Monday, October 29, 2012

Mayim, mayim, HEY!

About what is he speaking? This unintentionally hysterical yet highly professional yeshiva storm warning pre-recorded message. Listen to the end: (732)806-1554

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Sandy and the Parsha

There's a delightful Jewish tradition of using the parsha of the week to advance your personal political agenda. Many rabbis do it every shabbos. When the opportunity presents itself, so do politicians*.  This week, the confluence of Parshas Va'ayrah and Sandy's assault on NYC and the liberal north east gives our Jewish Jeremiah Wrights a golden opportunity. I fully expect to hear at least one rabbi say something like this:

God rained down His vengeance on NYC and on the Obama-loving, gay-marriage supporting, liberal North East on the very week that we read about destruction of Sodom and Gemorah. NOT A COINCIDENCE!

Do you doubt it?

* Here's Bill Clinton eulogizing Yitzchak Rabin during the week of Parshas Va'ayrah in 1996: This week, Jews all around the world are studying the Torah portion in which God tests the faith of Abraham, patriarch of the Jews and the Arabs. He commands Abraham to sacrifice Yitzhak. "Take your son, the one you love, Yitzhak." As we all know, as Abraham, in loyalty to God, was about to kill his son, God spared Yitzhak. Now God tests our faith even more terribly, for he has taken our Yitzhak. But Israel's covenant with God for freedom, for tolerance, for security, for peace - that covenant must hold. That covenant was Prime Minister Rabin's life's work. Now we must make it his lasting legacy. His spirit must live on in us.
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Storm diversions

The best thing so far about Sandy is a new Twitter personality calling itself "Mitt's Storm Tips" Some of the tweets from this account  are lame  ("Mitt Romney urges Americans: "Stay in your mansions."); others are rapier sharp:
What would Obama's Storm tips look like?

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Friday, October 26, 2012

Jewish candidate boycotts Jewish channel

A last night's debate, the empty headed candidate, Mindy Meyers, chose to be represented by an empty chair --  on what should have been her home turf.

Random and assorted notes on Abraham and his trial by fire

A very early midrash, (by which I mean a reading or interpretation of biblical text) can be found in the book of Nehemiah, when the the Levites (or perhaps Ezra, himself) address the people with something that seems like some kind of blessing or a history lesson. They say:
You are the LORD God, who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and named him Abraham. You found his heart faithful to you...
When the ancient interpreters read this verse, they took it to mean that Abraham was tested. How else, they reasoned, would God have discovered that his heart was faithful? This idea of a tested Abraham appears (according to James Kugel) in apocrypha including Ben Sira, Maccabees and Jubilees, before it was recorded for posterity in Bereishis Rabba (The other books are older, lost, and exist today only in translation.)

Now the puzzle: Does the verse in Nehemia refer to the tradition of Avraham's trials, or was what we know as that tradition, in reality, based on this verse? What I mean is: Did the speakers in Nehemiah 9 know about this tradition of trials, and have the tradition in mind when they spoke the words, or did they intend something else that was, nonetheless, understood by later interpreters to be a reference to Abraham's ordeals? To put it simply: Did they create the tradition, or did they know about it?

Additional fun fact to know and tell: There's an old tradition that Abraham was tossed into a furnace by a king who objected to Abraham's monotheistic beliefs. Where did this story come from? Possible answers (mix and match them!)
  • It happened
  • It was devised as a solution to an ambiguity in Isaiah 29:22 where it says God redeemed Abraham using the word pada which can also mean "rescued." But from what was Abraham rescued? Answer: the furnace in Ur Casdim. 
  • Josh Waxman points out that the heh of the definite article in Gen 19:28 (haKivshan) is evidence of a significant furnace in Abraham's past.
  • It developed from a misunderstanding of our verse in Nechemia and/or a verse in Genesis. To those of us who know a city named Ur once existed, the verses seem plain enough:
    Genesis 15: 7
    וַיֹּ֖אמֶר אֵלָ֑יו אֲנִ֣י יְהוָ֗ה אֲשֶׁ֤ר הֹוצֵאתִ֙יךָ֙ מֵא֣וּר כַּשְׂדִּ֔ים לָ֧תֶת לְךָ֛ אֶת־ הָאָ֥רֶץ הַזֹּ֖את לְרִשְׁתָּֽה
    I am YKVK who took you out from Ur of the Chaldean and gave you this land to inherit
    Nehemia 9:7אתה־הוא יהוה האלהים אשר בחרת באברם והוצאתו מאור כשדים ושמת שמו אברהם
    You are the LORD God, who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and named him Abraham
But what if you didn't know such a place existed. How would you read it then? As it happens the word א֣וּר appears in the Bible six time, aside from the five other times its used in connection with Abraham's adventures. In all six of those non-Abraham instances the word means furnace, or fire. If you didn't know about Ur the place, wouldn't you read our two verses as: I am YKVK who took you out of the FIRE of Kasdim. 

This, by the way, is exactly how the Vulgate translates Nehemiah 9:7 into Latin, suggesting Jerome took the story of Abraham escaping the furnace as pshat in the verse! 

Additional Torah True support:for this suggestion comes from many places:

  • TPJ translates the words Ur Kasdim as "the fiery furnace of Kasdim"
  • Pirke De Rabbi Eliezer reports the legend and gives Genesis 15:7 as the proof-text, suggesting that the author of this book, like the author of TPJ, imagined the word Ur referred to a furnace and not a place
  • LXX translates Ur Kasdim as "the land of the Chaldees" No knowledge of any city called Ur is indicated.
  • The Talmud frequently refers to a place called Kasdim. This is Chaldea, a region in southern Babylon. To the best of my knowledge, the Talmud does not ever speak of a place called Ur. This supports the notion that Kasdim was recognized as a place but Ur was not. This misunderstanding is what would have produced the reading I've suggested above.
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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Tell your Republican friends to stop swift-boating the president about those emails

Emails released through the liberal media (Reuters!) suggest the president knew from almost the beginning that the attacks in Libya were planned acts of terrors.  Why does this matter? Because the GOP slime machine has been trying to convince us that the president denied this for weeks. And many of you have bought the lie, hook, line and sinker.

