Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Difference Between Kitniyos and Gebrukts

A Guest Post by E. Fink

Typically, this sort of question comes my way before Pesach. "Rabbi, what's with all these extra chumros that everyone does nowadays, this kitniyos and gebrukts are making me crazy?".

It is important to understand that kitniyos and gebrukts are unfairly lumped together. They are two separate minhagim with very different halachic underpinnings.

Briefly, kitniyos was a gzeira that ashkenazik Jewry accepted upon themselves for a reason. My understanding of the custom was out of legitimate fear that the flour of legumes and non-grains would have traces of "grain" flour mixed in them. It was acceptable in ashkenazic countries to use the same sacks for all types of flour and buying a non-grain flour contained the real risk that grain flour was found in the sack. This is a serious problem and it became accepted not to use any flour similar to grain flour. The gzeria extended to products that were similar to those non-grain flours and thus, the Pesach prohibition on kitniyos was born. In Sephardic locales there was no similar fear and thus no gzeira.

The point is that there was a real, legitimate, rational halachic fear of eating kitniyos at one time. When large tracts of Jews accept a custom as law, there is a not much we can do about it after the fact as far as the halachic process goes. So today, ashkenazic Jews are stuck.

Gebrukts on the other hand is quite different. First, there is no halachic "source" for the custom, it just happened. (See Sefer Todaah) .Further, there is no scientific way for a cooked piece of matza to "become chometz" by adding liquid to it. It is literally impossible. In other words, the not eating of gebrokts is not a custom rooting in a reasonable halachic fear. Therefore, it is not binding in the same way kitniyos are binding. I believe it is even possible to be shoel neder on gebrokts. It is not possible to be shoel neder on kitniyos.

In summary, kitniyos and gebrukts are two very different restrictions. Kitniyos may be irrational in 2010, but it made a lot of sense at one time and served as a protection against a very serious sin of eating chometz on Pesach. Gebrukts on the other hand can be seen as an "erroneous" stringency serving to protect from no real prohibition.

(Having said that, in some ways, kitniyos has taken on a new life and has spawned some irrational chumros as well. But that is beyond the scope of this blog post.)

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Saturday, March 27, 2010

Speed of Lightning, Roar of Thunder and the 7th Plague

Speed of Lightning, Roar of Thunder and the 7th Plague
by YC

I was studying for a test with my daughter and on the prep sheet she was asked: what Rashi said about barad (the hail)

Her school trains them to look for what was troubling Rashi, what the peshat answer could be, and what drash Rashi offers.

With barad Rashi (Ex 9, 24) explains there is fire in each piece of hail. The teacher then asked if this is peshat or drash. My daughter explained it is peshat, and read the pasuk that way.

I told her to stick to her answer on the test but I think Rashi is a drash. The preceding pasuk explains there was hail and thunder, four other times the story speaks of thunder.

***Where there is thunder there is lightning***

Lighting both looks like fire and will cause fire on the ground. What a  sublime site fire in the dry fields with balls of ice all around.

My daughter said isn't it a bigger miracle if the fire was in the hail. I agreed but explained God may not always want to bigger miracle. (Listen to E_fink's podcast on the subject ). As an example the wind by the Yam Suf.

My daughter and I finished studying and she turned to me and said she liked the lightning idea. I told her for the test write the teacher taught. Can't wait to see what she writes, or how it is graded.

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Friday, March 26, 2010

A few of the better Pesach posts

Here's the short list; perhaps half aren't included here

A Story
December 9, 2004
The town had one matzah factory and two communities, one devoutly Hasidic, the other Misnagdic to the core. Each year, the two communities sent representatives to the town matzah factory to bake matzohs. The two groups never mixed, and never talked. Every man stayed on his own side of the factory.

How did they sit at the first korbon pesach?
January 11, 2005
The Torah tells us that, at Passover, each family took its own lamb "from the sheep or from the goats," slaughtered it, and ate the meat together. But how did the families sit?

On Baseball in General, and Pesach in Particular
Apr 22, 2005
For those, like me, who believe the Exodus occured preciesly as the Bibles says it did, though no evidence supports the account, Pesach holds a special charm. When we sit at the seder, and repeat the maggid we celebrate..

Pesach moments to remember
Apr 26, 2005
My second most favorite pesach moment came at about 3 pm on sunday afternoon when I showed my father and brother-in-law that the rama and the mishna brurah both rule against saying

This is not a complaint about my wife
Apr 28, 2005
This is not a complaint about my wife. My wife is outstanding at planning and logistics. Really outstanding. She has a gift I can only describe as second sight, and she's an excellent shopper, with the unfailing ability to get the very ...

Passover purchases
Apr 18, 2006
Live out the plague of the frogs with these small life like rubber frogs, have fun with your kids as you describe to them the plague of the frogs, with actaully almost real life frogs

A pesach message from a friend
Apr 18, 2006
In a deliberate parody of the haggadah, a friend from elsewhere writes: "what is the meaning of the seder to you? isn't is all one lie, one lesson of falsehoods? there's no mention of any of the exodus in any of the contemporary sources ..

Was the first matzo kosher l'pesach?
Apr 23, 2008
Was the first matzo kosher l'pesach? think about it: according to the account in exodus the fleeing hebrews were making bread. that means their mixed water and flour also contained a leavening agent like sourdough (se'or) and that it ...

The four sons
Apr 07, 2008
[aside: if this is a spanish haggadah, why is the yishtabach at the end of halel written according to the ashkenazic rite?] and what about in the yet to be written blogosphere haggadah? Sure, traditionalists will want Gil for wise son, ...

This week, are we keeping one holiday or two?
Apr 18, 2008
According to Sarna, we can see that pesach and matzoh predate the exodus because in the bible neither term is glossed; the author (ie god) seems to assume his audience knows what both words mean. sarna also tells us that mazoh's ...

Chaval Siddur Pesach (The Seder Symposium post)
Mar 30, 2007
I'm not in the mood to write the post I had planned about the Seder and its origins, but the main takeaway point is as follows: The rituals and forms of the Seder are very similar to the forms of the symposia, .

Seder Symposium Follow up
Apr 11, 2007
The following comment, written by "lurker," my new best friend, adresses some of the terribly mean and off-the-mark objections i received to my post titled chaval siddur pesach. in particular, lurker uses impeccable torah sources to ...

Last word on the Afikomin
Apr 16, 2007
Here's how Herbert Danby translates it: "After the Passover meal they should not disperse to join in revelry." His note reads: Heb Epikoman [Something (the word Afikomin?) in Greek] Cf. Is 30. The joy of the Passover

Go get some g'broks
Apr 11, 2006
If you eat matzah brie, you eat g'broks, and as noted above that's perfectly ok. some people, however, think that judaism is just too darn easy so, as noted above, they invented the stringancy of "not eating g'broks. ...

In defense of the second day
Apr 17, 2006
Last week you urged us, with all the authority an anonymous blogger can muster, to eat matzo balls on pesach. yet, today you write in support of the diaspora's second day of yom tov. aren't both customs equally foolish?

The real reason for lamb, herbs and matzah at Pesach. (maybe)
Jan 24, 2007
DB on the P: The Paschal Feast. Why do we eat lamb, herbs and matzah at Pesach? I've heard dozens of explanations and every year at Pesach time, I come across more, but the one I like best remains the one I heard a few years back from ...

Long live the macaroon
Apr 11, 2008
sweet matzo brie is vile) and here is an nyt article about a posh manhatten club for waspy rich people, and its desperate search for a bakery that can provide it with macaroons. yes, macaroons.

The DovBear holiday menu
Apr 11, 2008
Cooking notes: The steak should be high quality. Put a little salt and pepper on it, and throw it in a cast iron pan with some wine. (Remember: You can cook on Yom Tov) For variety, you can skip the salt and pepper on the second night. ...

Eating matzah on erev pesach
Apr 18, 2008
The yerushalmi pesachim 68b says: האוכל מצה בערב הפסח כבא על ארוסתו בבית חמיווהבא (one who eats matzah on the eve of passover is like one who has intimate relations with his bride-to-be in his [future] father-in-law's home. ) ...

Pesach and Wasting Food (Mother In Israel)
Apr 12, 2009
Other than an occasional jar of cooked rice and a few slices bread for my father to burn in the backyard erev Pesach, I don't recall her throwing out food. I think that is the authentic Jewish tradition. But I see and read about huge .

