Friday, January 29, 2010

Quality Post

... and one I requested on Twitter!

We DID change our names and clothing in Egypt

There are some well known midrashim that tell us Bnei Yisrael merited redemption from slavery in Egypt becuase they held on to certain symbols of Jewish identity:

Rav Huna says in the name of Bar-Kappara (Midrash Vayikra Rabba 32:5) that we did not change our names or our language, we did not speak lashon ha-ra, and everyone observed the laws of arayot (forbidden relationships).

In the Mekhilta R. Eliezer haKappar is quoted saying: "Did not Israel possess four mitzvot [while they were in Egypt]…: that they were sexually pure, that they did not gossip, that they did not change their names, and that they did not change their language!?

And in Midrash Lekach Tov on Parshat Va'eira someone (can't find it right now) someone adds that the redemption was merited because the Israelites in Egypt wore distinctive clothing.

(1) The torah seems to say outright that the redemption was merited because of blood, namely the blood of circumcision and the blood of the Korban Pesach. ['I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, and I said to you, "In your blood, live; in your blood, live!"' (Ezekiel 16:6)]

(2) In what sense did the redemption require "merit?" Abraham received a straight promise that his descendants would be taken out of Egypt. It says nowhere that this promise is a function of merit.

(3) How do we justify the claim that they "kept their names?" It seems clear from the textual evidence that the Isralites did change their names. The names of the original nation of seventy that settled in Goshen are given. We also have the names of the tribal leaders who took part in the Exodus, and the names of a few others dignitaries. Not one of them is a repeat. If the Jews who were redeemed from Egypt understood this Midrash in the way that most Jews do today, wouldn't we find at least one Avraham, and maybe a Yosef or a Yehuda, among the dor hamidbar? Yet, we don't.

(4) The redeemer himself seems to have an Egyptian name. As noted by many, Moses seems similar to Ahnmose, Thutmose, Ramose and many other attested New Kingdom names. The names are theophoric (that is embaded with the name of a God) and the suggestion has been made that some Egyptican divine name was originally attached to "Moses" (or more likely "Mose") as well, but dropped at some point. (Aside: The Torah, of course, links his name to the fact that he was "drawn" from the water, a claim that raises all sorts of notorious and well-discussed grammar problems. A solution: His mother named him (the verse actually supports this, and so does logic: How could an Egyptian princess have come up with a Hebrew name?), but she gave him a name that worked in Egyptian, too. If Yocheved was trying to find a way to name Moshe that worked in two languages, she likely wasn't picky about the grammar.)

(5) Other famous men and women from that generation also seem to have Egyptian names, including:
::   Miriam The first part of her name "mry" is Egyptian for beloved; this was a common Egyptian personal name (Noth) and is also the proposed etymology for her ancestor Merari.)
::   Chur Egyptian skygod Horus  (Noth)
::   Pinchas Pi is a definate article in Egyptian; the second part of the name belonged to an Egyptian king (Hoffmier)

(6)Though the Midrash claims the Israelites in Egypt wore distinctive clothing, the textual evidence suggest otherwise: At the Exodus, the Israelites asked the Egyptians for gold, silver, and clothing

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

I see agudah has a website

Visit it here.

(Delicious, right?) 

HT: -NoPeanutz

Tim Tebow's Superbowl Ad

A Guest Post By E. Fink


The most well-known athlete in America might be Tim Tebow.

Tebow is possibly the most celebrated, successful college football player of all time. He was a 2 time national champion with the Florida Gators and a Heisman Trophy winner. His success, as well as his good looks and supernatural physique has made him a household name across the United States. Oh, there is one more thing, Tebow is the son of missionaries who is very religious and (at this point) celibate.

Tebow has used his star power to advocate for Christianity. He spent a couple of summers working with missionaries in the Far East and has always been vocal about his religiousness. Tim Tebow is an athlete who is using his star power to make a difference in the world. We may not agree with his message, but he is certainly a better role model than felon Gilbert Arenas or even LeBron James.

During the upcoming Super Bowl, Tebow will be featured in a $2.6 Million ad for a strong Pro-Life Organization called Focus on the Family. This has set off a firestorm of reactions from groups that oppose Focus in the Famliy, like the National Organization for Women (don't you love these names?) who do not approve the message of the ad. Additionally, advocate groups like PETA are up in arms because they have been denied Superbowl air time for their causes.

Honestly, the reason CBS approved this ad are probably related to the economy. If you're willing to pay $2.6 Million for an ad in the economy - they'll take your money.

What is interesting to me about all this are the circumstances of Tim Tebow's birth. In the ad Tim is expected to tell the story of his mother's pregnancy. Mrs. Tebow became very ill during a mission to the Philippines and was advised to terminate the pregnancy to save her life. She ignored the doctor, Tim was born and Mrs. Tebow survived.

First, Jewish Law does not share the same views as Christian Law on abortion. In a situation where the mother's life is in danger, many traditional authorities hold that the mother MUST abort the pregnancy. There is an assumption that fundamentalist Christians and Orthodox Jews agree on abortion. That is just not true.

Second, even those that hold that abortion is immoral and should never be allowed, is this a wholesome message? To ignore a doctor's strong recommendation? Isn't reckless? Don't we look at Scientology with disdain when a life is lost because of their refusal to see a doctor? What if Mrs. Tebow lost her life in the pregnancy and Tim dies before birth?

It seems that advocating for the sanctity of life is a fair cause to support, but advocating in a manner that breeds recklessness... That seems irresponsible.


It seems that the only danger may have been to the fetus. If that was the case, the issue is slightly different than when there is danger to the mother if she would not abort. Still, opinions remain that permit abortion in such cases., though they are less vocal and a smaller minority than when the life of the mother is in danger. The ad is still reckless.

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The dying during darkness or a new way to deal with literalists

Old Way

Midrashic Literalist: So we know that during the darkness plague 80 percent of the Jews were slaughtered by God.
DB: Um... we know?
ML: Yes, we KNOW. It says so right here in Rashi, (Exodus 13:18) and he's quoting a Midrash, so it's TRUE.
DB: Are you sure?
DB: Well, that's somewhat puzzling isn't it? After all no mention of this massacre is mentioned in the verse. Wouldn't we expect God to tell us that he murdered 80 percent of the Jewish people? Also, the Exodus is described as a moment of supreme joy. Could that be true, if every family was sitting shiva? What you're insisting on is actually a holocaust, not an Exodus.
ML: Hmmmmm.....
DB: Also, if you look at the math, how did we get from 70 original Jews to 5 * 600,000 people plus women, plus children, plus men older than 60 and younger than 20?
ML: Well, they had six kids per pregnancy...
DB: Even so, each woman would need to have like 60 kids, so that means for 210 years every single slavewoman had 10 sets of septuplets?
ML: Hey.......are you some kind of KOFER?
DB: No....
DB: Um...
ML: Don't you think he was aware of all your "questions?"
DB: Um...
ML: And anyway Rashi had RUACH HAKODESH so what he said was TRUE and HOW DARE YOU QUESTION IT.
DB: Well....
ML: You're just a LIBERAL who feels the NEED to question everything. Can't God do anything? Can't he kill 80 percent of the Jews if he feels like? Huh? Can't he? What's with you? Every time the Torah says something that doesn't fit into your narrow, human conception of how things are supposed to be you think you can ask questions?

