Sunday, July 05, 2020

Books our Rabbis would ban if they could

Here's my shortlist of terribly subversive books the people in charge of Orthodox Judaism would ban if they could.

Banned Books Week Public Service Announcements | News and Press Center

The Limits of Orthodox Theology by Mark Shapiro
Reason: It demonstrates that Judaism isn't a monolith by proving conclusively that many of the principles we take for granted as essential to Orthodoxy were emphatically denied by some of the great Rabbis.

The Faith of the Mithnagdim: Rabbinic Responses to Hasidic Rapture by Alan Nadler
Paints an unflattering picture of the early Hasidic leaders, while demonstrating how the movement developed historically. Also, it reminds us of a Litvish set of attitudes we'd prefer to forget existed.

The Guide for the Perplexed by Moses Miamonides
Banned in its own time for all sorts of reasons, the book should be prohibited today because it denies the Torah True rule of NO COINCIDENCES

The Bible As It Was by James Kugel
Any of this author's books should be banned. I've highlighted this one because it helps us see how midrashim originated and developed (i.e. not via an unbroken tradition from Sinai)

The Minor Prophets The minor prophets are out because they wasted pages preaching about social justice with hardly a word of complaint about skirt lengths.

Why Evolution Is True by Jerry A. Coyne
Aside for the business about evolution, the book contains lots of two and three-syllable words and relies on non Torah True methods such as logic and empiricism

Constantine's Sword: The Church and the Jews -- A History by James Carrol
Now that the Christians are reliable Zionists and our best friends ever, we would prefer you not recall how they butchered, and debased, and afflicted, and harrased, and humiliated, and tormented us for almost 2000 years. What matters now is that we all hate Muslims.
 
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Wednesday, June 03, 2020

What brings Moshiach

The most basic Jewish idea of Moshiach, that is the core belief found in most, if not all the interpretations, predictions and writings on the subject, is that when Moshiach arrives (whatever that means; more below) things are going to be GOOD. However...

-We don't know what laws or practices will be brought back, or discontinued.

-We don't know if life will change dramatically with a new supernatural order being introduced, or if things will carry on pretty much as they did before.

-We don't even know if the Temple service will be restored.

(Authorities argue about all three of these points; but, as you know, their predictions have no influence over how reality, over time, unfolds.)

In fact, if we're going to be honest and precise, we don't even know if "Messiah" is an authentic Jewish idea going back to Sinai. The whole thing might be the invention of disappointed, impatient and tired-of-being-persecuted Jews during the Persian or Greek periods.[*]

All we do know, and I mean really **know**, is this one thing: Whenever a Jewish thinker made a prediction, or shared a deduction about Moshiach he always, always, always predicted or deduced that things post-Moshiach would be GOOD.

So let's go with that. In fact... maybe Moshiach doesn't come on a donkey. Maybe "Moshiach" is a word to describe the goodness that results as mankind gets its act together. I don't know if we're there yet, but our Southern States are certainly closer to Moshiach then they were when Jim Crow was the rule of their land. We may have miles to go, but Russia is closer than it was 30 years ago, isn't it?

As mankind improves, and puts away its ancient prejudices and pettiness, aren't we getting closer to the GOOD? Might that be what's meant by Moshiach? People getting along, and treating one another with justice?

Moshiach may not appear in the Pentateuch or the Prophets, but this idea that Zion is only redeemed with justice, and that we're all going to suffer until the widow and the orphan are treated properly is everywhere in those books. Everywhere.

[*] I am aware the Talmud and virtually every Jewish thinker of note - from the Mishna on - thought Moshiach was an old, old Jewish idea. However, what can't be denied is that no mention of him appears until Daniel (though hints are discovered in other books) and that nothing overt is said about him, or what he will do anywhere in the Hebrew bible. If you're of a skeptical bent, this is strange and troubling, and perhaps strongly suggestive of something at least quasi heretical.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Who do we consider essential to a minyan?


