Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The confrontation in Bet Shemesh

The Issue:
A new school for girls is supposed to open this month in Bet Shemesh, only zealots who live nearby are opposed on the grounds that the students, who are religious, may not be religious enough.

What the Zealots Did:
After threatening the mayor of Bet Shemesh, who, at first, caved in and said he and his police force could not protect the students from the violence of the zealots (That's right true believers: A Jewish mayor is worried frum Jews might beat up small Jewish girls.)  the zealots occupied the school, and staged a sit-in.

The reaction: 

See it below. Kind of nice, really, if you forget its Jew on Jew.

Does anyone know if the zealots have a spiritual leader. I presume its the Toldos A or his brother the Toldos AY.  Have either spoken out?

A little more in defense of Rabbi Kanefsky

Here are the words that invited the right wing rabbis and bloggers to reach for their pitchforks and go on the march against Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky of Los Angeles:
I suspect, at this point in history, that [saying the shelo asani isha blessing] constitutes a Desecration of the Name, God forbid. In time-honored rabbinic tradition, “better to sit and not do”.
I've already said why I disagree with Rabbi Kanefsky. The blessing is universally given a harmless interpretation; when praying, the way we read the words today matters more than what the original authors had in mind. Also, you won't rid Orthodox Judaism of its de facto discrimination against women by striking these words from the prayer books. Minds that don't give the blessing a misogynistic reading won't be changed if the blessing disappears.

But its worth acknowledging that Rabbi Kanefsky does have a rather obvious line of defense against those who use tradition as a veto.

Rabbi Kanefsky's critics claim that a blessing endorsed by the Talmud can't possibly be a Desecration -- after all its in the Talmud! -  but a little light thinking shows the folly of this argument. Keeping slaves and beating wives are both endorsed by the Talmud, but can anyone doubt that a Desecration would result were Jews to endorse either practice today?

This should end Bachman's campaign

Are there any thinking people left who support Michelle Bachman? After this, her support among those of us who can do simple addition should dry up:
"I don't know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians. We've had an earthquake; we've had a hurricane. He said, 'Are you going to start listening to me here?' Listen to the American people because the American people are roaring right now. They know government is on a morbid obesity diet and we've got to rein in the spending."
Is there anyone out there who needs to be told this is stupid and offensive? Do we really want a president who checks the weather and decides that whatever she happens to see is divine confirmation of her positions? Oh, look its sunny. God's glad I taxed the poor. Now, its raining. He wants me to tax them some more. This appears to be how the GOP front-runner's brain works.

On the immorality of Republican tax proposals

Greedy and grabby Republicans in Congress wish to take even more money away from people who have very little, and they wish to do his with the support of some people who ostensibly believe taxation is stealing. How can this not offend your sense of right and wrong?
Here's the New York Times explaining the bad math, and the bad morality behind their proposal. Money quote:
These Republican leaders, who think nothing of widening tax loopholes for corporations and multimillion-dollar estates, are offended by the idea that people making less than $40,000 might benefit from the progressive tax code. They are infuriated by the earned income tax credit (the pride of Ronald Reagan), which has become the biggest and most effective antipoverty program by giving working families thousands of dollars a year in tax refunds. They scoff at continuing President Obama’s payroll tax cut, which is tilted toward low- and middle-income workers and expires in December.
In related news, Michelle Bachmen thinks people with no money should make out checks to the IRS  because they use roads and parks. This is a little like asking the tattered and  transient beggars who pass through Jewish neighborhoods to contribute to the shul's bedek habayis. That one enjoyed the air conditioning! He took some cake from the back table! And I saw one sip some seltzer!

This is precisely the sort of pettiness Bachman recommends.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

What is Haimish? David Brooks does not know

A Guest Post by E. Fink

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Cross-posted to my home blog:

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In his latest column, David Brooks digs deep into his Jewish heritage and procures a word to describe his recent safari excursion.

There were two camps in the safari. One was luxurious and the other, not-so-much. The less luxurious camp was friendlier, more familial and generally more enjoyable despite the inferior conditions.

Brooks needs a word to describe the simpler camp. He settles on a Yiddish word: Haimish.
His definition of haimish:

It’s a Yiddish word that suggests warmth, domesticity and unpretentious conviviality.

Maybe that is what it used to mean, but in contemporary orthodox Jewish culture, haimish, usually spelled heimish or heimishe is anything but "unpretentious".

The end of the mulberry tree

Jews have a way of  imagining that every random event that occurs is a personal gift from God, but the story described here (via VIN) takes the prize for most-self-centered display by an oblivious, but believing Jew. It tells the sad, and I do mean sad, stoty of the Jewish family that believes God sent the hurricane and caused all the attendant death and destruction, to spare them the bother of dealing with an annoying tree.

Fisking the "O" Word, (by which Rabbi Safran meant Orthodoxy, not Orgasms)

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The following article appeared in Ami Magazine, and on Cross Currents. It was written by R. Avi Shafran, and was called the The 'O' word".

My comments are in red

Who was the target of this week's expression of official Agudah ire?

Avi Shafran went on the attack yet again in his latest column for Ami magazine. Actually, "attack" might be too gentle to describe what R' Shafran did. To put it precisely, he called for this particular Rabbi to be repudiated by his congregation and formally tossed out of Orthodox Judaism by his rabbinic organization.

So who does Agudah hate this week? Take a guess. Was it:

Some common sense on taxing the wealthy

Why is income redistribution ok, when it benefits richies?
Micheal says:
At least in theory, SS and Medicare are their own system. People pay into the "fund" and the "fund" pays out benefits That 32% of the government's spending is, at present, more than paid for by payroll taxes, which are "flat" in that everyone pays the same percentage of income up to $250,000, and, in truth, they are actually unflat in favor of the wealthy, because income above $250,000 is not subject to payroll taxes. So, the 32% of the budget that goes to SS and Medicare should not really be part of the discussion. 

