Wednesday, April 30, 2008

More disgusting anti-semitism from the Jew-hating media

Leave it to the New York Times to publish a story about an Orthodox Rabbi and his succesful quest to rescue and restore a Holocaust-era Sefer Torah.

More from the mailbag

[DB: I seem to have missed a uniquely awful Cross Currents article from earlier this month. At least five people wrote me letters of complaint about it. What follows is one of them]

Hello there,

long time listener, first time caller.

Yakov Menken's article is just stupid. He ignores the fact that EVERY yeshiva criticizes "the left." Writing a book that can be debated is exactly what they should do.

And he thinks that "the left" has no arguments so they resort to bashing the right. How ridiculous. There are plenty of good arguments that "the left" uses all the time. Even a cursory tour around the blogosphere would demonstrate that. The book is an addition to all that.

In fact, there are precious few good books written for a wider audience (i.e. not preaching to the choir) about the validity of traditional Judaism. The charge that Menken levels at "the left" is much more appropriate for the right.

dumb article

Please protest for us. Thanks.
I don't have anything to add to this aside for an anecdote or three. First: I went to MO schools, and never heard a word from anyone about the right. My kids go to Charedi schools and so far there've been at least three incidents of MO-bashing I've had to complain about. Second: I daven at MO shuls, shteibles and a yeshiva. The folks in the MO place and the yeshiva have nothing to say about the members of other shuls. The shteible-hoppers, however, can hardly go a week without saying something nasty about the style, or the habits, or the behavior exhibited at the other two places. Third: I read a few blogs written by reform and conservative Jews. IIRC, not one of them have ever said anything critical of charedim; meanwhile, Yakov Mencken and Cross Currents, the self-appointed voices of Torah Judaism, run post after post that insult, demean and denigrate other types of Jews. (while always sparing a kind word for Christians)

Can any of you in reader-land corroborate my experiences? What explains it?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

From the mail bag

[DB: Don't know anything more than what you see here. Proceed at your own risk]

You are invited to participate in a study of personality and Orthodox Jewish belief. where we hope to learn which factors contribute to and detract from varied aspects of religiousness. Our results will inform educators, clinicians, and clergy how to best communicate religious values and sentiment to different individuals. The survey is entirely online, anonymous and takes only minutes to complete. Thank you for your time and effort. Take the Survey.

A note from the Old Timer about something to horrible to be believed

[DB: OT sent this to me back in February; for reasons best left unexplained I just came across it today]

Hi Dov Bear,

I was talking to an aquaintance who davens in my shul this past Shabbos. This man who is typical black hat yeshivish owns a store in Monsey that sells perfume, cosmetics, and other apparel for women.

This past week 2 chasidishe young met came into his store and claimed to represent the "Vaad Hamishmeres Hatznius" of Monsey. They demanded that he remove a display from his window that contains the picture of a woman from the neck up. He also has stockings displayed in his window and he was told that they must be covered up because they are intimate apparel that can lead a man to have impure thoughts.

He told them in no uncertain terms to get lost and that they had no business entering his store to begin with because it only caters to women. Furthermore, he told them there is nothing non-tznius about a woman's picture from the neck up and that he will not submit to standards that exceed what the halacha says is permitted. Unlike the Chaim Berlin incident, his store is located in an all commercial zone and is not in proximity to any yeshiva or kollel.

They told him that the next time they come back they will not be so nice and cited the example of the boutique in Boro Park that recently had their windows broken. They also told him that women will soon be required to cover their faces in the same manner as they now cover other parts of their bodies and therefore his cosmetic business will have no future.

To make a long story short, he threw them out of the store with the words that "this is Monsey, USA and not Kabul, Afghanistan and we do not follow the "chukas hagoyim" of the Taliban.

Please post this story on your blog in my name.

A post of some interest and quality

The Songs of Songs

The advice I'm giving people today is to run away from the ArtScroll translation/elucidation of Shir HaShirim. It sucks, managing to reduce a top-shelf love poem (or collection of love poems, if you prefer) into a pointless babel. In the ArtScroll treatment, lines of great poetry are stripped of their meaning and context and presented, reformulated, as the words of God, or Israel, or any of a succession of oppressors creating what is quite literally a confusion of voices. Though this elucidation may, in some ways, be true to the intention of the Sages who canonized the book, it is a corruption of the book itself, and by corrupting the book ArtScroll denies the Sages their true achievement.

The genius of the Sages is that they took the Song of Songs, a secular poem about a secular subject written (most likely) by comparatively irreligious men for a secular purpose, and transformed it into something holy. As anyone familiar with the origins of the Seder or Hasidic nigunim will agree this trick is one at which Jewish sages once excelled: They often took ordinary and popular elements from the surrounding culture and infused them with religious significance (or holiness, if you prefer.) If we pretend, as ArtScroll does, that the book was written (by Solomon!) as a deliberate parable we not only raise serious historical questions, but the Sages who canonized it become clerks with rubber stamps, rather than men of vision, strength and insight.

The Sages who converted the Symposium into the Seder, like the Sages who made a poem about a lovesick shepherd into the Holy of Holies, didn't deny or ignore their surrounding culture. They co-opted it, and by co-opting it they conquered it.

Monday, April 28, 2008

So how did you handle the Pre-Seder Shabbat challah question?

A guest post by TikunOlam

So first off, my three day yom tov at my parents turned out to be really, really nice.

Wanted to ask all of you if your Shabbat prior to the Sedarim looked anything like the one in my parents' neighborhood. They held minyan very early in the morning so that everyone could be home by 10:30 am. We then said Kiddish, made Hamotzei over challah (away from the table which was set with Pesach silverware as of course the house was already Pesach ready) and then recited Birkat Hamazon.

We then made another Hamotzei for Seuda Shlishit on challah (which we ate in the backyard) and continued to have a meal toward noon. A question arised as to whether we needed to rinse out ours mouths after eating the challah as the meal was continued (now inside the house) using the Pesach silverware.

I thought this was all very interesting and I don't remember ever doing it this way before. Was it handled the same way in your home?

Velvel Chusid: Nude Rebbetzins

Velvel Chusid: Nude Rebbetzins

Beating the bans

Problem: You're a Jewish singer or concert promoter who's come down on the bad side of the kanoim. Now they want to ban your concert. What do you do?

Answer: Easy! Instead of calling it a concert, call it a "Special Yom Tov Zmiros (not concert) with "very" famous singer." [!!]

HT: Enigma

Changing names and language in Egypt

In the old days, children, every Jewish day-school had students with names like Andrew, Scott, and Jennifer. Just as common was the well-meaning Rabbi who would insist on calling them by their Hebrew names (Aharon, Shmuel, and Yocheved.) The reason? Why, the midrash of course:

"Did not Israel possess four mitzvot [while they were in Egypt]…: that they were sexually pure, that they did not gossip, that they did not change their names, and that they did not change their language." -- R. Eliezer haKappar, as quoted by the Mechilta

I confess to never quite understanding this Midrash. Perhaps you can help. One problem is that the redeemer himself seems to have had an Egyptian name. [More here] Another, is that it seems clear from the textual evidence that the Isralites did change their names. The names of the original nation of seventy that settled in Goshen are given. We also have the names of the tribal leaders who took part in the Exodus, and the names of a few others dignitaries. Not one of them is a repeat. If the Jews who were redeemed from Egypt understood this Midrash in the way that most Jews do today, wouldn't we find at least one Avraham, and maybe a Yosef or a Yehuda, among the dor hamidbar? Yet, we don't.

Writing this post, two other thoughts occured to me.
(1) The well-meaning Rabbi mentioned above also told us the Israelites were redeemed because they didn't embrace Egyptian clothing styles. This point isn't mentioned in the Mechilta cited above, and though I may have once known the source of this idea, I appear to have forgotten where to find it, and Google is no help. [Note to DovBear haters: Rejoice! Here's a new opportunity to call me ignorant!] Anyway, the textual evidence opposes this midrash, too: At the Exodus, the Israelites asked the Egyptians for gold, silver, and clothing.

(2) The Midrash above says the Jews were redeemed because they kept their language. For 2000 years, we spoke languages like Aramaic, Greek, German, French and Yiddish, yet it was only after (some) Jews made a serious effort to rehabilitate Hebrew that the State of Israel was established. Coincidence?

Sunday, April 27, 2008

What do the Egyptians say happened?

A Guest Post by Rafi G.

(cross-posted from LII)

I am not a historian or much of a scholar on pretty much anything, but this is something I have wondered about for a very long time.

When I was in Yeshiva, many moons ago, there was this thing guys had about going to Discovery. Discovery was fairly new back then, just a few years old, and there was a buzz about it. It was exciting. Discovery is/was a program by Aish that was intense for a few days talking about how religion and Torah are correct. They were out to make people frum very quickly by giving them massive amounts of information that would effect them changing their lives.

