Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Ask The Rabbi

by CousinOliver

I don't know why people are sending their questions to me. I have no answers. Here is what came to my email box recently.

Dear Rabbi,

On shabbos, I don't wash myself including my hands, and face due to the prohibition of using hot water, soap, and a towel. I also eat with my hands because I don't want to be oyver the possible use of kaylim that are muktzah. This week we had some guests over and when it came time during the havdalah post shabbos, my guests did not let me rub my wine dipped hands on thier heads, eyes, temples, ears, and cheeks, nor did they let me stick my yayin covered pinkies in their pockets. I don't want them to be left behind while my spirit sky rockets to unprecidented hieghts. What can I do to be sure they get the wine rubbed on their faces as moshe did while recieving the luchote?

Klobbering Kobre

As part of his torah-true efforts to discredit Barak Obama Eytan Kobre tells us how important experience is:
Rather, it is the sheer irrationality that a large segment of the American public is demonstrating in catapulting Mr. Obama, a virtual political greenhorn, to second most popular choice for the world’s most powerful position, and in a historical period of unprecedented uncertainty and looming dangers.

Again, it’s the combination of factors that make the sudden exaltation of Barack as political rock star so clearly emotion-, not reason-based. He may well be very bright, articulate and capable, but managing the Harvard Law Review and a few years in a state legislature followed by two in the U.S. Senate do not the leader of the Free World make.
Ho ho ho. I, for one, am shepping extreme nachus from this. Sure, it took Kobre and the rest of the GOP drones nearly 8 years to come around to the key argument against George W. Bush's original candidacy, but better late then never. Set your watches. If the pattern holds, Kobre and co., will be telling us sometime in 2012 why the Swiftboater-style of political advertisment is vile.

Anyway, Kobre continues:

Sure, we all know it can’t happen here, don’t we? America is so very different from 1930s Weimar Germany in so many ways and Western society as a whole doesn’t exhibit the conditions necessary for an entire nation to go murderously berserk while the rest of the “community of nations” stands by, right? Right? Reassure me, now.
Uh, okay. What follows is a short list of the many ways in which the USA is nothing like Weimar Germany:

(1) A constitution with checks and balances.
(2) A 200-year tradition of democracy
(3) A stable economy
(4) A tradition of secularism
(5) No tradition of pogroms, or Jew baiting.
(6) The religious parties are weak (despite the best efforts of people like Kobre to undermine that)
(7) In particular, the Catholic Church is weak
(8) Aside from being weak, the Catholic Church no longer sponsors Jew-hatred.
(9) And if they did, most Americans would object (see 4 + 5 + 7)

That said, I concede it could happen here, but before it did, America would have to change dramatically. Possible? Of course. Anything is possible. But it couldn't happen overnight.

A Wednesday Sermon

Say, you’re a believing Christian of the twentieth century and you’re transported by time machine back into ancient Rome. You’re walking around the main squares and it’s all pretty impressive. Big marble cathedrals with columns. Huge statutes all over the place, and folks crowding into the temples, genuflecting and bringing offerings. Plenty of priests and acolytes in fancy dress, the whole society rests on this spectacular stuff.

And then you ask what’s behind it, what’s it all about. You sit down with a couple of these ancient Romans and they start telling you it’s Jupiter, the god who lives up in the sky and runs the world. And you think, Jupiter? Jupiter? What’s Jupiter? There isn’t any Jupiter, it’s all imagination, it’s all some made-up idea.

You know damn well that this sacred Jupiter that everyone’s so devoted to, that everyone’s dependent on, that everyone praises and carries on about, and writes epics and treatises and holy books about, and mutters prayers to . . . you know damn well that their Jupiter is air, their Jupiter is a phantom, there isn’t any Jupiter, no Jupiter of any kind, the whole religion’s a sham and a fake and a delusion, no matter how many poets and intellectuals adhere to it, no matter how many thrills and epiphanies people get out of it.

Then you come back to the twentieth century, and what you’ve seen and understood doesn’t mean a thing, you’re blind as a bat, you figure you’ve got the goods on Jupiter but Jesus is different, Jesus is for real, Jupiter is a vast communal lie but Jesus is a vast transcendent truth . . .

That, my freinds, is the very great Cynthia Ozik in Heir to the Glimmering World It came to my mind because yet another of my friendly neighborhood GOP-Jews tried to win me over to his cause by praising the president's religion. His case went something like this: "Bush is a believing Christian; you're a believing Jew. Therefore, you're on the same side."

As I hope Ozik makes clear, this all-too-common argument is rediculous. All beliefs are not created equal. A believing Christian believes in air. He worships smoke. A shadow. A fleeting dream.

Now its true that some of his values coincide with Jewish values, but so what? There are values on the left which also coincide with our own. The mere fact that the president is a Christian seems no more convincing a case for Jewish support, than does the fact that there are atheists on the left. The atheist believes in nothing, but by our lights, the president does, too.

More mail from Ohr Somayach

Dear Rabbi,

Recently, I started wearing white knee socks, in the tradition of our ancestors dating back to Moshe. Unfortunately, the socks don't stay up. They tend to bunch around my ankles making me look like a seminary girl, instead of the macho hasidic he-man that I am. Is there something I should be doing differently to make them stay up? I thought of shaving my legs, but wasn't sure if that was allowed for a man. Please advise.

The answer:
A man shouldn't shave his legs. Rather, if you want your white knee socks to stay up, use a pin. For the proper method to do this, we asked a Rabbi who wears white socks. He wrote us the following: "Get a safety pin from your wife's drawer. Use it to attach your knee socks to the inside of your pants. If this fails, consider buying tights. You should be able to find something that will work for a man at a Plus-Sized store." Congratulations on your growth in narishkeit. May you go from strength to strength.


More unorthodox exegisis

You want to see foreign languages being used for holy purposes, go to BT MK 28a, by which I mean, of course, Mo'ed Katan daf chaf chet amud aleph. I can't point you to the place on the page because I don't have the printed sha"s in front of me, but the words you're looking for (sorry, you need Hebrew) begin תנו רבנן: מת פתאום זו היא מיתה חטופה.

What you'll see is our old friend, Rabbi Yishmoel, once again attempting to win a Talmudic argument by relying on a Greek homonym. It's the same homonym he used on BT Sanh 76b; again he says that we can learn Torah lessons from the fact that the Hebrew word הן sounds like the Greek word for "one."

This, you understand, is rather like saying that Torah lessons can be learned from the fact that the Hebrew for fish corresponds with the English word "dog." Would any of you try that? Perhaps Rabbi Yishmoel would approve...

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Supporting MOChassid

Some nasty commenters were mean to MOChassid, who was right for a change. Go tell him he was (a) right and (b) should continue blogging as he sees fit.

(Actually, I think the only time MoC's ever been really, really wrong is the time he disagreed with me about this. And for those of you (cough Ed cough) who think I suck up to RenReb as a way of thanking her for sucking up to me, which, of course, is her way of showing appreciation for all the sucking up I do in response to her sucking up, see this golden oldie on the same inyan.)

Left Behind: The Skewed Representation of Religion in Major News Media

Your liberal media... (isn't that liberal)

BBC and the Balen report

By email, Lurker suggests the BBC's efforts to prevent publication of the Balen Report is indicative of the network's anti-Israel bias.

Not necessarily. And here's why:

(1) No one knows what the Balen Report contains. It might say that the BBC did a smash up job reporting on Israel. Or not. No one knows. (I expect the report was critical of the BBC, but not having seen it, who knows?)

(2) The BBC itself commissioned the Balen Report. This tells us that the BBC wanted to identify and correct problems with their Israel reporting. (I think that the BBC deserves thanks and applause for attempting to diagnose and cure a problem - even if the work isn't yet done.)

(3) The BBC might have legitimate businesses reasons for blocking publication of the report. If problems were identified, by the Reportm and subsequently fixed, the BBC might now wish to avoid answering complaints about old, already-addressed issues. Or perhaps, the BBC simply wishes to avoid establishing the precedent of publishing internal reviews and reports. (I don't know British law or custom, but I can't imagine a US company would ever accept being forced to publish a report prepared by an employee or consultant.)

