Friday, April 29, 2011

Honesty Shmonesty

On his blog, GH is leading a discussion about Orthopraxer honesty, and attempting to determine if OPs are required to tell the truth about their lack of belief. Here's an adaption of a comment I left on his thread:

I don't agree that I am ever obligated to tell anyone anything about myself. Perhaps I can't lie (though even that is something to be addressed on a case by case basis) but I certainly am not required to confess. Also, the issue is much more complicated than Gh's discussion allows.

Suppose, I believe in God, but the God I believe in is not the God my Rabbi believes in. Say, his God collects prayers like precious stones, and rides down on a cherub to protect people from harm, while my conception of God is more deistic in nature. I have to tell him we disagree? Why?

Or suppose I believe in God, but not that the Torah we have is a letter for letter match with the Torah Moshe received. Why do I need to announce this? Why do I need to provoke an argument about Rishonim and their interpretations of TMS with people who, generally, are too dim to follow it? What larger goal does that serve?

Most people don't really care about theology and beliefs except in the most superficial way, and will either ignore a confession, misunderstand it, or latch on to a blunt, and imprecise sound bite (DB doesn't hold from TMS!) that they'll use to harass, intimidate or embarrass. I should expose myself to that? Why?

In short, I don't think anyone is ever obligated to open a can of worms. Most people are too dumb for this kind of conversation anyway, and it will only confuse them, or cause them to draw incorrect or incomplete conclusions about the person making the confession. Most people have a stark view of the word - you're with us or against us. You're kosher or kofer. For them, there is no in between, no possibility that some Rishonim embraced and promoted ideas that other Rishonim fully and wholly rejected. They can't recognize, tolerate or accept legitimate diversity of opinion. Just as I wouldn't ask a child to contemplate calculus, I see no profit in asking the average Orthodox Jew on the street to contemplate Orthodox Jewish pluralism.

And what about ideas that truly are beyond the pale? What if we're not talking about views that can be ascribed to a Rishon but views that no Rishon accepted? Are you obligated to tell your wife and your kids and your Rabbi and your friends that you're an atheist who thinks Judaism is man made?  My answer is still no. You are not obligated to make that confession -- especially if such a confession will dynamite your life.  Your private thoughts are none of their business, and your treif beliefs aren't hurting anyone. Your prayers still work, you can still be legitimately counted in a minyan or a mezumen, and much as the moron editors of Ami magazine might disagree, kefira doesn't cause cooties: Your mere presence don't infect beleives. There's no reason to tell anyone, because there's no danger of which they need to be apprised.

Turn Shlissel Challah Into Parnasa - Sell it!

A Guest Post by E. Fink

I've called segulos shortcuts on this blog before (Scamming The Government and Scamming GodMore Shortcuts) What happens when the shortcuts spawn shortcuts?

I stopped at the local bagel shop this morning and saw this sign.


I wish to report to the readers and note for the permanent record that an outstanding argument is underway on my FaceBook page regarding the nature of Bat Pharoah's arm. You can find it here. Lots of really excellent points and counterpoints have been made regarding the nature of pshat and midrash, the perceptions of Chazal, and their way with Midrash. I am loving it, and if you like acerbity and/or parshanut you will, too.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Rabbi Pruzansky take 2

A few weeks ago, Rabbi Pruzansky published a post in which he credited chazal for achieving many things they did not, in fact, achieve. I pointed that out. Now he has replied. What follows is my fisking of his response. 
My recent piece on “Jewish Accomplishment,” especially the parts detailing our Sages’ knowledge of science even in the ancient world, elicited some derisive comments from Jews who apparently have difficulty with religious authority.

I don't know who else attacked you, but I don't have any problem with religious authority. Religious authority is swell. My problem is with false claims, exaggerations and errors. Your post overflowed with them, which is why I replied.

Warning: I am about to attack you again. But please be advised that I am not attacking you because I have a problem with religious authority. My problem is not with religious authority, but with your new post. It is a tortured mess of flip-flops and retreats -- all of which I may have tolerated were they not topped with a series of unfounded assertions about the motives of your critics. You may be a religious authority, Rabbi, but you're not a mind reader. Respond to what people actually say, and to the arguments they've actually made. Don't answer imaginary motives that you've assigned to them, often for the sole purpose of making yourself seem like their moral superior. If you don't know anything about a person's background or motives, don't pretend that you do.

Is Alabama also holding holy buchrim in prison?

Violent storms hammer Alabama, Southern states; about 200 deadDevastation is widespread across Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia and Virginia as officials begin an intense search-and-rescue effort in the wake of the 'catastrophic' weather. The death toll is expected to rise.
Attention Jewish Big Mouthes, including but not limited to Lazer Brody, Sultan Knish,  Shmuel Brazil  AA  the editors at Matzav, and the commenters there and at VIN and YWN:

If you're not going to connect every single tragedy to some crime committed against the Jewish people, don't play those types of know-it-all games with any tragedy. If you can't explain Alabama, don't attempt to explain Japan, or New Orleans, or any of them. Instead, embrace some humility. Allow for the possibility that some things can't be explained by number games, silly puns, or strange coincidences. Some things just are. Accept that. And with it, accept that God is not your own personal space cowboy. He does not stir up storms and rattle the earth to avenge your private pet peeves. He isn't a serial killer. He doesn't murder women and children by the hundreds and thousands as vengance for the sins of a few.



Afikomin redux

On March 30, 2007, I published Chaval Sedur Pesach, a post which argued that the rituals and forms of the Seder are very similar to the forms of the symposia, a type of Greek banquet which was wildly popular in the Hellenized world at exactly the time the Seder was created. The post produced 184 comments and a raging argument regarding the meaning and origins of the word Afikomin. I was also accused of being the Pesach grinch, and of being controversial merely for the sake of page views. All of these complaints were satisfactorily addressed in comments.

A challenge that I thought particularly stupid came in the form of this question: How can you sit at the Seder with any sort of Jewish feeling if you believe/know that many of its forms were copied from Greek banquets? I answered with For my critics.

