Sunday, September 30, 2007

Alter translates the Psalms

Maybe he'll do the piyutim next? ;)

NB: In his new translation Robert Alter comes down solidly on the side of those scholars who says the idea of a "soul" was unknown to the Psalmist. Instead, Alter insists that when the Psalmist uses it, the word nefesh means "life breath" or "life" thus nafshi yeshovev in Psalm 23 becomes "My life He brings back."

A bit radical, perhaps, but the case, I think, is made with all of Alter's considerable talent and skill. [See the Slate article referenced above or Kugel v. Alter]

If haj is chag...

...then what is ghusl?


Here's something about the holiday you can share with your in-laws.

Our word "Chag" is related to the Arabic word "Haj." Muslims are required to go on Haj to Mecca and Jews are required to go on the Chag to Jerusalem. The root meaning of both words is circle.

The rest

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Art Scroll Irritates

[First posted in 2005 as part of A whole bunch of post Yom Kippur thoughts ]

It took some doing, but I've determined which of the many annoying bits of the Art Scroll Commentary on the Machzor is most annoying of all. It appear near the beginning of Yom Kippur Maariv: "[The piyutim are] infinitely more than inspired poetry."

Anyone know how to solve this equation?

inspired poetry^infinity=?

Didn't think so. When ArtScroll announces the piyutim are "infinitely more than inspired poetry" do they mean the authors were prophets? Does it mean those verses we read, with their rhymes, rhythms and meters, aren't really poetry, but something else? Or does it mean that the editors of Art Scroll, like too many Torah True Jews in 2005, are poetry Philistines? (Hint: "Yes" is the right answer to that question.)

The only reason the Wise Men of Chelm Art Scroll call it "infinitely more than poetry" is because they inhabit a milieu where poetry is suspect, and possibly treif. "Infinitely more than poetry" is NewSpeak, a way of hiding a frightening fact (ie: that it really is poetry, and that our community, for all it's jive about being "authentic" is failing our fathers, and making a mistake by not teaching our young people to write and appreciate poetry.)

If Elazar HaKalir, Meshullem Kolynomous, and our other leading literary lights lived today, they'd either be living miserably as Jews, with their gifts suppressed and denied, or they'd be flourishing outside the Jewish community. Sadly, there's no longer a place in Torah True Judaism for a genius of letters.

DovBear Dialogue: SM & Naftuli - Part II

Part 1: Israel and Constitutionalism
Part 2: Israel and Development of a Mature Legal System (below)

Dear Naphtuli,

Thank you for your post, which I read with interest. Given that we have been set up to disagree it is not surprising that we do. I would like to explore the subject on two different levels: the first where I simply disagree with your take. The second where I think we may have a different hashkafa entirely.

Israel largely inherited its legal system from the British, which explains why the thing is in bits and pieces. The original Basic laws seem to me to have been an attempt to add a Jewish/Zionist page to the developed common law by enshrining particular aspects of it in written form. The next 10 variously incorporate most of the European Declaration of Human Rights (ECHR), deal with Jerusalem and the powers of various state organisations.

By and large the Israeli High Court has construed the Basic Laws as if they were part of the ECHR. In other words, they have granted the Basic Laws a supremacy over subsequent legislation which contradicts the Basic Laws. They have based their power to do so, rather fuzzily, on the proposition that the Basic Laws are passed by the Knesset sitting as a Constitutional Committee.

Given that the Basic Laws were supposed to add up to a written constitution, the most obvious point to make in response to your proposal is that it won’t happen. It won’t happen because the religious parties consider any constitution to be an anti-religious act, because it would ‘replace the Torah’. Aryeh Deri famously said that he would refuse to sign the Ten Commandments if they took the form of Israel’s constitution.

That this stance is moronic (what do the religious parties think the constitution is at the moment? I always thought the oral law had equal value, but it seems not. Ironic really) is beside the point. The religious will not have it. I believe that they agree with you that the rigidity a constitution imposed would mean that they had to negotiate in good faith. The entire religious party structure in Israel is based on precisely the opposite. Freed from Government oppression the religious parties have sadly fulfilled two destinies – they talk and behave as if they were, in fact, still oppressed and they regularly act like the anti-semitic caricatures of yesteryear.

In my view, a written constitution’s rigidity is precisely what Israel does not need. Let me explain why. The reality is that huge swathes of most written constitutions become redundant the moment they are signed. Take the US Constitution – a document with more amendments than original clauses. It contains a specific prohibition upon being made to quarter troops for free. A major contribution to 21st century political thought and freedom or not? Not. Rather than negotiate in good faith, written constitutions encourage all interest groups to demand what they want, however small, petty or frankly irrelevant their requests might be. And, worse, the pressure is on to say “yes” to everyone.

Which leads me to the next problem. Constitutions are frequently inherently contradictory. Does the right to free speech include the right to threaten lives? Does separation of church and state mean that religious services cannot be held on government property? The framers of the constitution may mean one thing – freedom to bear arms when a far away power is corralling all weaponry into its own hands – and end up with quite another: everyone can have as many guns as they want regardless of the reason.

And who decides these things? The Courts. Now, I have no problem with that – I am a lawyer after all. But the reality is that the Courts simply decide in accordance with the mores of the time and the inherent prejudices of the Judges. That is why Bush’s appointments to the Supreme Court are so important. It is why the courts of countries with written constitutions take political stances and those of countries without (e.g. the House of Lords in the UK) do not. And I prefer policy to be decided by the politicians. That way, when they screw up I can vote against them instead of waiting for them to die.

Yet, your concern is that the Supreme Court already has too much power! Wow – just you wait. The US Supreme Court declares rights which in the UK the House of Lords would not dare to do – because when a political system is not tethered by a written document which lawyers interpret, politicians actually have to take responsibility for what people are and are not allowed to have and to do.

My own diagnosis is that the Supreme Court in Israel does not have too much power. Rather, it implements the basic laws and the jurisprudence to which it is attached in a way which the government often finds politically disadvantageous. The government’s solution is to ignore the Court’s decisions, whilst simultaneously seeking to find popular support for that stance by whipping up the various groups who are on the wrong end (ideologically or materially) of the decision. The religious have fallen for this hook, line and sinker.

The problem in Israel is not enough respect for the law – not an overly powerful Court. If the government doesn’t like a decision it can always change the law. In Israel that would frequently mean doing something so appalling (often to the Arabs) that the government simply cannot do it. The religious can be guaranteed to complain and scream about discrimination – thus getting the government off the domestic hook. Meanwhile the people who gave the world the law, ignore it. How would a written constitution change that? You either do what a Court says or you don’t.

I am afraid that you demonstrate something of this attitude when you talk about the disengagement. This is special pleading. The occupation of Gaza is illegal under any canon of International Law you care to apply. We do not even have a claim to the area biblically. So the Court, applying the law, supported the disengagement. To contrast that with the position of a Palestinian who the government wishes to transport from his home, which he has every right to be in is morally defective. If the Palestinian does an act inimical to the security of the State he can be removed. Even that is dubious – most countries have to live with their home-grown terrorists. But to suggest that entire communities should be removed in defiance of their human rights simply because it is convenient is to draw a shocking distinction between ‘us’ and ‘them’ based entirely on nationality/religion. I thought Jews did not do that. Those Jews currently in Gaza and on the West Bank have no entitlement to be there. They are hoping that the government can tough it out for them and restate reality as part of an overall peace settlement. Good luck to them. But they have lost the right to whinge if their gamble does not come off. If Israel wants to be a light unto the nations then it cannot claim a different law applies to it.

Any constitution would founder in dealing with this problem. The problem is not the status of the law. The problem is the definition of ‘Israel’, ‘Jew’ and so forth. International law would never accept the definition of Israel that you seem to want and a unilateral definition will simply make the problem worse, not better. The religious will never accept a definition of Jew which is not entirely their own and adopting it would finally cut Israel off from the majority of Jews outside. The constitution, in short, is not a panacea but rather the opposite. The urgent task lies in building a State with respect for all and achieving peace. The question of a written constitution is a distraction.

And I repeat, written constitutions do not work. The USA suffers from its own. It has fallen into the hands of the gun nuts, whilst secular Jewish schools are attacked by religious Jewish schools for breaching the church/state divide – a code for being aggrieved that children can be educated as Jews (although not as religious Jews) for free. What hypocrisy. The constitution diverts attention away from what is actually wrong, by focussing on what a bunch of middle-class men thought about 200 years ago and then treating their thoughts as if they were dictated by God on Sinai. A murrain on it: at least preserve Israel from those mistakes and let it find its way forward unencumbered by our temporal concerns and aspirations. I am with the religious here – we already have one Bible. Let’s not write another.

What fun: An article about "truth" that contains only lies

By Dennis Prager, the chicken-with milk eating chicken hawk:
Textbooks. A prime example of the left's view of truth is its changing the goal of high school American history textbooks from telling truth to promoting self-esteem among minority and female students by depicting more women and more non-whites in American history textbooks
Everyone get that? Including more women and non-whites in A M E R I C A N history books is an ipso facto lie, because everyone knows that before MLK and that Betty Fridan women got all uppity there were no women or non-whites of any importance in this country. Meanwhile, this is the same Dennis Prager who, every December, "promotes the self-esteem" of our Christian overlords by warning us not to insult their poor, precious feeling via wishing them a "Happy Holiday."

