Thursday, June 30, 2011

Allegation: "Gedolim" are convincing people to hire convicted child molester Yehdua Kolko

Hi, DB:

Old timer here.

You probably know that Kolko now resides in Lakewood and has gone into business as a charter bus and tour broker. He arranges buses for Yeshivos,Camps, Weddings and any other transportation that frum Jews require.

I have a friend  who is a Rebbe in one of the better known yeshivas. He has also been doing this for the past 20 years to supplement his income as a yeshiva rebbe. My friend is a chasidishe man who has 15 children and has quite a stellar reputaion here in Monsey as well as elsewhere. He embodies what "bayn odom l"chavero" should be and is active in every chesed organization such as Hatzoloh, Tomche Shabbos, Kupas Ezra, and Chaverim. He is very beloved by all and will go out of his way to help a fellow Jew whether or not he is frum.

In the past 20 years, my friend has been arranging buses for all the frum camps and has given them fair prices and excellent service. Two of his biggest accounts were Camp Agudah and Camp Bnos. They booked with him again this year like in all years past. However he received a call a week before the buses were scheduled to go out from the camp administrators saying that they had to cancel. When he asked why, he was told that they were ordered by the higher ups in Agudah to give the business to Rabbi Kolko who needs the parnassah since he is now unable to teach due to the false accusations against him. In the past week several other camps have cancelled buses with my friend and followed the lead of Agudah and Bnos. The other camp directors told him that they were contacted by "gedolim" whom they refused to identify and told to give Rabbi Kolko the parnassah and had no choice but to obey.

My friend said it is ironic that Kolko is rewarded for doing an "aveirah" and he who has spent his entire life doing nothing but mitzvos and chesed has to bear the punishment by losing the customers to Kolko.

I do not want to mention my friend's name or the yeshiva in which he teaches because he would be instantly recognized. He is a very humble man and does not want the publicity. He is also a very honest businessman and has never taken a dime from anyone that he did not earn and has never been on public assistance. He does not know that I am writing this to you but I felt a sense of outrage at the double standard that our so called Torah Leaders have chosen to live by.


Reliable and knowledgable people have told me that Camp Agudah discontinued its relationship with the first bus company because they were unhappy with the service provided. Apparently, there was a big foul up last year. These reliable and knowledgeable people  are also claiming that the new bus company is not run by Kolko; however, it has been verified that Kolko is providing other services to the camps. For instance, he runs events and rents facilities as an agent for the camps.

People, if you distributed yesterday's story, please share this one, too.

I don't know the truth, yet, but its important that the information we share is accurate. Based on what I am hearing, I am close to calling "Old Timer's" post a false allegation. We will know soon

Computer confirms documentary hypothesis

As you may already know, a team of Israelis programmed a computer to identify different "linguistic fingerprints" in the Bible. The software works by analyzing vocabulary, word patterns, diction and other clues to pull out the parts of a jumbled text that were written by different authors. For almost 200 years it has been the scholarly consensus that the Bible is just such a jumbled text, made up of many different narrative strands representing different times, places, styles, and agendas. According to the newspapermen, after applying its algorithm to the bible, the Israeli computer came to the same conclusion. Remarkably the textual divisions the computer created are nearly identical to the divisions previously suggested by scholars.

Believers answer by arguing that God might have dictated the bible in many voices, just as a human author might employ different synonyms, and different styles for different circumstances. For instance, when I write this blog, I use one style, when I write my shopping list I use a different style, and when I write a note to my kids school, I'll use a third style. A computer might conclude those items were written by three different people. And if a human author can express himself with such variety, why can't God?

I happen to accept this counterargument. It seems self-evident that God can do anything a human can do. However, I will point out that this counterargument leaves some problems unanswered. The issue isn't merely that the bible speaks in different voices, but that it speaks to different agendas. The focus shifts. The laws, occasionally, contradict themselves. Sometimes the bible seems like it was written for people living under one set of circumstances, but at times the presumed audience seems altogether different.  Even God changes. In Genesis He's depicted with human characteristics, but by Deuteronomy He's become  more abstract, and distant. Sometimes He can be approached directly, at other times an intermediary is required. The nature of the rituals and the theology also seem to change, and these changes, like the other differences mentioned in this paragraph, can all be assigned to different narrative strands.

Does the fact that its possible to carve the bible up into linguistically and theologically consistent sections prove anything? No, of course not. There are no proofs in interpretation, and ingenious explanations have already been provided by the ancient and medieval interpreters for nearly all of the shifts and contradictions identified by modern scholars, without resorting to the idea of multiple authorship.Their ability to solve such problems and smooth out such difficulties was the great achievement of the ancient and medieval interpreters. The achievement of the Documentary Hypothesis, on the other hand, is that it makes such ingenious explanations unnecessary.

Did Moshe have a pre-9/11 mentality?

