Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Here's my great idea of the day!

Hey, you know how those big, strong, Bes Shemesh men put those uppity modern females in their place whenever they attempt to sit in the front seats of buses? Heroic right? But such a waste of their precious Torah learning time. Also, it gives the God-hating media a free chance to say horrible things about our perfect community.

Well, here's my solution!

I think W4W should open a subsidiary called W4Buses. They can use seminary girls to keep those brazen women in the back of the bus where they belong. Then our  holy and pious men won't be forced against their will to get mad and commit righteous acts of violence anymore. 

Evil woman strikes again. Forces God-fearing men to behave violently

Someone needs to make a video with sweet Shweky music proving how it was all the female passenger's fault. How DARE she try to do something an ultra orthodox person didn't like. Such nerve. Such gaavah. Clearly she has major problems with Torah true Judaism and the words of our sages.

Those of you who aren't familiar with the propagandist Shweky video referred to above, are invited to view it after the jump

Breaking: The RCA believes in TMS!

The RCA are a bunch of cowards and weaklings. Why else would they feel the need to publish a statement declaring their devotion to a particular interpretation of a particular Rishon's creed? How insecure.

I feel certain that Satmar and the other maddeningly self-confident branches of Judaism won't be joining this pathetic parade. They know they don't have anything to prove and that their brand needs no shoring up.

Anyway, the RCA  statement is flawed as I point out in the following little fisk.

RCA Statement on Torah Min HaShamayim

Jul 31, 2013 -- In recent days there has been much discussion regarding the belief in Torah Min HaShamayim.

"Much discussion" on like two or three blogs. I haven't heard a thing about any of this in the real world. Have you? Anyway, by reacting this way, you do two terrible things. You give blogs, Cross Currents in particular, a power that hasn't been earned and isn't deserved, and you give us all another excuse to discuss all of the ways in which ordinary logic undermines the most maximalist TMS claims.

We maintain that it is necessary not only to assert the centrality of this bedrock principle in broad terms, but also to affirm the specific belief that Moshe received the Torah from God during the sojourn in the wilderness, the critical moment being the dramatic revelation at Sinai.

 The Rambam and others have included this in in their various Principles of Faith but its centrality is so evident that an appeal to these Principles of Faith is almost superfluous. The very coherence of traditional Jewish discourse concerning the authority of the Torah she-bikhtav and the Torah she-be`al peh rests upon this conviction.

Appeal to consequences. Certainly, Orthodox Judaism as currently construed depends on acceptance of this "bedrock principle", but what's inevitable about Orthodox Judaism as its currently construed? The fact that a sect that developed historically depends essentially on the truth of a particular idea is no argument for the truth of that idea.

When critical approaches to the Torah's authorship first arose, every Orthodox rabbinic figure recognized that they strike at the heart of the classical Jewish faith.

Orthodox figures reacted similarly to Copernicus and Darwin. Some Orthodox figures reacted that way to the moon landing, too. From where I sit, this is the same type of situation and the same type of solution is required. If its ever proven that the Torah is a composite document, dating to different periods, Judaism will have to be rethought but it can go on and it can continue to thrive. We made changes to the theology after Copernicus and Darwin won the day. If Farber et al ever win the day, we'll just do the same thing and life will go on.

Whatever weight one assigns to a small number of remarks by medieval figures regarding the later addition of a few scattered phrases,

Whoever wrote this sentence needs to return his smikha. The idea that a few scattered phrases were added to the Torah after Moshe died did not originate with "medieval figures". Its found in the Talmud, and attributed to Tannaim.

there is a chasm between them and the position that large swaths of the Torah were written later-- 

Agreed, but there is also a medieval figure -Yosef Tov Elem  who says clearly that it is legitimate and non-heretical to say that large swaths of the Torah were written later. So the seeds of a new theology are there for the taking by anyone who is already convinced of the truth of the Documentary Hypothesis. And should Farber et al win the day, the teachings of  Yosef Tov Elem can serve as a starting point for those who wish to create a new theology, just like the teachings of Yitzchak of Acco were used as the basis of a new theology once the evidence for a very old universe became impossible to ignore.

all the more so when that position asserts that virtually the entire Torah was written by several authors who, in their ignorance, regularly provided erroneous information and generated genuine, irreconcilable contradictions. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, none of the abovementioned figures would have regarded such a position as falling within the framework of authentic Judaism.

