Friday, March 31, 2006
Clearly, this is Bill Clinton's fault.
Oddly, instead of criticizing the justice for offending the decorum of their sanctuary, the Archdiocese has fired the photographer who proved Scalia was lying by releasing the picture:
Ethics? Ah. No wonder the Church fired you.
A freelance photographer has been fired by the Archdiocese of Boston’s newspaper for releasing a picture of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia making a controversial gesture in the Cathedral of the Holy Cross on Sunday. Peter Smith, who had freelanced for The Pilot newspaper for a decade, lost the job yesterday after the Herald ran his photo on its front page. Smith said he has no regrets about releasing it.
“I did the right thing. I did the ethical thing,” said Smith, 51, an assistant photojournalism professor at Boston University.
Meanwhile, let's play a game: Imagine a prominent liberal from Boston did the same thing. Say, Ted Kennedy or John Kerry went to Mass during Lent and, while still in the church, one of them made an obscene gesture that was photographed. Wouldn't Fox News, Drudge and the NY Post be running the photo 24/7 with calls for Kennedy or Kerry to resign? Wouldn't conservatives be raking them over the coals for their lack of respect for God?
So, nu, conservatives, let's hear you yell about Scalia.
Thursday, March 30, 2006
Several of the leading lights of the Conservative movement [Ed note: Ezzie's people] gathered this week in Washington D.C to discuss the "persecution of the Christians in the United States."
Correct. The self-same people who go on O'Reilly's show to stoutly aver that This Is A Christian Country Goddamit, apparently have another side of their mouth through which they have the nerve to complain that in this Christian Country they are victims of all sorts of excruciating punishments.
The poor dears. Never happy unless they are being crucified.
And their whining was enabled by a CrossCurrentsJew, one Michael Horowitz, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington and chuzpanyak first class, who was among the speakers. His learned contribution to the discussion was this:
You guys have become the Jews of the 21st century
I suppose Horowitz believes that in previous centuries, in places like Europe, for example, it was all sweetness, joy and light for the Jews. Whatever else could he mean? After all, here in America:
- 85 percent of Americans identify themselves as Christians?
-there's a born-again Christian in the White House
- the Republican Party [Ed's note: Naphtuli's people] is controlled by the Christian religious right; and
- the White House hands out millions of dollars every year to Christian, faith-based, charities.
Did the Jews of old, our sainted European ancestors, ever have it quite so good? But then poor Mr. Horowitz's grasp of history seems rather tenuous, for he was also able to credit the "Christian decency" of this country with saving him from the terrors of Nazi Germany.
A nice sentiment, but Mr. Horowitz, what about the "Christian decency" that made it possible for such terrors to be perpetrated by Christians in the heart of a Christian continent, in the first place?
[HT: Gaon of Chelm]
Yes, I changed the template. Like it?
If you direct your eyes to my sidebar, you'll notice I have started three new blogs:
Open Rebuke and Hidden Love
Cross at CrossCurrents
DovBear on the Parsha
Hail to the Chief (soon to come)
Lazy Workdays (soon to come)
Each of these new blogs is a growing anthology of posts that have previously appeared on the the main blog. The plan is to add a few posts a week to each blog, until all the old posts which are worth keeping have been organized by topic. I'll also make historical notes about the posts, as they occur to me, and I'll try to include noteworthy comments that appeared when the post was new.
I've started the anthologies, in lieu of an index, to give those of you who are new to the blog a place where you can read some of the noteworthy things we've done in the past. Also, if you hate parsha or politics or whatever you now have a spot in the DovBear universe that is unique to your interests.
I know there are some readers who hate it when I apologize, preferring me to keep my teeth bared, but I thought that with the new templates and the new anthologies, now would be the moment to wipe the slate clean. So, if you're a blogger or reader who has been slighted or offended or insulted by anything I have ever said or done, I hope you will find it in your heart to give me another chance. I am sorry, and I hope we can begin again.
For my part, I pledge to be a better member of the blogging community. As I said to someone by email the other day, I'm ready for my second act.
I hope you'll come along.
LAST FRIDAY, I WAS DISMAYED to discover that our friend GH has, on the basis of one post, categorized me as a 'Happy Humanist' and someone who sees 'Judaism as basically a tikkun olam type of thing.'
This statement fundamentally misunderstands my view of Judaism.
I am not one the sectarians who claims legitimacy or authenticity for one style of Judaism above all others. In fact, I hold that the very idea of 'authentic Judaism' is a chimera, because authentically Judaism contains many values, values which do not always align and sometimes conflict, values which, nonetheless, are objective, part of the essence of Judaism, even the essence of humanity, and not arbitrary creations of men's subjective fancies.
A good example of this is the famous Tradition vs. Science arguments so often debated on [GH's] blog. One side is correct when they insist that the mesorah is paramount, but the other side is not wrong when they reply that Jews must use their intellects and are forbidden to ignore the evidence of their senses. Each side is pursuing a legitimate and objective Jewish value, however incompatible these values might be.
[What about truth, you ask? Well, truth is a value, but so are compassion, and beauty, and mercy, and comfort, and peace. At times, truth yields to them. And at times two sides can both be pursuing categorically different kinds of truth. For instance, the traditionalists seek Judaism's truth, while people like GH seek science's truth.]
When someone attempts to explain the Jewish world, by neatly categorizing us into groups and sub-groups -he's modern, you're yeshivish, we're happy humanists- the injustice he commits is no less offensives than the injustice performed by those who seek to explain Judaism in monistic terms. The Jewish world is not monolithic, but neither is it the collection of monolithic and mutually antagonistic camps; rather it is a mixed bag of coherent blocs with interests and values that conflict, but also overlap."
The Sages, I think, demonstrated that they understood this, when they assigned different characteristics to each of the 12 tribes* and when they wrote that the Torah has 70 faces. The latter is a strong statement against those absolutists (and there are absolutists who are atheists, too) who imagine we live in a harmonious universe containing a true answer for every genuine question, and that the true answers, once found, will all fit with one another.
This folly, I believe, is present in the attempt to put Judaism into boxes, boxes such as spiritual or rational, for example.
Suppose we were to construct a “rational Judaism.” In what sense would it still be Judaism if all the irrational and superstitious parts were removed? As disagreeable as I might find the non-rational elements of Judaism, I can't help but concede that Judaism stripped of the all I find distasteful - the magic and the wonder and the mystery - is an impoverished version of Judaism, if it even remains Judaism at all. You may be able to create a Jewish-like system that is completely rational, but it won’t be completely Jewish if all the other values are jettisoned.
The struggle carried out each day on blogs like GH's, in a sense, echos this folly and reflects what could be called the Fallacy of Theological Correctness. Many of the participants here seem to imagine that there exists a version of Judaism which is correct in some original, begining sense, while implying that all changes and tampering are offenses against the proper order of things. They struggle to remove the superstition, or the errors, or the late customs, or the modern innovations, thinking this will return our religion to its authentic and original condition. But this is nonsense. There is no "correct" condition for a religion: there is only the condition that happens to obtain at the moment. Every generation touches and alters Judaism in its own way; 21st century Judaism is not a corrupted version of the truth, nor is it a lie or a mistake, nor is something our ancestors would recognize or likely accept. It is simply –contradictory values and all - the latest variation of Judaism, in a series of variations that go all the way back to the very begining of our recorded history.
* The tribes and their characteristics: Reuben (impulsive), Shimon (aggressive), Levi (dedicated to divine service), Judah (dignified), Issachar (wisdom), Zebulun (business savvy), Dan (warrior), Naphtali (charming), Gad (militant), Asher (satisfied), Joseph (self-discipline) and Benjamin (modest)
Tuesday's election in Israel was a minor breakthrough. Israeli voters rightfully slammed Likud, [Boo-Ya!]
