Friday, March 30, 2007

Chaval Siddur Pesach

Bah. I'm not in the mood to write the post I had planned about the Seder and its origins, but the main takeaway point is as follows:

The rituals and forms of the Seder are very similar to the forms of the symposia, a type of Greek banquet which was wildly popular in the Hellenized world at exactly the time the Seder was created.

For example:

* Along with the food and wine, and essential feature of the symposia was learned debate and discussion. This, per Wikipedia, is why "the term symposium has come to refer to any event where multiple speeches are made."

* We lean at the Seder, as did participants at a Symposia. [Photo, and note the men are leaning to their left, just as we do] When the Sages said the point of the leaning was to imitate "free men", the "free men" they had in mind were the aristocratic guests at a symposia. If the Sages were to create the Seder today, in 2007, they might require tuxedos in imitation of the Oscars on the same grounds.

* We close each segment of the seder with a cup of wine. At the symposia the same custom was followed.

* Greeks and Romans both started their banquets with vegetables dipped in salt water, and charoset was a common dish (as implied in Pesachim 2:8 where it's suggested that charoset was served year round with flour)

Additional evidence of the relationship between a seder and a symposia:

* The Greek word epikomon means "after meal entertainment" and likely (again per Wikipedia) refers to the "games, songs, flute-girls, slaves performing various acts, and hired entertainments" that followed the discussion and the food. When the Sages said "one may not add an afikoman after the paschal lamb” they were referring to (and outlawing) this practice.

[further parallels]

However, its crucial to remember that along with the blatant borrowing, the Sages also changed the content and purpose of the symposia. To me its quite obviously an atempt to take something secular and convert it into something holy. (NCSY, for example, often does the same thing.)

For example:

* The symposium were for wealthy, educated, men. In contrast, the seder was extremely egalitarian: men and women were required to participate together with their families, rich and poor alike.

* The Symposia was about studying, followed by reveling. The Seder is about remembering, rather than studying, and as noted above, the reveling was purposely outlawed.

For those of you saying, "Gee. I don't already have enough things to buy for Passover."

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

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

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

Reprint of: For those of you saying, "Gee. I don't already have enough things to buy for Passover." Originally posted Wednesday, March 30, 2005.
Reprinted on April 18, 2006. v'chen yirbu

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Medium* quality post

Living in Community

[*kidding, v'hamayvin yavin]

Kollek was British informer (yawn)


Former mayor of Jerusalem helped British troops in their 1940s crackdown against right-wing Zionist groups, Irgun and Stern Gang, that operated underground.
Only someone ignorant of the history will find this news amazing or upsetting. Teddy Kollek was part of the Jewish Agency, and for a time the Jewish Agency was committed to wiping out the revisionist Zionist groups.

It started in 1945. After Lechi assassinated Lord Moyne, the Jewish Agency opened "The Season" a declared war against Irgun and Lechi. There were a few reasons for this, the most important one being that the Jewish Agency believed actions like the attack on Lord Moyne were undermining their authority, and inviting reprisals from the British. During The Season close to one thousand people were handed over to the British. It doesn't surprise me one bit to learn that a Jewish Agency operative like Kollek was involved in this.

Now, for the big question: Was Kollek wrong? Perhaps. Still, I can't help thinking of it in these terms:
(1) The Jewish Agency believed the RW groups were endangering Jewish lives. They may have been wrong (maybe) but if that was their sincerely held belief, didn't they have an obligation to act?
(2) The Jewish Agency were the elected representatives of the Jewish people and recognized by the British. The RW groups were a direct challenge to their authority. Doesn't a legitimate and legal elected government have the right and obligation to put down a revolt?
(3) Let's make a rough analogy, and suggest that after Oslo the Palestinian Authority roughly had the same rights and status as the Jewish Agency. If the Palestinian Authority had forcefully acted to shut down groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad wouldn't we (and the world) have cheered? What's the difference? And don't say Lechi and Irgun never targeted civilians, because they did (not to the extent Muslims do today, of course, but nonetheless)

hattip: Amshinover the great

The NYT hearts Jews

My friend Krum had this spot on remark about the paper of record's coverage of the now-famous matzo bus:
Unlike much of the shrill coverage of the matzo bus story (the news clip you posted made it sound like school kids were on the bus while the matzo was being baked), the [New York] Times sounded amused and actually portrayed the baker as thoughtful and creative, if a bit eccentric.
Surprised? Don't be. The NYT is actually very nice to NY Jews, as I have substantively documented in the past. I, II III, IV, IV

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Quality Posts

I don't plan to accept more than one post nomination per blogger, but BOTH is a good guy and a good writer, so here are three of his (self-submitted) greatest hits:

The vaguely lomdish piece: RASHI'S PUCKISH SENSE OF HUMOUR
The total intro to the swamp at the back of the hill: BROTHERS, LET US SING!

Good stuff, and as for the rest of you: Keep those emails coming.

I made it to 1 million

Today's the day boys and girls. DovBear is in the millionaire's club. Thanks to you and your sticky fingers, we registered our 1 millionth page load about 2 hours ago.

How did this happen? Well, of course, serial commenters and visitors like [I'm not naming any of you for fear of forgetting someone] had a lot to do with it. Your sharp humor, wise insights, irrational anger, smug indignation, and transparent jealousy are a large part of the blog's success. Thank you for your friendship and support.

Though I feel somewhat obligated to write a horn-blowing post about my many accomplishments, with links to my best-liked posts I'm really not in the mood. (The line from Esther, the Book of, about how Haman boasted to his wife and entourage about his wealth, sons and achievements keeps going through my head.) Also, elaborate self-praise (though a highly venerated j-blogosphere tradition) would miss the point here. Arriving at 1 million is your accomplishment. You're the ones doing the clicking.

So, instead let me give the (second to) last word to SM, a new and much-valued member of the commenting community. I think his take nicely sums up the DovBear experience:

A completely Jewish experience. 1,000,000 hits; almost certainly 600,000+ by the same 100 people who come every week; most of them hate each other and all that unites them is that they don't like you. Most of the people who come don't say anything much, and the best way of attracting traffic is by dissing the others. Mazel tov - you're a Rov with a shul!
PS. Please can I stand for the Board of Management. I LOVE it here
Thank you all for visiting, again and again, and may we be zocheh to laugh and argue together 1 million more times.

PS: The next milestone is 100,000 haloscan comments. As of this second I have 98,312.

Are your girls home from school today?

Many of you who live in and around NYC and send your daughters to Frummy Freda schools are, today, a bit perturbed. You still have to go to work, and Pesach is a full seven days away, yet your girls are home. What are you supposed to do? Skip work and watch them? Hire a sitter? And how can you possibly get the house ready for the coming holiday when a lot of little girls are running around with their sticky fingers and cookie crumbs.

The school's official explanation for inconveniencing you this way is that helping clean for Pesach is an important part of a girl's chinuch (Jewish education). This excuse, however, is about as bogus as it gets. Even an unreconstructed kiruv clown wouldn't be caught dead trying to sell that story at a seminar. The schools close this far in advance for one reason and one reason only: The teachers are a bunch of whiners who think they, unlike every other working professional in the universe, are entitled to time off for cleaning.

And if you pay full tuition you should get on the phone and tell the principal that you think that sucks.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Are we more or less moral than we once were?

Collected on the Internet:
"You therefore can never argue that Judaism is immoral, or that one culture is more moral than another, or that one era is more moral than another. Possibly you can show that a particular culture or community does not live up to its own stated moral standards, but that’s about all you can do. For a skeptic to claim... that our post enlightenment society has superior morality than the middle ages is simply baseless. By what objective standards of morality could you possibly base such an assessment on? "

There's some initial sense to this argument, but the conclusion is so stupid it drools. Let's begin at the beginning. OF COURSE MORALITY IS SUBJECTIVE.

We think murder is wrong because this is what we've been conditioned to believe by our culture and our religion. Someone with a different conditioning, Tony Soprano, for example, might delight in murder. And the fact that murder is brutally unfair to the victim, and also causes pain to the people who have been left bereaved is, for Tony, irrelevant. He will happily agree that murder hurts people unjustly, but he won't care. Is Tony wrong? Why? Or as the blogger cited above might say, "On what objective standards do you base that assessment?" Answer: None.

