Friday, August 31, 2012

How Mitt lost my vote

Convention concluded, I can now give you my reasons for opposing the candidacy of Mitt Romney (in no particular order)

1) The lies: The complete distortion of "you didn't build that" left me unable to like or trust Romney and as detailed on this blog and elsewhere, that's just the tip of the fabrication iceberg. If you can't win fairly, don't play the game.

2) The punting of his past: Once upon a time Romney was pro choice and pro socialized medicine. I could have supported a sensible fellow like that (below) but what was I supposed to do after he made such a show of announcing that is no longer what he is?

3) The nitwit VP: We were promised that Ryan had intellectual heft but as yet it hasn't been on display. What we've seen instead is an over eager College Republican. The Ayn Rand crap is worrying, too. She is the sort of childish thing that appeals to adolescents (including yours truly, I fully admit) that most of put aside as we come to realize that weakness isn't a vice and selfishness isn't a virtue. It's not true that Obama hates success (he's a success and the man oozes self-love) but it is true that Rand-ites hate people who need help. (excluding bankers and car makers, and "self-reliant" rich people who just pay people to do things on their behalf)

4) I really don't like republicans: I don't mean the individuals, I mean the stereotype (which is all too often embodied in ways large and small in the individuals) I don't like smugness. I don't like contempt for minorities or women or homosexuals. I don't like religious bromides. I don't like theological certainties. I don't like hillbilly swagger and fake machismo. I don't like anti-intellectualism or disdain for learning. I don't like people who don't read books. I don't like selfishness or obnoxious claims of self reliance from people who rely on servants or government programs or tax funded roads and bridges. I don't like callousness. I don't like obtuseness. I don't like using claims of morality or divine law to hurt or hold people back. So, for better or for worse, I don't like republicans. And as we've seen even a once sensible seeming moderate like Romney can't run as a Republican without pretending to be one.

I enter every campaign season with an open mind, and knowing that Romney was a left leaning governor of a liberal state I think I gave him a solid chance. I did the same for McCain who only lost my vote after selecting stupid Sarah and giving the American people a giant FU. (I think that's Weisletier's line) I want to say Romney lost my vote by turning out to be a liar with no principles, no core, and no charisma but it's possible I won't be able to vote for a Republican again until Republicans stop being so stereotypically republican.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Other, better invocations

Not to beat on Rabbi Dr Famous Last Name, but after the jump we have a small collection of invocations given by Orthodox Rabbis that put to shame the good Rabbi Dr's RNC performance.

Someone please tell GOP candidates to stop talking about rape

Seriously, GOP candidates: If a reporter asks you about rape just walk away.

The guy wearing glasses does a priceless double-take at the wait-did-he-just-say-that moment.

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Rabbi Doctor Famous Last Name at the RNC

Meir Solivetchik performed his best imitation of a Christian preacher at the RNC the other day, where he delivered the daily invocation. See it below -- and try not to chuckle at @130 when his appeal for some Israel-love is met with cricket chirps, followed by one or two polite golf claps.


1) Is the Rabbi Doctor the last Jew in America who owns a double-breasted suit?  Though props to the Rabbi for dressing like a Rabbi. Only frum Jews wear silver ties and dark suits.

2) I know it sounds nice to say that our Creator endowed us with rights, but nowadays I cringe when this trope is repeated. The first, most obvious response is How do you know? And even if you have the magical, mystical ability to discern what specific rights God gave us can't you agree that without the cooperation of men we wouldn't be able to exercise them?

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Why does WhiskeyFest hate Jews?

WhiskeyFest is a great event, but apparently the great minds who run it are either anti-Semites or morons. Harsh? Sorry, but I can't think of any other way to explain the scheduling change introduced this year.

I've gone to WhiskeyFest (NYC) each of the last 5 or 6 years. It was always held on a weeknight, and it was always full of kippah wearing Jews. One year I estimated that we made up perhaps 20 percent of the crowd.

This year, WhiskeyFest (NYC) is on shabbos. So no frum Jews.

Truth is I've always had questions about the Semitic sensitivities of the people behind this event. A lavish buffet is included in the cost of admission. Kol tuvat mitzrayim. The richest wedding shmorg you've ever seen times ten. Of course, its not kosher, but in NYC catering something for the frum Jews is dead simple.

Nonetheless, the first few years we got nothing and were forced to line our stomachs with whatever vegetables we could graze off the buffet. Then the people in charge saw dollar signs and started offering kosher meals (from Lavanahs) for a fat extra fee. So while the non-Jews ate like kings, we paid extra for a (very high caliber) box dinner. Now, we're not invited at all. As a consumer of high-quality hooch I protest.

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Paul Ryan is a Big Fat Liar

Have the Republicans simply given up on telling the truth? Certainly it seems that way when even Fox News can't avoid reporting that "to anyone paying the slightest bit of attention to facts, Ryan’s speech was an apparent attempt to set the world record for the greatest number of blatant lies and misrepresentations slipped into a single political speech" 

The worst of Ryan's many whoppers? Easy. 
A lot of guys I went to high school with worked at that GM plant. Right there at that plant, candidate Obama said: “I believe that if our government is there to support you … this plant will be here for another hundred years.” That’s what he said in 2008. 
Well, as it turned out, that plant didn’t last another year. It is locked up and empty to this day. And that’s how it is in so many towns today, where the recovery that was promised is nowhere in sight.
But as every credible and honest reporter on the planet has pointed out, the plant closed BEFORE OBAMA BECAME PRESIDENT!

Jonathan Cohen adds By the way, nobody questions that, if not for the Obama Administration’s decision to rescue Chrysler and GM, the domestic auto industry would have crumbled. Credible estimates suggested that the rescue saved more than a million jobs. Unemployment in Michigan and Ohio, the two states with the most auto jobs, have declined precipitously.

So how's that for chutzpah? Obama saves the car industry and over 1 million jobs, yet Ryan chastises him on national TV for a plant that closed before he took office. It seems like this is the old Republican strategy of taking the best thing your opponent has done, and undermining it via lies. Why do GOP voters keep falling for it:?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Today's Avi: Does he hate women or irreligious Jews most of all?

Who does Avi Sarfran hate more -- women or irreligious Jews?  Reading his latest article, its hard to tell. What is obvious, however, is that he thinks the Daf yomi - and perhaps all Torah study - is the personal property of Agudath Israel. After the jump, you can read his latest, laughable attempt to asset organizational hegemony over the inheritance of Israel, with my comments interpolated in red

Just who is shaking his fist at God?

Writing at Slate, Jesse Berring, explains why the Chik-fil-a people and their supporters are likely dead wrong about God, and what he wants. As you recall, the chicken king suggested that attempts to redefine marriage are "prideful" and "arrogant". Why we may even be "shak[ing] our fist at him!" His thinking, I presume, goes like this: Gay marriage is wrong, because sex between men is wrong. And that's wrong because the Bible said so. And the Bible is right because the Bible was written by God.

Clear enough? Well, hold on because that's about to be turned inside out.

