Friday, September 30, 2005

Rua da Judiaria

New Blog

(new to me anyway)

Yeah, it's in Portugese but the posts are easy to read thanks to Google-Translation. Of special notice:
Been born in Lisbon, in 1969, the author of the Street of Judiaria... [d]eriving of a family of cripto-Jewish tradition - with at least three burnt ancestral members in the fogueiras of the Inquisition of Évora and Lisbon, in centuries XVI and XVII -, it returned to the "official judaism", studying Jewish history, theology and cabalá under rabínica orientation in Los Angeles. With académica formation in the area of Sociology, the author of the Street of Judiaria prepares a doutoramento in Jewish History currently. The 3 of April of 2004, married Shlomit Keren Stein, in Raleigh, the Carolina of the North - the first Jewish marriage openly carried through in its family since the establishment of the Inquisition in Portugal, in 1536.

Still today it brings to the chest the Star of David offered for the grandmother in the day where it made 13 years.
I wonder why he's certain he is Jewish, given the uncertainties of 600 years, and I wonder how he met Shlomit Klein of the Carolina of the North. Interesting reading ahead (I hope.)

Yaakov Menken

Whoops. I complimented Cross Currents a bit too soon, didn't I? Because now I see Yaakov Menken is back to his old tricks.

As you may have read, the Washington Nationals, a baseball team, fired it's chaplain after the Washington Post caught him saying that Jews don't go to heaven.

Menken, naturally, objects. As usual, he takes the asinine opinion that any stupid thing a person says about God requires our adoration.

That is quite an odd position for an arch-conservative like Yaakov. I could understand a liberal saying that all beliefs are equal, so really we shouldn't judge, but fire-breathers like Yaakov supposed to know Right from Wrong and Truth from Error. They aren't supposed to be shy about condeming people, like this chaplain, who are wrong.

Now, Yakkov and I agree that the chaplain should be free to say and think any stupid/offensive/hateful thought that pops into his head, but, likewise, Yaakov must respect the right of the public to say, "Sorry: Your idea is too stupid/offensive/hateful for polite society," and he must also respect the right of the Nationals to say "We don't want to be represented by people with stupid/offensive/hateful ideas."

For 2000 years the idea that Jews don't go to heaven was the cause of great human misery. The fact that it is finally verboten is cause for celebration; not for whining and foot-stomping from (ostensibly) Jewish writers.

He writes letters

YitzhakEyezik, that is.


Cross Currents shows us that teshuvah is possible, publishing a thoughtful and sensible rebuke to Katrina lunatics like Sultan Knish and Lazer Brody.

I encourage you to print it out, put my name on it, and distribute it to your enemies (I'm assuming you're too smart to be friends with people who think like Sulty and Lazer)

As the new year dawns, we look forward to more of the same from the Cross Currents folks.

[Related: Krum (as a Bagel) invites Heshy to use his brain]

Other great ideas

Compassionate conservative Bill Bennett: "You could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down."

Isn't that Christian of him?

Hmm. Another idea might be to make gambling illegal. That activity seems to attract lots of undesirables. Anyway Billy's idea is so last week. What you want to do is let them die of dehydration and exposure during a national disaster. It's much less work, and Operation Rescue won't complain.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Ari hits the big time

Madonna has written a song about Rabbi Isaac Luria

You younger readers of DovBear may not remember the time in the early 90s when you couldn't open a magazine or turn on the television without hearing about Madonna naked somewhere. Now it seems that it's all Kabbalah, all the time.

Like you, we pine for the good old days.

Light to the nations? Not if there is a buck to be made!

One of the leading Rabbis of Kiryat Arba was recently asked: If a man decides to observe Torah law, and wishes to divest himself of any pornagraphic movies he may own, may he sell them?

Replied the Rabbi: Sure! But to non-Jews only!

Oh, I just know YitzhakEyezik is going to have something to say about this....

Well, that's (not) surprising

Seems the Gay Old Party had the opportunity to make the closeted homosexual David Drier their new majority leader, now that Tommy Delay might be heading up the river. Instead, they forced poor Mr. Dreier to fall on his sword.

It seems the compassionate conservatives in Congress have run out of people to hate and have begun turning on their own.

More, please.

If I had a dime...

... for every time Honest Reporting cried wolf, I'd have too many dimes. Today's over-reaction:
From an AP article by Sara El Deeb:

"... in an unprecedented step, Israel set up five artillery pieces on the border, and fired test-rounds into empty fields in northern Gaza in preparation for a possible artillery strike, causing no injuries. The Israeli soldiers danced in a circle after firing the artillery and sang a biblical song of revenge."

To anyone familiar with the professionalism of the IDF, this scene of a bloodthirsty 'circle dance' appears highly unlikely. Upon reporting such an unusual event, standard journalistic practice prescribes stating a reliable source within the article itself, which El Deeb did not do.
First let's note HR's use of the word "bloodthirsty." Does it appear in El Deeb's article? No. So what is it doing in HR's charecterization of said article? Isn't that just the sort of trick HR claims to disdain?

And though I am as familiar as anyone with the IDF's professionalism (a clue!!) I don't think this scene is unlikely, and certainly it isn't impossible. I can even guess which song they were singing. I know they play it at weddings. They even sing it at Simchat Torah. Why should I doubt that they play it at army bases, too? (If you can find a link to the song itself, I'll give you some of my dimes)

Reading HR's complaint again, I'm not sure they even object to El Deeb's story per say. What they appear to dislike, is the fact that she chose to reveal an ugly little truth about Jews: Some of us hate Arabs just as pathologically as some of them hate us.


I don't have much to say about that has not already been said (I and II) about the Steven Pruzansky scandle except this:

Either the Rabbi is a liar, or he has been framed by an awfully clever arch-nemesis.

(Though I suppose, it's possible that some other "powerful, important rabbi in the tri-state area who was a force in the National Religious movement" reacted to the disengagment by writing a viscious anti-Israel screed for the Jewish Voice, with the fact that the other Rabbi chose Rabbi Pruzansky's own Hebrew name as his psudonym being just another one of those happy coincidences that used to make Seinfeld so entertaining.)

Anyway, the real story is this: If a Jewish Rabbi can display such virulence over Israel refusing to play along with his messianic fantasies, think what our fine friends the Evangelicals are going to do once they realize we have no plans to go like happy sheep to the slaughter of the Rapture.

Israel doesn't need the likes of Pruzansky, the mystery essay writer or, for that matter, the evangelicals: If you can't be trusted to love Israel for what it is, you can't be trusted to love it at all.



The word of God:
And all that have not fins and scales in the seas, and in the rivers, of all that move in the waters, and of any living thing which is in the waters, they shall be an abomination unto you: -Leviticus 11:10

Nonetheless, GOP-Jews are pleased to tolerate Red Lobster, Captain Jack and the sea-food section at Pathmark. They also raise no objections when the government provides those companies with licenses, permits, subsidies, tax breaks, and all of the other benefits the non-abominable businesses receive. Where's the outrage?

The word of God:
But all other flying creeping things, which have four feet, shall be an abomination unto you. -Leviticus 11:10

According to GOP-Jew logic, isn't our culture "celebrating" an abomination if it permits people to eat insects? I, personally, have seen people commit this particular abomination in the street, without shame. Where are the mighty moralists? Shouldn't our children be protected from such wantan displays of immorality?

The word of God:
The graven images of their gods shall ye burn with fire: thou shalt not desire the silver or gold that is on them, nor take it unto thee, lest thou be snared therin: for it is an abomination to the LORD thy God. either shalt thou bring an abomination into thine house, lest thou be a cursed thing like it: but thou shalt utterly detest it, and thou shalt utterly abhor it; for it is a cursed thing. -- Deuteronomy 7:25-26

Wow. Sounds like we're required to take a pick-ax to any and all crucifixes and statues of Jesus, doesn't it? Or at the very least, we're required to support politicians who pledge to do it for us. God wants us to vote for the secularists! Or, at the very least, it means that we're prohibited from collecting African and Asian religious art. Yet, our immoral government continues to fund museums, and immoral Americans continue to flock to them in large numbers. Per the Torah, they might as well be attending a club where the male sex acts are live, and on stage.

The word of God:
Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For all that do these things are an abomination unto the LORD: and because of these abominations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from before thee. -Deuteronomy 18:11-13

This ones tough, because it means lots and lots of Hasidic Rabbis will have to go, together with faith healers, fortune tellers and psychics. Oh, well. It’s hard to be a Jew.

The word of God:
The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God. --Deuteronomy 22:5

So, per the Torah a woman in pants is morally equivalent to a sodomist. And to think the president's own wife frequently commits this particular act of immorality in full view of the children.

The word of God:
Her former husband, which sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after that she is defiled; for that is abomination before the LORD: and thou shalt not cause the land to sin, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.

Furthermore, a guy who takes back his divorced wife after she marries (and divorces) someone else is also the moral equivalent of a sodomist. Wow. We sure do have a lot of work to do, if we're going to make this country moral.

