Friday, October 30, 2009

Who's our Daddy?

The Wall Street Journal briefly reviews a new book which explores the claim that Eastern European Jewry decended from the Khazers, and not the ancient Israelites
In a new book, "The Invention of the Jewish People," the Tel Aviv University professor of history argues that large numbers of Khazar Jews migrated westward into Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania, where they played a decisive role in the establishment of Eastern European Jewry. The implications are far-reaching: If the bulk of Eastern European Jews are the descendents of Khazars—not the ancient Israelites—then most Jews have no ancestral links to Palestine. Put differently: If most Jews are not Semites, then what justification is there for a Jewish state in the Middle East?
When I was in college I learned all the reasons why this claim is false, ie, why the Khazers are not our ancestors, or at least not to a significant degree, but I seem to have forgotten every single one of them. No matter. I'm currently cynical enough to believe that my professor was anyway misleading us.

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A DovBear Call to Arms

The grapevine tells me that one of the high ranking Hasidic Rabbis who sponsors and facilitates violent attacks against women and policemen will be appearing this Shabbos at Congregation Sharay Tefilah in Lawrence, NY. 

Followers of Rabbi Shmuel Yaakov Kohn, the Toldos Avrohom Yitzchok Rebbe or of his brother, Rabbi Dovid Kohn, the Toldos Aharon Rebbe, are the perpetrators of bus beatings in Bet Shemesh and Jerusalem, street riots, and the violent protests last summer in Jerusalem. Though Rabbi Shmuel Yaakov Kohn and Rabbi Dovid Kohn, as supreme ruler of their chasidim, have the power to shut down the violence in an instant, both have steadfastly refused to do so. Instead they teach hate, and look the other way when their Hasidim act on their lessons. Moreover, both are leaders of the strongly anti-Zionist Edah HaChareidis.

It's probably too late to organize a mob outside with pitchforks and placards, but if you find it outrageous that Lawrence is playing host to man who disparages and disdains their values, and helping him raise funds, I encourage you to call the shul, and to politely ask why they are giving aid and assistance to this man, and supporting the chillul hashem that occurs, and continues to occur under his watch.

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

לך לך and the sensitivity of syntax

Yet another guest post from someone who wants his name concealed:

How about this one for a Shabbos Table pleaser?

At the beginning of this week's sedra, 'ה tells אברם, as he is called at this point, that ואברכה מברכיך ומקללך אאור - I will bless those who bless you and those who curse you, I will curse.
Why does 'ה change around the order of the verbs - following ואברכה מברכיך, it should say ואאור מקללך, thereby keeping the syntax the same?

There are 2 stunning answers that I saw a Rav - whose name escapes me at present - bring:

Firstly, the Vilna Gaon says as follows: we know that a ברכה given by an עשיר is going to be more generous than that of an עני, as he has the experience and comfort with which to issue such a ברכה. Conversely, an עני, who generally is perceived to suffer more, will likely give heavier curses than a wealthy man. Therefore, says the Gaon, it says ואברכה first with regards to ''מברכיך'', so that anyone who is blessing you should already be an עשיר at the point in time that he blesses you, so that the ברכה is maximised. However, when it comes to ''מקללך'', it only says that 'ה will curse him afterwards, so that at the time he curses אברם, he will still be an עשיר and the curse will be minimal!

That's beautiful answer number one...

Now for beautiful answer number two - from the כלי יקר: we have a concept of מחשבה כמעשה, that 'ה treats our thoughts as if they were acted upon. however, חז''ל point out that this is only with regards to our intended מצוות. with regards to our עבירות, Hashem doesn't treat our negative thoughts as having been acted upon.
Therefore, ואברכה - 'I will bless', occurs even before a man is an actual מברך, even at the point that he thinks it. מה שאין כן with regard to the מקלל who will only receive the reciprocal curse from 'ה if he vocalises it. Therefore, אאור only comes after he is established as such!

Now that is stunning!

מתוק מדבש!

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The Live Interview with DovBear

Breaking: Shots fired in LA Synagogue

Shots fired in LA Synagogue

What does this mean? See the predictions made here.

Glass Houses Alert

Sauce for the goose is supposedly okay for the gander, so I'd like to know why frum Jews get so bent out of shape when secular Jews make up stories or use one-off anecdotes for the purpose or slandering all of Orthodoxy.

I'm part of the Orthodox community, (and I read Cross Currents, where the jihad against left-leaning Jews shows no sign of abating) so I know the lies and slanders go both ways, but the point was really driven home this morning in a comment written by Adam:
 A secular Jew sat on the train across from a man with a black hat and a long beard.

The secular Jew stared at him for several minutes. Finally, he exclaimed, "How can you live your life in the past?! You're a disgrace and an embarassment to all Jews! Times change and you're oblivious to the real world!"

The man, nonplussed, calmly replied, "Excuse me, sir. I'm Amish."

The secular Jew turned five shades of bright red and said "Oh, I'm so sorry! I have great respect for the Amish! You so carefully hold on to your traditions, and you stick to your principles so faithfully! The rest of us could learn a lot from you!"

The black hatter responded "Reb Yid - of course I'm a Jew! Why do you have more respect for Amish values than you do for Jewish values?"

It's sad but true. Today's secular Jewish families would rather their kids become Buddhist monks or Amish farmers than observant Jews.
See what he did? On the basis of a story that (a) never happened and (b) was obviously embellished for rehtorical effect ["5 bright shades of red." "The rest of us could learn a lot from you".] (c) and in any event, involves one single person, Adam has reached a firm conclusion about "all" secular Jews.

Not nice.

For his next trick, perhaps Adam will prove Santa Clause exists via a carefully crafted anecdote he made up

Update: As Hakofer Hagodol points out: That story doesn't even prove your point. The secular Jew isn't apologetic to the Amishman because he thinks that the Amish religion is the best thing since sliced bread, he's apologetic because he was being rude to a stranger. On the other hand, when he thought the guy was a fellow Jew who was ensnared and deluded by the Orthodox heresy, then the secular guy was merely following Torah law to rebuke a fellow to for his own good.



Did you say tachanun today?
In your reply, please specify your flavor of Judaism.

Attention wiesenheimers: Please don't answer unless you were at a shachris minyan this morning.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

More than you ever wanted to know about Abraham's trials

What might be one of the earliest recorded midrashim (by which I mean an interpretation of biblical text) appears in the book of Nehemiah. The Levites (or perhaps Ezra) are addressing the people, with something that seems to be both blessing and history lesson, when they say:

          You are the LORD God, who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and named him Abraham. You found his heart faithful to you...

As the ancient interpreters read it, this sentence suggests Abraham was tested. How else, they reasoned, would God have discovered that his heart was faithful? This idea of a tested Abraham appears (according to James Kugel) in apocrypha including Ben Sira, Maccabees and Jubilees, before it was recorded for posterity in Bereishis Rabba (The other books are older, lost, and exist today only in translation.)

Now the puzzle: Does the verse in Nehemia refer to the tradition of Avraham's trials, or was that tradition later devised based on this verse? What I mean is: Did the speakers in Nehemiah 9 know about this tradition of trials, and have it in mind when they spoke the words, or did they intend something else entirely that was, nonetheless, understood by later interpreters to be a reference to Abraham's ordeals? Did they create the tradition, or did they know it?

I favor the idea that the tradition of Abraham's trials is older then Nehemiah, but I don't know how to go about proving it.