Discovery was exciting for yeshiva guys, I think, for two reasons:
  1. Discovery seminars discussed many things that the average yeshiva guy never learns or hears about. It is very interesting material (when I was in Yeshiva I knew one of the main Discovery lecturers, and when I would go to his house for Shabbos he would sometimes be talking about it, so I had a taste of what it was).
  2. Discovery was off limits to Yeshiva guys. It was for not-frum people only. That meant it was a challenge for a yeshiva guy to get in. He had to try to dress and act not-frum and hope nobody noticed. The challenge made it enticing for guys to try and, more often than not, the guys who tried, got in. I think the Discovery people must have known and not really minded, as long as they did not look so obviously frum in the classroom.
Eventually, if I remember correctly, Discovery made a separate track for frum people who wanted to take the course. That accomplished two things:
  1. Discovery was able to make money off a whole new audience (they charged these guys entrance fees)
  2. it kept the frum guys out of the non-frum groups, which prevented the frum guys from disturbing the non-frum sessions with questions the non-frum would not understand.
So, there were all these yeshiva guys going to hear lectures at Discovery.

I personally never went. But I remember hearing, many times, that one of the major topics lectured on was the 10 plagues.
Discovery would talk about the 10 Plagues and describe how archaeologists found ancient Egyptian records that described the 10 plagues from the perspective of the Egyptians. It was eerily similar to what the Torah describes, with the twist of it being described from the other end.

I always thought that would be a really cool perspective to read, yet whenever I looked for more information on the subject, I never really found anything.

My wife once knew someone who had studied ancient Egyptian history in college and did her Masters degree in the field. I do not remember the name of the specific field she studied, but it was one that would have included the topic of the Ten plagues, it is existed in Ancient Egyptian history. This woman told my wife that the topic never came up, she had never seen anything in the books about such an archaeological find.

So, I don't know if Discovery made it up (I always wondered why the people at Discovery were the only ones to have found and be aware of this evidence), or if there really was such a discovery in the archaeological world, but I always wondered what the plagues were like from the Egyptians perspective and how they would have described them.

And I know, the lack of any such discovery does not mean it does not exist. Maybe they just "have not yet dug deep enough to find it". So my faith is not altered by the lack of any records from the Egyptian side, rather my curiosity is piqued.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Makot Machlokes

What follows is a fast and furious summary of some of the better and lesser known arguments our rabbis had about the plagues.


1 - Did the plague of blood affect the Hebrews, too, or just the Egyptians?
Midrash (Shmos Raba 9:10): Egyptians only. And any water they touched turned to blood, too.
Ibn Ezra: The Nile only. Both Hebrews and Egyptians. Jews and Egyptians alike could drink from other water sources. The Midrash about twater turning to blood when touched by Egyptians, unless it had been purchased from a Jew, is discounted. [DB: This is also the plain meaning of [some of] the verses, and it makes some philosophical sense: The first plague hit the river which was an Egyptian diety [and its tributaries]. The point was to demonstrate the impotancy of the idol. Had any surrounding non-river water been affected the message would have been muddled.]
Radvaz: The Ibn Ezra is wrong, and you can't believe what he wrote.
Avi Ezer: "Everyone knows that the Jews got rich during the plague of blood [by selling water to Egyptians] this Ibn Ezra comment is obviously the work of a wayward student [talmid to'eh] who is poor in knowledge"
Rashi: Nile Egyptians only

2 - Did the magicians have the power to copy the plagues?
Rashi: Yes
Ralbag: No; the first plague affected entire bodies of water. All the magicians did was convert some small drops of water. [DB: And where did they get water if the Midrash above is correct?]
Abravanel: No, they had no powers. They just spread a rumor that they had copied the trick in private.
Samson Rephael Hirsh: The magicians were attempting to undo the plagues not copy them (would you really want more blood or more frogs?) and failed.
Robert Alter: Yes; in Exodus magic seems to be regarded as a technology of some kind, and one that works. [DB: Robert Alter isn't a Rabbi. I know]

3 - How long did the first plague last?
Rashi: 7 days
Midrash: 7 days
Chizkuni: For a very short amount of time, as indicated by the verse [7:21] The Egyptians could not drink *water* from the Nile because the animals that had died in it left the water foul and putrid. This also explains where the magicians found water.

4 - How did the frog plague start?
Midrash: The was one frog, which turned into many frogs after it was hit.
Rashi: Cites the midrash but adds a singular noun (in this case hatzafardeh) can be used to indicate the plural. [DB: What's bothering Rashi? The verse says Aaron was supposed to "raise up" the frogs by himself, whereas with the locusts (for example) the swarm ascended by itself. The verb for frogs is vha'al; at locusts it is v'ya'al) How could Aaron bring up all the frogs at once? The midrash supplies an answer.
Rabbi Eliezer ben Azarya (Sanhedrin 67b): One frog came up and whistled for the others.

5 - What were the tzefardaim?
Abravanel: Crocodiles

6 - What was Orov?
Rashi: A mixture of wild animals, snakes and scorpions
Someone else, forget who: Swarms of insects [Rational: There were two plagues that hit the river, two that were diseases, and two that his crops in the field. So why shouldn't their also be two insect plagues?]

7 - Which animals died during Dever?
Rashi: Only those left outside
Ohr hachayim: Only those left outside, and this is why the Egyptians were given a full day's warning.
Ramban: All of them, as the verse says, [9:6] All the livestock of the Egyptians died

8 - When did Moshe say the 10th plague would start?
Rashi: Exactly at midnight; davr achar he said around midnight so the an error in caluclating on the part of the Egyptian timekeepers wouldn't affect his credibility.
Mizrachi: Around midnight
Ibn Ezra: After midnight, in the second half of the night
Ramban: He didn't really say at all. Not exactly. He just sort of hinted.

Loving Leon

Leon Wieseltier:

The ink on the [New York] Times [column by neocon Bill Kristol]was not yet dry when Andrew Sullivan rushed to the defense of his idol, I mean Obama. When one types all the time, sooner or later everything will be typed, and so Sullivan, in his fury against Kristol, typed this: "A non-Christian manipulator of Christianity is calling a Christian a liar about his faith." Ponder that early adjective. It is Jew baiting. I was not aware that only Christians can judge Christians, or that there are things about which a Jew cannot call a Christian a liar. If Kristol is wrong about Obama, it is not because Kristol is a Jew. So this fills me with a certain paschal wrath. Nice little blog you have there, Obama boy. Pity if frogs or locusts should happen to it. Let my people be!

The Hebrews Left Egypt/Traveled Through The Sea


Prove it.

6.5 dovbear points to anyone who can.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Was the first matzo kosher l'pesach?

Was the first matzo kosher l'pesach?

Think about it: According to the account in Exodus the fleeing Hebrews were making bread. That means their mixed water and flour also contained a leavening agent like sourdough (se'or) and that it presumably sat for more than 18 minutes before baking. In other words, it wasn't fit for Passover use.

Ramifications? Several. Stay tuned. The kids are calling.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Look who has graced us with a surprise visit


Incidentally, I am zonked like I've never been zonked before and that's the only think keeping me from (a) compiling a list of Renny's best post to serve as an intro for those of you who are newbies and not in the RenReb know (b) telling you all about my Sedarim (c) ranking on the pope, the city of New York, and that fool Rabbi who turned his shul into a dog and pony show right before Pesach.

Ok, I am zonked, but not too zonked to point this out.

The Rabbi and the Pope exchanged gifts last Friday, during the Pope's absurdly meaningless and inappropriate visit to the Park East Synagogue. The Rabbi who, no doubt wishes desperately to be loved, gave the king of the Catholics a silver seder plate and a box of matzohs (and we know what Catholics do with crackers.) In return, the Rabbi received from the Pope a reproduction of a Jewish manuscript kept in the Vatican Museum.

You read that correctly.

The Pope's gift to the Rabbi was a COPY of a document his predecessor STOLE which is kept locked away in a museum where only a select group of Jews and Jewish scholars may examine it. Talk about nasty. Its like if the school bully were to take your lunch and give you the bag, and maybe some wrappers, as a gesture of reconciliation.

Anyway, welcome back from the dead Renny, and let's hope Benedict doesn't attempt a similar trick with those unfortunate matzohs.

Friday, April 18, 2008

This week, are we keeping one holiday or two?

I'm trying to write a post about how Chag haPesach and Chag haMatzot were originally two separate holidays, but its just not coming together. I think this is because I'm not entirely convinced of the truth of the proposition.

According to Sarna, we can see that Pesach and Matzoh predate the exodus because in the Bible neither term is glossed; the author (ie God) seems to assume his audience knows what both words mean. Sarna also tells us that Mazoh's etymology is unclear, but seems to be connected to barley, the grain that blossomed in Israel during the month of Nisan. He suggests Pesach was first a shepherd's holidays celebrated on the 14th of the month, at the eve of the full moon, when lambing was about to begin. The Matzoh festival, he continues, was something else, a 7 day feast which began on the 15th of the month. It was kept by farmers who brought offerings to God to mark and to ask for divine favor at the beginning of their harvest.

