Monday, November 30, 2009

Pasha Notes: Vayetze 2009

Understanding Rashi
In a famous comment Rashi attempts to work out the dates of various events in Jacob's life; following a midrash, he says Jacob spent 14 years in the tents of Eiver. Shem is not mentioned*. Why? Basing himself on the verse, and "Jacob sat in tents" (plural) Rashi deduces that Shem and Ever each had their own academy. Shem, who survived the flood, was an opponent of the immoral behavior that caused it; Ever who lived during the time of the Tower of Babel was an opponent of the mistaken ideas about God that made such a thing possible. Jacob, who was on his way to live with an idol worshipper, went for fortification in the tents of Eiver. This, incidently, some say is why Abraham, the champion monotheist, is called an Ivri. (They're wrong, but its an intriguing idea)

*When Rivka goes to inquire about her pregnancy, some versions of Rashi exclude Eiver, but this is likely a scribal error; older versions say she went to them both.

Two way Torah
Is the ladder a message or vision, or is it simply part of an event that Yaakov witnessed? Also, where was the ladder? Some midrashim put it in Beer Saheva, others in Jerusaelm, and others north of Jerusalem in Beth El.

Political midrashim
Uninterpreted, the ladder story sounds for all the world like a "ringing endorsement of the Temple built [in Bethel] by Yeravam to replace the one in Jerusalem." (lurker) Its the ultimate George-Washington-slept-here-story. Not only did the famous Patriarch spend the night on the future site of Yeravam's Temple, he also erected a marker and promised to build a house of worship on that very spot. The midrshaim that seek to put Jacob at Mount Moriah instead, or, in the case of the famous contracting-land midrash, to put him at both Moriah and simultaneously, sound for all the world like interpretive dances performed to escape/erase what the verses plainly say: Yaakov slept and dreamt in Bethel. More

- Per J.P. Fokkelman stones are Jacob's personal motif. He puts one under his head (or per Rashi alongside it) rolls another away from the well, and uses a pile to mark his treaty with Lavan.

- We have another betrothal scene this week, in which Jacob echoes his mother's superhuman feat of watering ten camels by rolling away a tremendous rock on his own. Jacob appears here as the antithesis of his father, who sent a surrogate to his own well-side betrothal scene, where the woman, not the man, performed the act of strength.

- We also have the undoing of the main Genesis motif: Over and over again the younger brother is pushed, or pushes, ahead of the older. This week Leah was pushed by her father ahead of her younger sister Leah

- Rachel's plea to Jacob has the characteristics of other annunciation scenes, but instead of beseeching God, Rachel goes to her husband who tells her pointedly"Am I instead of God?" She then falls back on Sarah's strategy.

Incomplete teaching
We all were taught the Leah had eyes that were
rackh tender from crying; the Targum Onkeles, however, reads rackh as beautiful. [A related post and classic comment thread in the life of the blog]

Word Play
As Berashis Rabba pointed out first, Lavan deceives Yaakov, just as Yaakov deceived Yitzchak. Yaakov was deprived by the darkness of his sense of sight just as his father was deprived by blindness. The point that the deception with brides is poetic justice for the deception with the blessings is driven home by Lavan who says "It is not done in OUR place to put the younger girl before the firstborn" referring to Leah, not as the "elder", but as the "bechirah." The suggestion is that maybe in YOUR place the younger jumps ahead, but not here.

Jacob waters (וַיַּשְׁק) the sheep, then kisses (וַיִּשַּׁק) Rachel. Elsewhere, Jacob's sheep are called "rechaylim." (Mar Gavriel)

Duda'im (mandrakes) is close to dodim (lovemaking)

Rachel names her second surrogate child Naftali which plays on
naftulim grappling, suggesting a correspondence between her relationship with her older sister and Jacob's relationship with his own older sibling. Rachel's first spoken words however (Give me children or I am a dead woman) echo the first spoken words of Esav who said he would die without food. (Alter)

- The word "well" appears seven times in the story of Jacob and Rachel's meeting

During the ladder episode, is the Lord standing over Jacob, or is he at the top of the ladder (which, Alter insists, is actually a ramp)?

Jacob's promise to God is characteristic of his habit of deal making. His pledges to create a place of worship for the Lord, and to tith his wealth is contingent and will be kept only "IF the Lord guards... and brings me back to my fathers house."

How is it that a fine Torah true Jew like Yaakov married sisters? More

The mandrake puzzles on many levels


Today's Chillul Hashem: East Ramapo School District

I'd like to know why someone would hire a controversial attorney in an underhanded way at more than double the current rate.

Can you think of a good reason?

I can't.

Yet, this is what the Hasidim who make up the majority of the East Ramapo School Board have done. Though they were elected, supposedly, on a money-saving platform, they went out and hired a lawyer at $500 per hour, when they currently pay $125 per hour. And they did this without consulting with the non-Jewish members of the board, without inviting them to meet the new attorney, and with the help of several procedural irregularities.

The new lawyer is Albert D'Agostino, who has been accused of receiving public pensions improperly by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. My sources in Lawrence tell me these charges are connected to his work for the Lawrence School Board, another school board recently taken over by Orthodox Jews who do not use the public schools.

If you watch the video of the meeting, its clear as day the Hasidim are scamming. They insisted on having the vote that night (see part 4) over the firm and outraged objection of the superintendent, and were unwilling even to wait three weeks to allow the other board members to meet the new lawyer. They presented no transition plan and confessed to not having had transition discussions with the outgoing attorneys. In the words of the superintendent (part 5) to do such a thing is "insane". When the superintendent asked where the district would find the money to pay the new, higher fees, the leader of the Hasidim refused to provide a straight answer.

Source: Lo-Hud

Search for more information about slimy, thieving, immoral, crooked Jews who bring shame on us all at

Review | iTalmud English Edition for iPhone

A Guest Post By E. Fink

I love technology and I love Talmud. So imagine how excited I was when I found out that I could learn Talmud on my iPhone!

For the last few weeks I have been testing an incredible iPhone app. iTalmud English Edition (warning: link will open iTunes) is one the best apps I have ever used on the iPhone.

iTalmud English Edition is a very powerful tool that anyone that wishes to study or research anything in the Talmud must have.

Yeshiva Sues For Tuition Bill (Redux)

A Guest Post By E. Fink

(This was originally posted Friday afternoon, the death penalty conversation dominated the threads over the weekend, as this is a pertinent and interesting topic, this post has been reposted)

HAFTR is a very large modern orthodox school in the 5 Towns.

Apparently they are owed a lot of money from quite a few families.

One family came home to a summons. HAFTR is suing the family for a $10,000 bill.

Legally, a tuition contract is a binding contract. When you sign on that dotted line you are binding yourself to pay the agreed upon amount. Not everyone pays what they promise. The schools have been left with little recourse in attempts to recover accounts that are in arrears.

Is this the start of a new trend?


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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Unalienable Rights


More on the death penalty:

I would not have sentenced Hitler to death. He should have been incarcerated in Spandau with Hess, although I might have been tempted to make the guards Jewish, gypsy and gay (none of whom would have been happy about serving with the others - sigh).

