Thursday, April 30, 2009

Ok, ad kan Azazel-palooza.

At first I wasn't going to post this, out of deference to the bored myriads, but its short and I like it. So here's how the Ramban and the Rav view the Azazel ritual:

Ramban: Both goats are given to God who, by lot, sends one to Azazel the lord of all evil, disease, war and destruction. But this is not a bribe. Rather, its a way to symbolically include Azazel in Yom Kippur. This demonstrates that evil is subservient to God, and that on this day all of the forces in the world are in harmony, the harmony that makes forgiveness possible. The Ramban though Azazel was real demon, but even those of who say demons don't exist can see something wise in this approach.

Rav: How do we have the right to ask God to forgive us? We knew the laws, we made our choices. Justice demands reward or punishment. There's no room for the judge to exercise discretion. The purpose of the Azazel ritual is to remind us that not everything is our fault. Some things are left to chance/things we don't control. Our genes, our environment, the behavior of our friends and our community - all of this works on us, and pushes us in one direction or another. Two twins can live exactly the same lives, but through no fault of their own, one might go to God, and the other to Azazel. It is this (perception of) randomness that makes (the perception of heavenly) mercy possible.

Ok, ad kan Azazel-palooza.

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Run for the hills

Confirmed cases of swine flue: 236
Number of people in the world: 6,776,772,139 and counting

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Slain Jewish man's family leaves trial

Appeared here on April 30
Backdated for convinience

PARIS, April 30 (UPI) -- The family of a man allegedly tortured and killed for being Jewish left a Paris courtroom Thursday to protest the judge's handling of the trial, a lawyer said.

Ilan Halimi's family walked out after Youssouf Fofana, the suspected ringleader of 27 young people on trial for killing Halimi, 23, made intimidating comments, saying he had friends in the courtroom who would "take pictures to identify people," Halimi family lawyer Francis Szpiner said to The Times of London.

When the judge refused to silence Fofana, the family and their lawyers walked out, Szpiner said.

The trial, closed to the public because two suspects were minors at the time of the killing, is expected to last 2 1/2 months.

Fofana, 28, admits to kidnapping Halimi but denies stabbing him to death, The Times reported.

Halimi was kidnapped Jan. 20, 2006, tied up in a cellar and tortured for 24 days in the suburb of Bagneux, the newspaper said. His kidnappers tried unsuccessfully to extort a $600,000 ransom from his family.

Halimi was found naked, handcuffed and covered with burn marks near railroad tracks south of Paris Feb. 13, 2006. He died en route to a hospital.

Fofana faces life in prison because charges against him include anti-Semitism, an "aggravating circumstance" requiring the stiffest sentences under French law.

Several members of his "gang of barbarians" testified Halimi was targeted because he was Jewish, which they felt meant he had money and his community would pay to get him back, The Times said.

© 2009 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

My argument against the pro-Jesus license plate

As aptly noted on this thread, the Constitutionality of Florida's pro-Jesus license plate is far from clear. No doubt the courts will be asked to comment.

Meantime, I can't understand why Jews who profess to love truth are blase about this. Why should our government participate in the dissemination of theological lies? Why, for that matter, should it participate in the dissemination of any theology? We Jews are safest when the government is strictly neutral on matters of faith, and Jews who know their history should be appalled to see Florida on the slippery slope.

- Fisking Burry Katz (or why Jews should be liberal)
- Fisking Burt Prelutsky (or why Jews should stand their ground against Christian propaganda)
- Fisking Toby Katz (or why Jews and Christian make bad political allies)

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Obama To Fox News: Grow Up

A highlight from last night's little show and tell yesterday*:
So, you know, when you see, you know, those of you who are watching certain news channels, on which I’m not very popular, and you see folks waving tea bags around, let me just remind them that I am happy to have a serious conversation about how we are going to cut our health care costs down over the long term how we're going to stabilize social security. [...] [L]et's not play games and pretend that the reason is because of the Recovery Act because that's just a fraction of the overall problem that we've got
Spoken like a man with a 68 percent approval rating, and a super majority in the Senate. Isn't it nice how quickly the GOP became irrelevant?

PS: I think it must mean something holy that the Obama anniversary and YH coincided. Those of you who subscribe to the extreme micro-manager view of hashgacha protis are invited to tell us what it was.

*This quote, as pointed out by LkwdGuy is from a town hall meeting that occured before the press conference.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Azazel Palooza: Ibn Ezra's Secret

Here are the strange, enigmatic words of Ibn Ezra:
And if you were capable of grasping the secret that follows the word (hasod she'hu achar milas) Azazel, then you would know its secret and the secret of its name, for it has parrallels (chaverim) in the text. I shall reveal a bit of the secret only by way of a hint. When you reach age thirty-three you will know it.
And what is the secret? I've found several answers:
  1. It relates to a story told on BT Sanhedrin 106, in which a sectarian is, once again, harassing poor old Rabbi Chanina. Asks the sectarian "How old was Bilaam when he died?" Answers Rabbi Chanina "33" Replies the sectarian: "Why yes, I saw in Billam's Notebook that he was killed at 33" (This is a bizarre story, and many think Billam is used here as a euphemism for Jesus.) According to this approach, Ibn Ezra's "secret" is that Billam learned his magic from Azazel, a fallen angel. I don't know what the "parallels" are.

  2. It relates to this verse "These are the sons of Leah, whom she bore to Jacob in Paddan-aram, with his daughter Dinah; all his sons and his daughters numbered thirty-three" As Ibn Ezra tells us (there) thirty-four names are listed as the sons of Leah. If we deduct the two sons of Judah who died in Canaan, we have thirty-two left, so how do we get to 33? By including Jacob (this makes some contextual sense). The secret (Bray is going to loooooove this) according to this explanation is that the scapegoat relates to Jacob's relationship with Esav, including: the gifts Jacob sent to his brother, the angel of Esav that testifies against us, and more. I don't know what the "parallels" are.

  3. It relates to this verse וְהַצְּלָעֹות צֵלָע אֶל־צֵלָע שָׁלֹושׁ וּשְׁלֹשִׁים פְּעָמִים. Says Avi Ezer: "Look in BT Bava Basra 75 (b) and your eyes will be opened." I checked the source, but my eyes remained close. I have no explanation for this explanation.
  1. No explanation is given for the secret, but a suggestion is given for the parallel. When a lepor is purified he brings two birds. One is killed. The other is set free. Rashbam sees this as parallel to the Azazel rite; indeed he teaches that the scapegoat was not killed, but set free.
  1. The secret is that Azazel is a demon. Count 33 verses from the first mention of Azazel's name, and you'll come to this: "They shall no longer sacrifice their sacrifices to the goat demons." How this prohibition is be squared with the Ramban's view that Azazel was a demon will be addressed in the next post. According to the Ramban the "parallel" is that the word Azazel, like many other words, is made up of two smaller words.

  • The Torah on Azazel
  • My two previous Azazal posts: 1 & 2 (Had I been working less quickly, they'd have been combined into one post)
  • The best guess about what Azazel really meant to second temple Jews:

  • Hmm.... Azazel (per some) is Lord of the Sitra Achra, and here I am blogging about him on Yom Haatzmaut. The Satmar Rebbe would be pleased

    Halimi Background

    From the Guardian, UK

    French Jews shout outside the Paris court 29 April 2009 before the trial of Youssouf Fofana, 28-year-old alleged leader of a gang known as the Barbarians. Photograph: Remy de la Mauviniere/AP

    France was forced to confront the moral decay of its deprived housing estates as the trial opened today one of the decade's most harrowing murder cases: the kidnap and torturing to death of a Jewish mobile phone salesman by a gang said to believe Jews were "loaded" and would club together to pay a ransom.

    Ilan Halimi, 23, was found naked with his head shaved, in handcuffs and covered with burn marks and stab wounds near rail tracks outside Paris in February 2006. In a state of shock and unable to speak, he died en route to hospital. He had been held, tortured and beaten for three weeks, his head wrapped in tape, eyes Sellotaped shut and fed through a straw, while a gang known as the Barbarians demanded a ransom from his family.

    Police initially did not treat the case as a hate crime. But within days of Halimi's death his family said he was targeted because he was Jewish. France, still coming to terms with its anti-semitic collaboration of the second world war, was plunged into a wave of soul-searching. Tens of thousands of people marched against anti-semitism.

    The leader of the Barbarians gang, Youssouf Fofana, 28, a French school dropout turned petty criminal, has appeared in court accused of kidnapping, torture and assassination, with anti-semitism as an aggravating circumstance. Facing life imprisonment, he admits masterminding the kidnap but denies murder. A deliberately provocative character who has bombarded officials and lawyers with insults, he arrived in court shouting "Allah will be victorious". Of the 26 other defendants, 15 are accused of taking part in the plot. Others are accused of adhering to a law of silence and not going to the police.

