Friday, April 28, 2006


Still no post from the Cross about the Darfur protest taking place Sunday in their own backyard.

Labrab: And they're based in Baltimore - they should be calling on their troops to attend. More publicity for the blog, too, if they all wear Cross Currents T-shirts.

Cross Currents has T-shirts?

GodolHador: I'm also guilty.

Me too.

Nobody cares about other people on the other side of the world. Jews, blacks whatever. Maybe the Reform & Conservative types really will get Olam Habah for all their social action activity, while all the frummer yidden are all going to hell for wasting their money on esrogim and crap and not giving a damn about humanity.

Now you're talking like Amos, you shaigetz!


I also (surprise) have a beef with Yaakov Menken, I'd like to share... wait.. let me switch back to black... ok better... yesterday, on Menken's blog, some retard wrote: "The radical homosexuals are leading the charge against the religious values that used to undergird civilized society."

I politely pointed out, that Koheles himself advised against looking backwards and saying "it was better then." In point of fact, didn't the old "civilized society" tolerate slavery, ghettos, and the disenfranshisement of women? [Chart] And that's what the retard romantacizes?

Anyway, I thought that was a solid, and inoffensive point. So I took ten minutes from my busy blogging schedule and wrote it up as a comment. Did Menken publish it? Of course not.

Will you be in DC on Sunday?

There's a rally scheduled for Sunday in Washington D.C. for the purpose of urging the lazy-do-nothing President to intervene to stop the genocide in Darfur, Sudan. I won't be there, and having just called the president a "lazy-do-nothing" I suppose I feel a little bit guilty.

My feelings of guilt are personal, but also communal. So far as I know not one YU Rosh Yeshiva has said anything about the rally, and also as far as I know, none of them are going. Why aren't they signing a joint letter announcing a chiyuv to participate? Why aren't the encouraging their students to attend? What they each should do is bring their shiur as a group, the way R. Lichtenstein did in the 60's, for some rally at UN headquarters about a famine in Africa. He made his talmidim get up at 6:30, gave shiur at 7:30, and off they went.

Why isn't YU doing that on Sunday? UPDATE from "Yo": Rav Blau spoke in the Bais Midrash about our communal chiyuv to attend on Wendsday night. There are busses and multiple Roshie Yeshiva attending. DB: Fantastic!

Are any Orthodox shuls sending buses? (I know of two) I'm sure there are more but I'll bet there are many, many, more Conservative and Reform shuls participating. What does that say about us, and does this passivity (my own included) deny us the right to scream about how Evil America did nothing during the holocaust? What are WE (and I mean ME, too; no I mean ME especially) doing during THIS holocaust?


Report: Cops are boosting manpower in Brooklyn as they brace for a Sabbath showdown at sundown today between followers of the late Grand Rebbe Moses Teitelbaum's feuding sons... Zalmen Teitelbaum, leader of a sect in Williamsburg, and Aron Teitelbaum, leader of a sect in Orange County, are planning to hold dueling Sabbath services at sundown in Williamsburg.

Oh, I can't wait to see how Cross Currents spins this if they end up brawling.

Go, Go Guardian

The anti-Semitic image at left is the cover of four-page insert commissioned this week by The Independant (UK) on the widely discredited "Lobby" paper by John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt. ("A nasty piece of work," said the New Republic. "'...slightly but unmistakably smelly" said Chris Hitchens on Slate. And, Harvard removed its logo from the cover page of the essay on its Web site to make clear that it contained the professors' opinions and analysis, not the school's.)

In fact, the only people anywhere who seem to be taking the paper seriously are the British. It was the London Review of Books, which finally published it, after it was first rejected by the Atlantic Monthly, and now we have the Independant's praise. All of which make this angry protest from the Guardian (UK) all the more noteworthy. Money quote:
There is no doubt what the image used by the Independent of the Jewish Stars and Stripes says. It says that Jews control America. Its premise is that Jews are not real Americans and not patriotic Americans; Jews care only for themselves and not for their community. Follow these links to see the same image in its more familiar incarnations. The Stars and Stripes taken over by Jewish Stars of David is an image long used by neo-Nazis, conspiracy theorists and Jihadi Islamists.

The Fisk article is hollow. There is no evidence to back up the strong version of the thesis that is illustrated by the flag and there is no evidence to back up a weaker or more nuanced version that the "Zionists" tricked or coerced the US to spill the blood of its citizens in a war that was against its own interests.
Takeaway points? Never let it be said that the media - even the British media - is reflexivly anti-Israel.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Shas Pollak

Ever hear the one about the old Jews who could stick a pin through a Talmud and tell you every word it touched? I learned today, from Slate, that not only has this incredible feat been documented in Psychological Review, but there's also a name for these memory experts: Shass Pollak
A group of Talmudic scholars known as the Shass Pollaks supposedly stored mental snapshots of all 5,422 pages of the Babylonian Talmud. According to a paper published in 1917 in the journal Psychological Review, psychologist George Stratton tested the Shass Pollaks by sticking a pin through various tractates of the Talmud. They responded by telling him exactly which words the pin passed through on every page. In fact, the Shass Pollaks probably didn't possess photographic memory so much as heroic perseverance. If the average person decided he was going to dedicate his entire life to memorizing 5,422 pages of text, he'd probably also be pretty good at it. It's an impressive feat of single-mindedness, not of memory
That's the generous explanation. The non-generous explanation is that the Shass Pollak were performing a bit of magic called the Book Test. There are, perhaps, 100 ways to carry off this effect, but the basic routine has the performer divining the words on the particular page of a book. A clue that the Shass Pollak effect was done via magic and not memory is the presence of the pin. A real memory feat wouldn't require props. And the fact that the good folks at Psychological Review thought it was legitimate proves nothing. It's all too easy to fool people who aren't trained in the arts of deception.

Why do Zalmies hate Aaronies?

A Zalmie, is a Satmar Hassid who thinks the deceased Rebbe's third son, Zalman Leib, should be the next Rebbe. Aharonies support Aharon, the first son. The two sides don't like each other very much, and here's why:

Ostensibly, the split between the Aharonis and the Zalmanis is ideological.

Zalmanis accuse Aharon of straying from the strict anti Zionist Satmar ideology set down by their founder, Rabbi Yoel Moshe Teitelbaum. Aharon married the Viznitz Rebbe's daughter, who learned at the Hebrew-speaking Beit Ya'acov School for girls. Satmar refrain from conversing in Hebrew, the holy language, in protest against Zionism. They strongly oppose Beit Ya'acov schools that teach in Hebrew.

"Aharon is not fit to be the next Satmar rebbe because he broke the Satmar rule against speaking Hebrew in the home," said Der Yid's Weiss, who spoke to The Jerusalem Post in fluent Hebrew. "After the death of our rebbe we will continue to wave the anti-Zionist flag. That is one of our main goals."


O'Reilly the big bad bully

Bill O'Reilly on Swiftboating?: "For a number of years, some media people have been using personal attacks and smears to try to marginalize people with whom they disagree. They do thisbecause they can't win the debate. So they try to demean and demoralize their opposition."

Whoops, no. Actually, Bill is talking about the media. The liberal, secular media to be precise. Seems like they've been giving the falafal king a hard time. His outrage du jour stems from the case of an Ohio judge who gave gave probation and house arrest instead of prison to a man convicted of repeatedly raping two boys. Bill screamed for the judge to be removed, and really went on the war path when the Dayton Daily News reminded their readers that even if the sentance was rediculous, the judge deserved the same sort of due process that Bill O'Reilly relied upon when he was sued for sexual harassment. Apparently, mentioning Bill's sordid past is not allowed, and Bill responded, like the Christian gentleman he is, by calling the paper "friendly to child rapists."

As the paper explained: "Here's what's really happening: Mr. O'Reilly is upset with the newspaper because in an editorial we referred to his own recent legal history in which he was accused of sexual harassment. His producer threatened that unless we published an apology they would resort to their "bully pulpit." That's what they've done. This isn't about being "soft" on child molesters. It's about Bill O'Reilly getting even."

If that kind of disgusting behavior is the opposite of liberal and secular, I'll stick with liberal and secular, thanks.


Says in the paper that a bunch of Hispanic entertainers are putting together a Spanish-language version of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” How dare they!

As a decendant of original Americans who came to this country via the Mayflower, I am mad as hell about this anti-American idea. If Francis Scott Key wanted us to sing his song in spanish he would have set it to a Latina beat in the firts place.

Anyway. translations are evil and should never be made of any important work of literature. For proof, look at what the Shottenstein Edition of the Talmud did to Judaism. Also, if we go to two langauges for our national anthem, we'll be just like Canada and we don't want to get on the slippery slope, do we? Is that what you want America to look like? Canada? What’s next? Free national health care and sensible gun laws? SCREW THAT!

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The New Threat

Matthias Goering, a grand-nephew of the notorious Nazi, is continuing his ancestor's work. Under the cover of conversion to Judaism, the young Goering is activly working to recruit Jews to Christianity.

And he is not alone.