I believe the death penalty is morally wrong. That isn't a religious issue, although I note the Talmud's support (in its majority view) with gratitude. By the way - that is how it can be a progressive and Orthodox position.

It is morally wrong because we do not - apart from a few idiots - believe that an eye for an eye should be taken literally. Because just as we become contaminated when we occupy territories, we become contaminated when we behave like murderers. Because we add to death the cruelty of naming a day and ritualising the event. Because we invite people to witness that private moment when a person departs the world. Because we replace compassion at that ultimate moment with vengeance, satisfaction and dispassion.

That some - by no means all - of these things are also stances adopted by the criminal are irrelevant. If this is not vengeance then what does that matter? And if we kill to take revenge then how can we expect to limit such behaviour to the death penalty for murderers? Do you believe that it is helpful to teach a society's young people that some wrongs do justify revenge? I don't.

War is entirely different. War is justifiable only when a country decides that it needs to survive by defending itself or by acting aggressively in defence. Such a recognition removes from the equation a consideration of an individual opponent's position. That enemy soldier - taken as an individual - almost certainly does not deserve to die. But that is not the justification for killing him. The justification is that there are times when an individual's fate is not the consideration.

Now that - paradoxically - is Dud's justification. And in advancing capital punishment as a necessary step in the war against anything that he does not believe in, he (inadvertently) raises an important point. That is that a war must be justified. If it cannot be justified then it is no more than indiscriminate killing with a convenient excuse. That is exactly what Dud advocates and that is why his views are repugnant.

The liberal left go wrong in two areas. Firstly, they say that each death in a war must be justified. That is not so. War is indiscriminate by its nature and the need to protect the country/society means that mistakes - if made - must be tolerated. Not glorified and not immune from being eliminated in future operations, but tolerated. Secondly, the liberal left insists that there must be an objective justification. By that they mean - of course - that they must agree with the decision. That is not so. The test can only be whether the decision to go to war was reasonable, rather than whether it was correct. That test acknowledges that some questions may have more than one right answer.

The answer to your question about risking the innocent is that all these decisions carry risks. For every chance that the incarcerated criminal will communicate with others, there is a chance that the dead criminal will attract bizarre and dangerous followers who glorify him because he is dead. Possibly the most dangerous neo-Nazi group in Europe is Combat 18 (=AH, the 1st and 8th letters of the alphabet). They have at least 15 deaths to their credit in the last 2 years and they glorify a dead man.

Moreover, if it wrong to kill then the risk that leaving the person alive will cause danger must be demonstrated. It rarely is. If someone is locked up it is rare indeed that they can cause such trouble. The Mafia provide a good example. When imprisoned they lose command. So too with Palestinian prisoners in Israel. Israel may ultimately have to release Barghouti, precisely because he cannot command a following in prison. And he is regarded as a political prisoner, thus having some moral clout from being locked up. Your average criminal does not even engage that issue. The point is a poor one and a red-herring. It is accordingly beloved of Dud.

Finally, this is not about the civil rights of murderers. It is about us. Just as the argument about the occupation in the West Bank is not about the Palestinians. We are the people who are at risk from the creation of a violent society in which murder is authenticated and the only difference between a Governor and a criminal is the nature of their authority. Like it or not, the USA - which permits guns and puts people to death - is the most violent democratic society there is. I believe that those things are connected. That is why an airtight case (as against Hitler) is irrelevant.

Which is not to say that the USA insists on airtight cases. It is a dreadful blot on your country that too many defenders in capital cases are short on experience and ability. I have assisted one convicted murderer in the USA. I would not have permitted his original attorney to defend a shoplifter. The Court took the view that this was irrelevant. I can only assume that they had not put themselves in my client's position.

However I don't want to let this pass without dealing with civil rights. We do not, as a rule, say that the way a person behaves determines whether they have basic rights or not. Rather,
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
The key word is 'unalienable'. Accordingly, the way in which we deal with the most difficult cases is the test of how a society measures up to its expectations. Murderers are the most difficult cases. It is not for us to alienate their rights. Instead, via incarceration and punishment we attenuate them. The two things are very different. Quite apart from anything else, only one (death) is permanent and cannot be undone if we are shown to be wrong. I would have thought that to be the most moral argument of all.

Periodically the UK discusses bringing back the death penalty. I have concluded that, were it to do so, I would resign my judicial appointment. A legal system must deal with a society's difficult cases in a human way, which acknowledges that some of the things we most want to do are bad for us, and which permits of the ability to recover from an error. Capital punishment offends against both principles.

PS. I chose the image with considerable care, selecting one without a dead man in the frame. If it upsets you then please reflect on why you might contemplate supporting the act being photographed.

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Friday, November 27, 2009

Bollywood Hava Nagila Rip off

Not so odd, perhaps, when you consider some of the odd places Hebrew music pops up (e.g. at hockey games or on WFNA broadcasts) but still...

Interpretations of Jacob's ladder

[RELATED: Don't miss this classic DovBear Post: We all were taught the Leah had eyes that were rackh tender from crying; the Targum Onkeles, however, reads rackh as beautiful. Read the hysterical and educational thread that resulted when I pointed this out]

Jacob's night vision is one of the bible's strangest stories. On the run from Esav, he stops to rest and dreams of a ladder stretching to the heavens with angles going up and down upon it. At the top is the Lord, who speaks: I am the LORD, the God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac. The land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed. And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south. And in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee whithersoever thou goest, and will bring thee back into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of [Mechon Mamre translation]

Points to ponder: Why a ladder, and why a dream? [Note: Alter translates it as ramp, noting that the language used here is similar to the language used to describe the migdal baval which was, likely, a ziggurat.] If the Lord wished to speak to Jacob and deliver to him the latest variation of His promise to Abraham's family, why complicate matters with the ladder vision?

There are, generally, two answers:

(1) The ladder was a message in its own right. What it means is any one's guess, and everyone from Philo to Leviticus Rabba to Samson Rephael Hirsch have attempted to interpret it. Some of these interpretations work together; others are mutually exclusive. Some interpreters say the foot of the ladder was at Bethel, others say the foot was at Beer Sheva, the midpoint was at Jerusalem, and the top was over Bethel. There's no one universally accepted view here.

(2) The ladder was neither part of the dream nor part of the vision. This is the approach taken by Rashi, who says that angles are assigned specific territories, and that while Jacob slumbered and dreamt, those angles who had been escorting Jacob in Israel returned to heaven, while their replacements descended. Another manuscript of Rashi says (source unknown) that the angels going up to heaven were those who had been sent to visit Abraham 100s of years earlier. They had sinned by telling Lot about God's plan to destroy Sedom, and the punishment was a ban from heaven that expired on the night of Jacob's dream A more precious idea, found in the Talmud (Chulin 91b) and also in the Targum Neofiti, is the angles wished to gaze upon Jacob.

