Friday, September 28, 2012

Yom Kippur Cartoons and the Jew Yorker

At the New Yorker website, Yom Kippur was observed with the republication of some old, questionable cartoons about Jews. The author, a Jew called Robert Mankoff, argued the items weren't anti-Semitic, but I'm not entirely sure about one of them. See for yourself after the jump

From 1928

From the 30s

From 1932

Did you guess which one troubled me? The haberdasher with the baseball glove of course. You can read the whole article here

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Thursday, September 27, 2012

How it went: Yom Kipppur 5773

Final meal (we eat once, not twice*)

Soup with kreplach (from a store)
Roast chicken
Roast potatoes
Israeli salad
Chocolate cake

Evening Services:

Started on time
Finished after 9 p.m.

Daytime Services

Started at 8 am
Finished at 3 p.m.
Started again at 4:45 p.m
Finished for good several minutes early

Break-fast **

Strawberry rhubarb pie
Potato soup
More pie

Other notes:

In previous Yom Kippur run downs, I've praised the music in my synagogue. Not this year. With few exceptions, the selections were insipid, and crowd participation was weak. Really, it was one of the worst services I've attended. For most of the day, it seemed as if we were all half asleep. The musaf-man also went off-nusach too many times for my taste, while the Neila man seemed to think he was saying Maariv. Look. There is exactly one way to do Avos, one way to do Aleinu, and one way to do Neilah. If you're not going to do it that way, don't be shat'z.

I was less annoyed than usual at the self-absorbed people who sit with a Gemarah open, oblivious to the service going on around them. Perhaps, because this year I was one of them. 

The four maariv piyutim, as I say all the time, are perfect, and a chazan who debases them with a bubblegum tune should be dragged out of the building and curb stomped. (In my shul the chazan's selections were fine. In fact, the days's prize for "best performance by a chazan" goes to our maariv man for the job he did on "Solachti" Absolutely perfect. )

The Rabbi spoke after Kol Nidrei, and did not speak at all on Yom Kippur, save for a few minutes of pep-talking prior to Neilah.  (which is exactly as it should be.)

* For reasons I can't fathom, the Hasidic Jews, and those who wish to emulate them (also for reasons I can't fathom) have two, big sit-down meals on erev Yom Kippur. There's nothing wrong with this.
** Eating is not permitted until after Havdalah. If you goofed, and ate before a man made havdalah for you (Surprise ladies: Orthodox Judaism frowns on women making their own havdalah) you have to do the whole fast over again. (KIDDING!) (only about the last part) (the rest is true)

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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Annual Tradition: The Kol Nidrei Project

Welcome to a new edition of the famous DovBear holiday tradition...

Just about the only thing all Kol Nidre services
have in common
I think I started collecting Kol Nidrei experiences in 2007. Over the years many of you have added your own. My original two posts are first, and the next batch are from your comments. Please feel free to add your own. (Note: Any that way have been added last year are now lost, thanks to our comment-murdering friends at JS/Kit Echo.)

The Big Shul Where I Grew Up and the Yeshivish Minyan I Attend Now (DovBear)

Attendance: 90 percent of the shul is in their seats by the time the pregame starts. 20-50 percent are wearing white kippot (in the childhood shul the number was higher.) Most of the women are wearing something white, too.

Pre-game: Every Torah is taken out of the Aron, and the pillars of the community are honored with the privilege of carrying them. (This is one honor that isn't auctioned to the highest bidder.) The rabbi leads the procession to the shulchan, reciting Ohr Zeruah l'tzadik every few steps. We answer him. When the men reach the shulchan they crowd around the chazan who has been waiting there, pushing in as tightly as possible. All of this began within 30 seconds of the announced start time.

The show: Takes about 10 minutes. The chazan always uses the same tune, the traditional tune that can be heard on any number of cantorial tapes. His voices gets louder each of the three times he recites it. We hum along, and answer thunderously when the time comes to scream: solachti kidvorecha. After the chazan intones the shehechayanu the Torahs are silently returned to their place.

Post game: The children exit, and the Rabbi delivers words of encouragement or rebuke, and in some years, an appeal is also conducted for some worthy charity. (not the bedek habayis fund). Marriv begins afterwards, led by the chazan, who also selects the tunes for the slichos which are sung responsively.

The Hasidic Sfard Shteeble I Used to Attend... (DovBear)

Attendance: About 15 percent of the shul is present at the announced start time which is for Tfillas Zaka, not Kol Nidrei. Aside from their kittels, very few of the men are wearing white, and many have substituted a standard black gartel for the kittel's white belt. A number of the women wear white and many have identical white kerchiefs over their wigs; some wear what look like white aprons.

Pre-game: The congregation gradually enters, and slowly the men take their seats and hunch over Tfillas Zakka, a long semi-silent prayer said in an audible whisper. In a few minutes the drone of conversation is replaced with the hum of prayer. At some point (usually within 5 minutes of the announced start time for Kol Nidrei) a gabbai slaps his hand on a table and the rebbe groans or whines or wails out a kabbalistic prayer called Kum Rebbe [name I forget. Eliezer?]. Those who know it whisper the words together with the rebbe.

