Friday, December 31, 2010

Parsha Notes Va'ayrah 5771

Hey: Buy the book

What everyone should know

About Egyptian Magic The presence of the court magicians is not necessarily evidence that the magic is real. Though Alter and Rashi agree that the story is written from the perspective of someone who believes the magicians had real power, other commentators disagree. Notably, Samson Raphael Hirsch reads the magician verses in a way that presents them as frauds. Ralbag and Seforno are two other bold face names who said the magicians were frauds. Ibn Ezra, who also doubted their power proposes that the very word latayhem (enchantments or spells) indicates their chicanary. The word, he says, comes from l-h-t, or flame, which Robert Alter says links the work of the magicians to the "fire and flash technique of the illusionist." Those who disagree with Ibn Ezra and imagine the spells were real might say the root of latayhem is l-'-t or conceal. Even according to the ancient interpreters, who almost certainly thought magic was real, what the Egyptians magicians could do were merely pale imitations of Moshe's miracles.

- The plagues:  The stuff "everyone knows" about the plagues, is actually a matter of serious dispute among the Rishonim. For instance, if you go around telling people that one frog came out of the river, and that it multiplied as it was hit, you're disregarding contrary opinions of Rabbi Eliezer ben Azarya, Rashi and the Abravenel. If you say the Israelites weren't affect by the first plagues you're over-ruling Ibn Ezra. And so on.

A gem of wingnuttery: On the plague of Frogs

External Parallels: Our parsha begins with a formula ("I am X") that is found in many ANE documents, both as a royal statement, or as the announcements of various deities. (Alter)

Against the crux: At the beginning of the parsha, God seems to say that he never once told the Patriarchs his four-letter name. Rashi says what this means is that Patriarchs weren't aware of the attribute represented by this name. [More] Alter points out that literally its true: There's no special episode, such as this one, in which God's four-letter name, or the meaning of it, is revealed; on the other hand, there's also no concrete indication that they were ignorant of it either.

Anomaly: The second time Moshe's stick* is transformed into a reptile, the animal is called a tanin. Previously its a nachash. The difference? A nachash is an ordinary snake, but a tanin might be a crocodile, or a dragon.

*Here I follow those who said there was one magic stick, which Aaron borrowed as needed.

Symmetry: The plagues come in three groups of three. The first of each triad is announced by Moshe in the morning at the water's edge, with the . the second is announced in the palace, and the third isn't announced at all. Also, the first two affect the Nile, and end with a stench. The second two involve insects (per those who take orov not as a horde of beasts but as a swarm of bugs.) The third pair are epidemics, and the fourth destroy crops. The final two plagues pair darkness with death

Historicity: The Ipuwer Papyrus is interesting but its significance is debated.

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Fiddler/You Got Served Mashup

A little long, but well played.

Aside: What happened to the authentic Torah-true bottle on the head dance? Was it ever a big deal? If so, how did the vanguards of tradition let it fall out of style?

HT Azigra

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Republican Governors Planning Lavish Inaugural Parties

We're coming up on inauguration season, and 27 new governors are planning their parties. In today's game you're challenged to match the celebration with the politician. Here's a hint, that won't surprise anyone who's in the know: According to today's New York Times, Republican governors are spending more money on parties then their Democratic counterparts. So much for being "fiscally conservative" (with an important exception, inexplicably omitted by the Times. See it at the bottom) 

Play the game after the jump.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Office

I consider this the funniest scene from the original UK Office. It shows David Brent (in the US known as Micheal Scott) interfering with a training session on customer care)

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The best thing I've seen on Tucker Carlson's dumb comment

On Dimples and Dog Whistles: Why Tucker Carlson Dehumanizes Michael Vick Dave Zirin | December 30, 2010

Pundits, man your stations. It seems that the Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson yipped [1] that Eagles quarterback Michael Vick should have been executed three years ago when convicted on dog-fighting charges.

Many are now getting hot and bothered expressing shock that Carlson would actually call for Vick's execution—a tad extreme even for Fox.

I refuse to obey pashkevils

Generally, a pashkevil is a broadside posted on a wall that announced some new religious ban or rulings Sometimes, they appear in newspapers, often as paid advertisements.  Recently, the Gedolim used a pashkevil to announce their ban on VIN.

The problem with the pashkevil is it usually employs overheated language, and provides no real justification for the new rule or ban. Instead of arguing facts, as in a lawyer's brief, the author of a pashkevil attempts to frighten or shame his audience into obeying. Threats are sometimes made, and dissenting points of view, when they are represented at all, are demonized . In other words, the pashkevil harangues rather than convinces.

Recently on the new news channel

Christianity vs secularism continued

The OJ Rabbi, who started the Twitter conversation about Christianity earlier this week, has responded. His comments are in red, my answers are in grey. In short, my view is that no one with any sense of history should be unhappy to see a weak Church.

See it all after the jump

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

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Christian Corrections

A few clarification regarding my post entitled "Xtianity, what is it good for?"

