Monday, April 30, 2012

Asifa Schedule as told over to @azigra

Asifa letter #1

Schools, I see, are hopping on board the asifa bandwagon. In what follows a school in Brooklyn strongly encourages all male parents to attend. (Women, of course, aren't welcome.)

If your school has sent home a letter such as this, please submit it to DovBear.

Things to note:
  • "The grave danger posed by contemporary technological capabilities" is a hell of a long-winded euphemism for pornography. As Orwell said about something else in the best essay about lousy writing ever produced "The writer either has a meaning and cannot express it, or he inadvertently says something else, or he is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not"
  • Citi Field, is only technically, an arena. A sports writer would never refer to it as such. However, the word does hearken back to the Roman amphitheaters and gladiatorial combat. I wonder if the writer knows this, of if his lack of skill produced something amusing by mistake
  • Of course, the venue is described as "massive." Orthodox Jewish English has no other word for super-large
  • How in the world can the inanimate Torah expect anything of us? And its a little creepy to learn that the Wise Men of Israel are worrying about my choice of filter. 
  • Can schools stop claiming to be "equal partners?" Its lip service. They see themselves as senior partners, when they see themselves as partners at all, and frequently abuse their authority and trample on our prerogatives. 
  • We cannot stress enough the importance of your capitalizing on this opportunity which will b'ezras Hashem help us make immeasurable progress in our chinuch goal to raise pure, ehrliche children. Yup, folks: A career educator wrote that sentence.
  • Also creepy is the promise to "submit the attendance list from our mossad to the event organizers." Perhaps the effect is unintentional, but this is even more Big-brothery, and unfairly manipulative, than the claim that the Gedolim are expecting something from us.
  • Why am I required to affirm the importance of the event in order to turn down the invitation? 
 Search for more information about creepy and incompetent school letters at

Friday, April 27, 2012

Moron Comment of the Millennium

Foo, checking in from the mental ward, writes:
...good liberals are not supposed [sic] celebrate y"a or be pro-israel in any way.
Shrewdly, Foo has detected that the following categories of people were not "pro Israel in any way"
  • All of the Israeli Prime Ministers who belonged to liberal factions
  • All of the Knesset Members who belonged to liberal factions. 
  • All of the Israelis who voted them into office
He's also wise to note that liberal don't participate in Yom Ha'atzma'ut. Obviously, no liberal Prime Minister, liberal Knesset Member, or liberal Israeli has ever celebrated Yom Ha'atzma'ut; and as you can see, not one of the people seen in this video celebrating Yom Ha'atzma'ut is a liberal:

And of course, Barak Obama has never, ever  "celebrate[d] Yom Ha'atzma'ut in any way" shape or form aside from  20122011 2010 and 2009.

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Thursday, April 26, 2012

A great day in history

Today, is Yom Haatzmaut, the day DovBear celebrates the anniversary of the marvelous and miraculous day in 2005 when Hirhurim finally linked to one of my posts.

Psss Gil. You're WAY overdue for another one.

(Read the post. It's good, by which I mean excellent)

Me and Yom Ha'atzmaut

Google's logo today as seen on the Israeli version of the site. The girl in the red dress is about to get clocked with a rock, sent with holiday greetings from an off screen Charedi who objects to her red dress, those saucy knees, and that flag.

For those who might care, (and really, why would you?) I do not say Hallel or tachanun today. The explanation of this stance is provided in a post written in 2005 that bears the glorious distinction of being the only DovBear post to which Gil Student of Hirhurim has ever linked.

In my view, Yom Haaztmaut is a local Purim, of the kind Jews always extablished to celebrate their deliverance from various tyrants and anti-Semites. Anyone who benefits from the state (in particular the Haredim who benefit more than anyone) should participate with the festive meals (Seudat Hoda) typical of the local Purim.

I don't see any particular reason for Hallel or for bopping people on the head with those silly hammer-shaped knockers, but then I don't see any particular reason to abstain if you like doing those things.

As I do every year, I'll also reiterate that the state-establishing Zionists made two bad mistakes, mistakes that resonate today.
  1. Yom Hashoa should be on 10 Tevet, and certainly not in Nissan.
  2. Yom Ha'atzmaut should be on Lag B'omer, but certainly not during Sfira.
Had the founders of Israel combined their new holidays with our old holidays, Jews the world-over would be able to mourn and celebrate together. And it isn't like there's no precedent for this sort of thing. Our crafty ancestors used this trick when they sabotaged Nicanor Day and replaced it with Tannis Esther.

David Williams, an expert on ancient Israel at the University of Georgia, suggests that it was King John Hyrcanus, a descendant of the Maccabees, who shoved Nicanor Day aside in favor of Purim. Why? "Perhaps to deflect attention from Judah's victory to his own time. Or he wanted a wider celebration.''

A wider celebration. If only the state-establishing Zionists had thought along those lines.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Tomorrow is Yom Ha'atzmaut, and my kids are indifferent to it. The know its coming, but they don't care. That doesn't really bother me. After all, I grew up indifferent to it as well.

What's different, though, is that my indifference developed despite a childhood that consisted of an annual bombardment of Yom Ha'atzmaut events. Every year my school and shul created elaborate programs. We had parades and blue and white cookies and halel at shachris and all the rest. Through it all, I was always the one asking "What does all this have to do with me."

In the hagddah that question belongs to the wicked son. But I didn't feel wicked. And I still don't think my question is a wicked question. I'm an American citizen, not an Israeli, and Yom Ha'atzmaut is an Israeli holiday. From the very beginning I understood that it isn't wicked to recognize distinctions or to insist on your own identity.

What I didn't understand from the very beginning is that its also okay for others to do the same. Reaching that conclusion, I confess, took time. For years it bothered me that other American Jews made such a big deal out of the Israeli day of  independence. Their celebrations seemed pointless, unnecessary. I may have been a teenager before I outgrew that mistake, before I was ready to grant people the right to their own mishigas and to regard it with polite indifference. 

I still think the emotional hoopla is silly-- especially when it comes from Jews who aren't raining Jewish children and likely won't have Jewish grandchildren - but we human  beings do lots of silly thing. When my team scores an important goal, my reaction, I'm sure, is no less absurd than what you see at some of the more fervent Yom Ha'atzmaut parties. Being indifferent to Yom Ha'atzmaut is my mishigas. Its as worthy of polite indifference as yours is.

So what about my kids? My problem isn't with their indifference but with their ignorance. I may have rejected religious Zionism, but at least I experienced it. I understand why some recognize Yom Ha'atzmaut as a religious holiday, even if I don't agree. And  though I don't much care if my kids eat blue and white cookies tomorrow or not, I want them to know that other people are doing that. I want them to understand (and respect) that the day and its trappings are significant to other people, though they carry no emotional or religious significance for us.

