Monday, March 31, 2014

Pat Robertson: Jews polish diamonds, don't fix their own cars

Ye freaking gods, I am not sure who deserves the swifter kick in the crotch here: Pat Robertson, for trotting out anti Semitic stereotypes, or fake-rabbi Lapin for encouraging him.
Best part: preacher Robertson saying that Jews are too busy polishing diamonds to fix their own cars, while fake-rabbi Lapin heartily agrees.

 Search for more information about ###

Hillel: Before the Sandwich

A guest post by Y. Bloch
One of the great features of Jewish leap-years is that the advent of Passover allows us to ignore those two perplexing portions of the Torah, Tazria and Metzora, which deal mostly with tzaraat, leprosy. Of course, there are a few other topics we could discuss in those sections, like the defilement of childbirth, or menstruation, or gonorrhea-- Wait, where are you going? Let's talk about Hillel!
Hillel is the man who rescues Passover in the last decades before the Common Era. When the elders don't know how to prepare for a Saturday night Seder, it is Hillel who teaches them what to do (Tosefta, Pesahim 4:13). When others cannot figure out what to do with lamb meat, flat bread and salad, he invents the shawarma (Babylonian Talmud, Pesahim 115a).
Leaning on the left side, Thor? This is why we can't have pagan gods at our Seder.
Leaning on the right side, Thor? This is why we can't have pagan gods at our Seder. Just follow the redhead. I hear she's Jewish.
In fact, according to the Jerusalem Talmud (Pesahim 6:1), Hillel makes aliyah in order to explain Passover to all the sabras:
Hillel went up from Babylonia because of three matters. The verse says, "He is pure" (Lev. 13:37). Does this mean that if the symptoms disappear, he does not need the priest? No, for the verse continues, "The priest shall declare him pure." But what if a priest said "pure" to one who was really impure, does he thereby become pure? No, for the verse says, "He is pure; the priest shall declare him pure." For this Hillel went up from Babylonia.
One verse says (Deut. 16:2), "You shall slaughter the passover for the Lord, flock or herd," but another says (Ex. 12:5), "From the sheep or the goats you shall take them." How is this? The festival offering can come from either, but the passover can only come from the flock.
One verse says (Deut. 16:8), "You shall eat matzot for six days," and another says (Ex. 12:15), "Seven days shall you eat matzot." How is this? Six days of the new crop, seven days of the old crop.
Hillel expounded, and his conclusions were confirmed. He went up to Israel and it was accepted as law.
Hillel not only provides practical Passover direction for his contemporaries, he also resolves their textual difficulties: the passover lamb or goat is for dessert (i.e. afikoman), but the main course can be beef; matzot can be made throughout the week from the old flour, but the new flour cannot be used until day two, when the Omer is offered.
But one of these things is not like the others. The first matter Hillel comes to teach is about the purification... of tzaraat. This plague is catching like... like... Anyway, here we go again with the Hansen's disease.
Now you will never get this song out of your head.
Now you will never get this song out of your head.
Wait, what was so pressing about this verse concerning tzaraat? There is no contradiction per se, just a redundancy. Was this a widespread problem in Second Temple times? Moreover, if the exegetes were so exercised about the use of "He is pure" and "The priest shall declare him pure," what about the verse which appears earlier (11), "The priest shall declare him impure... he is impure." Isn't that just as superfluous?
It doesn't seem that Hillel's first exegesis is really about tzaraat; far more significantly, it demonstrates his halakhic approach. When approaching the inverse verse, "The priest shall declare him impure... he is impure," one might be tempted to say that impurity can be assigned on one of two bases: objective reality (he is impure) or subjective considerations (he has been declared impure). After all, forbidding a given act or item on halakhic grounds is temptingly easy for any decisor. Even if something is technically permissible, there are always a handful of ancillary reasons to prohibit.
However, Hillel's first lesson is the verse which disproves this approach: "He is pure; the priest shall declare him pure." When he is pure, the priest must declare him so; this is a sacred duty. Ultimately, Hillel and his followers gain a reputation of being generally lenient (unlike the generally stringent approach of his colleague Shammai), but the Mishna devotes an entire chapter (Eduyot 5) to listing the exceptions to this rule. Hillel is not lenient for the sake of being lenient; he is lenient because that is what the objective facts require. The solutions he finds for the observance of Passover reflect the fact that his first and foremost dictum is "He is pure; the priest shall declare him pure."
As we approach Passover, it's worth remembering what the Talmud says (Eruvin 6b):
The halakha is always in agreement with Beit Hillel, but he who wishes to act in agreement with the ruling of Beit Shammai may do so, and he who wishes to act according to the view of Beit Hillel may do so; he, however, who adopts the more lenient rulings of Beit Shammai and the more lenient rulings of Beit Hillel is a wicked man, while of the man who adopts the restrictions of Beit Shammai and the restrictions of Beit Hillel, Scripture says (Eccl. 2:14): "But the fool walks in darkness."