It's time to get serious. In some areas, shuls are beginning to open up, but seats are limited. The rule is only 10 people per room. Who gets in and who doesn't?

As a DovBear service, here's a quick guide to the men who are not Minyan Essential.


GUY WHO HATES TACHANUN
You have this tremendous yetzer hara to pray less, which is fine, only you dishonestly support it with this show of fake respect for Rabbis no one has ever heard about.  You and your stupid pocket calendar of celebrity yartzeits can stay home.

GUY WHO LEAVES AFTER KEDUSHA
Dude, we need 10 people here until the end. If you can't commit to stay until the end of the last Kaddish we don't need you.

---MOOD MUSIC ---
This is the best, and possibly only song, ever written about a minyan. Give a Listen
-------

GUY WHO ALWAYS SAYS SHHHHHH
First, you disturb the davening more than the talkers. Second, we haven't seen each other in months. If you can't tolerate a little catching up do your blood pressure a favor and stay home


Of course, your shul mask must be black




GUY WHO CORRECTS THE BAAL KOREH
Nobody likes you.

GUY WHO TAKES CONTROL OF THE THERMOSTAT
We understand you are only able to relax when the room temperature is precisely between 70 and 72 degrees. We also feel you'll be more comfortable at home.

GUY WHO LEARNS DURING DAVENING
Stay home, and put out a yard sign that says "I am very holy and studious." Same effect

GUY WHO IS NEVER HAPPY ABOUT THE START TIME
Look, we just want to daven together. If you send out your dumb and angry emails complaining that mincha should be 10 minutes after candles, not 11, you're going to murder the vibe.

GUY WHO DOESN'T SING
There are only ten of us. For this minyan to work, we all need to pull our weight.

Who did I forget?

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Tuesday, May 12, 2020

The Best Lag B'omer Songs

In this post, we'll look at the three most indispensable Lag B'omer songs, ranked in order, with clips to all of them provided.


Note: There are some links in this post that may generate small commissions for me if you click on them and make a purchase. Thanks in advance

Lag B'omer marks the end of the annual spring fast on haircuts and music, and while we still can't do very much about our hair during this ongoing Covid quarantine, there is nothing stopping us from enjoying some music. 

In fact, many schools and synagogues are hosting Zoom events and drive-through events to celebrate. But what are the best Lag B'omer songs? Really, there are only three and if you attend any Lag B'omer event of any size you're sure to hear them over and over again.  

Bar Yochai - THE WORST

Sample the Song


Format:  Extremely long and repetitive piyut, oddly beloved by people who tend to hate piyutim

Traditional tune: Beyond Boring! [But, please lets give credit to Moshe Skier for trying to improve it]

Overall DovBear ranking: Wow, does this song suck. I don't think even the best performer can make it bearable.  You want proof? Soul Farm are truly fantastic performers and their version isn't much good, though they can't be blamed for failing to make bearable something that is inherently unbearable.


L'kovod Hatana Ha'elokai - PERFECTLY FINE



Format: Long, repetitive random collection of verses, oddly beloved by people who tend to hate piyutim
Traditional tune: Not bad, not bad at all.
Overall DovBear ranking: A good song, that can be great in the hands of a talented artists. Unfortunately, I can't find such a performance on the Interwebs. You'll have to make do with this scratchy, difficult to enjoy version, though it offers the added fun of dancing Hasidim



Omar R. Akiva - THE BEST



Best version: Performed by Chilik Frank 


Source: Based on what is probably Rabbi Akiva's best, most famous and most important homily. See my discussion here.
Traditional tune: Awesome
Overall DovBear ranking: A great song, so great that even a terrible musician can't get it wrong. And boy are you in luck, because I have found a fantastic rendition of the song performed by Chilik Frank in which Reb Frank absolutely blows the doors off it. You're welcome. (Its just a shame that after about 3 minutes it cuts short, and turns into UGH Bar Yochai)

On the other hand, if you'd like to hear a version that does the opposite of blow the doors of things, you can listen to an a Capella group do a gentle, quiet folk version here.