Jameel asks a good question (sort of)


The year is 1944. World War II rages in Europe. The atrocities of Nazi Germany's genocide against the Jews is becoming apparent. Columbia University invites Germany's elected leader Adolph Hitler to speak. The Hindenburg II Zeppelin arrives in NJ...What do you do?
There are important and obvious differences between Jameel's scenario, and the events of earlier this week. For instance: The US is not at war with Iran, Iran hasn't conquered Europe, and by 1944(!) the death camps were in full operation. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may wish to carry out a campaign of genocide against the Jews, but he hasn't yet.

So let's change things a little. Say it's January 1933. The Nazi party has 230 seats in the Reichstag, but not an outright majority. Hitler is Chancellor, and on the record as an anti-Semite of the first order, but we're still a long way from Aushwitz. Even the Night of the Long Knives is almost two years down the road. Now, what do you do if Columbia allows Hitler to visit, (and subjects him to a public tounge-lashing?)

Additional note: Jameel says that Hitler was "Germany's elected leader." Not true.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Onu matirim l'hitpalel im ha'avayanim

Al da'at hamakom, v'al daat hakahal
B'yeshiva shel ma'ala
v'yeshiva shel ma'ata

Onu matirim l'hitpalel im ha'avayanim

HT: Enigma

[Loose Translation:
It's the pre-Kol Nidray announcement that sinners who might otherwise be banned from communal prayer, are welcome on Yom Kippur. It is based on the Talmudic statement that says that a public fast in which transgressors do not participate is not a proper fast.]

DovBear Dialogue: SM & Naftuli (Israel and Constitutionalism )

By Naftuli

Israel and Constitutionalism

Thanks to DB for providing SM and myself [sic] a forum for this conversation.

I’m going to write about whether a country such as Israel would benefit from having a written constitution. Israel, as I’m sure everyone is aware, does not have a written Constitution. The government is structured by a number formal procedures, Basic Laws, and informal conventions. Also unlike the US, Israel does not have a Bill of Rights that enshrines the fundamental rights of its citizens. The Basic Laws cover some of the rights, but the status of the Basic Laws is unclear.

I’d like add to a caveat. The discussion will be content independent, meaning I won’t offer any solutions or constitutional possibilities. This post will not be an exercise in constitution-drafting. Writing specific constitutional provisions requires a level of knowledge I simply have not obtained.

This post will list three problems, two legal/judicial and one political, and will attempt to show how a written constitution would mitigate the extent of these problems.

1) Israel is a diverse country dealing with the same contemporary problems that most Western democracies are facing. The Secular/Religious divide is widening. There are serious legal and political problems with how Israel is dealing with the territories. Israeli Arabs and Ethiopians face discrimination.

Plus, Israel has a large number of groups vying for their share of the political cake: Secular, anti-religious, Chareidim, Religious Zionists, Ethiopians, Arabs, traditional Sefardim, etc. Each group has its own wants and desires and many of the groups are willing to do what’s necessary to get their needs fulfilled.

Unfortunately, the rift between many of these groups is broadening. For example, the Status Quo agreement between the Religious Zionists and the leading Labor Zionists of the early years of the state is slowly crumbling.

Could a written constitution help solve this problem? I believe so. Written constitutions vary from country to country, but two of the most ubiquitous aspects are rigidity and longevity. Constitutions often require a supermajority vote to amend its provisions and the more difficult a document is to amend, the longer it will last.

An important advantage of a rigid constitution is that the framers will be forced to negotiate in good faith. To misappropriate John Rawls’ term, the drafters will be behind a “veil of ignorance” because no group can ever be sure it will have the same political clout in the future. So, for example, the Chareidi sector might support a strong religious influence on the government. But even with the high birthrate they cannot be sure that Orthodox Jews will forever control the Rabbinate. So they might be willing to countenance to some separation between religion and state.

Moreover, the constitution will probably (and should) require a supermajority vote before passing. Since no group could get anything close to that percentage on its own, every group will have to compromise, if only to ensure other groups are willing to consider their needs.

2) Although I don't agree with the conventional wisdom that Israel's Supreme Court is so activist that it practically runs the country, I do believe the Court has way too much power. Israel's highest court has the freedom to design any right, pilfer from any legal system, and hear any case.

Another common aspect of written constitutions is the delineation of powers among the various branches of government. Basically there are a number of ways to write a constitution but the primary feature of a constitution is that it lays out the structure of government clearly by granting the legislative, executive and judicial branches specific powers, but limits it to only those powers. So the U.S. Constitution might vest the judicial power solely in the Supreme Court or other courts as Congress might establish, but the Court does not have legislative or executive powers. This institutional grant of power should, in theory, make it difficult for a court to encroach on the other branches’ terrain.

In reality, of course, courts often step beyond their bounds. But the very nature of a written text limits the judiciary’s ability to go too far. In the U.S. the Supreme Court believes it has leeway to create new rights, but since it is a written document that the Court interprets, it must tether the right to the text. A written text constricts the possible options and constrains a judge by limiting his discretion. A judge cannot credibly claim that "Congress shall make no law" means "Congress shall make any law it likes."

Moreover a constitution would actually bolster the prestige of the court, by linking the court to the respected constitution. A constitution passed by a supermajority will have legitimacy and a court decision expounding on the document will be granted legitimacy as well. For example, years ago Israel's Supreme Court ruled that a Basic Law prohibited the Israel Land Administration from discriminating on the basis of ethnicity when leasing JNF land. This decision, in the famous Kaadan case, has yet to be implemented even for the Kaadans. Can anyone imagine an analog case in the US, where the Court makes a decision and the Executive or Legislative branches refuse to execute the decision for years? Even the most adamant anti-Roe Senator would never dare tell the States to ignore Roe and ban all abortions (South Dakota recently did this, but that wasn't to contravene Roe, but rather to get it overturned).

3) The third problem I wish to identify is the common perception that Israel’s Supreme Court unfairly overprotects some groups while underprotecting others. While I believe it is an oversimplification, a good example was the Court’s general apathy toward the Disengagement. The Court did not stand in the way of the government’s removal of entire Jewish communities from the Gaza Strip. While the Court has allowed transferring certain Palestinians from the West Bank to Gaza in the past, that was only when the government proved the suspects played a definite role in terrorist attacks. Yet, the Court was fully willing to allow the removal of entire groups of people willy-nilly without even the pretext of terror.

As noted above, a primary function of a written constitution is to list specific inalienable rights and to ensure those rights apply universally. While the contours of the right might change depending on the ethnic group (note the US Supreme Court’s treatment of affirmative action), the essential essence of the right would have to be applied fairly, without recourse to religion or political orientation.

Obviously the above problems are not an exhaustive list of all of Israel’s issues. No blog post can cover a complex country such as Israel. But this is just a start, and I’m sure SM will have something very interesting to add.

Oh, how we enjoy InterGOP sniping

From the Town Crier:

GOPer Thompson slams GOPer Giuliani for going against GOPer Pataki!

Why did Rudy Giuliani, who is asking Republicans to trust his newfound conservative heart, endorse liberal Democrat Mario Cuomo for New York Governor in 1994 over Republican George Pataki? In his own words on this video -- because Pataki wanted to CUT TAXES!

Why would Rudy have a different view on taxes today?

Can you ever imagine Ronald Reagan describing a huge tax cut as a "disaster"?

Is this who the GOP wants to turn the party over to?

Personally I think its absolutely appropriate for the Thompson people to invoke Reagen. Like Reagen (and GWB for that matter) Thompson trades on style, personality, and image. Not ideas or experience. Knowing what I know about the Republican party, I'd say Thompson is a shoo-in if he manages to make people believe that he's a down-home country lawyer, who likes nothing better than to sit on the porch and sip lemmynade and never you mind that, in reality, he's a Washington insider, corporate lawyer, and lobbyist for unseemly causes. GWB, graduate of Exeter and Yale did the same thing. Remember the fake ranch and exaggerated drawl?

Tsk Tsk

Shira wags her finger

Some thoughts on Ahmadinejad's appearance at Columbia

What do I think about Columbia giving Ahmadinejad a forum yesterday? I think it's proof that America is a great place, a place where we aren't afraid of words, a place where we believe that the best argument will carry the day, a place where we can give a murderous lunatic a public forum because we know sunlight is a fine disinfectant.

Oops. Did that sound a little liberaly? I agree. It is liberaly, and in the finest traditions of western civilization. Which is why I was more than a little surprised to hear that precise sentiment exit the mouth of president George Walker Bush.

PS: All honor to Columbia president Lee Bollinger who did not pass on the chance to give Ahmadinejad a public beating.

[Related: A beautiful day for a protest]

DovBear, The Cranial Emancipator

By CousinOliver

According to some, Moshe received the torah in its entirety, including all that is d'rabanan.
Avrohum followed the entire torah. Yosef's brothers even followed the entire torah (re: yosef complaint of Aver Min Hachai). That means Moses, Our Teacher, kept the rules of Sfira. He did not get a haircut during the 33 days nor did he listen to music. He was privy to the information that some day in the future R' Akivas students will perish because they did not respect each other.

Why then didn't Moe pass on a note to future generations, to R Akiva, to teach all incoming students to love thy neighbor?

Why didn't Avrohom, Our Father, who already was keeping pesach, inform the Jews that they would be saved by a dude named know, THE SECOND IN COMMAND OF EGYPT? That should have really been a known secret.

Why didn't Aaron, The Priest, leave a sticky note that read:
Dear Mordechai,
Save yourself the trouble and knock off Haman while he is still an infant.

