Thursday, February 28, 2013

Why the way Jews have treated Catholics is nothing like the way Catholics have treated Jews.

I am sick unto death of people and their sad attempts to hoist me on my own petard re: the Pope, the Church and the nasty things it has said about Jews. Can I explain to you why a stray line in the Talmud about non Jews being donkeys and the Aleinu prayer are nothing like eg: Cum Nimis Absurdum, Hebraeorum gens, or the Good Friday prayer?

Good. Listen up.

DIFFERENCE #1: Aleinu and the Talmud passages never killed anyone. They have not been the cause of massacres, pogroms, expulsions, ghettos, libels, or any of the other hate crimes perpetrated against us by the Church thanks to the above-mentioned prayers and teachings. No doctrine of blood purity developed from the Talmud passages. Gentiles weren't locked in ghettos, or forced to wear yellow hats, or forbidden from owning property on the basis of the Aleinu prayer. Sure, things might have gone differently had we Jews ever acquired political power over Catholics but if your aunt ran on batteries she'd be a Prius. Meanwhile, Aleinu and the Talmud passages never killed anyone.

DIFFERENCE #2: There is no institution dedicated to spreading the word about Aleinu and the Talmud passages. Lots of Jews grow up without ever hearing about either of them, and you can deny them while remaining a Jew - even an Orthodox Jew - in good standing. Meanwhile, the King of all Catholics told his people as recently as 2009 that they were required by the law of God to pray for us to be converted and  the official, central governing body of Catholicism still recognizes antisemitic teachings and considers some of their authors to be saints. And meanwhile there is no central governing body of Judaism dedicated to teaching Jews to hate Catholics.

Please note: We have no issue with those Catholics who ignore the Pope, just as we have no issue with individual Catholics who have personally repudiated the Church's antisemitism. To them we say High Five. However, until such time as the Church repudiates its own behavior and its own teachings we still have a problem with it and with those who represent it. I think that's a fair and meaningful distinction. Don't you?

DIFFERENCE #3 There are no gutless Catholics begging for love, respect and attention from Jews who swear by the Aleinu or the Talmud passages. I am happy to keep this intellectual, meaning I am willing to respect the Catholic's religious right to say and think a lot of nasty stuff about Jews so long as he doesn't act upon them, and so long as I get to tell him off whenever I feel like it. That's a situation I might abide. But what we won't abide are the legions of Jew, eg Shaul Robinson, Abe Foxman, etc, who are behaving like teenage girls at a Beatles concert as depicted on the Ed Sullivan show. Oh, the Pope said Happy Passover to me! Oh the Cardinal is coming to my shul! I think I may faint. Such an honor. Such a privilege.

This pathetic behavior sends the wrong message to both Catholics and Jews. It tells the Church that they have finished their Teshuva process when the reality is it has barely begun, while it tells Jews that we are still second-class citizens beholden to the Church and to its whims.

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Haredim shouldn't be drafted as they are the only people in the universe who learn Torah

If you are wondering what casual bigotry looks like, here is Jonathan Rosenblum of Cross Currents to show you. He was on Israeli TV discussing the plan to draft Haredim. After being asked why non-Haredim are required to carry the full burden of defending the country,  he says*
I have heard chareidi debaters counter this argument: Well, is it fair that we have to do all the Torah learning for the country? 
It’s safe to say that argument has never convinced a single non-chareidi. Not just because of the emotional response – How many yeshiva bochurim are killed in the tents of Torah? – but because it misses a fundamental distinction: Yeshiva bochurim are doing what they most want to do. IDF recruits are acting under legal compulsion
And, um, hello? What about the other, better reason why this argument won't convince non-Charedim? 

Can't work it out? Here are a few clues:

  • Yeshivat Nahariya (1995)
  • Yeshivat Afikei Daat—Sderot
  • Yeshivat Heichal Eliyahu (1996)
  • Yeshivat Siyach Yitzchak (1996)
  • Yeshivat Tzfat (1997)
  • Yeshivat Ayelet Hashachar—Eilat (1998)
  • Yeshivat Rishon L'Zion (1998)
  • Yeshivat Petach Tikvah (1998)
  • Yeshivat Tekoa (1999)
  • Yeshivat Maaleh Efraim (2000)

Still stumped? Okay, I'll let you off the hook

This is Wikipedia's list of hesder yeshivas. At the hesder yeshivahs non-charedim learn Torah during their IDF service. So the #1 reason why Jonathan's argument fails is this:


*from the article it isn't clear if Rosenblum actually said this, or if it was a thought that crossed his mind, either during the program or afterwards.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Lickspittle Alert

Here's Abe Foxman kissing the Papal toes in Huff Post, with my fisking:

The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, which officially takes effect on February 28, brings to a sudden and unexpected close a remarkable eight-year period of very positive relations between the Vatican and the Jewish people.

Positive relations? Yeah right. What was so positive about it? Ok, he didn't publish antisemitic articles in his official newspaper like most of the 19th century posts or propagate antisemitic encyclicals like the 15th, 16th and 17th century Popes, or steal our children like all of the Popes, or condemn us to eternal slavery like the worst of the Popes so, sure, by the standards of his predecessors Benny was decent. But that's a terribly low bar. Here's a thought: Instead of judging him against former Popes, why don't we measure him against ordinary standards of human decency? Are we measuring him as a Pope or a person? Because even a reasonably decent Pope can still be quite an awful human being. 

Pope Benedict was the only German Pope in history who was an eyewitness to the Holocaust.

Did Abe's ghostwriter read this over before publishing it? 

He may be the last Catholic leader of that generation to serve as the spiritual leader of more than one billion Catholics around the world.

I mean seriously. The ADL can't spring for a proofreader?

His was a memorable papacy of mostly positive relations with the Jews. During his tenure Benedict made a series of important, defining statements on antisemitism and the Holocaust.

Can you name one? Because I've read your whole article already and it appears that you can't.

These are remarkable statements coming from a German native who had been unwillingly drafted to serve the Nazi war machine, first in Hitler's Youth as a teen and later in the German anti-aircraft corps.

Right. So where is an example of one of those "important, defining.. remarkable statements"?

In assessing Pope Benedict's record with the Jewish people, one must take into account the symbolic gestures as well as his statements and actions.

Ok, so no "important, defining, remarkable statements", eh? Just symbolism?