Hey, are you hearing these songs for the first time? If so, I'm really curious to hear what you think of them. Please share your reactions in the thread.

Monday, May 11, 2020

36 times our Sages and Rabbis disagreed with the Rambam's Eighth

I found this great list on the Facebook, detailing the varied ways our Sages and Rabbis disagreed with the idea that the Torah we have today is a letter for letter match with the Torah God gave to Moshe.



The list gets more surprising around #16

1. Kiddushin 30a explains we are not proficient in proper defective and plene spellings.

2. Rishonim recognized that many midrashic quotations differ from Masoretic text, including actual words.

3. Rabbi Meir's Torah scroll said "tov mavet"(not tov meod) and "ohr" with an aleph not an ayin. Ramban said Rabbi Meir made this change himself. Isaac Safrin said kabbaisticallly these changes are kosher.

4. R. Safrin also writes that Moshe gave each tribe a different version of the Torah.

5. Yemenites differ by 9 letters, 7 dealing with defective and plene.

6. Tikkunei SOfrim were post mosaic corrections to the text. For example Gen. 18:22. Some held
Ezra and/or MOTGA (Men of the Great Assembly) made these changes.

7. Ibn Ezra states that plene or defective was up to the scribe writing. Some say Hashem didn't care which was used.

8. Joseph Hurtz held that the aleph in Vayikra 1:1 was added later.

9. Jerusalem Talmud mentions three words that Ezra was unsure of and he went by the majority in the three scrolls he found.

10. Kimhi and others held Kri and Ktiv were due to an uncertainty by the MOTGA.

11. Bamidbar Rabba states that Ezra added dots over words he wasn't sure were part of the text (note that Greek grammarians of Alexandria added dots in thsi fashion as well).

12. Midrashim state that the inverted nuns added to Numbers 10 were post Mosaic additions.

13. Many held last 8 verses written by Joshua.

14. R. Scwardon held Moshe's prophecy in Deuteronomy was at a lower level. By implication, the style would be different.

15. Ibn Ezra held the last 12 verses were written by Moshe.

16. R. Yaakov Hayim Sofer points out that Ramban held that Joshua was involved in writing Haazinu. Nissim Gaon held that Moshe and 70 elders wrote Haazinu.

17. Moses Schick held that Joshua wrote Haazinu until the end of the book - 40 verses in total.

18. Many held (and some defended) Ibn Ezra's view that an additional 12 pesukim were added later (Ex 24:4, Num 33:2, Deut 31:9, 22, Gen 22:14, Deut 3:11, Deut 1:1-5).

19. Ibn Tibbon and Bonfils held one must distinguish between the addition of naarative portions, which is acceptable, and commandments, which are not.

20. R. Eleazar ben Matthathias held that Ezra did not hesitate to enlarge the narrative sections of the Torah. He also held that in once case, Ezra deleted a verse.

---- Additional Reading ---


Many of the items discussed here can be found in this great book. Take a look

-------

21. Yehuda Hachassid and R. Avigdor Katz (Meir of Rothenberg's teacher) held that Joshua and MOTGA added verses. FOr example, Yehuda Hachassid writes that Joshua added Jacob's blessing Gen 48:20. They also held that Gen. 36:31-39, which is the list of the kings of Edom, was added later. Rashbam believed that these verses were added in the days of the Judges.

22. Rashbam held Numbers 22:1 "beyond the Jordan" was added later.

23. Yehuda Hachassid held that King David removed the Great Hallel (Psalm 136) together with anonymous Psalms written by Moshe and placed them in Tehillim.

24. Nedarim 37b talks of itur sofrim. Some Rishonim say it meant letters were removed from the text. Others held it meant the order of words was switched.


