Tuesday, July 31, 2012

#NBC Fail

NBC last night spoiled the results of Missy Franklin’s win in the 100-meter backstroke before the race aired during its primetime broadcast. NBC’s Dan Hicks wrapped up his call of Franklin’s swim in the 200-meter freestyle semifinal before going to a commercial break by saying, “How good can Missy Franklin be tonight? Finals of 100 back coming up.” A promo for this morning’s  episode of “Today” then aired, carrying the voiceover, “When you’re 17 years old and win your first Gold Medal, there’s nobody you’d rather share it with. We’re there when Missy Franklin and her parents reunite.” The NBC broadcast returned to show Franklin preparing to run the backstroke event. Hicks said, “Missy Franklin just moments away from her first Olympic final. … Missy Franklin goes for her first individual gold medal” (NBC, 7/30).
Slate lowers the boom
On Monday night in London—Monday afternoon in the United States—17-year-old Missy Franklin won the 100-meter backstroke to grab her first Olympic gold medal. Hours later, the world’s last defender of tape-delayed sporting events was pretending the past was in the future. “Coming up, how good can Missy Franklin be tonight?” Dan Hicks asked at 9:42 p.m. eastern. We had our answer a few seconds later, via a Today promo that showed Franklin embracing her parents. “When you’re 17 years old and win your first gold medal, there’s nobody you’d rather share it with,” the commercial explained, reveling in the story that NBC had been so zealously withholding.

This was a case in which NBC’s economic incentives smashed into each other at ludicrous speeds, revealing the particles of commercial self-interest hidden inside every second of the network’s Olympic broadcasts. To boost the ratings of its morning show, NBC promoted a newly minted star who it had yet to mint as a star because it was trying to boost the ratings of its primetime show. Watching the Olympics on a half-day delay is terrible for two reasons: You’re deprived of the joy of sharing a global event with the rest of the globe, and you have to live in fear of overhearing the results before you can see them with your own eyes. With its commercial screw-up, NBC pulled off the amazing feat of ruining the event it had already ruined. Worst of all, it alienated the very people who’d bought in to its profit-maximizing scheme by cutting themselves off from all non-Bob-Costas-hosted media.

I knew about Franklin’s big win this afternoon. So did millions of other news hounds and Olympics obsessives. The only people who were harmed by NBC’s flub tonight were the poor suckers who had played by the peacock’s rules. It’s the suckers who pile up the ratings points that pay the network’s bills, and the network pays them back by treating them like an ATM rather than an audience. It’s time to rise up, suckers. A request for the last one out the door: Will you please tell Bob Costas that Missy Franklin won the 100-meter backstroke

Monday, July 30, 2012

Nu, chevra, how'd it go?

Notes on Tisha B'av 5772

A breeze, thanks to all the water I gulped on Saturday afternoon. However, summer fasts that fall on Sunday are an abomination and should be abolished.

Insights:I don't think there are ten people alive who really and truly understand the kinos. Also, isn't it time we addressed the recent tragedies? Everyone says we don't keep Yom Hashoa because we remember all national tragedies on Tisha B'av. So why are we so skimpy with the actual holocaust commemorations? The Crusades, a holocaust, in their own right, rate several kinos. Why don't the disasters of 1940-44 get more than one?

[Still nothing to top this] And this remains the ultimate all time best Tisha B'av post ever written


What kids? The big ones fast, while the small ones watched the song and dance from London. I don't think I heard a peep all day. Related 1 and 2

How long was shachris:
Too long. And hardly anyone stays to the end. Tisha B'av shachris is the most difficult of all the devenings. It's our K2, and percentage-wise, I bet more people make it to the top of the mountain.

Kinah for Gush Katif?Hell, no

Kinah for holocaust?Yes. I don't think anyone still has the nerve to skip it.

MoviesThe Boy in the Striped Pajamas, or the dumbest, least entertaining, most shamelessly manipulative Holocaust movie ever. I'm still slightly offended the the movie-makers tried to make me sympathize with a jackass Nazi and his dumbass wife.

Some Israeli Propaganda Tour in which black and white photographs and pompous, British-accented narration to attempt to convince me that the early settlers of Israel were the best people who ever lived.

Break fast:
Same as always: Potato soup, lecho, home-made pastries.

How'd things go for you? (Or to put it in the jargon of the blogosphere, I'm "tagging" all of you.")

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Naomi Ragen is a liar who knows nothing about Barack Obama or Israel

Naomi Ragen is a liar who knows nothing about Barack Obama or Israel as her recent, widely distributed, article proves.

See the atrocities after the jump (with my fisking)

Netanyahu on his friendship with Romney

Netanyahu on his friendship with Romney yesterday:
"You’ve been a personal friend of mine and a strong friend of the state of Israel*, and that’s why it’s a pleasure to welcome you here.”
Netanyahu on the same subject previously:
“I remember him for sure, but I don’t think we had any particular connections. I knew him and he knew me, I suppose.”
Nicholas Sarkozy explains the disconnect:
'I cannot bear Netanyahu anymore, he is a liar'
* I hate the idea that you can't be a friend of Israel without also being a friend of Netanyahu. It suggests that all the Israelis who voted against him last election are enemies of the state. Of course, this is what Netanyahu and the Likud, and the Zionist right want you to think, but it isn't so.

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Friday, July 27, 2012

Who's daas torah is faulty?

Mishpacha Magazine: 
Reb Chaim Dovid [Zweibel, the Boss of Bosses at Agudath Israel]  believes that the process of decision-making through the Moetzes is as close to perfect as can be. “It’s a homogeneous* group of the most intelligent, empathetic individuals — all great talmidei chachamim — and they grasp all aspects of an issue right away.” 
Powerful words. If he's telling the truth, it stands to reason that the decision-making process that produced the guest list for the upcoming siyum hashas was "As close to perfect as can be" and that the "intelligent, emphatic individuals" who decided to invite Rabbi Meir Lau to speak grasped "all aspects of [the] issue right away."

So why is the Duke(**) of Vishnitz having a hissy fit? 

Possible answers:

A) Reb Chaim Dovid was exaggerating when he represented the decision-making process as near flawless. In reality, they effed up this time by not taking the sensibilities of the Duke into account. (and perhaps they've effed up in larger ways, too?)

B) The Duke of Viznitz has no Dass Torah and has gone off the reservation by defying the Dass Torah of the eminences who invited Rabbi Lau.

C) It's all part of a brilliant  Dass Torah  conspiracy in that nothing any Hasidic Rebbe does is wrong and nothing Agudah does is wrong, so we can be sure it will all work out, just as everything done by Agudah or a Hasidic rebbe always works out in the end.