Right. But so what? We can start with Yosef Tov Elem and agree that the Torah was produced over time, by different (prophetic) hands, without also agreeing that the material contains errors or irreconcilable contradictions. The solutions Chazal gave to many of those contradictions can still be considered valid.

If we wish to stay "within the framework of authentic Judaism" we can also attribute any unsolvable contradictions to tikunei sofrim (scribal corrections) and ittur sofrim (scribal omissions) The Rabbis recognized as many as 23 of these. Perhaps there were more. Or, we can hang our hat on the midrashim that suggest, rather strongly, that Ezra played an editorial role. Or we can summon the Radak who said, "...during the first Exile, books were misplaced and lost and scholars died; when the Great Assembly restored the Torah they found conflicting information in manuscripts and went according to the majority."

My point in providing this brief summary of the skeptical sources is to demonstrate that Torah-true solutions are available to anyone who has been convinced that the Torah is composite document written over time. It isn't necessary to draw a red line, nor must we toss out those who have been swayed, nor is it necessary to paint yourself into a corner with new creeds and new dogmas. If you care about truth, rather than the status quo, you can permit discussion. You can allow things to continue to develop. And, if necessary, you can also build a new theology based on legitimate sources.

While we recognize and respect the theological struggles that are a feature of many a modern person's inner religious life, the position in question is unequivocally contrary to the faith requirements of historic Judaism.

Its true that Judaism has always believed, more or less, in TMS. That, also, is no argument that TMS is true. Perhaps Yosef Tov Elem was correct, and the Torah, or large swaths of it anyway, were revealed over time, and recorded by different men. Perhaps this idea that the whole Torah, or most of it, was revealed "during the sojourn in the wilderness, the critical moment being the dramatic revelation at Sinai" is a mistake, created by well-meaning men. Who can rule this out?  On what basis? Fervent belief isn't evidence, or an argument. And if our old, cherished belief turns out to have been a mistake, well then good news: Judaism - authentic Judaism - never rested on it in the first place.

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Did Devorah exist?

What was the Tomar Devorah?

  וַיַּעֲבֹר אַבְרָם, בָּאָרֶץ, עַד מְקוֹם שְׁכֶם, עַד אֵלוֹן מוֹרֶה; וְהַכְּנַעֲנִי, אָז בָּאָרֶץ.6 And Abram passed through the land unto the place of Shechem, unto the [oak] of Moreh. And the Canaanite was then in the land.

בְּאֶרֶץ הַכְּנַעֲנִי, הַיֹּשֵׁב בָּעֲרָבָה--מוּל, הַגִּלְגָּל, אֵצֶל, אֵלוֹנֵי מֹרֶה.30 Are they not beyond the Jordan, behind the way of the going down of the sun, in the land of the Canaanites that dwell in the Arabah, over against Gilgal, beside the [oaks] of Moreh?

Moreh means teacher, so the elon moreh might refer or somehow relate to a  teacher who once upon a time sat under an oak tree. It may also relate to diviners, or a divenly inspired teacher, who sat under an oak tree.

לז  וַיֹּסֶף עוֹד גַּעַל, לְדַבֵּר, וַיֹּאמֶר, הִנֵּה-עָם יוֹרְדִים מֵעִם טַבּוּר הָאָרֶץ; וְרֹאשׁ-אֶחָד בָּא, מִדֶּרֶךְ אֵלוֹן מְעוֹנְנִים.37 And Gaal spoke again and said: 'See, there come people down by the middle of the land, and one company cometh by the way of Elon-meonenim.

