Friday, May 30, 2008

Bit of housekeeping

Elsewhere that yarmulke who wears a lawyer and one of his very biased, anti-dovbear cronies had something of a snickerfest at my expense. [At his blog; find it yourself.] They found it oh-so-hilarious that I wrote: It has already been decided that the pursuit of happiness is an inalienable right that no court and no vote can take away.

I don't know why this gave them the giggles, but I'd like to set the record straight: The courts DO recognize that that certain rights are inalienable, and they have said that the "pursuit of happiness" is one of them. (See Loving v. Virginia and Meyer v. Nebraska two landmark cases that guaranteed, among other things, a right to the pursuit of happiness.)

(Not incidentally, this is why I remain convinced that the California court got it exactly right when they ruled in favor of SSMs. Loving affirmed that "The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men." When homosexuals are denied this "vital personal right" they are also unfairly denied the dignity, respect and financial benefits that come with it. The court, in this case, didn't act as a"super legislature." They didn't create a new right. They simply said "We agree that this right belongs to you; it has always belonged to you; and the legislature acted improperly when they stripped it from you." This is the proper role of a court, and it is what protects minorities from the bigotry and tyranny of the electorate.) (What protects us from the bigotry and tyranny of unelected judges? Our power to appoint, and our power to impeach.)

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Today's post in favor of SSMs, freedom, and the American way.

Richard Just writing in Justice Delivered says:'s the normative objections to the California decision that bother me most--the idea put forward by some commentators that winning gay marriage through the courts rather than through the legislative process is somehow a form of cheating. Is progress in a democracy somehow purer or more legitimate if it does not involve the judiciary? I can understand the appeal of this idea: Let the voters arrive at a consensus themselves; let the politicians do the voters' bidding; this is how democracy is supposed to work--end of story. But this is not how democracy works, at least not our democracy. Progress does not always happen perfectly in our country, and, if we demand that progress only happen in certain ways, we set ourselves up for a situation in which progress cannot happen at all. Most dramatic leaps forward in our country's history--and the gay rights revolution is one such leap--have happened through a combination of forces. They have neither been imposed solely from above nor driven solely from below. They have generally involved the work of courts, of legislators, of governors, and of faceless bureaucrats. Because their jobs carry different responsibilities, these actors rarely pull in precisely the same direction, and, on certain questions, some may rightly prove more influential than others. But to argue that judges have no role to play in one of the key issues of our time-- to pretend that state constitutions, not to mention centuries of accumulated legal precedent, have nothing to say on the question of whether it is permissible for government to treat gays and lesbians as second-class citizens-- defies any rational understanding of the way a constitutional democracy is supposed to work.

The California Supreme Court did not rule in a vacuum. For one thing, its decision comes in the midst of a generation-long shift in the way Americans view homosexuality. What was once viewed as a mental disorder is today widely recognized as a normal human attribute. More concretely, the court did not act in a political vacuum. The legislature has twice passed bills to legalize gay marriage, and one of the state's largest cities had been performing gay marriages before the courts ordered it to stop. What the California Supreme Court was doing last week was not judicial imperialism. It was simply taking a moral consensus that is clearly emerging, and applying it to the state's constitution.

Indeed, if you read the 120-page-plus decision itself, you can see the powerful and rather simple thinking behind what the court did. Critics have suggested that the decision is overly expansive or poorly reasoned. In fact, its logic is relatively straightforward. First, the court established that an implicit right to marry has long been recognized in California law. Then it established that inherent in this right to marry is a right to the dignity and respect that comes with marriage--a right that California's "domestic partnership" law could not fully afford. The court then distinguished between two standards of judicial review: a "rational basis" standard, which allows the court to strike down a measure only if it serves no legitimate purpose; and a "strict scrutiny" standard, which the court applies to laws concerning "suspect classifications," such as race and gender, and which allows the court to strike down a measure if the state cannot show that it is needed to achieve a compelling interest. Does sexual orientation constitute a suspect classification? It is not exactly analogous to race or gender, but it is comparable in two key respects: First, people do not choose to be gay, just as people do not choose to be black or female. And second, discrimination against gays and lesbians has been both widespread and institutional throughout American history. None of this should be controversial, and it is exactly what the court concluded. Having established that sexual orientation constitutes a suspect classification and is therefore subject to strict scrutiny, it was relatively easy for the court to conclude that the state had no compelling interest in excluding gays and lesbians from marriage. After all, the supposition that denying marriage rights to gays will somehow preserve the institution's dignity for everyone else is hardly a persuasive argument.

Anyone who has ever looked at a poll on gay issues that disaggregates the responses by age knows how the story of gay marriage is going to end. What no one knows is when it is going to end. Had the California Supreme Court let the state's political process grind forward--its obligation to interpret the state's constitution be damned--how long would it have taken for the state's gays and lesbians to win their marriage rights? Perhaps it would have taken only a year. But what if it had taken ten years? Or even a generation? Meanwhile, stuck waiting patiently would have been the million-plus gay and lesbian Californians who want to live as first-class citizens, not in some theoretical, distant day to come, when the maddeningly slow work of legislators and governors finally delivers the outcome via means that we might regard as ever so slightly more democratic--but now, right now.

If courts, by interpreting state or federal constitutions in light of the country's changing mores on homosexuality, can hasten the day when gays and lesbians throughout the country fully enjoy the fundamental rights they are owed, then I, for one, am not going to quibble. Yes, if I were drawing things up from scratch, I might marginally prefer to have gay marriage enacted by legislatures, not by courts. But history is not drawn up from scratch. And, sometimes, waiting for the perfect process means waiting much too long.

More obnoxious Jews on the far right of OJ

Rubashkin, one of the largest glatt packing plants, is managed/owned/operated by a bunch of unethical lawbreakers who hire illegal aliens, and have been charged with using inhumane methods of slaughter, and of being unsanitary, unsafe, and unfair to its employees. There are also allegations that the method of shchita used at the plant is not halachic.

In response, a prominent Washington D.C. Rabbi has publicly asked his local Vadd to investigate the matter, and to provide assurances that the meat Rubashkin sells is kosher.

To normal people this is a reasonable - even responsible -request. But not to the lovely people who read and write at Circus Tent, where the Rabbi's point and argument are being ignored, and he is instead being subjected to the lowest and most vile sorts of ad hom attacks. And why? Because he's clean shaven. (Yes, like the Ramchal who also wore no beard ---though don't hold your breath waiting for these phonies to throw out their mesilas yesharim.)

This is another example of tribalism. It's Kolko all over again. As the pile of evidence against that reprehensible pedophile was growing higher and higher we heard from men who dress like him, and from men who talk like him, who all urged us to to ignore the facts, who told us the case against Kolko was the work of the Jew-hating media. They were wrong, but they helped a monster escape justice. Now the Lubovs at Agriprocessors are on the hot seat, so of course the Lubovs at Circus Tent are running interference. Don't even consider the evidence, they say. Ignore the facts. There's nothing to see here. After all the arguments are being made by a Modern Orthodox Rabbi.

mehadrin buses and National Religious passivity

A Guest Post by Rafi G.
(cross posted from LII)

Rav Yuval Sherlo, the Rosh Yeshiva of the Hesder Yeshiva of Petach Tikva and a rising, though sometimes controversial, star in the National Religious Rabbinate weighed in with interesting thoughts on two topics.

  1. On the topic of the recent geirus controversy - Rav Sherlo wrote a column in which he lays the blame completely on the National Religious public.He wrote that because the National Religious leadership removed itself from the public leadership, by declaring in advance that it would sit in the opposition and not join the Olmert government, it removed itself from being in position to lead rabbinicly. The decision was legitimate, but it has ramifications. By staying in the opposition, it means that its Rabbis would lose out the appointments to the Chief Rabbinate and as city Rabbis. the Haredim win those positions now because their parties are in the right positions.
    Also, the National Religious Rabbinate never held a serious discussion to come up with Halachic methods, that are acceptable lechatchila, for conversions, converts and how to deal with them. What is considered "acceptance of mitzvos", how much follow up there must be, how much ibvestigation must be conducted to reveal deception, and the like. Because they have not determined their positions on these matters, the National Religious public should be looking inward and should blame themselves. Until they came up with their own halachically acceptable decisions and positions, they cannot spend their time blaming others [i.e. the Haredim].

    Rav Sherlo says that the National Religious should leave the Haredim alone, not lay blame at their feet for the situation, not complain about the Haredim. Rather, they should be working to fix the problem. They should be formulating positions and working on their own plans. When the time comes, he says, "We will return and will take the responsibility for those Torah issues, and that will strengthen the Israeli nation in the ways of halacha.