* The fact that this group is "homogeneous" should be a red flag. How do you get a great decision in an echo chamber? Homogeneous groups, historically, do a lousy job at making decisions. Who presents the other side if everyone, defacto, is on the same side?

** I use the title "Duke" to indicate that I emphatically deny that Rabbi Mordeicha Hager has supernatural abilities. Rather, like an actual Duke, he is someone who won the birth lottery, and if afforded homage and respect on the basis of his lineage and assorted myths instead of on the basis of his actual accomplishments. Also, professionally-speaking, the man has more in common with a Tammany Hall ward boss than he does with, say, the Chofetz Chaim. If there was ever a case of a naked emperor this is it, and by pretending otherwise we're facilitating, rather than fixing, a bad situation. 

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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Facts have a liberal bias

“We need in our next president someone who will be honest, open and transparent*.”

I was flirting with Mitt Romney. I admit it. As I've said before, Obama hasn't done a great job with the economy, and he's done a terrible job deflecting and defeating the partisan, unpatriotic, GOP hacks in Congress who have dedicated themselves to blocking him at every turn. Beating up those guys is his job, and he'd been terrible at it. Though I don't see how Romney can do a better job than Obama at foreign affairs or Israel, I wasn't sure I could stomach another four years of gridlock.

Any thought I had of voting for Romney went out the window when I saw his dishonest "You Didn't Build That" campaign. The ads lie about what Obama said, lie about what he has done, and lie about what he believes-- all for the purpose of tapping into a particularly noxious strain of American stupidity. We had eight years of Bush pandering to the mistakes and superstitions and irrational fears of American morons. I'd rather listen to Meathead McConnel drawl about how he'd rather undermine Obama than do his job for another four years, than go back to having a president who caters to our worst instincts.

And now that Romney has released an ad that lies about how his speech to the NCAAP was received I just about want to punch him in the mouth. According to the ad, his speech was greeted his thunderous applause. Lies. THEY BOOED HIM. LOUDLY

Here's the new lie from Romney:

And here's the truth

* A line from a new Romney ad, in which the candidate's reception at an NAACP meeting is entirely and completely misrepresented.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Boston bops Chick-fil-A

Why some shortcuts and not others?

Rabbinic Judaism is full of leniencies and loopholes. You can find perfectly good justifications, justifications great Rabbis have endorsed, to skip parts of davening, to end Shabbos early, to dress more comfortably, to cover your hair less onerously, to eat less discriminately. There's also rabbinic room to accept evolution, to severely limit Divine Providence and to question the authorship of various biblical passages and verses. But, most OJs take advantage of nearly none of these opportunities to take things a little easier. Instead the polite ones say, "No thank you. That isn't how we hold." (The obnoxious ones throw rocks and mutter about "modernishkes")

So why has it become universally acceptable to "hold" like this:

Siyum - This Wednesday Night at 7 PM Join Akiva Tolchin and Shaul Yaakov Morrison on making a siyum on masechet Sukka at Smokey Joe's. Smokey Joe's meat menu will be available. This is a great opportunity to learn Torah and eat a meal that you are sure to enjoy.

The Mishna Brurah says this sort of thing is wrong and forbidden, yet no one blinks. Why?  Some answers:

- First-world frummies are spoiled babies who genuinely suffer when they go too long without meat

- They are also deeply insecure about their manhood, and find it effeminate to eat salads and quiches. Just listen to the jokes a certain type of OJ will make if he finds out someone likes fish.

- They have timid, unadventurous palates (Which is also why they insist on burning their steaks. There is almost nothing as unintentionally hysterical as watching an OJ drool and moan and go all orgasmic when biting into a ruined "Well done! Extremely well done!" rib-eye.)

- The wives are lousy cooks who can't master something simple like putting a piece of salmon in a pan with some aromatics for three minutes per side.

I know these answers are incomplete. Other commandments are harder to keep, yet people make it a point of pride to power through. Look at the hats and ties they wear on hot summer days. Look at the way some people clean their homes for Pesach. So why do the Nine Days make it OK to be a wimp?  

And more significantly, the Kashrut certification agencies who famously over-reach in other matters are silent about this.  I promise you that Smokey Joes would not be permitted to cross the Mishna Brurah on any other issue. So why this one?

*Don't miss the point. I'm not troubled that people are eating meat during the Nine Days. Do what you like. Stomp on all the longstanding customs and traditions for all I care. I'm just intrigued by the psychological and sociological forces that conspire to create changes in Judaism. On so many other matters we slide to the right, yet when it comes to filling our stomachs with animal flesh the slide is in the opposite direction. Interesting no?

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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Happy Nine Days

You can always count on some self-righteous fool to show us why the Temple still isn't standing. This year, the Nine Days began with the Duke of Vishnitz (USA) announcing that he and his flock of sheep would skip the Siyum Hashas on the grounds that some Rabbis who haven't denounced Israel in the last 10 minutes were also invited to intend.

To their lasting discredit, Agudah is providing full refunds.

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Let's make things as hard as possible.

AND SPEAKING OF PESACH... (right here) We see the Vaad of Queens wishes to bring the Pesach tradition of making things as difficult as possible to the Nine Days.  They sent the following email to stores that they supervise:

July 20, 2012 1 Av, 5772
MEMO TO: All Establishments
FROM: Rabbi Chaim Schwartz
RE: Tisha B’av Schedule
We hope this letter finds you well.

As Tisha B’av falls out on Saturday night, no establishment may open at all.

On Sunday, July 29th,on Tisha B’av itself, NO ESTABLISHMENT (supermarkets, bakeries, caterers, candy shops, restaurants, take-out) may not open until 1:00pm. At that time, restaurants may only serve customers take-out style. All chairs must be placed on the tables.

Restaurants may re-open for regular business on Monday, July, 30th.

Additionally, as meat is prohibited to eat for all or part (depending on custom) of the “Nine Days,” a Pareve menu MUST be available in ALL restaurants. Pareve means that any part of the dish may not be cooked at all in/with a meat utensil

As always, I am available to discuss these regulations with you and to address any questions or concerns you may have.
Talk about over-reaching. Some questions:

(1) Why can't the stores "re-open for regular business" on Sunday night? Why must they wait until Monday?

(2) What gives you the right to require the restaurants to create Parve menus? Your job is to certify that the food is kosher. You don't get to tell the store owners what to serve.