Unfortunately, this is swift boating, plain and simple. The president's story never changed, and from the first he was forthright about what had occurred  Here's what he said in his first interview after the attacks, on September 12:

You're right that this is not a situation that was—exactly the same as what happened in Egypt and my suspicion is that there are folks involved in this who were looking to target Americans from the start.

The next day, he said this:

A couple of days ago, for four Americans were killed in an attack on our diplomatic post in Libya. ... So what I want all of you to know is that we are going to bring those who killed our fellow Americans to justice. I want people around the world to hear me: To all those who would do us harm, no act of terror will go unpunished.

Does this sound like he was being deceitful? Does it sound like he thought the attacks resulted from a spontaneous protest that spun out of control?

And to be clear, I don't mind if Obama loses on the issues. But I am sick unto death of seeing the outcomes of our presidential elections determined by Republican whoppers. Don't let them get away with it.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Did Romney cheat? What does this look like to you?

The rules say no paper notes allowed at the debates but, hey, doesn't that look like a note Romney threw down on his podium?

What say you?

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Who Threw Israel Under the Bus?

Known hippie Ephraim Halevy, who previously had the notoriously limp-wristed job of running the Mossad, thinks GOP Jews who blame Democrats for pressuring Israel are full of crap. He explains why in an editorial published to day in the NY Times. Money quote:
ON Monday, in their final debate, Mitt Romney denounced President Obama for creating “tension” and “turmoil” with Israel and chided him for having “skipped Israel” during his travels in the Middle East. Throughout the campaign, Mr. Romney hasrepeatedly accused Mr. Obama of having “thrown allies like Israel under the bus.” 
But history tells a different story. Indeed, whenever the United States has put serious, sustained pressure on Israel’s leaders — from the 1950s on — it has come from Republican presidents, not Democratic ones. This was particularly true under Mr. Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush.
Full article after the jump

Reuters Emails

Help me out. Everyone is screaming that those emails obtained and released by Reuters (the liberal media!!) show that Obama knew that the attacks in Libya were sponsored by Al Queda, and that this proves he "lied to the American people.


The very next day, in his first public appearance, he called the attacks an "act of terror." 

So I am trying very hard to understand what the president did wrong, and failing...
Unfortunately this is the sort of B.S that decides elections....

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What's the difference between Romney and Obama?

Quote of the day:
“Gov. Mitt Romney appears to have made the calculated decision that his bellicose and hawkish performances in the Republican primaries would be less appreciated by ‘the normals'... Here’s the crazy part. After basically casting off what were months and weeks ago his bedrock principles and beliefs to copy Obama’s policy positions in a transparently cynical appeal to moderate undecideds, guess which quality Romney chose to highlight as the difference between the two men?" -- Jon Stewart, a great American 
Click below for the answer to this pressing question, and the full video

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Debunking the apology tour lie

The Heritage Society lists 10 examples of apologizing, and in the Comment of the Day a reader debunks them all..

1. Apology to France and Europe ("America Has Shown Arrogance")

"Instead of celebrating your dynamic union and seeking to partner with you to meet common challenges, there have been times where America has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive"

Freedom Fries, "Old Europe," etc. just because some of them didn't want to get involved in the Iraq war. The same war that today even the Republicans say was handled terribly.

2. Apology to the Muslim World ("We Have Not Been Perfect")
"My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy. We sometimes make mistakes. We have not been perfect. But if you look at the track record, as you say, America was not born as a colonial power, and that the same respect and partnership that America had with the Muslim world as recently as 20 or 30 years ago, there's no reason why we can't restore that."
Seems to go hand in hand with what Mitt was saying last night about our Arab allies who we shouldn't be alienating (and they did get alienated during the Bush years). Nothing wrong with that, right?

3. Apology to the Summit of the Americas ("At Times We Sought to Dictate Our Terms")
"While the United States has done much to promote peace and prosperity in the hemisphere, we have at times been disengaged, and at times we sought to dictate our terms. But I pledge to you that we seek an equal partnership. There is no senior partner and junior partner in our relations; there is simply engagement based on mutual respect and common interests and shared values."

Nothing wrong here. We'll need a little bit of this if Mitt's dream of partnering with South America (per the last debate) is going to have a shot at working.

4. Apology at the G-20 Summit of World Leaders ("Some Restoration of America's Standing in the World")
"I would like to think that with my election and the early decisions that we've made, that you're starting to see some restoration of America's standing in the world. And although, as you know, I always mistrust polls, international polls seem to indicate that you're seeing people more hopeful about America's leadership."

That's a statement of fact/observation. Opinion polls at the time showed that more people in foreign countries were trusting of the US than they were under the previous administration. Definitely not an apology by any definition.

5. Apology for the War on Terror ("We Went off Course")
"Instead of strategically applying our power and our principles, too often we set those principles aside as luxuries that we could no longer afford. And during this season of fear, too many of us--Democrats and Republicans, politicians, journalists, and citizens--fell silent.

In other words, we went off course. And this is not my assessment alone. It was an assessment that was shared by the American people who nominated candidates for President from both major parties who, despite our many differences, called for a new approach--one that rejected torture and one that recognized the imperative of closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay."

Yep. That's what happened.

6. Apology for Guantanamo in France ("Sacrificing Your Values")

"In dealing with terrorism, we can't lose sight of our values and who we are. "

This is correct. If the terrorist hate us because of our freedom, liberty, equality, and national unity, then sacrificing those things gives them a win.

7. Apology before the Turkish Parliament ("Our Own Darker Periods in Our History")
"Another issue that confronts all democracies as they move to the future is how we deal with the past. The United States is still working through some of our own darker periods in our history. Facing the Washington Monument that I spoke of is a memorial of Abraham Lincoln, the man who freed those who were enslaved even after Washington led our Revolution. Our country still struggles with the legacies of slavery and segregation, the past treatment of Native Americans."

