Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Egyptian Circumcision Mystery

After the Isralites crossed the Jordan, on 10 Nissan, in imitation of the crossing of the Red Sea, they were circumcised, in imitation of the mass circumcision that took place (per some authorities) on 10 Nissan,  forty years earlier.

At this second mass circumcision God tells Joshua "Now the shame of  Egypt is removed from you."  What is the shame of Egypt? 

The archeological evidence says there was nothing unique about circumcision in the ancient near East. Lots of people did it. There's especially good evidence that ancient Egyptians were circumcised. So perhaps being uncircumcised was considered the "shame of Egypt?" 

Chazal, of course,  operated under the assumption that only Jews circumcised. So they read the verse as follows.. 

After the 8th plague Pharaoh said:ראו כי רעה נגד פניכם / see the evil is in front of you. 

While it's possible that ra'ah, the word for evil, in this context refers to Ra, the Egyptian solar diety, Chazal understood it to be a particular star. They say that Pharoah is reporting  that he knows by astrology that something evil is waiting for the Israelites in the desert. 

According to this line of interpretation the act of circumcision satisfies the astrological prediction. The stargazers saw rivers of blood in the forecast and thought that meant a massacre. But they were wrong. Really it was the mass circumcision they saw. Thus, the circumcision removed "the shame" (or in this reading "the reproach") of Egypt. 

So vote in the comments. Which reading seems best to you?

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Monday, January 26, 2015

Survivors sing Hatikvah at Auschwitz

As part of the 70th anniversary commemorations some survivors sing Hatikvah at Auschwitz today. (In front of press representatives whose presence seems to cheapen the event)

Long time readers may remember a post from several years ago in contained an audio file with kabbalat shabbos at one of the camps following liberation.

After davening, the congregation sang Hatikvah using lyrics that lost the test of time and have fallen out of use. Today the well known lyrics were used.

Survivors sing Hatikvah Auschwitz: http://youtu.be/chqD52D5VW0

Friday, January 23, 2015

Five things that won't ever go out of Orthodox Jewish style

The Black Suit

The rest of the world may prefer grey or charcoal, but for the Orthodox Jew basic black is tried, true and timeless. Considered perfect for weddings, funerals, shopping, and lawn mowing. 

ShownKenneth Cole New York Men's Two-Piece Suit

The Blue Blazer

Makes you look put-together, no matter what. Also, a very convenient way to dress yourself up for davening

Jeans are out of the question, for many of us. So for a casual look, we go with chinos.

Shown: Levi's Men's Straight Chino Pant, Dress Blues

The Black Bit Loafer

While many non-Jewish men have embraced the brown brogue, the standard black bit loafer remains the Orthodox Jew's essential shoe. Wear them for any situation including hiking and basketball.

Shown Allen Edmonds Men's Verona Slip-on,

The Plain White Dress Shirt

Rule of thumb for non-Jews: Wear white for special occasions, and blue for everything else.
Rule of thumb for OJ: Wear white on white for special occasions and plain white for everything else.

Shown: Van Heusen Men's Fitted Poplin Dress Shirt,

Thursday, January 22, 2015


Saw this on Twitter.

I think its a perfect example of a certain strategy certain woman are employing to gain the upperhand in certain interactions.

Now let's be clear: There is absolutely nothing wrong with employing strategies that will help you win. God knows men do it. In fact, the interrupting and appropriating decried in the poster is precisely that: Its a strategy men use because it helps them win. 

See, here's how its used.
Dominant Man : Here's what we're going to do [Outlines plan]
Less Dominant Personality: Well, I think we should consider...
Dominant Men (waving his hand) No, no. We already decided what we're doing and that's it. Meeting adjourned. 
Now, the dominant man in this example is clearly being a jerk, but he doesn't care. He doesn't want to be loved. He wants to win*. 

*as he defines winning. I realize that many of us don't believe we've won if it requires us to be jerks, but the dominant personality in this example doesn't agree. 

** Also (and does this need to be said?) men aren't the only ones who dominate meetings and behave like jerks in the pursuit of a particular goal. Women do it, too. 

