Saturday, July 31, 2010

Chelsea Clinton's Husband Wears a Talis

A wedding picture from today's big event

This strikes me as identical to the moron yeshiva kids who wear raincoats to their weddings. They do this not because they plan on flashing the rabbi, but because they have some vague notion that back in the armpit corner of Europe their ancestors escaped, the custom was for grooms to wear overcoats. These confused grooms don't understand the coat custom nor do they have any sheichus to the armpit corner of Europe where the custom originated. They just do it because people do it. And so, I imagine it was, with the talis and Chelsea's husband.

NOTE: I don't want to be misunderstood. Its always cool when someone famous publicly identifies as Jewish. It was neat as hell to see this kid wearing a talis on page 1 of the Times website. I was also pleased to see that sheva brochos were said at his wedding, but perturbed to see the Times get something Jewish wrong yet again: "...the Seven Blessings, which are typically recited at traditional Jewish weddings following the vows and exchange of rings." My point is that before you smug frum Jews mock his talis, please ask yourself how many similar things you do for similar reasons.

NOTE NUMBER TWO: I'm not approving of intermarriage. I'm not disapproving of the choice the guy made either. His business, not mine. (and to be completely honest, I'm not sure my sect would consider him Jewish)

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Friday, July 30, 2010

Novelty Song of the Century!

Tuition Wrap up

What follows are some of the points made on the school administrator's post, that must be re-emphasized.

(1) Schools take money for services, yet claim they aren't businesses. This strikes me as just an excuse to continue doing things wrong. We're not a business, goes the argument, so how can you expect us to create sound budgets, pay people on time, or rigorously enforce tuition contracts with deadbeat parents? It offends the egos of school administrators to hear this, but you're a business just like the landscaper or the pizza shop, and too often this ego is an obstacle to sound business practices. You have to run your schools professionaly, and "we're not a business" is no excuse. 

(2) Schools run roughshod over parents instead of treating them like customers. Examples of this include, (a) absurd vacation schedule, like closing on isru chag and the week before Pesach. This creates extra expenses and major inconvenience for parents. We manage to make Pesach without taking off for a week in advance. So can you, and your teachers. (b) Creating policies that satisfy the loudest and craziest parents, and not parent body in general (c) Creating policies without consulting the parents, or making any real effort to find out our needs, desires and preferences.   If you want our money, make us feel like you're listening to us and like you understand our situation

(3) Not paying teachers on time is a terrible thing and there is no excuse for it and not just because violating this halacha destroys your credibility. (Who they hell are you to tell us how our kids, and even our wives, are required to dress, if you're going to give yourself a free pass on this biblical rule? Do you serve ham in the cafeteria just because its easier?) If you can't find a way to pay your teachers on time, you don't deserve to exist. That's the litmus test. Plain and simple Create real budgets and do an adequate job at the hard work of fundraising and collections, or close your doors and vanish into the night. There are too many schools, as it is. If you're redundant and poorly managed, you're not doing anyone any favors by sticking around via violations of halacha. Just disappear.  

(4) If you're a wimp at collections, you are screwing the parents who pay on time. Every business in the world has collection problems, and you are not unique nor deserving of sympathy. You have to be firm and responsible about chasing down the deadbeats. That's part of your job and, sorry, but this means lawyers and collection agencies, and even lawsuits. It also means tossing out parents who stiff you. To do otherwise, is to abdicate your responsibility to the parents who meet their obligations.

(5) Stop thinking of scholarships as charity. That's not what they are. A school is in the business (yes business) of providing students with an "educational experience." Giving certain students a discount on tuition to ensure their attendance is a way to improve the "educational experience". Depending on your school, you may need smarter students, or nicer students, or students who are better athletes. Its okay to pay to acquire those types of students in the form of tuition breaks. Its also okay to give breaks to parents who provide services to the school. No-talent parents of undistinguished children who can't afford your school should be directed to a bank or a gmach or to a mosad that specializes in helping destitute parents cover tuition. We don't ask the grocer to subsidize poor people, do we? Instead we refer poor people to Masbiah, or Tomchei Shabbos, or any of a dozen other charities. The same sort of thing should exist for education. The schools should not be in the business of handing out charity. (Additionally, a mossad dedicated to the proposition that every Jewish child deserves a yeshiva education is much "sexier" than a mismanaged school that doesn't pay people on time, coddles pedophiles, and never paints the walls or paves the driveway.)

(6)  Parents are entitled to take vacations, drive nice cars, and send their kids to camp. We're not required to pay the schools full tuition before we can do anything else. We're allowed to negotiate with the schools, the same way we negotiate for houses, and cars, and any other big ticket item. Once an agreement is reached, we're required to meet it, and on time. But the idea that we're not entitled to any kind of discount before we downsize the car or cancel camp is wrong. Maybe. Mister Administrator, you shouldn't get your salary until you've done the same? Sacrificing for Torah should apply to you, too.

(7) Jewish schools are not nearly as excellent as they think they are. Some clues: (a)  Excellent educators don't need to work in crummy yeshivot that don't pay on time, and that offer no career development (b) Excellent schools don't employ the pedagogical methods of the shtetl. (c) Excellent schools have labs, and enrichment and trips and top tier facilities (d) Excellent schools are run by people who have either attended excellent schools, or go to conferences where they can exchange ideas with the managers of excellent schools (e) excellent schools are accredited. (f) excellent schools employ professional managers who know how to create real budgets, raise money, and make collections. (9) excellent schools have a host of prestigious alumni If your school does/has none of these things -news flash!- its not excellent.

(8) Parents who can't afford yeshiva should take responsibility for their situation.  If you can't afford a Lexus, you get a Honda. If you can't even afford that you take the bus, right? Yeshiva should be the same. Here are your choices (1) Successfully negotiate for a discount with the school, and I mean a discount you can afford to pay on time! (2) Find a cheaper school. (3) Choose public school. As a community, we need to wrap our heads around the idea that public school is a real option. Sending your kids to public school is not the end of the world. S/he can still grow up frum. 

(9)  Your tuition has no basis in reality. How do you realistically expect parents to pay $10K/kid in a world where the average income is less than 100K? Does every school administrator live in a fantasy land? Setting budgets, and hiring teachers with the expectation that people have that kind of money is a recipe for disaster. If your budget depends on collecting those tuitions, your budget is a joke!

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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Why did God ban idols? My answer*

Read this post first.

Before we can understand why the Torah banned images of God, we must first understand what purpose those images served.  For a very long time, scholars couldn't accept that the statues found all over the middle east were though by their devotees to be actual gods. Their original consensus was that these idols of stone and clay were representations of the deity and something upon which the worshiper could focus his devotion. The worshiper knew, the theory went, that the god was off somewhere, and not the statue itself. Today, following the uncovering of reams of old texts, this theory is largely out of favor. No longer do scholars think that the idol was merely reminder of the god; today they mostly accept that the statue was thought to be something like a container for the god. 

Even this is hard for us to fathom. It sounds primitive and ridiculous, yet the evidence from the old texts seems clear. Based on their interpretations of these texts, James Kugel and others, propose that men and women of the ANE conceived of their gods as something of a celebrity, all powerful superhero. These gods usually lived in a sort of parallel reality, a dimension superimposed over this world, where they did their daily work of pulling the levers and pushing the buttons that made rain fall, and crops grow and so on. Occasionally, the gods would, forsome reason or another, take human form and pop into our world for a visit. Various OT narratives are thought by scholars to tell these types of stories. Gideon, for example, is minding his own business when he's greeted by a man. After a few moments of confusion, he recognizes that he's actually speaking to God, and falls on his face. Sarah laughs at something she hears the 3 guests say, but the verse tells us that it is God who objects, and the story of their visit is introduced with the words, "And God appeared to Abraham".  Many more example could be supplied.** Even if we must reject the notion that the biblical stories mean anything other than what later interpreters said they mean, there still exists plenty of evidence from other, extra-biblical texts, that this is how gods were thought to operate in the broader ANE culture. The case, Kugel says, can be made without the Bible. 

