Saturday, May 30, 2009

Havel Havelim... hakol havel

Welcome to edition #219 of Havel Havalim, the weekly round-up of all that is odd, interesting and self-submitted in the Jewish blogosphere.

Curious about the real old dinosaur days of Jewish blogging? You didn't miss much. For proof click to Havel Havalim #4 and #12, the two previous times I hosted. See how sparse the offerings were? And who are those long-forgotten, defunct bloggers anyway? PsychoToddler? Mis-nagid? Now compare my two attempts from 2004 with last week's HH, hosted by the inestimable Benjie Lovitt [here.] See what I mean? Not only does he include several hundred dozens of posts, he uses categories! Categories? Who needed categories in late 2004 when the whole Havel Havelim was 12 posts?

I was also briefly perplexed earlier this week when the automated submission notifications started arriving from Blog Carnival central. Not to overdo this grouchy old man routine, but in my day, Havel Havalim consisted of posts the hosting blogger found on his own. That's right. We went out into the fields and sweated and toiled walking uphill both ways to create the best possible Havel Havalim experience. Along with neglecting the categories (bah! categories!), I tried to revive that old tradition by sharing some of the posts I personally enjoyed during the week that was.

(Note: I'm certain other HH hosts, possibly even the inestimable Benjie Lovitt, have done the same. Part of the grouchy old man bit is ignoring how things are not really that different after all)


Before there were blogs how did big-mouthed nobodies like me force their opinions on the world? With broadsides or pashkevils. Mother In Israel (A high-ranking member of the DovBear team) delivers a brief history of the form and some fun pashkevil facts to know and tell.

Alto Artist was shomeret for a dearly departed member of her congregation. The experience is described here. Speaking of dinosaurs, Tzippora the anthropologist found some old XGH cave drawings about the mesorah. Frum Satire makes a shidduch. JacobDaJew can see your nees. [sic]

Shvach Yid makes some not very schvach points about Nefesh bNefesh and their less sensible requirements. Occidental Israel frets about Israel: There's not enough water and the politicians are all corrupt. Ben Yehuda wonders if its true that Only the Likud Can... destroy settlements and return land.

DYS reports on the discovery of Ida, and explains why believing Jews needn't be concerned. Dass Hedyot publishes on the aftermath of his own Better Know a Kofer interview. Pen Tivokesh tell us how Akdomos and the Koran are alike. Kvetcher complaims that Israel is being less then democratic.

The Wolf tweaks JBN. Fiar Yid catches Dennis Prager being dumber than usual. XGH catches Rabbi Avi Shafran being just as stupidly condescending as always.

Is there a black fly in your Chardonnay? HSaboMilner has one: The parade pisher who can't seem to say anything nice about her recent wedding.

Shira Bat Sarah prepares for Shavuot and sees a bit of herself in Ruth the Moabite; Batya prepares to turn 60, and reports on the birthday celebration. The Rebbetzin's Husband posts a satiric Shavuos prayer; Cosmix X posts a poem about a bad guest. Shorty struggles with the different types of doxs; Benji Lovitt struggles through a shavuos all nighter (sort of) and comes up with a get rich scheme worthy of Ralph Kramden.

My own anthology of past Shavuos posts.

Rafi G. (another high-ranking member of the DovBear team) tells us about wierd water minhagim kept on Shavuos in other times and other palces. Remeber tfillin Barbie? Her creator(Hatam Soferet) is on JewSchool with a good Shavuos drash about the crownlets on letters in the Torah.

ChayyeiSarah hates grading papers.

How to be an Israeli offers a guide to the grunts, ehhhh's, nu's, and other monosyllables that are crucial to passing yourself off as an Israeli. Ben-Yehudah gives us a post about the joys and dangers of traveling in Israel as Shaboth nears. RutiMizrachi sings a song of love for Israel. SeraphicSecret worries about Obama. (He shouldn't.) Jameel worries, too. Rachel Neiman of Israelity waxes nostalgic about the dubon, the winter coat Israelis wore back in the 70s. JR shares some Israel hotspots.

Lamrot hakol has a long and interesting article about the Sanhedrin and bringing redemption. Also long and interesting, is Josh of ParshaBlog, who is his usual excellent self with a scholarly discussion of a story, told in Megged Givos Olam, in which Rav Moshe Soloveitchik rejects a newspaper account of his rebbe's death on the grounds that newspapers are unreliable; and anyway, "one is prohibited to believe that one's rebbe had died." Balaoshon goes L&I on the origin of the word agunah with supporting evidence from all sorts of neat sources. Rabbi Julian Sinclair gives us a long and interesting discussion of the tenth commandment which, he argues, is unfortunately ignored.

HH defends Cassuto. Chaviva imagines standing at Sinai . Shmarya finds a mideival Jewish text which appears to discuss a rape at the mikva. Ick.

Liora reviews a S Y Agnon story. Muse makes her monthly trip to Tel Shiloh. Ilana Davita reviews His Father's Paradise. MoChassid tells about the rewards of fostering. Chaim Bray (also a member of the DB team) found OpenMindedTorah's sad, infuriating, heart-breaking post about a father trying to get his Downs Syndrome child admitted to a Jerusalem yeshiva.

Rabbi Eliyahu Fink, who generated 166 comments with a guest post this week, argues on his own blog for a new Memorial Day. AbandoningEden has her first post-marriage Memorial Day bbq and discovers her Jewish wife gene. Suburban Sweetheart (who should NOT be reminded that her Cavs, like, suck) is also cooking (for the first time?) and has pictures to prove it

Religion and State in Israel does his regular review of media coverage on issues of religion and state in Israel, and includes a discussion of a female soldier denied permission to recite Kaddish at her base's synagogue and some new information about the reform conversion controversy. David of Israelty reports on the plan to increase the vegetable tax. Amanda discovers rabbis may reject for conversion those who studied about Judaism on the Internet

Mikkal Travvis tells how to survive a flu pandemic. The very great BOTH tells how to get things done with a customer service rep. NickDupree explains why Judge Sotomayer is not a radical (She isn't. Only those deeply in the grips of TownHall style commentary think she's a lefty loon, as Nick makes clear.)

Russel Grayson expresses some second thoughts about Obama, and gives a brief recap of Palestenian/Jewish History Yisroel Medad talks on Kol Israel Radio, offers some sympathy to Spanish "oppressed territories" and takes another visit to Jerusalem to read the ridiculous posters ridiculous people paste on walls.

RivkA explains how she and her husband raised a family of geeks, ummm, I mean Star Trek fans while the Rebbetzin's Husband tells us why his own kids are well-behaved in shul . Noyam G. has more to say about So You Think You Can Dance than any straight man should.

RivkA also tells us how she came to choose life, and the difference its made (recommended for anyone enduring a difficult or painful season.)

And finally, the Real Shliach announces his engagement (to Free Elisheva)

Mazal Tov. Mazal Tov


OK, cue the stuttering pig. I'm done. If I left out your post, perhaps I mistook it for spam. Please resubmit your great ideas for making money on Twitter to Esser Agaroth who is ringleader next week -- for the seventh time, if Google and my own memory are to be trusted. See you there, or back here again in 25 years for HH #3450

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DovBear on the Parsha makes a great Father's Day Gift.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Your Shavuos/Rus Palooze

Those of you who refuse to abolish the all-night shavuot learning marathon on the grounds that it causes us to sleep through the first day of yom tov, obviating the chatzi lochem, v'chatzi loshem element of Yom Tov are encouraged to print these out for all night readin
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More on Shabbos and modern Rabbis

How do you keep shabbos? When I asked this question yesterday, my personal LexLuthor accused me of being exclusive. Shouldn't you first establish that shabbos is, in fact, being kept, he asked. Seemingly his point was that not every Jew keeps shabbos, and an inclusive blogger would not presume otherwise.

Perhaps, but forgive me. I don't define "shabbos keeping" in the way Bray does. According to my way of thinking nearly every Jew in the world "keeps" shabbos in some way or another, and this presents yet another critism of what the Baltimore Rabbis said at the rally to protest their Jewish Center's plan to remain open on Shabbos.