In October 2011, the pope hosted an extraordinary delegation of world religious leaders for a day of dialogue and reflection in Assisi, Italy.

In 2011 was it so extraordinary for a bunch of religious leaders to get together? I don't see why. Did something amazing happen at this seminar, or did everyone just stand around and mug for the camera?

It was a strikingly colorful scene. Hindu swamis in flowing orange garb mingled with Orthodox Christian clerics in black hoods. Daoist priests in ceremonial vestments chatted with bearded turbaned Sikhs and bald Buddhist monks in saffron robes.

This happens any day of the week in any number of diverse, multinational cities. Why should I be impressed at something so ordinary? It only matters if you consider the Pope to be some kind of spiritual giant with his faith having some kind of special claim on truth. Then you can be pleased that the leader of the Absolute and True Faith in making room around the table for us. But as a Jew I reject the claims of Catholicism. Which is why none of this impresses me.

But one of the most striking images was the special attention that Pope Benedict gave to the small delegation of Jewish representatives. At the closing ceremony, Benedict singled out the Jewish participants, "who are particularly close to us."

Six words, and Abe Foxman's panties get all wet. Sorry for the crudeness, but I can't think of a better way to let you know how I really feel. Benedict brought back antisemitic prayers and antisemitic bishops. He continued an evil man on his path to sainthood. But all that is forgiven because he said some Jews were "particularly close" to him.

And really, why would any Jew with any sense WANT to be "close" to that decrepit antisemite?

And when he visited Washington, D.C. in 2008, holding an interfaith meeting with American religious leaders, Benedict arranged for a special private meeting with the Jewish delegation in order to wish us a happy Passover.

Jesus God. A "happy Passover" and he's some kind of Jew loving superstar? This is like applauding a well-educated adult for tying his shoes.

The official record of Pope Benedict's relationship with Jews and Israel is formidable.

Has their theologically-tainted diplomatic position been revised? No, it has not. So "formidable" probably isn't the right word.

First, it is important to remember that Pope Benedict, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, worked closely for 26 years with his predecessor Pope John Paul II in developing a historic new relationship between Catholic and Jews as "loving brothers and sisters" after centuries of tragedy.

What is this new relationship of which you speak? Where, exactly, is the love? What have they done, aside for ceasing to torture us? For this they deserve roses? The Buddhists and the Canadians don't torture us . Where is their testimonial dinner

Shortly after being elected in 2005, Pope Benedict arranged meetings with ADL and other world Jewish leaders. Four months later he visited a synagogue in Cologne. He would visit several other synagogues, most notably in Rome, and become the first pope to visit a synagogue in the United States.

BFD. When the Vatican pays reparations for the synagogues they destroyed you can get back to me.

He clearly condemned anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.

He did not. But, even so, why would we dance a hora for someone condemning antisemitism and holocaust denial in freaking 2013? Why is Abe Foxman so desperate to give this Pope a gold star?

His visit to Israel solidified the Vatican's relationship with the Jewish State, and his church's commitment to its security and survival. In Israel, he honored the memory of the "six million Jewish victims of the Shoah,"

While meanwhile the ongoing sainthood effort for evil Pope Pius and the already completed cannonization of Edith Stein dishonors the Holocaust and denies the historical reality of what happened and what helped cause it. 

and said that "every effort must be made to fight anti-Semitism wherever it is found." By going to Yad Vashem and the Western Wall, he helped institutionalize a precedent set by Pope John Paul II.

Yes, yes. We know that by the standards of 1913 Pope B was a hell of a guy. Alas, he served in 2013.

To be sure, there were also missteps, starting with his 2005 speech at Auschwitz, when he failed to acknowledge the legacy of Christian anti-Jewish teachings -- the soil in which Nazi ideology was planted.

Right. A mere "mishap" and not the latest in a series of things the Church has done to paper over the facts and deny the reality of their role in causing the destruction of European Jewry. A little oops, and not part of a strategy to absolve itself of blame for the holocaust.

His decision to rewrite the old Latin version of the Good Friday prayer (still) titled "For the Conversion of the Jews" -- and his lifting of the excommunication of four bishops from an anti-Semitic schismatic -- were a profound disappointment. 

So let me get this straight, Abe. Wishing us a "happy Passover" is awesome times 20 and proof he loved us with his whole heart, whereas rehabilitating holocaust deniers and antisemitic prayers are silly little mishaps. 

He also moved wartime Pope Pius XII one step closer to sainthood, even as the Vatican's Secret World War II archives remained closed to scholars and Holocaust survivors.

We know enough about what Egenio Pacelli said and did (and didn't do) as nuncio, Vatican Secretary 
of State and Pope to pass judgement on him. He was a Jew-hater par excellence.

Yet at the same time, Benedict issued historic positive theological and historical statements about Judaism.

He said that the Catholic Church should not try and convert Jews.

My God. That isn't what he said! Also he didn't do it as Pope! He did it before he became Pope. In brief, Ratzinger wrote that at the end of time all Jews will convert, and that therefore the Church no longer has to make winning every single one of us over to Jesus their #1 overarching occupation. (Notably American Cardinals disputed this saying that a Catholicsm that didn't actively seek our conversion wasn't Catholicism) But never mind, because it wasn't a display of respect for Judaism. Ratzinger/Benedict still thinks we are wrong. He still thinks God's covenant with us is broken. He still thinks we're all going to hell, and he still thinks that Jews, as individuals, should be missionized. The statement wasn't about our theological fitness, it was about the Churchs goals regarding all of us as a people. Foxman makes it seem like the Church's historic mission of converting us has been dropped, which is completely not so. See more here

In his trilogy on the life of Jesus of Nazareth, Benedict re-interpreted problematic passages in the Gospels of Matthew and John, dismissing negative images and false charges against the Jewish people which prompted millennia of persecution and death.

I don't know what this is a reference to. Help?

So what is Benedict's legacy with the Jewish people?

How can you even ask? He wished us Happy Passover. Best Pope EVER!!

Holocaust issues are still a cloud looming over us. The archives are not open, but Pius XII has not been beatified -- yet.

What did Benedict do to slow it down? Oh right. Nothing. In fact he moved it one step closer. 

One measurement is whether his positive teachings about Jews become embedded in Catholic education around the world -- particularly the fast-growing regions in South America, Africa and Asia -- where knowledge of Judaism is stuck in the problematic past.