White House: Homosexuals (to whom we are related) are people, too

Photo caption of the day:

Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife, Lynne Cheney, welcomed their sixth grandchild, Samuel David Cheney, Wednesday, May 23, 2007. He weighed 8 lbs., 6 oz and was born at 9:46 a.m. at Sibley Hospital in Washington, D.C. His parents are the Cheneys’ daughter Mary, and her partner, Heather Poe.

The photo via [Your tax dollars at work]


Hat-tip: TTC


Dear Rabbi,
A few months ago I started growing payos (sidelocks). Unfortunately, instead of growing in tight curls, they tend to stick out at strange angles, making my head look something like a wrecked airplane. Is there something I should be doing differently to make them grow neatly? I thought of using curlers, but wasn't sure if that was allowed for a man. Please advise.

[DB: What's worse? That someone thought to trouble a Rabbi with a fasion question, or that the Rabbi saw fit to put his answer online?]

The answer
A man shouldn't use curlers. Rather, if you want to curl your payos, use your finger. For the proper method to do this, we asked a Rabbi with long payos. He wrote us the following: "Wet the payos and comb them out horizontally across the forehead. Then, take the forefinger of the hand of whichever side you are doing, stick the forefinger from above in between the hair and the forehead, and push it towards the roots of the payos as far as you can comfortably get it. Then, with the other hand, curl the rest of the hair around your forefinger in the down direction, trying to keep it as in order as possible. Hold it that way just for a moment, and then gently try to remove the forefinger without messing up the curl. Once it's out, don't touch the curl; let it dry that way. Do this once each weekday morning, and maybe once again later in the day if you want (optional), and hopefully it will start curling naturally by itself. "If you ever cut your payos one time too short, then about five months later you will have a growth of hair coming from the top that will not go together with the rest of the payos, at least for a couple of years. Many have this problem. I don't have a clear solution for it."


Please don't ask me why I know this, but some hasidic men DO use curlers, and they also use gel. Further (in Israel at least) there's a marked difference between Hasidic payos and Litvish payos as any 8-year Haredi can tell you: Hasidim curl their payos; litvaks don't.

Another round of quality posts

A query from the mailbag

Someone writes: Hey DB - would you mind posting a request for information? I offered to make a meal for a family sitting shiva tomorrow, and just found out they do glatt kosher, but want vegetarian. OU D is ok with them, apparently, but wth does "glatt kosher" mean if they're vegetarian? Does anybody foresee a problem with curried lentil soup (pareve)?

Monday, May 28, 2007

A kofer's dilemma

Sad. Friend of mine hates Shavuot. Hates it. Why? Because it reminds him of how much he loves Judaism and of how distant he currently feels from it.

Let me see if I can explain.

Friend and Judaism had a falling out. Not because friend had any problem, per say, with Judaism. He liked Judaism just fine. Loved it even. Enjoyed the rituals, the culture, the people. Was always proud to be a Jew, proud to be one of the elite.

No, the problem wasn't with Judaism, but with what friend came to learn about Judaism. In time, and via careful investigation, he came to know the secret stuff, the things the average Jew on the street knows nothing about. And having this knowledge excited him and made him eager to learn more, but it also withered him. Made him feel, as he often said, like Charlton Heston staggering down the mountain.

(Increase knowledge, increase pain, warned the preacher.)

So Friend and Judaism took a break. Stopped speaking to each other, in a sense. I don't know what the break did for Judaism, but Friend told he was glad to have some space so he could stop thinking about Judaism improperly. He wanted to go back to the safe things he enjoyed - the rituals, the people, the culture - and forget about the secret knowledge.

But its hard to put toothpaste back into the tube. For my Friend, forgetting the secret knowledge is hard to separate from forgetting about Judaism. And he wonders if its possible to be reconciled with Judaism if he has to go back, so to speak, into the general community and behave like an ordinary Yid.

So on his behalf, I'm asking the community of kofrim for advice.

Don't tell Ed

It seems, I'm not the only one who thinks gematriot can be silly.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

US Senator Condemns Barrage of Rocket Attacks on Israel

Guess who said this:

"I am saddened and outraged by the repeated rocket attacks against the Israeli cities of Sderot and Ashkelon, attacks that were perpetrated even as the Shavuot holiday came to a close. Yet another round of attacks by Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups against civilians demonstrates an escalation of violence against Israel. The rockets have hit homes, synagogues, and schools, injured many and killed nine innocents. Israel's right to exist, and to defend its people against imminent threat, must never be put in question. Israel has demonstrated restraint in the face of ongoing of attacks on southern Israel orchestrated from Gaza. The United States and the international community must stand in support of Israel and send the message to Hamas and to any terrorists who threaten innocent lives on sovereign soil and operate in violation of international law that this behavior will not be countenanced.

Israel is confronting many of the toughest challenges in its history, in a neighborhood that is less secure than ever. It is vital is that we continue to stand on behalf of the shared interests in security and democracy that form the unbreakable bond between our two nations. I stand with the people of Israel who live in fear as their homes are besieged and maintain my unwavering commitment to the welfare and survival of the State of Israel."

A clue

A question: Did any of Israel's lunatic "friends" on the Christian right say anything similar? I'm thinking specifically of bible-thumping senators like Sam Brownback and Mike Huckabee or even that loony-tune from Oaklahoma Jimmy Inhofe: What did they say? (And why are the people who cruise republican web sites so delusional when it comes to questions like this?)

Friday, May 25, 2007

Shavuos debrief

Some of the silly things I heard around the dinner table:

"The gematria of Ruth is 606. If we add that to the seven mitzvot she already kept as a Bnei Noach we get 613, the number of mitzvot she kept after conversion."

Ah. Ooh

Problem: If the gematria of Ruth was something else, don't you think the Rabbis would have found a way to make it work anyway? By adding the number of commandments, let's say, or the number of days it took the Jews to get to Sinai after the Exodus? Gematrias are notoriously slippery.

Problem: Ruth didn't keep 613 mitzvos after conversion. Many of them are only applicable to men, or to kohanim, or to land-owners. Ruth was none of those things.

Problem: The math is so exactly suited to the occasion it almost suggests that the author of the story chose the character's name for the purpose of the gematria. (I don't know if Jews played numerology games back when Ruth was written. If not, this problem is obviated)

"We eat dairy on Shavuot because Moshe was on the mountain for 40 days, and 40 is the gematria of milk."

Ooh. Ah.

Problem: So what? Why should the length of his sojourn on Sinai have any bearing on the contents of our holiday menu?

Problem: Does it follow from this that the Sages sat around the wisdom table, planning out new customs when someone said, "Ok, we need something spiffy for Shavuot. Who has ideas?"

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Stuff my five year old kid knows that Chazal did not

The date of the Revelation at Mount Sinai.

My kid knows it occured on the sixth day of Sivan. Chazal, however, weren't quite so sure. In fact, some well known Tanaim argue this question quite strenuously on the pages of BT Yoma (by which I mean Talmud Bavli, Meseches Yooomah.)

IIRC the Rabbis say the Lord appeared in thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast on the sixth of Sivan.

Whereas Rabbi Jose (who was not Hispanic) says the great day was on the seventh of Sivan.

Who was right? Who knows? (aside from my kid, I mean)


New York's Finest Mistreat YU Student


Brooklyn student is looking to put the hurt on the city after spending an agony-filled night in a precinct cell just one day after hernia surgery - minus his pain medication.

Simon Weiss, 22, said cops ignored evidence of his surgery when they arrested him on May 9 for possession of two Vicodin pills. Not even a call from his Beth Israel Hospital doctor - a police surgeon - could free him.

Weiss, who attends Yeshiva University, and a friend were pulled over at Coney Island Avenue and Avenue O just after 3 p.m.

When the cops found the pills, Weiss showed them his bandages. His roommate even rushed to the precinct with a copy of the prescription - to noavail.