Additional fun fact to know and tell:  There's an old tradition that Abraham was tossed into a furnace by a king who objected to Abraham's monotheistic beliefs. The story of the furnace seems to have been devised as  a solution to an ambiguity in Issiah 29:22 where it says God redeemed Abraham using the word pada which can also mean "rescued." But from what was Abraham rescued? Answer: the furnace in Ur Casdim. [Update: Josh Waxman points out that the heh of the definite article in Gen 19:28 (haKivshan) is additional evidence of a significant furnace in Abraham's past.] Moreover, our verse in Nehmiah seems to support all of this. "Ur" is not just the name of Abraham's city. It is also a word for flame, or fire, thus Nehemiah 9:7 becomes:  You are the LORD God, who chose Abram and brought him out of the fire of the Chaldeans. 

This, I expect you will be tickled to learn, is exactly how the Vulgate translates Nehemiah 9:7 into Latin, suggesting Jerome took the story of Abraham escaping the furnace as pshat in the verse!

Still another fun fact to know and tell: We all take it for granted that Abraham was the very first monotheist, but this is nowhere directly represented in the text. Like the idea that Noah preached repentance for 120 years, Abraham's monotheism is an interpretation -- not necessarily an incorrect interpretation, but an interpretation, nonetheless.

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Do you do this?

Do you do this: Entrusting your children to someone just because they look "frum"
A guest post received by email

I was shopping the other day when I was approached by a religious woman who asked me if I could watch her kids for a minute while she ran to get her car, so that she could pull up in front of the store. While I certainly did not mind doing her a favor, I couldn't fathom how she could trust me, a total stranger, with her children just because she decided I looked religious enough.

Friends have told me similar stories as well. One was in an amusement park when a woman asked her to watch her baby, who was in a Bugaboo stroller, while she took her other kids on a ride. The friend asked if she cares more about the Bugaboo or the child. (Ok, I don't know if she really asked it, but she was definitely thinking it.)

Apparently looking religious is all it takes for some people to hand over their children to perfect strangers. I'm not writing this because I think these individuals actually love their children any less, but to make people aware of the dangers of doing this. It's nice to love every Jew, but let's not be so loving at our children's expense.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

More than you ever wanted to know about the mysterious Malkizedek

In the middle of Psalm 110, a short prayer poem, the speaker says: אתה כהן לעולם על דברתי מלכי צדק

Most (non Jewish) readers say this means (something like) "You are a priest forever by my order, Oh Malkizedek." (Malkzedek is a King of Salem, described also as a priest, who gets a very brief mention in Genesis.)

This reading was favored by the Church fathers (their Chazal, l'havdil to the nth) because of its polemic value, as the verse, when its read this way, seems to serve some Christian purposes:

1. Abrogation of biblical law. The psalm seems to say Malkizedek was a valid and eternal priest, yet he did not come from Aaron's family, and had not been circumcised. Early Christians took this as a biblical proof that neither are really necessary?*

2. Catholicism foreshadowed. Much of early Christian biblical commentary was devoted to the discovery of typologies, which is something like the Ramban's "maaseh avot siman l'bonim."  This story is used in this way twice: First, Malkitzedek, who was appointed a priest by divine decree was taken as a foreshadowing of Jesus; some even say the "you" in the verse is Jesus himself. Second, interpreters noted that Malkizedek's gift to Abraham was bread and wine, rather then the expected bread and water. This, in turn, was taken as a foreshadowing of the Eucharist.

*According to James Kugel, the earliest appearance of the "Malkizedek was not circumcised, therefore we don't need to be circumcised either" argument is in Justin Martyr's Dialogue with Trypho. Justin lived in the second century. At around the same time a book appeared, the Seder Olam -also a second century work, which said Malkizedek was Shem, the son of Noah. Another tradition says that Shem (and therefore Malkizedek) was circumcised. This appears in Genesis Rabba and Avot de Rabbi Nathan. The date of Genesis Rabba is uncertain, but Avot de Rabbi Nathan is a geonic work, dating to the 700s. This dating leads me to wonder if perhaps our idea that Shem was circumcised (and perhaps even the earlier idea that Malkizedek was Shem) began as a response to Christian claims. [Note: I'd be thrilled to death to receive your corrections on the dating.]

Back to the verse in Pslam 110.

Nachaum Sarna (a Jewish reader) takes our verse this way, "You are a priest forever after the order of Malkizedek." He explains that this mention of an "order of Malkizedek" suggests that a longer story about the king, and perhaps his priestly order, was once known in Israel and that the psalmist is referencing a book, or set of teachings, now lost.

Rashi (also a Jewish reader) takes it yet another way, reading the verse: "You are a priest forever because of the speech of Malchizedek."

This is quite clever, for reasons I'll explain presently, but first lets look at the whole of Rashi's comment:
From you will emerge the priesthood and the kingship that your children will inherit from Shem your progenitor, the priesthood and the kingship, which were given to him. דִבְרָתִי מלכי-צדק. The “yud” is superfluous, like (Lam. 1: 1): “the city that was once so populous (רבתי).” Because of the speech of Malchizedek, because of the command of Malchizedek. You are a priest, Heb. כהן. The word כהן bears the connotation of priesthood and rulership, as (II Sam. 8:18): “and David’s sons were chief officers.
 As you can see, Rashi has found a way to drop the yud, and turn the word divrati into divrat; having done this he now has an answer to a pressing biblical riddle, namely: Why did Makizedek lose the priesthood? Answer: He was unsuitable, for when he met Abraham with bread and wine, he delivered a defective blessing putting Abraham ahead of God (see also Nedarim 32b where the emendation of דִבְרָתִי is different.)  This "speech" disqualified him from the priesthood. According to Rashi, this Psalm is addressed to Makizedek's replacement, and because it does not speak of Malkizedek as an eternal valid priest, the Christian typology is undermined.

Robert Alter (also a Jewish reader) (I think) (update: He is: duh) goes yet another way, writing that the reference to Malchizedek is a pun (the word means "righteous king") He takes the verse as "You are a priest forever, by my solemn word, my righteous king." He believes the Pslam addresses a King, and sees no reference here to Christianity or lost literature and, unlike Rashi, no reason to depart from the plain meaning of the words.

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DovBear Interviewed Live!

A Guest Post By E. Fink

Mark your calendars: Thursday October 29, 2009 3:30 PM Eastern Time - Live DovBear Interview.

All (or many) of your burning questions about DovBear will be asked and some may even be answered this Thursday at 3:30 PM EST on this blog.

If you cannot be there live and don't want to leave a comment - email me your questions.

You will be able to submit (moderated) comments in "real time" during the interview and you may also submit questions or follow ups to DovBear's responses.

It will not be a "HaloScan" style thread. It will look like this.

I already got a few great questions from your submissions in the comments to this post and I got a couple emails.

I think it is going to be great.

Join us as we break new ground in J-Blogging history with a live interactive interview this Thursday.

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Last word (yeah right) on the local flood

Was Noah's flood local or global? Did it cover the whole world, or merely the world known to Noah? Last week, I discussed the problems with the universal flood, and now Rabbi Josh "the only blogger I call Rabbi" Waxman has has provided a mild rebuttal to any suggestion the flood was local.

