Friday, June 29, 2007

I'm having a bit of an argument with one of the locals about something sports related.

I'm having a bit of an argument with one of the locals about something sports related.

My friend, who is both ignorant and from L.A. (though I find these two attributes often correlate, I've seen no studies which suggest that one causes the other) insists and swears and tells anyone who will listen that the greatest sports call in the history of the world, if not the universe, is Jack Buck describing gimpy old Kirk Gibson's game winning home run to win Game 1 of the 1990 World Series. [Audio, text]

He is, of course, an idiot.

As anyone with ears will tell you, the greatest call in the history of sports radio belongs to Howie Rose. It is a description of the most famous goal ever scored by a N.Y. Ranger, the goal that ended a viciously fought playoff series against the hated Devils of New Jersey and put the blue shirts into the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals. [Audio, text]

When I hear Buck, I think, ok. Not bad. Not sure why he's doing that weird thing with his voice. But ok.

When I hear Rose screaming in what can only be described as unadulterated joy, I get chills. And unless you're some kind of robot, or a freak from out West, I bet you will, too.

Bilaam: Fun facts to know and tell

Here are two things you can say tonight around the shabbos table to regale your guests and impress your wife, or live in boyfriend as the case may be.

1 - The star of the sedra, Bilaam, is also the star of the the earliest reference in archaeological sources to an individual named in the Torah. A plaster inscription, found in 1967 on the wall of a temple at Deir Alla in Jordan, makes reference to the night vision of a seer called Bilaam son of Beor. It dates to 840-760 BCE.

(And allow me to bring redemption to the world by noting that I heard this from the lips (or fingers) of Mis-nagid, two years ago, back when he was brave enough to blog.)

2 - Bilaam was NOT (not, not, not, NOT) a prophet -- at least according to two of the top three Rishonim. Here is the Ramban's commentary to Num 22:31. The translation is Chaval's (pg 258):"...and God-Forbid that they should stretch forth a hand against a prophet of God." On the same verse the Ramban says: "From this verse we learn the Balaam was not a prophet because had he been a prophet how could it be that he required "opening of the eyes... and indeed scripture calls him a Ballam ben Beor, the soothsayer[Kosaim]"

I know this quote from the Ramban will come as a bit of a surprise to members of the reading audience who were brought up to believe that Rashi is the last, final, and only word on any subject, but the issue of Ballam's prophecy is hotly debated. Arguments against include the one cited above, along with the fact that he was both handicapped and evil. (The Spanish rishonim, almost to a man, believed that both would have disqualified him from prophecy.)

The correct view on the question of Ballam's prophecy, therefore, is this: WE DONT KNOW. Anyone who takes a more certain stance is ignorant or trying to sell you something.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Dag Dumps on ArtScroll - Comments

BTW, I must note, that the other half of the standard Artscroll WW 1 started on Tisha Baav argument is equally absurd. The argument that in reality the Holocaust began on Tisha Baav because WW 2 and the Holocaust were the inevitable outcome of WW 1, is simply ridiculous.

Hitler was not the inevitable outcome of World War 1. Aside from all the leaders who could have stopped Hitler along the way, another charismatic leader could have filled the political void in Germany without a dictatorship or genocidal policies. Hitler made all the right political moves. There is nothing that predestined that as so.

In addition, it can be argued that Germany would have won WW 1, thus negating the supposed humiliation that led directly to WW2, IF the U.S. did not enter the war. Following the Artscroll logic, it could be argued that the day the US involved itself in the war is the mournful day that marked the beginning of the Holocaust.

The problem? That day was the 14th of Nissan. So, I can happily say to my Holocaust started on Tisha Baav enthusiast friends, that the Holocaust really started on Erev Pesach, on the eve of our redemption.

If one seriously argues that the direct cause of WW 2 was WW 1, and therefore our dating for the Holocaust must begin with that cause, why wouldn't we start the dating for WW 1 at the beginning of its causes? Anyone care to date the Holocaust back to the Dual Alliance?

Can we stop trying to put square pegs into round holes?
Dag Homepage 06.28.07 - 5:21 pm #

קול באיש ערווה?!

This might be a DovBear record. Eleven people sent me links to this article about a high-singing Jewish singer whose songs are no longer welcomed on Haredi music stations: He sounds too girly, you see, and the listening audience didn't like it.

Why Rudy might be worse than Hillary

A high quality post at the Noy G Show

A Great Day in History

That's right true believers, today's the day we celebrate the birth of both Mel Allen and Pat Morita. A coincidence? Not likely. (And how dare you even suggest it. A coincidence? In God's perfect world? For shame.)

June 28 (ie: today, meat head) is also the day Archduke Ferdinand of Serbia suffered a head-first collision with a bullet shot from the gun of Gevrilo Princip, setting into motion the chain of events that led to the outbreak of World War I.

If you ever went to a Jewish camp or a kiruv seminar you may have heard that this occurred on the 9th of Ab. If so (brace yourself) you were not told the truth. June 28, 1914 was 4 Tamuz. (Please don't throw down your head-gear and change into jeans on my account. I'm sure everything else you were told at camp or at the kiruv seminar was true.)

A more common lie is that WWI itself broke out on Tisha B'av. This is an especially nefarious lie because it's partially true. Germany did make a formal declaration of war on 9 Av. However, by that point, the war had, in point of fact, already "broken out." I quote from Yuter's authoritative essay on the lies people tell about Tisha Bav:
The first formal declaration of war came on July 28th when Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. Hebcal returns 5 Av. Russia mobilizes against Austria and on July 31 (8 Av), Germany gives Russia an ultimatum to either disarm or face war. Due to Russia's refusal, Germany formally declared war on Russia on Aug 1st. This was in fact 9 Av. The fighting began on Aug 2nd when Germany invaded Luxembourg, and Britain joined in on Aug 4th when Germany invaded Belgium.So the first declaration of war came on June 28th and fighting actually began on Aug 2nd. Neither one of which is 9 Av.
Ah well.

"I'm a very efficient person"

"I'm a very efficient person"

So spaketh my wife this morning, as we parted company for the day. What produced this immodest assertion? Only the following:

What she did before 9:30 am
(1) Put a giant pot of chicken soup on the stove. (I assume she also chopped, diced, shredded and otherwise disassembled the soup ingredients and also inserted them into the pot, but perhaps this was done last night)
(2) Prepared some other savory-scented dish intended for shabbos, likely for us, but perhaps for a convalescing neighbor. (About 15 percent of the time the savory-scented dishes I relish on Thursday morning end up on someone else's table. I've taught myself not to care. But it wasn't easy.)
(3) Dressed the kids who don't dress themselves
(4) Did part one of the camp carpool.
(5) Did a quick grocery shopping, by which I mean she picked up 5 or 6 bags of staples and essentials at the neighborhood market.
(6) Embarked on part two of the camp carpool

What I did before 9:30 am
(1) Dressed, prayed, etc.
(2) Retrieved the newspaper.
(3) Read the sports section
(4) Scanned the headlines
(5) Checked the editorials for blogworthy material
(6) Boiled water
(7) Added powdered coffee to the water
(8) Mixed in some sugar
(9) ...and some milk
(10) Drank it down.
(11) Noticed my wife entering the house with 5 or 6 bags of staples and essentials.
(12) Commented on the productiveness of her morning, producing the quote cited above.

Hmmm. You know, when I itemize my accomplishments like that the list doesn't look too shabby. Not at all. I mean I did twelve things.

Here you go Tzip

Sorry, Marilyn. This link to your excellent blog shold have been provided yesterday.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Peace in Our Time

Submitted by some friend of the blog
None of this is verified

Gaza's out. Hamas is out.

Fatah and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank are in. Big Time, "in"

Israel is releasing hundreds of millions of dollars to the Palestinian Authority, planning on freeing 250 Fatah terrorists, and has started removing roadblocks in the West Bank to ease the inconvenience to the Palestinians.

Despite the IDF's protests of removing the roadblocks and releasing the terrorists, PM Ehud Olmert insists that this is the way to go -- the path of peace. Now is the time for Muhammad Abbas and the PA to prove they really are in favor of peace.

Israel radio and TV announce hour by hour all the important, peace initiatives coming out of Ramallah; "no more armed groups exist, only PA policemen", "the PA has outlawed all terror activity", "one can only carry a weapon with a permit" -- these ostensibly sound very promising. Why would the PA not take advantage of such a great offer now; world recognition as being "moderates", money flowing in from all corners of the globe, and Israel is releasing Fatah terrorists and even considering releasing convicted Fatah terror leader, Marwan Bargoutti.

So whats the problem?

Around 9 PM this evening, an IDF patrol saw a car driving on the road that raised their suspicion. With many roadblocks removed, this car for some reason piqued the curiosity of the IDF patrol. No particular just "felt wrong"

The flagged down the car for it to stop, and the car ignored them.

