Monday, May 31, 2010

Very confused about the Shalit letter

According to the Israeli bloggers and newspapers, the flotilla refused to take a letter to Gilad Shalit. I took it for granted this was true.

Now I'm seeing that Irish Senator Mark Daly agreed to carry the letter and to attempt to deliver it to Shalit or Hamas officials. I honestly don't know what to believe, but will agree that its sad, indeed, that only one person among six shiploads of people agreed to take the letter. Still, if one flotilla member did in fact make the offer, the Israeli bloggers and papers are lying reporting an untruth.

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Flotilla reaction: Andrew Sullivan

Andrew Sullivan:

Another gripping video is here, showing the activists attacking the commandos boarding their ship.

A simple point. The violence by the activists is pretty abhorrent.[DB: It's worse that abhorrent. I don't think anyone is mistaking these peace activists for pacifists. Certianly no major newspaper is. All of them are reporting that Israel says they were "attacked first" which true, I suppose, but the attack was in response to having their boats raided. ] These are not followers of Gandhi or MLK Jr. But the violence is not fatal to anyone and it is in response to a dawn commando raid by armed soldiers. They are engaging in self-defense. More to the point: they are civilians confronting one of the best militaries in the world. They killed no soldiers; their weapons were improvised; the death toll in the fight is now deemed to be up to 19 - all civilians.

It staggers me to read defenses of what the Israelis have done. They attacked a civilian flotilla in international waters breaking no law. When they met fierce if asymmetric resistance, they opened fire. And we are now being asked to regard the Israelis as the victims.


[DB: I agree with what Sullivan is saying here. Israel doesn't own international waters, and supporting Hamas while on a boat in international waters, though a pretty ugly thing to do, is not a capital crime. You don't get to raid boats and shoot people just because you don't like the politics of the sailors.]

This is like a mini-Gaza all over again. The Israelis don't seem to grasp that Western militaries don't get to murder large numbers of civilians because they don't like them, or because they could, on a far tinier scale, hurt Israelis. [DB: The Israelis are tired and frustrated and sick of being bombed and attacked. This is an explanation, not a justification.] And you sure don't have a right to kill them because they resist having their ship commandeered, in international waters. The Israelis seem to be making decisions as if they can get away with anything. It's time the US reminded them in ways they cannot mistake that they cannot. [DB: I disagree with Sully. The US isn't the world's school marm. The US should do what's right for the US and not waste time, treasure and political capital reminding other countries that they have made mistakes. That job belongs to bloggers, the media, and civillians]

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Lost among the RW chest thumping

RWers are so busily congratulating the IDF for giving Israel its very own Selma they've failed to note the man they most like to hate is saying precisely what they would want him to say. To date, Obama has not condemned Israel, or offered criticism of any kind. Instead he has been quietly supportive. The White House has expressed concern for the wounded, and said and it " was working to understand the circumstances surrounding this tragedy."

Quite nice, actually, and so far not reported by your leading RW bloggers, who never seem slow to report as fact things Obama has not said, and has not done.

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Flotilla II

The question isn't whether or not the attack interception of  the flotilla was legal, or if it was right, or if it was moral. Let's stipulate it was all three: legal, right and moral. None of this matters one little bit, because the real question is whether or not the decision to attack intercept was smart or stupid.

A sampling of the day's headlines show us just how dumb a choice Israel made:
  • Syria, Lebanon say flotilla attack can lead to war
  • Israeli Leadership Faces Fallout‎
  • Gaza Flotilla Attack Sparks Demonstrations Worldwide‎ 
  • Sweden summons Israel ambassador on flotilla deaths
  • Assault likely to rebound on Israel
  • Turkey condemns Israel over deadly attack on Gaza aid flotilla
Its hard to see how letting the boats land would have caused any more damage to Israel and its reputation.


3:11 a.m

Ive been following the gaza flotilla story since about midnight when the first #flotilla hashmarks started appearing on Twitter. This was a good thirty minutes or so before anyone had it on Google news and an hour at least  hour before JPost and Haaretz confirmed at least two dead. Now its after 2 am and were hearing as many as 15 dead and every news organ has it.

All else aside, it was quite the 21st century experience watching the story develop on Twitter. Arab sympathizers had it first and their rumors included the claim that European parlimentarians were among the dead, and that Turkey was viewing the attack as an act of war on Turkey.

More than an hour later, as Israel started to wake up, the hasbara tweets began and we started hearing that the IDF comandos were attacked after they boarded the boats and that of course Israel was not only
totaly justified in everything that had happened but that the larger strategy pursued was also perfectly flawless.

I took some issue with that, replying that strengthening your enemy and weakening your supporters is a strategy move straight out of the chochmei chelm playbook. How does acting tough help, when it plays right into your enemies hands? The ensuing conversation is part of why I'm still up, and somewhat agitated.

Here's the thing. I think Israel did a dumb, dangerous thing today. I think the enemy wanted a confrontation, a confrontation that would produce martyrs, and Israel gave it to them. When I last checked Googe News, many  headlines  read "Israel attacks relief flotilla" That's nothing  but a big PR win for Hamas. Even if those boats were loaded to the brim with guns (and for the sake of Israel's international reputation I hope to God they were loaded with guns) its hard to see how the arrival of those guns in Gaza would have hurt Israel more than those headlines. They will be used forever to "prove"  that Israel is the sort of country that
fires on humanitarian ships in International waters (As of now, the confrontation is said to have occurred in international waters. I hope that's wrong.)

If guns don't turn up (and lets hope they do), it seems clear to me that Israel has badly tarnished its reputation, and possibly ceded the moral high ground to their enemies. This is a disaster for Israel. If no guns turn up on those boats, the attack on the flotilla turns Israel Bull Conner. Moreover, it seems obvious and self evident to me that Israel was played, and outsmarted by an enemy that wanted exactly what Israel seemed all too happy to provide. The fact that the flotilla seems to have wanted the attack, is also a strong suggestion that they weren't carrying guns. Israel should have known that, and avoided the trap.

But on Twitter there are those who don't see it this way, who remarkably insist that world opinion is
irrelevant and that anything Israel chooses to do is ipso fact correct.

This blind love, though on some levels admirable, is bad for Israel. World opinion does matter, and even the country you love best can make serious strategic errors. The attempt on Twitter to defend Israel's mistake reminds me all too much of how the anti Slifkinites defended the gedolim after their sensless and absurdly damaging to their own goals ban on Slifkin's work was announced. All that mattered to some gedolim supporters was that the gdolim were right and that those who disagreed for any reason were evil. Long term strategy, nuance, and any consideration for the big picture just went out the window. Instead we were given loyalty tests, litmus tests, and other trials of faith. All that mattered to some Jews, was that the rest of us were behind the gdolim one thousand percent.

I think something similar was at work this morning, among certain Israel supporters. I think they are likewise blinded by love for their country.

Friday, May 28, 2010

No time to post

Sorry, folks but this is a busy weekend.

In lieu of something new, why not see what the following DovBear branded searches yield?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Are the people running Areivim con men, or well intentioned morons?

Areivim, for those who are late to our story, is an OJ organization that collects money from its living members to pay a death benefit to the children of members who have died. Our friend Yanky Horowitz has lately been trying to get a handle on how the organization works and who manages it. He has now published four posts on the subject.

After reading the articles, the commentary, and the things said behind the scenes by my crew of insiders, gossipers, and know-it-alls, I have concluded that the people in charge of Areivim are con men, plain and simple. Here's the evidence, as reported by Rabbi Horowitz:

  • They won't say who their posek is
  • They won't name any of the "hundreds" of Rabbis who supposedly not only endorse the program but are "investing time, energy and heart in this project, one which has become a priority to them."
  • They won't provide a full list of board members, and 3 of the 16 people who were named contacted Rabbi Horowitz after their names were linked to the organization to deny any involvement.
  • They won't name the people who run the office.
  • They won't name the actuaries, lawyers and accountants who allegedly signed of on the program
  • They sidestepped questions about payments, fees and commissions.
  • They wouldn't explain how investment or disbursement decisions will be made
  • They wouldn't explain how grievances are addressed, or what is done if someone feels they've been mistreated
  • They wouldn't explain how the lavish advertisements are paid for (when Rabbi H. asked, the reply was "To the Chusheve donors there is still a lot of open slots for donation of this project we could have done much more with more help.")

