Thursday, December 26, 2013

He might possibly maybe have said what?? I'm ourtaged!!

A guest post by David Staum

Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky is now purported to have stated that anyone who uses an iPhone is invalid as a witness, or as a mesader kiddushin.

But why does Haaretz report on this story with the words "Prominent rabbi reportedly declares marriages and divorces witnessed by those who have Internet access invalid."

Why "reportedly"?

Why does Harry Maryles write in The Jewish Press that he's sure R Kanievsky was either misquoted or misled?

Why isn't there a clear process of communication for "gedolim" to communicate to the Jewish world they supposedly represent? Why is everything hearsay?

I know that the Charedi world doesn't work this way, but I wish there was a publication and verification process, like there is in the academic and reputable journalistic worlds. Otherwise, we depend on rumor and hearsay about these rabbinic statements.

We should not be having endless conversations about whether a famous rav actually said what he is purported to have said or not. The conversation should be about agreement or disagreement with these statements. It's ridiculous that so much time is spent discussing who said what.

If a well known rav makes a statement, it should be unambiguous and he can then be called upon to defend or explain himself. Vague statements from behind closed doors reported by followers with agendas should not be taken seriously.

For those who adhere to the guidance of "Daas Torah", any directives of this sort should be disregarded unless there is a clear communication from the rabbi in question himself.

And for those of us, like myself, who do not subscribe to the concept of "Daas Torah"? We should similarly demand a clear and unequivocal statement from the source before we attack the rabbi in question for statements he only may have said.

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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Royally pissed

A guest post by Y. Bloch
I was born in a nation which had thrown off the shackles of His Britannic Majesty 201 years before, and as an adult, I moved to a country which had done so 51 years prior. I'm not a fan of the British monarchy, but I have nothing against them either. I am mystified by the obsession with the heir to the heir to the heir of the throne and how brilliant, I am sure, his poops must be. After all, they're just figureheads, right?

Except they're not. Queen Elizabeth II is head of state, which means she has the authority to do what she did today, granting a pardon to Alan Turing:
Source: The Telegraph
Who was Alan Turing, and why should you care? Well, imagine if Albert Einstein was capable of doing math. If you're reading this, you owe Alan Turing, without whom the modern computer would never have existed. Also, the Nazis would probably have won without his code-breaking machine. And then there was the Turing test, which may help us prevent the RIse of the Machines by figuring out when they achieve true artificial intelligence. But if you're OK with killer robots, typewriters and the Third Reich, you could have done without Alan Turing.

That is, after all, what Her Majesty Elizabeth II's government decided. The Crown prosecuted Turing for "gross indecency," i.e. having sex with a consenting man, in 1952. The case was Regina v. Turing and Murray. Guess who that Regina was? Yup, Lizzie Deux, long may she wave.

Turing was given the choice of chemical castration or prison, and he chose the former. Two years later, at age 41, he committed suicide with cyanide; a half-eaten apple was found next to his corpse. It seems that Professor Turing had an obsession with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, especially the part with the Wicked Queen, disguised as a Witch, who uses a poisoned apple. I guess that was just a coincidence.
So Alan Turing gets a pardon on Christmas Eve, by Her Royal Mercy (not Justice, mind you). But he was not the only revolutionary scholar-teacher to catch a legal break this holiday season: our old friend Moti Elon (whom I've written about before here and here) got quite a gift from the Magistrate's Court in snowy Jerusalem. Though he has been convicted of two counts of indecent acts against a minor, he won't serve any jail time: he gets off with 6 months of community service.
After the sentencing, Elon said that he “happily accepted” the community service, wryly noting that has already been serving the community for years and “will be happy to engage in public service until I’m 120 years old.”
So, his community service will be preaching. Maybe the Knesset will pass a bill preventing him from teaching minors. Maybe the Rabbinate will strip him of his title. Or maybe he'll be pardoned. Who knows?

