Sunday, August 31, 2008

blogging has come a long way

A Guest Post by Rafi G.

Today, I participated in a press conference hosted by Opposition Leader and former PM Benjamin Netanyahu.
It seems that after the NBN JBloggers conference in which Bibi was the guest speaker, he must have taken a liking to the idea of reaching out directly to the people via blogs rather than just using the geeral media which are sometimes (often actually) hostile to him.

In addition to me being invited, Carl from Israel Matzav, RivkA from Coffee and Chemo, Lurker who comments and sometimes guests posts by The Muqata, and Mother in Israel were there as well.

You can see my post on the topic, reviewing Bibi's plan to overhaul the educational system of Israel, at Life in Israel.

So what do you think - was I invited to Bibi's press conference because of my relationship with DovBear, or in spite of my relationship with DovBear?

Buy DB's book. (please)

Friday, August 29, 2008

Palin = Great Choice.

I am not here, but wanted to drop in briefly to commend and congratulate McCain on what appears to be a perfect pick. Sarah Palin is young, attractive, articulate, and she made her reputation as a reforming governor in one of the country's great Republican swamp-pits. Attempts to criticize her will come across as bullying, and because she's a woman she can attack Obama with impunity, while also claiming to be the true heir to Hilary's legacy. Oh, and she has a kid in Iraq, too.

Buy my book. (Please)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Totally Unconventional

So, politics aside (if that's possible), I thought Obama gave a very strong, impassioned speech tonight. Believe it or not, I'm actually one of those coveted undecideds. As I write that I'm sure Dems and GOPers are trying to decipher my identity so they can win me over to their side. I'm holding out to see who McCain's veep choice is. I want to see the GOP convention. But most of all, I want to see McCain and Obama debate.

What struck me as most interesting about the speech was how unconventional it was (pun intended and meant to reference my previous post). For one thing, it was in a stadium! He's the first Black man to head up a party ticket for President! It's 45 years to the day of MLK's "I have a dream" speech! But most importantly, there were no balloons! How can you have a convention without balloons?!

OK, seriously though, I was struck by the imagery and beauty of the language invoked to convey his points. If you haven't heard the speech, I strongly suggest doing so if for no other reason than it will make you proud to be an American. And the points he made were not the typical democrat or liberal talking points and they certainly not what you'd expect from a politician given how divisive and partisan this country has become

Some great quotes:

"government cannot solve all our problems...That's the promise of America -- the idea that we are responsible for ourselves...we must also admit that programs alone can't replace parents; that government can't turn off the television and make a child do her homework; that fathers must take more responsibility to provide love and guidance to their children...Individual responsibility and mutual responsibility -- that's the essence of America's promise."

"Because one of the things that we have to change in our politics is the idea that people cannot disagree without challenging each other's character and each other's patriotism. The times are too serious, the stakes are too high for this same partisan playbook. So let us agree that patriotism has no party. I love this country, and so do you, and so does John McCain. The men and women who serve in our battlefields may be Democrats and Republicans and independents, but they have fought together and bled together and some died together under the same proud flag. They have not served a Red America or a Blue America -- they have served the United States of America."

"We may not agree on abortion, but surely we can agree on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country. The reality of gun ownership may be different for hunters in rural Ohio than they are for those plagued by gang-violence in Cleveland, but don't tell me we can't uphold the Second Amendment while keeping AK-47s out of the hands of criminals. I know there are differences on same-sex marriage, but surely we can agree that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters deserve to visit the person they love in the hospital and to live lives free of discrimination. You know, passions may fly on immigration, but I don't know anyone who benefits when a mother is separated from her infant child or an employer undercuts American wages by hiring illegal workers."

"I get it. I realize that I am not the likeliest candidate for this office. I don't fit the typical pedigree, and I haven't spent my career in the halls of Washington. But I stand before you tonight because all across America something is stirring. What the naysayers don't understand is that this election has never been about me. It's about you. It's about you."

He also made some policy statements which is also not typical. Here are some:

1) 95% of working families will receive a tax cut

2) No oil from the middle eat within 10 years

3) $150 billion over the next 10 years for renewable energy

4) More teachers, paid more, and in exchange higher standards and more accountability

5) Lower health care premiums for all and those uninsured will have same plan as congress

So, what did people think? Inspired? More of the same? Did it make you see Obama differently? What concerns did you have that were or weren't addressed?

What does McCain now have to do

Buy his book already. (And then buy one for me)

What’s a nice girl like me doing in a snark tank like this?

(A guest post by Juggling Frogs)

That’s the gist of a couple of e-mails I received shortly after DovBear put my name up as a contributor to this blog, even before my first submission.

One person* felt mischaracterized and insulted by some of DovBear’s comments, and characterized this blog’s contentiousness as full of motzei sheim ra and lashon harah, and said it’s “as treif as a ham and shrimp sandwich”.

In another e-mail message, I was urged to use this guest posting gig as an opportunity to set right a whole list (complete with links) of perceived offenses perpetrated by various contributors over the years.

My response to both of these messages was similar. I respectfully disagreed (is that allowed?) that any of the diverse contributors on this blog have the responsibility to defend positions with which they’ve never identified. Alluding to the Streisand effect, I suggested that even if I accepted such a challenge, the results would be counterproductive.

Yet another person, upon learning that I agreed to do this, said “don’t worry, just be funny.”

Yeah. Well. Thanks. No pressure, right?

So is there a place for a gefilte fish to swim with the snarks?

I’ve seen a disturbing trend, equating unpleasant or disagreeable statements with lishon harah. We must be careful, when making protective fences, that the area enclosed not become so large as to become indefensible.

I take Lishon Harah very seriously, and actively (if not always successfully) do my best to disengage from, disrupt, and disagree with it. Calling disagreement and disapproval of ideas in the public forum “lishon harah” degrades the meaning and import of these laws.

It’s forbidden to embarrass a person. But shouldn't we also endeavor not to be too easily embarrassed?

Cutting an argument to shreds is not murder. It’s not forbidden to speak negatively about someone’s ideas. It’s possible to be a genuinely nice person, and still enjoy an incisive and biting debate.

DovBear once mused about the Rambam’s blogroll. This got me wondering what the Chofetz Chaim’s blog would have looked like.

I can’t imagine a snarky Chofetz Chaim. But then again, I doubt the Chofetz Chaim’s blog would have made everyone feel warm and fuzzy. He might not have linked to everyone. Or anyone.

I imagine he’d stir things up, intentionally making the reader uncomfortable. One is rarely moved to action, improvement, or growth in an atmosphere of complacency.

Yet, I’m torn. Besides being “treif”, ad hominem attacks are like poker tells. They indicate weakness. And some people try to make others squirm.

Gratuitously making someone uncomfortable is, well, not nice.

In this cafeteria of ideas, I’m going to try to eat my homemade tuna sandwich on a paper plate, and enjoy the company of those with whom I might disagree.

So I put the question to you, dear DovBearniks: Is “snarkiness” treif?

* This is someone I respect and care about. I agree with her, that DovBear used an unkind adjective to describe a public comment of hers. I think he misinterpreted her remark and her intent. But his wasn’t a personal attack.
Buy his book. (Because he said "please".)

Diversity in Israel and Diversity in America

A guest post by TikunOlam

So I have been spending most of my 2 weeks in Israel staying on a truly wonderful Dati yishuv. I was in conversation with one of the residents here about the yishuv and he explained that this particular yishuv is very "diverse." I asked how he could consider it diverse if they close the gates for shabbat and there is mandatory quiet time for 2 hours on shabbat! I mean, how diverse could it be? We agreed that it is all relative.

See, in case you are new around here, I am a very big fan of diversity. And when I mean diversity, I mean something more along the lines of the "diversity" that I have in my town in the USA. And there are certainly more diverse areas than where I live. Afterall, I live in area heavily populated by Jews. But where I live, when there is diversity among the Jews, that means that there are multiple shuls that include Orthodox, Chabad, Conservative and Reform. And of course my town has lots of people who are not Jewish. My neighbors on both sides are African American and considering how many different churches there are within ten minutes of my house, it seems that there is certainly a diversity of religions in my town as well. We don't have everyone represented in my town, I don't live in NYC, but I like and appreciate its diversity.

There are two major reasons that diversity is important to me. The first is that lack of exposure to "others" tends to breed fear of others which then leads to bigotry, stereotyping and prejudice. People who have had opportunities to befriend homosexuals, are less homophobic, Blacks who have had positive relationships with Whites are less racist etc. It is not a mystery as to why there is far less bigotry in the big cities than there is in rural America, it is exposure to and experience with people who are different that makes all the difference.

As a Caucasian Jew who works mostly with African Amercian staff and patients, I have had countless experiences being told by African Americans with little exposure to Whites or Jews things like, "White people aren't so bad once you get to know them" or "I didn't realize that Jews also believed in . . . (usually something humane, prosocial, charitable)."

