Wednesday, December 31, 2008

War (What Is It Good For?) (Absolutely nothing!)

Elsewhere I said to JS that I recognize that there's no one in Hamas with whom Israel can negotiate, and I've said here that Gaza needs to be the last concession -- no further withdrawals, no further dismantlement of homes and towns until after Fatah and Hamas make similar sacrifices for peace. But it's no contradiction to also say that this week's war is doing more harm than good, as I argue two posts down.

On his own blog, my friend and fellow travler, the artist formally known as the Godol Hador has added an additional wrinkle. He says - correctly in my view - that Israel is behaving immorally. Money quote:

If killing civilians is immoral (hence Hamas's indiscriminate rocket attacks are immoral and must be stopped), how is Israel's response any more moral? Sure, they try and target legitimate military targets, but everyone knows that's not possible. And even the 'policemen' they killed on Shabbat, were they truly evil? Probably just some poor sods who were trying to earn a living, not truly evil people deserving of a death sentence.I just don't see how bombing Gaza is morally acceptable, when civilians will certainly get killed. Two wrongs don't make a right. So you'll say, what else is Israel supposed to do? Just sit back and take it? And the answer of course is yes, because bombing them back is not morally acceptable.


Note: The title quotes Edwin Star's famous anti-war song, but I don't really agree with his premise. Some wars should be fought. Some wars are noble. I'm just not certain if this can be said about the war on Hamas.

Here's the thing: I agree that Israel should destroy the rockets, and the crews who launch them. I'm prepared to accept some collateral damage among ordinary Arabs in order to achieve this aim. I support the right of a sovereign nation to protect its citizens which is why I supported the war on Afghanistan, and also the war in Iraq before it became common knowledge that Bush had lied to the country about Iraq's capacity to harm us. My support for the war on Hamas only falters when I consider the likely results of Israel's action: More furious, impoverished Arabs; more anger; more intractibility; less international support; the increased liklihood that Hezbollah, Iran or Israel's own Arab citizens will throw in their lot with Hamas. If any of that happens, the war was a step backwards, not forward.

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The Myth of the (Non) Fighting Jew

Cross-posted to Friar Yid.

There was a line in a Haaretz article about the upcoming Defiance movie that rubbed me the wrong way. Actually, most of the article was raising alarm bells. Not because the movie won't be good, I'm sure it will be. But the focus of the piece happened to be remarking on the fact that four or five Bielski grandkids are in the IDF, and tying this in with a family military tradition:

A family of warrior Jews, from partisan to paratrooper

It's a story made for Hollywood. The grandfather fought the Nazis, the son fought in the Yom Kippur War, and last month the American-born grandson decided to make Israel home and join its defense forces.

...While Bielski's native New York may not have presented the same challenges as those suffered by his grandfather in World War II-era Belarus, the 21-year-old has decided to follow in the footsteps of his ancestors and immigrate to Israel.

"I came to Israel on birthright when I was a freshman in college," he said. "I loved it. My whole family was in the army here."

Bielski finished college in three years, not even pausing to don a cap and gown. Instead, the day after his last class, he flew to Israel where an Israel Defense Forces uniform was waiting.

The scene was familiar for Elan's Israeli-born father, Yakow, who returned to his native land in 1973 with his brother after a stint in the U.S. to fight in the Yom Kippur War. Zus, who had settled in Israel for ten years after the Holocaust and fought in the 1948 Independence War , was reluctant to see his sons go.

Yakow himself is proud of Elan's decision to join the army, though he said that one of the reasons his own father had left Israel was because of all the wars.

While Elan echoed his father and grandfather's concern of seeing their children enlist in the army, he said: "I'd be proud of my kids to make the same decision I did."

Love, war, and genetics

In addition to Elan Bielski, two other descendants of the brothers are serving in the IDF, and another is now in the reserves. Bielski's twin sister also plans to move to Israel; his older sister is married in the U.S. with a four-month old named after Zus.

Two, going on three, generations of parental instinct can't seem to stop the Bielskis from joining Israel's army and society. "It's just genetic," Yakow said. We're warrior Jews."

Here's the problem: the whole piece (supported by the comments of Bielski pere and fils) suggests that only "certain families" have it in them to be warrior Jews- which, of course, means that other people don't. The reason the "fighting Jew" myth is so disturbing because it is based on a false premise, and because it libels all who do not neatly fit under it as (sterotypically?) weak pacifists.

This has been part-and-parcel of Jewish sociology for well over one hundred years, since the days when the Bund cells and Hashomer societies first started rallying Jews around the concept of self-defense and pride. Back then, their opponents were the maintainers of the status-quo and the perception that Jews were meek and submissive yeshiva students who would rather beg for their lives or offer their enemy a bribe than crush his skull with a rock- in short, the rabbinical establishment.

Ironically, in those early days of the 1880s and 1900s when the "fighting Jew"/Ghetto Jew dichotomy was being set up by ideologues and propagandists, most of the recruits coming into the Jewish Socialist and Zionist movements were from religious homes whose families did not have specific martial traditions. Yet somehow they adapted when given the proper training, motivation, and community support. The same is mirrored in the history of American Jews and the modern Israeli army- one does not need to be born into a "warrior family" to become a capable soldier or tactician. Yet today in Israel there is an unspoken assumption that the Haredim choose not to fight because they are somehow incapable of fighting- a stereotype that persists despite the existence of units like the Nahal Haredim (as if the long history between the Mafdal and IDF was not proof enough that there is no reason an Orthodox Jew cannot be a warrior as well).

One could even go back further- to use just the example of one country I'm familiar with, Poland, Jews fought for Napoleon at the Battle of Warsaw and in each of that country's Revolutions. This fighting was not restricted to secularists or those drifting from the faith (Berek Joselowicz's unit was known as "The Beardlings" because they would not shave; they also demanded the Sabbath off and would only eat kosher food); there are also cases of revolutionary rabbis. Check out this story about two rabbis you may have heard of, courtesy of an old article in Polin:

Even though the hagiographies of the hasidic leaders neglect Polish politics, there is some evidence that hasidim suppoorted the 1830 revolt. We have an account that Rabbi Menahem Mendel Morgenstern of Kotzk and his pupil Rabbi Isaac Meir Rothernberg, founder of the Ger dynasty, actively encouraged the Jews to aid the Poles in their rebellion and that after the Russian victory both were forced to travel to Lemberg (Lwow), then the capital of the Austrian province of Galicia, to hide from the Russian authorities. They were only able to return to Kotzk after changing their names; Menahem Mendel changed his last name from Halpern to Morgenstern, Isaac Meir from Rothenberg to Alter.

Bet you never heard about that in yeshiva. Neither, mind you, would you have encountered it in any book about these rabbis. This is part of the split Jewish tradition over how to deal with Jews that don't fit the "peaceful" paradigm- which, by the way, is itself a construct, since there are plenty of "fighting Jews" in the Torah- and afterwards! (What would you call the Bar Kochkba revolt, or the Zealots at Massada?) We would prefer to identify "tough Jews" as a vicarious exception to the meek, pious or status-quo Jews that were the standard, rather than taking an objective look at the history and consider that, god forbid, there were revolutionary rabbis or frum soldiers fighting for Napoleon.

Look forward to the twentieth century and you see the same obfuscation when it comes to Jewish criminals- plenty of whom used violence for achieving their goals. Even before the days of Lansky and Siegel, you had organized crime in Warsaw, Lodz and Odessa. Modern Yiddish writers like Sholem Asch freely depicted the "Jewish underground" in novels like Mottke the Theif, and his play God of Vengeance. For crying out loud, prostitution was a cottage industry in Jewish Buenos Aires, and there were many layers of violence involved in maintaining business as usual.

And, ironically, when Jews took a stand against these undesirable elements within their community, preying on their weakest members, it was again, the "fighting Jews" who took action. One notable flare-up was the May 1905 Alphonsenpogrom [Pimp-Pogrom], where the Jewish Bund in Warsaw went on a three-day rampage through the city's red-light district, attacking brothels and cafes. The New York Times wrote about the Socialists' assault on not only the pimps' places of business, but also their worldly possessions:

Wardrobes, pianos and mirrors were thrown out of the windows. The mob in the streets left open spaces for the falling articles and then completed the work of destruction. In one place, a quantity of valuable jewelry was taken out and deliberately smashed with stones.