I hold that you are "keeping shabbos" if you light candles, or go to a service, or have a family meal, or "recharge your spiritual batteries" in some way, and most every Jew in the world does something like this. Unfortunately, this isn't how the torah or traditional sources define Shabos "keeping." Officially shabbos is only "kept" when you refrain from melacha in testimony of the fact that God created the world/took us out of Egypt.

Ironically, the Baltimore Jewish Center COULD REMAIN OPEN and still "keep" shabbos in the authentic and Torah True way and also in the modern way of "keeping" espoused by the protesting rabbis!

They spoke of "heritage" and "unity" and "identity. Surely, keeping the Jewish Center open on Shabbos will contribute to these things. If the whole point of Shabbos is heritage, unity, and identity, isn't that goal being met if the Center stays open? And if the Center stays open with no melacha done (certainly possible: Our shuls and catering halls stay open with no melacha problems) isn't that a win/win for Jews both modern and traditional?

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009



...quality post

episodes like this make me asahmed of my culture. How the man remains frum is awe-inspiring.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Obama's official spokesman denies the president has a secret evil plan to give Jerusalem away

Via email, from Moby:

MR. GIBBS: The goal is to be -- I guess, partly to clear some of this up, this is a -- this will be a broader speech about our relationship with Muslims around the world. I know there has been some conjecture that included in this speech will be some detailed comprehensive Mideast peace plan, and that is not the intention nor was it ever the intention of this speech. As I said a few days ago, I mean, obviously it would be difficult to give a speech and not touch on this subject -- I think that would be -- that wouldn't work -- but the notion that it will be the sole focus of the speech is not the case.

Q: Just to clarify, are you also ruling out -- forget out sole focus, but within the broader speech he is not going to say, "and here is what I want to do with the city of Jerusalem, and here is what I want" --

MR. GIBBS: No. As you know, Margaret, those are final status issues that the parties themselves have agreed to work out in whatever negotiation would be had. That's not something for the President to intone.

Two in 8 Million

As part of its series on ordinary New Yorkers the heiliga NY Times profiles Rivka Karasik,a runaway from the Lubovitch community.

Not to be missed

HT: E_Fink

Also see: Henry Rieninger


Gutsiest P'sak since Rav Moshe z"l Passed?

By the Bray of Fundie

At last, another posek with "braita plaitzehs"= the "broad shoulders" i.e the combination of impeccable scholarship and fearlessness required to issue a controversial ruling.

Rav Zalman Nechenia Goldberg shlit'a was matir (permitted in a Halakhic responsum) surrogate motherhood. I have not seen the responsum and don't know the details but it is very encouraging to see a Kharedi Posek confront a 21st century medical Technology. This is especially so inasmuch as this issue reverberates with obvious thorny bio-ethical issues as well as issues of of tznius and yikhus . In an atmosphere where mixed gender buses or photographic depictions of females are taboo this ruling comes as a veritable hurricane of fresh air.

IIRC the learned Halakhic discussion about surrogate motherhood begins, oddly enough, by analyzing Midrashei Aggadah.

In Bereshis 30:21 the birth of Dinah is described. Rashi ad locum quoting a Midrash says that, aware that there would only be 12 tribes born to Yaakov and that she was pregnant with another boy, Leah prayed that her sister Rakhel not be humiliated by giving birth to fewer than two tribes. And , in answer to her prayer, an in utero sex-change of the fetus took place. However the Targum Yonoson ad locum says that an angel swapped the two fetuses (Rakhel was then pregnant with a girl). Such that Yoseph was conceived by Leah but developed and carried to term by Rakhel while Dinah Yoseph was conceived by Rakhel but developed and carried to term by Leah.

Much is made about Momma Rakhel crying for us again. But thanks to this landmark p'sak by Rav Goldberg the prayer of Momma Leah will pay dividends to the end of time saving countless Jewish women from the pain and humiliation of infertility.

Of interest as well.

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A Victim Speaks

A guest post by TikunOlam

I've recently begun corresponding with a the member of the DovBear community. He is a successful, frum, married man with children. Not long ago, during the discussions on the blog regarding the Markey Bill, he sent me a link to an article published on VIN written by Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz, Editor of the charedi newspaper Yated. In the article, R' Lipschutz began to address the problem of childhood sexual abuse and specifically focused on the trauma to the victims and the impact it has on their lives. My DB reader friend told me to specifically look for the comments authored by him, the ones authored by "A Victim."

The following in a except from R' Lipschutz's article:

. . .The sad fact is that children in our community are being abused by perpetrators who prey upon their innocence and our silence. We don’t have a count of how many people are hurt, but it is much larger than we realized, even a short time ago. There is no real debate about the catastrophic effects of abuse.

The innocence and purity of children is destroyed for life. The victims remain hurt, shamed and scarred. They suffer in silence, afraid to reveal their secret to anyone. They are hounded by feelings of guilt and embarrassment and live lives of tortured pain. The overwhelming majority of survivors suffer in silence, unless they are lucky enough to endure agonizing, arduous, expensive therapy. . .

The article in its entirety: VIN article

With "A Victim's" permission, I have cut, pasted and rearranged his comments in order to tell his story.

First, I am a victim, however I am a unique victim. I was molested "only" twice. Once when I was 11 by a virtual stranger in shul during Shalosh Seudos. I did not understand that I had been molested but I knew the pain and fear that I felt afterwards. It certainly affected me. I can still sense the feeling of "What is this guy doing to me? Is he supposed to have his hands in my pants? Why does he keep moving me around on his lap?". It hurts to even write those words.
The second time I was well into my teens. A (very choshuv) older bocher molested me for a very extended period of time. We were actually learning in the Beis Medrash (study hall) in broad daylight. He as pulling my chair close to him and putting his hands in inappropriate places. Here is the key - my brain did not even tell me what was happening. I am sure it is because I was molested once before so my brain was unable to process what was happening. The episode probably lasted nearly an hour. I cannot explain why I did not leave, other than my brain could not process what was happening. I went through a period of about a week where I did not leave my dorm room until I finally mustered enough courage to tell my Menahel what happened.

Baruch Hashem my Menahel is an outstanding mechanech and he knew exactly what to do. He dealt with the bochur (severely) and I truly believe that the predator was regretful and worked on himself to the point that he may have nisyonos but is able to overcome them. He apologized to me and we reconciled. By my Menahel's instructions, I was not allowed to have anything to do with him and we had very little contact. I called him the day of my wedding and was mochel him. I see him once in a while and we are "civil" around each other. My situation is unique because I did not keep the abuse inside and my attacker actually acknowledged and apologized for what happened. Most of the time, the abuse goes undetected, undealt with and the victim keeps their feelings bottled up inside causing tremendous harm.

Second, I have a close relationship with another victim. Also unique, but much more severe. (This person REALLY wants to remain even more anonymous than I.) He/she was molested by a family member for a period of 5-6 years. Much of what I understand about molestation victims comes from his/her therapy and our conversations and self discovery together. He/ she has suffered tremendously and continues to suffer each day. He/she has no memories from his/her teenage years. He/she blocked out the pain and only now through therapy does he/she even begin to feel what he/she never felt as a child. You can imagine the inner conflict that he/she feels keeping such a powerful secret...

As I mentioned earlier - I have been waiting 16 years for a day like today to come. It is time for Klal Yisrael to do something about this problem - now. As to your vort (referring to another commenter's Torah thought about denial), I think it is evident that I agree wholeheartedly to a point. All victims deny that they are victims. This is part natural and part because there is no outlet for a victim to report such behavior. I truly believe that a real mechanech would know what to do just as me menahel did. However, true mechanchim are few and far between.

The reason for the cover up is simply because no one knows what to do! Where should the victim go? Very often the molester is a person of authority and now the victim is not going to trust authority. I was unique, I was the exception, I had the confidence to do what needed to be done and report my attacker. Sadly nearly every other victim does not share this with me.
Imagine, not trusting authority, hating yourself because you think it was all your fault, having no childhood memories other than the fear of the next attack and then being so alone with no one to talk to about all these problems. Imagine that every day you feel that pain and shame of being molested. Not one day goes by without being reminded how you were violated.

