Tuesday, January 31, 2006

I AM... crazy?

Some poor crazy man went off his meds and fired off a letter to AOL protesting their new AIM messaging system:
This new marketing idea is bad corporate policy," he said. "I implore you to change the name of your programs and rebuke the marketing team who came up with this vile idea. I will stop using AIM and urge all of my colleagues to convert to your competitors, if this is not changed very soon."
My, my.

So what was the vile idea? Animal sacrifice? Ritual circumcision?

Not exactly.

AIM's new slogan is "I AM" as in "I AM... instant messaging" or "I AM... voice chat." The above crazy person feels very strongly that "I AM" is God's name:
AOL would never think of using – or misusing – the names "Allah," or "Buddha" in its corporate marketing efforts

How DARE they use a common term like "I am" in a grammatically correct sentance when there are mentally damaged people out there who think those words refer to God.

And of course, World Net Daily which, like Eytan Kobre, never misses an opportunity to lie about ding the media - deserved or not - for being insensitive to religion has piled on.

A thought experiment by REReader

Referring to the Ann Coulter's little joke about a Supreme Court Justice, my new friend REReader asked us to "imagine the Republican response if a liberal pundit made such a "joke" about, say, Alito?"

Ha. That's easy. Suggest that Alito needs to have his hair cut with, say, a weedwacker and Bill O'Reilly would go on a long and viscious offensive. And anyone who dared to remind Bill that he once made a similar joke about the whole entire city of San Francisco would be added to the enemy list.

No sence of humor, those Rethugs.

Note to trolls (especially the London troll with the Chabad blog who attempted to "ding" me on this point earlier):

No, it isn't ok when liberals are obnoxious and cruel. But..... if it makes you happy, please feel free to fill up my comment thread with indignant accusations using this formula:

"Oh yeah? Well what about when [Some liberal guy] said [something mean]"

...and I will be happy to reply, "Hey: That was also mean." to each and every one of them.

All non-indignant accusations will be deleted.
All indignant accusations using a different formula will be deleted.

We have no mercy

Republican Humor

Ann Coulter:
"We need somebody to put rat poisoning in Justice Stevens' creme brulee. That's just a joke, for you in the media."

HaHa! Isn't that great? No wonder the GOP-Convention is always such a thigh-slapper. It's a wonder no one has thought to put Ann on Comedy Central.

The real scandal, of course, is not that Coulter, an evil lunatic, is coddled, defended and enabled by the right wing. No, no. We all know that those people are full of it when they congratulate themselves on their morals and integrity. No. The real scandal is that the so-called liberals in the MSM are reporting the Coulter death-threat as a "joke."

Water, water, everywhere, Nor any drop to drink (repeat)

First, those of you joining us from the yeshiva world are probably wondering about the quote we used to slug this latest entry. It is a line from a famous poem by Samuel Coleridge, and if you stick around you will see why it was chosen. A poem, for those of you joining us from the Hasidic world, is a vivid and imaginative way of conveying experiences, ideas, or emotions. Yeah, just like a Nigun.

Today we're off to ancient Egypt. Snap quiz: During the first plague (blood) what happened whenever an Egyptian touched water? It turned to blood, right? So the Egyptians had to buy all their water from the Jews, right? And the Jews got rich, right? But as soon as the Egyptians put their hands on the purchased water, it turned to blood, too, right?

This says, the Ibn Ezra, is seriously weird. Because (I'm translating his comment to Exodus 7:24) "if so, why wasn't this miracle recorded in the Torah? ...we should stick to what it says in the text [acharai hacatuv nirdaf]"

And in fact, the Torah does imply that the Egyptians had no trouble acquiring water on their own. Here's Exodus 7:24: "The Egyptians dug around the Nile for drinking water, since they could not drink any water from the river."

Unfortunately, this isn't a clean win for fans of pshat. One of the commentaries on the Ibn Ezra, Avi Ezer (written by R. Shlomo HaKohen of Lissa, 18th Century), disagrees with this entire approach. He will have none of the Ibn Ezra's reasonableness, and would perfer you look away from the words of the torah as they appear in Exodus 7:24. He writes: "Everyone knows that the Jews got rich during the plague of blood.. this Ibn Ezra comment is obviously the work of a wayward student [talmid to'eh] who is poor in knowledge."

A wayward student! What a great way to disqualify an idea you don't like. How long before someone says that whole mistake we call the Bill of Rights was actually the misguided work of some student of Thomas Jefferson? Will that work on anything?

Here's another possibility. Perhaps the Ibn Ezra's comment was changed by some sinister force. Paging Alexander Haig!

A-Section Ads

Today's results
Underwear ads: 0
Other ads picturing women in their skivies: 0

Eytan Kobre: 0

Sigh. This is getting boring. DovBear was right. Eytan Kobre was wrong. His post about the Times was a bunch of lies, based on adverts that don't exist, and now thanks to him, we have underwear ads on the brain, too. Yawn.

Hey. You know what would spice this up? A ground swell of reader animadversion. Are you up for a ground swell?

Here's what to do: Write to Yaakov Mencken demanding an apologiy and an explanation. Ask him to apologize for publishing Eytan Kobre's groundless attack on both the New York Times, and the rules of logic. Then ask him to explain how such a petty and foolish exercise in slander and misinformation found its way on to a blog that proudly calls itself a "well articulated perspective on Torah issues of the day."

If all goes according to plan, Eytan Kobre will be fired from his post at Crosss Currents. Immediately afterwards, we'll offer him a job here. Assuming he can do something about his vile politics, his brand of sarcastic, slandering half-lies would fit in well here, don't you think?

Eat it Jesse

Jesse Helms, the senator who famously deserted the Democratic Party over civil rights, was also famous for opposing the building of a Smithsonian museum to honor the black experience. "Every other minority will give thought to asking the taxpayers to pony up for a special museum for them," he argued in 1994.

Well, today that bad man, a Republican, is spinning in his grave.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Joseph Farah's Big News

According to World Net Daily, Joseph Farah is reporting in G2 Bulletin, his $99/year weekly intelligence newsletter, that Al Quada plans to attack the Super Bowl!

"There is a high likelihood of a major terrorist attack next Sunday, say international terror analysts and intelligence sources."

Ye Gods.

Except, before you cancle your plans, let's scroll down to the last sentance of the report, shall we?

"Despite the recent taped messages, authorities say there are "no credible threats against the Super Bowl."

Ethics 101

A liar is someone who denies the truth to someone who has a right to it.

Those who gave misinformation to the Nazis to protect Anne Frank and her family, for example, were not liars: they were denying the truth to those who had no moral right to it. Candidates for the Supreme Court, on the other hand, are now routinely expected to be liars as they deny the truth about their intentions on issues where citizens have a moral right to be informed.


Help Wanted

If you've been reading and enjoying this free but labor-intensive blog, it would be an act of kindness to support it in the JIBS. (and an act of fantastic generosity to encourage your friends to support it, too, hint hint)

You're permitted to vote again every three days, so if it's been a while since your last visit to the voting page, please head back and click the link for DovBear.

Best Overall

Best Jewish Culture

Best Series (It was awsome)

Best Post (eh... It was ok)

Best Religion (!)

Best Current Events :)

Thank you.

Frog notes

Discovered this weekend that the Abarbanel translates "tz'fardaim" as crocodiles. Thus, according to him the second plague was not frogs, but something much worse.

In a way this explanation both fits, and doesn't fit.

Those of you who wonder why a swarm of frogs constitutes a plague can take refuge in the Abarbanel's explanation. However, you'll still need to tell us how the plague of crocodiles differed from "arov," the plague of wild animals.

Eytan and the A Section Ads (Day 4)

Still no underwear ads in the A Section of the Times, as Eytan's argument continues to look weaker and weaker.

If you're new, here's a brief summary: Last week, Eytan Kobre of Cross Currents attempted to discredit the New York Times with the following argument:

A: The Times runs lots of underwear ads in the A-Section alongside serious news items.
B: A good newspaper (ie one concerned with morals, the truth and so on) would not do such thing.
C: The Times is neither trustworthy nor moral.

From the begining I disagreed with premise "B," arguing that the fact that the business department might sell a few underwear ads is no reflection on the quality of the articles. But it never occured to me that premise "A" was an outright lie. Given that the Eytan's post was titled "Does the Truth Matter," and given that it apppeared on a site that bills itself as a place where you can find a"well-articulated Torah perspective on the issues of the day," I presumed Eytan was telling the truth about one of his argument's central premises.