(1) I recognize the the Catholic Church has made some serious attempts to reform its views on Jews. I respect and admire these efforts. However, I wish to issue some important qualifications:
  • The changes the Church made occured over the protests of traditionalists, and weren't the result of careful study and introspection. The changes were made not for reasons of truth, but for reasons of politics. After 2000 years, the Church woke up to the fact that its teachings on Jews were no longer viable, and that if it wished to remain relevant in the post-Holocaust world, the teachings that helped make the Holocaust possible needed to be reformed. Though the Church, perhaps, deserves some credit for this, its rather like the credit we might give to someone in 2010 who has finally updated from Windows 3.x. In other words, it was about freaking time. Ultimately, the victory here belongs to liberalism, for it was liberalism that dragged the Church into Vatican II, and it must be remembered that the changes came at the expense of traditional Church teachings which were modified long after sensible people already knew that these teachings were dangerous and wrong.
  • The work of reform is not yet done. Though Vatican II removed specific obscenities from the Catholic liturgy and announced that Jews and Christians are equally responsible for the death of Christ, more work is required. For instance, the Church might further revises its theology and acknowledge that Jews, in fact, are not at all responsible for Jesus's death. Also, the Vatican still must revise its grudging, theology-tainted policy toward Israel, repudiate the dozens of anti-Semitic popes (some of whom, the Vatican, instead, hopes to canonize), and repent for its own role in paving the way to the Holocaust. As Leon Wieseltier has aptly observed, until these steps are taken, the Vatican is a tovel v'sheretz b'yado (one who immerses himself in purifying waters while he holds in his hand an insect that makes him impure.)
(2) I recognize that individual Catholics have already taken some of these steps, and have fully repudiated their Church on these matters. I think that's great, and note that this represent a defeat for the Church. In yesterday's post I was perfectly clear that the problem is Church doctrine and policy, not the beliefs and behaviors of individual Catholics who have rejected these doctrines and policies. Christians who no longer accept offensive Christian doctrines are, in a some sense, "less Christian" which is something to be encouraged. Likewise, many non-Catholics have repudiated their sect's anti-Jewish teachings, and this is also something to respected and encouraged.

(3) I also wish to acknowledge that just as all Christians are not created equal, some Christian sects are less offensive than others. Some sects, like some Christians, have broken faith with older teachings. (the Catholics at Vatican II for instance.) A commenter called Miami Al provided a ranking of the sects with which I mostly agree -- though unlike him, I'm not quite ready to let bygones be bygones. (I don't blame any Christian for crimes committed by other Christians. I merely note that, in some cases, the doctrine that made the crime possible has still not been repudiated.)

(4) My overarching point remains: Christianity has become less dangerous to Jews only as it moved away from traditional teachings, becoming, in effect, "less Christian" and "more liberal."  I hope that the transition of Christianity into something new, something that is unthreatening to Jews, continues.

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Christian Common Ground

When someone like Holy Hyrax says, as he did two threads down, that he has "more in common" with RW Christians what does he mean? That he hates homosexuality, is suspicious of science, thinks women ought not work, and crushes on Sarah Palin? That he admires the Ned Flanders model of masculinity? That he's bought into creationist misinformation and obfuscations?

I'm really not trying to be snide. I'm honestly trying to work out what he means.

Because when I say I have more in common with seculars (though I believe in God and do mitzvos) I mean that the average secularist and I both value common sense, despise superstition, enjoy discovering the true nature of things, respect real history, and think freedom and tolerance(*) should trump just about everything else, because the dialog and exchange of ideas these two values promote are the most reliable ways to discover truth.

So, who can help me work this out? Where is the common ground? (and please don't insult our intelligence by suggesting it has something to do with "family values" (unless, like most politicians you intend it as a code word for homophobia) Secularists are perfectly capable of creating strong families, and loving their children. The religious have no monopoly on that, nor are they immune to bad marriages, rebellious children, and the rest.)
* Not freedom to do anything, nor tolerance of everything. I don't think people should be free to murder each other in the name of God, nor to I wish to be tolerant of stupidity. Refer to my many posts on pluralism to see why in certain cases intolerance is perfectly fine, and why the intolerance I recommend is unlike the intolerance of "ism"s and religions. (Also, please acquaint yourself with the difference between pluralism and relativism before accusing me of the latter.)

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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Parody or Offensive?

A Guest Post By E. Fink

This "gem" has been floating around Facebook.

I don't see any reason Orthodox Jews to be sharing this incendiary parody.

Is it funny enough to be a parody? Or is it offensive enough that it should not be shared?

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Xtianity what is it good for?

It started when an Orthodox Rabbi I like and respect put this on Twitter:

Is trend away from religious Christmas to happy holidays good or bad from Jewish perspective? I say bad.

Those of you who've been here for a while already know my feelings on this subject. I think Christianity has been the cuase of untold suffering, particularly Jewish suffering, and I think the decline of Christian ferver (in the developed world, at least) is one of the great blessings of our time. Here's how I tweeted back:

Jewish Superstars

A guest post by AvromBronstein

Today’s Times ran an article taken from Eduardo Porter’s forthcoming “The Price of Everything: Solving the Mystery of Why We Pay What We Do” about The Economics of Superstars, which he applied to executive pay:
In 1982, the top 1 percent of pop stars, in terms of pay, raked in 26 percent of concert ticket revenue. In 2003, that top percentage of stars — names like Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera or 50 Cent — was taking 56 percent of the concert pie…  Nearly 30 years ago, Sherwin Rosen, an economist from the University of Chicago, proposed an elegant theory to explain the general pattern. In an article entitled “The Economics of Superstars,” he argued that technological changes would allow the best performers in a given field to serve a bigger market and thus reap a greater share of its revenue. But this would also reduce the spoils available to the less gifted in the business.
The Jewish community has its Rabbinic superstars as well, on several levels.  First, think of the national ubiquity of a Shmuley Boteach or a Daniel Lapin.  How many aspiring rabbinic opinion-makers are being squeezed out of the marketplace by the books, radio programs, and op-eds of the few?  Better, think of the number of blogs, podcasts, and columns devoted to responding to, or promoting, the ideas of a small number of idea generators.  We don’t need more than one Daniel Gordis, nor more than one Peter Beinart, if their articles and books have an international audience.

