Thursday, November 30, 2006

Today's chillul hashem


Now I'm mad at WalMart, too

1 - Go to

2 - Note the friendly links on the left, one for each of your major Wintr festivals.

3 - Click "Christmas"

4 - Ohhhh. Wreaths and other gimcrackery. How, um, nice.

5 - Click Chanuka.

6 - Note that immdiately you're asked if you want to see the selection of Chanuka crap sorted by price.

7 - Go back to Christmas.

8 - Note that this question about sorting the cheap-looking merchandise by "price" is not asked.



A great day for the hard of seeing

By keeping all U.S. currency the same size and texture, the government has denied blind people meaningful access to money, a federal judge said Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge James Robertson said the Treasury Department has violated the law, and he ordered the government to come up with ways for the blind to tell bills apart.
The article goes on to note that of the 180 countries that issue money, only the US prints bills that are identical in size and color in all their denominations, and this fact proves the accomodation is reasonable.

I expect some of you will scream "judicial activism" but before you do, consider this: The Judge didn't tell the Treasury Department how to fix the problem. He simply noted that the government is violating the Rehabilitation Act that prohibits discrimination against the disabled in government programs.

Hat-tip: Amanda Rush

From the mailbag

Aidel Maidel writes:

This post has potential Dov Bear readership. This is the type of minutiae that your readers love to pick apart. Tell me what you think. Or better yet, just link to it. :D

kol tuv and gut shabbes,
The post reads:
Read My Lips

When I was growing up, I spent many years drilled with the concept that intelligent, well read people could read without moving their lips. That you could comprehend without moving your lips. That if you moved your lips while reading it was a sign of low intelligence, stupidity, low class. Only morons moved their lips while reading silently to themselves. I prided myself on acquiring this skill at an early age.

Then I became frum.

And in the process, I was taught otherwise. That davening doesn’t count if you don’t say the words. This implies that one must move their lips. Learning the parsha doesn’t count for schar if you don’t say the actual words. And I was shocked, but because the emphasis on Judaism is action over anything else, I slowly learned how to read while moving my lips.

The transition is almost complete. I frequently read blog posts out loud before I post them, just to make sure they sound correct. I move my mouth while davening, learning, and when I’m having difficulty comprehending what I’m reading (even occasionally in English). And as a matter of habit from doing it with my kids, I frequently find myself with one finger to my mouth (for the international quiet sign) when saying “Baruch Shaim” in Shema. I’ve even caught myself doing it when I daven on the train. A little embarrassing, but second nature at this point.

The question is, how many of my highly educated high school and college compatriots would think I have become a mindless drooling religious idiot now that I move my lips while I read? Do you move your lips?

Ellison again

My post about Keith Ellison attracted many stupid comments from lots of stupid people. Typical of the genre is this winner from Herchel Tzeig
Where are all the Libs who worry about Ellison's feelings when they were so terrified that an Evangelical (gasp!) was to be elected as President? Remember all those questions they had for him? Does he believe that all Jews go to hell and such? Will he be able to separate his belief that abortion is bad and obey the constitution?Maybe we can ask the good Congressman what he believes the fate of a Homosexual should be. Maybe we should ask him if he supports the Death Penalty for them. That'll be the day.Damn the facts as long as you feel good and enlightened about yourself, DB. Now excuse me why I hurl my breakfast.
Dear Herschel, as was obvious to anyone with an IQ above 20, my post wasn't about Ellison's feelings. It was about a little thing we call freedom. Keith Elison is allowed to worship any God he likes, and to follow any faith he chooses. In America we support his right to make those choices, and we celebrate the diversity those choices create. If we wants to take the oath of office on a Koran, the only people who get to say anythimg about it are his constiuents, and hopefully they will have the good sense to say nothing at all.

This, by the way, isn't a defense of Ellison, as some other mental midgets thought. Rather, it's a defense of freedom. Jews don't flourish here because of the kind-hearted Christian overlords, as some presume. We flourish here because the country is committed to freedom, to the idea that everyone should be able to live his own life as he sees fit. Wenever this country commits itself to protectiving the perogratives of a minority, it is committing itself to protecting us.

As for the rest of your comment, it's so stupid it drools. Essentially, you're saying that it doesn't matter if Ellison has a legal right to stand on or not, and that it doesn't matter if respecting his choice might help us in the long run. No, in your small mind, all that matters is that he is a Muslim, and therefore our position should be "screw him" no matter the reprecussions.

PS: I think the questions you want to ask Ellison are irrelvant to my point, but good questions all the same. If it turns out Ellison wants to execute gays, I hope his constituents toss him out. Still, I wouldn't deny him his right to take the oath on a Koran, and I'd still think Beck's questions was horrible. See how a good brain can hold lots of unaligned ideas at the same time? You should be zocheh to have one yourself some day.

War on Christmas: Report from the front

According to a piece in The Boston Herald, the first shot in the Annual War Against Christmas has been fired across the bows of Wal*Mart:
The Arkansas-based retail giant with mom-and-pop-store appeal announced yesterday it has replaced its Holiday Shops with Christmas Shops. Wal-Mart will feature “Days ’Til Christmas” countdowns. The Salvation Army will be its charitable partner.
Emphasis mine. For some reason, this phrase makes me think that the author of the article, Laurel J. Sweet, wrote it near deadline, with a can on Redbull on one side of her keyboard and a Wal*Mart press release on the other.
Wal-Mart needn’t fear it will receive a lump of coal in its stocking or see its 44 Bay State stores picketed by the Coalition to Save Christmas in Massachusetts.
Yes, when a bully has you down on the ground in a headlock and is punching you in the face, he’ll usually stop once you give up your lunch money, if only to conserve his strength for the impending War on Easter.
“It’s starting to feel like ‘Miracle on 34th Street,’ ” said Lynnfield developer Robert Marley, who started the coalition this week with his brother, Kevin, and friends.
With a name like Marley, you’d think it would be feeling more like A Christmas Carol. However, if this is the kind of thing he and his brother do when they get together with their friends, all I can say is, somebody needs to buy this group some Dockers and a case of Lowenbrau.
Marley said he has received e-mails of support from as far away as Californiaand the Middle East.
That’s nice. Enjoy the warm glow of recognition while it lasts, Mr. Marley. Because even as we speak, Bill O’Reilly and John Gibson are racing each other to the nearest camera to claim credit for Wal*Mart’s capitulation.
“You want our money? Then recognize why you’re taking it,” he said.
Because you’re rapacious, slave labor-enabling bastards who lay waste to American small businesses like the gigantic reaper in a Black Plague-era woodcut and whose collective social conscience makes Cornelius Vanderbilt look like Warren Buffet?

Or was that a rhetorical question?
“But, why does a bum like me have to stand up and get this done? Where are our religious leaders?”
They’re out getting a massage at the moment, Bob. Any other scheduling issues I can help you with?

Reprinted/Stolen from here

From That Jewish Show

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

A dour prediciton

Someday, an Orthodox Jew will elected President of the United States, and if he decides to take the oath of office on a book of the Hebrew Scriptures, a tanach, cultural Conservatives will go wild. "That's not our holiest book," they'll scream. "Our holiest book is the Bible, which includes the New Testment! America is interested in only one book, the Bible. If you are incapable of taking an oath on that book, -the whole book - don't serve as president!"

How do I know this is what will happen? It already has. Keith Ellison, a Muslim recently elected to Congress, wishes to take his oath on the Koran, and the haters of freedom have let him know that this is a grave offense against their sensibilites. As usual, GOP Jews are leading the charge; as usual they don't seem to understand that whenever this country commits itself to protectiving the perogratives of a minority, it is committing itself to protecting us.

Sidenote: I feel bad for Ellison. He has to put up with so much crap. Earlier this month a very stupid CNN reporter (yes! CNN!) named Glenn Beck said to him: "...may we have five minutes here where we're just politically incorrect and I play the cards face up on the table? ...I have to tell you, I have been nervous about this interview with you, because what I feel like saying is, "Sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies."

This is very much like saying to George W. Bush: "Hey, you're white, and a man. You're from the midwest, and you even have a little bit of an accent. I feel like saying to you, "Sir, prove to me you are not going to blow up a federal building." Or, imagine if someone had said to Joe Leiberman, "Sir, prove to me that you're not going to steal lots of TAP and Pell grant money."

Extreme Tznius

Received by email:
A woman with the acquiescence of her husband and Rav is planning to get a mastectomy after she finishes her child-bearing years, in order to end up with a less appealing figure so that she is not machshil men.

this link (in Hebrew) for the whole story.
This is a hoax, right?

Hat-tip On Request.

Worth a visit


Minhag Shtus?