Instead, the organization keeps insisting that everything they plan to do has been blessed by nameless rabonim. The expectation, I believe, is that our brains will shut off as soon as we hear the word "rabbi". (This works on Bray by the way)  Too bad for Areivim,  but this trick doesn't work on Yanky Horowitz. He is encouraging everyone to cancel their Areivim subscriptions, and to stay as far away as possible from the organization.

That said, I do have one small complaint about Rabbi H's treatment of these swindlers. He is too darn nice. On his own blog, he prints evidence that Areivim lied about their endorsements, and lied about their board members, yet he speaks of the founders in glowing terms even as he tells everyone to stay clear. For instance:
Areivim has done an outstanding job of raising public consciousness about the matter of uninsured members of our community and the need to find a better way to do things other than the heartbreaking campaigns that regularly occur – and for this we all owe them a debt of gratitude... The two members of Kol Yisrael Areivim’s leadership with whom I met are polite, energetic people who are clearly motivated to help the klal – and are genuinely interested in receiving feedback. They have both invested enormous amounts of time and effort in this project and have been wildly successful in raising awareness about a critical subject.

What is that about? Why is he treating these shysters like well intentioned morons -- people who tried to do something nice, but carried away - when its clear they have lied and obfuscated?

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Al Pacino Goes to shul

According to the newspaper, Big Al sat respectfully at the back of one Boro Park shul, and "as worshipers swayed in prayer, known as shuckling [a guy] said he saw Mr. Pacino slowly rock back and forth with them, observing their movements."

Impressed? Don't be. Pacino went for a walk with the true believers for the purpose of preparing to play Shylock, the money-grubbing sterotype. Some compliment. Additionally, as Lipman adroitly observes, why he thinks he can learn anything about a 15th century Venetian Jew by observing Hasidim is anyone's guess.

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The ick factor

Another email
So, the other day I took my 9 year old to Citi Field. During the seventh inning rendition of that Italian song, we went for some snacks. The kid took a hot dog. I had one of those sausages with the vegetables. (Tell your readers Citi has several kosher stands, and the food is good, too) I let the kid take the food to the mustard station, while I got on line for beer. Two minutes later, the kid is back with wet eyes, a mournful expression and no food. He dropped them. Of course I wasn't too mad. After all its just five bucks, and in our stomach or on the floor, what's the difference? Its not rent money, and we won't starve for lack of a hotdog. But I'd sort of had my heart set on the idea of a ball game with a beer and a dog, and I hadn't quite figured out what to do yet. Do we get back on line for more of the food, and miss more of the game? Do we go back to the game with no food? Or do we just pick it up off the floor and eat it? I admit to half considering the latter option in the split second I had to think about it. I mean what's the damage? Sure the idea of it is disgusting, but based on what? How dirty could they have gotten already? They weren't soaking in urine. They were just resting on a filthy, but solid surface.

Anyway, I only had a second, as I said, to mull this over, because one of the floor supervisors came over, and offered to replace the food at no charge. He had seen what happened - even knew we wanted kosher - and took care of everything (A brilliant policy when you think about it: Why should me and my kid come away from the ball park unhappy because of a 30 cent food item?)

So why am I writing? On the car ride home, I thought it over and realized the only thing that would have prevented me from eating that dog off the floor was the ick factor. Putting a dog that has been resting on the stadium floor into my mouth seems yucky, but in reality eating it would have been perfectly harmless. It would have tasted the same, and I wouldn't have caught any diseases.

I think contemporary kashrus is similar. We Orthodox Jews stay away from so many perfectly kosher foods, just because of the ick factor. Non-glat meat is the best example, but there are so many other examples of food that is perfectly ok according to our own rules, and therefore guaranteed to cause us no harm of any kind, yet we leave it on the floor due to the ick factor.

The result of this snobby behavior is a scarcity of acceptable foods and that creates higher prices, plus this whole I won't eat that unless it has ten certifications on it, does nothing for us but give us additional reasons to look down our noses at other Jews. We're such fools, allowing such a petty, superficial subjective thing like the ick factor to hit us so hard in the pocketbooks, and such horrible people for permitting this sort of silliness to drive wedges between Jewish people.

Thanks for listening

And thanks for writing.

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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

News from Lakewood

Yesterday, a little bird told me that the Lakewood Roshei Yeshiva went all Tony Soprano on a blog, threatening the owner with expulsion and ostracism if he didn't dance, or jump, or whatever it was they, in their dass torah wisdom, desired. I didn't publish the story, because I don't trust little birds, but today I see Vid Yid is saying the blogger capitulated:
Lakewood VAAD had a meeting and decided they want the LakewoodScoop (TLS) out because they think that’s the only way to save Bob Singer. The next day, the Rosh Yeshivas called the owner and said if he doesnt shut it down they will throw him out of town, his kids won’t be allowed into any shoool, etc.

The Rosh Yeshivas realized that by shutting down TLS they are only encouraging other anonymous blogs to open. After being made aware of this, they decided to grant TLS permission to stay alive as long as they monitor and approve all content.

In other news, the same Lakewood  Roshei Yeshiva appear to have mosered on their bochrim by calling the cops to cart off some students who were living in the dorms with no authorization.

I bet those bochrim and that blog owner wish they'd been laundering money or molesting little children instead. When it comes to diverting the attention of Roshei Yeshiva those two crimes always seem to work the charm.

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What's so great about being UOJ?

"In our country, they say that he who wishes to tell a lie has his witnesses live far away." That's the Ramban at the Dispuitation explaining why the claims of Christianity mean nothing to him. What good is it, he continues, to say that Jesus has saved us from sin, or given us eternal salvation? These claims are impossible to falsify. What you say may be true, or not, but who can tell?

 An identical charge, alas, might be made against some of the claims of Ultra Orthodox Judaism.

Go to a BT seminar, or question your local Haredi believer, and you'll be told that there are three primary reasons for living the Ultra Orthodox lifestyle. In this post, I attempt to discuss them with the bombasticity  and lack of nuance for which I am quite unjustifiably famous.

What really matters in contemporary Orthodox Judaism?

Fish worms!

The leading lights of our sect gathered yesterday in Brooklyn to learn more about this crucial threat to things we can't see or measure such as our souls and our mitzva point accounts.

Those deeply concerned about this matter, and not at all convinced that it is merely alarmist nonsense dreamt up by bored Rabbis to justify their continued existance, are encouraged to carefully review the instuctional video, found here.

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Tznius: Is Following Halacha Sufficient?

A Guest Post By E. Fink

I don't provide an answer in this post. I have been having this discussion in my head and thought it would be worth posting and eliciting your thoughts as well.

There are many mitzvos in the Torah that we practice today. Each one of those mitzvos has many halachos. Each of those halachos has many elements. Suffice to say, the Orothodox Jew lives a life of incredible attention to detail on thousands of details.

One area halacha falls under the rubric of tznius. It is not clearly a mitzvah to be tzanua nor an aveira to be not tzanua. It is a violation of halacha and probably a violation of rabbinic law. Again, in this area we are greeted with many rules, details and specifics. was asked a long-winded question whose basic point was this:

"Why is it than that I see religious woman wearing clothing that seem at best to be just technically meeting standards of Jewish law but still in violation of the standards of modesty?"

Some women think that if they are dressed within the letter of the law—elbows and knees covered, hair covered (for married women)—then “I’m alright Jack.” Sometimes it takes a wise outsider or newcomer like yourself to notice, “No, you’re not alright Jack—or Jill!”

This is an expected response because we hear about it all the time. "People are following the "rules" of tznius by covering what needs to be covered." "But they are still not really tzanua because they "miss the boat" on tznius and are still "too attracting"." You know the drill…

Here's what I have been thinking about since reading that answer on Is this the only place in Orthodox Judaism that halacha is not enough? For some reason we also demand that the adherent to halacha find the "spirit" of the halacha and adhere to that as well.

