Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Avi Shafran on New Square

Avi Shafran demonstrates no sensitivity for victims or ordinary people in his reported comments about New Square. From lohud.com
“Part of the choice of living in that community is to accept the norms,” he said. “If the rebbe says they should be centralized and unified, that’s his right. But the authority of a rabbinic figure should not cause anyone to act violently.”
How typical of Avi to focus on the rights and prerogatives of the rabbi, while saying nothing at all about the people. Its certainly true that the grand monarch of Square has a right to say that his community should be centralized and unified; however the people have the same right to disobey him. Residents of a community are under no special obligation to accept local norms, and they did not sign away their personal freedoms by choosing to live in Square. The rebbe is free to advocate for what he considers best, and the people are free to push back, and to live their lives as they see fit.

Memorial Day Golf or Additional evidence of the Media's Bush/Obama double standard

Seems like every Republican blogger, tweeter, and facebooker has picked up the item about Obama and his Memorial Day golf outing. In fact, Google the words "Memorial Day Obama Golf" and you'll see the same article come up again and again. Here's a representative sentence from the article everyone, including the Torah-true scholars at Matzav, have reposted:
The decision to golf on Memorial Day invites comparison with President George W. Bush, who gave up the game early in his presidency and said he did it out of respect for the families of those killed in Iraq.
Scant mention is given to Obama's other activities yesterday, which included a ceremony in Arlington National Cemetery and a visit with some of  the families of those killed in battle.

Those fair and unbiased reporters at Fox also picked up the story, for fair and unbiased reasons, of course:

And how exactly did Bush spend his last Memorial Day in office? Not golfing of course, but bike riding: From USA Today, May 26, 2008:
Bush was at the White House through 3 p.m., the time he asked Americans to pause for a moment to remember the fallen. Then, he went to a Secret Service training facility in Beltsville, Md., just outside Washington, to ride his mountain bike for about 90 minutes.
And the difference between golfing and bike-riding is... what exactly?

After the jump see the definitive comment on Bush and his giving up golf, including absolute proof that he lied about it. Despitre claiming that he gave up golf in May of 2003 footage exists of W playing the game on Columbus Day (!!) 2003.

On the heroism of the New Square burn victim

Unfortunately, I can't understand a word of this. A little help please?

By my lights, this man, Aaron Rottenberg, is a hero in the tradition of Pharaoh's daughter who disregarded her father's evil decree and saved the baby Moses. Society said let the child drown. She chose to follow her conscious and save him instead. He is also a hero in the way Matisyahu the 2nd century BCE Jewish priest was a hero. Rather then bow to the pressure of authorities who insisted on conformity, Rottenberg went his own way, consequences be damned. Matisyahu started a revolt. The daughter of Phraoah raised a son who fearlessly spoke truth to power. If Rottenberg is unable to ferment a Macabbee-style rebellion against the corrupt powers of New Square, let his example at least inspire a new wave of civil resisters who refuse to be bullied into choosing between their ideals and their community.

What Rottenberg wanted was simply to live as he saw fit, in his own home, in his own neighborhood,  surrounded by his family and friends. The monsters of New Square said he couldn't have both. They said he had to live by rules enforced by a mob, or uproot himself and his family and move to another neighborhood. This is an unconscionable choice, and one no one should be forced to make. I hope other Rottenbergs are waiting in the wings, ready to pick up his baton, and ready to say this isn't Judaism or Hasidut and that we refuse to accept it.

Can Republicans win without lying?

The question of the day is can Republicans win without lying? I ask because for the last ten years at least the Republican strategy in presidential campaigns has been to attach some outrageous falsehood to the Democratic party's candidate. Examples:

Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day

Was I supposed to do something today? Was I suppose to think certain thoughts and perfrom certain rituals? Or did the day belong to me to do with it as I saw fit?

I took some heat earlier on the comment thread of another post for revealing that I planned to celebrate Memorial Day with a barbque. Is that fair? A legal holiday isn't a Jewish holiday, it carries no obligations. Jewish holidays are heavy with Meaning and Purpose. Legal holidays aren't - unless you, of your own volition, choose to weigh them down.

Earlier, I was chastized for disrespecting the soldiers. That's unfortunate. I honestly believe that if our soldiers died for anything, it was to free us from the obligation of agreeing about what has Meaning and what has Purpose. We honor the soldiers and their sacrfice not with ceremonies, but with our freedom. What's more valuable than freedom of conciousness?

Beyond that, it's a gift to be able to relax, away from work, with friends on a legal holiday. A gift. Yes, this gift coincides with a day set aside to honor dead soldiers, but the dead soldiers aren't all that give value to the day.

Another thought: Some of my friends work for Jews, and they were required to be at their desks today. No one is stingier with vacation days than a Jewish boss. If you work for a non-Jew, you're free to stay home on both yom tov, and the legal holidays and the world continues to spin on its axis. But Jewish bosses like to pretend that vacation on yom tov is a great gift, unknown in non-Jewish firms. They use this self-servbing fantasy as a cudgel to deny you other off-days. This sucks, so if you do work for Jews, you have my sympathy.

