Wednesday, October 31, 2007
From the She'elot & Teshuvot of the esteemed Mufti Muhammed Zakariyaa Desai:
A: According to Shariah if the rings are kept in the private part while fasting, the fast is valid. However, if the ring is inserted or removed while fasting, the fast will be nullified. Therefore, it must be inserted or removed after Iftaar or before the expiry of sehri time. (Nurul Iddah Pg. 146)
And Allah Knows Best
Muhammed Zakariyya Desai
For Darul Ifta
I can hear your haughty laughter now, full of contempt for this crazy religion, with its endless obsession with these obviously man-made and nonsensical rules and regs.
For either a chair or a bed, incidental, unintentional touch, such as squeezing by the bed or chair or grasping at either for balance, would be permitted.
Bush has been very good to atheism. Compared to the obscurantism that is the doctrine of this government, godlessness has come to seem glamorous, and perfectly obvious. Nothing can make you feel more like an outlaw these days than a smirking shot at one of religion's many crudities and excesses.
There are many things that may be said against contemporary atheism--against its dogmatism, its self-satisfaction, its evasion of the vast history of godless violence, its philosophical shallowness (when our Filene's Basement Voltaires bother about philosophical argument at all); but I am increasingly struck by the extent to which many of the books against God are mainly psychological expressions.
More specifically, a lot of atheism looks to me like just a lot of adolescence. They are always telling you about their parents. They rebel against the false idea that God is the father because they have the false idea that their father is God. (Sometimes the villainous deceiver of young minds who must be deposed is an early teacher, who unaccountably failed to assign Why I Am Not a Christian to the second grade.) When it comes to the articulation of one's view of the world, of one's understanding of what is true and false about the universe, who cares what one's parents believe? The answer is, children care; and there is something childish about the freethinker's pouting critique of his own childhood. Atheism can be as infantilizing as theism, an inverted form of captivity to one's origins, as if biological authority confers intellectual authority. Je n'ai pas besoin de cette hypothese. In matters of conviction, we are orphans. And there is also, of course, the boyish thrill of naughtiness, the titillation of sinning, that attends the witticisms against religion. Here is Anatole France on Baudelaire, by way of Edmund Wilson: "In his arrogance he wished to believe that everything he did was important, even his little impurities; so that he wanted them all to be sins that would interest heaven and hell." Religion may confer a preposterous cosmic significance upon the individual, but atheism is the true friend of egotism.
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
It's been several days, though, since I've seen any of them, and I'm starting to worry.
Perhaps I should make an offering of some kind or slaughter a goat. If they aren't appeased, I fear for the blog...
Yes that is "Esther" with the word Lav on her arm.
Frum jews, believe the Torah prohibits getting tattoos 'kahka' ויקרא פרק יט
כח וְשֶׂרֶט לָנֶפֶשׁ, לֹא תִתְּנוּ בִּבְשַׂרְכֶם
וּכְתֹבֶת קַעֲקַע, לֹא תִתְּנוּ בָּכֶם: אֲנִי ה
Do not make any gashes in your skin for the dead. Do not make marks on your skin. I am God.The issur includes all tattooing according to Tosafos (Gittin 20b).The Rambam writes that regardless of intent, that tattooing is prohibited הלכות עבודה זרה פרק יב
יד (depending on your version of misneh torah or ) יא
כתובת קעקע האמורה בתורה
הוא שישרוט על בשרו וימלא מקום השריטה כוחל או דיו או שאר צבעונין הרושמין; וזה היה מנהג הגויים שרושמין עצמן לעבודה זרה שלהן, כלומר שהוא עבד מכור לה ומורשם לעבודתה. ומעת שירשום באחד מדברים הרושמים אחר שישרוט, באי זה מקום מן הגוף, בין איש בין אישה--לוקה.
The Shulchan Orach YD 180:1,see Beit Yosef (Y.D. 180 "Sh'chayav"and The Rivan Makos 21a For a summary see the Otzar Meforshei HaTalmud, Makos pg. 847,20.) feels this includes all tattooing.
The Chasam Sofer (Gittin 20b) holds that one does not violate a deorisa prohibition if he tattoos his slave in order that he should not escape (the Shach, Y.D. 180:6 agrees).
His talmud the Ma'ram Schick (Sefer HaMitzvos, Mitzvah 254) and Teshuvot Shoel Umeishiv (2:1:49) all agree with the Chasam Sofer.The Aruch LaNer (Makkos 21a), says that it violates a biblical prohibition even if the intention is not for Avodah Zarah.
Though I'm not sure he meant the tattooing of today which is not marked into the skin like it was in Egypt or in India today.
Monday, October 29, 2007
The emblem of the IDF is a sword wrapped in olive branches. Most would consider this an Orwellian mixed metaphor along the lines of a "Peacekeeper Missile" or a "Defense Department". But I quite understand it. To me it says: "we only wage the minimum war required to keep the peace" and/or "we can extend olive branches to those deserving of peace but will wage war against those deserving of battle".
As an overfed Diaspora dwelling quasi-Haredi I make no pretensions to the bravery and self-sacrifice of the soldiers of the IDF. Yet in the spirit of their emblem I offer the translation of a Midrash. I hope that it will pacify those who misconstrued some of my recent posts to mean that I deny the concept of conversion to Judaism, or, that I disrespect gerei tzedek, and that will give offense, or at least pause, to the various skeptics haunting this blog who incessantly heap scorn on our Holy Torah and on our holy brethren.
Akilus (Achilles?) the son of the sister of Adrayonus (Caesar Hadrian ?) wanted to convert to Judaism but feared his Uncle Adrayonus:
Akilus: I want to engage in business
Adrayonus: Do you want for gold and silver? My riches are all available to you.
Akilus: I want to do business and travel abroad among people to better understand them and I seek your advice on how best to proceed.
Adrayonus: Do business with any commodity that you see is lowly and devalued to the floor. Ultimately it will rise and you will profit (oif momma loshon "buy low sell high"-translator)
Akilus came to Eretz Yisrael and studied Torah. After a while Rebee Eliezer and Rebee Yehoshua met him and noticed a change in his countenance. They said to one another "Akilus is studying Torah." Being in the Rabbis' proximity he posed many questions to them, which they responded to.
He went up to his Uncle Adrayonus.
Adrayonus: Why has your countenance changed? Did you suffer a business reversal and lose your investments? Is someone abusing you?
Akilus: Of course not! I am YOUR nephew. Do you think that anyone would dare bother me?
Adrayonus: Then why HAS your countenance changed?
Akilus: I have studied Torah, Moreover I have circumcised myself
Adrayonus: WHO told you to do this?
Akilus: I sought your advice and…. YOU did.
Akilus: When I told you that I want to do business you told me: "Do business with any commodity that you see is lowly and devalued to the floor. Ultimately it will rise and you will profit." I assessed all the nations of the world and I saw none more devalued than Yisrael(AKA Jews translator). It [too] will ultimately rise. As the Prophet Isaiah 49:7 foresaw: "So saith the L-rd redeemer of Israel his holy one 'To the [nation] whose soul is humiliated , to the one despised by nations, to the one that is [presently] a slave to many rulers: Kings will yet see YOU and arise, princes.. will yet prostrate themselves to
---Midrash Tankhuma- Mishpatim
It is done (Bray's head slumps inert on his chest)
But every year I have the same complaint: Why is the fantastic tale of a toddler marrying a patriarch taught as fact, when the matter is far from clear?