 Search for more information about Yom Ha'atzmautat

Was Ginzo telling Peggy the truth? NO!

So, I am not the only one who thinks the Mad Men house Jew might be lying when he tells Peggy he was born in a concentration camp. Here's Slate:
What do you two make of Ginsberg’s story about being born in a concentration camp? True? Plausible, at least? Or “impossible,” as Peggy suggests after hearing it? Am I alone in thinking (or perhaps just hoping) that Michael and Peggy might eventually find solace in one another?
I'll raise my hand for impossible.

The show is now taking place in 1966. Though there were some babies born in concentration camps, to the best of my knowledge, none survived more than a few weeks. Those that made it through the war were born within a month of liberation. Ginzo isn't 21.  He was not born in 1945. Therefore he's lying.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Things I wasted time with today (Tip -Ex)

Things I wasted too much time with today include trying to determine which was the best birthday year from some freak in a bear suit and his hunter buddy.

For now year 0 is the clear winner. 1989 and 1492 also didn't suck. 2007 was ok, too. (Tip-Ex you got your money's worth)

Gosh darn you@iratick

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More on the Baltimore shomrim case

Just imagine for a second a black gang had beaten up a Jewish kid. And this is different because.....

Twitter argument of the day: Breast feeding in public

I hate Twitter. All the great energy and arguments that were once found on my threads have migrated there. One such argument took place this morning and I, who have also migrated to Twitter, participated.

It started when @azigra brazenly flashed a photo of someone breastfeeding her child on a subway. I think he did this because the woman is some kind of celebrity and also some kind of Jew, and @azigra was hoping to provoke a knife fight over the "is-she or is-she-not Orthodox" question. Or maybe not. Its hard to parse motives on Twitter.

Knives did come out, however, to settle the "is-breast-feeding-on-a-subway appropriate" question. As often happens on Twitter, the pros and cons of both sides were politely discussed in overwhelming detail. After everyone had said their piece, we took a civilized vote before publicly renewing our vows of friendship.

Also, I was accused of being anti-woman.

Peek a Jew: Our George Zimmerman

These two fine specimens of Jewish manhood are accused of beating a black teenager as part of their Godly work for a tough and macho neighborhood watch society in Baltimore, MD. Try not to drool, ladies.

Here's how Us News describes their heroic activities:
The Werdesheims are accused of beating a 15-year-old boy who was walking through a Baltimore neighborhood in November 2010. The brothers pulled up next to the teen in a vehicle, then got out and surrounded him, according to charging documents. The passenger threw the teen to the ground and the driver hit him in the head with a hand-held radio and patted him down.

Israel, and Israel-loving Jews, need to grow up

In an op-ed published today in The New York Times, Stephen Robert argues that its time for Israel-loving Jews to change their thinking, and to accept that Israel is no longer the weak kid on the Middle-Eastern block.

As he puts it, we need to "segue from deeply ingrained victimhood to the moral and practical dictates of being a major power."

And I couldn't agree more.

See the full article after the jump.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Are There Really No Redundant Words in the Torah?

A guest post by David A.

As any student of Talmud learns fairly quickly, a fundamental axiom as relates to the study of the Torah is that the Torah is considered perfect and precise so that no text is ever to be thought of as redundant or extraneous. That is, every single word (maybe even every single letter) is meant to teach or convey something, even though we may not always know what is being taught.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Satmar on 60 Minutes c 1994

HT @efink

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Can rabbits switch genders?

Thanks to Josh at ParshaBlog for pointing out this great Ibn Ezra

הגמל והשפן והארנבת והחזיר -

בעבור שיש לכל אחד הסימן האחד ודרך לשון הקדש להזכיר הזכר מכל מין כי הנקבה בכלל הזכר היא.

והזכיר ארנבת -

יש אומרים:

לפי שלא ימצא הזכר מהם.

ויש אומרים:

שהזכר ישוב נקבה והפך הדבר והראשון קרוב אלי.

In this passage, Ibn Ezra is attempting to explain why Leviticus 11:7 uses the male form to describe the camel and the hyrax, but the feminine form for rabbit =[ארנבת]

His first answer is ambiguous. Does he mean that males are hard to find, or that some say [=
יש אומרים] that male rabbits do not exist? The second answer is downright strange: "The male (rabbit) turns into the female and vice versa."

Has the teva changed? Maybe. But it seems more likely that Ibn Ezra is relying on someone else's mistake.

In his time (and ours, too, apparently!) there was a prevailing notion that rabbits possessed the ability to change their gender. According to this site, the notion came about because young rabbits often have ambiguous genitalia. Sexing mistakes were common, but rather than entertain the possibility of their own fallibility, people invented a myth.

Strange as it seems to us and our modern epistemology, this is how the myth was born:

Rabbi breeder: Here you go! One baby female rabbit.
Buyer: Thanks

-- 6 weeks later -

Buyer: Hey!! You sold me a male rabbit!
Rabbit Breeder: Well, I'll be... I'm an expert rabbit breeder. I don't make mistakes. Must be that rabbit switched genders!!
Buyer: Makes perfect sense! Thanks!

So, here's what we learn from this: (1) Sages relied on the science of their own time; and (2) That science was often wrong due, in part, to the unreliable epistemology of the pre-modern world. Now, let me ask you this: If we can say with certainty that rabbits don't switch gender, despite the Ibn Ezra's tentative endorsement of the theory, why can't we dismiss similar statements of other sages once we've demonstrated that they were wrong?

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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Why some people reject Yom Hahsoa

It’s simply not true to say that Tisha B’av is the only appropriate day for mourning the 6 million. We have the long established right to establish, as a community, days for mourning, for repentance, and for remembrance. The proof is on your calendar: During Sefira we remember Rabbi Akiba's school and, per Samsom Repahael Hirsch in Chorev, the Crusades. There's a day for Gedalya's tragedy, and to remember Esther's fast. And for generations Jews remembered the Chmielnicki massacres of 1648(!) on 20 Sivan. Many siddurim even included selichos for that day.

Can you help me understand why these tragedies got days of their own rather than being subsumed into T'bav? If the 6000 Jews killed by Chelminiki merit a day, and the 24 thousand students of Rabbi Akiva merit a month, surely the 6,000,000 can be remembered independant of Tisha B'Av.

The theory we have all accepted: : Yom Hashoa isn’t rejected by the Haredim “Because we have Tisha Bav.” It’s rejected by the Haredim because it wasn’t their idea, with the business about Tisha B’av being a convenient dodge.

How should the Charedi community acknowledge Yom Hashoa? 
Yom Hashoa: Problem solved
Why we mourn during s'fira (and not on Yom Hashoa) 
Yom Hashoa: How they dropped the ball

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Who was the first to burn the city of Jerusalem?

Who was the first to burn the city of Jerusalem?

The answer is in your bibles, so I expect you'll all know it.