I have waited all of my life since the first time I was molested when I was 11 for the frum world to acknowledge the existence of the problem and the toxicity of its effects. You cannot imagine the pain a victim feels each day that he or she knows that their predator is still on the loose able to attack freely. But at this point there is no choice. Known predators live in our communities. Known predators are working in our day schools, yeshivas and camps. It is unconscionable that we are harboring these sickos and giving them the green light to continue. I challenge any "gadol" to look a victim in the eye and say "It's okay if this happens to more people", "molesters know how to control themselves", "I can't believe such a great person would do such a bad thing", "It probably is not as big a deal as you're making it out to be". With the psychological evidence that we have today it is unacceptable to say or even think those things.

I beg you all, please help to stop sexual predators from molesting our children. I have 2 sons and every single day I fear that chas v'shalom, Hashem yerachem, they could become the next victims. We should not have to live in fear. We are the mamleches kohanim v'goy kadosh, why is it acceptable to molest innocent children?

PS: The assumption seems to be that Rebbeim are the only molesters in the frum community, this is simply not true at all, there are "older bochurim" in yeshivas, counselors in camps, fathers, brothers and neighbors that have molested our fellow yidden as well, please be vigilant and let us begin to eradicate molestation from our midst.

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Daily Halacha High

Received from Amshinover who received it by email from some holy spammer of halachot.

Hilchos Shavuos 5769/2009

918.There is a (not so well known) minhag to bring good smelling grasses into shul to be passed around for people to make a beracha and smell the grass in remembrance of the Simcha of Mattan Torah where Har Sinai was surrounded by grass.Shulchan Aruch w/Mishnah Brurah 494:3

919. When practicing this minhag one should not pass the grass around during davening between Boruch She'amar and kaddish after Sh'mona Esrei because one is not permitted to interrupt davening at that time to make the beracha. Shulchan Aruch w/Mishnah Brurah 494:3

I haven't checked this inside - I don't even know what word the source uses for grass - nor have I investigated the grass-oriented customs prevalent in the Jewish or surrounding non Jewish community at the time this was written; still, I feel comfortable asserting that the grass in question isn't marijuana.

That said, I take it for granted that both great and ordinary Jewish men of yesteryear used substances that society now forbids. The dangers and risks weren't well understood, and people once used heroin, opium, and cocaine as ordinary medicines. Others used these substances in the same way that we use whiskey. Related

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Monday, May 25, 2009

For Zevuluns with Commitment Issues

by the Bray of Fundie

click here.

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Slurs, Slander and Shas


The recent Supreme Court ruling that the state should fund Reform conversion centres can be debated for its rights and wrongs. But the response of Shas is little short of a disgrace.

As reported here, Interior Minister Eli Yishai, chairman of Shas, warned that if non-Orthodox conversion is recognized in Israel, "there are hundreds of foreign workers and Palestinians who will take advantage of the Reform conversion in order to gain Israeli citizenship."

The linkage is both cunning and revolting -
this 'warning' is intended to frighten. Why else mention Palestinians? The implication there is that these people will have an ulterior motive for converting which is to do with damaging Israel. No recognition that Shas ministers are supposed to serve their Palestinian constituents and citizens. Moreover, the Reform movement will, impliedly, connive in converting potential 5th columnists so that they can become Israeli citizens. Not only will these people not be real Jews - that goes without saying. They will also not be real Reform Jews - they will convert for the sake of citizenship. Not like all those footballers and basketball players converted by the Orthodox then.

Thus Shas carries on its religious war by defaming other Jews for not being real Jews, defaming those it converts with accusations that they will be in some way hostile to Israel, and defaming those other Jews again by implying that they will be happy to convert people hostile to a State which Shas itself is ambiguous about.

Not bad for 22 words. Hatred, sneer, unjust accusations, abandonment of responsibility and hypocrisy in one neat package. Truly we have learned well from our enemies.

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A Simple Solution to the Reform Conversion Funding Controversy

A Guest Post by Rafi G

Everyone is all nervous about the fact that seemingly the courts are granting tacit recognition of Reform conversion. Last week the courts ordered the State to fund the Reform and Conservative conversion organizations equally as they fund the Orthodox.

People are taking that to mean they are granting the Reform equal status to convert as the Orthodox.

if that is correct or not, I do not know. It seems to me the issue is simply funding and discrimination. If the country is funding private organizations to perform conversions, as a democratic country I don't see how they can legally avoid treating all such organizations equally.

My solution is to stop funding all of them. The Orthodox as well. These are private organizations, and why should the conversions of Israel be run and administered by private organizations?

Instead, have everything run through the Rabbanut. No private organizations - Orthodox, Conservative or Reform - should be allowed to deal with conversions, or at least they should not be funded by the State. Then nobody can complain. The Rabbanut will run everything, and no private organization is getting more than the other.

I know it is simplistic, and I am probably missing something in my understanding of the fight, but it seems reasonable to me.

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Sunday, May 24, 2009

How would you respond to this?

A Guest Post by Rafi G

How would you respond to this?

In this weeks parsha sheet "Eretz Yisrael She'Lanu", Rav Yaakov Yosef said it is preferable to buy, when possible, from religious Jews. He says if you have two stores, one of a Jew and one of a goy (or of a Jew who acts like a goy i.e. he is not religious), we are obligated to purchase specifically from the God fearing Jew. He bases this on a passuk in the Torah. Rav Yaakov Yosef also related that it was well known about the Chazon Ish that he would walk far to a makolet to buy items, rather than purchase from the makolet nearby, because the one nearby was owned by a non-religious Jew, and the one farther away was owned by a religious Jew.

I had the radio on for a moment, and caught the end of a discussion regarding the above psak. The broadcaster was criticizing it saying that with saying such a psak, they [haredim] cannot then come and tell [the establishment] that when they are learning instead of serving in the army they are learning for all of Israel. They are divisive and only look out for their own, and they should not then try to sell us stories of how they are concerned for all of us and learn for all of us.

(Again, I missed most of the discussion - I just caught the end of it which was that one statement)

How would you respond to that?

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Friday, May 22, 2009

New fundies should behave like old fundies

This week, the newspapers introduced Ida, a 40-million year old fossil, that may provide us with a better understanding of simian and prosimian ancestors. Though not a missing link - there is no such thing - Ida is still good evidence in support of many of the things modern fundies deny, such as evolution, common descent, and the old earth.

One modern fundie - Chaim Bray - enjoys the revocable privilege of posting on this blog, and true to form, he responded to the Ida announcement with fear and foolishness. Instead of acting like a thinking person, and attempting to work out ways to reconcile his thinking with the facts Ida represents, he subjected us all to an elaborate rant about the sitra achra and the hope that some as yet undiscovered Jewsh text might give solutions to all the mysteries (An ironic hope. Would such a book be accepted by his fundamentalist community? Un-bloody-likely)

To me, saying that evolution is a tool of the sitra achra is the same as saying that math is a tool of the sitra achra. To deny that the earth is very old, is to deny the facts.

To your 21st century ears, my view might sound like the view of a secularist or a modern Jew who's moved away from traditional Jewish thought. This is a mistake.

Before Orthodoxy lost its mind and decided to dig in its heels in defense of the indefensible, there were great Orthodox Jewish sages who did what I tell Bray to do. Instead of a throwing a Bray-like orgy of fear and foolishness, these great Orthodox Jewish sages responded to new facts with new thinking. Rather than deny facts, they reinterpreted their received tradition.

The most famous example of this approach is the Tifferes Yisroel, or Rabbi Yisroel Lipshutz, a 19th century who responded to the discovery of a woolly mammoth skeleton with a celebration. His view is recorded in his Drush Ohr HaChaim where he says the the discovery of fossils proves the earth is very olk, a view he subsequently substantiated from the writing of Ramban, Ibn Ezra, famous kabalists and others. Note his response: Faced with the undeniable fact of a very old fossil, Rabbi Lipshutz did not seek to defend the received wisdom. He did not go to war in defense of the young earth. Instead, he adjusted his thinking and reinterpreted the tradition.

