Monday, February 28, 2011

Blogs on the brain

In a new article, Avi Shafran attempts to discuss "Cultural Orthodox Jews" --- by which he means OJ who run around acting frum while simultaneously committing despicable acts. Here's Avi's catalog of offenses, both large and small

That there are “Cultural” Orthodox Jews helps explain otherwise baffling things, like how an Orthodox Jew can engage in unethical business practices, cheat, steal or abuse. Or, more mundanely, how he can cut others off in traffic, act rudely, or blog maliciously.
This is progress of a sort. In 2006, I think Reb Avi may have put malicious blogging a bit higher on the list. Now its a mundane error, rather than a cardinal sin. Of course, Avi's earlier antagonism toward blogs was back before his own little columns started appearing on a blog that maliciously attacks Jews with something approaching a fair regularity. Perhaps now that Avi is one of us, he's become more forgiving. That's often how it works, no? More malicious blogging after the jump.

Another event flyer reveals unflattering truths about the Torah True community.

Discussing the Lakewood Shabbos a few weeks ago, I pointed out that the event's advertising revealed some  unflattering truths about the Torah True community. After the jump, you'll see another flyer, for another event, that does the same. HT @berelshain via @marksofla

Vishnitz hasidim ban contact lenses

As Rabbi Doctor Poe taught, it can sometimes be difficult to differentiate between sincere extremism and a parody of extremism.  The new Vishnitz ban on contact lenses (contact lenses!) is likely sincere extremism, but some of the quotes which suggest a Hasidic terror of Paris and clubs approach parody. See them after the jump. Hat tip the Beadle

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Man crush

Some modern critics suggest Jonathan had a homosexual fascination with David; others say the two were lovers. Their evidence is the verses in which the two declare their love for each other, and in which Jonathan clearly seems to idolize David even to the point of betraying his own father for David's sake. This is the kind of forced interpretation that, in other contexts, gives midrash a bad name. Anyway, I think its more likely Jonathan had an ordinary heterosexual man crush on David.

What's that? If you're a man with ordinary powers of observation you've likely seen such crushes develop at work or shul. One guy, usually a beta, starts shadowing an alpha. The beta contrives to always walk home with the alpha, invites himself over to the alpha's house, and may even begin echoing the alpha's speech patterns. If the beta is a loser, who comes on too strong, the man crush dance looks pathetic and makes the alpha uncomfortable -- but not every man crush follows that pattern. Sometimes the beta plays it cool and the alpha enjoys the attention. Sometimes the beta has something to offer the alpha. Sometimes he and the alpha become good friends. Such things happen whenever and wherever males interact. The apes do it too.

The David and Jonathan bro-mance seems to have begun with such a man crush. David is obviously an ultra alpha. He's charismatic, people flock to him, and no other man in the bible is said, in so many words, to be loved by a woman. In fact, as the verses make clear again and again, everyone loves David, especially Jonathan, who though a prince, and a winner on the battlefield, doesn't seem to posses powers equal to David's. Instead, he falls under the usurper's sway and starts to idolize him. Being in David's company makes Jonathan feel whole. He wants to be around David, and he wants to do things for David. This is a a pretty typical man crush behavior with mo homosexual aspect required.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Delicious word-play

The London Telgraph has a kind article about the Haredim of Stamford Hill, that's entirely inoffensive unless you catch the word play in this passage:

Beneath their hats and locks they had a scholar’s pallor. Many, one noticed, wore spectacles. It was once assumed that it was strain brought on by the long hours of study in the yeshive, or Torah schools, that affected the eyesight of so many Haredi men. However, a study in Israel suggested that much of the blame lay with shockelling - the fervent rocking backward and forward motion that students make as they read the texts, and which causes an incessant change of focus in the eyes leading to myopia.
:) Caught and submitted by the very excellent @marksofla

Neat literary stuff in and around Vayakhel

A few weeks ago, at parshas Trumah, I blogged about the network of parallels identified by Martin Buber between the language and terms used to describe the building of the sanctuary, and the words used in Genesis for the creation of the world. See it here.

During my review of Vayakhel, I came across some others.
  • There are two creation stories; likewise there are two Mishkan building stories.
  • In the first creation story, we're told "God Said X... and X was so." This roughly corresponds with the description in parshas Trumah (and God said) and in Vyakhel/Pekudei (and Moshe did it)

As interpreted by the Rabbis, aspects of the mishkan also correspond with the sin of the golden calf (which makes sense, as the gold of one is said to atone for the gold of the other)
  • According to one midrash, Aaron created the golden calf simply by throwing a bundle of gold into a fire.
  • Another midrash tells us Bezalel used the same method to create the menorah 
And still others which tie together creation, the mishkan and the golden calf.
  • When Adam sins, the punishment is expulsion, and he's is banished from God's presence; when Israel sins with the calf, God banishes Himself from Israel's presence. 
  • Following Adam's sin, God creates the Sabbath, a sanctification of time; following Israel's sin with the calf, God orders Israel to create the Mishkan, a sanctification of space.
Additionally Shabbos and Mishkan are mentioned together in at least three spereate instances, and even Moshe's speech at the beginning of Vayakhel about constructing the Mishkan digresses into a discussion of shabbos, with the only Sabbath law specifically mentioned being the ban on kindling fire (see the menorah and the calf above.)

One of the Hasidic masters of hermeneutics (forget who) has a homily that ties all these stray correlations into a neat bow, and suggests that what Moshe was trying to do with the Mishkan was bring things back to how they were before the golden calf sin  (whatever that means). He suggests, also, that shabbos, and its santification of time, corrected Adam's sin in the way that the Mishkan, and its sanctification of space, corrected Israel's sin. Like I said: hermeneutics.