It's certainly not encouraging what Rabbi Haim Druckman, one of religious Zionism's most prestigious figures, has done. He has given him a job teaching at his own yeshiva, Or Etzion, where Elon will be in exactly the same position he was at Yeshivat HaKotel when he molested two 17-year-olds (indicted for both, convicted for one): teaching recent high-school graduates. Druckman states:
I don’t believe there is anything in his Torah lessons that is not kosher, there is no reason not to learn from him or listen to Torah lessons from him.
At the end of the day, we’re talking about an incident in which two people were in the room, Rabbi Elon and the complainant. There was no one in the room apart from them. This person claims one thing, which the other denies. There’s no other testimony [on this incident]. Who says the claim is true? No one knows what happened in the room and no one can know. This is why I saw the ruling as a mistake.
Got that, everyone? The ruling is wrong because there are no witnesses. Druckman's message: rape away, rabbis, as long as no one's watching. No arrest, indictment, conviction or sentence can ever make us doubt you.
Pure as the driven snow
Pure as the driven snow
For the sake of full disclosure, I will note that I studied at Yeshivat Or Etzion and taught at Yeshivat HaKotel. Technically, Elon was the rosh yeshiva while I was there, but he was under the bizarre semi-excommunication dictated by the Takanah organization, headed by Rabbi Dr. Aharon Lichtenstein, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Har Etzion. (I studied there for the better part of a decade.) Needless to say, this whole affair has seriously affected the way I think of all three, albeit to varying degrees.

Now, people often ask me why I, an Orthodox rabbi, write in defense of homosexuals (or they just tell me that since I do so, I can't really be an Orthodox rabbi). The answer is right in front of you. What happened to Alan Turing is vile and disgusting, and it is not that distant from our experience. The queen who just pardoned him is the same queen who prosecuted him. The fact that he was a once-in-a-generation genius, the fact that he was a war hero, the fact that he had consensual sex with a 19-year-old--none of it mattered, because GAAAA-AAAY! That's why I get up in arms about bearded rednecks who use their limited understanding of the Bible to condemn gays as the source of all immorality and sin (without letting those uppity black folk off the hook); that's why I enlist to fight the supposedly enlightened rabbi-doctors who are calling us to "continue to wage the war" against the gays and those "who might accept them, and treat them with respect and understanding."

It's the only way to fathom the shocking cruelty shown towards Turing all those years ago; I would argue that it also goes a long way to explaining the shocking leniency shown towards Elon now. Once you classify homosexuality as sickness, it's easy to say that Elon had a bout of it, but now he's all better. Only through the lens of homophobia can you discount both the consensual, mutual romantic relationship between Turing and his adult paramour in 1952 and the coercive, vindictive rape committed by Elon against his underage victim fifty years late. I do not want to be in that bigoted camp under any circumstances. It's not about mercy, Ma'am; it's about justice, God save you.

Personally, at the end of the day, I pray for my portion to be with the God of Alan Turing, not the God of Moti Elon.

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Monday, December 23, 2013

Does frumkeit poison everything?

I just finished arguing with a young man who beleives that all contardictory midrashim can be reconciled with one another, even when the facts are mutually exclusive and said to be simultaniously true. (Example: Puah can't be both Miriam and Elisheva.) 

My friend doesn't believe that Puah was simultaniously two people at once because it makes sense (it doesn't) or because the halachic authorities demand it (they don't), but because some idea of "being frum" requires him to take this position.

Critical thinking just isn't kosher. (And there's your one sentence answer to what's wrong with Orthodox Judaism today.)

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Friday, December 20, 2013

Hatan Damim

Here's my explanation for the Hatan Damim story with an assist from Ady Manory

Moshe is reluctant to go on his Impossible Mission. He offers every excuse and tries every escape. Finally, he agrees to go, but his heart isn't in it. He takes Tzipora along, knowing she and the boys will slow him down (Rashbam) He lies to his father-in-law about his reason for leaving. And he dallies at a lodge.

In the section immediately before the lodge story, God tells Moshe

And you shall say to Pharaoh, 'So said the Lord, "My firstborn son is Israel. So I say to you, 'Send out My son so that he will worship Me, but if you refuse to send him out, behold, I am going to slay your firstborn son."

Moshe's reluctance to carry out the mission can only result from one thing: He doesn't believe that God will stand with him. He thinks he will be on his own , and he knows he can't do it alone. So what does God do to correct this error? He endangers Moshe's first born son. This causes Moshe to realize that God will do anything for Israel, his firstborn son, and that his mission will not be allowed to fail (Raavad) But during the demonstration, Tziporah panicked and worried that her son would die uncircumcised, so she performed the bris herself and tossed the bloody foreskin at Moshe saying, "You did this! You are a bridegroom of blood. Your delay has put us all in danger".

