Friday, February 26, 2010

Az Yashir Manuscript From 7th Century Now Complete

A Guest Post By E. Fink

The 1300 fragments form the song Az Yashir, The Song at the Sea, a popular topic of conversation here on DovBear. The significance of this finding is that it is a rare biblical text from between the 3rd and 10th century. Of note is the fact that the song is written in poem style like in our Sefer Torah today. While in the Dead Sea Scrolls it is written in prose. This is the earliest document of Az Yashir in the style of a poem.

The commenters on the original article on The Huffington Post are busy arguing about whether the Israelites existed or not, which this rare manuscript has no impact on. I say, stop fighting and just marvel at the beauty and wonder of a glimpse into history...

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Kosher Minhagim

A Guest Post By E. Fink

On VIN there is a pinned article by Rabbi Hoffman about the origins of wearing costumes on Purim. Rabbi Hoffman cites one of the earliest source for this custom, the well-known responsa of Rav Yehuda Mintzt from the 15th century permitting a man to dress like a woman on Purim. He then cites Moritz Steinschneider who attributes the custom to the influence of the Carnival.

There are two lines that seem to contradict one another in the article.

First Rabbi Hoffman says:
"But out minhag did not come from the Roman Carnival. It is not that we believe that cultural diffusion does not exist. We do."
So it seems like he holds that minhagim can come from all sorts of places. A practice can become "Jewish" if Jewish people accept it, find meaning in it and it becomes part of our culture. Just, he has a theory that Purim costumes are Jewish in origin, not borrowed.

Rabbi Hoffman is very honest in expressing incredulity that the custom is older than a few hundred years. He cites some Chasidic sources that apply deep meaning to the custom and is skeptical that such a recent custom is so deep.

Rabbi Hoffman then offers his theory. It is based on a possible error that non-Torah scholars made when reading a piyut. They thought the piyut refers to Jews dressing up in costume on Purim. From there the custom took off and spread.

The end of the article is the part that bothered me. Rabbi Hoffman contradicts himself.
"The origin is a kasher minhag b"Yisroel from German Jewry".
In other words, a minhag based on an erroneous reading of the piyut is somehow "holier" than a custom that was purposely borrowed from the neighboring non-Jews and elevated into a spiritual practice. Why is an erroneously generated minhag more kosher than a minhag that started out on loan from the umos haolam? And as he said earlier, we know that there is diffusion, so why deny it here?

Further, even if this "mistake" actually happened, isn't it likely that the custom only took hold and "stuck" because of the Carnival? I think so.

Sometimes and in some ways Rabbi Hoffman offers a fresh voice of reason, but in this case I think he nailed some points, but in the end he missed the boat.


If you think about it, Rabbi Hoffman's proposed source for costumes on Purim is also borrowed from the Umos Haolam. We are borrowing the costume wearing from Amalek!!! Haha!

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Hundreds of Years ...

A guest post by MarkSofla

While on Twitter discussing women possibly not going to funerals if both parents are alive (nonsense), the discussion morphed to people with both parents still alive leaving shul during Yizkor.

I mentioned something that I'd once heard -

@Mottel @hsabomilner Was once told that leaving for yizkor is a mistaken custom,and was told u stay & say the applicable ones like e/o else.

and received the response -

@MarkSoFla mistaken? People have been doing it for hundreds of years. Even if based on 'superstition', if people do it, it's a custom

So according to @Mottel, if people "do" something for hundreds of years, it's a custom, and that's it. I responded as follows -

@Mottel In 100's of years,leaving shul during leining of haftara to have a drink will be custom under your rules. Right? @DovBear

I think that just because someone perhaps makes a mistake, and others emulate that mistake for hundreds of years, doesn't mean that it is always right to continue doing that thing that may be "mistaken" or wrong. Even if hundreds of years have passed.

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Had to suffer through a bizarre Twitter conversation last night. It started when a famous J-Blogger suggested that it was sexist for the Olympics to hold gender separate events, and it became heated when someone else attempted to use the policy at the Olympics as a justification for gender separation in Judaism.

I kid you not. 

Miriam’s Cup

A twitter buddy of mine was clicking through and came across this – a cup for the Passover Seder that initially looks like Elijah’s cup, but on further inspection it is actually a “Miriam’s Cup”. The site has one Elijah’s Cup for sale, but three different Miriam’s Cups (in this specific collection).

I had never heard of Miriam’s Cup at the seder before and I set out to find out what it means, is it feminist, conservative, reform, or modern orthodox?

I came across this website (not sure which brand of Judaism the writer is from) which I think takes it a little to the extreme – what with dancing at the seder with tambourines and all. (Also there is a section for the feminization of some brachot….) But I do like that it encourages the celebration of women in our history. The cup is apparently filled with water, not wine, based on the Legend of Miriam’s Well and is not meant to replace Elijah’s cup during the seder. From what I understand the whole point of it is that women in our history, according to this website, have not been acknowledged enough – “their stories have been to sparingly told”. The whole Miriam’s cup idea started out as a Shabbat ritual and evolved to have a place at the seder.
I am still researching. I have to say there are parts of this that really sound interesting and different, and parts that just will not gel with our celebration of Passover. From the reading I have done so far it seems a liberal tradition. Perhaps if I would ever have a women’s only Seder I would include Miriam’s Cup. But then again, isn’t the seder long enough without it?

I have to read more – just read (on the same site) about some people putting an orange on the seder plate as a gesture of solidarity with Jewish lesbians and gays and other marginalized within the Jewish community…..An orange?!!

Please let me know your thoughts on Miriam’s Cup, if you know anything more, have been to a seder where there has been one, would you include it in your seder, and as usual, your thoughts on this subject.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The most disturbing Israel tourism ad you will ever see

In which Israel sells itself with oral sex. Must be seen, to be believed.

Watching this, you may find yourself wondering if maybe Satmar had it right.

Drat. Some Ayatollah took it down. Here's the script:

Girl: Uhhh…
Boy: What?
G: Don’t be mad…It’s just that it’s small…
B: Small?!
G: I don’t know if I can go there.
B: I consider this a spot of worship. It may be small, but it’s brought the driest places to life. Baby, this is paradise. [camera pans to show map of Israel and tourist guidebooks covering boy's crotch].
G: OK, but if I go down there for you, you have to promise you’ll go down south for me next winter.

Read the whole story here.

Satamr had it right? Lemme explain. By this I'm referring only to the Satmar promise that the establishment of the modern state of Israel would contribute to the degeneracy of the Jewish people.


Its been found elsewhere. Post updated.