    Halimi lived with his mother in eastern Paris and worked in a mobile phone shop in the city.

    Fofana, a charismatic gang leader on a housing estate outside western Paris, had already tried and failed to kidnap people for cash when he spotted Halimi as a target. He asked a female friend to find "a girl who attracts boys" who could ensnare Halimi into a honey-trap. The girl persuaded a pretty 17-year-old she knew from her former children's home to take part. The girl met Halimi in the shop and after a few days he accepted to go for a Coke. He accompanied her to what he thought was her home, where he was knocked out with ether and taken to an empty flat on the gang's estate in Bagneux, west of Paris. A caretaker had given gang members keys to an empty flat.

    Halimi was initially guarded by four teenagers who were promised €5,000. He was bound and beaten with broom handles. A ransom demand was immediately made for €450,000 from his family. Some of the accused told police that Fofana felt Jews were "loaded" with cash and their community always showed "solidarity" so would club together and pay up.

    The gang made numerous calls to Halimi's family, leaving a trail of videos and tapes dotted around Paris. A local rabbi was directed to a Paris letterbox where he found an cassette of a sobbing Halimi detailing his torture. A cousin was directed to a drycleaner where he found a video of Halimi, bound, weak and draped in a dressing gown.

    During Halimi's 24-day captivity, Fofana made two short return trips to his parents' native Ivory Coast, hoping to receive the ransom by money transfer.

    After 10 days he carried Halimi to a windowless, unheated basement cellar where the torture worsened, he was burned with cigarettes and slashed with knives. Halimi's father refused to go to Brussels to hand over ransom cash and several days later Halimi was dumped. Before leaving him to die by rail tracks, Fofana is accused of stabbing him, dousing his body with alcohol and setting him on fire.

    Halimi's sister, Anne-Laure, told Le Parisien: "They attacked Ilan because they thought the Jewish community was rich. That was their explanation in 2006, after the events. It's not acceptable. It's not possible that there are still these types of crimes, acts this disgusting because someone belongs to a particular religion."

    All the defendants are French, but many, like Fofana, had immigrant parents. The paper Liberation said the case laid bare a housing estate underclass of young people desensitised by daily racism, poverty and despair. Halimi's mother, who has written a book accusing the police of botching their investigation, has said she was sickened by the thought that people might have known what was happening but said nothing.

    The trial is being held behind closed doors in a juvenile court, because two of the accused were under 18 at the time. It is expected to last 10 weeks.

    A great day in history

    Today we celebrate the anniversary of the marvelous day in 2005 when Hirhurim finally linked to one of my posts. I believe this remains the only time Gil has deigned to notice me, despite his having received favorable mentions on this blog several dozen times. (Note: A handful of slightly critical mentions of Gil are mixed in with the positives ones you''ll find by clicking the links above. I know of no way to exclude them from the collection.)

    Anywho, the post follows (Click here and here to see the long and interesting comment threads that accompanied the post the two previous times it appeared .)

    Are you wearing blue and white today?

    Typical, but no one I know wants to have a deep and insightful Yom Haatzmaut conversation about the meaning of Zionism in 2005, the success of the state, or anything like that. Apparently, I live among the stupid people.

    All anyone seems to care about is this: Should we say tachanun? Should we say Hallel? With a brocha? Without a brocha? So let's have at it.

    Tachanun: Don't say it, especially if you're a Hasid. Why? Because Hasidim, typically, take every possible excuse to avoid saying this prayer. They don't say it at mincha. Many won't say it on Friday or Sunday. They skip it on important yartzheits. Lubovs, in fact, skip it on the day their Rebbe was released from jail. So why not skip it on the day that every Jew in the world was released from jail? We non-Hasidim should skip it, too. There are old sources that recommend skipping tachanun on market days, and other days of public celebration. On a day when most of the Jews in the world are celebrating, Tachanun seems inappropriate.

    Hallel: Don't say it. I think it's presumptuous for an ordinary person to go around praising God whenever he feels like it. We're little. He's big. And when a small person praises something tremendous, the praise tends to be insufficient, or worse insulting. Could any of us non-physicists adequately praise Einstein or Newton? Or course not. It would be a joke. Moreover, if you say Hallel (with a brocha anyway) you are saying that you are 100 percent certain that Yom Haatzmaut was a miraculous act of God. Happy as I am to have Israel in Jewish hands, I can't read God's mind. I'm arrogant, yes, but not arrogant enough to say that I know God's plan. To me abstaining from Hallel is a demonstration of humility.

    With or without a brocha? I think a full hallel (with a brocha anyway) is a tremendous error. “God is not happy at the downfall of the wicked. ... When the angels tried to sing songs of praise to God at the Red Sea, God silenced them: ‘My handiwork, my human creatures, are drowning in the sea and you want to sing a song of praise?’” (T.B. Megillah 10b) For this reason, we say a half-Hallel on the last six days of Pesach. And how many Arabs died on Yom Haatzmaut related events? It seems to me that if we can temper our Pesach celebrations out of respect for people who enslaved us for 210 years, we can recognize the humanity of Arabs on Yom Haatzmaut, as well.

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    The Uncertainty of Yom Ha'atzmaut

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

    I suspect there are a lot of people who will identify with what I write in this post. Despite that, I only speak for myself, as I will describe my own conundrum.

    Yom Ha'atzmaut is a day of doubt and uncertainty for me.

    I do not mean "what do I think of the State?". I mean how do I celebrate that.

    By nature I am a very patriotic person. I love Eretz Yisrael and I love Medinat Yisrael. I sometimes do not like things any specific government might do, and think they are going against the values I think should be promoted, but as a State, I love Israel.

    We might forget 61 years later, but the State was founded with the goal of creating a homeland for the Jewish people. Nobody wanted us back then. Now we look back and say we could have lived anywhere. But when we say that, we are saying with the perspective and history of 61 years that would be completely different if not for the State of Israel.

    The State gave us the ability to live as Jews in our own country, and it also gave us the ability to live as Jews in other countries. Ask any holocaust survivor, ask anybody who was around at the formation of the State and they will describe to you how everything was different, in western countries, after the State was founded. Nowadays we have the freedom and forgetfulness to gripe about how bad the State is while ignoring the fact that it is only because we have a State that we have the ability to live as Jews freely. Yes, even in the United States.

    So what is my doubt and uncertainty? I live in and am part of the greater haredi world. For all intents and purposes, in the range of haredi, I fall somewhere within. Maybe in a specific niche of mixed ideas and beliefs - mixed with more open-mindness than the average haredi, more liberalism, more zionism, more independence, etc. But I am part of the general haredi world.

    As I said, I am a patriot. I love Israel. On Yom Ha'atzmaut I feel the pride and the patriotism bursting out, just as I feel the sorrow on Yom Ha'Zikaron, and just as I feel the weight of history on Yom Ha'Shoah.

    Yet because I am part of the general haredi world, that sense of pride has to be suppressed to a certain extent - more than I would like. If not, then there would be repercussions. It is my decision to be part of that world, and therefore my own fault, to a certain extent, but I do not think I am in a unique situation.

    What is one to do? I feel the pride, but I am not allowed to celebrate. Even worse is that I do not know why. Other than a few platitudes about how the State is secular, I have no idea why the rabbonim are, at best, so ambiguous, or perhaps "ambivalent" is more accurate, to the State and Independence Day.

    I am not claiming the rabbonim should declare us all to say hallel. That does not interest me. That is a purely halachic debate, and I am fine with whichever side you put yourself on. If you feel it is halachicly right to say hallel, say it. If not, don't say it. I can accept both opinions. I am talking about the general celebrating of the occasion. One can not say hallel, but still wave the flag and be joyous about the momentous occasion.

    So why don't we, in the general haredi world? Why are we afraid that if we wave the flag we will be ostracized? Why will we be ostracized if we wave the flag?

    I don't know.

    The rabbonim and shuls all plan programs for the day of Yom Ha'Atzmaut. Programs of learning Torah for men who are normally at work but have the day off. It is great to be able to spend part of the day in the beis medrash learning. They plan special shiurim usually - perhaps even on interesting topics. But do they ever plan a shiur on the topic of Yom Ha'atzmaut? Do they ever explain to us that it is ok to celebrate somehow, or if it is not ok why it is not ok? All I know is that it is not accepted, but I have no idea why.

    The mere existence of the State has given our nation so much, that I have no understanding of why it is wrong to celebrate it. It seems that if the special shiur was on the topic of Yom Haatzmaut (either explaining why it is right or wrong to celebrate), aside from the fact that that beis medrash hosting such a shiur would likely be packed that day because so many people want to hear a torahdikke discussion on the inyan, many people would know how to approach the day properly - with direction from their rav via the shiur.

    the way it is, people want to celebrate somehow, think they cannot, don't know why, and have nobody to turn to. They think that if they ask then they will look too much like a Zionist and their kids will be thrown out of school, they will be chased out of the neighborhood/community, or just thought of as being too modern.