Me'onenim means "of the diviners", so the elon me'onimin conceivably refers to an oak treek assoicated with prophets or soothsayers.

On this basis, Wolfgang Richter says Devorah's tree, the tomar devorah under which the prophetess held court, was an oak tree, not a palm tree as is widely assumed. Moreover, he suggests that the tree mentioned in Genesis 35:

וַתָּמָת דְּבֹרָה מֵינֶקֶת רִבְקָה, וַתִּקָּבֵר מִתַּחַת לְבֵית-אֵל תַּחַת הָאַלּוֹן; וַיִּקְרָא שְׁמוֹ, אַלּוֹן בָּכוּת.  {פ}8 And Deborah Rebekah's nurse died, and she was buried below Beth-el under the oak; and the name of it was called Allon-bacuth.

.. is the very same oak tree. This, he suggests, explains the cameo appearence of Devorah, the previously unnamed nurse. It's an eitological tale, he argues,  created to tell us how what must have been a famous oak first recived its name.

Richter goes on to suggest that the tree mentioned in Samual 10

וְחָלַפְתָּ מִשָּׁם וָהָלְאָה, וּבָאתָ עַד-אֵלוֹן תָּבוֹר, וּמְצָאוּךָ שָּׁם שְׁלֹשָׁה אֲנָשִׁים, עֹלִים אֶל-הָאֱלֹהִים בֵּית-אֵל; אֶחָד נֹשֵׂא שְׁלֹשָׁה גְדָיִים, וְאֶחָד נֹשֵׂא שְׁלֹשֶׁת כִּכְּרוֹת לֶחֶם, וְאֶחָד, נֹשֵׂא נֵבֶל-יָיִן.3 Then shalt thou go on forward from thence, and thou shalt come to the terebinth of Tabor, and there shall meet thee there three men going up to God to Beth-el, one carrying three kids, and another carrying three loaves of bread, and another carrying a bottle of wine.
is the same tree, arguing that tabor is a scribal error, and that devorah was the original text. (In Hebrew they are close but, honestly, not that close)

James Kugel further deveolps ths idea, arguing that the proper name Devorah, when used to refer to the tree, is actually the generic word daborah which means "female speaker."  Perhaps once upon a time, female oracles were associated with that particular tree or with a tree of the same species. Over time, via synechede, the tree itself became known as the Tomar daborah. 

Did Devorah exist?

Kugel seems to agree with the theory that the poetic parts of the Torah are earlier than the narrative sections, and he has argued that the disagreements between the narrative sections and the poetic sections can be chalked up to errors in understanding. For example, the song of Devorah tells us that Sisreh fell at Yael's feet, but in the narrative portion he is prone and sleeping when he is killed. Kugel says this contradiction was introduced because the historian who wrote the prose section misunderstood the poetry. 

 יָדָהּ לַיָּתֵד תִּשְׁלַחְנָה,  {ס}  וִימִינָהּ  {ר}  לְהַלְמוּת עֲמֵלִים;  {ס}  וְהָלְמָה סִיסְרָא מָחֲקָה  {ר}  רֹאשׁוֹ,  {ס}  וּמָחֲצָה וְחָלְפָה רַקָּתוֹ.  {ס}26 Her hand she put to the tent-pin, her right hand to the workmen's hammer; and with the hammer she smote Sisera, she smote through his head, yea, she shattered and pierced his temple.

According to Kugel, the verse is better translated: "She put her hand to a stick, her right hand to a workman's club." He admits the intent is ambiguous - Did Yael perform two seperate actions, or is the poet simply describing the same action in two different ways, using a "replacement strategy" often seen in biblical poetry? But on the basis of the context, Kugel argues that the meaning is closer to "she took a stick, nay a mighty club". After all, the song says Sisreh was standing when he was hit, and that he fell at Yael's feet. Its hard to imagine Yael having the opportunity to approach a concious Sisreh with a tent peg in one hand and a mallet in the other. Its more likely that she came up behind him and smashed him on the side of the head with stick.

