Friday, January 30, 2009

A new way to deal with Midrashic literalists

Old Way

Midrashic Literalist: So we know that during the darkness plague 80 percent of the Jews were slaughtered by God.
DB: Um... we know?
ML: Yes, we KNOW. It says so right here in Rashi, (Exodus 13:18) and he's quoting a Midrash, so it's TRUE.
DB: Are you sure?
DB: Well, that's somewhat puzzling isn't it? After all no mention of this massacre is mentioned in the verse. Wouldn't we expect God to tell us that he murdered 80 percent of the Jewish people? Also, the Exodus is described as a moment of supreme joy. Could that be true, if every family was sitting shiva? What you're insisting on is actually a holocaust, not an Exodus.
ML: Hmmmmm.....
DB: Also, if you look at the math, how did we get from 70 original Jews to 5 * 600,000 people plus women, plus children, plus men older than 60 and younger than 20?
ML: Well, they had six kids per pregnancy...
DB: Even so, each woman would need to have like 60 kids, so that means for 210 years every single slavewoman had 10 sets of septuplets?
ML: Hey.......are you some kind of KOFER?
DB: No....
DB: Um...
ML: Don't you think he was aware of all your "questions?"
DB: Um...
ML: And anyway Rashi had RUACH HAKODESH so what he said was TRUE and HOW DARE YOU QUESTION IT.
DB: Well....
ML: You're just a LIBERAL who feels the NEED to question everything. Can't God do anything? Can't he kill 80 percent of the Jews if he feels like? Huh? Can't he? What's with you? Every time the Torah says something that doesn't fit into your narrow, human conception of how things are supposed to be you think you can ask questions?

- Fin -

New Way

Midrashic Literalist: So we know that during the darkness plague 80 percent of the Jews were slaughtered by God.
DB: Um... we know?
ML: Yes, we KNOW. It says so right here in Rashi, (Exodus 13:18) and he's quoting a Midrash, so it's TRUE.
DB: Are you sure?
DB: Well that's odd, because it says right here in the Gemarah (Sanhedrin 111A) that God massacred over a billion Jews during the darkness plague?
ML: A billion?
DB: Why yes, a certain Rav Samai says that just as only 2 people of the original 600,000 survived to enter the land of Israel, only 2 of every 600,000 survived the slavery, so if you do the math...
ML: A billion?
DB: Yes.
ML: With a B?
DB: uh-huh
ML: Well that's... um... a billion? How can that be? It would mean... I mean... how did they get that many Jews in the first place?
DB: HEY! YOU'RE NOT SOME KIND OF KOFER ARE YOU?! Can't God do anything? Can't he kill several billion Jews in three days if he feels like? Huh? Can't he? What's with you? Every time the Torah says something that doesn't fit into your narrow, human conception of how things are supposed to be you think you can ask questions?

1 - This actually happened.
2 - Though Rashi's view is that Rav Simai means to say several billion Jews were killed during darkness, this isn't the only way to understand his statement. Perhaps Rav Samai is saying that just as only 2 people survived the desert (ie Kolev and Yehoshua), only 2 survived the slavery (Yocheved and Serach bat Asher, I presume, who, according to some (but by no means all) liver supernaturally long lives)
3 - As JS notes in the first comment, Rashi read of Rav Samai's statement to mean that just shy of 180 billion Jews died during darkness.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Anti-Religious Coercion

by The Bray of Fundie

A basic tenet of Judaism is that humans are endowed with free will. Yet the Pharaoh of Egypt was stripped of his.

This weeks Parsha begins:
א וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, בֹּא אֶל-פַּרְעֹה: כִּי-אֲנִי הִכְבַּדְתִּי אֶת-לִבּוֹ, וְאֶת-לֵב עֲבָדָיו, לְמַעַן שִׁתִי אֹתֹתַי אֵלֶּה, בְּקִרְבּוֹ.
" And the LORD said unto Moses: 'Go in unto Pharaoh; for I have hardened his heart, and the heart of his servants, that I might show these My signs in the midst of them; "

The Rambam explains that being stripped of ones free-will is a weapon in the arsenal of Divine punishments . When a sinner abuses their free will in a particularly egregious way (s)he may be punished by losing it and being forced to continue sinnning with no opportunity to ever repent:

ד [ג] וְאִפְשָׁר שֶׁיֶּחֱטָא הָאָדָם חֵטְא גָּדוֹל אוֹ חֲטָאִים הַרְבֵּה, עַד שֶׁיִּתֵּן הַדִּין לִפְנֵי דַּיָּן הָאֱמֶת שֶׁיִּהְיֶה הַפֵּרָעוֹן מִזֶּה הַחוֹטֶא עַל חֲטָאִים אֵלּוּ שֶׁעָשָׂה בִּרְצוֹנוֹ וּמִדַּעְתּוֹ, שֶׁמּוֹנְעִין מִמֶּנּוּ הַתְּשׁוּבָה וְאֵין מַנִּיחִין לוֹ רְשׁוּת לָשׁוּב מֵרִשְׁעוֹ, כְּדֵי שֶׁיָּמוּת וְיֹאבַד בַּחֲטָאִים שֶׁעָשָׂה

The Egyptian Pharaoh is a textbook example of this type of crime and punishment.

ה לְפִיכָּךְ כָּתוּב בַּתּוֹרָה "וַאֲנִי, אֲחַזֵּק אֶת-לֵב-פַּרְעֹה" (ראה שמות ד,כא; שמות יד,ד): לְפִי שֶׁחָטָא מֵעַצְמוֹ תְּחִלָּה וְהֵרַע לְיִשְׂרָאֵל הַגָּרִים בְּאַרְצוֹ, שֶׁנֶּאֱמָר "הָבָה נִתְחַכְּמָה, לוֹ" (שמות א,י), נָתַן הַדִּין לִמְנֹעַ מִמֶּנּוּ הַתְּשׁוּבָה, עַד שֶׁנִּפְרָעִין מִמֶּנּוּ; לְפִיכָּךְ חִזַּק הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא אֶת לִבּוֹ.
ו וְלָמָּה הָיָה שׁוֹלֵחַ לוֹ בְּיַד מֹשֶׁה וְאוֹמֵר לוֹ שַׁלַּח וַעֲשֵׂה תְּשׁוּבָה, וּכְבָר אָמַר לוֹ הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא שְׁאֵין אַתָּה מְשַׁלֵּחַ, שֶׁנֶּאֱמָר "וְאַתָּה, וַעֲבָדֶיךָ: יָדַעְתִּי . . ." (שמות ט,ל), "וְאוּלָם, בַּעֲבוּר זֹאת הֶעֱמַדְתִּיךָ" (שמות ט,טז)--כְּדֵי לְהוֹדִיעַ לְבָאֵי הָעוֹלָם, שֶׁבִּזְמָן שֶׁמּוֹנֵעַ הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא הַתְּשׁוּבָה לַחוֹטֶא, אֵינוּ יָכוֹל לָשׁוּב, אֵלָא יָמוּת בְּרִשְׁעוֹ שֶׁעָשָׂה בַּתְּחִלָּה בִּרְצוֹנוֹ.

Here's a point to ponder: We know that when it comes to both crime and punishment, and merit and reward, the Divine M.O. is not just to mete out justice but to do so poetically, quid pro quo, midah k'neged midah. What, do you suppose, might be the the midah k'neged midah of stripping a sinner of his/her free will?