---- SO CUTE ---



-------

25. R. Solomon ben Samuel, who came from Yehuda Hachassid's school, held that the word "Azazel" was Aramaic and says the three verses that mention this word (Lev 16:8,10,26) were added later. He also writes "there are many verses which Moses did not say." He writes that Deut 3:11 which talks of Og's bed, was "certainly not written by Moses."

26. R. Solomon Tzvi Shueck (1844-1916) held the portion dealing with Bilaam and Balak were added after the Israelites entered the land.

27. Bekhor Shor (12th c. Tosafist) held that the water from the rock passages in Numbers and Exodus refer to the same historical event. He held Exodus 17 and Numbers 20 are complimentary, with the Torah adding details in NUmbers which were only touched upon to in the original Exodus version."

28. Levi ben Gershom (1288-1344), wondered why Exodus repeats in chapters 35-40 what seems like very exact details already expressed in chapters 25-31. He writes: “Perhaps we may say that it was the convention at the time of the giving of the Torah to fashion literature in this way and that the prophet expresses himself through the conventions of his time.”

29. Ibn Caspi writes that the Torah may have included historical stories that the Israelites may have believed to have been a part of history. This could presumably include the flood and creation narratives, among others.

30. Rashi explains the opinion that the Torah was given "scroll by scroll" (megilot megilot) as meaning that different sections were transmitted and recorded separately and bound together at the end of the 40 years in the desert.

31. Midrash Rabbah (5:18 and 2:2) implies that the book of Genesis existed before Moshe ascended Har Sinai.

32. R. Aryeh Lieb Zunz (1768–1833) states that "before the giving of the Torah the book of Bereshit definitely already existed."

33. R. Zev Wolf Einhorn (d. 1862) writes how the scrolls contained "all the words of Gensis; scrolls with the story of Adam, Noah, the flood, the tower of Bavel, stories of the forefathers, and all prophecies and promises."

34. The talmud Bava Basra 14b (in Munich Manuscript) referes to "the book of (sefer) Bilam). This implies that there was a separate book dealing with this incident of Bilam that was written by Moshe and added later.

35. Ibn Ezra holds that Genesis 14 (the war of the 4 kings vs. the 5) may have been part of the book known as "Milchamos Hashem" which was later lost.

36. Yalkut Shimoni on Chukat mentions a book of Genesis that Moshe used after Sinai that contained material not found in the Torah. In other words, there were older versions of Genesis that may have included material not found in the final Torah.


ALSO I know I have fallen out of the habit of daily posting. Sorry about that. If you'd like to see a return to something steady drop me a note at yourfavoriteblogger@gmail.com or find me on the social network.


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Monday, October 22, 2018

Palestinian woman dies 'after Israeli settlers pelt her car with stones'


Ok, saw this terrible report and here were my initial thoughts, in no real order as they came at once in a jumble.






- Rare
- I mean, right? It's rare... right?
- Atrocious horrible terrible
- What is wrong with the Jews?
- How did we get here?
- Ok, see, they were right about how the occupation is - destroying Jewish morality
- I don't think this is exactly rare... Jews have been attacking Arab civilians since the days of Lechi and Irgun.
-Are the hasbara trolls going to claim self-defense?
-Who are their parents? Who are their teachers? How did people who, supposedly, were educated like me, for the most part, end up as members of a murderous, racist mob?

What were your initial thoughts?

(and because I know Team WhatAbout is going to ask me to reveal my initial thoughts upon hearing about a Jewish death, let me just confirm that when a Jew is involved it stops at "Atrocious horrible terrible")

PS: Please pay attention to the quotes 'after Israeli settlers pelt her car with stones'. When a Jew is a victim, and the reporting is done the same way, RWers whine about the quotes. So don't forget they were used here, too.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Introducing my new Torah organization


Attention. I am pleased to announce the formation of a new and important organization. We are the Coalition for True Jewish Values. Our mission is to issue press releases about how the Torah opposes everything Trump does. Our Posek will be Rachel Madow. I am currently seeking someone with a special expertise on #metoo issues to serve as managing director and two regional vice presidents to rewrite whatever MSN News said last night in Torah terms. If I get one or two people to join I'll be able to claim 1000 supporters. Are you with me?