See, the Bible isn't God's only composition. He created the human body, too, so we can anticipate that the design of the body tells us something about how He wishes for us to behave. The male human body was created with something called the coronal ridge (that umbrella-like lip beneath the glans.) As Berring explains, the coronal ridge seems to be a neat little tool designed to remove sperm cells from the vaginal canal. That's right, true believers. Our penises come equipped with smart little tools, uniquely designed, created, or evolved (your pick!) to neutralize sexual competitors. Berring continues:
Any person who would therefore tout the virtues of heterosexual monogamy as the created natural order is only slapping God in the face. Given this anatomical feature, what all men really should be doing is putting their penises to the promiscuous use for which they were intentionally designed. And about every other day, women should fill their vaginal canals with the seminal fluid of a different man. If that makes you uncomfortable, take it up with the Creator—that is, if you’re so brazen and arrogant as to question how he engineered our bodies to work. You couldn’t possibly be so bold as to think that God would give what is arguably man’s most critical body part its distinctive ridgeline as a mere frivolous flourish, or even by mistake?
How can you (not you) prattle on about what God wants, etc, without taking into account how He designed human beings? He gave us a tool that takes it for granted that women will be promiscuous! Why would he do that?
So the natural order, as indicted by the bodies God created is not one man + one woman, or even the biblicaly blessed one man + as many women as you can afford. No, no. What the design of our body, in fact, seems to say is that we men were designed with the expectation that women would be sleeping with as many men as possible.

To disagree is to shake your fist at God, of course.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Without Shame

I continue to wish the earth would open and swallow Republican liars. Every four years they inflict further damage on the political process through their fibs and fabrications. Willie Horton, Swift Boats, Gore and the Internet, and now a complete corruption of something the president said is begin repeated ad infinitum for the sole and exclusive purpose of misleading Americans about what the president actually believes: Tonight, at the convention, the speakers are beating "You didn't build it" deader than dead.

Here's the word from Slate, after the jump

Modesty: Then and now


In a great comment, our friend MarkSofla uses information he aquired while studying the heiliga daf yomi to show that Judaism has just about lost its mind when it comes to modesty.

After observing that Jewish woman today are exhorted to abandon the standards of the last generation and embrace further and further accumulations of piety he identifies what may be the starting point. As per BT Brachos it was once no cause for concern if a woman wanted to take challa while undressed. There is no gloss along the lines of a "pious woman would never do this" Or, "such a thing never hapened. It is only asked to teach a point." Instead the question is matter of factly asked and answered: Can she do this? Yes she can.

Now I don't suggest that the daughters of israel routinely baked in their birthday suits only that the question could not have been asked -- and certainly not with that tone -- today. Something, clearly, has changed.

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Monday, August 27, 2012

Rotten Religious Zionism

A Guest Post by Fozzie Bear

Saying that something is rotten in the core of Haredi Judaism comes easily to more moderate Jews, but it must be said, with the same intensity of righteous indignation that something is horribly wrong with Religious Zionism. The acts of violence and terror committed by young religious Zionists that have been much covered recently in the news are only the most visible results of a too-often ignored awful trend. These are not the first acts of violence and they probably won’t be the last.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Lehamtik haDaf by RPML: Brachos 24b - 26b

Brochas Daf Ches Daled amud beis

Rav Assi said "Woe to those who pull sin upon themselves with cords of 'shav' falsehood." Rashi translates 'shav' as weak; Tosfos as gratuitous. Ritva writes that the majority of mankind sins in order to give themselves pleasure. And this person sins gratuitously because while he performs the mitzva of Krias Shema, he simultaneously degrades the Torah by praying in an inappropriate environment, thereby pulling the sin upon himself for no good reason.

Brochas Daf Ches Hey amud aleph

Rav Yehuda said (where there is) possible excrement, it is forbidden (to recite Krias Shema or pray)... Others say that Rav Yehuda said (where there is) possible excrement in a house, it is permissible (to recite Krias Shema or pray; but (where there is possible excrement in a) rubbish dump (one is) prohibited.

The Rashba holds that in the earlier case (the first half of the Brysa) he has identified a possible source of excrement, but has not bothered to check whether it is the offending substance or only cement/mud. In such a case were he to pray, he would be negligent and required to repeat his davening. By contrast, the second half of the Brysa, in the case of the house, were one to pray, one would have no obligation to repeat one's Shemone Esre, because the use of the word "permitted" ("muteres") indicates that one is not negligent in making the assumption that there is no excrement in the house. He points us to an earlier Gemara on daf Chaf Beis (amud beis) where he makes the same distinction between a man who begins davening and then sees excrement opposite him. He walks forward four amos (so that he can no longer see the excrement) and, the Rashba rules, resumes davening where he left off.

By contrast, one who davens in a place where there is a reasonable expectation that there may be excrement is guilty of failing to secure himself within a place which qualifies as "your camp should be holy" (Devorim 23:15). His davening is therefore an "abomination" and he is required to repeat it.

Question: as I benched Kiddush Levana tonight near a skip filled with household rubbish, including (perhaps) nappies/diapers I wondered whether it was permissible to stand within four amos facing it. I stood at a greater distance with my back to it, but did I have to?

Have concluded that since I couldn't smell anything and most people wrap their soiled nappies, the skip had the status of the house brought as an example in today's daf, so probably OK even within the four amos!

Brochas daf Chof Vov amud beis

R. Yosi, the son of R. Chanina, said that the Avos established the (three daily) tefillohs (of Shemone Esre) The Gemara discusses whether the Avos established the three tefillohs, or whether they were instead established post Churban by the Anshei Kneses haGedola as a means of symbolically acknowledging the daily korban tomidim.

The Ben Yehoyada suggests that if we accept the latter view we can understand why Maariv is "reshus" (optional), as held by R. Yeshosha (daf 27b) given that it represents the "aivorim v'prodim" rather than the morning or afternoon korban tomid. By contrast, if it was the Avos who established the tefillohs, why should Maariv which Chazal tell us was established by Yaakov, have a different and lower status than Shachris (Avraham) or Mincha (Yitzhok), particularly when Yaakov was the "b'hir sh'b'Avos"? His answer is based on a posuk (Bereishis 28:11) "and he slept there, when the sun set". Chazal tell us that the sun set early. In consequence, although Yaakov davened Maariv at "night", it was in reality still day, which is the time of Mincha. For this reason, even if we hold that the tefillohs were established by the Avos, Maariv is considered a "reshus".

The Ben Yehoyada also points out that the Zohar names three angels, Michoel, Gavriel and Nuriel, as the angelic powers representing respectively, Shachris, Mincha and Maariv. The acronym for these angels is MoGaiN, a shield, which Dovid haMelech hints at when he says (Shmuel 2:22) "and give me the shield of your salvation." Prayer is a shield.

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Contact me

If you're a regular reader, or friend of this blog, I'd like to ask you something.

If you have a few minutes to spare, and an email address you feel comfortable revealing to me - and no one else (It won't be shared. Promise!) please contact me yourfavoriteblogger AT gmail.

Use "Contact Me" as the subject, please.

(Those of you who speak to me regularly are invited to respond to this as well.)


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Friday, August 24, 2012

No reason

Great Moments in Marketing: Selling Slips

I agree the author of this advertisement is insane, and the members of the audience to which she is appealing are likewise insane. Still, I bet she sells a lot of slips

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WWTVGS (What would the Vilna Gaon Say) about Republican selfishness?

A story is told 
The great Gaon of Vilna sat with voice but no vote on the Council of the Jews of Vilna. His task was to comment from a Torah perspective on new legislation proposed before the Council. When there was no such new legislation, he did not take part in the meeting.  
One day a member of the Council put forward a proposal for ending or greatly reducing the influx of Jews from poorer regions into Vilna, where they hoped for a better life. The Gaon rose to leave the meeting. "But Rabbi," said a Councilmember, "we need your comment on this proposed new legislation!"  
"What new legislation?" said the Gaon. "This was already the law of Sodom, long ago!" And he left. 
The proposal was dropped. 
(I don't have a source. Your help welcome)

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Thursday, August 23, 2012

No reason

L'Hamtik haDaf by RPML: Brachos 23a

Brochas 23a

"Guard your foot when you go to the House of G-d (and be ready to hearken, rather than to offer a sacrifice of fools for they do not know to do evil")(Koheles 4:17)

...Do not be like the fools who sin and bring a sacrifice and they do not know whether they are bringing it on account of good, or whether they are bringing it on account of bad. HKBH says, they are unable to differentiate between good and bad, and yet they bring a sacrifice before Me!