Now, after four days of monitoring the A Section, it seems my presumption was wrong. Has Eytan strayed into the realm of dishonesty himself? We'll continue to monitor the A Section Ads, and let you know. But it doesn't look good.

Today's results
Underwear ads: 0
Other ads picturing women in their skivies: 0

DovBear: 4
Eytan Kobre: 0

Friday, January 27, 2006

Rising Crescent

The people of Palestine have spoken! But do they want peace? Doesn't Hamas's overwhelming victory prove that the voters have embraced the Hamas charter and wish to destroy Israel?

Hard to say.

It must be pointed out that Hamas didn't win because it promised to destroy Israel. That wasn't one of their campiagn issues, as TNR pointed out last week, and as the New York Times explained today. Along with being a terroroist organization (which it certainly is: I make no apologies) Hamas is a social service organization. They've promised to deal with corruption and to improve services. That - not the destruction of Israel - were the issues that put them over the top.

It's is possible Hamas won the election not because they are a terrorist organization but because because they are more than a terrorist organization. Perhaps people cast their votes for Hamas not because they wish to destroy Israel, but because they are sick of the incompetance and corruption of Fatah.

Wishful thinking? Perhaps. But perhaps not.

And in any event, Israel should, by now, be used to neighboring states who are committed to its destruction. The great thing about Sharon and his policies is that those who wish to destroy Israel are on the outside, behind a wall, and not an occupied population. Previously, the Palestenians had a moral argument which they advanced using immoral methods. Thanks to Sharon, the moral argument has been answered. The Palestenians are no longer under military occupation, leaving them with their immoral methods and not much else.

Sidenote: Is George W. Bush , champion of democracy in the middle east, having a "be careful what you wish for" moment? Are our soldiers today dying in Iraq so that one day some Iraqui version of Hamas might stand for election and win?

A-Section Ads (Day 3)

Nope, not an underwear ad in sight today either, as Eytan Kobre's argument continues to disintegrate.

Today's results

Underwear ads: 0
Other ads picturing women in their skivies: 0


DovBear: 2
Eytan Kobre: 0

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Frog(s) here, frog(s) there

Sometime we stop too soon. Today's Rashi is a case in point.

On Exodus 8:6 Rashi cites an amusing story that is also strong evidence of God's sense of humor. We are told that He, in his wisdom, sent a single frog to afflict the Egyptians. Whenever an Egyptian struck the frog in fear, anger or frustration, the frog broke apart into streams and streams of frogs that soon covered the land.

The story of the Magic Multiplying Frog is in the midrash tanchumah, and you can't swing a cat by its tail on a playground in Boro Park without hitting a little kid who knows it, believes it, and would probably fight you if you raised an eyebrow at it. Unfortunately, the story, likely, has no basis in fact, as Rashi himself suggests in the little-read, much-ignored second half of his comment to Exodus 8:6.

One frog is a "tzefarday-ah." Many frogs are "tzefardah-im." In Exodus 8:6 we're told that the "tzefarday-ah" (ie: one frog) covered the land. The story of the Magic Multiplying Frog explains this anomaly, says Rashi in the first part of his comment.

In the second part of the comment, Rashi says (I'm paraphrasing) "You know what? Maybe the use of the singular isn't so strange. After all, the singular is used to identify the swarm of lice (keenom, not keenim) that overtook Egypt in the very next plague, and the singular is used for the fish (daga, not dagim) who die in the river during the plague of blood. So perhaps the singular in our verse simply refers to one swarm of frogs, Rashi concludes.

So here we have two possible explanations, one involving grammar, the other involving magic. Which, oh which, will the masses embrace? Think. Think.

Double Standards


Eytan Kobre writes for a blog which urged JIB voters to support Cross Current's ambition to conquer the world and become the universe's premiere Torah blog, yet he has the unbounded nerve to suggest that I tried too hard to win a JIB? Me? I never stooped low enough to beg for votes by claiming it was necessary for the sake of spreading Torah, did I? I mean ye gods. That's almost as disgusting as Cheney's notorious "Vote GOP or Chicago gets nuked"

What I did was this: I wrote a post or two per round on the subject, plus I put up a blogad on my own site. That's about par for the course for JIB contestant, which is all perfectly fine: Self promotion is good. The blogosphere thrives on self-promotion. The JIBs could not exist without self promotion. But pious-sounding objections to the practice of self-promotion, like Eytan's, are deceitful and also counter productive.

And while we're on the subject of double standards, let's turn to GH's post on the subject of JIBs. The post is hysterical, sure, like much of what GH publishes, but also a bit mean especially in the way that he casually dismisses his competitors. If I tried such a thing all the self-rightuous DovBear bashers would line up to pound me into the ground on my comment section. Many of them would also write critical posts on the subject of "Mean Old DovBear and His Lack of Respect for the Blogging Rules that Exist in My Head and Nowhere Else."

In fact, this actually happened last year. I cruely dismissed one of my competitors as "neither funny nor Jewish" (the admitadly poor joke being that my competitor quite obviously was both) and one of the very great men of the blogosphere (with whom I've since reconciled, thank god) wrote a long post about me that would easily win the JIB for "Most Viscious Post of the Year" if such a category existed.

Perhaps, the problem is that people think I take blogging too seriously so let me restate one of the founding principles of this blog: DovBear is 98 percent shtick and 2 percent politics. [A year later it's probably more like 90 percent shtick, 5 percent religion, and 5 percent politics.] Ok? We're just having fun here.

The A Section Ads (Day 2)

Well, the short report on day two of my review of the A-Section ads goes like this: Still no underwear ads.

The ads today pictured plenty of woman, in a variety of alluring poses but no skin. Unfortunately for Eytan Kobre and his claims, all of them were fully dressed.

Today's results

Underwear ads: 0
Other ads picturing women in their skivies: 0


DovBear: 2
Eytan Kobre: 0

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Thus, I blog.

I can remember when Republicans were tolerable. I can remember when they weren't drunk on God, when they made no practice of demonizing their opposition, when they could be trusted not to lower public discourse, when they didn't divide the public in pursuit of their exclusive ambitions.

I remember good Republicans. Really I do.

In my shul is a man who was told as young boy, 'Vote Republican. They'll let you alone and let keep your money.' And to this day, this boy, now a middle-aged man, like middle-aged Jewish men in every shul, votes Republican. And because he's Jewish, and not very well read, he does not see and he does not know that GWB's Republican party is made up of several distinct elements - at least four, of which three are neither libertarian, nor fiscally conservative. He doesn't see that all we Jews have to keep us safe is liberty, and he doesn't see that this president and his cronies in the other three wings of the GOP have waged a steady war on liberty -in this country, never mind Iraq, where liberty is hardly a forgone conclusion, anyway - a steady war on liberty from the very day they took office.

He doesn't see, and he doesn't care. This middle-aged man, like middle-aged men in every shul, counts his money, and he laughs at the less fortunate, and says his prayers, and perhaps mutters thanks that his neighbors judge him on the size of his hat and the shine on his atarah, rather than the size of his heart.

Thus, I blog.

Avi's Error

Avi Shafran has something predictable to say today about the Supreme Courts recent ruling on assisted suicide. His boring argument boils down to this: If we let doctors assist in the suicide of people who are terminally ill, soon we'll soon be killing healthy old people and infants, too.

This sort of "reasoning" traffics not in facts, but in fear mongering. It is a fallacious argument because there is no reason to believe that Avi's nightmare scenario inevitably follows from the court's ruling.

In fact, with only a bit of effort, I can construct an alternate nightmare scenario which is every bit as reasonable. First some background:

Oregon's "Death With Dignity Act" act permitted doctors to help terminally ill patients end their lives. The Attorney General attempted to subvert the will of Oregon's voters by saying to Oregon's doctors: "If you assist with a suicide, you're prohibited from writing drug prescriptions." In the ruling Shafran disdains, the Court said the AG had over-reached.

Now suppose the Court had gone the other way. Suppose the Court had affirmed the power of the Attorney General to impose his personal values on the voters. Isn't it reasonable (using Avi's "logic") to worry that a different Attorney General with different personal values might one day use his Supreme Court sanctioned power to interfere with mila or kashrus?

Update: Avi's argument is both predictable, and recycled.

Hat Tip: Charles B. Hall

Bad news for the meshichists

Rabbi Kaduri: Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson is not the Messiah.