The moron who gave us "Barack the Magic Negro," also wrote a second song entitled "The Star Spanglish Banner." While neither song has lyrics that are overtly racist (below) they've both been co opted by hatemongers. For instance, there's a Jewish white-supremacist I know who is fond of humming the song about Barack. When questioned, it becomes clear he doesn't know what the song is about: to him its just a cute little racist ditty, suitable for huming to amuse his fellow bigots and haters. Now, I see from CA, that Jew haters are making use of the "The Star Spanglish Banner." See what pops up 14 seconds into this video

Barack the Magic Negro
PAUL SHANKLIN (Al Sharpton impersonator):
Barack the Magic Negro lives in D.C.
The L.A. Times, they called him that 'Cause he's not authentic like me.
Yeah, the guy from the L.A. paper
Said he makes guilty whites feel good
They'll vote for him, and not for me'
Cause he's not from the hood.
Song continues in this unfunny vein for much too long

The Star Spanglish Banner
Jose can you see
By the dawn's early light
Cross the border we sailed
As the Gringos were sleeping

What broad stripes and bright stars
We like red, green, and white
On the day that we marched
We were gallantly screaming

And the rally was where
We waved flags in the air
As proof in daylight
That our flag was not theirs

Jose does that star spangled banner yet wave
For the land of weak knees
In DC, no one's free

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Your liberal media

Says here that CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, Fox Business and CNBC "have hosted more Republican lawmakers to discuss the [stimulus] plan than Democrats by a 2 to 1 ratio"

What's going on here? Are the producers calling Democrats and being turned down, or are more invitations being extended to Republicans? Are the Democrats asking to appear on the shows, and being rebuffed, or are they not even bothering? Or is the so-called-liberal-media just so frightened of seeming liberal that they overcompensate in the opposite direction?

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How can you read this and not think the previous president was an idiot?

“I’ll never forget going to work on a Saturday morning, getting called down to the Oval Office because there was something he was mad about,” said Dan Bartlett, who was counselor to Mr. Bush. “I had on khakis and a buttoned-down shirt, and I had to stand by the door and get chewed out for about 15 minutes. He wouldn’t even let me cross the threshold.”
Wouldn't even let you cross the threshold? So. There's this big emergency going on, and instead of waiving his stupid rule about jackets in the oval office or -heaven forfend joining you in the hallway or a conference room - the President of the United States hollered at you from across the room? For 15 minutes? Just brilliant. Way to stand on stupid ceremony, at the expense of real goals. Reminds me of the genius yeshiva administrators who require hatless and/or jacketless students to forfeit the benefits of praying with a minyan.

Just for fun, here's a crackpot theory on why the president required his aids to keep their jackets on. Four years ago, there was much Internet speculation that the president was coasting through his debates with John Kerry because he (Bush) was wearing an earpiece and receiving answers from Karl Rove. I don't actually believe this, but suppose the president was so insecure, and so badly prepared that he wore an earpiece 24/7, so that his wiser and more experienced aids could help him bumble through meetings. He'd want to keep his jacket on so as to hide the apparatus, wouldn't he? But, when everyone is in shirt-sleeves, the one guy wearing a jacket looks strange and out of place. People might start to wonder just why it is that the president always has his jacket on. Requiring everyone else to keep their jackets on, too, is a nifty solution, no? (Note: the preceding was a crackpot theory.)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Best version of Rachaym ever


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Still Waiting for Jewish Pope Lovers to Recant

I'm still not completely recovered from some of the breathtakingly stupid things certain Jews (+,+) and Jewish leaders, and Jewish bloggers have said about the Popes and the Church, but today's their chance to get back into my good graces.

See, it turns out that the break-away bishops Benedict rehabilitated this week are even more repulsive than first imagined.
The most contentious of the four is the British-born Bishop Richard Williamson, who in a recent television interview said he thought the “historical evidence” was against six million Jews dying in Nazi gas chambers.
Nasty, but there's more:
[In 1989 a] Vichy war criminal, Paul Touvier, was found hiding in a Nice monastery run by Archbishop Lefebvre and arrested. He was later sentenced to life in prison for crimes against humanity
Lefebvre is the founder of the Pius X society, a group of extreme Catholic traditionalists that seeks to be more Catholic than the Pope, and he is the one who created the four bishops Benedict has now welcomed back into the church. But, we still aren't done:
The St. Pius X Society is particularly opposed to the Vatican II reforms that softened the church’s age-old teaching that Jews had killed Christ.

In a letter to Germany’s 27 official bishops in October, the director of the society’s German branch, the Rev. Franz Schmidberger, wrote that Jews “are not ‘our older brothers in faith,’ ” as Pope John Paul II said in his historic visit to the Rome synagogue in 1986.

Instead, Father Schmidberger wrote, “for as long as they do not distance themselves from their forefathers’ guilt through the avowal of Christ’s divinity and baptism, they are complicit in the deicide,” according to a copy of the letter available on the society’s Web site.
So how's that for an unholy trinity for the ages? The Pope's new friends are into Holocaust denial, have given aid and comfort to a Nazi war criminal, and they insist on the age-old claim that we Jews killed Jesus.

Surprised? Don't be. This is perfectly in keeping with the teachings and practices of Popes toward the Jews going back to the 1850s. They've called us dogs, stolen our children, published slanders in official Vatican newspapers, supported the war against Dryfuss, participated in blood libels, sat silently during the Holocaust, met with Facists, before helping to facilitate the escape of many Nazis to Argentina, and on and on and on, culminating in Benedict's outrage earlier this week but STILL certain Jews stand up straighter whenever a Pope smiles at us.

Well, I say enough and I want those Cross Loving Jews to admit their error.

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Does the President Know He is Dealing with Religious Fundementalists?

I confess to being confused about the president's performance yesterday on Al Aribiya TV. [Stewart's (very funny)Take]

My first reaction was disappointment, and, dare I say it, concern? See, I've some experience working with extreme religious fundamentalists, and when dealing with the rest of us, extreme religious fundamentalists rarely negotiate in good faith. The attitude, instead, is one of condescending superiority. They aren't interested in common ground, or meeting in the middle. What they want is to grab as much as they can. This is a direct result of the arrogance that comes from certainty. When you're 1000 percent positive that God chose you, and that your life is being led in the way that gives Him the greatest pleasure, well, you start to doubt that the non-believers matter, and you begin to think their needs and desires aren't really as valuable as yours are.

Whatever God he worships, Barak Obama is not a fundementalist and his view of himeslf and the world is different. Men like him (to borrow from Ian McEwan) recognize that "the world is unbearably complicated, with two billion voices, and everyone's thoughts striving in equal importance and everyone's claim on life as intense."

To the religious fundamentalist, however,(continuing to take from McEwan) the non-fundamentalists world is made up of "machines, intelligent and pleasant enough on the outside, but lacking the bright and private inside feeling" that he and his kind enjoy.

So it was worrying, I admit, to see Obama put his hands out and offer to listen. I may be misundersatnding, but it seems to me to be too weak of an opening move. The United States must improve its reputation in the Muslim world, and it must encourage Israel to talk to Arab states that are serious about having serious conversations. I like that Obama is willing to extend a hand to anyone willing to unclench his fist. But when I remember my own interactions with religions fundementalists I worry a bit. When negotiating with people who think you're less then fully human, you need leverage, because their guarantees often aren't guarantees.

Continuation: I became less worried when I saw Bush often went on the same station and often said the same things. Still, listening to clips of the Obama interview, I find myself thinking "They are going to roll him like a cheap drunk." Let's hope I'm wrong.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

He's a sneaky one, that Obama (part 2)

Apparently appointing a Secretary of State who supports Israel's right to defend itself is also part of Obama's secret plan to screw us:
"We support Israel's right to self-defense. The rocket barrages which are getting closer and closer to populated areas cannot go unanswered," Clinton said in her first news conference at the State Department. 'It is regrettable that the Hamas leadership apparently believes that it is in their interest to provoke the right of self-defense instead of building a better future for the people of Gaza"

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Why do we keep mitzvos?

