Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Bloopers the prayer leaders make

A guest post by Modeh B'Miktsas


Yom Kippur is over, and most shuls drop the (semi)professional chazzan for the standard DIY amud-goers. As a public service I am listing some of the most infuriating and halakhically problematic errors of DIY baalei tfilla. Feel free to add your own. These are only the ones I encounter in shuls I daven at i.e. non-choir OJ minyanim, so there might be some that I miss.

1-The guy who thinks he knows grammar. There is always someone who does not know what a pasach is and says יׅתְגַדֵל and the rest of kaddish with a tsere. It is Aramaic not Hebrew. Learn the difference.

2- The guy who doesn’t know the alphabet. Usually the same guy as number one, this offender attempts to gabble the words faster than he can speak coherently and turns the opening phrase of kaddish into יתקתל ויתקדש שמיה רבה—“may His great Name be killed and prostituted.” (k-d-sh can mean either holy or prostitute, I’m sure there’s a bib-crit post on that somewhere on this blog).

3- Moving on to shmoneh esrei. The hands down champion for most annoying amida blooper is the adeenay sha”tz. Instead of pronouncing the Name correctly (yes I know it isn’t the name proper) with a cholom, however you were brought up to say it, this dude feels it necessary for some reason to use a chirik. This one is the exclusive province of yeshivish people under age 30. Apparently that was when the shtick developed.

4- אלואינו as opposed to א-לוהנו. Combined with ahdeenoy from number three, this mistake makes it possible to go an entire service without mentioning God once. Hmmm, maybe all these chareidim are really ethical culture Jews in disguise?

5- The other guy who thinks he knows grammar. He grunts every final heh in the hopes that it might be a mahpik and he will sound learned. Little does he know that he's doing it wrong even on the ones that are mahpik.

That’s it for now. When I think of more I’ll comment.


Search for more information about pet peeves at

-Follow me on Twitter

Are Israeli Leftists the Devil? And is the Chief Rabbi a Christian?

According to a news report, Ashkenazik Chief Rabbi, Yona Metzger said "The left is the devil" in a speech delivered at a central Jerusalem synagogue.

What did he mean? Unclear. In Judaism, the Satan is seen as an obstacle, or prosecuter. He's the one who leads the case against the Jewish people on Yom Kippur, and was traditionally bribed with a gift of a He-Goat.  He is not a rebellious angel, but a servant of God who can't do anything absent divine permission. The handful of times the word appears in the Hebrew bible, it means adversary, as in "And the LORD stirred up an adversary unto Solomon, Hadad the Edomite" or ויקם יהוה שטן לשלמה, את הדד האדומי.

Only in Christianity (and for all I know Islam?) is Satan believed to have his own agency and to be able, on his own volition, to tempt or betray believers. Only in Christianity is Satan seen as desiring the destruction of mankind and all of creation, the spreader of lies and deception.

Our Satan, like any angel, serves the Creator. Christianity's Satan, on the other hand, exists only to undermine Him. Christianty's Satan is a destroyer. Ours is merely an angel, like the others.

So what was the Chief Rabbi's insult? I agree he meant to offend his fellow Jews, but if he was speaking as a Jew himself its hard to understand what he meant. Certainly, the anti-religious left are the Chief Rabbi's "adversaries." Only if we agree that the Chief was thinking and speaking like a Christian does the remark carry any real venom.

*Note: In the title, I make a deliberate distinction between Israeli and America leftists, on the not-unreasonable premise that they are significantly different.

Search for more information about [topic] at

Follow me on Twitter

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Pre-Kol Nidre story C.A heard at his frum neighbor's house

Dear Mr. Bear:

I pass this story on to you in hopes that you will publish it in your blog and I can get some reactions from your (mostly) Orthodox readership. The fact that this story is presented fir children as an example if proper teshuvah has, I fear, the potential to warp the moral sensibilities of the next generation of frum kids.

Basically, what happened was that Ms. Apikoris and I were invited over to our frum neighbors for a pre-fast meal. Naturally, we take any opportunity for a free feed, especially in this case, Ms. S____, the Ba'alat Habayit is an excellent cook, even better than me, and the daas Torah of the S family is that while it's a big mitzva to fast on Yom Kippur, it's an even bigger mitzva to eat well the day before Yom Kippur. During the meal, Poppa S____ read this little tale from one of the frum papers to his kids as an example of teshuva, which, of course, we were supposed to be doing big-time during the upcoming hours.

The story concerns a certain Reb Mendel (not the name used, I don't remember the exact names used in the story), who was a chasid of the Seer of Lublin back in the old country. Anyway, Reb S. had three daughters of marriageable age, but they were stuck in spinsterhood because Reb M. had no money for dowries. Why? Because he learned Torah full time. (At this point, one of Poppa S___'s teenaged daughters said, sotto voce, "why din't the guy get a job?" There may, indeed be hope for the next generation of frum children.)

Anyway after much nagging from his wife, Reb M., goes to Lublin and scores an appointment with the Seer in hopes of getting a handout of some sort. The Seer isn't such a frier, he tells Reb M. to go to a certain hick rural town, check into a motel and see what happens. (If this chasid is so poor he can't marry his daughters, where does he get the money for the motel -- ok, it was an "Inn," they didn't have motels back when the Seer of Lublin lived.).

So Reb M. goes to the inn, where he meets the innkeeper, Reb Baruch, who is a very nice guy and gets Reb M. all set up. Some time later, late one night while Reb M. is studying the Holy texts by the light of a guttering candle, he gets a late night visitor. No, it's not Jacob Marley and the ghosts of Yom Kippur, past presents, and future. It's a guy who used to work at the inn, was trusted by Reb Baruch (he was the melamed for Reb Baruch' kids!), and for that trust, embezzled a big bag of cash from the innkeeper. Now, after some years, he is consumed with guilt, and never having spent the stolen money, he wants to do teshuva and return it.

Now if I were Reb M., I would have told him to stop bothering me, but go downstairs to return the money and apologize the Reb Baruch. Wouldn't you? But apparently this penitent thief didn't have the guts to do that, and so he dropped the bag at Reb M.'s feet and slunk away, especting Reb M. to clean up the mess. I'm sure Reb M. felt real good spending the night with a bag of stolen money in his possession.

So the next morning, Reb M. goes to Reb Baruch with the money and concocts a story about getting a dream to remove some floorboards where he found it. It's not clear why he felt the need to do that. Reb Baruch is, indeed pleased to get his money back, and says that he had figured the thief was the sleazy melamed, but now he ses that the mealed is innocent, it was obviously the black janitor (OK, I guess they didn't have African-American janitors in 19th century Poland, but you get the idea.) He is so grateful to get the money back, that he gives Reb M. a nice reward, a reward large enough to marry off his three daughters.

And everyone lived happily ever after. (Except the janitor, who''s going to get falsely accused of the theft.)

How can anyone use this tale as an example of real teshuva? I should leave it as a class exercise for the DovBear community to explain why it's not, but what the heck. How can you call it teshuva when the thief melamed didn't face the person he harmed (Reb Baruch)? How can one consider justice to be done if the thief gets totally off the hook and suspicion falls on an innocent person (the janitor)? Shouldn't Reb M. have told the truth about how the money was returned? This is the worst of all possible endings: The melamed doesn't do real teshuva, and will get hammered by the Abishter in olam haba (if you believe in such things), Reb Baruch is going to falsely accuse an innocent person, and Reb M. is going to get money without getting a job, furthering the unproductive chassidic lifestyle. Oh yes, and there will also be three unlucky guys ho will have the unproductive luftmensch Reb M. as a father-in-law.