Perhaps the sin Moshe committed, the sin that disqualified him from ever entering the holy land, was the sin of having a pre-9/11 mentality.  What I mean by this is perhaps Moshe, as he stood at the rock, stick in hand, was unable to see the people for what they were. Instead of recognizing that the people in front of him were the children and grandchildren of the nation that had sinned so many times during the first eventful year in the desert, Moshe treated them as if they were their own parents. "Listen to me you rebels" he screamed. But these people were not rebels. They weren't the sinners who believed the spies, and supported Korach, and complained to Moshe for meat and cucumbers. These people were the offsrping of those sinners, and members of a new generation, the generation that was about to enter the Holy Land, and achieve their  parent's dream. These children were better then their parents, unsullied by their sins, and deserving of different treatment. Moshe either could not recognize this or could not respond to it. Perhaps this inability to acknowledge the new facts, and to alter this thinking to suit them was the sin, the shortcoming, the failing, and the flaw that made it clear to God that Moshe was no longer the man for the job.

A word on behalf of the rest of us

by Shira Salamone of On the Fringe

Nearly forty years ago, I was having a nice Shabbat lunch with some friends when someone mentioned the name Michal. “Who’s Michal?,” I asked. “Am Haaretz! You don’t know who Michal is?!” I left the apartment in tears, my Shabbos ruined. Sure, I knew that I was an Am Haaretz, a Jewishly-illiterate Jew, but I never expected to have a simple, civil question answered with an insult that left me humiliated in the presence of a roomful of guests. I was so mortified by the experience that I was afraid ever to ask that question again, lest I find myself embarrassed once more. It would be several years before I finally learned, on my own, that Michal was the daughter of Shaul HaMelech (King Saul) and the wife of David HaMelech (King David).

Fast-forward almost 40 years. I just received a kind offer from some old friends to make a donation in memory of my recently-deceased father. In their e-mail, they asked whether my father’s correct name was Baruch Dayan Emet My-Father’s-Last-Name. After the initial shock of realizing that my friends of over 20 years had no idea what Baruch Dayan Emet meant, I reflected on the likelihood that I was probably in the same boat a few decades ago. I thought that it would be appropriate for my response to reflect both my own late start and my memory of how I’d felt at having a simple request for information thrown back in my face. So I answered that Baruch Dayan Emet means “Blessed is the True Judge,” and is the phrase traditionally used to send, or respond to, news of a person’s death, and I told them my father’s first name.

Those of you who were raised Orthodox and/or had the privilege of attending a Jewish day school sometimes take your Jewish knowledge for granted, and don’t understand just how fortunate you are. By the time you became a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, you already knew what I’m still learning at the age of 62. My question is, how do you interact with the rest of us?

You have two choices.

You can mock us and/or humiliate us in public, and thus, drive us away from Jewish tradition.

Or you can answer even what appears to you to be a stupid question with patience, respect, and a smile, and draw us closer to Jewish tradition.

The choice is yours. Please think responsibly.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

God the blogger: Chukas

In Parshas Chukas, God behaves almost like a blogger. Rather than authoring his own material, our Lord and Creator twice references the published work of other people.

The first occurrence is a cite from the the Book of the Wars of the Lord a book that was lost, and excluded from the canon.

Robert Alter speculates that the book was not preserved because the dieties and events it describes were too mythological. Later authorities, he says, were uncomfortable with a book that represented God as a warrior, in direct combat with Israel's enemies, rather than working through the agency of Israel. I'm not entirely sure why Alter feels comfortable with such a speculation given that just a brief snippet from the book is extant, but there it is. If Judaism has another theory to explain why this book was forgotten, I don't know it.

The little bit of this book that we do have seems seriously wierd. In the King James translation, it reads as follows:

"...Waheb in Suphah and the ravines, the Arnon and the slopes of the ravines that lead to the site of Ar and lie along the border of Moab."

What this means is anyone's guess, forcing us to ask: If God had something to say, why didn't He put it in His own ordinary, easy to understand words instead of borrowing something impenetrable from someone else's book?

The second occurrence of divine blogging is even more mysterious. After describing an Israelite victory over Sihon king of the Amorites, the Torah tells us the land Israel took from Sihon first belonged to Moab. The claim is supported not with a historical notice, or a narrative assertion, but with a snippet of poetry. Yes, poetry. The lines are attributed, vaguely, to "moshlim" who (Alter again) may have been something like the Celtic bards who composed and recited verses celebrating the legendary exploits of chieftains and heroes. Today, we might call them folk singers.

In the KJV, their song is translated this way:

Come to Heshbon, let it be built, Let the city of Sihon be repaired.
For fire went out from Heshbon, A flame from the city of Sihon;
It consumed Ar of Moab, The lords of the heights of the Arnon.
Woe to you, Moab! You have perished, O people of Chemosh!
He has given his sons as fugitives, And his daughters into captivity,
To Sihon king of the Amorites. “But we have shot at them; Heshbon has perished as far as Dibon.
Then we laid waste as far as Nophah, Which reaches to Medeba.