I suppose, we've all heard the story of the American shul with the strange Simchat Torah minhag (custom). Each year, as the congregation circled the sanctuary during hakafot, the men would crouch as they passed the point directly across from the aron (ark). Why? No one knew, but in the fullnes of time it became a treasured community custom. The Rabbi would remark upon it in his sermons occasionally, and offer learned reasons for it. When the boys and girls of the community became men and women and the members of other congregations they would feel a tinge of sadness at Simchat Torah because no one in their new shuls observed the childhood tradition - though a few of the braver men were willing to ignore the bewildered looks of their neighbors; these brave men continued to crouch, even in their new shuls.

Finally, one day, a historian traveled to the European hometown of the shul's founders. When he entered the building that had once served as the community's shul, he discovered that the ceiling on one side of the sanctuary was very low. Though he could not determine why the shul had been built this way, he saw at once how the crouching custom had developed: If you wanted to circumnavigate the shul, you had to pass that point, and you simply couldn't pass that point without crouching.

The historian published his findings, and hand-delivered the paper and his photographs to the shul and all its members. Though some of the more enlightened folks were impressed, hardly anyone was willing to stop crouching. "It won't feel like Simchat Torah without crouching," remarked one old timer, and this sentiment was generally agreed to by everyone who had grown up in the shul. The custom survived.

Something similar, certainly, has happened in Judaism, but I'd like to discuss one example in particular. Gen. 46:13 reads: "And the sons of Issacar are Tola and Puah and Yov and Shomron." However, in Num.26:24 the name is given as "Yashuv." What was the man's name? When we consult other texts, and answer begins to emerge. Both the Samaritan version of the verse in Genesis, as well as in the Septuagint, have "Yashuv." I Chron.7:6 says "And the children of Issacar are Tola and Puah, Yashiv (Qere: Yashuv) and Shomron, four sons." All of this suggests that an error has crept into Gen 46:13. When we continue to read it that way, we're like the crouchers in that shul. We know our tradition for reading Gen 46:13 is based on an error, yet we continue doing it.

I'm an Orthodox Jew, who believes in the revelation at Sinai, and I have no easy way to address this problem. I've satisfied myself that Issachar's son's name was Yashuv, and not Yov. But I don't wish to change the way we've been reading the Torah for the last millenium or two. What to do?

Related: Rambam's Eighth Principle; Rishonim and Achronim on this Subject

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A Shidduch Story

It is a little late for Holloween, but noted Bush-apologist CWY has posted a scary, scary story all the same. Money quote:
The sad part of the story is that you have a shaddchun admitting that the kollel lifestyle makes wives completly misererable. She seen it in herself and her own daughter. Yet she's more than willing to help spread the the misery to others, as if being being miserable in your marriage is a laudable goal.
There are a few kollel wives in the readership, so how about it? Are you miserable?

It's the most horrible time of the year

Krum has discovered Starbuck's stratagy of sucking up simultanioulsy to Jews and non-Jews alike.

Stupid Comment of the Day

Collected on the Internet: (I won't tell you who said it because the speaker doesn't like to be named on this blog. Given the asinine things he says, I suppose I don't blame him)
Bush, for all the hatred of him, will go down in the top 15, probably right around 8-10, once history looks back on everything. Two SC justices who will be on the Court for 25 years, Afghanistan, Iraq [if they don't run from it], a stable country after 9/11, and a very nice job with the economy - not a bad resume. If he'd been able to do Social Security, he could have been right around 5-7. As it is, it may simply depend on what happens with Iran.
Here's another perspective: "Given the damage that Bush continues to wreak on international institutions that took half a century to put in place, and rule-of-law principles that took centuries to evolve," I think that he has an excelent chance of being remembered as one of our worst presidents. Iraq? "What has the writer observed that the rest of us have not? By all accounts Iraq is a quagmire, one into which we are falling deeper by the day. The odds of success there are virtually nil." We can't leave and we can't stay. Even George W. Bush concedes, following his rebuke at the polls, that the United States needs a new policy in Iraq, but as yet he hasn't been able to articulate it. And of course, as Leon Weiseltier says, the original "high reasons for the war were attended by fantasy, ignorance, and deceit."

This is the work and the legacy of a great president? Maybe in Wonderland.


A facinating conversation has begun here between two of the sharper members of the DovBear community and Barry Simon, one of the giants of physics. I don't know if Dr. Simon will have time to continue the conversation, and I am certainly not promising his continued participation, but what he's said so far is facinating (especially the part about me being "spot on.")

PS: As a rule, I try not to modify or delete comments, but I will break that rule (as I have before) if I judge a comment to be disruptive to the Simon thread.

Monday, November 27, 2006

God loves rebels

The posuk says: "He smelled the smell of his clothing (bigadav), and blessed him, and said, "Behold, the smell of my son is as the smell of a field which God has blessed"

Writing well after the introduction of hellenistic ideas, and hellenistic factions, into Judaism [*], the sages of the midrash wrote: Don't read "bigadav"; rather read "bogdov" - his traitors. After centuries of fighting between the various factions, centuries that had given the Jewish people their share of rebels and traitors, the Sages still imagined Issac giving Jacob the desperatelty coveted blessing because of the sweetness of his traitors.

And note, this isn't the view of a self-serving liberal Rabbi from the far left corners of Judaism. This is the midrash. The midrash.

[I suppose this reading comes as a shock to the good Jews of Cross Currents, and Williamsburg where I believe they read it begadav and darshan "see! Yizhak Aveenee saw mit de ruach hakodesh our shteimrals and kapatas!]

[*] This sentance first read "Writing well after the hellenization of Judaism" An alert reader corrected the obvious mistake. DovBear regrets the error.

Straw and salt, continued

..he would ask him: "Father, how are salt and hay tithed?" [Though, he actually knew that there is no requirement that these items be tithed.] His father would thereby think that he meticulously observed the mitzvos."

Many readers of Rashi use the story of the salt and straw to suggest that Esav was a pious fraud. Like the men who wear large shtreimals, but cheat on their taxes and skip davening, Esav, in their conception, was a master of deception, who used sincere-sounding questions to deceive his father. Indeed, Rash picks us on this idea by comparing Esav to a pig, a non-kosher animal that extends its forelegs as if to show off how kosher it is, fooling all who allow themselves to be deceived.

Midrash is not a monolith, and the midrash's view of Esav, especially, is complicated, and full of competing and mutually exclusive ideas. Though it is true that some of our Rabbis did think of Esav as a pious fraud, I will argue that the author of the salt and straw story decidedly did not.

First, let us recognize that midrash isn't history. It isn't telling us that such a conversation actually took place. If you went back in time, you would not find Esav and Yizchack discussing tithes. Rather, this story was created by the author of the midrash for the purpose of conveying an idea.

To understand the author's purpose we must begin with the blessings Yaakov received when he was dressed as Esav. They relate entirely and exclusively to the physical world: tal hashamayim ushmanei haaretz; the dew from the sky and the fat of the earth. Later, at the end of the story, when Yaakov leaves for Aram and is no longer disguised, his father blesses him again, this time saying: ve’yiten lecha es birkas Avraham; he passes Avraham’s spiritual legacy on to Yaakov.

It would seem from this that Yitzchak's intention was to let Yaakov stay in his tent and live a life of contemplation and study; while, Esav, the man of the field, contended with the world and provided for his religious brother. If, as most of our Rabbis say, Yitzchak was planning for the future of the Jewish nation when he blessed his sons, perhaps he was also setting up a sort of Holy Roman Empire (forgive the ahistorical reference) with Yaakov, as Pope, in charge of the nation's spiritual life, and Esav, as Emperor, responsible for feeding and protecting and otherwise sustaining the religious center.

Esav, having grown up in his father's tent, and eaten at his father's table, was aware of this plan, we can assume. The salt and straw midrash tells us that its author thought Esav was unhappy with this plan.

In the ancient world, salt and straw were important preservatives. Salt protected meat from spoiling, and straw was used as a packing material, or as insulation. Yitzchak planned for Esav to be Yaakov's protector, to serve as his straw and salt. The Midrash says Esav asked "How are straw and salt tithed (or "fixed" in the language of the original midrash) Conceptually, this is like asking "How are straw and salt brought into the relam of holiness?" By putting such a question in Esav's mouth, the author of the midrash is letting us know that, in his view, Esav wants something more. He doesn't want to spend his life merely sustaining Yaakov; instead, he wants a holy purpose, too.

I'll leave it to others to explain why, in the fullness of time, this more-positive image of Esav was lost. My guess it has to do with the fact that Esav was, at the turn of the millenium, linked with Rome. Before that association was made, I suppose, more positive opinions of Esav could be entertained. Not so once the Rabbis had paid themselves the compliment of associating the super-power of the day with their own great ancestor's twin brother. From then on Esav was evil, unmitigated, and unredeemable. The salt and straw midrash gives us a glimmer of another point of view.

