Wednesday, January 31, 2007

I see bad people


Horowitz Homers (again)

There's a kid I know in grade 7 at one of the blackest of the black hat schools. He doesn't learn any chumash or navi or loshon (aside from a few out-of-context midrashim presented every Friday under the heading of "Parsha") What he learns is Talmud, practically 24/6.

I think this is outrageous.

If we taught math the way yeshivas teach Torah, we'd force all of our sixth graders to begin with calculus, without first teaching them algebra or trigonometry. Talmud (as I often tell anyone who will listen) should just one component of a comprehensive ultra-Orthodox curriculum. Our children should be taught chumash and navi, with mephorshim, together with Hebrew grammar and vocabulary. These are the building blocks for future success at Torah study.

Today, I discovered that at least one, professional ultra-Orthodox educator agrees with me.

Do you think racism is a problem in the Orthodox community?


[This is about what I expected]

A guest post by one of DaBoysof905

What follows was written by LT, one of Da Boys at

Let's start by getting a few things out of the way:

The war in Iraq may have been a mistake...

The Bush administration may have made a multitude of mistakes in their execution of the Iraq War...
We may wish someone other than George W. Bush was the Commander in Chief of our Armed Forces...

But none of that is relevant because we are powerless to change the past and George W. Bush will be the Commander in Chief of our Armed Forces for the next two years.

The stakes are too high for us to waste time lamenting the things we can't control; so let's focus on what we can control. And while there is no question that failure in Iraq would have disastrous consequences and is something that none of us want to see, we do have to recognize that it is entirely possible that no matter what we do at this point, failure may already be unavoidable.

But since an immediate, full withdrawal of American troops is not a realistic option (if for no other reason than only 20-30% support such a plan), we might as well make at least one last attempt to try something different - one last attempt to give the Iraqi government a fighting chance to avoid civil war and establish a viable state. If Baghdad falls into chaos, then Iraq is lost. But if Baghdad can become a functioning city, then the Iraqi government may be able to stay solvent long enough to spread order and rule of law to other parts of Iraq. It is for this reason the troop surge calls for the majority of the additional forces to be placed in Baghdad.

What are the alternatives to a troop surge? A phased drawback of troops? That can (and should) occur months from now anyway. Staying the course and keeping the troop levels the same as they are now? The American people have made it crystal clear that they are demanding a change of some kind in our Iraq policy.

What are the costs of the surge? There is the chance that there will be more American casualties as a result... but this is no sure thing. It is also possible that the additional troops will allow us make Baghdad a safer place (and thus decrease casualties in the long run). And perhaps we can help make sure the surge is done in a way that makes clear this will be THE last attempt to restore order to Baghdad, and that after a fixed period of time, we will begin a troop drawback regardless of the outcome. If we fail, we fail. As horrible as that would be... failure may already be unavoidable.

We must reckon with the fact that the President does not need Congress's approval for a troop surge. Sitting around and lamenting the surge is akin to standing by train tracks and lamenting the train that is about to pass by. It would be more productve to try to tack our car onto the end of the train. Rather than try to prevent the unpreventable, we should try to focus the Presiden'ts plan and frame the debate. It is the difference between saying "no!" and saying "fine, but..."

We're going to have a troop surge?

Fine, but... let us make it crystal clear to the Iraqis that this is their last chance - that by , we WILL be going home. Let us explain to Iraqi families that if unless they want their children to grow up in a country torn asunder by civil war, NOW is the time to step up and do their part to build a stable Iraq. Let us support our Commander in Chief's military plan, but let us in return demand concrete promises to begin bringing our troops home by a specific date unless the situation on the ground significantly changes.

In other words, it's time to stop fighting the inevitable troop surge, and it's time to start fighting to make sure this troop surge is done right.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Me and Michael Medved

Michael Medved is an Orthodox Jewish movie critic who loved, loved, loved the Passion of the Christ. He's also a bit bonkers about Borat (to the grave disappointment of some of his wingnut fans.)

Like most Orthodox Jews with even a glimmer of historical awareness, I found Passion to be offensive in the extreme. Though the New Testament is silent on the subject, Jew-hater Mel Gibson saw fit to depict the Jews in his movie as Medieval caricatures, complete with big noses, beady eyes, and an unhealthy fixation on money. He also included scenes based not on the christian bible, but on the hallucinations of an insane 19th century nun. She, for example, is the one who says the cross was built by the high priest, not the New Testament, yet this scene is present in Gibson's movie, a fact that didn't prevent Gibson from marketing his movie as the "word of God."

I hated Passion, but I thought Borat was laugh-out-loud/fall-off your seat funny. In this movie, anti-Semitsm was everywhere but it was pure parody, and too ridiculous to be taken seriously. Still, some people cringed at the running of the Jews, and even I was made uncomfortable when Borat threw a handful of bills at a pair of roaches he thought were "shape shifting Jews." The rest of the movie, however, more than made up for these akward moments.

I'm not alone. Most of the OJ people I know who've seen both movies (a small population) liked Borat, and hated Passion. A few OJ people thought Borat was a little crude, and a little gross, but they also hated Passion, which, to a Jew, is basically a snuff film, and one tedious parade of whippings, beatings and other tortures. (If the nude wrestling in Borat makes you cringe, how can you stomach the abuse depicted in Passion?) And though I'm too lazy to Google for proof, I suspect that people like Daniel Lapin, and perhaps the commentariat at Cross Currents, hated the the sophomoric humor in Borat - not to mention the way he embarrassed gentiles - while simultaneously adoring Passion. I know Lapin's wife (or daughter?) avoided Borat because of the bathroom humors, but I'm not sure if she shares the Rabbi's obscenely high opinion of Mad Mel's movie.

This makes Medved the odd one out. He's the only Jewish person I know who liked both movies. I think that's a little mad, and kind of incoherent.

A raccoon club for Jews

Ralph and Ed had the International Order of Friendly Sons of the Raccoons. Barney and Fred had the Royal Order of the Water Buffaloes, and even Howard Cunnigham had the Leopard Lodge. The Talmud promises that Jew lacks nothing if he follows the commandments, and I see from Saturday's New York Times, that this is true: We may not be able to fritter time away and hang out with each other at animal lodges, but we do have Congregation Shomrei Shabbos
Congregation Shomrei Shabbos, a 24-hour synagogue where a service begins every 15 minutes. What started more than three-quarters of a century ago as a tiny congregation has grown into a mainstay of this community: transit hub, soup kitchen, community center, bookstore and prayer hall all in one.
And of course cholent and other Jewish delicacies are easily found in close proximity:
Thanks to all this activity, the once-inconspicuous synagogue is now a trigger for local nightlife....Sub Express, a kosher fast-food restaurant whose menu includes what is described as a unique “brisket egg roll,” keeps its doors open until 1 a.m. Another popular outpost is Deli 52, which on Thursday nights serves two [!!] variations of cholent, a traditional Sabbath stew of beans, meat and barley, until 4 a.m.[!!!] The late-night cholent attracts crowds of men, who often stay and schmooze until the morning hours, a somewhat controversial activity among the ultra-Orthodox, who pride themselves on not wasting time with idle chat.
Related: A bar named Learn
[I received this story from Amshi, by email, and saw it on OrthoMom. If you've blogged it, too, let me know and I'll give you a polite golf clap (and add your post here)]

Negative Commandments

To my surprise, the negative commandments were a rout for the Democrats (much like the November elections.) They won 30 - 17. (and yes all the fallacies from before are still in place here)

I say I was surprised, because politics, I suppose, has conditioned me to think of the negative commandments largely in terms of sex. This is false. As with the positive commands, the overwhelming majority of the negatives are today irrelevant; those that are not, largely have to do with how we're supposed to treat each other.

Before I continue, please take note of the methodology/critieria. As before, I am NOT attempting to determine which political philosophyhy best fits a given command; rather, I am asking one simple question: Which party is more likely to support this commandment as a matter of law or public policy. I am also not drawing any conclusions, or attempting to prove any point, save this: The idea that any one part is more bible-based than the other is absurd when 90 percent of what the Bible tells us is 100 percent irrelevant to Americans living in 2007.