Chulin says the angles came to see if the genuine Jacob as he actually lived on earth, could be compared with the reputation he enjoyed in heaven; Berashis Rabba develops the idea and says the angles were disappointed with what they found: "up above they saw his picture engraved as Israel glorifying God, they came down and found him fast asleep" and were so disturbed by the display of disrespect "they intended to endanger his life." Both Chulin and the Midrash read מַלְאֲכֵי אֱלֹהִים, עֹלִים וְיֹרְדִים בּוֹ not as "angels of God ascending and descending on IT, ie the ladder but on HIM, ie. Jacob.

Targum Neofiti has the same reading, but a more favorable take, saying that Jacob's celestial escort ascended the ladder to invite the other angles to "Come and see the righteous man whose likeness is set upon the divine throne."

Interestingly enough, the author of the gospel of John seems to have "learned like Chulin," assigning to Jesus the following words: "Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man."

As John interprets the story, the ladder was not a message or a vision but the actual merging of heaven and earth, repeated when Jacobs decendants stood at Sinai, with real angles coming to catch a glimpse of Jacob.

[RELATED: Don't miss this classic DovBear Post: We all were taught the Leah had eyes that were rackh tender from crying; the Targum Onkeles, however, reads rackh as beautiful. Read the hysterical and educational thread that resulted when I pointed this out]

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Welcome Celebrity Death Penalty Supporters

See Dudley Sharp, who has recently joined the DovBear commenting community, arguing with some talk show host in favor of life imprisonment for children. Dudley is a prolific supporter of capital punishment. His essays, comments, and op-eds can be found all over the Internet. We confess to not understanding why someone would commit quite that much energy toward the goal of getting people killed - including those who may have been convicted by mistake - but to each his own. We welcome him to the threads, and hope his attitude may become moderated via daily exposure to SM, E_Fink, Tziporah, CA, and the other furiously wise progressives who live here.

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Everything you ever wanted to know about DovBear and thanksgiving but were afraid to ask

Beware of Thanksgiving grinchs (great thread)

Lo Yisa Goy

The Oregon Hillel Jewish acappella group

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

When did the name change take effect?

Curious. It says Yaakov called the place Bethel, though Luz was its original name. When did this change take effect? Did the townspeople down the hill take into account Yaakov's decision and immediately order new stationary, municipal seals and so on? Seems unlikely right? So when did Luz really become Bethel?

If you're an entrepreneur or business owner who needs help with the "little tasks" in your business (making & confirming appointments, booking travel, sending gifts and cards to your clients, updating your Twitter, LinkedIn, Blog, Facebook, & YouTube accounts, and more), you can now have an Ivy League-educated, former Fortune-500 employee assist you.

Secretary in Israel will match with you an American virtual executive assistant to work with you on a part-time basis (as few as 5 hours/week). Working with your new virtual executive assistant will enable you to focus on what you do best--meeting with your clients--while she handles the rest!

Reeks of the shtetel

Does your kid's school also run a sexist and unprofessional chanuka gelt shakesdown scheme or is mine the only one?

Here's what was received in the mail. [Paraphrased]

Dear Parent:

We're showing our appreciation for the holy rebayim and not so holy teachers by collecting tips. Unless you're comfortable insulting the adult into who's charge your precious child is entrusted for up to 9 hours per day, here is what you have to do: Send in some money. We suggest you give the XX inferiors $10 per child, however the size of the gift of appreciation you wish to bestow upon the holy XYs is left to your discretion. We trust in your munificence. It would be a real shame if anything were to happen to little Shraga Velvel's kneecaps. With Torah blessings, etc etc.

And here is how I'd like to reply:

Dear Moneygrubber:

Sorry sport, but you've already shaken me down for a high 4-figure tuition per kid, plus building fund, dinner obligation, journal obligation, student activity fee, and textbook fee. Why don't you reach into your pocket and give the teachers their bonus dough out of that? As I tell Shraga Velvel, I'm not made out of money, and if you lay one finger on his kneecaps I'll let the IRS and the Labor Department know all about your dishonorable, dishonest labor practices. With "Torah blessings" indeed.

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A pluralism march in Jerusalem

A guest post by YC
Following violent demonstrations at Intel's ultra-Orthodox
Thick and violent demonstrations of ultra-Orthodox Karta
Secular, religious and traditional
Say enough attempts compulsion Orthodox
Unite to restore the city
His sanity, freedom, and mutual respect
Meet in Paris Square parade to start, through the Consumer Hamashbir,
Yehuda Ben Zion Square and finish a big event everyone's freedom and pluralism in Jerusalem

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Retraction and apology

A Guest Post by Rafi G

In a conversation in Twitter yesterday I asked DovBear a rude question, making an assumption about his understanding of how we relate to midrashim.

I hereby publicly, not just on Twitter, apologize to Dovbear for that. I retract my question, considering it was based on a misunderstanding of DBs position, and I apologize for the implication in the question.

It got pretty heated, and if you are not following @dovbear and @gldmeier on twitter (among many other great tweeters in our regular conversations), you have been missing some great conversations...

Search for more information about twitter at

Win a a $25 gift certificate from Oh Nuts

Ok, kids time to register for yet another exciting contest from Oh Nuts.

Here's what you do:

(2) Choose the Hanukkah Gift you like best
(3) Leave a comment on your blog post with the name and url of the gift.

At some point, I'll use my clairvoyant powers to select a deserving winner, and the Oh Nuts people will send you a gift certificate.

Other ways to enter (Enter as often as you like)

(1) Go to the Oh Nuts facebook page and post the url and name of your favorite Hanukkah Gift on the wall. Also, write "I am here via DovBear" (required)

(2) Follow @ohnuts and Tweet:
"Win a free Hanukkah Gift from Follow @ohnuts & Retweet to enter."

The Death Penalty

A Guest Post by E. Fink

Some of you may know that I am a Law Student. I was called upon to present an argument against the Death Penalty. The other two students in my group took the issues of financial feasibility and the issue of "killing the right person". I had to argue that the Death Penalty is immoral.

(The primary arguments for the death penalty are deterrence and retribution. There is no evidence whether capital punishment deters or that it does not deter. Punishing for retribution seems to be driven by vengeance rather than morality or fairness.)

DovBear thought it would be entertaining to present my argument and give you commenters a chance to weigh in. So here goes...

In the USA, murder is against the law. One citizen may not take the life of another. This is a good law and is a basic law in any civilized country. The law is based upon our sense of morality. That means that the starting point when thinking about the morality of taking another's life is, that it is immoral.

Of course there are exceptions. One who fears for his life may defend his life and is justified in killing his would-be murderer. This is called self-defense.

The application of this defense is very specific. There are other defenses or justifications to First Degree Murder but none will serve as a complete defense, they will only mitigate the charge or perhaps affect the sentencing (Defense of another is just like self defense and fleeing felon is under constitutional scrutiny). In other words, taking the life of another is never completely justified unless it to save one's own life.

There should be no exception for the government. The State and Federal Governments have a duty to observe the same laws of morality the citizens must observe. The only moral excuse for killing is in self defense. Self defense can only be argued when the danger is imminent. Once a murderer is apprehended and incarcerated there is no self defense excuse. An incarcerated prisoner poses no imminent danger, thus the taking of his or her life is by definition immoral.