- Fin -

New Way 

Midrashic Literalist: So we know that during the darkness plague 80 percent of the Jews were slaughtered by God.
DB: Um... we know?
ML: Yes, we KNOW. It says so right here in Rashi, (Exodus 13:18) and he's quoting a Midrash, so it's TRUE.
DB: Are you sure?
DB: Well that's odd, because it says right here in the Gemarah (Sanhedrin 111A) that God massacred over a 100 billion Jews during the darkness plague?
ML: A 100 billion?
DB: Why yes, a certain Rav Samai says that just as only 2 people of the original 600,000 survived to enter the land of Israel, only 2 of every 600,000 survived the slavery, so if you do the math...
ML: A 100 billion?
DB: Yes.
ML: With a B?
DB: uh-huh
ML: Well that's... um... a billion? How can that be? It would mean... I mean... how did they get that many Jews in the first place?
DB: HEY! YOU'RE NOT SOME KIND OF KOFER ARE YOU?! Can't God do anything? Can't he kill several billion Jews in three days if he feels like? Huh? Can't he? What's with you? Every time the Torah says something that doesn't fit into your narrow, human conception of how things are supposed to be you think you can ask questions?

1 - This actually happened.
2 - Though Rashi's view is that Rav Simai means to say several billion Jews were killed during darkness, this isn't the only way to understand his statement. Perhaps Rav Samai is saying that just as only 2 people survived the desert (ie Kolev and Yehoshua), only 2 survived the slavery (Yocheved and Serach bat Asher, I presume, who, according to some (but by no means all) liver supernaturally long lives)
3 - The math (via JS):

2/600,000 = 1/3 * 10^-5

600,000/X = 1/3 * 10^-5

1/X = (1/3 * 10^-5)/600,000

1/X = 1/18 * 10^-10

X = 18 * 10^10

X = 180,000,000,000 = 180 billion

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Rahav sheds light on the splitting of the sea

A Guest Post by Rafi G

In Sefer Yehoshua in 2:10, Rahav is talking to the two spies Yehoshua had sent. She is describing how they know the Jews are going to take over the land. Rahav says "for we heard that Hashem dried out the waters of the Yam Suf before you, when you left Egypt".

I wonder - does this statement by Rahav shed any light on to how the actual splitting of the sea went down? Can we rely on her statement to understand the splitting of the sea? Perhaps she heard wrong? Perhaps the news media outlets got the details inaccurately? Or maybe this is how it went down - rather than moving the waters to the side, the water in the middle (on the created paths) dried up leaving a path...

What do you think?

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President Obama on the 65th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz and Birkenau

Weak speech. Says nothing new, and even the hoary old tropes it rehashes aren't repeated in interesting ways. If you're looking for a way to judge it favorably, though, its true he does say all the right/expected things.

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The power of Moshe's hands

At the end of Beshalach, we're told of Joshua's battle with Amelek. During the fight, Moshe, Aaron and Hur went to the top of a hill to watch, and "whenever Moshe held up his hands, Israel prevailed; whenever he lowered his hands Amalek prevailed."

On the surface, it may have seemed to early readers like there was something magical about Moshe's hands. This is a theory ancient interpreters apparently wished to defeat.

Thus we see:

(1) The raised hands were just a symbolic message [Philo]
(2) The raised hands inspired Israel to trust God, and when they trusted God He performed miracles for them. [Mechilta de Rabbe Yishmoel]
(3) Moshe raised his hands in prayer [Targum Neophyte]

The early Christian interpreters took a similar approach, only they added an interesting wrinkle

(4) Moshe stretched out his hands in a representation of the cross [Letter of Barnabas]

I admit to doing a double-take when I saw this. I've read this story dozens if not hundreds of times, and in my mind's eye Moshe's hands were raised above his head in prayer. I see now that this was a form of interpretation, and one not necessarily shared by those who approach the text from a different set of assumptions.  While Jewish interpreters thought of Moshe as praying, or otherwise inspiring the Israelites, Christian interpreters saw this episode as foreshadowing of an event that would play out later in the New Testament, as follows.

According to early Christian interpreters, Joshua (Jesus in Greek) is a type (that is a representation) for the New Testament Jesus, and his battle with Amalek, a type for the Devil, was a foreshadowing of Jesus's victory over sin.  During the battle with Amelk/sin, Moshe (also a type for Jesus) interceded with God through the sign of the cross, ie, his raised hands. There are many examples of this style of exegesis. (Crossing the Red Sea = baptism; Sacrifice of Isaac = crucifiction; Story of Joseph's sale = Jesus's betrayal; and many, many more.) This approach to interpretation is called "typology".

Now, there's no doubt that these Christian interpretations were the result of pre-existing set of assumptions.  Christian interpreters wanted to justify a view of history, and the role of Jesus in it, and to explain why the Old Testament was necessary and valuable yet inconsistent with what Jesus was believed to have taught. The typological approach, that is the "discovery" of allegories and foreshadowing in the Old Testament, was the answer.

Question for discussion: Did something similar happen in Jewish interpretation, that is were some passages and events understood in ways that fit a different pre-existing set of assumptions?  I think so.... As an example, let's close the post where it began: Some ancient interpreters had the pre-existing view that magic wasn't real; thus, they had to read the story of Moshe's hands in a way that put the power in God's hand, rather than man's

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Obama's Bow: WWGWS (what would George Washington say?)

Will this do anything to blunt the teeth of those who delight in unreflectively criticizing Obama for everything and anything? Perhaps not, but its an interesting historical curiosity nonetheless: Apparently our first president, and founding father had the practice of bowing to his guests. Can Obama claim "minhag avoseinu?" Might that put an end to some of the nonsense?

Source: Reader (name on request) (name is Hedyot) photograph of sign at Smithsonian Museum of American History.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Hey Kettle, meet my friend Pot

The blogosphere "may have worthy offerings but it is saturated, too, with hatred, lies, half-truths and slander," [Avi] Shafran said in an e-mail. He said when sites allow anonymous comments, "the potential for what is Jewishly wrong is magnified exponentially."

Avi Shafran, a blogger himself, appears regularly at Cross Currents, where he treats us to hatred, lies, half truths and slander on a regular basis. His victims have included Reform Rabbis, and homosexuals, while lies/half-truths have also been employed to protect Haredi rioters, pedophiles, and corrupt Haredi businessmen.

Here's the thing: Nothing in the world - blogs included - is all good. To say blogs "may have worthy offerings but..." is to say the sun rises in the east. It's a dull, self-evident fact. Blogs belong to the same category as Avi's column, rabbinic sermons, the Yated and so on. All of them sometimes have "worthy offerings" and sometime present hatred, half-truths or material that is "Jewishly wrong" Avi and his mob are at war with the blogs, only because the blogs can't be controlled, because they won't bow to Avi's preferred authorities, and because they aren't afraid to point out when Jewish emperors are naked.

Quote Courtesy of Hasafran

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Is Parshat Ha'Mon a segulah or not?

A Guest Post by Rafi G

Today is the day people consider it a segulah, or perhaps a better word would be a "yom mesugal", to say Parshat Ha'Mon - the psukim of the portion in the Torah describing the falling of the Mon, and how Hashem sustained the Jews in the desert for 40 years with this miracle manna.