(3) Though you wrote "NO ESTABLISHMENT... may not open until 1:00pm", you probably meant "NO ESTABLISHMENT...  may open until 1:00pm" Why not? You can shop on 9 Av, and you can work on 9 Av. Yes, yes, its not "preferred" but its also not forbidden. Why are you making things hard on a poor Jewish shop-owner who might be able to score some non-Jewish business?  Because a Jew might walk in? Again, your job is to make sure the food served is kosher, not to make sure that everyone in the world follows halacha as you interpret it. 

(4) And why is this patent untruth in a letter from a kashrus organization?:" Pareve means that any part of the dish may not be cooked at all in/with a meat utensil "? That's false. Food cooked in a clean, recently used meat pot remains pareve . It can (usually) be eaten with dairy and it can always be served on dairy plates. If you want to impose a stricture, that's fine, but don't represent it as a baseline law!

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Harder than Pesach?

I'm astounded at the crybabies posting about how their stupid stomachs are suffering now that they have been empty of meat for -what? - 2 days? A sampling:

I'm dying to eat fleishigs tonight. Does anyone know of someone making a siyum in Brooklyn or the city tonight ?Or else if anyone wants to make a siyum for me I'll take u out to Le Marais!

9 Days is WAY harder than pessach!!!  ;D

It takes a really special kind of spoiled rotten to write like this. Bad enough you're so weak that missing meat for 72 hours causes physical discomfort, but to tell the whole Internet about it? Aren't you embarrassed to appear so pathetic? Or do you think stamping your feet and pronouncing your addiction to beef flesh makes you look macho? Here's a tip: It doesn't.

Monday, July 23, 2012

A wicked clever drush by TPJ on Lavan=Balaam

Before starting, you'll want to read Why did Chazal say that Balaam and Laban are the same person?

TPJ* identifies Balaam as Laban at least three time. By far the most interesting one occurs in his interpretive translation of the flying sorcerer story (the what? Read about Flying Balaam here)

*That's Targum Pseudo Jonathan; if you're Yeshivish you know him as Targum Yonatan. Why is it called TPJ? See this.

On Numbers 31:8 TPJ writes. (Translation by the great R. Josh Waxman)
And it was, when Bilaam the guilty saw Pinchas the priest running after him, he performed a magical feat and flew in the air in the sky.
Immediately, Pinchas pronounced the Great and Holy Name and flew after him, and grabbed him by the head and brought him down and was about to slay him.
He {=Bilaam} opened his mouth with words of supplication and said to Pinchas: If you let me live, I swear to you that as long as I live I will not curse your nation.
He {Pinchas} responded and said to him: Are you not Lavan the Aramean who wished to destroy our forefathe Yaakov? And you descended to Egypt to destroy the descendants. And after they left Egypt you incited {to war} against them the wicked Amalek. And then you hired yourself out so curse them. And when yuo saw that your actions did not help and Hashem did not accept your words, you counseled an evil counsel to Balak to place his daughter at the crossroads to lead them astray, and because of this 24,000 of them died. Because of this, it is not possible anymore to spare your life.
And immediately, he drew his sword from its sheath and slew him.
A few points before I get to the wicked-cool part (first discussed by RJW here)

(1) There doesn't seem to be any doubt that the author of these words imagines that Balaam and Laban are the same person.
(2) The similarities between this account and the Judas v Jesus dogfight described in Toldot Yeshu are impossible to miss.
(3) Cozbi Bat Tzur is identified as Balak's daughter (The identification, hinted at here, is implicit elsewhere in TPJ)
(4) Balaam's  bargaining hand is very weak. He promised to quit the cursing business if he's allowed to live, but guess what: If he's dead he can't curse anymore either. (The whole focus on cursing in this passage is strange. Cursing has been shown not to work. God steps in when the enemy comes with words, yet seems powerless to intervene when the threat is a hot girl.)

Okay, on to the cool part:

Pinchas says: Aren't you Lavan the Aramean who tried to destroy our forefather Yaakov? And you descended to Egypt to destroy the descendants. And after they left Egypt you incited {to war} against them the wicked Amalek. And then you hired yourself out so curse them.

This (again RJW had it first) is a wicked-clever reworking of a famous Torah verse, namely

אֲרַמִּי אֹבֵד אָבִי, וַיֵּרֶד מִצְרַיְמָה, וַיָּגָר שָׁם בִּמְתֵי מְעָט 

As I've pointed out before, the ID of the Arami is unclear. Interpretations include, Avraham, Jacob and Lavan. See here and here  Those who say it is Lavan (the Sifrei, for starters) interpret the verse this way:
An Aramean (Lavan) destroyed my father (Jacob)* and he (my father) went down to Egypt where he lived [= וַיָּגָר] few in number
TPJ has brilliantly re-worked it to support his contention that Balaam is Lavan. His translation of the Torah verse is something like this:
An Aramean (Lavan/Balaam) destroyed my father (Jacob)* then he (Lavan/Balaam) went down to Egypt where he incited [= גריתא a word play that connects to וַיָּגָר] Amalek to attack them and where he hired yourself out [ =איתגרתא איתגרא, another play on וַיָּגָר]to curse them
*What's that you say? The Aramean didn't actually destroy our father. See this for the explanation

Why did Chazal say that Balaam and Laban are the same person?

Balaam was the magician-prophet who was hired by the king of Moav to attack the Israelite with curses; Laban was Jacob's father-in-law and Issac's brother-in-law. Though divided in time by several hundred years, the Midrash says they are the same person. Why?

Friday, July 20, 2012

The strange story of flying Jesus

Read this post first. The background is necessary

When I was a kid I heard stories about a flying Jesus, who was defeated somewhat sctalogically by a flying Judas Iscariot. Turns out this story is recorded in Toldot Yeshu, a polemical anti-gospel published and distributed by Jews perhaps as early as the 9th century.

As told in Toldot Yeshu, Jesus stole the divine name from the Temple and used it perform miracles such as walking on water, and healing the sick. Scandalized, the sages taught Judas Iscariot the divine name and prepared for a show down.

The moment came, when Jesus attempted to ascend to heaven. He raised his arms and took off. The Sages told Judas to do likewise, and he was able to bring Jesus down by urinating on him. (Urine defiles a person; miracles produced with the magic name of God can't be performed in a state of defilement.)

This story contains obvious parallels to the story of Flying Balaam discussed here and becomes more interesting in light of Sanhedrin 106A where the name Balaam is used as a stand-in for Jesus.