The word of God:
But thou shalt have a perfect and just weight, a perfect and just measure shalt thou have: that thy days may be lengthened in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee. For all that do such things, and all that do unrighteously, are an abomination unto the LORD thy God. -Deuteronomy 25:15-17

Enron, anyone? Tom Delay? Oh, I know, the GOP-Jew-excuse: They support Israel, so not only do we need to look the other way, we need to SUPPORT these people who, per the Torah, are the moral equivlent of sodomists.

To sum up: It's ludicrous to use the verse about sodomy being an abomination as yuor reason for supporting politicians who wish to afflict and torment gays, unless you take the same view of all the other types of people the Torah puts in the same category.

Unfortunately, most GOP-Jews single out gays, and sit shiva when the government considers extending equal protection to gays, while all the other abominations are ignored. What's the reason for this cognitive dissonance? Are they ignorant of what the Torah says, anti-gay bigots, hypocrites, or lacking critical-thinking skills? Personally, I think that last reason is why so many of them became GOP-supporters in the first place. Heshy, take a bow.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Letting out a roar

Sultan Knish:

"Liberals like Dovbear predictably have the most trouble with a biblical G-d who remains vastly incompatible with their ideals of gay rights, moral equivalence and the supremacy of liberal doctrines over the Torah."

Sultan, thanks for dropping my name into your little blog, but I do wish you'd bother to get the facts straight. It isn't God I have a problem with, nor His Torah; rather, I object to your pompous and self-serving attempts to read His mind.

And, despite your yelping protestations:

(1) gay rights is not inconsistant with anything the Torah says (please show me the verse reading Thou Shalt Bash the Gay Man);

(2) "moral equivlance" is a polemical phrase, used most often by people who don't know it means. Anyway, isn't it odd that the people most likely to scream "moral equivlance" are the ones most likely to break bread with idol worhsippers; and

(3) the Torah has much more to say about "liberal" ideas such as charity, and protecting the vulnarable, and pursuing justice, than it does about "conservative" ideas like supply-side economics, gun-rights, or cronyism.

Are we taking over the world...

or does it just seem that way?

The devil in the details

It was the story that fascinated the entire nation. How did an otherwise unremarkable single mom manage to convince accused courthouse killer Brian Nichols to surrender to authorities before anyone else was harmed?

At the time the woman - Ashly Smith - blamed it all on God, telling us she approached Nichols as a Christian and read to hm from from "The Purpose-Driven Life?"

And naturally the God-drunk right-wing lapped it up with a spoon.

Unfortunately, Ashly has now revealed the rest of the story: Along with telling Nichols about God, she also gave him crystal meth. Takes a little of the glow off her halo, don't it?

Hodu l'Hashem kee Tov

DeLay indicted, will step aside as majority leader

Sometimes, very rarely, you get the sense that the system actually works.

To Provoke in Yiddish, Try 'How Are You?' - New York Times

The olam is advised that the Times creepy love afair with the Jewish people manifested itself a second time today with a William Grimes authored review of Born to Kvetch, the "wise, witty and altogether wonderful " new book by Michael Wex.
A simple, American-style "drop dead" might be rendered as "a dismal animal death on you" ("a viste pgire af dir"), which, Mr. Wex, notes, carries the suggestion that "you should spend the rest of your tiny life in a Colorado feedlot, then be herded off to some nonunion slaughterhouse to be turned, painfully, into fast-food burgers for one of the less prominent chains."
So, tell me this: are (some) Jews whiny and pushy because Yiddish is whiny and pushy? Or is it the other way around? We're waiting for the long and scholarly article that explains it all.

Yes, I am a snob. (about some things)

The Times article on kugel is proof, I think, that even the Hassidim are not immune to the forces of modernization. Who knew that Satmar kugel stores offered blueberry and apple varieties? Not I, and as regular readers know, I've made a small, yet scoffing, study of Hasidim and their kugels.

In another strange turn of events, noted highbrow Gil Student (who today offended the blogosphere gods by hat-tipping someone else for the kugel article) revealed that he married a uncultured peasant girl:
As to the variety of kugels now available, this might be my distant Polish heritage speaking but in my book there is only one kind of kugel -- potato. Everything else is a poor imitation. And my wife's homemade, hand-grated potato kugel is better than anything you can buy.
To this I reply with a resounding sniff. In case you missed it here it is again: SNIFF.

Mrs. DovBear doesn't make potato kugel, not because she lacks love or because she lacks energy, but because she was raised by caring and conscientious oberlanders [city Jews] who taught her to avoid unterlanders [country Jews] together with their culinary monstrosities.

I had the same sort of upbringing. And though I regard p'cheh, and lungin in the way you might think about southern fired or collared greens, I'll occaisonally go slumming and nab an oily chunk of the baked potato paste at a kiddush -- but only if my kids aren't looking. I am a man, after all, and men are weak.

Kvelling about kugel


Today the Dining and Wine section of the heiliga New York Times turns its august attention to kugel:
I didn't know until recently, though, that this homey casserole of noodles or potatoes was credited with mystical powers. Allan Nadler, a professor of religious studies at Drew University, studied references to kugel in Hasidic texts and ate it in Brooklyn and in Jerusalem at about a dozen rebbes' tishes, or tables, where male followers of a Hasidic rabbi gather to eat, sing and study the Torah. According to Hasidic interpretations of Kabbalah mysticism, he said, kugel has special powers. "Clearly the spiritual high point of the meal is the offering of the kugel," Professor Nadler said. At that moment the rabbi has the power to bestow health and food, and even to help couples conceive.
And I didn't know until recently that Alan Nadler was a raging lunatic. Mystical powers, including the power to impregnate are wrapped up in one little nasty clot of eggs and noodles? Is he serious? Worse, do entire cults of Jews believe this to be true?

More in a bit.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The illuy

Put your hands together for yet another precocious young Jew -- and he's a product of Ramaz, natch.

HT Ben Sorer

Could Gerin Oil be the root of all evil?

Richard Dawkins
The four doomed flights of 11th September were, in a very real sense, Gerin oil trips: all 19 of the hijackers were high on the drug at the time. Historically, Geriniol intoxication was responsible for atrocities such as the Salem witch hunts and the massacres of native South Americans by conquistadores. Gerin oil fuelled most of the wars of the European middle ages and, in more recent times, the carnage that attended the partitioning of the Indian subcontinent and, on a smaller scale, Ireland...Gerin oil addiction can drive previously sane individuals to run away from a normally fulfilled human life and retreat to closed communities from which all but confirmed addicts are excluded... Strong doses of Geriniol can also lead to "bad trips," in which the user can suffer morbid delusions and fears, notably fears of being tortured, not in the real world but in a postmortem fantasy world...Medium doses of Gerin oil, though not in themselves dangerous, can distort perceptions of reality. Beliefs that have no basis in fact are immunised, by the drug's own direct effects on the nervous system, against evidence from the real world. Oil-heads can be heard talking to thin air or muttering to themselves, apparently in the belief that private wishes so expressed will come true, even at the cost of mild violation of the laws of physics...
Two points if you realized Gerin Oil is an anagram for religion.

[Hat-tip suppressed so that the well isn't poisened.]

Ah, Iraq

Yup, things are going well over there.

Time Magazine:

On their day off people would show up all the time," the sergeant continues in the HRW report. "Everyone in camp knew if you wanted to work out your frustration you show up at the PUC tent. In a way it was sport. The cooks were all U.S. soldiers. One day a sergeant shows up and tells a PUC to grab a pole. He told him to bend over and broke the guy's leg with a mini Louisville Slugger that was a metal bat. He was the cook."

I do hope the lovely GOP-folks who did such a fine job explaining away the Gitmo atrocities are free for a new project. Apparently, the dear Leader is in need of their expertise once again.

Ethics Test

received via email

Ethics Test

This test only has one question, but it's a very important one. By giving an honest answer, you will discover where you stand morally. The test features an unlikely, completely fictional situation in which you will have to make a decision. Remember that your answer needs to be honest, yet spontaneous. Please scroll down slowly and give due consideration to each line.


You are in Miami, Florida. There is chaos all around you caused by a hurricane with severe flooding, a flood of biblical proportions. You are a photojournalist working for a major newspaper, and you're caught in the middle of the disaster. The situation is nearly hopeless. You're trying to shoot career-making photos. There are houses and people swirling around you, some disappearing under
the water. Nature is unleashing all of its destructive fury.

Suddenly you see a man floundering in the water. He is fighting for his life, trying not to be taken down with the debris.

You move closer . . .

Somehow the man looks familiar. Suddenly you realize who it is.

It's George W. Bush!

At the same time you notice that the raging waters are about to take him under, forever. You have two options-- you can save the life of G.W.Bush or you can shoot a dramatic Pulitzer Prize winning photo, documenting the death of one of the world's most powerful men.

So here's the question, and please give an honest answer:

Would you select high contrast color film, or would you go with the classic simplicity of black and white?

How does the world work?

Is our God a micro-mananger, who inserts himself anew into every situation? Must every small decision and routine task go through Him?

