Monday, December 31, 2007

Why is Avi Shafran so frightened of blogs?

The Yeshiva World - Frum Jewish News

Why is Avi Shafran so frightened of blogs? In his latest long-winded diatribe he compares them to crime-ridden neighborhoods, and suggests blog-authors are little better than the mentally-deranged street-corner prophets you see on soap-boxes in public parks. Ok, fine: so why the blatant panic? His most recent warning against blogs runs more than 500 words -- and this is hardly the first time R' Shafran has sounded the alarm. Strange, no? I can't recall ever seeing a amous writer publish a warning, let alone a series of warnings, against listening to schizophrenics. If bloggers really were the lunatics Avi says we are, why isn't he trusting the readers to recognize this on their own?

So is says here that Avi is lying. No about hating blogs, of course, but the anti-blog arguments he offers are curely bogus. Take loshon hara for example. Avi insists blogs are evil because they drip with character assassination, but if loshon hara was quite the bane Avi says,, I don't think he'd appear on a blog (Cross Currents) that makes almost a weekly habit of slandering left-leaning and irreligious Jews. Nor would I expect Avi to let himself become quite so unreasonable when the subject turns to Eric Yoffee and the reform movement if he was the sort of honest defender of pure speech he portrays himself to be.

I've never had the pleasure of interviewing the man so this is speculative, but I suppose Avi draws a distinction between his own speech and the work of bloggers. I expect he'll say his bad-mouthing of anyone to his left is done l'shem shamayim. A greater good is being served, he'll say.

Well, guess what?

We bloggers take the same position about our own work. When we point out that the Orthodox Judaism we treasure has allowed itself to become a decrepit sect that often ignores its own heritage, we too, are acting l'shem shamayim. When we point out that Avi's agudah has, at times, defended Rabbis at the expense of children, we too, are acting l'shem shamayim. Sure, we're ruder than Avi, and some of us dabble in kfirah, which is not to everyone's taste, but the bloggers who worry Avi aren't heretics and skeptics. When Avi inveighs it is almost always against the sort of blogger who says the Orthodox Jewish Emperor is naked. His enemies aren't the apostates, but the bloggers who recognize the Agudah sponsored obfuscations and fear-mongering as the work of someone who is worried that a system from which he has profited is beginning to crumble.

A proof perhaps can be found in the remedy Avi advocates. Someone with confidence in his position would call the bets, and let his cards speak. Instead, Avi is attempting to flip-over the table. He doesn't want to answer blogger claims and arguments. He wants us ignored. Would he do that if he had any faith in his position? More to the point, if we really were a rediculous as he says we are, would he continue to call attention to us with one anti-blog polemic after another?

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Food for thought -- from the Great Orange Satan

By Conservative Apikoris

I wish to recommend to you a post from an acolyte of the Mighty Lord Kos. This fellow, known to the world as "davefromqueens," has posted the following:

I Am an Agnostic. Are You?

In this post, davefromqueens posts the following:

At the core of agnostic belief are the following principles:

  1. There may be a god, there may not be. I don't know.
  1. If there is a god, it is very likely that this god does not involve itself in human affairs.
  1. All religion is opinion.
  1. No book ever written, in whole and in part, literally or allegorically, was or is the word of god.
  1. Strong moral values are derived from a variety of sources. They include, but are not limited to, one's conscience, personal experience, logic, reason, socratic inquiry, texts, teachings, and other analytical tools available to all human beings.
What I find interesting is that most of these beliefs would characterize a large percentage of the "religious" Jews I know, even many who affiliate "Orthodox." Yet most of them are rather shy about making such beliefs public. "Dave" is on to that, as well, as he asserts that "There are millions of us sitting there quietly in churches, synagogues, and mosques who secretly consider themselves agnostic (or atheist which is different) but are afraid to say so because of fear," and "Don't be surprised if agnostics become the majority of the American population 20 years from now although it's possible that we are already the silent majority."

Some of my comments on Dave's points:

1. I agree. I also believe that if there is a God, and He or She wants us to worship Him/Her, then it's up to God to communicate directly with each of us and not force us to rely on faith or potential charlatans who claim they have the exclusive word of God

2. I don't think there's enough evidence either way to make quite as confident as statement as "Dave" makes. However, if God is involved in human affairs under the current conditions of no communication from God, then God is sinning greatly.

3. Amen, selah!

4. Amen, and I would think that even Chazal would have to grudgingly agree. Otherwise, why would they see the need for oral Torah?

5. I agree with this as well, and see this a a great slap at the likes of Mitt Romney, who claim that you can't have liberty without some sort of "Judaeo-" Christian religion.

And, pace Pirkei Avot, he even has his own version of the three things on which the world stands:

1. "Let it be."
2. The US Bill of Rights and Civil Rights Amendments to the US Constiution, and
3. Sunshine is the Best Disinfectant (I think Unorthodox Jew and Failed Messiah, as well as all the victims of clergy sexual abuse, would agree with that.)

So why, CA, you might say, do you bother with Judaism? Well, I have my reasons:

1. I like the food
2. I like the people (even the Bray of Fundy!)
3. While I use the general principles listed by "Dave" to derive moral values, I do want to honor my heritage by making a point to check in with that heritage. After all, Avraham's skepticism about idolatry can serve as the model for our latter-day skepticism of dogmatic Orthodoxy.
4. Finally, from a commentary on "Ashrei" (Psalm 145) found in "Or Chadash," the commentary on Siddur Sim Shalom compiled by Rabbi Reuven Hammer, on p. 152:
Faced with the scandal of the Holocaust, what should be -- what could be -- (the position of the believer)? His options are limited. He could rebel . . One might continue to pray as before -- forcing God to resemble his attributes. . . . Prayer then becomes a form of protest. And defiance. One calls Him [God] loving -- because He is something else. In other words, prayer becomes a means of sanctifying His Name in spite of the mass graves..."

-Elie Wiesel
Thus, despite the injustices, illogic, and immorality found in Jewish Orthodoxy of all denominations, by God, I will not abandon the Torah, but will make the Torah become a logical, rational force for justice, rationality, and morality.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Received from a friend, who might be joining the blog in January:

(use it or don't)(je ne care pas)(that's a bit of French for you)(trying to say: I do not care)

Looking online today for some basic chronology of some Christian stuff, I was reminded of something I've been thinking since first studying early modern Europe - namely, that the Christian Bible is so insanely and bizarrely incomprehensible that it's impossible to understand how, once literacy picked up after the print revolution and people could actually READ, anybody still wanted to practice that religion. Forget that the synoptic Gospels that purport to recount Jesus's biography are contradictory to the point of making Divrei ha-Yamim and Melachim seem like perfect clones of each other. I'm talking about the content itself. Bizarre. And incomprehensible. If Jesus really spoke like that, I hope he provided the Apostles with a link to SparkNotes.

An example from Mark, the Gospel, thereof:
[11] And they asked him, "Why do the scribes say that first Eli'jah must come?" [12] And he said to them, "Eli'jah does come first to restore all things; and how is it written of the Son of man, that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt? [13] But I tell you that Eli'jah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him."
What follows is an unsolicited submission I received yesterday from Rabbi David S. Gruber, an ordained Orthodox Rabbi, in which a defense of intermarriage is offered. I recognize that many readers will find this subject disturbing and disagreeable. I'm publishing Rabbi Gruber's argument not as an endorsement, but for the sake of the conversation, I'm sure it will produce. I don't pretend that any of you are on the edges of your seats waiting for me to make my own thoughts known, but I do plan to publish a response to Rabbi Gruber sometime next week. -DB

Out of Orthodoxy
Why This Former Orthodox Rabbi Will Officiate at Interfaith Marriages

by Rabbi David S. Gruber
Many might ask, even accuse, how can I, a rabbi, who once was Orthodox, who served an Orthodox congregation, and at the helm of Orthodox educational institutions, be willing, nay eager, to help interfaith couples and (co)officiate at their weddings?

Let me open with a family story. I remember a discussion my grandmother had with my great uncle in front of me. They had both moved from the East Coast to Portland, Oregon to be with their children and grandchildren. Neither was observant in the Orthodox sense of the word, but both had bought kosher meat back east. While my grandmother continued to buy kosher meat in Portland despite the higher price, my great uncle started buying non-kosher meat, once he moved out there. He explained that kosher meat was just too expensive. My grandmother sternly responded, that she continued to buy kosher meat, because, “that is how our parents brought us up!”

That logic never made sense to me. I bought kosher food, lived in the Eruv, sent my kids to a costly day school, and fulfilled all the other costly and taxing demands of Halacha, because I firmly believed that God had commanded me to do so. Even where tradition came into play, such as the standard derech hapsak (modus of halachic ruling) of the Rama1, concepts of minhag yisrael din hu (the custom of Israel has the force of law), and the like, the implicit, if not explicit reasoning was that God wants you to do it this way, not that tradition in and of itself had some independent value aside from God’s will. My opposition at the time to intermarriage, as to any transgression of Jewish Law had nothing to do with tradition. As an Orthodox rabbi I did not, nor would I have dreamt of performing intermarriages, as it is against Halacha. Period. What mattered to me was the desire of the deity, not a tradition, in and of itself.