Of course, he's right that the text seems to be speaking clearly of a universal flood. However in many other instances we're not shy about ignoring the plain meaning of verses. "An eye for an eye" is a famous example of Chazal telling us that a verse does not mean what it appears to mean, and though no one from Chazal offered a re-interpretation of Noach, no one from Chazal was aware of the difficulties with the universal flood, or the evidence against it. However, there are instances of their successors, the rishonim and achronim,  providing new interpretations to psukim after new scientific evidence came to light. For example, after science brought counterarguments, psukim that had previously been used to support the flat earth and the geocentric universe were given new explanations.

Based on what we know today about geology and genetics, I think we have no choice but to follow their example and reinterpret Noach, as well.

Here's some terribly weak textual evidence in support of the local flood. As noted by many, the story of the destruction of Sodom parrallels the Noah story in some interesting ways:

- The word himtir appears in both places; both destructions are via precipitation

- In each case, moral perversion is the reason given for the destruction
- In each case, one family is marked for survival
- In each case, the hero becomes drunk immediately afterwards, and is involved in an illicit act.

At the end of the Sodom story, the daughters of Lot are certain they are the only people left in the world, though what they suffered was very much a local catastrophe. Could they same be true of Noah's flood? (I know, I know: terribly weak)

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Men's laps and little girls

A guest post by TikunOlam

A few of us at shul have a rather serious situation to handle. This past shabbos, a thirteen year-old girl was seen sitting on a grown man's lap. This is a married man and father as well as a close friend of the girl's parents. When she got up to go, he kissed her, and barely missed her lips. It is likely that this man has behaved this way in the past, right in front of the girl's parents and the parents have said nothing.

There is some history to this. This man and his family used to live in our community. This shabbos he was visiting for a bat mitzvah. A few years ago, when he was part of our tight knit social crowd, a few of us took notice that he was affectionate with the little girls, he put his arm around one, he tickled another, he had another on his lap. It concerned some, others just thought he liked kids. Having grown up OJ, I often don't know what types of touches are considered "normal" in the non-OJ world, and this friend grew up completely non-religious. And I am easily concerned. Happens after years of treating abused children.

Some told their daughters to stay away from him. I would have, if I had girls. But no one had any concrete reason to believe that he was doing anything other than behaving a bit outside the norm. And then he moved away. And we all forgot about it. Since moving he continues to regularly get together with some of the "guys" of our crowd, but because none of us ever see him around children anymore, we had all just moved on.
And then this shabbos. Those of us who saw or heard are all concerned now. Everyone agrees it needs to be handled. There are some ideas being batted around as to how to handle it. But the more ideas to consider, the better.

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Top 4 clues OJs don't believe in the power of prayer

If I was a visitor to shul from an alien planet, you'd never be able to convince me that Orthodox Jews think prayer works.

Here's why:

1. 90 percent of the congregation comes late If you had an important meeting with someone far more important than you would you dream of shuffling in long after the start time? Of course not. The fact that the majority of nearly every Orthodox Jewish congregation arrives late to shul tells us something important about how the services are really viewed - at least by the latecomers.

2. There's widespread talking in shul In court, everyone is silent when the judge is being addressed, and I imagine that if a delegation of Jews were dispatched to petition the governor, or president, or even a local village mayor, for something important, no one from the group would carry on background conversations while the group leader made his case. In shul, however, there is plenty of talking right when the shat'z is supposedly addressing God. This tells me the talkers, at least, don't really believe that prayer works. If they did, they would shut up.

3. Along with the talking, some people always do other things during davening This shabos I observed men who supposedly believe that prayer works performing the following tasks and activities smack in the middle of the service: (1) studying (2) putting away books, and other types of straightening up (3) setting up for kiddush (4) passing around articles. (5) running out to fetch their hats or folding their talitot. This open disregard for the prayers and blatant violations of decorum are likewise strong suggestions that the service are not taken seriously, which in turn suggests that the offenders don't actually believe that the prayers work. If they did, they wouldn't be so easily distracted. If you had the ear of someone powerful would you duck out to fetch herring and cake? Would you pull out a biology text book? The fact that there are OJs who do this sort of thing is another reason why a visitor to shul from a foreign planet would quite logically conclude that OJs don't think prayer works.

4. The gesticulations and chanting. When you're requesting a raise do you sway back and forth? If you're asking a girl to marry you do you chant the question or say it sing-song? If you want your neighbor to lend you a power tool do you clench your hand into a fist and wave it around emphatically as you ask for the favor? Do you squeeze your eyes and do weird William Shatner things with your voice as you say "Tom, can I borrow your saw?" The fact that we do all these things - and more - when we're supposedly asking God for favors is another strong suggestion that OJs don't really think prayer works. We chant and sway and wave around our hands because this makes the experience more emotionally rewarding, that is, more pleasant, for us. If we honestly think God is listening, and that the prayers are genuine requests that might win God's favor why don't we articulate them in the way we articulate every other request?

All of these observations have been made by Rabbis and lay leaders who are dismayed with the way OJs pray but for the most part they have avoided the logical conclusion. Our shabby treatment of prayer isn't merely a sign that we don't take prayer seriously; taken as a whole these are strong suggestions that we don't believe prayer works at all.

In case you missed it

My (lame but) official 5 year anniversary post is right here.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Haredi Gossip Columns

A Guest Post by Rafi G

I am not sure why, but articles like this on YWN seem to remind me of the Gossip Columns in the secular newspapers, where the reporter lets us know of every yawn any specific celebrity makes......

While the gossip column is called"rechilut" in Hebrew, and this type of article seems to have no actual rechilut or lashon ha'ra, it is still a similar style. This one bought new shoes, this one had coffee with that one, this one was seen working out, this one is dating the other one, etc. And now we turn Rav Chaim Kanievsky in a subject for haredi gossip columnists reporting when he needs a new cup.

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Friday, October 23, 2009

The blessing of babel

ba·bel also Ba·bel (băb'əl, bā'bəl) n.
A confusion of sounds or voices

From the very begining its been the habit of Jewish commenters to project ideas onto scripture. One famous example is found in a Midrash about the Book of Ruth. The verse (2:3) tells us that Ruth gleaned with the male reapers [וַתְּלַקֵּט בַּשָּׂדֶה, אַחֲרֵי הַקֹּצְרִים] and further (2:5) tells us that this breach of modesty scandalized Boaz [לְמִי הַנַּעֲרָה הַזֹּאת]. After the male reapers pin Ruth's blunder (2:6) on her foreign birth [וַיֹּאמַר: נַעֲרָה מוֹאֲבִיָּה הִיא] Boaz diplomatically (2:8) tries to encourage her to glean with the women instead [וְכֹה תִדְבָּקִין, עִם-נַעֲרֹתָי] She doesn't get the hint (2:21) [ גַּם כִּי-אָמַר אֵלַי, עִם-הַנְּעָרִים אֲשֶׁר-לִי תִּדְבָּקִין] and it needs to be reinforced by her mother-in-law (2:22) [טוֹב בִּתִּי, כִּי תֵצְאִי עִם-נַעֲרוֹתָיו] However, despite this clear textual evidence that Ruth was unaware of ancient Judean ideas about modesty, the lesson the Midrash shoehorns into the text is that Ruth demonstrated exemplary modesty by bending her knees to glean, and not her back, thus exposing less of her legs. (!)