Related:https://coalitionforjewishvalues.org/








Sunday, October 07, 2018

Why the Lord Loves Kav


Matzav knows the real reason behind Kavanaugh's success. Apparently, Kav pleased God by supporting His Chosen One's right to exploit vulnerable people and being elevated to the Supreme Court was his reward. 

(PS much of the article appears stolen from heavy.com)

http://matzav.com/did-you-know-brett-kavanaugh-was-the-only-judge-to-side-with-rubashkin-and-agri-during-immigration-witch-hunt/





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Thursday, October 04, 2018

Us or them?

This is Zionism in 2018 and also why so many of us here in America reject it, together with Netanyahu and the Likud.

Can you Israelis please develop a non-racist, non-jingoistic non hyper defensive form of Zionism for me to support? In Zechariah's famous Sukkot visions it's not us or them. It's us WITH everyone. Where are the political or religious leaders with even the smallest interest in working toward such a thing?

אובמה צדק


No automatic alt text available.




Thursday, September 20, 2018

Yom Kippur Report 2018


It was a very tiring, very exhausting day and I am not sure why. Usually, I finish on a note of exhilaration. I come home alive and energetic. By the time we finished yesterday, I was groggy and drained. I ate very little and was asleep very quickly.

Final meal: Traditional fare, including roast chicken and a chicken soup with kreplach.

First meal: Potato soup and a pseudo-Italian noodle dish containing sauce and cheese. I know the rabbis say the first meal should be a festive seuda but we're not in that habit

Finishing times: We finished the evening service at around 9:30. The day service began at eight, and we got our break at 3. We returned for the last act at 5 and finished on time.

Boredom Report: I have said many times that I don't find Yom Kippur boring, and for the most part the service was rousing and energetic. However, in the interest of honesty, I must report that maariv was a little boring. This is because our chazzan chose slow, dull melodies. The avodah was another low point. Our chazaan gave us no drama or energy. He and the crowd seemed to be on different planes.

Annoyance: We didn't sing "l'shana habaa"

Best discovery: The Koren machzor is full of little expository and homiletical jewels. Last night, I finally read the mini-sermon that accompanies the end of Neillah. It is a masterpiece of religious humanism and so many miles above the sort of tepid, selfish, magical thinking, self-help in a Jewish wrapper nonsense I am usually fed.

How did it go in your neck of the woods?
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Monday, December 18, 2017

Altruism and Avoda Zara


A guest post by Chava Safrin

I had a conversation with a friend this week. She told me that anyone who deliberately didn't keep Torah and mitzvos was guilty of avoda zara. Why? Well, keeping Torah/mitzvos is a testament to God's, His creation of the world, and His active involvement in the Universe. Denying that to do, instead, whatever one wishes is self serving. Self serving, of course, is putting the wants, needs, and desires of the self before the will of God. And that is avoda zara (according to my friend and, apparently, Paul in Romans in the New Testament).

That’s a great kiruv argument towards following the Torah, right?

Only it relies on the idea that everything we do on our own is from some base desire that's hedonistic and selfish - our desires are essentially controlling us. It is only by subjugating our will to the will of God do we experience real freedom.

Is that even true? Are we always selfish when we do things we want and always selfless when we serve God?

For that question, I looked at the concept of altruism - the selfless concern for the well-being of others. Is it really selfless? Sure, donating hours of your time serving food to homeless people at a soup kitchen is nice, but is it truly a negation and subjugation of the self?

I don't think it is. On some level, none of us ever really do things we don't want to do. We may not enjoy the experience we are in, but we may be looking for the long term gain, the health benefit, the later payout. Essentially, there is reward for the things we do even if the thing itself isn't immediately rewarding. That doesn't mean the person feeding the homeless is evil or selfish - his actions are still beneficial for others - but he does it because he wants to do it.

