Wednesday, November 30, 2005

More on the deceit of Jacob and Rivka

On this post, I purposely stopped short of accusing Jacob and Rivka of any crime. I noted only that they caused Eisav to cry, and for this their children were punished. Nonethless, many of you -careful readers every last one of you- thought it necessary to gnash your teeth and insist that Jacob and Rivka were guiltless of deceit.

There I stopped short of accusing mother and son of any crime. Here, however, I will point out that Yitzchak does not share my caution: "Your brother came deceitfully and took your blessing," says the Patriarch. So much for innocence.

Also, I've updated the original post with additional midrashic material which support the view that Jews suffer because of the tears Eisav shed, and that God remembers when any of his creatures are harmed, and repays the debt.

Something to contemplate, ye mighty right wingers of Israel, as you make ready to drown the Arabs residents of your land in a mighty river of tears.

What was Rivka playing at?

It's a good question, no?

It's hard to look at this week’s sedra without scratching your head over Rivka's behavior. Here we have one of the Mothers of the Jewish people, engaging in an act of thievery and deception. She sends her youngest son into his father's death-chamber wearing a disguise, and conspires with him to mislead Yitzchak and rob Eisav. Exactly what were her intentions?

According to Samson Rephael Hirsch, Rivka wanted only to awaken Yitzchak to his older son's lack of suitability for the blessing. Yitzchak envisioned a partnership between his two sons, similar l'havdil to the partnership enjoyed by the Mideivil Popes and Holy Roman Emperor. Those carrying the Eisav gene would manage the material and Yaackov's descendants would provide the religious inspiration and together the Abrahamatic nation would flourish and prosper.

Yitzchak's error was twofold. First, he did not realize that there could be no dichotomy in the Abrahmatic nation between the material and the spiritual. The garbage men and the fieldworkers had an equal share with the scholars and the tent-sitters in the nation's reliigious inheritance. Division between the two realms was impossible. Second, Yitzchak misjudged Eisav in assuming that he was willing to subordinate himself to that religious inheritance and to work for its advancement.

Rivka, like women through the ages, saw everything, and tried mightily to convince Yitzchak that he was in error. When her arguments failed, she resorted to the trick with the goat-skins - not because she hoped to steal the blessing, but because she wanted Yitzchak to see that he could be fooled. She expected Yitzchak to eventually catch-on the charade, and say to himself, "Aha! Just as Yaakov fooled me, so have I been fooled by Eisav." She expected Yitzchak to award the blessing to Jacob willingly and with a clear heart. She did not intend to take it through trickery.

But this was not to be.

The three tears of Eisav

(This post is dedicated to Chardul, Dude, Cosmic X and any other unreflective conservatives, who believe that torah favors and preaches revenge, violence, and unfeeling conquest. )

And Eisav raised up his voice and wept. (Gen. 27:38)

About this event, the Midrash has an exquisite, moral teaching.

We're told by the author of the Midrash that Eisav shed three tears when he learned his blessing had been lost: One from his right eye, one from his left eye, and one that he kept back. The first tear aused the destruction of the First Temple; the second tear caused the destruction of the Second Temple, and had the third tear fallen there would be no Third Temple -- and there will be no Third Temple until that third tear dries. (Source:

Update: The Tanhchua and Midrash Raba express the same idea, in different ways:

Tahnchuma: "Three tears did Eisav shed. One dropped from his right eye, one from his left and the third he kept back and that tear has salted our bread of exile with tears and made us taste tears in full threefold measure."

Midrash Raba: "Anyone who says God is not particular with his pious ones deserves to have his inwards torn out. The forbearance of God grants long credit, but the debt needs to be paid in the end. One cry caused Jacob Esther to make and that was repaid in Shushan when Eisav's decendant caused Jacob's decendant to cry with a 'loud bitter cry.'"

Note three different aggadic cources tell us that a very great punishment decended upon us -- and all because our Matriarch Rivka, and her son, brought tears to the eyes of Eisav -an entirely evil man!

Ezzie vs. Akiva

Ezzie, a fine friend of the blog, despite being an illiterate and drooling Conservative buffoon, writes:

Gil doesn't like Christmas trees being called holiday trees. Neither do I. DovBear likes it, and doesn't understand why others find it disingenuous.

Meanwhile, Akiva, another excellent friend and firm supporter of my poorly concealed plans to rule the world writes:

Hirhurim and Dovbear agree, calling the Holiday Season the holiday season and holiday tree's holiday trees is bad for the Jews. How odd (that they agree!)

So who is right? Akiva, obviously (though he is wrong to suggest that Gil and I often disagree. We are on the same page most of the time.)

I like the fact that renaming the trees and the season is a stick in the eye of loudmouth xtians; but I don't like that well-meaning xtians are condecending to fold chanuka into their holiday.

Also, I hate the fact that everyone - Gil and Exxie included - seem to think it's the Jews (and not the well-meaning xtians) who are behind the movement to rename the season and the trees.

Haredim vs MO (Loose ends from yesterday)

Yesterday, I took some flack from Happywithhislot (among others) for suggesting that the discord between UO and MO Jews was a one-way street, with most of the revulsion going from right to left.

Upon review, I think I made two mistakes: I went too far, and at the same time, not far enough.

First, the error of commission:
I suggested that all Haredim, including the rank and file, are upset with the Modern Orthodox. That's not true. The "purer" more shelted, hard-core hasidim and yeshivish types are, like my critic, largely "happy with their lot." Most of the animosity among the rank and file come from disgruntled hocker types, who are running away from their upbringing but lack the cojones to make a clean break. Like the fox in Aesop's fable, they disparage the grapes which are out of reach.

Now, the error of ommision
I was too easy on the Haredi leaders, and rabble rousers. Three episodes, illustrate the point.

Just last year we saw two explosions of hate directed at MOs by the right. In Tendler-gate, the madmen of Monsey launched a systematic campaign of desctruction against an MO Rabbi. They distorted his words, told lies about him, published polemics, vandalized his shul, and conducted nightime vigils. Nothing Rabbi Tendler might have done justifies such mistreament; nothing excuses the bad behavior of the Haredi leadership in this case.

Last year also gave us Slifkin-gate, in which all the most important Yehivish Rabbis went to war against a 30-year old scholar and the way of thinking he represented. Slifkin's livlihood was destroyed, and his ideas - along with his character - were trashed and misrepresented in language tinged with hate and intolerance. Most famous was the moment at the Siyum Hashas, when Matisyahu Solomon, a leading Lakewood Rabbi stood in front of 35,000 people and called the Slifkin-supporters "midgets."

Finally we have Elya Shvei, a prominent Rosh Yeshiva from Philidelphia who, in 1998, stood before the annual convention of Agudath Israel and some 3,500 delegates where he villified Rabbi Norman Lamm, calling him a "sonei hashem" and much worse.

Have the MOs ever perpetrated anything remotely similar to these three examples?

Comment mining

Some thoughts from recent threads that deserve a wider audience:

Can God create a rock He can't lift?
Chaim: DB, I understood what you were saying and I was responding. Sickness is an imperfection by definition, so it is not an imperfection of God to say "God cannot get sick". That doesn't seem to be the case here by prayers. This all goes back to the old can God create a stone He can't lift stuff.

Chaim, it is the case "by" prayers, because if God changes his mind it suggests he is imperfect, just as certainly as sickness would suggest imperfection. Also, God can't create a rock that he can't lift, because the rock that he can't lift does not exist. Again, he can't be limited, which means a rock that might limit him (ie is too heavy to lift) is impossible.

Lincoln Shmilcon
Nephtuli: Under the watch of our best Presidents, millions of Americans died.

Lincoln and FDR were great presidents not because many Americans died, but despite this.

(I am of a mixed opinion on Lincoln. I've always thought he should have either (a) let the South go; or (b) made it clear from the begining that slavery was henceforth intolerable and used the law, and not the army, to impose the new morality.)

Who runs Hollywood?
Jameel Rashid: Its sad the way Hollywood stereotypes US Jews...and then its self perpertuating. One of the big complaints I hear from Arabs is that Western corrupt culture all comes from the sick Jews in Hollywood. They do have a point.

Catholics say the same thing:

One prominent Catholic even suggested that Hollywood is controlled by "anal sex loving Jews"

And they do not have a point.

Heshy lives?
Moron ben Moron: Ahhh, yet another well-reasoned, thought-out post. Thanks Dovy

If you expect every post I publish to be "well thought out" you aren't going to enjoy the blog very much. Sorry, but you don't seem to understand what we do here.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Spot the Disconnect

Anyone not a recent immigrant from Outer Mongolia knows that Rabbi Daniel Lapin hated Meet the Fokkers both because he believed that it defamed Jews, and because "...most decent Americans are bothered by... the trashing of American culture" by people with Jewish names.

Ah yes, 'decent Americans." In an effort to bolster the good Rabbi's point, we scoured the Internet for the reaction of "decent Americans" to the sort of humor portrayed in the film , and came up with the following. Quite the shock, no?

"That night, the Blairs watched the film 'Meet the Parents' with the Bushes. Meyer wrote that Bush 'split his sides' laughing when he heard that the character played by actor Ben Stiller was named 'Gay Focker.'"