Ideas of special chumros for pesach (rafi G.)
Mar 26, 2009
Cleaning for pesach the way we do is a big enough chumra; machmir on bein adam l'chaveiro and treating others respectfully in tense times. we are (at least i am) makpid to not measure our matzos and maror, so that our mitvos are not ...

Pesach gripes
Mar 23, 2009
With birchat ha'chodesh this past shabbat, the imminent arrival of pesach becomes that much more real. in the spirit of the coming chag, i'd like to share a couple things that bug me each and every pesach: ...

Faking it on Shabbos Erev Pesach
Apr 16, 2008
Others point out, that the third meal belongs to the afternoon, and on erev pesach beginning this afternoon meal with bread is simply impossible. Yom Kippur creates the same difficulty: We're forbidden to eat, so when it falls on ...

Miriam's Cup (HSaboMilner)
Feb 24, 2010
A twitter buddy of mine was clicking through and came across this – a cup for the Passover Seder that initially looks like Elijah's cup, but on further inspection it is actually a “Miriam's Cup”. The site has one Elijah's ...

 My approach to Kitniyot (Rabba bar bar Chana)
Mar 25, 2010
When I was younger, especially after I became a vegetarian at the age of 21, I railed against the utter nonsense of the Ashkenazi prohibition of eating kitniyot on Pesach. It seemed like unnecessary torture, especially today when the ...

I Want a Time Machine (E_Fink)
Mar 17, 2010
Last night we made our kitchen Kosher for Pesach* and I announced that I want to travel back in time to see what our great-great-grandparents did to prepare for Pesach. What was it like without aluminum foil and duct tape, ...

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Ari's Seder plate

Today, on Twitter, we did a little of this and that on the following question:

Why and how did the Ari's seder plate arrangement (and not the Rama's) become the default arrangement?

No one seemed to know.

The basic difference between the two seder plate set-ups is as follows: The Rama puts the seder food in the order in which it will be used. The vegetable is at the bottom, near the right hand. The salt water is directly across from it on the left. And so on. The Ari, on the other hand, bases his arrangement on what his adherents call "kabala" but what sounds to uninitiants such as me like nothing but "hippie-drippy new-age magical reasons." For a taste see this (afterwards see this and tell me if you agree or not.)

Along with wondering when the Ari's seder plate arrangement superseded the other set ups, I'd also like an answer to the  larger question(s): What, exactly is so attractive about the Ari's innovations; why have they been so widely accepted; and why are his new ideas embraced, when Judaism in general treats new ideas with scorn and derision?

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My approach to Kitniyot

A guest post by Rabba bar bar Chana

When I was younger, especially after I became a vegetarian at the age of 21, I railed against the utter nonsense of the Ashkenazi prohibition of eating kitniyot on Pesach. It seemed like unnecessary torture, especially today when the danger of grains ending up mixed if far less likely. Why couldn’t I have my tofu? Would wheat really end up in my rice, when cereals today are grown as monoculture crops (not near other grains) and sold in packages? It seemed to me to be ridiculous and a burden. The only reason I stuck with it was habit and family.

Over the last decade or so, my approach to Judaism has undergone somewhat of a sea change, and that has impacted how I view the issue of kitniyot. I now view Judaism not as a fixed revelation in time that established the form of Judaism we must follow forever, but as an evolving process, where halachot changed and developed over the past three millenia. The reasons for this have to do with study of history, archaeology, biblical criticism, and a critical analysis of Rabbinical literature. The specific issues are another post, and in any case have been discussed in detail on many, many blogs. This post is just to examine how this approach has changed my attitude to minhagim like kitniyot.

With this approach to Judaism, I don’t keep Torah and mitzvot just because I might feel it was part of a divine revelation in ancient times. I keep it because of the significance of my ancestors, of many different generations and eras, having developed these laws in their attempt to become closer to Hashem. Because the very history of these developments is significant and meaningful to my Judaism. So while the laws of Shabbat are meaningful to me, so are the Rabbinical decrees of the Talmud. And so is cherem Rebbeinu Gershom. And so is the prohibition of kitnoyot, which has been with Ashkenazi Jews for the greater part of a millennium. It’s not meaningful to me because of the minute permutations of the law. It’s meaningful to me because my grandparents, and their grandparents, and their grandparents, kept these halachot.

So with that approach, keeping the prohibition of kitniyot is honoring the evolving nature of halacha within Judaism. It’s acknowledging that, unlike the fundamentalist school’s belief, halacha has changed over time and that’s part of the Judaism I love.

However, for the same reason, recent additions to the list of kitniyot, and added stringencies, have no place in keeping the halacha. It’s honoring my ancestors and my conception of Judaism to avoid eating what they avoided 500, 300, or 100 years ago. It’s not honoring them, and it’s not in the spirit of this view of halacha, to suddenly declare that some new seed or vegetable that my grandparents would have eaten is suddenly prohibited on Pesach. If they could use peanut oil (or even peanuts), why will no hechsher organization give Pesach certification to it today? And certainly, there should be no problem with Quinoa. There is nothing religiously pious about adding chumrot that no one kept 100 years ago.

“Rav Moshe Feinstein zt’l (Igros Moshe, O.D. III:63) is of the opinion that peanuts are not Kitniyos. He reasons that Kitniyos is not a Halacha (official law) but a minhag (custom). While Minhagim often have the force of Halacha, Rav Moshe argues that the Minhag cannot be extended beyond what was actually included in the custom.”
(From - Kitniyos in the Modern World by Rabbi Zushe Yosef Blech)

It’s interesting to note that my rationalist and critical approach to Judaism (though fundamentalists will call it a skeptical approach) has caused me to be more favorably disposed to minhagim, not less, and to find more meaning in keeping them.

So the bottom line is, I now can enjoy and feel I’m doing something meaningful by avoiding kitniyot on Pesach. Yes, it’s frustrating, but I’ll eat protein-rich vegetables like asparagus (yes, the tips too) and feel good about connecting with a tradition that goes back many, many generations. As long as they don’t try to take away my quinoa!

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Great performance

Not sure what's more amazing, the shofar or the voice....

If there's some kind of US - Israel "crises" perhaps it's Bibi's fault?

by David Remnick
MARCH 29, 2010

For decades, mainstream Israeli politicians have taken pride in their fingertip feel for the subtleties of American life and politics. Israeli diplomats know the meeting halls of the Midwest almost as well as they do the breakfast room at the Regency Hotel. So it has been disturbing to see, during the 2008 Presidential race and after, that some right-wing members of the Israeli political élite, along with some ordinary Israelis, often seem to derive their most acute sense of Barack Obama from Fox News and the creepier nooks of the blogosphere.

Polls and conversations with right-leaning Israelis have long reflected a distrust of Obama and a free-floating anxiety about what they imagine to be his view of the world—specifically, his indifference to Israel. At the margins, and sometimes within them, one even hears the familiar aspersions about the President’s middle name, his childhood interlude in Indonesia, and his marination in a South Side milieu supposedly composed of incendiary preachers, black nationalists, fading Weathermen, and (Oy! Vey ist mir!) Palestinian intellectuals.

Most Israelis were convinced of Bill Clinton’s capacity to reconcile a deep admiration for Israel with a desire to end the occupation of the conquered territories and the suffering of the Palestinians. The Israeli right certainly appreciated George W. Bush for his unquestioning embrace, though most Israeli politicians say they would have preferred that more attention had been paid to the nuclear plants in Iran than to the phantom weapons in Baghdad. In Obama, however, many Israelis think that they are dealing with an American leader who, as one official put it, “has no special feeling for us.” Obama’s customary cool feels icy.

This month’s diplomatic drama, which was set off during Vice-President Biden’s visit by the announcement of sixteen hundred housing units planned for Ramat Shlomo, a neighborhood in East Jerusalem, reached its sad nadir last week, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s brother-in-law, Hagai Ben-Artzi, declared on Israeli radio that Obama was an “anti-Semite.” No one, not even Netanyahu, should be denied his right to an idiot relation, but the remark is less readily dismissed when one recalls reports (later denied) that the Prime Minister himself has referred to David Axelrod (whose West Wing office featured an “Obama for President” sign in Hebrew) and Rahm Emanuel (a civilian volunteer in the Israeli Army during the first Gulf War) as “self-hating Jews.”