Why didn't Yosef, The Righteous, warn Jews of Temple 1 and Temple 2 eras to amass a large army leading up to the 9th of Av and to look out for a dude named Nevuchadnetzar or Titus?

Side note: DovBear needs a descriptive title. How about DovBear, The Verbal?

Monday, September 24, 2007

Totally true etymologies

The word "Democrat" comes from Swahili: demo means "no," and crat means "backbone."

"Republican," on the other hand, comes from Persian: repu means "machismo," and blican means "without military experience."

Stranger than chicken shlugging

Here's a Day of Atonement ritual you don't see everyday

Opposite of Top Yom Kippur moments

In no order:

- Selling aliyot (hate it, hate it, hate it)

- The ArtScroll encouraged idea that "[The piyutim are] infinitely more than inspired poetry."

- The appeal after Kol Nidray.

- People who read all and complain about how boring shul is. Will you please kwicherbellyachin'? Please?(This is attitude, I've found, is more common in shtiebles, and its usually the people who identify themselves as "very frum" who think its holier to learn when the rest fo us are praying)

- Chazzanim who use new tunes for the piyutim. Call me an unreconstructed traditionalist, but I don't want to sing Maaseh Elokim to the latest Shwekcy hit. (And though I recognize that some of the more "traditional" tunes were likely Russian drinking songs before we appropriated them, that isn't what they mean to me.)

Top Yom Kippur moments

(In no order)

- Kol Nidrei melody. The idea that we're saying "our vows don't count, God: neither should yours" is charming.

- The first time we scream BSKMLV.

- Yaaleh (esp. if a good tune is chosen) (ever read the words?) (Not just the message. The language)

- The mournful tune the shatz uses for PsZ. Sounds old (if it isnt I dont want to know)

- The Hamelech melody. Haunting.

- Avot melody

- Selling aliyot (I hate it and find it sacrilegious) (I enjoy grumbling)

- Imru laylokim/maaseh elokin. Great language, great imagery, if the chazan picks the right tune it can be sublime

- Imitating (or imagining we're imitating) the chants of the kohanim, as we play-act at being in the BHMK. Like a Good Friday procession, only no one dies and no eternal enemy of the Jewish people is created

- Al chet melody. I always think of old Jews in a barn somewhere in Europe saying vidui while, outside, anti semites are sharpening their knives

- Birkas Kohanim/Hayom. For reasons I've never understood BK makes me happy, and the peace blessing (Sim shalom) the follows it never fails to touch me. On the Yomin Noraim we get the added fun of screaming: "Bless us today!! Make us great today! Judge us kindly today!!" Its childlike, of course, but the immaturity is sanctioned and cathartic.

- The mood of the day. Everyone is solemn, polite and ready with a blessing for their fellow man.


We started at 8 am, and finished musaf at 2:45. Mincha was at 5 and we broke fast on lasagna. How about you?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Something for the season

The word of the Lord, God, to his prophet Micah

[Translation from The Message, with a few of my own modifications]

Listen now, listen to God: Take your stand in court. If you have a complaint, tell the mountains; make your case to the hills. And now, Mountains, hear God's case; listen, Earth—

I am bringing charges against my people. I am building a case against Israel.

Dear people, how have I done you wrong? Have I burdened you, worn you out? Answer! I delivered you from a bad life in Egypt; I paid a good price to get you out of slavery. I sent Moses to lead you— and Aaron and Miriam besides! Remember what Balak king of Moab tried to pull, and how Balaam son of Beor turned the tables on him so that you would know the God is Just.

How can I stand before God and show proper respect to the high God? Should I bring an armload of offerings topped off with yearling calves? Would God be impressed with thousands of rams, with buckets and barrels of olive oil? Would He be moved if I sacrificed my firstborn child, the fruit of my body, to cancel my sin?

Ah but Man! He has already told you what is good and what He wants from you: Do Justice. Love mercy. And walk humbly with thy God.

Update: I like this, too. Its Micah 7, per The Message

מִי-אֵל כָּמוֹךָ, נֹשֵׂא עָו‍ֹן וְעֹבֵר עַל-פֶּשַׁע, לִשְׁאֵרִית, נַחֲלָתוֹ: לֹא-הֶחֱזִיק לָעַד אַפּוֹ, כִּי-חָפֵץ חֶסֶד הוּא. יט יָשׁוּב יְרַחֲמֵנוּ, יִכְבֹּשׁ עֲו‍ֹנֹתֵינוּ; וְתַשְׁלִיךְ בִּמְצֻלוֹת יָם, כָּל-חַטֹּאותָם. כ תִּתֵּן אֱמֶת לְיַעֲקֹב, חֶסֶד לְאַבְרָהָם, אֲשֶׁר-נִשְׁבַּעְתָּ לַאֲבֹתֵינוּ, מִימֵי קֶדֶם.

Where is the god who can compare with you— wiping the slate clean of guilt, turning a blind eye, a deaf ear, to the past sins of your purged and precious people? You don't nurse your anger and don't stay angry long, for mercy is your specialty. That's what you love most. And compassion is on its way to us. You'll stamp out our wrongdoing.You'll sink our sins to the bottom of the ocean.You'll stay true to your word to Father Jacob and continue the compassion you showed Grandfather Abraham— Everything you promised our ancestors from a long time ago.

Some notes

LUBOVITCH NATION has informed me that Meir Baranes does not represent them, or their point of view. Phew. I've also been shown Chabad's luke-warm reply to the outrageous, kfiradik advert Baranes placed in Yidioth. Still no word, though, on when Chabad plans to expel and renounce their Meshichists. Bmehayva v'Yomaynu we hope.

SOMETHING SEEMS SCREWY at Hirhurim. I keep leaving Gil remorseful and apologetic comments, but they keep disappearing. For instance: Hey Gil! I wrote a comment congratulating Ben on the pure class he showed as a blogger and an editor, especially in the post he wrote about how he fired you. I also conceded that you were right about Reshimu being a professional place--- and you deleted it! Why?

Perhaps Gil is auditioning for a slot at Cross-loving Currents? (That would explain the heavy finger on the delete button.) I mean, it's not like I threw Gil's own words back in his face about how "[Reshimu] will be the central place for Torah, politics and general views. I suggest that other bloggers get on board while they have the chance."

SHUL PRESIDENT is not a high honor in the modern Jewish community. We make him do everything, give him no credit and bad mouth him whenever he makes the slightest error. His only reward is the right to make announcements at the end of services, and in my shul, we're too busy folding out talitot and talking to pay him much mind. That's why I gave the job of president of my fantasy shul to Joe Leiberman. Its one step beneath outhouse scrubber. [Note: My objection to Joe Leiberman is not the objection of most other Jews. Unlike, the typical Boro Park know-it-all who imagines himself a guest in this country, I don't believe that it is presumptuous or dangerous for a Jew to hold high office. I just think its dangerous and presumptuous for Joe Leiberman to hold high office. He's too cozy with the wrong element.]

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Gil Gets Fired

Ok, now there's no reason at all for me to visit Reshimu

For those of you who are tired of sports and porn

TV With Tzitzis

Rosh Hashana: Make it a one day holiday

You know, like the Torah says

Quality post


Fantasy Shul

XGH has a new game

Rabbi: Yaakov Horowitz (he can keep his shtreimal but we daven ashkenaz)
Scholar in residence: Adin Steinsaltz
Chazzan: Y.M Helfgot
President: Joe Lieberman (why not?)
Gabbai: Chaim G. (we all hate him anyway)
Nishei: RenReb and OrthoMom
Kiddush Club Chevrah: Robert Alter, Josh Waxman

Could this be a scribal error?

Nah. Not possible. There's no way the great Rabbis who sit on ArtScroll's editorial board would have allowed a mistake of any kind to slip into the text. Clearly, this is deliberate and we're meant to darshen it. So what gives?


- This is an archaic word, with a forgotten meaning, like the word יֵּמִם in Gen 36:23. (I will delete any attempts to tell me that it was really Mayim that Ana found it the desert only by mistake the first two lettters got swapped)

- The charecter is one of those things we're suppose to think about, but not say, like the words "brov oz v'shalom" at the end of the nusach sefard Sim Shalom, which at first were printed in parentheses and for that very reason. Of course, nowadays people say those words, and in recent editions of the siddur the parentheses have been dropped (making the sentence into nonsense) so I suppose we'll have to figure out a way to articulate this word. Suggestions?

- It's a gloss on the word Chayim. Artscroll deliberately inserted the character for the purpose of telling us what the word really means. (Attempts to tell me that the same sort of glosses were routinely inserted into the Tanach will be deleted)

Other ideas?

[Photo via Mis-nagid who I hate]

Karl Smurf

Who woulda thought? The Smurfs were Reds. Funny, they always looked Blue to me.

Oh, the things that slip through Wiki's cracks....

About Jameel's story

[The Muqata: What happened in Ichilov Hospital?]

He tells it very well, but two important pieces of information are missing from Jameel's account of the miracle at Ichilov. First, we need to know how often patients in that EXACT predicament recover when prayers are not offered. If it happens even occasionally, we aren't compelled to call this event a miracle. Second: I imagine prayers are often said for patients who find themselves in that exact predicament. How often do they work? If the answer is "not very often" it's fair to ask if it was really the prayers that made the difference this time.

In short, until we know the true circumstances, we should be reluctant to attribute the outcome to a supernatural intervention.