The IDF jeep decided to pursue the suspicious car and a high speed chase ensued.

The car stopped at the entrance to an Arab village, 4 men got out and ran for cover in the village.

The IDF soldiers ran to the car and to their surprise, found a loaded M16 and handgun, ready to be used.

So basically, due the the whim of these soldiers, or a miracle if you so wish, a terror attack against Israelis was prevented on a main road this evening in the West Bank.

The IDF is now going house to house in this village looking for these terrorists, and I can hear occasional gunfire from over the hill.

So what's the bottom line?

Even with everything; money, glory, world opinion, and a get-out-of-jail-free pass...the PA and Fatah aren't really interested in anything.

Except for killing us.

Thank G-d for tonight's miracle. I'm not sure we even deserve it.

Not for you Ed

In Defense of Witchcraft

Happy Birthday Mr. President

Tziporah (image right) is the winner of yesterday's contest, and the proud recipient of 250 DovBear Achievement Points for the spirited and heartfelt birthday message she composed to honor the boy king's birthday. Text follows. Click here for audio

Congratulations Tzippy!
Ah, "President" Dubya, how you've changed and grown over the last decade. Why, it was only a few years ago, and the tender age of 53, that you realized the past is gone ("I think we agree, the past is over." May 10, 2000). So you set out to do something with your life ("If you don't stand for anything, you don't stand for anything." Nov. 2, 2000).

You framed your new mission as anti-death, pro-unity ("My pro-life position is I believe there's life." Jan. 23, 2001; "Our nation must come together to unite." Jun. 4, 2001).

But then disaster struck ("9/11. 9/11. 9/11. 9/11. 9/11. 9/11. 9/11. 9/11. 9/11. 9/11. 9/11. 9/11. 9/11. 9/11. 9/11. 9/11. 9/11. 9/11. 9/11. 9/11. 9/11. 9/11. 9/11. 9/11. 9/11. 9/11. 9/11.").

And you saw a higher calling ("My administration has a job to do... We will rid the world of evildoers." Sep. 16, 2001).

First, you sought to reassure us ("Nobody can threaten this country. Oh, they may be able to bomb a buildings..." Sep. 20, 2001). Then you explained how we were different from our enemies ("We do know that [Bin Laden] has no sense of civility about who he kills." Dec. 4, 2001; "He's so evil that he's willing to send young men to commit suicide while he hides in caves." Dec. 11, 2001).

Yet even in the midst of this crisis, you took the time to ponder serious philosophical questions ("There's nothing more deep than recognizing Israel's right to exist. That's the most deep thought of all.... I can't think of anything more deep than that right." Mar. 13, 2002). By the age of 55, you had reached enlightenment.

But the very next year, at age 56, you made discoveries that even Keynes and Smith hadn't stated so clearly ("Owning something is freedom, as far as I'm concerned." Oct. 15, 2002).

By the time you reached 57 years of age, you were growing in wisdom, gaining caution ("I think war is a dangerous place." May 7, 2003).

Two years later, having rid yourself of the past, and wearied of the present, you were looking ahead, to the future ("By making the right choices, we can make the right choice for our future." Jul. 18, 2003). Your gaze turned inward ("Self-government relies, in the end, on the governing of the self." Jan. 20, 2005), and at age 60, you started reminiscing about your youth ("You know, a lot of us grew up thinking that oceans would protect us." Jan. 23, 2006).

One can only boggle at the journeys and decisions you have made so far.

Who can know what lies ahead, as you begin your 62nd year? We can only wait and see if your newest predictions will come true ("Bush goes to Hel. That's what a lot of people want." Jun. 8, 2007).

More Krum Quality

Another something good from Krum of Bulgaria

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Terrible Times

I see (thanks to Eliyahu) that the New York Times is up to its old tricks again. Writing about Jews as if they were people deserving of respect. I mean how low with the paper of record go in their quest to make us look decent?

The Road Back to Damascus
Published: June 24, 2007 NY Times

Utterly different again, and equally haunting, was the reconstructed ancient Jewish synagogue in the National Museum, an evocative time capsule of relics from forgotten Bronze Age cities, vanished Roman outposts and other Ozymandian monuments pulled from Syria's sands.

Found at the city-state of Dora Europos, a trade center decimated by the Persians in the third century, the towering stone walls of the synagogue glowed with painted panels of temple priests, strange animals, sad-eyed women, scrolls, menorahs, winged angels, horse dancers and serene-faced desert wanderers.
"It's astonishing to find a synagogue that has paintings," said Michel al-Maqdissi, the museum's director of archeological excavations, speaking in French. A small radio filled his office with an opera aria. "The Jewish religion forbids painted representation, just like in Islam. It accepts decorative elements, but not the human form. That's why it's such a unique piece."

Today's Pet Peeve

Why do the employees of Jewish owned companies guard their names the way a seminary girl protects her modesty? Seriously, what's the state secret? Here's a typical exchange:

At a Non Jewish company:
Receptionist: Thank you for calling DovBear Enterprises, my name is Wanda, how can I help you?
DovBear: Hi! This is DovBear! Can I speak to someone in Accounts Payable?
Wanda: Sure!
(on hold message touting the company, and its special offers)
Accounts Payable: Hello! My name is Mike! Can I get your name please

At a Jewish company:
Receptionist: Huh-lllo?
DovBear: Yes, is this DovBear Enterprises?
Rec: (tentatively) yeeees.
DovBear: My name is DovBear. Who's this please?
Rec: ...just a secretary (in a slight sing-song)
DB: Um... Ok. Can I speak to someone in Accounts Payable?
Rec: (grunt)
(intolerable Jewish hold music)
Accounts Payable: Huh-llloooo?

I'm sure there's something cultural behind this phenomenon, but what could it be?

Ok, it's not like he set a formal and official date.

May 18: Tank Johnson: "I want to be the... Man of the Year in the NFL"

June 20: Detained by the police for speeding and drunk-driving

Released by the Bears

Monday, June 25, 2007

Silly emails

Dear DovBear:
You really make me laugh. Your comments on the "Idiot President" drives me crazy. All of you Liberal phonies partake of all the blessings of this country, sleep in your warm safe beds at night, while our President is protecting your sorry, lazy ass. We have not had one attack since 9/11, I wonder why....Thank God, he is man enough to blow all of you losers off, and keep on doing what is right for this country. Isn't it strange that the new president of France said, he will be a supporter of Bush, also isn't it strange that Blair from Great Britain is going to work for Bush and the UN. Also isn't it strange that the chancellor of Germany loves and respects Bush. You and your sorry cronies remind me of the Liberal creeps that actually helped bring down Rome. You know, you guys can't even make on Liberal Radio, those programs last two weeks, ( you wouldn't know who I am talking about, would you?) Every time I read your stupid blogs, I want to throw up.

My reply:
Uh huh. Its just the liberals who dislike Bush. Only the liberals. I suppose that's why the president's approval ratings are under thirty percent.

And if I recall we didn't have an attack on the scale of 9/11 BEFORE 9/11 either, suggesting the a non-idiot president, one who respects the constitution and governs for the many and not the few, could do an equally good job of protecting us.

I feel bad for you, with your unconcealed need for a big-daddy protector. The whole country has rejected George Bush. No one is running on his coat-tails (Republican presidential candidates avoid mentioning his name on the stump and in debates.) But here you are keeping the flame alive. Doesn't it get lonely?

PS: Liberal radio flamed out because liberals have no taste for propaganda. Talk radio is about endlessly repeating ideas and phrases with almost no regard for the truth. That's not how liberals play (It is, however, how the liberals blogs play, (much to the disdain of mainstream liberals) and thank god: Finally a counterbalance to the conservative noise machine. Finaly someone to pull the center to left as euqally hard as the loonies of talk radio have been pulling it right.)

On the Book of the Wars of the Lord

What is the Book of the Wars of the Lord? We find it mentioned toward the end of Parshas Chukas, along with an excerpt, but what was it? What happened to it? And why did God to choose to quote from it as part of his divine dictation to Moshe?


1 - What was it? One of several non-canonical bible book, generally judged to be a lost work. Some scholars believe it was a work of military history; others say it was a collection of poetry and verse.

2 - What happened to it? It was lost. This is why it's judged to be a "lost work", see? I'm not aware of a reliable theory that explains why it was lost, though Robert Alter speculates that the book was not preserved because was too mythological. Later authorities, he says, were uncomfortable with a book that represented God as a warrior, in direct combat with Israel's enemies, rather than working through the agency of Israel. I'm not entirely sure why Alter feels comfortable with such a speculation given that just a tiny snippet from the book is extant, but there it is.