There are other examples of mistaken Jewish thinking that was corrected after new facts were accepted. For centuries, Jewish received wisdom said that the earth stood at the center of the universe and insisted the space travel was imposible because the yesod haesh prevented going beyond the atmosphere. Once new facts were established the verses that had supported the erroneous received wisdom were reinterpreted. And there are still other examples.

Has the time has come to follow the Tiferes Yisroel's example and reinterpret verses that seem to indicate a Young Universe or deny Common Descent? Yes. To do otherwise is foolishness informed by fear.

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O Ye of Little Faith

by the Bray of Fundie

How much would we do to avoid a lower score on our credit rating? What if, in attempting blackmail, a hacker said to us; “With the push of a button I can drain every one of your bank accounts and change the title on all of your real estate holdings unless you _____________” how far would we go to fill in the blank? What demand on his part would it take for us to tell the hacker “I’m sorry. I can’t do that. Push the button”. What lengths would we go to in order to avoid disease? To avoid being party to an ecological disaster?

Now how about sin? To what lengths would we go to avoid it? Most of us pay lip service to Maimonides 11th principle: “I believe with a perfect faith That God gives reward to he who does the commandments of the Torah and punishes those that transgress its admonishments and warnings”. But how many of us have true yiras khet= fear of sin? And even if we are too sophisticated to imagine Divine retribution in terms of Dante- Reishis Khokhma –like boiling pitch and innumerable floggings sin is still is something we’d, sensibly, want to avoid at all costs. If "hell" means a step down a slippery slope that will ultimately rob us of our humanity, if it means an ineffable loneliness, if it means a burning humiliation without surcease, if it means alienation from all that makes both temporal life and eternity worth living, if it means the sorrowful shock of recognition that never subsides of the dissonance between our actual lives and our unfulfilled potential and if we REALLY believed any of this on a visceral level, we’d me MORE afraid of sin than if it’s wages actually were boiling pitch and innumerable floggings.

The Halakha demands that we forfeit our last penny before being ohver a lahv d’Oraysa= transgressing a Torah level garden variety negative commandment . But how many of us would be equal to the test of telling the hacker “I’m sorry. I can’t do that. Push the button” if his threat to us was “With the push of a button I can drain every one of your bank accounts and change the title on all of your real estate holdings unless you don that wool-linen jacket”

What triggered this screed was some give and take I had with JS yesterday over the relative merits and demerits of living in a society with advanced technology that minimizes hunger and disease but in which atheism and agnosticism are rampant vs. living in a a low-tech but high faith society. IMO the discussion was skewed. We were talking over each other rather than to one another. Because neither of us truly fears sin as the existential threat that it is.

Today, on some level or another, we are all green. Until we all appreciate that sin is like pushing a button that, at minimum, sets off a metaphysical Exxon Valdez type cataclysm there is no common ground upon which to conduct the debate.

Much has been made of my resistance to facts and empiricism and how it proves my cowardice. Its futile to try to defend myself against such charges. But is it too much to propose that the more we have bought into the facts on the ground the more we’ve lost sight of, and lost faith in, the facts off the ground?

In the past life was precarious. Existential threats abounded. Bad weather resulted in bad crops that resulted in financial ruin or even starvation. Infant mortality and childhood disease pandemics could wipe out whole families, floods and fires, whole cities, unanticipated volcanic eruptions, whole civilizations. In a word for most of human history the proverbial "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short" life dominated. Science and Hi-tech have empowered modern man. Never before in human history has humankind as a whole and individual men and women had such self-sufficiency and control over their food supply, shelter, protection from extreme weather, avoidance of natural disasters and their own physical health and well–being as they do today.

The question is from a SPIRITUAL standpoint are we really better off?

There is a famous Torah from the Ri”m. He asks: What sort of curse was it for G-d to tell the snake וְעָפָר תֹּאכַל כָּל-יְמֵי חַיֶּיךָ. = "and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life". This would seem to be a blessing rather than a curse inasmuch as the snake’s food supply is abundant, accessible and labor-free. He answered that the curse is precisely this: That being able to sustain himself on a food supply that is abundant, accessible and labor-free the snake is utterly independent of G-d. The snake can dispense with both faith and prayer. Being completely self-reliant has obviated the snakes need to be the least bit G-d-reliant.

This is my main gripe with evolutionary theory. Quite apart from all the scientific breakthroughs that it has wrought the very notion posits too many degrees of separation between man as creature and G-d as Creator. From there it is a very short jump to another form of man-/G-d alienation. From man as law-abider / fulfiller and G-d as legislator. To me it is no wonder at all that in our post-Darwinian era we consider mitzvahs to be extra credit and sin to be innocuous.

Tomorrow when we bentsch Rosh Khodesh maybe we should pray for "life informed by the fear of heaven and the fear of sin" with the visceral conviction that sin equals catastrophe. And that ain't no Parseltongue.

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

A quality post about Bedikah Cloth Inspectors (B.C.I 's

Penned In - Writing in confinement: Bedikah Cloth Inspectors

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You Say you Want An Evolution??? I Want a REVOLUTION

by the Bray of Fundie

Today evolutionists are having a good laugh at creationists and/or intelligent designers expense. They met a girl named Ida. But he who laughs last laughs best. Boy may yet lose girl. And we creationists and/or intelligent designers have missing links in our, ahem, "theories" as well.

The rule is גַּם אֶת-זֶה לְעֻמַּת-זֶה, עָשָׂה הָאֱלֹהִים="G-d made this opposite that" i.e. that to maintain free will the powers of good and evil are evenly divided and whatever exists in the one exists in the other. As such I am filled with a profound hope. I have reason for optimism today. Optimism that as this evidence has now come out that buttresses the position of the Sitra Achra = the dark side, the day will soon come, speedily and in our days please G-d, when Torah's missing links e.g. the missing 165 years, the real Techeles dye, the authoritative kree and k'siv, various scriptural (hor)cruxes, will ALSO be discovered, researched and revealed.

And then we won't be far from rediscovering the ultimate missing link...the link between the way HaShem= THE Name is written and the way HaShem= THE Name is pronounced, the link that unifies and identifies the G-d of love and mercy הטוב והמטיב with דין האמת the G-d of justice and rigor בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא, יִהְיֶה יְהוָה אֶחָד--וּשְׁמוֹ אֶחָד = in that day shall the LORD be One, and His name one.

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More on Obama's secret evil plan

Though the RW blogs, and their moron readers have already decided that Obama's secret, evil plan to divide Jeruslaem is a fait accompli, people who actually are in a position to know the facts are beginning to weigh in. Here for example is Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, as reported in the 5/21 Jerusalem Post:

"I don't know of any Obama plan that has been finalized," said Ayalon, who has been briefed on the closed-door meetings between Netanyahu and Obama. "Don't believe the headlines. What was in the papers was mere speculation, and there is no substance to it," he said.

So how did what is apparently a false story of a secret, evil Obama plan originate? The culprit seems to be Galei Tzahal which yesterday announced that Obama was set to demand the division of Jerusalem, and the removal of all West Bank settlements. The Galei Tzahel report provided no sources, and a day later their story seems about as legitimate as Carl Phillip's breathless report of an ongoing Martian invasion in War of the Worlds, the famous Orson Wells radio hoax.

Nonetheless, as Mark Twain warned, lies have a way of getting half-way around the world before the truth puts its boots on. The Galei Tzahel story was picked up by Spira at YWN, who didn't cite or credit it, and instead pretended he had first-hand knowledge of the evil, secret plan. His headline (and remember what Ayalon said about headlines) screamed "Obama Wants to Take Yerushalayim from Am Yisrael" which went far beyond even what Galei Tzahel had claimed. A much more level-headed account of the Galei Tzahel story came from Jameel. He wrote a dry report on the story without much editorializing and without any Spira-style fabulism. And though Jameel did make the error of treating the Globe's report about the Galei Tzahel report as substantiation, he has since updated his post to include Ayalon's cold water warning; nonetheless his readers are acting like Wells' audience and a blind, mad panic is underway in his comments.

Why does this happen? I suspect its because many RWers have already decided how the Obama story will end. Instead of responding to the totality of what Barak Obama actually says and does, they grab at any isolated quotes or symbolic gestures that support the narrative they have already written. The Galei Tzahel story confirmed their worst expectations, so instead of asking cool headed questions about sourcing, they sat shiva. I hope Ayalon's statement served to wipe the ashes from their foreheads.