Lurker, who is those days was a friend and supporter of this blog, weighed in a few days later with the Comment of the millennium. In this superb mini-essay Lurker uses impeccable Torah sources to rebut the claim (make by Joe Settler) that Afikomin has an Aramaic etymology. Then, he uses some of those same sources to support that contention I made about the original meaning of "ain maftirin achar hapesach afikomin."

Best of all, Lurker dealt firmly and conclusively with the disgusting and shallow suggestion (made in 2007 by Chaim G/Bray of Fundie and Yus, but repeated, alebeit in slightly different forms in our own generation - elah she bechol dor v'dor! - by the likes of @rabbidmk @Hizfuld, @UncleChaim and @yeshivaguy) that attempting to discover the origin of our customs "belittles Judaism" or  "undermines Orthodoxy" and somehow insults our dead ancestors.

A few days later, on April 12, Lurker was back with Pummeled! Yus gets his clock cleaned again, a comment that left a mark on Yus that is likely still visible all these years later.

Four days later I wrapped up with Last word on the Afikomin.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Adventures in Wicked Son Portrayals

A Guest Post By E. Fink

Excerpted from my home blog: Finkorswim

In many haggados, there are illustrations that portray these 4 different sons. There is a lot to learn about what these sons looked like historically in older haggados. (One haggada portrays the wicked son as a boxer. An older haggada portrays him as a cigar smoking, monocle wearing cosmopolitan. Yet another has him as knight.) DovBear wrote a post about this phenomena here: The Four Sons

This post will focus on some contemporary illustrations of the wicked son. No, DovBear, none of them portray the wicked son hunched over his laptop reading and writing blogs. Not yet at least...

Was the daughter of Pharaoh's arm lengthened miraculously?

I agree that not all midrashim are intended literally, but some are. To find out for certain, you need to check the sources. Also, some of what people call "midrashim", by which they mean "fanciful back story" or "legends or stories containing lessons or morals" are really nothing of the kind. One example is the famous story of the daughter of Pharaoh and how her arm lengthened miraculously when she reached for the basket containing the baby Moshe. According to one school of thought this interpretation is not a description of a historical event, but a legend, composed at some later date for the purpose of teaching us something.

Though I don't make any claims about what actually happened at the riverside between Moshe and the princess, and though I agree that the stretchy-arm interpretation was created long after the event it describes,  I'm absolutely certain that the author of this interpretation meant it literally. He wasn't trying to teach us something. He was trying to tell us what he thought had happened.

Read the rest of the post to find out my reasons for saying this.

Passover Psychology

A Pesach Dvar Torah from A that should have posted last week

The Pesach story is one of those parts of the Torah that makes me think that God was involved. Not because of the tales of supernatural events. Rather, it is the masterful, realistic portrayal of human nature in these verses that causes me to take the story seriously.

A Torah True History of Quinoa on Passover

A guest post by Azigra

· Quinoa is domesticated for human consumption in South America [1]

· It is used primarily by native South American societies [2]

· Quinoa remained largely unknown in Europe and No. America until recently [3]

· The custom to refrain from consuming Kitniyos begins in the 15th Century [4]

· Quinoa becomes a popular food in the 1970s as people look for healthy foods [5]

· Jews question the halachic status of Quinoa on Pesach as kitniyos [6]

· R. Moshe Feinstein permits the consumption of Quinoa on Pesach [7]

· The Eida HaCharedis prohibits the consumption of Quinoa on Pesach [8]

· Jews remain divided on Quinoa’s halachic status

· Rabbis place bans on quinoa in Jewish weekly’s stating that quinoa production has changed since the Igros Moshe was published

· Hotels advertise their kitchen as glatt kosher and quinoa free

· Jews choose hotels based on the shechita and quinoa use of the caterer

· Non-Haimish Jews who stay home for Pesach burn their Quinoa

· Shidduchim are broken based on gebrochts and quinoa

· Most Jews do not consume Quinoa on Pesach, it is only the more modern elements that still pretend it’s permissible

· It is assur gamur to consume Quinoa on Pesach

· Jews who eat Quinoa on Pesach are chayiv Kares and are basically seeking to destroy Judaism as it has been know since the times of the Tanaim, Amoraim, and Achronim, who all knew that quinoa was assur and didn’t eat it on Pesach

[6] See halachic discussion in various responsa

Is my company obligated to feed me kosher food?


Hi, I work for a company located in a suburban office park outside of Chicago, IL. We have about 200 employees. I am the only Orthodox Jew. About 20 times per year, we have group, department, or company-wide events that involve food. Sometimes its a simple lunch, but at other times it is an elaborate dinner. There is never any kosher food. I've brought this up to my boss, but his reply is that people with diabetes or celiac don't get special accommodations either. The nearest kosher restaurant is about 25 minutes away. This is a big deal, because the free food is a minor perk, which I am denied, and because business is often discussed at these gatherings.

How upset should I be, and what do you think I should do?

Also, I am extra mad right now because I came back from Passover today, and found about a dozen messages on my voice mail from co-workers who seemed mystified (and by their third or fourth call slightly annoyed) by my absence.  Thoughts welcome.


Irritated in IL

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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Why do we read the vision of the valley dry bones on the intermediary shabbos of Pesach?

My new theory, which is in fact a theory contained in an excellent book shared with me by nopeanutz, is that the choice of haftorah for the intermediary Shabbos of Pesach is in fact a response to the Christian claim of Jesus's resurrection. (When I get to a real computer, I will look up the name of the book and cite it. I think its author was Yubal?)

The haftorah, as all of you should know, retells Ezekial's invigorating promise that fortune will once again smile on the whole house of Israel, and that God will "open your graves... And put my spirit back inside you, and you will come back to life, and I will put you back in your own land." Like the dried out old bones, Israel, at this moment seemingly beyond all hope of resurrection, will one day be brought back to life.