We also see hints of an envelope structure* in the verses and in the interpretations
  • When God settles on the mountain at the Revelation, he is described as appearing in a fire and cloud. He does this again at the end of the story, this time settling on the Mishkan.
  • At the end of His six days of labor, God blesses the creation; when the Mishkan is finished Moshe blesses the people. 
  • When Exodus begins, the women are giving birth and the children of Israel are multiplying. In Vayakhel, Rashi cleverly hearkens back to this event by reading a noun that means "throngs" as a verb that means "produced the throngs". 
The verse reads:
וַיַּ֗עַשׂ אֵ֚ת הַכִּיֹּ֣ור נְחֹ֔שֶׁת וְאֵ֖ת כַּנֹּ֣ו נְחֹ֑שֶׁת בְּמַרְאֹת֙ הַצֹּ֣בְאֹ֔ת אֲשֶׁ֣ר צָֽבְא֔וּ פֶּ֖תַח אֹ֥הֶל מֹועֵֽד׃
And he made the laver of bronze and the foot of it of bronze of the mirrors of the tzovos that tzav'u at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting.

The verb tsaz'u means either "performed a service" or "made up a crowd" and the various English translations take it both ways. If we read it as "made up a crowd" for both the verb  tzav'u  and the noun tzovos the verse becomes "from the mirrors of the crowds of women who crowded at the entrance" (the noun tzovos is feminine; had the crowd been a crowd of men it would have been tsovim) Rashi vocalizes tsovos as a verb giving us "from the mirrors that produced the crowds that crowded at the entrance."

What Rashi has in mind is a famous Midrash about mirrors in which the women of Israel took it upon themselves to seduce their worn-out, enslaved husbands thereby guaranteeing the survival of the Jewish people. In the Midrash the women don't use the mirrors to make themselves beautiful but to flirt with their husbands and increase desire. These are the mirrors that "produced the crowds" that now gather in their myriads outside the Tent of Meeting. In another midrash, verses in Song of Songs are (quite cleverly) seen as allusions to this seduction.

*When themes, ideas or words introduced at the beginning are brought back at the end

Thursday, February 24, 2011

So far, Agudah isn't supporting him....


A prominent Brooklyn rabbi was charged yesterday with molesting a 12-year-old girl over three years, authorities said.

Nechemya Weberman, 52, of Williamsburg, pleaded innocent at his arraignment last night. Authorities said the shocking sex abuse, took place from 2007 until 2010.

The alleged victim -- who was being counseled by the rabbi, a source said -- is now 16. The source said her parents contacted police.

Police said Weberman was charged with a criminal sex act, rape, endangering the welfare of a child and sexual abuse.
According to FrumFollies, this Weberman helps run the Williamsburg modesty patrols.

Obama, DOMA, and my two cents

I blame George Bush. Back when he was illegally expanding his presidential powers, and via signing statements announced his intention to ignore laws that had been duly passed by Congress, many of us fretted this was a dangerous precedent, and that future presidents would be unlikely to give up the new powers Bush had acquired for himself.

And now we see it has come to pass.

This week Obama announced that his administration will no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act.

Though I agree that DOMA is a dumb, deeply unfair law, I dislike Obama's decision. He claims DOMA is unconstitutional -- and I happen to agree with him -- but as I said back when Bush played these games, it isn't the president's job to decide what laws are constitutional and which are not. The default position is that a law, once passed, is valid. Congress has a chezkas kashhrus that can only be taken away by the courts. The President's job is to enforce the law, as written, not to interpret it.

If Presidents can decide on their own whether to obey a law or not, for any reason they come up with, we no longer have a democracy but an elective dictatorship.

Lighting candles early as a segulah

From the daily email pile

As a zchus for a refuah shleimah for our mother [name] who, as many of you know, has fallen ill, we're asking all of our friends and neighbors to join us in lighting Shabbos candles 5 minutes before the zman.

We hope that in the merit of many people performing the mitzvah of tosfos shabbos [=adding to shabbos] our mother [name] will be blessed with a full recovery, together with all sick people everywhere.
Ok, so first things first: I'm sorry someone's mother is ill, and of course I hope she recovers; also, I understand the impulse to "try anything" when a loved one is in trouble. In fact, I have an atheist friend who, when her child took ill,  found herself visiting rebbes and paying big money for blessings and tikkuns. In an emergency, the superstitious side of ourselves often takes over. Its a way to deflect feelings of helplessness.

So what about this particular scheme? Will the creator of heaven and earth be swayed if a lot of women light candles a few minutes earlier? Will He even notice? Would YOU notice if the ants in your backyard changed their daily routine. How is this different?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Kumaz questions

The kumaz gets its first mention in this week's parsha, where it is one of the golden items donated to the Tabernacle.

וַיָּבֹ֥אוּ הָאֲנָשִׁ֖ים עַל־ הַנָּשִׁ֑ים כֹּ֣ל נְדִ֣יב לֵ֗ב הֵ֠בִיאוּ חָ֣ח וָנֶ֜זֶם וְטַבַּ֤עַת וְכוּמָז֙ כָּל־ כְּלִ֣י זָהָ֔ב וְכָל־ אִ֕ישׁ אֲשֶׁ֥ר הֵנִ֛יף תְּנוּפַ֥ת זָהָ֖ב לַיהוָֽה׃
And they came both men and women as many as were willing hearted and brought bracelets and earrings and rings and [kumaz] all gold objects and every man that offered an offering of gold unto the LORD

And what is the kumaz?

Better know a book sale

In this post, I interview Tzvi Feifel, the CEO of the Y.U's fancy as-seen-in-the-New-York-Times Seforim Sale. Though I attempt to get him on the record regarding the inner workings of the sale, and some of the strange decisions its managers seem to make, I'm not sure I succeeded. You be the judge.

The interview was conducted by email, which is why it reads so bizarrely, and why Tzvi may seem unresponsive at times. For this reason, I should stress that Tzvi was completely cooperative, and did not attempt to tap dance around any of my questions. Also, he wants me to tell you that the sale closes on Sunday, February 27, so if you snooze you lose.

Read the whole thing after the jump

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Pesach Scandal in Williamsburg

Straight from Satmar HQ we bring you this "shocking" story of the Satmar Rabbis and some matzo that tasted a little too familiar....

What Jews believe

[Explanation: Not all Jews embrace these convictions, of course, but some do. The point of this post is not to mock them, but to stamp out errors.]