The other night I opened Accepting the Yoke of Heaven by Yeshayahu Leibowitz and realized at once that the famous professor is guilty of the same offense. Like almost all darshanim before him, he sees what he wishes to see in the text, treating it like something of a projection screen. A point worth mentioning though, is that what Leibowitz wishes to see in the text is magnificent (and modern!). As an example, consider the argument for pluralism he attributes to the story of the Tower of Babel
It appears to me that the root of the error, or sin, of the generation of the separation was not the building of a city and tower, but the aim to use these artificial means to ensure a situation of “one language and one speech”-of centralization, which, in modern parlance, would be known as totalitarianism. One language and one speech is, according to many naive people in our days, a description of an ideal situation: all of humanity a single bloc, without differentiation, and, as a result, without conflicts. But one who truly understands will know that there is nothing which is more threatening than this artificial conformism: a city and tower as the symbol of the concentration of all of mankind about a single topic-where there will not be differences of opinion and there will not be a struggle over different viewpoints and over different values. One cannot imagine greater tyranny than that, one cannot imagine a greater mental and moral sterility than that-that there should be no exceptions and that there should be no deviations from what is accepted and agreed upon, and this being maintained by the artificial means of a city and a tower. In His mercy and compassion for mankind, God prevented this from occurring, and He made a humanity where a totalitarianism of complete unity cannot be.
There are echoes here of famous arguments, arguments Leibowitz no doubt knew cold, that were made in defense of pluralism by another Yeshayahu - the great Isaiah Berlin  Or, to boil it all down to an easily digested sound bite: The folly of absolutism (and OJ, alas, has absolutist tendencies, tendencies that run afoul of so much of the mesorah) is not that there is no Absolute. The folly is that no doctrine or belief system perfectly and completely contains the Absolute.[*]

Thus, pluralism.

[*] The words " The folly of absolutism is not that there is no Absolute. The folly is that no doctrine or belief system perfectly and completely contains the Absolute" aren't my original thought. I do not recall where I saw it first.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

A View on Bitachon

A Guest Post by Adam

Have you ever gone rappelling? If not, picture rock climbing in reverse.

I still remember my first experience rappelling. Our high school tour group had reached the peaks of the Judean Desert in Southern Israel. The top of this cliff was actually at sea level. Four hundred meters below lie the lowest exposed point on Earth – The Dead Sea.

We were then given instructions: how to wear the safety harness, how to slowly let the rope run through your closed fists to gently descend the sheer desert cliff to the sand below. We were also given assurances. We were actually on a double rope system. Even if we let go completely, one of the guides above could pull the emergency rope, to prevent a sudden impact with the desert floor.

Ultimately, I knew we would be safe. I mean, they wouldn't take high school groups to do something dangerous, right? As the professional rock climbers strapped me in, I heard many metal pieces locking into place. I suddenly felt a bit uneasy; did all of these metal clasps close completely?

With many kinds of rope and harnessing surrounding my body, I was told to lean backwards over the cliff, and rest my full weight on the rope.

I slowly started walking backwards, nearing sideways in my descent down the cliff. I felt like I could start trusting the rope. I took a few more steps down, bearing my weight on the rope as instructed. Just then, I had one of the most terrifying experiences in my entire life.

I felt something unbuckle.

I immediately scrambled to grasp onto the rocks in front of me. Screaming, panic stricken, I felt entirely paralyzed. As I tried support my weight on the tips of my fingers against the harsh desert rock, I heard someone yelling to me from above.

“It's okay, that was just your fanny pack!”

The kind voice from above told me that I had to trust the rope. In fact, all of my weight was already being supported by the rope system in place. (It only then dawned on me that my two-fingertip hold on the rock wasn't actually stronger than gravity). The voice further explained that, as long as I tried to hold onto the rocks, I couldn't move at all.

Realizing that I had no choice, I grabbed onto the rope with both hands and started to rappel.

I loved it! Immediately, I was flying through the air, kicking off the cliff to gain speed, and instinctively controlling my descent based on my grip of the rope. At the bottom, my only regret is that I didn't enjoy the experience from the first step.

This is an actual story that happened to me many years ago. However, I recently realized that it is also a powerful parable that can teach us about bitachon – trust in G-d.

From your first breath in the world until your last, you are “strapped in” to G-d's Divine control. Most of us think that we are in control. One may think that his strength, knowledge, or street savvy are the keys to live a happy and prosperous life. Yet when such a person feels his life “unbuckling”, he scrambles to grab onto any rock passing by – the rock of deceit, theft, or any other method to keep from falling hard on the sand below.

How should we weather life's challenges without resorting to forbidden means? By trusting in G-d. More accurately, we must realize that everything comes ONLY from G-d. Just like in the story - the “weight” of your burdens is ALREADY being carried by your Creator! Your two-fingertip hold (your own brain or brawn) isn't actually enough to get by.

All of this has caused me to change my strategies for learning to trust in G-d completely. I don't need to physically (or spiritually) do anything different. I just need to fully realize the situation that I am already in; that I am totally dependent on my Creator.

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Women's Secret Mikvah Code

A Guest Post By HSM

Did you know there is a “mikvah code of silence”? Did anyone tell you about the mikvah code of silence, or did you just assume that was the way it needed to be If you see someone you know there, you don’t mention it to anyone afterwards. If you sit in the waiting room and chit chat while you wait your turn, you cannot talk about it to anyone. If you meet someone new – you can’t tell your husband that you made a new friend. If you recognize the license plates – keep shtum. If you hear some OMG IT’S SO AMAZING news that you want to rush and tell your hubby – you can’t without revealing your source. (just an aside, as I am typing this the word “Omerta”à keeps flashing through my head….)

We are taught that the mitzvah of mikvah is deeply personal and private. It’s a mitzvah that transitions us from a state of niddah (ritual impurity) to a state of holiness. From being unable to be with one’s husband, to full steam ahead…. It’s no one’s business when we go, when we have our period, when we don’t, no one checks up on your counting, to see if you are counting the days right – it’s a deeply personal mitzvah that is entrusted just to us women.

I know there are some people that bring friends / female family with them to the mikvah, that it is not a big secret, some people even tell their older kids. I don’t get that. The hard thing, sometimes, though is getting out of the house and giving a plausible explanation to where you are going. I have boys so they are mostly clueless. “Going to see a friend” usually does the trick.

I like knowing that this mitzvah is being kept by me and my husband, that no one else but God and the mikvah lady needs to know about it. In this day and age so much is publicized. We update our facebook and twitter with where we are, what we are doing and pictures of the food we just ate. I am a serial updater – social networking was made for me, but my going to the mikvah has no place being advertised to all and sundry.

Because I expect others I bump into at the mikvah to keep their mouths shut, I do the same. It’s reciprocal without it needing to have been spoken. Am I alone in this, or is this resonating with you?

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Marchesvan or Chesvan?

What's this month's real name?

Who's the butt of this joke?

This clip is hysterical on more than one insidious level.

Background: In the season premier of 30 Rock, the producers decided their fictional late night variety show needed more rural appeal. One solution was to ask the show's female lead to sing a country-style sports intro, modeled on ABC's famous and justifiably ridiculed "Are you ready for some football?" Only one problem: The show belongs to NBC, and, in the world of the show, tennis is the only sport franchise NBC owns. When this episode aired, only a brief segment of the intro was shown, but all 60 hysterical seconds of it are now available in a web exclusive. [damn I love this decade]

Questions: Who or what is this clip mocking? Stupid rural people? Stupid TV execs who think they can appeal to rural people with stupid gimmicks? Stupid gimmicks? Vapid blond TV stars who think they can slip into a new persona as easily as I change my underwear? The new convention of introducing televised sporting events with an overproduced dance number? The idea that sporting events and sec are inseparable (check out the dancers and their suggestive racket moves) The idiocy of politicians who speak of rural America as if its the only real America, to the exclusion of every place else?

