Friday, February 27, 2009

Good shabbos

First Mention: The Hazon Ish

In this new and occasional feature, DovBear will look at the New York Time's first mention of various subjects of interest.

Today: The Hazon Ish
Appeared: October 21, 1952

Click here to read the article.

Why am I thinking about the Hazin Ish today? Because Bray recycled an old story about him, and (natch) is misusing it.

The Last Count of Valmadonna

Read about Jack Lunzer here.

Unconfirmed rumor I just made up: That's Bray in the background

Tip of cap: Krum

Valmadonna leftovers

Last week, Bray promised to post replies to some questions he had sent to the tour guide who escorted him around the Valmadonna library. Bray hasn't yet followed through, which I presume means he's gotten no answer, lost interest, or received replies he didn't like. Meanwhile, another friend of the blog (HT on request) emailed me some pics, and some questions, two of which appear below.

At the right is what I'm told is one of the first haggadot ever printed. Like the ones, I have it home, it appears to be covered with wine stains. Am I right, or are those reddish brown splotches something else?

Other famous haggadot: Sarejevo Haggadah , Szyk Hagaddah, Two Minute Haggadah, Sixty-second Haggadah

At the left is one of two very old Pentatuch manuscripts held by the library. As reported on this blog, back when it was hip, cool, and relevant, Aaron ben Moses ben Asher, the best known of the Masorites, and the man thought to be responsible for the most magnificent Torah manuscript of them all, may have been a Karaite. Indeed, many of the old codices were either commissioned or owned by Karaite communities. Is this also true of the Valmadonna scrolls? Were they also originally the property of Karaites?

Other famous Hebrew bible codices: Aleppo Codex, Codex Cairensis, Leningrad Codex

Related: Vamdonnarama-palooza

Thursday, February 26, 2009

I thought God only cared about American sporting events?

According to this memo leaked by a campaign staffer, God helped some creep named Romny Rogers win a primary election no one in the world cares about. Money quote:

"God lifted His mighty hand and allowed Romney to receive the majority of the vote.''

Makes sense to me. Hey, have you tried praying to Jesus? From what I understand that always works.


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Rabbis, Miracles, and Barbaric Beliefs

A reader, who can identify himself if he likes, emailed:

Recently you wrote a post arguing against miracles performed by Rabbis. I want to know how those differ from the miracles by Elisha in Kings.
Heheh. Newbie. I've written LOTS of posts on that subject.

But lets go again.

One important difference between bible miracles and the stories told around the mikva is this: I have a religious obligation to believe that what the bible says is true. I have no obligation to believe the same about the dumb stories people repeat around the mikva.

Additionally, the stories told about Rabbis are always fallacious. We never know the answers to important questions such as:

1 - How many times does the rabbi's blessing work? How many times does it fail? (If his success rate is 1 for 500 might there be another explanation for the so-called miracle?)
3 - What was the supplicant's diagnosis, and what's the usual prognosis for it? (Famous example: 99 percent of colds go away on their own; yet people believe that crystals and magic powders "work" as treatments. They don't. The cold goes away on its own.)

Its also never clear that the story is told exactly as it happened. People have a tendency to change facts to make their stories better, sometimes without realizing it, and there's a big difference between saying "I went for a bracha and was cured!" and "I went for a bracha, and a few weeks later after I started some new treatments I was cured."

Finally, if Rabbis really have the power to cure, why aren't they in hospitals 24/7 helping the needy? Why do they sit in their studies, guarded by gabbaim, unwilling to help anyone who doesn't come to begging, often with a large gift in hand?

The behavior of many bal mofsim is identical to the behavior of known non-Jewish frauds like John of God or your local gypsy lady. Moreover, the same types of stories are told about all of them If we don't believe in the non-Jewish frauds, what's the argument for believing in these rabbis?

[Posted with permission.]

- Why are people so eager to suspend their critical thinking and flock to the quacks? (by S)
- Why Quantum Mechanics can't explain miracles (by Barry Simon, Ph.D.)
- Must we believe?
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A scandal and an outrage

My NYT was not delivered this morning.

Don't those effete, latte-sipping morons know that I'm the only Jew in a five mile radius who respects and admires their liberal scribblings?

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

ParshaNotes (Mishpatim)

Boring, boring, boring. That's both a review of this snoozer of a parsha and a warning about the notes you're about to read. Caveat lector.

Crux Alert
For my money this is the most troubling crux in the whole Torah. Read more

External Parallels
In 21:10 we're told that a man who takes a second wife can't reduce the first wife's food, clothing or conjugal rights. Very nice, but not so ahead of its time as you might think: There are ANE documents which forbid a husband from diminishing a first wife's food, clothing and oils. (I haven't seen anyone who can convincingly construe the MT's 'onah as "oils")

In 21:22 the MT has וכי־ינצו אנשים ונגפו אשה הרה ויצאו ילדיה If men strive, and hurt a pregnant woman with child, so that her child departs from her. Other ancient versions, including the LXX, have "fetus." This is a difference of just few spots of ink.

Political aside (1): This is one of several verses which suggest an authentically authentic Jewish view of abortion is more lenient than the evangelical Christan teachings too many Jews embrace and promote as "Torah-true."

Political aside (2): I doubt the Ohr CHayim was a pluralist, but his teaching on "You shall incline after a majority" (Exodus 23:2) is one this pluralist can applaud. Longer treatment, pg, in the next post.

- In defence of pluralism
- Yakkov Menken doesn't know what the word means!
- Hashkofa hating

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The mystery of Iran's Jew

Roger Cohen, who writes for the Times, visited his co-religionists in Iran recently, and returned with an account that struck me as strange. Here is some of what he claims:

1. Over the entrance of a shul in Esfaham hangs a banner saying, "Congratulations on the 30th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution from the
Jewish community of Esfahan."
Was it put there by Muslims? Is it evidence of Stockhold Syndrome?

2. Jews still gather at this shul, daily at sunrise, to pray I don't think this is strange, but I expect smug euro-centrics like Bray will be surprised to learn that the Persians have a daily minyan. (Then, again, Bray was astonished to learn that Italians studied Torah)

3. On the day he visited, Soleiman Sedighpoor was the chazan. Sdeighpoor is quoted as follows: "Let [Muslims in Iran] say ‘Death to Israel.' I’ve been in this store 43 years and never had a problem. I’ve visited my relatives in Israel, but when I see something like the attack on Gaza, I demonstrate, too, as an Iranian.” Now, that's astonishing. The Iranians who demonstrate on behalf of the Palestenians are not demonstrating as Iranians. They are demonstrating as Muslims, or behalf of Muslims. In what way does a Persian Jew demonstrate "as an Iranian," on behalf of Arabs?
Read the article

Sponsored Message (and speaking of Persia!)
- Celebrate Purim 2009 with Magnificent Purim Baskets - Mishloach Manot from Oh Nuts.

Welcome Hamodia to the late 20th Century!

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

Hamodia has joined the late 20th century and now has a website!

Chaptzem is upset at Hamodia because of a perceived hypocrisy in the sense that Hamodia has, first of all, always been so anti, but more so because until now they have rejected advertisements that contained websites. And suddenly they are starting their own site!

(Thanks to Parshablog for pointing them out)

If you look at the comments there, it looks like people generally agree with those sentiments.

I disagree. I think we should praise Hamodia for finally having the courage to take the jump. So they used to be against it? Nobody changes their mind? Circumstances are different now. Maybe they see that they will not succeed without a website. Maybe they see the web is so prevalent, they already lost that battle.

About the ads, I am not sure what Chaptzem is talking about. Pick up the paper of any week (in English) and you will see ads with websites. They got rid of that policy (unofficially at least) a long time ago.

So, we condemn them when they oppose the internet, and now we condemn them when they accept the internet. What do we want from them exactly?

I think Hamodia made a good move starting a website. I hope it helps the marketing of their newspaper.