-The Post, in a November 8 story discussing a new book by Christopher Meyer, former British ambassador to the United States. Meyer details meetings between Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair in the run-up to the Iraq war. [Cited in TNR]

Why pray?

"Why did G-d make our Patriarchs and Matriarchs childless? Because G-d desires the prayers of the righteous" (Yevamos 64a)

Now far be it from me to speak for the Mothers and the Fathers, but personally, I wouldn't want to worship an entity that is incomplete without my tefillos, and so covetous of having them that he goes and interfers with my wife's reproductive system just to get me moving. That kind of pique I can get from my children. It also seems rather blasphemous to ascribe such a devious motive to God, to suggest that He withheld a wish easily granted, and tormented His creations because their praise of Him was insufficient. Yet, according to many fundemnetalists, this is how God, Lord of the Universe, behaves.

But the more serious problem is this: God can't change. That's verbatam in the Torah, and ratified by the Rambam ( "...and He does not change, for there is nothing that can cause change in Him. There does not exist in Him... anger or laughter, happiness or sadness..." Yad, Laws Concerning the Fundamentals of our Faith, Ch.1 Law 11,) And if God can't change, why pray? Your prayers have no affect on his mood, or on his decisions. He can't be swayed, like a human can, through praises and supplications, so why bother?

One answer: "The answer is that the change that takes place through tefillah is not in G-d, but in ourselves. It is the same changeless G-d who treats the wicked one way and the righteous another way, the person who repents one way and the one who refuses to repent another way, the one who prays one way and the one who does not pray another way. Rambam gives an analogy. The same fire makes one thing black, another white, one thing hard, another soft...."[more]

Inspired by DBH

Funny, this doesn't make me feel any safer...

Miami ees now a how-joo-say? "Republic of Bananas".

The new police plan to fight terror in Miami is this: Stroll up to random locations, surround the place, go in with weapons drawn, and demand to see identification. Then leaflets will be distrbuted.
Police are planning "in-your-face" shows of force in public places, saying the random, high-profile security operations will keep terrorists guessing about where officers might be next... "People are definitely going to notice it," [Deputy Police Chief Frank Fernandez] said. "We want that shock. We want that awe.
In your face? Show of force? Shock and Awe? Homeland Security? Can't they even pretend to be serious people via the use of less laughable words? I mean, what's next? People in long, flowing, raincoats walking up and down the streets sneering "Papers Please!"


(First appeared December 3, 2004)

I do not like the holiday season, and I do not like the fact that it is called "the holiday season." Who are we kidding, please? This is the Christmas season. Our holiday season is in Tishrei. Calling December the holiday season is a wee bit condecending, I think, when the only non-Christian holiday in sight is Chanukkah, a minor, no-account, little festival. Suppose we were the big, bad majority, and we declared Tishrei the American Holiday Season on the grounds that it contains Rosh Hashona, Yom Kippur, Sukkos and also Columbus Day. Do you think the gentiles might be peeved?

Chanuka is more our Columbus Day than our Christmas. We light some candles, and sing some songs. Big Whoops. As an observance this pales next to our real holidays, like the High Holy Days, Passover, Sukkot, even Purim. So it bothers me just a little that the non-Jews deign to notice us (and to congratulate themselves for noticing us) only when they are celebrating something themselves.

And the next non-Jewish person who says, "oh, you get eight nights of presents," gets hit.

Our good friends at Slate ran a story several years ago that explains how Chanuka became "the Jewish Christmas"? It's worth a second look.

Why winter makes me shudder.

Does anti-Semitism lurk under the respectable skirts of defending Christmas?

I've often thought so, and not just because the Grinches in the story, liberals and the ACLU, are not very subtle euphemisms for "Jewish." The ACLU, especially, is thought by the loony-right to be Jewish controlled, and on the vanguard of the plot to de-christianize America. When certain people say that the ACLU or the liberals are hurting America, make no mistake: They mean the Jews.

The New Republic has an explanation this week on the origins of anti-Semitism, an explanation which feeds into my suspicions about the true motives of the Christmas-police. The author, Paul Berman, references Sarte who wrote in Anti-Semite and Jew, that we hate because we cannot abide our own frailties. We hate when we encounter the imperfect reality, instead of the perfect ideal. Rather than recognizing that the ideal can't ever be achieved, we give ourselves over to hating whoever stands in the way of the perfect vision. Consider the Jews:

For the last two millennia, Jews have been hated... in a special way, which is, once again, always in the name of an all-but-realized human perfection. In the heyday of Christian Europe, the Jews were hated because they alone seemed to ruin the dream of a universal truth: they alone refused to go along with the vision of an ideal society in which everyone would agree on the veracity of the Good News. People hated the Jews out of love for the Gospels—hated the Jews who, by refusing to accept the Good News, embodied the weaknesses and frailties of the human condition.

The era of modern European states got started with the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, which proposed a newly secular vision of the perfect society—a society in which every state was going to live in tranquility behind its defined borders and respect the borders of every other state. But the Jews scattered themselves (and were scattered) all over Europe, regardless of borders—in plain demonstration, once again, that the vision of universal perfection stood at odds with the human reality. And hatred poured down once again upon the living examples of human imperfection.

Today we have moved into a new era, post-Westphalian, in which, now that France and Germany have made their peace, people look on national states no longer as the source of perfection but as the source of evil. Today the fashion is to imagine that a perfect society can only be a global community, superseding the traditional states—an international community in which no one is going to be the enemy of anyone else.

And yet, in the face of this new vision of the perfect world, the Israelis keep on behaving as if they do have enemies, and decline to entrust their fate to their neighbors or to the international community. And so, once again, out of love for an ideal, people end up gazing upon the Israelis, or upon Israel’s supporters in other countries, and seeing in those people the horrid sign of the human condition—the retrograde Israelis and their supporters whose behavior attests to the lack of human perfection. And hatred pours down, just as it has always done.

Isn't the same thing happening today in America? Instead of recognizing that Christmas has been corrupted by the forces of capitalism and consumarism.... instead of recognizing that a great many Christians no longer find solace in the religion and rituals of their ancestors... instead of taking responsibility for how the Christian feast is celebrated in a land of 300 million Christians.... instead of recognizing that their ideal is not possible.... the Christmas-police blame the Jews, and their proxies, for ruining their holiday, and again the hatred pours down.

For 2000 years Jews were imagined as the betrayer of one version after another of the perfect state of grace; today, in America, we're the enemies of the perfect Christmas. And by couching their anti-Semtisim in pro-Christmas language, the old hatred is sanitized and concealed.

(Sidenote: I think Haredim hate MOs respond to MOs and to MO ideology with some revulsion for a similar reason. They think that if the MOs would just get on board and give up their crazy modern ideas the Moshiach would come. As the Jews stood in the way of perfect Christian grace, the MOs betray the Haredi vision of perfect and authentic Judaism. This why the average MO rabbi says nothing negative about Haredi Judaism, while the average Haredi Rabbi frequently works disdainful remarks about the MOs into his speechs. I've spent my life in both types of places, and I have seen that Haredim are much more likely to attack the other side.)

Monday, November 28, 2005

Are we ruining Christmas or are we expected to save it?

Here's a nugget of joy from the Wall Street Journal (as reported by Slate):

"Hanukkah doesn't start until Dec. 25. That represents the likelihood of an especially large season-end surge."

Slate does a good job debunking this particular bit of wishful thinking, but what does it signify when a top business paper makes such a bad mistake? As Slate tells it, the Jews are perhaps 1.7 percent of the population, and neither Hasidim, nor Tikkun-readers are big holiday shoppers.
Let's say, for the sake of argument, the average Jewish Hanukkah-shopping household spends five times the national average, or about $2,300. If there are 2 million such households, they'd account for about $4.7 billion in spending. That sounds like a lot, but it's a drop in the bucket. The National Retail Federation expects holiday sales, which it broadly defines as all retail industry sales in November and December, will total $439.5 billion. So, even if all Jews procrastinate and buy their Hanukkah presents toward the end of December rather than at the end of November, it still won't make more than a tiny difference in overall spending.
I knew intuitivly (as I am sure you did, too) that the Journal's projection was asinine, and Slate's argument seals the deal, making it abundently clear that the Jews can't be counted on to rescue the shopping season.

So how did that stupid sentance find it's way into the Journal?

Ted Koppel's Closing Thought

Bye Ted:

There's this quiz I give to some of our young interns when they first arrive at Nightline. I didn't do it with this last batch. It's a little too close to home. 'How many of you,' I'll ask, 'Can tell me anything about Eric Severeid?' Blank stares. 'How about Howard K. Smith or Frank Reynolds?' Not a twitch of recognition.

Chet Huntley, Jack Chancellor? Still nothing. David Brinkley sometimes causes a hand or two to be raised; and Walter Cronkite may be glad to learn that a lot of young people still have a vague recollection that he once worked in television news.

What none of these young men and women in their late teens and early twenties appreciates, until I point it out to them, is that they have just heard the names of seven anchormen or commentators who were once so famous that everybody in the country knew their names. Everybody.

Trust me. The transition from one anchor to another is not that big a deal.

Cronkite begat Rather, Chancellor begat Brokaw, Reynolds begat Jennings; and each of them did a pretty fair job in his own right.