The show: The Torahs are taken from the aron, and the men carrying them, also community pillars, gather around the shulchan. After they arrive, the rebbe goes to the amud (about 15 feet from the Torahs) and bleats out Kol Nidrei using a tune that is strange yet powerful in its own right, but only vagualy similar to the traditional tune. The crowd bellows the response lines, and at the end the rebbe's shehechyanu is extended into a wail that soulds like the shofar.

Post-game: When the Torahs are back in their place, Maariv begins immediately, led by the rebbe

Parallel experience of a mother who hasn't made it to Kol Nidre in many many years... (Tesyaa)

6:40 - Light candles with teenage daughters, then watch as husband in kittel and daughters in white shirts covered with sweatshirts make a quick exit. (Shul is apparently over-airconditioned).

6:45 - Scan kitchen and dining room. Thankfully spouse and older children have done an admirable job of clearing table and washing dishes before candlelighting.

7:45 - Breathe sigh of relief that developmentally delayed youngest child loves his bed and is a good sleeper. Put him to bed. (Hopefully no unwelcome surprises here).

8:00-9:00 - Entertain two rambunctious young boys. Remind them that they are not hungry. Remind them that they are fasting at least until breakfast (or later depending on age). Remind them about 40 times not to brush their teeth.

9:00 - Attempt to put boys to bed. Cajole them to be good because "Mommy's fasting". (Hey, whatever works).

9:15 - Dressed in a robe (not a white one), pick up machzor. Read text of kol nidre silently. Daven maariv. Read piyutim of interest silently. Scan text of 13 middos and wish I was davening in shul. Say some tehilim.

9:30 or so - click of front door as spouse & daughters return home. Brief exchange about how the davening went.

That's it. It's been the same for several years. Predictibility is good (I guess).

The Big Shul in Williamsburg... (Yeedle)

I daven in a big shul in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY. Since most people are married and wear kittels (white, of course) and thick wool talisim, the cooling system is turned up so the reg. temp. is a cold 55 degree. Coming with a sweater (or a [white] shawl, for the ladies) is advised.
Another tid-bit: Most women, in honor of the special occasion, don't wear any wig or all. Just a white turban or tichel. And even the few who dare come with their wigs on, make sure it's well covered, with the maximum of two inches showing in the front. (last year, two self-appointed ladies made sure that no one is "showing" too much of her wig.)

The program starts with everyone running to get a dip in the mikvah one more time, and almost everyone reminds themselves to do so a mere 5 minutes before the shkiah. Then, the shul starts getting fuller and fuller, everyone settles down with their machzorim and the rabbi gives a mussar sermon. Most people utilize the time to say tefilas zakai. Some even manage to say "kum rabun shimon" as well. 

When the rabbi finishes the 30 minute sermon, which nobody listened to, the rabbi takes out ONE sefer torah (the rest remain in the ark) and circles the shul (making one hakafa). During the hakafa everyone, but I mean EVERY SINGLE ONE, pushes himself to kiss this sefer torah the rabbi is holding. Every single year kids get "injured", machzorim get lost/pages ripped etc. While making the hakafah, which takes like 10 - 15 minutes, the rabbi stops at random intervals and cries "Ohr zarua latzadik, ulyishrei lev simch".

Then the rabbi returns the sefer torah to the aron, and says a short tefillah. Another 5 minutes pass, and the rabbi, who serves as baal tefillah, starts chanting (the traditional nussach I think) Kol Nidrei and everyone quietly chants along with him. Kol nidrei is repeated 3 times, each time the volume goes up.

From there, the davenen continues as it says in machzor :)

The Israeli experience...(Micheal)

Pre game - walk to shul in Kittel and Talit, but try not to get bowled over by kids (and adults) who are getting an early start on their bikes (depending on where you live, the streets will be full of bikes and noise for the entire 25 hours of Yom Kippur - even 3 am you can hear bicycle bells and shreiks from kids enjoying the car-free environment)

I don't remember ever seeing "Tfilla Zaka" on the menu, but many people try to arrive early for shul to say it before kickoff. Every year I try to get there on time for Tfillat Zaka, every your I fail (maybe I'll be more successful tonight)

Shul itself is more likely to be school hallway or kindergarten. Very few Cathedral-like shuls in Israel that can accommodate big crowds (biggest shul here in Modi'in seats about 300, but most shuls are much smaller than that - my shul can squeeze in about 250 plastic chairs)

Don't remeber ever seeing more than 2 Sifrei Torah taken out for Kol Nidrei, but many minyanim (particularly those in a Gan or school) will only have one or 2 sfarim, so by default all sfarim are removed for Kol Nidrei.

In the shul I daven, most men are wearing a white Kipa Sruga, but that is the case on a regular Shabbat as well

No Yom Kippur Appeal, but if we're lucky we'll get a drasha of some sort.

Reform Shul....  (Susan)

Eat a big dinner because I know it's my last meal for over 24 hours. Debate with myself about how much water to drink. I don't want to be too thirsty tomorrow, but I don't want to have to get up to use the restroom during serives either.