For those saddled with a Torah-true perspective this is about as queer as a three dollar bill. Secular poetry? In the Holy Torah? It's a little like using a Bob Dylan verse to clinch an argument about halacha. (This doesn't work) (Unless getting tossed out of class is your goal)

Did R' Moshe Sherer ever "make Page 1 of the New York Times?"

Quite by accident, I came across this video of R' CD Zwiebel boasting to his constituents about Aggudah and its many accomplishments, including the $18 million in grant money for yeshivas that, to date, has not lowered anyone's tuition. About 40 seconds in, he says:
"...committed to following the tradition that Rabbi Sherer started when he went to testify in Congress and made page 1 of the New York Times."
As you know, mid-century American Judaism is a special interest of mine. Also, I'm always pleased to see Times articles about Jews.  So I went to the archives, in pursuit of the front page article about Rabbi Sherer --- and found it as soon as it was pointed out to me that Rabbi Sherer was also known as "Morris Sherer"

Here is the article:

NEW BILL DIVIDES SCHOOL-AID PLANS; Senate Gets Clark Measure to ...
Disagreement between Orthodox and secular groups of American Jews over aid to parochial schools was pointed up in testimony today by Rabbi Morris Sherer and ...
March 30, 1961

Please ignore what follows after the jump. I was wrong. The correct explanation was #3.

MINOR QUIBBLE: The mention of Rabbi Sherer and his picture (clean shaven, aside for a stylish little 60s mustache) are actually on page 16. The article does start on page 1. Also the article isn't, as charecterized, about Rabbis Sherer's trip to Washngton, but about the debate over a bill that would allow the government to fund parochial schools. Rabbi Sherer , the article says, "supported the Catholic case for Federal help" Ironically, his organization now supports the "Catholic case" for measures the make it harder for victims to sue their molesters. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A cause that wouldn't be a waste of Agudah's time

Here's a problem that worries me more than gay marriage. The girl across the street is a super hero. She works, goes to schools, and is involved in several charities. She's also smart, possess an extremely pleasant temperament, and has a perfectly attractive face and body. She is, what the culture calls, "a great girl." The problem? She's 21 and not married. The matchmakers don't even call. Why? Because at an early age my young neighbor was brainwashed into believing her life will have no meaning unless her husband is a full time learner. Unfortunately, her parents are dirt poor. Just as girls are brainwashed into believing they need full time learners, boys are brainwashed into believing that full time learners are entitled to wealthy father-in-laws. So the super hero across the street has no chance. She'll either marry a boy she's been conditioned to view as a bum, or she'll die an old maid. She's been taught that men are worthless unless they learn, and the types of boys she wishes to marry have been taught that women are only valuable if they descend from money.

I wish this was a parody or exaggeration, but it isn't.

What does Agudah plan to do about this?

Must watch for all Fox Lovers

Peek a Jew @1:35

At least he's not texting on shabbos

The source of Miriam's Well

One of the enduring legends of the Old Testement (1) is Miriam's Well. This miraculous source of water is believed to have first appeared at Refidim, to have followed the Israelites during their forty years in the desert, and to have run dry immediately after Miriam's death. Here are the verses that support (or, as the modern interpreters would say, created) this legend:

Numbers 20: 1-2
In the first month the whole Israelite community arrived at the Desert of Zin, and they stayed at Kadesh. There Miriam died and was buried. Now there was no water for the community...

This juxtaposition is what "told" the ancient interpreters that the water had been in Miriam's merit. (thus "Miriam's Well" ) Why else would it have disappeared upon her death? (2)

Exodus 17: 6-7
So Moses did this in the sight of the elders (3) of Israel And he called the place Massah and Meribah

Numbers 20:13
These were the waters of Meribah, where the Israelites quarreled with the LORD and where he showed himself holy among them.

The first verse is from the story in Exodus, when Moshe hits the rock. The second verse is from the story in Numbers when Moshe hits the rock again, despite being told to speak to it (4) The first story took place in Refidim, which was renamed Massah and Meribah; the second occurred forty years later at Kadesh. So how is it that waters from the second story are called the "Waters of Meribah?" And, come to think of it, what had the Israelites done for water for forty years? No complaints are recorded. They seem to have had plenty for themselves and for their flocks. According to the ancient interpreters, the verses spoke for themselves. The water-giving-rock from Refidim must have followed the people. This is why the waters of the second story are called "Waters of Meribah" That's where they were from.

Modern interpreters, on the other hand, are not kind to the old story or the old readings. They say the two accounts of Moshe hitting the rock are simply an example of a narrative doublets, one of dozens that appear in the Old Testament.(5) Moshe at Refidim belongs to one source, and Moshe at Kadesh belongs to another. Interestingly, the second story, on the basis of vocabulary, is assigned to P, and P is a source that in many other places seems to denigrate Moshe. Here, too, the moderns would say, P has recast a story in a way that reflects poorly on Moshe. In the E story, now part of Exodus, Moshe is a hero for hitting the rock and bringing forth water. In the P story told as part of Numbers, his heroism is diminished.

