Thursday, April 28, 2016

The worst thing the Times ever did.


Back in 2003 the New York Times committed its single most serious offense against Jews and Jewish culture by suggesting that sweet matzo brei is acceptable. Thirteen years later, and I'm not fully over it. Read the offending article here: http://www.nytimes.com/…/nostalgia-the-secret-ingredient-of…


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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Seder Wrap Up 2016


Nu? What Time Did you Finish?

What follows continues my longstanding tradition of documenting all that was odd, interesting or otherwise noteworthy about my seders. As always, you are invited to use the comments to tell us what made your seders memorable.

2009
2011
2012
2013
2014
2015

Time Finished: I admit that I approached the Seder this year with both Dread and Concern as we were feasting with people who had stated a desire to finish everything before halachic midnight. Not just the aphikomin. Everything. As those of you who have been here since 2009 certainly remember, my ideal Seder is a long, relaxed conversation. I don't like sermons, and will block you with my body if you're older than nine and try to come to the table with any books other than a hagadah, but snippets I adore. I love it when everyone, regardless of station, age or education, spends the evening adding his or her two bits as we slowly make our way through the liturgical text. But could this be accomplished with a deadline hanging over our head? Probably not, but in the end it didn't matter as the other guests and I prevailed upon the host to relax a bit. We got to the aphikomin around halachic midnight and finished on both nights at around 2 p.m on both nights.

Food: While we guests were able to convince Mr. Host to relax his rules, Mrs. Host did not preview her menu, giving us no opportunity to offer advice or corrections. As a result, we saw matzo concoctions at every meal. Why do people feel the need to add matzo to otherwise perfectly good dishes? Matzo with cauliflower is no improvement over roast cauliflower. If matzah kugel was a winner it, like matzo balls, would be on the table year round. Also, Mrs. Host, like many people, cooks in advance and freezes her food; however, unlike many people she freezes vegetables(!) and fruit(!) and while I can vouch for the fact that she is an expert at freezing food, she hasn't quite mastered unfreezing yet.

Terrific Torah: Apparently Exodus 13:8 works as a summary/memory aid for the entire hagadah. I don't remember the details, but each section of the hagadah relatedsto a piece of the verse. From the beginning to the end of the Four Sons is "והגדת לבנך"; the part that starts "From Rosh Chodesh you are able" corresponds to "ביום ההוא" and so on. This was credited to the Malbim. And while I usually consider such games to be to cute by half, I liked this one.

If this was all that had happened it would have been enough: Another guest  let me know that James Kugel is now publishing a weekly parsha sheet. You can find it on his new website, where you can also subscribe to receive it by email. While I have often joked about putting my Parsha Notes on the pamphlet table at our local shuls, I can actually see myself doing it with the Kugel Page. It's written with the wry tone for which Kugel is justifiably favorite, and he's true to his training as a world class critic and scholar of rabbinics, but its all harmless. I don't mean to suggest there is something insidious about this project. Kugel is a brand name, who isn't pretending to be anything other than the believing, Orthodox Jewish, bible critic, quasi heretic that he is. He's not trying to fool anyone. But at the same time the few examples I consulted look like ordinary divrei Torah that - unlike ordinary divrei Torah - manage to tell the truth without (and this is key) offending - or even overtly challenging - mainstream Jewish beliefs. 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Is eating Charoset a religious obligation?

Is eating Charoset a religious obligation? Our Rabbis were unsure. Some say we eat Charoset for secular reasons, others say the reasons are religious.

ON THE SECULAR SIDE:
Rav Ammi, who says Charoset is an antidote for "kappa" which is either a worm or a poison common to vegetables, or a type of indigestion caused by vegetables.

ON THE RELIGIOUS SIDE
R' Eliever ben Zadok
R. Levi, who says we eat it to remind ourselves of the "apple" tree alluded to in Songs 8:5. The idea is that women defied the Egyptian decree by continuing to give birth "beneath the apple trees."
R. Jonanan , who says we eat it to remember the mud, used to make bricks

So, R. Levi sees charoset and remembers the heroism of Jewish women; R. Jochanan looks as the same stuff and recalls how our ancestors suffered.

Can you imagine the same thing happening with ketchup?

R. Levi said: In memory of the blood of circumcision; R. Johanan said: In memory of the blood of the plagues.

Or with duck sauce?

R. Levi said: In memory of how thin we were [=דק] ; R. Johanan said: In memory of the horses that perished in the Red Sea [=סוס]


Expanded version of this post with sources from 2012 found here

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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Oh dear, Gil Student has commented on Pruz


Shorter Gil Student: "Its 100% okay that Pruz is a rape apologist, because lots of GOP politicians are, too."