For Jews, it concerns me even more when diversity is limited to "well here some people have TVs and some people don't. On some yishuvs it is not as diverse." I can certainly see why the insularity is appealing to so many. People want to be around people who share their values. They want their children raised with certain beliefs that are reinforced by everyone around them. They enjoy the extended, supportive experience of having a community that serves as a big extended family.

But the downside, in my opinion, is that it is also important to teach children that the world is a diverse place where there are people of value to meet in every walk of life. By virtue of hiding children from a diverse world, the message given is that the world out there is not as good as our world, we want to keep those others out of our lives, others are unsafe, or less desirable. And in a country where Jews have such a difficult time seeing eye to eye on so many things political and sociological, it seems it would be especially important to raise children side by side with their differently Jewish brethren. Raise them to respect each other and understand where the other is coming from.

The second reason that I think that diversity is important is that I believe that the sum of a group of diverse people is infinitely more than the sum of its parts. When you spend time only with people like you, you don't grow, you don't develop new ideas, new ways of thinking or new ways to solve problems. And with all the hate and war in this world, and both in Israel and the U.S. - so much of it based in difference between peoples, I think that it is so important for people to get out of their comfort zone, at least once in a while, to build relationships with people different than themselves.

Buy his book already. (it is what all the cool kids are doing)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

how anti-zionist are we?

a guest post by Rafi G
cross-posted to LII

My wife was looking for an activity to keep the kids busy and thought a train ride would be exciting. So they took the train to the Diaspora Museum in Tel Aviv the other day.

The diaspora Museum shows a film reviewing 4000 years of Jewish history, touching on pretty much every time period and its basic events.

My wife told me there were a few other haredi families there watching the film at the same time. She told me that when the film started talking about Zionism and Hertzl, the Haredi families walked out.

I was not aware that the anti-Zionist sentiments were so strong among the average Haredi. After all, we are not Neturei Karta. We participate in the dealings and workings of the State. We participate in government. Since when is the Haredi position so anti-Zionist that you cannot sit through 2 minutes of Hertzl, Jabotinsky, Ben Gurion, and Begin?

Is sitting through the review of the Zionist leaders so much worse than sitting through the review of idolatrous nations, pagan nations, nations that murdered us and destroyed us? It is ok to here what they believed in but not what the Zionists believed in?

I guess because they are Jews, and if you consider them apikorsim (as perhaps some of them could possibly be considered, at least to some people), then perhaps their ideas, and thus the review of them, are worse. As we say in the Haggadah - Lavan was worse than Pharoah. Phaorah wanted to destroy our bodies, while Lavan wanted to destroy our souls. Maybe, to these people, the Zionists are worse, because their ideas, their apikorsus, will destroy our souls (if we expose ourselves and our children to them).

Buy my book. (please)

Freedom of speech: But is it good for the Jews?

(A guest post by Tzipporah)

Israel's Broadcast authority is now banning ads critical of government policy.

I don't know about you, but unless an ad is advocating or endorsing violence, I'd think Israelis are grown-up enough to hear and make up their minds for themselves.
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Lashon Hara Lamed Hei, Go to Heck the Easy Way

A Guest Post by JS

So just before Tisha B'Av my wife comes home from work and says she has a great story about lashon hara (gossip, slander, evil speech) to share with me. We are taught that the Temple was destroyed because of lashon hara so the story seemed especially apropos.

Wife: So I heard this story from Matt at work. Many years ago, in a small village in Europe there was a woman who was well-known for being the town gossip. Anyways, one day she is stricken with a terrible illness. The illness is so terrible, that she seeks out the advice of the town's sage. The wise, old sage tells her to find a pillow stuffed with goose feathers and to climb up the town's bell tower and rip open the pillow scattering the feathers to the wind. The woman dutifully does so and yet she doesn't feel any better, she is still ill. She goes back to the sage and complains. The sage says this was only the first step, she must now find each and every feather and place it back in the pillow. The woman screams this is impossible! The feathers could be anywhere! The sage says, so too with words of gossip. Once you slander someone the slander is carried, as if by the winds, and no one can possibly repair all of the damage done.

Me: That's a really nice story with a good lesson. I've heard that story before. I think it's a chassidish tale. I forget who, but the sage is some chassidic rabbi.

Wife: What? No. I heard the story from Matt who's Catholic. He heard it in church and told me. I think the sage was an Italian priest.

Well, what do you know? Wikipedia identifies the sage in the story as an Italian priest named Philip Neri who lived in the 1500's! The story is an example of the Catholic concept of "Detraction" (revealing unknown faults or sins of Person A to Person B) and how difficult it is to repent of this sin.

So who stole who's story here?

More importantly, does it matter if the story was stolen or adopted from a neighboring culture? After all, the lesson about gossip is a good one and does fit in to Jewish theology.

Buy DB's book. (please)

Totally Conventional

A Guest Post by JS

I don't know about the rest of you, but I've found the Democratic National Convention to be a complete and utter bore. Ted Kennedy's speech was a highlight for me, not because of anything in particular that he said, but merely the fact that he came out to support his party and his candidate so soon after brain surgery and chemotherapy.

But, I guess what has bothered me the most about the convention to date is that the Democrats just seem to be trying too hard to deal with various perceived negative images.

For example, Michelle Obama has been portrayed as unpatriotic, militant (and inhumane), and an elitist. So what do we get from her speech?

She's human and she loves her family: "I come here tonight as a sister...I come here as a wife...I come here as a mom...I come here as a daughter."

She's patriotic: "So I know firsthand, from their lives and mine, that the American Dream endures...that is why I love this country"

She's an average Joe: "raised on the South Side of a father who was a blue-collar city worker and a mother who stayed at home with my brother and me."

The speech was good and made many good points about who Michelle and Barack Obama are and what their values are and what they hope to do if elected. However, it just seemed desperate to me because of the obvious lines to silent the critics.

Even her outfit seemed a bit desperate. A pale, blue dress. It says fancy but not too fancy, not the pants suit of a working woman, but a dress of a mother.

And Clinton's speech reeked of desperation. The big critique: lack of unity and that she hates Obama and is bitter. So what do we get from her speech?

Unity: "the time is now to unite as a single party with a single purpose. We are on the same team..."

Loves Obama and isn't bitter: "Barack Obama is my candidate...a proud supporter of Barack Obama...I support Barack Obama."

She tried so hard to do her job of uniting the party, but for me it didn't really work. I felt the speech was much more about her than Obama and that making that speech was killing her inside. I didn't feel she did enough (even with the obvious lines mentioned above) and that the sour grapes came across.

As for her outfit? She looked like an orange highlighter. Whoever put her in that thing should be shot.

Buy DB's book. (pretty please with a cherry on top)

Only in Israel

A guest post by TikunOlam

Being in Israel, I find that more than once a day, I am saying to myself, "only in Israel." Here are a few sighting and observations that come to mind:

1. Na Nach Nachman M'uman graffitti, bumper stickers and pom-pom white kippot

2. An 8 or 9 year boy dressed completely as a girl in a pizza shop in Tsfat - does anyone know what this is about?

3. The buff lifeguard at the Dead Sea with the "Chai" nipple ring

4. A man using his tzizit as a scarf at a Klezmer concert

5. The angry driver that kept going on and on yelling at my husband for "losing his mind" in Hebrew even when my husband kept insisting that he didn't understand a word he was saying

5. Jews living in the middle of nowhere and building extensions to their caravans to accommodate growing families

6. Rabbis carrying guns to shul

7. Pants worn under dresses as the hip new frum "style"

8. "Ani Tapuach" graffiti

9. Children able to play at the park without adult supervision

10. Kosher McDonalds, Burger King and KFC

11. Dati women with nose rings

---------Buy Dovbear's book. (and make it the most successful blogger book of all time!)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Bracha Bee

by JS
In honor of all those little kiddies going back to Yeshiva in the coming days, I thought I would post about that perennial Yeshiva institution, the Bracha Bee.

For those who don't know, a "Bracha Bee" is a lot like a spelling bee, except instead of being asked to spell words, young Yeshiva students are asked to indicate which "bracha rishona" (blessing before eating a food) or which "bracha achrona" (blessing after eating a food) is recited for a particular food.

For example:
Question: What bracha rishona is recited for an apple?
Answer: Borei pri ha'etz (Blessed is He who created the fruits of the tree)

Question: What bracha rishona is recited for apple juice?
Answer: She'hakol ne'hi'ye b'd'varo (Blessed is He Who created everything with an utterance)

Not so simple right? An apple has one blessing, but apple juice has another.