Guess why its so important to donate to kupat ha'ir

HT On request

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Monday, December 27, 2010

Genuine Hachnachas Orchim in the Five Towns


In case you haven't heard yet:

1 - A full El Al plane pushed off from the gate at JFK around 6 last night and then sat frozen on the tarmac for almost ten hours as the airport closed. The passengers are still waiting (in the terminal, mostly) for their flight, which was rescheduled several times and is now set to leave at 9 PM (27 hour delay).

1a - There were a bunch of other Israel-bound passengers stranded at the airport at nearby gates.

2 - Although El Al fed the passengers on the plane (treatment on the plane was the best that could be expected), they were unable to provide anything more than vouchers at the airport (until about 3 PM, when some sandwiches showed up). Vouchers are pretty worthless for kosher food at JFK, especially since Hudson News wouldn't accept them.

3 - Enter "the frum community of the Five Towns and Far Rockaway," who by early afternoon had delivered about five million pizzas; countless bagels; muffins; croissants; individual cereal packs; chips, pretzels, etc.; oranges; juice; milk; and I don't even remember what else. Passengers had to leave the gate area to go to the chapel area to retrieve food, but most people brought back more than they needed to share with others.

We've been at the airport now for about 26 hours (10 of those on a plane) and are looking at another four before we get on our plane. It has hardly been fun, but our anonymous coreligionists have made it far less arduous and even a little heartwarming. Titzku l'mitzvot.


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In Defense of Emunas Chachamim and Daas Torah

A Guest Post By E. Fink

Enough articles and posts have been written about the recent confusion about emunas chachamim and Daas Torah. To the sheeple, these terms have been taken to mean that when a gadol speaks about a subject, be it halacha, hashkafa or science, the gadol is speaking with Divine Assistance and the gadol's words are binding. Rabbi Rivlin holds this to be true. As do the many commenters that allows to filter through their fascist comment queue.

This opinion suffers severe flaws in logic and is in dispute with many Torah principles. But what bothers me is this: When did this happen? I understand that in Chassidus this idea is a a cornerstone to their avodas Hashem. But how and when did this become the leading opinion in non-chassidic circles?

In defense of Harry Maryles

At Matzav, Gavriel Rivlin has published a vicious attack on Harry Maryles who crossed the honorable, disinterested, gentlemen at Matzav by questioning the rabbinic ban on VIN.

For those who don't like reading obnoxious, self-serving posts, masquerading as honest criticism, here's the shorter Gavriel Rivlen: CHUTZPAH!!! (It helps to picture some fat, red-faced, blow-hard screaming down a counterargument)

In all honesty, Rivlin sounds like every clueless H.S Rebbe I've ever known. His endless screed against Harry Maryles and VIN (see it after the jump) can be summed up as follows: Turn off your brain and kneel before the Gedolim because this is Torah.

Well those of us who aren't graduates of whatever brainwashing academy produced Rivlin know it doesn't work that way.

We know the Gedolim aren't infallible, and we know they are often manipulated by zealots. Ample evidence of this exists, and several individual cases have been confirmed. We also know that open inquiry, free speech, and criticism make a culture and a community stronger, not weaker. And we know that someone who attempts to end an argument by accusing his opponent of acting disrespectfully is holding a losing hand.

More importantly, we know that telling the facts as we know them in an open forum, where others can respond with their own best understanding of facts, is the best way to discover the truth. Perhaps Harry is wrong when he says the VIN ban was manufactured by Satmar politicians, but we won't know if the matter is never discussed. By recommending silence, discretion, and blind obedience, Rivlin is only protecting those who are corrupt and dishonest. If the architects of the VIN ban have acted honorably, they have nothing to fear from a discussion of their methods and motives.

Though men like Rivlin refuse to see it, Judaism is not a cult, and nowhere are we required to offer Rabbis our blind obedience. Certainly, Rabbis are entitled to respect, but if their motives and decisions are never discussed or defended we've created a situation that's ripe for abuse. Men - even our gedolim - are not angles. Like anyone else, they are capable of errors and of being corrupted. Our only protection is dialog, and we must not accept Rivlin's attempt to bully us into obedience by suggesting that dialog is a chilul hashem.

The very fact that the Gedolim refuse to explain this ban is enough to make thoughtful people suspicious. We deserve to be treated like adults, and we're entitled to to how and why this decision was made. In 2010, its simply not enough to stick a hotly-worded polemic on a wall. If the Gedolim have a case against VIN let them make it clearly, calmly and coherently. If they are unable or unwilling to do this, they should not expect our compliance.

British corn

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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Today's sign of the Apocalypse

A pro Obama article from Avi Shafran!

And because I kill Avi 24/7 let me be among the first to point it out when he gets it right. Well done, Mr. Shafran! (Now, let's see if Cross Currents or YWN  run this article.)

Just What We Needed

A Guest Post by Avromie

The OU, in the latest Jewish Action, has convened what they term a 'symposium' to defend the idea of Mesorah. I can only assume it's as a response to the krumbagel video. The website Vos Iz Neias was banned a few days ago for a litany of speech offenses. I don't want to reopen the discussion of the video or VIN now. But I do want to talk about the vital place of blogging and anonymous videos in modern-day frum Judaism.

Two previous appearances by Frum Jews on the People's Court

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Friday, December 24, 2010

The Lubovitcher Rebbe greets Bar and Bat Mitzvah kids

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Nittel Night Nonsense

This is from January 2006.

