Thursday, January 31, 2013

Bye 30 Rock!

In tribute to the most awesome show that no one watched*, I give you one of the great clips of its 7-year history

*This was actually one of the series final lines: Addressing the show within a show's studio audience, Tracy said:"That's our show. Not a lot of people watched it but the jokes on you, because we got paid anyway"

Naturally NBC created a full video, too. See it here


Verse 1
I was working late on my haftorah
when I heard a knock on my bedroom-doorah
I opened it up and to my surprise
there was a werewolf standing there with glowing gold eyes
he says tomorrow my son you will be a man
but tonight’s the time to join the wolfen clan
tomorrow you will stand at the bimah and pray
but tonight let’s gaze at the moon and bay

(Chorus 2x)
Werewolf bar mitzvah
Spooky scary
Boys becoming men
Men becoming wolves

Producer: Alright, that was great Tray.
Ok, it’s over. That’s a rap! Oh-

Verse 2
The next day what happened, the Talmud didn’t teach //Producer: Oh, there’s more…
I got up in front of everyone to give my little speech
then my teeth turned into fangs and my nails into claws
and I nearly dropped the torah when my hands turned into paws
I growled and i roared and my rabbi did as well
it was a rocking werewolf zoo at Temple Beth-Emmanuel

Producer: Ey man, where’d you learn all these Jewish words?
Tracy: My manager, Harvey Lemmings.


Producer: I don’t… I-I just don’t think this… the idea of the song can substain its self for that long because it…it seems a little sweaty now, so…
Tracy: This whole premise is sweaty.

Verse 3
We had a reception at the larchmont country club
they served a real nice brisket and an eight foot party sub
I danced with my cousins, I got money from my folks
we had a lot of fun making circumcision jokes //Producer: Uh-uh…
then I remembered the premise of my song
I was at a nice reception but the werewolf part was gone
so we pulled ourselves together and we’re wolfmen again
just in time for monster fight to begin //Producer: Noooo…
all the country club employees were brainsucking pack
who had all turned into zombies and were on the attack //Producer: No, no…
so we fought them and some draculas and frankensteins too
cause you gotta love bar mitzvah, even if you’re not a [Arooo~!]

Werewolf bar mitzvah //Producer: There’s no such thing as “Frankensteins”…
Spooky scary //Producer: …”steins”.
Boys becoming men //Producer: No plural Frankenstein.
Men becoming wolves

Werewolf bar mitzvah
Kooky hairy
Boys becoming men
Men becoming wolves

Tracy: I don’t want this… I don’t like this… this is scary! Turning into werewolves and stuff, you know?
Producer: I dunno Tray, I’m not feeling it. This ain’t no “Dick In A Box”.
Tracy: [Arooououou!]
Producer: Mazltov.
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Israeli Voice Contestant Tossed out of School

In the clip below you can see Ophir Ben Shatris, a frum girl from Ashdod, throw her educational career  under the proverbial bus. She was suspended for singing in public on the Voice.


It does not seem that she was punished for permitting the TV audience to see her knees and elbows, however. Nor does it appear the school objected to her shaking hands with Aviv Gefen. And if the school had anything at all  to say about the religious inspiration she provided to Shlomi Shabas by singing a piyut that response is not recorded.

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UK Haredi Cover Up

Our crack UK correspondent has let us know that a British TV station ran a documentary last night alleging that senior UK Rabbis have actively covered up cases of child abuse and discouraged victims from seeking help from the police.

In the clip below, an undercover operative, who says he was a victim himself, is seem on hidden camera confronting Rabbi Ephraim Padwa. The documentary aired last night. The great Miriam Shaviv reported the full story on January 24

If you are fortunate enough to live in the UK, you can see the whole program (though you'll spell it programme, I suppose). When the Brits get over 1776, perhaps we'll be able to see it here.

PS: Hey, 60 Minutes (assuming you still exist) how about sending a camera into supreme Satmar headquarters?

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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The taste of manna

This thing (is it called a meme?) generated a lively Facebook conversation the other day that touched on several issues both near and dear to my heart. Let's begin at the beginning:

In some circles its a an article of of faith that the manna contained every possible flavor. This is taught in BT Yoma, and by every grade school teacher, and seems to be in direct opposition to the plain meaning of a biblical verse (Exodus 16:31):

לא  וַיִּקְרְאוּ בֵית-יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת-שְׁמוֹ, מָן; וְהוּא, כְּזֶרַע גַּד לָבָן, וְטַעְמוֹ, כְּצַפִּיחִת בִּדְבָשׁ.31 And the house of Israel called the name thereof Manna; and it was like coriander seed, white; and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey.

Later, we're also told (Numbers 11):

ז  וְהַמָּן, כִּזְרַע-גַּד הוּא; וְעֵינוֹ, כְּעֵין הַבְּדֹלַח.7 Now the manna was like coriander seed, and the appearance thereof as the appearance of bdellium. (an aromatic gum)
ח  שָׁטוּ הָעָם וְלָקְטוּ וְטָחֲנוּ בָרֵחַיִם, אוֹ דָכוּ בַּמְּדֹכָה, וּבִשְּׁלוּ בַּפָּרוּר, וְעָשׂוּ אֹתוֹ עֻגוֹת; וְהָיָה טַעְמוֹ, כְּטַעַם לְשַׁד הַשָּׁמֶן.8 The people went about, and gathered it, and ground it in mills, or beat it in mortars, and seethed it in pots, and made cakes of it; and the taste of it was as the taste of a cake baked with oil.

This seems straightforward enough -- manna tasted like honey wafers or oil cake - yet  elsewhere a very different point is made about the accouterments enjoyed by the Israelites during their travels.(Deut 2:7)

ז  כִּי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בֵּרַכְךָ, בְּכֹל מַעֲשֵׂה יָדֶךָ--יָדַע לֶכְתְּךָ, אֶת-הַמִּדְבָּר הַגָּדֹל הַזֶּה:  זֶה אַרְבָּעִים שָׁנָה, יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ עִמָּךְ--לֹא חָסַרְתָּ, דָּבָר.7 For the LORD thy God hath blessed thee in all the work of thy hand; He hath known thy walking through this great wilderness; these forty years the LORD thy God hath been with thee; thou hast lacked nothing.'

See the problem? If all the Israelites had to eat was manna, how could Moshe assert that they "lacked nothing." Therefore, it must be that everything imaginable was contained in maana.

An aggada on Numbers 11:8, recorded on BT Yoma 75 defends this idea, based on a pun on the word לְשַׁד

As any fan of Coupling knows, in Hebrew breasts are "shadayim", but the word (misogyny alert) also connects to shaydim, or demons.

R. Abbuha said: [Do not read le-shad (cake), but shad (breast)] viz: Just as the infant finds very many a flavour in the breast, so also did Israel find many a taste in the manna as long as they were eating it. Some there are who say: [‘Le-shad’ means] a real demon; even as the demon changes into many colours, so did the manna change into many tastes.
This is the background.

