Sunday, July 05, 2020

Books our Rabbis would ban if they could

Here's my shortlist of terribly subversive books the people in charge of Orthodox Judaism would ban if they could.

Banned Books Week Public Service Announcements | News and Press Center

The Limits of Orthodox Theology by Mark Shapiro
Reason: It demonstrates that Judaism isn't a monolith by proving conclusively that many of the principles we take for granted as essential to Orthodoxy were emphatically denied by some of the great Rabbis.

The Faith of the Mithnagdim: Rabbinic Responses to Hasidic Rapture by Alan Nadler
Paints an unflattering picture of the early Hasidic leaders, while demonstrating how the movement developed historically. Also, it reminds us of a Litvish set of attitudes we'd prefer to forget existed.

The Guide for the Perplexed by Moses Miamonides
Banned in its own time for all sorts of reasons, the book should be prohibited today because it denies the Torah True rule of NO COINCIDENCES

The Bible As It Was by James Kugel
Any of this author's books should be banned. I've highlighted this one because it helps us see how midrashim originated and developed (i.e. not via an unbroken tradition from Sinai)

The Minor Prophets The minor prophets are out because they wasted pages preaching about social justice with hardly a word of complaint about skirt lengths.

Why Evolution Is True by Jerry A. Coyne
Aside for the business about evolution, the book contains lots of two and three-syllable words and relies on non Torah True methods such as logic and empiricism

Constantine's Sword: The Church and the Jews -- A History by James Carrol
Now that the Christians are reliable Zionists and our best friends ever, we would prefer you not recall how they butchered, and debased, and afflicted, and harrased, and humiliated, and tormented us for almost 2000 years. What matters now is that we all hate Muslims.
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Wednesday, June 03, 2020

What brings Moshiach

The most basic Jewish idea of Moshiach, that is the core belief found in most, if not all the interpretations, predictions and writings on the subject, is that when Moshiach arrives (whatever that means; more below) things are going to be GOOD. However...

-We don't know what laws or practices will be brought back, or discontinued.

-We don't know if life will change dramatically with a new supernatural order being introduced, or if things will carry on pretty much as they did before.

-We don't even know if the Temple service will be restored.

(Authorities argue about all three of these points; but, as you know, their predictions have no influence over how reality, over time, unfolds.)

In fact, if we're going to be honest and precise, we don't even know if "Messiah" is an authentic Jewish idea going back to Sinai. The whole thing might be the invention of disappointed, impatient and tired-of-being-persecuted Jews during the Persian or Greek periods.[*]

All we do know, and I mean really **know**, is this one thing: Whenever a Jewish thinker made a prediction, or shared a deduction about Moshiach he always, always, always predicted or deduced that things post-Moshiach would be GOOD.

So let's go with that. In fact... maybe Moshiach doesn't come on a donkey. Maybe "Moshiach" is a word to describe the goodness that results as mankind gets its act together. I don't know if we're there yet, but our Southern States are certainly closer to Moshiach then they were when Jim Crow was the rule of their land. We may have miles to go, but Russia is closer than it was 30 years ago, isn't it?

As mankind improves, and puts away its ancient prejudices and pettiness, aren't we getting closer to the GOOD? Might that be what's meant by Moshiach? People getting along, and treating one another with justice?

Moshiach may not appear in the Pentateuch or the Prophets, but this idea that Zion is only redeemed with justice, and that we're all going to suffer until the widow and the orphan are treated properly is everywhere in those books. Everywhere.

[*] I am aware the Talmud and virtually every Jewish thinker of note - from the Mishna on - thought Moshiach was an old, old Jewish idea. However, what can't be denied is that no mention of him appears until Daniel (though hints are discovered in other books) and that nothing overt is said about him, or what he will do anywhere in the Hebrew bible. If you're of a skeptical bent, this is strange and troubling, and perhaps strongly suggestive of something at least quasi heretical.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Who do we consider essential to a minyan?

It's time to get serious. In some areas, shuls are beginning to open up, but seats are limited. The rule is only 10 people per room. Who gets in and who doesn't?

As a DovBear service, here's a quick guide to the men who are not Minyan Essential.

You have this tremendous yetzer hara to pray less, which is fine, only you dishonestly support it with this show of fake respect for Rabbis no one has ever heard about.  You and your stupid pocket calendar of celebrity yartzeits can stay home.

Dude, we need 10 people here until the end. If you can't commit to stay until the end of the last Kaddish we don't need you.