Start with the Ibn Ezra. In his comment to Genesis 22:4, he argues, rather convincingly that Yitzchak was not 37 years old at the Akeida. This matters, because the math Rashi uses to prove that Rivka was three, depends on Yitzhak being 37 at the Akeida. If Yitzchak wasn't 37 at the Akaida, Rivka was not three when she got married. If this doesn't convince you there's more: Read about it: here and here and here If you're feeling especially ambitious visit the Tosfot on Yevamot 61b (“v’chen”)
This is the math that Rashi uses to support his claim that Rivka was three when she married Yitzchak. As you'll see from the other materials I posted, Rashi's math is based on some assumptions that other challenge.
1. Per the posuk, Sarah was 90 when Yitzchok was born.
2.Per the posuk, Sarah died at 127. Rashi speculates (though others argue) that her death occurred immediately after the Akeidah; therefore Yitzchok was 37 at the Akeidah.
3. Immediately after the Akeida, Avrohom hears the news of the birth of Rivkah, so she was born when Yitzchok was 37. This is suggested by the text, but it isn't a slam dunk.
4. Per the posuk, Yitzchok was 40 when he married Rivkah, so if all the other speculations are accurate, she was 3 when they married.
by David Foster Wallace
Are some things still worth dying for? Is the American idea* one such thing? Are you up for a thought experiment? What if we chose to regard the 2,973 innocents killed in the atrocities of 9/11 not as victims but as democratic martyrs, “sacrifices on the altar of freedom”?* In other words, what if we decided that a certain baseline vulnerability to terrorism is part of the price of the American idea? And, thus, that ours is a generation of Americans called to make great sacrifices in order to preserve our democratic way of life—sacrifices not just of our soldiers and money but of our personal safety and comfort?
In still other words, what if we chose to accept the fact that every few years, despite all reasonable precautions, some hundreds or thousands of us may die in the sort of ghastly terrorist attack that a democratic republic cannot 100-percent protect itself from without subverting the very principles that make it worth protecting?
Is this thought experiment monstrous? Would it be monstrous to refer to the 40,000-plus domestic highway deaths we accept each year because the mobility and autonomy of the car are evidently worth that high price? Is monstrousness why no serious public figure now will speak of the delusory trade-off of liberty for safety that Ben Franklin warned about more than 200 years ago? What exactly has changed between Franklin’s time and ours? Why now can we not have a serious national conversation about sacrifice, the inevitability of sacrifice—either of (a) some portion of safety or (b) some portion of the rights and protections that make the American idea so incalculably precious?
In the absence of such a conversation, can we trust our elected leaders to value and protect the American idea as they act to secure the homeland? What are the effects on the American idea of Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, Patriot Acts I and II, warrantless surveillance, Executive Order 13233, corporate contractors performing military functions, the Military Commissions Act, NSPD 51, etc., etc.? Assume for a moment that some of these measures really have helped make our persons and property safer—are they worth it? Where and when was the public debate on whether they’re worth it? Was there no such debate because we’re not capable of having or demanding one? Why not? Have we actually become so selfish and scared that we don’t even want to consider whether some things trump safety? What kind of future does that augur?
1. Given the strict Gramm-Rudmanewque space limit here, let's just please all agree that we generally know what this term connotes—an open society, consent of the governed, enumerated powers, Federalist 10, pluralism, due process, transparency ... the whole democratic roil.
2. (This phrase is Lincoln's, more or less)
The URL for this page is http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200711/wallace-safety.
Friday, October 26, 2007
When the Gemara in Sanhedrin 109B recounts the corruption, cruelty of S’dom society they include this little tidbit:
”and they had a bed. They’d ask wayfarers to ‘climb in’. If the guest was too long (i.e. tall) they would (surgically) shorten him.(decapitate him or amputatehis feet) if the guest was too short they would (surgically) lengthen him.(stretch him on a rack until his bones broke).Before the cultural diffusionists have a cow…yes I’m aware that the Greeks have a cognate to this.
In Greek mythology, Procrustes (the stretcher), also known as Damastes (subduer) and Polypemon (harming much), was a bandit from Attica. He had his stronghold in the hills outside Eleusis. There, he had an iron bed into which he invited every passerby to lie down. If the guest proved too tall, he would amputate the excess length; if the victim was found too short, he was then stretched out on the rack until he fit -DBWhether the Talmudic sages “got it” from the Greeks or vice versa is inconsequential. Our sages including this on S’doms cultural rap sheet imparts a simple lesson. Brutally forcing people to conform, a one size fits all approach, is cruel and tyrannical.
Wachnacht: On the eve of a bris, all of the neighborhood children gather at the infant's bedside and SCREAM shma at the top of their little lungs. For this they are rewarded with peckalahs (Yiddish: "bag full of cholev yisroel/pas yisroel treats, each having at least 3 hashgachas, not including the OU") The very pious put the mohel's knife under the infant's mattress and adorn his crib with garlic.
Restrictions on postpartum women: A postpartum women is prevented from appearing in public until she's answered borchu or kedusha.
No sealing up windows: This is an important iyun (Yiddish: "a thing.") If you seal up a window, say because you're remodeling your house, deep misfortune follows. Every LWHJ has a story about some poor fool who closed up a window, and immediately lost his business and came down with a fatal disease.
The lost and found segulah thingie: I forget what it's called, but all you have to do is say the magic words and poof whatever you've lost is restored. Works every time. Except when it doesn't. (but no one talks about that)
Two meals on Erev Yom Kippur: The faithful eat twice on EYK. I find that they tend to sneer at koferdicka know-nothing one-mealniks, but this qustion is debated by experts.
Sholosh shudos shtick: There are a few, but the most common one is this: In the middle of one of the songs, the rebbelah or some other esteemed elder, stands and screams HASHAYM MAYLECH HASHAYM MOOOOLACH HASHAYM YEEMLOYCH L'OYLUM VOOO'ED (Yiddish "Hashem melekh Hashem molakh. Hashem yimlokh l'olam vo'ed.") And everyone stands and answers.
I'm sure there's more. Fellow anthropologists are welcome to share their own observations. Additionally, those of you who have made similar studies of other subsects of Orthodox Judaism are welcome to share your findings. The best will be published here as guest posts.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Seems that the foreign minister of Israel (along with a former head of the Mossad) believes that potential Iranian nukes are **NOT** an existential threat to the State of Israel. And she is criticizing her boss, Mr. Olmert, for fear-mongering about it.On the principle of "kal v'homer" (if I understand it correctly), that would imply that Iranian nukes are also not an existential threat to the USA, and Bush/Cheney's fear-mongering on the issue is unjustified.
written by C.A
The Typical Path into SkepticismThe tragedy is that this is entirely avoidable. The students descent into skepticism could have prevented if the exchange had gone like this this instead:
1: A Rabbi says something that is obviously untrue. Examples include: "The universe is 5768 years old." or "All aggadot are literally true." or "Chazal were experts at science and medicine."
2: After the student expresses healthy and reasonable doubt, the Rabbi additionally says that anyone who doubts the truth of these statements is spiritually damaged, a kofer or worse
3: The student says, "Hmm. If I have to choose between suspending my common sense and being a kofer, I guess I'm a kofer."
4: The student, certain that either he or the mesorah are damaged goods, goes OTD.