We always do things because we want to do them.

Including the choice to serve God.

For some people, it's easy. They enjoy Torah, they love all the mitzvos. They find meaning in every commandment and they are happy to do it. For others, it might be harder to follow all the mitzvos. But maybe they're trying to avoid punishment, or attempting to have a relationship with their Creator, or doing it because they don't want to get in trouble with their parents, or they really need to fit in with their community.

But its always a choice. And it's always something they want to do because they want to do it.

Is there a real difference, then, between the person who does what they want and the person living a Torah life? Is there something inherently more valuable about the choices made in either lifestyles? Can we really say that one is fully subjugating his will to do the will of God?

I don't think there's any difference. But maybe that's just my desires controlling me.


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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Why isn't Cross Current Celebrating the decline of Christianity?

It is hard to overstate just how terrible Alderstein’s latest post is. Once again, we have a supposed representative of the rabbinate and Torah Judaism, forgetting his history and falling to his knees in homage to Christians. At Cross Currents they have been doing this for more than 12 years and still the obsequious awfulness of it takes my breath away. Here’s the fisk I promised (sorry about theformatting)

**The Museum of the Bible (MOTB), the largest privately-funded museum in America, opened to the public on Saturday, November 18th. It was not a Jewish project; the people behind it are largely evangelical Christians. Yet, traditional Jews have a stake in this enterprise.**
While I see the potential appeal of this museum to those of us who have a secular interest in history what stake do traditional Jews have in an institution that offers exhibitions such as (1) the Stations of the Cross (2) Christmas Illuminated (3) The World of Jesus of Nazareth (4) New Testament Theatre and (5) The Art of the Gospels? While there is a bit about the Hebrew Bible, they are entirely overwhelmed by the Christian exhibitions.

**Its opening is welcome news. It is both a powerful voice that reminds Americans of the importance of belief in a Higher Authority, and a showcase for the interconnection of Jews, Judaism, and the Land of Israel.**

Not all higher authorities are created equal. The belief in a Higher Authority professed by the Christians who planned, funded, built and will visit this museum, is the belief in Jesus. Jesus’s teachings are not God’s teaching. The demands he makes of his followers are not the demands the God of the Jews makes on Us. Aldertsein muddles this important distinction at our peril

**America needs this museum, and traditional Jews need an America that is enriched by this project.**

Why does America need a museum that encourages people to put superstition ahead of science, and the parochialism and narrow-mindless of Christianity ahead of the tolerance of the First Amendment? From the Jewish perspective, what exactly will be enriching about any film likely to be shown at something called the New Testament Theater? For us, what is enriching about a museum wing dedicated to Jesus?

**Religious belief and practice in the United States – still one of the most religious countries in the Western world – is not what it used to be. Attendance at religious services is down. **


Meanwhile, traditional Jewish belief and practice in the United States is at all-time high. Orthodox synagogues are packed, and Orthodox communities are bursting at the seams. Isn't this welcome news, Rabbi Alderstein?

While it might be fallacious to link the decline of Christianity with the rise of Judaism, surely we can agree that it is irresponsible and short-sighted to bemoan the weakening of a faith and a culture that has, for thousands of years, been at best a poisonous thorn. More to the point, Orthodox Judaism is flourishing. Why should I worry about the Christians and their problems?

**The fastest-growing religious group, according to Pew, is the “nones,” those who respond to pollsters that they identify with no religious group at all. Christian retention rates (the percentage of those who remain in the religious group in which they were born) range from unacceptable at the upper end (65% for evangelicals) to abysmal (45% for mainline Protestants).**

Given that this group has always been friendly to the Jews, and far more likely to respect the promises of the Bill of the Rights, I fail to see any reason for concern. Liberals don’t try to turn Jews into Christians. They don’t force us to pray to false Gods. They don’t fill the public square with Jesus propaganda. They simply ask us to extend to others the same tolerance that the Constitution has historically guaranteed to our community.