(1) I don't mean "legend" in a disparaging way, but in the dictionary sense of "an unverified story handed down from earlier times, especially one popularly believed to be historical."
(2) I don't know why water couldn't continue to be given in her merit, even after her death. Nowadays, we ask for things in the merit of our ancestors, including the Patriarchs. The ancient interpreters seem to have had a different understanding of how this worked. Apparently, we can continue to expect things in the merit of Jacob 3000+ years after his demise, for instance, but the merit of Miriam ran out the moment she died. I don't get it.
(3) That is, Moshe hit the rock. The verses are from the end of that story
(4) This is one of maybe 10 explanations of what actually happened there. See this for more.
(5) A narrative doublet is when the same information is given twice. The two accounts of the Ten Commandments are a famous example, but there are many others. Moderns say this is evidence of different textual traditions.


Is half shabbos really an MO phenomenon?

Caveat lector, and all that, but here's a comment left on my blog by PJS
For what it's worth, and just for the record:

It was my post on the kavannah blog which was quoted in the Jewish Week article which has triggered this flurry of postings on 'half-shabbos'. I reported that while returning from some friends on the first night of Rosh Hashanah last year, I came across a group of kids in a local park, texting. They were not -- repeat, definitely not - MO, but charedi male and female teenagers (black hats, black velvet yarmulkahs, Beis Yaakov-type clothing). So, if that is the basis for the report,stop discussing this as an MO phenomenon, and start discussing why frum kids from frum families, who go to charedi schools, are standing around in a park on the first night of R H .... texting.
So, how did the genius journalists at the Jewish Week decide half shabbos is an exclusively MO problem? Steve Lipman [] I'm talking to you. And while you're at it, please explain how you concluded that 50 percent of MO teens text on shabbos. Oh, I know, what you wrote --  "some say half of Modern Orthodox teens text on Shabbat" --  but can you give us their names and credentials?

For Many Orthodox Teens, ‘Half Shabbos’ Is A Way Of Life, Steve Lippman, Jewish Week

Monday, June 27, 2011

Half right about half shabbos

Is it a crises that some Orthodox Jewish teenagers text on shabbos? I don't think so. First, I don't think the "problem" is as widespread as the Jewish Week claims. 50 percent? Please. If you're going to make an accusation like that, Jewish Week, lets hang it on something a bit more rigorous than "some say". (WHO says? And why should we believe them?)

Worst editorial I've seen on gay marriage

The Daas Torah blog has printed an inarticulate, poorly reasoned, nearly impossible to finish screed against gay marriage. Highlights after the jump

What can we do about 'Half Shabbos'? Some ideas.

Harry has a shiva-sitting post about Half-Shabbos, or what the Jewish Week says is the street name for the practice of keeping "all the Shabbat regulations except for texting." According to the Jewish Week, up to half of all Modern Orthodox Jewish teens text on Shabbos.  Harry thinks this is terrible. He's half-right. Later today I intend to explain why, but first I want to share an epic comment left on that post by "A Little Sanity". He thinks the Half Shabbos problem can be solved quite easily:
I am surprised that no one here has described the obvious solutions to this problem. While they are "p'shita", I thus feel compelled to state them:

1. Bigger Black Hats.

2. More faux Jewish Rap Music with Hebrew Lyrics.

3. Importation of more women from the Caribbean to raise our children.

4.More emphasis in our yeshiva system on the difference between "isur cheftzah" and an "isur gavra", especially as it pertains to tax evasion.

5. More emphasis on teaching our benighted children important midrashic concepts, such as Moshe Rabbeinu's great height, or the age of Rivke when she met Eliezer at the well.

7. A ban on the study of such tiflus as "Mesillas Yesharim", "Chovos Halivavos" and "Neviim Acharonim".

8. Learning from a sefer must be made mandatory during all tefillos (with the possible exception of maariv, when it can be a "r'shus").

9. Better bug checkers for the strawberries that are imperiling our kids' neshamos.
He's on the right track, of course, but there is still so much more more we can do. For instance:

(1) Higher mechizot, in more places. Currently, we have them at shul, weddings, funerals, kiddushim, bar mitzvahs, shiurim, and on some buses. I propose establishing 8 feet as the minimum height, and installing them on busy streets, and in grocery stores. It can only help. Why take chances?

(2) Thicker stockings. In places like New Square and Meah Shearin the legware is nearly a quarter inch thick, and from what I know from listening to Aish Hatorah rabbis, and @yeshivaguy tweets, no child from those communities texts on shabbos. Seems pretty simple.

(3)  Cholent on Wednesday night. The Cholent-on-Thursday night movement has been a rousing success, but there is no reason to sit on our laurels. The extra night of cholent is something the Jewish soul calls out for. The more damage it does to your body, the better it is for your invisible, immaterial soul, or as our slogan might say "The fatter the belly, the holier the soul."

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Another attack on Avrech's article about People Magazine and Huma Aberdin

A guest post by an anonymous reader who is irritated that five people shared Avrech's article with her.

