Thursday, December 31, 2009

Od Yavo / Ki Va Moed

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Fisking Rabbi Twersky

Zac Mordechai Levovitz: Point by point, critique, response and rebuttal of Rav Twersky's speech. (by one of the YU panel members) from here
DB:My own words of support or disagreement are in red.

Please feel free to post, use, email and start discussions with:

In my presentation at YU, I talked about how the silence and silencing on the issues of gays in the Orthodox world contributes to the suffering, shame, and isolation of gay youth, teens, and adults. For me, the goal of the panel at YU was to ignite a community-wide dialogue, where points, feelings, and arguments could be exchanged both publicly and privately. To that end, the event at YU was an unadulterated success. In the days following the event, conversations are taking place in schools, communities, synagogues, Shabbos tables, and countless websites. It turns out that people have a lot to say about this subject and our event created a space in which to finally bring it up. Every dialogue has more than one side, and while we must insist that our voices continue being heard, it is also important to allow those who disagree their space and time to respond. No one's point of view should be censored or disrespected. This is why I applaud Rabbi Twersky and Rabbi Reiss for continuing the conversation by publicly speaking about the panel, and raising issues that must be addressed. [Yawn, yawn boring, boring, and what a shame that the point needs to be made that in a University (as on a blog) its is desirable to have lots of opposing views bouncing against each other. There's no other way to change minds, develop ideas and grow. I'd have skipped the intro. The good stuff comes later]

In this vein of dialogue and conversation, the following is a point-by-point critique and response to Rabbi Twersky's speech (delivered to the YU Beis Medrash Dec 28th 2009). [Excellent! I hope Rabbi T replies to you in kind, and that a real, no holds barred conversation results.] Before I continue, I want to point out that Rav Twersky is a Godol in learning and leadership. My response does not imply that I am on a comparable level. [Yawn, yawn, boring, boring. You don't have to flatter the Rabbi, or remind us that he is a superstar. His arguments will stand or fail on their own merits, as will yours.] Clear and logical minds allow every rational exchange valid regardless of the vast inequalities of the persons involved. This democracy of thought is a hallmark of Rabbi Soloveitchik's zt'l philosophy, and one that I know Rabbi Twersky respects. Consequently, I respond only to his points, and do not criticize his character or his greatness. [Pathetic that this needs to be made clear in advance.]

1. Rav Twersky mentions that the Posuk calls the Issur a Toevah, and we should not shy away from the "shock effect" of the word, and its social implications.

The Torah also calls eating shellfish a Toevah, and yet no one justifies prejudice or silencing to those who claim to want to eat shellfish. Certainly, if there were a class of many people born with a desire for no other food but shellfish, it would be discussed openly, with sensitivity and empathy. [Question begging. Why are you so certain? Its feasible that the Rabbis would shut down those kinds of conversations, too.] This is not to say that eating shellfish would ever be permitted in that case. This example forfeits the simple "two wrongs don't make a right" response. If the classification of "Toevah" is Biblically used for things like eating shrimp, it is not clear that Toevah implies a justified social and ethical "shock." Nor is it clear that talking about issues related to Toevah justifies feeling embarrassed or shamed. There are many things in the Torah that we do not understand the reasons for, yet we follow them anyway. It would be presumptuous, needless, and inconsistent to demand that Toevah demand anyone responding to gay people with disgust, prejudice, or silencing. We don't expect this response in other Toevahs, why demand it here? This was not explained. [Say better: Rabbi Twersky's is playing fast and loose with the meaning of the word Toevah, and allowing his own prejudices to cloud his thinking. The Torah uses the word "toevah" to describe no fewer than seven different kinds of actions. Someone who takes back his divorced wife has committed a toevah, and per the Torah he is the moral equivalent of a sodomist. But Rabbi Twersky and anti-gay OJs feel revulsion toward the sodomist, and not for the man who takes back his divorcee, which is why conferences such as the one last week at YU were necessary. I think it is ludicrous for Rabbi Twersky to say he is merely doing what the Torah requires when it seems so obvious that what he is really doing, is using the Torah as a justification for his pre-existing feelings.]

The strange story of Shlomo Veingrad

This is new to me. Its a piece from April about Alan Veingrad, a Jewish football player who after retiring from the NFL with a Super Bowl ring found the Jewish God, and dedicated himself to living as an observant Jew.

I like how the Bernie Kosar and the two announcer dudes at the end found it just about impossible to hide their real opinion of the man. It was clear to me that they think he's nuts. I also think it was nice of the TV station to give Shlomo what amounts to a free commercial for his motivational speaker business. You scratch my back I'll scratch yours.

If you wrote about this already, tell me and I'll link you up.

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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Rav Mayer Twersky's Response to the YU's Gay Forum

Note: The following transcript is not official, and not complete. The recording can be heard here. Rabbi Twersky is a YU Rosh Yeshiva.

Birshuso al pi horaso, moreinu Rav shechter, v’rabosai.

Tashchis choshech … zeh domeh halaila [didn’t catch it all].

Chazal said that Olam Hazeh resembles night. Mesilas Yesharim explains that the darkness of night engenders two types of mistakes. Some things people can’t see at night because it’s dark, so people stumble. But there is a more insidious error which darkness engenders, says the Ramchal: he sees but doesn’t see what he is seeing. Darkness of night can engender illusions, delusions, and confusions. If Olam Hazeh is compared to lailah, and the geulah yemos hamachiach, and the geulah is compared to yom, it is darkest we know, before dawn. In the darkest hours of night, the delusion, illusion, confusion is greatest. Not only in my lifetime, but I think in your lifetimes, there was a point where such a schmooze would have been unimaginable, inconceivable. Not only unnecessary, but inappropriate and wrong. What is there to talk about – is it a matter of public discourse?

Yesha road rage

A Guest Post by Rabba bar bar Chana

According to an article in the New York Times:
Israel’s Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that a major access highway to Jerusalem running through the occupied West Bank could no longer be closed to most Palestinian traffic.

As usual, when it comes to these issues, I’m of two minds. On the one hand, I’m concerned for the safety of settlers, including members of my immediate family, who regularly travel the roads over the green line. On the other hand, as always, I feel tremendous pride that the Israeli Supreme Court stands up for civil rights.

But I’m not surprised by this predictable reaction:
Israeli settler leaders expressed alarm at the court’s decision, saying it would endanger Jewish travelers. They charged that the justices “never missed an opportunity to blame Jews for racism and provide Arabs with convenient conditions for the next terror attack.”
Is the ideal of democracy not one that Israeli citizens, of any stripe, hold dear? The refusal of the right wing in Israel to even acknowledge civil rights of Palestinians is something that is unsurprising, given what they’ve endured, but unfortunate nonetheless. But imagine how refreshing it would be if we’d seen this instead:
Israeli settler leaders expressed concern at the court’s decision, saying it might endanger Jewish travelers. They said that the justices “while making a valid point about civil rights of all residents of Yesha, may not be fully taking into account the safety of Jewish travelers. If the decision does stand, we hope to work together with the army and the Palestinian Authority to ensure safety and fairness for all who will use the road.”

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Daas Torah is hepech daas Baalei Batim... to the discredit of daas torah.

About this post: It was written by Rabbi Yossi Ginzberg, and appeared first on R. Harry Maryles' blog. I took it without permission. The post was preceded by a lengthy introduction which I have not included because I feel it detracts from the power of the piece. If you'd like to see it, go to Reb Harry's.