Why do we keep mitzvos? A good question, asked by all of us, I presume, at one time or another. Three of our favorite commentators see defenses for their own pet theories in a passage from this week's parsha.

Exodus 13:5-7: It shall be when the LORD brings you to the land of the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Amorite, the Hivite and the Jebusite, which He swore to your fathers to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey, that you shall observe this [Passover] rite in this month. “For seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a feast to the LORD. “Unleavened bread shall be eaten throughout the seven days; and nothing leavened shall be seen among you, nor shall any leaven be seen among you in all your borders.

In Hebrew, the next sentence (13:8) says:

והגדת לבנך ביום ההוא לאמר בעבור זה עשה יהוה לי בצאתי ממצרים

What does this mean? Well, it depends who you ask. The difficulty is the word זֶה (which means this or that), a pronoun with an antecedent that isn't immediately obvious.

According to Rashi, זֶה refers to mitzvos (for instance those detailed in the preceding verses) so the last line should be translated as follows: And you shall tell you children on that day, saying: For the sake of this (i.e. the mitzvos) the LORD took me out of Egypt. Thus, according to Rashi, mitzvos are an ends unto themselves, and the LORD rescued us from Egyptian servitude so that we might perform them.

The ibn Ezra gives (more or less) the same reading and presents (more or less) the same theology.

The Ramban disagrees. As he sees it, זֶה refers to the miracles the LORD performed at the Exodus, thus: And you should tell your children on that day, saying: For the sake of this (i.e. the wonders and signs that accompanied the Exodus) which the LORD did when he took me out of Egypt... meaning: we do the mitzvos (for instance those detailed in the preceding verses)for the sake of the wonders and signs that accompanied the Exodus.

According to the Ramban, therefore, the commandments are performed for the purpose of telling ourselves and others that God exists, runs the world, rescued us from Egypt, etc. Thus commandments are a means to an end, and not an end in of themselves. The goal is to retain and/or publicize the idea represented by the commandment, not to keep the commandment for its own sake.

The Ramban has a great deal more to say on this subject and supports his POV with a second, sod, translation of the verse, in which he says the word זֶה additionally represents the majesty and glory of God, thus For the sake of this (i.e. His own glory) the LORD took me out of Egypt...

Commandments, then according to Ramban, are kept as an ongoing testimony and a never-ending attempt to publicize God's glory/existence/majesty/providence, etc.

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Dumb things people say (and how you can answer them)

Obama's letting the terrorists go free!
Uh... no. He isn't. They're just being moved, over the course of a year, to legal prisons.

Do you want them in your neighborhood?!
Right, see, they're not going to be hanging out in the park, or joining your car-pool. They're going to stay locked up in jails.

Dangerous people need to be kept in special jails!
Right, and we have them. They are called SuperMax prisons.

Those can't hold terrorists!!
WTHN? They hold serial killers and mobsters and lunatics and mass murderer. What makes these guys so much more dangerous?

They're terrorists!!
And? It's not like they have super powers.

But next thing you know they'll be citizens!

Wait, wait. Hear me out: Let’s just say that, that, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of 9/11, is brought to the United States to be tried in a federal court in the United States, under a federal judge, and we know what some of those judges do, and on a technicality, such as, let’s just say he wasn’t read his Miranda rights. … He is released into the streets of America. Walks over and steps up into a US embassy and applies for asylum for fear that he can’t go back home cause he spilled the beans on al Qaeda. What happens then if another judge grants him asylum in the United States and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is on a path to citizenship. (Actual remark, by an actual Republican Congressperson, who wasn't trying to fearmonger. At all.)
Well.... for starters there are no US embassies in the US.

But it could happen
Right, and after he becomes a citizen, and takes your job, he could also marry your daughter.

He could?
Sure.... which would make your grandchildren terrorists. Possibly even gay, atheist terrorists.

And then (hear me out!) after raising his illegitimate brood of brown-skinned, gay, atheist terroriosts, he could forge his birth certificate, pretend to be born in, I don't know, Hawaii, and run for president!!


(Preceding is a slight reworking of this Daily Show bit)

"Loving Leah's" Credibility Gap

by the Bray of Fundie (Edited)

Why must Hollywood utterly botch Anything Jewish that it gets its mitts on? FCOL with all the big budgets you think they could get some starving and moderately knowledgeable rabbi to serve as a consultant-fact checker!

This time they tackle a truly arcane pointy of Halakha..Yivum and Kahlitza=the levirate marriage and release ritual/transaction. Truth be told khalitza is so rare that it is routinely attended by scores of people as it is so hard to get shimush b'halakha= hands on internship, in this particular mitzvah.

Among the truly eye-roll inducing distortions in this Hallmark Hall of Shame episode: "Worse, he finds out that he is also required by Jewish law to marry his widowed sister-in-law if she is childless. ". Ridiculous. Marriage has not been an option in over a millenia. Khalitza is not merely recommended or preferred, it's all we do. Next we get this: "Leah ... removes the shoe, throws it across the room, while Jake loudly denies his brother's existence. " close but no cigar! Refusing to "raise up a name for his brother" != denying his existence.

Really makes a guy wonder. When I see the howlers mainstream media print and Hollywood disseminates about topic that I have a passing familiarity with I've got to at least entertain the following possibility: While not exactly on the level of a screenwriter taking artistic liberties in an act of fiction I still suspect...SUSPECT, that maybe scientists mock the Science Times, that historians roll their eyes at biopics, that veterans double-over laughing at war movies and that economists and captains of industry scoff at the financial pages or at least pop-media representations about the inner workings of the economy .

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Monday, January 26, 2009

The rotten things Bush did

Part 1

This is a two part post. First, I'm going to assemble a brief list of the things Bush did during his presidency, that were terrible, incompetent, stupid, or some combination of the three. Then, in part 2, I'll rate them. Here are the first few off the top of my head. Add more, if you like, in the comments.

- Appointing Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court
- Lying, and continuing to lie to the American people about the justification for Iraq war
- Sanctioning extralegal torture
- Sanctioning extralegal wiretapping
- Asserting he had the right to lock up American citizens indefinitely
- Asserting that laws passed by Congress couldn't restrict him
- Presiding over the federal government's inept response to Katrina (yes, the local officials were somewhat inept, too. This post isn't about their failings.) This includes his own reluctance to cut short his vacation, and the thoughtless flyover among other stupid things he did that week.
- Attempting to dismantle Social Security. (Can you imagine the wreckage if social security money had been invested in the stock market this year?)
- Transforming a $230 billion surplus into a 750 billion-plus deficit.

PS: I heard gasping hot air bag Rush Limbaugh complain about Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton this week. This tells me that there is no statue of limitations on blasting an ex president. Still, I think once this is out of my system, we may be done with Bush for a while.

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He's very sneaky that Obama

Clearly, appointing a Sabbath-sensitive Jew to a top position is all part of his secret plan to screw us over:
Mr. [Rahm Israel] Emanuel has been in the job four days — and, by day's end Friday, it looked more like four years. He is slumped deep in his couch, periodically swatting at a giant fly that keeps orbiting his office. He is hoping to get out of the office to meet some friends for the Jewish Sabbath dinner. He has a physical therapy appointment for a pinched nerve in his neck. He missed his children — 8, 10 and 11 — who are visiting this week but are soon eaded back to Chicago, where they are remaining for now. "For me to be the parent I want to be, I think it's very hard," he said, referring to the demands of his current job.