Of the remaining 68% of the federal budget, it looks like a little less than half goes to defense spending. Defense spending benefits the rich almost exclusively. All of the money spent on infrastructure also benefit the rich way more than the poor. 

A simple way of thinking of it is this: The point of government spending is to maintain and enhance the value of America's holdings. Your benefit from that spending is directly proportionate to your percentage of those holdings. The top 20% of this country own roughly 85% of the country's net worth, they should pay 85% of all non-payroll taxes

Monday, August 29, 2011

Yesterday at Berkeley

A guest post by TBOTH

In Berkeley, California, where the "boycott, divestment, and sanctions" movement has a lot of support, activists from StandWithUs/San Francisco Voice for Israel set up a banner drop at the Pedestrian overpass on I 80.

Yes, Virginia. There are Zionists in Berkeley: "we few, we happy few, we band of brothers".

Why should the rich pay more taxes? Because they get more from government

This chart shows where our money goes:

The breakdown for the purple wedge at the top left (discretionary spending) is as follows:

Now, who gets the greatest benefit from all this spending? The rich, no question about it.

Let's go through the categories one by one and I'll explain why:

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Why tuitions always go up

The crummy school my kids attend wants another 3 percent in tuition this year. I'd switch them out, only there aren't many other choices. Plus, the kids like this school. They have friends, and history here. It would be no easy thing to start over somewhere else.

Naturally the schools know this. Its why they can raise their rates with such impunity. To put it simply we're trapped. As crummy as this school is, other schools might be worse, and the kids might be unhappier elsewhere. This imperfect knowledge gives the schools an advantage in any negotiation, and it is one of the things that protects them from ordinary market forces like customer dissatisfaction. How can I risk moving my kids to a new school when there's such uncertainty about what I might get somewhere else? Its not like I can go on the internet and get concrete information about the product at other schools. I cant punish the school for its bad performance, if I can't be sure the alternatives are any better.

If it was possible for me to acquire that kind of information, I could switch schools with less difficulty, and I'd have more negotiating power. Instead of carrying on with no improvement the schools would have to respond with better service, better prices and more accountability. They'd have to address their specific, identifiable falngs, or risk losing me as a customer. Unfortunately, the same imperfect knowledge that restricts my ability to make an informed consumer decision also allows the school to address every shortfall with a tuition hike. My inability to switch schools on a dime is part of what makes it possible for them to force me carry the costs of their bad management decisions.

Ironically, the solution to this problem is not more competition but less. A consumer will never be able to acquire perfect knowledge about an 8 or 12 year education product. There are just too many variables, and the most significant ones, namely the make up of the class and how the class responds to a particular teacher, are impossible to evaluate in advance. A child might flourish with one set of classmates and flounder with another. Until it becomes possible to see the future, parents will never know ahead of time which combination of classmates and teachers will, over a long educational career, produce the best results for a particular child. As long as education remains this kind of crap shoot, parents are restricted in their ability to switch schools. More competition won't solve this problem.

If each community had one school, funded by the residents and transparently managed by professional educators and a lay board of directors, the problem wouldn't be solved, but it would be mitigated. Parents would still not have the power to change schools, but they would have a stronger say in how the school was run. Tuition hikes would not pass without the consent of the community, and an adminstrator who failed to control costs would be let go, not rewarded with a pay raise. Also, combining all of our yeshivot into one institution would provide economies of scale that would also help to control tuition costs.

The only thing preventing this sort of reasonable solution is the narcissim of the yeshiva owners, and the narcissim of small differences. Every yeshiva owner is wrongly convinced of his own schools excellence, and even in a homogenous neighborhood, neary every parent is foolishly terrified of exposing his kids to the wrong kind of orthodox jew. Until these two forms of narcism are overcome, tuitions will only go up.

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Friday, August 26, 2011

Warren Buffett vs. Wealthy Conservatives

Here is a great segment from Jon Stewart, in which various ridiculous and absurd claims made about taxation by conservatives (including roughly half of my Twitter crew) are summarily demolished

In two parts:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
World of Class Warfare - Warren Buffett vs. Wealthy Conservatives
The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
World of Class Warfare - The Poor's Free Ride Is Over
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

And here is a rebuttal from that awful person with the comical accent:

Varney: Poor people have things. What they lack is a richness of spirit.

I'd like to put him in some miserable housing project with no job, no diploma, a couple of kids, and ask him how he likes his refrigerator.

Artscroll puts a rank anachronism in Rashi's mouth

In 2010, the great Josh ParshaBlog posted about the anachronism in this week's sedra and determined that it wasn't necessarily an anachronism. I thought his explanation was a bit of a kvetch, but as certain commenters are fond of reminding me, I'm no one special so my views, no matter how well-argued, are irrelevant.

The same can't be said about Rashi and surprise, surprise, Rashi seems to agree that there is an anachronism here -- at least according to how ArtScroll interprets his comment.

The problem starts at Duet 11:26 when Moshe announces a blessing and a curse. The blessing is to be delivered on Har Grizim while the curse will be said on Har Ebel. And where are these mountains found? From his words, Moshe seems surprised you asked:
Are they not across the Jordan, far beyond it [=acahrei], in the direction of the sunset, in the land of the Canaanite, in the Arabah, opposite [=mul] Gilgal near Elonei Moreh?
The word I've translated here as "opposite" is mul but Rashi reads it as "far from." Here's ArtScroll (Sapirstein Edition) explaining why Rashi feels compelled to translate the word mul this way:
Mul generally connotes proximity, but here it can not have that meaning. For Rashi has already explained that Acharei means far from and Gilgal was near the Jordan. See Joshua 4:19
Only one problem. The Gilgal of Joshua 4:19, which is undoubtedly alongside the Jordan,  received its name during the time of Joshua, as explained in Joshua 5:9, "Then the LORD said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” So the place has been called Gilgal to this day." [Gilgal sounds like the Hebrew for rolled.]