If you wanted to encourage these types of meetings, there were a few things you could do. One approach was to build the god a house, and entice him to visit with grilled meat and sweet smelling incense. This is believed to be the idea behind the ANE Temples that have been uncovered, and the rites performed in these Temples as described in various texts. Sacrifice, which predates Temples, of course,  may have been, in the ANE, an attempt to share a meal with a god. Another approach was the statue. If you built it correctly, the theory went, the god would come and dwell in it for a while. 

The God of Israel, however, was different. Or, as the scholars might put it, at some point the people of Israel began to think about Him differently. Though archeologists working in Israel and the fertile crescent have uncovered  hundreds if not thousands of statues, fewer than five have inscriptions which identify them as images of YKVK, and those are among the very oldest. The absence of these types of statues is surely significant. What it means, the scholars suggest, is that at some very early moment, the Israelites began to think of their God as one that could not be contained in something as petty as a statue. Or if you prefer, the God of Israel, via His dictation to Moses, made it perfectly clear to his people that He, unlike the other, more familiar gods, would never take up residence in a stone doll.  

6 of one, half dozen of the other....

 * Not really my answer, but an amalgamation of many answers.

** The narratives include: Gideon's call, the announcement of Shimshon's birth, Jacob's wrestling match with the man/angel, Abraham's 3 visitors, Joshua's encounter with the captain of YKVK's army, among many others. Though I'm discussing how scholars regard these stories, I'm also attempting to remain sensitive to how the stories are understood by the rabbinic interpreters.

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An anonymous guest post by a Yeshiva Administrator in response to Tuition pain-Tuition payin'

This is easily my hardest job as a school administrator and I wish it would come only once a year. Tonight, tomorrow and the day after will mark the umpteenth time I have had been trying to collect unpaid tuition dollars so that I can honor my institutional commitments to our faculty.

Yes, we are behind on salary payments to our devoted and talented staff. It is aggravating. It is humiliating. It is sleepless nights and dread filled days wondering how we can keep it all going. It is worse than the impending dental work looming over my head and making me fear the pain that is to come. I am hung up upon, avoided, talked about and/or even accused of misappropriation of funds (our books our open and fully transparent). And here I am at someone’s door again or calling on their cell phone to ask them to pay their bill for the excellent education my institution provided their child(ren) this past year.

See me, Hear me? On my knees. Pleeeeeeeease?

I am curious, do you negotiate with the butcher, the shoe store, the dress shop or the cashier at Walmart regarding price. So why does everyone negotiate with me?
Did you forget that scholarships are actually tzedakah funds you are asking for and/or receiving? They are.

I am truly sorry that Jennifer in Mamaland is offended or uncomfortable but we are talking about distribution of hard found tzedakah monies. Yes, scholarships are necessary. But we all need a reminder that it is personal charity which is funding these tuition grants and the sources for funds are fewer and fewer. The community has a responsibility to verify the veracity of the need before tzedaka funds are distributed, thus the forms, the questions and the committee reviews.

To those recalcitrant in honoring their commitments, I ask; do you pay your grocery bill? Your mortgage? Will you pay for that dreaded impending dental work bill? I am sure you will. So why not your tuition bill? I don’t mean, that you should pay more than you agreed to pay. I mean, just pay what you’re contract indicates you were going to pay. Don’t you realize that our budget is so tight that we count on the commitment you made to pay our bills?

Weren’t you the one that demanded educational excellence, good teachers and extra curricular programming so your child could grow and develop his/her mind, talents and skills. Why is school not your first priority for spending or rather investing (is there a better investment than a good Torah education?).

Funny, we are not a poor school just a patient and kind one. And yet somehow we are taken advantage of. Not by all, but by a more than a few who ruin it for everyone else.

Sadly and surprisingly, tuition just isn’t the priority it was for my parents and grandparents who were moser nefesh for my siblings and I to receive a Day School education.

Today the “sexy tzedakos” are all the rage. Schools are at the bottom of charity lists of the big renowned philanthropists, communal leaders and personal ma’aser accounts. Publicity garnering, headline making charities are where most tzedakah monies are headed. This, despite the fact, that they are not necessarily Shulchan Oruch approved or hierarchically appropriate. Indeed, kavod, as it frequently does, corrupts priorities. See Shulchan Oruch YD249:16 where funding children to learn is set as one of the two highest priorities for charity. Financial support of day schools and kal v’chomer tuition, certainly comes before summer camp, Pesach at the hotel and a brand new late model SUV in the driveway.

Help return the education of our youth into the priority it should be. In addition, I beg of you, once scholarships are granted, please honor them and pay your bill on time. People’s livelihood, peace of mind and your children’s education depend on it.

And, by the way, we actually do use the short form – it doesn’t change a thing.

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The Problem with a Jewish State


This week, the Israeli cabinet was set to discuss the legal status of the children of migrant workers. There are about 1200 such children awaiting deportation. An inter-ministerial special committee has recommended that 800 of the children be allowed to stay. These children were born, educated and raised in Israel. They consider themselves to be Israelis and speak Hebrew. While I’m glad to hear that most of the children will be allowed to stay, I find that the way that many Israeli officials have been framing the issue is very disturbing, and indicative of a larger problem.

More after the jump

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Tuition pain = Tuition payin'


This is easily my hardest job as a parent, and it comes once a year. Tonight will mark the ELEVENTH year in a row that I have had to beg my kids' schools to let us not pay the $10,000-plus tuition bills in their entirety.

It is aggravating. It is humiliating. It is worse than impending dental work for looming over my head and making me fear the pain that is to come.

Read the rest of Jennifer's poste after the jump

Why did God ban idols?

What does God, creator of the world and all it contains, have against idols? Sure, I can understand why He'd be against our depicting rival gods in stone or wood - jealous God and all that - but why shouldn't we be allowed to make images of Him?

It can't be because he has no form. Though post biblical interpreters for the most part* explained away their implications, the Hebrew Bible has dozens of verses which suggest strongly that God appears and can be seen:

  • Then Solomon began to build the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the LORD had appeared to his father David. - 2 Chron. 3:1
  • At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream... -1 Kings 3:5
  • The LORD appeared to Abram and said, "To your offspring I will give this land." So he built an altar there to the LORD, who had appeared to him. - Gen 12:7
  • My soul thirsts for God, for the living God, for the time when I can go and see God -Ps 42
  • You, O LORD, are among these people and you, O LORD, are seen by them eye to eye... - Num 14:14
  • They saw God, and they ate and they drank - Ex. 24:11
  • one may see me and live. -- Ex 33:20 (implies rather strongly there IS something to see, only the experience of seeing it would be fatal)

If you're a Jew, with a an education like mine, you "know" none of these verses are to be understood literally, yet, it must be asked: If God, his secretaries and spokesmen were all able to speak so casually about Him having a form, why couldn't that form be depicted in art? We don't mind the verses that speak of a corporeal God because we all "know" the verses don't mean what they seem to mean. We read them with something like a wink. If we can make that mental correction when it comes to verses, why can't we make the same mental correction when it comes to statues? If I know (thanks to my fine education) that the Written Torah depicts things that aren't literally true, couldn't that same education teach me how to regard statues of God? Why was banning them necessary?

An answer, maybe, will appear in a later post.

* For the most part... Philo says Israel is called Israel from ish ra'ah El, or "a man seeing God". God also takes a human form in a great many aggadot, and there is reason to beleive that Rashi, among other Rishonim, were corprealists, too (or at least that they didn't consider it heresy to hold this view of God.) Deeply uncomfortable with these facts? That's because the victory of the Geonim and Rambam on this point was a absolutely complete.