[Please do not interpret this short analysis as an attack on prayers. I pray. I think everyone should pray. Just"walk humbly with thy God."]

Kfira here, kfira there, I see kfira everywhere

In Yidiot Aharonoth for example: [This ad was sent to me a by a regular reader. It isn't dated. I haven't verified it]

Assuming this is real, some questions:

1 - Has Lubovitch lost its mind? Or will they cast out the Meshichsts?

2 - Where are the Gedolim? How might they have reacted if Nosson Slifkin had placed a giant ad promoting his (recycled) ideas?

3 - Were the Vilna Gaon and the original misnagdim of blessed memory right about Chasidim?

4 - It took about 150 years or so for Christianity to make a clean break from Judaism. Lubovitch is ahead of schedule. How long do you think it will be before we have a final parting of the ways?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


Little Foxling is the by-default winner of the first DovBear Dialogue due to Chaim G.'s cowardly and unfortunate retirement. Congratulations.

The next one is between Naphtuli and SM.


Is Gematria Torah True?

Well, our word is borrowed from the Greek suggesting that no one bothered with it much, if at all, before the cultures collided. And, the ancient Greeks played similar numerology games, and Muslims do to it, too. So draw your own conclusions, I guess.

So fix it, dear Henry.

Spotted on Edgeware (A UK-Charedi bulliten board)

Are you travelling to Israel for Succos? Do you have spare luggage capacity? Due to the amount of chickens used for 'kaporos' before Yom Kippur, there is an acute shortage of eggs in Yerusholayim, Bnei Brak and Kiryat Sefer over Succos. Many large families may have to do without this basic necessity without our help. Special casing and customs clearance will be provided. Please contact us if you are able to help.

Call me a wide-eyed romantic, but I have another idea. How's about you in Israel follow the old, and original custom of your place, (not to mention the ruling of Israel's greatest halachist) AND SKIP THE CHICKEN SHLUGGING ALTOGETHER?

Then, nobody needs to go without eggs.

Ordinary people

The Jew-hating, anti-Semitic, Zionism- disparaging, puppy-kicking, NY Times has an article today about a new trove of Auschwitz photos [A slide show is attached to the article] recently donated to the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. The photos are significant for two reasons:

(1) They include the very first pictures of Mengle at Aushwitz. (I'm sorry to say he's far less foreboding then I imagined. Thinner. Younger. Not an unpleasant face. Just a guy.)

(2) The photos are entirely of SS men and women hanging out and enjoying downtime together. There's one of a Christmas tree lighting (At Auschwitz!). Another shows a group of men singing together on a bridge. A third has, like, 15 SS girls sitting on a fence eating blueberries. Not one of them looks over 30. And as the Times helpfully informs us, at that moment, just down the lane, Jews were being burned.

You can't help but ask yourself: How in the hell? Was it bifurcation? A form of mental illness? Or did these smiling men and women simply come of age in a foreign time and place, a time and place where people mattered less (Jews especially) and such things were unremarkable?

(Some other time we'll talk again about the various forces that contributed to the creation of that foreign time and place.)

Ask Shifra: Baruch Dayan Haemes


Life is a veil of sorrows, innit?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Friends of the Court, Foes of Human Rights

An interesting custody battle is going to be decided by the Oregon Supreme Court later this fall. The case involves a divorced father who recently converted to Judaism, and wants his 12-year-old son to undergo circumcision. The mother, a non-Jew, is against it.

I've been following this story since I have an affinity for foreskins, and because this case touches upon basic constitutional rights. The father's argument makes little sense to me. How can one's freedom of religion overrule a child's right to his own body? I hope reason and sensibility will prevail, and the Supreme Court will decide this case based on this young boy's wishes, when he's old enough to decide this for himself, and not based on anybody else's agenda.

But of course, not everyone sees things as I do. The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America has joined with other Jewish organizations in filing a "friend of the court" brief with the Oregon State Supreme Court urging the court to allow the father, James Boldt, to complete the conversion of his son Mikhail to Judaism by having him circumcised.

To these organizations I say, "Phooey! Shame on you for pushing your agenda when it clearly infringes on a minor's basic rights."

Would the OU or the Anti-Defamation League defend Muslim parents wishing to circumcise their daughters? Is maiming a minor child against his mother's wishes the Torah-true way? The hypocrisy of these special-interest groups cuts like a knife.

P.S. Mazel Tov to my good friend, M., who will shortly be bringing his son into the covenant of Abraham and Ismail ;-)

Yanky Horowitz to Israeli Charedim:Choose Your Fights


Summary: Israeli Charedim set back their own cause and undermine their own agenda by turning every small triviality into a battle for the ages. Like spoiled children, they want their own way all the time, and see compromise as capitulation.

How does XGH feel about Kugel?

James L Kugel, that is, author of a new book about the Bible.

My friend, XHG: how do you feel about someone like Kugel, someone who has both eyes open, who knows the scholarship cold, yet refuses to give an inch on the intangibles and the unknowables? If he another of your famous, and forever denounced fakers? Or can you find it in your heart to extend a compassionate hand to an elder brother who wishes to have his kugel and eat it, too?

A kugel I might like

Here's something to cheer: A kippa-wearing Orthodox Jew (James L. Kugel, Emeritus Professor of Hebrew Literature at Harvard) has written a non-cringe-inducing book on the origins of the Torah. Like you, I feel a shehecheyanu is in order.

The book has been bought, but not yet delivered or read, so for now let us suffice with a delicious quote from David Plotz's review in Sunday's Times.
At bottom, Kugel seems to conclude that, scholarship be damned,there is some seed of divine inspiration in the Bible, even if he can’t say exactly where it is. The fact that we can’t prove any particular passage isn’t important, and the fact that it’s a pastiche of myths and plagiarized law codes doesn’t extinguish the holiness that’s in it, and doesn’t diminish how it still inspires us to love and serve God. That’s a humane and humble conclusion...."
Right on brother.

Josh Waxman to the rescue

Josh Waxman has a very excellent post about yesterday's nutty gematriah, one that tells us all the things we wish ArtScroll had bothered to mention. For example:

1 - The word chet/sin infrequently appears in the Jerusalem Talmud without the letter aleph. Using this old and little used spelling, the math works. If ArtScroll had mentioned this, instead of ignoring the difficulty, much mockery might have been averted.

2 - Josh also suggests that it at one time it might have been the practice to distribute nuts to children in shul, especially on yom tov. This activity would have disturbed the davening (Think candy men and rustling wrappers.) Josh hints that the original ban on nuts may have been related to this.

3 - Josh additionally suggests that the gematriah was supplied after the fact as a way of making the prohibition go down more smoothly. Though Josh doesn't go any further then that, I wonder if the business about the phlegm was also a way of making the ban more palatable. (I can't find anything that connects mucus with nuts) If I tell the candy men to knock it off because their jolly largess is creating a ruckus someone gets insulted. Its far gentler to say, "We greatly appreciate all of you've done to make the shul-going experience so enjoyable for our younger members, however, because of allergies or tooth decay or numerology we regrettably must discontinue it.")

See how much more sensible the reasons behind the minhag are when this extra and necessary historical information is provided? Nuts aren't banned because of how the word is spelled in Hebrew, but because they were once a cause of poor shul decorum! Fie on ArtScroll for leading me down the path of scorn and disrespect with their dimwitted, no-context commentary.

Something To Do

by CousinOliver

I find it interesting that the worlds three oldest religions appeared in history at around the same time. Hinduism, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism. I've also found many similarities in practice of the religions. I am also too lazy to comprise a post that highlights these similarities and postulate any conclusion. But I will provide links for more information on each so that you, the dovbear reader, can learn more about religious history and ponder your own ponderings...
Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, Judaism

Monday, September 17, 2007

A very serious question for the learned members of the DovBear community

My ArtScroll machzir says that many, (or was it most?) medieval authorities opposed the inclusion of prayer poems or piyutim in the Chazan's repition of the shmona esray. According to ArtScroll, we say them because the counter opinion of the Rama, one of the giants of Judaism, carried the day. I don't know if this is true or not. I have not made a study of the subject. But let's presume for the moment that ArtScroll (for once) has provided accurate facts about Jewish history.

Before the piyutim begin, the chazan announces that we are allowed to include them "Misod Chachamin uNevonin" So which is it? One man, albeit a very great man, as ArtScroll says, or "Chachamin uNevonim"?

[Question sent by Anonymous]


According to my handy-dandy ArtScroll Machzor, some Jews refrain from eating nuts during the first ten days of Tishrei. Art Scroll says this is because (a) nuts create excess mucus and saliva which may make it harder to pray correctly; and (b) the gematriah of egoz/nut is chet/sin.

As the brighter bulbs in the audience have already realized, both reasons are false. Nuts do not make us drool and the gematriah of chet and egoz are NOT the same. Anyway, even if the numbers added up (which they don't!) what do we suppose God would do if he saw us eating nuts? Penalize us for sins not commited? Can the ArtScroll authors really worship a God that is so petty, and so unreasonable?

Nu? What time did you finish?

Day 1 - 1:30 p.m. No break. Short speech
Day 2 - 1:15 p.m. Ditto

Fun fact to know and tell: According to Life is With People, a cultural study of Eastern European Jews, our shtetle-dwelling ancestors also spent the day after Rosh Hashana discussing the length of the service the quality of the chazan, and so on.