The Netanyahu government suffers from a troubling degree of instability, thanks to its far-right coalition partners (including its bigoted foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman) and its ineptitude. The insult to Biden, an ardent Zionist, was just the most recent blunder, following the humiliation of a resident diplomat from Turkey (Israel’s closest friend in the Muslim world) and of the Brazilian President, to say nothing of its presumed role in the assassination of a Hamas military leader on the soil of one of the few open-minded countries in the region. The professionals in Washington and Jerusalem share sufficient diplomatic agility to paper over this latest unpleasantness, but the memory of the trivial-seeming aspects of the dispute—the affronts, the lacerating phone calls—obscures a more unsettling pattern: a deep Israeli misreading of the President and an ignorance of the diversity of opinion among American Jews and in the United States in general.

Take Obama’s supposed indifference to Jews and the State of Israel. Among the many Chicagoans who are apt to find this idea hilarious is the one politician who has beaten him, Bobby Rush. In 2000, Obama, a bored member of the Illinois state senate, challenged Rush, a popular incumbent, for the seat in the state’s First Congressional District, on the South Side. Rush, a former leader of the Black Panthers, viewed Obama as the creation of cynical white liberals—particularly Jewish liberals, who constituted, in his term, a “cabal.”

As a rising politician with Ivy League connections, Obama had financial backing from all over, including from a class of young black entrepreneurs. But he has had Jewish mentors throughout his career. Philanthropists like Bettylu Saltzman, Penny Pritzker, and Lester Crown were crucial to his campaigns. His friend and neighbor the late Arnold Jacob Wolf was a rabbi. Michelle Obama’s cousin Capers C. Funnye, Jr., is the first African-American member of the Chicago Board of Rabbis and the spiritual leader of Beth Shalom, a congregation on the South Side. One of Obama’s closest colleagues in Springfield was Ira Silverstein, an Orthodox Jew, with whom he shared an office suite in the Capitol building; Obama acted as Silverstein’s shabbos goy, turning on lights and pushing elevator buttons for him on Saturdays.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Comment of the Day

From Y. Aharon regarding this post

Dov Bear, yasher koach for a well written and thoughtful post. The analogy of the more recent history of the Orthodox world to the Christian Reformation in the 16th century has some validity. The drift of the yeshivish or Hareidi world towards a Catholic approach is evident. It started with the Hassidic reformation wherein the leader became a demigod and the avenue for personal salvation - just like the Catholic Church. This veneration of religious leaders then became adopted in the yeshivish world in the post-war period. Said leaders, usually called rashei yeshiva, were considered entitled to have their pronouncements treated as "daas torah", i.e. infallible. Given such authority by the movers and shakers, they then offered pronouncements on subjects far from their areas of expertise - as if they were really entitled both to an opinion and to have their flock bound by it. Of course, what was usually or often the case was that said leaders were manipulated by the real movers and shakers to satisfy their own egos, or for personal profit.

However, the solution to this situation need not lie in creating a new form of Judaism, but in supporting those elements in the modern Orthodox world who are similarly minded. While the current demographics certainly favor the growth of the Hareidi sector, there is a revolution brewing there due to the self-destructive ideology that their "infallible" leaders have created. There is simply no way that the yeshivish communities can sustain a life style where large families are dependent on overworked mothers to support them since the father is supposed to be dedicated to full-time torah study. How, then, will they be able to support grown children and their families?

Introducing for the very first time.... Lady GaGa?

HT @noahroth

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Signed into law

As we say in our twice annual prayers for sustenance, let it be for a blessing and not for a curse; for life and not for death; for plenty and not for lack.

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The Jewish Reformation

He never sees More—a star in another firmament, who acknowledges him with a grim nod—without wanting to ask him, what’s wrong with you? Or what’s wrong with me? Why does everything you know, and everything you’ve learned, confirm you in what you believed before? Whereas in my case, what I grew up with, and what I thought I believed, is chipped away a little and a little, a fragment then a piece and then a piece more. With every month that passes, the corners are knocked off the certainties of this world: and the next world too. Show me where it says, in the Bible, “Purgatory.” Show me where it says “relics, monks, nuns.” Show me where it says “Pope.”

The excerpt is from Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall a first rate work of historical fiction. "More" is Sir Thomas More, Lord High Chancellor of England at the time of the English Reformation. He was an enemy of change, including vernacular editions of the bible, and a defender of tradition, the Vatican, and the idea that we (meaning the Church) had gotten it right the first time, in each and every particular. More was what we might call a "fundamentalist" and, having martyred himself as an opponent of the Reformation, is venerated today as a Saint of the Catholic Church.

The fictionalized thoughts in the excerpt belong to Sir Thomas Cromwell, Lord Great Chamberlain in title, but in actuality King Henry VIII's consigliere and chief enforcer (until his own downfall and execution). In the popular retelling, More is the hero, prepared to die for his principles, while Cromwell is the ambitious toady, prepared to cast aside all that is pure and valuable for the sake of personal gain. The reality, like all realities, was somewhat messier. More was principled to be sure, but his principles were obscene - who can admire someone with principles that include burning alive those who seek to read the bible in their own language? And while Cromwell wanted glory and money, and dedicated himself to fulfilling the King's desire to split with Rome in pursuit of both, he also likely believed that the Church had made mistakes and taken Christianity in the wrong direction, something he probably first came to realize from reading English books, including Tynsdale's banned and forbidden translation of the Bible.

Have you grocked the parallels yet?

I count myself, and men like me, with the Cromwells. Where he (in the fictionalized account anyway) asks where the Bible mentions nuns, we point out that our own tradition permits us to acknowledge the universe is billions of years old, and that evolution is real. Where he questions relics, we question the relatively new idea that midrashim are part of the mesorah. He wants to know the source of the Pope's authority, and we want to know who gave the "gdolim" the power to add chumra after chumra until whole communities of Jews are effectively excommunicated, in that other Jews won't daven with them, study with them, or marry them. We want to know why the facts of our own history and tradition are obscured. We want to know why the opinions of our sages and the great men of the tradition are cavalierly dismissed as "non mainstream" or summarily ignored. We want to know why Judaism was replaced with frumkeit.

In short, we want a reformation of our own.

Our opponents, are men like More, ready to die for principles that shouldn't be defended. They include bloggers like [names deleted], who are capable of reading and learning the exact same things I've read and learned without seeing the implications. (and here I don't even discuss the loud mouths who've read nothing, yet remain convinced that what their first grade cheder rebbe told them was correct in each and every particular.)

I read something like Shapiro's Limits of Orthodox Theology and come away with a fuller understanding of the historical forces that produced the ikkarim, and the realization that there were great men who disagreed with some of them, while the Jewish Thomas Mores manage to put such books down with their minds unopened and their perspectives unchanged. I study Rishonim and gain a fuller understanding of how midrashim were viewed and used, or I study the midrashim themselves, in context, and learn how they originated and developed, but they after reading the same material remain convinced that midrashim are immaculate, canonical, and perfectly true. For the sake of their own relatively new interpretations of relatively recent laws, they are ready to throw out of Judaism entire communities like HIR, as More was ready to burn people who read the Bible in English.  Like the fictionalized Cromwell, I look at bloggers like [names deleted] and often find myself asking, "What’s wrong with you? Or what’s wrong with me? Why does everything you know, and everything you’ve learned, confirm you in what you believed before?"

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Monday, March 22, 2010

Why has the Yeshivishe velt forgotten that it takes Saykhl to be Maykl?

A guest post by NAMELESS

I struggle daily with the fact that I have liked 98 to 99% of the right-wing Frum people that I've met (and I've met many in the course of my T'schuva), yet I disapprove of so much of the culture of the Yeshivishe Velt? I love the dedication to learning, but the mindless Chumras just drive me out of my mind and make my life more difficult than it needs to be. Last week, a bocher asked me if I held by Yoshon! Having goyishe kids, there are many times when Lichatchila is just not an option for me.