The counter-strategy suggested by the flyer I've posted above calls for the group to respond as follows:
Dominant Personality: Here's what we're going to do [Outlines plan]
Less Dominant Personality: Well, I think we should consider...
Dominant Personality (waving his hand) No, no. We already decided what we're doing and that's it. Meeting adjourned.
Other group members: Hey, wait. Let's hear the other point of view.  
On the face, that's fine, but there are some problems
  1. The poster, and the approach, put all the blame on men, and suggest that women are the victims. But like I said men interrupt other men all the time, and women interrupt men, too. The interrupting and appropriating problem has nothing to do with gender. It has to do with personality type.  Less dominant men also have a hard time being heard and getting their ideas across when a type-A personality of either gender is leading the meeting. Making this about gender is straight up mithandry.
  2. Getting everyone to gang up on the dominant man (or woman)  is - in of itself - a fine strategy, and there's nothing wrong with it per se. The problem is logistics: it relies on the cooperation of the other group members, which can be fleeting. Instead, the person who wants to be heard should take responsibility for solving the problem alone. He should train himself to be more dominant. The tricks that the dominant man (or woman) uses to control the conversation can be mimicked. And saying, "Stop interrupting me" or "Let me speak" works just fine most of the time. *
* Dominant men respect toughness. It seems counterintuitive, but if you stand up for yourself and speak to the dominant man directly, you're far more likely to get your point across and win his admiration and friendship. Inciting an anti-dominant man riot, on the other hand, is likely to make the dominant man into your enemy. 

The whole point of this exercise is to neuter dominant men so that less dominant personalities (of either gender) can gain an edge. That's fine. All for letting less dominant personalities be heard. Moreover, I understand that denying this and pretending what you're really doing is standing up for equal rights or whatever is also part of the strategy. But I don't like the dishonesty. Instead just be direct. You want to be heard. You want to be included. These are reasonable, respectable goals that should be clearly and forcefully articulated without any subterfuge and without taking the radical step of indicting all men for dominant personality behaviors exhibited by both genders.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Koran experts

I swear I'm not carrying any special brief for Allah but I go a little nuts when I see people in shul or on Twitter posing as Koran experts.

Not one of these Jewish geniuses has any Arabic or knowledge of the commentaries but this doesn't stop then from pontificating on "what the Koran really says."

They sound exactly like the anti-Semites who,  knowing one famous piece of Talmud about stealing from gentiles, are certain they've got the goods on Judaism. These frauds don't know any Aramaic or rishonim; as a result they are rightly laughed right out of the room. Shouldn't their Jewish doppelgangers be treated identically?

France PM: Jews should move to France where it's safe

Following the attack in Tel Aviv this morning which left 12 Jews injured, the prime minister of France publicly called on the Jews of Tel Aviv to move to Paris, saying:

"All Jews who want to immigrate to France will be welcomed here warmly and with open arms. We will help you in your absorption here in our state that is also your state.”

Just kidding. But how many points for awesome would that win? More importantly, it would make the point that "the world is a dangerous place" Zionists like Bibi are playing a cynical, self-serving game. They knowingly exaggerate the dangers of the diaspora because they need more Jews in Israel to offset the rapidly growing Palestinian population which - irony! -  threatens to make Israel the most dangerous place of all unless Israel works harder on winning their hearts and minds.

Well, I guess I understand the math: I agree that convincing Jews to move to Israel is a much easier sale than convincing Palestinians to accept occupation, disenfranchisement and the rest.

 Search for more information about why Bibi really wants Jews in Israel at4torah.com

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Richard Elliot Friedman and the two priests: A question

Over the long holiday weekend, I revisited WHO WROTE THE BIBLE, a shocking work of heresy, by Richard Elliott Friedman. Though I've read the book before, this time I decided to fact check. Specifically, I wanted to fact check the claims he makes about King David's two high priests.

What the bible says about David's two high priests
According to the bible, David appointed two high priests, Abiathar and Zadok. Abiathar is a descendant of Eli and a priest in Nob. Zadok is a descendant of Aaron, via Elazer and a resident of Hebron, which is identified in Chronicles as a possession of Aaron's children. As David lay dying Zadok supported Solomon, while Abiather supported Adonijah. After Solomon took the throne, he expelled Abiather from Jerusalem.

What Richard Elliot Friedman says
REF claims that there were two competing priestly circles, one that traced itself to Moses and the other that traced itself to Aaron. He believes that Abiathar was a Moses-priest, while Zadok was an Aaron priest and that both were appointed co-pontiffs during the fragile moment of David's ascension because the new king needed to satisfy both parties. REF suggests that over the following centuries certain parts of the bible were written by the in-power Aaronic priests, while other parts were written by the out-of-power Moses priests and that their competing agendas, perspectives and political interests are reflected in the texts that are attributed to them. Several chapters of examples and arguments are provided by REF in WWTB.