It gets more complicated.
Question: What bracha rishona is recited for pureed apple sauce?
Answer: She'hakol ne'hi'ye b'd'varo

Question: What bracha rishona is recited for apple sauce that is chunky?
Answer: Borei pri ha'etz

And this is the easy stuff! Every third grade participant in the bracha bee knows this! For the tough stuff you need to get into which is the "majority ingredient", which food "you really want", whether you're having the food as a meal or as a snack, etc.

Which all brings us to a question I had the other day while we had some guests over for Shabbat.


Why in the world are there different brachot at all? Isn't the whole point that I recognize God as the source of my food? Do I recognize God's majesty even more if I understand the source of the food?

This answer doesn't seem to make sense for many reasons. Firstly, we only have five categories of "sources" and only four of those are really a source (fruit, vegetable, grain, and bread), the fifth category is just a catch-all with numerous sources (liquid, meats, things out of their normal form, etc). Secondly, a large part of which bracha to recite depends not on God, but on man; namely, has man processed the food (as in the apple examples above)? Thirdly, if we're recognizing God's majesty by the sources through which He provides them we not only shouldn't have catch-all categories, but when we eat a food with multiple ingredients, we should recognize God as the source for each and every ingredient. We certainly shouldn't say a Ha'Motzi (blessing for bread) and not say anything for the fruits, veggies, drinks, and grains we consume after. And we shouldn't say about our stew that we prefer the potatoes (and bless for the vegetable) over the beef (and not bless for the meat).

But, perhaps even more so, this system makes it highly likely that someone will make a bracha l'vatala (a blessing in vain) due to reciting the wrong bracha and thereby desecrate God's name.

Why not just have a blessing that goes like this, for example: "Blessed are you God, Master of the Universe, Who created all of the ingredients necessary for the making of this pizza."? Simple, no?


Buy DovBear's book. (please)

Monday, August 25, 2008

So who is this JS character anyways?

So TikunOlam commented on my previous post saying :

JS-Hard to imagine you super conservative - actually hard to
imagine you an extremist in any direction.What are you conservative on? And
where would you say you are on Israel politics?

I was going to write back a short comment, but it turned into a long comment, which is now turning into this post where I'll share a little bit about my politics and where I stand on the LW/RW scale.

When I first started becoming curious about the world, I was working at an internship that required long drives to and from home. For about 2 weeks I listened to the local classic rock station. That's about as long as it took for me to get sick and tired of listening to the FM stations. You see, I really love classic rock and roll (Beatles and Dylan are my 2 faves) and was really annoyed that the local classic rock station seemed to think the Beatles only produced about 3-4 songs. And to make matters worse, they played the exact same 20 or so songs every day during my commute. So I switched over to AM and talk radio.

This was after the Intifada, 9/11, and at the beginning of the War in Iraq and I became an avid reader of the news (even now I am a huge news junkie). Like many Americans, I felt our country was vulnerable and that security issues were our primary concern. As someone deeply concerned about Israel, terrorism also was at the forefront of my thoughts. I was very upset with Democrats and especially with liberals for taking our security for granted, thinking terrorism was a joke, and coming out strongly against Israel in the Intifada. I was also appalled by comparisons of Bush to a Nazi. These feelings were only magnified by being on a liberal college campus.

At the time, it was comforting to listen to Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, etc. who felt the same way I did about these issues and provided good news and interesting persectives I didn't hear in "mainstream media". The socially conservative commentary and other parts of the conservative agenda creeped into my mind as well - kind of like a wolf in sheep's clothing. Before long, I was very anti gay marriage, was sure activist judges are ruining this country, and was convinced that an anti-conservative bias existed everywhere I looked. Well, OK, maybe I wasn't that bad, but I was close.

It took a long time before I realized my viewpoints were being so heavily influenced by talk radio (I even had a few conversations against gay marriage in which I invoked the slippery slope argument asking what was next - marrying children? marrying animals? Yeesh!). To be clear, I don't think talk radio is bad, I just think there is too much agreement going on and not enough dissent and honest discussion. There's a "my way or the highway" attitude that I find disturbing. However, this is also it's appeal as it gives a sense of belonging and that you're part of a bulwark against the rest of the country's insanity. People need to realize that talk radio is popular because it's entertainment, not because it's intellectually honest, unbiased reporting.

Once the War in Iraq started having its problems (reforming the country, IEDs, sectarian violence, no clear exit plan) and Israel's leadership seemed more and more incompetent and corrupt, I took a step back and realized I had stopped thinking on my own and that I didn't really agree with most of what Hannity and his ilk were spouting.

But most of all, I realized that if we can't come out of our ideological shells, if we can't cross the aisle, this country is going to go down the tubes. We simply have too many problems that need to be solved and sectarian posturing on either side is just going to make things worse.
So, I'm disappointed in all political parties in both America and Israel who are more concerned with power and titles than getting the job done and actually solving some problems. And I'm most dissapointed in our various media outlets who foster this kind of polarizing.

So where do I stand now? Mostly against stupidity and posturing. I think this country, and the world, are better off with my liberty and more freedoms. I also think that while people have an obligation to do for themselves, we need to help people learn and understand what it is they should be doing. This tends to make me more socially liberal. I believe in balanced budgets both personally and nationally so I'm fiscally conservative. Although the reasons for the war turned out to be wrong, I do think the world and the middle east is better off without Saddam Hussein. I also think we need to make sure it stays that way and not leave prematurely. So what does all this make me? No idea. I guess I'm just independent.

Buy DovBear's book. (please)

Looks like we've solved our immigration problem!

by JS
Another win for the Bush administration!

DB and all those liberal, leftwing loonies would have you believe the following:
1) Bush has ruined this country's economy
2) Bush has been impotent to solve our country's immigration problems

Well, it turns out ruining our economy was all part of Bush's brilliant plan to solve the immigration problem!

It seems illegal immigrants are leaving America in droves to seek greener pastures in their home countries. Click here.

Yep, that's right, Mexico is a more attractive option than America.

Consolation prize for the RW'ers: Now Mexico is getting a taste of its own medicine as it deals with cheap labor and increased medical costs and demand for social services.
Buy DovBear's book.

the land where the Torah comes to life!

A Guest Post by Rafi G.
(originally posted on LII)

I was thinking, and pointed it out at the Shabbos table this week, how appropriate our recent tiyul was.

Just in this past weeks parsha we read about the beauty of the Land of Israel; Israel being a land with springs and streams, valleys and mountains, etc. Last week, in the week leading up to this portion of reading, we visited all of the various descriptions of Eretz Yisrael. We hiked through the streams and springs and drank from their sweet waters. We hiked and drove through the mountains and valleys.

Eretz Yisrael - the land where the Torah comes to life!

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

In favor of Lakewood

by Modeh B'Miktsas
Hi, I am Modeh B'Miktsas. DB asked me to contribute while he's away (funny, I'm really a lot of the things he rails against) so here is my first post on this blog.

I can't think of anything original to say about Biden or Georgia that isn't blaringly obvious so here is a timeless -- i.e. random -- post on the chareidi world.

While I am in no way shape or form a fan of the kollel system, here is a list of Jews who in my opinion would have made the world a better place simply by warming a bench in Lakewood or somewhere and not doing their various historical things. The list is in no particular order except free associating each name with the one preceding it.

1) Jesus
2) Shabbetai Tzvi
3) Carl Marx
4) Leon Trotsky
5) Sigmund Freud
6) (your pick here)
7) (ditto)
8) (ditto)
Buy his book. (It deserves to gather dust in an honored spot on your booshelf)

Later Peeps

DovBear is going on shore leave. CousinOliver, you have the bridge.

Buy my book. (please)

Biden=Bad Choice

I don't see how you can talk credibly about change, and youth, and so forth when your running mate is a grizzled, old career Washington insider. Not that I expect the running mate will have any actual influence on the candidate, or his positions. This is about image.

On the bright side, the VP candidate's only real job is attacking the opponent, and Biden's got brass knuckles. And of course, on the other bright side, Biden has a kid deployed in Iraq, which brings home the idea of service and sacrifice seldom seen from candidates for high office these days. (I know: McCain went to war, too, like Kerry and Gore, but no Republican candidate since Bush Sr.)

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

From over the green line

A guest post by TikunOlam

Before I discuss some of my observations of yeshuvniks after spending a Shabbat in the Gush, a couple of things:

First off, just wanted to clarify something. The blogger "LadyLight" who writes the blog "Tikkun Olam" and I are not the same person. Her blog, Tikkun Olam, is very good and I would recommend that you give it a visit. When I chose a name back in January of this year, I was new to the blogging world. DovBear had asked me if he could post an email that I had written him, and unaware that there was already a blog with this title, I chose TikunOlam as my handle. My apologies to LadyLight for using her blog's name and my thanks to her for allowing me to continue using the handle without so much as a complaint. So for those who asked, I can only be found here on DovBear and have no intention of starting my own blog.