Arrive about an hour before services start. Put some canned food in the barrels outside for the annual food drive. Chat with the spouses of the choir members, who also arrive early.

Stand on the front steps and greet people as they arrive. The senior rabbi (a woman) and Cantor (a man), as well as the choir, are wearing white robes. The two other rabbis, who are married to each other, are both wearing a kittel. Some of those who regularly come to shul, such as myself, are wearing white and no leather. The number of people wearing white is increasing slowly over the years. Most others are in regular business suits and dresses, with leather shoes and belts. Almost nobody has a head covering of any kind, however many men pick up a white kippah provided inside.

Services start within 10 minutes of the scheduled start time (which is late for us, since services usually start within a few minutes of the scheduled time). Cello plays Kol Nidre, then Cantor sings it. Is it done a third time? I can't remember.

People continue to drift in as the service continues. Eventually, the entire 2,000-seat auditorium is full. The senior rabbi delivers a sermon to a rapt crowd. She's an excellent and passionate speaker. After the sermon, upward of 100 people get up and leave as the services continue.

Services are over less than two hours after they started.

Stand at the door saying goodnight to people as they leave.

Spanish And Portuguese Version (Fear From Love)

* Majority of Shul is full ten minutes before advertised start time, everyone wears a tallit, white stripes, black stripes, blue stripes..... two guys wore kittels, one of them wasnt sefardi

Shema Koli ten minutes after fast starts. No Tefillat Zakah, No Kum Rabbi Shimon, no Kol Nidrei, yet....

* Kol Nidrei starts ten minutes later after another Piyyut. The Sifrei Torah are held by The Rav, The President and the Two Chattanim. A different person says Kol Nidrei each time, sefardic tune.

*No appeal but a sermon before Arvit

* Arvit begins, and every word is sung until the end of tefillah, either the whole congregation joins in and says the whole paragraph together with the shaliach tzibbur or there is a system of the shaliach tzibbur saying the beginning of a sentence and the congragation saying the last two words.

*finish 3 hours after we start, beautiful.

The Reconstructionist Shul... (Tziporah)

Attendance: Yes, most everyone is seated by the time we start; the people still walking around chatting are either service big-wigs, showing off that they're part of running this thing, or people who come only once/year and have a lot of people to say "hi" to that they haven't seen in a while. Moms are trying to round up the kids and get them settled into the childcare before it gets quiet, stopped repeatedly by the old people who want to talk about "how big" everyone is getting.

Pre-game: I think one of the rabbis or somebody usally says something or does a reading or whatever to make everyone shut up. Then both Torahs are taken out, and the rabbis carry them around the shul in different directions, singing "Ohr Zeruah" along with the congregation, trailed by Board members, etc. It takes FOR-fricking-EVER. Everyone wants to touch the Torahs and the rows are too long for everyone to reach it, so some scuffling ensues. (Very genteel scuffling, of course).

The show: For the last several years, the first rendition of Kol Nidrei has been done with a cello and some other instrument. Several of us are horrified by this; some refuse to attend b/c of it; others find it nice and "contemplative." Phhbt. With a Bad Cohen on the ritual committee, they're lucky it's not worse. Anyway, then it's usually the rabbi and one of our lay leaders with a great voice, and the third time is a chorus that always includes the old ladies with the horribly wobbly voices that make you wince. Thank G-d it's over.

Post-game: Torahs get put away, then there's a neverending procession of readings, speeches, prayers, whatever, all the way through to the Amidah/kaddish, and finally the feature event of the evening: the rabbi's sermon. This is what most of us are looking forward to, since it's the junior rabbi who actually has a formaleducation and can link HH Days themes to something relevant and make it interesing.

After the sermon, there's a vast rustle and buzz as people try to exit before the President/Vice President get up and beg for money and more volunteers. It's not pretty.

The Yeckish Shul... (Mar Gavriel)

"Talles" is scheduled for some time around sunset, or slightly afterward. People start to shuffle in at least 10-15 minutes earlier, but there are always people running in at the last moment. All married men (after Shono Rishôno) wear kittels (as they do on RH, as well). We use the terms "kittel" and "sargenes" interchangeably. Virtually all the women wear white.

"Talles" is when the one rabbi, the other rabbi, and finally the chazzen for KN/ma'ariv sing the berocho over the talles, with great pomp and circumstance, before donning it. After the chazzen is done, each man (married or not) dons his talles. All who are wearing kittels wear all-white talleisim, whereas bachelors and men in Shono Rishôno wear their ordinary black-striped talleisim

At this point, the chazzen puts his talles over his head and entire body, and hunches over the shtender, to silently whisper a personal prayer -- I assume הנני העני ממעש, or one of the other ones printed in the book. When he is done, he removes the talles from his head, and the rabbi, who is standing next to him, proclaims: "בישיבה של מעלה ובישיבה של מטה, על דעת המקום ועל דעת הקהל, אנו מתירין להתפלל עם העבריינים."