The idea of the segulah is that this week is Parshat B'Shalach, in which the portion of the manna is found, and reading it is meant to remind us that it is Hashem who provides us with our sustenance, not our own toil and efforts, no matter how necessary and important they might be. With this reminder and reconsideration of the real source of sustenance, perhaps Hashem will be more inclined to give the extra assistance in providing the sustenance.

If you have not yet said the parshat ha'mon and still want to, has the set the table for you...

And once on the topic, Kikar Shabbos has a write-up about how this segula is false. Basically it is recommended, and brought in Shulchan Aruch, that one should read the parshat ha'mon every day. There is no special power in reading it today, but should be read every day.

According to their research, the source for the segula is given as Reb menachem Mendel of Rimanov. yet when looking at the calendar of the year that prints all the minhagim, one will see that he says he spoke with the descendants and they deny his being the source and that they have no special minhag of saying it today.

The only source found for it, according to the article, is printed in a sefer that quotes someone who quotes Rav Shalom of Stropkov, who supposedly said in the name of Reb Menachem Mendel of Rimanov that it is a segula to say it on this day. Their conclusion is that such a weak source cannot be relied upon to actually consider it a real segula.

Real segula or not, say it every day or not, any time you say, today or any day, it you should think about the source of your sustenance and reconsider that while you have to put in your effort, it is ultimately Hashem that provides parnassa, and hopefully reconsidering this will be a merit for Hashem's beneficial sustenance.

DovBear: Did you say Parshas Haman?

DovBear: Why parshas haman is nothing like dipping an apple in honey

Song of the Sea: What is it really about?

As you may have noticed, the Song of the Sea says nothing about the sea being split. Though its purported to be a hymn celebrating a dramatic and miraculous rescue, read on its own terms the song says nothing about this. We're told the Pharaoh and his captains sank in the depths of the sea (Verses 4 and 5) but that's about as close as it comes to describing the events of Exodus 14. There's nothing in the song about a splitting sea, or the Israelites walking across on dry land, or indeed about any miracle at all.

In fact, as James Kugel points out, citing research by Frank Cross and David Freedman, the song could just as easily be about an event that happened far offshore, or as verse 8 says at "the heart of the sea" where a blast of wind from God's nose (verse 8) brought up a wave that capsized the boats or barges, casting the soldiers into the sea (verse 4) causing the Egyptians to go "down in the depths like a stone (verse 5) and "sink like lead in the mighty waters" (verse 10). As Kugel points out, "if the Egyptians had been pursuing the Israelites on a dry path in the midst of the waters, then there was nowhere for them to go down, or to sink - they were already on the bottom of the sea bed."

Other curiosities: (1) When Joshua reminds the people about the rescue at the Sea (Josh 24: 6-7) he also makes no mention of a split sea, or a walk across the sea bed. In this version of the story, the miracle was a sudden darkness the permitted the Israelites to sneak away before a surge of water swamped the Egyptians. Joshua says nothing about any other miracle. (2) The song speaks of future events, including the reaction of Edomites and Canaanites, and the establishment of a temple on "a mountain in your territory." (3) The definite article appears nowhere in the song, suggesting to scholars (along with other clues) that the Song of the Sea is preserved from a very early stage of Hebrew (it has been established that Hebrew, at first, had no definite article, i.e. "the" in English or ha in Hebrew.)

How is all this explained? According to Cross and Freeman (via Kugel) the Song of the Sea was a well known hymn, sung perhaps in the Temple, that at some point was inserted into the Torah and paired with the narrative account in Exodus 14.  An indication that the song is something known that was attached to the Exodus story at some later date can be found in the opening line: that was when, the opening line says, this well known song was first recited.

[This post relies heavily on James Kugel]

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Avi Shafran exploits Haiti: Uses the death of 100,000 to bolster his ongoing war with Jewish blogs

Avi Shafran is now on the record suggesting that the earthquake in Haiti was some kind of divine response to editorial cartoons and blogs -- in particular, those editorial cartoons and blogs that Avi Shafran finds personally distasteful. Here is what he said:
No prophet or wise man, only eyes and ears, are necessary to recognize that the Jewish world today is rife with “evil speech” – speaking and writing ill of others (whether the words are true, false or – so often the case – some toxic mixture of the two), and with the hatred that breeds such sins. Jewish media are filled with accusations and “scoops”; they compete gleefully to find the vilest examples of crimes to report, to do the most attention-grabbing job of reporting them, and to be the first to do so.

The very week of the recent catastrophe in Haiti, a national Jewish newspaper published a comic strip featuring grotesque depictions of religious Jews and aimed at disparaging Jewish outreach to other Jews. And another Jewish newspaper ran an editorial placing the alleged ugly sins of an individual at the feet of Jewish rabbinic leaders, simply because the presumed sinner, before he was exposed, had arranged for several respected rabbis to deliver lectures and had encouraged people to make donations to their institutions. Having thus “established” guilt by that association, the editorialist demanded that every Orthodox organization and rabbinic leader publicly condemn the alleged sinner or be smeared themselves with sin. Then he mocked rabbinic authorities as a group for, instead of issuing condemnations of sinners, rendering decisions on social and halachic matters, as if that were not precisely what rabbis are for.

Those are examples of anti- Orthodox invective. But ill will and its expression, tragically, know no communal bounds – in fact, the offensive comic strip seized upon intemperate statements made by Orthodox Jews about others.

Jews can take positions. Indeed we are charged with standing up for Jewish principles. But personalizing disagreements or slandering individuals is – or should be – beyond the pale.

Had we only eyes like the Chofetz Chaim’s, we would discern that hatred and the misuse of the holy power of speech are not small evils. We would understand that they shake the very earth under our feet.
Brave words! Only has Avi lost his mind? Why doesn't it occur to this tone deaf retard that the problem isn't the scandal reporting, but the scandals themselves? Perhaps if Avi put his prodigious talents to work fighting corrupt Rabbis, corrupt businessmen, pedophiles and the money-grubbing Rabbis who protect them the bloggers and editorial cartoonists would have less to write about. (And never mind that when it comes to attacking blogs, Reform Rabbis, or gay Jews, Avi becomes the very thing he says he hates.) Perhaps if Avi encouraged his own community to examine their own sins, instead of hurling wild accusations at others we'd be able to take him seriously. After all, as Avi recounts when Chofetz Chaim heard about an earthquake in Tokyo "immediately undertook to fast and insisted that the news should spur all Jews to repentance." He did not write a blog post on the early 20th century equivalent of Cross Currents cursing out maskilim. My advice to Avi? Let him should consider the possibility that  his own organization's despicable record on pedophilia is also not a "small evil". Perhaps this is also something that might "shake the very earth under our feet."

Update: Here are some comments criticizing Avi that miraculously were published by Cross Currents:

so we shouldn’t jusge the “why”, but the only examples of evil are the anti-orthodox ones? maney laundering, organ selling, prostitution, reversible geirus, etc, none of these orthodox transgressions could possibly be the reason that “shakes the very earth”. Only the non-religious’ behavior disturbs you. Very telling.

Comment by shaya goldmeier — January 22, 2010 @ 4:45 pm

Maybe the quake happened because of people causing evil with their power of speech by NOT using it where necessary – such as with rabbinic leaders not speaking out against evil in the community? Do bad things ever happen as a result of Agudah loyalists, or is it only non-Agudah followers who have to do a cheshbon hanefesh?