Quantum Miracles

When I used my blog to ask for help explaining why my friend the EE was misusing science, I expected to hear from the usual crop of well-read laymen, and over educated computer scientists. I did, and for the most part, their comments were clear and helpful, and greatly appreciated. What I did not expect, however, was a guest post from one of the preeminent mathematical physicists in the country. It arrived yesterday out of the clear blue sky and is published below: (Note: My discussion of the straw and salt midrash will continue later today)

A guest post by Dr. Barry Simon

This is a follow-up on DovBear's post ( on quantum mechanics and the non-decomposition of dead bodies. I am not an Ivy-trained EE I'm afraid. But I am an Ivy-trained physicist (Harvard BA 1966; Princeton PhD 1970). Oh, and for Jesse's benefit, I have a connection with a technical school - for the past 20+ years I have been the IBM Professor of Mathematics and Theoretical Physics at Caltech. Not that it is relevant to my expertise (but it does explain my decision to write this), I am an observant Jew (RWMO or LWCh).

I have studied non-relativistic quantum mechanics for 40 years. If you want to check my bonafides you can look at or Of course, I can't easily prove that I am not someone pretending to be Barry Simon (this is the Internet after all).

Anyhow, DovBear's friend makes two claims: first that according to quantum mechanics, your conscious mind can change the physical world and second that the probabilities that are inherent in quantum mechanics can somehow explain miracles. Quantum Mechanics is often non-intuitive given our everyday experience - some thing that has been called Quantum Weirdness. But the friend's claims are so far from correct that I can only call them Quantum Madness.

Let's deal with the consciousness claim first. This is connected with one of the places where, to some, quantum mechanics is less that entirely satisfying. Quantum mechanics is arguably, the most successful scientific theory ever. It describes what can only be called potential probabilities - explaining what the outcomes of experiments and experience are not as absolutes but as probabilities.

Of course, once we make a measurement or observation that potential probability becomes a definite outcome. The conundrum comes when one asks when does the potential become absolute. In the case of the double split experiment where a single electron is sent towards a screen with two slits and hits an array of Geiger counters, quantum mechanics says there is an array of probabilities. If you do the experiment many times, the QM predictions are spot on. But what if you do it once? When does the potential array of probabilities turn into a specific counter clicking? When the counter is hit? (Lest you immediately say "of course", shouldn't the counter also be described by quantum mechanics?). When the computer that records the outcome gets the data? Or when you actually look at outcomes (or in the form asked by Wigner - if my friend looks at it first, does it happen when he looks or when I find out from him!).

The answer according to conventional quantum mechanics is that quantum mechanics doesn't tell us! It only talks about observable phenomena. If it has no observable consequence when the change over takes place then I have no way of testing what happens. Many physicists take the attitude that since it has no observable consequence, this is not an issue we need to worry about but others, especially those with a philosophical bent, speculate about it. This has led to many famous "paradoxes" - Schrodinger's cat, EPR, Wigner's friend, etc. Some attempted resolutions, especially Wigner's, focus on the idea that it only happens once "someone" consciously makes the observation. It is these speculations that DovBear's firend grabs onto in his claim that quantum mechanics says that your mind can change outcomes.

But this is a misreading of Wigner. Someone can look at the outcomes of a repeated double split experiment - using his will to force as many of the outcomes as possible to come through the top split. But you know what - in spite of that, QM accurately describes the outcomes without his will changing the result. According to Wigner, consciousness does not affect the outcome but rather causes the outcome to happen.

The idea that QM "explains free will" or worse, allows conscious production of miracles is one that will be rejected as ludicrous by 99.99% of physicists (I almost said, by all but I've been around too long not to know that there are always a few very well trained crackpots out there).

Second is the idea that somehow, because QM allows weird behavior with non-zero probability that it allows for the suspension of the usual laws of the universe. To take a vivid example, imagine someone who manufactures a basketball with a baseball inside. He blows up the basketball and gives it to you to test. You do some xrays and determine there is a baseball inside. You leave the balls aside and come back the next day and find an intact basketball with a baseball outside and none inside. You declare: "this is a miracle because it isn't allowed by the laws of physics." Your friend says: "Oh no, quantum theory allows it - the baseball tunneled through the basketball." (Of course, the only sane explanation is that someone destroyed and threw away the original basketball, took out the baseball and put down a new and different basketball but I digress).

It is correct that QM says there is a non-zero probability that the baseball will tunnel out so it is no longer "impossible". But that probability is 1 divided by 1 followed by too many zeros to count (possibly a googolplex ( So for all practical purposes, it is still impossible.

QM has some amazing consequences but explaining the impossible by appealing to incredibly low probabilities is not one of them.

I am writing because I am so saddened by the misuse of science, and quantum theory in particular, by some in the frum world. Our tradition has intellectual giants like Rambam, Meiri, the Gra who would have brooked no nonsense of this sort. Our religion is strong enough to be justified without calling on the miraculous and nature is too beautiful to be misused for narishkeit. I cannot resist ending with a thought of the Rashba that I have used elsewhere and which was in a letter he wrote to a neighboring community where someone claimed to be Moshiach: "Yisrael the inheritors of truth, descendants of Ya'akov the Man of Truth, zera emes, would prefer to suffer continued exile and its horrors rather than accept something without critically and thoroughly analyzing it, step after step, to separate out anything of doubtful validity...even when it appears to be miraculous and absolute!"

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Misunderstanding the Midrash

Collected on the Internet: The rabbis teach that [Esav] did perform the mitzvah of honoring his father, and he even asked his father about the need to take tithes from salt and straw - which of course is completely unnecessary, and represented Eisav's ability to appear religious when it suited his purpose.

If you've studied Rashi as an adult, you know his commentary isn't an anthology of midrashim. Frequently, Rashi cites a midrash out of place or out of context. He'll change the meaning of a midrash, or choose one or two midrashim from among several on the same subject. Rashi does all of this, I believe, because in his commentary, midrashim are used for a specific purpose, namely, they serve to smooth out rough spots in the text, and to resolve difficulties in the language of the Torah.

Rashi's object, you see, isn't to share or to popularize midrashim, but to " give... Aggadah which serve to clarify the words of Scripture in a way which fits its words" (Gen 3:8)

The midrash cited at the begining of this post is, I believe, an example of Rashi doing violence to the plain meaning of the midrash for the sake of rescuing the text from a perceived anamoly. Gen 25:28 reads: "And Issac loved Esav because of the game in his mouth." (tzayid b'fiv) This is a hebrew idiom, which suggests Esav as either a kind of lion bringing home food in his mouth, or as a mother bird dropping worms into her chick's gapping beak. In either case, it's a material and, therefore, difficult explanation for Issac's favoritism. The plain language of the text make Issac look shallow, and weak, and more than a little absurd. For Rashi, this is unacceptable. Therefore he tells us "But, its [ie tzayid b'fiv's ] Midrashic interpretation is: "With the mouth of Eisv" [meaning] he would trap him and trick him with his words

Trap him and trick him how? The answer Rashi gives appears on the previous verse, Gen 25:27, where we're told that "Esav was skilled in trapping, a man of the field, and Jacob was a simple man, a dweller in tents." The perceived anamoly here is that the second part of the descriptions ("man of the field" and "dweller in tents") are roughly atithetical; the first parts ("skilled in trapping" and "simple man") are not.

The Hebrew adjective tam suggests integrity, or even innocence. To create a diametric opposition between the first and second parts of the description, "skilled in trapping" needs to be construed as the opposite of tam. Three examples of Esav's duplicity are provided in the midrash, and Rashi chooses one, and only one, to illustrate the point, writing " ..he would ask him: "Father, how are salt and hay tithed?" [Though, he actually knew that there is no requirement that these items be tithed.] His father would thereby think that he meticulously observed the mitzvos."

I don't know why Rashi selected the bit about the straw and hay over the two other examples of Esav's dishonesty provided by the Midrash, but I will argue in the next post that the story itself has been misunderstood by readers of Rashi.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

A small apology

Was I too quick to say that black hat Judaism is "on its way down with a wasting disease?" Perhaps. Though a disease of some sort may indeed be starting to assert itself in our culture and communities, the black hat Jews are a long way from being down for the count. Marc Steyn, author of the lovely obituaries that appear on the last page of every edition of the Atlantic, famously says that the future belongs to the fecund and confidant. I'm not sure we are confidant - can a community that defines itself against everyone else, while stifling questions and punishing non-conformity be called confident? - but there's no doubt we know how to breed.

(Yes, trolls, I used the pronoun "we." Halachic Jews are one people, one nation and frumkeit is one culture - despite the very best efforts of the Haredim to throw the left-wing of halachic Judaism under the bus.)

Thursday, November 23, 2006

At-risk teens

I've long believed the whole "at-risk teen" phenomnon is proof-positive that black hat Judaism is on its way down with a wasting disease. Not because the "at-risk teens" are druggies, or pathologically rebeluous, or otherwise abnormal, but because most of them are perfectly ordinary. They are kids who like to read, listen to music, play sports, or hang with friends. Kids who may not have a taste for serious learning, or the discipline to sit at a desk for long stretches at a time, or the brains to keep up with the top of the class. Kids who are curious or impatiant or positive they know more than their elders. Kids who are in a rush to grow up. Kids who just want tolerance and guidance as they find their own way into adulthood.