My problems
I've satisfied myself that Zadok was an Aaron priest. He's identified as a resident of Hebron, an Aaron city and elsewhere his lineage is traced back to Eleazer. Solidifying the argument that Abiather was a Moses priest, however, is much harder. For starters, we don't have any verses that I can find which trace him back to Moses. The only named ancestor of Abiather is Eli, who was a priest in Shiloh. The only thing i can find that connects Eli or Shiloh to Moses is the fact that Samuel, as descendant of Levi (but not of Moses) trained at the Shiloh shrine under Eli. But that's a pretty week connection.

Can anyone tighten this up, or was REF straight out fabricating?

Search for more information about REF at4torah.com

Friday, January 16, 2015

Portraying the Prophet

A guest post by Y. Bloch

Yes, this post will contain images of the Prophet, but not Muhammad. Instead, I'd like to talk about the first person ever selected by God to be a prophet, navi in Hebrew--that would be the guy on the left.
Cause I be frontispiecin, yo!
Cause I be frontispiecin, yo!
Yes, in this week's Torah portion, we witness God selecting a navi for the first time in Scripture, and it's Aaron (Exod. 7:1): "Then the LORD said to Moses, “See, I make you as God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet."

Prophet in Greek, like navi in Hebrew, refers to a speaker. In this analogy, Moses and Aaron are God and prophet, as Moses has doubts about his own oratorical skills. This parallels what we read last week (4:15-16):
You are to speak to him and put the words in his mouth; and I, even I, will be with your mouth and his mouth, and I will teach you what you are to do. Moreover, he shall speak for you to the people; and he will be as a mouth for you and you will be as God to him.
So a prophet is God's spokesman, the divine mouthpiece, the heavenly press secretary. He takes the celestial communique and presents it in a way that the audience will listen to.
This concept is essential to understanding the gap we often find between our ethical standards and the words of Scripture. Rabbi Dr. Zev Farber writes about this eloquently on TheTorah.com, in his "Marrying Your Daughter to Her Rapist: A Test Case in Dealing with Morally Problematic Biblical Laws."
The Torah contains a number of laws that fly in the face of modern ethical notions. In certain ways, this is similar to the question of science and Torah, where many admit that the Torah expresses notions of the universe that contradict modern science. Although a significant number of people in the Orthodox world have made peace with the fact that the Torah speaks in the language of its times when it comes to science, the question is all the more pressing when it comes to ethics, especially for people who find themselves inhabiting both the Torah and modern worlds.
Rabbi Farber notes that the Sages themselves reinterpreted many of the Torah laws which they found morally troubling. But that doesn't solve the issue of why God would gives us such laws in the first place. So, building on the conceptual framework of Professor Tamar Ross, he argues:
But if, as Ross and others have argued, we assume that prophecy is not meant to be understood as a verbal revelation from God to the prophet, but—to use my language—as a tapping into the divine flow, then understanding the historical and intellectual context of the author/prophet is vital. Once we admit that any divine message is refracted through a human perspective, then by definition, the divine message will be incomplete and subject to the perspectives and comprehension of the prophet.
The problem with this approach, of "tapping into the divine flow," is not only that it makes God extremely passive, but that it seems to ignore the role of the people. (Rabbi Farber brings the latter issue up parenthetically.) Consider the compulsion described by Amos (3:8): "The lion has roared-- who will not fear? The Sovereign LORD has spoken-- who can but prophesy?" The prophet does not go out into the wilderness seeking to commune with the divine, dowsing for the word of God--he is gripped by an almost autonomic need to convey his message to the nation.
Using the Amramite example, would we say Aaron was tapping Moses' flow? Moses' problem is not understanding God, but being understood by the people. Thus, if we triangulate God, prophet and people when confronting an idea that seem ethically untenable, we should not find fault with the prophet's limitations, but rather with the people.
Indeed, the role of the navi is not just to convey God's word to the people, but to advocate for them. He knows how to speak not only for God, but also to God.
This is quite evident when we go back to the first person to be referred to as a navi, Abraham. God calls him by this title not when He first reveals Himself, indeed not when speaking to Abraham at all, but rather to Abimelech (Gen. 20:7):
Now therefore, restore the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not restore her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.”