1: A Rabbi says something that is obviously untrue....Most of the skeptics I know started on the path to skepticism after bumping up against a Rabbi who didn't pay proper respect to the Rishonim. [See: GH, Extreme] Perhaps we'd have fewer skeptics, if Yeshiva educators were willing and able to tell the truth about what Judaism actually teaches.
2: After the student expresses healthy and reasonable doubt, the Rabbi says, "BORUCH SHE KEVANTA: there are rishonim who also believed in the old universe/said aggadot aren't literal/agreed that Chazal were experts in law, but not medicine or history."
3: The student says, "Cool. I guess I think like a Rishon"
4: The student, pleased to see that there's room for him within Judaism, stays OnTD.
For at least two centuries conventional wisdom of progressive left-liberal Judaism maintains that we, as a People, fulfill our historical mission of serving as “A Light Unto the Nations” by epitomizing the prophetic tradition of social justice. Why these Jews don’t recognize that positing any unique historical mission for our “People” (re: tribe members) is, itself, a decidedly reactionary notion, is something I’ve never quite understood. (see my post from yesterday) [Actually, it originates with the ARI, (not progressive left-liberal Judaism.) The ARI taught that it was the responsibility of the Jewish people to (in the language of his metaphor) bring about the gradual restoration of cosmic unity via the ingathering of the bits of Divine Being splintered throughout creation during the primordial catastrophe called shevirat ha-kelim, or breaking of the vessels. [Source]This was to be carried out by the acts of individual men-DB] And it begs a more basic question. Is there, in fact, any Biblical/ prophetic basis for this near ubiquitous ani ma’amin?
Apparently it is predicated on the soaring poetry in these verses in Yeshaya 42:6
ו אֲנִי יְהוָה קְרָאתִיךָ בְצֶדֶק, וְאַחְזֵק בְּיָדֶךָ; וְאֶצָּרְךָ, וְאֶתֶּנְךָ לִבְרִית עָם--לְאוֹר גּוֹיִם.
I the LORD have called thee in righteousness, and taken hold of thy hand, and formed thee, and set thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the nations
and/or Yeshaya 49:6
ו וַיֹּאמֶר, נָקֵל מִהְיוֹתְךָ לִי עֶבֶד, לְהָקִים אֶת-שִׁבְטֵי יַעֲקֹב, ונצירי (וּנְצוּרֵי) יִשְׂרָאֵל לְהָשִׁיב; וּנְתַתִּיךָ לְאוֹר גּוֹיִם, לִהְיוֹת יְשׁוּעָתִי עַד-קְצֵה הָאָרֶץ.
Yea, He saith: 'It is too light a thing that thou shouldest be My servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the offspring of Israel; I will also give thee for a light of the nations, that My salvation may be unto the end of the earth.'
But who is the servant? and who has the LORD “called to righteousness”?
The Ibn Ezra identifies the servant as the prophet himself. Even the “majority of commentators ” that he quotes say that “My servant” refers to the righteous (Tzadikim) of Israel and NOT to the nation as a whole (EUREKA a meritocracy!). The Malbim, Radak and the Metzudos identify him as Mashiakh and Rav Yosef Karo identifies him as Koresh/Cyrus! Even those (Rashi) who opine that the “servant” refers to the nation as a whole define the “light” as an eschatological promise, as yet unfulfilled, having nothing to do with the role of Jews in exile.
Furthermore as per Rashi the “nations” of 42:6 being provided with illumination are not what WE call Goyim but the various tribes of Israel. i.e. the PROPHET serves as a light UNTO THE TRIBES.
Rashi on 49:6 interprets the for a light of the nations not as some call to be standard bearers of high ethical standards but as the bearer of good tidings of the downfall of the Babylonian Empire or, as per Ibn Ezra, the good news of the ultimate salvation of Israel (as in LaYehudim haysah Orah V’Simkha).
In short, the notion of Jews in any pre-Messianic era serving as some kind of high-ethical-standard role models for the balance of humanity (as if they didn’t have enough to do already!) apparently has no basis in Torah-true Biblical interpretation. It is just another petty and patronizing conceit of the progressives. Talk about irrational bigotry!
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
According to Mr. Pedia, "...most Spartan laws were passed down orally and committed to memory..." and "The Spartans had no historical records, literature, or written laws, which were, according to tradition, expressly prohibited by an ordinance of Lycurgus..."
Hmm.. What other cultures transmit[ted] their laws and customs orally over the generations because of a commandment? Anyone? Anyone?
[*]By which I mean that they wish to have it banned, or otherwise restricted, in keeping with the idea that it is an "abomination." (And, ever mind that other abominations such as eating shellfish are gleefully accepted by the majority, and performed without shame in hedonistic pleasure domes all over the country.)
Frequent readers here know that I obsess over Havdala consciousness. I ‘d like to present passages from one of Judaism’s preeminent ethicists and Qabbalists the Ramkha'l in his sefer The Way of God as translated by Rav Aryeh Kaplan. Be forewarned, this is NOT politically correct.
One of the deepest concepts of G-d’s Providence involves Israel and the Nations. With regard to their basic human characteristics, the two appear exactly alike. From the Torah’s viewpoint, however, the two are completely different and are treated as if they belonged to completely different species.
…Man could thus anticipate only a very much lower level, and it was in this state that children were born into this degraded state.
…G-d gave Adam’s descendants a free choice at that time to strengthen themselves and strive to elevate themselves from this lower state to a higher level.
The period of time when this was possible extended..until the Generation of Separation.
… according to the Highest Judgment, it turned out that none of them deserved to rise above this degraded level to which Adam and his children had fallen as a result of their sin…there was however, one exception, and that was Avraham. He had succeeded in elevating himself and as a result of his deeds was chosen by G-d. Avraham was therefore permanently made into a superior excellent Tree, conforming to man’s highest level. It was further provided that he would be able to produce branches [and father a nation] possessing his characteristics… All of them (the other 70 nations)however remained on the level of man in his fallen state, while only Israel was in an elevated state.
Obviously these truncated passages do not paint a fair picture of the Ramkhal’s full thesis. Fair minded bloggers are encouraged to borrow or buy the book and study it, or at least the relevant section, in it’s entirety. Beautiful points are made there about the early narratives in Genesis, conversion to Judaism and the revelation at Sinai.
In the meantime consider: Is this rank racism? Master Race ideology? Or what we intuitively mean when we talk about Jews as the Chosen People? Discuss amongst yourselves.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
The transfiguration of Lot's wife into a pillar of salt always struck me as strange*. For the most part, in the first five books, God punishes through natural means. A plauge, a war, but very little obvious magic. And when there is magic, as at the red sea, or the flood, those who experience it recognize the miracle. But here, the lady looks back and -boom!- she becomes a pillar of salt, and life goes on with no comment from anyone else in the scene. Bizarre. The Ralbag must have thought it was strange, too, because his view is that it never happened:
Rabbi Levi ben Gershon (Ralbag) suggests that וַתְּהִי does not refer to Lot's wife, that *she* became a pillar of salt, be rather וַתְּהִי refers to the *city*, which is a feminine noun, so Lot's wife looked back and saw that the city had become a pillar of salt, which was a way of saying it was destroyed.[DB: ie: the whole land was brimstone and salt and burning.]Ahh, so what happened to Lot's wife? She simply perished with the other people of Sodom.