That said, there's a limit to the usefulness of bitching. Just like when I tell my Lakewood cousins about the beautiful picture of my little Jewish niece under her Kratzmach tree, saying oy nebbech is a worse than useless response. Either admit that you don't care (which is OK) or at least attempt to fix the problem. I do care, so here goes:

Why is the Yeshivishe velt becoming so rigid?
I think that the problem starts with teenagers. Teenagers need to rebel against their parents, even in the Frum world. The difference is that Frum teenagers often rebel by becoming more Chumradik, more rigid than their parents. Frum parents have a hard time fighting that off, even though, in the end, it is not helpful to anyone. Recognizing that teenagers brains don't stop developing until they are around 21 or so, parents need to be on guard against enabling this behavior. On the surface, it seems praiseworthy, but it really isn't.

Chumras need to be evaluated on a case by case basis:
a) Chumras can hurt other people. Before adopting and holding shtark on a chumra, ask yourself: who does it hurt? Are my desires valid reasons to hurt someone else?
b) The gain can often be outweighed by the pain. I'm guessing that many chumras wouldn't hold up on a net/net comparison. Very rarely in this world do we see clear, unambiguous choices laid out before us. Lay out the pluses and minuses.
c) Adoption of chumras can be used to cover up transgressions in other areas. Before going above and beyond on something relatively easy, ask yourself, where am I outright failing in other areas?

The bottom line is this: even though you're Frum, you still need to think for yourself.

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The Very Non-Fundie Thing That A Very Fundie Rabbi Says

A Guest Post By E. Fink

Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman is one of the Torah leaders of Bnei Brak, Litvishe, Torah Jewry. He is the Rosh Yeshiva of the prominent Ponevezh Yeshiva and is almost universally considered one of the greatest Torah scholars and authorities for haredi Jews of our generation.

His Torah insights are very keen and elegant in their simplicity. When I was studying Talmud full time in Yeshiva, his Ayeles Hashachar on Talmud was an indispensable book by my side. Recently, Ayeles Hashachar has been published on Chumash. I scooped up a set in hope that it would be as useful in my study of Chumash as it was for me in my study of Talmud.

This past week I was preparing my regular Shabbos Drasha and I took a look at Ayeles Hashachar on Vayikra. The very first "piece" (that's a loose translation of "shtickle") surprised me.

The Baal Haturim comments on the well know "small aleph" in the opening word of Vayikra that "Moshe wanted to write Vayikar the same way the Torah records the way God appeared to Bilaam as if it was "mikra", "happenstance". But God wants the aleph to spell vayikra which connotes a deeper, intended conversation. And Moshe decided to write the aleph but he wrote it small."

So Rav Shteinman concludes that it must be that Moshe had discretion as to whether he wanted to write the letters large, small or regular sized.

Didn't see that coming, did you?

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Pesach 1865: What Jews did when Lincoln was shot

Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on Friday, April 15, 1865 which corresponds with 19 Nissan 5625, the fifth day of Pesach.

According to American Jewry and the Civil War by Bertram Wallace Korn, American Jews responded by draping their shuls in black and by substituting Yom Kippur "hymns and chants" for "Passover melodies" (excerpt below) Its not clear if this memorial was performed on the night of the assassination, which was Shabbos Chol Hamoed, or the next week for the 7th and 8th day of the holiday. Its not clear if this was done everywhere, or in a few shuls only. It also seems strange to me that the murder of a president would be observed with Yom Kippur style services, when Tisha B'av, not Yom Kippur, is the holiday associated with mourning.

Does anyone know more?

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Fear Strikes Out


The day before Sunday’s health care vote, President Obama gave an unscripted talk to House Democrats. Near the end, he spoke about why his party should pass reform: “Every once in a while a moment comes where you have a chance to vindicate all those best hopes that you had about yourself, about this country, where you have a chance to make good on those promises that you made ... And this is the time to make true on that promise. We are not bound to win, but we are bound to be true. We are not bound to succeed, but we are bound to let whatever light we have shine.”

And on the other side, here’s what Newt Gingrich, the Republican former speaker of the House — a man celebrated by many in his party as an intellectual leader — had to say: If Democrats pass health reform, “They will have destroyed their party much as Lyndon Johnson shattered the Democratic Party for 40 years” by passing civil rights legislation.

I’d argue that Mr. Gingrich is wrong about that: proposals to guarantee health insurance are often controversial before they go into effect — Ronald Reagan famously argued that Medicare would mean the end of American freedom — but always popular once enacted.

But that’s not the point I want to make today. Instead, I want you to consider the contrast: on one side, the closing argument was an appeal to our better angels, urging politicians to do what is right, even if it hurts their careers; on the other side, callous cynicism. Think about what it means to condemn health reform by comparing it to the Civil Rights Act. Who in modern America would say that L.B.J. did the wrong thing by pushing for racial equality? (Actually, we know who: the people at the Tea Party protest who hurled racial epithets at Democratic members of Congress on the eve of the vote.)

And that cynicism has been the hallmark of the whole campaign against reform.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

We get MORE email!


I'm currently a clinical psychology Ph.D student at St.John's University, and I am looking for participants for a study I am conducting on the relationship between religiosity and stress in religious Jews. 

The study is online and takes about 15-20 minutes to complete. 

All participants will be entered into a drawing for a $50 giftcard. 

To access the study, visit . You must be 18 or older to participate.

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We get email!

Hello DovBear,

I am sure that you receive many e-mails, but I hope you will take the time to read mine. I am an American who made aliyah a few years ago to Jerusalem and became a ba'al tschuvah (modern Orthodox). I am trying so hard to find a shidduch, but it is extremely difficult because I am short -- five-foot, six-inches. I would love to have a wife and family, but I don't know what to do. Even though I am nice, educated, successful, and religious (I own my own consulting company), countless women say after dates that they "just don't feel a connection (chashmal)." That, of course, is a polite way of saying that they are not attracted to me. Objective opinions from women who are friends say that I am attractive -- but just short. So I don't know what to do. I know that your blog attracts both religious and non-conventional opinions, so I was hoping that you could post this so that I could obtain some advice.

Readers? Any words of advice or encouragement for this fellow? 

Friday, March 19, 2010


This sedra is as dull as dishwater. Two points of minor interest follow:

:: Vayikra Rabba 5,3 discusses the priest who sins. The author of the midrash asks "and could the anointed priest sins?" Such a strange question. Of course the anointed priest might sin. That's why the Torah provides a remedy for such a case. What's the author of the midrash thinking? What does he mean? Can he imagine that its impossible for a human priest to sin? Of course not. So what's his point? (Oddly enough during Slifkin, some of our so-called gedolim suggested that it was impossible for fellow godol to make any sort of error, but I digress.)

:: The point is often made in Vayikra that the priests are the sons of Aaron, with the formula בְּנֵי אַהֲרֹן הַכֹּהֲנִים or הַכֹּהֲנִים בְּנֵי אַהֲרֹן. [See the first chapter where there are three such cases in the first 14 verses (or perhaps 4; three ancient texts have "the sons of Aaron the priests" where the MT has "the sons of Aaron the priest". )]

The theory of the critics (which I am sharing here, but DO NOT ENDORSE) is that Leviticus is the work of Aaronid priests who were protecting their prerogatives. They wanted it perfectly clear that they, and not anyone else, were the true priests. As noted by the critics, outside of the material attributed to the Aaronid priests (specifically Deuteronomy) the priests are often called הַכֹּהֲנִים הַלְוִיִּם, which say the critics, suggests some sort of rivalry between the Levites, or a family of Levites, who thought they were entitled to serve in the Temple and the Aronids who wanted it made clear that right belonged to them alone. (preceding shared for informational purposes only.)

Open thread on the new Motty Borger message

I wanted to put this up yesterday, but couldn't get online so likely you've already heard that Motty Borger (update: I mean his father) has released a new message in which he angrily denies everything everyone everywhere has ever said about the tragic death of his son.

I have no comment on the content of his message (aside from one remark I'll make below) but invite you to say whatever you like here, with one exception: I'm going to moderate out unsubstantiated claims made about Motty Borger.

My one remark:  It's not for me to judge a grieving father, but I'm no fan of the approach he took. You can't pick a random tragedy and say that this was God's way of punishing people for committing your pet peeve. He may sincerely believe that hundreds of thousands lost power and that two Jews were killed by a falling tree because people said things about his family, but I could just as easily claim that the disaster resulted from something else, for instance the ongoing effort to protect pedophiles. Neither of us has any proof, or even any evidence that might substantiate our claims, so both of us should just keep quiet. Hanistort l'Hashem Elokeinu and all that. Also, it bugs me that he talked about the two dead Jews, and not the three others who died in the storm under identical circumstances.