RE: People Magazine’s Fashionable Anti-Semitism, by Robert Avrech

Usually, I ignore all political posts (from anyone but my little brothers and maybe Dov Bear), because they seem to be more about electronic emotional displays that anything else, but when I see posts and re-posts, I may pay attention. It is difficult to reply to my FB/E-mail friends, because in most cases, they are my real friends and neighbors, but this particular political post deserves a response.

I hate false claims of antisemitism, because I think real antisemitism exists, but with pointless noise like this, nobody is going to pay attention.

Is sum, this article is a knee-jerk mess of supposedly conservative and Jewish outrage. It is difficult to understand what the author is really mad about, but I suppose the author and his wife are mainly concerned about People magazine's supposed antisemitism. So here are some counterpoints:

Friday, June 24, 2011

People Magazine, Huma Aberdin, and Seraphic Secret

Robert Averich thinks its awful that People Magazine called Anthony Weiner a "brash New York Jew" in the same article in which his wife, Huma, is referred to as "refined Muslim" He calls this "fashionable antisemitism." Unlike Robert, I don't subscribe to trashy magazines like People, and the article isn't online, so I can't decide for myself. But I agree that in some contexts its unkind to call a Jew brash.

Weiner is certainly brash, (and I mean that in a good way) and he's certainly a New York Jew, but using such words together is at least a misdemeanor against good taste.   I wouldn't call it "antisemitism" on the grounds that trumped up charges of antisemitism make people less likely to pay attention to legitimate antisemitism (See: Wolf, Boy Who Cried)  but that's just me.

Unfortunately Robert's post ends on  a low note with the author indulging in the very sort of behavior his post decries. Here he goes:

YWN, the Dass Torah Blog, Goes Dirty

YeshivaWorld News is one of the top blogs among people who purportedly don't own computers, or surf the Internet. Its achieved this distinction thanks, in part, to the fraudulently ehrlich reputation of its editor, and also because the blog claims to follow daas torah. Allegedly, the blog even has a posek who is consulted before anything that might reflect poorly on the frum community is posted.

The odd thing is this reputation remains intact despite articles such as the one that appeared yesterday:

Like most YWN articles, this one was taken almost word-for-word from another publication, in this case the NY Post. Interestingly enough, some of the original article's dirty bits have been deleted. Where the post has "amid a sexting scandal." YWN has "amid a scandal", and missing from the YWN article is this entire paragraph: "His political standing deflated after he posted a lewd photo of his bulging underwear on Twitter on May 27. He first claimed his account was "hacked."

But the really odd thing is the YWN headline "Congress Acknowledges Weiner Withdrawal. This is clumsy word play, and the sort of winkingly lewd thing we'd expect to see from the Post. Only here's "A Muppet": At first, I assumed they'd just stolen the Post's headline and not realized they'd printed a double entendre, but, no, they changed the headline the Post actually had into something dirty. Weird."

Yes, weird and a little creepy, especially for a blog that frequently acts self-righteously and seems to appeal most strongly to Jews who value that. 

Got nothin' but this

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Fox destroyed by Stewart yet again. Why do people still trust those frauds?

Agudah and Abuse


On May 11, 2011, Agudath Israel of America held a “Halacha Conference for Professionals”, where one of the sessions was led by noted askan Shlomo Gottesman entitled “Molestation Issues and Reporting: Current Halachic Thinking.” The audio is available at:

Is Korach a Mini Pharaoh?

There are at three parallels between the Korach and Exodus stories.

  1. The disputing parties fight a duel involving staffs. At the beginning of the Exodus story, we see the famous staff-into-snake confrontation; the end of the Korach story gives us the slightly less famous battle of the blossoming staffs.
  2. In both stories Moshes's enemies are destroyed at the hand of God through a supernatural display of His might, and the outburst is tamed after Moshes's prayerful intervention. 
  3. The Exodus story ends with the splitting of the sea; at the end of the Korach story the earth splits.
Now, let me be the first to concede, that these parallels are not the strongest. The final one is particularly weak, in that the splitting earth and the splitting sea are indicated via two very different verbs. (In point of fact we're told that the earth opened, not that it split.) however, I am somewhat tempted by the notion that the (divine) author alluded to Pharaoh and the Exodus story in His depiction of Korach's story,  much as a movie maker might give his villain certain familiar, readily identifiable, characteristics. It just feels right when movie bad guys have weird accents, or bad hair styles, or a cat sitting on their lap; likewise, perhaps such allusions to Pharaoh and the Exodus were expected motifs at that moment in antiquity. 


The peh before ayin essay was published two years ago here on the Tradition Seforim Blog, "a blog within the online forum of Tradition." I can't tell if it was published there first, or if it first appeared somewhere else --but it looked to me  like someone simply cut and pasted the essay into that forum, without attribution or a link. (Blog posts don't ordinarily have footnotes, etc.)

