Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Local Kabbala Cult?

Cross-posted at A Mother in Israel.

"So who is moving into Kiryat Matalon as the older people die out?" I ask the woman I met in the park (let's call her P). P has just explained that Kiryat Matalon, her upscale neighborhood at the western entrance of Petach Tikvah, no longer has enough kids to justify its own elementary school.

"The private houses are expensive," P answers. "So the survivors divide them up into rental units. Do you know that storefront on Jabotinsky Street, Kabbalah La'am? The members of that group snatch up all the available rentals."

"Really?" Whenever I go by the place seems deserted.

"Yes. If you go out at 3am, you see thousands of men headed there, from my neighborhood, Tel Aviv, and other cities. Many are celebrities—singers, models. . . ."

This conversation is starting to ring a bell. A year or two ago I saw a response by Rav Aviner to a question about learning kabbalah, warning the writer about kabbalah cults. His reponse included a former member's testimony, which appears here. If the testimony is accurate Kabbalah La'am, also known as Bnei Baruch, has all the characteristics of a cult: late-night brainwashing, a charismatic leader, large charitable "contributions," gradual initiation into an inner circle, secrecy, and ostracism of members who leave.

From the outside it seems to resemble Orthodox Judaism. The page I linked to mentions Shabbat, kashrut, niddah, modest dress for women, and kippot for men. On Sukkot and Pesach they hold huge festivals with large numbers of overseas visitors.

Nana10 has an interview with other former members of Bnei Baruch. One couple was attracted to it because, unlike others offering Jewish studies, the group didn't object to her Italian-born husband's non-Jewish status.

Men are allowed to spend only fifteen minutes a day with their families. When a husband mentioned that his wife objected, his comrades told him to divorce her and get a new wife. They said "It's like switching one cow for another."

The woman in the park added more details, which I have no way of verifying. The newspaper article (from 2005) mentions an emphasis on skirts for women. The women in P's neighborhood wear skirts or pants, and married women cover their hair. They stay with the kids all day through the evening; P doesn't see fathers with the children. The men volunteer or study at the center during the evenings, and again from 3-6 AM. During Pesach and Sukkot, the men don't see their wives at all. The women and children attend meals on Shabbat but eat separately.

Once P noticed some of the women eating on Yom Kippur. When questioned the women told her that the Jewish Torah is "shtuyot (nonsense)." They explained that they follow the kabbalah, and come from a lost tribe that had left Egypt with the Jews but never made it to Eretz Yisrael. P claims that the kabbalah center houses scrolls that look like a sefer Torah but contain a different text.

One woman from the group noticed that P's daughter is overweight. She looked intently at P and said, "There's nothing wrong with your daughter. It's you. You have a sickness." Still, all in all, P. says that the influx of young couples is good for the neighborhood. The kids attend their own school in a different city, but enroll in local preschools and afterschool activities.

Leader Michael Leitman responded to the claims in the Nana article saying, "We take a 10% tithe like every community synagogue in Bnei Brak." This is disingenuous. Jewish sources recommend donating at least ten percent of income to charity, but no one expects the shul to get all of it. Former group members report that real numbers are closer to 20%.

Blogger Hezi Amiel writes that the kabbalah center has a sophisticated web presence and high ranking in search engines, making it difficult for potential members to find information critical of the group.

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Interpersonal Inyanim

By the Bray of Fundie


Kneeling at the Temple of Moolah

Long time readers may remember the magical moment in 2006 when Eytan Kobre of Cross Currents accused the New York Times of running too many underwear ads. His contention was that it happens every day (disproven here, here, and here; he finally got one here) and also that the Times was demonstrating "inexplicable moral obtuseness" by publishing those ads.

As he clarrified in a comment: "[The Times] sees itself, and particularly in Section One, as a font of intellectual and moral gravitas, and for it to run really large and provocative ads of half-clad women in that section with great regularity is passing strange."

I disagreed at the time, and still disagree. As I argued at the time, "Is there a magazine or newspaper anywhere in the world that seeks to match its ads with its news items? And do you really imagine that [any publication] would ever turn down the chance to run an underwear ad - or any legitimate ad for the matter?"

Three years later, I see Cross Currents is just as ordinary as everyone else, and no less susceptible to the lure of lucre. Bracketing a serious and surprising article about why its wrong to throw bleach on immodestly dressed women, there appeared an advertisment for something as frivilous as a klezmer concert featuring a halachicly half-clad woman. [Screen grab]

Do I care? No. Am I surprised? No. Do I think Cross Currents did something wrong by accepting money for an ad that was inconsistant both with halacha, and their own stated values? No. Was it mistake to allow the ad to run above and below a serious and important article? Absolutely not. I don't think Cross Currents did anything wrong.

But, here's the rub: I'm not the blog that previously argued such choices were a sign of "inexplicable moral obtuseness."

Finally, a trump card reply for too pious people

It's happened to you, I'm sure. You're minding your own business, and some too pious moron saunters over and says, you know, it's an inyun to do/not to do [something.]

For instance....

You know DovBear, its an inyun

- to DIP your bread in salt, and to put the salt on the table
- to dip your bread in the salt exactly three timess
- not to make kiddish between certain hours on Friday night
- to hold your kiddush cup in the palm of your hand
- to pour some water into the wine bottle before you pour the wine into your cup
- to loop your tefillin around your arm 9 times so that you get 7 FULL loops (see, the first and last loops are half loops)
- not to bring your kid to shul until he is three years old
- not to let your kid wear a kippa until he is three years old
- to wear two coverings on your head
- not to wear blue shirts
- to eat cholent on shabbos
- to eat two meals on erev yom kippur
- to go to the mikva every Friday
- to eat a dairy meal, followed by a meat meal on shavuous
- to eat beef on yom tov
- to eat egg salad with onions on shabbos
- to eat beef at the purim sudah
- to eat fish on shabbos

and so on.

In the past, I've always just nodded my head and/or clenched my fists, but finally I have the perfect rejoinder. Next time something like this happens to you, look the guy flat in the eye and turn the tables with this answer:

It's an inyun not to tell someone a rule you know he won't follow!

Together but Separate

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

Revach.net quoted an interesting psak by Rav Elyashiv:
In order to say Birchas HaMazon with a Mezuman the people in the Mezuman must eat together. Rav Elyashiv points out two cases on Pesach night where people eating together do not qualify for a Mezuman and must say Birchas HaMazon as individuals without a Mezuman.

The first is two people that eat the seder together but one uses only machine matza while the other only eats hand matza. Despite that this is only a Chumra and technically l’halacha each one is permitted to eat the other one’s matza, nevertheless they are not considered eating together for the sake of mezuman.

The second case is people who eat the seder together but each one eats their own food and have a minhag not to eat from anyone else’s food other than their own. Here also says Rav Elyashiv, they cannot make a mezuman together. (Kovetz Tel Talpiyos - Piskei Shmu’os Pesach)
I don't understand how this is applied, because pretty much anytime I am eating with other people, nobody is going to be eating from each others food. If I am at work, sitting at a lunch table eating my lunch that I brought from home (or even lunch that I bought), nobody else is going to eat from my food, and I am not going to eat from anybody else's food. If I am sitting with other people and we are talking to each other and eating together, should we not be making a zimun when we bentsch? According to the above psak it would seem that we should not.

Even at home I will only eat from my kids' plates, but if we have guests I would not eat from their plates. So perhaps even at home with guests we should not be making a zimun.. Maybe if the food is put out in serving dishes and everyone takes from the serving dish to their own plate, then maybe that would qualify for a zimun..