The Alphonsenpogrom left 8 dead and 100 injured. (Not necessarily the Bund's finest moment, but a "tough Jew" moment? Unquestionably.) And it was not the only incident. According to Prostitution and Prejudice (the primary source for Nathan Englander's latest novel), there were others, as well. In 1903 The Jewish Vigilance Society in Cardiff, Wales, challenged their pimps in street combat and won. In Buenos Aires in 1909, the Poale Zion beat up local white slavers after an altercation in a theater of a play critical of prostitution. In 1910 some young men in Rio de Janero accosted the "pimps' congregation" on their way back from dedicating a new Torah scroll. The pimps were attacked and the Torah scroll given to "more-deserving" folks.

We don't hear about any of this controversial history because the personalities don't fit in with cookie-cutter views of secular or religious Jews, or rich vs. poor. By doing this we do our ancestors, and our descendants, a disservice. By censoring the Jewish past we impair the Jewish present, and further limit the Jewish future to take honest assessments about who we are as a people, based on factual information.

The Bielskis accomplished an amazing thing, and no one is contesting that. But to suggest that being a "fighting Jew" is genetic also means that you are passing a judgment on all the non-warriors in the Jewish family, essentially establishing a caste system between those rough-neck toughs and those meek yeshiva bochurs. The irony is that there are plenty of cases, in history and today, where the two may be brothers. Or one and the same.

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To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war

Tzip complains that we're wasting time with silly things while a war rages. She's right. The big news of the week is Israel's war on Hamas, and so far this blog has been almost silent on the subject. That changes now.

Israel, as a Jewish state, is in grave danger. The portents are unmistakable. The Arabs have a much higher birth rate. Aliya is down. Yerida is up. Popular opinion around the word has been slowly turning against Israel, and in the democracies, at least, this means government policy will soon follow. Hezbollah recently fought Israel to a draw, and has already rearmed. Iran has nukes in development, and a lunatic at the helm of state. Israel's Arab citizens often openly support Israel's enemies, and by 2040 they'll be the majority. The future is bleak. As Benny Morris put it recently in an Op-Ed printed by the New York Times: Many Israelis feel that the walls — and history — are closing in on their 60-year-old state.

The war on Hamas is a short term solution that seems able to accomplish only three things (1) Prop up the Labor government in advance of the upcoming elections (2) Instill some pride and perhaps a sense of patriotism in the hearts and minds of Jewish Israelis (3) Destroy Hamas's capacity to launch rockets into Israeli population centers. Only the third is a legitimate war goal, and it's an objective I support, but not wholeheartedly.

Here's why: As Morris says in the article cited above, Israel can't invade Gaza, or topple Hamas unless it has some sort of magic plan for dealing with 1.5 million angry, desperate Arabs, and unless Hamas is replaced, its only a matter of time before the rockets return, launched, most likely, by the furious orphans of this week's war.

On one of my threads, a prescient comment summed it up this way: How many new terrorists did Israel create this week? To that, I'll add some additional questions: How much more radicalized are the Israeli Arabs this week? How much international support and good will has Israel squandered this week? How much closer to the edge was the already insane Aslamajedad pushed this week? How many more reasons was Hezbollah given to align itself with Hamas this week? Yes, the rockets have been destroyed, and are for now out of commission, with many hundred Hamas fighters killed - two war aims I support - but at what cost? What sort of more serious trouble has Israel created for itself tomorrow?

The real dangers Jewish Israel faces are the loss of international support, the Aliya and Yerida trends, the Arab birth rate and the ascendancy of Iran. The war on Hamas did nothing to address any of these troubles, and in some cases may have made things worse. I wish I knew what Israel could do instead - I wish I saw solutions instead of problems - and I wish I had more to offer than pessimism and a 50 year old Churchill quote, but there it is.
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Settting the record straight: A good word about VIN

Needs to be said that VIN corrected their story about yesterday's roadside death, and didn't deserve to be lumped together with the Pravada blog as an example of Torah True Lying. This fact was noted and confirmed in the comments to the original post, but in the interest of fair play, I though it worth mentioning here, as well. VIN, unlike the other phony Torah/News blog, has a good track record when it comes to telling the truth, and sticking to the facts. They usually don't spin, gloss, polish, or smooth over, and aren't in the business of propaganda. In fact, the only bad thing I have to say about them, is that they've never not once given me a link.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Christmas Scandals of Yesteryear

All this back and forth about Jews and Christmas reminded me of this weird moment in American Jewish history almost ninety years ago:

Wise Unwise?

Throughout the land headlines blared RABBI WISE SAYS JEWS SHOULD ACCEPT JESUS. As the implication of those words sank in, Jews became excited and commenced to flay famed Manhattan Rabbi Stephen S. Wise right and left. The Agudath Harabonim* issued an edict against him. Rabbi Louis Ginzberg, professor of the Talmud at the New York Jewish Theological Seminary, declared: "Rabbi Wise does not represent the beliefs of a majority of Jews."

At length someone troubled to discover that Rabbi Wise had actually only said that modern Jewry must accept Jesus as a great Jewish teacher and indorse His ethical code. Later the Rabbi explained, that he had used the words "accept Jesus" in the sense of "accept Jesus as a man and a Jew." He said: "There is no question of embracing Christianity save by Christians.

For close to three weeks, Wise was bashed in synagogues across the country, traditionalist Jewish newsapers, and public rallies and press releases. Rabbi Louis Silver called his remarks heretical, and the Young Israel of Brooklyn passed a resolution condemning them as "a grave threat to Judaism."

Mizrachi and Agudath Harabonim went even further:

[Wise] has on several occasions preached publicly against the divine authority of the Bible. Because of this, he from our point of view a priori considered harmful to be placed at the head of a national Jewish movement. As a rabbinical body, we were dissatisfied with his election to the chairmanship of the UPA. Being, however, devoted to the reconstruction of Palestine, we kept silent, with pain in our hearts, and hoped that at least [while chairman] he would feel his responsibility to the Jewish community and consider their holy feelings and not offend them.

It is most regrettable that... last Sunday he preached on a subject which threatens to tear down the barrier which has existed between us and the Christian Church for over 1,900 years-- which may drive our children to conversion.

Dr. Wise's...[words] are a maneuver towards baptism, a wide opening of the doors of the churches for the youth.

(NY Times, Dec 29, 1925)

Mizrachi and Agudath Harabonim demanded Wise's resignation from the (then) United Palestine Appeal (Keren Hayesod), a 5 million dollar charity and the leading Zionist fundraising organization of the day.

And yet, as the scandal dragged on, cooler heads gradually prevailed. Not only did Wise have the backing of his Reform allies, his eloquence (and the truth about what he actually said coming to light) slowly convinced enough moderates to shift their support. Individual Orthodox rabbis and shuls started standing up for him, and the Rabbinical Assembly of JTS eventually backed him as well. Though Wise offered his resignation from UPF within a few days of Agudath and Mizrachi's criticism, many urged him to reconsider and the heads of UPF's board to reject it.

By the second week of January, Wise's resignation had been rejected and it was Rabbi Herbert S. Goldstein, President of Agudath Harabonim and the leader of the attacks on Wise in the first place, who wound up being forced out of the Executive Board of Mizrachi, going over to Agudath Israel (which would, in turn, start its own break-away fund to support Israel).

In many ways, the Wise Christmas scandal was a major watershed for American Jewish history in the early 20th century, where the divisions of the three movements were brought to a head once more. Of course we had already had the infamous "Trefa Banquet" in 1883 which helped convince more traditional Jews that the radical Reformers were not interested in maintaining a Jewish status-quo (and helped create the impetus for JTS), but the Wise scandal solidified the lines in the sand for the Conservative and Orthodox movements.

Recall that originally, JTS was created for the purposes of consolidating the Orthodox and the center-right moderates in opposition to Reform, and that for many years the seminary operated as a home for a kind of centrist Orthopraxy in America. However, the Agudath Harabonim had been created in 1902 to provide an Eastern European, essentially Haredi perspective and to increase its domination over the concept of what it would mean to be "Orthodox" in America. In fact, the Agudath would not even allow JTS graduates (or graduates from Western European schools, such as the Hildesheimer Seminary) to be members. By narrowing what "Orthodox" could legitimately mean, Agudath pushed Conservative Judaism and JTS further to the center simply by virtue of not being Haredi.

This background helps explain some of the back-and-forth among individual Conservative rabbis and congregations as they tried to decide where they came down on the issue of the Wise scandal, not only over the details, but also politically, over whether they would dare to challenge the Agudath Harabonim.