We tear our shirts over the high assimilationist rates in this country. The American holocaust it's called. And, the knee-jerk reaction is to blame it all on the forces of secularism. There's some truth to that, I suppose, but secularism dosn't pursue converts. Unlike the Christians, secularism doesn't have a plan. It merely creates an enviroment where planning is possible. For all the breast-beating about secularism, not nearly enough is said about people who organize concerted efforts to convert Jews. Instead of fingering the real threat, we blame secularim, and speak carelessly and incorrectly about how those Christians who scheme for our souls are "true and reliable friends."

K'shmo ken hu

ie: "His name defines his persona."


The Muqata and his kid visit Rabbi Avraham Shapira.


The mesorah, apparently, is Jesus, and those Jews who take a broader view of what the Mesorah contains are Judas-like in their treachery.

That distatsteful analogy Rabbi Yitzchak Alderstan, who closed a post this morning, as follows: "There are too many Jewish scholars and liberal clergy eager to betray their legacy for thirty shekels worth of academic respectability."

A little Ph.D.-envy, Rabbi? [thanks, Alex, for the perfect quip, and thanks S. for pointing out that for all his self-rightuous indignation, Rabbi Alderstan likely takes every day from the labors of Jewish scholars and liberal clergy. He uses a Jastrow, I presume, and I expect the Saperstein Chumash is welcome in his school.]


Am I making a mistake, or does the rest of R. Alderstan's post use Catholic indifference about religion as a rod with which to beat Jews who are honestly and legitimately curious about Judaism and its origins? Cross Currents is famous for praising non-Jews at the expense of Jews, but can R Alderstan really think that Catholic incuriousness is a virtue? Is he celebrating willful ignorance? What an odd position for a scholar to take!

The fact that Catholics weren't challanged by the discovery of a new Gospel, tells us more about their intellectual laziness than it does about their loyalty to their religion. Anyway, what loyalty? The average Catholic uses birth control and supports the death penalty. Many suppot abortion rights, too, while meanwhile their pews and seminaries are empty. Their nonchalance about the new discovery is what we might expect from people who are generally nonchalant about religion. This attitude is not something to admire, and it does not come from faith or loyalty, but from disinterest. Is that what R Alderstan wishes on the Jewish people? Disinterest?

Related: On the Main Line attacks from another angle.

Valis Quote of the Day

"...our charedi community’s response to this incident was clear and loud: Trash fires, threats to “Make Jerusalem burn,” 140,000 shekels in damage to public property.

A cheshbon hanefesh is long, long overdue. This type of lawless behavior is, in my opinion, a disgrace to our Torah."
Rabbi Yakov Horowitz

What is also a disgrace to our Torah is the efforts of Yaakov Menken to exonerate Valis by discrediting the police. With narry a drop of evidence, he gives undue credance to the claim that Baby Valis died in a "tragic accident" and suggests that the "Amona Police" framed his father.

The trouble with the "accident defense" is that it is see-through. Every accused child abuser trots out that line, but a competant medical examinar can tell very easily the difference between a beating and an accident. They leave different injuries. A child who was dropped on the floor won’t look like a child who was beaten, or thrown against the wall.

I am commited to the idea that a man is innocent until proven guilty; and, certainly, I am more commited to this idea than the people at Cross Currents, who employ it only when one of their own is threatened. But discrediting the police - when there is no evidence that they have done anythign wrong - is not how responsible people advocate innocence. Unless the ME is a liar, there can be no doubt the baby was murdered. Suggesting the baby’s death was an accident, is suggesting that the medical examiner framed Valis. Are you prepared to do that? On what basis? And are you prepared to deal with the fall-out?

Because as another wise Cross Currents commenter said, "When we tell our children the police, the media, the secular are all against us, how do you expect them to internalize the message?"

The long and very biased arm of Ruport Murdoch

Tony Snow, radio-talk show host, and Bush partisan, has been hired to be the new Squealer, replacing Scotty McClellan as the White House press secretary.

Though Mr. Snow,is an outspoken conservative presenter for Fox News radio and television that isn't how The Times of London described him yesterday. In a headline annoucing the change, they said this: Bush critic set to become his new spokesman. Bush critic? Tony Snow?

But, don't be surprised at the double-speak. The Times of London, you see, is owned by News Corp, the same famously honest folks who run the famously honest Fox News.

Republican Humor

The really funny thing is this T shirt, which calls for the lynching of journalists, is being sold to help promote a new hate site, by Michelle Malkin, called, no joke, "Hot Air."

Um, isn't sweet Michelle a journalist, herself? And one with a long and ugly record of lies, bias, and mean-spirited ranting, besides? My, what is it about wingnuts that make them such hypocrites? George Bush went AWOL, so they challanged Kerry's war record. They invented shrill, so now they flip out whenever some democrats get shrill. They wave the Bible around, but only to whack people over the head with it, and not to make their lives better. And now Michelle Malkin, perhaps the most slanted and dishonest psudeo-journalist ever to pick up a pen, is leading a crusade against her own kind. How moral. How funny. How Republican.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Oy vey

YitzhakEyezik: Yom Hashoa (reprint)

It's Zalman!

Arutz Sheva is reporting that the deceased Satmar Rebbe's will, read aloud at his funeral(!), has designated the third son, Zalman, as the successor.

Meanwhile, Aaron, the first son, isn't going quietly into that good night. In a statement, he said: “The Grand Rebbe's will does not determine succession. Only the Satmar Board of Directors can make that decision. That's how the Grand Rebbe himself was selected. And that's how his successor will be selected.”

The second son, Fredo, was in Las Vegas, managing the family casino business and could not be reached for comment.

At stake in this family dispute are real estate holdings valued at $500 million dollars, a school system that would be the fourth largest in the state if it were a public school system, and the famous matzo factories, where (per Amshinover in a famous, but hard to find, DovBear comment) the matzohs baked by non-Jews are put aside for non-Satmar consumption. Oh, and the winner also gets the mindless and devoted respect and adoration of over 100,000 hasidim, among other valuable prizes.

The Rebbe was buried overnight in Kiryas Joel, and I willl say this: I am surprised and pleased to learn that the Aaronis kept quiet when the will was read, and I'm also glad to see there was no brawling as the Rebbe was laid to rest. I was sure the rival factions were going to go after each other with chains and pick-axes. But they didn't, and the fact that the funeral was late at night may have had something to do with it (hashcocha protis, anyone?)

Funeral Photos:
Jesse Chan Norris
Gothamist (article)

UPDATE The Times Herald reports that "A brief scuffle broke out around 5 a.m. inside the synagogue. Kiryas Joel security and troopers quickly quelled the fight, which apparently started over a dispute about who could speak at the services." Apparently, that was the worst of it. I'm still surprised.

Our President

Timesman Ira Berkow has recently published a book of memoirs, called Full Swing. Here are a few of his words about George W. Bush, former owner of the Texas Rangers.
When he came to meetings, he'd sit with his cowboy boots on a table and his face hidden as he read USA TODAY...Othertimes, he threw spitballs. His level of concentration did not seem high. Years later, I asked a fellow baseball owner, "Did you ever think, at those meetings, that Bush would become president?"...The fellow owner looked around to see if anyone else was listening...bent over and whisperered in my ear, "Never!"
Back when he was a candidate in 2000, people noted Bush's lack of intelligence, lifelong record of duplicity, and the underwhelming work habits described above by Mr. Berkow. But the media quickly passed over these glaring defects, prefering instead to ridicule Al Gore's suits and to laud Bush for being a guy with whom you could sit down and have beer. The pattern repeated itself in 2004 with the press focusing on personalities and trivia instead of the relative abilities of the candidates.

As a result, we've ended-up with a President who may be great to have a beer with (though it seems most people no longer wish even to do that) but who is too lazy and too stupid to face more urgent challenges.

Monday, April 24, 2006

The trouble with Jewish education

An analogy from science:

In elementary school, we teach children that electrons travel around an atom's nucleus in nice circular orbits at discreet energy levels. Later on, we say that the electrons don't exactly travel in circles and that they hang out in dumbbell shaped probability spaces. Next, the high end physics guys talk about quarks and leptons. At each stage of education, more detail is provided.

The problem with Jewish education is that, when it comes to certain subjects, the extra details are never provided. There are legions of Jewish men running around, for example, who can't discuss Chumash with any intelligance. In their mind, midrashim are literal, and Rashi's purpose is to tell us exactly what happened. The problem is so endemic that the views of other Rishonim and Achronim - indeed Midrashim that aren't cited by Rashi - are cavalierly dismissed. (For an example, see this comment thread where "lakewood yid," clueless as ever, can't seem to wrap his head around the possibility that a gloss his first grade Rebbe gave him was incomplete. To save himself the chore of re-examining and adding nuance to an old idea, he's accused me of fabricating a Maharal, a Maharal that is cited in the Schottenstein Talmud on Sotah 11A. )

The irony is that many of these ignoramouses are well-informed when the subject is Jewish law; somehow they've managed to accept that multiple levels of understanding exist when the issue is a legal one. The same people who can effortlessly recount the opinion of 15 achronim when the question is kashrus, refuse to leave Rashi's bes medrash when we're discussing chumash. It's really quite bizarre.