No, I say.

If I live a good life (as defined by halacha) and perfect my character (as defined by halacha) and make smart choices (as defined by halacha) good things will happen to me via natural means. God doesn't need to intervene, or to mess with nature. The world he built is programmed to reward and punnish via natural means.

Think of how a computer game works, for example. What type of game would you say is better designed? The one that works by itself, and plays itself out rationally and intelligently? Or the one that requires its creator's constant intervention?

When you say that God is constantly interfering with the world he created, you are, in fact, suggesting that His world isn't really that well designed.

You're doing a heck of a job Brownie!

...And OM does a heck of a job undressing your bogus, self-serving arguments.

Some thoughts: Given Presidnet Monkeyboy's penchant for rewarding failure and incompetance, how long do you think it will be before he hands out a medal with Brownie's name on it?

Also, as OM noted in an earlier post, Brownie was rehired by FEMA as a consultant. How did that happen? We suspect that the famous "Bush is back on the Bottle" story originated with him. After all, that horse-judge didn't get a top position in Washington without knowing how to play dirty.

What I look for in a chazaan

In order of importance...

He needs to know the nusach. In this, I am a strict traditionalist. Avos, Aleinu, Kol Nidrei, Kaddish, among the other set pieces, must be done the old way.

Have a good voice Do you want to spend an entire day listening to someone who can't sing?

Know singable, non-boring tunes The piyutim are better when everyone sings together. A chazzan who can't inspire this sort of participation shouldn't be allowed to lead the service.

and be able to read the words correctly (in all their particulars and minutia) Obviously, the Chazzan needs to know how to read, but many congregations will tolerate a chazzan who changes the meaning of a verse by accenting the wrong part of a word, or by pausing at the wrong place. That's not acceptable.

Monday, September 26, 2005

A seasonal thought

A long, but entertaining selection from Herman Wouk's This is My God:
The reader will perhaps remember...his first visit to the opera. The chances are that he went sometime in his late teens or early twenties, urged on by an enthusiastic companion, perhaps female. The chances are, too, that he was skeptical about grand opera and suspected it might all be an elaborate boring fraud, a dead transplanted art form which American snobs and phonies pretending to enjoy because going to the opera was a high-class European habit. For all I know, this is the present opinion of opera that many of my readers hold.

But those who have changed their minds will recall that they did not do so on their first visit. Then, on the contrary, they probably saw confirming evidence of their suspicions. Fat old men slumped asleep in the boxes, their stiff shirts buckling; their wives more interested in the clothes and faces in the other boxes than in the stage performance; souldful creatures needing haircuts standing in the back of the orchestra, or squatting on the floor, in self-conscious poses of rapture; on the stage a fat screechy woman pretending to be a demure little country bride, a little man with a potbelly and short jerking arms impersonating Don Juan, a chorus of aging painted ladies, and men with ridiculous matchstick legs in tight hose, making tired clumsy gestures at acting now and then; while the orchestra tootled and tinkled without cease one monotonous kind of sugary noise; that, in all likelihood, was his first impression of one of the miracles of human inspiration, Mozart's Don Giovanni.

Sir Thomas Beecham once said that Don Giovanni has never had an adequate performance - that is, a trope of singers capable of singing it, and an audience equipped to hear it. The run of singing artists does not produce in one generation enough voices to match Mozart's demands. The people who fill an opera house on any night are - people; some wonderful, some ordinary, some stupid, some insufferable, some dragged there by wives, some coming there to prove they are intelligent, some coming out of habit, some to tell the folks back home that they saw a New York opera, and some who love Mozart as they love the sunlight, and who are willing to endure all the coarseness and failure of another performance for the sake of the shafts of lovely light that despite all will break through now and then.

As performers and audience cannot usually rise to Mozart, the rabbi and his congregation cannot usually rise to Moses. That does not mean that the law of Moses is less sublime than world opinion acknowledges it to be, or that the forms of popular worship it has inspired are not capable of carrying its message down the years. The fact is that the synagogue, for all its human weaknesses, has done so. Every synagogue at every service has worshippers to whom the words and the ceremonies are transfusions of strength and intelligence; perhaps a few, perhaps many. The visitor's quick look cannot go inside their heads and hearts; in the good phrase of the jazz addicts, he does not dig what he is seeing.
I know there are many who find the special prayers we say this time of year to be long, boring and pointless. Even some very Orthodox Jews hold this view. I respectfully disagree. The secret of appreciating the prayers, I think, is to approach them as art. Yes, like some of the best art, some of the slichos and some of the piyutim (liturgical poems) are difficult, impenetrable even, but in the hands of a first-rate chazan, others are marverlous.

I know there are some who will say it's sacriligious to view these prayers as art, and missing the point to focus on the chazan and his presentation. About this, too, we must respectfully disagree.

I do think, however, that the paytan (the author of a piyut) would side with me. I think that when the piyutim were written, their authors intended for us to appreciate their liturgical poems as art, which is why they paid such careful attention to the language and the meter.

Orthomom is buzzing...

Orthomom is buzzing about the story, posted first at Bloghd, about the Rabbi who got caught with less than an ounce of marijuana in his possession.

Inexplicably, OrthoMom is calling for his head.

I say inexplicably, because the Rabbi's "crimes" amount to a misdemeanor and a traffic violation. Would you fire a man for jaywalking? For speeding? And I don't buy the role-model argument either. Many rabbis drink whiskey and beer in front of impressionable young people all the time. Some are famous for the drunken diatribes they deliver at Purim or Simchat Torah. And we don't try to fire those Rabbis, do we? Smoking marijuana is only different from drinking alcohol because marijuana is illegal. The Rabbi should therefore be judged according to the severity of his crime, and, like I said, this was nothing but a misdemeanor and a traffic violation.

The burden on you is to show why a traffic violation and a misdemeanor is grounds for him to be fired. I can respect a Rabbi who litters. I can respect a Rabbi who speeds. I can respect a Rabbi who gets roaring drunk. I can respect a Rabbi who makes insensitive remarks about women and minorities from the pulpit.

Why shouldn't I be able to respect a Rabbi who smokes a bit of pot once in a while??

[Don’t start with me: I’ve never smoked pot.]

Beware Satan and his tricks!


Anyone who gets married in a white top hat in Elul, is an agent of Satan, enticing Jews to commit the sin of mocking their fellow man. Show some self control. Don't give in. Keep your"Willy Wonka got married" jokes, to yourself.

Hat tip: Shifra

HR oddities

"Honest" Reporting once again, contorts the facts to fit its own agenda. Is this what they mean when they scream media bias? Oh my.

There's a flashy new Honest Reporting video making the rounds, arguing that the "media blamed Israel for the destruction of Gaza's synagogues." Rediculous, and not just because the video commits the familiar fallacy of representing five cherry-picked quotes as the whole entire media.

Here are two of the quotes. (The other three aren't much better, but because they don't also appear on the HR website*, I have no way of capturing them accurately.)

From the BBC:
Palestinians came streaming to the settlements that caused them so much pain, to sightsee and to loot. Israel stole thirty-eight years from them; today, many were ready to take back anything they could.

The quote is from a viedo report filed by Orla Guerin. Does it blame Israel? Hardly. It merely presents Guerin's own view of the occupation, and seeks to explain the behavior of the Palestenians. Though you might say that Guerin's report absolves the Palestenians of responsibility for their own behavior, in the quote HR provides no one is being blamed.

The Philadelphia Inquirer
Those were "protest fires."

Here, too, the synagouge arson is being explained, even smoothed over. That's not nice, and had the HR video grouched about justifications of the attacks, I'd stay silent. But instead HR is using a quote that does one thing, to demonstrate that something else happened. That's not nice, either.


*Oddly enough, only two of the five quotes from the video, have found there way on to Honest Reporting's own website, where they are published as part of an alert, called "Synagogue Desecrations" which accuses the media, not of blaming Israel, but of justifying the attacks!

Why did HR use a bland word like "Desecrations" in the title of the alert when "Destructions" would have been more accurate? No idea. Why is the alert about "justifying" when the video is about "blaming?" No idea. What makes an anti-Israel quote big enough and bad enough for the video, but not for the HR alerts? Again, no idea.

Finally, has HR committed a journalistic sin by relegating three of the five quotes to the obscurity of a video? Only if HR is expected to live up to the impossible standards they seek to impose on everyone else.

Slichos make me sleepy

This week, if you see a Jewish man with a spring in his step, odds are he isn't saying slichos at the traditional time -- either around 1 AM, or just before dawn.

The new custom is to say Slichos at 10:30 PM. Traditionalists, of course, despise this new custom. And leading the charge against the new custom are the Hasidim. It's the rare shteeble (led by the weak Rabbi) that permits a 10:30 slichos, and their books are full of spooky, scary ghost stories mystical reasons for prohibiting the early slichos.