One outspoken defender of Wise was Rabbi Solomon Goldman, who had been a student at Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Yeshiva before going on to JTS. Earlier in 1925, Goldman, whose first pulpit was at an Orthodox shul in Cleveland, got involved in his own controversy when he suggested abolishing the mechitzah. He, too, was made to answer to the Agudath Harabonim. Except, even more so than Wise, Goldman essentially told Agudath to jump in a lake. Other notable Conservative rabbis who joined Goldman included Louis Schwefel, Norman Salit, and Leon Spitz, all of whom had began as "modern" Orthodox rabbis and for whom the Wise moment was a wakeup call that while they could not consider themselves Reform, there was no place for them with the Agudath Harabonim.

The 1925 scandal helped crystallize where Reform was, where Orthodoxy had decided to go, and left the Conservative movement to try to define itself by where it wasn't (the more things change...). By 1928, In just a few years, Yeshiva College would be established and all three movements would have their own separate seminaries.

In many ways, the battle of the last weeks of 1925 was the last moment for the three movements to show that they could hold their noses and unite for a common cause, supporting the pre-state construction of Israel. When Agudath Harabonim split and started their own fund, it was the definitive end to the idea that America could support a unified, if fractious, concept of a big-tent Jewish community.

While ultimately the break constituted individual victories for the movements' right to define themselves (and paved the way for, eventually, an American Modern Orthodoxy that was closer to what JTS had envisioned in the first place), I can't help but wonder if the Jewish people simultaneously lost something important that day, if only in concept. Maybe true unity is a pipe dream, but I'd like to think that at least today we recognize that there are issues that we can (or should) agree on and which trump the ongoing denominational infighting.

Now that all the Jewish movements have a place at the table (at least in America), do you think there is a greater willingness (or openness) to work together? Or has increased power just strengthened different denominations' desire to expand their reach? What ramifications does this have for countries where Orthodox Judaism has preferred or "official" status and other movements are at a disadvantage? What can we learn from this?

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More Torah True lies

Received by email

From "Jewish" web site #1: YWN regrets to inform you of the tragic Petira of R' xxx who was R"L killed in a serious car crash on Monday afternoon. 24-year-old xxx Z"L, was enroute from Baltimore to Passaic, New Jersey when he was involved in a single vehicle accident on the Millard E. Tydings Memorial Bridge. The force of the impact ejected him from the vehicle, and he was R"L pronounced dead by Maryland State Police who found his body.

From Jewish web site #2: Mr. xxx had departed Baltimore early this morning in his vehicle for Passaic, New Jersey. Family members in Baltimore called his hosts in Passaic some time later to determine whether he had arrived, and were informed that he had never showed. Baltimore's volunteer community patrol was shortly mobilized and spent the next several hours searching for Mr. xxx until the Maryland State Police were contacted to ask whether any current accidents involved a vehicle matching the description of Mr. xxx's automobile. Police replied affirmatively. According to police and other sources, Mr. xxx's vehicle went out of control around 10:30 a.m. while traveling on the Millard E. Tydings Memorial Bridge along I-95. The six-lane bridge spans the Susquehanna River about 25 miles northeast of Baltimore. xxx was thrown from the vehicle and apparently died instantly.

From Baltimore Sun: A New Jersey man died yesterday morning after he jumped into the
Susquehanna River from the Millard E. Tydings Memorial Bridge on Interstate 95 near Port Deposit in Harford County, the state police at the John F. Kennedy barracks said. Police said Trooper Adam Davies was on patrol and was driving north on I-95 about 7:15 a.m. when he saw a man jump into the river. Police said Davies reported the incident and moments later found an unoccupied 2007 Honda parked in the northbound right lane. Police said Harford County firefighters and marine units of the state police and state Department of Natural Resources
entered the water and recovered the man's body a short time later. The victim was taken to the nearby Tydings Marina and pronounced dead. Police identified the man as xxx, 24, of Clifton, N.J. His family was notified by New Jersey police, and the incident remains under investigation. Police knew of no reason for the man jumping to his death.
I understand the need and desire for discretion, but if you're not going to tell the truth, why put the story on your website, disguised as journalism? (Had either Jewish web site simply published a death notice, I'd have no issue)

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Hollywood's Most Pernicious Image

by the Bray of Fundie

Not Yoizel in Gibsons Passion. Not Pacino in Scarface. Not Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct. No it's not an image exemplifying any of the three cardinal sins of Avodah Zarah, Gilui Arayos or Shfikhas Damim at all. It is the cute little cricket from Pinocchio. IMO the imagery and mythos of Jiminy Cricket is the most subversive, anti-religious subliminal message ever produced by Hollywood and an utter perversion of what it means to be a human being.

Why? Because while the former images promote and romanticize evil the depiction of an extrinsic conscience perverts our self-perception and erodes our very will to resist evil. Jiminy Cricket thus undermines our capacity to battle evil.

The not-so-subliminal message of Jiminy (the Pinocchio narrative) is that "conscience" AKA the inclination to good is something external to the being. Remember the whole Pinocchio story is about "achieving" humanity. It is a not so thinly veiled "Let Us make Man" redux. Positing conscience as extrinsic to "the man" means that the essential "me" wants to "run with the wild boys". Any pangs of conscience to do/be otherwise come from external sources trying to impose THEIR will upon me e.g. parents/teachers/society etc. In other words the "real" internal essential me is wild and bad. As such people will view transgression as an assertion of autonomous identity and as a means of self-actualization. While the pursuit of virtue becomes a weakness, a suppression of self, a surrender to external pressure. The fact that conscience is depicted as a chirping little insect also conveys the message that conscience is an atonal gragger-like nudnik that achieves it's goals by the attrition of shrill repetition.

This puts the Torah idea of the Tzelem Elokim =Man in the image of G-d on it's ear. Before the initial/original sin it was the Yetzer HARA = inclination to evil that was a kind of diabolical inverted Jiminy Cricket. It was a serpent and not a cricket to be sure, but it was clarified evil and external to the human beings that it tried to seduce and influence. Adam could not have been confused. When he ate from the forbidden fruit he knew that he was allowing his "serpent" to be his guide. Even after the sin when the yetzer hara HAD been internalized this is not to say that the Yetzer Tov was externalized. Furthermore for Jews we still view our intrinsic will to be identical to HaShem's and our thoughts, words or deed to the contrary to be the work of extrinsic factors:
גלוי וידוע לפניך מי שאמר והיה העולם שרצוננו לעשות רצונך- ומי מעכב על ידנו? שאור שבעיסה ושעבוד מלכיות= "It is revealed and known to You, O He who spoke and the world became, that OUR will is to do YOUR will. And who/what prevents us (from doing so)? The "Yeast in the Dough" (a euphemism for the inclination to evil) and our subjugation to the temporal kingdoms (i.e. our diaspora among the nations of the world)"

Seeing as Jiminy Cricket is the very antithesis of the Torah's hashqafa on humanity it's hardly surprising that the name derives from a polite expletive for the founder of X-tianity, the major Western religion most antithetical to Torah.

This post was inspired by a particularly odious one penned by The ...Ahem... Jewish "Philosopher" in which he takes the position that People are intrinsically bad and that Torah/religion is a cricket-like extrinsic civilizing influence. I'd also like to mention how utterly wrong-headed Alter and Dov's reading of Yaakov wrestling with the angel is in light of this.
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Shock Development: Iranians Devlop Interest in Justice

The Iranians have decided to try the Israeli Leadership for "Genocide against Humanity". Presumably the name of the 'crime' is coined because if they were killing us they would only be guilty of genocide (a lesser offence it seems).

I don't like what we are doing in Gaza, although I accept it must be done. But the hypocrisy of this step is mind boggling, even by current Iranian standards. I can't wait to see how western democracies respond. I'm sure everyone will condemn this as the muck-raking it is, and treat it as a joke. Or not.

Meanwhile, I do wonder whether a unilateral ceasefire (as proposed by David Grossman) isn't a good idea. That way we gain some plaudits and everyone can assess the damage. Without it, we have to live up to the aims set out which seem to me to be unrealisable without a ground incursion, and probably unachievable even then.

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How do was Mishpacha Magazine fight immodesty?

With lies.

Apparently, the gurus running the popular Charedi family magazine think that fabricating a picture, and lying about what occurred at a White House event is morally superior to publishing a photograph of a modestly dressed woman.

And no, we're not making this up.

As Akiva reports, the magazines publishers removed first lady Laura Bush from a picture. Beneath it, they printed an incomplete, nonsensical caption. Suffice it to say, Lady Laura was decently dressed, showing less skin than you might see at a typical Charedi wedding.