These are ordinary kids, then, ordinary kids, the sort of kids who flourish when given love and patiance and understanding. Unfortunately, they are also the types of kids often cruely labled "at risk." And, by the scores, these are the types of kids who are abandoning a religious community that tells them that unless they can look and act just like the the best and the brightest they aren't worth anything at all. How can Judaism survive if this continues? Yaakov Horowitz tells us more:
Over the past twenty years, I conducted hundreds of terribly painful ‘exit interviews’ with children and adults who have abandoned Yiddishkeit. I can tell you in no uncertain terms what it is that they wanted – and why they took their business elsewhere. They were looking for respect and understanding. Acceptance. Safe and nurturing home lives. Hands-on parents who offer unconditional love along with their guidance. Caring educators who dealt with their admitted misdeeds gently and privately (firmly was OK). The ability to be a bit different without being labeled or judged. More time for hobbies and more recreational opportunities. On an educational level, I can tell you some additional things that they needed. A slower pace of learning. More skill-based teaching. Visual and diverse learning.
Some simple, and absolutely intutitive right? So are these things being provided?
In many communities, I’m sad to report, exactly the opposite is happening. School hours are getting longer and longer. Kids have less time and opportunity to engage in desperately needed recreational activities. In fact, in some communities, normal sports activities are frowned upon or outright banned – sometimes for children above the age of ten years old!! Greater demands are being made on children. Schools that dismiss children are valued and pursued. Acceptance criterion for high schools is getting increasingly more challenging. On many occasions, I have clearly stated that in today’s climate I would probably not have been accepted to any ‘normal’ high school when I graduated eighth grade thirty-three years ago!!
The great Yaakov Horrowitz an at-risk teen? Talk about your near misses.
Most peculiar is the reaction of parents who respond to their fears by striving mightily to place their children in the most rigorous programs – the ones with the longest hours, the least in the way of recreation, and with the most strident demands on their children. The thinking is that their children will be safe there, as the ‘chevrah’ will be better and the ‘at-risk’ children will be excluded from those elite schools. However, this thinking is terribly flawed. For there is no guarantee that their child – or one of their children some time in the future of their family life – will not be one of those children who will need some adjustment, tolerance, or understanding. So, in effect, the parents are raising the bar – and the ante of this very high-stakes gamble – by opting to send their child to a program that purports to produce a ‘metzuyan’ or ‘mitzuyenes’ (exemplary children). But at the same time, they are greatly increasing the odds that their child may find the train running away from him or her. And, in all my years of dealing with the at-risk teen population, I have not noticed that the elitist schools have any lower percentage of kids abandoning Yiddishkeit. All the more so if you include those who were asked to “find another school,” midway in their school experience.
The answer, I think, is to lower your standards. Let your kids fail. Let them ask questions. Let them go through phases. Let them embaress you in front of the neighbors, expecially if the neighbor is a moron and an idiot and shallow self-centered git. Who cares what he thinks anyway? Is he the one who is going to visit you in the nursing home when you're old and useless? And remember two things (1) you don't owe the world a perfect child; but you do owe your child unconditional love; and (2) so long as you don't destroy the bridge that exists between you and your kids, they will always find their way back to you. Always.

[Read the rest]

Help (math and science)

The neighborhood smart guy was at my house again the other night. He told a story about the body of an ish godol (great man) that didn't decompose after burial (he claims to have seen it) and asserted that this is how God made the world: The dead bodies of rightious people who take nothing from the world do not decompose.

I attacked this on several grounds (couldn't help myself) but ran into trouble when he started babbling about quantum mechanics. The guy's an Ivy-trained eletrical engineer. Really knows his stuff (and has a brain which suffers from the same impairments as XGH's). He says Quantum something or other shows your concious mind can change the physical world (he cited several experiments which, he claims, demonstrate this) He further claims that this proves (or at least suggests) that the laws of chemistry (themselves based on physics) which say a dead body decomposes might be flexible.

Of course, I attacked the leap in logic, but I'd love to undermine the whole basis of his world view. He thinks Quantum shows that the rules of the universe as they are commonly understood do not work at all times; therefore the door is wide open for spirtuality. I think he's bonkers, but I can't compete with him on the math.

I have a feeling some of the dear readers can, though, so how about it? Can you tell me what he's talking about when he says our thoughts can change the reality, and can you help me explain why this doesn't suggest that spirituality and miracles are legitimate?


Almost as bad as Manhatten [*]

On October 30, Vice President Dick Cheney said it was his belief that insurgents were increasing their violence to try to influence the midterm elections

Wow. Someone should really tell the insurgents that the elections are over. [Headline: More than 140 bodies turn up on Baghdad streets] 200 DovBear Achievment points to the first member of the liberal media with the melons to ask Cheney, "now that the terrorist insurgents have achieved their goal of getting Democrats elected to Congress, why are they still killing people over there?"

Maybe George was right all along: They really do hate each other because of our freedom.

[*] A reference to a clueless remark by Rep Peter King (R,NY) famously defended on this blog by Ezzie, the noted moderate.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Toys vs turkey

My too-frum shul has announced a toy drive to benefit the children under Ohel's care. A lot of other places are doing this, too. I think that's sweet. Still, the announcment put into my head an impertanent question:

Which practive gives greater offense to the halalcha and to the mesorah - presents on Chanuka? Or turkey at Thanksgiving?

Explanation: Most of the more religious people that play with DovBear object mightily to Turkey on Thanksgiving. They say it is a gentile custom, and gentile customs must be rejected by Jews. Fine. We can buy that. However, most of these same religious people exchange Chanuka gifts with no second thought. They have forgotten that December gift-giving is also a gentile custom. Or have we reached a point in Jewish history where America is more frightening than Christianity?

How about a big Mazal Tov...

...for the blogger formerly known as GH.

(He went and reproduced.)

Videos To Enjoy

Dovbear requested that I post this for him:

I want to post THIS though becuase the last 50 seconds are Holiday related [BAD LANGUAGE WARNING]:

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Beware of thanksgiving grinches

The grinch says:
As Jews we are forbidden to celebrate Thanksgiving just as we are forbidden to celebrate easter or xmas...This is what happens to those who laugh at our great sages when they issue an eddict [sic] to avoid imitating the secular world on the celebrating of the pagan [sic] holiday of Thanksgiving.

The Sages say:
On the issue of joining with those who think that Thanksgiving is like a holiday to eat a meal: since it is clear that according to their religious law books this day is not mentioned as a religious holiday and that one is not obligated in a meal [according to Gentile religious law] and since this is a day of remembrance to citizens of this country, when they came to reside here either now or earlier, halacha sees no prohibition in celebrating with a meal or with the eating of turkey. One sees similar to this in Kiddushin 66 that Yanai the king made a party after the conquest of kochlet in the desert and they ate vegetables as a remembrance.

For what it's worth

There's something happening here
What it is ain't exactly clear
There's a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware

I think it's time we stop, children, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down

There's battle lines being drawn
Nobody's right if everybody's wrong
Young people speaking their minds
Getting so much resistance from behind

I think it's time we stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down

What a field-day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly say, hooray for our side

I think it's time we stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you're always afraid
You step out of line, the man come and take you away

We better stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
Stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
Stop, now, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
Stop, children, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down

And the official rabbinic reponse? This.

Makes you just want to weep.

Caption please

Hat-tip: Batsheva

Monday, November 20, 2006

Cross-Currents » How low will they go?

The comment they printed: OJ Simpson, with more money and fame than he apparently knew what to do with, murdered two innocent people, wasted taxpayers money trying to deny the obvious, and has continued ever since to thumb his nose at basic moral human decency. can anybody imagine even the most left-wing, secular, self-hating jew behaving in such a manner? i truly believe that we jews are indeed different.
Comment by Raymond — November 20, 2006 @ 2:00 pm

The comment they won't print: Perhaps the "most left-wing self-hating Jew" would not behave in so vile a fashion.
However, when one looks at the proud Chareidi Jews who sit in jail for defrauding the government out of millions on school lunch programs, or TAP, or Fannie Mae scams, yet, still have their name emblazoned on the walls of several yeshivos, and still use the money they stole to purchase honors for themselves . . . well, I find myself saying I hope to God that we Jews are NOT different, because I REALLY don't want to claim that behavior like that is unique to our people . . .

200 DovBear points to whoever can word this in a way that gets it past the Cross Current censors.

Hattip: Him

Catching up with Jimmy Condit

Remember Jim Condit? He's the anti-Semitic nut-case candidate for Congress who once said that you could be executed for celebrating Christmas unless we changed our laws, because “Congress now says America’s basic laws are the Noahide laws — laws invented by Jewish rabbis. Under the NOAHIDE laws, if anyone practices Christianity [such as celebrates Christmas], they will be tried by a court of Jewish rabbis and sentenced to death.”