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And a men went from the house..

The words וַיֵּלֶךְ אִישׁ מִבֵּית appear two times in the whole torah.

In Shmot we're told that a man from the house of levi went and took a woman, while in Ruth we're told a man from Bethlehem (the house of lechem) took his wife and left for moav.

The connection: The first instance marks the start of the first geulah, the Exodus from Egypt; the second puts into motion the ultimate geulah

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And a king arose who didn't know Joseph

And a king arose who didn't know Joseph... what didn't he know? This:

Go, go, go Joseph you know what they say
Hang on now Joseph you'll make it some day
Sha la la Joseph you're doing fine
You and your dreamcoat ahead of your time
Go, go, go Joseph you know what they say
Hang on now Joseph you'll make it some day
Sha la la Joseph you're doing fine
You and your dreamcoat ahead of your time

He didn't know that Yosef always comes out on top, no matter how much you smack him around. Toss him in a pit, and sell him as a slave and he comes out a king. That's Joseph. That's Joseph offspring. It might take some time, but we always win, and that's what Pharaoh didn't know which is why he had the nerve to start up with us --- Kli Yakar / sort of

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

This Jewish girl misses Christmas

Today Slate publishes the strangest Jewish peons to Christmas you will ever read. See it here

The piece was written by Adina-Kay Gross who grew up Jewish on Long Island, the daughter of an Italian Catholic from Brooklyn who converted years before she met Adina's father. Though Mom was "all -in" with Judaism, she couldn't bear to leave her lonly, widowed mother by herself on the holidays so she shleped her family, including her man-of-the-year Jewish husband back to Brooklyn every year for egg nog, church services, and Christmas dinner.

Reading it the first time, I took it for granted that Adina was an Orthodox Jew. All the little biographical markers I interpret as Orthodox were present in the piece and the fact that her mom converted from conviction, rather than love, suggests the sort of sincerity I associate with fundementalism. Still I had questions: Would an Orthodox family sit in church? And though the descriptions were ambiguous, it certainly sounded like she and her family were eating Italian grandma's food.

Twenty minutes of Googling and I had the full story. Adina-Kay Gross grew up reform, the daughter of an English professor who became ordained as a Reform Rabbi in his fifties, following a journey of religious exploration that included sessions in a neighborhood yeshiva.

What have we learned from this?  (A) I can't determine a Jewish writer's religious sect on the basis of a few paragraphs (B) Reform Jews do not necessarily have any shortage of religious devotion (I knew this, but it was nice to have the message re-inforced)  (C) Google is scary .

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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Where is the Orthodox Jewish Mary McAleese?

She is a hard-core, serious Catholic, who was twice elected president of a hard-core, serious Catholic country. Now she is pursuing a Licentiate of Canon Law (an advanced graduate degree with canonical effects) at Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. This is a bit like a woman being elected mayor of Benai Brak and then pursuing an advanced degree in rabinincs at Bes Medrash Gavoha.

Oh, and there are also whispers that Pope Francis might create her a cardinal. These whispers are almost definately wishful thinking, not grounded in fact or reality, but still, can you imagine?

You just have to see her in action:

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Monday, December 16, 2013

Not how you do hasbarah

This photo of IDF soldiers assisting a stuck ambulance has gone around the world a few times and I think it's swell. Kol hakovod l'tzahal. 

Some, however, have explicitly tried to use the photo to challenge the notion that Israel is an apartheid state. What they don't seem to realize is that the mere existence of a separate ambulance corp for Palestinians tells people who are predisposed to accept the truth of the apartheid analogy that segregation is alive and well in Israel. So not the best PR/hasbarah strategy guys.


I think the apartheid analogy is badly flawed.
I think the apartheid analogy is badly flawed.
I know all the reasons why the Palestinians have their own ambulance service and I know that it has very little to do with an official Israeli refusal to treat Palestinians.
I know that there is very little de facto segregation in Israel proper, and that Arab citizens of Israels are not mistreated in the way that South African blacks were.
I think the apartheid analogy is badly flawed.

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I saw the funniest Fox News clip yesterday. It shows a panel of, snicker, experts arguing and insisting that Santa Claus is white god damn it and you can't change the facts to suit your personal preferences.