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Twitter Tweaking the Unreflective, Unrepentant Right Wing

Well, I was going to write a post about how the dark, slimy, underbelly of the RW Twitterverse came gunning for yourfavoriteblogger only that would be a wild and irresponsible exaggeration, besides being untrue.

What really happened is @jennihann gave us the breaking and important news that there is no Palestine, in that there's no place called Palestine on a map, and no Palestinian currency. Then, she remarked about the new Islamic-looking crescent logo Obama has, apparently, foisted on an unsuspecting Defense Department.

[I'd love to supply the Tweets themselves only Jenni blocks her account]

I replied as follows [all sic]:

theres no Iriquoe currency yet there are Iriquoe ppl. No place called Iriquoe either.

why would our islamic/humanist/jeremiahwrightworshiping/secular/socialist/kenyan pres put only a crescent on logo? what abt rest?

Good points, I thought. After all, the American Indians don't have a currency, or a land of their own, yet they do exist. Also, I found it odd that Obama, who has been disparaged by the RW for simultaneously being too Christian, too Muslim, and too Secular, would mark the Defense Department with a crescent. Why not a Christian black power symbol and a humanist icon, too? How did he choose one over the other? Couldn't he figure out a way to sneak in all three? I was hoping @jenihann would explain.

Instead, she called me a terrorist loving something or other. [going from memory, because, again, she bravely blocks her tweets, but it was nasty, and it was a compound insult] And, because she slandered me without putting @dovbear at the beginning of her tweet, all of her followers saw it, and three of them chimed in afterwards with super-accurate remarks about my all-consuming love for baby-killing terrorists.

Sigh. Thanks to @marksofla for attempting to back me up, but as I told him, there's no point. What that lot deserves is mockery only.

Meanwhile, @aspacewithin and I can't seem to stop talking about the guy on Sanhedrin 10: who slept with an ox. As you can imagine the Twitter spam from that, too, has been superfluous.

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The Crazy thing a Crazy Republican said today

On Thursday, Virginia State Delegate Bob Marshall (R) spoke at a press conference against state funding for Planned Parenthood. He blasted the organization for supporting a women’s right to choose, saying that God punishes women who have had abortions by giving them disabled children:

“The number of children who are born subsequent to a first abortion with handicaps has increased dramatically. Why? Because when you abort the first born of any, nature takes its vengeance on the subsequent children,” said Marshall, a Republican.

“In the Old Testament, the first born of every being, animal and man, was dedicated to the Lord. There’s a special punishment Christians would suggest.”

Marshall is also fighting against health care reform, saying that “Obamacare” is trying to take “your soul.” Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin has been pushing back against high-profile figures and entities who have been attacking people with disabilities. Will she speak out against someone in her own party? (HT: Right Wing Watch)

Taken word-for-word from ThinkProgress, where comments such as these can be found:
  • Which came first – the stupid or the republicans?
  • Real definite proof that the division of church and state was a great idea.
  • More proof that Republicanism is a mental illness.
  • Is there a secret contest going on inside the garbage GOP to see who can utter the most nauseatingly outrageous and most galactically stupid comment ever made?
  • To the voters in Virginia—Have you no shame?

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Monday, February 22, 2010

Mi K'Amcha Yisroel


Gay Marriage Should be Illegal: 10 Good Reasons

Seen here:, via @neyne

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Torah-true Explanation Needed

Does anyone have a Torah True explanation for Rashi "V'es kol asher..." on Ex. 25:22?

The verse:
וְנֹועַדְתִּ֣י לְךָ֮ שָׁם֒ וְדִבַּרְתִּ֨י אִתְּךָ֜ מֵעַ֣ל הַכַּפֹּ֗רֶת מִבֵּין֙ שְׁנֵ֣י הַכְּרֻבִ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֖ר עַל־אֲרֹ֣ן הָעֵדֻ֑ת אֵ֣ת כָּל־אֲשֶׁ֧ר אֲצַוֶּ֛ה אֹותְךָ֖ אֶל־בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃

ואת כל אשר אצוה אותך אל בני ישראל
and all that I will command you unto the children of Israel: Heb. וְאֵת. This “vav” [meaning “and,”] is superfluous, and there are many similar [examples] in the Torah. And you shall interpret it thus: "and all that I will speak with you there is all that I will command you unto the children of Israel."

The problem:
Rashi text was different from ours. His read ואת כל אשר; ours reads את כל אשר.

My non-Torah True solution:
Shoulder shrug. Rashi had a different text. So what?

Is there a better answer?

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:: Our after-shul refreshments are called a kiddush (1) (and for some reason a "hot kiddush" is considered an especially big deal.)
:: The plural of this word is kiddushim
:: In biblical hebrew, a kadesh is a male prostitute [See Deut 23:17]
:: The plural of kadesh is kadeishim
:: "Hot" is slang for sexy or attractive; thus
:: Meal Mart  is claiming their shop specialty is "Good looking male prostitutes"

(1) In the vernacular, this isn't limited to shabbos; I've heard the cake and juice put out for a weekday yartzeit  reffered to as a "kiddush" (laughably, Wikipedia calls the shabbos morning snack a "ceremonial meal" and prescribes cake, crackers and fish. In my shul, such a scanty kiddush would be called, "an insult.")

HT: Someone who doesn't want me to to hat-tip him

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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Visit to Jew York follow-up

My Noachide correspondent writes again

The responses to my recent post “Taking a Jew Tour of NY” (Feb. 9) were most informative and appreciated! My friend and I (both Noahide) live in an area with a small Jewish presence (west TX and NM); therefore, we want to see and experience as much as we can. Because of time constraints, we have narrowed down our stops to Boro Park and Williamsburg. This will be my first time in Brooklyn, my first synagogue experience, and our first Purim. Since your readers have been so gracious, I am hoping they can offer help with the following:

1. Because it’s Purim, should we dress normally for a Saturday morning service? Will there be any Purim activities anywhere during the day or Saturday night? Which shul in the area would be least bothered by a couple of non-Jews showing up for a service and might have English/Hebrew prayer books?
2. What is the best way to travel betwixt the two neighborhoods?
3. How easy is it to get a cab in these neighborhoods or is bus/subway the preferred method of travel?
4. Judaica shopping??? We definitely want to shop Eichlers… any other recommended shopping in either area?
5. What is considered respectful and modest attire for a woman?

We consider it a privilege to walk beside you in this world, and we anticipate a wonderful weekend experiencing the beauty of Jewish life.