I don't have the time to satisfactorily investigate this question, but it would be interesting to know if the story of flying Jesus, collected in the Todot Yeshu, came before or after the story of flying Balaam, collected in various midrashic works. Here's what I can tell you:

Toldot Yeshu: 9th century, but no earlier than 4th as it mentions Christian holidays that didn't exist earlier

Places where flying Balaam is mentioned
TPJ:  Unknown, but no earlier than the 6th as it seems aware of the Muslim conquests. Not known to Rashi, or the Geonim or mentioned by others until the 15th century
Tanchuma: 5th century (probably)
Numbers Raba (11th century (likely))

All of these works are collections of older material. It would be fascinating to learn which version of a famous, flying gentile prophet defeated by a flying Jewish hero came first.

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The strange story of flying Bilaam

Bilaam had the power of flight? Why yes, according to several midrashic sources, and Rashi who indirectly cites them in his comment on Num 31:6
the sacred utensils: The holy Ark (Sifrei Mattoth 34, Num. Rabbah 22:4) and the golden showplate (Mid. Aggadah), since Balaam was with them and through sorcery was able to make the Midianite kings fly, and he flew along with them, he [Phinehas] showed them the showplate on which God’s Name was engraved, and they fell down [to earth]. For this reason it says, concerning the Midianite kings, “upon their slain” (verse 8), for they fell from the air on top of those slain. Likewise, it says in the book of Joshua (13:22) in connection with Balaam,“upon (sic) their slain.” - [Mid. Tanchuma Mattoth 4]
Let's unpack this. The problem Rashi appears to be addressing is the presence of more than one sacred utensil. Battle practices described elsewhere tell us that the Holy Ark was brought along by the soldiers, but what else did these soldiers carry? Numbers 31:6, in full, reads:
Moses sent them the thousand from each tribe to the army, them along with Phinehas the son of Eleazar the kohen to the army, with the sacred utensils and the sound-making trumpets in their possession.
In Hebrew, the last phrase is: וּכְלֵי הַקֹּדֶשׁ וַחֲצֹצְרוֹת הַתְּרוּעָה בְּיָדוֹ, which can be hyperliterally translated as the "sacred utensils and the sound-making trumpets were in his hand." The idiom is "in their possession", but the word בְּיָדוֹ is singular and its antecedent is Pinchas, son of Eleazer. The only one of the sacred utensils small enough to carry in your hand is the showplate, or tzitz

The next part of Rashi's comment is self-explanatory. Two verses later we have וְאֶת מַלְכֵי מִדְיָן הָרְגוּ עַל חַלְלֵיהֶם  Literally this means, the kings died on their corpses. This can be interpreted in at least three ways (1) They were killed "together" with the other corpses (though if this was the intent the word "im" rather than "al" would have been a better choice) (2) They  were killed  "because" of the corpses, namely the 24,000 Israelite corpses that precipitated the war against Midian. (3) Or they were killed  "on" the corpses.

Rashi, following the midrashim takes the third meaning, which presents the image of the kings crashing down on the corpses. How did they end up dying on the corpses? They were flying above them until something interrupted their flight causing the fatal landing. That something is understood to have been the tzitz. Why?

When we first meet Balaam, he is being visited by Balaks emissaries who, we are told, carrying their charms (קְסָמִים) in their "hands". Whatever Eleazer carries in his hand is seem as a counterweight to what the Midianites have in their own hands.They're able to fly, thanks to the קְסָמִים held in their hands, so shouldn't their flight be interrupted by the tztiz held in Pinchas's hand? (The charm carrying emissaries are called Malachim, which can be re-read as Milochim, or kings.) 

Finally, Rashi points us to Joshua, where we find a word-for-word repeat of 31:8, aside for two changes. (similarities in red; differences in blue; changes in green; parts of the verse that aren't parallel left in black (Remember, the assignment of verses didn't occur until the 16th century)

Numbers 31:8 reads

אֶת מַלְכֵי מִדְיָן הָרְגוּ עַל חַלְלֵיהֶם אֶת אֱוִי וְאֶת רֶקֶם וְאֶת צוּר וְאֶת חוּר וְאֶת רֶבַע חֲמֵשֶׁת מַלְכֵי מִדְיָן וְאֵת בִּלְעָם בֶּן בְּעוֹר הָרְגוּ בֶּחָרֶב:

Joshua 13:21-22 reads
וְכֹל֙ עָרֵ֣י הַמִּישֹׁ֔ר וְכָֽל־מַמְלְכ֗וּת סִיחֹון֙ מֶ֣לֶךְ הָאֱמֹרִ֔י אֲשֶׁ֥ר מָלַ֖ךְ בְּחֶשְׁבֹּ֑ון אֲשֶׁר֩ הִכָּ֨ה מֹשֶׁ֜ה אֹתֹ֣ו ׀ וְאֶת־נְשִׂיאֵ֣י מִדְיָ֗ן אֶת־אֱוִ֤י וְאֶת־רֶ֙קֶם֙ וְאֶת־צ֤וּר וְאֶת־חוּר֙ וְאֶת־רֶ֔בַע נְסִיכֵ֣י סִיחֹ֔ון יֹשְׁבֵ֖י הָאָֽרֶץ
ואת־בלעם בן־בעור הקוסם הרגו בני־ישראל בחרב אל־חלליהם׃

As you can see the word עַל (on) becomes אל (to) and in Joshua Bilaam is identified specifically as a kosem, or wizard, a designation that is missing from Numbers. The point of calling him a kosem here, I think, is to tell us that Bilaam has performed one last trick. He's given himself and the kings the power of flight. Rashi has no reason to mention the parallel verse in Joshua that I can see, unless he wishes to specifically draw our attention to the fact that the second-telling emphasizes Bilaam's magic-making abilities, an emphasis which supports the suggestion that the kings and Bilaam flew which in turn supports his reading of  עַל חַלְלֵיהֶם as "on the corpses", which in tern tells us why an extra sacred utensil, the tzitz, was needed (to counteract the flying charms the kings held).

ATTENTION APOLOGISTS: If you're interested in allegorizing this story, you can probably find some symbolism for the tzizt to represent - i.e. God's close relationship with the Israelites - that can serve as a counter-effect for what ever the Midianite charms are meant to represent. As you know, I tend to view such allegories as afterthoughts. The Sages thought the kings were flying becuase it says they died on top of the other corpses. Also Bilaam was a wizard. Also Pinchas carried the tzizt to war. All of that, to the rabininc reader, is clearly stated in the verses. If you already believe in magic (as the Sages did) flying kings are not impossible. 