There is no reason to expect this to occur in that (a) there were no positive teachings and that (b) the little bit he did say about us was said by a scholar named Ratzinger, not the Pope.

Pope Benedict clearly demonstrated his closeness to the Jewish people, symbolically, and in word and deed. He listened to our concerns, and tried to address them.

Oh, this is just such horse manure I don't even know how to respond. Can you name one concern that he addressed? Just one. And what closeness? The happy Passover? The shoutout at a conference? That's all you need? How sad. How unbecoming. I don't know what's worse. That you desire the Pope's approval, or that you're satisfied with so little.

That demonstrates the trust and respect that has evolved between our two faith communities, and how much more work we need to do together, Catholics and Jews, to help repair a broken world.

Nothing in either Catholic or Jewish theology allows for us working together, as some kind of generic, neutered "people of faith" to heal the world.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Boycott Ted

I didn't watch the Academy Awards on the grounds that movies and self-congratulation don't interest me  but of course I heard about Seth McFarlen's caddish performance.After seeing all the complaints on Twitter, I caught the best bits on YouTube.

All and all, I think the unhappy people missed the point.

"We Saw your Boobs", for instance, was (a) funny(!) and (b) framed by the Captain Kirk intro as a "really dumb song performed by an idiot with poor judgement." So if you agree with (b) and are upset about it, well, jokes on you. The Rhianna remark was a shot at her dumb, brutal boyfriend not an endorsement of domestic violence. And since when is it not OK to mock a racist idiot like Mel Gibson?

However, there was one bit that didn't sit well with YourFavoriteBlogger. I am speaking of Ted's casual antisemitism.

Now, I understand Ted is a fictional creation, and that being a jackass is part of his shtick. And I understand that this fact is suppose to kasher the performance. But no sale.

The myth that Jews own Hollywood  is ugly because its used by  the likes of Toby Katz and Fat Billy Donahue to suggest that Jews (or in the case of Toby, "Jews she doesn't like") are anti-family and anti-values. We don't need it trotted out for a cheap laugh in front of a billion viewers.

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Nice kids

So many things about this story confuse me. First, didn't this happen already only the kids were Jewish and the sport was baseball? I am thinking of a famous story involving a gifted home run that sounds a lot like this one. Also, the announcer claims this occurred in Texas which must be a mistake: generous, neighborly Texans? Finally, the hero is of Hispanic heritage which as per official T-Party Myth can't be true. Those people are takers, not givers.

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Monday, February 25, 2013

Stupid moron of Purim 5773

Round of applause for Dov Hikind who seems to be the last person in America who still thinks black-face is okay.

The assemblyman, Dov Hikind, a Democrat who has been a longtime power broker in the Orthodox Jewish community, wore an Afro wig, orange jersey, sunglasses and brown makeup or face paint as part of a costume that Mr. Hikind said represented a “black basketball player.”
And let's be clear. I don't think Hikind is a racist. I think he's an idiot for not realizing, or worse, for not caring, that responsible, educated adults don't appear in public with their faces painted black.

Glossing Pur

Why does the author of the megilla gloss the word "Pur"?

The NIV translation makes the gloss obvious: "in the first month, the month of Nisan, the pur (that is, the lot) was cast in the presence of Haman to select a day and month"

See what I mean?

So are we correct in assuming that the author believes his audience doesn't know what a pur is? Does this suggest that the holiday of Purim was celebrated before the Megillah's account was written? Or should we just say that some later editor penciled in the definition

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I don't even know what to say about this...

From the Post
Pass the hat, please.
It was a truly religious experience for bar-mitzvah boy Jacob Feit Mann when he and Timothy Cardinal Dolan swapped skullcaps — one black and the other red — yesterday at an Upper West Side synagogue.
“I was just, like, ‘Wow! I’d better not lose this one!’ ” said the exuberant youth.
Jacob was sitting with his parents in the front row of the Lincoln Square Synagogue, where Dolan had been invited to speak on relations between Catholics and Jews.
But before Dolan spoke, Jacob read from the Jewish religious texts, as is tradition at a bar mitzvah.

G.N.Miller/New York Post
JACOB FEIT MANN Today this colorful boy is a man.

G.N.Miller/New York Post
TIMOTHY CARDINAL DOLANVisiting synagogue yesterday.
After he stepped down, he went up to the cardinal and asked if they could switch kippahs —the Hebrew word for yarmulke — his black one for his eminence’s traditional red zucchetto.
Dolan replied, mischievously, “I think that might happen.”
As the cardinal addressed the congregation, Jacob said, “He called me over while he was speaking, and we switched skullcaps. That was fun.
“I thought it was really cool. I think I probably had the coolest bar mitzvah in my class.”
After swapping caps, Dolan kept Jacob’s yarmulke on throughout the rest of the service.
Dolan asked Jacob to autograph his, but the boy said he couldn’t because writing is forbidden on the Sabbath.
Dolan quipped it was OK for him because “it’s not my Sabbath until tomorrow.”
Dolan signed the inside of his red cap: “To Jacob, Tim. Cardinal Dolan 23/2/13.”
“When we switched, I asked if he wanted my clips [to secure the yarmulke],” Jacob recalled.
But the receding-haired cardinal “said he didn’t think he would be needing them.”
Jacob’s dad, Jordan Mann, added, “This is about the most exciting thing to happen in a bar mitzvah in 500 years. I was happy Jacob could have this experience.”
His mother, Alison Feit, joked, “He no longer needs a topic for his college essay.”
Rabbi Shaul Robinson quipped that Jacob and Dolan might meet in the future as world religious leaders — Jacob as chief rabbi of Israel and Dolan as the newest pope.
“Jake has a much better chance of becoming chief rabbi than I do of becoming pope,” Dolan said drolly.
At the end of the ceremony, the cardinal wanted to return Jacob’s yarmulke but was asked instead to take it with him to Rome to vote for a new pope next month.
“I guess it makes me feel kind of important. I think it’s awesome,” said the barmitzvah boy.
“He seems like a really great guy. I knowhe’ll make a great decision. I hope maybe he thinks of me when he’s there and remembers that his decision affects everyone, including Jacob Feit Mann.”