Of course, I was too polite to call BS on my host for reading this story, but I thought it might provoke some interesting discussion (anything being more interesting than politics) amongst the DB community.

Sincerely yours,
Conservative Apikoris

Search for more information about teshuva at

Follow me on Twitter

Last night John Stewart Managed to Offend Me. But why?

Didn't much like how the nation's most trusted newsman opened his show last night. It began with the host wishing his audience a Happy Yom Kippur. After the applause Stewart said, "I celebrated, as I do, in the traditional way with a breakfast of.. um (giggles).. um... I believe it was a Baconnaise and lobster omelet... with a side of Jesus toast. (laughter) I'm what you'd call Reform." [see it]

After I finished being disturbed, and tweeting that the comment was "uncool", I started to wonder: Exactly what did Stweart do wrong? He's not frum. He likely doesn't believe in the Jewish God, if he believes in any God at all, and it's his job to make people laugh. So what was the problem? What value or principle did he betray? My wife, who was also mildly offended, suggested we didn't like that Stewart was "making fun of Judaism," but that's not it either: He, not our religion, was the butt of the joke here.

Search for more information about touchy PC Jews at

Follow me on Twitter

How Was It For You?


Taking advantage of the fact that you are all abed, the British sneakily get in with the first post-fast post.

So, as the Bishop famously remarked to the actress, how was it for you?

Our Kol Nidre - a 3 hour performance. Daytime was fine with no break (and the fast went out at 730pm, with davenning starting at 915). Neilah was an hour at Chabad - the highpoint of the day.

Sermon on KN a lengthy excursus on the evils of modern society and how technology has simply made us unhappy, as opposed to the discipline and community spirit of Judaism. Too long, too unfocussed in its detail and I'm not sure about the topic. Sermon on YK day (the other Rabbi) about how wonderful it was to see the shul so full and how the opportunities are there for people to do more this year. Sort of bad cop good cop, but I doubt it was deliberate. Missed pre-Neilah sermon as I was in transit from one shul to another.

Spiritual highs - 3. Once in shacharit when accepting my essential unworthiness. Once in Mincha when we ask 'Mi k'amcha Yisrael?' which I always think is a spine-tingling moment. Once in Neilah when I was carried away by the joy of those around me as they showed their confidence in our atonement by their singing. Not bad for 25 hours...

Spiritual lows - 2. Kol Nidre becoming a dirge-like pain and the story of the 10 Rabbis which always seems to me to be utterly out of kilter with the day, which is essentially optimistic. Move it to Tisha Ba'Av say I.

Post fast - cake, sweet tea, fish, more cake, getting out succah panel (one only - I was tired), bed.

Post-fast moment. Waking up this am, having the usual glass of water and really meaning my bracha.

Search for more information about how to rave it up on Yom Kippur at

Follow DB on Twitter

Friday, September 25, 2009

Opposite of Top Yom Kippur moments (2009 version)

In no order:

- The Auction Service. I hate that the shul is turned into a shuk every Yom Kippur with the addition of a sixth service, i.e. the holy Auction. I also hate the justification provided by greedy shul administrators. Skipping the auction may "leave money on the table" but since when is collecting money the highest value? There are many things a shul can do to raise money - poker night, strippers, adverts on the paroches, indulgments - that are not done because they are an offense to deocrum or to the standards a shul is meant to represent. The same holds true of the auction, in my opinion, and it should be skipped. [More]

- The ArtScroll encouraged idea that "[The piyutim are] infinitely more than inspired poetry." Why can't we just enjoy them as poetry?

- The appeal after Kol Nidray. For once I agree with ArtScroll, that its foolish to "fritter" away the awesome post-Yom Kippur moments with an appeal for some institution or another (I make an exception, of course, for a legitimate hardship case, but the post Kol Nidray appeal is usually for the local yeshiva or for the shul itself, and not for the widow with 9 children, or the out-of-work guy who's about to lose his house.)

- People who read or "learn" all day and complain about how boring shul is. Will you please kwicherbellyachin'? Please? (This is attitude, I've found, is more common in shtiebles, and its usually the people who identify themselves as "very frum" who think its holier to learn when the rest of us are praying.)

- Chazzanim who use new tunes for the piyutim. Call me an unreconstructed traditionalist, but I don't want to sing Maaseh Elokim to the latest Shweky hit. (And though I recognize that some of the more "traditional" tunes were likely Russian drinking songs before we appropriated them, that isn't what they mean to me, and significance is subjective.)

- People who sit when the aron is open, or refuse to get down on the floor with the rest of us during the Avoda, or Aleinu. It never fails to shock me that some people are really that lazy. (of course, I don't include the very old or the very fat or the disabled in this criticism. I'm speaking of the healthy middle-aged men who have energy enough for softball on Sunday, but no strength to demonstrate simple respect for their surroundings on Yom Kippur.)

- Women who skip out on most of the services. I understand about kids, and I excuse mothers of young children, of course. What I do not excuse is this new feminine practice of skipping shul, and it is new. According to "Life is With People" a definitive sociological study of the prewar shtetel everyone went to shul, and stayed for most of it. Wives didn't saunter in for a few minutes of musaf and then disappear until Neila They sat in shul all day just like their husbands. It's bewildering that the new frum practice is to excuse women from services, and perhaps those of you from other sects and other communities will say that your women still come to shul, but from what I have observed, female attendance, even on Yom Kippur, is on the decline.

Search for more information about pet peeves at

Follow me on Twitter

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Cultural Differences

Medad has a photo of the posters being used to invite the public to the Shabbat Shuva sermons that will be delivered this week by the Chief Rabbis of Israel.

For reasons that aren't immediately clear, the Ashkenzai poster gives top billing to the Rabbi, whereas the Sephardi poster gives top billing to the sermon.

There are other interesting differences, but I think this one is the most significant. And though I don't think it really matters, I'm curious as to how it came about.

Follow me on Twitter

Blaming the victim

Some tramp appeared in a holy, haredi neighborhood, recently, in an outfit that failed to meet the latest definition of "modest," so of course, the good, God-fearing residents let her have it, just the Ribono Shel Olam would have wanted, or as YWN put it in their typically fair, and unbiased headline:

Immodest Attire Prompts Attack Against A Woman

All snark aside, haredi hooliganism is not prompted by "immodest attire", but by twisted, warped ideas about the nature of women, the contents of the tradition, and the demands of our law.


Follow me on Twitter

Holiday Reader

What follows was submitted by a reader

-from my 2009 High Holidays Reader...sources available upon request.
בראש השנה יכתבון וביום צום כפור יחתמון...

" On Rosh Hashanah will be inscribed and on Yom Kippur will be sealed how many will pass from the earth and how many will be created; who will live and who will die; who will die at his predestined time and who before his time; who by water and who by fire, who by sword, who by beast, who by famine, who by thirst, who by storm, who by plague, who by strangulation, and who by stoning. Who will rest and who will wander, who will live in harmony and who will be harried, who will enjoy tranquillity and who will suffer, who will be impoverished and who will be enriched, who will be degraded and who will be exalted. But REPENTANCE, PRAYER and CHARITY remove the evil of the Decree!" (trans. Wikipedia)

Who will live…

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Biblical prophesies

If you look at the prophesies recited in the first 5 Books of Moses, you may notice something unusual: All of the really precise ones have come true already. Some examples:

God to Abraham: Your descendants will be exiled to Egypt where they will serve as slaves until I intervene and take them out. Check
God to Rivka: Those two sons in your stomach will produce nations, and the older one will serve the younger. Check (c. tenth century BCE: Edom was a vassal state to Israel)
Jacob to Joseph: Ephraim and Menashah will be important tribes. Check
Jacob to his sons: The rights of the first born will end up with Judah. Check.
Moses to the tribes: Your tribal boundaries will be as follows. Check.
Moses to the tribes: Various predictions about idol worship, divine punishment, and exile. Check

Can you think of a single precise prophecy from the first 5 books that addresses something that occured after the destruction of the first temple? I can't. I wonder what, if anything, that might mean....