You've always been very nice to me. Give this new Nightline anchor team a fair break. If you don't, I promise you the network will just put another comedy show in this time slot. Then you'll be sorry.

That's our report for tonight...I'm Ted Koppel in Washington...

For all of us here at ABC News... Good night.

Another reason to love Mike Bloomberg

Someone does't like Mayor Mike Bloomberg:
On the first Sunday after Thanksgiving 2005 I visited Manhattan to go to Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral and to see the displays in the front windows of two famous Fifth Avenue department stores, Lord & Taylor and Sax [sic] Fifth Avenue.

The windows were artistically decorated, but certainly not for Christmas, which celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, not children's fairy tales.... [DB: How's that's for self-parody?]

The Lord & Taylor windows were dedicated to fairy tales, like Rumpelstiltskin, The Princess and the Pea, and Goldilocks and the Three Bears... It was the same at Sax, where the windows focused on concepts like unity, harmony and beauty. Nothing about Christmas. [DB: And the hits keep coming.]


Manhattan is where Michael Bloomberg, New York City's recently reelected Mayor resides. He bans creches, but not menorrahs [sic] (or holiday trees) from New York City's public schools. (He's Jewish, not Christian.)
Well done Mayor Bloomberg! And leaving St. Patrick's open for business (so those Christians are easier to find, I suppose) is a very nice touch.

[Note for the dim: Our poor, persecuted friend is blaming the Jewish Mayor, and the Established-by-Jews department stores for the comercialization of Christmas. This scapegoating has become a worrying trend. Yet, these people are our bestest friends ever, right?]

Just desserts

Funny how a little over a year ago, this SOB (Rep, CA) was on the Rush Windbag Show claiming John Kerry didn't earn his medals and was morally unfit for office.


Now, look at the brilliance of God's justice: Poor Duke is on is way to jail where we fear a very special swift-boating (possibly at the hands of chain-weilding bikers) awaits him.

Quote of the Day

Churches are becoming political organizations.... It probably will not be long until the churches will divide as sharply upon political, as upon theological questions; and when that day comes, if there are not liberals enough to hold the balance of power, this Government will be destroyed. The liberty of man is not safe in the hands of any church. Wherever the Bible and sword are in partnership, man is a slave.

--Robert G. Ingersoll

Orthoprax Koferim: Teaneck vs. Williamsburg

One who adheres to religious practices approved by authority or tradition

n., pl. -im
A person who dissents from officially accepted dogma. A heretic.

An Orthoprax Kofer is the guy who believes in nothing, yet goes to shul and keeps shabbos out of habit, or for fear of his wife and neighbors. He does the dance, and talks the talk, but, inside, he thinks it's all nonesense. Teaneck and Woodmere, havens of Modern Orthodoxy, are thought to overflow with such people.

But what about Williamsburg and Boro Park? Granted, the average black-hatted longbeard doesn't think "its all nonesense" but all the same, many are koferim, per the Rambam who ruled that whoever denies even one of the 13 principles is a heretic. Teaneck and Williamsburg might not be denying the same principles, however both have their difficulties with some of what the Rambam taught.

What follows is a quick review of the famous principles, together with a discussion of how the different neighborhoods deny them -- stereotypically speaking, of course, because life - not to mention this post - is too short for anything but generalizations.

1. God alone has made, does make, and will make all things.
Pockets of the Modern Orthodox world do accept evolution, but very few deny that God is the First Cause.
Edge: Even

2. G-d is One. There is no unity that is in any way like His. He alone is our G-d He was, He is, and He will be.
Edge: Even

3. G-d does not have a body, physical concepts do not apply to Him. There is nothing whatsoever that resembles Him at all.
In Williamsburg, many believe that God has emotions like joy and anger and that He can be changed through prayer. It is also believed that He desires prayers and the performance of mitzvoth, and that he can be consoled through the acts of man. All of this denies the third principle. Though pockets of Teanek make this mistake, too, my opinion is its more common in Williamsburg.
Edge: Teaneck

4. G-d is first and last.
Somewhere in the back of my head, I have the idea that Hassidim hold that God created the wrold from eternal matter. I have not encountered this myself, though, and I don't know how common it is.
Edge: Even

5. It is only proper to pray to G-d. One may not pray to anyone or anything else.
Ancestor worship is common in Williamsburg. Many pray to their dead and ask for intervention and favors. Some of the slichot and other prayers are directed to angels. Per the Rambam all this is heresy. (Again, we find this in Teaneck, too, but to a lesser extent, Slichot that pray to angels for example are largely ommitted in MO shuls.)
Edge: Teaneck

6. The words of the prophets are true.
Edge: Even

7. The prophecy of Moses is absolutely true. He was the chief of all prophets, both before and after Him.
Edge: Even

8. The entire Torah that we now have is that which was given to Moses.
Teaneck is more familiar with biblical archeology among other subjects, and are therefore aware that this is not plausible. (They also know that the Rambam himself, surely, did not believe it, and neither did the Ibn Ezra, the Rashba or Rabbi Moses Sofer.)
Edge: Williamsburg

9. The Torah will not be changed, and that there will never be another given by G-d.
Well, in Williamsburg they do say that the rules about proper prayer times were abrogated, but we'll give them the benefit of the doubt, and presume the law was changed legitimately.
Edge: Even

10. G-d knows all of man's deeds and thoughts.
Edge: Even

11. G-d rewards those who keep His commandments, and punishes those who transgress Him.
Yet, many believe that God rewards people who wear red bracelets, for example, or other amulets. These and other superstitions abound in Williamsburg, and all, per the Rambam are heresy because it denies the idea of reward and punishment.
Edge: Teaneck

12. The Messiah will come.
Edge: Even

13. The dead will be brought back to life when G-d wills it to happen.
Edge: Even

Final Score
Teaneck 3: Williamsburg 1

Saturday, November 26, 2005


Boston, I see, is making a case to become this blog's official city:
Boston set off a furor this week when it officially renamed a giant tree erected in a city park a "holiday tree" instead of a "Christmas tree."

The move drew an angry response from Christian conservatives, including evangelist Jerry Falwell who heckled Boston officials and pressed the city to change the name back. There's been a concerted effort to steal Christmas," Falwell told FoxTelevision."
Good lord.

There are 500 billion of them, and ten of us. If we Jews could remain Jewish in czarist Russia, they can remain Christian gathered under the holiday tree.

Anyway, why does Reverend Falwell have time for this nonesence? Is no one starving and/or homeless? Ministers of the Lord are should be concerned with acts of good work, such as drumming up votes on behalf of Republican candidates for higher office. They are supposed to be in soup kitchens. Not on Fox TV moaning about imaginary Grinches, and their imaginary plots.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Finer point

Apropos yesterday's last post S writes:

If the former, then the Jews (if you can call them that) were pagans with a god called YHWH in the pantheon. At that time Judaism (or Isralitism) didn't exist. If the latter, then your friend is right and these syncretistic Jews in Tanakh were deviants from Judaism--which only existed as early as Jews were monotheistic.

Let's suppose the latter. God gave the Torah, and those Jews were sinners. But their sin was overwhelmingly popular and overwhelmingly tolerated. We're told that Pesach was not celebrated from Joshua to Josia, and Sukkot was ignored until Ezra. Elijah himself testifies that no one in Israel remembered God. The kings are evil and corrupt. Yes, all along the musty old books might have said that idol worship was wrong, but who lives in musty old books? In the world of men, idols were worshipped by most everyone, as most every page testifies.

Now, extrapolate to our day. Another friend, a feminist, insists that Judaism is better than the Jews, because Judaism "properly understood" places no limits on female achievment. Perhaps, she is right about Judaism, but so what? If no one "properly understands this" what good is it? It is the difference between the theoretical and the actual.

Remember Cedric Diggory

Rapid remarks on the fourth Harry Potter

Overall Well directed, well acted (aside from Daniel Radcliff who, as always, is overmatched) and well written. The story, you know, though it has been bowdlerized, not ruined. Fans will be satisfied. Newcomers might be puzzled, and should anyway be referred to the books.

Unanswered: When Harry and Voldermort duel in the graveyard, their wands connect and Voldermorts last four spells, killing spells all, are repeated (Harry's most recent spells, oddly, are not.) In the book, Voldermorts wand spits out the ghosts of the last four people he killed: Cedric Diggory, and old caretaker, Lilly Potter, and then James. According to the wand order, Lilly died first. Yet in SS, Voldemort tells Harry that he killed his father first. JK insists it was a mistake for Lilly to leave the wand before James, and the error (I think) was corrected in later editions. The movie, however, elects not to settle the matter. We can't tell, in the confusion, who emerges first from the wand and Lilly's line from the book about Harry waiting for his father is omitted.

Emotional wallop: My two favorite moments in the series are when Harry draws on the inspiration of his father to save Sirius by conjuring the patronus in POA, and when he emerges from the maze with the body of Cedric Diggory in GOF. The POA moment was muffed in the movie, both because we weren't shown the stag (which represent his father) and because Daniel Radcliff is a god-awful actor. The GOF moment, a much more difficult scene, is handled perfectly. We see the joyful and celebrating crowd slowly realize that one of the two boys is dead, as Amos Diggory rushes to his son's side and Harry wails in a mix of frustration and utter despair. Some of you - especially those of you with sons - will weep. Radcliff's acting in this scene is every bit as poor as his performances in every other scene in which he appears, but at this, the movie's money moment, the director rescues both audience and actor.