By midnight, Weiss, in too much agony to sit or lie down, was leaning against a cell wall and moaning for an ambulance. At 4 a.m., cops finally took him to Coney Island Hospital - where doctors treated him with Vicodin.
Weiss is suing for $1 million.

Hat tipTTC

Oh, irony

I've been meaning to mention this since Friday, when Krum first brought it to my attention, but life interfered.

Remember last summer when this blog was alive with arguments between true Americans like me, and treasonous liberty-haters like Naphtuli and CWY who thought the president was within his power to spy on Americans indiscriminately?

It's perfectly constitutional, shouted the treasonous liberty-haters. Time of war. And so on.

Well, as anyone not living in a cave now knows John Ashcroft, the president's own Attorney General (a person many of us previously considered a treasonous liberty-hater) strongly objected to the wiretapping program on the grounds that it was not constitutional. His Deputy Attorney Genera,l James Comey, also strongly objected to the program on the grounds that it was not constitutional. In other words, Napthuli, CWY and the rest of the presidents blind and unreflective supporters were wrong.

Our story continues:

When Ashcroft was hospitalized for pancreatitis, Comey was briefly made the acting AG. As it happened, this is when the program came up for re approval. Comey refused to endorse it, citing his own and Ashcroft's objections.

So what did our character-rich president do? How did he respond to principled objections from the two top men in his own Justice Department? Why, by seeking to subvert them, of course.

Alberto Gonzales and Andrew Card were sent to Ashcroft's hospital room where they attempted to persuade the anesthesia-addled Aschcroft to sign the order. He refused. Reports Comey:
"I was angry, " Comey testified. "I had just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man, who did not have the powers of the attorney general because they had been transferred to me." In the end, the White House simply renewed the wiretapping program without Justice Department approval.
Every American should be angry, too, and you know what? Only 30 percenters arne't.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The trouble with Islam

More beautiful British sarcasm (but be sure to avert your eyes when he says things that might be applied to our own Jewish fanatics.)

Huckabee tries to explain why he doesn't believe in evolution

Mike Huckabee is one of the three Republican candidates who confessed to disbelieving in evolution at a recent candidate's debate. When given the opportunity to present his reasoning it became clear that Mike doesn't believe in evolution because he has no idea what it is. Money quote:
Huckabee said if given a chance to elaborate on the question from MSNBC moderator Chris Matthews, he would have responded: "If you want to believe that you and your family came from apes, I'll accept that....
The truth: Humans did not evolve from monkeys. Humans are more closely related to modern apes than to monkeys, but we didn't evolve from apes, either. Humans share a common ancestor with modern African apes, like gorillas and chimpanzees. Scientists believe this common ancestor existed 5 to 8 million years ago. Shortly thereafter, the species diverged into two separate lineages. One of these lineages ultimately evolved into gorillas and chimps, and the other evolved into early human ancestors called hominids.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

My Name Is Mud Comic

by CousinOliver
In October 2006, I wrote an entry here at DovBear about parents having prophecy bestowed upon them so they can correctly name their children (Heaven forbid their children become different people they are suppose to be because their name was different, amen selah). That post can be found HERE. This weekend I found the perfect comic to go along with that post.
(click to enlarge)

Friday, May 18, 2007

Foolish Falwell

While I'm quite sure that he has family that are in mourning (and my black, black heart goes out to them), I can't get myself to do much more than chortle over Jerry Falwell's death.

I know, I'm a total [jerk], but this guy really hated women in a serious way, and I frankly, won't miss him a bit. In fact, I think tomorrow the sun will shine just a touch brighter without his hatred eclipsing it.

Right now, I hope God is giving Jerry [a hard time] about some of the things he said in God's name.

My favorite? I once saw him say that evolution is like "tossing a bunch of metal up in the air and having it come down a watch." I'm thinking God is saying to Jerry about now: 'Dude, you don't think I can turn a bunch of metal into a watch? Have you so little faith?

--saw it here

Guest post

by Kylopod

Some Orthodox Jews insist that democracy is inconsistent with Torah, and that we support it today only for pragmatic reasons. According to this view, we look forward to a Messianic Age where Jews will have their own country run by kings and halacha, just as the Torah mandates.

Those of us who believe in democracy are told that we've been brainwashed by Western sensibilities, preferring an ever-changing morality to the eternal word of God.

I can tell you one thing with certainty. Not a single person who advances this argument would prefer to live in a kingdom anywhere in the world today. The only monarchy they'd ever feel comfortable in would be the awaited Jewish one--and then only maybe. Thus, they would rank governments as follows, from worst to best:

5) Islamic theocracies
4) fascist and communist states
3) traditional non-Jewish monarchies
2) modern democracies/republics
1) Jewish theocractic monarchy of the Messianic Age

How did we acquire this absurd hierarchy? By the age-old tendency in certain strands of Judaism toward unreflective, wholly practical thinking. Philosophical consistency ranks fairly low in the scale of values when you're a religious minority intent on preserving your culture in a hostile environment.

When Haredim claim to be more consistent than Modern Orthodox Jews, what they mean is that they accept what they've been taught unquestioningly without trying to make it conform to some other standard. But this "consistency" is an illusion. Avoiding the conflicts will not make them go away.

Likewise, working to find common ground between two conflicting systems of thought is not being inconsistent. It is, on the contrary, one of the hallmarks of intelligence and discretion in an imperfect world. And it is an integral part of the tradition we have received. Those who aim to preserve that tradition by rote are not staying true to its spirit.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Falwell's Horid Little Legacy

Aptly described with arch British sarcasm.

Why I won't mourn Jerry Falwell

Falwell's idea of being a friend of the Jews was not a good one. There were people who thought they were befriending the blacks by keeping them slaves, because the black constitution needed the discipline. Falwell was that kind of friend to the Jews; his motives were self-serving, abhorrent, and not actually pro-Jewish at all. (We want you to have Israel so a god can come and kill 2/3 of you after a major war??)

Also, he thought the Jewish people were harboring the ant-Christ. ("In my opinion, the Antichrist will be a counterfeit of the true Christ, which means that he will be male and Jewish, since Jesus was male and Jewish.")

Also, he was a bigot, a reactionary, a liar, and a fool. ("The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way—all of them who have tried to secularize America—I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen.")

Also, he was a turd: Pro-segregation and anti every advancement in woman's rights, human dignity and everything liberal. ("I listen to feminists and all these radical gals. ... These women just need a man in the house. That's all they need. Most of the feminists need a man to tell them what time of day it is and to lead them home. And they blew it and they're mad at all men. Feminists hate men. They're sexist. They hate men; that's their problem")

So, naturally, its no surprise at all the Toby Katz sits among his chief mourners.

Raw spiritual emotion

My sister is a sap. Cries often. I always thought this was because she's a softie but recently I was asked to believe that God had something to do with it.

Here's how the conversation went down:

Her: I know I cried on the way to my wedding.

Me: Why? Was it joy? Fear? Excitement?

Her: This is going to be a shock: I cried out of raw, SPIRITUAL EMOTION.

Ok, haha only she was dead serious. She holds there is a substantive difference between spiritual emotions and the other types. But how do you differentiate between an ordinary emotion like joy or fear and a spiritual emotion? She can't say. And the fact that a clear distinction is not apparent should lead my sister to treat her experience with caution. Shouldn't it?

There might also be a philosophical problem. My sister, in brief, holds that something from the spiritual realm affected her, overwhelmed her and reduced her to tears. The problem is that everything in the brain is fixed by natural law. Our thoughts and emotions are a function of our grey matter. The neurons fire, according to the laws of nature, and we think or feel. My sister believes that something spiritual -rather then material- came in and overrode the system causing her brain to behave in a way not governed by the laws of nature. This is the"raw spiritual emotion" that made her cry.