Follow me on Twitter

The Jewish Service Heard Round the World, Live from Germany

For anti-Semitic reasons known only to the evil Jew hating editors, the New York Times chose to run a cover story earlier this week about a Jewish prayer service conducted by an army chaplain on German soil in 1944. The service was broadcast live on the radio, and heard in Germany and in the United States, and described by the on-site reporter as "the first Jewish religious service broadcast from Germany since the advent of Hitler". On the clip, you can hear bombs exploding in the background as the chazan, one Pvt. Max Fuches, sang Yigdal.

I imagine the service was arranged and put on the radio as a way of giving Hitler the proverbial finger. The glorious sound of Jewish infantry men singing "Ein kelokanu... ein k'moysheeanynu" achieves that quite nicely.
If you posted this yourself earlier this week, let me know and I will link you up.

Search for more information about great moments in Jewish history at

Follow me on Twitter

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

What is inspired poetry?

Art Scroll Irritates
It took some doing, but I've determined which of the many annoying bits of the ArtScroll Commentary on the Machzor is most annoying of all. It appear near the begining of Yom Kippur Maariv: "[The piyutim are] infinitly more than inspired poetry." 

Anyone know how to solve this equation?

inspired poetry^infinity=?

Didn't think so. When ArtScroll announces the piyutim are "infinitly more than inspired poetry" do they mean the authors were prophets? Does it mean those verse we read, with their rhymes, rhythems and meters, aren't really poetry, but something else? Or does it mean that the editors of Art Scroll, like too many Torah True Jews in 2005, are poetry phillistines? (Hint: "Yes" is the right answer to that question.) 

The only reason the Wise Men of Chelm Art Scroll call it "infinitly more than poetry" is because they inhabit a milieu where poetry is suspect, and possibly treif. "Infinitly more than poetry" is NewSpeak, a way of hiding a frightening fact (ie: that it really is poetry, and that our community, for all it's jive about being "authentic" is failing our fathers, and making a mistake by not teaching our young people to write and appreciate poetry.)

If Elazar HaKalir, Meshullem Kolynomous, and our other leading literary lights lived today, they'd either be living miserably as Jews, with their gifts supressed and denied, or they'd be flourishing outside the Jewish community. Sadly, there's no longer a place in Torah True Judaism for a genious of letters.

Search for more information about piyutim at

Follow me on Twitter

A dumb, but seasonal, bit of DH speculation

I saw some kfira over the high holiday which argues from the text that our father Abraham actually killed his son, our father Issac, on Mount Moriah at the end of the story we read from the Torah on the second day of Rosh Hashana.

It goes something like this.

:: The Akeida is an E story. When God calls to Abraham at the start, He is "Elokim"

:: The angels calling from heaven is a J insertion. It is said to be an "angel of J"


Explaining the presumed and speculative differences between E and J is beyond the scope of this little post. Try Wikipedia or ask on the thread.

--End Interpolation--

:: The fact that the angel calls twice from the heavens suggests the text has been modified. Why, reason the critics, wouldn't the angel have said everything he needed to say at once? In the parallel Ishmael story, the angel speaks one time only.

:: The second angelic message praises Abraham, saying 'thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son." It doesn't say, "you were willing." It says, "you did it." (This angel is also an "angel of J". The critics say the redactor who added the J verses, also changed the identity of the angel to aid the flow of the story)

:: As the E story continues, only Abraham returns to the donkey.

:: Isaac never again appears as a character in the E source.

:: Therefore, suggest some critics, we can speculate the the original E story belongs to a time when child sacrifice was allowed, and that these changes were introduced after the practice fell out of fashion .

I think this is mostly crap but still amusing. Though I agree it is odd that the angel speaks twice, and that Issac is never said to have returned to the donkey, everything hinges on not just the existence of different textual sources, but on the ability of the critics to successfully separate them. Just how does anyone know that this verse, or worse this part of a verse, belongs to one source, while that verse belongs to another? Perhaps Issac actually does appear again in the E source, only the critics have misidentified the evidence. Moreover, how do we even know that all of E is in our hands? Perhaps E included dozens of stories in which Issac enjoyed his old age, now lost.

I confess, in my weaker moments, to seeing the underlying logic of the multiple source theory. The stories of Noah and Korach, for instance, are much easier to understand if we presume two stories have been woven together. At other times, however, I'm astounded at the leaps critics seem willing to take. Often their results seem to depend on the convenient and arbitrary identification of a verse as belonging to one source or another; other times, the Redactor seems capriciously introduced for the sole purpose of making problems and contradictions disappear.

In this example, the whole thing falls apart if the E verses were misidentified, and the whole thing rests on the assumption that our shady and mysterious Redactor both inserted new verses, and changed one of the angel's names. I suppose it's possible, and these assumptions do help us understand why Abraham went back to the donkey by himself, but it's all too much to accept.

Follow me on Twitter

Monday, September 21, 2009

A question for the readers

Here's a question for the readers:
Why do we fast on Tzom Gedaliah to repent the killing of a moderate governor by a bunch of zealots, yet celebrate on Chanukah the victory of a bunch of zealots who, let's not be coy, engaged in nasty things like forced conversion/circumcision.

Sent in by Tzip

Why are we so liberal about our liturgical music?

Riddle me this: Why is the chazan allowed to use any music he likes? We permit our prayer leaders to take tunes from just about anywhere. If the chazan likes Carlbach, that's fine. If he likes D'vaykus, that's also ok. He's even allowed to use melodies that sound for all the world like they were originaly composed as peasant drinking songs. In fact, my father claims he once heard the same tune twice in one weekend: On shabbos in shul, and then on Sunday at the Russian circus. None of this is verboten, and no one questions the chazan's right to use whatever songs he likes best. The question is why? Or, more specifically, why is the music treated differently then the liturgical selections? Though we once gladly -even eagerly- accepted new material from Jewish poets, that era has ended.  Nowadays its impossible to change the davening script. Were a modern Kolynomous to report a dream in which a maimed Rabbi instructed him to introduce a new Yom Kippur prayer he'd be laughed out of town. Not one shul would obey the dream directive because, for better or worse, the words are set in stone. The music, however, is not, and if your congregation is like mine, it swayed happily this weekend to melodies that were composed by questionable characters, and men of low repute, yet no one objects.

Search for more information about Jewish music at

  Follow me on Twitter

Friday, September 18, 2009

Open Happy New Year thread

Lshana tovah taychoteivu v'taychotaymu l'chayim tovim 


Twitter Your Prayers

A Guest Post By E. Fink

After Slichos this morning, a member of my Shul pointed out this little gem to me.

(Artscroll Slichos 389)

It seems that the Paytan (composer of the Slicha) was either on Twitter sometime before 1234 CE or was prophesizing ~800 into the future.

In all seriousness, Prayer can be effective through any medium. Whether you pray in your heart, with your lips, in print or digitally, the main thing is to be sincere and use Prayer as a tool for developing a deeper relationship with God.