Now, can the word "liar" be used to describe school teacher who omits all of this, and instead teaches nothing but the myth of the manna's magical properties? Is such a teacher "denying" Exodus 16:31 and Number 11:8, as the mem, or whatever its called, suggests?

No, of course not. He's a lousy teacher who dramatically underestimates his students. He's cheapening the tradition and robbing his charges of their heritage. And he's probably lazy to boot. But he's neither a liar nor a heretic.
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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Today's stupid racist thing that is being distributed on Facebook by stupid racists

No one sane is going to judge Obama as more inept than Pierce, Fillmore and Grant, more corrupt than Harding and Nixon, more wasteful than Bush II, more subversive than Andrew Jonson, more destructive than Hoover, or more divisive than Lincoln, FDR and Clinton, to name a few. But nice try

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Long live the king/rebbah

Proposed Research Topic: When did Hasidim start hollering "Yechi"? Is is a deliberate aping of monarchists?

And while we're on the subject of monarchies can I say a few things? What qualifies that man in the white robe to serve as the unquestioned, absolute leader of his hasidim? Is he especially intelligent? Does he posses a fine character? Has he done anything to advance the causes of justice or charity? Has he published any Torah? Have his people thrived under his leadership?

How are his successes evaluated? What happens if he makes a mistake or demonstrates incompetence? Can he be checked, chastised, or corrected?  Can he be removed?

At the end of the day, what - aside from fear, superstition and ignorance - compels his people to put their lives in his hands?


Monday, January 28, 2013

Newspaper advert says whorishly clad women are the cause of the flu epidemic

This was spotted on Facebook. Allegedly, it was published in a newspaper somewhere.

So cancer, the flu, and rebellious children all result from immodest clothing. I knew it!

And the proof is a collection of fashion photos from 1915-18 which can be found here  The very worst flu epidemic in history was in 1918.

As you probably have already guessed, women in 1918 dressed like whores.

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Who wrote Exodus 16:35? A Torah true answer and a kefira answer

Who is the author of Exodus 16:35? (the other verse have been provided for context)

לד  כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יְהוָה, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה; וַיַּנִּיחֵהוּ אַהֲרֹן לִפְנֵי הָעֵדֻת, לְמִשְׁמָרֶת.34 As the LORD commanded Moses, so Aaron laid it up before the Testimony, to be kept.
לה  וּבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, אָכְלוּ אֶת-הַמָּן אַרְבָּעִים שָׁנָה--עַד-בֹּאָם, אֶל-אֶרֶץ נוֹשָׁבֶת:  אֶת-הַמָּן, אָכְלוּ--עַד-בֹּאָם, אֶל-קְצֵה אֶרֶץ כְּנָעַן.35 And the children of Israel did eat the manna forty years, until they came to a land inhabited; they did eat the manna, until they came into the borders of the land of Canaan.
לו  וְהָעֹמֶר, עֲשִׂרִית הָאֵיפָה הוּא.  {פ}36 Now an omer is the tenth part of an ephah. {P}

I am asking for two reasons:

(1) The verse couldn't have been written by Moshe, as the manna stopped falling about a month after his death. When the manna began falling Moshe had no way of knowing it would end when the people entered Canaan and no way of knowing that it would fall for 40 years. (Of course, you can play the "prophecy" card, which is fine, but you still must agree this verse was not revealed to the people and added to the Torah until after Moshe died*. Perhaps Moshe whispered the verse to Joshua before he departed for Har Nebo, with instructions to add it to the Torah in six weeks time.)

(2) Verse 35 looks like a doublet or two different accounts of the same event. We're told that the the Israelites a) ate manna  for forty years, until they reached an inhabited land; and that b) they ate manna  until they came to the borders of Canaan.

Torah True Answer:
There's no problem at all with saying that some words, glosses, and even verses were added by men other than Moshe. I've blogged about this at length, but the definitive summary - including the not to be missed thoughts of the criminally unknown rishon R' Yosef Tov Eluem - is provided here by Adderabi.

To my eyes, it certainly looks like verse 35 was added later by someone who knew how things ended. As you'll see R' Yosef Tov Elum allows for this.  (Going, further, verse 36 looks like a gloss provided by someone who worried readers wouldn't recognize the word "omer," doesn't it?)

I don't see any theological problem in observing this problem, nor do I think any important principle is offended by the solution given here which I'll say again is based on the teachings of a rishon.

Kefira Answer:
Richard Eliot Friedman says that the first part of the verse belongs to P, a school of writers he says was active at the end of the First Temple period (other heretics put P at the beginning of the Second Temple) The second part of the verse, he says, is J.

I don't know his justification for this identification, but perhaps with some concentration and review I'll succeed at working it out.

* The reason: Its a basic yesod of time-travel that you can't tell someone his or her own future. So if Moshe had announced to them (writing in the past tense no less!) that the manna would stop in 40 years (before they even committed the sin that required the forty year detour!) you'd have some serious metaphysical Back to the Future level problems

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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Meet Yair Lapid

We American's don't know too much about Yair Lapid, the new wunderkind of Israeli politics and many of us are reflexively afraid of his last name. The video embedded above is a solid introduction to his style and way of thinking, and more than worth the 20-odd minutes it will take you to watch it.

In a nutshell, his speech concedes defeat to the Haredim and begs the new overlords to please be as unobnoxious as possible. Yet, Lapid does this with no snark or malice or bitterness whatsoever, and makes some solid points while sounding some generous and conciliatory notes. Watch it now, and thank me later.

Satmar and the WSJ

Hey, will you look at this? The Satmar hating media has published photos of the big royal wedding.

See the Wall Street Journal slide show here.

PS: You can win valuable DovBear dollars by explaining how these photos support Satmar paranoia about the media. Just point out the "bashing" and you win!

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Would we read the table of contents, too?

The 106th Psalm is very long, but if you stay with it all the way to the end, you'll find it concludes with what's called a doxology, or a short hymn of praise:

מז  הוֹשִׁיעֵנוּ, יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ,    וְקַבְּצֵנוּ, מִן-הַגּוֹיִם:
לְהֹדוֹת, לְשֵׁם קָדְשֶׁךָ;    לְהִשְׁתַּבֵּחַ, בִּתְהִלָּתֶךָ.
47 Save us, O LORD our God, and gather us from among the nations, {N}
that we may give thanks unto Thy holy name, that we may triumph in Thy praise.
מח  בָּרוּךְ יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל,    מִן-הָעוֹלָם וְעַד הָעוֹלָם--
וְאָמַר כָּל-הָעָם    אָמֵן:
48 Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, from everlasting even to everlasting,
and let all the people say: 'Amen.'