3- Why did God to choose to quote from it as part of his divine dictation to Moshe? This is a puzzle. Here's the exact quote from Num 21:
[Some stuff about camping and traveling and more camping and traveling]Therefore is it said in the Book of the Wars of the Lord "Against Waheb in a whirwind and the wadis of Arnon, and the cascades of the wadis that turns down toward Ar's dwelling and clings to Moab's border."
Cryptic no? If there was something God needed to say here, why didn't he put it in His own words? Why did He instead take something so muddled from someone else's book?


I never grow tired of reminding people that nose rings once were all the rage among Jewish women. Abraham's servant made a gift of one to Mother Rivka at the well and, today. Ymedad points to an old and reliable Jewish source which seems to take it for granted that our women wore nose jewelry.

When this topic comes up around my house (And it does. All the time.) Mrs. DovBear asks: "Would you object if one of the Bear daughters were to come home with her nose pierced?" and before I can reply she always adds, "because I would."

It's a tough spot for a guy like me to find himself in.

On the one hand, I recognize jewelry fashions are subjective and change with the time and place.
On the other hand, I think nose rings are gross
On yet a third hand (I was raised near Three Mile Island) if it was good enough for Mother Rivka, shouldn't it be good enough for our daughters?

Friday, June 22, 2007

Reality has a well-known liberal bias

A conservative's answer to Wikipedia - Los Angeles Times

The article cited above should give you a taste of exactly how deluded and dangerous some conservatives are. It describes a new conservative website - Conservapedia - which bills itself as an "encyclopedia you can trust" contra the slanted, liberal infected Wikipedia.

Don't get me wrong. Wikipedia has its problems. But because of how the site is built "bias" shouldn't be one of them. After all, any reader can edit and update most any page. See a "fact" you don't like? Change it. Rewrite the page. Add new information. And if your corrections are valid and good they will be accepted. The whole point of Wikipedia is to start a discussion, based on the noble and liberal idea that vigorous and robust conversation between people of different backgrounds and persuasions will produce the truth - or whatever semblance of it finite humans can achieve.

This isn't how it works at Conservapedia, where irony is slowly slitting its wrists. According to the LAT, readers who attempt to introduce pesky facts and inconvenient truths to Conservapedia have had their accounts canceled. Why isn't the conservative encyclopedia interested in discussion? Why don't they trust the truth to prevail in the marketplace of ideas?

Coservapedia's Orwellian mission statement provides a clue: "We have certain principles that we adhere to, and we are up-front about them. Beyond that we welcome the facts."

Adhering to principles is fine, I suppose, but when you put principles ahead of facts you turn your back on the truth. By shutting off debate and refusing to examine received wisdom (both practices common at conservative websites like Cross Currents) Conservapedia demonstrates cowardice and gives bad information an undeserved imprimatur.

How Low Can Bush Go?

Not much lower

Good thing, though, he can still count on the support of unreflective and unapologetic partisan J-blogger. (All those words were previously linked to bloggers I hate.)

Thursday, June 21, 2007

No, I've never seen better

En*DEE CHA*vez / En*DEE CHA*vez

Stadium Shtick

At Shea, the fans all sing Sweet Caroline. At Yankee Stadium the grounds crew dances to YMCA. What do they do in your neck of the woods?

Update: An alert reader tells me that Milwaukee Brewer fans are insane.
Another alert reader reminds me the Braves fans are viscious racists.

Filling in the blanks

DovBear: "This makes him mad, madder, unfortunately, then a host of other things that aren't ever covered in his speeches"


- The Tamuz War
- Katrina
- The Bronfman/Singer thing
- The Slifkin controversy
- The Internet
- Kolko
- My blog
- The big Tsunami
- Theodicy
- Evolution
- Global Warming
- The criminal incompetance of George W. Bush

Today's story you won't see on Yeshva World

Remember this?

Now on news stands. (Get your torch and pitchfork ready, Ed)

Tzinus Stupidity

Well, as anticipated, a Major and Important lecture on Women and Modesty has been announced in my neighborhood. The Rabbi (he's a pal) is riled up because he heard from his wife that some of the women in attendance last Shabbos behind the three-foot thick mechitzah were dressed "inappropriately." This makes him mad, madder, unfortunately, then a host of other things that aren't even covered in his speeches

I've tried to calm the Rabbi down, (he's really a pal) but to no avail. He won't be deterred. This is "war" and our wives are Cordially Invited and Strongly Encouraged to attend the crusade.


I speak to some of the wives - I even refer to some of them by their first names - (both practices are sure to be criticized at the lecture) and they ones I know are groaning audibly.

A sample of their protests:

-- "The people who need to hear it won't be there!"

-- "The people who need to hear it have been hearing about it since 9th grade. Why in the world does anyone expect them to listen now?"

-- "How come the Rabbi never talks to us about Torah? Or Hashkofa? Or Halacha? Does he think we're idiots?"

-- "Its absolutely condescending and insulting that the one and only time this Rabbi prepares a lecture for us, its a laundry list of all the things we can't do. Does he even recognize us as people?"

-- "99 percent of what he tells us to do is MINHAG that doesn't apply to our MAKOM"

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Boruch She Kevanti!

Comment: Rav Herschel Shachter routinely gave mussar about financial issues/taxes in shiur (certainly more often than he spoke about tznius issues). In addition, I heard a tape in which RHS was speaking to the YU Rabbinic Alumni in which he strongly suggested that each Rabbi should speak about the obligation to pay taxes in a drasah every year before April 15.

Over to you Ed.

[Anticipated sputterings from Ed and his team: "The governement only wastes our money caring for Brown People. Better I should use it for herring and kugel and other things that bring me closer to God.]

Michael's bogus nostalgia

A common fallacy, most often expressed by the sloppy thinkers of the right, is that everything was better in the good old days. They choose not to remember inconveniences like child labor, rampant prostitution, epidemics and sewage-filled rivers. Instead they dwell on the glorious Values our ancestors were said to posses -- never once stopping to wonder why those glorious Values did so little to prevent the wars, poverty and plagues that made life in the good old days such a screaming misery

A new example of the fallacy appears this week on a blog written by movie-critic Michael Medved (known to his friends as "Toby's Idea Guy.")

In short, Mikey holds up ancient Rome as an example (by way of his son's ninth grade textbook) and professes that we might learn much from the toga-wearing vomitorium visitors. The relevant passage:
[From the textbook]The stern virtues prized by Roman family life were a source of strength in the early republic. In later years, when increasing power and wealth began to undermine family life, some people were unhappy about the passing of the old order. ‘Rome stands built upon the ancient ways of life,’ warned a poet of the 3rd century B.C. who felt the need for a return to the strong family values of the past.”

The passages I read in my son’s history textbook bear obvious relevance to our current situation where “increasing power and wealth” have also begun to “undermine family life.” The story also reminds us that we’re not the first generation in Western history to seek a return and revival of timeless values – and there’s reason to hope that we’ll find more success in restoring those virtues than our long-ago Roman counterparts.
First, if "power and wealth" are the problem, what exactly is the timeless value Michael wishes to see us restore? Poverty? Weakness? Dependency?

Second, who is better situated than a powerful rich man to spend time with his family, and to give his kids everything they need? The poor guy working a double shift at McDonald's isn't likely to attend many Little League games.

Third, have we forgotten the Roman state was pagan? They worshipped air and smoke, and murdered animals to satisfy the imagined whims of invented deities like Jupiter and Neptune. When Michael's Roman heroes were looking backwards, seeking to revive "timeless values" what they really wanted was greater fidelity to their cults. Those were the virtues they sought to restore, virtues entirely different from our own. This alone ought to remind men like Michael that not everything old is worthy of our respect and emulation.

Shapiro on Censorship

One of my many British correspondents was in attendance at a public lecture given by kofer extraordinaire Marc Shapiro. [Note: He's not really a kofer. And if he is, I don't care. I'm just anticipating the mindless objections Ed and his team will spout after they hear what he passed around.]

The lecture was about censorship and orthodoxy. Shapiro, my British friend says, has compiled many breath taking examples of censorship undertaken to preserve modern sensibilities. Among the highlights distributed at the lecture (all information below is second hand)

-- Picture of the Lubavitcher Rebbe without a kippa (from his University days). Shapiro also told a great story, which he said may not be true but is widely circulated of R Kotler being asked whetehr it was true
that the Lubavitcher Rebbe sat in lectures with a Sefer. RAK's answer was "do you think he would be learning with an uncovered head"!

-- Pictures of Rabbi Moses Chefez, with no kippah and no beard and wearing canonicals. Accorduing to Shapiro this was the Italian practice

-- Peirush on Moreh Nevuchim (one of the standard peirushim (Epudei - aleph peh vav dalet yud)) explaining the Rambam as believing Sefer Yonah and the Akedah to be "Maareh o Halom")

-- Part of RSRH 19 letters with a major attack on the Rambam

-- Original frontispeice of the Levush with topless women engraving

-- Massive praise for Tolstoy Shlita from R Zvi Yehuda Kook

The king of the GOP Jews has defected!