In my own post, I credited the author, Mitchel First. Under the circumstances, as I understood them, I believed that was all that was required. However, I have been asked to mention the blog that first published the essay, and so I have.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

1,2,3,4... I spy a blog war

Jeffrey Goldberg, national correspondent for The Atlantic, vs Allison Benedikt, the Village Voice editor.

I think it started when Goldberg described a Benedict essay this way "[she]wrote with great feeling about how her camp counselors told her Israel was the best thing since cream cheese, so she believed them, but then later her husband told her they were wrong, that Israel was, in fact, disgusting, so she believed him."

Anyway, its been off to the races for several days already, with warring tweets and posts; today Goldberg even got a Rabbi to weigh in on his side, and Benedikt cursed out a Twitter follower for daring to question her Jewish bonafides. Great stuff!

Did Peh once come before Ayin in the Hebrew alphabet?

Quite by accident I've come across an outstanding argument by Mitchel First. In brief, he claims that there was a period in Jewish history when peh came before ayin, and that several oddities involving acrostics in Eicha, Mishlei, and Tehillim can be obviated if this is correct. For instance, as we have it the Eishas Chayil

[Samech] makes linen garments and sells them,
and supplies the merchants with sashes. [and]
[ayin] She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come. [and]
[peh] She speaks with wisdom,
and faithful instruction is on her tongue.

First argues convincingly that the praise is more profound if the peh comes before the ayin yielding:

[peh] She speaks with wisdom,
and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
[ayin] She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come.

This is only a small snippet. First's full argument which provides additional examples, and very strong evidence from archaeology can be found after the jump

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Mysteries of a Nazi Photo Album

Do you know this man? He appears in a photo album owned by an unnamed businessman who says he acquired the album from an employee, as payment on a loan. The employee, for his part, says an old German man gave it to him years ago. Now, the New York Times is attempting to identify the photographer and the original owner of the album, which contains nine photos of Hitler, and several pictures of doomed Jews.  More after the jump

Three day fast declared in Harrisburg, PA

Mayor Linda Thompson plans
to join the fast
Mayor Linda Thompson says she won't eat for three days, and she's not alone. Some religious leaders are calling on their followers to fast and pray for the good of the city.

Thompson said the fasting was her idea as a way to unite Harrisburg and encourage local leaders to work together in solving the financial crisis.

"Things that are above and beyond my control, I need God," Thompson said. "I depend on Him for guidance. Spiritual guidance. That's why it's really no struggle for me to join this fast and prayer."

Thompson said she'll start her liquid-only diet on Wednesday and has the support of at least a dozen area church leaders, some outside the city, who are calling on their members to fast as well.

But not everyone's on board.

"I'm not starving myself for Harrisburg. No way," said Jori McElwe, of Middletown. "I may say a prayer, but I'm not starving myself."

"Would I fast? No, I wouldn't," said Edwina Best, of Fredericksburg. "I don't know. How would that change things?


On the 10,000 year old definition of marriage

Garnel Ironheart: The traditional definition of marriage is one-man-one-woman... on[c]e you change the 10 000 year old definition to meet one group's agenda, why stop there?

Sorry, Garnel, but no. The traditional definition of marriage is one man and multiple wives.  It was only in the last 1000 years or so that polygamy started to go out of style. Blame Christianity for that.

And that's only part of the story. Over the last 1000 years marriage has continued to evolve. As Stephanie Coontz has persuasively argued  in many places, the old idea of marriage was overturned a long time ago. And, under the new definition, a definition that is already several decades old, gay marriage is impossible to stop. Read more after the jump.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Things that make the Charedi community stop eating

Apparently, a fast was called to provoke God into cancelling the New York Assembly's plan to legalize gay marriage. This occurred last week. No word yet from God regarding the success of the effort.

Meanwhile, I remain mystified. I understand that Orthodox Jews believe that God frowns on sodomy, but the proposed gay marriage law will not legalize sodomy. Sodomy is already legal, and blocking the proposed law will not change that.

Moreover, it's in our best interest as Jews for the government to remain strictly neutral on matters of theology. If the government can make gay marriage illegal, why can't it also ban Erusin and Kiddushin? If it can declare homosexuality immoral on the grounds of one set of religious teachings, why can't it declare shabbos immoral on the grounds of some other religion's teachings? Our own thoughts on homosexuality remain strictly irrelevant here. The goal must be ensuring that the government stays silent on any religious question.

PS: The note's use of  hyperbole is awesome. The proposed gay marriage law will not affect a single Jew in the entire world, and arguably, passing the law makes it harder for the government to interfere with Jewish practices, yet the short-sighted and foolish authors of this flyer call the proposed law "A hard and terrible decree".