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Friday, February 22, 2013

Amulike Kugel is Now A Thing, Apparently

Guest Post by @azigra

A friends of mine just posted this picture on Facebook. It's a Satmar brand "Amulike" Kugel with of course the ingredients listed (which if read too quickly seems to contain "male forshken" among other things) as well as the entire verse of Timche Ess Zecher Amulike Mitachas HaShumayim Loi Tishkuch. 

As an aside, I am not familiar with the word "Amulike" and have no clue what language that is from.

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Why do we wear costumes on Purim?

Actually, the title of this post is wrong. I don't mean to explain the reason for Purim costumes, but to hazard a few guesses as to how the custom was established. Here they are

  • At a particular moment in time, a group of illustrious Rabbis gathered to formally address our spiritual shortcomings by establishing new customs. This is how we got upshurin. Its also how we got Purim costumes. (My view: BWAHAHAHAH.)
  • At a particular moment in time, perfectly good Jews came up with a perfectly good Torah  reason for wearing costumes. So they started doing it (likely after asking a shaylah) When the Rabbis acquiesced the custom caught on. (My view: Meh.)
  • At a particular moment in time, Jews had Catholic neighbors who wore costumes in celebration of Mardi Gras. So the Jews copied it - just as we copied Upshurin from Muslims, just as we copied clothing styles from Polish noblemen, just as we copied leaning at a banquet from Greeks, and just as we copied the idea of using lights as decorations in our sukka from Christmas trees. (My view: Who know if this is really what happened, but of the three this is the only one supported by anything resembling evidence. The very first mention of costumes  for Purim is from a 15th century Italian teshuva. Its author and his audience would certainly have seen Mardi Gras costumes.) 

And why do the Catholics dress up for Mardi Gras? Unclear. The celebrations themselves have been linked to Lupercalia a February Roman festival with circus elements  that scholars believe the church co-oped.

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Some more back and forth about the cardinal

Fred said:

The point is that your attitude of F you forever is a recipe for constant hatred or at least perpetual dislike.

I say:

That's not my attitude. My attitude is F YOU until you stop insulting us (see the events of 2009) and not before you repudiate that doctrine, the bulls, and the encyclicals that made possible a millennium worth of massacres. So long as that filth is still on their official books, so long as some of the architects of that filth are recognized as their saints they are unforgiven.


MS said:

Does the church today say anything worse about Jews than the Talmud says about gentiles? At least they're trying to make amends and have changed their views. Has the gemara?

I say:

Did anything in the gemarah produce 2000 years of suffering, massacres, death and destruction. Only a fool would try to create an equivlancy. A fool or an ignoramus. Which are you?

PS: they have not "changed their views" As recently as 2009 the Pope restored a Mass prayer calling for our conversion. The encyclicals which declare us slaves in perpetuity and require us to live in ghettos and wear yellow badges have not been rescinded (Did you think the Nazis were original?) The thousands of official Vatican newspaper articles defending the blood libel and slandering us as vampires have not been corrected. The Pope who called us dogs, and stole our children and forced us to literally kiss his feet and to run naked in the street for his own amusement remain their hallowed saints. And the Pope who legitimized Nazi Germany with a treaty, the pope who excommunicated every communist in the world yet allowed a requiem Mass for Adolph Hitler, the pope who called for public protests against how the Nazis treated converted Jews but never said a word in the defense of other Jews -- that evil Pope - remains firmly on the path to sainthood.

PPS: You mention the gemarah... but how can a book that was published over a thousand years ago change its mind? As for the Jews themselves, of course we have discounted and disregarded the Talmud's teaching on this subject, and some of us did this centuries ago.


Fred said:

What is your plan for living in a society with Catholics other than perpetuating religious prejudice and dislike? You think they haven't gone far enough, but neither have we. And we both know that Jews will not repudiate the Talmud.

I say:

The neat thing about living in 2013 is I don't need a plan for living with Catholics. They no longer hold any power and they are no longer any threat to me. So let them go their way, and I 'll go mine. I don't need to desecrate a shul or a shabbos by allowing one of them to preach at me about being good neighbors


JB said:

Jesis Qrist, man, let it go already. You're not going to influence R' Robinson, you're just getting yourself and others upset. And stop insulting the shul I grew up in, and still have business in. Maybe, just maybe, the religious professionals there have a better grasp of the interfaith situation than you or I.

I say:

...or maybe they're a bunch of snivelers who have a psychological need to suck up to goyim. And could you spare me the BS about "interfaith situation" There's no "situation." We can go on ignoring each other very happily. The only reason for the two faiths to team up is when we want the same thing from Albany or Washington and that can be coordinated without desecrating a shul.

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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Galloway is a Jerk

I don't generally dislike George Galloway*, but I must confess that here he acts like a world class shmuck.

* I don't dislike anyone who can consistently mouth-off with such eloquence. It's a personal failing.

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More on the obsequious, approval-seeking behavior of the Lincoln Square Synagogue

Spotted on Facebook:
That an Orthodox Jewish institution would allow a prince of the church into their domain is appaling. The church is, and always has been, anti-semitic, racist, misogynist, homophobic, transphobic, and the enemy of free thought and intellect. This is disgraceful. 
Dov Bear rightly points out that no Reform or Conservative Rabbi would ever be allowed to address this Orthodox congregation, but this emissary of Rome is welcomed with open arms. For shame.
I've been debating some of LSS's defenders, and they just don't seem to get it. For them this is all about being tolerant and neighborly, but how can anyone with an ounce of Jewish pride demonstrate tolerance and friendship to the official representative of an organization that has such an unrepudiated track record of Antisemitism?

I can accept and understand friendship and tolerance toward lay Catholics. I can even understand and accept friendship and tolerance toward churchmen who are acting as civilians, and not in the capacity as churchmen. But that isn't the case here. Dolan is visiting the shul as the Pope's agent.

And you don't even have to review the terrible 2000 year history of hate crimes to understand why this  is wrong. Go back just three years. In 2009,  Dolan's immediate superior revoked the excommunication of Richard Williamson, a staunch Holocaust denier who has not only refused to back away from his ideas but continues to state them. A little later, Dolan's immediate superior rewrote the Mass liturgy to include a prayer for our conversion.

Now, consider an analogous situation. Say the Prime Minister of Mitzelhip granted citizenship and honor to a holocaust denier while calling on citizens of his country to pray for our conversion  Would you welcome that Prime Minister's official emissary into your shul? Would you allow him to preach at you about friendship and tolerance? Would you take his calls for "dialogue" seriously? Of course not.