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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Lets put a Jew in a box

Ok, true believers, here's the game. I'll describe somebody from my shul, and you tell me his sect.

(1) Shlomo is an absolute whiz at tanach, who also knows grammar and gemarah better than almost anyone I know.  He's got an encyclopedia knowledge of midrash, too, but at times I've caught him being disrespectful towards it. There's a rumor around the shul that his adult daughters are a little modern - WTGs, I'm afraid - but no one has any proof, and we're all too shy to ask him.  Is Shlomo:
(a) Yeshivish
(b) Modern Orthodox
(c) Conservadox

(2) Moshe is a doctor, with big-time political connections. He's also studied philosophy at a high level and knows quite a bit about other religions. I've never heard him say much about tanach, but he's been through shas several times. However, oddly enough, I've heard him say that gemarah isn't really relevant to people nowadays. He prefers the law codes, and thinks they should be emphasized instead. He agrees with me that midrashim usually aren't to be taken literally. I've also caught him rolling his eyes when the Rabbi says "There are no coincidences". Is Moshe:
(a) Yeshivish
(b) Modern Orthodox
(c) Conservadox

(3) Moshe Chaim is often asked by our Rabbi to deliver musar-style sermons on fast days or during the 10 Days of Repentance. He's certainly qualified to be a full-time Rav, but prefers to work in diamonds. Other then that, about the only thing unusual about him is that he doesn't wear a beard. Is Moshe Chaim:
(a) Yeshivish
(b) Modern Orthodox
(c) Conservadox

(4) Yonasan is charismatic, charming, and beloved by everyone. He's a serious learner, who knows Talmud and halacha as well as almost anyone, but he has a real soft spot for kabbalistic magic. He dabbles in amulets, and the like, sometimes at the expense of more concrete learning. Some of us think this is why his son, and grandson both went off the derech. (His son, its rumored, became one of those street-corner messiah types who tell fortunes) Yonason has a full beard, and dresses extremely piously. Is Yonason:
(a) Yeshivish
(b) Modern Orthodox
(c) Conservadox

|(5) Shimon used to work in a circus, and some people say he was also some kind of thief. All of that was before his marriage, which was arranged by one of the local Torah scholars after a chance, slightly embaressing meeting (the less said about that the better) . Since the wedding,  he's been learning pretty much 24/7 and Shimon is far and away the most diligent learner I know. He says his formidable grasp of Torah devolves from the glimpse he once caught of the godol hador, and believe me: he means it. Is Shimon:
(a) Yeshivish
(b) Modern Orthodox
(c) Conservadox

Additional points after the jump

Sneak preview of a great new song

My friend Y-Love (Yitz Jordan)  is releasing a new song about dating, breaking-up, starting over, and the role of a rabbi in shidduch relationships.

It sounds semi-autobiographical, but Yitz isn't saying.

You can listen to a sample here. Afterwards, come back and tell me what you think: Should a rabbi be allowed to meddle in such matters? Once a happy couple is together, does their rabbi get a veto?

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Can Tzaddikim give a brocha and get immediate results?

...with some healthy and honest skepticism provided at the end by DovBear

I posted the following story on my blog, Life in IsraelSomebody tweeted a link to the story, and a discussion ensued. I will post the tweets of the discussion at the end of the story.

The Mishpacha newspaper from this past week reported on a miraculous story of solving an agunah.

The story takes place in New Square, USA. Where all the Skverer Hassidim live. They opened up their camp, "Camp Malka" to people from Lakewood and other communities in New York. The girls, 16 year olds, were taken on a trip to New Square to tour the town, daven at the graves of previous rebbes and to go in, as a group, to the Admor and receive words of inspiration and bracha.

A counselor noticed one of the girls who was very disturbed and emotional. She approached the girl and suggested that she write a kvittel for the rebbe, if she has a personal issue. The girl, not being a Skverer Hassid, refused. The counselor suggested that after they go in as a group, perhaps she will feel differently, and if she should change her mind and want a word with the rebbe, she would try to help her.

While they were by the rebbe, she started to tell her story in tears. Her sister, it turns out, has been happily married and her husband is one of the best guys in Lakewood (aren't they all???). Shortly before the birth of their third child, the husband became exposed to some bad things (the way it is written sounds like he suddenly found the internet and fell into some bad ways) and gave in to his Yetzer Ha'Ra. His descent was sharp and quick.

Eventually this husband picked himself up and left her. he just disappeared. Abandoned his wife and kids, abandoned religion, and disappeared.

The first couple of years they tried to stay in contact, and they tried to influence him in all sorts of ways to give her a get. He refused every time. Now he has been gone for 3 years, and in the last year he has completely disappeared leaving no trace of his whereabouts. He moved around a lot and is gone - they cannot find him.

The wife sits home and cries, and she has decided to ask the rebbe for a bracha for her sister.

The counselor took her in to the gabbai's room and she wrote a kvittel with her sister's name on it, and the husband's name as well.

After the group spoke with the rebbe, she gave him her kvittel and told him the story.

Instead of asking for more details and showing interest and finding out the details, as he usually does, he simply waved it off and said there is nothing to worry about, everything would be good and he gave a bracha.

A few hours later, the following morning the husband calls home, to his wife in lakewood, and says that he has reconsidered and has decided to give her a get right away and get closure. She said she can't fly to where he was located, as she has the little kids, so he said he could come to Lakewood and she should make all the arrangements in beis din for the next day.

He came, he divorced, and he left.

After the divorce, the younger sister told the family about the bracha she had just gotten the day before from the Skverer Rebbe, and the family then took a trip to thank the rebbe for the yeshua.


DovBear started off asking: @JBN where are the tweets about the times he gave a brocha and no get was ever forthcoming? and @JBN you have to tell us his batting avg. does every brocha produce a get? 50%? 10%?

@DovBear why would that be newsworthy - that he gave a bracha and nothing happened? big deal. it is newsworthy when it works

@DovBear he linked to a post on LII. and I wrote it but took it from Mishpacha newspper. dont know statistics on it though @JBN

DB: @gldmeier a) how do you know it worked? I see no cause and effect. b) Its a classic con man trick to announce successes only

DB: @gldmeier the purpose of the story is to establish him as a miracle worker. If his success rate is 1% more likely this was a coincidence

@gldmeier If 1000 ppl per day came 2 me for brochot Id get some hits too. So did he magically help with get or was it coincidence of timing?

DB: @gldmeier no not at all. It could still be a coincidence that she happened to get the get on day she went. Again, whats his hit rate?

RG: @DovBear since story specifically says he didnt ask for details, it is clear that its the timing that indicates his brocha did it

Why is miracle working rabbi the only profession that doesnt publish a success rate?

DB: @gldmeier maybe it was the bagel she ate for breakfast that did it? Anyone/thing can take credit.

@DovBear doesnt bother me if you prefer to believe it was her bagel breakfast that did the job...

RG: @DovBear does tzaddik not have any such ability? is there no such thing? (not specifically in this story)

DB: @gldmeier Not the point. Even if tzadik has such power (which I deny) there are no grounds to believe this part. case was a miracle.

RG: @DovBear is it possible some cases are more "prone" to intervention of tzaddik and some less?