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Thursday, July 19, 2012

If you see this lady on the street, greet her with a BOOOO

From parshablog, I've learned about a "misguided woman who thinks she is doing mitzvos while really regularly doing aveiros." She is the self-appointed tznius lady of Bes Rivka in Crowne Heights, a woman who believes she is acting to uphold the personal glory of the Rebbe, now dead 18 years, when she stalks and harasses fellow teachers who wear dark nail polish. Money quote:
I spoke to a woman who teaches in one of our schools. I asked her not to wear dark- colored nail polish. She was not happy that I had called her. She said to me, “If you would just stick to the black-and-white areas we wouldn’t have such problems with tznius. It is because you pick on things that are in the grey areas, that’s why we are losing the girls.” I was almost crying. 
I said to her, “Are you telling me that from a teacher in one of the Rebbe’s mosdos I can only ask for the basic halachos of tznius? Are you telling me that the girls in school don’t deserve role models? Do they have to see their mechanchos with very long sheitlach and dark nail polish?”
Why does this lunatic believe seeing dark nail polish is more traumatizing than the abuse to which she subjects people?

By the way, here's what she looks like:

 Let's count Mrs. Perfect's own tznius violations:

(1) She's wearing a wig. Not allowed.
(2) No hat.
(3) Hell, I bet her head isn't shaved.
(4) And my God, did she pose for a photograph? How immodest!

Now I realize this Mrs. Dwight Shrute isn't Sefardi, or Satmar, and is therefore not expected to shave her head or to go without her wig, but isn't that the point?  What another community sees as a base-line standard she ignores completely. The existence of such legitimate diversity is why her zealotry is so misguided. How can you sensibly argue that children must never see dark nail polish, unless you also argue that children should never see wigs? How can you talk about God's "absolute" law, when God's law is so obviously multifarious? Garnel said something about this too. 

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You didn't build that! Discussion questions

Just as Al Gore never claimed to have invented the Internet, Barak Obama never claimed that business owners didn't build their own businesses. But do Republicans care? Of course not. For the last several days they've been cheerfully repeating the misquote, stripped off all context. There is no reason to expect them to stop.

Here's honest Mormon Mitt Romney preaching the fib at a campaign stop in Ohio yesterday:
I know that you recognize a lot of people help you in a business. Perhaps the banks, the investors. There’s no question your mom and dad, your school teachers, the people that provide roads, the fire, the police. A lot of people help. But let me ask you this, did you build your business? If you did, raise your hand. Take that, Mr. President.
As I've already pointed out this interpretation of the President's words ignores the sentences he spoke before and after the notorious line, sentences that make it clear that he was referring to the public infrastructure business owners did not build themselves. He never suggested that business owners hadn't built their own businesses.

Questions for discussion:

(1) Why are Republicans such shameless liars?
(2) Why are Republican voters too lazy to check the source material?
(3) Why are they too stupid to successfully interpret the source material?
(4) Why do they fall for pathetic tricks such as this over, and over and over again?
(5) And, if it works so well, why don't Democratic politician play the same game? Is it because Democratic voters aren't morons?

Search for more information about GOP dirty tricks at4torah.com 

Comment of the day: A former liberal speaks

A delicious comment, deposited on What's wrong with America? This.

DB, I used to share your leftist/progressive ideas and believe that the rich should be taxed more than they are - or at least that they should not have the numerous tax dodges available to them that lets them hide so much of their wealth.

However, after reading the comments posted by the more conservative readers in this thread, I've come around and changed my mind.

The rich really do pay a lot in taxes. So much so, that it creates too much uncertainty for them when it comes to hiring. And that's very understandable.

Look at it this way. When someone is super rich and they pay only 15% income tax, here's what happens.

If that person makes $5 million dollars, they end up paying $750,000 in taxes. That leaves them with only $4.25 million left. That might sound like a lot to you or me, but for a rich person, those are poverty wages. Those taxes leave that person nearly destitute. If they wanted to spend their entire year's pay by paying cash for a house in Key West, they'd only be able to afford two of them.

Or even worse, what about the one who only makes $1,000,000. After the 15% tax, he only has $850,000 left. So, he's not even a millionaire anymore! What a way to kick a guy when he's down. What's he supposed to do with $850,000? Say half of that has to go to a mortgage, payments on a few cars, mortgage on a vacation home, private school tuition for two kids, etc. That leaves the guy with only $425,000 in the bank for that year. All that work, and nothing to show for it but a big house, a vacation home, several cars, kids in expensive prep schools and $425,000 a year put away in the bank. The guy's next investment should be in a tin cup, because at that rate he's one step from begging on the streets.

Is it any wonder they would be reluctant to create jobs and hire Americans?

So, the conservatives are right on this. The rich are taxed way too much. So much so that they can't let any of that money go. It's killing Reagan's prophecy of trickle down economics. It WOULD work, but the taxes are too scary, and as you can see from above, it really puts severe economic strain on rich people, so the trickle just can't happen yet.

So, here's what we need to do. We need to oppose Obama's plan to force a tax increase by letting the Bush tax cuts expire. The rich shouldn't be taxed at 39%, even though they wouldn't pay anywhere near that in real life. But the rich shouldn't be taxed at 35% either. Nor should they be taxed at the 15% that they actually pay. The tax rate for the rich should be even lower.

The rich should not be taxed at all.

That's right. The rich shouldn't pay any taxes at all.

Hear me out on this one, because it will work.

The rich can't let the money trickle down because of the uncertainty and hardship caused by the current monsterous 15% actual rate that they pay, this causes them to hold on to their wealth.

"But, if you don't tax them at all, won't they end up holding on to even more money?," you might ask.

Yes! And that's the key.

If they can hold on to more and more money, eventually, given enough time, they won't be able to hold on to any more. It will be so much wealth, it will push and push and finally give way, and the wealth will start flowing down to us in a sea of jobs that they will create for us.

Think of it as a big balloon filled with money that keeps getting filled more, year after year. Eventually, the balloon will get so filled it will reach its limit and pop, and when it does all of that money starts raining down on everyone.

Reagan and Grover Norquist are two undisputed geniuses, but they overlooked this one simple key part. It's not enough to be against new taxes and to oppose tax increases. In order for the trickle down to work, there have to be no taxes on the rich at all.

Remember the balloon filling with money.
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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Caption contest!

I am calling it "The first Asifa"

The Matzav is easily shocked

Matzav breaks the story of the day

It is with tremendous shock and sadness that we report the petirah of the posek hador, Maran Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv zt”l, at the age of 102.
"Someone" writes: Shock? 102 year old man on life support and in a virtual coma for months passes away and that is shocking? Sheesh.

At least, being frum Jews, they worked in the word "tremendous."