About a year and a half ago, this all changed. I had an epiphany of sorts, and it became clear to me that I could not remain Orthodox. I began a year and a half long journey of study and exploration, at the end of which I left the Orthodox world behind, and I now live my life as a Jewish secular humanist. I no longer buy kosher food, live in the Eruv, send my kids to a costly day school, or fulfill all the other costly and taxing demands of Halacha, because I firmly believe that no God has commanded me to do so. As my objection to officiating at intermarriages was part and parcel of my Halachic life, I see no reason not to do this now. Period. Now what guides my life are the ideals of humanism. What matters is how I can help my fellow human being, and how I can make the world a better place for humanity in general. That is of the most paramount importance, not the imagined desire of a deity2.

I remember when I first met with Rabbi Jacques Cukierkorn, over some kosher ribs at Irv’s Market in Kansas City3. He explained his philosophy of what he would and wouldn’t do through a story which was intended in good humor to cause even the most liberal Orthodox rabbi (me) to raise an eyebrow. Once he got the effect he wanted, he explained seriously that he has one criterion when he judges a potential act – will it further the cause of Judaism? I too have one criterion – will what I do help my fellow human beings, and will it further the cause of humanistic ideals? Treating a couple with kindness and compassion, as human beings, as individuals, which is the way they treated each other when they fell in love is the best way of fulfilling this. In fact, I can think of few things better than helping a couple make the most important day of their life even more wonderful, especially when so many rabbis will not do so without attaching numerous conditions4.

Rabbi Adam Chalom5 talks about the fact that all marriages are intermarriages. People marry multifaceted individuals; each one of us has many defining characteristics, with our religion being just one of them. In that sense even a marriage between two Ultra-Orthodox Jews is a mixed marriage, and a marriage between a Jew and a non-Jew, who are on the same “wave length” in many things could be less of a stretch, depending on the other characteristics of each individual. Amy Elkes6 writes, “My boyfriend and I share many of the same beliefs and values. We both believe in acting with honesty and integrity. We both honor our families and believe that children are a couple’s greatest commitment. We love learning and traveling and exploring new places. When we face problems, no matter what kind, we turn to one another for comfort and support. In short we do not define ourselves solely by our religions, and as a result, we have a tremendous amount of common ground to stand on.” Each couple must ascertain if their “package” is one that will work. After, all a perfectly Halachic marriage between a Humanistic Jew and an Ultra Orthodox Jew would probably have a lesser chance of remaining intact, than one between a Humanistic Jew and a Humanistic Buddhist7.

The interesting thing is that if we are, after all, to invoke tradition, we who see nothing wrong with interfaith marriage have quite a leg to stand on, and in a sense a better one than those who invoke tradition against it. After all, from the period where our ancestors, the Canaanites of the Central Highlands started to define themselves as Israelites and Judahites8 to at least 450 B.C.E., beyond the standard xenophobia, so common to those times, not many thought there was really that much wrong with intermarriage. This was in part because they all worshipped many of the same gods, with a small group of priests in the 7th Century B.C.E. pushing monolatry9 of one of those particular gods, Yahweh, and trying to foment a little bit more than the standard xenophobia with their intermarriage prohibitions. The latter openly lament, that they really didn’t make too much of a “splash” at the time in the general populace. That is why we see intermarriage exemplified by the legendary figures of Ruth10, Ma’acha11, Na’ama12, Jezebel13, Yeter14, Uriah15, and many more. Prof. Baruch Halpern16 talks about the fact that in general this Yahweh Alone party rewrote history with the traditional Israelite practice condemned as foreign and against tradition, and the new practice of this new party elevated as the true Israelite tradition. This is just one more instance, where that is so true. By being open to interfaith marriage we invoke the ancient and true traditions of our Canaanite/Israelite ancestors. By leaving their xenophobia behind, we improve on these traditions.

I feel a personal connection to such an avenue of thinking regarding myself as one who will (co)officiate at interfaith marriages. The following is my personal conjecture, and I may be a little off, but certainly not anymore so than traditional Judaism’s version. There have been a number of fascinating studies regarding the evidence mitochondrial and Y chromosome DNA markers give us regarding the development of the human race. One of the most fascinating of these studies is the study that implies that 70-80% of today’s male Kohanim (Aaronide or Zadokite priests) are in fact descended from a single common male ancestor who lived 2100-3500 years ago17. Now, the consensus of archeologists is quite clear that the Israelites and Judahites emerged from the Canaanites of the Central Highlands18. That means that that ancestor most probably came from within that milieu. If you read between the lines of the Bible, you can see that there is a certain probability that the story of the Aaronide priesthood really begins with the selection of two rival Cannanite priesthood lines by the rustic Judahite chieftain we know as David (who we now have evidence did in fact exist19) with the Zadokite line winning out. When I, a Kohen, stand before a couple and consecrate them in marriage, I see myself not only as an heir to the historical traditions of Judaism and the original Cannanite/Israelites, but also, by virtue of my DNA, as an heir to that ancient Cannanite priesthood, who may have officiated at many marriages of all sorts, without anyone thinking anything about it.

Some may say that officiating at interfaith marriages will decimate the Jewish people. Some, and I count my former self as guilty in this regard, even use abhorrent references to a “voluntary holocaust”, as if people wishing to marry those they love are analogous to those who murdered a third of our people. Again Chalom is poignant in his thinking in this matter. Why not look at this as enlarging the Jewish people? To Jewish theists of all stripes, there is a need to legally define who is Jewish and who is not, as they look at Jews through religious eyes. Who is a Jew, is as important a subject to the most liberal Reform rabbi, as it is to her Neturai Karta counterpart. To them, by virtue of some version of Halacha the children of the interfaith couple will be Jewish or won’t be Jewish, and this is a concern of the utmost importance. To me, Judaism is primarily an issue of culture, history, and an intellectual tradition, the positive and relevant aspects of which I embrace along with the traditions of the enlightenment. One can be a part of many different cultures. My children are three quarters Ashkenazic, and one quarter Sephardic. Did I do damage to Ashkenazi culture by not marrying a fully Ashkenazic woman? My cousin married a man from China. Did she do damage to her children by not marrying an American born man? Did he do damage to his children by not marrying a Chinese woman? Certainly, to their shame, many people, a generation or two ago would have answered to the affirmative. To the shame of Ultra Orthodox Judaism in Israel, they still answer to the affirmative today to my first question. Need we be so narrow minded? Can we not understand that there is something enriching and positive and wonderful about more people out there being heirs to a Jewish cultural, historical and intellectual tradition, combined with whatever additional identities they have? This should be seen as a blessing, not a problem.

Our Rabbis ask20 what does God do ever since he finished with the heavy lifting of creation? They tell us that he does one thing – matchmaking. The idea of marriage, two separate people coming together to form one united entity, when you think about it, is really quite fantastic. In our modern culture with the high divorce rate, we see how incredibly difficult it can be to keep such a package intact. Those of us who are married know that you need to keep working at it day by day. If we are approached by a couple who deeply love each other, who have thought the issues of their compatibility through, and have decided that they would like nothing more than to spend their life together, blending their lives and their flesh into one, and they ask us to help them make this dream come true, dare we say no? I know I cannot, and I will not. I will not attach any conditions to my willingness to (co)officiate, and I will have one question only, the question Chalom says he asks couples when they approach him, “Do you love each other?” If the answer is yes, I will have only one response, “Mazel Tov, now let’s look at some dates…”

Copyright 2007 – Rabbi David S. Gruber – All Rights Reserved
Rabbi David S. Gruber, a native of Evanston, Illinois, and an eighth generation rabbi, grew up in Israel, where he served as a tank gunner in the IDF Armored Corps, attended Yeshivat Sha’alvim, one of the most prominent institutions of higher Orthodox Jewish learning in Israel, for seven years, and received his Orthodox rabbinic ordination from the Chief Rabbis of Israel. He holds a B.A. in History from Thomas Edison State College, and an M.S. in Educational Leadership from Walden University. Rabbi Gruber has served in educational and religious leadership positions in the Jewish (primarily Orthodox) community on three continents since his teens, specifically in Israel, New Zealand and the United States. Rabbi Gruber, a former member of the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) is one of the only ordained Orthodox rabbis in the world, who has renounced Orthodoxy and sees himself as a secular humanist.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Why Rabbi Adlerstein is beyond the pale

A post from beyond the grave.
by XGH (deceased)

Related 1, 2, 3
Rabbi Adlerstein's 'Beyond the Pale' series of posts is wrong, wrong,wrong. And here's why:

1. It is too simplistic
In RYA's world, there only exists 100% okay hashkafot, and then'beyond the pale' hashkafot. In the real world, there exists acontinuum of hashkafot (within Orthodoxy), which could be categorizedin a number of ways, including:

Mainstream Hashkafot

Minority Hashkafot, but 100% accepted

Minority Hashkafot, a bit debatable

Minority Hashkafot, very borderline

Hashkafot beyond the pale

100% bona fide kefirah

Clearly, RYA does not like YCT or LW MO. That's his prerogative. But it is nonsense to declare that everything he personally doesn't approve of is 'beyond the pale', especially where it is simply a minority view.

2. It is highly subjective
Of course even this seven step model is too simplistic, since you have to account for the following groups:

RW Chareid

iLW Chareidi




Cult Groups (e.g. Neturei Kartah)
and many more besides.