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A stub of a Thursday sermon

Say, you’re a believing Christian of the twentieth century and you’re transported by time machine back into ancient Rome. You’re walking around the main squares and it’s all pretty impressive. Big marble cathedrals with columns. Huge statutes all over the place, and folks crowding into the temples, genuflecting and bringing offerings. Plenty of priests and acolytes in fancy dress, the whole society rests on this spectacular stuff.

And then you ask what’s behind it, what’s it all about. You sit down with a couple of these ancient Romans and they start telling you it’s Jupiter, the god who lives up in the sky and runs the world. And you think, Jupiter? Jupiter? What’s Jupiter? There isn’t any Jupiter, it’s all imagination, it’s all some made-up idea.

You know damn well that this sacred Jupiter that everyone’s so devoted to, that everyone’s dependent on, that everyone praises and carries on about, and writes epics and treatises and holy books about, and mutters prayers to . . . you know damn well that their Jupiter is air, their Jupiter is a phantom, there isn’t any Jupiter, no Jupiter of any kind, the whole religion’s a sham and a fake and a delusion, no matter how many poets and intellectuals adhere to it, no matter how many thrills and epiphanies people get out of it.

Then you come back to the twentieth century, and what you’ve seen and understood doesn’t mean a thing, you’re blind as a bat, you figure you’ve got the goods on Jupiter but Jesus is different, Jesus is for real, Jupiter is a vast communal lie but Jesus is a vast transcendent truth . . .

That, my freinds, is the very great Cynthia Ozick in Heir to the Glimmering World. The obvious lesson is that  it pays occasionally to look in the mirror, to ask ourselves if our own sincerely held beliefs are any different from the sincerely held beliefs of the ancient Romans. They muttered prayers, and we mutter prayers. They wrote epics and poems and crafted theologies in honor of Jupiter and we... well, you get the idea. Are our grounds for believing in a God who lives in the sky and runs the world better or worse than their grounds for believing in Jupiter? And does it matter? 

I have much to say on this, but no time right now to hammer it out. Perhaps my thoughts will take shape in the comments as the discussion develops. 

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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Neturai Karta Does History for Children

A guest post by GA

This is Let's traumatize our children (Part 2)
This is a children’s book published (or “poblished,” as the dialectically-accurate back cover states) by a Neturei Karta/Satmar group of some sort. In a nutshell (with the emphasis on nuts), a child asks his grandfather about the Israeli political elections, and the grandfather, in explaining why their sect does not vote, recounts an unflattering history of Zionism. I originally saw this book featured in a movie at a Jewish film festival two years ago (to the audience’s gasps), and I have tried intermittently to track it down

The book’s highlights include the following:
The founders of the State of Israel depicted as a sinister, beer-chugging group that looks like a who’s who of various Hagadahs’ wicked sons. (Spoiler Alert: The guy in the red t-shirt puts on a necktie in a subsequent frame in which he is being sworn in at the Knesset. His t-shirt and shorts remain.)
 A Yemenite man being told by an Israeli doctor that his son has died. The doctor subsequently sells the baby for $20,000 to a blond man wearing sunglasses indoors. The graveyard in the background is a nice touch.
A boy having his Peyos cut off with gardening shears while Israeli kids look in laughter (What is with all the blondes? And why the G on his t-shirt? Goy?).
Finally, said Zionists look on with contented smirks while bearded and side-locked Jews are herded to the gas chambers and crematoria.

10 Ways You Can Tell Your Frum Teen Is Headed For Trouble


The original goes like this:

10 Ways You Can Tell Your Amish Teen Is Headed For Trouble

10. Sometimes stays in bed until after 5 am.
9. In his sock drawer, you find pictures of women without bonnets.
8. Shows up at barn raisings in full "Kiss" makeup.
7. When you criticize him, he yells, "Thou sucketh!"
6. His name is Jebediah, but he goes by "Jeb Daddy."
5. Defiantly says, "If I had a radio, I'd listen to rap."
4. You come upon his secret stash of colored socks.
3. Uses slang expression: "Talk to the hand, 'cause the beard ain't listening."
2. Was recently pulled over for "driving under the influence of cottage cheese."
1. He's wearing his big black hat backwards.

The frum spoof is as follows:

1. He stops putting B"SD at the top of his emails
2. He surfs the net for shiurim and then erases the history on his parents' computer.
3. He uses deodorant. You know he'll be completely off the derech when he starts using cologne.
4. His shuckling during davening does not cause the floor to reverberate
5. His eyes aren't downcast and he doesn't blush when talking to girls
6. You come across a secret stash of Gedolim cards in his drawer and there is also a picture of R'JB Soloveichik.
7. His tsitsit no longer flap widly in the wind. He now takes the time to tuck them neatly inside his pants.
8. He hums Lipa Schmeltzer songs to himself when he thinks he's alone
9. You catch him eating M & M's (pareve, but with marked as OU Pareve Made on Dairy Equipment) when you know he's had chicken for lunch only 5.75 hours before
10. He starts coming home from mishmar at 10:00 pm rather than 11:00 pm.

A long, hopefully non-boring post, on Judaism in pre-war America

From May 22 2008

I've been trying to crank out a post on pre-war American Judaism, based on a book I finished last weekend, but it keeps getting too long, and too complicated for a DovBear post. So allow me to summarize some of the interesting points:

1 - In the years before WWII Reform Judaism was becoming more observant, and looking for ways to incorporate ritual into their theology. For instance, they brought some Hebrew back into the liturgy, began to reconsider the Zionism rejected by the Pittsburgh Platform, and so on. Some speculate that this was done because they were inspired/shamed into doing so by the hundreds of thousands of Eastern Europeans who arrived in America between 1890 or so and 1920 or so. There are many anecdotes which support this theory.

2 - JTS was created by Reform Jews who wanted to train American Rabbis who could minister to the newly arrived Eastern Europeans and their children. In the pre-war years, a majority of JTS students were yeshiva graduates, and possessed bachelor degrees from Yeshiva College. JTS, as everyone knows, originally followed Orthodox halacha (in most important matters. The egalitarian innovations, and even the ruling that allowed people to drive to shul on shabbos, came much, much later.)

3 - The Eastern Europeans themselves did all sorts of things to try and bolster religion in their own community. There opened hundreds of shuls, or every size, shape and style. Rabbis, including the first chief Rabbi of New York, were imported from Poland at the community's expense. Yeshivas were established, some of which were expressly designed to create "American Rabbis" who could relate to the next generation. And new organizations were created including the Khilla Kdeosha of New York and the Orthodox Union. As everyone knows, these efforts had mixed results. The yeshivas grew and created Rabbis, and learned lay-people (while also creating students for JTS, though before the war the Eastern Europeans didn't all think JTS was treif, and in many ways it wasn't.) There was also widespread prikas ol, though for the most part this phenomenon affected (some) new immigrants and their children and not the Orthodox communities that were established before the Eastern Europeans arrived.