Comment by David T. — January 24, 2010 @ 7:58 am

Over the last several years, I found it odd that amidst an atmosphere of increasing observance bein adam lemakom and decreasing observance bein adam lechavero, that lashon hara should be the one bein adam lechavero singled out. This article certainly helps explain why. But I think, in the age of the internet, it will do little good. Possibly the time has come to avoid disgrace not by trying to kill as many messengers as possible, but by NOT ENGAGING IN DISGRACEFUL ACTIVITY IN THE FIRST PLACE.

Comment by J — January 25, 2010 @ 10:28 am

Rabbi Shafran: Your article would have been better had you given examples of things that you or your community needs to work on instead of finding fault in others. Obviously there are people within your own community (as in every community) guilty of loshon hara or other sins and bad deeds. If we are supposed to introspect after tragedy and calamity that means looking into our own actions not those of others even if they are wrong and deserve to be critizised. These events should lead us to instrospection and at least in this forum you chose to ignore your own advise. I would be curious as to your response to this comment as i write respectfully and not to argue.

Comment by Anonymous — January 25, 2010 @ 12:49 pm

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Song of the Sea: How did everyone know the words?

After the collapse of the walls of water onto the pursuing Egyptians, Moshe and the people burst into song. How were several million people able to sing together? One famous Jewish source (Tosefta Sota 6:2) says it happened through a low grade form of prophecy: "The holy spirit came over them, and they praised Him."

Other ancient interpreters, pointing to the first words of the Song (I will sing unto God...") had other suggestions:

(1) Moshe sang, and those who heard him (ie not everyone) joined in for two choruses [Philo]
(2) Moshe composed it himself (and presumably taught it to the people?) [Josephus]
(3) Moshe sang it and the people repeated, line by line [Rabbi Akiva in m. Sotah 5:4]
(4) Moshe sang in sections, the elders answered " אָשִׁירָה לַיהוָה כִּי-גָאֹה גָּאָה סוּס וְרֹכְבוֹ רָמָה בַיָּם." and the people answered עָזִּי וְזִמְרָת יָהּ, וַיְהִי-לִי לִישׁוּעָה [Tibat Marqa]

It should be noted that the LXX and the Samaritan Bible both have SING (plural) rather than I WILL SING.

Additionally, there are traditions that everyone at the Sea experienced prophecy. This is concluded in two different ways. First the song itself seems to indicate that the people saw God. After all they sang "This is my God and I will glorify him." The word "this" seems to suggest they saw something. [Mechilta De Rabbi Yishmael] Meanwhile, in Deut 26:8 Moshe says "the Lord brought us out with great fear." Where the MT has "fear", the LXX and Vulgate have "visions" and Targum Onkelos, Targum Yonatan, and the Peshitta have "sights."

In the Pesach Haggadah, the gap between the two readings is bridged with the drash that the great fear was caused by the revealing of God's being, which would have also been the great vision/sight indicated in the other sources.

[Based heavily on James Kugel]

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A miraculous failed segulah

A Guest Post by Rafi G

Do you believe in the power of a segulah? What about the magical aspect of a segulah not working - would you chalk it up to a segulah that didn't work or would you say the failure was also a miracle and magical?

A segula that did not work, is now being called a miracle.

Rav Yisrael Yaakov Fisher, aka Dayan Fisher, ztl, was big into providing segulas for pregnant women who were having problems. And of all the different segulas an rabbis who gave out segulas, people swore by Dayan Fishers segulas and considered him a master at these things, despite his not being sfardi.

Kikar reports that one of Dayan Fishers segulas was tested recently, and it didn't work. But they then found out that it was a miracle it didnt work.

The situation was that a woman was told her baby was breach. Being that she was already in her 9th month of pregnancy, it had to be turned quickly. Instead of hoping for it to turn on its own and instead of having the doctor force the baby to turn, they decide they would first try Dayan Fisher's segula.

The segula for getting a baby to turn is to go to the Sataf (a spring near Ein Kerem) and to drink water from the spring, passing the water first from the husband to the wife (note: before you rely on this, get the exact details of what needs to be done).

Rav Fisher swore by this segula saying it always worked and he promised it would always work. The only time it would not work is if the umbilical cord was wrapped around the babies neck.

Sure enough, his couple with the breach baby went to Sataf and performed the segula.

When they went back to the doctor, they found out the baby was still breach, meaning the segula had not worked.

As they were preparing for the doctors appointment for the baby to be physically turned, they went through some monitoring and ultrasound tests. After the results came back that all is ok and they can go for the procedure, the husband asked the technician to please check again to make sure the cord is not wrapped around the neck. She agreed and checked it again. After calling in a doctor, they realized the cord was wrapped around the neck.

Had the baby turned, the baby would have died. The segula did not work because the cord was around the neck and the miracle saved the baby.

They performed a c-section and the baby was BH healthy.

Miraculously in this case the segula did not work! Mazel tov!

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Friday, January 22, 2010

Maariv and Women: A tweet from a shiva house

Was in a shiva house this evening. About twenty women in the next room. Not one participated in maariv. Why?

I tweeted the line above last night. Afterwards, some tried to provide an explanation, but I don't think anyone really succeeded.

Some additional points:

* These women were all yeshivish or chasidish. They can all read Hebrew, and know what maariv is.
* Many of these women are the sort of women who get together to say tehillim. Why wouldn't the same kind of women join a minyan?
* I bet some of these women also put stock in segulot. The Jewish belief is that prayers said communally are more likely to be answered. If so, why doesn't participating in a minyan trump any segulah?
* I'm aware that women have no requirement to pray maariv according to normative Jewish law (though some rishonim obligated them to pray three times every day.) I'm not sure why this is relevant. Since when does Judaism teach that extras are unecessary, and that doing what's required is sufficient? Men, certainly, are expected to perform extras. (In fact, some things that once were optional (maariv, psuka d'zimra, hats) are now considered obligatory for men.) Why are women not only excused from the extras, but discouraged from performing them?

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Should we petition Facebook to delete groups?

A guest post by Rabba bar bar Chana

I got a Facebook invitation today from a friend (who also reads this blog) to join a FB cause called “Call Facebook to delete all Hate groups against Israel”. While I certainly sympathize with the sentiment, isn’t such a group encouraging censorship?

If the cause called for Facebook to delete a group that espoused unambiguous anti-Semitism, I would be less conflicted. And while the cause does target a specific group, the name of the cause is very all-inclusive.

Who decides what constitutes a “hate group against Israel”? That opens up the whole question of what constitutes genuine criticism of Israel and what crosses the line. Is it an easy one like a group encouraging terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians? Or is it (as I’m sure some right-wingers I know would assert) a group that condemns the occupation and compares it apartheid?

And isn’t it likely that Israel’s opponents would then retaliate by trying to get Facebook to delete pro-Israel websites, saying that they were hate groups against Palestinians? Is this really the best direction to go in?

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Yet another 5 reasons to hate Rush

The fat one:
If you have often wondered --just in a legitimately curious political sense -- if you have asked yourself why so many Jewish people vote liberal when it seems when so much of what liberals do would be anthema to Jewish people particularly abortion [...] you know something folks, there are a lot of people [who] when you say banker [these] people think Jewish; people who have prejudice; people who have [mumble mumble mumble] a little prejudice about them. To some people, "banker" is code word for Jewish; and guess who Obama is assaulting? He's assaulting bankers. He's assaulting money people. And a lot of those people on Wall Street are Jewish. So I wonder if there's -- if there's starting to be some buyer's remorse there?
Some obvious objections:

(1) In reality it makes no sense at all for Orthodox Jews to side with the Christian right on abortion. According to law and tradition some abortions are perfectly ok, so why would we want the government to outlaw all of them? In fact, why would we want the government involved at all? Let Jewish women decide for themselves, in consultation with whomever they wish to consult, when its ok per Jewish law and tradition to have an abortion. I trust them to make the right decision with no help at all from the US Congress.