How do we know? Simple deduction: The Lubovitcher Rebbe died in 1994, but as Bloghd reports, Rabbi Kaduri says he met the Moshiach in 2003.

But hold off on the celebrating! (No offense to the meshichists. They may be on their third vodka of the day by now, but we know they're not celebrating the news that the leading kabalist of our time just disqualified their candidate.)

That fact that Rabbi Kaduri took a meeting with the long-awaited savior back in 2003 does not mean his arrival is imminent. At the Disputation in Barcelona the Ramban was confronted by the friars with a midrash claiming that Moshiach was alive and had been seen at the gates of Rome. The Ramban shrugged it off, saying both that he's not obligated to accept the literal truth of midrashim, and also that the moshiach is irrelevant until he actually shows up and does something. Moshe did not become Messiah when he was born, the Ramban argues, but when he arrived in the throne room and (chastely averting his eyes from the undressed woman who surrounded Pharoh) bellowed: Hey! Check out what I can do with a stick!

Also, it's not perfectly clear to me why we should trust Rabbi Kaduri on this matter.

The A Section Ads (Day 1)

The other day Eytan Kobre littered the august pages of Magen-Dovid-Currents with a bevy of baseless claims. Chief among them was the odd insistance that the New York Times prints too many underwear ads in its front section. Begining today, and until this project bores me, we're going to test that claim. I plan to look at the A section ads, and report my findings here. If Eytan is right, I'll make a nice donation to the charity of his choice. If he's wrong, I expect a retraction.

Today's results

Underwear ads: 0
Other ads picturing women in their skivies: 0


DovBear: 1
Eytan Kobre: 0

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Dennis Prager on his soapbox again

"Asher" writes:

The soon-to-be divorced Mr. Prager is back doing what he loves to do best: serving as self-appointed spokesman of Judaism and all things Jewish. I can't quite put my finger on it, but there is something in the way that he seeks to ingratiate himself to his largely christian audience that really rubs me the wrong way. He relishes the role of "house Jew" far too much.

How's that for brass?

That is why the “Blog Awards” contest is so important—not for our egos, but for our goal of becoming an important outlet for Torah thought to the world. --YAAKOV MENKEN

Nope, nothing egotistical about that goal at all.

Look, Yaakov, by all means, encourage your readers to support you in the JIBs. We all do it. Even me. I have no quarrel with a little flag-waving.

But for the love of all that is holy and pure, don't tell them to vote for you because your blog is a "well-articulated Torah perspective" when, in truth, your perspective is little more than GOP-talking points, and your articulation is (at best) long-winded and redundant.


Go start your voting...now! Okay, how about ...now!

Still here, eh?

Thanks to you and your clicky fingers, DovBear has advanced to the finals in 6 categories:

Best Overall

Best Jewish Culture

Best Series (It was awsome)

Best Post (eh... It was ok)

Best Religion (!)

Best Current Events (duh)

Nice work, clicky fingers, but you aren't done yet: Please go back (using the links, helpfully provided above) and see what you can do about getting me another banner for my sidebar. Thanks in advance.

Our motto: Vote your conscience! (If you have no conscience vote DovBear)

What will the children think?

Lisa Kyle for The New York Times

This, my friends, is a "Terrible Tree." It stands outside the Allegheny County Courthouse in Pittsburgh, festooned in yellow and black, to celebrate the achievments of the local football team.

The ACLU, naturally is silent (they probably financed it, in fact, the commie football-ists) but why haven't we heard from old Bill O'Reilly and the rest of his merry band of Christian Crusaders?

A beloved religious symbol has been secularized! Traditions are eroding! The Lord's flora has been mocked! Progressive football-lovers are on the march, and our morals are under seige! Oh, won't anyone please stand up for Christmas?

Monday, January 23, 2006

Mr Pot? I have a kettle for you on line 2

After a long absence, Eytan Kobre returns to Cross Currents today with an absurd post about newspapers, a post in which he rips the New York Times for everything up to and including sunspots.

The fusillade begins because when Eytan spots an editing error. Then, not content with a legitimate gripe, Eytan goes full throttle: The underwear ads are no good. Their publisher is too sensitive and too much the humanist. Oh, and the Time's corrections column doesn't confess error as boldly as Rabba once did. Yes, he means Rabba from the Talmud. Was he also patron saint of newsmen?

As the column's absurdity intensifies, Kobre carries on as if these "problems" are unique to the Times; yet are they? Sure, the paper runs underwear ads next to articles which describe great human tragedies, but so would any newspaper. Sure, the browbeating in the Times' corrections column is mild next to Rabba's exquisite self-effacement, but does any newspaper make its confessions unambiguously? Every paper makes mistakes as the ample and daily correction column at the WSJ testifies.

His many and elaborate descriptions of the Time's staff as "sensitive humanists" tempts me to dismiss the whole thing as satire or as just another cheap shop. Still, I can't ignore the possibility that Eytan Kobre is too deep in the grips of right-wing propaganda to see that the absurd accusations he's directs at one paper apply equally to them all.

A sigh of relief

Well, those of you who worried that President Bush might have stumbled by mistake into a screening of Brokeback Mountain ("Lookie Laura! A cowboy movie!") can go back to sleep. He hasn't seen it.

That's a good thing, I think.

Why? Because according to the Fundementalist Agenda Brokeback Mountain is Hollywood's latest attempt to deliver America into the clutches of the Gay Agenda. (Gasp if you wish) A talker on Straight Talk Radio even said that this movie was part of the plan to "homosexualize America."

Much as I might dislike the president, I can't deny that he seems the sugestible type. He's just the sort of person who might go into Brokeback Mountain and come out dressed in fetish gear or mincing about the fake ranch. Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course.

What do Iraq and New Orleans have in common?

Ask Eliyahu.

The end of Bloghead?

Ten days, no Miriam. Shall we ready the fork? Is Team Shaviv finished?

What does it mean to be an American?

Mail Call:Newsweek: "As an orthodox Jewish rabbi with a beard and payos (earlocks) whose grandparents came to America more than a century ago, I absolutely do not want a European, African or Asian immigrant as my president.

Why not? Yes, I know that the Constitution says the President can't be an immigrant, but what's the reason for this requirement? Is it rooted in more than nativism, or fear of the other? Do you support the constitution on this point out of a simple respect for the law of the land, or because it speaks to your particular bias?

It takes at least one generation to not only be a legal American, but to feel and think like an American.

Says who? The Founders banned new arrivals from the nation's highest office because they were afraid some European might seize control and turn the young country into an adjunct of Europe. They weren't concerned with the quality of "feeling or thinking like an American" because no such thing existed in 1789. And, so long as we're on the subject, what does it mean to "feel or think like an American?" Is there really any one quality some 295,734,134 people share? If so, what do you propose we do with the American's who might lack it? Strip them of their citizenship? Ban them from public office?

My daughter went to law school at St. John's in her wig and long dresses, and is one of the youngest graduates in its history. Only in America could a third-generation Orthodox Jewess successfully attend a Roman Catholic school that is run by real democratic Americans who truly understand freedom of religion and make allowances for her.

Yes, I agree it would be strange, indeed, if she found herself in an Italian or British school run by "real democratic Americans." However, Americans aren't the only ones who understand freedom of religion. Europe has many schools like the nominaly Roman Catholic St John's, schools where your daughter might have thrived without compromising her values.

I am a proud American, and my involvement with 'new' Americans demonstrates to me that they need the time to fully become Americanized so that they feel and think like Americans."

I am also a "proud American." One of the things that makes me most proud is that the quality of being an American is not fixed, but dynamic. It changes to reflect the will and the action of each generation of Americans. Those there customs and ideas commonly identified with this country, none are intrinsic to being American. The country, and our identity as citizens, it whatever we make of it.

What's new* in the New Republic?

The New Republic's Jan 23 edition cements it's already iron-clad reputation as the most-Jewish of the political magazines. Three articles (out of 15) are about Shraon and his legacy, and for good measure, the issue's movie review trashes Munich. Not quite what the rest of the blogosphere might lead you to expect from the media, right?