Some speculate that the newly arrived Eastern Europeans went OTD faster than those Jews who were already here because American life offered too many challenges, but a better explanation (cribbed from the book) is this: The school system in Eastern Europe didn't prepare people to exist in the world. It prepared them to exist in the shtetle. Boys were taught HOW to do things (ie: how to read an translate Talmud; how to keep shabbos; how to keep kashrus; etc) and not why these things were done. (Girls were taught almost nothing at all) When the graduates of this system arrived in America they couldn't explain to themselves why Shabbos and Kashrus were necessary, so as their new lives began to interfere the old observances were dropped. As the book notes, the Eastern Europeans came to America with knowledge that was very broad, but very shallow. Of course, the reasons for the prikas ol are many and complicated but what the statistics show is that Eastern Europeans dropped observances much more rapidly and in much greater numbers than others did.

4 - When the Hasidim began to arrive in the late 40s and early 50s they had some success recruiting from among the more observant Eastern Europeans. According to the book, Williamsburg, at that time, was a slum inhabited by Eastern Europeans who were either too poor to leave, or who wanted the comfort and convience of the schools and kosher food which were readily available. (As the Eastern Europeans became established they left slums like Williamsburg and Lower East Side. According to the book, they often ended up in neighborhoods that were heavily Jewish, but not nearly as homogenous as the neighborhoods they left behind. In Williamsburg and the Lower East Side you could be "Jewish" without actually keeping commandments. In the "areas of second settlement" --ie. the places they went nect - "being Jewish" required a little more work; in some areas the challenge was met with schools and shuls and to varying degrees of success. Schools like Shulamith and HILI, and the Yeshiva of Flatbush are the legacies of those efforts) When the Hasidim arrived, after the war, in places like Williamsburg, the Jews who remained there tended to gravitate toward the rebbas and shteibels, and for any number of reasons. The book speculates that this occurred because Judaism is primarily about rituals and practices, not cold belief, so anyone sincerely interested in Judaism seeks to emulate practices that seem more authentic. Certainly, this would also explain (see above #1) why American Reform Jews could be influenced by the Eastern European example. It also explains why Reform Judaism originally attempted to update Judaism. See below #5.

5 - According to the book, Reform Judaism was at first a positive theology. The objective wasn't to drop inconvenient rituals and to become more like the gentiles, but to fix and restore Judaism by eliminating what could be judged "inauthentic" superstitions. (in some later iterations Reform Judaism certainly became a negative movement seeking to drop practices for no good reason, but that came later.) American reformers saw the prophets, with their protests against empty ritual and demands for justice, as being more legitimate than what came later and worked to restructure Judaism along more humanistic lines. Not coincidentally, this reflected the spirit of the times. Liberal religion was on the rise in 19th century America, and Jews rethought and reworked their religion in the same way that Christians were [*] and dropped almost all the rituals on the grounds they they were inauthentic and illegitimate superstition. Of course, we know how the story ends: Judaism without practice is nothing at all (see above) and the children of these reformers saw no reason to remain Jews. Many embraced humanism, and married non-Jews. In fact, a theology of the time argued that it was perfectly okay for Jews to intermarry because, the mission of the Jewish people having been fulfilled, there was no reason for us to remain separate as a nation. As noted above, after reaching this nadir around the time of the Pittsbugh Platform, reform Judaism began to recognize the value of ritual.

Ok - that's all for now. More later.


[*]Sharper knives in the drawer have realized that (some) 21st century Jews are doing the same thing, only, reflecting the spirit of OUR time, they are modifying Judaism in ways that make it more consistent with fundamentalist religion.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Why do we need an asifa?

Huge argument raging right now Twitter about the next big Internet Asifa scheduled for the end of May in Citi Field. Let me briefly summarize the other positions:

#1: The Asifa is just the latest attempt by the zealots and the gedolim they control to control our thoughts
#2: They're worried about a neo-hashkofa haskola* and are trying to limit access to blogs and the like
#3:  They fear their authority is eroding

* I first heard the phrase "neo-haskola" from Mis-nagid in 2005, and have used it promiscuously ever since

To which I reply: No, sorry. This Asifa has nothing to do with any of that. They've given up trying to ban the Internet, and the average haredi isn't interested in thinking or reading. The problem, primarily, is porn.

To which the others reply (paraphrased): But people have always looked at porn! That can't be the issue! Its a scam! A trick! They don't really care about porn! They are just using that as an excuse! What they really want to do is run our lives, and close our minds. If they are saying they care about porn, they are a bunch of liars! And hypocrites! Porn has always been a problem! How dare they make believe that they all of a sudden care!

To which I reply: Sure people have always looked at porn, but over the last few years porn has become easier to consume. You can do it quickly, privately and at no cost. The desire to look at porn is a constant, I agree. But the obstacles to looking at porn have been mostly removed. When obstacles disappear consumption goes up. That's ECO 101.

To which they reply: What are you talking about? You could ALWAYS look at porn

To which I reply: Sure people have always looked at porn, but over the last few years its become easier. You can do it quickly, privately and at no cost. The desire to look at porn is a constant, I agree. But the obstacles to looking at porn have been mostly removed. When obstacles disappear consumption goes up. That's ECO 101

For some reason, my opponents are unable or unwilling to understand this. In their replies, they point out again, and again in various ways, that porn was always available. What they aren't grasping is that nowadays more people are seeing more porn because, thanks to the Internet, the porn-watching experience has become so simple. In yesteryear, a shy kid might not be brave enough to ask an older cousin for a magazine, and he might not have had the money to buy one himself. Plus there was always the danger of being spotted in the store, or of the parents finding the contraband. Today, none of that is a worry. The teenager of 2012 can sit with his iPod and feast at a never-ending porn shmorg -- all free, all private, with little to no risk of discovery. As a result, porn consumption has skyrocketed.

The purpose of the Asifa  is to raise awareness and to discuss solutions. The analogy I gave on Twitter is this: Say you lived in a neighborhood that was frequently visited by bears. The non-idiots in the community would understand immediately that bears are attracted by food and you can encourage them to move on by cutting off their food supply. The non-idiots would take down their bird feeders and keep their garbage in doors for as long as possible. Expert non-idiots might start treating their garbage with some kind of bear repellent. But what abut the non-idiots who just don't know about the bear? What about the people who are idiots? Until both groups are told about the problem and taught bear-control procedures, the bear will keep coming back. So, what you need to do is have a public meeting, where the problem can be publicized and solutions can be taught.