The ethics of Tzedaka

A guest post by JS:

Yesterday, there was a very interesting conversation about the ethical underpinnings regarding whether and how to give tzedaka to a person down on his luck who wishes to return to Canada (post here, comments here).

DB put on his Fundie hat (borrowed from Bray of course; they're the same hat size) and took a hardline, halachic approach to the problem essentially stating that by giving Tzedaka we are God's agents and it is not for us to judge how the man uses (or misuses) the money - the mitzvah is in the giving, not in the helping, per se (or rather, "helping" is totally subjective and we shouldn't place our values of what "help" means over the recepient's values). Thus, according to DB, if a poor person, who used to be wealthy, wants caviar, we shouldn't deny him caviar as we are merely acting in God's stead and are answering on God's behalf. Rabbi Fink acknowledged DB was correct from a halachic perspective.

DB based himself, partly, on a story from Ketubot 67B: A man once asked Rava for charity. Rava asked him, "What do you need?" The man replied, "Well fattened chickens and old wine." Rava was shocked and exclaimed, "What a burden you put on the community!" The man answered, "But, I do I not eat the community's food as all belongs to God." Just then Rava's sister arrived with a feast of well fattened chickens and old wine. Rava again expressed shock and said, "I've wasted too much time talking; come, let's eat."

DB points out that the lesson is in the poor person's reply that all belongs to God and the community is God's agent in providing it to him. I focus, instead, on Rava's exclamation that the man is a burden on his community and if Rava's sister hadn't surreptitiously shown up with exactly what the man requested, the man would have left empty-handed, or at least not with what he requested.

Personally, I think it's presumptuous to think we should just hand over whatever a poor person wants (assuming we have it) because we're God's agent when we give tzedaka. After all, maybe God wanted him to fall to this position in life? Maybe the person was too arrogant and haughty and selfish and God wanted to teach him modesty and humbleness? Maybe by giving caviar we're thwarting God's plan.

Tzedaka is a zero-sum game. Money that goes to one person is necessarily not going to another person. Consider the following example: A community has 5 poor people. 1 used to be wealthy. The rest have always been too poor to afford wine or meat, they always lived on cheap food and lived in shabby conditions.

Can it possibly be that the community should put up the once rich person in a mansion and feed him the best of foods while the other 4 subsist on beans and rice and live in a small shack? The community shouldn't split its tzedaka money evenly among the 5? The 4 should suffer because the 5th used to be wealthy and has extravagant demands? This is a Jewish value?

How do you reconcile the halacha and our own personal sense of right and wrong? Is a drug addict or alcoholic less worthy of help than someone who became poor due to high medical expenses? Is the person who spent his money frivolously and now has nothing less worthy than someone who lost their job? And should the person who demands caviar be told to get in line with the rest of the poor at the soup kitchen?

I particularly welcome DB's comments as he said yesterday: "I'm quoting a gemarah. I can be skeptical about the Jewish position tomorrow. Today, I am merely providing the Jewish position."

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

When will Yeshiva World Stop Lying about Obama?

Via Facebook, I see Yeshiva World has put up another Spira article attacking Obama. Like most Yeshiva World articles that attack Obama, this one contains no sources, no links or references to the legitimate media, and no facts. It's complete lies, from begining to end. Even the headline is a lie. It reads: "Obama Wants to Take Yerushalayim from Am Yisrael." Really? The president has only asserted a million and one times that Jeruslaem won't be divided and that it must remain the capital of Israel. So who's whispering alternative versions of reality into Mr. Spira's ears?

Could Spira be an Obama insider? Most YeshivaWorld articles are ripped straight from the pages of other newspapers. This one wasn't. Its much too poorly written to have been stolen from the usual YeshivaWorld sources, so perhaps Spira is part of the inner circle. Does he have a source in the state department whispering in his ear? Or is he just a guy with a laptop who makes stuff up?

Another ethical question

A guest post by E. Fink

I am the Rabbi at the Shul on the Beach in Venice CA. Venice is home to a wonderful community of Frum and not so Frum Jews, all who are welcome in our Shul. Venice is also home to a huge community of homeless folks. The area is very lenient in its restrictions on the homeless and believes strongly in everyone's rights. A lot of these people live on the beach or in their old vans on the street. (Sure beats a cardboard box in Phili, right?)

The Shul is literally on the boardwalk. The doors are open to the foot traffic on the beach. Our Shul has welcomed many homeless men and women, hardcore drug addicts, transvestites from the Venice boardwalk and others who found their way into our shul for services and Kiddush. We don't push them away, nor do we push anyone else away, unless they are clearly, high, drunk or appear dangerous.

There is a fellow who comes from a Chabad family in Montreal, who is not Frum himself, but grew up in the Chabad tradition. Back in the day, he made a lot of money with the Bugle Boy Jeans Company. He traveled the world spending half a million dollars over the course of his travels Now he is in his 50's and penniless, living in his classic van on the streets of Venice. He gets by selling beautiful prints and canvasses of Jewish photographs that he took in his travels around the world (when he had money). Since I have become the Rabbi in Venice, he has been coming to the shul more often and we have developed a bit of a rapport.

He's a very nice guy, he does look homeless and usually smells like cigarettes but is a good guy overall.

Here's the issue. Business is not good. The artwork is not selling. He used to pull in around 1K over the weekend. Now he's luck y if he gets $60-$80. The Venice boardwalk can be a violent place. He has been subject to a couple of attacks and his car has been vandalized. He wants out. He is not a citizen, nor can he get a green card. If he returns to Canada, he gets the benefits of their robust welfare system and can get himself back on his feet (theoretically if he wants to). Now he is scraping by, living in his van, eating bread and milk (- that's all) and showering at the Y.

He has been asking me to purchase some artowrk for our shul to help him "get out". Every time he tells me his predicament my heart goes out to him. Call me a softy but I cannot bear to see his dire situation. Plus, the look on his face of utter defeat tears me up inside.

He needs 16 tanks of gas plus food to get back to Canada. It's about $1000. Let's assume he has no other viable, realistic quick-fix options. Am I crazy if I give him Tzedaka funds? Is there any way he actually uses it to do what I say? Even if he does, does he deserve Tzedaka money? What should I do?

The Shul has a Tzedaka fund and can afford to help this guy out with either a gift, loan or by purchasing some pricier artwork. This post is about what the appropriate course of action is at this time. What do you think we should do?

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Churchill who?

According to an email discovered last week in my in-box, Winston Churchill hated Muslims. [This is more or less what it said] This message was sent by one of my friends, a notorious re distributor of dirty jokes and rabid RW political messages. At the top, he helpfully added: And this was 100 years ago!! [sic]

Such, I suppose, is the state of the discourse.

I saw three ways to reply.

First, the good old "So what?" Do we really care what Winston Churchill thought? Is he suddenly the supreme religious and morality expert of all time? Great, he hated Muslims. As an early 20th century Englishman he likely hated Jews, blacks, women, and children, too. Are we required to embrace all his views on everything? By what authority? He may have saved England from the Nazis, but this doesn't obligate us to imitate his every example.

My second thought was to hoist my friend on his own petard. As a RW, dirty-joke-loving loon, my friend is very soft on torture. I thought it might interest him to learn that good old Winston thought torture was of "doubtful utility." Moreover, during the London blitz when every night was a little 9/11, and hundreds of Nazi agents were held in British prisons, Churchill was firm: No torture. In fact, Col. Robin Stephens, the man in charge of Latchmere House, the jail where Hitler's spies were held, said this, "Violence is taboo, for not only does it produce answers to please, but it lowers the standard of information." Chris Hitchens reports that Stephens fired one of his interrogators after the man smacked a Nazi on the head. Though we might not agree with this approach, Churchill admired it, and someone who blindly accepts Churchill on Islam should also accept him blindly on torture.