Later (after the Exodus, perhaps?) these two holidays were combined, though hints to the original separation can be seen in the Bible. Examples include the places where the Matzoh holiday is enjoined alone, with no accompanying mention of Pesach, and the three times we are told to bring the Pesach on the 14th of the month, before the start of the 7 day Matzoh Festival.

Like I said, I'm not quite convinced this is a true accounting of our holiday's development. More importantly, I agree with those who say that at this late date it hardly matters: For thousands of years we, the People of Israel, have celebrated a single national holiday of liberation. I don't discount that holidays evolve and change - the seder was added years later after all -but the discrete holiday that holds meaning for me is not the holiday of the ancient shepherds and farmers. Its not even the holiday celebrated by the Sages of Benai Brak. The holiday that matters to me, the holiday that matters to all of us, is the holiday we celebrated as children. This is why we're all so resistant to changes to the seder's food and music. This is why the first seder away from home is always such a stressful challenge. We want what we remember, because only what we remember holds meaning. If any of the details are wrong - details that according to all theologists are meaningless - we resist, because their absence makes the holiday seem foreign.

Where Pesach comes from is an interesting question, and one for competent scholars, but it is not a question for this week. This week we speak of our national history, but in reality we're celebrating our personal history. The seder with its well-remembered songs and food serving as cues reminds of our parents, our childhood, our innocence. And it is these memories that are the source of the holiday's great and irreplaceable pleasure.

What's worse than genocide?

The pope is in NY, so in his honor let's play a little guessing game.

Benedict's predecessor, the very far from great Pius 12, excommunicated every single communist in the world. He did this with one stroke of his pen in 1949.

Pius 12, as you know, was also Pope during the Nazi years. Many of the highest ranking Nazis were themselves confessing Catholics, but, with one exception, the pope never excommunicated a single one of them -- even after 1942 when he, and his palace city were safely in Allied hands. Who was the exception? Joseph Goebbels. Can you guess what Goebbels did to offend the Pope? What was the crime Goebbels committed, the crime that, in the eyes of the Holy See, invited a response and a punishment even genocide did not demand.

Eating matzah on Erev Pesach

The Yerushalmi Pesachim 68b says:
האוכל מצה בערב הפסח כבא על ארוסתו בבית חמיווהבא
(One who eats matzah on the eve of Passover is like one who has intimate relations with his bride-to-be in his [future] father-in-law's home. )

As legend has it, Achad Haam provided the perfect rejoinder. He is said to have quipped:
Asiti shnayhem v'aynam domim.
(I've done them both, and they are not similar.)

Rounding up some classic pesach posts

Is the Seder based on the Greek Symposium?

Go get some g'broks!

The sixty-second seder

Scenes from the Kneidel fressing contest

I have an imitation bagel. It's called a matzo

The full Josh Waxman collection

The partial Velveteen Rabbi collection

The BBJ's Green Matzo Balls

Thursday, April 17, 2008

On Baseball in General, and Pesach in Particular

Ultimate DovBear: On Baseball in General, and Pesach in Particular

Bernard-Henri Lévy on the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York:

This is not a museum, it's a church. These are not rooms, they're chapels. The visitors themselves aren't really visitors but devotees, meditative and fervent. I hear one of them asking, in a low voice, if it's true that the greatest champions are buried here—beneath our feet, as if we were at Westminster Abbey, or in the Imperial Crypt beneath the Kapuziner Church in Vienna. And every effort is made to sanctify Cooperstown itself, this cradle of the national religion, this new Nazareth, this simple little town that nothing prepared for its election and yet which was present at the birth of the thing. An edifying history, told in the exhibition rooms and the brochures, of the scientific commission created at the beginning of the twentieth century by a former baseball player who became a millionaire and launched a nationwide contest on the theme "Send us your oldest baseball memory." He collected the testimony of an old engineer from Denver who in 1839, in Cooperstown, in front of the tailor's shop, saw Abner Doubleday, later a Northern general and a Civil War hero, the man who would fire the first shot against the Southerners, explain the game to passersby, set down the rules, and, in fact, baptize it.

It was in honor of this story that the year 1939, exactly a century later, was chosen for the inauguration of the museum. In a well-known article in Natural History, the paleontologist and baseball fan Stephen Jay Gould recalled that a long-ago exhibit at the museum noted that "in the hearts of those who love baseball" the Yankee general remains "the lad in the pasture where the game was invented."

The only problem, Tim Wiles, the museum's director of research, tells me, is that Abner Doubleday, in that famous year of 1839, wasn't in Cooperstown but at West Point; that the old engineer, who was supposed to have played that first game with him, had been just five years old; that the word "baseball" had already appeared in 1815, in a novel by Jane Austen, and in 1748, in a private letter found in England; that a baseball scholar, an eminent member of the Society for American Baseball Research, had just discovered, in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, an even older trace; that the Egyptians had, it seems, their own form of the game. The only problem, he says, is that we have always known—since 1939, in fact, since the museum's opening—that baseball is a sport of the people, and even if, like all sports of the people, it suffers from a lack of written archives, its origin is age-old. The only problem is that this history is a myth, and every year millions of men and women come, like me, to visit a town devoted entirely to its celebration.

Two hypotheses to work from. Either the visitors in question are ignoramuses who believe, in good faith, that it's all true; or, on the contrary, they are in the know. They know that the story doesn't hold true... They are all in full agreement about the falsity of the legend; they celebrate a myth, not believing for an instant that it's true.

To revere a counterfeit as if it were real. To rewrite the history of an age-old pastime as if it were a national sport. What is at stake in each case is a relationship to time, and in particular to the past—as if, with this nation so eminently oriented toward its present and, especially, its future, regret for the past occurs only on condition that the past can be reappropriated with well-calculated words and deeds. As if with all one's strength—including the strength and power of myth and forgery—one had to reassert the power of the present over the past....

There's an analogy here.

When we sit at the seder, and repeat the maggid we celebrate, not just the redemption of the Jewish people, but the creativity of our great sages, and the wonderful, reassuring myths of Jewish history. It's when we recognize that Seder isn't merely a celebration of the past, but of the ideas that were invented to give the past meaning. The facts of the Exodus are believable but unknowable and, anyway, completely beside the point. What we admire is the message that was attached to those facts.

We don't really care exactly how baseball began. We simply love the game.

Budging a little

From the comments:

I don’t believe you intended to be offensive, but the post was very poorly worded. As im sure you are aware, choice of words and the way writing is organized really makes a difference in the message being delivered. Especially, the opening words and sentence.You lead with “inspiring? why inspiring?” 10 out of 10 reasonable people would come away with the impression that you were doubting whether he was inspiring. If this was not the point of your post, and I know it was not, then it was a terrible choice for opening sentence. Then the very next sentence you acknowledge that he inspired “some” students, making it sound as if youre severely qualifying the extent of his inspiration. If you had just reorganized and started with “I think ‘inspiring’ sells him short” your entire post would have had a more tasteful tone.

anon 04.17.08 - 12:30 pm #

I plead guilty to poor wording and I thank you for your helpful comments. Now, I am waiting for those of you who failed to recognize that the post's criticism was directed not at the Rosh Yeshiva but at the writer who thought "inspiring" was a high compliment to plead guilty to poor reading.

Additionally, Dag has asked me to make it clear that I do not question the legitimacy of Yeshivas Chofetz Chaim. This should go without saying, but I am going to say it anyway because Dag is a friend who asked nicely. I fully support (as if my support was needed) the decision of Rav Dovid Leibowitz to leave Torah Vodass and establish a yeshiva more in line with his own hashkafot.

Standing my ground

I said nothing wrong and did nothing to insult the Rosh Yeshiva or his memory. I merely said that in my opinion its better to remember him as a teacher than an inspirer. Teaching, in my opinion, is better than inspiring.

You are free to disagree or course, but how this simple opinion does him any disservice entirely escapes me.

I also called him a "wonderful man," and said "may his memory be a blessing" yet the unfair and biased jerks who visit my blog only to criticize and insult me found this insufficient and accused me of a whole crazy salad of crimes, none of which they bothered to substantiate or justify.

Ironic isn't it. Instead of staying away, as normal, well-adjusted people might, these insecure and jealous children return again and again to a blog they hate, with insults and demands, as they are slowly transformed into exactly the sort of monster they (wrongly) imagine me to be.