Experience tells me that in any group of Orthodox Jews, you'll find a few who accept the truth of at least one of the following statements.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Lesbian kisses

Point: Civilization is going down the tubes! Morality is on the decline! And how do I know? Because of lesbian kisses. Lesbian kisses! 10 years ago you never saw them on TV, and when that Elenor Degenerate person did a lesbian kiss on someone the whole world was up in arms! Today? You can't watch anything on the T.V without seeing lesbians kissing. And that's how I know we're less moral today then we were in years gone by.

Counterpoint: See, I take a different approach. I say we were less moral in the old days when we disrespected people based on their sexuality and expected them to remain hidden, and out of sight. I think the fact that we're more accepting of different kinds of people, less judgmental, and less likely to make people feel like subhumans over trivialities means we are more moral. So, my view is we've come a long way.

Chabad daas torah

I call this Twitter gold. It came to me via @jyuter and shows just how far off the deep end some elements within Chabad have gone (though the date suggests the leap occurred years ago) For the Hebrew impaired, this is a religious document, signed and sealed by various Chabadniks, which proclaims that as a matter of Jewish law the rebbe is both a prophet and the messiah.

On women and their roles in Judaism

If women can serve as principals and provide religious guidance and instruction to high school students, why can't they do the same for adult women in an official capacity?

If women can decide for themselves when it's necessary to bring a question to a posek, why can't they make that decision for other women?

If we trust mothers to answer the questions about halacha their kids ask, why can't we trust them to answer questions on halacha asked by adults?

If the typical shul rabbis answers questions based on his education and brings difficult or novel questions to a posek, why cant we allow a woman to do the same?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Warning. Warning. Judaism is about to become more complicated

Remember when Judaism was simple? Of course you don't. But it's true. Once Judaism was easier. You could celebrate the major holidays with nothing but a trip to Jerusalem and a tailgate on the Temple grounds. Davning, at first, didn't exist, and then for eons was mercifully shorter than it is now. (Psukei dzimra arrived during the mideival period, and Kabbalas Shabbos is not much older than the United States of America.) Rabbis spoke only twice per year. Chanuka was a simple candle holiday with no parties or presents and you weren't required to invite the whole neighborhood to watch your son's first haircut. You could eat g'broks with no questions asked.

Purim Katan Observances

A Guest Post By E. Fink

On my Twitter stream, I see many people observing Purim Katan (today). The rituals range from imbibing, giving charity, having a special seuda and I have even heard of giving mishloach manos.

What the world needs is a proper kosher breakfast shop

Perhaps its different where you live but in these parts all breakfast options are bagel-oriented. If you wish to sit at a table and be served by a waitress who checks your coffee you're out of luck. At Jewish places its strictly self-serve with the meager available breakfast options served on paper ---or worse: in Styrofoam boxes.  Even something simple like toast with jam is hard to find.

Why is that? Are we not a breakfast eating people? Is it because the non-kosher diners that sell omelettes and white-bread toast make their real money on meat dishes? Then what explains the ubiquity of kosher bagel joints? Every frum neighborhood has 10 places where you can wait on line for a bagel with too much cream cheese, but not one that offers table service and a proper breakfast menu.  If we'll line up for bagels, why won't we sit down for eggs, potatoes, and maybe some veggie-bacon?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Parsha Notes Ki Tisah 5771

Before we start, a quick lunchtime poll [*]: how many of you refer to the parsha of the week as Ki Sisah? Follow up: How many of you snarl your faces into a wicked grimace and harumph audibly about the "modern Jews" when you hear someone say Ki Tisah? Just curious.

* Please get the reference.

External Parallels
(1) Robert Alter says that it was a common belief in Mesopotamian cultures that it was dangerous to be counted. This ancient fear survives today among the Orthodox. It also explain why, in Ex 30:11 ff each man had to give a half-shekel as a "ransom for his life" [=kofer nefesh] during the census that opens the parsha.

(2) Many Mesopotamian cultures used a golden icon as footstool or throne for an invisible diety. The golden calf is thought to have been something like this. (So, by the way, are the cherubim. See, e.g., Isaiah 37:16 "O LORD Almighty, God of Israel, enthroned upon the cherubim...")

(3) In the ANE smashing tablets upon which a binding agreement had been written was a legal way of abrogating the agreement. This is what Moshe does with the 10C. (Alter)

Internal Parallel
(1) In Exodus 11 we're told "That man Moshe had become very great", and the people are told to "borrow" gold and silver ornamentals. In Exodus 32, the people worry out loud about the fate of "That man Moshe" just before Aaron takes their golden earings.

(2)When the calf is ready, the people declare: "These are your gods, O Israel, who have brought you up from the land of Egypt!" These words are precisely what Jeroboam says five centuries later when he establishes golden claves in Dan and Bethel (I Kings 12:2‑33)

(3) Aaron and Jeroboam both had sons who died under unusual circumstances. Aaron's sons are called Nadav and Avihu; Jereboam's sons are Nadav and Aviya. (Scholars say Avihu and Aviya are the same name.)

(4) The Israelites were forced to drink water into which the pulverized calf had been sprinkled. This corresponds to the Sota ritual, with Israel playing the role of the adulterous woman. The fact that the water was likely water Moshe had earlier provided for them miraculously only compounds the irony (Richard Elliot Friedman) Also, the verse later says that Aaron "let the people loose" using a verb (parau'a) that relates to letting loose long hair (as was done to the Sota.)

(5) When Aaron defends himself saying he "threw" the gold into the fire, he's employing the same verb the Torah used to describe how Moshe cast down the tablets.

(6) The tribe of Levi gathers for a massacre; their namesake did the same against the males of Shchem.

Forgotten Rambam
The 13 attributes start with a repetition, with God's name being said twice: וַיַּעֲבֹ֨ר יְהוָ֥ה עַל־ פָּנָיו֮ וַיִּקְרָא֒ יְהוָ֣ה יְהוָ֔ה אֵ֥ל רַח֖וּם וְחַנּ֑וּן אֶ֥רֶךְ אַפַּ֖יִם וְרַב־ חֶ֥סֶד וֶאֱמֶֽת׃ [= "And the LORD passed by before him and proclaimed The LORD The LORD God merciful and gracious longsuffering and abundant in goodness and truth."] Rambam reads it And the LORD passed by before him and the Lord proclaimed "The LORD is a merciful God..." [See? No duplication.]