But what are the grounds for her belief that a material brain can be controlled from the outside? She has none. And this also makes me doubt.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


The Haredim in the audience are asked if the following is an accurate and true description of illicit arousal:

Arousal is not just evil. It's also powerful. Voldermort style powerful. Uncovered knees sink ships and conjure hurricane and cause men to ejaculate demons [*] into existence. Children die because women won't properly cover up. Even charedim who reject this intellectually, feel it viscerally.

[*] Haredi boys learns that zerah lvatala creates demons, and they believe it. Worse, in Israel, sons are banned from accompanying their dead fathers to the cemetery. The reason: If the human son attends, the demon sons will attend, too. I kid you not. The mainstream belief (at least among those who control Israeli chevra kadishas) is that the One who created the world and said it was TOV MEOD also made it impossible for a man to father a child without also creating millions of demon offspring.

Joel Rich on people who don't like Yom Yerushalayim on the grounds that it was established by ptu!! Zionists - Comments: "Yes, go figure, HKB'H chooses to use agents that were not deemed appropriate by some. It's almost as unimaginable as having the saving agent being a young jewish girl married to a non-Jewish king."

boo-ya :)

New RCA Conversion Standards

Yuter has the story

All of this reminds me of an old family story.

One of our relatives married a non-Jewish girl, and after their first daughter was born they confirmed her or baptized her according to the tenets of her mother's religion. Out of a sense of tradition, or a desire for balance, the baby's paternal grandmother, my great aunt, insisted on a "baby naming ceremony" with readings and blessings and roles for different participating family members.

The family responded by dividing into camps, with each camp taking something akin to one of the following as their standard:

(1) "There no such thing as a baby naming ceremony. Jews name their daughters during Torah reading with a Mi Sheberach. Plus this baby isn't Jewish. We're not going."
(2) "The Mi Sheberach didn't fall out of the sky. It was created by men. If this lady wants to make up a ceremony that has meaning to her, let her. Why should we care? No harm. No foul. Only this baby isn't Jewish, so we're not going."
(3) "The invented ceremony is bogus, and the baby isn't Jewish, so who cares? We might as well go"

IIRC I was part of Camp 3.


Is Yom Yerushalayim a Second Matan Torah?

I dont buy it

Yom Yerushalayim

I'd like to hear from Haredim or Hasidim, who disagree with the idea that YY is a local Purim. Quote from The Jewish Holidays: A Journey Through History:
Purim was perceived in a particular way by Jewish communities in the Mediterranean. The holiday symbolizes the unpredictability of the Divine intervention. Seemingly random, unexpected redemptions of various communities in Jewish history led to local celebrations echoing the joy--and theme-- of the redemption of Persian Jewry celebrated on Purim.
The Six Day War meets this description. As such, why shouldn't the Jews of Israel celebrate their deliverance?

Another round of quality posts

Also, introducing the very first Mystery Blogger Series held at:

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Not kidding

Please vote for me here: Overall post.
(Read it, and you'll understand why this one matters to me)

Are Greek and Hebrew co-holy?

Are Greek and Hebrew co-holy?

An outrageous idea? Maybe not. Of course, I would never say something like this on my own authority, but it seems like this (or something like it) was the view of at least one of our more forward thinking Tanaaim.

Go to BT Sanh 76b, by which I mean Sanhedrin daf ayin vav amud bet/beiz (depending on where you went to school) and you will find a Talmudic debate about the meaning of the following words: ואיש אשר יקח את אשה ואת אמה זמה הוא באש ישרפו אתו ואתהן

To my shock and chagrin, Rabbi Yishmoel darshens the pasuk -- in fact LEARNS THE HALACHA-- based on what a Hebrew word means in Greek. He says אתו ואתהן actually means:

אותו ואת אחת מהן, שהן ביוונית קורין לאחת הינא
'he and one of them', for in Greek 'one' is he'en.

The way I understand it, Rabbi Y doesn't think God spoke to Moshe in Greek, but that God's INTENTION was to communicate that we only burn אחת מהן, one of them, and that the way He intended for us to figure that out was through our application of the Greek homonym: אתהן/הינא

Why would God do this? Why would He hide the halacha in a Greek homonym? Why would He ask us to follow a law that was based entirely on a word from a contingent and man made language that may not even have existed when Moshe stood at Sinai. And even if "he'en" was the Greek word for "one" at the moment of the Revelation, suppose the Greek language took another development route. Suppose that by the time the Talmud was redacted the Greek word for one had become something else. This halacha would have been lost to us forever.

More importantly, why is God playing hide and go seek with the Halacha? Why is He behaving like the wife in a dysfunctional marriage who can't ever just say, in plain language, what it is that she wants. Couldn't the Master and Creator of All have just told us what He wanted in hebrew?


Polj answers yesterday's guest post from Ami here.

Monday, May 14, 2007

This shtetl mentality?

Hi Dov Bear,

Old Timer here. I don't post often but when I do post I feel that I have something to say.

This coming Tuesday, May 15th is election day [in my very Jewish neighborhood] At present, frum Jews control 7 of the 9 seats on the board. Three seats are now up for election. One of those seats is held by a frum Jew, who is not seeking reelection. The other 2 seats up for grab are those of the 2 non -Jews on the board, MC and SP who are both seeking reelection.

The frum Jew's seat is being contested by AW a Belzer chusid and SMY, a Jamaican woman. One of the non-Jewish seat is being contested by BP an African American woman.

The problem arises with the second non-Jewish seat which is being contested by DK a very qualified frum Jew, who has 2 masters degrees in Education, has 40 years of public school teaching experience in the South Bronx, and who is presently principal of secular studies in a Bais Yakov school. He is clearly the most qualified person of any present sitting board member or anyone seeking election.

The head of the Southeast Taxpayers Association who puts up all the frum candidates has endorsed DK BP and AW, and has put out posters and advertising backing this slate.

What then is the problem? Two very prominent Rabonim have openly paskened that their oilam should vote for the Gentile woman, MC over the eminently more qualified and frum DK. And what is the reason for this psak? Because we are in Golus and if Yiden who are shomrei torah u'mitzvos control 8 out of the 9 seats on the board, all Jews will be blamed if something should ever go wrong and it would put all are lives in sakanah.

I personally find this shtetl mentality abhorrent. Not only does it have no place in today's society but it shows the gentile community that the frum Jews are divided and have no achdus. With all due respect to these 2 eminent Rabonim, they should stick to matters of halacha and stay out of politics.

What do you and your readers think?

Old Timer

Something Outrageous

A guest post by Ami Isseroff:

In response to Dovbear's invitation to write something outrageous, I wrote, that if Dovbear is showing that Orthodox Jews are not all unethical, superstitious or racist, what is the point of being orthodox? He asked "What is outrageous about that?"

What is "outrageous" is that I was not being facetious. I meant it. I am an old time Socialist Zionist in the sense that I like the religion I do not believe in to be reactionary, dogmatic, stagnant, narrow minded and stifling. Then it is clear where the target is. It was quite satisfactory for me when Zvulun Hammer delivered a speech about evolution that was worthy of the Scopes monkey trial.

There is no use having Catholics who embrace ecumenism and Orthodox Jews who welcome evolution and Muslims who don't hang homosexuals or beat their wives. That confuses all the issues. The Pope after all, still believes that Mary was a virgin and Jesus was God, no matter what else he might say, and he still tells people to have sex without contraceptives or not at all. He still worries about whether or not the Holy Ghost proceeds from the father only or from the father and son, and he still thinks the wine becomes the blood of Christ in the Eucharist -- and he is not getting married any time soon. Mel Gibson is a much more convenient sort of Catholic. You know where you stand with him. And the same is true for all the other religions. Some people do not like Borscht. But if you buy borscht, you expect it to be borscht and not chicken soup, right?

That is one aspect, but there is another one that is much more important for us.

Liberal religion is terribly confusing for everyone else, and it must be confusing for the practitioners. There is no place to draw the line and eventually you get a mess. That is apparently what Kaplan (the Reconstructionist) did not understand. He understood implicitly the framework within which he moved and the context of his ideas and so do you (DovBear). So there was no problem. His followers and your readers do not all understand so well.