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DovBear told you so

I see Pope Panzer has welcomed Bishop Ahmadinejad back into the church. Big whoops; and: told you so.

The Catholic Church will always be the Catholic Church, and the only positive thing that can be said about it is that thank God the triumph of liberalism has made it impossible for the Pope to hurt us.

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Robust and strong!


Did Rachel Imeinu appear or not?

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

In the story that just won't die, until now I have pretty much just brought reports of other people saying it is true or not. Rachel Imeinu appeared and saved our troops, or she did not (I generally brought those saying it is true, because that side is much more interesting).

A number of people have asked me if I believe the story or not, and if it happened or not. When answering the question at different times, a couple of different points and questions were brought up. So I have decided to make a post out of the answer.

Did it happen? Did Rachel Imeinu really show up and save our troops?

The truth is that I have no idea. If I did not witness it, all I know is what others tell me. The story spread. Truthfully, the story is one of those that are not really believable, or at least it has various explanations as to how it happened. A good Arab woman, perhaps. A Jewish woman living in Gaza married to an Arab but still wanted to help the IDF. It never happened at all.

But to say it did not happen, it could not have happened - to dismiss it out of hand - disturbs me.

We have all grown up, if you grew up religious, hearing the stories of miracles. We all heard how Eliyahu Ha'Navi appeared to this person or that person. How Eliyahu helped make a minyan in this forsaken village or learned b'chavrusa wuth that secret talmid chochom. We all grew up on the chassidishe maaslech of this or that spirit of some long dead gadol appearing to someone and direcing him how to proceed successfully to maneuver through some problem.

If all those stories could have happened, and I at least grew up believing them to be true, then there is no reason to think the story of Rachel Imeinu could not have happened. Did it happen? I don't know. Could it have happened? I see no reason why it could not have happened. And if you are going to dismiss this story with a wave of the hand, you also have to dismiss all those stories the same way.

Another point I would like to mnetion is the machlokes between various rabbis on whether we should or should not believe it, on whether it did or did not happen.

I noticed that the rabbis who said it happened are the great rabbis Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu and Rav Ovadia Yosef. The ones who prominently say it did not happen are the younger rabbis Rabbi Aviner, Rabbi Cherlow and some others.

I noticed that the ones claiming it did, are older rabbis. Rabbis who are involved in the world of kabbala. Rabbi Eliyahu is one of the greatest mekubalim alive today. Rabbi Yosef is as well.

The younger rabbis, I would hesitate to call them "second tier rabbis" out of respect to them, but in relation to Rabbis Yosef and Eliyahu, I think it is reasonable, are younger, more rationalists, less involved (at least publicly) in kabbala. Perhaps because of that they insist it did not happen - they are younger, closer connected to the modern way of thought that rejects these types of stories - our level of emuna in miracles is not nearly at the level of the simple Jew of the previous generations, and the younger rabbis and their way of thought could very well be a product of our lower level of emuna.

I am not knocking Rabbis Cherlow and Aviner and saying they are no good - I am just saying they are younger, less involved in kabbala, have a more "rationalist" and perhaps scientific approach. While Rabbis Yosef and Eliyahu are more involved in the esoteric and kabbalistic worlds. Perhaps that is why we see a "machlokes" between them on thi sissue.

What do you think?

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Parsha Notes (Va'ayra)

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What everyone should know
- The presence of the court magicians is not necessarily evidence that magic is real. Though Alter and Rashi agree that the story is written from the perspective of someone who believes the magicians had real power, other commentators disagree. Notably, Samson Raphael Hirsch reads the magician verses in a way that presents them as frauds. Ibn Ezra, who also doubted their power proposes that latayhem (enchantments or spells) comes from l-h-t, or flame, which Robert Alter says links the work of the magicians to the "fire and flash technique of the illusionist." Those who disagree with Ibn Ezra and imagine the spells were real might say the root of latayhem is l-'-t or conceal. At best, though, what the magicians were able to do were merely pale imitations of Moshe's miracles.

- The stuff "everyone knows" about the plagues, is actually a matter of serious dispute among the Rishonim. For instance, if you go around telling people that one frog came out of the river, and that it multiplied as it was hit, you're disregarding contrary opinions of Rabbi Eliezer ben Azarya, Rashi and the Abravenel. If you say the Israelites weren't affect by the first plagues you're over-ruling Ibn Ezra. And so on.

External Parallels
Our parsha begins with a formula ("I am X") that is found in many ANE documents, both as a royal statement, or as the announcements of various deities. (Alter)

Against the crux
At the beginning of the parsha, God seems to say that he never once told the Patriarchs his four-letter name. Rashi says what this means is that Patriarchs weren't aware of the attribute represented by this name. [More] Alter points out that literally its true: Nowhere, does God reveal himself to Patriarchs by that name. Alter points out that literally its true: There's no special episode, such as this one, in which God's four-letter name, or the meaning of it, is revealed; on the other hand, there's also no concrete indication that they were ignorant of it either.

The second time Moshe Moshe's stick* is transforms his stick is transformed into a reptile, the animal is called a tanin. Previously its a nachash. The difference? A nachash is an ordinary snake, but a tanin might be a crocodile, or a dragon.

*Here I follow those who said there was one magic stick, which Aaron borrowed as needed.

The plagues come in three groups of three. The first of each triad is announced by Moshe in the morning at the water's edge, with the . the second is announced in the palace, and the third isn't announced at all. Also, the first two affect the Nile, and end with a stench. The second two involve insects (per those who take orov not as a horde of beasts but as a swarm of bugs.) The third pair are epidemics, and the fourth destroy crops. The final two plagues pair darkness with death.

Rabbi Lookstein Defends Going to the Church Service

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

The following is Rabbi Lookstein's response to why he participated in the service in the church as part of President Obama's inauguration. Rabbi Lookstein sent this email to his colleagues at the RCA in order to explain his actions.

Fellow RCA Members,

The RCA recently issued a press release critical of my participation at the National Cathedral on the morning after Barack Obama's inauguration. I write to explain why I did participate in this service, even though it was in the National Cathedral, an Episcopalian Church.

First, I am very much in agreement with the RCA's view, derived from the writings of the Rav zt"l opposing interfaith dialogue and theological compromise. Indeed, I have been in the rabbinate more than fifty years, and I have never participated in such an event. I followed these guidelines throughout my tenure as President of the now defunct Synagogue Council of America.

Nevertheless, I felt not only that it was permitted to participate in this event, but proper for someone in the responsible Orthodox rabbinate and, indeed, necessary.

Herewith, my explanation for my colleagues:

This event was not an interfaith dialogue or meeting. It was an invitation from the new President of the United States -- a man of incredible importance to the fate of our holy community in the land of Israel and here -- to meet him in prayer. Many clergy were invited, and I felt that the interests of our Orthodox community would be hurt if no one from our community participated.

The Shulchan Aruch notes in YD 178:2 that a person who needs to be close to the government may wear even the Torah- prohibited garments of a gentile in order to represent the Jewish community well. The prohibition to enter a church is grounded in the appearance of impropriety, rather than an actual impropriety -- indeed, wearing garments of gentiles is a Torah prohibition and this is generally thought to be a rabbinic one.

It is well known that many Chief Rabbis of England have gone into Westminster Abby when summoned there by the King or Queen, and many other great rabbis have done the same to represent our community. The Chief Rabbis of Israel have engaged in similar activities, and, most recently, the Chief Rabbi of Haifa, Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen was involved in similar activities. In fact, he attended the funeral of the late Pope, John Paul II.