My local Hasidic Rabbi took the night off last Friday night. He didn't speak before Kabalas Shabbos, and he didn't appear at his regular Friday night shiur. Why? Because it was Nittel Nacht, per the Greek Orthodox calendar, and on Nittel Nacht it is his custom to act like a mourner and forgo all Torah learning -- even on Shabbos.

A few notes on the practice:

Parsha Notes Shmos 2010

- At the start of the parsha, the 11 sons of Jacob (1:2-4) are arranged in two groups of four, with a group of three in the middle (Alter)

- The words: וּבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, פָּרוּ וַיִּשְׁרְצוּ וַיִּרְבּוּ וַיַּעַצְמוּ--בִּמְאֹד מְאֹד; וַתִּמָּלֵא הָאָרֶץ, אֹתָם (And the sons of Israel were fruitful, and swarmed and multiplied, and grew very vast; and the land was filled with them)are a reference to the creation story and the promise to Abraham.
- In the Flood story, all of humankind is nearly drowned, with the last remnant surviving on an ark. Here, the people of Israel are imperiled after Pharaoh orders the drowning of all their male children; meanwhile, their savior survives in an ark. (In both places the vessel is called a "tayva.")

Two Way Torah
- When the daughter of Pharoh looks into the basket, we're told "v'hinay na'ar bocheh". Most take this to mean, "and behold the boy [i.e. Moshe] was crying. An infant, however, is never called a na'ar. This leads someone (forget who) to say that the crying boy was actually Aaron, who was standing on the river side watching.
- Before Moshe murders the Egyptian who was beating an Israelite man, the verse says that "he looked this way and that way, and when he saw no one." Typically, we understand "Moshe" as the antecedent for the pronoun "he". Some, however, point out that there has to be something unique about this particular incident; presumably Egyptians beat Israelite all the time: Why did Moshe interfere this time? Perhaps because such attacks were actually forbidden by Egyptian law, a possibility suggested if the words are instead read "[and the Egyptian] looked this way and that way, and when he saw no one." After checking to see that no one was around, the Egyptian proceeded with his illegal attack on the Israelite. Moshe interfered this particular time, because such attacks were illegal and therefore unusual. 

- The betrothal scene returns this week. Again, our hero is at the well in a foreign land, where he once again performs an act of physical valor. Again, he is greeted by a woman who hurries home with news of his arrival, and again the betrothal is agreed to after a meal. This time, though, the usual young woman is multiplied by the formulaic seven.

- Moshe is an authentic, ancient Egyptian name, which means "the one who is born" , i.e. "son."(Alter)

As Alter shrewdly points out Moshe, from infancy, is associated with water. The water saves him, it's where the plagues began, and a barrier of water must be crossed by the fleeing Hebrews, water that collapses on the pursuing Egyptians and drowns them just as Hebrew boys were drowned. Egypt, too, is associated with water, the Nile especially, and after their escape, the former slaves remember Egypt as a well-watered place of fish, melons, and cucumbers.The wilderness, on the other hand, is noted for dryness. Moshe first meets God on a mountain called Horeb, which, per ibn Ezra, means "parched place" and at this first meeting, God reveals himself through fire. Later, at the culmination of the narrative, the mountain (now called Sinai; a pun Alter suggests on sneh) is surrounded by divine fire. For more on this, with an assist from a satellite map, click here

- Though the verse (1:10) says "Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country" Rashi, based on Sotah 11a, emends it as follows "And it is as if it were written: and we will depart from the land, and they will take possession of it."
- The text presents Shifra and Puah as the only Hebrew midwives, though as Ibn Ezra points out, they would have had to be leaders of much larger squads.
- When he meet Moshe's father in-law he is called Reuel. In the next episode his name is Jethro.
- In Chapter 3, the mountain of God is called Horeb. Later it is Sinai.
- The whole "chatam domim l'molis" story is a bizarre mystery, written in a crabbed style that suggests the narrative is alluding to well-known story. James Kugel says its an etiological tale, created to defend the idea of infant circumcision. As Kukel tells it, the well known expression "חֲתַ֥ן דָּמִ֖ים לַמּוּלֹֽת" seemed to suggest that circumcision was done to adults, not children. This story then, with its explanation of the expression (Kugel translates "אָ֚ז אָֽמְרָ֔ה"  as "it was then she said"), was created to establish that the words "חֲתַ֥ן דָּמִ֖ים לַמּוּלֹֽת" are really no defense of adult circumcision. 

Tell your kids
- The Rabbis darshaned that when Pharaoh's daughter saw the floating basket, which contained the infant Moshe, she stretched out her arm and it magically became lengthened to allow her to reach the baby. Rashi cites the midrash, points out that the grammar doesn't support the drash, and says the plain meaning of the verse is that she sent a maidservant to get the basket. Other mephorshim also disagree with the midrash

- Moshe asks to be allowed to take the Hebrews on a three days' journey into the wilderness. This does not mean, as if often supposed, that they plan to be away for three days. What's actually intended is a three day trip into the desert, a day of prayer, and a three day journey back, thus 7 days away from work.

- Its really ok if you change your names: There's plenty of evidence that the Israelites took Egyptian names.

Understanding Rashi
- Rashi identifies the midwives as Miriam and Yocheved. This is because the text (1:21) tells us: [God] made for them batim, meaning households or lineagesYocheved is matriarch of the priests and levites, and King David is a descendant of Miriam.
- The verse says Moshe's mother saw he was good. Rashi doesn't take this at face value. Here's the how and why.
- The verse says the King of Egypt died. Rashi says all this means is that he contracted leprosy. Here's why.
- Who was Moshe's Pharaoh?