According to Kugel the historian who used the song as a source for his narrative misunderstood this (and perhaps didn't like the idea of a woman acting so brashly) To allow for the tent peg on one hand and a mallet in the other, he depicts Sisreh as sleeping and allows Yael to attack him in a fasion that is far more demure. 

Kugel goes on to say that the creation of the historical Devorah may have been the result of a similar error. One of the song's mentions of Devorah looks like this:

 עוּרִי עוּרִי דְּבוֹרָה,  {ס}  עוּרִי  {ר}  עוּרִי דַּבְּרִי-שִׁיר;  {ס}  קוּם בָּרָק וּשְׁבֵה שֶׁבְיְךָ, בֶּן-  {ר}  אֲבִינֹעַם.  {ס}12 Awake, awake, Deborah; awake, awake, utter a song; arise, Barak, and lead thy captivity captive, thou son of Abinoam.

According to Kugel, the reference originally may have been to an anonymous female prophet, a daborah. Misunderstanding this (and perhaps having some theological need to connect Barak's victory to a prophet) the historian who wrote Judges 4 invented a character called Deborah.

Additional support for this theory is provided by the third-person mention of Deborah earlier in the song:

 חָדְלוּ פְרָזוֹן בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל,  {ר}  חָדֵלּוּ--  {ס}  עַד שַׁקַּמְתִּי דְּבוֹרָה, שַׁקַּמְתִּי אֵם בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל.  {ס}7 The rulers ceased in Israel, they ceased, until that thou didst arise, Deborah, that thou didst arise a mother in Israel.

Kugel and others read this: "Until you arose, daborah." Or, until you delivered the prophecy, things were going poorly for Israel. He notes that when read this way, daborah is merely a generic word, and not a proper name. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Jewish Believer, Jewish Skeptic

Could I call myself a Jew if I did not believe that heaven and earth once intersected at Sinai? I wrote those words in 2006. Is that still what I believe? Yes. Seven years, and seven million blog comments later, I still think that belief in the revelation at Sinai is essential to Judaism*, just as belief in the resurrection is essential to Christianity.

I'm a Jewish believer  because I believe God interacted with my ancestors. But I am also a Jewish skeptic because I can't say with any certainty what that interaction contained. I believe something happened at Sinai, but I can't say exactly what it was. I believe God delivered some message to the Israelites,  but I can't tell you what was in it. Was His message long or short? Did we give us a long collection of laws, or did we simply give us the tools to deduce the laws for ourselves. Do we still have all of that message today, or was some of it lost during the long years of exile and disbelief? Did well-meaning men add to it? Did disreputable men modify it? How did we keep all of it intact during the years in Babylon? Who kept it safe during the years before Josiah when most Jews worshiped Baal, and never went to Jerusalem? Why does some of it echo Hammurabi? Why is some of it written in the same voice and in support of the same theological agenda as the prose parts of Jeremiah? Why are the poetic parts written in a much older dialect of Hebrew? Why doesn't they agree in all the details with the prose parts? These are some of the skeptical thoughts that come to me whenever I consider the divine origins of the Torah

Now, let's be clear. This skepticism doesn't mean I've ruled out the possibility that the message was the Torah, more or less as we have it today. Certainly, that's possible. God might have delivered to Moshe a document containing all of those inconsistencies and maculations and other indications of human authorship and tampering. Those inconsistencies and maculations might be there for precisely the reasons Chazal gave us. I can accept the possibility that this is true.  But at the same time, I can't ignore the fact that the document does contain those inconsistencies and maculations.

 *No, I don't mean "Orthodox Judaism". I mean Judaism. I can't fathom a Judaism that doesn't recognize that something supernaturally significant occurred at Sinai. 