It does. Again, this is not an apology, but a statement of fact. Issues such as race regularly surface in our elections, in crafting policy, in drawing electoral disctricts, etc. and filters into daily life for many. Obama said that we are still dealing with some of the legacy of our darker periods, and we're moving past them, and building a better future. His overall message was that the US is doing this successfully, and so can our allies: "Each country must work through its past. And reckoning with the past can help us seize a better future."

Left out of the article is the fact that this speech concerned US support for Turkey in its bid to join the European Union, normalize relations with Armenia, and come to a better solution for Cyprus (among other things) and how, in doing so, Turkey has had to acknowledge some of the wrongs that they have committed (and will have to do more of this, on a deeper level in the future) as well as having to modernize some aspects of their society that had been lagging behind (such as their court system).

This was not an apology, but a way of saying “if we can do it, so can you.”

8. Apology for U.S. Policy toward the Americas ("The United States Has Not Pursued and Sustained Engagement with Our Neighbors")
“Too often, the United States has not pursued and sustained engagement with our neighbors. We have been too easily distracted by other priorities, and have failed to see that our own progress is tied directly to progress throughout the Americas. My Administration is committed to the promise of a new day. We will renew and sustain a broader partnership between the United States and the hemisphere on behalf of our common prosperity and our common security.”

Romney said the same thing during the last debate, that we should be more engaged with South America.

9. Apology for the Mistakes of the CIA ("Potentially We've Made Some Mistakes")
Remarks by the President to CIA employees, CIA Headquarters, Langley, Virginia, April 20, 2009.

The idea that a President cannot admit to or acknowledge the potential for mistakes having been made to our own government agencies, on US soil, is both stupid and dangerous. This one has no business at all being on the list.

10. Apology for Guantanamo in Washington ("A Rallying Cry for Our Enemies")

“In fact, part of the rationale for establishing Guantanamo in the first place was the misplaced notion that a prison there would be beyond the law--a proposition that the Supreme Court soundly rejected. Meanwhile, instead of serving as a tool to counter terrorism, Guantanamo became a symbol that helped al Qaeda recruit terrorists to its cause. . . . Rather than keeping us safer, the prison at Guantanamo has weakened American national security. It is a rallying cry for our enemies”

Again, not a part of the Apology Tour. So, a President can’t say to the American people that something set up by the previous administration is wrong or weakens American standing?

If that’s the case, then Romney’s going to have an awfully hard time undoing Obama’s foreign policy, since he won’t be able to explain why to the American people. (Imagine poor Mitt: “The policy of not setting a clear red line with Iran puts America and her allies in jeopardy because . . . Oops! I can’t say that, otherwise I’m apologizing and that makes America look weak. Oops, that was an apology, too! Now what?”)

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Republican Bayonet Nonsense

Why do Republicans think they are winning some sort of point by gleefully pointing out that the military still uses bayonets. Are they that dense? Obama didn't say the Army no longer uses bayonets. He said we use fewer bayonets.

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All Obama did was point out -- correctly - that Romney used an out-of-date metric. And instead of acknowledging the point, Republicans are claiming he said that we don't use bayonets anymore, which (a) isn't what he said and (b) is so beside the point it is not even in the same universe.

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Obama's 'Apology Tour'

It is really embarrassing how republican votes have bought into the dumb lie about Obama and his apologies. Its such a stupid slander. Can you even cite ONE - just ONE - of these so called apologies?

Who are the real "takers?"

Overheard on Twitter:
GOP is going to disappear anyway. Demographics (i.e. people who want to take rather than give) favor Dems.  
Really?  Here are the twenty states receiving the most federal spending, per tax dollar paid
  • New Mexico  
  • Mississippi
  • Alaska
  • Louisiana 
  • West Virginia 
  • North Dakota  
  • Alabama  
  • South Dakota
  • Virginia:  
  • Kentucky  
  • Montana
  • Hawaii  
  • Maine
  • Arkansas
  • Oklahoma
  • South Carolina
  • Missouri
  • Maryland   
  • Tennessee
  • Idaho
Of these top taker states 13 are red, three are blue and four are purple (I made them green so they'd stand out better.) I used this map to decide how to color the states.

Now the problem with this sort of list, as you might know, is that "federal spending" includes procurement  salaries, and the like. That's not "taking", object conservatives, who noramlly wish to see the Federal givernment wither away, "That's earning!"

But even if we ignore their hypocrisy and accept this objection, it's still an error to charecterize Dem voters  as "takers" . Here are the states that are home to the most welfare recipients

# 1 California: 1,085,627
# 2 New York: 341,004
# 3 Texas: 333,435
# 4 Pennsylvania: 207,429
# 5 Michigan: 202,469
# 6 Ohio: 188,108
# 7 Tennessee: 180,466
# 8 Washington: 140,721
# 9 Indiana: 140,571
# 10 Georgia: 132,003
# 11 Florida: 119,080
# 12 Arizona: 111,334
# 13 Missouri: 108,561
# 14 Massachusetts: 108,469
# 15 New Jersey: 101,854
# 16 Illinois: 99,952
# 17 Minnesota: 93,665
# 18 North Carolina: 83,906
# 19 Kentucky: 76,688
# 20 Virginia: 70,199

Nine blue states, 3 purple, and eight red.

So to sum up: If we look at all Federal spending, the red states take much, much  more, and if we look at welfare caseloads alone the red states still do plenty of taking.

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Monday, October 22, 2012

Crediting Tzi Fishman

I think Tzi Fishman is as crazy as they come. 99 percent of the time his articles are a mad mess of impossible claims, sloppy arguments, insults, harangues, polemics and wing-nuttery. The other one percent of the time he does this:

Is the Noah story a corrupted memory of an actual historical event?

Another half-baked theory :

Thousands of years ago a wall of seawater surged from the Mediterranean into the Black Sea through the Bosphorus strait causing massive flooding. The memory of this event would eventually congeal into the Gilgamesh/Noah story. #BlackSeaDelugeTheory

Read more about it here, but don't miss the debunking here. Neither the archaeology nor the paleontology seem to offer sufficient support. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Shem and the Circumcision Controversy

Today's half-baked idea involves circumcision, and the idea that Shem, son of Noah, was born pre-cut.