What is especially interesting is that these people, in the shailoh Rav Elyashiv is discussing, are sitting at a Pesach seder together. Not 2 random people sitting in a cafeteria just by chance at the same table. These are friends, relatives, host-guests - they are clearly eating together. yet one has a chumra/minhag the other does not. And still, despite the "kirva" and the definity of them eating together, they are still considered to be eating separately.

And one more point - it is clear from the discussion that just because one person has a chumra the other does not keep is not a reason to avoid eating together. The one guy in the story above could have said I cannot come to your seder because I only eat machine matza and hand matza is chametz to me, or vice versa. You have your chumra, and I have my chumra, but we should try to work it out and eat together...

(HatTip: Matzav.com, via the Wolf)

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The Facebook Haggadah

See it here

Great concept, and smart execution but the actual jokes are too far and few between.



Monday, March 30, 2009

Yoetzet? Nice, but Maharat is better

Somehow it escaped our notice that Sara Hurwitz has been appointed a full member of the (Orthodox) clergy at the the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale. Her title is Maharat, not Rabbi, but in an interview with TJC, she suggests that's just semantics.

"Maharat means Rabbi" she said.

What do I say? Rely upon her if you like, for any matter you wish. I won't - mostly because I have very little use for Rabbis, but also because I'm lamentably old fashioned: Maharat Sara, as she says she wishes to be called, is both too young and too female for me, but that's a personal preference, not an objective disqualification.

Sidenotes: The left seems grumpier about this then the right. The worst Avi Safran had to say was that Mahart Sarah's congregation was "misguided"; more middle of the road Orthodox said nothing. Meanwhile, a Rabbi-Doctor from JTS expressed her displeasure that the Maharat wasn't given the title "Rabbi." I see the point - if she trained as a Rabbi and functions as a Rabbi let her be called Rabbi - but some taboos die hard.

Additional sidenote: If Maharat Sarah has a husband, and he had a blog, specifically about his place and role in his wife's congeration, what would he call it? What's the word for a Maharat's husband? And does renegade have a synonym that starts with "M"?

Still more side-noting: Avi Shafran is teflon. I'd love to be able to call whole hunks of Judaism "misguided" and still be worshipped and admired by the people who read Cross Currents.

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Previous Featured Vid

I really like this song and I am sorry to replace it but the time has come to add a new vid to the side bar.

Making a case for Yoetzet Halacha

A guest post by Frum Satire

[DB: It'll be interesting to see if any of the agenda-driven whiners who complained when I put up a similar post, will object to FS's argument. In particular, I'm curious to see if they'll line up to complain about how FS also neglected to refer to the Rabbi by his title. Some say this is deeply disrespectful. I deeply disagree, and remain convinced it is only perceived as "deeply disrespectful" when perceiving it as deeply disrespectful provides an opportunity to complain about yourfavoriteblogger. Let's see if I'm right.]

While spending shabbos in Washington Heights several weeks ago, the residents were in the process of trying to find a new Rabbi for the shul. On Friday night the shul organized an Oneg Shabbat question and answer session with the prospective Rabbi, it wasn’t interesting until the topic of women’s participation in communal and synagogue life came up. The silence and snickers and small conversations between the questions could be felt by everyone. The prospective Rabbi was not really for the hiring a Yoetzet Halacha, and I myself had no idea what that was.

A Yoetzet Halacha is a full time women’s halachic advisor, someone to advise women in questions and issues that they would otherwise feel uncomfortable discussing with a male Rabbi. Upon learning what exactly a Yoetzet Halacha was, I immediately wondered why this prospective rabbi would appear flustered or even against the option of helping women talk about their issues in a more comfortable environment. There isn’t much literature on the subject; I did find one article and a response letter both in the Five Towns Jewish Times.

The initial article, titled Rave Reviews for Manhattan Yoatzot Halacha Program, is basically explaining which congregations in the New York had hired these women’s halachic advisors and how the Rabbis were thrilled to have them along. I should note that according to Nishmat (which is one of the only programs I could find that certifies Yoetzet Halachot) it is quite hard to get certified and according to some friends that attended their other women’s study programs they are very “frum.”

The response letter, titled We Do Not Need Yoatzot Halacha, was a different story. Written by Rabbi Yaakov Feitman, it is an angry argument against such a wonderful program which he says was “conceived out of concern and kindness” which he believes is “an insidious incursion into our time-honored mesorah.” Which is always and in this case as well, followed by some sort of claim that anything that allows women to leave the kitchen for the study hall to be evil and breaking down our morals.

Feitman goes on to make what I could only call a fool of himself with the following paragraph:

“Here is an irony to the “creation” (their word) of a yoetzet at this stage of Jewish history. In ancient times, women were in fact very private people, rarely venturing forth into any kind of public venue. Many halachos, in areas such as tzedakah, inheritance, and business law took this fact into consideration. Yet, women were comfortable asking a she’eilah of their rav or sending their husbands. Today, when women are full members of every area of commerce and society, when they travel the world and are elected to the highest positions in government, it seems a bit incongruous to belatedly claim discomfort with a man. A rav is as much a professional as a physician or attorney, and conducts himself with discretion and consideration. One cannot help but detect an influence of modern feminism and societal pressure rather than a true problem in the comfort level of 21st-century Jewish women.”

My first reaction was that Rabbi Feitman is full of crap. He fails to note that many women new to orthodoxy may not feel comfortable talking about such personal issues as Taharat Mishpacha (family purity) with a man she hardly knows. Besides, talking to a Rabbi whom you may see every week can make things a bit awkward. Just because women feel comfortable with society doesn’t mean they talk about sexual issues with everyone they meet. Who is Feitman fooling?

I would like to ask Rabbi Feitman if he ever thought about the women who may now ask questions that they never felt comfortable asking before, allowing them to observe the laws on a better level. I would also like to now, how the ultraorthodox community can tell women to be so modest their whole lives and once they get married to just feel comfortable talking about these detailed issues with a stranger?


No good deed goes unpunished

A guest post by JS:

Palestinian children put on a concert for Israeli Holocaust survivors: click here.

And the inevitable result: click here.

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The New York Post (owned by Rupert Murdoch, noted proponent of conservative values) scattered a whole heaping pile of Jewish dirty laundry all over NYC yesterday:

Hundreds of Jewish men and women who want to cheat on their spouses are flocking to a new Web site for ultra-Orthodox Jews seeking heretical hookups.

Shaindy.com -- named for the founder's first mistress -- was launched March 19 by a modern Orthodox man from Midwood, Brooklyn, who says he got the idea from Hasids he met in chat rooms seeking adulterous action.

Roughly 350 members have signed up, said the site's creator, Jerry, who refused to give his last name for fear of rabbinical retribution. He said 50 members paid the introductory fee of $99 for two years, while others have created free profiles. There have been another 200 inquiries from around the world.

VIP member "ChanieS," 34, lists her dating status as "married and miserable" and complains about her husband's "hit and runs" in the bedroom. Her profile had 703 views last week. One 31-year-old male lists "oh those hose" and hot Orthodox ladies as his turn-ons.

Rabbis, understandably, are enraged.

I'm enraged, too, and here's why: This shmutzy site has fifty members -FIFTY! Fifty is suddenly a big number? My shul gets a larger crowd at its 6 am daf yomi. The fact that fifty people are curious about adultery warrants a newspaper story? The behavior of these fifty people says something about Orthodox Judaism? About our values? About our tolerance for adultery? Did the Post even confirm that these fifty site members are Jewish? Maybe they're all Methodists.

The whole thing is a stupid non-issue, and the story should have never been published. Its dumb, slanderous, sensationalist crap. Had it appeared in the New York Times, I assure you that RW Jewish bloggers and Rabbis would be going apoplectic - and with good reason - but will the Post lose even a single Jewish subscription?

Probably not.