So that alone ought to disqualify Dolan from being welcomed into a shul in his capacity as a Prince of the Catholic Church.

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Glatt Kosher Detergent

A Guest Post by @azigra, not @Dovbear 

The Charedi-ization of Orthodoxy has been most manifest in the extremes the organization's members are willing to go to prove their devoutness. One oft repeated example is the granting of kosher statuses to non food items such as plates, silver foil, and soaps. The narrative for cynics has been that corporate shills are capitalizing on the public's low self esteem by granting religious significance to grocery shopping. They realize the public's move to Charedism means more profits. The worst example is of course the Kosher Phone, which was foisted on the public through the collusion of business people and rabbis.

However, I came across a journal the other week, 'The Jewish Forum', published in January of 1922 with an ad containing copy that I would think could have only been written in this decade. There is precedent for such a thing, President Obama's Hawaiian birth announcement was inserted into a local microfiche in 2007 while preparing to run for president. Nevertheless, this seems authentic, a 1922 advertisement for soap stating that it is kosher. It even utilizes an appeal to emotion, 'worry about your children's Jewish souls! buy CN Soap!'

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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Keep the Cardinal Out

On Facebook, Shaul Robinson, the Senior Rabbi at Lincoln Square Synagogue posted the following
This Shabbat, Parshat Zachor, the archbishop of New York , Cardinal Timothy Dolan will be visiting Lincoln Square Synagogue. He will be arriving at 11.30am, and after the service will be addressing the community on Catholic Jewish Relations. There may be time for a brief Q and A - what question would YOU like me to ask him.
So of course I find the whole thing outrageous. As I commented there: Why in the hell would you allow a cardinal into your sanctuary to address you on Shabbos.

The Church is an anti-Semitic organization that subjected us to two-thousands years of suffering, while cultivating the soil of Europe for the Holocaust. To date, they haven't repudiated their anti-Semitic Popes their bulls or their encyclicals; in fact, the Church currently is in the process of beatifying one of them. During the Holocaust, which, let's be clear, the Church helped cause and did nothing to prevent, churchmen stole Jewish children and, with the blessing of every subsequent Pope, refused to return the ones who had been baptized. But their representative should be welcomed into a shul on Shabbos and invited to preach? When, meanwhile, no Reform or Conservative Rabbi would ever receive such a welcome.

In short: To allow a Cardinal to address a Jewish congregation on shabbos is demeaning. It demeans the shabbos. It demeans the sanctuary.  It demeans the congregation.  To celebrate it is a confession of insecurity and an act of obsequiousness.  Until the Church renounces its shameful past, and completes a true and painful teshuva process, there's no reason for Jews to kiss the toes of St. Peter. The Church, by the grace of God, no longer has any power over us, and nothing to offer us. Self pride demands we remember that, and also what they did to us.

Guest Post in which Hirhurim Gets Blasted

Wow. Lots of people are really, really mad at the author of Hirhurim --and not for the usual reasons either! Today the complaints are not about comment censoring or self righteousness but about the article he wrote about a new secular yeshiva. Because we are a lazy blogger, we are going to outsource the rest of this article to one of the bunches of people who sent me emails of complaint.

Also, we are going to assume you read the Hirhurim piece, in that otherwise this treatment will not make much sense.

A guest post by FBB

[The author of Hirhurim]  just redefined the words "arrogant" Money quote:
In the end, I can’t object to a secular yeshiva because Israeli society is so shallow that even a little religion, even if subversive, is a blessing. 
Who the hell does he think he is????

If it wasn't 3:00 am I would fisk him, but it is and I must sleep. There is so much wrong with his article...
  • If religious people study for devotional reasons, then its OK, but not for secular Jews?
  • and who sets the boundary anyway between secular and religious? Hirhurim's author?   
  • His distinction between learning to do mitzvot and learning for the sake of learning is bull.  His whole argument is about devaluing the non-holy flock of frum jews.  It seems he has fallen into the frummie habit of searching for reasons to show why non-frum jews are wrong/ bad.  makes me sick.  especially this line.. "While we cannot compare secular Jews to gentiles, the message about the religious act of Torah study remains relevant."    come on,, at least be honest.  that is exactly what you are doing.  you are basically saying that secular Jews are like gentiles.  well screw you,
  • When he says: "Teaching a sacred text to someone who rejects its authority is an act of sacrilege." you are judging a lot of people.  How the hell do you know how they relate to its authority.  I would wager large sums of money that most secular Israelis today don't reject its authority, but rather the authority of the Torah's self-appointed interpreters* and their black hats. 
  • He again claims that only the frum interpretation of Torah is the true one.  So if you study it from a different point of view (the non-approved version), then you are going to get it wrong. But, who watches the watchmen??  Isn't it fair to say that many frum rabbis have come up with a bunch of bull interpretations of Torah. You don't get to decide who has the final say on Torah, much as you would like to.  
  • Your fear of a "foreign textual sensibility"  just shows you subscribe to another stupid right-wing  shibboleth- that of the 'pure, unadulterated Jewish Judaism', which doesn't exist, never did and never will.   Only right-wing nutcase frummies appeal to this made-up ideal. Shame on you for pretending it has any basis in reality.  It is, fundamentally, a tool for control and power.  The fantasy/ideal says that 'we are the guardians of true torah and you, the little people, must beware the evil false secular / gentile interpretations as they will lead you astray.  Avoid all contamination or be damned for ever!!!'.  well, sorry, but we the little people don't buy that crap anymore.   Your line "This is not a matter of protecting rabbis from challenge but protecting the Talmud’s sanctity, open to all students who accept it as a sacred text"  is both inherently self-contradicting and a lie that reveals the truth: When you say 'students who accept it as a sacred text' what you really mean is 'who accept our interpretation of the sacred text'.  J'accuse
Oh, look, I was angry enough to stay awake to write all that.

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The Purim murder

BT Megillah 7b tells a shocking story of murder most foul:

אמר רבא מיחייב איניש לבסומי בפוריא עד דלא ידע בין ארור המן לברוך מרדכי
רבה ורבי זירא עבדו סעודת פורים בהדי הדדי
איבסום קם רבה שחטיה לרבי זירא למחר בעי רחמי ואחייה
לשנה אמר ליה ניתי מר ונעביד סעודת פורים בהדי הדדי
אמר ליה לא בכל שעתא ושעתא מתרחיש ניסא"

Rava said: A person is obligated to become intoxicated on Purim until he does not know the difference between 'Cursed Be Haman' and 'Blessed Be Mordechai.'