Apparently* slut-shaming and rape-apologia are both perfectly okay, mainstream approaches that you can feel free to embrace if either are your "cup of tea."

*In an earlier version of this post, I incorrectly identified Rabbi Student as an employee of the OU. He does not work for that organization. I regret the error.

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Women Stink

Women: We don't want to see them, hear them or SMELL THEM!


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Obama Sings

Please puase to consider what a disaster this adorable scene would have been had one of our strictly Christian friends been serving as POTUS. Cruz would have leered at the children and sent them running to hide behind the skirts of their teachers. Kasich would have told them about Jesus, and asked if they had ever heard of Moses. But Obama? His attempts to connect with the kids and learn the song are perfectly delightful.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Rabbis who love Hannity More than Halacha



Its ironic and sad that so many of our Orthodox Jewish public intellectuals are conservative Americans first, and Jews second. Maybe a generation ago you had the problem of Rabbis getting their ideas from the editorial page of the New York Times. Today, many, many more of them look to degenerate windbags like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Humanity for help. This post, clipped from Facebook, says it well. And while I do not endorse his concluding curse, I think he touches on a very real problem. These conservative RW Rabbis are more interested in making America match with Christian values.



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Monday, April 18, 2016

Why its fair to say Pruzansky is a rape apologist


Is Pruzansky a rape apologist? Lots of people -including the man himself - are insisting that this particular appellation is unjustified. Well, I disagree.

A rape apologist is someone who defends a rape myth, like "the victim is to blame for a sexual assault."

This is EXACTLY what Pruz did in that horrible, deservedly notorious post

After saying that MOST instances of campus rape are really just women who had second thoughts the next morning, he says all that messy rape stuff could be avoided if women would just practice "abstinence, self-discipline, or chastity." That's basically a dictionary definition of rape apologia.
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The flaw in the RCA's Pruz Statement

While the RCA statement (below) is certainly no endorsement of Pruzansky, or his rape apologia, its still most unwelcome.

The man deserves no protection at all and certainly not from an organization that has, in the past, sat on its hands while men like Pruzansky savage liberal expressions of Orthodoxy. It's easy to call for polite discourse when your friends are being raked over the coals. If you want the public to take such calls seriously, however, you need to occasionally stand up for the dignity of the people you disagree with, too. Not having ever done that, the RCA's pleas for comity ring false and self serving.

ALSO: The piece begins by lamenting the fact that Pruzansky, who apparently possesses nude photos of the RCA leadership, is not known for his scholarship or pastoral leadership. Well, there's a damn good reason for that! Most of us know Pruz only through his blog posts, blog posts that consist entirely of reformatted RW talking points, lifted from people like Hannity, Coulter and their ilk. Where are the posts on parsha or halacha? Where are the posts that demonstrate compassion or concern for the downtrodden?

I've been a Pruz watcher for years, and I don't recall every seeing a post from him that wouldn't be equally at home on a gentile RW site like Drudge or Clown Hall.

If Pruz wants to be known as a Jewish pastor and a Jewish scholar let him act like one. Meanwhile, his behavior is drowning out the RCA's words.

The Rabbinical Council of America - RCA
An Open Letter Regarding Rabbi Steven Pruzansky and His Blog
We are writing this open letter, and not relying on a short press release, in order to more fully expand on the issues that Rabbi Steven Pruzansky's recent blog has raised.
We are saddened that a rabbi of his stature and talent is known by many in the wider community not for his empathetic pastoral skills, in the way in which he is known by members of his community, nor by his preaching, textual analysis, or leadership in important communal areas. He has contributed much to his community and to his rabbinic colleagues, even to those who may disagree with some of what he writes.
We personally feel that the blog entry could have and should have been written differently and with more compassion.
However, we are dismayed by the overkill that has become the response to Rabbi Pruzansky's blog entry. Some have misrepresented his remarks; some are fomenting personal attacks and boycotts against him; some, who are consistently disparaging of the RCA and its values, are disingenuously appropriating our words that were critical of Rabbi Pruzansky to attack rabbis and the rabbinate. These responses are irresponsible; this is not the way to conduct community business. Response to perceived disrespect is not through disrespect.
RCA leadership responded to a press inquiry about the blog and distanced itself from its tone and much of its substance. Although we do not usually respond to what individual members of the RCA write as individuals on their personal blogs and in their personal columns, we felt that it was especially important to do so in this case as the blog entry, while dealing with important issues--some with which we agree and some with which we disagree--was argued in a way that many find objectionable and was hurtful to many who themselves were victims of sexual violence or who were troubled by what he said. Our understanding of the issues around sexual violence differs from his. Many communicated directly with the RCA through phone calls and emails, others voiced their reactions in newspapers and blogs. Although he wrote as a private individual, not representing us or the RCA, it is impossible for him to divorce himself from these associations. The empathetic, pastoral ear and heart that were absent from his entry implicated his colleagues. We as religious leaders feel an added and primary responsibility for compassion, for the defense of the weak and the vulnerable, and to defend those who are or consider themselves victims of aggression and assault.
Rabbi Pruzansky's detractors are certainly entitled, and encouraged, to point out where they believe he is wrong and to share the ways in which they were hurt. It is only by presenting positions on the issues through reasonable arguments and analysis that we all can elevate the public debate and help each other understand the others' concerns, opinions, and experiences.
Rabbi Shalom Baum, President
Rabbi Leonard Matanky, Honorary President
Rabbi Elazar Muskin, First Vice President

