Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Things about Purim that raise questions

I ran this last year, and the year before that, too. Oh, well you know what they say: mee she nichnas adar marbim old posts


Well, the Purim season is off to it's traditional start: The price of wine has gone up, the mosdos are clamoring for support, and [something true, but a little mean about another blogger, now no longer relvant.]

Anyway, I suppose it's time for me to get in on the Purim fun, while first making clear that this post is from last year, and also, I don't care one whit about the origins of Purim: No matter what the skeptics have to say about how Purim came into being, the fact is Purim has been around for a long, long time, and it's a day full of great fun.

Things about Purim that bother me
In no particular order

1) The Persian sources are't especially gap-filled yet they contain no references to the events described in Megilas Esther. There's no record of a King Ahashverosh, a Queen Vashti, a decreee to kill Jews, or of Jews killing thousands of their enemies. Why wasn't any of this recorded?

2) The names Haman, Esther and Mordechai sound suspiciously like those of Babylonian gods, making it possible that our story is a retelling, maybe a parody, of some ancient folktale or myth. In Persian mythology Ishtar is the goddess of fertility; Marduk is the god of the heavens; and Haman is the devil. Is this a strange coincidance? A deliberate parody? Or (more) proof that the whole 'lo shanu et shimon/they didn't change their names' is just so much Haredi bushwah?

3) Esther is a Jewish woman, living well after the Torah was given. So what is she doing in a harem, paying no attention to dietary laws? And, is anyone else concerned that Mordechai seems to have been the original funny-uncle?

4) Late in the story, a guy named Hatach appears. Essentially, he's Esther's messanger-boy, yet the Rabbis insisted he was the very famous Daniel. Why is this necessary?

5) Early in the story, the King receives advice from a man named Me'muchan. The Rabbis insist that this is Haman. Why is this necessary?

6) The Rabbis also insisted the Vashti had a tail. WITN?

7) Hasidim make a fetish of mispronouncing Mordechai's name. Instead of Mor-DOH- Chai, they say Mud-cha. WITN?

A question I can answer: In the Megillah, Esther three-day fast is long before Purim, so why is Ta'anit Esther, the rabbinic fast day, on 13 Adar, the day before Purim?

Short Answer:
The Rabbis were shrewd at politics.

Long Answer:
Second Temple Jews had a Maccabean holiday that the Rabbi's disliked, called Nicanor Day, celebrated on 13 Adar. The Rabbis also disliked the Maccabees and therefore turned their big day into a solemn fast.

Why skeptics (sometimes) miss the point

From an article [] on the ancient Greek historians Thucydides and Herodotus that appeared in the February Atlantic:
And yet, as Thucydides would have been the first to note, reality cannot be reduced to neat equations, whether moral or analytical. The world as it exists often rejects rationality, spare narratives, even truth. If we have learned anything during this age of speedier and increasingly numerous interactions between peoples with different historical experiences, it is that facts matter less than perceptions, especially perceptions informed by raw emotions. It is what people believe that is crucial, not what they actually know. What is needed, therefore, beyond guiding philosophical principles, is a vivid appreciation of just what's out there, in the form of the myths, passions, and irrationalities that in any age are central to decision making and, in a larger sense, to the human spirit itself. Romance, rather than being antithetical to realism, is a necessary component of it...

Herodotus sees himself as a preserver of the memory of civilizations that in some cases had been, and in other cases would yet be, obliterated—in an epoch when record keeping was virtually nonexistent—so he divorces himself from the urge to judge men and events. He knows that nothing is more important than preserving what people said and believed: the myths, the fables, and even the lies that they lived by. Because human beings cannot function without their illusions, the vital truth, he suggests, lies in causation—the strands of perceptions and misperceptions that lead people to take the actions they do.
Skeptics busy themselves pointing out falsehoods, and in doing so often miss the point. The difference, for example, between kashrus and an Incan superstition might* be abitrary, but arbitrary and nonexistant are not synonyms.

There are reasons why one is on my radar and the other is not. As I put it to a friend of mine yesterday, the "What" of kashrus might* be false; the why (as in why it matters to me) is not, nor is it easily or properly ignored.


* I said "MIGHT"

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Now it gets ugly

I see in Ha'aretz that the Israeli Parliament is looking for ways to punish Professor Toaff:
MKs seek to try Prof. Toaff over claims in blood libel book: "The committee also decided to examine the review mechanisms employed by academia in Israel, with the goal of finding ways to ensure that things 'that defy logic and morality,' in the words of MK Michael Melchior (Labor), are not published."
Jeez. This is getting Orwellian. Do we really want the legislature to be in the business of deciding what defies logic and morality? Let the market deal with bad ideas. Toaff was wrong, and better arguments carried the day. His book has been withdrawn and his reputation has been damaged. That's how it should be, and really it's enough.

Hat tip: The same special someone who's fed me almost all of the previous Toaf articles.

Why OrthoMom will win (Reason #2938)

ACSBlog: The Blog of the American Constitution Society: Federal Court Reaffirms Immunity of Bloggers from Suits Brought Against Commenters

Why didn't Congress think of this?

Here's how I think we can satisfy everyone with a rooting interest in the Civil Unions/Gay Marriage kerfuffle in two easy steps.

Step 1: Eliminate the idea of civil marriage. From now on religious marriages only. Any religion can make it's own rules about who is allowed to wed, but religious marriages will no longer be recognized by the state, and they will no longer carry secular benefits or advantages of any kind.

Step 2: Let every American choose a buddy. It can be your wife, or your sister or your neighbor. Hell, it can even be your dog. Who you choose doesn't matter, because buddyhood won't carry any special religious or social significance. It won't mean you're sleeping together, and it won't mean that you're bound together forever in the eyes of God. It just means you're buddies.

Currently, the state takes care of married couples to the tune of over 1000 separate benefits. When my plan goes into effect, all those goodies will be given to buddies instead. Buddies will be able to visit each other in the hospital, file joint tax returns, and all the rest. The left will be satisfied because all people will be equal under the law, and the right can't complain because unlike marriage, "buddyhood" implies nothing about sexual orientation. True, the people who would like to banish all homosexuals to Mars will have to give up that particular dream, but the radicals on the left will have to surrender the idea of "Marriage." So that's a compromise, I think.

[Note: I am certain other brilliant people have already proposed this plan, though a Google search of "buddy system" turns up nothing. Links to your own solutions provided on request.]

Monday, February 26, 2007

No Surprise

Of course, two of the great loud-mouthed racists of our age shared DNA

Purim Protest

Received via email, from the "OLD TIMER":

With Purim right around the corner, we have people who have the chutzpah to collect TZEDAKAH, while riding around in luxurious stretch Excalibur limousines that rent for close to $100 an hour after the mandatory 20% gratuities are figured in. This is the height of hypocrisy that you have to expend $1,000 to $1,200 to show off, and then expect ordinary folks like myself to give you a handout to pay for it. This is not what TZEDAKAH is all about. If someone comes to my door on Purim in a limousine I will not answer the door. Let them find another sucker.

Harsh words, but not unreasonable. I know why the limos are used: They make the experience more fun for the kids who collect, meaning more of them will be likely to participate. But, I fully understand the Old Timer's objection: When I give money to a charity, I want it used for the charity's mission, not wasted on frills.

Argument of the day

At MoC's fine blog, a fascinating argument is underway regarding the status of pre-war Jewish life in America. On the losing side we have Kishke who appears to have bought into the fantasy that American Judaism was down with a wasting disease until the war refugees arrived in the 40s and early 50s. Needless to say, Kishke is dead wrong. His errors are being ably uncovered by Still Wonderin' who started it with this:
There was a vibrant, flourishing American Jewish community 40 years ago. It was comprised of upstanding, honest, hard-working, respectable, and eminently religiously observant Orthodox Jews. Jews that worked a lot harder to stay religious than the shtetl peasants who were yet to appear.Yet, somehow, a nation of refugees arrived in America after WWII to let American Jewry know that without them, they would amount to nothing. Take your chauvenistic [SIC] claptrap and tell it to someone who agrees with you that American Jewry began in 1946.American Jewry was doing just fine without the brilliant idea of promoting dependancy [SIC] and fantasy as religious precepts.
In reply, Kishke affects ignorance of all the observant and learned American-born men who came out of REITS, Torah V'Das and Chofetz Chayim in the years before the war, some of whom are now Roshhei Yeshivot in their own right (1, 2 ):
The pre-WWII Orthodox American communities no longer exist. The elders passed on and their descendants assimilated. At best they became Reform or Conservative; they certainly did not remain Orthodox. They may be hard-working, but they are not frum. This is fact, and no amount of your angry posturing can change it.
And then the fun really starts.