This is the best, and possibly only song, ever written about a minyan. Give a Listen

First, you disturb the davening more than the talkers. Second, we haven't seen each other in months. If you can't tolerate a little catching up do your blood pressure a favor and stay home

Of course, your shul mask must be black

Nobody likes you.

We understand you are only able to relax when the room temperature is precisely between 70 and 72 degrees. We also feel you'll be more comfortable at home.

Stay home, and put out a yard sign that says "I am very holy and studious." Same effect

Look, we just want to daven together. If you send out your dumb and angry emails complaining that mincha should be 10 minutes after candles, not 11, you're going to murder the vibe.

There are only ten of us. For this minyan to work, we all need to pull our weight.

Who did I forget?

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Tuesday, May 12, 2020

The Best Lag B'omer Songs

In this post, we'll look at the three most indispensable Lag B'omer songs, ranked in order, with clips to all of them provided.

Note: There are some links in this post that may generate small commissions for me if you click on them and make a purchase. Thanks in advance

Lag B'omer marks the end of the annual spring fast on haircuts and music, and while we still can't do very much about our hair during this ongoing Covid quarantine, there is nothing stopping us from enjoying some music. 

In fact, many schools and synagogues are hosting Zoom events and drive-through events to celebrate. But what are the best Lag B'omer songs? Really, there are only three and if you attend any Lag B'omer event of any size you're sure to hear them over and over again.  

Bar Yochai - THE WORST

Sample the Song

Format:  Extremely long and repetitive piyut, oddly beloved by people who tend to hate piyutim

Traditional tune: Beyond Boring! [But, please lets give credit to Moshe Skier for trying to improve it]

Overall DovBear ranking: Wow, does this song suck. I don't think even the best performer can make it bearable.  You want proof? Soul Farm are truly fantastic performers and their version isn't much good, though they can't be blamed for failing to make bearable something that is inherently unbearable.

L'kovod Hatana Ha'elokai - PERFECTLY FINE

Format: Long, repetitive random collection of verses, oddly beloved by people who tend to hate piyutim
Traditional tune: Not bad, not bad at all.
Overall DovBear ranking: A good song, that can be great in the hands of a talented artists. Unfortunately, I can't find such a performance on the Interwebs. You'll have to make do with this scratchy, difficult to enjoy version, though it offers the added fun of dancing Hasidim

Omar R. Akiva - THE BEST

Best version: Performed by Chilik Frank 

Source: Based on what is probably Rabbi Akiva's best, most famous and most important homily. See my discussion here.
Traditional tune: Awesome
Overall DovBear ranking: A great song, so great that even a terrible musician can't get it wrong. And boy are you in luck, because I have found a fantastic rendition of the song performed by Chilik Frank in which Reb Frank absolutely blows the doors off it. You're welcome. (Its just a shame that after about 3 minutes it cuts short, and turns into UGH Bar Yochai)

On the other hand, if you'd like to hear a version that does the opposite of blow the doors of things, you can listen to an a Capella group do a gentle, quiet folk version here.

Hey, are you hearing these songs for the first time? If so, I'm really curious to hear what you think of them. Please share your reactions in the thread.

Monday, May 11, 2020

36 times our Sages and Rabbis disagreed with the Rambam's Eighth

I found this great list on the Facebook, detailing the varied ways our Sages and Rabbis disagreed with the idea that the Torah we have today is a letter for letter match with the Torah God gave to Moshe.

The list gets more surprising around #16

1. Kiddushin 30a explains we are not proficient in proper defective and plene spellings.

2. Rishonim recognized that many midrashic quotations differ from Masoretic text, including actual words.

3. Rabbi Meir's Torah scroll said "tov mavet"(not tov meod) and "ohr" with an aleph not an ayin. Ramban said Rabbi Meir made this change himself. Isaac Safrin said kabbaisticallly these changes are kosher.

4. R. Safrin also writes that Moshe gave each tribe a different version of the Torah.

5. Yemenites differ by 9 letters, 7 dealing with defective and plene.

6. Tikkunei SOfrim were post mosaic corrections to the text. For example Gen. 18:22. Some held
Ezra and/or MOTGA (Men of the Great Assembly) made these changes.

7. Ibn Ezra states that plene or defective was up to the scribe writing. Some say Hashem didn't care which was used.

8. Joseph Hurtz held that the aleph in Vayikra 1:1 was added later.

9. Jerusalem Talmud mentions three words that Ezra was unsure of and he went by the majority in the three scrolls he found.