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So Cooperation Is Possible


Check out the song, the singers and the choir.

It seems that we can, after all, engage with the secular world, without fear. Unless both religious singers have been excommunicated of course.

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Pros and cons to getting married young

A guest post by TikunOlam

I got married young. By 21 I was engaged, at 22 I was married and by 24 I was a mother. I have been following "Ayelet's" blog, where, among other things, she discusses the frustrations of finding a mate. She is 39, intelligent, successful, from accounts on her blog, attractive, interesting and passionate. I enjoy reading her blog and I frequently comment there. She has even used my name "TikunOlam" in the title of a couple of posts to solicit my opinion on the latest frumster profile up for consideration. Because, I am a shrink who can be very opinionated about guys, I am very happy to share my observations about who sounds mentally stable and worth getting to know versus who has a personality disorder readily apparent from his Frumster profile. Ayelet, also a mental health professional, and I, have been known to diagnose a man or two.

Following her quest and having recent discussions with a family member over Rosh Hashanah, got me thinking about how easy I had it. I met a guy through overlapping college social circles, thought he was cute and fun, he became my best friend, I fell in love and I got married. He had a dead end job and had no idea what he was going to do with his life. I was just in the stages of applying to graduate school. We had no money. We had no idea by what religious philosophy which we would lead our lives or raise our children. We didn't know how many kids we wanted to have or where we wanted to live. We knew nothing and it didn't matter. We were in love, we knew instinctively that we wanted to build a life together.

Barely being an adult, instinct seemed like enough. And while I have never been an impulsive person, when it came to matters of the heart and making a decision about getting married, I didn't over think it. Maybe I even under thought it and just got lucky. Honestly, I have no idea how a person could make a real rational decision about marriage. Beyond surface compatibility and attraction at the moment when you decide to get married (which, of course, is subject to change when he loses his hair and she is no longer a size 2 or she goes BuJew and he decides god doesn't exist) making the decision requires a real leap of faith.

If you get married as an actual "adult" there is so much to think about. At least, that is what they tell me. Issues that didn't matter to barely out of adolescence me, become obvious and understandable considerations to adult singles looking for a mate. And of course, it makes sense that a later age at marriage offers a better chance at success, but man, the dating process sounds really, really awful.

There are drawbacks to getting married young. You miss out on being a single adult, discovering on your own who you are and who you want to be. You already have a committment to another person just as you are starting adulthood, so no decisions are solely your own. In the MO world, many young marrieds start families when they have little financial resources, little free time and often with a parent or two still in graduate school (I was pregnant through year 3 and took my finals late over the summer that year, my husband started graduate school when I was pregnant and I guess love paid our bills). Judging from conversations with some of my childhood friends who got married in their early twenties, it is not uncommon, even among those happily married, to wonder if they had explored enough before they settled down. Did they have enough "fun?" Did they miss out on the "excitement" of being young and single? Of course these questions are only uttered out loud to the closest of friends because it is otherwise a taboo topic of conversation.

My husband and I have more than a few friends who got married young and divorced within the first few years of marriage. We also know a handful who are clearly unhappy in their marriages. However, the vast majority of the young to get marrieds that we know seem to be happily committed to their lives together. I recognize that, especially considering the religious journey I went on in my early twenties, my husband and I were very lucky that we grew together rather than apart. I am fortunate that I still think my husband is an extraordinary man, husband and father and still think he is the best choice I could have made for myself considering every man I met before and after him. I am lucky that I am happily married.

But would I want my children to get married at 22? I don't think so. I am afraid that luck had too much to do with my being a happily married woman and I think I want my kids to make their decisions not just based on instinct but based on knowing what they want out of the rest of their lives. I would like them to be at a point in their lives when they are further out of adolescence and capable of making such a big decision taking into account at least some actual adult considerations.

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Product Review: MobileFunUK

I don’t live in the UK, but a fair number of the readership does, so this review is for them. I’ve recently been introduced to a new website that specializes in mobile devices. Its called MobileFun and you can find it at

I give the site creators credit for getting three things right: (1) MobileFun offers a great selection of products. I don’t claim to have reviewed many similar sites, but it seems to me that not many of them would offer such a great variety. On the home page alone are dozens of different phones, cases, and memory chips. (2) The navigation is excellent. Keeping everything within 3 clicks of the home page is a golden rule of website development, and MobileFun honors it. You can easily pull up menus the lead to sections on accessories, ringtones, games, free phones, and you can also browse by manufacturer, brand and type. (3) The design is well done. The site uses color well, has great unity, and every page has a clear focal point. You don’t have to waste time figuring out where to look, or deciding what on the page is most important, and best of all, there’s seems to be a picture, and well-written description for every product.
Though I’m not familiar with pounds, shillings, pence, or any other foreign money system, I did quickly check the MobileFun pricing on three common and popular products: iphone dock, blackberry case, and Bluetooth Headset,

All seemed exceptional. Eighty four quid (is that the right word?) for an I-phone dock, seems like a really first-rate British price, and I certainly would be glad to pay 9 pounds for a blackberry curve case -- if I owned a blackberry curve, desired to ensconce it in a case, or knew what pounds were.

So, to sum up. Go to MobilFunUK, buy their products, and tell everyone you know to do the same. This is a great portal for Mobiles, offering anything you might want for your phone, including accessories, parts, SIM, ringtones, games & more. If you know what you want this is the right place for you. If you don't know what you want this is the first place to visit.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Various Noah Notes

Gen 6:19: וּמִכָּל-הָחַי מִכָּל-בָּשָׂר שְׁנַיִם מִכֹּל, תָּבִיא אֶל-הַתֵּבָה--לְהַחֲיֹת אִתָּךְ: זָכָר וּנְקֵבָה, יִהְיוּ
And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee; they shall be male and female. 

On the spot Rashi says that shadim, or demons, were included, too. Why? Perhaps, because the verse says וּמִכָּל-הָחַי מִכָּל-בָּשָׂר suggesting that things that were alive, but not flesh, were brought on board as well. Rashi's source for this is Beraysis Raba, and I am quick to note that not all of BR found its way into Rashi's commentary. He includes only what can be used to address a perceived textual anomaly.

Gen 7:17 : וַיְהִי הַמַּבּוּל אַרְבָּעִים יוֹם, עַל-הָאָרֶץ; וַיִּרְבּוּ הַמַּיִם, וַיִּשְׂאוּ אֶת-הַתֵּבָה, וַתָּרָם, מֵעַל הָאָרֶץ.

The identical verb appears here, and earlier when God instructs the animals to "Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth" (פְּרוּ וּרְבוּ וּמִלְאוּ אֶת-הָאָרֶץ) Says Alter (paraphrase): "The multiplying waters are made to destroy the living creatures who were enjoined to proliferate with the same verb.

Gen 7:11 tells us "In the six hundredth year of Noah's life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened." 

This sounds like a reversal of the second day of creation, when "God said: Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so."

"No God" Is Top Trending Topic on Twitter

A Guest Post By E. Fink

Twitter displays the top 10 up-to-the-minute trending topics on their side-bar. Right now, the top trending topic is No God. (The second is Russian Roullette.)