Here's Genesis Rabbah
Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Surely Japheth was the eldest? [Shem, however, is written] first because he was [more] righteous [than the others]; also because he was born circumcised, the Holy One, blessed be He, set His name particularly upon him; [other reasons for his priority are that] Abraham was to arise from him, he was the minister in the High Priesthood, and because the Temple would be built on his territory.
This also appears in Avot de-Rabbi Natan 2:5.

My half-baked idea is that this strange insistence that Shem was born circumcised is actually a response to a first century Christian decision. In around 50 ce the Council of Jerusalem ruled that circumcision was not necessary for righteous gentiles (by which we mean those who converted to Christianity.)  At the Council, Peter gave a speech, recorded in Acts 15, in which he says that it isn't necessary to load down new converts with rules that "neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear."

* Not much later, the Tanna R. Joshua b. Chanania would also argue that it was not necessary to circumcise gerim (BT. Yeb 46B) Smarter people can me can work out whether or not Peter and R. Joshua came from the same intellectual tradition/Mesorah.

Later, a new argument appears defending Peter's ruling. Based on Psalm 110, a short prayer poem which calls Malkizedek a valid and eternal priest, the drasha a points out that Malkizedek did not come from Aaron's family, and had not been circumcised; therefore neither are really necessary. (which is why their priests aren't Aaronic.)

According to James Kugel, the earliest appearance of the "Malkizedek was not circumcised, therefore we don't need to be circumcised either" argument is in Justin Martyr's Dialogue with Trypho. Justin lived in the second century.  TTBOMK, the first time Malkizedek is identified with Shem is in the Targum Neofiti, a first century work. This identification was also known to James, the fourth century Church Father. 

All of this material  is much earlier than the "Shem was born circumcised" legend . (Genesis Raba is 4th cnetury; Avot de Rabbi Natan is geonic) This dating leads me to wonder if perhaps our idea that Shem was circumcised (and perhaps even the earlier idea that Malkizedek was Shem) began as a response to Christian claims about circumcision being unnecessary.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

What do we do about Noah?

Though no evidence exists to support the claim that a flood destroyed the entire world less than 6000 years ago, believers (like me!) still have a few maneuvers at their disposal, including:

(1) Abject denial: This approach is favored by home-schooled Christians, graduates of UOJ yeshivahs, and the semi-literate. It consists of holding your hands over your ears and shouting as loudly as possible that the BIBLE IS TRUE AND SECULARISTS JUST WANT TO RUIN EVERYTHING. More sophisticated deniers might roll their eyes or cluck their tongues, instead. This is not my solution.

(2) Ad hoc solutions: These include suggesting that the teva changed, or that the effects of the flood altered the evidence. I don't like this much either, as neither can be supported with anything observable in nature. Intellectually, its the same as claiming women are impregnated by invisible fairies.

(3) Reinterpreting the verses: The suggestion here is that the verses should not be understood to be describing a global flood. The underlying reasoning goes like this:

a - We don't/can't/won't say that anything the Torah says is false.

b - The claim that the whole world was once destroyed by a flood is false (we know this from the evidence).

c - Therefore, the Torah can't possibly be saying that the whole world was destroyed by a flood.

Many believers are threatened by this conclusion. I can't understand why.  There's no way to shoehorn a global flood into the available evidence. If you're going to insist that the Torah is true -- and if it's also true that there was no global flood --  we must go back to the verses and try again to work out what the Torah is really saying.

Reinterpreting verses to fit new facts is an old tradition, and one supported by men like Saadya Gaon. For generations, Jews pointed to the story of Joshua and used it to argue that the sun revolves around the earth. When insurmountable evidence was produced which showed that it was the other way around, the verse in Joshua was reinterpreted. According to Marc Shapiro, legions of Jews -including Tannaim and Rishonim - once thought God had corpreal qualities. Now that the Rambam's argument for an incorporeal God have won the day, all of the verses about God's arm and his hand have been reinterpreted.

The approach to Noah that I am proposing in this post is no more radical. In fact, if you honestly believe that the Torah is true, you have no other choice: The verses must fit the evidence. To allow them to do otherwise, is to concede that the Torah is false.

You can also solve the problem by conceding the genre error and allowing that the Torah isn't supposed to be understood as history. Or you can accept what the Biblical Critics say and concede that the Torah isn't divine in origin. Neither of these answers, unfortunately, are resolutions that are available to believers 

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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The binder full of women

I'm not going to criticize Romney for using the phrase "binder full of women" at the debate last night. In using the phrase to to mean "binders full of resumes submitted by female job candidates" he is using a perfectly legitimate shortcut. However, the rest of his little anecdote was not without it's serious problems:
CROWLEY: Governor Romney, pay equity for women?
ROMNEY: Thank you. An important topic, and one which I learned a great deal about, particularly as I was serving as governor of my state, because I had the chance to pull together a cabinet and all the applicants seemed to be men. 
And I -- and I went to my staff, and I said, "How come all the people for these jobs are -- are all men." They said, "Well, these are the people that have the qualifications." And I said, "Well, gosh, can't we -- can't we find some -- some women that are also qualified?" [DB: Why are the governor and his staff having such trouble finding qualified women? Why weren't any of those qualified women part of his brain trust int he first place? Did he not come across any during his years of buying and strip-mining companies?]
And -- and so we -- we took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet. 
I went to a number of women's groups and said, "Can you help us find folks," and they brought us whole binders full of women. [DB: Ok, this just sounds awful. He's a titan of industry who can't find any good women? Oh, and more bad news: The whole story is a lie. The women groups came to him. He didn't go to them.
I was proud of the fact that after I staffed my Cabinet and my senior staff, that the University of New York in Albany did a survey of all 50 states, and concluded that mine had more women in senior leadership positions than any other state in America. [DB: As noted here, not one of those women ran a department that mattered. The juicy portfolios - budget, business development, etc - went to men.]

Now most Orthodox Jews, unfortunately,  agree with Romney that women don't really belong in the workplace. So, this story isn't going to get much traction in our community 

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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

He's a Haredi?