  2. Rav Sherlo was asked for a psak by a female correspondent how she hsould relate to the phenomenon of Mehadrin buses.
    She writes that the bus she takes to work is a mehadrin bus. It is not clear whether Egged has a right to make such a segregation, and the Supreme Court has yet to rule on the situation in the case pending before it. She writes that she personally has a problem with it. Her problem is two-fold:
    1. the idea of it is degrading to her and the extremism involved distrubs her.
    2. She is prone to motion sickness and sitting in the back, nearer to the engine, increases her discomfort.
    So she asks Rav Sherlo what his position on these buses is, does she have to respect the religious extremism of others and sit in the back even though it increases her discomfort, if the back of the bus is full but there are seats available in the front half - can she sit there, and is there a difference for a pregnant or older woman?
    Rav Sherlo responds that he belives there is great importance in keeping the public forum a place that is tzanua, not having immodest advertising signs up for example, and that we should live with tznius. But, Rav Sherlo writes, "I am against the mehadrin buses. These buses are mehadrin in shaming other people. in dealing with tznius in an immodest fashion, and more." Rav Sherlo continues that he thinks "that a person should not do it specifically, just to oppose it, and get on the bus in the front. One does not need to start a war over this, at this point. But if you are doing it not just to oppose - "Davka" - but for a purpose, such as your motion sickness, or when there are no available seats in the back, then you can sit wherever you want. And those who change things, they have the lower hand" .

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

I aim to please

Child Ish Behavior writes:

I am looking for a bigger audience for my Narishkiet.Perhaps you can give my blog a look and blogroll it.

Much obliged,
Child Ish Behavior

some stuff thats not too bad.

BBC NEWS | UK | Church to debate convert motion

BBC NEWS UK Church to debate convert motion

If you're the web guru who wrote to me a few weeks ago...

... can you please write to me again?

Looks like those activist judges got it right

Californians support gay marriage: A majority of registered Californian voters oppose changing the constitution of the most populous U.S. state to bar gays from marrying, according to poll released on Wednesday.

Though I am pleased to see that the people of California, for all their faults, aren't gay-hating whack-jobs, I don't think this question should be decided by the people. Some rights are inalienable. I don't need the people to affirm my right to life and liberty, and the gay citizens of this country don't need permission to "pursue happiness" when the happiness they wish to pursue harms no one. When there are no victims, the state must remain neutral on questions of theology and morality. The fact that you think God hates gays, doesn't authorize you to impose that belief on anyone who disagrees. You don't have any evidence. You might be wrong. And the fact that you might be wrong, requires you to be silent on the subject, in part because your own silence helps to ensure that your own strange proclivities will be met with the same sort of polite indifference.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

SwiftBoat Watch!

YeshivaWorld is a disgrace. They've printed Obama's Auschwitz error, but not the obvious, and self-evidently true explanation. He was talking about his great-uncle, not his uncle, and because he's a black man of Kenyan descent, and not a Jew of Eastern European descent, he confused the names of the death camps. Not the biggest deal. How many of you can recite any of the facts of Kenyan history?

Unfortunately, the real story here isn't Obama's mistake, but the venality of the Republicans who are attempting to exploit what even your more intelligent barn-yard animals understand was a benign error. We shouldn't be surprised. We saw what the Swift-boat liars did to poor John Kerry, the war hero. We saw how poor Al Gore got himself roasted alive for providing an awkwardly phrased, yet factually correct account of his role in the development of the Internet. [Note to Fox News addicts: He never claimed to have "invented" anything.] And now its Obama's turn. Can't Republicans, for once, try to win a presidential election without using lies to demolish their opponents?

Am I a Zionist?

Yourfavoriteblogger was invited to join 60 other bloggers who are posting their reflections and perspectives on Israel at Happy Birthday Israel: 60 Posts in 60 Days.

My entry was published today. Read it here

If GH was a girl


Jewish Voters and Barack Obama

From the Times letter column
Published: May 27, 2008

To the Editor:

Obama Asks Jewish Voters to Judge Him on His Policies (May 23, 2008) Re “As Obama Heads to Florida, Many of Its Jews Have Doubts” (front page, May 22):

As a 60-plus Jewish resident of Boca Raton, Fla., who is deeply committed to Israel, I refuse to be identified and pigeonholed with all the people who fit my demographic profile and whom you quoted in your article about Jewish voters in Florida.

Contrary to what your readers might gather from your article, we are not a homogeneous bloc. This presidential campaign has been exciting and has energized so many people, not only because we are fed up with the mess created by the Bush administration, but also because it has shown that intelligence and leadership ability transcend race and gender.

It is high time that the media stop contributing to all the negative stereotypes. There are so many of us who care profoundly about Israel and just as much about America. We want to see the United States restored to a position of leadership and respect worldwide.

Myriam Weinstein
Boca Raton, Fla., May 22, 2008

To the Editor:

The distinction between older Jews and younger Jews, in terms of their views of Barack Obama, tells only half of the story.

As a 55-year-old Jewish woman, I support Mr. Obama, and have given little thought to his race (or Hillary Rodham Clinton’s gender). The fact is that baby boomer Jews — and younger — have had a great deal of experience working with and socializing with African-American professionals, an experience that older Jews may not have shared.

Truth be told, many of us baby boomers do not notice race or gender — what we notice is class. We are comfortable with Mr. Obama because he went to good schools, because he is an intellectual, because, despite humble beginnings, like many Jews of our generation, he is now part of the professional class, living the American Dream, sending his children to the best schools, camp, lessons and so on.

In this important way, we recognize him — he is like us. Does that mean that we all support him? Not necessarily, but if not, it is not because of his race.

Ellyn S. Roth
New York, May 22, 2008

To the Editor:

The community of older Jewish voters who were alive during World War II should understand better than any other group of voters the danger of choosing leaders based on ethnic origin and skin color, instead of the qualifications and policies of the candidates.

Noel E. Hanf
Guilford, Conn., May 22, 2008

the inaccuracies of a translation

A Guest Post by Rafi G.

It is interesting to note how different news media translate the same Hebrew word to different English words, and how that can change the tone of the article.

Yesterday PM Olmert said that only those who are "Hazui" can still believe in the concept of a "Greater Israel".

"Hazui" is a Hebrew word that seems difficult to translate precisely. My Babylon translation software comes up with no suggested translation for the word when I submit it for translation.

A sampling of how the various media outlets translated it:

Haaretz: those who hallucinate

Ynet : delusinoal fantisists

JPost: bizzare people

This goes to show you that translations need to be taken with a grain of salt. The words the translator uses have been selected not necessarily for their accuracy, rather to convey a certain message.

This is why the Septuagint was considered such a tragedy. Until then the Torah had not been translated, and by setting a precedent, it was opening a door for corruptible translations to be entered into our libraries.

Whenever possible - read from the original in the original language. Even if the translator had the best of intentions, it is prone to inaccuracies just because it is not always possible to get an exact translation.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Magic and Mitzvoth

Sometimes, I wonder if Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi might be jealous.

He was the chief editor of the Mishna, after all, the first great code of Jewish law, a code studied to this day by school children and scholars alike, while also serving as a key leader of the Jewish community during Roman times. Yet the glory -if glory is measured in songs and stories- goes to Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the man who may have written the Zohar, and is remembered, to this day, on his feast day, with bonfires and other tributes, including a pair of very long prayer poems which suggest, among other praises, that Bar Yochai was holy from the moment of his conception.

I want to win some of that glory for Yehuda HaNasi. I want celebrations in his honor, celebrations of scholarship, and for the talent for organization that made the Mishna possible. Too much is made of mysticism. Too many Jews seek redemption by dunking in Mikvahs and running to graves and miracle workers, by mumbling Pslams, or performing segulahs. A feast day for Yehuda Hanasi, one with all the accoutrements (save, of course, the hagiographies, and the extolments borrowed from Christianity that make up the Lag Bomer liturgy) might trim the boat, and redirect some of Jewish energy and attention toward the neglected idea that a Jew is redeemed through mitvoth -not through magic, mysticism, or miracles.

Original Post

God's love is a double edged sword

A Guest Post By Rafi G.

Love. A double edged sword.

Last week we read from the Torah the portion of the threats and curses of punishments that will befall us if we do not follow Hashem and the Torah properly. So this week, we start out right away with Hashem telling Moshe to count the Israelites, with Rashi explaining it is because Hashem loves us so much that He counts us. Counting us is an expression of love.

But this love is dangerous. Moshe is then told to not count the Levite tribe. Rashi explains the reason to be because Hashem knows that all those counted will later be condemned to die in the desert and not enter the Land of Israel.