Finally, I thought it interesting that my friend thought it significant that Churchil expressed his anti-Islam views 100 years ago. [And this was 100 years ago!! [sic]] Shouldn't this be expected? Wasn't the word a crueler, darker, less tolerant and accepting place back then? And if the point is that views stated long ago by Englishmen carry extra moral value, why stop with Churchil? Instead, of finding an expert from 100 years ago, let's look to the 17th century and King James I (self-announced expert on witchcraft, who took delight in personally interviewing and torturing suspected witches) as our moral light. Or what about Queen Elizabeth I, inveterate hater of Jews and Catholics. She was an Englishmen who lived in the 1560s so surly SHE knew what she was talking about.

In the end, I sent him all three of these arguments. There was no reply, but this morning, right on schedule, I received his daily dirty joke.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

de facto mehadrin

A Guest Post by Rafi G

According to, the famous #2 bus line in Jerusalem - I think it is the bus route with the longest route in Jerusalem, being a circuitous route from Har Nof to the Kotel with 50 stops between 17 "neighborhoods" (granted - it depends what you call a neighborhood), has now "officially become de facto a mehadrin line.

The decision is not an official one made by Egged or by the Ministry of Transportation. Rather, according to, it is by "the decision of the passengers". The passengers have "decided" they will sit on the bus in a mehadrin fashion - men in front and women in back.

Because it is not an official decision to be designated by Egged as mehadrin, but through grassroots activism, the one flaw from their perspective is that women will not be able to alight in the back and get their tickets punched in the rear, but will have to get on in the front of the bus mingling with the men in order to pay.

I have no idea what it means "the passengers decided". Did they take a poll? Did someone collate votes during the ride, passing out questionnaires? Was it an "official decision of passengers" made by a dozen or so passengers and will now impose it on the rest?

Another thing - what is the relevance of this decision made by the passengers? If it is not officially sanctioned and designated, what happens if I get on the bus with my family and sit together with my wife? Will they say something to me? What right will they have to insist I or my wife move to the other side of the bus? If a guy wants to sit in front, and his wife wants to sit in the back, God bless them. Nobody ever forces passengers to sit next to people they don't want to. But without any official status, what is the relevance of this decision? How will they enforce it?

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Something said by Barak Obama that RWers will ignore because it conflicts with the made up lies they enjoy spreading about him

Barack Obama: "I understand very clearly that Israel considers Iran an existential threat, and given some of the statements that have been made by President Ahmadinejad, you can understand why. So their calculation of costs and benefits are going to be more acute. They're right there in range and I don't think it's my place to determine for the Israelis what their security needs are."

A Self-Immolated Post

by the Bray of Fundie
Yesterday we had this.

Editor's note: In this space, Bray asked a question in a manner that offended many readers as you will see from the comments. Instead of accepting my own mild edits, or making the changes himself as I would have preferred, Bray chose to delete the post. - DB

Monday, May 18, 2009


Two weeks I (once again) invited everyone to join my blogroll, regardless of theology or politics. Thirty-eight* Thirty-nine of you said, "Sure. Add me."

It has been done.

(Things I shall not remark upon: No more than 6 of you have bothered to hit the TipJoy jar. I'm sure there is a very good, nay excellent, reason for this, which is why I shall not remark upon it.)

*As I was writing this, someone else responded and asked to be included.

Coming soon to a wig, I mean sheitel, I mean hair piece dealer near you


This could be a big hit in the frum world, and not just because our women wear wigs. Unless, I miss my guess, OJ are also much more germophobic than the average American. Probably has to do with how we're raised from the earliest ages to be on guard against invisible, evil pathogens.

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If You Were Shipwrecked on an Island...

by the Bray of Fundie

If you were shipwrecked on an Island and could bring along only one Jewish Book would it be a khumash/set, a siddur, a tehillim or a gemara/shas?


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Did Bush torture for political reasons?

What's upsetting me today is this observation from Josh Marshell:
"More and more the timeline is raising the question of why, if the torture was to prevent terrorist attacks, it seemed to happen mainly during the period when the Bush crowd was looking for what was essentially political information to justify the invasion of Iraq."
I wish I could say I find this impossible to believe, but I don't. At bottom, Bush was a sneering frat boy with an Oedipal complex. It's not hard at all to imagine the ugly little princling dispatching goons with torture tools to find an excuse - any excuse - to launch the trillion dollar Iraq adventure. From the beginning Bush reeked of incompetence and insecurity. He came to the Oval Office untested, the beneficiary of his father's wealth, reputation, and connections.

He spoke of restoring dignity to the office of the presidency, but instead cavorted like the spoiled rich kid he was, insulting reporters from the podium, and attaching humiliating nicknames to his subordinates. After 9/11 he read a powerful speech from a paper handed to him by his aids, and for a month or two it seemed like he might rise to the occasion. He did not. Instead of making us safer, he made us a mockery. Instead of preserving the Constitution, he sent lawyers like John Yoo looking for loopholes, and for opportunities to augment the power of his office.

Again and again he justified his excesses, his shady secrecy, and what seemed to be a mad power grab by reminding us Big Brother-like that he was only keeping us safe, that his one abiding interest was the defense of this country. I thought he was wrong to sacrifice so much liberty for the sake of temporary safety (see Benjamin Franklin) but I believed that at least HE believed that he was breaking the law, and setting dangerous precedents for the sake of making us safer.

But now? Now, I think its altogether likely Bush was full of it.

Friday, May 15, 2009

My eyes! My soul! My Shabbos!

The advertisment seen above was sent today by the YeshivaWorldNews to those of us still too lazy to report him to the spam authorities. Said the very great BOTH:

How absolutely UNTZNIUSDIK! And it was sent just before shabbos too! I am very upset. Little children could have seen the e-mail. Or talmedim from Yeshiva Chaim Berlin! The horror, the horror!

I don't recall what YWN said when Chaim Berlin went to war with the wig store, but I suspect they supported the Yeshiva.

Related: 1 (627 comments) and 2

The breastfeeding battle continues

The OrthoFile answers MII's post from April 24.

In short: OrthoFiles says it immodest to nurse in shul. This coincides with my own view, though I do not agree with her that lenienies and accommodations are impossible. Let every congregation decide for itself. Some shuls want to make room for mothers and children; others do not. So long as the policy of the shul honestly reflects the value of its members either approach is valid.

My new torture trump card

From now on whenever torture apologists tell me that Bush and his operatives simply had to break the law because the alternative was to endanger national security and American lives, I'm going to ask them about Dan Choi.

Time permitting, I'll also show them this.

Your sweet summary: Dan Choi is an Arabic speaking linguist, and a West Point graduate with valuable skills who was dismissed from the US military after owning up to being a homosexual. Seems to me that if we're going to make one exception to the rule of the law after another under the theory that the war on terrorism must be won at any cost, we could also make an allowance for an essential gay translator.

As Jon Stewart said: "Water boarding might make a man talk, but it won't get him to speak English."

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The atheist and the m'shaberach

by TikunOlam

I noticed DYS complaining on a recent thread that the DovBear team members aren't pulling their weight. He made me feel guilty, so I thought I'd write about what has been going through my mind the last couple of days.

My son was released from the hospital yesterday after a two day stay for asthma related problems. He is doing well, thank you.

During his stay, our rabbi visited. Our rabbi is not just "our rabbi," his daughter and son-in-law also happen to be two of our closest friends so he is also a family friend. His visit was very much appreciated as I happen to think he is one of the finest men I know, not to mention, great with my son. While he was there, he said a m'shaberach (a prayer, in this case for the sick) for my son.

I am the kind of person who is really good in a crisis. I kept it together from the moment I knew we had to go to the ER, through all the tests and my son's tears, through being told he would have to stay a couple of nights in the hospital. But when my rabbi said the m'shaberach, I lost it.

My husband looked at me and asked, "why is it that the Jewish stuff makes you cry?" He, of course, was referring to the fact that I am a professed atheist. He had also seen the same reaction in me just less than two months before.

A number of weeks ago, I stayed with my sister over shabbat (my sister is OJ) in the hospital after she went through emergency surgery. She is doing great, thank you.

As it happened, the day after her surgery, my oldest had his Torah reading debut in school. His school teaches children to layn as part of the curriculum. Over the course of the school year, each child layns for the grade with parents and grandparents invited to attend. It is considered a very important milestone in the life of a student at this school. As a part of the morning davening that day, the class said a m'shaberach for the ill, and invited the children to come up and offer names of individuals that they knew who were ill. When they did this I was working so hard on fighting back tears that I couldn't even get there to add in my sister's name.