@HilzFuld i cld tell you stories and stories about cases that are 1000 percent scams. They may be rabbis but they use gypsy methods

RG: @HilzFuld lol.. I think "tzaddik" is in the eye of the guy asking for the bracha. @DovBear

@HilzFuld rt now theres case in 5 towns where some scamster is promissing refuah but cash up front pls, and the marks are making collection

RG: @DovBear in Judaism we dont believe in coincidence

@gldmeier yes we do. see the rishonim (and even so, no raya it was the brocha and not some other merit that helped)

@JYuter how awesome wld that be if the rebbe cards listed their hit rate! @hilzfuld @gldmeier

@hilzfuld fact that they boast about hits and not hit rate is telling (and damning.) @JYuter @gldmeier

RG: @DovBear tru. it was the family who felt that it was the rebbes bracha, went 2 thank him & publicized the story. they cn blve wht they wnt


I tried to reconstruct the tweets into some sort of order that made sense..

So, what do you think? Is there such a thing as a tzaddik that can give a brocha and solve a problem, like snapping the fingers? Was it just coincidence? Do we need to know success rates of any specific tzaddik before deciding whether the result was because of him or despite him?

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Monday, July 26, 2010

Is a "competent posek" competent in all areas?

A guest post by Rabba bar bar Chana

HSM recently posted on her blog about a problem between a lying mother and adult daughter. The subject matter is not relevant here, but suffice it to say that I agree with Hadassah and many of the commenters.

What I wanted to examine is the statement by several of the commenters that the daughter should bring her issue to a “competent posek”. This attitude is very common in the frum community, but I think it’s misplaced. Is it really the best thing to speak to a rav about the problem with her mother? Wouldn’t it make much more sense to ask a family counselor or psychologist? What makes a rav qualified to answer questions like this? He didn’t get training in dealing with such problems. He leaned gemara and shulchan aruch.

I would go to my rav for a question about whether a pot needs kashering. That’s his area of expertise. If I was having problems with a family member, I would ask advice from a therapist or family counselor. What’s behind the impulse to ask a rav about absolutely everything? I have a feeling that a lot of really bad decisions are being made because of this misplaced confidence in rabbanim.

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The Statement of Principles

 A link to a Statement of Principles on the Place of Jews with a Homosexual Orientation in Our Community was sent to by many people last week. It appears to have been signed by many Rabbis, and perhaps your Rabbi should sign it, too. I have no way of knowing if the signatures are authentic.

Full statement with my two tiny comments after the jump

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Why the women talk in shul

The women in our shul were talking all through the services yesterday. More than once I found myself thinking What a gaggle of geese. Can't they shut up?  Other man made faces, rolled their eyes, and gave little condescending shrugs. A few times, the gabbai walked to the back of the shul, and rapped on the mechitzah. That helped, but only for a moment. Then the dull hum of their chatter would start up again. "Like a horde of locusts" said my table mate.

I started to agree, when I caught myself and realized something important.

The women in our shul talk, because they're segregated into a tiny box in the back of the shul, from where they can't really see or hear anything. The mechitzah is 9 feet tall and solid wood, and the room's acoustics are such that a chzan, standing in his spot way at the front of the room, needs to project like a professional actor to be heard on the woman's side. According to my wife, its next to impossible for a woman to follow the service. If you were trapped in such a woman's section, would you find it easy to join the minyan? Our women aren't allowed to be part of the shul, so they don't act like they're part of the shul. We make it impossible for them to participate so they don't participate. And then adding insult on top of injury, we men, the architects of this unhappy situation, decide that women are uninterested in davening and incapable of keeping their mouthes shut, and therefore require nothing more than a little room, with no view and bad acoustics.

Here's how it works. In a shul like mine, women are treated like second class citizens, so they act like second class citizens, so we men think of them as second class citizens, so we treat them like second class citizens and round and round it goes. Neat, huh? Where did this start, and how does it end? Can the cycle be broken?

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Rav Eliyahu zt"l and the beis din of mekubalim

A Guest Post by Rafi G

Rav Mordechai Eliyahu zt"l was by all accounts a very special rav and beloved by all factions, sectors and groups.

I read an interview, a couple of weeks ago, with his son Rav Shmuel Eliyah, the Chief Rabbi of Tzfat. He said that since the death stories of his greatness have been pouring in non-stop. Some stories related miracles the rav had been involved in performing for people. Some had been stories that showed his sensitivity, caring and empathy to every person from the simplest to the greatest of people. Rav Shmuel Eliyahu said they were compiling stories into a book.

An interesting story was printed in this book that was just published. I have not seen the book, but Ynet has reported on it.

I am not going to translate it completely, but will review it briefly.

It came to light after his death that Rav Modechai Eliyahu had been a judge on a special, secret, beis din that had been formed of mekubalim. His participation was meant to be kept secret, and only after his death did the other mekubalim feel it appropriate to tell his family about it.

This beis din met once a year and debated whether or not the jewish people were "ready" for the geulah. Has the time of geulah come yet, or not.

The beis din debated it and paskened that the time for geulah has come.

I would venture to suggest that the purpose of this is a concept we have that when beis din down here in this world paskens a certain way, the beis din above in heaven follows suit and paskens the same way. If that is correct, this would have been a way to "force God's hand", kevayachol, and bring the geulah.

As part of the beis din, they kept detailed ledgers of the arguments and logics presented, along with the final decision issued by the beis din. In a very unusual move, Rav Eliyahu was buried with the folder of documentation of the proceedings of the beis din. The purpose was for Rav Eliyahu to take the folder to the beis din above and show them how they debated the issue, the logic presented, how they came to their decision, and the decision that it is time for the geulah.

This, too, would be a step in "forcing God's hand".

This was all revealed to the family right after the death, as the mekubalim had to tell them about it so that they could bury the rav with the folder.

Let us hope that Rav Eliyahu's powers of persuasion are good enough to work wonders up there!

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Friday, July 23, 2010

Some questions about A Serious Man

The following relates to the video seen here.

Things I wish to know:

(1) Is Good shabbos good yomtuf as a way of saying "and it happened quickly and unexpectedly" an authentic idiom for that time and place? (For the sake of this discussion, lets call the time and place late 19th century Poland.)

(2) The old man is wearing a shtreimal on a weeknight. Is that true to the period?

(3) He confesses to having shaved his cheeks that morning. ITTTTP? Would any Jewish man of that time and place shave any part of his face?

(4) When he enters, he compliments the wife on her appearance. ITTTTP?

(5) Was ice used for anything in 19th century Poland? Especially in the middle of the winter?

(6) Why isn't Dora's head covered. ITTTTP?

(7) Dora? What kind of name is Dora? ITTTTP?

(8) Is the old man Jesus? Is that why Dora answers his kindness by stabbing him, and slamming the door on him? Before Dora's rejection, her husband was eager to share some good news, a wonder that had him quite excited. Do the Coen's believe "rational men" recognize the favor performed by the maybe-he's-dead-maybe-he's-not Jesus, while only the cold, haughty and superstitious refuse to be budged?

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Something sweet from the Gmail Blog

Google asked for "photos of you video chatting with your grandma." This is what they got:

The caption: Emmanuel from Israel submitted this photo and wrote "My grandmother lives in Nice, France and could not come to our wedding in Israel, this is as close as we got to having her with us."

Of course if you're the sort who sees Cossacks on every street corner, and evil between the lines of every news article, your maladaptive thought process probably yields the following interpretation of the photo, and its presence on the Google blog: "Leave it to those left-wing elitists at Google to embarrass a poor Jewish women by suggesting she refused to attend her offspring's wedding. What are they saying? That our grandmothers don't love us enough to go to our weddings?"

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Two maaseh shehayas:

It was a Friday morning in yeshiva and the Rabbi was teeing off on Darwin. "If I work out and develop muscles, that means my kid is going to have big muscles, too? If a giraffe stretches out a little bit, his child gets a longer neck? Ha. Darwin. He didn't know what he was talking about!"

It was a Monday afternoon on Twitter, and one of the yeshiva dopes was making a parade of his ignorance. "Darwin only works if there are mutations, so where are the mutations? I don't see any strange creatures with six eyes and ten legs? Where are they all?"