A little strange when you remember how flexible Hasidim usually are about prayer times.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Second thoughts

As you may know, I cast my vote in 200 for George W. Bush. As I recall, one of the reasons he got my support is that I really agreed with the sentiment expressed in this statement
I think we've got to be very careful when we commit our troops. The vice president and I have a disagreement about the use of troops. He believes in nation building. I would be very careful about using our troops as nation builders. I believe the role of the military is to fight and win war and therefore prevent war from happening in the first place. So I would take my responsibility seriously. And it starts with making sure we rebuild our military power. Morale in today's military is too low. We're having trouble meeting recruiting goals. We met the goals this year, but in the previous years we have not met recruiting goals. Some of our troops are not well-equipped. I believe we're overextended in too many places.... If we don't have a clear vision of the military, if we don't stop extending our troops all around the world and nation building missions, then we're going to have a serious problem coming down the road, and I'm going to prevent that
Funny how things work out 'eh?

The grownups are in charge

Anyone remember when Bush supporters said it was okay that Bush wasn't the smartest guy in the room ...because he'd surround himself with smart people?

Gee. That worked out well.

Evacuation Math

Ad-kaan Katrina-palooza

Some of my dearly demented readers are still unable to understand why that picture of a few dozen flooded busses is not an air-tight argument that Mayor Nagin missed an opportunity to evacuate his city.

So here are some hard numbers, taken without permission from countercolumn

Let n be the number of buses needed to to shift people from one place to the other.
Let y be the number of people you can shift per bus.
Let p be the total population you’ve got to move.

The simple calculation is:

How many people on a bus? 40 people.

How many people have we got to move? 100,000.

100,000 people:
2500 busses.

40 per bus, 300 miles each way. 60 miles per hour. That’s 40 people per bus in per 10 hours. Or 4 people per hour per bus.

You’ve got 100,000 people to evacuate, which means (basically) 25000 bus hours, so 10 buses finishes the job in 2500 hours, 100 finishes in 250 hours. To get 100,000 people shifted in 48 hours you’re going to need 520 buses. Which means at least 520 drivers, and perhaps 100 people to administer the departure site.

And of course,that the people assemble at the departure points on time, and that there is somewhere within 300 miles willing to accept all of those people. It also presumes plenty of gas, money for tolls, and drivers who are willing and able to work around the clock.

Hardly a lay-up.

Alberto the very, very excellent

I know there aren't too many Orthodox Jews who can tolerate Chazanut, but I encourage you to make an exception for Alberto Mizrachi, the Greek super-chazan, who has a verison of Habet, that will make you weep.

The words alone contain a message for the ages:
Look down from the heavens and see that we have become objects of derision among the nations, who think of us as sheep to be slaughtered, destroyed, smitten and shamed. Despite all this we have not forgotten your name. Please do not forget us.
And no, GOP-Jews. It isn't about the Muslims.

(If one of you would be kind enough to donate some server space, I'd happily post the full version of the song. Think of it as my little holiday gift to the blogosphere.)

Today's terribly untrue Internet rumor

Bush falls off the wagon?

A dubious report in The National Enquirer says that President Bush has started drinking again.
Bush is under the worst pressure of his two terms in office and his popularity is near an all-time low. The handling of the Katrina crisis and troop losses in Iraq have fueled public discontent and pushed Bush back to drink. A Washington source said: "The sad fact is that he has been sneaking drinks for weeks now. Laura may have only just caught him - but the word is his drinking has been going on for a while in the capital. He's been in a pressure cooker for months.
Is it true? Who knows. But we do know Bush has lied about his drinking before. Though the president claims to have stopped drinking in July 1986, a wedding video from 1992 tells a different story.
Click to enlarge

Friday, September 23, 2005

Ribs from the unbroken body of the bear

Shifra has gone from blogging to blurbing, We wish her well, and not just because she called me a...
very popular J-Blogger whos self-titled blog mixes religion, politics, humor and good writing and receives a wealth of comments from Jews (and a couple non-Jews) of diverse backgrounds and experience. While consistantly missed by the mainstream media this hardly below-the-radar blogger is well known for his sharp insights on his own blog and quick witted responses on other J-blogs about town.
Oh. And about that Joey clip. Amshi did see it first.

Swift-boating the mayor

This is the picture the right-wing is gleefully using to deflect attention from the incompetance of FEMA. Ostensibly, it proves that Democratic Mayor Ray Nagin missed the chance to get more people out before the Katrina hit his city. But that's silly.

The picture doesn't tell us that fuel and experienced drivers were available. It doesn't show us that the Mayor had any way of notifying residents or getting them to departure points; also, were there facilities within a reasonable driving distance capable of providing shelter and other provisions? When you think about it, there's no guarantee, even, that the buses were in working condition. As TNR puts it:
The elected school board is independent from other city agencies, and the system is in dreadful shape, academically and financially. After the system couldn't account for $70 million in federal grants, the state forced the board to hire a private financial manager this summer to sort out the mess. That company couldn't find any reliable records of how many people actually worked for the system, and it reported that the board's latest and supposedly balanced budget was really $48 million in the hole. The incompetence raises an obvious question: If the mayor had sought help from this crew, would that have saved lives or merely wasted precious time?

Haymish Hockey

(Re: Two of the bullet points. )

What a relief. I always look for an endorsment from a leading Monsey Rabbi before I decide to participate in a sporting event. And, the fact that it's a Heimish setting means... what? That it's poorly lit and there are flyers for wig-stores all over the walls? Are collecters permitted into the locker room? Will there be cholent?

Oh, and not to quibble, but it's not the first time ever.

Lazer Beams: It's all the Rambam's fault!

Lazer Brody: "According to the Rambam, Rita and subsequent disasters are the result of those who deny the principle of Divine providence in every creation and every occurrence."

How odd, seeing as how one of the people "who deny the principle of Divine providence in every creation and every occurrence" is... [drumroll] ...the Rambam himself!

This Universe remains perpetually with the same properties with which the Creator has endowed it… none of these will ever be changed except by way of miracle in some individual instances….” (Guide 2:29).

In other words, the Rambam holds that the pattern of nature is basically immutable, meaning he has denied "principle of Divine providence in every creation and every occurrence."

So, in the loony-land of Lazer Brody, if you're foolish enough to accept the Rambam's view of the world, God responds by blasting other people with a hurricane. That's about as stupid as his old idea, which was "if you're foolish enough to live at the bottom of a country led by a President who supported disengagemnt, God responds by flooding your house."

How I wish I was making this up...

Thursday, September 22, 2005

More permission to deny

Another newcomer, RuchniGashmi, imagines himself the creator's pet:
But here's how I look at it. God wants my Tefillos. Under normal circumstances He stays hidden and we don't have much conscious contact with Him. We don't SEE Him publicly. But God loves our tefillos so much that He will publicly do whatever it takes to get us to talk to him
And how does the master of heaven of earth let his special friend RuchniGashmi from Brooklyn know that his prayers are desperately desired? He makes the lights flicker, of course.

Now personally, I wouldn't want to worship an entity that is incomplete without my tefillos, and so covetous of having them that he goes and interfers with an entire city's electric grid just to get me moving. That kind of pique I can get from my children. But the more serious problem is Ruchi imagines himself the recipient of a miracle. Do we have permission to deny this, to tell Ruchi that he experienced a random event, an event he simply chose to interpret as a miracle?

Why, yes, as a matter of fact we do. Here's the Ramban, on Deut 11:13
Know further the miracles for good or bad are performed only for perfectly righteous or utterly wicked people. For average people, however, He visits good or bad upon them in a natural manner according to their way and by their doings.

Permission to deny

Lazer Brody: I said it and I'll say it again: Katrina was the result of disengagement.

That's old news. Ugly news, even. The good news is that a newcomer, Moshe Ben-Chaim, has eviscerated Lazer Brody, Sultan Knish and the rest of their gang of know-nothing bloggers who insist that they alone know the real reason for Katrina.

Some quoted highlights:

1 - "Lo machshavosay machshavosaychem”, “Your thoughts are not My thoughts”. (Isaiah, 55:8) God tells us via His prophet Isaiah that we can, in no way, know His thoughts. Therefore it is futile and arrogant to suggest what is God’s direct will

2 - When Samuel was commanded by God to anoint a new king to replace Saul, he said to God, “Saul will hear and kill me!” ...[w]hy did Samuel feel vulnerable? It is because his outlook was the proper one; where all is in man’s hands and in accordance with nature, unless proven otherwise... Now, if Samuel, “on a mission from God”, did not feel Divinely incubated from harm, how much more must we not view events as Divine?

3 - The Egyptian plagues were intended as Divine lessons. But how did God insure that Egypt would view these natural events distinct from others, so as to fear Him? It was precisely Moses’ perfectly-timed forecast that distinguished them... Without such predictions or miraculous phenomena, man should rightfully chalk up all events to natural law, and not God’s direct will, targeting selected victims.

As you read Moshe Ben-Chaim, please remember the point I made this morning. You are not a heretic if you reject Lazer's certainties. The worst that can be said about you is that you are cruel, and that only because you are denying people the opportunity to repent, by telling them the truth about how the world works.