This crooked Mishpacha Magazine morality is too similar to the braniac belief of some yeshiva administrators that missing tefilla b'tzibur is preferable to praying with no hat - my own cousin was once sent home to fetch his head covering and forced to miss out on the blessing chazal say attend to one who prays with a quorum.

It also reminds me of how certain Jewish communties are built on the belief that lying to the government is superior to becoming educated and/or finding honest work, or how various Jewish kiruv organizations will pay any price, bear any burden, and tell any lie in order to win converts to the chosen sub sect, of the chosen sect, or the chosen faith, of the chosen people.

How did we get so stupid? Am novon v'chacham my hiney.

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Bad Blogger

Yesterday's post on Joseph's Wagons was horrible. If you'd like to know why, read the comments. About 80 percent of what Think said was spot on. (I agree with none of what Yoni wrote, though) I don't know how I missed the mark so badly, but expect it might be the result of some segula performed by Chaim G. Either that, or God isn't best pleased when HisFavoriteBlogger researches parsha posts during Torah reading.

Anyway, the staff and directors of DovBear regret the error, and after spending the better part of the morning trying to find a way to pin the blame on Cross Current, takes full responsibility.

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How can Balgojevich go on?

When even furniture dealers are mocking him...

Image courtesy Amish the Bold. He says it ran in the Chicago Trib.

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Variations On A Theme

Received by email:

The seismic tremors felt among Jews who invested with Bernard L. Madoff recall another notorious Ponzi schemer, the high-profile communal leader and business executive David Schick, whose arrest in 1996 thoroughly shocked the New York Orthodox Jewish community. More
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A decent drasha about the financial debacle

(Link busted: check comments for one that works)

[HT on request]

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Monday, December 29, 2008

Yosef and Pharaoh: Mirror Images

A guest post by Lurker:

A comparison between Yosef's confrontation with his brothers in parshat Miketz (Bereishit 42-43):, and Pharaoh's confrontation with Moshe and Aharon in parshat Bo (Shemot 10-11), reveals some very interesting parallels:

In Miketz: When the brothers come to Yosef the first time, he twice places conditions upon their departure from, and reentry into, Egypt: The first time, he declares that he will keep them all behind except for one, who would go back to Canaan to fetch their youngest brother and come back with him. The brothers are then removed from Yosef's presence, and placed in jail. But a few days later, Yosef softens his conditions: He agrees to allow the brothers to leave, but stipulates that one of them must remain behind. He then sends the brothers away, and also adds a threat against their lives, should they return without Binyamin: "Do this, and you will live… and you go… and bring your youngest brother to me... and you won't die" ("זֹאת עֲשׂוּ, וִחְיו... וְאַתֶּם לְכוּ... וְאֶת-אֲחִיכֶם הַקָּטֹן תָּבִיאוּ אֵלַי... וְלֹא תָמוּתוּ "). Later, when recounting Yosef's parting words to them, Yehudah quotes Yosef as declaring that without Binyamin, the brothers will not see Yosef again: "You will not see my face, unless your brother is with you" ("לֹא תִרְאוּ פָנַי, בִּלְתִּי אֲחִיכֶם אִתְּכֶם"). Yehudah quotes this again in Bereishit 44:23: "If your youngest brother does not come down with you, you will not again see my face" ("אִם לֹא יֵרֵד אֲחִיכֶם הַקָּטֹן אִתְּכֶם, לֹא תֹסִפוּן לִרְאוֹת פָּנָי").

In Bo: After having been battered by most of the plagues, Pharaoh finally agrees, in principle, to allow the Israelites to depart from Egypt for a few days. He communicates this to Moshe twice – but each time, he imposes conditions that Moshe refuses. The first time, he agrees to allow the adults to leave, but insists that the youngsters remain behind. Moshe refuses, and he and Aharon are then removed from Pharaoh's presence. A few days later, however, after the plague of darkness, Pharaoh softens his conditions: He agrees to allow the children to leave, but stipulates that their cattle remain behind. Again, Moshe refuses. Pharaoh then sends Moshe away, declaring that Moshe may no longer see Pharaoh again, and also adds a threat against Moshe's life: "Get away from me; beware, do not again see my face, because on the day you see my face, you will die" ("לֵךְ מֵעָלָי; הִשָּׁמֶר לְךָ, אַל-תֹּסֶף רְאוֹת פָּנַי, כִּי בְּיוֹם רְאֹתְךָ פָנַי, תָּמוּת").

The parallels between the two stories are striking:

  • Both Yosef and Pharaoh impose conditions upon the Israelites' freedom of movement: Yosef imposes conditions on who may leave and who may re-enter Egypt, and Pharaoh imposes conditions on who may leave Egypt.
  • Yosef demands that the youngest of the brothers be brought into Egypt. Pharaoh demands that the youngest of the Israelites not leave Egypt.
  • Yosef has the brothers removed from his presence, and later offers them softer conditions. Pharaoh has the brothers Moshe and Aharon removed from his presence, and later offers them softer conditions.
  • Yosef sends the brothers away ("לְכוּ"), and tells them that unless they comply, "you will not again see my face" ("לֹא תֹסִפוּן לִרְאוֹת פָּנָי"). Similarly, Pharaoh sends Moshe away ("לֵךְ"), and says that Moshe may "not again see my face" ("אַל-תֹּסֶף רְאוֹת פָּנַי").
  • Yosef threatens the brothers with death ("תָמוּתוּ"). Similarly, Pharaoh threatens Moshe with death ("תָּמוּת").
The parallels seem to be very deliberate and symbolic: Yosef's confrontation with his brothers marks the very beginning of the Israelites' long sojourn in Egypt. And Pharaoh's confrontation with Moshe and Aharon mark the very end of that sojourn. Thus, the latter is presented as a mirror image of the first. There are still more parallels between the two stories. I will address them within the next couple of days, in Part II. --------- Buy my book. (please) Buy my wife a gift (please)


A guest post by JS:

Maybe it's the holiday spirit, maybe it's the ubiquitous ringing of the Salvation Army bells, maybe it's the deluge of mailings and phone calls asking for contributions, or maybe it's just the last opportunity to get in your charitable donations before the end of the year, but it seems like the theme of "charity" is omnipresent this time of year.

I think charity is one of those subjects that people are very uncomfortable talking about. Maybe it's because of its relation to personal finance, and, as such, talking about how much one gives away is as verboten as talking about how much money one makes.

Perhaps the only exception to this general rule is public auctions or after one receives an aliyah in shul where people gleefully stand up and announce how many multiples of chai they're donating. I'm very conflicted over whether donations should be advertised or not. On the one hand, I think it's in very bad taste and smacks of arrogance to advertise how much money one can afford to give away and may create much ill feeling in a community. On the other hand, maybe it will serve as an impetus to others to give more and more people will be helped. Personally, I never give any money publicly - I give privately, but not anonymously. If I were ever in a position to give a serious amount of money though, I think I would do so anonymously, I wouldn't want to be honored or given some plaque or dinner.

I also, at this point in my life, don't give ma'aser (10%) of my take-home income to charity. Maybe my attitude is wrong-headed and selfish, but I think if I gave ma'aser, I wouldn't be able to save for many of the things I want in life. Additionally, this lack of savings would probably mean that, when the time comes, I would not be able to pay full tuition to yeshivas and would thereby become a burden to the community.

Lastly, I'm well-aware of the halachically accepted order for giving money - but, again, I find myself conflicted and don't follow these norms. For example, I never give to anyone I see on the street or to anyone who approaches me, be it after I leave a kosher restaurant or someone who comes to my door. I also never respond to any mailings asking for money whether it's for some poor orphaned family of 8 that needs to put on a wedding or hatzalah. I never give money over the phone either. Personally, all of my tzedaka money goes to organizations that help feed and support the poor - I don't give to anything else. And for whatever irrational reason, I give to organizations in Israel that do this and not those in America. Also, if there's a terrible disaster, I don't differentiate Jew from non-Jew (e.g., the tsunami or Katrina).

I used to feel guilty about turning a blind eye to those who directly ask me for money. In particular, I worried if maybe I was just cold-hearted or stingy. But the other day, I saw a sign on the subway that begged people to NOT give money to anyone who approaches directly for money and to instead donate to established charitable organizations. There was then a statistic that money given directly to people is more often than not misused whereas reputable charitable organizations make better use of the money in helping people. Not sure if this makes me feel better though.

I welcome any and all thoughts or feelings on this subject. I'm curious what people's attitudes towards charity are and whether it's in line with accepted halachic norms and how they feel about public vs private or anonymous donations. I'm also curious if people give regularly throughout the year or give according to Jewish holidays and/or secular deadlines.