Can it be a coincidence that this passage, and this message, were chosen for the intermediary Shabbos of Pesach, a Shabbos that almost always follows Good Friday, and precedes Easter, a Shabbos that is balanced, as it were, between the day of the Christian god's death and the day of his alleged revivification? It seems clear that someone thought it would be wise on this day to remind Jews that, like those bones, we are never without hope, never in need of any savior but God, and always on the brink of restoration and rejuvenation. The Christian may say that the Jews have been abandoned and that rescue and restoration are available through the resurrected Jesus. This haftorah gives a different point of view and uses the metaphor of quite a different resurrection to deliver what someone seems to have understood and seems to have wanted others to understand as a firm rebuttal of the Christian promise.

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Friday, April 22, 2011

Jonathan Sacks has an essay in his exodus book that seems to argue that all of the midrashic amplifications of the plague of darkness are unnecessary. (He doesn't say this outright, but it follows logically from his argument.)

As it appears on the page, darkness seems like the wimpiest of plagues. No one dies or is even harmed. It's just dark, too dark, in fact, to leave the house or engage in ordinary social intercourse. Following the violence of many of the other plagues, this may have seemed strangely gentle to the interpreters, so embellishments were proposed, such as the idea that the Egyptians were paralyzed, or that the darkness was brought to give cover to the Israelites as they snuck into Egyptians homes to take inventory of the valuables.

In his essay, Rabbi Saks presents an approach to understanding the purpose and power of the darkness plague that requires none of these interpretations. Drawing (without mentioning him) on a theory I first saw in the writings of the lubovitcher rebbe, R. Saks proposes that among their many other purposes, the plagues were designed to embarrass and humiliate the Egyptians Gods (in that comic book I mentioned yesterday, with the green deity, the Egyptian gods are shown receiving bare bottom spankings.) Blood, according to this theory, was how God embarrassed the deity who controlled the Nile and showed him to be powerless, while Frogs was an attack on the egyptian fertility goddess often depicted as a woman with a frog's head.

According to the Rebbe, this view is supported by the Ibn Ezra who taught that blood and frogs affected both Egyptians and Israelites. This was necessary, the rebbe said, because had the Israelites been left unaffected by plagues designed to demonstrate the impotency of egyptian gods, pharaoh and his men would have reasoned that the Egyptian god had scored at least a partial victory. No blood on the Nile on Israelite areas would have been understood to mean that the egyptian Nile god had carried the day in that particular location, and God had been defeated.

All of this is a tempting interpretation, but it breaks down when R. Saks extends it to darkness. As he understands it, this plague was meant to demonstrate the weakness of Ra, the sun god and imagined progenitor of Ramses (son of Ra) the pharaoh who bore his name. Thus, no midrashic explanations and additions are needed to give the plague its teeth. Unfortunately for this theory, we're told specifically that the Israelites all had light in their neighborhoods. Following the reasoning of the rebbe regarding the first two plagues, how can we say that darkness served to embarrass Ra if he was allowed the appearance of a partial victory in Jewish quarters?

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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Post Seder Posting

Here is the fast and dirty rundown:

Time we finished
Between 1 and 2, both nights.

Highlight we'll still be talking about next year
A small niece and her frog routine.

Arguments I had
When the gemarah says that Pharaoh's daughter's arm stretched out is it meant literally? (Post on this coming soon. I think my position will surprise you)
Is the kuzari argument any good, or is our evidence for Moshe the same as our evidence for George Washington? (no)
If it's unacceptable to say that Barack Obama is a muslim, why is it okay to walk around the house guffawing in the manner of Jon Stewart imitating George Bush?

Books I read
Pieces of "Rabbi Frand on the Parsha, book 2"
Most of chief rabbis sack's book on Exodus
Numerous magazine essays
Several chapters of Eye of the Needle (I've read it all several times. This is one of the things I go back to when I am visiting a particular relative and in need of quick, mindless, escape reading.)
Most of George W. Bush's awful book about how he saved the world, and brought us all prosperity and freedom during an era of great historical import during which he did nothing wrong, aside from once or twice listening to an advisor, or in the case of appointing Harriet Miers, his wife. (This is what was the cause of the argument mentioned above. Whenever Bush eluded responsibility, or went out of his way to make a democrat or person from the north east look bad, I'd read the sentence out loud and guffaw.)
That comic book that tells over the Torah with God as a green female, and Moshe as a handsome black man who may or not remind you of a more contemporary handsome black man. I forget what it's called, but plan to review it shortly.

Stuff we ate for shulchan orech
Night one: chicken in the pot
Night two: kalachol
I mention this because of my infamous post from three years ago in which I insisted that preparing a Seder meal is a breeze, and not something anyone with basic kitchen skills should struggle with, let alone complain about for six weeks in advance. Needless to say our food was brilliant, and no one thought cooking it was the chore to end all chores.

time we finished davening

Like 1130 both days. We started at 9. No speech either day (its how the rabbi makes up for tal and yotzros I think)

Number of milchig meals
None, though milchig for day two lunch sure would have been nice. (saying that in the presence of the chief chef just before the roast came out, may not have been nice. Ah well. I ate it anyway)

Thing I am most thankful for
No stupid argument with my racist relative about how racism is both true, and the basis of the whole Torah. I've had that argument with this fellow far too many times, and both of us still carry thhe scars. Glad it didn't happen again this year.

If you like, let's call this a blog meme. In which case all of you are tagged.

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Monday, April 18, 2011

Great Moments in Price Gouging II

How much would you pay for the following items?

1 chicken wing, broiled
1 small container of pureed horseradish
1 small container of a bright red mash labled "haroset"
A hardboiled egg
A few stalks of lettuce
1 small piece of celery

Do I hear...

Great moments in Price Gouging

If you're a grocer, raising prices is one of the best loved Passover traditions. The Rabbis inveigh against it, and politicians complain, but the Jewish grocers are a law unto themselves charging, in come cases, double their regular prices for chicken, coffee or sugar. Now, our crack Hasidic correspondent has sent in a nominee for this year's Gouging Grocer Hall of Shame.