Update Lazer's launched a pathetic counteroffensive against Moshe Ben Chaim's fusillade but it fails to address any of Ben-Chaim's arguments. Instead, Lazer calls him names. My, my, my.

The big ban

This post started out strong, but I screwed it up by bringing nurse-nanny Karen Hughs into it. The real point I hoped to convey was that many, many American Muslims are on the record condemming suicide bombers, and terrorists.

Quite accidently, I've come across news of another ban, this one directed by bearded religious leaders not at a psudeo-intellectual author, but at religious extremists.

That's right, now the bans are flying in the other direction. Only they are being issued not by our Gedolim, but by the Fiqh Council of North America, a group that has issued a fatwa against Osama bin Ladin. The fatwa is sponsored by CAIR, the Islamic Society of North America and more than 120 other Muslim groups, leaders and institutions, and states plainly and unequivocally, "Targeting civilians' life and property through suicide bombings or any other method of attack is haram – or forbidden - and those who commit these barbaric acts are criminals, not 'martyrs'"

[Note: This is where the post takes a wrong turn]

Wonderful news, no doubt, but news that dates to July 28, 2005, and news I had not heard. Now then, who is in charge of spreading the word when 120 Muslim groups, leaders and institutions announce that there is no justification in Islam for terrorism? Why it's undersecretary of state Karen Hughes, another Bush cronie promoted beyond her ability.

Wow. NBC will do anything for money

(They even got Matt LeBlanch to say "ch" the way Jews do)

Wonder what Habad paid for it, though?


If you can't laugh at a giant, backwards, *cough* flying right at Texas what can you laugh at?



1 - Scroll down

2 - Hurry, because it's a live image, and changing with the passage of time.

Me and morality

I'd like deal with the morality issue one last time, for the purpose of reframing my position.

Obviously, when I said "immoral isn't a category in Orthodox Judaism you am haaretz. It's either osur or mutar," it was my own "I invented the Internet" moment.

You see, I was trying to say something important, and instead of taking the time to do it right I lapsed into a glib shorthand. Obviously the Torah presents a system of right and wrong, good and bad, acceptable and not acceptable.

But at the same time, a great deal of Jewish thinking about issues of morality is informed by outside sources, sources that we superimpose on to the Torah.

I still think homosexuality is the best example of this. It's just a lav like any other (or, if you insist a toeyavha like quite a few others) but we've allowed ourselves to become convinced that sodomy is the very worst thing two people can do, and that therefore sodomists _must_ be treated as less than full members of the Jewish community, and furthermore, that all good Jews must support initiatives that would make them less than full citizens of this country. That's ludicorus. It is our prejudice plus a Chirsitian idea of sin superimposed on the Torah.

A very special invitation from the New York TImes

Bigots, and their friends, are very cordially invited to come stomp some homosexual men in the narrow parking lot at Cunningham Part in Queens.

Please bring your own bat.

Seriously, all that was missing from that dubious piece of journalism was some pictures and a map.

Rambam on Rita, Katrina

As hurricane Rita bears down on Texas, it's worthwhile to remember the words of the Rambam, who wrote in Hilchos Taanis:
"It is a positive mitzvah from the Torah to sound and announce with trumpets anytime tragedy besets Klal Yisroel . . . But if they do not cry out and do not sound the shofar, but say "This happened to us because of natural causes, and this distress occurred coincidentally" this is the way of cruelty (derech achzarius) as it causes them to adhere to their evil deeds
Note the Rambam's word: CRUELTY. Not "a philosophical error". Not "an act of heresy." Not apikorsus. Cruelty.

And it's also worth noting that here the Rambam uses none of the angry language he reserves for people who believe that magic, witchcraft, sorcery, and superstition are real. Those people, he says, are "from among the fools and the stupid people." Those ideas, he says, are "based on false beleifs." But the person who imagines that tragedy is sometimes an unfortunate coincidence, we can presume from the words the Rambam chose to use, is neither foolish nor stupid, nor mistaken.

So why is he cruel?

The answer is in the last bit of the quote. The silver lining the Rambam saw in natural disasters was that they encouraged people to examine their sins and to repent. He worried that if people were permitted to believe that it was all happenstance, they would miss the opportunity to become better people, and instead "adhere to their evil deeds." The cruelty, per the Rambam, is not in denying God's providence, but in denying people the chance to improve themselves.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Ooooohhhh Categry 5 now

Rita is raging.

Yoo hoo! Sultan Knish!!! Please tell us why God has sent another outrageously powerful storm into the Gulf of Mexico. Was it because I rushed through Korbonos? Or did Condaleeza Rice push poor, nice, Mr. Sharon around again?

Your loyal minions are waiting for your explanation.

Pass the Slivovitz

Live Frie or die has posted intelligently on the subject of "spirituality"

See the comments for a nasty remark.

Dishonesty: The best policy

Gil Student: Sure, frum society can be ugly, but if you lie about your background the gossip-mongers and petty dictators will leave you alone and go after someone else.

Torah script

Suppose I told you that I thought the Torah was given in cyrillic letters. You think I was nuts, wouldn't you? There'd be laughing and pointing, and mocking. Not only that, but the upper balcony at Godol Hador's blog would go on chatting about into the wee hours of the morning.


GH: DovBear said something that superficially seems rediculous, and I'm too busy with my own posts to look at it closely. Discuss.
Dude: Wow, DovBear sure is crazy. And his nickname, unlike mine, is far from manly.
Bishul Akum: And Liberal! Don't forget Liberal! Argh! He's a Liberal!
JoeCool: And not nearly so handsome as he claims.
Bishul Akum: Plus he voted for Klinton!
Mis-Nagid: But rememeber: he's not Orthodox!
GH: Ah, Nachas.


So what do we do about the fact that there are actual Gedolim who make an analogous claim? I'm speaking of the very famous ktav ivri vs ketav ashuri argument.

What we call ktav ivri is a cuneiform script, written using an alphabet that is barely discernible from the Phoenician alphabet from which it was derived. The square script used for Hebrew today is a direct decendant, not of Phonenician, but of Aramaic/Assyrian or ketav ashuri a script first attested to in the 9th century BCE. Sometime around the 3rd or 4th century BCE, ketav ashuri began to gradually replace ktav ivri for Hebrew writing as Aramaic became the region's most important language.

The Torah, you will recall, was revealed on Mount Sinai around 1300 BCE or about 400 years before ketav ashuri appeared, and perhaps 1000 years before Jews started using it.

What script did Moshe use when he took on the role of Executive Secretatry, and wrote the Torah, according to the divine dictation? There are four views:

Some (1) say the original Torah scrolls were written in ketav ashuri. According to other opinions (2) the ketav ashuri was forgotten and the ktav ivri was used for Torah scrolls, until the ketav ashuri script was restored by Ezra. A third opinion (3) is that the Torah was originally given in the ktav ivri ; later the ketav ashuri script was introduced by Ezra. A fourth opinion (4), which I made up just now, is that the ktav ivri was just an ancient form of shorthand, used by Moshe because God simply refused to slow down.

The most logical opinion, of course, is the third one. Perhaps this is why it's also the least popular. [Sidenote: Have you ever noticed that the same people who claim that the Talmud is wonderful brain exercise, have the most difficulty with logic? They're also most likely to embrace the mosr mystical, most ahistorical solutions. One day, we'll have a long discussion about that]

Anyway, just last week, I had the misfortune of speaking (in the yeshivish dialect) to a young yeshiva student who outright refused to accept the testimony of archelogists who know from their research and discoveries that ketv ashuri did not exist when the Torah was given.

Young yeshiva student: Archeologists? Feh!

When I told the young yeshiva student that his view, the view expressed by the Rabbis who took the first opinion, was analogous to saying the Torah was revealed in cyrillic letters, he had this clever reply:

Young yeshiva student: Chazal said that a Torah is only kosher if it's written in ketv ashuri. That's a halacha! So how could it be possible that all the Torahs written by Dovid Hamelech and the other kings of Israel weren't kosher? And by the way: Archeologists? Feh!

At this point, I considered terminating the conversation and heading for the nearest cliff, but I took one last stab:

DovBear: Look, you know that Chazal made mistakes with medicine. We've had that conversation, and you agreed with me. So why can't you accept that those who say the Torah was originally written in ketv ashuri were wrong about that, too?

Young yeshiva student: You voted for Klinton, didn't you? Liberal! Have some faith!!

Sigh. I don't know what will become of our young yeshiva student. Like so many other young yeshiva students, he has an acute contempt for science that would make him feel right at home in the Bush administration. And as he goes, so goes our world.

Mood: Pessimistic

Now some Irish guy has a place to send his menstruating women

10-foot-wide Dublin tool shed sells for $269,100


Tuesday, September 20, 2005

What did George Bush do this time?

A category 2 storm is lashing the Florida Keys as we speak.

We're waiting for Sultan Knish and Lazer Brody to tell us how this is all George W. Bush's fault.