An oft-repeated idiom in the circle of those who follow the pronouncements of today’s Gedolim is “Daas Torah is hepech daas Baalei Batim”. Loosely translated, this conveys the idea that a lay opinion is not only invalid; it is the polar opposite of true Torah wisdom.

Allegedly a quote from the S”ma (a commentator on the Shulchan Aruch), it seems to be more of an urban myth, a somewhat misquoted version of something else that he said, and also seems to be intended to convey an air of papal infallibility on the Gedolim of the generation. Whatever the source, the line is being quoted more and more frequently as issues of Torah concern more and more frequently hit the news.

This idiom is important because of a basic tenet in Halacha: If the Gedolim of previous generations enacted something, we must abide by it, irrelevant of the current state of knowledge.

Application of this principle is the problem, though.... Pondering this last weekend, I couldn’t help wonder at the basic premise. Is, in fact, Daas Torah the hepech of daas Baalei Batim? I came to the conclusion that it is, based on the following:

When a certain rabbi persuaded others to ban a learned author for expressing minority opinions on the age of the universe, a long list of rabbis signed on, creating a Chilul Hashem in the guise of protecting authentic Judaism. Yet when that same rabbi was arrested and convicted of a huge multi-million dollar mortgage scam, they were silent. Even when it emerged that the man had authored a torah book, and had previously served time for fraud, not a word was heard. Now we learn that his second, another zealot for alleged “Torah values”, has been adding entirely new dimensions to the term rabbinic abuse.

Daas Baalei Batim (of those I spoke with, anyway) was to laud the first author for his work, recognize that his work brought some people to torah belief, and encourage him to insert in subsequent editions that his opinions did not reflect all facets of the Orthodox spectrum. The same daas also strongly and harshly condemned the felonious instigator of the ban, as well as those who ignored his previous criminal record and allowed him to represent Orthodox Judaism vocally and in writing. About the second…there’s both too much to say, and not enough. Disgust is far too mild a term. His apparent silent admission to the charges would lead me to ban him from even entering any holy place, let alone lead a yeshiva. Daas Baalei Batim would also follow the money trail, no matter where it leads, and remove all those rabbis who were obviously bought with dirty money.

When a corrupt yeshiva faculty for years protected a molester, a certain very prominent rabbi refused to get involved because it was “outside his neighborhood”, by about a half-mile. Yet to lend moral support to an admitted felon caught red-handed in one of the biggest chilul Hashem cases of the decade, he flew hundreds of miles. (And he is not one of the rabbis who flew to lend moral support to Jonathon Pollard.) Lest the good rabbi feel offended, might I add that another 25 rabbis also felt the need to fly out there to lend moral support, not counting the many from his own sect, who actually correctly belong there.

Daas Baalei Batim was to condemn the Flatbush molester and all those who abetted him, and to stay as far away as possible from the Midwestern court carnival. Also to support the Markey bill (This allows the victims to sue, even many years later. It is opposed by those who worry about the schools potentially being forced to close after losing lawsuits), even though it might put that family business- and several others-at risk.

What non Jews say about Tropper

Here's a fascinating look at how some nonJews reacted to the sordid and disgusting tale of Leib Tropper after seeing the story in the New York Post:
Let me get this straight. This guy was telling the chick she was a darling cutie pie? And just kind of mentioned that he wanted to do some rape role-play and pass her around to his friends? That’s it? Where I’m from that’s called flirting. Like that’s a normal Friday night for me and there’s no media knocking down my door. Don’t see why the rush to judgement. I mean if the chick agrees to some gang rape fantasies with Rabbi Leib and the Satmar Guy who are we to get involved? Like at least the guy is talking a good game right. Rather have that than I don’t know a bunch of old scumbag pedophiles raping little altar boys or something like that. Then again what do I know about religion.
The sordid and disgusting collection of anti-Semite jokes on that blog's comment thread also give an interesting glimpse into the gentile mind....

Update: I didn't mean "mind" as in the gentile brain is different. I meant it in the sense of perspective, as in their perspective on us, and more specifically, their perspective on Tropper, ie, not "what a perv" but "wow, good for him" and "You call that a clergy scandal? But there are no kids involved!"

I did not mean to offend the gentiles, or to suggest their minds are identical. I also did not mean to say that the racists jokes on that thread were representative of gentile society as a whole. I deeply regret the error.

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Why I Don't Identify As Gay

A GUEST POST BY 'BARRY' (posted by E. Fink)

(An old friend of mine)

With great shock, many have asked me—a man who experiences homosexual attractions—why I don't identify as "gay." To so many people, being gay is “who you are,” and “who you're meant to be,” and to do otherwise is to "deny yourself." To them, it’s a simple truth as plain as day. But my reason for not identifying as gay is also simple: a gay identity is a social construction.

Allow me to explain: When I was younger, one was a "homosexual" if one engaged in homosexual activity, but there was no such identity as "gay." Gay people weren't referred to as "kinds" of people, in the way we refer to men and women as the different sexes. Rather, homosexuals were seen simply as men or women who have or experience a specific kind of desire — the sexual and emotional desire for members of the same sex. We don't identify short people and tall people as different kinds of people, just people, some of whom happen to be short and others who happen to be tall. They are not distinct versions of human beings.

Homosexuality is a non-behavioral trait. And like all non-behavioral traits, like desires, emotions, thoughts (apart from those being acted upon), it is amoral and private, and cannot be identified like race or biological sex, beyond the statement of the individual that he or she has such feelings.

Nowadays, though, a “gay person” is a kind of person, independent of sexual conduct. Yet the latest document on homosexuality by the American Psychological Association says that most scientists believe homosexual attractions are developed through a complex mixture of both nature and nurture, so not only are homosexual attractions not a physical trait like race or biological sex, but they are also not purely innate.

It's interesting, however, that many Orthodox Rabbis don't see this distinction, however. That is certainly no fault of theirs, and I don't judge those who don't see this difference. The mood of the culture has really caught on and, as a result, many have adopted these labels, seemingly, with little thought or criticism. But as an orthodox Jew who experiences homosexual attractions, I believe the thoughtful approach is one that relies not upon cultural shifts, but on the enduring Word of G-d.

So, what does the Torah have to say about this issue to those who, like me, are halacha-abiding Orthodox Jews?

As far as I know, the Torah has no word for someone with these desires; it simply refers to sexual acts. Of course, we all know that the Torah expressly forbids homosexual acts (along with certain other illicit sexual acts). But does it say nothing beyond that? Certainly, the Torah has very strict rules concerning sexual conduct, which by divine design and intent is geared towards men and women in marriage and procreation. Sexuality is specifically for married men and women, and the mitzvah to procreate can only be understood in that context. In fact, all the rules about sexuality exclude all but married men and women in the sexual bond, united and coming to bear children (in the case where childbearing is not possible, sexual activity is still allowed within male-female marital bounds alone). Much of the Jewish Orthodox life revolves around family, too.

The family provides a good illustration for my point. The young child who doesn’t get what he wants can hit or scream, but the responsible parent reacts accordingly to teach or demonstrate to the child there are certain ways to act and not act. No matter how angry we get, we must not hit people. There is responsible behavior, and irresponsible behavior. Some things we can engage in, and some we cannot engage in. Some feelings we can indulge, and some we cannot indulge.