Annual Lament The Rosh Hashana kiddush-break is an abomination. In previous years, I've prayed at places that finished at 2 p.m and later, but only because the congregation indulged in 30 or 45 minutes of snacking and gossiping. Why is that necessary? How is that in keeping with the spirit of the day? Without the break we'd have been home for lunch shortly after 1!! This practice, like so many other pimples on the face of contemporary Judaism, was adapted from the Hasidim by pick-and-choose Jews who want to take it easy. Authentic Hasidim have a legitimate reason to break on Rosh Hashana after Torah reading. They finish after 3 p.m because they daven more slowly and because the pre-prayer preparation they make results in a later start time. Going until 3 p.m without refreshment is a hardship. If my shul went until 3 I'd also want a fast snack along the way. But those of us who begin at 8 or 8:30, daven at an ordinary pace and would otherwise finish at lunch-time have no need for it. We've adapted it, I bet, because that's what the Hasidim do, and "every one knows how holy they are."

[Note: I don't mean to suggest there's anything wrong with picking-and choosing. We all do it. The problem isn't picking-and-choosing. The problem is the failure to acknowledge it. I have no objection to the hybrid Judaism all of us practice today. What I object to is the idea that this hybrid is in any way "authentic" or superior to other expressions.]

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Should I change the template?

Please let me know if you have an opinion one way or the other.

The Importance of Being Moishe

If you want to read a good book about the shidduch crisis, try Oscar Wilde's 1895 play The Importance of Being Earnest. Pay particular attention to the scene when Lady Bracknell interrogates a young man who wants her daughter's hand in marriage. Bracknell asks him all the important questions: whether he smokes (she is pleased that he does), how old he is, how much money he earns, what type of house he lives in, and who his parents are. She is horrified to discover that he never knew his parents, and that he was found as a baby in a handbag at a railway station.

On more than one occasion I have found myself conversing over the phone with a frum Lady Bracknell whose daughter was set up with a friend of mine. These mothers always have specific criteria they want to know about. It might be my imagination, but they seem woefully indifferent when I try to explain how great a guy my friend is. I am still not clear as to why the mothers are getting involved at all.

I also am on the dating scene, and a few months ago I went to a yeshivish bookstore for help. I wanted ideas, but I was prepared to take anything I read with a grain of salt. I passed up the first book I saw, which seemed to spend many chapters on the subject of background checks to prevent domestic abuse and other ugly situations. That was not the sort of advice I was after. I finally found a book titled Successful Dating, and when I turned to the inside cover, I discovered that it was actually titled Don't Judge a Book By Its Cover. Cute.

I was disappointed. I knew something was awry when it defended a Rav's instruction to a young man to stuff his shoes with paper because he had the misfortune of being shorter than his date. This book also advised against marrying people from foreign countries.

More recently, I got a book called Dating Secrets, and it is more along the lines of what I was looking for, especially its chapter "The Second Date and Beyond." Abraham Twerski provides the foreword, a commentary on the "shidduch crisis." While he makes some good points, I stopped short when he said the following: "Regardless of how much the frum community has tried to insulate itself, the prevailing cultural ideas have penetrated the defenses." This is the sort of statement I constantly see whenever the "shidduch crisis" is raised: it's all Western society's fault, and the solution should be to distance ourselves further from horrible Western influences.

The flaw in this argument is staring them in the face. Western society cannot be the culprit, for Western society isn't having a shidduch crisis. Western society is having a divorce crisis, and it's fair to question the predominant Western attitude toward marriage. But there is no widespread problem of non-Jews finding partners in the first place. The reason that we have this problem, and they don't, is rooted almost entirely in the restrictive social customs that plague our community.

Take the claim that one shouldn't marry someone from another country. I'm not denying that cultural differences may potentially be a source of conflict in a relationship. But to make a blanket statement against marrying foreigners is only to increase the chances that people may end up rejecting their besherte. And while the author was quick to insist that he wasn't discouraging people of different national backgrounds from dating, impressionable readers are likely to use this dubious advice to pass up worthwhile matches.

The shidduch world is full of similar bits of questionable advice, which create an atmosphere of pigeonholing and judgmentalism. A shadchanit for SawYouAtSinai recently told me that some women were rejecting my profile because I'm willing to consider dating a woman who wears pants. I'm not offended: any woman who judges my frumkeit based on such matters is probably not meant for me anyway. But this says something about the values of the shidduch system. It's not about finding suitable spouses, it's about conformity and parochialism.

These values are deeply ingrained in the very structure of our community. I don't claim to have easy answers on how to confront them. But the first step is surely not to place the blame elsewhere.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

A homily on teshuva

[Translation is mostly Soncino, but some of its mine.]

It was said of R. Eleazar b. Dordia that he liked the ladies. Once, after hearing about the unsurpassed excellence of a certain harlot in one of the towns by the sea he took a purse of money and crossed seven rivers to reac her.

As he came unto her, she expelled a gasp of air [yes, this means what you think it means] and said: "As this blown air will not return to its place, so will Eleazar b. Dordia never be received in repentance."

He thereupon went, sat between two hills and mountains and exclaimed: "O, ye hills and mountains, plead for mercy for me!"

They replied: "How shall we pray for thee? We stand in need of it ourselves, for it is said, For the mountains shall depart and the hills be removed!" [Note: In this homily "hills and mountains" represent those external forces we can't control.]

He then exclaimed: "Sun and moon, plead ye for mercy for me!"

But they also replied: "How shall we pray for thee? We stand in need of it ourselves, for it is said, Then the moon shall be confounded and the sun ashamed." [Here, the "sun and moon represent" the natural cycles or intenral forces we can't control.]

He exclaimed: "Ye stars and galaxies plead ye for mercy for me! Said they: How shall we pray for thee? We stand in need of it ourselves, for it is said, And all the hosts of heaven shall moulder away. " [Stars and galaxies represent the luck and the accidents and the coincidences that are beyond our control.]

Said he: "The matter then depends upon me alone!"


Everyone get that last bit? ON YOU ALONE.

You. Not your Rabbi. You. Not your wife. You. Not you upbringing, your background, your training. Not your moods, your maladies, your shortcomings. Not your genes, not the dice, not the luck of the draw.

You. You. You.

So, just do your very best. Just buckle down, and use the the brain God gave you, and you'll be fine. Follow this prescription and God can have no complaint against you. I mean, what else could He want? What else could He expect? The world is built on truth, and truth is discovered only through argument and observation.

(Incidently: In this way, Ed and XGH are identical. Both are doing their best, and pursuing the truth with all the honesty they posses. Therefore, about them I say: eilu v'eilu.)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A shtickel Toyrah from CA

[DB: This is funny, but false, and I do not endorse it. Happy Rosh Hashana]

As you can imagine, I was more than a little startled
by CA

"CA," began the Divine Entity, "You've been a bad boy... "

"Yeah, I know," I replied. "First I made a margarita to drink before dinner. Then some kiddush wine, and after that, a half a bottle of merlot. And the two shots of slivowitz after dinner as a digestif. It's not a good idea to mix drinks, and now I have a hell of a headache, not to mention a queasy tummy...."

It seemed that the face of the KBH grew red with anger as He said, "No not that, you alcoholic nudnick! I mean your posts in the comments section at DovBear! I mean the way you always go out of your way to look for pork and shellfish entrees at the lunch buffet! I mean the way you're always arriving at shul just in time for the kiddush! I mean the way you act as though the Orthodox (or even Conservative) Jewish Mesorah was just a foolish fantasy! Well, I've got news for you, mister: That Orthodox mesorah is all true, and not only am I, G-d, Orthodox, I'm RIGHT-WING FUNDAMENTALIST ORTHODOX! But I'm still a merciful G-d, so I'm giving you one more chance to do teshuva. "

With that, He lifted me out of bed with His supernatural powers, and took me straight to Gehenna for the deluxe tour. The Pain! The freezing cold! The burning heat! The agonizing boredom of having to re-experience every moment I ever spent in Hebrew School! As I was writhing in the uttermost degradation while lying on my back on a bed of spikes, the Divine Presence towered over me, glowing red with righteous indignation."Well, CA? Do you see what you will face if you don't repent and become a frum black hatter? "

I weakly nodded my assent, my mind numb with terror and regret at the wrong turn my life had taken...and yet...

"You know what I require of you? That you immediately resign from that evil House of Conservative k'firah where you now pray..."

"Actually," I replied, "I don't really pray there, because I usually arrive too late, but in time for kiddush..."

"Shut up," said the Almighty. "And you must re-kasher your kitchen to meet the exacting humradik standards of the most right-wing rabbi in your city, not that he'd ever agree to eat by you, anyway. And you must take your children out of that "community" day school and place your son in the yeshiva that I will show you and your daughter in Beis Yaakov. There's no need for either of them to waste their time with "college preparatory" courses, as they shall never attend college. Your son shall go to Israel, attend a yeshiva, and learn full time for the rest of your life. After all, you have a generous pension plan and can afford to support him. As for your daughter, all she needs to learn is enough to get a shidduch with a nice yeshiva boy who will also learn full time for the rest of your life. You do have that pension, after all, which should be enough to cover the tuition payments for your 50 grandchildren. And your wife must throw away all that Modern-Orthodox style pritzidik stuff she now wears and only buy official z'niyusdik beged Isha approved by the rabbis. Plus, she'll need to wear a wig, AND a snood, AND a hat. As for you, you will spare every free minute you have either you will be learning Torah with a proper rabbi or you will write comments in DovBear in support of the fundamentalists. And you will make friends with the Bray of Fundie and agree with him always!!Thus sayeth the L-rd!!"