This item in this photo is labeled "Shank Bones for Passover" The cost is $2.49. Someone who is lazy, or ignorant, or pressed for time,  might buy it to serve on his seder plate as the Z'roah

As you can see from the next photo, the item is not actually a shank bone, but a chicken wing. Its perfectly okay to use a chicken wing as a zroah, but I doubt its permitted to sell a chicken wing labeled as a shank bone.  And it gets worse....

Punch line after the jump:

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Doing It Right

A Guest Post By E. Fink

You may (or may not) recall a post I wrote before Rosh Hashanah about a selfless act of charity that was witnessed by a congregant at Pacific Jewish Center. You should read that post: A Heartwarming Story of Charity

In the last few days, we have been preparing for Pesach. Of course that means multiple visits to the local Kosher markets. My wife and I both saw some similar examples of charity over the last few days.

The Impostors Of Jewish Journalism

Guest post by Guravitzer

Original post on Circus Tent

Ki Lo Ami should be the name of the magazine. These editors are not part of my nation, and their beliefs are not mine. Editorial slant is always discernable, most discernable in yellow journalism. Hate journalism. Fear-mongering journalism.

Why I Don't Eat Kitniyot On Pesach

A Guest Post by Rafi G

Why don't I eat kitniyot on Pesach?

Good question.

The truth is that the logic employed by Rav Davvid Bar-Hayyim (or however he spells it) makes sense to me. Jews have come back to Eretz Yisrael, and we should be adopting the minagim of Eretz Yisrael, which were always predominantly sephardic in origin, except for a small period of time where some communities have imported the customs from the students of the GRA.

It has always bothered me why, for the most part, our minhagim are stuck in Poland/Germany/Morocco/Iraq/Yemen/Hungary of 100 and 200 years ago. Why does the Jewish community of New York not have its own minhagim that when people moved there they should have adopted into a uniform minhag? Why only in the communities of Europe did everyone keep 1 uniform minhag?

mmm, can't live a week without it!
I know the answers of mobility, and that the people in Europe stayed put for hundreds of years, often in little towns, while cities in the western world were suddenly populated by Jews from all over, etc. None of them are very satisfactory. A city like New York (one example, but applies to all cities) should have had a local minhag, and anyone joining the community should have adopted the local minhagim (communal minhagim at least, if not personal as well).

So, in essence, I am open to the concept of people moving to Eretz Yisrael and adopting the local minhag. The problem with it is that it is only in concept. in practice it is not done, and there is no longer any uniform local minhag. For anything. Every community has sub-communities, where each keeps its own minhag from way back when, and in each sub-community there is plenty of diversity as well.

So it is kind of difficult to say that we suddenly adopt the local minhag by kitniyot, when we do not do so for just about anything else. I mean, those who eat kitniyot, do they daven nusach sefard (some daven "nusach eretz yisrael" which Rav Bar Hayyim has reprinted)? Do they put on tefillin like safrdim? do they do anything else like sefardim? It seems to me that to just pick kitniyot as the issue that you will use to adopt local customs with is disingenuous.

That being said, I have no problem with Rav Bar Hayyim paskening that way, or with his talmidim following his psak. It seems to me to be wrong that suddenly many people choose to follow a rav they follow on nothing else, and probably have no idea about anything else he says. But that is their choice, and I say that for me to adopt such a custom, to eat kitniyot against my minhag, against the original takana that was accepted among those from where my minhagim originate, would be wrong.

And to me, I see no reason to go against the takanas chachomim for one week of eating rice and chumus. I can refrain for a week.

To take the discussion a bit further, I have said I have no problem with Rav Bar Hayyim (or other rabbonim who have followed suit recently) and his students coming to this conclusion and eating kitniyot. Everyone can do what is good for them.

What does irk me, a bit, is that instead of publishing his psak in halachic and Torah journals, where he would generate discussion among rabbonim and communities, he publishes his psak in newspapers such as Yediot Acharonot and Haaretz.

So, instead of having the world of rabbinics and halacha debate the issue, he publishes his psak in secular newspapers where people who don't know much, who don't keep much (and some who do), will like what they read from him because it is getting rid of an old restriction and follow suit, even though they barely keep anything else, and definitely have no idea who he is or what else he talks about. He is encouraging people who have no ability to debate the merits of his case to go against their commonly held custom. At least those who don't eat matza on pesach keep it to themselves and don't promote it among the general public.

Furthermore, he so holds he is right that he even invalidates rabbonim from being able to pasken otherwise by saying their appointment as community rav is invalid. So anybody who argues with him can be ignored, because they have no right to pasken otherwise.

Again, I have no problem with him paskening to eat kitniyot, and I have no problem with those who follow him eating kitniyot. The logic makes sense to me, but there are too many conflicting issues that make me personally uncomfortable with it. And I see no reason to go against the takana with all that on the plate. My problem is with the way he encourages other people to go against their psak, or to adopt a new (for them) minhag they know nothing about.

Maybe one day he will generate debate among halachic scholars, and a consensus will be arrived at that says the original takana is no longer relevant, either due to our presence in Eretz Yisrael, or for other reasons, and then I will eat kitniyot as well. Until then, I see no need.

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Solving the so-called Orthopraxy crises

As I said to someone earlier today, "Nowadays, many people think that if they can't believe that aggadot are from sinai, or if they can't believe that every letter in the MT is a match for every letter Moishe received they can't be frum, either. However, we have rishonim who thought that way and they were frum." So its possible for you and me to do it, too. We don't have to check our brains at the door just because certain charedim think we should either do that or leave Judaism. We can rely on the Rishonim and the permission they gave us to say and think these things.

This, by the way, is how to solve this whole "orthopraxy crises"? If we rehabilitate all of the rishonim who were ok, or comfortable, with many of the things Charedim call heresy we make the machanah larger, which in turn make it possible to keep some Jews who might have otherwise left.