N267 A hired laborer not eating growing crops Anti-labor=GOP
N268 A hired laborer not putting of the harvest in his own vessel Ditto
N277 Judge not to decide in favor of poor man, out of pity The Dems, of course, aren't in favor of this, but they are far less likely than the GOP to write this into law
N278 Judge not to pervert justice against person of evil repute Ditto
N279 Judge not to pity one who has killed or caused loss of limb Ditto
N280 Judge not perverting justice due to proselytes or orphans Ditto
N284 Not appointing an unlearned judge Ditto
N286 Judge not to receive a wicked man's testimony Ditto
N312 Not to differ from traditional authorities
N316 Not to curse a ruler It only helps the terrorists
N318 Not cursing parents Another one that Dems wouldn't protest, but also wouldn't spearhead.
N348 Men may not lie with beasts The next six are bread and butter GOP ideas, and, unfortunately, they are what gives the GOP the reputation for being "bible-based" and "God-fearing." As I hope this exercise has show, that rep isn't deserved.
N349 Women may not lie with beasts
N350 A man may not lie carnally with another man
N355 Not having relations with a woman without marriage
N351 A man may not lie carnally with his father
N352 A man may not lie carnally with his father's brother


N210 Not to reap all harvest without leaving a corner for the poor The next 6 form the sort of social welfare programs no respectable Republican would ever support.
N211 Not to gather ears of corn that fell during harvesting
N212 Not to gather the whole produce of vineyard at vintage time
N213 Not to gather single fallen grapes during the vintage
N214 Not to return for a forgotten sheaf
N219 Not preventing a beast from eating the produce where working Pro-animal rights=Dems.
N232 Failing to give charity to our needy brethren Some Republicans are very generous, but no Republican wants generosity to be mandated by law, as the Torah requires. Apply this comment to the next 10 items, as well
N233 Not sending a Hebrew bondman away empty-handed
N234 Not demanding payment from a debtor known unable to pay
N235 Not lending at interest
N236 Not borrowing at interest
N237 Not participating in a loan at interest
N238 Not oppressing an employee by delaying payment of his wages
N239 Not taking a pledge from a debtor by force
N240 Not keeping a needed pledge from its owner
N241 Not taking a pledge from a widow
N242 Not taking food utensils in pledge

N251 Not wronging one another by speech Speech codes, for better or worse, are a creation of the left.
N252 Not wronging a proselyte by speech Ditto
N256 Not dealing harshely with orphans and widows Special protection for a vulnerable group? Not in George Bush's America
N257 Not employing a Hebrew bondman in degrading tasks
The Republican says: if the contract calls for you to be degraded than degraded you shall be
N270 Not leaving a person who is trapped under his burden A manly Republican takes care of himself.
N281 Judge not to listen to one litigant in absence of the other If it helps the accused, it belongs to the left.
N282 A court may not convict by a majority of one in a capital case

N288 Not convicting on the testimony of a single witness Ditto
N290 No capital punishment based on circumstantial evidence Ditto
N298 Not leaving obstacles on public or private domain The GOP oppose regulations on public domains, and says you can do as you please in your private domain, (so long as it isn't gay sex.)
N300 Not inflicting excessive corporal punishment It helps the accused; therefore it's lefty
N306 Not to take the entire bird's nest (mother and young) Its nice to animals; therefore its lefty

I'll try to sum up later on.

The positive commandments

Update to this post
I've reviewed and adjusted my scoring for the positive commandments. Now, the GOP wins the category 23-21.

Below, I tell you how I scored all of the non-neutral positive commandments. We'll do the negatives ones later.

Methodology: For each commandment, I asked the following question: Which party is more likely to propose this as law, or to support it as public policy? I do not consider the merits of the law or policy itself.

Anticipated criticism: (1) This proves nothing; and (2) Sometimes the same idea rewards a party more than once. For example: capital punishment; it's one idea, but because of how the commandments are organized, their support of capital punishment gets them four points.

Response to criticism (1) No kidding Sherlock; this is a game, not a dissertation; and (2) See previous comment.

P 1 Believing in G-d A word on the God commandments: I know liberals believe in God, too, but they are unlikely to support legislation that makes this belief mandatory.
P 2 Unity of G-d
P 3 Loving G-d
P 4 Fearing G-d
P 5 Worshiping G-d
P 6 Cleaving to G-d
P 8 Walking in G-d's ways
P 9 Sanctifying G-d's Name
P 17 A king should write a Torah Some in the GOP think everyone should own a bible
P 18 Everyone should write a Torah See previous comment
P 19 Grace after meals There are those in the GOP who would make prayer mandatory in the public school; why not after meals, too?
P172 Heeding the Prophets
P173 Appointing a King Or a president with virtually unlimited authority
P205 Rebuking the sinner
P210 Honoring parents
P211 Fearing parents
P212 Be fruitful and multiply
P214 Bridegroom devotes himself to his wife for one year Family values
P224 Whipping transgressors of certain commandments Many GOPeople support corporal punishment in schools.
P226 Beheading transgressors of certain commandments
P227 Strangling transgressors of certain commandments
P228 Burning transgressors of certain commandments
P229 Stoning transgressors of certain commandments

P120 To leave the corners (Peah) for the poor This is the liberal flip-side of capital punishment. Here "helping the poor" is worth five points. And though the GOP wants to help the poor, (maybe) they're not likely to support government programs - or the Torah's welfare agenda.
P121 To leave gleanings for the poor
P122 To leave the forgotten sheaf for the poor
P123 To leave defective grape clusters for the poor
P124 To leave grape gleanings for the poor
P146 Slaughtering animals before eating them I've never known the GOP to care much about how animals are treated.
P148 Releasing the mother before taking the nest See previous comment
P177 Treating litigants equally before the law The criteria was which party is more likely to support these commandments? Though the GOP wouldn't necessarily oppose the idea that everyone is equal in front of the law, liberals, historically, are the ones who first sold this idea; even nowadays, Democrats are more likely to introduce and support new legislation on this subject.
P179 Inquiring into the testimony of witnesses See previous comment
P191 Send back any man unfit for battle The idea that someone deserves a military deferral for being mentally or physically unfit sounds lefty to me - especially when you recall that men who were scared or newly married or in possession of new fields were thought to be "unfit"
P193 Including a digging tool among war implements As the Iraq war showed us, Donald Runsfeld doesn't believe in properly equipping soldiers.
P195 To give charity I don't mean to suggest that the GOP hates charity, but GOPeople would strenuously object to laws telling us how to give, when to give and how much to give. These particulars are all part of Jewish charity law.
P197 Lending money to the poor See previous comment. GOPeople may be happy to loan to the poor, but they'd protest if the governement required them to do it.
P199 Restoring a pledge to a needy owner
P200 Paying wages on time
P201 An employee is allowed to eat the produce he's working in
P202 Unloading a tired animal
P203 Assisting the owner in loading his burden
P204 Returning lost property to its owner
P207 Loving the convert
P231 Burial on the day of execution

Still much more to say. Later.

Monday, January 29, 2007

My new, stupid project

So, rather naively, I thought it would be fun and also easy to scan through the Rambam's version od the 613 commandments and rate each one as "liberal," "conservative" or "neither."

Rarely, have I felt so stupid.

First, is the problem of defintions (What is liberal? What is a conservative? Do I judge them all as theocons? Or as libertarians?)

Second, is it offensive to liberalism to require people to believe in God, and to serve Him? For the purpose of this project I decided no; and because liberterians are vote with conservatives who and liberterians dislike being told what to do, I marked the commandments having to do directly with God as "neither."

Then, third, there's the fact that there are so many commandments and so many of them are altogether irrelevant: sacrifices, zavim, the redemption of donkeys. I marked them all "nuetral" on the theory that my eyes were glazing over, and I was about to fall over from boredom, but maybe that was a mistake.

For instance, Liberals aren't supposed to like religiously based laws, but the sacrifices were, in reality, a tax that served to keep a whole class of people fed and employed.

But those people were clerics.

But they weren't clerics in the sense that they told people how to live their lives; the kohanim administered the temple; they didn' t go around harrassing unwed mothers and so on.

In fact, there seems to be nothing about the ritual law that tells people what to think or otherwise penalizes them for thinking wrong thoughts. Its just that they are compulsory (ie: You must bring this offering, and you must prepare it this way) a fact that should offend libertarians most of all.

Anyway, I'm up to "Honoring the Kohanim" and I am going to mark it "C" because liberals don't like dynasties or hereditary power, and the kehuna was no meritocracy.

Update: There has to be a methodology I can use to make this easier. Meanhile I'm at "Tumah of a menstruant." No 21st century conservative would want this commandment to become public policy; if anything, they'd embrace it as an existing ritual because it's an old tradition and vagually mysoginistic. So does it get a C or an N?

Back to the begining (rats): Ok, I've got a methodology: What I will do is ask myself this question about each commandment: "Which party, in 2007, is more likely to propose and support this as a matter of policy." That means the GOP gets "Believe in God" but the Dems get "say the shma twice daily" It also means that every last one of the uniquely Jewish/Hebrew/Israelite ritual law gets an N for "neither" because, today, no one is likely to propose or support rules for sacrifices, menstruents and so on.

Update: Finished the positive commandments: Democrats are winning 29-20.