(Some of you are shaking your heads and saying that God provides the objective definition of morality. I happen to agree with you, but the human mind, alas, is incapable of grasping it objectively. Our understanding of the world and everything in it is always subjective. One we start trying to figure out what God said, and what He meant, and all the rest we're engaging in an act of interpretation, and that, my friends, is subjective.[More]

The argument breaks down, though, when he argues that its unreasonable for us to compare ourselves favorably to the middle ages. We may not be able to criticize the middle ages objectively, but we can't say anything objective about morality at all. Its all subjective, and according to our own subjective standards, we're living at the most moral time in human history. This is an important point. Most people -religious people especially - imagine the past as a place of severe moral rectitude, with order, rules and respect. However, as noted earlier today, most people are idiots. The truth is the past, even the recent past, was a pit, and violently immoral by our standards.

Related: From The New Republic: Violence has been in decline over long stretches of history, and today we are probably living in the most peaceful moment of our species' time on earth.

Chaim G. gets his link

I promised to link any quality post sent to me by email, and Chaim G. has submitted one. Sigh.

New high quality posts

I am still receiving submissions from bloggers who'd like to have their best posts rewarded with links and traffic. As always, I am happy to oblige. Keep sending me the URLs of your favorite posts and I'll continue to provide links. Also, I'm pleased to announce that I may shortly have an announcement about the Quality Awards. There are some lines in the water, and the right people are nibbling. Watch this space for news.

Rabbi Sedly and his cat

Rabbi WAC on why he thinks people who use their titles are immodest

Lipman on what it's like to be the child of a survivor

Rafi G on his trip to the Temple Mount

Robbie on coming out to his parents on Pesach

Note: Don't be shy about sending me links to your best posts. Some may say that by sending me a link you're "whoring for traffic," and I suppose that's true, but so what? Whoring for traffic isn't wrong, it's not illegal, and, for many of us, its part of what makes blogging fun. Only someone jealous of your hits will complain, and you know what? They need to remove the poles from their posteriors.

More on the Holiday Menu

Some dear friends have gently pointed out on the previous menu thread that I, your hardworking and hardly-paid blogger, am a "kuntz" for proposing a holiday menu that "that won't meet most people's minimal requirements for a single one of the meals."

Here is my reply, offered in the same loving tone as the the original criticism: "Most people" are idiots. They voted twice for George W. Bush, twice for Richard M. Nixon, and they keep NKOTB albulms in their house. Anyone who thinks my seder menu fails to meet "minimum requirements" is similarly stupid.

Let me explain.

The first objection was to the presence of steak on the menu. But the objector has misunderstood the minhag. Ashkenazim don't avoid red meat on seder night. They avoid anything grilled or roasted. I called for the steak to be cooked in wine, in a pot. I don't know the precise cooking term for "throwing something in a pot with wine" but I do know this: Its not grilling, and its not roasting.

The second objection was based on a common and familiar misunderstanding. Many frum Jews insist on eating meat at every holiday meal. They do this because the Talmud tells us there can be no happiness without meat and wine, and "happiness" is required on the holiday. But, the fools who unreflectivly stuff themselves with meat have forgotten that happiness is a subjective quality. It can't be prescribed. I can't tell you this or that will make YOU happy. Everyone is different. Some people don't like meat. Others like fish and meat equally well. The idea that someone who enjoys fish can't use it to fulfil his requirement to be happy is absurd. And the people who will eat a fish meal with great gusto but insist on having a small, undesired piece of meat at the end "just to fulfil the requirement" are morons. The point isn't to eat meat. The point is to be happy. And if eating fish makes you happy, eat fish and make no apologies.

(PS: The Shragitz Aryeh agrees. I throw this in both because its true, and because I expect many of you won't accept the basic truth of my argument unless someone with a long beard said it previously. So the Shraigitz Aryeh is your man.)

Video of the school-bus matzoh factory

Video of the now-famous school-bus matzoh factory here

Standard boilerplate disclaimer: I received this by email. I didn't take it from your blog. I don't read your blog. I don't like your blog. And judging from your stats, this opinion is shared by the rest of the blogosphere. However, you are welcome to link your school-bus matzoh factory post in the thread below. I don't mind, and unlike other, pathetic, sitting on a broomstick bloggers, I won't delete your link or call you a comment-whore. Instead, I will happily, graciously, and gladly add the link to this post.

Monday, March 26, 2007

The DovBear holiday menu

I'm tired of listening to the women in my life whine about the soul-paralyzing complexity of organizing a holiday menu. Therefore, as a service to women everywhere, I am pleased to present the DovBear holiday menu. Follow it, and your household will be happy.

First night: Steak, potatoes

First day: Fish, Israeli Salad

Second night: Steak, Israeli salad

Second day: Fish, potatoes

Notes: The steak should be high quality. Put a little salt and pepper on it, and throw it in a cast iron pan with some wine. (Remember: You can cook on Yom Tov) For variety, you can skip the salt and pepper on the second night. The fish should be salmon or flounder. After you season it lightly, poach it in some wine. That's it. As for the potatoes, don't get fancy: All you have to do is boil them- but, if you want to show off for the neighbors, I suppose you could fry them in oil, too. The Israeli salad should be cucumbers and tomatos. Nothing else. Resist the urge to add garlic or lemon. This will only make things more complicated and, believe me, no one cares.

See how simple this is? Jeez.

The prayer for Napoleon

This is a prayer recited in French and Italian shuls on behalf of "Our master, the king and Emperor, Napoleon." You can find the full English translation here. Scroll for the other 3 Hebrew pages.

It's my blog, so I'll tell you what I though as I read the prayer. I thought about how environmentalists are always telling us that corporate agriculture is ruining the gene pool. As the growers select for certain characteristics over others, we lose genetic diversity. It's a real worry for people who care about such things. (and of course there are good reasons why all of us should also be concerned.)

When I read the prayer for Napoleon, I thought to myself that the Jewish gene that made it possible for Orthodox Jews to write and accept as legitimate these types of prayers is now extinct. It died in the Holocaust.

Sidebar: The language of the prayer is amazing. Its an outpouring of appreciation for Napoleon, and his regime. Reading the prayer, you can easily imagine what life was like in the church-enforced ghettos of France and Italy before Napoleon came, if this was the Jewish response.

I imagine others have already blogged about the Napoleon prayer. Send me links to your posts, and I'll add them here

A test of Ed's Honesty

There's a new blog in town, written by a man claiming to have been a mashgiach at Le Marias. The man left Le Marias (he claims) because the OU (he claims) fell down on the job of guaranteeing the kashrus of the restaurant.

I'm not linking to the blog because the guy sounds like a loony tune, but it will be interesting to see how Ed responds. Will Ed side with the blogger, or will he insist that the Rabbis at the OU are wise, hard-working, committed to the community, and therefore, infallible and immune to all charges of misconduct.

The wrinkle here is that the mashigiach is an UO guy, and the Rabbis having the mud hurled at them are MO. Will Ed obey his golden rule and defer to the authority of the Rabbis no matter what? Or will he argue on behalf of his fellow UO traveler?

I'm betting he goes with the blogger. Ed?

(And what about DovBear? Well, I hope I'm honest enough to follow the evidence wherever it goes. Right now, the mashgiach has nothing. It's he said/she said. Back, when Kolko was still a case of he said/she said I stayed out of the fray. I didn't write one word about it until after there was corroboration in the form of a magazine article, an arrest and a lawsuit. And because there is no corroboration here, I would have stayed out of this, too, if it weren't for the fact that I can't resist tweaking my hypocriticial pal Eddie.)

Quality post

Dag inveighs against Universal Kolel

If you've written a good post you'd like to see linked at DovBear, please send the URL to

Note to JIB committee: Members of the JIB committee speaking as individuals, and representing no one but themselves (see first comment): As I've told you 2 million times previously, this is not an attempt to undermine your award program. Quality awards and JIB awards can exist side-by-side. There's no reason for you to feel threatened or challenged, and frankly, I've grown tired of seeing your protests appear like mushrooms on my comment thread whenever I write about the (proposed) quality awards. We know you think rewarding quality is a rotten idea. We know you think the JIB's nominate-and-vote-for-yourself-format is superior. We know you're thrilled to death that the big bloggers haven't run with my suggestion. We know you're looking forward to using your own blogs to campaign for yourselves and for your friends. Ok? We get it. And, for the 2 millionth time, I promise you the quality awards (if they happen) will not interfere with your fun, so there is no reason for you to worry/protest/complain. Thank you. [/end rant

Friday, March 23, 2007


Although it produced a great comment thread about academic kabbalah, yesterday's post about Yakov Menken was poorly argued. As many of you noted, the fact that the zohar is a hoax doesn't mean it was influenced by outside forces. My bad. Below, I try again.