Who killed Rephael Valis?

The Rabbis and the Edath Haredi community say Yisroel Valis is not a murderer. Fine. But we're still left with his son's dead body, and medical evidence that tells us the baby was beaten to death.

If the father is innocent, should we arrest the mother? The grandmother? The babysitter? Or maybe Edath Haredi believes a rougue medical examiner lied about the cause of death? Actually, that isn't a bad approach. Blaming incompetant and bigoted authorities worked for OJ Simpson. Why shouldn't it work for Yisroel Valis?

More Valis (Exonerated?)

Bluke has posted the Rabbi's letter, the one alleged yesterday, by the Israeli papers, to be a psak or legal declaration of Valis's innocence.

After reading the letter, I had the following argument with myself:

DovBear: See! It's not a psak. You were misled by the newspapers. All the letter does is call on the public "to assist the Vales family and other rabbis who are doing their very best to bring justice and truth to light, and to prove that he is innocent of all wrongdoing, and to get him released from jail."

What's unusual or unreasonable about that? A show of support is not an exoneration and, like any other alleged murderer, Valis deserves the presumption of innocence. Even the apparent indifference to the victim which sounds so offensive to our ears (the Rabbis made no mention of the victim, or of his grieving relatives) is not alarming given the brevity and the tone of the letter.

DovBear: Slow down. I agree the text of the letter suggests that the newspaper erred when they called it a halachic decree, unfortunately the actions of at least one of the signatories points to another intention.
One of the rabbis [who signed the letter], speaking to Israel Radio, said that the basis for the decree was that Valis's wife was still supporting him, and that if he had indeed killed his son, she would not be at his side still.
I still don't know who made this shaky argument, but it tells me that no matter what the letter says, the men who wrote it are convinced that Valis is innocent. That's fine, but it doesn't stop there: the leaders of Valis's community are on record calling the case a blood libel, and they accuse the authorities of using Inquisition techniques to coerce Valis's confession. I fully agree that Valis deserves a show of support, but the presumption of innocence, has to cut both ways. The police and the medical examiner are not our enemy, and there's no reason to think they abused their authority.


Anyway, the upshot of my internal dialogue is this: I am redirecting yesterday's criticism. Instead of finding fault with the Rabbis, I should have directed my questions at the newspapers for misrepresenting the Rabbi's intention, and also at that members of the Haredi community who think the letter exonerated Valis.

Sunday, April 23, 2006


I really liked this Orthomom post about the cartoon riots last winter. Her point: Jews aren't like Arabs. They can be expected to settle their problems without taking to the streets.

Of course, that was before before BoroPark and Valis.

Yisroel Valis

For those of you not in the know, let's begin at the begining: Yisroel Valis is an Israeli, 19 years old, and recently arrested for killing his three month old son. According to the police, Valis has confessed to biting, beating, pinching and punching the infant since birth because he "did not accept him." The word of the police, unfortunately, carries zero weight in Valis's community, the staunchly anti-Zionist and hostile-to-the-state Edah Haredit, which answered the arrest with three days of rioting, and the obnoxious claim that the Israeli police had fabricated a "Pessah-eve blood libel identical to those concocted by the Europeans against the Jews."

Now, Rabbis Shalom Elyashiv and Haim Kanievski have inserted themselves into the mess.

Their psak, or halachic ruling, issued today, declares that Valis is innocent. Essentially, the ruling states that the fact that Mrs. Valis continues to support her husband is proof positive of his innocence. Can this shaky argument really have been intended to supersede the Israeli court system, and to sweep away the state's evidence? Did the Rabbis think their word was enough to cause Valis's cell door would fly wide open? Surely not. So what then?

Whatever it the Rabbis may have intended, their declaration serves to trivialize both logic and due process, and by doing so, the Rabbis have also trivialized our reputation as a learned, pious, and respected people.

[Hat-tip Hagtbg]

Friday, April 21, 2006

Talk about your buzz kills

Ynet News:
A group of ultra-orthodox hackers, shocked by the obscenity of some porn sites, has launched an internet campaign in a bid to cause such sites to crash. The hackers, already named at some internet forums the "ultra-orthodox sex commando," or the "ultra-orthodox electronic underground," focus their efforts at this point on Hebrew sites.

The first target was the Hebrew porn site – a mid-sized, not very popular site that features sex videos.

Those who tried logging in to the site found instead a photo of the Lubavitch Rabbi with the text: "We, the religious-net group, hacked into this site and erased all obscenities. The other sites we plan on bringing down are listed below."
BOTH has more plus commentary.

The deathless king of Egypt?

I love it when I find that the thoughts which trouble me, troubled, too, our sages.

For instance, consider the identification of the Pharoh of the Exodus as "a new king" [Exodus 1:8] Could the verse be any clearer? It says: New king! And the next words drive home the point saying plainly that this new king "did not know Yosef."

Yet, on Sotah 11A, the plain point seems lost on Shmuel a fourth century sage, who insists that "only [the king's] decrees were new," and as the Gemarah explains a bit further down on the page, "[the king] only seemed like one who did not know Joseph at all."

Without detriorating into dramatics, let me just apologize to the the poor woman who taught me Shmuel's gloss back in Grade 4. I am sure I caused her great suffering. I suppose I asked the same questions that you ask. "Why," I am sure I demanded,"did the Torah tell us that this was a new king if he was nothing of the sort?" And why," I am sure I added," did God grant such a long life to someone as evil as Pharoh?"

These objections, of course, were shared by Rav, also a fourth century sage. Rav, also on Sotah 11A, says Exodus 1:8 refers to a genuinely new king, and his view is ratified, 1400 years later, by Samson Repahael Hirsch who says the new king was an outsider, perhaps even a non-Egyptian, who had recently taken the throne by force. In fact, Samson Rephael Hirsch makes no mention of Shmuel's opinion at all and I remember well how satisfied I was to see that R' Hirsch had rejected Shmuel's rejection of the verse's plain meaning. But none of this is taught by elementary school teachers who, as a class, seem to prefer the magic and mystery of Shmuel over Rav's common sense. Our kids come home with only the most superstitious views, and no effort is made to introduce them to the sages who frowned on such irrationality.

Anyway, the point fo this post is to share the good news that Shmuel's view really wasn't irrational at all.

This morning, I found a remarkable Maharal. The Maharal agrees that it's impossible for Pharoh's lifespan to stretch from Joseph to Moses, but saves Shmuel from mockery and ridicule by asserting that in no way should Shmuel's statment be construed to mean that he thought Joseph and Moses knew the same king. Shmuel, instead, meant simply that Moses's Pharoh was a decendant of Joseph's Pharoh, a member of the same royal line.

The argument between Rav and Shmuel, says the Maharal is not whther or not Joseph and Moses knew the same king, but about whther or not the kings they knew belonged to the same family. Shmuel thought the kingdom was intact' Rav thought Moshe's Pharoh was a usurper, and unrealted to the one who reigned in Joseph's time.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

My mad little suggestion

Your attention please, all harried housewives (and the men who love them.)

Instead of flipping your house tonight, amid the bustle that accompanies the end of any Yom Tov, why not leave your kitchens kosher for Pesach until Sunday? On Sunday, your family will be relaxed and calm and the kids currently sleeping will be able to help with the scrubbing and the lugging. Yes, accepting my idea means eating matzoh over Shabbos, but so what? How much matzoh are we talking about? Two cheekfuls? And trust me: your bloated stomach won't mind at all if you wait a few more days before returning to noodles, cake, and fried foods.

In fact, the only thing more perplexing than people who rush for bread the moment Pesach ends, are the people who moan and groan about matzoh for 8 days and nights. Aside from being healthier than store bought bread, matzoh just isn't that awful. We nibble on it quite happily.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

A Pesach Message from a friend

In a deliberate parody of the Haggadah, a friend from elsewhere writes:

"What is the meaning of the Seder to you? Isn't is all one lie, one lesson of falsehoods? There's no mention of any of the Exodus in any of the contemporary sources, no proof of any sort that God exists or that he looks after us. Isn't it a fact that you hoodwink your children only to ensure that they confirm their faith when they are adults? And if it is built on such lies, your faith ought to go extinct."

Who hoodwinks children? I understand why you think I am lying to my kids when I tell them God took us out of Egypt with a strong arm, but I think you are being narrow-minded. Sure, the Seder, like all of education, is a form of indoctrination, and it may, strictly speaking, be built on lies, but might it also be true?

Unlike, say, the letter-perfect bible, there's no satisfactory, unambiguous evidence that the strong-armed God is a fantasy. No way to be certain that He didn't carry our ancestors out of Egypt exactly as the Torah says He did. And so long as at least a smidgen of doubt remains, why shouldn't I introduce my child to the culture of his father and his grandfather? Why shouldn't I raise a child who understands me, a child sees me as something more than a relic and a representative of an old and mistaken way? If I don't give my son a Seder, in a sence I rob him of our books, our ideas and our history. His understanding of the world in which he lives will be so much the poorer. I stress that I do not think I am lying to my children but if God-forbid I am, those lies are an on-ramp to very great riches, and they are, therefore noble lies.