These two concluding lines do not connect thematically to the rest of the Psalm, and were likely added afterwards. The most famous example (in Jewish tradition) of a doxology is the kaddish. It's still used this way which is why it is recited at the end of every segment and sub-segment of the davening. If you're having trouble imagining how a doxology works or what purpose it serves think of kaddish, and how we use it, say, to mark the transition from Pisukei D'zimrah to Shachris. The little prayer tacked on to the end of Psalm 106 looks like the same thing.

What I find even more interesting is the doxology at the end of Psalm 106 seems to contain a stage direction. The writer records the doxology ( Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, from everlasting even to everlasting,) and then provides an instruction for the congregation: ( let all the people say: 'Amen.' Hallelujah.")

Nowadays, anyone who uses this Psalm as a prayer is likely to read the instruction ("let all the people say") as if it was part of the psalm.Would we read the table of contents, too? As a matter of fact most of us do  - at the Passover Seder when we chant the order of events before kiddush.

There are other example of this phenomenon, including the introductory parts of Kedusha, which were intended to be said by the Chazan only, and the parentheticals in the Nusach Sefard (Hasidic) version of davening which are often grammatically unsound and were meant as silent kavanot

Nowadays, however,  the rule seems to be that if its on the page we recite it.

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Friday, January 25, 2013

Feed the birds - Midrash

For the halacha portion of this shiur, see: Feed the birds - Halacha

As Rabbis begin to justify and then permit what their predecessors criticized, elaborate explanations and justifications are constructed. Regarding the custom of feeding birds on Shabbos Shira we are told that:
  • The birds are fed as a way of thanking them for accompanying our ancestors when they sang the Song of the Sea (Aruch Hashulchan)
  • Birds fly in the air, and so does song. So on the shabbos of singing we honor birds (Likutei Shoshanim)
  • The birds undermined the men who tried to undermine God by putting out maan on Shabbos, a day when God said ma'an wouldn't fall. The birds defeated the plot by eating what the underminers had scattered around, so we thank them every year on Shabbos Shira (Rav Menachem Mendel of Rimnov)
  • Feeding the birds reminds us the God feeds us. He scattered ma'an for us, so we scatter food for the birds. Or something like that. (Ohr P'nei Moshe)
What seems obvious here is that no halachic process was employed to create this custom. Pleasant as it is to pretend otherwise, the Rabbis never gather around the wisdom table to address the needs and failings of new generations by inventing new customs. What they do is look at the things people are already doing and create rationales. Thus we are told that upshurin, a straight lifting of the Muslim Aqeeqah ceremony (video below: note the balloons and bearded father.) is really and truly derived from the law against taking fruit from a tree for the first three years.

Sometimes (see Hasidut, history of) the Rabbis also took things that have already been justified and explained and authorized by their predecessors and revitalized them by introducing new, more appealing reasons. Thus we are told that the Arbah Minim, which were first explained (Vayikrah Rabba 30) as symbols of Jewish unity (ie all types of Jews join together to worship God), or symbols of individual unity (ie we use all of our organs and strengths to worship God) are really magical, spiritual antenna that channel divine energy into the world.

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Feed the birds - Halacha

One of the great case studies on how holy minhag is allowed to destroys normative halacha is bird feeding on Shabbos Shira. I'll let this great footnote from an Avi Zivotosfky article, cited by Josh@Parshablog, do the heavy lifting:
Among those who criticized this practice were the Magen Avraham (324:7); Rabbi Yaakov Emden (Siddur, Sha'ar Hagai, no. 7, p. 371 in 5664 ed.; who called the practice “foolish and prohibited”); Shulchan Aruch Harav (OC 324:8); Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 87:18; Chazon Ish (Orchat Rabbeinu, Shabbat 201, vol. 1, p. 152); Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky (Shoneh Halachot 324:12); and the Mishnah Berurah 324:31. Shemirat Shabbat Kehilchatah (27:21) is also against it, but offers a way to avoid the problem. The author suggests that one may shake out a tablecloth outdoors (in a place with an eruv), even if doing so will allow the birds to get the crumbs. However, the Maharsham (Da’at Torah 324); Aruch Hashulchan (324:3) and She’arim HaMetzuyanim BeHalachah (87:8) justify the practice of feeding the birds. Tzitz Eliezer (14:28) notes that placing food for birds on Shabbat Shirah is an old Yerushalmi custom practiced by distinguished individuals and should not be challenged. Note that despite all those who defend the Shabbat Shirah practice, no one defends feeding the fish during tashlich.
See what's going on here? It is precisely the process I described in Warning. Warning. Judaism is about to become more complicated.

In the beginning, Rabbis opposed the practice of feeding birds on Shabbos Shiura. All the great names came out against it. 

But when the custom refused to die out the Rabbis changed their tune.

Despite the criticism of the early achronim, later authorities began to cosign the practice. These included the
  • Maharsham ( Rabbi Sholom Mordechai Schwadron who died in 1911), 
  • Aruch Hashulchan (a book published by Rabbi Yechiel Michel Epstein in short installments between 1884 and 1893)
  • She’arim HaMetzuyanim BeHalachah (published in 1948); and 
  • Shemirat Shabbat Kehilchatah (written by Yehoshua Yeshaya Neuwirth who was born in 1935).
Quite tellingly an authority of our own generation, the Tzitz Eliezer, looks at sinners who openly violated rulings made by great Rabbis and pronounces them infallible. As he writes (14:28) he saw pious people feed birds on Shabbos Shira and he won't criticize them. This, in a nutshell, is how the insane creative and original practices of one generation become the holy minhag of another.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Three Famous Rabbis Reject Segulahs... but not in the way I would have wanted them to

Three famous Brooklyn Rabonim took a mighty swing for the fences... but what should have been a home run landed slightly short...

As appreciative as I am to see someone with stature finally go on record in opposition to the charlatans and con men who prey on misfortune, this letter is not as strong as it should have been. My specific issue is with the words, "We urge you to consult your Rov before responding to these ads."

Why are we being urged to consult our Rabbis prior to tossing our money into the gutter? The ad says the claims are false, so what's to discuss? The segulahs don't work, the claims on their behalf are bogus, and the people behind them are bunko artists. This is what I gather I am supposed to understand from the words "These claims are not true" and the words "Ads which [promise] yehuos should be ignored." So what's with the hedge? Why send us to our Rabbis if you're already told us not to send the crooks our money?

I also dislike that helping Torah institutions is given more prominence than helping poor people. Keeping the lights on so people can learn is nice, but feeding the hungry and clothing the naked is more important. Even granting a poor kallah the dignity of a slightly nicer wedding ranks higher than making a contribution to the Rosh Yeshiva's salary fund.

So I guess you can summarize my objection as follows: Though we must lament that it took this long, its still wonderful that three (out of what? 3000?) Rabbis took a stand for truth. I only wish it might have been done without also reinforcing establishment charities and institutional prerogatives.