MK destroys an NT in public


MK Michael Ben-Ari tearing pages from t
he New Testament (photo: Itamar Ben-Gvir)
According to the Israeli website NRG, MK Michael Ben-Ari (National Union) tore the New Testament to pieces and then threw it in the trash after the Bible was sent to all 120 members of Knesset by a man named Victor Kalish, who according to NRG specializes in publishing Christian religious texts.
In the article, Ben Ari is quoted as saying, “This abhorrent book promoted the murders of millions of Jews during the Inquisition and the autos da fé… this is an ugly missionary provocation by the Church, there’s no doubt that the book and its senders belong in the trash of history.”

Bibi's Response:

The PM's spokesman Mark Regev said, "We totally deplore this behavior and condemn it outright. This action stands in complete contrast to our values and our traditions. Israel is a tolerant society, but we have zero tolerance for this despicable and hateful act."

DB's Response:

The only person I have a problem with here is Regev. The Christian is allowed to promote his beliefs, and the MK is allowed to say no thank you, as demonstratively as he likes, so long as no one gets hurt. The NT was sent to him. It belongs to him. He can destroy it if he wishes. Also, he's allowed to hate and despise ideas, which is all his destruction of the book was meant to demonstrate. (Unlike all of famous book-burnings in history, Ben-Ami didn't steal the book he destroyed.)

Personally, I wouldn't destroy a book, and I'd have been happier if Ben-Ami had published counterarguments instead of a photo of himself acting like a barbarian. But because the book belongs to him, this should be considered free speech, which is something I protect absolutely.

Search for more information about the NT at4torah.com

Rav Elyashiv, ZTL, Anecdote

Via "Fred's" Facebook page we see this anecdote about Rav Elyashiv, ztl.
Now that Rabbi Elyashiv has died, I thought I would share my Rav Elyashiv anecdote. Close to two decades ago I attended a low key bris in a maternity recovery center. Rav Elyashiv was the sandek. He came there with one person, his ride, and the mohel used a syringe to do metzitza with his hand. No fanfare, no macha'ah.
He adds:  This was in 1996. That is to say, he was already 86 years old. Yes, yes, he was well known for decades. But no mob scene.

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What's wrong with America? This.

If you want to know what went wrong with America over the last generation look at the life story of Mitt Romney (via Slate):
It’s telling that George Romney, Mitt’s father, made around $200,000 through most of the years he ran American Motors Corporation. Doing work that clearly created jobs, the elder Romney paid an effective tax rate that averaged 37 percent. His son made vastly more running a corporate chop shop in an industry that does not appear to create jobs overall. In 2010, Mitt Romney paid an effective tax rate of 13.9 percent on $21.7 million in investment income—around 14 times as much as his father in inflation-adjusted terms. This difference encapsulates the change from corporate titans who lived in the same world as the people who worked for them, in an America with real social mobility, to a financial overclass that makes its own separate rules and has choked off social mobility. The elder Romney [DB: unlike his son] wasn’t embarrassed to explain what he’d done as a businessman or to release his tax returns.
Doesn't that tell it all? Romney Sr. ran for president, in part, on his record as a successful businessman. Only, the business he ran created jobs, instead of destroying them. As a result, he wasn't afraid to talk about his business life. Indeed, George Romney, unlike his son,  had every reason to be proud of the things he did at American Motors. He also paid his fair share of taxes - 37 percent - and not the piddling 13.9 percent his son paid on a vastly larger fortune. George Romney belonged to a world in which middle class people could live comfortably on middle class salaries. His son, and companies like Bain Capital, are part of the reason why that is no longer possible.

NOTE: This little vignette is not meant to disqualify Romney's candidacy. That fact that he was very much a man of his time - and profited handsomely at it - isn't a reason to vote against him. Its not his fault, for example, that laws he didn't create permit him to escape his tax obligations, nor is it his fault that it became unprofitable to hire American factory workers. The title of the post, after all,  isn't "Don't Vote for Romney", but "What's wrong with America? This."

BY THE WAY I am not excited about a second Obama term. I give him a B* on his first term, and I have low hopes for the future as the president has proven woefully ineffective in his dealing with opponents, and entirely unable to deliver on his domestic campaign promises. Also, the Republicans have dedicated themselves to destroying him, above and beyond everything else, making collaboration and progress impossible. People like Mitch "Screw the American people! All that matters is denying Obama a second term" McConnell are a bunch of bad-manned destructive traitors, but neutralizing them is Obama's job and he's failed at it. In fact, the Romney who ran Massachusetts and created the model for ObamaCare might make a good president. I am just not sure he exists anymore. And if he does exist, I am not sure he can function with people like Rush, Sean and Mitch in his corner.

* Here's his full report card:
Defense: A
Foreign relations: A
Domestic relations: C
Handling the political opposition: D

Search for more information about Barak Obama at4torah.com  

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Mean old King Ptolmey and his Wicked Torah Translation Project

Curious. When you learned about mean old King Ptolmey, and his wicked torah translation project, did the teachers say anything about his library or his gluttony for books? The guy paid a small fortune to get his hands on the "original" Aristotle. He confiscated every book that came into his city, and returned copies to the owner. All he wanted was whatever honor and glory comes from owning literature.

Doesn't this put the legend of 72 (or 70 or 6) sages who translated the torah at his command into a different, more favorable, light? He added the Torah to his collection because he valued books and learning, not because he had any special animosity or destructive aims toward the Jews.  

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The true purpose of food stamps, welfare, and the rest of the social service net.

The world would be a better place, I think, if more people understood the true purpose of food stamps, welfare, and the rest of the social service net.  So let me help.

Properly understood, food stamps and unemployment provide the wealthy with a measure of security and protection. Starving people tend to commits acts of desperation.  They riot and go on crime sprees, with the damage disproportionately affecting the rich. 

Don't believe me? Well, what do YOU think would happen if the poor were left to starve? For the answer, look back on every society in human history that mistreated the lower classes. The outcome was always (always!) the same. The rich people lost their heads.

If you don't deal poor people into the game, the table eventually gets flipped over. The ruling class in America knows this. They understand that the price of food stamps and unemployment insurance is more than worth the civil order it provides.  The welfare checks aren't issued out of a sense of generosity. The motivating force isn't charity, but self-interest.

So, properly understood, the small pittance the poor receive is actually a "Please don't riot and send us to the guillotine" fee paid by the wealthy. Its not a service. Its a sop. The real benefit is received by those who are protected when the poor are well fed. 
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Monday, July 16, 2012

Obama: If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that!

Twitter is all agog about something the president said that has been manipulated by GOP jerks to suggest that he hates America/small businessmen/apple pie.

Here is what Republican dolts are claiming the president said:
If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that! 