Rabbi Michael Broyde told me that he was once asked by the Israeli government to represent the government of Israel ON A VERY SERIOUS MATTER at an event in a church during a time of worship. He spoke to the Tzitz Eliezer about this issue, and the Tzitz Eliezer told him directly that if it was a matter of significant importance to the Israeli government, then he should go wearing his kipa and looking as rabbinic as he could.

Of course, such events are few and far between, and, in most situations, I and other RCA members would never participate in such events. But, I feel that Orthodox participation in this important national event, and the opportunity to say a few words directly to the President of the United States and begin to develop a relationship with the most powerful man in the world is a chance that our community can ill afford to miss. Indeed, when I spoke to President Obama, I thanked him for his support of Israel and I urged him to remember the unforgettable statement he made in Sderot, where he said, "If anybody would shoot rockets into my house while my daughters were sleeping, I would do anything in my power to make sure they wouldn’t do it again".

The President responded with a clear assent. Maybe this will save a life or two in the future and maybe it will not; but I felt this was not an assignment I could – or should – turn down.

Rabbi Haskel Lookstein

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Friday, January 23, 2009

The new Rochel Imaynu fable

For the record: It is the position of this blog that the story making the rounds about how Rachel the Matriarch rescued soldiers in Gaza from certain death is a mistake or a fabrication. We think it is more likely that some elderly woman - possibly one having a name that sounds like Rachel - saved the soldiers, and from there, the story took on a life of its own. We see no cause or reason to believe the story is true, and are suspicious of those who think embracing the story is a sign of piety. Show us how pious you are via your deeds, please: not via your willingness to believe any stupid story that comes down the pike.

We've also asked two rabbis, a rebbetzin, a shul secretary and the guy who sits next to us in shul for their opinions. The YU Rabbi and the shul secretary both thought the story was true. The guy who sits next to us in shul gave us that too-familiar look of pained amazment and hinted we might possibly be kofrim for even asking the question. However, I'm pleased to announce that both the rebbetzen and the second rabbi, a Ponevitch alum, were quick to say the story wasn't true.

Said the rebbetzen (and I quote), "HAHAHAHAHAH."

Said the Rabbi, "No, I don't believe it," and then, perhaps worried for his reputation, added, "That doesn't mean it couldn't happen." Uh-huh. Ok. Thanks for the ringing endorsement, Rabbi.

As for us, we hold like Rabbi Yuval Cherlow who said (via VIN) that "
Every intelligent person would assume that this story didn't happen and it was invented in the head of someone who found gullible people he wanted to manipulate. The world of faith demands that a person should above all be critical and not accept fanciful stories without first investigating and verifying them.

"It's a shame that people naively believe such stories, which destroy a person's faculties of intelligence, and his ability to reach proper decisions. Moreover, such stories can even bring a person to a crisis in faith. For instance, why didn't 'she' come to save other people?


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A Different Approach to Gitmo

A guest post by JS:

As I'm sure most of you know by now, Barack Obama has ordered Gitmo's detention facility to be closed within 1 year. The big problem is where to put the people in Gitmo that are believed to be dangerous, but for whom there is insufficient evidence to lock up for past crimes. To illustrate the severity of the problem, a report today indicates a person who was released from Gitmo has since become the #2 leader in Al Qaeda's Yemen branch (see here).

All of this got me thinking about a possible solution. The US Supreme Court has allowed certain people to be civilly committed - typical examples include the mentally ill or sexual predators. Importantly, this is not a criminal confinement - the people are not being punished for past crimes, but rather for the high likelihood they will commit a future crime. Once it is clear they pose no future danger, they are released.

The Supreme Court has laid out the following criteria for indefinite civil confinement: (1) "the confinement takes place pursuant to proper procedures and evidentiary standards," (2) there is a finding of "dangerousness either to one's self or to others," and (3) proof of dangerousness is "coupled . . . with the proof of some additional factor, such as a 'mental illness' or 'mental abnormality.' " (see Kansas v. Hendricks and Kansas v. Crane).

So consider a Gitmo detainee for whom there is not enough evidence for criminal confinement for a past crime. It would seem that #1 and #2 could likely be satisfied - 1) The evidentiary standards are different since the concern is future crimes, not past crimes (though past crimes can be brought as evidence) and 2) the person likely would admit to wanting to kill or hurt others. As for #3, the question becomes whether wanting to be a martyr or wanting to kill others for ideological or terroristic reasons is a "mental illness" or "mental abnormality." The test here is psychologically based and depends on how the mental health community defines mental illnesses and abnormalities. Another part of the test is whether the person is likely to be unable to control himself in committing the future crime.

I'm curious what people think of this idea. Do you think all 3 elements could be proven? Do you think we should civilly confine people like this? Are terrorists similar to the mentally ill or sexual predators? As a larger issue, is it right to confine people for the likelihood they will commit a future crime? Is this too much like Minority Report?

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Obama has announced the closure of Gitmo and the immediate cessation of the 'trials' held in reliance on evidence obtained there. That simple step seems to have upset some people.

There is obviously no point in addressing the mindset that says, 'They must have done something because they are there.' That type of belief is not interested in facts. It believes because it believes. Miscarriages of justice just don't happen (it is a irony that, in their personal lives, such people are often whiners and whingers about injustices done to them. Not that readers here would know anyone like that, obviously).

There are really two issues about torture. Firstly, it's wrong. There are, apparently, Rabbonnim out there who are prepared to argue the opposite, citing the need to extract information. It is a chillul Hashem that such arguments can even be contemplated. Once we begin to deliberately inflict pain on other human beings there is no certainty that we can stop. Those who have been victims of torture ought to remember that - if we do not, how can we expect others to do so? That some information might be obtained at the expense of the integrity of the people who ordered up the pain, those who inflict it and those who stand by and say 'it doesn't matter', strikes me as an utter abnegation of the value Judaism puts on human life.

Secondly, the evidence obtained under torture is demonstrably unreliable. If that were not the case then intelligence communities in all countries would be citing the attacks prevented as a result of the information thus obtained. They are not. People being tortured say what they believe needs to be said to get the torture to stop. The truth or otherwise of that is irrelevant. Thus the thousands of people who admitted to witchcraft, many of whom were burned alive as people said 'it's unplesant but it is worth the life of this woman to prevent further lives being lost to the devil'. The society that produced that attitude was rotten to the core - as were the people in it, who could not distinguish right from wrong.

There is no proof that the people in Gitmo ever planned anything, did anything or believed anything. They were arrested on the suspicions of those who were looking for evidence of evil - as they looked for weapons of mass destruction. Whatever the detainees have said since then has been tortured out of them. People prepared to believe such words are engaged in an exercise of faith, not of proof. I have no problem with faith but Judaism does not endow it with the status required to punish anyone.

Accordingly, I assume that those who cannot recognise this evil are Jews when it suits. They may, I do not know, daven thrice daily, believe that we are different, give tzedakka and observe kashrut scrupulously. But, when they condemn men not yet proven guilty on the basis of what those men said when they believed they would drown, they have shrugged off what Judaism says about truth and justice, just as much as they would shrug it off if they asked for a Big Mac. Their observance and their stance is nothing but self-righteousness. They do what they find easy and refuse what they cannot do - claiming it to be unimportant. They deny what God says in favour of what they would like to hear.

If someone wishes to say that deliberate cruelty is ok by them, then it's a free world (until such people start to run it, obviously). But when people defend the results they are lying to us and themselves. When they do that in the name of Judaism, or as Jews, the hypocrisy is so monstrous that I believe the stench reaches up to Heaven. If anyone in that category should read this - doubtful I know - then I beg them to rethink.