*The Midrash must have also thought the salt transfiguaration was strange. The Midrash's author explains it with that famous story starring Mrs. Lot as a blabbermouth who went around town seeking to borrow salt "for my GUESTS!" But examine the Midrash on its own terms: Why salt? And why assume his wife couldn't keep a secret? Her husband comes across as a pretty decent guy in this story. Would he have married such a klutz?
The apologists snivel: I have no way of knowing whether the story is true, in whole or in part...
The Admar: The Rabbonim of Eretz Yisroel must condemn it! The charedi members of Knesset must condemn it! And everyone should "take a minute and make a phone call, write a letter, or drop an email to the office of every charedi Knesset member" [!!!]
Snivel monkeys: Maybe we should possibly consider thinking about maybe not giving tzedakka money to Bet Shemesh institutions that haven't condemend it. Maybe. Assuming it actually happened. Which I'm still not sure about.
Surprised? Don't be...
The Admar: Eighteen months ago, when a police car was torched in Boro Park after an elderly Jew was treated roughly during a traffic stop, there were clear and unequivocal quotes of condemnation of those illegal acts and calls for us to act as law abiding citizens by the Noviminsker Rebbi shlita and Horav Rosenbloom shlita in a full-page editorial in the daily Hamodia newspaper and many rabbonim condemned those lawless acts in their Shabbos Hagadol speeches.
The snivelers: I will not even begin to speculate what really occurred in Boro Park last night...
Now, I've found that Greek mythology recognized a "Mother of All Monsters." Her name was Echidna, (She-Viper) and she was (surprise!) half woman, half snake. Her children included: Cerberus (the three headed hell dog) Orthrus (the less famous hell dog) Ladon (a snake who coiled under an apple tree. Hmmm), Chimera (the goat/lion/snake) Sphinx (Woman/lion who like riddles) Hydra ((the many-headed dragon), Ethon, Nemean Lion, and Teumessian fox
I'm no linguist, but I hear an echo of Chivya in Echidna. The more learned members of the commenting community are invited to weigh in.
Monday, October 22, 2007
His trained servants. It is written "his trained one," referring to Eliezer whom he trained to observe the mitzvos...Trouble is, that isn't what the verse says. The MT has חניכיו/his trained oneS.
My uneducated hunch is that Rashi's chumash departed from the MT on this spot. This is also my uneducated way of explaining Rashi's mysterious comment on Numbers 15:39 where he produces a gematriah on the word "tzitzit", based on a spelling that is never used in the MT. I think that in both cases, Rashi was using a text that didn't match the MT letter-for-letter.
Alternativly, its possible that this strange comment didn't originate with Rashi. That appears to be the view of the Sapirstein Rashi where the bit about the "trained one" is excluded. We're told in a footnote that the comment is found in just two of the four best-known Rashi manuscripts, leading the author to doubt its provenance.
Here's the back story.
In the 14th verse of the 14th chapter of Genesis we're told: וישמע אברם כי נשבה אחיו וירק את־חניכיו ילידי ביתו שמנה עשר ושלש מאות וירדף עד־דן׃ (When Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his trained ones, who were born in his house, three hundred and eighteen [men], and went in pursuit as far as Dan)
On this verse Rashi has two comments:
1 - His trained servants. It is written "his trained one," referring to Eliezer whom he trained to observe the mitzvos....
2 - Three hundred and eighteen. Our Sages said that it was Eliezer alone. And it [the number 318] is the gematria equivalent of his name.
Here are the problems:
1 - The verse does not say "his trained one." The verse is written in the plural, (trained oneS) not the singular (a difference of one letter, the yud) [*]
2 - In the following verse it says: "He divided his forceS against them by night, and he and his servantS attacked them and pursued them as far as Hobah, which is north of Damascus," making it perfectly clear that the expedition consisted of more than 2 people.
So what gives?
Simple. According to the Gur Aryeh, one of history's foremost authorities on Rashi, nothing written here should be construed to negate the plain meaning. There actually were 318 armed men. Rashi's point, is simply that Eliezer was the power behind them, and that without him Abram's victory would have been impossible.
In other words, this moron teacher has misunderstood Rashi, misled my kid, and opened the gates of heresy under his feet. My kid is not an idiot. He can read and translate a verse. He can see that the plain meaning is that Abraham was accompanied by more than one person. But because this teacher is not only in love with aggadot, but aggadot that he doesn't understand, my kid was forced to choose between his teacher and the words as they appear on the page.
I know from experience that isn't a good place to be.
[*] More on this perplexing comment in the next post
Sunday, October 21, 2007
Conversation has already started here: Click
I hope this story is the top post on every Jewish blog in the world by tomorrow morning.
Friday, October 19, 2007
OK Khevreh, those of you who’ve been waiting with baited breath. Here is my meme.
Yesterday, DovBear called for reconciliation among the various sub-sects of Orthodox Judaism. After another 5 meals, a bath and some reflexology therapy, I'm ready with my recommendations for each group.
Modern Orthodox: [Teaneck, Brooklyn Young Israel, and Much of YU]
Stop: Kowtowing to the radical Religo-feminists in your midst and creating Shul environments that make others intensely uncomfortable.
Start: Learning more in general in your discretionary time (being more affluent than Charedi you have more disposable income AND time). In particular learn Hashkafa s’farim authored by G’dolim other than Rav Kook and Rav YBS
Continue: Maintaining that the approaches of these two giants are valid and to be respected
Liberal Orthodox [UWS, Anywhere there’s egalitarian Orthodox, the rest of YU]
Stop: Mocking and attacking the sincerely held beliefs of people whom you’ve dismissed without ever bothering to analyze in depth. Also Kowtowing to the radical Religo-feminists in your midst as you are headed for the next official schism within Judaism. Keep it up and you will be official anathemas to the balance of Torah Jewry even sooner than the Elokist-Chabadniks
Start: Making it emphatically clear that you respect Talmidei Khakhomim as much as anyone else. Do not fancy yourself cleverer than they ESPECIALLY in THEIR areas of expertise.
Continue: So sorry, not convinced that there is anything legitimate here worth continuing. [I felt the same way about the two types of Hasidim, but in the interest of reconciliation I searched until I found something -- DB]
RW Yeshivish Orthodox [Lakewood, Bensonhurst, South Fallsburg]
Stop: Tolerating youth that smokes, never exercises and is as skeptical and dismissive of all but a few of their “anointed” TKs (e.g. AJ Soloveithcik and Rav Ela Ber) as the most egregious of old time Maskilim were of ALL TKs without exception.
Start: Preparing your children to date for middos Tovos, and even beauty and not exclusively for money in the bank.
Continue: Emphasizing the primary, non-negotiable CENTRALITY of limud torah.
LW Yeshivish Orthodox [Flatbush, Monsey, Cedarhurst]
Stop: Running to copy and embrace thinly veiled knockoffs of Goyishe values and esthetics in your Music, decorating and recreation, especially on Khol HaMoed. Either embrace or completely reject the genuine (Goyishe) articles but maintain your havdala sensitivity instead of the mixed-message mish-mash that you’re bequeathing your children.
Also stop sabotaging your less academically inclined children’s future with the incessant message that if they pursue degrees and/or don’t learn for 15+ tears after the Chasunah that they are abject failures.
Start: learning and teaching Aish Kodesh, Sifrei Rav Tzadok , Nesivos Shalom et al to reinvigorate your Chumros de jour with a little warmth and light. Also doing chesed to those different from you. It’s not for women and Chasidim only.