The Ben Yehoyada quotes Chazal. "Teshuva of love converts intentional sins into merits, while teshuva of fear converts intentional sins into unintentional sins." How does one define teshuva shel ahava (love)? As an internal repentance where one's heart is filled with remorse brought on by a realisation that what is happening to the korban which one is bringing for one's sin, should in reality have happened to oneself. By contrast, if one brings a korban as a gift, because one believes it will appease G-d, this constitutes an external teshuva of limited value.

A man is a fool if he fails to grasp the above distinction, unable to distinguish how the appropriate mind set can be transformative. If he brings the korban with the right kavana, he converts his sin into "good," a source of merit for himself. Because, he instead brings it as a mere palliative, then notwithstanding that he has indeed brought a korban, he is left with "bad," namely, his sin.

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Top moral arguments in favor of gay marriage

Now, I am not saying that the Torah permits sodomy. I know it doesn't. But there is nothing in the book to prevent consenting adults from forming partnerships that permit them to share bank accounts or visit each other in the hospital. Also, allowing gay marriage has no effect at all on how much sodomy goes on in the world. So though I can agree there might be Jewish reasons to object to sodomy, I see no Jewish reason to object to gay marriage; furthermore, it seems clear to me that my ethical obligations are as follows:

Ma da'alach sanei, lechavrach lo sa'aveid: I'd hate it if a bunch of yokels from armpit America got together and said Jews can't get married. So, as per Ronald Reagan, I mean Hillel, I refuse to do it to someone else.

Kofin al midat S’dom We must help others out when it comes at no cost. Letting the gays marry each other doesn't cost me anything, so why should I try to stop it? Or put another way, why would anyone without an abiding hatred of homosexuality be against this?  Because the bible says "Thou shalt not have gay sex?" Great, but  as anyone with sense understands letting gay people sign marriage documents does not cause them to have gay sex. They're already having gay sex, I presume, and will continue to have gay sex whether they can get married or not. 

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O-Jewish Values

In tomorrow's Jewish Press, Meir Weingarten asks "Is Gotcha a Jewish Value?" (see it in full after the jump.) Citing Ronald Reagen , I mean, Hillel, he argues that exploiting El-Al's now-famous pricing error is a sin but, in my opinion, goes a bit too far when he attacks sites like DansDeals. Mistakes like the one El-Al made are extremely rare. In fact, I can't remember anything like it. When you see a too-good-to-be-true opportunity, there's nothing wrong with pouncing on it. If it turns out to have been a pricing error, you can always retreat from the deal later on.

I agree with the rest of what he says, but after years of blogging and following the Jewish world, found myself sighing when I got to the part at the end about how leaders and rabbis need to do a better job of educating people to care about each other. Can we stop pretending?  Its just not going to happen. There is no money or glory in reminding people to be decent to each other. Our leaders win points, nowadays, by being superficial, superstitious, and stupid. You attract students to your schools by dumbing down the curriculum. If you're a pulpit Rabbi you get the loudest "Shkoyachs" when your speech denounces other types of Jews or women who show too much calf.  We don't want to be criticized and corrected. We want to be told how awesome we are and this usually requires a few words about how lousy everyone else is.

The suspicious side of me is certain that this state of affairs results from the fact that communal Judaism has become an oligarchy. In most cases, the  Rabbis are put (or kept) in power by people who have no interest in respecting their workers, or abandoning the shrewd, tight-fisted behavior that first earned them their wealth.  The fat man who writes out the nice pidyon check doesn't want to be told how to run his businesses. (And the beneficiary of that check doesn't want his patron to stop making money.) Having assured his place on earth, through his bushiness dealings, our oligarch now wants to feather his nest in heaven and the Rabbi obliges with magic tricks and spells and potion-recipes.

Touched as I am by Weingerten's lofty hopes (see them after the jump), the El-Al ticketing debacle won't change any of this.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

L'Hamtik haDaf by RPML: Brachos 21a

Rav Yehuda said, from where in the Torah (do we derive the obligation to recite) a blessing prior to (studying) the Torah? For it is written "When I call out the name of Hashem, ascribe greatness to our G-d." (Devorim 32:3)

Rashi says that the posuk constitues proof because Moshe says "when I call out the name of Hashem" as a blessing prior to reciting the rest of the Song of Hazinu (Torah), with the words "ascribe greatness to our G-d" as the response, the "amen" of the people.

The Maharsha approaches the posuk differently. On a mystical level the Torah is nothing but a composition of the different names of G-d. The posuk "when I call out the name of Hashem" is a reference to Torah. Where though is the preceding blessing? The Iyun Yaakov points us in the direction of the Sifri.

The Sifri on the posuk tells us that prior to saying the name of Hashem (i.e. the Torah according to the Maharsha) the angels say "kadosh, kadosh, kadosh," a preceding blessing. The twenty-one words in the Song of Hazinu which precede the word Hashem in our posuk, which the Sifri says are analagous to the three words of the angels (3x7) (I don't understand the significance of the 7) are thus the preceding blessing.

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Ye Gods, Republicans are stupid

Ye Gods, Republicans are stupid:
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell read the platform's preamble after the conclusion of the platform committee's business on Tuesday: “We must answer Ronald Reagan’s question: If not us who? And if not now, when?”
That's Hillel, of course. Not Saint Ronny.

And while we're answering Saint Ronald Reagan's question, why don't we also ask ourselves why the tax rate he proposed and thought was wise is now considered to be halfway down the ramp to socialism?

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Three more things contemporary Orthodox Judaism needs to fix

As we enter Elul, etc, etc, here are some of the great suggestions you made for the list of things we need to change in our culture and community.

The Obsession with Tzinius (Ksil) Absolutely. We need to stop blaming everything up to and including sunspots (Dave Barry) on hemlines. Also, we need our schools to stop making our daughters feel like their sole worth as human beings depends on how successfully they cover up their elbows and knees. In 2012, woman don't dress like Polish peasants but they aren't running around starkers either. Cut them some slack! (Back in the glory days of antisemitism and oppression it was common even for small Polish girls to cover their heads to indicate their high moral character and lack of murderous tendencies. You can see what I mean in the "Good Bye Jews" clip made famous by Louis CK. That little girl would win student of the week at any Bes Yaakov, both because of how she's dressed and also because she's a close-minded obnoxious brat.

The Agunah Problem (Ksil) I don't know that this is really a problem. It seems to me all the multi-millionaire Jews have ways of working this out, and I've been educated to believe that only the multi-millionaire Jews matter.  This is also why I don't believe we have a tuition crises. 

The Marginalization of Women (Ken Zein) The problem isn't that men and women don't sit next to each other in shul. I think we can agree that the separation of sexes at prayer holds significance to some of us and is harmless in of itself. The problem is that women are treated like second class citizens in Orthodoxy, when they aren't being infantilized. You want examples? OK. How about Avi Shafran's vicious denouncement of any newspaper reporting on the Siyum Hashas that also made mention of women who learn? What about newspapers that won't publish female faces, or rabbis who won't name wives when congratulating a family from the pulpit? ("Chaim Beryl and his chashuvah wife") What about the fact that we've forgotten that women have a biblical obligation to pray twice each day, and the prerogative of making a zimun if three of them eat together? Not only don't we expect women to do this anymore, we denounce those who try! There's much more to say, but you get the idea.