- Protecting our gedolim from Hamodia
- Easter in Hamodia
- In which I sit like patiance on a monument

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- Celebrate Purim 2009 with Magnificent Purim Baskets - Mishloach Manot from Oh Nuts.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Happy Rosh Chodesh!

All similarities between this song and the famous Adar tune you know are the result of deep, metaphysical secrets which Bray will happily reveal if you ask him nicely.

More Martian Moments (re: Mofsim)

What the speaker said:
For 2 years we couldn't have children. Two years! And then I went to see [famous Canadian rebbe] and I begged him for children! I gave him a big pidyon, of course, and he blessed me. Ten months later we were blessed with a child!

What the crowd said:
Ooooh! Aaaaah! Wow! Woweee!
(aside) What do you say to THAT DovBear?!

What I said (to myself)
What was the medical diagnosis? What percentage of people with that particular condition conceive on their own? What else changed? Did you take new medicines? Did you start having sex more often? Did you enter the care of a new doctor? How often is the Canadian rebbe successful? How often do his blessings fail?

- The original Martian post
- Fisking a Lakewood Kollel Wife (not as obscene as it may sound)
- Barbaric beliefs
- He who believes that these are true practices... is nothing but a fool.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Did Aggriprocessors get an Oscar shout-out?

During the presentation for the award for best cinematography, Natalie Portman told a bearded Ben Stiller that he looked like he worked "in a Hasidic meth lab."

See it here

HT: Mobius of JewSchool.

Safron on evolution (why does he bother?)

Here's my sweet sum-up of this superbly stupid Safron post:
Scientists are gaga over their Gedolim (e.g. Darwin) and chronically incapable of critically evaluating their received wisdom. This is why we must ignore everything science says. Also (and don't get whiplash as Avi flip flops) scientists are constantly replacing and updating their theories as new information becomes available. This is also why we must just ignore everything science says.
Avi is already being bloodied by his own commenters (I'm shocked Menken is letting the contrary comments appear. Since when does that blog let the opposition speak?) so, I'll just make these two tiny points:

1 - Basically, Safron's style of Orthodox Judaism is 1000 percent guilty of what he says about science, while science (though perhaps not individual scientists) is 10000 percent innocent. Orthodox Jews are the ones who ignore facts that are inconvenient or unpleasant. Orthodox Jews are the ones who question nothing, and accept everything blindly. We're the ones who drool over Gedolim stories, for example, and silence rational dissent.

2 - The fact the science is a work in progress, with ideas that are constantly being refined, is a point in science's favor, not an argument for discarding everything science says.

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Now that's a chilul hashem

Well, commenting community, I hope you're pleased with yourselves. Your asinine comments on the thread about the super-sweet-shabbos-goy post got back to the author, and she came by to complain (in the comments). (Though to be fair, not all of her objections were responsive to what happened here, so I imagine other idiots were rude to her elsewhere.)

If I were you, I'd go and apologize. Its the right thing to do, and besides: the good Jews of Boro Park might find themselves with no help on shabbos, if you don't fix this.

Buying my book won't make things right, but it will make me happy.

Strange and spooky coincidence

The "Mystery of the ‘Land of Twins’"

What's behind it? Something in the water? Or Josef Mengele's ghost?

If you're happy and you know it buy my book. (clap, clap.)

Am I Martian?

Occasionally, I think I might be from another planet. Some of the reasons why:

From a book on sholom bayis: "Men need to measure every word they say to their wives. Even an innocently intended remark can easily hurt a woman's feelings and bring her to tears."
My own experience: I've known my wife for over a decade. In that time, I've seen her cry perhaps 5 times.

From a speech our local Rabbi gave this week (to women): "I hear all the time from men, who complain their wives are spending hours and hours online and neglecting the house and children as a result."
My own experience: My wife couldn't find the Internet with a map, and you could perform surgery on our kitchen table (hmmm. Perhaps there is a connection.)

From the woman who lives down the block: "Men are so funny. When they get hungry they really believe that meat is the only solution. And God-forbid you try to get them to eat vegetables."
My own experience: As readers of my posts from the 9 days know, I find dairy perfectly satisfying, and believe vegetables are the perfect snack food.

From some of the locals (who, in most other ways, are quite decent): N-word, N-word, S-word, N-word
My own experience: Only really horrible people still speak that way.

Now, I'm glad to concede that I'm in the minority on all these points... but all that admission does is make the feeling of strangeness more acute.

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

of Rabbis and Men of Spirit

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

Yair Lapid gets upset when he finds out that the speakers before him at an army base course were all rabbis. When he asks why only rabbis and no secular "men of spirit" (media, authors, poets, etc.) were invited, he is told they are all invited. The only ones who come are the rabbis - they agree right away. The secular "men of spirit" never accept the invitations.

Yair Lapid does not come to any conclusion as to why that is. I wonder why that difference exists.

I am thinking out loud here - maybe the difference between the rabbis and the secular "men of spirit" is that the rabbis see themselves as leaders of the people, with the need to give direction, impart of their wisdom to others, etc. While the secular "men of spirit" see themselves as above the people, better than the people.

Or maybe the rabbis see it as an opportunity to reach out to people who would otherwise not likely be exposed to a religious personality of influence, and they jump at the opportunity to have some level of influence. While the secular "men of spirit" don't see the opportunity to share thoughts and wisdom as one that is necessary or important.

Or perhaps the rabbis are just happy to go meet with the people and talk with them and share wisdom, while the secular men of spirit will only do so for a large speaking fee, and if they are not offered a large sum, don't consider it worth their time.

what do you think?

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Friday, February 20, 2009

How they see us (or you, anyway)

A really nice post, by a really nice non-Jewish woman, about her her first encounters with the residents of Boro Park.

Note to the residents of Boro Park: Not everyone you meet on the street will know what a shabbos goy is. Such knowledge isn't inborn.

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A good Valmadonna question/observation:

How much S'char (reward) do you think the non-jewish printer, Daniel Bomberg recieved for being the source of the printed edition of the Talmud?

How many thousands and thousands of hours of learning was he responsible for? Does he obtain merit for it, or since it was for him a logical business move, was his reward only in this world? Should we envy his portion in Olam Haba?

Personally, I believe that even if he didn't do it lishma, that Hashem has rewarded him generously for his part in spreading Torah through his printing of sefarim, as well as other non-Jewish printers of that era who who printed Hebrew Sefarim.
Elsewhere, CBY says he studied the Bomberg Talmud while he was there. I imagine the scores and scores of Jews who visited did the same (including, chalila, some women.) As CBY notes, its fabulous that those books were used again, by Jews, after sitting neglected for 400 years in a church. Another friend say he leined out of the 800 year old chumash manuscripts, as hair on the back of his neck stood up.

[How many more Valmadonna posts before this counts as another palooza?]

Small slideshow & supporting article


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Valmadonna II; or.. my Partial Mea Culpa to DovBear