Update: I reviewed and corrected my scoring. Now its 25-24 in favor of the Democrats. Reason: I decided that the GOP was more likely to favor the death penalty, so I put the following four commandments in the GOP's column:
Beheading transgressors of certain commandments
Strangling transgressors of certain commandments
Burning transgressors of certain commandments
Stoning transgressors of certain commandments

Update: The negatives are even less relevant than the positives. I've done 120 so far and only one (Not leaving the body of an executed criminal hanging overnight) could be put into either category. Care to guess where I put it?

Semi Final Results: Ok, finished the negatives. They picked up a little bit at 210. The semi-final results for the negatives are: GOP 17, Democrats 31 --meaning (wait for it) the God might be a Democrat?

I'll have much more to say on this later.

Israel and refugees

Blogged by Marty Peretz at The Spine: "OK, the Arab countries and the other Muslim countries are in continuous conspiracy in international organizations to deflect them from doing anything serious to rescue Darfur from Sudanese genocide. Some of these countries actively contribute to Sudan's war against its black population, even when these Africans are Muslim. It is preposterous that Nigeria should be leading the African Union peace-keeping operation in Darfur. So on and on...

Now, Jews have made a big 'never again' fuss about Darfur, here in America and also in Israel. But how has the Jewish state actually behaved toward refugees who end up, after smuggling themselves through Egypt, in its territory? To be frank, quite horribly. There's a very nuanced article by Ina Friedman in February 5 issue of The Jerusalem Report, and it should bring shame to those of us who care about both human dignity and Israel."

Friday, January 26, 2007

DB on the (P)lagues

A review of my plague posts, in honor of parshas Bo.

How magical were the magicians? DovBear: Egyptian Magic

Where did the Egyptian magicians find water? DovBear: Water, water, everywhere, Nor any drop to drink

Did the frog plague begin with just one giant frog? DovBear: Frog(s) here, frog(s) there

Were 20 percent of the Jewish people killed during darkness? DovBear: How many died during the plague of darkness?

Breaking! Matisyahu is a crypto Christian!!!

Matisyahu is a crypto-Christian! How do we know?

Because the word "cross" appears on the cover of his latest CD!
And he didn't translate a psalm per ArtScroll!!

Conclusion: He's using music to steal jewish souls, because even if "the mind doesn't absorb the information everything seeps into the soul"(!!!!!!!)

ye freakin gods.

Source of this stupidity:


The President's Plan

Pelosi meets the President to talk about Iraq:
"He's tried this two times — it's failed twice," the California Democrat said. "I asked him at the White House, 'Mr. President, why do you think this time it's going to work?' And he said, 'Because I told them it had to.' " Asked if the president had elaborated, she added that he simply said, " 'I told them that they had to.' That was the end of it. That's the way it is."

At home, I have a four-year old with a mind that works the same way.

All whine, all the time

The RJC website seems to have changed its format. Now its all whine, all the time.

A little desperate for an apology, are we?. The top three items (above) read as follows:

(1) RJC Ad Calls on Wesley Clark to Apologize

(2) RJC Renews Call for Wesley Clark to apologize for remarks

(3) RJC: Clark Should Apologize for “Blatantly Anti-Semitic Remarks”


Whatever you may think of the general's remarks (and I've already demonstrated that they were innocent) I think we can all agree that a few years back prominent public scold William Donahue celebrated the holiday season by expressing a sentiment that was much, much worse.

Did the RJC protest? Did they purchase ad space? Did they threaten to hold their breath and turn blue if they weren't granted an apology?

Of course not.

Update: Great minds think alike

More than you ever wanted to know about deutero-Isaiah

More than you ever wanted to know about deutero-Isaiah

Last week, I said: "I'm aware of nothing that prevents or prohibits an Orthodox Jew from accepting that the book of Isaiah had (at least) two authors who lived hundreds of years apart."

Granted, this isn't the Mainstream Jewish Understanding of the subject, but the MJU has been wrong before. [1, 2, 3] Besides, the MJU of science or history isn't religiously binding. You can go your own way, and think your own thoughts, and still be halachic. Often, you can even find legitimate Torah scholars who expressed ideas that better fit the facts as scientists or historians understand them.

Deutero-Isaiah is as good an example as any.

According to the MJU, the book of Isaiah was written by a prophet who lived at the end of the First Temple period. As has been noted from the time of the Ibn Ezra at least, the last half of his book(40-66) is written in a different style and speaks in detail of events that occured some 200 years after the prophet lived. No other book of prophesy is quite so precise about the future. Is it permitted for an Orthodox Jew to make these observations, and to conclude that Isaiah had two authors?

I say, yes.

My friend Fred has written a long and thorough post on the subject which supports me. After reading his outstanding discussion, including citations from scholars like the Ibn Ezra and the Shir, I can't understand why anyone would say deutero-Isaiah is treif. It may not be true -certainly you can argue against the critical evidence on its own terms-- but I don't see any theological grounds for opposing it.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Anti-Semites! writes: "What I find most interesting about the Obama-fest is how it's such an insider-driven campaign and phenomenon. This is not bubbling up from the grassroots, this is bubbling down from DC insiders and New York and Hollywood money people" [Note the source: GOP PROGRESS!]

Feel free to apologize to the General in the thread.

President Indicted!

Um, the president of Israel, of course. (I know: Rats)

I think the guy should resign. His position is bogus, unelected and purely ceremonial. Let him step down, and establish his innocence and, later, the parliament can re-apoint him and let him go back to opening shopping malls, and greeting second-tier dignitaries.

I'll have more on this shortly.

War with Iran

Conservative Apikorus writes:

DB, I'm shocked and disilusioned that you've bought into Benny Morris' rantings. The least you could have done was link to the rebuttal I e-mailed you:

CA, you're right: I should have posted the rebuttal, and I apologize for the oversight. Still, I don't agree with you that Morris was ranting. Iran is led by mad men who hate Jews, and if we've learned one thing from our long, unfortunate association with mad men who hate Jews it is this: They keep their promises. Ahmadinejad says he wants to attack Israel. He says he wants to kill Jews. There's no reason to doubt his sincerity.

Unfortunately, Bush's foolish and wasteful excursion into Iraq puts us at a disadvantage. There's no money for a war on Iraq, and no political support. And worst of all, the president's performance in Iraq suggests an Iranian adventure would leave the middle east even less stable and more dangerous.

Incidently, CA wrote this too, and I think he's correct:
If the most powerful military in the world is capable of getting mired down trying to subdue a weakened foe like Iraq, what the helldo think is going to happen when they attack Iran, which is in much better shape, economically, politically, and militarilly? And what make you think the Israelis can do any better? Hell, they can't even subdue the Pallies. This is nothing more than Quagmire 2.0, and any smart Jew would dovery well to run away from it as fast as possible. Becuase I don'twant to start hearing that good God-fearing redneck Christian boysare dying in Iran to help the Jews.If you're so hot about doing this, I suggest you haul ass on down to your local US Army recruiter and enlist, and be sure to volunteer toserve in the Infantry. The last thing we need is Jewish chickenhawks cheerleading us into another military disaster.
True, true, but the problem of Iran and their expressed agression toward Israel remains. If I thought the US could do it right, and excute the war and its aftermath correctly, I'd be one of those cheerleading chickenhawks myself...

Honking Hypocrites Part III

Acording to the official GOP-Jew handbook, General Clark's use of "money people" --an entirely innocuous phrase, used by all politicians to refer to big check-writers-- is proof positive that Clark and the Democrats hate Jews, Israel, bubbie and geffilte fish. Visit a shteeble or the corriders of any Orthodox Jew-centric institution and you'll hear the chatter: Clark... anti-Semite... money people... Democrats....

Let me ask you something: If all Democrats everywhere, living and dead, are tarred and tainted by Clark's innocent remark, what is the status of people who belong to George Bush's party?

Geroge Bush:

- Once said he planned to tell all Israeli Jews that they were going to hell.
- Told the Houston Post in 1993 that only those who "accept Jesus Christ" go to Heaven
- Has a great-grandfather (George Herbert Walker) and a grandfather (Prescott Bush) who were officers at a bank that was seized under the Trading With The Enemy Act, for financing Nazi Germany.

Honking Hypocrites Part II (More on Money People)

There are two seriously stupid things about the Clark flapdoodle. One, is the way GOP Jews are reacting. They are the ones who (rightly) insist that manufactured PC outrage is bad for America and for the free-flow of ideas. When that College professor was criticized a few years back for using the word niggardly the GOP Jews were among those who (correctly) protested that the word has nothing to do with black people. What they don't realize is that Clark's remark about the "money people" has more in common with the non-scandal about the word "niggardly" than it does with examples of geunine hate-speech.