When my husband asked me what was up with all this, all I could respond was that hearing the m'shaberachs made it really hit me how sick my son (and my sister) were. He didn't buy it. When I mentioned it to DB (who, BTW, was a very supportive friend through these scary couple of days) he said "You're still someone who was raised OJ. That doesn't go away." Perhaps he is right. Whatever the reason, it certainly gave me pause to think.

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Ta'aseh lee Tovah II

If you have $5 to spare, please hit the tip jar at the top right. If you have more than $5 extra dollars available today, please hit the tip jar more than once, or consider buying a book or making a paypal donation.

Many thanks. I enjoy keeping this blog going, but as of late, blogging hasn't been its own reward as in previous years and months. Some small material indication that you, to whatever infinitesimal degree, value and enjoy what I've been trying to do here since October 2004 would mean quite a great deal to me.


Star Trek Captain Picard Weighs In On Torture

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Sleep in Benji Lovitt's bed

I've never yearned to rest on Benji's matress, but should this be a treat you've secretly desired, the time has come to act on your ambition: click here.

Bonus: You can also cook at the stove where he doesn't cook, and gaze at yourself in his own personal mirror. All for just 2400 NIS.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Mitzvoth, not magic

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

I want to win some of that glory for Yehuda HaNasi. I want celebrations in his honor, celebrations of scholarship, and for the talent for organization that made the Mishna possible.

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

First appearence

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Ghosts of Lag B'omer Past

Here it is: The Lag b'omer Palooza you didn't even know you wanted:

  • Why the Meron pilgrimage is an argument in favor of calling women for aliyot
  • The Lag B'omer bonfire is every bit as foreign as the Yom Hashoa siren. [More]
  • Jameel has translated an article which suggests our lag bomer celebrations came into existance because of a scribal error... [More]
  • Yeshuahs For Sale (act fast) [More]
  • Celebrating after the terror of mass plague: Why in the world is Lag B'omer a holiday? [Read it]
  • Is the bonfire a religioun abomination on the order of insect snacks and sodomy? [Read it]
  • Why don't we do anything for Rabbi Yehudah, author of the Mishna? [Read it]

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Monday, May 11, 2009

Gateways excising photos of women too?

A guest post by Gadolwannabe

When you think that you have seen it all, well look again! It now appears that even our Kiruv organizations, i.e., those who reach out to the non-frum, unaffiliated and OTD have had to toe the line of the Rabbinic Taliban that have taken control of our newspapers, Yeshivas and minds.

Let’s take the case of Gateways, an organization founded by South African Rabbi Mordecai Suchard who has made it his mission to be mekarev those Jews who have very little formal knowledge of the fundamentals of Judaism. In the past few years, Gateways has run retreats, seminars and programs for those who would like to learn more about their heritage and get them to dip their toes in the waters of Torah. To fund these efforts, and to support a large professional staff, Gateways has run retreats for frum Jews for the Yom Tovim which have become some of the most popular, and expensive, getaways for Pesach, Sukkos, Shavous, and even Rosh Hashana. These retreats have attracted a mix of Yeshivish and Modern Orthodox. The presenters and scholars have not only included well known affiliated Rabbanim and guest lecturers such as Rabbi Paysach Krohn, but also female personalities such as Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis. They have elaborately and extensively promoted their programs and lecturers in glossy brochures and on their web site:

A few months ago, Gateways posted on its web site and distributed to those on its mailing list a brochure advertising their 2009 Shavous program which included lectures by Rebbetzin Jungreis. The Rebbetzin has been a regular lecturer of Gateways on Shavous. As you will note from the brochure, a picture of Rebbetzin Jungreis as well as of Mrs. Debbie Greenblatt, a staff presenter, were prominently displayed. Now, look at the same brochure which appears on the Gateways web site today. Sure enough, the pictures of Rebbetzin Jungreis and of Mrs. Greenblatt have been removed.

I can understand Hamodia or Mishpacha excising photos of Israeli female Ministers. They are playing to their constituents. But Gateways? Their constituents are supposed to be the Lost Souls of Israel who have been partying and eating chazer and for whom Gateways is supposed to be a lifeline to redemption. Where is the inclusivity and attraction when 50% or more of the population is consigned to the cutting room floor? Is Gateways afraid that their Yeshivish clientele will desert them if the Rebbitzin shows off her blond sheitel? Not, really. I have been at the Gateways Shavuos retreat and the Rebbetzin draws a larger audience that Rabbi Krohn, including many men.

Unfortunately, Gateways is another organization that does not have the cahones to stand up to the kanoim and bearded Taliban lunatics that are running the asylum. Where is Moshe Rabbeinu when you need him?

Redeeming First-born Donkeys

by the Bray of Fundie

Seems we've developed a tastes for seeking out new and exotic Mitzvos while routinely ignoring or transgressing the ones that confront us daily.
I've got an aesthetic gripe as well. To me the decorations adorning the newborn Donkey are:

  1. Historically inauthentic. I somehow doubt that in ancient Israel, in an agrarian society of farmers and ranchers that may have featured many such pidyonos in a herd in any given year, that the ranchers bothered with dressing up the First-born Donkeys.
  2. The decorations seem kitsch and garish. Who came up with this idea/design? It looks to me like something more appropriate for a grade school arts and crafts project than for a community wide once in a lifetime Mitzvah observance.
  3. Is Tzaar Baalei Khayim not a factor? In the video I link to below the donkey seems a bit uncomfortable. Just leave the poor beast alone and get it over with as swiftly as possible
  4. Is the donkey the "kheftza" the Mitzvah or the sheep that it is being redeemed with? It seems to me that as the sheep is what will ultimately be the gift to the Kohen IT should be getting all dolled up, or maybe both animals, but why ONLY the donkey?
To see a video of the recent Melbourne community First-born Donkeys redemption click here.
What's next? A"snuff film" about a rancher who chose option "B" (
יג וְכָל-פֶּטֶר חֲמֹר תִּפְדֶּה בְשֶׂה, וְאִם-לֹא תִפְדֶּה וַעֲרַפְתּו="And every firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb; and if thou wilt not redeem it, then thou shalt break its neck)
How would such a donkey be decorated??? With a black hood?

Search for more information about the first born donkey redemption at

Abortion in Israel; frum pregnancies in America

Another execllent post by A Mother in Israel: Abortion in the Religious Zionist Community

Under discussion, is an article by Yifat Erlich in Makor Rishon which profiles frum couples who aborted pregnancies because of health problems with the fetus. These types of abortions are legal in Israel, and also permitted by halacha (according to most).

In her post, MII also tells a story about Rabbi Shlomo Aviner which helps explain why it is essential that abortion remain legal in the United States.

According to MII, Rabbi Aviner promised to "stand beside" older women who chose to become pregnant. This was widely understood to mean that he would permit abortions in the event that any of the health defects common to late pregnancies (for instance Downs Syndrome) were discovered.

The Rabbi's reasoning seems simple: Allow frum women to undergo halachicly permitted abortion, and more frum older women will become pregnant. More frum pregnancies mean more frum Jews.

If abortion is outlawed in the US, these mutar abortions will no longer be permitted here. If older Jewish women are denied the right to undergo these halachicly permitted abortions, many won't risk becoming pregnant at all. Thus, a total ban on abortion will interfere with Jewish families, in a way that is contrary to halacha.

Any frum Jewish woman's decision on abortion should remain between her and her doctor, her husband, and her rabbi. If the RW Christians win the abortion debate, this decision will instead be made by the state, and the result, as Rabbi Aviner feared, might well be fewer frum pregnancies.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Ta'aseh lee Tovah (do me a kindness)

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Thank you, and may we be forever zoche to do favors for each other.