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Gordimer's defense of Pruzansky is as awful as you expected


Big weekend for Pruz-watchers, with both Gordimer and the RCA publishing statements in his defense.

First, le'ts deal with Gordimer and his despicable example of wagon-circling. His full-throated defense appeared on Cross Currents -a blog that is always first in line when a child molester, misogynists or rape apologist needs some help.

Helping a child abuser: 
http://dovbear.blogspot.com/2006/04/valis-quote-of-day.html
http://dovbear.blogspot.com/2008/11/menken-dissembles.html

Helping an adulterer
http://dovbear.blogspot.com/2006/11/cross-currents-grosser-than-usual.html

Promoting mysoginy
http://dovbear.blogspot.com/2011/08/cross-currents-and-yaakov-menken-show.html
http://dovbear.blogspot.com/2011/08/our-friends-at-cross-currents-ushered.html

Helping an Anti-Semite
http://dovbear.blogspot.com/2005/06/beating-dead-katz.html

Partial list of unsavory characters Cross Currents has assisted.
To which, or course, we can now add Steve Pruzansky.

We start our fisk of Gordimer with the title:

The Cowardly Smear Campaign Against Rabbi Pruzansky

Pruzansky is definitely facing a campaign, but why is the campaign against Pruzansky any more cowardly then the campaign against women or the campaign against Open Orthodoxy being led by Gordimer? And why is the Pruzansky campaign a "smear campaign"? All we did was publicize material written by Pruzansky. Is it smearing someone to republish his own ideas?

I am not defending the substance of his essays (here and here). For all I know, he could be dead wrong on every point, even though his presentation was based on studies and analyses – but they could be wrong as well.

As you'll see, Gordimer's defense exists in an alternative dimension of reality. The first clue that this is true is the assertion that Pruzansky's anti-woman screed was based on  studies and analyses" when in reality it was based on misinformation and slut-shaming he likely saw on a crappy right-wing website. 

Rabbi Steven Pruzansky’s recent writings about abstinence versus social permissiveness and promiscuity

Euphemism of the year!

...may have been worthy of a healthy rebuttal – I have no idea – 

Why don't you have any idea? If you're defending him, surely you've read the article in question.... No response? No opinion? You seem to have plenty of opinions about the ideas expressed by OO Rabbis. Why are you all Mr. I have No Idea when its your pal Pruzansky who is being questioned?

but what emerged instead was a hateful and shameful campaign of character assassination against Rabbi Pruzansky. Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA) and its allies have, rather than address the substance of Rabbi Pruzansky’s essays, conducted an ugly smear crusade aimed at excluding him from community events, expelling him from the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), and even firing him from his congregation.

Meanwhile Gordimer, himself, has been running "an ugly smear crusade aimed at excluding" Open Orthodox Rabbis from rabbinic organizations and pulpit positions. Note the hypocrisy. If you think Pruzansky's ideas are bad, you can't touch him - and if you try, its a COWARDLY SMEAR CAMPAIGN. On the other hand, if your ideas are offensive to Gordimer, its perfectly OK for him to run you out of town.

The opposition to Rabbi Pruzansky’s recent essays has been dominated by toxic rhetoric; attempted rebuttals of the essays that did touch upon the substance were so loaded with insults (and distortions – please read the essays) that they overshadowed whatever material points were being argued. Some snippets:

Naturally, he shares only snippets, and the snippets he chooses to share are largely taken out of context, and not representative of the very solid, very learned, and, in some cases, very polite, essays that have been published in opposition to  Pruzansky's horrible piece.   