P.S Why did I post this? In the hope that anyone searching for Shaindy.com ends up here, and discovers that the site is not representative of Orthodoxy or Judaism.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

More cruel customs

Looks like I am on a roll. Last Monday, I posted the NYT article from 1897 about birchas hachama in NYC, and two days later VIN picked it up. (He credited me; unlike certain other mega News aggregators, VIN is a mentch.)

Last week, I also wrote about the horribly cruel custom of banning women from Jewish funerals. Tonight, YNET has an article on the subject.

Rabbi: Satan dances as women attend funerals: After a woman innocently rose to lament her father, a rabbi blocked her way to the podium with his body insisting that it would be disrespectful to the dead if she was allowed to speak. And what about his own display of bad taste, bad manners and bad judgement? It amazes me that some value the dignity of the dead over the dignity of the living. The woman wanted to mourn her father (at a funeral where she and/or her family were likely paying the bills) in a way she found meaningful. Who is this rabbi to say no, and to impose upon them his uninivited, and undesired views?

HT: The Beadle

Friday, March 27, 2009

Why a sheep?

A guest post by JS:

Over in the comments on this post, Bray is relating the common idea that the reason the Passover sacrifice is a sheep, is that the sheep was revered in Egypt. Thus, when the Israelites sacrificed the sheep not only was it a "judgment against the gods of Egypt," but it was a gigantic slap in the face to the Egyptians who were powerless to stop the Jews.

However, I can't find any textual support for this idea whatsoever. Yes, the line about "I will execute judgment against the gods of Egypt" is said in the same breath as the Passover sacrifice, but they're not connected - instead the line is related to the plague of the first born. Furthermore, the idea that because the Egyptians found shepherds to be an abomination (Gen 46:34) similarly has nothing to do with this. If it did, presumably they would have prevented the Jews from owning sheep after the Jews were enslaved.

Rather, I think the reason a sheep was chosen is the exodus is a rebirth of the Jewish people and an essential part of that process is going back to the start of the Jewish people. Avraham is told that his descendants will be enslaved and then freed. Almost immediately afterward, he is given the Jewish people's first commandment to circumcise himself. Only when Avraham is circumcised does he merit the birth of Yitzchak. It is through Yitzchak that the defining moment of the Jewish people arises: the akeida. At the akeida, Yitzchak repeatedly asks "where is the sheep intended for slaughter?" Finally, at the last second, Yitzchak is spared and a ram (part of the sheep family) is slaughtered instead.

Thus, when the prophesy related to Avraham is about to come true, when the Jews are about to leave Egypt, we see a return to this theme. Once again, the act of circumcision is intimately tied into the sacrifice of a sheep. Once again, the people are commanded to circumcise themselves and once again they are told to sacrifice a sheep (this time for the Passover offering). In fact, Hashem repeats several times that one who is uncircumcised may not eat from the Passover offering.

As further proof: The sheep for the Passover offering must be male - just like the ram that replaced Yitzchak.

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Competing versions of the same midrash

Why do we bring sacrifices? Continued....

As discussed yesterday the Rambam thought sacrifices were commanded only to wean us from idolatry [Note to Chardal: I said ONLY(see #1 below)]

Attempting to defend the Rambam, his wingman Don Issac Abrabanel cites a midrash:

"It's analogous to the case of a prince who turned villainous(?) and acquired the habit of eating disgusting food [נבלות וטרפות] Said the king: Let him eat the disgusting food at my table [יאכלם על שולחני ] and he'll come to break the habit" [Continues Don Issac] Likewise, the Israelites were steeped in idol worship, including sacrifices... Said God: Let them bring those sacrifices to me at the Tent of Meeting, and from this they'll come to break the habit..."
Unfortunately as pointed out later by R. Dovid T. Hoffman, it appears the Abrabanel text had a mistake in it. The text used by Abrabanel says the King invited his son to bring his disgusting food to the royal table, whch fits with Rambam's idea that the Jewish order of sacrifice was created to wean us from the disgusting habit of bringing any kind of sacrifice. If we must bring sacrifices, the midrash seems to say, at least let us bring them for the glory of the one God, rather then for the glory of idols.

However, Arabanel's text appears damaged in a way that would obviate the Midrash's support for the Rambam's idea.

Where Abrabanel had יאכלם על שולחני / eat it at my table, RDTH has זה יהיה תדיר על שולחני / he should become a regular guest at my table and, presumably, eat proper royal food, rather then the disgusting food. This change in language changes the message. In Abrabanel's version the king is making a concession - "eat your disgusting food if you must, but at least do it at my table." In RDTH's version the king is saying: "Come to my table, and leave your disgusting food behind."

The difference? In A's version sacrifices are seen as a concession, and something that should not exist under ideal circumstances, but if you have to do it, do it for God. In RDTH's version sacrifices are a perfectly approriate way to worship, so long as they are directed to God and not to idols.

1. Why only? Here's the Rambam: It is impossible to go suddenly from one extreme to the other; the nature of man will not allow him suddenly to discontinue everything to which he has been accustomed.... the general mode of worship in which the Israelites were brought up, consisted in sacrificing animals in temples containing images, to bow down to those images, and to burn incense before them. It was in accordance with the wisdom and plan of God, as displayed in the whole creation, that He did not command us to give up and to discontinue all these modes of worship; for to obey such a commandment would have been contrary to the nature of man... For this reason God allowed these rituals to continue: He transferred to His service that which had formerly serves worship of created beings, and things imaginary and unreal, and commanded us to serve Him in the same manner; viz., to build unto Him a temple... I know that you will at first thought reject this idea and find it strange; you will put the following question to me in your heart: How can we suppose that Divine commandments, prohibitions, and important acts, which are fully explained, and for which certain seasons are fixed, should not have been commanded for their own sake, but only for the sake of some other things; as if they were only the means which He employed for His primary end. [Read the rest.]

A rational explanation for the "miracle" of Jacob's sheep

A guest post by NOYAMG

In the comments to this post by Chaim G. Le Brai de Fundie I, Chaim used Jacob’s sheep as an example of an overt miracle produced on demand, writing:

What about Yaakov? [Gen 30:37-28]

And Jacob took him rods of fresh poplar, and of the almond and of the plane-tree; and peeled white streaks in them, making the white appear which was in the rods
And he set the rods which he had peeled over against the flocks in the gutters in the watering-troughs where the flocks came to drink; and they conceived when they came to drink.

or was that all Gregorian [sic] genetic engineering?

In response, I said that, in fact, I think it was all genetics (I didn’t point out that the term is Mendelian, but it is), and that my frum Bio prof in YU very adroitly pointed out that this was very easily predictable through knowledge of genetics.

Someone asked “how.”

Here’s how:

Whiteness in sheep is dominant, color is recessive. What that means, essentially, is that there are sheep that will appear white that nevertheless carry a gene for color. They are called heterozygous. What Yaakov realized, being smart, astute and living with sheep and breeding them for years, is that even "pure" white sheep that bred sometimes had colored offspring (as would be expected in heterozygous white sheep).

Where this diverged from accepted breeding knowledge of the time was that the farmers thought that white was "pure" and that color would "spackle" the white, so to speak. Lavan thought that by removing all the colored sheep from the flock, there would be no color to "depurify" the white sheep. This was a mistake. In fact, had Lavan wanted to strip Yakov of all ability to profit, he would have made white sheep the payment, and removed all the white sheep from the flock. At that point, another white sheep would never have been born.

As Yakov selectively breeded (through the use of aphrodisiacs) the white sheep with the colored, he increased the incidence of heterozygous genotype/white phenotype sheep, which, in turn increased the incidence of colored offspring, until the majority of the sheep were colored, and there were no homozygous dominant left in the herd.