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Very funny pro-democracy mussar shmooze

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Hmm not very dignified

Says in the paper that Bushies are a bunch of narcissistic, cry babies:

The Bush team had worked assiduously to make the transition smooth for incoming President Obama and stayed out of the way as he used the post-election period to take leadership of the economy even before being sworn in. And now, as far as some of them were concerned, the new president had used his inaugural lectern to give the back of the hand to a predecessor who had been nothing but gracious to him

And that sound you hear is the Bush-bubble popping. Welcome back into the real world Mr. ExPresident. Besides, why does the outgoing president get a cookie for being gracious? Shouldn't the outgoing president be gracious as a matter of course? And, really, how much of a reward does Bush deserve for exiting the flaming, crashing wreck in a mannered fashion? Please.

And let's recall: Bush ungraciously sulked through Obama's party, he was a jerk about letting Obama take Blair House early, and 8 years ago he gave Clinton the same treatment - but with far less style.

The begining of the end for Guantánamo


Long before President Obama took office, pretty much everyone, even President George Bush, said the prison at Guantánamo Bay needed to be closed. In June 2007, the White House claimed it was working on a “number of steps” that had to happen first — but getting started was really hard.

Well, maybe not so hard. It took President Obama less than 12 hours. Before midnight of his first day in office, he took the obvious and vital step of halting the military tribunals at the prison camp. And he reportedly is considering a draft executive order that would direct that the prison be closed entirely within a year.

All reasonable people, including many of the defense lawyers and some of the judges and prosecutors assigned to them, recognize these tribunals for what they are: a mockery of American standards of justice and due process.

The retired judge who runs them told Bob Woodward of The Washington Post recently that she had to reject prosecution of a Saudi man accused of planning to take part in the 9/11 attacks because the case had been tainted by torture. At least one prosecutor has resigned because he considered the cases rigged.

Mr. Obama rightly denounced the tribunals during the campaign. And we were delighted to see him shut them down so swiftly now that he is in the White House.

Mr. Obama’s decision came in a legal filing by military prosecutors, which described the halt as temporary, to give the administration time “to review the military commission process, generally, and the cases currently pending before the military commissions, specifically.”

We presume that is a legal nicety. There is no good reason to restart these trials and doing so would send precisely the wrong signal to the world. We’re now eagerly awaiting Mr. Obama’s announcement of the process by which he will shut Guantánamo and what he will do with its estimated 245 prisoners.

We know that many pose no threat to the United States, if they are guilty of anything at all. We also know that a few are very dangerous and that the illegal and abusive policies of the Bush administration will make it very hard to bring them to full justice. Fixing that part of Mr. Bush’s grotesque legacy will be a lot harder than closing the prison.

Obama takes second oath l'humra

by Lurker

[Cross-posted at The Muqata]

In the comments on DovBear's post yesterday about the flubbed oath, I raised the question of whether Obama might have to take the oath a second time. After all, the exact wording of the oath is specified in the Constitution, and Obama (due to Roberts' mess-up) said those words out of sequence. DovBear saw it as doubtful that Obama should have to redo it: "I don't see why we need to stand on ceremony. This isn't religion." But as Tzipporah pointed out, one can reasonably argue that it is: "Political pageantry IS America's secular religion, with the Constitution standing as the holy text." I would tend to concur.

Well apparently, the President's White House counsel sees it this way as well. Yesterday, he paskened that min hastam, Obama was yotzei b'di'avad with the first oath -- but nevertheless, so that there should be no hashash ("out of an abundance of caution"), he still had Obama take the oath a second time l'humra, in order to be yotzei l'khol hadei'ot.
Obama retakes oath of office after Roberts' mistake
The do-over was aimed at dispelling any confusion that might arise from Tuesday's take -- in which "faithfully" was said out of sequence -- and erase any question that Obama is legally the president.
"We believe that the oath of office was administered effectively and that the president was sworn in appropriately yesterday," White House counsel Greg Craig said Wednesday in a written statement.
"But the oath appears in the Constitution itself. And out of an abundance of caution, because there was one word out of sequence, Chief Justice Roberts administered the oath a second time," the statement read.
(The article linked above contains an audio recording of the second oath, which was taken on Wednesday at 7:35 pm EST in the White House Map Room.)

Greg Craig's psak was presumably influenced by the rulings issued by many major poskim over the last two days, that Obama should have to do the oath over again: Constitutional scholar Jack Beermann of Boston University went so far as to say that there is a real hashash that Obama wouldn't actually have the halakha of "President" until he recites the oath using the proper nusah. He acknowledged that one could have a hava amina not to repeat the oath because doing so might cause embarrassment to the Chief Justice -- but concluded that the importance of the mitzva of the oath overrides the kavod of the Chief Justice.

Charles Cooper, former head of the Office of Legal Counsel in the Justice Department, paskened unequivocally that Obama is hayav to retake the oath, and without delay. And Jonathan Turley, professor of Constitutional law at George Washington University, said that although Obama is not actually hayav to retake the oath, he should do so anyway to eliminate the safek.

A few interesting notes about Obama's second oath:

  • Roberts once again phrased "so help me God" as a question.

  • The use of a Bible -- which is only a minhag and not specified as part of the hiyuv in the Constitution -- was dispensed with.

  • The concern I raised yesterday, that a second oath might constitute a problem of a brakha l'vatala, apparently did not figure in Mr. Craig's psak.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

participating in a church ceremony

A Guest Post by Rafi G

I was in the supermarket this evening and I bumped into a friend. He asked me a question, and I did not have the answer. Something specific about the Obama inauguration irked him, and he was very disturbed by it.

He was disturbed by the fact that Rabbi Lookstein participated in the ceremony, actively participated by giving his blessings, in a church on behalf of Barack Obama yesterday? My friend insisted it is clearly prohibited to do so, and even if there are certain situations in which one can be lenient to go into a church, clearly halacha does not allow it as part of a ceremony, and even worse to participate in the ceremony!

I don't know enough on that topic, so I am not going to voice an opinion. But I will ask the question.

According to my understanding, and it seems the RCA is of the same opinion (as the RCA put out a statement against Rabbi Looksteins actions), Rabbi Lookstein was wrong and it is not allowed. Do you know, or have any suggestion, on what he based his opinion that he was allowed to participate?
I am assuming he was aware of the problem and decided it was permitted. I am sure he did not just flagrantly go against the halacha. he must have had reason to consider it permitted.

Does anybody here have a suggestion why he would have thought so?

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Strange Simile

From the Times:

Lightman appears to be a hot ticket on the lecture circuit, where he offers a delicious flashback pageant of public impropriety and heinous misconduct, producing PowerPoint images of Kato Kaelin, O. J. Simpson, Eliot Spitzer, Saddam Hussein whose sneers and sniggers and pursed lips he has studied like a rabbinical student hunkering down with the Book of Job.

Yeah, um, not to be disrespectful, but how many actual rabbis -let alone students - do you know that have "hunkered down" with Job?

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Risible Roberts

Can someone explain to me why the Chief Justice articulated the last phrase of the oath as an aggressive questions? He said, with a hint of the schoolmarm, "So help you God?" It was almost as if he was daring Obama to say no.

I've reviewed previous inaugurations via YouTube and found the following:


Bush 2005 (Note Rhenquist's stupid stripes) (Also note that Rhenquist, unlike Roberts, paused after the president's name, and also broke the oath up into shorter, and easier to repeat bits.)

Bush 2001 (phrasing is a little less friendly, but no angry question at the end.) (Note Gore being second to shake his hand)

Clinton 97 (this is also the first appearance of the stupid stripes) (Audio seems to be from '93)

Clinton 93 The Judge asks if he is ready. Clinton replies "I am.")

Bush 89 (Bush almost makes the same mistake Obama made, trying to jump in too early; his wife seems to laugh at him.) (no question at the end.)