So at the time Moshe spoke to the people, and used Gilgal as a reference point, the place hadn't yet been named.

Josh's solution is that Moshe's Gilgal is a different Gilgal, which is plausible, or that Moshe spoke through prophecy, which is problematic as it means his audience could not understand the meaning of his words. According to ArtScroll, however, Rashi and Josh disagree. Rashi, as per ArtScroll, seems to think Joshua and Moshe knew the same Gilgal, and accepts the anachronism, while seeming to remain oblivious to the difficulty it creates. **Lisa suggests a different solution in the comments.

Fun fact to know and tell: Why were Har Ebal and Har Grizim chosen, respectivly,  as the site of the curse and the blessing? Two reasons: Ebal is desolate, while Grizim is lush, and if your orientation is east, Ebal is on the suspect left while Grizim is on the lucky right.

Additional fun fact: The "reproach" being rolled back is the lack of circumcision. Apparently, the Egyptians Joshua knew were circumcised, and were deeply critical of those who were not. This suggestion that Egyptians practiced circumcision fits with just about everything we know about the ANE, and with Jeremiah 9:26. It also explains why (Judges 14:3 and elsewhere) Philistines, and no other group, are expressly denounced as uncircumcised. The idea that Israelites alone were circumcised seems to be a later invention.

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Torah based fraud

A guest post by MarkSofla

Menachem Youlis of Save the Torah has been charged with fraud

A Rabbi who has been at the helm of an organization ( that ostensibly saves Sifrei Torah (Torah Scrolls) from pre-war Europe (and a few from other places) has been accused of massive fraud. This is the Rabbi that self-styled in a grandiose manner as "The Jewish Indiana Jones". Turns out that he never even visited the places that he claimed to have gone to for the purpose of "saving" old Sifrei Torah. Of course, now that the story is out, the details include misappropriation of funds (doesn't it always!) and other malfeasance (fake sifrei Torah, etc).

Now, this revelation causes a potential massive problem for any shul that has a sefer Torah that came from this guy. It is quite possible, even probable, under halachic (Jewish code of law) rules* that ALL Sifrei Torah written or repaired by this man are passul (invalid) and may have to be replaced. Now, during a financial crisis for most Jewish organizations, will be a particularly difficult time to face such an extraordinary expense. Since this guy has been in this business for more than 20 years, it is possible that a very large number of sifrei Torah are affected.

* To the best of my knowledge, halacha tells us that the writing/repairing of a sefer Torah may only be done by a person with the proper and holy mindset at the time. And as far as I know, fraud is neither proper nor holy.

DB: I speculated about the scam here in April 2010:

Yeshivos Are Not Businesses

A Guest Post by E. Fink

Cross-posted from my home blog:

On, Malcolm Gladwell is critical of the owners of NBA teams. Currently, the NBA owners have locked out the NBA players. The collective bargaining agreement expired and the owners want a better deal this time around. Small market owners are claiming that they are losing money. They want to cut costs. The players have not assented to the terms of the owners, namely, lower salaries so that the owners can make more money.

On the face of it, the owners seem to be taking out frustration with each other on the players. If they want to pay the players less money they should simply pay the players less money. The exorbitant salaries for players who are being overpaid are not the fault of the players. They are the fault of foolish owners and bad management.

Further, there is an easier solution for NBA owners to make more money. Revenue sharing. That is how it is done in other sports. The NBA should follow suit and create a more equitable revenue sharing model.

Gladwell however, believes that the owners entire premise is wrong. His opinion is that NBA owners have no right to demand that their teams make money. The reason someone buys an NBA team is not to make money. Billionaires buy teams to satisfy a different need; not financial gain. This is called a "psychic benefit". Gladwell compares it to owning a Van Gogh. One does not buy a Van Gogh as an investment. One buys a Van Gogh simply to have the Van Gogh. If the painting does not increase in value, that is not really a concern. After all, you have the Van Gogh.

The argument is compelling and he might be correct.

Right Wing Orthodox Jewish Anti-Semites


Right-wing Orthodox Jews are some of the most anti-Semitic people you'll ever come across. While non-Jewish anti-Semites are running around blaming the financial crisis on Jewish bankers and the War on Terror on the United State's Jewish owned government, Orthodox Jews have taken this sort of hate and bigotry to the next level.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Lord Sacks' Solution to the World's Problems

A Guest Post By E. Fink

Originally posted on my home blog:

Lord Sacks published a lovely op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. The article attempts to explain the underlying reasons for the horrible riots in London. As always, Rabbi Sacks is articulate, passionate and well-reasoned.

However, in this case I think the good rabbi is mistaken. At least to a certain degree.

Rabbi Sacks makes the claim that the depreciating value system in the UK is the source of the problem that gave rise to the riots. In particular, the eroding of Judeo-Christian values in Britain has created an environment which spawns a litany of social problems.

I agree that the social problems are one of the things that can cause riots. They are not the only consideration.

Whose fault was this earthquake?

A Guest Post by Philo

Hope everyone out there is OK. I felt it, but it was like shuckling - just a little swaying.

Is it too soon to assign blame? It has to be someone's fault!

Here's a few choices:

  • Anything that Obama did
  • The yeshiva boys held by Japan
  • Chillul Shabbos
  • Gay marriage
  • DovBear's blog
  • All blogs

Whatever the cause, it's certainly something connected to us Jews. It would be simplistic and naive to blame something silly like plate tectonics!