We are not bound to punish criminals by the same heinous acts they committed. The law of our country does not hold lex talionis. We don't punish a criminal with the same act he criminally committed. We shudder at the thought of torturing a torturer or raping a rapist or battering a batterer, how could we be so callous about taking the life of a killer...?

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All I want for Solstice is this:

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Error in the biblical narrative

A guest post by Pen Tivokesh

My son had had his turn, repeating two horrific Sedrah anecdotes that had been taught in school. True I had tolerated only the first one, which was if not factually consistent, at least semi coherent. You see, the second vort was an infantile anagram by some Hasidic Rebbe. I stopped my son mid sentence, and told him that despite his impeccable deliverance, this was a lame vort that had no artistic merit in my opinion. Now that was harsh, and perhaps in retrospect, I should not have done that. Son, I pray that our relationship does not suffer any long term damage as a consequence. Not!

Now it was my turn, my very own Parsha anecdotes. I tell them that in this weeks Sedrah, some commentaries (שפתי חכמים) question the Midrash's reasoning that Isaac was moulded to look just like his father Abraham, to counter those who were sceptical of Isaac's parentage. Given that the look might have been the result of a "Maternal Impression" upon Isaac, with Sarah having gazed upon Abraham often during pregnancy (well not quite, but I didn't want to spell it out to the tee) how would it have resolved the conspiracy theory?

"And next week contains the same error but in the biblical narrative" I add.

"Where is that?" my son asks.

I tell them that Jacob uses "Maternal Imprinting" to increase the quantity of marked sheep within Laban's flock. The boy smiles. He understands that heredity is genetic and that Maternal impression is an out of date and refuted science. I tell them that pregnant women, according to our tradition, ought not to visit the zoo because if they do, they might give birth to a monkey. As my grandma used to say "מען קען זיך פארקוקען".

Also I relate how in the Talmud, Rav Kahana says that Dama Ben Nesina put red dye before a cow so that a red heifer might be born (Avoda Zara 24A), and that the Ya'avetz explains that this was akin to what Jacob had done with the rods before the sheep of Laban. (נ"ב כדרך שעשה יעקב אבינו ע"ה מקלות)

My daughter listening to this Shabbos meal discussion, tells me with a revealing grin that she still believed the stories despite the flaws, "OK", I say smiling, "sure". Perhaps she does, but this in no way inhibits her desire to watch her favourite TV program on the computer come Sunday.

I say that there are some speckled sheep, a breed named Jacob, and that legend has it that this breed descends from the original flock which was unto Jacob our ancestor. I add that just like our own ancestry, this tale too has little basis in reality. The kids laugh.

They are accustomed to my heretical viewpoint. We discuss, we argue and we debate. I do not know if this is a wise path to take, nor do I claim to be motivated by rationality. I have no idea what the consequence of such an education might be. They might take my standpoint, or perhaps might deviate in any direction. A logical possibility though, is that they might become acclimatised to the questions, and thus unlike myself, might settle for mediocre answers.
Search for more information about this weeks parsha at

Monday, November 23, 2009


This is Sababa, a Jewish acapella group at UNC Chapel Hil.

Update: In deference to those who found the Sababa version a little hard on the ears, I give you Rythem and Jews from the University of Chicago.

Carrie Prejean

Was it just a few short months ago that Carrie Prejean was waving around her cross and telling us how Jesus wanted us to live? Now that her eighth sex tape has been discovered, I think its safe to say the former Miss California is just another one of those scolding conservative hypocrites.

Shidduch short cut

Here's some good news for far-flung parents who are shopping for a Lakewood son-in-law. Previously, parents in places like Toronto or L.A. seeking the honor and joy of finding for their daughter a mate who would forever require financial support were inconvenienced by geography and the expense of travel. Now, thanks to the magic of the allegedly asur Internet those difficulties are eliminated. Quote:
Shidduch-Vision is where boys and girls in Shidduchim can meet up to three times via high-quality, commercial-grade video conferencing set up in private homes. This will save time, money and the need to travel. If it’s on target-they continue in person
By "on target" I presume they mean "hot enough to make a trip worthwhile." What goes unmentioned is how much easier this makes it for an attractive girl to snare her kollel prince, while also permitting young Torah scholars to scope out potential dates before committing to an investment of time and money. Otherwise, couldn't they just use the phone?

Bonus Hysteria: the link above includes a video of Lakwooders acting like they've landed on the moon as they sample the snazzy, video-conferencing equipment. And(!) the tablecloth covering the table where the Torah Bachelor sits is is white and unprotected by plastic. Thank Goodness!

Additional Bonus Hysteria: The Rosh Yeshiva and the Mashgiach were both in attendance at the grand opening! (If you don't know who the Rosh Yeshiva and Mashgiach are you're not likely to be using this service, so no worries). Aren't you relived to know these two luminaries had time enough to bless this new enterprise? Here's a tip for Lakewood businessmen: If you want a big PR boost from Lakewood's top two celebrities, don't tell people you sell cars. Tell people you sell cars THAT CAN BE USED BY PEOPLE WHO WISH TO DATE FOR THE PURPOSE OF MARRIAGE! And so on.

Evil prank

A horrible Jewish daughter nearly kills her parents --live and on the radio.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Where did Yaakov sleep?

The verses plainly say Yaakov slept and saw the ramp/ladder in Bes El, yet many midrashim endeavor to put him at Mount Moriah as well or instead. Why?

Answers tomorrow.

The answer, as aptly explained by Lurker:
The entire story of Yaakov at Beit El reads as a ringing endorsement of the Temple built there by Yeravam to replace the one in Jerusalem. Yaakov states, "Surely the Lord is in this place... this is none other than the House of God, and this is the Gate of Heaven!" (Bereishit 28:16-17). The "House of God" seems to be a direct parallel to the term "House of the Lord", used throughout the Tanakh as a reference to the Beit HaMikdash. In fact, so does the very name "Beit El" itself, which Yaakov bestows upon the place.

In case all that isn't clear enough, Yaakov continues and states it straight out, explicitly: In 28:20-22, Yaakov takes an oath that if God will enable him to return to Beit El, then Yaakov (or, by implication, his descendants) will actually construct a temple ("Beit Elohim") there.

Haza"l, theologically descended as they were from the kingdom of Judah rather than Israel, were disturbed by the implications of this endorsement of Yeravam's temple in Beit El, so (in certain midrashim, at least) they tried to recast it as Jerusalem.
Well done Lurker.

Left uninterpreted, the account of Jacob-in-Bethel is the ultimate George-Washington-slept-here-story. Not only did the famous Patriarch spend the night on the future site of Yeravam's Temple, he also erected a marker and promised to build a house of worship on that very spot. The midrshaim that seek to put Jacob at Mount Moriah instead, or, in the case of the famous contracting-land midrash, to put him at both Moriah and simultaneously, sound for all the world like interpretive dances performed to escape/erase what the verses plainly say: Yaakov slept and dreamt in Bethel.