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El Al Flight 27: A Passenger's Account

A Guest Post By E. Fink

I urge everyone to read and share this very powerful essay written by one of the passengers on El Al Flight 27 last week.

The writer, Dr. Elman is a friend and his son married my cousin. (The essay is particularly moving for me because I know all the people in the story.)

Read it on OU.org: Touched By a Landing

(And share your comments here...)

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Mini review of three new seforim apps, plus a thought or two on the power of books

The first thing you see when you enter my living room is a book shelf crowded with Jewish volumes. Pride of place goes to the Talmud received from my father-in-law as a wedding gift. Right next to this set is my well-used mikraot gdolot edition of the tanach which I purchased at the YU bookfair several dozen years ago. The shelf above the Talmud holds the 14 volume mishna set I inherited from my grandfather. Below it is my collection of siddurim. One was a gift from my high school upon our graduation. Another was purchased at a little shop in mea shearim during my year of study in Jerusalem. A third has been prayed from nearly every day by one member of my family or another, and carries the signs of honest, fervent use on its cover and pages. Another type of blogger might tell you some of the stories that occasioned the most impassioned use of that siddur, but not me. You'll just have to use your imagination.

I mention all this because I have been asked to review three extraordinary new tools of Jewish study and devotion. The Rusty Brick siddur, which I used exclusivly during my recent secret missions, and the Crowded Room editions of the Tanach and Mishna. All three apps offer the convenience we've come to expect from an e-book. Contents are completely searchable, and the text is easy to read. Whistles and bells on the Mishna and Tanach include a wide variety of included exegetes, translations, and, on the Tanach, a "tikkun" display that permits you to use the app to prepare the kriah. Provide the Siddur with your location, and it will help you find the nearest minyanim, and provide you with the local zmanim. It also has a compass that points you to Jerusalem (though I can't confirm that it works when you're north of the city, or east of the Kotel.) And there is something undeniably awesome about being able to carry the main works of Jewish law, liturgy and literature in your back pack. Load these applications on to your iPhone or iPad and you will, in effect, have given yourself a portable bes madresh.

The only problem is one of sentiment. Thanks to these ingenious apps, my iPad can hold the words and the ideas of our ancestors but it can't replicate the power of a printed book. Each volume on my shelf has a story. I bought it somewhere. It was a gift from someone. I, or my father, or my grandfather, or my son, or my wife, or my daughter used it for this or that purpose. Upon entry to my house, visitors see them immediately and know that I value learning. Those books on my shelf set the tone for my house, and remind me of where I come from. An excellent app on a light and speedy iPad provides none of that.

So though I recognize the convineince of the e-seforim I will continue to collect books, just as we have continued to collect art and hang it on our walls even after it became possible to carry complete museums on our phones. Images and artifacts and icons are powerful in a way that words are not. If I want to know what hillel and shamai argued about I'll go to my iPad, but if I want to know what they argued about while also feeling some sense of communion with my past and my people, I'll reach for the books my father in law gave me.

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Friday, May 27, 2011

Ben Shapiro is an idiot

shapiro tweet
This fellow Shapiro has previously declared that the Obama administration is "openly anti-Semitic," said that President Obama himself "embodies all the personal characteristics of a fascist leader," and compared White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel to concentration camp prisoners who worked for the Nazis [Media Matters]

So, to put it succinctly, Ben Shapiro is not a smart person, a careful writer, or a nuanced thinker. He's just a jerk who likes to throw hand grenades. Which brings us to his latest article, a collection of poorly formed insults directed at Orthodox Jews like me. A sampling:

Thursday, May 26, 2011

George W. Bush on retreating to the 67 lines

How quickly we forget

"While territory is an issue for both parties to decide, I believe that any peace agreement between them will require mutually agreed adjustments to the armistice lines of 1949 to reflect current realities and to ensure that the Palestinian state is viable and contiguous."
--- George W. Bush, Jan. 2008

Strange but when he said it, no one cried. IOIYR? The blatant double standard should make fair people sick.

HT C. Griffen

Is Lag B'omer the new Yom Kippur?

I've never been to Meron for Lag B'omer, but I've just concluded a conversation with someone who made the pilgrimage this year. His account demonstrated to me that this newish celebration has many elements in common with the Yom Kippur observances described in the Torah. Better yet, his description suggests rather strongly that many the secular objectives once achieved in Jeriusalem on Yom Kippur are now being met on Mount Meron.

More Haredi Photo Altering

A guest post from G.A.

While not as incendiary as the recent “Where’s Hilary” episode, this is an interesting example of censorship. In some ways, it may even be more disturbing.

Video of Ben Nitay (Benjamin Netanyahu) about 35 years ago

A Guest Post By E. Fink

Several Facebook friends have linked this video and I decided to watch it.

This video is older than me. But in the video, Bibi is younger than I am now. I was very impressed with his erudition and clarity as well as poise. It's really amazing to see how almost the exact same issues were being discussed in 1977 as are being discussed today. Also, it's fascinating to see predictions and premonitions from over 3 decades ago with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight today. You also have to love his attempt to anglicize his name.