What may be 'mainstream' in one group could be'beyond the pale' in another group, as the recent Science & Torah controversy showed. Who gets to define what is 'beyond the pale'? As one commenter noted, a well known maggid shiur in Gush insists thatall Breishis could be mythological. A well known maggid shiur in YU says the same. RYA on the other hand writes that this is definitely 'beyond the pale'. Could there be a clearer example of how subjectivet his is? We have halachah for a reason: halachah defines limits(though even halachah itself is somewhat malleable). But if somethingi s declared muttar by halachah, how can RYA insist it must be beyond the pale?

3. Hashkafa evolves
While RYA takes pains to say that the Science & Torah writers are not beyond the pale (presumably due to his support for them), the fact is that evolution and an ancient age were once very much 'beyond thepale', and still are in some circles. RYA explains that there is ample support for such views in the Rishonim, but this is just hypocrisy from RYA, since ample support in the Rishonim doesn't help if something is 'beyond the pale' today, as he explains in his post. I'm quite sure that if YCT advocated some minority view that had support of some Rishonim, RYA would be opposed. The fact is that things change, hashkafa changes, and even halachah changes somewhat. Declaring things to be 'beyond the pale', especially in areas which are clearly under going severe change and pressure, is just a conservative knee jerk reaction or someone who doesn't have any better arguments than 'choddosh ossur min Hatorah'.

4. It's just bad policy
There are many pressures nowadays on Orthodoxy, chiefly its lack of compatibility with current standards of morality (Women's rights and Homosexuality being the two main examples here) and the fact that it doesn't jive (well) with what we currently know about ancient History and the development of religion and the Bible. Attempts to make Orthodoxy more palatable to those on the left should be welcomed. I'm not saying that these changes are for everybody, or that everything is up for change, but certainly things which are inherently permissible within the context of halachah should not be declared 'beyond the pale'. This is an appalingly bad choice of strategy, and only serves to make Orthodoxy less desirable for people on the fringes. (maybe that's a good thing, depending on your POV).

RYA is simply succumbingto the Chareidi 'circle the waggons' mentality and should be ashamed of himself. If Halachah permits something, then it is permitted, period. (Note: I'm not talking about novol birshus haTorah here).

I think what motivates people like RYA is that they are always scared of the RW. If they legitimize the LW, then they too become targets forthe RW, so they have to denounce the LW as 'beyond the pale'.

Well, either that, or just the inherent intolerance which typically accompanies fundamentalism.

Good heavens! Did RYA eat crow?

It seems to me that RYA has recanted some of the more noxious parts of his horrible argument from last week. But, as you know, I am a notoriously biased reader of his horrible blog. So have a look and see if you agree.

The anti-Christmas Republican Party

Seen this? Now imagine this Grinch-like greeting had been created by the Democratic National Committee. Professional hypocrites like Hannity and O'Reilly would have gone bonkers.

RIP Benzair Bhutto

Benazir Bhutto assassinated

Another heckuva job, chimpy! You sure were dead on right about Mushariff being one of the good guys! Way to look into his soul and everything. Now, let's see how long CNN and FOX stick with this story before they jump to the next white-girl-was-kidnapped emergency.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The War on X-mas: Dispatch from the Front: We won!

By Conservative Apikoris

The classiest holiday interaction yet. I wandered over to visit a non-Jewish neighbor of mine, mostly to get a chance to schnorr off some of his eggnog, but also to wish him a Merry Christmas.

Well, I was a little curious about how he was going to greet me, as he sometimes hocks on about the "war on X-mas." But he knows I'm Jewish and claims to respect it.

Well, I come in, he holds out his hand, and without missing a beat, he wishes me a "Happy New Year." Totally left Christmas out of it. And for those of you who believe that January 1 is a goyish holiday, I would like to point out that even for the most frum, pious Jew, Jan. 1 is the New Year for the taxes. So we already have several New Years, why not another?

That's it. One less gentile hocking on about the "War on Christmas." Now if we can only get the Jewish rightwingers to shut up about it...

Happy New Year! And may your income be higher and your taxes lower in the coming year.

“That Doesn’t Fly” A Toast to the Birthday Boy


(Caveat: This would be more appropriate for Easter but who knows? My blogging days may numbered)

Oaths are awesome and terrifying in Judaism. They are identified with the Days of Awe. Kol Nidre and Hataras Nedarim are suffused with solemnity and introspection . שבועה בנקיטת חפץ has an ancient provenance, as Avraham and Yaakov administered them (using the bris milah as no sefer Torah nor T'filin were available)to Eliezer and Yoseph respectively, and is still in vogue as to be liable for perjury witnesses must first take an oath with one hand on a Bible (or Quran or Origin of the Species) swearing to tell the truth the whole etc. so help me G-d.

Why is this? Why would making an oath lend credibility to one otherwise prepared to lie? IIRC Rishonim (khinukh and/or Kuzari) explain that an oath is essentially an equation. The oath taker is stating “The information I’m about to relate IS AS TRUE as HaShem”. Hence the terrible sin of false oaths. For once having created the equation if the oath-taker lied under oath (s)he has made a lie out of HaShem, khas v’Shalom.

This טעם המצוה is reflected in a Yiddish aphorism נישט געשטויגען און נישט געפלויגען = “Didn’t rise and didn’t fly”. It was the semi-polite way of reacting to someone telling you a lie or a gross exaggeration. A non obsecene expletive of skepticism and utter disbelief. IMO this (along with words such as farklempt and chutzpah) has crept its way into contemporary vernacular American English. We too greet counterintuitive remarks and outright lies (especially alibis) with “That Doesn’t/ Won’t Fly”.

An old-timer Holocaust survivor once explained the aphorism to me. He said that Jesus rising= געשטויגען from the grave three days after the crucifixion and ascending/flying= געפלויגען to heaven were the most fundamental of X-tian tenets. The sensibility of the Jew was that as HaShem is the litmus test of truth against which all other truths are validated, so too the Avodah Zarah of the dominant religion was the falsehood against which all other lies are exposed. Tell a Jew a tall tale? He’ll respond with נישט געשטויגען און נישט געפלויגען. IOW what your telling me is about as true as THAT fairy-tale.

And so birthday boy, I toast you. Enjoy your day but understand that you were conceived, born, lived, died and resurrected a lie. I believe in miracles, but immaculate conception and virgin birth? נישט געשטויגען און נישט געפלויגען!

Beating on Bray

Bray, you're an idiot and I hate you. The reason is this:
The Ba’al Hablog implying that Khazal are a group of no-nothing, myth-making and believing ahistorical morons.
In this one ugly sentence you reveal that:

1) You can't spell. (maybe its contagious)
2) You don't know what a myth is
3) You don't know what aggadah is
4) You don't understand the difference between our epistemology and the epistemology of the ancients.
5) You think chazal were perfect, all knowing, and infallible.
6) You're under the misapprehension that I would ever use the word "moron" to describe chazal. (I wouldn't and haven't)

All of this is perfectly inexcusable, not least because it shows you haven't really been reading the blog you've been fouling with senseless, unwanted comments for almost two years. So for, please God, the last time, LISTEN THE HELL UP

1) CHazal. KNOW-nothing.

2) A myth (per, and their definition is as good as any, plus its ready-made) "is a kind of story or rudimentary narrative sequence, normally traditional and anonymous, through which a given culture ratifies its social customs or accounts for the origins of human and natural phenomena, usually in supernatural or boldly imaginative terms." A myth might, in some shape, be true. A myth might be entirely false. That, however, is besides the point. Calling something a "myth" is not an insult, nor is it the same as saying something is a lie.

3) Aggadah, per essentially every great Jewish thinker until very recently, is NOT HISTORY and is NOT LITERAL. You've already seen the long list of famous Geonim and Rishonim who say that we're free to understand the aggadot as we think best, and that no harm will come to one who discounts them entirely. Please do something about your sieve-like memory so that I don't have to keep telling you this. IT IS GETTING ANNOYING.

4) WE are skeptical. Ancients were not. WE demand high standards of proof. Ancients did not. WE (usually) do not rely exclusively on received wisdom. This was not true of the ancients: received wisdom was often all they had. Aristotle, famously, was wrong about the number of teeth women have in their mouths. How could this be? Why didn't he ever check? BECAUSE THE ANCIENTS HAD A DIFFERENT EPISTEMOLOGY. Please make a note of this.

5) Chazal could not have been perfect, all knowing, and infallible because THEY FREQUENTLY DISAGREED WITH EACH OTHER ON QUESTIONS OF FACT. Moreover, a fair amount of their science and medicine has been debunked; moreover, several prominent Rishonim have already told us that Chazal are not to be relied upon for anything but halacha. They were jurists, not historians or scientists. Acknowledging this irrefutable fact is no insult and serves in no way to diminish their greatness. YOU (and to a greater extent Ed) are NOT honoring them or their memory when you offer buffoon-like defenses of their every statement. L'hefech. Please, try to wrap you feeble mind around this. Its important.

6) I never have and never will disaprage a great man with the word "moron." YOU, on the other hand, are a card carrying member of Morons Are Us.

Finally. Something more wasteful than your average absurdly lavish wedding

Click (and note what these retired felines are watching on TV) (My old dad's comment: "In my day we didn't send unwanted cats to any retirement home. We sent them to the bottom of the lake in a burlap sack." Uh. Okay, dad. Glad you found me worth keeping.)