So do not count the Leviim because even though counting is an expression of love, it also is a marker for who will later be condemned to death.

So which is it? an expression of love or a sign of condemnation?

anybody have any ideas?

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The problem with homosexuality (R-rated)

A guest post by Charlie Hall (written about two years ago)

'Facts cannot be wished away by theories, no matter how cherished.' - Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm:

There has been a flurry of blog activity recently regarding homosexuality, triggered in part by the success of Ang Lee's film "Brokeback Mountain" and also by the fact that the Conservative movement is discussing the issue this week. I'd like to take a moment to discuss this issue not from a public policy perspective nor even from a halachic perspective, but to point out from an Orthodox perspective some hashgafic problems that I think have been ignored.

Regarding Rabbi Dr. Lamm's quote above, the hashgafic problem stems from the fact that there are some people who just seem to have been created by HaShem to be sexually attracted only to people of the same sex. Of course, there are many who disagree with that statement, which I'll get to in a moment, but I want to speak first to those of us who consider ourselves open-minded, liberal, and accepting of empiricism.

It is clear that there is a prohibition in the Torah against men having sex with men. Oh, you can come up with some pilpul that might limit it a bit, maybe to anal-genital intercourse, but the fact is, it is there. It has been there for over 3,000 years. There is nothing I can see in the tradition that would limit it much if at all. And it is equally clear from our tradition that Jewish men are supposed to get married and try to have families. It is, according to our tradition, a mitzvah from the Torah. And according to our tradition there is a similar prohibition from the Rabbis against women having sex with women.

This should be a huge hashgafic problem for those who see Judaism as a Way that all should be able to follow. It is a problem for those of us who notice that the biggest Gay bashers tend also to be the biggest anti-Semites. It is a problem for those of us who notice that Hitler was just as adamant to exterminate homosexuals as to exterminate Jews. It is a problem for those of us who see Torah as having no conflict with modern society and modern liberal sensibilities -- and can cite compelling sources in favor of our position. This just doesn't fit.

And maybe that is the point. I am one of those folks whose politics shifted quite a bit to the left as I became observant and discovered the Torah's ethical teachings. I strongly believe that it is the Jews who support laissez-faire capitalism who ought to be troubled by the Torah -- it just isn't a Torah value. But this is the one for us liberals. It isn't easy. It is a challenge. And it has no easy resolution.

This is not a justification for bigotry, discrimination, or even exclusion of anyone from the Jewish community. Yeshiva University doesn't even discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation: But those few of us Orthodox liberals left do understand that this is not easy for us. Torah is indeed supposed to be a challenge and this is the big one for me -- not Shabat, not kashrut, not taharat hamispacha, not believing in God and in miracles.

Now, to the folks who deny the problem: It isn't going away. Homosexuality is as real as evolution, and it isn't going away. Those of us who assume that it is all a matter of choice are in denial about both the facts and this problem. And that there are so many who choose to stay in denial represents to me a discouraging sign for a religion. Denial makes this problem easy. It is *their* fault.

That's not Torah. It isn't supposed to be easy. If we don't get our ideas challenged, what is the point? Making it look like things are always clearcut and that it is easy to always be on the right side of things actually misrepresents Torah. If it were truly so easy there would be no point, no stimulus for growth.

Any feedback is appreciated.

Friday, May 23, 2008

What I should have posted on Yom Hashoa

Rose's Story

An unintended display of honesty from the Yated

A Yated Survey which seems to admit fully 1/4 of what the paper does is "Criticism of others."


Another Oldie/Goodie


The word of God:
And all that have not fins and scales in the seas, and in the rivers, of all that move in the waters, and of any living thing which is in the waters, they shall be an abomination unto you: -Leviticus 11:10

Nonetheless, GOP-Jews are pleased to tolerate Red Lobster, Captain Jack and the sea-food section at Pathmark. They also raise no objections when the government provides those companies with licenses, permits, subsidies, tax breaks, and all of the other benefits the non-abominable businesses receive. Where's the outrage?

The word of God:
But all other flying creeping things, which have four feet, shall be an abomination unto you. -Leviticus 11:10

According to GOP-Jew logic, isn't our culture "celebrating" an abomination if it permits people to eat insects? I, personally, have seen people commit this particular abomination in the street, without shame. Where are the mighty moralists? Shouldn't our children be protected from such wantan displays of immorality?

The word of God:
The graven images of their gods shall ye burn with fire: thou shalt not desire the silver or gold that is on them, nor take it unto thee, lest thou be snared therin: for it is an abomination to the LORD thy God. either shalt thou bring an abomination into thine house, lest thou be a cursed thing like it: but thou shalt utterly detest it, and thou shalt utterly abhor it; for it is a cursed thing. -- Deuteronomy 7:25-26

Wow. Sounds like we're required to take a pick-ax to any and all crucifixes and statues of Jesus, doesn't it? Or at the very least, we're required to support politicians who pledge to do it for us. God wants us to vote for the secularists! Or, at the very least, it means that we're prohibited from collecting African and Asian religious art. Yet, our immoral government continues to fund museums, and immoral Americans continue to flock to them in large numbers. Per the Torah, they might as well be attending a club where the male sex acts are live, and on stage.

The word of God:
Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For all that do these things are an abomination unto the LORD: and because of these abominations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from before thee. -Deuteronomy 18:11-13

This ones tough, because it means lots and lots of Hasidic Rabbis will have to go, together with faith healers, fortune tellers and psychics. Oh, well. It’s hard to be a Jew.

The word of God:
The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God. --Deuteronomy 22:5

So, per the Torah a woman in pants is morally equivalent to a sodomist. And to think the president's own wife frequently commits this particular act of immorality in full view of the children.

The word of God:
Her former husband, which sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after that she is defiled; for that is abomination before the LORD: and thou shalt not cause the land to sin, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.

Furthermore, a guy who takes back his divorced wife after she marries (and divorces) someone else is also the moral equivalent of a sodomist. Wow. We sure do have a lot of work to do, if we're going to make this country moral.

The word of God:
But thou shalt have a perfect and just weight, a perfect and just measure shalt thou have: that thy days may be lengthened in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee. For all that do such things, and all that do unrighteously, are an abomination unto the LORD thy God. -Deuteronomy 25:15-17

Enron, anyone? Tom Delay? Oh, I know, the GOP-Jew-excuse: They support Israel, so not only do we need to look the other way, we need to SUPPORT these people who, per the Torah, are the moral equivlent of sodomists.

To sum up: It's ludicrous to use the verse about sodomy being an abomination as yuor reason for supporting politicians who wish to afflict and torment gays, unless you take the same view of all the other types of people the Torah puts in the same category.

Unfortunately, most GOP-Jews single out gays, and sit shiva when the government considers extending equal protection to gays, while all the other abominations are ignored. What's the reason for this cognitive dissonance? Are they ignorant of what the Torah says, anti-gay bigots, hypocrites, or lacking critical-thinking skills? (Personally, I think that last reason is why so many of them became GOP-supporters in the first place.)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Why the Meron pilgrimage is an argument in favor of calling women for aliyot

Tonight, tens of thousands of Haredim are going to make a pilgrimage to Meron where they will sway in front of bonfires, give their children haircuts, and sing hymns honoring Bar Yochai. Beloved thought it may be, this ritual is brand new. Scholars believe the trip to Meron is imitative of a Muslim practice that was incorporated into Judaism by way of the Mustaribim, a community of 16th century Jews who lived in the Holy Land and embraced some Arab customs.

Today, of course, bonfires and haircuts are mainstream Jewish customs. Why was it accepted? What made it spread so rapidly? Well, it seems obvious to me that this could have only occured because the Meron ritual filled some sort of gap in the spiritual life of those who chose to accept it.

In 2008 some Jewish women also feel a gap in their spiritual lives, but instead of imitating Arabs, they are imitating Jewish men. My question to those who would berate women for attempting to find spiritual fulfilment the only way they know how -by copying the only things they see - is this: How do you justify yourselves? If Meron (and countless other rituals and observances) could be taken from other cultures and added for the sake of pleasing men, what is the justification for continuing to frustrate women?

Anticipated answers:

(1) It's osur! Well not, not really. There are countless examples of things women can do, per halacha:

- Calling a woman to the Torah, for example, is only osur for the sake of the congregation's honor. There's nothing inherently wrong with it, and the case can be made that the congregation's honor is no longer offended when a woman is called to the Torah.

- The Mishna Brurah, who was no egalitarian fanatic, rules that women are required to make a zimun when three of them eat together, yet women generally are not told to do this. Why not?