As the Ineffable One was listing His non-negotiable demands, the rational part of my mind was finally starting to recover its function. True, Hashem had shown me all of my flaws and warts, and I had reason to regret many of the choices I made with my life. But always agreeing with the Bray of Fundie? No! That was too much for anyone to ask. All of a sudden it became crystal clear. I knew what I had to do, and I was no longer afraid of the consequences

"No." I croaked."

No?" repeated the KBH. "You dare misuse the Free Will I gave you?"

"Yeah. I dare. And it's not "misuse." Go Cheney yourself you sorry excuse for a Deity. Who do you think you are -- God or something.."

The Abishter cleared his throat-equivalent with evident displeasure.

"..oh, yeah, yeah, OK, so you're God. Well then who the Hell made you God? What right do have to claim Divine rulership over me?"

I could tell that He was getting a little peeved.

"My Kingship prevails because I created the Universe, and I am Omnipotent...""

Oh..." I said, "That's it? The source of all 'Morality?' The great and Holy YHVH is just another Tinpot Dictator operating on the principle of 'might makes right?' What should I call you, 'El Presidente?' 'Il Duce?' 'Mein Fuhrer?' or 'Mr. Giuliani?'"

"No fair!" sputtered the L-rd. "I invoke Godwin's Law! I win!""

'Godwin's Law?'" I repeated. "Using the name of Rudolf Guiliani doesn't invoke Godwin's Law.."

"You know what I mean!"

Now G-d was showing his blazing wrath, indignation, fury, and a band of messengers of evil, but He also sounded frustrated. "Well I gave you your chance, but now you will burn in Gehnna forever!..."

"Go ahead," I said, amazingly calmly considering what I knew would be in store for me. "You think that you prevail when You cast me into the pit, but you're wrong. When You win, You really lose. Look, You have revealed Yourself to me in all Your glory and clearly demonstrated Your power over me. And You could do was punish me and make me feel bad until the cows come home, but in the end, You were unable to convince me to use my free will to do Your will. You might be all-powerful, but You're still a Loser."

"In fact, I'll bet that every year during the High Holiday's you see all the Jews praying and outwardly repenting their sins, but You know it's all a crock. That the vast majority of Jews don't even believe in You as a Right-Wing Fundamentalist God and blow off Your commandments accordingly. Most of the few who do only do Your Will out of fear of punishment. You call that 'Free Will?'. I'll bet that the number of people who actually follow Your rules by choice and with joy and acceptance is so small you can count them with the fingers of one hand! Nobody wants the snake oil you're selling, and I'll bet it must really bother you! So go ahead! Send me to Hell! Fat lot of good it will do YOU..."

And with that a huge frustrated cry broke out that shattered my mind. It seemed as if all the air in the Void were being sucked out and I was choking, choking....And my wife was shaking me as I suddenly snorted awake. The glowing numbers on the clock by the bed said that it was 3 in the morning

."Jesus!" she said, "CA, don't scare me like that, you stopped breathing again, it was for, like, 20 seconds! Oy, when will that damn Central Medical Supply come and deliver that CPAP machine you ordered? I can't take your snoring and your stopping breathing and all. And when you're not doing that, you're talking in your sleep! And who is this "Bray of Fundie," anyway? I hope he's not one of those nudnik commentators on DovBear who get you all upset. Really, you spend too much time reading those blogs, it puts you in a bad mood. Why bother, because God is really a laid back Feminist egalitarian who's dedicated to religious pluralism. Why read fundies whose beliefs just make you feel bad?"

Well, Mrs. Apikoris is a wonderful partner, and I know she means the best for me, but I also know that I must continue to uphold my principles of "I'm an apikoris, not a goy!" and continue to engage with the fundies. And now that I've encountered the worst, I can do it without fear that I'm wrong, because even when He wins, He really loses.

The Fallacy of Gil

The frustrating mistake in Gil Student's post about shul singing, as aptly noted by a reader named Simon, is this: "authentic" and "older" are not synonyms. In Gil's imagination the custom embraced by the Brooklyn men with the longer coats and beards - in this case responsive shul singing - is better and more authoritative.

But this is absurd.

There is no reason to presume the responsive custom Gil prefers was ever universal, nor do we have any evidence that the custom was established deliberately with any higher purpose in mind. Singing responsively is just what some people did, at some point in time. Elsewhere, it was otherwise. In fact, we can't even prove that the responsive style was the first custom: Perhaps the Eastern European Jews Gil venerates broke with a previous tradition. Perhaps the very first time Jews gathered to sing Kel Adon they did it congregationally. Who can know? The answer is lost in the mists of time. This much, however, is certain: The idea that everything Jewish was forever immutable and inalterable until c. 1939 is the sort of sloppy thinking that causes grown men to use phrases like "Torah-True" or to presume that Moshe wore a shtreimal.

Honorable mention: Lipman tears into Gil.

Monday, September 10, 2007

DovBear Dialouges

Housekeeping note:
The first DovBear Dialouge between LittleFoxling and the Bray will continue after Yom Tov.

A coincidental mistake

A curious mistake appears in both the Septuagint and the Deuteronomy scroll found at Qumran, a mistake which sheds some thematic light on the first verse in last week's parsha. The Masoretic text reads:

וַיֵּלֶךְ, מֹשֶׁה; וַיְדַבֵּר אֶת-הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה, אֶל-כָּל-יִשְׂרָאֵל.
And Moshe went and spoke these words to all of Israel.

All of the major commenters attempt to explain where Moshe went, and their suggestions vary widely. The Septuagint and the Deuteronomy scroll, however, have a different reading, one that obviates the difficulty: "And Moshe finished speaking these words to all of Israel."

What happened seems clear: The Greek scribe, and the Qumran scribe coincidentally both made the exact same identical error, and reversed the order of the last two letters of the verb vayelehk (he went) producing vayekhal (he finished) instead.

I call the mistake curious, because aside from the remarkable coincidence of two scribes working in two different places making the same error, and aside from solving the problem of where Moshe went, the scribal error makes much thematic sense. The final chapters of Deuteronomy form an epilouge to the book, and the mistake makes this verse into what Robert Alter calls "a proper introduction to the epilogue." Moshe has finished his valedictory sermon. Beginning here, with this verse, the final chapters of the book are concerned with wrapping up the loose ends: The transfer of authority to Yehoshua, Moshe's song, and the blessing of the 12 tribes.

According to the Rabbis, which candidate for president is most supportive of Israel?

Hillary Clinton

[Hat tip TTC]

Something to put you in the mood for the Yomin Noraim


The neo-Laffer Curve

Explanation: "The neo-Laffer curve is a satirical construct created by Martin Gardner to establish the fallacy of the Laffer Curve... The truth of the matter is that the optimal tax rate for government revenue is guided by intensely immediate circumstances and numerous, nigh-uncountable variables, and all the wicked webs that make up history Laffer's fallacy, whether conscious or unconscious, occurred when he assumed that simply because two ends of his graph could be easily examined and quantified, that the rest of the graph would follow the same rules and thus arrive at a "point". In fact, not only did the graph not follow those rules, it could not by definition of the system it represented. "

In other words, Laffer and the Supply-siders politicians are full of it. (Though anyone who noticed that there were 31 million new jobs created and a record surplus following the Clinton tax hike knew that already)

Friday, September 07, 2007

The frum hockey player

Can you believe this? Benjamin Rubin is a shomer shabbos 18-year old making a name for himself on the Gatineau Olympiques, a junior hockey team. Currently he sits on shabbos and holidays and is considered to have a fair chance of making the NHL.


Our Churchgoing Friends

Along with the wonderful debunking of the Supply Side myth excerpted below, the current TNR contains a review of a new book about the Holocaust, one that contains new sources, and previously unpublished documentary material. The review is facinating, and suggests the book is, too. Here are just a few sentences from it, dedicated to those Orthodox Jews still unable to accept the well-proven complicity of the Catholic Church in the disaster:

On July 15, 1941, in the first month of the Einsatzgruppen murders of tens of thousands of Jews behind the lines on the Eastern Front, Polish Catholic officials sent the following message to the Polish government-in-exile in London:

As far as the Jewish Question is concerned, it must be seen as a singular dispensation of Divine Providence that the Germans have already made a good start, quite irrespective of all the wrongs they have done and continue to do to our country. They have shown that the liberation of Polish society from the Jewish plague is possible.... Clearly, one can see the hand of God in the contribution to the solution of this urgent question being made by the occupiers.
By December 1941, deportations of Jews from Germany to the East had sharpened controversies in both the Catholic and Protestant churches.

On December 17, 1941, German Christian church leaders of Saxony, Nassau-Hesse, Mecklenburg, Schleswig-Holstein, Anhalt, Thuringia, and Lubeck announced that the "severest measures" should be taken against the Jews, who should be expelled form German territories. The overwhelming majority of Catholic church leaders who had previously denounced the Nazi murders of the mentally ill and physically handicapped said nothing about the deportations of Jews from Germany. Friedländer concludes that between 1939 and 1945 the vast majority of church officials remained silent. They made clear and ugly distinctions between a tiny minority of Jews who converted to Christianity and the vast majority who did not. They accepted that there was a fundamental inequality between Christians and Jews, and failed to use the moral authority of the church to attempt to stop the genocide in progress. Anti-Semitic antipathies rooted in traditional Christian theology combined with fear of communism led the preponderance of leadership in the Christian churches of Europe to remain silent and on occasion to fan the flames of anti-Semitism. We read of the occasional priest or minister who gave a dissenting sermon (and was sometimes arrested or murdered as a result); but these were exceptions that proved the rule.