Passover Purchases

Reprint of: For those of you saying, "Gee. I don't already have enough things to buy for Passover."
Originally posted Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Bag of Frogs
Item Number: RLtTYFROG/5
Our Price: $3.99

Live out the plague of the frogs with these small life like rubber frogs, have fun with your kids as you describe to them the plague of the frogs, with actaully almost real life frogs! [more]

What's next? A bag of blood? Stick on boils? Hey, how about this: for $1.99, I'll come to your house and blow all your lighbulbs, then you can "have fun with your kids" as you live out the "plague of darkness!"

Monday, April 17, 2006

Return us to those days of yore

The foolish reactions I've been getting to my post about g'broks, makes this reprint necessary. Read it, and learn.

Return us to those days of yore
Originally posted by DovBear on Friday, July 29, 2005

Have you ever studied tractate Chagigah? This week, in between the meetings and the mountain climbing, I learned that Temple Days were, in some unpleasent ways, very much like our own.

You see, according to the Talmud, there were in Temple Days two classes of people: (1) Perushim who were meticulous about purity, and accepted certain stringancies to protect the purity of their food and their bodies; and (2) Amei Ha'aretz who were not meticulous and could not be trusted to even keep the basic requirements.

Throughtout the year, those priests who were perushim refused to take trumah (food offerings) from Amei Ha'aretz, and there were strict rules limiting the participation of the amei ha'aretz in Temple services. This was done to protect the priest and the Temple from being polluted through contact with food that may have been handled by people who were, themselves, in a state of impurity.

There are echos of this in our own day.

Some shuls withhold the amud from people who haven't embraced stringencies like the hat or gartel. Other shuls ban certain hechsharim. And some schools turn away prospective students from families that keep the basic law but not the more advanced stringencies. In a sense, those who wear hats and refuse to watch TV and movies are modern perushim; those who are, perhaps, a little sloppy with the basic law and have no use for chumrahs are our amei ha'aretz.

This neat analogy between our time and Temple time shatters when you recall that the rules were different on holidays. On holidays the amei haaretz and their food were accepted by the persuhim with love. All stringancies were suspended. Why? Because the sages feared that the amei haaretz would go off and start their own sect if they weren't made to feel welcome in Jerusalem on holidays.

And weren't they wise? Don't we see this happening in our own day? All of our modern subsects are, to an extent, the product of stringencies.

Wouldn't Judaism -universal Judaism- be so much stronger if we followed the approach of the Sages and stopped using stringencies as an excuse for excluding and belittling other Jews?

DovBear: On Baseball in General, and Pesach in Particular

Reprint of: DovBear: On Baseball in General, and Pesach in Particular
Originally posted on: Friday, April 22, 2005

This is the post that took a Bronze Medal in the 2005 JIBs, which was odd. I mean I don't think this is even my best post of 2005. But who am I to argue with the voters.


Bernard-Henri Lévy on the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York:

This is not a museum, it's a church. These are not rooms, they're chapels. The visitors themselves aren't really visitors but devotees, meditative and fervent. I hear one of them asking, in a low voice, if it's true that the greatest champions are buried here—beneath our feet, as if we were at Westminster Abbey, or in the Imperial Crypt beneath the Kapuziner Church in Vienna. And every effort is made to sanctify Cooperstown itself, this cradle of the national religion, this new Nazareth, this simple little town that nothing prepared for its election and yet which was present at the birth of the thing.

An edifying history, told in the exhibition rooms and the brochures, of the scientific commission created at the beginning of the twentieth century by a former baseball player who became a millionaire and launched a nationwide contest on the theme "Send us your oldest baseball memory." He collected the testimony of an old engineer from Denver who in 1839, in Cooperstown, in front of the tailor's shop, saw Abner Doubleday, later a Northern general and a Civil War hero, the man who would fire the first shot against the Southerners, explain the game to passersby, set down the rules, and, in fact, baptize it.

It was in honor of this story that the year 1939, exactly a century later, was chosen for the inauguration of the museum. In a well-known article in Natural History, the paleontologist and baseball fan Stephen Jay Gould recalled that a long-ago exhibit at the museum noted that "in the hearts of those who love baseball" the Yankee general remains "the lad in the pasture where the game was invented."

The only problem, Tim Wiles, the museum's director of research, tells me, is that Abner Doubleday, in that famous year of 1839, wasn't in Cooperstown but at West Point; that the old engineer, who was supposed to have played that first game with him, had been just five years old; that the word "baseball" had already appeared in 1815, in a novel by Jane Austen, and in 1748, in a private letter found in England; that a baseball scholar, an eminent member of the Society for American Baseball Research, had just discovered, in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, an even older trace; that the Egyptians had, it seems, their own form of the game. The only problem, he says, is that we have always known—since 1939, in fact, since the museum's opening—that baseball is a sport of the people, and even if, like all sports of the people, it suffers from a lack of written archives, its origin is age-old. The only problem is that this history is a myth, and every year millions of men and women come, like me, to visit a town devoted entirely to its celebration.

Two hypotheses to work from. Either the visitors in question are ignoramuses who believe, in good faith, that it's all true; or, on the contrary, they are in the know. They know that the story doesn't hold true... They are all in full agreement about the falsity of the legend; they celebrate a myth, not believing for an instant that it's true.To revere a counterfeit as if it were real. To rewrite the history of an age-old pastime as if it were a national sport. What is at stake in each case is a relationship to time, and in particular to the past—as if, with this nation so eminently oriented toward its present and, especially, its future, regret for the past occurs only on condition that the past can be reappropriated with well-calculated words and deeds. As if with all one's strength—including the strength and power of myth and forgery—one had to reassert the power of the present over the past....

There's an analogy here.

For those, like me, who believe the Exodus occured preciesly as the Bibles says it did, though no evidence supports the account, Pesach holds a special charm. When we sit at the seder, and repeat the maggid we celebrate, not just the redemption of the Jewish people, but the creativity of our great sages, and the wonderful, reassuring myths of Jewish history. It's when we recognize that Seder isn't merely a celebration of the past, but of the ideas that were invented to give the past meaning.

The facts of the Exodus are believable but unknowable and, anyway, completely beside the point. What we admire is the message that was attached to those facts. We don't really care exactly how baseball began. We simply love the game.


The post about the three little Jews: My point here was that Judaism should not be making claims it can't support; rather once a so-called Jewish claim is conclusivly disproven Judaism should retreat gallantly to claims that have not or can not be disproven. As a people, we should embrace the idea that no authentically Jewish idea could ever be proven wrong; therefore the fact that science has shown us that the universe is billions of years old, or the fact that the scholarly study of manuscripts and older Jewish documents has demonstrated that our Torah is not letter-for-letter the Torah Joshua took across the Jordan should be taken to mean that the 6000 year old universe and the Rambam's 8th were never authentically Jewish ideas in the first place.

The post about g'broks: I acknowledge happily that not everyone who shuns g'broks is a snob and a scold; unfortunately many g'broks-avoiders I've met do believe that eating g'broks is a sign of prikas ol, and they do half harangue me to give it up. This is aggravating because it is exactly backwards. They are the ones who have departed from past practices, not me. Yet, I who keep the old ways am called modern.

In defense of the second day

Jameel says: My only consolation is that we only had ONE day of chag and then a break before shabbat - while you had 3 days in a row! BWAHAHAHAHAH

Bwahaha? Jameel, why do you think the second day is a burden? Having a second seder is great: It gives the kids more time to say over the snippets they brought home from school. And having an extra day of chag - just me and the family and the neighbors - in the great spring weather, with none of the weekday distractions, is also wonderful.

Now, I expect objections. I know some of you (likely Yus, and maybe Chiam B.) will be quick to say, "DovBear, you're a fabulous blogger, and an all around great guy who has given us hours and hours of free entertainment, but, to my small and feeble mind, you appear to have contradicted yourself. Last week you urged us, with all the authority an anonymous blogger can muster, to eat matzo balls on Pesach. Yet, today you write in support of the Diaspora's second day of Yom Tov. Aren't both customs equally foolish? Don't we know, with certainty, that matzoh, once baked, can't possibly become chomutz? And don't we know, with certainty, when Pesach begins and that the second day of Yom Tov is, in fact, the second and not the first day of the holiday? So what gives?"

All good points (especially the part about me entertaining you for free) The differences are only this: (1) The entire Diaspora has been keeping Yom Tov Sheni for at least 2000 years; a small, but growing subset of Jews has been avoing gbroks for less than 400. (2) No one in the Diaspora imagines that the second day of Yom Tov makes us holier or better; many, if not most, people who shun g'broks think they are keeping pesach correctly and the rest of us are mistaken and, worse, "modern." (3) The second day of Yom Tov makes our lives better for secular reasons. As mentioned above, there's the extra family time, and the extra day without the pressures of the week. Avoiding g'broks makes our lives more difficult, and creates artificial distinctions between Jews.