Erroneous Midrash
Exodus 32:15 says the Ten Commandments "were written on both their sides,” Rav Chisda [BT Shabbat 104a.] says that the writing of the tablets was cut completely through the tablets, so that it could be read from either side. Archeological discoveries of tablets indicate, however, that it was not unusual for stone tablets to have inscriptions on either side.

The low point of Aaron's career is when the great compromiser comprises once too often before the sin of the golden calf when he seeks to delay, and to find a kosher way of satisfying the demand. Moshe, otoh, is blunt and direct, the very opposite sort of man. The low point of his career comes when he angrily strikes a rock he should have spoken to. (Shmuel Goldin)

What does Moshe mean when he asks to be removed from Gods book?

Why did Moshe break the tablets? Rashbam says he grew weak, and lost control of them; Mesech Chachma says he did it deliberately to make a point.

The verse says Aaron saw something... but doesn't say what it was. The Peshitta solves the problem one way, and seems to take into account the midrash, too. 

What about the Golden Calf?
Midrashic Pun
The verse says Moshe "lagged" [in coming down the mountain] with the word boshesh; in the midrash this becomes "ba shesh" i.e the sixth hour of the deadline day had com; therefore the people had reason to wonder if Moshe would ever return.

Number games
During the discussion of shabbos in Ex 31:13-17 the word shabat appears 7 times (once as shabaton) and the verb "to keep" three times.

At the end of the parsha, the verb "spoke" is used 7 times. These are the passages describing Moshe's conversations his God, and how he delivered God's messages to the people.

Poetic structures
The whole short discussion of shabbos in Ex 31:13-17 is chiastically structured (Yitzchak Avishur)

Moshe's words upon returning from the mountain also have a poetic sense. They scan, and there is an intensification of the noun. אֵ֥ין קֹול֙ עֲנֹ֣ות גְּבוּרָ֔ה וְאֵ֥ין קֹ֖ול עֲנֹ֣ות חֲלוּשָׁ֑ה קֹ֣ול עַנֹּ֔ות אָנֹכִ֖י שֹׁמֵֽעַ׃ [=Not the sound of crying out in triumph / and not the sound of crying out in defeat. A sound of crying I hear.] (translation's is Alters. Others have it as a "sound of singing" that Moshe hears.

(1) The literal meaning of the last phrase in Exodus 31:17 is "and on the seventh day He ceased and caught his breath" [=וּבַיֹּום֙ הַשְּׁבִיעִ֔י שָׁבַ֖ת וַיִּנָּפַֽשׁ]

(2) In Ki Tisah God also hulks out, angrily threatening to destroy the people and, per the Ibn Ezra, he cancels the Tabernacle construction project when he refuses to dwell in their midst (Moshe has to leave the camp to speak to him at the end of the sedra.)

(3) God also covers Moshe with his hand, shows him his backside, and speaks to him "face to face, as a man speaks to his fellow."

Great moments in Parshanut
In which the Rashbam calls Jerome a moron

Is this what happens when you learn Torah all day?

An insane cadre of Yeshiva students have invested a perfectly ordinary event with supernatural meaning, and rearranged their daily lives to accommodate it. A result, no doubt of the excellent critical thinking skills acquired through their daily regimen of Torah study.

Is this additional evidence Israel has lost its mind?

My good friend "the beadle" reports that the learned and exalted Members of Israel's august Parliament are considering a bill that would offer new protections for political speech. Only one problem. The bill limits these protections to Rabbis teaching Torah. Presumably everyone else is still at risk. Here's what the proposed law says:

A letter to the (gutless editor of the) 5 Towns Jewish Times

From @azigra

To DovBear:

I submitted this letter to the editor of the 5 Towns Jewish Times, in response to the article they published last week by Aryeh Ginzberg [in which he called bloggers digital murderers,or rotzchim.]. It was noticed on this blog so most of you are already familiar with what he had written.

DB: @azigra's letter to the editor of the 5 Towns Jewish Times has not been published. He's asked me to run it here.

Baltimore frum community shoots itself in the foot

A guest post by Doc Hantarish

The Baltimore frum community lives in a pleasant part of the city known as Upper Park Heights. When I moved to Baltimore in the late 1970s, it looked like that neighborhood, which had been Jewish for over 30 years, was going to succumb to white flight and be another crime-ridden inner-city ghetto. But the local Orthodox rabbis intervened, and, under the leadership of the local gadol, the "Ayatolla" Heinemann of the Agudath Israel, formed a citizen's on patrol group, the Northwest Citizen's Patrol, that worked with the police and was instrumental in keeping our neighborhood relatively crime-free for the past 30 years. This, despite the fact that we are right next door to Pimilico, a neighborhood known for hardcore drug violence. (Personal disclosure: I have been a member of the Northwest Citizen's Patrol for over 20 years.)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Are the Egyptians ready for democracy?

Is Egyptian Democracy possible? Still no answer, but what seems increasingly clear is that those frightened Nellies at Fox News and Hasbrah blogs were dead wrong to predict the Muslim Brotherhood would win any Egyptian election in a landslide. They're currently polling at 15 percent. Whoo-hoo.

Also, those of you who continue to insist that the brown little Muslims lack the innate genetic ability to create a democracy should remain ashamed of yourselves. Here's Colbert: [Part that matters starts @2:50 and continues into the second video]

The last taboo? Or the ultimate team-up?

Click to see the OU-D

Such an odd marketing decision. Nothing screams treif like Burger King, and nothing screams kosher like the OU. Yet there they are, working together to make you fat, and take your money, side-by-side on one package. Jacob and Esau. Batman and the Joker. Tom and Jerry. United at last.

What's the underlying strategy?
(1) The mega-corp that produces these flavored puffs of chemical corn starch slaps an OU on everything without thinking too much about it (most likely)
(2) The brand steward thought the OU might make the product more appealing to Jews (possible)
(3) The yetser hara had the dastardly and sinister idea that "kosher burger king" might appeal to naughty Jews, taking them further from Torah and mitzvos and ultimately blurring the lines between good and evil with the ultimate goal of persuading Jews to eat hamburgers and milk shakes on Yom Kippur while sitting in a car at the drive-through (Impossible, but don't doubt some mashgiach is already working on this speech)

Tip of the paper crown: Amshi

Here we go again with another DovBear survey

Another survey/request for help after the jump (Not VIN related... I know, phew)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Against Bans, Harassment and Threats

Fourth in a series. Read the first one here, the second one here the third one here, and the fourth one here  This is the mass email, and joint show of protest discussed in the first post.