And that's the second seriously stupid thing: "Money people" is not an anti-Jewish slur, expecially when it comes out of a politician's mouth. In politics, the big-givers are always called "money people" and I can prove it:

Washington Post
Friday, March 19, 2004; Page A06
Sen. John F. Kerry is setting the stage to raise as much as $100 million for his presidential campaign by seizing control of his party's fundraising machinery, winning the support of top money people for vanquished rivals, and attracting thousands of new small donors via the Internet, according to officials inside and outside his campaign

New York Observer
1/29/2007; Page 1
Hassan Nemazee is a very powerful Democratic fund-raiser. As one of the premiere money people in a pivotal check-writing town...

New York Times Columnist David Brooks
syndicated to the Kansas City Star
I dream the big-money people who seem to dominate our politics will put aside their partisan fury...

Game. Set. Match.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Today I settle all of the family business

If you'd like to see your blog listed on my sidebar, kindly post its name and URL to the thread.

Wow, this dude likes cholent

Excerpted from Heinrich Heine's The Sabbath Princess

[The Sabbath] allows [A Jew] all things
Save this one, tobacco-smoking:
"Loved one! Smoking is forbidden,
For today the Sabbath is.

"But at noon, in compensation,
Thou a steaming dish shall taste of,
Which is perfectly delicious
Thou shall eat today some Cholent!"

"Cholent, beauteous spark immortal,
Daughter of Elysium!"
Thus would Schiller's song have sung it,
Had he ever tasted Cholent.

Cholent is the food of heaven,
Which the Lord Himself taught Moses
How to cook, when on that visit
To the summit of Mount Sinai.

Cholent is the pure ambrosia
That the food of heaven composes
It's the bread of Paradise;
And compared with food so glorious,

When the [Jew] this food hath tasted,
Gleams his eye as if transfigured,
And his waistcoat he unbuttons,
And he speaks with smiles of rapture.

I don't read German, and translations are always hard to evalaute; still, this poem comes across like one of GH's little parodies. I almost caught myself reading it to the tune of 99 Red Ballons.

Anyway, could the language be any more purple? Cholent is the food of heaven! Pure ambrosia! Glorious and beauteous spark immortal! Ye, gods. Maybe the German recipes of the period called for cholent to be served with cocaine and pornagraphy.

Meanwhile, cholent-lover MoChassid is having the poem laminated, and emroidered on aprons and napkins.

Homking Hypocrite Alert

My thoughts on the latest bit of PC stupidity:

Last week, Arriana Huffington, asked Wesley Clark "what made him so sure that the United States is headed in the direction of attacking Iran. He replied: “You just have to read what’s in the Israeli press. The Jewish community is divided, but there is so much pressure being channeled from the New York money people to the office seekers.”

Predictably, the GOP Jews went nuts, many of them suddenly elevating this Tom-Vilsak level politician to a "Top Democrat" or "Party leader."

What's odd, though, is that the GOP Jews acting most offended by the suggestion that Jews are eager to attack Iran are themselves Jews who are eager to atack Iran. Furthermore, we can safely presume that if any of these pro-war Jews are "money people" (ie: the sort of people who donate large sums to political candidates) they are making contributions to office seekers who want the same thing.

So what, exactly, was Clark's sin?

FYI: I'm a Jew who thinks a properly planned and executed war against Iran might be necessary, largely for the reasons given by Benny Morris, another Jew who is ready to fight Iran.

DB on the P: The Paschal Feast

Why do we eat lamb, herbs and matzah at Pesach? I've heard dozens of explanations and every year at Pesach time, I come across more, but the one I like best remains the one I heard a few years back from an old, old guy with a long white beard and a mysterious far away look in his star-sapphire eyes.

According to him, the sainted ancestors ate lamb, herbs and matzoh for the same reason so many of us go for the kugel, ie, it evokes a simpler, more romantic time. Even in late antiquity, there would have been something rustic and old-fashioned about hunkering down with the whole family to spit-roast a lamb over an open fire. The matzah, too, would have seemed primitive, and delightful in the way a bowl of overcooked beans and potatoes is delightful to so many modern Jews.

Though this explanation doesn't tell us why God commanded us to eat those particular foods, it may help those of you who doubt the divinity of the commandment understand why the ritual caught on. And even those of us who believe that there was an Exodus, and a divine charge to eat matzah and roast a lamb can catch a ring of truth in this explanation, even if it's entirely incidental to the commandment's real purpose.

Nu, how'd he do?

Anyone catch the speech last night? I avoided it --mostly because it creeps me out watching president Bush try to sound out the words on his teleprompter. If you saw it, and have something clever to say, the thread is yours.

PS: I imagine those of you on the right are more interested in the faces Pelosi made in the background. If you like, tell us about it here.

Around the horn:
Via Atrios we see that Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann has a little crush on the president. Poor dear. Can't keep her hands to herself. Oh, and also she's nuts and married to an anti-gay preacher. Perhaps that explains her need to get physcial with the president. V'ha'mayvin ya'vin.

CCN Money and Bloomberg tell us the president's big new health insurance plan is mostly bogus. Like everything else this president proposes the plan will help the very rich most of all, while creating new costs for people who receive insurance from their employers. The plan is also likely to create extra burdens on people living in expensive areas like NYC. Still kudos to the chimp for finally, in year six of his administration, waking up to a gunuine domestic emergancy and for attemtping to address it, however ham handedly.

Jim Webb delivered the Majority Party's response to the speach (Eat it George Felix Allen) I caught a few seconds of that. Webb may be the ugliest person I've ever seen on television. How'd someone so homely get elected to high office?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Surge of Incompetance

Bush Approval Rating Falls to 28 percent

How can the president rescue tonight's big speech?
Two words: I quit.

Last night, I learned from the Daily Show, that the beleagured and failing president made an interesting prediction last year in his State of the Union Address. He said "As we make progress on the ground, and Iraqi forces increasingly take the lead, we should be able to further decrease our troop levels."

How's that working out George?

Oh wait. I know.

Glenn Beck strikes again

Think Progress » CNN’s Glenn Beck Calls Anti-Gay Slur Simply A ‘Naughty Name’

The only good thing about Glenn Blech and the fat contract he received from ABC's GMA, is that maybe his off-color act will finally help slow Republicans understand that ABC and CNN aren't liberal monoliths.

How far did Moshe float? (And other notes on water)

At the time of the exodus, the Egyptian capital was in a town called Avaris, later called Ramses. Though there is some debate about where Avaris was exactly, the consensus seems to be that it was in an area now called Tel el Daba. [The link leads to a map, based on archeological discoveries, of the capital Moshe may have known.) Tel el Daba is at 30° 47’ N, 31° 50’ E.

Goshen, the district where the Hebrews lived, is generally associated with Faqus. If you scroll down just a bit from Tel el Daba, you will find Faqus, about 5 miles south of the ancient capital. Given that Moshe may have been put in the water a few miles north of modern Faqus, and that Bas Pharoh and her maids may have wandered a few miles south of the capital, the biblical account seems to match the geography.

Another neat point, courtesy of Google (and Robert Alter)

Center the map on Farqus, and zoom out so that you can see both Farqus, and some of the Sinai. Now click on the buttom marked "satellite." The delta region is green - lush even - while the dessert, of course, is bone dry. This stark contrast is used to great symbolic effect in the exodus narrative.

As Robert Alter shrewdly points out Moshe, from infancy, is associated with water. The water saves him, it's where the plagues began, and a barrier of water must be crossed by the fleeing Hebrews, water that collapses on the pursuing Egyptians and drowns them just as hebrew boys were drowned. Egypt, too, is associated with water, the Nile especially, and after their escape, the former slaves remember Egypt as a well-watered place of fish, melons, and cucumbers.

The wilderness, on the other hand, is noted for dryness. Moshe first meets God on a mountain called Horeb, which, per ibn Ezra, means "parched place" and at this first meeting, God reveals himself through fire. Later, at the culmination of the narriative, the mountain (now called Sinai; a pun Alter suggests on sneh) is surrounded by divine fire.

Though the Rabbis later associated the Torah with water, it seems that the Torah itself took the opposite view: In Exodus, water represents Egypt, and all that is corrupt, whereas God only makes himself known through fire, and in a place of heat and dryness.

Monday, January 22, 2007

CA on last week's issue

[Received by email]

Dear Mr. Bear:

Sorry I was out of town and missed your posts on second-guessing the gedolim. But,for what it's worth, here's my take on the issue:

Apologists for the gedolim and daas Torah like to make the analogy of the special expertise claimed by medical specialists. "When you have a medical problem, don't you do what the doctor tells you?" they ask.

Well, not always. For example, my dentist recently suggested that I need about $20,000 worth of dental work. Did I just meekly go along and get a second mortgage? After all, he's the one who went to dental school for 4 years, plus residency and other advanced training, plus all his years of experience. What the hell does a layman like me know, especially considering that I don't even bother to floss my teeth every day? (Surprisingly, my gums are actually in pretty good shape. My problem is I grind my teeth.)