The Way Things Were

A Guest Post By E. Fink

Yesterday I posted a link on my Facebook page and I realized that it should be shared here as well.

A local Baltimore website interviewed a Rebbe and role model of mine and did a great write up. You can find he article here: A Conversation With Rabbi Yosef Tendler

The article is significant because it is a first hand account from a charedi rabbi (gadol?) about the lifestyle of orthodox Jews just a few decades ago. Perhaps, to the surprise of many, the orthodox Judaism he speaks of is virtually non-existent and almost unrecognizable as orthodox Judaism today.

Am I undermining Judaism?

So I got a great letter of appreciation last night from one of the readers, and though its not usually my policy to share such things, this time I am. I'm doing this because I want certain Twitter big mouths to know that despite their incessant and slanderous lies to the contrary, I am not "undermining Judaism."

Now don't misunderstand:  I don't think I am "saving Judaism" or "rescuing Judaism" either. Judaism doesn't need my help. But there are individual Jews here and there who appreciate what I do and find it makes them better or happier Jews.

Anyway, see the letter after the jump:

Rabbi Avigdor Miller on Germany, the holocaust and who caused it

Q: How can we understand the new power of Germany, in view of what Germany did to us?

A: Let me tell you something. We’re making a very big mistake if we think the Germans did something to us. Hakodosh Baruch Hu did it to us. All this stuff, about the Holocaust and talking constantly about that, blinds people to the fact that there is a Hakadosh Baruch Hu in the world. There are no good goyim. No goyim are good. And there are no bad goyim. Only Hashem is good or not good, that’s all. Of course, if it were up to us, we would have to make an army. Even this day, I say, and go to Germany and destroy about 6 million Germans. But that’s only a token, a demonstration. Actually the Germans don’t know anything. They’re like bacteria. You’re going to make a war on bacteria because it causes disease? And therefore, it’s a war against Hashem.

Hashem is the One Who did it. Only, why did He do it? That’s a question. Because Europe was full of Jews who were Bundists, atheists. They were much worse than the Reformers in America. The Reform in America are very bad and they are beheimos, since they are ignorant entirely.

But the Jews in Europe were recently Jews who kept the Torah, and they rebelled against the Torah. Their parents were all Shomrei Mitzvos, and the new generation threw it all away and became Rashaim Gemurim, a terrible generation. I was there, I saw it. And therefore Hakadosh Baruch Hu sent a Holocaust on them.

Of course, here and there, there were pockets of frum Jews, but there was a very great movement away from Torah. They were rebelling against the Torah in Europe. The world keeps quiet about it. I saw it. And therefore, it’s not the Germans that we have to worry about. We have to worry about ourselves. Our enemies are our own; we are the real enemies of the Jewish people. The Reformers are the enemies of the Jewish people. The Conservatives are the enemies of the Jewish people. The college people and the academicians, all the Jewish atheists, the Jewish gays, they’re our enemies. There are so many of them……They’re our enemies. And therefore, stop worrying about the Gentiles, to fight back against them. Of course, I say again, if we have an army, we should go to Germany and execute 6 million Germans. Just as a token, it’s a zecher. But the real battle is not against outside enemies; the battle is against inside enemies.

-- Excerpt is from Q & A Thursday Nights with Rabbi Avigdor Miller pp38-3(or so the person who sent me the email claims. I didn't check)

We dealt with this, or some variation of it, back in 2005. Read the post and its 282 comments here.

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Obama's speech

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

NYT hearts Matzo

One of the things I find perplexing about Pesach are the people who moan and groan about matzoh for 8 days and nights. Aside from being healthier than store bought bread, matzoh just isn't that awful. We nibble on it quite happily.

What follows are a random sampling of stories about matzo from the God-desecrating and Jew-abhorring New York Times including the paper's FIRST MENTION of the word matzo.

Orthopraxy: Problems and Solutions

A Guest Post By E. Fink

(This post originally appeared on my home blog)

Ami Magazine has an article about orthoprax Jews. I'm not one to complain about tone, so I won't complain. I will just note for the record that the tone of the article is incredibly demeaning to anyone who has ever contemplated the limits of religious belief and the article sounds more like a scathing editorial than a piece of journalism.

In order to understand this blog post it is necessary that you read the Ami Magazine article which is available here: The Impostors Among Us. Come back here when you are done.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

New York Times Reveals Our Community Secrets to the Masses at Large

Rabbis Sound an Alarm Over Eating Disorders
Published: April 11, 2011

In the large and growing Orthodox Jewish communities around New York and elsewhere, rabbinic leaders are sounding an alarm about an unexpected problem: a wave of anorexia and other eating disorders among teenage girls. Read the rest

Fisking @yeshivaguy

What follows is a post by @yeshivaguy, with my comments and criticism. Let's discuss the issues it raises. I'm YG is in italics.

Monday, April 11, 2011

A tale of two Jewish organizations and their approaches to Pesach

Received by email:
This really enrages me because all of the politics and sectarianism
that is generated from these organizations:,7340,L-4054673,00.html
I can translate as necessary. The basic idea is that the Badatz has a whole division dedicated to non-food items. Why? "It comes from the public." In other words, the people have been brainwashed into thinking that detergents, soaps, and chemicals need to be kosher, for passover or otherwise, so the Badatz sells certification for it, even though they admit that it's completely unnecessary. 
Who started that rumor? The people?  
I know a kashrut administrator at the OU who says the same thing about milk and other things: the only reason why the OU sells a hashgacha for them is because the company wants it because it sells. It's also well-known that these organizations certify toilet-bowl cleaner, but not non-glatt meat:
All this is true enough, but on the other hand, we do have somne frum organization that seek to make things easier, not harder. An example is the group behind a new viral video which shows two Jews working together to make a kitchen ready for Pesach and discovering the real meaning of the holiday. (Unfortunately, despite the video protagonist's honest efforts to clean his kitchen under the direction of a professional kashrus supervisor, I have a feeling many of you would still refuse to eat in his house. And this brings us back to the root of the problem discussed in the email above:  Badatz and the OU can sell kosher certification for non-food items because insecure Jews are convinced they need it -- and sometimes they are even willing to offend and betray and damage other Jews for the sake of acquiring it.)