- There's never any objection when women wish to say Tehillim together, so why are they often prevented from davening together?

- Woman are required to daven at least once per day, and some authorities say the requirement is to pray twice. Why isn't this taught/encouraged? Why is the focus on baking challah, and not on fulfilling a biblical demand? Isn't it possible that women wouldn't be copying men in ways that make the authorities nervous, if they were instead taught/allowed to do things that are permitted and/or required?

(2) You can't update the religion! Ok, so let's eliminate Chanuka, Purim, Meron, Upshirin, Av Harachamin, Pruzbul, the Diaspora's extra day of Yom Tov, Hasidut, Nusach Sfard, tefillah, and more. Why are some updates ok, and others unacceptable? Anyway, allowing/encouraging women to do any of the things listed above aren't updates, in that they were never disallowed.

More, as it occurs to me.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Does America get a bum rap?

We know lots of American Jews left Judaism in the pre-war years but is it right to blame this on America? I am not sure. First, the "dignified orthodox" lived in America, yet managed to stay orthodox over many generations, keeping their children and their grandchildren, and even their great-grandchildren in the fold. The group that left Judaism soon after arriving here were Eastern Europeans, but huge numbers of them dropped out while they were still in Europe where legions of EE Jews became communists, or socialists, or anarchists, or Zionists, etc.

This didn't happen in Germany. In Germany, Jews looked for ways to change Judaism, and they dropped observances (for both negative and positive reasons) but they (generally) didn't drop the religion (At first) (Abandonment of the religion was often the outcome of reform, but never the original intention).

Only in Eastern Europe (I think) did people drop out in huge numbers, a phenomenon that was replicated in America, but perhaps shouldn't be blamed on it.

In the 19th century German Jews attempted to reform Judaism, whereas Eastern European Jews dropped out. What accounts for the two difference responses?

Where are you from?

In my long, hopefully non-boring post, on Judaism in pre-war America I discuss three Jewish factions that were active here before WWII: The American reformers, who were largely German and the descendants of Germans; the Eastern Europeans who came from Russia and Poland and places like it; and the "dignified Orthodox" who followed halacha, but kept customs and practiced a Judaism that looked very different from the sort of Judaism the Eastern Europeans brought here. After the war, Hungarians and Romanians came, too.

Where are you from?

I'll go first: My family is entirely descendant from the Eastern Europeans, and all of my grandparents were born in the US of A. (We suspect that one of my American-born grandfathers is himself descendant, at least in part, from the "dignified" Orthodox, but that's speculation based on certain facts, and not a conclusive fact itself.)

Your turn.

Farenheight 666

Another Guest Post by

Christian Missionaries are a growing problem in Israel, and in the town of Or Yehuda in particular.

Last week, "Jewish Messianic" Christian missionaries canvassed the predominantly religious town of 34,000 in central Israel, and distributed hundreds of New Testaments and anti-Jewish missionary material -- much of it geared specifically towards children.

In response, Or Yehuda Deputy Mayor Uzi Aharon organized teams of youngsters to go house to house, collecting the distributed materials, while he drove around in his car and loudspeaker system imploring residents to get rid of the books.

While Aharon continued driving around the city, some of the teenagers gathered all the books, dumped them, and lit a bonfire.

You can predict what happened next.

Israel's media has been having a field day with this "book burning" story, and every radio station has used the quote, "Where they burn books, they will ultimately also burn people"

Haaretz's headline screamed, "Orthodox Jewish youths burn New Testaments in Or Yehuda"

Maariv reported that hundreds of yeshiva students took part in the book-burning...but Aharon told The Associated Press that only a few students were present, and that he was not there when the books were torched.
"Not all of the New Testaments that were collected were burned, but hundreds were," he said.

He said he regretted the burning of the books, but called it a commandment to burn materials that urge Jews to convert.

"I certainly don't denounce the burning of the booklets, he said. I denounce those who distributed the booklets."

Calev Myers, an attorney who represents Messianic Jews, or Jews who accept Jesus as their savior, demanded in an interview with Army Radio that all those involved be put on trial. He estimated there were 10,000 Messianic Jews, who are also known as Jews for Jesus, in Israel. (Haaretz)"
There's a law against missionising to minors in Israel, but the police rarely have the time or manpower to deal with it. So while Mr. Myers wants everyone involved put on trial (for what, I don't know), the Israeli police don't really the address the illegal actions of Myers' clients.

Israel's media is so concerned about the actual "book burning," that they willfully ignore the Christian proselytizing towards children. As long as they can repeat over and over "Where they burn books, they will ultimately also burn people" -- that's all that matters.

Personally, I was a lot more bothered when Harry Potter books were burned in New Mexico.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The IDF Chief Rabbi responds to allegations

A Guest Post by Rafi G.

(cross posted from LII)

About a week ago the story broke that the Chief Rabbi of the IDF had supposedly desecrated the holiday of Pesach (the story actually said he desecrated the shabbos, but alert readers pointed out that the timing means it was really the holiday), and the Haredi press had written about it very critically demanding an explanation and his resignation, as they claimed there was no need for him to be there and therefore no need for him to get in the car.

For some reason, Rabbi Ronsky, the Chief Rabbi of the IDF, felt it necessary to try to clear his name and provide an explanation. Yesterday he sent a letter to various Rabbis of the IDF in which he provided an explanation for his actions.

He wrote, "The IDF rabbi is an an inseparable part from the fighting unit. Just as he puts himself in danger when he goes out with the unit to the front lines, so too if the unit has to be mobilized on Shabbos, the Rabbi must join the unit."

Ronsky compared the IDF Rabbi to the way the Torah describes the Kohein who was appointed to go out with the people to battle. He writes, "The Kohein would meet the soldiers before they went out to battle, and he would lift their spirits. He would then go out with them to the battle.
The main job of the Unit Rabbi is to raise the morale of the soldiers. Strengthening them in this way is an important job in ensuring their success in battle, for, as is known, assault before an enemy is not natural for a person, and definitely not for our young soldiers. Therefore a Rav who is integrated thoroughly with his unit, who participates and is present during their exercises and their operations, can help them overcome their distress and crises that are charachteristic in these situations."

"The soldier is comparable to a choleh she'yesh bo sakana - a sick man whose life is in danger. Such a person we even bring his family to his bed, because it can help his situation. We find that even Torah decrees would eb waived to bring his family in this situation. How much more so, in this situation, to strengthen the morale of the sodliers - something that will directly affect the success of the operation, that is of invaluable importance."

I guess his classification of the Rabbis role would be a point of debate, but at least he has a reasonable explanation (as I wrote before, that I did not doubt from the start). Even if others do not agree with his opinion, it is not necessarily their place to instruct him how to behave, when he is fully qualified to make such decisions.

Refuah Shlayma Senator Kennedy

The reprehensible human beings who make the Yeshiva World go round are dancing on poor Ed Kennedy's grave -- and he's not even dead yet.

Of special interest is the regurgitated nonesense about the Kennedy family curse. As the story goes [some famous rabbi*] put a curse on Old Joe Kennedy because [of something he did to offend the Rabbi**] As a result, bad things happen to the Kennedys -- though to date they've remained plenty rich, plenty powerful and plenty good-looking.

Of course the people who gleefully spread that story don't ever seem distressed by the fact that (a) curses don't work; (b) it's a very petty Rabbi indeed who'd curse a whole generation of Kennedys becuase of something their father did; and (c) the story basicly accuses the Rabbi, whoever he was, of commiting multiple homocides.

Ah well. That's the Yeshiva World for you. Shtark, but dumb as dirt.

Kasha for the learned mystics among us: Why was it okay for that Rabbi to murder the offspring of someone who had offended him; also can the murder only be done via magic? Because, hey, people offend me all the time and if murdering their children is an option, that's information I should have.

* Who the Rabbi was varies depending on who is regurgitating the nonesense. At Yeshiva World you'll see its attributed to several different people.

** What Old Joe allegedly did also varies.

Zip it Zweibel

Here's Dovid Zweibel, the Agudah muckety-muck, misunderstanding and/or misconstruing the California court's ruling on SSMs, as reported by the Jerusalem Post:

Rabbi David Zwiebel, Agudath Israel's executive vice president for government and public affairs, said the Supreme Court decision "vilifies communities like ours and the countless other Americans who consider the institution of marriage in its traditional form to be the foundation not only of the family but of civilized society."

Vilifies us how? The courts of this country also allow people to worship idols, a practice that, according to the Torah, also undermines the family, civilized society, etc. Does the first amendment to the US Constitution "vilify" us, too?