Share your thoughts in the comments. Enjoy.

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Wednesday, May 25, 2011



One of the two most scaring TV scenes I saw as a child was in the 1996 made for TV movie The Lottery. The basic premise is that a tiny American town has a cemetery filled with people who all seemed to have died on July 4th, each one in a different year. The movies protagonist, visiting to arrange a funeral for his dying father, sees this anomaly and sets out to uncover the villages secret. What he discovers and soon whiteness is that each July 4th the townsfolks get together in the square where a lottery is held with one ticket per family. The family whose ticket is pulled out of the bucket then proceeds to have a lottery perform amongst each of its members. The final winner is immediately surrounded by the people gathered and stoned to death.

This had such a horrible affect on me that I'm kind of shaking now writing this. (The other scene was, and I don't even know what it was from since I only saw it in passing, seemed to be an old British period piece with a bloody guillotine decapitation. Head falling into bucket, blood squirting everywhere, cheering peasants, death in all its glory.

While reading the details of the recent events in New Square I couldn't help but think of this movie and the crazed and sadisitic people who lived in Anytown USA. I'm not suggesting an exact equivalence here, obviously it wasn't the whole town that gathered to burn an entire family to death. However, it seems to me that there was an atmosphere of permissiveness to abuse and harass dissenter. You can find videos online from two years ago of people gathered outside this family's home scaring their children by screaming for them to vacate the town. I don't know if it's true but the video suggests that the Rabbi's son happened to drive by the crowd in middle of this craziness and did nothing to stop it.

I won't believe for one second that the Rabbi didn't know about the abuse of this family at the hands of the communities leaders; In fact he likely encouraged it. I am certain, however, that he had no knowledge of this recent attack, I just simply cannot believe that is the case, but wound't resposiblity lie at his feet if his inaction led to this climax?

New Square, a place I once spent a shabbos in many years ago, seems eerily familiar to the town in The Lottery. I know there is little comparison in facts and events but the closed community hiding secrets resulting in violence against its own is where the comparison is found for me. It's like a community of people who must have things their way and they will use any means necessary to end and eradicate the "threat." We will never really know what the community as a whole feels about this but it's fair to assume that its leadership represents it as a whole. Let the Rabbi pretend he has a spokesman and make a statement denoucing what happened. Not just for the benefit of the media, but directly to his followers. Anyone involved in a protest against this family over the last few years should be banned from the main shul. They can't kick people off their legally owned property, but they should put them into the equivalent of cherim. The local Beis Din issued a statement but it wasn't signed in the name of the Rabbi.

I may be completely off in my facts but this is just my impression of what happned two days later.

Netanyahu in the Oval Office

I've had bad web access for the last several days so I haven't been able to see Netanyahu's performance in the Oval Office. Well, now I have finally seen it, and, frankly, I'm disappointed. What was presented to me as a dressing down, or a lecture, was nothing of the sort. Speaking in his usual monotone, Netanyahu calmly said a few things everyone knows, thanked the president for being such a great friend, and confirmed that (contrary to the over-heated claims of RW lunatics)  Barak Hussein Obama is fully committed to the security of the state of Israel.

I saw no anger, no passion, or anything that might plausibly be considered rudeness. Whole thing here:

If you can't beat them... join them

Back in 2006, Aguda was at the head of an angry anti-blog backlash that culminated in the November 2006 convention which was promoted in Jewish newspapers this way:
..Have bloggers declared open season on Torah Authority? 
[an ad for the Aguda Convention from Hamodia]
Fast forward  five years, and guess what?


File this under things I never thought I'd see. 

By the way: The Aguda blog was totally my idea Woo hoo. Go me. Etc.


My 2 cents about Obama and the '67 border soundbite

Old news, I know, but due to my just concluded secret mission, I was not able to comment before now.

What seems perfectly obvious to me is that Obama did not call for Israel to return to the '67 borders. I say this because I paid attention to what the man actually said.

Here is the relevant quote:

"The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states."

This is not, by any stretch, a call for Israel to go back to the '67 border. As everyone has already said, such a demand  is unacceptable and Obama never made such a demand. 

What he said was this: "The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states."

Again:  "based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps..."

Again:  "based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps..."

Obama is not saying that he wants Israel to be as vulnerable or as insecure as it was before the 6 Day War, nor is he asking Israel to disown or destroy Jewish communities that have been built on the Arab side of the Green Line. He is simply saying that Israel must give up some land for every piece of land it annexes. This is a concept that every president since Bush Sr. has embraced, and a concept that was the premise of Bush Jr's famous 2004 letter to Ariel Sharon. Calling for mutually agreed swaps is neither new, nor radical, nor shocking, nor anti-Israel. Rather, land swaps are a way of ensuring that Israel remains both a Jewish and democratic state. When the president calls for mutually agreed swaps he is making a  real --_ and realistic --- expression of concern for the security of Israeli citizens.

I find it difficult to accept that even the most disingenuous, and biased Obama-hater might misconstrue the plain meaning of these words; unfortunately the commentary of the last few days suggests that disingenuous, and biased Obama-haters are without shame or limits to their mendacity.