See it with English subtitles

Friday, April 08, 2011

Bible verses fulfilled in our day

Sorry, but the first thing that came to my mind was 2 Samuel 16 21-22 --
Ahithophel answered, “Sleep with your father’s concubines whom he left to take care of the palace. Then all Israel will hear that you have made yourself obnoxious to your father, and the hands of everyone with you will be more resolute.” 22 So they pitched a tent for Absalom on the roof, and he slept with his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel.
-- when I read about the two USC students who were caught in flagrante delicto on the rooftop of a USC building.

Why this is news, I don't know -- are we shocked to learn College kids do it? -- but quite predictably patriotic real Americans are tearing their hair and blaming this on nasty libruls and their fancy book learning 

Matzav's non-existent loshon hara standards

A Guest Post by Muppet

There's a widely accepted journalistic norm that college athletes should not be publicly criticized. The assumption being that non-professionals, especially young people should not be exposed to the sorts of criticism we throw on professional athletes. This applies even to criticizing athletes for their athletic performance (e.g. this story ) and certainly applies to criticizing their off the field conduct. I'd be shocked if in all of the coverage of the BYU story two months ago, there was anything written anywhere remotely reputable which was critical of the player for having gotten someone pregnant. This really is a universal standard.

Or almost. Today, Matzav printed this. As with most things, Matzav stole the article from a better publication, and has implausible deniability that its not printing this article in order for its readership to heap scorn on a young woman who had the gall to wear shorts in public and honor the Shabbos in a manner that was less than fully halachicly compliant. Nor is there any plausible reason why anyone in the Matzav readership should be discussing this. In other words, what I've learned today is that Matzav has a lower standard for what is and is not lashon harah than every newspaper in America.

DB: I'm not aware of this unwritten rule of journalism, as I do not follow college sports; also, I note that as of 11:30 am there are no comments on the post.

UPDATE 11:57
And here come the negative comments from holy Matzav reader who wish to demonstrate their commitment to Torah and mitzvos by bashing someone else. 

Comment from Ari
I dont want to spoil the party or anything, but playing ball on shabbos and wearing shorts (mistama) are not exactly orthodox. I get the point but not sure Matzav readership is interested.

Comment from What?!
Wow! What a Torah role model! I’m taking my daughters right out of Bais Yaakov and putting them in a basketball program! I can’t wait to reap all the nachas that will come! Thank you MATZAV for printing this Kiddush Hashem article! Every Rov should say this over during their Shabbos Hagadol drasha! I can’t wait to see which Rosh Yeshiva’s son will be zoche to be mishadich with her!

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Girls on Film: Flash Mob in the Stern Caf

Sent to me by email; unclear what they are promoting.

Update: The side matter says: "To promote our upcoming Dance Show Fundraiser "So You Think Stern Can Dance" 13 dancers performed a flash mob to "Switch" by Will Smith in the Stern College cafeteria. (Choreographed by Emily Harris) (Producers: Adina Erdfarb and Emily Harris)" Ok, then.

Update: Here they are again in the Sy Sims Caf

Tzaraas Summary

What is tzaraas, the skin affliction discussed ad nauseam in chapters 13-14 of Leviticus?

A natural physical illness
This is the view of Ralbag, Meshech Chachma, Rabenu Bechaya and Abravanel, who all seem to think of tazaraas as something contagious. In an approach that might today get him expelled from yeshiva, Ralbag interprets tzaraas in keeping with the medical theories of his time. 

A spiritual affliction
Most everyone else says that tzaraas can't be a physical illness, noting that tzaraas examinations are forbidden  on shabbos and holidays, and that the laws do not apply to non-Jews, or to houses outside of Israel.

The original understanding (perhaps)
Some think of tzaraas as leprosy. This is because the LXX translated the word as lepra or "a disease which makes the skin scaly" [Lepros means "scales"] However, the symptoms of tzaraas described in the Bible do not match the symptoms of the disease we call leprosy today. Possibly, what we now recognize as a variety of different skin diseases, or symptoms of other diseases, may have once all been called tzaraas. Robert Alter translates tzaraas as skin blanch, noting that in almost every case tzaraas presents as a loss of pigment. Alter suggests this whiteness of skin and hair reminded people of corpses, likely making them worry that whatever impurity that caused (or was caused by) death was present on the afflicted person. This, Alter continues, is why the remedy for tzaraas is virtually identical to the remedy for corpse contamination.

The rabbinic understanding
In BT Erechin seven sins are said to cause tzaraas; in Leviticus Rabba six sins are named (there is some overlap.) At some point, the rabbinic imagination became fixated on the idea that tzaraas was caused by sins committed through speech such as slander and gossip. This notion likely developed because Miriam is afflicted with tzaraas immediately after she maligns her brother. Also, Moshe suffers a brief bout of tzaraas at the burning bush after he bad mouths the Jewish people by suggesting they will ignore the message of deliverance. In another rabbinic interpretation the sin of the snake in the Garden of Eden is also used to bolster this notion. Drawing on the Greek translation (or perhaps a forgotten etymology of tzaraas) these rabbis suggested that the snake was punished with scales for misusing his power of speech when he tempted Eve.