For example: Let's assume the spirit of the mitzvah of arba minim is achdus (we see this in Chazal, its not just new-age spirituality). Would we condemn someone who shakes the arba minim but doesn't "internalize" the "spirit" of the law? Yet that is exactly what is done with regard to tznius?

Why does tznius get that kind of treatment? Maybe it really is enough to just follow halacha? The halacha says that there are parts of the body that must be covered. That's all it says. True, it may not be very modest (in the social sense) to wear skin-tight clothing, but it is permissible in halacha.

I'm not saying that an Orthodox Jewish person would not want to dress in a modest way, rather, that in this part of Judaism, for some reason, halacha doesn't seem to be "enough".

One more thing. If you read the sources in halacha about tznius, it is all about what MEN cannot do. Men cannot read krias shema if a woman in not covered properly. A man must give his wife her kesuba, UNLESS she was an "overes al das" (with witnesses and proper warning). It doesn't say a WOMAN MUST… in any of the sources I saw. I just found that interesting in contrast to today's rhetoric of "Women must do this… Women may not do that… etc..."

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Attention Rabbis: Please ban corn syrup and red meat

Does it make any sense to you that the typical OJ Rabbi will tell you to avoid the mall, but won't say a word about unhealthy foods? I'm not suggesting that our Rabbis start speaking exclusively about the dangers of red meat and corn syrup - certainly, its right and proper for Rabbis to warn about invisible, or if you prefer, spiritual dangers - but couldn't some practical advice be occasionally mixed in with the inveighing against inappropriate music and hemlines?

These thoughts occurred to me last shabbos, as I sat at a shul kiddush with a mouthful of cholent meat, and a glass of soda in my hand. Look at me, I thought. Here I am doing something inarguably damaging to my health. The meat in my mouth gleams with fat, the soda is packed with sugar and carbohydrates, and all the peer group signals tell me to continue shoving these things down my throat. Why must it be like that? We have a Rabbi who exhorts us weekly to choose life, to learn more, to daven more fervently, and to take extra steps to avoid evil influences. Yet, there he sits, his own plate piled high with cake and red meat. Does this make any sense? Can you explain why the Rabbi uses his considerable influence to get women to wear longer hemlines, but does nothing to benefit our waistlines? All he'd have to do is ban soda from the shul, the way he's already banned various books and events, and urge us to serve meatless cholent as he already urges us to serve cholov yisroel.  Small steps, but think of the difference it would make to our health. Think of the example it would set, and the message it would send. Think of how robust Orthodox Jews would be if we worried about out health in the way we worry about mitzvah points and segulot, if we ran from corn syrup the way we run from pork. But we don't. So, instead of robust, we're roly-poly, the stoutest of all men, the roundest of all nations, the pastiest people. It could be otherwise.

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Monday, May 24, 2010

Titles matter

Sent in by a reader. HT: On request

Many women have argued that if they are doing the same work a Rabbi does, they ought to have the same title. In reply, many have said "Why insist on the title of "Rabbi"? Any other title will do, and also not cause as much of a ruckus."

Well, here's why. As a blog I consider too vile to mention is reporting*, a former chief rabbi of Israel will be testifying for the state in a smicha-for-sale case Excerpt:
"According to the state prosecutor, the suspects sold rabbinical degrees to hundreds of recipients, persons employed in the IDF, Israel Police, and Israel Prison Authority, and their rabbinical academic degree earned them a NIS 2,000-4,000 monthly salary increase."

Seems as if the title "Rabbi" is worth between NIS 2000 and NIS 4000 a month in many jobs!

*Note: I can't find this story on any other website yet. The item's author is the same liar from Israel, who last summer reported to his moron RW yeshiva audience that Obama was on the verge of announcing a plan to split up Jerusalem. As shrewder readers have noted, its 12 months later, and this still hasn't happened, so perhaps this article is wrong about the chief rabbi too. Caveat lector

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What I did today

What I did today: Attempt to write a post about how the Midrash Raba's understanding of the gifts presented by the tribal leaders is different from the explanation given by the Sifri.

Why I am not posting it: Because my whole premise was garbage, as I realized much later than I should have.

What I will point out: The famous explanation of the gifts, given by Rashi, is not even close to the whole story, and here, yet again, we have mutually exclusive midrashim.

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Another Jesus Post

Very nice New Yorker article on how Jesus became Christ waiting for you here. Worth it for the history, and for the author's readable, clear-eyed take on the Gospels, including:
The more one knows, the less one knows. Was Jesus a carpenter, or even a carpenter’s son? The Greek word tekto¯n, long taken to mean “carpenter,” could mean something closer to a stoneworker or a day laborer. (One thinks of the similar shadings of a word like “printer,” which could refer to Ben Franklin or to his dogsbody.) If a carpenter, then presumably he was an artisan. If a stoneworker, then presumably he spent his early years as a laborer, schlepping from Nazareth to the grand Greco-Roman city of Sepphoris, nearby, to help build its walls and perhaps visit its theatre and agora. And what of the term “Son of Man,” which he uses again and again in Mark, mysteriously: “The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” As Diarmaid MacCulloch points out in his new, immensely ambitious and absorbing history, “Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years” (Viking; $45), the phrase, which occurs in the Gospels “virtually exclusively in the reported words of Jesus,” certainly isn’t at all the same as the later “Son of God,” and may merely be Aramaic for “folks like us.... He is informal in a new way, too, that remains unusual among prophets. MacCulloch points out that he continually addresses God as “Abba,” Father, or even Dad, and that the expression translated in the King James Version as a solemn “Verily I say unto you” is actually a quirky Aramaic throat-clearer, like Dr. Johnson’s “Depend upon it, Sir.”

Ten DovBear nickles to whoever can figure out the "quirky Aramaic throat-clearer" translated  by KJV as “Verily I say unto you."

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Pay me to move to your boondocky Jewish neighborhood!

From Craig's List:

Young couple with 2 children willing to accept payment to become participating members in an Orthodox synagogue in Fair Lawn. We will become members of the highest bidding shul willing to pay us to become members. Please submit your bids along with a description of the youth services you offer and a menu of your weekly hot kidush to the email address above. Non cash bids also acceptable (offers for free tuition, housing, car lease, boats or recreational vehicles will be considered).

I believe this is a satire on some of the crazy offers dying Jewish communities make to prospective members.

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Friday, May 21, 2010

Ruth: How modest was she?

From the very begining its been the habit of Jewish commenters to project ideas onto scripture. One famous example is found in a Midrash about the Book of Ruth. The verse (2:3) tells us that Ruth gleaned with the male reapers [וַתְּלַקֵּט בַּשָּׂדֶה, אַחֲרֵי הַקֹּצְרִים] and further (2:5) tells us that this breach of modesty scandalized Boaz, leading him to demand her identity [לְמִי הַנַּעֲרָה הַזֹּאת]. After the male reapers pin Ruth's blunder (2:6) on her foreign birth [וַיֹּאמַר: נַעֲרָה מוֹאֲבִיָּה הִיא] Boaz diplomatically (2:8) tries to encourage her to glean with the women instead [וְכֹה תִדְבָּקִין, עִם-נַעֲרֹתָי] She doesn't get the hint (2:21) [ גַּם כִּי-אָמַר אֵלַי, עִם-הַנְּעָרִים אֲשֶׁר-לִי תִּדְבָּקִין] and it needs to be reinforced by her mother-in-law (2:22) [טוֹב בִּתִּי, כִּי תֵצְאִי עִם-נַעֲרוֹתָיו]

However, despite this clear textual evidence that Ruth was unaware of ancient Judean ideas about modesty, the lesson the Midrash shoehorns into the text is that Ruth demonstrated exemplary modesty by bending her knees to glean, and not her back, thus exposing less of her legs. (!)