It is clear that from the Rosh Hashana liturgy that a primary task of Rosh Hashana is to anoint and accept God as our King. We use the Shofar and our Prayers to accomplish this goal.

There is a Mechilta in Yisro that says that gratitude for what God has done for us is the key to open the door for those feelings to penetrate and enable us to make God our King of our lives. Think about all the wonderful things that we have in life. Appreciate them and use those emotions to propel you to proclaim God as our King.

May we all merit to see the day that God's dominion is clear to all.

Gmar Chasima Tova to each and every one of you.

Search for more information about Proclaiming Hashem as our King at

Follow DovBear on Twitter

An anthology of past Rosh Hashana posts

Rosh Hashana: Make it a one day holiday
Let's make it a one day holiday. You know... like the Torah says.

Seasonal pet peeves
Among them: The Rosh Hashana Recess. The refreshment break before musaf on Rosh Hashana should be abolished.

Davening Dilemma
All I really want for the High Holidays is a superbly-talented chazzan, in a magnificent room, leading a congregation of hundreds in prayer and song. And I want to be done by 1:30 pm.

Very familiar (almost)
In Tannaic times the chazan at the Nasi's minyan changed the nusach. What happened isn't what you'd expect.

Why we blow shofar on Rosh Hashana in our time
Short answer: Rabbe Yochana ben Zackai was at least as talented as forcing his opinions on others as a modern shul president.

A homily on teshuva
R. Eleazar b. Dordia visits a hooker and learns an important lesson about repentance.

The Purple Matzo Ball.
Does the New York TImes really think that this obcenity is an appropriate dumpling for Rosh Hashana?

Slichos make me sleepy
The new custom is to say Slichos at 10:30 PM. Traditionalists, of course, despise this. Not.

What I look for in a chazaan
My list.

Pro Piyutim
I think it's amusing that the frum thing to do nowadays is to complain about the High Holiday piyutim. This is because Orthodox Jews no longer appreciate words.

More of the same.

Rosh Hashana in Pre War America

The Times, on Wednesday, published a delightful article about something modern Orthodox Jews imagine never existed: Observant pre-war American Jews.

The subject of the story is the Jews of Portsmouth, N.H., and a restoration village/museum there which includes a Jewish house, staffed by a Jewish woman who portrays Mrs. Shiva Shapiro as she is imagined to have lived in 1919.  (Nineteen hundred and NINETEEN)

Because the article appears in the Food section, it is primarily about Shiva's diet and cooking practices, but there are also some other interesting notes about Jewish life in that time and place, and it includes reflections from the children and grandchildren of the Jews who lived then, and there. Of particular interest is the suggested Rosh Hashana menu, which the curators of the museum say is "authentic" for the era:
  • Crispy Kale
  • Kasha-Stuffed Roast Chicken
  • Poppy Seed Cake
The New York Times: Rosh Hashana, Circa 1919

Follow me on Twitter

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Trail of 100 Tears (GUEST POST)

A guest post by a Twitter person I know only as @yeshivaguy

Hopefully, you'll be crying in just a few short hours. Crying and wailing like you've never cried before.
According to our sources, tears are more potent than actual tefillah (prayer). The Gemara(*1) says that although the gates of tefillah have been closed to us the gates of tears have not been.

Why? What about tears that make them so formidable as to have the ability to penetrate gates where even prayer must stand back? [DB: What does that even mean?]

My Feminism

A Guest Post By HSM:

Wikipedia describes Feminism as

“a political discourse aimed at equal rights and legal protection for women. It involves various movements, political and sociological theories, and philosophies, all concerned with issues of gender difference; that advocate equality for women; and that campaign for women’s rights and interests.”

I am a proud feminist. But I have learned that to say this makes some people think that I grow my armpit hair and hate men. That’s a big fat NO on both counts. I believe that women are capable of anything they put their minds too – in my mind being a feminist is about being pro-woman, not anti-man.

It doesn’t mean that I am out on the stump advocating for equal rights for women. I am not an activist by any stretch of the imagination. Maybe that makes me a quiet feminist, but I am one all the same. If throughout history men had been subjugated, I would be a staunch masculinist too. Seriously folks, we are all people, we all deserve the same rights and freedoms as each other. Why does the word feminist have such a negative connotation to some people??

Gloria Steinem once said “a woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle”. I don’t happen to follow her philosophy. I need a man, not to make me whole, but to add fullness to my life that would not otherwise be there. I was happy before I met the KoD – I didn’t need him to make me happy. My happiness comes from within me. If I cannot find happiness within myself, how can I expect someone else to provide it?? He enhances my happiness – but it is not dependent on him. He adds so much more meaning to my life, his partnership is something I will cherish forever. In my opinion to say we don’t need men is to deny our own humanity.

You can be a feminist and still wear a bra, you can be male and be a feminist even, you don’t have to wear birkenstocks – the definition evolves along with the world. Our foremothers fought for equal rights, voting rights etc – we don’t have to fight for that anymore. Indeed, we almost take it for granted that we can do all those things that were fought for years ago. Feminism today is about encouraging women to be all they can be, to not give up, that the world is our oyster. As far as I am concerned man-bashing has no part in today’s feminism.

I posed this question on Twitter and Facebook “in two sentences – what does being a feminist mean to you” and got back some awesome and interesting responses.

“My worth does not lie in my reproductive organs”

“I choose”

“Femme, female. Ism a belief. Feminism is a belief in women”

“In society women need to be treated equally and with respect. Judaism has to figure out how to do that without violating God’s laws. (Third sentence? Neither is easy.)”

“Men are. Still in charge.”

“Feminism means freedom to be whatever sort of women you wish with no expectations and no strings attached”

“Woman says wants to make kiddush fri night, hamotzei lechem, and feels need to carry sefer torah simchas torah. Plus the other usual nonsense.’

What does it mean to you to be a feminist in a Jewish world?

Search for more information about Feminism in Judaism at

Follow DovBear on Twitter

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Signs and omens of significance

First appearance of this post

It has been said that omens are of significance; therefore, one should make a regular habit of eating, at the beginning of the year, guord, fenugreek, leek, beet and dates [as these grow in profussion and are symbolic of prosperity --Horayot 12a

Some other suggestions:

Let it be Your will, O' Lord our God, the God of our ancestors...

...that we all live in harmony.

Crown Royal
...that we rise to every occasion.

...that our evil inclination be buried.

...that accusations against us be impeached.

...that we enjoy peace.

...that we figure out what you want from us

...that our enemies be squashed

Celeries and raisins
...that we all receive a raise in salary

Follow me on Twitter


So here are a few small things I don't understand about the current attempt to smear the president by proxy.

1. Why was this "major", "important" "story" about weird people with low-level Acorn jobs broken by children? Where were the real journalists?

2. Why, precisely, should I be concerned, that a large, national organization employs a handful of loons? Isn't that sort of inevitable?

3. And why does Fox keep insisting that the weirdo from San Bernadine killed her husband, when the police in San Bernadino say all of her previous husbands are both alive and well? Shouldn't a so-called news organization like Fox be able to discover and report those types of facts?

Stranger and stranger.

Follow me on Twitter

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Today's Sign The Apocalypse Is Upon Us

Stop coasting in the status quo. Move forward in today’s e-world with

A Guest Post by E. Fink:
I found this flyer attached to my windshield yesterday morning.
DovBear might be able to use their services to get back at all those DovBear detractors. Or perhaps you might be interested in their assistance.
I present you with "alibisnpaybacks":

Search for more information about super revenge businesses at

Follow DovBear on Twitter
Stop coasting in the status quo. Move forward in today’s e-world with

In which I call out kachniks

Did you all see the photo of the settler bathing her kid in an outdoor tub on the cover of yesterdays Times? And what about the inside photo of some psycho settler tossing a cup of wine at an Arab woman?