Bloomberg jumps ship, turns back on Republican party.

Lets hope this brave announcement paves the way for RINOs like Rudy Giuliani, and GOP Jews who identify as Republicans only because they are under the misapprehension that it's macho to stand with NASCAR dads and moral to sit with Jesus-freaks.

[Secret hope: Bloomberg makes an independent run in '08 and does for the Republicans what Nader did to the Democrats in 2000. I don't think he can peel off any of the fundie nitwits, however. His NYC style won't play in the heartland where they prefer fake cowboys, with bad drawls, who ramble endlessly about their own integrity.]

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Ask Shifra - Post a Comment (Onomatopoeia preferred)

Over at Shiffy's house of queries and questions all the cool kids are making animal noises. Don't ask me why. Just happened.




The new covenant

The fabulously spiritual and unspeakably holy religious leaders in Rome have brought forth a new Decalogue

My annual lament

"There is within a person a desire and a longing for theft and illicit relations." --Chagigah 11b

"The punishment for dishonest weights and measures is more severe than that for illicit relations." --Bava Bathra 88b

Over at the blog about the dirty thoughts Gil has posted a summary of some Rabbi's annual tznius screed. Now that the weather is warmer, they've begun in my neighborhood, too. And, as in the past, I'm annoyed at the misplaced priorities.

Why, for instance, don't these same rabbis introduce tax season with a screed about fraud? Why aren't we ever treated to long lectures about business ethics? I've studied the Prophets. I've even read the Mesilas Yesharim. Both go on for pages and pages about ethics and honesty. Both are overwhelmingly concerned with how we treat each other. Both make it clear that the very worst thing a Jew can do is STEAL. Both make it very clear that God demands HONESTY above all else.

So why does every shul Rabbi in America busy himself with modesty? Why is that the number one issue? Why do the pashkevils that deface every alley and every shul wall complain about the way women dress? Why aren't they shouting about the business behavior of their husbands?

In fact, the Mesilas Yesharim concerns itself mightily with the rules of good business listing one requirement after another, requirements that likely seem to us like stringencies but in fact are not:

1 - R. Yehudah forbade a storekeeper to distribute roasted grain and nuts to children to accustom them to come to him; the other Sages permitted it only because his competitor could do the same (Bava Metzia 60a).

2 - Our Sages also exempted hired workers from the blessing over bread and from the latter blessings of Grace. And even in the case of the Shema they required them to leave off working only for the recitation of the first section (Berachoth 16b).

3- Abba Chilkiyah did not even return the greeting of Scholars so that he would not interrupt the work he was doing for his neighbor (Ta'anith 23b).

4 - Along the same lines our Sages of blessed memory have said (Bava Kamma 94a), "One who steals a measure of wheat, grinds it, bakes it and pronounces a blessing over it, is not blessing, but abusing, as it is written (Psalms 10:3), `And the thief who blesses, abuses God.' "

5 - Our Sages of blessed memory have said (Chullin 94a) that it is forbidden also to fool a non-Jew. It is written (Zephaniah 3:13), "The remnant of Israel will not do iniquity and they will not speak falsehood, and a deceiving tongue will not be found in their mouths."

6 - Our Sages have said (Bava Metzia 60a), "It is forbidden to paint old vessels to give them the appearance of new ones. It is forbidden to mix the fruits of one field with those of another, though the latter be just as fresh as the first, and though they be worth a dinar and a tresis per measure, and the combination be sold for only a dinar per measure." "All who do these, all doers of wrong" (Deuteronomy 25:16). Five designations have been applied to them: "wrong," "hateful," "abominable," "despised," "detested." (Sijra 19.35).

7 - Our Sages of blessed memory have further stated (Bava Kamma 119a), "If one steals even the worth of a prutah from his neighbor, it is as if he takes his soul from him." This statement
reveals to us the severity of this sin even where a trifling amount is involved.

8 - And they said again (Ta'anith 7b), "The rains are held back only
[emphasis added] because of the sin of theft," and again, (Vayikra Rabbah 33.3), "in a basketful of sins, which is the most incriminating?- theft." [emphasis added] The doom of the generation of the flood was sealed only because of the sin of theft (Sanhedrin 108a).

And though this final point isn't found in the Mesilas Yesharim I make is anyway in light of the 200+ comment argument still raging below. Every God-fearing Jew seems to hate gays. Men like RYL make a point of it, and rely on a biblical verse for justification. What men like RYL seem not to notice is this: The word in the verse about gays, also appears in the verse about business fraud. Anal sex is a toayvah. Cheating at business is a toayvah. Therefore, if you rage about homosexuality without also raging about thievery -in all its forms- you are at best both a bigot and a hypocrite.

Snow Job

Received from Eliyahu, a fine friend of the blog:

We know that this is a White House that lies more often than Rush Limbaugh bribes his local pharmacist, but it's good to see it spelled out so clearly.

[John Stewart did so last week.] Take a look. It's a thing of beauty.
~Bob Geiger

Monday, June 18, 2007

A poll at RYH

I think that the optimum age for boys to begin learning gemorah would be...

-before 5th grade
-5th grade
-6th grade
-7th grade
-later than 7th grade

Vote here

Quality Post

Received by email:

Hi. I posted the following a followup to your post about tzitzit as 613. You may find it interesting.All the best...



This is a little like when Liberals tried to build a talk-radio empire.

Lists (3)

Top Five Books of Moses.

1 - Berayshis Best stories. Best characters. Best writing, especially the perfectly constructed first creation story. Bonus: The repeating motifs, and the network of cross references and allusions

2 - Shmos: Contains two of the best moments in the series (Red Sea and Sinai) but the narrative loses its way after Moses ascends the mountain for the second time. Suddenly, the fabulous stories and crisp writing inexplicably give way to a rather long and unfortunately tedious description of the Tabernacle.

3 - Devarim: Thousands of years later Moshe's valedictory still chills, inspires and lifts us up.

4 - Bamidbar: Some fine stories, but too much legal business.

5 - Vayikra: David Plotz puts it best: "...they mentioned "Leviticus" in the same hushed, terrified way that mariners mutter "Bermuda Triangle," or Hollywood executives whisper "Ishtar." Leviticus, I was warned, makes even learned rabbis weep with boredom, turns promising young Talmudic scholars into babbling US Weekly subscribers." An exaggeration of course - Leviticus has its moments (including "The Most Glorious Chapter in the Bible") but there's a reason why the smallest children traditionally start with this book.

Lists (2)

Top Six Harry Potter Books

1 - Prisoner of Azkaban: A grown-up book with engaging subplots, superb character development, and the best moment in the series: When Harry draws on the inspiration of his father to save Sirius by conjuring the patronus. JK at her best.

2 - Order of the Pheonix: Epic in scale. We're given new and interesting charectars, and shown facinating corners of the Wizarding World. This is also the book that intorduces the Prophecy and finally explains Voldermort's obsessions with Harry. Would be the best of the series, were it not for the rediculous, derivative denouement at the Ministry of Magic. Bonus: Contains the series best metaphor: The "Disillusionment Charm" applied to Harry just as he begins to see that the world is a complex, multi-varied place, containing many shades of good and evil.

3 - Chamber of Secrets and Goblet of Fire (tie)
Both are interesting books, that add little to the series. CS fails because the writing is boring (how many times does a character smile like "Christmas come early?" I lost count.) GF fails because it contains a plot hole large enough to fit the sun and all the planets. More

5 - Sorcerer's Stone A nice enough book, in which JK is still writing for small children.

6 - Half Blood Prince: Pure slop. The foreshadowing in the first chapter amounts to nothing. We see nothing new about the Wizarding World, or any of the characters we've grown to care about, save the archvillian who is given a drab, unoriginal back-story. Plus the Kung Fu ending makes the disaster at the end of Phenox seem almost enjoyable. More

Lists (1)

Top Four Biblical Cruxes

1 - The Sale of Joseph: Who took him out of the pit? Who brought him down to Egypt? Midianites or Ishmalites? Maddeningly unclear.

2 - The Flood: Did the water come from the sky or the depths of the earth? Were the animals taken seven by seven or two by two? At the finish, was a raven sent or a dove? And more.

3 - The creation of the world: Was man the first thing God made, or the last? Did He create man and women together, or was Eve built from her husbands rib? And more.

4 - Korah's rebellion: Discussed last week

Note: Every last issue raised above is discussed by the great exegetes, the Midrah, and in some cases, the Talmud, too. I know. The inescapable question though is this: Why did God write the Torah in a manner that called out for explanation? Why are the stories given to us in a style and a format that suggests competing or complimentary tales were woven together?