It is much the same with homosexuality. Feelings are just feelings, but the Torah teaches us that same-sex sexual behavior is forbidden according to the biblical sexual ethic. We have the power to do and not to do. We feel what we feel, but when it comes to action, we look to the infinite wisdom of the Torah for guidance.

So if we are dealing with mere feelings, rather than an identity, what are we to do with them? Feelings or desires are just that: feelings and desires, and one isn’t held accountable for having them. The Torah lays out a moral code by which we are to live. And it’s precisely because G-d knows some people will experience homosexual attractions that He found it necessary to state that acting on those desires is forbidden. As we’re brought up in the ways of the Torah, we’re taught that some actions are good, some bad, some destructive, some neutral and so on. We are to decide what a desire is and its corresponding action — if it is halachically forbidden and perhaps harmful or halachically positive and perhaps helpful. G-d gives us guidance through halacha and the Torah outlook on life.

To me, this certainly gives good reason to not only reject any identity that revolves around my homosexual attractions, but to limit to the fullest extent possible how I view and identify myself and my homosexual attractions. I see no reason to claim a "gay" identity anymore than I see a reason to claim a identity around my desire to wear blue shirts or to drive fast cars. Some say that liking blue shirts is hardly the equivalent to being homosexual, something which separates you from the entire heterosexual world, something that makes normal, married life very difficult if not impossible, and something that the Torah addresses directly (as opposed to wearing blue shirts). This is true indeed, and certainly, marriage is no cure or answer. But my life and sexual attractions are not defined by cultural standards, and this is precisely my point. Culturally, one may boil red at the comparison, but coming from the Torah perspective, I exclusively define myself through the Torah’s wisdom and guidance, not the culture’s. If I don’t define myself as “gay,” and if I remain single, as far as I’m concerned, I am just like every other single man out there, both heterosexual and homosexual.

Further, a gay identity more often than not is a socio-political label with socio-political connotations, meaning that it has much wrapped up in it apart from one’s sexual desires. I do not say that to condemn those who do accept a “gay” identity, but I see no fundamental truth that warrants my ascribing to it. I know of no standard Orthodox Torah view that could accommodate such an identity. In addition, this means I don’t ascribe to poorly defined terms like “homosexual” and “sexual orientation,” too, terms that science has difficulty defining in a universal and scientifically rigorous manner. I choose merely to describe the actual experience of one who feels sexual attractions to the same sex, and certainly nothing more. This is after all the principal commonality between gay people; they all experience homosexual attractions, though there are many other homosexual things homosexual people identify with that not all homosexual people share. So to identify as “a gay man” means to potentially to set myself up to adopt a whole set of ideas that seem contrary to the Torah true life.

The Torah seems to limit homosexual acts to just that--sexual acts--and sexuality to the sexual bond between the married man and woman, especially with regard to the procreative dimension. I choose to leave it at just that and let G-d in His infinite wisdom be my guide, also believing that through Torah principles, every wrongful desire – including homosexual attractions – can be resisted and perhaps overcome.

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Did I win or did I lose?

A Guest Post by Rafi G

As mentioned previously, I no longer give donations to organizations via credit card over the telephone. The only exceptions will be for a couple specific organizations I am personally familiar with and have a relationship with.

Last night an organization called for a donation. Two, actually.

the first called and after going through her spiel, she asked how I could help them. I asked her to send me an envelope as donating over the phone is not possible for me. She graciously said thank you, took my details and hung up, despite knowing that most of the time asking for an envelope means they will not be getting much, if anything at all.

The second organization called shortly after. After going through her spiel, I told her she should send me an envelope, as I could not donate over the phone. She started arguing with me about it, how it is better if I donate over the phone. I didn't want to listen to her argue, and I did not see the point in arguing about how I should donate to an organization I have nothing to do with.

So I said to her "Ok, so don't send me an envelope. Up to you. Good bye." and I hung up the phone while she was still screaming at me. A minute later she called back and asked for my details to send me an envelope.

I am still not sure if I "won" or if I lost the argument.

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Rabbi Riskin Jumps the Shark

Who exactly is Rabbi Riskin attempting to flatter with this twaddle? The history is bad, the message banal, and the theology appears to be something of his own invention. Also, this video post seems suspiciously like a blog and his rabbinical superiors are emphatically opposed to all religious and social commentary which takes that form. Shame, shame.

The rabbi's video was brought to my attention on Twitter by good old Rafi: "Rabbi Jesus? Has Rabbi Riskin lost his mind?" he asked.

"Yes," I had to reply. At that time, and in that place, a Rabbi was something specific, something Jesus assuredly was not. Being a Rabbi in those days was something like being a Jedi Master. You had to be formally ordained by the Council of Sages, and the title gave you the authority to judge certain types of cases. The idea that Jesus had earned this certification and become a Rabbi in that original sense is suggested by the New Testament. In three books, he is called by that title, but the New Testament is fallible history, written decades after the events it describes, by men who had no first hand knowledge of those events, and a clear interest in embellishing the details, and aggrandizing their subject. To the best of my knowledge, there's no other evidence that Jesus was a qualified Rabbi.

Rabbi Riskin's uncritical willingness to accept the New Testament's history blemishes his commentary in other places, but the worst sin he commits is the claim that between Jews and Christians there is but one significant difference (paraphrased): We say messiah hasn't yet come; they say he has already arrived; the rest is commentary. This is worse than false, and an insult to both faiths.  [here too]

One ironic concluding note: Listening to Rabbi Riskin preach about how the two religions share a common view of history, the view the history is moving toward the perfection of society, toward a time in the future when there will be peace, redemption and good will,  I found myself thinking, you Sir, are not an Orthodox Rabbi. You are a liberal. You don't say that things were better once; that civilization is decaying; that morals have become corrupt; and that we humans have become coarser and stupider as we move further from Sinai. Instead you say that we are an improvement on what came before us; that each generation brings us closer to a time of ultimate good; that a better future lies ahead. When r. Riskin  said, "the idea of the perfectibility of human nature and human society is one of the important links that we Jews and Christians share in common," I laughed out loud. This was originally a Jewish view, certainly, that was taken and deisseminated by Christians, but today the view that our best days lie ahead, and that the world can be perfected and improved is most often associated with Liberals.

Were Rabbi Riskin interested in making friends with progressives, too, he might have spoken of a link that is shared with Liberals as well. But he didn't. Why? Perhaps we'll talk about it some other time.

(1) What happened nearly 100 years ago when Rabbi Stephen Wise said Jews should accept Jesus as a teacher? Find out here.
(2) According to some Haredi Rabbis blogging is a horrible awful thing, especially when the posts attack Rabbis; other Haredi Rabbis (e.g. Yakov Menken! Here too!) on the other hand think its perfectly appropriate to bash the hell out of liberal Rabbis. So is this post kosher or treif?
(3) Et maasai ani mazkir hayom: In 2006 I, too, said a nice word about Jesus. I regret none of it.
(4) Finally, something smart about Jesus and the Talmud from TNR

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Monday, December 28, 2009

Is it ok to lie to our kids?

A guest post from Lakewood Leah

I have a set in stone policy not to lie to my kids. It's extremely important to me, and I will go to great lengths to avoid lying. However, after this evening, I wonder if sometimes perhaps it's ok to embellish the truth.