Think of this in terms of eye color, which may help explain it: Brown is dominant, blue recessive (this isn't entirely accurate, because eye color is controlled by more than one gene, but go with it). You can have a blue-eyed child born to parents who both have Brown eyes; if both parents are hybrid/heterozygous brown (Bb), an estimated 25% of their offpsring will be bb, and have blue eyes.

The same of the sheep. Pure White (W) is dominant. Taking out the ww sheep (the homozygous recessive spotted ones) still left Ww sheep in the flock. Heterozygous sheep tend to be stronger and more virile breeders. So, when Yakov mates the stronger sheep together, he’s mating heterozygous Ww. The expected result of such a pairing it that only one in four offspring will appear colored, but only one in four offspring will actually be “pure” white. The other three carry the recessive gene

Now, in the next generation, mate a Ww with a ww, and you get a 50% chance of ww offspring and 50% chance of Ww offspring, and 100% chance that you have NO WW (pure white) in the litter.

Over time and (sheep) generations, you can essentially eliminate the pure white WW from the flock, and continually increase the number of ww spotted sheep in the gene pool.

Finally, side point, even if you want to say that Yaakov didn’t know any of this, and he really thought his rods were having an effect (as opposed to just used as aphrodisiacs to selectively breed), still, that’s not a miracle produced on demand, since at no time does Yaakov call out to God to increase his sheep.

Primogeniture-Palooza Digest II

By the Bray of Fundie

Well guess what? There isn't going to be a Primogeniture-Palooza Digest II or III. Sorry Cubbies... but 9 non Bray comments on a post I worked so long and hard on just doesn't cut it. You guys aren't interested in reading/commenting? Then I'm too exhausted to write.

I hope that Dov is right and that Esav really was a nice guy as you are walking in his footsteps.

וַיֹּאכַל וַיֵּשְׁתְּ, וַיָּקָם וַיֵּלַךְ; וַיִּבֶז עֵשָׂו, אֶת-הַבְּכֹרָה="and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way. So Esau spurned his legacy. "

To paraphrase President Nixon: "My wife is a respectable Kharedi Cloth-coat. You're not gonna have 'ol Bray's Primogeniture-Palooza Digest posts to kick around anymore"

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Rav Elya Svei Z'L BDE

Who? The Rosh Yeshiva of the Talmudical Yeshiva of Philadelphia

Much Ado About Almost Nothing Alert

See some hillbilly GOP State Senator from TN call his Jewish colleague a "nutritional Nazi."

Noteworthy, only because some are omitting to include the word "nutritional" as they retell the story, and also because of the cringing and other facial acrobatics performed by the man sitting behind the offending senator.

HT Scazon from here on Twitter

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Primogeniture-Palooza Digest I

By the Bray of Fundie

As a follow up to this post I offer a digest about what the Mefarshim say re: these P'sukim:

(Exodus 4:22-23)
כב וְאָמַרְתָּ, אֶל-פַּרְעֹה: כֹּה אָמַר יְהוָה, בְּנִי בְכֹרִי יִשְׂרָאֵל.22 And thou shalt say unto Pharaoh: Thus saith the LORD: Israel is My son, My first-born.כג וָאֹמַר אֵלֶיךָ, שַׁלַּח אֶת-בְּנִי וְיַעַבְדֵנִי, וַתְּמָאֵן, לְשַׁלְּחוֹ--הִנֵּה אָנֹכִי הֹרֵג, אֶת-בִּנְךָ בְּכֹרֶךָ.23 And I have said unto thee: Let My son go, that he may serve Me; and thou hast refused to let him go. Behold, I will slay thy son, thy first-born.'--

In no particular order:

Ibn Ezra: As a Bekhor is a firstborn so too the ancestors of the Hebrews were the first to worship Me (sayeth HaShem). I love them and have compassion for them as a father would a son who serves him. You took (usurped) them as eternal slaves and so I will kill your bekhor.

Hamek Davar (Netzi"v of Volozhin): HaShem is not messaging a commoner but a King. A Kings sons are all princes, not mere sons, and his eldest is not a mere prince, but the Crown Prince. This position/office has significance even while the father Pharaoh lives. The Crown Prince is groomed for his assumed primogeniture succession by assisting his father in administration of the kingdom and in matters of state.

The Hebrews are MY crown Princes (sayeth Hashem). They assist me in administering MY Kingdom. (cp. Haamek Davar on the verse of
ג אַף חֹבֵב עַמִּים, כָּל-קְדֹשָׁיו בְּיָדֶךָ; וְהֵם תֻּכּוּ לְרַגְלֶךָ, יִשָּׂא מִדַּבְּרֹתֶיךָ.
3" Yea, He loveth the peoples, all His holy ones--they are in Thy hand; and they sit down at Thy feet, uplifted by leading". tamtzis : A Jews actions has far greater effect, for better or worse, on world affairs than all the geopolitical machinations of the non-Jews combined).

Thus the threat of Makkas Bekhoros is not one of visiting a personal tragedy for the Egyptian Pharaoh as a man, but to undermine his Kingdom as a King...tit for tat for his undermining the Kingdom of Heaven by enslaving the Divine Kings Bekhor/ Crown Prince. This is one King threatening another Kings err ...kingdom.

Rashi P'shat One: Bekhora is an expression of greatness and preeminence, not a literal expression of first in a chronological birth sequence. We find a precedent for this simile in the verse of: (Psalms 89:28) כח אַף-אָנִי, בְּכוֹר אֶתְּנֵהוּ; עֶלְיוֹן, לְמַלְכֵי-אָרֶץ. =28 "I also will appoint him first-born, the highest of the kings of the earth" describing David's preeminence among ANE Kings:

Rashi P'shat Two: This verse is a reference to Yisrael/Yaakov the Historical personage not the nation that sprung from his loins. It is as if HaShem is speaking through Yitzchaks larynx. (Gur Aryeh dryly comments, "so it would not be HaShem's Bekhor that we are referring to but Yitzkhaks") To use Rashi's idiom "Here G-d G-d affixes his signature (the seal of G-d is truth) on the sale of the primogeniture by Esav to Yaakov." [So much forYaakovs heel-grabbing and amoral approach to business ethics!]

Why this would be included in a warning to the Egyptian Pharaoh who, at first glance, doesn't seem to have a horse in the race of the Yaakov Esav primogeniture dispute, remains a mystery.

Rashi concludes; HaShem is unlike a flesh and blood king relying on an element of surprise to wreak vengeance on his enemies. This is the last of the strikes/plagues yet he warns Pharaoh about it first. Why? because G-d is more interested in the repentance of evildoers than in vengeance.

Ay... we don't find that Moshe actually delivered this message to Pharaoh in his first meeting or at all. At the very earliest, according to some readings of the Midrash /Rashi, he alluded to the plague of the firstborn when warning Pharaoh about the plague of Hail. Another unsolved mystery.

Qedusha-Havdala...have you gotten yours today?

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Why did God tell us to bring sacrifices? (Summary of Sources)

Let's leave aside the fact that most all ANE societies had rituals similar to what's described in Leviticus. Let's forget that long-room tripartite temples (like the one our ancestors constructed in Jerusalem) were prevalent throughout the region. Let's likewise pretend we don't know that scholars imagine Leviticus was written by Temple priests seeking to justify, explain, and legislate their various practices and prerogatives. Instead let's turn to the classic sources...

Why did God tell us to bring sacrifices?

Vayikra Raba 42:5: To wean us off idolatry (presumably the idolatry practiced by other ANE cults using similar rituals, as mentioned above.)