Learning with the Yated

From the Yated's spectacularly stupid article on the irredeemable evils tolerated and spread by Yeshivat Chovevei Torah:
"Rabbi Milgram ... specializes in lower and higher criticism of the Babylonian Talmud and the intersection between these studies and the historical development of Jewish law... We will not venture what "criticism" of the Babylonian Talmud means for fear that finding out might require rending our garments."
Why do I say this is spectacularly stupid? Only because the methods so dramatically decried by the Yated are practiced on nearly every page of the Talmud itself. Here's a brief explanation. (DovBear accepts no responsibility for torn clothing.)

Higher criticism is nothing but an attempt to ascertain the origins of a particular text and the meaning and intentions of its authors. It happens, in all its horror, every time the amoraim discuss the meaning and intentions of a particular Mishna. When you see Shmuel and Abaye attempting to puzzle out the context and purpose of a Mishnaic statement you are studying higher criticism.

Lower criticism is a little scarier, I suppose, but it, too, is all over the Talmud. A famous example of LC is at the beginning of meseches betzah when Rabbi Yochanan tells us that words of Hillel and Shammai have been misremembered, and the received text, therefore, is wrong. When the Vilna Gaon emended the text of the Talmud he was engaging in lower criticism. I understand the consequences of saying that the text of the Talmud has been corrupted with the passage of time, but facing this unpleasent reality with open eyes is part of what it takes to learn Torah like a grown-up.

Toaff backs down

Last week, we had some questions about "Pasque di Sangue", the blood libel book by Ariel Toaff. Among them: (1) Does the book say Jews killed children and used their blood in matzoh? and (2) Does the research rely to a large degree on the confessions of torture victims?

I still haven't read the book, but I've heard from someone who did, and "yes" is the answer to both questions. Here's Toaff's own father saying exactly what I am thinking:
...the criticism that everyone has expressed about [the] book was justified. His arguments in the book were an insult to the intelligence, to the tradition, to history in general and to the meaning of the Jewish religion. It saddens me that such nonsense was put forward by my son of all people."
On the bright side, Toaff has completely recanted.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Ritual Slaughtering for Dummies

Fred has found an old Jewish how-to book, published in England, on slaughtering. Judging from the illustrations and the non-technical language, I imagine it was directed at laymen, which makes sense: The book dates to 1733, a time when every Jew was his own shochet.

Commenting on the post on his own blog, Shmarya points out that one of the pictures illustrates "casting" an especially barbaric slaughtering technique. This isn't unexpected. 18th century England was a very violent society. Students and servants were regularly beaten, and the entertainments of the day included bear baiting, bull baiting and similar spectacles. It shouldn't surprise us that casting was common in such a time and place, but what's our excuse?

Hot or not?

I see Yid-with-lid has posted pictures of Pamela Greenbaum, the woman from Woodmere who put a freezing chill on the Jewish blogosphere when she slapped OM with a libel suit.

Now, the blogsophere can decide for itself: Did OM's commenting community commit libel when they said Pam was ugly? Remember truth is an absolute defense to libel. If you vote NOT, OM's crowd has no liability.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Tzitzit for women?

Over at Maya Escobar there are pictures and a post about "Shomer Negiah Panties," essentially ordinary cotton undies, with the words "Shomer Negiah" across the backside. Maya says:
Shomer Negiah Panties allow a woman to abide by the halacha, but still be individual and sexy at the same time
Allows her to follow the halacha? How?

Maybe they are meant to work like tzitzit:

And they shall be tzitzit for you, and when you look at them you will remember all of the Lord's commandmentsand do them and not follow after your heart and after your eyeswhich lead you astray.

Imagine: The guy won't take no for an answer. He's a real hound, and nothing the girl says is working. So, finally, she whips off her skirt, and bends over to show him the shomer negiah label. At which point... what? The guy says, "Ah! Sorry, didn't know. My bad"?

I just don't see it.

My issues

Attention prospective candidates for president. If you wish to win my endorsement, you must pledge to dedicate yourself to the following achievements:

(1) Immediate withdrawal from Iraq. You can frame it as a victory, and give the troops a parade, if you like, but there's no further reason for us to be in Iraq. Our presence isn't preventing terrorism, and it's not doing anything to improve my quality of life. It's just a waste of life and money on a Brobdingnagian scale.

(2) Universal, single-payer health care Just about every Western country has it, and on average the citizens of those countries live longer than we do. (We're 42, behind places like England and France. USA!USA!) Also, they never have to worry about being financially wiped out by a catastrophic illness. I want me some o' dat.

(3) Repeal of the Bankruptcy Act of 2005 When this law passed, I think even unrepentant GOP-Jews started to realize that the republican Congress was a wholly owned subsidiary of big business. The bankruptcy act of 2005 was cruel, immoral and un-American. And it made things rough for the heimish, too.

Sarna's Sargon Solution

Remember Sargon?

I wrote about him on January 15, and pointed out that his story, as recorded in a Neo-Assyrian text, is strikingly similar to the story of Moshe's discovery by the daughter of Pharoh, as recorded in the book of Exodus.

Now, I've read Nachum Sarna, and here's his take:

The supposed close affinities... [between Moshe and Sargon] are fanciful.

He adds:

One almost gets the impression of a conscious attempt... to disassociate this narrative from features otherwise characteristic of the founding hero motif.

Bad news for the enemies of the Lord? Not really.

Sarna's take isn't an argument against the idea that the story was written by a man. By my lights, he manages to defeat the notion that Moshe's story is a straight retelling of Sargon's, but this isn't a proof that of Torah mi Sinai (alas, nothing can *prove* that) It simply leaves open the possibility that the Moshe really was left at the river-side.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Glass Houses Alert

The really amusing thing about Harry Maryles's new post about how much he hates Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, is that someone a little to his right could very easily have written the exact same post about Harry's own beloved Yeshiva University.

In what follows, I take a stab at it. Aside for the name of the yeshiva, and a few minor adjustments for the sake of flow, the post is 100 percent Harry's
As many people who have read my blog know, I am not a fan of Yeshiva University. And I have criticized it several times here in the past. But I have never written the kind of lengthy but fairly comprehensive article that I just read in the recent print edition of the Yated Ne’eman. It was a scathing attack on the institution, its founders, faculty, Rosh HaYeshiva, and graduate rabbis. And though I am not a fan of this newspaper, I must tell you that I found myself in agreement with much of what they said. I don’t know if I would go so far as accusing them of violating clearly stated Halacha. Nor would I characterize their ideals in the same tones as the Yated did. But I definitely agree with the assessment that YCT is outside the pale of normative Orthodoxy.

And I further agree that the Torah world has been far too silent on this Yeshiva. It seems to be that all Torah based institutions whether ultra Orthodox or Centrist have chosen not to comment on them. YU is guilty of no less than an assault on the theological integrity of a Torah based Hashkafa as defined by its own claimed mentor, HaRav Yosef Dov HaLevi Soloveitchik (the Rav).

In brief the article describes actions and statements by this group that are anathematic to even the most liberal interpretation of the Rav. And even though they “explain” or rationalize some of those statements or activities as being acceptable to the Rav, one would be hard pressed to believe that the Rav would in any way have approved of anything even resembling Yeshiva University (as it exists today.)
Get the idea?

Here's Harry's big finish (adjusted)
I think it behooves the Yeshiva World to distance themselves clearly and unequivocally from Yeshiva University's Hashkafos . And it is time for the Agudas Yisroel to take a stand, too. A good first step would be to bar any YU Musmach from membership. It’s the right thing to do.
I think it behooves Harry to get a grip. The very worst accusation he makes against YCT is that they are too chummy with Catholics. If that's a problem, what do we do with all those GOP-Torah-Jews who keep their lips affixed to the nearest evangelical anus?

Peek-a-Jew (Civil Union Edition)

Daniel Gross (left) and partner Steven Goldstein displayed their civil union certificate yesterday in Teaneck, N.J. (TIM LARSEN/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Source: The Boston Globe page 2
Hat-tip on request

John Edwards

Wonkette nails it:

All that hard work, all those years of shaking hands and smiling and writing a picture book about houses or whatever … for nothing! Handsome boy John Edwards blew it by mentioning Israel in a possibly not-100% flattering light at a Hollywood talent agency meet & greet last month. Peter Bart mentioned the incident in a January 19 column on, but it took the brave Israel defenders at National Review Online to blog it up today.

Say good-bye to Johny Edwards...

What happened? According to Bart, Edwards was asked to name the greatest threat to world peace at the moment. Instead of the simple answer, wars, Edwards had to be a smarty jones and say the increasing likelihood of an Israeli attack on Iran was the primary current threat. You know, because then Washington would start bombing somebody, and Syria/Lebanon would get involved, and Russia would start threatening everybody, and it would be a nuclear war, etc.