Here are the pictures [tub | wine] and here's the article's money quote
There are 300,000 settlers in the West Bank (another 200,000 Israeli Jews live in East Jerusalem) and they are not monolithic. A third are politically and socially indistinguishable from most of Israel and moved there for suburban-style housing and close-knit communities. Another third are ultra-Orthodox and do not consider themselves settlers or Zionists, wanting only to live together in an appropriate environment somewhere in Israel. The remaining 100,000 are ideologically (and, most of them, religiously) committed to staying. They have a fairly uniform view of the situation: most believe that there is no such thing as a Palestinian nation; that if the world wants a state for Palestinians, it should set it up next door in Jordan; that all of the West Bank, which they call by the biblical name Judea and Samaria, is a central part of the Jewish homeland; and that Arabs will do everything they can to destroy Israel in any borders, so staying in the West Bank is a matter not only of history but of security.
This is an important point, and one often obscured by anti-Obama Jews. When the president (like every president before him) says settlers are an impediment to peace, he's not speaking of the middle class professionals living and raising families in comfortable homes in quiet law-abiding neighborhoods, but of the long side-curled fanatics who burn Arab fields, block Arab roads, appropriate land, and join Jewish undergrounds that kill and maim Palestinians.  I don't create any moral equivalence between kachnik settlers and terrorists - they are of course categorically different - but I do insist that these hyper-aggressive kachniks, with their nonsense messianic ideas and contrary to mainstream halacha land fetishes are part of the problem, not part of the solution.
Follow me on Twitter

Monday, September 14, 2009

Which way does your chazan face when he says shma?

Serious question. When your local chazan says shma with the Torah in his arms does he face ark or audience*? I asked this the other night on Twitter, and I'm asking it again here today, because the behavior of our local Hasidim continues to bewilder me. When one of the local Hasidim serves as chazan, he almost says shma with his back to us.

Now this isn't as disrespectful as, perhaps, it sounds. In our shul, the amud is right next to the ark, so what the does is take the torah, and walk the half or quarter step back to the spot where he's stood for the entire service. Still, I find the whole thing bizarre, not least because the note in every Sefard siddur I've consulted invariably says the Chazan should face the audience and lift the Torah as he announces the shma.

What's going on? I suppose it's possible that this Hasidic practice I've observed stretches back to the Baal Shem Tov himself,  but my hunch is it developed more recently either out of convenience (as mentioned the amud is inches away) or as an overt rejection of the big shul practices which Hasidim almost universally regard as modern, and therefore foul and deserving of scorn. I can quite easily imagine a hasid reasoning, well, if they do it in that kind of shul it must be wrong. In fact, I've seen similar: At one of the Saturday afternoon house minyanim I've written about, we had a hasidic fellow who tried every week to convince our Torah reader to take off his talis. Why? Because the Ari said that talitot shouldn't ever be worn in the evening or afternoon; thus the older, and at least equally valid custom followed in non-Hasidic shuls is ipso facto an error to be stamped out.

* For some reason, my alliterative use of the word "audience" disturbed one of my Twitter hasidim. He insisted the only correct word to use here is "congregation", and after a brief argument about semantics, I believe he dropped me. He claimed he had the dictionary on his side but I think he merely found the word "audience" impious. Anyway, the dictionary supports me just fine.
Follow me on Twitter

Growth is the only evidence of life*

ARE WE STILL ALLOWED TO MAKE CHANGES TO THE NYC SKYLINE, or is it just about perfect the way it is, so hands off? This is one of the questions considered by the New York City Planning Baord last week when it was asked to approve a new skyscraper that would have been as tall as the Empire State Building.

Their decision: Take 200 feet off the top. Message: We like the skyline the way it is, thank you very much.

Lamented the New York Times:
...the greater sadness here has to do with New York and how the city sees itself. Both the Empire State and Chrysler buildings, built during the Great Depression, were celebrated in their time as emblems of the city’s fortitude. The Freedom Tower, our era’s most notable contribution to the skyline, is a symbol of posturing and political expediency. And now a real alternative to it, one of the most enchanting skyscraper designs of recent memory, may well be lost because some people worry that nothing in our current age can measure up to the past. It is a mentality that, once it takes hold, risks transforming a living city into an urban mausoleum.
Of course, when I saw the concluding line I thought not of skyscrapers but of Jews and Judaism, v'hamaskil yidom

*John Henry Newman, Apologia pro vita sua, 1864
Follow me on Twitter

Maaseh avot siman l'bonim

I'M INTRIGUED, I THINK BY THE DISAGREEMENT between the Rashi supercommentaries and the Spanish grammarians discussed below because I see echoes of it in my own life and the world around me, as follows:

Ibn Ezra and Radak came from a world, where it was okay to doubt, question and even reject midrashim. Evidence that this was allowed is provided by various quotes, from various Spaniards and Moroccans, who appear to have based themselves on earlier statements by the Babylonian Geonim. For a Medieval Spaniard or Moroccan there was nothing impious or heretical about disregarding midrashim, but by the time the Rashi super commentaries arrived on the scene, that had changed. They hows and the whys behind this shift are difficult to discover, and beyond the scope of this little post, but it seems (again from various quotes and comments) that doubting midrashim was not the done thing in the world of Mizrachi and Maharal.

Super Excellent Housekeeping News!

Regular readers have noticed that some comment threads disapeared when I switched to the current template (There are boring XML reasons for this; basically haloscan and blogger blamed each other.) 

Well, I'm pleased to announce that I've finally managed to fix the problem. Newbies can get a taste of why this matters here at what I recall as one of the very first of several LOL hysterical threads that have, with your help, developed on this blog.

Follow me on Twitter

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Holy Uniform

A Guest Post by Rafi G

Here is an unusual story I would like your thoughts on. It tags along with DovBear's recent post about people with the bags on their hats...

In brief, a haredi guy, Reuven, with 12 children, got a job with Egged as a bus driver. When he first started out he took the job and came to an agreement with the recruiting agent that he would be able to daven with a minyan 3 times daily, and that he would be able to continue dressing as he was used, like a yeshiva guy - white shirt, tzitzis hanging out, etc. 

For two years he drove, and was praised for his work, without switching to the Egged uniform, and his branch manager allowed him to not wear the Egged uniform of a blue shirt. He had an ishur, and he was allowed to continue in his ways.

Eventually, he was at a conference of drivers, and someone higher up noticed he was dressed differently than the others. He was then told that if he does not switch to the Egged uniform he will no longer be able to drive for Egged. He refused and was fired.

1. I always like how the haredi websites report and overblow all such stories, and they do in this case as well, that haredim are involved in as "a shocking incident" as if everything is anti-haredi racism (it might be, but I don't believe it always is, as they report it).

2. I don't know why he considered it such a big deal that he had to change his shirt, that he was even willing to give up his job for it. There is no mitzva to wear only a white shirt. Plenty of companies and offices have dress codes and/or uniforms that all employees must wear. Requirign employees to adhere to the dress code is not racism or anti-anything, just simply enforcing uniformity and company policy.

Schools also have uniforms and dress codes. If a kid entered his kids class and said he did not want to wear the school uniform but to continue dressing as he did before, do you think his school would allow that? Do you think he would like having such a kid in his childrens' school? of course not!