What do you think caused the earthquake?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Peek-a-Jew: Hasid seeking sugar baby

Submitted by Ksil

So we see from the New York Post, that the Western World continues to influence our holiest Jews, and fill their minds with false ideas about the intersections of sex, love and money (though to be fair, long before the Western World existed,  the deal making and promises of support described below was how our holiest Jews found wives. In shadchun dominated communities, its still a crucial part of the process, only the girl's parents, not the groom, are expected to serve as sugar daddy):
....When you’re at a function whose sole purpose is to match so-called “sugar daddies” with their prospective “sugar babies,” you expect the gentlemen to pick up the bar tab — and a whole lot more.
The party, sponsored by the sugar-daddy Web site, was the “Midsummer Night Affair.” At this mixer — described by host Alan Schneider as “a very elegant, classy and refined event” — talking about money and gifts upon first introduction wasn’t taboo; it was expected....
It was certainly something. The male attendees were a bizarre mix of silver-tressed gentlemen in well-cut suits, awkward finance guys, dudes with thickly gelled hair and loud paisley shirts, and one Hasidic Jew. 
Whole story:

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A solution to the apparent anachronism on BT Sota 11

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Last week, the blog discussed the puzzle of R. Hama b. Hanina's drash on BT Sota 11. As you recall, we wanted to know what the Sage meant when he said Pharaoh and his advisers consulted the not-yet-written book of Isaiah. Various bad explanations of this anachronism were offered, explanations that were discussed and debunked on the previous post's thread.

After that discussion died down, our friend Micheal arrived with a very good answer.

See it after the jump.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Let's Stay Safe

New book on keeping kids safe. 
Click the image for more info

Friday, August 19, 2011

Skver Spins Last Spring's Fire

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Is someone in Square concerned that last spring's fire will affect the community's funding?

Certainly, that's one way to interpret the letter that went out last week under the heading "A Special Letter for Skver Followers and Friends" to some of the people who have, in the past, provided the community with money

The letter addresses "friends and supporters" and characterizes the near fatal arson attack on Aron Rotenberg as "teenage mischief". The boy "did not want to harm anyone" we're told.  Sure, he was just out at two in the morning carrying an incendiary device but, "he never wanted to burn a house with five people inside." His design was "mischief on Lag B'Omer." A funny fire. Something playful. Maybe a minor injury, like a sun burn.  Not God forbid, you know, a conflagration that nearly killed someone.

Is there anyone alive who is stupid enough to believe this? And of course, this  "special" letter (special ed)  concludes by reminding everyone that the real victim here is the Rebbe and the Square community.

See it after the jump

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Important Hamodia Scoop!

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The genius journalists at Hamodia have made an important discovery! Apparently Obama's car is paid for by the taxpayers!

I did not know this!

Good thing Hamodia put this on the front page, right? Otherwise dopey Americans would go on thinking that presidents paid for their transportation out of their own pockets just like  George Bush did.

(George Bush paid for his own car right?)

 HT: Fozzie

Another question on Sota's Exodus exegesis

I'm contemplating a longer post about Talmudic exegesis in general, and the examples found on BT Sota 11-13 in particular, but for now some related questions.

We find the following passage on BT Sota 11:

"Come, let us deal wisely with him" [Exodus 1:10] — it should have been with them! [i.e. with all of Israel] — R. Hama b. Hanina said: [Pharaoh meant,] Come and let us outwit the Savior of Israel.

[The advisers respond to the request for a plan that might outwit God as follows] With what shall we afflict them? If we afflict them with fire, [that won't work because] it is written: See, the LORD is coming with fire, and his chariots are like a whirlwind; he will bring down his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire. [Isa 66:15]

[If we afflict them] with the sword, [that will also fail] as it is written: For with fire and with his sword the LORD will execute judgment upon all men, and many will be those slain by the LORD. [Isa. 66:16]

But come and let us afflict them with water, because the Holy One, blessed be He, has already sworn that he will not bring a flood upon the world; as it is said: I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth [Isa 54:9]

Exactly what is going on here?  Does the author of this passage believe this exchange took place as written?  Is he actually suggesting Pharaoh chose one strategy over another based on description of God he, or his advisers, found in the not-yet-written book of Isaiah?  And if this is not literally intended, well, how else are we to understand it?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Whose holiday is less important?

Alternate side parking in NYC was suspended last Monday. Naturally, I presumed this was because of Tu B'av, the dancing holiday for romantics that everyone nowadays ignores. [Aside: Those of you who say Judaism never changes, are welcome to explain how we lost Tu B'av. I know, I know. Judaism never changes. Except when it changes. End Aside]

As it happens, it wasn't our minor, forgotten holiday that benefited the street cleaners. They got the day off, not because of Tu B'av, but because of the Feast of the Assumption, i.e. Mary's yartzeit.

PS: Is anything more out of control then the city's alternate side rules? I think they were instituted to accommodate Jews who don't drive cars on certain days, but now they are in force for every religion's  minor, forgotten, unimportant holiday -- including those that have no impact at all on travel and parking habits.

An ArtScroll Cover Up? How violent was Amram toward his daughter Miriam?

On BT Sota 12 we find some lovely exegesis on the opening chapters of Exodus. Our ideas regarding the miracles that accompanied Moshe's birth, Daughter of Pharoah's magic arm, the death of her maid servants, and the strategies employed by her father to enslave the Israelites can all be traced to interpretations recorded on this page.