Regular postings will resume later today

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Is the funeral mechitza necessary?

A Guest Post By Rafi G

I am not sure what to think of this story - a woman is suing the chevra kadisha of Netanya, for 32,000 NIS, for "forcing" her and other women to stand separate from the men at the funeral of a friend.

Ynetnews has the story:
A resident of Netanya recently filed a suit for NIS 32,000 (roughly $9,000) against Chevra Kadisha after she was asked to stand separate from men in a funeral she attended. "This is discriminatory and is against our world view," she claimed.

Susan Ayad said that last January she attended the funeral of a close friend in a Netanya cemetery. As they gathered in the eulogy square the mourners were shocked discover that large planters dividing the floor into two parts.

"The rabbi holding the service on behalf of Chevra Kadisha asked the men to stand on one side of the partition and the women to stand on the other side," the claim stated.

"Despite the objection of many of the mourners we avoided causing a stir in light of the sensitivity of the event and reluctantly adhered the rabbi's instruction. I was also forced to move to the women's side and was separated from my acquaintances."

Insult and rage
Ayad claims the forced separation sparked feelings of humiliation, rage and insult. "I don't understand how in a public place such as a cemetery someone can order me where to stand just because I'm a woman."

She consequently filed a suit with the Netanya Small Claims Curt against Chevra Kadisha with the help of the Progressive Judaism Movement's legal aid services.

The claim states that the segregation does not only hurt women but all those present at cemeteries seeking to spend time with loved ones.

Ayad referred the court to Israel's anti-discrimination law which was the basis for a claim against bus segregation. She motioned the court to order Chevra Kadisha to pay NIS 31,900 in compensation.

Elements at the Progressive Judaism's pluralism center called on anyone who experienced a similar act of discrimination to approach them, suggesting there may be a more extensive campaign on the issue.
While a funeral is not really a prayer service, though kaddish is said, it is common to at least stand separately during the eulogies, though often that is without barriers placed demarcating the separation. It is also fairly common that there is no formal separation. It seems to generally be up to the discretion of the chevra kadisha and/or the family.

The article also does not say the family was or was not religious, nor does it say if the family wanted it or not. the only comment seems to be of a friend. I wonder if the family had wanted the separation, would she sue the family for forcing segregation upon her?

So, I don't know what to think. Is it right or wrong to have such a separation at a funeral? It is common, but must it be so? Is it cause for a lawsuit?

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Is Orthodox Judaism true? What does that mean?

A guest post by Philo

Since it's very quiet here today, I figured I'd find something to repost from my own blog that can be food for thought. This was originally posted (writing as Yehudi Hilchati) in 2 different posts (hence the discontinuity and slight repetition) on my blog in October 2007:


Many skeptics on the Jblogosphere wrestle with the question "Is Orthodox Judaism true?"

Seems to me that they struggle with 2 questions and that each needs to be examined in a different light:

1) does God exist

2) if god exists, is OJ true?

Or break it down even further:

If God exists, what kind of God is he? Does he consciously rule the world or is all of existence just a sort of “side effect” of God’s being? Or does he take an active role?

If he takes an active role, did he actually command us to do all the things that the Torah lists or is that a human document by people who were striving for God?

Even if it’s not a totally human document, what level of input was there by God? Written by God, every word? Written by people interpreting the word of God? Written with ruach hakodesh or divine inspiration?

There’s a lot behind the question: “Is Orthodox Judaism true?”

Personally, I believe in God (99% of the time – I think 100% is unhealthy to having an active, thinking religion) and I believe in traditional halacha. But what does believing in traditional halacha mean? That all of Torah Sheba’al peh came directly from God at Har Sinai, or that humans extrapolated it from Torah Shebichtav? There are definitely majorly flawed halachot. If it’s a partially human system, then you can accept that some of it reflects the biases of those who instituted those laws (and you work within the halachic system to change them). If it’s 100% min hashamayim, seems to me that would imply a flawed God. That’s why I think that accepting that the system is partially human created invites MORE emunah, not less.


I also entertain skeptical thoughts but here’s the two facts which ground me:

1) I believe in Hashem. How to define Hashem? The standard way – an omnicient and omnipotent entity who created the universe (or, in some way, IS the universe.) I leave out whether this entity exactly matches whet is depicted in Tanach for the moment. Call him a nondenominational God.

2) I believe in Judaism. That is to say, I believe in the process. Rabbinic Judaism is mostly man made anyway. What we practice today would be virtually unrecognizable to Jews at the time of, say, Shlomo HaMelech. So for anyone, 90% of believing in Judaism is believing in the process of Judaism, the give & take of interpretation of the Torah.

As for the other 10% – well, I have doubts, but I figure my belief in Hashem and in the process of Judaism is enough grounding so that I can explore my doubts about whether parts of the Torah were written by humans, or whether individuals in Tanach actually exististed, or if there was ever really a great flood that ecompassed the world, in relative theological comfort.