My other one remark: Isn't there something clueless and delusional about posting a message calling for achdus among klal yisroel on Yeshiva World News? There's no one site that does more to stir up hatred within Orthodox Judaism. Hardly a day goes by without a YWN post that criticizes, slanders or insults the left side of OJ, and the nasty, angry, anti-achdus comments these posts generate are unsurprisingly the one thing the moron, uber-hypocrite, anti-dassTorah, YW editor refuses to moderate

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

I Want a Time Machine

A Guest Post By E. Fink

I want a time machine for a million reasons. I would not want to change anything and cause a ripple in the space-time continuum. I just want to be able to observe things that happened over the course of history.

DovBear is fond of his Shabbos Table games and at my Shabbos table we play this game from time to time: If you could travel in time and just watch something what would you want to see? (There are two categories, Jewish and Secular.)

We've had some great conversations about great moments in Jewish and Secular history.

Last night we made our kitchen Kosher for Pesach* and I announced that I want to travel back in time to see what our great-great-grandparents did to prepare for Pesach. What was it like without aluminum foil and duct tape, stainless steel, porcelain and convection ovens? How did the Rama's wife prepare her kitchen? How about Rashi's family? Or Reb Yehuda HaNassi? Or even as recent as the Vilna Gaon?

If I can't time travel, then I wish I could get my hands on a diary or journal of someone who was there.

Would the "righteous women" of our generation of machmirim eat in their kitchens on Pesach?

I bet not...

(*We are preparing everything in advance then we go back to Chametz next week. We will not be staying in our home for Pesach, we are going to our Shabbos place on Venice Beach, so this actually makes sense. Don't ask...)

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Oren: "I was flagrantly misquoted"

Ooops. Looks like the Obama hating creeps started their carnival of joy a little early. As it turns out, Micheal Oren did NOT say that US-Israel relations are at a 35-year low, and he did NOT say that there was any "crises."

Bad news, I'm sure, for the so-called lovers of Israel who desperately want Obama to fail.
WASHINGTON (JTA) -- Israel's U.S. ambassador and the White House denied remarks that have fueled the current Israel-U.S. tensions.

The envoy, Michael Oren, was quoted this week by Haaretz as saying that relations were at a 35-year-low after Israel embarrassed Vice President Joe Biden during a visit to the region by announcing that it was building 1,600 housing units in eastern Jerusalem.

On Tuesday evening, Oren issued a statement denying that account of a conference call he had Saturday night with Israeli diplomats.

"I was flagrantly misquoted about remarks I made in a confidential briefing this past Saturday," Oren said in a statement. "Recent events do not -- I repeat -- do not represent the lowest point in the relations between Israel and the United States. Though we differ on certain issues, our discussions are being conducted in an atmosphere of cooperation as befitting long-standing relations between allies. I am confident that we will overcome these differences shortly."

Separately, numerous media quoted senior White House officials as denying an account in Yediot Achronot last week that Biden had told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Israel was endangering the lives of American troops in the region.

"He never said that, and there's no basis to assert that he did," The Atlantic quoted one official as saying. "What he did say in a meeting with the prime minister and his senior advisers and his own team was that the U.S. is doing a number of things in our national security interest, and in Israel's national security interest, and they include a strong effort to build a coalition against Iran's nuclear program; deploying 200,000 troops in conflict areas in the region; standing against efforts to delegitimize Israel in various international bodies, sometimes virtually alone; acting decisively against terrorists in very significant ways; and building probably the strongest defense cooperation relationship with Israel that we've seen, including on missile defense."

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Shelo Asani Isha and the New York Times

Taken with permission from Hat Thief

So today (ie March 5) all three major U.S. Orthodox mostly based on copyright-violating with some original reporting newsblogs (Vos iz Neias, Matzav, and Yeshiva World News), posted a letter to the editor from a (presumably Modern Orthodox given his place of residence and the fact that he reads the New York Times) Daniel Wolf of Teaneck, NJ, complaining/clarifying the purpose of the ברוך אתה ה', אלקינו מלך העולם, שלא עשני אשה (said by Orthodox Jewish men every morning.) from ברכות השחר, part of the morning prayer service.
Maureen Dowd's reference to a morning prayer recited by some Orthodox Jewish men thanking God for not making them women ("Loosey Goosey Saudi," column, March 3) is the second time in two months that a New York Times columnist (after Nicholas D. Kristof, Jan. 10) has cited this practice as evidence of Judaism's oppression of women.

Under Orthodox Jewish practice, women, in recognition of their childbearing and other familial responsibilities, are charged with fewer ritual commandments than men. The blessing in question, far from reflective of officially sanctioned subjugation of women, is simply a daily expression of thanks by men for being given the opportunity to express their belief in God by performing additional commandments.
Now, Maureen Dowd's article was devoted to mocking a Saudi Arabian prince for his temerity to criticize "the democracy of Israel" on the issue of religious and other freedom given that his country is "an absolute Muslim monarchy ruling over one of the most religiously and socially intolerant places on earth." In addition to her nine paragraphs criticizing Saudi Arabia's "glacial pace" of "chipping away at gender apartheid and cultural repression," she does note that while "Israel is a secular society," things are in fact trending to the right due to those want to "impose a harsh and exclusive interpretation of Judaism." She references the arrest of Nofrat Frankel of Women of the Wall at the Kotel for the 'crime' of wearing a tallit, and notes that "in Orthodox synagogues, some men still say a morning prayer thanking God for not making them women."

In other words, she's being charitable and going easy on Orthodoxy/the Israeli ultra-Orthodox, limiting critical remarks in this area entirely to purely religious/prayer-related practices, while going after Saudi Arabia for religious-based influence on society in general.

Frankly, even on the issue Daniel Wolf criticizes her for, she's letting Orthodoxy off easily. Unless I am much mistaken, in all Orthodox synagogues, from Ohev Shalom--the National Synagogue in Washington, DC, whose Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, wrote to the Israeli ambassador criticizing the arrest of Frankel on religious grounds, to synagogues in the Old City whose rabbis pushed for Frankel's arrest, all Orthodox men say שלא עשני אשה

This is one of the very few areas in which the Conservative nusach differs from the traditional Nusach Ashkenaz used in non-Chasidic Ashkenazi Orthodox synagogues. The Conservative movement decided to modify all three שלא עשני
blessings (where God is thanked by men for A) not making them a goy [non-Jew] B) not making them a slave C) not making them a woman).

The Conservative nusach thanks God for making one a Jew שעשני ישראל and making one a free person שעשני בן/בת חורין. For the "not making them a woman", it totally scratches the dichotomy of "not making me a woman" for men versus "for making me according to Your will" for women. Instead, both women and men say שעשני בצלמו (that I was made in Your image).

However, more importantly, especially during a week where a bunch of anti-Semites are participating in "Israel Apartheid Week" worldwide, Mr. Wolf should be thankful for the tone of the article.

Frankly, she could've made analogies to the situation in Israel for a whole bunch of nasty Saudi Arabian practices. For instance, "the bearded religious police officers who patrol the streets" of Saudi Arabia have a non-governmental analogy in the Vaad hatznius (modesty police) in Jerusalem and other ultra-Orthodox areas.

The arrest of an American woman for sitting with a man at Starbucks? The new ultra-Orthodox ice cream parlors, with the popular lemon-vodka flavor, were opened specifically as a no-seating ice cream parlor to avoid that altogether. Where there are benches in Mea Shearim that cannot easily be removed but could be used by young men and women to sit together, the problem is solved with sticky raspberry syrup. Women not being allowed to drive? Well, the Haredi community generally cannot afford private cars, but they have brought back the 1950s Southern United States by forcing women to sit in the back of the bus.

So seriously, Mr. Wolf. Better to work to solve the problems.

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Absence of self-awareness watch

What the Rabbi says in his Shabbos morning sermon
Beware of the negative but invisible influences of the outside world! You are at risk! Your children are at risk! You can't watch TV! You can't go to a mall! You need to be very careful about what you let in your house! Examine your mail! Dispose of all advertisements that depict scantily clad women! Guard your eyes! Guard your eyes! The dangers are REAL. VERY VERY REAL.