(2) As for non-Orthodox Jews, well, Rush is an idiot: Non Orthodox Jews, for the most part, are liberal on abortion.

(3)In fact, when it comes to Jews, Rush seems awfully confused. Two seconds after denouncing people who accept the Jews are all about money stereotype as having "a little prejudice about them" he makes use of it himself.

(4) How can Wall Street bankers (Jews or not) have "buyers remorse" when Wall Street bankers for the most part opposed Obama's candidacy and voted against him?

(5) Though Obama may attack bankers he also saved their hides with massive bailouts. Many of those banks that were near dead at the end of the Bush presidency, are back on their feet and rolling in money. If I was, god forbid, a Wall Street banker I'd have some gratitude for him, I bet.

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Haredim dont vote Democrat

A Guest Post by Rafi G

In the past, many have wondered why Ultra-Orthodox, haredi, Jews have supported the Republicans and not the Democrats, unlike the majority of Jews in general (that vote Democrat).

I finally found the real reason.

Hillary Clinton today spoke out against China and other countries that limit and censor Internet access. She said Internet freedon is part of US foreign policy.

It is clear now why haredim oppose Democrats, and especially the Clintons. The haredim are among those who ban the Internet, and the Democrats fight for Internet freedom.

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So how exactly does olam haba work? (And a theodicy rebuttal)

This isn't going to be long, detailed, or philosophical. I have just one question: What makes olam haba so great?

According to the first mishna of the tenth chapter of Sanhedrin, all of Israel has a share in the world to come. Though some of Israel are subsequently excluded, the jerks are not. So if the small, stupid, annoying and cruel of Israel are all assured a place in the world to come, doesn't it follow that the world-to-come is as unpleasant as this one is? In heaven, what keeps the obnoxious of Israel in check? What prevents them from doing the same terrible things up there as they do down here?

I see one answer: In heaven we have no free will.

But if the ideal state is a state where freedom is severely curtailed or non-existent, why were we given free will at all?

One theodicy (i.e. a justification for the existence of evil) is that free will makes our relationship with God morally meaningful. It's how we "develop a relationship" with him, or "get close to him"  Free will, to defenders of this theodicy, is necessary because without it we'd have no way to grow or to contract in our relationship with God. However, on earth our exercise of free often causes pain and suffering, pain and suffering that in heaven will miraculously wiped away. If our place in heaven is assured - as the Mishna promises - why does God put us through this? Why does He provide us with  free will and encourage us to develop our capacity to make moral choices when it none of that will be needed in heaven? Why does he permit us to torture each other via the use of our free will if after 70 or 80 odd years all of it - the pain together with the power to make choices - is just going to be erased?

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Hot Kiddush

Can you please tell who, in 2010, is still excited to learn that a HOT kiddush will be served? You've seen the email invitations and flyers, I'm sure, with the word HOT bold and capitalized as if the host is concerned his event might be boycotted unless its made perfectly clear that the food will be warmer than room temperature. Is this a legitimate concern, or is the host paranoid?

I vote paranoid. We live in the first world. We all ate ten minutes ago, and we're all going to eat again soon. Who the hell cares if the kiddush is hot, or if the buffet is flieshig, or if there will be cholent and kugel at the sholom zacher? I certainly dont. I attend parties to see my friends, and to honor the host.  The food - which is almost always bland and boring - is irrelevant to me. You don't need to put the menu on the invitation in order to ensure my attendance at your event.

Related questions: 

--Have you ever said, "Gee, I'd sure like to attend Shemreyl's kiddush, but his invite didn't specify HOT. Guess I'll stay home. Screw him and also his family."?

-- Does it make you happy to see cholent at a sholom zacher? I confess to not giving a flying fig one way or the other. Do you disagree?

-- Have you ever shuffled your schedule to attend an engagement part that promised a FLEIGHIG buffet? If so, why? Haven't you seen ribs, fried salami and carving boards before?

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Why Is Yeshivish Lakewood So Happy That Brown Won?

A guest Post by Yosef Greenberg

It would seem that for Lakewood'ers all over, they shouldn't be happy at all that Scott Brown won this race.

Don't they live on welfare? Isn't the healthcare package for their benefit?

The only reason I can think of is the vilification going on the yeshivish newspaper Yated, where they take endless circuitous routes, and not so endless routs, to compare Obama to Hitler, thus minimizing what Hitler did.

Can't they think for themselves?
(Source: WOM)

[DB: Let me attempt to preempt the comment stupidity that often seems to surface when I put up a guest post: I DID NOT WRITE THIS. Additionally, I have no idea if "Lakewood:" is happy or sad about Brown's victory, but it seems to me they should be unhappy or indifferent. Indifferent because Lakewood isn't in Massachusetts. Unhappy because as this guest poster notes, the new Senator seems to oppose the sort of benefit packages that would make life a little less burdensome for the typical kollel family. (I'm betting that in Willy, Square, KJ and similar the hard-core Hasidim are indifferent and/or unhappy.)]

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Dumb post Brown tweets, and my replies

Ok, GOP, very nice. You elected a Senator in a state election. Huzzah. Still, lets not get too carried away with our chest thumping, ok? Here are some of the dumb things GOP Jerks have been saying on Twitter, with my replies. (Names concealed to protect the guilty) (None sic b/ of my crap memory)

The American people have spoken and said NO YOU CAN'T
The American people? Really? About 3 million people voted, and all of them live in Massachusetts. How does that work out to the "American people?"

Kennedy tradition? OVER
Well, no, not if the Kennedy tradition consisted of electing handsome, vapid men of questionable ethics. In which case the tradition is alive and well.

Well, lets see. For eight years the Bush did basically whatever he wanted, without having 60, or even 59 Senators. All Obama has to do is frame health reform as part of the War on Terror (TM) and the meth taking bible thumpers of those great Republican strongholds will fall right into line.

A liberal stronghold has fallen!
The same liberal stronghold that has had one Republican Governor after another for the last TWENTY YEARS?? (Mitt Romeny: 2003-2007; Jane Swift: 2001 -2003; Paul Celluci: 1999-2001; William Weld: 1991-1997) By the way, would you like a list of all the GOP strongholds that "fell" just 14 months ago?

This means the Dems will lose seats in November!
Have you forgotten the president just about always loses seats in his first midterm? Congratulations. You've just predicted the sun will rise tomorrow.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Aishes Chayil and the Color Red

Mildly updated on 1/20

The post yesterday on how Jewish women should never wear red, produced interesting conversation here and on Twitter. Of special note, was a comment by Realist/Skeptic, (a comment to which I can not link thanks to JSKit and their awful Echo Commenting system):
Someone please explain why, on every Friday night, frummie men around the world sing "Eshet Chayil", in which it says that all the people in the household of said Eshet Chayil are wearing red clothing? The Rabbis should IMMEDIATELY ban the singing of this un-tzinusdik song!
He's referring of course to Proverbs 31: 21 לֹא־תִירָ֣א לְבֵיתָ֣הּ מִשָּׁ֑לֶג כִּ֥י כָל־בֵּ֝יתָ֗הּ לָבֻ֥שׁ שָׁנִֽים When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet.  (New International Version).