But stating anything so obvious requires taking your lips off Israel’s rear end for a few seconds, and that’s fatal for any American politician with presidential ambitions. This isn’t because Jews get upset or Israel’s feelings will get hurt or anything. It’s because of insane evangelical Americans who have to love and protect Israel so Jesus will come back and destroy it.


And let's put aside the partisan name-calling for a second, and look at this fairly and honestly: Edwards was right. The world isn't going to go up in flames if Al Queda pulls off another attack. It'll be horrible, of course, and a terrible tragedy and all that, but not a threat to world peace. If Iran gets the bomb, we'll all be very nervous, but we won't start shooting at each other -- at least not right away. But if Israel takes out Iran's nuclear facilities, the dominoes will start to fall at once. Syria and her proxies will go on the war path. Russia and North Korea will step in. And before you blink twice, we'll have a full scale regional war -or worse. Now, as anyone with an ounce of sense understands, this is not a criticism of Israel. The long-term benefits might justify a preemptive strike. Perhaps Istael should hit Iran. People of good faith can disagree. What can't be denied, unfortunately, is that the immediate short term result of such an attack would be war.

I got nothin'

Talk amongst yourselves

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Contradicting Churchill (or whomever)

The famous Winston Churchill quote used to flog liberals the world over goes something like this:
If you're not a liberal when you're 25, you have no heart. If you're not a conservative by the time you're 35, you have no brain.
Old Winston was a drunk; anyway he never said that (see below). Whoever did had it exactly backwards. As we age, it's not our brain that leads us back to the old ways, but our heart.
Let me use myself as an example: As a younger whippersnapper I was a wild-eyed liberal, but not because of my heart. I wasn't acutely committed to justice and equality for emotional reasons and I didn't question tradition and authority because it felt nice. My liberalism came from the brain. It was rooted in arguments, arguments that may have been incorrect, of course, but arguments all the same. Now, as I age, I find myself wallowing in sentiment. I want my kids to have the sort of upbringing I had andI want them to develop the same attachments I did. When the chazan uses the wrong tune on Rosh Hashana I cringe. When my kid speaks Hebrew with a slightly different accent than mine, I find myself irrationally questioning the authenticity of his education.  That's not my intellect speaking. It's my heart.
If you're not a liberal when you're 25, you have no heart. If you're not a conservative by the time you're 35, you have no brain.
  • According to the Falsely Attributed Quotations page at the Churchill Centre, "there is no record of anyone hearing Churchill say this." Paul Addison of Edinburgh University is quoted as stating: "Surely Churchill can't have used the words attributed to him. He'd been a Conservative at 15 and a Liberal at 35! And would he have talked so disrespectfully of Clemmie, who is generally thought to have been a lifelong Liberal?"

Monday, February 19, 2007

Mission Not Accomplished

"Speaking of George Bush, with whom Sharon developed a very close relationship, Uri Dan recalls that Sharon's delicacy made him reluctant to repeat what the president had told him when they discussed Osama bin Laden. Finally he relented. And here is what the leader of the Western world, valiant warrior in the battle of cultures, promised to do to bin Laden if he caught him: "I will screw him in the a**!"

That delightful quote is from Ha'aretz's review of Uri Dan's new biography of Ariel Sharon. Tough -yet, ultimately impotent - talk from the frat-boy in chief. All that's missing is the twirling of a mustache, or a sinister cackle.


PS: I would settle for merely capturing Osama, and putting him on trial. Will it ever happen? No -- because our homoerotic Commander in Chief let his love interest slip away in Tora Bora.

PPS: The review also tells us that Dan suggests Sharon had Arafat assassinated with Bush's permission. Tzoriach iyun.

A 13 Year Old Writes - How Yeshiva Destroyed Me

Note: this was received by email with the following introduction: A 13 year old yeshiva bochor expresses his feelings at being hurt by the system (with a little editing help from his father).  The story is confirmed to be true, and truly written by the 13 year old, with some parental editing, by a young man living in the Northeast US. That's all I know.

I'm a Jewish boy, brought up in a religious Jewish home, attended "black-hat" yeshivas ("ultra-orthodox" Jewish religious schools) my whole life.  You'd assume a boy growing up in such an environment would be religious (though I'm not even sure what that actually means, is it the clothes you wear, white shirt and black hat, the subjects you learn, gemora and halacha?)  Of course, parents would hope so, mine certainly wish so, and most people would think so.

But that's not this story. The story is, how the yeshiva is failing some boys, and specifically, how a Rosh Yeshiva, you know, the head guy who thinks he runs the place, the guy with the beard, black hat, suit, and respect of the community, ruined my Jewish identity, Judaism, and relationship with G-d (whatever that is.)

So, how does a yeshiva go about destroying a boy's developing relationship with G-d?  Well, it's starts with whether or not you perfectly fit in. What's fitting in? First, you have a dress right. Right style of shirt, white or blue or whatever the community standard is, right shade of color pants, navy or black or whatever again. Right style of hat, very important, and of course, suite jacket. And, don't forget, right style of haircut and payos (Jewish sidelocks). The last is particularly interesting, because not only is too little wrong, so is too much (even if that's how the teachers are, it's the boy style that counts.) No difference allowed.

Next it's how you learn. "A successful talmid (student) keeps his face in his sefer, his hand on the page, his finger on his place." That's right, frequent glancing to the left or right is unacceptable. Keep your place, keep the pace, or you will be disciplined.

Since learning, that's with a capital L actually, Learning, is the all important goal, the meaning of life, the universe, and everything, it must be done as much as possible. Breaks must be as short as possible, classes don't have to be interesting, just learning (that's Learning). Two hours, face in the book, hand on the page, finger on the word, two hours. Did I mention two hours without a break. 20 minutes out, then another session.

This works for the good Jewish student. I guess it does. But for some of us, the eyes blur, the rebbe's (that's the teachers title) words become a droning noise, the bladder complains, the interest wanes, oh G-d (?), why am I here? Drone, drone, drone, help, how can I stay awake through this? Who hates me so that they put me here. What did I do wrong?

"Mr. M! Why aren't you on the right word, or the right line, or the right page?" Why? Because your voice could put me into a coma. No, I didn't say that, but I did think it. After a few days of this, I guess they just thought I'm bad, because it was off to discipline…

Off to the discipline chamber. "Mr. M, go see Rabbi S!". Off to the office. The secretaries stare, 'there's another bad one coming in.' "I'm here to see Rabbi S." 'Sit there, he'll get to you.' Great, he'll get to me.  So I sit. And sit. For hours on end, I sit. Literally, 2, 3, 4 hours. Seems they just forgot about you, they got busy with some other stuff. So I sat there, and sat there, and, well, you get the idea. Invisible jail, in front of everybody, the other boys glance as they walk by. After a while, you start to hate everybody around you, the principal, the teachers, the secretaries, everybody.

Every test I passed with a Beis (a B) or better. But that's no good, Learning is good. My finger doesn't stay on the page, I learn through hearing. And I learn fast. But that's not Learning, my finger slips, my attention waivers, "Mr. M…", yeah, I know, go back to invisible jail.  Day after day. Week after week. How would you feel if you were sat in a corner like a pile of dirt, day after day?  You'd feel like a pile of feces (my father edited that last word), left in a corner to rot for days, weeks, months, and years!

Years? Yes, years. This was done to me by a large well known mainstream yeshiva for 3 years, from age 9 to 12. No, I didn't tell my parents that I was 'bad', would you? Nor did the yeshiva. I'm not sure if that's because they didn't even notice me anymore, or where just too stupid to even know what they were doing. By age 13, I couldn't take it anymore, and became a problem worth noticing.

Clearly, yeshivas don't appreciate the intelligent students they have, only the Learners (with a capital L) with steady fingers and focused eyes. In the end, the school system is messed up (my father edited that word too) so badly that you can't stop kids from going off the right path. So lets stop screwing up the kids and start helping them out.

Here are some ideas on how to help the kids from going off the right path. Now I am going to give some ideas, so YOU BETTER PUT THEM TO GOOD USE, and stop your kid from getting screwed up if he's not a steady finger focused eyes kid:

1.     Shorten Classes.

2.     Get principals and teachers who do something for your child, who are looking at each child as unique.

3.     Shorter school hours so kids can have a life outside of school, how does it make sense for a kid to get out of school at 5:00 PM and have 2-3 hours of homework? My father's 10 hour workday is shorter than my sister's school day.

4.     Respect your child for what he or she is. And make sure the yeshiva does too!

5.     Pay them more attention so they know you have the best for them in mind.

As for me, maybe Hashem exists, but I don't see how he could and let these people teach in his name and do this kind of stuff. Now I'm in the 'bad boy's' yeshiva, where if I feel like closing my eyes or my sefer during gemora, they let me (got an 95 on the last test).

And maybe I'll put on tefillin one day next week. My mom likes that, I don't  know why.