My preschool age son was watching Bambi and asked me what happened to Bambi's mother. In my defense, he loves watching scary movies (age appropriate of course) that involve fighting and killing. I happen to hate when he watches those movies, and it bothers me how much violence and innuendo are in Disney movies and the like, but that's for another discussion. I've pretty much banned most Disney movies, but I figured Bambi was clean enough and I let him watch it. When he asked me why someone told Bambi that his mother can't be there anymore, I told him that she was killed. I know, sue me. What a terrible thing to tell a 4 year old. But like I said, these things never seemed to bother him before. However, he starting obsessing over it and asking a lot of questions. I discussed it with my husband, and we realized that in most of the other movies, it's always the bad guy who ends up dead.

I want to tell him that I made a mistake and she really just fell and hurt herself, but he's sleeping now. I feel like a horrible mother. But it also really bothers me to lie to him even if he has no way of knowing the truth. Am I taking this too far? Is lying to your kids ok when necessary?

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Ok, what the hell happened in New Square last night?

From the Journal News:

NEW SQUARE — Ramapo police Sunday night responded a call reporting a mob of about 500 people at the intersection of Bush Lane and Clinton Lane.

At about 9:30 p.m., the crowd gathered as an unorganized protest about a conflict within the community, police said

The Clarkstown and Spring Valley police departments as well as Rockland County Sheriff's Department also responded to the scene to assist with crowd and traffic control.

The crowd eventually dispersed. No property damage or injuries was reported.

No arrests were made as a result of the incident.

Police did not release further information about the nature of the protest and community members could not be reached.

Video of a mob of New Square Hasidim screaming things in Yiddish, and, in English: STOP THE TERROR NOW and GO BACK TO KJ @ about 5:30 someone tells a woman (perhaps a cop?) that the demonstration has something to do with someone who "didn't follow the rules, and is now being "bullied" out of New Square. He adds that it will be peaceful until "maybe tonight they'll come back and slash some tires."

According to the titles on the video and the YouTube side matter, rank and file New Square Hasidim rose up to object to the bullying, and to defend the right of their neighbor to remain in New Square. Way to go rank and file New Square Hasidim!!

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Am I Expecting Too Much?

A Guest Post By Henoch (posted by E. Fink)

BACKGROUND: This was submitted to me via email. The author lives in a "black-hat" community, sends his children to top tier Yeshivos, before entering the workforce worked in Chinuch as a Rebbe in a Yeshiva and is a supporter of Torah and Chesed organizations.

We have gone almost 2 weeks since the news of the EJF scandal broke. It is alleged along with solid evidence that a Rosh Yeshiva who was the gatekeeper for geirus to Klal Yisroel was personally involved with prostituting and inappropriate behavior with a potential giores. In addition there are many unanswered questions regarding Rabbonim and others who enabled him and continue to enable this organization to bully geirim, potential geirim, and batei din.

A very frequently mentioned theme in both the Torah and Tanach is the horrible idea of the powerful and privileged taking advantage of the weak and helpless (ger, yasom, v’almanah.) This scandal typifies the elite (or leaders by their silence condoning) extorting the underprivileged.

The Gemara Sanhedrin 19a,b tells of the wicked King Yannai who was summoned to trial by Shimon ben Shetach. When the trial began Shimon ben Shetach told Yannai to stand so the trial could begin. Yannai responded by saying that he wanted to see which other judges demanded that he be brought to trial. At that point all the other judges started looking at the ground and pretended that they hadn’t summoned him. Their punishment was severe, and Yannai went on to kill numerous Rabbonim. Ironically Yannai spared Shimon ben Shetach because he respected him and his courage.

I have yet to hear one single Yeshivish Rov or Rosh Yeshiva who has condemned any of this. Am I asking too much by expecting to hear some outcry that these activities are out of bounds or unacceptable? I asked these exact questions to a Rov in my community and was given a strange array of answers:

"Everyone knows already so what’s the point"
"Since he is finished anyway, why bother"
"We’ve known about him for years"
"Yes, probably something should be said"

The organization itself released a statement which merely says something like “Rabbi X is leaving, we thank him for his good work, we now welcome in Rabbi Y.” All is well, life goes on….. I have asked many people about this incident and about a third of them had no idea about the story. Another third said that if no Rabbonim have come out forcefully, it probably isn’t true and is just lashon hara. The others felt that it is an outrage but differed as to how to react.

I believe that the silence creates the impression that our community can tolerate anything and evil won’t be condemned especially when it involves people who are in “the club.” This is our community. Do we have any standards? Where are our leaders? Who are they protecting? Am I the only outraged person regarding this silence? Am I expecting too much?

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Does the Gerrer Rebbe read my blog?

Does the Gerrer Rebbe read my blog? The no-coincidence school of Jewish thought would have to say he does. Last week, I publicly called on Hasidic Rabbis to order their flocks to vaccinate. Today, Your Worst Nightmare reports that the Gerrer Rebbe has heeded my request.

Attention ADMoRs from Vishnitz, Belz and Satmar: You're next.

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Another anti-Blogging Message from an anti-Blogging Rabbi

One of the local Jewish newspapers printed an ill-advised and unoriginal jeremiad against Jewish bloggers. All the familiar and poorly reasoned complaints were included: We're anonymous, we're too critical, we slay sacred cows by criticizing people and issues that can't or shouldn't be criticized, etc. These discontents and others are aptly addressed and defeated in the following guest post, submitted by THE DARK KNIGHT

A quick fisk of this: by "The Dark Knight".
“There are a minority of Yidden who live for others, whether it’s delivery for Tomchei Shabbos, giving up their Shabbos and yom tov menuchah to go on Hatzalah calls, or even dedicating the little free time that they have to work for their shul or local yeshiva.”
I'm glad we can begin with a point of agreement. Like you, I deeply appreciate those Jews who work to improve the world. (A quibble: Wouldn't it be nice if  living“for others” weren’t implicitly restricted to the less than 1% of  humanity who are Jewish (or was he only including Orthodox Jews?))
“There are people who do care about the general community and are indeed passionate about their beliefs and feelings, but rather than becoming “doers,” they are satisfied to just become “bloggers.” “
This is something of a point. Bloggers share opinions, make arguments and raise awareness, but we don’t take to the streets. No J-blogger led hafganos have occurred. Generally, I believe this is for the best, although there may be exceptions. It is indeed to our shame that while the great Jewish doers mustered thousands of people to burn dumpsters in protest of a parking lot, we simply sat at our computers typing to protest the rabbinic child molesters in our community.

But, is this really what troubles R’ Ginzberg? Is he really sad that bloggers blog instead of doing something more concrete? Of course not. On the contrary, if we were more forceful in translating our beliefs into action, it would only upset him further. It’s isn't our inaction that motivates him to lift his pen in protest (like... um.. a blogger, ironically). It is the beliefs themselves which trouble him. If a mashgiach were to give a blogger-like schmooze criticizing popular culture, no doubt R’ Ginzberg would have a positive response. He knows he can’t defend rabbis who fornicate with their charges, abet child molesters, cheat the government, or insist all life on the planet was destroyed five thousand years ago. So instead he acts out with baseless ad hominem attacks on "bloggers" as whole. (Gil Student and Josh Waxman are bloggers, too, btw. Do they deserve to be tarred this way?)
“Now we have the new group of bloggers, who have spent valuable time with hundreds of blogs and comments on whether [Rubashkin] deserves or doesn’t deserve this terrible fate.
How terrible! People are actually beginning to think for themselves! People are asking and arguing the following excellent question: Should we reflexively protect someone committing bank fraud, mail fraud, and money laundering just because he’s an Orthodox Jew. Such a travesty!
“Several years ago, I tried to convince [a close friend] to join me at that year’s Agudah convention, where I felt his acumen and concern for the community at large would make him a perfect candidate to benefit from and provide guidance to the convention."
Interesting change of direction, R' Greenberg!  Speaking to people on a blog = unholy blogger. Speaking to people at an Agudah convention = holy doer. It seems the distinction has nothing to do with action versus inaction, rather it has to do with agreeing with R’ Ginzberg versus disagreeing with him.
 “[At the convention] Difficult and painful subjects were discussed publicly”
Yes, they were and thanks to the bloggers. Without bloggers your painful subjects would still be “swept under the carpet.” which is where they were kept for dozens of years. It was bloggers, not your so-called "doers" who alerted the Jewish community about these difficult and painful subjects.
“…and important solutions and ideas were presented and implemented.”
Really? Or perhaps, since it was a convention, the solutions were just presented and not yet implemented. Kind of like a blog.