We begin with Leon Wieseltier's Unsettled, which has in it moments of eulogy and moments of argument:
The only peace that is available to Israel is a premature peace, and the Israeli center, the mixture of prudence and decency that Sharon (Arik melekh yisrael!) [sic] represented, is wagering that a premature peace may not be a counterfeit peace. There are good reasons for such a wager. Israel is spectacularly strong; and the peace with Egypt and Jordan has withstood two intifadas and an American war in Iraq; and the Soviet Union is still dead; and the requirements of Israeli safety have nothing to do with the requirements of Jewish eschatology... But the best reason for the wager, of course, is that the demographic inevitabilities between the river and the sea are now incontrovertible. No, that's not right: they were incontrovertible decades ago. But at last they have been acknowledged by Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert and other figures on the right who have more important things to be than right. I overcame my skepticism about Sharon's change of heart on April 14, 2004, when he came to Washington to tell President Bush that Israel will insist upon retaining five settlement blocs on the West Bank. Five! The press exploded that an American president had for the first time acceded to Israeli settlements. They missed the scoop, which was that the foreign policy of Israel had been emancipated from the fantasies and the stratagems of the settlers by the man who was once their god. Of all the people to establish a political basis for a practicable peace! But that is precisely what this grand and brutish man has done.
Yossi Klein Halevi's Past Perfect is dedicated to Ehud Olmert, the man who will be asked to implement Sharon's vision. The article which discusses Olmert's journey from right to center tells us that the man who was once a local Betar commander and committed Revisionist rethought his lifelong political commitments during his tenure as Jerusalem's mayor:
Miki Cohen, one of Olmert's mayoral aides, suggests that Olmert was transformed by his repeated exposure to terrorist attacks. "He went to every terror site as soon as the attack happened and saw the most terrible things," says Cohen. "He also went to most of the funerals, and then visited the families. Over the years, I often heard Revisionist ideas from him. But my sense is that those experiences convinced him that we had to try a different way.
And where does this "different way" leave the Palestenians? On the outside. As the third article, Isabel Kershner's Disengaged tells it, a spirit of fatalism has overtaken Palestine
Having been "disengaged" from Israel, the Palestinians are focusing on themselves. "Palestinians think Israel and the United States will do what they want anyway. They don't see any solution, so this is not a priority in casting their vote for parliament," says Bashar Hamayel, the owner of a hardware store in El Bireh. Shikaki concurs. As he explained to me, at the moment, economics, corruption, and law and order rank as top priorities. Then comes the issue of how to deal with the occupation, through violence or not. The peace process--namely the consideration of who can best deliver or reach agreements--comes last.
This, finally, is why Ariel Sharon is entitled to the admiration of all Israel. His habit for unilateralism may have upset the right (as it once infuritated the left) but who can object to the result? Thanks to Ariel, Israel has clear, defined borders. It has a Jewish majority, without relying on the immoral and unpalatable approach of denying votes and a voice to a conquered majority. And the Palestenians, at last, seem ready (however resignedly) to turn inward and to focus on their own problems and on building their own state.

*I'm a week behind. My New Republic arrives on Friday, but a new issue is published on Monday.

Friday, January 20, 2006

In the begining....

"The woman conceived and bore a son. She saw that he was good and she kept him hidden for three months. " (Exodus 2:2 )

On this verse Rashi tells us (citing Sotah 12A) that when Moshe was born the whole house filled with light. Why? (Not "why light and not, marshmallows;" but "why doesn't Rashi take the verse at face value?")

Well, if you read closely, like Rashi did, you'll see that the verse seems to say that Moshe was saved because he was good. Strange, no? Doesn't every Jewish mother think her children are good? And yet, not every Jewish child was saved. This suggests (to Rashi, at least, who had a gift for catching subtle suggestions) that there was something odd about this particular child. A house full of unexplained light, you will agree, is seriously odd.

A second midrash says that Moshe was born circumcised and though we can easilly imagine Moshe's mother recognizing that as a sign that her son was worth saving, Rashi rejects it in favor of the house of light. According to someone who's name I forget, Rashi prefers the first midrash because the words themselves support it: On the day of his birth Yocheved looks at her son, and she saw he was good (vatera oto ki tov hu) ; on the first day of creation, God looks at the light, and he sees that it was good. (vayare elokim et ha'or ki tov.)

It's as if we're meant to understand that the birth of Moshe represents the begining of a second creation.

Exercising discretion

I wanted to put a link to my site reading "Link Whores Welcome Here" beneath David and Meryl's latest pronouncements, but I worried they might not appreciate the metajoke.

Strange Bedfellows

Guess who's working together to undermine a NY State law which would require parochial schools to report abusive teachers?

The Catholic Church (duh) and Agudath Israel!

According to Zweibel, the Chief Rabbi of Agudah, their concerns are very noble:
The ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America, however, said it was wary of the legislation, which would require clergy to "report to authorities whenever they have reasonable cause to believe a child has been abused," according to a March 19 statement by Morgenthau. David Zwiebel, executive vice president of Aguda, said he feared that the proposal could infringe on "religious freedom.
Which freedom would that be? The freedom to smack kids around? Well no. Apparently, the religious issue Zweibel wishes to protect is mesira, a category of law concerning when one Jew may inform on another to the secular government. The old mobsters, incidently, called it omerta and you can just bet they're wishing that they had had the foresight to wrap it up in religion.

A Point Worth Sharing

balabusta in blue jeans: ...is [Avi Shafran] seriously proposing that halacha holds that the democratically elected head of state must not exist in a democracy, but be considered a divinely empowered ruler? This despite the fact that his power derives SOLELY from the same democratic system that puts on him checks and balances and gives the rights of dissent to the people who elected him and can darn well unelect him if necessary?

My head is spinning. This proposes that democracy has NO function at all, except as a device to bestow non-democratic powers. I have only one other question. Did Rabbi Shafran hold this belief when Bill Clinton was in office, or is there another statement by Maimonides that a king fooling around on his wife and being a Democrat is grounds for believing the divine annointment has gone away

Why do they pick on me?

A round-up of some of the very stupid things peoople have said to me over the last 24-hours.

HirshelTzig: "Using page loads rather than unique visitors as a counter is deceiptful and cheap. But hey, whatever makes you feel good, man.
HirshelTzig Homepage 01.20.06 - 9:57 am

Yes, which is why I resisted doing it for almost a year. However, every other bigish blog counts its visitors that way, so my choices were (a) play by their rules or (b) continue to look bad.

Warren: Shilling for votes is beyond acceptable. If I cared about awards, I'd write to the people who run this one, whoever they are, I haven't bothered to click on their link, and suggest that next year anyone who puts a "Welcome voters" on top of their page, or asks for votes, should be disqualified. Get back to work, all of you, and whoever wins, don't make a big deal about it.
01.20.06 - 6:03 am

You're aware of course (or perhaps you're not) that most every blog does this, including Cross Current, the one and only blog I really want to beat (and not for the privlage of putting some banner on my sidebar, by the way.). Cross Currents has had a whiny little message begging for support at the top of their site for almost two weeks. I resisted doing that until yesterday (though I did indulge in a not-very-whiny blogad) Have you objected to Cross Current's practice? Threatened to snitch on them? (It isn't againt the rules to shill) If not, please STFU.

Moishe Potemkin: ...every time we libertarians pop our heads up, guys like Charlie and DovBear assure us that the government only wants what's best for us, and that they're incorruptible so long as they're Democrats. Uh-huh. Sure.

Moishe, you have never heard that argument here. One of the themes of this blog is that men can't be trusted. They are all corruptable. Which is one reason why we find it so frusterating that GOP libertarians like you have handed the president a blank check. As for the government, see Madison (If men were angels... etc.) Government, a necessary evil, works best when it is transparent and inclusive, with rules of procedure that are fair and respected. Not when it's all reduced to the will of the executive.

Go Go Google!

If one side in a dispute takes "Don't be evil" as it's watchword, what might we presume about the other player? We're speaking, of course, of the Justice Department's argument with Google, the fine and magnanimous company which delivers DovBear to you, day after day, at no charge.

According to the newspapers, the humorless drones in Justice want Google to hand over information about what people seek when they use the search engine. Google's response? Stuff it. Meanwhile, Yahoo and Microsoft both rolled over and went to fetch the Attoreny General's slippers.

As for the administration, can't they be content with listening in to our phone calls, B.S.-ing their way into a war, stealing money from Indians, and enriching Halliburton while frittering away a $650 billion cash surplus? Do they also need to know exactly who among us is looking at naked pictures of Jennifer Aniston? (Not me.)

Thursday, January 19, 2006


The community is advised that I've changed my stat counter. As of today it counts page views, not unique visitors, bringing the blog into line with the approach used by most other blogs. The counter itself, however, will remain at the bottom of the page and not up at the top where the insecure bloggers keep it. ;)

Unique Visitor Count
A unique visitor is determined by cookies. If someone visits your website and does not have a cookie, or their cookie is older than an hour they count as being a unique visitor and a pageload.