Sliced: All sub-plots and color are excluded from this movie. There is no Winny, no Bagman, no Percy, and no Dobby. The trip to the World Cup is rendered meaningless, and we're shown no Quidditch, and no acts of Muggle torture. Crouch Sr's maddness is abbreviated, and his murder is never explained. Also, excised from the movie, and I suppose the series, is Belatrix LeStrange. In the movie it is Barty Couch jr. and not her, who destroys the Longbottoms. Certainly these edits were necessary for the book to become a 2 hour film, Yet without these characters and their moments, the story is notably thinner.

Furthermore: Daniel Radcliff still can't act. Rupert Gint is better. Emma Watson and Alan Rickman aren't given enough to do. The castle is the marvelously creepy place we saw in POA, and not the cheerful funhouse from the first two movies.

And finally: The book's best line - when Dumbeldore tells the assembled students to "Remember Cedric Diggory" - is missing. Dumbledore's final speech, to the best of my recollection, is intact aside from that coda. I don't know why it was deleted, but I am pleased to report that this was the filmmaker's only real misstep.*

Update: Recalled another misstep: During the riot on the campground Harry is knocked unconcious, and he awakens (with no brain-damage. As if.) to see a destroyed and entirely-abandoned camp. Where did everyone go? And, because he needed to become separated from the others, why couldn't he simply have gotten lost in the woods, as in the book?

Place keeper post

Off to see Harry Potter and the Kos Shel Brocha with the mini-mes. Be back later with my full review.

Meantime, join the debate taking place on the post immidiately beneath this one.

My two cents: Judaism ebbs and flows, like everything else. Though elements of it are inevitable (ie: God-made), most of it is contingent (ie: Man-made). Therefore, it misses the point to talk about what "Judaism" says, when the "Jews" themselves are doing their own thing. We live in the world of men (ie: Jews) not thwe world of ideas (ie: Judaism.)

See you soon...

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Can Jews be Separated from Judaism?

The question came to me this week duing a discussion of the Book of Judges with a good friend.

"Judaism was not always monotheistic," I said in my most professorial voice, "One need only consult the Book of Judges to see that the Jews were once unrestrained idolators. It was only later that the practice was eradicated from Israel."

My friend was unimpressed. So much for the professorial voice. "Those Jews were sinners," he sneered. "Their behavior wasn't in keeping with Judaism."

I see, his point, but I am not satisfied. Because in what meanigful way can Judaism be said to have prohibited idolatry during the era of the Judges, if idols were commonly worshipped, and if this was commonly tolerated? I know the law was on the books, but the law was ignored. Theoretical Judaism might have prohibited idolatry, but practical Judaism did not. What does it mean to seek shelter in the law, if the law isn't being followed?

A similar point might be made about the role of women in Judaism. It's trendy for Orthodox Jewish feminists to say that their pinched and narrow existance comes from Jews not living up to Judaism. "The religion doesn't downplay us," they'll insist, rapidly citing verses and utterances of the Sages that were, for the year zero CE, light years ahead of their time. "The people, maybe, but not the religion."

I don't know if you can separate the people from the religion. Oh, of course you can intellectually, but practically speaking if the "Jews" say something, so does "Judaism." If (Orthodox) Jews today think that women are unfit for serious study, and infit for leadership what does it matter if Judaism theoretically disagrees?

Beware of liars and morons

The lying moron says:
As Jews we are forbidden to celebrate Thanksgiving just as we are forbidden to celebrate easter or xmas...This is what happens to those who laugh at our great sages when they issue an eddict [sic] to avoid imitating the secular world on the celebrating of the pagan [sic] holiday of Thanksgiving.

The Sages say:
On the issue of joining with those who think that Thanksgiving is like a holiday to eat a meal: since it is clear that according to their religious law books this day is not mentioned as a religious holiday and that one is not obligated in a meal [according to Gentile religious law] and since this is a day of remembrance to citizens of this country, when they came to reside here either now or earlier, halacha sees no prohibition in celebrating with a meal or with the eating of turkey. One sees similar to this in Kiddushin 66 that Yanai the king made a party after the conquest of kochlet in the desert and they ate vegetables as a remembrance.

Nothing today

I'm headachy, and the house if full of kids. That, and feast preperations militate against further postings.

If you're home from work for the holiday, shut of the computer. If you're not on vacation today, you have my sympathy. Why not pass the day rustling through my archives. Or visit the links in the sidebar. Superlative writers all.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The Wedding

I should have seen this coming.

I have a child in nursery school again, and once again Chayyei Sarah (the parsha, not the blogger) is being celebrated in the pre-school with a wedding. The wedding of Rivka and Yitzchak, to be exact.

What the teachers do is assign roles, and send out invitations. On Friday, a big bash is held, where our two lovebirds are married, ahistorically, according to the laws on "Moshe and Israel." My daughter is a "sister," and she's been asked to "dress in character." (Because she, in everyday life, is, in fact, a sister this poses no difficulty.)

The highest a member of my family has climbed in the wedding heirarchy is "Uncle." Another time we had a "waiter," which I'm certain was an insult. I am not sure what it takes to actually make it under the chupah, but no doubt it helps to shmear the teacher or to attend Parent-Teacher conference, two things I refuse to do on principle.

Anyway, as with a real wedding, the real meaning of this pageant is lost on some of the particpants. For example, I asked my daughter if she was looking forward to the pageant, and summing all of her two-year old vocabulary she replied: Sdhs0pa dkd Daddeee djaqzx.

Mazal Tov Krusty

In the Simpson's episode, "Today, I Am a Clown," Krusty turns to his Orthodox father, Rabbi Hyman Krustofsky (played by comedian Jackie Mason), and the Beach Boys (click) for help celebrating his Bar Mitzvah.

Alert reader "Jeff" points out that Chayyei Sarah, this week's parsha, is Krusty's sedra:
My raya [proof] is from the Krusty Bar Mitzvah episode of the Simpsons, where they have Krusty first practicing, and then later leining from the Torah, Genesis 24:2, an irreverant choice if I do say so myself. Krusty's accent is pretty out there, but with the help of my trusty VCR I was eventually able to make out the words.


YonotanSchreiber, YitzchakAlderstan, Shtreimal, and the HasidicRebel (well, he already was famous) are all mentioned in today's Times*. The story is about Jews and the Internet. I nearly spit out my morning coffee. Money quote:

"People can get connected to each other, and once ideas that are not implanted by the establishment spread, they can explode," said Shtreimel of the Internet, speaking at a Starbuck's on the condition that he and his sect not be named.
Some thoughts:

++ The crack-reporting award of the day must go to Joseph Berger, the sharp-eyed and thorough journalist who tells 10 billion people that "Shtreimel of the Internet" is a "heretic... who does not believe in God, sneaks away to snack on Yom Kippur and sometimes grabs a hamburger that isn't kosher at McDonald's" without noting that (a) Shtreimal went out of business 6 weeks ago and (b) he renounced heresy and re-dedicated himself to Judaism before he left. Well done Joseph Berger!

++ Whoops! It appears Shtreimals well-publicized contrition was a lie! Money quote: "And Shtreimel is not alone in posting his doubts in a public forum ( is his latest address). " Why you sneaky little demon. Ok, Shtreimela, how about an explanation:Why did you pretend to do teshuva, and why isn't that story in the New York Times?

++ The story appears to have been inspired by yesterday's Star-Ledger piece. Good to see media groupthink is alive and well.

[Related: Miriam Bloghd (who did have a five hour head start this morning)]

Update: In the print version it says: "The Internet has germinated a small netherworld of Hasidic bloggers, with sites such as HasidicRebel and YoinosonSchreiber, both of which are on" This sentance seems to have been dropped from the online version. Wonder why.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005


Originally posted Monday, November 29, 2004

The local school for blackhat boys was open on Thursday, Thanksgiving, until 1 pm, and closed on Friday. This confuses us.

To our mind, there are four intellectually conherent positions a Jewish school could take on Thanksgiving.

Intellectually Coherent Position #1: Thanksgiving is not our holiday, and should be ignored. If this is the local school's view why close on Thursday afternoon and Friday?

Intellectually Coherent Position #2: Thanksgiving is not our holiday, but concerns us because its observance interrupts the study of Torah. If this is the local school's view why not close for half of Friday, too? Is Thursday's Torah study more valuable than Friday's Torah study?

Intellectually Coherent Position #3: Thanksgiving it not our holiday, but we recognize the value of families enjoying time together. If this is the local school's view why not close for Thursday morning, too?

Intellectually Coherent Position #4: Thanksgiving is our holiday (we're American after all) and its observation is a civic celebration is which we should take part. If this is the local school's view, why not close for the whole day, and open on Friday?

Rashi, the mindreader: Part II

To review, our problems are two:

1) Rashi has taken a midrash which the Sages attached to one verse, and applied it to another. Why?