Anyway, Zweibel should zip it, because Jews invite their own destruction when they argue against extending the liberties we enjoy to other groups. As Steven Pinker put it in another context: "The price of freedom is tolerating behavior by others that may be undignified [DB: or immoral, or otherwise objectionable] by our own lights. I would be happy if Britney Spears and "American Idol" would go away, [DB: and Zwiebel, no doubt, would turn cartwheels if the sodomites disappeared] but I put up with them in return for not having to worry about being arrested by the [circumcision] police. This trade-off is very much in America's DNA and is one of its great contributions to civilization: my country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty."

NB: Men like Zweibel insist that they are not bigots. They insist that their objections to SSMs are principled, and rooted in a sincere understanding of the Jewish religion. I think they are lying -- if not to us, then to themselves. If Zweibel cared one drop about the Torah, and its teachings, he'd object to foreign religions with the same ferocity with which he objects to SSMs. He doesn't and I have no charitable explanation for the double standard.

The Closing of Volozhin; Jewish Urban Legend?

A Guest Post by Jameel. Cross-posted to The Muqata

It's impossible to traverse chareidi circles without hearing that the famous Volozhin Yeshiva was closed by its Rosh Yeshiva, the "Netziv" (Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin (נפתלי צבי יהודה ברלין) -- because he would rather close the Yeshiva than for his students go to University and study secular subjects. This mantra is often repeated as a primary reason to avoid Yeshiva University, any combination of Yeshiva and College studies, or secular studies in general.

In May 1988, looking for a donation, the Lakewood Cheder School sent me a copy of the book, "My Uncle the Netziv" -- written by R' Baruch HaLevi Epstein (author of the Torah Temima) and nephew of the Netziv. The book was adapted into English by R' Moshe Dombey and under the general editorship of Artscroll Mesorah Rabbis and Publishers Nosson Sherman and Meir Zlotowitz. The book's jacket states, "This is the sort of book that cannot -- and should not -- be put down."

I enjoyed the book at the time, and found the life and times of the Netziv to be an interesting read. A few months later the Lakewood Cheder School sent me a bizarre letter (pictured at left) in which they sincerely apologized for sending me such an offensive book. They insisted the book not be read -- and they even offered to refund any donation I may have sent them.

Why was the book recalled and banned? What was so terrible in the book that caused such a radical reaction from Lakewood? The recall letter was rather vague about what was wrong with the book, but as a teenager I realized if they were recalling the book, it was worth keeping.

There are a few possibilities for the ban, but in my opinion there are 2 primary reasons.

1. Background into the closing of Volozhin
2. Women and Learning. (I wont address this point in this post).

Concerning "worldliness" of the students of Volozhin, and the value of secular education at Volozhin, R' Epstein writes:
Anyone with eyes in his head could see that the students of Volozhin were quite knowledgeable in secular studies: they took an interest in science, history and geography and knew many languages. In fact, those students who desired to pursue these disciplines succeeded in learning twice as much as any student at a state institution. In Volohzin, Torah and derech eretz walked hand in hand, neither one held captive by the other. It was the special achievement of the Volozhin student that when he left the yeshiva, he was able to converse with any man in any social setting on the highest intellectual plane. The Volohzin student was able to conquer both worlds -- the world of Torah and the world at large. A well-known adage among parents who were trying to best educate their children was, "Do you want your child to develop into a complete Jew, dedicated to Torah and derech eretz? Do you want him to be able to mingle with people and get along in the world? Send him to Volozhin! (page 204)
R' Epstein debunks the story that college and Volozhin could not mix, by stating -- in direct contradiction to the chareidi myth -- that the Netziv explicitly agreed to the introduction of secular studies to Volozhin at the 1887 Petersburg Congress, by incorporating the study of mathematics and the Russian language within the framework of the yeshiva program. The amount of time and part of day when these 2 subjects were to be taught was left entirely to the discretion of the Rosh Yeshiva. This continued for 5 full years prior to the yeshiva's closing in 1892. (pages 207, 208)

So what did college have to do with the closing of the Yeshiva? Assuming we accept the premise that the yeshiva was indeed closed over something connected to "secular studies", R' Epstein explains what was actually proposed, which caused his uncle to close the yeshiva.
On the twenty second of October 1891, the Minister of Education certified a system of changes to be established in the Volozhin Yeshiva, four of which struck at its main life-giving arteries and imperiled its existence. They consisted of the following:

1. The general studies program shall take place between nine o'clock in the morning and three in the afternoon.

2. There shall be no [yeshiva] studies at night at which time the yeshiva building shall be closed.

3. The entire study program shall be no longer than ten hours per twenty four hour period.

4. The Rosh yeshiva and all the instructors shall possess an educational degree.

The result of all this was that during the winter months no time at all would remain for studying the Talmud. Even in the summer, considering that the general studies program would finish at three in the afternoon followed by lunch, only minimal time would remain for Torah study. The students would also be exhausted from 5 or 6 hours of general studies, and thus the best hours of the day would have been wasted.

It is clear that these conditions, capped by the impossible demand that every single teacher from the Rosh yeshiva down to the instructor of the lowest shiur, have a degree, left my uncle with very little choice. "Under these conditions what do I need the yeshiva for and for what does the yeshiva need me? This will no longer be a yeshiva but a school. Aren't there enough schools in this country already? (pages 206-207)
The point of the maskilim, who pressed the issue in the first place to the Russian government, was to close the yeshiva -- and in the week of Parashat Bo, 1892, the yeshiva was closed.

R' Epstein's version of the story leaves little room for misinterpretation. The Netziv was not anti-secular studies, the students of Volozhin studied (at least) mathematics and Russian within the scope of the Volozhin curriculum, and the closing of the yeshiva was due to the outrageous order reducing yeshiva studies to a bare minimum (or none), with secular studies taking up the vast majority of the students' time.

While the majority of this posting is based on the actual book "My Uncle the Netziv", I came across some additional sources and good additional reading material as well:

My Uncle the Netziv, Chapter 13, "An Act of Satan", pages 206-209.

Additional Reading:
Founding (1803) and Closure (1892) of Yeshivat Etz Hayyim of Volozhin. Michtavim Blog, Menachem Butler
"Haskalah, Secular Studies, and the close of Yeshiva of Volozhin in 1892", YU Torah, by Dr. Jacob J, Schachter

In closing, I must quote from Menachem Butler's post about a newly researched twist on the entire story...

Professor Shaul Stampfer of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem discusses "The Closing of the Yeshiva of Volozhin" [Hebrew], in his Hebrew-University-dissertation-turned-volume, Ha-Yeshivah ha-Lita'it be-Hithavutah (Jerusalem: Merkaz Zalman Shazar, 1st ed., 1995; 2nd ed., 2005), 208-250, with an appendix to chapter eight published in the updated (2005) edition on pages 251-266, including a half-dozen never-before-published correspondences from newly available sources from Russian government archives (and he reprints a [Russian] document on page 253), in Hebrew translation, pointing that the closure was related to "in-fighting" (my wording) amongst the administration of Yeshivat Etz Hayyim, rather than simply a disagreement over the government inclusion of secular studies into the institutional curriculum.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Another post about appeasement

"We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: 'Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided." -George W. Bush quoting William Borah (R. ID)

I've wasted far to much mental energy over the last several days trying to determine exactly what William Borah said that was so laughably reprehensible. Suppose for a second that the Idaho Senator did posses a silver tongue and a superhuman power of persuasion. Suppose he could sell ice cubes to Eskimos. Isn't that precisely the sort of man we'd want negotiating with Hitler? And suppose nothing would be gained from a conversation with Hitler. Suppose sending Borah to chat him up would have been a waste of every one's time. And therefore what exactly?

As a good friend pointed out to me this afternoon, Chamberlain isn't remembered as one of history's great jack donkeys because he went to talk to Hitler. He's remembered as a jack donkey because he let Hitler take him to the cleaners. His crime wasn't conversation. It was capitulation.

Still not happy with the template

If you have web-design skills, and would like to be of service, please let me hear from you

2 stories of greatness

A Guest Post by Rafi G.

I just saw two separate stories, both of which display amazing levels of morality, chessed and I guess a good upbringing. I want to share them with you.

1. An Egged bus driver on a Haredi line to Ashdod completed his route. As he was inspecting his bus, he found a plastic shopping back under a seat. He described it as "the type of bag one puts pita in at the bakery". He picked it up and looked inside. To his amazement he found it contained a lot of money. Upon counting it, he was shocked to find $40,000.

I don't know about you, but if I was carrying $40000 I would hold on to it, even if it was in a non-descript package. If I carry anything more than $200 I am constantly checking to make sure I have not lost it.