Continue: Learning the Daf, influencing co-workers and donating time and human resources to Partners-in Torah et al.
Hard-Core Hasidic [KJ, Willy, Boro Park]
Stop: Treating EACH OTHER (Satmar vs. Belz & Ger, everyone vs. Breslov and Lubavitch, Eruv Carriers vs. Eruv non- Carriers) and by extension their customs, teachings and the rest of their traditions, as chazer treif .It is a modest first step but a necessary one before we can ever begin to hope for recognition and reconciliation between you guys and the rest of us.
Start: Decentralizing. Instead of having constant inheritance fights let some of the brothers move out of town and start new urban and suburban Kehillas elsewhere. You should have the institutional confidence to do this by now.
Continue: Learning Tur and Bes Yosef and providing the rest of us with the lions share of our local-look-it-up-in-the-sources Poskim, Shokhtim, Sofrim Mohalim and Bikur Kholim volunteers.
Soft-Core Hasidic [Anywhere there's a rebbelah with a shteible]
Stop: Just stop. You disgust me!
Start: By scrapping everything Heimish and beginning from square one with any of the other groups. You have no legitimate right to exist.
Continue: Deluding yourselves NOOOOOOT!
Kehillarized BTs [Passaic, Baltimore Ramat Bet Shemesh]
Stop: Ostentatious Yuharo external displays of piety. Some of you are the embarrassing spiritual equivalent of the Nouveau riche.(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nouveau_riche) Also don’t take the omud before you’re ready. Sadly for some of you this will mean never taking the omud.
Start: By going slower in your ascent up the frumkeit ladders. It is a healthier and longer –lasting way to grow. Learning more before penning your first parenting book and/or going on a lecture tour.
Continue: Reinvigorating the rest of with probing questions, contagious enthusiasm and sublimating (re; raising the sparks) of the educations, skills, sensibilities and hobbies that you acquired in your pre-T’shuva states.
Amnon Yitzchaki-Harav Yagen-niks (KGH, Hancock Park BP Lakewood)
Stop: wearing 2 pairs of T’filin simultaneously shaving your heads and growing long simanim after being mehalelei Shabbat 2 weeks ago. Also stop scaring the rest of us by dressing and thinking like Wahabists who venerate Moshe instead of Mohammed
Start: co-opting the chilled-out calmness and high esthetics of the Syrians and Iraqis.
Continue: Returning to observance in droves. Waht do Amnon Yitzcahk and Harav Yagen know that Chabad and Aish don't?
Yekkes (Washington Heights, Paramus Monsey)
Stop: incessantly correcting the manners and pronunciation of others
Start: Finding a new locale for the Kehillo and a Charismatic new leader. You are losing your youth and minhagim to intra-Jewish assimilation
Continue: Maintaining perfect fidelity to minhagim of the most impeccable provenance.
I DID NOT WRITE THIS. CHAIM G. DID. COMPLAIN TO HIM -- DB
Thursday, October 18, 2007
Reconcile itself with science The evidence is in, and it can't be disputed: the earth is millions of years old. Dinosaurs once roamed the earth. There's no such thing as magic, or demons, and the spells and amulets don't work. To argue otherwise is to announce yourself a backwards fool. Judaism has a real and positive message, but no one wants to hear from a backwards fool. (This includes our own children who know from their first visit to a museum that anyone who says the earth is 6000 years old is lying or hiding something. Perhaps Yaakov Horowitz and his friends at Project Yes would have less to do if our leaders and role models didn't destroy their own credibility by binding themselves to ideas that are easily disproved)
Reconcile itself with modernity This includes many ideas, ideas the rest of the free world has largely accepted, but the most important of these is Freedom of Speech. Please note: I am not advocating some sappy, feel-good, pc-liberal ideal, wherein all ideas are equally respected. I am advocating the opposite: Open war on the bad ideas. And the way to do it is via questions, and arguments, and challenges to the received wisdom. If the received wisdom is right it will win the debate. If it is wrong, why cling to it? Truth has nothing to fear from free speech.
Reconcile itself with the rest of Orthodox Judaism Wouldn't it be great if the masses and leaders stopped obsessing over over the correct way to eat a boiled egg? Nusach is irrelevant. Levush is irrelevant. 72 minutes vs 42 minutes is irrelevant. In fact, all of the petty and silly stylistic acquisitions Judaism has made over the last 2000 years are irrelevant. A guy is Jewish if his mother is Jewish, and it shouldn't matter one drop if his mother covered her hair, or even if she occasionally serves as cantor at the local WPG. I feel so strongly about this that in the first draft of this post, I demanded that Orthodox Judaism dissuade itself from the narcissism of small differences and reconcile itself to the rest of Judaism, but lets get our own house in order first.
Sameach Music just released a new CD produced by Shirei Shmuel, my not-for-profit production company.If you've heard it already let me know and I will link to your reviews.
The CD is a compilation of 10 never-before recorded songs by Shlomo Carlebach. The songs were arranged and produced by Aron Razel and are performed by Razel, Shlomo Katz and Chaim Dovid. The CD is available here or at fine and not so fine Judaica stores everywhere.
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee; they shall be male and female.
On the spot Rashi says that shadim, or demons, were included, too. Why? Perhaps, because the verse says וּמִכָּל-הָחַי מִכָּל-בָּשָׂר suggesting that things that were alive, but not flesh, were brought on board as well. Rashi's source for this is Beraysis Raba, and I am quick to note that not all of BR found its way into Rashi's commentary. He includes only what can be used to address a perceived textual anomaly.
by Roger Ailes
...of more interest is the new publisher's description of the [Jomah Goldberg's] tome:
Contrary to what most people think, the Nazis were ardent socialists (hence the term "National socialism"). They believed in free health care and guaranteed jobs. They confiscated inherited wealth and spent vast sums on public education. They purged the church from public policy, promoted a new form of pagan spirituality, and inserted the authority of the state into every nook and cranny of daily life. The Nazis declared war on smoking, supported abortion, euthanasia, and gun control. They loathed the free market, provided generous pensions for the elderly, and maintained a strict racial quota system in their universities [How Nazi is that!?! -- R.A.] — where campus speech codes were all the rage. The Nazis led the world in organic farming and alternative medicine. Hitler was a strict vegetarian, and Himmler was an animal rights activist.The Nazis also hated homosexuals, atheists, women's equality, the right to privacy, contraception, diplomacy, immigrants, communism and the Soviet Union, and loved the military, nationalism, enhanced interrogation techniques, invading other countries [*] and long walks on the beach. The Nazis conducted research into the causes of cancer, too. The party was controlled by of a bunch of white, Christian, heterosexual men. The party's American supporters hated Roosevelt, the New Deal and immigrants. And Hitler owned a dog and bored people senseless talking about it.
Wait, what were we talking about again?
We often forget, for example, that Mussolini and Hitler had many admirers in the United StatesOh, no. I never forget a Bush.
Fascism was an international movement that appeared in different forms in different countries, depending on the vagaries of national culture and temperament. In Germany, fascism appeared as genocidal racist nationalism. In America, it took a "friendlier," more liberal form. The modern heirs of this "friendly fascist" tradition include the New York Times, the Democratic Party, the Ivy League professoriate, and the liberals of Hollywood. The quintessential Liberal Fascist isn't an SS storm trooper; it is a female grade school teacher with an education degree from Brown or Swarthmore.Now it becomes clear. JG is still licking his wounds from all the times he was shot down in his community college days, but he'll show those stuck-up bitches.