The cure 
The Torah says tzaraas is treated with a potion made from the blood of a bird, cedarwood, red string (or wool) and hyssop. Originally, this potion may have been thought to have natural properties that made it effective at driving off the source of the impurity; alternativly, the symbolic action theory of magic suggests that these items were chosen because of the psychological effect the potion's ingredients had (or were expected to have) on the patient. Thus, the Rabbis suggested "The metzorah, who talked derogatorily about others consistently to his friends is likened to birds, who chatter endlessly. In a similar vein, the one who speaks ill of others is haughty, holding himself or herself high above others and is likened to the tall cedar. To be healed, the metzorah must erase arrogance, making themselves lowly like a worm (the word tola'as also means worm) or a hyssop."* To this Samson Raphael Hirsch added the idea that one bird is killed to represent the symbolic death of the "wild" part of ourselves that caused the sin. Robert Alter, who holds that the potion and accompanying ritual were believed to have some technology behind them, adds that one of the two birds is sent away after being sprinkled with the potion for the purpose of carrying away the tzaraas-causing impurity. (Compare with the seh l'Azazel, or scapegoat)

*Passage in quotes was lifted from Wikipedia to spare me the bother of re-inventing the wheel 

Wednesday, April 06, 2011


The NRC has released a video showing Barak Obama riding a unicorn over a rainbow. The point, I think, is that POTUS lives in a fantasy land. This, um, "clever" commentary is part of a new NRC video that lampoons the president's re-election bid.  Though the jokes are sort of clunky, and the nastiness is thinly veiled, I welcome the effort. Even poor parodies are better than the Republican's usual mix of lies, screeching, and fear mongering.

Anyway, the point of the post is to challenge you to rework the rainbow image and apply it to other presidents. Here's what I have so far:

Obama: Rides a unicorn over a rainbow
W: Slaughters the unicorn and serves it at a barbecue to a Saudi prince
Clinton: Uses the unicorn to impress a girl
Bush Sr. Runs from the unicorn screeching in fear.

See the NRC Video after the jump.

A review of the 2011 Absolut Haggada

A guest post by R. JOSH WAXMAN

(You can also check out my review from last year.)

I am more comfortable with writing responses than reviews, so I will respond to a point or two in The Absolut Haggadah (a free haggadah, online, available for download available at that link), and along this way convey a bit of the flavor of the haggadah.

Here is a part I partly disagree with. In discussing the Four Questions, the Ma Nishtana, they write:

Does this mean that one major theme of Ma Nishtana is these two conflicting themes? Or perhaps what is meant is that Ma Nishtana exists by itself, but one interesting question that comes out from it are these two conflicting themes.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

The Ten Commandments Meets the Social Network

Micheal points out that this seems to be a RIP OFF of the Digital Nativity.  See it here

Obama's appalling decision to give Khalid Sheikh Mohammed a military trial.

Down with Obama... I am deeply disappointed in POTUS for deciding to give Khalid Sheikh Mohammed a military trial.

Cowardly, Stupid, and Tragically Wrong
The Obama administration's appalling decision to give Khalid Sheikh Mohammed a military trial.

Today, by ordering a military trial at Guantanamo for 9/11 plotter Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his co-defendants, Attorney General Eric Holder finally put the Obama administration's stamp on the proposition that some criminals are "too dangerous to have fair trials.

My thoughts after the jump.

Did Chazal invent everything? The Torah True wing-nuttery of R. Steve Pruzasnky

Here's a great example of Torah True wing-nuttery from R. Steve Pruzasnky:
"Moreover, because of our poor public relations (a problem that did not begin with the Israelis), no credit is given to the Talmudic sages for their scientific discoveries – probably because they are unknown to the world at large. Thus, the Tosefta (Shabbat, Chapter 7) notes that an iron bar may be placed on a roof to attract lightning – long before old Ben Franklin discovered electricity. Chazal in several places (e.g., Sanhedrin 106b) refer to the laws pertaining to “a tower that flies in the air”, recognizing that airplane flight was a physical possibility, if then a practical impossibility. Rabban Gamliel used a telescope that could distinguish objects a kilometer away (Eruvin 43b). Rav Yehoshua knew of Halley’s comet – “a star that shoots across the sky once every 70 years” (Horayot 10a) – fifteen centuries before Edmond Halley (1656-1742) was a gleam in his mother’s eye. And it is clear from even a superficial understanding of the Talmud that most of our Sages assumed the earth was a round sphere (not flat) and revolved around the sun – 1300 years before Nic Copernicus claimed the credit and won the fame associated with these “discoveries”.
Let's fact check this shall we?

Monday, April 04, 2011

Goldstone: Winners and Losers

So here's my scorecard on l'affair Goldstone:

Goldstone - LOSER
A bum, but at least a bum who was honest enough to correct his error in public. We condemn him for his mistake, even as we admire his intellectual honesty.

Israel - WINNER
Over the last two years Israel, and her supporters successfully marginalized Goldstone's report to the point that using it as evidence for an argument about Israel was taken as prima facie evidence of the speaker's Antisemitism. And that was before the author retracted the reports central assertion. Going forward, the Goldstone Report is going to be remembered alongside the Protocol of the Elders of Zion;  no one polite, or sensible, or reasonable can give the thing credence ever again.

Wrote a gotcha article that was transparently designed to discredit the Times, while delighting and amusing kneejerk RWers everywhere. Now, it seems clear their "source" took them for a ride.

The New York Times - BIG LOSER
The paper of record is the real loser here. Not only weren't they offered the historic op-ed, but they are being reviled for refusing to publish it.

10 Questions for Dr. David Berger

What follows is a rapid Question and Answer with Dr. David Berger, the dean and Ruth and I. Lewis Gordon Professor of Jewish History at the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies at Yeshiva University and author of The Rebbe, the Messiah, and the Scandal of Orthodox Indifference.

Dr. Berger has asked me to make it clear that "YU as an institution has nothing whatsoever to do with my views on this subject." and " In no way do I speak for YU when I address this matter."

Read his responses to my rapid fire questions after the jump.

What Times-bashers won't tell you about the New York Times and Goldstone

Today's rapidly spreading Internet rumor is that the New York Times refused to publish Richard Goldstone's retraction of the central assertion in his 2009 report on the Gaza War. This rumor is spreading like brushfire via RW sites, and RW email. Why? Likely because it seems to confirm a central, yet unexamined, RW article of faith regarding the fundamental nature of the Times. Of course the Times hates Israel, goes the conspiracy-minded RW line of thought, so of course they suppressed an op-ed article that might have rehabilitated Israel's image, and of course they did this out of sheer bias, and explicit hatred of Israel. 