At the bottom of the page, Miriam's prophecy is discussed. We're told:
"And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took etc." [Why is she called] the 'sister of Aaron' and not the sister of Moses! — R. Amram said in the name of Rab, and according to others it was R. Nahman who said in the name of Rab: It teaches that she prophesied while she yet was the sister of Aaron only [i.e. before Moshe was born. And what was that prophecy?]  'My mother will bear a son who will be the saviour of Israel'. When Moses was born, the whole house was filled with light; and [Amram]  her father arose and kissed her upon her head, saying 'My daughter, thy prophecy has been fulfilled'; but when they cast him into the river, her father arose and [Toficha] her upon her head, saying: 'Where, now, is thy prophecy!' That is what is written: "And his sister stood afar off to know what would happen..." — [meaning] what would happen to her prophecy.
The meaning of the word "toficha" is unclear. ArtScroll says it means "tapped" but Soncino translates it as "smacked."  A tap is gentle. A smack is not. So just how violent was he?

Not having a time machine at our disposal, we have to guess from the context, and based on the context "smacked" makes more sense, as its a better antitheses for the kiss Amram is said to have delivered first. Also, what is the significance of a tap? We kiss children when they please us, and slap them when they do not. Under what circumstances are they ever "tapped?"

Unless I'm missing something, I think ArtScroll's translation is faulty. Did an oversensitive editor insist on "tap"  to protect Amram's reputation? Was the word mistranslated to make Amram seem less abusive, and more in keeping with our 21st century notions of a respectable pater familias? I wonder.

Search for more information about Art Scroll's PC translation at
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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Birthday, deathday: What's the difference?

Common sense or an intern
would help Michelle
prevent gaffes such as this
Once again, Michelle Bachman gets her celebrity trivia wrong. On the stump today, your GOP front-runner kicked-off a an appearance by begging the crowd to wish Elvis Presly a "Happy Birthday" Personally, I'd prefer to chew rusty nails, but the point is August 16 is the day Elvis died, not the day he was born.

Doesn't the woman have someone on staff who can keep her from sounding like a moron?

See a pair of bemused Fox anchors, gently mock their standard bearer after the jump

Yet another anti-Gay Republican politician turns out to be gay himself

If Republicans are violently opposed to something you can bet they are doing it themselves.

The latest anti-Gay Republican politician to be unmasked as homosexual is Phillip Hinkle, Republican of Indiana. Here's TPM:
An Indiana state Representative, who recently voted for a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage, has been accused of using Craigslist to offer an 18-year old male $80 for "a couple hours of your time tonight" plus a tip "for a really good time."
I just don't understand the psychology. If Hinlkle is gay himself, why did he dedicate his life to making things difficult for people who share the same proclivity? Would a Jewish lawmaker ban shabbos? So why do so many secretly-gay Republican lawmakers attempt to ban homosexuality? How tormented these men must be!

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So I might as well tell you...

There's a new book on the way. Look for it around the High Holidays. This one will collect 100 of my best posts, with selected comments included. I also intend to write some new material for this edition, and hope to solicit introductions, forwards and other skipped-over sections from members of our blogging royalty.  Both print and eBook versions will be sold, and this time around the book will be professionaly proofread.

More news will be shared as it becomes available.


Search for more information about exciting, life-changing news at
Buy one of the books that changed the way I think by clicking here.

Now YOU can be a crook, too!

One of the dear friends of the blog spotted this pop-under ad. It offers a course in amulet writing for only 199 NIS.

Search for more information about new ways to rip off gullible people at
Buy one of the books that changed the way I think by clicking here.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Warren Buffet tosses his fellow billionaires under the bus

Quote of the day:
My friends and I have been coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress. It’s time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice.
Amen, brother. The rich pay too little. (by which I mean anyone who makes more than $1 million, not more than $250,000 as currently defined)

Search for more information about why the rich should pay more taxesat
Buy one of the books that changed the way I think by clicking here.

The vanishing Jewish Cowboys of Argentina

NPR had a piece this weekend on the vanishing Jewish Cowboys of Argentina, rather optimistically titled: Argentina's Jewish Villages Keep Traditions Alive.

Unfortunately, the news from the Pampas is not good: The community is vanishing:
In the 1890s, Russian Jews fleeing anti-Semitic violence and discrimination arrived by the thousands to a remote corner of the Argentine Pampas. They founded hamlets similar to the shtetls they left behind. They spoke Yiddish, built synagogues and traditional Jewish schools — and became farmers and gauchos, the mythical Argentine cowboys. 
Now, only a dwindling number of their descendants remain,
A shame. Less diversity makes the body of Judaism weaker. A Judaism that knows, recognizes and remembers just one genuine tradition is a Judaism that's blind to history, and unequipped to address its future.

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Cross Currents and Yaakov Menken show us again that their values are anything but Jewish

Last week, the editors of Cross Currents welcomed Tisha Bav by publishing a hate-filled screed against an Orthodox Jewish Rabbi who had written thoughtfully and carefully about his personal reluctance to say a blessing that marginalizes women. (Though I happen to say the blessing on the basis that no one in our day reads the blessing misogynisticly, I don't think the cosmos are offended by someone's sincere dissent. Skip the prayer. Say the prayer. I promise it doesn't matter.)

Included in the Cross Currents screed were a few, seemingly harmless words about another Orthodox Rabbi:
Whether it be Rabbi Avi Weiss ordaining “women rabbis,” backed by a formal “halakhic Responsum” issued by young Rabbi Joshua Maroof as a participant...
For reasons that are not immediately clear, Rabbi Maroof forcefully objects to this statement, and tells us on his blog that he has repeatedly written to the nasty men who run Cross Currents demanding a correction. He has also attempted to leave a comment, but neither the request for a correction, nor the attempt to comment have been recognized. As Rabbi Maroof says:
Please let the editors of Cross-Currents know that, if they wish to represent Orthodox values, they should not be endorsing or promoting מוציא שם רע - slander and defamation - on their website

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Perry replaces Pawlenty. GOP field becomes even crazier.