Rabba and Rabbi Zera made a Purim feast together They became intoxicated. Rabba rose up and slaughtered Rabbi Zera. The next day, he asked for mercy for him, and restored his life. The next year, [Rabba] said to him, 'Will your honor join me for Purim again?". [Rabbi Zera] said to him: Not at every hour does a miracle come.'"

Let's count the strange-to-impossible things about this story? For instance:

(1) Rabba kills someone

(2) Afterwards, he waits a whole day to do something about it.

(3) And whatever he did worked!!

(4) But still he invites the victim back the following year

(5) And, the victim seems cool about it. "Sure, I'd love to come to your party and possibly get murdered for a second time," he says, "only I don't think your magic reincarnation powers are reliable."

For all these reasons, let's stipulate that Rabba did not actually kill Rav Zeira, and that Rav Zeira was not actually brought back to life. (and for the good of Judaism can we please find a way to gulag all the school teachers and pulpit Rabbis who present this story as if it was a literal, historical event?)

So, what happenedt?

Maharsha says that Rabba's sin was not murder but provocation. He compelled Rabbi Zeira to drink too much, until he was on the brink of death.The point of the story is to warn us to drink responsibly, or perhaps to refute the idea that getting drunk on Purim is a good thing (indeed Meeir says drinking on Purim was outlawed as a result of this story) Though Maharasha's reading takes the story out of the realm of the miraculous, it leaves us with two problems. (1) In what sense did Rabba bring his colleague back to life; and (2) Why does Rabbi Zeira refer to a miracle?

Rabbi Avraham (son of Rambam) says the story is hyperbole Perhaps Rabba smacked Rav Zeira around a little bit, and perhaps even sliced his neck, but no murder took place.

The Lubovitcher Rebbe reads the story this way:
Rabba and Rabbi Zera made a Purim feast together.  They became intoxicated [resulting in an outpouring of intellectual conversation including the revealing of deep, mystical secrets] Rabba rose up [to a higher level of understanding and tried to bring along his intellectual inferior. This proved impossible, and by attempting to teach Rabbi Zera things he could not comprehend he] slaughtered Rabbi Zera. The next day, he asked for mercy for him, and restored his life. The next year, [Rabba] said to him, '[Maybe you've gotten more intelligent over the last 365 days so] Will your honor join me for Purim again?". [Rabbi Zera] said to him: [I'd love to try to learn those secrets again but if it kills me a second time, I may not come back to life because] Not at every hour does a miracle come.'"
The advantage of this reading is that it doesn't present an Amora as a drunken murderer. Also, it addresses the strangeness of "rose up" and the use of the word "slaughter" which implies a ritual killing, instead of the more ordinary word "kill" (shachat vs katal.). Still, the reading is not without problems: For instance (1) Ideas can not kill you; and (2) People can't bring each other back to life.

My hunch, is that there was an actual fight, but no murder, and that the story is retold here as a polemic against Purim intoxication, specifically the Purim intoxication recommended by Rava in the Talmud passage that immediately precedes the telling of this anecdote. So why hasn't this reading (which, for those who need approbations   combines Rabbi Abraham and the Maharsha) become popular?  Simple. Nowadays we Jews take it as articles of faith that (1) Amoraim never fought and (2) getting piss-drunk on Purim is one of the best things a Jew can do. As a result, a story that suggests Sages behaved badly or that Purim drinking was discouraged has become impossible to recognize. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The dumbest thing I saw today

I wish to publicly thank Josh Waxman for discovering one of the dumbest things I've ever seen on a Jewish website. It is a collection of bogus etymologies published here by someone seeking to prove that all languages can be traced back to Hebrew:

...most languages, including Latin derivatives, derive from the first universal language ever spoken, Biblical Hebrew. The Torah explicitly tells us that until the Tower of Babylon story, the world's populace spoke - only Hebrew (Braishis 11:1).

Here are some English words that most probably have their source in Hebrew: 
More examples:
"שרף" means "Serpent"(Devarim 8, 15).
Speaking of snakes,
"פתן" is "Python"  (Tehilim 91:13).

"מסתר"(as in Rashi: Shir Hashirim 1:2) means "Mystery"
a noun from the root verb "to conceal".

Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh (lecture in 2005) says the word MURDER comes from 2 Hebrew words:
"Mered Or" (מרד אור), meaning - Rebellion Against Light [as in Iyov 24, 13]. Light connotes G-d, and murder is rebelling against Him Who created all people to live.

Where to start? OK here: The first spoken language was not biblical Hebrew. Biblical Hebrew is itself derived from earlier spoken tongues. Moreover, our scholar gets his facts wrong:  Nowhere does the Torah "tell us that until the Tower of Babylon story, the world's populace spoke - only Hebrew." Had he bothered to check his own citation, Genesis 11:1, he'd have found: "Now the whole world had one language and a common speech". This is a claim that everyone spoke the same language. It does not claim that Hebrew was that language.

And what about the etymologies themselves?  Josh has already shown how easily they crumble. "Furnish" for example is one of several "ish" verbs like "Cherish" or "abolish" - in most of those cases the "ish" is a formative occurring in verbs borrowed from French. That fact that one of the resulting words - furnish - sounds somewhat like a Hebrew word - parnes - that carries a similar meaning is nothing but a coincidence.

Some of the other errors:

  • Pardes is not a Hebrew word. Its a Persian loan word (though it did develop into paradise) 
  • Mystery is derived from a word that means secret, not conceal
  • Murder is derived from a word meaning death, not rebellion

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Another reason why I distrust Daf Yomi

If your neighborhood is like mine, lots of the locals belong to a Daf Yomi. Many of them probably take it pretty seriously. They wake up early, or miss meals and family events to attend the shiur. They invest in Art Scroll editions of the Talmud and other study aids. Many of them also pay attention to the lecture, ask questions and review the material afterwards.