Its the same with the porn problem. Non-idiots already have filters and are already watching their kids and teaching them how to make good choices. But most people are not non-idiots. Most people don't know what to do, and may not even be aware of the severity of problem. For instance, most people don't know (until its too late) that a kid with an iPod is running a XXX theater during recess. Most people don't know (until its too late) that their 15 year old texts on shabbos. Most people don't know (until its too late) that their spouse has developed an inappropriate friendship with someone on Facebook  How do you fix that? How do you protect people before it's too late? By raising awareness at a public meeting, which is just another word for asifa.

I'm oversimplifying. Other problems the asifa will tackle include kids who text on shabbos, adults who look at porn, and married people who use the Internet to form emotional connections with members of the opposite sex or to meet extramarital partners and set up assignations. All of that happens today with greater frequency for the same reason 14 year old boys see more porn: Its become cheaper and easier to do. The purpose of the asifa is to raise awareness about all of these problems and to let people know what they can do to protect themselves and their families. 

Search for more information about your spouses inappropriate Facebook relationship at

Why was Rabbi Akiva's Seder different from all other Seders? More on Lau's The Sages

I know I said my next post about The Sages would discuss Rabbi Dr. Lau's treatment of the famous coup in Yavneh. Sorry. I'd rather do this first. 

During the Seder we say that a wise son should be taught the laws of Pesach, yet when the Haggadah gives us a glimpse of a Seder observed by the Sages we see they stayed up all night discussing not the laws, but the Exodus itself.  I'm speaking, of course, of the Seder in Bnai Brak attended by Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrkanus, Rabbi Yehoshua, Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah, Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Tarphon. We read about their Seder every year at the beginning of the Haggadah, and we're told, "they were telling of the exodus all night, until their student came..." Why did these five Sages concern themselves with the story and not the laws?

The question becomes stronger when we consider another account of another Seder attended by other Sages where the laws, not the story, are the focus of the evening.
It happened that Rabban Gamliel and the elders were reclining in the house of Bitos ben Zunon in Lod and they were engaged in the laws of Passover all night until the cock crowed. (Tosefta, Pesahim 10::12)
Lau offers the intriguing suggestion that R. Akiva, who hosted the Bnai Brak seder at his home, enforced his prerogative as host and imposed upon his guests to focus on the story, rather than the laws. He did this, Lau continues, because of his messianic tendencies and his pre-occupation with redemption.

Later in life, this same R. Akiva acted on these tendencies by providing spiritual support and justification for a rebellion against Rome. In the Seder anecdote, however,  he is still a younger man, a sage in training playing host to his masters Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrkanus and Rabbi Yehoshua, the leaders of the generation. But as Lau argues the attitude that later leads R. Akiva to break from his colleagues over the matter of Bar Kosiba can already be seen lurking beneath the surface of his arguments with the Sages about proper Passover behavior*

* In addition to disagreeing about the proper subject of conversation for a Seder, Rabbi Akiva and  his colleagues disagreed about the correct time to eat the Passover lamb and the correct verse to use for the conclusion of the Hallel recited over the sacrifice. In each case, Lau convincingly explains Rabbi Akiva's position as a product of his more pronounced messianism and his view that Israel is responsible for hurrying its own salvation. 

Just how strange was Rabbi Akiva's seder? The oddness of the event is driven home by a comment attributed to Rabbi Elazer b. Azaryah, and quoted by the haggadah immediately following its account of the Benai Brak Seder
Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya said: Behold I am like seventy years old, and I never merited that the Exodus should be mentioned at night*, until Ben Zoma expounded [on the following verse]: "…in order that you remember the day you left Egypt all the days of your life" (Devarim 16:3) – "the days of your life" refers to the days, and "all the days of your life" refers to the nights. But the Sages said: "the days of your life" refers to this world, and "all the days of your life" refers to the Messianic era
According to Lau, R. Elazaer b. Azaya is expressing polite surprise about the discussion in which he partook at the Seder we've just read about. At every previous Seder R. Elazaer b. Azaya has ever attended the table talk focused on the laws. Not until the Seder in Benai Brak did he "merit" to discuss the story instead.

* Is it just me or do you hear a slight loftiness and perhaps a touch of amusement in  R. Elazaer b. Azaya's tone? He's not displeased to have spent the night discussing the Exodus instead of the laws but to him the practice seems wrong. Imagine how you might speak, if you wished to speak politely, after seeing an orange on the seder plate at the home of a respected colleague. Decorum would stop you from denouncing it directly, but you might say something like "In all my life, I've never been lucky enough to see such a thing." Lau (and I) hear the same thing in R. Elazer's words. He respects R. Akiva, but thinks his 24/7 focus on redemption and salvation is, well... unusual. The analogy isn't perfect, but R. Akiva is politicizing the seder just as feminists politicize the seder in our own day, and Rabbi Elazer is calling him on it. 

Though the Haggadah truncates Ben Zoma's disagreement with the Sages, Lau provides the rest of the account as it is found in Tosefta Berchot 1:10.  After the Sages say that  "all the days of your life" refers to the Messianic era", ben Zoma protests:  Will we really continue to talk about the Exodus after the Messiah comes? Won't the next redemption replace the original redemption in our liturgy and in our memories? (paraphrase)

The Sages reply that just as Jacob kept his old name after the angle changed his name to Israel, so too will we continue to mention the redemption from Egypt even after we're rescued from Rome. Some things will change, sure, but Jacob was still Jacob.

Do you hear the political correctness in the Sage's words? In their view, we musn't read about the Exodus from Egypt at night, and being rescued from Rome will never be considered important enough to replace the Exodus from Egypt. In both of these comments, I hear caution. Their warning is: Don't say or do anything that might make Rome think we consider them as evil as Pharaoh. Don't say or do anything that makes it seem like we want God to visit upon Rome the same terror He visited upon Egypt. Rome and Egypt are not the same. No Sirree. Not even close. And  don't talk about the escape from Egypt at night, when we're gathered together around the Seder table. Someone might misinterpret you.

[Related: Josephus is famously reluctant to call Chanka by its familiar name. Instead he calls it "Lights" Many understand this as a manifestation of his community's desire to keep Rome from drawing the wrong conclusions about the point and theme of the holiday. Not coincidentally, the messianic Christians do not share these concerns. They call the festival "Chanuka" ]

Akiva on the other hand sees thing differently and  the man who will later cast his lot with Bar Kosiba is already here. Akiva wants to discuss the Exodus at night -- damn the consequences -  and he expects the eventual victory against Rome will be remembered and celebrated in the same terms as the defeat of Egypt.  In Lau's telling the Sages are playing down their "problem" with Rome and concealing their hopes for the future, while Rabbi Akiva, with his study partner Ben Zoma, is doing the very opposite.

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Monday, April 16, 2012

What did R. Eliezer and R. Yehoshua fight about?

Kids like the The Hunger Games. Bored housewives, Time magazine tells us, are swooning over Fifty Shades of Grey But the trilogy that has my attention is The Sages, by Benjamin Lau. As I told you after I finished volume I (The Second Temple Period) the appealing thesis of this series is that by unpacking some of their great teachings we can discover tantalizing information about the world in which the Sages lived and the forces that shaped their personalities.