Orthodox Judaism has its drawbacks, but when you make too many innovations with best of intentions, any belief system not based on empiricism tends to degenerate. The bad theology drives out the good. So from Kaplan's very good ideas, we got to reconstructionists some of whom may believe in voodoo of all sorts, which they call "mysticism" -- and I saw a charming article by a reconstructionist rabbi. It said that there are two Gods, Adonai and Elohim. It had a picture of Adonai too. A very nice picture. I think we can both understand why there is something very wrong there. Tampering with religion is OK for wise people, but usually it gets into the hands of clever fools and charlatans.

It is not a metaphysical problem for me. I don't care if people believe in 1 god or 3 or 47 as long as it makes them happy and they do the right thing and they don't beat up on anyone because of it. My Judaism doesn't depend on that, and my ethics do not depend on that. I can be a Jew without religion. Others apparently cannot be Jews without religion, especially if they do not live in Israel.

For me, the function of the Jewish religion was to act as the DNA of Jewish culture: a means of preserving and transmitting culture and nationhood. If there is a big change in the sequencing, then you get something entirely different. If you can believe in evolution, then the next "Orthodox" guy can believe in virgin birth and prophets on flying horses, and the reconstructionists can draw pictures of their gods, because in religious doctrine many kinds of "evidence" and "logic" can be given equal weight and legitimacy. That might bother you, but it doesn't in itself bother me, except inasmuch as it moves people away from Jewish culture and the Jewish people, whether it is to Neturei-Kartaism or assimilationism. Once you start eliminating irrational or inexpedient ideas from religion, the entire structure can collapse.

Suppose that the reform Jews, in their original formulation of their ideas, had succeeded? We would have had a Jewish religion without Judaism in it - no Jewish nation, no Hebrew: A sect of Protestantism between Jehovah's witnesses and Seventh day Adventists. Zionism and German anti-Semitism prevented that from happening.

The dogma and conservatism of religion and traditionalist society are perhaps useful to preserve ideas and concepts for which there is no immediate rational basis for the individual, but which are probably highly adaptive for the survival of the group as a group. These ideas may include ethics and national feeling and culture. This necessarily also produces some superstitious baggage.

Once you start tampering with part of the product, how can you show that your idea of the Jewish religion is more legitimate than Jews for Jesus? Read the New Testament. That was the result of the last serious tampering done with orthodox Judaism. It produced the first "Jews for Jesus."

You cannot have your orthodoxy and eat it. If you write "Orthodox" on the label, it has to follow the rules for Orthodox. The nature of religion is such that you cannot pick and choose, nor it is it a matter of degree. You can't be "a little bit heretical." You have to accept the whole thing, as a unity. Otherwise you are just an apikoros like me, dressed in Orthodox clothing.

In closing, if I may, I would like to ask everyone to do a "Mitzva" of the secular kind: please link to this page: Jew, to help counter anti-Semitic Web sites.

Ami Isseroff ZioNation- Progressive Zionism

UK Kashrus Advisory

Vegetarians face an ethical dilemma after makers add animal derivatives to chocolate. Money quote
...makers of Britain's most popular chocolate bars, including Mars, Snickers, Maltesers and Milky Ways, admitted that they now contain an ingredient derived from a cow's stomach.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

She's baaaaack

The Renegade Rebbetzin, that is. Go show her some (halachic) love and perhaps she'll stick around.

And tell her DovBear sent you.

Quality Post

1, by Mevaseret Zion.

If you have a quality post, let me know at

Friday, May 11, 2007

Anti-Israel Jew-hating Media Alert

Those anti-Semites at Newsweek have published a three page article on Truman's role in the birth of Israel. Perhaps those of you who subscribe to HonestReporting and their monolithic view of the media can tell us why?

The article itself is chock full of interesting details about the sea change in Truman's thinking and the role his friend Eddie Jacobson played in bringing it about. (Eddie, of course, was a willing tool of Bani Brith and other Zionist groups, which is fine) Also included is evidence of Harry's inveterate anti Semitism.

Note: Some of the correspondence between Jacobson and Truman which documents the dramatic change in the president's attitude toward Israel can be found here.

Give this man the Imus treatment

CNN's Glen Beck says he wouldn't vote for a Jew.

Thursday, May 10, 2007



ל הִשָּׁמֶר לְךָ, פֶּן-תִּנָּקֵשׁ אַחֲרֵיהֶם, אַחֲרֵי, הִשָּׁמְדָם מִפָּנֶיךָ; וּפֶן-תִּדְרֹשׁ לֵאלֹהֵיהֶם לֵאמֹר, אֵיכָה יַעַבְדוּ הַגּוֹיִם הָאֵלֶּה אֶת-אֱלֹהֵיהֶם, וְאֶעֱשֶׂה-כֵּן, גַּם-אָנִי. לא לֹא-תַעֲשֶׂה כֵן, לַיהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ: כִּי כָל-תּוֹעֲבַת ה אֲשֶׁר שָׂנֵא, עָשׂוּ לֵאלֹהֵיהֶם--כִּי גַם אֶת-בְּנֵיהֶם וְאֶת-בְּנֹתֵיהֶם, יִשְׂרְפוּ בָאֵשׁ לֵאלֹהֵיהֶם.

Take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following them, after that they be destroyed from before thee; and that thou enquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise. Thou shalt not do so unto the LORD thy God: for every abomination to the LORD, which he hateth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods. What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it. [Deut 12:30]

Lag b'omar with the Satmar in Kiryas Joel

Background on the bonfire.

1 - There is no mention of them as a Jewish practice until the 16th century.
2 - It first appeared in Europe where there was a previous bonfire tradition
3 - In Christian Europe bonfires were used to honor saints. This practice of celebrating saints with bonfires is traced to pagan, pre-Christian practices, which were later adapted by the local people to Christianity.
4 - Celts made bonfires to honor their deities and spirits.
5 - The word "bonfire" itself is derived from a Celtic midsummer festival where animal bones were burnt to ward off evil spirits.

Per the verse cited above is the lag b'omer bonfire a תּוֹעֲבַת ה in the way that gay sex is a תּוֹעֲבַת ה ?

Nasty progression

A post about a traffic accident leads to insulting comments about Zionists.

Only at Yeshiva World

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Hashkafa 101

"כי אני יהוה לא שניתי ואתם בני יעקב לא כליתם"
For I, the LORD, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed
Malachi 3-6

ואינו משתנה שאין לו דבר שיגרום לו שינוי ואין לו לא מות ולא חיים כחיי הגוף החי ולא סכלות ולא חכמה כחכמת האיש החכם לא שינה ולא הקיצה ולא כעס ולא שחוק ולא שמחה ולא עצבות ולא שתיקה ולא דבור כדבור בני אדם
and He does not change, for there is nothing that can cause change in Him. There does not exist in Him... anger or laughter, happiness or sadness...”
Yad 1:11

Shifra asks:
If someone is sick, or there is a drought for example we are encourage to daven to hashem to beg him to change his decree. It is not because we think god is deficient that is just the way Chazal has instructed us to act... It is a very commonly accepted belief among orthodox jews that heavenly decrees can be altered by prayer - what do you think you are doing in shul on Yom Kippur all day?!

DovBear answers:
We're changing OURSELVES so that the unchangable God will relate to us differently. Fire makes one thing black, another white, one thing hard, another soft. The change occurs not because the fire is different but because the objects that come in contact with it are different (Rambam)

These Are Your Candidates O' GOP Jews...

Romney hearts Robertson (Its a little gross)

Hattip TTC

Your Gods O Israel

Moses on high, his people having danced the dance
of wanting to see the god who led them
out into the harsh, odd, bright, fearful
fatherless, motherless, child forsaking waste--
called wilderness, freedom, emptiness, or--some say
'in the word', the bite of the word that drove them
out of meat and into starving nothing--
asked to see the face, saw nothing.

So delayed while Israel danced below
around the golden bovine face still molten.
'These are your gods O Israel,' Aaron said. Gods.