My heartfelt thanks,

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Friday, February 19, 2010

Another Torah True Innovation

The Rabbinical Council for Public Transportation is working hard to keep Jews safe on land, sea and in the air:

"The new mehitzas, made of white nylon, stick onto the fabric of the airplane chair using Velcro and can be arranged to make a protective “shield.” The mehitza goes around the head and is mostly in front of the passenger’s face, protruding only a little to the sides. Its designer, who asked that his name not be published, declined to share pictures and his design details, but said the mehitzas were “airy” and did not bother anybody."


Doubt this is Torah True, and based on authentic practice? Don't be so sure! Moshe wore a veil, didn't he? Didn't he? I rest my case.

HT: Enigma

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Obama visits New Square!

From Purim 2009. I don't understand a word. 1 million DovBear dollars for a transcript.

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Some speculation resulting from an odd Onkelos translation

This is a Mishpatim post. It is one week late. No refunds.

Exodus 23:5:

כִּֽי־ תִרְאֶ֞ה חֲמֹ֣ור שֹׂנַאֲךָ֗ רֹבֵץ֙ תַּ֣חַת מַשָּׂאֹ֔ו וְחָדַלְתָּ֖ מֵעֲזֹ֣ב לֹ֑ו עָזֹ֥ב תַּעֲזֹ֖ב עִמֹּֽו

If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you azov taazov him with it.

On the spot Rashi, provides evidence that azov is a homonym. The common meaning is "leave", but citing a usage in Nehemia, Rashi shows that azov can also mean "help." Accordingly, Rashi translates the verse as follows:

If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help him him with it.

Onkelos translates the word as leave; to make the verse work with azov as "leave" he is forced to finesse the translation by adding some words:

If you see the donkey of your enemy struggling under his load, do not leave him there. Leave behind the hatred you have in your heart for him and help him.

Robert Alter's comment:

The rare Hebrew verb '-z-b is the homonym of a common verb that means to abandom. It occurs twice... in the sense of "to perform, "to arrange, "to assist," and it has cognates with this meaning in both Ugaritic and Arabic.

My take: Had Onkelos known that azov is a homonym, he wouldn't have kvetched the translation.

See Rashi and Onkelos here

Follow-up questions:
Homonyms in biblical Hebrew? How did that happen?

A language ends up with homonyms in two ways: (1) Either a word undergoes a semantic change (example: mouth*, also called a polyseme) or two words with different etymologies develop independently, and coincidently end up with the same spelling and/or pronunciation.(example: lean*) If the language of the Torah is the language of God, i.e., not a human language that suffered from contingent development, neither type of homonym seems possible, but the second type would be ruled out completely. Azov seems to be the second type, with the less common meaning having entered Hebrew via Ugaritic. How can this be true, if the Hebrew of the Bible is the proto-language?

* mouth opening of a river, or the orifice on your face.
* lean thin or rest against

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Stop Making Me Sick over Martin Grossman

A Guest Post by Rafi G

Some bloggers and haredi news sites have been hanging on every detail of the Martin Grossman execution.

They are busy telling us his last words, what he was doing leading up to the execution, etc.

Is this supposed to give me chizzuk?

It is one thing to say we need to try to get the stay of execution because he is our Jewish brother. It is another thing to make him into something greater than he was. He was a vile murderer, and he probably deserved what he got (he was a cop killer after all), though I feel bad because he was one of us.

I get absolutely no chizzuk by hearing what his last words were or how he put on tefillin before he was taken to die.

By the way, according to a Florida newspaper, he didn't ask for any special last meal. He ate a chicken sandwich from the prison canteen. Does anybody know if prison canteens stock kosher chicken sandwiches?

I don't mean to badmouth him, especially now that he is dead, but the sites that are making him sound like a tzaddik and baal mussar are making me sick.
(my only purpose in writing this point about the chicken sandwich, distasteful as it was (my mentioning it, not the chicken sandwich) was that he was probably not the saint they made him out to be. he should have been treated like a murderer and thats it)

Today somebody uploaded a video from his funeral - there is a guy eulogizing him in yiddish to a crowd of what looks like a couple thousand people, and he is crying and wailing as if we just lost the biggest tzaddik to walk the face of the earth.

It makes me sick.

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Oy, I Miss Clinton

Guest Post by Akiva of Mystical Paths

Written while on the Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem train in Eretz Yisroel.

Oy, I miss Bill Clinton. He was a great president to dislike, but not too much. A moral disaster, but a charismatic pragmatist and master politician who knew exactly when to co opt the best part of the other sides agenda and make it his own. Foreign policy was a weak spot, but hey, everywhere he went everyone loved him even if his foreign policy was unrealistic and relatively ineffective. And on the economy, he knew how to ride a middle course.

Since the wonderful days of Bill Clinton the US electorate made the same major error twice. First, they elected Bush with a GOP majority of both houses. Off he went with a nice conservative agenda, but with no checks as both the executive and Congress got to run wild, in spending, in response to attacks, in foreign policy. Then, in response to Bush and the GOP leaping off the deep end of their ideals (and abandoning them for the joy of raiding the piggy bank) they elected Obama with a Democrat super-majority.

Now one might think in the midst of an economic disaster, which could easily be blamed on the previous administration (as a GOP leaning guy I'd be happy to refute that, but honestly prevents), they'd consolidate control and focus fully on tackling the problem. If they had done so they'd be set as the ruling party for 8 years and beyond. Who knows, another 16 year run of Democrat majorities would have been an easy sell!

But no, they had to go leap of the deep end of their ideals, ready to solve every social imbalance of the last 40 years in one fell swoop while tacking the economic disaster according to their own rose colored glasses. The extremely unpleasant results are plain to see. [DB: For example? I see no "results" for better of for worse. From where I sit, status quo hasn't changed at all]

Dear friends, I'm a conservative but I don't want my party to control the Whitehouse and Congress. And my dear friendly Liberals, be honest, neither do you! Divided government forces everyone to compromise and be reasonable. Let's face it, we all want the middle of the road. A little right, a little left - hey whatever. But far right or far left, G-d help us all.

Which is better for the Jews? As the Rambam said, the golden mean...the middle of the road

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A nice word about JS-Kit

Before God beings an illness he provide the remedy. I mention this, because I've recently learned that solutions exist for many of the JS-Kit afflictions documented on a previous post.

1) On mobile, the commenting system is as slow as water running uphill.
Solution: You can comment by email. Just allow the system to notify you when someone comments, hit reply to the message and your comment posts!

2) Threaded comments are an abomination
Solution If you're reading comments via email, this is easier to manage

3) I can't figure out how to search the comments. Seems impossible
Solution: None. It is impossible. However, searching you mail is a breeze. See above. (Starting to see where this is going?)

Upshot: Your DovBear commenting experience is much nicer if you respond to comments via email.

