use my computer as a tablet, i.e., most of the time when I use my computer. Using Windows 8 with this new UI without taming it significantly decreases one's productivity. Actually, the new UI consists of two parts: 1) the legacy desktop UI, 2) the so-called Modern UI. And each of them has its own curse. But fortunately, there is a solution to each of them.

The curse in the legacy desktop UI is the disappearance of the "Start" button. This is probably the worst change ever made in Windows as an operating system, and it is no wonder that many people complain about it. Fortunately, there are a number of free and commercial programs that restore this button. My favorite is Start8. Although it is a commercial program, its price is ridiculously low, and it is definitely worth its price. I cannot imagine using Windows 8 without it, and I wonder how those who do not use this or a similar program manage. I would even say that this is probably the single most important program I use on Windows 8.

Modern UI is a very esthetic UI, but it is not free from its own curse. The biggest complaint I have about it is that applications running in this UI are maximized, so one cannot switch between multiple open applications easily, nor can one use them with desktop programs running in the desktop UI. ModernMix solves these inconveniences.

Once these UI-related curses are lifted with these two tiny but powerful tools, Windows 8 becomes a usable operating system. Actually, I consider it the best version of Windows. I still do not understand why Microsoft made such user-unfriendly decisions in designing the two UIs of Windows 8. I am just sorry for a large percentage of Windows 8 users who are forced to cope with these curses without knowing that the curses can be easily broken at a minimal cost.


7th Asian Congress of Esperanto in Jerusalem

The 7th Asian Congress of Esperanto was held from last Thursday (2013-04-18) until this Monday (2013-04-22). About 160 people from 26 countries, including many from Europe, took part in this international event. Although I was one of its organizers, I initially planned to participate in it only for two days, but I ended up participating in it every day. It was much more than I had expected. Although the congress was called "Asian", participants from Europe seem to have contributed much more to its success than those from Asia.

Having spent five days in this temporary speech community of Esperantists, I have reconfirmed what I experienced and felt in two world congresses I took part in in 2009 in Bialystok and in 2011 in Copenhagen - problems of intercultural communication in Esperanto, on which I will give a talk in a systematic manner in the forthcoming world congress this July in Reykjavik, though I am rather afraid that I may speak publicly about a taboo many Esperantists might prefer not to speak about.

This time I have even found a more fundamental problem than problems of intercultural communication in Esperanto - some Esperantists, mostly from some specific cultures I will not mention in public, seem to have had no reason to invest their time and money to study Esperanto and maintain it in the first place simply because they do not seem to use it with speakers of other native languages except for greeting them and having a very shallow conversation at most; it is most likely that even in their mother tongue they have no intellectual dialog with anyone else.

Actually one can also call this a problem of intercultural communication. Every culture dictates its members what topics (not) to talk about, how to talk about them, etc. In this respect I have reconfirmed that more than 90% of the people, including Esperantists, behave according to the cultural stereotypes we have about them. Actually, it is thanks to them that each society functions normally. Of course, I would prefer those who defy these stereotypes. But I have also reconfirmed with people of which cultures I enjoy shmoozing even when they speak according to the cultural stereotypes about them - three groups in a random order: 1) Ashkenazi haredim, even if they are Israelis ;-); 2) Jewish American intellectuals; 3) Russian intellectuals, whether Jewish or not (and the common denominator between the three groups is that I can argue with them about every imaginable topic in a very unpredictable manner). Unfortunately, those from the first two groups are few and far between among Esperantists.


Byproduct of the Study of the Talmud

After one month of intersemestrial vacation we also returned this Wednesday to our regular study of the Talmud at our yeshiva like every other haredi yeshiva in the Jewish world. It is so uplifting to return there, especially after my four-week stay in Japan during this vacation. While in Japan, I felt as if I were living on my internal battery with no power recharger. But once I have returned to the yeshiva, I feel as if I were reconnected to the source of power. Now I feel that my internal battery is fully recharged.

But the influence of the study of the Talmud at the yeshiva seems to go far beyond this. Now I feel on my own flesh so keenly how it sharpens my mind. In this respect the study of the Talmud (at least in a traditional manner at a haredi yeshiva) can be called mental martial arts.

I have studied the Talmud at our amazing yeshiva only for five months so far, but I can already find logical flaws in other people's arguments, whether academic or personal, so easily. As I always liked to argue with others and was confrontational even before starting to study the Talmud at the yeshiva, I find it now more and more difficult with this byproduct of the study of the Talmud to resist the temptation of challenging someone else who makes logically flawed arguments. And it seems so easy to refute someone else who is not trained in the Talmud.

Of course, I do not challenge anyone else in order to refute him or her but only for the truth. But I have to learn to resist this temptation so as not to make unknown enemies of myself unnecessarily. Unfortunately, many people might take purely intellectual challenges as attacks ad hominem.