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Korach Crux

I have a few words to say about the famous crux that appears at the beginning of this week's sedra, but first let's look at the story inside [emphasis added]:

1 Korah son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and certain Reubenites—Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth—became insolent 2 and rose up against Moses. With them were 250 Israelite men, community leaders who had been appointed members of the council. 3 They assembled to oppose Moses and Aaron and said to them, "You have too much! The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the LORD is in their midst. Why then do you set yourselves above the LORD's assembly?" 4 When Moses heard this, he fell facedown. 5 Then he said to Korah and all his followers: "In the morning the LORD will show who belongs to him and who is holy, and he will have that person come near him. The man he chooses he will cause to come near him. 6 You, Korah, and all your followers are to do this: Take censers 7 and tomorrow put fire and incense in them before the LORD. The man the LORD chooses will be the one who is holy. You Levites have gone too far!" 8 Moses also said to Korah, "Now listen, you Levites! 9 Isn't it enough for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the rest of the Israelite community and brought you near himself to do the work at the LORD's tabernacle and to stand before the community and minister to them? 10 He has brought you and all your fellow Levites near himself, but now you are trying to get the priesthood too. 11 It is against the LORD that you and all your followers have banded together. Who is Aaron that you should grumble against him?"

12 Then Moses summoned Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab and they said, "We will not come! 13 Isn't it enough that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey to kill us in the desert? And now you also want to lord it over us? 14 Moreover, you haven't brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey or given us an inheritance of fields and vineyards. Will you gouge out the eyes of these men? No, we will not come!" 15 Then Moses became very angry and said to the LORD, "Do not accept their offering(1). I have not taken so much as a donkey from them, nor have I wronged any of them."

16 Moses said to Korah, "You and all your followers are to appear before the LORD tomorrow—you and they and Aaron. 17 Each man is to take his censer and put incense in it—250 censers in all—and present it before the LORD. You and Aaron are to present your censers also." 18 So each man took his censer, put fire and incense in it, and stood with Moses and Aaron at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. 19 When Korah had gathered all his followers in opposition to them at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting, the glory of the LORD appeared to the entire assembly.

20 The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, 21 "Separate yourselves from this assembly so I can put an end to them at once." 22 But Moses and Aaron fell facedown and cried out, "O God, God of the spirits of all mankind, will you be angry with the entire assembly when only one man sins?" 23 Then the LORD said to Moses, 24 "Say to the assembly, 'Move away from the tents of Korah, Dathan and Abiram.' " 25 Moses got up and went to Dathan and Abiram, and the elders of Israel followed him. 26 He warned the assembly, "Move back from the tents of these wicked men! Do not touch anything belonging to them, or you will be swept away because of all their sins." 27 So they moved away from the tents of Korah, Dathan and Abiram. Dathan and Abiram had come out and were standing with their wives, children and little ones at the entrances to their tents.

28 Then Moses said, "This is how you will know that the LORD has sent me to do all these things and that it was not my idea: 29 If these men die a natural death and experience only what usually happens to men, then the LORD has not sent me. 30 But if the LORD brings about something totally new, and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them, with everything that belongs to them, and they go down alive into the grave, then you will know that these men have treated the LORD with contempt." 31 As soon as he finished saying all this, the ground under them split apart 32 and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them, with their households and all Korah's men and all their possessions. 33 They went down alive into the grave, with everything they owned; the earth closed over them, and they perished and were gone from the community. 34 At their cries, all the Israelites around them fled, shouting, "The earth is going to swallow us too!"

35 And fire came out from the LORD and consumed the 250 men who were offering the incense.

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMERS: I am not about to make any statements about who wrote the Torah. I accept and believe that God wrote the Torah and dictated it to Moshe. In the discussion that follows I make observations only about HOW God wrote the Torah, and leave to the reader to draw his own conclusions.


Observations (none of these originated with me):
1 - From the way it has been written it seems that two rebellions have been combined. Korah and the Levites want additional priestly privileges (every one is holy, they said, not just Moshe) while the Rubenites, descendants of the first born, want political power ("We will not go up," is how they answered Moshe's summon, and fittingly Aaron is not mentioned in this section. The complaints of the Rubenites (above in blue) are directed against Moshe alone. The complaints of the Levites (above in green) are directed at both brothers.

2 - There are two different places of confrontation - for Korah and the Levites, there is a fire pan trial in front of the tent of assembly; and for Dathan and Aviram and their people it is the entrance of their tents.

3 - There are two different modes of destruction. The Levites are consumed by fire, while the Rubenites are swallowed up by the earth.

4 - Korah's name appears to have been spliced into the Rubenite episode (the green words mixed in with the blue sentences) His men are mentioned, though presumably they were at the Tent of Assembly with their fire pans, and he is mentioned though he has been told to stand at the tent of Assembly, and not in front of his own tent. Notably in verse 27 he is dropped from the scene in front of the tents. An additional attempt to harmonize the two stories appears above in the blue episode (note 1) when Moshe refers to an "offering," though Datan and Aviram have mentioned none.

I am fully prepared to say that what I perhaps indelicately call "harmonizing and splicing "was done by God. I am happy to agree that is was He and not some later redactor who wove the two stories together. The question though is why did He choose to tell the story this way?

[Note: As said, none of these observations are new, and Rashi spotted almost all of them. His first comment of the week tells us that all of this is "beautifully" resolved by the midrash, and this is true, only neither Rashi not the midrash indicate in any detail what it is exactly that they are addressing.]

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Krum as a Bagel: May They Should Have Called It “You Stink!” (and a new meme)

Krum as a Bagel: May They Should Have Called It “You Stink!” (and a new meme)

Conservative con men corrupt campus!

Jonathan Chait argues convincingly that the conservative impulse to unreflectivly shrink government is what caused the student loan scandal. His point, briefly stated: The government offered colleges a choice between cheaper direct loans and more expensive guaranteed loans. Colleges overwhelmingly chose option b - but only because the private lenders who stood to profit from the guaranteed loans BRIBED college administrators. And on what is turning out ot be a massive scale.

Chait goes on to say that the Conservative impulse to unreflectivly shrink government puts us at risk for additional scandals and corruption. Money quote:
The conservative approach to health care runs along the same lines. Most conservatives opposed the prescription-drug bill, but they approved of the provisions funneling recipients to private insurers, even though such plans cost around 20 percent more than traditional Medicare. During the Social Security fight last year, the right's main goal was not to cut benefits but to funnel as much of the money as possible into private accounts, where Wall Street could take a healthy piece. Government can easily mail out checks to old people without corruption. Apportioning a $100 billion investment market without corruption would not be nearly so easy.
Exactly right.

Bad News for Bruriah

Quote of the day (er... yesterday):

Women shouldn't study Gemara. It obscures the differences between the genders and leads to a decrease in God-fearing and mitzvah observance.
--- former Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu.
Let's take this claim apart.

1 - Women shouldn't study Gemara: Why not? The idea that there's something wrong about women learning Oral Law is the opinion of R. Eliezer as quoted in the Gemara. He only states one opinion among three. "The Gemara" does not take sides between the three opinions. But for some reason (hmmmm... sexism?) the "tiflus" opinion is the one that's become famous.

In the old days many forces -sexism included - conspired to produce very few learned women. Many of those forces no longer obtain, so why should women sell themselves short? Out of sentiment? Out of nostalgia for forces that have passed into oblivion?

2 - It obscures the differences between the genders... Odd. I've know two or three gemarah learning girls. One was hotter then the next. Is this complaint of Rabbi Eliyahu's just a new variation on the old "smart girls are ugly" canard?

3 - It leads to a decrease in God-fearing and mitzvah observance: Has the Rabbi conducted a survey? It seems to me that a claim such as this can be defended empirically. If Rabbi Eliyahu has the data let him share. If he has no data, why is he putting forward the claim?

(FWIW, my own experience (and yes the sum of anecdotes aren't data) is that girl gemerah learners remain committed to mitzvot and continue fearing God; though some, unfortunately, come to embrace some apikorishe ideas. The reason? Perhaps because torah true types, like Rabbi Eliyahu, are too holy to teach woman, forcing those with a thirst for talmud leaning to study with kofrim in academic settings.)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


Cellphone videos have appeared on the Internet showing an Iraqi mob stoning and kicking to death a 17-year-old girl after she offended her minority community by eloping with a Muslim man.Doaa Khalil Aswad was a member of northern Iraq's Yazidi religious sect but, according to local officials, she was murdered on April 7 by her brothers and uncles after she allegedly converted to Islam.In the video - on the Kurdish website Jebar.Info and rapidly spreading on the Internet - Aswad is shown lying in the road as men kick her and throw a large lump of rock or concrete at her head.
If you think you can stomach it, the video is here.

Oh, and like you, I am 100 percent certain that following the arrival of Moshiach we Jews will only use rocks to execute people who really, and truly, like, totally deserve it.

[hat-tip on request]

Bush takes another body blow

What follows appeared yesterday in the Times. It's a stinging rebuke of the president, and those who supported his extralegal practices. Though most Republicans of intelligence and good faith [*] have jumped ship, and no longer support the Bush administration, a few have not. This post is for them.