A Death Penalty Question for RW Jews

Here's a question for one particular type of RW Jew:

You piously accept Chazal's point of view matters like the age of the universe, the gestation period of snakes, and the reproductive habits of lice, yet when it comes to the death penalty you go your own way. Why?

For the uninitiated, this is the famous Mishna which records for posterity the view of the Sages:
A sanhedrin that executes once in seven years, is called murderous. [The view of R. Yehuda, I presume]

Rabbi Eliezer b. Azariah says: once in seventy years.

Rabbi Tarfon and Rabbi Akiva say: “Had we been members of a sanhedrin, no person would ever be put to death.

Rabban Shimon ben Gamaliel remarked: “They would also multiply murderers in Israel.” (Makkos 1:10)
As you see, with the exception of Rabban Shimon Ben Gamliel, the Sages mentioned here were deeply suspicious of the death penalty and reluctant to use it. One execution in seven years was too many for them and, in effect, R. Eliezer b. Azariah, R. Tarfon and R. Akiva would have suspended it altogether.

Even the view of Shimon ben Gamliel is no endorsement of capital punishment. He still required the almost impossible-to-satisfy rules of evidence, rules that required two witnesses and a pre-crime warning that, in effect, made executions uncommon. As for his comment, there are two ways to read it.

If he means to say the death penalty served as a deterrent in Israel the reply is this: We don't live in Israel. Perhaps the death penalty was a deterrent in the world of the Sages. Today in America our research tells a different story: Death Penalty: No Evidence of Deterrence

I, however, think this way of reading Shimon ben Gamliel's remark is a 20th century gloss. I don't think Raban Gamliel is arguing that more murders will be committed if the death penalty is abolished. I think he is saying that the net number of murderers in the general population will increase, which is what you'd expect if murderers are no longer being put to death.

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Martin Grossman is dead, but Chaim Dovid Zweibel finds a silver lining

Here's what Agudah's top man said just after Martin Grossman was executed:
From: Chaim Dovid Zwiebel
Agudath Israel of America | 42 Broadway 14th floor | New York | NY | 10004

Boruch Dayan Ha’emes.

I am writing to share with you the sad news that Martin Grossman, Michoel Yechiel ben Avrohom, olov hasholom, was executed this evening in Florida.

It would be understandable for any of us to feel not only sorrow but frustration that all our efforts didn’t result in the result for which we were mispallel.

But I personally choose, even amid the pain and sorrow, to focus on the tremendous ahavas Yisroel, shtadlonus and achdus that was demonstrated by our tzibbur over recent days. I want to personally thank all of you who telephoned Governor Crist’s office, or sent him e-mails and faxes, or participated in the ultimate act of ahavas Yisroel: tefilla on a brother’s behalf. Your reaction to the impending tragedy was remarkable. May it stand as a zechus for his neshoma, and for all of Klal Yisroel, and hasten bi’as go’el tzedek, b’mheira biyomeinu.

Chaim Dovid Zwiebel

Shorter Zwiebel:Okay, sure whatshisname died, but boy aren't we in our multitudes something AWESOME?

I find it sort of nauseating that Zwiebel chooses to focus on the logistical success, and on what it demonstrates about his own organization's power. The people prayed and contacted the Governor just as Zweibel directed. This demonstration of communal might and communal obedience is what pleases Zwiebel, what warms his heart, even as the cold body of Martin Grossman remains unburied.

Or as "A" pointed out: "Notice what's missing? That's right. Nothing against the death penalty. No urging people to turn the resources gathered in support of the late Mr.Grossman towards making sure this doesn't happen again. Nothing. Just some atta-boys for those who called/emailed/said Tehillim. It's an embarrasment."


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That man Martin, his pending execution, and the RW Jewish response

Unless Republican Governor Charlie Christ inteferes the state of Florida will execute Martin Grossman tonight. Grossman is a Jew, the son of a Jewish mother. As a result, objections to his execution have been raised from some unexpected RW Jewish quarters. YWN, for example, has been running editorial after editorial calling for clemency; Rabbis who use the word shvartze with impunity are calling for tehillim and staging protest rallies; and emails and online poetitions are being passed around by Jews who, at other times, are firmly pro-death penalty.

Though I'm pleased to see so many RW Jews have converted to the anti-death penalty position something about the sea change in attitude troubles me. What do we make of YWN use of old-fasioned liberal arguments such as "He had a rough childhood" or "he was on drugs at the time" or "He has a low IQ" (see their editorial on February 10) Should I be appaled to see these arguments used cynically, or should it please me to see that, on some level at least, YWN is conceding they have merit?

The same might be asked about the protesters and the petition passers; also, where were they until now? Had GOP Jews woken up to the injustice of the death penalty years ago, and made their protests and passed their petitions every single time a man was sent to death row, perhaps a Jew wouldn't today be in that precarrious position himself.

I understand tribalism. I care more for my family then I do for my neighbors, and more for the members of my shul than I do for the members of your shul. Like you, I have my teams, and I recognize that there's something elemental and pure and dare I say holy about standing up for your teamate. Martin Grossman, assuredly, is our teamamte. We should stand up for him.  But, he's also a convicted murderer. If it has always been your position that the death penalty is just, and that convicted murderers ought to executed, how can you now trot out positions and arguments you've previously mocked and dismissed? If the state, in your view, has the power to execute someone, why doesn't it have the power to execute Martin? And if all you care about is that a Jew is in danger - regardless of the facts - what will you do when  this case is over? Whether Martin is executed or granted clemency, how can you go back to supporting the death penalty when its only a matter of time before another Jew finds himself threatened by it?

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Monday, February 15, 2010

JS-Kit Echo Comments: Brief review

I really dislike the new commenting system I bought from JS-Kit after Haloscan was discontinued. JS-Kit is Haloscan's successor, and the deal they gave me was this: Buy our system and keep all your comments, or go somewhere else without them for free.  Here's the short list of things I hate:

(1) Today the whole system seems terribly buggy. Comments are appearing and disappearing without rhyme or reason
(2) It's slow as molasses on a mobile. Haloscan loaded in a tenth of the time. This alone is reason enough to hate JS-Kit. In Haloscan days, I did 80 percent of my commenting on my phone. If I wanted to comment on my phone with JS-KIT with the same frequency, I'd be commenting 12 hours per day. Its that much slower.
(3) Threaded comments are an abomination
(4) I can't figure out how to search the comments. Seems impossible.
(5) Once in a while, the system will give me the power to edit my own comments (and yours if I'm logged in as the administrator) Other times, all I can do is delete comment; the editing button having disappeared. I have no idea why this happens, and can discern no pattern.