And here is the whole passage in context:
There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me — because they want to give something back. They know they didn’t — look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own.

I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. 

Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn't build [roads and bridges]. 

Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn't get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together. 
Like you I'm so shocked that Republicans are making up lies about what the president said that I'm about to collapse on to my fainting couch. If you hear someone repeating this one, you can point them here, or just remind the dummy that Obama cut taxes for small businessmen 17 times!

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Oh... Beautiful!

I'm extremely pleased to see the Democrats taking a page from the Republican playbook. Though tolerance and kindness are wonderful attributes, they don't win elections. The Republicans know this, which is why they gave us Dukakis in a Tank, and a series of a slanderous swift-boating lies about John Kerry. Fight fire with fire, I say. And the fact that this ad is completely truthful makes it even better.

Search for more information about Mittens the Corporate Raider who quit Bain Capital before he didn't quit Bain Capital -- or something like that at4torah.com  

Why shouldn't haredim be drafted?

Torah study is wonderful and important and valuable. Also, we're commanded to engage in it. But what keeps haredim from going above and beyond the law and emulating our greatest leaders by combining study with warfare? Moshe, Joshua and David, for example, are remembered as outstanding Torah scholars and outstanding spiritual leaders, yet they are also remembered as outstanding warriors. Moshe, the midrash says, personally killed Og and led the fighters who conquered Ethiopia. David (1 Chronicles 22:7) had hands that were so bloody from acts of war that he was prevented from building the Temple. And Joshua, who personally led the conquest of Israel, may have been rebuked by an angel (BT Megilah 3a) for neglecting his Torah study during the evenings when he was off duty, but the angel did not exempt him from his obligation to fight the next morning.

The basis of the exemption claimed by the haredim is also puzzling. In Deuteronomy, the Torah tells us exactly who is excused from war. The list includes new homeowners, engaged men, people who have recently planted a vineyard, and anyone who is afraid either of war (Rabbi Akiva) or death due to his sins (Rabbi Yose). Kolel students are not mentioned. Nor are the Torah scholars. Additionally, the listed exemptions only apply to a voluntary war, not to a war of survival or self-defense which (arguably) is what the IDF is fighting.

Moreover, we're told outright that certain commandments are attached to specific rewards. For example, the Torah says that honoring our parents entitles us to long life, and that providing interest free loans provides us with success at everything we do. Does t it say anywhere that Torah study provides national protection? I know BT Sota 21a and BT Bava Basra 7B claim that Torah scholars are protected by their learning, but this is (a) an interpretation, not a direct biblical promise of the sort we see regarding, e.g.,  the consequences of honoring our parents ; and (b) a promise for the Torah scholars themselves, not for those who do not learn. Neither citation suggests that anything like a national shield  is created through Torah study. But if it's true that such a shield is created, as claimed by haredim, shouldn't the Torah have made it perfectly clear that our national safety depends on Torah study? As it stands, the Torah, with all its talk of wars and soldiering with absolutely no mention of exemptions for learners, gives the very opposite impression. Would God deceive us about something so critical?

Finally, by refusing to serve the haredim are creating hostility and bad feeling, which is something we are, in other cases, enjoined to prevent. For instance, the law prevents us from saving non-Jewish lives on shabbos, but this law is waived in cases when following it would create animosity. Though I am not aware of a law that prevents Torah scholars from serving in the military, wouldn't it seem that such a law --if it existed - would be waived at a time when following it causes dishonor to the Torah and strife between Jews? We permit Shabbath desecration in a life-or-death case when keeping the Shabbath law might anger a gentile. When it is a Jew, instead of a gentile, who is being provoked by another Jew's punctiliousness why can't we issue a similar waiver? 

On the blog maintained by Mishpacha magazine Eyton Kobre, (who, by virtue of his blogging habit, I must conclude is considered by Avi Shafran to be a spiritual descendant of Korach) complains that the attempt to draft Charedim "seeks the destruction of [his] community’s way of life and the values [he] hold more precious than life itself." Strong words, but so what? Given our history, which includes soldiers like David, and the facts of the halacha, which provide no exemptions for students, and the ambiguity of the promise accompanying  Torah study, shouldn't we conclude that his values are wrong and that a way of life which exempts Torah scholars from war -- no matter how "precious" Eytan Kobre personally finds it-- is flawed?

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Sunday, July 15, 2012

What is the meaning of the Mishna about a weeping kohen?

And here we go again with might become a continuing series...

The Mishna says [Yoma 1:5]:
The Court elders [during the days before Yom Kippur] would pass [the Kohel Godol, who was being taught how to perform the Yom Kippur service] over to the elders of the priesthood, and they in turn would take him up to the upper chamber of the house of Abtinas [where incense was prepared], and adjure him, and take their leave, and go their way saying:

"My lord High Priest, we are the messengers of the Court, and you are our messenger and the messenger of the Court. We adjure you by Him who rested his Name in this house to alter nothing [about the incense sevice] of all that we have said to you." He would turn aside and weep, and they would turn aside and weep.
What is with the weeping? Is the author of the Mishna telling us that every year the Priest and the Court Agents would break down in tears? Is that plausible? Or is it saying that the men were required to weep? And how plausible is that? Given that this Mishna was written long after the Temple was destroyed, what is its author attempting to convey?

Note: I know why the oath was required, and I know that the Gemarah says that priest wept because he was suspected of being a Sadducee, and the court agents wept for suspecting an innocent man. However, I think this explanation makes my question better. We're told by the Rabbis that from time to time Sadducees were appointed High Priest (there are at least three aggadot of which I am aware that discuss this) and we're also told that there were times when the Sadducee High Priest did manage to alter the manner in which the incense service was performed; if so, there were times when the crying described (or prescribed) in the mishna would not have occurred -- unless the Sadducee priest possessed the uncanny ability to weep convincingly on command.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Here we go with another DovBear survey

We know the answer to the tuition crisis

A guest post by LeftWingPharisee

We know the answer to the tuition crisis; we just don't like the answer. The answer to the problem of unaffordable Yeshiva tuition is clear and obvious, but we are in denial.

Actually, to be precise, there are two answers to the tuition crisis. One is to make Aliya. My understanding (never having been to Israel myself) is that Yeshiva tuition is part of the package. That is certainly a valid option, and one that many readers will jump on, with good reason.

But there are many of us for whom Aliya is not an option at the present, for whatever reason. For those of us (myself included), the only apparent solution to the Yeshiva tuition problem is public school.

I would be very happy to be wrong. Very happy indeed. But I don't think that I am. If there is something that I've missed, please let us all know.