Then, the chazzen, in a quiet voice, begins "Kol Nidrei", in the old tune. The congregation hums along for some parts. This is then repeated in a louder voice, and finally in an even louder voice.

When this is done, we say the line
ונסלח לעל עדת בני ישראל ולגר הגר בתוכם כי לכל העם בשגגה
a single time, and then Shehecheyonu. The congregation responds a rousing "Omein!" to the chazzen's Shehecheyonu, and then the chazzen sits down.

The rabbi then gives his YK sermon, the only time that he speaks over the whole 25 hours. Usually, this lasts until nightfall, at which point we begin Borachu. In years when there has been persecution of Jews somewhere in the world, or violence in Israel, the sermon has been curtailed, in order to have time to recite some Psalms before Borachu.

The whole procedure is beautiful in its simplicity.

No Torah-scrolls, no Tefillo Zakko, no Kom Rebbi Shim'ôn, no appeal for money.

UK Orthodox Experience.(SM)

Everyone to be sat in seat before Yomtov. 50% are. The rest arrive - in their cars - after.

Tefillas Zaka, what's that? Oh you mean the thing that meshugana SM says when he won't respond to everyone's greetings. Kum Rebbe Shimon - ?

Kittel - I wear one. So does the Rabbi, the Chazzan and perhaps 5 other people.

Bigwigs take Sefer Torah out of ark and parade them to Bimah. Chazan makes meal of Kol Nidre - must still be hungry. It is the standard tune but by the time he's done it and the choir has helped it doesn't feel like it.

Appeal for UJIA (Israel). Sermon.

Ma'ariv. The songs are well known so people stop talking when they are being sung - more or less. Otherwise there is a steady hum throughout. This is better than on RH when you cannot hear the Chazzan or yourself.

3 hours later - home.

(Which is why, although I have no affinity for their beliefs, I go to Chabad for Neilah, daven for the Old Age home shacharit and mincha and teach the rest of the time, fitting in my davenning wherever I am and in the quietest place I can find.)

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Monday, September 24, 2012

Sitting on the toilet makes you live longer? I explain why (Brakhot 54b)

So you're the sort of man (its always a man isn't it?) who enjoys a good long sit on the toilet. Good news. According to a teaching recorded on BT Brakhoth 54b this can extend your life.  Here is what it says:
Rab Judah said further: There are three things the drawing out of which prolongs a man's days and years; the drawing out of prayer, the drawing out of a meal, and the drawing out of [the time spent in] a privy
The modern inclination is to trick out such teachings with psychology or medicine. Thus, one person I discussed this with seemed certain that Rab Yehuda's point is that its important to chew your food slowly, and to make sure your bowel movements are regular and complete. Another believes that the message is we should live with as little stress as possible. Take your time on the toilet. Don't hurry. Chill-ax, baby.

As Rab Yehuda was aware of neither medicine nor psychology, I think its more likely that he is thinking magically or practically. He may be adducing some well known superstition, now lost to the mists of time. Or he might be connecting hearty appetites (and the world class dumps such appetites tend to produce) with strength and vigor. Or this could simply be an example of sympathetic magic, or the magic that ascribes power to imitation or correspondence.

Another appealing possibility is that Rab Yehuda is thinking of a sort of toilet that no longer exists and making a point about the three things that are believed to hold up the world. In antiquity (Roman antiquity anyway; I'm not certain if this applies to Persia as well.) men used the toilet communally. In the photo the follows, you can see what such a toilet looked like, and the video that comes after it depicts how they were employed:

As you can see, going to the bathroom was an opportunity to socialize and catch up on the events of the day. It was also where you could hold court, hear peoples troubles, and discuss solutions.

Elsewhere, a Mishna tells us: "The world stands upon three things: on Torah, and on Divine Service, and on acts of kindness. (Avot 1:2)." Drawing out your prayers, obviously, is a way to intensify your involvement in Divine Service. Drawing out your meals, which the Talmud says must always includes words of Torah, is a way to augment your connection to Torah. Possibly in Rab Yehudah's mind, going to the public toilet -- where neighbors met to discuss their challenges and struggles -- was a good way to involve yourself in acts of kindness.  R. Yehuda, perhaps, felt that if you were actively involved in the things that sustained the world, indeed if you were actually one of those three things yourself, God might be slow to take you from the world.

Perhaps this is what the Gemarah means on the next page, when it says R. Yehuda b. Ila would check himself at each of the 24 public bathrooms that stood between his house and the study hall. ArtScroll says he would check himself to see if he needed to defecate. (24 times?) But I prefer to think that the words "Badikna Nafshai B'chulhu" means that he checked the souls, ie the people. (Nafshai  means "himself'; the same root with a different suffix plausibly means "people", thus "he checked the people in all of them" and not "he checked himself in all of them") In this interpretation, Yehuda b. Ila  isn't telling us about his toilet troubles, but about how he kept track of what acts of charity were needed in his town. Each day, he'd poke his head into every public toilet in town to see what was happening and to ask what was needed. (I'm aware the grammar doesn't support this --but I'll take a corruption of the text, over believing that a Sage stopped to use the toilet 24 times during his walk to work. Wouldn't you?)