Rabbi Pruzansky’s essays were written in a moderate tone

Remember what I said about Gordimer dwelling in an alternate reality? Moderate tone? And what about the snide and condescending replies Pruzansky has given to his critics? He says they are , 'illiterate' 'borderline delusional', and 'shrieking feminists', among other choice terms.

At this point Gordimer detours into an attack on JOFA (they are just like Trump, see?) and a contributor to PORAT. We'll re-join him at the end

Agree with him or not, Rabbi Pruzansky is a man who has been unafraid to speak out.

Not a virtue. Sometimes, you need to be smart enough to keep your mouth shut. Especially when your ideas are as mean spirited and dumb as the ideas expressed by Pruzansky.

He backs up his writings with evidence and argues on the substance.

No he doesn't. He writes with a snide and obnoxious tones. He makes claims, with no back up. Often the "evidence" he supplies is stuff he invented or distorted. I've been documenting this behavior for years, and the full collection of my many rebuttals to Pruzansky;s nonsense can be found here.

He is a leader and a scholar. 

Why would you call him a scholar? Based on what?

A leader whom one can choose not to follow, and a scholar with whom one has the right to robustly disagree. But a leader and a scholar he is without question. The Orthodox community needs to cultivate more such rabbinic leaders and scholars, rather than assassinating them.

Sorry, but I strongly disagree. We need to assassinate, rather then cultivate,  rabbis who are misogynistic and mean-spirited and get their data, and, indeed, many of their arguments, from the Sean Hannity show. 

Friday, April 15, 2016

Gordimer and Pruzansky sitting in a tree


Pruzansky has said lots of stupid things before and he has been reviled for it, but when and only when does Gordimer choose to ride to his rescue? After those uppity women spoke up.

I hope you agree that today is the day Gordimer's credibility on the subject of women in Judaism expires. His full-throated defense of a rape apologist makes it clear that he doesn't care about ideas or emes. This is about being on the "guy team" and watching your teammate's back.

I am not defending the substance of his essays (here and here). For all I know, he could be dead wrong on every point, even though his presentation was based…
CROSS-CURRENTS.COM



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The meme beating Kasich richly deserves


A shame he doesn't have anyone on his team who can explain it to him....


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The Holy Ohr Hachaim on Mezora's opening verses


Credit to the great Ohr Hachaim for his clever reading of the first several verses in Mezora.
Ingeniously he reads it as an allegory for the redemption of the Jewish people. This seems like a prime example of how new interpretations can refresh and revitalize verses making them meaningful after circumstances have rendered their plain sense irrelevant.

זֹאת תִּהְיֶה תּוֹרַת הַמְּצֹרָע, בְּיוֹם טָהֳרָתוֹ
This shall be what happens on the day that the leper, that is the Jewish people, become pure, by renouncing the sins that caused them to be exiled. 
וְהוּבָא, אֶל-הַכֹּהֵן.
Our case or situation will go in front of the priest, that is God.
וְיָצָא, הַכֹּהֵן, אֶל-מִחוּץ, לַמַּחֲנֶה
And God will go into exile to find us, as it were,
רָאָה, הַכֹּהֵן, וְהִנֵּה נִרְפָּא נֶגַע-הַצָּרַעַת, מִן-הַצָּרוּעַ
And God will see that we, the Jewish people, have, indeed, been cured of the sins that caused the exile
וְצִוָּה, הַכֹּהֵן, וְלָקַח לַמִּטַּהֵר שְׁתֵּי-צִפֳּרִים חַיּוֹת, טְהֹרוֹת
And God will command the two Messiahs, the Messiah Ben Yosef and the Messiah Ben Dovid
וְעֵץ אֶרֶז, וּשְׁנִי תוֹלַעַת וְאֵזֹב.
And He will fortify them with the merits of the forefathers, Abraham, who is compared to the mighty cedar, Jacob, who is called a Tolaas, and Issac who is likened to the Ezov
צִוָּה, הַכֹּהֵן, וְשָׁחַט, אֶת-הַצִּפּוֹר הָאֶחָת--אֶל-כְּלִי-חֶרֶשׂ, עַל-מַיִם חַיִּים
And one of the Messiahs, the Messiah Ben Yosef, will be go out into the world (represented by the earthen bowl (symbolizing humanity created from earth) and the water (symbolizing the Torah which infuses the world) and that Messiah will be killed
אֶת-הַצִּפֹּר הַחַיָּה יִקַּח אֹתָהּ, וְאֶת-עֵץ הָאֶרֶז וְאֶת-שְׁנִי הַתּוֹלַעַת וְאֶת-הָאֵזֹב; וְטָבַל אוֹתָם וְאֵת הַצִּפֹּר הַחַיָּה, בְּדַם הַצִּפֹּר הַשְּׁחֻטָה, עַל, הַמַּיִם הַחַיִּים.
And the living Messiah, the Messiah ben Dovid, will take the merits of the forefathers and go out into the word, and using the death of the first Messiah as a legal justification, the wicked gentiles will be slaughtered
וְהִזָּה, עַל הַמִּטַּהֵר מִן-הַצָּרַעַת--שֶׁבַע פְּעָמִים; וְטִהֲרוֹ, וְשִׁלַּח אֶת-הַצִּפֹּר הַחַיָּה עַל-פְּנֵי הַשָּׂדֶה
Afterwards the Messiah will treat the Jewish people and remove from them the seven level of impurity
וְכִבֶּס הַמִּטַּהֵר אֶת-בְּגָדָיו
And he will cleanse of us of our sins
וְגִלַּח אֶת-כָּל-שְׂעָרוֹ
And he will correct our false ideas (symbolized by hair which comes out of the head)
וְרָחַץ בַּמַּיִם וְטָהֵר
And immerse us in the Torah,
טָהֵר
And we will be made pure
וְאַחַר, יָבוֹא אֶל-הַמַּחֲנֶה
After which we will be brought back to rebuilt Jerusalem