There is nothing wrong with a person changing his shirt for the office uniform, and then when he goes home, or before that in the Egged locker-room (if there is one), changing back into his kollel clothes.

To treat the white shirt as sacrosanct to the point of giving up a job when you need to support 12 kids is ridiculous.

The only thing in his favor is that he has their previous approval. The problem with that is that whoever approved it might not have been authorized to give such approval. So he got away with it for a while, but eventually he was noticed. Also, a company generally has the right to change uniforms, dress codes, and policy in the middle of employment. they offered him the option of wearing the uniform, and I assume they followed the law in firing him for a change in policy (it doesn't say otherwise so I assume it was all legal - they gave him proper reparations after he refused the terms).

What do you think about this? Should he have the right to dress how he likes and ignore the dress uniform? Is this simply anti-haredism?

Search for more information about misguided priorities at

Follow DovBear on Twitter

Friday, September 11, 2009

John Stewart: Sep 20, 2001

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
September 11, 2001
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealthcare Protests

Follow me on Twitter

Very hard to watch...

... but something the needs to be watched all the same.

9/11 The Falling Man

Perhaps you can square this circle?

A Jewish preacher I know is fond of reminding us that nothing we have is achieved  through our own efforts, rather its all a gift from God. We may think our nice salaries and big houses resulted from our hard work, he'll say, but really its not us, but God, who delivers to us blessings as he sees fit.

That's fine, I suppose, but in the same breath this same Jewish preacher will often advise us to join a shiur, give extra tzedaka, be nicer to our wives and similar. Why? If nothing is in our hands, and its all controlled by God, what do we gain from performing mitzvoth? And if mitzvoth are what's required in order to earn God's attention and blessing, well, its simply not true that nothing is achieved through our own efforts. Performing mitvoth takes effort and according to the preacher, this effort produces our paychecks and the rest. So whether my effort is pleasing my manager or pleasing God, its still my effort that's producing the outcome, and God, like my manager, isn't going to deliver unless I put in the effort first.  We may not have the power to achieve things without God but, per this preacher's formulation, He doesn't seem to have the power to give us things without us.

Search for more information about paradoxes at

Follow me on Twitter

A newish less than great 9/11 tradition

Wonkette: (Every year on this rotten day, we repeat this beloved 9/11 feature, sort of like how A Charlie Brown Christmas plays on the teevee every December.) On this solemn day seven years ago, nearly 3,000 people were horribly killed so that Rudy Giuliani could earn a hundred million dollars and run for president of 9/11 and the most corrupt administration in American History could wage endless war around the world and many working-class people could affix “United We Stand” bumper stickers to their SUVs, so they could drive around with pride while eating hamburgers off their laps and listening to talk radio wingnuts. [See the collection of horrible 9/11 art]

Back in a bit (maybe) with some more serious 9/11 reflections.

Stop coasting in the status quo. Move forward in today’s e-world with
Follow me on Twitter

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Who is the Aramean in Deut 26?

-This post is a little boring at first, but gets interesting. Sorry, but the dull backgrounder is necessary. I don't want to leave anyone behind.- 

Mikrah Bikurim, the only liturgy prescribed by the Torah, is described in Deuteronomy, chapter 26, where we are given a set of words to say upon the occasion of the delivery of our first fruits to Jerusalem.

Later, these same sentences were incorporated into the Passover seder, perhaps because they were understood to be a divinely composed synopsis of Jewish history intended for people, like us, who had not personally experienced the Exodus, but needed to be reminded of its lessons. [See the text of Mikra Bikurim in Hebrew]

Included in this liturgy is the following verse: אֲרַמִּי֙ אֹבֵ֣ד אָבִ֔י וַיֵּ֣רֶד מִצְרַ֔יְמָה וַיָּ֥גָר שָׁ֖ם בִּמְתֵ֣י מְעָ֑ט וַֽיְהִי־שָׁ֕ם לְגֹ֥וי גָּדֹ֖ול עָצ֥וּם וָרָֽב׃

As aptly stated on ParshaBlog, the meaning of this verse is less than perfectly clear. It mentions an אֲרַמִּי֙, an Aramean, but who is he?

According to Sifrei (cited by Rashi, and therefore the official Torah True reading nowadays) the Aramean is Lavan, brother of Rebecca, and biblical lout. To Sifrei, the first three words of the verse mean: An Aramean (Lavan) destroyed my father (Jacob). (Ah, you'll say but Lavan didn't succeed? See below.)

This reading is rejected by Radak and Ibn Ezra, two medieval Jewish interpreters who were also expert grammarians. They argue that per the actual words as they appear on the actual page, the Aramean has to be be Jacob. As they read it, the first three words are: "My father (Jacob) was a wandering (or ruined) Aramean."

[As you can see here the various English translators are deeply divided about this. Some read like the Sifrei, others like Radak and Ibn Ezra]

Rashi's best known wingmen, the Maharal and the Mizrachi, come to his rescue and declare the Radak and Ibn Ezra impossible to accept. In part, this is because they hold the Sifrei is straight from Sinai, unadulterated, and forever true.(1) Along with attacking Ibn Ezra for daring to second-guess Sifrei (2), they advance grammatical counterarguments Parshablog dismisses as "farfetched and implausible" and about which he says ""I think that Radak and Ibn Ezra would laugh at many of the suggestions raised by Mizrachi and Maharal."(!)(3)

- End Boring Background -

Today, on Twitter I provoked a little argument about this passage, asking (edited): If the Hebrew language and its grammar are from Sinai [meaning unchanged, authentic, and ancient] and Midrash is from Sinai [ditto] who wins when they conflict?

Responses came from Gil Student (thanks!) and some others (thanks!) but on the whole I found the answers unsatisfactory. Most relied on the familiar idea that Midrash is a different kind of commentary, one concerned with ideas, and not the plain meaning of the passage.

I'm not sure I agree with that understanding of the ancient interpreter's approach in general (4)  but in this case its certainly inapplicable.

Sifrie is telling us who the Aramean was, in the literal, plain, face value sense. He's not identifying the Aramean as Lavan for some philosophical reason; rather he believes that Lavan was the Aramean. Moreover, he sees the same grammatical anomaly the medieval grammarians saw. Sifrei knows that a straight reading of the passage fails; what he's doing is smoothing it out. His underlying assumption, however, seems to be that sometimes the Torah's language is confusing and its meaning is cryptic for the purpose of teaching some lesson. (In this case, the lesson is that for Laban (and indeed all non Jews) intending to commit an evil deed is the same as actually perpetrating it, should God intervene and rescue his people.)

Radak and Ibn Ezra operate from different assumptions. Though they may agree that lessons are hidden in the text of the Torah, they do not accept that the Torah's language is ever deliberately cryptic. They hold that the straight reading always has to be comprehensible on its own terms. This is why they permit grammar to overrule a Midrash (and also they're not married to the idea that Midrash is always right. See (1) below)

In short, I'm proposing something like this happened.

The Sifrei saw the verse and said: Ok, we know the Arami has to be Lavan because he's the only one who actually lived in Aram, and spoke Aramaic; also he's referred to everywhere in Rabbinic literature as the "Arami"; but this text is strange. Hmmm. Because it's my assumption that when the language is cryptic it must be for the purpose of teaching us something I propose [the lesson described above.]

Ibn Ezra and Radak on the other hand, responded to the verse like this: We can't say that the Arami is Lavan because the verse has to make sense. It can't be cryptic. It has to be clear. And if we read it clear, according to the rules of grammar, as we understand them, the Arami can't be Lavan.