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Water into wine

Killing him coming and going

Guy I know on Facebook is utterly and completed convinced that Barack Obama is a Marxist super-villain  who has already rolled out a sneaky and nefarious plot-of-a-bad-action-movie plan to take over the world. I kid you not.

If you're a frum Jew, you probably know people like this, too.

At the same time, my Facebook "friend" is also dead certain that conditions in our America are "eerily similar" to the Wimer Germany conditions that facilitated Adolph Hitler's rise to power. They had a bad economy and we have a bad economy(1). They banned guns and we banned guns(2). Simplistic, unworthy of a response type stuff like that.

However, being slightly deranged,  I responded anyway. (3)

In particular, I tried to address the claim that Obama is a devout God-hating secularist by reminding my "friend" about the inauguration ceremony. It began and ended with a prayer. Some of the musical selections were religious in nature. Jesus came up far too often for my taste. Obama, himself,  called on God to bless us. And Chuck Shumer even toasted the president in Hebrew!

(ICYMI Jon Stewart, a great American, ran a montage of all of the day's Godly moments. See it below)

My friend's response? Obama is a con-man! He's only pretending to tolerate religion! Once you let your guard down, thanks to masquerades such as this one, he's going to ban God and guns!.

Is there anyone out there who can't see how crazy this is? The president is only pretending to tolerate religion? Um... well, meanwhile isn't religion being tolerated? So what's your beef?


(1) Our economy is on the rebound, but crazy people haven't noticed.
(2) We have not, in fact banned guns, BCPHN
(3) As you can see, even here I can't allow the absurdities to go unanswered.

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Disqus Data Refutes Harry Maryles, Yaakov Menken and others who diss anonymity

Well, it looks like my intuition was correct: According to Disqus, the massive commenting system, people using pseudonyms leave the best comments:
The service gives each user the option of commenting with a Disqus account, a social media identity or anonymously. It says 61 percent of commenters use pseudonyms, 35 percent choose to be anonymous and 4 percent use their “real identity” verified by Facebook. It also says those with pseudonyms post the best comments, while anonymous comments are lower quality. One theory: People don’t mind being accountable online, but they don’t want it to blow back on their work or personal lives by using a real identity. A pseudonym protects them while providing a measure of accountability.
To summarize their methodology: Disqus knows if the person leaving the comment is using a real name or using a pseudonym  Disqus also keeps track of "positive" signals such as "likes" and "replies" as well as "negative" signals such as flags for spam or deletes by a moderator. As a result, its a simple thing to determine which type of comments receive which types of signals.

According to the data, pseudonyms receive the best feedback --suggesting that the people behind them are adding the most value to comment threads.

So let's retire the claim that people are ruder and more disruptive when they don't use their real names. Or, let's at least admit that rudeness does not necessarily damage the overall quality of a thread, as rudeness and passion often go together. If nothing else the data shows that, in general, whatever those of  us who are using pseudonyms are doing is, in fact, making comment threads better for most people.

Feel free to link to this post as a rejoinder whenever you come across someone claiming anonymity hurts commenting.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Wilson gets inaugurated, but no one pays attention

After you've gawked at the funny hats worn by the Supreme Court Justices and by outgoing president Taft and his entourage, look at the hullabaloo going on behind incoming president Wilson at the moment he takes the oath. People are still taking their seats. Many have their backs turned to him. Others are milling around. Its as if the least interesting thing taking place on the Capital balcony at that moment is the inauguration of a president.

And they say we have bad manners?

The explanation, I believe, is the absence of microphones. When we can't hear the proceedings we tend to do our own thing. This is why shteeble women have a reputation for being especially chatty. It isn't because this particular sub-phylum of woman lacks self-discipline. Its because they are sequestered behind stout mechitzahs and are unable to see or hear male speakers. So of course, they chat.

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Red Sea Miracles

Name this work of art
According to Avos 5:5 there were ten miracles at the sea:

Ten miracles were performed for our fathers in Egypt and ten at the [Red] Sea. Ten plagues did the Holy One, blessed be He, bring upon the Egyptians in Egypt and ten at the sea."

As we saw with the ten trials of Abraham, there is no agreement among the Rabbis as to what these ten Red Sea miracles actually were. Different lists have been produced by various interpreters. The first (?) and  most famous one is in Avot d'Rabbi Natan. Here the performance of the miracles is imagined as a dialogue between Moshe and the people. After Moshe performs one miracle, the people demand another and refuse to cross until it is performed, and so on.

The ARN list includes the following miracles:
Tunnels were made in the sea
The sea was turned into a valley before them
Multiple paths (later, and not here, determined to be one for each tribe) were opened up in the sea
The water (or the path) was turned into clay
The water (or the path) was dry (or as barren) as a desert or wilderness
The sea was broken into pieces (I do not know what this means)
The sea was turned into rocks (as paving stones?)
The sea was turned into dry land (I don't see how this is different from a valley or a wilderness)
The sea was turned into walls (I don't see what advantage this offers)
The sea stood up like Nayd Nozlim (flasks containing liquids?) which released honey and oil into the mouths of children
And (11th miracle) some say that fresh water came out of the sea for them.
Cleverly, the author (or, OK, let's be fancy, the tradents)  connects each of these miracles to an interpretation of a verse. Interestingly enough, he's willing to suggest 11 miracles, though his text speaks specifically of 10.

To me this suggests two things occurred - perhaps concurrently. Over time, interpreters working in various eras interpreted various verses in ways that suggested extra miracles occurred at the Red Sea. For instance Psalm  136:13 tells us the Sea was divided into sections (KJV: divided the Red sea into parts ). Why, an interpreter may have asked, was this necessary? The apparent answer:  To (miraculously) allow each Tribe to have its own private path.

Simultaneously, or perhaps afterwards, it was somehow and for some reason decided that exactly ten miracles were performed for the Jews at the sea. I don't know where we got this idea, but I have some guesses:  Perhaps someone counted up the verse interpretations mentioned above and came up with ten miracles; or, more likely, perhaps someone noticed that the Song of the Sea mentions 10 bad things that happened to the Egyptians at the sea (they were sunk in the water; dashed to pieces; sunk like lead, etc) and thought it was appropriate to match those ten negatives with ten miracles.

Sus v'rochvo rama bayam
When I first started investigating this question, I expected to find that the ten Red Sea Miracles were examples of what I irreverently call "Midrashic fan fiction." In many places we find the Rabbis describing miracles or personalities or events in hyperbolic terms. For example, we're told Pharaoh was a midget, presumably as a way of embarrassing him. The Rabbis often did this to make their points, or opinions or editorial viewpoints abundantly clear.  I had assumed that the Red Sea miracles were also an example of this. I thought the stories about paved roads and honey dispensers were invented simply to emphasize God's goodness to us.

Now I think there's probably more to the story.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

103 years!