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Remarks about the first Rashi in Noach

 Here's Rashi's famous comment on the first verse in parshas Noach:

There are those from our Sages who interpret it [the word בְּדֹרֹתָיו] favorably: How much more so if he had lived in a generation of righteous people, he would have been even more righteous. Others interpret it derogatorily: In comparison with his generation he was righteous, but if he had been in Abraham’s generation, he would not have been considered of any importance

When I was in 9th grade, our teacher explained this comment as follows, "See how sly Rashi is? He says "our sages" [רבותינו] when speaking of those who praised Noach, but merely of "others" [ ויש שדורשים] when speaking of those who criticized him. From this we see that the derogatory view did not belong to our Sages, and Rashi, in this comment, is refuting those who read this verse that way."

Last night, I finally got around to checking Rashi's source. It's Bereshis Raba, where this disagreement about Noach's merits is cast as a debate between two sages, Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Nechemiah. Ah well. So much for that 9th grade teachers well meaning, but incorrect, deduction.

More interesting to me is something else: In the Midrash the two sages don't speculate about what Noach might have achieved had he lived in Abraham's time. Instead, they speak of the eras of Moshe and Samuel. Did Rashi have a different text of the midrash, or did he change it for some reason? *  And, what was so special about Abraham's era anyway? He (per other midrashim) was the only monotheist; everyone else was a pagan. Why would living among pagans have afforded Noah any spiritual advantage? Religiously speaking, Abraham's time was not much different from his own. The text of the midrash, as we have it, makes more sense, because it's easier to see the religious advantages of living during the time of Moses or Samuel.

Finally, having criticized my 9th grade teacher, allow me to praise my 11th grade teacher who shrewdly pointed out that Rashi's comment, as a whole, is a criticism of Noah: As Rashi has it, Noah is either a lightweight compared to Abraham, or someone who could have been Abraham's equal, but failed to reach his full potential.

*It may damage your hackles to hear that Rashi sometimes altered the text of midrashim for interpretive purposes, but this is well documented.

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Mariano Rivera Spits on the Ball: So that's his secret!

Mariano Rivera, formerly considered the best closer in baseball history, is caught dead to rights spitting on the baseball after glancing furtively from side to side.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Noach: The most difficult parsha of all

A few days ago, I provoked a little Twitter argument by calling Noach "the most difficult parsha of all." Why do I say this? Because the story of the flood leaves us with several serious questions that the Tradition never addresses*.

For instance:

- How did the kangaroos get to Australia after the Ark went aground in northern Mesopotamia? Did they swim? Why didn't any of them remain behind in the near east? You can ask the same about the llamas and Peru, the grizzly bears and North America, or any other of the thousands of animals that are unique to one geographic location or another. How did all of them all end up in their current place, without any of them leaving behind a shred of evidence that any of them were ever anywhere else?

- How did all those different animals, with all their food, fit on one little ark? Its just not possible.  Don't believe me? Make a list of every mammal, reptile, insect and bird you can think of and tell me how they all could fit on a vessel that was about the size of the Love Boat.

- Why isn't there any geological evidence of a global flood? I don't know how they do it, but experts who know where to look, and what to seek, say that there's not even weak evidence that the world was ever covered with water in the way the Torah describes (and forget the midrashic embellishments about the heat of the water. That's no help.)

* I don't know of any other section of the Written Torah that is this perplexing or problematic. Even the Creation Story(s) can be made to fit with the observed facts without deviating from the Traditional interpretations. If you want to believe the universe is several billion years old, you can: Yitzchak of Acco, a rishon, said it 800 years ago. If you want to call the Creation Story(s) myth or allegory or impossible to read according to the plain meaning, you can do that, too: The Rambam, in Moreh Nevuchim, said so.

On Twitter, I've been knocking around some possible answers with my friends and enemies. I admit that the  most sensible solution seems to be that though the flood never happened, people who thought it had occurred added the story to the Torah because they judged the Torah's primeval history incomplete because it had no mention of such a well known historical event.* But along with seeing the appeal and simplicity of this solution,  I also concede that this answer isn't available to Jews who accept the 13 principles of faith, and operate under the assumption that all of the Torah was divinely revealed by God on Sinai.

There is however, another approach, one that is true to the evidence without being quite so offensive to the Tradition.

* Suggesting the story was added doesn't necessarily mean that God didn't reveal the rest of it. Indeed, Ibn Ezra appears to accept the possibility that five sentences and the last chapter of the Torah were added by someone other than Moshe. Suggesting the flood story was also added by someone other than Moses is categorically the same. Still, this sort of thinking isn't available in the wake of the Rambam's ikkarim. The flood story appears to have been well known in ancient Mesopotamia and it is recounted in the Epic of Gilgamesh. According to James Kugel even the most generous dating says the Gilgamesh fragments discovered in Tell Hadad are older than Genesis. If the story was very well known, as I speculate above, its not hard to imagine a pious but (by our standards) misguided first Temple Jew seeking to correct the Torah so that it would include a famous story. If this addition was made all it means, theologically, is that first Temple Jews didn't share our post Rambam idea of the sanctity and inviolability of the text. There's plenty of biblical evidence that this was true. I hope to post about it one day.

Was the flood global, or local? The problems I list above are only problems if we say the Torah demands that we believe the flood covered the entire planet, but does it? The verses aren't conclusive. It's certainly legitimate to read the story as saying that the entire earth was covered with water, but that's an interpretation, and one the Tradition doesn't necessarily share - at least not in full. According to Rashi on Nida 61A the flood did not extend to the Land of Israel. If this is true, we're not talking about a global flood, and if we're not talking about a global flood, the problems listed above disappear.  Problems solved?

I concede this answer goes one step further then Rashi but the proverbial ice has already been broken - he's already said the flood wasn't local. I'm merely going through the door he opened. I'm able to do this because I don't see anything theologically wrong with reinterpreting verses to fit new information. Likely, neither do you. Anyone who says the earth circles the sun is reinterpreting the verses about Joshua and the Sun and if you visit a doctor or accept what scientists say about the Milky Way, you're likely rejecting the medical theories of chazal and most of their cosmology. If no one blinks when we reinterpret psukim in the case of Joshua, or disregard open Talmudic teachings about medicine and cosmology, why is the old understanding of Noach's flood sacrosanct? Why can't we say we misunderstood the verses in Genesis, and that in light of what we know now the old view is untenable and must be replaced? It sounds deeply impious, but Judaism has done this before. Why can't we do it now?

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Hear Ye! Hear Ye! DovBear 5th Anniversary (possibly LIVE) Interview

A Guest Post By E. Fink

In honor of the auspicious occasion of the Fifth Anniversary of DovBear I will conducting an interview with the esteemed Baal HaBlog, Rabbi Doctor Mister Dov Bear Ph.D Esq.

There are plenty of questions that I have been waiting to ask him and I would love to ask him YOUR burning questions as well.

If there is enough interest we may do a LIVE (text) interview, where commenters like you, will be able to submit live (moderated) questions and comments. We would be online for about an hour holding a real-time (text) conversation. What is a LIVE text interview? Click here for a sample. It would be really cool, but we need to know if you would be at all interested in a LIVE interview.

So let me know what questions you want answered in the comments, you can email me as well at if you wish to remain doubly anonymous or have an aversion to commenting. Also, please help us gauge the overall interest level in a LIVE interview. (I, for one, think it would be amazing.)

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Race-baiting Rudy

From Gawker:

Rudy Giuliani is trying to stoke paranoid fears of something here, in this talk before some ultra-Orthodox Jews, with Mike Bloomberg, but... what? "You know exactly what I'm talking about," Rudy said.