2) The comment under discussion addresses a spelling mistake, suggesting that this error was made deliberately by the author of the Torah (ie: The King of Kings) for the purpose of conveying an indiscretion on the part of Abraham's servant. But if this is so, why not let us know about the indiscretion when it was committed, rather than later, as the servant retells the story?

First Problem
As Lkwd and Chaim told us in the previous comment thread, the Midrash was written to explain the servant's use of the word "oo-lie," instead of "pen." Both words mean "perhaps," but "oo-lie" carries the sense the outcome is desired ("pen" is closer to the archaic "peradventure.")

The role of Midrash (generally, with many exceptions) is to give us back story, to fill in the blanks and to connect the dots. At the time the midrash was written, a typical reader would have noted the use of the word "oo-lie" instead of "pen" and instantly recognized that Eliezer wanted his mission to fail. But the text gives no explanation for this strange desire. Enter the midrash, with the story of Eliezer's daughter.

Rashi's role (generally, with far fewer exceptions) is to explain problems in the text. When Eliezer, in the study, first says "What if the woman is unwilling to come back with me to this land? Shall I then take your son back to the country you came from?" there is no problem with the text. The word "oo-lie" -and its implications - are perfectly clear. There are no misspellings, and no reason for Rashi to say anything. So he doesn't. Later, when the spelling error appears Rashi draws on the midrash and tells us why the word is misspelled: To let us know that Eliezer wanted Isaac for his own daughter.

Second Problem
This isn't a question on Rashi, but on the Torah itself. Why was Eliezer's secret wish indicated at the end of the story, rather than the beginning? The most satisfying explanation comes from the Chizkuni, who says that the servant purposely used the word "oo-lie" as he retold the story because he wanted to make it clear and obvious to Rivka's relatives that he wanted Isaac for himself. This was part of his sales pitch, the Chizkuni suggests, his way of making it clear that Isaac was a desirable son-in-law. Had the Torah misspelled the word "oo-lie" the first time it appeared, we may have judged Eliezer unfavorably. By misspelling the word the second time it appeared - when Eliezer was not thwarting the mission, but advancing it, and at the expense of his own interests - the Torah tells us something good about Eliezer's character and his loyalty to Avraham.

Loose ends

I have updated this post.

Your thoughts welcome here.

A quiet and dignified good-bye

GH take note:
After 25 years as the host of "Nightline," Ted Koppel has chosen to go out in an unconventional fashion.

Rather than have his final "Nightline" broadcast (10:35 p.m. Tuesday, WLS-Ch. 7) feature a series of clips highlighting his most memorable interviews and the news program's most famous moments -- a stroll down memory lane that the retiring newsman deserves -- Koppel gives his last show to a man who has been dead for 10 years.
That's class, man.

Time to go

The leaders of the democracy 2,000 of our soldiers have died to establish are now calling for more dead soldiers:
"Leaders of Iraq's sharply divided Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis called Monday for a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S.-led forces in the country and said Iraq's opposition had a ``legitimate right'' of resistance.
My oh my. If the Iraqi government is saying such nasty things, it's obviously time for regime change. I feel certain that we'll be greeted as liberators. With flowers.

But wait: ... Maybe this is a good thing. After all, if they don't kill more of our soldiers, all of our other soldiers will have died in vain. Right?

Rashi, the mindreader

Mark Salem can look deep into the heart of a random audience member and tell us what he (the "random" audience member) had for breakfast. That's a good trick. (I know how it's done. But it's a good trick.) In this week's sedra, however, Rashi tops it.

The scene is Abraham's study, and his servant* is on his knees, with his hand under the great man's thigh. (Fun fact to know and tell: The Rabbis tell us the servant, in fact, had his hand on Abraham's testicles. With no Gedion Bible handy, upon which to swear, Abraham had the servant say his oath over the holiest thing he had handy: the organ which had been recently circumscised) The servant is promising to fetch a non-Canaanite woman to be Issac's bride, but he has one worry (Genesis 24:5):

The servant asked him, "What if the woman is unwilling to come back with me to this land? Shall I then take your son back to the country you came from?"

On this verse Rashi is silent. But later, when the servant retells the story, (24:39) Rashi says the servant was secretly hoping that his own daughter would become Issac's wife. The nuetral sounding "What if the woman is unwilling to come back with me to this land?" was not an idle question, but an instance of Eliezer searching for holes in Avraham's plan.


The question: How did Rashi look back through the fog of almost 3000 years into the heart of the servant and see what the man was thinking? (Yes, Rashi's bases himself on a Midrash. How did the Midrash know (and why did Rashi choose to cite this particular Midrash. His commentary is not an anthology of midrashim.)

Rashi's own answer is that the word for "perhaps" (oo-lie) is misspelled. Without a "vav" as the second letter, "oo-lie" can be read as "ay-lie," meaning "to" or "for me," i.e. the servant wanted Yitzchok for himself.

I've always hated this answer, and for two reasons. First, shouldn't the misspelling have appeared the first time the servant says the words, back when he is speaking to Abraham? If it's important for the reader to be advised of the man's private thoughts, why wait? If he secretly coveted Issac for his own daughter wouldn't this thought have been on his mind when he was first in the study, speaking to Abraham? Wouldn't it be more appropriate to point out the servant's real intention when he actually says it, rather than when he repeats it to Avraham's relatives?

Second, Rashi frequently takes a midrash which the Sages had attached to one verse and applies it to another verse. That's what he's done here. The midrash comments on what the servant said to Abraham, -where the word is spelled correctly - yet Rashi uses it to gloss what the servant said to the relatives - where the word is spelled wrong.

Answers? (I'll have some in the next post)

* I am not using the name Eliezer to describe the servant, because in this passage the man is referenced like three dozens times, and not once is he called anything but "the servant" or "the man."

Monday, November 21, 2005


If the foodie TV shows and websites are to be believed, Thanksgiving is the Mount Everest of holidays. They seem to be overflowing with FAST and EASY recipes, and tips for stressed out housewives. Is roasting a turkey with some stuffing really such an act of effort and endurance? For heaven's sake. As my dear wife says: Don't we do something like Thanksgiving dinner not once, but twice every week?

Stolen Copy

From here

Last week, John Murtha introduced a resolution which proposed that:

* Section 1. The deployment of United States forces in Iraq, by direction of Congress, is hereby terminated and the forces involved are to be redeployed at the earliest practicable date.

* Section 2. A quick-reaction U.S. force and an over-the-horizon presence of U.S Marines shall be deployed in the region.

* Section 3 The United States of America shall pursue security and stability in Iraq through diplomacy.

But Republicans, who are forever whining about Democrats "playing politics," submitted a different resolution which read:

* Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the deployment of United States forces in Iraq be terminated immediately.

* Resolved, That it is the sense of the House of Representatives that the deployment of United States forces in Iraq be terminated immediately.

Why they couldn't debate Murtha's original resolution I don't know. Well, actually I do know - it's because they would rather turn to cheap political tricks than debate the merits of his proposal. But here's an example of how the Republicans then went on to "debate" John Murtha last week:
REP. JEAN SCHMIDT: A few minutes ago I received a call from Colonel Danny Bubp, Ohio Representative from the 88th district in the House of Representatives. He asked me to send Congress a message: Stay the course. He also asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message, that cowards cut and run, Marines never do.
Schmidt remarks were later stricken from the record. She said, "Mr. Speaker, my remarks were not directed to any member of the House and I did not intend to suggest they applied to any member, most especially the distinguished gentleman from Pennsylvania." Odd - I could have sworn that the remark was aimed directly at Murtha. (I think the line about "sending Congressman Murtha a message" was a bit of a giveaway.)

So there you have it - rather than debate the substance of Murtha's original resolution, House Republicans decided to introduce their own faux resolution and then called a decorated 37-year veteran of the Marine Corps a coward on the House floor. Now that's what I call leadership.

Liberal media?

Sure it was funny when GWB got into a fight with a locked door, and sure the FOX news audience will scream and drool that the story didn't belong in a four-panel cartoon-strip all over Page 1.

But please note that the caption refers to a "mock grimace," and makes no mention of the fact that GWB was storming off in a snit when he turned into one of the three stooges.

Perhaps this was more damage control than snark.

Texas: Still Terrible

But who is more repungant? The Texas teacher, or this fundie Texas mother?

Two weeks ago, Jacob Schauer was caught getting leaving Cleveland Middle School early. For his punishment, he was sent to the coach's office where he had to endure a series of paddles.


What troubles [his mother] the most is that she claimed to have signed a form denying teachers the right to paddle her son. When she complained to the principal, she claims her concerns were ignored.

"I said, 'Don't hit and whoop him' and he said 'We don't need your permission. That's just a courtesy,'" said Schauer. "Then why send it home if it's a courtesy?"

In a statement released by Cleveland ISD, officials deny any wrongdoing. The statement read:

"We did not violate any law, and as a courtesy to parents, we do ask them, but we don't, by state law, need their permission." [emphasis mine]

"They cannot whoop our children," said Schauer. That is a parent's job. We gave birth to those children. We created those kids. It's our job to discipline them that way, not anyone else's." [emphasis mine]
I know such things are alleged to take place in yeshivot, and my rule is this: Hit my kid, and I hit you. And after that I sue.