But some poor shnook lost a bag with $40,000.

I like to believe that if I found so much money I would make an effort to find the owner, but maybe I would only make a half-hearted effort. You never know until you are in the situation.

Anyways, the bus driver, right away contacted the Egged guy in charge of the Haredi sector of Ashdod. A little while later they found the owner of the money who provided simanim and claimed the money.

Egged is awarding the driver with some sort of honor and certificate because of his dedication and honesty.

It is nice to see such honesty in our cut-throat world.

2. The second story relates to the three yeshiva boys who were recently arrested in Japan for drug smuggling. I have not found the story too interesting, personally, and have therefore not paid too much attention to the details. My feeling is that when you commit a crime you take a risk of being caught. I am a bit ambivalent to their plight because they took a risk, they were caught and are now paying the price. They are not in jail unfairly, they are not in jail because of anti-semitism or for any other unrelated reason. They were smuggling drugs. I am, as I said, a bit ambivalent to their plight. But then again, I am not really that nice of a person.

Rav Chaim Weiss, on the other hand, is a very nice guy. Weiss is a Satmar Chassid from Antwerp. Weiss travels around the world, whenever he hears of a Jew stuck in a jail somewhere - any Jew regardless of his affiliation, or lack thereof, to Satmar or any other group - and does whatever he can to ease the fellows conditions and try to assist in obtaining his freedom.

Weiss claims to have been in every country in the world, in almost every prison in the world, to assist Jews who get in trouble. On story related is that a week before Pesach, Weiss simply disappeared. no word to anybody - friends, family, nobody. Nobody had any idea where he was.

Erev pesach he shows up at home with tens of Jewish children thathe smuggled out of Iran, by renting, out of his own pocket, a KLM airplane, getting them to Pakistand and from there to Holland.

With these three boys in Japan, he worked his contacts and put forth his efforts, and he was the first person to be allowed in to see them. he has helped improve their conditions.

Weiss often fasts days in a row, surviving only on water (and I guess adrenaline) and food he was able to bring from home, when possible, because he goes to places where no kosher food is available.

His life is dedicated to the mitzva of pidyon shvuyim - whether you or I think someone deserves the help or not matters not. he sees someone in trouble and he drops everything and goes to help. And he gets the job done because of his dedication to the cause.

(Turban Tip to Jameel on the second story)

Friday, May 16, 2008

Bush blasts Reagan, and his own father and grandfather

Speaking to the Knesset yesterday, the lame duck took a pandering and poll-tested swipe at his ideological and genetic ancestors:
Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along.
This is a clear rebuke of the policies of St Ronald of Hollywood who negotiated with the Iranians, and Saddam Hussein. It's also some kind of Oedipal assassination of his father, the man who brought Yasser Arafat and Yitzchak Shamir together in Madrid.

We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: 'Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided.
He didn't name the Senator because those words were spoken by Willian Borrah, a Republican. He also neglected to tell us that at the moment Senator Borrah (R. Idaho) was enjoying his delusion Bush's very own grandfather, Prescott Sheldon Bush (later a Cowboy Connecticut Senator) was doing business with Nazis.

Bad enough W has pretended to turn his back on his WASP heritage. Now this, too?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Why didn't Jews start making clever observations about the biblical text until after the Macabees?

Our friend Barak has pointed out that every book about Torah that we posses dates to mid-second Temple or later. We have no aggadic or halachic writings from before the Maccabees. Well, why not?

Have we lost and forgotten everything wise men thought and said about the Torah during the first Temple? And if it never existed, why not? Why didn't Jews start making clever observations about the biblical text until after the Maccabees? What changed?

[The traditional answer, of course, is that the aggadic and halachic writings known to us now were also known and studied pre-Macabees, and passed on from teacher and student, until such time as various Rabbis, in their wisdom, decided to reduce them to writing. This proposal reduces Chazal and their successor Sages to little more than stenographers, yet remains well loved in fundamentalist quarters.]

Another New Square Fish Story

There's a new story spreading through frum circles as quickly as a cold virus colonizes a kindergarten. Perhaps you've already heard it. According to the Ostreicher Rebbe* Birchas Hachama has occurred on erev Pesach just twice in history: (1) The year the Jews left Egypt; and (2) the year Haman was hung. This matters to those who wait anxiously for the coming of the Messiah, though he may tarry, because next year Birchas Hachama again falls on erev Pasach.

Exciting stuff no? Alas, this claim, like so many of the claims made by hasidim** and their leaders, is bogus. (Those of you who stopped to think about it knew it was bogus before you got to the end of the post, because you realized at once that the Jewish calendar wasn't set until long after both Purim and the Exodus. Trouble is, few of us bother to think after an authority like the Ostreicher has been invoked.)

[*I don't know how to spell his name]
[**I'm assuming the Ostreicher is a Hassid. I really don't know]

Can we get a vote please?

Select one please, and make your opinion known in the comments:

1: Keep the template the way it is now.
2: Continue tweaking (suggestions still welcome)
3: Go back to the old look.


From the mailbag

A guest post by TikunOlam

Dear Mr. Bear,

First off, let me say I am a big fan of your blog. Love the new look and love that TikunOlam chick you've got contributing for you these days.

So anyways, I was wondering - you talk a lot about Israel policies. You seem to have lots solutions to her problems. So I was wondering, after yesterday's attack on the mall in Ashkelon with 100 injured and 10 still being hospitalized, how do you think Israel should respond?

Best and Kol Tuv,

TikunOlam (err I mean some anonymous reader person)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Yet another reason to dislike George W. Bush if one was needed.

I know this isn't the most earth shattering of issues, but its a good illustration of the extreme FUBARness the president's signature (and some would say single) domestic achievment.

Update on the template update

Things we still need to fix

I don't like the fact that all the nav links are blue, but I can't figure out how to change it and I don't know which color would be better. Ideas?

I want to put the list of contributors back, along with my own name and picture (calm down folks, I mean this) but I can't figure out how to do it.

I can't get comments to appear when a single post is summoned and I don't know why.

Chaim Bray still shows up occasionally and I can' t make him stop. Ideas?

Still not 100 percent crazy about the fonts. Suggestions?

Any other ideas to make things better? Anything you'd like to point out that is still making things worse? Your thoughts welcome.

Thanks, and we're almost there.

Magen David Adom declares emergency mass casualty event

A guest post by TikunOlam

By 5:58 PM Israel time, the Magen David Adom declared an emergency mass casualty event. A direct rocket attacked and hit the Ashkelon Shopping Mall.

See full coverage at The Muqata.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

We are experiencing technical difficulties, please stand by...

Excitingly fresh content can be found beneath this sticky post. Please bear (ha!) with us as the crack DovBear team of technicians, designers, editors, and donut-fetchers works to complete the template update.

Meanwhile, your comment of the day: I figure you should add a bag of chips for TO's shoulder, a closet for Rafi's black hat (c'mon you know he's got one in there) and a black and yellow MIA flag for enigma. And how about a window with a frockless Bray wistfully looking in (like the kid outside the bakery window). -- Gabe

[Scroll down for an open thread on the new template]

My other insight of the day

If Idol-worshippers-of-America were to establish a church and ask for the same government benefits synagogues receive they would (a) get them; and (b) not one right winger would object. [In fact, its likely the RWers who write and comment at the two worst blogs in the world (take a guess) would subject us to all sorts of pious twaddle about how marvelous it is to have Faith, and about how we Jews and Idol-worshippers-of-America share loads of common ground and should work together to help Israel, oppress homosexuals, and bring prayer back to the public schools.]

My insight (see title) is that there is zero difference between the government treating the Idol-worshippers-of-America facility like it treats synagogues and treating homosexual unions like it treats marriage. Both idol worship and sodomy are Big 3 issurim, and if we, the Torah Jews, are going to gnash our teeth and write our congresspeople when the govt. even contemplates recognizing homosexual unions, how do we explain our collective shrug when the government recognizes religions that are unquestionably False? (And I'm not even talking about Catholicism with its Man-God and Ghost-God, or the various other Christian sects who worship the Man-God alone. I know some authorities think all that is a-ok so long as they also have a God-God. I'm talking about the religions that out and out worship idols, like Hinduism and various Island faiths, yet receive the full support and sanction of the American government with nary a sigh of discontent from the same Jews who scream about homosexual unions.

My insight of the day..

"Charity" and "helping the poor" aren't one and the same. The torah obligates us to help poor people, not to have our names, and the names of our grandparents put on as many plaques in as many shuls as possible. The idea is to improve the lives of other people, not to glorify our own names.