More later. Feel free to continue submitting your beefs

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Who wants to see an English prince's naked rear end?

Ah, the glories of the Internet. The other day, Prince Henry Charles Albert David of Wales, third in the line of succession to the thrones of sixteen independent sovereign states and to the governorship of the Church of England, had his bare butt photographed and published on the world wide web. If you have even ordinary facility with Google, you can easily find the shots online. 

Two thoughts. First, royalty might be the single worst human invention. Every single one of those blue blooded turkeys should be stripped of their power and wealth and forced to work for a living. (I'm speaking of hereditary rebbahs, as well)  Second, I consider myself quite lucky to live at a time when I can write such words and mock the naked prince without being punished for it. We really have come a long way, baby.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Three things contemporary Orthodox Judaism needs to fix

As we enter Elul, the month of reflection, repentance and growth, I'd like to start a conversation about the things we'd like to see changed in out culture and community. 

To get things started here are three of my personal pet peeves:

(1) The fetishization of the black hat. There is nothing special or holy about a clothing style, yet we continue to teach our kids that wearing a hat is important and a sign of refinement.  The fact that our generation attaches so much significance to a stupid piece of shaped felt, originally popularized by gangsters, is strong evidence of our superficiality and fascination with spiritual short cuts. I think this hat love also contributes to the OTD problem. Teenagers have a sixth sense for BS. Rebbes who preach unrealistically and irresponsibly about the importance of hats are, in fact, undermining themselves and the system itself. 

(2) The fetishization of cholent and kugel. The food we love is making us fat and unhealthy. Don't believe me? Take a good look around your shteiblel this weekend and count the fatties. If your shul is like every other shul at least half the men are obese, and most of the rest are getting there. This problem isn't unique to Judaism of course - most Americans are too fat. The difference is that upper-class Americans, generally, recognize the importance of living and eating healthy while Orthodox Jews, generally, do not. A fancy prep school, for example, won't serve grease and fat for lunch, but in the finest yeshivahs kugel and cholent are deemed excellent school lunches -- and the parent body offers not one word of protest. 

(3) The rejection of science: We're raising a generation of Todd Akins. Its bad enough our children are taught that evolution is a conspiracy involving nearly every living scientist*, but they are also taught that their health problems can be cured with blessings and spells. Most of the wealthiest Rabbis in Israel are faith healers, who have accumulated massive fortunes by peddling snake-oil to simpletons. And while we can count on Avi Safran to yell and scream about women who learn Torah, the chief spokesman of Agudah hasn't yet been troubled to denounce the criminal behavior of those so-called Rabbis who capitalize handsomely on the failings of our educational system.

* A paraphrase of something Laura Helmuth said

Monday, August 20, 2012

We love Israel: Naked Republican Congressperson edition


That's what you can count on when it comes to the GOP. Which is why we're not even a little bit surprised to learn that Rep. Kevin Yoder, a Kansas Republican, jumped into the Sea of Galilee without his clothes on.

"The FBI probed a late-night swim in the Sea of Galilee that involved drinking, numerous GOP freshmen lawmakers, top leadership staff—and one nude member of Congress, according to more than a dozen sources, including eyewitnesses."
Whatever happened, it made Eric Cantor angry enough to give the group a serious scolding.

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RW Republican Science

Ye Gods:
If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” [Todd ] Akin, a Republican running for Senate in Missouri, told a local television station Sunday, according to the Washington Post. Akin was arguing against legalized abortion in almost cases. He later said he misspoke.

Even (some) Republicans are (now) howling for this idiot to drop out of the race and join a monastery. The real fun, however,  is expected to begin today when Democrats start finding fun ways to tie Romney, and more likely Ryan, to this obnoxious ignorance

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Friday, August 17, 2012

Fabulous GOP Vetting of VP Candidates as Always!

Remember how Sarah Palin was so super because she turned down all that federal money until it was discovered that she actually requested it by the boat load?

Well, now it seems Paul Ryan is guilty of the same sin.

He not only requested and accepted stimulus money while denouncing the program, he also lied about requesting and accepting stimulus money until he was confronted with proof. Mitt the phony, meet Paul the liar.

BTW, what’s in Mitt’s tax returns that he’s hiding from the American voters?

Let the meltdown begin. Full story after the jump

Peek a Jew (Chick Fil-A)

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Diaper Deception

The inventor of the kosher diapers is a liar, twice over. Here's what it says in today's Daily News:
Observant Jews aren’t supposed to open regular disposable diapers with adhesive glue-laden fasteners during the Sabbath because the ripping motion is considered “work,” which is forbidden..... 
First lie: You're allowed to open adhesive fasteners on Shabbos. It was never a problem. I don't know who spoke the words cited above (the News does not attribute them) by the diaper king seems to agree that there was some kind of problem with diapers, a problem his product addresses. Later in the article, he says "“I solved their problem for them.”

Which brings us to the second lie: Velcro diapers have been around forever. Here's a Huggies advertisement from 1995:

The kosher diaper guy didn't solve anything. He ripped off someone else's solution.

Well done, Daily News! Crack journalism as always!

Related: Nothing Our Parent Did was Kosher (July 9, 2012)

Hat-tip @efink on Facebook

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Too little... too late?

From the days of Willie Horton, at least, Republicans have engaged in bitter, scathing, largely untruthful attacks on Democratic candidates. This year, the Democrats are (finally!) playing hardball themselves and (surprise!) the Republicans are whining to mommy about it.

Here's Mittens, forgetting for the moment that he has spent 10s of millions of dollars on negative ads himself.

Mr. President take your campaign of division and anger and hate back to Chicago and let us get about rebuilding and reuniting America.”

Strong words! And wouldn't they be so much easier to take seriously, had Romney not spent the month of July telling everyone he could that President Obama thinks small businessman are posers and fakers who take credit for accomplishments that rightly belong to the government? And here's a reasonable Republican concern troll in the Washington Times whining that the Democrats are hitting back:
Obama’s allies took the campaign over the edge last week and the Obama campaign did nothing to stop it. The most egregious example of a campaign out of bounds was the ad prepared by Priorities USA, the super PAC supporting Obama. 
The ad tied Romney to the cancer death of the wife of Joe Soptic, who lost his health insurance and his job when a steel company that Bain Capital had taken over while Romney was at the company later went bankrupt, after Romney left Bain. 
The Obama campaign also has refused to denounce Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) for making the unsubstantiated accusation that Romney paid no taxes for 10 years. He claimed that a Bain investor told him that, but he refused to identify the person or retract the claim when Romney denied the charge.
You poor precious pumpkin! Where the hell were you when Obama was accused of being best buddies with terrorists, or when a group of disgruntled, inveterate liars went on my TeeVee to lie about John Kerry's war record? Anyway, the Democrat claims have the advantage of being true. Romney did drive corporations into bankruptcy without regard for the health and well-being of their workers, and Paul Ryan's plan to destroy Medicare really and truly is a plan to destroy  Medicare.  Also, why, pray tell, should Obama denounce Reid, when Romney could defang the claims simply be releasing his tax records? If Reid is a liar, Romney can prove it in the time it takes to get to Kinko's and Xerox some documents. After Romney does that, Obama can denounce Ried for fibbing - if it turns out that he has. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Apparently, Sderot is full of Jew-hating anti-Semites

...and somehow the NJDC got every single one of them to talk on video about how great Barak Obama is...

Transcript after the jump

If the mission is successful fire the Commander-in-chief.