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What I'd hate about being an Orthodox Jewish woman

The short list of things I'd hate about being an Orthodox Jewish women includes the following:

  • Synagogue architecture that prevents me from seeing and hearing the services.
  • Lectures for "ladies" that are all about inspiration and "my special role", rather than, you know, a sugya.
  • Being de-facto banned from synagogue and yeshiva boards. 
  • This idea that my mere presence is a toxic distraction that must be addressed with back-of-the-bus treatment, which includes being forced to sit in the actual back of the actual bus, as well as stuff like separate synagogue and catering hall entrances. 
  • Being called a "lady" as if it was 1910.
  • Rabbis who ask the men to learn and the women to say tehillim as a zechus for sick people. 
Note, please, that none of this involves a protest against halacha. What I oppose is the misogynistic culture that sprouted up contingently. Also note that I've been told by self-aware women that they let all of this slide because the stakes are so low. The world is a big place and they can do as they please out in the real world, and the ruckus they'd have to raise in order to fix this isn't worth the fuss. Their call. 

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Friday, December 13, 2013

The perfect Christmas gift!

I've found the perfect Christmas gift for everyone on my list!!

This is a real thing, true believers, taken very seriously by the Catalan people. When Barcelona once omitted to include him in the city's official creche, there was widespread outrage. Nice, right? But the best part are the elaborate drashot the Catalan people have developed to explain why they have decided that a figurine of a guy taking a dump is an essential part of their holiday decorations. They are quite inventive. vhamayvin yaavin.


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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Bells and Whistles


Learn about the dirt roads and poor peasants who populated the smallest village in all of Ukraine in their current $50,000,000 shul.

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Thursday, December 05, 2013

UPDATED: The Forward Newspaper Reveals They Side With the Greeks (SATIRE)

The Forward Newspaper Reveals They Side With the Greeks
A guest post by DK

The Forward newspaper is celebrating Chanukah in their newsletter. But why did the Forward use an unlit Temple Menorah instead of a lighted Chanukah Menorah in this graphic? I don't like to cast conspiracy theories, could this really be an accident? I am pretty sure it is because of one of the following reasons, I'm just not sure which one.

1) The Forward resents the hegemony of the Hasmoneans. This is a not-so-subtle dig at the tyranny of their rule. The flames of freedom were not shining anymore than this here Menorah, friends.
2) The Forward doesn't really celebrate Chanukah. Just look how the spelled it - they spelled it the assimilationist way!
3) The demand for a Menorah got lost in Jewish translation. The secular graphic artist asked for a Menorah, and the hasidic typographer assumed the classic Temple Menorah was desired since a Chanukiah wasn't specified.
4) The Forward paskins like Bais Shammai that the holiday mirth is diminished every night after the first night, but believe it is even more so this year. With all the excitement over Thanksgivukkah, even an unlit picture of a generic Menorah is more than enough.

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Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Min Wage

Orthodox Judaism: Some Pros and Cons


Our shuls are outstanding fraternal organizations. Like the WASP country clubs, and blue collar animal lodges of old, the synagogue can be a wonderful place to meet like-minded people, network and drum up business.

We look out for each other. Sure, Jew on Jew disagreements can be ugly, but you can count on your  co-religionists to have your back when the argument is with an outsider. As disreputable as, e.g.,  Rubishkan's behavior was, there was something glorious about how so many of us rallied to his cause

Our literary heritage is awesome. Fluency in Hebrew, familiarity with the sages, access to ancient literature -- these are just some of our birthrights. It may not be for everyone, but you appreciate ideas, the typical orthodox Jewish elementary education gets you off to a running head start.

Shabbath can't be beat. Look what it gives us each week:  (1) A rejuvenating technology fast (2)  A semi-formal family dinner (3) ample opportunity to see family and friends; (4) time to study and read (5) a Friday afternoon get-out-of-jail-free card.


Have you ever attempted a critical/historical discussion with an Orthodox Jew? Ugh.

The holidays are grand (see #4 above) but Tishrei can be overwhelming, especially when the feasts all come out on weekdays.

Racism. Its endemic among the Orthodox.

Rebbe worship needs to be stamped out.

More as it occurs to me.

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Tuesday, December 03, 2013

How do rich, comfortable people sleep at night?