What's undeniable is that its impossible for the Aramean to simultaniously be Lavan and Yaakov (5). Its either one or the other. Moreover, this matters. The verse is found in a passage that we are meant to say whenever we deliver first fruits to Jerusalem. Presumably, we're told to say those precise words, for some precise reason and, (presumably) that reason hinges (to some degree at least) on the meaning of the words. If we recite the liturgy thinking the Aramean is Jacob when really he is Lavan, well, something, on some level, is wrong.

[Update: See Luker's excellent comment, and the discussion that followed]

(1) As argued by Rabbi Chaim Eisen, the idea that midrashim (like the Sifrei) are from Sinai and canonical was not accepted by many Rishonim, and especially not by those from the same time and place as Radak and Ibn Ezra. Some quotes here
(2) This, as I hope the rest of the post will make clear, is an ahistorical line of attack. M & M are attacking IE/R for rejecting Midrashim, but IE/R came from a time and place in which rejecting Midrashim was expressly allowed.
(3) I'm in no position to discuss the grammar issues raised by M & M. Take it up with Josh.
(4) The ancient and medieval interpreters had different exegetical goals, and sometimes operated from different assumptions (as the post goes on to explain) yet I still think that in most cases, the ancient interpreters were explaining the text at face value, but based on assumptions that later interpreters did not share.
(5) Complicating matters, Rashbam says the Aramean is Abraham

Where's DovBear? Writing a post. (duh)

Coming soon (I hope): A new post on the identity of the Aramean mentioned in Deut 26:5 that will (I hope) do a halfway decent job of explaining the presumed motives of the various interpreters. In particular, I wish to argue that the Sifrei, on this verse, is providing a pshat reading, ie, telling us who the Aramean is.

This matters because the verse is found in a passage that we are meant to say whenever we deliver first fruits to Jerusalem. Presumably, we're told to say those precise words, for some precise reason and, (also presumably) that reason hinges (to some degree at least) on the meaning of the words. If we recite the liturgy thinking the Aramean is Charlie when really he is George, well, something, on some level, is wrong.

A preview of the post can be found on Twitter.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Where did Moshe go?

וַיֵּ֖לֶךְ מֹשֶׁ֑ה וַיְדַבֵּ֛ר אֶת־הַדְּבָרִ֥ים הָאֵ֖לֶּה אֶל־כָּל־יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃
And Moshe went and told these things to all of Israel

Went where? The interpreters are divided:
  • Targum Pseudo-Jonathan: He went to the study hall
  • Ibn Ezra: We went to each tribal area, and perhaps announced the blessings that appear later on.
  • Ramban: He went to each tent to respectfully take leave of the people
  • Baal Haturim: He went to Abraham, Issac and Jacob who are mentioned in the preceding verse, and let them know the promise they received regarding the gifting of Canaan to their descendants was on the verge of being fulfilled.
  • Kli Yakar: He walked the length of the camp to demonstrate that he retained the phsycial ability to lead, only God had revoked from him the authority. (and more)
The opinions of Ibn Ezra and Ramban have a thematic appeal in that they have Moshe concluding his career in the same way it began: With modesty. When he received his original charge from God, Moshe demurred declaring himself unworthy of the assignment(1). According to the interpretations provided by Ibn Ezra and Ramban, Moshe on the last day of his career demonstrates the same humility that charecterized his first day. The man who initially though himself unworthy of appearing before Pharoh, now thinks himself unworthy of summoning Israel to his tent. Instead, he goes to them.

Another thematically sound interpretation is provided is found in the Targum Shivim (LXX) where the words וַיֵּ֖לֶךְ מֹשֶׁ֑ה are translated as "And Moshe concluded." This marks the last paragraphs of Deuteronomy as an epilogue. The long valedictory of the previous chapters having ended, Moshe now turns his attention to concluding tasks: The charge to Joshua, the final blessings, and so on.

The Dead Sea Scrolls give a wrinkle to the LXX's interpretation. In the Sefer Devarim found at Qumran, the text reads not vayelech, but vayechal (the last two consonants are reversed) This version - which may, in fact, have been the version used by the LXX translators - connects Moshe's career with the first Creation story, and the purpose of the world (2). When the Lord finished his work the verse says וַיְכֻלּ֛וּ. Now, with his own work done, something similar is said about Moshe.

(1) In the Bible, almost all prophets make similar demurrals when God first appoints them. Make what you wish of this common motif.
(2) I expect DH aficionados will point out that Deuteronomy and the first Creation story are thought to be the work of two different hands, respectively D and P. It it true that this is the theory, but even so one mustn't rule out the possibility that the editor(s) made literary embellishments.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Prove you can follow simple directions and win a Rosh Hashana gift basket from Oh! Nuts.

There's a fabulous Rosh Hashana gift basket from Oh! Nuts waiting for a reader who can successfully complete the following tasks:

(1) Go to the Oh! Nuts Rosh Hashanah Gifts page [here];

(2) Select your favorite Rosh Hashanah Gift; and

(3) Comment on this blog post with the name of the gift.

On Thursday, Sept 10, I will use complicated mathematical algorithms and advanced scientific formulas developed by experienced Nobel Prize winners to randomly pick a winner after which Oh! Nuts will send the winner his or her gift.

If this sounds too difficult, or if you'd like to maximaixe your chances of winning, you can also enter by doing one of the following:

(1) Go to the Oh! Nuts facebook page and put your  Rosh Hashanah Gift selection on their wall (be sure to also say something like, "I'm here via DovBear"; or

(2)  Follow @ohnuts on Twitter and make the following Tweet " Win a free Rosh Hashanah Gift from Follow @ohnuts & Retweet to enter." (Mention @dovbear, too, if you like.)

Enter all three ways. Increase your chances.

Follow me on Twitter

Making a kiddush hashem by eating bugs

A Guest Post by Rafi G
A contestant on the Israeli version of the TV show "Survivor" was challenged with eating bugs. This posed for him a dilemma, considering he eats only kosher and is religious at some level.

He chose to eat the bugs, as the alternative was to be the cause of his whole team losing and being eliminated.

The sad part of it is that he knew in advance, and chose not to request to be exempt from this challenge, and simply hoped he would not be the one called upon to execute it. It never works like that, and your worst fears generally come to be. If he participated, and he would be the one with the biggest problem doing this challenge, he should have known he would definitely be the one picked.

He could have exempted himself, but someone else already had claiming stomach pains. he felt bad letting the team down, so he let her go out with the stomach pain. The team should have respected his desire to keep kosher, and made her participate (unless her excuse is really that she also keeps kosher but made up another excuse so they would not know) and let him off.

But they didn't. She got off, he got chosen.

He ate the bugs. His rationale is that in the process of eating the bugs, he made a tremendous kiddush hashem. he showed his teammates that he "took one for the team" and was concerned about other people's success and welfare.

Basically the claim is a crock. It is definitely not a kiddush hashem that he took one for the team by doing a sin.

He should just say he could not withstand the pressure of everyone relying on him and succumbed, and regrets it. he knows he did something wrong. he was ashamed when his kid asked him why he did it.

Making up excuses doesn't help. We each have our own tests. Sometimes we pass, sometimes we fail. Hopefully we all pass more often than fail....but each person with his or her own tests and successes..We should learn from our failures, and not just make excuses...

Search for more information about why people would eat bugs at

Follow DovBear on Twitter

Monday, September 07, 2009

Essay: The Oral Law in Judaism

A Guest Post By E. Fink

What follows is my understanding of The Oral Law and its transmission to us. This article does not attempt to validate or prove its transmission as fact, rather it explains just what is being transmitted when we refer to Torah SheBaal Peh (TSBP).