Well, I hate to disappoint, but I'm not following the da'as of the dental gadol, I made an appointment with my wife's dentist for what is charmingly called in the profession a "second opinion." And my dentist had no problem with this.

So what's wrong with second-guessing a rabbi? Just because they're learned means they don't make mistakes?



Here come the wingnuts!


If I've asked it once, I've asked it 1000 times: Why do so many people who pat themselves on the back for being "honest" and "moral" and "value-oriented" support Fox News?

Thanks to JewishAtheist for making me aware of this article.

What was going through Yocheved's mind?

Off line, I'm arguing with friends about Yocheved's motives. As you no doubt recall, she set her infant son Moses floating down the Nile River. But why? There are two ways to read her story, each having some support from the classic commentators.

Version 1:
The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a good baby, {ie: That he didn't cry, and could therefore be concelead} she hid him three months. When she could hide him no longer {because he was older and louder} she got a papyrus basket for him, and plastered it with bitumen and pitch; she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds on the bank of the river {...thinking to herself, I can't bear to see the Egyptians kill my son, and I can't bear to kill him myself. Instead, I'll abandon him or, alternativly, I'll set him afloat on the river as a form of protest.}

Version 2:
The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a good baby, {ie: that he was born circumcised, or welcomed into the world with some supernatural sign such as a house full of light} she hid him three months. When she could hide him no longer {Alternativly, the supernatural sign might have been that he survived despite being born three months premature; now, three months having passed, the Egyptians are coming for the baby.} she got a papyrus basket for him, and plastered it with bitumen and pitch; she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds on the bank of the river {... thinking to herself, the omens tell me God has a great purpose in mind for this child. I am certain that He will look out for my son.}


No, I'm not jumping on the Hillary bandwagon just yet, but not for the reasons you might expect. For instance, I don't care that she once kissed a terrorist's fat, powerless wife --and that shouldn't bother Republicans either.

Only a badly contorted pretzel of a GOP-Jew could object to Hillary's meaningless sapphic smooch while also beatifying Saint Ronnie of Hollywood, provider of dictators and anti-Semites with guns and money. By what calculus is arming Saddam Hussein less offensive then kissing Suhu? And if it is the same-sex display of affection that make you quesy, what about George Man-date Bush? He took a romantic walk with a top-ten dictator.

Instead, my reason for snubbing Hillary (for now) is this: Among GOP-Jews the conventinal wisdom is that Hillary = A, B, and C. I don't think any of that is true, but if she runs, I'll *need* to spend hours and hours beyn gavra l'gavra convincing people that what they think they know about Hillary is really nothing but Republican propoganda.

I don't wish to dedicate the next two years of my life to that particular battle.


*A note on *need* Yes, it's a compulsion and an obsession. Some people smoke. Some people stay at their desks until midnight. I run around exploding myths. Trust me. If Hilary stands for the Presidency, on a very basic, elemental and emotional level, I'll *need* to fight that battle, and I really don't want to.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Egyptian Magic

[Repeated, in part from last February]

And now for a post about the Chartumei Mitzrayim[*], the Egyptian court magicians who attempted to duplicate Moshe's miricales. According to some, these mysterious men tapped into legitimate black magic, forces that God built into creation, and manipulated it to create wonders. And, for a time, these wonders deceived Pharoh into rejecting Moshe's demands.

Except, others say this all nonsense.

Notably, the Abarbanel writes that the court magicians were never able to perform a single miracle. He says they either used David Copperfield- illusions to trick Pharoh, or simply spread false rumors of their abilities. (My hunch is that (some? many? all?) Hasidic miracle-workers operate the same way. I eagerly wait a James Randi expose of their methods.)

Abraham ibn Ezra proposes that latayhem (enchantments or spells) comes from the word for flame, which Robert Alter says links the work of the magicians to the "fire and flash technique of the illusionist." As a rationalist, Ibn Ezra also doubted the power of magic.

Finally, we have another argument against the magicians made by Samason Rephael Hirsch. It is also a textual argument.

R' Hirsch points out that the Torah never actually says that the magicians were able to turn water to blood, or produce frogs, rather it says "And the magicians of Egypt did so with their enchantments [v'yasu chen... b'latayhem]" According to Hirsch this doesn't mean that the magicians were successful, only that they imitated Aaron, ie: After Aaron hit the water or the dirt with his stick, the magicians copied his action with the powerless tools of their own trade.

He also asks (I'm paraphrasing) "Why would the magicians want more frogs and more lice? Wouldn't it make more sense if they were trying to remove the plauge?" And, in fact, the word the Torah uses to describe the intention of the magicians(l'hotzi) can mean both to "bring up" and to "remove."

Here then are the relevant passages as Samson Rephael Hirsch understands them with my own interpolations in blue:

6 And Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt; and the frogs came up, and covered the land of Egypt.

7 And the magicians copied Aaron's with their magic charms, [nontheless] frogs covered the land of Egypt. [How do we know the magicians were trying to remove the frogs, and failed? Because right away Pharoh calls for help. See next verse.]

8 Then Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron, and said, Intreat the LORD, that he may take away the frogs from me, and from my people; and I will let the people go, that they may do sacrifice unto the LORD. [Doesn't sound like someone with much faith in magicians, does he?]

17 ...Aaron stretched out his hand with his rod, and smote the dust of the earth, and it became lice in man, and in beast; all the dust of the land became lice throughout all the land of Egypt.

18 And the magicians copied Aaron's action with their magic charms to remove (l'hotzi) the lice, but they could not: so there were lice upon man, and upon beast. [This verse is the best proof of the magicians intentions, if you, follow SRH, and read l'hotzi as "remove": Immediately after we're told that the magicians could not "l'hotzi" the lice, the text says they were everywhere.]

[*]Robert Alter tells us that the word chartumin is an Egyptian loan word, borrowed from the designation for priest-magician.

Rabbi S. on El Al.

Click here: It's a video of Aish's Yaakov Salamon sharing his thoughts about the El-Al boycott.

Two brief notes:

First, there's something souless about how he comes across the screen. He appears to be trying for Andy Roony, but instead the effect is more Ben Stein, as Ferris Beuler's economic's teacher. El Al? El Al? Is there really an audience for a talking head so devoid of charisma and emotion? A joke, a smile, or even a twinkle in the eye would be welcome.

Second, regards his complaint about the secular media neglecting to report on the boycott. Rabbi Salamon stops short of playing the bias card, but it's clear he's puzzled, and maybe even a bit put out. Orthodox Jews band together to bring an airline to it knees, and it's not on the news? The Rabbi is surprised. Instead, he should be thankful. This sorry story doesn't lend any glory to the Jewish peoiple. It only makes our Rabbis seem like hoodlums.

That's one costly cakewalk

Report: Total cost of war might reach $1.2 TRILLION

Here's a little perspective, presuming you haven't already puked all over your keyboard. According to the article, the $1.2 trillion we're using to pay for rubble in Iraq might have been used instead to pay for all of the following:

1- doubling of cancer research funding;

2 - treatment for every American whose diabetes or heart disease is now going unmanaged;

3 - a global immunization campaign.

4 - universal preschool for every 3- and 4-year-old child across the country.

What about national security? Well, the article continues, after paying for the above, we'd still have enough money in our $1.2 trillion pot for all the the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission that, to date, have not been put in place, including:

5 - better baggage and cargo screening; and

6 - stronger measures against nuclear proliferation.

But instead, we (and our children, and our grandchildren, and our great-grandchildren) are paying to bring destruction and discord to a strategically vital area of the world.

PS: Suppose you were trying to buy a car, or a house, and the salesman quoted a price, that later, after you'd already signed the papers, turned out to be completely bogus. You'd be pissed right? Murderously, pissed. That's exactly how you should feel about the war. At one point, Bush said the war would pay for itself; later he upped the cost to $50 billion-- and promised this would buy democracy, not just in Iraq, but across the middle east. Since then the price has gotten higher, while the promised return has gotten smaller, and smaller, and smaller.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Weird Dating Sites

The Internet is a wonderful thing. There are places - dating sites, I think they are called - where any type of weirdo can meet and mingle with the more of the same. If you're a vampie who wants to meet other vampires, I bet there's a site for you.

But what about Jewish skeptics, who wish to live Orthodox lives? Where are they supposed to find each other? The major Jewish dating sites have categories for most everything, but not this. And you can't very well walk into a singles shabbaton and announce that you're glad to be culturely Orthodox, only you're all wracked by doubts and misgivings about the theology.

Now, there's help., dedicated to helping Jews marry each other.