10. Kimhi and others held Kri and Ktiv were due to an uncertainty by the MOTGA.

11. Bamidbar Rabba states that Ezra added dots over words he wasn't sure were part of the text (note that Greek grammarians of Alexandria added dots in thsi fashion as well).

12. Midrashim state that the inverted nuns added to Numbers 10 were post Mosaic additions.

13. Many held last 8 verses written by Joshua.

14. R. Scwardon held Moshe's prophecy in Deuteronomy was at a lower level. By implication, the style would be different.

15. Ibn Ezra held the last 12 verses were written by Moshe.

16. R. Yaakov Hayim Sofer points out that Ramban held that Joshua was involved in writing Haazinu. Nissim Gaon held that Moshe and 70 elders wrote Haazinu.

17. Moses Schick held that Joshua wrote Haazinu until the end of the book - 40 verses in total.

18. Many held (and some defended) Ibn Ezra's view that an additional 12 pesukim were added later (Ex 24:4, Num 33:2, Deut 31:9, 22, Gen 22:14, Deut 3:11, Deut 1:1-5).

19. Ibn Tibbon and Bonfils held one must distinguish between the addition of naarative portions, which is acceptable, and commandments, which are not.

20. R. Eleazar ben Matthathias held that Ezra did not hesitate to enlarge the narrative sections of the Torah. He also held that in once case, Ezra deleted a verse.

---- Additional Reading ---

Many of the items discussed here can be found in this great book. Take a look


21. Yehuda Hachassid and R. Avigdor Katz (Meir of Rothenberg's teacher) held that Joshua and MOTGA added verses. FOr example, Yehuda Hachassid writes that Joshua added Jacob's blessing Gen 48:20. They also held that Gen. 36:31-39, which is the list of the kings of Edom, was added later. Rashbam believed that these verses were added in the days of the Judges.

22. Rashbam held Numbers 22:1 "beyond the Jordan" was added later.

23. Yehuda Hachassid held that King David removed the Great Hallel (Psalm 136) together with anonymous Psalms written by Moshe and placed them in Tehillim.

24. Nedarim 37b talks of itur sofrim. Some Rishonim say it meant letters were removed from the text. Others held it meant the order of words was switched.

---- SO CUTE ---


25. R. Solomon ben Samuel, who came from Yehuda Hachassid's school, held that the word "Azazel" was Aramaic and says the three verses that mention this word (Lev 16:8,10,26) were added later. He also writes "there are many verses which Moses did not say." He writes that Deut 3:11 which talks of Og's bed, was "certainly not written by Moses."

26. R. Solomon Tzvi Shueck (1844-1916) held the portion dealing with Bilaam and Balak were added after the Israelites entered the land.

27. Bekhor Shor (12th c. Tosafist) held that the water from the rock passages in Numbers and Exodus refer to the same historical event. He held Exodus 17 and Numbers 20 are complimentary, with the Torah adding details in NUmbers which were only touched upon to in the original Exodus version."

28. Levi ben Gershom (1288-1344), wondered why Exodus repeats in chapters 35-40 what seems like very exact details already expressed in chapters 25-31. He writes: “Perhaps we may say that it was the convention at the time of the giving of the Torah to fashion literature in this way and that the prophet expresses himself through the conventions of his time.”

29. Ibn Caspi writes that the Torah may have included historical stories that the Israelites may have believed to have been a part of history. This could presumably include the flood and creation narratives, among others.

30. Rashi explains the opinion that the Torah was given "scroll by scroll" (megilot megilot) as meaning that different sections were transmitted and recorded separately and bound together at the end of the 40 years in the desert.

31. Midrash Rabbah (5:18 and 2:2) implies that the book of Genesis existed before Moshe ascended Har Sinai.

32. R. Aryeh Lieb Zunz (1768–1833) states that "before the giving of the Torah the book of Bereshit definitely already existed."

33. R. Zev Wolf Einhorn (d. 1862) writes how the scrolls contained "all the words of Gensis; scrolls with the story of Adam, Noah, the flood, the tower of Bavel, stories of the forefathers, and all prophecies and promises."

34. The talmud Bava Basra 14b (in Munich Manuscript) referes to "the book of (sefer) Bilam). This implies that there was a separate book dealing with this incident of Bilam that was written by Moshe and added later.

35. Ibn Ezra holds that Genesis 14 (the war of the 4 kings vs. the 5) may have been part of the book known as "Milchamos Hashem" which was later lost.

36. Yalkut Shimoni on Chukat mentions a book of Genesis that Moshe used after Sinai that contained material not found in the Torah. In other words, there were older versions of Genesis that may have included material not found in the final Torah.

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