The scientific errors should be obvious to anyone with a ninth grade education. The rabbi was bashing not on Darwin, but on Lamarck the 18th century academic who is best rememebered today for suggesting that acquired characteristics are inherited.  No respectable scientist thinks Lamarck was right. The theory the Rabbi debunked has been out of favor for almost 150 years. Next perhaps he's denounce alchemy. The yeshiva dope has seen too many scifi movies. Scientists don't claim that dramatic and obvious mutations happen quickly. They say that small, barely noticeable mutations occur gradually over eons and eons. The ancient multi-toed horse didn't transform overnight into the modern single hoofed horse. This took million of years, and happened so slowly that even if you were to line up a million generations of mother and daughter horse skeletons you wouldn't be able to pin point the precise moment when the change occurred. 

More interesting to me than the ignorance is the arrogance. If someone with no Talmudic experience were to issue a public challenge of Torah law, both the yeshiva dope and the Rabbi would be scandalized, and rightly so. Only a fool argues a subject he hasn't studied. Yet this is what the rabbi and the yeshiva dope did. Neither of them hesitated to pontificate on a subject about which they knew less than nothing.

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

A great ghost story, in Yiddish

Darn shame this video can't be embedded. It is the opening of the Coens' A Serious Man, and the very best bit of yiddish theater I've ever seen, a real shtetl ghost story. It features Velvel his wife Dora and, well, I shan't spoil it. Yiddish speakers, please let us know what you think of the language. Is it accurate? Does the dialog mix up dialects?Are the idioms right, specifically the delightful use of "Gut shabos, gut yomtuf!" @5:08?

I saw two anachronisms: (1) The glare of frustrated, superior, disbelief Dora gives Velvel @2:20, and (2) the hearty, "And this is Dora!" a visitor bellows jovially upon entering @3:16. I can't speak for the language, but both Dora's expression, and the guest's accent seemed briefly out of place.

What does everyone else think?

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The Social Implications of the Rape by Deception Case

A Guest Post By E. Fink

There is an inherent racism in the Rape by Deception case. And no, I do not mean the court is racist in its ruling.

I mean the "victim".

If the man is Israeli it is okay to sleep with him after just meeting him, but if he is Arab then it is not okay to sleep with him?

I don't doubt that she feels this way. But what is the basis for her feeling this way? If she was very religious then perhaps she is concerned with the Jewish law of "marrying" a Jew. But I don't think that is what it is.

I think it indicates a strong social aversion to Arabs in Israeli society. So strong that a woman who is willing to sleep with a new acquaintance would not do so if he was Arab.

The court is dealing with the facts on the ground. She would not have consented if she knew he was Arab. That legal issue deserves discussion. What I think is a more productive discussion is why she feels that way.

What factors are okay to consider before sleeping with a man and what factors are not okay? The court seems to think that ethnicity is important enough that her consent was voided. In Israel it is possible that it is that important.

Is it any wonder that Arabs feel 2nd Class in Israel?

I understand how and why that social reality came to exist.

I also think that perhaps it is more harmful than helpful at this point.

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Israeli Court Shames Itself With Idiotic Ruling

I see from Shmarya that an Israeli court has lost its mind.

Sabbar Kashur, an Arab, picked up a Jewish woman in downtown Jerusalem, and did what men seeking sex have done since the beginning of time. He lied, in this case identifying himself as a Jewish bachelor. After the sex, which the woman admits was consensual, she discovered Kashur's ethnicity and filed rape charges.

The court agreed, ruling the sex was obtained under false pretenses. Kashur is going to jail for 18 months.

Some things I want to know:

:: Does this mean men who use the L word to get women into bed, are now subject to prison terms? Pretending to love someone for sex is also false pretenses, and this happens all the time.

:: What about the broke, wimpy shlub who sits at the bar and pretends to be a wealthy, well-endowed, fighter pilot. If a girl is dumb enough to believe him, can she later send him away for rape?

:: Would the court have reacted the same way, if it was an American Christian who pretended to be Jewish for the sake of getting into that woman's pants? How much did racism have to do with this ruling? Is this Israel or Jim Crow Mississippi?

In America this little mishap would be a beer commercial. In Israel its a criminal preceding.

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Why hasn't the Third Temple been rebuilt?

Why hasn't the Third Temple been rebuilt? I think the answer is pretty simple, and can be boiled down to four small words. We don't want it. That's the truth, isn't it? If we wanted the Temple built, we'd get it done. We made the desert bloom and gathered in the exiles, fought off the whole Arab world with their European friends and turned a backwards farming community into a high tech society. Putting up a building should be easy.  Why haven't we done it yet? Because the Arabs are already there, with their own holy headquarters? So what. We tear down Arab buildings all the time. We can reduce the Dome of the Rock to rubble in an afternoon. Are we concerned this will incite war and international sanctions? So what? We can handle a war, we can handle sanctions, and if the Temple is as valuable and important as we tell ourselves it is, why do we doubt that our efforts will be blessed? Its simple math, isn't it? If the songs, and stories, and prayers are true, God wants Israel to bring him animal sacrifices at a Jerusalem Temple. Until we do, something is not right in the world. So how might an effort to restore that be met with anything but success?

I propose the fact that we're perfectly content to leave the Temple unbuilt is awfully strong evidence that we don't particularly want to see it restored. For all our prayerful talk, for all our fasting and weeping, we're not that eager to go back in time to the era of Temples and Priests and Kings. That's perfectly understandable. Animal sacrifice, lets face it, is a bizarre way to worship. The Priests, if we're being honest, were a corrupt, robbing, parasitic band of aristocrats. And Kings? Has there ever in human history been a decent king? The whole idea of a king is immoral and unjust and if you don't believe me, look at the book of Kings and see that even the best Jewish kings were louts. David overtaxed the people, dragged them into stupid wars, and thought every beautiful woman he spotted was his personal possession. Solomon traded whole cities for lumber. His son was a brutal creep, whose first big idea was taxing his subjects to death for the sake of his own glory. His grandchildren were worse, and their grandchildren were still worse. Who wants a second helping of that?

I'm speaking from a skeptical position, of course, but even those Jews who, pace the evidence, believe with their whole hearts that a rebuilt Temple guarantees greater peace and greater happiness for all mankind, even those Jews are entirely uninterested in starting the construction project. Take my rabbi, for example. He lives in America, and has absolute faith that his Judaism is incomplete. But what does he do about it? Absolutely nothing. He's still here, and does nothing with his time or money to encourage the rebuilding of the Temple. The rabbinic leadership in Israel is even worse. Presumably, they also think we need a Temple, but unlike my local shul Rabbi they have the clout to compel the government to act or to inspire their own followers to force a change. Why don't they? My answer: They're happy with how things are, and like my local rabbi, they are comfortable with their power, their homes, and their lot in life. Perhaps they also worry that rebuilding the Temple, and establishing a priesthood, will cost them some power and require them to make changes in the way they live and they way they think. In short, rebuilding the Temple means risking what they have on an uncertain outcome, and because what they have is pretty neat, they're content to leave things alone.

So let's stop pretending. We don't want a Temple, or sacrifices, or kings or priests. What we want is more or less what we already have: freedom, security, wealth and opportunity. The Rabbis and politicians, obviously aren't willing to trade that for a an old building, and a loosy-goosy promise about the supernatural and spiritual splendor that's supposed to come with it. And, if we're being honest, neither are we.

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Dancing at Auschwitz

A Guest Post By E. Fink

Everyone has been talking about this video. (I mean everyone, from talk radio, newspapers, the AP, the Frum News sites, etc).