By the Bray of Fundie
I went to the exhibit today. Impressive doesn't do it justice. I felt like a kid in a look-but-don't-touch candy store where, if allowed to, I could gorge and get a sugar high for months if not years.
There are several questions I want to email to the tour guide/curator, Mr. David Wachtel , and bl"n when I get the chance I'll post about his responses. In the meantime one impression I walked away with should give succor to DovBear in his efforts to educate me.
Close followers of this blog know that I often lock horns with the Ba'al HaBlog over celebrating or condemning the culture and legacy of Eastern European Jewry. Basically I have a very Eastern-European-centric view of Judaism while Dovie entertains a Western-European/American-Centric view. Something I saw in the exhibit today gave me pause and began to validate the ursine's position.
The Library was arranged according to country and city of origin. There were four plus "tables" (in the reading room) of Italian works while only one of Eastern European origin. Now as history-challenged (oblivious) as I am, I realize that global economies are of fairly recent origin and that, historically, most goods and services had to be grown/produced/manufactured fairly close to the location of the consumer. For most of human history no local demand meant no local production.
By this calculus ,to have been home to SO MANY printing presses and printers , Italy must have been a mecca of Jewish Scholarship. Sure I'd heard of the publishing houses of Venice (Vinetzia) and Livorno and knew that the Rama m'Fano and the Ramkha"l were both Italians. But IIRC over 30 Italian cities were represented. It's enough to have made one think that Vilna, Kovna, Brisk, Volozhin, Warsaw, Cracow, Lemberg, Zhitomir, Pressburg, Lisa, Sanz and Sokhatzov et al were all in Italy rather than in Eastern Europe. To my surprise I was "forced" to conclude that Italy hosted many more more TKs, Qabbalists and Yeshivas than I'd previously been aware of. Score one for the Western Europeans.
My only plausible deniability is this: perhaps the outsize representation of the Italian Judaica publishing houses is based on fewer Eastern European Jewish Books surviving the Holocaust just as fewer Eastern European Jewish people did. This is among the questions I'd like to put to the tour guide/curator.
Why is this only a partial "mea-culpa"? Because the aforementioned Mr. Wachtel repeated the story of Henry the VIII seeking the advice of "Jewish Doctors" AKA Rabbis, almost verbatim. This, despite being accutely aware that Henry the VIII reigned long after the official expuslsion of the Jews of England. Unlike knuckle-dragging, mouth-breathing me, he is a classically trained and University credentialed bibliophile and historian with connections to the JTS. His only alteration in the urban legend's re-telling is that the eighth Hank wanted to see what tractate Gittin could offer him not tractate Yevamos.
Final point: One need not be Kharedi in order to be obnoxious, only Jewish. It was a very mixed crowd of over 300 in the room during the tour running the gamut from secular to Khasidic. Despite repeated requests from Mr. Wachtel to turn off cel-phones as it interfered with his microphone, there were microphone interruptions and interference from start to finish of his 45 minute presentation. (For the curious out there, no, I was not the guilty party). And while I suppose that the visceral love of "the People of the Book"' for their books was a Qiddush HaShem, the simple lack of Mentchlikhkeit was the opposite and another sad example of elevating the soulless and inanimate above the soul-infused and human so characteristic of contemporary Judaism.

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Mountain Over Their Heads: Sum-Up

And they stood under the mount R. Abdimi b. Hama b. Hasa said: This teaches that the Holy One, blessed be He, overturned the mountain upon them like an cask, and said to them, 'If you accept the Torah, good; if not, here shall be your burial.' --- Shabbath 88A


My view is R. Abdimi was speaking literally, and meant the mountain had been picked up and used as a weapon to threaten the encamped people (picture a man holding a barrel from both ends over his head, as if he was about to throw it.)

As I told you yesterday, we have biblical verses which tell us God spoke from the mountain, and biblical verses which tell us He spoke from the heavens. Most midrashim try to have it both ways, and teach that either the heavens descended, or the mountain was lifted. The point, I believe, of R. Abdimi's teaching is to tell us why the mountain might have been lifted. Answer: To threaten the people.

If you're not Dag or Bray, I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on this interpretation of R. Abdimi .

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How vile is Yeshiva World?

Anonymous accusation: "actually YW has blocked comments praising him for his wonderful service to yeshiva students."

We know Yeshiva World is an obnoxious blog, which often goes out of its way to denigrate and attack non-Haredi rabbis and communities, but is this possible? Are they actually refusing to publish comments praising a dead man for his good work with YU students?

I'm as fiercely critical of Yeshiva World as anyone, yet even I find this act of cold-hearted sectarianism hard to believe. I'd like some corroboration.

- More of the same stupidity from YW
- YW praises Bush
- Is being stupid contagious?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Two obituaries, two worlds

YU Mourns Tragic Death of Athletic Trainer Aaron Meyer

KJ Hatzolah Mourns Death Of Long-Time Member

YW neglects to mention the niftar was employed at a YESHIVA, and YU sees no reason to include his community service. Neither decision makes any sense to me.


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A Royal Repast for the Jewish Bookworm

By the Bray of Fundie

Sotheby’s Auction House is displaying the Valmadonna Trust Library until tomorrow. This is one of the most impressive Judaica collections in the world.

I’ve heard it rumored that YU, BMG of Lakewood, Chabad Headquarters and the JTS have all eyeballed the exhibit with an eye towards obtaining the collection. The size and price of the collection, along with the strings that the current owner has attached to the sale, probably make it out of reach for private collectors.

I won’t vouch for the historicity of this (and even if I did as a Kharedi I have zero credibility when it comes to history or science) but a delicious urban legend has sprung up around the Bromberg Shas being found in Westminster Abbey.

Henry the VIII’s troubled marriage to Catherine of Aragon began as a levirate marriage AKA Yivum. Catherine had been the childless widow of young Henry’s brother, Arthur prince of Wales . A Jewish Scholar told Henry that, per the Talmud, Levirate marriages were no longer considered a mitzvah as Khalitza= the widow release transaction, is the way to go in such scenarios. (parenthetically this issue was debated with much sturm und drang here less than a month ago!)

As ammo in his appeals to the Catholic Church to have the marriage annulled the eighth Hank wanted to be able to cite the pertinent Talmudic passage chapter and verse as it were. And so the eventual six-time khoson went out and treated himself to a Bomberg Shas!

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Was the mountain held over their heads?

And they stood under the mount {1} R. Abdimi b. Hama b. Hasa said: This teaches that the Holy One, blessed be He, overturned the mountain upon them like an cask, and said to them, 'If you accept the Torah, good; if not, here shall be your burial.' --- Shabbath 88A


This teaching has been the subject of much discussion, commentary, and even doubt. I remember arguing with my teachers about it. They took it literally, I didn't, and because neither of us had yet encountered the various sages who agreed with me, my faith was called into question. All might have been lost, in fact, were I not rescued and supported by other teachers, teachers who knew the truth about midrashim, and also knew that Rishonoim had taught things like " ...if the words of the ancient [Sages] contradict the intellect, we are not obliged to accept them."

Now in my (very) (very) early middle age, I find myself agreeing with the men my younger self disdained. I think its likely R. Abdimi b. Hama b. Hasa meant what he said (though we're not obligated to accept it); also I think its equally likely that the apologia I offered yesterday to explain this midrash is off point by 180 degrees.


Where was God when the Torah was given? The Bible isn't clear. On the one hand, it says "And the Lord went down upon the mountain{2}" and elswhere reports that God "called to [Moses] from the mountain.{3}" Later, God says "You have seen for yourselves that I talked to you from heaven{4}," and at the end of the story Moshe recalls, "Out of heaven He caused you to hear his voice.{5}" So which is it? Heaven or mountain? Some midrashim try to have it both ways:

Rabbi Akiva said: One verse says [I spoke to you from the heaven; another says God descended on the mountain] This teaches that god must have bent the highest parts of the heaven down to the top of the mountain, and spoken from there - but from the heavens! ---Mechilta
Elsewhere, the same collection of midrashim cites the view that God was able to speak both from the mountain and from the heavens because Sinai ascended into heaven:
And they stood under the mount {1}This teaches that the mountain was actually uprooted from its place and then they came close and stood underneath it. ---Mechilta

Yesterday, writing about R. Abdimi's drash, I said this: I believe [R. Abdimi] is saying that following the miracles the Israelites had seen, they were in no position to refuse God's invitation; thus it was as if the mountain was being held over their heads.

Today, I'm recanting.

Today, I think its more likely that R. Abdimi was weighing in on the "Where was God" question. I think it was his opinion - intended literally - that God held the mountain over their heads. I don't believe he was correct, nor am I obligated to accept his view, but I no longer thing he was trying tell us something about the collective state of mind of the new Israelite nation. I think he meant exactly what he said, and that he was attempting to reconcile the same contradiction addressed by the midrashim cited above.

1. Ex. 19. 17. The translation is literal.
2. Ex. 19:20
3. Ex. 19:3
4. Ex. 20.21
5. Deut. 4:36
6. Mechilta translations belong to James Kugel.