Rich and generous people are not going to solve the problem. Tzedaka is wonderful and a major help, and I don't want to discount it, but if it didn't solve the problem during the boom times, it's not going to solve it during the lean times, especially with the booming Observant communities that grow larger every day. This is not a slam of rich people, people have the complete right to spend their money as they see fit, but dependence on charity is not a good thing for any community.

Once we've accepted the reality on the ground, we can start making realistic plans. Since I am confident in saying that those who send their children to Yeshiva currently want their children to grow up to be Observant adults, the question then becomes, how do we guide our children into Observant adults while they spend a good chunk of the day in secular public school? I don't know the answer to that question, either.

I don't think that the previous American experience is necessarily a good guide, since our parents/grandparents/etc. were coming from a much less Observant place than today's Yeshiva paying crowd. American society was also much less tolerant than it is today. Teaneck Public Schools, for example, offer Kosher meals in their cafeteria.

I know that there's a lot of passion in R'Dov Bear's audience and on this issue. I would really appreciate it if responders would make a conscious effort to refrain from Loshen Hora, etc.

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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Get your head patted by the Agudah! Now only $36

To be fair, the handsome and prestigious certificate, printed on genuine paper and signed by Chaim Dovid Zweibel's secretary is free. The $36 is for laminating and framing. But still, and I say this as a friend, you will announce yourself as a insecure dork if you purchase this item and a sucker of the sort PT Barnum spoke about if you pony up $36 for the framing. Download this for free, instead. Same exact deal.

On the other hand, I am pleased to announce a new and exciting DovBear Program: For just $5 you can purchase from me a handsome and prestigious certificate printed on genuine paper that announces any of the following achievements to your friends, neighbors, and potential in-laws:

  • Attended shul
  • Ate kosher
  • Heard Krias HaTorah
  • Skipped kiddush club
  • Listened to Mommy
For more information contact DovBear. Stickers, head pats, and lollipops available, too. 

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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Why does FOX hate America?

Because nothing says "France" like a beret.

US Special Forces officers cleverly disguised as French fops

Great (farting) moments in Josephus

I see from this the Romans employed 9 year old boys as centurions

See the book live on Google Books here

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The Numbers Just Don’t Compute

 A guest post by david a.

One compelling reason most objective scholars of the Bible understand it to have developed as a composition of many authors is driven by the hundreds of contradictions, inconsistencies, and many outright contradictions found in the Chumash. Of course, Chazal and the classical meforshim were very cognizant of these problems and offered resolutions and explanations, some quite reasonable, but unfortunately, many were just plain lame or simply not very satisfying.

This week’s parsha (Pinchos) offers just one such example of an unexplained (at least to me) inconsistency.

The Parsha’s events takes place near the end of the 40 year desert trek and God instructs Moishe and Elazar to take a census of the nation, which yielded a count of 601,730. If you recall an earlier census in the second year of the desert trek yielded a count of 603,550.

Here’s my problem, and as my rebbe used to say before a difficult Tosfet “now, halt kop”.

To account for the fact that Jacob arrived in Egypt with 49 grandsons (I think I counted that right) that in 210 years grew to a nation of over 600,000 adults we must posit a substantive, but not unnatural growth rate. I used an average of 2.48 sons per generation. (I got that by working backwards from 600,000 to 49). Now census figures also depend on life expectancy and generational age (i.e. the average age when males begin to reproduce). For simplicity let’s use 60 years for the former and 20 years for the later. So 210 years represents 10 generations (and for simplicity lets say that the first generation was 30 years). The problem doesn’t go away even with varying parameters.

So the 49 grandchildren of Jacob grew roughly as follow:


Gen 1

Gen 2

Gen 3

Gen 4

Gen 5

Gen 6

Gen 7

Gen 8

Gen 9

Gen 10
Gen 11
 first 20 years in desert

Generations 9 and 10 represent the 20-60 year-olds that added up to about 600,000 males at the exodus. And at the exodus, the 10th generation of about 430,000 males that left Egypt and due to having an average of 2.48 sons had over a million male offspring. 

Now even allowing for some major attrition and assuming that NONE of these sons added ANY male children in the next 40 years (a supposition contradicted by the Book of Joshua, which clearly alludes to male offspring in these 40 years), how is it that the census in this week’s Parsha, 40 years later in the exile only had about 600,000 males?

What happened to the rest?

Something doesn’t compute.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Today's Kiddush Hashem

Shimon Peres

LONDON - President Shimon Peres has cancelled his visit to the Olympic Games in London due to the refusal of the Olympic organizing committee to allow him to sleep in the Olympic village over Shabbat night.
The Israeli president, despite not being religious, does not travel publicly on Shabbat and will therefore not be able to attend the Olympic opening ceremony.

Search for more information about Shimon Peres at4torah.com


I have a right!!

This morning, I overheard some social media mockery of an old 2010 European Union idea to grant vacation trips as a "right":
Under the scheme, British pensioners could be given cut-price trips to Spain, while Greek teenagers could be taken around disused mills in Manchester to experience the cultural diversity of Europe.
I don't know what became of the idea, but I don't object to it. In general, I believe that the more rights we recognize, the richer we are.

Those who disagree, are likely under the mistaken idea that human rights are something inalienable and endowed by a creator. Precious (and exquisite) as this idea might be, it is merely an intellectual construct, like tzimtzum or the Christian idea that God made himself into a man to give us the ability to satisfy a debt to him. However, long lasting and powerful those constructs might be, they don't correspond to anything that actually happened. God didn't literally constrict himself to make the universe just as he didn't literally endow us with a small set of rights, rights that magically happened to have been prized by 18th century men, to the exclusion of rights valued by people who live in our century.

In reality, rights are endowed (and revoked)  by communities, not God. As the Founding Fathers surely realized saying something "came from God " gives it more power. (Old trick.) But flowery rhetoric aside, they weren't making a statement about the real nature of things.

As they knew (because they created it themselves) there is nothing inevitable or final about the Bill of Rights, or any other list of rights. Rights are created, propagated, and accepted by a community  for its own relative reasons. Though of course we hope and pray the rights we prize are left alone, realistically speaking nothing stops another community from abrogating or amending the list as it sees fit.  (Even the Bill of Rights is subject to this: Article V of the U.S Constitution anticipates that we may one day wish to change things.)

The reality is that any society can choose to grant its members anything it wishes to grant them. It can also draw the line wherever it wishes. My shul, for example, has decided that all members are entitled to an aliya every year. This decision, technically, has created a right, the right to an annual aliya. In Europe, the "members" apparently were close to deciding that everyone is entitled to a paid vacation. That's their prerogative.

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