 Search for more information about Hillel

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Jews in the NYT again

Let's explode some Cross Current myths all at once, using one small pragraph from Tom Friedman's latest:
"Late at night, I was sipping coffee in the wardroom and a junior officer, Jeremy Ball, 27, came by and asked me if I could stay for Passover. He and two other Jewish sailors were organizing the Seder; the captain and several other non-Jewish shipmates said they’d be happy to join, but there was still room. Ball said he’d been storing “a brisket in the freezer” for the holiday and would pick up matzo when they surfaced in Canada."
Myths destroyed:
- American Jews are indifferent to religion [This naval officer is going to extraordinary effort to celebrate Pesach at sea.]
- The New York Times is indifferent to Jews [There was no real reason to mention the naval officer or his seder plans.] 
- The New York Times is indifferent to the military [The article provides a positive description of the navy's attempt to stay one step ahead of the Russians in the artic circle.]

On a nuclear submarine deep under the ice, the view was quite stunning.

 Search for more information about ###

Friday, March 28, 2014

IDF Purim Gragger

Of course, I see why this unfortunate display of machismo might appeal to those of us who are entering middle-age and have become rather insecure about our manhood, but can we also agree that this behavior is a tad childish and unprofessional?

UPDATE: I was right. The army agrees this was childish and unprofessional. Those involved have been disciplined

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Shooting off your gun isn't "talking"

Tomorrow morning I shall add the following benediction to my usual litany of morning blessings:

Blessed art you... for not causing me to live in a state or region where people might consider the guy behind this horrifying campaign ad suitable for high office.


He starts by saying he plans to "talk about two serious subjects", then proceeds to shoot a gun at something he dislikes. That's his idea of talking? Then, after promising to do something "extreme" to replace Obama Care with a market-based solution, he tosses a copy of the bill into a wood-chipper. He does realize that we don't repeal laws in this country by shredding them, right?

But the real problem with this ad is not that its been designed to appeal to livestock owners who (likely) have tobacco-stained teeth. No, the real problem is that this ad introduces the threat of violence into what should be a reasonable debate. The message here is do it my way, or look out for me and my absurdly gratuitous collection of guns. Its one thing to be against a particular policy. Using a gun to implicitly threaten the people who support that policy is something else altogether.

 Search for more information about ###

Yesterday's post: Do over

Too many of you missed what I was trying to say yesterday which, of course, indicates the fault is all mine. So permit me to try again. For your reference, here is the old post:
I'm prepared to agree that the Torah is perfect, but we human beings are not. Any attempt we humans make to interpret or apply the Torah must be filtered through our own limited perceptions. Approach that exercise of interpretation/application with, e.g., a pre-existing condition of bigotry, and you'll likely conclude that the Torah enshrines that bigotry when in fact it does nothing of the sort. That's in your head, not in the Torah.

All of us ignore what we wish to ignore. In the same way, we all choose to emphasize what we wish to emphasize. If you choose to emphasize the anti-gay parts of the Torah, or the anti-black midrashim, or the misogynistic asides that are all over the Talmud that says something about YOU, not about the Torah.

Many of you though I was saying that criticizing the Torah is invalid, but that was not my intent. My criticism here is directed only at people who think they are fulfilling God's word when they bash gays, mistreat minorities, and hold back women. After all "it's in the Torah" and "Who are you to second-guess God?"

In the post, I attempted to point out that while there are anti-gay verses and the anti-black midrashim and misogynistic asides sprinkled throughout the Torah, no one is forcing you to make those passages your guiding stars.