And if you've got something to say to me on this, you can email me at

Sunday, February 18, 2007

My daily doubt

Why is the law collection that makes up parshas Mishpatim addressed to people who live in houses, and not tents?

Why is the Torah talking to a type of society that hadn't yet come into being? And if we're meant to extrapolate from the cases given in the Torah, why isn't there any mention of commerce? There are no merchants, and no artisans. Everyone is presumed to be a farmer who owns sheep, oxen and slaves. Strange. Very strange.

[If you're aware of rishon or achron who addresses this question please being it to my attention. Extra points if you can do it without first saying something along the lines of "Gee Dov. Don't you learn Torah?" Thanks.]

Dah Mah L'hashiv

I need a short, pithy, acceptable-to-OJ answer for this sort of comment:

If God could split the sea why can't he make a fish talk/cure
a terminal disease overnight/grant real powers to human miracle
workers, etc.

Can anyone help?

What brings you here?

I've posted almost 4000 times, since I brought this blog into being, and it seems to me that the overwhelming majority of my posts fit into one of the following 7 categories:

1 - Partisan poo-throwing
2 - Non Partisan poo-throwing
3 - Current Events
4 - Parsha
5 - Torah / theology / history
6 - Stray thoughts and observations
7 - The comment section

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

Friday, February 16, 2007

British Brit Millah update

What follows is a document being circulated by the Board of Deputies of British Jews

Following press reports, some of them wildly inaccurate, about the recent tragic death of a baby boy in the community, the following briefing document has been prepared setting out the known facts relating to this matter:

:: The Brit Milah of an eight-day-old baby boy took place at Golders Green United Synagogue on Thursday, 1 Feb 2007.

:: The circumcision was carried out by a qualified and experienced mohel (circumciser) who has been trained and licensed by the official body, the Initiation Society.

:: The circumcision was carried out in the presence of a number of people in the normal way and with no visible problems. The baby was then nursed by his mother.

:: About 15 minutes after the ceremony the baby was observed not to be breathing normally.

:: A consultant physician was present at the event and provided immediate medical support and resuscitation. An emergency ambulance was called and the baby was taken to the Royal Free Hospital, Hampstead.

:: Later he was transferred to UCLH where he received treatment in the neonatal intensive care unit. [DB- Odd. In the US, if a baby that has been released from the hospital is readmitted, he goes to the PICU, not the NICU]

:: The baby passed away on Friday, 9 February 2007 and a post mortem was carried out.

:: The results of the post mortem have not yet been made public. As is usual, under such circumstances, the matter was notified to the coroner.

:: The Board of Deputies coordinated a very helpful meeting on Thursday, 15 February with officers at New Scotland Yard in order to ensure that the community and the police are working together on this issue. The police are currently gathering information through a specialist unit that responds to all instances of sudden and unexpected deaths of children less than two years of age.

:: The local synagogue community in Golders Green has provided unstinting support for the family over the past two weeks.

:: The Medical Officer of the Initiation Society, Dr J. Spitzer, understands from reports received from the mohel and those present, including the consultant physician, that no causal link has been established between the circumcision and the subsequent death of the baby.

:: The Board of Deputies is liaising with all parts of the Jewish Community and is coordinating press and public comment.

:: All media enquiries should be directed to Winston Pickett ( – T: 020 7543 5400 / 07932 075 625)

Frivilous lawsuit of the day

Usually, I find funny stories waiting for me when I log into gmail. This morning was no exception:


A LAWRENCE school board member fed up with anonymous kvetching about her on a blog is going to court to stop it from calling her a bigot and an anti-Semite.

Pamela Greenbaum, who serves on the Nassau town's board of education, filed papers against Google over nasty comments posted about her on the Orthomom blog.

In the papers filed Tuesday in Manhattan Supreme Court, Greenbaum said she was "horrified" to discover that she had been labeled a bigot on the Google-owned blog after voting against using public funds for what she called "private school interests."

"I was even more horrified when I discovered the blog reported over 300,000 visitors," Greenbaum said in court papers.

Greenbaum alleges that Orthomom - which focuses on issues of interest to Long Island's Orthodox Jewish communities - slandered her by calling her ugly and an anti-Semite.

Greenbaum, who is Jewish but not Orthodox, seeks to unmask the blogger known only as Orthomom.

"Every day that the defamatory material remains on the Internet for all to see, I continue to be harmed as more such material is posted,"she said in court papers.
Can you believe it? Pamela Greenbaum's next lawsuit should be against the malpracticing lawyer who allowed her to file this action against OM. Why do I say that? Becaause this isn't the first time someone has tried to silence a blog. New Hempstead News, for example, is dedicated to destroying Rabbi Mordichai Tendler. The blog calls the Rabbi a liar, an adulterer and worse. For all I know, they've said he's an ugly bigot, too.

Seeking to stifle their free expression, Rabbi Tendler brought a case againt Google in California and in Ohio. Both judges threw the court papers into the air and wet themselves, before saying, and I quote, "HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA" [Krum provides the legal background]

Pam can expect the same outcome.

Worse, she's going to come out of this looking like a cry-baby. People will whisper that she's anti-America and anti-free speech. They'll throw around the C-word ( ie: coward.) They'll whisper things like, "Hmmm... Maybe Pam Greenbaum really is an ugly bigot. Why else would she go to the expense and trouble of suing?"

I know those thoughts have crossed my mind, and until this morning I didn't even know Pamela Greenbaum existed.

Instead of suing, here's what Pam should do: Start your own blog. It's free, and you can use it to address OM and her commenters directly. Anyone who reads OM's blog will read the Pam Greenbaum blog, too, and, as always, the best argument will win. If you're not a bigot, tell us why. If you're not ugly, put up a picture. Let the blogging community decide.

I'll even add you to my blogroll and provide a link to your first post.

Chaim wants to be sued, too.

Thursday, February 15, 2007


Our old friend Amshinover has many gifts. Chief among them is the ability to feret out odd and interesting Google links. For a time, every comment he left here using haloscan had a different homepage, each stranger than the one the came before it.

Yesterday, having used his powers for something other than evil, he sent me this: of a recording discovered last October of prisoners freed from Bergen-Belsen singing Hatikva for reporters.

BBC Recording:
Yediot article:

It should make your hair stand on end.

Fun fact to know and tell: The marvelously accented BBC reporter (found, I presume, in central casting) later became a member of Parliment and a cabinet minister. He lost his seat (in 1964) when an opponent played the race card.

More of Amshi can be found here

Pop Quiz

See if you can answer the following questions:

-- In what Brooklyn neighborhood are Sears circulars considered "racy"?

-- Which store is more deferential to hadisim, Sears or J.C. Penney?

-- Bonus question 1: Who is it that said "pornography is a matter of geography"?

-- Bonus question 2: Why is Rabbi Sam Weiser such an unrepentant whine-o?

Today's Toaff

'Blood libel' author halts press Jerusalem Post: "I was astounded by the sheer force of these misrepresentations, which turned what is a research book into a vehicle used to harm Judaism and the Jewish people and, God forbid, as a justification for blood libel."

I've read everything I can find about this book, and I'm still in the dark about what exactly was misrepresented. Does the book claim that Jews killed Christian children for ritual purposes? Toaff says no, but newspapers like J-Post and Ha'aretz have, from the beginning, made the opposite claim.

Toaff now seems to be suggesting that the newspapers are the ones who turned his research into an anti-Jewish weapon. If it turns out the book is really (as Toaff has claimed) about the anti-Christian attitudes and sentiments of one community, I'm inclined to agree.


(Yes, thanks, I know this is an extremely rare event. Thousands of circumscisions are performed every day without incident. I'm not attempting to criticize our ritual. I'm simply reporting some bad news.)

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

With friends like these...

Did you know evolution is a Pharisaic plot?

I kid you not.

Ben Bridges of Georgia, a state senator, and a Republican (duh) is passing around a memo claiming that evolution is a teaching of the Jewish religion, dating back to the time of Jesus's old enemies, the Pharisees. (Those Pharisees were reaaaally smart: 2000 years before Darwin and evolution they had the big bang and evolution all figured out.) According to Senator Bridges, Jews like you and me are continuing the work of the Pharisees by sneaking evolution into the public school curriculum where it can poison the souls of good Christian children.

And, if this ridiculous accusation sounds anything like the libels of Muslims who similarly claim that Jews poison reservoirs, I assure you it's a complete coincidence. Unlike those nasty Islamicists, GOP wingnuts like Senator Bridges are our friends.


[News article provided by Mis-nagid]

The Daily Toaff

Bar Ilan 'satisfied' with defense of blood libel book Jerusalem Post

The professor who wrote the book about the blood libels won't lose his job. Why not? Because Bar Ilan, the university that employs Toaff, is '"completely satisfied" with Toaff's explanation: that the book was only about anti-Christian sentiment among a small group of Ashkenazi Jews in northern Italy.'