    Why can we not get guidance on this?

    (I am not looking for someone to write in the comments an explanation of why we do not celebrate Yom Ha'atzmaut, though feel free to do so if you wish to. I am looking to understand why the rabbonim do not talk about it and give us the Torah perspective how to relate to the day)

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    Story Time

    Guest Post by A Mother in Israel.

    Since we are on the subject of tzniut in shul, I thought readers might enjoy this story that appears in the first volume of Olamot Shel Tohar: Tzohar Meir Letzniut Bat Yisrael Velikdushat Hamachaneh by Rabbi Michael Sofer. The original appears after my translation.

    What Bothered the Rabbanit?

    Once the Rabbanit Leah Karelitz a"h returned from the synagogue, and mentioned that she wasn't able to concentrate on her prayer because of a disturbance she experienced there.
    "What disturbed the peace of the Rabbanit?" wondered the family members. So the tzadeket told how the sleeves of one of the daveners covered only a small part of her elbows, in a way that a slight lifting of the hand allowed the elbow to be revealed. This concern disturbed [the Rabbanit's] calm, and her prayer was distressed that day.

    מה הטריד את הרבנית?
    פעם אחת חזרה הרבנית לאה קרליץ ע"ה מבית הכנסת, והתבטאה כי היום לא הצליחה לכוון בתפלתה, עקב הפרעה שהיתה לה שם. "מה הטריד את מנוחתה של הרבנית?" התפלאו בני הבית. ואז ספרה הצדקת כי שרווליה של אחת המתפללות, כיסו אך במעט את מרפקיה, באופן שבהרמת יד קלה עלול היה המרפק להגלות. חשש זה הפריע את שלוותה, ולכן נטרדה תפלתה באותו היום.
    מהספר לשכנו תדרשו

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    Tuesday, April 28, 2009

    12 Things Azazal might be

    Note: None of the 12 suggestions that follow are especially satisfying; there are theological, grammatical, historical or contextual problems with all of them. As I remarked in the previous post, the answer I find most satisfying combines Rashi, Ibn Ezra and Alter.

    Originally, the Canaanite people, and perhaps the Israelites, too, had a scapegoat ritual in which an animal was sent to a demon, or God called Azazel. In time, the practice evolved, or was rejected by Divine commandment in favor of a ritual in which a goat was sent to a cliff or mountain called Azazel. What the modified ritual meant to those who performed it is unknown, but later the Rabbis speculated that some subordinate power or fallen angle was being appeased.

    Rabbi Solivetchik (or "JB" to Holy Hockers who live in Brooklyn) had an especially precious understanding of the ritual which I will explain tomorrow.

    1. A tall mountain that has sharp peaks (Yoma 67b; Rashi)
    2. A combination of the names Uza and Azo'eil, two angels who left the upper realms and descended to earth (Breishis 6:2) They behaved immorally. The scapegoat brings atonement for immorality. (Yoma 67b)
    3. A place where goats pasture (Rashbam) "Perhaps it is called Azazel because it is a combination of "eiz," a goat, and "ozal," it has gone."
    4. The strong place of Keil, "izuz Keil" (Ibn Ezra)
    5. The name of a mountain that is near Har Sinai (Another opinion mentioned by Ibn Ezra) .
    6. "I will expose part of its secret to you through a hint. When you are 33 you will understand it." (Ibn Ezra) There are at least three ways to understand this strange, secretive remark. I'll try to get to it in the next post.
    7. The name of a mountain (Rabbi Saadioh Gaon)
    8. A hard place, as in the word "izuz" (Thilim 24:8) (Ramban)
    9. Sharp, condemning sins go away. (Footnote in Toras Chaim Chumash)
    10. The name of a prosecuting angel. "Hashem sent him down to earth and he himself sinned. This sealed the mouth of this prosecuting angel."(Imrei Noam)
    11. A name for the powers of evil (Ohr Hachaim Hakodosh)
    12. A name for the forces of nature (Rabbi S.R. Hirsch)

    List lifted from here

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    What is Azazel?

    This week we read about Azazel, the.... hmmm. Exactly what is Azazel? The boldface Jewish exegetes are undecided on the meaning of this hapax legomenon.

  • Rashi (following Sifra) says Azazel is a cliff. (1)
  • Rashbam tells us Azazel is nothing but a place where the goat was able to roam free. (2)
  • The Ibn Ezra hints that Azazel is a demon (3)
  • Ramban suggests he is some evil power. (3)
  • Robert Alter tells us that other Mespotamian cultures had similar rituals using different animals. He suggests the goat is meant to carry away the transgressions of the people and deliver them to the remote wilderness and "realm of disorder" represented by Azazael. (4)

  • My own non-scholarly hunch is that this ritual was based upon the earlier, and well-known practices of idol worshipers who had their own scapegoat rituals. Given the evidence of parallel practices, this solution seems unavoidable (5) Though the word Azazel was originally the name of a demon, over time it evolved, becoming the name of a cliff. Such evolution has continued, and today the word "Azazel" means "hell" in modern Hebrew.

    (1) The difficulty with Rashi's explanation, is that Leviticus says that the lot placed on the goat was to read "l'Azazel." In Hebrew, the letter lamed is a prefix of possession. It means the goat belonged to Azazel.

    (2) Rashbam is reading like a Karaite. Pharisee priests sent the goat to be killed, not to some goat retirement home. (Interestingly enough, the Jerusalem Talmud says Sadducee priests conveniently lost the goat.)

    (3) Those who follow Rambam reject the possibility that evil powers or demons exist, though Ramban did think they were real but subordinate to "torah" powers. Ibn Ezra sided with the Rambam on this question making his position puzzling, unless he means to suggest that the offering to "Azazel" was intended as a remedy and an atonement for any previous demon worshiping on the part of the Jewish people.

    (4) Robert Alter is a kofer.

    (5) Why would God give us a ritual based on the practices of other people? For that matter, why did he command us to build a long room tripartite temple in imitation of many other Mesopotamian cults? There's an easy answer here, of course, and one that I am avoiding in favor of a more appealing possibility: The value of a ritual is not the effect it has on the cosmos, but the effect it has on the person who performs it. The Azazel ritual had meaning only to people who recognized it from the surrounding cultures. Had it not been based on something familiar, the rite would have been less significant to the people bidden to perform it.

    - Is the Seder based on the Greek symposia?
    - Yes
    - Josh Waxman explains Azazel

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    Fair and balanced?

    Fox Says It Won't Show Obama Press Conference‎

    How unpatriotic. We're at war and the President is our Commander in Chief. Fox is run by a bunch of traitors. They and the other anti-American hippies should go back to Russia. [/snark

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    SWINE FLU!!! (or for those living in Israel MEXICAN FLU!!)


    Ah... there really is nothing like a good cable news scare-a-thon. As soon as this quiets down, we'll move on to SHARK ATTACK and as the summer winds down, we'll get MISSING WHITE WOMAN. Fun, fun.

    Meanwhile, Dag is unsuccesfully arguing that the Israeli thought police have re-named the disease because "If they called it the Chazar Flu then most people in Israel would think they could ignore it, since obviously they have no contact with pigs..."

    Right, and Israelis have exactly how much contact with Mexicans?

    Monday, April 27, 2009



    It may be called swine flu around the world, but a senior Israeli official on Monday changed the term in order not to pronounce the name of the animal whose meat is banned by Judaism.

    "We will use the term Mexican flu in order not to have to pronounce the word swine," said Deputy Health Minister Yakov Litzman of the ultra-religious United Torah Judaism party.

    I'm not aware of any reason for a Jew to avoid uttering the word "pig." In fact, at least one Jew per shul says the foul word in shul, from the very center of the sanctuary, on the Sabbath when we read Shmini or Re'ah. It also appears in Rashi, and in countless Jewish law and parsha books. I don't understand why the Health Ministry is being so frum. Let them worry about the disease itself, rather than its name.

    Related: The Jerusalem Biblical Zoo is also too frum for its own good.

    A Story of Hashgacha

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

    I had to take a watch to be repaired. It needed some quality workmanship so we did not just want to walk into any jeweler for this. The place I usually use, somewhere near work, recently closed down. So I asked for recommendations and decided where I would go.

    We head out to our choice. This is a jeweler we never would have gone to - his shop is in a different neighborhood and I just would never have even known about him.

    We take in the watch, and the shop is very busy. the father, who fixes the watches, was out, and we chose to wait for him. After a while we step outside and my wife looks in the window. To her surprise she sees a bracelet that she recognizes as being very similar to one owned by a relative that recently had it stolen from them!

    We let the relative know - they had some very specific simanim on the bracelet as they had made some changes to the original bracelet. They go down there and see the bracelet and inspect it. Sure enough it is their bracelet.