...the right-wing party of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu,
[Nah nah nah, nah nah nah Hey Bibi, good-bye!]
...casting their lot instead with Kadima, the infant party created by Ariel Sharon, who remains comatose after a severe stroke.
[Last night, on the Daily Show, Samatha Bee remarked that it seemed Ariel had been out too late celebrating the election results, and she did the "glug glug" thing with her hand. A rare moment of tatelessness from the Daily Show. Another came at the end of the segment when Samantha remarked that the Nazi Party was shut out, having won zero seats.]
Kadima can't be happy with its performance under the relatively lackluster Ehud Olmert,
[he makes Joe Leiberman look like a party animal]
...who is now likely to become prime minister, because it received only 28 parliamentary seats and will have to form an alliance with at least two parties. But by placing the more centrist Kadima, along with Labor, which received 20 seats
... in the driver's seat,
[ Note of explanation. I don't specifically like ISRAEL'S Labor Party, I just like the idea of a strong and well protected labor force in general]
Israeli voters have endorsed the idea of withdrawing from [parts of] the West Bank. [Shehechayanu, v'keeyimanu, v'higeeyanu l'zman hazeh!!!]
We're not happy with Mr. Olmert's proposal of a unilateral withdrawal.
[Typical anti-Israel clap-trap from the Times. I am thrilled with the idea of unilateral withdrawl. (1) it means we don't have to negotiate with murderers. (2) it means we don't have to give away one drop more than we think is necessary.]
But at this point, we're heartened by anything that leads to an Israeli withdrawal from land that the Palestinians must control if the area is ever going to evolve into two peaceful, co-existing states.
[Note of explanation: There wasn't anything especially anti-Israel about the remark above. I am just an Orthodox Jew, and therefore required by law to preface any and all complaints about the Times with the epitath"Typical anti-Israel clap-trap from the Times." I ignore it whe you do it, so just ignore it now, too.]
It may take weeks to sort out a coalition government, but the strong likelihood is that the next government will proceed with Mr. Olmert's pledge to set Israel's borders by 2010.
While the ultimate solution to the conflict can be only a negotiated one, as opposed to a unilateral drawing of final borders by Israel,
[Wrong! Unilateral will work just fine, thank you very much. No negotiations! Just pull out, and slam the door shut on the whole mess]
...a negotiated deal is not going to happen until Hamas repudiates terrorism and recognizes Israel's right to exist. Hamas has yet to earn itself a seat at the negotiating table.
But in the meantime, Israel can start to rid itself of its self-created problem in the West Bank.
Immediately after the vote, Mr. Olmert made it clear that this remains his intent. He invited the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, to enter into negotiations on permanent borders, while clearly indicating that he would proceed alone if necessary. With Hamas now in control of the Palestinian legislature, the invitation seemed mainly symbolic.
Whatever borders Israel fixes are not likely to get international recognition, particularly if those borders leave Palestinians cut in half — in the West Bank and Gaza — and unable to get from one part of their country to another without going through Israel.
[So hopefully Israel won't cut their new country in half. Duh.]
But figuring out what the borders should look like is the least of the problems. After years of peace talks and road maps, the general lines are pretty clear, and they require a West Bank withdrawal. Israel's voters know that, too, as Tuesday's election results confirm.
[Shehechayanu, v'keeyimanu, v'higeeyanu l'zman hazeh!!!]
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
(a) Money laundering
(c) Ties to Jack Abromoff
(d) He loved Jesus too much.
If you chose "d" you might be insane. Either that, or you are Rick Scarborough, Baptist minister and Right Wing loon, who recently had this to say:
"I believe the most damaging thing that Tom DeLay has done in his life is take his faith seriously into public office, which made him a target for all those who despise the cause of Christ," Scarborough said, introducing DeLay on Tuesday. When DeLay finished, the host reminded the politician: "God always does his best work right after a crucifixion."Continued Scarborough: "This is a man, I believe, God has appointed ... to represent righteousness in government."
Lord (no disrespect intended) bu God sure does have lousy taste. Why would He choose a corrupt, money laundering thief as his personal representative? Yet this appears to be official RW doctrine. One of our own RW loons, Jeff Ballabon, recently argued that the fact that DeLay
Well you know what? Finding Jesus didn't save any of the inmates George W. executed back when he was governor of Texas. The routine shouldn't protect Delay, either.
NOTE: Delay's best bud Jack Abramoff gets 70 months
You and your readers might be interested in an original contribution in the field of social geography that I have published on my self-peer reveiewed blog, "Live Frei or Die!"The title of the post is "Texas: The goyish Israel" and I have to say, I think he has a point
Who is Joshua Bolton? Why, he's the genius behind our fiscally ruinous budget and the $371 billion deficit, of course.
As Daily Show host Jon Sterwart, a great American, put it last night, "I honestly believe you could walk into a cabinet meeting and throw feces at the wall, and George Bush would name a state after you."
Other Feces Throwers:
George Tenet, the CIA director who supplied the "slam-dunk" evidence that Iraq had WMDs. Reward: The Presidential Medal of Freedom
Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley allowed the discredited claim that Hussein had sought weapons-grade uranium (yellowcake) in Niger to appear in Bush's January 2003 State of the Union address. Hadley later said he deserved to be fired for the blunder. Reward: Promoted to National Security Advisor.
Tommy Franks designed the invasion plan which sent too few troops to Iraq allowing the looting after Baghdad was captured and the subsequent insurgency. Reward: The Presidential Medal of Freedom
* Note: The French website you'll visit if you click Josh Bolton's name humorously pictures UN Ambassador JOHN Bolton, instead.
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
Ok, it's too funny to leave on someone else's blog... first the context. My pal MoC thinks that a certain Five Towns shul that was once was "filled to the rafters" made a serious error by not "thinking strategically."
He says: "[Years ago] the leadership chose to ignore the clear move of that community to the right and stuck firmly to its hashkafic guns. It is now paying the consequences. Perhaps you can say this was a principled response by the founders of that shul. You may be right. But the fact remains that today the shul is empty."
Last night, a skit appeared in Mo's comment thread that imagines what might have been.
THE BOARD MEETING WHICH SHOULD HAVE HAPPENED 15 YEARS AGO
President: Ok, in the near future a bunch of spoiled rotton Brooklyn creeps are going to have their parents buy them houses in our neighborhood.
President: So let's get strategic. What should we do?
VP: Well, we could continue to offer a full slate of outstanding programs for adults, young adults and youth.
P: NO! You fool! That's modern! If you do that, those snotty newcomers will sneer at us (while using our services all the same.)
VP: How about if we invite them to join our board, you know, give them the chance to shape the shul into something they would like...
P: IDIOT! You want to let those Brooklyn people know we're a democracy which allows members to work together to create a shul that matches and reflects their own aspirations? Are you crazy?? Brooklyn people are trained from the womb to DESPISE democracies. If we do that, they will FLEE!
VP: OK... how about if we start shabbos davening at 9:30, instead of 8:30, our current time which allows people to make krias shma...
P: Now you're talking!
VP: And we could remove the elegant pews and replace them with ratty tables...
P: I like it...
VP: And let's encourage all the srugi-wearing members to go someplace else. Their population is shrinking, and the newcomers won't allow their holy-selves to pray alongside a srugi-wearer.
P: Keep talking...
VP: And instead of a devar halacha between mincha and maariv during the week, we could give out kugel... without forks...
P: Nice touch!!
Rabbi: I don't need this crap. I quit.