Negative Energy in Japan

This morning I returned to Jerusalem from a four-week trip in Japan. This was not the first time that I felt negative energy there, but this time I felt it so strongly, probably because I flew there immediately after the end of the first semester at the yeshiva, where I had such a powerful experience full of positive energy. The gap between the yeshiva and Japan was just too much to get used to in a single day. But on the other hand, I felt that the longer I stayed there, the more negative energy I became filled with.

I used to think and still think that this strong negative energy in Japan stems from sociocultural factors. Many people seem to be constantly afraid of something, thus seem depressed, and they depress others around themselves in turn. Even their seeming politeness seems to be nothing but a reflection of their constant fear of being disliked by others and other kinds of sociocultural fears. During these four weeks I saw few naturally smiling happy faces in Japan. I have also come to a conclusion that excessive consumerism there only serves as a kind of materialistic compensation for lack of inner happiness among many people living there.

The only place where I could feel positive energy among all the places I visited during this trip in Japan was the synagogue in Kobe (I am sure that I will be able to have a similar feeling in Chabad Center in Tokyo, which I have never visited). I spent the whole Passover there, so I had enough time to shmooze with two young Chabad rabbis sent from New York to Kobe to help the rabbi of the community. Shmoozing with them was not only intellectually inspiring but also spiritually uplifting. Actually, all the Chabad emissaries I met in Kobe deeply impressed me. The two most impressive things about them are their mastery of English, Hebrew and Yiddish and their joy of life. I have started to wonder what educational system Chabad has to produce such amazing people whom the present Japanese educational system will never ever be able to produce.

During the Passover in the synagogue in Kobe I had also a chance to shmooze with an Israeli acquaintance of mine whom I had met there a few times in my previous visits. He had a very interesting explanation about why Japan is so full of negative energy and so many people seem depressed (as well as why the synagogue is devoid of such negative energy). He explained this in physical terms. Although I could not verify his explanation scientifically, it made sense to me. But of course, I also think that sociocultural factors contribute to the negative energy rampant in Japan.

I know that writing about something negative emits negative energy, but I have decided to do this as a catalyst, hoping to recharge myself with positive energy in the second semester at the yeshiva, which will start in several days.


Email Has Become Half-Dead as a Means of Communication

When I started using email in 1997, I was still considered an early adopter, and I did not have enough people to email. The biggest problem with email back then was purely technical - lack of multilingual support as Unicode had not been implemented in mailers yet. As email became more and more popular and the computer literacy of the average email users became lower and lower, my next problem with email shifted to their ignorance of email netiquettes. In the meanwhile I have come to realize that my fight against it is Quixotic and have stopped it.

Now that email has become so rampant, my problem is something totally different; it is not technical but human. More and more email users, at least those I have to email, send no replies and keep silent. As of now, more than one third of the questions I email, whether personal or work-related, are unanswered, and I have an impression that the percentage of these people is increasing.

There are three types of silence that annoy me so much that if someone I know behaves that way repeatedly or sometimes even just twice or three times, I even delete his or her email address from my address book, as I know that email is dead as a means of communication with him or her. Of course, these annoyances are found in face-to-face communication, but if they occur online, I often lose my temper completely, as there is not other clue unlike in face-to-face communication to guess what he or she thinks.

The most annoying type of online silence is to ignore sincere questions. If I have to send a question to someone only once, I can cope somehow with his or her silence, as I will never email him or her again. But if I have to send the same question to the same person regularly (and I really have to), his or her repeated silence drives me crazy. Unfortunately, there are people with whom I have to remain in touch for one reason or another, so I am forced to send them the same question again and again regularly until I receive their reply.

The second type of annoying online silence is lack of thanks. I often receive questions both from people I know and from those I do not know. Then I almost always answer them immediately in as detailed a manner as I can. But amazingly, many of these people simply keep silent afterward, even without acknowledging receipt of my answers. Of course, I do not answer them to be thanked. I may be still narrow-minded, but next time these people email me questions, I simply ignore them.

And the third type of annoying online silence is lack of apologies. Unfortunately, too many people, especially (but not only) in Israel, make promises without asking themselves enough whether they can keep them, and as a result they break the promises they made by email. I would expect receiving their apologies by email in such a case. But those who have this minimal netiquette are not many. What I receive instead is their silence.

I consider email as the most important service of the Internet, even more than the web. I would even say that it is a revolution in the history of communication. But unfortunately, email has become half-dead to me as a means of communication mainly because of these three types of silence. I am also annoyed by the very fact that I simply do not understand what these people think when they decide to keep silent in these manners.


Sabbatical and Teaching

Being exempt from teaching is supposed to be one of the greatest benefits of a sabbatical. I hoped that I would be able to dedicate all the time otherwise spent for teaching to my own study. But unfortunately, human psychology does not seem to work so simply according to mathematical calculation. Actually, I have already started to miss teaching. I am also comparing the benefit of being exempt from teaching with that of spending time for teaching.

It is true that I have difficulties in teaching if I have to cope with those who are not motivated and/or have not been taught what not to do in class. But if (the majority of) the students in class are motivated (and know how to behave in class), I benefit from interacting with them, as this interaction can stimulate my mind and give me all kinds of new ideas. I realize this now so clearly as I have not been away from teaching for such a long time in the past two decades.