Menahot 110a: As an (arbitrary) method of atonement. (Rahi's gloss, there)

Rambam: Only for the purpose of weaning us from idolatry

Ramban: To make the supplicant realize that as that "having sinned against God with his body and soul, he would deserve to have his blood spilled and his body burned." Plus kabbalistic reasons, not easily understood.

Kuzari: Its a necessary prereq for prophesy.

Commentary: I know we ask all the time for the order of sacrifice to be restored, but if these are the reasons behind the rite... honestly, what for? We can't say they do God any good (see Menachot 110a, and the Rambam) We've already been weaned from idolatry; and we have a new method of atonement (i.e. Yom Kippur) which seems to work. So why bother?

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ideas of special chumros for Pesach

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

My daughter came home from school yesterday with an unusual homework project. She has to write down a special chumra we do for Pesach.

I am kind of at a loss of what to tell her...

my choices are:
  1. cleaning for pesach the way we do is a big enough chumra
  2. machmir on bein adam l'chaveiro and treating others respectfully in tense times.
  3. we are (at least I am) makpid to not measure our matzos and maror, so that our mitvos are not measured and limited.
  4. Make something up, like only holding matza in plastic bags to eat from and not in hands, because our hands might have sweat on them or other moisture that would make the matza into chametz.
That was all I could think of. Any better ideas? I actually like #4, but I know my daughter would never be willing to take that in as her homework....

Celebrate Passover 2009 with Magnificent Passover Gift Baskets from Oh Nuts.

Last year's look

The photos appeared here in 2008; the overall look, however, is a bit older and can be seen in its original iterations here, here, and here.

Fashion pics supplied by BigPhil. [If they ran on your blog first tell me, and I'll add you to the credits.]

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Festival of Freedom... or Primogeniture-Palooza?

By the Bray of Fundie

From Rebbish to Reconstructionist and from Dayenu doyens to nabobs of Negro spirituals, Pesach is universally understood as the Festival of Freedom. The Haggadah basically begins with “We were slaves to Pharaoh down in Egypt land” and concentrates on the suffering and injustice of slavery and the consolation, empowerment and injustice redressed of liberation.

But could it be that we are missing the forest for the trees? Here JS complained about the limp-wristed siyumim summarily ending the Fast of the Firstborn. But absent that fast we would have little or nothing concretized in our ritual Pesakh observances that deal with the issue of Bekhora. Yet when Moshe finally accepts his mission as redeemer of Israel he was instructed to deliver this message to Pharaoh: (Exodus 4:22-23)

כב וְאָמַרְתָּ, אֶל-פַּרְעֹה: כֹּה אָמַר יְהוָה, בְּנִי בְכֹרִי יִשְׂרָאֵל.
22 And thou shalt say unto Pharaoh: Thus saith the LORD: Israel is My son, My first-born.
כג וָאֹמַר אֵלֶיךָ, שַׁלַּח אֶת-בְּנִי וְיַעַבְדֵנִי, וַתְּמָאֵן, לְשַׁלְּחוֹ--הִנֵּה אָנֹכִי הֹרֵג, אֶת-בִּנְךָ בְּכֹרֶךָ.
23 And I have said unto thee: Let My son go, that he may serve Me; and thou hast refused to let him go. Behold, I will slay thy son, thy first-born.'--

Counterintuitively it seems as though Pharaoh’s main crime was not enslaving the Hebrews. If this were the case (and if I were G-d) then the obvious poetic justice threat ought to have been “You are unjustly enslaving the Hebrews. Liberate them or I will enslave the Egyptians”. It seems as though the evil of the slavery inhered in its capacity to impede, suppress, and even “kill” the Bekhora of the Children of Israel. Hence the midah k’neged midah = quid pro quo threat of slaying Pharaoh’s firstborn.

Let’s face it. Our contemporary sedorim are meant as surrogates of the Seder akheelas korban Pesakh= the order of consumption of the Paschal lamb. The mezuzos on our doors are stand-ins for the blood smeared door-posts and lintel of the night preceding the Exodus that protected us from the Plague of the Firstborn. Yet we seem to concentrate exclusively on freedom and fail to accord any primacy to, well, our own primacy.

In the coming days I hope to bl”n share with you my humble adaptations of what the great meforshei HaMiqra say about the passage that I cited. But in the meantime; how do YOU understand it? What do we mean when we say that Yisrael is kavayakhol, the Bekhor of HaShem? Why is this emphasized rather than the slavery itself? How does slavery compromise primogeniture? And/or how is slavery antithetical to primogeniture?

Celebrate Passover 2009 with Magnificent Passover Gift Baskets from Oh Nuts.

Cruel customs

Here, for a change, is a conversation with a smart person, followed by some commentary.

The Scene: A cemetery. We're at a burial. As you'll see, its also relevant to note that this was a fine Fall day with lots of sun, and only the slightest chill.

Him: Poor turnout (There were about 300 people at the funeral home; about 10 percent carried on to the cemetery)

Me: Yah

Him: I think its because the women heard they weren't welcome.

Me: Was there an announcement?

Him: No, but somehow a message was passed around.

Me: Why?

Him: It's a thing, based on Kabblah. The idea is that because women brought death into the world, via the sin with the fruit, coming to the cemetery is an act of brazenness.

Me: Do we posken that way?

Him: No, it has no basis in halacha at all. It's a minhag, popular with Hasidim, and their admirers, but by my lights its an act of cruelty to deprive the mourner of comfort and support, on the basis of a custom. Maybe its okay in a Hasidic community when the mourners are Hasidic themselves, and women aren't expected, but that's not the case here.

Commentary: Of course, I agreed with Him, and soon found myself wondering how often this sort of thing happens. With the mingling of the Jewish sects in post-war America, its common for one shul, or one neighborhood, to house adherents of competing customs. Though I support the concept of majority rules (provided its an honest vote, after an honest discussion) how far does it go, when a mourner's peace of mind is at stake? Should a shul or community insist on its legitimate and lawfully established custom when this will deprive a mourner of comfort? For instance:

:: What if a woman wants to say kaddish in a shul where women don't say kaddish?

:: What if someone wants a kel moley said in a shul where the custom isn't kept, or on a day when the shul doesn't say them? [I recall seeing a post about this; couldn't find it]

:: What if an ashkenazi man wants his sfard friends at his sfard shul to comfort him after Kabbalas Shabbos during his shiva week?

Temporarily adopting such practices as a services to a mourner harms no one, and would be an act of chesed, but I know from long experience in many different types of shuls and communities that such accommodations are never offered. Why?

[And of course, if we were to broaden the question/complaint to include non-mourners who might want to observe various customs publicly or communally for various emotional/superstitious reasons the list of questions would be ten times longer.]

:: Per "Product" I see my old buddy the wolf had a post on a close cousin of a topic.
:: Praying to the dead: IIRC, I came out strongly against the practice, and though I still think its kefira, I now wonder if it might be ok to permit people to commit kefirah, if its (a) harmless; and (b) brings them comfort...

Celebrate Passover 2009 with Magnificent Passover Gift Baskets from Oh Nuts.

the call up to the Big Leagues

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

Can you imagine a player on a Minor League team rejecting the call up to the Big Leagues? He has been playing for years, working, training, all for the day he would get that call saying we think you are ready for the Big Leagues. He finally gets the call - how often do you think it happens that he says "No thank you"?

Well, it happened in Israel. A religious footballer, Shahar Moshe, in the "minor leagues" - the A League - playing for HaShikma Ramat Chen (HaShikma means Sycamore) got the call up to try out for HaPoel Tel Aviv in the premier football league.

While Ramat Chen plays their games on Fridays, the jump to the big leagues means playing on shabbos. Shahar Moshe asked his Rosh Yeshiva of the yeshiva he learns in what to do. Rav Eliyahu Malka recommended he stay and play for the Sycamores in Ramat Chen and not be mechalel shabbos.