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Going to Israel?
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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Atheist greetings

This sign, which appears at the Illinois State Capital, alongside various  Christian displays, reads as follows: "At the time of the winter solstice, let reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is just myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds." It made the news last week after an especially unreflective Republican candidate for state office attempted to remove the sign. His concern?
"The fact that sign was immediately in front of the tree, I found that to be disturbing because any family and any child would run up to that tree with a smile on their face, and they would immediately see that sign."
I can relate. I don't like it when my kids see nativity scenes with their implicit message that we Jews are damned. I'd prefer to have nothing religious displayed on public land, but so long as trees and creches are ok, counter statements like this are ok, too.

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Going to Israel?
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Shir L'Shalom

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Friday, December 25, 2009

Update on the Fee-Low

Bobby, proud as punch, brought his fee-low home today. It was a paper cut out, illustrated in classic almost-three year old style. He came home wearing it around his neck/shoulder like a guitar.

The strap - really, a ribbon - broke within minutes. He didn't mind a bit.


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R. Malkiel and the MO Jews: Follow up

Received by email
This morning I spoke with the fellow who forwarded to me the email from R. Aharon Kotler in which R. Aharon wrote that R. Malkiel never lumped reform, conservative and MO Jews together as being people whom we have to fight. This person told me that he is on the Board of BMG and that he wrote to R. Aharon Kotler about what R. Malkiel Kotler said. This is how he received the reply that I distributed recently which denied that R. Malkiel Kotler had said negative things about MO Jews.

I told this member of the Board who the fellow was who had told me that R. Malkiel did indeed lump MO Jews with reform and conservative Jews. Shortly after davening I put the two of them together. The person who had heard R. Malkiel speak said that he had attended a small private gathering in someone's home on Shabbos. There were very few people there. Then he told us that he heard R. Malkiel not only lump MO with reform and conservative but that he added YU to the mix.

The person who heard R. Malkiel speak at this small gathering was infuriated to learn about the email message that R. Aharon Kotler sent out denying the entire thing. He told us that he was going to contact R. Aharon Kotler about this.

The person who is a member of the Board of BMG was taken aback by what he heard.

Very Important Note: The person who wrote these words is NOT (to the best of my knowledge) the person who sent me the message. The message was originally posted on one of the super-secret public bulletin board, where people too cool for blogs gather to do what we lower life forms do on blogs.

I am not a member of this board, and I am not bound by its no-sharing rule. I post this for information purposes only and make no claims as to its accuracy. Ceaveat emptor. Take it with a grain of salt. Ignore it if you choose. Its probably not true, anyway.

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Lakewood Gets it Right (Mumps)

The clarity is not great, but you can see this notice, which is on BMG bulletin boards, clearly instructs unvaccinated students to get the anti-mumps shot.

Provided by bootsy thorton

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What it means to be Jewish on Christmas pretty much everywhere in the world aside from, you know, NY, Miami, Israel, etc.

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Slate tells the world about nittle nacht

From here:
'Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, Jews were playing dreidel, being celibate, and tearing toilet paper. Allow me to explain. Please. More
My own previous post on this hysterical subject here

CA Writes:

I have read the summary of the Toledot Yeshu in the Wikipedia article:

(The Toldedot Yeshi is some sort of Jewish anti-Christian polemic of unknown origin, traditionally studied on Nittel Nacht.)

The storyline is kind of interesting. It claims that the conceptions of Jesus (Yeshu) was the result of Mary (Miriam) being raped by Joseph. (Now there's a Christmas story for you.) Also, Mary was betrothed to someone else and a niddah at the time she was raped, so not only is Jesus a mamzer, he's a ben-niddah. This might be worth discussing -- After all, it wasn't Jesus' fault that he was the product of a rape or that his motherwas niddah, so why should that make hom the evil character that he was portrayed in this book? (This has some personal interest to me, becuase I suspect that I am a ben-niddah, as are neasrly all non-Orthodox Jews. Does that mean the frummers think folks like us are evil? Or is this plotline developed just becuase of what Jesus' follwers became?)

Enquiring minds want to know!

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Actual Conversation with My Almost Three Year Old Son


Me: Hey Bobby [not his real name] [duh]

Him: I make a FEE-LOW at my school

Me: A what?

Him (louder) a FEE-LOW

Me: A pillow?

Him:  No I make a (louder still) a FEE-LOW

Me: (to the household) What's he saying?

Oldest daughter: Well, we think he made a fee-low.


Me: Okay! Yay! You made a Fee-Low!


Me: Right. Um... a pillow?


Me: (thinking to myself) Ok, his weekly projects are always connected to the parsha. Let's see... vayigash.... vayigash.... what could it be?

And suddenly it hit me.




PART 2 OF THE STORY Later that evening, or, actually early this morning, Bobby was in my wife's bed, still babbling about his fee-low, when suddenly he gave that distinctive cough which means some vomit is on the way. And sure enough, the vomit came, and when it did my wife cupped her hands and caught it.

Why did you do that, I said, as I ran for a container.

I just washed the sheets she replied. (!)

Disgusting or heroic? I still can't decide.

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Curious: Did the Popes ever distribute matza to us?

This is another of those well intentioned, but historically obtuse and completely unnecessary things people sometimes do. Really, why does the city of Jerusalem have to help people celebrate Christmas? Leaving aside the whole Jewish state thing, what civic purpose does it serve for a municipality to hand out trees? And going back to the whole Jewish state thing... are these people nuts?

I hope this is a hoax. Maybe I'm being pranked - or better yet, maybe when the Christians showed up at the Jaffa gate there was nothing there.

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Another Halacha Question

A guest post by blogging legend MoChassid

This morning, I was a few minutes early for my train. It was bitter cold outside so I ducked into the Dunkin’ Donuts which is across the street from the train station. (The geniuses who designed the Hewlett Station put the indoor waiting room on the wrong side of the tracks (inbound rather than outbound) so waiting there was not an option).

But, rather than purchase coffee there, I drank from the coffee I had purchased earlier that morning (together with a muffin) at one of the kosher establishments in town. As it turned out, my train was cancelled and I ended up staying at the Dunkin’ Donuts for 40 minutes.

(Had I not already purchased a coffee, I would have bought one from Dunkin’ Donuts, but because I had one already, all I did was enjoy their tables and heat without paying.)

Was this g’neivas ha’da’as?

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Tropper is teflon?

A reader and friend has some news about Tropper the Pimp.