I also notice another benefit of teaching. It keeps me busy, so I am more aware of time management. When we know that we can use 24 hours every day solely for ourselves, many of us, including myself, of course, are liable to use the time less efficiently. And unfortunately, this is exactly what I do. In other words, many people, again including myself, can be more self-disciplined, ironically when we are busier, though, of course, there is a limit to our busyness.


First One Third of the Sabbatical

The first one third of my first sabbatical has ended. I can even say that actually the first half has ended, as the last four months are an annual summer vacation which I have when I am not on sabbatical, too. Now I am reflecting upon what I originally planned to do and what I have accomplished so far so that I may use the next four months until the summer vacation more efficiently. I originally planned to do two things on this first sabbatical of mine - one thing is private, and the other professional.

Privately, I planned to formally study every weekday morning at a haredi yeshiva how to study the Talmud independently. Although I cannot study a totally new page of the Talmud independently, I feel that I am on the right track. If I compare what I was in the beginning with what I am now, I can feel a huge progress both in terms of my understanding of the language and logic of the Talmud as well as my commitment to its study even after the end of my formal study at the yeshiva. I was also promoted from a class where the emphasis was more on the literal meaning of the Talmud to a class where we concentrate more on how each thread of discussions is structured. Our teacher, Rabbi Dovid Kaplan, is simply amazing! He simply asks us all kinds of questions keep the four of us in his class silent with no answers. Yes, he inspires us, which is a sure sign that he is a great teacher, as the following famous quote says: "A mediocre teacher tells; a good teacher explains; a superior teacher demonstrates; a great teacher inspires." I simply cherish every moment I spend in the class of this inspiring Torah scholar.

Professionally, I fare much less. Originally I planned to read as many books and articles on my waiting list in such areas as Hebrew linguistics, Yiddish linguistics, Esperantology, lexicography, onomastics and sociolinguistics, among others. Unfortunately, however, I have read only one third of what I originally planned to read in four months. When I am at the yeshiva, nobody can disturb me, but when I return home afterward, there are many things that prevent me from concentrating on my original plan of reading the accumulated linguistic literature waiting for me. In other words, I am still "haunted" by the same kind of paperwork which used to take much of my free time.

The greatest professional benefit of sabbatical is probably the fact that I am exempt from teaching. In principle I like to teach and interact with my students. I used to have very serious problems with students in Japan, but unfortunately, I have to confess that I also have certain problems with certain students in Israel, too, though of totally different kinds. I often found myself in deep agony or depression after teaching, mainly because of seemingly unbridgeable cultural differences between me and them. But in spite of everything I have already started to miss teaching very much! I am just curious how this learning experience of mine at the haredi yeshiva will affect my teaching after the sabbatical.


Japanese vs. Israeli/Jewish Modes of Communication

Several incidents of the same kind I experienced both directly and indirectly this week have made me realize anew three things: 1) how different and opposed the Japanese and Israeli/Jewish modes of communication are, 2) I definitely prefer the latter, and 3) how happy I am that I do not have to live in a society where the Japanese mode of communication is the norm. Although I was born and brought up in Japan, I never felt at home there in this and other respects. On the other hand, I really feel like a fish in the water, at least in terms of communication, in Israel, regardless of which language I speak.

Differences between these two cultures are so profound and found in virtually every aspect of communication, be it verbal or nonverbal. I would define the most fundamental opposition between them as mutual gratification for fear of being ostracized in society vs. confrontation in search of truth or better understanding for oneself. The difference is probably mutually exclusive and seems to leave little or no room for compromise, i.e., people from these two modes of communication could seldom or never communicate with each other beyong the level of basic daily conversations without being misunderstood and/or offending or being offended.

This difference can be exemplified, among others, by the way someone reacts to his or her interlocutor typically. In the Japanese mode of communication they react by agreeing constantly with each other and even by making every effort to evade any controversial topic which is liable to lead to confrontation, while in the Israeli/Jewish mode of commutation they constantly try to refute each other logically.

The Japanese mode of communication might be pleasing to the ears, but generally speaking, it is often so unbearably boring for me with few or no intellectual stimuli. On the other hand, the Israeli/Jewish mode of communication must be very harsh for someone who has never experienced it, but for someone deeply steeped in it other modes of communication, especially the Japanese mode of communication, seem so "bland".

This mixed sense of boredom with the Japanese mode of communication and of reappreciation of the Israeli/Jewish mode of communication seems to have been intensified as a result of my study of the Talmud at the yeshiva now, in which I am constantly engaged in arguments, counter-arguments, counter-counter-arguments etc. by our Mishnaic and Talmudic sages and my classmates. Although I have studied the Talmud only for three months, I can now detect so easily logical flaws in any argumentation of someone else, especially of those who use the Japanese mode of communication, which is antipodal to the Talmudic method of reasoning.