And so he chose to do.

Shahar Moshe:
The Torah is more important to me than football. If that is what my rav told me to do, that is holy in my eyes. Shabbos is the source of all blessings.
A great kiddush hashem for doing the right thing, and making what must have been a difficult choice.

(source: Mynet)

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

People who don't read the newspaper should not comment about the news...

...or another dumb conversation with a dummy.

Him: What happened in Mumbai was terrible.

Me: It certainly was.

Him: Just awful.

Me: I agree 100 percent.

To think the terrorists hate Jews and America so much...

Indeed. Their hatred has no bounds.

To travel all the way to India.... It must be that so many Israelis vacation there...

Excuse me?

Many Israelis vacation in India. That must be the reason why the terrorists staged their attack on Jews and America in India. I mean, why else choose India?


Come on Dovie, what do Muslims have against Indians?

Me: You mean aside from the pogrom in 2002 when 400 Muslim women were raped and 2,000 Muslims were murdered by Hindu extremists?

The what?

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Let the computer pray for you

Unwilling to hire the local Rabbi to recite a daily mourner's prayer on your behalf? Now you have an alternative:
Information Age Prayer is a subscription service utilizing a computer with text-to-speech capability to incant your prayers each day. It gives you the satisfaction of knowing that your prayers will always be said even if you wake up late, or forget.
The site offers major prayers for all religions. Jews can hire the computer to recite the Shma, Kaddish, and various Mee Shebayrachs. The whole Jewish package is just $26 per month, and as an added bonus the speakers will be faced toward Jerusalem when Jewish prayers are articulated. Unfortunately, the prayers are voiced in English, not Hebrew, which suggests this unscrupulous attempt to make a buck off desperate/ignorant Jews is a little half-baked. Related

Other unscrupulous attempts to make a buck off desperate/ignorant Jews
1. Chai Rotel
2. Uman
3. Selling miracles

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Shidduchim, CSI Style

Guest post by A Mother in Israel (Cross-posted here)

You've heard of white tablecloths and plate-scraping. But there are questions you haven't thought of asking (yet).

A Purim spoof:

Hat tip: Mrs. S.

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Monday, March 23, 2009

First Mention: Birchas Hachama, the Sun Blessing

In this new and occasional feature, DovBear looks at the New York Time's first mention of various subjects of interest. Previously

Today: Birchas Hachama, the blessing made once every 28 years, which will be made again on April 8, 2009

First Appeared: April 8, 1897

Read the whole article here

Neat things to notice and remark upon:

1. The paper's near-Himalayan condescension to the Irish police officer. I love snootiness.

2. Speaking of Himalayan condescension, do you think the fact that so many NY Jews kept this ritual in EIGHTEEN NINETY SEVEN will do anything to blunt Bray's constant claim that Judaism in America was non-existent before his holy shtel dwellers arrived after World War II?

3. Also, be sure to catch the paper's polite regard for the Jews, and their ceremony.

Puzzled about Birchas Hachama? Wondering why Jews make a blessing once every 28 years? Find answers to all your questions about the sun blessing here.

A Havdala Tidbit

By the Bray of Fundie

Besides the overt quantitative gulf separating the two, there are subtler qualitative differences distinguishing the 613 incumbent upon the Bnei Yisrael from the 7 Mitzvos incumbent upon Noahides.

One of these may be that while on both a national level (Na'aseh V'nishma) and on a personal level (Qrias Shma AKA "accepting the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven") Jews perform the commandments only following an informed consensual commitment to do so no parallel prerequisite commitment obtains for the "set" of the 7 Noahide Mitzvos. When it comes to the Bnei Yisrael HaShem Kavayakhol, the Divine Governor, derives His power to govern from the consent of the governed

Also, TTBOMK there is no idea of Khinukh=training of children for the Noahide Mitzvos either. Whatever binds adult Noahides to perform these commandments does the same for the underage children. For Noahides there is no rite of passage, no transformation from an aino metzuveh=un-commanded to a metzuveh=commanded that parallels the Jewsih Bar/Bat Mitzvah.

We associate the age of consent with legal adulthood. IMO the havdala described above means that Bnei Yisrael enjoy a riper, more mature relationship with G-d than the balance of humanity.
Qedusha-Havdala...have you gotten yours today?

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Pesach Gripes

A guest post by JS:

With birchat ha'chodesh this past Shabbat, the imminent arrival of Pesach becomes that much more real. In the spirit of the coming chag, I'd like to share a couple things that bug me each and every Pesach:

1) Ta'anit Bichorot (Fast of the First Borns) - Any fast day that you can "get out of" by sitting around half-asleep while listening to a 5 minute mumbled shiur is not a real fast day. Just abolish this farse already. We've already sucked all the meaning out of it anyway.

2) Bedikat Chametz (Checking for leaven) - Again, another ritual that has been rendered pointless. We've been cleaning our houses for weeks already. There is no chametz left. And yet we need to purposefully hide little packages of chametz so we can make a bracha and ensure it won't be in vain. How ridiculous is that? Either we're all cleaning too much or Chazal had different ideas about what it meant to make Pesach. Which brings me to my next point...

3) Pesach Cleaning - If you're going to clean your house to OCD levels looking for microscopic particles of chametz, just call it spring cleaning already and stop mislabeling what you're doing as being "machmir" (stringent) or having any semblance of holiness. Between the selling of the chametz, the "kol chamira" (nullification of chametz), and the myriad other steps we take to negate ownership of chametz this is just not necessary, stop pretending you're doing God's work.

4) The Feather and Candle - This is way up there on the gripes list. We use vacuum cleaners, HEPA filters, caustic chemicals, carpet cleaners, and a whole slew of modern 21st century cleaning technologies, and then suddenly we pull out a feather and a candle to search for chametz? Are you kidding me? Forget about the dangers of a lit candle - does anyone actually believe this is ritually required? Does anyone believe their bedikat chametz is incomplete without this?

5) People's Complaining about Matzah/Pesach Food - You'd think the world was coming to an end that for a whole 8 days people can't have chametz and/or have to eat matzah. There are still other food groups, you know. Have you never heard of a salad? Potatoes? Chicken, meat, turkey? And btw, matzah isn't bad either. Besides, it's only 8 days!!! Do you really need to spend a small fortune on disgusting kosher for passover substitute "pasta" and "cereal" and all the other overpriced stuff that you couldn't pay people enough money to eat the rest of the year but suddenly people will pay any amount to eat for Pesach?

6) People who pull out measuring charts to make sure they eat EXACTLY enough matzah and marror (bitter herbs) - First of all, get a life - the seder is about a heck of a lot more than this nonsense (the fact that this is a modern thing just adds to this point). Secondly, since when is this shiur (measurement) so freaking large? Lastly, am I the only one disgusted by watching people stuff their faces with these enormous quantities in the name of a mitzvah?

7) People who don't sell their chametz - What is up with this? What everyone else does isn't good enough for you? You want to really experience the suffering of our slave ancestors by having to throw out large quantities of food and/or make random and bizarre meals for days/weeks before Pesach so you can get rid of that package of cheese and that container of rice?

8) Announcements at the end of Pesach about Chametz - Number one, why the heck does it take several hours for the rabbi to buy back the chametz from the non-Jew it was sold to? Number two, why does it seem that every year I keep hearing more stringencies relating to "chametz sh'avar alav ha'pesach" (Chametz that was owned by a Jew over Pesach and is thus forbidden). Last year I was basically told the following by the rabbi on the last day of Pesach, "Please no one buy any chametz from any non-frum store until Shavuot because I have heard that a distributor's cousin's brother-in-law is Jewish and we can't be sure what products they distribute or to what stores in the area, and thus to be safe, it's better if we waited."