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Old, non-bad posts about Shavuot

What does a woman do with Shavuos?
 From 2006. Gil asked what a "traditional" woman does with Shavuot, and I answered. Irreverently

Fulfilling the requirement to eat meat on the dairy holiday
From June 2008. Along with discussing the so called meat requirement, I get into male vs female roles

The texture of Boaz's... turnip
How an aggada in bt Sanhedrin disagrees with Midrash Ruth

The official Shavuos pet peeve
The most recent of several posts in which I point out that all of you who indicate sunrise with the word "netz" are making an error

Stupid things overheard at the Shavuos dinner table
The dumb, dumb things our kids bring home from school

Stuff my five year old knows that Chazal did not
Eg: He knows when the Torah was given.

Rashi's difficulty with or ignorance of a particular Midrash on Megilas Rus
Like he didn't even know it existed

Israeli Rabinate Rules Moshiach ben Dovid isn't Jewish
How could he be? "Ruth the Moabite did not go to the mikva. She did not accept upon herself all 613 mitzvot and the accompanying chumrot of the high court. She behaved in a licentious manner with a local farmer named Boaz, and was known to walk around the fields with various body parts uncovered, including her hair.

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Today's minor irreverancy

Think about it... he didn't like the mainstream way of doing things... he made up his own approach.. he denounced the old ways... he recruited followers... the extablishment attacked him... he attacked back... he knew dope spooky magic... who am I talking about?

Voldermort? Or the Bal Shem Tov?

Relevance: The Bal Shem Tov's yartzeit (death day) is Thursday. For your additional consideration, I give you an excerpt from Alan Nadler's recent Forward article:
...we get a glimmer of the Besht’s own views in a letter he wrote to his brother-in-law — the most important text known today that has been authenticated as the Besht’s own. In it, the Besht describes one of his many heavenly ascents, in which he encounters the messiah:

Finally I rose and arrived at the actual Palace of the King Messiah and I actually saw [him] face to face, and great untold mysteries were revealed to me…. and there was in heaven much happiness and rejoicing; so I decided to ask him, ‘When, my Lord, will you be arriving?’ But the answer from his Eminence was, ‘This cannot be revealed, but by this shall you know: When your [the Besht’s] learning becomes publicly known and your teachings shall be spread across the world… then shall evil be broken and it will be the time of favor and salvation. And I worried about this and it greatly pained me on account of the very long time this would take.

Everyone get that? In a letter, the Bal Shem Tov claimed to have risen into heaven, and to have encountered the Messiah. Tomorrow, I plan to make the same claim. If you don't believe me, or suggest I need stronger meds, please expect to be called a Hassid basher. --after all, who but a Hassid basher would doubt such a reasonable and eminently believable claim? Right?

A Tale of Two Torah Revelations at Sinai

The basic revelation at Sinai story goes something like this.

On six Sivan, God lifted Sinai over our heads, and forced us to accept the Oral Torah. Then he spoke the first two commandments, but his voice was too darn scary, so Moshe had to announce the other eight. Following this, Moshe went up on to Sinai for 40 days, where we was taught the whole Torah, from beginning to end, up to and including all the points every seasoned student will ever make. 

This is how the story is taught in just about every OJ school, and if you're unfortunate, your shul Rabbi will say it this way in one of his holiday sermons, as well. Natually, I have a complaint, and its the same complaint as always: If you study the source material, you'll find that nearly every single one of these points is disputed by someone, and that this official Torah True version of the story, is really an amalgamation of what good old S. famously calls the "lucky midrashim", that is the midrashim which, for reasons not fully understood, are famous and popular.

As an illustration, here's what the revelation at Sinai story looks like if you include the unlucky midrashim.

On six Sivan, or maybe seven Sivan - we're not completely sure, and a debate on this subject is recorded in bt Yoma - God spoke to us from the mountain and from the heavens, seemingly at the same time. Though one midrash explains this by saying God lifted the mountain, another achieves the same result by saying God brought the heavens down to the mountain top.(1) In either case, the point is that heaven and earth intersected when the Torah was given. Afterwards God spoke - some say he announced all ten, others say he announced two, or none - and took Moshe into heaven, where he was taught something. What exactly that 40 day teaching included is a matter of dispute. Some say, Moshe was taught every word of the oral law (2) (a fair amount of which was subsequently forgotten when the people were mourning for Moshe); others say he was taught nothing but basic deductive principles(3), while a third approach says he was taught many different arguments -49 in favor, and 48 against -  with God remaining strictly neutral about the results. (4)

(1) The earliest midrashic account of the mountain being lifted contains no mention fo the TSBP threat. The threat which first appears in a later midrash, seems to be an attempt to explain why the mountain was lifted, when God could have instead come down to the mountain top.

Megillah 19b milamed she hayrohu h'kbh l'moshe dikdukei torah v'dikdukai sofrim u'mah she hasofrim atidin lchadesh.  

Shmos Raba 41:6
 וכי כל התורה למד משה?!
כתיב בתורה (איוב יא): ארוכה מארץ מדה ורחבה מני ים, ולארבעים יום למדה משה?!
אלא כללים למדהו הקב"ה למשה.
הוי, ככלותו לדבר אתו.
Tana Dvei Eliyahu 2
אלא כשנתן הקב״ה חורה
לישראל. לא נתנה להן אלא כחיטים להוציא מהן סולת.
וכסשתן להוציא
ממנו בגד.
p Sanhedrin 64b

אמר רבי ינאי אלו נתנה התורה חתוכה, לא הייתה לרגל עמידה. מה הטעם? - 'וידבר ה' אל משה' אמר לפניו: רבונו של עולם הודיעני היאך היא ההלכה. אמר לו: 'אחרי רבים להטות' רבו המזכין - זכו. רבו המחיבין - חייבו. כדי שהתורה תהא נדרשת מ"ט פנים טמא ומ"ט פנים טהור, מנין ודגלו.

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Monday, May 17, 2010

If Areivim isn't a scam, why does it act like one?

Areivim is an Orthodox Jewish organization that collects money from its living members to pay a death benefit to the children of members who have died.

Basically, it works like this: When Reuven dies, all the other members pony up a few dollars each so that a six figure fund can be set up for each of Reuven's children. In order for it to work, you need thousands of members, of course, and they have to die infrequently. Collections are by credit card - so someone needs to make sure all of the information is up-to-date, and the funds are all distributed by Rabbis, who use rules not fully disclosed to decide when Rueven's children get paid.

Along with these odd logistical issues, there are a few other fishy things about the program. For instance:

My uninvited two cents about Chabad Mesianism


Chabad messianism is a term used to describe a spectrum of beliefs within the Chabad Hasidic movement regarding their late leader Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson and his purported position as the Messiah. While some believe that he died but will return as the messiah,others believe that he is merely "hidden." Other groups believe that he has God-like powers,or is the "creator" while a few negate the idea that he is the messiah entirely

On a previous thread, Micheal the well-spoken meshichist, claimed that his belief that the long-dead Rebbe will one day return to fight the wars of God, end the exile, and fill the world with Torah is "grounded in a very solid theology of Toras Hachassidus."

As I replied to Micheal, the reality is his belief is not grounded in anything but wishful thinking, and fanciful interpretations of some words in a book. Its Jesus all over again. His followers loved him, and couldn't stand to think that he was gone. They believed in what he represented and what he promised. They wanted the better world he represented. So, after his death, they reinterpreted texts to "prove" that Jesus was exactly what they desperately wanted him to be. Now Chabad is doing the same thing, for the same reason. A tragedy.

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Sunday, May 16, 2010

Harry the Hassid Basher

R. H Maryles tells us exactly what is wrong with hasidut (and if any of it sounds familiar perhaps its because I've been saying much the same thing for 5 years)

Friday, May 14, 2010

Good shabbos

Have a great one, true believers... and if you think the blogging this week was any good, please toss a few bucks in the plate. Thanks

Shabbos music, as per usual, after the jump.

A kippa in the dugout: PICTURES


Photo followup to this post. Picture seen here along with this somewhat disturbing bit of booth dialog between the Met announcers:

Keith Hernandez: Was that a Met yamulke right there?

Gary Cohen: That’s exactly what that looked like.