For years, President Bush has made the grandiose claim that the Congressional authorization to attack Afghanistan after 9/11 was a declaration of a “war on terror” that gave him the power to decide who the combatants are and throw them into military prisons forever.

Yesterday, in a powerful 2-to-1 decision, a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit utterly rejected the president’s claims. The majority made clear how threatening the administration’s policies are to the Constitution and the rule of law — and how far the administration has already gone down that treacherous road.

Mr. Bush, the majority said, does not claim these powers for dire emergencies but “maintains that the authority to order the military to seize and detain certain civilians is an inherent power of the presidency, which he and his successors may exercise as they please.”

The prisoner in this case, a citizen of Qatar named Ali al-Marri, was living in the United States legally when he was arrested and charged with being an Al Qaeda terrorist. In 2003, Mr. Bush declared Mr. Marri an enemy combatant, took him from civilian authorities and threw him into a military brig where he remains today without charges being filed.

The court did not say Mr. Marri was innocent, nor that he must be set free. It said that the law does not give Mr. Bush the power to seize a civilian living in the United States and declare him to be an enemy combatant based on whatever definition he chooses to apply. If Mr. Marri is to be kept in prison, it said, he must be tried and convicted in a civilian court.

The ruling said the Constitution and numerous precedents made it clear that foreigners living legally in this country have the same right to due process as any American citizen. It found no merit in the president’s claim that the Congressional approval of the use of military force in Afghanistan gave him authority to change that or that he has “the inherent authority” to do it on his own. Sanctioning that kind of authority “would have disastrous consequences for the Constitution — and for the country,” the judges said.

The judges said their ruling applied only to people living legally in the United States and not to the prisoners in Guantánamo Bay. But the court’s powerful arguments may be relevant to a large number of those men. Steven Shapiro, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the ruling would not help those prisoners who were captured on a battlefield and properly imprisoned as combatants. But there are hundreds of prisoners who were not taken on a battlefield but instead were picked up by the military or intelligence agents around the world and classified as combatants because of their association with Al Qaeda. The ruling said that was not an adequate definition of combatant.

This ruling is another strong argument for bringing Mr. Bush’s detention camps under the rule of law. Congress can do that by repealing the odious Military Commissions Act of 2006, which endorsed Mr. Bush’s twisted system of indefinite detentions, by closing Guantánamo Bay and by allowing the courts to sort out the prisoners — not according to the whims of one president with an obvious disdain for the balance of powers but by the rules of justice that have guided this nation for more than 200 years.

[*] I said this is for republicans of "intelligence and good faith." Whak-a-dozers who listen to Rush can stick with their boy-king president.


Riddle me this: My wife can't talk on the phone when she is operating a motor vehicle. Hard to concentrate, says she. I on the other hand do my very best talking when I am stuck behind the wheel of a car. At other times, I'm distracted and unfocused.

Other times, though, is when Mrs. DovBear thrives. She dashes around the house doing 6 or 7 trillion different things all the while chatting on the phone with one of her 67 closest friends. I've tried to that, too, but with little luck.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


Guy I know, knows a guy who is doing time; currently, he is locked in his cell 23 hours a day with one hour a day for recreation. I don't know why this man was imprisoned in the first place, but today a lesser crime weighs heavily on his mind: Praying in front of his cell's open toilet.

Way I see it, the guy has a few options:

1 - He can pray in the yard during his one hour of recreation.
2 - He can suck it up and pray in the toilet's vicinity, perhaps with his eyes closed or his back turned.
3 - Get over himself.

Your thoughts welcome.

(Hat-tip on request)

Save this Torah

Mis-nagid sends word of a sefer torah, rescued from Saddam Hussein's Iraq, but now languishing in the Creation Museum.

Monday, June 11, 2007

CO Weighs In On Gematria

by Cousin Oliver

Using Isopsephy (you know, that thing we call Gematria today that actually was from the Greeks) I have found something amazing.

The hebrew gematria for DovBear is 208. If you take DovBear(208) and bring him together with Gods Name[YKVK](26), together, on this blog, they let out the light[ohr](207) of Torah and equal Truth[emes](441).

DovBear + God + The Light That Emanates From Them = TRUTH.

Blessed is DovBear, bringer of truth, a light on to our nations. Amen Selah.

Great moments in Torah Commentary

At the end of last weeks parsha, [Numbers 15:39] Rashi tells us why we wear tzitzit:

The total numerical value of the word tzitzith is six hundred, and together with the eight threads and five knots you have six hundred and thirteen [correspondiong to taryag, the six hundred and thirteen commandments.]

Pretty straightforward, right? Only the Ramban has a serious objection:

I do not understand this, for the word tzizith in the Torah is written without a [second] yud so the total numerical value is only five hundred and ninety! Moreover, the total number of threads in the opinion of Bes Hilel, is only three and the knots per Torah law are only two.

The Ramban's objection is facinating as it raises the following questions and implications:

1 - Did Rashi have a text of the Torah with a different spelling for the word tzizith? Or is he just playing a little loose with the rules of gematriah?

2 - Of course, Rashi knew that tzizis weren't required by Torah law to have eight threads and five knots; he knew that this arrangment was created by the Rabbis. (After all, he studied Menochoth.) Yet, on this verse Rashi suggests that tzizis serve to remind us of the commandments, because they have eight threads and five knots! Well, what if the Rabbi's had created another arrangment? The math would have turned out differently! And if the math had turned out differently, how, per Rashi, would tzitzis remind us of taryag? Is Rashi suggesting that the rulings of our Rabbis were inevitable, and not contingent? Doesn't this view obviate free will?

Why I believe in global warming

Last week, SW said: "Next you'll tell me that you believe in Global Warming because Al 'Fathead' Gore told you to."

Actually, no.

I believe in global warming, because George W. Bush does: "Beginning in June 2001, President Bush has consistently acknowledged climate change is occurring and humans are contributing to the problem."

The mystery is why so many Conservatives continue to tell themselves that Global Warming is a hoax perpetrated by pointy-headed intellectuals.

True story
A few years back at parshas Noach, I was in attendance at a Parsha shiur delivered by a distinguished Hasid from one of the well-known families. He intimated that it is his belief that the earth is warming.

The crowd tittered. One brave soul raised his hand and challenged the assertion:

Brave Soul: ...says in posuk that the seasons will never change!

Hasid: Yes, but that means The Ribono Shel Olam (ie: God) won't ever change the seasons. It doesn't mean that we lack the ability to cause the change on ouur own.

A note on irony

Poignantly contrary to what was expected or intended

I wrote earlier this week that the famous photo of the three men at the Kotel in 1967 is IRONIC because the Jewish man in the middle is posed like a Christian, with his hat in his hands.

I did not say he intended to do this.
I did not say he did this deliberately.
I acknowledged in the original post that he may have been hot.

It is these factors precisely that make the photograph IRONIC, ie: Poignantly contrary to what was expected or intended.

(I make mention of this because too many of you, including my good friends S and Jameel, have misunderstood.)

The Elders Aren't Pleased

In a rare display of bad taste -or bad copy editing - the New York Times allowed this sentence to appear in an article about Jewish billionaires and the World Jewish Congress:

That indifference has been of paramount concern to Jewish elders around the world... [*]

Remind me to mention this display of disrespect at the next big meeting of International Jewry.

[*] Note: I understand that the word "elder" was used in juxtaposition with the word "younger" which appears in the sayfa of the sentence, which reads as follows in it entirety: "That indifference has been of paramount concern to Jewish elders around the world, and Mr. Lauder acknowledged the need to attract younger Jews like Matthew Bronfman to the World Jewish Congress." Still...

Friday, June 08, 2007

In which I sit like patience on a monument

Dear DovBear,
I noticed your piece on the Meam Loez. Do you think that the Meam Loez was describing a racial group based on the color of their skin or was he saying that the Torah is referring to a specific group who happen to have dark skin? Not all blacks in our society are uneducated and exhibit self defeating character traits, however there certainly seem to be a disproportionate amount who do. This disadvantage has probably been existent throughout history and it would seem plausible that there would be a reference to this in the Torah. - P

Dear P.
There isn't a reference to it in the Torah. The reference is found in the Mean Loez, a work written in Ladino, for ignorami. (Read his intro). The traits you describe exist among all races, and the fact the you see it in some black people has more to do with the legacy of slavery than anything else.

Dear DovBear,
I used to be quite open minded and got upset at people who stereotyped black people or anyone for that matter. Over the past ten years I have dealt with many black people (not necessarily lower class or descendants of slaves), and have formulated a very different opinion. I have begun to wonder whether blacks have certain innate tendencies that promote the kind of behaviour that may have lent itself to them becoming slaves in the first place. I find it hard to believe that skin color alone was to blame. - P

Dear P,
The characteristics you are referring to are nurture not nature. Also, black people were slaves for the same reason white people were slaves in ancient Rome, ancient Greece and in Europe (the Slavs, for example) The enslaved groups were weak; the enslaving groups were strong. And, by the way, Jews were slaves in concentration camps and condemned to "eternal slavery," as Pope Paul IV put it in Cum Nimis Absurdum for the exact same reason.