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SM Needs Your Help

A guest post by Lurker:

Before I explain what you can do to help SM, permit me to introduce myself, for those who don't know who I am. I am, in SM's own wise words, "part of the gleeful chorus... of those who cheered Bush on". Now, some of you, who know very well that I am opposed to President Bush's war in Iraq, and that I have been expressing that opposition ever since the war began, might be a little surprised to hear SM describe me that way. The reason, you, see, is that I express my opposition to Bush only through speech and the written word -- as opposed to hurling shoes and brickbats at the man, which is the method espoused by SM.

In addition to my membership in the gleeful Bush chorus, I am also (apparently) a wild-eyed fanatic Settler®, a poisoner of wells, and various and sundry other unsavory things.

Now last week, SM dropped a shocking bombshell about me: It turns out, he says, that I have been "urging Israeli's to attack policemen". Yes, really.

Needless to say, I was a bit taken aback by this revelation. After all, I certainly have no recollection of urging anybody to do any such thing. In addition, I am opposed, as a matter of principle, to the use of violence against law enforcement authorities -- even if those authorities themselves are engaging in unprovoked violence against oneself. So I would certainly never tell anyone to attack a policeman.

A bit perplexed, I immediately challenged SM to back up his astounding allegation by producing "a single quote from me, anywhere, where I ever urged anyone to attack a policeman".

Imagine my surprise when SM did not reply! This was a bit disturbing, as well as disappointing. After all, nobody wants to know more than I do where I said such a thing. And if I did indeed say such a thing, then I really ought to know about it -- perhaps I have a separate personality of which I'm unaware, that gets up in the middle of the night and posts blog comments inciting to violence against Israeli policemen.

So I asked SM once again, to please show me where I wrote this. Again, believe it or not -- he failed to reply. Several more reminders similarly failed to elicit any response.

Now surely, SM must be telling the truth. After all, as he is so fond of reminding us, he studied at Cambridge and serves in the UK as a judge. And as he told us only a few days ago: "I believe in the justice, justice we must pursue. I also know something about how that works in real life." Certainly, it is inconceivable that a man who pursues such lofty values of justice would possibly lie -- and for no other purpose than to besmirch and demonize an innocent person. So the only reasonable conclusion is that I did, in fact, "urg[e] Israeli's to attack policemen" -- but that SM simply cannot recall exactly where he read it.

Unfortunately, this leaves SM with a dilemma. That's because I, in my annoying stubborness, won't leave SM alone. I keep following him all over the comment threads, reminding him, in polite company, that I'm still waiting for him to show me where I said the thing he claimed I said. Obviously, this has been getting quite embarrassing for him. So much so, that once, His Honor actually broke his silence, and sputtered:

"...sue me. Or shut up."

But I, annoyingly unschooled in the social graces as I am, simply refuse to shut up. So what is our poor judge to do?

Now, you might say, at this point, "Why doesn't he simply do a search, find the place where I made the statement in question, and just show us"? Well the answer, you see, is that he can't: SM is not adept with Google, and does not know how to find things on the internet. Why, just a few days ago, on the Muqata, we were discussing incidents of Israeli Police brutality against anti-government protestors. SM weighed in with his informed judgement that "the incidents are probably lies because the Israeli legal system provides for claims in respect of of such things and a quick search plus a few phone calls reveals none at all". Now, as plenty of us know, just a few seconds with Google reveals hundreds of news reports about countless brutality claims against the Israel Police, as well as the resulting trials of police officers, and Knesset investigations of the same. Why, then, did SM fail to find even one of these news articles when he did his own "search"? Cynics might suggest that he didn't even try to search -- but again, it is inconceivable that a respected judge so devoted to justice would lie, God forbid. So the only reasonable explanation is that SM could not locate any of this information, because he simply does not know how to search the internet.

And if his Lordship couldn't even find even one of those hundreds of articles about Israeli police brutality, how could we possibly expect him to locate that lone, mysterious place where I was "urging Israeli's to attack policemen"?

And that's where you, dear reader, come into the picture. SM can't find where I said it, but surely, all of us, working together, should be able to find it for him. We can make this a great collaborative project, like SETI at home, in which thousands of private PC users use the processing power of their individual computers to help locate extraterrestrial intelligence. In the same way, we can all join in, using our computers to help locate that elusive web page where I, the sinister Lurker, told people to attack policemen.

Just think: By finding that web page, you could single-handedly redeem the honor of SM, a most honest and honorable judge, from the unfair impression that some scoffers may have of him as a liar. And best of all for SM, I promise to immediately put up a toadying, peninent blog post, right here on DovBear, in which I will humbly and grovelingly apologize for having incited against policemen, and most importantly, for having dared to even suggest that SM was lying.

So get to it, people. SM needs you.
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Joseph's Wagons

An interesting bit of two-way torah is found toward the beginning of this week's parsha, when Yosef sends his father a caravan of wagons. The verse says:
וַיַּרְא אֶת-הָעֲגָלוֹת, אֲשֶׁר-שָׁלַח יוֹסֵף לָשֵׂאת אֹתוֹ; וַתְּחִי,רוּחַ יַעֲקֹב אֲבִיהֶם
And [Jacob] saw the wagons Yosef had sent to carry him and the spirit of Jacob their father revived.
What was it about the wagons that improved Jacob's mood, and convinced him his son was alive? On the spot Rashi (rather too famously) cites the midrash that the wagons were proof that Yosef was alive, because the last thing Yosef and his father had studied together was the case of the Egla Arufa and wagons (Agalot), though unrelated to the case, pun on Egel.
He (Joseph) gave them a sign, viz., in what topic he was engaged when he (Joseph) separated from him (Jacob). [That was] the section dealing with the heifer that was to be beheaded (עֶגְלָה עִרוּפָה) (Deut. 21), and this is what [Scripture] says, “and he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent,” and it (Scripture) does not say, “that Pharaoh had sent.” [from Gen. Rabbah 94:3
The Kli Yakar, who seems to belong to the school of thought which says the Avot neither knew nor kept all the mitzvot disagrees. After delivering a blogger-stye attack on Rashi's tendency to depart from the pshat, he points out that Yosef sent his father more than one wagon. He concludes that the extra wagons were sent for the purpose of escort (levaya). The custom of escort was well-established in Abraham's family; indeed when Yosef departed from his father for the last time, Yaakov escorted him (וַיִּשְׁלָחֵהוּ מֵעֵמֶק חֶבְרוֹן). Moreover, the wagons were not merely proof that Yosef was a live, but proof that he had kept alive the family practices: therefore, "the spirit of Jacob their father revived."
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Holocaust Apple Story debunked

The (Phony) Fence

Ah,well. [HT on request]

(...and speaking of things that have been debunked, if I hear one more time the bogus story about how this April is the first time since the Exodus that Pesach and Birchas Hachama have coincided, I may poke out someone's eye.)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

A Quality Post

[Though I called it a quality post, I'm not yet sure the idea it suggests is so great. Tzariach iyun]

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Joining the war

A Guest Post by Rafi G.
(originally posted on LII)

I just took a taxi and when I got in, the cabbie was listening to the news about the war, as pretty much everyone is right now.

The cabbie groaned and said "war".

I said back to him "Actually, there has been a war for a while. Just now we finally joined it."

(I think it sounds better in the original Hebrew of the conversation rather than in English)

He cracked up, as he said he loved the line and would use it.

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Israel starts to defend itself against Gaza

Shabbat Morning in Israel -- IAF jets attacked Gaza and the operation has begun (I got my first pager message during Shabbat Lunch, and the followup during early mincha "Shmona Esreh")

Jameel is war-blogging again; get the latest up-to-date news at The Muqata.

Shavua Tov, Chodesh Tov, Chanuka Sameach.


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Buy DB's wife a gift (please?) Come on, it's Chanuka...

Friday, December 26, 2008

Parsha Notes Addendum

Two new notes added

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My gift to you

Oy Chanuka in which I explain why Chanuka isn't the festival of freedom, tell you the true origins of the dredal, and more.

Why does Chanuka has eight days? If you're not a newbie, you know the answer, but these are some Chanuka facts you may not know.

Where did the oil miracle come from? ExtraTorah rebuts. Josh Waxman embellishes

Chanuka = Sukkos in which I provide Torah sources for the idea, attested to in the book of Macabbees that the first Chanuka was really a delayed Sukkos.

Toys vs Turkeys explains why Chanuka presents should be abolished. (maybe)

Christmas for Jews is a grinchy post about Chanuka

No GOP Jew should sing Maoz Tzur.