The newspapers tell me that some well-meaning people held a protest against this Tea-Party sponsored sign, but I say leave it up: Let people see how stupid and hate-filled many right-wingers are.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Post hoc ergo propter hoc* for dummies

One of the Twitter morons is AMAZED to discover that two true things occurred at around the same time.

Here's his comment.:

Amazing, if true:

The link in the Tweet goes to a commercial masquerading as a news story, in which people are strongly encouraged to have their tfillin checked by computer. Why? Because over the last dozens or so years, a guy suffered the loss of two of his sons, and after he gave his tefillin to some other guy, the second guy almost lost one of his  sons. And wouldn't you know it? When the tefillin were finally checked at a fancy computer lab it was discovered the word בני [="my son"] was missing from one of the bible passages that are kept inside the T'fillin. 

The Twitter moron thinks this is terribly significant. Yet, when I told him that I scratched my knee and the kettle started to whistle he wasn't impressed! Very unfair, right?  If correlation implies causality for his story, shouldn't it also imply causality for mine

* Post hoc ergo propter hoc, Latin for "after this, therefore because of this", is a logical fallacy (that states"Since that event followed this one, that event must have been caused by this one." [Wikipedia]

How far would Nate go?

Here's question for Nate, who below claims that executing Amalakites is something he'd be pleased to do:

Noble Nate:

Congratulations on your bravery!  I deeply admire your desire to carry out this commandment. Some questions for the sake of clarification:

(1) Will you set up camps, and ship the Amalekites there by cattle car, or will you just shoot them on sight?
(2) If the former, is the psak head shots only or is there room to be maikel and permit death by beatings and deprivations as well?
(3) If the latter, will you insist that the work be done silently, as a demonstration of awe or is it preferable to let the children experience the joy of fulfilling God's will, even if they will make noise, and create a distraction?
(4) If we let the children participate must we limit them to gesturing with a hand across the throat as the trains pass, or may they also screech "GOODBYE AMALAKITES! GOODBYE AMALAKITES!"

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Something from last month we have not argued about yet

Writing on the Atlantic last month, Jeffrey Goldberg said:
Today is Tisha b'Av, the ninth of Av, a Jewish day of fasting and mourning. It is on this day that the First and Second Temples were destroyed. The Western Wall, in Jerusalem, is a retaining wall of the Second Temple. It is, especially on this day, a locus of prayer and reflection. It is also, on this particular Tisha b'Av, the location of a very important photo opportunity for an American presidential candidate.
How vulgar is this?

Do we agree? Now there is no question that Obama would have been chewed into tiny pieces had he shown up at the Wall on Tisha b'Av with a kippah on his head. We'd have heard for days about how horribly insensitive it was to interrupt the prayers, and shut down the site on such a busy day. Plus, how dare he try to cash in on our historic suffering! But because it was Romney, and not Obama, who created the commotion, water-carrying Jews were uncharacteristically silent. I saw not one complaint.

Recognizing that rooting interests complicated the argument, can we pretend that it wasn't Obama or Romney who made the Jews stop praying so that he could have his picture taken? Let's say it was Candidate John Smith, an Independent from Ohio who commercialized the Kotel. All the other facts of the story stay the same. Is this terribly tacky or not?

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Strange but true fact of the day

FORBES: Obama spent less than everyone, including Saint Ronald Reagan. 

What this means, of course, is the Mittens will soon launch a new advert in which he claims that Obama is the biggest spender in history.

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Monday, August 13, 2012

Why are we Orthodox Jews

A rare flash of brilliance from David Brooks:
We’re all born late. We’re born into history that is well under way. We’re born into cultures, nations and languages that we didn’t choose. On top of that, we’re born with certain brain chemicals and genetic predispositions that we can’t control. We’re thrust into social conditions that we detest. Often, we react in ways we regret even while we’re doing them. 
But unlike the other animals, people do have a drive to seek coherence and meaning. We have a need to tell ourselves stories that explain it all. We use these stories to supply the metaphysics, without which life seems pointless and empty.
Among all the things we don’t control, we do have some control over our stories. We do have a conscious say in selecting the narrative we will use to make sense of the world. Individual responsibility is contained in the act of selecting and constantly revising the master narrative we tell about ourselves. 
The stories we select help us, in turn, to interpret the world. They guide us to pay attention to certain things and ignore other things. They lead us to see certain things as sacred and other things as disgusting. They are the frameworks that shape our desires and goals. So while story selection may seem vague and intellectual, it’s actually very powerful. The most important power we have is the power to help select the lens through which we see reality.
The rest of this editorial is quite bad, and unworthy of discussion but the part I've shared with you is a powerful description of the contingent forces that shape our subjective view of reality and, thus, a powerful argument for pluralism.

Elsewhere, I've been discussing "significance" with one of the trolls. Born irreligious, he found Charedism in late adolescence, and now can't understand why someone like me would consent to live the "restrictive" life of Orthodox Judaism without thinking every last bit of it, down to the tiniest details, is Capital T "True."

I tried to explain: I do think its true, but only in the sense that rabbis were given the authority to interpret the Torah and, over time, their interpretations produced the set of laws Orthodox Jews today believe themselves obligated to follow. There was nothing inevitable about their conclusions, and much of what you consider essential to Orthodox Judaism was unknown to our ancestors.

He countered: Then what's wrong with Reform or Conservative Judaism? They're also the product of interpretations. If the mesorah is interpretations, and not a passed on tradition dating back to Sinai, what's illegitimate about Reform or Conservative interpretation?

Perhaps nothing, I was forced to admit. (Though we could get into a long discussion about what, exactly, gives one Jew the authority to interpret and not another.)

Sensing blood in the water, he threw what he must have considered a hay maker: So why aren't you a Reform Jew?

Simple, I answered: I'm not Reform because I'm not Reform. Its not how I was raised. It isn't where my friends are. I don't have any memories of reform rituals or services. Reform Torah leaves me cold. Reform music sound wrong to my ears. In short I'm Orthodox and not Reform for the same reason all OJs are OJ and not Reform: One carries significance. The other does not.

As I expected, he grabbed only half the stick: You're denying yourself a secular Saturday and BBQ pork ribs because your friends would look down on you? Don't you realize how silly that sounds?

Well, yes, I concede, that might sound silly, only its not the whole story. Like most of us who were raised Orthodox, I have no appetite for pork, and no desire to exchange the joys of the Orthodox Shabbos for the errands and bustle of a secular Saturday. And though I do think peer pressure can be a perfectly legitimate reason to do something healthy and enriching, I don't think peer pressure tells the whole story here.

In short, I'm Orthodox because the Orthodox life carries significance for me, and, what's more: every self-aware OJ would give the same answer.Oh, to be sure, an OJ might say he finds significance in the honest belief that the Creator of heaven and earth desires strange diets and 19th century dress, while another sees significance in the honest pleasure he derives from old tunes, and ancient rituals. Each finds his own significance, and that significance -whatever it may be- is subjective, personal and therefore indisputable.

For some, the significance is intellectual; for others it may be emotional, psychological or something else. But it doesn't matter. We're all entitled to our stories, and to find in these lives we didn't choose whatever meaning and coherence we can.

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Why can't Avi Safran say anything nice about women who study Torah?