We all ignore the what we find inconvenient. Lakewood, as I've pointed out, ignores huge swaths of Choshen Mishpat, while many in the MO community disregard passages that talk about modesty and swimming on shabbos. This is because we do what we want to do first, and worry about what the book says second.

As a result, someone who chooses to base his behavior and morality on the ugliest parts of the Torah, when those passages might instead be merrily ignored, is only telling us something about himself and the corrupt attitude he had first.

Search for more information about ###

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A thought about human perception

I'm prepared to agree that the Torah is perfect, but we human beings are not. Any attempt we humans make to interpret or apply the Torah must be filtered through our own limited perceptions. Approach that exercise of interpretation/application  with, e.g., a pre-existing condition of bigotry, and you'll likely conclude that the Torah enshrines that bigotry when in fact it does nothing of the sort. That's in your head, not in the Torah.

All of us ignore what we wish to ignore. In the same way, we all choose to emphasize what we wish to emphasize. If you choose to emphasize the anti-gay parts of the Torah, or the anti-black midrashim, or the misogynistic asides that are all over the Talmud that says something about YOU, not about the Torah.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Why I like Purim less

In the days of my youth, I would mock anyone who dared to suggest Purim was anything less than the most marvelous of holidays. Now, I see things their way.

Some of the reasons why Purim scores lower on my joy-a-meter:

1. The endless driving. When I was young, kids didn't distribute Mishloach Maont to their friends. That's changed. Nowadays, all of my kids - and I have like twenty of them - insist on delivering packages to their 3-9 closest friends, and none of them live nearby. As a result I spend Purim morning driving between the four corners of creation. I'm too soft a touch to put an end to it, but between me, you and the blogosphere, I don't like it one bit.

2. The food fights. When the kids were small, dividing up the spoils was easy. The eldest took whatever she liked, and persuaded her smaller siblings that the disgusting, unwanted junk was really the greatest thing in the world. ("Prunes? You love Prunes! Here take four. And to keep things fair, these four chocolate bars are mine.") That no longer works. Now, each and every package is greeted with a chorus of shouts: "I call the soda" "You took the LAST soda." "DAAHHHHHHDEEEE, she's hogging all the soda!" "Nuh-uhhhh." And so on.

3. The Ninth Perek of Esther Chapter 9 is a mishmash of competing perspectives and redundant information. Whole swaths are repetitive and much of it seems like it had to have been been written by someone from a much later moment in time. This bums me out. The sad irony is that my reaction to Esther 9 makes me a victim of my own approach. For years I've been accused of "sucking the joy out of Judaism" by revealing the man hidden behind the curtain, and now the truth about chapter 9 is affecting my own enjoyment of the holiday. Well, to those of you who've complained, I say this: I'm sorry - both because I share your pain, and also because I still think we have nothing to fear from the truth.

Search for more information about ###

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Is the Golan the Crimea?

Ways in which the annexations of the Golan and East Jerusalem are just like the annexation of the Crimea:

- Some Russians and some Jews see the annexations as a step in the restoration of lost empires and lost glories. Claims made by Russian and Israeli proponents of the annexations include:
- That land is "really ours"
- That land is "historically part of our country"
- The land is where lots of really important moments in our history occurred.
- Both Russians and Jews say the annexations are necessary for "security reasons"

Ways in which they are different:

- Israel acquired those territories via defensive war (not that it matters)
- Crimea actually contains ethnic Russians who are happy to be reunited with their ancestral homeland
- In the case of Crimea , there was a (completely bogus) vote.
- The Crimean are (apparently) going to be considered full-fledged Russian citizens with all rights and privileges. Non Russian Crimean included!
- The US criticized Russia
- The US is imposing sanctions on Russia.

Your thoughts?

Search for more information about ###

Sunday, March 16, 2014

V'nahafoch hu!! Rabbi Pruzansky writes something awesome. Not only can't I find a single thing wrong with it, but I think it should be plastered on the door of every bes medrash.
 Search for more information about Priz Power

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Torah protects us.

Want to know how we can tell that this draft exemption thing is a serious business? Cross Currents has thrown out its vaunted editorial standards and permitted a guest writer, Yair Hoffman, to fisk Natan Slifkin..