Now, how bizarre is to picture this: God is speaking to Abimelech about what he needs to do to save himself from divine wrath for the kidnapping of Sarah: 1) release Sarah; 2) ask Abraham to pray for him. So God is telling Abimelech to tell Abraham to tell God to heal Abimelech? This seems circular, until we consider the power of the prophet: he alone can put a message in the proper words, shaping it for his audience--even if that audience is Omnipotent and Omniscient.
The role of the prophet is an integral one. But ultimately, prophecy was taken from us, and it is now we people who must do our best, using the revelations of long ago, the facts of today, and the compass of our conscience to figure out what God wants.
Search for more information about prophecy at4torah.com

Thursday, January 15, 2015


This morning I started a hashtag game on Twitter at #howyouknowyoureinaShteeble that enjoyed a brief but solid run thanks to the support of @efink @heathenhassid @marksofla @avbronstein and others.

Here are the two that had the most favorites

For your amusement, and perhaps your education as well, I present some of the best of the rest . (They are in no particular order. I don't know how this collection thing works and some of the best ones are at the bottom. If you played and feel I missed yours, no problem. Let me know, and I will add it.)

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

I can't draw...

This is a nasty tweet

David Ward is some kind of hack UK politician, who won his seat four years ago at the age of 57. I think its safe to say that hardly anyone outside of his district knows he's alive or cares what he has to say. After spotting the Prime Minister of Israel at the Paris March he belched out an insulting tweet. The comment is mean. Its nasty. It should also remain irrelevant to anyone other than his political enemies.

But for all his swagger, the self-appointed guardian of all Jews has very thin skin. His ambassador was dispatched to complain to Ward's party boss, one Mr. Nick Clegg. In the formal complaint, Mister Clegg was informed that Ward's remarks were both "shocking" and "offensive" and that somehow it endeavored to "politicise suffering, delegitimise Israel, and justify acts of terror.

C'mon. Nasty it was, but let's not rush to play the anti-semite card at every opportunity.

Search for more information about ### at4torah.com

Mamivaser strikes again!!!

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The Real Selma

This is a post I expect perhaps five of you will read, which is a shame. It contains the entirety of Renata Adler's wonderful "Letter from Selma" which appeared in the April 10, 1965 edition of the New Yorker.  It describes the third Selma march, the one that actually made it to Montgomery at the end of March, and it provides answers to all sorts of questions about the mood of the marchers, and the logistics of their journey as only first-rate journalism can. You''ll also enjoy the little anecdotes about the marchers who wore yarmulkes, the segregationists who lined the route, the rumors of sabotage that the marchers heard and spread and the moderate whites who weren't sure quite what it all meant. For me it was worth the time investment just to find out where the marchers slept each night, and to learn how the final parade into Montgomery was organized and how it was received by the black and white citizens of the city

Let me know what you think.

 - DB

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The new Charlie is perfect

The new Charlie Hebdo cover is perfect on so many levels

My checklist
  • Depicts Muhammad, which is important. Shows that the journal is uncowed. 
  • Separates Islam from the monsters who gunned down their co-workers
  • Suggests that authentic Islam sides with the newspaper, not the terrorists 
  • Takes the high road, absolving the prophet and his religion from the sins of the followers. 

Best of all the once financially  floundering paper has grown rich on sympathetic donations, and they plan to print 3 million copies of the new issue with its "offensive"  cover rather than the usual 60K. So nice works terrorist jackasses. Your plan has completely backfired. Charlie is stronger than ever and more people than ever before will see your prophets nose. 

  Search for more information about why this works so well at4torah.com

Who's the world's stupidest GOP Congressman?

Meet Randy Weber, age 61, of the fighting 14th in Texas. He seems to think Obama is just like Hitler in that Hitler went to Paris and Obama didn't. Or something.

Anyway, tell us again how Obama should've worked harder toward compromise

 Search for more information about Tex Randy  at4torah.com

Was Merkel at the rally? Haredim aren't allowed to know.

Angela Merkel has been erased from a picture of the Paris rally by the delicate souls who run on of Israel's fine Haredi papers.

Here she is at the rally.

And here's the front page of Hamevaser

See Mediatate for proof of the alterations. 

Search for more information about ### at4torah.com