Dear DovBear,
Why do you suppose though that many other races who have been enslaved have not displayed the same type of socially deviant behaviour upon becoming free? Also, not being a historian, is there any place and time in history where black people have flourished as a successful honourable race among other nations? - P

Dear P,
You wont like this, but I cant help that... The Jews of Europe were in some ways similar to American blacks. Don't be fooled by the ways we romanticize the past. Living in ghettos as an oppressed, persecuted hated and abused race took its toll on our psyche just as surely as 400 years of slavery affected blacks. If we don't see it now, well, perhaps its because Hitler murdered 6 million of us.

Flippity flip flip flop

Didja all happen to see in the New York Times where Senator Brokeback (spelling error intentional) backed away from his anti-evolution stance? Preeeeety clever. At the debate he was all evolution is Satan's playground. Then, in the Times, which the yokels cant read, (choice of verb intentional) he tells a different audience a different story.

Update: Though he tried to pose as open minded about science in the big city paper, real scientists weren't buying it

Thursday, June 07, 2007


Yesterday, I wrote: "I'm waiting to hear from my expert on whether or not women carried arms alongside the Maccabees. S/he thinks it might be otherwise."

S/he, as it turns out thinks nothing of the sort. I misremembered. When I pressed for verification yesterday, s/he said, "IIRC, Maccabee women did not participate in battles." S/he also confirmed that Miriam daughter of Matisyahu, who was mentioned on the thread, is most likely a late legend.

Incidently, I advise those of you who do not have, in your pocket, an expert on Jewish antiquity to procure one at once. They come in very handy, and are often fun to trot out at parties.

Back talk

Bad actor Am Kshe Oref mouths off at two Rishonim.

We do not approve.

From the June 5 Hebrew edition of Hamodia

Hat-tip: Seven fat cow

Forty years later

The image on the left is the iconic photo of three soldiers at the Wall soon after is was recaptured in 1967. On the right, we see the three men as they appear today. (Or so I am told. I've not verified this. For all I know, its really Ed and Chaim G posing with someone they picked up at the airport.)

The striking thing about the photo on left is that we think of it as a distinctively Israeli picture, even though the man in the middle is behaving like a Christian. Jews don't doff their hats at holy sites. (Yes, I know, he may not have done this purposely. He may have been hot. Or whatever. But the ironic result is that the star of this famously Jewish photo is standing like a Christian.)

Hattip: On request

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Chait v. Giuliani II

Character Flaw

Of all the low points during the Bush administration, perhaps the most surreal was the week in December 2004 when Bernie Kerik was poised to become secretary of Homeland Security. By the traditional measures used to judge qualifications for this sort of job, Kerik was not an ideal candidate. The main points in Kerik's favor were his loyal service to Rudy Giuliani, first as driver for his mayoral campaign, then corrections commissioner, then police commissioner--the last of which was commemorated by the casting of 30 Kerik busts. On the negative side of the ledger were his multiple alleged felonies, including tax evasion and conspiracy to commit wiretapping (currently being investigated by federal prosecutors), and his (also alleged) ties to the DeCavalcante and Gambino crime families.

If a "Sopranos" writer proposed a plotline in which a Kerik-like figure rose through the ranks to become head of the department charged with preventing the next terrorist attack, he would be laughed off the show. So how did it almost happen in real life? The Washington Post recently reconstructed the Kerik nomination: The decisive factor seemed to be that Bush was "lulled by Kerik's swaggering Sept. 11 reputation."

That last sentence is, in many ways, the perfect epigraph for the Bush presidency. The Kerik episode displayed many of the pathologies of modern Republican governance: incompetence, corruption, an obsession with loyalty over traditional qualifications. But it shows with particular clarity Bush's most distinct contribution: the mistaking of macho bluster for strategic acumen.

The error Bush made in judging Kerik is, of course, the same error the country as a whole made in judging Bush. We (or most Americans, anyway) were lulled by the president's swaggering September 11 reputation, by the image of him finding his voice in the rubble of Ground Zero. Of course, it turns out that understanding how to lead the war against terrorism requires more than standing on a pile of rubble and talking tough. A certain level of intellectual depth and curiosity is needed. You not only need to want to kill the bad guys, you need to know which bad guys to kill, and you need to have some kind of plan for what happens after you're left occupying their large, strategically vital, anti-American, ethnically riven failed state.

Alas, Republicans seem to be making the same exact mistake again. Exhibit A is the leading GOP candidate, Giuliani. Republicans love Giuliani, of course, for the same reason they loved Bush: He's a 9/11 tough guy. Recently, GOP consultant Roger Stone explained the basis of Giuliani's appeal to Texas Republicans. "Stylistically, Texans like the Giuliani swagger," Stone told The Wall Street Journal. "He's a tough guy, and Texans like tough guys."

The war on terrorism, boasts Giuliani, "is something I understand better than anyone else running for president." This would be very scary if it were true. In recent weeks, Giuliani mistakenly said that it was unclear whether North Korea was further along toward a nuclear bomb than Iran, casually lumped together Shia Iran and Sunni Al Qaeda, and confessed he didn't know enough about the Bush administration's approach to terrorism detainees to take a position.

In fact, Giuliani wasn't even a particularly good terrorism fighter as mayor. A mere six years after the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, he decided to locate the city's emergency headquarters in the World Trade Center itself--the one spot in all New York City he knew had been targeted for attack. He also failed to ensure that police and firefighters could communicate with one another, with disastrous results.

But Giuliani isn't really saying he has the most expertise fighting terrorism. (After all, he has never held office beyond the municipal level.) Rather, he's trying to conjure the glow that Bush himself had in the days after September 11. Bush, his adoring fans used to say, "got it." To "get it" meant you had some metaphysical understanding of the war that transcended--indeed, was largely incompatible with--any actual knowledge. To the extent that "it" meant anything specific, it was the understanding that the war on terrorism was a war, not a police action, requiring land invasions of countries like Iraq. Most conservatives have quietly backed away from this particular vision, but the larger notion that the president must be a swaggering tough guy remains.

So, while Giuliani's boast may be absurd by my standards--he thinks he understands the war on terrorism better than, say, Joe Biden?--by Republican standards, it's simply obvious. Giuliani may not have any expertise as a war leader, but he excels at acting like one.

Now, it's perfectly natural to want a charismatic presidential candidate. The trouble is that Republicans seem to have completely lost sight of the difference between the apparent and the real. The reductio ad absurdum of this trend is the burgeoning candidacy of TV star Fred Thompson, who plays the part of a tough prosecutor and alpha male on "Law & Order."

Robert Novak recently noted, approvingly, that "[s]ophisticated social conservative activists" are flocking to Thompson. "Their appreciation of him," wrote Novak, "stems not from his eight years as a U.S. senator from Tennessee but his actor's role as district attorney of Manhattan on Law & Order.'" If this is how sophisticated social conservative activists make their political judgments, I'd hate to see the unsophisticated ones.

Representative Zach Wamp, a Thompson backer, recently said that Thompson is smart to delay his campaign and rely instead on the free publicity of "Law & Order" reruns. "You are able to frame the message and you are not caught up in all the controversy," he said.

The "message" is Thompson's fictional tough-guy persona. The "controversy" is, well, real life. Thompson's most prominent actual legal experience was, in fact, a disaster. As chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee in 1997, he dramatically claimed to have found evidence that the Chinese government had bribed the Clinton administration. But, over the course of the hearings, Thompson was able to prove nothing of the sort, and the affair proved a total humiliation.

If Thompson's TV character were a bumbler who brought unfounded charges against innocent people, nobody would be touting him for president. But screwing things up is not an impediment to winning the GOP nomination, as long as it only happens in real life.

Chait v. Giuliani I

Foreign policy is truly foreign to Rudy Giuliani

What are Giuliani's credentials? Everybody knows the basics. On September 11, 2001, he rolled up his shirt sleeves and gave reassuring speeches. He has a tough guy persona. He expresses extremely strong disapproval for enemies of the United States. (For instance, Giuliani has bragged about asking President Bush to let him personally execute Osama bin Laden.)

All this makes Republicans swoon....If having a macho swagger and talking tough about bad guys were enough to make a good commander in chief, we wouldn't have the worst foreign policy disaster in U.S. history on our hands right now in Iraq. And, need I remind anybody, one of the reasons Giuliani hasn't been able to fulfill his Bin Laden execution fantasy is that Bush allowed the Al Qaeda leader to escape at Tora Bora by using Afghan proxies instead of U.S. ground troops.