Now, no one with even the semblance of a life is going to have time to read the whole thing, so let me share the funniest part.

If Rabbi Slifkin is to use this argument, then he must admit that if you will chart the correlation of loss of life of IDF soldiers r”l in the wars to the amount of Yeshiva students studying in Yeshiva, you will find a clear inverse relationship: the more students in yeshiva, the less loss of life.  The exception to this, where there was significantly less loss of life despite there being less Yeshiva students, was the Six Day War — there were 796 casualties then, r”l.  But, there we had the additional merit of regaining the Temple Mount. [The other exception is the Suez War of 1956, which was a limited military operation where we allied with France and England to reverse Egypt’s nationalization of the Suez canal. The losses there r”l for Israel were 231.] Remember, Rabbi Slifkin brought up the argument.

Name of WarTotal loss of life, r”l# of Yeshiva Students in Israel
1982 Lebanon War72512,150
2006 Lebanon War16551,084
2012 Operation Cast Lead1366,000

All together boys and girls: CORRELATION IS NOT CAUSATION!

And to drive home this important point, our friend OrthoDiction has provided this helpful counterexample:

Search for more information about ###

Sackcloth and Ashes

Attention Jewish drama queens.

When the megilla tells us that Mordecai "put on sackcloth and ashes" it does not mean he wore a smock resembling a burlap sack over his regular clothing.

 Search for more information about ###

Is Megilas Esther (also) the story of Mordechai's teshuva?

Is Megilas Esther (also) the story of Mordechai's teshuva? Let's consider the facts:

He won't bow to Haman out of what? some misguided sense of pride?** And because of this the Jews are threatened with destruction.

Realizing his error he publicly wears ashes and sackcloth in the manner of a pentinent. (Note to his modern imitators: This does not mean he wore a sack.)

- Problem Interpolated - 

After M  appears in mourning clothes, he encounters Haman again, and the text tells us what happens from Haman's POV: 

 And Haman went out on that day, happy and with a cheerful heart, but when Haman saw Mordecai in the king's gate, and he neither rose nor stirred because of him, Haman was filled with wrath against Mordecai.
Did M know he was there? Would he have continued to pridefully refuse to bow, even while he was sitting at the king's gate performing public pertinence for that very mistake? But like I said, we only know what happened from Haman's perspective. If M was - irony alert - too preoccupied with his teshuvah to notice Haman, my suggestion is still alive. 

- End Interpolation -

After the danger has been averted, the narrator makes a point of telling us that (now) M works for the good of his people (whereas earlier he was concerned only about his own image?)

**I know the midrash says haman wore an idol. A conflicting midrash says M didn't bow to H because H was once his slave. That's pride.

Search for more information about ###

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Parralels between Esther and the Joseph story

The author of Esther references the Joseph story in lots of ways. I count at least nine pretty solid parallels.
  • J and E are secretly hidden in the Kings house; later J and E come to the rescue of their brothers
  • Beauty works against both J and E
  • Both J and E lose their original names
  • Two courtiers plot against the king in both stories and their punishment brings M and J to the king's attention
  • The kings inability to sleep helps both J and M get ahead
  • J and M are both paraded in the street with a heralder in front
  • Both J and M/E receive a ring removed from the king's hand
  • Both J and M resist the daily cajoling of someone, with identical language provided:  "va-yehi ce-amram/ke-dibra yom (ve-)yom, ve-lo shama..." 
  • On the possible loss of Benjamin, Jacob declares "ka'asher shakolti shakalti". On the possible loss of herself, Esther declares: "ka'asher avadeti avadeti
Why does the author of Esther want us to think of Joseph?

 Search for more information about ###

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Harpie dares to give us musser

BerelShain on the Sunday Prayer Rally

by @BerelShain

Unfortunately, on this coming Sunday, there will be a demonstration in Manhattan to oppose Israeli policy that some chareidim must join the army. Aside from the obvious question of why anyone would demonstrate the domestic policy of Israel here in New York, I will not be going for another more important reason.