One of the most annoying things about being a disapora Jew is dealing with other disapora Jews who claim to know what's best for Israel. And in my circles "what's best for Israel" is always whatever the Likud would like to do. To disagree -ie: to oppose the Likud - is denounced as anti-Israel.
Well, now that the Israelis themselves have roundly rejected the Likud, and embraced the platforms put forward by Labor and Kadima, can we finally agree that it is not "anti-Israel" to seek a two-state solution, or to encourage further disengagments? And can we finally agree that American newspapers which support such policies are not objectivly anti-Israel? Or will it take yet another Likud defeat before comfortable, American, armchair, Zionists realize that what they desire is completely out of step with what most Israelis want.
Former first lady Barbara Bush donated an undisclosed amount of money to the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund with specific instructions that the money be spent with an educational software company owned by her son Neil.My, my, my, Hurricane Katrina has been soooo unkind to the Bush family Battle Axe. First, she was caught on tape epitomizing the insulated, self-absorbed worldview of the Bush administration; and now she's using the disaster to transfer some money to her son in a way that provides her with a tax break.
Note: My original plan was to simply plagarize the well written and well argued piece at DU but I worried the Republicans in the audience might not understand the joke.
[Hat Tip Amshinover, scourge of the blogosphere.]
***You Are a Powdered Devil's Food Donut***
A total sweetheart on the outside, you love to fool people with your innocent image. On the inside you're a little darker, richer, and more complex. You're a hedonist who demands more than one pleasure at a time. Decadent and daring, you test the limits of human indulgence.
What Donut Are You?
Catching Up with Kathleen Harris I
Campaign spokeswoman Morgan Dobbs said Thursday that Harris will sell her existing assets rather than rely on money from her father, a bank executive who died in January.
"It is my understanding from her statements that she does not plan to use inherited money on the campaign -- rather, money from liquidating her personal assets, which she says total $10 million," Dobbs wrote in an e-mail to the Orlando Sentinel.
"I think I am being pretty clear."
However, Dobbs' explanation is at odds with the message Harris has been delivering for more than a week.
The announcement was the centerpiece of her appearance on Fox News, where Harris reaffirmed her commitment to the race.
"I'm going to take his legacy that he gave to me, everything I have, and I'm going to put it in this race," she told Sean Hannity. "I'm going to commit my legacy from my father -- $10 million."
A moment later, Hannity asked, "This is money from your father?"
"Yes," replied Harris.
Jerusalem - In a tough break for the children of Orthodox Jewish families, a former grand rabbi of Israel has urged parents to amputate their dolls to avoid the perils of idolatry. Basing the move on a Biblical ban on the possession of idols, Mordechai Eliyahu, a Sephardic rabbi, broadcast his edict on a religious radio station calling for an arm or a leg to be dismembered. In the case of a teddy bear or other stuffed animals, the children will see their beloved toys lose an ear or an eye instead."It is very important that these toys do not remain intact so as to remove the element of idolatry," said EliyahuUh no. But, thank you so much for calling my attention to it. Is it just me, or is poor Rabbi Eliyahu sounding a little like the Taliban in Afganistan who oversaw the destruction of two 1500-year-old Buddha statues in March of 2001? And let's do hope he never wanders through Yad Vashem with a pick axe
Avraham's... er... Rabbi Bronstein's very entertaining account of the Chag Hasmicha (ordination ceremony) can be found here.
Monday, March 27, 2006
Last week, he showed me an essay which argued that "omein" was the correct response. He was very excited, and very convinced by the brilliance of the argument.
I wrong-footed him this way:
"Here's what we should do," I said. "Let's get together three gorups of Jews. One will say "omein," the second will say "ken yehi rotzon," and the thrid will say nothing. They are our control group. At the end of a week, or a month, or a year, we'll check in on the groups and see who's doing better."
My friend went back to his book with a sour look on his face.
I've often though that GH and I are men of different temperaments. I like questions. I like it when things don't add up. I like it when something I was taught turns out to be bogus. I like learning more about the world, and seeing how learning fouls up the received wisdom. I get a kick out of that whole process. I think it's fun when things don't shtim. I think that when things don't shtim you're closer to truth, because the human mind has this tendency to pretend things shtim for the sake of peace.
GH, it appears, does not enjoy any of this. Questions and conflicts within Judaism give him agita. So I don't know what he hopes to acheive by insisting on rationalism: once you're a Jewish rationalist peace of mind becomes impossible. Only a fundamentalist has that kind of security, only a fundamentalist can ever say that it all adds up.
If it's peace of mind GH seeks, as he's so often said, he should become a fundamentalist- even if that means being a fundmentalist atheist.
Everything shtims for them, too.
Sunday, March 26, 2006
Those in the Conservative Movement who wish to lighten the restrictions, do not claim, as Yaakov says, that,"...the Holy One, Blessed be He, who created Time, wrote the Torah not knowing that humans could have “monogamous homosexual relationships." In fact, they make no claims about God, at all.
What they say is that an error was made by those who interpreted His commandment. Those who want change do not say God made a mistake; they say that man made a mistake.
Unfortunately, as the story of Eliezer ben Herkanes teaches, a majority of men are entitled to their mistakes, and neither a Bat Kol nor the Conservative Movement's law committee has the power to correct them.
Friday, March 24, 2006
I wrote this one second, but Jameel posted it first. No biggie. What I like best about this particular effort is the line about the monkeys. Also, I was able to recycle a line or two from YitzhakEyzik which is always preferable to dreaming up new material. This post sort of sounds like him, no?
Mr. President Tear Down This Wall
by Coby MANken
Much as I appreciate the great work my blog colleagues have done recently defending Judaism against the grave and serious homosexual threat, not enough is being done to protect us from an equally serious danger: Scientists.
As you know, over the last 100 years science has been hopelessly corrupted by a certain liberal fairy tale known as "evolution." This concept, hatched by Charles Darwin, a pagan and a Democrat, has, with the passage of time, been embraced as gospel by the liberal, intellectual establishment that rules over our colleges and universities.
Little more than a deranged fantasy, "evolution" is not really science, but perverted liberalism gone wild. It teaches that our sainted grandparents were monkeys, the very same monkeys who are so essential to our ongoing quest for the perfect kiwi-raspberry-scented shampoo.
The great error of the scientists is that they seek to explain things that Rabbis don’t understand. Such chutzpa! And all of this nonsense is the work of the Yetzer Hara (or Satan as my very close Christian friends call him.) Via this liberal “science” the Yetzer Hara subverts our respect for Torah and the Sages by dazzling us with fancy theories and and the pro-evolution statements of Rishonim and Achronim.
If America is to stop its moral decline we need to make sure that our public schools offer a fair & balanced approach to explaining how God invented white people in His image. The unconstitutional effort of renegade school boards to introduce Intelligent Design into science classes is a perfect example of the just and needed erosion of the Church/State wall that is so desperately required. Only when the Church/State wall goes the way of the Berlin Wall will America fulfill its destiny and become a truly wonderful place for Orthodox Jewish families.
Thursday, March 23, 2006
Folks, with the NCAA tournament almost done this IranPool might be the best betting action available, so you'll want to get in on it. It's sure to make watching the news more enjoyable.
The Odds (Yes, t's good news all the time at DovBear!)
4:1: Overt Air Strike by the United States or Israel by June 30, 2006.
3:1: Overt Air Strike by the United States or Israel by December 31, 2006.
2:1: Overt Air Strike by the United States or Israel by March 31, 2007.
Who wants in on this?
Rabbi Levi and John of God should go into business together.
Also: Gutless a7 should be ashamed for printing Rabbi Levi's story, and making itself a party to fraud.