Now, with all of that said, I concede that Yom Tov Sheni is an anachronism that should be discarded. I recognize that there is no legitimate halachic mechanism which could discard it, and I recognize their might be compelling secondary reasons for keeping it, reasons like propagating respect for sages and for tradition. But neither the absence of a halachic fix, or the compelling secondary reasons can obviate the fact that the creation of a reliable Jewish calendar, in 359 CE, made YTS obsolete. All three ideas [(1) it's original reason no longer obtains (2) we can't do anything about it; and (3) there are secondary reasons for maintaining the status quo] are at once true.

Nu? What time did you finish?

First night: After 1 AM.

Second night: Closer to 2 AM.

The mystery to me, as always, is how so many of my friends managed to finish before midnight. Do they wolf down their food? Or, (and this is more likely) do they make a mockery of magid? A proper magid is more than just a series of readings. It should not be said the way we say psuka dezimra. A proper magid is interspersed with conversation and discussion. The kids ask questions and so do the adults. The kids, armed with their notebooks and annotated haggadahs, share thoughts about Pesach, and so do the adults. At our seder, we've occasionally had guests from Lakewood or Chaim Berlin who came with prepared remarks. One cousin even came to the table with a pile of books and notes for a twenty-minute oration. That's going too far. Snippets, not sermons. But put no limits on the snippets. A seder is primarily a teaching tool. Eveyone present should be prepared to learn and to teach, to share something brief but brilliant, and to listen patiently when it's the other fellows turn. So long as this rule is followed, the more snippets the better. This chatter is part of the charm of the seder. I couldn't imagine doing without it.

This year, more than any other, for some reason, I found myself wondering about other seders and how they are conducted. Every seder I've ever attended has had one of two people presiding: my father, or my father-in-law. I still remember the curious sense of surprise, the year after I was married, when, for the first time, I saw different seder customs and heard different nirtzhah tunes. Some questions:

Do all of you lift the whole plate at ha lachma anya the way that we do, or do you lift the matzha alone? Do you make a fetish out of forbidding anyone to pour their own cup of wine, or are you lax on this point? Egg after korach or not? Do you stand when the door is opened for Eliyahu? Do you let the children lean? Do you sing halel? Do you stick to the text of the haggadah, or do you add family songs and family readings? What's unique about your seder?

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The letter by Rebbe Shimshon of Ostropoli.

The letter by Rebbe Shimshon of Ostropoli.: "The following letter is taken from a pamphlet written by the Tzaddik, Rebbe Shimshon from Ostropoli. He writes at the end of the pamphlet that anyone who studies the wondrous and awesome secrets written here, even one time in a year, and especially Erev Pesach, is guaranteed that he will be saved from any kind of accident or disaster or strange death for the whole of that year, and that everything that he turns his hand to will be successful!"

Here that everyone? You can save yourself "from any kind of accident or disaster or strange death for the whole... year," and it's only good for today: Erev Pesach. Hurry. (and if you spot the catch, let me know!)

Leaders of Tomorrow

I'm putting together a group of people to go and picket outside the Hilel House at the Georgia Institute of Technology. According to my sources, their president, Orit Sklar, runs Hillel House board meetings which celebrate and encourage the near-naked lifestyle. Also, the House once welcomed a Playboy Bunny (Feb 2003) to give a presentation and sign autographs. My Jewish faith compels me to speak out against such things. We're going to yell and scream and carry angry signs. We may even do some stomping. Who wants to come with?

Why am I giving Orit such a hard time? Only because this devout and sensitive soul is currently suing the Georgia Institute of Technology for the right to be intolerant. You see, the school bans anti-gay speech and oppressed Orit says speaking out against homosexuals is compelled by her religion. She says that the College's tolerance rules, which prevent her from putting down gays, have caused her to suffer. In fact, in the complaint, she says she "continue[s] to suffer, irreparable injury which cannot be fully compensated by an award of money damages." That's right. Suffering. All because she can't insult homosexuals. As God commanded.

And you know what, I hope she wins the right to be intolerant because she and her near-naked board members are next. If she wins the right to insult gays, I win the right to insult people who appear in public with their arms uncovered, or who drive on shabbos, or sleep with their boyfriends outside of marriage. Sauce for the goose, baby.

PS - The other best part about this frivilous law-suit is Orit's co-plantiff is Ruth Malhotra, a conservative, southern, christian. Can't we see where this is going? Once Ruth wins the right to tell the gays that they are going to hell, or whatever, who do you think she'll turn on next? The blacks, I suppose. Maybe the Asians. But sooner or later the Jews will have their turn, just like always.

[Hat-tip: Mis-nagid]

The two-minute Haggadah.

From Slate

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Krum Klobbers Kross Kurrents

Right here

Go Get Some G'broks

Not long ago it seemed that everyone in Brooklyn was making a sacrifice for the Lord by giving up g'brocks (I wanted to hyperlink the word to a definition but I can't find one online. I give my own definition below.) Why? I don't know. The reason wasn't that the halacha demands giving up g'broks, because, well, it doesn't.

Don't beleive me? Look in Eliyahu Kitov's Sefer Hahoda'ah where it says:

"Many people have tried, in vain, to find in the halachah, the source of this custom. After matzoh has been properly baked, it is impossible to make it chometz even by soaking it in all the water in the world... It is said that a certain great man once asked a pupil to find the origin of this custom. When the pupil admitted he was unable to find the source, the great man exclaimed, 'What an important custom this must be for it requires no foundation to support it!'

In other words, God said 'don't eat from the tree.' Chava said, 'Don't touch the tree.' And who ever dreamt up this custom took it even one step further. If you non-g'broks people have any guts you'll be eating matzo balls at the seder this year, just like God intended.


*Gbroks is middle-high German for broken. What we mean here is broken matzah mixed with water or soup or milk. If you eat matzah brie, you eat g'broks, and as noted above that's perfectly ok. Some people, however, think that Judaism is just too darn easy so, as noted above, they invented the stringancy of "not eating g'broks." These people do not eat matzoh ball soup or matzoh brie - at least not on Passover. What they do eat is probably grody but it serves them right for trying to fix something that ain't broken."

Kefirah on DovBear?

Kefira! Get your kefira right here!

The Perfect Storm?

Traffic on Memorial Day Weekend on the New York Throughway and on Route 17 is typically a disaster, between the sales at Woodbury Commons and the people going to and from their summer homes.

Now imagine Memorial Weekend on the roads if it were to coincide with a monster Satmar Funeral in Monroe.

Thought for the Day: (When Jesus was a Democrat)

Jackson Lears: "To anyone who cares about the fate of our republic, these are troubling times. Yet seldom has our public discourse seemed so inadequate to the seriousness of the situation. George W. Bush's administration has pushed us into moral and constitutional crisis, but the media remain committed to business as usual--trivializing criticism of the president as partisan bickering, finding expert apologists for power to sanction appalling departures from American tradition. Think-tank intellectuals with impeccable credentials calmly discuss torture as an instrument of national policy. Bush himself, having deceived Americans into supporting his disastrous Iraq adventure, now asserts his authority to ignore legislative constraints of any kind. 'Presidential historians' on public television solemnly compare him to Lincoln and other 'wartime presidents,' overlooking the egregious flaw in this analogy: we are not in a state of war. Instead we are in a state of permanent emergency, a murky atmosphere of genuine danger and popular anxiety that can be deployed to justify just about any expansion of executive power.

Meanwhile the Democrats dither. Of course, this is not entirely fair. The media's fascination with power renders serious criticism almost invisible. When Al Gore gave a major speech on Martin Luther King Day cataloging Bush's misdeeds, only a few major media outlets reported it. But too many of the Democrats who are actually in public office, who bear some responsibility for sustaining an opposition party, are apparently unwilling to challenge the unchecked power of the presidency....

Given this insipid excuse for opposition, Democrats might well re-examine their own traditions in search of inspiration. In the not-too-distant past, they would discover a different political universe, one that would baffle the current purveyors of red state/blue state conventional wisdom. In that strange time and place--I refer to the early twentieth-century United States--populism was about economic power as well as cultural style, and popular Christianity was about questioning imperial hubris as well as sanctifying crusades. The leading socialist newspaper came out of Kansas; the governor of Arkansas was known as a "Karl Marx for hillbillies"; and farmers crowded into Nebraska town squares to hear politicians denounce monopoly power. The most eloquent and prominent of those orators was certainly William Jennings Bryan."

The above except comes from Lear's review of Michal Kazin's new biography of Bryan, a man who was every bit a Christian and every bit a progressive democrat, someone who knew Jesus as a prophet of economic justice, and not as a proponent of surefire personal success.

I wonder what Toby and the CrossCurrentJews would do with a man like Bryan? Would they find themselves drawn to him because of his impeccable personal virtue, in the way that they are drawn today to modern Christians? Or would they reject him for his liberalism, and for his own rejection of the Gospel of Selfishness?

Two places at once?