President Bush Welcomes His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to White House

... and puts his foot directly into his mouth:

"In a world where some treat life as something to be debased and discarded, we need your message that all human life is sacred..."
The simplistic chutzpah of this imbecilic president never fails to amaze me. Where does the president find the nerve to declare that we need to hear from the Pope that "all human life is sacred" when Bush has done nothing but disregard the Pope on this point. The pope opposes capital punishment, yet as Governor of Texas Bush presided over 151 executions. The Pope opposes the war in Iraq. The Pope opposed the execution of Saddam Hussein. The Pope has condemned the use of torture at all times and in all forms. The Pope, unlike Bush, is consistant. The Pope, unlike Bush, does not shrug his shoulders when soldiers and civilians are killed in the Middle East. The Pope, unlike Bush, does not make pious sounding noises about the towering moral value of zygotes while also embracing capital punishment. The Pope, for all his shortcomings, is a man of principle, and one of the scandals of this decade is how Rove and the media deceived the electorate into thinking George W. Bush was one, too.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

BDE Rabbi Henoch Leibowitz

Collected on the Internet:

The Rosh Hayeshiva of Yeshivas Chofetz Chaim, Horav Hagaon Rav Henoch Leibowitz, zecher tzaddik l’vrocha, has passed away. The funeral is scheduled to take place at Yeshivas Chofetz Chaim, 76-01 147th Street in Kew Garden Hills, at 1:30PM on Wednesday. Rav Leibowitz was a Rosh Yeshiva for over 60 years, inspiring generations of students. This is a tremendous loss for all of Israel.

Inspiring? Why inspiring? I have no doubt the Rosh Yeshiva inspired some students in his time, but what an odd way to praise the deceased. Not only does the word carry a new-agey whiff of flim-flam, it also short sells him: Wouldn't it be more fitting to remember a great Torah sage for teaching his students?

Anyway, the passing of this wonderful man, is an apt time to remember the circumstances that led his father and predecessor to establish Yeshivas Chofetz Chaim. Here's the Wikipedia version:
The yeshiva was established in 1933 following a dispute between Rabbi Dovid Leibowitz and the administration of Yeshiva Torah Vodass. The cause of the dispute is not known. At the time, Rabbi Leibowitz taught [DB: or perhaps inspired] the "top shiur," or most prestigious class, at Torah Vodaas, and when he quit to create his own yeshiva most of his students left with him.
Great story, no? The star teacher, sorry inspirer, walks out with the best students and starts his own place around the corner. Though the dispute was likely about something mundane like money, or assignments, I prefer to imagine that RDL walked out on principle. But what was the principle? Dare I dream RDL left because he -a student of the Alter, and a nephew of the Chofetz Chaim, and a strident Litvak, besides- could not stomach the Hasidic leanings of the school's head, Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz? Wouldn't THAT be great? Alas, I have no evidence but as half baked theories go this one is as good as any.

BDE RHL. May his memory be a blessing.

More on Kolko

Shmarya and the Jewish Week are accusing Brooklyn D.A Charles Hynes of protecting Kolko the pedophile. They say he discredited his own witness, dissauded others to testify and gave Kolko a better-than-necessary deal. The moral cowards and perverters of justice in Brooklyn's Charedi community must take responsibility for this. Hynes is a politician, scared sensless of offending Orthodox leaders. As the Jewish Weeks tells it, Hynes has prostituted his office to satisfy the Orthodox community before. He wouldn't have spared a monster like Kolko if the Brooklyn pukes and abominations who masquerade as Jewish leaders hadn't made it clear that this was the outcome they desired.

Getting it dead wrong

In a failed attempt to mock my post criticizing the brainless lunatics who think they're accomplishing something important when they eat a fake meal on shabbos erev pesach, some annoying troll wrote:

My friend dovbear thinks that some magical and mystical benefit will accrue to him if he removes all bread from his house for 8 days! Not only that, but if he leaves all the bread items in a closet, and pretends to sell them to someone whose mother isn't Jewish, he thinks he will still get this magical benefit.

Ha ha annoying troll! The joke's on you!! I don't avoid bread for the sake of some magical mystical benefit! I do it to honor tradition, and out of fidelity to the Torah: This is what Jews do and have always done, and it is what we beleive the Torah demands. I absolutely do not expect some invisible, intangible reward for it. I expect a reward that is concrete and tangible, a reward that is linked naturally and directly to the act of abstaining from bread itself. Anyone who expects to receive a gold star on his heavenly report card is an infant operating under a delusion. As the midrash says "What does God care if an animal is slaughtered from the back or the front? Rather, the mitsvot were only given to improve us."

Faking it on Shabbos Erev Pesach

My friend Joe is a good man. A thoughtful man. A man who is knowledgeable and kind. Yet, he is also deeply superstitious, and the magical nature of his thinking is made manifest when shabbos and erev Pesach coincide.

The problem is familiar. Orthodox Jews have accepted upon themselves the obligation to eat three meals during the 24+ hours of shabbos, and, in Orthodoxy, a meal is not a meal unless it begins with a blessing over bread. When erev Pesach falls on Shabbos eating three traditional meals is no easy trick because between the hours of about 11 am and nightfall both bread and matzo are forbidden.

Men like Joe solve the problem by perpetrating a legal fiction. The second meal of Shabbos is usually a feast of several courses. On shabbos erev Pesach, Joe splits the meal: He says grace after the first course, and, after a brief intermission, he initiates a "new" meal with a new blessing over bread.

Joe believes it is beneficial, and perhaps even required, to fake the third meal in this manner because he's accepted the following irrational beliefs:

(1) That some mystical advantage or benefit is acquired from eating three meals on Shabbos.
(2) That the mystical advantage can only be acquired if the meal begins with a blessing on bread
(3) That the mystical advantage can be acquired via deceit. In his value system, a fake third meal works as well as a legitimate third meal.

Such fakery, though, is completely unnecessary, and Joe's superstition is not supported by older Jewish practices and teachings. For example, many great Rabbis do not accept the mystical significance of the third meal and agree that, anyway, snacking on cake or fruit would suffice. Others point out, that the third meal belongs to the afternoon, and on erev pesach beginning this afternoon meal with bread is simply impossible. Yom Kippur creates the same difficulty: We're forbidden to eat, so when it falls on shabbos all three meals are cancled. On the afternoon of Shabbos erev Pesach we're likewise forbidden to eat bread, so why shouldn't the third shabbos meal likewise be canceled?

A real threat to Yiddishkeit . . .

A guest post by TikunOlam

With all the “threats to Yiddishkeit” discussions going on – I needed to say a thing or two, in all seriousness about a real threat. I haven’t been able to let go of the Kolko sentence. The fact that he will be “enrolled in counseling,” as though that this will somehow result in Kolko becoming less of a threat to children is a dangerous notion. I have been reading many of the comments on many of the blogs out there. Some of them downright frighten me. Please, don’t put your head in the sand on this one. Educate you family, educate you friends.

Attempting to change the sexual proclivity of a pedophile is akin to attempting to change a heterosexual person into a homosexual one or a homosexual into a heterosexual. Anyone with any education in the mental health field knows that attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation has been tried by many and failed by all. All the legitimate research shows this. All of it.

Treatment for pedophilia most commonly entails participating in psychotherapy – most often group therapy. Therapy targeting pedophiles looks similar to therapy for alcoholics and drug addicts. It assumes that while patients may develop improved impulse control over their addictions, the vulnerability will always be there. They are never “cured.”

Other methods of treatment have been tried. Chemical castration is one. While castration can reduce the sexual appetite of pedophiles, it does not change the person’s personality or sexual orientation. Castrated pedophiles still abuse children. Aversion therapy where patients are systematically “reprogrammed” to associate sexual interaction with children with aversive stimuli has been found to be ineffective as well.

Prison time does not work to change pedophilic behavior either. In fact, this is the reason civil commitments are often sought after pedophiles complete their prison terms. Once a pedophile is found to meet criteria for civil commitment they almost always stay at the treatment centers indefinitely. Why? Once they are committed through this process, their release into the community is dependent on a treatment team’s conclusion that the patient is no longer a threat to children. And this simply does not happen. Clinicians are not willing to sign off on their releases because they know that pedophiles do not change.

So how do we protect our children?

Talk to them. Educate them. Teach your preschool children about private parts and good and bad touching. Remind your elementary age children. Make sure they know that they should always come to you if someone touches them in a “bad way.” Tell them that they should do this no matter what the adult told them. Tell them that it would never make you angry. Tell them that it doesn’t matter if it is their uncle, their best friend’s mom, their teacher or their rabbi. Let them know that “bad guys” look just like "good guys" so they should never go with an adult without your prior approval. Get to know all the adults in your child’s life. Make sure they are always supervised. When they play at the park, make sure they stay in groups. And maybe most importantly, educate yourself about indicators that signify that your child may be in trouble. If there is an interest, I’d be happy to write another post on those indicators though they are easily found on the internet with a simple search.

Is Torah Learning the greatest threat to Yiddishkeit?