Over the weekend Tim Pawlenty, one of only two sane people contending for the GOP nomination dropped out of the race after finishing third in the Ames Straw Poll. Absurd, right? I mean, what does an over hyped little gathering of bored Iowans really tell us about anyone's suitability for high office?  Pawlenty should have stayed and fought, instead of allowing his future to be determined by the population of a NYC subway at rush hour. Then again, if a handful of farmers can scare off Pawlenty, perhaps he isn't the best man to stare down Al Queda.

Rick Perry prays no one will
notice his low opinion of Jews. 
Meanwhile Rick Perry entered the race promising to give us jobs and morality. He says he can do this based on his record as Governor of Texas, where he morally presided over more than 250 executions in under 10 years, and where the majority of  the jobs he created with a magic wave of his gubernatorial wand were the most moral kind: minimum-wage jobs, with no benefits. Texas is also a state with a budget deficit that is as bad as California's, so it shows some guts for Perry boast about his track record as a responsible financial steward.  

All of this is academic, however, because Perry as zero chance at getting my vote. This is because he's either a Jew-hater or a fraud. I say this because he invited extremist mega-preacher John Hagee to attend last week's day of prayer. Among other crimes against decency and common sense, Hagee believes God sent Hitler to chase us to Israel. And at the prayer gathering itself, Hagee repeated the words that led directly to Auschwitz after which Governor Perry said amen:
If you live your life and don't confess your sins to God almighty through the authority of Christ and his blood, I'm going to say this very plainly, you're going straight to hell with a nonstop ticket," Mr. Hagee said during a service interspersed with religious and patriotic videos.

Asked afterward at a political rally whether he agreed with Mr. Hagee, the governor said he didn't hear anything that he would take exception to.

He (Perry) said that he believes in the inerrancy of the Bible and that those who don't accept Jesus as their savior will go to hell. 
This is how a commenter on Yeshiva World News talks. The smugness, certainty, and glib expression of prejudice are all familiar as is the Governor's simplistic, damn-the-intelectual-consequences recitation of dogma. Someone who wishes to be taken seriously in the company of serious men does not speak this way. Yet, outrageously, such bad behavior is normally accepted by serious Jew and serious gentile alike.

Why? A non-Jews would never tolerate a candidate who espoused chauvinistic remarks about Christianity. The candidacy of someone like Nate, who cheerfully tells all who will listen that gentiles are inferior and in possession of imperfect souls, would be dead on arrival. So why does any Jew with an ounce of self-pride accept a candidate who thinks we are all irredeemably sinful? If, as some argue,  Perry doesn't really believe what he says, then he's a liar, a panderer and a fraud;  if he does believe it - if Perry sincerely thinks Jewish blood is tainted, and that our souls lack something essential - how can he be trusted to protect us or to think of us as his fellow Americans? We wouldn't trust the average OJ Goy-hater to stand up for gentiles, would we?  The man who thinks black people carry Ham's curse, or believes that he's permitted by Jewish law to steal from gentiles is someone only a real "goyishe kup" would count on. For a Jew to trust Perry is no different. 

Friday, August 12, 2011

New Phony Amuka Segula Drive

The famous Amuka underwear tree: Women looking for husbands place their underwear near the tomb in hopes that their marriage prayers will be answered. Later, after they are married, they show their questionably stained underwear to other Rabbis, in the hopes that their prayers toput off having sex for a few days will be answered.
A guest post from @azigra on a new Amuka outrage can be seen after the jump

Sesame Street would like you to know that Bert and Ernie are not gay

An online petition is making the rounds, calling on Sesame Street to present a gay wedding for Bert and Ernie, two guys who've been living together and sharing a bedroom since the late 60s. The petition makes that not unreasonable point that LGBT kids "need to know that they ARE BEAUTIFUL and their lives are worth living." The petition continues:
We are not asking that Sesame Street do anything crude or disrespectful. Only that they allow Bert & Ernie to marry or even add a transgender character to the show. It can be done in a tasteful way. Let us teach tolerance of those that are different. Let Sesame Street and PBS Kids be a big part in saving many worthy lives.
If puppets have no
sexual orientation,
how did this happen?
In a statement, Sesame Street turned down the request and reminded petition-signers that "Even though they are identified as male characters and possess many human traits and characteristics (as most Sesame Street Muppets™ do), they remain puppets, and do not have a sexual orientation.”

This rings hollow. We've had hetero Muppets, haven't we? Kermit and that pig got married, right? And I seem to recall a segment in which Bert had a female love interest. So it seems disingenuous to play the puppet card. Instead, Sesame Street should have said, "Sorry folks: We're not going to undo 40 years of brand equity, and turn two of our most famous characters into a political statement."

That would have taken guts, sure, but it would have had the merit of being true.

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Was Baba Elazar a con-artist?

The great Josh asks:Was Baba Elazar a con-artist?

The not-so-great DovBear replies: Most likely.

A story: My friend who was down on his luck and in danger of losing his business went to this man, and was told "I've been waiting for you. Your name is known in heaven. It carries a tremendous ayin hara. But for $25,000 I can remove it" Can we speak plainly? An honest man does not talk this way. An honest man does not prey on fears and shake people down for huge sums to remove invisible ailments. And my friend is hardly the only one who had such an experience with this multi millionaire curse remover. Ask. You'll find others.

I think anyone who claims to wipe away curses, to fix names, and remove evil eyes is a con man until proven otherwise. And neither this man, nor his supporters, nor anyone else has provided proof such things are possible.