Some additional points:

:: We all take it for granted that Jacob had his vision on Moriah* the spot where the Jerusalem Temple would ultimately be built, just as we all take it for granted that the attempted sacrifice of Isaac occurred there, too. However, neither are directly represented in the text (and, as Nachum Sarna points out, Abraham's decision to bring his own wood makes it unlikely that he had been sent to forested Moriah.) Like the idea that Noah preached repentance for 120 years and Abraham's monotheism, these are interpretations -- not necessarily incorrect interpretations, but interpretations, nonetheless.

:: Bible scholars see the the trip to Bethel as an etiological tale, composed for the purpose of justifying Yeravam's Temple after it had already been constructed. (Richard Elliot Friedman, who says that E, a northern text, was merged with J, the southern book, after the exile of the Northern kingdom, sees Genesis 28 as an example of the combined text, assigning the verses which use the J name of God to the J source (28:13-16), while assigning the promise to build a Temple to E (28: 17-18 and 20-22) I agree this sounds forced.

* Updated to reflect that fact that the verse does say that Issac was taken to "the land of Moriah"; the interpretation (per Sarna) is that this was the Har Habayis, rather then some general region in the desolate wilderness.


Added 10 PM: These are the Vokols, who sing at Pitt.

Added November 24: Rythm and Jews, from the University of Chicago

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The result of the hafganot

A Guest Post by Rafi G

The hafganah of the Eida and its followers against Intel (We should name the weekly Eida Hafgana something like "the what they will protest against next week hafgana") stepped up a notch this week, though the details of that do not interest me all that much.

At hafganot, police provoke, protesters provoke, things get hot, people get hit, people get hurt, people get arrested. The Eida is now complaining that the Gaavad got hit in a scuffle and how dare they, but that is part of the risk of taking part in a [semi-] violent hafgana, so no sympathy from me (though the police could have used more tact and avoided the Gaavad).

What does interest me is a new phenomenon that is being reported by the Haredim website, That is, somebody spray painted the sheim hamefurash on the street leading up to the location of the hafgana. Some rabbonim who saw it said protesters should avoid walkign there, and it is a problem to erase it as well, so they covered it up with carton so people would not inadvertently step on it. The Gaavad himself said it is not a big deal, as a heretic who writes a Torah imbues it with no holiness, and this would be the same.

My point is that this is where the hafganot have taken us. They have done nothing but create fresh hostility and hatred against religion, and they have accomplished nothing in the form of increasing any level of shmiras shabbos by anybody, not publicly nor privately. They are now getting the secular to not just oppose the haredim, but to actually defile the name of God publicly, as a response.

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Friday, November 20, 2009

Pasha Notes: Toldos 2009

What everyone should know
Our midrashim lament Jacob's theft of the brochot, and attribute later Jewish suffering to his crime, as follows: "Three tears did Eisav shed. One dropped from his right eye, one from his left and the third he kept back and that tear has salted our bread of exile with tears and made us taste tears in full threefold measure." (Tahnchuma); and "Anyone who says God is not particular with his pious ones deserves to have his inwards torn out. The forbearance of God grants long credit, but the debt needs to be paid in the end. One cry Jacob caused Eisav to make and that was repaid in Shushan when Eisav's descendant caused Jacob's descendant to cry with a 'loud bitter cry.'(Midrash Raba)

I've always considered these exquisite moral teachings.

Famous Argument
(1) Which mitzvos did the Patriarchs keep? This is a six-way disagreement, with Chizkuni, Rashbam, Rashi, Ibn Ezra, the Ramban and the Seforno all weighing in. Rashi alone says the Patriarchs lived like Rabbinic Jews; the others take a far more limited view. [Summary]

(2) Who did Rivka consult when she went to "inquire of God"? Rashi, of course says it was Shem, but Radak, Rashbam and the midrash have other thoughts. Of note, is the view of Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Yochanan (quoted in Berayshis Raba) that God certainly would not have spoken to a woman, so of course some intermediary was needed.

(3) Was Issac poor? Ibn Ezra says he was; Ramban objects furiously with the immortal: "Now Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra has erred here exceedingly... I'd like to know who blinded the Ibn Ezra, and made it possible for him to write such a thing."

Famous Rabennu Bechaya
Were the twins fraternal or identical? R' Bechaya says the word וַיִּתְרֹצְצוּ comes from the verb root rtsts "struggle"; thus they must have shared a placenta and/or amniotic sac and would have been identical. Rashi seems to say וַיִּתְרֹצְצוּ comes from rts "run" and explains (based on BR 63:6) "When she would pass the doorways of Torah study of Sheim and Eiver(*), Yaakov would agitate and rush to come out. When she would pass doorways of idol-worshipers, Eisov would agitate to come out." Elsewhere (on 25:26) Rashi (**) says the brothers were created with two different drops of sperm; thus they were fraternal. (***)

* Some versions mention Sheim alone, leading to mounds of Rabbinic speculation on Rashi's reasons for omitting to mention Eiver. However, both names appear in other, old Rashi manuscripts.
** The comment to 25:26 begins "I heard an Aggadaic exposition that..." but in some Rashi manuscripts it says instead "I, the scribe, heard an Aggadaic exposition that..."
*** It is not clear that either RB or Rashi were aware of the underlying biology. They lived in an age when children often suffered from diseases and poor nutrition. Its easy to imagine that, in their day, nurture often won out over nature and that even genetically identical twins had different phenotypes. It is also not clear RB understood the consequences of his claim, ie. that one placenta/amniotic sac always results in identical twins.

Famous Rashi
(1) "Eisov is compared to a pig as it is said... When the pig lies down it stretches out its hooves as if to say, "See, I am a clean animal." So, too, those who rob and extort yet make pretensions of being honorable." Rashi doesn't spell it out, but it seems obvious to me that he's speaking of Christians. This short comment, therefore, tells us something about how Christians behaved in Rashi's time, and also what Rashi thought of them.

(2) Why was Isaac blind? There are at least five answers, and how Rashi selected just three of them tells us much about his method.

(3) Why did Rivka tell her son to fetch two goats? How much meat did she plan to feed Isaac? Rashi says it was pesach, and one was needed for the korbon, but problems with this suggestion abound. Another drash is that these two kids allude to the two kids that will be later used for deception. The brothers will use the blood of a kid to deceive Jacob, and Judah will send a kid in payment to Tamar after he is deceived by her. I have no better pshat explanation.

The Sforno defines "Calling out in Gods name" as serving as God's agent on earth through acts of public kindness and generosity. Abraham "Called out in God's name" at the beginning of his Canaanite adventure, and blessings followed almost at once. Yitzchak, on the other hand, did not recognize this, and for a time he was living on Avraham's account; thus he was told (Gen 26:24) "I will bless you for Avraham's sake."As Sforno continues, prior to this dialogue with God, Yitzchak's life was full of strife and arguments with the Philistines. In the very next verse Yitzchak is said to "Call out in God's name." Instantly, his troubles with Abimelech and the herdsmen disappear. The very next time they appear (two verses later) their hats are in their hands, and they are suing for peace.

The annunciation and the sister wife return this week. This week's annunciation differs in that the mother is already pregnant when God's oracle addresses her with a promise about her child; the sister wife story is also different: for the first time there are no plagues and no dreams.