According to Rabbi Menken, some changes to the services are legitimate and some changes are trief. How do we tell the difference? Simple. Is the change was inspired by the outside, its bad, but if it was derived from something like Kabbalah, its ok. Here's what he said:

This is why one might note a difference between changes in the service as part of a school of thought derived from Kabbalah, vs. changes in the service as part of a school of thought derived from Enlightenment-era Protestant Christianity. One is Jewish, and one isn’t.

The problem with R. Menken's suggestion is that it crumbles if you think about it for more than 6 seconds. Let's start with the obvious question: If Kabblah-derived changes are ok, why weren't they made by earlier generations? It's a Jewish article of faith that our ancestors were better than us in every way. When we permit Kabbalah-inspired changes to the service, aren't we sort of saying that their davening was inferior? This, not incidentally, is why R. Moshe Feinstein objected to hasidic nusach Sfard

Next, let's deal with the quaint idea that anything borrowed from the surrounding culture is unfit for a shul. If this is true, here are some other things I expect Y.M will wish to rule illegitimate:

* The old synagogues unearthed in places like Cana and Sepphoris (they all have floor mosaics, an art form copied from pagan Rome)

* The sefrie Torah used in every shul in the world (they are written in Ktav Ashuri, borrowed from ancient Babylonia)

* Printed chumashim (the printing press was invented by a gentile for the purpose of printing avodah zara. Presumably we should only use stone tablets - those are "Jewish.")

* Siddurim (From what "school of thought" was it "derived" that one should use siddurim at all? Is the notion of needing a written text in front of us derived from a Jewish school of thought? Tefillah is avodah shebalev, no? Using books sounds goyish to me. )

* Any of the tunes used for Kel Adon and Lecha Dodi (you can't find one that wasn't inspired by a peasant drinking song or a military march.)

It seems to me that if you aren't sitting in the field with your sheep during prayer, there's nothing authentically Jewish about it. The patriarchs didn't need books or buildings or songs or anything like that to commune with God. And if "authenticity" is your fetish, neither should you.

In support of the Quality Awards

The Maggid writes:
I got more hits yesterday than I usually do in a week. Thank you so much.By the way, this is a big thumbs up to the concept of using an award like the JIBs to send readers to small blogs.
Once again, I am calling on big bloggers to help me create an award that will recognize and reward outstanding posts written by smaller blogs.

(...and, with some reluctance, there's something else I'd like to point out: The big bloggers have, regrettably, been indifferent to my suggestion (though many of them continue to provide links to posts written by other blogger) But, the only people to actively oppose it are members of the JIB committee. For their benefit, let me re-emphasize here that my idea has nothing to do with the JIBs. Your award program can continue and co-exist with a Quality Award.)

High quality post

When I said it would be a good idea to recognize and reward high quality posts, it was posts like this that I had in mind. It is by Aidel Maidel and it is outstanding.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

A high quality post

The Maggid of Bergenfield: Vayikra: The Divine Pizza

Have you written a high quality post? Send DovBear a link.

I'm Haaretz sets the record straight

Apparently, I'm not trying to spoil the JIBs by changing the format and it was good of I'm Haaretz to set the record straight. Additionally, she adds:

...I don't think [DovBear] knew I existed until yesterday, as evidenced by him calling me "mister". Talk about big bloggers overlooking the little guys (or girls in this case)

That's sort of true, but not completely fair. I have been blogging for two years, and in that time hundreds of people have taken up blogging. It's simply not possible to keep track of all of them. (I did know about your blog, though, but not about your gender.) I'm trying to do better (see my quality awards proposal) and you, like all bloggers, are welcome to send me posts for publication on DovBear.

John Bolton has a big mouth

For proof, have a look at this article, provided by "A British Reader." It tells us that JB has revealed to the BBC that George Bush had zero interest in pursuing a cease fire during Israel's war with Lebanon last summer. What Bush (and presumably Bolton) wanted was for Israel to eliminate Hezbollah, first. To help this happen, Bolton says, the White House did everything it could to block and otherwise delay cease-fire diplomacy.

That's fine strategy, I suppose, but it's not something you want to blab to the BBC. I mean, how is any Arab nation supposed to feel good about the United States when a top diplomat cheerfully admits that Israel is a proxy, sent to do the White House's dirty work?

John Bolton is an idiot

For proof, go here and scroll down to the Daily Show video titled: "Doris Kearns Goodwin: Jon summons Doris Kearns Goodwin to help settle a score with John Bolton."

(Sweet summary: JB was on the Daily Show Monday night, and was his usual pushy, sanctimonious, know-it-all self. In particular, he argued with Jon Stewart about the members of Abraham Lincoln's war cabinet. (Actually, "argued" might be too polite, considering that what Bolton did was turn purple and shout "Wrong. That's wrong.") Well, the jokes on Bolton, and for once it isn't about his stupid mustache, as the video reveals.)

More Menken

Here's more from Rabbi Menken:

This is why one might note a difference between changes in the service as part of a school of thought derived from Kabbalah, vs. changes in the service as part of a school of thought derived from Enlightenment-era Protestant Christianity. One is Jewish, and one isn’t.

I see. So, the kabbalah fell from the sky perfectly intact, and was never in any way influenced by the outside? Odd. Because according to people who have, y'know, actually studied the Kabalah literature the outside influences are obvious. As one example, take the Zohar. It contains:

1 - names of rabbis who were born after Bar Yochai had already died;
2 - ritual observances which were ordained by rabbinical authorities who were born after Bar Yochai had already died;
3 - mentions the crusades against the Muslims (who, inconveniently, did not exist in the second century); 4- uses the expression "esnoga", which is a Portuguese corruption of "synagogue;"
5- gives a mystical explanation of the Hebrew vowel-points, which were not introduced until long after the Talmudic period.
6 - contains suspicious marks of Spanish and Spanish sentence patterns
7 - is riddled with Aramaic errors; at times, Scholem found, the Aramaic is actually Hebrew with a few extra alephs scattered here and there.

Moreover, Yitzchak of Acco, student of the Ramban, reviewed the Zohar manuscript, and determined that the Zohar was, in fact, written by Moses de Leon. (See Sefer HaYuchasin by Rabbi Avraham Zacuto 1425- c. 1515 CE in which Mrs. de Leon admits the fraud.)

All of this is evidence of the "outside influences" Rabbi Menken disdains.

In short, R. Menken is badly mistaken when he imagines there is something inauthentically Jewish about accepting ideas from the outside. We've always done it. The evidence is everywhere-- and often written in large letters on our books, our rituals and our beliefs.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Misogyny Alert

From the comments of the Cross blog:

Sorry, Rabbi Menken, I can't say I see it your way, not from the female side of the mechitza, that is. [ ] At the black hat shul I've attended, the tall steel mechitza with the smoked glass in front of it effectively locks out the women. We can't see anything, we can't hear anything. Hence, the women wind up admiring each other's sheitls. That's not a source of inspiration I can admire.
Comment by Roman Catholic — March 21, 2007 @ 1:25 am

Stop. Before you go any further ask yourself this: What does the author of this comment want? To gawk at men, or to join the service? Think you know the answer? Okay. Here's Rabbi Menken's reply:

Going to synagogue to "participate" (or to see over into the men's section) is missing the point. We go to synagogue to pray. Those who are serious about it, of both genders, don't spend their time looking around the room, because that's not why they are there.
Comment by Yaakov Menken — March 21, 2007 @ 10:49 am

Gag me. We go to synagouge to pray? And praying isn't particpating?

I don't claim to be as smart as Rabbi Menken but it seemed perfectly obvious to me that the woman wanted only what shul-going men take for granted. We are able to follow the chazan, and answer the responsive parts, and hear the sermon, and I expect the writer of the comment would only like to do this, too. I guess Rabbi M saw something else, which is why he brought out the hammer.