In the first volume Lau presents the context of the famous Hillel and Shamai disagreements. In the second (From Yavneh to the Bar Kochba Revolt) he explains how their fundamental philosophical points of disagreement survived in the teaching and behavior of their intellectual heirs, including R. Eliezer b. Hyrcanus* and R.Yehoshua.

* I wonder if anyone ever said to him, "Nu, what's your father's Yiddish name?"

A favorite example: Eliezer Hyrcanus was, by the standards of Yavneh, an arch conservative who claimed never to have taught anything he hadn't heard from his own teachers, a group that, ironically enough, included the great reformer R. Yochanan b. Zakai. R. Eliezer's chief intellectual rival was R. Yehoshua who believed the work of a Sage was inherently a creative exercise. In several anecdotes, students visit R. Eliezer, who invariably asks: "What novel thing was taught in the Bes Medrash today?" As Lau shows to my satisfaction, this question is a taunt when R. Eliezer asks it.** The possibility that Sages might invent something new is unacceptable to him. When R. Eliezer asks his students "What novel thing was taught in the Bes Medrash today?" he is really challenging R. Yehoshua's right to be innovative and his practice of putting questions of religious law a to a vote.

** When students visit R. Yehoshua he also asks this question. Through the stories, Lau shows that R. Yehoshua's attitude is very different. His question is sincere. He approves of novel teachings. 

As Lau frames it, the battles between R. Eliezer b. Hyrcanus and R.Yehoshua are arguments over the origins of authority. R. Yehoshua, in this presentation, has the healthy self-doubt of a modern. He doesn't trust himself or his traditions. In one story - the famous Oven of Ahknai - R. Yehoshua even disavows supernatural signs and refuses to be swayed by the testimony of a Bas Kol. Authority, he insists, is rooted in human deliberation and human consensus. Lo baShamayim he: We will arrive at the right answer together through the use of our own minds and our own powers of creativity. And the answer we arrive at through the use of process is, by definition, the correct answer.

R. Eliezer, on the other hand, will have none of this. Like strict traditionalists of our own day, the only teachings that R. Eliezer finds legitimate are the teachings R. Eliezer claims to have heard directly from his own teachers. And I use the word "claim" not to suggest the R. Eliezer was lying when he attributed his ruling to his predecessors, but to underscore that even a "cemented cistern that loses not a drop"*** like R. Eliezer b. Hyrcanus is incapable of passing on a teaching without also interpreting it somehow. Though I don't claim R. Eliezer was dishonest or that he attempted to acquire a credibility trump card by falsely attributing his own teachings to his ancestors, we must say he lacked this elementary post-modern awareness.

*** In Pirkei Avot 2:9 we're told that R. Yochanan b. Zakai described R. Eliezer this way.

The book also gives an exposition of the famous Yavneh Coup, during which the patriarch Raban Gamliel was deposed, that is at once respectful to the sources and nearly breathtaking in its insight. I'll discuss this in a future post.

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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Credibility anyone?

Search for more information about Rav Matisyahu Salomon at

A guest post by Berel Shain

The chareidi press is abuzz [DB: In the customarily excellent English] with news of a massive asifa to take place at Citifield on May 20, the aim of which is to present a coherent approach to the internet "problem". The details of the gathering remain shrouded in secrecy, but glossy brochures published by the purported organizers claim it will be used to formulate a unified approach to the challenges posed by the web. The chief proponent and driving force behind this unusual gathering is non other than Rav Matisyahu Salomon, the mashgiach of Lakewood. I have long admired the mashgiach. I own and learn his seforim (Matnas Chaim) and have enjoyed many of his shmuesin. However, I cannot comprehend how he has the slightest shred of credibility when it comes to dealing with the Internet.

Rav Matisyahu was the driving force behind sweeping internet bans. He traveled the country urging mechanchim and communities at large to ban all uses of the web without an "ishur" - a hetter from a rabbi. From day one, the conventional wisdom was that this approach was myopic, misguided and unrealistic. Even those who agreed with the mashgiach about the extent of the dangers of the web realized that his approach could only fail. And fail it did. I am aware of a number of mechanchim who refused to join his crusade because they knew that it could not succeed and did not want to lose credibility by supporting an unrealistic policy.

But the mashgiach was not to be deterred. Many readers will recall the bizarre attack he launched against blogs that questioned rabbinic responses to accused child molestation, and the outright kooky "sing along" he conducted at the end, when he urged all attendees to be mekabel ol malchus shamayim with him out loud. He has been waging a jihad against internet access for a decade, while everyone with pragmatism and sechel knew his approach could never succeed. 

All of this begs the question: why would the leader who has been wrong for a decade on a specific issue, have any credibility to organize a "new" approach to that same issue? Has the mashgiach not already demonstrated that his approach to the web is wrong? That he "does not get it" in any way?

In truth, the upcoming asifa is the greatest repudiation of the approach of Rav Matisyahu and his ilk. For a decade he and his rabbinic peers have been proclaiming the web treif and off limits. For a decade, countless reasoned educators told that mashgiach that his approach was misguided because like it or not, the web is here to stay. Had his approach succeeded, there would be no need for an asifa. The fact that there is an asifa under the slogan "we can't live with it, we can't live without out" proves that the mashgiach's approach to the web has been wrong from day one. Sadly, it took him a decade to "concede" what we all knew before the turn of the century - that we can't (or won't) live without the web. So now, more than a decade late to the party, the "Vaad" has finally and reluctantly accepted reality and now seeks to decide what to do about it - something that others realized years ago.

The organizing members of the asifa have demonstrated that they lack credibility on this issue for years. They have been consistently and repeatedly wrong every step of the way. Those who would attend this gathering and still look to them for guidance, must question their own judgment.

Search for more information about the Internet Asifa at

Mel, the Maccabees, and that guy who gave us Showgirls

"it's 'ridiculous' to say that Gibson holds anti-Semitic views." --Michael Medved

" denounce Mel Gibson as an anti-Semite, just isn't fair. It isn't right." -- (Rabbi) Daniel Lapin

Mel Gibson " sick to his empty core with Jew-hatred." -- Chris Hitchens

Notwithstanding the praise, protection and cover he has received from fools like Micheal Medved and Daniel Lapin, I say Mel Gibson is one of the worst people who have ever lived (in the "non-violent, non-criminal powerful loudmouth" division.)

Now, Joe Eszterhas (misogynistic screenwriter of such noble Hollywood fare as Showgirls and Basic Instinct) has written a poison pen letter that will hopefully end Gibson's career once and for all.