Sentiment, not violence

Additionally, Toaff is now on the record saying that he does not believe that even the small community of Ashkenazi fanatics under discussion ever killed anyone: "I believe that ritual murders never happened," he said. "There is no proof that Jews committed such an act."

Bush to troops: Screw you

If John Edwards sent out a press release announcing plans to balance the budget by cutting VA benefits, the whole conservative echo chamber would be screaming for his "treasonous, troop-hating, and anti-american" rear end.

So why does the president get a pass? The only time this idiot "supports the troops" is when they're propped up behind him for a photo-op.

Note, also, that brave, resolute Mr. Bush wishes to schedule the cut for 2009. "Let someone else deal with my mess," is the watchword of this administration.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Sauce for the Goose

The so-called liberal media has been on the attack recently because Jonathan Edwards hired a couple of bloggers who once wrote nastily about religion. That's a fine thing to fret about, I suppose, now that the war in Iraq is over, and our dependency on foreign oil has been eliminated, but I need to ask why the fretting is so one-sided.

As Media Matters reports, Mitt Romney announced his candidacy for the Republican party's nomination at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. Yup, the very same Henry Ford who received a Grand Service Cross of the Supreme Order of the German Eagle from Adolf Hitler. The liberal media, so far, has largely given Romney a pass.

I'm prepared to concede that both stories are irrelevant, and tell us nothing about the candidates or their real views. I don't think Romney is an anti-Semite, any more than I think Edwards approves of people who insult religion. Still, if you're going to insist that Edward's choice reflects poorly on his judgement, what does Romney's choice say about him?

Bar-Ilan prof. defiant on blood libel book 'even if crucified'

Bar-Ilan prof. defiant on blood libel book 'even if crucified'
By Ofri Ilani, Haaretz Correspondent [With my commentary interpolated]

The author of a book on the use of blood by Jews in Ashkenazi communities in the Middle Ages said Sunday, in the face of the furor its publication aroused, "I will not give up my devotion to the truth and academic freedom even if the world crucifies me." [Ye freakin' gods. How about if we boil you in oil, and make your marrow into matzha. Will that make you back down? What if we shish-ka-bob your eyeballs and grill them with tomatoes marinated in vinegar? Or what if we...? ]

In an interview with Haaretz from Rome, Professor Ariel Toaff said he stood behind the contention of his book, "Pasque di Sangue," just published in Italy, that there is a factual basis for some of the medieval blood libels against the Jews. However, he said he was sorry his arguments had been twisted. [Twisted? OK, tell us how. I'm prepared to believe that there were Jewish outsiders, analagous perhaps to the naturai karta, or the #2 bus charedim, who traded in human blood. Is this your claim?]

"I tried to show that the Jewish world at that time was also violent, among other things because it had been hurt by Christian violence," the Bar-Ilan history professor said. Of course I do not claim that Judaism condones murder. But within Ashkenazi Judaism there were extremist groups that could have committed such an act and justified it," he said. [So far so good.]

Toaff said he reached his conclusions after coming across testimony from the trial for the murder of a Christian child, Simon of Trento, in 1475, which in the past was believed to have been falsified. "I found there were statements and parts of the testimony that were not part of the Christian culture of the judges, and they could not have been invented or added by them. They were components appearing in prayers known from the [Jewish] prayer book. [My knee-jerk reaction: Bogus. Catholic missionaries made a study of Judaism, often assisted by converts -who frequently became missionaries themselves. The director and staff of a house of catechumens, for example, would also be in a position to learn about Judaism, and in the 15th century there were many Catholics who traded with Jews. In short, there were plenty of conduits for this kind of information. Though the Jews were in ghettos the walls between them and the surrounding culture were not impenetrable.]

"Over many dozens of pages I proved the centrality of blood on Passover," Toaff said. "Based on many sermons, I concluded that blood was used, especially by Ashkenazi Jews, and that there was a belief in the special curative powers of children's blood. It turns out that among the remedies of Ashkenazi Jews were powders made of blood." [Believable. Especially if we mean animal blood.]

Although the use of blood is prohibited by Jewish law, Toaff says he found proof of rabbinic permission to use blood, even human blood. "The rabbis permitted it both because the blood was already dried," and because in Ashkenazi communities it was an accepted custom that took on the force of law, Toaff said. [And, I presume, some of these blood-trading Jews simply ignored the halacha. Pious Jews who ignore laws they dislike or find inconvenient exists in out time; I'm sure there were 15th century analogues.] There is no proof of acts of murder, Toaff said, but there were curses and hatred of Christians, and prayers inciting to cruel vengeance against Christians. "There was always the possibility that some crazy person would do something." [Like, say, Yigal Amir or Boruch Goldstein? Agreed.]

Toaff said the use of blood was common in medieval medicine. "In Germany, it became a real craze. Peddlers of medicines would sell human blood, the way you have a transfusion today. The Jews were influenced by this and did the same things. [Doubtlessly true]

"In one of the testimonies in the Trento trial, a peddler of sugar and blood is mentioned, who came to Venice," Toaff says. "I went to the archives in Venice and found that there had been a man peddling sugar and blood, which were basic products in pharmacies of the period. A man named Asher of Trento was also mentioned in the trial, who had ostensibly come with a bag and sold dried blood. One of the witnesses said he was tried for alchemy in Venice and arrested there. I took a team to the archives and found documentation of the man's trial. Thus, I found that it is not easy to discount all the testimony," he added.

Toaff, who will be returning to Israel today, said he was very hurt by accusations that his research plays into the hands of anti-Semitic incitement. "I am being presented like the new Yigal Amir. [Wait, was he crucified, too?] But one shouldn't be afraid to tell the truth." Toaff also said, "unfortunately my research has become marginal, and only the real or false implications it might have are being related to. I directed the research at intelligent people, who know that in the Jewish world there are different streams. I believe that academia cannot avoid dealing with issues that have an emotional impact. This is the truth, and if I don't publish it, someone else will find it and publish it." [Agree, 100 percent]

Still, Toaff says he is sorry he did not explain some of the points in his book more clearly.

He claims that he has been making the same arguments for a long time. "After 35 years of research, I have not become a stupid anti-Semite, and have not published a book to make money."

In any case, Toaff says he believes his findings have current implications. "Extremists in the past brought disaster on us by false accusations. I wanted to show that hatred and incitement of this kind can develop, because there will always be someone who will take advantage of it."

Meanwhile, Bar-Ilan University announced Sunday that its president, Professor Moshe Kaveh, will summon Toaff to explain his research. The university's statement said it strongly objected to what was implied in media publications regarding Toaff's research, and condemned "any attempt to justify the terrible blood libels against the Jews." However, the university also reiterated that Toaff was among the senior lecturers in his field in Israel and internationally.

Kiddush Hashem

This is how obviously frum people should conduct themselves on public transportation. Call it a a lesson in manners for #2 bus charedim.

Hat-tip on request

Why Ed (and the Charedim on the #2 bus) are wrong

The slam dunk answer, provided in the comments, by SM:

Mrs Shear... was allowed to sit wherever she wanted by law. She was allowed to sit wherever she wanted by the Bus Company. She was allowed to sit wherever she wanted by her Rabbi.

On to the bus come some people who decide that they will impose their will on other people, knowing that they are not permitted to do so by the law of the land. They also know that they can, if they wish, make this particular bus separate seating if they go about it the right way. They have chosen not to do so.

What do we call someone who treats another's property as their own? We call them a thief.

Now, these people who ask Mrs Shear to do something. There is no problem with the asking. Mrs Shear can say either yes or no. If she MUST say yes then she is not being asked a question. She is being given an order. An order can only be given by the people who are entitled to do it - not the people on the bus.

So there can be no judgment on Mrs Shear because she says no. Bear in mind that there is no halachic issue here, unless it is halacha that because these Charedim insist you do this you must do it. No Rav of these people have forbidden them to travel on a bus with mixed seating because we must presume that otherwise they would NOT have travelled on that bus.

So, not only are these people presuming to give orders to someone they cannot order about. Not only are they behaving like the owner of the bus. They are also purporting to give an halachic ruling when they are not qualified to do so. Otherwise when Mrs Shear says no that is the end. That also applies to women who shout and drag other women about.

Ed, you seem to think that these are the people to whom Mrs Shear should have said yes. But actually, what are our halachic obligation confronted with a thief? With someone who pretends to be an halachic authority and rules when they have no right to do so? With someone who bullies others?

Now there is then a physical attack which we can all agree violates halacha. That the other people on the bus fail to intervene merely indicates that they are predisposed to misjudge the situation and favour the man.