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Monday, May 23, 2011

Obama's very pro-Israel speech

A guest post by Philo

I listened to the big speech last week a few hours after it was given, not having heard any spin yet. And I thought the speech was quite favorable towards Israel.

It wasn't really substantive, as no new plans were put forward, it was just a restatement of longstanding US policy. The 1967 borders with land swaps have been the basis for negotiations of several ISRAELI governments already. And the land swaps are intended to be able to keep the settlement blocs. Obama basically approved of that in his speech. Not only that, he spoke of the need for the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, spoke of the problem of negotiating with Hamas, spoke VERY strongly of the need for the US to defend Israel's security, criticized the effort of Fatah to unilaterally declare state this coming September, etc, etc. This was the most pro-Israel speech I've ever heard Obama give.

Then I listened to the hysterical spin from the right wing (and some of the mainstream press), as well as Netanyahu's opportunistic fear mongering to bolster his political standing at home.

Basically, I think that nothing Obama can say would satisfy the right wing. They are so entrenched in their thinking about him, that if Obama got up tomorrow and said "Israel should annex the West Bank", the right wing would hysterically condemn him for calling it the West Bank instead of Yehuda & Shomoron, and say that means Obama wants to destroy Israel.

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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Good Ideas With No Foresight

A Guest Post by Rafi G
(originally posted on the Life in Israel blog)

One of the common customs of Lag B'Omer is the chalaka, the first haircut for a 3 year old boy. It really does not have much to do with lag B'Omer - no matter when the boy's birthday is, the parents will delay the first haircut until the 3rd birthday. This custom, based on the Zohar, used to be common mainly among sefardim and chassidim, and today many Litvshe do it as well. However, many try to delay it until Lag B'Omer, especially if the 3rd birthday is around Lag B"Omer time, and then they throw the hair from the haircut into the fire.

The rabbonim of the Tzohar organization came up with a nice idea. A way to capitalize on the minhag of cutting the long hair of these children and actually do some good with it at the same time. They have decided to encourage those who perform this custom to collect the hair and donate it to organizations, such as Zichron Menachem, that make wigs for people with cancer.

It is a great idea, and is one that can help, at no cost to the donor, others in need. Unfortunately, the idea was only publicized today, as far as I know. At least, I only saw it today in the Arutz 7 website. Announcing such a program on "the day of" is a little pointless. Few people would see such an announcement, or have the patience at the last minute to deal with making the proper arrangements.

It is almost like the Chief Rabbinate starting a push to have Lag B'Omer bonfire pushed off to Sunday just 2 weeks prior to Lag B'Omer. How can anybody make proper arrangements under such short notice? Sure, a bonfire can be pushed off a couple of hours, but can school schedules be rearranged, can tests be rescheduled, under such short notice? of course not. And it is not like Lag B'Omer's arrivals surprised anybody. It happens every year on the same date. It is published in the regular calendars in Israel.

With just a little foresight these people would be able to get their great ideas actually implemented.

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Friday, May 20, 2011

Two Cheers

A Guest Post by SM

Obama's speech about the Middle East is an interesting mixture. He was plainly concerned to position America on the side of the masses who have brought about the "Arab Spring". There was a bit of work to do there: America had got behind the curb on Egypt (Kissinger popped up in the British press last week, suggesting that the USA should have maintained its support for Mubarak), gone in heavy on Libya, not been able to match that response when it came to Syria, kept quiet about Bahrain and Saudi Arabia and been dismayed (aren't we all?) that it hasn't really taken in Iran.

All of that means little. Sanctions on regimes the US already dislikes; violence on those that everyone dislikes. Silence on those who the West regard as allies. No one will or can make a move until two things are clear: firstly, whether this really is the masses and secondly what they want to do with the power they have acquired.

Obviously one of the concerns is that the new governments will be less friendly to the US - whose money may be necessary for aid, but no longer required to enable a regime to impose a security operation on a whole country with the one aim of propping itself up. And the US may find that it needs to aid those countries anyway and that the new governments are not quite so biddable on the political front. It seems unlikely - for the immediate future anyway - that these countries are going to be any more friendly to Israel, and they may be less so. The effect of 60 years plus of anti-Semitic education isn't going to go away in the blink of an eye.

But if these countries do move towards democracy what of the rationale for America's support of Israel?

The emphasis on a fair solution, granting the Palestinians what has been granted the Jews, is an obvious answer and is nothing new. The identification of the 1967 borders has been greeted in Europe as a significant shift. It is nothing of the kind and the emphasis on it where I live, simply reflects the media's anti-Israel stance.

The significance seems to me to lie in the express recognition of land swaps as the way forward. That recognises reality on the ground - created by the Israeli policy of settlement - and will not, therefore, please the Palestinians. It also opens the door to discussion of the transfer of parts of Israel proper to a new Palestinian state. Not only will that be anathema to the Israeli right, but it is something that I think we should all regard with concern. It does not assist Israel to be a tolerant and decent society to make sure that its Arab minority is even smaller and that complaints about their treatment can be met with an invitation to move to a different country. Lieberman is a racist and any suggestion endorsing his opinion has something wrong with it.