In his letter, Eszterhas claims that he was hired by Gibson to write a screenplay for a movie about the Maccabees (a "Jewish Brave Heart," Lord help us) under false pretenses. We don't care about that. Stupid Hollywood moguls get themselves into stupid disputes like that all the time. What makes this different is the little tidbits Eszerthas shares about Mel:
Let me remind you of some of the things you said which appalled me. You continually called Jews “Hebes” and “oven-dodgers” and “Jewboys.” It seemed that most times when we discussed someone you asked, “He’s a Hebe, isn’t he?” or “Is he a Hebe?” You said most ‘gatekeepers’ of American companies were “Hebes who controlled their bosses.” You said the Holocaust was “mostly a lot of horses***. You said the Torah made reference to the sacrifice of Christian babies and infants. When I told you that you were confusing the Torah with The Protocols of the Elders of Zion... you insisted "it's in the Torah -- it's in there!" (It isn't.)

You told me the mothers of the last three Popes of the Catholic Church were Jewish [DB: This, I presume, helps mad-Mel explain to himself why the last three Popes made overtures to the Jewish people, overtures Mel has vehemently criticized.] and you said there was a Jewish/Masonic conspiracy to destroy the Catholic church... You said that Vatican II which stripped Catholic liturgy of anti-Semitic prayers "destroyed the church" and you said that Pope Paul VI wore an ephod... once worn by Caiaphas... you said that a "liberal Jewish conspiracy" was responsible for the death of Pope John Paul I...

Perhaps most disturbing was a comment you made to me... "What I really want to do with this movie," you said "is convert the Jews to Christianity."
Swell stuff right? As the letter continues, Eszteras briefly describes the Jewish adviser Gibson assigned to help with the script. (For some reason, Gibson also assigned a priest to help write a story about events that pre-date Christianity by several centuries). Here is what he says:
And your other adviser who you called Rabbi Clueless - a rabbi who defended you during The Passion controversy -  made time only for a forty-minute phone conversation.
My five dollars says "Rabbi Clueless" is none other than Daniel Lapin -- which is sort of ironic, in that most people I know think he's clueless, too.

Read the whole letter here. It's full of examples of Mel's horrifying antisemitism and anecdotes about Mel's even more horrifying behavior.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Little Ricky Drops Out

Lets praise the New York Times for this last, little, shot at Santorum:
Rick Santorum suspended his presidential campaign on Tuesday, bowing to the inevitability of Mitt Romney’s nomination and ending his improbable, come-from-behind quest to become the party’s conservative standard-bearer
 His trickle of support ran out, I guess.

Please don't hate me if I giggle.

PS: In his fareweal, Rick said something about how his aborted campaign gave a "voice to those who are in many cases voiceless.” Poor Catholic Church. A billion worldwide members and no voice. Do they know ASL?

He also said: "Against all odds, we won 11 states. Millions of voters. Millions of votes. We won more counties than all the other people in this race combined." Great but we count votes, not counties. Also Romney, the guy who beat you, has won more STATES than all the other people in this race combined.

--- Search for more information about the twerp called Santorum at

Mad Men spoiler alert

So yes, I'm paternally happy* to learn that, unless the Mad Men writers have made a very uncharacteristic error, Don lied to Megan when he said his extra marital interactions with Andrea dated to 1960, and that the games they played were sins against his first wife, not his second.

*What the hell does 'paternally happy' mean? Google returns it as a common phrase (notably Google Books returns it, too) and my brain tells me it means something on the order of "very happy" but "paternally" relates to fatherhood. So it would seem the phrase once meant something like "busting with fatherly pride and joy" like that bulldog on Tom and Jerry? (hahahaha That's my boy) Is that what it still means? And can I be that kind of happy about a Mad Men clue?**

To recap: Andrea visited our hero twice in Sunday night's episode. Though the jury is out on the first visit, the second was definitely a mad, fever induced hallucination. (Unless sweet ray of sunshine Megan hid the body and convinced Don that he dreamt the murder. This is a crazy theory.)

During the dream visit, Andrea reminded Don of a tryst on the Lincoln Center loading dock while his wife waited inside. Only, (strike one) Lincoln Center didn't open until 1962*, (strike two) the New York City Opera only started performances there in 1964, and (strike three) the Metropolitan Opera did not begin performances at Lincoln Center until 1966, the year the episode takes place.

*We can thank Slate for the history. Also, does Andrea specifically say that they played patty-cake during an opera performance? I can't recall, and can't find it online. Not that it matters, as the complex didn't exist in 1960, which is when Don says he and Andrea hooked up.

So, is the whole Lincoln Center thing part of Don's dream? Does it have some kind of weird symbolism, and no connection to reality? Or is the Donster feeling guilty about something nasty from his recent past?

** I'm happy about this development for all sorts of reasons, but let's leave at this: Mad Men just got really interesting again.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

How dare they sing on a stage.

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In Which @azigra Loses Respect for the Goan of Villna Thanks to the Dumb Way People Speak About Him

A guest post by @azigra 

A fellow in the shul I attend was invited to speak during the hour wait for ma'ariv to begin on the second night of pesach. Of course his speech didn't begin right away because it was necessary to wait for a fight that had broken out in the back to cool off. It had something to do with whether ma'ariv was set to begin unnecessarily late. Interestingly, and not relevant to the point of this essay, the fellow who insisted that ma'aiv should begin later based on some halachic stringency claimed that the women couldn't begin preparing until a certain time anyway. The other guy, the one who didn't care about God or the Torah, responded that at least we can get home earlier and help our wives in the kitchen. Just some food for thought.

The speaker announced that he would just be sharing some select thoughts and stories from a Villna Goan Haggada he had with him. I had a very large print out of pesach related post from S.'s website, as well as some others, like The Awl, Seforim Blog, and Jeffrey Goldberg's blog at the Atlantic, (sorry DB! you didn't have anything new,) and I had no intentions of paying attention. However, everything he said was so backwards and wrong in my mind that I mostly just sat there containing my urge to yell out and argue with him. Now contrary to how you may perceive me online (ie. mean and cynical,) in real life I'm actually really nice and sweet (and good looking, very, very good looking,) and it was not in my nature to be so combative with a guy who was simply trying to help assuage people's restlessness.

I intend here to write what this fellow read from his haggada and follow it with the comments I imagined yelling at him. Some of these thoughts really only came to me later in the shower, where most of my brilliant ideas are born and I engage in an endless amount of imagined fights with real people.

Eggs at the Seder

A Guest Post by E. Fink

Many Seders serve eggs at the start of Shulchan Orech. Reasons and lessons of this custom are varied and numerous. There is no old, primary source for the custom, as far as I know.