Hernandez: How about that.

Cohen: It’s a bit of a surprise.

Hernandez: Well, it’s Sunday. [Painfully awkward pause follows.]

Cohen: Yeah?

Hernandez: Did you, did you go to temple today?

Cohen: Not on Sunday, Keith. Saturday.

Hernandez: Oh! Excuse me, I’ve got it wrong, don’t I. I’ve gotta get my facts straight.

Cohen [cracking up]: We’ll have the course in comparative religion right after the game.

Hernandez: No no no, we don’t have to. I had my catechism when I was young, please.

Smarter sportscasters please!

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Are the goyim out to get Sholom Rubashkin?: Why he isn't a victim of anti-Semitism

A Guest Post By E. Fink

This post was getting some great comments on my blog, so I have cross-posted here.

Are the goyim out to get Sholom Rubashkin?

In a word, no.

If you are like me, you have been reading about the Rubashkin saga for months. What began with a Federal raid at a meat processing plant to ferret out hundreds of illegal alien employees is now culminating with a federal and state trial. (Link)

If you are like me, you have been hearing that the raid was "disproportionate" and fueled by anti-semitism.

If you are like me you have been hearing that he was denied bail because of an anti-semitic fear that Rubashkin was a flight risk and would flee to Israel.

If you are like me, you have been hearing that his federal sentencing recommendation was anti-semitic. (Link)

If you are like me, you have been hearing how the county jail was anti-semitic in not providing food that was kosher "to Rubashkin's standards" and not permitting him to wear religious garb (tzitzis / tzitzit). (Link)

I have three things I want to say.

What did we actually get at Sinai?

Shavuot is coming, and along with the annual confusion regarding the actual day of the revelation (see the Talmud or this post or this one) I, and like minded friends, are wondering what precisely was handed to Moshe at the mountain top.

For starters, it wasn't the whole entire Pentateuch, as we have it now.  Chazal knew that errors had crept in(1), and they allowed for scribal additions, and subtractions(2). They also entertained the possibility that Joshua wrote the last few verses, and that events such as the Wilderness Tales, Farewell Address, and Account of the Last Days of Moshe's Life were added by Moshe as they happened  (Some later authorities allow that the Patriarchal Narratives were also written as they occurred, and passed on until Moshe eventually incorporated them into the Pentateuch.)  Ezra is identified by some midrashim as author of the 15 stigmatized, or dotted passages(3).  Razal made additional allowances for possible corruptions to the text (3), and modem scholarship, drawing on the testimony of textual witness such as the various Targumim, has suggested a plethora of other scribal errors.

And what do we mean when we say that Torah She B'al Peh was given at Sinai? Also a puzzlement. One aggadah says Moshe received it all, up to and including the questions a smart student will one day ask. Another (following the interpretation of Tosfot Yom Tov) says Moshe received all of it, but only shared some of it. (Rashi disagrees)  Another says he only received the arguments - 49 in favor, and 49 against  for every halachic issue - but that man, is entitled to reach his own final conclusions.

All of the approaches have their problems. For instance, if there is one right answer to every problem, and Moshe received it at Sinai why are there arguments on every page of the Talmud? And if we say, as some do, that arguments started only after laws were forgotten, or after the Sages were reduced in status, or after the students of Hilel and Shamai started acting disrespectfully, why are the defeated, by which we mean non-Sinatic conclusions recorded in the Mishna and Gemarah? And why are pages and pages of the Talmud dedicated to the determining the basis of defeated, and therefore presumably not-from-Sinai- ideas?  On the other hand, if we say that Moshe received only the arguments, and that God has no stake in the conclusions we reach, why are there agadot in which God is said to take a side, for instance the famous story of R. Eliezer ben Hyrkunus? If God is neutral, so long as some correct process is followed, why did he send a bas kol to defend R. Eliezer? Why - and how(!) - does yet another aggada depict Him as being defeated by the Heavenly Academy? If God's seal is truth how did he lose an argument to his own ministering angels?

An answer, given by David Weiss Halivny, is that the law and reality are pluralistic. God is absolute, and entirely True, but man with his limitations and perceptual shortcomings can receive th Truth only partially. So, continues Halivny, the revelation at Sinai was arguments, and deductive principles only. As long as we stay within those perimeters any outcome is kosher - God doesn't care, for instance,  if shma is said standing or reclining, or what material we use to make a kohen's belt. The bas kol came to defend R. Eliezer because his answer was True, but his opponents were allowed to carry the day because the goal isn't something impossible and unknowable like Truth, but to conduct legitimate arguments.

(1) Specifically regarding plene and defective spellings
(2) They identify between 7 and 18 tikunei sofrim (scribal corrections) and 5 ittur sofrim (scribal omissions). See this.
(3) Avot d'rabi Nathan and the Midrash Rabba
(4) Abridged list here 

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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Does the mitzvah of redeeming a captive extend to a meshichist?

My good friend Hesh from FrumSatire sent me this picture he received from VID YID

It shows Sholom M. Rubashkin with a meshichist kippa peeking out from under his hat (example at right.)

The possibility that Rubashkin belongs to the Chabad sect which believes their long deceased Rebbe may yet return as the Messiah raises a bunch of interesting questions, many first asked by VID YID.

My tentative answers in brackets.
  1. Can we establish someone's status based on his choice of kippa? Does the fact that Rubashkin wore such a kippa mean that he is a meshichist? (NO)
  2. Assuming he is a meshichist are we still required to turn the world upside down on his behalf? Does the mitzvah of pidyon shevuyim extend to a heretic of this kind? (DUNNO)
  3. And what about his meat? Would you eat meat that had been slaughtered at a plant owed by a J4J (NO) Is this different? (DUNNO)
All and all, I think this would make a great, and timely shiur for Shavuos night.

Rude post? HELL NO! (oops)

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Must a mikvah attendant be present?

A Dear DovBear letter from Emily:

I hope all is well with you. I've actually been reading your blog on and off for years and it's great. (I assume you know this already.)

Someone suggested that perhaps you'd be able to help me out with a question.

I'm working on a short story in which a woman immerses in the mikvah without the attendant present. The attendant not being there is essential to the plot. I need to know if this is ever a possibility and allowed.

...I'm trying (unsuccessfully) to find out if having a mikvah attendant is true halacha or a chumra. I understand that for logistical reasons, it would be preferable to have an attendant but is it necessary? I can't imagine that women would be told not to immerse if there is no one to watch.

 I went to and here is a transcript of the conversation:

Rabbi Richler: Welcome. I'll be with you in a moment...
emily: i really hate going to the mikvah, to the point that i would rather not go at all. my husband suggested that i ask if i can immerse without the mikvah lady in the room. that would make this mitzvah infinitely easier to keep. would that be allowed?
Rabbi Richler: while i would very much love to help you, we at askmoses cannot answer halachic questions. you (or your husband) need ot ask this question to your rabbi or to your local rav
emily: okay, i understand. but i'm not asking as a matter of halacha. i would like to know if hypothetically, a woman would be permitted to immerse w/o an attendant? forget that it's my situation? like let's say there wasn't someone able to watch, and it was a lake. one would still have to immerse on time. is it necessary for an attendant to be present?
Rabbi Richler: generally yes it is needed to make sure you are fully immersed and that your hair is not floating
emily: and i understand that in my personal case, i'd have to have a heter to do such a thing? or would it not be heter since technically, there doesn't need to be someone there? just like some kind of more authorization?
Rabbi Richler: you would need a heter from a rav
emily: so having the attendant there is halacha?
Rabbi Richler: yes
emily: thank you.

Readers? Anything helpful to add?

Rudeness? Are you kidding? Another 0

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

This Caricature Is Not Anti-Semitic

A Guest Post By E. Fink

DovBear very adequately addressed many of the issues relating to the protests of RW Jews to the nomination of Elena Kagan. In my opinion there is more to the story here. Most RW Jews are very conservative politically. Kagan is not. Her existence and certainly her appointment the SCOTUS is not viewed favorably in their eyes. Subconsciously, they need a way to protest her appointment and the first thing that pops into their minds is the old "anti-semitism card".