However, in its willingness to confront the issue - albeit late, unenthusiastically and forced by circumstances - and in its refusal to recognise a unilateral declaration of independence, which would merely be an excuse to avoid negotiating with Israel and dealing with the problems posed by Hamas' rejectionism, the speech is a move in the right direction.

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Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Story of an Addiction

A Guest Post By @azigra

As a young hassidic boy, Elya didn't have much to do while bored. Many nights he would sit in his room counting the paisleys appearing one after another on the sheet covering his blanket. Somehow the number he ended with was always different.

It was a little after his ninth birthday, when his mother saw him bouncing a ball in front of a neighbors house from their kitchen window. He made up with a friend to play catch, they would eat a sandwich prepared by his friend's mother and head outside. His mother admonished him to stop acting like a child. He soon began heading out to study with his father a few times a week. On nights when he was especially restless he would head to the shul's basement where some kids would hang around and talk.

How the Lag Bomer bonfire is like the Yom Hashoah siren

Those of you who oppose Yom Hazikoron observances like the siren, on the grounds that this is not a Jewish practice are required to oppose the practice of lighting bonfires on Lag B'omer.

Bonfires were known in Christian Europe as a way to honor Chirstian saints as far back as the tenth century. They don't appear as a Jewish practice until the 16th century.

Christian scholars say that this practice of celebrating saints with bonfires is traced to pagan, pre-Christian practices, which were later adapted by the local people to Christianity. Indeed, the Celtics made bonfires to honor some of their deities and spirits. No one would ever claim that these Celtic practices, going back into old England, were originally of Jewish origin.

The Lag B'omer bonfire is every bit as foreign as the siren. If one is out, so is the other.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Why the Meron pilgrimage is an argument in favor of calling women for aliyo

This w/e, tens of thousands of Haredim are going to make a pilgrimage to Meron where they will sway in front of bonfires, give their children haircuts, and sing hymns honoring Bar Yochai. Beloved thought it may be, this ritual is brand new. Scholars believe the trip to Meron is imitative of a Muslim practice that was incorporated into Judaism by way of the Mustaribim, a community of 16th century Jews who lived in the Holy Land and embraced some Arab customs.

Today, of course, bonfires and haircuts are mainstream Jewish customs. Why was it accepted? What made it spread so rapidly? Well, it seems obvious to me that this could have only occured because the Meron ritual filled some sort of gap in the spiritual life of those who chose to accept it.

In 2008 some Jewish women also feel a gap in their spiritual lives, but instead of imitating Arabs, they are imitating Jewish men. My question to those who would berate women for attempting to find spiritual fulfilment the only way they know how -by copying the only things they see - is this: How do you justify yourselves? If Meron (and countless other rituals and observances) could be taken from other cultures and added for the sake of pleasing men, what is the justification for continuing to frustrate women?

Anticipated answers:

(1) It's osur! Well not, not really. There are countless examples of things women can do, per halacha:

- Calling a woman to the Torah, for example, is only osur for the sake of the congregation's honor. There's nothing inherently wrong with it, and the case can be made that the congregation's honor is no longer offended when a woman is called to the Torah.

- The Mishna Brurah, who was no egalitarian fanatic, rules that women are required to make a zimun when three of them eat together, yet women generally are not told to do this. Why not?

- There's never any objection when women wish to say Tehillim together, so why are they often prevented from davening together?

- Woman are required to daven at least once per day, and some authorities say the requirement is to pray twice. Why isn't this taught/encouraged? Why is the focus on baking challah, and not on fulfilling a biblical demand? Isn't it possible that women wouldn't be copying men in ways that make the authorities nervous, if they were instead taught/allowed to do things that are permitted and/or required?

(2) You can't update the religion! Ok, so let's eliminate Chanuka, Purim, Meron, Upshirin, Av Harachamin, Pruzbul, the Diaspora's extra day of Yom Tov, Hasidut, Nusach Sfard, tefillah, and more. Why are some updates ok, and others unacceptable? Anyway, allowing/encouraging women to do any of the things listed above aren't updates, in that they were never disallowed.

Wishing you a happy, holy hasidic lag b'omer

The preceding video has been posted for the sole purpose of making you feel insecure about your own observances. If you did not participate in a Tish conducted precisely in the fashion shown in this video, its altogether likely your lag b'omer was a waste, a ruin, a squandering and a lost opportunity.

Be sure to endure the God-awful music until about 4.21, at which point you will be rewarded wth the holy blessing of seeing the revered and exalted rebbe wave his longbow like a crosier and shoot arrows at his flock.

Search for more information about Lag B'omer at 4torah.com.

Song about the Fogel family

A guest post by Philo

I know many will find this moving. And of course, the tragedy is uncomprehendible horror. I keep thinking of that little girl, coming home and finding her family murdered.

But this video seems clichéd and exploitative to me. It's pulling out all the stops and yet succeeds only in making the victims into generic Jews, saying nothing about the real people they were.

What do you think?

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what does it mean when there is no sauce for the gander?

Dovbear is having connectivity problems. He asked me to post this.