Also: "Some guy" writes:
My opinion: If Kabbalists do have the power to miraculously heal, and if they are not out there every day in hospitals healing the dying people, then they are to be despised. Several people in my community have died at the prime of life from cancer, and if these kabbalists have healing powers and are only using them to perform parlor tricks, then they are the foulest of the foul. I would say the same when people bring up the idea that "Chazal knew modern science." If Chazal knew science, and nevertheless allowed millions of people to die from infection, childbirth, bleeding, etc., then they are despicable. Rather, they just didn't know.An excellent point, "some guy!" I wonder if the DassTorahniks understand that their claims make the Sages look like monsters.
[Hat tip Q]
TNR's current lead editorial makes an argument for universal health care that is once moral and pragmatic. It begins by noting that "liberalism has lost both its good name and its sway over politics" since the defeat of President Clinton's plan in 1994, then launchs it's long and ambituous argument for liberalism to reclaim it's lost credibility by going back to the begining.
Money quote (moral argument):
Alone among the most developed nations, the United States allows nearly 16 percent of its population--46 million people--to go without health insurance... Across the United States today, there are diabetics skimping on their insulin, child asthmatics struggling to breathe, and cancer victims dying from undetected tumors. Studies by the Institute of Medicine suggest that thousands of people, maybe even tens of thousands, die prematurely every year because they don't have health insurance... These are not the sorts of hardships that an enlightened society tolerates, particularly when those hardships so frequently visit people who, as the politicians like to say, "work hard and play by the rules.Money quote (pragmatic argument):
So given that disaster our health system has become, what are the arguments for leaving it unchanged?
Such widespread insecurity might be understandable (though not necessarily forgivable) if it were the unavoidable consequence of an otherwise well-functioning health care system. After all, economics teaches us that tradeoffs between efficiency and equity are inevitable. But medical care in this country is inequitable and inefficient. The United States pays more for its health care than any other nation on the planet: 16 percent of our national wealth, at last count. Money spent on health care is money not spent on other things, like corporate investment and wages. That's an exorbitant cost that even Americans with secure health insurance pay.
"Exorbitant," to be sure, is a subjective word: Money spent on well-applied medical technology might be worth it. But, perversely, our extra spending doesn't seem to buy us better medical care. According to virtually every meaningful statistic, from simple measures like infant mortality to more carefully constructed data like "potential years of life lost," Americans are no healthier (and are frequently unhealthier) than the citizens of countries with universal health care. Nor do Americans always get "more" medical care, as is commonly assumed. The citizens of Japan, for example, have more CT scanners and MRI machines than we do. And the French, whose system the World Health Organization recently declared the planet's best, have more hospital beds. They get more doctor visits, too, perhaps because their access to physicians is nearly unfettered--a privilege even most middle-class Americans surrendered with the spread of managed care. In fact, aside from cost, the measure on which the United States most conspicuously stands out from other advanced nations may be public opinion: In a series of polls a few years ago, just 40 percent of us said we were "fairly or very" satisfied with our health care system, fourth worst of the 17 nations surveyed.
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
MUST Gum Addict
Tzvi Fishman has an article on A7 which describes his Life-Changing Encounter with Rabbi Eliahu Leon Levi, a "Kabbalist Elder."
The article is well-written, and full of accounts that defy belief. As Fishman tells it Rabbi Levy is a guru and a wonder-worker able to bend the forces of nature to his will, through piety and saintly behavior. The miracles and amazing wonders Fishman says he wittnessed with his own eyes include:
What I want to know is this:
(1) The trick with the fat woman and the crippled soldier: Those HAD to have been set-ups right?
(2) Is Hoffman part of the scam or a victim of the scam?
(3) If it is a scam (it has to be right?) how did the guru end up aswindler? Was that his plan all along? Or did he fall into it? Is he doing it for money? Power? Or l'shem shamayim (more people return to Judaism whenthey are impressed with his "magic.") And does it matter?
(4) It's ok to call this guy a bunko artist, right? I mean there's no possible way God smiles on these sort of tricks, and no possible way that they work, right? Right?
And any of you think I am being too cynical, should kindly refer to the Rambam
Jdub wonders aloud: I don't equate gays with adulterers or wife beaters from a moral standpoint... Yet would I welcome a gay couple into my Orthodox shul as members?
I presume you are talking about men; women aren't enjoined by Leviticus to keep a safe distance from one another. But why not extend a warm and neighborly hand of greeting to a gay couple?
You have no direct knowledge of what is happening in their bedroom, and you have no obligation to find out. If they are as discreet as most straight couples, why not give them the benefit of the doubt, presume they are platonic roommates, and move on?
Lab Rab writes:
In light of DovBear's excellent post yesterday on the social values of the prophets, I issue him a challenge: To put into practice the education of these prophets into the world, by quoting a relevant passage from each of these neviim related to Democratic social values every day.DB: I can't commit to posting a verse from the Prophets every day, but I have no doubt that LabRab is right: Judaism, however you define it, is neither Republican nor Democrat, but there's no doubt that the values of the prophets -especially the later prophets - align better with progressive politics.
I am confident that he could go at least two months without straining. The only potential hitch would be a paucity of intelligent comments, since the grand yeshiva world ignores the later prophets, whether to prioritize Talmud, or to avoid the politically relevant content.
To kick off the grand Neviim study-fest, I propose that he start with Amos, the brave champion of the poor and oppressed. Why not start right at the beginning? Whereas God will punish Damascus, Gaza, Tyre, Edom, Amon, and Moav for their acts of war on foreign countries, he will punish Israel for one primary sin - oppression:
Thus saith the LORD: For three transgressions of Israel, yea, for four, I will not reverse it: because they sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes; That pant after the dust of the earth on the head of the poor. ... (2:6-7).
Good luck DovBear!
As I wrote yesterday, for the better part of a year, many of us have dedicated a fair amount of our blogging time toward skewering the haredim for their ignorance of science and, to a lesser extent, history and other disciplines. We've taken a special delight in discovering gedolim of past generations who didn't share those blindspots, but ultimately what is the real significance of those discoveries? What have we acheived when he point out that the average Haredi Rabbi has the historical awareness of a small child? What does it matter whether we have a 5800 year old universe or a 58 billion year old universe? In either case, the poor will still be with us.
Here, again, is Amos:
I hate, I despise your yom tovim, and I take no delight from your minyanim. Even though you offer prayers as a rememberance of your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; nor will I accept the prayers that are a rememberance of the peace offerings of fattened animals: I will not look upon them. Remove from me the noise of your tehillim; to the melody of your teffilos I will not listen. Instead, let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.Translation is mine, including the obvious, but not unreasonable modifications.
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
I would guess not, now that he's followed-up his sneering, sarcastic, incoherent post about make-believe underwear ads in the New York Times with a sneering, sarcastic, incoherent post about the make-believe homosexual threat. (This makes at least 5 posts about gay people over the last few weeks from Cross Currents. A wee bit obsessed, are we?)
I'll never understand why the right wastes so much energy worrying about gay people. As I said earlier, if RW OJ could stop worrying about other people's bedroom habits, and instead focus on the social-justice and ethical teachings of the prophets and sages, they could actually make the world a better place.
Ezzie inveighs: And yet, Israel continues to make such gestures, despite their continuing reprecussions (sic) on the people of the State of Israel. The question is: Why?!
The simple answer is: the United States of America.
I am so confused! Did Bill Clinton take back the oval office when no one was looking? Or is Bush no longer "Israel's Best Friend Ever!!!!(TM)"
Poor Ezzie. Like so many other GOP-Jews he's trying to return the president and get a refund. I hope he and his disillusioned friends will pay more attention the next time we tell him something important.