This is a puzzling thing. How can red - or any color - protect you from the snow?

The answer, I discovered today, may have something to do with our old friend Mister Scribal Error Interpretation (Duh. Dumb lapse on my part. The issue is vocalization, not spelling) Two ancient texts - the LXX and the Vulgate - provide translations of what appears to be the word sh'nayim rather then shanim

I don't speak Greek (and the LXX Proverbs is, anyway, considered by many to be a translation of a different Hebrew vorlage). I don't really have any Latin either, but the Vulgate is often straightforward enough, so here's how Jerome translated our verse: lameth non timebit domui suae a frigoribus nivis omnes enim domestici eius vestiti duplicibus

Vestiti is clothing (think vestment, or our word "vest" which once meant clothing in general); duplicibis is "multiplication by two", ie duplicate. So, as Jerome had it, the verse means the household is safe from snow because the hyper-competent mother of the house has prepared extra articles of clothing for everyone, or as a translation of the presumed Hebrew would have it:  When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in two layers of clothing.

(Other plausible explanations discussed in comments)

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Back when it wasn't "President's Day" but "George Washington's Birthday" do you suppose bitter, unhappy, selfish, chip-on-their-shoulder members of one demo or another refered to it disparagingly as "Landed Gentry Day" or "Rich White Guy's Day?"

If ask, because some fine Jews are known to complain on torah true blogs about MLK Day and to dismiss it with nasty appellations. Do you think the problem will disapear if one day MLK Day morphs into Civil Rights Day, or similar?

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Blatant Racism and Judgmentalism

Guest Post by HSM

Every store I went to today (other than the Jewish ones (and that’s a rant in and of itself)) had signs saying they accept donations for Haiti. In Canada the Canadian government is matching every donation dollar for dollar.

I am sick to my stomach and deeply ashamed of a fellow co-religionist. I was standing in line at the Walmart waiting to pay for my items, and chatting with the lady behind me, a member of the tribe. I don’t know her personally, but recognized her from “around”. When it was my turn to pay, I asked the cashier to please add a 10 dollar donation to the Red Cross to go to Haiti. The cashier thanked me very much. The MoT that was behind me came up to me and in a loud stage whisper said in a scathing tone “do you really want to give all your money to the schvartzers when there are Jews starving here at home?”

I was just so shocked and stunned that I couldn’t even think of an adequate retort. The racism shouldn’t really shock me. Unfortunately that’s something that many people in the community suffer from, and it sickens and saddens me. My children get their mouths washed out with soap if they ever say derogatory terms like that, for any ethnic group. By now, they know better. Unfortunately, a lot of their classmates do not. That being said, we are all Hashem’s creations. We are all God’s children. How dare someone say one person’s life is worth more than that of another? What ever happened to “whoever saves one life it’s as if he has saved the world?” Are people that close minded and tunnel-visioned that they don’t see this terrible Haitian disaster for what it really is – a colossal tragedy on an unimaginable scale? How can anyone judge another person for where and how they decide to give their charity? How does this woman know that I don’t support the local Jewish poor? How does she know anything about me? How can she fail to be moved by the human suffering over there? Fine, if she doesn’t want to donate, that’s totally her prerogative, but to criticize someone else?

I am beyond angry.

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Monday, January 18, 2010

Chazal, Jewish women, and the color red

One of the things I "know" but have never bothered to investigate is that Jewish women aren't supposed to wear red. I don't know where this comes from, or if anyone actually obeys this restriction. Nor do I know the history or the development of the idea. So I didn't have much of an answer when someone semi-famous sent me this in an email slugged "Chazal proven right again." Money quote:
Professor of psychology, Dr. Andrew Elliot and researcher Dr. Daniela Niesta, conducted five psychological experiments which showed that the colour red makes men feel more amorous toward women and found men are unaware of the role the colour plays in their attraction.
Since, I'm not sure what they said, I can't be sure they were proven right, see? Also, I rather doubt "Chazal" spoke on the subject in one unified voice of agreement in that, well, that never happened.

Can anyone fill in some of the blanks here?

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Proud of Israel stepping up to the plate

A Guest Post by Rafi G

There has been a debate on twitter about Israelis helping or not helping others. the issue is specifically helping Palestinians from Gaza getting medical treatment. Some people think that while some are helped, the Israelis are mean, insensitive and cruel because they reject others and don't help them.

Personally I find it to be a kiddush hashem when Israel allows Palestinians in for medical treatment. That being said, I see no reason why we have to let them all in. The army has decided that some people are safe and we can help them, while others are still a danger and we should not help them. I see no reson why we have to help everyone indiscriminately, and am fine with the army and/or politicians being selective. Many of them are hostile to us, and if the army decides certain people are unsafe or it is not prudent for whatever reason that is fine by me.

Some people though are using the rejected Palestinians and making it look like Israel is: a) mean and not helping other sick people and b) bad at PR because if we helped them they would become our friends.

It is easy to second guess, but we don't know why these people were rejected from entering Israel. If the army deemed them unsafe or hostile, so be it. There are other countries who can help them out. Nobody is looking at Egypt. Why do we have to solve everyone else's problems alone? We help plenty, but for certain reasons we cannot help everyone.

The following clip, while nothing to do with the Palestinians, shows Israel does help, and goes well beyond the levels that other countries help and stick their necks out for other people. I would even suggest that the fact that we are willing to go so far out of our way to help, more than others do, shows that when we don't help it is for a good reason.

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More from the Israel-hating New York Times

Whoever it was that said the Times often goes out of its way to make Israel look bad was dead right. Here's more proof from today's edition:
Meanwhile, Col. Cormi Bartal, a doctor in the Israeli Army’s newly established field hospital here, pulled back the flap of a tent serving as the hospital’s pediatric section and pointed to a woman, Guerlande Jean Michel, 24. She identified a sleeping newborn on her cot, one of the first born in the city after the earthquake, and spoke in a halting voice. “This is my child,” said Ms. Jean Michel, a primary school teacher. “His name is Israel.”

Colonel Bartal said the hospital had carried out amputations on 10 people, treated patients with burns on 70 percent of their bodies, and saved two people with gunshot wounds. “There are the injuries from the earthquake, but those are subsiding,” he explained. “Now we’re treating those affected by the aftermath, not from the earthquake.”
 Start writing those letters of protest to the editor please!


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Hope you're home from work, today. It's what Martin would have wanted.

Martin Luther King, Jr: Selected Readings

We are not satisfied and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together. --Martin Luther King, Jr., Address at the Freedom March on Washington D.C, 28 August 1963

For nonviolence not only calls upon its adherents to avoid external physical violence, but it calls upon them to avoid internal violence of spirit. It calls on them to engage in that something called love. And I know it is difficult sometimes. When I say love at this point, I'm not talking about an affectionate emotion. It's nonsense to urge people, oppressed people, to love their oppressors in an affectionate sense. I'm talking about something much deeper. I'm talking about a sort of understanding, creative, redemptive goodwill for all men. --Martin Luther King, Jr., Address at the Freedom Rally in Cobo Hall, 23 June 1963

Selected Speeches and Essays:
'I've Been to the Mountaintop'
'I Have a Dream'
Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech
Letter from Birmingham Jail 

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Why Do University Professors Tilt Left? Part of the blame lies with Rush et al.