Monday, July 29, 2013

Bifurcation is beautiful

To the Editor:

Re “Some Mormons Search the Web and Find Doubt” (front page, July 21):

It will be interesting to see how the leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints deal with the apparent coming to light of facts to cast doubt on the validity of its founding narrative.

Might I suggest that they use the tactic used by many modern Jews dealing with biblical narratives that defy credulity, from a six-day story of creation to Jonah living inside a large fish. We distinguish between left-brain narratives (meant to convey factual truth) and right-brain narratives (meant to make a point through a story; the message will be true even if the story isn’t factually defensible).

Natick, Mass., July 23, 2013

HT: @Efink

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Typical Fox Stupidity...

In this clip, Lauren Green, the Fox correspondent, seems entirely unable to accept that a Muslim might have something important, interesting and true to say about Christianity. Instead, she takes it for granted that the man has an agenda, and refuses to adjust this position even after being told that that he has four degrees,a Ph.D in religion. fluency in biblical Greek, a Christian wife and mother, 20 years of academic experience and opinions that don't coincide with Islamic teachings.

This sort of extreme skepticism is silly, of course, but we'd feel better about it if Fox applied it consistently. But when Jews and Christians appear on Fox to discuss the nature of Islam everyone nods and claps. Daniel Pipes, Ann Coulter and other non-Muslims have all appeared on Fox and made negative comments about Islam. Has anyone at Fox ever suggested that their faith might be negatively affecting the quality of their commentary?

Bonus stupidity: Lauren Green misuses the phrases begs the question.

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Friday, July 26, 2013

In which I assign Cross Currents a new mission

In the name of all Klal Yisroel I congratulate the Cardinals of Cross Currents for their succesful persecution of R. Zev Farber. Yesterday, his yeshiva denounced his views, wirting that "his ideas are different from, and in some ways contradictory to, what we teach and ask our students to believe at YCT."

Well done Cross Currents! Now, its time to turn your attention to some bigger fish? Picking on someone who insuffriciently repects the Rambam's eighth principle is easy. They are mostly leftie academics, with no power bases, who fight fairly: They'll come back at you with ideas, not with bans or slanderous denouncments.

But those who disrespect the Rambam's 11th - God rewards and punishes us based on our performance of his commandments and not based on the segulahs we perform or the pidyonim we pay - are different. The segulah sellers are wealthy, powerful, popular. Pick a fight with one of them, and they'll come back at you with everything up to and including the kitchen sink. Six of them appear on the list of Israel's richest rabbis. Their fortunes were accumulated by selling charms, prayers and blessings, by making bogus predictions and by claimimg to have supernatural powers. Not one of them acquired their fortunes through industry or hard work, but by cashing in on the hopes, fears and stupidity of their followers.

Leading a heresy hunt against one of them would require real bravery, and unlike the heresy hunt against R. Farber, shutting down someone like Yaakov Ifargen or Nir Ben-Artzi or the Abuhatzeiras would produce tangible, real world results. The segulah sellers are crooks - predators - who terrify and impoverish believers.

So nu, Cross Currents? We're waiting.

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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Why I'm Going Back to Shul

In my post yesterday, I mentioned in passing that it was easy and practical for me to stop attending synagogue. It was also, for a host of reasons, necessary. But I've decided to go back to shul on a weekly basis. Now, by coincidence, I live next to my old rabbi and about a block from my old synagogue...but despite the synagogue rabbi inviting me back, I don't feel I fit in there anymore. I'm going to go to Young Israel instead, which is...erm, a bit further away. I've had some good experiences there.