Court Stones Dog

Yahoo reported this weekend that a Jerusalem rabininc court sentenced a dog to death by stoning, and many of you sent me the story, thinking I'd want to post it. Hello, we had the story on June 6

Thanks all the same :)

Charedi Scam of the Day

The Jewish Worker reports on a new magical charm, promoted by Rabbis, and sold to unsuspecting fools.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Let's be perfectly blunt. This is a scam. A rip off. The ad is a lie. Every word of it. And Rabbi Avrohom Leib Schwartz is a crook.  A ring does not have the power to solve psychological problems, or to cure chronic pain. A ring can't make your wife love you more, and it can't change your child's behavior. That is not how the world works. Such segulot are false. Such promises are lies.  About Rabbi Avrohom Leib Schawartz and those who trust his claims we says this:

...these things [ie: magic, witchcraft, sorcery, and superstition] are all lies and deception... it isn't proper for Jews, who are wise and clever, to continue this nonsense and it should never enter their minds that there is an advantage or benefit [to'elet] to using these things... any person who believes in these things and imagines that there is truth and wisdom behind them - though the Torah prohibits them (to Jews) - is from among the fools and the stupid people [scholim u'chasrei daa't] and in the category of [people] who have incomplete mental facilities. Those who posses authentic wisdom and pure knowledge know through clear proofs that every one of these things that the Torah prohibited is not wisdom, but nothingness and nonsense [tohu v'hevel] that is continued by empty-headed people [chasrei da'at] who have caused the ways of truth to be abandoned. - Rambam, Yad Hachazaka

And it remains a tragedy that most charedi Rabbis and most charedi Jews are to too timid to say this plainly and clearly .

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Friday, June 17, 2011

Is Isolation a Sign of Strength?

A Guest Post By E. Fink

I once heard a great (and surprising?) vort from R' Elya Meyer Bloch (Telshe Rosh Yeshiva) on a verse in this week's parsha.

וּרְאִיתֶם אֶת-הָאָרֶץ, מַה-הִוא; וְאֶת-הָעָם, הַיֹּשֵׁב עָלֶיהָ--הֶחָזָק הוּא הֲרָפֶה, הַמְעַט הוּא אִם-רָב

Rashi explains that if the cities are walled then you know that the inhabitants are weak but if they are not fortified it means that they are strong.

Rashi's insight is interesting. Appearances can be deceiving. A wall might intimidate or make its inhabitants seem imposing. But in reality they are weak. One who is strong does not need to hide behind walls.

Says R' Bloch, this lesson can be applied to how we live our lives. If we are so insulated that we are living behind literal and figurative walls it does not demonstrate strength. Rather it demonstrates weakness. We need to be strong and fearless in our avodas Hashem that we do not need or desire artificial boundaries to "protect" us from the rest of the world. Real strength and real avodas Hashem create the kind of internal strength that is able to maintain our Jewishness without creating barriers, walls and isolating ourselves.

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How is Tzitzis Spelled?

A Guest Post E. Fink

Rashi in Shelach quotes a Midrash Agada (anyone have a citation for the primary source?) that the word Tzitzis in gematria equals 600. The problem is that the chumash that we have says ציצת. The gematria of ציצת is only 590.

Interestingly enough, Tzitzis is spelled ציצית in all the mefarshim I have seen. The Talmud, the Midrshim, the rishonim all use the ציצית spelling.

Yet, the chumash uses ציצת as does the Navi in Yechezkel 8. I don't know if ציצת or ציצית is more grammatically correct or if it even makes a difference grammatically how it is written.

Some super-commentaries give explanations for why Rashi would use ציצית for his agada if the chumash has a different spelling. I wonder if Rashi had a different text (it wouldn't be the first time) or if a different text even exists. Any ideas?

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Another Example of Rashi Changing a Midrash (Shlach)

Here's the Tanchuma on the verse in Numbers in which we are told that tassles on the end of our garments (i.e. tzitzis) will prevent us from "prostituing ourselves after the lusts of our eyes and hearts."

הלב והעיניים הן סרסורין לגוף, שהן מזנים את הגוף
The eyes and the heart are agents of the body, that lead the body astray

And here is Rashi on the same verse
הלב והעינים הם מרגלים לגוף ומסרסרים לו את העבירות, העין רואה והלב חומד והגוף עושה את העבירות
The heart and the eyes are spies of the body; they introduce him to sin: the eye sees, the heart desires, and the body performs the transgressions

As you can see Rashi has altered the Tanchuma, changing "agent" to "spies". I believe he does this for the purpose of drawing our attention to a thematic link between the beginning and ending of the parsha.

The first part of the sedra deals with the sin of the spies, who were led astray by their eyes and hearts; at the end of the parsha Tzitzis are instituted specifically to prevent such errors. The spies explored (tur [13: 16,17,21,and 25); tzistiz prevent us from the same (v'lo taturu [15:39])

By changing"agent" to "spies" Rashi makes the link explicit.

PS: Would Rashi permit himself to do this if he imagined that Midrashim were from Sinai?

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Why did Weiner pull out*?