The list of things I like about this commenting system is even shorter:

(1) You get all sorts of whistles and bells, like a rich text editor, and email notification and much more. I suppose these extras are nice enough, only Haloscan didn't have them and no one cared.
(2) Two of the top guys at JS-Kit Tweet and have been responsive to complaints; also one of their programmers, a guy named Igor, gave super support a few weeks ago..

In short: Bring back Haloscan.

Did you know the Lakewood Yeshiva has a football team?

Did you know Lakewood has a football team? I didn't either, but branded athletic apparel never lies:

The full collection of what appears to be official Beth Medrash Govoha sporting gear, can be found here.

PS: Props to whoever did this. Making the school colors black and white was an inspired touch.

PPS: Is now a good time to point out that BMG incorrectly transliterates its own name? The name of the school is בית מדרש גבוה. This transliterates as Beth Medrash Govo-AH not HA.

HT: Bluke

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Today's Toevah

For all who do such things, all who act dishonestly, are an abomination to the LORD your God. 
---Deuteronomy 25:16

A prominent Manhattan cantor promised to buy an ambulance in Israel on behalf of his Holocaust-survivor mother-in-law -- but instead funneled the cash back to his own coffers through a charity run by a disgraced rabbi tied to a massive New Jersey corruption scandal, according to a Manhattan federal lawsuit.

Read more:

HT: Mark

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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Backtracking on "Don't Ask Don't Tell" repeal

Guest post by Rabba bar bar Chana

This is such bull****. According to this Associated Press article, despite the public progress made on the issue in recent weeks, a repeal of DADT is probably years away.

This is an utterly discriminatory policy, with no moral or practical basis whatsoever. It's about blatant homophobia, plain and simple. It's not like we're discussing gay marriage here. It's about witch hunting soldiers simply because of the sexual attractions they have. Maybe the military should also question soldiers about what sexual positions they prefer? Or how about what fetishes they have? Maybe any soldier that doesn't engage in plain vanilla missionary position sex isn't fit to be a soldier! What the hell does a soldier's sexual orientation have to do with his or her ability to serve?
"The protracted time line is about more than giving military leaders time to assess the impact on troops and put new rules in place. The multiyear process also is a strategic way of getting troops used to the idea before they have to accept change. Politically, the time line puts off congressional debate over lifting the ban until after elections this fall."
 The only line in that paragraph that has the ring of truth is the final one. It's about politicians never having the courage to fight for what's right, always worrying about what's going to get them reelected.

I'm including President Obama in that assessment. He made a promise to repeal DADT. And he reiterated it in the State of the Union address last month. As the Commander in Chief, Obama could easily sign a stop-loss measure that effectively ends the policy till it's repealed legislatively. But he doesn't seem to have the political courage to do so. Shame on you, Mr President!

And as for assessing the policy and the effect that it will have on troops, what are we dealing with here, kindergarten? Where we have to be very careful how hearts & minds will be affected? These are soldiers, who follow orders! They're sent into wars they may not agree with, but they go anyway. Do we conduct a "multiyear process" before issuing those orders, to see how the soldiers will feel about it?

This is about bigotry, pure and simple.

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Friday, February 12, 2010

This is going to get worse before it gets better...

According to a report the president of  the Sephardic Jewish community in the Dominican Republic has been linked to a white slavery ring. He appears to be wearing a kippa in photographs. Details are murky, no formal charges appear to have been brought, and all the allegations have been denied; still, this sentence is alarming:

The report said the police had found documents connected to the Sephardic Jewish community in a house in San Salvador where the traffickers had held women.

Stay tuned.

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Ancient Torah and non Torah True Views on Abortion

Exodus 21:22-23

וְכִֽי־ יִנָּצ֣וּ אֲנָשִׁ֗ים וְנָ֨גְפ֜וּ אִשָּׁ֤ה הָרָה֙ וְיָצְא֣וּ יְלָדֶ֔יהָ וְלֹ֥א יִהְיֶ֖ה אָסֹ֑ון עָנֹ֣ושׁ יֵעָנֵ֗שׁ כַּֽאֲשֶׁ֨ר יָשִׁ֤ית עָלָיו֙ בַּ֣עַל הָֽאִשָּׁ֔ה וְנָתַ֖ן בִּפְלִלִֽים׃
אִם־ אָסֹ֖ון יִהְיֶ֑ה וְנָתַתָּ֥ה נֶ֖פֶשׁ תַּ֥חַת נָֽפֶשׁ׃

As we shall see this is a notoriously difficult passage to translate, and each translation carries very significant life and death ramifications. For now, let's stipulate that the passage means:

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Is the State preventing Haredim from working?

A Guest Post by Rafi G

At a conference for accountants by the Dead Sea, Moshe Gafni accused the State of not allowing haredim into the workforce. According to Gafni, the Haredi public has undergone dramatic changes and realizes they need to be a participating factor in the State of Israel, yet the State does not allow them to enter the workforce..

Does anybody have any idea in what way the State prevents anybody from working? How do they prevent Haredim from working/ Aside from being a bad economy and it is tough for anybody to find a decent job right now, how does the State prevent anybody from working, and how do they specifically target Haredim and stop them?

Does he mean the State has not given haredim a special tax break? I haven't heard of such a request, but if there was such a request and it has not been approved, they would still only be on equal footing as everybody else, and not targeted.

Is there a law haredim cannot work? I am not aware of one. And as Gafni himself says, more and more Haredim want to join the workforce, and as he only implies, more and more are doing so.

Is it because of the requirement to do army service? they are still only on equal footing with everyone else, but they (the majority of them) refuse to fulfill the requirement while others do.

Is it because of education, or lack of? Again, what does the State have to do with that? Is Gafni insisting people hire Haredim who are not educated and trained in the various fields of business, just because they are Haredim? When the State insists on adding curriculum to the general education, the Haredi politicians always refuse and get the haredi schools exempted? Does he expect the State to certify them as lawyers and doctors or accountants without getting the adequate education relevant to the field?

Is he talking about personal bias that maybe some employers have against hiring Haredim? What does this have to do with the State? Just like some people are biased against hiring Haredim, some people are biased against hiring fat people, others are biased against hiring women, others are biased against hiring anybody older than 25, etc.

Again, I don't see how Gafni differentiates the Haredim from anybody else in how they can or cannot be in the workforce, and how the State is at fault for it. Anybody who wants to go to work has the ability to apply for the relevant licenses and open a business, or submit his cv to employers in whatever field he wants and apply for jobs. I am not sure how the State prevents anybody from going o work, other than by giving them too much incentive (in the form of subsidies) to prefer to stay home and decide why bother working..