Share some levivot with someone you love.

Remember Yus? (shudder) This Menorah post is where he first appeared, though under another name. When I explained why the Aish Hatorah Chanuka video sucked beans, he came back again, even nastier than before. Little known fact: I switched to Haloscan Comments solely so that I could ban him.

Put on your Yarmulka, its time for Chanuka discusses the dumb Adam Sandler song.

In which I laugh at the idea Shabbos Chanuka has "deep mystical powers"; two years later Bray showed he believes in that crap.

Chanuka ends explains why Chanuka has an unhappy ending. Same point, made a little differently here.

A poorly named post, in which I moan about the stupid dreidal song.

Chanuka in Baghdad, is a short, thin post that knocks Cheney.

President Panderer is a bit more substantive and takes what I still think was a legitimate and well deserved shot at Bush. (Heh. When I wrote it he was "President Forty Percent.")

And because no trip down memory lane would be complete without an undressing of Cross Currents check out this discussion of Toby Katz's mistaken view of Chanuka, too

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Buy my wife a gift (please) (Seriously, I know times are tough, but this is an annual thing here, and a great way to acknowledge the [whatever] you've experienced at DovBear.)

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Lean on Me

By the Bray of Fundie

Maimonides (Laws of Repentance 2:1) teaches us that :א איזו היא תשובה גמורה--זה שבא לידו דבר שעבר בו, ואפשר בידו לעשות, ופירש ולא עשה מפני התשובה, לא מיראה ולא מכשלון כוח. כיצד: הרי שבא על אישה בעבירה, ולאחר זמן נתייחד עימה והוא עומד באהבתו בה ובכוח גופו, ובמדינה שעבר בה, ופירש ולא עבר--זה הוא בעל תשובה גמורה= What is considered a complete/absolute Teshuva? If the penitent is confronted with the sin (again), has the opportunity to transgress but desists not because of diminished capacities or fear (of human repercussions) but because of his repentance. E.G. if someone had an illicit affair with a woman and later was secluded with her in the same locale where they had originally sinned and is still vigorous and still loves her yet desists and does not transgress, this (person) is a Master of absoluteTeshuva.

There is a symbiotic relationship between Tzadikim (those who have not sinned) and Baalei Teshuva (those who sinned but have repented). Very often Tzadikim help Baalei Teshuva in their "repair work" and Baalei Teshuva, by turning lemons into lemonade, raise the consciousness of Tzadkim to understand that sins are, paradoxically, missed opportunities that open up new and better opportunities.

In Jewish thought Yoseph and Yehuda are archetypes for the Tzadik and Baal Teshuva, respectively. Consider their diverse behaviors and reactions when confronted with their respective tests of resisting their desire for a woman prohibited to them.

Elsewhere it has been theorized that Yoseph's request that Binyomin be brought before him was merely to ascertain whether or not yet another pretender to Yaakov's inheritance / estate had been"disposed of". But in light of the Tzadik/Baal Teshuva archetype roles of Yoseph and Yehuda I believe that it goes much deeper.

IMO what Yoseph was trying to do was help Yehuda achieve true Tehuva. He orchestrated the frame-up of the divining chalice in Benyamin's sack to replicate, as much as was possible, the circumstances of Yehuda's sin of having sold Yoseph. Once again Yehuda was confronted with the same choice; a beloved ben z'kunim of Rachel, his own half brother, was in danger of becoming a slave to gentiles. Would he repeat his previous sin, opt for the path of least resistance and allow Binyamin to become a slave? Or... would he risk all, his temporal life and his share in the world-to come, to save his half brother?

Yehuda, helped (manipulated) this way by the Tzadik, becomes a fully realized Baal Teshuva. Then when Yoseph, decked out as the viceroy of Egypt, drops the masquerade to reveals to the Bnei Yisrael that he is their brother and not some malevolent despot, he is not only teaching his brothers that things are not always what they appear to be. He is having an epipahny and admiiting this to himself as well. Yehuda the Baal Teshuva helped the Tzadik to realize that sin is not a bottomless pit, "full" of emptiness and life-robbing snakes and scorpions, but a springboard to attain even higher heights. The deeper the trampoline falls/"gives", the higher it propels.

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Parsha Notes (Meeketz)

Not a heck of a whole lot to say this week, I'm afraid. Newbies are invited to consult earlier editions of the series. As a Shabbos Chanuka bonus I have, this week, included links to some ghosts of Chanuka's past. (Aside:I know some of you are sometimes reluctant to comment on old posts, but please don't be inhibited. Thanks to the "recent comments" widget, your remark will likely be seen; aside from that, I try to read all comments, too. You're also free to email me( if you have something you want me to see.) (Note: The old posts often show 0 comments. This is a Haloscan glitch. Click and see (and remember: Comments are almost always better than the post)

New stuff in red

Bizarre Rashi (with twist)

After living in a dungeon for ten years, Yosef asked the king's butler to throw him a life line: כִּי אִם-זְכַרְתַּנִי אִתְּךָ, כַּאֲשֶׁר יִיטַב לָךְ, וְעָשִׂיתָ-נָּא עִמָּדִי, חָסֶד; וְהִזְכַּרְתַּנִי, אֶל-פַּרְעֹה, וְהוֹצֵאתַנִי, מִן-הַבַּיִת הַזֶּה/ But think on me when it shall be well with thee, and show kindness, I pray thee, unto me, and make mention of me unto Pharaoh, and bring me out of this house. Says Rashi: Because Joseph relied on him to remember him, he was compelled to be confined for two years, as it is said:“Praiseworthy is the man who made the Lord his trust and did not turn to the haughty (רְהָבִים)” (Ps. 40:5). He did not turn to the Egyptians, who are called רַהַב, haughty. I - along with many of the commentators - find it odd that Yosef might be punished with two extra years in jail, for exercising ordinary hishtadlut/effort.

Bonus twist: On the spot, the Kli Yakar puns on "who made the Lord his trust" Instead of sam he read shem ie, the name of the Lord was his trust. How? The Tetragrammaton makes use of the four letters with the lowest numerical value, and the name Yah has just two letters: Rather than choosing elaborate titles for himself, God, as it were, behaves modestly - a lesson for us all.

Loan Words
As Sarna tells us, some realism is added to the story of Joseph in Pharoh's court through the use of Egyptian loan words such as y'or, chartumim, 'ahu, taba'at, shesh, and most famously abrekh, a word which has never been satisfactorily translated.

Historical Accuracy
:: Joseph shaves before he sees Pharaoh. In the ANE, only Egyptians were clean shaven.

:: As attested to by several biblical and extrabiblical sources, circumcision was widely practiced in the ANE. Joshua (5:9) tells us that Egyptians thought lack of circumcision was a "reproach." Judges (14:3 etc.) is an example of the Philistines being depicted as "uncircumcised." No nation other than the Philistines are disparaged this way. In Jeremiah 9 other nations are said to pact ice this rite. On Gen 41:55 Rashi gives us a Just-So-Story for how this came to pass, saying that Joseph ordered the Egyptians to do it. (The LR says that just as Abraham circumcised his slaves and bondmen, Joseph had a halachic obligation to circumcise anyone under his control or power -an interesting, yet dangerous -almost fascist - idea.)

::The MT gives raqot (flat or hollow) on Gen 41:19; other ancient versions have daqot (meager)

:: On 41:56 the MT has וַיִּפְתַּח יוֹסֵף אֶת-כָּל-אֲשֶׁר בָּהֶם / and Joseph opened all in which there was. Something, obviously, is missing from this sentence, and Onkelos provides it, telling us that Joseph opened the "storehouses" in which there was "grain." (Alter)

Interesting Idea

When Joseph asked his bothers to bring him Benjamin, he was checking to see if he has been disposed of as well. In the ANE, as in other cultures, it was common from brothers to protect their inheritances by killing each other off, and a very young, half-brother would have been especially vulnerable. (Perhaps this thought is represented in the other commentaries, but I saw it in Alter)

Bible critics say the MT's version of Joseph's sale is two different accounts knitted together. Their evidence includes the question of who sold Joseph, and that both Reuven and Yehuda appear as instruments of his sale. Oddly enough, these two men also appear later in Joseph's court as Benjamin's protector, suggesting they'd repented.


The seven fat years are this world, the seven lean years are the world to come. Here we have everything, and the means to aquire everlasting life. In the next world, our money is worthless, and there is no way to aquire spiritual merit. Lesson: Fill up your storehouses now.