Justice, Israeli style

Had he murdered 7 men in Texas, Ami Popper would be dead by now, executed by lethal injection. How lucky for Ami that his act of mass murder was committed in Israel, where the criminal justice system is more like what you'd find in Massachusetes.

As I learned from Shmarya, Popper, who 16 years ago gunned down 7 men at a bus station, is serving his his time in a prison yeshiva (a what?), and to date has been granted 124 48-hour furloughs.


Shocking, no?

In this country, the politician plausibly responsible for such a lax system of justice would have been ridiculed in a sensationalized campiagn ad by now.

It's not just the voters, pundits, and politicians

Voters, pundits and politicians aren't the only ones fleeing from the sodden mess that is the Bush presidency. Some ministers also want nothing to do with him.

Did the patriarchs know God's name?

All of us who blog know that Psychotoddler is a doctor who enjoys an outstanding professional reputation. Vagually, we're aware that he helps people, that he saves lives, that he's held in high regard by people who rely on his medical knowledge. On the blogs, though, none of that matters. Here PT isn't a doctor. He's a goofball who likes video games, imagines himself going one-on-one with super villians, (1) and records Jewish prayers to the theme from Star Trek. Those are the PT attributes that matter to the blogsphere.

I make this point (with PT's permission) to help illustrate what many consider the most important Rashi in all of Chumash.

Consider Exodus 6:3. When beginner bible critics(2) see this verse, their hearts race and they start to salivate. "Ah ha!" they cry. "This is proof positive that the Torah is made up of more than one literary tradition. Here God says "I never told the Patriarchs my name" but in Genesis, God's name is all over the place! Drool, drool."

Fortunately, hundreds of years before Wellhausen, Rashi wrote a comment on this verse that ought to put the spit right back in their mouths.

He writes:

It is not written 'lo hodati' (I did not make known [to them]) Rather [it says] 'lo nodati' (I was not known [to them].") [This means] they did not recognize my attribute of "loyalty" (ie the reason I am called YKVK:) and that I am faithful to keep my promise. For indeed I promised them but I have not [yet] fulfilled [my promise].

His point? There a difference between actively making someone aware of something (hodati) and something being known. (nodati) God made his name known to the Patriarches, telling it to them outright. Nonetheless, He was not known to them as someone who keeps His promises (which is what the Teteragamon itself suggests) because His main promise (ie: I will take your kids out of Egypt, make you a great nation, etc) went unfulfilled in their lifetimes.

In the same way, PT has told us his name. He's told us what he does for a living, and provided proof that he is both a husband and a father. Still, that isn't how the bloggers know him. Those aren't the attributes we celebrate, though we are aware of them. To us, its like he is someone else entirely.


(1) And winning!

(2) *Advanced* bible critics are aware of what I am about to tell you, have ten reasons why Rashi is wrong, and 400 other ways(a) of attacking the Torah's divinity. We won't deal with that here. (b)

(a) at least
(b) today

Blast you hanging chad!

Remember this? (lots of liberal blogs are linking to it today.)

It is a speech delivered on September 23, 2002, in which the man robbed of the presidency by a poorly designed ballot[*], argued against the war in Iraq. Today, as Republicans climb over each other to abandon Bush and his sinking ship of a presidency, Gore looks like a prophet.

(Yes, he seemed much more like a prophet back when he wore that scraggly beard, and occassionally spoke in tounges. But, nonetheless.)

[*] Some say that the Supreme Court was complicit in this act of robbery, too. I disagree. The fact that every single one of the justices decided Bush v. Gore in accordance with their own party affiliations is just one of those remarkable coincidences that make the world such an interesting place.

What did the Rambam know, and when did he know it?

Those of you who say (1) that DovBear is about nothing but gossip, parsha, Judaism, and inuendo are dead right. And to prove it, I'm regurgitating an 800-year old scandal ripped, not from the headlines, but from my own comments.

According to documents recently released from the Cairo Genizah(2) Aaron ben Moses ben Asher, the best known of the Masorites, and the man thought to be responsible for the most magnificent Torah manuscript of them all, was a Karaite.

How magnificent was Ben Asher's manuscript? Pretty darn magnificent. Here's how the Rambam (3)described it (4): "All relied on it, since it was prepared by Ben-Asher and was worked on by him for many years, and was proofread many times in accordance with the masorah, and I based myself on this [manuscript] when I wrote my sefer torah according to the halacha."

Did the Rambam rely on a Karaite? For more, we turn to DovBear's senior scuttlebutt correspondant, Mississippi Fred MacDowell:
Basically the story is like this. Simcha Pinske advanced the theory in the mid-19th century {pre-Cairo Genizah, though there are Genizah documents which suggest Ben Asher was a Karaite from a Karaite family - DB} that any Jewish grammarian who is not known to be a Talmudic scholar, too, is suspected of being a Karaite. This view was widely adopted in the 19th century and was repeated about Ben Asher by Graetz.

Now, in fairness it must be stated that there *is* circumstantial evidence that he was a Karaite. The list includes:

- In some texts he is described as a מלמד, which was a Karaite title of those days.
- Rav Saadya Ga'on singled him out for attack, and Rav Saadya waged a great war of polemics against the Karaites.
- He is ignored by the great Rabbanite grammarian Dunash ibn Labrat.
- A known Karaite refers to him after his death with זכרונו לברכה.
- In Ben Asher's great masoretic work, Dikdukei Taamim, he says that the entire Tanakh can be used in deciding Halakhah; not just the Torah.
- He mentions technical Karaite hermeneutic terms.
- His father, R. Moshe ben Asher, wrote the famous Cairo Nakh codex, which was not only used in the Cairo Karaite synagogue, but according to its colophon, commissioned by a Karaite (the thinking is that he would not have hired a Rabbanite to write it).

Arguments against:

- Rambam would not have acepted a Karaite text as authoritative (and we have to assume, according to this view, that he must have known if he was a Karaite).
- No Rabbanite ever directly accused Ben Asher of being a Karaite--no one ever thought of it until 1860 when Simcha Pinsker advanced the idea that all scholars of that period who devoted themselves exclusively to grammar and Tanakh, and not Talmud, must be "suspected" of Karaism unless proven otherwise. {Unlike Rabinates, the Karaite relied on the Written Torah, and only the Written Torah, to establish the law. Therefore, the thinking goes, only a Karaite would devote quite so much attention to establishing the correctness of the biblical text - DB}
- Rav Saadya attacks a different Ben Asher, who was also called Abu al-Tayyib al-Jubair.

The arguments against have mostly been made by Aron Dotan.

Personally? I think the arguments for are stronger, although of those against, the second is particularly strong--BUT the premise that "Jewish grammarians not known to be Talmudists must be suspected of Karaism" is flawed, to say the least
So, what did the Rambam know, and when did he know it? Did he knowingly base his sefer Torah on the conclusions of a Karaite? Did he allow a Karaite to pasken for him on questions of closed and open paragraphs, and the like?

My own view is this: No chance. To me, it seems much more likely that the Rambam simply was unaware of Ben Asher's reputation.

(1) You know who you are.
(2) By "recently" we mean, like, 1902
(3) Ie: Maimonides
(4) Hilchos Sefer Torah 7:5

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Observance of Family Purity Amongst Single and Married Jews

[Long story short: Two academics are using my blog to invite you to take an anonymous survey about how closely you follow the nidah rules.]

A guest post
by Mark A. Guterman, & Orit Avishai

Data from related studies indicate that Jewish tradition, teachings, and practices produce a unique set of anxieties on the one hand, and that sexual practices diverge, sometimes greatly, from official teachings. However, to date, few empirical have investigated sexual practices among orthodox Jews. This study aims to begin to shed light on this domain.

Specifically, this study proposes to examine Jewish sexuality by focusing on adherence to Jewish practices of menstrual defilement and purification (known as niddah, a set of rules that regulates sexual conduct) by married and single Jews worldwide.

Through online surveys, this research considers the meanings of niddah in the lives of Jewish men and women, and the cultural, social, and political significance of niddah in contemporary Jewish societies. Though systems of menstrual defilement and purification have been studied in other contexts, presently little is known about the level of adherence to Jewish menstrual laws. The primary investigator's work has examined adherence among a specific sect of Judaism, while the collaborator's previous study generated local qualitative data about adherence among orthodox Jews in Israel; this follow up study is aimed at providing a broader context for these findings.

and of course, the link:

Double standard alert

"It's not that we don't care about those issues, but we rely on the federal government.''

That's Rabbi Menachem Genack, rabbinic administrator for the OU's kashrut division, explaining why the OU will not create a certification for food factories that follow Torah law.

Confused? Here's the back story.

According to the Mercury News, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism plans to issue a "hekhsher tsedek -- or righteous certification -- indicating that employees [of kosher companies] worked in safe factories and weren't exploited, among other things."