A little over a month ago, a number of rabbis signed onto a ban that forbade advertising on or otherwise working with the website VosIzNeias. This ban singled out one website without addressing other websites or public forums like newspapers or magazines. The singling out of a solitary website raises many questions, particularly when newspapers in the same community regularly publish arguably libelous stories and online discussion forums for the community are essentially unbounded by civility. Additionally, VosIzNeias has publicly stated that it has already raised its standards and is willing to do even more with rabbinic guidance, provided the same guidelines are applied to its competitors.

Bans of this nature are generally brought into fruition by activists and this one is attributed to a specific activist who seems to have business and political interests in this ban. He ignored VosIzNeias’ request to meet with the rabbis in order to explore ways to satisfy their concerns. With this ban, the activist is threatening the commercial viability of the VosIzNeias business.

We have now received reports of continued harassment by this activist, who is threatening to publicly denounce people, companies and charitable organizations who continue to cooperate with the website. He has also reportedly threatened to remove the kosher certification of companies that fail to adhere to the ban. However, on being contacted, the activist behind the ban denied all knowledge of this harassment and attributed it to someone acting without authorization. We are, therefore, making no formal accusation as to who is conducting this campaign of harassment.

To the best of our understanding, this activity is illegal. One individual told us he reported that harassment to the police.

Harassing good people with threats is illegal and inexcusable. We call on rabbis and people of good faith to denounce this behavior, and we encourage victims to respond to this activist as follows:

If he calls or e-mails you or your organization, thank him for bringing the ban to your attention and say that you will decide how to proceed after consulting with your rabbi or other advisor. And because there are rumors that there is harassment involved in this matter, add that if he contacts you or anyone else in your organization again, you will have to report him to the police.

We have a copy of an e-mail forwarded to us by people involved, which includes a pseudonym and phone number, and we have been told of intimidating phone calls. Note that at this time we are withholding this activist's identity. If he continues harassing people, we will have to be less discrete.


DovBear and other bloggers

(please sign your own name and post this to your blog if you agree)

A few posts about the VIN Ban (#4)

Fourth in a series. Read the first one here, the second one here and the third one here.

The V.I.N demand letters may have contained falsehoods, and they may have made misrepresentations about the "Vad Harabanoim" -- but were they harassment?

Read the rest of the post after the jump.

A few posts about the VIN Ban (#3)

Third in a series. Read the first one here and the second one here

The emails sent to V.I.N advertisers purport to be from a vad harabonim?
Who are they?

A few posts about the VIN Ban (#2)

Second in a series. Read the first one here

Someone is sending emails to V.I.N's advertisers demanding that all advertising be canceled in the name of daas torah but Agudah and other leaders won't say anything. Why?

Continue reading this post after the jump.

A few posts about the VIN Ban (#1)

Those of you who read Failed Messiah are aware that several bloggers, including yours truly, have agreed to directly challenge the self-appointed enforcer of the ban on V.I.N. He calls himself "Rabbi Brown". Writing from a Gmail account, and representing himself as a member of a larger group of Rabbis, this Rabbi Brown has strongly encouraged at least one person to stop advertising with VIN.

According to VIN, many others have received similar letters. I have seen some of these emails, and so have several other bloggers. They were in our possession on Sunday, but instead of posting about them immediately, we decided to craft a unified message. An early draft of this message was published last night by Failed Messiah, who had no way of knowing that what he had in his possession was not the final copy.

This morning, I plan to post a series of posts about the ban on V.I.N, the efforts of Rabbi Brown to enforce it, and the blogger response. This is the first one. See it after the jump

Monday, February 14, 2011

I hate Valentines Day

My wife, God bless her, would toss me into the street if I brought home flowers or candy in honor of St. Valentine's Day. Alas, not every Jewish man is as lucky as me. If your wife (or husband) wants you to recognize this most immodest of holidays, send them this cold shower, courtesy of the Beadle:
...there is a grim, long forgotten reason for Jews not to rush out to invest in lingerie or make dinner reservations. According to Cecil Roth in his classic 'The Jewish Book of Days', it was on this day in 1349 that the Massacre of Strasbourg took place, perhaps the worst of the many anti-Jewish outrages that occurred during the Black Death. The locals had blamed fluctuations in the price of corn on the Jews, whom they suspected of being protected by the city council. It was on February 14th that a mob barricaded the Judengasse (Street of the Jews) and drove the whole Jewish community into the cemetery where they built a huge pyre. About two thousand Jewish men, women and children were burned to death.

A few words about the post's title: Every December, the Christian Right (They are neither[*]) makes as much noise as it can about how the forces of Soros and Donahue are ruining their little tree festival. They call it the War on Christmas (if only.) In this hysterical little clip a Daily Show correspondent brings them up sharply.

[*] John McCain's line back from when he was not a sell-out phony Worth repeating. Often.

Three ways to have the evil eye removed...

Today in Antisemitism

This disgusting little nugget was tweeted last night by the Anthony half of The Opie And Anthony Show, who apparently thinks the takeaway point about Treblinka is its chimney got a lot of use.

Abraham Foxman, clear your calendar.

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Great Moments in Marketing: Valentines Day Chocolate with Badatz Certification

The kashrus organization that won't certify a pizza shop that permits mixed seating, has apparently signed off on Valentine's Day chocolate:

Bizarre in the extreme, no? Who in the Badatz world is looking for kosher Valentine's Day candy?

Via @rabbigreen who correctly considers this an example of  "contemporary society or pop culture creeping into the Charedi World."

Just like upshurin and Lag B'omer bonfires

Other great moments in marketing

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Is R. Chaim Kanievsky selling magical salvation wine?