Smarter schoolteachers please

Hebrew words you will need for maximum enjoyment of this post:

AiSHeL: Genesis 22:33 tells us Abraham established an 'ashel' in Be'er Sheva. There are a few views (Sotah 10a) on what this word means. Some say that an ashel is an orchard which produced fruit Abraham shared with his guests. Others say it was an inn. The Midrash (Tehillim 92:14) says that the word ashel is an acronym for Achilah (food) SHtiya (drink) and Lina (lodging).

Levaya: to escort or to accompany (for this reason levaya is also our word for funeral.)

The eldest DovBearling came home this weekend with a terrifying teaching. Her class had been studying Abraham's ashel, and instead of giving the traditional interpretation, her teacher offered a new and frightining wrinkle.

According to her teacher, Aishel is an acronym not for achila, shtiya and lina, but for achila, shtiya and levaya. (I suppose the thought is that Abraham did more than feed, water and lodge his guests. He also walked them out. ) "It's very important to escort guests to the door Daddy," said my little girl, "Because if you don't have the Lamed ("L") in aishel you're left with aish (fire). Once a man didn't walk his guests to the door, " she continued, "and his house burned down."

Ye freaking Gods.

Not only is it irresponsible to fill my daughter's head with such nonsense, it's also an unnecessary twist of the Talmud (Sotah 10a) Midrash (Tehilliam 92:14) where lina (lodging) and not levaya (escort) is our L word.

Furthermore, the underlying logic of this little diatribe is nonexistant. Houses burn down because of how words are spelled? Should we also assume that if I water and lodge my guest, but give them nothing to eat we'll all get diarrhea (the SHiLs?) And if I feed them but give them nothing to drink will this summon EL, the chief Ugaritic God to my house?

I just hope my daughter doesn't freak out the next time I permit a guest to find his own way out.

Note: On Sotah 10A Rashi modifies the midrash, and writes that Aishel is an acronym for achila, shtiya and levaya, rather than lina. Why does he change the midrash? Perhaps because the discussion on Sotah 10A is about Abraham's tent, and though the Torah shows us that Abraham did escort his guests for a bit after they'd finished eating, there's no indication that he ever took overnight guests. Rashi, in general, is more sensitive to the text than the midrash.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Uncle Moishy has a question

It appears here.

In brief:
To pursue this train of thought a little further, DB, I think you should conduct a survey (like the "What time did you finish?" survey on RH and YK): Did your shul or school mount any organized effort to collect $ for (or otherwise help) hurricane victims in New Orleans? I suspect the record of the frum community in this regard was poor. (Similarly for Darfur, despite the obvious reminders of the Shoah).
All right, true believers, time to own up: Did your shul raise money or do anything else to aide the victims of Katrina? The Rabbi of my shul denounced New Orleans as a "city of sin," but was careful to say, in both English and Yiddish, that it's pompous and irresponsible and wrong to say that any specific tragedy was the result of any particular sin. The Rabbi of my other shul preached a similar sermon, but made no mention of the French Qaurter. Neither institution passed the hat. (I gave a good sum to the Red Cross on my own.)

What was done in your neck of the woods?

Smarter Republicans please

Last week, Jean Schmidt,a crazy old Congressperson from Ohio, stood on the floor of the United States House of Representatives and insulted John Murtha, a much decorated 37-year veteran of the United States Marine Corp:

He also asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message, that cowards cut and run, Marines never do. Danny and the rest of America and the world want the assurance from this body -- that we will see this through.

After the House exploded in catcalls and jeers among outraged Democrats, Schmidt retracted her comments and said, "I did not intend to suggest they applied to any member."

Uh huh. Boys and girls at home, we call that a lie.

Later, two Republican spokeslackeys went out in front of the cameras to aver that Mrs. Schmidt had no idea that Murtha was a marine:

The poor lady didn't know Jack Murtha was a Marine - she really just ran into a hornet's nest," said Representative Jack Kingston of Georgia.

Representative David Dreier of California said, "Very clearly, she did not know that Jack Murtha was a Marine."

Uh huh. So riddle me this. If Schmidt didn't know Murtha was a Marine, why did she address her comment to Murtha, and juxtapose the word "coward" with the word "Marine?"

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Lots wife

If you're a regular reader, you know it makes me unnaturally happy when I discover a respected Torah commentator with a view that contradicts our yeshiva education. This weekend, I came across a beauty.

The transfiguration of Lot's wife into a pillar of salt always struck me as strange*. For the most part, in the first five books, God punishes through natural means. A plauge, a war, but very little obvious magic. And when there is magic, as at the red sea, or the flood, those who experience it recognize the miracle. But here, the lady looks back and -boom!- she becomes a pillar of salt, and life goes on with no comment from anyone else in the scene. Bizarre.

The Ralbag must have thought it was strange, too, because his view is that it never happened:
Rabbi Levi ben Gershon (Ralbag) suggests that וַתְּהִי does not refer to Lot's wife, that *she* became a pillar of salt, be rather וַתְּהִי refers to the *city*, which is a feminine noun, so Lot's wife looked back and saw that the city had become a pillar of salt, which was a way of saying it was destroyed.[DB: ie: the whole land was brimstone and salt and burning.]
Ahh, so what happened to Lot's wife? She simply perished with the other people of Sodom.

*The Midrash must have also thought the salt transfiguaration was strange. The Midrash's author explains it with that famous story starring Mrs. Lot as a blabbermouth who went around town seeking to borrow salt "for my GUESTS!" But examine the Midrash on its own terms: Why salt? And why assume his wife couldn't keep a secret? Her husband comes across as a pretty decent guy in this story. Would he have married such a klutz?

Friday, November 18, 2005

DovBear: More Giant Gapping Plot Holes (repeat)

Originally posted on Friday July 15, 2005

To celebrate the arrival of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and the Goblet of Fire (the Times LOVED it btw) me and the badspelling monkeys who produce this blog, are pleased to present: THE BIGGEST, MOST ANNOYING, PLOT HOLE IN THE HISTORY OF PLOT HOLES

First the runnerups:

The Bible: Where did Cain's wife come from?

Star Wars: A New Hope: Darth Vadar can sense the presence of his son Luke from across the galaxy (ep vi), but when his daughter Leah is standing directly in front of his face (ep iv) he feels nothing?

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: The entrance to the Chamber of Secrets, built and hidden by Salazar Slytherin, founder of Hogwarts, approximately one thousand years ago, is accessed through indoor plumbing

And the winner, a plot hole big enough to fit the egos of me, Godol Hador, and at least 6 of your least favorite ultra-Orthodox community leaders, is...

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Voldermort's snuck a secret agent on to the grounds of Hogwarts, for the purpose of kidnapping Harry, but instead of capturing Harry straight off, the secret agent waits a full year. For what? Why wasn't Harry snatched on the first night of the term?

Hirhurim:Tackling the big issues

Gil shares an issue of earth-shattering import with his readers:
There is a whole debate about the proper way to cut hallah bread when cutting it for a group of people sitting at the table. May one cut pieces for everyone at first, or must one cut only for oneself, eat a little, and then cut for everyone else? And then there are variations in between. A neighbor of royal Bobov ancestry told me that his father has a letter from the previous Bobover rebbe saying that, based on kabbalistic sources, one may initially cut an extra piece for one's wife. Others cut a bunch of pieces and then the leader takes the last piece, implying that he had to cut all those pieces just to get to the one that he wants. And so on, with many variations
Yes, Gil, but how should the faithful crack open their eggs: at the big end or at the little end? The Blefuscudians break theirs, in the original style, at the big end. But, by royal edict, the Lilliputians break their eggs at the little end. Their common holy scripture can be read in support of both opinions.

Does your Bobover princling have an opinion on this significant question?

When a wink says it all

Ezzie confesses:

Tuesday night, I borrowed a friend's auditing book at about midnight, and was doing other stuff [wink] on the computer until about 2:30 AM

Uhhm, Ezzie? That might be a BIT more information about your internet porn habits than we needed.

A twenty-first century Sodom?

From the Asbury Park Press Online:
But in reality, our children — black, white or Hispanic — are not good enough to play with [Lakewood's] Orthodox Jewish children. We are rarely spoken to when passed on the street. They have separate entrances to enter the hospital, ride in separate ambulances and seek to police their own community rather than using one of the finest police departments in both Monmouth and Ocean counties. All of this is done so they don't defile their children by being with our children, that they don't defile themselves by intermingling with our culture and that they don't defile their sick with the blood of our sick.It seems we are not good enough to mingle with, but our land is good enough to purchase and our town is good enough to occupy.
That's Rev. Kevin Nunn, chairman of the Lakewood Improvement Association, wailing about the reclusive Orthodox Jews of his town.

I suppose it's possible to dismiss Kevin Nunn as an anti-Semite, and no doubt many of you have already done so. But let's look at his complaint from another perspective.

When Abraham pleads for Sodom to be spared, he states that perhaps there are ten righteous people in the midst of the city. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch focuses on the words "in the midst of," pointing out that a righteous person by definition would be living among the rest, mingling and interacting, counseling and inspiring. Hirsch's "righteous man" doesn't sit cloistered in his ghetto, or in his study hall. Rather, he lives among the ordinary people, even among the sinners, as a teacher and a neighbor. He doesn't worry only about himself, and his family, but, like Martin Luthor King Jr., he worries about his city and his country, and he labors for their betterment. "Defilement" is a non-issue.