**Even more significantly, the mood of America has shifted. A plethora of lawsuits that would restrict rights of religious people, especially when they run counter to new PC orthodoxies, threatens to shrink the area in which constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion operate. **

Without examples, I can’t respond directly to this complaint. But I will say that I entirely certain that when he talks about lawsuits that “restrict the rights of religious people” what he really means are “lawsuits that seek to prevent religious people from discriminating against gays, woman and non-Christians.”

**First Liberty Institutes’ Undeniable documents 1400 religious liberty incidents. **


As I suspected the first few mentioned in the “Cases” section of their website are exactly the sort of frivolous law suits I described. A teacher wants the right to religiously indoctrinate her public school students. A church wants to break federal law and deny insurance to its employees. A store wants the Jim Crow-era prerogative to deny service to customers the manager considers sub human. These aren’t cases of religious people being denied their rights, but of religious people being required to act like good Americans.

**Behind this is an attitudinal change that augurs for more serious moves away from religion in the future. More than half of all Americans now believe that one does not need to believe in G-d to be moral or have good values.**
Does Alderstein have a counter-argument? Because to me it seems blatantly self-evident that a belief in God does not correlate with good values and good behavior. Like all of you, I know far too many believers with horrible personal morality; meanwhile the few atheists I know tend to be humble, well-mannered and not likely to engage in Catholic-church style pedophilia or Hasidic Judaism style welfare fraud.

**The rapid about-face of Americans regarding gay marriage speaks of a large shift towards autonomy, and away from authority. This has fed a rise in atheism, and hostility to strongly-held religious values.**

Again, I must point out that not all authorities are created equal, and that resisting certain authorities is a moral imperative. Likewise, it can be a moral imperative to resist certain religious values, no matter how strongly they might be held. The fact that, eg, your odious idea about woman or minorities or some other vulnerable minority can be connected to your religion does not entitle it to special protections. If it’s a horrible idea, playing the God card must not be allowed to save it.

**The culture wars are over, claim some people. Religion has lost. There has been much hand-wringing in conservative Christian circles. This is nonsense. I like to call it the Binary Error – as if life can be reduced to decisions between two options, with winner-take-all consequences. The thinking runs something like this: The spiritual cargo that the Mayflower unloaded at Plymouth Rock continued to dominate America, until the US Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision. That reversed things. Paganism scored a knockout; the champ was unseated and shamed; the godless now rule the West
This is crude and untenable reasoning. Belief/disbelief is not a toggle switch. No matter what some shapers of our culture preach, the fact remains that the hundreds of millions of Americans who professed belief in a Creator a few years ago did not vanish into thin air. It is true that they are not yet accustomed to function as part of a sometimes-detested minority, and that they face tough cultural and political challenges ahead. **


More than 70 percent of Americans say a belief in God is an important part of being American, while nine in 10 report that they believe in God. Those “hundreds of millions of Americans who professed belief in a Creator” are not in danger of becoming a minority – detested or otherwise – anytime soon. Alderstein needs to turn off the alarm. Beleivers don’t seem to have any immediate political worries either. The Congress and the Courts are both in the hands of bible thumpers and while the current president, unlike his predecessor, is an adulterer and a pagan with terrible personal morality he remains beloved by evangelicals.

** It is also true that one of the most difficult challenges is the undercurrent of so much of contemporary culture that mocks and derides as primitive anything seen as old. (“Old” generally refers to something that predates the latest version of the iPhone. It contrasts with words like “ancient” and “prehistoric,” which apply to things as old as the Beatles.)**
Lots of things that are old are also primitive. While I agree that designation shouldn’t be made automatically, I also must protest Alderstein’s atttempt to provide special protections to older ideas and practices. Something is not good merely because it’s been around for a while. If that were true, we’d still have slaves and chamber pots, and people dead of plague in the streets.