But does it do them any good? Here's why I say it doesn't. After I've read an interesting book or heard an interesting lecture, I like to discuss it. I'll bother my wife and close friends about it. If the subject is a safe Torah topic I'll introduce it to people in shul or work. If its a controversial issue, I'll run to the Interwebs and provoke conversation via this blog or my SM accounts. If I have questions about the material , I'll get them answered. The point is I'm always eager to share what I've learned and to hear what others have to say about it. For me, that's part of the pleasure of learning and often its a necessary part of the process.

My local Daf Yomi people are different. I never hear them discussing a sugya. Around the sholishudis table or bein gavra lgavra their conversation ranges from sports to gossip, but it never -- and this has been going for years, so I do mean never - touches on the implications of a piece of Gemarah. Nothing these Daf Yomi people learn ever seems to have ever made them them think or wonder. They're never mystified  They're never puzzled. They have no questions and their previous certainties seem undisturbed   Now, I admit this account is anecdotal. It relates only to people I happen to know, and I have no idea what's actually happening in their heads, nor do I know what they're discussing with other people. So, I can only report that it seems odd that none of the Daf Yomi people I know are ever in my presence disturbed or even puzzled about any of the oddities, mysteries and strange beliefs and behaviors recorded throughout the Babylonian Talmud.

It may be that they are believers, not contrarians, so their reflex is to paper over difficulties. It may be that they are shy about raising question in public. So let it be said a different way: These people learn every day, through considerable mesiras nefesh, but don't seem to have developed what was once called a "Torah personality" They don't quote the axioms and stories. They don't refer back to the lessons. They never say this reminds me or relates to something that happened on Daf __.  And ever in the strictest secular sense they seem unamused by what they've studied, as they don't share the whimsical or bawdy accounts either. Whatever happens during the 60 minutes they sit at the Daf Yomi table seems walled off from the rest of their lives. Two separate realms. Is the answer simply that these people, the ones I happen to know, are not intellectually inclined? Fine. But then why do they engage so wholeheartedly in an intellectual activity?  If they get no pleasure from the world of ideas, why do they visit it daily?

Rather than implicate my friends, I prefer to implicate the institution. The failure isn't in the members, its in the Daf itself. Something about the page-per-day format is rotten. It allows men to imagine that they are accomplishing something, that the vast literature is being studied, but in reality nothing is learned and nothing is remembered. No one is changed, and no one is saved. At least in my neighborhood. --and again, I hasten to temper this judgement by admitting that it is based on my personal experiences alone.

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Monday, February 18, 2013

Great moments in attention seeking

I am Miriam Shaviv's biggest fan, so I am going to assume she wasn't the author of the terrible headline that tops her latest article:

Playing ‘Hatikvah’ on a ‘Desert Island’
After 71 years, British writer Julie Burchill becomes the first guest to select Israel’s national anthem on high-profile BBC radio show

See the problem? It rather strongly suggests that we Jews have been sitting around waiting and praying  for some second tier British celebrity to name Hatikvah as one of the eight songs he or she would take to a desert island. Now, hallelujah!, the wait is over! After 71 years Julie Burchil chose Hatikvah. Finally!

Furthermore, can we please be honest about this? There is no way in the world that Julie Brichel - or any sentient human being - considers Hatikva one of the eight indispensable music compositions in human history. Clearly, she made Hatikvah one of her choices to attract attention --  and more power to her: It worked perfectly.

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Why did Rashbam give his more famous grandfather such a tough time?

In the previous post, I recount some of the nasty things Rashbam said about his grandfather Rashi. Some scholars say that Rashbam wrote his commentary specifically to challenge Rashi, which raises all sorts of interesting questions about Rashbam's upbringing, family competition, and Oedipus issues. Did Rashbam grow up hearing every day about how great his grandfather was? Did he just get sick of it after a while? Unfortunately (or fortunately) no evidence exists to support this line of inquiry.

Another, more promising, suggestion is that Rashbam used his grandfather as a proxy for a Christian style of interpretation that was increasing in popularity. In brief, Christian interpreters saw the Old Testament as predicting the events of the new. Thus, the sale of Joseph was understood as a prefiguring of the crucifixion of Jesus (and see Rashbam's angry insistence there that this story means only what it means.)

Though this style of interpretation originated in an earlier Christian era, it flourished during the medieval period (in fact, in some circles its know as "medieval allegory") In many ways, this approach is like drash in that it strips verses of their local meanings and bases the interpretation on information found outside the text.  Jews resisted this by developing a very strict pshat-oriented approach to interpretation, one that based interpretations on information found within the text alone. Rashbam was one of the pioneers of this movement, a movement scholars say developed as a response to and defense against "medieval allegory".

Rashi belonged to an earlier era. Though his grandson claims that Rashi confessed a desire to rewrite his commentary in keeping with the new, pshat style of interpretation championed by his grandson, the Rashi commentary we have is not written this way. It makes use of a much broader conception of pshat (In brief: Rashi's idea of pshat includes midrashim and other information not found in the verses. So when God tells Abraham to "go outside" it can be pshat that He means "go outside your astrology". Or when a verse omits to tell us that Rivka "drew" the water, it can be pshat that the water rose up to meet her.  Rashbam does not allow for that, so for him the pshat of the Abraham verse can only be "go outside." Missing information isn't interpreted.)

We know from Rashabam's writing that he occasionally sparred with Christians and Apostate Jews, and we know from history that frienemy-like encounters between learned Jews and Christians were not uncommon (Remember: This was before blood libels, ghettos, Talmud burning, formal disputations, forced conversions and inveterate Jew-hating Popes irrevocably poisoned the relationship between European Jews and Christians. Counterpoint: The First Crusade and its massacre of German Jewry, occurred when Rashbam was about 10 years old; and there were other anti-Jewish persecutions before this. Nonetheless, the reports of informal debates with Christians do exist.)

So what an inconvenience it must have been for Rashbam to see that his very own grandfather made use of a style of interpretation wielded by his Christian opponents. Though there's no evidence that any of them ever used Rashi to support their own anti-Jewish arguments, it not impossible. Can you imagine how embarrassing that would have been? Picture Rashbam in the market making a killing point against some know-it-all Christian who -whoops- suddenly quotes Rashi back in his face.

So perhaps its no surprise that Rashbam is at his nastiest when his grandfather sees Jacob's blessing to Dan as preconfiguring Shimshon's career while his second nastiest comment comes when grandfather Rashi suggests that Yehuda (sounds like Judas) had a role in the sale of Joseph (see two paragraphs up.)