This is a demonstration to support hashkafos that are contrary to ours. The chareidi position in Israel is that no chareidi should go to the army or to college (or to work). Our position is very different. We (and by "we" I mean even the more yeshivish elements of the yeshiva world) recognize that not everybody can or should sit and learn long term. The American chareidi system allows for people to go to school, become professionals etc. all within the umbrella of the YW. Now of course I appreciate that the army adds a whole separate dimension to the discussion but the overall approach of the Israeli chareidim (that NOBODY should leave the bais midrash, NOBODY should go to college and NOBODY should join mainstream society - which includes army service in Israel) is against everything that we in American preach and practice. 

I will not join a demonstration to support a hashkafa I believe is wrong and at odds with my own.

Text here Search for more information about ###

Prayer Rally to News Media Directors Planned This Sunday

by @Azigra

The Hamodia is reporting on an upcoming prayer rally to be held this Sunday in the Wall Street area. I guess this means all that praying and street dancing by 600,000 Charedim in Israel didn't work? (There were in reality only 300,000 people in attendance, but a Ben Torah is as 'chashuv' as two people, hence the 600,000 number in charedi media sources.) 

Aside from the logo for this rally, which is a Torah scroll set behind what can pass as barbed wire and obviously meant to heinously evoke images of Auschwitz, my biggest problem is one huge lie it has:

Since the state of Israel’s inception young men engaged in full-time Torah study have been deferred from military service. Those avreichim and their families have willingly accepted the consequent relative poverty and the limitations thereby placed on their ability to eventually enter the workforce. In recent years, political and legal efforts have been made to change that modus vivendi and pressure talmidei hayeshivos to join the military.
Are all the yeshiva students and kollel men who attended the rally really living the life they absolutely chose for themselves? Did they have the option of becoming lawyers or techies with the possibility for riches but still only choose the poor life of Torah and Zionist handouts? I certainly don't think so. 

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Brain dead Obama haters pwned again

Brutal conservative truths about Israel

COMMENT OF THE DAY found on this post

I need to get brutally conservative on you, and it's a truth you won't want to hear.
You know how it's the fault of the poor for being poor, how they make their own problems. You know how we pillory them for welfare abuse as if it will bankrupt the nation; but, at the same time, we reward Wall Street and corporate entities with all kinds of breaks and favorable legislation, and lots and lots of subsidies - and when they really screw up and do great damage and nearly destroy our economy, we give them more money and allow their failed CEOs to get multimillion dollar bonuses.
Well, that's exactly how it works vis a vis Israel and the rest of the world.
Saudi Arabia, Iran, China, and Russia are the Wall Street and Corporate world of the Iinternational community.
Compared to them, Israel is the poor person on food stamps.
You see, Saudi Arabia has lots of oil. So does Russia and Iran. And China has a whole lot of money and factories (and plenty of oil and coal to keep those factories running).
Compared to them, Israel doesn't have squat. Sure, there are some factories, and there are tech firms inventing cutting edge stuff. But all that stuff can be made in China, the same way that tech is invented in Silicon Valley and made in China. For all practical purposes, those firms could relocate to California and accomplish the same things.
Face it. Israel is the poor guy and the other guys are the rich guys. In our conservative world system, which has been 30 years in the making, money = speech, money = power, money = rights, and money = RIGHT.
That's why like Wall Street firms could almost sink the economy, and while doing so cripple the US and world economies for years after - and not face any investigations, criminal prosecutions or other legal sanction for their misdeeds. That's why those same firms were even rewarded with more subsidies. That's how the world works when it comes to China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Israel.
Which means, just like the conservative approach is that if the poor want to be accorded the full rights and privileges that the 53% have, then they should get off their duffs and get a job (and if they already have two jobs, they should get a third or fourth) and become wealthy, the same thing holds true for Israel.
If Israel wants to be treated the same as China, Russia, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, then Israel needs to get its act together and get some oil, some money, and some power. Otherwise, they're going to be treated the same way that poor people are treated: with the big Double Standard, and with the good old Blame the Victim tactic.
I know that, for some reason, many conservatives are ardent supporters of the socialist State of Israel, but their doing so undermines the message of earning respect and one's place in the world by accumulating wealth, power, and prestige. As a result, many good conservatives, such as Garnel, make the mistake of thinking that the world is against Israel just because it's Israel, or because it's a Jewish state, or because the world loves the Palestinians. It's none of those things.
It's simply because it has not yet earned the right to be respected and treated equally because it hasn't come up with the required resources, money, and power needed to get those things.
That might sound cold, harsh, and brutal, but that's the way the world works.