In last Wednesday's NY Times Dining section there was an article about a new trend of urbanites owning chickens and using the eggs. Towards the end of the article was this gem:
In the last month, backyard chickens across the country have begun laying again. Left to their own rhythms, hens slow down or stop laying eggs altogether in the winter, because their reproductive cycle is linked to daylight. For centuries, the simultaneous return of eggs and the sun was seen as a quasi-magical coincidence; it is no wonder eggs are central to ancient spring celebrations like Easter, Passover and Nowruz, the Persian New Year, which begins on the spring equinox.
Makes sense to me.

As a particularly meaningful way of celebrating the return of the eggs, they were incorporated into the Seder. It's a classic example of adding religious meaning to something that was done by all.

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Monday, April 09, 2012

Seder wrap up

Time finished
After two am both nights, but really, who cares? We like each other. We like to talk. It was fun.

Potato, of course. Anyone know why they call it Karpas? We couldn't figure it out.

Main courses
Meat loaf, turkey in gravy, meatballs. Biggest problem was the abominable nongebroks matzo balls. Long story, there, about which the less said the better.

Stringency of the year
No brushing your teeth on seder night. Otherwise the taste of the matzah might not last until morning. (What about the last two cups of wine, and the other beverages you're permitted to drink? What about the fact that some hold that the time for eating afikomin ends at chatzos, meaning other foods may be eaten after that hour? Announcer of the stringency had no answer, and got snooty/huffy when challenged declaring that sure, you can find leniencies for anything, without bothering to contemplate that perhaps "no brushing your teeth on seder night" is a stringency. )

Best observations
Moshe's career began with the daughter of pharaohs stretched out arm, and plataued with god's outstretched arm.

Pharaoh was Moshe's surrogate (grand)father, lending an Oedipal flavor to the events of the exodus.

Pharaoh being "kaved" would seem to extend to his attempt to pretend that he never went to the bathroom (midrash)

Prediction for next year's super stringency
At my Seder, one of the young men grew concerned when, upon peeling his egg, too much of it came off with the shell. Is this ok, he asked his father? Do I need a new egg? This, I thought, is really how it starts

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Let's traumatize our children (Part 1)

A guest post by GA

There is an old joke about the Brisker (Quick Stereotype: Briskers are Talmudic, Intellectual, Unemotional) who gets to heaven and is told at the gates that he must share a Torah insight before being permitted entry. He pauses, and then turns to the gatekeeping angel and says “You say something, and I’ll Shlug it Up (Yiddish for refute it).”

In that spirit, I recently came across two disturbing children’s items, but I’m not really sure what to say about them. Perhaps someone will say something in the comments that I disagree with, and I can go from there.

The first item is a sheet of stickers that someone brought back from Israel for my kids. (The second item will be discussed in Part 2)

The frogs and lice are cute enough, and perhaps the wild animals are a bit on the gory side, but what is up with the macabre death of the firstborn. I realize that there is no way to sugar coat this particular plague, or even make light of it in Suessian fashion (contrast this with the classic “One day king Pharaoh awoke in his bed / There were frogs in his bed and frogs on his head / Frogs on his nose and frogs on his toes”). However, at what age is exactly is there an intersection between the appropriateness of this imagery and the use of stickers?

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Attention smart inventors....

When my mind drifts and settles on a familiar sounding phrase or verse, I can easily use Google to discover its provenance. I can do the same for words and ideas and  familiar names. A quick visit to Google and the mystery of "where did that come from?" is solved.

I'd like some smart inventor in the audience to figure out a way to do the same for melodies. My head is full of shul tunes. Some are always at my fingertips. Others return to me in the shower or during a long drive. I'd love to know their origins. Who composed them? When and where? To what parts of the liturgy were they first assigned?  How did they change over time?

Any ideas? We need a Shazzam for shul music

 Search for more information about Shazzam at

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Dear Jews: McDonalds would like to spend Pesach with you

Spotted on Facebook

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Charoset: The Untold True Story

My theory on Charoset is that it was either an ordinary condiment or a year-round treat in the ancient world.  Gradually, over time, people noticed that it resembled bricks and that it contained apples so a story about its significance was created. Here's the Talmud arguing the point (Psachim 115b)
[the Mishna says] THOUGH HAROSETH IS NOT A RELIGIOUS REQUIREMENT. [The men of the Talmud argue] Then if it is not a religious requirement, on what account does he bring it? — Said R. Ammi: On account of the kappa*. R. Assi said: The kappa of lettuce [is counteracted by] radishes; the kappa of radishes, [by] leeks; the kappa of leeks, [by] hot water; the kappa of a these, [by] hot water. And in the meanwhile let him say thus: ‘Kappa kappa, I remember you and your seven daughters and your eight
*We're not really sure what kappa is. Hai Gaon thought it was indigestion brought on by certain lettuces. Others thought it was a kind of worm the haroset killed. Soncino says it was a poisnous substance in lettuce (lettuce was originally dipped in charoset, too.) In the view of the Talmud, charoset was some kind of antidote for kappa, an antidote that could be accelerated by reciting a little rhyme. I don't know why "Because it tastes good" or "because Bubbie always served it" weren't provided as possible explanations for the dish's popularity. . 
[The Mishna continues] R. ELEAZAR SON OF R. ZADOK SAID: IT IS A RELIGIOUS REQUIREMENT [=Mitzvah]. [The men of the Talmud inquire] Why is it a religious requirement? R. Levi said: In memory of the apple-tree; R. Johanan said: In memory of the mud. Abaye observed: Therefore one must make it acrid and thicken it: make it acrid, in memory of the apple-tree; and thicken it, in memory of the mud. It was taught in accordance with R. Johanan: The ingredients are in memory of the straw; [and] the haroseth [itself] is a reminder of the day. R. Eleazar son of R. Zadok said: Thus did the grocers cry, ‘Come and buy ingredients for your religious requirement"
* R. Levi's mention of the apple-tree is an allusion to a famous midrash on Songs 8:5. The verse reads "Under the apple tree I roused you; there your mother conceived you, there she who was in labor gave you birth." In Rabbinic literature Songs is understood to be an allegory for the Exodus, so the verse is interpreted as a reference to heroic Jewish women who defied the Egyptian decree by continuing to give birth "beneath the apple trees." (I do not know what kind of apple trees existed in the ANE, and am partial to those who say that tapuach is an apricot, or a general word for fruit. I do not know what R. Levi has in mind when he uses the word. Abaye's "apples" seem tart.) 

** The mud, R. Jonanan mentions, is what the slaves used to make bricks. 

R. Levi sees charoset and remembers the heroism of Jewish women; R. Jochanan looks as the same stuff and recalls how our ancestors suffered. And all of this to explain the minority view that eating charoset is a religious requirement.

Can you imagine the same thing happening with ketchup?
R. Levi said: In memory of the blood of circumcision; R. Johanan said: In memory of the blood of the plagues. 
Or with duck sauce?
R. Levi said: In memory of how thin we were [=דק] ; R. Johanan said: In memory of the horses that perished in the Red Sea [=סוס]

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