Jim is also the brother of Jen Giroux, a frequent guest on Scarborough, whose main claim to fame is that she started a women’s action group to defend “The Passion of the Christ.” She's also said that the devastating tsunamis of 2004 were a result of “taking Christ out of Christmas," AND she owns a website that appears to make boatloads of money selling a crappy line of “It’s Christmas, Dammit!” merchandise. (alternative title: "Wish me a Merry Christmas or Go to Hell")

So what has Jim been up to lately? From the Chicago Tribune:
Airwaves shouldn’t be open to vile politics

The 60-second commercial that began airing last week on WLS-AM 890 is almost too toxic to quote. The basic thrust was that Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff is part of a traitorous Jewish conspiracy that engineered the 9/11 attacks.

Only in the quick tag line at the end–”Paid for by Jim Condit Jr. for Congress”–was there a clue why the station had apparently abandoned a long-standing tradition among mainstream broadcasters not to sell airtime to peddlers of paranoid, prejudicial poison.

Federal Communications Commission regulations require that broadcasters sell airtime to legally qualified political candidates prior to elections. And at first, WLS general manager John Gallagher thought the station had no choice but to air Condit’s spots.

Even though he’s just a write-in candidate. Even though he’s running in an Ohio district more than 300 miles from Chicago. Even though, last time he ran, he received just 10 votes. Even though it’s obvious his candidacy is a pretext for violating the spirit and intent of the law.


WLS afternoon drive host Roe Conn had a great response to discourage future opportunists: He said he will personally donate $6,500, the amount Condit paid WLS, to the Jewish United Fund and the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation.
Nice one Roe!

More blogging takanos

Actually, these were the vert first "blogging takanos" and they were written by Channa, last Friday. When I went back to the comment thread three days later, I didn't see - or remember - her contributions, contributions that include originating the game itself.

Sorry Chana

Found here:

1. Thou shalt not blog about any topic that deals disparagingly with any member of society that dons the black hat

2. Thou shalt not blog about any topic that claims that we the Jews are at odds with the Republican party

3. Thou shalt not blog in order to advocate for free-thinking, open-mindedness, the ability to read books (ye must reinstate Fahrenheit 451)

4. Thou shalt not allow the name of R' Nosson Natan Slifkin to exit thy lips

5. Thou shalt not question (this is policy on a whole. Don't question. Anything.)

6. Thou shalt beg forgiveness from and for the seeking flocks that have come to thy blog and been tempted and misled by thy trickery

7. Thou shalt moderate all thy comments, and delete those that are obscene in nature, or suggest the commentator does not believe in thy God

8. Thou shalt instate the totalitarian and authoritarian regime on thy blog

9. Thou shalt look for guidance when it comes to topics from he the great Blogging Rabbi, who shall determine whether thy topic is or is not appropriate

10. Thou shalt aid in covering up all scandals, defamation and other bad things spread about organizations whose sterling image we wish to support at all times, never mind whether or not it's true

Guest post: In defense of Orthodox liberalism

by Kylopod

R. Harry Maryles writes in this this post, "It is a fact that the conservative principles are generally more in line with Orthodox Judaism than are liberal principles. Although that isn’t 100% the case, I think it is true most of the time."

I care to disagree. But I should note that if Harry had begun the sentence with "It is my opinion..." rather than "It is a fact..." I would not have objected. He is entitled to his views, but they are debatable. Still, I have heard similar sentiments from many other frum people, and it is a topic worth discussing.

A large part of what has inspired the rightward shift among frum voters in recent decades parallels the influences on evangelical Christians: the "traditional values" of which the Republican Party has appointed itself the sole bearer. While those values have nothing to do with the conservative philosophy of unfettered capitalism, Republican politicians created a marriage between these two meanings of conservatism. It is an unhappy marriage. Religious conservatives were duped by Reagan, and many of them have recently woken up to the fact that they've also been duped by Bush.

I've always been amazed at the mental acrobatics of those who argue that Judaism fits the philosophy behind economic conservatism. Their rationale depends partly on the standard but inaccurate translation of tzedakah as "charity." In modern American society, charity is simply a praiseworthy act. In ancient Israel, however, tzedakah was the law of the land. The conservative tenet that we must encourage volunteerism in place of government aid runs contrary to much traditional Jewish thought.

When I raised this point on Harry's blog, Bari noted differences between the ancient Jewish system and modern liberal programs. For example, in halacha a person gets to decide which poor people to give to. When I pointed out that one of the highest forms of tzedakah is giving to someone unknown, Bari replied, "And it's theft if you take it from me to give it to someone else who I don't know. When the govt. does it, maybe it's not theft, but it's not right Al Pi Din Torah."

Bari is walking on thin ice here. Either you think that it's okay to have the government enforce donations to the poor, or you don't. If you don't, but you make an exception for Judaism's specific mandates, and you declare anything else to be "theft" or something close to it, then you're not being philosophically consistent.

Having said that, I should point out that there is a good deal more to politics than philosophy. I don't fault any frum person for taking conservative positions on particular issues. There is room in Yiddishkeit for a variety of political perspectives, once we move past ideology and get into specifics. The problem is that many of us have a hard time stepping outside our own political perspectives and acknowledging that other viewpoints have legitimacy. When we feel strongly about an issue, it is easy to fall into the trap of ascribing simplistic motives to the other side and of not recognizing how complex the issue really is. I'm sure I have been guilty of this before, but I definitely see it in frum conservatives. It is implicit in Harry's statement that "conservative principles are generally more in line with Orthodox Judaism," which almost makes it sound like we can just do a head-count of political positions and declare this one as being more in line with Torah values, that one as being less, and so on.

So let me be clear: On almost any major issue in American politics today, a case could be made for both sides without sacrificing one's commitment to Torah principles. There are possible exceptions, like gay marriage or opposition to stem-cell research. But most issues fall into one of the following three categories:

1) Issues where the Torah's view is irrelevant. One example is gun control. Occasionally I have heard Orthodox rabbis on both sides of this debate attempt to "spin" their favored position as more Torah-based, but their arguments are unconvincing, for the disagreement (properly understood) does not stem from any fundamental difference of values and has no real bearing on halacha. So too with the vast majority of American political issues.

2) Issues where the Torah's view is relevant, but where there is still rabbinic support for both sides. An excellent example is the death penalty. Harry's mentor R. Ahron Soloveichik not only opposed the death penalty but believed that every Jew should.

3) Issues where Jewish law may seem more in line with one side, but where pragmatic considerations might tilt it the other way. This category includes many "social issues" that religious conservatives focus upon, such as abortion.

In sum, I welcome debate on the specifics of any issue. At the same time, I believe that there is much in common between traditional Judaism and many core liberal ideals. It's not absolute, but then neither is the pact that R. Lapin and co. have attempted to make with the Christian Right. And frankly I think the latter poses a greater danger to our freedom as Jews than the fuzzy liberal tolerance that so many frum people claim to despise. Christian conservatives may play nicey-nice to us, but in the long run they're being disingenuous, as becomes clear in the slip-ups by the less shrewd among them (e.g. Katherine Harris). You have to be extremely deluded to believe that the Christian Right views us as an equal partner. No doubt we should stand up for what we believe in, whether economic or social, but we must also be careful not to be so blinded by ideology that we enter into an unhealthy relationship.

Boy, non-Jews are soft.

If I see one more cooking show or magazine article suggest that preparing one, measly Thanksgiving Dinner is an onerous chore, I am going to invite the chef or writer over to my house to watch Mrs. DovBear prepare for a three-day yontiff

The laugh I needed

From the comments at Cross (loving) Currents:

I am really sorry that Rabbi Menken is “fed up with Fox.” The Fox news channel has risen to prominence due to its wholesome “we report, you decide” approach and willingness to offer a fair and balanced presentation...

Comment by David N. Friedman — November 18, 2006 @ 11:31 pm

And you thought Jews were smart.

What will Aguda do? II (the stupid approach continued)

If not a ban, perhaps takanos? [prohibitions, or decrees]

The other day some of put our imaginations to work and came up with a set of takanos we fear the Agudah might issue at their Big Blog Meeting this week. They follow:

Rav DovBear:
1 - Thou shalt kill the messanger
2 - If the messanger is anonymous, thou shalt kill his methods and tactics.
3 - Thou shalt not question
4 - Thou shalt refer to every Jew as Rav, every shul rabbi as HaRav, every Rosh Yeshiva as HaRav HaGaon, every Christian minister as "our good friend" and every modern orthodox so-called rabbi as "that guy"
5 - Comments are to be deleted
6 - If a leftie Jew did it: KILL KILL KILL. If a rightwing Christian did it: SPIN SPIN SPIN
7 - He who does not support likud shall be construed as an anti-semite.
8 - Thou shalt denigrate poor people who rely on state handouts and occasionaly riot in the streets - unless they wearblack hats, in which case, thou shalt feel free to spin.
9 - Any statement by any Rishon that can be construed to undermine the most maximalistic possible interpretation of the Rambam's 8th ikkar shall be suppressed or attributed to a renegade student.