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Global Darkening!

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Unusually Large Snowstorm
Daily Show
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Among the idiots this clip is meant to rebuke:

:: Senator James M. Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma, leading climate skeptic in Congress, who built a six-foot-tall igloo on Capitol Hill and put a cardboard sign on top that read “Al Gore’s New Home.”

:: Rush Limbaugh and other conservative commentators who made light of the fact that the announcement of the creation of a new federal climate service on Monday had to be conducted by conference call, rather than news conference, because the federal government was shuttered by the storm.

:: Matt Drudge, who noted on his Web site that a Senate hearing on global warming this week was canceled because of the weather.

:: Three Virginia Republican Party, which put up an advertisement on the Web — titled “12 Inches of Global Warming”

:: My Twitter friends from Florida who were mocking Al Gore a few weeks ago when it got a little chilly in their area.

All examples and the words, too, taken from here

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The Jews, Augustine and the Nazis

Kvetching Editor:
Does the world's Jewish community underestimate the power of this doctrine's importance throughout the past 1600+ years? Is it Augustine's (REALLY BACKHANDED) doctrine that has allowed the world to not completely destroy Jews and Judaism? Hitler wasn't too interested in church philosophy, and I honestly don't know his thoughts on Augustine or the "slay them not" doctrine. Anyone know?
Background: In Augustine's time, there was a debate about Jews among the faithful: Shall we kill them all, or keep them as slaves as proof of the truth of their rejection of Jesus?

John Chrysostom, was from the "kill them all "school. During his remarkable career as a preacher of  violence against the Jews, he put it this way:  "When animals are unfit for work they are marked for slaughter, and this is the very thing which the Jews have experienced. By making themselves unfit for work, they have become ready for slaughter."

Augustine, disagreed, and lucky for us, his view won the day. Basing himself on a proof-text found in Psalm 59.11 , he argued that the Jews should be kept alive, in a demoralized and decrepit state, to serve as proof that God had rejected them. His model was Cain, a type for the Jews, who had murdered Able, a type for Jesus, and was likewise made into a despised wanderer as punishment (The mark of Cain (Gen. 4:15), per Tanchuma, may have been a horn; early Catholic interpreters say it was dark skin.)

Answer to Kvetching Editor's Question: Hitler clearly rejected Augustine, as it was his goal to "slay them all" and his mission, as has been laboriously documented by several well-qualified historians, was helped in ways large and small by the age-old Catholic prejudices against Jews. He (like several top Nazis) was a baptized Catholic and a former alter boy, who tapped into centuries of Catholic anti-Semitism, and used the rhetoric of Catholic anti-Semites and their techniques of persecution, including the ghetto and the yellow star. I also recall reading somewhere that Hitler argued to his supporters among the Catholic bishops (there were many) that his campaign against the Jews was the fulfillment of authentic Church doctrine, by which he meant the doctrine of John Chrysostom. 

As for the Jews of 2010, they have no idea about any of this, generally speaking. SOME Orthodox Jews imagine Hitler was a liberal, and that his successes are an argument against democracy and the enlightenment. SOME OF THEM have swallowed whole the Vatican propaganda espoused by JPII about how the Church was a victim of Hitler when in too many cases they were eager allies, instead. SOME OF THEM know nothing of Augustine or Chrysostom and if they think of the early Church at all, its only to remind themselves that Judaism and Christianity stand alone as bulwarks against immoral Islam and immoral liberalism in an increasingly vile world.

Note: Words in caps added to satisfy those who needed help understanding that the words "generally speaking" mean that I will be speaking generally. Also, in all cases by "some" I mean "most".

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Teens and Purim Drinking


Purim is just over two weeks away and while the kids are all busy planning costumes andmishloach manot themes, the issue of alcohol consumption must be addressed with the older ones. My two oldest boys are 14 and 13 and are already talking about the Purim parties they are going to go to at the houses of their Rebbeim. My 14 year old says that there will be alcohol of all types out on the table and no one is policing what the bochurim drink. Up until recently my oldest was not interested in alcohol, the wine he drank on Shabbat made his head hurt – and I was quite happy not to have to think about him drinking. Recently he has started asking for a sip of my beer “just to taste”. However, most of his friends will be drinking on Purim, and I am sure he won’t want to be left out.

Our house is in no way an alcohol free zone. The kids know I drink beer occasionally, and on Shabbat I will have a scotch with the meal. There is no over-indulging. One beer or one scotch and I am done. If we drink wine, I may let them have a little, especially of the Muscato as they call that the ginger ale wine and I don’t see the harm in a few small sips. But they see at home that there is no line crossed. They see moderation, and self control.

If I ban the teens from having any alcohol on Purim it will have the opposite effect. I have had friends who have had to pick up their kids from a neighbour’s yard, where they collapsed paralytically drunk. Even worse, alcohol poisoning is a very real threat, especially if their consumption isn’t monitored.

Parents of older kids – how do you deal with this? Is allowing the boys to have even one drink going off the deep end? Can you trust a teen to stop at one? Do I close my eyes and let boys be boys one day of the year? (Not going to happen, not with me as a mom). When the kids are at our table for seudah, or at their Dad’s, we can limit their intake. Let them go to the Purim parties – what can we do? I don’t want to be a party pooper and not let them go. It is Purim after all!!

I do plan on talking to my kids, thankfully we have an awesome relationship that we can talk about everything, but I am wondering what message they will hear. All advice welcome.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

"Sarah Palin is a F-ing Retard" - Steven Colbert

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Sarah Palin Uses a Hand-O-Prompter
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorEconomy

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Tznius Question

Guest Post by HSM

Why is it that it seems more tzanuah to wear thin tights / pantyhose under a skirt, than to wear jeans or sweat pants under the same skirt? I would be so much warmer wearing my jeans underneath and they don’t cling quite as much as panty hose does. Up here on the frozen tundra we need to stay warm.

I know, it’s probably the whole begged ish thing with the trousers, which personally I do not completely agree with especially as these days women’s trousers are made specifically for them which in my opinion totally negates the begged ish argument. I won’t wear pants by themselves out of the house due to tznius issues, but why can I not wear them under my skirt to walk to the local store?

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Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Halachah Question: Beis Din

A guest post by Yosef Greenberg

With the hullabaloo going on in Bnei Brak regarding a man who called a few Dayanim to court, the following question occurred to me.