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What color is your Kool-Aid?

When I heard Obama was in Chicago last weekend, playing ball and meeting friends while Congress debated a crucially important bill, my reaction wasn't negative. Instead, I thought, well sure: "Everyone needs a break. And besides its the weekend."

I rather doubt Republicans responded similarly; likewise, I opposed Bush's frequent trips to the fake ranch during his 8 years in office. In responce, the 30 percenters told me how hard the president worked, and how modern communication made it possible for someone to work effectivly from anywhere. Some of those same 30 percenters are today criticizing the trip to Chicago, just as I once complained about the frequent trips to Crawford. Interesting how that works, no?

(To clarify, following a query in the comments, this post is just a comment on how the mind works. I think we're all in the grips of it.)

(And while we're on the topic of the fake ranch, does anyone else wonder why W. retired to a nice house in Dallas, rather than to his "beloved" Crawford spread?)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


Stimulus bill gives $1 billion to Jewish social service providers: "The economic stimulus bill enacted by President Obama will provide $1 billion to Jewish nursing homes and social service agencies, according to the United Jewish Communities"



Yeshiva University News: "Father Patrick Desbois, Who Documented the Holocaust Massacre of 1.5 Million Ukrainian Jews, to Deliver Annual Rogoff Lecture."

If any of you go, please live blog it.

Announce your own event: $25 and an email to gets it done.

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Parsha Notes (Yisro)

With this issue of ParshaNotes, I'm up-to-date.

It's amusing to me each week to see which individual notes generate the most interest and anger. As I compile the post, I usually guess which one will make Bray most irate, or which will generate the most thoughtful commentary from the others in the community. So far, I've been wrong every time.

Jethro's arrival is set in thematic opposition to the arrival of Amelek in the preceding chapter. (Cassuto) [More] [And what is "Amelek" anyway?]

Accurate idiom
18:18 נָבֹל תִּבֹּל גַּם־אַתָּה גַּם־הָעָם הַזֶּה You and your people will wear yourselves out
As Rashi says (following Onkelos) the verb here means "to wither." To an ancient, agricultural society, this means approximately what "burnout" might mean to a modern, technological society like ours. (Alter)

Common Error
Christians often forget that Jesus was not one of them, but one of us. They speak of Jesus teaching or arguing with "the Jews" forever oblivious to the fact that both Jesus and "the Jews" would have thought of each other members of same religion and ethnic group. Jews are guilty of the opposite mistake, specifically toward Moshe's wife Tzipporah. Perhaps she converted (in whatever way that was done before the Torah was given) but she hadn't shared in the history or the burdens of her husband's nation. Their suffering was not her suffering. Her arrival with Jethro, after the Exodus has been executed, drives home this point.

Biblical economy
18:4 Moshe calls his second son Elazar, because [Moses said,] "The God of my father came to my aid and rescued me from Pharaoh's sword." When? As Alter and the Misrash both note this must refer to an episode not depicted in the narrative.

Unnecessary comment
The verse [19:3] says "So shall you say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel" and Rashi, following mechilta, provides an explanation for the double language. This misses the point. It appears far more likely to me that God is speaking in verse to signify the grandeur and majesty of the moment. (The line's meaning and rhythm are both perfectly parallel.)

Upping the ante
God's original deal with Abraham was that we would practice justice and righteousness. Now [19:6] He says "And you shall be to Me a kingdom of princes."

External Parallels
לֹא תַעֲשֶׂה־לְךָ פֶסֶל וְכָל־תְּמוּנָה אֲשֶׁר בַּשָּׁמַיִם מִמַּעַל וַאֲשֶׁר בָּאָרֶץ מִתָּחַת וַאֲשֶׁר בַּמַּיִם מִתַּחַת לָאָרֶץ׃
You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.
Here, God is speaking of the three realms of creation, and seems to be replying to Canaanite theology, which had a separate god for each zone (Baal: Land; Yaam:Sea; Mot: Underworld)

Irony Alert
The ban on taking God's name "in vain" may have originally had the sence of "making use of the name in a (false) spell or incantation", as opposed to using it in casual speech. (Alter) Nowadays, of course we're meticulous about not ever mentioning the name, but flock to clairvoyants who offer to work miracles, often through various uses of the name.

Midrashic meaning
Rashi on 19:17: at the bottom of the mountain According to its simple meaning, [DB: Which no Rabbi or preacher ever mentions.] at the foot of the mountain. Its midrashic interpretation is, however, that the mountain was uprooted from its place and turned over them like a vat. — [from Shab. 88a] I don't believe even the midrashic interp. here is meant to be taken literally. Rather, I believe the author of the midrash is saying that following the miracles the Israelites had seen, they were in no position to refuse God's invitation; thus it was as if the mountain was being held over the heads.

After ordering us to eat a meal using archaic cooking (fire roasting) and archaic baking (unleavened bread) methods, the Lord seals the deal with a pact prepared using an archaic mode of communication (writing on stone.)

- Twice we're told the people heard (or will hear) the sound of a ram's horn, but no information is provided about who is blowing it. At the first mention, the horn is called a "yovel" prompting Rashi to say,"the ram’s horn Heb. הַיוֹבֵל. That is a shofar of a ram, for in Arabia, they call a ram “yuvla.” Do I misunderstand here, or is Rashi glossing a word based on how its used by non-Jews? If so, why?

Wrong Rashi
Rashi 19:4 on eagles’ wings Like an eagle, which carries its young on its wings, for all other birds place their young between their feet since they fear another bird flying above them. The eagle, however, fears only man, lest he shoot an arrow at it, because no other bird flies above it. Therefore, it places them [its young] on its wings. This is an excellent image, but the facts are false: Eagles don't actually carry their young on their wings.

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Tennis Update

Tennis Channel Won’t Televise Dubai Event in Protest: "The Tennis Channel will not televise the Barclays Dubai Tennis Championships this week to protest the United Arab Emirates’ refusal to grant an entry visa to the Israeli player Shahar Peer. Peer was scheduled to play Anna Chakvetadze in the first round... The $2 million tournament is a premier nonmajor tournament on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour with 9 of the world’s top 10 women. Peer is ranked No. 48."

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Should Jewish men shave?

Via Voldermort, I see someone with mad Internet skills has assembled and posted a collection of anti-shaving rulings, advertisements and polemics.

A sampling: [Ransom-note capitalization style SIC]

I only have two impertinent questions:

(1) Why is the creator of this site so angry about clean-shaven men? Are the absence of beards really the greatest crisis facing Jews and Judaism? Does the site creator also have a website dedicated to rabbinic sources which decry child abuse, or dishonesty and fraud? (Are there rabbinic sources which decry dishonesty and fraud?) (there must be, right?)

(2) Isn't the Internet verboten? Many of the same names he cites on his page have also said "sharp words" about blogs and websites. If the author received a rabbinic dispensation for his online war against shaving machines, he doesn't say. (I suppose he's entitled to the benefit of the doubt, but clean-shaven men are, too)

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The blog generates 800-1000 comments per week, but each week 3-5 of them are left on Blogger, rather than Haloscan. Why? If you comment on Blogger, your remarks are often overlooked, and seldom answered. To be read, you need to go where the readers are.. So, on behalf of the community let me cordially invite and strongly encourage the contrarians to join the rest of us on Haloscan.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Guest Post from Mar Gavriel

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Alter lectrue

Cultural Imperialism

Not having ever been to a Jewish dance or exercise class, I'm not prepared to say if our woman are working out to Asian music, but... I sort of doubt it. Mysteries: How did the Asians first find this stick of Jewish bubblegum, and how did Heshy find their video?

- Making music my enemy
- The Dear Leader's taste in music
- Gentile Shiny-show music

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Sunday, February 15, 2009

RamatCa"l Gaby Ashkenazy at the Kotel

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

Hamodia ran an article, with a picture, about how Gaby Ashkenazy - the IDF Chief of Staff - went to the kotel this week. He went to daven and say thanks to Hashem for the miracles they experienced during the recent Gaza War, and for the success. He also held a se'udas Hoayah with the Rabbi of the kotel, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz.