Rabanit Tzipora:
1 - If a poster is revealed as a woman, thou shalt disparage her ability to understand Torah
2 - Thou shalt strongly oppose poor people who are non-Jews no matter what the color of their skin.
3 - Thou shalt strongly support rich people who are non-Jews, no matter the color color of their hats.

Rav GH:
1. The Gay Parade shall be referred to as 'The Abominable Parade', Gay people as 'The Abominable People' and gay creatures made out of frozen water as 'The Abominable Snowmen'.
2. Evolution shall be referred to as 'The So Called 'Theory' of Evolution'.
3. Science shall be referred to as 'Goyish, Atheistic "So Called" Science' and Scientists as 'Goyish, Atehistic, "So Called" Scientists' , except when a scientist attempts to prove the Bible is true, in which case he is to be referred to as a 'World famous expert'.
4. Thou shalt aid in covering up all scandals, defamation and other bad things spread about organizations whose sterling image we wish to support at all times, never mind whether or not it's true
5. Thou shalt aid in exposing all scandals, defamation and other bad things spread about organizations whose sterling image we wish to destroy at all times, never mind whether or not it's true
6. If a Chareidi Rav is implicated in a sex scandal, though shalt judicously ignore it, except if someone snitches to the police, in which case thou shalt condemn the snitcher in the strongest possible way.
7. If a so called 'Rabbi' from Reform, Conservative or LW MO community is implicated in a sex scandal, or even better, an atheist, thou shalt use it as an opportunity for some snide remarks about how only Torah True Jews can be moral, since only we possess the ultimate guide to objective morality.

Rav Qwerty
1 - Thou shalt oppose homosexual sex except when (verbally) [deleted] Christian ministers.
2 - Thou shalt delete DovBear's comments.
3 - Thou shalt drop the names of famous Christian ministers.

Rabbanit Willendorf
Thou shalt condemn as sinful and disgusting books thou hast not read and movies thou hast not viewed.

What will Aguda do? I

It's three days to the big Aguda meeting on blogs, and like the rest of the Jewish blogosphere I am waiting on tenterhooks (whatever the hell that means) for the results. Will the blogs be banned? Will any of us be singled out for special disapprobation? Will Gill and Harry wheedle an exception for themselves?

There are two main directions Agudah could take, one smart, one stupid. As follows:

The smart approach

Agudah should create its own blog, and use it to promote the Aguda agenda and also to respond to the issues bloggers have raised. Instead of attacking from the pulpit or from behind posters, let Aguda join the blogosphere and make its case coherently and constructivly. In an open encounter the truth has nothing to fear. If they choose to ban the blogs, or to otherwise regulate them, it will show us only that the Agudah leadership has no faith in the truth of their own positions. [This, incidently, is why Cross Currents moderates and deletes comments. It's also why I solicit and publish guest posts from every hashkofic and political corner of the blogosphere. One of us is pursuing truth; the other has a different agenda.]

The stupid approach

The worst thing aguda could do is make themselve into a luaghingstock by banning blogs. Why a laughingstock? Two reasons: First, a ban would announce to the world that the Aguda emperor is naked. Only someone who is wrong is afraid of arguments. Second, the ban would be impossible to enforce, and for this reason it would reveal that along with being wrong, the organization is impotant.

If history holds, Aguda will take the stupid approach. Alas.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Whose values?

I don't make time to read the Harry Maryles blog, but I'm told his discussions of religion are quite good. Today, however, I was alerted by one of my readers, that Harry had wandered out of his comfort zone and attempted to say something thoughtful about politics. He failed.

The Maryles politics post has two main failings. The less egregious of these is that it is vacuous, and full of flabby, even laughable assertions. More seriously, Harry says something that just isn't true, and because I expect his error is shared by many other Orthodox Jews, I shall address it head on.

Harry wrote: "It is a fact that the conservative principles are generally more in line with Orthodox Judaism than are liberal principles."

No, Harry, this is not a fact, not by any stretch of the imagination. Though you don't bother to tell us what you mean by "conservative principles," I'll presume you're talking about abortion, gay marriage, and the attitude of the GOP toward religion in general. Let's discuss them one at a time.

GOP-Jews tend to ignore or conceal this fact, but the issue is much more complicated than paleo-conservative Jews allow. What is not in doubt, however, is this: The Torah and Christian Conservatives don't see eye-to-eye on abortion. Consider this: (1) If a pregnant woman commits a capital crime, does a Jewish court wait for the child to be born before killing the woman? No. (2) If you slaughter (shecht) a pregnant cow, does the calf inside need to be shected, too? No. (3) If a bas kohen loses a baby within the first 40 days of her pregnancy can she continue to eat Trumah? Yes (if the baby was lost after 40 days she can't) (4) After a first-pregnancy miscarriage that occurs within the first 40 days, is the next child (if its a male) a Bechor regarding inheritance and Pidyon? Yes. (If the miscarriage was after 40 days, the next child loses his status)

All of this suggests that life begins at a point later than conception; all of this suggests that the Torah, unlike Conservative Christianity, does not consider abortion to a be murder no matter when it occurs during a pregnancy. And the fact the leading poskim allow abortions under many circumstances further militates against the idea that the Jewish and Christan views on the subject are identical. In short, Christians wish to ban abortion with few - or even no - exceptions and this is not the Jewish view on the subject.

Gay Marriage
The Orthodox Jew's position on gay marriage should be one of polite indifference. Though it's true, the torah forbids homosexual acts, we are not bidden to impose this view on the rest of society. A gay relationship has no victims, and therefore belongs to the category of ben adom l'makom offenses. As such, I am content to let God settle his own accounts.

However, it must be noted that it is in our own self-interest to insist that the government provide committed homosexual couples with the same legal advantages and protections it offers heterosexual couples. Yes, homosexuality is forbidden by the Torah, but it does not serve our interests as Jews to let a secular state enforce halacha. Our interests (as well as our rights) are best protected when the state maintains a strict nuetrality on matters of morality if there is no victim.

Radical uncertainty about religion, on the part of the state, is much better than the alternative. A government that takes for itself the power to determine theological truths is always dangerous to the Jews, as history has proven many times. On the other hand, there is nothing to fear - and never has been anything to fear - from two gays in a committed relationship. If they are hurting anyone, they are only hurting themselves.

General Attitude Toward Religion
Let's leave the Democrat's position on Judaism aside; after all we're only 2 percent of the populace. Instead let's talk about the majority: Christianity. You're a Jew, Harry, am I right? Don't you agree that the Christian faith in a man-god is inconsistant with Orthodox Judaism? If not, the Rambam would like to speak with you. In fact, most of the major theological views held by the religious people in the country are opposed to Judaism. We don't recognize the divinity of Jesus, and so on. For consistancy's sake Harry and his ilk should embrace the liberal's (alleged) hostility for Christinaity, just as they embrace the Conservative's (very real) hostility for gay rights and abortion. If you are willing to pillory abortionists and homosexuals for being inconsistent with halacha, why do you give a free pass for Christians?

God hasn't said anything to a human being in about 2000 years. Right now, God isn't telling us what to do. Man is, in God's name. And forgive me, but man's track record is rather lousy [See for instance the behavior of noted GOP moralists like Bill Bennet, Tom Delay and Ted Haggard]; as a result, I'm not too inclined to rely upon Man, if I can avoid it. The founding fathers knew this, which is why they instituted all sorts of protections, among them a guarantee that the majority could not impose it's religious doctrines on us, the 2 percent minority. We trifle with those protections at our own peril. A party that seeks to undermine those protections is not one we should support.

Note: I won't make the careless error of announcing that liberalism and Judaism are perfectly alligned. They aren't, or course, and neither are conservatives principles and Judaism a perfect match. But the idea that these Judaism and liberalim are absolutely incompatible is wrong and deserving of defeat. The truth is that it is liberalism, and the freedoms that liberalism gurantees, which allow Orthodox Judaism to flourish.

Updated 8:03 PM EST


Two years ago, Republicans managed to spin a 51 percent victory over a weak opponent into something very big--not quite a landslide, but a mandate, a "rolling realignment," perhaps even (as Newsweek breathlessly speculated) "a political dominance that could last for decades."

By that standard, what would you call what the Democrats accomplished Tuesday? They won the aggregate House vote by a margin of some ten percentage points, nearly four times the margin Bush ran up against the hapless Kerry in 2004. Their gain of more than two dozen House seats may be modest by historical comparison, but that is only because demography and gerrymandering have compressed the field of contestable seats to a bare minimum.

The same holds true of the Senate. Yes, the Democrats will likely have just a bare two-seat majority. But this is only because the overrepresented low-population states tilt so heavily Republican. If you assume each senator represents half his state's population, the 51 senators caucusing with the Democrats will represent some 58 percent of the United States.

A lot of things have come crashing down with this election. One of them is the absurd cultural prestige enjoyed by President Bush and his supporters. Since 2000, they have continuously bludgeoned their critics with the notion that the only authentic Americans are those living in the red states. Democratic voters have been endlessly told that they are nothing more than a tiny, alien coastal remnant, and many of them started to believe it.