In Hirsch's gloss, Sodom, ultimately, is not destroyed simply because it was evil, but because there were no righteous men willing to work for its salvation. If even 10 righteous men had been literally in the midst of the city, working to improve the moral well-being of Sodom, the city would have been spared.

When the people of Lakewood, and other Jewish communities around the globe, refuse to risk "defilment" by acting together with the larger society for the sake of the greater good, aren't they, in a sense, creating a twenty-first century Sodom? Aren't they abandoning the world, and speeding its destruction?

Zion will be redeemed through justice and by those who return to her with rightuousness.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

A bad week for bears

From the Post

New Jersey will hold a black-bear hunt this year as part of a newly approved plan to manage the animals. Released yesterday, the plan states that a six-day hunt, similar to one that took place in 2003, should occur next month.

From the Sun Times:

Grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone National Park should be removed from the endangered species list after 30 years of federal protection, the Interior Department said Tuesday.

From the Thunder Bay paper

The two Thunder Bay [Canada] area MPP's have both come out strongly in support of a call to reinstate the spring bear hunt.

My First Literary Crush

Slate asks a bunch of famous people ... well, mostly journalists and comedy writers who aren't particularly famous ... to choose the most influential book they read in college.

The two I liked best, back when I was attending old DovBear U, were Stranger in a Strange Land and All the Kings Men, with a slight edge going to SIASL because I liked what Valentine Michael Smith said about all suffering ebing a result of our refusal to grok each other. Also, as an Orthodox Jew, I probably related to Smith as he attempted to integrate himself into the larger, non-Martian culture.

Like you, I'd love to know what other bloggers were reading in College. Some guesses:

OrthoMom: The Handsmaid Tale
Renegade Reb: The Feminine Mystique
Ezzie: X-Men Annual #172 (easy words edition)
Naphtuli: God and Man at Yale
Amshinover: Crazy Horse: The Strange Man of the Oglalas
CWY: How to talk to a liberal (if you must)
Chardal: They Must Go

More later (suggest your own)

The GH is really gone

For the first time in many months, is not one of the top 5 referrers to this blog. According to the statcounters, GH was good for as many as 200 hits per week (and when I say hits, I mean hits, not page views which is how he and other insecure people use the word.) Now, with his retirement entering its second week, GH has fallen down into the lower ranks, where lesser blogs like SerandEz dwell. Oh well. (Note to self: Must cultivate love/hate relationship with some other mega-blogger. Ratings depend on it. Explore possibility of DovBear/Daily Kos dust-up. )

On second thought, maybe I shouldn't characterize my relationship with GH as love/hate. Sure, we exchanged some nasty remarks (Don't miss these: 1 and 2!!) But of all the many accolades, tributes and honors DovBear has received, being listed as the very first of GH's Daily Blogs was the one I liked second-best (Best was when I was called a "low-life pig" by some yokel from Yehupitz who called himself a Rabbi; third is all those clever asides I get from the RenReb.) And my most-favorite blogging moments remain the fantastic Friday shmoozefests GH, Amshi, SuraMalka, OM, Zoo, Shifra, Shanna, Jack, Krum, Wolf, Eliyahu, and others conducted in my comment sections.

Without GH, blogging just isn't the same.

What's so terrible about turkey?

Thanksgiving. Time to ask the annual question. Why are many Orthodox Jews hostile to the idea of eating a big turkey dinner?

It's not like we've never borrowed customs. Yeshiva boys wear gangster hats. Upshurin originated with Muslims. Hasidim dress like something out of a Rembrant painting. Much of the Jewish wedding is borrowed, as are many of our supersitions and ideas about demons. Costumes at Purim were taken from Lenten carnival, and blotting out the name of Haman comes from Christian practices, too.

So tell me please, what's so terrible about turkey?


Wonkette, ie: the Good Witch of the Left, gives us the the line of the day:
The top of [Cheney's] speech is White House's the most desperate lashing out against war critics to date. Going further than just accusing critics of "re-writing history," Cheney implies that they are somehow sabotaging the war itself:

The saddest part is that our people in uniform have been subjected to these cynical and pernicious falsehoods day in and day out. American soldiers and Marines are out there every day in dangerous conditions and desert temperatures – conducting raids, training Iraqi forces, countering attacks, seizing weapons, and capturing killers – and back home a few opportunists are suggesting they were sent into battle for a lie.

It seems to us that our soldiers are probably busy enough with the day-to-day business of survival that Harry Reid's latest speech is not their primary concern. But even if it is: I imagine critics saying that Bush mislead us isn't nearly as infuriating as the fact that he did.

Help the Jews and good things follow

An otherwise excellent article by Nathan Lewin on Sammy Alito is marred when, at the end, the august Mr. Lewin indulges in some magical thinking:
Justice Ginsburg was, apparently, helped on her path to the Supreme Court because she upheld the observance of an Orthodox Jew. Justice-to-be Alito may have a similar assist because of his record of support for an Orthodox Jew’s Sabbath observance.
I know this line of thinking is appealing to the sort of people who look forward to each week's installment of Mendy and the Golem, but Lewin should know better.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Nostra Aetate

The fortieth anniversary of Nostra Aetate came and went and no one really noticed, save a blogger or two.

My own view is that though Nostra Aetate was very important to Catholics, for Jews it was almost meaningless. By 1965 the Church, thank God, had no power, no influence, no ability and, quite possibly, no desire to hurt Jews anymore. The world had changed. Secularism and liberalism -two forces that have done much to improve the lives of Diaspora Jews -were on the rise, and where they held sway, Catholic anti-Semtisim was no longer tolerated.

Though, the Pope and her admirers imagine Nostra Aetate was revolutionary, the reality is different. Nostra Aetate was nothing but an attempt to recocile the Church to the outside world, a last-minute attempt to catch up with a liberal society that was leaving it behind.

With Nostra Aetate the church didn't lead. It followed. And, as usual it offered the Jews too little, too late.

Here's R. Yitzchok Adlerstan discussing Nostra Aetate on Cross Currents. I don't think he disagrees with me, and he's right when he says that Nostra Aetate changed the church. The mistake is assuming that the church changed out of benevolance. They didn't. They changed because the old formula wasn't working anymore, and because disgusted Catholics were abandoning the ship.

Just awful

Gulf Coast slaves
Halliburton and its subcontractors hired hundreds of undocumented Latino workers to clean up after Katrina -- only to mistreat them and throw them out without pay.
[via Salon (free day pass or free registration req.)]

This story makes me want to just throw up. How do you GOP Jews defend this latest instance of incompetance and immorality on the Dear Leader's watch?

Excuses/Justifications I expect to hear from the GOP-Jews:

1 - What's good for Haliburton is good for America.

2 - I don't understand. The Torah permits slavery.

3 - You know, Clinton had sex with an intern.

4 - Slavery? It's not slavery if no one gets beaten.

5 - Haliburton isn't responsible for the business practices of its subcontractors.

6 - The originalists owned slaves too.

7 - Come now. If we'd given that any money to that Mexican worker he'd have just sent it home. How does that help the economy?

8 - 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11!

Methinks thou dost protest too much.

The White House didn't like the lead editorial which appeared in yesterday's Times. In fact, they hated it so much, that they published a blog-style rebuttal right there on the people's website. Your tax dollars at work. (Though I suppose we should be glad that the White House was, for once, able to say something without using on-duty soldiers or firefighters as background props.)

Let's break down some of the protestations:

The New York Times: "Foreign intelligence services did not have full access to American intelligence. But some had dissenting opinions that were ignored or not shown to top American officials." (Editorial, "Decoding Mr. Bush's Denials," The New York Times, 11/15/05)

Chimpy: But Even Foreign Governments That Opposed The Removal Of Saddam Hussein Judged That Iraq Had Weapons Of Mass Destruction (WMD).

This is a pretty lousy reply. It's hard to see, even, how its on point. The Times makes two accusations here (1) The White House didn't share all of its intelligance with other countries and (2) some other countries didn't agree with the meager, water-downed information were shown because (3) their own intelligance told a different story, which the White House, in their rush to war, ignored. Does the fact that some of those same countries may have thought there were WMDs in Iraq answer the critism? No. Those other countries who agreed about the WMDs may have been basing themselves on the White House's bad intel. Also, why do we think the ones who had dissenting intel were the same countries who agreed about the WMDs? In the White House's rebuttal those dots are never connected.

The New York Times: "Congress had nothing close to the president's access to intelligence. The National Intelligence Estimate presented to Congress a few days before the vote on war was sanitized to remove dissent and make conjecture seem like fact." (Editorial, "Decoding Mr. Bush's Denials," The New York Times, 11/15/05)

Chimpy: But The Presidential Daily Brief (PDB) Was Judged Not To Have Different Intelligence Than The National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) Provided To Congress, Which Represented The Collective Opinion Of The Intelligence Community.