Whoever says the Israeli army is purely "kochi v'otzem yadi" and therefore bad, does not know what they are talking about.

UPDATE: Searching for a link, I found this article with the same picture on Arutz 7 Hebrew...

-IDF's Chief Rabbi responds to allegations of Pesach desecration
-The Myth of the (Non) Fighting Jew
-The IDF's professionalism
-Praying for Shalit (or not)

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Friday, February 13, 2009

Deep thought

The Obama stimulus plan being decried by teeth-gnashing conservatives will cost substantially less than either the Bush administration's 2 trillion in tax cuts or the 1 trillion and counting spent in Iraq. [Source]

How Joshua tells us about Jews and evolution

Even though today everyone agrees that Copernicus was right and does not contradict our religion, the initial Jewish response was that he contradicted the Bible and must, therefore, be rejected.


Because of what it says in Joshua:
Then Joshua spoke to the LORD in the day when the LORD delivered up the Amorites before the sons of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel,“O sun, stand still at Gibeon, And O moon in the valley of Aijalon.”So the sun stood still, and the moon waited, until the nation avenged themselves of their enemies. (Is it not written in the book of Jashar: "And the sun stopped in the middle of the sky and did not hasten to go down for about a whole day.")
For thousands of years, these verses were read literally, and Jews taught and believed that the sun's daily journey across the sky had been halted. About 400 years ago, Copernicus put forth a theory to explain some facts and argued that previous understandings were wrong: The sun, not the earth, he said, is at the center of the solar system; moreover, the sun only appears to be moving across our sky because it is being orbited by the earth.

Copernicus's arguments won the day, and eventually Jews relented, and the verses from Joshua were reinterpreted. Today no Orthodox Jew argues against the heliocentric solar system. Instead, we say that it was only from Joshua's perspective that the sun seemed to halt.

There's no reason why the same trick of reinterpretation can't be applied to Genesis. Like Copernicus, Darwin put forth a theory to explain a set of facts. Over time, as new facts were discovered, and our understanding of the old facts improved, Darwin's explanation only looks better and better. So why can't we do with Genesis what's already been done with Joshua? If we can change the meaning of "So the sun stood still" to fit our new and improved understanding of the nature of things, why can't we do the same with any other verse?

Bonus Quiz:
Who said it (and is it just me or does this sound just like my angry commenters?): There is talk of a new astrologer who wants to prove that the earth moves and goes round instead of the sky, sun and moon, just as if somebody moving in a carriage or ship might hold that he was sitting still and at rest while the earth and trees walked and moved. But that is how things are nowadays: when a man wishes to be clever he must needs invent something special, and the way he does it must needs be the best! That fool wants to turn the whole art of astronomy upside-down. However, as Holy Scripture tells us, so did Joshua bid the sun to stand still and not the earth.

Bonus Fun Fact to Know and Tell:
Yesterday, one of the angry commenters said: Next you'll tell me Adam wasn't really made from the Adamah or that Isha wasn't really "mei'ish lu'kacha. Hoping to find a tanna who said it, I repaired to the midrash rabbah -- and came up empty. Though my review of other midrashic literature remains incomplete, I did find a Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer which turns a verse from Genesis on it head. It says:

וְהָאָדָם יָדַע אֶת־חַוָּה אִשְׁתֹּו וַתַּהַר וַתֵּלֶד אֶת־קַיִן וַתֹּאמֶר קָנִיתִי אִישׁ אֶת־יְהוָה׃
And Adam knew Chava his wife, and she conceived and gave birth to Kayin, saying "I have acquired a man from God."

Though it seems straightforward, and obvious that Adam is Kayin's father, Pirke de Rabbi Elezar (and some parallels in the name of Rav Hiyya) says the demon Samael, riding on the serpent, impregnated Chava, and what Adam "knew" was that an act of adultery had been committed.

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Thank God the Gedolim don't read the New York Times

If our leaders knew about this everyone but the guy who owns Bodek would be in big trouble:
Tomato juice [per FDA regulations] , may average “10 or more fly eggs per 100 grams [the equivalent of a small juice glass] or five or more fly eggs and one or more maggots.” Tomato paste and other pizza sauces are allowed a denser infestation — 30 or more fly eggs per 100 grams or 15 or more fly eggs and one or more maggots per 100 grams.... Giving new meaning to the idea of spicing up one’s food, curry powder is allowed 100 or more bug bits per 25 grams; ground thyme up to 925 insect fragments per 10 grams; ground pepper up to 475 insect parts per 50 grams. One small shaker of cinnamon could have more than 20 rodent hairs before being considered defective.
Coming soon: Bodek everything?

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Abe Lincoln's Big Day

Having once been accused of being two-faced, Lincoln replied,
“If I had another face, do you think I’d be wearing this one?”

In honor of President Lincoln's birthday, here are four totally unrelated facts and opinions:

1. That guy was not only tall, but rear-end-of-a-well-beaten-pig ugly. No way he'd get elected nowadays.

2. The South should have been permitted to succeed secede. Slavery is an abomination, and those who opposed it were correct to do so, but I was never impressed with the assertion that the Union is "indivisible." Each state, individually, agreed to join the Union. Why in the world shouldn't they have been permitted to drop out? Jefferson Davis, who I do not admire, presented this case with great elegance and skill in his Farewell Address to the Senate.

3. According to Wikipedia: This photograph of Lincoln delivering his second inaugural address is the only known photograph of Lincoln giving a speech. Lincoln stands in the center, with papers in his hand. John Wilkes Booth is visible in the photograph, in the top row right of center

4. Everyone talks about the Gettysburg Address, which is certainly a great speech, but I prefer the Second Inaugural. Money quote:
Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just
God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes... Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said 'the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether'.
Happy Birthday Mister President.

A birthday for Charles Darwin

(looks like a Rabbi, don't he?)

Today is Mr. Darwin's 200th birthday. Whenever I ruminate on Darwin and his discoveries, I find myself recalling an inadvertently hysterical line from the imperishable A.B. Rotenberg song "Atheist Convention in L.A." In the song, three men, traveling by plane to the convention, say:

That we all once were primates is our motto
And the Big Bang's not a theory but a fact!

The line is funny because only an ignoramus would imagine that an atheist might deny that we are still primates and also because of the familiar way it misuses the word theory. In our vernacular a "theory" is an imperfect guess. In science, a "theory" is a set of ideas devised to explain a group of facts. A theory can be debated and modified. Facts usually, aren't.

Evolution is both a theory and a fact (Stephen J. Gould said it first) Facts don't go away when scientists debate rival theories to explain them. Einstein's theory of gravitation replaced Newton's but apples didn't suspend themselves in midair, pending the outcome. (he said that, too.) Thought the mechanism of evolution continues to be debated, the facts aren't in dispute - at least not among educated men.

This is (part of) why I reject the Orthodox Jewish rejection of Darwin: None of what he taught is anathema to Torah Judaism. The idea that life evolves over time can easily coexist with the idea that there is a God who created us and desires our service and devotion. Natural selection poses no threat to our beliefs; the two can be reconciled.

As for the fear that the literal word of the bible is countermanded by Darwin's theory, well, let's first remember that Jews aren't biblical literalists. We have libraries filled with widely-accepted books offering non-literal interpretations of the Divine Writ. And we've always been willing to reinterpret to suit new discoveries. For instance, before Copernicus, we gave the story of Joshua Halting the Sun a literal interpretation; today we know this is impossible, yet Judaism continues to flourish, just as it will continue to flourish after we permit ourselves to fearlessly follow facts wherever they lead and finally reconcile Genesis to Darwin.