But Mrs Shear then starts to tell people what happened and they do not listen. Worse, they assist the offender to escape. What is the halachic position about someone who knowingly assists a criminal?

So it seems to me that, properly analysed, Mrs Shear behaved entirely appropriately. When Ed complains that she was 50% to blame he is wrong. His mistake lies in attributing to Mrs Shear a DUTY to comply with a request. But there is no such duty. She was free to say yes or no and she is under no obligation to dishonour herself either by obeying an unlawful order or by accepting a position she finds demeaning.

Ed has only looked at this from the man's perspective and has assumed either that the woman must do what she is told, or that what she was asked to do was neutral. There is absolutely no basis for either supposition and he has not enquired. He is therefore in the position of a Judge who favours one side, about whom the halacha says he should not sit in judgment.

When it comes to publicising the matter, it seems to me that Mrs Shear has sought to avoid three things. Firstly, that the criminal who assaulted her should assault anyone else. Secondly, that the men who could have prevented what happened (a Torah Mitzvah) must know that they judged the situation wrongly so that they do not make the same mistake again. Thirdly, that the community does not deny what has happened.

Again, Ed's mistake is to assume that all Mrs Shear wanted to do was make trouble. Again there is no evidence of this. Particularly, Mrs Shear herself makes it clear that she dis not encourage anyone to sit where she sat. Her behaviour is thus to be contrasted with the behaviour of those who tried to prevent her doing so.

When one looks at what Ed says, this casual, untested and unproved assumption lies at the root of everything. So, because Ed cannot or will not think positively of a fellow Jew (another mitzva) he calls on someone to "defend" Mrs Shear. That in itself is an error because Mrs Shear requires no defence. The assumption that she does is because Ed has already taken a fixed view.

I do not entertain any hope that Ed is persuaded by this analysis. Rather, it is necessary to give it so that he cannot say he publicly asked and no one responded.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Down with Donahue

The new blood libel is that Jews control Hollywood and use movies to attack Christianity and spread immorality. It's chief advocate is conservative creep Bill Donahue who was back on television this week defending his earlier slanders.

Some questions:

- What does Bullying Bill have to say to get himself banned from polite company? He's already told us that Hollywood actors would happily sodomize their own mothers for a buck. If goats and the devil are mentioned in his next attack on the Jewish people, will CNN finally stop calling him?

- Where are these anti-Christian movies Bill drones on about? I'm not a regular at the local show hall, but I do read the paper and try to keep up. If Hollywood was crusading against Christians, I'm certain someone other than Bill would have reported it.

- Have Toby Katz and Bill Donohue ever been seen together?

Toby Tackles Miriam Shear

Shorter Toby Katz: "If Miriam Shear arranged in advance to video tape her abusers, it is as if the abuse never happened."

Anyway, as Toby's own commenters have pointed out (and with a fair amount of ire) Miriam Shear's email address is easily found via Google; Toby's blog colleague Jonathan Rosenblum spoke to Miriam Shear directly; and on the DovBear post where Miriam's account first appeared I offer to assist with verification. I'm only a degree of separation or two away from Miriam Shear, and I can put any doubters in touch with her quite easily.

If Toby's questions about what happened on the #2 bus that day in late November were serious and objective, she might have attempted to contact the victim before using her platform at Cross Currents to cast aspersions on the story. She didn't. If her goal was something other than crude apologia, it's fair to ask: Why not?

Toby's post:

PS: Get a load of Ed insisting that Miriam Shear got what she deserved. (in the comments) Naturally, Cross Currents publishes Ed's remarks unedited. Given how Ed's interests intersect with the goals of that blog, I bet it's only a matter of time before he's invited to join the team.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Toaff's libel

I still haven't found a real review of Ariel Toaff's book about the blood libel, but the little bit I've been able to learn suggest that Toaff hasn't uncovered anything new, and perhaps has even committed a libel of his own.

Everyone is saying Toaff relied almost exclusively on the confessions of torture victims. If that's true, his book is worthless. Though this small fact seems to escape the notice of our own ruling Republicans, the average person will say anything, and tell any lie, if enough pain is inflicted. I've made a small study of the Damascus Affair of 1840, and I recall reading that suspected Jews were beaten, strangled, and thrown into pools of frozen water and clubbed when they emerged for air. They were dragged across the floor by their genitals and the soles of their feet were whipped into shreds. Before liberals in places like Austria were able to impose on the local authorities to call off the atrocities, the Jews of Damascus "confessed" to all sorts of crimes. They admitted to ritual murder, and swore bottles of Christian blood were hidden in their houses where it was used for Matzoh, and humantachen. These confessions were seized upon by the church, and later used by official newspapers to slander Jews and spread anti-Semtism.

During the Damascus Affair, the cardinal secretary of state came into possession of a small pamphlet said to be written by a Moldavian Rabbi who had converted to Catholicism. The author claimed to be revealing old Jewish secrets, and wrote in great detail about a Jewish cult of Christian blood. Among other things, he said Jews treated circumcision wounds with Christian blood, and used it for various other ritual items including matzot and humantachin. To date, scholars haven't positively identified the author, but a rare copy of the book exists in the Vatican Secret Archives, along with correspondence between the cardinal secretary of state and various other church administrators, in which they discuss political uses for the tract.

I've only been able to discern the vaguest contours of Toaff's book from the published reports. I don't know exactly what he says, or what he puts forward in the the way of evidence. All I have are the published reports, and those accounts of the book contains unmistakable echoes of the Moldavian forgery. If this new book is nothing but a rehash of those lies, rounded out with the desperate confessions of tortured Jews, Toaff has done his people and the cause of honest scholarship a great disservice.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Missed opportunities

Chaim Rubin blogs about all the important things our Rabbis should do- but haven't.

Instead of banning the Internet, let them ban smoking. Instead of calling for women to wear longer skirts, let them call for Jews to give more money to charity. And so on.

(His idea is nice, but he doesn't give the Rabbis enough credit: Many -not enough, but many- have already done precisely as he wishes.)

Shear support

Miriam Shear is the woman who was beaten on a bus in Jerusalem, as reported on DovBear first, ie before the newspapers and other bloggers got it.

Now a witness has come forward to corroborate her story:

My son just contacted me and directed me to this site. He is attending Yeshivat Sha'Alvim. This is in fact the very story I relayed to my family when I returned from Vatikin one early morning in November during the week of Thanksgiving. I had just passed thru the security and saw about 8-10 women around a tall man wearing a black hat. He stood about 6'2' with a neatly trimmed grey/blackbeard. The women was repeating the story of what had just happened on the bus. She was sickened by the fact that this man spit in her face because she was on this bus. She said something like how could a religious frum person behave like this. He tried to walk away because someone said the police were on the way. All of the women tried to create a tight wall around the man to prevent him from leaving before the police got there. He pushed his way thru the women and started to proceed accross the plaza towards the kotel. He was walking reallyf ast but the one women was right at his side. I was right behind both of them as we proceeded towards the wall. As they approached the wall the lady stopped out of respect of the fact that she could not go any further. Some men came up to the lady and screamed at her for being where she was. The man quickly dissapeared into the tunnel to the left of the wall. The lady turned to me and asked me to go get the police but someone had already called them. The police were there in less than 30 seconds. We gave a description of the man and they went in to see if they could find him. They brought someone out but it clearly was not the correct man. If anyone knows how to contact Mrs.Shear please let me know. I have a picture of her and the man as they were walking torwards the kotel. Maybe someone will recognize this man. This was the picture I showed to the police before they went into the tunnel.
Ed, if you'd like to appologize to Mrs. Shear for publicly denouncing and doubting her story, I'll be pleased to pass your message of regret on to the appropriate party.

Shocking assertion of the day

"Did Jews Drink Blood? According to a new book by history professor Ariel Toaff, [a small community of] medieval Jews not only sacrificed Christian children, they also used their blood as an ingredient in baking matzo." According to a review cited by JPOST, the book further claims that "a minority of fundamentalist Ashkenazis...carried out human sacrifices" and that there were Jewish black markets in human blood.

Let's get a few things straight: (1) People do weird and crazy things. You can imagine a minority doing just about anything -- especially in Medieval times. (2) Until the beginning of the 20th century Catholic Europeans were utterly convinced that Jews were bloodsuckers - and not just the hamon am: the elite, and the educated, too, were deeply in the grips of this crazy idea. The church formally endorsed it, and sent expert witnesses to blood libel trials. Where did this madness start? Could a vestigial memory of a crazy, isolated, insane practice be the answer? Maybe. (3) The book, to a large part, is based on confessions extracted via torture. Dick Cheney may think such statements have value; the rest of us have legitimate doubts. (4) A minority of "fundamentalist Ashkenazis" may have once murdered children for their blood; in our day a minority of fundamentalist Satmar break bread with Jew hating lunatics. Neither the Ashkenazis of yesteryear or the Satmars of our day should be considered representatives of mainstream Jewish practice and thought.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Hier vs Carter

Mevaseretzion points to a flame war between Jimmy Carter and Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Weisenthal Center. This is notable, mostly, because the Center has posted a (private) letter from Carter in which the former president suggests Hier is a liar. In response, Hier stops about two centimeter short of calling Carter an anti-Semite. Presumably more fireworks, and perhaps cream pies and seltzer bottles are yet to come.