"Gedolim that Time Forgot," a new series running over at my friend GH, is off to a good start, and I look forward to seeing how it develops. I was especially pleased to see that GH included Hasdai Crescas, the Aragonese philosopher who argued in Or Hashem, pace the Rambam, that our free will is quite limited. (Those of you following my ongoing debate with GH about the role of the soul, may understand how Crescas bolsters my position.)
My only problem with "Gedolim that Time Forgot" is that the premise might be too narrow.
As I understand it, GH is attempting to show that current Haredi thinking on science and history is not perfectly in line with the opinions of Jewish thinkers of the past. (Samson Rephael Hirsh's acceptance of evolution is one example)
But what about current Haredi thinking on ethics and social justice? Sure it's a scandal, if Moishe Chaim Pupchik thinks that the 5000-year-old universe is essential to Judaism, but isn't it also a scandal if he thinks Judaism has nothing to say about how we treat each other?
Let me put it this way: what was it about the Slifkin affair that destroyed our confidence in the Haredim? Was it their ignorance of science, or their blind reliance on unscrupulous kanoim? The fact that people who should know better ignored the writings of a few obscure Sages, or the fact that people who should know better treated R' Slifkin like a criminal, and used their power to defame him? Was it ideas, or actions?
Actions, I say, and for this reason I am proposing a companion series: The Prophets that Time Forgot.
Our first inductees:
- Isaiah who (per Makos 24A) told people to focus on just six commandments: (1) Walk in righteousness, (2) speak uprightly, (3) despise undeserved advantages, (4) accept no bribes (5) believe no rumors and (6) tolerate no evil
- Michah, who (ibid) reduced it to three: (1) do justice (2) love kindness, and (3) walk humbly before God.
- Zechariah, who (7:8-10) told us the basic commandments were "truth, social justice, helping the poor and needy, and thinking kindly of one's neighbor."
- Jonah, who reminds us that God's mercy extends to us all -Jews and non-Jews alike - in ways that we can't fathom.
Cross Currents, I am talking to you.
Monday, March 20, 2006
(Rats: This means I need to start using spell check, doesn't it?)
Here is a question none of the president's loud-mouthed supporters seem quite able to answer:
Why is the president, four years after September 11, choosing to ignore a statute (the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (fisa)) that he could so easily have asked the Republican-controlled Congress to change? [Desmond Prince in a letter to TNR]
If fisa is anachronistic, then we need to develop a new set of rules. The fact of the matter is that the administration has instead focused its energies on circumventing existing law, rather than reforming or modifying it. In the immediate aftermath of the Sep 11 attacks, I might have understood why the administration chose this path. But four years have passed. There has been ample time to suggest changes to the law. Instead, Bush appears to embrace the very disturbing view that laws no longer apply to the president and his men.
[Updated December 24, 2006]
Attempting to link Yeshivas Chovevai Torah with the Conservative movement Rabbi Yitzchak Alderstan asks a silly question:
Is Jewish thought a huge intellectual smorgasbord, at which one dines to his or her pleasure?
Of course it is. How else do you explain the wide variety of thought that exists within the parameters of traditional Orthodox Judaism? Lubovitch, Satmar, YU, Mafdal, Chardal (among others) are all legitimately Orthodox, yet all think about the world in different ways.
Why shouldn't an Orthodox Jew be able to pick and choose among them? To do otherwise is to deny reality, to pretend that Judaism is monolithic, when it most certainly is not. Shiv'im Panim laTorah / The Torah has 70 faces and all that.
It's staggering, really, that Alderstan could even ask such a question. It speaks of such a simple view of both men and Judaism. Does he anticipate a Jewish ayatollah will decide between the Kooknicks and Satmar? Must Torah im Derech one day be reconciled with Torah Only? Does he believe, as I have long suspected, that there is but One Right Way in Orthodox Judaism? Such a restrictive view of Orthodox Judaism is wrong, and must be corrected at every opportunity.
But then, perhaps, I should expect nothing less from a blog that continues to confuse pluralism with relatavism. Properly understood, Jewish pluralism embraces not every idea under the sun, but the reality that there are within Judaism, a plurality of legitimate values that men can and do seek. These values don’t align, and sometimes they conflict, but what they have in common is that you can pursue them and still remain an Orthodox Jew.
Please: Someone go tell Yitzchak Alderstan.
*"Mansion," in this quote from Issiah Berlin, is used in the archaic sense of a seperate dwelling within a large house.
I am a religious person, but sometimes religious people really frighten me. Money quote :
Note, Tierny is not just relying on dreams, but on heresay about someone else's dreams. Tell me, how did this kook get the job as U.N. weapons inspector in the first place? Is the entry bar really that low?
Bill Tierney, who served as a U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq in the late '90s, told National Review Online this week that he would look to God to direct him to possible WMD sites. "God is my intel," Tierney told NRO. His belief in the existence of a uranium-enrichment plant near Tarmiyah was supported, he said, by the fact that a friend had seen it in a dream. This facility has not yet been discovered, but Tierney complains that other weapons inspectors didn't take his intel seriously, and he believes history (let's call it the Final Judgement) will vindicate him...
Tierney also said that, as an intelligence analyst for the U.S. military, he had sought God's help in triaging the hundreds of daily threat reports that would come across his desk: "So I'm sitting there going, 'Alright, God, I need help. Thank you for showing me which one of these things is important and which one is not.'"
Renew our days as of old
The New York Times has a piece this morning on the restoration of the Eldridge Street Synagogue on the Lower East Side (above). Eldridge is the first American shul built by immigrants from Eastern Europe, and it was constructed in the Victorian Gothic style with Terra Cotta carvings. Max Smith, now 91, remembers the good old days:
"There was not a seat vacant inside," recalled Mr. Smith, who celebrated his bar mitzvah at the 19th-century synagogue on Sept. 10, 1927, around the time he and his family moved to the Bronx. "And if there were people who couldn't get in, they prayed on the front steps or right here on the street."Frankly, I find the whole thing depressing, and for several reasons. First, I understand the tastes change and styles come and go, but why can't we build shuls like Eldridge anymore? Why are we satisfied only with store fronts and basements? I say "only", because even when the Eldridge shul was in its glory, there were, around the corner, dozens of small storefront congregations on a block known as "Shteibel Row" (East Broadway between Clinton and Montgomery.) Nowadays, though, it seems shtiebels are all that we build. Have Jews become poorer? Do we suddenly lack the funds for magnificent structures? Or have we become cretins who no longer value architectual beauty?
Second, Eldridge's story reminds me of my childhood shul, a big beautiful shul, that served as the centerpiece of our neighborhood. Like Max Smith, I can remember our shul when every seat was taken, when folding chairs were set up along the back aisle to accommodate the crowds. Now both the shul and its members are broken down by old age and hard use. The seats are empty, with the still-observant, still-growing, and still-properous community having forsaken the big shul for the intimacy and convenience of shtibels. Are they impervious to the old and well-proven idea that good architecture, like a good view, or a good piece of music, is good for us? When the Temple is rebuilt, will it be avoided by postmodern Jews who've become comfortable with smaller and less inspiring prayer spaces?
Saturday, March 18, 2006
Friday, March 17, 2006
The page at World Net Daily hawking, "Help! Mom! Hollywood's in My Hamper" the new conservative screed which manages to demonize liberals, while also using Hillary Clinton in the way Catholics once used Satan in their morality plays, features this delicious bit of inadvertant humor:
In this age of celebrity worship, this book is a must for every kid who needs to learn that sometimes celebrities don’t know best. Find out for yourself why Rush Limbaugh proclaimed, “Our hats are off to [the author] Katharine DeBrecht..."Oh. Is Rush Limbaugh no longer a celebrity? Or is he one of the celebrities who do know best?