I remind you again that John Paul II, the pope OJ's love the most, worked tirelessly to promote the beatification of his predecessor Pius XII, the man who presided over this disgrace.

Supply Side Stupidity

The current TNR has a long article on the fools and nutters who founded the cult of Supply Side Economics, a crank doctrine embraced by Republican politicians, but rejected by mainstream economists. Because I expect the article is too long and complicated for most supply-siders to bother with, I excerpt the best bit below:

That fateful night, Wanniski and Laffer were laboring with little success to explain the new theory to Cheney. Laffer pulled out a cocktail napkin and drew a parabola-shaped curve on it. The premise of the curve was simple. If the government sets a tax rate of zero, it will receive no revenue. And, if the government sets a tax rate of 100 percent, the government will also receive zero tax revenue, since nobody will have any reason to earn any income. Between these two points--zero taxes and zero revenue, 100 percent taxes and zero revenue--Laffer's curve drew an arc. The arc suggested that at higher levels of taxation, reducing the tax rate would produce more revenue for the government. At that moment, there were a few points that Cheney might have made in response. First, he could have noted that the Laffer Curve was not, strictly speaking, correct. Yes, a zero tax rate would obviously produce zero revenue, but the assumption that a 100-percent tax rate would also produce zero revenue was, just as obviously, false. Surely Cheney was familiar with communist states such as the Soviet Union, with its 100 percent tax rate. The Soviet revenue scheme may not have represented the cutting edge in economic efficiency, but it nonetheless managed to collect enough revenue to maintain an enormous military, enslave Eastern Europe, fund ambitious projects such as Sputnik, and so on.

Second, Cheney could have pointed out that, even if the Laffer Curve was correct in theory, there was no evidence that the U.S. income tax was on the downward slope of the curve--that is, that rates were then high enough that tax cuts would produce higher revenue.

But Cheney did not say either of these things. Perhaps, in retrospect, this was due to something deep in Cheney's character that makes him unusually susceptible to theories or purported data that confirm his own ideological predilections. (You can almost picture Donald Rumsfeld, years later, scrawling a diagram for Cheney on a cocktail napkin showing that only a small number of troops would be needed to occupy Iraq.) In any event, Cheney apparently found the Laffer Curve a revelation, for it presented in a simple, easily digestible form the messianic power of tax cuts.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Luciano Pavarotti has passed away.

I didn't realize he had been sick.

ברוך דיין האמת (=God, not Pavarotti)

Unconditional love... or I've received a promise so did you

The word of the Lord, God to the prophet Isaiah

Sing, barren woman, who has never had a baby.
Fill the air with song, you who've never been in labor!
You'll have far more children than all those childbearing women." God says so!

"Clear lots of ground for your tents! Make your tents large. Spread out! Think big! Use plenty of rope, drive the tent pegs deep. You're going to need lots of elbow room for your family.(You're going to take over whole nations; you're going to resettle abandoned cities.)

Don't be afraid—you're not going to be embarrassed.
Don't hold back—you're not going to come up short.
You'll forget all about the humiliations of your youth, and the indignities of being a widow will fade from memory. For your Maker is your bridegroom, his name, God-of Hosts!
Your Redeemer is The Holy of Israel, known as God of the whole earth.

You were like an abandoned wife, devastated with grief, and God welcomed you back, the wife of your youth can't ever be rejected," says your God.

Your Redeemer God says:
"I left you, but only for a fleeting moment. Now, with enormous compassion, I'm bringing you back.

In an outburst of anger I turned my back on you— but only for a moment.I t's with lasting love that I'm tenderly caring for you.

This is just like the days of Noah for me: I promised then that the waters of Noah would never again flood the earth. I'm promising now no more anger, no more rebuke.

For even if the mountains walk away and the hills fall to pieces, My love won't walk away from you, my covenant commitment of peace won't fall apart."

The God who has compassion on you says so.

Its loads better in the original Hebrew but I think this translation (adapted from the Message) does it justice.

The original charge to Abraham: Be like the gentiles

The preponderance of the archaeological evidence suggests that circumcision was practiced among several Semitic people, and at least in the Egyptian priestly class. By our lights, circumcision sets us apart and marks us as different. Given the discoveries of archaeologists, is it possible God wanted the very opposite from his first servant?

Blurring the line between God and Jesus

What is it about frum people and their chronic inability to recognize Christian belief for what it is? I think the root of this phenomenon is that religious people become woefully uncritical when another person's faith is being discussed. We see it all the time at Cross-loving Currents, where a gay, hypocrite, Christian adulterer was lauded and praised by the very same people who routinely shove sticks into the eyes of left leaning Jews. And we saw it again today, from Gil Student:
[The publication of Mother Theresa's letters] created a scandal not, unfortunately, because of the circumstances by which they became public but because in them she confesses an almost complete lack of feeling of God's presence. She comes across as depressed, feeling abandoned by God and at times even questioning His existence.
However, as Gil knows, yet purposely obscures, Mother Theresa didn't reject God. Not exactly. She rejected Jesus. That's a sloppy mistake, especially for a guy like Gil.

How we know Gil Student is full of it

A few clues:

(1) For the last three years Gil has carefuly excluded most bloggers from his sidebar. I was never listed. Neither was GH, OrthoMom, RenReb, Shmarya, JewSchool, Jewlicious, and a host of other relevant, popular bloggers. Behind the scenes, Gil's always been friendly to me. Once, a long time ago, I asked him why I'm banned from his blogroll. I don't remember his exact words, but I believe he said something sanctimonoius about being unwilling to endorse the sort of freewheeling, occasionally-over-the-line discussion I do here. He may have mentioned pritzus and kfira, too. All well and good, and kol hakovod, only now Gil has climbed into bed with (a) a pornographer, (b) at least one hidden-in-plain-site kofer and (c) Ben Atlas.

[Update: SoccerDad has reminded me (in the comments) that a few years back Gil included this blog on his list of "Blogs a Rabbi Must Follow." Though it wasn't clear he necessarily meant it as a compliment, I viewed it generously and continue to view it generously and at the time I expressed sincere appreciation. However, the point remains that Gil has always kept me (and most other blogs) at arm's length and the reason he always gave was that our behavior and style couldn't be endorsed. So how does he justify joining up with Rishimu?]

(2) He is laboriously trying to convince his readers (and possibly his own good self) that an ordinary group blog/agregator is the cutting-edge-future of the Internet. Yet, we know he doesn't really believe this, because he's also said "If I don't close [Hirhurim] no one will go to Reshimu." Why would the next, best thing's success hinge on the disappearance of the competition?

(3) He has seems to have bought into the claim that Rishimo will be a place where all types of Jews will be able to talk to each other. This is asburd on the face. How can Jews talk to each other if they are going to be subjected to the chilling effect of registration and moderation?

Anyway, the place where contemporary Jews talk to each other already exists. The place is called DovBear. Here you'll find kofrim and maamin interacting, and not just on the comments but on the site itself. The commenting community includes a Conservative Apikorus, a witch, several avrechim from Lakewood, Ed, Yona Lazar, prim Jewish mothers, apikorsim, skeptics, Jews by choice, FFBs, and much, much more. The whole cholent of contemporary Judaism is here, welcomed, unmoderated and free to say their piece.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Two things

(1) Hitchens Takes on Mother Teresa
Apparently Mother T was a closet kofer. Wonder how many of our saints and Rabbis have experienced similar doubts?

(2) This happened in Texas, but it could have been Boro Park
Be honest: When your kids tell you that the moon was once-upon-a-time as large as the sun do you
(a) Roll your eyes?
(b) Make a large, appreciative donation to the kid's school?
(c) Mutter under your breath?
(d) Remind them that the Torah does not it fact say that; therefore, they aren't obligated to believe it?

The DovBear Dialogues Part 2

The DovBear Dialogues continue

Part 1

Dear Bray,

Thank you for your letter. Your words clearly come from your heart and they have entered mine. I found your letter, both its content and style, to be deeply moving.

But, I don't care. As far as I am concerned, emotions have no place in evaluating the truth of Judaism. The huge and undeniable biases that plague all religious people renders any attempt to give an emotional argument for OJ completely absurd. I will therefore reply to your letter on a purely rational plane.

To me, it seems, that your letter can essentially be broken into three parts.
Point 1 – Strong and incontrovertible evidence for TMS does not exist, nor is not needed.
Point 2 – Judaism demonstrates a higher moral ethic than other faiths or atheism.
Point 3 – The higher ethical standard of Jews suggests TMS.

Space prohibits a thorough analysis of all these points, so I will limit myself to a brief sketch of what obstacles I believe your approach needs to overcome.