When asked if the OU would follow suit - there are halachoth, after all, which tell us how workers must be treated - Rabbi Genack said no, giving the response cited above.

How bizzare. No Orthodox Jew would trust the government to tell us if a factory is following Yoreh Deah. Many won't even trust the government to tell us if cow's milk is actually cow's milk! So why is R' Genack punting to the feds when the question belongs to Choshen Mishpat?

Worse, listen to his rationale:

We don't want to impose more on those companies than are required by law.

Hello? If the halacha is more demanding then the law (as it, in fact is) don't companies, in our view, have an obligation to go beyond the law? Who's the posek that told the OU that companies don't have to go beyond the secular law when it comes to choshen mishpat? Anyway, if the OU is so certain the government can be relied upon to enforce Jewish law, why do we need the OU's kashruth division in the first place!? Let the goverment certify our meat!

The real problem, though, is this: R' Genack's boneheaded response opens the OU to the charge that they embrace a double standard by considering the government reliable for some questions of Torah law, and not others. Worse, it suggests us that ben adam l'makom laws are more important than the laws that tell us how to treat each other.

Instead, R' Genack could have avoided all of this simply by telling the truth: His division's business is kashruth not social justice, and they aren't the same thing: the behavior of a factory boss has no impact on the kashurth of a factory's food.

Story received by email

More on Hargrove, hater of Jews

The Richmond Times-Dispatch has its way with Frank Hargrove

During debate regarding official apologies for slavery, Frank Hargrove, a Republican delegate from Hanover, asked:

"Are we going to force the Jews to apologize for killing Christ?"

Hargrove is a decent man, but his words suggest how easily 2,000 years of indefensible attitudes can burst out of the West's subconscious. Despite urging African-Americans to "get over it" and reminding them that "we're living in 2007," Hargrove repeated a slur that not only dates to ancient times but that has tainted Christianity for centuries. Today's embarrassing anachronism was yesterday's incitement to hate. {This is a wonderful bit of irony I missed: Hargrove would like black people to get past slavery, but he, himself, can't get past the old slur about us being Christ-killers. - DB}

Hargrove's insult came shortly after Virgil Goode, a Republican representing Virginia's 5th Congressional District, made national headlines with his over-the-top swipes at Muslims, Islam, and the Quran.

Last year George Allen had his macaca moment.

If the Republican Party does not enjoy the world's greatest reputation among the nation's and the state's minorities, then there is a reason. {Hint: It's not because liberals control the media - DB}

Thanks to the very great Chrlie Hall for bringing this editorial to my attention.

Getting the Word Out

A exhibition of some of the world's oldest Bibles recently closed at the Sackler Gallery in Washington, D.C. On display, were fragments of the Aleppo Codex and other early manuscripts. What follows is an XGH style post. It's an abridged version of the very long review of the exhibition by Anthony Grafton which appears in the current TNR.

The numinous objects displayed in "In the Beginning," the exhibition of Bibles from before the year 1000 at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington, D.C., are beautiful, and their arrangement helps the visitor to the show (and the student of its extraordinary catalogue) see important things in a new light. Beauty first: the archipelago of dimly lit vitrines that stretches through several dark rooms reveals handwritten Bibles as genuine works of art. These illuminated manuscripts really glow. The varied and elegant scripts, the wild decorations and superbly drawn figures that populate their pages, have all been set free for a time, after hundreds of years of incarceration between closed covers. They create a silent riot of gorgeous colors, elegant lines, and stunning, unexpected patterns--as when, in a Hebrew manuscript now in Saint Petersburg, tiny lines of text and rich repeating patterns combine to make a golden image of the Ark of the Covenant... [snip]

In a Byzantine manuscript, the prophet Jeremiah stands against a field of gold, his eyes shadowed by the terrible knowledge that he must carry God's message until it consumes him along with the unbelievers who deny it.... [snip] {At the back of Marc Shapiro's book, The Limits of Orthodox Theology, you will find bible illustrations from a later period. As Shapiro shows, some of those pictures , which appear on Jewish books, written by sages we all know and recognize, illustrate abject kefirah. I wonder if the same can be said of the pictures on the earlier manuscripts discussed here? - DB}

Many curators content themselves with displaying images. The organizers of "In the Beginning" have done something much harder: they have arranged the materials, and explicated them, to educate the public about a lost world. The exhibition, which was executed in partnership with the Bodleian Library in Oxford, begins, magnificently, with a heap of scraps: unidentified bits of papyrus and parchment from the immense haul discovered in the Cairo Genizah in the late nineteenth century, much of which Solomon Schechter brought back to Cambridge. {Over 2 years he brought back more than 140,000 items - DB} Even better, the vitrine that holds them stands before an enlarged photograph of Schechter himself, formally dressed in coat and tie. Bearded and saturnine, the great scholar clutches his forehead as he contemplates one of the thousands of texts that had to be catalogued and identified and reassembled like so many lost mosaics before the Genizah could release its secrets about the history of Judaism and Christianity.... [snip]

"In the Beginning" tells two complex stories, and does so with a wonderful clarity, detail, and lack of condescension. The shorter one is that of the modern scholars and collectors who first assembled these materials and then worked out what they are and what they tell us about the Bible... [snip]

The second--and central--story is that of the Bible itself. In slow steps, laid out with exquisite care and documented with exquisite objects, we are shown that the Bible in all its forms--from the Torah, which Moses, Jews traditionally hold, wrote with his own hand, to the New Testament corpus--is the work of men. {Something I've never quite understood: Even the most pious Christian knows that the Gospels are man-made. Why, then, are they assumed to have been written without error? -DB} Human beings composed these books, long after the events that they described; and copied them; and translated them into language after language. Later generations selected and redacted what their predecessors had written. In the third and fourth centuries, for example, Christian scribes and scholars such as the church historian Eusebius defined the canon of the Christian Bible. {Sort of a Christian Anshei Knesset HaGedolah - DB} They rejected as spurious books that others thought holy, some just as ancient as those they kept, or set them to the side as apocrypha. A few centuries later, the Jewish grammarians of Tiberias, the Masoretes, edited the Hebrew text of the Old Testament and equipped it with vowels and punctuation. The process of collection and correction and excision never ended. Every new Bible, every new version, eventually called for editing and commentary, and every new form of scholarship changed the object that it restored.

For a scholar visiting the Sackler, breath becomes shortest and the spine tingles most sharply not at the cases that hold manuscripts of many colors, but at those that preserve the actual handiwork of the ancient scholars. The Codex Sinaiticus was probably written in Caesarea, in the scriptorium developed by Eusebius himself. Some specialists (though not the curators of "In the Beginning") identify it as one of the fifty Bibles that Eusebius produced, in high style and at high speed, for the new churches of Constantinople, at the direct request of the emperor Constantine...

The range of scholars one meets here is extraordinary: they come from everywhere, from the Latin West to far in the East, and they include women as well as men. Most electrifying of all is a fragment of the Aleppo codex of the Hebrew Bible. Known as HaKeter, or "the crown," this manuscript was copied in the tenth century in Tiberias, the citadel of Hebrew grammar, by Solomon ben Buya'a. Aaron ben Moshe ben Asher, the last member of a distinguished family, added the commentary, vowel points, and accent marks. The oldest Hebrew Bible in one volume, this may also have been the first one ever made as a single, coherent book, by a scribe and a scholar working together from start to finish. {Based on documents found in the Cairo Genizah, some scholars believe both men, and indeed the whole family were Karaites; nonthless the Rambam relied on their text, see Hilchos Sefer Torah 8:5- DB}

So the oldest Tanakh we have was written and corrected by two men whose names we know. And this, in our land of ferocious biblical literalists, matters a great deal. Not long ago, as Peter Thuesen showed in his important book In Discordance With the Scriptures, the Protestant scholars who created the Revised Standard Version of the Bible were accused by politicians of being communists out to subvert America because they dared to translate almah, in Isaiah 7:14, as "young woman" rather than "virgin," the King James rendering--as if that magnificent translation somehow represented the Word of God in its perfect form, rather than a late translation of a Bible in which Christian senses were superimposed on Jewish texts. {In similar fasion, those who try to understand the Torah on its own terms are wrongly slandered as faithless, and worse - DB}

The Bible, in some general sense, may well be the Word of God. That is not a scholarly question. But the materials collected in this show and in its book make clear, beyond any possibility of mistake or confusion, that no single Bible in any language represents that Word without error or impurity. Every Bible we have--in Armenian or Latin, Greek or Hebrew--is the flawed work of human hands. {And for the most part they all disagree with each other, at least in very small ways - DB} Every one of them derives from beautiful but imperfect handwritten books like those displayed here, many of which, perhaps most, omit verses and texts that a modern American would normally expect to find. Only by reading each version--sometimes, each of the many versions of a version--in context can we see what they meant to their creators.