A guest post by CA

I will never forget an address by Rabbi Reuven Ben Shimon at a Hareidi Reform Jews of America convention on the topic "Living a Life of Ruchniot amidst Gashmiut." I had never before heard Rabbi Ben Shimon, and I practically jumped out of my seat when he thundered: This topic represents a fundamental mistake. There is no ruchniut amidst gashmiut. To the extent that a person is living in the world of gashmiut he is removed from ruchniut. (I jumped out of my seat because I hadn't been aware that Reform Jews actually knew Hebrew.)

I was reminded of those words recently on a recent trip to Cincinnati, where I had a rare opportunity to speak with a rabbi whose wisdom has always impressed me. In the course of our conversation, he asked me, "What would you say is the greatest threat to Judaism today?" I leaned forward eagerly, confident that he would mention one of my favorite subjects. But I must admit that his answer would not have been on my top ten-list.

"Torah Study," turned out to be the winning answer. And my friend's central criticism was similar to that of Rabbi Ben Shimon: the Torah Study industry takes what should be one of the ultimate spiritual experiences of every Jew's life and encases it in a thick wrapper of materialism. Read the advertisements, he told me: "Yeshivas Hagdol" right next to "We look your family's lifestyle over with a fine-tooth comb" "48 hours of geamra study each day" next to "Forget about learning enough to get a professional job."

Singsong chanting of the texts, the rabbi forcing on you only one possible meaning of an incomprehensible passage, distortion of the author's original meaning, and a hostile response to skeptical questions are de rigueur for the full Torah learning experience experience. And many throw in exotic locations – Jerusalem, Bnei Brak, Brooklyn, Monsey, Baltimore, and Cleveland. What exercised my friend the most was the way that well-known community leaders are impressed into service in the advertisements, as if to put an imprimatur of ruchniut on the activities.

My friend was raised in a particularly biting style of mussar, and he was just warming to his subject. He described the intense stares by pale-faced stooped-over lads with Coke-bottle glasses when the old man with the long white beard steps up to the podium and starts lecturing in a soft voice and an accent that can't be understood. School administrators have to put security guards around the room, lest some apikorshe schlub from the audience jump up to challenge the rabbi's conclusions.

"The chilul Hashem alone," he said, would be reason enough to close the shiur extravaganzas. What does the gentile cleaning staff at the schools and Arstcroll Publications come to think of frum Jews? That they care only about pilpul? What impression does it make to see a group of pot-bellied men in cheap knock-offs of Armani suits and shiny black shoes trying to make sense of the Babylonian Talmud?

He related to me the story of one local frum boy who had accompanied his father to a college fair. They found that all the college representative wanted to talk about were his math, English, and Chemistry grades. On the way out, the boy asked his father why they didn't seem to care that he could regurgitate the interpretation of the 20 blatt gemara his rebbe taught him. He had never in his life seen, much less participated, in real education.

That boy, my friend lamented, cannot possibly connect to what Chazal teach in Pirkei Avot, that Torah learning must be accompanied by learning enough to make an honest living. He does not learn the idea that the Jewish education advocated by Chazal in Avot parallels an inner process of removing the se'or she'b'isa – the physicality and inner materialism that holds us back in our performance of Hashem's commandments. His overweening pride at being able (forced?) to memorize arcane religious texts has nothing to do with destroying the chametz either within or without.

When we gather in our homes around a volume of Spinoza, and contemplate the deeper meaning of the Documentary Hypothesis, we link ourselves to all the generations of our ancestors. That if our ancestors could return to observe our studying of secular subjects, they would recognize their descendants and feel comfortable joining us. It is more doubtful they would recognize us gathered around right-wing hareidi yeshiva – even if we were wearing a shtreimel and bekeshe. In fact, with the exception of a few of them who lived in parts of Eastern Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries, most of them would find the streimel and bekeshe pretty outlandish.

EVEN MY FRIEND recognizes that there are many perfectly legitimate reasons that families might want their sons to study in a haredi yeshiva. Not every Jew understands the depth of secular learning, and some need the structure to their lives, yet are unable to get an appointment to West Point or Annapolis, or even qualify to join the Army in the enlisted grades (those Coke-bottle glasses, again!).

For such cases, there should be alternatives. But it is not these families that are fueling a hundred million dollar industry, or who have transformed Jewish education into a kosher version of of a Taliban Madrassa.

The issue of Yeshivish extravaganzas is, in truth, just one more aspect of an ongoing tension in modern Orthodox life. Rabbi Oscar Meyer Wise once described to me the pre-war Jewry of his youth. During the Three Weeks, he said, people followed the bare minimum ritual requirements, but didn't get too worked up about something that, after all, happened almost 2,000 years ago. Today, however, Jews look at good news, and confidently predict that disaster is just around the corner.

Jews who can really feel the destruction of the Bet HaMikdash are much more common today. On the other hand, Rabbi Wise remembers, while most of the younger generation in his day was in headlong flight from Yiddishkeit, at least they were willing to work for a living. Today, however, we have made it so much easier to be a frum bum. Our kids can enjoy most of the pleasures of their secular counterparts, and no longer feel the need to rebel to such an extent. Religious observance may be more internalized than formerly, and at least most of our youth remains within the fold. Unfortunately our institutions that have done this have been financed by guilt-tripping all those alienated youth of the former generation who fled from Yiddishkiet, but went out, earned a secular degree and made a good living.

We ask our rabbanim and roshei yeshiva to elevate our understanding of Jewish Education to the point that a series of horrible, overproduced, mistranslated seforim with one-sided commentary is self-understood to be a contradiction to the freedom from materialism that Jewish education celebrates

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Real Greatest Threat To Yiddishkeit

...per MOChassid

Is Cross Currents Genuinely Jewish?

Are the evangelical Christians who pay blind fidelity to George Bush and the Republican party true Christians? The current TNR argues no, and frames the controversy in a way that makes me wonder if the RWRabbis who are forever equivocating and disassembling in the service of the conservative agenda are representing a theology that is genuinely Jewish.

Here's the money quote about contemporary Christians that planted this particular seed in my brain.
Marsh believes that the politicization of Christianity in recent years--using the good name and moral commandments of the church to "serve national ambitions, strengthen middle-class values, and justify war"--has been spiritually disastrous for evangelicalism in the United States. Conservative American Christians, he claims, have forgotten the difference between "discipleship and partisanship." They have "seized the language of the faith and made it captive to our partisan agendas--and done so with contempt for Scripture, tradition, and the global, ecumenical church." The result has been a collapse into spiritual nseriousness, as Christians have "recast" their faith "according to our cultural preferences and baptized our prejudices, along with our will to power, in the shallow waters of civic piety.".... Out of a combination of cultural parochialism and theological illiteracy, American evangelicals have come to believe that their Christian faith is perfectly compatible with unwavering faith in the Bush administration--in fact, many of them have come to believe that the two faiths are, at bottom, identical.
Lapins, Menckens and the masses of Jews who think as they do are guilty of the same crime, aren't they? More in a bit.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Kolko pleads GUILTY

His head, alas, won't be cut off: he and the DA made a deal.

HT: Chaim Rubin

I hear

Ring the Bells
Leon Wieseltier, The New Republic Published: Wednesday, April 23, 2008

For a long time I did not hear the beauty of church bells; or more accurately, I did not wish to hear it. They sounded only like Christianity, which in my early years was a vexing triumphalist sound--the pealing of history, from which my honor as a Jew required me to recoil. When the tintinnabulations of the Church of St. Francis Xavier on Avenue O reached my ears, they brought the message that I was a member of a minority. I was not acquainted with the liturgical schedule of the church, with the practical reason for the ringings--though I might have surmised, based on my own experience of the aesthetically nullifying effects of the repetitions of ritual, that Christians who heard the bells religiously, in their ancient role as a signaling device, also did not attend to their beauty. When the bells sounded, it was a time for prayer, not for music. Art demands detachment, but religion forbids it. (There is an old joke about two jazz musicians walking along a street when a huge bell falls out of a church steeple and crashes disastrously behind them. "What was that?" one asks, with alarm. "F sharp," the other replies.)

Still, no soul is only Jewish or only Christian, and eventually the beauty got to me. And then I had another problem. It happened in graduate school, when life is slow enough for spiritual incidents. I was loitering in the magnificent little cloister at Magdalen College. It was a late afternoon in an Oxford autumn, and the yellow spears of the waning sun were landing in the severe stone geometries of the place and striking the walls like friendly lightning. Suddenly I heard the harmonies of a choir rehearsing evensong--a piece by Byrd, I later learned--in an adjoining chapel. Fixed by the lights and the sounds, I was overcome, and elated by, an unfamiliar contentment, and I thought: this is Christian beauty and I want it. I was shocked by the thought. I remember thinking also that we, I mean the Jews, have nothing like this. This was another variety of minoritarian torment. Soon the joy passed, perhaps because the singing ceased, and my confusion passed with it. As I strolled home along Addison's Walk, I got it clear in my mind that Christianity may in some of its expressions be beautiful, but beauty is not Christian. Religious or cultural or national definitions of beauty are conceptual mistakes. So I returned, you might say, to my senses. And the next day I returned to Magdalen to consult the chapel schedule, so that I might hear the choir again.