Coming next from Katharine DeBrecht:
Help Yaakov! There are Monkey's in my Biology Textbook!
Help Chardal! They are Arabs in the Promised Land!
Help GH! There are Miracles in My Pentatuch!
Help Toby! There are Gay Cowboys in my Garage!
Help Zalman! There are supporters of Aaron in my shteeble!
(I'll also point out, at the risk of offending you, that using toys and kiddie books to indoctrinate your children to hate your opponents is a move right out of the Palestenian playbook.)
Thursday, March 16, 2006
Robbie is Right
The man who never tires of reminding us that he's in his twenties and we are not, has a sharp insight about Purim:
"It's just that we're told we wear costumes because just like God's face was hidden during the Purim story, so are ours... let's think about this for a sec:
We want to celebrate that God decided to leave us to fend for ourselves and turn away from us... Seriously, do we really want to emulate an absent God? Oh, and while we're celebrating the fact that we were deserted, let's get so drunk that we can't tell the difference between good things and evil things, because nothing bad ever happens when you're [drunk]"
I don't know how to answer Robbie, except to remind him that we don't wear masks "because God hid his face." Rather, we wear masks because once upon a time the Jews lived among a community of Catholics who celebrated Carnival with masquerades. It looked cool, so the Jews did it, too.
When you think about it, the whole idea of Carnival is pretty twisted. It's a last chance to indulge for Catholics who are about to enter Lent, a solemn season of fasting and repentance. Sort of as if we partied in the street, Purim-style, immediately before Ellul, or the Asres Yemai Teshuva.
Carnival is additionally the source of such excellent and wholesome traditions as the Palio (forced races of near naked Jews through the streets of Rome) and the annual Mardi-Gras beads-for-breasts exchange on the streets of New Orleans. It's a good thing the Rabbis we rely on are so poor at history: If they knew our Purim practices could be traced back to the source of such unseemly rituals, we'd surely be back in suits and ties at Purim-time.
According to Maimonides, the supreme mitzvah of Purim is not (a) drinking, or (b) feasting, or (c) sending gifts to friends, or (d) running around in limousines, dressed like cartoon characters, extorting money for yeshivos, but (e) giving to the poor, 'for there is no greater of more splendid joy than uplifting the hearts of poor people, orphans, widows and strangers. Indeed, to do that is to resemble God.' "
Put that in your pipes and smoke it, GOP-Jews.
"Oh," she'll say to my unsuspecting 5-year old, "You HATE Supersnacks, and the last time you ate an Egozi you got hives. But remember how much you like pomegranate juice? And prune humantachen? You LOVE prune humantachen. Here. Take six. And just to keep things fair, these six chocolate bars are mine."
My wife, and I don't interrupt, of course, because we don't like prune humantachen, either. Let the five-year old have them.
In fact, as it turns out, most of the crap we collected (Oooze, RenReb calls it) isn't meant for human consumption: Sardines? Mangos? Mishpacha brand raisins? Mishpacha brand grape juice? I'm also no fan of most of the candy we get. Sour sticks, for instance, are sour, and sour is BAD. A candy that curls your toes and makes you eyes tear is not a treat. It is a sick joke.
Though most of what we received was quickly squirreled away by my kids, or dumped on my unsuspecting co-workers, I did grab a few items for my private enjoyment. The short list of things I really liked follows:
1 - A bottle of McCallum 18. You, who brought me this fine gift, are my new best friend. I confess to a mite of suspicion about what you might want in return, but we'll worry about that when the bottle is empty.
2 - The bottles of wine. We got about six. Nothing too fancy, or especially expensive, but not bat urine either.
3 - A round of Gouda cheese. It was gone within an hour, and it was fantastic.
4 - Deli roll, packed with a bottle of beer. In that house, obviously, the man is in charge of preparing the baskets. Woman take note: We don't like fancy baked goods. We like meat and beer. Well done, sir!
5 - The chocolate covered cherries. We also like chocolate covered cherries. And Jelly Rings.
6 - All hard candies. I love hard candies, especially the strawberry ones. If you ever find yourself in conversation with a man who might be me, check his pockets for sucking candies. If he's carrying, you might have me.
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
[Note: The comment counter says zero, but like most of the things you see online this is a lie. Click on the zero, and be rewarded.]
Are you a lunatic, or a lazy bones?
A lunatic has her Mishloach Manot theme worked out weeks in advance, and coordinates it with the family costumes. These people are sick in the head. Some of the lunatics running around my neighborhood this year included:
- The Indians The whole family wore headdresses, and Indian outfits. The Mishloach Manot were connected to Thanksgiving and distributed in a plastic pumpkin.
- The Japanese They dressed in kimonos and handed out rice crispy sushi.
- Peter Pan Dad dressed as Peter, Mom was Wendy and the kids were all Lost Boys. Their baskets were shaped like treasure chests and contained chocolate coins, candy necklaces, and goldfish crackers.
- English tea time: A collection of homemade cookies, in a tea cup, brought around by kids who were dressed like butlers.
The problem with being a lunatic (aside from the fact that everyone thinks you are a lunatic) is that being a lunatic takes a hell of a lot of work; also you spend the day in a state of near panic, terrified that you haven't prepared a sufficient number of theme baskets. When you're a lunatic, there's nothing worse than running out of elaborately decorated rice-crispy sushi when unexpected gift bearers are still knocking at your door.
At the other end of the spectrum are the lazy bones. A lazy bones buys a huge assortment of colored bags at Amazing Savings, and fills them with an uncoordinated mass of junk food. One of my local lazy bone put her uncoordinated bags and boxes on her front porch beneath a sign reading "Take One." When a lazy bones runs out of baskets, she makes more by cannibalizing the gifts she's already received. I admire this; and except for the fact that the lunatics will look down their noses at you, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being a lazy bones.
Update: Chana has a solution
Over at Ren Reb a new and exciting meme has been created:
Things I think about during magilla reading (besides Russel Crowe).
And though she hasn't exactly tagged me (Ren Reb looks, but she doesn't touch) I thought I'd play along. So here, in no particular order, are some of the thoughts that danced through my sugar and caffine deprived mind on Monday night.
* Man, I can lain so much better than this dope. How many more notes is he going to miss? Why don't they ever ask me to read the megillah? I bet it's because I say Achash-vey-rosh instead of Achash-vey-roysh. That's it, I just know it. Well, screw them.
* Why didn't they have co-ed parties in ancient Persia? I mean, how pious were these people, that Vashti and the women were kept seperate from Achashveyrosh and the men? And if all that seperation didn't help the ancient court of Persia stay proper and moral, why do 21st century Jews think it's worth doing?
* Hey, it doesn't say anywhere that Vashti was killed. Only that her estate was taken away. I have read the megillah maybe 1000 times. How did I miss that? Suddenly, I feel like an old friend of mine who reached the ripe old age of 30 without realizing that the story of Abraham smashing the idols is nowhere in the Hebrew bible. Or the friend who reacts with shock, horror and disgust whenever he's told that Rashi's understanding of a particular verse is rejected by rabbis of equal stature. It's a little scary how the things we're taught as kids can be so powerful - and misleading.
* Why don't the kids and adults who swarm around the shul looking for handouts on Purim ever say anything when they ask you for your money? They just stick their hand in your face and sort of shake it. You're supposed to guess what they want, and who they are collecting for, I guess. Some of them even do this right in the middle of davening. You can be saying shema, or even shmona esray and some scarecrow will come over and rattle his hand under your nose. My policy is to ignore people who don't speak, and to pummel people who bother me during prayers. I confess I am not as religious as I should be about following this policy, but I plan to work on my shortcoming, so that next year I am ready.