What the Rabbi eats for Shabbos lunch
White bread challah, egg salad, grease-coated potato kugel, red meat, cake and candy.

What the Rabbi will ever say about nutrition and health

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Monday, March 15, 2010

Attention Obama haters: How are you worse off?

Obama haters are fond of insisting that the new president has shipwrecked the country, with one friend recently calling him a "disaster".  I don't see how. Here's what a ten second review of the world and my place in it has revealed

My life is exactly as it was 15 months ago. I live in the same house. I make about the same amount of money. The kids are as well provided for as ever. No disaster there.

Streets are as safe as ever. Taxes are where they always were. The country is on the verge of passing historic health care reform, and though this may turn out badly, its too soon to tell. It might also turn out great. For now I'm content to wait and see what happens. No disaster there either.

The world seems about as dangerous as it ever was. Certainly no more, and maybe a bit less now that the US is attempting to appeal to moderate Arabs. But maybe not. Israel is carping, but really, why should I care? The US isn't ever going to hand Israel over to the wolves, and I don't see anything wrong with asking Israel to earn the billions in dollars of aid it receives. The US has interests, too, and when they don't happen to coincide with Israel's interest there's going to be a little tension. That's happens in any relationship, but ultimately, the two countries need each other and like each other. If Israel disagrees with something Obama requests, Israel can say no (again), and I assure you nothing bad will happen. Both Bushes put so-called pressure on Israel, too, and when Israel rejected the demands life went on. Score: No disaster.

Your turn
If your life has gotten measurably worse over the last year, and you can credibly blame it on Obama, I'd like to know the details.Tell me in the comments, or submit a guest post.

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Friday, March 12, 2010

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Different Rabbi's Perspective on Orthopraxy

A Guest Post By E. Fink

Rabbi Steven Pruzansky is making headlines with his front page Jewish Press article in which he thoroughly disposes of Orthopraxy and ousts the Orthoprax from Modern Orthodoxy.

For a thorough fisking of the main parts of the article go to XGH's blog, this is his area of expertise.

What Rabbi Pruzansky's article made me ponder is the relevance of Orthopraxy to the average Frum Jew. In my opinion there are two kinds of Orthoprax Jews. There are Orthoprax theologians and Orthoprax by Default. The theologians are those that "believe" in Orthopraxy. XGH and others are the most vocal of this group. This is the group Rabbi Pruzansky heaps his disdain upon. He blames them for all of the problems he sees in his community and seems to think that if you sin, it must be because really you are Orthoprax. You must be the "non-believer in our midst". It is unseemly, and I do not wish to address his comments. (It's ironic because the Orthoprax, by dint of their theology value the acts of Judaism MORE than the beliefs of Judaism. While the Orthodox need to balance the two and one could be Orthodox and still sin all the time. That is why we have Yom Kippur and the mitzva of Teshuva. In other words, I would expect an Orthodox Jew to sin at least as often as an Orthoprax. But I digress.)

I think that within the Frum spectrum, from LWMO all the way through RW Yeshivish and Chasidish, there are many "closet" Orthoprax by Default Jews. I don't mean to say, they are Orthoprax on purpose. I mean that they practice Judaism purely out of habit or social pressure, or conditioning. These are the Frum people you see all the time that are simply uneducated or uninformed on the basic tenets of their beliefs. Sure, they may have memorized the 13 Ikkarim, or other formulae for their beliefs, but their actions speak way louder than their thoughts. They can't articulate why they do what they do. For many people, the issues of hashkafa and emunah are not part of their lives. They do all the mitzvos they can, they follow halacha, but it is void of any "theology". It is just their "lifestyle". That is also Orthoprax. And that is something that is common, prevalent and ubiquitous throughout any sect of Orthodox Judaism.

This is not ideal. But it is reality. Rabbi Pruzansky seems to assume that all Frum Jews who practice halachic Judaism are familiar with their "dox". But they are not. And sadly, these Jews do not even want to be Orthoprax, but they are by default. Instead of worrying about the people that have defined their beliefs as separate from traditional Frum Judaism, we would be better served helping the closet Orthoprax who WANT to be Orthodox become Orthodox in the truest sense of the word.

Our system has become great at creating robots. I call them Orthoprax by Default. We can do better...

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Glenn Beck, A** Clown Extraordinaire

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Old and new interpretations of the golden calf story

Briefly, the ancient interpreters read the Golden Calf story this way:

After becoming concerned (via the instigation of Janes and Jambres) that Moshe would not return from Sinai, the people went to Hur and demanded a new leader. Hur said no, and was killed. When Aaron saw this he feared not only for his life, but also that the people would commit the unpardonable sin of murdering a priest,so he decided to stall. First, he told the people to go and collect gold from their wives, expecting the women would be reluctant to part with their jewelry. When this maneuver failed, he took the gold and tried to stall again by wrapping it in a cloth. Michah, a villain from the days of slavery,  took the bundle of gold and threw it onto a fire, together with a magical plate that had been used previously to raise the bones of Joseph from the Nile. Miraculously, a living, breathing, golden calf emerged from the fire. When Aaron saw this, he tried to stall again by building an alter and declaring that the next day would be a feast. Next morning, the people woke up early and reveled in front of the calf, committing all acts of debauchery. 

For several centuries this, with or without minor variations, was the official story of the golden calf. Its still taught today in Orthodox Jewish schools.

Modern interpreters approach the story differently, with their interpretation informed by the absence of some core assumptions. Most importantly, they do not assume that the story is the revealed word of God, nor do they assume that the books were written in the chronological order traditionally assigned to them.

According to some modern interpreters the golden calf story was written during the era of Israelite kings and it is really a disguised attack on Jeroboam and Aaron's descendants. They bolster this claim with the following observations:

(1) When the calf is ready, the people declare: "These are your gods, O Israel, who have brought you up from the land of Egypt!" This, say the modern interpreters, is an odd thing for witnesses of the Exodus to say. They also note that these words are precisely what Jeroboam said five centuries later when he established golden claves in Dan and Bethel (I Kings 12:2‑33)

(2) Aaron and Jeroboam both had sons who died under unusual circumstances. Aaron's sons were called Nadav and Avihu; Jereboam's sons are Nadav and Aviya. Scholars say Avihu and Aviya are the same name, and in any case the similarities can't be a coincidence.

In the light of these observations (and many others) some modern interpreters propose that a  Levite wrote the golden calf story for the purpose of discrediting the Aaronid priesthood. As made clear in  1 Kings 12:31 Jeroboam didn't permit Levities to serve in his temples; the honor was reserved for Aaronids. According to this approach, the golden calf story was really written to discredit Jeroboam's calves and to discredit the Aaronid priests who served them.

A second modern interpretation is slightly different. This view proposes that the golden calf story was originally written (perhaps by an Aaronid priest) to justify Jeroboam's calves which, at first (the theory goes) were meant to serve the same purpose as the cherubim served in the southern Temple. Just as the people brought material to Moshe for the purpose of building the tabernacle and its utensils (including the cherubim), they also brought gold to Aaron for a similar purpose. When Aaron says the calf "came out of the fire" he's saying that it was created with God's assistance, and His blessing. Later,when Jeroboam's calves were worshiped as idols, their origin story was altered to show that they were really created in sin. This updated version of the legend is what we inherited in Exodus.

My View? I have no idea, and certainly would not wish for anyone to say I'm 100 percent behind either set of interpretations.

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Golden Calf loose ends

Update to my post about the sorcerers and their supposed role in building the golden calf.

Dating of the Jannes and Jambres texts

Testament of Solomon is an OT apocrypha written in Greek which Kugel puts in the first century BCE
Timothy was written by Paul, or by one of his disciples which puts it in the first century
Acts of Pilate is NT apocrypha and belongs to the second century.
BT Menachot is from somewhere between 300 and 600 CE, but the quote may be older.
Tanchuma is generally considered 5th century, though the thoughts and stories may be older.
TPJ is hard to date, and is usually placed in the 8th century, though some say its later then Rashi, while Kugel allows it may be much older.