L'Hamtik haDaf by RPML

Brochas: 54b
R. Yehuda said in the name of Rav: Four (types of people) must give thanks - Yordei haYam (seafarers), Holchei Midbaros (those travelling through deserts, one was ill and recovered, and one who was imprisoned and was released.

The Ben HaYehoyada raises a series of questions on this Brysa.

Q. Psalm 107 speaks first of travellers in deserts, and only then of seafarers. Why does the Brysa reverse the order? And why does the sick person precede the prisoner?
A. A ship requires a company of sailors, whereas those travelling in a desert can be few in number. The remaining cases refer to individuals, but the sick person is a more common occurrence than that of the prisoner.

Q. The Brysa's first two cases are in the plural while the third and fourth cases are in the singular. Why is this so?
A. The seafarer and desert caravan traveller take on the dangers of their profession of their own volition and have no need to separate themselves from their fellow man, unlike the sick person and the prisoner. In each of the two pairs, the more dangerous situation precedes the less dangerous.

Q. Why in the two final cases does it mention the means of redemption, recovery and release; whereas in the first two cases no mention is made of having survived the experience?
A. In the first two case one is required to give thanks even if there was no apparent danger i.e. even if there were no storms or robbers.

Beis Hillel said to Beis Shammai, "according to your opinion, do you hold that someone who ate at the top of a mansion and forgot and went down and did not recite Birchas HaMazon, must return to the top of the mansion and recite it (even though this involves considerable effort?)" Beis Shammai responded to Beis Hillel "according to your opinion, one who forgot a purse on top of a mansion, would he not go up and retrieve it?  If he goes up for his own honour, how much more (should he be required to go up) for the honour of heaven."

The Ben HaYehoyada points out that the two cases do not seem directly analogous, in as much as it is impossible to recover the purse without going up again, but it is possible to recite Birchas HaMazon in the lower level of the mansion. He answers this by saying that while it is possible to send someone else to recover the money, typically in such a situation we show considerable alacrity in wishing to recover the money ourselves. This being the case, we should be careful to exercise at least the same alacrity in performing the Mitzva in a fashion which is undoubtedly preferable.

One takes the cup with both his hands...

And places the cup in his right hand... What is the law as to whether the left hand may assist the right hand? Rav Ashi said, since the earlier ones asked the same question without resolving it, one should act stringently (and not do so.)

He raises it a tefach above the ground. R. Acha the son of R. Chanina said, which verse is the scriptural source for this (Psalms 116:13) I will raise up the cup of salvations and call out the name of Hashem

The Maharsha points out that the two hands represent Din (justice) and Rachamim (mercy). Since the right hand represents mercy it should end up holding the cup. The word Cos (cup) has the gematria 81, as does the word Elokim (the attribute of G-d represented by justice. Thus the Cos shel Brocha  (the cup of blessing drunk at the end of the meal) is a cup of salvation, achieved by calling on the name of Hashem (the attribute of mercy) to take precedence over Cos/Elokim, Din/strict justice.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The anti-Obama lunatics seem to be getting even loonier

As Romney's chances of capturing the presidency slip away, the anti-Obama people are becoming more and more unhinged. Three people say their rabbis have recently delivered spittle-covered sermons denouncing the president based on "made up facts" "twisted innuendo" and "downright slander." And over on the Worst Blog in the World an op-ed written in the same demented vein has been published.

 A thorough fisking after the jump:

Friday, September 21, 2012

What is Unetaneh Tokef and where did it come from

A new article at the Examiner debunks the beloved story of Rav Amnon, the Sage of medieval Ashkenaz who was dismembered by a bishop before coming back in a dream to teach a Kolonymous the Unetaneh Tokef prayer poem. Here's what the author found:
For starters, there is no record of a Rabbi Amnon living in Germany in any other medieval literature. His name is not a typical Ashkenaz name (it is Italian), and the gruesome punishment of dismemberment was also not used in Germany in that time period. 
Secondly, fragments of the UT have shown up in the Cairo Geniza to material that dates to the late 700s. That is some 300 years earlier than the martyrdom story purportedly took place! 
Third, the piyyut contains a variety of notable similarities to a Christian poem called the “Hymn of Romanus upon Christ’s Reappearance,” which was written by a Jew who converted to Christianity in either the 500 or 700s. It shares a number of themes, motifs, and word patterns with this Christian hymn including trembling angels, God taking account of the souls of people, the blasts of the horn, books being opened, etc. 
Fourth, the UT contains a variety of characteristics that can be identified with an earlier time period. The UT is a piyyut, and a piyyut is a very particular literary genre typified as a highly stylized poetic prayer. Piyyutim were not the standardized pieces of liturgy found in the classic rabbinic berakha framework; instead, they were designed to be additions inserted into berachot to enrich them.