* Esther 4:13-14 is an awsome verse (and I am not just saying that because Ren Reb did, too. ) Aside from all the things RenReb likes about it, I also appreciate the lack of certainty. When Mordichai tells Esther she needs to speak up for her people, he doesn't say,"There are no coincidences! The only reason you became queen is because the Jews need your help!" No. What he says is: "And who knows maybe it's for just this purpose [i.e., to save the Jewish people] that you became queen?" Get that everyone? Mordichai is unsure. And he's not so vulgar as to speak for God, even when his life, and the life of everyone he knows, is on the line.
Nowadays, GOP-Jews would probably chastize Mordichai for his lack of faith, ("What do you mean? Of course Esther became queen for the sake of saving the Jews.") but GOP-Jews would have also probably bowed down to Haman, too. ("Come on! The evengelical idol worshippers are our best friends ever! No one loves Jews like they do!")
Keep the meme alive! What did you think about during megillah reading?
I am tagging...
Ezzie: ("What a bunch of Democrats those liberal, hedonist Persians were, raising taxes and wasting money on luxurious parties. I bet there were lots of movie stars and celebreties at those parties, too.)
Chardal: ("Man, I love Purim, and not just because we get to slaughter our enemies with extreme malice. Really!)
CWY: ("The liberal media sure did a job on Haman. As the Wall Street Journal makes clear, Haman's concern was national security, and only a liberal-weenie-wimp would object to a program that makes your country safer and stronger.")
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
About Matisyahu's voice
As for Matisyahu's vocals: They're adequate. He's got rhythm... and if he sometimes sings off-key, so do most dance-hall artists. But there's no getting around the phony Jamaican accent; when, in "Jerusalem," he sings "In-a de ancient days, we will return with no delay/ Picking up de bounty and de spoils on our way," he sounds no less silly than Vanilla Ice did impersonating a gangsta.
About his act
Matisyahu isn't really a novelty—his is the oldest act in the show-business book. Minstrelsy dates back to the very beginnings of American popular music, and Jews have been particularly zealous and successful practitioners of the art. From Irving Berlin's blackface ragtime numbers to Al Jolson's mammy songs—from jazz clarinetist Mezz Mezzrow, who passed as black, to Bob Dylan, who channeled the cadences of black bluesmen, to the Beastie Boys—successive generations of Jewish musicians have used the blackface mask to negotiate Jewish identity and have made some great art in the process.
On Jewish Reggae
Musically speaking, Jewish reggae is not such a far-fetched idea; as many critics have pointed out, the plaintive minor-key melodies for which Jewish liturgical music (and Hasidic folksongs) are renowned are also staples of reggae. What's more, Matisyahu's appropriation of Jamaican music is really no more brazen than Rastafarians' appropriation of Jewish religious tropes. If a Caribbean islander can plunder Jewish scripture and call himself a lost tribesman of Israel, why can't a Jew sing a song to a one-drop beat in a phony patois? Lubavitcher Hasidim even have their very own Hallie Selassie-like demigod, the late Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who many Lubavitchers regard as Moshiach himself.
About his bonafides:
Matisyahu is like a thousand other white guys from the suburbs who've smoked a lot of dope, listened to some Burning Spear records, and decided to become reggae singers. But as a Hasid, he has a genuinely exotic look—that great big beard and the tzitzit fringes flying—and the spiritual bona fides to pull off songs steeped in Old Testament imagery. It's an ingenious variation on the archetypal Jewish blackface routine... In 2006, Matisyahu wears Old World "Jewface," and in so doing, becomes "black."
W, too, likes to meet with the occasional movie star. Tomorrow night, for instance, he''ll greet porn star Mary Carey at the prestigious United to Victory dinner. This is the second time Carey and W have eaten together. The meeting was arranged by the NRCC (National Republican Congressional Committee) and it includes face time for Carey with Karl Rove. According to the press release, the famous film star plans to "interact" with other members of the Republican leadership.
To my great surprise, the moralists on the right don't seem to mind.
Monday, March 13, 2006
Pop Purim Quiz
Why do we fast today?
1 - To commerate Esther's fast on the 13th of Adar.
2 - To drive home the point that salvation only follows repentance.
3 - Because the Sages say so.
1 - Wrong. Esther fasted for three days in Nissan, not Adar. Though some think we're commerating her three-day fast with our fast today, this is not clear: The Even HaYarchi, for example, believes that all the Jews of Persia fasted on the 13th day of Adar to prepare themselves for the battle which took place the next day. The Even Hayarchi, who did not posess a time machine, bases his belief on Esther 9:19: "And the Jews... congregated on the thirteenth..."Why did they congragte? For fasting, he says.
2 - Wrong. Though this is, perhaps, a good lesson to draw from today's observance, it is very unlikely the Sages sat around the wisdom table plotting out rituals as if they were executives planning a new corporate intiative. It's infinitly more likely that the fast arose, in the same way that costumes and noisemaking arose, with the reasons asigned after the fact.
3 - Correct. We fast today only because the Sages of the Second Temple period ordained it. Though it's fun to work out reasons, we have no way of knowing if any of those reasons were on the minds of the Jews who first fasted, or on the minds of the Sages who ratified the custom after it had become known. I fast because I accept the authority of Chazal in these matters; and if you are fasting today, ultimately, so do you.
Saturday, March 11, 2006
The blog you've grown to hate reached an important milestone last Thursday when no one was looking: 500,000 page views. (1)
Thanks to all of you for reading and commenting, for sending me emails, and also for protecting my back when the blog-battles got ugly.
Thanks, too, to the core chevra (2) the gang of fantatsic commenters who are equal partners in the marginal and heavily-exagerated success of this blog.
I wanted to thank each member of the CC individually, until I realized that would require time + effort; worse, if I tried to do that, I would definately forget someone and catch (deserved) hell for it. Anyway, the members of the CC know who they are, and I hope they also know my appreciation is sincere, not to mention well-deserved: By my informal count, the CC is responsible for, like, 80 percent of the hits, and... I don't know... maybe 90 percent of the posts. The truly awful ones, I admit, were written by me, but edited and greenlighted by GH. In retrospect, I should not have been so trusting. Ah, well. Live and learn.
Anyway, Toot! Toot! (3) and thanks for everything. Really.
(1) I count page views, not unique visitors, because that's the minhag hamakom. When Jewish blogs say hits, they mean page views. I have had, as of this moment, 238,548 unique visitors,
* I started counting in October 2004
*The counter that passed 500,000 last Thursday (on the bottom of the screen) blocks and does not register hits from any of the computers I use. It counts each visit from Ezzie's computer three times which may explain a few things.
(2) In all, I suppose the blog has had three core chevras: (1) The chesed neurayich group which supported me in the begining; (2) the Summer of Love group, a group of true misfits and lunatics who made writing the blog a breeze. When they were around, all I needed to do was put a funny picture, or make a wry observation and they took it from there; and (3) the current crew. I don't have a name for you yet and, unlike the summer of love crew, you make me work for a living, but, honestly, if it weren't for the sad fact that many of you guys are unrepentant, retrograde Republicans I would love you all the same. Thanks for being here.
(3) Yes, Alex, I know many people have been a part of all three groups.
* Is it just me or do you also think its kind of creepy how Gil celebrates each of his blog's milestones by saying, "Thank You Sir, May I Have Another Hundred Thousand?" (Only my respect for Gil keeps me from making the obvious joke. Perhaps someone will do it for me on the thread.)
Friday, March 10, 2006
I know clicking on a link, and entering the word "DovBear" on a comment thread may stretch the technological skills of some of the readers here, but why not do me this one favor? Vote here. And those few of you who prefer other Jewish blogs have no excuse: I am the only one in the contest!