Book and Magazine Report

As reported here first, or perhaps second, the philo-Semites at Sports Illustrated elected to put a Jewess on the cover of the annual swim suit issue. She looks pretty nice, I guess, but this comment, I think, sums up the Torah perspective:

I think this is horrible. If short skirts in shul caused Hurricane Katrina can you imagine what this hottie with her low slung bikini bottom is going to do to the weather?
Meanwhile, I'm trying to figure out why the bikini edition of this magazine is still relevant. From what I understand, you can find actual naked women on the Internet for free with just a few clicks. My good friend Deganev tells me, that if you really know how to operate that Google-thingie you can even find pictures of naked women performing unspeakable acts. Why your local raincoat wearing perv would shell out $5 for a magazine when all that flesh can be found for free is one of mysteries.

Make books your companions
In other news, one of the largest collections of Hebew books is going to be auctioned this weekend by Sotheby’s. The collection includes the first book of any kind printed in Turkey ( an Arba’ah Turim from 1493) and a 19th century copy of “A Thousand and One Nights” with the Arabic transliterated into Hebrew script. There is also a Talmud Bavli from 1519 that was found in Westminster Abbey.

Two neat things about this collection: It brings home the fact that (1) Jews flourished almost everywhere. (the collection includes a 20th guide for ritual slaughterers with Hebrew and Marathi on facing pages.); and (2) we used to be interested in all kinds of things. (Can you imagine a 21st century Jewish market for “A Thousand and One Nights” - even in translation?)

Conclusion/Musar Haskil
(I do hope Chaim Bray shows up to tell us how the Israeli SI model proves we're all going to hell, while the fact that we Jews no longer care for thinigs like Arabian folk tales proves how much more pious we have become.)

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Israel, the African tribe

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

Something about this news item bothers me..

US President Barack Obama called President Shimon Peres Wednesday night and congratulated him on a "successful democratic elections."

----YnetNews, but it was also on other news sites..

I am not sure what Barack Obama thinks of Israel, but you don't have presidents calling Obama and wishing him congratulations on a successful democratic election. They called to wish him success and congrats for his victory and inauguration.

It sounds like he considers us an African tribe or a Middle East Islamic regime just trying out democracy and going through our first elections. Yet we have been doing this for 60 years, encompassing 18 democratic election experiences. We are an established and successful democracy.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

...and you kofrim sneer at mofsim?

Best segulah story ever. (may not be work safe)

Good for the Jews

A guest post by JS:

In possibly the most important news report of the day, Israeli model, Bar Refaeli, was selected to grace the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition. Another Israeli model, Esti Ginzborg, is also featured in the magazine. You can read a bit more about this and see the cover, here. So what are my feelings about this? The astute reader surely noticed that I didn't put a question mark after the title of the post.

What of not wanting to be like the other nations, tznius, and the usual objections to this sort of thing? My first response would be, "Have you seen these pictures? Good God, man!" My second, more reasoned response would be: These concerns are completely outweighed by the fact that you can't get better advertising for the Jewish people or Israel than this. Millions of people are going to see these pictures and salivate, forever creating the Pavlovian response of "Jews/Israel = happy thoughts." And in the calculus of these things, for me at least, it's very good for the Jews.

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Parsha Notes (B'shalach)

...catching up

Previous notes on the Song (don't miss the excellent comments)

(1) 13:17
ויהי בשלח פרעה את־העם ולא־נחם אלהים דרך ארץ פלשתים כי קרוב הוא כי אמר אלהים פן־ינחם העם בראתם מלחמה ושבו מצרימה׃
It came to pass when Pharaoh let the people go, that God did not lead them [by the] Way of the Land of the Philistines for it was near, because God said, Lest the people reconsider when they see war and return to Egypt

The "Way of the Land of the Philistines" would have invited danger not because of the presence of war-hungry Philistines, but because it would have been thick with Egyptians. As Sarna explains, the "Way of the Land of the Philistines" would have been something like a fortified coastal highway, lined with armed Egyptians deployed there to protect the trade route.

Internal Parallels
(1) 15:20
וַתִּקַּח מִרְיָם הַנְּבִיאָה אֲחֹות אַהֲרֹן אֶת־הַתֹּף בְּיָדָהּ וַתֵּצֶאןָ כָל־הַנָּשִׁים אַחֲרֶיהָ בְּתֻפִּים וּבִמְחֹלֹת׃
And Miriam the prophetess, sister of Aaron, took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dances.

Alter surmises that Miriam is called a "prophetess" here in the old sense of an ecstatic who employs music and dance to produce a prophetic frenzy. [Compare with the story of Saul among the prophets] she is designated as Aaron's sister, in keeping with the practice of identifying a woman by the name of her oldest brother. [See Elisheva] Also, the David story depicts women greeting triumphant men with singing and dancing.

(2) Miriam is specifically mentioned as a witness at the water when Moshe's story begins, and again, here, when the water splits.

(3) The wind blowing on the water, followed by a division between sea and land is strongly reminiscent of the beginning of creation.

Style Alert
(1) When Pharaoh has his back against the wall his speech is short and urgent.
וַיְמַהֵר פַּרְעֹה לִקְרֹא לְמֹשֶׁה וּלְאַהֲרֹן וַיֹּאמֶר חָטָאתִי לַיהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם וְלָכֶם׃ [Exodus 10:16]

At other points in the story, he demonstrates confidence and imperiousness by speaking in verse:
ואמר פרעה לבני ישראל נבכים הם בארץ סגר עליהם המדבר׃ [Exodus 14:3]

Are these exact quotes, or the editorial embellishments of the Author? Let's leave that as a question for the reader.

(1) The word "yad" appears exactly 7 times in the Amelek episode. (Cassuito)

(1) Passing between walls of water is a strong bit of birth imagery. [Ilana Pardos]

Inside Rashi's Bes Medresh
(1) ...on Exodus 13:17: for it was near and it was easy to return by that road to Egypt. There are also many aggadic midrashim [regarding this].
What are those midrashim?
(a) for it was too near (in time) to the promise Abrahma had made Abimelch [See Gen 20]
(b) For it was too near (in time) to when the Canaanites had taken the land, and they weren't yet deserving of genocide/expulsion etc.

Why doesn't Rashi use these midrashim to interpret the verse? Because they don't solve text problems.

(2) ... on Exodus 14:21 and the waters split All the water in the world. — [from Mechilta Exod. Rabbah 21:6]

Why does Rashi say this? Look at the verse: And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the Lord led the sea with the strong east wind all night, and He made the sea into dry land and the waters split.

The verse uses the word "sea" three times, but when the miracle happens the language switches and we're told "the waters split."

(Whether or not Rashi actually thought every body of water in the world split at that moment, too, is left as a question for the reader) (I think he's just proposing a solution to what some might see as a textual anomaly. I don't think he's attempting to provide a history lesson.)

(1) What we must learn from the fact that God took Israel the long way around, rather than directly through the land of the Phillis tines.

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Monday, February 09, 2009

Another feather in the fur cap of Satmar

According to the New York Times (who, obviously, are lying) a Satmar is among the top 25 wedding officiants in New York City.

"Asked how many ceremonies he performs in a year, Rabbi Bela Gluck of the Central Rabbinical Congress of the United States and Canada, responded, “I would say approximately 300.” Rabbi Gluck, 56, like the couples he marries, is a member of the Satmar Hasidim, and the brief private ceremonies he performs are done so at the Congress’s offices in Williamsburg, Brooklyn."
I'm not Satmar, but does it strike anyone else as strange that so many Hasidim are being married in "brief private ceremonies" conducted at CRC headquarters?

Moreover, the list "compiled by the City Clerk’s office from marriage licenses signed between January 2000 and last August" includes only secular weddings. The marriages where Rabbi Gluck officiates do not appear to be "kiddushin". No wine, no broken glass, no brochos. Just a signed marriage license.

So what's the back story?

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Will the Times stop at nothing to make us look like monsters?

As part of its never-ending and well-documented campaign to make Jews look as horrid as possible, the Times, today, quotes an especially nefarious Israeli doctor who works at Hadassah Hospital:
If [Arabs] live 10 minutes from Hadassah they will do everything they can to get admitted. And we are happy to take them. There are no politics in our wards. Twenty percent of our patients are Palestinians and we have one common enemy – cancer. The rest is immaterial.
I sure hope HonestReporting gets them for this one.