Guy I know is a Jewish drop out. He came from a modern, moderately frum home, but went to a black hat yeshiva where he was screwed over big time. Now, he doesn't even look Jewish anymore. Shabbos and kashrus were left behind a long time ago. Guy had his first son recently, and he did a bris. It was small, and held in his house and he probably didn't have a minyan present. But the guy hired an Orthodox mohel, and gave his son a kosher bris.

Via Chardal, I see similar sentiments are alive and well in Israel Despite what you hear about secularism, and Hooters, and Israelis who want to be like everyone else, 97 percent of them continue to perform the milah ritual on their sons. 97 percent. What can explain this?

PS: Now it not the time or place to reveal that Robert Alter has written that our foreskin removal ritual originated as a replacement for child sacrifice. Rather than kill the kid, as was common in some ancient cultures, a small piece of him was offered up as a gift for the deity.

Today's quality award

Its author isn't a master of prose, and there's nothing noteworthy about the ideas it contains, but when the history of Jewish blogging is written, this post will be included.

The writer is a frazzled Jewish mother, dealing with six kids and expecting a seventh. Her post manages to caputure the frustration and bewilderment of her situation, giving us an authentic and empathy-building glimpse into the soul of a real person. Before blogs, where would we have gone for such an experience? Before blogs, how could we have known what it was like to raise 6 kids without doing it ourselves?

Very Odd

Five days aga, I wrote a short post congratulating myself for having better Blogad stats than Cross Currents. Though I provided a link to the stats, I didn't publish the numbers on my blog, nor were they mentioned in the comments.

This morning, an anonymous commenter asked:
So did they suddenly jump ahead of you by nearly 5000 page views, or was this a joke?
How puzzling. In just five days, Cross Currents has managed to add 5000 page views to their estimated weekly totals. Blogad stats are estimates of future performance based on past results. When I wrote the post, the system was estimating that Cross Currents would receives 8000 or so page views per week. Now, five days later, the estimate is 13000 and change. How CC managed this jump is anyone's guess.

Stranger still, the commenter appears to have seen the stats from five days ago. How else would he know that Cross Currents had improved its estimate by about 5000 page views? Yet, in his comment the man attempts to undermine my original post, and the idea that my numbers were ever better than Cross Currents', by suggesting the post was a joke. Hmmm.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The nail in the coffin?

I'm not really following the US Attorney scandal, though I admit the drool has begun to gather on the tip of my tongue at the the thought that this might mean curtains for Alberto Gonzales. The guy is a tool. For eight years he has waged a single-minded war on the US constitution. Extraordinary rendition, torture, wiretapping, detentions and the rest of the juicy special powers Lord George claimed for himself were all justified and defended by Alberto and his memos.

Delightful as it is to see Alberto on the firing line (finally) I must confess to some mixed feelings. US Attorney is a political appointment: The president is permitted to nominate anyone he likes for the job, and the Senate is allowed to confirm or reject for any reason. US A's serve at the pleasure of the president (sick as that sounds) and by my lights the president could give a job to his pet puppy (which he, in fact, once did) and then order him fired for any reason. That's how it works in America. That's our system, with impeachment our only recourse.

Update: Yesterday, ABC News reported that DOJ had released hundreds of emails regarding the dismissals. I am sure, that a careful and complete review of the e-mails will show that the White House was operating in its usual non-political and highly competent manner, (Just like during the war in Iraq and the Meirs nomination, and hurricane Katrina, and...)

Hooters is Coming to Israel

...and I fully expect they'll be serving cholent on Thursday night.

Note to Hooter's management: If you really want to succeed in Israel, change the name of your establishment to something like "Learn."

Some community-oriented blogging

After yesterday's post about the proposed quality awards, quite a few bloggers sent me messages nominating posts. This makes no sense. I thought it was clear that my proposal was rejected: None of the big bloggers wish to help me recognize and reward quality posts. I guess they're too busy counting their hits. Sorry small bloggers!

For what it's worth, I'm still willing to help drive traffic to note-worthy posts. If you think you've written one please send a link to If its any good, I'll post it. (Time and space permitted.) What follows are the best of yesterday's batch.

What my teachers never told me argues that Yeshivas Chovivei Torah is important because of the opportunities it offers Orthodox women.

Ayecha tries to tackle the daf yomi, with unhappy results.

And meanwhile, POLJ continues his series on Jewish poverty.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Am I corrupting frumkeit?

Every now and again, I get an email or a comment from an intelligent critics who thinks I'm corrupting frumkeit.

Unlike the know-nothing complaints I get from morons like Ed, the intelligent critic meets me half way. He concedes that everything I say about religion is true, but objects anyway. Why? Because (and this is verbatim, with permission, from the most recent message of this kind) "...the masses won't stay religious if you eliminate the magic and the mystery. Once you show them that large and important parts of Judaism developed via the historical process, they'll drop out. The average guy just isn't able to stay passionate about an observance after he knows its true origin. He can't get excited about Torah learning if you show him that much of what's considered the classic commentary was rejected by rishonim and achronim..."

In other words, the Judaism my correspondent values is built on lies, noble lies perhaps, but lies all the same.

I understand the objection. Really, I do. But the other side of the story is, well, people like me. We're only part of the Orthodox community because we've been shown that the mystery and magic others treasure can, largely, be ignored. Had I not encountered Samson Raphael Hirsch, and the Ibn Ezra when I was a teenager, I'd have probably dropped out a long time ago. As far as I'm concerned, one of the great, untaught lessons is that there is a source in the tradition for ignoring the tradition's own shortcomings.

My correspondent holds people should be left alone to their lies, but she forgets that there are other equally good, equally effective, and yes, equally authentic paths. The way I see it, what she calls "corrupting people's frumkeit," is like letting people know there's a man behind the curtain. The discovery was frightening at first for Dorothy and her friends, but you know what? The Wizard's well-intentioned lies were actually preventing Dorothy from finding her way home. Only after the noble fraud was unmasked could she get where she needed to be.

Relevant comments:
Ex post doc: A rabbi that I respect greatly quoted Bismark on this: "the law is like sausage - if you want to enjoy the results, you don't want to see it being made"

Chaim G: YES! ...creates a lot of vegans

Me: I accept your analogy. I agree that seeing how the sausage of Judaism is made may turn some people into vegans, but so what?A vegan isn't analogous to an irreligious atheist. A vegan is still at the table, and still eating. (and probably more healthfully, besides)

I tried

So far not one big blogger has written to tell me that s/he is willing to help judge the proposed quality awards. I don't understand their indifference.

Our blogs are successful (in part) because smaller bloggers read us, and link to us. I can't understand why the big bloggers aren't willing to return the favor by helping to organize a contest that recognizes high quality posts, written by smaller bloggers, and rewards them with links and traffic.

Now, to be fair, some bloggers (like me) already do this informally. We accept contributions from other bloggers, and link to good posts that we find on our own or that have been brought to our attention by email. I will continue to do this. So there's no confusion, or bad feelings, let me be clear about the policy: Bloggers of all size are invited, no encouraged, to send links to their best work to Time and space permitted, I will post them on DovBear (if they're good, and not contrary to the goals of the blog.)

It's my way fo saying thank you for your continued support.

The UN Hearts Israel

CA writes:

It's going to be hard for those anti-UN wingnuts to attack the UN on the basis of reflexive hostility to Israel:

Money quote:
Israel's excavation work at the Mugrabi Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem is being carried out in accordance with international standards, according to the report drafted by a team of UNESCO experts who came to Jerusalem to expect the controversial dig. Sources in the UN said the report, which will be published on Wednesday, accepts Israel's claims that the excavations do not harm the Temple Mount compound, and support the legality of the work.
CA continues: The only criticsm is that the Israelis acted unilaterally and didn't want any outside input. Sounds kind of like a certain Republican president we know. (Not to mention many shul adminsitrations I've had the misfortune to work with.)

Friday, March 16, 2007

Bigger than Cross Currents


Had I known this last year, I'd never have been so deferential and respectful to them.

Memo to Avi Shafran: See? You should be guest-blogging HERE.