For in the shiny bovine mirror,
each one saw only his own need.


Another quality post

Friar Yid: Flogging Dead Koreans

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Sad Story Epilogue

The woman from my Sad Story and her new, Jewish husband bought a Christmas tree this year. Money quote
I blame the Pottery Barn holiday catalog for the fact that my husband and I, both Jews, spent last weekend at Home Depot picking out a Christmas tree. I cannot blame our kids who begged us mercilessly for a tree, because we do not yet have kids"
I'm just happy she didn't blame the discourteous Rabbi who wrote her get.

Hat tip Charlie Hall

Are we better off today? Or were we better off yesterday? (II)

Continued from previous post

Another claim, advanced by some of my wise and beloved commenters is that "Jews" were better educated in days of yore. Here is Chaim G:
I grew up with them as the old and middle aged men in my shul. Trust me. The scholarship of many of them was amazing. They new [sic] chamishei Chumshei Torah with all or most of the Rashis verbatim. They had learned several mesechtas cover to cover before their bar-mitzvahs. One fellow that I recall was even a Ibn Ezra scholar.
Even if we presume, that Chaim's observations were accurate and are correctly remembered he still hasn't proven his point. Perhaps the men at Chaim's shul were the elite. Perhaps they were exceptions. Perhaps the ordinary guy, the man who had no special talents, and needed to work on his father's farm because otherwise the family would starve, was not quite as learned?

And, anyway, what about the women? Woman are Jews, too, right Chaim? And if we remember the ladies, and how most of them were once kept illiterate and ignorant, can anyone really argue that Jews today know more Torah than our ancestors did?

Are we better off today? Or were we better off yesterday?

On one of the other, older threads, some of you are arguing the eternal question: Are we better off today? Or were we better off yesterday?

I've argued elsewhere, that as a whole, the world is more moral today than it ever was. That argument is recreated below:

Moral Shortcomings in 2007Moral Shortcomings in 1875
Some women wear skimpy clothing.Prostitution, including child prostitution, is rampant in large cities.
The abortion rate is about 20 percent (though it's not clear when in the pregnancy the majority of these abortions were performed. Many Jewish jurists do not consider early abortions to be murder, the definition of "early" being the subject of much scholarly debate)Poverty, and general public indifference, create all sorts of health crisises, including very high infant and early childhood mortality rates.
Some kids belong to gangs, and dabble in drugs.Due to general public indifference, children, especially in large cities, often work 10-15 hour days in poorly lit factories; many children never finish school. Also there's no minimum wage, no maximum work-week, and no safety regulations to protect workers - adults or children.
Adultery rates are up.Due to general public indifference, most people live in very dangerous environments, among sewage, bugs, rodents and disease, in poorly lit, poorly ventilated fire-traps.
Doctors are too expensive for most people, basic health services are widely unavailable.
Slavery, though not nearly as widespread as it was at the beginning of the 19th century, is still prevalent. Pogroms and blood libels are common, and the movement of Jews in most of eastern Europe is still drastically limited. In the American South, Jim Crow is alive and well. Lynchings are common.
If you choose to purchase certain appliances, you can easily access lechery in the privacy of your homeIf you choose to purchase certain books, you can easily bring lechery into the privacy of your own home
The death penalty is applied unfairly.The death penalty is widespread and applied unfairly.

More in the next post

People I hate

Oh, who are the people in my neighborhood?
In my neighborhood?
In my neighborhood?
Oh a shmuck is a person in my neighborhood.
The guy I want to beat each day

Don't you hate people who brag and otherwise intimate that they have all sorts of juicy inside information and then refuse to share it? I do. I call those people shmucks.

Ma'aseh she-haya
There's something going on locally that involves any/or all of the following: The mikvah, the shul, the other shul, the school, the pothole on the corner, the crazy lady down the block, the house that howls every day at noon, etc. Recently, some of the local white, male, Jewish residents of the neighborhood got together to discuss the situation. Here's a verbatim conversation held the next day between me, and the shmuck.

Shmuck: Some meeting, last night, huh?

DB: um, yeah

Shmuck: I got home really late.

DB: um, me too.

Shmuck: No I was out until 2AM

DB: Congratulations

Shmuck: We even called [a great and famous leader of our generation who apparently never sleeps, or perhaps resides in a different time zone]

DB: Did you?

Shmuck: It's a horrible situation. A complicated situation.

DB: Yes, I was there last night. I've been reading the emails.

Shmuck: No, there are lots of other details that aren't in the emails

DB: (in his head) Ooh. Aren't you the coolest person in the world now that Dean Martin is dead. (out loud) Nu?

Shmuck: Nothing, nice seeing you, bye.

DB: (in his head) Wow, look at the insecure shmuck. (out loud) See ya!

Who needs kavanah?

Per my Arab friend Jameel, the Sages of the (inferior and second tier Jerusalem) Talmud would count clouds, daydream about meetings and so on during prayer.

Which makes sense, if you think about it.

In our day, we treat the words of the prayers like they are some sort of magic spell. We believe that an incorrectly articulated word, or loss of focus can invalidate the entire exercise. If we do it wrong the Creator of Heaven and Earth won't be budged. If kavanah is missing -or in any way deficient - the prayer is worthless.

I'm not at all surprised to learn that the Sages of the Talmud were free from the grips of such narishkaeit.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Does God guide Liberalism?

Dear Jews who embrace the ahistorical, God-denying madness of the arch conservative right:

Is it your opinion, that the liberalism of the last 200 years - a movement that increased exponentially the world's measure of human happiness, and human freedom, while also dealing a death blow to the false gods of Christianity - was carried out without God's providence?

I ask, because it sometimes seem that you would prefer the bad old days, of kings, and serfs, and shteibles, and pogroms. It sometimes seems like you believe that last 200 years were a wrong turn, and a dark period during which the face of God was hidden.

If you can, please set the record straight.


An Ancient Coda to My 21st-Century Divorce

An Ancient Coda to My 21st-Century Divorce - New York Times

This is a sad story. It's about a woman, a smart, hip Jewish woman, who made a bad marriage to a smart hip, Jewish, man. They were a mismatch from the beginning. And also he turned out to be gay.

Eventually, they divorced - which brought them both a measure of happiness. He found a husband and they adopted two kids. She met another nice Jewish man and arranged to marry him.

The rabbi retained for the second wedding advised the smart, hip Jewish woman to get a get, so she dutifully made arrangements to meet her ex-husband in front of two witnesses and a second Rabbi for the ritual closure. This is what happened next:

When my ex-husband left to feed the meter, the rabbi fixed me with a stare and asked the question that clearly had been bothering him since we arrived:

“Who was that other man who came with you?”

Since I wasn’t sure of the official Orthodox stance on homosexuality, I said it was my ex-husband’s friend.

“And whose children were those?” I didn’t like where this was going.

I asked if this would affect the get process. He said it would not, so I admitted that my ex-husband was gay, and the other man was his partner, and those were their children.

The two ancient witnesses looked at each other. And then the rabbi said flatly, “I think that’s sick.”

“It’s not sick,” I said. “They’re very happy.”

In an unoriginal attempt at a joke, the rabbi said, “Which one is the man?”

“They’re both men,” I said. “They’re both very good men.”

When my ex-husband came back into the room, I felt ill. I had flown cross-country and paid $500 in cash so three old holy men could sit in judgment of him. And the irony was, he was the practicing Jew, not I.

Once upon a time this would have made me angry, as I expect many of you are angry. Today it made me sad. Just sad. Sad that the rabbi needed to be a jerk. Sad that he missed a chance to put a pleasant face on my religion and my culture. Sad that he (likely) thought he wasn't being a jerk. Sad that people have all kinds of tzurus that they don't deserve, like the tzurus of bad choices (the woman who married a homosexual) and the tzurus of no choices (like being gay, and subjected, therefore, to the judgment of fanatics.)

Just sad.