People point to the caricature of her as anti-semitic. People think that it is reminiscent of Nazi propaganda.

It's not.

Nazi propaganda was general. It showed Jews as having certain features and overemphasized those features in order to make a separate point. "Jews steal", "Jews are like vermin", "Jews run the world", etc. The caricature was to paint a villain with gross features and then label the villain with gross acts. It works better than painting the villain with gross acts with a face like Clooney or Pitt...

The cartoon of Kagan is just a cartoon. It exaggerates her features because those are HER features. It's the same way a Leno cartoon has a huge chin and Bush cartoon has a squat head and long ears. It pokes fun at their appearance but is in no way anti-long chin or anti-squat head with long ears. Accentuating Kagan's features in a cartoon can't be off limits because she happens to be Jewish.

A second thing about all this anti-semitism talk is very ironic. I have not seen any reports from mainstream media that even mentions that Kagan is Jewish. It is not an issue for most people. Why do we think that it is an issue? It's like we invent an issue to get upset about. Kagan was chosen because of her credentials and the diversity she brings to the court. Doesn't that champion minorities like Jews? How is that anti-semitic!?

The last thing I want to address is the complaint lodged by a commenter on DovBear's post. Mamzer Talmid Chacham said "I'd still like it better if he nominated someone who was actually a judge". It so happens that one of the greatest SCOTUS justices of all time, Justice Warren, was not a judge. One large criticism of the SCOTUS is the seemingly similar paths all the justices took to get to the court. Choosing Kagan adds another element of much needed diversity to the court.

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The first Jerusalem Day

The Times ran no less than nine articles on June 8 1967 about the conquest of the old city. All of them are after the jump. All can be made larger with a click. Don't miss the vomit inducing one about the Pope. 

An open letter to some of Kagen's Jewish opponents

Dear RW Jewish Neighbors and RW Jewish Bloggers:

Some of you - I'm careful to say some, because I know not all of you feel this way -  have reacted to the announcement that Elana Kagen is president Obama's choice to replace retiring Justice Stevens, in a way that reminds me once again that RW Jews are quite capable of wallowing in antisemitism and self-hatred.

I've heard Kagen's height attacked, I've heard her nose attacked. She's been called the wrong type of Jew, a bad Jew, an unreliable Jew, a traitor Jew. I've heard Jews complain  (and seen Jewish bloggers complain) that there are too many damn Jews in high office, and that we should follow the successful example of our timid European ancestors and keep our heads down, and our mouths shut. (Hell, nothing bad ever happened to them). The ascension of Kagen, some go on to promise, will do nothing but invite a fierce anti-semitic backlash from the angry, like who? The millions and millions who swept Obama into office and presumably like the policies his new Supreme Court Justice is expected to support? Them? Those happy and satisfied liberals are going to murderously object to a liberal Justice? I'm shaking. Better you should worry about those pro-choice people going Cossack on the Catholics, who now have six co-religionists on the court.

And what about the non-liberals who, by the way, are no majority in this country? Well, a second, stupid worry from stupid, quaking Jews is that Kagen's expected votes against Christmas, God, gun ownership, and school prayer will incite pogroms. Pogroms led by who exactly? The pro-Christmas, gun-toting, God-loving, evangelical Christians who, we are told 24-7, really and truly, totally love us? Them? They're suddenly going to grab torches and pitchforks? And if one little Supreme Court vote is likely to push them into madness, why have you said for the last decade or so that we should be absolutely confident in their unfading support? If you think (as I often said) that evangelical support is fickle, why have you previously argued for greater dependency on them? Are they our friends or not already?  Anyway, when confirmed, Kagen will be the third Jewish justice. Your homework assignment is to list the pogroms that have been incited by the works of Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I can't seem to recall any.

In short, your pathetic ghetto Jewish mewl of "Oh vey vat vill the goyim tink", is doing the work of StormFront and Aryan Nation. Only hardcore anti-Semites like them care that Jews are overrepresented in American life. Your reaction to Kagen tells them that their antisemitism is correct and justified. It tells that that you agree that Jews, alone among all Americans, are not entitled to go as far as their talents take them.  It tells them that you agree with their bigoted notion that Jews don't really have any right to be here, and aren't genuinely Americans. It tells that exactly what they want to hear - that even in America we live at their mercy, and that we owe them obsequiousness -- that our very survival depends only on how many bigoted tuchesses we can lick.  

You might as well join up with Naturei Kartra. Your hatred for Jews, and sympathy for the perspective of our enemies is really that pronounced.

Rude? Yes. But I didn't single out any of the stupids, and nothing I said here was any worse than what they are saying about our sister, and fellow Jew, Elena Kagen, so I'm ranking this post a 1 (out of 3)

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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Shell shocking Video of Pre-state Israel

I sat with my mouth hanging open as I watched this news report about some recently discovered color footage of mandatory Palestine.

Don't miss it

Seen here first

Same rules as always apply: If this is on your blog, let me know and I'll provide the link.

Rudeness factor=0

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Peek-a-Jew: A kippa in the dugout?

From Adam Rubin's Mets blog

DIFFERENT HAT: Yes, that was Dan Warthen spotted wearing a yarmulke in the dugout when he removed his Mets cap during Sunday’s game. The pitching coach explained that Ike Davis had received Mets yarmulkes from a rabbi, and gave one to Warthen. Warthen, who is Jewish, forgot he had it on when he placed his cap on and went out for the game, he indicated. “I wear them all the time. That’s why I have that little bald spot,” quipped Warthen, who attends temple.

Davis’ mother, incidentally, was raised Jewish but is not practicing. The first baseman has only been to a temple once in his life, by his recollection.

I think this makes the Mets the Jewiest team in baseball. Also: Has a kippa ever been worn before in an MLB dugout by a player or coach?

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Modem Myth Making

Silly statement of the day:

This is wrong, no matter how the speaker means it, and it betrays a sad understanding of Jewish history, and the development of our culture and practices.  It's little better than saying the Patriarchs wore shtrimals and ate cholent.

Many of our grandfathers were 100 percent secular; some were themselves the grandchildren of secular Jews. And even among our grandfathers who were strictly observant, were many who were not Haredim. They kept shabbos, and kashrus, but went to college, read newspapers, respected science, worked for their money, and loved the state of Israel.

Today, we recognize many non-Charedim as All Time Greats, including
  • Every single Tanna
  • Every single Amora
  • Every single Rishon
  • A significant number of achronim
We deny this at our peril.

HT: Mark

Rude post? Hardly. Another zero on ye' old rating scale

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New blog anthem

I don't recognize a single name or face, and have no idea what - if any - cause this was created to promote. I just like the sentiment, and got a smile from seeing all those different types of Jews singing together about commonalities.

Credits (added 5/11 @11:45 (after the information was provided to me))

  • The song was originally written by Lenny Solomon of Shlock Rock, although the lyrics were modified for this version.
  • Full lyrics in Hebrew and English available here 
  • Original song here

Was this post rude? No. It gets a zero on the rudeness scale.

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Monday, May 10, 2010

How the Times reported the Rabbis March on Washington

Rabbis March on Washington as per Wikipedia:
The Rabbis' March was a protest for American and allied action to stop the destruction of European Jewry. It took place in Washington, D.C. on October 6, 1943, three days before Yom Kippur. It was organized by Hillel Kook, nephew of the chief rabbi of mandatory Palestine, and involved more than 400 rabbis, mostly members of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada[1], from New York and cities throughout the eastern United States.

Though the delegation was reluctantly received by Vice-President Henry Wallace, President Franklin D. Roosevelt avoided meeting the rabbis, both out of concerns regarding diplomatic neutrality, but also influenced by the advice of some of his Jewish aides and several prominent American Jews. Many thought the protest would stir up anti-Semitism and claimed that the marchers, many whom were both Orthodox as well as recent immigrants (or first-generation Americans), were not representative of American Jewry. Shortly before the protest reached the White House, FDR left the building through a rear exit to attend an Army ceremony, and then left for a weekend in the country. Disappointed and angered by the President's failure to meet with them, the rabbis stood in front of the White House where they were met by Senator William Warren Barbour and others, and refused to read their petition aloud, instead handing it off to the Presidential secretary, Marvin McIntyre.