The Mullah

There's a wonderful book review in the current tnr by Andrew Sullivan that has taught me something new about Daniel Lapin and his kind. The book under review is The Enemy at Home. Its author, Dinesh D'Souza, concludes that secular liberalism is likely to win the day in America, and argues that American Christians must respond by making common cause with (wait for it) Muslims. Yes, Muslims.
Men and women in the West who are still devoted to the life of faith should know that those closest to them in this world are Muslims
That's D'Souza writing about Islam, but couldn't it just as easily be Daniel Lapin writing about Christianity? Hasn't he ever essentially said "Jews who are still devoted to the life of faith should know that those closest to them in this world are Christians?" I'm sure he has.

Reading the review, and Sullivan's counter-arguments (and snark) I think I better understand Lap-dog's reasons for seeking a Jewish alliance with Christians. And what it may reveal about Lappy's own Judaism is really quite ugly: Money quote:
He does not seem especially interested in God. He writes nothing about his own faith, whatever it is. His interest is not in the metaphysics or the mysteries of religion, but in the uses of religion for social control. (Somewhere Machiavelli is smiling.) In the goal of maintaining patriarchy, banning divorce, outlawing homosexuality, and policing blasphemy, any orthodoxy will do. [Lapin's] religion, in a sense, is social conservatism. He is not going to let a minor matter such as the meanings of God get in the way of his religion.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Give, or be cursed

Bluke has posted a pashkevil advising all Daf Yomi learners to donate money to Kupat Hair. Why? See for yourself.

Can the JIBs be about quality? (A Proposal)

The JIBS, as currently conceived, are a popularity contest. Bloggers nominate themselves and each other, then prod and provoke each other into voting. In a good year, we get name-calling, sanctimony, allegations of fraud, and long flame wars, too. All of this is great fun, and eagerly anticipated. I commend the new JIB committee for keeping alive these valued J-blogosphere traditions.

Yesterday, I attempted to argue that, in addition to all this, the JIBs can reward quality, too. Over the last 24 hours I've hammered out some of the details. What follows, then, is a brief proposal for adding a quality segment to the JIBs.

The award will recognize posts only. Not blogs. Posts.

The judges will decide upon the categories of posts that will be recognized. Other than "Post of the Year," the categories can (and should) change from year to year, based on the judges' own interests and the amount of time they are willing to devote to the project.

Any blogger who receives more than 5000 verified page views per week can volunteer to serve as a judge. At least three judges are needed, but the more the merrier. Judges, needless to say, may not participate in the contest. I am suggesting that big bloggers serve as judges, not because big bloggers have any special skills or talents, but because they (a) stand to gain the least from a contest like this; and (b) have the ability to properly reward deserving posts, as you will see below.

Nominating process:
Bloggers must nominate their own work, and the rule will be one post per blog per category. If you don't want to play, don't nominate yourself.

Judging process:
The judges will create a Google spreadsheet, listing all of the nominated posts by category. Over a period of days or weeks the judges will score the nominated posts as follows:
0 = this post is bad and should not win
1 = this post is good, but should not win
2 = This post is good and I'd be ok if it won
3 = this post should win (each judge may award only one 3 per category)

After the winners have been announced, the spreadsheet, with the scores, will be made public.

Along with a JIB badge, the winning posts will be announced one per day over several days on the blogs belonging to the judges. This will gives the winners the two things every high quality post deserves: links and traffic (Remember the judges are all in the 5000-page view per week category)

Next step:
I'm in. Who's with me?

Note: I'm not suggesting the JIbs be replaced nor am I attempting to impugn them in any way. The JIBs serve an important purpose, and should be continued. This post is a proposal for something new, something that can coexist quite happily with the JIBs.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Tzioni Tzizis Check

A close friend writes:

"I spent last shabbat in the congenial surroundings of Miami, and attended the'Bal Harbour Shul'. The Rav is an energetic Chabadnik - Rabbi Lipskar, who has an eclectic community of several hundred, including many retirees. The service has strong Meschichist overtones. However - on this shabbat the guest of honour was the Rav Rashi of Israel, Harav Yonah Metzger. He was honoured with Shishi, and the recitation of the prayer for Israel. He pronounced: "Mi sheberachavotenu Avraham Yitzhak yevarech et Eretz Yisrael hakedoshah...."

The Rav Rashi refuses to use the universal nusach of "Medinat Yisrael"?????? What a disgrace. I was horrified."


and they shall beat their swords into plow-shares, and their spears into pruning-hooks

"Escherichia coli has multiple enzymes that attack TNT and release nitrogen for growth"

Hat-tip Heccy

Follow-up on "Vashti"

Remember the Westchester Yeshiva that leased some property to a dominatrix? Well Yisroel Medad seems a mite obsessed with the story. For your amusement he has provided a follow-up.


DovBear says: The blogging bug hasn’t bit me yet today. Feel free to talk among yourselves until I return.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Obama Steps in it

We see via Ben Smith's Blog that Barak Obama has offended the Jews. Oh well, Barak. It was a good campiagn while it lasted.

Enjoy Your Passover

Venn Diagram

JIBS: My two cents

I see this year a committee of three has taken over administration of the JIBS, our community popularity contest. I've seen the proposed categories and rules, and though, it looks like they're doing some things right, they are still doing some things wrong. My scoring:

Good Ideas:

-- Letting a committee run it. So long as the committee doesn't exclusively represent one segment of the blogosphere to the exclusion of others, the interplay between committee members will only improve the program.

-- Part of it is about POSTS not blogs. They will have awards for (a) best humor POST, (b) best news POST (c) best religion POST and so on. This offers more avenues for inclusion by allowing someone who blogs very irregularly to get in on the strength of one good POST

-- Cats and dogs will not be allowed to stand against each other in the same category. By this I mean, RW blogs and LW blogs will be kept in separate categories and so will skeptical blogs and Torah blogs. This cuts down on the entertainment value of the contest, but also on the petty sniping and the bickering. A good trade-off.

Bad Ideas:

-- There's still no prize for quality. If the JIB committee wants their program to be taken seriously, they have to stop recognizing popularity alone. I propose letting a committee (made up of last year's medalists) vote for SOME of the awards.

-- Big blogs are still competing against smaller blogs. This is ridiculous, and destroys the contest's credibility. I think the Jblogosphere has about four size categories (For argument's sake let's call them: Mega, Large, Big, and Small) Every award should be offered to every size category. That means four awards for best blog, four awards for best post, and so on.

-- They are still making a distinction between Israel blogs and Diaspora blogs. All this does is give the Israeli blogs extra opportunities to win. There is no good reason to split the blogosphere in two, and no good reason to offer awards to Israeli bloggers (ie: Best Israel Slice of Life) without offering a corresponding award to the Diaspora (ie: Best Diaspora Slice of Life)

-- They are still giving and award for "Israel advocacy", while remaining oblivious to the reality that those of us who may criticize Israel from time-to-time are, in fact advocating for policies we believe the Jewish state should embrace for its own good. This whole category is divisive. It rests on the faulty assumption that friends must never disagree and should, therefore, be scrapped.

My choices for categories (with each offered to all four size categories)

- Best Blog
- Best Diarist
- Best Writing
- Best Post
- Best Series
- Best Single Issue Blog
- Best Torah blog
- Best Torah post
- Best Skeptical blog
- Best Skeptical post
- Best Current Events blog
- Best Current events post
- Most Humorous Blog
- Most Humorous Post
- Best Commenter

Monday, March 12, 2007

A Grave Business

The Rabbi of the Golders Green Synagouge in London recently visited the Rambam's non-kever in Tiberias, and was appalled to discover "the site has been completely spoiled by the metal barrier (mechitzah) that now bisects the grave stone itself, ruining the architecture and obscuring the famous inscription."

The rest

CA on the PArsha

He writes:

Dear Mr. Bear:

I have been inspired by your insightful parsha commentaries, and have produced one of my own:

I believe your readers might find this d'rash to be interesting and thought-provoking. (or at least provocative.)

In fellow bloggerhood,


German cardinal sorry for ghetto remarks - Haaretz - Israel News

The Church recants

Hat-tip CA who adds: These guys went into groveling mode pretty quickly. I hope you... post this and let your readers know how quickly the Church has groveled to the Juden.

Serves them right. There are lots of sharp, critical things you can say about the policies of the the Israeli government without having your criticism shut down by inappropriate comparisons.