I am sure there are plenty of maamarei Chazal that are not 100% congruent with this approach. I am also sure that there are many maamarei Chazal that do jive with this approach. I have spent many hours studying and analyzing the concept of TSBP and what follows is what I believe to be a rational, coherent, non-apologetic approach.

This article is really a written form of one part of a series of classes I have taught for about 5 years now. The series is constantly evolving to include more ideas and has now become a 4 hour series. There is a seven page outline of the full series but this is my first attempt at an essay on the topic. As much of this has been developed organically over time, there are few sources that can be cited. I am happy to add them if you can help me relocate those sources in the comments or via email. Also, you can listen to the audio on my blog by clicking here.

All that being said, you may find this approach to be complete bunk. I don't care. I don't have fancy mathematical proofs or really cool codes to convince you. What I have is an accumulation of knowledge, tradition, text, logic and reason that justifies my belief in this system. A fair analogy is when you see a street sign that says your destination is to the right, and then a second sign and a third and a fourth that all point to the right. Then you have on sign that says your destination is to the left. It might be to the left. But I am going right. My observation and limited learning point in this direction as a whole. Are there signs that point in other directions? Absolutely.

The Torah preceded the world. Chazal tell us that God looked into the Torah and created the world. That means that the Torah contains within it the spiritual genetic code of the world and the world is a physical manifestation of that code. Another metaphor would be a blueprint. All the information necessary to build is in the blueprint, yet it is merely ink and paper. What can this mean? God looked at the stories of Adam and Eve and created the world? Or God looked at the sale of Joseph and created the word? Impossible. The metaphor does not even make sense. I believe Chazal are telling us that Torah is not the stories or even laws in the Chumash. "Torah" refers to the all encompassing Oral Law (irk this idea is attributed to Rambam). In other words, the Oral Law refers to the natural and supernatural rules of the universe that manifested themselves in a physical sense once God put them into motion during "Creation".

What this means is that the Torah and our universe are really two sides of one coin. The spiritual code on one side and the physical manifestation on the other side. Thus, someone could potentially rewrite the spiritual code by examining the physical manifestation side. Just as with a blueprint, a talented architect could possibly rewrite a blueprint by examining a building a talented spiritualist would be capable of figuring out the spiritual code the world is made of.

This spiritual code contains within it the natural rules of our universe and some of those rules are recommended limitations on human activity designed to help a person maximize their existence in the world. In this light, the Torah is a guide that gives the physical world its characteristics and contains the instructions for living in that world.

A few individuals were in tune with this reality and implemented some of the Torah's concepts into their lives. Shem, Ever, Noach and Enosh were a few of the first people who were able to glean spiritual rules from their observations of the world.

Abraham was the first to grasp enough of the code for God to choose him to begin a nation of people to whom God would eventually charge with keeping and teaching this code. Slowly, Abraham taught these concepts to whomever would listen. The Abrahamic family was also aware of these Torah rules and whether they kept them or not is not relevant. They knew them and may have practiced them.

Upon Abraham's family being enslaved in Egypt, the concepts and their rules became more and more forgotten. The exodus occurred just before the point of no return. The point that Chazal call the 49th level of impurity. The slaves were just as Egyptian as their slave-masters save for 3 (or 4) areas. Such, a large nation of people would need a guide book to remind them of their Abrahamic, monotheistic, Torah tradition. The Bnei Yisrael left Egypt for the sole purpose of receiving these instructions in the form of the Torah.

At Sinai, God gave Moses the entire code. This code included the spiritual rules, the laws, the stories (which all contain important moral and quasi-historical lessons) as well as all the information necessary to live according to those laws. God then gave Moses a written version of notes to this code. These notes were the bare minimum necessary to reconstruct the entire code as God gave it to Moses.

At this point, Moses has all the information in his head and gives the people this written book of notes that we call the Written Law or Torah SheBiksav (TSBK). As time progresses Moses added (probably divinely inspired) notes to the end of the TSBK to complete the books. The Jewish people try to live a lifestyle as Moses taught them according to the code and had the notes in TSBK to help them remember their obligations. As we are taught at the start of Ethics of our Fathers, Moses "kibbel" (received) the "Torah" (including the TSBP) (and again this does not mean the Chumash, why would there need to be a mesora for that if it was written) and gave it all to Joshua, who gave it to the elders etc. There was a central Torah authority who could resolve disputes. Originally, it was a one man show starring Moses. But at the behest of Jethro some delegation gave Torah authority to others. There was no machlokes (disagreement) among the Torah authority as Moses could always be consulted to give them the truth.

The system was designed to ensure that there would be a transmission from parent to child and teacher to student. This guaranteed the Torah would remain a "living" Torah and not relegated to a library. Codifying the bare minimum in text form forced the Jewish people to rely on a system of relationships and living the life of Torah to remember all its laws. This is an integral part of the Oral Transmission that has stood the test of time, as we shall see.

This system remained in place throughout the 1st Temple. A central Torah authority was the final arbiter of disputes and there was no machlokes as to what Moses claimed God wanted the Jewish people to do in their service of God.

Many called this entire concept into question. Korach, Yeravam and others wished to undermine the Mosaic Torah authority. But it always existed.

During the Second Temple, due to oppression it was literally impossible to maintain a central Torah authority. Torah study was banned, Torah scholars were killed and Yeshivas were disbanded. Students began taking notes to ensure TSBP would be remembered.

In a revolutionary move, Rabbi Yehuda HaNassi collected many of these notebooks and canonized a version of TSBP notes called the Mishna. He too, followed the Mosaic formula of writing just the bare minimum necessary for a scholar to recreate the code from the Mishna. He wrote the Mishnayos in a format that would induce questions and those questions would in turn produce the TSBP tradition. He was successful to an extent. But due to the increased hostility and lack of central Torah authority disputes were common. R' Yehuda HaNassi completely succeeded in the broader goal of maintaining the need for the parent to child, teacher to student relationship to transmit TSBP.

Mishnaic literature was discussed, argued and taught for a couple hundred years. Students continued taking notes and eventually these notes became the Talmud. Ravina and Rav Ashi collected these notes and recorded these conversations to canonize the understanding of the Mishna in order to recreate the entire code. ALthough to a lesser degree, they also made an effort to be concise and include only the discussion necessary for recreating the method of Jewish life briefly described in the Mishna that was based on the written notes of the Chumash that God gave to Moses. Their brevity, once again maintained the familiar generation to generation connection that TSBP demands.

Since the closing of the Talmud it has been discussed and argued vociferously. This is a good thing. It gives its scholars the chance they need to arrive at the truth. TSBP is not their discussions, it is what they are discussing. TSBP was given to the Jewish people at Sinai but in truth it exists all around us. It is the rules of nature and spirituality that govern our world. Distant cultures and tribes can come to similar conclusions as the Torah because they are examining the world that is the physical manifestation of that Torah. People who never heard of Torah can relate to many of its laws as they seem natural to them. In fact they are natural to the world.

In conclusion, when we say that Moses received Torah SheBaal Peh, what we mean is that Moses had all the information necessary to live and appreciate the Torah lifestyle. The Written Torah were the original notes to this information as time progresses, we now have Mishanic and Talmudic notes as well. Thus, our study of Talmud today continues the Oral Transmission of TSBP as we attempt to decode the original version of the Oral Law handed from God to Moses on Sinai. Today, our greatest resource to that end is the study of Talmud.

Search for more information about Torah SheBaal Peh at

Follow DovBear on Twitter