Monday, December 24, 2007

On J-Blogosphere Epistemology

Making Gedolim out of K'tanim


It’s been quite a fortnight here at DovBear. Yours truly taking "the legends" of the Septuagint and the origins of Targum Onkelos more or less at face value (I’m in good company). The Ba’al Hablog implying that Khazal are a group of no-nothing, myth-making and believing ahistorical morons. Rav Elkhonon Wasserman accused of shoveling BS because he is skeptical of the human capacity for objectivity in the pursuit of the truth and Little Foxling taking deep, “you’ve cut me to the bone”, offense at same. The Ba’al Hablog believing the veracity of a patently obvious spoof. The Ba’al HaBlog pillorying Rabbi Yitzchak Adlerstein for positing that some Hashqofos are beyond the pale while no doubt sharing that conviction but desiring to allocate to himself the authority for who determines the boundaries of “the pale”. A learned debate about whether or not airing noxious or dangerous ideas are analogous to drug dealing.

In a word, it’s been a time when we’ve been debating, perhaps a bit more vigorously than usual, what is truth, whom/what to believe, who’s proposals even deserve serious consideration and how our vested interests color and skew our organization of reality.

IMHuO the only human being who processed the truth with 100% clarity was Moshe Rabenu. It’s no accident that he was preeminent both in humility (ג וְהָאִישׁ מֹשֶׁה, עָנָו מְאֹד--מִכֹּל, הָאָדָם, אֲשֶׁר, עַל-פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה. ) and in prophecy(ו וַיֹּאמֶר, שִׁמְעוּ-נָא דְבָרָי; אִם-יִהְיֶה, נְבִיאֲכֶם--יְהוָה בַּמַּרְאָה אֵלָיו אֶתְוַדָּע, בַּחֲלוֹם אֲדַבֶּר-בּוֹ
ז לֹא-כֵן, עַבְדִּי מֹשֶׁה: בְּכָל-בֵּיתִי, נֶאֱמָן הוּא) =G-d-knowledge = reality comprehension. He achieved utter self-abnegation. Being ego-less, lacking self-importance, he had no self-interest and was able to let the truth and reality chips fall where they may. This is what Khazal may have meant when they said that he prophesied באספקלרי-ה המאירה. For the balance of human history people have been filtering their perceptions through the prism of their own personalities, experieneces, psychological baggage and agendas. So we are all subjective. We all want to shoot our arrows first and paint our bulls-eyes later. So what hope do poor subjective beings have of apprehending any objective truth? I think our best shot is to have the “right” self-interests (bringing us back to RYA). And which self-interests are the “right” ones? Those that lead us towards being talmidim= disciples of the first and last objective human being who WAS objective., Moshe Rabenu. IOW by plugging oneself into Torah U’Mesorah, the chain that leads us back to Sinai.

In today’s NY post the caption below the Picture contains a quote by the pseudonymous artist of the hoax “photo” IronKite; “Sometimes people seem so desperate to believe in something that they lie to themselves.” I couldn’t agree more.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Introducing the WAR ON CHANUKA

The Riverdale Press: No menorah at McDonald's

PS: Attention well meaning gentiles. STOP WISHING ME A HAPPY HOLIDAY. My holiday ended two weeks ago. Related

LXX Wrap up

To celebrate 8 Tevet, the DovBear community has been conversing loudly on the origins and uses of the LXX, or Septuagint. In what follows I summarize the two competing perspectives.

People who know/care about history

Origins: Written, perhaps by Jewish scholars or sages, to serve the Hellenistic Jewish communities in and around Alexandria.

(Interpolation: Hellenistic Jews were Jews who lived in Hellenist areas during the Hellenistic period. This is not the same as a Hellenized Jew. A Hellenized Jew is a Greek of Jewish origin. Today we'd call them assimilated. Not every Hellenistic Jew was also a Hellenized Jew. Scholarship says that, for the most part, Hellenistic Jews were shul goers and keepers of commandments. It is true that at times the non-diaspora Jews in Palestine were not the least bit pleased with the Hellenistic Jews, but likewise there were times when the Jews of Lita were not the least bit pleased with the Yeks.)

Uses: Nowadays you can't cross the Jewish street without Hebrew. This wasn't so when the LLX was written in c250 BCE.There was no Talmud, no Mishna, and very few prayers. Hebrew qua Hebrew was of less relative importance, and the LXX was used by the Greek speaking Jews as their standard Bible. In fact, scholarship holds that Philo, the greatest Jewish sage of Alexandria, knew no Hebrew and relied on the LXX exclusively.

Perspective of the Rabbis: Largely negative. There are some remarks about the LXX fulfilling Noach's words about יַפְתְּ אֱלֹהִים לְיֶפֶת, וְיִשְׁכֹּן בְּאָהֳלֵי-שֵׁם. The legend of 70 or 72 Rabbis participating in the translation suggests it either had early legitimacy, or that the authors of the legend wished to provide it with legitimacy (though note that some of the translating Rabbis had Greek names) However, the three main sources, beginning with Taanit say that it was a very, very bad thing (Note: Among the three negative sources there is dispute: מסכת סופרים פרק א הלכה ז says that the translation was done by 5 elders. אבות דרבי נתן פרק ל"ז agrees 5 elders did the work, but disagrees with Taanit on how many changes were made.)

Reason for their negative perspective: Likely, they held that the LXX was a dilution of the One True Torah. They may also have doubted the legitimacy of the Greek community, or they could have been writing at a time when the LXX had already fallen out of Jewish use.

People who don't

Origins: 72 Sage were summoned by Ptolmy the Greek King (never mind that he was a Macedonian ruler of Egypt) The competing legends of 5 elders is irrelevant, not known, or ignored. The fact that there is no supporting evidence for the legend is barely a minor inconvenience. The one true Torah view is the one that appears in Taanit, all other views, including the two other Rabbinic sources, barely register as nuisances.

(Interpolation: No difference between Hellenistic and Hellenized Jews is recognized. Anyone who lived in Alexandria was probably some kind of no-nothing reformer, the proof being that they didn't have any Hebrew and needed/used a treif book like the LXX in the first place)

Uses: Originally commissioned by Ptolmy for the purpose of encouraging assimilation. Later, some know-nothing reform Jews living in Alexandira may have used it at their make believe shuls, but who cares they were assimilated hellenized god-haters anyway.

Perspective of the Rabbis: Entirely negative

Reason for their negative perspective: You're asking a question on Rabbis? You sheigetz! Obviously, if they had a negative perspective they received it via daas Torah or it was part of the direct chain going back to Sinai. In any case, they are right you are wrong, so please excuse me while I put my fingers in my ears.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

God is really NOT an evil SOB

[DB: Effective immediately, any contributor who does not sign his/her post will be dismissed at my discretion.

[NOTE: Enjoy this, my more or less final word about why I do not believe in divine reward and punishment. I will be away this weekend, and wish everyone a good Shabbos. Maybe I'll return to some nice posts about the December dilemma.]
"OWWW!! Daddy, why are you beating me?!!"

"Because you were disrespectful to your teacher last year and didn't do your homework the year before that. I told your brother to tell you that if you didn't behave yourself I was going to beat you!! You were warned!!"

Now what would you think of that style of parenting? I think I'd at least call Child Protective Services, if not the police.

How a bout a boss who uses the "ignore-ignore -- slap-slap" management style?

What would you think about such people?

"Evil SOB" might be a reasonable label to consider.

Alas, all too many DB commentators are having the vapors because they allege I posted that God was an evil SOB. That's not strictly correct. What I posted was:

If the concept of reward and punishment in Olam Haba is true, it's prima facie evidence that God is an evil nasty SOB who doesn't deserve to be worshiped.

God forbid that I should consider God to be an evil SOB who doesn't deserve to be worshiped. My target was not God, but rather the concept of Olam Haba as reward and punishment.

I don't care this concept is one of Rambam's 13 "ikkarim." The fact that Rambam included it is a negative mark against the Rambam's grasp of wisdom, not any sort of evidence that the principle is from God. Because a God who doles out reward and punishment in a hypothetical afterlife is an abusive God. I can see the point of following the rules of a king of flesh and blood because the king makes the rewards and punishments clear. We can see the prisons (I drive by one on a regular basis). We can talk to people who have been punished and learn of their experiences. We can see the people who are rewarded by the king for their good behavior.

But none of this happens with our interactions with God. God, in fact, is silent, except in our imaginations and, of course, in the self-serving religious leaders who put words in God's mouth. It's very convenient that all this reward and punishment happen in a supposed afterlife, which none of us can access without having to irrevocably die first. So we hear of no first-hand accounts of gehenna or Gan Eden, you think that chazal who wrote the accounts in the Talmud ever actually experienced it? What reasonable God would expect us to put up with the burdensome commandments that our rabbis claim came from Him or Her? The only reward and punishment come from people who have decided on their own to do God's job. Behave yourself and you have what might be a nurturing community. Break the community norms, and you get threatening phone calls and your tires slashed. So yes, there's reward and punishment. But not from God. And a God that would condone that sort of abuse would be truly and evil SOB not worth worshiping.

But if I'm going to worship a God, why would I want to worship such an evil SOB? And I would like to worship God, I find it comforting, etc., and absolute atheism as much silly dogmatism as the blind theocratic faith. Thus, the only way I can reason that God is NOT an evil SOB is by rejecting the principle of divine reward and punishment. So maybe God is evil, but I sure hope and pray not.

Updates keep coming...

Does singing correlate with progressive thinking?