On Orthodoxy

The blogopshere is buzzing about the frum bonafides of one Lawrence Shiffman.

Following his participation in an article in which four prominent scholars spoke about how their faith was affected by their work, everyone (by which I mean GH, Mis-nagid, and the sanctimonious commentators at Hirhurim) is lining up to speculate about Shiffman's Orthodoxy. Regrettably, I joined the parlor game, too. [Note: GH must be suffering from regrets as well. His post is gone]

I say regrettably, because I now realize that the definition of an "Orthodox Jew" is fluid. You can call yourself whatever you want, so long as you understand how you define it for yourself. It's when you use other people's definitions that you get into trouble. I'm sure there are plenty of people out there who would say I'm not Orthodox, but I no longer give a hoot; we obviously define it differently. By my definition, they may not be Orthodox either.

Here's a brief primer according to DovBear:

- If Orthodoxy means you believe in revelation then I am Orthodox.
- If it means you find rabbinic halacha to be binding and in some way divine, then I am Orthodox.
- It it means you understand every one of the Rambam's ikkarim in the way that many othes do I suppose I'm not, but guess what? Neither are most of Teaneck and Williamsburg. And nor were the legions of Tannaim, Amoraim, Geonim and Rishononim who themselves were in opposition to some of what the Rambam wrote.

I can live with that.

Comment of the Day

The great Charlie Hall:

If religion contains dogma about the natural world, yes, objective, empirical observation overrules religion. If your religion says the earth is flat, your religion is false. Period.

But our religion, Judaism, makes no such claims. Only one of the 13 principles of the Rambam is even theoretically falsifiable, and a practical falsification of the eighth principle is in practice essentially impossible. Science can neither prove or disprove the existence of God, or the divine origin of the torah.

That scientists are human and err is well known. Sometimes those errors can lead to major mistatements. I recommend Thomas Kuhn's "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" for a better exposition of this.

There are indeed examples of scientific groupthink -- sometimes with very bad consequences. Semmelweis and Holmes couldn't get doctors to wash their hands. Continental drift was rejected by most geologists. More recently, textbooks insisted that neurons could not be grown from stem cells in adults. Just five years ago, most physicians believed that hormone therapy was good for post-menopausal women. (I actually teach medical students that the evidence was never as strong as we though on this issue.)

But your nihilistic criticism resembles that of the postmodernists who reject all objective truth. The fact that scientists err does not make the universe 6000 years old and does not mean that evolution does not occur. The universe is old, and evolution explains too much science to ever be discarded.

The wigs, the wigs, the wigs are on fire

CWY has video footage of arsonists at work in Jerusalem.

Friday, March 09, 2007

The Yated responds to its critics

The Yated has published a reply to the blog commentary about it's awful attack on YCT.

Avakesh has some of the copy, and some remarks of his own.

Gils, girls, girls,

The wonderful Caitlin Flanagan has a review this month in the Atlantic Monthly of a non-fiction book about college-girls.

The notable thing about it is this: In Flanagan's telling, turn-of-the century female college students were almost exactly like 21st century seminary girls. For example:
[The author of the work under review] has created a record of the daily habits of these women—from what they ate, to what they wore, to the subjects they studied—that will fascinate anyone interested in the history of private life. As for what they ate—just about anything that wasn’t nailed down, apparently. One cannot read this book and continue to believe that the “disordered eating” that besets so many college women is a recent phenomenon. Today it may be marked by grimly endured starvation campaigns or bulimia, but in decades past it was the stuff of a strange glee: festive communal gorging. The midnight suppers or “spreads,” once a major pleasure of college girls’ lives, were conducted around a chafing dish—by the 1890s, it was a popular gift for a college-bound girl—in which the hostess cooked rarebits, omelets, and (most popular of all) pan after pan of fudge. By the early 20th century, groups of female eaters commonly gave themselves nicknames: the Stuffers, the Nine Nimble Nibblers, the Grid L. Kakes. While college men during the same period were forging friendships through cane rushes, fraternity hazing, and other acts of ritualized violence, the girls ate—and ate—their way to community and affection.
Sounds a lot like Sharfman's doesn't it? And, hold on to your seatbelts, there's more.

Several months ago Shifra left a comment here (I can't find it: Drat.) about some of the girls she knew in seminary. Though they weren't outright lesbians, Shifra says they were very touchy, and lovey-dovy. Other commenters, later on the thread, echoed this experience. We were left believing that every modern seminary has in it at least one clique of girls who can't keep their hands to themselves. Here's Flanagan:

The other thing that the girls tended to do was to fall head over heels in love with one another. The 1907 Barnard yearbook observed that crushes were “an epidemic peculiar to college girls,” marked by “a lump in the throat, a feeling of heat in the face and an inability to speak.” While romantic friendships between women were an accepted aspect of life in the 19th century, Peril’s reporting on the nature of those relationships is eye-opening. An 1898 advice book called What a Young Woman Ought to Know describes the irritating behavior of girls who imposed their ardor on the world:

They go about with their arms around each other, they loll against each other, and sit with clasped hands by the hour. They fondle and kiss until beholders are fairly nauseated.

In 1928, one besotted “smasher” at a Texas college formalized her feelings in a yearbook entry: “Roommate, darling, how I love you.”



Wow. As a commenter at YouTube put it, if Rudy wins the nomination the Dems ought to run this ad 24/7 with a scroll across the bottom "telling about how Rudy had NYC cops shuttling his mistresses in and out of the Governor's mansion while Donna and their kid were upstairs."

(Additionally, check out the scene in which Rudy wears a catcher's mitt though his kid's using a batting tee)

My true thoughts on Rudy
(1) He did a great, great, great job as Mayor from 9/11 until the end of his term two months later.
(2) NYC became a much safer place during his 8 years as Mayor. Though I recognize the issue is complicated, I'm happy to give him credit. He was the boss, after all. (This also why I credit Clinton for the great economy we enjoyed at the end of the 90s)
(3) I don't think his serial infidelities should disqualify him from the presidency (felt the same way about Clinton, too)
(4) As Jimmy Breslin put it, Rudy's "a small man looking for a balcony." Stings, because its true.
(5) I think he'd make a lousy president, not least because he's a cowboy, like Bush.
(6) I hope he wins the nomination, though, because it'll be great fun watching all the pious hypocrites squirm. I'm still waiting for someone to explain why the Clenis is always in play, but Rudy's philandering is off the table.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

UPDATE TO BAR POST: Is L. Shiffman really a believer?

Mis-nagid says no. (The comment is on Wolf's excellent post about the BAR article; scroll down to Mis-nagid's comment)

In brief, Mis-nagid argues that Shiffman is choosing his words carefully to hide the fact that his belief has been defeated. Money quote:
The article, read properly, is proof positive that Bible scholarship kills religious belief dead. The only thing that can be expected to be believed by by the knowledgable is an empty bag with the old label on, because all the traditional beliefs have been removed
As for me, I accept the points Mis-nagid makes about Shiffman's language, and you can't wave away his examples. They are good. Shiffman is clearly obfuscating. However, I take issue with the idea that Shiffman's "religious belief" has been killed "dead." His childhood beliefs, certainly, are gone, and perhaps he, also, no longer accepts some/most of the verities of Orthodox Judaism. But does this mean his *religious beliefs* are gone? Not at all. There's no reason to doubt he still believes in God, still believes in revelation, still believes that God's unseen hand guides human events.

Further proof that fundemnetalist Orthodoxy is a danger to faith

The stars must be aligned, because on the very day that I reposted my Parable of the Three Jews, my friend Wolf posted on the new BAR article, a four-part interview with four professors (including Modern Orthodoxy's own Lawrence Shiffman) about how their scholarship has affected their faith.

As I might have predicted the two professors who came from literalistic/fundamentalist traditions are no longer believers. For them it was all or nothing. But the two professors who ascribed to more flexible religions (including Modern Orthdoxy's own Lawrence Shiffman) report that facts and faith can coexist. As you learn more, you may end up believing in less, but the essential parts of Judaism can't be disproven by the facts of science and history; belief in those essentials can remain forever intact if you haven't been taught its "all or nothing."

This, incidentaly, happens to be my own experience. Even as I discover more and more about the world and the past, my faith in the essentials remains unshaken.