"This city could very easily be taken back in a very different direction," he continued. What direction is this, exactly? "It could very easily be taken back to the way it was with the wrong political leadership." Hmm! He must not mean taken back to the way it was when he was mayor. So maybe he means the way it was under the guy before him? What does that guy, David Dinkins, have in common with Bloomberg challenger Bill Thompson, exactly? Oh, right, they are Democrats.

When Bloomberg was asked if he agreed with Giuliani's statements, on how the blacks are going to take over the city and mug all the Jews to death forever, Bloomberg said he was worried that New York could become Detroit.

As usual, Bloomberg means real New York, not the bits that are basically already as bad off as Detroit.

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YWE: I prefer the taste of bourbon puke to any scotch on the market

The genius readers of the holy Yeshiva World blog are rehashing the old scotch v. bourbon debate. I've done that myself, like any casual drinker, and when my friends and I do this particular dance we talk about things like nose and finish, or the history, complexity, and subtleties of the different beverages before coming to the inevitable conclusion of taam v'rayach.

Over at the holy Yeshiva World, the holy Yeshiva World editor has a different trump card up his sleeve. Here's his clinching argument:
Scotch is for yuppies.
I'll take Jack Daniels over the most expensive scotch in the world. Bourbon tastes better coming up, then scotch does going down....
Um... as pointed out in the comments,  Jack Daniels isn't bourbon, [damnit I KNEW that] but never mind. There's still a golden marketing opportunity here for the makers of non-yuppie America's favorite Kentucky Whisky. Dear Jack Daniels: Your image as the drink of choice for dumb frat boys who wish to get drunk quickly and inexpensively seems to be in great shape. Perhaps you can pay Yeshiva World to send some of their patented opt-in spam to registered users in which the Editor is quoted singing the praises of your puke. That's the sort of endorsement the scotch boys would kill for.

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

I'm almost five years old

How are you planning to celebrate my five year anniversary, which is October 24?

Answer right, and you may win a date with Chaim Bray.

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Friday, October 16, 2009

The Pardes Problem

The word pardes appears three times in the Hebrew bible, and is taken to mean something like an orchard, a park or a garden. According to linguists, pardes is a Persian loan-word which presents a few difficutlties, as follows:

1) Pardes appears in Song of Songs 4:13, Ecclesiastes 2:5, and Nehemiah 2:8. The instance of pardes in Nehemia, a book that was written during the Persian period, and features main characters who are both emigrants from Persia poses no problem. Its appearance in the other two books is not so simple. Both Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes are held to have been written by King Solomon, who lived and composed his works centuries before the Jews came into contact with any Persians. In pre-Persian Hebrew an orchard is a carmel [Isaiah 16:10; Jeremiah 48:33] and a park or garden is a gan [Numerous]. Why would King Solomon use a word that would not have been understood by the people of his time? His decision to do so is something like George Washington using the word "pizza" or "computer." Not only is it fair to wonder why Solomon would confuse his readers, its also hard to understand how he knew the word himself.

2) The word pardes is an acronym for pshat, remez, drash, sod - the four approaches to torah study. [For an explanation see Wikipedia.] If the scholars are right about the origins of the word pardes, the idea that there is something inherently and inevitably true about the acronym is defeated,  along with a mystical idea of  paradise/orchard created via Torah study. If it was a historical accident that pardes entered Hebrew, the  words and beliefs that later became associated  with the word could not have been anything but a contingent, man made development.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

DovBear (and his readers) solves all your problems

By email:
Dear Dov Bear: I saw this on one of the anono-hateblogs recently, but it caught my eye, and I thought a discussion here might be interesting. Can you post.
There is a (frum) business I frequent, whose owner I recently found out is a very low and deplorable human being. I think the obvious reaction is to stop patronizing this person's business; however, most of the people who are privy to this information and are equally (if not more) horrified as I, continue to not only use his services but are actively involved in helping his business thrive (I am not referring to paid employees).

I am curious to hear what the readers here would do in this situation.
Oh, and this info is not hearsay - it is 100% fact.
I think that the writer has to tell people what she knows, but maybe that's the wrong approach. What do you think?

Readers? Over to you: What advice do you have for my correspondent?

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Parsha notes Berayshis

(from last year with some modifications)

Moments of Majesty: The first creation story, with its grand symmetries. Lovely, timeless, powerful writing. [I like it better then the second creation story because parataxis is nicer than hypotaxis.

Things everyone should know:
(1) There are two creation stories, stories that differ in matters large and small. This, it must be noted, does not rule out the possibility of a divine author, but the fact that God is said to create (barah) in the first story and fashion (yotzar) in the second cries out for commentary. Among the many other differences: the theology of God (cosmic diety vs. hands on craftsmen) and the order of the creation itself (in Gen 1 man and woman are last; in Gen 2 man is first, before plants and animals, and the woman is last.) 
(2) In this Parsha, Rashi announces his mission statement: (Genesis 3:8) "I have come only to teach the plain meaning of the passage and such Aggadah which explains the words of the Bible.” This is a useful reminder for those who treat Rashi like an anthology of midrashim.

Kefira moments:
(1) The first woman is called ChaVa, though ChaYA would be a better name for the mother of all things,אֵם כָּל-חָי. As I said here, ChaVa sounds like ChiVya, the Aramaic for serpent, and scholars have recognized an old Mesopotamian myth in which a serpent is imagined to be the progenitor of all things, or, in other words, the אֵם כָּל-חָי.
(2) The MT says (Gen 4:8) "And Cain said to Abel his brother" but doesn't tell us what was said. The LXX, Syriac and Aramaic all provide Cain's words: "Let us go out to the field."
(3) Enoch, the man who "walked with God" and "was no more" after God "took" him, is the seventh generation from Adam. In a list of pre-flood Mesopotamian kings, the seventh one is taken by the Sun God. In the Torah Enoch lives 365 years, the number of days in the solar year.

(4) The whole story of Abel's murder and Cain's subsequent curse is taken by scholars as a schematic tale written to explain why the Kenites, a rival tribe,  were especially vicious. Perhaps the Kenites would kill seven enemies for every dead of their own? Alternatively, the Kenites may have worshiped the Israelite God and the Cain story is meant to tell us why. What seems odd is that after the murder Cain frets that "anyone who finds me may kill me" at a time when the whole world would have consisted of just  him and his parents.  This is an indication that the present pre-flood location of the story is artificial.

Cool beans:
(1) Lemach is the seventh name of the first genealogy list, and he is said to have lived 777 years. Seven, of course, is a magic number in Judaism, and elsewhere.
(2) In the second genealogy list ten names are given. Ten is also a magic Jewish number.

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Poor whiny Rush Limbough

Its been a terrible year for fat Oxy-addicted white men. First we put a darkie in the White House, and now I see from the liberal, Rush-hating media that North America's least racist pundit was denied the opportunity to purchase an NFL team.

Such a shame. I was deeply looking forward to seeing some disgruntled football player force Rush to swallow a goal post after being told that he was too black and lazy to play in the NFL.

On the thread, someone says Rush isn't a racist, and someone else says he's never been recorded making a racist comment. Of course this not true. See here.

Also on the thread, someone suggests the NFL punished Rush for his political opinions. Such a reading of their decision only plays into Rush's hands. Rush was rejected because he is a divisive, exhibitionist bigot; moreover, NFL policy states clearly that the league can reject the sale of a team to anyone, at any time for any reason. If they dislike the color of a man's shoes, they can reject his ownership application. Their club.
Their rules.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Why don't the women dance?