PS: Per the report: "All 80,000 residents had been ordered out of the Keys, an island chain, but many stayed behind in boarded-up homes." People stayed behind, despite a mandatory evacuation order? Hmmmm. RespondingtoJBlogs, care to comment? Why didn't the mayor of Key West round up some buses and start forcing people from their homes? Does he also hate America?

Erdogan assured support by US Jewish leaders on Armenian question

A new reader has sent me a link to an article which suggests that the bright lights of the Jewish community are engaged in genocide-denial.

I'm sure you can figure out the irony for yourselves. But the larger question is as follows: Is the evidence for the Armenian genocide as iron-clad as the evidence for the Holocaust? I've always assumed it was, but researching this post, I found several articles, all written by Turks, which raise questions. Though I'm still satisfied that an obscene number of Armenians died during the years in question, I can't say how many were slaughtered by Turks, and how many died of natural causes. And I fully realize how terrible it is for me to be asking these questions, given how holocaust deniers ask the same ones, but as of this moment, I don't know what to think.

I'm hoping the new reader who sent me the original link will send me some Simon Wiesenthal-level debunking of the anti-genocide trash I've been reading.

Bye bye bidding

For reasons, I don't fully understand, the prophet has not yet arrived to anoint me King of the Jews which is a shame because I've got a great royal agenda. For instance, that auction that clots up the service on holidays? Gone. In my shul, we'll distribute the aliyos in alphabetical order. No longer will we suffer the incongruence of having some fat shlub with a fatter wallet calling attention to himself with a succession of ever-increasing bids immediately after we've confessed the sin of haughtiness and proclaimed all that high-sounding stuff about man being a fleeting shadow, a passing cloud, and a vanishing dream.

The shul is not a shuk - especially not on the days of awe. Honors should go to the men who've dedicated their time and their money to the benefit of the shul over the last 12 months; not to the guy who shows up on Yom Kippur with the largest bank account. And please don't try to excuse this tasteless practice on the grounds that it's a good fundraiser. Renting out the rabbi's wife might also be a good fund-raiser. Money doesn't justify every bad idea.

I can't prove it, but my hunch is this practice originated with gutless gabaim who didn't have the nerve to make difficult choices. What I dont understand is why today it survives -more than anywhere else - in shteebles, which is where experiences tells me you're likely to find the rudest gabaim. Were their ancestors less brazen? Or is it greed and not wimpiness that permits this disgusting practice to survive?

Forward and backwards.


In Nepal, menstruating women have been permitted back into their houses.
There is a tradition in parts of Nepal of keeping women in cow-sheds during their period.
The Supreme Court has ordered the government to declare the practice as evil and given it one month to begin stamping the practice out.
Meanwhile, in America, it's the men in the cow sheds, and they're hiding. Oh, and no one look at the inconvinient verses in Leviticus which suggest that Jews might have once thought along the same lines, back when we were a little more serious about tahara and tummah. Though the Torah never changes, the Jews do. And thank God for that.


In Italy, the Pope moved ahead of the president in the race to see who can turn the clock back the most centuries, urging participants in an exorcist convention "to carry on their important work in the service of the church." In a related story Martin Luther, John Wesley, and John Calvin, were quoted saying "Ha! Told you so." There was no comment from the kabbalists and gilgul-hunters.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Yellow bellied father.

There's a yellow baby in my neighborhood, and his bris is being delayed over the objection's of his father.

According to the Shulcha Orech, we don't perform a bris on a yellow baby, and many Achronim (Teshuvot Tuv Taam Vedaat, Yad Ketana) demand a 7-day wait after the jandice has receeded. The problem is this view doesn't coincide with the opinion of doctors, who say that it's safe to perform a bris on a yellow baby, so long as the billirubin count is lower than 15, and certainly on a bay who's jaundice has receeded. Rabbi Moshe Tendler, I am told, says that because a bris is a biblical requirement, we're biblically obligated to ignore the Shulchan Orech, on this point, and perform the bris the moment a qualified doctor says that it's safe. As you would expect, in precients where science is ignored, Rabbi Tendler's advice is likewise neglected.

So do we follow the halacha, as it was codified in the Shulchan Orech? Or do we rely on doctors? Do we let a law that predates modern medicine defiene "healthy" or do we allow doctors to give us the benefit of their educations?

My neighbor, the father of this baby, wants to rely on the doctors, and perform the bris on time. But like most Jews, he fears his neighbors more than he fears God, and so he waits.


So another Bush has gotten himself arrested. This time it's John Ellis, youngest son of Jeb, who was locked up. The funny thing about it is this quote from his father, the governor:
I'm not going to discuss it on the public square with 30 cameras.
We admire Jeb's decency, and wonder if perhaps this means he finally understands how cruel it was for him to call down the media hounds on poor Michael Schavio.

Anyway, for those keeping track at home... Columba Bush was arrested for smuggling; George P Bush was arrested for burglary; Noelle Bush was arrested for forgery and cocaine possession; and previously John Ellis was arrested for sexual misconduct.

The black sheep of the family, I'm sure you agree, remains the Bush who ordered the invasion of Iraq under a false causa belli.

Davening Dilemma

I've been laboring over a long, long post about how now that George Bush has made his big speech promising to eliminate racism and poverty while simultaneously enriching Haliburton, the biggest problem in my life is choosing a place to daven for the High Holidays. You may have even seen the first part of the post. It was up for about 6 seconds, before I realized how shallow it sounded.

You see, all I really want for the High Holidays is a superbly-talented chazzan, in a magnificent room, leading a congregation of hundreds in prayer and song. And I want to be done by 1:30 pm on Rosh Hashana. And I want a long break on Yom Kippur (I'm willing to start as early as 7:30 am on all three days.)

Shallow, right? Fine, but no flour no Torah. And for me, the flour are the atmosphere and the aesthetics. Without the flour, my own prayers fall flat, and I leave shul dejected and bitter.

So where do I find these the beautiful room and the brilliant chazan and the fast service, together with a large congregation, a congregation that numbers in the hundreds and loves to sing? Not in my neighborhood, unfortunately.

Each of the three shuls, I frequent over the course of the year offers part of the package. The Hasidic shteeble, for example, sings everything, but the congregation is tiny, the room is ugly and their chazan doesn't know the nusach. His Neilla Kaddish sounds just like his Musaf Kaddish, for example, and his Kol Nidrei puts me in mind of a suffering cat. And the other set pieces, including Avos and Unesana Tokef, are like nothing I've ever heard. I'm not a traditionalists in all things, but I like latkes at Chanuka and I like to hear the universal melodies on the High Holidays. Oh, and the fact that they daven sfard is much more annoying on the Yomim Noaraim than it is during the rest of the year. I don't like having my Amidah inturrupted by the shofar.

At the MO shul, the sanctuary isn't that much prettier, but the service is tighter, and guided by a chazaan who knows what he's doing. Unfortunately, the congregation is more like an audience. They listen, when they should be singing.

The third option is the yeshivish minyan, which is essentially an Ashkenaz shteeble. True, they do start early, finish before 2 pm, and provide a nice long break on Yom Kippur, but the congregation isn't large enough, or loud enough, to carry me. Unlike the Hasidim, the yeshivish aren't much for singing.

So where does that leave me? No place, I guess.

Back later

Folks, I'm having some trouble putting together sentances this morning. It's almost as if all the good ideas left me, the moment I mentioned my 2000 posts.

I'll be back as soon as I work through the mental constipation. Meantime, why don't you enjoy some of the oldies?

Where will I daven? (Intro)

The High Holidays are coming with their attendant dilemma. For me, this is not about choosing a seat, or about choosing a building, but about choosing a shul. Though I live in a neighborhood having a multitude of choices, none are satisfactory.

My ideal High Holiday prayer service is the one I attended as a small boy. I think most men feel this way, and like most men, I'm certain my memory of that service has been corrupted by time. But never mind. Today, that memory - the memory of a superbly-talented chazzan, in a magnificent room, leading a congregation of hundreds in prayer and song - is my ideal example of a Holiday service. There's nothing like it where I live.

In the next three posts, I discuss the shortcomings of each of the local options.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

What brings you here?

I've posted almost 2000 times, since I brought this blog into being, and it seems to me that the overwhelming majority of my posts fit into one of the following 10 categories:

1 - Partisan poo-throwing
2 - Non Partisan poo-throwing
3 - News articles / editorials that caught my eye.
4 - Clobbering Cross Currents
5 - Lacerating Lazer Brody
6 - Pope Pounding
7 - Other Paloozas
8 - Torah / theology / history
9 - Stray thoughts and observations
10 - The comment section

Of all the different things I try to do here, what do you like best?

Friday, September 16, 2005

All the world's a stage ...