Secondly, I apologize for posting and running after my last post on visiting the kotel. I was off hiking to Monfort that day and by the time I was able to see the thread and respond, the thread was dead. If anyone is interested in my responses to comments - I commented at the end of the thread.

So I spent my first Shabbat in Israel at a dati yeshuv (religious settlement) just over the Green Line - or as my brother-in-law (who lives in another part of Israel) refers to it, a yeshuv that exists against international law. With all my time spent following Israeli political discussions on the blogs, in the papers and with family members, I paid attention in a very different way than I had ever before to thoughts and experiences of dati Israelis and settlers and the arguments for an against the many versions of land for peace

It is amazing to me how it seems that every person that I talk to seems to be able to argue both sides of every argument. For all the accusations made by "left-wingers" of the "right-wingers" for being "knee jerk" war-mongers who argue blindly without thinking for themselves, I am finding nothing of the sort. And this was with spending time with the most gung-ho yeshuvniks living on a surreal mountain top where there was nothing, before they built their beautiful community.

They seem to be able to argue Israel's right to develop Yehuda and Shomron one minute and express their sympathy and distress over the treatment of the Arabs living in those areas the next minute. One reservist discussed how on reserve duty he was responsible for protecting some Israeli school children as they traveled to school. Due to whatever route they needed to protect, it forced Arab school children to walk a number of miles out of their way in order to go to their schools. This reservest was horrified watching these children struggle just to get to school.

Others talk about how they could never imagine places like Efrat being evacuated but at the same time talk of how maybe it would be better if both Jews and Arabs would be treated the same way at checkpoints - how it would be better if all were treated with equal respect and dignity as they travel outside of the occupied areas' borders. One articulated how Arab children observing their fathers treated suspiciously, and sometimes disrespectfully, at check points only proves to promote further distrust, hostility and hate in the next generation.

So what I am finding is what I tend to argue is almost always true once you get to know (reasonably sane) people who are members of any political or religious group. People, even the ones who are accused of being "right-wing loons" are rarely "loons" and they are, in fact, three dimensional and able to think in shades of gray. On blogs and in politics they may make loud proclimations in the extremes, but sit down with them for dinner, and I've found, not at all surprisingly, that holding strong opinions does not make people blind to the arguments in conflict with their own.

Buy DovBear's book. (please - it is really good, I've seen it and I even get acknowledged in it!)

Friday, August 22, 2008

In which I express agreement with Gil Student

Post-conference, many of my blogging colleagues seem to be in agreement about the following points:

1- Bibi was a disaster. (Agree)

2 - Gil's opening dvar torah flopped (Agree)

3 - The presentation on branding was a betrayal of our history, our nation, and every Jewish child yet to be born. (Disagree)

4 - When Gil said that he didn't think the Jewish blogosphere is a true community the angels cried (Disagree) (I think he's dead right. Lots of different communities may exist within the J-blogopshere, but the J-blogosphere is not a community itself: We don't have common interests, and no one views the blogosphere as a distinct segment of society. We speak of aliya-nics, or skeptics, or TorahTrue-niks, not of "Jewish bloggers")

Buy my book. (please)

Some quality posts to close your week

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Branding Israel

So I liked the lady from the foreign ministry who addressed the blogger conference yesterday, and not just because she came schizophrenically dressed. (Elbows, cleavage, and a tichel?) She made some excellent points about branding Israel, and wasn't afraid to tell a room full of likudnik-aliya-happy warbloggers that they, alas, are part of the problem. [Related]

According to the focus group information she shared, ordinary upscale Americans think Israel is a scary place. This is not because the editors of the New York Times have implanted microchips in their brains, nor is it because ordinary, upscale, Americans are all liberal, Jew-hating anti-Semites, who descend from Cossacks and Nazis. It is because Israel is always presented through either the prism of the conflict or as the Jewish homeland. The latter no one cares about. The former scares the crap out of people.

Why does this matter? Because its bad for business. If Israel is perceived as a drunk-on-religion sort of place, where people carry guns and live behind barbed wire fence, they will be less likely to visit or to buy Israeli made products. They won't hire Israelis. They won't invite Israelis to speak, or buy books by Israeli writers because they imagine it's either all about God, or about the war - two topics ordinary, upscale Americans prefer to ignore. [Aside: I once told an educated, Republican, church-going Southerner that I was planning to visit Israel. She asked: "Will the hotel provide you with towels, or do you have to bring your own?" Her picture of the place was pure third world.]

The answer, we learned yesterday, is for Israel to put another foot forward, to share other facets, and other sides of the Israeli experience. To let people know that Israel is something besides fanatics with machine guns. Predictably, this suggestion has irritated more than one RW lunatic. [Including the genious who heckled the speaker with chants of "But Israel is a Jewish state." I mean, duh, but not the point: Sure, Israel is a Jewish state, but if most people don't care, what are you going to do? Stamp your feet?]

The root reason for their ire, I believe, connects to why they are RW lunatics in the first place.

See, the RW lunatic tends to see only black or white -- you're either with or us against us -- and he is usually able to recognize only one truth: his own. In the mind of a RWer, the ordinary, upscale American who sees Israel as a scary, dangerous place, is simply wrong. She's not her own perceiving center, with her own truth. She's a flawed human being, with mistaken ideas, who needs to be corrected. The idea that perhaps some common ground is available is an anathema. Those who would attempt to do this by presenting Israel to the world as something other than the Jewish state, aren't seen as pragmatic patriots attempting to make a sale, but as ideological traitors.

[Meanwhile, my fellow LW lunatics all seem to think her ideas were swell]

Buy my book. (please)


a guest post by the Bray of Fundie

Linkage young man...linkage. No, not to another blog or comment, I'm talking me and the BearMan. With all this grass roots talk about how DovBear (in costume) must attend next years NBN J-Bloggers Conference I, as an aggrieved minority of one, demand linkage and my own right of return. Simply put: no Bray... no Bear.

If he takes me along I'll even go (bl"n) in a Donkey costume (though an elephant costume might better suit both my politics and my so-called, physique).

Next conference in Jerusalem baby!

Was this McCain's Dork in a Tank Moment

[The original dork in a tank moment.]

McCain yesterday slipped into Stockdale territory and confessed to a reporter that he didn't know exactly how many houses he owned

I dunno about the rest of you. But if my 72-year-old grandfather forgot how many houses he owned, I'd take him to see a neurologist to test for Alzheimer's.

Anyway, today Obama's ad people nailed him to the wall.


Around the horn (Conference edition)

:: FrumSatire is funny. Read his blog. During his set yesterday he said something about "blogger etiquette." Blogger ettiquete? There's no such thing. If I recall, FS's story involved getting beaten with a stick for requesting a link on someone's blog. If responding with such anger is "proper blogger etiquette," well, I'm afraid I'm in constant violation. Such requests arrive in my mailbox nearly every day, and I haven't yelled at anyone. [Anyone who wants to be added to the blogroll in invited to put their details in the comment thread, using the following format: Name, URL]

:: Carl in Jerusaelem, [8/22: link fixed!!] is apparently someone I should know. When I wrote that "Esther K... is moderating. Gil's on this panel, too, along with Trep, Jewlicious and some other guy I don't know" I wasn't trying to be dismissive. Until yesterday Carl, quite honestly, was "some guy I didn't know." I've since been to his blog, and discovered it contains lots of words and lots of readers, all of whom seem to be the sort of hard-core LGF loving righties who often make my skin crawl. This is no reflection on Carl, who seemed like a swell guy at the conference yesterday, nor on his blog, upon which I wish every success.

:: I still think that branding woman from the Foreign Ministry was superb. Perhaps a post on why she was dead right later today.

:: Rafi isn't fired.

:: Jameel at the Muqata is a good man and a good friend. (even if I do find it slightly presumptuous that he keeps saying Israel is my "home")

:: Medad has pictures and commentary So does Jewlicious, where you'll also find a list of some of the other blogs who wrote about the conference. (Jewlicious gets extra props for zinging Bibi.)

:: One of the Rabbis in the audience had a terrible time, but makes a great point: "The first speaker began with a d'var Torah about the importance of humility. To a room full of people who were only interested in self-promotion! (Come on, be honest. Which blogger doesn't dream of a mass readership and changing the world? Everyone is in it to some extent for the ego trip. Yes, even me!)"

:: Finally, its a shame I didn't see this stupid Haaretz article when it was new. (Spotted via Trep) Anyone concerned that the conference was "one-sided" or "agenda driven" can be corrected with one simple fact: I WAS OFFERED A FREE FLIGHT AND INVITED TO BE A PANELIST. ME. DovBear. The blogger who celebrated Israel's sixtieth with THIS.

We're #48,795! We're #48,795!