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Why is it "A Yeshiva University Problem"?

I confess to not understanding this post, by YMedad:

A Yeshiva University Problem
When it's not immediately obvious that you are a Rabbi:
"Dr. Norman Lamm, a rabbi and the chancellor of Yeshiva University, will officiate." [Source]

Not obvious that he's a rabbi? He's described as a rabbi in the very sentence you quote!

Perhaps I'm missing something.

Yosef’s Bones

Yosef’s Bones « The Noy G Show

In an interesting post, Noy G, a previous guest blogger at DovBear, asks some questions about this verse:
כִּי הַשְׁבֵּעַ הִשְׁבִּיעַ אֶת-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, לֵאמֹר, פָּקֹד יִפְקֹד אֱלֹהִים אֶתְכֶם, וְהַעֲלִיתֶם אֶת-עַצְמֹתַי מִזֶּה אִתְּכֶם.
for [Joseph] had sworn the children of Israel, saying: ‘God will surely remember you; and ye shall carry up my bones away hence with you
1) Why did Joseph think to make this request of his descendants? At the time of his death, the Israelites were happily settled in Egypt. (a) An answer, not given by Noy G., is that Joseph and his brothers were willing actors in something like a pageant. Their great-grandfather Abraham had been told that his descendants were meant to serve as slaves in a foreign land for 400 years. one the trip south, their father Jacob has been told "I will go down with thee to Egypt, and I will also bring thee up" According to Torah-true tradition the brothers knew all, foresaw all, and were willing and eager participants in an Egyptian experience they considered necessary. (b) One might also ask why Joseph described his remains as "bones" when he knew the Egyptian practice was to create mummies. Perhaps he was still thinking in Hebrew terms, despite his Egyptian achievements.

2) Why weren't other corpses exhumed? Why is Joseph's body the only one taken?

3) Why did Moshe complete this assignment himself instead of delegating it to someone lower in the Hebrew hierarchy, someone like a leader from Ephraim or Menashe?

Read the whole post

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Arabs for UTJ

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

So now UTJ supports equality...

UTJ is courting the Arab vote, claiming they will fight against Lieberman's racism.

UTJ MK Moshe Gafni says:
we are against racism and for the Torah, and the Torah clearly says 'Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt,'" (Exodus 23:9).
I, too, am against racism, and believe that all citizens have rights, but for Gafni to corrupt the Torah like that, simply so he can try to get some more votes to make up for the upset haredim who won't vote for him, is reprehensible. The torah is referring to a ger toshav - one who keeps the 7 Noahide laws. One who accepts jewish rule.

The Arabs of Israel do not qualify under either of those rules.

Court the Arab vote. Don't corrupt the Torah while doing it. Don't be a moiser - or is it ok to be a moiser when it is against a secular Jew, just not against a frum Jew.. and don't make a hillul hashem. You want to fight for the protection of minorities, go ahead. It is a worthy value, but there is a way to do it, and protecting people who call for our death and downfall, while condemning those who call for layoalty, is not the way.

If you were looking for a reason to not vote UTJ... you might have just found one... unless you are an Arab of course.

(source: Ynet)

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Sunday, February 08, 2009

Parsha Notes (Bo)

Better late than not all...



Exodus 10:3: Thus says the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, 'How long will you refuse to humble yourself before Me? כה־אמר... העברים עד־מתי מאנת לענת מפני


Exodus 10:7: Pharaoh's servants said to him, "How long will this man be a snare to us? ויאמרו עבדי פרעה אליו עד־מתי יהיה זה לנו למוקש


- Exodus 10:10 ויאמר אלהם יהי כן יהוה עםכם כאשר אשלח אתכם ואת־טפכם ראו כי רעה נגד פניכם׃
And he said unto them: 'So be the LORD with you, as I will let you go, and your little ones; see ye that evil [ra'ah] before your face.

Rashi takes the mention of Ra'ah as a reference to a particular star, but its seems more likely that Pharaoh is referring to Ra, the Egyptian sun God, and is saying, in essence, that his god stands against ours.

- Exodus 11:5: and all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of the Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the slave girl who is behind the millstones;

According to Cassuito "slave girl who is behind the millstones" is an authentic Egyptian idiom for "lowest of the low"


- Exodus 10:13 So Moses stretched out his staff over the land of Egypt, and the LORD directed an east wind on the land all that day and all that night

"East wind" is a Canaanite idiom for a hot wind, or a wind that brought locusts. In Egypt, locusts would typically come from the South. (Sarna)

Fun fact to know and tell
The ibn Ezra says he experienced something much like the plague of Darkness during his sea journeys. (He mentions the Atlantic by name) He is referring to especially thick fogs.

Why do we cook the Passover lamb with no pot, and serve it with flat breads? Possible answer. [Alter ads that we're enjoined not to break the bones of the lamb to preserve the idea of haste. People with time to spare, might break bones and suck marrow. This ties in with the supposed reason for unleavened bread.]

Was Pesach originally one holiday or two? Who cares(!)

Contra midrash
We were all taught that the Jews didn't take Egyptian names or copy Egyptian clothing styles, yet: (Exodus 12:35) and they borrowed of the Egyptians jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and cloaks.

Why do we keep mitzvos?

How many died during darkness? 1 and 2

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2 Posts on Israeli Politics

A Guest Post by Rafi G.

If you are Israeli and trying to decide for whom to vote, or if you are simply interested in Israeli politics, you should check out these two posts of mine...

The first is - the online debate between YB and Likud.
The second is - interview with Uri Bank of NU.

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Friday, February 06, 2009

Shabas Shira Notes

A polite reminder for the Orthodox clergy: In your speeches this shabbos, please do not tell us that Moshe or the Jewish people "sang Az Yoshir." We know what you mean, but its imprecise. The first words of the song are not "az yashir" but "Ashira l'hashem kee goah goah" and the proper name of the song is "Shirat Hayam"

Other notes on the song
Narrative units in the Bible are frequently bookended with long poems. This song marks the conclusion of the Exodus story, and the beginning of the Wilderness tales.

Ashira l'hashem is consistent with ANE literary convention of making announcements at the beginning of poems. (Alter)

Kee goah goah is a great pun. It means "to be exalted" and is also the word for a sea surge.

horse and rider may be an anachronism: At the time Egypt used chariots, not cavalry.

Azi v'zimras is another pun. Zimrah means both song and power.

Who is like you among the gods. possibly indicates that the Israelites weren't quite yet monotheists when then song was first composed.

You will bring them and plant them in the mountain of Your inheritance, The place, O LORD, which You have made for Your dwelling, The sanctuary, O Lord, which Your hands have established seems like a clear reference to the Temple, and can be understood as either prophesy or evidence of later tampering. Sarna, incidentally, uses this to explain away the problem of the too-large multitude that was said to have participated in the Exodus.

As is well known, (see this and this) (and don't miss serious counterarguments in the comments) nothing that we know about the ancient world, and nothing that archaeologists have found in the Sinai lends even an iota of support to the idea that 600,000 (or 3 million) people left Egypt. Sarna's solution is ingenious. He says that Temple in Jerusalem was the point, or goal of the Exodus. At the time the Temple was built, the population in Israel was about 600,000. Saying that 600,000 left Egypt is a literary way of connecting the Exodus with the Temple, similar to how even the children of immigrants speak of their "American forefathers."