Reagen 81 (also doesn't use his full name) (Berger says "I" throughout, but changes to "you" for the God part at the end. It isn't articulated as a question.)

Carter 1977 (Chief's delivery is neutral, with no question at the end) ((Carter, strangely, doesn't use his full name.)

Ford 1974 (As with Roberts, the chief here first asks if the president-elect is "ready to take the oath" Ford says "I am, sir" whereas Obama said only "I am." No question at the end.)

Nixon (The judge says "you." )(The bible is open) this is also the first time I hear the fanfare afterwards.)

Johnson 1964 (This Chief (was it Warren?) says his part in the second person (i.e. "You Lyndon Bains Johnson"and "that you with faithfully execute.") The last bit is likewise in the second person ("So help you God.") but not phrased as a question.

Johnson 1963 (No obnoxious question, everything is "I" and "me" not "you") (This oath was administered on the runway at Dallas, and not by the Chief Justice.)

Kennedy 61 (Again the Justice says "you" throughout, and the last part isn't a question.)
Eisenhower (As seems to be his practice, Justice Warren says "you" throughout, but the last part isn't a question."

I also found this montage of every president since FDR reciting the oath. FDR did it 1933, I see, with no prompting from a justice. It sounds like the "you" went out of style with Ford.

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About the oath error

Like most viewers, I thought the pause during the oath of office came because Obama had forgotten the words. (Or as Drudge put it "Obama Flubs the Oath")

Turns out we were wrong: the mistake belonged to the chief justice, alone.

Mr Roberts misplaced a single word so that the former Illinois senator vowed to "execute the Office of President of the United States faithfully" instead of, as he was meant to, "execute faithfully the Office of President of the United States".

The strange pause, it seems, was Obama's polite way of giving the chief a chance to correct himself after he misplaced "faithfully". On the second try, the chief made it worse, at which point Obama, apparently, second-guessed his own memory and parroted the wrong words.

So what now? Well, despite the treasonous suggestions of faux patriots at Stupid News Obama is still the president. The only worry is that he might not be able to execute the office until after the constitutionally proscribed words are said, but he can -and probably should - fix that quickly and privately by saying the magic words again.

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The morning after...

by Lurker

Cartoon by Shlomo Cohen, Yisrael Hayom, 21 Jan., 2009

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Its been six hours...

...and still no terrorist attack. So let's say thanks to former president George W. Bush, who apparently is continuing to keep us safe, even though he's retired to the fake ranch.

Serious note: By all accounts, Bushie ran a professional transition and went above and beyond to help Obama and his team get started.

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That took no time at all.

Brand new is already up and running.

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Happy Inauguration Day


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הַנּוֹתֵן תְּשׁוּעָה לַמְּלָכִים וּמֶמְשָׁלָה לַנְּסִיכִים, מַלְכוּתוֹ מַלְכוּת כָּל-עוֹלָמִים, הַפּוֹצֶה אֶת-דָּוִד עַבְדּוֹ מֵחֶרֶב רָעָה, הַנּוֹתֵן בַּיָּם דֶּרֶךְ וּבְמַיִם רַבִּים נְתִיבָה, הוּא יְבָרֵךְ וְיִשְׁמֹר וְיִנְצֹר וְיַעֲזֹר וִירוֹמֵם וִיגַדֵּל וִינַשֵּׂא לְמַעְלָה אֶת-אֲדוֹנֵנוּ הַפְּרֶזִידֶּנְטְ שֶׁלְּאַרְצוֹת הַבְּרִית, בַּרַּךְּ בֶּן בַּרַּךְּ אוֹבַּמַא, יָרוּם הוֹדוֹ. מֶלֶךְ מַלְכֵי הַמְּלָכִים בְּרַחֲמָיו יְחַיֵּהוּ וְיִשְׁמְרֵהוּ וּמִכָּל-צָרָה וְיָגוֹן יַצִּילֵהוּ, וְיַדְבֵּר עַמִּים תַּחַת רַגְלָיו וְיַפִּיל שׂוֹנְאָיו לְפָנָיו וּבְכֹל אֲשֶׁר יִפְנֶה יַצְלִיחַ. מֶלֶךְ מַלְכֵי הַמְּלָכִים בְּרַחֲמָיו יִתֵּן בְּלִבּוֹ וּבְלֵב כָּל-יוֹעֲצָיו וְשָׂרָיו רַחֲמָנוּת לַעֲשׂוֹת טוֹבָה עִמָּנוּ וְעִם כָּל-יִשְׂרָאֵל. בְּיָמָיו וּבְיָמֵינוּ תִּוָּשַׁע יְהוּדָה וְיִשְׂרָאֵל יִשְׁכֹּן לָבֶטַח וּבָא לְצִיּוֹן גּוֹאֵל וְכֵן יְהִי רָצוֹן, וְנֹאמַר אָמֵן.

Don't like Michelle's dress. Too corn-colored. Also, thought frigid Laura should have walked along side her when they entered the capital.

Just flashed a shot of a sign reading "ChangeD!"

They're saying Obama wrote the speech himself. Mostly. That's guts. Everyone is expecting this speech to be off-the-charts good. I don't know how BO can live up to that.

Things I'm loving: Those made-in-America caddies making the trip down PA. Blvd. And the purple scarf around old man Bush's neck! But wow, does Dan Quayle look old. (Is Jimmy Carter's wife wearing a turtleneck? Bill Clinton's yellow scarf looks like an undercooked egg.)

CNN anchor: "Obama wanted to meet with those brilliant minds and, uh, men who preceded him as president" HA! You can almost hear her saying in her head "... brilliant men... wait what about W?"

Introducing the former presidents now. I will give 1 million DovBear dollars to Yaakov Menken's favorite charity if they boo W.

Still no W, but the Obama kids just entered. Adorable. Let's hope they can go 8 years without getting into any public trouble....

Ok they didn't boo him, but no real cheering either. W looked bothered. I bet he wishes he was back on the fake ranch. It is a little sad that poor Dick Cheney hurt his back, but he actually looks meaner in a wheelchair. UPDATE Boos were audible on NBC. Why isn't Bush wearing a brightly colored scarf? Did he ignore that memo, too?

Hey! Did Beohner come out twice??? (He did!) (Is that traditional?)

Barak H. Obama! (Gutless!!!!!) But look at the crowd go nuts!! Oh! Bah! Ma! (Marine band is playing something awful, though.)


Fienstein was boring but fast. Now that fraud in the frat boy goatee is pretending to pray. Ick I don't like hearing the Shma come out of Wthat mouth. Plus, he added a word.

Oh, good. Now, he's telling us what God thinks. Here's what I think: SHUT UP.

Wait. Did he let a little hate trickle off his tounge as he sneered the names of Obama's daughters? I heard a little Archie Bunker, there, as in, " Boy these names sure are foreign." He spit out Malia and Sasha's names as if we was speaking Klingon.

Okay, Aretha singing is all the invocation I need. Sweet. Think her hat will look good in pictures a hundred years from now?

GO JOE! (Did Diane actually introduce someone to introduce someone? Oy!)

High class concert music playing. I think that's a nice touch, too. Can't be easy to keep your fingers moving fast when it is 30 degrees

TWO MORE MINUTES and Cheney joins the millions of unemployed.

Notice the Judge isn't wearing that Priates of Penzance stripe his predecessor wore

Well this is off to a bad start he's flubbing the oath. Wait for the wingnuts to claim it didn't count!

Deal closed. Happy dance now allowed.

Bush just got thanked. Crowd golf clapped. Bush looks sulky.