R. Chaim Kanievsky is one of the great Rabbis of  Benai Brak, and regarded as a leading posek and top authority on halacha, yet his photo and an endorsement from his wife seem to be adorning this advertisement for magical salvation wine:

I see two ways to understand this:

(1) RCK and his wife believe the wine works, and honestly think you should buy it; or

(2) Some unscrupulous shyster has attached the Rav's endorsement to the ad without the Rav's knowledge or permission.

Alas, neither interpretation reflects positively on the Rav.

If he's actually hawking magical salvation wine, what does that say about his values and credibility? How is magical salvation wine any different from the magical salvation water sold by Peter Popoff?

And if the ad is running without his permission, this is yet another example of the rabbis/leaders remaining silent while their names are used for ill gain. I can only assume RCK is not aware of how his image is being abused, and would complain if he did.

If you're in Israel, please dial the numbers and report back.

HT @BigPhil

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Sunday, February 13, 2011

The chi on the temple breads

At the end of Tetzaveh there is a short discussion of the temple breads and their preparation. According to the verses, they are to be anointed, that is decorated with some oil after baking. The Mishnah says Temple wafers were decorated with the Greek letter chi, that is the priest-baker dabbed some oil on the finished pastry in the shape of a chi. (Tangent: Rishonim argue about what the chi looked like and Rashi, himself, in different spots in his commentary seems to describe it as having different shapes. But it seems obvious that the chi is the chi, namely the Greek letter that looks like an X and is, in fact, called chi.)

On the spot, Rashi says the desert breads were likewise decorated with a chi. Points to ponder after the jump

Friday, February 11, 2011

Today's insult from Jew-hating antisemites at the New York Times...

... is a sweet, detailed article about the annual YU Seforim Sale, that compliments the University, puts its students in a positive light, and leaves the reader with warm fuzzy feelings for Jews, Judaism, and for our fascination with books.

I'm sure its a liberal trick.

What is the YU Seforim Sale? Glad you asked! Read the extra nice things I have said about it in the past here.

Blogging the Book Sale 2005: I II III
Blogging the Book Sale 2006

If you're going to the sale, go Sunday: It's Alumni Day, and Rabbi Lamm will be there signing copies of his book Festivals of Faith: Reflections on the Jewish Holidays (I'm reasonably certain you have to buy a copy.)

If you're feeling puckish, use the opportunity to ask Rabbi Lamm how he felt when Elya Svei insulted him from the podium at the Agudah Convention, see: (1) I've always wanted to know and (2) it relates to a Twitter situation with which I've recently wasted too much time.  

And today’s award for most hyperbolic, hysterical, and just plain insulting remark goes to Aryeh Ginsburg

Did you see Aryeh Ginsburgs article (on a blog) about how bloggers - yes even you Gil Student of Hirhurim! - are "digital rotzchim" [Murderers]

He bases this ruling on the fact that a friend sent him a sad email of complaint about some mean comments he read on (I am guessing) VIN.

No word yet from Aryeh about child abusers, fraudsters, fake miracle workers, rampant materialism, corrupt shadchanus, adulterers and crooks who continue to receive community honors, pashkevils, Rebbe organized riots in Israel, bans and attacks on ideas, the support of the Gedolim for the Spinka Rebbe, or any of the rest.

Shall I hold my breath?

Oh Bleep

A guest post by a H.S student
(name on request)

For the average person, 80 - 90 words per day, or .5% - .7% of all spoken words, are what society deems bad words. Many people probably find this statistic extremely disturbing. I am one of those people. Because of my strong feelings against cursing, I created an organization called Bleep!, whose mission is to eradicate the usage of cursing among kids and teens today. Bleep!’s mission is not to tell people that it's illegal to curse; its mission is to illustrate the negative effects of cursing and show people the reasons they shouldn’t use bad words.

Read the rest after the jump

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Fastest Scandal Ever

Yesterday Gawker reported on yet another GOP Congressman who talks big about family values and opposes gay rights, yet  runs around on his wife. Here's the report:
Rep. Christopher Lee is a married Republican congressman serving the 26th District of New York. But when he trolls Craigslist's "Women Seeking Men" forum, he's Christopher Lee, "divorced" "lobbyist" and "fit fun classy guy." One object of his flirtation told us her story.

On the morning of Friday, January 14, a single 34-year-old woman put an ad in the "Women for Men" section of Craigslist personals. "Will someone prove to me not all CL men look like toads?" she asked, inviting "financially & emotionally secure" men to reply.

That afternoon, a man named Christopher Lee replied. He used a Gmail account that Rep. Christopher Lee has since confirmed to be his own. (It's the same Gmail account that was associated with Lee's personal Facebook account, which the Congressman deleted when we started asking questions.)
By email, Lee identified himself as a 39-year-old divorced lobbyist and sent a PG picture to the woman from the ad. (In fact, Lee is married and has one son with his wife. He's also 46.)
In less time that it took you to read this Congressmen Lee resigned, skipping the denials, press conference, and attacks on his accuser that have become customary whenever a Republican is caught with his pants down.

Previous examples of professional GOP moralizers who turned out to be hypocrites include: David Vitter, Bill Bennett, Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, Ted Haggard, Jimmy Swaggert, Jim Bakker, Tom Delay, Duke Cunningham, Bob Livingston, Bob Ney, Mark Foley, and Don Sherwood.

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As for me, I think Obama is Jewish

Lawrence O'Donnell absolutely nails Steve King, the brain-dead Congressperson from Iowa

Lots of other great juicy bits in this interview, including King talking out of both sides of his mouth on the significance of the Cairo speech.

Also, can we put this GOP promoted nonsense about Obama's middle name to rest? As I saw on a website:

If Obama is Muslim because his middle name is hussein, then if you are named

jack=you murder prostitutes
lizzie=you are a murderer of parents
jefferey=you're a cannibal
henry=you are a wife murderer
thomas= you doubt jesus rose from the dead
charles=you order your followers to murder a pregnant woman and her friends and another couple for vindictive reasons
ted=you are a killer of woman. need i go on?

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Hosni Mubarak will step down tonight, according to reports on both ABC and NBC news.