According to the stat counters at Lulu, my book's sales rank is 48,795, which no doubt sucks. Still, two days ago, when only one book had sold, the rank was in the low 6 figures. Progress, is progress, I suppose.

Those of you who have reached into your pockets for the very meager sum of $20 have my thanks (Hope you like it. No refunds.) Those of you who still have not purchased the book are the reason the rest of the readership continues to be subjected to these annoying commercials. I hope you are proud of yourselves.

Buy my book. (please)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Make Aliyah today (wasn't that a Shlock Rock song?)

A Guest Post by Rafi G.

I just posted my review of the great vacation, camping on the shores of the Kinneret, I just took...

Now that us bloggers don't just unofficially promote aliyah, but we do it as part of Nefesh B'Nefesh, read my post and get motivated, by the beauty of Eretz Yisrael, to make aliyah!

Live blogging the blogger conference....

10:30 - Well that sucks... we've lost the feed. Where previously there was an entertaining shot of a backdrop and some microphones with assorted heavy set people going in and out of the frame, we now have nothing - and just when all the smaller bloggers were about to get up and introduce themselves to their audiences. Have I lost my big chance to see what WestBankMamma really looks like?

A great day in the history of the blogosphere

Along with the self-publication of my book, and the Beijing Olympics the other important thing happening this week in the world is the first ever J-blogger convention, sponsored by Nefesh b'Nefesh. It starts at 10:30 NY time, and the web broadcast is already running (currently its mostly overweight Jewish techie types testing microphones) The panelists are largely bloggers who don't like me and have said bad things about me but I am certain there's good potential for some interesting conversation and clever background mockery in the comment threads and chat rooms. Also, the Nefesh b'Nefesh people were nice enough to invite me to participate. So, I hope you'll take a look.

May I also propose a convention drinking game? (those of us on the East Coast can use coffee).

Here's what you do:

What to do

When to do it

Drink once......when someone says Israel (twice if its Gil, three times if he cries)
Drink twice and moan......if someone calls W "Israel's best friend ever"
Drink once...... if someone thanks "the little people."
Drink once and cheer......if someone asks a question that catches Gil in a kfirah trap.
Drink once and duck......if that vein on Trep's neck starts to throb.
Drink once and check for messiah......if anyone mentions my name
Drink twice and reach for your credit card.....when my book gets mentioned.
Put down your drink and head for the toilet......if a positive word is spared for YeshivaWorld or Cross Currents.
Drink and complain to your local godol......if the camera-man "accidently" catches any hot blogger girls
Drink and make angry faces......if anyone conflates being "pro-Israel" with being "pro Likud" or "pro killing Arabs."
Drink and give a long, low, wolf-whistle...if RenReb, Tik, or OM get mentioned.
Drink and spit up a little in your mouth......if any of the comfortable, visiting Americans start pontificating on "What Israel should do"
Drink and shut of your computer......if Frum Satire's set lasts more than 7 minutes.
Drink and buy a lottery ticket.....if anyone says "I really enjoy the writings of Chaim Bray."

Buy my book!!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Here it is: The most important DovBear announcement in the history of human kind

I've self-published a book.

If you like the blog, you'll love this, too, so I hope I can prevail upon you to buy a copy or three. The money all goes to support Jewish children (my own) and if you choose to post a book review on your own blog, I'll grant you three wishes (provided those wishes are as follows: (1) link to me (2) insult Cross Currents and (3) never stop blogging.)

You can order it privately and securely by clicking here.

Folks, now's as good a time as any to thank you all for making blogging such a blast. I don't know what I'd do without you (besides have a life, I mean.) As Rabbi Chanania said on his own blog, "much have I learned from my teachers, more from my colleagues and most from my commenters." So thanks, and may we have each other to hector and to hold for many more blog posts to come.


PS: Special thanks to the people who provided me with assistance of every kind, especially the many talented artists who helped with the cover art.

More proof the world is coming to an end

In a ruling bound to be remembered as worse than Dred Scout, the California court has again intimated that homosexualls are human beings. Report:
California's high court has ruled doctors cannot withhold care to gays or lesbians based on religious beliefs. The case stems from a San Diego-area lesbian's claim that a private fertility clinic refused to inseminate her because of her sexual orientation.
This is bad, bad news for believers, and does irreparable damage to the God-sanctioned doctrine that in-vitro fertilization should only be between a man, a woman, and a turkey baster.

An important announcement that will change your life...

...will be made by COB today

Defending pre-war America


The descendants of those Jews who arrived after the second World War are fond of insisting that pre-war America was a spiritual wasteland, a place where traditional Judaism went to die, but hold on....
  • Most of the major American yeshivot opened before the war Torah v'Dass, Chofetz Chaim, Chaim Berlin, NIRC, and RIETS are all pre-war. Several Orthodox High schools date to that era, as well, such as Hili, now HAFTR, Shulamith, Ramaz, MTA, Yeshiva of Flatbush, and Maimonides. Who was funding and attending these institutions if pre-war American Orthodoxy was so insignificant?

  • Yeshiva University came into existence before the war, along with major Orthodox institutions like the Rabbinical Council of America and the OU. There was even an American Agudas Yisroel before the war.

  • Heinz products displayed an OU as early as 1923 What created the demand for a national kosher certification if things were as bad as the post-war arrivals claim?

  • Before the war the Conservative Movement was, mostly, halachic. The fact that it grew exponentially in the 20s and 30s demonstrates a desire on the part of new arrivals and their children to remain part of a halchik community. When the newly upsacle child of an Eastern European Jew joined a Conservative shul it wasn't an act of rebellion, but an expression of devotion. In those days, the differences between CJ and OJ shuls were differences of class and style. The OJ shuls had less decorum and the members were working class; at the the CJ shul services were more orderly and formal, with mostly middle-class congregants. Contrast a very hasidic shtieble, with a place like Aish Kodesh, and you'll begin to understand how OJ and CJ shuls were unalike in the pre-war days. (The battles over mechitzot and microphones belonged to the 50s and 60s, not the pre-war years.)

  • Historians say many different forces led to the development of our 5day workweek; one of them, all agree, was the massive influx of Jewish immigrants in the late 1800s and early 1900s. They demanded Saturday off and by the 20s and 30s many places of business were obliging.
Given all this, its fair to ask: What is the origin of the pernicious slander that pre-war America was mortally hostile to Judaism and the observance of halacha? Where did it come from? How can it be sustained in the face of so much evidence to the contrary?

I have a few ideas...

(for those too lazy to click) I think the slander of pre-war American Judaism originated with survivors who wanted to find some cosmic meaning or value in their war-time experiences. After going through hell, they must have asked themselves what for? "Ah, for the sake of our children, and grandchildren," goes the common reply, echoed by Bray in his horrible Holocaust posts. "Had we left for America before Hitler, we wouldn't have suffered, but our children wouldn't be frum. For this, everything we endured was worth it." The truth, alas, is that they could have had it all. They could have come to America, skipped the suffering, and raised frum families. This inconvenient fact is painful to face, so it is ignored. Moreover, the worse pre-war America is imagined to have been, the more noble their suffering seems. This is why the flaws and shortcomings of that era are magnified. Its why the lie about new arrivals dumping their tfillin in NY harbor was invented. All pf this is done in the service of a (perfectly understandable)justification.

Checking in from the Holy Land

A guest post by TikunOlam

Shalom u'Bracha from the Holy Land. I am here visiting for two weeks after not having been here in 15 years. Entering Israel after so many years, the first thing I noticed was how much had changed. Everything is more modern and westernized, the airport, the roads, the shopping centers. And of course, there are whole towns where there once were bare mountains including Ramat Beit Shemesh, where I have been staying for the first couple of nights.

But with all the change around me, what I found on the first day visiting the Kotel for the first time in 15 years was that what had changed most since the last time I had been here seems to be me.

I insisted that my family visit the Kotel the first day we were in Israel. My husband didn't understand why, as I have not been a religious person in so many years, but I couldn't imagine introducing my children to Israel without making the Kotel our first official stop.

The experience of the Kotel, for me, was so different now then it was the last time I was here. As now, it is my first time in Israel as a non-religious person. So while my children went to touch the wall, put little prayers into the kotel, I found that I had no desire at all. I discovered that the spirituality I once felt at the Kotel that was once powerful enough to move me to tears, didn't exist inside me anymore. Instead, what moved me most this time, was being able to watch people who were obviously seeing the Kotel for the first time, experiencing that wave of emotion that I was once able to feel.

One particularly powerful moment was when I witnessed two young people with their hands covering the eyes of their friend until he became close enough to the Kotel to get a full view. When they uncovered his eyes, he couldn't move, he just stood and stared. His experience of awe was almost palpable. I think I miss being able to feel that way.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Memories are shaky

John Kerry and Barak Obama were killed by the media and the RW bloggers, when they misremembered details of their own personal histories. Now the same sort of lapse has effected McCain (who, natch, hasn't been killed for it yet by neither the media, nor RW bloggers.)