Thursday, February 05, 2009

If you're going to read just one thing about the Pope and the Shoah-denying bishops, let it be this

The Pope's Denial Problem

By Christopher Hitchens
January 31, 2009

Ever since Pope John XXIII made history by the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, there have been believing Roman Catholics who regarded the whole thing as having been a ghastly mistake. The best known of these outside the church was probably Evelyn Waugh, who went to his death, after Easter service in 1966, convinced that Christendom had been betrayed by the capitulation of the Holy See to the fashionable heresies of modernism. The best known inside the church was the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, a highly traditional French cleric who took his differences with Rome into open schism and was excommunicated, along with the four men he dared to "ordain" as bishops, in the year of our lord 1970. The most notorious (which I choose to distinguish from being merely well-known) of the extremist Catholic dissenters are the Father-Son team—if I may annex such profane imagery—of Hutton Gibson and his son Mel, whose highly lurid version of the sacrifice of Jesus was brought to the multiplex as "The Passion of the Christ."

For decades, it has seemed that the schismatics would either end their days as lonely, cranky outsiders or else rejoin the fold. Instead, Pope Benedict XVI has now moved the Roman Catholic Church to the right in order to accommodate, and rehabilitate, those who defected. Among these is a Lefebvrist "bishop" named Richard Williamson, who doubts his own version of the facts of the Nazi Holocaust and who furthermore suspects the Bush administration of having orchestrated the events of September 11, 2001, in order to afford itself a pretext for war.

The pope's decision to apply the principle of inclusion to these decidedly eccentric elements, organized as they are under the banner of "the Society of St. Pius X," has upset many liberal Catholics as well as some quite conservative ones, among them George Weigel. But should we consider it as an internal affair of the Roman Catholic Church? Here is why we should not.

The crucial change brought about in the everyday life of Catholics by Vatican II was the dropping of the Tridentine or "Latin" Mass and its replacement by services in the vernacular. The crucial change brought about in the relationship of Catholics to non-Catholics by Vatican II was the abandonment by the church of the charge of "deicide" against the Jewish people as a whole: in other words, the dropping of the allegation that the Jews bore a historic and collective responsibility for the torture and murder of Jesus. The two changes, perhaps unfortunately, were and are related. The old Latin form of the Mass included a specific Good Friday prayer for the conversion of the Jews, who were in some versions of the ritual described as "perfidious."

There may be some in the Society of St. Pius X who are merely nostalgic for the old days when the priest held up the host with his back to the congregation, and pronounced the sacred words in a Latin formula which was reassuringly the same in every church on the face of the earth. (The word "Catholic," after all, simply means "universal.") But it is not only Jewish critics who suspect that more may underlie the increasing restoration of the Latin service. To illustrate what underlies the misgiving itself, let me quote from Hutton Gibson's self-published 2003 book "The Enemy Is Still Here." Bitterly hostile to all the liturgical and doctrinal changes of the past half-century, Gibson is especially enraged by Rome's attempts to "reach out" to Jews. Rejecting an attempt by the present pope, when he was Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, to modify the charge that all Jews demanded the crucifixion of Jesus, Gibson writes: "On the contrary, Pontius Pilate refused responsibility for this Deicide, and all the Jews on hand publicly and vociferously assumed the guilt. 'His blood be upon us, and upon our children.' This crime certainly outranks Original Sin, and the Tower of Babel; the punishment for both sins of pride was also inflicted upon future generations. In accordance with history's record of massive disasters suffered by the Jews, the Church has always held this position. And why may not the 'holocaust' have been due to the same curse which they called down upon themselves?"

I pause to note the coarse and nasty manner in which Gibson senior tries to have it both ways, first by sneering at the inverted-comma-probably-didn't-happen "holocaust" and then by saying that the same nonevent was a divine retribution for the killing of Jesus! His next observation is almost as breathtakingly crude: replying to a sermon from Pope John Paul II to the effect that the Jewish religion is not so much "extrinsic" to Christianity as "intrinsic" to it, and that Jews are "our predilect brothers and, in a certain way, one could say our older brothers," Gibson snorts: "Abel had an older brother." May I recommend that you read those last four words with care? When Mel Gibson, who has funded a special Latin Mass church in Malibu, Calif., was arrested by a police officer upon whom he then up-ended a great potty of Jew-hating paranoid drivel, he tried to defend himself by saying that it was the drink talking. No, it wasn't the drink talking: it was his revered father talking and, through him, a strain of reactionary Catholic dogma that we hoped had been left behind.

Instead, the pope is—without any preconditions that I can discern—deciding that the breach with such people is a wound that requires "healing." (I freely admit that the Gibson faction and its "Alliance for Catholic Tradition" is even more extreme than the Society of St. Pius X, but the principle remains the same.) How on earth can this be? I am afraid that one probable explanation can give very little comfort to those who like to think that religious differences can be settled by the papering-over of happy ecumenicism.

Ask yourself, first, why it was that the church took until 1965 to repudiate the charge of deicide against the Jews. After all, it is only in one verse of one Gospel (Matthew 27:24–25), and in the climactic scene of Mel Gibson's movie, that the Jewish Sanhedrin demands to be held responsible for the coming crucifixion for all time and through all generations. Then there is the question, even if the rabbis did make such a demand, of whether they could claim to speak for all Jews then, let alone all those who have been born since. So why did it take until 20 years after the Nuremburg trials for the church to admit the obvious?

Christian doctrine holds that all of us were implicated in the guilt of Calvary and were, in a mystic sense, present for it. Every time we sin or fall away, we increase the pain and misery of the awful scene. Thus the principle of collective responsibility applies to everybody and not just to Jews. Now, there were no Cornishmen or Tamils or Cherokees or Slovaks present at Golgotha. But, if the greatest story ever told has any truth to it at all, and even if it doesn't, there certainly were quite a good few Jewish people in the vicinity. Thus, if they are to be collectively excused, then it does become a bit harder to persuade others that their own sinful participation is ineffaceable. Hence the unease, ever since Vatican II, among conservative believers. Somehow, the strong heady wine of condemnation and redemption was being watered and diluted.

Jewish orthodoxy makes this difficulty no more soluble. In commenting on the Christian Bible, the greatest of the sages, Maimonides, affirmed that the rabbis of Jerusalem were to be showered with praise for their courageous rectitude in thus disposing of the foul impostor and heretic who dared claim to be the adored and long-looked-for (and still-awaited) Messiah. You can be sure that devout Catholics down the ages were as acutely aware of this awkward fact as most of today's secular Jewish liberals are blissfully unaware of it. The old-style Easter sermons, the "Passion Plays" at Oberammergau and elsewhere, and bestselling Catholic devotional books such as the visions of the German nun Anne Catherine Emmerich, are replete with revolted depictions of Jewish mobs reveling in the sufferings of the Nazarene.

When excesses are committed by the religious (something which does indeed seem to happen from time to time), you often hear it argued that these are only perversions of the "true" or "real" or authentic teachings. What makes the present case so alarming is that concessions are being made to Holocaust-deniers and anti-Semites, and that this is not a departure from "original intent" Catholicism but rather part of a return to traditional and old-established preachments. For decades, it has seemed to many incurious outsiders that the Roman Catholic Church had at the very least made a good-faith attempt to acknowledge its historic responsibility for defaming the Jewish people. Suddenly, this achievement doesn't look so solid. The German representative of the Society of St. Pius X recently lectured German Catholic bishops on the doctrinal need to stress the general responsibility of Jews for deicide. Last month he was an outsider. Now, his faction is back in the papal bosom. "Unity" must mean a lot to Benedict if he is willing to pay this sort of price for it.

The Christian consensus is that Jesus went to Jerusalem on that Passover in the full knowledge that he was going to his death. Ought this not to mean that the Jews and Romans did humanity a favor, by obediently fulfilling prophecy and by spilling the blood that ransomed the world? Evidently not. As a nonbeliever, this is not my problem. But the indulgence of prejudice and paranoia under the cloak of faith is my problem as a citizen. As with Cardinal Bernard Law, the enabler of child-molestation, who is now sheltered by Rome and who was able to vote in the election of Ratzinger as pope, so with those who slander the Jews with innuendo and worse, and who spread the vile libels that blame the democratic United States for the theocratic terrorist attacks upon it. One might think a responsible church would be indignantly arraigning and expelling such people rather than piously seeking reconciliation with them. Apparently, one would be wrong.