And because supporting the poor is a Torah value, someone who cares about Torah values might legitimately choose to support a political program that promises to help poor people. Certainly, this makes at least as much Torah sense as choosing to join up with the Dittoheads because they promise to inconvience gay people (in addition to making life harder for poor people.)

they come to the defense of the kannoim

A Guest Post by Rafi G.
(cross posted from LII)

How many times have we heard that the kannoim are loose cannons that just don't listen to anybody? The Rabbonim, when asked why they do not reign in the thugs who make trouble and use violence, respond that these guys just don't listen - they claim to have no influence over them.

Here is what I think about that.

On Sunday night, one of the kannoim in RBS B was arrested. Among the reasons was the fact that he had been throwing bleach at women shopping in Geula. This should be a good thing, right? Possibly a deterrent against his perpetrating future violent attacks, right? It turns out that one of our elected representatives, a rep from Degel, has personally intervened to have this poor fellow released from incarceration. These kannoim don't even vote, so the elected officials first priority should be protecting his electorate and their interests, and only afterwards assisting others. He should be working to stop these guys from attacking his voters, but instead he makes sure they do not have to sit in jail.

Another case in point is what you see in the article to the left. I clipped this article out of the most recent edition of the newspaper of the Eidah Charedisi called "Ha'Eidah". It describes how a certain Haredi "askan" (Sholom Fisher, one of the kannoim) was arrested recently for no reason. A different "askan" was on trial, and they decided to send out an order to arrest Fisher. He was picked up that day and arrested.

The Rabbonim were horrified and worked very hard to have him freed. Rav Rosenberger gave his personal gaurantee in order to have him released to house arrest. Rav Kopshitz, pictured in the article, even went to Fisher'ss house to visit him and give him support and strengthen his morale.

These are Rabbonim who, when asked why they do nothing to stop the violence, simply say they have no influence with these guys.

You tell me - is that true? Do they have no influence or do they really support them and their thuggish behavior?

There is a story related from Rav Yitzchak Elchonon Spektor of Kovno. He had an assistant who was a kannoi and hounded the more modern people and those who were not frum. Rav Yitzchak Elchonon said, "The difference between me and my assistant is like the difference beween a cat and the homeowner.
Both the cat and the homeowner hate the mouse. The cat wants there to be a lot of mice for him to catch and eat. the homeowner, on the other hand, wants their to be no mice at all."
Rav Yitzchak Elchonon said, "I daven that there should be no sinners. My assistant prefers that there should be sinners so that he can chase after them and attack them."

Nobody wants, in a frum neighborhood, problems of tzniyus. Do we try to influence them positively or do we really just want the opportunity to attack them?

When some say they have no influence with the kannoim, are they just making up an excuse so we will leave them alone?

When our elected officials actively work on the behalf of the kannoim instead of their electorate, whar are they telling us?

Monday, May 12, 2008

New Template Open Thread

Thoughts, opinions, comments and compliments welcome.

[HTML and design gurus in the audience are invited to share their ideas for making the template better. Please use the comments, or write to]

More of the Same Brain-dead Idiocy from the Yeshiva World mailbag

Dear YWN,

With the political campaigns starting to heat up,


I wanted to bring to the forum something that troubles me about some frum people’s political leanings. As religious Jews, I would think it would behoove us to try and support politicians that represent conservative values.

WHY? I presume the letter writer believes that Toras Rush and Toras Moshe are ideologically the same, but this is demonstrably false. Liberal values, such as a love of justice and charity are Torah values, too. More importantly, it is liberalism, and the freedoms that liberalism guarantees, which allow Orthodox Judaism to flourish. I'd rather have a government that abstains from making moral choices than one that attempts to impose its own morality on the rest of us. Wouldn't any Jew?

Whether abortion, immoral marriages, and all of the other “party line” issues, I would think that the orthodox vote would be 99% in favor of Republicans.

WHY? The republican position on "party line issues" does not align with the view of Orthodox Judaism. We're more lenient on abortion, gay marriage, and everything else. If the republican position on these issues were to become the law of the land, our freedom to practice Orthodox Judaism would be affected, in some case, because (in the case of abortion especially) the Republicans would prohibit what the Torah permits.

However it seems this is not the case. Many people get benefits and government handouts from the more socialist leaning Democrat Party, as they tend to tax the rich and give to the poor.

Given that most Orthodox Jews are poor shouldn't we expect an Orthodox Jewish voter to support politicians who favor policies that will help the poor? Take a Jew in New Square, for instance, or even Boro Park. He's probably "learning" and therefore unemployed. Or, he's finished learning, but not having gone to college, or even a decent High School, he lacks the skills to find himself a good-paying job. His wife probably works a menial job for a bad wage. The kids keep coming, and, god bless them, they want things like food and clothing and more. The food stamps, and other forms of government support are the only things keeping his family above water. The fact that gay marriage and abortion are legal hasn't affected his life; he and his kids likely aren't going to experiment with either. (after all, pork is legal too, but the Orthodox Jews manages, for the most part, to stay away from it). However, if some fat cat republican cuts his benefits this Jew from New Square and his family are sure going to feel it.

In the book What's the matter with Kansas Thomas Frank argues that lower and bottom class Americans have been deceived by their pastors, Rush Limbaugh and the villains at Fox News into voting against their own economic interest. They'd rather vote against abortion, then vote in favor of policies that might actually improve their own lives. This doesn't happen in New Square, in part because pastors and Rush have little reach in those precincts. Moreover, the leaders of the modern shtetele understand that they and their people have more to gain from Democratic "socialism" than from the fascist imposition of questionably valid morality, which is why the sound trucks and pashkevils that besiege hard-core Hasid neighborhoods at every election are most often working to support the Democrat.

While I’m sure it is tempting, and maybe even necessary to try to ensure oneself with some “freebies” from the government, I’m afraid that the money association with Liberals, eventually influences people in the form of their ideals. Someone even commented to me that Spitzer shouldn’t resign because, after all, “it’s a personal matter.” Is this not morally corrupt- to not demand that our politicians (at least in the public) be upstanding individuals!?

Why does Yeshiva World continue to print these poorly written, poorly reasoned know-nothing rants? Is it possible that the whole purpose of the Yeshiva World website is to make the Yeshiva world look stupid? If so, the editor is succeeding.



Sunday, May 11, 2008

did the Chief Rabbi desecrate the Shabbos?

A Guest Post by Rafi G
(this was initially posted at Life in Israel and then cross posted here)

There have been murmurings for the past 2 weeks about an incident in which Rav Avi Ronski, the Chief Rabbi of the IDF, supposedly desecrated the Shabbos. Rabbi Ronski spent the Seder night, the first night of Pesach, in the town of Yerucham. The next morning there were reports of a terrorist infilltration by the Gaza border, and Ronski got in his car and drove to the location (I think he had a driver and he sat in the back, but different articles are unclear on that) of the incident. Supposedly he was not needed there, and his presence had not been requested, so it was chillul shabbos for no purpose.

HaModia newspaper in Hebrew has brought out the story from being just murmurings making the chillul shabbos claim against Rabbi Ronski. NRG reports that Haredi activists are demanding his resignation, in light of the fact that Ronski has refused to explain why he acted in the way he did.

What happened to being dan l'kaf z'chus? We right away assume he had no purpose, despite the fact that some soldiers present said there was no need for him to be there? Maybe he thought there was? Maybe his presence was requested? Maybe he thought he could provide some sort of support to the wounded? Maybe something else?

Why are the Hamodia, and Haredi activists, assuming that the Chief Rabbi of the Army was mechalel shabbos for no reason? Does he have to report to them on his decisions? If you would see a Haredi fellow driving in his car on Shabbos, you might assume he is rushing his pregnant wife to the hospital, or perhaps he has some other life threatening situation. Why does the Chief Rabbi of the Army deserve less?

Do the Haredi activists think that they run the country and the army and its officers have to report to them and explain their actions?

At the same time, even though Rabbi Ronski is not obligated to report to any of us on his actions, in light of the fact that what he did was made public knowledge and is difficult to understand because we do not know his reasons and we do not have the full picture, perhaps it behooves Rabbi Ronski to explain, to put out a statement, why he did what he did and why his presence was necessary, or why he thought it was.

I have no doubt that the Chief Rabbi of the Army did not desecrate the Shabbos on a whim. I am sure he had a valid explanation. Perhaps to avoid further chillul Hashem (not brought out by him), it might be prudent to respond to the allegations against him and clear things up.

Golda Meir demonstrating her deep and abiding hatred for Israel daring to suggest that peace with an Arab is possible.