Readers, get your pidyun shivuyin dollars ready:
Hasidic Therapist Sentenced to 103 Years in Sexual Abuse Case 
An unlicensed therapist who was a prominent member of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn was sentenced on Tuesday to 103 years in prison for repeatedly sexually abusing a young woman, beginning the attacks when she was 12. Read the rest
It is, alas, my unhappy duty to report that the article about Weberman's sentencing said nothing about all the chesed done in Satmar thus painting a scandalously biased picture of the community and proving once again, beyond a shadow of a doubt,  that the next pogrom is literally right around the corner.

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Its so touching how Jews look after each other

This sort of thing just warms your heart right up, doesn't it? Via Craig's List

Once again, we can see how the Satmar people are all about chesed.

Next time you media wolves run one of your negative reports about HaRav Hagaon Hashem Yakim es Damo Weberman please make sure to highlight this representative example of true, beautiful Satmar cooperation.

Monday, January 21, 2013


A guest post by Eliyahu Fink

What follows is a note Rabbi Fink sent to Harry Maryles in response to his current post about anonymity  I was included on the thread, and the note is published with permission

I am not blogging these days as I am studying for the bar. But I could not resist responding to your recent post of anonymity.

I think you are way off on this, and particularly in your attacks against DovBear.

Do you have any idea what it is like to live in NY and try to veer from the accepted norms of the frum community? It's impossible. For DovBear, it would have been literally social suicide to have not been anonymous. He has taken unpopular positions that would have completely cut and his family off from their families and friends. Why should he have to pay that price? Why should his family have to pay that price? It speaks to your inability to put yourself in someone's else's place to criticize him for anonymity.

It is fair to criticize anyone for nastiness. Whether anonymous or not. Personally, I don't find DovBear particularly nasty. Do you even read his blog on a regular basis? And your argument that anonymity as the reason for nastiness is ridiculous. I know plenty of non-anonymous people who are nasty on a regular basis.

Your post misses the point completely. Don't blame anonymous bloggers for being anonymous. Blame hooligans and thugs and stupid social norms for forcing independently minded people into anonymity. YOU have nothing to lose by not being anonymous. The controversial things you might say won't affect anything that you care about. You are an outsider and a grandfather by now. DovBear is an insider with children and a wife on the inside with him. He has everything to lose by not being anonymous.

Would you prefer a world without any DovBears? Because that's your only other option. if you abolish anonymity There won't be DovBears unless you are willing to accept their anonymity. Their world is too dangerous for real names. That's the real problem here.

And nastiness is not as bad as you make it sound. Do you read the rishonim and achronim? They argue vociferously all the time. When truth hangs in the balance, nastiness is part of the territory.

Finally, DovBear's argument for anonymity as a better way for discussing ideas is an excellent point which you handily dismiss. Frum people consider "the source" before all else. If a guy has the wrong yarmulka or a TV in his house, all his opinions are null and void. Anonymity somewhat fixes that problem. You also shrug off the insidious nature of Menken's witch hunt to expose Avi Burstein. He looked him up, found the wrong guy, and then discredited him because of who he thought he was! Insane! If there was even an argument FOR anonymity, Menken made it right there for us all.

I think your post is dangerously wrong. If I were blogging, I would be making these points publicly.

All the best and Good Shabbos

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MLK and what he has to say to the 21st century Jew

MLK survives in living memory, so his holiday hasn't yet become a day of shopping and sales. Give it a few more years.

When I was a kid, before his birthday was nationally recognized, excerpts from that great speech he made at the Lincoln Memorial were played on the news every year on either his birthday or his deathday. Who remembers? But thanks to that tradition,  I knew the speech's refrain - I have a dream - from my earliest days. I didn't know what he had dreamed,  but I knew a black man with a deep baritone had experienced various sensations during sleep, and for some reason the contents of that dream had made him famous.

Later, I learned about segregation, and the bus boycott, and Bull Conner, and, to quote Bono's bloated lyrics,  that "early morning, April 4" when a fatal "Shot [rang] out in the Memphis sky." Later, I learned about Jim Crow and how otherwise decent people could be perfect assholes to one another in the service of a myth or in defense of a tradition. Later I stared to wonder what all of that meant to me, and  I understood that everything MLK said about love and justice and how creating "tension in the mind" makes things better is applicable to almost anything. Some examples:

  • He wrote the Letter from Birmingham Jail about segregation, of course, but I can't read it without thinking about Slifkin and Kolko, and all the other examples of cowardice, complicity, intellectual laziness, superstition and "fear of boat rocking" we see every day in our communities. 
  • He writes about "Funtown" and the "ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in [a girl's] little mental sky" when she learns the park is closed to her race, and I think about our little girls and their mental skies when they are told from the very beginning that Executive Secretary, or perhaps Speech Therapist is as far as they are likely to go. 
  • He writes about a "type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth." and I think of our blogs, and the establishment figures who come after them with fire hoses. 
  • He says "I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham." and I recall the great Rabbi who recently refused to intervene on behalf of children in Flatbush on the grounds that he was a Boro Park Rav. 
Some of these are tricks of the mind of course - a subjective interpretation - but not all of them. In some cases he accurately describes our ailment and prescribes its cure.

So, for all those reasons and more, raise a glass to Martin Luthor King, Jr., today.

Martin Luther King, Jr: Selected Readings

We are not satisfied and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.... I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together. ― Martin Luther King, Jr., Address at the Freedom March on Washington D.C, 28 August 1963

For nonviolence not only calls upon its adherents to avoid external physical violence, but it calls upon them to avoid internal violence of spirit. It calls on them to engage in that something called love. And I know it is difficult sometimes. When I say love at this point, I'm not talking about an affectionate emotion. It's nonsense to urge people, oppressed people, to love their oppressors in an affectionate sense. I'm talking about something much deeper. I'm talking about a sort of understanding, creative, redemptive goodwill for all men. ― Martin Luther King, Jr., Address at the Freedom Rally in Cobo Hall, 23 June 1963

Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. ― Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from the Birmingham Jail

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Harry is wrong. Anonymity makes blogging better.

Harry Maryles says he disagrees with my posts over the last few days, in which I argue in  favor of as much online anonymity as possible. In what follows I explain why he is wrong:

Note: I don't mean any disrespect in referring to Harry Maryles by his first name. We've known each other for a very long time, and I consider him a colleague who often takes the same side as I do on important issues. Also, I am not a very formal guy. Don't make a big deal out of it.

Dovbear - who himself chooses to be anonymous - is a good example of why he shouldn’t be. His writing is sometimes very nasty

This is an exaggeration.  I happen to think Avi Shafran and Yaakov Menken are far more nasty than I am, and they use their real names! If you doubt this, see any of their posts on heterodox rabbis. They are always full of lies and snide remarks.

A luxury he affords himself because of that anonymity. 