Horizons is an organization Tropper essentially owns, but their website still touts him as Judaism's gift to the nations. See here: "R’ Leib Tropper’s passion for the importance of character development is contagious, and the centrality of "being a mensch" to the Torah worldview is his leitmotif. His delivery, which blends a lucid and jargon-free elucidation of traditional sources with his expansive reading in modern psychology and philosophy, has captivated the minds and hearts of three generations of American youth. "

Just to be sure, I called Horizons a minute ago and they confirmed that this info is accurate.

Can one of you mega bloggers encourage your readers to express their outrage with Horizons?

Horizons' contact info:

phone 1.845.425.3863
fax 1.845.425.3571

Mailing Address:
29 West Maple Avenue
Monsey, NY 10952

Web Address:

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Being Gay In the Orthodox World

Video from the big event at YU, which (as noted by Chakira) drew more people then "yomim noraim services in the main bes medrash" (not a fair comparison, obviously: Still, point made.)

What's wrong with gay sex?

These signs were displayed around YU last night, while inside some campus auditorium over 500 people attended a panel discussion on Being Gay In The Orthodox World

Photo Credit: @marczeffren

Kudos to YU on hosting a conversation about this important topic. Longer discussion of the post's title question, after the jump.

My New Header, and an Announcment

The new header, which those of you who are not blind have certainly noticed, was created for me by Tikun Olam's fabulously talented 11 year old son. Isn't it great? No decision has yet been made on whether or not to make it permanent (I'm finicky, and change the design of this place all the time) but I did want to call your attention to it, and give him a  very well deserved public thank you.

Also, I'm thrilled to announce that Tik has a new blog, which makes her a member of an exclusive society. (I've lost count of how many members this exclusive society has). Tik's new blog, Foster Parenting Adventures, can be found here. We wish her loads of luck, and hope she'll continue to post here as often as she likes.

Comment problems still not solved

UPDATE: Having touble leaving a comment? Pease have a look at this topic:

Ok, the neat thing about JS/Echo is their customer support and tech people are very responsive. They answer questions, and seem to really care about getting things right. And their CEO, Khris Loux, seems like a hands-on -guy. Yesterday he commented on one of my threads, and he answers Tweets.

The bad news, though, is this new commenting system is rediculously complicated and even the best intentioned, hardest working customer-support people seem unable to make things simple enough for me to understand.

For an example see this. It's a great answer, I suppose, and I appreciate that Anna took the time to compose it, only I understood about 20 percent of it. I don't know where to find the various attribute thingies she describes, and I'm not really happy about having to mess around with code. Why can't we get buttons, or a WYSWG system? Why do I have to muck around in HTML?

Also, some issues just seem unsolvable. To date, no one has explained how to make this load more quickly, nor does anyone seem to have a way to make the package slim enough to load on a mobile phone (Not being able to comment on a phone sucks.) I see that there's some way, involving RSS, to find links to individual comments, but really doesn't that sound like too much work? Why can't it be automatic? And the only way to restore the great little feature that told us when a comment had been left by someone else while you were reading others or writing your own is also a pain: You have to activate something called "live echo events" which restores the neat feature, but also makes the last comment appear first. No one seems to like that. (Worse while playing around with the feature this morning three or four comments went missing.)

Is there anyway to bring back Haloscan? It was slim, crisp, and always worked. I've had more difficulties with Echo in three days then I did with Haloscan in 5 years. And if Haloscan is gone for good, can the really first rate support people please, pretty please, make the solutions a little bit simpler to understand and implement?

more here and here

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Thanks readers and friends and,of course,  Leib Tropper for helping to produce one of the best weeks on DovBear -- possibly ever. I haven't been in spitting distance of Hirhurim in ages.

Thank you. Glad you're here to enjoy the show.

Erev Shel Shoshanim

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I wanted my challah

A guest post by Rivka

My kids' school runs a fundraiser. Every Friday parents can pick up pre-ordered Challahs. Well, last Friday, I forgot to pick mine up. It had my name written across the bag, so they knew it was mine. When the school called me, and asked me what to do with the Challah, I told them, "Put it aside, I'll pick it up on Monday."

Monday morning, I went into the office to pick up my Challah, and was told that the shul minyan that meets at the school for davening on Shabbat needed a Challah for Si'udat Shlishit, and used mine. They left a message for me saying that they would reimburse me. I became upset, but tried to hide it. I had been looking forward to savoring that Challah, and had actually been relying on it for one of my kid's sandwiches. But how could I make a big deal about a Challah, especially when it had clearly been used for a good purpose?

I guess I didn't hide my upset that well, because a few hours later, a woman from the shul called me and told me that the Challah had been a "God-sent," and insisted on reimbursing me. I told her to consider the Challah my donation to the minyan. She thanked me profusely before hanging up.

I see two ways of looking at this: Either it was divine providence that I forgot my Challah, so that the shul could have it for Si'udat Shlishit, or they used a stolen Challah to perform a mitzvah, which I'm thinking is a no-no. But my question is, does my feeling on the matter, *after the fact*, change things? If I truly make myself think that the Challah was a donation to the shul, is it then "God's will" that I forgot to pick it up on Friday? But if I stay bitter about them taking my Challah, does that make what they did an aveirah?

The Challah clearly had my name on it. It is possible, I suppose, that they thought that the Challah would be thrown out or get stale if no one ate it. Had the school mentioned to me on Friday that the shul might need it for Si'udat Shlishit, I would have offered the Challah immediately, but also would have bought bread for sandwiches. The woman from the shul offered to reimburse me, but never offered to pick me up another Challah from the shop. And--I REALLY WANTED MY CHALLAH

DB: I think this is an interesting question. Didn't the minyan steal the challah? Rivka wanted it, and she hadn't given up on it, so it couldn't be considered ownerless. The minyan likely assumed the challah was ownerless,  but they were wrong, and because Rivka's name was on the bag, I don't see any grounds for that assumption. If I'm right, and taking the challah was an act of theft, by what rational can that shul lady claim that "divine providence" brought her the bread she stole? I see none

Complaints about the new JS/Echo commenting system

Here are some complaints about the new system, which was forced on me when Haloscan was absorbed by JS/Echo. These complaints are shared by my commenters.

(1) When you click on a comment on the recent comment widget (sidebar) it takes you to the top of the thread, rather then to the comment itself (as on Haloscan)
(2) When you have the browser open, it does not tell you if new comments have been left while you were writing your own (Haloscan's yellow bar)
(3) There appears to be no way to link to a comment
(4) There appears to be no way to deactivate threading. Threading causes people to miss comments.
(5) There appears to be no way to edit a comment. Its delete or nothing
(6) Some say the font is too small. I see no way to fix.

Add your own objections in the comments. (and ponder the irony of using a tool to gripe about that tool, while you are at it)

You can also contact JS/Echo at

Or staff members as follows:

Khris Loux
CEO  Co-Founder

Lev Walkin
CTO  Co-Founder

I should point out that they have been very responsive to one problem. He hasn't fixed it yet, but Mr. Igor the support director, has delivered excellent service,

Why is Mumps Spreading in Monsey and Boro Park

In 2006-2007 almost 1500 confirmed cases of measles were reported in Israel, primarily among ultra-orthodox Jewish communities in the Jerusalem Health District and to a lesser extent in other areas. (Remember, not every case is confirmed with a blood test; many cases never even see a doctor.)