Word Play
As Richard Elliot Freedman notes the prophesy וְרַב יַעֲבֹד צָעִיר is ambiguous. It can mean "and the elder shall serve the younger", but it might also mean "the elder, the younger will serve."

וַיָּרַח אֶת-רֵיחַ בְּגָדָיו, וַיְבָרְכֵהוּ/ and he smelled the scent of his clothing and blessed him
Though the verse says "bigadav" clothing, some sages of the Midrash read is as "bogdov" his traitors. In their imagination Jacob merited blessing because even those descendants of his that became Jewish traitors are valuable before God. [Note: I don't have the date for this midrash so what follows is is a wild irresponsible guess, but I suppose the traitors they had in mind could have been Roman collaborators and/or Judeo Christians.]

Internal Parallels
- Jacob attempts to win his father's heart by cooking a meal (Orach Chayim explaining why Jacob prepared a stew); later in the story Esav attempts to please his mother by taking a non-Canaanite wife

- Esav's וְלָמָּה-זֶּה לִי בְּכֹרָה is similar to Rivka's לָמָּה זֶּה אָנֹכִי

- Goats and garments are used to facilitate a deception here. Another goat will be used for the same purpose in the story of Tamar, and both goat and garment are used by Joseph's brothers to fool his father. The verb meaning recognition (hkr) also appears in all three stories.

- Esav sold his birthright to his younger brother for lentils, later Rachel sells a night with Jacob to her older sister for the mandrake, also a plant.

- Esav's first recorded words in the Torah are impetuous and child-like (Quick give me some of the red, red stew, or I'll die) Rachel's first recorded words have the same quality: "("Give me sons or I am a dead woman!")

Alternative Reading
The MT has יָקֻם אָבִי which is a flat command that can be construed as disrespectful. The same consonants however can be vowalized as yakome, which is jussive, respectful, and fully in keeping with our idea of Esav as the epitome of parental respect.

Number Games
The story of the theft of the blessing contains seven scenes of dialogue, and the word blessing appears seven times. This can't be accidental.

Jacob is called אִישׁ תָּם a phrase suggesting innocence or integrity. In action, though, he is a man of guile and one of few scruples. This week alone he twice deceives his brother, and as Robert Alter has noted, when his mother suggests the plot to steal the blessings Jacob displays no moral compunctions. His only worry is that he might be caught.

Earlier, there is a references only to the land of the Philistines providing room for apologists to defend the text. In Gen 26:2 the anachronism is insisted upon: Abimelech is called King of the Phillistines - though Philistines would not settle on the coast until many years after the Patriarchal period.

The rest of the story
The midrash, as cited by Rashi, says Esav deceived his father with a strange question about straw and salt. There's much more to it I think. 1 and 2.

Why did G-d "relent" to Isaac and Rivka's prayers?

A guest devar torah by N.G.

This Dvar Torah blew me away. When it was clear that they would be unable to have children, Isaac and Rivka prayed, and the Pasuk (21:25) says:

'וַיֶּעְתַּר יִצְחָק לַיהוָה לְנֹכַח אִשְׁתּוֹ, כִּי עֲקָרָה הִו וַיֵּעָתֶר לוֹ ה - "And Isaac entreated the Lord for his wife, because she was barren; and He relented to him"

A gentleman once told R' Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld a short Dvar Torah on this. Why does the Pasuk say " and He relented to him". Does this not seems an odd way of saying that G-d heard and heeded his prayer?


Thanks, DH, for drawing my attention to this great post from 2005, and the LOL hysterical comment thread beneath it.

Moron Christians Fire First Shot in Bogus War on Christmas -- and miss!

I've never understood why Christian Fundies get so bent out of shape when business people decide that its good for business to make their message ecumenical at holiday-time. The rest of the year most of these same supposedly principled fundies object to placing limitations on business, so why does that principle go out the window every December?

See the latest example after the jump.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Where do you suppose Sarah gets her information?

Sarah Palin:
“More and more Jewish people will be flocking [sic] to Israel in the days and weeks and months ahead... ”
Really? How about it readers? Are you planning to "flock" to Israel any time soon? And why exactly is Sarah so certain that we're all going to be jumping ship?

Blogging is Not Tznius

A Guest Post By HSM.

This was a status update by incredible blogger Aliza Hausman.

Unfortunately this was not the first I had heard of this idea this week. I
have had a couple of interactions recently with Jewish female bloggers on
this subject. Some rabbanim have felt that it draws too much attention and
is not to be encouraged. Especially in single female bloggers who are
dating. Being a public figure is apparently against the tenets of Judaism
and modesty unless you are a Rabbi.

How stupid of me to forget! Us women are supposed to be quiet and hide
behind our men, and only speak when spoken to. And if we don’t have men to
hide behind? Use a tree, something, so that women should never be seen, let
alone be heard to have opinions.

Yes there are JBlogs out there that talk about taboo subjects and are
sensationalist etc. But there are some awesome quality JBlogs writen by some
phenomenal female members of the Tribe. The world is so much better for
these blogs. I have learned a tremendous amount from these women, and come
to a much deeper understanding of myself through the blogging medium. If I
have learned from them, I am sure many others have too.

I am a Jewish female blogger and I stand tall and proud. Who is with

Soon breathing won’t be tznius….what will they think of next??!!

Search for more information about tzniusdik blogging at

To go or not to go

By Frum N’ Flipping

"You're going where?!"
A score of faces turn to me in horror.
Maybe it wasn't a good idea to bring this up at the Shabbos table.
"It's a conference. For work."
"You want to go to Germany? Of all places!"
"I don't want to go to Germany. But that's where the conference is going to be. In Berlin."
"So don't go."
"But it's for work. I need to go. You know I'd never go just for a vacation."
"You don't need to go. You want to go. Nobody is forcing you."
"Well yes. OK. True. I could skip the conference entirely. But I really want to give a presentation there. It's a great opportunity ."
"Work. Phuh. IBM also justified being in Germany before the war, they also said it's just for work."
"This isn't the same thing. Germany is the least anti-Semitic country in Europe at the moment." Even in my ears it sounds lame. I feel I'm playing devil's advocate.
'It doesn't make a difference. Their streets are soaked in Jewish blood."
"So is King George street. So is Machane Yehuda."
"For a child of mine to step foot in Germany is as bad as watching her bite into a ham sandwich."

Gulp. Thanks for the guilt trip.

I've always loved my family, for being so open minded, so chilled, laid back.
"As long as you're happy." That was my parents' motto, when I was growing up. Well, add "And marry a nice Jewish boy" to that. But still, not much to ask, after all.
But we all knew the unspoken rule. Don't buy anything German. Not cars, not napkins, nor anything else. When I bought a German produced gluestick by mistake, I had to return it to the store. The best erasers were the ones stamped with "Made in Germany." I'd make do with others.

The ironic thing is that neither side of my family went through the holocaust. My great-great-great grandparents died of either old age, or cold and starvation, in Russia, before the German army reached them. Their descendants, my ancestors, had already emigrated to safer lands, years before.

I sometimes wonder if it's guilt, guilt at being safe, that made my family even more insistent to boycott everything German.