I haven't read "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid," the book Hier and Carter are fighting about. I consider Carter an also-ran and a has-been who should go gently into the good night of retirement. He was also a lousy president. However, the Jewish people owe him everlasting gratitude for brokering the best and most important treaty in the history of Israel. Hakares hatov is a Jewish value, too, and unlike the talking conservative heads who blather on about how much they love Israel, Carter actually did something.

Furthermore, we should remember that a born-again Christian like Carter isn't going to view Israel they way that non-Neturai Karta Jews do. The religious experience is subjective. If Carter doesn't like Israel - and even that isn't clear - his dislike and impatiance and disapointment are not ipso facto expressions of anti-Semitism.

Peek a Jew

Dr. Sharon Moalem, a kippa-wearing Jew appeared on TODAY this morning, where he discussed evolutionary biology(!) with Matt Laur.

Discuss: Did his presentation sanctify the name of heaven, or did it dishonor the Creator of All Things?

Blogging the Book Sale

I really like the SOY book sale. I think it's a metaphor for Modern Orthodoxy at its best: scholarly, traditional, accommodating, inclusive.

At the sale, men and women mix easily, modestly and respectfully. The tables are overladen with books from across the very wide Orthodox spectrum (new age garbage included.) and the shoppers are equally diverse: You'll see very yeshivish looking men lovingly handling the Mishna Berurahs and Shem MeShmuels right alongside people busily browsing the books of Nathan Slifkin and Marc Shapiro.

I made my annual pilgrimage to the event last week. Among the volumes I added to my collection:

Exploring Exodus, by Nachun Sarna
I know next to nothing about Sarna, except that Alter quotes him extensivly. I expect this book will provide fodder for at least 3-5 years of DovBear on the Parsha.

Abraham Geiger's Liberal Judaism
I think Geiger had a good idea that went bad. I'll be in a better position to support this claim (I hope) after I've finished this book

JEWISH PREACHING, 1200-1800 by Marc Saperstein
I'm a sucker for speeches. I have at least three anthologies of famous speeches on my shelf; someday I hope to get around to actually reading them all.

Memories of A Giant: Eulogies in Memory of Rabbi Dr. Joseph B. Soloveitchik zt"l
All of the funeral eulogies, and several dozen remembrances written and spoken by his students are included. As whole, I expect they will form a facinating biography of the man, while also providing details about what it was like to be a Jew in NY at YU in the 40s, 50s and 60s. The eulogy given by his brother Aaron Solivetchik at the funeral is especially interesting. Drawing on the story of Rashby and his son who hid for 7 years in a cave, R' Aharon says that R' Yosef Dov and his father R' Moshe were also hiding in a cave, ie: Yeshiva University. There are at least 6 ways to spin this --some of them negative, some of them positive, and by the time R'Aharon wrapped up he touched on them all --while also managing to criticize (1) YU students and (2) the Rosh Yeshivos of other institutions (after taking care to announce that he didn't intend to criticize anyone.) Reading it, I caught the whiff of bitterness mixed with pride. Bitterness that the larger yeshiva world to an extent had rejected the Rav, and pride that despite the rejection, the Rav had persevered. Fascinating stuff.

Blogging the Book Sale 2005: I II III
Blogging the Book Sale 2006

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Why do at-risk kids behave so badly?

Why do at-risk kids behave so badly? Why are they (almost as a rule) promiscuous? Why do they develop drug habits? Why do they commit crimes? Why can't they just abandon observances without also acting out?

An interesting explanation appears in "Are Our Children too Wordly?", an essay by Aharon Hersh Fried scheduled to appear in the next edition of Hakira: The Flatbush Journal of Jewish Law and Thought (Basicly, he argues that kids who are taught to hate the outside world, never learn the difference between what is good, and what is bad about the outside world. As a result, once they decide to leave the Torah world, they behave like low-class trash. And why do they leave in the first place? Any number of reasons, though the article argues, succefully in my opinion, that curious kids leave because the Torah world refuses to acknowledge their questions while treating them with disrespect for having questions in the first place.) Money quote:

It would seem that our efforts to close the “tzu offene oigen” of our youth have been only half successful. Unfortunately we are reaping the wrong half. Many of our youth today have little understanding of the global context, the nature, and the values that drive secular thinking and of the worlds of business, politics, interpersonal relations, culture, and the like. This knowledge would be helpful to them in navigating that world. [Unfortunately, the yeshivot generally do a poor job teaching history, english and science -DB]

Yet many of them are unfortunately, quite familiar with the crassest forms of entertainment and enticements of that world, and that, in a most naïve and simplistic fashion. When we fence out the non-Jewish world completely, we fail to give our children some of the basic knowledge, values, and criteria used in general society to discern between what is refined and what is crass, between what is esthetically pleasing and what is just flashy, and between what is acceptable and what is abhorrent. In their ignorance, and in the throes of their passions, our “unprotected” youth, once they have dared to open the gates that have kept them penned inside our world (and have earned the appellation “Children at Risk”), make a mad dash for the lowest forms of culture and entertainment in the secular world, and in their ignorant minds rationalize, justify, and validate their behaviors by telling themselves that they are doing what is done and approved of by all those “smart, intelligent goyim who, by dint of their intelligence and wisdom, make things happen, invent things, and run the world.”

Little do they realize that the goyim whose technological prowess they’ve come to admire wouldn’t want to be caught dead in the cheap and crass environment that some of our disenchanted youth habituate. Our youth think that once they have freed themselves from the strictures of their own world, they have entered a world free of strictures of even basic human ethics, or at least of pretensions to them. And why shouldn’t they think so? Have we not taught them that the whole world is decadent? Is it not only natural that when finding themselves wanting to join and engage with that larger world, they should seek out the decadent?

Our children should be made aware of the existence of “low” and “high” culture in the world “out there.” They should be made aware that there are normative rules of propriety, of derech eretz, that no upstanding Gentile would violate. And they should be given enough self-respect to, at the very least want to keep from sinking lower than the normative values of the general society.

The rest of the essay is every bit as good, and includes direct quotes from noted Gedolim which seem to argue/suggest that all of the yeshivos everywhere are doing things contrary to how the cited Gedolim would have wanted. Really explosive stuff.

GOP Jew Job Opportunity

GOP Jews are gung-ho for the war in Iraq, and resolute supporters of the President's determination to delay, stall and pass the buck until he has a successor to blame beat back the insurgancy, defeat the terrorists, and preserve Western civilization. (mild snort)

To date not many of them have enlisted in the military - presumably because most of them would fail the physical (as would I) . But now there's good news for the pro-war Republican:
Military Wants More Civilians to Help in Iraq

Avoid the rush. Sign up today.

An Omen in the Haftarah?

Received by email:

Shavua Tov, Reb DovBear: Did this morning's haftorah - a powerful woman allied with a warrior named Barak - give you a little thrill? Worked for me.

[To the person who sent me this: I'll name you if you want to be named. Let me know.]

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Micky D takes a page from Oorah's playbook

Source: Chaptzem
Hat-tip: She, by email.

In which I grumble, for a change

RenReb amazes me, and not just because she has her very own store. No, I read RenReb's blog, and find myself in despair because she is able to say things like this without getting crucified:

A medium-length lecture followed, in which I learned several important facts about groups of Jewish women who take it upon themselves to bake challah for a certain number of weeks, or something like that, and then all sorts of miraculous things happen as a result, such as people suddenly finding marriage partners; people suddenly finding themselves able to have children; unemployed and destitute people suddenly finding jobs; sick people suddenly becoming better; dead people suddenly coming back to life; entire nations suddenly laying down arms; doctors suddenly finding cures for cancer; global warming suddenly reversing itself; peace suddenly appearing in the Middle East; etc. All because of Jewish Women Who Are Much More Righteous Than I.

I've carefully monitored her comments, waiting for Ed or Chayim G. or Yonah Lazar, or someone, to arrive and announce that RenReb is a horrible human being and/or the worst Jew since Mendelsohn for daring to speak so despicably about a dear and beloved communal activity that not one of us knew about until like, last week. But, no takers so far.