Last week, Giuliani said that Lincoln had "that ability that a leader has--a leader like George Bush, a leader like Ronald Reagan--to look into the future."

A few days later, The New York Times revealed that the 2002 postwar plan for Iraq envisioned a broadly representative Iraqi government, an intact Iraqi army, and just a handful of U.S. troops remaining. I would say this is not a good job of looking into the future

I'm sure Giuliani and his fans would dismiss such slip-ups, and there have been many, as mere detail. The important thing to them is leadership--Bush has it; Giuliani has it.

Giuliani raked in millions after 9/11, appearing at motivational seminars, where anybody with $49 could listen to him recount his 9/11 heroics and also take in speeches by such foreign policy titans as Zig Ziglar and Goldie Hawn. Giuliani also wrote a book promising to show "how the leadership skills he practices can be employed successfully by anyone who has to run anything."

But if anybody who buys his book can acquire the same leadership skills, why do we need Giuliani?
A distinguished gentleman comes out of the synagogue one Saturday.

The Rabbi was standing at the door as he always is to shake hands. He grabs the gentleman by the hand and pulls him aside.

The Rabbi says to him, "You need to join the Army of G-d! "

The gentleman replies, "I'm already in the Army of G-d, Rabbi."

The Rabbi questions, "How come I don't see you except on Yom Kippur and Yizkor?"

The gentleman whispers back, "I'm in the secret service."

Ignore the swear words....

... the rest of what appears here is a game-winning, grand slam, homerun

Old vs New

As you recall "[Rabbi] Aviner advised female teens to prefer Sherut Leumi (national service) over service in the IDF, reminding them that there were no women in the armies of Moses, Joshua, Saul, David, the Hasmoneans(*) or Simon Bar Kochba."

Ok, but so what? Once upon a time women didn't serve in the army, and the Jews won wars. Congratulations. Later, Women DID serve in the army, for example: The 48 War, the 52 Conflict, the 6 Day War, the Yom Kippur War, Sheleg and Tamuz. Aside for Tamuz, and maybe Sheleg, the results were good. Can't we reason from this, that God does not abandon an army that enlists women?

(*) I'm waiting to hear from my expert on whether or not women carried arms alongside the Maccabees. S/he thinks it might be otherwise.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The nerve....

Bad actor Krum ridicules gematriot.

Barak suggests that people who lived 4000 years ago and have their names recorded in the Holy Bible might have been flawed.

POLJ insults our Fearless Leader his Majesty the Decider, finest president in the history of the free world.

Rabbi Aviner says women should lie to the IDF.

Vote now! (Moshe and the Cushite)

The following are Torah true explanations to the verse under discussion since Sunday. Please choose the one you think best captures the author's (ie God's) intention:

1) Rashi: Cushite is code for gorgeous. When the verse says "Isha Cushite" it means the very beautiful Tziporah. Though the same author (ie: God) has previously used the word beautiful (or a synonym) to describe, Sarah, Rivka, Rachel and Joseph, here he elects to employ a euphemism instead. An explanation for the sudden use of euphemism is not immediately obvious.

2) Ibn Ezra: Cushite is slang for ugly. The verse is speaking of Tsiporah, who was black, and therefore ugly (according to the sensibilities of Ibn Ezra, anyway) The Ibn Ezra does not tell us why the author (ie: God) chose to describe Tsiporah this way, nor does he tell us why the author (ie: God) used a colloquialism here, instead of speaking plainly and directly.

3) Rashbam: The pshat (Rashbam's word, not mine) is that Moshe took an Ethiopian wife.

My vote: (3)

My reason: I prefer to think of God as a straightforward sort of guy. When He says Cushite, I assume he means Cushite. I don't expect Him to use slang, or to suddenly, this deep in the book, become cautious about using the word "beautiful" to describe a pretty girl. (Rashbam's pshat is also supported by the legend retold by Josephus, and the Sefer Hayashar.)

Please vote in the comments.

(PS: Sincere apologies to anyone offended by the title of my previous post. I should have been more careful.)

Monday, June 04, 2007

More on Moses and his Chocolate Honey

The verse we've been discussing since Sunday tells us that our teacher Moshe married a Cushite. The official tradition, taught to school children, is that the word "Cushite" is a sort of code for "drop dead gorgeous" This is Rashi's view, supported by the Ball Haturim who helpfully supplies a gematriah: Yefat Mareh = Cushite.


Miriam: Hey, Aaron! Our brother, that uppity leader of Israel married a Cushite!
Aaron: Huh? No. He didn't. He married Tziporah.
Miriam: Do the math moron!
Aaron: Huh?
Miriam: Ooo-day the ematriah-gay. It's an ode-cay.
Aaron: Oh..... [Furies brow. Does the sums] Aahhh. I get it. Kewl!
Miriam [eye roll]

*End Aside*

Nonetheless, this is by no means the only Torah True approach to the puzzle.

Rashi's own grandson, the Rashbam (see Num 12:1) seeks to undercut Rashi's interpretation and tells us that pshat (ie the simplest, basic, most accurate interp. of the verse) is that Moshe ruled as King of Ethiopia for 40 years, and took an Ethiopian princess as his wife - but never consummated the marriage. This coincides with the legend retold by Josephus, I shared with you earlier today. The story also appears, with more detail, in the Sefer Hayashar.

Close readers will notice that the Sefer Hayashar's account differs from the story Josephes tells in one crucial detail. According to J, Moshe and his Ethiopian hottie lived as husband and wife. Sefer Hayashar, written 9-14 centuries later, says the marriage was never consummated. What explains the change? Did the author of the Sefer Hayashar doctor the tradition to fit medieval sensibilities? Perhaps. The audience that knew Josephus would have been less likely to object to an interracial marriage. Readers of the Sefer Hayashar, on the other hand, would have been scandalized.

Bonus Exegesis
Courtesy of my friend, the kofer, I give you this non-Torah true approach (Warning: Not encouraged. May lead to bad shidduchim and/or angry inlaws/spouses)


Moshe's Black Wife

Come let us learn together:

Tharbis was the daughter of the king of the Ethiopians: she happened to see Moses as he led the army near the walls, and fought with great courage; and admiring the subtility of his undertakings, and believing him to be the author of the Egyptians' success, when they had before despaired of recovering their liberty, and to be the occasion of the great danger the Ethiopians were in, when they had before boasted of their great achievements, she fell deeply in love with him; and upon the prevalency of that passion, sent to him the most faithful of all her servants to discourse with him about their marriage. He thereupon accepted the offer, on condition she would procure the delivering up of the city; and gave her the assurance of an oath to take her to his wife; and that when he had once taken possession of the city, he would not break his oath to her. No sooner was the agreement made, but it took effect immediately; and when Moses had cut off the Ethiopians, he gave thanks to God, and consummated his marriage, and led the Egyptians back to their own land.

This is Josephus, in Antiquities 2:10 attempting to explain how Moshe came to have a Cushite wife. Maybe. In fact, we don't know what J was attempting to do with this story . Did he make it up for political or theological reasons? Was it something he heard on the street, or learned in school? Was it a legend in good standing accepted by all Jews of his time and place? No idea.

Also, I don't know if this snippet has a parallel in Rabbinic literature. (It does have a parallel in the Ten Commandments starring Charlton Heston. At the beginning of the film, buff Moses returns from an Ethiopian campaign with slaves and treasure for the Pharaoh. No black wife, however. This scene is not of significance to 21st century bible scholars. The fools. I suspect the error of their indifference will be corrected 4 or 500 years hence, when some ambitious doctoral candidate will take note of the parallel and attempt to weave it into a dissertation.)

What matters is this: At the very least, Mister Josephus seemed okay with the idea that our teacher Moshe married a black woman, in addition to the lithe and lovely Tziporah.

More wingnut whining

According to a press release, dutifully reprinted in the always reliable, and never biased, Washington Times, "Commencement addresses at the nation's top colleges and universities this year mostly were given by left-leaning or Democratic speakers."

Sounds scary! Only (whoops!) some of the so-called "left-leaning" speakers listed in the reprinted press release are, in fact, out of favor with the left. These include: Brian Williams, Thomas Friedman, Bill Gates, and Wolf Blitzer.

Shame on you complaining conservatives. Its easy to act all victimized and aggrieved if you aren't going to tell the truth.

Inadvertant laugh line of the day

Peter Hitchens: "If you do not worship God, you end up worshipping power, whether it is Kim Jong Il, Leon Trotsky or the military might of George W. Bush. In which case, God help you."

...uh, Petey, (may I call you Petey?) this is what we call a false choice.

Plenty of people worship neither God nor power. Anyway, the real worry are people who worship both God AND power. People like George W. himself (not to mention crusaders, papists, and Jihadists.) Where power and religious fanaticism coincide the result is always ugly.

[Via XGH]