A guest post by DYS

I just spent Simchat Torah in one of the frummer neighborhoods of New York City. You know the type, every block a shtibel, an Agudah, and even the Young Israels are no longer modern. Black hats abound. There are plenty of centrist Orthodox, but they kind of blend in with the Yeshivish crowd. And in no shul do the women actually dance during hakafot on Simchat Torah. Instead, they watch the men.

I actually grew up with that model. When hakafot came around, the mechitza would be opened up so the women could watch the men dance. When I was little, I used to dance  happily wave to my mother. But even in my late teens I started doing my own thing for Simchat Torah and went to more modern neighbrhoods and more modern shuls where the women always danced. This was the first time I'd been back to my old neighborhood for ST in like 20 years.

I didn't go to my parents' shul for hakafot - instead I went to a more modern minyan that always used to have women dancing. But that minyan isn't what it used to be. Except for one part of one hakafa when the women made a half-hearted circle on the other side of the mechitza, there was no dancing at all. I felt very uncomfortable, as if we were performing for an audience of the women.

Why don't the women dance? Is it just habit, carried over from Eastern Europe? And if so, why didn't the women dance there? I understand the dispute over whether women should carry a sefer torah while dancing - while I think there's nothing wrong with it (a sefer torah isn't mekabel tumah), there are some weak arguments against that. But dancing at all? Women dance up a storm at the frummest weddings, as long as there's a mechitza. There's certainly a mechitza in shul. And this isn't just celebrating a bride & groom, it's celebrating the Torah itself!

Is there any halachic basis in keeping the women from dancing? Is it just a strange carryover minhag? Or are the frum communities terrified that it would smack of feminism?  And why don't they dance in the Young Israels and other centrist shuls that were Modern Orthodox in the 1970's and in many case still think of themselves as Modern Orthodox?

Why don't the women dance?

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Colbert Impeaches Scalia

Last week, I reported on Justice Antonin Scalia's resoundingly stupid statement about Jews and the cross, and how his idea, as he expressed it, suggested strongly that he is both a windbag and a moron. Last night, Steven Colbert picked up where I left off, with a report that Colbert kiss-ups might describe as "funnier", "sharper" or, dare I say it, "better."

The Colbert Report
Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
The Word - Symbol-Minded

Colbert Report Full Episodes
Political Humor
Michael Moore

Real time comments, by my wife, as she viewed the segment:

@1:46: Did he really say that?
@2:20 I can't believe he said that. How is someone so stupid on the Supreme Court bench?
@3:08 Why didn't Bryer and Ginsburg punch him in the mouth?

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Davening on Behalf of a Non-Jew

A Guest Post by Rafi G

The Director of Lev Malka, Rav Aharon Aberman asked Rav Elyashiv a shailoh if he is allowed to daven on behalf of a non-Jew at the Kotel. A non-Jew, a Christian (religious presumably and based on the article I will assume Catholic) once donated to his organization for sick children with cancer, and he recently contacted them offering another donation. The condition he set was that they daven for him at the Kotel to succeed in his business.

Rav Aberman was uncomfortable with the condition and asked Rav Elyashiv if he is allowed to or not.

Rav Elyashiv answered that one is allowed to daven on behalf of a non-jew who believes in the God of the jews, and is not an idol-worshipper. One cannot daven on behalf of a non-jew who is an idol-worshiper. (source: TOG)

Personally I would not have thought of asking. I would have assumed that because of Darkei Shalom, if asked specifically, one is allowed to daven for a goy. Differentiating between an idol-worshiper and a non-idol worshiper is an interesting distinction, and makes me think that the goy in question was a Catholic, as we consider Catholics to be idol worshipers, while other Christians are not necessarily idol worshipers (for them to be Christians - for a Jew it would be).

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

You learn something new every day

We were driving along, my father-in-law and I, when he peeked over at the gas gauge and began to fret that the car might stop moving at any moment.

Me: There's a quarter of a tank left.

Him: Why take chances?

Me: I'm not taking a chance. I know from experience that I can still drive about 30 miles after the light goes on.

Him: A light goes on?

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Provoking the Nations

A Guest Post by Rafi G

One of the reasons, perhaps the main reason, given for opposing many "settlement" or "settler" activities, such as creating outposts, expanding settlements, and the like, or even activities that are being branded as "settler" or "nationalist, like going up to Har HaBayit, is that we are not supposed to provoke the nations of the world. we are not supposed to be agressors. We are supposed to be meek and timid, and only do what they allow us to do and not take steps that will upset the non-Jewish nations.

"Assur L'hitgarot ba'umot ha'olam" - it is prohibited to provoke the nations of the world. While this might be good advice, or maybe bad advice, depending on your perspective, I am not aware of an actual source for this issur. It probably comes from the periods in history in which Jews were subservient to our non-Jewish, and often hostile, overlords, and it became reasonable to say not to do anything to provoke the goyim.

I was thinking about this because of our reading of Breishis this week. The first Rashi in the parsha, in all of the Torah, is perhaps one of, if not THE, most famous Rashi commentaries in all of the Torah.

Rashi begins by asking why the Torah begins from creation and all th stories, and not just skip right to the first mitzva which comes much later. After all, the Torah is not a history book.

Rashi answers by quoting Rebbi Yitzchak who says that the reason is that if the goyim should claim that we stole the land of Israel from them and they would demand it back, we should know and say that we are not robbers or thieves, but God gave us the land. And even though it was given to others first, because God created, and therefore owns, everything, He can give what He wants to whom He wants, and He can take it away and give it to others. So as long as we have the land, the stories in the Torah from Breishis until the first mitzva give us the justification to settle the land and live in it despite the protestations of the non-Jews.

The recent riots by Arabs on Har HaBayit and in East Jerusalem have prompted the reiteration of such statements like "It is prohibited to provoke the non-Jewish nations" to justify opposing ascending Har Habayit.

I never liked the issur of "not provoking". In my mind, our mere existence is a provocation. Beyond that, any specific incident or issue is simply an excuse for the non-Jews to be upset at our existence. Is it a provocation for us to go up to Har HaBayit? I say no - it is an opportunity for them to riot, though they really could care less about Har HaBayit and are upset about our being anywhere in Israel, and even that we exist at all.

So, as I was reading the Rashi, the first Rashi in the Torah that I quoted above, I realized that, to me at least, it looks like Rashi takes a similar approach to the [non-existent?] issur of "not provoking.

Rashi, quoting Rebbi Yitzchak, says we have a right to settle the land because God gave it to us. We have to know that, and we have to state it unequivocally to the goyim in response to their claims. Rashi does not add that if they make claims against us, despite it being ours, we should be meek and give in to their demands in order to not provoke them.

Just the opposite! Rashi says clearly that this land is our land and God gave it to us and we must settle it and defend our rights to do so in the face of the protests of the goyim. According to Rashi there is no such issur of "not provoking the goyim".

So if your only reason to not go up to Har Habayit, or to not live in the "occupied territories" or to not support the army killing the enemy when necessary, is because we are not supposed to provoke the goyim, that is not true. We are supposed to live in the land God gave to us, and we are meant to do so fully and defend our right to do so!

To be clear, I am not suggesting that we need to find ways to unnecessarily provoke the various governments of the world. We need to create working relationships with them, and provocations can sometimes harm that. I am saying that there are times where we need to stand up for our positions - declaring the land is ours or whatever, and we must do so even if some say it is a provocation.

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