    Obviously the store did not steal the bracelet. Someone else probably did and sold it to the jeweler (selling old jewelery for the gold value is very common nowadays in Israel). The jeweler placed it on display in the window, and we spotted it.

    So, we took a recommendation for a jeweler we would never have gone to, spotted our relatives stolen bracelet and now they are in the process of retrieving it via the police and insurance company. And for added measure, that jeweler was not able to fix the watch we had brought in - we ended up taking it to someone else who did fix it.

    The only reason we were sent to this place was to find that bracelet.

    What do you think? Pure coincidence or hashgacha? If hashgacha, as I think, why would Hashem get so involved in helping us find a stolen bracelet - for what purpose? Just to retrieve it?

    Search for more information about [topic] at

    Coup de grace

    Terrible job by ESPN, here. Why did it take so long to cue a replay of Ellsbury handing the Yankees their heads? Where was a shot of him evading the tag? Where were the cameras when he came out of the dugout, and bowed to the crowd? And did you catch the announcer proclaiming @1:12 that the fans were "still [inexcusable pause] excited" just as the crowd noise had noticeably decreased? Awful. The most exciting play in sports, and ESPN goes amature hour.

    Note below: The French pronounce "coup de grace" with the final "s". Most Americans do not. This is one of several examples of what Wikipedia calls hyperforeignism, or the unsuccessful attempt to apply the reading rules of a foreign language to a loan word. It is also additional proof (as if more were needed) that languages are forever evolving. And what is true for language, is true for any human endeavor, ritual included.

    Sunday, April 26, 2009

    Hypocrite Alert

    Wasn't it just last week, that the Governor of Texas was floating the idea of succeeding from the Union? Why yes, I think it was. Ha. How time flies. See, because THIS week the governor wants the Federal government send him money to help prepare for the alleged swine flu pandemic.

    Can the wingnuts please hurry up and decide what they believe? Should states handle their own affairs, or is it ok if the Federal government pays for some things?

    Breastfeeding Babies and Tzniut

    Guest Post by A Mother in Israel (

    An earlier version of this post, Nursing in the Ezrat Nashim, appeared last year as a followup to a post about a woman asked to nurse her baby in the bathroom on Rosh Hashanah.

    Which of the following is disturbing, distracting, or inappropriate in shul?

    • Cracking open a bag of Bamba for a toddler, who proceeds to distribute the contents around the shul Hansel and Gretel style.
    • Shoving chairs right and left while pushing a monster stroller through the aisle.
    • Blocking the shul entrance with an unattended stroller.
    • Chatting loudly.
    • Repeatedly shushing noisy and restless preschoolers.
    • Allowing preschoolers to run back and forth among their friends.
    • Remaining with a crying baby in shul, even during the shofar blowing.
    • Standing quietly in place, noting that the baby is getting restless, and discreetly nursing him in a sling before he makes a sound.

    Each of these occurred in my ezrat nashim (synagogue women’s section) this Rosh Hashanah. Well, the last one may not have--I have no way of knowing for sure. So why should a nursing mother, who is not bothering anybody, be singled out?

    Even if your shul has more decorum than mine, people quietly tending to their children's needs should not be harassed. Nursing may make some people uncomfortable, but that doesn’t give them a right to interfere. People are uncomfortable with or distracted by many things that happen in shul: people blowing their noses, Tourette’s syndrome in which people uncontrollably blurt things out, bathroom exits, passing gas, wheelchairs. People could theoretically argue that attendees of a different skin color distract them from their prayers. So I hope we can agree that “it makes some people uncomfortable” is not a reason to disallow nursing in shul.

    Before telling mothers to leave their seats in order to nurse, we ought to think about the negative messages we are conveying.

    1. Negative message: Breastfeeding is exceptional and unusual. Truth: Breastfeeding is natural and normal and mothers don't have to stop activities they enjoy once they become mothers.
    2. Negative message: In order to breastfeed your baby, you must isolate yourself. To be part of the shul, you must bottlefeed, get a babysitter, or both. Truth: Mother and baby togetherness is important for a baby’s physical, cognitive, and emotional development, and our community should recognize this.
    3. Negative message: Breastfeeding is inherently untzniusdik. Truth: Breastfeeding isn't sexual, and a nursing mother need not hide away until her baby weans. She can nurse without putting her breast on view. But if a woman prefers to nurse in another room, she should have the option.
    4. Negative message: Breastfeeding is unholy, and incompatible with prayer. Truth: Women may pray while nursing, and Judaism encourages nursing until age two and even up to 4 or 5 years. Some even consider nursing for two years to be a religious obligation.
    5. Negative message: Young mothers and babies are not welcome in our our synagogue so we will place roadblocks in their attempts to participate. Truth: Our community welcomes families, and ought to support mothers even if we prefer not to see them nursing.
    Women should have their eyes on the siddur, not on their neighbors. Let's not put artificial restrictions on women that have nothing to do with halacha.

    Search for more information about [topic] at

    Friday, April 24, 2009

    Is it torture or not?

    Here's House Minority Leader John Boehner(R-OH) at a news conference yesterday:
    Last week, they released these memos outlining torture techniques. That was clearly a political decision and ignored the advice of their Director of National Intelligence and their CIA director
    But before you applaud him for using the correct word to describe the illegal techniques employed by the Bush operatives, wait for his spokesman's retraction:
    It is clear from the context that Boehner was simply using liberals' verbiage to describe these interrogation techniques.
    No, what's clear is that the Congressmen committed a Kinsley gaffe. He told the truth by accident, then sent out a flack to clean up the political damage. (Bohner and other GOPniks would rather gnaw off their own arms than say "torture" yet they still will insist that only liberals play PC games.)

    The Holiest Generation

    The story of a woman who kissed Reb Moshe... and how he responded.

    HT: AH, via email

    Click here to read "The Holiest Generation"
    The Holiest Generation
    Special To The Jewish Week

    I could not have been more than 4 or 5 when I asked her. It seemed to me, at the time, to be an innocent, straightforward question: “Mommy, when do I get my number?”

    I was, of course, upset when she burst into tears and ran out of the kitchen, but I was also confused. This was Washington Heights in the 1950s. It was an enclave of survivors. Every adult I knew had a number. Even my teenage sister had one in blue ink tattooed on her forearm.

    They were as ubiquitous on the benches of Riverside Drive as they were on the footpaths of Fort Tryon Park. If you saw an adult with some sort of hat on his head, he invariably also had a number on his arm. In the summer, when the community traveled en masse to Catskill bungalow colonies, or to Rockaway beaches, the numbers came too.

    I presumed it was a ceremonious part of becoming bar mitzvah, or perhaps graduation from Breuer’s or Soloveichik, our local yeshivas. No one appeared to be embarrassed by their number. ARG! I never saw anyone try to cover it up when they went swimming. It seemed to be a matter of fact part of life.

    When, as children, we would ask our parents why there was a “Mother’s Day” and a “Father’s Day,” but no “Children’s Day,” the automatic response was “Every day is ‘Children’s Day’!” In Washington Heights, in the ’50s, every day was Yom HaShoah.

    Ironically enough, at the same time, no day was Yom HaShoah. The commemoration, as it exists today, was not around then. Breuer’s and Soloveichik consisted almost exclusively of children of survivors, yet neither school had any assembly, or recognition of any type, of the Shoah.

    The very word Shoah didn’t exist. The word Holocaust did, but it was never invoked. When on rare occasion our parents would make reference to the events that led them to leave Europe to come to America, they would label it “the War.”

    They spoke nostalgically of life “before the War”; they never spoke of what happened during “the War.” They spoke reverently of their parents and siblings who were “lost in the War”; they never spoke of their spouses or children who perished. After all, they had new spouses and new children who didn’t need to be reminded that they were replacements.

    I was already bar mitzvah when I first realized that my parents had been previously married and had prior children. Years later I was shocked to discover that my sister with whom I was raised was not my father’s daughter.

    When I finally came to understand that not every adult was a survivor, and people would ask me what survivors were really like, I never knew what to answer. There was Mr. Silverberg, our seatmate in shul, as jovial as Santa Claus, who always had a good word for everyone. On the other hand, there was Mr. Grauer, our neighbor whose face was indelibly etched in a frown and was always threatening to hit his wife or his children. In retrospect, as a psychiatrist, I could understand both, but who truly defined what it meant to be a survivor? Did anyone, or anything?

    I learned the answer from Rabbi Moshe Feinstein.

    This gadol hador, the greatest sage of his generation, was so renowned he was referred to simply as “Rav Moshe.” The closest I came to this legend was at Yeshiva University High School, where my rebbe was his son-in-law, Rabbi Moshe Tendler. Rabbi Tendler, and every other rabbi, would speak of Rav Moshe in awe-stricken tones usually reserved for biblical forefathers.