The source that says Jannes and Jambres were Ballam's sons

Servants, actually, and it's TPJ. Oddly enough TPJ calls them יניס וימריס in Numbers where they are identified as Ballam's helpers, but יניס וימברס in Exodus where they are court magicians. I have no idea where this discrepancy originated, and therefore would hesitate before calling it an error (though that seems likely) or trying to guess who's error it might be.

Ok, ad kan on the sorcerers. More on Aaron and the calf later.

If anyone can explain why Rashi neglects to include them in his own account of the golden calf story (which is based 100 percent on the Tanchuma version, a version that does include J & J)  please email or comment.

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

How did the Sorcerers make the Golden Calf?

How did the Sorcerers make the Golden Calf?

As we have seen [See: How did Aaron make the Golden Calf?] Rashi reads the text about Aaron's role in the creation of the golden calf in two very different ways. .

The text tells us the Aaron asked for gold, and that after the people donated their jewelry, he did... something. As Rashi reads it, Aaron either tied the gold up in a cloth, or, after melting down the gold, he cut the cooled material and engraved it with a goldsmith's tool. According to Rashi's second interpretation, Aaron's work would have yielded something like this (I tried, but couldn't find one showing a bovine animal. You get the idea.)  But if we follow the first interpretation, what happened after the raw material was tied up?

Here's more from Rashi:
As soon as they had cast it into the fire of the crucible, the sorcerers of the mixed multitude who had gone up with them from Egypt came and made it with sorcery. [See commentary on Exod. 12:38.] Others say that Micah was there, who had emerged from the layer of the building where he had been crushed in Egypt. (Sanh. 101b). In his hand was a plate upon which Moses had inscribed “Ascend, O ox; ascend, O ox,” to [miraculously] bring up Joseph’s coffin from the Nile. (Joseph being identified with the ox) They cast it [the plate] into the crucible, and the calf emerged.

Aside from the reliance on magic, which is groundless, something else about this comment troubles me. I don't see what in the text forces Rashi to reach back to a midrash about Micha. Rashi, as I've said before, is not an anthology of midrashim. He chooses them carefully and uses them deliberately. His objective, as he tells us in his comment to Genesis 3:8, is to "... to teach the plain meaning of the passage and such Aggadah which explains the words of the Bible."  In other words, he uses midrashim to solve textual problems. But here I don't see what problem is being solved with the fanciful story about Micha..

More interesting things about the sorcerers
Though Rashi names only Micha, his source, the Tanchuma, names two other magicians: Jannes and Jambres. These two men are identified as sorcerers in Pharaoh's court in a variety of texts, including:

:: Targum Pseudo-Jonathan (where they are called  יניס וימברס and identified as the two who told Pharaoh to throw Jewish boy-babies into the river)
:: Acts of Pilate (where they are called Iannēs and Iambrēs where they are named as Pharaoh's magicians)
:: Testament of Solomon (Pharoh's magicians)
:: Gospel of Timothy:  (Iannēs and Iambrēs and called "two who withstood Moses")
:: BT Menchoth 85a (where they are called Yochana and Mamre and identified as Pharaoh's advisors)
:: Tanchuma: (Pharaoh's magicians and called  יונו"ס ויומברו"ס)

Other things I'd like to do, but its late and I'm hungry:

(1) Provide the dating for the sources. I know Tanchuma is last, and BT Menachoth is second to last, but I forget when TPJ and Timothy fall. I think Testament of Solomon in probably first.
(2) Look up the source that says Jannes and Jambres were Ballam's sons. I think it was the Targum Yerushalmi, but I forget.
(3) Attempt to explain how two different traditions emerged about Jannes and Jambres emerged. Why does one source say they were Ballam's sons, when so many others say they were Pharaoh's advisors?
(4) Say a few words about the better known tradition that it was actually Balaam, Job and Jethro who were Pharaoh's advisors. Though this is more famous tradition, its actually later. I'd like to explain why its more famous tradition and to tell you where I think it came from.
(5) Share with your a theory about Janes and Jambre which suggests that they were created for polemical reasons. Jannes, the theory goes, is a disguised attack on Alexander Yannai and/or Yochanan Hyrkanes. I think this is quite plausible (I forget who Jambre is supposed to be)

Sorry for the partially finished post...

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How did Aaron make the Golden Calf? Part 1

How did Aaron make the Golden Calf?

Last Friday, my kids came home with the "official" answer to this question, by which I mean "the one particular interpretation of the verse that is most popular and most frequently taught." Along with being the one my kids know, this official interpretation is the one presented in the Stone, Saperstein, and Gutnick translations, and it was mentioned with no qualification by the Rabbi in his Saturday morning speech.

Later, I took an informal poll among the congregants and found most had slept through the speech and/or grade school and had no answer, but those who did have an answer knew only the "official" answer.

Here is the verse, and here is how it is translated according to this "official" interpretation: [See it inside]

וַיִּקַּח מִיָּדָם וַיָּצַר אֹתוֹ בַּחֶרֶט וַיַּעֲשֵׂהוּ עֵגֶל מַסֵּכָה וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֵלֶּה אֱלֹהֶיךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲשֶׁר הֶעֱלוּךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם
He took [the gold] from their hand[s], tied it up in a cloth, and [someone else, i.e., sorcerers] made it into a molten calf. They said: "These are your gods, O Israel, who have brought you up from the land of Egypt!"

This "official" interpretation (Aaron tied the gold into a cloth, and someone else magically transformed it into a calf) is based on Rashi who writes:

...וַיָּצַר  is an expression of tying, and בַּחֶרֶט is an expression meaning a kerchief, similar to “and the tablecloths and the purses (וְהַחִרִיטִים) ” (Isa. 3:22); “and he tied two talents of silver in two purses (חִרִטִים) ” (II Kings 5:23).

The trouble is that Rashi offers a second, infinitely more plausible reading. As his comment continues:

The second [way of rendering the phrase] is [that] וַיָּצַר is an expression meaning a form, and בַּחֶרֶט is the tool of the smiths, with which they cut out and engrave (חוֹרְטִין) forms in gold. [The tool is] like a scribe’s stylus, which engraves letters on tablets and wax-covered tablets, as “and inscribe on it with a common pen (בְּחֶרֶט אֱנוֹשׁ) ” (Isa. 8:1). This [second interpretation] is what Onkelos rendered: וְצַר יָתֵיהּ בְּזִיפָא, an expression of זִיוּף, a tool with which people engrave letters and designs, known in French as nielle, niello work. With it, signets are engraved.

So, per Rashi, we have two explanations, two ways to read the verse:. One is logical, the other is fanciful. One tells us Aaron took a tool, and carved a calf; the other says he wrapped the donations of gold  in a cloth and somehow a statue was produced. One relies on the text itself, the other depends on the introduction of unmentioned characters (the sorcerers) and a belief in their magic.

One makes sense, the other doesn't.

So can someone explain why the lesser of these two interpretations has become the default reading, taught to school children and enshrined in the popular translations? Why can't both explanations be given, and if one must be chosen, why not choose the one that is least fanciful and least offensive to common sense?

I'll have a word or two about the sorcerers in Part 2 of this post.

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Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Monday, March 08, 2010

Talking about Sarah Hurwitz

Been arguing elsewhere with some bigshots on Twitter about Sarah Hurwitz and the RCA's capitulation.

Points of disagreement include:

Was it a capitulation on the part of the RCA?
I say yes. Avi Weiss got everything he wanted, specifically a highly trained female assistant to minister to the women in his congregation. It makes sense to call her Rabba, in that she is acting like a modern Rabbi, and has the same training and credentials as any modern Rabbi, but wisely Avi Weiss decided that her title shouldn't be a deal breaker. Sarah Hurwitz is back to being a Maharat, but functioning for all intents and purposes like a Rabbi.

Should Avi Weiss be allowed to hire a highly trained female assistant to minister to the women in his congregation?
Again, I say yes and fail to understand how our law or religion might object. Still, some of the Twitter chevra believe its contrary to the halacha for reasons that have not as yet been revealed to me.

Does Jewish tradition have anything to say about this?
I say no. The things Jews happened to do, or refrained from doing, over the course of the last 2000 years do not necessarily constitute a "religious tradition." Some of it is "just stuff we did."  If you want to declare a particular practice part of the religious tradition you must supply grounds. To date no evidence has been supplied that male-only Rabbis is part of our "religious tradition" dating back to Sinai.  Instead, all of the evidence suggests that our ban on female rabbis is closely related to the flawed perception of women, and the  flawed theory about the sort of work women are capable of performing that infected the world at large until very recently. For eons, there were no female doctors, lawyers, teachers, or judges. Absent proof of a religious tradition, its reasonable to say that Jews had no female rabbis for the same reason the rest of the world had no female CEOs.