**No one knows with certainty where this will all lead – whether to a further descent into a swamp of moral decay,**

Further descent? Moral decay? Sorry, but this idea that we are less moral that out ancestors can’t survive even a second of scrutiny. Like most sloppy thinkers of the right, Alderstein chooses not to remember how far we’ve come. Moral atrocities of the past such as slavery, child labor, rampant prostitution, epidemics and sewage-filled rivers are forgotten. (This chart shows how ludicrous it is to suggest that our era is one of moral decay)



Instead of appreciating this progress, he dwells on the glorious Values our ancestors were said to possess -- never once stopping to wonder why those glorious Values did so little to prevent the wars, poverty and plagues that made life in the good old days such a screaming misery. Those miseries only began to vanish as Christianity began to weaken, and only a fool would wish to go backwards.

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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Does Abishag the Shunammite belong on the tanach #metoo?

Does Abishag the Shunammite belong on the tanach #metoo?

I put her on the list, and still think I was right, but elsewhere I have been getting some pushback.

Here's her story, in full:
1 Now King David was old and stricken in years; and they covered him with clothes, but he got no heat.
2 Therefore his servants said unto him, “Let there be sought for my lord the king a young virgin; and let her stand before the king, and let her comfort him, and let her lie in thy bosom, that my lord the king may get heat.”
3 So they sought for a fair damsel throughout all the region of Israel, and found Abishag, a Shunammite, and brought her to the king.
4 And the damsel was very fair, and cherished the king and ministered to him; but the king knew her not.
To me this sounds like someone used his power to compel a much younger woman to perform an intimate task.

Others are suggesting she consented, and may have been paid, and hey, no sex was involved so how terrible was it?

I am sticking to my guns, but would like to hear your thoughts.

#metoo tanach


Elsewhere many are doing #metoo lists for the women in Tanach... Excluding midrashim this would include:
  •  Daughters of men in Genesis 6
  •  Sara who was taken by Pharo and Abimelech
  •  Hagar who was forced into a non consensual marriage 
  • Lot's daughters, who were offered to a mob and impregnated by their drunk father 
  • Dina who was raped by Shchem
  • Leah, Bilha and Zilpa who were forced into non consensual marriages (and Leah suffered emotional neglect and despite my no midrashim rule I feel I must mention one commentator says Jacob beat her) (And Bilha had to deal with Reuven pestering her after Leah died) 
  • Midianite virgins at the end of Numbers
  • Tamar, one was raped and the other was treated like a sexual commodity by her father in law, and ultimately she had to pose as a sex worker to get her due
  • Pilegesh Bgiva
  • Michal who was used by her father as a prize and forcibly separated from the man who loved her
  • Avigayil
  • Batsheva
  • The ten concubines of David that Avshalom cohabitated with on a rooftop
  • David's companion (the shunamite)
  • Any of Solomon's concubines 
  • Ruth, who had to use her body to get what she was owed (and was encouraged by her mother in law to do so)
  • Esther
I think the list of non #metoo women in Tanach would be shorter....

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Why an Esrog?

Do we know how we, as a people, settled on the esrog as the proper fruit for fulfilling the command found in Leviticus 23:40?

The verse merely tells us to take the foliage of a goodly (or majestic, or gorgeous) tree. No particular tree is specified. And it might be argued that during the time of Nehemiah the people took olive boughs instead. [Nehemiah 8:15] So how did we agree on the esrog?

And if you think the answer is "The esrog was identified as the pri etz hadar in the Oral Torah received at Sinai" let me remind you that the Oral Torah is several different categories of things:

1) halachot le-Moshe mi-sinai
2) Dibre Ḳabbalah which are laws established by the prophets
3) Dibre Sofrim which are laws created by the scribes
4) midrash halacha
5) Takanot
6) gezayrot
7) hilchot Medina

Of this list only #1 and #4 are from Sinai (and rishonim argue about #4)

The decision to use an esrog as the pri etz hadar seems to be either #3 or #5 which means it's perfectly consistent to say that at first many fruits were used AND the choice of an esrog is Oral Law.



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