Only like most rapidly-spreading Internet rumors, the truth is more complicated.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Where there is a rabbinic will there is a rabbinic way applies to Supreme Court justices, too

Following a decision last week, the Supreme Court of the United States has made it nearly impossible to hold a lawyer liable for "Brady Violations", or failures by prosecuting attorneys to provide the defense with exculpatory evidence. The case involved a man who spent nearly two decades in jail after being railroaded by a team of attorneys who knew he was innocent, but did not know they were required to share that information with the other side. A lower court ruled that the municipality was liable for improperly training its employees, and that decision and the $14 million award that came with it was affirmed twice on appeal. Last week the Supremes tossed it out, ruling in a 5-4 decision that municipalities are not responsible for Brady violations committed by their employees. Because attorneys already enjoy immunity for their conduct as lawyers, last week's decision creates a catch-22: Brady Violations are still illegal, but when they occur neither the lawyers not their employers can be held responsible.

After I complained about this on twitter, someone attempted to defend that Court's decision by arguing that it was legitimately argued, rooted in existing case law and precedents, and therefore impossible to impugn on its merits. I am sure thats true, but it's also not the point.

The Supreme Court only hears the cases it wishes to hear, so we can presume it accepted this case for a reason. What was it? Unless you're prepared to argue that the court wanted to rescue a municipality from the injustice of paying $14 million to a man it had wrongly imprisoned, I think you're forced to say that the court agreed to hear this case because one or more of the justices saw it as an opportunity to undermine Brady. Though the naive among you might find it disturbing to think of the Supreme Court as a policy-making branch of government, I do not. I believe the justices on the Supreme Court, as a rule, seek to get desired policy outcomes via skillful manipulations and interpretations of the exiting laws and precedents. They accept the cases that facilitate this, and refuse the ones that do not. The court took this case, I believe, because the conservative wing wanted to make it next to impossible to hold a municipality responsible for Brady violations. Though the decision they wrote to achieve this goal may be legitimate and valid and impeccably argued as one GOP fan boy insists, the policy outcome itself is despicable.

Final sputters: If a municipality is responsible when someone falls after a janitor fails to put out a sign warning that the floor is wet, how can it be immune when one of it's lawyers railroads an innocent man? And if it is immune, what incentive does it have to properly train and supervise it's employees? As a result of this decision, more innocent men will be imprisoned. The court could have avoided this unhappy outcome by simply refusing to hear the case. Why take it, unless undermining Brady was your goal, and if undermining Brady is your goal, what the &$%# is wrong with you?

Friday, April 01, 2011

Yearning for Messiah: PSA

YU Honors Program Presents International Conference on Messianism on April 3

Throughout the ages, Jews have dreamt of the coming of the Messiah. This yearning for the arrival of a redemptive age, included by some Jewish thinkers as a tenet of faith, served as a beacon of hope in times of crisis and led to many remarkable episodes in Jewish history, from the times of the Second Temple up to the present day.

This year’s Yeshiva College Jay and Jeanie Schottenstein Honors Program student-run conference brings together leading scholars in the field of Jewish studies to explore the history of Jewish messianism, as well as its evolving theological meaning. The April 3 conference begins at 1:30 PM at YU’s Washington Heights Wilf Campus, Furst Hall, Room 501, 500 West 185th Street.

Magnitude six earthquake in Crete felt across Israel

What other than seismic waves could have caused this? Twitter responds:

Israel was hit by an earthquake, likely due to God being angry at Rabbis trying to read God's mind over natural disasters. Oh wait...

Yep. Something like that. Or maybe because Israel has placed some Charedim in prison?

NO! Its because the evil government should be given yeshivas even more money!

I may assert Eternal Providence, And justify the ways of God to men.

Not an April Fools Joke in the NY Times

A Guest Post By E. Fink

Here's a quote from the blatantly anti-semitic NY Times:
A Palestinian human rights group in Gaza took the unusual step this week of condemning the building and storage of anti-Israel rockets in densely populated areas, a practice that has led to injuries and deaths of civilians.
The article describes the known tactic of Gazan terrorists of using civilian areas to store and launch missiles. The Palestinian Center for Human rights is criticizing the militants in Gaza. In my opinon this is a nice development and a solid piece of journalism.

Link: NY Times (it's a Twitter link so it won't count against your 20 articles per month)

The large gimmel in Tazriah... and what it tells us about the Mesorah, and the fallibility of the Sages

A word from Leviticus 13:33 is traditionally written with a large gimel as so:

Why is it written this way?

Emanuel Tov [here page 57] suggests that the letter is written this way to emphasize a certain detail, namely that this word appears in what it believed to be the Torah's middle verse. Here's a breita quoted on BT Kiddushin 30a:
Therefore the ancients were called Scribes [=sofrim] because they counted every letter in the Torah...“then he shall be shaven” (Lev. 13:33) is the middle verse
(1) Why emphasize this with a large letter?  If you're going to emphasize this with a large letter, why choose the gimmel? Seems random.
(2) Mesechet Soferim says the middle verse is vayishchaht (Leviticus 8:15?)
(3) Mesorat Hashas (18th century) reports that all of the authoritative books in his possession have a note in the margin indicating that Lev 8:7 is the middle verse.

Take away points:
(1) The Talmud and the Mesorah disagree. Read that again: The Talmud and the Mesorah disagree
(2) The author of Mesechet Soferim 9:2 entertained the possibility that the author of the breita quoted on BT Kiddushin 30a made a mistake, which he endeavored to correct with a new count of the verses. He did not think the author of the breita was infallibly correct.
(3) Likewise, the Masorites corrected the count reported on BT Kiddushin 30a following their own examination of the subject. They did not think the author of the breita, or the author of Seforim 9:2  was infallibly correct.

Other theories on the giant gimmel later today.