A new way to suck up

Republican VP hopeful Eric Cantor puts on a McCain kippa

When Gedolim attack

For footage of that infamously, notorious, corrupter of souls Lipa Smeltzer being physically and violently shoved off the stage at Camp Monavu by some insane mad man in a black hat (who was subsequently shouted down by the campers) click here.

[Of course, the whole thing turned out to be a color war break out, but how fascinating: This is a RW OJ camp cheerfully and happily mocking Gedolim, and parodying the more insane elements within their own community. Ken yirbu.]

Hat tip Amshi

Moshiach Must be On The Way

DovBear Posts me (The Bray of Fundie)
The "Forward"Publishes Pinny Lipschutz

Thursday, August 14, 2008

One Gadol's Opinion on European Emigration

a guest post by the Bray of Fundie

I must say that the intensity of the reaction to some of yesterdays post took me by surprise. There were thoughtful points that were nearly ignored while the alleged malfeasance of interbelleum Gedolim elicited a firestorm of angry and hateful comments.

Today I'd like to share a quote from one of the undisputed towering leaders of this period in which he opines about a fate that he considers worse than death, or at least, if he was unaware of the impending death, worse than horrible persecution:

After Kristallnach, the British suggested transferring thousands of Jewish children from Germany to England. This Godol then said: "If I were to know that it was possible to save all the [Jewish] children of Germany by sending them to England and only half of them by transferring them to Palestine, I would still choose the latter. Because before us is not only a responsibility to those children, but a historic responsibility to the Jewish People."

That Gadol? "Rav" David Ben-Gurion

source ?The Holocaust in American Life by Peter Novick page 50

Troops prefer Obama 6 to 1

Sheep who can't think for themselves, and want things as simple as possible are the sort of knee-jerk patriots most likely to vote Republican. I also thought they were the sort of people most likely to join the military. Could I have been wrong? "...a new analysis by Open Secrets finds that the U.S. military is increasingly rejecting McCain as its spokesman. Obama has received nearly six times as much money from soldiers deployed overseas. "

6 - 1?!? There are only two possible explanations for this:

(1) The troops aren't especially pro-McCain, meaning the media and the candidate haven't been entirely truthful with us.

(2) These donations were made by soldiers who have some independent wealth aside from the meager pay soldiers receive, suggesting that lefties with money are more likely to join the armed forces, then their wealthy republican counterparts.

Lowering taxes is good for the economy

Haha, no.

Where they don't care about the Olympics.


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The questionable logic of charity organzations

As bluke reports, the Kupat Hair of Beni Brak has arranged a special treat for its benefactors. Make a donation to this organization and a minyan of Torah scholars will mention YOUR name and YOUR request at the grave of the Vilna Gaon. Oo-weee and wowie kazowie. (Note: Kupat Hair of Beni Brak provides no promises, affirmations or guarantees that the Vilna Gaon and/or his emissaries, designees, or subsidiaries will hear, accept, honor, recognize, follow or carry out your request.)

Perhaps I'm an innocent child, but it seems to me that this is stupid. If I gave money to Kupat Hair of Beni Brak I'd want it spent on the poor,--not on a minyan's worth of plane tickets and hotel lodgings. Moreover, if requests made at the grave of the Vilna Gaon are such slam dunks, why isn't the minyan of Torah scholars asking the Gaon to provide for the poor?

Drawing More Wrong Lessons

The New Holocaust SilencePart III
A guest post by the Refrocked Bray of Fundie

The issue: Theories as to why Kharedim seem to disdain Holocaust remembrance and studies in general and Holocaust Kinos on Tisha B’Av in particular.

Last week I opined that there are MANY Hashqafa lessons that have atrophied into, truisms, bromides and received wisdom that are at odds with many Hashqafistic planks in the Kharedi platform. Here are a few more:

Truism:-The Rabbis blew the call, stop listening to them: A historical review of interbellum eastern European Jewry will reveal Rabbinate/ Godolship that was unenthused about aliyah, emigration to America and/or armed resistance to the Nazis. Conversely many of those who ignored their counsel survived. This proves empirically that the Rabbis are not endowed with any special insight and that we are best off making our own decisions and not even seeking their input.

Kharedi response #1 :Subordination to Da’as Torah is not predicated on Rabbinic infallibility :The directive of the Torah to subordinate oneself to the authority of Torah sages does not mean that they can never make a mistake, sometimes even a fatal one. The issue is not one of “correct” vs. “incorrect”, but of emes vs. sheker. If I follow the Torah as interpreted by the khakhamim I have hewed to the emes. This may at times, and in the case of the Holocaust did,* require marching into hell for a heavenly cause, but doing so let the hearts of the holy martyrs lie peaceful and calm as they went to their rest.

Kharedi response #2: There are some fates worse than death. : In the Tisha B’Av kinos we wax rhapsodic over the suicide by drowning of boatloads of Jewish children headed to Roman brothels, of the suicide pact of Rebee Ishmaels son and daughter and about the martyred kehilos of Worms Speyer and Mainz during the first crusade where it was not uncommon for parents to kill their own children before committing suicide.

Did rabbinic advice cause more Jews to perish than survive??? Possibly, even this is debatable. But assuming for a moment the affirmative is surviving in a Monastery or as a Qofer necessarily a better “deal” from a Jewish standpoint? Is supporting uprisings when we were woefully outnumbered and outgunned, when for every German soldier or Camp Guard killed scores of other Jews were routinely tortured and executed a “heroism” worth pursuing? Once you factor in “quality of Jewish/eternal spiritual life” considerations even the mere “wrongness” of the Gedolim is no longer an open and shut case.

Truism:-Racism is THE ultimate evil: The Nazi genocide monster’s black heart was one of white “Aryan” supremacy, reducing most other races, or to use the contemporary parlance, ethnicities to untermenschen= subhumans at best and in the case of the Jews, a kind of racial antichrist that must be eliminated to the very last member lest it again metastize like an aggressive cancer. As racism was the cause of mankind’s greatest catastrophe we must be makhmir to avoid even the slightest permutation of it

Kharedi response #1: Racism is terrible but and it was the major, but not the exclusive cause of the Holocaust. A perfect storm of causes decimated Jewry. Historical hindsight allows us to see that it was the confluence of many socio-economic and geopolitical factors that created circumstances “perfect” for a Holocaust. Racism was the major one but the Holocaust as we know it could not have occurred without high-technology, Prussian military discipline and brilliance, the one sided humiliation at Versailles, the Fuhrer Prinzip that allowed for “just-following-orders” flight from personal responsibility, two millennia of X-tian anti-Semitism, anti-Jewish scores to settle in a region where as Faulkner said, the past is not dead, it is not even the past, the cowardice, fecklessness, apathy and complicity of the western democracies and the German judiciary, academia, military, Church, scientific and legal communities…. just to name a few. This doesn’t even begin to count metaphysical factors, but let’s not go there.

Kharedi response #2: G-d would never have created so powerful a force if it could not be sublimated : That racism is evil incarnate is perhaps the wrongest of the wrong lessons precisely because it contains so much truth and because it undermines the baseline Havdala Consciousness of the Jewish sensibility. Imbibing deeply of the toxic elixir of this lesson postwar Jews developed a new article of faith: If only we become universal men and battle for tolerance of “the other” and every form of diversity and against every manifestation of intolerance and racism, we will be safe and living in a world free of Nazi-like evil. Postwar Jews consider “chosen-ness” passé and feel uncomfortable in their own particularistic skins. Mention the phrase “Chosen People” in a room full of Western Liberal Jews and immediately their nostrils start twitching from the stench of Zyklon “B”. They are hypersensitive to every Zionism=Racism resolution passed in the UN or @ Durban because, having internalized this wrongest lesson these resolutions wound deeply because they doesn’t only blame the Holocaust victim but substitute him for the perpetrator.

Indubitably, racism, or at least racial pride, is an extremely powerful compelling force. Like fire it can reduce forests to ashes and choke people with toxic inhalations or, provide light warmth and better food and metals. And like nuclear energy it can lay waste to entire cities and start unpredictable chain reactions or, properly harnessed and safeguarded, it can provide cheap and efficient energy to those same cities. Kharedim believe that, as part of the free will balance HaShem created equal and opposite forces in the side of darkness, evil and impurity to those He created on the side of holiness sweetness and light. As the verse in Koeheles 7:14 states: גַּם אֶת-זֶה לְעֻמַּת-זֶה, עָשָׂה הָאֱלֹהִים =”God hath made even the one as well as the other”.