During the night Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, 'Up! Leave my people, you and the Israelites! Go, worship the LORD as you have requested. 32 Take your flocks and herds, as you have said, and go. And also bless me. [Ex 12:31]

On the night of the Exodus, Moshe was in Thebes, the Egyptian capital. Following verse 12: 29 his appearance before the king occured after midnight, after "the LORD struck down all the firstborn in Egypt." So how did he make it to Goshen in time to lead the Exodus the next morning?

Goshen is up in the Nile Delta, above Cairo, but Cairo itself is more than 400 miles from Thebes! So how did Moshe manage to appear in both places on the same night?

Intelectual honesty update: The point has been made, by email, that Pharoh was likely in Avaris on the night of the Exodus. Avaris was an Egyptian capital at that time. Though leaving Avaris after midnight, and arriving in Goshen in time to lead the Exodus the next morning would not have been easy, it is by no means impossible, in the way that traveling to Goshen in one night from Memphis or Thebes would have been.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Your daily thought (Bush and immigration)

Peter Beinart
The conservative movement's current position is that, when government intrudes on the free market, it makes things worse. Except in the case of immigration, where the United States has a vast market for low-wage labor, and Mexico has a vast supply--and conservatives think the federal government can keep the two apart, if only it would spend more money. It's amazing how people start believing in government's ameliorative capacity when a problem really bothers them. Perhaps after they rid America of illegal immigration, conservatives will let the federal government rid America of poverty.
[I expect George W. Bush will soon sign the nastiest anti-immigration law he can find. This disapoints me. Bush's sloppy efforts to make the GOP a multicultural party is one of the only things about him I found appealing. Bush tried to win votes from blacks and Latinos, when so many of his GOP predecessors (Nixon anyone?) chose instead to win votes by running against them. But look for Bush to crucify even that meager legacy on the cross of mounting conservative preasure. For all his blather about steadfastness, I doubt he has the stregnth or integrity to fight his base on this point.]

Reflections of an Israeli Soldier

From the YU Commentator:
Before I entered the army, I had a bias against all Arabs and refused to recognize their despair. After seeing their suffering, however, I acknowledge that they too struggle. Having maned an IDF checkpoint for Arabs, I could not help but notice their downtrodden state. The Palestinians - men, women, and children - would pass by every day wearing the same dirty clothes. They lacked running water and had such poor hygiene that the soldiers would argue over who would have the 'misfortune' of searching them. I personally believe that the corrupt Palestinian Authority is to blame. They exploit millions of dollars in foreign aid, and use it to fund terrorism and increase their own wealth. In Gaza City there are villas so fancy beyond the means of even some of the wealthier families in our community. But no matter who deserves the blame, Jews must recognize their anguish; they too are creations of God.
I wonder how common this is? Do most Israelis finish their army tours with a new and enlightened opinion of Arabs? Anyway, his final comment puts me in mind of a Pesach midrash: "God is not happy at the downfall of the wicked. ... When the angels tried to sing songs of praise to God at the Red Sea, God silenced them: ‘My handiwork, my human creatures, are drowning in the sea and you want to sing a song of praise?’” (T.B. Megillah 10b)

[Tip of the kippah to Yisreol Medad]

Maror in the middle

Want proof the Hasidim are taking over the world? Look no further than your seder plate. If yours is like 999 out of 1000 it's arranged with the maror in the middle, but did you know that this arrangment is not the one originaly used by the Jews of Europe?

That's right. If you're a Jew of European descent it's likely your alter zadie arranged his plate according to the opinion of the Ramah, the posek of Europe. The Ramah's seder plate has nothing in the middle. On the right side, from top to bottom, are egg, charoses, karpas; on the left from top to bottom are bone, marror, salt water.

Nowadays, though, you can follow this original and authentic European tradition at your own risk. When I do it, people stare.

In fact, in my experience, the people who babble the most about the very great threat presented by "modern" Judaism are also the least likely to recognize that their very own seder plates are arranged in a manner many of their own ancestors would have probably dismissed as a newfangled fad. The same Jews who today inveigh against modernity, are themselves (probably) the great-granchildren of men and women who once inveighed against the new ideas and the new practices spread by the hasidim.

The Parable of the 3 Jews

Once there were three Jews who went off into the world to make their fortunes. The first Jew wrapped himself in straw, the second wrapped himself in wood, and the third in brick, and for a time they were all very happy.

But, presently, came along a wolf. The straw, and the wood could not withstand the wolf's arguments, and the Jews who relied upon them were quickly gobbled up. Only the Jew who surrounded himself with brick was able to survive.

In the parabale the straw represents supernatural claims, and the wood represents ahistorical claims. For a long time, Jews were content to make and rely upon both, but gradually, gradualy, the discoveries of science, archeology, linguistics and history have made many of those claims unteneable. The mistake many Jews make is imagning those supernatural and ahistorical claims are essential to Judaism. But, by definition, can something esential to Judaism be false? Only the theological claims, the bricks, are essential. If a claim of ours has been trumped and proven false by science or one of the other disciplines, isn't that conclusive proof that the defeated claim is not fundemental? And, if it isn't fundemental we should be pleased to see it go. More wheat, less chaff.

There's no reason to cling sentimentaly to ideas that are wrong.

Friday, April 07, 2006

The Curious Jew: YES!

Mazal Tov

News from the war front

Don Feder, at Human Events on Line, writes today that "The war on Christians is real." What's the proof? Well, his examples of persecution include the futuristic Christians bad guys in V for Vendetta and a law in California which says you can't fire transexuals. In fact, most of his examples of suffering and oppression boil down to "Christians" having to tolerate the existence of other people, while not getting to be the boss of everybody.

Here' s the big, wingnutty, finale
Give the National Socialists credit for candor. In 1920s Germany, if a Jew had said to a Nazi, "You hate me," the goose-steeper would have replied: "You’re right, Jew. And if we ever get a chance, we’ll kill you." He would not have accused his victim of paranoia, hysteria, disrespecting real religious persecution, and making wild allegations for fundraising purposes.
In other words, media-members are worse than Nazis and do you know why? No, not because they're shipping Christians off to death camps, and murdering them by the millions, but because they refuse to agree with Don about the "War on Christians." By refusing to acknowledge that this bogus war exists, the media falls short of the high standards for honesty and forthrightness set by the Nazis.

And these are the people we insist are our friends?


Chief Joseph J. Esposito has apologized to Simcha Felder and Dov Hikind for uttering a profanity during Wednesday night's riot. As you recall, the chief permited a four-letter word to slip his lips during a protest in which hundreds of Orthodox Jews demonstrated, some of them setting bonfires, burning a police car, and laying seige to a police precient.

To date, the Rampaging Jews of Boro Park have not reciprocated the apology. Nor have they offered to pay for the squad car they destroyed. Instead, the community continues to simmer, and to speak of traffic blitzs and police brutality.

Police brutality? Let's remember how the police handled past protests. In contrast to the three(!) arrests made Tuesday, hundreds of arrests were made during the 2004 Republican National Convention, and protesters who commited minor offences were held for long stretches of time. But in Boro Park, instead of behaving aggresivly, the police defused the situation by holding back and allowing the community to vent it's rage. Though I don't agree with that strategy (l'havdil, it is that strategy which caused the death of Yankel Rosenblum) the people of Boro Park should be glad they were treated with restraint and not like Democrats.

For this restraint, the cops should be praised by the community, and not mau-maued into making bogus and humiliating apologies to spotlight-seeking politicians.

[Police Chief Apologizes for Remarks During Brooklyn Protest - New York Times]

The Frustrations of Learning Torah with a RWY person

I want to share with you a moment of extreme frsutration I experienced this winter while attempting to learn a piece of chumash with one of the local RW Yeshivish people. First, though, I have to say that the guy is brilliant, with a command of rabininc literature that puts me to shame. Trouble is, he was never taught how to think.

We were discussing the appearance of the three angels to Abraham, our forefather, at the start of Parshas Vayerah. The verse tells us that Abraham instructed Sarah to "Hurry! Three se'ahs of meal, fine flour! Knead and make cakes" but, according to someone who's name I forget, Sarah had begun menstruating that morning and therefore was forbidden to touch dough. So how could Abrham have asked Sarah to prepare bread? (I should note that I am relying on my RW Yeshivish friend for these details. I don't recall ever being taught that a niddah must not touch dough, or that Sarah's menses returned before the angels arrived at Abrham's tent.)

When I tried to address my friend's question in the obvious way, my answer was waved off. The idea that the laws of Niddah were not known to Abraham could not be accepted by my friend even as a possibility and he clenched his teeth angrily when I accused him of thinking ahistorically. In return, he accused me of dismissing the question, by which he meant only that I was refusing to indulge in speculative weavings about what may have happened 4000 years years ago in Abraham's tent, when it seemed perfectly obvious to me that whatever it was that happened, Abraham certainly would not have reacted to it like a post-Talmudic Jew.

Suffice it to say, the whole conversation was a dead end.