My hunch is that there are significant similarities between the ultra-orthodox Jewish community in Jerusalem that suffered from measles and the ultra-orthodox Jewish communities in Boro Park and Monsey currently suffering from mumps. After the jump I provide a salient quote

From long personal experience and interaction with the ultra-orthodox community in Israel we hypothesize that a chief cause of under-vaccination in ultra-orthodox Jewish communities is a lack of interest among many of its members in modern methods of infectious disease pre- vention, stemming from a lack of appreciation in some communities of the potential seriousness of the so-called ‘‘childhood diseases.’’ A closely related issue is a disinclination on the part of the more insular ultra-orthodox groups to interact with government health officials. These two mutually reinforcing attitudes - apathy toward preventive healthcare measures in general and hostility toward services provided by the public health system - result in a failure to vaccinate against measles, creating local pockets of susceptibility to measles infection and weakening the herd immunity required to protect the community. Personal visits by district health office physicians and senior health ministry personal to rabbinic figures were of limited effectiveness during the 2007 08 outbreak, because de-
cades of indifference and mistrust could not be overcome by hurried rabbinic pronouncements, and because not all affected communities professed allegiance to the few religious leaders visited.

Beyond the problem of low vaccination coverage, other characteristics of the ultra-orthodox Jewish population make this sub-group particularly vulnerable to such a highly communicable disease as measles. One third of ultra- orthodox families in Israel consist of five or more children (in the non-ultra-orthodox Jewish population only three percent of families included as many children), and the share of ultra-orthodox children up to age four is nearly three times higher than in the rest of Jewish-Israeli society.19,20 The community’s large family units, with many children eating and sleeping in close quarters on a daily basis, can significantly increase the transmission potential of each infected family member. Another factor is the voluntary physical separation of the ultra-orthodox from the rest of Israeli society, both in residential housing and in the school system, making them far less protected by the herd immunity prevalent among Israel’s highly vaccinated general population.

If the risk of future outbreaks is to be minimized, Israeli public health officials need to work toward achieving herd immunity in ultra-orthodox communities, and among other groups and individuals whose vaccine uptake is below optimal levels.

Is it rational to believe that God exists?

I believe in God, by which I mean I'm certain that He exists. However, as I confessed last night on Twitter, I don't think this belief is rational. In fact, I think this belief of mine is highly irrational. There don't seem be very good grounds for believing in God, and the most famous argument is notably flawed as the ensuing Twitter conversation showed:

DB: I believe in God. Give me a reason, though, to believe in God that is better than the reason to believe Elvis is still alive. [By this I meant that neither belief seems justified by evidence.]

SM: There is simply no rational explanation for too many things [in Israel] to question whether God exists.There's no reason to deny the hand of God in miraculous events when no other explanation could possibly exist.

DB: There's no rational reason to introduce God to solve something you can't immediately explain. That's the philosophical problem [with that approach.] If "no rational explanation exists," the rational answer is to leave it a mystery, not to introduce something [i.e.: God] that [itself] can't be proved or explained.

RK: The fact that we exist makes the possibility of a Creator much more likely than Elvis still being alive.

DB: I don't need to introduce God to explain why I exist. And, anyway, why [introduce] God and not fairies, or aliens? If "no explanation exists," why introduce God, to solve the problem and not dragons, or a witch with a magic wand?

RK: I'm talking about the starting point. First Cause. Prime Mover. Creator. More likely than Elvis still being alive.

DB: You say everything needs a cause, right? So what caused the 1st cause? Why is the 1st cause the exception to the rule? Maybe the universe itself  is the exception to the rule? Your argument contradicts itself. It depends on the premise that "all things have a cause" which you then contradict with the claim that God has no cause.

 [RK is using the design argument, and saying that everything needs a creator, including the universe, and that creator is God. In my response, I'm pointing out that if the rule is everything needs a creator the God who created the universe requires a creator, as well. By claiming that God doesn't need a creator, RK is contradicting the premise upon which his whole argument is based. What is his justification for doing that?]

RK: Once you are dealing with a supernatural entity, these questions don't apply (certainly not the same way). All NATURAL things need to have a cause.

[DB: Did you catch the ad hoc maneuver? When confronted with his contradiction, he changed the premise to "all natural things" need a cause, but how does RK know this? How does he know that supernatural things don't require causes? Maybe they do. How would we know otherwise? What empirical information or evidence does RK posses about supernatural things? What are his grounds for asserting that they don't requires causes? I ask him in my next Tweet.]

DB: do you know what rules govern supernatural entity? You have to PROVE supernatural entities dont require a cause. You can't just assert it loudly.

RK: When talking about G-d? You've got to be kidding.

DB: You're trying to prove God exists. You can't do that by saying "You've got to be kiddding" of course he exists. "You've got to be kidding" is a dodge and an appeal to emotion. Not an argument. Make one or resign.

From here, things deteriorated. RK was never able to provide proof that supernatural entities don't require causes; indeed he was never able to provide any grounds for belieiving in God at all. All he had to offer was a fallacious argument based on a contradiction, though he refused to see or acknowledge this. Those who think Elvis lives make the same sort of arguments, and are equally blind to the shortcomings of their claim.  Does it follow that beleiving in God is no less irrational then believing that Elvis lives? I'm afraid so. Because no good argument for God seems to exist, I'm left with nothing but the conclusion that we (like the Elvis-faithful) believe for no good reason.

And yet, I continue to believe.

See: The DovBear Creed

Regular People Fail Such Tests

A Guest Post by Rafi G

The Spinka Rebbe was sentenced yesterday to 2 years of jail time for crimes of fraud and tax evasion.

This raises a question: How frum people can do such things. Don't we strive to be better? Don't we presume to be better?

The truth is that frum people are just people too. We are human and we all have desires and inclinations. We each have our own tests, which we sometimes pass and sometimes fail (hopefully we pass more often than we fail). We all have frailties and influences.

This can easily explain satisfactorily when a religious guy gets thrown in jail for a crime. But a Rebbe? or a guy like Tropper who is at (or at least near) the top? Isnt he already supposed to have been beyond all that and be at the supreme level of honesty and straightness? Obviously they would have their tests too, but to fail the same tests that regular people fail? It doesn't make sense.

Unless it doesn't take much to be a Rebbe anymore, or to be a religious leader. If all it takes is to be a regular person with a longer beard, than they too can fail the same tests as us regular people.

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This Makes Me Sick

A Guest Post By E. Fink

UPDATE! See Below:

Names of people and institutions have been changed to protect the guilty.

Yankel Levovitz sends his children to Yeshiva Gedolei HaDor. The Levovitzes are thriving in the Yeshiva which is a newer, more progressive and open minded place than the typical RW yeshivishe place.

Unfortunately, Yankel's financial fortunes took a turn for the worse. So Yankel sought the advice of his spiritual leader, his Rabbi. His Rabbi's background was raised Modern Orthodox, and he has now become more "Yeshivishe" right wing.

The Rabbi had some sound advice for Yankel. "Perhaps if you take your kids out of Yeshiva Gedolei HaDor and place them in (more closed-minded, old fashioned) Yeshiva Derech Hashem you will have more hatzlacha in parnassa".

Levovitz promptly takes his children out of YGH and places them in YDH save for one.

The principal of YGH is miffed so he calls a Rabbinic advisor. After all, the Levovitzes were thriving in his school and it is never good for children to change schools unnecessarily. He wants to know if he should keep the one remaining Levovitz. The Rabbi says, "You're not the type of school or Rabbi who is vengeful, just let if go. Besides, you can't really hold it against them today's Jews are all looking for voodoo Judaism. It is the malady of our generation, everyone is looking for a shortcut. The Levovitzes just got caught up in the latest voodoo fad."