    One summer I was spending a week with my aunt and uncle in upstate Ellenville. Uncle David and Aunt Saba, survivors themselves, as the doctor and nurse in charge of the concentration camp infirmary, had managed to save the lives of innumerable inmates, including my mother and sister. After “the War” they had set up a medical practice in this small Catskill village, where, I discovered, to my amazement, they had one celebrity patient — Rav Moshe.

    My aunt mentioned casually that Rav Moshe had an appointment the next day. Would I like to meet him? Would I? It was like asking me, would I like to meet God.

    I couldn’t sleep that night. I agonized over what I should wear. Should I approach him? What should I say? Should I mention that his son-in-law was my rebbe? Should I speak to him in English, or my rudimentary Yiddish?

    I was seated in the waiting room, in the best clothing I had with me, an hour before his appointment. It seemed like an eternity, but eventually he arrived, accompanied by an assistant at each side. He didn’t notice me.

    I was frozen. I had intended to rise deferentially when he entered, but I didn’t. I had prepared a few sentences that I had repeatedly memorized, but I sensed that my heart was beating too quickly for me to speak calmly.

    My aunt had heard the chime when he entered and came out of the office to greet him: “Rabbi Feinstein, did you meet my nephew Ikey? Can you believe a shaygitz [unobservant] like me has a yeshiva bochur [student] in the family?”

    Rav Moshe finally looked at me. I was mortified. My aunt was addressing him irreverently. She was joking with him. She had called me Ikey, not Yitzchok, or even Isaac.

    Then it got even worse. She walked over to him. Surely she knew not to shake his hand. She didn’t. She kissed him affectionately on the cheek as she did many of her favorite patients. She then told him my uncle would see him in a minute and returned to the office.

    Rav Moshe and his attendants turned and looked at me, I thought accusingly. I wanted to die. In a panic, I walked over to him and started to apologize profusely: “Rabbi Feinstein, I apologize. My aunt, she isn’t frum [religious]. She doesn’t understand...”

    He immediately placed his fingers on my lips to stop me from talking. He then softly spoke two sentences in Yiddish that I will remember to my dying day: “She has numbers on her arms. She is holier than me.”

    Rav Moshe had understood what I had not. Our holiest generation was defined by the numbers on their arms.

    Dr. Isaac Steven Herschkopf is an attending psychiatrist at the NYU Medical Center and the author of “Hello Darkness, My Old Friend: Embracing Anger to Heal Your Life.” This excerpt is from a forthcoming memoir.

    I have some quibbles with this article, sweet as it is. See them here.

    Thursday, April 23, 2009

    Susan who?

    Not to take a thing away from Susan Boyle, who remains my hero for Tuesday, April 21, 2009, but the Boyle backlash has begun and it ought to to be said that her rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream" though great, was not nearly so first rate as some originally claimed.

    Say it like this: If we put together an All Star team, Susan's version would likely make the team, but I doubt she'd start, and certainly not ahead of this.

    But Where's The Motive?

    by The Bray of Fundie

    In the wake of Yom HaShoah Rafi G. ran a very fascinating and disturbing post questioning the historicity of the episode of a mass suicide of 93 Bais Yaakov girls to avoid rape by anti-Semites(and being consigned to a brothel). [NY Times Article here.]

    Refer to that post and to Mississippi Fred's to see the pros and cons of the issue of historical veracity of the event and its "Holocaust Revisionism" implications.

    But what I want to know is; what could the alleged forgers motivation have been? After all, no one questions the existence of the letter sent to New York Rabbonim reporting the episode...only it's authenticity. And so the one who penned the letter is being charged with the crime/sin of forgery, fraud and falsifying history. What incentive did he/she have for committing such a sin/crime?

    Hershey quoted an Israeli article purporting to answer the question. Here's my translation:

    "It's not that hard to believe that during a historical period more terrifying than we could possibly imagine that the Jewish mind needed to fabricate a fantastic(al) tale of heroism by 93 Jewish girls who chose a martyrs death over dishonor. Among other things the myth intended to address the deep theological crisis that the Holocaust had caused Judaism . The martyrdom of 93 Jewish Women and girls provided a "winning" answer to those who doubted the Jewish faith". (You'll notice that the articles author never provides us with what other motivations are "among other things" )

    To which my response is HUH??? How do these 93 martyrs prove or resolve anything? Where's the "winning answer? "What they did was their business, what G-d did or failed to do in the greatest episode of Theodicy ever, is His. Besides, there were/are many cases of DOCUMENTED spiritual resistance and martyrdom during the Holocaust if such cases are needed and/or sufficient to resolve the theological crisis. What's one story more or less going to accomplish? Also what's up with the number 93?

    Remember, this letter was penned before the era when one could parlay ones 15 minutes of fame into lucrative "book and movie deals". If the letters writer was, indeed, one of the 93 martyrs, what fame, glory or money could she possibly hope to accrue posthumously?

    To sum it up; while many are troubled by the thin historical evidence that seems to argue against this event having actually occurred, I am more troubled by what could have possibly motivated the criminal/sinner to commit such a sin/crime? To me this is a strong argument in favor of saying that the letter is authentic and that the martyrdom did occur.

    Search for more information about [topic] at

    How dare Obama smile at dictators?

    Thanks and all honor to (sex) Rabbi Shmuli Boteach for sounding the alarm about President Obama. The fact that the president smiled at Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez is indeed, a source of great national and personal humiliation, and an indication of the president's unprecedented venality.

    As Shmuli put it: "How oppressive must a leader be before we determine that he has not merited a hug by the democratic standard-bearer of the free world, the president of the United States?"

    I would, therefore, encourage the president to emulate the powerful and shining examples of his GOP predecessors. For his reference, and yours, I've assembled the following photo montage of Republican Presidents greeting evil dictators in the manner they so richly deserve:

    1. George W. Bush scowling at King Abdullah of Suadi Arabia
    2. George W. Bush giving the finger to Islam Karimov, the President of Uzbekistan
    3. Reagen snubbing Mikhael Gorbachav
    4. Reagen using his body to block Suharto of Indionesia from entering the Oval Office.
    4. Gerald Ford scratching out Leonid Brezhnev's eyes
    5. Nixon mooning Chairman Mao

    Wednesday, April 22, 2009

    Martha Stewart Tours Streit's

    HT: On request.
    I realize this may have been making the rounds... if its on your blog, please let me know, and I will link you up.

    Why "Yosef Dov" is going to hell

    I Am SO Going to Hell*
    *(According to some “authorities”)

    A guest post by Yosef Dov

    Back when I was living “Down South”, I got used to ignoring the predictions of my ultimate demise- that I was surely going to be cast into the lake of fire for eternity. This of course was to be my ultimate end due to the fact that I hadn’t accepted that long haired, bearded Jewish hippy looking dude as my “Lord and Savior”.

    Now, however, the implication that my soul will end up in the Hot Place after I shuffle off my mortal coil is, alas, coming from my own Jewish brethren… and here, not necessarily in any particular order, are some of the reasons that it is presumed I have no future in The World to Come:

    1) I participate in the DovBear blog, not just reading the scandalous materials, but I occasionally post here as well.
    2) I don’t do “Negel Vass”. I mean, come on, if the thing was something more than Eastern European superstition, why is it called “Negel Vass”, and not the Hebrew equivalent? Don’t get me started about demons on my finger tips, considering how many demon children I have…
    3) I don’t speak or care to perpetuate Jewish Ebonics, aka, Yiddish.
    4) I pronounce the word “Torah” as “Toe-Rah”, not as “toy-reh”, “tay-reh”, or “too-ruh”. I don’t understand the so-called “Ashkenazic” pronunciation of Hebrew, and certainly don’t get the need to perpetuate such an obvious distortion of the original language…Abbott & Costello could have had a whole new skit based on the pronunciation differences (I know they did a Hebrew take on the “Who’s on First”, but imagine if they had a “Who is He, and He is Who” version based on the pronunciation by some of the Hebrew “oo” sound as “ee”, i.e. “Pee-rim” instead of “Purim”. What IS that?!?)
    5) I don’t buy into this whole “Chalav Yisrael” thing here in the USA, especially given the history of scandals (i.e. watered down milk) and sub-standard products produced by the typical US purveyor of “CY” products. If non-CY (i.e. O-U “D”) products are absolutely treif (as I’ve been told), then of course that means that organizations like O-U are hechshering treif products, and NONE of the O-U certified products can be trusted, right? So clean out your cabinets, NOW. Come on MOVE. Throw out ALL products with hechshers from any organization that provides a hechsher to a dairy product that is not CY. US dairy farms raise dairy COWS. Period. No pigs. No camels. No bats. Cows.
    6) I don’t speak “Yeshivish”. I don’t understand “Yeshivish”. When a Rabbi gets up to give a “shiur” on an important subject, I am often quickly lost by the spoken mixture of English, Hebrew, and Yiddish (and maybe even Aramaic, how am I to know?).
    7) I wear colored shirts…to work as well as Shul.
    8) I work for a living.
    9) I don’t wear a black hat. Of course, if I did, it would be of a modern style that I liked, which would mean that it probably wouldn’t conform to some authority’s accepted “Jewniform”.
    10) Other than Shabbos and Yom Tov, I don’t even usually wear a jacket while davening. I get amused when I see one wearing a suit jacket over a T-Shirt and sweat pants at shul. And of course, wearing a baseball cap with said suit jacket. After my father passed, my brother got yelled at in shul for davening the Amud (sp?) without a jacket and hat…he was yelled at by someone who was wearing a baseball cap and a Member’s Only wind breaker. Yes, when one is standing before the King of Kings, one should certainly dress spiffy.
    11) I don’t sing zemirot on Shabbos (mainly cause I don’t know them).
    12) I do prefer a rousing, uplifting Friday night service (i.e. Chabad style)…I like singing what are supposed to be joyous prayers, with joyous tunes. I don’t like this thing of not singing anything, or using the most boring funeral dirge tunes for songs that are supposed to be rousing or inspiring. I can’t stand this “stop and start” procedure for certain songs, like Lecha Dodi.
    13) I don’t have a problem with page numbers being announced in Shul. Then maybe someone new will be able to follow along, especially at those shuls where additions are made to prayers at certain times (ala yotzros).
    14) I pay my taxes, including sales tax, even on “cash” deals.
    15) My wife chooses to cover her hair, and now does so with hats or tichel cloths. I allow her to do so, even if some real hair peeks out. She tried the “sheitel” route. And quickly learned what a silly money grubbing joke this was. She had to meet with 3 people just to get to the “sheitel macher” location. All of whom of course got a “cut”. And the sheitel macher was just another “pay me cash and no sales tax” crook, employing a room full of what were most likely illegal alien workers. Fifteen hundred dollars on a human-hair wig, which of course didn’t fit right or feel ok, and now we are told she shouldn’t wear anyway because the hair may have come from idol worshippers. The wig was tossed. In the garbage can. Where it belongs. And over 90% of hair-covering woman probably can’t even tell you why they “must” cover their hair, or from where in the TORAH this is derived.
    16) If I see a tired woman get on a crowded bus or train, I give her my seat, instead of beating her. I truly believe that Avrahom Avinu would have done like me. I just can’t see him as a woman beater, sorry.
    17) I don’t “learn”. I study what I want, when I want, in the way I want, and LEARN quite a bit. This idea of “learning Gemara” for 10 hours a day, every day, for years, and then not really “knowing” anything I perceive as beyond SILLY. I mean, the sages of the very same Gemara themselves state how “study without occupation leads to sin and a loss of Torah”. We say in our Shema prayers 3 times a day "And they shall be tzitzit for you, and when you look at them you will remember all of the Lord's commandments and do them and not follow after your heart and after your eyes which lead you astray." Hashem commands us to DO what is says in his Torah, not just spend our lives studying it. And as for this "lead you astray" thing- I don't believe in going to topless bars while wearing a yarmulke and with tzitzit hanging out. I don't believe it's "Ok cause they're not Jewish".
    18) I use a tallis that has stripes that are not black.
    19) I don’t believe I am required to make myself sick drinking wine or any other alcoholic beverage that I am allergic to.
    20) I don’t believe that pickled herring and “gefilte” fish are real food.
    21) I eat pizza and hamburgers…and yes, my grandparents did to. Of course, they ate lobster as well, but I don’t follow that custom.
    22) I believe that wearing the finery of 16th century Russian nobility in the 21st century looks quite silly. As do long payos. And shtreimels. $5,000 shtreimels. Who the hell came up with this “requirement”? A broke hat maker?

    I could go on and on with my pure evil ways. But of course, since I’m already doomed to Hades for just one of the things on this list, why bother with more?

    Even more important, why do I even bother going forward with an pretense of being a Jew? Ahhh…cause I like to think that maybe, just maybe, when I stand in Judgement before the Holy One, Blessed is He, if the above is all who can throw at me for “sins”, I’ve actually done pretty well in my life.

    Yosef Dov

    Justice Robert J. Hanophy: Senseless and/or anti-Semite?

    Justice Robert J. Hanophy: Senseless and/or anti-Semite?

    I don't know anything about Mazoltuv Borukhova and Mikhail Mallayev, the two Orthodox Jews who were sentenced to life imprisonment yesterday for the murder of Borukhova's husband. I haven't reviewed the evidence, or read the testimony, nor have I been given any reason to doubt the merits of their conviction. This post isn't about them.

    Instead, I'd like to draw your attention to their judge, Robert J. Hanophy, who gave observers every reason to believe he suffers from the age-old disease of Jew-hatred. According to the Times, judge Hanophy at first wanted to hear closing statements on Shabbos. When the defendants argued that their religious sensibilities made this impossible the judge relented, but scheduled the arguments in a way that gave the defense just one night to prepare. According to the paper, these maneuvers were made to protect the judge's vacation.

    At sentencing, the judge all but confessed his anti-Semitism:
    “Mr. Mallayev, you took the 20,000 pieces of silver to murder Dr. Malakov,” the judge said, referring to the $20,000 that prosecutors say Dr. Borukhova paid for the killing. “You say you’re a religious man. There’s a man in the New Testament who says, ‘What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loseth his soul?’ ”
    What kind of man looks at a Jew and sees Judas? What kind of man challenges a Jew's religiosity by lecturing him about the New Testament?

    Answer: A very bad one.

    93 Beis Yaakov girls committed suicide... or did they?

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

    I just read an article last night that was shocking to me. I was wondering if anybody else had heard such a thing before.

    NRG posted an article about the 93 Beis Yaakov girls who committed suicide rather than let the Nazi soldiers defile them.

    The article describes how the incident depicting gevurah, purity and tzniyus came to be known - via a letter that was somehow smuggled out of the ghetto and mailed to rabbonim in NY describing the events and requesting that this group of women/girls be davened for and remembered.

    The story has gone on to become famous, as articles, books, poems, liturgical prayers, conferences, etc. have been held focusing on this story.

    Holocaust researchers have investigated the story and come to the conclusion that it is a piece of fiction - it never happened.

    They base the conclusion on lack of any evidence of it ever happening, along with a number of questions they have been unable to answer that put the whole story in doubt.

    Questions such as:
    How did the letter get out of a closed room in a closed ghetto and end up by rabbonim in NY?
    How did they get hold of so much poison - enough for so many people?
    How did none of the survivors from the area know about such a story that happened in such a small ghetto?
    Why was the letter written in a Hungarian style of Yiddish, when it supposedly came out of Poland?
    Just the sheer number - 93 - puts the whole story in doubt. How could this have happened to such a large group and go unknown?
    Even from the side of the nazis it does not make sense - While in private with an individual perhaps a Nazi soldier would have raped her and broken the racial laws, but so many soldiers with such a large group of women? Such things were unheard of.

    The conclusion of the researchers is that this is a made up story.

    This shocked me. Have you heard of this before? Did it really not happen?

    Search for more information about [topic] at

    Tuesday, April 21, 2009



    And that boys and girls is what comment threads were like here, back when blogging was young and fun.

    My new hero

    Prepare to be blown away

    [HT: Current Newsweek]

    The real McCain

    See, if this guy -the honest, straight-forward no BS McCain- had shown up last Fall, I may have voted for him.

    The first Yom Hashoa

    Wikipedia: Yom HaShoah was inaugurated in 1951. The original proposal was to hold Yom Hashoah on the 14th of Nisan the anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising (April 19, 1943), but this was problematic because the 14th of Nisan is the day immediately before Pesach (Passover). The date was moved to the 27th of Nisan...

    The editorial that appears below was published by The New York Times on the Uprising's first anniversary.

    - An account of the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto. (no idea if this was a first mention)
    - First mention of the Uprising. Note the following quote: "Polish circles here believe 1,300,000 Polish Jews have perished already..."
    - An account of a commemoration held in NYC in 1943, followed by a protest march. Those convinced that American Jews were irriligious in 1943 are encouraged to take a gander at the photo that accompanies the article. (HT: Krum for this article)

    Search for more information about Yom Hashoa at

    My annual point about Yom Hashoa

    It’s simply not true to say that Tisha B’av is the only appropriate day for mourning the 6 million. We have the long established right to establish, as a community, days for mourning, for repentance, and for remembrance. The proof is on your calendar: During Sefira we remember Rabbi Akiba's school and, per Samsom Repahael Hirsch in Chorev, the Crusades. There's a day for Gedalya's tragedy, and to remember Esther's fast. And for generations Jews remembered the Chmielnicki massacres of 1648(!) on 20 Sivan. Many siddurim even included selichos for that day.