Around me I'd see my peers, grandchildren of survivors, not understanding what the fuss was about. When I traveled to Europe with them, I was the one who refused to visit Austria for a day trip. Instead, we went to Lichtenstein, and that only after I'd researched its WWII treatment of the Jews.
But I never sacrificed anything big for that ideal. Anything that really mattered to me.

And now that I'm asked to, I'm questioning, reexamining the values I was raised with. It could be I'm seeking a logical way to salve my conscience. Simply putting career before principles. I hope not. I'd hate that.

But is the land of Germany, today, still a land that no Jew should tread on? If that is indeed the truth, then why do almost no other Jews seem to feel the same way?

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Another power hungry anti-Semitic D.A. is on the loose.

Earlier this week, we reported about the deplorable spike in child molester prosecutions in Brooklyn's ultra-frum communities and the deplorable attempt by the deplorable head of a deplorable Jewish organization to cast it all as a mad, D.A. power grab. Not that I was expecting an email, but as yet Agudah has not responded and no explanation of Zwiebel's defense of rabbinical prerogatives at the expense of children has been presented.

Today we bring you news of yet another Jew-hating D.A. running amok. He is terrible Tom Zugibe of Rockland County, NY, who is making a name for himself prosecuting legitimate Jewish businessmen.
More than 60 people have been arrested on charges of stealing from various government subsidy programs [in Rockland County] since June 2008 following joint investigations by the Rockland Special Investigations Unit... and the DSS special investigations unit.
It is not known how many of the 60 are Orthodox Jews, but many are and yesterday Terrible Tom struck again, accusing a fine Torah Jew named Benjamin Ruttner of illegally obtaining $89,000 in federal rental subsidies from November 2004 to November 2009 and of stealing $67,000 in food stamps and Medicaid benefits from May 2006 to August 2009. According to Reb Ruttner's lawyer, the disgraced former D.A. and sex-fiend Ken Gribetz, its all a horrible misunderstanding. No doubt. Likewise, Ruttner's neighbors in New Square and Visnitz really and truly are getting by on the meager incomes they report to the census bureau and tax authorities. Really. And truly.

New Square median household income: $14,638
Kaser (Visnitz) median household income: $15,797
New York median household income: $53,514

Thoughts on a short dating period

A guest post by JS:

I was thinking about my post regarding "speed" dating - in which people are pressured to make a decision on getting engaged/married quickly, usually within 8 dates (often less). It occurred to me that the number of dates isn't really the problem - it's an element in a larger problem. After all, even though my wife and I dated for several years before getting engaged, the reason for this was practical - we didn't want to get married in college and we wanted to be self-sufficient once married. We actually knew (or had a very strong idea) within a few months that we were in this for the long haul, so to speak. Similar story with my brother in law who was recently married: when he met his future kallah they both knew within 3-4 dates they wanted to get married, though they dated longer before getting engaged.

So, this got me thinking that a short courtship period isn't the main problem. I think the problem with the shidduch system (or yeshiva/chareidi culture) is the way that it infantilizes what are supposed to be adults entering into an adult relationship. This is apparent in many ways in both the yeshiva/chareidi culture and in the shidduch process.

From a young age, the yeshiva/chareidi culture separates children from their parents. Yeshivas have long hours, which become even longer when the children are older and night cheder is imposed. Yeshivas typically have school on Sundays. Many children are sent away to dorm at the yeshiva even when the parents are nearby. The yeshivas create a completely immersive environment in which all outside influences that may interfere with the yeshiva's hashkafa and education are shut out - including parents. Kids are kept away from home on numerous Shabbatons to rebbe's houses or to visit other communities. In the summer, kids are not allowed to be at home where there may be bad influences. They are sent to summer camps for continued learning. Even later, when kids are off for bein ha'zmanim they are shipped away immediately to kollels or shul learning programs to sustain the level of immersion. This creates a situation where, especially for guys, no one is showing them how to grow up, mature, or be responsible. No one is teaching them how to be an adult. Most importantly for the topic at hand, no one is teaching them how to relate to the opposite sex within the context of dating/marriage. Being able to sit still for hours on end and understand a gemara is not maturity - or at the very least, isn't the maturity necessary for a relationship.

Similarly, in the shidduch system the attitude is everyone else, all of the adults, know best. The "kids" don't know any better and can't be relied upon to know what's best for themselves. The adults do all the legwork, all the investigating, and all the representations of who their child is and what he/she is looking for and the child sits back and just says yes or no after a dinner date. The message in all of this is clear, you're too immature to be trusted with such an important decision. And, in a self-fulfilling prophesy, the already developmentally stunted children tend to focus on all the wrong things in a potential mate.

Saddest of all, this infantilization continues even after the kids are married through parental support which almost always comes with parental conditions for how the children should lead their lives.

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Will they come for the kippot srugot next?

Vehaviotim el har kodshi, vesimachtim be'veit tefilati... ki veiti veit tefillah yikarei lechol ha'amim

As reported by Failed Messiah (via Jerusalem Post and Haaretz) police in Jerusalem arrested a woman yesterday for wearing her talis at the kotel. The arrest was certainly symbolic, with the woman being released in under an hour, but the principle being symbolized is one no right-thinking Jew should support.

According to halacha, a woman is exempt from wearing a talis, but nothing in our law forbids it either. As with taking the lulav, a woman is free to wear a talis if she chooses. Many women do not wear a talis because they see it as unfeminine or untraditional and that choice must be respected, but a woman who believes that wearing a talis strengthens her connection to Judaism, or improves her prayer is also making a valid halachic choice, and that choice must be defended.

The kotel is a place of prayer. The role of police who are stationed at the kotel is to protect people who wish to pray, such as that woman. They are not there to protect the pious from seeing permitted, but unwelcome sights. Unless that woman was creating a disturbance and interfering with the prayer of others, the police misused their authority and acted as tools of one Jewish sect at the expense of another. By arresting her they declared that the kotel is Orthodox occupied territory, rather than a shrine and a heritage for all Jews.

If this precedent is not protested, and the police are permitted to enforce the traditions and preferences of a single sect of Jews, who will be dragged away from the kotel next? Those of us who wear knitted kiopot? Women who cover their hair with wigs, rather than wraps? Male children who've had hair cuts before the age of three? The ultra-orthodox men who contrary to well-established law and tradition say krias shma after the zman? Draw the line in the sand now, and stand up for that woman, and her legitimate choice. To do otherwise is to put your own legitimate traditions and pactices in danger of being snuffed out by the smug, the narrow minded and the ahistorical.

Answering Steven Cohen:

SC: The wall is by all rights orthodox territory. it always was.
Untrue. Orthodox Judaism is less than 200 years old. Would you have allowed Rashi's tfillin wearing daughters to pray at the kotel? Why or why not?

SC: if you want to reject orthodox tradtion find your own place to pray.
Donning a talis is NOT a rejection of Orthodox tradition, as Orthodox tradition never expressly prohibited a woman from wearing a talis, just as it never expressly forbid her from taking a lulav, but more to the point, the kotel isn't an orthodox place. When Christians (like the POPE!) visit the kotel do you insist they say krias shma, and perform an OJ prayer? Why or why not?