The first picture that comes to mind are black protesters singing "We Shall Overcome" during the civil rights struggle. Then, I remember the communists, way back when the Party was still the sort of thing a well-meaning bright-eyed humanist might join, also had songs. And so did the ficitional residents of Orwell's famous farm.

Now I am being told by a friend (name on request) that the quasi-egalitarian Orthodox synagogues sprouting up in Katimon (1 and 2) or Washington Heights are all Carbachian, ie: they sing as much as possible. This seems to be the Orthodox Jewish trend: the further to the left you go, the more likely you are to encounter a singing minyan. There's more of it in an MO shul than a Hasidic shul, and more of it again among the Calbachians.

Is it the same in other Jewish denominations? And to what can it be attributed?

מ. א. פרידמן ובנותיו בביקור אצל אחמדיניג'אד - וידאו

See it here


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Is minhag like a dialect?


I've been re-reading RYA's article from earlier this week, and I find myself doubting my original condemnation. Oh, to be sure, I still think his conclusion sucks, but earlier I thought his underlying logic was equally bad. Now, I am not so sure.

The question comes to this: Is RYA acting as a prescriptivist or is he a descriptivist? The difference: A prescriptivist, (to explain the post title's simile) is like your HS English teacher, the old bat who beats you over the head for splitting infinitives or for ending a sentence with a preposition. A descriptivist, on the other hand, understands that many of the rules of English usage are the result of culture and superstition in that a great many of these "rules" have little basis.

Most significantly, a descriptivists recognizes that language rules slowly change over time for a variety of reasons, some good, most bad. The prescriptivist, or the very worst sort of prescriptivist anyway, prefers to imagine that the rules are etched in stone, written in the sky, and impossible to alter.

So what is RYA on hashkafa?

At first, I took RYA to be prescriptivist appealing to precedent or tradition. But as aptly shown by Doctor Marc Shapiro et al appealing to precedent or tradition won't work, because what's considered correct changes over time. In Rashi's day women, or some women anyway, wore tfillin. Less than 200 hundred years ago, many Jewish women weren't permitted to go to school. There are passages in the Talmud which suggest women could receive aliyot, and that milk and fowl were eaten together. There are old siddurim which provide "she lo asani ish" as the correct liturgy for women. As Shapiro's book taught me it was also once okay to illustrate your religious books with pictures that depicted God in human form. You could speculate on the mutability of the MT without being called a heretic. And much, much more.

When RYA says certain Jewish ideas and practices are outside the pale, he might be right, but only if he is speaking as a descriptivist. If he is speaking as a prescriptivist he is defeated by the tradition itself.

Which brings me to my central point, and the meaning behind the title simile. While recognizing that many language rules are arbitrary and silly, most descriptivists still admit that arbitrary and silly language rules serve a purpose. Namely, they help us determine who is part of our group and who is not.

Consider, for instance, the case of dialects. Most of us speak more than one. I, myself, speak Jewish-English and Standard Written English. These are not the same, and there are situations when one is appropriate and suitable and the other is not. These dialects -and there are hundreds if not thousands of other English dialects and sub dialects - are useful because they help us to determine who is part of our group and who is not.

If he is speaking as a descriptivist RYA's argument has some sense to it, because what he is actually saying is that normative OJ developed contingently, and because 21st century OJs, like any other group, wish to live/work/play and otherwise interact with each other, it helps if we all sort of think and act the same way. Because otherwise, we're not one group. Otherwise, our OJ identity is diluted, just as surely as the identity of a group of African American friends is diluted if they include a guy who does not greet them with "Yo" and call them "Brothers" and ask "s'up, s'goin on?"

This argument has some logic to it - perhaps it reduces Orthodox Judaism to a club with a dress code, but the logic is present. The conclusion, however, still stinks, because what is also present is RYA's unmistakable disgust for Jewish actions and ideas that he, personally, does not hold.

Ed has a new name

He calls himself Marcus now, perhaps in honor of his favorite Roman Emperor, and this is what he said:

Naftuli: Why does providing a forum [for CA] imply he agrees with the views?
Marcus: You mean there's nothing wrong with allowing drug dealers to peddle their wares on my front lawn?!

How do I know Marcus is Ed? I don't, not with any certainty, but I refuse to believe that there is someone else on the planet capable of making such a brain dead argument.

Drugs and ideas are the same thing? Only in Ed's cholent-addled mind.

Here, once again, is the thing: Drugs are dangerous. Drugs are harmful to your health. Ideas/words/argument are not. In fact, ideas/words/arguments are the opposite of harmful because they only serve to help you determine what is true and what if false.

I let CA post not because I agree with him, but because talking about his ideas, and providing grounds for dismissing what is false, helps us to meander toward truth.

Yeshiva World's latest scoop

Kosher Cheesburgers

And as you would expect, YW's commenting community is largely opposed, and on grounds that are specious, judgmental, and stupid. A sampling:

Do we have to be like goyim in e/t we do!!! we copy the way they dress do we also have to eat what they eat?
Comment by yeshivah bach

True, true. And because non-Jews eat milk, chicken, ice cream, and vegetables, I propose these items be stricken from the Jewish menu. We should eat like Abraham did, so no kugel, no cholent, and no sour sticks either. Additionaly, my informers tell me that non-Jews wear pants and many live in houses, so if you see a man wearing rags bedding down for the night on Ave J don't curl your nose up in disgust. Instead, say a prayer of thanksgiving that such authentic, torah true Jews live among us.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

RYA STILL Outside the Pale


The fabulous Charlie Hall makes a fabulous point

How can we say that anyone who does not accept all 13 of the Rambam’s principles is outside the pale when we have prayers to angels in our siddurim?
Comment by Charles B. Hall — December 17, 2007 @
2:39 pm

Because RYA has a reputation for integrity and is said to be an honorable man, I fully expect him to publish a clarification/retraction by the end of the week. His "Outside the Pale" post was that bad. As a left-leaning Jew, with a healthy respect for the complexity and contradictions of our shared tradition, I found his argument insulting, poorly reasoned, and disrespectful to the intellectual history of the Jewish people.

Powerful evidence for traditional Jewish theology

Our gracious Host, Mr. Bear, has pointed out that the defenders of what they consider to be "traditional Jewish theology" who post here don't typically provide evidence to support their positions, they merely engage in circular reasoning. (The Torah is God's word, because that's what's written in the Torah!") On the other hand, skeptics are alleged to have "mountains" of evidence for their views.

Well, in the "man bites dog" department, here's a case where a defender of traditional Jewish theology has brought forth such evidence. All hail halfnutcase!! though, to be fair, HNC isn't quite as guilty as someone like the Bray of baldface assertions about theological truth without any supporting evidence.

Anyway, without any further ado, here it is, promoted from the comments,brought forth by the wizardry of Haloscan:

I started the ball rolling with this fine piece of apikorsus in response to a comment by Gadfly:
Gadfly: The point of the burdensome mitzvas is to earn a reward. We do something to show G-d that we care, He shows his gratitude to us.

You must have joined the conversation late. I'm a deist, I don't believe that. God doesn't care how we perform mitzvas, we thought them up for our own benefit. What kind of "reward" did all thous massacred pious Jews over history get from God? And don't start on about Olam Haba. If the concept of reward and punishment in Olam Haba is true, it's prima facie evidence that God is an evil nasty SOB who doesn't deserve to be worshiped. I certainly prefer a God who doesn't care.

HNC responded:
the reward for a sin is a sin and the reward for a mitzvah is a mitzvah.

My finely-honed intellect realized HNC was on to something:
Um, yes, it is true that getting massacred al kiddush hashem is a mitzva. A nice reward for being a pious Jew. But what that means is that Orthodox Jewish theology has a bit of a marketing problem, no? On the other hand, you've just provided some pretty powerful evidence in favor of traditional Jewish theology.
HNC ends (for now) the exchange with a little humor:
just doing my duty sir.
This, of course, begs for further discussion. I wil also explain in somewhat more detail about why I believe that the presence of Olam Haba as currently conceived by the Orthodox (and the Christians, for that matter) would be very strong evidence that God is an evil SOB.

Yitzchak Alderstan: Outside the Pale


A writer named "Esther" who also disliked the latest Alderstan offering

Why is this issue only used in reference to ideas on the “left”? Why does it not apply to people on the “right” who have started enacting ideas that are contrary to how most of the Jewish world lives? This includes setting up roles for women that are just as contrary to our mesorah as the issues you write about in this article. (Such as the requirement to be the breadwinner.) Why does the “beyond the pale” label only get applied to the left and not the right, when halacha says that veering in either direction is incorrect? I think many of us who have great respect for Rabbi Adlerstein would be interested in an explanation of this.

Comment by Esther — December 17, 2007 @ 6:50 pm

Excellent point Esther.

More later.

Do the skeptics have any evidence?

Absurd as it sounds, noted troll Yus/Susidio/TrapperJoe has been claiming for weeks, over hundreds of comments on at least two different blogs that skeptics and believers are equally likely to make assertions without evidence.

Crazy, no?

Just yesterday, he went on the record, in more than one place, insisting that skepticism is every bit as shaky as belief. What the fool seems not to realize, is that (a) skepticism isn't obligated to provide evidence because the burden rests on the other side; and (b) any skeptical claim, or at least any serious skeptical claim I've ever seen, is accompanied by mountains of evidence. The evidence can be contested and dismissed, perhaps, but there's a categorical difference between the types of arguments the two sides make: Believers often rely on naked assertions (See: Fundy, Bray of) skeptics don't.