Page Load Count
If someone visits your website and they have a cookie that is less than an hour old, their cookie is updated and they are only counted as a pageload. A pageload is simply the total number of times your page has been accessed, ignoring the unique aspect altogether. This naturally means your pageloads will always be greater than or equal to your unique visitors.

Final Push

I don't ask you guys for much, but it would mean quite a lot to me if I could sneak past Cross Currents here and here over at the battle of the blogs.

Another good reason to vote for me: There's a chance that a DB victory over CC might make the baby Jesus cry.)

If men were angels, no government would be necessary

"If men were angels, no government would be necessary"

"Those who expect to reap the blessing of freedom must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it."-THOMAS PAINE

A vile thought from Rabbi Avi Shafran is prominently displayed on Cross Currents this morning. He says, in part, that Geroge W. Bush must be fully supported by Jews because 800 yars ago Maimonides ruled that the power of a Jewish King to wage war was absolute.

Shafran fails to remember two things (aside from the rather obvious details about George being neither Jewish nor a king.)

First, a Jewish King was given this great power, because he was imagined to be the Pure and Humble Servant of God. His presumed goodness, and loyalty to the Torah was meant to function as a check on his power. An American president is entitled to no such presumption of Goodness, which is why the Founders imposed serious checks on his power. Second, as the Book of Kings dramitically demonstrates the king who is also a Pure and Humble Servant of God is a chimera. He never existed, not even when the Temple stood.

Shafran fails not because Bush is bad, or because the Rambam was wrong, but because the King who was worthy of the power Shafran wishes Bush to have, has never in human history existed.

Pataki's Plan

It's not often I disagree with my very good friend OrthoMom (Note to RenReb NYAH!) but today the MomOf4 is wrong about Governor Pataki plan to give a $500 tax credit to public and private school parents in underperforming school districts.

The idea sounds nice (Free money! Whoopie!) but handing out cash won't help Jewish families overcome monsterous tuition costs.

The instant more money becomes available our fine Jewish schools will raise their tuition, or they will facter this new money into their scholarship packages. Instead of offering prospective students "X" it will be "X minus the credit."

No-one - save the schools - will come out ahead.

Frummer than the Pope?

I've often worried that my good friend Yaakov Menken might go too far in his rush to justify Judaism to the gentiles. Has his defense of Intelligent Design and criticism of judges who refuse to let it become part of public school curriculums crossed some sort of line?
The Vatican newspaper has published an article saying "intelligent design" is not science and that teaching it alongside evolutionary theory in school classrooms only creates confusion.
What does it mean when one of our leading Jewish pundits embraces a view of the world that is less scientific than the position advanced by the bishop of Rome?

Tip of the miter to Frummer?

Michael Brown: "I blew it"

This just in:
Former FEMA Director Michael Brown on Wednesday accepted a greater share of the blame for the government's failures after Hurricane Katrina, saying he fell short in conveying the magnitude of the disaster and calling for help.

"I should have asked for the military sooner. I should have demanded the military sooner," Brown told a gathering of meteorologists at a ski resort in the Sierra Nevada.
Among Brownie's other revelations yesterday: "The Earth is round, the moon is not made from green cheese and DovBear is generally right about everything."

Luke Ford's Five Minutes

Is Luke Ford a someone? Apperently so. The man who, in 2005, brought us nearly five months of non-stop blogging about rabbinic indiscretions got a mention in Mark Steyn's rememberance of Moustapha Akkad. (Who? Moustapha gave us all eight Halloween movies, and tried valiently to rehabilitate our image of Muslims before being killed last November in a suicide bombing) The post-mortem, with the Ford citation, appears on page 208 (Bad luck Luke!) of the current Atlantic:
In an interview with Luke Ford for his 2002 book The Producers, [Moustapha] agreed with the author's estimate that Hollywood's muscle was "70 percent Jewish," but reckoned you got along fine as long as you steered clear of certain subjects. "The media runs the world," he said. "No tanks or planes. The media and the public companies. This is what The Protocols of Zion is all about. The Zionists, last century, were persecuted in Europe. So they immigrated to America. They had a target. They were united. They did not permit [statements] critical of Zion. They went all the way to control the world and to control the minds of the people through the media. There's a lesson to learn from them."
And look at that: Stephen I Weiss's old blog, Protocols, the place where Luke did most of his most memorable muckraking was remembered, too.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Foul Secularists

The death of a pope is not a laughing matter

Dancing maybe. Feasting perhaps. But not laughing.

[Tip of the smashing religious headgear to Mis-nagid, foulest secularist of them all]

Heads up

When I come across posts like this, I say to myself, "Lord I wish my wife read blogs, preferably mine."

Because now, if I print this out and bring it home, she won't respond to it with mirth and merriment, they way she might have had she discovered it on her own. Oh no. Instead, she is going to presume that I brought it home in support of some kind of agenda.

Gemarah is The Constitution is Gevaldik

The better magazines are debating the president's power to wage war in a manner that reminds me of the bes medrash. Here's how the argument might appear on a page of the Vilna Shas:

MISHNA: The Congress shall have Power to... declare War

GEMARA: Rabbi Yoo says: "declare" not "engage in" From this we learn the power to engage in war resides with the president, and because our Torah proscribes no check on his war making power, he may do as he pleases. As we learn from Blackstone ,"the monarch had no need to declare war before beginning hostilities against another nation."

Rabbi Sunstein says: Ah, but our Sages have specifically rejected Blackstone, for example Rav Washington says: "The Constitution vests the power of declaring war with Congress; therefore no offensive expedition of importance can be undertaken until after they have deliberated on the subject, and authorized such a measure." And Rav Kent said "war cannot lawfully be commenced on the part of the United States, without an act of Congress."

DovBear says: The textual argument of Rabbi Yoo is very strong, but we do not rule by the text alone. Our traditions along with the view of the founders appear to support Rabbi Sunstein: The president may not do as he pleases during the prosecution of war.

Declare: A declaration recognizes the state of affairs, rather than authorizing the creation of that state of affairs

Engage In: Elsewhere (Article I, Section 10) it says that states may not "engage in War" suggesting that the Framers meant a difference between the two terms.

Our Torah: The Constitution

No Check: Save the Power of the Purse. War must be paid for by the House.

As he pleases: Wiretapping, detaining enemy combatants without hearings, and torture, included.

Our sages: James Wilson, et al.

Our traditions: On many occasions, the courts have required explicit congressional support for presidential action, even when national security was at risk.

The view of the founders: Per Sunstein: "James Madison wrote that the Constitution has, "with studied care, vested the question of war in the Legisl[ature]." Alexander Hamilton said that the legislature "can alone actually transfer the nation from a state of peace to a state of hostility." John Marshall declared that "the whole powers of war" are constitutionally "vested in Congress." Thomas Jefferson wrote that under the Constitution, "one effectual check to the Dog of war" was "transferring the power of letting him loose from the Executive to the Legislative body." In the Pennsylvania Ratifying Convention, James Wilson noted that under the Constitution, the decision whether to go to war "will not be in the power of a single man, or a single body of men." In South Carolina, Pierce Butler, an active participant in the original debates, explicitly said that the Constitution denied the power of "making war or peace" to the president, because it was "objected to, as throwing into his hands the influence of a monarch, having an opportunity of involving his country in a war whenever he wished to promote her destruction." There are not many issues on which James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, John Marshall, Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, James Wilson, John Adams, and Pierce Butler can be said to agree.

Glass Houses Watch

What would MLK Day be without a bogus racial brouhaha?

"When you look at the way the House of Representatives has been run, it has been run like a plantation, and you know what I'm talking about." ---Hillary Clinton

"I've never run a plantation before. I'm not even sure of what kind of association she's trying to make. If she's trying to be racist, I think that's unfortunate, but I'm not going to comment any further on that." --Dennis Hastert, Member of Congress

"It's definitely using the race card. It definitely has racist connotations. She knows it. She knew the audience. She knew what she was trying to say, and it was wrong. And she should be ashamed." -- Peter King, Member of Congress.

Uh huh

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

...on the worship of Mammon

I've really been enjoying the Abramoff emails, because they show the minds of these pious fruads for what they are.