I was reminded of the evolution of my relationship to the ravishments of other traditions when I read about the controversy at Harvard about the broadcast of the Muslim call to prayer in Harvard Yard. It was sounded from the steps of Widener Library--where a great Jewish scholar once spent many decades in the groundbreaking study of early Islamic philosophy--for several days during Islam Awareness Week. (Is anybody not aware of Islam?) The sound of the adhan in the quads startled many people, and provoked ferocious opposition. An editorial in the Crimson denounced it as an infringement upon the liberty of others, who were forced to listen to an affirmation of a faith in which they do not believe. What troubled the eloquent authors of the editorial was the text of the summons, which included the words "I bear witness that there is no lord except God" and "I bear witness that Mohammed is the Messenger of God." "This puts the adhan in a different class of expression than, say, the sounding of church bells or the displaying of a menorah," they maintained, "because it publicly advances a theological position." Indeed it does, though it is important to add that almost all of the alleged victims of this aural coercion could not understand a word of it. For all they knew, they were listening to a recipe for kanafi. And the menorah is, in its fiery silence, a religious symbol of a religious holiday, even if most American Jews prefer to think of the occasion historically or commercially. Is the sight of it, therefore, an optical coercion? As for church bells, see above. Moreover, the secular integrity of the setting was long ago surrendered. In the middle of it stands an imposing Christianish chapel, which, despite its hospitality to people of all faiths, could never be mistaken for a synagogue or a mosque. Years ago I was among a company of Jews--I think it included the dean of the faculty, though I may be mistaken--who festively carried a Torah through Harvard Yard, and this was no more "halacha at Harvard" than the adhan is "sharia at Harvard." Even before there was multiculturalism, there was respect for human variety and pleasure in it. An open civil space will always be cacophonous. There will be affirmation and alienation, sometimes even within a single individual; and there will be indifference, which is in its way one of the accomplishments of pluralism. When I was at college, the arrival of spring was reliably announced by the defiant blasting of "Sympathy for the Devil" from dorm-room loudspeakers turned toward the campus. I did not share the theological position that it advanced, but I was exhilarated. In a Dionysian frenzy I played frisbee until dark.

There are also other controversies of diversity at Harvard: one of the university gyms has been restricted for six hours a week for the use of Muslim women whose religious observance does not permit them to work out in the company of men. As a matter of principle, this troubles me--I believe in integration, and in the challenges that the experience of integration presents to the insularity of traditional identities (Woodrow Wilson once remarked that the purpose of a college education is to make a man as much unlike his father as possible), and the customization of places according to identity can be carried to absurd and unfair lengths; but these Muslim women would not be at Harvard if they, too, did not in some way believe in integration, and it seems humane to allow their abs some respite from the pressure. But the adhan, like the church bells, sounds magnificently American to me. Indeed, the ringing of the bells began, long before democracy, in a proto-democratic moment, in 313, when the Edict of Milan established the "Peace of the Church" and the persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire came to an end, and Christians could be summoned publicly to prayer. And who was Constantine compared to Lincoln? As I write, the bells of Lincoln's church across the street from my office are chiming, and sweetening yet another hour of this Jew's day.

Copyright © 2007 The New Republic. All rights reserved.

Our work ethic

CA wrote:

I would like to point out a common misconception that having a high income or great wealth is some sort of monotonically increasing function of work effort, let alone a monotonically increasing function of virtue. In some cases that may be true, but there are many more examples of people who work very hard and have little to show for it. On the other extreme, there are the Jewish equivalents of Paris Hilton, whose wealth is inherited. Then again, in today's capitalist economy, the middot needed to succeed and earn a high income may not be the ones that the Jewish People wish to inculcate. Alas, such middot often are tacitly encouraged in both the Orthodox and non-Orthodox world because our institutions have an apparently limitless appetite for money. This shows that even the most frum people and institutions in the Jewish world are more assimilated than they realize.

Very well said. And this is an especially timely remark as the haves head to their Pesach hotels, while the have-nots wonder how they'll find the money for the tax and tuition bills coming due.

The biggest threat to Judaism today...

A Guest Post by Rafi G.

(this has now been cross-posted to LII)

Jonathan Rosenblum wrote an interesting piece in this past week's Mishpacha magazine. I read the article in Hebrew, but the English version can be found on the Jewish Media Resources website.

In the article, Rosenblum went on to describe a conversation he had with an unnamed Rav in Los Angeles. The Rav told him what he considered the biggest threat to Judaism today. This item surprised Rosenblum, surprised me, and I am sure will surprise you.

The biggest threat to Judaism today, according to this unnamed Rav in LA, is Pesach in hotels. Not the trend of looking for every chumroh in the book and many not in the book, not Rabbis who molest, not parents who abuse and molest, not intermarriage, not Reform Judaism, not poor education, not high tuitions that make jewish education prohibitive to many. Pesach in hotels is the biggest threat to Judaism.

Granted, I agree that the whole "Pesach in hotel" situation is fairly ridiculous and not conducive to a spiritual and uplifting holiday (for most people). How can you run a seder with your kids when everybody is going at their own pace, singing their own tunes, having their own conversations, kids running all over the place, all by the tables right next to yours? It is impossible. I have gone to hotels once or twice for Shabbos and find the atmosphere very disturbing and not conducive to a family shabbos tabel. How much worse the Pesach seder must be!

People, in general, do not go to a hotel for Pesach so they can grow spiritually and have a meaningful, traditional experience with their family. They go for a vacation. They go to relax. They go to get away. Some, for whatever reason, cannot make Pesach in their own home (for valid reasons even). They go for the luxury. Whatever reason they go for, it is generally not for the spiritual aspect.

I do not begrudge anybody their hard earned money. People can spend their money in whatever way they want. They can live their whole lives in hotels and flying all over the world and taking vacations every other week, it does not bother me,. They earned it, they can spend it how they like.

But as far as Pesach is concerned, they are missing out on the whole point of the Pesach experience.

That is a shame, and the kids will have missed out, and the parents will have missed out, the various opportunities provided in a home setting.

But is that really the biggest threat to Judaism today?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

But you don't look Jewish. . .

A guest post by TikunOlam

I always know a person has had a limited amount of exposure to Jews when they comment to me, “but you don’t look Jewish.” In a day and age when according to Jewish Living magazine, 10% of Jews identify themselves as a race other than White, it is a wonder that anyone still holds stereotypes of what Jews are supposed to look like. So when the foster-care class trainer made this comment to me and said that she thinks of Jewish women as having dark curly hair, I knew that the wariness of Jews on her part, that I perceived the previous week, was not coming from an individual who had a whole lot of up close and personal experience with Jews.

As it happened, at the start of the class, a Black woman asked the trainer if there is an effort made by the State to place children with racially similar families. Was it possible, she wanted to know, that a White child might be placed in her home? The trainer said it was unlikely that a White child would be placed in her home, as most of the children in need of homes in our county are Black or Hispanic. This woman’s question gave me the opportunity to ask the question I had been thinking about all week. Was there any chance my family would be put on the bottom of some list because we are White and Jewish?

We were assured that this would never happen and that we were very much valued and needed as foster parents. In fact, soon after, the trainer approached my husband and asked him if it were okay that she kept bringing up the fact that we were Jewish. I guess she sensed my discomfort.

The trainer’s increased sensitivity toward us encouraged me to participate more in the discussions. And once I shared a bit of psychological knowledge, the trainer repeatedly asked me to comment and offered that it was really nice to have a participant who, because of being a psychologist, had some answers to share.

So even though in the end I spent my day off in psychologist mode (I ended up with the task of educating these fine church going folks about sexualized behaviors of children and how one would know when the behaviors may be indicative of sexual abuse) at least I am now feeling more comfortable participating in the conversation.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Long live the macaroon

NS is wrong again: No one eats macaroons, lady fingers, or matzah brie year round except for u and my grandmother.

Well, NS, I can't speak for your grandmother, but I eat matzo brie quite happily all year round (Savory only. Sweet matzo brie is vile) and here is an NYT article about a posh Manhatten club for WASPY rich people, and its desperate search for a bakery that can provide it with macaroons. Yes, MACAROONS.

The DovBear holiday menu

[First published March 2007]

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

First night: Steak, potatoes

First day: Fish, Israeli Salad

Second night: Steak, Israeli salad

Second day: Fish, potatoes

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

See how simple this is?

More on the Holiday Menu

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

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

Let me explain.