Hat-tip: Defunct Devarim

Let's Get Textual (3)

Rashi Selects Among Midrashim

ויקחו בני אהרן נדב ואביהוא איש מחתתו ויתנו בהן אש וישימו עליה קטרת ויקרבו לפני יהוה אש זרה אשר לא צוה אתם
ותצא אש מלפני יהוה ותאכל אותם וימתו לפני יהוה

And Nadav and Avihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the LORD, which he commanded them not. And there went out fire from the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD. (Lev 10:1-2)

On the spot, Rashi provides two midrashim: (a) Because they taught Jewish law in the presence of Moshe, a sign of arrogance and/or disrespect; and (b) They entered the sanctuary in a state of drunkenness.

However, elsewhere in his commentary Rashi provides other midrashic explanations for the deaths of Aharon's two sons.

(c) On Exodus 24:9 he tells us that they were killed because they looked at the glory of God at the time the Torah was given.

(d) On Leviticus 10:2 he tells us that they deserved death for participating in the sin of the Golden Calf.

(e) And on Leviticus 16:1 he says their crime was that they "came near to God."

So here are today's questions: (1) Why did Nadav and Avihu die? (2) Why does Rashi give different answers in different places? (3) What was Rashi's true opinion on the matter? and what do the answers to questions 1-3 tell us about Rashi and his way with midrashim?

I'll be back later with my answers.


(1) Why did Nadav and Avihu die?
No one knows. Not exactly.

(2) Why does Rashi give different answers in different places?
Because Rashi's intention is not to tell us what happened, but to address textual issues. He only quotes the midrashim that can address the text in question, as follows:

Lev 10:1-2: The verse says "[they] offered strange fire before the LORD, which he commanded them not" suggesting the bringing of the fire had been commanded, but they decided to bring it themselves on their own authority. This shows that they didn't check with Moshe, and decided law questions on their own, which fits with (a) above.

Lev 10:1-2: Immediately after the death of N and A, Aharon was commanded by God not to enter the sanctuary when intoxicated. Why did this commandment follow the tragedy? The answer is (b) above.

Likewise (c) (d) and (e) above fit what is written in the respective verses.

(3) What was Rashi's true opinion on the matter?
Unknown, and irrelevant.

(4) What do the answers to questions 1-3 tell us about Rashi and his way with midrashim?
That he didn't necessarily think Midrashim were historical fact. What he seems to have thought is they represent the best efforts of the Rabbis who came before him to address textual anomalies. This might be why he demonstrates no compunction about tweaking midrashim, as needed, to make them work better with the textual issue he is attempting to address.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Let's get textual (2)

Rashi changes the location of a midrash

Gen 24:39
ואמר אל אדני אלי לא תלך האשה אחרי
And I said to my master, Perhaps the woman will not follow me?

This is Avraham's servant, speaking to Rivka's family. On the spot Rashi comments:

It is written אלי (ie: to me, though we pronounce it אולי perhaps) Eliezer had a daughter and he was looking for an excuse that Avraham should tell him that he is turning to him to allow his daughter to marry [Yitzchok]. Avraham responded to him, "My son is blessed, whereas you are cursed and one who is cursed cannot cleave to one who is blessed.

The anomaly Rashi is addressing here is the misspelling of the word אולי. His solution is that the author of the text (ie God) wishes to indicate the servant's hidden agenda. He says "Perhaps the woman will not follow me," only because he wants Avraham to answer: "Ok. If that happens, my son will marry your daughter." Rashi's source is Berashis Rabah.

However, the midrash he uses to address this textual problem (per A. Botchnik) comes not from Gen 24:39, but from Gen 24:5 where the word אולי is spelled correctly. (ויאמר אליו העבד אולי לא תאבה האשה ללכת אחרי אל הארץ הזאת ההשב אשיב את בנך אל הארץ אשר יצאת משם׃) The midrash Rashi has employed, therefore, has nothing to do with how the word is spelled. Yet Rashi takes it from there and uses it here to answer a textual question, a question that has no connection at all to the midrash itself.

Lesson: Rashi's purpose isn't to share midrashic wisdom but to use midrash - even in ways the midrash did not intend to be used - to address problems in the text.

More later

Friday, May 04, 2007

Runnning from the president

Attention thirty-percenters: Even the 10 men running for the Republican presidential nomination understand that George W. Bush is a failure, and finished.

Upon what do I base this?

Until the final question, when candidates were invited to state how they would be different from the sitting President, Bush's name [was] mentioned once during the 90-minute debate.


The sitting president was mentioned ONCE during a debate between members of his own party who seek to replace him.

Which three?

When asked at last night's debate, three of these handsome, middle-aged white man wearing conventional suits, said that they do not believe in eveolution. Who are they?

[Filling in the blanks for the GOP Jews: It follows from this that the other seven DO believe in evolution. Be afraid. Be very afraid.]

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Let's Get Textual (1)

I promised Chaim some examples of Rashi playing a little fast and loose with midrashim. Here's the first of many.

Rashi Chooses Among Midrashim

Gen 27:1
ויהי כי זקן יצחק ותכהין עיניו מראת ויקרא את עשו בנו הגדל ויאמר אליו בני ויאמר אליו הנני
And it came to pass, when Yitzchak was old, and his eyes grew too bleary to see he, and he called Esau his eldest son, and said to him, My son: and he said: Here am I
The verse introduces Yitzchaks blindness. The midrash gives five reasons for it, at least two of which are mutually exclusive:
(a) angles cried in his eyes, when he was bound on the alter
(b) To spare him from having to look at evil Esav (megilla 28a)
(c) Avimelech cursed Sarah (Gen 20:16) and his curse was fulfilled through Yitzchak
(d) His eyes were irritated by the smoke from sacrifices prepared by Esau's wives
(e) To give Yaakov the opportunity to take the blessings

On the verse, Rashi chooses two (d) and (e). [*] Does this mean that (d) and (e) are true and the others are not? For what reason did Rashi accept two and reject three pieces of Rabininc wisdom?

The answer to both questions can be found in the comment considered Rashi's mission statement (Gen 3:8): There are many Aggadaic expositions which our Sages have already organized in their proper order in Bereishis Rabbah and in other Midrashim. I have come only to give (1) the plain meaning of Scripture, and (2) the Aggadah which serves to restore the words of Scripture to their proper context and correct meaning.

In other words, Rashi's goal is to tell us the plain meaning [pshat] of the text, but when the plain meaning isn't plain, he'll use Aggadah (ie: Midrash) to clarify the text. Are Rashi comments based on Midrash also considered pshat? No. When Rashi cites a midrash his purpose isn't to tell us the pshat but to address irregularities or anomalies in the text, and to restore the verses original meaning, or intention. Therefore, the mere fact that Rashi choses or rejects a midrash tells us nothing about Rashi's view of its historical truth or validity. He simply is trying to solve textual questions, and he is willing to mine the aggadah for midrashim that can be used for that purpose.

The question Rashi is attempting to answer is Genesis 27:1 is not "Why did Yitzchak go blind?" That question, as noted above, has at least five answers. Rather, he is attempting to explain why the blindness is mentioned here in 27:1 and not earlier or later. The answer is textual, and the midrashim he selects points the way.

In the immediate previous verse we learn about Esau's two skanky wives: When Esau was forty years old he married Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite, and they brought grief to Isaac and Rebekah (Gen 26:34-35) This leads Rashi to Midrash (d) above.

The section introduced by our verse describes how Yitzchak's blindness allowed Yaakov to steal the blessing. This points Rashi to Midrash (e) above.

The other three midrashim are rejected by Rashi not because they are ivalid, but because they don't serve the purpose of his commentary. They can't be used to address a textual issue, or to clarify the words of the Torah.

If you don't agree, try answering this question: Rashi made a conscious and deliberate decision about which midrashim to include in his commentary. What does this tell us about Rashi's relationship to midrashim and text?


[*] Note: Most printed chumashim include midrash (a) Avigdor Bonchek says this is a mistake. The Reggio di Calabria edition, the frist printed edition of Rashi, does not have it.