Apart from the blatant faslehoods in the publisher's synposis it seems Jonah's argument boils down to "anything I don't like is fascism, and here's a reference to Hitler I found on the 'net which proves it." I'm sure he would claim his analysis is more nuanced, but his own publisher doesn't seem to agree.
Goldberg hasn't forgotten what fascism is; he never knew.
[*] Update (10/13): As commenters have reminded me, I failed to include the abolition of labor unions, domestic spying, patriarchy and the nuclear family as Nazi "turn-ons." Thanks also to Alex of Martini Revolution, filling in at Crooks and Liars, for the link.
1 - I don't care
2 - ie: The babylonian Geonim
3 - v'hamayvin ya'avin.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Look, bird-brain, [Vox Day] I am relatively new thing in the world, I am a Jewish woman who is a full citizen of the country she unfortunately has to share with you. I do not have to sit quietly while you lecture me on the imperfections of my religion. I do not have to tremble when you suggest I am getting too uppity or wealthy. And I do not bar my windows and hide inside come Easter week. There are Christians in the world who do not share these rights, and I weep for them. But their plight does not give you the right to whine about being criticized in an open marketplace of ideas.This is the glory of our nation. So don't think that your thinly veiled snivelly threats are impressive. You ain't no Ferdinand, you ain't no Maria Theresa, you ain't no Edward I, and you sure ain't no Joe Stalin. Us Yidden, we've been threatened by experts. You don't measure up.
Just in case you were wondering whether anthing has changed for the better since Miriam Shear's report of the vicious attack on her on the #2 bus in Jerusalem last November -- or whether this was perhaps an isolated incident -- here is a letter that appeared in last Friday's (Oct. 12) issue of the Jerusalem Post's In Jerusalem section:
I was recently a passenger on a No. 1 bus leaving the Western Wall. During the ride one of the standing passengers became incensed that a woman passenger was seated next to a young man and physically assaulted her -- pulled her hair, pushed and pulled her out of the seat... and took her seat.
The driver did nothing. I wondered whether Egged has any required procedure in place when a passenger is being physically assaulted.
All the best,
Genesis 9: 9-15
After the flood, God demonstrates remorse and makes a deal with the creation, promising never to drown it again. He even puts the rainbow in the sky to remind himself of his promise. Now, whenever God gets angry, he looks at the rainbow and says: 'Oh, yeah.... That's right. I promised not to drown my creations again.' (It may seem like that last line was meant as a joke, but the idea that a rainbow is nothing but a giant post-it-note in the sky is pretty much Gen 9:15 verbatim)
The trouble with this verse is that rainbows occur naturally when light is refracted through water. They've existed for as long as light and water have existed. Are we to believe that there were no rainbows until after the flood? Did the flood change the very nature of light and water?
It won't surprise you to learn that traditional Judaism offers two answers, and, naturally, the nuttier one is more popular.
Nutty Torah-True Explanation: (more popular)
Before the deluge, some kind of vapor or cloud canopy surrounded the earth. 'Before the Flood, the clouds in the sky were thick and dense, obscuring the light of the sun. The Flood, which cleansed and purified the earth, also refined the clouds and made it possible for the rainbow to be observed, a phenomenon caused by the sun's rays' [Source] In other words, before the flood Earth's atmosphere with similar to the atmosphere of Venus. How did the people who lived before the flood survive the super high temperatures that are the physical result of such super-greenhouse conditions? The nutters don't say.
Rational Torah-True Explanation (less popular)
Samson Raphael Hirsch says, simply and specifically that the verses in Genesis shouldn't be construed to suggest that Noah's rainbow was the first rainbow in history. He bases himself on the Ramban, who writes: "As for us, we have no choice but to accept the opinion of the Greeks who maintain that the rainbow is an entirely natural phenomenon caused by the sun's rays striking the moist air after a rainfall. Any vessel of water that is placed in the sunlight will also produce a rainbow-like effect....The term "My rainbow" implies that it had existed earlier. Therefore, we explain the verses to mean that the rainbow that I placed in the clouds from the time of creation shall from this day forward constitute the sign of the covenant between Me and you, for when I shall see it I will recall that a covenant of peace exits between Me and you…(commentary to 9:12-17).]
The Ramban, you'll notice, is not adverse to reinterpreting a verse based on the teachings of science. Unlike too many of my ridiculous commenters, he does not ask us to accept teachings which conflict with empirical evidence.
Monday, October 15, 2007
Not to be confused with the Republicans caught cheating on their wives, engaging in homosexual activity despite denouncing it publicly, or accepting kickbacks and bribes
America is still quite friendly towards Jews, but the incessant attacks on Christianity by the likes of Deutsch, Forman and Abe Foxman have grown increasingly tiresome. Given this irritating behavior, and the historical fact that Jews have worn out their welcome in literally dozens of countries over the centuries, it is the height of foolishness for a small number of misguided individuals to demand that 80 percent of the American population remain silent about the tenets of its religious faith. Christians are dying for their faith in the Sudan, in North Korea, in China, Vietnam and Myanmar; they are not about to shut their mouths simply because a few Jews in the media disapprove of their beliefs.Yeah. buddy cry me a river. We Jews know a few things about dying ourselves, and we're not about to sit quietly while you repeat lies that are both offensive and the proximate cause of the aforementioned dying. We're going to call you on it every time. Every time. And if that hurts your wee wittle feewings, well a good cry followed by a long soak in the tub supposedly works wonders.
Here's what Aish has to say about witchcraft:
When a person matures, three general approaches towards the occult and other outside forces begin to emerge. There are the serious, rational mindsets who laugh it all off. For them the world is rational, quantifiable and anything else is utter rubbish... [second approach... third approach] None of these three general approaches are in keeping with Judaism.And here are the Torah approaches Aish wishes to pretend don't exist:
(1) Rambam, Yad Hachazaka: [Belief in] astrology, sorcery, oaths, lucky charms, demons, forecasting the future, and talking to the dead - all these are the essence of idol worship, and are lies that fools believe to be both true and wise, or were lies made up by the rulers to cheat the public. All these things are based on false beliefs, which have no point or use. He who believes that these are true practices -but forbidden by the Torah- is nothing but a fool. . . . the only person who will use these beliefs is one who is a gullible person who will believe anything, or a fraud who wishes to cheat the public."
(1a) Rambam, Yad Hachazaka: And these things [ie: magic, witchcraft, sorcery, and superstition] are all lies and deception... it isn't proper for Jews, who are wise and clever, to continue this nonsense and it should never enter their minds that there is an advantage or benefit [to'elet] to using these things... any person who believes in these things and imagines that there is truth and wisdom behind them - though the Torah prohibits them (to Jews) - is from among the fools and the stupid people [scholim u'chasrei daa't] and in the category of [people] who have incomplete mental facilities. Those who posses authentic wisdom and pure knowledge know through clear proofs that every one of these things that the Torah prohibited is not wisdom, but nothingness and nonsense [tohu v'hevel] that is continued by empty-headed people [chasrei da'at] who have caused the ways of truth to be abandoned.
(2) Ibn Ezra (Leviticus, 19:31):"Those with empty brains say 'were it not that fortune tellers and magicians were true, the Torah would not prohibit them.' But I (Ibn Ezra) say just the opposite of their words, because the Torah doesn't prohibit that which is true, but it prohibits that which is false. "
(Speaking of witches, I'll be back in a few with some thoughts on Ann Coulter. )
Friday, October 12, 2007
"When they say "Judeo-Christian", they actually mean "Judeo-Christian," and they actually hope it means "Jews-for-Jesus-Christian" someday.