In other words an alternative lesson that one might draw is that just as racism has proven to perhaps be the most powerful tool in the arsenal of evil so it may potentially be the most powerful tool in the arsenal of goodness. No one has demonized high-tech or “German” efficiency despite the indispensible role of these in perpetrating the Holocaust. It is self-evident that when subservient to evil these become forces for evil yet when harnessed to good they can do tremendous good that low-tech and inefficiency cannot.

Forget about Zionism. By any fair definition Judaism is racism. If we eradicate every vestige and permutation of Racism we will ,paradoxically, be advancing a Hitlerian agenda, a world without Judaism.

Next: But is it Poetry?
* lest anyone accuse me of unattribbuted plagiarism this turn of phrase is from the song "The Impossible Dream" in the Musical "The Man of La Mancha"

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Boycott Rubashkan

Shmuel Herzfeld, the clean-shaven Orthodox Rabbi last seen being use as a punching bag by hate-filled head-in-the-sand-Lubovs, had an op-ed in the Times last Friday.

Drawing on the example of Yisroel Salant, a beard-wearing Orthodox Rabbi who once shut down a matzo factory where workers were mistreated, Rabbi Hertzfeld asks if meat from the disgraced Rubashkin plant in Pottsville, Iowa can be relied upon as kosher. His reasoning:

1 - "Children as young as 13 were said to be wielding knives on the killing floor; some teenagers were working 17-hour shifts, six days a week." This behavior is unethical, irresponsible, and not in keeping with Jewish law. It is fair to ask why we should trust that the plant is following other Jewish laws.

2 - "The affidavit filed in the United States District Court of Northern Iowa, for instance, alleges that an employee was physically abused by a rabbi on the floor of the plant. If true, this calls into question the reliability and judgment of the rabbi in charge of making sure the food was kosher"

3 - "Two workers who oversaw the poultry and beef division were recently arrested for helping illegal immigrants falsify documents. If they were willing to break national immigration laws, one could reasonably ask whether they would be likely to show the same lack of concern for Jewish dietary laws."

Though Hertzfeld stops here, I am going to add an indictment of Orthodox Jewish values. It's not uncommon for us to refuse food in houses where the women dress immodestly, or where the shabbos is violated. "How," they will ask, "can we trust this house's kashrus, if the homeowners publicly violate other laws of the Torah?" This thinking is sound and justified but its never carried to its logical conclusion: Orthodox Jews to who don't eat in homes that aren't shabbos observant often demonstrate no such scruples when the homeowner is a convicted white-collar criminal. (I've seen it)

The fact the Rubashkin remains open for business, with no boycott proclaimed, is an example of the same hypocrisy.

If the Pottsvile plant slaughtered and packed on Shabbos, no OJ would touch their meat. The plant reamins open, and continues to make money simply because we don't cherish the Torah laws that protect the rights and dignity of workers in the way that we cherish the Torah laws that guarantee us a day of rest to parade around in our finest and stuff our guts with food.

IOC correct to ignore craven Iranian

Saturday: Iranian Swimmer Pulls Out of Heat That Includes Israeli

The IOC contemplated sanctioning Iran for this display of cowardice, but in the end decided to believe that the Iranian swimmer had taken ill. I think that was the right decision. By resigning from the race, the Iranian hurt himself, not the Israeli, while also making things eaiser for the 7 remaining competitors. If a badly behaving child wishes to help others by shooting himself in the foot, the correct approach is to ignore him.

retrieving people from a war zone

A Guest Post by Rafi G.
(cross-posted from LII)

Israel announced it is sending a plane to Georgia to retrieve the 230 Israeli citizens stranded there due to the war that has been raging the past few days.

In todays day and age where we live in a world that is increasingly capitalistic and democratic, one would think that 230 people who chose to go to a country for their personal profit (to run businesses and companies or touring or for whatever reason they are there), Israel, or any parent country, would have no obligation to retrieve them.

they went to make a buck, they can find their own flight back. Why should we, the taxpayer or the government, pay for them to come back now that they are in trouble? Why should we risk ourselves for them? It is a free market - you want to get to Israel, you had enough in Georgia, find a way to get there on your own.

It is particularly inspiring to see that not everything is dictated by the rules of the free capitalist market. We care for our people, no matter why they went or where they went. Someone is in trouble and we try to do what we can to save them.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Trusting the enemy

Quality post

The Sickly Sweet Smell of Excess

By the Bray of Fundie

I interrupt my series on Holocaust Kinos to bring you my rant about the end of the world as we know it.

Pomegranate, that bombastic monument to excess and conspicuous consumption will be opening its golden gates tomorrow. I suppose it is the logical conclusion of ostensibly frum Jews driving Mercedes and Beemers, leaving davening early to imbibe copious amounts of small batch bourbons and single malt scotches, transforming smorgs at weddings into food orgies and spending the GNP of a third world country on a Pesach vacation. But it is no less malodorous because of it.

Look, as is well known around here I cut the figure of a beached whale. I lack self control when it comes to food (err and blogging and, come to think of it...everything) and am quite ashamed of it. But to institutionalize an ethos of living to eat rather than the obvious message of the entire kosher code that we eat to live, really seems obscene to me. This store is also within a stones throw of a major Brooklyn yeshiva. I wonder if its obscene presence will raise the same hue and cry as the now defunct Shaitel shop. But I’m not holding my breath.

Maybe while chowing down on those $23.99 a pound steaks the “foodies” of Flatbush should consider how much more they could’ve donated to Tomchei Shabbos or Keren Aniyim had they merely overpaid like the league average kosher consumer.

Spare a few words of prayer for Nephtuli and his newborn


A close reading of Psalm 137


[This translation is mostly King James with a little of Alter and a little of DovBear tossed in.]

By the steams of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion.
This verse alone should silence anyone who says that King David wrote or published the whole book of Psalms. (If you're the type who won't accept the obvious unless it has the blessing of a Rabbi, please refer to the Ibn Ezra, who says this Psalm was written during the exile.)

We hung our harps upon the poplars there
For there our captors requested words of song; and our conquerors demanded rejoicing , saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.
How shall we sing the LORD's song in a strange land?

Meir Gruber points out that from the perspective of the Babylonians the songs are secular, possibly nationalistic ("songs of Zion"); from the perspective of the captives the music is sacred. ("the Lord's song".)

If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget
The Hebrew does not tell us what the right hand should forget. Some say this is a scribal error and substitute tikhash, "wither" (a difference only in the order of consonants.) Others say the Hebrew word tishkach (forget) is meant to pun on tikhash (whither), while refering back to the earlier eshkochaych (future, or perfect present, tense of forget) ; still others say "let my right hand forget" was a familiar idiom with a widely understood meaning, like "losing my mind."

If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.
The right hand would have been used to pluck the cords of the previously discarded harp; the tongue would have been used to sing. When the psalmist suggest he is willing to forfeit the use of his hand and tongue, he is dramatically resigning from the occupation of music-making. An athlete might say, "I'm hanging up my sneakers."

Remember, O LORD, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem; who said, Rase it, rase it, even to the foundation thereof. Daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed; happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us.
The Hebrew, here, is a problem, because it puts the destruction of Babylon in the future. Either the psalmist is longing for the destruction of his enemy, or this is another scribal error: Reversing the order of the consonants yields "The despoiler." (I find the first solution perfectly plausible, but many do not.)

Happy is he who seizes and dashes your infants against the rocks.
This is possibly the most immoral line in the Hebrew Bible, but the sentiment is perfectly understandable: The psalmist is expressing legitimate, honestly-felt outrage. It should not be understood as a biblical endorsement of genocide.

Nu, chevra, how'd it go?

Mostly easy, though summer fasts that fall on Sunday are an abomination and should be abolished.

Of all the things we don't read from a klaf, the shachris haftorah for 9 Av might be the most difficult. I've heard more than one reader get wrecked on the rocks of Jeremiah 8.13–9.23. It contains lots of weird words, and readers are further burderened by the custom of switching from the haftorah tune to the Eicha tune. This tune switch is difficult for amateurs to navigate, in part because the first word to be read with the Eicha tune is cantilated with a note that does not appear in Eicha. I've heard inexperienced readers drift accidently into the tune for Esther, or the tune for regular Torah reading. (The most difficult aliya to read from the Torah is the seventh in parshas vayishlach.)

None, I'm afraid.

Invisible. Kol hakovod to the organizers of the Beijing Olympics, and also to the ohavai yisroel who scheduled a brand new Wizards of Waverly Place for yesterday evening.

How long was was shachris:
Too long. And hardly anyone stays to the end. Tisha B'av shachris is the most difficult of all the devenings. It's our K2, and percentage-wise, I bet more people make it to the top of the mountain.

Kinah for Gush Katif?

Kinah for holocaust?
Yes [Those who end the liturgical tour of Jewish tragedy at Chelminiki, yet also hold that Yom Hashoa is wrong "because we have tisha b'av" have, in Ricky's immortal words, some 'splainin' to do.]