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Joseph Farrah is too smart to fall for Obama's dastardly tricks

This article by Joseph Farrah from World Nutters Daily defies parody. 
How much don't we know about Barack Obama as he nears the end of his third year of White House occupation?

Well, he claims today is his 50th birthday.

Yet, incredibly, it is still only an unsubstantiated claim – and, perhaps, more suspect than ever.
Does Jo-jo remind anyone else of that Japanese soldier from Gilligan's Island who hadn't gotten the news about World War II ending? 

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Mishpacha Magazine and Talmidos Chachamos

A Guest Post By E. Fink

This came across my desk just before Tisha B'Av. It is an interesting follow up to the excellent post and discussion about women in orthodox Judaism.

Mishpacha Magazine ran an article about kiruv with some divrei Torah from an orthodox woman Torah scholar. This was the blurb beneath the article.

Dr. Schnall from YU in the New York Times

A Guest Post By E. Fink

Original post on my home blog:

Today's New York Times presents a fascinating argument made by Dr. Schnall from YU.

Schnall argues that the ancient Jewish Sanhedrin built into its system a foil to the fatal flaws of "groupthink". Groupthink explains how otherwise very intelligent people can make terrible decisions as a group. Often, members of a group defer to others and they lose their voice even when they might disagree with the majority or group leaders. Without voices of dissent, even groups can make disastrous decisions.

The Sanhedrin had rules that forced the group out of groupthink.

Is Moses' mention of 'Lebanon' anachronistic?

At the end of his life, Moses makes a last request:

Deuteronomy 3:25:
Let me go over, I pray, and see the good land beyond the Jordan, that goodly hill country, and Lebanon.

Lebanon? What possible interest could Moshe have in Lebanon?

In the biblical period, 'Lebanon' was a range of coastal mountains. The name means 'white' and perhaps referred to snow-capped peaks. Why would Moshe wish to see this?

Answers after the jump.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Nu, Chevrah how was Tisha B'av?

Notes on Tisha B'av 5771

Easy. I really wasn't hungry or thirsty all day. Just tired.

None [Or at least nothing to top this] And this remains the ultimate all time best Tisha B'av post ever written

When I was a kid, we broke fast on Entemmans cakes, Shop Rite vegetable soup from a can, and scrambled eggs. Mid-afternoon, I asked my wife what she had planned (as if I didn't know) and upon hearing the menu (Same as always: Home made potato soup, lecho, home-made pastries), said "You know that's exactly what my mom used to make." (Wives love hearing that. Try it and see!) To which she replied, "Old Navy [points at me] Brooks Brothers [points at herself]" Score one for the wife!

Stayed out of the way. The young ones are easy, and the big ones fast. I think I'm past the stage of life in which kids harass you on fast days. Sigh. Sunrise, sunset.
Related 1 and 2

How long was shachris:
Forever and a day. Long time readers know how much I love Yom Kippur prayers, but I can't stand Tisha B'av morning. Its far and away the worst service of the year. The dirges make no sense, and drone on forever, and please don't even think about suggesting some hippy, do-gooder, minyam where the Rabbi's bright-eyed assistant delivers a boring introduction to selected Kinot. Such introductions are never insightful, and make a terrible service even less palatable.

Kinah for Gush Katif?

Kinah for holocaust?
Yes [Those who end the liturgical tour of Jewish tragedy at Chelminiki, yet also hold that Yom Hashoa is wrong because "we have tisha b'av" have, in Ricky's immortal words, some 'splainin' to do.]

Operation Thunderbolt
Abba Eben's Narcissistic Tour of His Own Life, as Narrated to PBS, Part 6

Break fast:
Same as always: Potato soup, lecho, home-made pastries.

How'd things go for you? (Or to put it in the jargon of the blogosphere, I'm "tagging" all of you.")

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I'm so happy!

My FaceBook "like" button now works! Click it and see! No more gibberish! Hooray! huzzah!

Full story, along with a personal thank you to the man that made it happen just as soon as I get his permission.

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Our friends at Cross Currents ushered in Tisha B'av with a post denouncing a thoughtful and well meaning Orthodox Rabbi who had written a post arguing for common-sense and fairness in Judaism.  The Cross Current rebuttal, with my fisks is after the jump.

When will the slander end? A great piece by Rav Yosef Kanefsky

DB: What follows is a great article from the MoreOrthodoxy website, in which a Rav Yosef Kanefsky elegantly and eloquently makes a point that has always been near to my heart, namely, that a woman who adds ritual observances should be admired and congratulated, just as a man would be. If we're not going to cast aspertion on the motivations of men who stop eating gbroks or start wearing hats and shtreimals, we must not cast aspersions on women who add oservances such as taking a lulav or laying  tfillin (See Rambam below).  [I've brought the subject up on this blog many times, though I suppose I was neither elegant nor eloquent on the very first occasion. Heh.].

Rambam (Hilchos Tzitzis 3:9): A woman is exempt from Tzitzis. If she wants to wear Tzitzis without a Berachah, she may. Similarly, if she performs any Mitzvah from which she is exempt without a Berachah, we do not protest.

When Will the Slander End?
Posted by Rav Yosef Kanefsky
Taken from  MoreOrthodoxy

A few weeks ago I officiated at a wedding. The bride was a giyyoret (a convert to Judaism), and the couple had requested that the honor of reading the ketuba under the chuppah be given to the bride’s teacher. Her teacher was truly her rebbe muvhak, the teacher from whom she had learned the great majority of her Torah knowledge, and from whom she had learned how to practice Judaism. Naturally I agreed, and we proceeded accordingly.

As could be expected after many years of Talmud study, the rebbe read the Aramaic text flawlessly. The bride glowed with joy and appreciation. It was a magical moment within an already magical day.