It's all good as long as it translates into more book sales to bigots."
Noah gathers the animals for the ark
The curse of Ham
On his flood
Now the whole world had one language and a common speech: What was it?
An example of idiocy (by Ed)
Thursday, October 11, 2007
I just have to say in all candor that since this nation was founded primarily on Christian principles... I would probably have to say yes, that the Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nationWhy is he in an idiot? Because the US was founded on the values of the enlightenment, not the values of Christianity. This is why the United States has no pope, no slaves, and no faith tests for those who might wish to hold public office. Indeed, not many of the biblical, or canon laws have any sway here. Additionally, you may have noticed that Christianity doesn't run on principles like democracy, tolerance, or the separation of power.
Also, he is an idiot, because the U.S. Constitution contains no mention of "God" or "Christianity."
And finally he is an idiot, because, in 1797, during the lifetime of the founders, America made a treaty with Tripoli, declaring that "the government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion." This was written during Washington's presidency, and approved by the Senate under John Adams.
Tell your friends.
The bad news for some of Gil's prospective advertisers though, is that Hirhurim isn't about to be run like Craigslist. Some ads will be rejected. So here's my solution: If Gil says no to your ad, provide me with proof that Gil turned it down and I will I'll run it here for free. [Exclusions: I'm not going to run ads looking for no-tell hookups, for example, and I reserve the right to reject anything obscene.]
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
I tired to comment there, but Blogger is bloggered; anyway, responding here might send Josh traffic he richly deserves
So too here, Alter discards the explicit etymology of the [naming] verse, but then wishes to connect it to the narrative anyway. Since there is a serpent in the story, connect her name to the serpent. But who is to say there was any connection to the story at all? For example, connect it to חוה, to express, to state, to experience.
Is he discarding the etymology or is he attempting to understand it on its own terms? The verse gives us a n explanation for Chava's name that fits neither the story nor her name. Nowhere do we see Chava acting as "the mother of all that lives;" and even if she did, wouldn't ChaYa be the appropriate name? (Rashi catches this problem and smooths it out by arguing that the vav and the yud are interchangeable.)
Anyway, it isn't the serpent in the narrative Alter wishes to connect her to, but the Mesopotamian serpent ancients imagined was "the mother of all that lives." He holds that the Garden story is a myth built on older myths, and adapted to suit new times and places. Perhaps he would say that our Garden story was conceived as a response to the older serpent myth, a way of establishing that a woman called Chava, and not a chivya, was the progenitor of all living things.
Next week Secretary of State Rice will travel again to the Middle East — her eighth trip since last October, when she announced her "personal commitment" to the goal of a Palestinian state since there "could be no greater legacy for America."My, my. What was that you silly, easily-fooled, knee-Jerk Zionists were saying about W. being Israel's best friend in the whole wide world? Hmmm? Feel free to submit your retractions to IToldYouSo@dovbear.com.
Brains and Beliefs
by Alan Wolfe
Post date: 09.26.07
Issue date: 10.08.07
Head and Heart: American Christianities
By Garry Wills
Read the recent books making the case against religion, and you might think that the biggest conflict in this country is between those who believe and those who do not. Listen to evangelicals proclaiming that they have every right to question Mitt Romney's Mormonism, and you might conclude that the biggest disagreements are between one religion and another. Garry Wills has another point to make. The argument of Head and Heart is that we are hopelessly divided not over religions and not between religions, but within religions.
And so we come, as the reader all along knows we will, to the culture wars of the twentieth century. Those wars have their origin in the fundamentalist protest against modernity, where it is not difficult to see the forces lining up to support Wills's argument. In one corner stands biblical literalism, pre-Millennialism, male chauvinism, American exceptionalism, anti-Catholicism, and political conservatism. [Not to mention GOP Jews, Hasidim, the staff of Cross Currents, Gil Student, and, kneejerk Zionists] In the other: biblical scholarship, post-Millennialism, internationalism, religious toleration, gender equality, and political liberalism. [Sadly, there aren't nearly enough people like this on the "Orthodox" wing of Judaism, but we do exist] (Pre-Mills and post-Mills differed on when
Wills ends his account not with Jerry Falwell on one side and followers of Reinhold Niebuhr on the other, but with Karl Rove. The election of 2000 was a turning point for Wills. Americans sometimes say they are a religious country, but in 2000 they actually became one, and it was all the work of Rove. Did Wills write his entire book to defend the religion of the head against the religion of the heart generally, or more specifically against the especially noxious form it took in the politics of George W. Bush? His concluding two chapters lead one to believe that his inspiration was mainly political. The Republican base [aided and abetted by GOP Jews] hates every- thing that Enlightened religion has brought to this country and wants to stop it dead in its tracks. It routinely violates the First Amendment. It lets fanatical Christian activists write legislation. It forced politicians to rush to the bedside of Terri Schiavo, whom they saw as the world's "oldest and largest fetus." "All the Evangelicals' resentments under previous presidents, including Republicans like Reagan and the first Bush, were now being addressed," Wills writes.
"These are not separate churches or separate religions," Wills says of Enlightenment and Evangelical religion. "They do not excommunicate each other. They are simply two tendencies, two temperaments, and an absolute or sterile division between them is stultifying."
And this, in turn, suggests that what Wills views as an essentially Protestant dualism applies more broadly to every religion. Judaism's intellectuality may be its most prominent feature, but it does have its mystics and obscurantists and fideists and New Agers [and anti-intellectual close minded morons, including, but not limited to, Ed] . And for all I know, individual Mormons may resonate emotionally with the Tabernacle Choir. Religion, as we learned from Weber and Durkheim, appeals to another world while living firmly in this one. Since it is already given to dichotomies--the sacred and the profane, the sinful and the saved, heaven and hell, good versus evil--shouldn't we expect that, by its very dualistic propensities, it will appeal to both reason and revelation? Clearly some religions lean one way and others in a different direction, but they are all wrestling with the same forces.
Moreover, once you start down this path, there is no reason to stop with religion. Anthropologists such as Claude Lévi- Strauss and Mary Douglas remind us that dichotomizing is another term for culture: the raw and the cooked, purity and danger--the list is endless. Perhaps the dualism between the heart and the head is not something that people have learned from religion, but something that religion has learned from people. It is not, after all, as if the conflict between reason and emotion were confined to prayer. Baseball fanatics can be divided into passionate fans and keepers of statistics; psychotherapy relies on powerful memories and on logical deduction; and foreign-policy-making includes both realists and idealists. Some dualities are not useful because they apply to too few things, and some are not useful because they apply to too many.
If Wills's target is really the evangelical revival so prominent in today's Republican Party, his analysis does not add much to what we already know about it. Is Pat Robertson a man of the heart or a man of the head? The only answer one can give is that, like Tom Paine, he is neither--but for the opposite reason. Robertson, so far as I can tell, rarely uses his head; he is the very definition of a right-wing anti-intellectual. But neither does he in any large way use his heart: he is mean-spirited, and he seems to be totally devoid of enthusiasm for anything other than his successful business ventures and self-promoting media appearances. Just because nearly everyone is divided between the head and the heart does not mean that everyone is.