And even if it was true, how would Harry know? I'm anonymous,  remember? So what possible basis does he have for claiming that the way I behave on my blog is substantively different from the way I behave in public? He has no idea, and because he has no idea, he should say nothing. Making a groundless guess about someone is a breach of good manners, and let's not ignore that he committed this small act of nastiness even though he is using his real name. So much for the theory that real names enhance civility.

While I may agree or disagree with him, I find it very distasteful when he writes that way - and that occasionally it crosses the line of respecting human dignity.

That's fine. You're entitled to make that statement, and if you were to make it on my comment thread I wouldn't delete it. However, you have no good reason to think its produced by my anonymity. For all you know, what you see on the blog is the real me. And besides:  plenty of our blogging colleagues use their real names, and they are nasty, too. So much for the theory that real names enhance civility.

I would be willing to bet that this is why he guards his identity so religiously. He does not want people to think of him the way they do about “Dovbear”.

You would lose that bet. 

I am anonymous because I don't want my wife and kids to have to put up with any of the unfriendly, unfair, vicious people who have crossed my blogging path. The world is full of jerks, and I am entitled to privacy. If it costs me credibility, so be it. That's my choice, and I am entitled to make it. 

In a very self-serving way

Questioning my motives is also a breach of good manners. I find it distasteful. (for real) And yet - let's note again - the fact that we all know your name hasn't stopped you from behaving towards me in an uncivil way. (I don't mean the criticism. I mean the baseless guesses about my motives. Its not good etiquette.)

he thus tries to actually make an argument for anonymity as a better way of communicating ideas. Anonymity - he says - forces respondents to consider the argument rather than focus on the identity. 

This is true. It is a better way to discuss ideas, for the reasons I gave.

Moreover, it makes the blogging better. The comment threads are more lively and more fun, and we are able to discuss anything we like in any manner we like without having to endure tzitzis checks at shul and school.

The people who oppose anonymity, generally, are the people who would like to be conducting those tzitzis checks.  A lesser man than me would pause here to speculate about Harry's motives, but I won't go there. 

That would be true if it were not accompanied by the insults that frequently come with anonymous comments.

Most of my comment writers are anonymous, and insults are very rare - and certainly not frequent. 

In fact, after nearly nine years of reading thousands of my own comment threads and probably close to one million comments, most of which were left by anonymous people, I can safely say that Harry's  premise is false: Insults DO NOT frequently come with anonymous comments. (Readers: Do you agree with me?)

And again, even if Harry was right, it would still be true that anonymity forces respondents to consider the argument rather than focus on the identity. Harry hasn't offered any counterargument. He merely introduced a (false) fact that did nothing to defeat my claim.

He makes note of the fact that Rabbi Menken actually misused the knowledge he thought he had gained googling a commenter who used his real name. Rather than focusing on the content of his message he focused on the individual and used it to discredit him rather than respond to comment. But googling that name prodcuced information about someone else with that name.

Correct. This actually happened. And now that it has happened, why would anyone see any profit in using his real name on Cross Currents if he was after an honest exchange of ideas? Harry doesn't answer this question either. Also, one of Menken's colleagues on Cross Currents has been known to call commenters and bloggers on the phone and yell at them when they say things he doesn't like. Real bullying stuff. Who in their right mind would want to be exposed to such madness? Who would want their kids and spouses to have to deal with it? Its so much saner, so much simpler and so much safer to just use a pseudonym.

Dovbear is right about that. Rabbi Menken was wrong. But that does not diminish his point about lowering the level of discourse when the comments are made anonymously

Perhaps it doesn't diminish your point, but (sorry to keep pointing this out) you still haven't gone to the trouble of proving your point. Do you have any data, or even an anecdote, that suggests anonymity lowers the level of discourse? Sure,  Avi Shafran (who has his own self serving reason to oppose online anonymity) constantly says its true, but he's never bothered to prove it either. Anyway, I have seen more comment threads and comments than the both of you combined, and I say it isn't so. The level of discourse isn't lowered when people are anonymous. Its enhanced. People are free to say what they like, and because no one is using a real name, no one can get hurt. 

And can I make another point that Harry hasn't grasped? You never know if someone is using his real name on a comment thread. Just because I might write a comment using the name Yaakov Shwartz is no proof that I really am Yaakov Shwartz  and besides, with so many Yaakov Shwartzs in the world, why should using my real name make me worry about how I come across on a blog thread? If someone complains to me about it in person, I can always say the comment was left by a different Yaakov Shwartz. So what have we gained? 

I believe Dovbear is wrong in the argument he makes favoring anonymity. He says that anonymity forces you to respond to content instead of focusing on the individual. That is a specious argument. 

Ok, you think its "specious". Are you going to tell us why?

If you have something to say it doesn’t make any difference if you know the identity of the commenter or not. If you want to attack a commenter with vile insults instead of responding to their content - you can do that without knowing their identity too.

I guess not. Sigh.

So to sum up the reasons why Harry is wrong:

(1) Using your real name doesn't guarantee civility. Plenty of online jerks use their real names. It has not made them more civil.

(2) Gaining credibility through the use of your name is a lazy short cut. Better to win it through the strength of your arguments.

(3) There's no such thing as a "real name" on a comment board. You can never know if the person using the name Yaakov Shwartz on a comment board uses that names in real life, as well.

The Bottom Line
The people who wish to end online anonymity are also the people who think Kolko got a raw deal and would like to stone kofrim in Times Square. They're the people who Google your name so they can cover it with mud or so they can call you up on the phone and harangue you into silence  They hate anonymity but not because they value civility but because they value orthodoxy and anonymous blogging threatens it. Rather then muster solid counter arguments, these people want to know the names of the unorthodox bloggers so that they can be made to suffer for their ideas. This is what's at stake - this is the real thinking behind the anti-anonymity push -- and Harry Maryles should be ashamed of himself for giving them cover.

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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Here's why you should NEVER use your real name on Cross Currents

A continuation of the previous posts

Cross Currents says:

...anonymity shields these writers from self-reflection, humility, and careful judgment.

Using a fake name also forces the creator of Cross Currents to actually consider your arguments. If you give him your real name, he might take the short cut of undermining your points based on biographical factoids he found on the Internet. Think I'm kidding? Unfortunately, this actually happened when someone called "Avi Burstein" attempted to join a discussion about Haredi culture:
Avi Burstein
January 7, 2013 at 11:02 pm
R’ Menken, unfortunately, your portrayal of how “normal” chareidi people react would be disputed by many people. In my experience, many, probably the vast majority, of “normal” chareidim adopt whatever position they are told is the “Torah True” one to believe. And so, when the people who are supposed to lead the community choose to remain silent, they are allowing the extremists to shape the public opinion, and thereby allow for the problematic view to gain an ever greater grip upon the community. If people like this rav would actually speak up, voice his opinion, and speak out against the extremist view, it would weaken the extremists hold on the community significantly. And it would bring many people who are on the fence to that way of seeing the issue
But instead of actually addressing the claims, his opponent went to Google and tried to demonstrate that Burstein was pretending to knowledge he didn't posses:
Yaakov Menken
January 8, 2013 at 11:04 am
Because Avi Burstein uses his real name, it takes only a moment to learn that Avi was born at roughly the same time that I entered the charedi community, and attended YU. From his description of charedi sociology, it seems to me that he has minimal true familiarity with it, but was fed roughly the same things that my Modern Orthodox college peers believed.
Let's document the atrocities:

(1) How can we be sure that the man who wrote the original comment is actually named "Avi Burstein?" Perhaps "Avi Burstein" is a pseudonym.