- Moshe's floating among the reeds, foretells his great victory at the Sea of Reeds.
- At the well, Moshe saves seven sisters, fitting his future role as savior of his people.

- Pharaoh demanded that all Hebrew males be thrown into the river, but the carrying out of this command is precisely what saved Moshe.

External parallels
- Both Moshe and Sargon are sent floating down a river, rescued, and grow up to save their people. In this post I say "So what?"

Two way Torah
- What was Yocheved thinking when she put Moshe in the water? There are at least two ways to read her story, each having some support from the classic commenters.

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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Pathetic annual telethon update

The pathetic annual telethon continues. If you've ever received a moments pleasure or enjoyment from the things we do here on DovBear I ask you to please toss something into the collection plate. Every little bit helps with bills and expenses of course, but contributions of any amount are also your way of affirming that you value the service provided by this blog. Though the blog rumor that I'm actually a Cyborg detective voiced by Don Adams is gaining traction, the truth is I'm an ordinary human being just like, well...  more than a few of you. Support for the pathetic annual telethon is your way of saying "keep up the good work." Those of you who are also ordinary human beings must understand how valuable such a message can be.

Additional offer: DovBear is now accepting kvittles!! Attach a request to your contribution / pidyon and I swear to do everything within my power to compel the forces of the universe to fulfill your wish no matter how petty or depraved that wish might be (results not guaranteed) (by which I mean "thanks for the dough.") However, if you ask for something easy, such as a post on a particular topic, an answer to a particular question, or a plug for your nonboring, nonpathetic blog, that favor shall be instantly granted.

Opportunity for cheapskates: I'm in some contest, that offers a $500 prize. Those of you unwilling to donate to the blog, or buy my book, can instead help me out by going to this facebook page  and clicking LIKE on my comment.


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Presenting a fabulous new ode to the holidays written by G.A.

What was it like to live in Mainz c1000 when the Kolonymous family of piyut writers were active? How did it feel to read one of their liturgical masterpieces for the first time, and realize that you were holding something brand new that would undoubtedly withstand the test of time?  Read this new poem by G.A and see for yourself.

A fabulous new ode to the holidays written by G.A.

Matzav's pathetic, see-through attempt to cripple the competition

Today's pathetic, see-through attempt to cripple the competition, was posted by loser blog Matzav, where they are self-righteously dancing on the graves of VIN.

Like the good, little, fraudulently-pious bloggers they are, Matzav has reprinted the Kol Koreh in English under the headline Gedolim Publically Denounce Chillul Hashem of Vos Iz Neias and its Advertisers; Issue Issur Chomur. Can you say Nogeah b'Davar?

And of course the little add-on at the end about how " was asked by rabbonim to post this story" only makes things worse. What Rabbis actually asked to run down their chief rival? Its either a lie, or the request came from an idiot.

Also, disturbing is how Matzav seems unaware that are guilty of every crime VIN is alleged to have committed. If Matzav had any brains they'd realize they're next on the list to get banned.

However, I can't say I am entirely surprised. When Matzav was new, one of their minions frequently appeared on my threads with little announcements about how Matzav was going to be fair, and moderate. Links were helpfully provided (though just try leaving a link to your on blog on Matzav thread). In time the commitment to fairness and moderation was replaced with a fetishistic allegiance to daas torah, and its been downhill from there.

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What do Sarah Palin and insane, anti-Semitic ex-Gitmo detainees have in common?

You may have heard that an ex-Gitmo detainee went crying to Al Jazeera that evil Jews used Jewish witchcraft to drive him insane, forcing him to do things like urinate in his milk.

It's all very sad/ funny and anti-Semitic of course, but as Gawker points out two relevant facts are being overlooked:

(1) The ex-Gitmo detainee is likely insane, not because of Jewish witchcraft, but because of American interrogation techniques; and

(2) Sarah Palin also believes in witches.

In the video you can see her standing docily as some lunatic preacher prays for Jesus to protect her from "every form of witchcraft."

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Killer Israeli ad

Apologies to the non-Hebrew readers in the audience. Translation on request.

Swiped from @noahroth's FB page

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

From DBN

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More blow-back on the Times divorce story

I'm not done with the topic, in part because some trash-talkers at have been making snippy comments. Here's the one I like least:
You can't always equate halacha with morality. Since his premise is off, his conclusion is too
Sorry, but my premise was not that halacha and morality are the same thing.(1) My premise is that we --all of us -- use our own sense of right and wrong, our own moral criteria, to decide how to interpret the words of the Sages. There's nothing wrong with this, by the way. Its inevitable and part of being human. The problem comes when people deny they are engaging in interpretation, and insist that their apologetic reworking of something a Sage said is consistent with what the Sage originally meant. In this case, Rabbi Akiva clearly says men may divorce their wives even if its just because "he found someone more appealing". It sounds ugly to our ears, I agree, and deeply unfair to women but to claim Rabbi Akiva meant something else, is not right, and not supported by the evidence.

Swiped from @greuvenreuven's FB page

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Elie Wiesel is Fox News' 'Holocaust Winner'

Gawker scores:
When Nobel Peace Prize winner and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel visited Fox News' dingbat morning show Fox & Friends last week, the chyron labeled him "Holocaust Winner" Elie Wiesel. Fire every intern! But congrats on the win, Elie Wiesel.

octothorp01:42 PM
In a separate report, they effusively praised Anne Frank's dairy, calling for worldwide lactose tolerance.

econdave01:57 PM
Primo Levi picked up the save.

bellawill401:56 PM
The only thing missing is Bert Parks singing, "There he is, Mr. Hol-o-caust..."