The bit about how our poem seems to have been borrowed from a Catholic devotion is most interesting. Here, via the Shechter Institute, are some of the alleged parallels

Unetane TokefRomanus
the angels shudder, fear and trembling sieze themeverything trembles
you open the book of records;
you call to mind all things long forgotten
the books are opened, the hidden things are made public
the angels shudder,
they say it is the day of judgment
the angels are dragged before the throne
they cry: glory to Thee, most just judge!
the great trumpet is soundedupon the sound of the trumpet
they are not pure before theenobody is pure before thee
as the shepherd musters his flock, so do You
cause to pass, number every living soul
like a shepherd he will save
but repentance, prayer and tzedakah avert the severe decree.Therefore, penitence and prayer will save you.

The Catholic poem is from the 7th century (probably) and was written by a Jewish convert to Catholicism, raising the appealing possibility that Unetaneh Tokef dates to that period and was brought by the apostate into Christendom.

Another fun fact to know and tell:  Unetanek tokef quotes Rosh Hashana 1:2 when it says all of man kind pass before God  like כבני מרון, a phrase usually ranslated as "members of the flock." I've seen it suggested in many places that the word is actually kivinumeron, a Greek loan word meaning cohort of soldiers.

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Bray on Slichot

A guest post by CHAIM BRAY OF FUNDIE

There is a passage in the Selichos that:

A. has been sticking in my craw every time that I enunciate it and that

B. gets perilously close to דֹּבֵר שְׁקָרִים--לֹא-יִכּוֹן, לְנֶגֶד עֵינָי = he that speaketh falsehood shall not be established before mine eyes. Furthermore I think that everyone from Kanoi to kahl, from misogynist to feminist from frozen-in-amber conservative to let's-reinvent-the-wheel reformer should be deeply offended by it.
I am referring to:

אשמנו מכל־עם. בשנו מכל־דור =
We are guiltier than all /any nation (s) We are shamed more than all /any generation(s).

Really now? Are we more murderous than the Ukrainian Cossack nation ? More exploitative than all the great colonial powers that murdered, pillaged and raped whole indigenous peoples and sold the remnants into slavery? Do we pollute the planet or tyrannize populations more than Red China? Are we more licentious than ancient Mitzrayim, K'na'an, Rome or Greece or contemporary Americans in Las Vegas or any Red-Light District in any Western metropolis? Do we engage in more gossip than western readers of People, US and TMZ ? Have we produced more pedophiles than Irish, Italian and Polish Catholics? Are we crueler and more heartless than the Germans and sundry Nazis? Are our business ethics more depraved than those of the Siciilans or Russians? Are we more mired in polytheistic idolatries than the Indian subcontinent? Are we more invested in a false prophet than the Saudis and the Iranians? Are we more credulous of a false Messiah than any or all of the nations of Chistendom?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Let's insult our local Assembleywoman

One of the most excellent readers sent this in. She says its from her local Jewish fish-wrapper. See if you can catch the omission:

Like you, we're pleased as punch the dirty women didn't sully the pages of this august journal with her filthy photograph. In other news, denizens of the old South are "mightily pissed off" that it never occurred to them to wrap their racism in religion or to claim that pissing on black people was actually a sign of respect. Had they employed such proven Hasidic tactics, Jim Crow might never have been defeated. (And if any of those male politicians had the gift of gallantry, they'd have done like the King of Denmark and withheld their own photos.)

By the way this is the Hon. Ellen C. Jaffee:

Feeling lustful? Any chance you might ejaculate all over your computer? We didn't think so.

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A new auspicious sign

Meant to tell you. This year, one of the learned local gentlemen told me he makes a point of eating sardines on Rosh Hashana. Why's that? Because it puns on Sar Din

More here: Signs, Omens and Portents

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Whipping Right Wingers is easy

Whipping Right Wingers is easy, mostly because they never have any facts.  To prove the point, here's a cut and paste of some FaceBook action earlier today.

Is learning Daf Yomi bad for your emunah?

Like many of my peers, I'm (studying) Daf Yomi. Its the in thing to do right now, see, and though its too soon to tell if joining a Daf will turn out to be a Jewish pet rock, the fad, for now, seems to have legs. According to my informal surveys, all of our local shiurim have added members and many people I know have started studying the daily page on their own.

As I kid, I did a few pages of Brachot, the current tractate, so I've seen (and remember) the arguments about the correct time to say Shma and the right order of blessings.  (I also did the Daf last cycle, but Daf moves so quickly and it was so long ago, none of what I did 7 years ago has stayed with me. As a result...) The rest of the tractate is new to me, and I have to say it hasn't exactly done wonders for my emunat chachamim. Early on, we had a discussion of demons -- which, having been schooled to some degree in Maimonidian theology, I was able to address without damaging the dignity of the Sages. But what can I do with the description of two Sages gorging themselves on fruit until the juice exited their pores?

There's worse: We also see Sages insulting each other and deeply in the grips of mistaken ideas about the benefits of various foods. Eggs are celebrated. Vegetables are denounced.. Anything full-size is thought to have special health benefits, and meat taken from the area surrounding the heart in believed to be better than any other. And then we arrive at nearly half a page of praise for some kind of asparagus beer, which is claimed to be "good for the heart and eyes, and all the more so for the intestines" followed by this bizarre bit of information about how the world works: Anything done an even number of times summons (demonic) damage upon a person.