Point 1 – I must confess that to me the opposite of what you write seems true. I suggest that, for any given hypothesis, the standard of evidence we demand is dependent on three things:

i. how remarkable, a priori, the claim is. Every single observation we have ever recorded supports the supremacy of natural law, and so your hypothesis, which rejects natural law, is by definition the most remarkable claim possible.

ii. how much evidence, a priori, we expect the hypothesis to generate. To this your argument of "bechirah" is pertinent. You claim that the God hypothesis shouldn't produce evidence since God chooses to conceal himself. But, this runs entirely contrary to the OJ tradition which is of a God who seeks to reveal himself whenever possible. See for example Ex 7:5, 9:16, 14:4, 14:18, 16:6, 16:7, Nu 14:34, 16:30 Judges 6:17-19, 6:36-40, 7:14 I Kings 18:37 Ezekiel 6:13, 7:4, 7:9, 11:10, 11:12, 12:20, 13:9, 13:14. But, I must emphasize that the above is really a very very small subset of the these type of verses. Space & my time prevents a complete list. There are certainly hundreds of such verses in the O.T.

But, beyond that, the picture OJ paints is one of a God who interacts with the world in a way that should leave much evidence. He freely violates nature (I counted 38 times in Kings alone). He has many prophets (over 100 prophets in the generation of Elijah alone). He performed 10 miracles, some of them daily, in the temple in Jerusalem. He rewards the righteous, punishes the wicked and responds to prayer. He involves himself in nature in ways that should leave physical, geological, cosmological, chemical, biological, archeological, and historical evidence. All of the above suggests a God who leaves much evidence.

iii. I demand a higher standard of evidence when I am wary of trusting someone. All of us, myself included, have intense psychological, sociological, and emotional investments in OJ. We should thus be wary of trusting ourselves and demand a higher standard of evidence. The high correlation between religion of birth and chosen religion highlights the great need for evidence skepticism here.

Point 2 –Jews are morally superior to the other nations. To this you offer two proofs:
i. nationally, we are superior – no programs or genocide.
ii. the common folk are morally superior – they engage in tzedakah.

To i: As you yourself note, that the Jews didn't engage in genocide in the middle ages proves nothing since they had not the means to do so. That they didn't engage in genocide in the Biblical era isn't remotely true, at least according to the Bible (e.g. Deut 2:34 Josh 6:21 I Samuel 15:8 I Kings 11:15 and countless other verses). It is true that modern Israel has an exemplary human rights record, but so do most western liberal democracies since 1948. Moreover, Israel is a secular country and its human rights record has nothing to do with Judaism. The human rights record of the religious Zionist movement is appalling (at least in terms of what they advocate, thankfully, they don't have the political power to carry out what they advocate).

To ii: (and this applies to i as well). I won't disagree with you that the frum community has done some pretty remarkable things. But, so have many other faith communities. On what basis did you conclude that Jews are better than non Jews? Did you go around visiting all the Christian charities?

Point 3 – the moral superiority of the Jews implies the truth of OJ.

This is a total non sequitur. The truth of OJ is neither necessary nor sufficient to explain the behavior of OJ's. Suppose I tell you that there's a diamond buried in your backyard and you go dig for the diamond. Does your digging imply that the diamond exists? Of course not. Your actions are dictated by what you think is real, not by reality itself.

Ocher Yisrael

More on Gil and his big move

The following is an excerpt from an email exchange between me and a top blogger. Reprinted with permission.

First off, going into Reshimu brings certain benefits to Gil that he otherwise wouldn't have

1. He no longer has to blog every single day, as traffic is going to the main site, not to him.
So what? The very excellent OrthoMom no longer blogs every day, or anything close to it, and she kept her traffic.

2. He is looking for that more "professional" look. Not to be some "stam blogger. Of course that is very establishment and not Web 2.0 at all.

3. (I think) he now writes his blog in large part not to promote his own ideas, but to promote himself, and his publishing house and books. I presume he sees this as a way of building a larger audience for that.
He's not right.

4. If it takes off and becomes a great big portal, then he was in on it at the beginning and will make money.
It might prove to be a successful blogging venture, but it won't explode because the audience simply isn't large enough. Blogs that make real money draw MILLIONS of hits per week. MILLIONS. The largest Jblogger gets about 20 thousand.

5. He no longer needs to censor and control the comments, as "they" will do it for him.
Yes, he's a big scardy-cat when it comes to that, and this helps.


1. He may no longer keep his readership as people may not be interested in the effort to move.
His own comments are running 99-1 against the move. Many of the protesters say they aren't going to follow him.

2. Reshimu (at the moment) looks and acts just like technorati and other blog aggregators.
Its also like half a dozen other Jewish sites that already exist.

Reshimu's advantage (for themselves) is that you have to close your blog to be included (and why is that a good thing?).
Its not a good thing for the blogger at all.

3. People may not be as interested in commenting if you have to sign up first and can't post anonymously. Where's the free flow of ideas?
Well, Gil's not really interested in the free flow of ideas. Not really. And again many of his own commenters have raised this objection. Registering sucks. Only a frightened, control freak would demand it.

4. Luke Ford!
You know, I don't have any problem with Luke. (click and scroll down)

5. People read group blogs because of the simple format, consistency, and that it is not a magazine. I can read the JP op-ed/blog sections if I want a bunch of different opinion pieces all on one page.
You can already use your mouse and click among different bloggers and writers if you want a variety of opinion, which is exactly what you'll do at Rishimu. What's the difference between clicking a mouse within a site and clicking a mouse between sites?

Now if they were doing head-to-heads that could be interesting. "Porn is Bad, but Luke is Great" by Gil vs. "Porn is Good, Gossip is Great" by Luke Ford. That would be Web 2.0.
See the DovBear Dialogues. Exactly what you describe is already happening on my non-cowardly, no registration required, old fashioned blog.

Whats the difference between Rishimu and JewSchool?

Whats the difference between Rishimu and JewSchool?

Essentially nothing. I mean sure, the guy who owns JewSchool posseses non-offensive politics, manners, and a sense of fair play. And yes, that's a difference. But when it comes down to how the blogs are organized the new webmagazine Gil is lauding as the "thee next generation of the online Jewish conversation" is just another group blog.

MEANWHILE Gil's community continues to strongly oppose Hirhurim's change of venue. His readers don't like Luke Ford. They don't like Ben Atlas. They don't want to learn how to navigate a new blog. They hate the idea of registering. They know their comments will be moderated.

After this all blows over, here's the comment we'll be remembering in a few months time:

Who wants to host the Reshimu death pool? You can take sideline bets on when Gil scurries back. Six months is the long bet.
Anonymous 09.04.07 - 4:53 pm

UPDATE: Does Gil really believe in Rishimu ior is it all about the Benjamins?

Here's his latest:

If I don't close this blog, no one will go to Reshimu.
Gil Homepage 09.05.07 - 10:53 am #

Now that's a KILLER argument for Reshimu being the unavoidable future of blogging! Its such a fabulous site that NO ONE WILL GO unless Gil submits.

And another excellent comment:

Gil: "I suggest that other bloggers get on board while they have the chance."

Oooh, sounds scary. Personally, I suggest that other bloggers give Reshimu a wide berth. Too many chabadskers and other bloggers of dubious origins. And a porn king too! Maybe they should call it 'Hirhurim', if you know what I mean.
Anon 09.05.07 - 12:09 pm #

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Paper bag Jews

There is a popular belief that African Americans used to have clubs excluding blacks with skin darker than a brown paper bag. Jewish racism has a similar quality. It always ends up impacting other Jews, as we saw from the recent controversy over Yated Ne'eman's comments on Yemenite Jews.

Two weeks ago I needed something to read when waiting for my brother's mother-in-law at the airport, so I went to the library and grabbed a book--Melanie Kaye Kantrowitz's The Colors of Jews, about nonwhite Jews. I posted my thoughts about this book on my blog. Only a few days later, DB happened to post a video about an African American shul run by R' Capers Funnye, one of the people interviewed in the book.

Though the shul has a nominally Orthodox look and a basic Ashkenazic service, most of the congregants are so-called "Hebrew Israelites" who claim descent from a black Yaakov Avinu. I first heard about this group in a book called Black Zion, where one of the leaders expressed agnosticism about the Protocols for the Elders of Zion. I assumed they were simply an African American variant on the Christian Identity Movement. "We're more Jewish than the Jews" is an old anti-Semitic theme. It turns out that at least a few of them have converted to Judaism.

In the comments, Micha cited a Mishna alluding to the skin color of ancient Jews. Discussing the visibility of tzaraas, Negaim 2:1 suggests that Bnei Yisrael's skin was like that of a boxwood tree, neither black nor white but some shade in between. (I'm curious what boxwood looks like.) This Mishna seems to imply, further, that there were both black and white converts.

The discussion heated up when a guy named Baruch left the following comment: "How can someone who is black truly be Jewish?" Only after Miriam and I loudly protested did he start to back down, but not before telling a story about when he was in yeshiva thirty years ago and a teacher instructed a black custodian not to read from the Mahzor because it would "render our books unkosher." Hearing the story, a Christian poster named Jesse expressed surprise that Jews could be so racist. Well, he's got a lot to learn.

Is it unwise for me to discuss frum racism on a public forum? Forget about Noah Feldman for the moment. I'm not talking about theological discussions on the halachic status of goyim. I'm talking about anti-black attitudes that reflect far more the cloistered lifestyle of most frum people than anything in halacha. Ed will tell you that when he teaches his children "Don't be like the shvartzes," he isn't talking about skin color. He's talking about, say, men who have children with four different women. (So Yaakov Avinu was black after all!) Therefore, black Jews like Miriam need not get upset. I suppose that Ed would be perfectly okay with a Christian who taught his children "Don't be like the heebs," as long as he assured us he wasn't talking about Orthodox Jews but about the ones who run Hollywood.

This has very little to do with theology. It has to do with simple, backwards ignorance.