I am unaware of any impartial, qualified beis din in my area that can adjudicate a dispute properly. The reason I believe that caused this is as follows:

  • Dayanim are paid, sometimes paid well. Against halachah. Of course, a proper loophole was found. But in such cases, the reason behind the halachah still stands.
  • Dayanim have an active interest to prolong cases, earning them more money by the hour.
  • By paskening for the richer side, they have a better chance to have more cases brought to them. Richer people are usually more in court.
  • (Rich people are powerful. A dayan has an interest in not getting on his bad side.) In parethesis since it might be debatable.
  • When there's no rich guy involved, beis din usually tries to pasken for the defense. Maybe because of hamotzie mechaveiro, I don't know. But they can go well against common sense too. (I know, courts too.)
  • Beis din sometimes *forces* a psharah, or settlement. By forcing I mean putting more than considerable pressure. Halachah asks beis din to try, not force. The reason for this is probably because if they can make both happy, they might earn more business. The opposite is usually the result.

All in all, the beis din might even be technically within the boundaries of halachah. Yet, they seem to be violating the spirit.

Now to my question: What would you do in such a case? Do you go to court? Remember that the defendant gets to choose the beis din, so much is on his side.

[Disclaimer: What I write above is what I heard/know/saw. YMMV, or Your Mileage May Vary]

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What was inscribed on the “Luchot” and by who.

A guest post by David A.

As is well known to biblical students none of the narratives as retold in Devarim (D) are without, at least a few, discrepancies to its parallel episode in the other parts of Khumash.

A quite notable example is the remarkable number of differences found when comparing that most important of events, “matan Torah” as found in D and to its version as recorded in Exodus. (some differences include: name of the location of the event, Sinai vs Khoreb; over a dozen textual discrepancies in the Aseret Hadibrot themselves; also, different reason given for Shabbat; the details of the scene as depicted; definition of the tablets, brit vs. eidut; and much more.). The implications of this are obvious.

In this post I want to ask the simple question, What was inscribed on the “Luchot” and by who?
In Devarim, we find the following verses.

First, Moishe, referring to Hashem and saying:

Deut 4:13. He told you of his covenant that He commanded you to observe, the Ten Declarations, and He inscribed them on the two stone tablets.
Then after reporting the text of the Ten Commandments (declarations), the verse;
5:19. These words Hashem spoke to your entire congregation on the mountain from the midst of the fire, the cloud, and the thick cloud, a great voice, never to be repeated, and He inscribed them on the two stone Tablets and gave them to me.

9:10 And Hashem gave me the two stone Tablets, inscribed with the finger of Hashem, and on them all the words that Hashem spoke with you on the mountain from the midst of the fire, on the day of the congregation
It is quite clear that the tablets contained the “Aseret Hadibrot” written by Hashem, (and apparently nothing else).

Oh, and in case you missed it in verse 9:10, we have …

10:4. He inscribed on the Tablets according to the first script, the Ten Statements that Hashem spoke to you on the mountain from the midst of the fire, on the day of congregation, and Hashem gave them to me.
Now let’s read Exodus emphasizing any verse referring to the “tablets” and/or to “writing”.
24:4 Moses wrote all the words of Hashem.

[No clear indication of what Moishe wrote, but the context appears to be either just the Ten Commandments or both the Ten Commandments and the ordinances as given in Ex. 21:1 to 23:19. Nor does it say where Moishe wrote these words.]
24:12 Hashem said to Moses, “Ascend to Me to the mountain and remain there, and I will give you the stone Tablets and the teaching (“Torah”) and the commandment [Note: singular?] that I have written, to teach them.

[No indication of what exactly was written and on what or where and also what is this “mitzvah”.]
31:18 He gave Moses, when He finished speaking to him on Mount Sinai the two Tablets of Testimony, of stone, inscribed by the finger of God.

[Still not clear what had been inscribed on the Tablets.]

32:15 Moses turned and descended from the mountain, with the two Tablets of the Testimony in his hand, Tablets inscribed on both sides, they were inscribed on one side and the other. 34:16 The Tablets were God’s handiwork, and the script was the script of God, engraved on the Tablets.

[Still no clear indication of what exactly had been inscribed.]

34:1 Hashem said to Moses, “Carve for yourself two stone Tablets like the first ones, and I shall inscribe on the Tablets the words that were on the first Tablets, which you shattered.

[We’re still in the dark as to what exactly are on these tablets.]

And finally it becomes clear with these verses…

34: 27 Hashem said to Moses, “Write these words for yourself, for according to these words have I sealed a covenant with you and Israel.” 34:28 He remained there with Hashem for forty days and forty nights – he did not eat bread and he did not drink water – and he wrote on the Tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.

Based on context, “he” must of course refer to Moishe.

So, Exodus tells us that Moishe wrote the Aseret Hadibrot on the tablets, (in addition to whatever Hashem may have written previously on them.)

Not exactly what is recorded in Devarim.

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Taking a Jew tour of NY

Good Morning, DovBear!

I hope you are well. I have two reasons for writing you today.

One... thank you so much for posting my question about tattoos (around Jan. 5, "Still Another Halachic Question"). The responses were enlightening and helpful. As an update, I opted for laser removal and have already begun the treatment. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to post my letter.

Two... A Noahide friend and I are planning to visit NYC later this month. I've visited NYC twice (LOVE IT!!!!) and enjoyed the touristy side, but on this particular trip, we are interested in an authentic Jewish experience. :) Do you have any recommendations in terms of Judaica shopping, Kosher restaurants/delis, and other points of interests? My friend has been to the Rebbe's Ohel in Crown Heights and attended a service in 770 and saw the Rebbe's chair.  
Thanks for your time!

Thanks for writing! Glad to hear the tattoo situation was solved. Also, glad to hear you're visiting New York, or as I like to call it: The greatest city in the world. For Jews, New York has everything. Food, shopping, history, and many of the most famous rabbis live here, too. My suggestions for a Jewish tour of New York, would have to include:

(1) Boro Park. Drive around; then get out and take a stroll. Poke your head into any shop or building that interests you, but don't miss the minyan factory, and 13th Avenue. The neighborhoods first shul - a neoclassical beauty built in 1906  - is also worth seeing.
(2) Flatbush: You can see Chaim Berlin and Torah V'das - two of the most famous yeshivot in the world.
(3) Yeshiva University and JTS (JTS's library is outstanding, and there's nothing quite like people watching in the middle of YU's campus.)
(4) The Jewish Museum: especially, if there's a good special exhibit on, but if you have to choose between museums, don't miss the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It's out of this world.

FOOD - Manhattan
Mister Broadway - A semi-decent kosher deli, where I spotted Jackie Mason on two separate occasions.
Prime Grill - The city's very best kosher restaurant. Holds its own with any of the treif places.
Le Merias - My favorite among the city's top tier kosher places. Considered a shade below Prime Grill, but still quite excellent.
Jerusalem Pizza - An institution (its still open right?)