(2) The counterargument was made against Burstein's background rather than against the points he actually raised. Such ad hominen arguments are frowned upon in polite society, and a fool proof way to avoid them is to insist on pseudonyms. This exchange cited above suggests one of the reasons Cross Currents wants its readers to use their real names is so that such fallacious attacks remain available to the blog's writers.

(3) Does it need to said that charedim attend YU, and YU graduates sometimes join charedi communities? The mere fact that Burstein attended YU does not preclude him from knowing a thing or two about Charedim.

(4) Leaving all of this aside, how does Yaakov Mencken know he got the right guy? Might there be more than one "Avi Burstein" in the world?

And guess what:
Avi Burstein
January 8, 2013 at 1:16 pm
By the way, I never attended YU. You’re mixing me up with someone else. In case you didn’t know this, sometimes two different people have the same name.
The takeaway seems obvious, so be forewarned: If you're interested in a real discussion of ideas don't use your real name on Cross Currents!

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No one needs to know your name on a blog Part 2

Cross Currents is infamous for they way in which it's writers manage their comment boards. Often critical remarks are not published, or held back until after interest in the conversation has evaporated. One of its contributors refuses to allow comments on his posts at all, and recently the blog's creator wrote a post arguing against the use of pseudonyms on the grounds that:

...anonymity shields these writers from self-reflection, humility, and careful judgment.
There are a few things wrong with this statement. 

First, plenty of non-anonymous writers are similarly incapable of "self-reflection, humility, and careful judgment." Indeed, some of them write for Cross Currents. Using your name does not guarantee that that your writing will suddenly become measured and mature. One has very little to do with the other.

Second, what magical formula does Cross Currents use to determine the difference between pseudonyms and real names? Ok, some names like "Bray of Fundie" are obviously fake, but others aren't. For years, I thought "Chaim Grossferstant" was Bray's real name. Turns out, its just another one of his aliases. There are lots of generic names: Yaakov Shwartz. Chaim Rosenberg. Lazar Ginsburg - how will Cross Currents know which are real, and which are pseudonyms? And because you can't tell the difference between a real Chaim Shwartz and a fake Chaim Shwartz why bother caring? Focus on the comment instead.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

No one needs to know your name on a blog

Someone (It doesn't matter who. Which is part of the point I make below.) has published a long piece on blogging, commenting and being anonymous. You can find it with Google, if you wish. 

In the piece, he explains why people may legitimately or illegitimately wish to remain anonymous and discusses the effect this has on the virtual conversations we enjoy on forums like this one. Some of what he says is right; some of it is wrong. For instance....

A delicate question

Dear DovBear:

I have a delicate question I can't address to anyone I know. Would you be willing to post it on your blog, and crowd source some answers? Thank you. Here is the problem:

My daughter is Bes Yaakov educated and a kind, nice girl. She's not very well read and I believe she is ignorant about lots of things as most of her time is spent chatting with friends about clothing and pop culture. She is 17.

Recently she began a relationship with a boy from our neighborhood. Her school would toss her out if they knew about it, but we believe that if we banned her from seeing the boy their relationship would be driven underground.  Therefore we have given lukewarm approval.

The approach has worked. Our daughter has been very forthcoming and reliable...  always asking us permission before going to see him and obeying her curfew. We've even met him four or five times. The relationship is about four months old.

My husband and do not approve of premarital sex, but we aren't naive. We know it goes on in every circle and every community and every yeshiva no matter how right wing. We don't want our daughter to sleep with her young man, of course, but if she does we want them to take precautions  The problem is that we strongly doubt our daughter knows what those precautions are and we're rather certain she has no idea  how to acquire them.

How can I make sure she's educated and protected without making it seem like we approve of premarital sex?


-- Worried mother.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

I just ate lunch. That'll upset the Muslims.

A guest post by Philo

Today, a Facebook group called "USA Stands with Israel" posted as fact a questionable rumor that Kate Middleton is halachically Jewish (on her mother's side) and that therefore, "The future king of England will be a Jew according to Jewish Law and tradition."

First of all, the baby may be a girl, so it may be the future queen, not king. But what really annoyed me was the way the entire post was introduced:
"This is really going to upset the Muslims in Britain."

Her ancestry certainly a fact worth sharing, if true. But what on earth does that have to do with British Muslims? Does everything have to be viewed through that lens? It shows a very narrow and bigoted worldview, and a bizarre form of triumphalism.

Unfortunately, looking through the past posts of "USA Stands with Israel" shows that this is a running theme, and that whoever runs this group is a racist with a one track mind.

Also, they can't take criticism. When I commented on the post, saying essentially what I said above, my comment was removed fairly quickly.


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The Virginity Blessing

A guest post by Pen Tivokesh
Filed under:  The more Judaism changes, um, the less it resembles Judaism

The picture below is a snapshot of Halakhot Gedolot. As if anyone thought Judaism immutable and is in direct continuity of what was once, but a ceremony exists in literature of which we know nothing at all, with a blessing to fit, perhaps say some, written by the same writer of the blessing we still say at brisim.

The virginity blessing Asher Tzag

ברוך אתה ה' אלהינו מלך העולם אשר צג אגוז בגן עדן שושנת העמקים בל ימשול זר במעי חתום, על כן אילת אהבים זרע קודש שמרה בטהרה וחוק לא הפירה. ברוך אתה ה' הבוחר באברהם ובזרעו אחריו מקדש בני ישראל.

צג is in some texts צר
אגוז is in some texts זוג

-- DB Interpolates --

This translates as: Blessed... who placed (or created) a walnut in the Garden of Eden, the lily of the valley, so that no stranger shall have dominion over the sealed spring, in this way (for this reason) the loving doe protects the holy seed in purity, and didn't violate the law  Blessed... who chooses the descendants of Abraham and makes Israel holy.

(1) walnut, lilly, sealed srping... these are all allusions to Shir Hashirim

(2) The Virgin Mary is often described in similar terms. The lilly is a traditional symbol of the Virgin Mary, the "sealed spring" was taken as a reference to her womb (womb often being a euphemism for vagina)   This overlap suggests that one faith copied from the other, or that the verses in Song of Songs were independently interpreted the same way. I don't know what actually happened.