Once again I've been told a story staring some Hasidic rebbe and a pesky misnagid antagonist. As per the trope, the misnagid insulted the rebbe and was paid back for his insolence with various humiliations and suffering up to and including death. I don't know how old the story is. I don't know how to evaluate or establish its historicity.
But I do know there must be a dozen stories that follow this general outline.

Do the misngadim have any stories in which a Hasidic villian is paid back in this way? If so I have not heard them. If its true that no stories of this kind exist, I wonder what experts in the sociology of victimhood have to say about it.

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Israel's moment of truth

A guest post by Philo

I was reading some articles this morning, and suddenly Israel's situation got kind of real. This is an extremely serious time for Israel. International isolation has been increasing, and their window for a negotiated solution is closing. What follows isn’t new, but the urgency has certainly increased.


  • The Palestinian Authority and Hamas are reconciling to form a unity government.

  • The Palestinian Authority plans to ask the UN to recognize a Palestinian State in September 2011, along the 1948 borders.

  • The international community is indifferent to Jewish historical claims and sees Israel as a strong state for the Jews, and right-wing claims of security needs when it comes to keeping settlements in place as disingenuous at best.

  • There is a long history of Palestinian Arabs living in the region comprising Israel and the territories. This is indisputable, even if details like the numbers, or whether the label “Palestinian” is an invention, are arguable.

  • Israel is a ticking demographic time-bomb. Keeping the entire area between the Mediterranean and the Jordan will eventually mean a single, bi-national state, without a Jewish majority.

Another set of facts:

  • There’s an unreasonable anti-Israel bias in the world, often crossing the line into anti-Semitism.

  • The Jewish people have a deep and rich connection to their historical homeland, the heart of which is Yehuda & Shomron, AKA the West Bank.

  • The Jewish people have been persecuted throughout history, and the Jewish State rectifies that wrong and provides a safe haven.

  • Israel is surrounded by virulently anti-Semitic populations, including most Palestinians.

  • Israeli civilians have been subject, time and time again, to terrorism that is perpetrated by, celebrated by, and honored by the Palestinians. While reverse terrorism has occurred (Jews against Arabs) it is barely a drop in the bucket, comparatively, and is immediately denounced by almost all Jews.

The main question is; does the second set of facts in any way keep the first from being true or from the world recognizing a Palestinian state?

Yes, it’s difficult to negotiate with people who want you dead. Yes, it’s unlikely that any agreements will create any sort of warm relations and that terrorism will end.

But Israel is a strong state and will survive any flaws in a two state agreement. And it’s much better to negotiate the borders now then after a Palestinian state is recognized on ALL the land over the green line.

Imagine what happens this coming September, just 4 months from now:

  • The Palestinians declare a state on the entire West Bank and Gaza.

  • Most of the world, as well as the UN, recognizes that state.

  • Israel is now, in the eyes of the world, not just occupying disputed territories, but occupying huge swaths of another sovereign nation. That includes Ariel, Gush Etzion, Maale Adumim, and other large cities.

  • A negotiated solution that includes land swaps becomes almost impossible. The world pressure for Israel to stop occupying another nation’s land is ratcheted up tenfold.

  • Sanctions come fast and furious, with Israel becoming an international pariah.

Is any of this fair? No. In an ideal world, Israel would be allowed to keep the heart of its historical and religious homeland. But people who think that’s possible now are waiting for a miracle.

If Netanyahu only had the courage to do what was necessary, we could keep the largest settlement blocs as part of Israel. Yes, the Palestinians have rejected those offers before and turned to violence, but Abbas (no saint, I admit) is not Arafat.

And yes, it would tear my heart out to have to leave places that are at the heart of our people, like Shilo, Hevron, etc. But we may not have a choice, and we can at least save Maale Adumim, Ariel, Gush Etzion, and most importantly, huge parts of Jerusalem, which are also over the green line.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Bible Revisited

A Guest Post by @Azigra

Many are familiar with the the ancient Jewish sects the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Long forgotten, however, is another ancient group known as the Haraidesees. Why history choose to forget them is a debate amongst scholars. While their memory may have been lost their scrolls and artifacts have survived.

Recently, Dr. @azigra, a foremost expert in Hebrew manuscripts happened upon a clay pot under the ruins of a first century synagogue in modern day Lebanon. Inside was a scroll containing the Bible text used by the Haraidesses. The differences are subtle, but it answers the long held question about the Jewishness of the Bible.

What I Learned From the Cairo Geniza

A Guest Post By E. Fink

Original posted on my home blog.

Recently I found an interest in the Cairo Geniza. I went on Amazon and looked for the best looking book I could find on the Cairo Geniza and I bought Sacred Trash: The Lost and Found World of the Cairo Geniza. It was amazing.

First, some background. There is a prohibition against the detsruction of God's printed name. So what do you do when the names are printed in books or on papers if they are no longer able to be used? Geniza. They are buried and given the same respect given to humans after humans die.

Generally, a geniza will be buried and the paper will decompose and be lost forever. The Cairo Geniza is a collection of items that fell into disuse. But the Cairo Geniza has two incredible anomolies that make it so special.