In his latest Ami article, our pal Avi complains about how the New York Times covered his employer's signature event, the Siyum Hashas, (without disclosing the connection) and disgraces himself in the process. Full article after the jump. My comments on choice bits below:

 Yes, the New York Times tried hard to find some woman at the event who felt slighted at being seated separately from the men, or who had boldly undertaken Daf Yomi. 
This is deeply unfair. We don't know what the Times was "trying" to do, and (of course) Avi didn't call the reporter and ask. Instead he took a biased guess, and likely got it wrong. What the article actually contains is a neutral description of the mechitza, and a quote from a woman who said it didn't bother her. If Avi was less unfair, he'd have congratulated the Times for publishing the comment and proving that the women at the event were not offended by a seating arrangement that would certainly have bothered most non-Orthodox Jews. And if Avi was really and truly proud of how the event treated women, he'd have regarded the very neutral description of the mechitza as a kidush hashem

But it came up empty. 
Has Avi reviewed the reporter's notes? If not, how can he be certain the Times "came up empty" For all he knows, the reporter found 200 women who were angry and upset about the mechitzah and chose to run the one positive quote instead. If Avi was interested in holding on to his credibility, he'd criticize or compliment the Times for what it actually did, instead of inventing an unfounded version of events to carp about.

(So it resorted to shlepping into its story a liberal rabbi in Riverdale who delivers a Gemara shiur to women, and cited the grumbling of one of the group’s members, a 70-year-old feminist, who has been “wrestling” with Talmud’s “attitude toward women.”)
What Avi calls shlepping, the Times calls "providing an angle that might interest the 99.99 percent of our readers who are not Orthodox Jews." I know its hard to imagine, but most of the world doesn't care that 90,000 Jews went to a party featuring speeches about how wonderful Jews are. To the non-Jewish reader, the story of the Siyum Hashas is only interesting because of what it says about how Jews act and think. And because the Times is a responsible newspaper, they gave more than one side. We heard from a Rabbi who explained why women don't learn Talmud, and from women who say they have no interest in learning Talmud. After that, how could the article fail to include a few words from a woman who does learn Torah? I fail to see the offense in quoting a women who learns Talmud as part of an article about people who learn Talmud. 

Similarly, even before the Siyum, Haaretz tried to force a similar angle into its reportage, focusing on what it called “the female revolution in Talmud study,” 
Right. How dare the newspaper discuss Talmud study in an article about Talmud study. Next time, please just reprint the Agudah press released, OK? Obviously, when Agudah talks about how awesome it is that more people are learning Talmud, they mean the men people. The fact that more women people are also learning Talmud is something only a biased Jew hater would try to force into a newspaper article. 

and highlighting a group of 30 women whose members, it reported, have completed a Daf Yomi cycle (well, most of them; a third of the group, it was parenthetically noted, joined in the middle of the cycle).
This is just nasty.  How many of the men celebrating at Met Life joined late? More than a third? Probably.

L'Hamtik haDaf by RPML: Brachos 10

At the conclusion of the daf we find the famous exegesis of Ben Zoma quoted at the beginning of the Pesach Hagadah. The verse says: “That you may remember the day when you come out of Egypt, all the days of your life.” From the words, “the days of your life” we derive the requirement to mention the Exodus during the days. From the extra word “all” we derive the requirement to mention the Exodus by night. The Sages’s interpr “the days of your life” as an obligation to mention the Exodus in our own era, with the superfluous “all” including a requirement to mention it even in the Messianic era.

Related: Why was Rabbi Akiva's Seder different from all other Seders?

The Maharal uses this passage to explain the basis of Midrashic exegesis. “The words ‘all the days of your life” are completely superfluous and had they been omitted the meaning of this verse would not have been affected in any way. According to the Midrashic perspective such superfluous words are intended to broaden the meaning of the verse (making it more inclusive,) so that it applies not only to the issue at hand (in this case, commemorating the Exodus on Pesach night) but also to the most closely associated issue, the requirement to commemorate the Exodus every day.

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Friday, August 10, 2012

How frum is the torah? Not very

On Twitter, some of us are discussing the claim that the chumash and frumkeit are incompatible. So far, it doesn't seem that anyone disagrees, though there is some dispute as to what Judaism and frumkeit are, and where exactly they part ways.

My own view, is that Judaism is constantly changing and developing. The Judaism of the Torah is not the Judaism of the Mishna. In fact by the time of the Mishna, Judaism had split into several sects, only one of which survived. The winning sect,Phariseeism, which transitioned into Rabbinic Judaism, is popularly considered the authentic Jewish flavor, but the whole idea of authenticity is a fallacy. There is no authentic Jewish condition, only the condition that obtains at the moment. Ironically, the word Pharisee shows this to be true. It comes from the word פָּרוּשׁ pārûsh, meaning “set apart". Religions develop sects, as new groups find reasons to set themselves apart. Had the Pharisees came first, it seems unlikely that they would have acquired this name. Meanwhile, their main rivals, the Sadducee have a name derived from the word for "to be correct". (Think about what happened in the 19th century. The "new" Jews called themselves "reformers", while the "old" Jews were called "conservative" or "orthodox", even as they developed new sects, in part, as a response to the reform. The Pharisees are called "set apart"; their main rivals are called "correct." So who broke away from who?)

Though the Pharisees won the first battle we know about, history didn't end with their victory. Judaism continued to change and new sects developed, including Judeo-Christianity (which transitioned into Christianity) Karaism, Hasidut, and the three responses to modernity namely Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Judaism. Additional sub-sects exist within Hasidut and Orthodox Judaism. What I call frumkeit is not a sect, but a culture or way of thinking and doing things, that spans Hasidut and the RW Orthodox sects. Like pornography, its hard to define but you know it when you see it.

Demonstrating that frumkeit and the chumash are not simpatico is like shooting fish in a barrel. Consider the frum shabbos which requires cholent, kugel, zmirot and a nap. Where is that represented in the Chumash? And where, for that matter, are the sacrifices the Chumash says must accompany every festival? Does any frum Pesach require the sacrifice of a goat or a sheep? More to the point, does any frum person really think his Pesach insufficient for not having included a blood sacrifice? (Made impossible by the loss of the Temple, you say? To which I reply: See what I mean about Judaism changing?) Other pillars of frumkeit include monotheism, but the Bible, notably the Ten |Commandments ("No other God before Me") is, in many places, monolatrist.

None of this should be construed to mean that I think modern forms of Judaism are illegitimate. Quite the contrary. Judaism has always been nothing more and nothing less than what Jews say it is. How we decide which speakers and statements matter is outside the scope of this short blog post, but there can be no doubt that Judaism changes as Jews, as a whole and as specific sects, continue to think and speak about it. And we can expect such morphing, developing, changing and evolving to continue as long as there are Jews who take Judaism seriously.

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Thursday, August 09, 2012

L'Hamtik haDaf by RPML: Brachos 8

Gra on BT Brachos 8a

Raish Lokish said anyone who has a Beis Knesses [=Shul]  in his town and fails to attend Tefillah is called a Shochein Ra, a bad neighbour. Why specifically is he designated a bad neighbour, as opposed to some other name?

The Mishkan (mem, shin, chof, nun) held four main keylim, the Aron, also called the Mita (mem), the Shulchan (shin), the Mizbeach, also called Cisei (chof) and the Menorah, also called Ner (nun).

Post the Churban, the Anshei Knesses haGedolah instituted the current form of the three daily Tefillohs in recognition of what we had lost. [DB: Not so, but whatever] We retained Torah, which represents the Aron/Mita (mem), but lost the other three keylim. The Tefillohs therefore hint at three lost Tomidim: "Aish Tomid" which represents the Mizbeach/Cisei (chof), the "Ner Tomid" which represents the Menorah/Ner (nun), and the "Lechem Tomid" which represents the Shulchan (shin).

Therefore, one who fails to daven in shul is designated a Shochein Ra.