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Sunday, February 17, 2013

Nasty, nasty (proto) bloggers

Some of our delicate friends believe blogging must be polite, deferential and kind. They insist on rules of decorum, rules that often exist only in their own too-proper minds, or they demand that the teachings of the Chofetz Chaim, a 20th century sage, be followed to the strictest letter. Alas, some of these delicate flowers are also raving hypocrites who cry about bloggers while speaking unkindly about heterodox Jews, Republicans or other politically correct punching bags. Some of these sweethearts have even denounced me from one side of their mouth while preaching poltiness from the other.

Anywho - with all due respect to the CC, we prefer to follow the sensible example of other, earlier, sages. Long time readers are aware of the small collection of obnoxious Ramban comments I've curated. To that I now add a very short list of Horribly Unkind Things that Rabeinu Shlomo ben Meir (aka Rashbam) Said About His Very Own Grandfather, Rabeinu Shimon ben Yitzchak (aka Rashi)

"He doesn't pay attention to the main issue"
On Gen 37:2 Rashbam thinks his grandfather has incorrectly explained Joepsh's "bad words"

"He has no idea how to interpet a verse"
The issue is the measining of Gen 49:9. Rashi connects it to the sale of Yosef. His grandson disagrees and follows up with an insult.

"He has absolutely no understanding of pshat"
Rashi connects Gen 49:16 with Shimshon. His grandson finds that laughable

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Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Different Look at Parshat T’rumah

A Guest Post by David A.

First, to explain the problem.

As all Talmudic students, my intense Gemorrah studies inculcated me with the Gemorrah’s view that the Torah (i.e. the 5 books of Moses), is a very precise document and therefore has no superfluous text and that every word is meant to convey or teach something novel. So, of course, every year the reading of this week’s Torah portion and the several following weeks’ always troubled me greatly, as there is no greater apparent set of redundant verses than the hundreds dedicated to describing the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and its various components.

The Mishkan’s components are listed seven times. Of these, three are just simple lists (Ex. 30:26ff, 35:11ff, & 39:33ff). Two of the seven can be considered as the main lists, whereby one of the two (Ex. 25:1-29:43) records Hashem instructing Moishe to build the items, accompanied by some descriptive verses about that item. The second of the two (Ex.35:4-39:32), repeats, almost verbatim the first set of instructions, but written in a “fait accompli” manner, reporting that the artisans built the components in the prescribed manner.

A second issue in all of this, but less problematic, is the noted glaring oddity, in that the instructions for the Golden Altar (aka Incense Altar), the “Ki-yor” (a kind of sink) and its stand, the Anointing Oil, and the Incense are missing from the initial list and their existence and instructions are recorded separately. (Ex. 30:1+ff). The question is why?

OK, that’s the problem, now a suggested solution.

More about the Vaad of Toronto

This may look like a very lazy post, but really I just want you guys to see and discuss two comments left by "Guest" and "Chakira" on an old post.

In brief, neither of them think I am justified in criticizing the Vaad of Toronto for their recent decree about how all Orthodox Jews need to believe that the Torah in its entirety was transmitted by God through Moshe.

As I pointed out, (1) You can't issue a decree about a historical fact: Either it happened or it didn't happen, and no Vaad can change that; and (2) Loads of fine and famous Jews didn't believe that "the Torah in its entirety was transmitted by God through Moshe." The list includes Tannaim and Rishonim. Does the Vaad really think (to paraphrase their deathless prose) that these greats are estranged from the pale of Orthodox Judaism?

But see the whole thing after the jump:

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Steicher and Purim

Your new Avi* ends with this:
The “Amalek-irony” of the Nuremberg executions doesn’t end there, either. The Book of Esther recounts how Haman’s ten sons were hanged in Shushan. An eleventh child, a daughter, committed suicide earlier, according to an account in the Talmud. At Nuremberg, while eleven men were condemned to execution by hanging, only ten were actually hanged. The eleventh, the foppish Goering, died in his cell hours before the execution; he ingested a cyanide capsule he had hidden on his person.

Even more striking is something reportedly noted by, among others, the late Belzer Rebbe, the Kedushas Aharon. In the Megilla, the names of Haman’s sons are written in two columns, an unusual configuration. Odder still, three letters in the list are written very small, and one very large. The large letter is the Hebrew character corresponding to the number six; the small letters yield the number 707. If the large letter is taken to refer to the millennium and 707 to the year in the millennium, something striking emerges. According to Jewish reckoning, the present year is 5773. The year 5707 – the 707th year in the sixth millennium – was the year we know as 1946, when ten sworn enemies of the Jewish people were hanged in Nuremberg, like ten others in Shushan more than two thousand years earlier.

What’s more, the Megilla inexplicably refers to the hanging of Haman’s sons in the future tense, as if to presage some hanging… yet to happen.
I agree this is a pretty neat coincidence and those who wish to be amazed by it are justified. However, cold water does exist and you can find it here

PS: I don't like his use of the adjective "inexplicably" It happens to be very explicable.

* An "Avi" is the weekly column published by Avi Shafran.

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Rambam Rehash

The Rambam, of course, is justifiably famous for his 13 Principles, which are today understood to be the foundation stones of Orthodox Judaism.  What we sometimes forget, is that Jews didn't immediately accept  everything the Rambam said on the day that he said it. 

People disagreed (strongly) about various points for years --even centuries-- afterwards. Even today some observant Jews demonstrate through their behavior and beliefs that the Ikarim aren't fully accepted. 

In this fun post from 2005 I go through the Ikarim and show how some of them are still disregarded in both modern and Hasidic communities: Orthoprax Koferim: Teaneck vs.Williamsburg

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Let the women pray

The Rambam said its okay for women to wear talitot and he said any man who doesn't like it should STFU. Here are his words:
Women... who wish to wear tzitzit may do so without a blessing Similarly, all other positive commandments from which women are exempt, if they wish to perform them they do so without a blessing, and they are not condemned.
So if you want to be fair and accommodating and non-monist while celebrating diversity and respecting other approaches you can hang your hat on the Rambam. OK? And nothing bad will happen. I promise. The Rambam said to let them alone, so after 120 years you can put the blame on him, should God ask you why you sat their silently without protesting while happy women blessed His name in public.

The fact that so many Orthodox Jews choose, instead, to be militantly obnoxious about this is something we all must mourn.

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