Yeshuahs For Sale (act fast)

This website (provided by LKA) promises all sorts of outstanding benefits to anyone who sends $100 to the organization which runs the comfort tents at Meron. The website is FULL of John Edwards style testimonials from People Who Had Their Lives Changed as soon as they ponied up the 100 clams.

In fact, it seems clear from the website that the only reason why anyone is poor, sick or childless is b/ they are too lazy to get their rear ends to Meron. (I am pretty mad at my teachers, by the way. They told me a needed to learn, and do mitzvos, and be nice to others. What a load of baloney. Why should I bother being nice, when I can just send $100 to Meron and Have It All?)

PS: I promise YESHUAHS in the name to anyone who puts a LAG B'OMER message on my BlogAds. GUARANTEED! (if it doesn't work, tsk, that's just proof you didn't believe, you KOFER!)

Mitzvoth not magic: Or what about R. Yehuda?

From June 3, 2006

Sometimes, I wonder if Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi might be jealous. He was the chief editor of the Mishna, the first great code of Jewish law, a code studied to this day by school children and scholars alike, while also serving as a key leader of the Jewish community during Roman times. Yet the glory -if glory is measured in songs and stories- goes to Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the man who may have written the Zohar*, and is remembered, to this day, on his feast day, with bonfires and other tributes, including a pair of very long prayer poems which suggest, among other praises, that Bar Yochai was holy from the moment of his conception.

I want to win some of that glory for Yehuda HaNasi. I want celebrations in his honor, celebrations of scholarship, and for the talent for organization that made the Mishna possible.

Too much is made of mysticism. Too many Jews seek redemption by dunking in Mikvahs and running to graves and miracle workers, by mumbling Pslams, or performing segulahs. A feast day for Yehuda Hanasi, one with all the accoutrements (save, of course, the hagiographies, and the extolments borrowed from Christianity that make up the Lag Bomer liturgy) might trim the boat, and redirect some of Jewish energy and attention toward the neglected idea that a Jew is redeemed through mitvoth -not through magic, mysticism, or miracles.

*He didn't

Monday, May 16, 2011

Is the bonfire an abomination? (yes)

ל הִשָּׁמֶר לְךָ, פֶּן-תִּנָּקֵשׁ אַחֲרֵיהֶם, אַחֲרֵי, הִשָּׁמְדָם מִפָּנֶיךָ; וּפֶן-תִּדְרֹשׁ לֵאלֹהֵיהֶם לֵאמֹר, אֵיכָה יַעַבְדוּ הַגּוֹיִם הָאֵלֶּה אֶת-אֱלֹהֵיהֶם, וְאֶעֱשֶׂה-כֵּן, גַּם-אָנִי. לא לֹא-תַעֲשֶׂה כֵן, לַיהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ: כִּי כָל-תּוֹעֲבַת ה אֲשֶׁר שָׂנֵא, עָשׂוּ לֵאלֹהֵיהֶם--כִּי גַם אֶת-בְּנֵיהֶם וְאֶת-בְּנֹתֵיהֶם, יִשְׂרְפוּ בָאֵשׁ לֵאלֹהֵיהֶם.

Take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following them, after that they be destroyed from before thee; and that thou enquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise. Thou shalt not do so unto the LORD thy God: for every abomination to the LORD, which he hateth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods. What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it. [Deut 12:30]

Lag b'omar with the Satmar in Kiryas Joel

Background on the bonfire.

1 - There is no mention of them as a Jewish practice until the 16th century.
2 - It first appeared in Europe where there was a previous bonfire tradition
3 - In Christian Europe bonfires were used to honor saints. This practice of celebrating saints with bonfires is traced to pagan, pre-Christian practices, which were later adapted by the local people to Christianity.
4 - Celts made bonfires to honor their deities and spirits.
5 - The word "bonfire" itself is derived from a Celtic midsummer festival where animal bones were burnt to ward off evil spirits.

Per the verse cited above is the lag b'omer bonfire a תּוֹעֲבַת ה in the way that gay sex is a תּוֹעֲבַת ה ?

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Orthodoxy is

From Fozie

A quote from George Orwell's 1984 with direct reference to the ban on Mishpacha magazine and other similar bans...

[Syme said] "Don't you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end, we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept that can ever be needed will be expressed by exactly one word with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten.... Even now, of course, there's no reason or excuse for committing thoughtcrime. It's merely a question of self-discipline, reality-control."....

Unquestionably Syme will be vaporized, Winston thought again.... There was something subtly wrong with Syme. There was something that he lacked: discretion, aloofness, a sort of saving stupidity. You could not say that he was unorthodox. He believed in the principles of Ingsoc, he venerated Big Brother, he rejoiced over victories, he hated heretics, not merely with sincerity but with a sort of restless zeal, an up-to-dateness of information, which the ordinary Party member did not approach. Yet a faint air of disreputability clung to him. He said things that would have been better unsaid, he had read too many books, he frequented the Chestnut Tree Cafe, haunt of painters and musicians.... Syme's fate was not difficult to foresee... Zeal was not enough. Orthodoxy was unconsciousness.