More:Aside from Wolf (see above) XGH, Hirhurim and Fred have weighed in so far...

Jews Locked Out of Stuy Town on Shabbos

The landlords of a muti-billion dollar housing complex have switched to electronic key cards, making life difficult for Jewish residents.

More here (and note the blitheringly idiotically painfully stupid comments)

Hat tip: Fred.

The Parable of the 3 Jews

Dedicated to Chaim G.

The Parable of the 3 Jews

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

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


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

There's no reason to cling sentimentally to ideas that are wrong

This post first appeared on April 10, 2006.

Addendum March 8, 2007
People like Chaim G. say the truth is dangerous. He says that if people are told that humantachen originally had no connection to Haman, for example, the entire Mesorah will unravel and Judaism will shrivel up and disappear. He worries that if any Jewish idea, or the utterance of any Jewish teacher are challanged a mass exodus from the religion will commence. Others, like me, say the lies are more dangerous. We counter that if you insist, for example, that the universe is exactly 5767 years old, any Jew who has been to a museum will conclude the whole tradition and everything in it is false. He'll say: "They lied to me about dinosaurs, what else did they lie about?"

In an age where the truth is always a mouse-click away, the way to save Jews and keep them Jewish, is to face reality with open eyes. If we want Jews to take Judaism seriously we must give them a serious Judaism, one that understands the difference between theology and history/science, and the difference between knowledge and belief.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Quote of the Day

"This morning we saw pictures of the Warsaw ghetto at Yad Vashem and this evening we are going to the Ramallah ghetto"

Who said it?

A - Rachel Corrie
B - Some leftie from Berkley
C - Some dirty-hippy college professor
D - A Bishop of the Catholic Church

Hat tip: Lipman

Ann Coulter's "magnificent" friend.

That would be Joe Sobran, a Nazi, thanked by Ann Couler on page 303 of her most recent pile of puke.

Full story

Hat tip: Yudel

Comment of the day

Queenie: "Hashem didn't come down and instruct us to create hamentaschen, so He sent shlichim to be sure it happened.

Just because it happened though historical processes doesn't mean there was no hasgacha involved and that Hashem wasn't behind it.

And just because Hashem was behind the historical processes doesn't mean they didn't happen.

Hashem is the architect of history and presumably there was some hashgacha behind our adopting these minhagim as our own.

Sort of like we have to assume there was hashgacha behind our adopting neo-Platonic views of the eternal soul and neo-Hellenistic views of the afterlife.

Snicker, snort.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Returning Sinners

The Beadle writes:

Hi Dov Bear,

A rather heated discussion took place in my Shul this morning after Shacharit, and I was wondering what the view of your readers might be.

A well known and well liked member of my community, and friend of mine, was sent down for credit card fraud last November. He was, as am I, also on a Shul committee which hold dinners for young professionals every so often and is designed at encouraging them to return to Shul.

I am not in any way excusing his behavior but as a friend, as well as a fellow Jew we have been writing to each other since he went inside. He is due out in June and has indicated that he is looking forward to returning to the Shul as well as on to this committee. While inside he has been receiving counseling for his problems (some of them stem from the fact that he is gay and is an Orthodox community, but that is beside the main point), and plans on continuing this when he gets out. He has also said that he has been very unhappy in his personal and professional life, and the only place he has ever been happy has been when he has been in this community. Although not (yet) shomer shabbat, he had been increasing his weekday attendance in Shul, attending shiurim, and I was helping him with his Hebrew reading and general all-round Jewish knowledge. He was slowly but surely returning to Judaism in a way that had not even considered in the last 40 years of his life. His involvement on this committee made it a great success and both he and the Shul had benefited greatly from it.

My personal belief is that once he has done the time, he has paid his debt to society and there is no reason on earth he should not be welcomed back to the community and that he should be allowed to play his part within the Young Professional committee, albeit not in a financial way. Some of the others opined that while he cannot be stopped from entering the Shul, he should not be overly welcomed and should certainly not be allowed onto any committee as he is “nothing more than a crook a we don’t need his sort round here”. It could be that this view is just a hook on which to hang their homophobia, who knows?

Not only do I feel that both he and the Shul would benefit greatly from his return, but also I always though that the Jewish way was to move on once the person has done his time, and expressed genuine regret, of which he will have done both.

As I said, I am curious to know the views of others out there.

Many thanks.

More Purim Lore

I think this is pretty well known, but judging from the appalled looks I received this weekend, I guess I was wrong. So for the record (via Wikipedia):

There are two possible origins of the name. The most popular theory is that the name hamantash (המן־טאַש), which literally means "Haman's pocket," is a reference to Haman (also known as Homen), the villain of Purim, as described in the Book of Esther. This theory has no basis in fact. A more likely source of the name is a corruption of the Yiddish word מאן־טאשן (montashn) or the German word mohntaschen, both meaning poppyseed-filled pouches.[1] Over time, this name was transformed to hamantashen, likely by association with Haman. In Israel, they are called אוזני המן (Oznei Haman), Hebrew for "Haman's ears."
Feel free to say "duh."

I'm making a list...

I don't mind sincere moralists, but pious frauds like Ann Coulter make me reach for my revolver. And there are others like her, who despite their bad manners, and reprehensible views are forever invited to appear on television, and to address conventions. Some of them also are listed on the sidebars of Jewish blogs, and often quoted favorably by bloggers who otherwise present themselves as moral, value-driven, Torah True men and women. (list on request)

This makes no sense.

Unless these bloggers are pious frauds themselves, the only explanation is that they are operating under the misaprehension that Ann and her ilk are good people. So allow me to do the necessary disabusing. What follows is a short list of famous conservative commentators who should be anathema to anyone who claims to care about Torah ideals.

Ann Coulter: I, II, III [Summary]
Michelle Malkin I [Summary]
William Donohue I [Summary]

Add more if you like (and don't be shy about adding liberals, too. I'm well aware that there are some who belong to the same category)

Monday, March 05, 2007

Uncivil Penguin

Ah, Republicans. They charge for meals at the VA hospital, cut benefits for veterans at every opportunty, and send soldiers into battle without the right equipment - all while managing to arrange fat tax cuts for the wealthiest one percent. Yet, we're the ones who hate the troops.

PS: I think the guy in the suit might be Robert Avrech. The line about liberalism having been "proven" to be degenrate gives it away.

Why do we rattle noisemakers at the mention of Haman's name?

Another old post; last one I promise.

Why do we rattle noisemakers at the mention of Haman's name?

There's a temptation to link the practice of noise making in the synagogue to the verse 'Thou shalt blot out the remembrance of Amalek' (Deut. xxv. 19)' but I've found no evidence that this custom existed prior to the middle ages.

Most everything you can find using Google, will agree with Wikipedia which attributes the custom to:

French and German rabbis of the thirteenth century who introduced the custom of writing the name of Haman, the offspring of Amalek, on two smooth stones and of knocking or rubbing them constantly until the name was blotted out. Ultimately, however, the stones fell into disuse, the knocking alone remaining. Some wrote the name of Haman on the soles of their shoes, and at the mention of the name stamped with their feet as a sign of contempt; others used for the same purpose a rattle--called 'gregar' (from Polish grzgarz), and producing much noise--a custom which is still observed by the Russo-Polish Jews.

Interesting, but our familiar problem remains. How was the custom established? What brought it into being? Did the French and German rabbis of the thirteenth century meet at an Aguda convention, where they resolved that a new custom was needed? If so, where is the record of their proclamation? Did they vote? Was there debate? Were other ideas considered?

Or were the Rabbis of medieval Europe simply as promiscuous about introducing new customs as our modern Rabbis are about issuing bans?

Analogues [Sources and other material]
Our question ("How was this custom brought into being?") becomes stronger when you consider two non-Jewish practices. Of course, neither analogue comes with a signed note asserting that it is the official antecedent of our Purim custom; still they are interesting.

In Jewish Festivals A Guide to Their History and Observance, Hayyim Schauss maintains (page 265) that ancient people thought themselves vulnerable to the influence of evil spirits and would often made loud noises for the purpose of driving the spirits away. Haman, you will remember, was the name of the Persian underworld demon. Possibly, driving away the demon at springtime was a pagan rite the Jews borrowed.