When I see James Dobson on television, the first word that comes into my head is not "otherworldly." Wills, I believe, would agree with this; his focus on Karl Rove, a man he describes as having "no discernible religious beliefs himself," suggests as much. But then why end a book on American religion with a movement that is, in both intent and purpose, essentially political? Wills falls too easily for a political movement's presentation of itself as a religious movement. Head and Heart would have been a more effective book if it had ended not with what is happening in Washington, but with what is taking place in the megachurches. Rick Warren, not Karl Rove, should have dominated the final chapters. And the reason for that is simple: American evangelicalism has been flourishing not because of its affinities with the Republican Party, but because, in speaking to the heart more than to the head, it appeals to people searching for personal advice about how to lead their lives.
Garry Wills's call to combine the two sides of American religious experience is a sensible one. "There is no reason why Enlightened religion has to become desiccated and cerebral, all light and no heat," he writes. "Nor why the Evangelical has to be mindlessly enthusiastic, all heat and no light." This is Wills not at his most iconoclastic, but at his most reasonable. Who could object to the idea that since the head and the heart are both aspects of being human, and since no active human being can function without either, the two ought to find their proper balance? If religion and politics follow the same trends, then the cycles of American political history posited by Arthur Schlesinger Jr. will have their counterparts in American religious experience. We leaned in one direction too much and then compensated too greatly in the other. Eventually we will find our balance.
So let me play here the role that Wills usually assigns to himself and argue against the reasonable position. If we are to have religion, shouldn't we have more religion of the head? I am not impartial here, being a head person myself. But after spending lots of time visiting evangelical colleges and seminaries and attending megachurch services, I come away bemoaning not some right-wing Christian plot to take over the country, but the sheer tackiness of so much of what I experienced. It would be nice, just once, to listen to a sermon delivered by an evangelical preacher that left one with a deeper sense of the world's ironies and complexities. Perhaps those who flock to megachurches would be more uplifted by hearing a Bach chorale than another variant of Christian rock. I certainly would not mind seeing Niebuhr sold in Christian bookstores--or, for that matter, Augustine included in required courses at Catholic universities. My friends among the faithful tell me that revelation is not opposed to reason. When I look back in Western history, I see their point. When I look around me at contemporary religious movements, I do not.
Contemporary religion's lack of intellectual depth may be more dangerous to our country's future than religion's involvement in politics. The contrast between the tragic consequences of America's involvement in Iraq and the generally indifferent views that Americans take toward those consequences strikes me as evidence of how desperately we need a religious sensibility more complex than the one we have. The ability of the Bush administration to redistribute income from the poor to the rich without substantial opposition testifies not only to the weakness of the left, but also to the absence of a deep appreciation of the Jewish prophets and the historical Jesus. Americans did not elect George W. Bush to the presidency twice because they are a devout people. Bush is our president not because Americans are religious, but because they are not religious enough--not, at least, if religion means having a social conscience, being judged, living with wisdom, adhering to the law. Had we more religion-- the kind, for example, that motivated the abolitionists and influenced Abraham Lincoln--we would not have been afflicted for so long with the likes of Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay. [Emphasis added]
Contemporary religion's lack of intellectual depth is also one of the reasons that contemporary atheism is having such a good ride. The recent sensations by Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens are all as predictable and shallow as the religion they spend so much time mocking. Serious atheism of the head should challenge serious religion of the head; but most contemporary atheists prefer to demolish the coarse superstitions all around them, and to call them religion, and to enjoy the applause. And how could it be otherwise? If you do not have serious belief, it is hard to have serious non- belief. Unlike Diderot and Voltaire, today's polemical skeptics are battening from the absence of hard targets, of philosophically sophisticated targets. It is surely not the business of American religion to supply its critics with their weapons; but it would strengthen both American religion and American atheism if the critics had something at which they could fire.
It is true that evangelicals and mainline Protestants disagree politically, but if serious theological differences between them exist, they are hard to spot. Neither camp has produced a serious work of religious thought in decades. Compared to today's emerging religious figures, Billy Graham--Billy Graham!--seems like a giant. It is not that we lack for Tillichs and Niebuhrs: there are no plurals here, such figures are hard to come by in any age. But we do not even have Billy Sunday! In our anti-philosophical and politicized and wildly psychological culture, in which all anybody seems to be seeking is convenience or affirmation or power, our religious life is in trouble indeed.
Garry Wills entered a Jesuit seminary in the early 1950s, leaving just before graduation. In an earlier period of American history, he might have finished his training and become an important religious thinker. Instead he has pursued his vocation outside the church, and while we may all be better off for that--Wills is a prodigious force in our country's intellectual life--his religion is certainly poorer for his absence. But that's the way it is in modern life: there remain places in American religion for people who use their heads, but all too many people who use their heads do not really mean to fill them. And so we have the religion of the heart run amok. It makes people feel better. It also means that while we may, if we are lucky, have more writers like Garry Wills, we are not likely ever again to have figures like Roger Williams, Jonathan Edwards, or even Anthony Benezet.
Alan Wolfe is a contributing editor at The New Republic.
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
וַיִּקְרָא הָאָדָם שֵׁם אִשְׁתּוֹ, חַוָּה: כִּי הִוא הָיְתָה, אֵם כָּל-חָי
Robert Alter notes that Chavah is similar to chivya, the Aramaic for serpent, and wonders if Chava'a name might contain an allusion to an old Mesopotamian myth in which a giant primordial serpent is imagined to be the progenitor of all things, or, in other words, the אֵם כָּל-חָי.
The Zohar also notes this similarity and speculates that Adam gave his wife a name connected to her sin, but does not explain how Adam knew Aramaic back in the early days when all the world spoke Biblical Hebrew.
[Image: Adam, Eve, and the (female) serpent at the entrance to Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.]
-- Rabbi Joseph Eisenbach, spiritual leader of Chabad Lubavitch of Litchfield County as reported by the New York Times.
(Rabbi Eisenbach told this wee little lie as part of his efforts to convince the local zoning board to allow him to convert a 19th century Victorian house into a shul.)
Only not so fast.
First, no less a luminary than Gil Student has argued that the passage isn't really about Jesus. (I think he's wrong, but never mind.) Moreover, as some of my readers said yesterday, asking us to change the Talmud is like asking them to rewrite the Gospels. And, as others pointed out, the word the Talmud uses (mamzer) isn't an insult or a pejorative. Its simply the legal description of the offspring of a forbidden union. But more to the point, the passage isn't a prayer, it was never recited, or even studied by Jews the world over, and it has done nothing to form a communal view of Christianity. No Jew ever embarked on a murderous rampage after studying Yebamoth. If only Catholics were historically so well behaved on Good Friday.
But the really offensive thing about the Cardinal's proposal is that it brings us back to the 19th century when socialism, modernism and Americanism were on the rise, and the Church was running for its life. Though no Pope ever blamed America on the Jews, for about 100 years the Vatican, its newspapers and its spokemen identified Jews as the leaders of an international campaign against the Church. This bizzare view of history lives on today in men like Kurt-Peter Gumpel, the German Jesuit responsible for the cause of Pope Plus XII's canonization who said in 1998 that Jews need an `examination of conscience' for injuries to Catholic church. Why? Because we were "managers" of Soviet communism in its initial stages and "massive accomplices in the destruction of the Catholic church." By suggesting that we remove an ambiguous phrase from the Talmud, Cardinal George has bought into that ahistorical attitude.