Well, it's hokum. Bush and his vision for the country have been before the voters four times now. Twice (in 2002 and 2004) a narrow majority of voters supported him; once (in 2000) a narrow majority rejected him; and now a substantial majority has rejected him. Bush is not the incarnation of the popular will, and his critics are not anti-American freaks.

Another casualty of the election, we hope, should be the pathological insularity of the administration's foreign policy-making. It has long been obvious to every sentient being, along with many members of the Bush inner circle, that Donald Rumsfeld was an epic disaster as defense secretary. That Bush could not take even the minimal step of acknowledging this glaringly obvious fact made it difficult to believe he could take the immensely more difficult step of coming to grips with Iraq. A global strategic disaster was not enough to shake Bush into action. It took a Republican political disaster as well.

Finally, and most proximately, the election should bury the peculiar form of one-party rule that has so corrupted American politics. Until the present administration, the modern American state had no true experience with one-party rule. Even during those times when Democrats controlled both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, they were a fractious assortment of Northern progressives and Southern conservatives, more coalition than true party. President Clinton's toughest battles during his first two years came with the Democrats running Congress. When Bush won the presidency, there was at last a single party with total control of the levers of power and a relatively coherent vision of government's role. They kept inventing new ways to turn their power into a self-perpetuating machine. It was a frightening thing to behold.

From the moment they took control of Congress in 1994, Republicans handed over astonishing power to the business lobby to rewrite regulations and the tax code to its liking. Republicans held votes in the dead of night, let lobbyists author legislation, and elevated the pork barrel to the central operating principle of government. Their entire legislative program was a massive payoff.

The Republican-K Street nexus, along with the slanted districting of the House, made the ruling claque appear almost unbeatable. And, indeed, it took a staggering combination of factors--a failing war, stagnant wages, endless scandals, the near-loss of a major U.S. city--to finally pry the levers of power out of Republican fingers.

When they won Congress in 1994, Republicans hubristically called it a "revolution." November 7, 2006, was not a revolution, and nobody should expect unbroken sunny days to follow. But it did end a dismal period in American political life, and for that we can only rejoice

[Taken from here]

Friday, November 17, 2006

When did the world end?

Still wonderin' said:

The end of jblogging began in summer '05, when DB went away on vacation and handed the keys to his blog to Amshi....he made some rude comment invoking nazis and DB has to come home early and delete the comments.

Oy! Censorship!

Somehow the whole episode left a bad taste in everyone's mouth and thus, the beginning of the end of innocence.


Or was it the FIRST time MoC retired...

Or, was it when Slifkin became a non-issue....

Or was it when OM went political...

Or, was it when Amshi abandoned his once brilliant blog....

Or was it when mis-nagid closed his site and some jerk snatched up the name (whatsisname??)....

Or was it when 10,000 idiots descended on The Unorthodox Jew's blog spouting nonsense and bile, and then he was outed by a bunch of low-life thugs purporting to be acting l'sheim shamayim...

Or was it when Airtimedaily stopped writing tittilating stories and got a job and them moved to Israel...

Or was it when Godol Hador started to get self-conscious and stopped writing in particularly insightful yet deliciously blunt manner and then closed his blog...

Or was it when blogging just became so 2005 and all the fun people went on to do....nahhhhhh.

Do not say, "Why is it that the former days were better than these?" For it is not wisdom that causes you to ask about this. --Ecc 7:10

New J-blog

And look who's running it: Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz

Things about this that are funny:

1 - Rabbi Horowitz is going to allow unedited, unmoderated comments. Take that Cross Currents!

Things about this that are promising:

1 - I don't know Rabbi Horowitz from a hole in the wall, but the articles he's written about parenting are never political, and never crazy. The blogosphere needs more apolitical, intelligent Haredim.
2 - Unedited, unmoderated comments!

Things about this that are threatening:

1 - Poor Gil. In a few weeks time he may not be the top Torah blog anymore.
2 - Unedited, unmoderated comments? Hey! That's my shtick!

Recurring biblical stories

We've all realized, I'm certain, that the Torah appears to tell the same sort of stories over and over again. for example:

* Again and again the younger son wins out (Hevel, Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Yosef, Moshe, Dovid, Shlomo)

* Again and again, couples meet at a well (Rivka and Yitzchak's agent, Yaakov and Rachel, Moshe and Tzipora, and even Yehuda meets Tamar in a town with a name that puns on "well")

* Twice townspeople brutally accost a set of unwanted guests (Sodom and Gib'e-ah)

* Twice mystics end up in the desert where they receive important revelations, and both of these mystics ultimately die on the far side of the Jordan (Moshe and Eliyahu)

And, as I recently learned from Slate's wonderful series "Blogging the Bible" the story of how Yaakov took Eisav's blessing is retold in the first chapter of Kings. Money quote:
As in the Genesis version, a scheming mother finagles her vulnerable, possibly senile, old husband to favor a younger son over an older one. Like Jacob, younger son Solomon is a pawn, a passive participant in his mom's scheme. Solomon, fated to become the wisest man on earth, reveals no wisdom at all during this drama. He manages to become king without saying a single word!
What to make of this?

This dude CANT play

Thursday, November 16, 2006

We're Number Three!


Two bits from a bi

One of the very great things about running this blog is that it puts me in contact with all sort of people. Today, in honor of the gay parade that wasn't, I'm pleased to present a guest post submitted by a bisexual Jewess (no idea which branch - if any - she affiliates with)


I was very confused as a teenager.

Boys really turned me on.

Girls . . .well . . . um . . .well, oddly enough . . .

But boys really turned me on.

So that meant I was normal, wasn't I?

Wasn't I?

In the town in which I grew up, homosexuals were completely in the closet, and homosexuality, if spoken of at all, was spoken of in whispers.

I was in college the first time I ever heard the word "lesbian."

I may have been even older than that the first time I heard the word "bisexual."

I'd been married for over a decade before I first admitted to myself that I was bisexual. This is as far out of the closet as I've ever come, and as far out as I ever intend to come: Since I have no intention of leaving my loving husband, I see no point in upsetting him.

I believe that sex and sexuality are strictly private matters. That means that I'm not entirely comfortable with the idea of literally parading my sexuality in the streets, be they the streets of Jerusalem or elsewhere. But it also means that I'm a strong supporter of civil unions for gays. What business does the government have to tell two consenting adults with whom they're allowed to spend the rest of their lives? And why shouldn't a life partner be permitted to insure his/her life partner's health and visit his/her life partner as next of kin on his/her deathbed in the hospital?

But enough of the political. What about the personal? For me, being bi has the advantage of enabling me to "pass." I found me a good man, and we've been married for a good while. But bisexuality has the disadvantage of making me feel "surrounded." A straight person never knows when he/she is going to be momentarily attracted to a member of the opposite sex. A gay person never knows when he/she is going to be momentarily attracted to someone, either, but the attraction comes from a person of the same sex. Now imagine what it would be like to be open to attraction from both sides of the mechitzah. I can be equally distracted by a woman in a low-cut top and by a man in tight jeans. The Sh'ma's injunction not to go a-whoring after the explorations of one's eyes--"v' lo taturu acharei . . . eineichem asher atem zonim achareihem"—is a tad tougher on a bisexual. The need to control one's eyes, to keep it all locked inside, can be a bit more challenging when there's literally no place where one can go to avoid temporary temptation.

Anyway, that's two cents from a "fence-sitter," just to try to help you understand what it's like.

Born Surrounded

The lonly nation

We're told Israel sits alone among the nations, and today arrives more proof that this so. At a time, when George W. Bush stands repudiated not just by the nations of the world, but by almost 70 percent of his own countrymen, two foolish RW Israelis think he's doing a heckuava job

Cross Currents: Grosser than Usual

Dear Yaakov,

Just a short note to let you know that your blog's efforts to rehbilitate Ted Haggard are making me physically ill. You're running a Jewish blog, right? One that alleges itself to be concerned with issues that matter to the Jewish world. Yet two of your last four posts are about how Ted Haggard, a man who lied to his flock and cheated on his wife, is really a great guy, after all.

Why any religious Jew should take notice of Ted Haggard is beyond me. The man is an idol worshipper, an adulterer, and a viscious human being who made a career persecuting homosexuals. If, like me, you believe that homosexuality is between man and god, Haggard's behavior with the prostitute is no concern of ours, but his treatment of his wife and other (gay) human beings is reprehensible. Plus he's an idol worshipper who wishes to make America into a nation of idol worshippers, so my view is: Let him hang.

At Cross Currents, the calculus should be similar. Yaakov and the boys, may not mind that Haggard spent his professional life acting miserably toward his fellow (gay) creatures, still, from the perspective of Cross Currents, Haggard is a sinner three times over: He sleeps with men, he cheats on his wife, and he lies about it. So why, is Cross Currents sending this man Valentines?