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Tsk. How dare a Jewish blogger poke fun at Republican kolel students

The Jewish blogger in question. Get those pitchforks ready.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Rabbinic Committees and Marrying off Kids..

A Guest Post by Rafi G
(originally posted at LII)

The problem of the finances of marrying off children, specifically in Israel among the yeshiva crowd, is well known. The "custom" has been that aside from paying for the wedding, the parents also often have to buy the children an apartment. Generally that obligation has been of the parents of the bride, but even in the best of situations it is split 50-50.

Recently, in the past few years, the issue has come to a head. The problem with the scenario is that few can afford it. Those that can, fine. But overall, the social group that is using that method is the one that is among the lowest socio-economic levels in the country. It has been widely discussed in the haredi press, and many attempts have been made in the last few years to try to alleviate the problem and remove the pressure, even if just a bit.

The problem really is that because most cannot afford it, they travel the world trying to raise money as they go collecting for "hachnassas kallah". It takes a toll on their lives, on the health, on the family. They go into serious debt to marry off the kids and provide them with a home.

BHOL is reporting on a new attempt to alleviate the problem. A group of avreichim from Ponevezh who are in the stages of marrying off children have realized that what they made their own parents do is just not possible anymore. Maybe their parents were working people and could take out another mortgage or dip into savings to buy them apartments (I have no idea why people think that just because you have a job you are able to afford extra apartments - maybe a different post). But they learn in kollel and barely make it to the end of the month and that is with just the bare minimum of basics. There is no way they will be able to buy their kids apartments.

So these avreichim have gotten together and decided they would agree among themselves to spend no more than $60,000 on their kids weddings. What that includes I don't know - the wedding itself? Also part of the price of an apartment? Gifts? I don't know - the article does not go into detail on that, but I will be staying tuned looking for more info on this.

As well, they are going to be going around the country trying to sign up 10,000 avreichim to agree to the same commitment.

Where they will get $60,000 is another problem, but it is better than a parent having to dish out $150,000 he does not have. So it relieves some of the pressure. And by signing up a large number of people, it lessens the social pressure that forces parents to take on all that debt - if others are not doing it, I will not feel obligated to do it. If they are only doing so much, I will only have to do so much.

The group went to Rav Shteinman to get his haskama that what they are doing is ok. Rav Shteinman agreed, and decided to set up a rabbinic committee to head the initiative.

I think the idea is great, and hopefully this is just the beginning of working solutions being found. What I find funny is that people want to spend less money, go less into debt, make weddings that cost less, buy cheaper apartments, buy apartments in cheaper neighborhoods, etc, and they feel they need the haskamah of a rav to do so. And we all know what happens once rabbinic committees get involved. You had a great idea - just follow through and spend less money. Why get others involved?Celebrate Passover 2009 with Magnificent Passover Gift Baskets from Oh Nuts.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Previous Featured Content

This post is a repository for previous Featured Content. New featured content is on the top right of the sidebar.

Featured Content for week ending May 4
  8. A STORY about matzah

Featured Content for week ending April 11, 2009
1. The blog's first dumb conversation with a dummy

2. Thanksgiving vs. Chanuka Presents

3. First ever abortion post

4. Mailbag classic

5. First ever DovBear on the Parsha

6. Arafat Wrap up I, II & III

7. Interfaith moments at the Deathwatch I & II & III

8 Makes me want to convert

Featured Content for week ending March 27, 2009

1. The DovBearian Creed
2. Ten things every Orthodox Jew should know; wrap up
3. Bad beliefs
4. Church attempts to usurp Holocaust
5. Talk about out-of-control kiddush clubs
6. Learning Beraishis with my kids
7. Frogs? freaky...

Puzzled about the blessing made only once every 28 years? Buy the book that explains all: The Birchas Hachama book from Targum Press

Featured Content for week ending March 20, 2009

1. My nightmare: What if God's a monster
2. Teaching k'fira to our children [responses]
3. Is hating Israel doche shabbos?
4. Some ideas for a new scandal
5. Searching for a cross in a haystack
6. Nude Swimming: Not just for Hasidim. WASPS like it, too.
7. Scenes from the matzo ball eating contest

This week's featured content sponsored by elijahdrinks.com. Receive a 20 percent discount on an amazing magical Elijah's Cup with coupon code DOVBEAR.

When (super) stars allign

Two of my favorite people are furious about how furious the posers in Congress are about those AIG knuckleheads.

Jon Stewart

Upcoming book alert

Now, this should be good:
Stolow has recently completed his latest book Orthodox By Design, a volume 15 years in the making. The forthcoming book, with the University of California Press, closely examines Brooklyn-based ArtScroll, the largest and most important Orthodox Jewish publishing house in the English-speaking world. His investigation probes methods ArtScroll has used to shape the ways readers interact with the books: how books are acquired by communities, their extensive catalogue (which includes cookbooks, adventure novels and legal guides), all the way down to typesetting and illustrations.
My objection to Artscroll is that it did to Judaism what the grocery store did to the tomato. All the delicious and perfectly authentic heirloom varieties were marginilized while instead a bland, insipid mass market version was held up as the ideal of what a "tomato" is and always was.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

An exciting, yet moderately priced post, in which the outstanding products and services of a brilliant DovBear sponsor are both lauded and celebrated.

Make your memories last a lifetime - engrave a silver plaque with your invitation: This item - a copy of a wedding invitation on a sterling silver plaque mounted on a wooden backing is an absolutely stunning gift. [Picture]

The invitation is engraved per your instructions - copied from the actual invitation, and can be done in both Hebrew and English - or only in one language. The cost of engraving is included - and you can add a short personalized message on the bottom as well. Great as a personalized wedding present or for any other occasion that you would like remembered for years to come.

More information

Deja Vous all over again

A very popular president uses a crisis and the rabid support of mindless followers to make radical changes to our traditional understanding of the constitution, civil liberties, and the role of the executive. Arguably he wanted to do this all along, but was able to succeed by capitalizing on the public's fear and loathing of Islamicist terrorists.

A very popular president uses a crisis and the rabid support of mindless followers to make radical changes to our traditional understanding of individual rights, the economy, and the proper role of government. Arguably he wanted to do this all along, but may be able to succeed by capitalizing on the public's loathing of fat cat, bonus-receiving bankers.

Aside: Wouldn't it be an ironic hoot if Meryl Lynch and AIG bankers were sent to the Gitmo cells being vacated?

Note to humor impaired morons: I'm not actually suggesting that bankers be imprisoned (nor, am I suggesting with any certainty that the men Bush sent to Gitmo were terrorists.)

The Pope, Condoms, and AIDS

A guest post by JS:

As many of you who follow the news as obsessively as I do probably read this week, the Pope is on his first trip to the continent of Africa (see here). During his flight to Africa, the Pope addressed questions from the press. One of those questions dealt with the current AIDS crisis in Africa in which more than 22 million people, in sub-Saharan Africa alone, are estimated to be infected with HIV (see more here). The question specifically dealt with the issue of condoms: Should condom use be encouraged in Africa as a way of stemming the HIV/AIDS epidemic? The question is particularly relevant as Africa has roughly 160 million Catholics making it one of the largest Catholic bastions in the world.

The Pope's emphatic answer? No. Not only are condoms not part of the solution, they're actually part of the problem. Basically, the Pope said that condoms are not just forbidden explicitly by the Church, but they decrease sexual morality. The Pope instead advocated that the solution to HIV/AIDS is abstinence and marital fidelity.