Over the last month of Daf study I've also encountered: "Tips for Avoiding Me" provided by the Angel of Death via a rabbinic emissary; a very expensive hissy fit thrown by Yalta, wife of R. Nachman; and the tale of the henpecked husband who overheard two ghosts discussing the future. Plus a seemingly endless back and forth about the properties of human feces. The discussion of doody had legitimate halachic ramifications, so I can agree it belongs in the Talmud, but what about the rest?

More importantly, how can you read this and continue to disagree with Samson Raphael Hirsch who wisely and correctly said:
The Sages were scholars of the divine religion and were the recipients, transmitters and teachers of God's guidance, ordinances, commandments, and statutes; they were not especially natural scientists, geometers, astronomers, or physicians... and we do not find that this knowledge was transmitted to them from Sinai
I've always thought Hirsch was spot on in his description of the Sages and in his skepticism of their abilities. Ironically enough some of the biggest proponents of Daf Yomi study strongly disagree with Hirsch's assessment and claim instead that Sages were omniscient. Many who make all-encompassing claims of Dass Torah seem to also think that every Jew should do the daily Daf.

They should be careful what they wish for.

UPDATE: Words in parenthesis added for reasons discussed in the comments.

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L'Hamtik ha Daf - RPML


Daf 50a

And from one's blessings it can be discerned whether or not he is a Torah scholar. How so? Rebbi says (if in the zimun blessing he says) "B'Tuvo" (Blessed is He of whose we have eaten and through whose goodness we live), he is a Talmid Chocham. (But if he says "u'MiTuvu" (and from whose goodness we live) he is an ignoramus.

The Ben haYehoyada writes that a Talmid Chocham is happy with his lot in life and has restrained material needs, focusing on his study of Torah. G-d provides what we need; therefore, by definition what we are given is what we require.  Thus for the Torah scholar "B'Tuvo" represents complete good. By contrast the ignoramus is focused on his material wants; when he is given a hundred, he desires two hundred. "MiTuvo" is as Rashi comments a restrictive description. "From" implies less than all. He is focused on what he does not have, rather than what he does have.

Daf 47a

(Rav Chisda) said to him (Rami bar Chama) ... whoever answers Amen longer than necessary is simply mistaken

The Rabbis taught ... And whoever prolongs his saying Amen, they lengthen his days and his years for him

Tosfos say that answering Amen longer than necessary is simply mistaken because is because it will lead to mispronunciation of the word and because it also delays the moment at which the person who made the Motzi blessing is allowed to eat.

The Maharsha takes a completely different approach. Saying Amen for longer than necessary is simply mistaken because it is predicated on an erroneous assumption that extended life (which prolonging the saying of Amen will cause) is always good. A long life is positive, a life which is longer than appropriate is not. Quality of life, not mere quantity is that to which we should aspire.

Daf 46b

The Rabbis taught in a Brysa: we do not accord honour (by giving on precedence), neither (when travelling) on roads, nor (when passing over) bridges, nor (with regard to washing) soiled hands.

The Ben haYehoyada draws a Mussar message, a moral lesson from this Brysa. The material world, Olam haZeh, is compared to a road and a bridge along which we travel and must pass; and that man is soiled/polluted by the Nachash, (Yeitzer Hora.) The world is thus a vehicle to rid ourselves of this contamination. This is achieved by distancing ourselves from Kovod, honour.  

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Protect us from jealousy between fellows. Let no jealousy enter our hearts and may no one be jealous of us.

On the contrary, place in our hearts the ability to see only the virtues our friends possess and not their shortcomings.

May we speak to each other in a way that is honest and desirable in Your eyes and let absolutely no hatred develop between us. Perish the thought.

Strengthen our ties to you and our bonds with you, through love, as it is certainly known to You that we desire and wish that everything might be regarded before You as a source of Nachat Ruach, as this is our foremost goal. 

Amen, and may it be your will.

- Elimelech of Lizhensk

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How Rosh Hashana went

At 2:30 on the first day and at 1:30 on the second.

Quality of the Chazzanut:
Mediocre. I don't like hearing Netana Tokef set to anything composed after I was born. The first day was way too shleppy, and the guy's voice was gone at the halfway point on the second day.

Quality of the reading material:
For the very first time, after years of denouncing the practice, I read in shul. My text was the Vilna Shas --BT Brachos -- and it occupied me during the auction services and the aforementioned shleppy parts of the service. (I put my book down and participated when the congregation was reciting)  I'm not proud, but the experience justifies my earlier criticism. Reading in shul really does degrade the prayer experience. Also, I was powerless to object when my son tried to stave off his own boredom with some silly child's tract. Memo to Self: Must write a post on how joining the Daf Yomi is detrimental to davening (Its also detrimental to emuunah, but that's another story). At home I read most of Arguably, the collection of essays Christopher Hitchens published before Mortality. It's not good. Chris can certainly write, but the topics of the essays in this collection aren't topics that interest me; also, I like Hitchens the polemicist much better than Hitchens the serious reviewer of books. Arguably has too much of the latter and not nearly enough of the former.