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Quote of the Day

From The Forward, today:
When Sotheby’s first put Valmadonna up for sale almost two years ago, the auction house exhibited the entire collection — every manuscript and book — in its showroom on the East Side of Manhattan. Once word of the exhibit got out, Jews and gentiles alike flocked to see it, waiting in lines that snaked around blocks outside Sotheby’s. And for good reason. The most spectacular manuscripts and printed books lay flat in numerous glass cabinets where you could stare down at their title pages, while on 20-foot-high shelves lining the walls of the immense showrooms, the imprints of all the cities and towns of the inhabited Jewish world over the last 600 years loomed above and around you.
The exhibition was the closest one could ever come to seeing the entire Jewish people in its generations gathered in a single enclosed space. There is a famous rabbinic legend to the effect that when Moses received the Torah at Mount Sinai, not just the Israelites who had left Egypt in the Exodus but the soul of every Jew past and present stood at the foot of the mountain. Looking at Valmadonna at Sotheby’s was like standing at Sinai.
This captures perfectly what I, and everyone I know, felt when we visited the great library.

Some of the posts after the jump:

Breaking News: VIN IS BANNED

Failed Messiah is reporting that VIN, a news aggregator blog, has been placed under Rabbininc ban. All the big names seem to have signed it. My hunch? The ban was organized by the accused xxxxxxxx who runs YWN. Why do I say that? Because the emphasis of the ban, which was certainly written by an interested  third party and then given to the Rabbis for their signature, is DO NOT ADVERTISE on VIN, not do not read it. If I'm right (and I have no evidence) this wouldn't be the first time an unscrupulous businessman manipulated the Rabbis for personal gain.

See the ban for yourself:

Full size


1. If you're going to ban VIN, why not ban YWN and Matzav? They all play the same game. (See my hunch above) 
2. All the Rabbis have done here is shown how weak they are. When you ban a book or a web site, you announce to the world that you're powerless against a stronger idea. A ban is a sign of fear.
3. Also, the blog-reading public is going to ignore the Rabbis, as always, further demonstrating their impotence.

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In defense of Sonderkommando Revolt

I really don't understand the controversy over Sonderkommando Revolt, a new video game that lets you revel in the wholesale slaughter of Nazis.

The game is done in the style of Wolfenstein 3D meaning the graphics are old school-choppy and the villains are Nazis. The extra wrinkle this time is the setting. Instead of a castle, or generic army barrack, now you're in Auschwitz, and Jews in striped uniforms are everywhere. As you run around the camp killing guards and soldiers you see the crematoriums and gas chambers, and also scenes of Jews being tortured and executed. Some of these scenes are extremely disturbing, in particular, a shot of dead, bleeding Jews piled like cord wood. [You can see the trailer here. I found it nausea-inducing. Not just because of the anti-Jewish violence, but because the first-person-shooter format makes me queasy]

Though I agree the images are about as disturbing as choppy 8-bit images can be,  I'm still at a loss to explain why the ADL, Heeb Magazine and others are aghast.

The point of the game is not to glorify the murder of Jews. The point is to kill Nazis. Other games let you play quarterback for the Giants, this one let you live out the ultimate Jewish fantasy. You're at Auschwitz with a machine gun, and no one can stop you. 

When  Inglourious Basterds was released it faced some of the same criticism. People didn't like the idea of an action-adventure movie centered around the Holocaust. It seemed vulgar and disrespectful. Writing in the Atlantic, Jeffery Goldberg ended the argument with three paragraphs.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Jewish Family Values say Partilla and Riddel were right to leave their families

Did these two do something wrong?
John Partilla and Carol Anne Riddell fell in love about two years ago and were recently married. To celebrate the occasion, they did what many couples do and submitted the story of their relationship to the New York Times for publication in The Vows, a regular feature.

Only one problem.

Partilla and Riddel were married to other people when they met, and though they insist that no adultery was committed, the article does describe some of the devastation left in their wake, including wounded children and angry ex-spouses.

Predictably, some Defenders of Family Values are in an uproar -- "They broke up two families for an infatuation!" said one of my FaceBook friends -- but as I reviewed the facts of the case, I found myself asking: What exactly did they do wrong?

With friends like these....

In the video below, some singer blames us for killing Jesus, but overlooks our "bad behavior" because what she really wants for Christmas is a collection of hot, wealthy Jewish boyfriends.

Note: Its apparently a parody of something Mariah Carey did. No idea what.

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Let's welcome a worthy new addition to the Jewish Blogosphere

There's someone new and worthy of support in the world of Jewish blogging. Nope, I don't mean DBN, where we continue to mine unexplored corners of the journalism world for odd and interesting articles. I mean this, a new and valuable site dedicated to defeating the lies and absurdities of the infamous FrumTeensModerator.

Though of you who were here during the Glory Days of Jewish Blogging may remember that beating up the FrumTeensModerator was a hobby of some bloggers back in 05. I know Golden Era GH did it a lot (Silver Era GH didn't bother, and bronze Bronze Era GH, or "XGH"as Mountain Dew fans refer to him, is just lame.) I suppose I did too but honestly can't recall, and there's too much here to sort through. Whatever the case, it didn't do much good. FrumTeensModerator remains an idiot and a source of much misinformation.