Thanks to Google, I've acquainted myself with more of Yaakov Rosenblatt's work. (See previous post) Turns out, his writing is okay when he's not hassling celebrity women who talk about sex (Sara Silverman here; Deborah Feldman here)

I especially liked something he did called "I am Haredi" in which he a fair amount of  insight and self-awareness is displayed. For instance, he says he opposes universal kolel, believes hats and the rest of the uniform are overrated, and says he is embarrassed by the behavior of bad mannered Orthodox Jews.

However, the piece is not without its rough spots, and goes off the rails in the last paragraph
Indeed, I am haredi. I am haredi circa 1970, my father’s generation. Then, yeshiva students wrote, spoke and thought in English. They dressed in color. Frum men went to college to train for a means to make a living. People were pashut in their hashkafa and sincere in their avodah. They would enact chumras when advised but did not see stringency as a path to purity. They had a closer relationship to secular Jews because of their secular first cousins and to non-Jews because they lived in mixed neighborhoods. Their motivation was to build a frum infrastructure for the next generation where observance would be easier and Yiddishkeit would be the natural choice. They were not motivated to get their kids into “the best” school and their kids married off to “the best” shidduchim. 
They were American haredim. And I am an American haredi.
Bad news Rabbi. You're not Haredi. You're Modern Orthodox!

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Monday, October 15, 2012

Today's stupid wing nut thing in the Jewish Press

A certain Rabbi Rosenblatt from Dallas tried to teach Sara Silverman a lesson on the pages of the Jewish Press and came across sounding like an arrogant moron. In the following fisk I explain why.

Dear Sarah,
You have grown political as of late, and your politics have traction. Your YouTube video “Let My People Vote” has been viewed more than 1.4 million times. You have 3.4 million Twitter followers apparently eager to consume your mix of sexual references and political barbs.
Odds are most of those users are inactive. Some might not even be real people (Does Sarah purchase followers? Maybe) But in any event, its an exaggeration to say all of them are on the edges of their divans waiting for Sara's next Tweet.
I wouldn’t be writing these words had your most recent video not been framed in biblical language. Its title held deep significance to me, as I am sure was your intention.
Gee Rabbi. Its just a dumb pun. "Let My People Vote" She wasn't trying to push your Jew button. She was trying to match her clever piece with a clever title. 
Your name is Silverman. My name is Rosenblatt. We both have Jewish ancestors; I am not sure what else we share. 
You're both human beings? You're both Americans? You're both white? You both speak English? You're both in show biz?  Hell, you are both Jews. Remember? But sure, bring on the narcissism of small differences. Because other than some of the more important things about your identities, you really do have absolutely nothing in common
You are good at what you do – comedy – and I try to be good at what I do – being a husband, dad, rabbi, and manufacturer of kosher meat. My wife and I are blessed with six children and my day is spent earning for the brood.
You stand out among comedians because your comedy is sharper than theirs. It is crude and clever, simple and punishing; your perception of the human condition is acute, which is why your punch lines bite deeper and hurt longer. You have a knack for finding faults and inconsistencies in people and blowing them wide open with carefully plotted language and cleverly nuanced pauses.
If I were to be gratuitous, I would say you mock what is imperfect because you know what perfect should look like and you seek the ultimate perfection.
I don't think you know what gratuitous means. Anyway, your attempt at psychology is screamingly  juvenile. All you know about the women is her public face. The things she shows you and says to you as part of her job. But you think you're looking at her soul. Idiot. 
But I won’t be so gratuitous. You are in show biz. I am in the rabbi biz. 
What's the difference? You're both performers.  And this dumb article is predicated on the fact that you think Sara is some kind of preacher for secularism. 
You entertain people. I serve people.
And you also entertain people. Inadvertently.
 I believe I have your number.
How many interviews did you conduct before acquiring her number? Or did you just read all of her Tweets and watch a Sarah Silverman show marathon? Honestly, what kind of vanity does it take to declare that you "have someone's number" when you've never said as much as two words to her?
 You will soon turn 42 and your destiny, as you stated, will not include children. You blame it on your depression, saying you don’t want to pass it on to another generation.
Where did all this stating take place? And who did the stating? The real Sarah Silverman, or the character she plays on TV?
I find that confusing, coming from someone as perceptive as you are in dissecting flawed arguments. 
Maybe you find it confusing because you're basing this analysis on a fictional character?
Surely you appreciate being alive and surely, if the wonder of your womb were afflicted with your weaknesses and blessed with your strengths, it would be happy to be alive, too.
You said you wouldn’t get married until gay people can. Now they can. And you still haven’t married. I think, Sarah, that marriage and childrearing are not in the cards for you because you can’t focus on building life when you spend your days and nights tearing it down.
You have made a career making public that which is private, making crude that which is intimate, making sensual that which is spiritual. You have experienced what traditional Judaism taught long ago: when you make sex a public thing it loses its potency. 
Where did "traditional Judaism  say this? Before or after Absalom has sex on a roof with his father's concubines? 
When the whisper is replaced with a shout there is no magic to speak about. And, in my opinion, Sarah, that is why you have had trouble forging a permanent relationship – the most basic desire of the feminine soul.
How many souls have you interviewed? And even if we could somehow magically ascertain that this really is "the most basic desire of the feminine soul" isn't Sarah Silverman entitled to decide for herself what her own soul may or may not want? Or would you deny her even that? God. You imagine yourself to be such a thoughtful guy, reaching out to the poor confused woman, but really you're a two bit tyrant and an insufferable know it all.
Human beings have many acquaintances and fewer friends, but only one spouse. 
Some human beings, in fact, have many spouses as Mitt Romney would be happy to confirm.
Judaism celebrates the monogamous, intimate relationship with a spouse as the prototype of the intimate relationship with God. 
Are you stupid? Ashkenazi Judaism only embraced monogamy after Rebbenu Gershon's takana and sefardi Judaism still hasn't fully embraced it. How can Judaism "celebrate" something it only partially accepts -- and rather recently, to boot?
Marriage, in Judaism, is holy. Family, in Judaism, is celebrated. 
Marriage in Christianity is also holy, and even secularists celebrate family. Surprising, but true. 
But for you, nothing is holy; in your world, nothing is permanent. Your ideology is secular. Your culture may be Jewish, but your mind is not.
I think you have latched on to politics because you are searching for something to build. 
And I think you latched on to Rabbinics because you like the sound of your own voice and because you enjoy bossing people around. See how easy your game is?
There is only so much pulling down one can do without feeling utterly destructive. 
Said the man who has just finish pulling down Sarah Silverman.
You want to fight for a value so you take your belief – secularism – and promote it. 
And what's wrong with that? You can fight for your ideas, but she can't?
As an Orthodox rabbi, I disagree with just about everything you say, but respect your right to say it. 
Yes, yes. the respect has been oozing.
All I ask, respectfully, is that you not use traditional Jewish terminology in your efforts. Because doing so is a lie.
Where was the lie? She called her web thing "Let my people vote". You don't own those words, and she hasn't misled anyone by using them.
Nothing you say or stand for, Sarah, from your sickening sexual proposal to a Republican donor to your equally vulgar tweet to Mitt Romney, has the slightest thing to do with the most basic of tenets which Judaism has taught the world – that the monogamous relationship is the most meaningful one and that a happy marriage is the key to wholesomeness.
Catholicism is what taught the world about monogamy  Not us. It was their non-negotiable value before it was ours. The Ashkenazin copied them. Which is why the Jews who lived in Christian realms embraced monogamy while Jews who lived in Muslim lands did not.
You are driven. You are passionate. I pray that you channel your drive and direct your passion to something positive, 
Encouraging people to vote is something positive, you dolt. As is making a living as a comedian.  
something that will make you a better and more positive person, something that will allow you to touch eternity and truly impact the world forever. 
I bet we'll be watching Sarah Silverman reruns, long after you are forgotten
I pray that you pursue marriage and, if you are so blessed, raise children.
How would you feel if she were to pray that your life become restructured to match her values? Not great I bet.