Break fast:
Potato soup and lecho (same as last year.)

How'd things go for you? (Or to put it in the jargon of the blogosphere, I'm "tagging" all of you.")

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Why was the Temple destroyed?

:: Isaiah's explanation (King James version)
:: Listen to the passage in English

A crackling exegesis by Rabbi Mendel Hirsch
"For the Shabbat which precedes the anniversary of the destruction of the Temple, the Haphtarah is taken from that first chapter of Isaiah which in broad strokes makes clear to us... the nature and calling of Israel, its place in the midst of mankind, the loftiness of its mission, and the depth to which it has sunk. Its depravity, which made the destruction of the state and of the Temple necessary as the sole means of saving Israel for its everlasting calling. Thereby the mourning of the ninth of Ab is given its sharply defined limits. The Jew does not mourn that thousands of years ago the Temple was destroyed, but that it had to be destroyed. Not over the destruction, but over the causes of the destruction.


For demoralization, not morality, estrangement from, and not approach to, God-fearing was what was effected by Temple visits, praying, and the festival gatherings which were not practiced as means for the true Divine Service which is to be performed in life devoted to duty but as substitutes for it. [v. 11-15] Boundless selfishness, greed for profits, misuse of power in service of their own interests on the part of those in authority and greed for lucre in all classes of the people, the oppression of the defenseless widows and orphans [v.23] was what made the prophet give the people the resounding appellation of "the Lords of Sodom and the people of Gomorrah." [v.10] The people... to whom money and possessions are only to be valued as means of living life in the fulfillment of the God-ordained duties of justice... sunk to the level of Sodom where poverty is considered a crime! Of Sodom, the original picture of cold, smooth, external respectability under which the most complete selfishness, the utter lack of consideration for others, the most pitiless harshness of heart...

Therefore every recurring ninth of Ab, is to pose the question to every generation: Is our... present... deeply imbued with the Jewish spirit, so filled with the Jewish way of thinking.. that it could form a worthy environment for a Temple of God to be erected in its midst?"

A sweet summary by DovBear
The Temple was destroyed because the leaders of Jerusalem were pious frauds, who used the Temple to justify their selfish behavior.

They were glad to assemble at the Temple for Festivals, Sabbaths and New Moons, to bring fatted rams and the blood of oxen and lambs and he-goats for sacrifice, but none of it meant a thing because (as SRH puts it) they also tolerated "social crimes which undermined the happiness and life of their neighbors."

In the language of the Prophet, they did not "Seek justice, encourage the oppressed, defend the cause of the fatherless, [or] plead the case of the widow." They didn't protect the vulnerable or defend the rights of the innocent. Instead they just kept showing up on the Temple Moun, day after day, with their fat bulls and incense. While vulnerable people went exploited and unprotected, the leaders of Jerusalem gathered on a mountaintop to pay lip service to God. (I'll leave it to you to decide if this goes on today, and to determine if this behavior is more prevalent on the left or the right side of the current political divide.)

Finally, God said "enough," and took the Temple away, not as a punishment, but to prevent its continued misuse as a crutch and a dodge, and to force the people to realize that all prayers and offerings are in vain if the law of the Torah is not kept, that the sweetest odors from sacrifices would not save the altar, the Temple, and the State, if they were permitted to take the place of the rest of God's statutes.

Not incidentally, the Hirsch exegesis, coincides with what I wrote last Friday: "God has redeemed us by giving us the power to redeem ourselves -not through hours of prayers, nor through personal stringency, nor through pilpul, nor through conquering Yesha, but through good works." Or as Isaiah himself puts it in the last verse of the Haphtarah: Zion will be redeemed through justice and by those who return to her with righteousness.

Friday, August 08, 2008

To Drill or Not to Drill

John Stewart, a great American, shows us how stupid Bush, McCain and Obama have been lately about offshore drilling (McCain has been most stupid of all.) Bonus: Clip includes footage of McCain pimping his wife to a convention of motorcycle toughs.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

The Roving Rabbis

A guest post by TikunOlam

I have no idea how my TikunOlam gmail address ended up on the email list (since it isn’t even listed on DovBear anymore). I can only guess then, that one of you must have subscribed me or something. Anyway, today they sent me a link to information about “Roving Rabbis,” a program where their young and up and coming rabbis are sent all over the globe to interact with Jews of all kinds. I was curious, so I explored the webpage. The “Roving Rabbis” blog about their experiences and their posts are available here. I was really taken by the powerful and moving way they describe each individual Jew, and the way these young Chabadnicks articulated each Jew’s individuality and uniqueness. There is not one word of judgment, intolerance or criticism to be found in their descriptions of these Jews There are only words of kindness and love. It is easy to see why the Chabadnicks have had such great success as a Kiruv movement.

Here is a sampling:

After visiting West Virginia, home to Joel, Mendel Guervitz, a “Roving Rabbi” described Joel as an “angel” who helped dig him out of a ditch and explained, “I was deeply inspired by him. I never met such a kind person. He made us feel as if he loves driving his tractor and that shlepping us out of the ditch made his day.”

In another post, this one written by Mordechai Lightstone, the young Rabbi described meeting Russian Jews “clad in western blue-jeans and stylish shirts, the old – with weathered jackets and battered caps or Babushkas” He explained that at first, he didn’t even notice them as they were so understated compared to Jews from places like the United States or Mexico. I found his description of the prayers of these understated Jews very moving.

“They pray in silence, the silence of the soul that calls out to G‑d not in words, not pompous voices, or even roaring tears, but the utter silence of the soul as it communes with its Creator in a way so deep, so whole and so real, that words, even sacred ones, would pervert it as sacrilegious.

And when they are done, they kiss their prayerbooks, tucking them safely aside in the shelves behind the pews, and leave.

I notice them. And I am in awe.”

Memo to my fellow Jews

Attention Coreligionists

Going without meat is not a hardship. I hate to say it, but those of you whining about how tough the Nine Days are on your poor precious stomachs sound spoiled rotten.

There's plenty of good food to eat that isn't meat. Fish, for instance. And eggs. And pasta. And vegetables. And best of all, there's always ice cream or cheese cake for desert.

So kwtcherbellyachin'

That is all.

A good week in the life of this blog

April 2 - 7, 2006

Why I posted the Dunner story

Let's get two things out of the way first.

I did not "drag his name through the mud" nor did I "besmirch his reputation." My post provided no commentary or information that had not been published elsewhere. I didn't insult him, I didn't criticize him, and according to the halacha as I understand it, loshon harah no longer applies after the information has been publicized. This story appeared yesterday in the Daily Mail, one of England's most widely circulated newspaper. From a religious point of view, saying "Bension Dunner had cocaine in his blood when he died," is no different from saying "Bill Clinton dallied with an intern." You can't kill someone who is already dead, and you can't besmirch a reputation that has already been besmirched.

So why did I throw the link up on my blog? Two considerations went into the decision, I suppose, a decision that was quickly and haphazardly made (If it surprises you to learn that our editorial policies here are a little loose, well, you're either an idiot, or new to the blog) Here they are:

Main reason for posting: To provoke conversation
I received the link to the Shaviv post from two people, and the Daily Mail article from a third person. I confess to not recognizing the name "Bension Dunner" (and, GH, who also posted the story, but to much less criticism, can vouch for this) I reasoned, "If the Daily Mail and three people think this is a story, it probably is, and people probably want to talk about it, so let's toss it on the blog and see what people have to say." I've done this sort of thing before, and I'll do it again. (This is the blog equivalent of walking into kiddush and saying, "Hey, did you hear Bill Clinton got caught with an intern?") And the comments I received justify this approach: That simple link to someone else's blog produced a very good, very interesting discussion about the Charedi community, and how it tends to deny its own problems.

Ancillary reason for posting: To shine some sunlight on Charedi-style hypocrisy
Posting that link was a chance to point out (yet again) that CC and YW are worthless propaganda tools. Both blogs - and their disgusting commenters - grab every opportunity to denigrate and degrade the modern orthodox community, but neither has ever suggested that anything but champagne and roses can be found beneath the wigs and black hats. (CC, for example, ran interference for Kolko, and YW had the nerve to claim that they'd received a psak halacha that prevented them from saying anything about it. I say nerve because the balance of that blog's postings make it obvious that halacha isn't their concern when someone from another community can be embarrassed) Pointing out the hypocrisy of those blogs, and the hypocrisy of commenters who scream here about Dunner, but never say anything there when, say, Moshe Tendler is insulted, was not the primary purpose of my post, but it was a neat ancillary benefit. (Note: I don't claim to be anything but a hypocrite myself, but I also don't claim to be the blogging voice of Orthodox Judaism, or of the Yeshiva World. Moreover, you'll find plenty of posts about Lanner and other modern orthodox villains here.)