(Between you, me and the lamp-post I think the fool, in fact, realizes both points above, only he prefers to kick up dust, and jerk people around)

More later.

AidelMaidel: Trifling

I like Aidel, so I won't beat her up, but it needs to be said she is standing in philosophical quicksand

Sunday, December 16, 2007



I've been called many names on this blog few of which have been complimentary. But the charge that I acknowledge that my critics can best make stick is that I am annoying.

Do you know what I find annoying as H**l? Talking about the fundamentals of our faith to a group of Jews who ought to know better as if they were first time attendees at a Gateways or Discovery retreat. I've been accused of making unsupported "assertions". How am I supposed to provide external validation for a self-validating system (the Torah)? The cubbies want theorems where I provide axioms. Any idea how frustrating and annoying that is? Try providing evidence for truths YOU hold to be self-evident. Try explaining what a strawberry tastes like and then, when you finish, have the mouth that has never ingested a strawberry call you a liar making unsupported and unsupportable assertions. טַעֲמוּ וּרְאוּ, כִּי-טוֹב יְהוָה; אַשְׁרֵי הַגֶּבֶר, יֶחֱסֶה-בּו "O TASTE and see that the LORD is good; happy is the man that taketh refuge in Him."

Nothing sums it up more pithily than that old Yiddish adage gey rehd fahrbin tsu ah blihnder="Go explain colors to a congenitally blind person"

Friday, December 14, 2007

Where superstitions take us

HYDERABAD, India (AP) - Two men attacked an 80-year-old, self-proclaimed holy man in southern India and chopped off his right leg, apparently believing it had magical powers, police said Thursday... "This seems to be a case of superstition. The two people might have taken away the leg hoping to benefit from its magical powers," said Pendakanti Dastgiri, the police officer handling the case. Superstitions, belief in magic and the occult remain widespread in much of rural India. Kondaiah told police that two men offered him a drink as thanks for previously helping them with his magical touch. After he passed out drunk, the men chopped off the leg below the knee with a sickle and left him to die, said Dastgiri, adding that passing villagers found him and took him to a hospital.

Think this is a problem for South Asian's only? Well, yes. True enough, I suppose, but ask yourself why. Once upon a time Christians played the same way. Europe tore itself apart for hundreds of years over superstitions no less silly. Why did they stop? A clue.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Quality Posts I'm sure you'll enjoy -

What is the halachic process?


Rabbi Adlerstan of Cross Currents, a very bad blog: Determining practical halacha is both an art and a science.
S of On the Main Line, a very good blog: What is the basis for this statement? Is this an observation, or a kabbalah? Or perhaps it is a colloquialism?
Rabbi Adlerstan: It is a colloquialism that I received as a kabbalah from some trustworthy mentors who made the observation.

I can't begin to tell you how boring I find all discussions of halacha. The only part of it that matters to me is discovering how certain Jews thought and acted in certain places at certain times. The "halachic process" ie "Determining practical halacha" strikes me as no less political, subjective, and biased than the average supreme court decision.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Don't mess with Rudy

Gawker: "Much as Peter denied Jesus three times, so do some anti-American types deny Rudy Giuliani. Specifically, they deny that HE AND HE ALONE was personally responsible for making New York livable (fun fact: the only people who lived in New York before Rudy were criminals and victims of criminals, most of whom were also criminals) and for saving the entire world on 9/11 by walking uptown with some tv cameras and shooting down that one plane in Pennsylvania that was headed for a school full of orphan children learning to be firefighters. And like Peter, the deniers will die a glorious martyr's death in the inevitable Giuliani presidency.

Or so we've gleaned from watching this clip of Joe Scarborough compare criticizing Giuliani's inflated record with denying the Holocaust."

Quality post

Its not the best written post in the history of Jewish blogging, but read it two or three times and perhaps you'll begin to understand what a scam Bes Din is.

Faint praise for Huckabee.

I hate to admit it, but I've spent a few minutes today toying with the idea of President Huckabee. Of course, I don't want a god-drunk moron serving as president of the United States, but so far as god-drunk morons go, Huckabee seems ok. If its true that talk radio lies have made it impossible for a Democrat to get elected in this country, we could do worse than Huckabee.

By my lights, he's a better choice then Rudy or Mitwit.

Why I won't vote for Rudy:
(a) He won't shut up about 9/11
(b) He keeps exaggerating his role and his accomplishments, in particular his role and his accomplishments on 9/11
(c) He bashes NYC too much. I don't trust anyone who doesn't like NYC; anyway Rudy is obviously lying when he disparages his city.
(d) He was a decent first term mayor, but his second term stunk.
(e) He cheated on his wife in public, and dumped her on TV
(f) Like our current idiot-president he prizes loyalty and secrecy above competance.

Why I won't vote for Mitwit
(a) He'll say absolutely anything for your vote
(b) His big speech on religion was awful. It regurgitated the two biggest lies of the culture war, the first being that secularists wish to destroy religion; the second being that religions are all more or less the same.
(c) He bashes Massachusetts too much. No loyalty. Very lacking in class.

So that leaves Huckabee, who seems like a decent sort of fellow. If election math means we're going to to get a god-drunk moron anyway why not him?

NOTE: Anyone the Democrats are running is preferable to Huck.

Who said מי לה' אלי"? (Hint: Not Matisyahu)

So Jameel has this post up which argues that the story of Matisyahu screaming מי לה' אלי" after murdering an idol worshipper is pure fantasy. According to Jameel it was invented about 100 years ago by one of those maskilisha types your rebbe warned you about.

I can't say that I am surprised. Plenty of good things were brought into the world by maskilim [list on request] but what might shock is the idea that a myth might have been invented so recently. And in our age of mass communication, too.

(V hamayvin yaavin.)

Carpi Diem- Affirm your Havdala Heritage


This is it folks. "Zos Chanuka"- the last day of the Khag when we bask in the cumulative oros of all 8 days. In fact on the East Coast sundown is in less than 2 hours. Practically speaking what does this mean? Precisely which rays are we supposed to be catching?

As per Khazal these are among the many events that occurred during Galus Yavan = the internal exile under the occupation of the Greeks: (In no particular order)

1. They criminalized circumcision, Sabbath observance and establishing the new moon
2. They commissioned a translation of the Torah
3. They breached the Soreg in 13 places
4. While not destroying our Temple they transformed it into a Pagan temple for their Pantheon
5. For the first time MisYavnim=Hellenized Jews appeared (in previous exiles there were no MisBavlim or MisAshrim).
6. They claimed Droit de seigneur for the Hegemon
7. They issued an edict commanding Jews to declare in writing on Ox horns "We have no truck with the G-d of Israel"
8. They defiled the oil but did not burn it or spill it to waste.

What's the common denominator? All manifest an antisemitism targeting, not the existence of Jews, but the notion as Jews as something as separate an distinct from the rest of humanity. Each of these blurred and or diminished the havdala bein Yisrael L'Amim. Jews could be gentiles and even share their DNA and Gentiles could be Jews. As far as the Yevanim were concerned the people can go on... it was the Chosen People that had to cease to exist.

So when you celebrate Chanuka, by praising and thanking G-d for His wondrous, miraculous liberating us from the Greeks and their Misyavain cohorts, (edited for Ari) don't just pay Him lip service. Understand that we thank Him for saving the notion of our choseness and separateness. If you do not exult in that gift you are offering insincere thanks and are an ingrate to boot.

I know that most readers of this post will be unimpressed by Emunas Khakhomim= faith in the Sages, but while I embellished somewhat, the basic message of this post was not my idea but that of some of the foremost Jewish Thinkers of the 20th century. It is my fervent hope and prayer that I haven't subtracted from their Torah through my additions.

Wishing everyone a beautiful tan. Ah Likhtigen Chanuka un Ah Likhtigen Tumid.

I don't feel like blogging today

Sue me: I'm allowed a mental health day once every 3 or 4 thousand posts. Anyway, chances are I'll be back later in the afternoon with a post or three.

Meanwhile, I call on the contributors to pick up the slack. They are hereby reminded of the cardinal rule of blogging at DovBear: BE SHORT AND NON-BORING.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Fighting fire with fire

Hat-tip: The Amshinover rebba

Why NCYI is broken, and how it can be fixed

A few years back, one of the Junior Shtrimeled Members of the congregation and I were walking home together. He was agitated about some of the tunes our cantor had employed:

JSM: We're not a Young Israel. Those songs were all wrong. Wrong mood, wrong atmosphere, wrong everything.

DB: What do you mean we're not a Young Israel? We go to movies, they go to movies. We talk in shul, they talk in shul. We have a kiddush club, they have a kiddush club. So exactly how are we unlike a Young Israel?

Come on. It's not even worth arguing about. You know the answer to that question.

Well sure, I do, but my answer isn't the answer he expected. The reason he (and the SSM from yesterday) wish to distance themselves from Young Israel is because the pendulum has swung. 100 years ago NCYI was on the rise. The first Young Israel shuls injected some life, some energy into an American Judaism that seemed to be disintegrating. Now, Young Israel is like hava nagila: kitchy, and uncool. Even worse, haredi propagandists have attached the kiss of death to the Young Israel movement. They call it MODERN, and as any cell-phone toting, car driving haredi Jew will tell you MODERN is the very opposite of everything holy, pure, excellent, and worth preserving. And, unfortunately for NCYI, once the official haredi thought police label something MODERN there's no appealing the decree, and no insecurely Orthodox Jew is going to touch something with the MODERN albatross hanging around its neck. That's just how it goes.