FOOD - not in Manhattan
Hamsa - the best Israeli restaurant outside of Tel Aviv (Tenefly)
Sushi Metzuyan  - best kosher sushi (Teanek and Queens)
Shang-hai - Cheesy old style Chinese restaurant that does a good job (still open right?) (In Brooklyn)

Eichlers:  huge selection of Judaica (Manhattan and Brooklyn)

Readers,  I kept the list short. Please add your favs.

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Investigative report into the dybbuk

A Guest Post by Rafi G

I am going to preface the brief post with an apology. In the nearly 2 years that I have been a contributor on the Dov Bear blog, I have refrained from including, in my posts, links to my own blog, Life in Israel. I know I was allowed to, but my purpose in being a contributor here was not to direct traffic to LII, but to have an opportunity to share my thoughts with Dov Bear's audience, and not just with my own.

Today though, I am going to break that rule I set for myself. I am going to send you to my own blog to see what I wrote there. I apologize for the inconvenience to the readers (big inconvenience, clicking a link, boo hoo), and to Dov Bear for stealing his readers.

Last night, an investigative reporting television show in Israel ran a report on the recent dybbuk exorcism and mekubalim in general. Read my thoughts and see the video clip of the show in my post at LII.

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Monday, February 08, 2010

Quality Post

medical school to suppress Haredi growth

A Guest Post by Rafi G

Are Haredim paranoid, thinking everything non-haredi the State does is to oppose Haredim and their growth, or are non-haredim naive for thinking the State is not trying to suppress Haredi growth and expansion?

The State has announced they will be opening the countries fifth medical school, this one in Tsfat and administered by Bar Ilan University. This will also be a precursor to expanding to a full blown university in the heart of the Galil. The intention is to improve educational opportunities in the Galil region, which will improve the quality of life in the area.

The Haredim are upset, claiming this is being done to suppress the Haredi expansion and growth in the Safed area.

I say, Haredim all over Israel are finally getting involved in higher education. Instead of being upset about it, apply to go to school and become doctors. And when it eventually becomes a full fledged university, become businessmen, accountants, lawyers, psychologists, scientists and whatever else they will offer. Take advantage of a tremendous opportunity laying at your door - they are handing you a university, and will need students to fill it.

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A proto-pluralistic midrash

הה"ד: (דברים ד) השמע עם קול אלהים.

המינין שאלו את ר' שמלאי:
א"ל: אלוהות הרבה יש בעולם?
אמר להם: למה?
אמרו לו: שהרי כתיב: השמע עם קול אלהים!
אמר להם: שמא כתוב מדברים אלא מדבר.
אמרו לו תלמידיו: רבי לאלו דחית בקנה רצוץ, לנו מה אתה משיב?

חזר ר' לוי ופירשה:
אמר להם: השמע עם קול אלהים, כיצד?
אילו היה כתוב קול ה' בכחו לא היה העולם יכול לעמוד, אלא קול ה' בכח, בכח של כל אחד ואחד.
הבחורים לפי כחן,
והזקנים לפי כחן,
והקטנים לפי כחן.
אמר הקב"ה לישראל: לא בשביל ששמעתם קולות הרבה תהיו סבורין שמא אלוהות הרבה יש בשמים, אלא תהיו יודעים 
שאני הוא ה' אלהיך, שנאמר: (שם ה) אנכי ה' אלהיך.

I don't think the Sages were pluralists, and I don't think they subscribed to modern ideas about our subjective, and therefore inevitably fallible perception. Still, its hard for me, a man of 2010, to read this midrash (its recorded in Shmos Raba 29:1) without remembering Isiah Berlin, and what he taught about human understanding. Here it is in translation:

The sectarians challenged Rav Samlai: "There are many Gods in the world, as it is written: השמע עם קול אלהים [The nation heard the voice of God. The word for God - Elohim - is plural]." Rav Samlai replied: [Elsewhere the verb attached to Elohim is singular, proving the word Elohim is to be understood in the singular.] Rav Samlai's students said, "Teacher, you defeated the sectarians with [a weak argument]. What will you tell us?"

Rav Levi expounded: "How shall we understand the phrase, The nation heard the voice of God?" In Psalms we have a verse, which doesn't read: קול ה' בכחו [the voice of God is his power] for if that were true the word couldn't have stood [when God spoke.] Rather, the verse in Pslams reads קול ה' בכח [the voice of God in (or with) power] meaning, that the voice of God comes according to the power of each of us.

To the young people according to their power [of understanding]
To the old people according to their power [of understanding]
To the children according to their power [of understanding]

[The verse the sectarians originally mentioned should be understood as if] God says to Israel "Though, you heard many voices [i.e. your subjective powers of understanding led to different conclusions] don't let yourself become convinced that there is more than one God; always know that I am the Lord your God. [i.e. I am one]

How does a pluralist understand this midrash? First, it serves as a reminder that human beings perceive things differently. That's a function of our humanity. Each of us are different, and each of us relate differently to the world. Some understand God one way, others see Him and understand His demands in another way.  Second, the midrash, as I read it,  seems to say that so long as we remember that there is one God, a phrase Rav Levi meant symbolically, these different perceptions are valid.

The pluralist, to quote Issiah Berlin, holds that "that there is a plurality of values which men can and do seek." This collection of human values men seek isn't infinite, and its possible to pursue your own preferred values, while also detesting a set of values held by someone else -- and even going to war with it. Pluralism, unlike relativism, objects to the notion that "anything goes"; rather,  it simply recognizes that men can and do pursue many different sets of values, and that these difference value sets aren't necessarily hostile to one another.

Though the Sages certainly would have disapproved of Jews who ate pork or violated Shabbos, this midrash suggests that there was some room in their imagination for legitimate diversity, i.e. for Jews to legitimately pursue different values.

This is a welcome reprieve from the one-size-fits all style of Orthodox Judaism with which we contend today.

Berlin also says: "If.. respect between systems of values which are not necessarily hostile to each other is possible, then toleration and liberal consequences follow, as they do not either from monism (only one set of values is true, all the others are false) or from relativism (my values are mine, yours are yours, and if we clash, too bad, neither of us can claim to be right)."

It seems possible (at least according to Rav Levi)  that when two Jews to subscribe to different value sets, this diversity can be tolerated, so long as the different value sets are not inherently hostile to each other, i.e. so long as both value sets are included in whatever Rav Levi beleives is indicated by the words, "I am the Lord your God."