First, we learned that Jack-in-the-hat himself used nasty words like "troglodyte" to describe the Indians he was defrauding to the tune of $82 million. He also called them "lower form[s] of existance," "plain morons" and the "stupidest idiots in the world for sure."

Then came the Lapin Letters, with the revelation that the good Rabbi and hawker of "Thou Shall Prosper: Ten Commandments for Making Money " had given his blessing to a credential fraud.

Now we have Ralph Reed, Christian par excellance, and former head of the Christian Coalition, saying, "I need to start humping in corporate accounts! . . . I'm counting on you to help me with some contacts." Reed has also been revealed to have once run an anti-gambling campaign against one casino, that was financed by a second casino.

Ah, how hard it is to serve the lord.

Christian crybabies

If you're the sort of liberal who thinks activist judges should be imposing standards on public instiutions, head over to Cross Currents where Yaakov Menken is urging the California courts to force the University of California to accept a set of courses the college has already judged inadequate.

Those of you who watch Cross Currents closely, have already understood that it is Christians, and not Jews, who Yaakov is defending. And, of course, you are right. To quickly summarize, a Christian high school and the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI) are suing the University of California system, because it won't accept credits from private Christian high school courses that don't "adequately teach the subject matter."

Yaakov would have you believe that "the public university —in California, at least— is trying to get religion out of the religious schools also [sic]" but that's nonesense. Students are free to continue attending Christian schools, and the private Christian schools are free to continue educating their students as they see fit. And students from the bible schools who qualify are still admitted to the University of California. The issue here isn't admission, but course credit. (The college created a course, and asked UC to credit it. The college reviewed the material, and said, sorry, no, this sucks. The kid can still get into UC. He just can't get credit for biblical math, or whatever.)

If the University of California believes that the courses at these schools are inadequate that is a question of academic standards, best left to be answered by the College itself. No university - state universities included - is required at provide credit for courses that don't meet standards, even arbitrary standards. Rather then running to court hoping for a friendly judge who will lower the bar, the bible schools should go back to the drawing board and make their courses more rigorous. As any opponent of affirmative action will tell you, there is no protected right to receive college credit. The Bible schools can do as the like, but they must live with the consequences of those choices

If someone must be sued in this sorry case, let the parents sue the Bible School for providing a sub-standard education, one that includes courses that are ineligible for credit at some universities.

[A word about bonafides: I have always opposed affirmative action, and I believe that a public univeristy has not just the right, but also the obligation to mantain standards. Yaakov and the crew at Cross Currents, on the other hand have, in the past written against activist judges, and his collegue Toby Katz has published more that one stinging critique of Woman's Study Programs. If the high school was skewing its courses to accomodate a woman's perspective instead of a Christian perspective, you can bet Yaakov and his gang would be (correctly) siding with the college.]

Who said it?

''Surely God is mad at America. He sent us hurricane after hurricane after hurricane, and it's destroyed and put stress on this country.''

a) Rabbi Ovadya Yosef

b) Pat Robertson

c) Sultan Knish

d) NOLA Mayor Ray Nagin


Monday, January 16, 2006

Go, Go, Gore

Al Gore celebrated the holiday with a stemwinder of a speech in which he called for an independent counsel to investigate whether Bush broke the law in authorizing domestic eavesdropping without court approval. Money quote:

"The founders of our country faced dire threats. If they failed in their endeavors, they would have been hung as traitors.

The very existence of our country was at risk.

Yet, in the teeth of those dangers, they insisted on establishing the Bill of Rights.

Is our Congress today in more danger than were their predecessors when the British army was marching on the Capitol? Is the world more dangerous than when we faced an ideological enemy with tens of thousands of missiles poised to be launched against us and annihilate our country at a moment's notice? Is America in more danger now than when we faced worldwide fascism on the march-when our fathers fought and won two World Wars?

It is simply an insult to those who came before us and sacrificed so much on our behalf to imply that we have more to be fearful of than they. Yet they faithfully protected our freedoms and now it is up to us to do the same.

Of course there was no sign of this on the nightly news broadcast I watched, and I'll bet the cable news networks also gave it no coverage. [I have high hopes for Jon Stewart, though] So much for the liberal media. I guess it isn't news when a former vice president all but calls the president of the United States a lawbreaker. The minority in this country might as well be invisible.

Afterthought: Maybe the network suits were keeping their away teams close to home, in case they were needed to report on another shark attack on a runaway blond.

Quote of the day:

From time to time, I find something that sounds like it could have come out of my own head. Here, for example, is Mobius of JewSchool:
...i want to make a point that the reason i draw comparisons between israeli policies and south african policies under the apartheid regime; and the reason i allege that israel's acts of collective punishment constitute war crimes is not because i seek to empower or embolden israel's "enemies" and detractors, but rather because as a jewish person living in israel, i am insensed and outraged by israel's actions in the occupied territories and wish to see an end to the occupation. i do not believe that israel is inherently bad, nor that the israeli leadership is motivated by racism, ethnic supremacism, or messianic delusions. rather i think they are motivated by nationalistic goals that are an outgrowth of 2,000 years of persecution. it is entirely understandable, but the lengths to which they go to secure an ethnic majority are unacceptable. i raise the issue not to call for israel's destruction, but rather to foster internal dialogue within the jewish community and within the israeli community. to do so, one must counteract pro-israel propaganda which dismisses allegations of apartheid and war crimes as unfounded. once we can see what is going on and be honest and upfront about it, we can work to address it and change it.
Amen brother. I sign on to this statement 100 + ten percent.

Dear DovBear

DovBear, I’ve been reading your blog for some time, but this is (I think) the first time that I’ve posted a comment. If I may switch tracks for a moment – I found Lazer Brody’s messages to you quite disturbing. He asserts that, “Many lightweights use 'Machlokess' …among the orthodox as an excuse for not observing the Torah.”

Yes, many of us who are not frum do use that as part of our rationale, and I think that it’s valid. It’s simply incorrect that, in the Orthodox world, “we have no argument about Shabbos, kashrus, tefillin, and family purity.” The abundance of divergent opinions within the Jewish blogosphere alone would tend to invalidate his claims that “We have no disagreement as to all 613 mitzvas of Torah.” and “Orthodox Jewish unity is for real.” However, I think that an equally significant (if not greater) reason that so many of us eschew Orthodoxy is that people like Brody simply make us feel unwelcome. When I read “the enemies of the Jewish people in general, and the enemies of Orthodox Judaism in particular”, I come away with the distinct impression that he means me.

Of course, I realize that he doesn’t speak for you. I just wanted to say something about it in a venue in which some frum people would be paying attention. I didn’t want to comment on his site or email him about it, because I don’t think that he’d listen.

01.16.06 - 11:57 am

Thanks for the note. If you're reading "The DovBear Dialoges," a series currently running on Lazer's blog, you know that I've been doing my part to make it clear that a multiplicity of legitimate opinions exist within Judaism:
"The only answer is that the way we preform our rituals are not inevitable, but contingent. The rituals, like most everything else, evolved - sometimes according to the rules set forth by halacha, sometimes not. The trouble with "simple faith" by my lights is, that in this case at least, it obscures the fact that ideas develop and change over time. And I am not sure why that fact needs to be hidden."
Lazer has been perfectly accepting of my points, which, I must say, surprised me: Like you, I assumed that he was someone who denied that Judaism has a history, someone who imagines that our rituals and thinking did not evolve over time. To his credit, he acknowledges that Judaism has developed, and though he objects to my use of the word "change," I think this is semantics. His history is still imperfect, and he has much too much faith in the efficacy of the written word as a vehicle of human communication over long periods of time, but he knows that men in 2006 can't possibly think about the world in the same way that men in 106 did, and he accepts the implications.

I also think you're wrong to presume that Lazer's thinks you're his enemy. If you're a non-Orthodox Jews, he may consider you misled or mistaken, but you are still his brother. He decries the forces of assimilation (and he's careful to single out the forces of right-wing assimilation) but I believe he has no animosity for its victims. Orthodox unity is real, not because we all practice and think about our religion in the same way, but because we recognize that we have more in common than not. And, not incidently, Jewish unity is real for the same reason. I pound other Jews more than anyone should but that is "open rebuke, and hidden love." I may express disgust that Jews often fall short of our own creed; I may chafe at displays of conformity at the expense of the rest of our tradition; and I may accept arguments from the outside about our politics, history and practice; but I roundly reject the contention that politics, history and practice are all that Judaism has. There is something distinctive about being a Jew, and it belongs to every Jew who wishes to share in it.