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

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

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

No reason

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Blindness, mixed with smugness and a topping of ignorance

"Ultra-Orthodox" is Bad Language Cross-Currents(comment #42): "The question for me is: which contemporary Jewish community strives for the ideals that the Jewish community strove for 500, 1,000 or 1,500 years ago? It is the Charedi community, in my opinion."

And in my opinion you've heaped fallacy on top of fallacy.

The real problem is that you're making a foolish assumption. There has never been a monolithic Jewish community. Not 500 years ago, not 1,000 years ago and not 1,500 years ago. Jews have always disagreed with each other, and embraced different priorities in different places and times. For instance, the Spanish Rishonim had a fondness for Greek philosophy that was not shared by Rishonim who lived in other areas. Italian Jews loved music so much weekdays services were accompanied by an organ. Shabbos prayers were so important to shtel women the leadership of a zogerin was required. None of these passions are reflected in any contemporary Jewish community. And there are many similar examples.

Additionally, you're presuming that the Charedi community itself is monolithic, but anyone who's been in it for more than five minutes can tell you that under the wigs and black hats are individual people with different interests and diferent values. They may look alike, but they don't think alike, and its simplistic to point to the worldwide Charedi community and say that no significant variety exists among them.

Moreover, the whole discussion is still born because you've neglected to tell us what which values are, in your opinion, the core Jewish values. You've also provided no evidence that earlier Jewish communities pursued these values - whatever they are - in the way contemporary Charedim do. I suspect you'll say that Torah, Avodah and Gmilat Chasidim are the values that matter most, but why? Brcause of a parable? Because of a learned man's teaching? Those don't tell us what the ordinary people thought and did. And even if I concede that Torah, Avodah and Gmilat Chasidim are the values that surpass all others, why do you imagine that the average Jews living 1,500 years ago pursued them in the way Charedim do? Do you think our ancient ancestors kept their kids in kolel for as long as possible? Do you imagine they were as punctilious about tzniyus and minyan as we are? As contemptuous of secular knowledge? Based on what?

I think the truth is much messier than you allow. Dating back to the Golden Calf, Judaism been a mixed bag. In every time, place and community we've had some Jews who cared very much about being Jewish (whatever that means), others who did not, and many more who who were somewhere in the middle. Today, this is true of the modern community, the charedi community, the mafdal community and -believe it or not- its also true of the non-Orthodox communities: Like us, their leaders are passionately committed to Judaism and Jewish values, and their hamon am is ambivalent. This is how it is now, and this is how it has always been.

To point to one contemporary community, to imagine that one community is monolithic, and to claim that imaginary monolithic community best reflects fantasy monolithic communities of the past --as you have done -- is blindness and smugness mixed with historical ignorance.

US out of the South!

It seems hard to believe, but some genius conservatives believe that occupying Iraq is exactly like occupying Mississipi.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

מכל מלמדי השכלתי ,ומתלמידי יותר מכולם

Some note on the slide to the right

Friend and I had the following email exchange this morning. Thought you might like it. I'm in red.

Posted with permission.


i get the sense, at least in the Jewish community, that in the 1960s, even amongst the orthodox, religion was predominately a cultural thing. You didn't think about it too much. It didn't dominate your life. You still were basically integrated into society. your following of the precepts was not totally consistent. You didn't necessarily cover your hair or abstain from mixed dancing, but you paid homage to the religion of your ancestors. The problem was that if you are even paying homage to the religion of your ancestors, and you are paying lip service to the ideas, you open yourself up to criticism from the right that you are being inauthentic and hypocritical.

Ah, but what the right doesn't get is that paying what you cynically call "lip service to the idea" is a perfectly authentic/traditional approach to Judaism!

Since there is no response to that criticism, you are basically forced to make your religious experience into a logical rational one in which you follow through on those adages you pay lip service to.

No response? The response is: This is what (some) Jews have always done you ahistorical chunyuck.

In other words, religion goes from being cultural to being rational, (rupture and reconstruction).

It goes the other way, too. Scholastic Judaism was rational, or it tried to be anyway. The Judaism that followed was not.


i think there are more OJ's today who actually keep halacha because they think it's from God than there were in the '60s. this opens them up to an intellectual critique that couldn't have been made in the '60s.

I don't agree, or rather I don't see any evidence that you are right. Orthodox Jews today may be stricter, but why do you presume that the less-strict Jews of yesteryear were less likely to believe that halacha was divine? Perhaps they were simply less educated. Perhaps they kept everything they thought they were supposed to keep in the way they thought they were supposed to keep it? Perhaps they never doubted that halacha was divine; perhaps they simply had a different or incomplete understanding of what the halacha says.

More on shul parking lots that are kept open on Shabbos

This is my story and I am sticking with it: A shul that facilitates what Orthodox Judaism defines as shabbos desecration is not an Orthodox shul.

[Update: In no way should this be construed as an insult or disparagement of shuls that keep their parking lots open. Saying that a shul that keeps its lot open on shabbos is "not Orthodox" is exactly like saying that someone who eats meat is not a vegetarian. Does that statement insult the carnivores?]

Why am I bringing this up? Because on the previous thread some of you have listed OU-affiliated shuls that keep their parking lots open, and look the other way when members use the lots on shabbos morning. I'm not surprised to learn that hybrid type shuls exist; I'm aware of several USCJ shuls that offer daily minyanim, shiurim, and even separate seating. I'm just surprised to learn that any of these hybrid shuls are accepted by the OU.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The stupid. It burns

Yaakov Menken:
[In his Forward article Abbot] Katz proceeds to point out that the Charedi community represents the traditional form of Jewish practice... Who could argue that an Orthodox synagogue with a 4-foot tall Mechitzah (divider) and an open parking lot on Shabbos is at one with Jewish tradition, while a traditional shteibl is a departure?
Ok, let's document the atrocities:

1 - Where is there an Orthodox synagogue, by which I mean a synagouge affiliated with either the OU or the NCYI, that keeps its parking lot open on shabbos? I've never seen or heard of such a thing, and I challenge Mencken to show me one.

2 - There is nothing uniquely authentic about Charedi Judaism! Moshe didn't wear a hat. Rabbi Akiva didn't give his son an upshurin. The Geonim didn't run from secular wisdom, and the Rambam didn't embrace crazy segulot. Charedi Judaism, with its unique positives and pathologies, emerged less than 200 years ago. Before Reform, and Haskolah, and industrialization, and all the other forces that brought Charedism into the world, Judaism was different. Not less observant. Not less pious. Not more or less legitimate. Just different.

The idea of Jewish authenticity is a chimera. Every Judaism, in every time and place, is different in ways large and small. The only test for authenticity is this: Do you keep the commandments and fear God? To the exten that you do your flavor of Judaism has a claim on authenticity that's every bit as valid as any other. [Sorry Reformers, but I think the whole point of your movement is that you're something new under the Jewish sun.]

3 - The so-called traditional shtieble IS a departure. They became popular in Eastern Europe as Hasidut spread. In other parts of Europe, Jews went to big shuls, and big shuls have been discovered in Israel by archaeologists. This is not an argument against shteiblach - enjoy them if you must - but don't distort our history and insult our ancestors by pretending the big, beautiful shuls they attended and cherished were "inauthentic."

What do you say when you have nothing to say?

Ok here's the situation: I didn't know the deceased. I barely know the mourner. Also she's a she. What am I supposed to say at the shiva house?

More of Mar Gavriel's fantasies


The stupid is strong with this one

Remember Burt Prelutsky the GOP Jew whose self-hating argument in favor of assimilation(!) earned him a lashing from me and Lazer Brody, but a hug from David Duke? Well, yesterday Burt might have topped himself with a know-nothing argument on racism published by Clown Hall. The good parts:

Among the many e-mails I received was one from an black man in New Jersey. He identified himself as a successful entrepreneur in his mid-30s. The tone of his remarks was reasonable and he seemed to be well-educated, but by the time we had had six or eight exchanges, he’d managed to convince me he was an idiot.

True. He must be an idiot. Anyone with even a little imntelligence would have shot down Burt's arguments with no difficulty.

The way I see it, the Democrats have been doing their best to destroy America for the past three decades...

Okay, that's one way to look at it, I suppose. I prefer to go with Molly Ivins who said "It is possible to read the history of this country as one long struggle to extend the liberties established in our Constitution to everyone in America." It hasn't always been smooth sailing, and the Democrats have made their share of mistakes, but the Ivins line correctly sums up the recent agenda of the Democratic party.

And although Lyndon Johnson was in the White House in 1964 when he pushed for the passage of the Civil Rights Act, it became the law of the land because of the Republicans. In the House, only 64% of the Democrats, but 80% of the Republicans, voted for it. In the Senate, while only 68% of the Democrats endorsed the bill, 82% of the Republicans voted to enact it.”