Marriage and children will change the way you see the world.It will allow you to appreciate the stability that Judaism, the religion of your ancestors, espouses. 

Lots of things espouse stability. Judaism is not one of them. A religion espouses nothing. The espousing is done by the religion's adherents and interpreters. And Judaism's adherents and interpreters have not always espoused "stability". (and when they have espoused stability, it wasn't always the right choice)

And it will allow you to understand and appreciate the traditional lifestyle’s peace, security, and respect for human dignity – things you have spent your life, so far, undermining.

This is laugh out loud funny. Judaism has delivered peace and security? During which ten minutes in between wars and massacres? Peace and security with 10 kids underfoot, and no idea where the next dollar is coming from? That's peaceful?  Moreover,  it was secularism that (finally!) taught the world about human dignity. Not pro-slavery, gentile bashing, dissent suppressing Judaism.

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What was God Wearing?

We're all philosophers, nowadays, so we know the Bible doesn't mean what it, you know, actually says whenever God is described as having a body. But how did the original audience take those verses? Were they philosophers, too?

For an example of the problem, take a look at Genesis 3:8, which reads:
וַיִּשְׁמְעוּ אֶת-קוֹל יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהִים מִתְהַלֵּךְ בַּגָּן לְרוּחַ הַיּוֹם וַיִּתְחַבֵּא הָאָדָם וְאִשְׁתּוֹ מִפְּנֵי יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהִים בְּתוֹךְ עֵץ הַגָּן:

"And they heard the sound of Hashem, G-d going in the garden in the of the wind day. And Adam and his wife hid from Hashem, G-d in the midst of the trees of the garden."
In his comment, Rashi acknowledges those who oppose the idea that God can walk through a garden and produce a sound. But he also says that at face value the verse IS saying that God actually took a walk through the garden:
יש מדרשי אגדה רבים וכבר סדרום רבותינו על מכונם בבראשית רבה (יט ו) ובשאר מדרשות ואני לא באתי אלא לפשוטו של מקרא ולאגדה המיישבת דברי המקרא דבר דבור על אופניו.
ומשמעו: שמעו את קול הקב"ה שהיה מתהלך בגן:
And they heard: There are many Aggadic Midrashim which our Rabbis have already arranged in their place in Bereishis Rabbah and other Midrashim, but I have only come to explain the simple meaning of the Scriptures and those aggados which fit the words of the text with each word stated in its proper framework and with its correct meaning. And the meaning is: They heard the sound of the Holy One, blessed be He, Who was going in the garden.
Words in blue are missing from Gutnik, Stone and my edition of Mikraot Gedolot. They can be found in Daat and Saperstein. Deleting the words renders his comment a non-sequitor, but there it is. 

So, put yourself in the shoes of the very first people to read the words of 3:8 They're not philosophers and they live before the anti-corporealist midrashim to which Rashi nods were written. How did those first readers take our verse? If they read like Rashi, they understood the words to mean that God, in a physical form, ambled through the garden. Those first readers also might have noted that Adam and his wife hid because they heard God coming (and denied His omniscience to boot.)

As the verse continues, God and Adam seem to standing face-to-face. Adam dissembles "I hid because I heard You coming, and being that I'm naked I was ashamed." God answers with mock surprise:  "Who told you that you were naked?", he demands.

According to the non-philosopher first readers who, following Rashi, read this as a face-to-face confrontation what is God imagined to be wearing during this exchange? Do the non-philosophers think he is standing in front of Adam in His birthday suit? If He isn't naked Himself , how does His question hold any power or make any sense? God and Adam have met before, most notably when Chava was introduced. If corporeal God wears clothes - indeed if He's wearing clothes as he asks the question - isn't the question "Who told you that you were naked?" absurd? So must we conclude that, according to the non-philosophers. God told Adam off while He, Himself, stood naked in front of them?

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Swift move Michelle Bachman!

Someone on Michelle Bachman's staff is probably looking for a job this month .

The famously anti-gay congressperson visited a Chicago synagogue on Erev Yom Kippur this year. Though she was merely greeted from the pulpit and not given any sort of role, her visit made quite the impression: Her opponent, Jim Graves, reported a 400 percent increase in donation from the Chicago area during the week of her visit. Why the big backlash? The shul Bachman visited is one of those liberal, gay supporting, egalitarian places. Oopsie.