Two words. Colin Powel. The former secretary of State is on the record saying that he was given flawed information. Also, the fact that the PDB and the NIE contained the same information, is hardly proof of anything. Congress got its information from the NIE, and nothing else. Do we really think that the president -and the war mongers in the Defense Department - saw the PDB and nothing else? Do you really think they'd have allowed information which discredited their argument to be put into the NIE? If I was going to sanitize the information I gave to Congress, the very first thing I'd do to cover my tracks would be to make sure that the bogus info I gave Congress matched the official info I gave the president. The mere fact that the PDB and the NIW match isn't proof of wrongdoing, but it also doesn't absolve the president's mistakes, or do anything to discredit his opponents.

The New York Times "It's hard to imagine what Mr. Bush means when he says everyone reached the same conclusion. There was indeed a widespread belief that Iraq had chemical and biological weapons. But Mr. Clinton looked at the data and concluded that inspections and pressure were working a view we now know was accurate." (Editorial, "Decoding Mr. Bush's Denials," The New York Times, 11/15/05)

Chimpy: But Former President Bill Clinton Warned After 9/11 That The United States Could Not Allow Saddam Hussein To Continue Defying Weapons Inspectors.

Oh this is too funny. Is George W. Bush really using Bill Clinton - the man he's endlessly disapraged - as a source? Some other points: (1) Clinton was out of office, with no access to Intel - aside from what the president and his people consented to show him. Is his opinion -after 9/11 - worth anything? (2) Clinton did say -in June 2004!- that he agreed that Hussein couldn't be allowed to defy inspectors. But does that mean he favored war? Or does it mean he thought inspections, sanctions and other preassure were the way to force Iraq to comply with the will of the International community? As usual, the White House muddies the water.

The New York Times. "The Bush administration was also alone in making the absurd claim that Iraq was in league with Al Qaeda and somehow connected to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. That was based on two false tales. One was the supposed trip to Prague by Mohamed Atta, a report that was disputed before the war and came from an unreliable drunk. The other was that Iraq trained Qaeda members in the use of chemical and biological weapons. Before the war, the Defense Intelligence Agency concluded that this was a deliberate fabrication by an informer." (Editorial, "Decoding Mr. Bush's Denials," The New York Times, 11/15/05)

Chimpy: But The President Never Connected Iraq To The 9/11 Attacks While Other Politicians And Independent Commissions Judged That There Were Contacts Between Iraq, Al-Qaeda And Other Terrorist Groups.

Now the war president is just lying:

1) "President Bush on Thursday said that there were "numerous contacts" between Iraq and the terror network."
June 17, 2004

2) "Bush: Iraq, al Qaeda linked" - January 30, 2003

3) "Bush Defends Assertions of Iraq-Al Qaeda Relationship " -
June 18, 2004

Claiming he linked Iraq to Al-Qaeda but not to 9/11 is just word games.

Setting the record straight, indeed.


This post is dedicated to the darlings who write long letters itemizing my spelling mistakes.


I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid Aoccdrnig to rscheearch taem at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Such a cdonition is arppoiately cllaed Typoglycemia :)-

Amzanig huh? Yaeh and yuo awlyas thought slpeling was ipmorantt.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

What a weird week for Israel and the women who love her.

Yes, boys and girls that was Hillary, Hillary Clinton, enjoying a very warm reception in Israel this week. She was showered with candy at the kotel, cheered at every turn, and greeted by adoring Israelis who urged her to run for president.

Meanwhile, Condi Rice, was also in Israel, not sight-seeing, but doing some arm twisiting on behalf of her boss, Israel's best friend ever (TM.)

As a result of Condi's efforts:

* Israel will not be entitled to demand that suspected terrorists be kept out or detained.

* Israel surrendered the prerogative to shut down the crossings to secure personnel against terror alerts

* By surrendering this point, Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon relinquished a key element of Israel’s sovereign right to self-defense and agreed to hamstring its own army’s freedom to combat terror

* Americans and Europeans will determine the procedures for their passage through Israeli territory Israel has therefore forfeited control and oversight over incoming goods and people to Gaza by sea as well as overland.

(The really funny part is Jonathan Rosenblum, who of course works for Cross Currents, told us that this sort of thing would never happen. Not while Israel's best friend ever (TM) was on the job, right Jonathan? No more arm-twisitng, right? No more rewards for terror, right? Oh, well. Can't win 'em all. Let's wait patiently while the very moral and integrity-filled GOP-Jews apologize for their mistake, for misleading us and for misunderstanding the president and his intentions.

~crickets chirping~)

[Hat tip TTC]

And the Cannanites were then in the land

And Abram passed through the land unto the place of Sichem, unto the plain of Moreh. And the Canaanite was then in the land.
Gen 12:6

As many have noted, this verse appears to have been written* by someone living after the Canaanites had ceased to be in the land, that is, long after Joshua's conquest and the subsequent settlement. No less an authority than the Ibn Ezra, in fact, suggests that these words might not have been part of the Torah Joshua took across the Jordan.

Here's another possibility, wholly my own:

In Hebrew the word for "was then" is oz, with an aleph. If you spell the word with an ayin, however, its meaning changes. Instead of translating to "...and the Canaanite was then in the land." the phrase v'hacananee oz b'aretz becomes "...and the Canaanite were strong in the land."

As it happens, this emendation fits beautifully with the very next verse, Genesis 12:7 where, for the very first time, God promises Abraham that he and his children will posses the land.

Why was the Divine Promise stated here, and not earlier? Because Abraham had seen that the Cannites were strong and in the land, and he worried that they might one day oppress or assimilate his descendants. Therefore, God offered him reassurance in the form of this promise.

* Correction, November 15, 2005: Due to an editing error, the sentance marked with an astrick originally said "As many have noted, this verse can only have been written by someone living after the Canaanites had ceased to be in the land." As the first commenter pointed out, no one (no one Orthodox anyway) says that this is the "only" interpretation.

Apologies to Gil who I now see blogged inadequately on this subject last Sunday. I should have given him a [related] at the outset.

Nothing here to see folks. Move along.

Ezzie, like other irresponsible Republican dittoheads, argues today that the president's mistakes should be swept under the carpet:

Personally, I would love for people to recognize that Saddam Hussein was a threat; intelligence that everyone had, including Clinton, pointed to his being a threat; and that the world is a far better place with him removed. Then, everyone should move on and focus on the future.

A threat? In what sense was he a threat? He had no weapons. He had no relationship with Al Queda. He had no connection to 9/11. He had no means of attacking us, or anyone else. So, please, exactly how was he a threat?

And much as sweet Ezzie might like us to look the other way, and move on, we can't -and by God we won't -until some questions are answered.

Specifically, we demand a responsible investigation of the everchanging rationales the White House provided for attacking Iraq, along with an honest look at the pumped-full-of-steroids "intelligance" that somehow convinced us all the Saddam was a loaded gun.

It's obvious the administration screwed up -Bush, as much as admits it. We need to find out how - and why.


Who's God is it anyway?

Saw this quote recently, and it raised in my mind some interesting questions:
As you may already know, one of America's two political parties is extremely religious. Sixty-one percent of this party's voters say they pray daily or more often. An astounding 92 percent of them believe in life after death. And there's a hard-core subgroup in this party of super-religious Christian zealots. Very conservative on gay marriage, half of the members of this subgroup believe Bush uses too little religious rhetoric, and 51 percent of them believe God gave Israel to the Jews and that its existence fulfills the prophecy about the second coming of Jesus."
That's Steven Waldman writing two summers ago in Slate. The group that Waldman is talking about is Democrats; the hard-core subgroup is African-American Democrats.


The interesting questions are, in no particular order:

1 - Did you sneer "those silly Republicans" when you first read the quote? I did. When I read it the second time, after I knew it was Democrats being discussed, my opinion was more favorable. Why? Is is because I am more familair with the religiosity of Democrats, and therefore find it less threatening? Or is the religiosity of Democrats simply more benign?

2 - The Yaakov Menken/Toby Katz/Daniel Lapin wing of Orthodox Judaism loves to talk about our dear, dear friends the evangelical Christians. Well, why don't the same folks ever have anything nice to say about our deadr dear friends the (frum) African Americans? They also support Israel. They also live religiously-informed lives, and use religion to make moral choices, don't they? So why aren't they entitled to any love from Toby and co.?

3 - With numbers like these, how did Democrats get tarred as secularists? Is it because a minority of Democrat activists are secular? That hardly seems fair.

Does God think?

The third of the Rambam's principles teaches: "G-d does not have a body. Physical concepts do not apply to Him. There is nothing whatsoever that resembles Him at all."

In the Torah God speaks. What we normally understand the word "speak" to mean is to communicate by means of the vocal cords. According to the third principle, God has no vocal cords, so how does He produce speach?

Medieval Jewish thinkers (Saadiah Gaon, Abraham Ibn Ezra) recognized this problem. They decided that the "voice of G-d" was not actually a voice, but a sound specifically created by Him for the purpose of communicating with his prophets. He created trees, for example, and when needed He also creates voice-like sounds.

A similar, but more difficult quetsion is this: In what sense does God think?

The brain is the source of mental life; our consciousness, emotions, and will are the products of neural processes. Thinking involves the brain. And if thoughts are the product of those coils of grey matter contained within our skulls --just as surely as voices are the product of vocal cords-- in what sense are they experienced by an incorpreal being?