Oy Chanuka in which I explain why Chanuka isn't the festival of freedom, tell you the true origins of the dredal, and more.

Why does Chanuka has eight days? If you're not a newbie, you know the answer, but these are some Chanuka facts you may not know.

Where did the oil mircal come from? ExtraTorah rebuts. Josh Waxman embellishes

Chanuka = Sukkos in which I provide Torah sources for the idea, attested to in the book of Macabbees that the first Chanuka was really a delayed Sukkos.

Toys vs Turkeys explains why Chanuka presents should be abolished. (maybe)

Christmas for Jews is a grinchy post about Chanuka

No GOP Jew should sing Maoz Tzur.

Share some levivot with someone you love.

Remember Yus? (shudder) This Menorah post is where he first appeared, though under another name. When I explained why the Aish Hatorah Chanuka video sucked beans, he came back again, even nastier than before. Little known fact: I switched to Haloscan Comments solely so that I could ban him.

Put on your Yarmulka, its time for Chanuka discusses the dumb Adam Sandler song.

In which I laugh at the idea Shabbos Chanuka has "deep mystical powers"; two years later Bray showed he believes in that crap.

Chanuka ends explains why Chanuka has an unhappy ending. Same point, made a little differently here.

A poorly named post, in which I moan about the stupid dreidal song.

Chanuka in Baghdad, is a short, thin post that knocks Cheney.

President Panderer is a bit more substantive and takes what I still think was a legitimate and well deserved shot at Bush. (Heh. When I wrote it he was "President Forty Percent.")

And because no trip down memory lane would be complete without an undressing of Cross Currents check out this discussion of Toby Katz's mistaken view of Chanuka, too

Buy my book. (please)
Buy my wife a gift (please)

Are We Proud of How We Behave?

I was asked to deal with the issues of when dissent is ok and when someone is an enemy.

Dissent is always ok. The reaction to the shoe thrower suggested that dissent was not ok for two reasons. Firstly, because it was done to the President. Secondly, because what the thrower did was an assault or battery. The first reason is crass - in Zimbabwe it is a crime to gesture towards Mugabe as he guides his people to starvation, cholera and death. Only dictators feel the need for their position to be specifically protected.

The second reason just isn't a reason why dissent isn't ok. Within a democracy many people hate what is being done. We all agree that people are free to dissent in writing and in thought. But, occasionally, that dissent crosses over into action. The deal is that you are free to dissent if you are willing to face the consequences. That applies to whistle blowers, who frequently face the loss of their livelihood, and shoe-throwers, who may be locked up.

The critical point is that the reaction to the dissent must be proportionate to the dissent itself. If someone kills another human being we lock them up for a long time. If they blow the whistle on their employer's criminal hiring practices, only the blinkered and the stupid suggest that anything should happen at all. If they throw their shoes at someone - be he President or pauper - and miss, they shouldn't have ribs broken and internal injuries inflicted.

The question of how individuals react to such shows of dissent has been falsely linked by a number of people here to the act of dissent itself. But one can applaud the shoe thrower for expressing the view of thousands, for wiping the smile off the Bush features, for having the courage to make his views crystal clear at some risk to himself, without supporting lawbreakers. Why? Because the critical thing is that one must also support the State's right to punish a criminal offence in exactly the same way for everyone.

And I do. There is no contradiction between being pleased that this happened and being pleased if justice then takes its course. If someone walked up to the leader of Britain's Nazi Party and shot him I would be delighted. But if that 'gentleman' was simply walking down the street then there would still be a price to pay, because the killing would be a crime.

If someone is at war with me everyone is still treated the same - but the standard of treatment is different. Contrary to some of the wilder suggestions here it would not be ok to bomb civilians.

But the question of whether someone is my 'enemy' is irrelevant. To justify different treatment, the question is whether someone is at war with me, in the accepted legal meaning of that word. Bush and his cheerleaders have circumvented that process by means of unilateral declarations - not that they are at war, which might be ok - but that others are at war with them.

Simply labelling someone an 'enemy' or a 'traitor' should make no difference. However, it is used to permit appalling treatment of people so labelled, including torture. But these people are not captured prisoners of war or enemy agents in any sense save the unilateral one declared by Bush. There is no war in any legal - or objective - sense. These people are either criminals or innocents and, either way, they are entitled to the same treament as you and me. Instead, they are kidnapped in a foreign country, smuggled out to another foreign country and tortured until they confess to what the people torturing them want them to confess to. Not only is that outright morally wrong: it produces unreliable evidence and it ensures that everyone who knows the person detests the USA and everything about it. In treating them like this, Bush has dignified criminal activity by treating it as if a State has carried these acts out. What a legacy.

If you cannot prove this criminal behaviour using the standard rules of a just society, that is likely because the person you accuse is not guilty. Bush hasn't even tried. The rhetoric is wild and the 'evidence' anecdotal or torture based. The remedy available to every citizen - access to a fair justice system - is ignored in favour of conspiracy theories and Gitmo.

These are not Jewish values. I truly don't understand why others do not find them detestable.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The origins of Hanukah

A guest post by Lurker:

[Cross-posted at The Muqata]

Recently, DovBear invited us to have a look at this interesting article by Lawrence Keleman about the true origins of Christmas. Keleman argues that if Jews inclined to celebrate that holiday were aware of these origins, then they might be dissuaded from celebrating it. Keleman points out – quite correctly – that the early Christians did not choose December 25th because of any existing tradition that Jesus had been born on that day. Rather, they picked it because that was the concluding date of the Greco-Roman festival of Saturnalia, which commemorated the Winter Solstice. In other words, "Christmas" was already around for a very long time, in a somewhat different form, long before the Christians came along.

This, in turn, brings to mind the question of the origins of Hanukah. Interestingly, Hanukah also coincides with the Winter Solstice period. More significantly, it is eight days long – just like Saturnalia was. Was this a historical accident, or is there more significance to the time and length of this holiday? Were the Christians the only ones to adapt Saturnalia to their own needs? Or Does Hanukah, too, bear a connection to this ancient Solstice festival? DovBear says that there is indeed such a connection. Is he right?

Needless to say, many reasons have been offered over the years for Hanukah's date and length. Regarding the date (the 25th of Kislev): I Maccabees (1:59, 4:52-59) and II Maccabees (10:5-8) seem to suggest that this date was chosen deliberately for the rededication, since it was on that very date that Antiochus had desecrated the altar three years earlier. Others find a connection in the book of Hagai, which says that the foundation of the Second Temple was laid on the 24th of Kislev (or the 25th; see sources in Further information, below) (Hagai 2:10-19). And a midrash in the Yalkut Shimoni (I Melakhim 184) says that work on the Mishkan was completed on the 25th of Kislev, although the dedication ceremony was delayed until the 1st of Nisan.

As to why Hanukah is 8 days long: II Maccabees (1:9, 1:18, 10:5-8) says that Hanukah was intended to commemorate Sukkot – the holiday that the Greeks had recently prevented the Jews from celebrating – and which is 8 days long (when you include Shemini Atzeret). According to Pesikta Rabbati (ch. 2), the Hashmonaim, upon entering the liberated Temple, found 8 iron spears, which they thrust into the ground and made into an impromptu candelabra. And of course, there is the very famous (but historically questionable) story from the Talmud (TB Shabbat 21b) of the miraculous oil that burned for 8 days. But one is forced to wonder: Do any of these reasons really explain the establishment of an 8-day-long holiday? Megillat Taanit lists a great many days that were celebrated as holidays in early Second Temple times – and they are all just one day long, except for one: Hanukah. Let us assume for a moment that the miracle of the oil is the reason why Hanukah was established. Why does this justify the establishment of an 8-day-long holiday? Suppose the oil had burned for 50 days – would Hanukah then be 50 days long? It is reasonable to wonder whether there was already a pre-existing 8-day-long holiday, which was simply conflated with the new holiday of Hanukah.

The answer may be found in in the Gemara (TB Avodah Zarah 8a), which strongly suggests that the actual origin of Hanukah dates back to antiquity, long before the period of the Hashmonaim:

אמר רב חנן בר רבא: קלנדא ח' ימים אחר תקופה; סטרנורא ח' ימים לפני תקופה. וסימנך: "אחור וקדם צרתני", וגו' (תהילים קל"ט:ה').
ת"ר: לפי שראה אדם הראשון יום שמתמעט והולך, אמר: "אוי לי, שמא בשביל שסרחתי, עולם חשוך בעדי וחוזר לתוהו ובוהו, וזו היא מיתה שנקנסה עלי מן השמים!" עמד וישב ח' ימים בתענית [ובתפלה]. כיון שראה תקופת טבת, וראה יום שמאריך והולך, אמר: "מנהגו של עולם הוא". הלך ועשה שמונה ימים טובים. לשנה האחרת עשאן לאלו ולאלו ימים טובים. הוא קבעם לשם שמים, והם קבעום לשם עבודה זרה.