On the one hand, I'm glad Anthony Weiner resigned. By leaving early, Wiener helps to secure the seat for a Democratic succesor, and he also gives me the high road in future debates with Republican dolts. "My guy had the decency to step down," I'll say, puffed with moral superiority, "Whereas Republican skeezeballs such as David Vitter and Larry Craig remained in their positions even after committing far worse offenses."*

On the other hand, I think the public should have given Weiner a break. Yes, he demonstrated monstrously bad judgment in sending proactive photos of himself to strangers, and yes, he lied about it when challenged. Both are strikes against his character. But the underlying offense wasn't the serious. We don't punish men for real-life flirting. Why was Wiener raked over the coals for online flirting? Is what he did really all that different from asking a girl to feel your muscles or check out your abs?

*Props to a Facebook "friend" for the line. I'll name her if she wishes to be associated with such lasciviousness.

Great moments in Anthony Wiener after the jump

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Child Abuse?

By Chaim G.

Jazz canoodling Storm Stocker

Breaking new ground in Genderly-confused Havdala-Obliviousness a Canadian couple Kathy Witterick and her husband,David Stocker, have decided to raise their newborn baby, Storm, "genderless". The babies sex is known only to the parents and a close friend of theirs, siblings (boys  Jazz 5 and Kio 2) and the midwives who delivered it. For the balance of humanity Storms gender will remain a mystery. That is, of course, until, if and when, it chooses to use a urinal.

In rationalizing  their decision the spokesperson for the family, Storms mother explained "I, like many parents, have taught my children that some things are private matters, (some are, e.g. ones genitalia, one's gender identity clearly is not) and when you want to share them, you need to do so honestly with sensitivity and consideration.(Checking off MALE or FEMALE on a form requires "sensitivity" and "consideration"? How much "honesty", except for perhaps transvestites, hermaphrodites and pre-op transsexuals, must one muster before checking off the appropriate box?) If I had to convince my children not to share Storm's sex (which I don't because my children simply are not interested at this point) — I would teach them that someone else's genitals (correct) and sense of how they relate to their gender (absurd) is their private business, to be shared by them or in a context where safety, acceptance and sensitivity are paramount."

The lesson of the stick gatherer

The interesting thing about the stick gatherer's story is that the story really isn't about him. The man is never named, his sin is poorly described*, and the story's emphasis seems to be on the people. Consider the verses:
While the Israelites were in the wilderness, a man was found gathering wood on the Sabbath day. Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses and Aaron and the whole assembly, and they kept him in custody, because it was not clear what should be done to him. Then the LORD said to Moses, “The man must die. The whole assembly must stone him outside the camp.” So the assembly took him outside the camp and stoned him to death, as the LORD commanded Moses. [NIV]
As you can see the story isn't about some nameless fellow who sinned, but about how the people responded to him.  We're told that an anonymous man was found, and that those who found him brought him to Moshe and that they kept him in custody. Afterwards, the whole assembly stones him, and tellingly the word used for assembly, eida, is the same word that was used a few verses earlier to describe the spies.

I think an argument can be made that the story was included here as an epilogue to the spy story. A moment ago we were told that the Israelites had been sentenced to stay in the wilderness for forty years, and our story begins with the words "While the Israelites were in the wilderness." The spies constituted an eida that acted improperly, that showed no faith in God, but the eida in our story is commited to upholding His rules. Finally, we may have expected the Israelites to respond to God's decree by abandoning His commandments. They may have reasoned, "If He intends for us to languish in the wilderness, our obligation to keep His laws has expired." The story tells us that the very opposite happened.** Instead, of abandoning the lawthe Israelites recommitted themselves to it, even to the point of (perhaps) appointing watchmen who made it their business to seek out rule breakers and bring them to justice.

* Explanations for mekoshesh eitzim include: gathering sticks, chipping sticks, and carrying sticks from one domain to another. 
** The Rabbis argue about when this story occured. Some say it was the first shabbos in the wilderness; others say it was the first shabbos after the Revelation at Sinai; and others say it was the first shabbos after the crises of the spies.

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What the iPhone guy did wrong

Please don't miss the follow up question
The Sages were pre-occupied with conformity. Their vision was not unlike the vision of the modern-day Catholic church: One faith, one rite, one people. In fact, they had a fear of breakaway sects that was so profound religious stringencies practiced year round in the Temple were suspended on holidays so that amei haaretz - people lacking meticulousness about purity - would not skip the pilgrimage to Jerusalem and start their own sect. When the Sages ruled on a matter, all Jews were expected to follow it.

At least once they went too far. After Eliezer ben Hurkanus lost his famous debate, the Sages burned all the items he had considered pure, and put him under a ban. For this, the Sages are judged guilty of committing a wrong doing (on'aa) [BT Baba Mezi'a 59b] Later commentators argue that the Sages erred when they attempted to erase Rabbi Eliezer's arguments and perspectives from Jewish tradition. By burning the items he considered pure, and placing him under a ban, they made it impossible for him to continue functioning as a Sage, and effectively prevented him from teaching. All of Israel had to follow the ruling of the Sages, but Eliezer b. Hurkanus was entitled to continue defending his point of view, even if he could not follow it in practice. The attempt to extinguish R. Eliezer's idea was a sin.