From the description:
On a recent trip to Europe, a family of three generations (a Holocaust survivor, his daughter and his grandchildren) dance to Gloria Gaynor's pop song - 'I Will Survive' at concentration camps and memorials throughout Europe.

This dance is a tribute to the tenacity of the human spirit and a celebration of life.

Is it appropriate for a survivor and his family to celebrate their survival in this manner? Everyone seems to have an opinion.

When I saw it, I was not "offended", but then again, I am a 4th generation American. I have no Holocaust scars in my direct ancestry. It's possible I am not as sensitive as I ought to be about this.

Having said that, I prefer to see this family as the modern day Rabbi Akiva who laughed when he saw the great Temple in ruins. When his weeping comrades asked him how he could cry at such a sight he reminded them that just as the destruction of the Temple was predicted, so too the rebuilding of the Temple and the return from exile was predicted.

Rabbi Akiva survived and he was confident that we would survive as a people. He was confident we would survive with our hopes and dreams intact even after witnessing a horrible event like the destruction of the Temple and the deaths of the thousands of Jews living in Jerusalem. The ever present optimism for the future has been a calling card for Jewish people for two millennia and Rabbi Akiva practically invented it.

On the eve of Tisha B'Av my father told me a wonderful Torah thought. At the end of the second chapter of Makkos there is an argument between Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Yehuda. Rabbi Yehuda holds that if a man is exiled as punishment for a negligent homicide, when his term completes he cannot return to his position of authority (like prince of the tribe) that he held before his exile. Rabbi Meir holds that one returning from exile can reclaim his position of authority. Halachically we follow Rabbi Yehuda. But Rabbi Meir was the student of Rabbi Akiva. It seems that Rabbi Akiva had integrated this lesson into his worldview and taught it to his student Rabbi Meir. Rabbi Akiva had such optimism that the Jewish people would return from their exile and reclaim the lofty position in Israel, with the Temple that he laughed when he saw its destruction.

Seems to me, these folks are students of Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Meir. We need optimism. We need hope for the future. We need to be confident in our future. Dancing at Auschwitz tells me that these folks have that optimism.

FYI: The video has been taken off YouTube several times already for "Copyright Infringement". There are new versions on YouTube but I bet they get taken down eventually as well. So I grabbed this video from WeJew.Com. It's a sad commentary on our litigious society that this video was taken down...

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Should we really be fasting?

A guest post by Rabba bar bar Chana

In an article in Haaretz, Anshel Pfeffer claims that it’s wrong to still fast on Tisha B’Av:

“Tisha B'Av was never supposed to be an eternal day of mourning…

“For the first time in the history of the Jews, a majority of them are choosing not to live in an independent Jewish state in Zion - of their own free will…

“Mourning on the Ninth of Av in this day and age flies in the face of both secular Zionism and religious Zionism. It contradicts the right of Jews around the world to decide where they prefer to live. The exile is over, and the temple has not been rebuilt because we don't want to do it.”
He definitely has a point, (despite his silly implication in the article that we should remove the mosques from the Temple Mount.) It’s ironic to see people who live in fancy houses in Flatbush, travel to Israel on El Al several times a year, and have full religious freedoms in America begging Hashem to “end the terrible golus!”

But there’s another way of looking at it, and it’s the way I choose to look at many of our traditions. What we commemorate on Tisha B’Av isn’t just the loss of the Temple. It isn’t just a yearning for the Beit HaMikdash to be rebuilt and for sacrifices and a monarchy to be reinstituted. As DovBear pointed out a few days ago, how likely, practical, or even desirable does that really seem?

Instead, we fast because we’ve fasted for 2,000 years. We mourn for the very real people who died for being Jews throughout our long history. We fast because our parents, their parents, and their parents fasted. Looking at the tragedies of Judaism, we also gaze at our rich and varied history.

There’s a myopia sometimes, in the way that many frum people look at Judaism. It’s a focus on a history that ended 2,000 years ago, and a focus on a future that has not yet come. There’s a lack of internalizing the richness of our history and of how Judaism (and Jews) changed and evolved and grew for millennia. It’s as if all of that time was just a holding pattern and is only religiously significant in terms of what came before and the hope of what will come.

The exile created the Judaism we have today. It’s a far different religion, and we’re a far different people, than what we were in the year 70 AD. Part and parcel of that religion is fasting on Tisha B’Av. It’s not just about the destruction, it’s about who we are now, who we were 100, 500, and 1,000 years ago. The kinot we read aren’t just about the destruction. They’re also about the time they were written in, the beautiful poetry of Eliezer HaKalir in the early medieval period or the ones written in the wake of the tragedy of our times, the Shoah.

It’s also about hope. Anshel Pfeffer claims that since Eretz Yisrael is under Jewish control and we could rebuild the Temple should we choose, there’s no need to fast. But as I wrote above, yearning for the redemption isn’t just about the Temple and the monarchy. Instead, it’s about yearning and hoping for a world at peace, where war and hate are no more. It’s a vision that can transcend sectarian differences and is unencumbered by petty differences of theology. Instead it’s about hope.

And that’s why we fast.

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My post about the survey

This summary is not available. Please click here to view the post.

Pious Frauds

Article is the London Jewish Chronicle of October 16, 1871

Nice to see Jews are always Jews.

Hat tip Mark. Will update with source as soon as I know it.

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Monday, July 19, 2010

A follow-up to yesterday's Moshiach post

Great. Just great. Two days before Tisha B'av, and the Haredim are rioting, this time because their local post office provides waiting patrons with news updates on large plasma television screens. TVs, even when they are showing nothing but news updates, are an abomination, see, and 25 goons [2 of them at left; note the sefer] thought rioting was the very best way to make that clear. According to YNET, they hit post office employees, called them names like "Nazi", painted graffiti on the walls and so on. I'm sure lots of extra holiness was brought into the world via the violent destruction of those TV screens. Aren't you?

Now, here's why this post is titled a follow-up to yesterday's Moshiach post (and I hope those who honestly bleieve I never backtrack, change my mind or qualify are paying attention). The very basic Jewish idea of Moshiach, the core belief found in most, if not all the interpretations, predictions and writings on the subject is that when Moshiach arrives (whatever that means) things are going to be good. We don't know what laws or practices will be brought back, or discontinued. We don't know if life will change dramatically with a new supernatural order introduced, or if things will carry on pretty much as they did before. We don't even know if the Temple service will be restored. (Authorities argue about all these points; and anyway their predictions have no influence over how reality , over time, unfolds.) In fact, we don't know anything about what Moshiach is or is not, or even if its an authentic Jewish idea going back to Sinai, or the invention of disappointed, impatient and tired-of-being-persecuted Jews during the Persian or Greek periods.[*] All we do know is that whenever a Jewish thinker made a prediction, or shared a deduction about Moshiach he always, always, always predicted or deduced that things post-Moshiach would be Good.

So let's go with that.

In my post yesterday, I made my own prediction. I said that right after Moshiach's arrival heads will roll as the Moshiach and his followers cracked down on Jews who were expecting a different kind of Moshiach. I imagined that no matter what kind of Moshiach arrived, he'd advocate a style of Judaism other Jews would find intolerable and infighting would be the inevitable result.  I still think there is something to that, but I recognize its not the only possible outcome. Maybe Moshiach doesn't come on a donkey. Maybe Moshiach is a word to describe the goodness that results as mankind gets its act together. I don't know if we're there yet, but our Southern States are certainly closer to Moshiach then they were when Jim Crow was the rule of their land. We may have miles to go, but Russia is closer than it was 30 years ago, isn't it? As mankind improves, and puts away its ancient prejudices and pettiness, aren't we getting closer to the Good, and might that be what's meant by Moshiach? People getting along, and treating one another with justice? Moshiach may not appear in the Prophets, but this idea that Zion is only redeemed with justice, and that we're all going to suffer until the widow and the orphan are treated properly is everywhere in those books. Everywhere.