Martin Luther King, Jr: Selected Readings

He was the greatest orator of his generation, and second only to Lincoln when it came to putting words together. Some excerpts:

We are not satisfied and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.
--Martin Luther King, Jr., Address at the Freedom March on Washington D.C, 28 August 1963

"...when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking: "Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?"; when you take a cross-county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading "white" and "colored"; when your first name becomes "nigger," your middle name becomes "boy" (however old you are) and your last name becomes "John," and your wife and mother are never given the respected title "Mrs."; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you no forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodiness" then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience. --Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963


I've Been to the Mountaintop
I Have a Dream
Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech
Letter from Birmingham Jail

Mississippi 2006

Last year, Wonkette reported that the Mississippi Tax Commission's (601-923-7000) answering maching announced that the office was closed, "...in observance of Robert E Lee's and Martin Luther King's birthdays."

At the time, I asked incredulously if a rebellion-leader like Lee was entitled to a holiday, but I acknowledged that "this Mississippi compromise was probably just a way to get the fine, backwards, incest-committing people of the South to acknowledge - however backhandedly - MLK and all the good he did to make our country a better, safer place to live."

Well, I called Mississippi again this morning, and today the answering machine says simply that the office is closed "...in observance of a state holiday."

It is a message that sounds a little like the announcment our Hassidic gabbai makes when he tells us that the minyan times have been changed on July Fourth or Memorial Day "because of the Federal Holiday." And I am sure the sentiment is similar: Not to name the holiday is a way of undermining it. (Ladies, when men can't seem to remember your boyfriend's name they are playing a similar game. Be advised.)

Sunday, January 15, 2006

In Rashi's Bes Medrash

"During those many days, the king of Egypt died, and the Jewish people moaned because of the bondage, and they cried. And their cry for help from the slavery rose up to God." (Exodus 2:23)

"Pharaoh had leprosy," said my teacher, citing Rashi on this verse, and when the young DovBear wanted to know why Rashi disagreed with the verse itself, he received the stock reply:"Rashi had ruach hakodesh [a kind of low grade prophecy.]"

All together now: ARGH!

Fun fact to know and tell: The top several sites returned by a Google search for ruach hakodesh are Christian sites which translate it as "Holy Spirit."

All together now: ARGH!

In his mission statement, (Genesis 3:8) Rashi says he "I have come only to teach the plain meaning of the passage and such Aggadah which explains the words of the Bible,” yet everywhere in his commentary we find instances where Rashi does the opposite.

Our verse, for example, says the king died, but rather than leave well enough alone, Rashi digs up Shemot Rabbah 1:34 where the bit about the leprosy is found. But why is this needed? Rashi is not an anthology of midrashim, and in this case the midrash doesn't appear to give the plain meaning of the text but to obfusicate it. Dead people aren't leperous. How is this the "literal meaning of scripture?"

lit·er·al adj.
Conforming or limited to the simplest, nonfigurative, or most obvious meaning of a word or words.

Years later I studied under a wise man who introduced a twist to the stock answer so many teachers before him had given me: "Rashi had ruach hakodesh, " he would say, "but we can have ruach hakodesh, too. Let's see if we can see what Rashi saw."

"The king of Egypt died... and they cried."

Cry? Odd isn't it, that the slave people might shed tears over the death of Pharoh. Look, for example, at the Palestenians who rejoiced at the news of Sharon's stroke, or the Jews who scheduled celebratory kidushim when Yassar Arafat finally went to his punishment. But when Pharoh died, the Jews of Egypt cried. Seem weird to you? It appears to have bothered Rashi. [Siftei Chachamim]

"During those many days..."

During? Death comes in an instant, yes here we're told the king died over a great many days. Not "after", but during [Malbim]

"...the king of Egypt died..."

King? Everywhere in the bible, Kings lose their title when their death is reported. King David, becomes "David" on the day of his death, and the same is true for them all. So how can this king, this Egyptian, retain his dominion in death? [Vilna Gaon.]

"...we can have ruach hakodesh, too. Let's see if we can see what Rashi saw."

If you're Rashi, you have the gift of second sight. You're a close reader of complicated texts who can see things that most others miss. As you look as this verse, with these three anamolies you know you aren't seeing the simplest meaning of the text, because if we're meant to know that the King left this mortal coil, the grammar and diction just don't add up.

How does leprosy solve the problems? Well, to begin with "a leper is considered as dead” (Avodah Zarah 5a)." But that's not enough to change the meaning of our verse (no other dead person is said to be a leper instead.) However, when you take into account the drawn out "death" [Malbim] the unexpected use of the word "King" [Vilna Gaon] and the fact that the slaves didn't rejoice at the death of their oppresor [Vilna Gaon] the Midrash's teaching seems to fit.

To Rashi, this is the simplest meaning of the text because it addresses the text's inconsistancies.

Word to a bitter man

Received by email:

I don't believe a word of "It's painful to see Orthodox Jews being criticized by outsiders," you are quite happy to. [sic]

Are you inside my head? Do you know what I think and feel? You've never engaged me for a polite conversation on the subject, never written me asking for a clarification of a point. From here it looks like this unsupported blast is just unsubstantiated whining from a RWer who thinks *any* criticism of Israel makes you are an enemy of Israel. That's sad.

Why aren't you just the Ibn Ezra?.

I appreciate the reference. That post, incidently, is one of my favorites. It sums up my views on blogging in particular and the clash of ideas in general. Brighter lights than you have understood that. Take, for example, Rabbi Lazer Brody who said, after reading that post "For background material on "ritcha d'oraissa" [anger for Torah - DB], see [that post] and learn how two Orthodox Jews can confront each other with flaming swords in the mutual search for truth."

The difference between you and the Ibn Ezra is that he actually identified who he was.

Also, he lived in 12th century Spain, and I have indoor plumbing.

You are a coward who hides behind a pseudonym and lobs rhetorical grenades at anyone you disagree with

Now there's something unethical about blogging anonymously? I expect that will be unwelcome news to Orthomom, the RenReb, Godol Hador, AidelMaidel, Ben Chorin, the Westen Jew, Ben Chorin, Mirty, LamidZayin, S, the shaigetz, Zman Biur, and countless others. Is it possible this rule, like the voices, exists nowhere but in your own mind?

What is it? Are you hurt that you didn't make the cut for the Israel Advocacy award?

There was a cut? Not according to the rules: Self-nominating is allowed. If I was upset at being excluded, I would have nominated myself.

Did that hurt your oversized ego?

I do have a distinctive shtick, it's true, but most people are smart enough to realize it shouldn't be taken seriously, that it's mostly something I do just to keep the blog interesting. Besides, anyone who blogs has an ego. It's only our ego that allows us to believe we have something worth writing in the first place.

I'll give you a hint: someone who compares Israel to pre-Mandela South Africa is not advocating for Israel. If you say that Israel pursues "apartheid" policies, you are not helping Israel. You are using a label that means that Israel is illegitimate. Don't hide behind your " ... I wasn't saying that Israel is an apartheid state just that some of its policies are ..." type rhetoric. If you didn't mean it don't write it. YOU are the one who is harming Israel by giving Israel's enemies ammunition to use against the Jewish state.

I appreciate the compliment, but I find it difficult to accept that the idea that Israel, at one time, permitted apartheid-like conditions in the territory it conquered and controlled originated here, at DovBear. And though I agree with you that someone who tells lies about Israel can't be called an "advocate" that statment cuts both ways. The far left has its lies, but so does the far-right. Shibboleths are everywhere, even here, at DovBear I'm afraid. A good discussion about this topic is already underway here, beneath a post where my thoughts on what is not advocacy for Israel can be found. (and here's a friendly tip in return: Blogs that make fun of Rachel Corrie aren't advocating for Israel either. If you had any guts you'd write them angry letters about the damge they do to the reputation of Israel and Judaism.)

If you're so interested in fairness why not at least defend us? Why not say that the General went too far.

I don't think he went too far. Though some of his examples were sloppy, his argument was not.

You know that he was quoting me out of context.

Actually, I didn't know that. I don't really read your blog. But once you called attention to the error, I went back, confirmed it, and posted a clarification

And when he said that right wing supporters of Israel were "genocidal" it didn't bother you?

He didn't say RW supporters of Israel were genocidal. That claim is even more outrageuous and out of context than what he said about you. Anyway, I'd advise you to read a little more of the General's blog tYou may notice that he is a satire site "designed to represent the ignorance, arrogance, narrow-mindedness, racism and hypocrisy of George Bush's Christian conservative base." For this reason he often makes outrageous remarks, but insiders, careful readers and those of us who are paying attention understand that he is playing a part.