Reports are that Hosni Mubarak will step down today, to be replaced by Vice President Suleiman or the army -- but no matter who actually replaces him, if you have "Take a sip every time someone says 'Muslim Brotherhood'" in the Fox News drinking game, hand someone your keys right now and book yourself a cab -- or an ambulance. Same with "caliphate." If you have "Suleiman" or "army," you'll probably still be sober enough by late this evening to serve as a designated driver.

Even before this news broke, Fox Nation was prepared -- the "Breaking News" banner is new, but the lead story has been the lead story all day:

Weirdness: Hasidic Bus line is running a Valentines Day Promotion?

Bizarre. Is it possible the company doesn't realize (a) almost all of their customers are Jewish and (b) Valentines isn't one of our holidays?

HT: MarkSofla

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Erase me from your book!

When God got angry at Israel regarding the golden calf, Moshe put on his lawyering cap, and went to court on our behalf. One of his maneuvers is recorded in Exodus 32:32 where Moshe says "And now, lift their sin, and if not, erase me please from Your book that You wrote."

Our school children are taught (following Rashi) that Moshe was asking to have his name erased from the Torah, if Israel was not forgiven. After God's anger abated, and atonement was granted, God was left with a problem, so to speak: Moshe had said "erase me from your book" and we have a principle that the curses and blessings of a righteous person comes true, even if the words were only uttered conditionally. Therefore, Moshe's words were partially fulfilled and his name was erased from Tetzaveh.

There are two obvious problems with this teaching. See them after the jump

Local boy make good

Our own @e_fink was a guest on Zev Brenner's radio program the other day. You can hear the interview here:

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Did you know the Internet causes cancer?

Much as I wish this was a joke, its still a little early for Purim.

Haredi ads: Internet causes cancer
New ultra-Orthodox marketing campaign uses scare tactics to prevent community from Web surfing. 'Internet causes disease, adversity,' Rabbi Shmuel Wosner writes
Ari Galahar • Ynet

The Internet causes drought and terminal disease – so claims a new marketing campaign publicized in the ultra-Orthodox community and aims to curb use of the world wide web.

"Where there is Internet, there are no rains," read one of the posters that were pasted in central haredi spots. "Let's remove the foreign work from among us. Hundreds of thousands of cancer patients (suffer) because of the Internet."

Fearing the community's exposure to secular culture, different establishments within the haredi sector published the intimidating declarations, in addition to quotes from prominent rabbis - among them Rabbi Ovadia Yosef - that describe Internet use as the root of impurity.

"The connection to the Internet is an abomination, and the one who does it in his home brings abomination into his home," Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv was quoted as saying.

"The Internet causes disease and all types of adversity. Since the creation of the world, there has never been invented a tool so dangerous and corrupting like it," reportedly wrote Rabbi Shmuel Halevi Wosner.

The fear-inducing posters blame the inability of teenagers to study – and the destruction of tens of thousands of homes – on the web, and use gematria, which assigns numeric values to Hebrew letters, to prove that Internet equals cancer.
Take away points:

  • Something seriously rotten must be happening inside Haredista; but instead of looking inward, and trying to fix the cultural problem, the leadership is lashing out.
  • Claiming the Internet causes cancer is about as pathetic as it gets. No wait. The fact that the Haredi masses are likely to swallow this whole is as pathetic as it gets.
  • If the cause of cancer can be ascertained via gematria, perhaps the cure can be found via gematriah as well! Why aren't they trying this at the top labs?
  • Lying, apparently, is ok so long as you don't do it on the Internet (HT @esteelavitt)
UPDATE: I hate to disagree with Haredim, but per this the gematriah for internet isn't cancer, but LUPIS -- also disaster, sunni and doctor freud (Yes, I know they did it in Hebrew. And so?)

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The Scandal of Meah Shearim

Hardly a day goes past where I don't learn something interesting from blog comments, and today's lesson was a doozy. I'm still sort of reeling.

Here's the original report from Micheal:

Is Brett Keisel Breslov?

A Guest Post By E. Fink

You've probably seen this video already, but it's still funny. It's not funny because it's so clever but because seeing Breslov Chassidim dancing to techno music is ALWAYS funny. Throw in Brett Keisel and it gets even funnier.


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What was the significance of the Kohen Godol's Garmets? A DovBear parlor game

BT Zevachim 88b:

The tunic [worn by the High Priest] atoned for bloodshed, the breeches atoned for lewdness, the turban made atonement for arrogance, the belt atoned for [impure] meditations of the heart, the breastpiece atoned for bad judgement, the apron atoned for idolatry, the robe atoned for slander, and the tiara, worn on the forehead, atoned for brazenness

(1) On what basis was it decided that each article of clothing served as an atonement for a certain sin? Absent some textual justification, doesn't it see equally plausible that the articles of clothing were intended as a segulah, ie, a charm that leads to a change in fortune? The pants, for example, might be a segulah for fertility, the hat for intelligence, and so on. Yet this possibility does not seem to have been considered. Why not?
The Talmud's answer: Because the sections on the Kohen's clothing are adjacent to the sections on the Korbonot, suggesting they serve a similar purpose.

(2) On what basis was each article of clothing assigned to its particular sin? Some, seem self evident, others are more puzzling. For instance:

Breeches (pants) for lewdness: Easy. These were essentially underwear, that directly covered the genitalia. RSRH adds that the animal nature of man is canceled out by the vegetable material of the linen garment. The peg the Talmud hangs this on is:

Exodus 28:42 (KJV)
And thou shalt make them linen breeches to cover their nakedness

Tiara for brazenness: Its worn on the forehead, and elsewhere the forehead is used to connote brazenness (this is a specific type of figure of speech (no, not a metaphor) but the name escapes me.) Examples are:

Isaiah 48:4 (NIV)
For I knew how stubborn you were; your neck muscles were iron, your forehead was bronze.

2 Chronicles 26:19 (NIV)
Uzziah, who had a censer in his hand ready to burn incense, became angry. While he was raging at the priests in their presence before the incense altar in the LORD’s temple, leprosy broke out on his forehead.

Also in Samuel 17 brazen Goliath is killed with a blow to his forehead

The Talmud uses only:

Jeremiah 3:3 (King James Version)
Therefore the showers have been withholden, and there hath been no latter rain; and thou hadst a whore's forehead, thou refusedst to be ashamed.