Another idea, cited by Tzidkuni, suggests the custom has a direct Christian antecedent. He writes that on the first night of Passover, Christian children would go through the streets of Jewish neighborhoods and congregate around the synagogues with noisemakers to eradicate the memory of Judas Iscariot. On that night, the priests would also 'eradicate the memory' of Judas with great noisemakers or by pounding sticks upon wooden boards suspended from the Church steeples.

Is it a coincidence that Jews, Christians and pagans all had a spring noise rite connected to the eradication of a despised character? Perhaps. Is there a firm link between the three customs? No. But this blog was not created to promote certainty. This blog was created (in part) to throw sand in the eyes of people who insist that everything Jews do today was known to Moshe and his Sanhedrin (bearing in mind, of course, that Sanhedrin is a Greek loan word, making it unlikely that Moshe had anything of the sort. See? I did it again.)

Blogging and pashkevels

Last night I received an urgent message from UOJ. He'd written a letter and wanted it posted on my blog and some others at exactly 10 PM. Unfortunately, I was deep into Purim at the time, and missed the deadline. The letter is now here. I encourage you to read it.

The more I see from UOJ, the more I'm reminded of Joyce, Jun. Joyce, Jun. was the most famous of several colonial-era bloggers. Around the time of the Revolution, he and other like him left signs, called broadsides, on trees and buildings. The signs were anonymous, and they were used to criticize, complain and threaten - much like how our man UOJ uses his blog. Often, the broadsides were reprinted in newspapers, too.

[The name Joyce Jun, incidently, has an origin appropriate to Purim. The tradition in colonial New England was to celebrate Guy Fawkes Day (called Pope's Day on this side of the pond) by putting an effigy of the Pope on a wheeled stage (with attendants dressed as the devil, or of the anti-Christ) and push them through town amid mobs of revelers who marched through town in masquerade, eating and drinking at every stop. Boston. because of it's size, had two Popes, one for the North side and one for the South side. Every year the two liquor-sodden groups would meet and riot, with each side trying to take the others Pope. [More here]

In Boston, the commander of the mob was called "Joyce Jun.", after Cornet Joyce, the man who arrested Charles I. Later, the famous broadsider took his name.]

The broadsiding tradition lives on in Jerusalem, where they are called pashkevils. [More]

Perhaps someone can explain why Agudat Yisroel objects loudly and publicly to blogs, but not to anonymous pashkevils? Essentially, aren't they the same?

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Magilla Meme

This first appeared last year.

Over at Ren Reb a new and exciting meme has been created:

Things I think about during magilla reading (besides Russel Crowe).

And though she hasn't exactly tagged me (Ren Reb looks, but she doesn't touch) I thought I'd play along. So here, in no particular order, are some of the thoughts that danced through my sugar and caffeine deprived mind on Monday night.

* Man, I can lain so much better than this dope. How many more notes is he going to miss? Why don't they ever ask me to read the megillah? I bet it's because I say Achash-vey-rosh instead of Achash-vey-roysh. That's it, I just know it. Well, screw them.*

* Why didn't they have co-ed parties in ancient Persia? I mean, how pious were these people, that Vashti and the women were kept separate from Achashveyrosh and the men? And if all that separation didn't help the ancient court of Persia stay proper and moral, why do 21st century Jews think it's worth doing?

* Hey, it doesn't say anywhere that Vashti was killed. Only that her estate was taken away. I have read the megillah maybe 1000 times. How did I miss that? Suddenly, I feel like an old friend of mine who reached the ripe old age of 30 without realizing that the story of Abraham smashing the idols is nowhere in the Hebrew bible. Or the friend who reacts with shock, horror and disgust whenever he's told that Rashi's understanding of a particular verse is rejected by rabbis of equal stature. It's a little scary how the things we're taught as kids can be so powerful - and misleading.

* Why don't the kids and adults who swarm around the shul looking for handouts on Purim ever say anything when they ask you for your money? They just stick their hand in your face and sort of shake it. You're supposed to guess what they want, and who they are collecting for, I guess. Some of them even do this right in the middle of davening. You can be saying shema, or even shmona esray and some scarecrow will come over and rattle his hand under your nose. My policy is to ignore people who don't speak, and to pummel people who bother me during prayers. I confess I am not as religious as I should be about following this policy, but I plan to work on my shortcoming, so that next year I am ready.

* Esther 4:13-14 is an awesome verse (and I am not just saying that because Ren Reb did, too. ) Aside from all the things RenReb likes about it, I also appreciate the lack of certainty. When Mordichai tells Esther she needs to speak up for her people, he doesn't say,"There are no coincidences! The only reason you became queen is because the Jews need your help!" No. What he says is: "And who knows maybe it's for just this purpose [i.e., to save the Jewish people] that you became queen?" Get that everyone? Mordichai is unsure. And he's not so vulgar as to speak for God, even when his life, and the life of everyone he knows, is on the line. Nowadays, GOP-Jews would probably chastise Mordichai for his lack of faith, ("What do you mean? Of course Esther became queen for the sake of saving the Jews.") but GOP-Jews would have also probably bowed down to Haman, too. ("Come on! The evangelical idol worshippers are our best friends ever! No one loves Jews like they do!")

Keep the meme alive! What did you think about during megillah reading?

I am tagging... [Note: Remarks about other bloggers were written last year, and are intended as jokes. If you are the blogger and this distrbs you, tell me and I will take it down]

Ezzie: ("What a bunch of Democrats those liberal, hedonist Persians were, raising taxes and wasting money on luxurious parties. I bet there were lots of movie stars and celebrities at those parties, too.)

Chardal: ("Man, I love Purim, and not just because we get to slaughter our enemies with extreme malice. Really!)

CWY: ("The liberal media sure did a job on Haman. As the Wall Street Journal makes clear, Haman's concern was national security, and only a liberal-weenie-wimp would object to a program that makes your country safer and stronger.")

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Wow. the readers are everywhere


Suppose one of the bochrim made a wrong turn?



Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski s’hlita: (from a letter attributed to him, and distributed by email)

Rabbi Shneur Zalman in his Shulchan Aruch (529) says, "It is impossible to serve Hashem either in levity or drunkenness."

One of the final authorities on halacha, the Chafetz Chaim in Mishna Berura (695) states clearly that the proper thing to do is not to drink to intoxication, but rather to drink just a bit more than is customary (which would be a glass or two of wine), and go to sleep. This is the proper way to fulfil "not distinguishing between 'cursed be Haman' and 'blessed be Mordechai.'

There is certainly no justification for drinking anything but wine. Aruch Hashulchan (695) condemns drinking spirits (liquor) in very sharp terms. Alcohol intoxication is an abomination, and overriding the rulings of the Baal Hatanya and the Chafetz Chaim by drinking to intoxication is inexcusable.

I agree with the Rabbi Doctor. Drinking on Purim is disgusting, and the people who imagine that they are liquoring up in the name of God are deceiving themselves.

An old Purim post about Robbie and costumes

Robbie is Right...about costumes

The man who never tires of reminding us that he's in his twenties and we are not, has a sharp insight about Purim:
"It's just that we're told we wear costumes because just like God's face was hidden during the Purim story, so are ours... let's think about this for a sec:We want to celebrate that God decided to leave us to fend for ourselves andturn away from us... Seriously, do we really want to emulate an absent God? Oh, and while we're celebrating the fact that we were deserted, let's get so drunkthat we can't tell the difference between good things and evil things, because nothing bad ever happens when you're [drunk]"
I don't know how to answer Robbie, except to remind him that we don't wear masks "because God hid his face." Rather, we wear masks because once upon a time the Jews lived among a community of Catholics who celebrated Carnival with masquerades. It looked cool, so the Jews did it, too.

When you think about it, the whole idea of Carnival is pretty twisted. It's a last chance to indulge for Catholics who are about to enter Lent, a solemn season of fasting and repentance. Sort of as if we partied in the street, Purim-style, immediately before Ellul, or the Asres Yemai Teshuva.

Carnival is additionally the source of such excellent and wholesome traditions as the Palio (forced races of near naked Jews through the streets of Rome) and the annual Mardi-Gras beads-for-breasts exchange on the streets of New Orleans. It's a good thing the Rabbis we rely on are so poor at history: If they knew our Purim practices could be traced back to the source of such unseemly rituals, we'd surely be back in suits and ties at Purim-time.