So the fact that the Republicans were split on the Civil Rights Act shows how brave and virtuous they were, wheras the fact that the Democrats were split proves they opposed the legistlation? And Burt haven't you forgotten that once the law passed dozens of southern democrats bolted the party and joined the GOP?

And frome here it only gets worse. More later if I have the time/strength

Monday, April 07, 2008

Ok, so we do run the world

The singer in that new and ubiquitous Air Book commercial is not just a Jew, but an Israeli: Her name is Yael Naim. [and now that you know, can't you hear the accent? I missed it previously.]

Here's a recording of her singing in Hebrew:

The four sons

It's always interesting to see how Jewish artists in different times and places depicted the four sons of the haggadah. In Chicago, 1939, for instance, the Wicked Son was drawn as a wearing a black suit with a cigarette in his hand [Aside: why are the candlesticks positioned on chairs?]

In Prague, 1526, the wicked son is given a martial costume, and a feather plumed hat, and in the Prato Haggadah (13th century Spain) he wears a sword and a dagger and points an accusatory finger. The Wise Son look something like a monk. [Aside: If this is a Spanish Haggadah, why is the Yishtabach at the end of Halel written according to the ashkenazic rite?]

And what about in the yet to be written blogosphere haggadah? Sure, traditionalists will want Gil for Wise Son, and Mis-nagid for Wicked Son, but in my own book we'll use AddeRabbi and TobyKatz. For lovers of irony, GH is the Son Who Does Not Know How to Ask, and my favorite Simple Son will always be Holy Hyrax. Any other ideas?

The Bush legacy


So much for the "Ownership Society."

Mesirus Nefesh of learning in Kollel

A Guest Post by Rafi G.

(this was originally posted on LII, and is now posted here in a slightly altered format)

I was chatting with my chavrusa the other day. We were talking about Kollel life and the topic of mesirus nefesh to learn Torah came up (my chavrusa is a Rosh Kollel. He is very organized, very serious and runs his kollel in a very organized way).

Kollel guys are moser nefesh - they give up everything, to learn in kollel. To learn Torah. And that is wonderful.

Typically when we hear the phrase "moser nefesh to learn Torah" we think of money. These avreichim are giving up a life of (possible) comfort, earning a decent living, all to learn Torah while living on, often, nothing more than the basics and the minimum.

Aside from the money aspect of their mesirus nefesh, there is an aspect even greater. And this is what I had never heard described before. The whole lifestyle is mesirus nefesh on a psychological level.

Avreichim, living in an area where there are plenty of kollels and plenty of avreichim, live a life of obscurity. many of these guys (the more serious ones), could easily have been successful in the business world; as professionals such as doctors, lawyers, accountants, financial pros, etc., computers, whatever. They would have been noticed, their work would be appreciated, and they would feel good about what they do because they are noticed (to a certain extent).

However, as an avreich in a neighborhood where kollels and avreichim are "a dime a dozen" so to speak, these guys are all bundled into one package. They are not noticed because there are so many. An exception is one who is unusually exceptional - he gets noticed as a real star, but he will often take a job fairly quickly in the Rabbinate, or in a yeshiva, etc. But just for good serious guys who are learning, successfully, there is tremendous mesirus nefesh in living such a lifestyle. These are, often, guys who could be doing other things, yet they chose to learn because of its importance to them.

He went on to explain that this is why, he thinks, he sees many frustrated avreichim at about age 29-32, who start looking for things to do - starting local shiurim in shuls even for just 2 or 3 people, for example. They do that because they have begun to get frustrated that they have learned, and learned well, for a number of years, but they are not noticed at all.

Yes, it is nice to be altruistic and say that people should do what they love and not be concerned whether they are being noticed or not. Especially when learning Torah. But everybody likes, and wants, to be appreciated, and recognized, for their accomplishments and for their success. So even if for a number of years they go by and learn quietly, eventually it catches up with them, with most of them, and they start to feel it at a certain point.

That is a tremendous mesirus nefesh. To learn in kollel, seriously, knowing that nobody is recognizing you for your accomplishments, for your achievements, for your contributions. And add to that, when you could have been doing something else that would have gotten you noticed, even if only on a small scale. And it is harder for a kollel guy who is in an area where kollel is more accepted, and even the standard perhaps, than it is for a guy who goes to learn in an "out of town" kollel" where it is not the norm and they are appreciated by the local baalebatim, and they get involved, etc.

If you are working at a job and you accomplish something successfully, likely you will have your peers commend you, your boss will notice, etc. Your efforts will get noticed and you will get complimented. You will be appreciated.

If you are in kollel, and you are learning seriously, your efforts will almost never get noticed. You figured out pshat in a difficult tosafos or Ritva! Wow! You are so excited. You tell the guys learning at the other table, and they could care less. They were not bothered by your question and just want you to leave them alone so they can work out their own difficult piece.

That weighs down on a person, even somebody who is supposed to be learning L'shma will often be affected by this eventually. These guys are human and want to be noticed for their accomplishments just like the rest of us.

That is mesirus nefesh in a way that you probably have not considered.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

An open message to R' Yaakov Horowitz

Apropos this conversation on the Admar's blog

Almost everyone I know davens in a cheredi-type shul and thinks the HS options are awful; for that matter, the elementary school options are only a drop better. All of us want a curriculum with less Talmud, more emphasis on secular subjects and skills, but all of us are terrified to demand it from our schools because we've been conditioned to believe such desires are borderline treif.

All of us live in the real world. All of us know math and science and reading and writing and rhetoric are critical to success in the real world. And though all of us are horrified at the functionally-illiterate-no-skill students being graduated by the charedi schools, not one of us has the guts to do anything about it. You'll notice I am speaking in the second person: I'm complicit, too. I'd love to send my son(s) to a school that better reflects my core values, but the path of least resistance is the path most taken.

Rabbi Horowitz, this is where you can help: WE NEED A NO COMPROMISE SCHOOL. We need a school that is unquestionably frum while also offering a secular education that is of the highest quality. We need a place that prepares our kids for both the Mir AND Harvard so no options are foreclosed. We need a school, to quote one of your own commenters, that isn't "trying to raise a community of beggars that can’t afford basic needs." You might be the only bigwig in the Charedi world who understands this; certainly, I know of no one who actually owns a school and sees the big picture the way that you do. So to you we turn, and to you we look expectantly.

My day at church?

A guest post by TikunOlam

The way our first day of foster care training began, my husband and I would have thought that we had walked into Rev. Wright's church rather than a state sponsored training session.

As soon as we walked in, we were greeted by the trainer who was complaining that she wished she could have put on gospel music in the background first thing in the morning instead of the jazz she was playing - but of course she couldn't do that because then (sarcastically) someone might complain since we were in a state building.

Ok. Fine. She likes gospel music, nothing wrong with that.

Then we were each asked to introduce ourselves by answering for the group:

1.What was I doing here?

2.Who influenced my life?

The trainer, to set the tone, decided to introduce herself first. She went into a whole long monologue about how God had brought her to this state on a visit from another state where she had been working as a salesperson. . .how God had ensured that she were offered a job doing social service work while she was on the visit. . how God made it possible to sell her house in just 2 weeks and close in four so she could move to this state and do God's work for these children. . .how she had never planned to return to this state but she had accepted that this was God's plan. . .

Praise the Lord.

And she continues. . .And I don't care if you call him "God" or "Elijah" (yes, she said that) or "Atheist" - no one can tell me that God doesn't make the sun come up everyone morning. . .

Praise the Lord.

And then the first participant introduces herself . . . brought up in the church. . .doing God's work. . .


And the next. And the next.

All brought up in church. All apparently doing God's work. Every one of them. Very nice.

And then finally, three people left, my husband, myself and a sweet older woman to my right and it is my husband's turn to introduce himself . . .

My name is (his name) and I was also brought up in the faith community. In fact, my father is a Jewish ra. . .

Fine. Normally I am all for shining the spotlight on my Jewishness, especially in a situation where I (in this case we) am clearly the only Jew and am doing something positive, against stereotype, while surrounded by folks who may not know much about Jewish people. But something (not something, previous experience - and I almost hate to say it cause y'all know how P.C. I usually try to be) told me that here was probably not the place to shine that spotlight.

But fine. Now everyone knows we are Jewish.

So later, the trainer talked about a woman who had 10 kids with multiple fathers, all of whom had been absorbed by the system. She said that some had asked why the judge couldn't have her tubes tied.

And then the trainer abruptly turns to me and says, "because that would be like saying you should have your tubes tied because you are a Jew."

You know when your gut gives you those little warning signs?

Well if I was unsure at that point as to whether that comment might have stemmed from the trainer trying to overcompensate for some (no so) latent anti-Semitism, she did a dandy job of confirming her notions of Jews during the mid-morning break.

Great. Training is going to be just super.

Well, seven hours of training down, twenty to go.

Praise the Lord.