Quality of  the food
Outstanding as always. Once again, we started the year with duck slathered in honey. Chicken paprikash was planned for lunch the next afternoon but, having been invited out for second dinner and warned by our hostess to expect dairy, we put the chicken aside. (That tells you how shleppy the chazan was. Had we eaten meat for lunch, we would not have been dairy again in time for dinner). Instead, we lunched on soup, salad and side dishes and were rewarded for our forehandedness a few hours later with a delicious dairy meal: cheese soup, fish, Mac and Cheese (done correctly) and too many salads to count. The last lunch was chicken paprikash. The soups we had at home were chicken and vegetable. The best side dish, of the many we enjoyed, was rice salad.

Anecdote I wish to share
Because of the dinner invitation. I went to a new shul on the second night, far from my regular haunts. This place is Litvish/Yeckish to its core. They start on time, no one eats in the sanctuary - ever, and the nusach is Ashkenaz. In the back sat two lost souls wearing shtrimels. After services I went to shake the Rabbi's hand and found myself on line behind the two shtrimeils. "We're glad to see you" said the Rabbi, when he greeted the shtreimels, "We need some of the hasidic warmth." I was gobsmacked. Sure, the Rabbi was only trying to be friendly and welcoming, but look at HOW he chose to do it: with a backhanded swipe at what his core  congregants probably like best about the place. Moreover, has any Hasidic Rabbi in the history of Judaism welcomed two non-Shtrimels to his shteeble on the grounds that the place needed some "Litvish brainpower", or "Yekish organization"? Of course not. He gives a polite welcome, or makes a crack about how nice it is to see you in a "real" shul.  So why are the non-Hasidim so insecure, and why have they bought so completely into the myth the there is something warm about beards and outdated clothing?

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The Rosh Hashana Revelation

A guest post by [---]

Once, I had a divine revelation.

It was on the holy day of Rosh Hashanah, but I wasn't in the synagogue. I was in a hospital on that very wet morning, in a sterile and depressing geriatrics rehab ward, where a few old bubbies had gathered to hear the sounding of the shofar (the ram's horn sounded on the Jewish New Year).

Every year I do this--blow shofar in the hospitals. Every year, at least one person cries.

This year there was a bubbeh who didn't seem so old. She was very with-it. The sight of a shofar filled her with excitement. She poured out to me memories of her childhood; it seemed the past had just come awake for her. She had grown up steeped in chassidic warmth and soul, and even here in ------it had never left her. [DB: Why are chasidic and wamth always put together? Its such a farce.]

While we were away...

I see from the news Mitt Romney was photographed without his shirt on, while Kate Middleton was caught on video sneering at the masses in the manner of a deranged plutocrat. Or something like that. The lesson you will hear in shul this weekend, of course, is the eye is always watching and the camera is always recording.

Here are some 47 percenter articles I think you'll like:

The Kate items you'll have to find on your own

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Friday, September 14, 2012

Surviving Bais Mikroh

This was posted today on FaceBook

Let's make this the post heard round the world.

Surviving Bais Mikroh {My story}

This article will soon be featured in a Jewish online news site. The only names that have been changed in this article are the names of my classmates.

This post may be shared in its entirety .

My name is Shlomo Silber and I am a frum Jew living in Queens. I have a wonderful wife, two beautiful children and, God-willing, another one on the way. I love my job and the community I live in. Recently I have been going through the dilemma of trying to find a school for my older son and I find I am stuck with the hardest decision of my life. When I think of my yeshiva experience, my heart tightens in my chest as I recall those terrible memories.

Another Christian Midrash (Duteronomy 30:12/13)

What was it about the first century that made is such a ripe time for Midrash making? Aside from all the Rabbis wrote, we also have the creations of the first century church, including the very famous Christian midrash on on Isaiah 7:14. Were minds raised differently then? Were people taught to be more flexible and inventive in their thinking? Or were they just raised to treat the written word with a different kind of reverence?

In any event, another famous Christian midrash can be found on a verse in this week's parsha. The words in the text, as they appear in Deuteronomy 30 are (something like)  It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Whowill ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us andbring it to us, that we may hear it and do it? But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.

As Paul understands it the whole verse is about faith in Jesus, as he darshans in Romans 10
For Moses writes about the righteousness which is of the law, “The man who does those things shall live by them.” But the righteousness of faith speaks in this way, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’”  (that is, to bring Christ down from above) or, “‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach):
This is the New King James translation. Not knowing Greek, I can't tell you how the parenthesis are handled int he original, but they are present in several translations.

In this polemic, Paul seems to turn the verse in Deuteronomy on its head. Gone is any mention of "doing" anything. Therefore, the verse in Romans is often described as a misquote. I prefer to think of it as interpretation.

As we Jews read it, the law (or the commandments, or the ability to study, or the power to give a psak,  - it depends on which Jew is doing the interpreting!) is what's present., and in our hands.

As Paul reads it, faith (in Jesus) is what we have in our hands.

When I have more time, I'll attempt to explain this further. 

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