    Can you help me understand why these tragedies got days of their own rather than being subsumed into T'bav? If the 6000 Jews killed by Chelminiki merit a day, and the 24 thousand students of Rabbi Akiva merit a month, surely the 6,000,000 can be remembered independant of Tisha B'Av.

    In short: Yom Hashoa isn’t rejected by the Haredim “because we have Tisha Bav.” It’s rejected by the Haredim because it wasn’t their idea, with the business about Tisha B’av being a convenient dodge.

    - How should the Charedi community acknowledge Yom Hashoa?
    - Yom Hashoa: Problem solved
    - Why we mourn during s'fira (and not on Yom Hashoa)
    - Yom Hashoa: How they dropped the ball

    Streit's kosher for Pesach Followup

    A guest post by JS:

    A brief followup to my previous post entitled "Kashrut isn't just for what goes in your mouth" which was posted on March 24. Turns out I was a bit ahead of the curve on this issue.

    At the time of the posting, a few commenters had indicated that I was making a mountain out of a molehill. Comments included arguments that I was only referring to a small vaad, Streit's business wouldn't really be hurt, we must respect trusted rabbinic authorities, better safe than sorry, a retraction was made quickly, and other inanities.

    Since Pesach, it has come to my attention that the Vaad of Queens and the Vaad of the Five Towns and Far Rockaway also made public announcements that Streit's was "not approved" for Pesach. And of course, like the email I was forwarded (which was not from these Vaads) their timing was impeccable - just days before Pesach - and their reasons for the kashrut advisory were just as clear and logical - because we said so.

    See an article on this here at the Jewish Star published April 10; be sure to read the whole thing. Prepare to be incensed and wonder how these people ever wound up in a position of authority, let alone one that affects thousands of Jews. Also be prepared to wonder aloud just how kosher anything we eat really is given the imbeciles in charge and their complete lack of yashrut.

    I'd love to hear back from all the commenters who complained about my previous post - I hear these same rabbinic authorities have recently announced that crow is now kosher and may be eaten freely. I apologize in advance for the snarkiness of this post, but, in case you can't tell, this really bothers me and I think it should bother all of us.

    Yom Hashoah 2009

    Apologies to those who may be offended by the crucifix. It offends me, too, but I'm more offended by those who are not offended. This masterwork, painted originally to answer Hitler, remains for me a supreme representation of the Jewish suffering perpetrated by Christians, on a Christian continent, and a stirring yizkor prayer for those who were lost. May their memory be a blessing.

    Monday, April 20, 2009

    Texas secession idea gaining traction

    We're excited as a kid in a candy store to learn that yet another prominent Texan Republican (Tom Delay and the Governor of Texas are the other two) thinks we need a serious conversation about the possibility of Texas withdrawing from the union. Ron Paul:
    [Gov. Perry] really stirred some of the liberal media, where they started screaming about: 'what is going on here, this is un-American.' I heard one individual say 'this is treasonous to even talk about it.' Well, they don't know their history very well, because when you think about it ... it is very American to talk about secession. That's how we came in being. Thirteen colonies seceded from the British and established a new country. So secession is a very much American principle.
    Totally right. And irrespective of what Paul says the "liberal media" says about his Governor's idea, the flesh and blood liberals with whom I cavort are in love with the idea of losing Texas. For starters, a Texas succession would make electing a GOP president just about impossible. Also, it will make prominent Texan Republicans such as Tom Delay, Ron Paul and Gov. Perry officially and inarguably irrelevant.

    So Texas, don't let us keep you. Please go. We ask only that you pay for your own fence, and try not to cry if, at some future date, we invade you for your oil.

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    Additional proof Europe hates Israel

    The New York Times (which also hates Israel) is reporting that when the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, began his speech at the UN conference on racism taking place today in Geneva ...
    "...all 23 of the 27 European Union members attending the conference stood up and filed out of the room to cheers from the audience galleries."
    Canada and Israel boycotted the conference along with the Netherlands, Italy, Australia, and the United States, which is led by notorious Israel-hater Barak Hussein Obama. Shimon Hussein Peres, who hates Israel most of all, protested Ahmadinejad's speech saying "There must be a limit, even to the neutrality of Switzerland. Today [the eve of Yom Hashoa] is the day? This is the man to speak? This is the outlook for the future?”

    HT: Shanna, who hates Israel, and blogs about it at her anti-Israel blog.

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    Torture update

    The New York Times reports that the "C.I.A. used waterboarding 183 times in March 2003 against Khalid Shaikh Mohammed the self-described planner of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks."

    For those with rusty math skills: That comes out to about once every four hours, if we assume the torturers rested on the Lord's day.
    For those with rusty logic skills: This proves that torture doesn't work. If it did, wouldn't one trip to the waterboarding chamber have been enough?

    John McCain, who tortured us all when he foisted Sarah Palin on the lower 49 states, told Foux News:

    One is too much. Waterboarding is torture, period. I can ensure you that once enough physical pain is inflicted on someone, they will tell that interrogator whatever they think they want to hear. And most importantly, it serves as a great propaganda tool for those who recruit people to fight against us.
    Good stuff, but he also complained that the anti-torture Obama administration was wrong to reveal that Mohammed had been deceived into thinking he was about to die of drowning on 183 separate occasions. But how can we have it both ways? If torture is wrong, immoral, unethical, useless, illegal, and bad for America, how can he possibly argue that its occurrences should also be kept secret?

    As Andrew Sullivan said it: ...even by the Bush-Cheney standards of legality, the [Mohammed] waterboarders far exceeded what was allowed. They broke the law even by Bush's standards. And why, pray, is breaking the law in such a grave matter as a war crime no longer subject to prosecution or even investigation in the United States? The US is a banana republic if this stuff is allowed to go unpunished. A banana republic with a torture apparatus.

    - Bush's Boneheaded Torture Policy
    - Arguing torture in the manner of the bes medrash
    - The Divine Right of Bush?
    - Bush defends freedom by torturing innocent people in secret.

    Chazal were right about kollels

    The kollel culture found in places like Benai Brak, ir hakodesh, is something new under the Jewish sun. Chazal didn't anticipate or desire it. I say this, because Chazal insisted that young men be taught trades, and gave no indication that they wished for a society where Torah Study was every man's mandatory profession.

    Later authorities, too, warned against establishing kollel societies, for instance the Rambam who said that those who study in kollel at the expense of the community are mechallel hashem, mevaze hatora, umechabe ohr hadat (desecrators of the name of God, defilers of the Torah, and extinguishers of the light of religion) and the Rama who agreed (with post facto exceptions.) For these and other reasons some correctly consider the kollel town a modern, reform on par with the synagogue organ.

    That argument can be re-fought in the comments; for now I wish to provide one bit of anecdotal proof that the opponents of kollel were correct:

    Click here to read more
    Bnei Brak vandals slashed tires on nearly 30 cars, torched a synagogue and burned a woodwork shop between Friday and Saturday night. The Bnei Brak residents agreed to talk with Israel National News TV on condition that their identities be concealed.

    “Some of the local kids who were probably kicked out of their homes gathered here and decided to spend the night in the synagogue," one person said. "They tore down the Torah ark covering to sleep under it, and they took all the prayer shawls in the synagogue to use as sheets. A fire broke out when they burnt prayer books, and the whole wall was set aflame. This is pure vandalism.”

    One yeshiva student spoke of his personal experience about how dangerous Bnei Brak can be late at night. “Two punks came over, and they were holding a glass bottle. They shattered it on my neck. With what was left after the bottle was broken, they tried to stab me. I was rushed bleeding to the hospital where pieces of glass were extracted and I was told that it almost reached my main artery. Two weeks later my uncle who is a great rabbi here walked through the streets, and two punks came over and started pulling his beard and hitting him."

    Jews sometimes suffer assaults and harassment by Arabs or groups of immigrants defining themselves as neo-Nazis in other Israeli cities, but Bnei Brak is dealing with a homegrown menace. "They come from good families who live here in the area, they leave the way of their families and they allow themselves anything," one person said.

    "They have no day or night, they have no boundaries and we don’t see the police doing anything. When we call the police and complain about the harassment, we notice they don’t come at all or they come with the siren and blazing lights and that’s enough for them to run away and come back the next time.”

    'What Has Created Such Acts of Terror?'Forensic psychosocial investigator Dr. Simone Gordon told Israel National News that the recent outbreak of violence in Bnei Brak raises some especially disturbing questions.

    "To the extent that shuls have been vandalized and rabbis victimized, to what extent is this an re-enactment of trauma and a need to feel empowered?," she said. "To what extent is this due to drugs? To what extent is this a message to the community that 'we feel rejected by you, and are now going to reject and terrorize you?'"