The Times, today,offers the best explanation yet for what it calls the "overwhelmingly liberal tilt of university professors:" research suggests that critics may have been asking the wrong question. Instead of looking at why most professors are liberal, they should ask why so many liberals — and so few conservatives — want to be professors.... A pair of sociologists think they may have an answer: typecasting.
According to the study, the stereotype of a university professor as secular and liberal is what "influences younger people’s ideas about what they want to be when they grow up." Just as few young men grow up with an ambition to become nurses, the study claims that hardly any young conservatives acquire a desire to become university professors. In the former case the profession is typecast by gender; in the latter the typecasting is political.

The study goes on to argue that this problem is one conservatives helped make themselves. When conservatives complain about the liberal academy, and speak of it as a place when students are brainwashed and subjected to liberal bias they're also effectively telling young conservatives not to pursue careers in the academy. As the article concludes: “The irony is that the more conservatives complain about academia’s liberalism the more likely it’s going to remain a bastion of liberalism.”

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Sunday, January 17, 2010

new hechsher - for authentic Jewish music

A Guest Post by Rafi G

Bechadrei reports that a new rabbinic committee has been formed. This one is to control what is considered Jewish Music. They will put their shtempel on disks being published to certify that they consider it Jewish Music.
Ostensibly, anything without their shtemple means that composer and/or singer did not follow their guidelines and the disk should not be bought.

Bechadrei has posted the document listing various guidelines of how to play music according to what they consider Jewish music.

And what is authentic Jewish music anyway? Just because a few people decide that the style of music they like is authentic makes it so? The style some people think is authentic based on the fact that they played it 100 years ago? 100 years ago they thought that was also not authentic and was too modern.

I recommend that there be a consumer boycott against any disk, and the artist, that plays along with these guys and puts the shtemple on their disk. Don't buy the disk and don't use the artist for your weddings and affairs. By playing along with the new Vaad they give them power and help them increase their power. If people don't buy disks with the shtemple, artists will think twice before they agree to give this Vaad the power...

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Enjoy more tasty Maneggs at

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Slate and OJ homosexuality

Slate ran a Steven I. Weiss story about OJ and homosexuality on Friday. Its well researched and reported and worth a read. The one glaring omission (and, please: this is not a serious complaint folks) is that not one of the many well-commented posts I've written on the subject was referenced. I've been pointing out that OJ society is hypocritical about toevah since 2005

Ah well. Still, not a bad job Steven. Its nice to see one of our own up on the big stage.

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Friday, January 15, 2010

Va'ayrah Notes (2010)

What everyone should know

- EGYPTIAN MAGIC The presence of the court magicians is not necessarily evidence that the magic is real. Though Alter and Rashi agree that the story is written from the perspective of someone who believes the magicians had real power, other commentators disagree. Notably, Samson Raphael Hirsch reads the magician verses in a way that presents them as frauds. Ralbag and Seforno are two other bold face names who said the magicians were frauds. Ibn Ezra, who also doubted their power proposes that the very word latayhem (enchantments or spells) indicates their chicanary. The word, he says, comes from l-h-t, or flame, which Robert Alter says links the work of the magicians to the "fire and flash technique of the illusionist." Those who disagree with Ibn Ezra and imagine the spells were real might say the root of latayhem is l-'-t or conceal. Even according to the ancient interpreters, who almost certainly thought magic was real, what the Egyptians magicians could do were merely pale imitations of Moshe's miracles.

THE PLAGUES The stuff "everyone knows" about the plagues, is actually a matter of serious dispute among the Rishonim. For instance, if you go around telling people that one frog came out of the river, and that it multiplied as it was hit, you're disregarding contrary opinions of Rabbi Eliezer ben Azarya, Rashi and the Abravenel. If you say the Israelites weren't affect by the first plagues you're over-ruling Ibn Ezra. And so on.

External Parallels
Our parsha begins with a formula ("I am X") that is found in many ANE documents, both as a royal statement, or as the announcements of various deities. (Alter)

Against the crux
At the beginning of the parsha, God seems to say that he never once told the Patriarchs his four-letter name. Rashi says what this means is that Patriarchs weren't aware of the attribute represented by this name. [More]Alter points out that literally its true: Nowhere, does God reveal himself to Patriarchs by that name. Alter points out that literally its true: There's no special episode, such as this one, in which God's four-letter name, or the meaning of it, is revealed; on the other hand, there's also no concrete indication that they were ignorant of it either.

The second time Moshe's stick* is transformed into a reptile, the animal is called a tanin. Previously its a nachash. The difference? A nachash is an ordinary snake, but a tanin might be a crocodile, or a dragon.

*Here I follow those who said there was one magic stick, which Aaron borrowed as needed.

The plagues come in three groups of three. The first of each triad is announced by Moshe in the morning at the water's edge, with the . the second is announced in the palace, and the third isn't announced at all. Also, the first two affect the Nile, and end with a stench. The second two involve insects (per those who take orov not as a horde of beasts but as a swarm of bugs.) The third pair are epidemics, and the fourth destroy crops. The final two plagues pair darkness with death.

See all I've done so far on Exodus

Me too!

A guest post by N of "Geshmack Dvar Torah Weekly"

A wonderful idea from the Sifsei Cohen, a student of the Arizal.

After Hashem sends down the hail that destroyed all the vegetation of Egypt, Paroh calls for Moshe and Ahron and says "ה' הַצַּדִּיק וַאֲנִי וְעַמִּי הָרְשָׁעִים" This is generally translated as– Hashem is righteous, וַאֲנִי וְעַמִּי הָרְשָׁעִים – and I and my people are wicked. But this pasuk can be split up in a different way, which results in a change in its meaning; !ה' הַצַּדִּיק וַאֲנִי -וְעַמִּי הָרְשָׁעִים – Hashem is righteous - as am I! וְעַמִּי הָרְשָׁעִים – and it is my people who are wicked!" . Paroh is faking innocence – and attempting to side with Hashem, and claims it is his people whom are wicked, not he!

In addition, if we take out וַאֲנִי, the roshei teivos (initials) of the remaining four words spell Hashem’s 4 letter name. The וַאֲנִי is in the center of this; it is interrupting the shem Hashem. He is claiming parity with G-d, and within G-d's Name itself!

Paroh proceeded, and told Moshe that he will allow the Jews to go, so Hashem stopped the hail, yet Parah did not keep his word, and did not allow them to leave. Hashem says to Moshe in the first pasuk of next week's sedra "בֹּא אֶל פַּרְעֹה כִּי אֲנִי הִכְבַּדְתִּי אֶת לִבּוֹ וְאֶת לֵב עֲבָדָיו לְמַעַן שִׁתִי אֹתֹתַי אֵלֶּה בְּקִרְבּוֹ - The Lord said to Moses: "Come to Paroh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, in order that I may place these signs of Mine in his midst" (10:1).