Addendum to this point Even if it can be shown that we have a religious tradition of male only rabbis, it has to be further demonstrated that this tradition applies to modern Rabbis. Today, our rabbis are not inheritors of a tradition of smicha dating back to Moshe. With rare exceptions, they are not dayanim, and they are not poskim. Most don't even work in shuls or schools, and those that do are simply teachers or ministers, functions that women quite capably perform. Modern Rabbis are called "Rabbi" simply by virtue of their degree or their job. A woman who has the same job or holds the same degree should have the respect of the same title, and the higher pay scale that often accompanies it. Even if the smicha tradition precludes women (a contention yet to be proven) the modern rabbinate is something else and no different from any other job. A woman can earn this particular degree and hold this particular job just as she can earn any other degree and hold any other job.

N.B: I'll post the Twitter conversations if all parties consent.

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Friday, March 05, 2010

The Jew York Times again

One of the evil Cossak reporter at the Jew-hating New York Times has published an article that appears like it might treat Orthodox Jews fairly, and perhaps even with sympathy. Of course this is impossible, and I'm certain I've misread it.

The subject of the article is how the recent East coast blizzard damaged eruvim making Shabos life hard for frum Jews. You can find it here

Please do your best to help me explain why this article is, in fact, deeply anti-Semitic. The cherished, and unexamined belief of countless GOP Jews depends on it. 

HT: @scazon

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What Aaron saw

Exodus 32:5

וַיַּ֣רְא אַהֲרֹ֔ן וַיִּ֥בֶן מִזְבֵּ֖חַ לְפָנָ֑יו וַיִּקְרָ֤א אַֽהֲרֹן֙ וַיֹּאמַ֔ר חַ֥ג לַיהוָ֖ה מָחָֽר׃

And when Aaron saw it he built an altar before it and Aaron made proclamation and said, Tomorrow is a feast to the LORD

Saw it? What did he see?

According to the ancient interpreters, what he saw was the murder of his nephew Hur. (I don't recall where this first appears, but believe its in the apocrypha. TPJ and TN both have it) Another possibly, also suggested by an ancient interpreter (again, I forget who) is that he saw the angry mob.

Both possibilities are cleverly captured in the Peshita, where it says not that Aaron saw, but that he was afraid (In Hebrew the words are the same.)

All of these explanations are needed; without them the verse tells us that "Aaron saw the golden calf and built an alter." This reading, though the plain intention of the verse, was untenable to the ancient interpreters who could not tolerate the idea that Aaron might have built the altar of his own volition.

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Tribal lands


Twice in our history Hashem has said He wanted to destroy the Jews, and twice Moshe "argued" with Hashem and won: by the Golden Calf and the spies.

The Midrash (Shemos Rabbah 44:9 + Bamidbar Rabba 16:22) have 4 stage conversations with Moshe and Hashem:
1. Hashem says He wants to destroy the Jews
2. Moshe says that Hashem made a promise to the Patriarchs
3. Hashem says that He will let Moshe be the sole survivor, and fulfil the promise through Moshe

Here is where they differ - at the Golden Calf Moshe says that he cannot become a nation, as he only represents one tribe - Levi! Moshe says that all the Tribes have an assurance, at which point Hashem concedes the argument and lets the Jews live.

By the spies, this fourth point is different - Moshe says that letting the nation continue through him would be a Chillul Hashem - a desecration of G-d's Name - that people would speculate that Hashem could not sustain them in the desert, and so they died. Hashem replies that these people will have heard of His miracles in Egypt, so this would have no basis! Moshe counters by saying that perhaps people will say that the kings of Canaan were too great for the G-d of the Jews, at which point G-d concedes the argument and lets the Jews live.

His "flesh" was [something] like a turnip: Great moments in Torah learning

This week, the daf yomi arrived at BT Sanherdrin 19 and a discussion of the virtues of Boaz, the husband of Rus, that leads Rav to retell a ribald pun.

Here is the passage, according to the Soncino Press translation:

R. Johanan said: Joseph's strong [temptation] was but a petty trial [compared] to Boaz; and that of Boaz was small in comparison with that of Palti son of Layish. 'Joseph's strong temptation was but a petty trial to Boaz,' as it is written, And it came to pass at midnight and the man was startled [Vayehi ba'Chatzi ha'Laylah, Vayecherad ha'Ish Vayilafes]. What is the meaning of Vayilafes?** — Rav said: His flesh became [as hard] as turnip heads [ie a "lefes".]

This translation follows Rashi, who says "it got hard, and nonetheless he conquered his inclination." Boaz's trial, or test, is deemed more challenging then Joseph's test, as Ruth propositioned Boaz at midnight in an unlit barn that he owned, and also she was unmarried and, I'm guessing, hot whereas Joseph was invited to bed by an older woman who was not only married, but married to his master. The Talmud's point is that saying no to Ruth was harder then saying no to Potiphar's wife.

However some quick Googling suggests a problem. Rav's pun, and indeed the Talmud's discussion about Boaz's virtue relative to Yosef and Palti, appears based on the Targum on Ruth, which reads as follows:

And it happened at midnight that the man shuddered and trembled, and, as a result, his flesh became as soft as a [boiled] turnip. Though he perceived a woman sleeping at his feet, he subdued his evil inclination and did not draw nigh unto her, just like the righteous Joseph, who refused to draw nigh unto the Egyptian woman, the wife of his master; and just like the pious Paltiel, the son of Laish, who placed a sword between himself and Michal, the daughter of Saul and wife of David, refusing to approach her. [Samuel H. Levy translation]

So, soft or hard?

Its impossible for me to guess what happened here. Rav may have intended what the Targum intended only Rashi misunderstood him. (At times Rashi rewrites the Targum and at times appears ignorant of it or in possession of a different text.) [And see this other example of Rashi appearing unaware of something Ruth-related]

Alternatively, the problem may have begun with Rav. Perhaps he had a different text himself, or perhaps he rewrote it himself because, let's face it, the comparison to Palti and Michal makes more sense if Boaz was aroused, and not much sense at all if he was terrified.

True believers, what do you think?

It actually makes MORE sense if Boaz was terrified. Follow my reasoning. Joseph was terrified of his master and in an open house during daylights hours, so his refusal to sin isn't so impressive. Boaz, however, was in an unlit barn he owned but was also terrified and also refused to sin. Finally, Palti was in his own bed, in his own house, for several years yet refused to sin, and because the woman in his bed was the King's wife, he also was terrified.  If we say Boaz was aroused, rather than terrified, this extra variable destroys what is otherwise some neat midrashic parallelism.

**That verb Vayilafes is a real problem. On the spot, Ibn Ezra references Job 6:18 [wind, or turn aside]; Rashi points to Judges 16:29 [grasp].

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Thursday, March 04, 2010

The Martin Grossman G'mach

A sharper in Williamsburg is attempting to capitalize on the execution of cop-killer Martin Grossman. He's running ads asking people to donate money to a free-loan society in Martin's memory. Here's what it says:
We tried, Reb Michoel Yechiel Grossman a”h, to save your body from harm, but miShomayim it was otherwise decreed. However, for your neshama, there is salvation.

Your name has been inscribed in the keren kayemes of Kolel Shomre Hachomos in Yerushalayim. For this coming year till Adar 5771, Mishnayos will be learned, Kaddish will be said, and a lecht will be lit in your memory.

Dear Acheinu bnei Yisroel, since Reb Michoel Yechiel a”h did not leave any children nor close religious relatives, our board of directors have initiated a special “Free Loan Fund,” “Gemach Michoel Yechiel ben R’ Avrohom Grossman a”h,” which will serve as a loaning gemach to those in need in Yerushalayim. Each time money will be spent from this gemach, it’ll be a zechus and an aliyah for his neshama
My thoughts? Free loan societies are wonderful. They deserve our support -- even if this particular campaign is the crassest exploitation of a dead Jew since the Gospels.

What's next? Something for Bugsy Seigel?

HT: MarkSofla

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