For at least 2000 years the downhearted and defeated have told themselves that their suffering in this world prepares them for glory in the world to come. The talmud, eg, tells us to welcome suffering because suffering burns away sin. The Catholic Church's very first, very succesful, marketing campaign was directed at Roman slaves who were promised that joining the Church would make them masters in heaven. It doesn't take much imagination or sympathy to understand why such promises are appealing. In fact they are still used today, by rabbis I know, to comfort those who are sad, sick, or down on their luck.

What sweet stories do the comfortable and content people tell themselves? Suppose you've sled through life on a toboggan of luxury and comfort. Dad and the father-in-law paid for everything. The wife kept her figure. The family stayed healthy. How do you ready yourself to face your maker knowing that you've never had the soul cleansing experiences of pain, agony and despair? How do the comfortable and content respond to the teaching which speak of the benefits of pain? The poor and broken have a comforting teaching. Do the richies have one, too?

UPDATE: Fred says The Rich Go to Heaven: Giving Charity in Jewish Thought provides the answer to my question

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Monday, December 02, 2013

Leah Aharoni hearts apocryphal heroines

Here's your historically unaware quote of the day:
“Chanuka celebrates the willingness of dedicated Jews to risk even their lives against the infiltration of foreign ideas,” said Women For the Wall co-founder Leah Aharoni. “As in the times of the Maccabees, so today, the battle rages at our holiest site. It is upon us to follow in the footsteps of Yehudis and Chana to preserve our holy Mesorah.”

Yehudis and Chana are not part of our holy Mesorah! Can you preserve the mesorah by invoking heroines from outside of the mesorah? Yehudis is from the book of Judith, while Chana is only found in the Book of Maccabees (a similar story is found on BT Gittin 57b but the woman there, who is not named, faces a Ceaser, not a Greek.)

Also, how did either women preserve the mesorah? Yehudis murdered an enemy general, saving her town; the woman in Macabees (who, by the way, is not called Chana in that book either. Joseph ben Gorion in the 10th century is believed to the first one to identify her by that name) merely watches her sons die (No act of martyrdom is recorded in the Book of Macabees.) In what way did either act "preserve the Mesorah?"

Moreover, while the Book of Judith may have been written as a response to the Seleucid persecutions it is set several centuries earlier. The villains in the book are Assyrians, not Greeks.

But more to the point, I'd argue that the idea that women have no role in services and no right to participate is itself a foreign idea. The Talmud recognizes the women are technically permitted to be called for aliyot. The rishonim allow them to wear talitot and even tefillin. The foreign idea, therefore, seems to be this notion that women must be forever banned from doing these things.

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Ok, tell us about your Hanukkah / Thanksgiving Frankenstein holiday

I've observed three types of reactions to the once-in-a-lifetime confluence of the Great American Holiday and the Most Overrated Jewish Holiday:

Some Jews were enthusiastic. These fusion-minded Jews bought the pet- rock Menurky and wished each other non-ironic Gobble Tovs, seemingly unaware that the syncretism was sponsored mostly by vendors and lifestyle editors in search of a fad.

Others were blaseI count myself as part of this crowd. Getting excited about the Hanukkah-Turkey-day mash-up seemed unnecessary.This is because getting excited about either holiday seems unnecessary. A turkey dinner just isn't that special. The one we ate was delicious, and we enjoyed the company of dear friends, but the meal was no better or worse than 90 percent of our weekly shabbos dinners. And Chanukah is the least and the smallest of our feasts. Aside for a few minutes for hallel at the beginning of the day and a few minutes for candles at the end, the eight days of Hanukah are just like any other. Combining the two holidays is a curiosity and a convenience - some Jews took advantage of the opportunity to make their family  Hanuka parties on Thanksgiving - but I don't cartwheel over curiosities and  conveniences.

And then we have the haters. Allison Benedict at Slate appointed herself high priest of this tribe announcing that "The portmanteau holiday is bad for Jews and bad for America". Why? Apparently because she's an awful parent who lacks confidence in her own ability to explain to her children that they won't be getting presents on Thanksgiving forever more. Her stupid solution was to skip Hanukkah last Thursday.
I like how if you miss one night, there’s always another. Let’s skip Thursday.
It didn't occur to her that she could skip the presents instead. She also seems unaware that Passover and Easter coincide almost every year,
Oh, God: Easover? Passeaster? 
so dunce points all around .

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