Most Orthodox rabbis would not have allowed this rebbe to read this ketuba. Because in this case, the rebbe was a woman.

Halacha, as our community practices it, excludes women from a variety of public ritual roles. But reading the ketuba happens not to be one of them. Rabbis who have written in opposition to women reading the ketuba invariably open their arguments by acknowledging precisely this point. As one scholarly detractor has written, “If one judges the issue from the perspective of the laws of the marriage ceremony, there’s nothing wrong … The marriage would be one hundred percent valid”. Yet, he and many others would have said “no” in this case.

On what grounds? For one scholar, a woman reading the ketuba violates the laws of personal modesty. But is the reading of a ketuba less modest than teaching a class, or addressing a professional gathering? The latter are activities in which perfectly modest women engage in regularly today. For another scholar the issue is not modesty, but tradition. “Tradition possesses its own power, and why should we deviate from tradition for no purpose?”. But why would anyone assume that a particular women is being chosen to read the ketuba “for no purpose”? Have you ever been at a wedding and thought to yourself that the man who is reading the ketuba was chosen by the couple “for no purpose”?

But it is actually a third objection to a women reading the ketuba that seems to have the most currency. Put forward by numerous rabbinic writers in a variety of contexts, it declares that whenever Orthodox women perform ritual practices that are traditionally associated with men, their motivation is invariably subversive. Women who read a ketuba (or who recite Kiddush or HaMotzi at the Shabbat table, or who take a lulav, or who wear a tallit when they daven) are invariably engaged in an act of religious disobedience, cynically utilizing religious practice as a means of expressing their rebellion against perceived unfairness or injustice in Orthodox life. Thus, not only do their acts lack religious value, they actually constitute sin.

There are, of course, several things wrong with this way of thinking. For starters, there’s the astonishing implicit assertion that the seeking of fairness and justice are to be regarded as acts of religious rebellion. But beyond this, the very essence of the argument constitutes an outrageous act of slander against thousands of Orthodox women. They are rebelling?? Is there any lack of fully egalitarian Jewish movements that are open to women who want out of Orthodoxy or out of Halacha? Surely not. But these women have not bolted Orthodoxy. They are engaged in a campaign of religious disobedience?? Are Orthodox women who read ketubot, recite Kiddush and lain in women’s tefilla groups not observing Kashrut? Or Shabbat? Or the laws of Niddah? We are forbidden by halacha to be suspicious of the upright. How is it conceivable to causally, unthinkingly condemn thousands of pious women as being subversive religious rebels? And for how long will so many of us stand by as this slander continues to shape Orthodox practice?

The woman who read the ketuba at the wedding described above happens to be my wife, a profoundly religious woman, a role model, an inspiration, a lifelong Jewish educator. She is a person who believes in fairness and justice, and who wants to leave a fairer and more just Orthodoxy to the girls and women who will follow her. And there are so many Orthodox women like her in these respects, heroes of our generation, who, in addition to all of their other attributes, are wise enough to not be dissuaded by baseless slander, no matter where it originates. They deserve our support.
Over at Cross Currents where the definition of "Orthodox" becomes narrower by the minute, Menken elected to celebrate erev Tisha B'av by publishing a critical denouncing of Rav Kanefsky's article, efforts, and way of thinking. The Cross Currents rebuttal is long on hyperbole, lousy arguments, and bad facts. Perhaps a fisking later, if I have the strength.

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Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Changing the Tisha B'av liturgy in light of new realities

כשהכותל המערבי שוקק המוני מתפללים האם אפשר לומר על ירושלים שהיא "אבלה מבלי בניה" ו"שוממה מאין יושב

Translation: When the Western Wall is bustling with crowds of worshipers, is it possible for us to say that Jerusalem is "mourning without sons" or 'alone without inhabitants'?

The quote above comes from an article written Rav Chaim Navon, who argues that the time has come to change our Tisha B'av liturgy, specifically the Nachem prayer we add to the Amidah. It simply no longer makes sense to speak in the present tense of a Jerusalem that is abandoned, alone, and empty of worshippers. In our day Jerusalem is full of life, people, and new construction. How can we stand before God during Amidah and speak of the desolate and lonely city that no longer exists?

In his article Navon cites three bold names - Rabbi Goren, Rabbi Lichtenstein, and Rabbi Halevy - who he says have already changed the words of the prayer. Which makes sense. Those three are known for their realism, and their refusal to treat Judaism like a relic. To them Judaism still breaths, and because it still breaths it must change and develop as the world around us changes and develops. Though I respect their perspective, and agree that only things that are dead cease to change, I still would not alter the words of Nachum.

Though Judaism isn't a fragile relic, and shouldn't be treated like something delicate, the various prayers we say belong to a different category. We don't say Nachum because the words themselves matter to God, or because their recitation works like a spell that in some way or another compels God to act. We say the words because saying the words matters to us, because reciting them connects us to our childhood, our parents, our past.

Conservatives who argue that some rule or precedent prevents us from changing the words are, I think, being dishonest with themselves as copious examples of changes to the liturgy can be easily presented. Conservative who wish to leave Nachum the way it is are concerned that changes make things seem less real. If we correct Nachum, the prayer will feel wrong. I'm sensitive to that, too, and because God, I am sure, does not care one way or the other, why not let people say Nachum the old way if they find it  personally meaningful?

Post inspired by @noahroth who Tweeted: How can we say "השוממה מאין יושב"‎ when it is factually inacurate? Discuss.

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Monday, August 08, 2011

What's for dinner?

How are you entering the fast? I think we're having Rakott Krumpli, but not with kolbasz, of course.

Not sure yet if we'll do the pre-fast salt water dipped eggs cum ashes. Rakkot Krumpli has eggs in it. Does that count?

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