Two possibilties:

(1) The fact that Haggard is a public and professional Christian forgives all sins. If this is Cross Currents view, it throws the theory of moral absolutes on its head. Social conservatives don't grade on a curve. A murderer who lived a good life is still a murderer. If you (like Cross Currents) believe that homosexuality is a serious sin, the fact that the sinner lived an otherwise upstanding life is neither here nor there. More importantly, from the Jewish perspective Haggard decidedly did not live an upstanding life. He cheated on his wife. He lied to his congregation. And besides that, he spent this tainted life hawking Christianity. If you recall, the Jewish God does not want the worship of Jesus Christ to gain ground. The Jewish God is a jealous God, remember?

(2) The fact that Haggard paid superficial support to Israel forgives all sins Why do I use the word "superficial"? Because men like Haggard don't really love Israel. They love the idea that Jesus will come back and slaughter Jews and other infidals by the millions sometime after the Jews return to Israel. We're just pawns in the rapture story. And I utterly reject the idea that a man who supports us only because he thinks that support will one day bring about our complete destruction is entitled to any special consideration.

As you can tell, I strongly disagree with what I call the "Cross Current Jews/" They seem to think that all religons (save for Islam and liberal expressions of Judaism, of course) must be venerated and protected because the alternative is liberalism, atheisim, cynicm, and mandatory French education in the public schools. But this is bogus. The real alternative to Haggard and his Christian agenda is freedom, ie: the right to choose any religion and any lifestyle you like. Anything the marginlizes the pious frauds of the American heartland advances the cause of freedom, and freedom is what minority Judaism must have if it is to flourish. The fact that Haggard has been discredited helps us. By rehabilitating him, Cross Currents hurts us.

Another fair and balanced moment for the fair and balanced network

FOX NEWS INTERNAL MEMO: "Be On The Lookout For Any Statements From The Iraqi Insurgents who Must Be Thrilled At The Prospect Of A Dem Controlled Congress"

You can't make this up. Ladies and genetlemen, your "liberal" media.


It's been a very long time since I checked in on Noa, and I'm pleased to discover that, in the interim, she went and had a baby. Congratulations. And all the more so, because way back when I first started blogging she was in a very different place.

Al tismachi oyavti-lee / kee nafalti, kamti / Kee ayshev bachoshech / hashem or lee.

Speaker Pelosi

Pelosi officially elected House speaker

Can someone explain the big deal about a woman speaker? My wife never shuts up.


Hey, remember when all the teevee pundits and dopey GOP-Jewish bloggers said that electing Nancy Pelosi minority leader was a "big wet kiss" for Republicans and how it was a "exactly what Karl Rove wanted"


How long before Joe or one of his clones rains on this wonderful parade by telling us how the Iraqi insurgents, the Islamic Ayatollahs, and the American Nazi Party all supported Pelosi for House Speaker?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Hadesh yomanu k'kedem

The great Krum says some very nice things about yours truly, as part of his general lament about the decline of the Jewish Blogosphere.

Don't miss the comments.

PS: I don't agree with the thrust of his post: I think the J-blogosphere, as a whole, is better today than it was in 2005. His auxillary points, however, are spot on.

Welcome back Trent Lott!

Well here's some good news for those of you who are looking forward to the eventual destruction of the Republican Party: Trent Lott is now the party's number two man. (heh heh you said #2 he hehe he)

For those of you born yesterday, Trent was tossed out of the party leadership back in 2002 for expressing his nostalgia for the days of lynching and segregation. This is what he said:
I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either.
And what were the fine white people of Mississippi endorsing back in 1948 when they supported old Strom? Good question. Here, via Atrios, is Mississippi's sample ballot from that election. Pay close attention to the fine print: [If Truman wins] anti-lynching and anti-segregation proposals will become the law of the land and our way of life in the South will be gone forever...

Well, I can't say there isn't a virtue in honesty.

Update: It's been remarked that I should go easy on poor old Trent. The man did recently lose a beach house, after all.

A very sharp question

From Lakewood Guy:

If you were walking down the street and you met Rashi and you asked him the time and being that his watch had stopped he told you the wrong time, would that bother you? Would you be required to accept that the time is now an hour earlier?

Now, for the slow, let me rephrase the question. If you were thumbing through the chumash and you encountered a Rashi that was factually incorrect oweing to the fact that Rashi relied on bad science, would you be required to pay obeisance to it?

[The Lakewood Guy blog]

Jewish Genious

I admire the ingenuity.
El Al Airlines tackle the issue of transporting corpses -- a problem for members of Judaism's priestly caste, called Kohanim, who are banned by ritual law from coming in close proximity to the dead..........The institute found a solution by wrapping thick corrugated cardboard around the coffin in the shape of a house. That way, the body is considered enclosed and unable to "spread impurity," making it acceptable for Kohanim to travel on the same plane.

The Power of 12

Our Father Abraham was promised many descendants, multiplied like the stars of the heaven (or Zodiac constellations) And, this promise was realized through Our Father Jacob and his twelve sons.

But how many of you have realized that Nachor had 12 sons, too?
And so did Yishmael.
And Esav, too.

What do you suppose this means?


A reward of up to 100 DovBear Stars of Achievment is being offered for a transcript or recording of the anti-blog speech scheduled to be delivered at the next Agudah Conference.

Many of us want to hear it. And what better irony than a speech on blogs eroding rabbinic authority being leaked to blogs everywhere?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Agudah's bogus war

Well spotted by OrthoMom:

...Have bloggers declared open season on Torah Authority?

[an ad for the Aguda Convention from Hamodia]

Let me see if I have this straight. Instead of talking about Kolko, or the Mikva accusations floating around like so much scum on a pond, the august annual Agudas Yisroel assembly is going to dedicate itself to discussing blogs. Smashing news. Our outstanding faith has been hijacked and subverted by fraudulently pious men who wish only to aquire cash and kovod. Our children are ignorant and insecure, and certain that any other expression of Judaism is illigitimate. Our wives have been browbeaten into the kitchen and taught that meaningful employment is "not for them." But, rather then talk about any of this Agudah, the self-proclaimed leader of yahadus, wishes to roast the bloggers for not bowing deeply enough whenever the name of a great Rabbi is mentioned.

I'm sure the monsters and misbehaviors in our community are overjoyed to learn that our self-appointed leaders have once again missed the bus.

On the chance that Avi Shafran is the sort of person who compulsivly Googles his own name let me see if I can capture his attention and set the record straight:

Avi Shafran Avi Shafran Avi Shafran Avi Shafran Avi Shafran Avi Shafran Avi Shafran Avi Shafran Avi Shafran Avi Shafran Avi Shafran Avi Shafran Avi Shafran Avi Shafran Avi Shafran Avi Shafran Avi Shafran Avi Shafran Avi Shafran Avi Shafran Avi Shafran Avi Shafran Avi Shafran Avi Shafran

The bloggers aren't at war with Torah Authority. In fact, I can't think of a single one who has any real beef with any of the legitimate gedolim. I know I don't.

What I, and so many other bloggers, simply will not tolerate is the fact that superficial stupidities have become the Orthodox Jewish community's dominant concern.

For example: Rather then take action against Lippy Margolis, the man who protected a child molester for 25 years, many medium level leaders and rabbis, including the disgraceful Jewish Press, prefered to make angry noises about the method the bloggers used to finally make the case against Kolko stick. We didn't use proper channels. We didn't respect Lippy Margolis's status and position. We leveled out accusations anonymously. etc. etc. etc.

What sick irony. Because if men like you, Avi Shafran, hadn't been napping, the bloggers wouldn't have had to do your job for you. If you'd concerned yourself with the children, instead of Lippy's honor no one would have ever heard of UOJ.

Update: Readers, rather than declare war on the blogsphere, what other issues do you think should be discussed at the next Aguda Convention? My thoughts:

1 - The practice of expelling students who can' t be made to fit into the ever-shrinking box at most Yeshivot.

2 - The mikva scandal currently bubbeling to the surface of this and other blogs.

3 - The fact that the average Yeshiva graduate can't add, speak English or find a job at a company owned by someone other than one of his relatives.

4 - The shidduch crisis, by which I mean the fact that many wonderful young women wish to marry torah scholars but can't because the torah scholars have been conditioned to believe that only wealthy wives are worth having.

5 - The role of the kanaoim in the ban on Nosson Slifkin. Just how much power do the loud mouthed zalots actually have, and how can this be ameliorated?

6 - The role of kanaus in general. Why are so many thoughtful and practical initiatives abandoned simply because some loud mouth has threatened to paper the streets of Brooklyn, Monsey, Lakewood or Jerusalem with angry denouncments. Who's really pulling the strings?

7 - The Orthodox Jew's animosity toward science and critical thinking. As I've said many times, anything the evidence can't support is, by definiton, foreign to Jewish. Why does institutional Judaism insist on clinging to things that have been roundly defeated by the evidence, and how can this be fixed?

Anything else?