(3) "...the loving doe that protects the holy seed in purity" sounds to me like an especially gross reference to BY Yoma 29A which tells us:

Why was Esther compared to a doe? To tell you that just as a doe has a narrow womb and is desirable to her mate at all times as at the first time, so was Esther precious to King Ahasuerus at all times as at the first time

Its not hard to imagine a tight womb (and remember the euphemistic meaning) protecting holy seed though I can't begin to guess why the blessing's author thought to single this out.


A fifteenth century Cairo geniza siddur has a formal declaration to be uttered by the husband which reads in part.

מצאתי בתולי אשתי והיא כשרה טהורה ... ואלה בתולי אשתי....
I have found the evidence of my wife's virginity, and she is kosher and pure... and here is the evidence of her virginity - DB

after which someone other than the groom recites the blessing.

Maimonides is asked (Teshuvot Harambam, II:364-365, #207):

יורנו הדרתו גם כן עניין הברכה הנקראת ברכת בתולים, והיא אשר צג אגוז בגן עדן. וזה, שבעת שבא הקהל בבית החתן ביום השבת להתפלל או לברכו נוטל המברך בידו כוס ומברך על הגפן ו)על( הבשמים, ומברך זאת הברכה אשר צג, ופותח בה שם ובמלכות וחותם בשם כשאר הברכות. היש לזאת הברכה עיקר או היא מנהג? יורנו הדרתו

Teach us about the Virgin Blessing [containing the words] "Created a nut in Gan Eded"  [which was said] at the time when the congregation came to the groom's house on Shabbath to pray or to bkess him , the person making the blessing would take a cup in his hand and say the blessing over wine, or over spices... do we say it with God's name... is this an essential blessing or just a custom? 

His answer:
הברכה הנקראת ברכת בתולים, הרי היא ברכה לבטלה בלא ספק, נוסף להיותה מנהג מגונה מאוד, שיש בו מחוסר הצניעות ומזניחת קדושת הדת וטהרתה מה שאין למעלה ממנו, רוצה לומר אותה התקהלות מגונה שקוראים קידוש בתולים. ואסור למי שיש בו יראת שמים או צניעות לבוא אליו בשום פנים

This Virgin Blessing is without doubt a "worthless blessing" that shows a lack of modesty and an abandonment of sanctuty... anyone with a fear of God or a sense of modesty (or humility) will not participate [in the ceremony] under any circumstance.

Langer, Ruth. "The Birkat Betulim: A Study of the Jewish Celebration of Bridal Virginity." Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research. Vol. 61. American Academy for Jewish Research, 1995.

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Monday, January 14, 2013

Some slightly more sober sentiments on the snowball pogrom

The attack on the Hasidim by the snowball-throwing Arabs was certainly humiliating and frightening for the victims -- but they walked away unharmed. Also, they are free citizens of a Jewish state. These are just some of the reasons why it is the height of irresponsibility to compare the snowball attack to the Holocaust or to suggest it represents some slippery slope to 1939. 

A video mash-up went around that juxtaposed footage of the attack with photographs of the Holocaust. One of its creators stated aim was to capture the attention of the world's media. I don't know why he thinks the media cares about a very one-sided snowball fights that had no injuries, arrests or political repercussions  but I do know that many people are tired of hearing about the Holocaust. That's a terrible thing, and I don't condone Holocaust-fatigue, but it exists, and one of the reasons it exists is because we Jews smell burning bodies whenever someone glances askance at us. 

If you wish to capture an indifferent person's attention, crying wolf isn't the way to do it.


As someone told me on Facebook: It doesn't even equate with Hasidim throwing stones at cars on Shabbat.

As someone else told me on Twitter: too bad Chareidim only know how to pick on women and little girls, otherwise maybe they could have fought back, right?

Both sentiments are unfair to the victims, but reasonable critiques of their community.

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Another Snowball Pogrom

I'll say again that the Hasidim who were assaulted with snowballs by a gang of thugs on the streets of Jerusalem were undoubtedly frightened and humiliated, but they weren't hurt, and they were't the only Israelis who were victimized last week by snowball wielding punks:

Poor, poor Bibi. Won't someone please set this to Oyfn Pripetshok and mask it up with concentration camp photos?

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Who's afraid of the big bad gun owner?

If we all owned guns, the bad people would be too frightened to cause any trouble. That, at least, is the position of the NRA and other very secure-in-their-masculinity he-men, who insist that the threat of an armed citizen serves as an effective deterrent.

Except when it doesn't:
A White Plains residence pinpointed on a controversial handgun permit database [That was published by the Journal News] was burglarized Saturday, and the burglars’ target was the homeowner’s gun safe. [Read the rest]
So the crooks knew the home was protected by a licensed gun-owner and they showed up anyway?
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Sunday, January 13, 2013

There's no nacht like Kristelnacht

A pair of Hasidim were videotaped being tormented by street toughs so of course there is a Jew out there who thinks its 1939 all over again:

Sure its unfortunate that the Hasidim were accosted, but can we be real for a few seconds? Snowballs aren't bullets. The victims of this attack would have had the police on their side, and a nice warm place to recover in safety and security. Also, they're living as free citizens of a Jewish state. To compare this brief altercation to the liquidation of the Warsaw ghetto is lunacy. (Also, its a little arrogant to expect the news media to cover a snowball fight, even when its as one-sided as this one was.)

Mrs. DovBear has a birthday coming up, and the readers of this blog are buying her a present. Please toss something in the hat.

Let's chip in to buy Mrs. DovBear a birthday present

Ok, friends and neighbors, my pathetic annual telethon is on, and it is time to give. If the blog has given you even a moment of entertainment I ask that you support my efforts with a contribution of any size.

As in previous years, every dime I collect will be used to purchase a birthday present for my lovely wife. (Or, as she puts it, "Dimes? What does a dime buy?")  Also, as in previous years, there are many convenient ways to make your contribution to the DovBear experience:

Buy my book
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Thursday, January 10, 2013

The lie

From time-to-time I hear from secret Orthodox Jewish atheists who mistake me for a member of their club.

"How", they ask me "do you put up with the lying?"

My standard reply is that, first, I'm not an atheist, thank you very much, but even so I don't think its "faking" to say and do things when you don't believe in the underlying idea.

Ralph Kramden, eg, knew there was nothing magical or mystical about the Royal Order of Raccoons, or whatever his fraternal organization was called, but he liked the social benefits so played along (which is what everyone else in the club was doing, too.)

College fight songs are chock full of untruths, yet loyal alumni sing them lustfully.  Same for national anthems. We sing - no matter how absurd the words may be* - because we wish to express our loyalty to the community and because it feels good to be part of something old, and larger then ourselves.  In other words, truth may be an important value, but its not the only value, and sometimes other values matter more, and that's fine.

* EG: How "glorious" is Canada?

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