[More to come]

A whole mess of quality posts

Baby lox is back:

Rafi G has something new:

Avrumi thinks gebrochs is worth something (I don't think he's right)

My old pal Shiffy has something funny

In which I turn over a new leaf

I have seen the light, and I have ED to thank. This is what he said to me yesterday:
Someone questioned R Chaim Kanievsky about a difficulty in the Mishna Brura and wanted to suggest that if we slightly change the Girsa in the MB, it would make much more sense. However, that would slightly change the Halacha. RCK responded that the MB was written with special Siyata D'shmaya [Divine assistance] and its like a "Sefer Hachosum" - a sealed book, and we shouldn't attempt to change it. IOW, rather deal with the difficulty than to start changing things left and right. I would say that that's quite inline with what you wrote about Rashi. Rashi too was written with Siyata D'shmaya and remains a "Sefer Hachosum".
What follows is the note of sincere appreciation sent to Ed this morning:

Dear Ed:

Your comment about Rashi having been written with divine assistance touched me in deep and hidden places. I wish to rededicate my life to the study of this holy sefer chosum. Your help is needed: There are many different editions of Rashi, and occasionally the differences are theologically significant. Which edition deserves the designation "Sefer Hachosum?" I wouldn't want to waste time with the wrong version.



This just in: Republicans are liars, hypocrites and phonies

The official POV of the GOP and their Jews is that Nancy Pelosi is a traitor and a usurper of presidential prerogative. Her trip to Syria was unprecedented, say the Republicans. "We must have one voice and one position of foreign policy," said the pundits. It's "the executive's job" said one of my very own guest posters.

The polite explanation for these protestations is that Republicans have horrible memories. Alas, I fear the truth is closer to the title of this post, and here's why:

Ten years ago, when Newt Gingrich was Speaker of the House, he went to China and said "I want you to understand, we will defend Taiwan. Period." This was NOT in strict keeping with the White House's policy on China at the time; it earned Newt a rebuke from the Chinese, and forced the White House to issue a statement of clarification.

The official Republican reaction to Newts interfering with the President's exclusive power to manage foreign policy was this: [crickets chirping.]

Hat-tip Boca Guy

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Another high quality post

A high quality post

The Golden Age Of The JBlogosphere

Fool Me Once

by: Anonymous Very Right Wing JBlogger :-)

This week I got an email from Jeb Bush. For those who don't know, who live in a closet, outside the US, or keep focused on their Gemora, Jeb Bush is the brother of the US President and the head of the Republican National Committee. Now, first let me preface this to say I voted for George Bush, twice. I'm a member of the GOP, and I'm certain that Pelosi and the pander'crats are going to really cause some serious problems.

Yet, as I read this letter from Jeb extolling me to donate to the Republican National Committee, because the pander'crats are going to "raise my taxes to unprecidented heights", while the Republicans are going to "moblize taxpayers against the Democrats' $2.4 trillion tax hike", I'm trying not to hurl.

I gave the Republicans every chance to do what they said they were going to do. Take a moral stand. Cut the size of government. Get the government more out of our lives.

Instead I got 6 years of runaway spending, little kids raiding the cookie jar. [DB: Don't forget the corruption! Duke Cunnigham, Ashcrost, Delay....] They didn't take a single moral stand. They built and grew and spent our money like druken sailors. They ballooned the debt, and now they want to ignore it. They wrote any law business asked for (as long as a good campaign donation or trip to the Caribbean was included.)

And they want my support. Hah! They've got to be kidding.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not supporting the wacko'crats. If they had 1/4 of a brain, they'd just sit back quietly, give Bush whatever he asks for, and let the Republicans sink into their own bog. Instead, they're trying to manage foreign policy (sorry, that's the executive's job), threatening impeachment, and yes, they're going to end up raising some taxes. [DB: They are?]

Personally, I like the current situation. Divided power means nobody gets anything done unless everyone considers it serious enough to actually compromise. That keeps everyones exteme tendencies under control. The wacko's, the crazy spenders, the business sell-outs, the power mad nut jobs. [DB: What about the Democrats? ;)]

Come '08, I'll probably support Rudy or John, [DB: The divorced, pro-gay marriage, panderers?] but I'll also be voting for my local democrat representative. I want Nancy to balance them out.

Besides, who needs to watch TV? Daily politics is better! And Jeb, thanks for the letter, I needed a good chuckle.

Olmert = Bush?


Scroll to "Olmert Report"

If you love me let me know... voting for this post at the JIB awards here.

(once you read the post, I think you'll understand why I'm campaigning)

Terrorist Appeaser Alert!!

Plans underway for U.S-Syria meeting Money quote:

Preparations are under way for the United States to meet in high-level talks here with at least one of its fiercest Mideast enemies: Syria.... An Egyptian official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to speak with the media, said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice could meet with her Syrian counterpart as early as Thursday

Wow, you stupid Republicans sure look pretty with egg all over your smarmy, clean-shaven faces. Here's a representative sample of your wise words when Nancy Pelosi went to Syria:

Pelosi is an ignorant fool who gives women a bad name. She knows nothing about the Middle East or anything else for that matter. Pelosi visited evil scum who are responsible for the murder of Jews. Syria supports Hamas and other terrorist group who have murdered thousands of Jewish men, women and children. I'm now suppose to kiss her ass for that? Pelosi supports the people who kill Jewish children and that is why I'll never vote for a Democrat. Remember that the Democrats and Jimmy Carter have met with Hamas reps. Hamas has confirmed this which the Democrats have never denied. The Democrats are on the side of evil and will help destroy Israel. -- Lisa

And I heard much worse at Shalosh Shudos the week after Nancy's visit.

So what's the plan Republicans? Will you curse out the President's men for daring to talk to a terrorist state, or will your create an elaborate, yet unconvincing justification for it? My money is on choice 2, but as so many Republicans are fed up with Bush, I wouldn't be surprised if this becomes the sort of breakthrough moment that permits the little drones to finally face the truth about this administration.

DovBear's Brief Rashi Primer

Two days ago, in the heat of the very excellent thread about King David, someone said:

Please David... what does Rashi know compared to the great DovBear? End Sarcasm

What follows is my standard boilerplate reply to such stupidity.

I don't know more than Rashi. I know more than you. In particular, I know more than you about how to learn Rashi. Here are some things you must understand, if you wish to understand Rashi: He isnt a historian. He isnt an anthology of midrashim. He is a literary critic of the first order, a literary critic who often spotted the same textual problems men like Robert Alter spot.

The difference between Rashi and the bible critics is what happens next. Alter addresses textual problems like the modern scholar he is. His tools are grammar, archeology, alternative texts like the Septuagint or the Quamrum scrolls, traditional Jewish wisdom like the midrash, and more. Rashi relies primarily on grammar and midrash, but he doesn't use midrash in the way most people think. When necessary, he chooses between conflicting midrashim. Frequently he edits midrashim, changing their language and meaning for the purpose of solving problems in the text. He'll also take verses the midrash has applied to one verse, and repurpose them to solve problems elsewhere. [examples of all on request]

This is not the behavior of someone who relates to Midrash with the wide-eyed credulity of a seminary girl. More to the point, could Rashi allow himself to play these sort of games with the Midrash if he thought his commentary was inviolate emes in the way that so many of you do?

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Jibs on the radio

My friend Akiva discusses the JIBs on A7

Hat-tip Chaim
Where Akiva blogs

(Comments can be an open JIBs thread)

Sorry Avromi

My link last week to Daf Note's quality post was broken. It has been repaired, and the correct link is here.

DovBear regrets the error.

A fun fact to know and tell

pesachya writes:

My great-grandfather, Rabbi Psachya Lamm (for whom I am named) was the first glatt kosher shochet in America. He had a very popular butcher shop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. According to my father, when my great-grandfather came to America in the early 1900's there was no glatt meat available here, period. Apparently, glatt was then a not-very-well-known chumra. In fact, when my dad went to Telshe Yeshiva in the '50's, he had meat shipped to him, because Telz didn't hold from glatt. (!!!)