    Gordon, who leads workshops on the issue and commutes between New York and Jerusalem to consult on legal cases, commented that the choice of the youths to defile their "spiritual home" was a symbolic acting out of their anger and agression towards their parents and their cultural heritage.

    "One can only ask 'what has created such acts of terror,' -- what is the traumatic re-enactment here and how is it being addressed?" she said.
    Yankie Horowitz has more.

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    Sunday, April 19, 2009

    Consequences of OJ to non-OJ tzedakah?

    A guest post by TikunOlam

    My children's Jewish day school, like most these days, has dramatically increased its fundraising efforts. With many parents losing their jobs or otherwise needing to tighten their belts, the need for financial assistance at this school has increased. The Director of Development at the school, who is in charge of fundraising, happens to be a close friend of mine. Our families shared Shabbat dinner recently and we got into a discussion about her office's increased efforts to reach out to grandparents, available grants and philanthropists in the Jewish community.

    She told a story of calling a grandmother of two students in the school and asked my husband, her own husband and me (all ex-OJs) to help her understand the conversation she had with the grandmother. She explained that when the grandmother was called, the grandmother raved about the school and said that both she and her husband thought it was doing an excellent job. However, she explained, her husband is a rabbi in the Orthodox Community and she is uncomfortable with making a donation using a check that bore his name to a non-OJ Jewish day school. She said that she would like to make a donation in her name only and asked that her husband's name not be found on the donation record. My friend, of course, graciously thanked her for her pledge and said that she would respect her wishes to have the donation recorded in her name only.

    When I heard this story, I wondered if there was a reality based reason for her to be concerned about negative ramifications if it came out that her husband supported his grand children's non-OJ day school. I wondered, or maybe just hoped, that she was just being a silly, paranoid older woman. I have been too far removed out of the OJ world for too many years to make sense of this one. I just know it made me so sad to think that this is where the Jewish world is, that an OJ would have to feel concerned that there would be negative consequences to openly supporting a non-OJ institution, even if he or she believes in its mission and the work it is doing.

    Mobile device users comment here.

    Friday, April 17, 2009

    Frog Cloning

    Hmm... how did all those frogs overwhelm Egypt? Via cloning, obviously:
    The plague of frogs commences with the following, “Aharon stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt and the frog צפרדע infestation ascended and covered the land of Egypt (Shemos8:2). In this verse the word “frog” is in the singular and Rashi cites a Midrash contending that one frog initially emerged from the Nile River. When the Egyptians struck the frog, it fragmented into many frogs. On the surface, this appears to describe cloning, through which differentiated adult cells become embryonic or totipotent to develop into copies of the original organism. Interestingly, prior to cloning the lamb Dolly, the initial successful cloning experiments, developed in the 1950s by Robert Briggs and Thomas King, were with frogs (Rana pipens)14. With this in mind, and probably pushing a scientific explanation to its extreme, striking the initial frog may have caused shedding of its differentiated epidermal somatic cells, which became totipotent or zygote like cells, undergoing mitotic divisions to generate multicellular frogs
    This gem of Parshanut wingnuttery comes courtesy of [name on request; also posted on the new, new GH] and appears in an article by Dr. Harvey Babish a biology teacher at YU/Stern. The claim is bizarre for at least two reasons. First, there are other stories of how the frogs spread. Why the love affair with this particular midrash about the magical, multiplier? Rashi cites it, but he also seems to favor another reading. Second, if you wish to wholeheartedly accept the midrash Rashi half-heartedly cites, that's fine, but why muck up the supernatural grandeur with pseudo science? If the frogs multiplied every time they were struck, that's a miracle. Not cloning.

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    The Times Will Cut Sections to Lower Costs

    This is the second or third round of such adjustments, plus the building is in hock, and some slim shady Mexican billionaire holds some big notes. Can the Times survive? I'm beginning to think its impossible... but if they want to give it a go, may I suggest they get serious about news? Drop the fluff. No more sports, or business, or styles, or food. Get rid of the op-ed page (written by too many conservatives anyway.) Instead focus on serious, solid international reporting, with some emphasis on any of the 80 or 90 countries currently ignored.

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    I won't stand in their way...

    The governor of Texas and Tom Delay are talking succession, and I think that's great. Let them go. The other 49 states can happily offer asylum to any liberal refugees from the New Confederacy, and watching Texas disintegrate into third world dysfunction will be great fun.

    Of course it won't happen, but only because Tom Delay and the Governor of Texas are a pair of loud mouth do nothings. And by this time tomorrow, they'll both probably be back to waving the flag, and calling the rest of us traitors.

    MACHO BS Alert @ 36 seconds: Catch Delay complimenting the governor for "fighting like a Texan." Not to disrespectful, but aren't Texan warriars best known for getting massacred at the Alamo? Besides, the governor isn't fighting. He's just shooting off his mouth, and making empty threats. Like any neocon, he'll send someone else's son to the front if any fighting is required.

    Search for more information about Texas at

    Chalishing for Chometz


    Taking advantage of the early finish here as opposed to over the pond.

    We had cereal, fresh bagels and peanut butter, thus combining chometz and kitniot.

    What did you have?

    Search for more information about the evils Obama visited on us whilst making sure the Pesach kitchen at the White House was tidied away at

    Tuesday, April 14, 2009


    I keep hearing that Barak Obama is some kind of tyrant. Thank God for John Stewart:
    And while President Bush was the one who started the bailout, nationalizing an insurance company, added a $17 trillion drug prescription entitlement program, had a government-mandated public school initiative, literally titled No Child Left Behind,' wiretapped citizens without warrants, created secret internment camps in international waters behind the reach of our justice system and allowed his vice president to live in a netherworld between the executive and legislative branch. Only now... has tyranny come to our shores.
    "If I remember correctly," Stewart continued, "When disagreement was expressed about [Geroge W. Bush's] actions when ya'll were in power, I believe the response was 'Why do you hate America,' Watch what you say,' Love it or leave it' and Suck on my truck nuts.'" See it

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    Fox Newsance

    I'm trying to recall if any of the s0-called liberal stations ever led an effort to undermine a sitting president, in the way that Fox's so-called journalists are coming after Obama. In particular, I'm referring to the channel's overt support for the "tea-parties". Fox reporters are holding fundraisers, planning to participate in the rallies, and giving viewers information about how to join. Some are doing absolutely nothing to conceal their enthusiasm.

    Can you imagine how much drool conservatives would spray if Brian Williams or Katie Couric- or even Keith Olberman - were to act this way on behalf of some liberal cause?

    Anyway, the Fox crybabies are full of it. If run-away federal spending makes them so unhappy, where were they when Bush was the one writing the overlarge checks?

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    Monday, April 13, 2009

    Notes on the post about the president's seder and the response it received


    1 : characterized by routine or superficiality
    2 : lacking in interest or enthusiasm

    Thus, when I wrote: "If the maggid was perfunctory (as, let's admit, it probably was) does that make the seder less of a gesture and more of a pander?" I was not passing judgement on those Jews who use abbreviated or alternative haggadot. I was (as only SM seemed to understand) attempting to work out for myself if Obama's seder was a stunt, or something more significant.

    I imagine that if some had paused to look up the meaning of the word "perfunctory" before commenting, much conflict could have been avoided.

    But if some are still angry, let me clarify: I wasn't pondering the possible "inauthenticity" of a Seder convened by a non-Jew and celebrated, in the main, by non-Jews. Indeed, the question of authenticity never entered my mind, and I question if it can even be applied to a seder hosted by a non-Jew for overt political purposes.

    I was merely suggesting that a perfunctory seder (i.e. one that was lacking in enthusiasm or marked by superficiality) was likely a stunt, and not anything like a real try at honoring or attempting to understand our observances. However, as those of you who read the post from beginning to end would know, I did confess to mixed feelings and found myself touched, and deeply appreciative while simultaneously believing the whole thing was just a sop to the Jews.


    I can't help laughing out loud when I see the atheist wing of the readership wail that I'm insufficiently reconstructionist in my theology. You guys do know that Bray and the other fundies think I'm much TOO much like you, right?

    Can I say this too many times? I am not one the sectarians who claims legitimacy or authenticity for one style of Judaism above all others. In fact, if you've been here more than five minutes, you should know I hold that the very idea of 'authentic Judaism' is a chimera, because Judaism authentically contains many values, values which do not always align and sometimes conflict, values which, nonetheless, are objective, part of the essence of Judaism, even the essence of humanity, and not arbitrary creations of men's subjective fancies.

    Also: I hold, there is no "correct" condition for a religion: there is only the condition that happens to obtain at the moment. Every generation touches and alters Judaism in its own way; 21st century Judaism is not a corrupted version of the truth, nor is it a lie or a mistake, nor is something our ancestors would recognize or likely accept. It is simply –contradictory values and all - the latest variation on an endlessly changing religious landscape.

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