[Aside: Like most of what Haredi propagandists say, the idea that Young Israels are "modern" is half-true. Many of the elements they haymish crowd most disdains (ie: the pews, the singing of Yigdal and Adon Olam ) are, in fact, very old, and in some cases, older than some of their own cherished customs. But so what? Since when does the truth matter, if there are agendas to pursue?]

So what can be done? How can NCYI be fixed? Two suggestions:

1 - Shut down. Sell your headquarters, fire the staff, and go gently into that good night. Your moment has passed. Your time is up. And no one will miss you.

2 - Merge with the OU. The OU is basically what NCYI would be, if NCYI was wealthy and successful. There really isn't any need for both organizations, and because the OU is larger, stronger, and better, it makes sense for them to absorb their failed competitor. (Though the OU is every bit as modern as NCYI (which is to say, almost not at all) they've escaped becoming a synonym for modern, perhaps because they don't emblazon the name of their organization across the facade of their shuls, or maybe its because Brooklyn isn't thick with OU affiliated shuls) Merging with the OU might also be a better end for NCYI. The staff can be absorbed and the higher ups can be given a gentle landing, too

Is this the begining of NCYI-palooza?

I've decided that I can understand why haymish people who live like monks look down their noses at the Young Israel crowd. After all no TV, no movies, boring clothing - these are tangible differences.

But the ones I know aren't like that. Most of the haymish people I know watch TV, go to movies and dress normally. So where do they get the nerve to act snobby toward their modern neighbors? Their bad English and childish views on religion aren't anything to crow about.

Next: Why NCYI is broken, and how it can be fixed

Monday, December 10, 2007

NCYI, the ever-ready scape goat

XGH has a typically amusing post up about how the National Council of Young Israel is a waste of time. He concludes with this: The NCYI provides nothing for it's members except for the name. And going forward, that name might just be an embarrassment.

Going forward? In the pious precincts the name already is an embarrassment, a catch all sneer for everything the very holy dislike. Just last week I overheard the King of the Shul in conversation with one of our senior, shtrimeled members.

KOS: Yeah, a few of us thought a Carlbach Shabbos might be nice while Shabbos is still starting early
SSM: Are you sure we should do that? We wouldn't want people to think we're a Young Israel.

We wouldn't want people to think we're a Young Israel.

Doesn't that just sum up everything that's wrong with the hyper-Haredi hashkofa? Even the good ideas are verboten, or at least suspect, and not because we've talked them over and weighed out their pros and cons, but because of what the neighbors might think. Fear, panic and insecurity rule the day rather than careful thought and review.

And this isn't unique to my current shul.

Once many years ago, I was part of a debate about Yigdal. [Longer version here] Some of had started davening together, and a few of us wanted to end Friday night services with Yigdal. "Uh-uh, not gonna happen," promised the owner of the house. "We're not a Young Israel!" Again the facts of the situation itself were irrelevant. Yigdal has been part of Friday night services for at least 300 years, but all that mattered to the host was that nowadays Young Israelniks do it. And so :"Uh-uh, not gonna happen" To do otherwise, would be to risk calamity.

I don't know how to solve this problem, short of providing the offenders with irreversible lobotomies....

MoC's new albulm

According to the label on K'shoshana, MoC's new album, the songs on it are previously unrecorded Carlbach compositions. Naturally, before I'd even heard a single tune, this gave me the first sentence of my review "Unrecorded songs are usually left unrecorded for a reason."

Or, so I thought.

I can't pretend to have any knowledge of music. I just know what I like, and what I don't like, and what I especially dislike is Jewish music that is too loud, too synthesized, and too predictable. [High part, high part, low part, low part. And repeat.] I keep one Jewish album in my car - Williger's Carlbach Shabbos - and, by my lights, a hit Jewish song is one we can use for kedusha more than 10 times without the tzibbur greeting it with a groan.

Though there's nothing on K'shoshana that a chazan might employ on shabbos morning, the songs are appealing. There's almost nothing of the bad sort of Jewish music about them. Instead of being loud, these are gentle, and sweet. The best of them -I mean Ravrevin, Tsur Yisrael, and Ki Lekach Tov - stay with you, which is my laymen's way of judging a hit song, Jewish or not.

On Friday night, a few of us will occasionally sit together, say at a Sholom Zacher, and sing the old standards. The scotch flows, and as the music swells I start to feel like one of my ancestors from before television, and movies. We may have electric lights, instead of bonfires, but there's still a primal camaraderie that forms when men pass around a bottle and sing together. Will Ravrevin join the canon? Will it one day become a Friday night drinking song like Esah Anai (el haharim) or L'maan Achai V'ray-eye? I don't know enough about music to make that sort of prediction, but I plan to do my part. The next time we sing together, I'm teaching it to my friends.

[Disclosure: MoC gave me a review copy, and MoC and I are old blogging freinds]

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Oil Miracle

The Miracle of the Oil
The only miracle discussed in Macabees is the military victory, the same miracle we talk about in the Al HaNissim. The small jug of oil first appears in the Talmud, codified about 600 years after the events of Chanuka. In the interim, a variety of rabbinic stories were told to answer the questions: (1) Why do we light candles on Hanukah? (2) Why is Hanukah 8 days? As you'll see, these stories show how the relationship between the Rabbis and the Hashmoneans changed over time:

"[At Hanukah] we commemorate the dedication of the Temple by the Hasmoneans who fought and defeated the Hellenists, and we kindle lights -- just as when [we] finished the Tabernacle in the Wilderness . . . ." (Pesikta Rabbati, ch. 6)

"Why do we kindle lights on Hanukah? Because when the sons of the Hasmoneans, the High Priest, defeated the Hellenists, they entered the Temple and found there eight iron spears. They stuck candles on them and lit them." (Pesikta Rabbati ch. 2)

"Why did the rabbis make Hanukah eight days? Because . . . the Hasmoneans entered the Temple and erected the altar and whitewashed it and repaired all of the ritual utensils. They were kept busy for eight days. And why do we light candles? Because . . . when the Hasmoneans entered the Temple there were eight iron spears in their hands. They covered them with wood and lit candles on them. They did this each of the 8 days." (Megilat Ta'anit ch. 9)

"What is Hanukah? When the Hellenists entered the Temple, they desecrated all of the oil. And when the Hasmonean dynasty grew and defeated them, they searched but found only one cruse of oil sealed with the stamp of the High Priest, and there was only enough in it to burn for one day. A miracle happened and it burned for eight days. The next year they made these days a fixed annual commemoration . . ." (TB Shabbat 21b; also Schol. Megilat Taanith 25 Kislev)

Why did the story change from a glorification of the military victory, to an oil miracle?

One easy answer (and beware of easy answers) is that the Rabbis wanted to demphasize the majesty of the Hasmoneans after they (the Hashmoneans) either (1) joined forces with the Sadducees and/or (2) presided over a civil war (ca. 67-61 BC) during which perhaps more than 100,000 Jews were killed. Support for this answer appears on the same page of Talmud where the oil miracle is first mentioned. On Shabbat 21b the Rabbis tell you that "in times of danger" Chanuka candles can be lit on a table: in other words, don't be a martyr like Judah and his brothers. Risking your life for the sake of Chanuka is not needed.

A second easy answer (same caveat) is that the Rabbis were wary of capricious rulers, and thought it wise to stay silent about that time we rose up and overthrew the ruling powers.

A third answer might seem more familiar to American Jews. The Mishnah has some brief references to the rules for Chanuka , indicating that by the end of the second century C.E. there was already a custom of kindling lights at the darkest period of the year. This was a custom that may have been imported from the northern latitudes during Roman rule -- perhaps in imitation of the Roman Saturnalia observances. Sometime between then and the completion of Gemara, the celebration of lights assumed greater significance and, just as today we elevate the observance of Chanuka in order to offset the influence of Christmas, the rabbis of the Talmud may have built up the idea of a miracle connected with lights, to show Jews that we had our own basis for a solstice observance.

Which is the right answer? No clue. Its one of the mysteries.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

The Judgement of Solomon: Who really owns The Land of Israel?

[Note: This "dream" was set in motion by my reading the haftara for Parashat Mikketz today. You know, the one that's hardly ever read because usually Parashat Mikketz is read on Shabbat Hanukkah, which has its own haftara.]

Ah, yes, sweet CPAP, the wonder technology that has conquered my sleep apnea and let me get some good shut-eye. It also has the benefit of restoring REM sleep, which contains our dreams. Well, last night, I fired up the unit, and before I could count the "sh'nei kevashim" that are part of the Shabbat Musaf offering, I was in dreamland.

And what a dream it was! There I was lounging on a golden throne in a splendid hall decorated with gold, silver, and the finest artworks. I was dressed in some kind of silken robe with very fancy embroidery. Sitting next to me were a number of very hot looking young ladies in flimsy robes who I understood to be concubines of mine. Standing behind me was a slave who was keeping me cool with a large ostrich-feather fan. I immediately understood that I was supposed to be Melech Shlomo, King Solomon.

A slave came up and handed me a cool drink, which was welcome, because the palace hall might have been magnificent, but it was a hot day, and there was no air conditioning. I took the golden chalice and drank, pleasantly surprised to find that it was a very well-made margarita. I could have sworn I tasted the añejo tequila. The apparent anachronism didn't bother me at the time. After all, this was a dream.