This sounds too much like every other speech he's given. He's repeating the true, yet inspiring jive about how hard our ancestors worked. Mostly we-can-do-it(!) plablum so far. Blah.

Did he just pause for applause that didn't come? Liek what he said about govt. doing its work in the open. Oy. Now he just paused for appluase again and was rewarded with luke warm tapping. He's dying up there.

Okay he's getting a little better. His delivery is good.... Crowd starting to applaud more.

Did he just say "No torture?" What kind of crazy lunatic did we just inagurate?

Rhetoric starting to soar now.... He does look presidential.... This may be the first grown-up speech a President has given in 8 years.

Ok, he gets a B+ on the speech. Not terrible. Not great. After I read it, maybe I'll have more to say about what he said. Here comes the poet.

Boy. Does. She. Suck.

Another prayer?! The hell?

So far: He's not as bad as goatee boy.

Liked the concluding rhyme. This guy had style. Okay. No more party. Obama has some work to do. Oh, and God bless America.

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What Al Jazeera is doing

Last night the D.C bureau chief of Al Jazeera was a guest on the Daily Show where he attempted to say a few favorable words about how his station covered the war. Interesting, if only because it tells us how the station sees itself and includes a refreshing and honest confession of bias. Surprising claim: Al Jazeera gives Israeli officials a platform to explain their side?!?

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How far we've come

The Closing of a Circle
Published: January 19, 2009

There are unsettling ghosts of America past all about the National Mall. Hundreds of thousands of people will gather there Tuesday for the inauguration of the nation’s first African-American president. Three blocks from where Barack Obama takes the oath, there was once the Saint Charles Hotel, a popular accommodation on Pennsylvania Avenue before emancipation ruined business for slave traders. It proudly advertised that down below its first-rate restaurant, guests could avail themselves of six, 30-foot-long arched slave cells, replete with wall rings and shackles. The management promised: “In case of escape, full value for the Negro will be paid.”

A few blocks from there was the notorious Yellow House, a three-story brick slave market where trader William Williams prospered enough to purchase two slave ships of his own. Solomon Northrup, a free man from New York who was kidnapped into slavery, passed through on the block and eventually wrote a memoir. He recalled how “the voices of patriotic representatives boasting of freedom and equality,” in the nearby Capitol almost commingled with “the rattling of the poor slave’s chains.”

These and other pre-emancipation tales of the Mall have been painstakingly revived by Jesse Holland, a reporter for The Associated Press. He appreciates the grandeur of Lincoln but also knows the capital’s history is in the gritty details.

Mr. Holland found that while the city had a mere 3,100 slaves of its own on the eve of the Civil War, it was an ideal trading platform for slaves bartered Southward by the scores of thousands. The Mall teemed not with tourists, but with pens and blocks “perfect for the sale of human beings,” he writes in his book, “Black Men Built the Capitol.” Black men also helped build the White House, as entrepreneurial masters profited from leasing slaves to the government.

“The inauguration will be the closing of a circle,” says Mr. Holland, more knowledgeable than most Americans about some of the cruel and inspiring ways history can work. His research establishes a singular path between today’s inauguration march and a trek from Robey’s Slave Pen and Tavern (where the Department of Education now sits) for sale and shipment South. “A drove consisting of males and females chained in couples,” a newspaper noted of slaves routinely herded from Robey’s through the heart of Washington.


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Monday, January 19, 2009

The murder of Palestinians in Gaza

by Lurker

Those who are shocked by the Palestinian death toll in Gaza might be interested in knowing that the figures being bandied about by Hamas and the Palestinian Red Crescent include dozens, possibly hundreds, of Fatah members who were murdered in cold blood by Hamas over the past three weeks.

Since the war began, Hamas has been rounding up Fatah members throughout the Gaza Strip. The ones who get off easy only get shot in the legs, have their eyes poked out, and/or have their hands smashed or cut off. Many others are simply murdered; sometimes in mass executions.

In this clip, Jamal Najar, a popular Palestinian singer in the West Bank, describes how some of his cousins in Gaza were murdered by Hamas over the last few days, including a father who was shot dead in front of his children, for the crime of having walked out of his house:

Hamas officials have been including these people, that they themselves wounded and killed, in the casualty figures that they distribute to the press -- based on the reasoning that these victims, too, were killed in the context of the Israeli offensive. It should be noted, however, that Hamas' policy of torturing and murdering Fatah members (and often members of their families as well) dates back to Hamas' takeover of the Gaza Strip in June 2007. Hamas does not always try to hide these killings -- to the contrary, they sometimes film them, and proudly broadcast them on television with rousing musical accompaniment, as you can see in the video below from Hamas TV:

[Note: I chose a clip that contains no closeups or visible blood. Nonetheless, some may find it disturbing.]

Since Saturday night, when Israel's unilateral cease fire went into effect, Hamas' roundups and murders of their Fatah rivals have dramatically increased.

Interestingly, however, the international media has barely been covering these ongoing tortures and murders, nor has any Western government seen fit to condemn them, or even make mention of them. Apparently, their excessive handwringing over Palestinian deaths is reserved exclusively for those deaths caused by Israel. Nobody actually gives a damn about the loss of Palestinian life, if those deaths are at the hands of other Palestinians.

Of course, this is not to imply that many Palestinians weren't killed in Israeli strikes. Many have asked why the level of civilian casualties in these strikes has been so high. An explanation for this is provided, not by an IDF spokesman, but by Hamas representative Fathi Hamad on Hamas TV: He explains that the Palestinians have deliberately turned death (their own) into an "industry" (his term) of which they are exceedingly proud. In order to bring about these glorious Palestinian deaths, Hamas fighters make a point of surrounding themselves with "a human shield of women, children, [and] the elderly". Why would they want to do such a thing, you may ask? Hamad answers this, too, using a phrase that has become, in recent years, a frequent statement of principle among Muslim clerics: "We [Muslims] love death as much as you [Jews and Westerners] love life". Watch it for yourself:

Given the Palestinians' brilliantly successful, suicidal "death industry", and their resolutely determined efforts to get as many women, children, and elderly as possible killed in Israeli strikes against terrorist targets, it is nothing short of incredible that Israel, because of its commitment to humane values, has somehow managed to keep the civilian death toll as low as it has been.

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Miracle on the Hudson (edited)

is, of course, a misnomer.

By the Bray of Fundie

No laws of nature were superseded in the landing of the plane nor in the rescuing of the passengers. No one's rational sensibilities were hurt in the making of this miracle. But as we live in an era that is skeptical of the supranational we have come to use the word "miracle" imprecisely. While a miracle means to do the impossible we use the word to mean doing the highly improbable. Thus the near-miraculous becomes, presto, change-o : the miraculous.

And while Sully himself would be hard-pressed to repeat his derring-do, rapid cool decision making and aviation virtuosity a second time, the ease with which we throw around the "M" word is a sad commentary on our society. What we REALLY found highly improbable was the competency and personal bravery that informed the safe landing and rescue of US Air flight 1549. That people in positions of great responsibility and that equipment and machinery should actually work as they were assigned and designed to is shocking and, in our expectations, improbable to the point of near impossibility.

What really rankles is that the imprecise language feeds the Qefira that "open" miracles are myths and fairy tales. There are millions of Jews out there who believe that the Biblical account of the parting of the Sea of Reeds (if it happened at all) was the confluence of a "perfect storm" of perfectly natural causes, an earthquake combined with a hurricane, or a perfectly timed Tsunami et al. For such folks any historical miracle for which no natural cause or confluence of causes can be found is, by definition, ahistorical. When you begin to call the highly improbable (yet natural) miraculous then you begin to doubt the historicity and future coming of the truly miraculous impossible.

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