Search for more information about ###

Hyper choreographed wedding proposals are dumb

I can't even imagine all the different ways my beloved wife would have killed me had I tried something stupid like this

What did our Sages hate?

A list of what the Sages of old considered major crimes is provided on BT Sukka 29 (yesterday's daf), a list that clearly shows how different their sensibilities were from ours, despite how, you know, #mesorah#nothingchanges #timelessvalues, and so on and so forth.

For example paying workers late is on the list of sins the Sages hated... which can only mean none of them ran a yeshiva.

And oddly enough "lack of tznius" is not on the list. This  must mean that their wives wore burkas, I guess.

But bh sodomy made the list so I suppose they were Haredim after all.

See the complete collection of sins after the jump

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Israel Iran Double Standard

The Iranian monsters did something monstrous the other day, and quite predictably the hasbarah crowd wants to know why the world cares about human rights only when Jews are involved.

I find this complaint bewildering. Iran is under US sanctions, EU sanctions and UN sanctions. US citizens are restricted from traveling there. Its not like anyone from the West is cheering Iran or doing business there.

 Search for more information about Iran

Yonatan ben Uziel and the bird flambe

Yesterday's daf has this famous aggada

"It was said that whenever Rabbi Yonatan ben Uziel sat down to delve into the Torah, any bird straying over his head was burnt by his words" [Tractate Sukkah 28a].
I think this must mean that he was merciless toward anyone that tried to distract him when he was learning. In fact "bird flying over head" might have been an idiom for distraction or irritation. However, I can't ignore that both rashi and tosfot take this aggada literally.

Summary of my view:

(1) This power to burn birds doesn't exist
(2) No one ever saw YbU burn up a bird
(3) We humans use figurative language and always have
(4) With the passage of time we forget how previous generations understood the figurative language
(5) In other places we see men of the same place and time being said to "burn up" things they couldn't tolerate. Rashby being the famous example
(6) Supposition: "Bird over head" is an idiom for a distraction, or a nudnik who asks irritating questions
(7) Conclusion: Yonatan ben Uziel had zero tolerance for whatever "bird over head" means

Search for more information about the word flambe

Monday, March 03, 2014

REALITIES - the 1/4 million man march


(1) The army doesn't want millions of haredim. None of the brass can say it out loud, but what are they going to do with a huge new influx of soldiers who aren't physically fit, won't follow orders that aren't cosigned by a  Rav, and have a host of food restrictions and the like?

(2) The haredi leadership is ecstatic to have a new bogeyman. By scapegoating Lapid and his fellow travelers as enemies of Torah, etc., they become stronger, and the crises they've invented offers a host of new excuses to keep their communities even further away from dangerous things like freedom and post-enlightenment ideas

(3) Lapid doesn't really care if the Haredim go into the army or not. He's scapegoating them for personal gain, just as obviously as they are returning the favor.

(4) The haredi on the street is thrilled to have the chance to do something exciting like go to a protest. Those who live lives of no sports, entertainment, or outdoor activities take what they can get.

(5) As I think Natan Slifkin said first, the Haredim obviously believe that Torah learning is the solution to every problem, aside from the problems that threaten their ways of life. When a problem like that emerges its time to close the books and take other actions, just like any other low down, non-Torah learner.

 Search for more information about 1/4 millio

Nugent Summary

I'm not at all surprised to learn that Tea Party stalwart Ted Nugent is basically a pedophile, nor am I surprised that those delightful "Family Values" republicans are standing by their man. After all Ted Nugent Loves America... or the 13 year old Americans anyway.

Reminder: Ted Nugent is the sicko who called Obama a mongrel.

This is the song he wrote about pedophilia
Well, I don't care if you're just 13
You look too good to be true
I just know that you're probably clean...
Jailbait you look fine, fine, fine...
It's quite alright, I asked your mama
Wait a minute, officer
Don't put those handcuffs on me
Put them on her, and I'll share her with you

This is the 17 year old girl he adopted so that he could have sex with her

Here he is being a real American with that other Real American Rick Perry

And here he is wishing Sarah Palin was a little younger

 Search for more information about ###