Suddenly a commotion at the palace door. Two of my loyal royal gatekeepers came running up.

"Sire, we tried to tell them you were busy, but they told us to go to hell, they've had it with the phone-mail runaround."

I had no idea what the hell they were talking about, but up the hall strode two agitated men, closely accompanied by a large number of very nervous sword-wielding Royal bodyguards. Each man was carrying a rolled-up piece of paper. As they got closer, I realized who they were, and my spirits dropped very quickly. Because before me were Mohammed Amin al-Husayni, Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, and David Ben Gurion, Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Jewish Agency for Palestine.

Husayni spoke first: "That nudnick stole my homeland!" He cried, pointing at Ben Gurion. "We both went to sleep last night each with our own homelands, and when I woke up, I found the one in my hands was dead! But I know it's not mine."

He shoved the paper scroll into my face (with little regard for my royal dignity, I might add), and I unrolled it and saw that it was a map. Of Eastern Europe. I motioned for Ben Gurion to show me his scroll. Of course. Ben Gurion was holding a map of the Land of Israel.

"I can't help it if that shmatte kop can't take care of his homeland!"

"Wait," I said, suddenly getting a headache. "I know this story, it's from the Bible, but it involves two whores..."

"Nu?" Said Ben Gurion, "We're politicians. What's the difference?"

Now I realized that H-sh-m had given me this dream so that he could impart to me the wisdom of Melech Shlomo and come up with a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. So I did what I had to do.

I stood up, grabbed the map of the land of Israel from Ben Gurion and bellowed "Get me a marker and a writing desk!" Boy, it's great having slaves. Both marker and desk appeared in seconds.

I looked at the map, and saw that it showed all of the locations of the Jewish settled areas, circa 1947. I wasn't to hard to take the marker and, chic-choc, divide up the land. True, the Jewish areas were barely contiguous, but, then again, neither were the Arab areas.

"OK you two, here's the deal. This is what we call in the twenty-first century, the 'Two-State Solution." You got your Jewish State, and you've got your Arab State. And if the two of you get along, maybe you'll stop killing each other and perhaps prevent the rise of the Jewish neocons and prevent George W. Bush from being elected president, or if he does get elected, at least he won't have neocon Likudnik advisors. So just cut the land in two and go live in peace."

"Well, I don't know," said Ben Gurion dubiously, "That "Jewish State" you marked out is kinda small, and it's not exactly contiguous or easy to defend, but, what the heck, at least it's a Jewish State and we'll be able to resettle all of those Displaced Persons sitting in camps in Europe. They're certainly not letting them immigrate to the US. OK, I'll agree to cut up the Land of Israel."

al-Husayni was of a completely different opinion: "NO!! All of Palestine is ours! Those filthy Jews have no right to any of it. Well, maybe the Jews who were living there before the British came...But all of Palestine is ours, and there should be NO Jewish state."

"Great," I said as my headache started throbbing even worse. "Well both of you blew it. I was obviously put in this position to give the Judgment of Solomon, and if you had answered correctly, maybe I could have gotten a Nobel Peace Prize. But no, Ben Gurion, you just had to accept having your homeland cut to pieces. That's the same sort of reaction that caused the real Shlomo to realize that the mother who agreed to having her baby split wasn't the real mother. Maybe you Zionists don't really care about the Land of Israel.

"But you, Mohammed al-Husayni, you demanded the whole land for yourself! If you had offered to give it all to the Jews, then it would have been obvious that this was your land, and you loved it so much that you'd prefer to save it than having it cut to pieces. Then my judgment would have been that it was your land. Or you could have agreed to my partition and had your state and been able to live in peace, and that would have been OK, too. But no, you want it all for yourself, and you don't realize that's not possible.

"Oy, I can't figure out what to do. H-sh-m may have given me Shlomo's wisdom, but your reactions weren't what I had expected.

Ben Gurion and al-Husayni both looked at each other. The mufti's face brightened and he said, "You think it's hard to come to judgment now? What would you have done if I had offered the whole land to the Jews and if Ben Gurion had also offered the whole land to the Arabs?"

"Thanks," I replied, my headache rapidly turning into a migraine. "Obviously, this situation can't be solved even with the wisdom of Shlomo. About the only thing I can say is where is the Ottoman Empire when you need them?

"Well, begone and off with you! All I can say is that I hope you enjoy the sixty years of war you're inflicting on your people."

As the two litigants shuffled off to the door, not so gently prodded by some spear-wielding Royal bodyguards, I put my hand to my head and moaned, "Oy, there's no solution! There's no solution!"

...and found myself being shaken awake my beloved Ms. Apikoris.

"CA!" She exclaimed, "It's great that CPAP is letting you sleep, but you seem to be getting some weird dreams. 'There's no solution!?' I don't understand why you're dreaming about a calculus class you took 30 years ago! Oh well, at least you're not moaning about the Bray of Fundy. Now go back to sleep. We've got to get up early tomorrow morning."

As always, Ms. Apikoris is right. I really should just go back to sleep. I don't know why I would want the wisdom of Shlomo, especially in cases when there is no solution.

Friday, December 07, 2007

The Psalms

Robert Alter has a new book out, a new translation of the Psalms. It has several goals, among them is his wish to remove from the Psalms every trace of Christian theology, a theology he believes has been superimposed on the poems by translators. For example, where the KJV capitalizes Son, he does not; where the KJV suggests heaven as when it renders l'orech yamim as "eternally", Alter leaves it as "for many long days" and keeps the poem in the present.

I've been reading the book, and I see that along with taking the Christinity out of the Pslams, he may have also stripped them of their Judaism, the Judaism of the current exile I mean. Over the last two thousand years the predicition of the Rabbis in Midrash Tehillim has come to pass. We Jews (and Christians, too, as Adam Kirsch points out in a masterful review) have acquired the habit of imagining that everything in the Psalms "pertains to all Israel, and to all times." Some of that is a trick of translation, though. As Kirch explains:

Alter's Psalms look backward--to the warrior culture that produced them, obsessed
with honor, shame, and revenge; and even to the polytheistic Canaanite mythology
that lurked in the background of Israelite religion. Psalm 95 declares: "For a great god is the Lord,/and great king over all the gods"; and in Psalm 104 we find God making war on the Ocean, as Baal did on the sea-god Yam in Canaanite myth"

For Psalm 95 Artscroll gives us For a great God is Hashem and great king above all heavely powers. (the Hebrew is melch godol al kol elohim) Psalm 104 is Barchi Nafshi, and Artscroo's translation carries none of the sense of it representing

I also learned from Kirsch that the tehillim fad gaining ground [criticized here] in our neighborhoods has an unlikely predecessor: Once monks recited the whole book, every week, and the Anglican Book of Common Prayer called for the whole cycle to be read monthly.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

D'chay admon....

No, we don't sing it with any special feeling in the house of bear, but my five dollars say that if the last line of Maoz Tzur called on God to destroy the BLUE one, we'd be up to our eyeballs in bogus divrei Torah about how this is all about the liberals. More

More to Us Than Meets the Eye


Hebrew dikduk teaches that when the letter mem is used as a prefix it is sometimes "derivative" as in זָכוֹר אֶת-הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה אֲשֶׁר יְצָאתֶם מִמִּצְרַיִם מִבֵּית עֲבָדִים 'Remember this day, in which ye came out from Egypt, out of the house of bondage; " and sometimes "superlative" i.e. stating the relative superiority of one thing to another as in מִקֹּלוֹת, מַיִם רַבִּים--אַדִּירִים מִשְׁבְּרֵי-יָם; אַדִּיר בַּמָּרוֹם יְהוָה. "Above the voices of many waters, the mighty breakers of the sea, the L-RD on high is mighty."

Although, come Shabbos, I will NOT recite the piyyut אודך כי אנפת בי as Mar Gavriel suggested, his post about it got me to think about the most famous of Chanukah Piyutim and in particular it's most popular stanza יוונים נקבצו עלי

In that stanza this rhyme appears: ומנותר קנקנים נעשה נס לשושנים Conventionally translated as : "And from the (one) remnant of the flasks, a miracle was wrought for the roses (i.e. the Nation of Israel)". Thus, the mem in the word UMinosar is conventionally interpreted as "derivative". But I think that the poetic license of piyutim allows for a "superlative" reading/translation as well: A miracle was wrought for "the roses" that exceeded the miracle wrought by the remnant of the flasks. The flask miracle was two-fold ; that it was found in a state of purity at all and that it illuminated far above and beyond what the law of conservation of mass an energy limited it to.

That after 2 millenia plus of blood soaked exile any Jews should be left at all, much less any Jews retaining an imprint of purity while storm tossed in a sea of impurity, defies odds even greater than the unbroken seal on the small flask of oil. That we continue to illuminate and dispel the darkness with a Torah who's light is transcendent and eternal, not part of the 7 days of creation but of an eighth day beyond those seven, and that we cast this light farther and wider than should be naturally possible by a landless people of minuscule numbers, has more of the eternal and infinite about it than even the 1 day oil that burned for 8.

Purity and impurity are invisible and sensory imperceptible. The difference between the two confounds and vexes the havdala challenged and havdala oblivious. Yet the difference is no less true and real for that.

Want to know more about these miraculous roses whose purity makes all the rest of the human flora seem like thorns by comparison? Read here once more with feeling.