A Torah True proof that Yom Haatzmaut is minHashamayim

The letters ATBASH are an acronym for the first and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet AT = aleph/tav BASH = bes/shim, and ATBASH is a way of predicting when Jewish holidays will fall, based on Pasover

It works like this:

The first day of Passover (alef) and Tisha B'av (tav) always fall on the same day of the week.

The second day of Passover (bes) is always on the same day of the week as the following Shavuot (shin)

The third day of Passover (gimmel) comes out on the same day of the week as Rosh Hashana (resh)

With me so far?

Ok, the fourth day of Passover (daled) always falls on the same day of the week as Simchas Torah. This connection is a bit of a stretch, but daled corresponds to kuf, which is the first letter of the word Kriah "reading." Simchat Torah, of course, is when the reading cycle begins again.

Now it gets a little better

The fifth day of Passover (hay) corresponds to the day of the week that Yom Kippur falls. Yom Kippur is a Tzom, which is how we tie in the letter tzaddi.

Day six (vav) and Purim (pay) are always on the same day of the week

And, guess what? Day seven (zayin) and Yom Haazamaut (ayin) also correspond.

Friday, May 09, 2008

We forget where we came from. Our Jewish
names from the Exile give us away,
bring back the memory of flower and fruit, medieval cities,
metals, knights who turned to stone, roses,
spices whose scent drifted away, precious stones, lots of red,
handicrafts long gone from the world
(the hands are gone too).

Circumcision does it to us,
as in the Bible story of Shechem and the sons of Jacob,
so that we go on hurting all our lives.

What are we doing, coming back here with this pain?
Our longings were drained together with the swamps,
the desert blooms for us, and our children are beautiful.
Even the wrecks of ships that sunk on the way
reached this shore,
even winds did. Not all the sails.

What are we doing
in this dark land with its
yellow shadows that pierce the eyes?
(Every now and then someone says, even after forty
or fifty years: "The sun is killing me.")

What are we doing with these souls of mist, with these names,
with our eyes of forests, with our beautiful children,
with our quick blood?

Spilled blood is not the roots of trees
but it's the closest thing to roots
we have.

---Yehuda Amichai

Zionism - The God that did not fail

Good reading

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Is Israel a failure?

Israel was created as a haven for the Jewish people, a place where we would be safe from pogroms and the like. But is this what happened? From the April Atlantic:

...I had been struck by what to me was an inescapable truth: if [a young soldier who was killed in his tank during the last war] had been born to Jews in America, rather than to Jews in Israel, in 2006 he most likely would have been a student at Harvard or Michigan or Stanford, rather than a commander in the Armored Corps of the Israel Defense Forces. The underlying premise of the creation of the state of Israel—its main mission—was to provide a refuge for the Jewish people in their historic homeland. One of the many contradictions Israel faces in its seventh decade of independence is this: it is a country that is safe for Judaism, but not for Jews.

As a young Zionist in the late 1980s, I was drawn to the idea that Israel represented the most sublime and encompassing expression of Jewishness, so I moved there and joined its army. This decision was unfathomable to many of my new Israeli comrades. One of my commanders asked me, “Why would a person leave America to die in Israel?” Then he asked if we could switch places—he would move to New York and marry a doctor’s daughter, and I would die chasing Palestinians through the casbah of Nablus. I was dreaming Leon Uris dreams, but he was having visions out of Goodbye, Columbus.

I didn’t die, obviously, but his argument bothered me, and still does.

Ask the question this way: Where in the world is a Jew most likely to be killed because he is Jewish? Where is a Jew least physically safe? Israel, of course. So by what measure has the state succeeded is it's original mission has been subverted by the states very existence? A Jew in the diaspora, the American diaspora especially, is in no physical danger. The same can not be said for an Israeli Jew, who faces bombings, and missiles, and the dangers of Army service.

By this calculus, the state has failed.

Yom Ha'Azmaut Sameach

A guest post by TikunOlam

Just wanted to take the time to thank all who have sacrificed big and small, chiloni to chareidi, chayalim to talmidim to build and establish the State of Israel or, if you prefer, Eretz Yisroel. So whether you are like me and wearing blue and white today and woke up your son singing the Hatikvah, or you are saying Hallel with or without a bracha, or not at all, Chag Sameach (and if it is not a "chag" for you - just hope you have a good day).

[DB: For those who might care, I do not say Halel (or tachanun)) My reasons are outlined here in a post written in 2005 that bears the distinction of being the only DovBear post to which Gil Student of Hirhurim has ever linked.

In my view, Yom Haaztmaut is a local Purim, of the kind Jews have always extablished to celebrate their deliverance from various tyrants and anti-Semites. Anyone who benefits from the state (in particular the Haredim who, truth be told, benefit more than anyone) shold participate in the observance, perhaps not with Halel, but with the festive meals (Seudat Hoda) typical of the local Purim.]

Kudos to NoPeanutz

A guest post by TikunOlam

Since I have been banned from linking to Yeshiva World by the ba'al hablog in our last editorial meeting (and I can't afford to lose my job here), I am just going to quote a comment made by NoPeanutz in its entirety.

"There are so many non-religious Jews in Israel who for the entire year, including Yom Kippur and Tisha b’Av, do not feel any connection to their past nor to their people. And not even because they are kofrim, but because they are tinokim shenishbe’u. They were raised in a certain environment where Yiddishkeit was not a value. Even if they have bitachon and Yirat Shamayim, they would not even know how to do mitzvot properly.

Medinat Yisrael made it possible for even these tinokim, all over the world, to be connected to the most God-fearing and pious of their people. Now, we have two chagim, just two days a year, when these brothers of ours, who do not even know how to keep Shabbat or how to wrap tefillin, can feel a sense of brotherhood and nationalism that connects them to their past and legacy, and can connect them to their Jewish brothers everywhere. Why would someone, like a frum Jew who is comfortable in his Jewish skin and lives a religious life all the time, push away these people who do not even know anything about how to be religious or cannot feel religious?“Hinei Matov UmaNaim, Shevet Achim gam Yachad.”Is it not a mitzvah for us to get along together with all the Jews? Is Hashem not most happy when we, the observant, can just sit down and have a picnic with our brothers and not judge them?

Imagine that you have a brother with whom you used to be close, but from you have since drifted apart. He does not keep kosher, so you and your children can never eat in his house. He married a Shiksa, so you are uncomfortable bringing your impressionable young children around him. He does not keep Shabbat, so you never run into him in shul. And you are heartbroken, upset and a disappointed in him. You even cannot help wondering how he can be so numb and inconsiderate by his activities and lifestyle. All year you have not seen him.However, one day, he picks up the phone to call you. Without knowing why, he just feels more connected to you, like he wants to be a part of you, to be back in your life. To bring himself closer to the way things once were….would you hang up on him without even hearing him out? Without even talking to him? If he told you that he wanted to go to shul, just to try out, would you not take him by the hand and encourage him? If he told you that he wanted to try on the tzitzit, just once, to see how they feel and to see how they make him feel, would you not show him love and patience?

So how can Hareidi Judaism, the most visible kind of frumkeit there is, not take these Jews by the hand and show them love and patience when they want to feel close? How can we not respect their siren, their feelings, the sacrifices they make on behalf of Am Yisrael? How do we not take the time to engage them and to understand their feelings and to help them civilly understand our own? When they open themselves up and put themselves out there for us, how can we not do the same for them, for our own brothers?

“V’chol Bnei Basar Yikrau Bishmecha.” We all look forward to times when the whole world will recognize KBH. If we push away Jews, people with bris mila, people with Hebrew names, people whose grandparents took the same oaths at Har Sinai and in the Gas Chambers as our own, how can we ever expect the non-believers, who do not understand Hebrew and who were not at Har Sinai to eventually see HaShem?

One last thing: Everybody knows the story of the Holocaust survivor in shul on Yom Kippur who does not know how to daven, and the only thing he remembered from his Rebbe was the Aleph Beis. Just singing the Aleph Beis at Neilah opened up the Shaarei Shamayim for all Klal Yisrael. Our Israeli brothers know the Aleph Beis. But they know much more than singing the Hebrew alphabet. They serve in the army, build Israeli society, promote Jewish culture and they protect Am Yisrael. They, as a society, feel responsible to their fellow Jews. It is perhaps their only mitzvah, the only one they know how to do- and they do it very well. And they do it L’Shma. And unlike a spiritual reward that comes from an answered tefillah, the zchus of them performing this mitzvah is obvious to all, in front of all our eyes. To ignore their contributions and sensitivities goes against so much of what we stand for.

Comment by NoPeanutz — May 7, 2008 @ 11:04 am