My definition of Modern Orthodox is simple: If you are committed to halacha, but willing to follow the evidence wherever it takes you on matters of hashkafa you are Modern Orthodox. In other words, you have committed an act of heresy against the high church of modern orthodoxy if (a) you ignore the facts of science while keeping halacha; or (b) make yourself a slave to science while rejecting halacha.

Because it's Friday afternoon, and my next post about the Borough Park riot is still in development, I thought it would be a hoot to list heresies for some of the other Jewish denominations. (Note: In the list that follows I use the term "heresy" to describe opinions and actions that would exclude you from the group)

RW Hasidic Heresies
  • Denying that the grand Rabbi is a god-king with profound sway over the spiritual and temporal realms
  • Relying on non-haymish hechshayrim like the OU and the Star-K
  • dina d'malchusa dina
  • Green shirts

  • RW Yeshivish Heresies
  • Rejecting the literal understanding of of most midrashim
  • Missing zman krias shma
  • Attending YU
  • Green shirts

  • LW Yeshivish/Hasidic Heresies
  • Silence during davening
  • Anything but cholent and kishka for Shabbos lunch
  • Demonstrating respect for women or minorities
  • Not having an "angle"
  • Bookishness
  • Thursday, April 06, 2006

    Praying is good for who?

    Does Yaakov Menken read the news? If so, how can he explain slugging a Cross Currents article with the title Praying is Good for You a mere days after a study found that asking strangers to pray for heart-bypass patients had no effect on their recovery. And this wasn't a small study. It took three years, cost $2.4 million and included 1.7 million prayers, and patients at 6 hospitals.

    More respectable members of the clergy are spinning the study (a nice summary of their excuses can be found here) but not Yaakov Menken. He just ignores it.

    PS: Not a good week for the people of the Cross. Yesterday, we had YitzchakAlderstan's hissy fit over Avi Weiss's decision to meet with some cardinals. Then, newcomer Mark Bane, "tentativly compared tentatively compares lighting cardboard boxes in the streets of Boro Park to protests for Soviet Jewry" as one of my friends put it, before all but suggesting that the rioters had paused to ask permission from the local Hasidic Leadership before spilling out into the streets. ("The Rebbe says it's ok! We've got a heter for smashing police cars!")


    Retired detectives, Louis J. Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa, two cops who carried out murders for the mob, have been found guilty in the murder of Israel Greenwald, a Long Island diamond dealer.

    From the New York Times: "When Mr. Kaplan [the star witnees] got out of jail, he remembered Mr. Santora [Epollito's cousin] and his ''capable guys'' -- and in 1986, the government contends, he asked the three for help. He hired them to kill Israel Greenwald, Ms. Hormozi said, a diamond dealer who Mr. Kaplan thought might tell the government about his scheme to traffic in treasury bonds. The three men took the contract for $30,000, prosecutors say.

    It was assassination by deception, Ms. Hormozi said. The two detectives stopped Mr. Greenwald in Brooklyn while he was driving home from work and told him he was a suspect in a hit-and-run accident. Instead of taking him to the station house, however, they took him to a parking garage, bound his hands, placed a bag on his head, shot him twice and then, Ms. Hormozi said, buried his body underneath the garage's concrete floor. "

    From Slate: [Anthony "Gaspipe"] Casso, [a Lucchese under-boss] had obtained some stolen Treasury bills and needed a fence. Kaplan [the star witnees] coordinated the sale with the help of Joe Banda, a Hasidic Jewish diamond dealer with connections to bankers overseas. After some initial success, there was a hiccup, and Kaplan suspected that a jeweler brought in by Banda [ie: Israel Greenwald] might turn on Banda, who would implicate Kaplan. He called on Santora: "I asked him if he had the ability to take a murder contract," Kaplan testified. "Without a doubt," Santora replied, and he said he would enlist his cousin and his cousin's partner to help carry it out. The two cops "arrested" the jeweler, put him in a car and delivered him to Santora, who shot him, said Santora, according to Kaplan. The payment was $30,000.

    I don't know what it is, but something about this case just horrifies.

    War on Christianity Update

    Bill Maher: New Rule: People who run everything can't complain that they're underdogs. To whit, this week, there was a highly-attended conference in Washington called 'The War on Christians.' Because nothing quite says 'I'm oppressed,' like the opulent Regency Ballroom of the Omni Shoreham Hotel.

    Ah, yes, whatever happened to that plucky little cult, Christianity? Oh, that's right, they're 80% of the American people, and have taken over all three branches of government, country music, public schools, the bestseller list, and until recently, Katie Holmes. You know, Christians, I don't mind that you're part of a dress-up cult that hates sex and worships magic but the paranoia, that does scare me.

    The Christian right are now officially the party of paranoia. Secularists are attacking Christmas! Gays are attacking marriage! Liberals are attacking values! White girls are being abducted at an alarming rate! You know, if you're going to be that paranoid all the time, just get high.

    And the worst part is, the people complaining loudest about being persecuted for their Christianity aren't Christians at all. They're demagogues and conmen and scolds. And the only thing they worship is power. If you believe Jesus ever had a good word for war or torture or tax cuts for the rich, or raping the earth, or refusing water to dying migrants, then you might as well believe bunnies lay painted eggs.

    Thomas Jefferson called the type of Christian who trumpets his own belief in the divinity of Jesus rather than the morality of Jesus "pseudo-Christians." And that's who's running our country today. And since they thrive so much on turning water into "whining"—and get off on their endless pretend persecution, this Easter season, let's give them what they want. Let's go to the zoo, get some lions, and feed them Tom DeLay.

    Hat tip: TBOTH

    Boycot Borough Park!

    One of the Orthomom Olam thinks we should stay out of Boro Park:

    ...I think there should be a general boycott of all of Boro Park until the culprits are caught and punished and the leadership, political AND Rabbinic, apologizes to the Police and Jews everywhere. We CAN live without Boro Park.


    Right on Dag! I mean, I don't think a boycott is the way to go, but I understand your frustaration.

    Like you, I'm tired of Charedi Jews playing the victim card. I'm tired of them preaching personal responsibility but refusing to accept any blame, and tired of the myth that their values are batter than ours, and that their kids are better behaved then ours. (Do Modern Orthodox Jews attack cops and riot in the streets?)

    Yesterday, I even heard someone say, with a straight face, that the police would have looked the other way had it been a white Christian who refused to cooperate with a routine traffic stop. And the conspiracy theorists are still getting yardage out of the chief's use of profanity has, as if the man stood outside a shul and told his brute squad to "get the ****ing Jews out."

    Have we forgotten that the Jews he spoke about weren't at prayer or study? They were burning police cars! They were laying seige to a police precient! And the commander who wanted those hooligans off the street is an "anti-Semite?" Please. Can we lose the holocaust complex? Every nacht is not kristelnacht. Hitler is dead

    All Bark, No Bite

    A friend writes:

    DB, here's an ANONYMOUS guest post. ANONYMOUS. Capiche?

    You know how every once in a while someone is scandlized when he or she stumbles across all the ads on craigslist by people looking for frum people to have sex with? We all wonder how real those ads are. (And how successful. C'mon, admit it.) It's impossible to know for sure, but here's a clue:

    The article is about another kind of illicit ad on craigslist: sex-for-rent. The difference is that prostitution, unlike an affair, is illegal, so the police have taken a look at it. The result?

    "Still, such cases investigated by the NYPD proved to be 'little more than a form of voyeurism that didn't result in an actual exchange of sex for rent,' [Deputy Police Commissioner Paul] Browne said."

    So you see there's plenty of room to be dan l'kaf zechus
    Thanks a lot Mr. Anonymous "Friend." If my shul Rabbi can't fulminate about craigslist, what's he supposed to denounce on Shabbos morning?

    ADL says it's troubled by increase in anti-Semitic incidents in Midwest

    In the fine Christian red states which voted so overwhelmingly for that fine Christian gentleman, Geroge W. Bush? No way.

    Wednesday, April 05, 2006


    I have some bad news for those of you who hate the New York Times.

    Today's headline about last night's events in Borough Park gave you nothing to chew on: "An Arrest Sets Off a Protest by Orthodox Jews" is how the Timesmen slugged it, and the story itself was stuffed in the B section.

    Meanwhile, look at the fiery language employed on the front page by the other news outfits around town

    Mobs set fires in Brooklyn: New York Daily News
    HASIDS & COPS CLASH: New York Post
    Hundreds storm streets after arrest in Brooklyn neighborhood: Newsday

    Of the four, only the Times stayed away from negative language like "mob," "clash," and "storm."

    I'll leave it to the editors of Cross Currents to explain why the Times demonstrated more restraint than those papers more commonly thought to be friendly to the Jewish people.

    Update: In Israel, I am afraid, the paper was no kinder: Brooklyn Hassidim riot after arrest: Jerusalem Post

    Crazy Base World

    That apparently, is Straight Talk John McCain's little pet name for the embryo-lovin' gay-hatin' fundies on the Christian right. From last night's Daily Show, starring Jon Stewart, a great American:

    Stewart: You're not freaking out on us? Are you freaking out on us? Because if you're freaking out and you're going into the crazy base world- are you going into crazy base world?