For the Bible has gone through many revolutions. Ancient books were written on rolls, bits of which are on view here. But gradually, in the first centuries of the common era, Christians adopted a new form called the codex--essentially, that of the modern bound book, with hard covers. Jews and others emulated them. Most of the ancient books we have, including the books of the Bible, began life as a roll or rolls. And rolls were hard to preserve. Many fragments of rolls are on display here: mute evidence of their fragility. A majority of the texts have come down to us in later form, as codices, after the original rolls were copied and discarded. Scribes made mistakes, of course; and the thousands of surviving fragments of rolls do not allow us to reconstitute the texts exactly as they were before this media revolution--the most radical change in the way books were made in the Christian and Jewish worlds before printing took off in the fifteenth century.

To err, as always, was human; to make changes of many kinds was easy. Ancient texts were written continuously, without separation between words or punctuation. In the course of the first millennium of the Common Era, scribes learned to divide Hebrew and Greek and Latin words, as printers do now. But doing this required the scribe to make many hard decisions. The problem is easy to illustrate. How would you divide GODISNOWHERE? As GOD IS NOW HERE, or as GOD IS NOWHERE? Much depends on your presuppositions. And much depended on the presuppositions of those who wrote and rewrote and corrected the biblical manuscripts. {A reliable friend tells me "it is *not* true that ancient Hebrew was actually written like that", though until the 20th century this was widley assumed to be the case. It is true, he adds, that the Septuagint translators sometimes read words in the Hebrew divided differently. - DB}

Interpretation also took place at thousands of points in every version. Every translation embodied silent decisions about meaning. {Compare, for instance, Unkolus with Aryeh Kaplan - DB} It wasn't just Christian and Jewish Bibles that differed from one another. The Greek Old Testament used by Hellenistic, or Greek-speaking, Jews took a number of forms, and the most popular of these, the Septuagint, departed at many points from the Hebrew Bible as redacted by the Masoretes. .. [snip]

Scholars have known that the texts varied radically for a long time--at least since the Christian scholar Origen, in the third century of the Common Era, arranged six texts of the Old Testament, Hebrew and Greek, in parallel columns. And there was no end to this glacial movement, this astounding capacity of the text to slip and change. In late antiquity, great libraries, such as the one at the Monastery of St. Catherine at Sinai, held many different versions of the Bible, Greek and Latin, Arabic and Georgian and Slavonic, each with its own textual tendencies and patterns of decoration; and these sometimes flowed together in unexpected ways as scribes and illuminators developed their crafts in dialogue with colleagues hundreds of miles away. And of course the commentaries that filled margins and crept into the spaces between lines... suggested, and sometimes imposed, distinctive new senses on the biblical text at the center of the page. For all the efforts to fix a canon, both the words and their meanings remained amazingly labile.

The only reason to believe that a particular Christian (or Hebrew) Bible represents the Truth is that it supports beliefs drawn from other sources of conviction. To say this is not to attack religion or to say anything against the power and the glory of the Bible. On the contrary, it is to appreciate more fully how much the Bible meant to the men and women--Jewish and Christian, Eastern and Western--who first wrote its books, and their successors through the centuries, who read them and reproduced them with a care and an artistry that are foreign to our own civilization.

Manuscripts were expensive: to make a single codex of the Bible, a scribe might have to use the skins of a hundred sheep--a vast blood sacrifice to give us all that beauty, to say nothing of expensive pigments and skilled labor. Conquest and robbery, pirates and invaders, always threatened. And yet the monks and the nuns who perched on rocky Irish cliffs and rose at midnight in Syrian caves, and the Masoretes in Palestine, and many others, had the discipline and the love to give the Bible material forms of endless beauty, works of art in everything from the parchment on which they were written to the carved ivory and rock crystal of their sumptuous bindings. The sons and daughters of men have given us the Word of God, and kept it for us, in many forms, always believing that they were capturing the highest of truths as they did so. That is all the inspiration that history can reveal. But in its way it is divine.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Is Saddam like Jesus?

Comment of the day
by SM

Hell - I'm sorry. When they crucified that bloke they caused us millenia of pain and suffering. All the guys who followed him made him a martyr and he because almost a god to them. And they blamed us for killing him and hated us rather than the real executioners. It was a disaster.

HELLO OUT THERE. Is anyone listening? If so then why did we allow them to hang Saddam?

The next person who tells me political Republicans respect us and love us and want to walk off into the sunset with us hand-in-hand gets smacked. Slavery apology measure ignites legislative debate

A debate in the Virginia House of Delegates over a slavery apology took the usual twists and truns yesterday, until Frank D. Hargrove, a Republican, and a church-goer, stood up:

"I personally think that our black citizens should get over it. By golly, we’re living in 2007," he said adding: "Are we going to force the Jews to apologize for killing Christ?”

Ye gods.

[Received via email from CA]

On the presidents and their lies

The Atlantic Monthly, January/February 2007

Carl M. Cannon recounts some famous presidential lies in the new issue of the Atlantic. My favorite:
Witness a favorite Reagan story about his role in a football game in high school in which, he claimed, players for a rival school, Mendota, complained to the referees that Reagan, playing for Dixon High, had committed a penalty that was not called. The refs supposedly asked him about it. “I told the truth,” Reagan later said. “The penalty was ruled, and Dixon lost the game.” My father, the Reagan biographer Lou Cannon, investigated this claim. He discovered that there were no contemporaneous accounts of any such incident, and that Dixon lost to Mendota only once when Reagan was a member of the varsity team—by a score of 24-0. “The ironic point here is that Reagan seems to have told the story to demonstrate how truthful he was,” notes George Mason University political scientist James Pfiffner, who has studied presidential lying. “Yet he was telling an untruth to make the point.
Along with telling similar stories about every president since FDR, [I really should give each president his own post; some of the lies they told are remarkable] Canon also gives us a laundry list of some of W's most famous half-truths. These include (all word-for-word from the article):

■ In his 2006 State of the Union address, Bush cited Iraq and Afghanistan as examples of “the great story of our time”—the advance of freedom. He proclaimed that the number of democracies in the world had increased from about two dozen at the end of 1945 to 122 today, but he didn’t mention that neither Iraq nor Afghanistan was counted as such by the organization whose statistics he was touting.

■ The president also asserted, accurately, that the U.S. economy had gained 4.6 million new jobs in the previous two and a half years, but he failed to note that it had lost 2.6 million jobs in his first two and a half years.

■ In March 2003, Bush insisted that it was “a matter of fact” that the coalition he cobbled together for the invasion of Iraq included more nations than the alliance assembled by his father in 1991... [unfortunately for the truth] most of George W. Bush’s partnering nations (with the notable exception of the British) were a reluctant bunch. The Poles fought, but resented being there. The Italians wouldn’t get out of their vehicles on patrols. The Japanese wouldn’t patrol at all and, in fact, wouldn’t even guard their own perimeters—Dutch troops did it for them.

■ In June 2004, when asked about Ahmad Chalabi... Bush acted as if he barely knew the man’s name. “Chalabi? My meetings with him were very brief,” Bush said. “I think I met with him at the State of the Union and just kind of working through the rope line, and he might have come with a group of leaders. But I haven’t had any extensive conversations with him.” Perhaps. But Chalabi wasn’t confined behind a rope line at the 2004 State of the Union address. He was listed by the White House as a “special guest” of first lady Laura Bush and seated directly behind her.

■ After the Democrats’ victories in the 2006 midterm elections, the president allowed that “Democrats are going to support our troops just like Republicans will” and that the Democratic congressional leaders Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid “care about the security of this country, like I do.” Those gracious statements were at odds with his campaign rhetoric from just days before, when he had said, regarding Iraq, that if the Democrats’ vision were to prevail, “the terrorists win and America loses.” On November 8 at the White House, Bush suggested that it was the campaign talk that was disingenuous. But maybe it was the other way around—that Bush meant what he said in Texas, and was only being politic in the East Room.

■ At the same press conference, Bush essentially admitted he’d lied to three White House correspondents who had asked him in an Oval Office interview the week before whether Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was staying on. The president had assured the three reporters that Rumsfeld was remaining. Now, standing in the East Room, Bush was revealing the details of a different reality: he’d decided before the election to sack his Pentagon chief, and when asked the question, he was already focused on Rumsfeld’s likely replacement. Bush provided dueling explanations: First, he maintained that he didn’t “want to inject a major decision about this war” into the waning days of a campaign. Then he immediately added the more Clintonesque explanation that his answer hadn’t really been dishonest, because he hadn’t yet had his “final” conversation with Rumsfeld, and hadn’t interviewed Robert Gates in person.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Who was Moses's Pharoh?

[This is a reprint from last April]

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 whether 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.