So do it now.
Thanks and im yirtza hashem by you.
Attention Chardal parodist: Yo, you were supposed to be mocking Chardal. Not me. Yeesh. Did Jameel not explain that to you? Anyway, THIS is how you do Chardal
The other day, while on one of my regular forays into Jericho, I saw an Arab standing on the steps of a house he had purchased with his own money acting as if he owned the place. Boy, did that make me mad. Embaresssed as I am to admit it, my yetzer hara got the better of me, and I was not able to smite the uppity raghead. Oh lord of our fathers Avraham, Issac, Jacob and R-V K-K. Please give me the strength to overcome my evil inhibition and give me the strength to fulfil your will the next time I encounter an Arab walking with his feet on the dirt of your most holy land.Note: I have accepted the Chardal parodist's apology.
Attention Chardal: Only kidding, brother! And Happy Purim!
Attention Cross Currents parodist: You. Go. Girl.
Attention Aaron A pluralist is not someone who thinks "there is no one 'way'. That there are many truths, and that nothing is absolute."
Rather, a pluralist says there are a core of human values -let us say 74, or perhaps 122, or 26, but finite, whatever it may be - that I can pursue while maintaining my human semblance, my human character. Not all humans, systems or religions emphasize the same values, but because they are human values I can understand (not "accept," not "respect," but understand) why you may choose to emphasize particular values and not others, and vice versa.
Attention Readers: Thanks for everything.
Thursday, March 09, 2006
Most everything you can find using Google, will agree with Wikpedia which attributes the custom to:
French and German rabbis of the thirteenth century who introduced the custom of writing the name of Haman, the offspring of Amalek, on two smooth stones and of knocking or rubbing them constantly until the name was blotted out. Ultimately, however, the stones fell into disuse, the knocking alone remaining. Some wrote the name of Haman on the soles of their shoes, and at the mention of the name stamped with their feet as a sign of contempt; others used for the same purpose a rattle--called 'gregar' (from Polish grzgarz), and producing much noise--a custom which is still observed by the Russo-Polish Jews.Interesting, but our familiar problem remains. How was the custom established? What brought it into being? Did the French and German rabbis of the thirteenth century meet at an Aguda convention, where they resolved that a new custom was needed? If so, where is the record of their proclamation? Did they vote? Was there debate? Were other ideas considered?
Or were the Rabbis of medieval Europe simply as promiscuous about introducing new customs as our modern Rabbis are about issuing bans?
Our question ("How was this custom brought into being?") becomes stronger when you consider two non-Jewish practices. Of course, neither analogue comes with a signed note asserting that it is the official antecedent of our Purim custom; stiill they are interesting.
In Jewish Festivals A Guide to Their History and Observance, Hayyim Schauss maintains (page 265) that Purim has its roots in an old spring festival marking the change of seasons. At this time of year, ancient people thought themselves vulnerable to the influence of evil spirits and would often made loud noises for the purpose of driving the spirits away. Haman, you will remember, was the name of the Persian underworld demon. Possibly, driving away the demon at springtime was a pagan rite the Jews borrowed.
Another idea, cited by Tzidkuni, suggests the custom has a direct Christian antecdent. He writes that on the first night of Passover, Christian children would go through the streets of Jewish neighborhoods and congregate around the synagogues with noisemakers to eradicate the memory of Judas Iscariot. On that night, the priests would also 'eradicate the memory' of Judas with great noisemakers or by pounding sticks upon wooden boards suspended from the Church steeples.
Is it a coincidance that Jews, Christians and pagans all had a spring noise rite connected to the eradication of a depised charactar? Perhaps. Is there a firm link between the three customs? No. But this blog was not created to promote certainty. This blog was created (in part) to throw sand in the eyes of people who insist that everything Jews do today was known to Moshe and his Sanhedrin (bearing in mind, of course, that Sanhedrin is a Greek loan word, making it unlikely that Moshe had anything of the sort. See? I did it again.)
Looking at cleavage is like looking at the sun. You can't stare at it long, it's too risky. You get a sense of it then you look away!"
Real nice. Also moral.
The generation described in the Megilla was the generation of Jews who chose Persia over Jerusalem. One of the great disapointments of that era was that so few Jews accepted Korech's invitation to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple. Zechariah, the book of prophecy, was written at this time, and its read by many as a scathing rebuke of the Jews who stayed behind. Esther, perhaps, was written from the same perspective but with a subtler touch.
Let's look at the book's most famous verse:
Ish yehudi hoya b'Shushan haBira uShmo Mordichai / A Jewish man was in Shusan the capital and his name was MordichaiConsider this:
* The only other time the phrases ish yehudi appears in Tanach is Zecharya 8:23 where is describes a Jew who had successfuly led all of the nations into the service of the one God.
* The only other times the word bira appears in Tanach it specifically refers to the Temple.
* The name, Mordichai, as you know, is the name of a Babylonian god.
Now that you're aware of the context, do you hear the verse's sting? It's saying, "Instead of being in the Jewish bira where he belongs, your ish yehudi is in a foreign bira, with a foreign name."
Other verses are no gentler. In Esther 1:9-12 we're told:
[Vashti was told to] come to the king... but she did not come as the King comanded and he became very angry.This may refer to the Jewish people who stayed behind in Persia after the God called them to Jerusalem. When the king, in the next set of verses, worries that all women will follow Vashti's example and disobey their husbands, the author is suggesting that nothing can be expected from other nations if even Israel won't obey God.
In Esther 3:8 we're told:
There is a certain nation scattered among the other nations.. and the laws of the King they do not keep, so there is no reason for the King to leave them aloneFrom the perspective of parody, this is a threat. The author is warning the Jews of the disapora that if they ignore God's law, and remain in exile, there is no reason for God to keep them as His people.
Example such as these two I've shared abound in Esther - when you know what to look for they jump off the page - so I'll close with something disimillar.
At the very end of the Megilla, we're told that Mordicha and Esther sent messages to the other Jews instructing them to keep Purim. What was the content of this message? Divrei Sholom v'emet.
These two words point us directly to Zechariah 7:5-14 where we're told that before the devine presence can return to Jerusalem some basic comandments muct be kept, notably:
"Truth, social justice, helping the poor and needy, and thinking kindly of your neighbor."And what are the first words on this laundry list of liberal intitiatives? "Emet uMishpat Sholom"
Later, in Zecharya 8:18-19, the list is rendered into the shorthand of "emet v'Sholom" (which is echoed by Mordichai and Esther in their letter) where we are told that the four fast days will become days of celebration only after the Jews love "emet v'Sholom."
It's almost as if Esther and Mordichai are instituting Purim to serve as a yearly reminder to disapora Jews that the bira in Jerusalem waits for them, still, and can be achieved if Zecharya's reqiuirmeents are met.
* The fact that the book might be a parody tells us nothing about it's accuracy. Though GH, the well-known murderer of baby seals, insists that Esther was written by Zaboomafoo the evolutionist, it is possible that Esther's author chose to describe events that actually occured via parody.
* Even kofers who deny everything should be able to find something to like in this post. Because, even if Esther was written later in the Second Temple period, as scholars suggest, it can still be read as a rebuke --not of Persian Jews, but of the Jews of the Hellenistic Diaspora.
* I don't expect anything that appears above is new to folks who've made a career of studying heresy, but it was new to me. I first heard some of this last year, on the Shabbos after Purim, from a guest scholar who spoke in one of our neighborhood schuls. Later, I found many of the same thoughts here http://www.tanach.org/special/purim.txt. Sources are all courtesy of tanach.org