    McCain: I'm afraid so....

    As usual Jon played it politely and let the blowhard tie the noose around his own neck, by admitting his upcoming speech at Falwell's college was nothing but cheap political pandering. TDS may be a comedy show, but no one else takes the news more seriously, and nobody else skewers both side with such gusto.

    The Cardinals visit Yeshivas Chovevei Torah

    I'm mixed. I don't think Jews should waste time talking to cardinals, but I do think that if Yeshivas Chovvei Torah said the sky was blue, YitzhakAlderstan would write a long-winded, self-rightuous post about how only right-wing Orthodoxy is qualified to say what is blue, and what is not.

    Second thoughts: YitzhakAlderstan doesn't really agree with me either. He thinks it's fine to talk to Cardinals so long as you're "suffused with Torah excellence that your world view is a refraction of Torah itself" or some such nebulous rubbish. Really, though, he's mad that the Church thinks the lefties are legitimate, and worthy of attention. This isn't about Torah. It is about power and control. He's jealous that left wing OJ has the clout to welcome cardinals into their beys medrash and he's sore that they are doing it sans supervision from the righties.

    Third Thoughts: YCT really shouldn't be welcoming cardinals into their beys medrash. Not because it's osur (thought it very well may be) but because it's demeaning. A tovel v'sheretz b'yado is one who immerses himself in purifying waters while he holds in his hand an insect that makes him impure. Until the Vatican opens its archives on the Holocaust years, or revises its grudging, theology-tainted policy toward Israel, or repudiates the anti-Semitic popes (some of whom, the Vatican, instead, wishes to cannonize) the Church is just that. Until the Church renounces its shameful past, and completes a true and painful teshuva process, there's no reason for Jews to kiss the toes of St. Peter, because there's no guarantee they won't kick us in return.

    Perfectly Understandable

    Yes, good friends, the word on the street is that last night's little breach of the peace by the Holy Jews of Boro Park had a perfectly good explanation: They were most upset because "the cops give too many tickets."

    And, as we all know, the writing of tickets is an offense against Judaism in much the same way that graphically depicting the Prophet Muhammad is an offense against Islam. Right? Do those of you who so fiercely condemned the muslim rioters last winter have anything you'd like to say?

    No Justice! No Peace!

    "A routine traffic stop of a 75-year-old Hasidic driver in Brooklyn escalated into a protest last night by hundreds of Orthodox Jews, who surrounded a police station house, chanted 'No justice no peace,' lighted bonfires and set a police car afire."

    Ah, I love a good protest. And is sounds like this was one for the ages. Bonfires, stone-throwing, smoldering police cars... why go to Paris this spring? Who needs Ramallah? The spirit of dissent and struggle is alive and well in the heart of Boro Park.

    [Note for the slow: I think the rioters are punks. I think the men who interfered in lawful police business by jumping the cops are deranged. Boro Park isn't occupied territory. The police aren't Greeks, and they weren't seeking to impose anti-Jewish legislation. The protesters weren't acting in the spirit of Judah Macabee. They were acting in the spirit of Palestenian street mobs, only without even the pretence of a legitimate greivance.]

    PS: "No justice no peace" is my very favorite chant after "No Roger, no Rerun, no rent," and "Two World Wars and One World Cup (doo dah, doo dah)"

    Tuesday, April 04, 2006

    The Pope's Yartzheit

    While some celebrate his life, we remember Pope-a-palooza

    I've been waiting for Cross Currents and others in the blogosphere to celebrate the first anniversary of the Pope's deathday with the same sort of ridiculously florid and misguided eulogies they published a year ago at the time of his death. To their credit, they have not.

    If I am disapointed, it's only because I was hoping for the opportunity to rehash some of the great stuff I ran last year at this time, in this season. Ah, well. Benedict's not a young man...

    Has it really been one year?

    Orthomom, the very excellent, is claiming that today is her bloganiversary, but that can't be so. Can it? Has it really been over a year since she first appeared?

    If you have not met her, here are the facts: OM is smart as a whip, and a bonafide liberal, too. Though she blogs about the Five Towns more than anyone should, she almost always finds a way to make a point that applies to Jewish communities generally, and not just to her own little neck of the woods.

    So, head on over and wish her congratulations. And be sure to tell her DovBear says hey.

    The Live Action Simpsons Intro

    If you've been under a rock and would like to see it click here.

    A DovBear poll:
    What's funnier? Classic Simpsons or classic Daily Show?

    Did Jesus walk on water?


    In defense of Russ Feingold

    The way I see it Republicans have two choices. They can either (1) admit that impeaching Clinton in 1999 for lying in a civil suit about sex was a farce and a disgrace, or (2) they can support Russ Feingold's efforts to censure George W. Bush for lying--and breaking the law--on an issue of national security.*

    Anyone who cares to think about this fairly will see that Bush's actions are more dangerous than Clinton's lying under oath. Clinton lied to protect himself, and to conceal his proclivities. Bush's actions are different. His claim of nearly unlimited executive authority jeopardizes our democraticy and civil liberties for all time.

    Trying to censure Bush may be politically dangerous for the Democrats; but it's the right thing to do.

    *Did he lie? Yes. ("When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so," Bush declared on April 20, 2004, while doing exactly the opposite.) Did he break the law? Scholars say yes. (John Turley: "I don't consider this a close case at all. I think that this operation.. was based on a federal crime." Alan Dershowitz: " I think the President broke the law")

    Patting myself on the back

    I said a boatload of smart things on the comment thread you'll find beneath this post.

    Tom who?

    DeLay won’t seek re-election: Ex-House majority leader tells MSNBC that he won't seek return to post

    Why not? According to the GOP, there are two spins:

    The first, is that he is not sure he can win and is stepping down for the "good of the party." The sweet, sweet irony though, is that Delay's district was customized specifically for him -- Delay carved up Texas districts to create perpetual GOP majorities, and took his district because he thought he was so damn popular that he could withstand its relatively higher proportion of Democrats.

    The second spin is that Tom has to resign because the Democrats are so nasty. Tom was never nasty (who called him "The Hammer", anyway?) He's a Christian gentleman, who's only sin was that he loved Jesus, too much. Oh, and he's innocent, too. The timing of his decision not to run after another staff member agreed to cooperate with the Abramoff investigation is purely coincidental.

    Meanwhile, Republicans continue to lie:
    He has served our nation with integrity and honor,” [Majority Leader John] Boehner said.
    Has everyone forgotten that DeLay is a corrupt thief? I guess so. That's why DeLay is serving as poster boy for the War Against Christians. I guess lying, scheming, and money laundering is more Christian than I thought.

    Monday, April 03, 2006

    It’s a mixed up muddled up shook up Mesorah

    My fundamentalist friends are the very first to say that the scope of human comprehension is limited, but they don’t follow this line of thinking to its logical conclusion.

    Take for example, my favorite teacher from high school. Frequently he would say to me, “DovBear you’re a smart kid, but you’re like an ant compared to the great minds of this generation, and they, in turn are like ants compared to the great minds of the previous generation.”

    And this is not a new idea, either:
    Rabbi Zeira said in the name of Rava bar Zimuna, 'If we can think of the earlier ones as Children of Angels, then we can think of ourselves as children of human beings; however, if we consider the earlier ones to be children of human beings, then we must consider ourselves as donkeys! And not even like the donkeys of Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa or Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair [who were thought to share their owner’s sensitivities] but ordinary donkeys.'

    We call this yeridot hadorot or the “decline of the generations" and the thought that our understanding of the mesorah, in 2006, is less clear than the understanding of the mesorah enjoyed by earlier generations is well established, and well accepted. So, why does the suggestion that our mesorah is currently incomplete, that it was muddled and confused during 3000 years of transmission, evoke such rancor?

    Isn’t it obvious that whatever ideas God revealed on Sinai became altered the moment they were filtered through human understanding? Isn’t it obvious that these ideas became altered again and again, in ways both large and small, as they were passed from one human being to another?

    I should note that my claim here is not that these alterations were made maliciously or deliberately. Rather, I say that they came about inevitably due to man’s innate limitations. Contingent, nature bound creatures like us simply can't perceive the entirety of something as monstrously vast as Absolute Truth. As my high school teacher said, human comprehension isn’t capable of perceiving and understanding everything. No mind is large enough to apprehend the entirety of an idea, or as the psalmist put it (119:96) “To every purpose I see an end; but Your commandments are extremely vast” that is infinite, and without end.

    A second insurmountable problem is the fact that human perception, by definition, can't be objective. Every human perception occurs from a particular point of view and no two points of view are constant. Each of us is a unique perceiving center, and every perception is different. There is no absolute conformity of the knowing subject to the known object. Therefore, truth can only be known obliquely, and yes subjectively.

    The important thing to remember, though, is that the God who revealed the Torah to us, is the same God who created us. He had to have known that men tamper and mess things up: That’s our reality. That's human nature. So the fact that his revelation was muddled, with parts lost and added due to human limits had to have been part of His plan.