The march garnered much media attention, much of it focused on what was seen as the cold and insulting dismissal of many important community leaders, as well as the people in Europe they were fighting for. The headline in the Washington Times Herald was, "Rabbis Report 'Cold Welcome' at the White House." Editors of the Jewish Daily Forward commented, "Would a similar delegation of 500 Catholic priests have been thus treated?"

One of the participants was Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, later to be one of the most important and famous American Orthodox rabbis.

Same story, as reported in the New York Times on October 7, 1943

[Click to enlarge]

How mean was this post? On the DovBear scale of rudeness, I give it a zero. 

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I bet she thought the bunny was cute

Why it's funny. (Its sad, of course, because this is a little like a black man, obliviously, wearing the stars and bars on his hat. Do you think she knows that the bunny represents sexism, and the objectification of women?)

Ten DovBear dollars for the first comment to link the status of Hasidic women to a Playboy centerfold. Bonus for using words like "false consciousness" or "empowerment. "

Photo sent to me by email.
Links to the same shot on your blog, on request. 

How mean was this post? On the DovBear scale of rudeness, I give it a zero. 

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How big is the oil spill?

How big is the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, caused by BP? Pretty damn big.

For a sense of the scale, use this Google Earth utility, created by Paul Radmacher, to superimpose the slick over your favorite city. I chose Jerusalem, and as you can see "pretty damn big" was an accurate measurement.

Drill, Baby Drill

How mean was this post? On the DovBear scale of rudeness, I give it a zero. 

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Sunday, May 09, 2010

Is it kefira to say that material was added to the Torah after Moshe?

Is it kefira to say that material was added to the Torah after Moshe?

Short answer: No.
Long answer, from Lurker in 2007

Debbie Schlussel Hates Fat People

Most absurd sentence of the day award goes to Debbie Shlussel, who opens her full fusilage attack on Gabby Sidebe with this gem

It’s one thing to be against the government getting involved in what you eat or how much you weigh. Big Brother shouldn’t be in our kitchens or on our dinner tables. But it’s entirely another thing to be subject to the constant, intellectually dishonest promotion of fat people as “beautiful” and “sexy.”

Ah yes, "the constant promotion of fat people as beautiful and sexy". It is everywhere and never-ending. No matter where I look I see the evil, leftist, media attempting to countermand human nature and convince us that fatties are hot. That's why we get fat models on Project Runway, fat woman in the lead roles of major motion pictures, and all those fat women on the cover of major magazines. (Turning your fantasies into evidence, by the way, is typical of RW commentary. These pro-fat messages don't exist, yet Debs is shameless enough to say the promotions are "constant.")

And though Debbie clearly hates fat people (or black, fat people who enjoy more success than she does) I don't ever recall her attempting to do something about it. Her side, and her candidates, roundly oppose any attempt to educate the public about healthy eating choices or the dangers of obesity, and she herself has opposed Michelle Obama's attempt to improve school lunches. The proof of Debbie's venality is that instead of writing a legitimate column about the dangers of obesity, and the role government and the media play, she gives us no less than 8 paragraphs that do little aside from viciously insulting a woman who obviously suffers from some kind of disorder.

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Friday, May 07, 2010

Good shabbos!

Good shabbos!

And hey, if you think book burning sucks, pick up a copy of DovBear on the Parsha. It'll be our secret.

Thanks, and shabbos music after the jump

Why does this keep happening?

Yet another Right Wing conservative republican anti-gay preacher has been caught with a rent - a - boyfriend.

How long until someone at Cross Currents writes a post telling us what fine guy he is? 

Defending DovBear on the Parsha

A very serious charge has been levied against my book, DovBear on the Parsha. An unknown, anonymous commenter on another blog, says the book consists of "overt and intentional kfira." I find this charge impossible to sustain, and will respond to it the only way I can: with a blog post.

DovBear on the Parsha is a collection of blog posts - 69 in all - which appeared here between October, 2004 and July, 2008. All of them were edited for spelling, grammar, space, clarity, accuracy and civility. (though as some have noted, sometimes viciously, our very best efforts to scour the book clean of any spelling mistakes came up rather short.)

The majority of the posts were written before I started thinking seriously about textual issues, before I had read any Kugel (he's not referenced anywhere in the book) or very much of any other critic aside from Alter, who is mentioned in several places. Alter, however, takes the view that the Torah (for the most part) is a literary whole, that is whoever it was that compiled the book (in Alter's view an editor, or school of editors) made careful and conscious decisions, and chose to tell the stories in certain ways, and for certain reasons. Though I do make use of this idea (and Alter's observations) in about a dozen posts, I use it for Torah and not heretical reasons. As I say in the book (page 149) I think even skeptics must concede that observations such as this suggest (rather strongly in my opinion) that the Torah was (for the most part) finalized by one hand, a hand that made deliberate and purposeful authorial choices, a hand that could have certainly belonged to God.

In the list that follows, I revisit every post that appears in the book, and rate them using the following scale. 1 is for posts that contain no kefira at all (no color code) or introduce a kfiradik notion for the purpose of debunking it (marked in blue), or for the purpose of showing why it might not be kfira at all. (marked in green) 2 is for posts that mention a kfriadik idea without expressly agreeing or disagreeing with it (marked in red). 3 is for posts that contain overt kfira, or arguments in its defense.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

A 2010 Scribal Error

A Guest Post By E. Fink

Today, the stock market took the world for a roller coaster ride. At one point, the market was down 9% or roughly 1000 points. Stocks that were trading for $250 dropped below $200 in a matter of minutes. By the end of trading, the market had mostly recovered.

What prompted the intense drop?

[SIMPLIFICATION]: An error. A trader typed M for million instead of B for billion. There are software trackers that monitor the market. The software sensed this typo was a cause for concern and the software began the sell off. Human being traders assumed the sell off was in reaction to the concerns in Greece and the rest of the EU and the sell off worsened. Finally, the market corrected itself as people came to their senses and realized the sell off was artificial and not built on genuine concern.


Typos matter. Especially when others are making really important decisions in reliance of the accuracy of your word.

The Torah has some typos. Perhaps one could argue that we may be making huge mistakes based on those typos. In response, I present 3 (weakish) arguments.

1) God runs the world. Typos that would cause us to sin would not be allowed by God. God would not violate "lifnei iver lo teeten michshol".

2) The errors are irrelevant. Once the Torah left Sinai it was entrusted to the hierarchy of Torah scholars and their best efforts to keep the Torah as accurately as possible. We continue that effort today.

3) The typos in today's sell off caused a reaction by a software program. Had humans audited the information that the software received, in all likelihood they would have caught the error. Due to the gravity of the information, they would have checked it out. We can assume that errors in Torah that would cause giant changes in Jewish practice would have put scholars on high alert and those kinds of errors would not have slipped under the radar. Whereas, typos of little significance would have crept into the Torah.

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A hachnachas sefer Torah, as reported by the New York Times in 1852

I like everything about this story, and the thought of a sleepy community of Albany Jews welcoming a new sefer Torah to their shul. I'm especially charmed by the tone ("an excellent and appropriate address"(!)) and the errors in the transliterations of the Hebrew words.  I love that the reporter cared to find out what the Torah's garments are called - and came away with kele hakoesh, and I note that the ceremony began at an "early hour" - presumably so the participants would miss no work.

Now for some puzzlements: Why did they delay the ceremony? April 7, 1952 1852 was 18 Nissan, the first day of chol hamoed. Why did the congregation wait for the first day of chol hamoed, when they could have started the holiday with a new Torah? And what became of their children? How many of the crowd that turned out on that spring day 158 years ago have children who know that they are Jewish?

[Note: The last question isn't a slap at America. I'd ask the same question if the crowd had gathered in Poland or Hungary in 1852. Many - most? - of their descendants assimilated, too.]