You owed it to us to take issue with his hyperbole if you didn't agree with it. If you don't believe we are monsters then correct your ally.

Um, for the record, I did correct my "ally" when I wrote: "They aren't monsters (obviously) but you wouldn't know it from reading some of their posts."

(BTW, how did get these choice quotes? I bet you fed him the selected quotes, because I really doubt that he would have taken the time search our blogs and come up with all of it.)

That's just stupid. But in case any of your supporters are equally stupid let me say categorically that I've never communicated with the General about Jewish blogs at any time.

Wasn't Leon Wieseltier so eloquent when he smugly gloated over fellow Jews losing their homes and livelihoods? But the moment he stepped away from the DB line of correct thinking he was an easily dismissed "professional Jew."

I think that actually speaks well of me. Rather than considering the source, I considered the argument. When I agreed with Leon's thinking, I said so. When I didn't, I pulled no punches. Some call that intellectual honesty.

You have no honor. You have no shame.

Please remove me from your blogroll, I do not wish to be associated with the likes of you. I had reversed myself before and put you back on my blogroll because I felt I owed you for your help early on with Haveil Havalim. But you've more than made up for that. You are siding with enemies of Israel. And you don't see it.

That's right. I don't see it, because it isn't true. The views you so carelessly dismiss as the ravings of an "enemy of Israel" are in fact supported by the majority of Israelis. Israelis supported the disengagment and so did I. They supported Sharon's fence, and so did I. They support land for peace and the creation of a Palestenian state, and so do I. Is every Jew and Israeli who disagrees with you your enemy?

That must be a very painful delusion to carry through life.

Department of Corrections

In his post last week about the JIBs, Jesus General made a general point about which I agreed, but some of his examples were sloppy.
[The] Mugata [sic] tells hitchiking tales:
Besides its pikuach nefesh to pick up a unarmed teenager by say tzomat eli at 11 at night. Because i have spent the night there... not to mention there are wild pigs there (the animals and the arabs)
This quote is from the Muquata's comment thread, not the blog itself. Though I object to blogs that deliberately make themselves a home to the very worst sort of rascists, Jameel doesn't run that sort of website. He isn't responsible for the odd bit of idiocy that might appear on his threads and (to the best of my knowledge) it doesn't reflect his views.
In a post titled "Donating organs to the enemy," Soccer Dad responds to the news that a the family of a brown child killed by Israeli troops donated his organs to Israelis:
And in what circumstances did those minors die? Ahmed, was carrying a toy rifle in a place where the Israeli army was operating. Hardly a wise decision. And even if Israel apologizes, was it wrong for the Israeli soldiers to shoot first and ask questions later?
Though it is not perfectly clear from the context of his post, SoccerDad was not defending the right of IDF soldiers to shoot people indiscriminately. What he was doing was reminding his audiences that teenagers with guns -in both Israel and America- are not benign, and that sometimes soldiers (and police officers) make mistakes that are justified errors.

PS: Thanks to all the commenters and letter writers who told me that you understand that criticizing Likud policies does not, by that very fact, make you an "enemy of Israel." I wish there were more of you.

Friday, January 13, 2006

A difficult post

A tip of the spudik to Gen. JC Christian for his post today about the JIBS. It's painful to see Orthodox Jews being criticized by outsiders, but I can't object to the general's point: The overwhelming majority of nominees in the Israel Advocacy category express opinions that (a) make the rest of us look bad and (b) aren't in line with the thinking of the majority of Jews or the majority of Israelis.

As I've said before, I don't understand how Israel's interests are served by blogs (and commenters) that insult Arabs. When well-meaning people visit those blogs they often see horrible and hateful comments directed at the whole of the Muslim world. As a result, many make the mistake of presuming that anyone who supports Israel is also horrible and hateful. (I've seen it happen. )

Are Israel's interests really served by blogs that makes Israel's supporters look like monsters? They aren't monsters (obviously) but you wouldn't know it from reading some of their posts.

Moreover, many of these blogs have terrible reputations among the centrist and left-leaning blogs. Does that help Israel? The people who need to be convinced of the rightness of Israel's position aren't reading righty blogs. Those readers are already sold on the subject. The people who need to know that the Israeli argument is, at bottom, a moral argument are reading the centrist and left leaning blogs and among many of those blogs names like LGF or Cox and Forkum are mud.

Next time you find yourself wondering why the media sometimes paints right-wing Israelis as genocidal maniacs ask yourself if your favorite "pro-Israel" blog is part of the solution --or part of the problem.

A Rare Sports Post

I am as a big a Messier fan as any other New Yorker, but I found last night's retirement ceremony to be longer and duller than even the very worst Bar Mitzvah. And the "jokes" those hockey players told were about what I would expect from my Uncle Marvin after his third hit of Chivas.

Still watching, all those old and balding former Rangers flanking their captain, the memories came rushing back. Along with the great moment when Gary Bettman called Messier up to accept Lord Stanley's cup, they include The Guarantee* and, of course, "Matteau, Matteau, Matteau!!!!" the greatest call by an announcer in the history of professional sports. (Not to be confused with "Buy a Porsche Potvin, Buy a Porsche" the greatest cheer in the history of professional sports.**)

* What Messier did was say "I guarantee we'll win tonight," on the eve of a cruicial playoff game, and then went out a threw a hat trick on Martin Brodeur, one of the greatest goaltenders in history. A hat trick.

** Second place in the cheer competition must go to "Two World Wars and One World Cup - doodah, doodah" a chant used by British soccer hooligans to taunt German soccer hooligans. It refers to the fact that England beat Germany in the 1966 World Cup final, in 1944 at the second war to end all wars, and in 1917 at the first war to end all wars. It brings to mind a great line, attributed to Mrs. Margaret Thatcher, who upon being told that Germany had defeated England replied, "They may have beat us at our national game, but we beat them twice at their national game in the 20th century."

Thursday, January 12, 2006

We need a new word

Ok, when a blogger spouts on and on about how prayer is prohibited in the public school because the ACLU is ruining America, we have a word for that someone. The word is wingnut.

But what word do we have for someone who fills his blog with fact-free nonsense like this:

During the past year the New York City’s health commissioner, Dr. Thomas Frieden, has engaged in an effort to undermine a sacred component of Mitzvas Milah. He and his department recently stepped up their activities in this regard and issued directives and advisories aimed at planting fear in the hearts and minds of parents who are about to bring their child into the holiest covenant in Judaism.The threat is not only against metzitzah b’peh. It is a slanderous and offensive diktat that undermines not only a specific element of Bris Milah, but assaults the entire concept of Bris Milah itself.He claims to be “educating.” What he is actually doing is far more sinister.

What he is actually doing is saving the lives of infants, you paranoid fear mongerer. Three kids have gotten herpes from their mohel; one died. Don't you think it's the health commissioner's job to make sure that stops happening? More to the point, metzitzah b’peh is not essential to mila according to anyone but the most mystical hasidim. Both the csam sofer and SRH permitted it to be abolished.

So what's our new word-- can we make a contest out of it?

I bet her name is Shprintza

Nearly half of Ashkenazi Jews descended from just 4 women: South Florida Sun-Sentinel: "Some 3.5 million of today's Ashkenazi Jews _ about 40 percent of the total Ashkenazi population _ are descended from just four women, a genetic study indicates."

None of this is news to DovBear readers, who learned last year that we're all direct descendants of King David -- all of us, including non-Jews. We're all also probably descendants of Rashi and the Maharsha, too. Factor in rapes and intermarriage, and it's fair to argue that we're all also direct descendants of Mohammed, and Confucius. (Yes, that Mohammed.)

Am I a liberal or not?

I'm now officially bummed out about the JIBS. Not, god forbid because of my numbers, which are solid, but because the General neglected to endorse me.

PS: Look what a little love from the General can do: The column with the candidate he endorsed has more than 700 total votes; the other column just 536.

Presidential Powers

A great moment from the President's Town Hall meeting in yesterday in Louisville

Q Hi. My name is Mario --
THE PRESIDENT: Hola -- en Mexico?
Q Monterrey.

As it turns out, Mario's question was about Mexico, suggesting one of two things: (1) The Town Hall meeting was staged, and the questions were scripted; or (2) The president has dope, spooky, mindreading powers.