Here's what I said  this morning to the owner of the new anti-FrumTeensModerator blog
The two points you address happen to relate to personal pet peeves of mine so I will be happy to promote your blog.  I hate it when absolutely clueless yeshiva boys (who later turn into the worst kind of adults) exaggerate Lakewood or Ponavitch's historical animosity toward YU* or demonstrate no interest in discovering or contemplating what rishonim and achronim actually said about matters of halacha or hashkofa. (A third pet peeve is when ignorami misstate the facts of evolution for propoganda purposes. This is something else FTM used to do all the time so be on watch) ( I don't say God had nothing to do with it. Just don't defend God by lying about what occurs in nature)
For those too lazy to click, here's a summary of  what's there: The new blog uses a respected book to show that FrumTeensModerator is lying when he says R' Aharon Kotler refused, on principle, to enter Y.U. In fact he lectured there. The blog also proves that FrumTeensModerator is wrong when he suggests all Jews in every time and every place always agreed that married women must cover their hair.

*This has been the subject of some of my fiercest debates with clueless yeshiva folk. For some reason, they think they are serving the interests of Torah by making false claims about Yeshiva University's relationship with R. Shach and Rav Kotler. I also find it aggravating that these same self-righteous frauds who cluck their tongues with displeasure whenever I refer to a dynastic Hasidic Rebbela with fewer than 3 honorifics, cheerfully refer to R. Joseph Solivetchik as "J.B."

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Monday, December 20, 2010

Today on DovBear's News

Make it a daily stop.

ALSO: Please support the pathetic telethon with a sizable donation.

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Inanities of inanities

This weekend, I heard a famous Rabbi declare with no hint of self awareness that he was"positive" that his efforts to accomplish a particular worthy goal was "blessed by Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai"

When an audience member asked how the Rabbi knew this, he replied: "I can feel it"

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Can't anyone give a good reason to keep gays out of the military?

Predictably, our self-appointed religious leaders are celebrating the end of DADT by announcing their objections to permitting gays into the military; just as predictably their objections are asinine.

After the jump see a typical protest, with my commentary. They, appropriately, are in pink; I'm in italics. 

Jewish woman gets scammed by Rabbi; writes about it in New York Times article

The weekend paper included a sweet story about a no-longer Orthodox Jewish woman and her search for a husband, a search that included a visit to a kabbalistic Rabbi for curse-removal. >> See it here

Though the woman kindly gives the Rabbi some credit for a semi-successful outcome, I see in the Rabbi's behavior all the hallmarks of a scam. These include:

Attention Well-meaning Gentiles

By continuing to wish me a Happy Chanukka, or worse, a Happy Holiday, you are demonstrating ignorance of my culture and calendar.

Though your tinsel wrapped celebration is still on the horizon, our holiday ended two weeks ago. The menorot have been put away, and the latkes are no longer frying. Even the Macabeats have finally vanished into the mist.

I understand that you mean no harm, that you are in fact attempting to include me in your winter carnival, but the invitation is hereby declined. Christmas is yours, not ours. We exclude you from Rosh Hashana, Passover, and the rest. There will be no hard feelings if you return the favor.

PS: Menōrah, goddamit, not Menôrah

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Sunday, December 19, 2010

DADT is done

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Gaypocalypse Now
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire Blog</a>The Daily Show on Facebook

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Aspiring Rabbis of New Jersey?

We see from the papers, a group of Lakewood boys made a demonstration of their midos, and brought credit to their parents and teachers during the bus ride home last Tuesday.  Report:
NEW YORK (CBS 2) — Four New Jersey Yeshiva students have been charged with bias intimidation after being accused of harassing a black school bus driver.

The driver told Lakewood Police that the teenagers praised the Ku Klux Klan, then crowded behind her in a threatening manner as she was driving on Tuesday.

The NAACP called the situation disturbing.

“To me, it’s sad. Here we are in the 21 st Century, and we have this kind of intimidation going on,” Jim Waters, president of the Ocean County NAACP, said.

The Yeshiva also filed a complaint against the driver, saying that the driver acted inappropriately.

The driver has been moved to another route while the investigation takes place.

Residents said it was a complete shock and that they need more details to have the full story.

“I’m extremely surprised. It’s totally out of character for the boys in this school, and until we hear what their side of the story is, it’s difficult to comment,” one man said.
Shame the little dears don't seem aware of the KKK's view of Jews. And because this is Lakewood, you have to guess their KKK education came at around the dinner table, not in History class.

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Friday, December 17, 2010

I can't even afford a new promotional GIF :(

Seriously folks, my pathetic annual telethon is on, and it is time to give. As in previous years, every dime I collect will be used to purchase a birthday present for my lovely wife. (Or as she puts it "send more than dimes, you cheapos.") And also as in previous years there are many convenient ways to make your contribution to the DovBear experience:
  1. Buy my book It has its flaws, but I still hold that no better introduction to my views on the parsha is available from Lulu for just 20 bucks. Read a review. Buy the book
  2. Buy an ad This can be either anonymous or self serving. If you choose to keep your gift a secret, don't reveal anything personal in the ad. Payment is processed through Blogads, and they won't tell me anything about you. [Same is true of Lulu by the way.] If you prefer to be self -serving, use the ad to promote your blog, repeat an endearing GOP slogan, or whatever you choose. Start here
  3. Use your credit card or paypal account. Not hard. Also not anonymous, but whatever.

    Thanks, in advance.

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Parsha Notes Vayichee

As we conclude Sefer Berayshis, you're reminded and invited to contribute something to bedek habayis if you've found ParshaNotes edifying. 

Click to see this week's edition.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center and the year's Top 10 Anti Semitic Slurs

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, attempting to capitalize on antisemitism and win a little publicity for itself, has published a list of the Top 10 Antisemitic Slurs of 2010. Though there's something vulgar about reducing Jew-hatred to a top 10 list, I know how the world works, and understand that this is an effective way to raise awareness. It's not the Wiesenthal Center's fault that the world responds best to silly lists, and bite-sized commentary. Also, there's nothing wrong with horn-blowing. I fully support the Wiesenthal Center's efforts to sell themselves, and their important mission.