R. Hanan b. Rabba said: [The festival of] the Kalends [Roman New Year] is observed on the eight days following the [Winter] Solstice; [the festival of] Saturnalia on the eight days preceding the Solstice. As a mnemonic, use "From the back and the front you have afflicted me", etc. (Tehillim 139:5).
Our Rabbis taught [in a braita]: When Adam HaRishon observed the days getting increasingly shorter, he said, "Woe is me, perhaps because I have sinned, the world is darkening and returning to its state of chaos and confusion; and this is the death to which I have been sentenced from heaven!" He stopped, and sat for eight days engaged in fasting [and prayer]. But when he observed the Winter Solstice, and observed the days getting increasingly longer, he said, "This is the nature of the universe". He [therefore] went and celebrated eight festival days. In the following year he made both [of these eight-day holidays into permanent] festivals. He [Adam] established them for the sake of heaven, but they [of later generations] established them for the sake of idolatry.
One can hardly fail to recognize the obvious connection with Hanukah. The Gemara tells us that Adam HaRishon established an eight-day holiday (two, in fact) to be observed at the time of the Solstice, in celebration of the restoration of light. Furthermore, it tells us, these were the very holidays that eventually became known as the Greco-Roman festivals of Saturnalia and the Kalends. The Gemara is thus saying that the holiday we now know as Hanukah actually existed long before the Maccabees, for many centuries, as a Winter Solstice festival – the same Winter Solstice festival that was celebrated by the Greeks and Romans as Saturnalia.

The Hashmonaim later appropriated this holiday, and recast it for their own purposes as a celebration of their defeat of the Greeks and their rededication of the Temple. Significantly, the motif of "casting out darkness" and "restoring light" was retained. Perhaps, by appropriating a Greek holiday and turning it into a celebration of the Temple's rededication, the Hashmonaim were trying to express their victory over Hellenism. Or perhaps they simply recognized the fact that much of the assimilated Jewish populace would go on celebrating Saturnalia whether they liked it or not, and thus tried to co-opt the pagan holiday into a Jewish one.

In conclusion: The Gemara in Avodah Zarah shows us that the Hashmonaim "borrowed" the ancient Winter Solstice festival as a branch upon which to graft their own holiday – just as the Christians did a few centuries later.

Don't get me wrong – I certainly don't think a self-respecting Jew ought to celebrate Christmas. But I wouldn't tell a Jew not to celebrate it on account of its connection with Saturnalia. After all, Hanukah is clearly connected with it, too.

Further information:

For more information on the origins of Hanukah, I highly recommend the following excellent shiurim and articles. They all relate to the topic of this post, and considerably more, as well:

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Kellerman Christmas polemic

The other day, we had a laugh at Lawrence Kellerman's well-meaning but ultimately misguided attempt to convince Jews to stop celebrating Christmas. He's right that it makes no sense for a Jew to throw in his lot with a holiday long associated with Jew-hating, but wrong because he doesn't seem to understand that the facts of history are almost irrelevant, once emotions have come into play. Chanuka, as others have remarked, proves the point.

Perhaps 50 to 70 percent of the Jewish people, for instance, would be unlikely to celebrate Chanuka if it mattered to them that the Maccabees were religious intolerants who were ready to execute Sabbath desecrators, and insisted on the special prerogatives of king and priest. The other 30 percent would probably be a little less enthusiastic about the holiday if they remembered the disdain Chazal had for the Hashmonites. And all of us would, I suspect, be lukewarm on the holiday if we were historically sensitive to the connections between Chanuka and Saturnalia, and to the possibility that our candles have more to do with the Roman feast than any oil miracle

None of this matters though, not two-thousand years later, and not after the holidays have acquired their own special significance to us. This is why all of us still honor Chanuka, and why the Kelerman Christmas polemic has no hope of changing any one's mind.

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Note to well meaning gentiles

My "holiday" started Sunday night. Therefore, it is not necessary to say "if I don't speak to you again, have a happy holiday." I'm able and willing to accept your well meant Chanuka greetings right now.

Aside: I notice O'Reilly and his childish friends said less about the so-called WAR ON CHRISTMAS than in previous years. Does this mean somebody won? If so, who?

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Ani Ma'amin

The two issues which have provoked the row between Lurker and me - the shoe throwing and Lurker's view of the Israeli police - have been done to death. It should also be noted, in fairness, that Lurker has denounced violence against the police. I don't intend to rehash all that - it's tedious. Whilst we have been presented as opposites, in truth I don't know what Lurker believes in - I only know what he dislikes. I can't do anything about that but I can make it clear what I believe in.

I believe in the justice, justice we must pursue. I also know something about how that works in real life. That is something I have made clear here and which, rather unpleasantly, various people have adopted as a sneer. I have learned that justice is essentially a process. We cannot ever give an absolute guarantee that we know the truth - that is a matter for God. We can only ensure that the process we use is the same for everyone, in the hope that the application of that one standard, eliminates mistakes. Of course, it never does so entirely, which is one of the reasons why the death penalty makes me so worked up - as if a few mistakes are somehow justifiable. But I digress.

Two things, in particular, strike at the root of justice. The first is a departure from the common standard which we adopt to ensure it. One of the most noteworthy such departures in recent times has been the decision by the United States to permit torture and the use of information thus extracted. Yet, how are people so treated to be justly convicted when the standard we apply to them is so different to the standard we apply to others - and not by mistake but by the deliberate choice of the State? The State seeks to justify such injustice by evoking fear in its citizens in an attempt - all too successful - to persuade people that there are those who do not deserve the standard applied to everyone else. That they are, in fact, guilty anyway so it doesn't matter.

The second is an erosion of trust in the machinery of justice. It is precisely because the State has such power that the police force and the judiciary should be beyond State control. If they are not independent - or if they are perceived to lack independence - then people lack confidence in the administration of justice, and experience shows that it is then but a short step to people taking justice into their own hands.

In departing from the common standard - in talking about alleged terrorists and nations of evil as if they were guilty by the simple fact of his saying so - Bush promoted an idea that proving guilt in the conventional way was not just unnecessary but, in some way, disloyal. By authorising torture he acted on that idea. In so doing he compromised everyone's safety, because a society which accepts double standards and does not protect those who are already 'guilty' is a society in which no one - and especially no Jew - is safe. He shut off the resonance that had always attached to the complaints democracies made about other regimes by acting like those other regimes. He - or those close to him - knew this was happening. It was done deliberately and its effect has never been acknowledged. Rather, wrong has been trumpeted as right and genuine concern for our objective standard has been labelled as traitorous.

What of Lurker? Well I perceive him to be part of the gleeful chorus - now thankfully muted and chastened by the Presidential election result - of those who cheered Bush on. In my view, such people elevated perfectly reasonable aims to a status which meant the means necessary to achieve those aims were irrelevant. I passionately believe that only God has sufficient judgement to do that. Human capacity being what it is, we are reliant on process - on means - to ensure that justice is done.

That gleeful chorus has learned its lessons well. The settlers in Israel are behaving illegally in many respects. Their response? Well, it isn't to accept the verdict of the Courts and laws of the land. Instead they attack the police as a mass - imputing to the entire organisation, all the time - the occasions when the police fail to meet an appropriate standard. They talk as if the bias of the Court were an accepted fact - neatly sidestepping the inconvenience of having their actions declared illegal. They pose as the vanguard of the oppressed - isolated and betrayed by their government, police force and judiciary. In so doing they equate Israel with places like Zimbabwe where law and order has truly broken down and where there is no justice. They do this for their own ends, setting themselves up as above 'mere' process. In so doing they, too, erode faith in justice and encourage others to behave as they do. They imperil the State, whilst loudly proclaiming their love for it.

There is - obviously - more. But I hope it is clear that, for my part at least, the row has been about the basic building blocks of a society. If this Post draws many comments I know that some will assert my naivety and some that there really is a threat which demands such a response/the Israeli police and courts really are set up to persecute the people who live (in taxpayer supported conditions) outside Israel proper. But what can you do about idiots? Retreat and abandonement are options only for those who have given up.

Buy the bloody book already.
Buy his wife a gift - the complete responsa of the Rav of RBS for example.