There is a problem with this that is not evident from a translation. Why does Hashem say כִּי אֲנִי הִכְבַּדְתִּי? The אֲנִי is superfluous , as הִכְבַּדְתִּי is in the first person, so there must be more to it than meets the eye. Literally, כִּי אֲנִי הִכְבַּדְתִּי means because of אֲנִי I have hardened – Hashem is saying that it is because of Paroh’s arrogance and usage of the word אֲנִי in 9:27 that הִכְבַּדְתִּי – I have hardened his heart so that שִׁתִי אֹתֹתַי אֵלֶּה בְּקִרְבּוֹ. Except, אֹתֹתַי can mean My signs or My letters. Hashem hardened Pharoah’s heart so that he can see ‘My letters’ in his midst. Which letters are we talking about? The letters that make up the name of Hashem which Pharoah had previously attempted to infiltrate!

So in essence, "because of אֲנִי, I have hardened their hearts to show my letters {ie G-d's name, with all His power,} and showing it in their midst".

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The mouth just hangs open

Kieth Olberman delivers a viscious (and well deserved) open-handed slap to the face of both Robertson and Limbaugh


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Ktav ivri vs ketav ashuri

Suppose I told you that I thought the Torah was given in cyrillic letters. You'D think I was nuts, wouldn't you? So what do we about the fact that there are actual Jews who make an analogous claim? I'm speaking of the very famous ktav ivri vs ketav ashuri argument.

What we call ktav ivri is a cuneiform script, is an abjad offshoot of the ancient Semitic alphabet, barely discernible from the Phoenician alphabet from which it was derived. The square script used for Hebrew today is a direct decendant, not of Phonenician, but of Aramaic/Assyrian or ketav ashuri, a script first attested to in the 9th century BCE. Sometime around the 3rd or 4th century BCE, ketav ashuri began to gradually replace ktav ivri for Hebrew writing as Aramaic became the region's most important language.

The Torah, you will recall, was revealed on Mount Sinai around 1300 BCE or about 400 years before ketav ashuri appeared, and perhaps 1000 years before Jews started using it.

The problem
Now then. what script did Moshe use when he took on the role of Executive Secretatry, and wrote the Torah, according to the divine dictation? There are four views:

Some (1) say the original Torah scrolls were written in ketav ashuri. According to other opinions (2) the ketav ashuri in which the Torah was given was forgotten and for many years  ktav ivri was used for Torah scrolls, until the ketav ashuri script was restored by Ezra. A third opinion (3) is that the Torah was originally given in the ktav ivri ; later the ketav ashuri script was introduced by Ezra. A fourth opinion (4), which I made up just now, is that the ktav ivri was just an ancient form of shorthand, used by Moshe because God simply refused to slow down.

The most logical opinion, of course, is the third one. Perhaps this is why it's also the least popular.

Anyway, I once had the misfortune of speaking (in the yeshivish dialect) to a young yeshiva student who outright refused to accept the testimony of archelogists who know from their research and discoveries that ketv ashuri did not exist when the Torah was given.

Young yeshiva student: Archeologists? Feh!

When I told the young yeshiva student that his view, the view expressed by the Rabbis who took the first opinion, was analogous to saying the Torah was revealed in cyrillic letters, he had this clever reply:

Young yeshiva student: Chazal said that a Torah is only kosher if it's written in ketv ashuri. That's a halacha! So how could it be possible that all the Torahs written by Dovid Hamelech and the other kings of Israel weren't kosher? And by the way: Archeologists? Feh!

At this point, I considered terminating the conversation and heading for the nearest cliff, but I took one last stab:

DovBear: Look, you know that Chazal made mistakes with medicine. We've had that conversation, and you agreed with me. So why can't you accept that those who say the Torah was originally written in ketv ashuri were wrong about that, too?

Young yeshiva student:  Liberal! Have some faith!!

Sigh. I don't know what will become of our young yeshiva student. Like so many other young yeshiva students, he has an acute contempt for science. And as he goes, so goes our world.

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Stupidity, Religion, and Stupid Religion

XGH posted this image, which I presume he created. I've stolen it because it describes me as well. In fact, I think it describes every single sentient human on the plant. All of us hate where religion and stupidity overlap. The distinction is one of definitions, and the problem is that some of what is blatantly stupid is embraced, protected and cherished by others as something "religious."

For what its worth, here's how I see things. I expect your own chart will be different:

Stupid (examples)
Vaccinations are bad for you
George W. Bush was one of the great presidents, right up there with Lincoln.
Obama is a Muslim, Christian, Israel-hating secular atheist who was born in Africa.
Fox is fair and balanced

Religious (examples)
God exists, and set the universe in motion to develop contingently, with the promise that what He had made would always be "very good."
All Jews, and the rightuous of other nations, too, have a place in the world to come.
Heaven and earth once intersected at Sinai, at an event we call matan torah
What is despicable to you, do not do unto others
Lo bashamayim hee

Stupid Religion (examples)
"We" know the truth.
You have to dress/act/think a certain way. Any variation is suspect
Only our way of thinking/doing is authentic.
The Torah true approach to midrashim
Evolution is chazer treif
If you wear this bracelet or whisper these words or perform this bizarre act good fortune is guaranteed
Science is the devils playground
No Jew should go to work if he can avoid it: Kolel only
Ethics apply only to how we treat other Jews. When it comes to non-Jews all bets are off
The Torah says you have to be a Liberal/Conservative and that you can't possibly be a Liberal/Conservative
God gave us license to do whatever the hell we please to those A-Rabs who don't belong in Israel anyway
(wow this is easier then I thought it would be)

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Earthquake in Haiti - the Jewish connection

A guest post by Rabba bar bar Chana

Actually, there isn't really much of a Jewish connection. Port-au-Prince doesn't even have a Chabad house. (I think the nearest one is in the Dominican Republic.)

But as Jews, we should all be thinking about this horrible tragedy affecting fellow human beings.  Unfortunately, a look at my blogroll this morning revealed no posts on the Jblogosphere about the earthquake. So I figured I'd put one up here. There's not much that I can add to the news, except to urge everyone to give tzedaka to relief organizations helping out there. And if you feel more comfortable giving to a Jewish organization, and find one that is helping out in Haiti, please post that information in the comments so others can give too.

And for those of you who need a Jewish/Israeli connection, see this article. Israel is sending relief workers to Haiti, and several Israelis are missing. Also see this history of Jews in Haiti.
UPDATE: For the REAL Jewish connection, see the first comment -- DB

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Why the Republicans get a pass on National Security

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Rav Ovadya Yosef Eats His Foot Again

New from Rabbi Ovadya Yosef:
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef said in his weekly sermon on Saturday night that Shabbat desecraters are "stupid" and "worse than animals."
July 2009: “Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef has argued that those murdered in the Holocaust were a reincarnation of sinners from past generations, Ma'ariv reported on Sunday.”

February 2009: “In a bid to stem defection of voters from Shas to Israel Beiteinu, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef warned on Thursday that anyone who votes for Avigdor Lieberman's party is a transgressor whose sin will never be expiated. "If someone plans on voting for a party that is in favor of assimilation, of selling pork, then his sin is too great to bear, his sin will never be forgiven," the Shas mentor said in a televised appearance without explicitly mentioning Israel Beiteinu's name.”

August 2007: “Officials from across the political and military spectrums slammed Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef Monday for a sermon in which Yosef said troops killed in the Second Lebanon War lost their lives because of their lack of religious observance.”

July 2007: "Women should make hamin and not deal with matters of Torah," the spiritual leader of Shas, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, said in a speech to supporters on Saturday night.”

How much is too much?

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