[*]I am aware the Talmud and virtually every Jewish thinker of note from the Mishna on forward thought Moshiach was an old, old Jewish idea. However, what can't be denied is that no mention of him  appears until Daniel (though hints are discovered in other books) and that nothing overt is said about him, or what he will do anywhere in the  Hebrew bible. If you're of a skeptical bent, this is strange and troubling, and perhaps strongly suggestive of something at least quasi heretical. Enough of that for now.

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Old Posts about Tisha B'av and the Nine Days

What follows is a no-music, voices only, men only, presentation of Salamone de Rossi's Al Naharot Bavel. Who was Salamone de Rossi? Shame on you. de Rossi was a brilliant Italian composer, who in the 17th century(!) set many of our prayers to music in the baroque style.

Think of him a Lipa Smeltzer's spiritual great great great grandpappy.

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God's Thoughts on Tisha B'Av


In consideration of all efforts to create and participate in meaningful programs for Tisha B’Av, it should be noted that in Sefer Zechariah Chapter 7, God's view on this subject is recorded.

Some background information: As the second Temple was being rebuilt, the Jews had been keeping the 4 fast days related to the destruction for the last 70 years. It occurred to residents of Bavel that perhaps these fasts were obsolete. After all, the Temple was being rebuilt, so why would they continue to mourn over its destruction? They assembled a delegation to go to Jerusalem where the halachic question would be brought to the leadership that still included Neviim. The answer given by God through Zechariah Hanavi is quite surprising and would be considered completely inappropriate had anyone else given that answer.

At first the question of whether to fast or not, is ignored. Then Zechariah said in the name of God that when Jews eat at times that they deem appropriate, or fast when they decide to fast, they do so because it is what they think will serve their own interests. It isn’t necessarily for the right reasons. Zechariah essentially states that our idea of fasting misses the mark and even questions its’ sincerity. He then goes further and says in the name of God what would be a more proper approach to the subject. He says that the correct approach to this problem is to
“Execute true judgment, and show mercy and compassion every man to his brother and oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless, the stranger, nor the poor; and let none of you devise evil against his brother in your heart.”
Being that the Jews ignored these basic ideas, they were exiled and scattered across the world.

Hashem is looking at us and saying, it is quite simple, and it has always been quite simple. I don’t want false piety or even grand programs that are limited to fasting and davening. If you want to do them, that is your decision. But don’t lose sight of what I want. Hashem says “I want honesty, compassion and love”.

Zechariah 7 is a treasure that should be reviewed and internalized in preparation for Tisha B’Av.

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Sunday, July 18, 2010

Do you really want Moshiach?

REVISED 7/18 @ 6 pm

Do you really want Moshiach? Think about this question carefully.

There are many views about what Moshiach means and what he will do, but among the Orthodox, the most common expectation is that when Moshiach gets here the whole world, or at least the whole of Jewery, will live under the law of the Torah. This is less cool than it sounds. Living according to Torah law means bringing back kings, and permitting slavery, and child marriage and polygamy and brutal forms of execution. If the moshiach is a Charedi, it will also mean severe limitations on personal freedom and fewer rights and opportunities for women. A charedi moshiach would also mean the elimination of all the non-Torah industries and the widespread unemployment that would follow. All of the lawyers, entertainers, journalists, politicians and the people who depend on them will need new vocations.

But will Moshiach be Charedi? Unclear. He might be some other flavor of Orthodox Jew, or perhaps he won't be Orthodox, at all. In any event, his arrival and anticipated preference for one expression of Judaism to the exclusion of all others will also mean the elimination of Jewish diversity. If you're like most Jews you sort of unreflectivly expect that the messianic era means your sect will dominate, but how can you be sure? Perhaps the King Mossiach will be a reform Jew. Perhaps he'll argue that all the familiar and cherished rabbinic pieties we've accumulated over the last 2000 years are invalid, or no longer needed. Will the Orthodox stand for that? And even if he's Orthodox, he might not be your kind of Orthodox. What if he's a Litvak? Will the Hasidic rebbes resign their authority, and recognize his? Unlikely. And what if he's Satmar? Would Lubovitch stick around for a Satmar king? No chance.

In short, the whole beautiful idea of one unified Judaism under a universally accepted Jewish king sounds impossible unless quite a few heads are broken first. The King Mossiah will need an army of secret police to root out and destroy all the competing flavors of Judaism, even within Orthodoxy. It will be like something out of an Orwellian nightmare, at least at until the opposition is defeated. Perform the wrong ritual, think the wrong thought, worship God in a way not authorized by the King, and you can expect severe punishment. That's the Torah way, isn't it? And no out-of-favor-sect will be safe. If the King is a Maimonidian all of you who believe in magic, demons, and specific divine providence will require re-education. Utter any of the well known, beloved prayers which reference the saving powers of angles, and the Maimonidian king will have not just the grounds, but the obligation to execute you for heresy. And similar examples can easily be found no matter what style of king has the throne. Every Jewish sect does something terribly wrong by the lights of the other sects. Unless these real, entrenched, differences of opinion are made to magically disappear the king will be required to root out the opposition and to bring the rest of Judaism into line by force.

Are you really desirous of a Messianic era ushered in with vicious infighting and a murderous civil war? Given what you know about human nature, and the history of Judaism do you think it could happen any other way?

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Saturday, July 17, 2010

Kupat Ha'Ir Blatantly Lies

A Guest Post By E. Fink

This year's Kupat Ha'Ir campaign is hilarious. It is a weak attempt at addressing the skeptics and scoffers (as they call them) and "prove" how their methods and promises are foolproof and of ancient vintage.

The 8 page propaganda piece is full of flimsy logic and scare tactics. I recommend seeing the thing for yourself, just for kicks.

My favorite part of the whole thing is the picture below. Don't they see that the caption below the photo is an obviously blatant lie?

How many other lies are in their ads...?

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Friday, July 16, 2010

Two more questions

Minyanim and the NYT

A guest post by LWP

During my 7+ years living a Frum lifestyle, there's one thing that everyone holds as Emes: the New York Times hates Jews and hates Israel. Well, I've been working there for over three months now on the "Metered Model" as a software developer, and I don't think that they deserve the rep. Not only are there more yomikas working there than you'd think, I came within a whisker of getting the following article in the paper (not just the website). The editor thought it was "too insidery"; maybe it is, hard to tell.

I can say that she was enthusiastic about it. You all be the judge as to whether a newspaper that would very seriously literally spilling lots of ink on the following article is truly anti-semitic.

See it after the jump

The new, next, Jewish crisis

The Diaspora Need Not Apply
Published by The New York Times on July 15, 2010

WHO is a Jew? It’s an age-old inquiry, one that has for decades (if not centuries) provoked debate, discussion and too many punch lines to count — all inspired by what many assumed was the question’s essential unanswerability. But if developments this week are any indication, the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, might soon offer an official, surprising answer: almost no one.