The Pope's response is especially troubling when many in Africa don't even believe HIV/AIDS is a real disease and/or believe condoms and drugs to suppress HIV are tools of the West to kill off Africans. The Pope also ignores the rampant problems of rape and sexual assault as well as "healers" who roam the continent having sex with women who need to be "cured." To me, this is yet another reason why the Church is increasingly irrelevant and is distancing itself from its adherents (especially in more liberal countries).

Perhaps a more interesting way of looking at the issue is this: How do you think a Jewish Gadol HaDor would respond? Imagine the Gadol is making the trek to Africa, where, instead of 160 million Catholics, he's addressing 160 million backwards, poor, starving, ignorant Jews. The same question is posed to the Gadol - should the Jews who are suffering from this terrible disease use condoms? Or should they be told condoms are prohibited by Halacha and instead they should abstain from pre-marital sex and stay faithful to their partners?

If the Gadol's answer is the same as the Pope's, are we too in danger of becoming increasingly irrelevant?

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Saluting a haredi Rabbi (Don't smirk: I've done it many times before)

Today, this blog salutes, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, head of decorum at the Western Wall.

According to the JP, Rabbi Rabinovitch has gone on the record stating his intention to ban the Pope from the Western Wall plaza if the Pope attempts to enter the site wearing a crucifix.

How neat is that? And for how many different reasons? For starters, this Pope is a baal chutzpah, who has cavalierly insulted Muslims and Jews and then acted indifferent to the offense he caused. He was "only quoting a 14th century emperor" when he incited international riots? He was "unaware" when he rehabilitated a holocaust-denying bishop, and a society that was established on the notion that the rest of the Church was wrong when it belatedly decided that the Jews didn't kill Jesus? Pu-lease.

Benny is also the proud spiritual and institutional descendant of Popes who routinely insulted and slandered Jews. The lists of Jew-hating Popes includes, but is not limited to:

(a) the baby-stealing Pius 9
(b) the deaf-mute do-nothing Holocaust Pope, Pius 12;
(c) and John Paul 2, who notwithstanding the sycophant salutes he received upon his passing, will always be remembered by me as the guy who knighted Kurt Waldheim, and also thought baby-stealing Pius 9 and deaf-mute do-nothing Pius 12 were worthy of being remembered as Saints of the Catholic Church .

Until he repudiates the whole long list of holy, horrible men, I say he is unwelcome at the Kotel - crucifix or not - but kol hakovod Rabbi Rabinovitch for honoring the memory of the Papal victims by putting his foot down.

- Why I called Pius 9 a babystealer; more
- Why I called Pius 12 the "deaf-mute do-nothing holocaust Pope"
- My beef with JP2
- Other fun facts to make you puke.

From the other side of the aisle: Shmarya sides with the Pope. (again)

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Breaking: Rav Elyashiv allows civil marriage

Rav Elyashiv allows civil marriage for non-Jews


I do have a sneaking suspicion that, perhaps, the civil marriage people sent in a smooth-talking kanoi who kept restating and rephrasing his questions until Rav Elyashiv provided the desired answer, but lets wait for the video.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Manipulating Rav Elyashiv?

Good old Rafi has pointed me to the video of someone I don't recognize interrogating Rav Elyashiv. You can see it here.

Though I confess to much uncertainty about what -if anything- the video tells us about either Rav Elyashiv or about how halachic decisions are made, the sky-scraping arrogance of the interrogator is obvious. Sometimes the man appears to grin with self-satisfaction. At other times, he pounds the table impatiently, or shoots the camera an "I told you so" look. Often he appears more interested in getting Rav Elyashiv on the record, and less interested in listening to what the Sage actually has to say. His manner is brusque and condescending, and his questions suggest, and sometimes contain, the answers he purports to seek. For instance, instead of asking:

Why might a student behave rudely to his teachers? He asks:
Can we tell his mother, that the true explanation for her child's bad behavior is that it is her fault [for not dressing modestly?]

He also, at times, seems unwilling to accept an unexpected reply. For instance, he asks:

Should a female principle dress modestly in the manner of any righteous woman, or does she need to be more stringent because she is setting an example? After Rav Elyashuv replies that it is more than sufficient if she merely follows the law, the man rephrases the questions in such a way that the Rav has no alternative but to answer "of course."

I'm an uninitiated observer, but to me it seems as if the man came in with an agenda, and attempted to use the leader of Torah Jewry as a rubber stamp. No doubt, the man will now go off into the world reporting that Rav Elyashiv said this or that, with the utterances stripped of all context.

[As Harry Meryles reports, this sort of thing has happened before].

[If you've already discussed this video on your own blog, let me know, and I'll link you]
[The comment that explains all: The guy is a total nut (and probably crazy extremist). His agenda is getting a psak that would allow wholesale firing of any female teachers who he deems as dressing inappropriately, any male teachers whose wife dresses inappropriately, and throwing out any yeshiva students whose parents dress inappropriately. He is obsessed with tznius, to the point where it's obvious he needs psychiatric intervention. In other cultures, he would be taken for an evaluation and prescribed effective drugs.]

Want to learn more about Rav Elyashiv? Search here.

Torah vs. Science Clashes? Meh...it's all Semantics!

guest post by A12.
mined and truncated by the Bray of Fundie

...and comment mining begets more comment mining. This one is causing me some major cognitive dissonance. It seems (I emphasize seems) to provide a sober dispassionate argument for believing in BOTH Science and Torah.

...First - It makes no sense to hate science. That is like saying that you hate screwdrivers, calculators,....Science is a tool. ...you dislike science because (some) of the findings made by using science do not square with a literal reading of the Torah. However, you are posting your comments using a computer: the product of the use of science. I'm sure you consult with your physician and take prescribed medications for illnesses: again, science. ....It would appear that there is much, where science and its findings are concerned *not* to hate - yet you make a blanket statement that you "hate" it.

Second -...If you're balancing your finances monthly, paper, pen, and calculator in hand - or spreadsheet program - and you crunch the numbers and they tell you that things will be tight - or you don't have enough to cover all of your expenses - do you hate your calculators or spreadsheets because you do not like the outcome they are giving you? (as a matter of fact I do. everything is personal) That's what you are doing to science. Science is based on the data, and it gives the outcome it has to, just like your calculator - and it doesn't do so for any nefarious version, it doesn't try to make you mad, it's just where the data leads it. ...

Fourth (sic, this is third..or did I lose count?)-Why is science "hated" for giving outcomes different from the literal words of the Torah, when other discrepancies are overlooked? For example - isn't a fish considered halachically dead once it is taken out of the water? However, we all know that if you put the fish back in soon enough, it swims away, perfectly alive. We also know that if someone cooks a brisket in a pot, wash it thoroughly and then cook potatoes in the pot, the potatoes have the status of meat. However, a person looking at the potato - who didn't know the pot's status - would not consider the potato to be meat, they would consider it a potato. ...So, my question to you is why is it different when it comes to science?If science looks at the world and says the earth is 4.5 billion years old, why can't it be 4.5 billion years old the way a fish plucked out of the water and then put back was still alive, even though it was halachically dead before? If science finds that humans evolved, why can't that be acceptable, just as it is not offensive to anyone that a potato is still biologically a root vegetable, but takes on the status of meat after being cooked in a meat pot? Why can't it be that, just as a fish is halachically dead, but not scientifically dead, they earth is halachically 6000 years old, but not scientifically 6000 years old? That halachically humans were made from the dust of the ground, but scientifically, humans evolved? Fish swimming away after being caught and potatoes remaining potatoes after being cooked in meat pots don't raise anyone's ire and don't seem to contradict Torah . . . but that is another facet of science presenting things one way and Torah/halacha presenting it another. If you can be okay with one and find nothing offensive about it, why not the same for the other?

Whole comment here

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