SC: I promise not to come into your chosen place of worship and object to how you do it.
By objecting to how she prays at the kotel, which belongs to her every bit as much as it belongs to you, that's precisely what you are doing.

SC: dont go into the vatican and try to run a baptist service. dont go to mecca and run a bahai service.
How amusing that you think the Muslims set a good example. Which of their other habits should we emulate? As for the Church, what a rotten analogy. Anyone can come to the kotel, and pray any way they like, including Xtians, who invoke Jesus and cross themselves on the plaza! Why is this women more of a threat to you then they are?!

SC: dont come to the wall and try to run a new type of service.
By calling it a new type of service, you are being ahistorical. There was nothing "new" about her attempt to pray in a talis.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

We've heard it, too. (Darn it I was scooped)

Editor's note: A ghastly story regarding the events of last week has just been published on another blog. I wish to state for the record, that I have been sitting on this story for two days, but elected to follow my guidelines and wait for a published newspaper story or other corroboration. This still has not been provided, and in my opinion the other blog should have waited, too. For this reason, I'm not linking them yet - but will if the story is ever confirmed. (Attempts to link them on the thread will be deleted)

[If you think I'm also annoyed someone beat me to publish the story, you're right, of course.] [not that it matters: When I'm first to press, no one -holy Torah blogs included - credits me anyway.]

Today's I am not making this up moment

So, Bill and Lou, two cuties to be sure, are checking each other out, exchanging softball questions, and discussing Lou's surplus of career options, when suddenly apropos exactly nothing Bill asks his last, unbiased, question: Is Barak Obama the devil?

And Lou replied, with all seriousness, as if this was just a perfectly ordinary question about public policy. Can you imagine someone on one of the supposedly liberal stations asking a friendly guest, "Is it true George W. Bush was a brain dead, unethical, moron?" No? Why not?

Shidduchim, Truth-Telling, and Negiah

A guest post by JS:

There is a tremendous pressure in the shidduch world to make oneself and one's family appear to be perfect. The slightest flaw may torpedo a potential shidduch before the guy and girl have even learned each other's names. The degree of subterfuge one the one hand and espionage on the other that is found in the shidduch system would make for a good Hollywood spy movie.

But, of course, no one is perfect and this fact is compounded when you consider the many relatives in one's family that a person "marries" as well.

However, the largest problem with the shidduch system isn't the vetting that goes on, per se, it's when that vetting occurs. Imagine if, upon meeting a person, someone were to list all of his/her problems and all of his/her family's problems. That other person would likely be insane to agree to a date, let alone marriage.

For example, imagine if a person produced a list that said: "I get angry at times for seemingly no reason, I'm very grumpy in the morning, I don't like to socialize over Shabbat; I prefer to sleep, my father has high cholesterol, my mother's mother had a bout with breast cancer, my brother is still "finding himself," money is tight in my family, I go to minyan but often space out, and I saw a psychiatrist in the past when I felt depressed during college."

That list is daunting! But, the problem isn't the list. The problem isn't even the vetting that would lead to learning of such a list. The problem is that the list is weighed against nothing - that the person behind the list is anonymous and faceless. However, when the list is sized up against this wonderful person you know and love, it becomes just a fact of life - an issue to be dealt with like all other issues in life. If you knew the person really well and deeply cared for that person, not only would the list not be off-putting, you would come to see the list as things that make the person unique - things that make the person who they are. After all, as mentioned above, everyone's got "issues" and loving a person involves loving that person, issues and all.

Of course, the rationale given for vetting before meeting is that it is important to get this background stuff out of the way up front to ensure that the dating process is short. Let others handle whether there are "issues" and let the potential couple focus (quickly) on whether they like each other enough to marry. And the rationale (or at least one of them) for why dating must be so short is the fear of a lapse of the laws negiah (i.e. dating couples will "fool around").

Tesyaa recently wrote:
I would prefer my children violate negia out of a lack of self-control rather than marry someone they shouldn't because they were rushed in their dating. And anyway, even the couples who get engaged and married quickly are often violating negia.
I agree 100%. Overall, I think the greater moral wrong lies with marrying off incompatible people than two people violating negiah. There is always teshuva for violating negiah. But, what is the repentance for two incompatible people who marry? Divorce? The stigma that follows divorce? Potentially remaining single due to the stigma? Or if they don't separate, a lifetime of regret and sadness? Children with parents who don't love each other? I don't see how you can weigh that against two people who fool around for a few days/weeks before marrying or moving on.

As for Tesyaa's latter point, I know this isn't dispositive of anything, but I know way too many stories of seemingly very frum couples who I would never dream would violate negiah, violating it in ways a person like me didn't even think were possible.

Search for more information about shidduchim at

Monday, November 16, 2009

What is therapy exactly and how could it help an adult molested as a child?

A guest post by TikunOlam

Yesterday we heard a tragic report of a young man who committed suicide as a newly wed. He was unable to become sexually intimate with his wife due to reactions to traumatic sexual abuse that he had suffered when he was younger. The word “therapy” got tossed around a lot as the cure for the post traumatic symptoms of this young man. But I think that unless you have had some experience in therapy or training as a therapist, what goes on in the therapy sessions is often mysterious or misunderstood. There are many types of therapies out there. Today’s most scientifically studied (for many reasons I won’t go into) are various versions of Cognitive Behavior Therapy.

So lets say that a young man, let’s call him Jacob, decided to go into therapy because he was beginning to have nightmares, feelings of depression and anxiety as his wedding got closer. He knew it was because of his history of molestation. He had never sought treatment before and decided he should before becoming sexually intimate with his wife.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy works like this:

It is understood that all people have a set of schemas. Our schemas are own personal narratives about what we believe about ourselves and the world around us. Our schemas influence our feelings and our feelings influence our behavior and then back around again. It is a self perpetuating cycle. Therapists, together with their patients, look to define problematic cognitive schemas, which result in maladaptive feelings and behaviors.

For example, in Jacob’s situation, possible schemas could include, for instance:

1. I should have stopped him from molesting me
2. I am defective
3. I am unworthy of love
4. I do not deserve a wife and family
5. Sex is bad, shameful and frightening
6. If I can’t perform as a man, I don’t deserve to live

Possible feelings that go along with those schemas could include, for instance:

1. Shame
2. Guilt
3. Anger
4. Fear
5. Sadness

Possible behaviors that could be associated with those thoughts and feeling may include:

1. Avoiding sexual intimacy
2. Difficulties trusting others
3. Hiding the truth from others
4. Use of drugs to escape
5. Suicide attempts
6. Suicide

Once identified, the maladaptive thoughts, that are by definition irrational, are challenged. And, for example, if you no longer believe that sex is shameful, you begin to think and feel differently about sex. And with some confidence, in time, you may decide to change your behaviors by taking steps toward sexual intimacy with someone you trust.

This, of course is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy 101 as can fit into a blog post of course. It is in no way a manual for psychotherapy and only very broadly defines Cognitive Behavioral psychotherapy.

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