Take the DovBear Survey

It is after the jump. Thanks in advance.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

I take it back: THIS is the funniest devar torah ever

Here again is Pastor Anderson, preaching the word of the Lord as revealed in 1 Kings 14:10 Here's the verse:

לָכֵ֗ן הִנְנִ֨י מֵבִ֤יא רָעָה֙ אֶל־ בֵּ֣ית יָרָבְעָ֔ם וְהִכְרַתִּ֤י לְיָֽרָבְעָם֙ מַשְׁתִּ֣ין בְּקִ֔יר עָצ֥וּר וְעָז֖וּב בְּיִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וּבִֽעַרְתִּי֙ אַחֲרֵ֣י בֵית־ יָרָבְעָ֔ם כַּאֲשֶׁ֛ר יְבַעֵ֥ר הַגָּלָ֖ל עַד־ תֻּמֹּֽו׃

The phrase that has Pastor Steve all excited (and boy does he start screaming) is מַשְׁתִּ֣ין בְּקִ֔יר, a rough, vivid epithet for "male" Literally, it means "pisser against a wall." To my ear, it sounds like mafia talk, sort of an ANE Soprano-speak, but there's no way to know. Anyway, Dumb Pastor Moron thinks this phrase has an important biblical message for men everywhere. Have a look,,,

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The funniest dvar torah I have ever read

Ok, this isn't really a dvar torah. Actually, its a political, homophobic, diatribe written by Steven Anderson, the hate-filled baptist preacher previously best known for asking God to smite the duly elected president of these United States. I call it dvar torah because Pastor Steve quotes our scriptures on behalf of his ludicrous point. As follows:

Many people today have the idea that Jesus Christ while he was on this earth had long hair and wore clothing that looked like a dress. The reason for this is that many people derive what they believe from artwork or the opinions of so-called “theologians” and “scholars” instead of getting their information directly from the Bible itself. First of all, the Bible makes it clear that it is a sin for a man to have long hair..:

DB: The cites are from the New Testament, and though I haven't gone to the original Greek it seems like a drasha: The verses don't say anything explicit about long hair. Anderson is interpreting. As for long-hair in the Bible, we know that Absalon, at least, wore his in the hippie style.

These same type of paintings have also given people the idea that “Jesus did not wear pants.” Some have even made utterly ridiculous and bizarre statements such as, “pants had not been invented yet,” or “they didn’t have pants back then.” According to these “scholars,” the men of the past who built the pyramids and Stonehenge just hadn’t thought of pants yet!

DB: We'll discuss pants presently. First, I want to point out Anderson's factual and reasoning errors: (1) The pyramids aren't anything amazing from an engineering POV. Toddlers build pyramids with wooden blocks. The ancient Egyptians did the exact same thing with clay blocks. Big whoops.(2) And even if the pyramids were as difficult to make as, say a skyscraper, it doesn't follow that the particular genius that goes into a skyscraper can also be applied  to creating a style of clothing. (3) And really what's so great about pants? Men wear them instead of skirts for entirely arbitrary/subjective reasons. Coming up with them had nothing to do with intelligence. Its just style. 

What I believe is based upon the Bible, not “historical evidence,”

DB: And there in 11 small words is one of the best indictments of fundamentalism I have ever seen

...but the historical record also proves that men in the ancient Middle East wore pants. For example... The Bible uses the word “breeches” to refer to pants. Our modern day spelling of this word is britches, such as in the expression, “he is a little too big for his britches.” Here are several mentions from the Bible of men wearing britches (pants): [All having to do with the costume of the kohen]

DB: The word the bible uses is michnasayim.  Christians very often forget they rely on a translation. Moreover, he's wrong about breeches and britches. Breeches is a perfectly good modern English word; britches is a variant spelling based originally on a corrupt pronunciation. Both words mean "pants" today, and they also mean "underpants" which is exactly what they meant when the translation Pastor Moron relies upon was written. More to the point, as the Bible originally meant it, the michnasayim were UNDERGARMENTS. They were completely covered by the kitonet which was a skirt-like tunic! 

Anyone who has not had their mind warped by a so-called theologian or historian knows that a dress is a woman’s garment. The only men I have seen wearing dresses in 2010 are homosexuals, Catholic priests (sorry to be redundant), Islamic clerics, and Buddhist monks. These men are an abomination according to the Bible.

What about Sean Connery? I've seen him and other Scottish men in kilts. And many men wear sarongs, dhotis, caftans, and other types of skirt-like garments. Are they all gay abominations?

Important News From Monsey

A Guest Post By E. Fink

One bit of news from Monsey NY (where I am visiting for part of the summer):

A Rebbe Was Fired For Molesting a 5 Year Old Boy

This has been briefly mentioned on a couple other blogs and in the comments elsewhere. I want to publicize the swift action taken by one school (email me if you want to know which school) to fire a 70 year old rebbe who was busted for sexual abuse. He was fired after the hanhala verified the story and approached him. He eventually admitted the abuse and was given the boot immediately. Authorities were notified as well.

He is the second rebbe in as many years to be fired for a sex abuse offense at this yeshiva.

Some of the reasons I think this is important to publicize are:
  • People (victims) should know that their accusations are not going unheard. There are some schools where the hanhala is doing the right thing. This would increase the likelihood a victim will speak up.
  • Other schools should know that their competitors are weeding out the sickos and if they don't follow suit, they will be less desirable institutions.
  • Authorities and whistle-blowers will begin to try to work with our yeshivos instead of fighting them.

I am sure there are more. These are just off the top of my head.

(HT: Everyone in Monsey)

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

How dare they criticize a sitting president when we're at war?!

The very latest in Tea-Party treason:

A billboard ordered and paid for by the North Iowa Tea Party
shows President Barack Obama, Adolf Hitler, left and Vladimir Lenin.


Reform Judaism's 200th birthday

A guest post by Rabba bar bar Chana

Reform Judaism is something new under the sun. It isn’t “real” Judaism and will disappear as everyone in the movement assimilates, right?

Well, it’s worth noting that this Shabbat, the 17th of July, will mark the 200th anniversary of the first Reform Synagogue. It was established by Rabbi Israel Jacobson in Seesen, Germany. 200 years is hardly a flash in the pan, and shows that despite the hopes of many frum Jews, Reform Judaism is here to stay.

This may sound like I’m celebrating Reform Judaism, and in a sense I am. More on that below. But I certainly have a lot of issues with it as well, especially as it was practiced in the beginning. My biggest issue was the expunging of the any hint of yearning for Eretz Yisrael. Reform Judaism was meant to show loyalty to the country the Jews lived in. And the temple was decked out to look and feel like as much as possible like a church.

Over the years, American Reform Judaism softened their anti-Zionist stance, and today are usually strongly supportive of the state of Israel.

Interestingly, there was no gender egalitarianism in that first temple in Seesen. Men and women sat separately. Hmm – separate seating and anti-Zionism… was that first Reform temple charedi? (Yes, I’m aware that “Zionism” per se didn’t exist in 1810. I’m using term for convenience.)

One innovation that shocked and appalled more traditional Jews was the use of German to deliver the sermon, instead of the more traditional Yiddish so that the masses could understand. Today we think nothing of hearing a drasha in English in the most Charedi shuls.

And Reform certainly changed traditional Judaism in far larger ways as well. Opposition to Reform brought rapprochement between the Chassidim and Misnagdim and created a new movement called Orthodox Judaism. This wasn’t merely a gathering together under a new name, but a crystallizing of disparate practices and movements into one. Thus, in a sense, Reform Judaism preceeded (and created) Orthodox Judaism.

I still have problems with contemporary Reform Judaism. I think that a Judaism devoid of ritual is far poorer for it and loses much of its Jewish character. (Though ritual has been increasing in the movement in recent years.) But I still feel that there’s much to celebrate about the movement as well, as I mentioned above.

One common refrain among Orthodox Jews is that Reform Judaism has been a huge gateway to assimilation. That may be true, to a degree. But let’s pretend that Reform (or the other heterodox movements) didn’t exist. Do you really think that those 1.5 million American Jews that count themselves as Reform would have anything to do with Judaism at all today? It’s unlikely that they’d all be Orthodox. If anything, Reform has probably helped more Jews retain a Jewish identity than they’ve helped lose. That’s 1.5 million Jews who might have been lost to Judaism entirely. 1.5 million Jews who care about Israel. Yes, some of their Jewish identity may be superficial, but frankly, that could be said of some Jews in every movement.

So Happy 200th Birthday, Reform Judaism!

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