Meanwhile my good friend, S, who I am annoyed at for reasons other than what I am about to discuss here, supplies evidence that the 'lo shanu et shimom/they didn't change their names' is just so much Haredi bushwa. His evidence is the list of Jewish Rabbis[*] who translated the Septuagint. Many of them have names like those you would find in any Yeshiva kindergarten. The rest have names like Chabrias. Again Chayim G, et al, are silent about this full-frontal attack on a beloved midrash.

And finally, we have this. To the uneducated, the person pictured here is attempting to pass a stool the size of a giant sequoia. In fact, she is participating at an Amen Party. How does it work? First, find some friends. Then gather together, preferably in a soundproof booth, and make brochot on various foods, taking care to scream AMEN in your loudest, most prayerful voice. From what I can tell, it works just like the Segulah Challahs (ie: it doesn't.) [Krum supplies some history]

It's a puzzlement, really. God goes to all that bother, dictating 5 big books to His servant Moshe, and nowhere does he mention Segulah Challies or Amen Parties. (I've checked) Still, great teeming masses of Jews insist that this stuff works. Also, they insist that Jews named Mark or Andrew are less likely to be redeemed, even though the prophets often said that redemption and salavation are promised to all of Israel -- not just Jews with names like Faivel.

[*]As S himself notes the mere existance of this list in not proof that the Legend of the Septuagint is true

Hat-tip: He who doesn't like me to name him for the Amen Party.

In your face WIlliamsburg

Two cheers for Oorah. After the Jews of Williamsburg defaced their billboard, Oorah returned with a photo-shopped version of the same picture and some preemptive graffiti. Now the kid has payis, and the scrawled message reads "donate your car."

Hat-tip: Noyam

More: Gothamist, New York Times, Bang It Out


CWY has a post up this morning which attempts to bait me. He writes:
Ha'aretz is reporting that the Orthodox Jews of Monsey of trying to prevent Wal-Mart from opening up in their heilige shteeble. One of the reasons given is that they don't want the unwashed, uncircumcised masses coming into their town.

This obviously presents a problem to lefty OthoBloggers like
DovBear . On one hand, everything that Wal-Mart does is wrong. On the other hand, everything that the Jews of Monsey do is wrong. Who do you root for?
When asked to choose between Jews and a rapacious, slave labor-enabling corporation you should always side with the Jews.

What's bothering Rachel?

Saturday's Globe and Mail [link] had something to say about Miriam Shear, and Israel's Jim Crow laws. Not much in the article is new (and those Canadian creeps didn't credit this blog as the Shear story's original source) but this quote caught the eye of one of my correspondents:

"It's more relaxing, because the males are in the front and they leave me alone," said Rachel Orlowick, a Toronto-born religious Israeli on the mehadrin No. 36 bus in Jerusalem this week. Yet even as she speaks, the heavily pregnant Ms. Orlowick grabs at a handrail as she casts around for a seat in the crowded rear, though there are several places open at the front.

Why in the world would a "heavily-pregnant" woman think its "more relaxing" to struggle for a seat in a section segregated from the men? And, excuse me, but "they leave me alone?" Are Meah Shearim men really that lecherous? [Doubtful] Is Rachel really that hot? [Doubtful]

So what's bothering Rachel?

Who is Miriam Shear?

Hat-tip: She who must not be named.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Poll: Hillary Trouncing Rudy In New York

Poll: Hillary Trouncing Rudy In New York State
Hillary Clinton is not just beating Rudy Giuliani in his home state — and her adopted state — of New York, but is trouncing the former Mayor by over 20 points in a new poll. The survey, released today by Crain's New York Business, finds that Hillary is beating Rudy 53%-32%.
Hmmm. I thought the rule was Everybody Hates Hillary and Saint Rudy Is A Hero. Guess not. So, what's the take-away lesson? New Yorkers know Rudy (and Hillary) better than anyone so this means something? I'm not sure.

My feelings about Rudy and Hillary are complicated.

First Rudy:
Pros: (1) He did a great job rebuilding the city after 9/11, and I give him an "A-" for the job he did as mayor. (2)He's a liberal (3) He (to date) hasn't pandered to the wingnuts (like, say Romney) by making a show of embracing any of those those stupid GOP buzz issues.

Cons: (1) Before 9/11, he was best known as a bit of a d**k. (2) He's been a firm and loyal supporter of George W. Bush, which suggests poor judgement. (3) He sponsored Bernie Kerick, which also suggests poor judgement (4) Running NYC is a big job, granted, and he did a good job, but it didn't give him any experience with foreign policy.

Now Hillary:
Pros: (1) By all accounts, she's been a great senator (2) She got those crazy Senate wingnuts like Brownback and Inhofe eating out of her hand, which testifies to her skill as a politician. (3) She's a blue chip talent with a first rate brain.

Cons: (1) She's a carpetbagger. I hated the way she just landed in NY and acted like she deserved to be our senator, ahead of actual New Yorkers who paid their debts. (2) She let Bill humiliate her about 10 times too many which suggests poor judgement. (3) I am opposed to political dynasties. In my lifetime, I don't want to see another Bush or Clinton within 200 yards of the oval office.

MLK Goes to Brooklyn

Here's another dream. This one belongs to Still Wonderin':

With my apologies to Dr King.

I have a dream that someday, the son of a Chassidishe man from Borough Park can get married and buy a house in Flatbush without scandal.

I have a dream that one day this newly married heimishe yungerman will choose to forgo taking on 184 years of debt in order to build a cheesy McMansion on a semi-detached 16' x 100' plot on East 37th and Ave. S in Marine Park, but instead begin his new family without crushing debt and the hanging threat of foreclosure and home abandonment.

I have a dream that one day, his young frum wife will allow her self-worth to be measured by the self-confidence and maturity she demonstrates by insisting she and her husband live below their means, and to resist the goading of nudnik friends and family to buy granite counter tops and antique furniture, and lease an Acura.

I have a dream that some day this man will be judged by the content of his character, not the square footage of the extension he added to an over-mortgaged house.

I have a dream that someday, even the Zoning Boards in Brooklyn will decide that those who build monstrously outsized homes right up to the property line and covering the windows of older homes on each side is a gross violation of the legislated neighborhood zoning and should be prohibited and enforced.

I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the files of Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian that one day residents of Brooklyn will rise up to live the true meaning of the creed: "We hold these truth to be self-evident that it is right and just to work on the books, to strive to improve one's credit score, and to acknowledge that accepting public assistance while driving a $74,000 BMW is nauseating.

Let financial realism ring from the congested sidewalks of Avenue J.

Let practical spending habits ring from cash registers of Russian-owned 99-cent stores on Kings Highway!

But not only that; let pedestrians walk a few blocks to shop instead of contributing to the traffic nightmare that has become Avenue K and Coney Island Ave.

Let sanity ring from $7 million Syrian-owned houses on Ave. T!

Let revulsion be heard about the never-ending line of pizza shops, shtiebelach, and half-built yeshivas and shuls from McDonald Ave to Nostand Avenue.

And when this happens, when we recognize that the Flatbush Eruv Shabbos siren is terrifying, disruptive and intrusive to non Jewish people who live nearby and a near-certain inroad for Brooklyn's growing Muslim community to one-day argue their constitutional right to construct noisy, creepy prayer alarms along Coney Island Ave and which will disturb people five times a day every day; when all of God's Jewish children in Flatbush, those that hold from the eruv and those who don't, will be able to say 'Good Shabbos' to each other, we may sing words rarely necessary to sing by earlier, more frugal Jewish residents of Brooklyn, "Debt Free at last! Debt Free at last! Thank God Almighty, I can afford tuition and shul membership fees at last!"

Clock Contemplations

If you didn't own a clock, and you lived before computers and phones,
how would you know when to start shabbos?

According to Wikipedia, rudimentary clocks like sundials and water
clocks existed in antiquity but these were neither precise nor
reliable. You would not, for example, be able to light your candles
precisely at 6:21 if all you had was a sundial. Mechanical clocks
didn't appear (again per Wikipedia) until the 12th century, but they
were very large and very expensive. Christians used them to signal
prayer times for entire towns. Did Jews have their own? I suppose so;
but did they exist in every Jewish community? At all times? Even
during periods of persecution? Hard to imagine.

I haven't made a study of this subject (as you can tell) but off the
top of my head, I see three possible solutions for the residents of
Jewish towns that didn't have centrally administered clocks.

1 - People relied on the sun, and (likely) often made mistakes and
started shabbos late.

2 - People relied on the sun, and (likely) often started shabbos
earlier than necessary. (No biggie)

3 - You followed the custom of an Egyptian community described by
Ovadya of Bartenura in his travel letters. They prayed mincha alone,
and then tucked into the first shabbos seuda when it was still light.
Later, after dark, they said maariv (this was before Kabalat Shabos
was invented.) I don't recall if R' Ovdya said if they went back to
shul for maariv or not; I suppose they didn't, because without watches
how would anyone know, in the dark, that it was time for the minyan?