Celebrating Zionism

A (belated) guest post by DANIEL

Today is Israel's birthday. In recent months I have become notorious among my friends as an often-harsh critic of Israel. But, even for those who bitch about Israel 364 days a year, today is a day to celebrate. And indeed, there is a lot to celebrate. The establishment of Israel 61 years ago was the culmination of the Zionist dream. From a cultural perspective, Zionism is perhaps the single most important movement in Judaism's long history. Zionism allowed Jews to re-create a national culture in their ancestral homeland. Zionism revived the once-dead Hebrew language. Zionism promoted for the first time in two millenia the establishment of Jewish institutions such as universities, hospitals, and theatres. Zionism fostered outstanding contributions to mankind in science and in the arts. Zionism gave downtrodden and oppressed Jews around the world a fresh reason to hold their heads high. Zionism brought Jews out of the ghettos and into all facets of life. Zionism provided a central address for Jews of different backgrounds and traditions, separated for centuries, to embrace a common ground. Zionism gave Jews, the world's perpetual refugees, a place to call home.

Click here to read the rest of Celbrating Zionism
Today is about celebrating these accomplishments, but also about reflecting on them. In Israel, independence day is linked to remembrance day for fallen soldiers for precisely this reason. The accomplishments I listed are all of a cultural nature - from a cultural perspective, Zionism was an unparalleled and indeed a vital success for the Jewish People. Yet the movement is fraught with internal divisions, inherent contradictions, and even today lacks clear definition. What is Zionism? Today the term is used to denote political support for the State of Israel, but historically it referred to a movement for the re-establishment of a Jewish "homeland" in Palestine. The World Zionist Organization was formed in 1897, but as late as 1919 its general secretary emphatically denied that the creation of an independent Jewish state was or ever had been a part of the Zionist programme.[1]

Clearly then, there is more to Zionism than the idea of a Jewish State. Most of the great Jewish minds of the last century - including Einstein, Freud, Kafka, Arendt, Chomsky, Buber, Ben Yehuda, and Ahad Ha'am - saw in Zionism the potential for a Jewish social and cultural revival, but opposed Herzl's idea of an ethnically Jewish state.[2] In fact, Herzl is in many ways the antithesis of everything positive that Zionism has achieved. Herzl saw Jewish culture as inferior. He initially favoured assimilation over nationalism, and promoted mass conversion to Christianity as the answer to the "Jewish question."[3] Only after the Dreyfus Affair did Herzl realize that assimilation could not succeed and he began to advocate for a Jewish state. To Herzl, Judaism was an ethnicity and nothing more. The state he envisioned would have nothing to do with Jewish culture or religion - it would be a colonial German-speaking state in Argentina or Uganda modelled after secular European culture.[4] He even saw anti-Semites as his allies in driving the Jews out of Europe.[5] Herzl's Zionism was not in any way a product of Judaism (it was the furthest thing from it), but of European ethnonationalism. Ethnonationalism is about building military strength, seizing land, and preserving the dominance of one ethnic group. Yet this dangerous and discredited ideology has shaped Zionism since its inception.

I am proud of Israel, not for the strength of its army or the resilience of its economy, but for the cultural renewal it brought to the Jewish People. Zionism might be one of the most important movements in the history of Judaism, but the key is to never forget that as a Jewish movement Zionism should be subservient to Judaism, not the other way around. We must not redefine our 4000-year-old religious and cultural identity to conform with a 110-year-old political ideology. Early Zionists tried to blur the lines, couching their secular aims in the language of divine redemption and commodifying religious artifacts like the Western Wall (which Yeshayahu Leibowitz referred to as the discotel)[6]. The tragedy is that Jews have begun to define themselves according to Zionism, rather than defining Zionism in terms of their Judaism. Striving for exclusive political sovereignty over the land of Israel is not a part of Judaism - we are not crusaders, duty-bound to liberate our holy sites from the hands of infidels. For most of our history, we lived in exile, and even when we were in our homeland we were usually ruled by foreigners - Romans, Greeks, Persians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Egyptians, etc - the Davidic dynasty reigned for only a few generations, and hardly defines who we are as a people. Clearly, exclusive Jewish political sovereignty is not a requirement for our cultural and spiritual fulfillment.

Today, on the day of celebration of Zionism's fruition, we need to contemplate what Zionism means to us. Zionism as ethnonationalism, as systemic inequality against Israel's Arabs and military oppression of the Palestinian people, is something that I will continue to fight at every turn. Zionism as Jewish cultural rebirth is what I choose to celebrate. We must be careful not to conflate the two, as many have done and many continue to do. I take offense when I see symbols of my religion confused for symbols of occupation. We should not accept the status quo. We need to question the defunct ethnonationalist premises of Herzl's Zionism. I adhere instead to the Zionism of Buber and Ginsberg. Why should the ideals that our ancestors fought and died for - separation of Church and State, universal emancipation, the abolition of ethnic quotas - apply in all other states where we live but not in our own.

Could Zionism have achieved its cultural victories without its ethnonationalist element? Probably - many of Israel's great cultural institutions, like Hebrew University, Hadassa Hospital, the Technion, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, numerous theatre and cinema companies, the modern Hebrew language, and the city of Tel Aviv, were established long before Israel's political independence. Until the outbreak of violence in the 1920s when ethnonationalism became official Zionist policy, local Arabs could be persuaded to cooperate with Zionist objectives, including the mass immigration of European Jews, and govern Palestine jointly (see for example the Faisal-Weizman Agreement)[7]. If early Zionists had not chosen to pursue ethnonationalism - the establishment of a state exclusively for Jews on shared land - then perhaps cultural renewal could have been attained without touching off a war of civilizations that will last for generations. Without consigning millions of Palestinians to live as refugees, millions of Jewish youths to military service, tens of thousands on both sides to death, and trillions of dollars to warfare.

But we should focus on the future, not the past. The Jewish State is here to stay. It has done a lot of good and it has done a lot of bad, and one does not cancel out the other. The positive things that Zionism has brought to Judaism and the world exist independently of the bad things it has brought; we can and should celebrate the good and at the same time address the bad. Currently the two-state solution is the most realistic framework for moving forward. Let's work on continuing to steer Zionism toward the ideals that guided us in the past, the ideals of liberalism and justice. There is no principle more quintessentially Jewish than "love your neighbour as yourself,"[8] and I contend that Israel cannot be a truly Jewish state until it embraces this most basic tenet (not in a hippy let's-hug-our-enemy way, but in a treating-the-other-as-human way) in relation to its Palestinian neighbours, who are currently commemorating their nakba under one of the most oppressive military occupations of the modern era. Though we acknowledge their suffering, let us celebrate the incredible achievements of Zionism even as we recognize the enormity of the work that remains.

Happy Independence Day.

[1] Nahum Sokolow, History of Zionism 1600-1918 (London : Loggmans, Green, 1919) at p. xxiv. I wasn't sure what to make of this when I came across it online, but I checked the primary source and it is legit. Sokolow, who was then general secretary of the WZO (and was later its president) wrote explicitly that Zionism did not call for an independent Jewish state and that this was merely a fabrication propagated by anti-Zionists to discredit the movement.
[2] Cultural Zionism is a movement largely credited to Ahad Ha'am (Asher Ginsberg) which called for the establishment of a Jewish home in Palestine while respecting the rights of its native inhabitants and opposing a Jewish ethnocracy. For more detailed sources relating to the figures named above, ask me, but for the sake of brevity I will only quote Einstein: “I should much rather see reasonable agreement with the Arabs on the basis of living together in peace than the creation of a Jewish state... My awareness of the essential nature of Judaism resists the idea of a Jewish state with borders, an army, and a measure of temporal power... I am afraid of the inner damage Judaism will sustain.” (
[3] Daniel P. Hadley, Catholicism, France and Zionism: 1895-1904 ( at para. 11, note 12. Herzl went so far as to try to enlist the Pope's help in converting Jews en masse to Christianity. See also: note 5.
[4] Wikipedia it. See also: note 5.
[5] The movie referenced can be watched here:\english\Herzel-eng.wmv . Warning: the sources it uses are all reliable and academic, but the movie has a very extremist religious agenda. Some pretty shocking stuff, but worth a look.
[7]!OpenDocument especially art. iv.
[8] According to tradition, the scholar Hillel referred to that sentence as comprising the entire Torah, and all the rest as merely commentary.

Search for more information about Zionism at