The YGH principal kept the Levovitz in the school but remains miffed and incredulous.

Update! If the story seems a bit ambiguous please continue...

Bottom line summary:

Two equally frum schools, one is more open minded than the other, parent losing money was told by his rabbi to switch to the more closed minded school as a segulah for better parnassah. Bigger Rabbi than he (and almost all) called this practice Voodoo Judaism.

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Monday, December 21, 2009

Carter Appologizes to Jews, Israel

Now this is the behavior of a good hearted man:
WASHINGTON (JTA) -- Jimmy Carter asked the Jewish community for forgiveness for any stigma he may have caused Israel.

In a letter released exclusively to JTA, the former U.S. president sent a seasonal message wishing for peace between Israel and its neighbors, and concluded: "We must recognize Israel’s achievements under difficult circumstances, even as we strive in a positive way to help Israel continue to improve its relations with its Arab populations, but we must not permit criticisms for improvement to stigmatize Israel. As I would have noted at Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but which is appropriate at any time of the year, I offer an Al Het for any words or deeds of mine that may have done so."

"Al Het" refers to the Yom Kippur prayer asking God forgiveness for sins committed against Him. In modern Hebrew it refers to any plea for forgiveness.

Carter has angered some U.S. Jews in recent years with writings and statements that place the burden of peacemaking on Israel, that have likened Israel's settlement policies to apartheid, and that have blamed the pro-Israel lobby for inhibiting an evenhanded U.S. foreign policy.

Abraham Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League's national director, welcomed the statement, calling it the "beginning of reconciliation."

"We welcome any statement from a significant individual such as a former president who asks for Al Het," Foxman said. "To what extent it is an epiphany, time will tell. There certainly is hurt which needs to be repaired."
And following Carter's example, I will offer an Al Het to YWN (Your Worst Nightmare, I mean Yeshiva World News) if they publish this story.

Holding my breath.

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Tropper's an easy opponent

A guest post by Rabba bar bar Chana
The JBlogosphere for the last week has been obsessed with the Tropper scandal. And there’s no doubt (assuming the allegations and tapes are real) that the revelations are disgusting and shocking, exposing Tropper for a complete and utter hypocrite and fraud. After all the book banning, conversion revocation, and strong-arming of the RCA into capitulating to the Israeli Rabanut standards, there’s something satisfying in seeing that it’s all fake, that he’s a disgusting excuse for a human being.

But the thing is, for every Tropper out there, there are thousands of sincere Charedi individuals who are just as sickened as anybody by his behavior. They are just as shocked and appalled. But that doesn’t mean that they’ll turn their backs on the hashkafa that Tropper espoused. They still believe that conversion should be according to the strictest Charedi standards. They still feel that wearing only skirts, covering hair and sending kids to approved yeshivas are among the minimum criteria for conversion. They still believe that the world is exactly 5,770 years old and that books even hinting otherwise should be banned.

And those sincere people aren’t just in the super-insular Chassidic communities. The vast majority of the Yeshivish community, even in the US, agrees with these fundamentalist notions. Flatbush and Monsey are chock full of them.

So ultimately, it’s not the ideas of a Leib Tropper that need to be opposed. Self-destruction of hypocrite perverts takes care of that. But the hundreds of thousands of Charedim, (whose numbers keep growing despite an increasing rate of “dropouts”) are not so easily opposed. There’s no dirt on most of these people, no hypocrisy waiting to come to light. They’re sincere people, generally kind and generous too, who simply believe deeply in a fundamentalist version of Judaism.

So how do those of us with a more open approach combat their increasing influence in all sectors of public Orthodox life?

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Remember: There are no coincidences

Don't miss the hot new release from Rockstar's new Torah Story Division:

By Nattan Hurvitz and Aharon Yosef Hoffman

Binding: large-format Hard Cover / 178 pages
Dimensions: 8.7 x 12.3 inches / Weight: 2.8 lbs
Published by Feldheim

Say, does that cover art look familiar? Why yes it does. Perhaps this is why:

Which reminds me: Do you think Kars 4 Kids pays Uncle Moishy Country Yossi a royalty every time their crappy 1-800 Kill Me Now jingle based on his song plays on the radio?


Search for more information about intellectual property rights in Charedistan at

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Via Spokeman R. Malkiel Kotler Recants: Modern Orthodox Jews Aren't Connected with Esev

Last week: Several blogs report that Malkiel Kotler, the most famous of the four Lakewood/BMG Rosh Yeshivas, made a public speech in which he associated Modern Orthodoxy with Esav, and heretical sects like the Saduccess and Karaites
In case you're dumb, or not paying attention, let me reiterate: A Lakewood/BMG Rosh Yeshiva allegedly lumped tens of thousands of Torah observant Jew with Esav/Rome/Christianity etc. This is akin to saying that MO Jews are out of the family, an errant weed, no longer Jews in good-standing. By any measure, it's a pretty damn evil thing to do. Its also the sort of thing rabbinic leaders have, in the past done from time to time, and the sort of thing the blogs screamed about. Only no one from the establishment ever deigned to notice, until...

Two days ago: Reb Malkiel's brother Aharon, namesake of the founder and a principle in the family business (though not quite holy enough to be a styled a full Rosh Yeshiva) distributed a mass email to friends and funders. SEE UPDATE BELOW (Aside: Yes, it was an *email*, as in a message sent via the chazer treif pusul Internet which no one in Lakewood is supposed to touch.) Without knowing what R. Malkiel actually said (no transcripts exist) its hard to categorize his brother's statement. We can't know if R' Aharon is honestly trying to set the record straight, or spinning ala, "When the president said all women are morons, and belong barefoot and pregnant, what he really meant was blah blah blah wonderful people, some of his best friends, etc., his own mother was a woman, and so on and so forth." 

In either case, I think it's clear we've entered a new era when the Rosh Yeshiva of Lakewood sends out a PR flack to respond to negative blog reporting. SEE UPDATE BELOW

UPDATE: Don't call it a mass email: My original source has gotten back in touch with me to clarify: "As far as I know, it was an email to one guy." Of course, it may have been sent to several people, and its possible to set up a mass email so that only one name appears in the "To" field, but I take the point, and wish to emphasize the following: I do not know who was intended to be the recipient of this message, nor do I know how many people received it. This may not have been a response to negative blog reporting. 

The full text of the email is provided after the jump.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Monsey Internist Calls on Hasidic Rabbis to Chastise Unvaccinated Followers

From here:

Dr. Yakov Tendler, a Monsey internist whose patients include many many of the Orthodox community, said that he has treated some adults with mumps who had been fully immunized (*) but contracted the disease from a child.

"There are a lot of crazies out there who are putting their children and everyone else at risk," he said.

Religious leaders have to make it clear that children must be vaccinated, he said.

"The rabbinic community has to chastise congregants who are not vaccinating," he said.

* The vaccine's success rate is 72 -91 percent. This is why immunized people sometimes contract it. To date the mumps outbreak in Borough Park and Monsey is almost entirely a Hasidic affair, but the very real danger exists that the disease will cross over into non-hasidic communities as vaccinated but susceptible people come into contact with infected hasidim.

See these two posts for full details: 1 and 2

Search for more information about mumps and rabbinic malpractice at

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