Brian Williams
I am duty-bound to report the talk of the New Orleans warehouse district last night: there was rejoicing (well, there would have been without the curfew, but the few people I saw on the streets were excited) when the power came back on for blocks on end. Kevin Tibbles was positively jubilant on the live update edition of Nightly News that we fed to the West Coast. The mini-mart, long ago cleaned out by looters, was nonetheless bathed in light, including the empty, roped-off gas pumps. The motorcade route through the district was partially lit no more than 30 minutes before POTUS drove through. And yet last night, no more than an hour after the President departed, the lights went out. The entire area was plunged into total darkness again, to audible groans. It's enough to make some of the folks here who witnessed it... jump to certain conclusions.
What kind of conclusions? That Bush would kick his father int he crotch on National TV for a bump in his polls?


It's a new record

Praying at Graves

I'm expecting to get slaughtered by know-nothings for writing (below) that "All authorities agree that it is forbidden to pray to a dead person, while most authorities add that it's forbidden to ask a dead person to intervene on your behalf." so here's a preemptive post.

It's common, especially in Ellul for Jews to pray at graves. Why?

All agree that praying to the dead for direct assistance is forbidden, however, beyond that, there are two schools of thought on the subject. Some say we're not praying, but asking the dead to speak to God, as it were, on our behalf. According to this opinion, the dead are our messangers and advocates.

This view is considered 100 percent out of bounds by the Be'er Heitev (O.C. 581:17) among others (ie: Chayei Adam, Mateh Efrayim and Kitzur Shulchan Aruch), who says that addressing a dead person for any reason is a violation of "consulting the dead."

The final word on the subject of praying at graves is the Mishna Brurah (581:27): "We visit graves because a cemetery where tzaddikim are interred is a place where prayers are more readily answered. But one should not place his trust in the dead. He should just ask Hashem to have mercy on him in the merit of the tzaddikim who are interred here."

Update: What did I tell you?

Unscrupulous louts

Banks and Insurers Ask Government For Help With Loans, Spreading Risk

Money quote:
Bankers from the area devastated by Hurricane Katrina told Congress yesterday that they hold thousands of loans secured by buildings and businesses that no longer exist and urged lawmakers to help them out with regulatory flexibility, and possibly money.
And yes, boys and girls, the fine folks now demanding new laws and, perhaps, a taxpayer bailout, are the very same people who advocated for bankruptcy reform, and expressly refused to extend protection to those affected by natural disaster.

Reap the whirlwind, baby. Reap it.

A new day, a new outrage

More than one form of voodoo is practiced in New Orleans. Here's an example of the bizarre rite, as described on I don't like it how
Although Mayor Ray Nagin ordered an evacuation of New Orleans shortly before Hurricane Katrina hit, the city's Chabbad Sheluchim did not leave, "on the premise that a shliach does not leave his post without an explicit directive of the Rebbe." How can they find out the will of a human being who died eleven years ago, you ask? Simple, though 'iggeroth qodhesh, the process of opening a collection of Rabbi Schneerson's directives to a random page, and applying the advice found therein to one's own situation. They received this 'answer': "Tracht Gut vet Zain Gut" - Think good and it will be good."
Ye Gods.

Alan lists 9 problems with the approach of the Chabad representatives, to which I'll add another: The Torah prohibits "consulting the dead." All authorities agree that it is forbidden to pray to a dead person, while most authorities add that it's forbidden to ask a dead person to intervene on your behalf. And Rabbi Schneerson, it may surprise you to learn, is most certainly dead.

Mosques and Synagogues II

I've unsuccesfully tried to argue that leaving the synagouges in Gaza constitutued a michshol, or a snare. Though the Palestenians who built the fires that consumed those shuls are certainly criminals, Jewish law enjoins us not to put snares in front of others. In my view, the synagouges were snares. And though this does not excuse the behavior of the Palestenians, some responsibility belongs to those who voted to leave the shuls intact.

I say I was unsuccesful with this argument, not because it's flawed but because I was speaking theoretically. Unfortunately, I've discovered that what I thought was theoretical actually entered the deliberations on the fate of the synagouges. It turns out that there were those on the Israeli right who wanted to leave the synagouges behind for the express purpose of embaressing the Palestenians. In other words, they knew the shuls were a michshol, and they wanted to use them as a michshol.

Here for example is Rabbi Yigal Kaminetzky, the rabbi of Gush Katif, in his petition to the High Court: "Even if there is a concern that Arab rioters would harm the synagogues, it is better that they do it and show their shame to the world, rather than it being done by the government of Israel, which would be remembered for the disgrace forever."

The raw cynicism is hard to miss.

Mosques and Synagogues I

Filed under what goes around, comes around

Meron Benvenisti has a column in Haaretz detailing the many mosques Israel has destroyed, and the many graves Israelis have desecrated. I admit to being shocked, having bought into the myth that only non-Jews disrespect the holy sites of other faiths. Money quote:
The Palestinians may wonder whether the principle that one must not harm holy sites applies only to synagogues, or to abandoned mosques and churches as well. Does the demand that the Palestinians - or an international body - take responsibility for the synagogues apply also to the Israeli government vis-a-vis the abandoned mosques in Israel? And if we are in such a hurry to expose the Palestinians' shame to the world, are we ready to expose Israel's shameful behavior vis-a-vis the Moslem holy sites as well? Out of some 140 village mosques that were abandoned due to the war in 1948, some 100 were totally torn down. The rest, about 40, are in advanced stages of collapse and neglect, or are used by the Jewish residents for other purpose
Though I share the outrage expressed by other bloggers at the destruction of synagogues in Gaza, there's no reason for us to pat ourselves on the back. The claim that "Jews don't destroy Mosques" is false: When the situation was reversed, and it was mosques that were abandoned, we behaved similarly.

[Link fixed]

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Calling a spade a spade?

The real Rush Limbaugh stands up

FEMA Round-Up

Now that Drownie has gone whining to the papers about how it was all Kathleen Blanco's fault we thought it would be okay to provide a small sampling of the utterly moronic choices made by FEMA during the last two weeks:

FEMA won't accept Amtrak's help in evacuations
FEMA turns away experienced firefighters
FEMA turns back Wal-Mart supply trucks
FEMA prevents Coast Guard from delivering diesel fuel
FEMA won't let Red Cross deliver food
FEMA bars morticians from entering New Orleans
FEMA blocks 500-boat citizen flotilla from delivering aid
FEMA fails to utilize Navy ship with 600-bed hospital on board
FEMA to Chicago: Send just one truck
FEMA turns away generators
FEMA: "First Responders Urged Not To Respond"
(That last one is a direct quote from the FEMA website.)

What's your favorite FEMA f-up? Mine's still the bit about the firefighters who responded with heavy rescue gear, and were sent, by FEMA, to a sex-ed class in Atlanta. But preventing the Red Cross from delivering food is a pretty close second. How do you think that conversation went?

Red Cross: Here we are with the food!

FEMA: Uh, no thanks.

Red Cross: But people are hungry.

FEMA: Hey! You telling me how to do my job?

Close third would be FEMA failing to notice that 25,000 people were holed up with no food and water for three days, though it was reported by the media. Wonder how that happened? It's like when I tell my kid to do her homework, and three days later she's still on the computer looking at clothing and Harry Potter sites.

Anyway, Drownie, good luck with the finger-pointing. You're doing a heck of a job. As usual.

A gift from Mis-Nagid

Mis-Nagid writes:

Adolf Tolkachev was a CIA spy in Moscow. He handed over tremendously sensitive information on Russian military technology for many years, undermining Russia's attempts to pull ahead of the USA. His story is full of nearly incredible details, awesome tradecraft, frustrating bungles, and stunning coincidences. He was executed in 1986 for high treason. From the unclassified CIA article of his story (an engrossing read):

"Tolkachev identified his wife as Natalia Ivanova née Kuzmina. She was born in 1935 and worked as an electronics engineer at the same institute where he worked-he described her as an "antenna specialist." He wrote that his wife's mother "had been executed in 1938," but he said nothing about the reasons for her execution. He noted that his wife's father had spent many years in a labor camp, typically the fate of "enemies of the Soviet state." Freed in
1955, he had returned to Moscow, but died shortly thereafter. Tolkachev commented a number of times to at least one of his case officers that the brutal treatment that his wife's parents had suffered was a key factor in his motivation to work against the Soviet regime. He never shed any light on why the authorities had taken these actions against his wife's parents, but once suggested that his wife and her parents were Jewish. Given the Stalinists' anti-Semitism, this factor may have played a role in their persecution."

The article covers his other motivations, and the Jewish connection is slightly sketchy, but I still found it interesting. If the article's author is correct, Russia lost nearly all of its military secrecy -- billions of rubles of investment and thousands of man-years of research -- partly because they tortured and killed two Jews.

Serves 'em right.

On the origins of antisemitism

On someone else's blog, JoeCool said something stupid. I'd respond to him there, but the thread is old, and I'm worried he'll miss it. Here's what the idiot wrote:
Sure, antisemitism was rampant in Europe. It still is. But there are no mainstream christian sects for whom it was racially based. From Roman times until 19th century antisemitism was always religious in nature. After that, with the appearance of mystical german philosophers, antisemitism became racial. Anyone with a brain could understand that.
No Christian sects for whom it was religious based? From Roman times until 19th century antisemitism was always religious in nature? Wow. That's what more polite people would call a "school boy howler."