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This just in: Earth round, kosher food normal

I do not understand why food reporters employed by the New York Times continue to express surprise whenever they encounter artfully prepared kosher food. You're in NYC, I feel like shouting. Why haven't you realized yet that kosher wine isn't syrupy sweet, and that there are cuts to enjoy other than brisket? Why does a reference to the hora almost always sneak into your reporting? When you write about India, are elephants always mentioned? Here's the latest:

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Samson Rephael Hirsch denies daas torah, infallibility of the Sages, on matters of science

If I had a billion dollars, I'd pay every Jewish school in the world to force every Jewish student to memorize this passage.

It seems to me that the guiding principle with which every student of our Sages' words should bear in mind is that our Sages were the scholar of the divine religion and were the recipients, transmitters and teachers of God's guidance, ordinances, commandments, and statutes; they were not especially natural scientists, geometers, astronomers, or physicians except as it was necessary for their comprehension, observance and performance of the Torah - and we do not find that this knowledge was transmitted to them from sinai. Nowadays, anyone whose occupation is not in one of these fields - such as a lawyer with respect to them all, or a geometer or astronomer with respect to the study of inanimate matter, plants, animals, and people, or even a physical scientist with respect to biology, or a botanist with respect to the rest - one should not expect any one of them to conduct research or to be held responsible except in his own field; it is enough, it is indeed impressive, if in all other disciplines he simply knows what the scholars of those disciplines teach about them, and what has been accepted in his time as fact. Moreover, even in the field of one's own occupation, it is neither possible nor expected that one will know everything from his own personal investigation and experimentation; one relies for most of his knowledge on the investigations of others, and is not to blame if they have erred. It is sufficient  -it is praiseworthy- if his storehouse of knowledge contains everything accepted as true in his time,his place and his generation; his sagacity is in now way diminished if in another generation it is determined that some of his statements, in making which he had believed and accepted the reports and investigations of others, were based on incorrect premises.

So, too, our Sages, in these matters and on these topics. The greatest of them knew what was accepted as true in their time in all fields of wisdom and science; they were in this regard the intellectual and scientific equals of the rest of the world's sages whose wisdom and teachings were widely accepted in their time.
Rabbi Samson Rephael Hirsch, Letter to Rabbi Hile Wechler

Take away points:
  • No Torah sage is infallible on matters of science, medicine, botany, biology, astronomy and the like 
  • The Torah sages relied on the local wisdom of their time when it came to these matters
  • The subjects are not part of the Mesorah, and were not transmitted from Sinai.
Found here, too, where a charedi cover up is suggested.

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Some Jews are more Jewish then other Jews

Where were the forces of organized Orthodox Jewry back in April 2009 when Mazoltuv Borukhova and Mikhail Mallayev, both Orthodox Jews, were facing a sentence of life in prison?

I don't recall receiving 20 emails per day begging me to pray for them, as I did last week in honor of Rubashkin, the fraudmeister who employed children and illegal immigrants, or a few months before that in honor of Martin Grossman, the cop-killer from Florida. There were no mass gatherings on behalf of Borukhova and Mallayev, nor were there any conference calls led by famous women educators, or flashy professional YouTube ads. We weren't encouraged to attend kinus, or to say tehillim, or to sign petitions, and no claims were made that Borukhova and Mallayev were being victimized by anti-semites (though as I posted after sentencing, their judge, Robert J. Hanophy, certainly seemed to suffer from Jew-hatred.) I received letters from people begging me to post a few words in support of Rubashkin, but not one from anyone regarding the two Bukharin Jews from Queens.

As I remember it, the Jewish world was silent as Borukhova and Mallayev went to their judgement, and silent again as they were sentenced to life in jail.

What was different about Borukhova and Mallayev? Why weren't they zocheh to receive the Rubashkin/Grossman treatment? A few possibilities:

:: Money. Rubashkin had plenty of it, and he spread it around. It makes sense that people would support him - either as a way of saying thanks for past favors, or as a way to angle for future considerations. This doesn't do much to explain the outpouring of Grossman support, so nope: Scratch this one

:: Hakores Hatov. Rubashkin performed plenty off good deeds. No one doubts it. So of course, people were gratful, and stood up for him in his hour of need. Again, this doesn't explain why Grossman was helped, so its not our answer

:: Chabad  Rubashkin is Lubovitch, and the Rabbi who visited Martin Grossman for 15 years, and helped marshal support as the date of the execution drew near was Menachem Katz, director of the Aleph Institute, a Chabad-run organization that helps Jewish military personnel and prisoners. Hmmm. Now, I think we're getting somewhere.

My advice to you is this: If you're ever accused of a crime, pose as a Lubov. It seems to help. And if anyone wants to write a post condemning Chabad for their selectivity, let me know and I'll link it.

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Tuesday, May 04, 2010

A shabbaton at Penn

This Dear DovBear was received last week:

...I know you generally deal more with pshat in pesukim, or what the halacha actually says, or what this rabbi/community leader did and how we failed to act, or videos of Jon Stewart blasting Fox News, but you did post a few things about the YU Panel when it occurred, so I was wondering if this event interests you: Being Frum and Gay at Penn

Those interested in reading about how it went can do so here:
As an aside, let me say that I wish our community treated gay OJs better. Sad to say, if we treated them like crooks and pedophiles that would be an improvident.

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The Rambam's 8th Principle According to R' Yaakov Weinberg

A Guest Post by E. Fink

This is based on the book "Fundamentals and Faith" which is based on a lecture series given by R' Yaakov Weinberg Z"ZtL Rosh Yeshiva of Ner Yisrael Baltimore. A Yeshiva I attended and the Yeshiva my father attended. My father was a close talmid of R' Weinberg.

In writing this summary, please note that there is "more" to this then what I have written. I have included what I find to be the "chiddush" here.

The most important thing to note is the Ani Maamin version of the principle does not reflect the primary concern of the Rambam in this principle.

The Ani Maamin version:
"I believe with complete faith that the entire Torah which is now in our possession is the same as that which was given to Moshe Rabbeinu, may he rest in peace."
The actual text reads:
"We believe that the entire Torah in our possession today was given [to us] by the Almighty through Moshe Rabbeinu, by means of the medium we metaphorically call "speech." No one knows the real nature of this communication except Moshe, to whom it was transmitted. He was like a scribe receiving dictation. He wrote the history, the stories, and the commandments. Therefore he is called [the] inscriber."
It seems that the real point of this principle is to emphasize that Moshe was a scribe and not an author.

Further, R' Weinberg opines that is difficult to accept that the Torah we possess today is the exact same Torah that Moshe Rabbeinu received at Sinai. As long as the first Temple stood, the original Torah scroll from Sinai was kept in the Temple. But right after the destruction of the Temple, when Ezra returned to Israel he found 3 Torah scrolls which he considered to be valid. However, there were differences between the scrolls and they made a composite of the 3 scrolls using 2 out of 3 methodology. The Torah tells us to follow the majority, but if this happened several times over history, obviously our Torah scroll cannot be word for word from Sinai. The Talmud admits this as well in Kiddushin when trying to determine the exact number of letters in the Torah.

R' Weinberg says that the Rambam knew very well of these problems. Therefore, "the Rambam should not be taken literally", rather it should be understood in a general sense that we must consider the Torah we live today to be the same Torah as was given to Moshe. The real emphasis here is that entire Torah, including the Oral Law was given word for word to Moshe. There was no editing done by Moshe. Moshe did not add any commentary or explanations, rather he merely transcribed the Torah.

This principle is vital because it tells us that WE may not change the Torah. We must consider the Torah to be immutable. The moment we think that the Torah is subjective we have violated this principle. This principle says that the Torah is absolute law and we are not allowed to tailor the Torah to our needs or desires.

In conclusion, R' Weinberg held that whether or not the Torah is precisely the same as it was 3000 years ago, is not an issue. It probably is different, but that is not our concern. We are required to treat the Torah as immutable and this is shown by believing that Moshe did not edit or add or subtract from the Torah as he received it. Nor are we permitted to edit, add or subtract from the Torah as we have received it.

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