Chicago Tribune: Jewish congregation split during days of reconciliation

Hat-tip: Ksil

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Times: Jewish kids have terrible manners

Ok, fine. That's not precisely what the Times piece on Bar and Bat Mitzvah decorum actually says. But being a card carrying member of the Jewish blogging community, I feel entitled to mischarecterize anything the New York Times says when it suits my agenda. I mean, hey if big boys like Camera and Honest Reporting do it, why can't I?

In any event, the full article about how our monstrous children act like wild beasts at Bar and Bat Mitzvah parties can be found  after the jump.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Best moments of the VP debate

Best moment of the V.P. debate, of course, was Biden's complete repudiation of the big lie republicans always tell about Israel. Bibi and Obama don't speak? The relationship is frayed? The president went on TV instead of meeting Netanyahu? No Sirree bob. Here's Battelin' Biden setting the record straight:
He's spoken to Bibi Netanyahu as much as he's spoken to anybody.... , I was in a conference call with the -- with the president, with him talking to Bibi for well over an hour, in... stark relief and detail of what was going on.
The next best moment came when he called B.S on the claim that Obama is weak on Iran:
The secretary of defense has made it absolutely clear, we didn't walk anything back. We will not allow the Iranians to get a nuclear weapon... That's why these crippling sanctions, which Bibi Netanyahu says we should continue, which -- if I'm not mistaken -- Governor Romney says we -- we should continue. I may be mistaken. He changes his mind so often, I could be wrong. But the fact of the matter is, he says they're working. And the fact is that they are being crippled by them. And we've made it clear, big nations can't bluff. This president doesn't bluff.
Now, naturally, none of the GOP Jews in the audience are going to look at the facts and accept reality. That's fine. Unless you all line up for lobotomies  I don't think there is anything I can do to get you to put aside your fears and superstitions. Those of us who belong to the fact-based community, though, were happy to see the V.P stand up for truth.

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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Tweedle Dee / Tweedle Dum

Okay, true believers let's settle this once and for all, here and now, on my blog.

GOP Supporters: please list THREE things that will go wrong if Obama is elected (real things; not fear-mongering "he's going to impose Sharia law" type nonsense) 

Democrats: Same deal. List three things you say will go wrong should Romney win.


Yisgadeil v’yiskadeish: A classic hyper-frum reasoning case study

Is it my imagination or has it become far more common for people saying Kaddish to start with the words Yisgadeil v’yiskadeish (as opposed to Yisgadal v’yiskadash)?

The difference hinges on whether the words are Hebrew or Aramaic. Those who say "Yisgadeil v’yiskadeish" are speaking Hebrew. Those who say Yisgadal v’yiskadash are speaking Aramaic.

The puzzle: Kaddish is written in Aramaic. So why would someone take it upon his (or her) self to articulate the first two words as if they were Hebrew?

An answer: The first word (Yisgadal) actually is Hebrew (at least in origin). It is based on a root, GDL,  that only appears in Hebrew. There is no Aramaic cognate for GDL. Moreover, the words Yisgadal v’yiskadash  appear to be a reference to a Hebrew bible verse (Ezekiel 38:23). So though KDSh is both a Hebrew and Aramaic root, the words  Yisgadeil v’yiskadeish" are given a Hebrew pronunciation out of deference to the verse and the fact that Yisgadeil seems to be Hebrew.

The problem: Who says GDL is exclusively Hebrew? Languages borrow words from each other all the time. Why isn't it possible that the author of Kaddish spoke a dialect that recognized GDL as kosher Aramaic? And if it is a loan word, why insist on the Hebrew pronunciation. English is full of loan words that kept their foreign spelling, but not their foreign pronunciation. Perhaps that's what happened here? And if its not a loan word, but merely a reference to a Hebrew verse, there still doesn't seem to be any reason to use the Hebrew pronunciation  When you're saying Kaddish you're "speaking" Aramaic, so why not use Aramaic vocalizations as well? (Those of you who'd rather hear from a Rabbi can rely on the Tur and the Bet Yosef Vilna Gaon who agreed that the opening phrase should not be hebraicized.)

The trend: So, as I asked at the top,  is it my imagination of is the Hebrew pronunciation catching on, especially among the self-consciously frum? It seems to me that more and more people have started saying Yisgadeil v’yiskadeish and most seem to be newly minted members of the Yeshivish sect. If my observations are accurate, here's what must have happened: A decade or two ago, ignorant and insecure right-wingers became aware of the discredited, or minority tradition to say Yisgadeil v’yiskadeish. Noting that YU, Young Israel and other so-called modern types say Yisgadal v’yiskadash, they decided that the discredited, or minority tradition must be more frum. Why else would it have fallen into disuse among the modern people?

This is classic hyper-frum reasoning, and  explains how many stupid, unnecessary or incorrect customs including upshurin, kaporos,  avoiding gbroks, and abandoning the sukka on  Shmini Atzeres became widespread.

Ignorant and insecure people took note of what "modern" people did and embraced the opposite on the grounds that "of course the other way must be holier."

Before you start screaming: I know lots of holy and brilliant people keep the customs I've denounced. So what? Likely, they inherited the practices from their insecure and ignorant ancestors. Once your family does something you do it, no questions asked. That's not what is being criticized here.

I also know that there are quote unquote good reasons for some of these customs, but again so what?. These reasons were either (1) invented after the customs became widespread, or (2) they were minority opinions embraced by a particular community. How did they catch on and become mainstream? Simple. Insecure and ignorant people took the customs on as they tried to "grow" or "improve themselves"  Unfortunately,  insecure and ignorant people often "grow and improve" by picking up token superficial practices, or simply by rejecting the practices of communities they deem less holy.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Jonah's Whale

Some of the Facebook people, this morning, were attempting to deal with the incongruity of a Jonah's dag being widely considered to be a whale. After all, a dag is a fish.

As I wrote the whole thing is a non-starter. First, who says its a whale? Perhaps it was a fish. A big fish, just as the verse says. Second, even if I agree that the author likely had a whale in mind (I do by the way) its possible that dag was originally any type of animal that swims in the sea, but via a semantic shift called "narrowing" the words meaning became less general.