JoeCool errs in presuming a clear and neat distinction between religous antisemitism and racial antisemitism. Racial antisemitism was not something unique from Church antisemitim; it developed from it.

The truth is that "purity of blood" theories which originated in Catholic Spain gradually spread throughout the Church. The Jesuits, for example, expressly barred candidates of Jewish descent until 1946, and in the late 19th century expecially, the Church actively promoted racial antisemitism in their newspapers. All the familiar racial attacks can be found in those Church publications, and similar attacks were repeated from pulpits in France, Germany and Italywith the Pope's tacit approval (Kertzer)

No less an authority than The U.S. bishops' conference has admitted this. The document they produced providing guidance for the implementation of We Remember in Catholic schools, put it this way: "Christian anti-Judaism did lay the groundwork for racial, genocidal anti-Judaism by stigmatizing not only Judaism but Jews themselves for opprobrium and contempt. So the Nazi theories found tragically fertile soil in which to plant the horror of an unprecedented attempt at genocide..."

As the bishops suggest, the Church bears the original responsibility for identifying the Jew as the "other," thus making the Jews ready scapegoats whenever a demagogue wanted to exploit the bloody-mindedness of the mob.

Neve Dekalim Disaster Porn


A creative activity (writing or pictures or films etc.) of no literary or artistic value other than to stimulate emotions

A clip from Neve Dekalim has been posted, showing what appears to be the final farewell to a Gaza synagouge, or perhaps a girl's school. The clip makes no arguments, provides no information, and no context. It's meant to break your heart and it succeeds, masterfully .

Some afterthoughts:
1 - Where are the boys? Is it a girl's school, or does the camera linger on female faces for emotional effect?

2 - What's that song they are singing through the first few minutes of the clip? Who decided to make it part of the farewell-to-the-synagouge liturgy?

3 - Is there a farewell-to-the-synagouge liturgy? Or was it created by the community leaders? From what I saw, the liturgy included (1) a song (2) the concluding bits of Ne'eila (3) A kel molay (4) the Dayan Haemet, or justification of the judgement (5) Avinu Malkeinu (6) another song.

Sidenote: I support the right of a community to create its own liturgy for special circumstances, but it isn't something commonly seen in an Orthodox shul. What, for example, would the Hasidim have done for a farewell-to-the-synagouge liturgy, if it was their synagouge being dismantled?

Anyway, click on the link, but have a tissue handy.

NOLA Torah Photos


The Thing I Hate Most About Orthodoxy

GH told us what he most disliked about Orthodoxy. Now it's my turn.

The thing I hate most about Orthodoxy, is not mandated by the Torah, the Talmud or the law books that came later. It first came into use for entirely irreligous reasons yet, in our day it's a sign of piety, religiosity, and loyalty to tradition. If you were to forswear this ordinary item, you'd meet disdain from large swaths of the Orthodox Jewish world: you would not, for example, be permitted to lead their congregations in prayer or to marry their daughters or to teach their sons. It's also ugly, expensive, and and irrelevent to Jewish law or philosophy, having been given it's high position in 21st century Orthodox Jewish life strictly as a result of how the culture evolved.

What is it?


Happy Birthday Sarah

[Check out the comments, where some very sharp points were made]

Columbus, Kaduri, and the lunar eclipse

*Updated below*

While anchored off Jamaica in 1504, Christopher Columbus found himself in dire straits. Though his supplies were running low, the Jamaican Indians refused to sell him any more food. Consulting his almanac, Columbus noticed that a lunar eclipse was due a few days later. On the appointed day, he summoned the Jamaican leaders and warned them that he would blot out the moon that very evening if his demands for food were not promptly met. The Jamaicans only laughed at him - until later that night when the eclipse began. As the moon disappeared before their eyes, they visited Columbus in a state of terror, whereupon he agreed to stop his magic in exchange for food. The offer was accepted and the moon "restored."

I bring this up, because Yitzhak Kaduri has announced that "It is incumbent upon [diaspora Jews] to return to the Land of Israel due to terrible natural disasters which threaten the world."

There are so many ways to interpret the Kaduri announcment.

(1) He knows what he's talking about
It's possible Rabbi Kaduri has a kabbalistic almanac, which lists natural disasters like Columbus's almanac listed eclipses. But then why won't the Rabbi go on the record and name the disaster? Let him say exactly what threatens us, and I'll be glad to listen.

(2) He's lying - l'shem shamayim
According to this theory, the theory of the noble lie, Rabbi Kaduri has no idea what the future holds, but because aliya is an affirmative Jewish value, the Rabbi is willing to capitilize on recent events, (not to mention his reputation as a seer) for the purpose of encouraging more Jews to move to Israel.

(3) He's an accidental fraud.
A closed medium, is a psychic or miricle worker who actually believes in his or her powers, and does not purposely lie or perform trickery. Perhaps, Rabbi Kaduri believes his own hype, and is convinced that his ability to see the future is real. If so, he's telling us what he really believes, based on his learning and observations, but the information is still false.

(4) He's a deliberate fraud
Who's most likely to take this announcment seriously? Religious Jews, of course. And more religious Jews in Israel, means more power for the religious Jews who are already there, and more power still for their leaders. Though I do not embrace this possibility, the small cynical part of me must acknowledge that it's possible the Rabbi is attempting to strengthen himself politically by capitalizing on Katrina, and other recent events.

(5) UPDATE: The best explanation yet

The Ari's "spirituality"

Over on someone else's blog, a masculine, yet sexually-secure commenter named "Dude" brought up Tikun Olam.
There is ZERO mandate for the common modern day idea of 'Tikkun Olam'. This idea of Tikkun Olam, which commonly is a code word for liberal activism, is simply an idolatrous pseudo religion which is sadly encroaching on actual Judaism.
By his own admissions, "Dude" was criticizing Tikun Olam as its used today; he said nothing about how the Ari originally imagined the concept. And what did Tikun Olam mean to Issac Luria? Here's Harold Bloom
[Tikkun olam] is the restoration of creation [which] must be carried out by the religious acts of individual men, of all Jews struggling in the Exile, and indeed of all men and women struggling in the Exile that Luria saw as the universal human existance."
This is one of the most precious ideas ever to strike a human mind. For Luria, it was the responsibility of the Jewish people, scattered as they were across the Diaspora to (in the language of his metaphor) bring about the gradual restoration of cosmic unity via the ingathering of the bits of Divine Being splintered throughout creation during the primordial catastrophe called shevirat ha-kelim, or breaking of the vessels.

The interesting thing about Luria's doctrine, is that is was formulated in response to the traumas of the sixteenth century. This was the era of evil Pope Paul IV, a time of expulsions and ghettos, and ever draconian anti-Jewish laws imposed by Christians who thought cutting Judaism off from the outside world would speeded its submission or demise. The genious of the Ari was to turn this imposed exile and separation into a religious value. Jews were being scattered across creation, not as punishment, but so that they might find it easier to come across the bits of the divine that had also landed everywhere. Jews were being locked into ghettos, not becuase God had abandoned them, but so that could focus more fully on the performance of religious acts. For it was through these religious acts - acts of prayer, study and the observance of mitzvoth - that Jews imagined themselves to be preparing for the messianic future by rebuilding the cosmos and contributing to the restoration of the Divine.

Though this Luria-inspired renewal might be compared to the flourishing of Rabbinic Judaism after the devestating wars with Rome, it's hard for a man of the twenty-first century to think about it seriously. I suppose this is to be expected. After all, Tikun Olam -the Ari's religious response to expulsions and ghettos - was developed to help Jews overcome a world which, thankfully, no longer exists.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005


world's smallest bladder.

[Hat tip Al Gore]

War crimes?

The Guardian had an article Monday on Scotland Yard's attempt to arrest a retired Israeli general for war crimes. The general, Doron Almog, was on the tarmac at Heathrow on board a commercial El-Al flight when someone tipped him off that British detectives were waiting. Almog stayed on the plane, and flew back to Israel.

The warrent alleges Almog presided over the destruction of 59 homes near Rafah, which Palestenians say was commited to avenge the death of Israeli soldiers. Haaretz adds:
The warrant was issued based on one incident - demolition of a home in Rafah - but the attorneys also seek to investigate allegations concerning Almog's involvement in three other cases: the killing of a woman in her ninth month of pregnancy (Nouha al-Maqadam, March 3, 2003); the killing of three young men in northern Gaza on December 30, 2001; and the bombing of the Daraj neighborhood in Gaza on July 22, 2002, which killed Hamas' military head Salah Shehadeh and 14 other Palestinians.
As you may recall, seven children were killed together with Shehadeh and at least six others. Though I have no sympathy for Shehadeh, one of the founders of Hamas, I do not agree that 14 people is an acceptable level of collateral damage.

I don't respect British jurisdiction in this case, so I'm glad the British meddlers failed to nab Almog at the airport. Still, I hope this near-miss compels the men who greenlight Israeli assasinations to exercise some cautian and restraint going forward.