Apron for idolatry: The apron or ephod seems to have been used for divination, and in at least one unambiguous case it became an item of worship itself. In several other instances the suggestion that the ephod was worshiped is present, but vague:

Judges 8:27 (NIV)
Gideon made the gold into an ephod, which he placed in Ophrah, his town. All Israel prostituted themselves by worshiping it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and his family.

Judges 17:5 (NIV)
Now this man Micah had a shrine, and he made an ephod and some household gods and installed one of his sons as his priest.

1 Samuel 21:9 (NIV)
The priest replied, “The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom you killed in the Valley of Elah, is here; it is wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod. If you want it, take it; there is no sword here but that one.” David said, “There is none like it; give it to me.”

1 Samuel 23:9 (NIV)
When David learned that Saul was plotting against him, he said to Abiathar the priest, “Bring the ephod.”

The Talmud uses this verse:

Hosea 3:4 (King James Version)
For the children of Israel shall abide many days without a king, and without a prince, and without a sacrifice, and without an image, and without an ephod, and without teraphim:

.... reasoning that is suggests that when there is no ephod, there is no liability for having teraphim

Robe for slander: This brilliant suggestion came from one of my Tweeps (slang: people with whom I interact on Twitter) @Judahe wrote:

IIRC the meil has a kol (paamonim) to be mechaper for kol;

or the robe had bells on the hem that served to announce the kohel godol's arrival (compare with "Hip, hip, the King! The King!" the call of the British sovereign's footmen to let people in the next room know the king was approaching) The bells gave the coat a "voice" so, @judahe suggests, it was appropriate for the coat to serve as an atonement for sins made by voice such as slander. [Update: @Judahe was mekaven Rashi. Well done!] [Update: and Rashi is based on BT Zevachim 88b] Additional thought:

Joseph wore a distinctive robe, and he brought his father "bad reports" about the brothers (the word for robe, however is not the same. The KG wore a me'il; Joseph wore a ketonet pasim -- see below

Tunic for bloodshed: Perhaps Joseph's distinctive garment was a tunic, not a robe (the word for tunic is ketonet) In which case, perhaps the thought is the brother's murderous deception via Joseph's ketonet links the garmet with an atonement for that sin? This is shaky, I confess, as the brothers did not actually commit murder. The Talmud suggests that a connectioon between the attonemnt offered by the garment and:

Genesis 37: 31 (NIV)
Then they got Joseph’s ketonet, slaughtered a goat and dipped it in the blood

which can be construed as, the ketonet will be a tveila or kappara for blood (Rashi) .

Complicating the matter is this: We tear our clothing when hearing about a death; unfortunately for this line of thought, in Ezra 9:3 the scribe mourns for the affinity of the people with strangers by tearing his me'il. Nowhere else do I find any mourner tearing something more specific than a beged

Breastpiece for judgment: @e_fink points out that Exodus 28:15 says specfically that the breastpiece is for making decisions [via the Urim and the Thummim it contained: See Samuel 14:41] So its reasonable that the item should atone for judgement and decisions that were made incorrectly. This approximates what the Talmud says (ibid)

Turban for arrogance: The only clue I can find is

Ezekiel 21:26 (NIV)
this is what the Sovereign LORD says: Take off the turban, remove the crown. It will not be as it was: The lowly will be exalted and the exalted will be brought low.

R. Chanina suggests (ibid) "It is proper that something worn at the highest place (the head) atones for elevating oneself." [ a pun on "gvh" used for "highest place" and "elevating"]

Belt for [impure] meditations of the heart Though we think of the belt as something worn around the waist, the Talmud (ibid) says "its worn there" Wikipedia explains:

According to Rabbinical literature the avnet was 32 cubits long[1] and 2, 3 or 4 fingers wide[2]. At this length, it would have to have been wound around the body several times. Theories differ as to how this was accomplished: some say it was wound around the waist only, while others say it was wound around the waist and over the shoulders, crossing over the heart

I'm not best pleased with:
Turban for arrogance; or
Tunic for bloodshed.


Fun fact to know and tell:
The Latin word sigil meant magical charm or symbol.

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Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Look who is famous now!

@e_fink strikes a chord with his Tweet about Groupon's Super Bowl ad:
To date (24 hours later) it has been retweeted (What is a retweet?) using the native retweet feature 52 times by people who I do not know. It has been retweeted the old-fashioned way by dozens more. I had struck a chord.

In fact the tweet was even picked up by Read Write Web on their blog: Why Groupon’s Super Bowl Ad Was So Offensive (According to Technorati, RWW is the 12th ranked blog in the world.)
Nice going @e_fink.

Also, because I know Chaim Bray cares, I'm pleased to announce my most favorite Super Bowl ads after the jump:

Naar or Naara?

In old English, the word "girl" meant a child of either gender. It was only around the beginning of the 16th century that the meaning of the word shifted, and "girl" came to mean specifically a female child.

Shmuel Dovid Luzatto makes the not-at-all-unreasonable suggestion that something similar happened in biblical Hebrew.  The word naar, which today means specifically a male youth, seems to have once been employed to describe a youth of either gender. When the Torah speaks of  various marriage violations in Deuteronomy 22 a word spelled naar is used on 13 occasions to denote a female. The same usage appears in many other places in the Torah.

For Luzzato and others, this is strong evidence that there was an alteration in meaning, and that the alteration occurred after the Torah was written.

Today, we avoid the problem by vocalizing the word naar in those instances so that it is read naarah, ie נַּעֲרָ, that word that today means specifically a female youth.

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How fortune tellers (and some rebbes) con people

Full video here

What we desperately need is for someone to do as the Dateline associate producer did and take a hidden camera into a meeting with a Rebbe. How great would that be?

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Monday, February 07, 2011

Question from a reader

From the mail:

A Jewish woman is interested in having another child. Although legally married by the American secular system, she does not have sexual relations or friendship with her Jewish husband. She is interested in having a known Jewish sperm donor assist her to become pregnant. What must she do in order for her to not commit adultery according to Halacha? What must the Jewish sperm donor do in order to not be committing adultery according to Halacha? What must her husband do in order for neither her nor the sperm donor to be committing adultery according to Halacha?

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