DB: So, does Reish Lokish mean he's a literal bad neighbor? Or did he mean something mnemonic having nothing to do with his qualities as a neighbor? 

Maharsha  on BT Brachos 8b

The Gemara tells us that Dovid haMelech =[King David] didn't start saying Hallelukah [=Hallilujah, the last word in several of the later Psalms] until he (prophetically) saw the downfall of the wicked. The Maharsha says this seems to contradict what we learn in the Midrash that we don't say Hallel on the final days of Pesach because "HKBH says - my creation (the Mitzrim) drown, and you are going to say Shira!" [DB: Oh my! Where is @LisaLiel? Is she still insisting that no good Jew in the world has ever said made such a libby comment?] See ]

The Maharsha therefore suggests an alternative reason for not saying Hallel, namely that Hallel was instituted only when there was a change in the korban [=sacrifice] brought from one day to the next, which was not the case between the first and last days of Pesach.

This explanation of the Maharsha seems at first sight to leave hanging the Gemara in Sanhedrin; but I have heard another explanation for that Gemara which removes the difficulty once the Maharsha supplies his alternative reason for not saying Hallel.

When Sanchereb's army, which was besieging Jerusalem, was wiped out by the plague in a single night, we are told it was because the angels sang Shira. [DB: Where?] If this is the case, why then didn't the angels sing Shira to kill the Mitzrim at the Yam by means of a plague? HKBH gives the answer - "My creations (Bnei Yisrael) drown (by the Mitzrim who caused their male children to be thrown in the river) and you (the angels) want to say Shira? No, their death must be mida kneged mida. I Hashem will kill them by drowning."

DB: This whole thing about the singing angels is nothing but a clever drash on a scribal error. See and

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What To Do If You Got One of Those El Al Tickets

A Guest Post By E. Fink

Also posted on my home blog:

Unless you live under a rock, you know that El Al made a big mistake and allowed people to buy round trip tickets to Tel Aviv from New York for under $400. This was not a promotion or a sale. It was a mistake.

When the mistake was corrected the fares disappeared.

El Al is honoring the tickets.

If you scored some of these tickets what is the proper thing to do?

In Moment Magazine, the Ethicist Emeritus, Randy Cohen, weighs in and says:

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Name this feature (Brachos 7)

A learned reader (I call him Peter) is providing interesting tidbits on the Daf. Here is today's entry

In the neighbourhood of R. Joshua b. Levi there was a Sadducee  who used to annoy him very much with [his interpretations of] texts. One day the Rabbi took a cock, placed it between the legs of his bed and watched it. He thought: When this moment arrives I shall curse him. When the moment arrived he was dozing [On waking up] he said: We learn from this that it is not proper to act in such a way. It is written: And His tender mercies are over all His works. And it is further written: Neither is it good for the righteous to punish.

The verses suggest R. Joshua's plan was wrong, but why? The Saducces had debased God. Why wasn't he subject to the death penalty?

The Gra explains that it was not the punishment which was problematic, but rather the involvement of R. Yehoshua who had himself suffered at the hands of the Sadducee . Unless a judgement can be rendered without a hint of an ulterior motive --clearly  impossible if the judge is also the victim -- the judge will himself be guilty of Shfichus Damim and hence subject to the death penalty. That R. Yehoshua ben Levi nodded off at the crucial moment was a chessed from the Ribbono shel Olam.
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He owns the Park 51 construction company #WhatsMittHiding

He doesn't want the Mormon Church to see his coffee bill #WhatsMittHiding?

Additional Mormon wives #WhatsMittHiding?

Spent too much on his magic underwear  #WhatsMittHiding?

He owns Utah #WhatsMittHiding

Fat IRS refund? #WhatsMittHiding?

Donation to GLAD #WhatsMittHiding

Saudi Arabian Love Child listed as a dependent #WhatsMittHiding

Investment in aborted fetus/stem cell research #WhatsMittHiding

Something that made McCain (who saw the returns) pick stupid Sarah instead. #WhatsMittHiding

Nothing. He's just a moron #WhatsMittHiding

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Demolishing Dumb Arguments: Gay sex is unnatural!

The other day I invited you to laugh and point at Mr. Gene Davis of Little Rock Arkansas. For this I was severely chastised by one of my self-righteously anti-intellectual readers:
DB, I thought you were intelligent enough to see through to the substance beneath the surface. Mr. Davis hasn't learned to express himself in the pretentious way that one learns at our prestigious colleges. Instead, he expresses himself in a simple, direct, even homey way.

That doesn't change the fact that he is making two strong arguments. The first is based on Scripture, and so would be lost on non-believers (though it could be reinterpreted to work for them, too).

In essence, he’s claiming that Leviticus 18:22:
"Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable." is related to Genesis 2:24:

"That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh."

That claim seems entirely correct to me, as a matter of Biblical interpretation.

Mr. Davis's second argument is based on natural law. He's claiming that, while sexual relations between men are possible, they are manifestly not what our bodies were designed for.

That is obviously true, and I don't see how any honest person could deny it. How you feel about the argument will depend on how you feel about natural law. But it's by no means a foolish argument.

OK, now that I've restated Mr. Davis's views in more pretentious terms, do you feel better about taking them seriously?
Not being fluent in Hick, I confess to having thought Mr. Davis was a rambling idiot. Now that you have provided a translation to SWE,  I see that he is an ordinary idiot.

Allow me to explain by answering your objections directly:

In essence, [Davis is] claiming that Leviticus 18:22: "Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable." is related to Genesis 2:24:"That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh."That claim seems entirely correct to me, as a matter of Biblical interpretation.

I agree that its a reasonable interpretation, but where is the argument against gay marriage? I grant the bible says XYZ. How can that be construed as an argument against gay marriage in a secular state? Was an argument of some kind present in the original Hick, or have both you and Mr. Davis simply assumed it sufficient to announce something in the name of the Bible without actually demonstrating it?

Mr. Davis's second argument is based on natural law. He's claiming that, while sexual relations between men are possible, they are manifestly not what our bodies were designed for.

Again it appears Mr. Davis  has forgotten to make an argument, or perhaps you have forgotten to translate it. Because even if I grant that the body wasn't designed for gay sex (debatable) how can that be construed as an argument for a secular state to ban gay marriage? Your translation doesn't say.  Anyway, we don't generally ask our congresspeople to pass laws preventing us from using our bodies unnaturally. Our ears, certainly,  weren't designed to carry around lumps of metal, but no one has announced a moral objection to earnings or demanded that Congress intervene.

In fact, most of what we do all day is "unnatural." Being polite isn't natural. Sharing isn't natural. Monogamy isn't natural. Indeed, our natural inclination is to be greedy, selfish and promiscuous. Only those who thwart those natural inclinations are considered virtuous. So why are you claiming the opposite regarding homosexuality? If I deserve applause for overcoming my natural desire to flip the bird at an obnoxious driver, why not clap for a male homosexual who has conquered his natural urge to boink females exclusively?  And in final, let's listen to John Stuart Mill who has already won the point by showing that "natural" and "moral" are two different, unrelated things:
Conformity to nature, has no connection whatever with right and wrong….To illustrate this point, let us consider the phrase by which the greatest intensity of condemnatory feeling is conveyed in connection with the idea of nature – the word unnatural. That a thing is unnatural, in any precise meaning which can be attached to the word, is no argument for its being blameable; since the most criminal actions are to a being like man, not more unnatural than most of the virtues.
Please translate this post into Hick so that Mr. Davis can understand it. Thanks.

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Who are you supporting for Chief Rabbi?