Examples in English include hound (narrowed from any kind of dog to dogs specifically used to chase game) meat (narrowed from any kind of food) and girl (original meaning was any young person.)

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The party of Lincoln, now the party of John Wilkes Booth*

We see the Republicans of Arkansas along with David and Charles Koch are firmly supporting a Republican member of the Arkansas House of Representatives, currently standing for re-election,who thinks slavery may not have been so bad.

Here's what hillbilly legislator Loy Mauch put in a letter he sent to the local newspaper.
If slavery were so God-awful, why didn't Jesus or Paul condemn it, why was it in the Constitution and why wasn’t there a war before 1861?
Killer argument, right?

Tell me this: Why do the lowest, least educated, most despicable forms of human garbage always end up running for office as Republicans?

*Not originally my line. Heard it somewhere.

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Where did the word Karmelit come from?


A karmelit is a property domain that is considered by halacha to be neither private nor public. Examples include the sea, open country, narrow streets and cul-de-sacs. According to the Rabbis, the word has three possible derivations,

RASHI says that the word comes from Isaiah 10:18, where the word כַרְמִלּ֔וֹ (Karmilo) is used to mean "fruitful garden" People generally don't walk through such gardens, nor are they used by private individuals.

TOSFOS says karmelis relates to Rach u'Mal, a reference to grain that is neither wet nor dry. Likewise a Karmelis is neither private nor public property.

RAMBAM says karmelis  is a corruption of "k'Armelis" -- "like a widow. A widow is not married, but she no longer retains the status of a virgin. Likewise a Karmelis is neither private nor public property.

I don't really buy any of these explanations, though I guess they are plausible. 

A karmel is a fruited garden, so I suppose a semantic shift such as the one Rashi suggests may have occurred, (though its very unlikely that the word karmelis was invented whole cloth based on a verse.) 

The explanations suggested by Rambam and Tosfos seem to me to be less compelling, but I concede that if either "'Armelis" or "Rach u'Mal" were ever used to designate something's hybrid statuses, the corruptions they propose may have developed.  

I checked the usual places to see if karmelis relates to a Greek  Latin or Aramic phrase, but came up empty. Readers? 

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Sunday, October 07, 2012

Dumb stupid moron comment of the weekend

As lots of people have already said, suggesting career bureaucrats in the Labor Department cooked the unemployment numbers is intellectually the same as suggesting Bush and the Jews took down the World Trade Center.

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Things I saw today for the first time...

... a whole bunch of people performing na'anu'im (the waving ceremony) with their hoshanos. Did not know that was a thing....

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Thursday, October 04, 2012

Guess which word is missing

After the jump I provide a full article, taken from Monday's LA Times.  One word has been redacted. Is the missing word:

(a) Saudi Arabia
(b) Williamsberg
(c) Kiryas Joel
(d) Benai Brak
(e) Boro Park

More Jews on Court TV shows

Might be an old one... but its new to me...

Part 1

Part 2

Do not agree it was right for the judge to come back and ball him out, though. She was too angry, too quickly.

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Wednesday, October 03, 2012

The great Sukkot Stand Off in East Ramapo

Let's get a gold star for Gwenette Lindsey and Cassandra Edwards who bravely and courageously prevented Esti Grossberger (who looks to be all of four foot nine) from using an elementary school 's property  as a shortcut during the holiday of Sukkot. [See the video here]

Lindsey and Edwards, according to New York Newsday,  were part of a team of six,  self-appointed agents who valiantly guarded the school against bearded, lulav-carrying pedestrians

More photos here

From what I gather, the issue is this: Jews use the school as a short cut on Shabbas and holidays. Some parents do not like this. Perhaps they are sincerely worried that the trespassing Jews present a safety risk, but I think its more likely that they are simply pushing back against the Jews who have taken over the district school board and cut their funding.

So, though I think the parents are being disingenuous when they say they are deeply concerned about student safety, I don't believe they are acting from anti-Semitic motives.

People who think they've been systematically screwed tend to act out. Simple as that.

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Can't anybody here understand a classical language(1)?

Ah, Artscroll. How do I hate thee let me count the ways(2). Well, in truth, I have but one reason for truly despising Artscroll translations, and that is their blind obeisance(3) to the idea that the Wise Men of Israel knew secular subjects as fully and completely as they knew the holy ones.

A galling example is on page 62A of their translation of Brachos. Here is the passage (Soncino translation)
What is the meaning of kappandaria? Raba said: A short cut, as its name implies.R. Hanah b. Adda said in the name of R. Sama the son of R. Meri: It is as if a man said, instead of going round the blocks [makkifna adari],
In a lengthy note, the ArtScroll elucidator tells us that our Rabbis read this passage in various ways. Some took it to mean that Raba and R. Hanna were not arguing at all. Both agree that a kappandaria is a shortcut, with R. Hanna only coming to tell us the etymology of the word.. Others took it to mean that the two Amoraim were disagreeing about the origin of the word, with Raba thinking that kappandaria  is a word of Greek or Roman (sic, the language is Latin) origin and R. Hana insisting the word resulted from a strange semantic shift involving two Aramaic words. Still a third group say that Raba believes kappandaria is a Greek word meaning "gathering place" while R. Hana thinks it means shortcut and this dispute is the real subject of their debate.

The problem? Kappandaria (as Soncino points out) is clearly a corruption of the Latin word, compendiaria, for "shortcut."

So why does Artscroll give us a long note describing a disagreement based on absolutely nothing but the fact that the participants knew no Latin?  We aren't given a compendium(4) of every single medieval Talmudic debate, so why is this one included? Why didn't ArtScroll simply tell us what the word means, without muddying the issue by subjecting us to a long synopsis of a disagreement made possible only because the parties, through no real fault of their own, just didn't know what they were talking about?

(1) Casey Stengel
(2) Elizabeth Browning
(3) An actual word, not a typo for obedience. I mention this here and now in case ArtScroll, in the next millennium, attempts to elucidate this blog and, as per their usual methods, make some mistake about the meaning of this word.
(4) An English word derived from compendiaria

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