Unfortunately, I do have to quibble about the contents of the list. Many of the quotes are indeed awful, and the speakers are exhibiting base Jew hatred, but others of these supposedly antisemitic statements don't sound especially awful to me. Take for example, the complaint offered by Christina Patterson in the Independent about her Hasidic neighbors (#9 on the Center's list of slurs):
I would like to teach some of my neighbours some manners... I don't care if they wear frock-coats, and funny suits and hats covered in plastic bags, and insist on wearing their hair in ringlets (if they're male) or covered up by wigs (if they're female), but I do think they could treat their neighbours with a bit more courtesy and just a little bit more respect.... I didn't realise that goyim were about as welcome in the Hasidic Jewish shops as Martin Luther King at a Klu Klux Klan convention. I didn't realise that a purchase by a goy was a crime to be punished with monosyllabic terseness, or that bus seats were a potential source of contamination, or that road signs, and parking restrictions, were for people who hadn't been chosen by God. And while none of this is a source of anything much more than irritation... it makes me sad.
Is this antisemitic, or is it an altogether accurate portrait of life in places like Monsey and Boro Park. (The article has many more examples of shabby hasidic behavior) Haven't we all see the sort of behavior the article describes? So why is it antisemitic to identify and complain about it? Moreover, the article isn't only about Jews. It concludes with parallel complaints about the Muslim community, with the angriest language reserved for female circumcision (that makes her much more than "sad") Aside for the comments about Britain's abdication of responsibility in allowing British schools girls to have their "labias hacked off", Patterson's message is simply that all people should be better behaved and less dismissive of each other. Who disagrees with that?

Later today, I hope to have something to say about some of the other  borderline examples of antisemitism that made the Wiesenthal Center's list.

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New Hasidic Group Visits the Kotel

Not all shtreimals are round

Swiped from Daniel B's FB page.

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

On the new news channel

Some of what we found today for your news-consuming enjoyment

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The war on Christmas is fully enjoined

Tzip, a great friend of this blog, has fired the first shot of WAR ON CHRISTMAS 2010. Her target is some law-maker who seems fully unaware that he might be sharing the planet with non-Christians.

I say make him listen to the Maccabeats for the next two weeks. That'll learn him.

Now I own R. Malkiel Kotler, too!

Please feel free to put this special DovBear edition photo
of Rav Malkiel Kotler on on your bedstand or sukka wall.

Alas, the old custom of
shaving one's beard for
Purim is no longer followed
Earlier today, I attempted to locate a photo of R, Malkiel Kotler but was disappointed to discover that blogs like Matzav and YWN had demonstrated their respect for Torah leaders by plastering logos all over their photos. The big boys do this too, by the way, which is why you can't find a single photo of Barack Obama without some blog name scrawled on it.  Anyway, despite like 60 seconds of effort, I couldn't find a single picture of R. Malkiel that hadn't been defaced, so I reluctantly used a picture of R. Malkiel's father, Shnuer, dressed like a Y.U boy for Purim. (at right)

Feeling my pain, a friend and reader decided to make his contribution to the pathetic annual telethon in the form of a photo of Malkiel Kotler. Put your brand on it, he said. Why should those blogs be the only ones to make believe that they own the rights to the likeness of a sage of Israel?

And so it was done. In time, I hope to complete a branding siyum, and affix my sign and seal to photographs of every great person who has ever lived.

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A very modern dvar torah about Reuven's loss of his firstborn status

A disclaimer that really should not be necessary: I don't necessarily accept any of the claims summarized and discussed in the post that follows. The point is to provoke discussion by making you aware of various problems and their solutions.

Here's a brief, yet entirely authoritative post, on the complicated issues surrounding Reuven's loss of his firstborn status. It starts, as most things do, with a verse in Genesis.
Israel moved on again and pitched his tent beyond Migdal Eder. While Israel was living in that region, Reuben went in and slept with his father’s concubine Bilhah, and Israel heard of it. Now the sons of Jacob were twelve

Tone Correction

A shame Google doesn't make this tool available for blogs

So Bloggers DO run the world

I can't find an unbranded photo
of R. Malkiel so I substitute
 this photo of his
 father R. Shnuer c 1940s
Each year, the four Lakewood Roshei Yeshivot attempt to colonize new areas and raise money by participating in what's called a "Lakewood Shabbos" with each Rosh Yeshiva functioning as something like a scholar-in-residence at one, or more, of the neighbored shuls. Drashot are given, friends are made, and after shaboos, checks are written. Aside from the fact that Lakewood has yet to reciprocate by inviting the Y.U Roshei Yeshivot to N.J for a "RIETS Shabbos" its all good fun. The Roshei Yeshivot get to enjoy the pleasures of a business trip; their groupies get to see them in person and collect autographs or blessings or whatever; and those who wish to be separated from their money are provided with a comfortable bkovidik forum where this can occur as painlessly as possible.

Last year, one of the Roshei Yeshivot, R. Malkiel Kotler, created a commotion during his visit to Flatbush when he made a public speech at the Agudah of Ave L.  in which he associated Modern Orthodoxy with Esav, and heretical sects like the Saduccess and Karaites. As I said at the time, lumping tens of thousands of Torah-observing Jews together with our traditional enemies was a pretty damn evil thing to do. This sentiment was echoed on dozens of blogs, and helped to produce a formal disavowal from the Rosh Yeshiva's spokesman.

Apparently one Flatbush shul, the scene of the original crime, in fact,  is still not satisfied.