Chief Rabbi of the British Empire, for all the majesty suggested by the title, isn't really all that important. The job has more in common with being head of a very large Vaad than it does with being Pope. Your main duty is overseeing a board of squabbling Ultra Orthodox Rabbis who generally ignore you, while attempting to serve as some kind of spiritual leader for the nominally observant members of the United Synagogue's 60 some shuls. (Members of the more right and left wing shuls ignore you, too.)

Also, one does not have to be British in order to qualify. According to the great Miriam Shaviv two Americans are on the short list, along with two Brits. The current candidates are: Michael Broyde of Atlanta, Meir Solivetchick of New York. and Harvey Belovski and Ephraim Mirvis both of London.

Of the three, Mirvis is the only one I know nothing about -- though I know close to nothing about Belovski. He (Belovski) and I used to tweet each other and though he came across as knowledgeable, polite, friendly and kind, I didn't gain a super high opinion of him. This is an entirely unfair comment, of course, as its impossible  to be augustly rabbinical when limited to 140 characters. Sacks, the incumbent, is known to me through long essays and thick books, so its rather unfair to judge the man who'd like to follow him on the basis of a few tweets, but there it is. Plus, I have a beef with him for translating the Shem MiShmuel. The world didn't need another work of mysticism, and the morons in my shul don't need another book they don't understand 

Broyde is known for his big brain, and my amateurish readings of one or two of his treatises suggest the reputation is deserved. Unfortunately, his noble work legitimizing the Female OJ Rabbi makes him ineligible for high religious office in America. I don't know if the same holds true for Britain, but I imagine the Ultras who control the London Bes Din aren't going to kowtow to someone they perceive as a swishy modern.

Which brings us to Solivetchik. I have three reasons for rooting against him. First, I perceive that his candidacy rests primarily on his glorious last name, and I don't like Yichus. Second, when he appeared before Congress last year he managed to reduce Judaism to just another Christian sect. And third, well third is a petty, personal, irrelevant reason so I shan't reveal it.

So, I guess we're left with Mirvis, though, honestly, Belovski would  likely be an excellent choice as well.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Peter on the Daf: Brachos 6A

Gra/Meshech Chochma/Maharsha. Daf Vov amud Aleph
R. Johanan says: Whenever the Holy One, blessed be He, comes into a Synagogue and does not find ten persons there,4  He becomes angry at once.5  For it is said: Wherefore, when I came, was there no man? When I called, was there no answer?6 

And how do you know that if two are sitting and studying the Torah together the Divine Presence is with them? For it is said: Then they that feared the Lord spoke one with another;13  and the Lord hearkened and heard, and a book of remembrance was written before Him, for them that feared the Lord and that thought upon His name.14   

When two people study Torah together (or even one alone) G-d is present. When HKBH comes to the Beis haKneses and fails to find ten men there he becomes angry. If G-d is happy to join two people learning, why is he unhappy if there are fewer than ten praying?

There were two manifestations of redemption in Mitzrayim. Firstly, by night, "Pidyon" which requires the consent of the imprisoning authority, thus Moshe says to Pharaoh - "if you wish to be exempted from the plagues, tell them (the Jews), "You are Bnei Horin, free.". Secondly, by day, "Motzi" or "Hatzolo" which is achieved even against the will of the imprisoner.

Torah fits within the category of Hatzola; it constitutes Chai Olam and intrinsically cleaves to HKBH and liberates the learner from the physical world. By contrast, Tefillah effects Pidyon as the Gemara says in Mesechta Shabbos (daf Yud), it is "Chai Sha," a lower level kedusha. But to effect even this lower level we need ten davening together. And thus the congregation's lack of recognition of the important role they themselves play causes HKBH to become angry, because G-d has caused the Shechina to precede the congregation to the Beis haKneses to facilitate this creation of kedusha, but they have failed to rise to the occasion.

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A typically learned objection to gay marriage

One of the leading intellectuals of the anti-gay marriage movement explains why he supports Chik-fil-A. (@1:25)

Women and servants who wish to wrap themselves in tzitzit may do so without reciting a blessing. Similarly, regarding the other positive commandments which women are not required to fulfill, if they desire to fulfill them without reciting a blessing, they should not be prevented from doing so. -- Rambam, Tzitizis 3:9

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New ad comes ThisClose to accusing Mitt Romney of Murder

This is rough stuff. But Mitt won't be undone! His new ad blames Obama for personally destroying some guy's dream to sell cars.

Of course, those of us familiar with Romney's track record at Bain know that its hypocritical x 10 for Mittens to complain about dream-wrecking. I'll let Eliot Spitzer of Slate Magazine explain why:
First, the raw facts: Romney opposed the bailout, preferring bankruptcy for Chrysler and General Motors. The Romney bankruptcy plan would have led to the loss of more than 1 million jobs. The bailout under Obama led to the revival of the industry, with more than 250,000 jobs added. Those facts are pretty indisputable. For Romney to assert that his was somehow the more sympathetic, job-protecting plan is simply a distortion of fact and history.

Second, everyone who examined the car industry agreed that it needed to be reorganized at many levels: work rules, pensions, speed of design, dealership structure, and more. It would have been irresponsible to simply throw money at the industry without demanding painful sacrifices. These changes eliminated much of the waste and left a leaner, more efficient industry.

But Romney knows this—it was his business model. It is precisely what Bain claims it did for its clients. Romney knows this is the essence of the creative destruction that can rebuild a more competitive industry. Pretending that anyone would, could, or should have invested huge sums in the auto industry without demanding change is simply irresponsible.

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Monday, August 06, 2012


Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Berakoth
Folio 6a

It has been taught: Abba Benjamin says, If the eye had the power to see them, no creature could endure the demons. 
Its fashionable to say that he is talking about microbes -- only what the Talmud says next doesn't apply to microbes. I think we have no choice but to say that Abba  Benjamin believed in real demons. 

Abaye says: They are more numerous than we are and they surround us like the ridge round a field. R. Huna says: Every one among us has a thousand on his left hand and ten thousand on his right hand.
This is a super remark by R. Huna, who is disagreeing with Abaya in two ways. First,  R. Huna is saying that there are "only" a few thousand demons. And, better yet, they can't hurt you! His words are a clear reference to Psalm 91:7 which reads:
Though a thousand fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
near you it shall not come.
Raba says: The crushing in the Kallah lectures comes from them. Fatigue in the knees comes from them. The wearing out of the clothes of the scholars is due to their rubbing against them. The bruising of the feet comes from them. 
Rabba is listing things that have no obvious cause. If you sit at your desk all day, why do your clothes wear out? If you don't move around, why do your joints ache? And where did those bruises on your feet come from? Some interpret the Kallah "crush" as ordinary jostling, but I think it had to have been a real Mecca-during-Haj style stampede. Jostling we can blame on the guy doing the pushing and shoving. A stampede, by definition, has no direction or purpose. It just starts, seemingly on its own, which to Rabba suggests a demon's mischief. 

If one wants to discover them let him take sifted ashes and sprinkle around his bed, and in the morning he will see something like the footprints of a cock. If one wishes to see them, let him take the after-birth of a black she-cat, the offspring of a black she-cat, the first-born of a first-born, let him roast it in fire and grind it to powder, and then let him put some into his eye, and he will see them. Let him also pour it into an iron tube and seal it with an iron signet that they should not steal it from him. Let him also close his mouth, lest he come to harm. R. Bibi b. Abaye did so, saw them and came to harm. The scholars, however, prayed for him and he recovered.
This potion recipe isn't, shall we say,  one of the highlights of the Talmud Bavli. 

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