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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

John Kasich Makes Matters Worse in Boro Park

Following his patronizing lecture to Yeshiva students about Joseph, John Kasich went and delivered a patronizing lecture about Jesus outside a matza bakery

Also, he thinks that on the night of the Exodus Jews slathered blood on the lampposts.

In which John Kasich makes a fool out of himself at Eichlers in Boro Park


Watch the least biblically educated person in the room (and possibly the whole neighborhood) deliver a patronizing and simplistic lecture about Joseph to people who have known much of the ancient and medieval exegesis on the story since grade school.


These is also something insidious about how he sneaks Joshua and Joseph into the conversation. For those not in the know, Catholic midrash teaches that both Joshua and Joseph preconfigure Jesus, and Kasich is a born Catholic.


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Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Still more great moments in Pesach price gouging


You can get a dozen eggs for about $3. But those are ordinary eggs. Pedestrian eggs. The sort of eggs a regular guy might use.

Guy like you? He deserves something special. Especially with the holiday coming up.

What would Grandma say if you put ordinary eggs on your seder plate. Did she raise you  to be some kind of bum? No, no, no. You need special eggs. Pre-boiled eggs. Pre-boiled in SEA salt water eggs. From a fancy kosher grocer.

And that, my friend, will run you $11.



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How much of BMG's grant app was legit?

Yesterday we discussed the deeply disingenuous article published on 4/7 in the Wall Street Journal by Avi Schick in which he attempts to argue that Beth Midrash Gavoha* is an ordinary school, and the contested $10.6 million state grant it received was used to build an ordinary library.

Today I  took a quick look at "Beth Medrash Govoha of America Application for Building Our Future Bond Act Funding for Construction of Library and Research Center", the very long document used by the yeshiva to apply for this grant.

A lot of it looks fine, but some of it seems to stretch the truth a little.

Let me share my questions with you. See what you think,

(1) Does BMG have a writing resource center, and a department of Hebrew Studies? What is a Student Pathways to Success Center? My gut feeling is the none of these things exist, or that - whatever they are - they have been given fake names, but I'm happy to be corrected. As soon as I have accurate information I'll update the post.

(2) I don't doubt that BMG attracts talented out of state students from places like Brooklyn, but the most talented never do much to "build up  the state's workforce."  At BMG the talented students stay at BMG into their 30s.


(3) What does the author of the application mean when he suggests that there are "course offerings" at BMG? Is this a legitimate euphemism, or a deliberate attempt to deceive?


(4) On page 26, the grant describes several offices that will be situated on the new library's third floor. Where are those departments located now? I'm particularly interested in BMG's Student Writing Center and their Department of Hebrew Studies. Who can tell us more about the purpose of these two departments?


(5) Is BMG really going to offer student's access to Internet ready computers in its library?


(6) Will BMG students really and truly be using the library to acquire the sort of research skills that can prepare them for a STEM career?



(7) Is it fair to call Lakewood a college town? Is this a legitimate use of a euphemism or a deliberate attempt to deceive?




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