It's not that I've come back to being frummer than Rabbi Farber, I'm still OTD. But Meetup groups just didn't do it for me, Unitarianism is too touchy-feely for me, and I don't really feel like congratulating myself every week at a humanist meeting. In a 21st century world which emphasizes personal responsibility and the American mythological narrative of "liberty" so much, I think the secular world has failed to create enough communitarian structures to positively reinforce those of us who can't go it alone. We have failed to back up our ideals in moral philosophy with any sense of a communal framework that takes itself as seriously as Orthodoxy takes itself. That's not to say Orthodoxy is perfect in this regard; when I was still frum, a rosh mechina screamed at me in public  on two occasions that I could shut up about anything outside of gemara/tosafos or get out, and that was really where I lost my sense of community. And  I don't mean to belittle the accomplishments of liberalism....they have been many, e.g. abolitionism, suffrage, civil rights, the welfare state, LGBT rights, jobs, etc. Still, while we secular skeptics take legitimate potshots at ideologies and ideologues, I don't think we've created the raw emotional connection to a purposeful community that Orthodoxy has. And even if I don't agree with the purpose, I need the community.

(Some theists and even atheists will argue that secular people can't have objective purpose. This is a discussion for another post down the pike.)

Just like the leader, so is the generation

משנה ראש השנה 1:1 "זה דור דורשיו מבקשי פניך יעקב סלה" פליגי בה רבי יהודה  נשיאה ורבנן חד אמר דור לפי פרנס וחד אמר פרנס לפי דורו. מאי הלכתא אילימא למעליותא דמר סבר אי מעלי דרא מעלי לפרנס ומר סבר  אי מעלי פרנס מעלי דרא.

It is written (Psalms 24:6) “Such is the generation of them that seek after Him, that seek Your face, even Jacob Selah.” R. Judah Nesi'ah and the Rabbis differ as to the meaning of the pasuk. R. Judah says, Just like the leader, so is the generation.” The rabbis say, “Just like the generation, so is the leader.” What does this teach? It refers to virtue, so that one holds that if the generation is virtuous, so is the leader; the other view being that if the leader is virtuous, so is the generation.

Why do we allow fanatic extremists, thugs and crooks to be our religious leaders and ruin our beautiful Judaism?

The Talmud warns that in the wrong hands, Judaism will become twisted and venomous. Talmud Bavli, Yoma 72b: "Raba said: Any scholar whose inside is not like his outside, is no scholar. Abaye, or, as some say, Rabbah b. ‘Ulla said: He is called abominable, as it is said: How much less one that is abominable and impure, man who drinketh iniquity like water. [Job 15:16, rendered, one who drinketh the water of the Torah and yet has iniquity in him]. R. Samuel b. Nahmani, in the name of R. Jonathan: What is the meaning of the scriptural statement: Wherefore is there a price in the hand of a fool, to buy wisdom, seeing he hath no understanding, [Prov. 27: 16, Wisdom is knowledge of the Torah, understanding is moral rightness, based on fear of heaven. Hence this interpretation]. i.e., woe unto the enemies of the scholars [Euphemism for ‘scholars’], who occupy themselves with the Torah, but have no fear of heaven! R. Jannai proclaimed: Woe unto him who has no court, but makes a gateway for his court! [Fear of the Lord is the court, the goal. Learning should lead to it]. R. Joshua b. Levi said: What is the meaning of the Scriptural verse: And this is the law which Moses set before the children of Israel (Deut. 4: 44)? — If he is meritorious it becomes for him a medicine of life, if not, a deadly poison. That is what Raba [meant when he] said: If he uses it the right way it is a medicine of life unto him; he who does not use it the right way, it is a deadly poison". 

Similarly in Taanit 7a:

אמר רב יהודה גדול יום הגשמים כיום שניתנה בו תורה שנא' (דברים לב) יערף כמטר לקחי ואין לקח אלא תורה שנא' (משלי ד) כי לקח טוב נתתי לכם תורתי אל תעזובו רבא אמר יותר מיום שניתנה בו תורה שנאמר יערף כמטר לקחי מי נתלה במי הוי אומר קטן נתלה בגדול רבא רמי כתיב יערף כמטר לקחי וכתיב תזל כטל אמרתי אם תלמיד חכם הגון הוא כטל ואם לאו עורפהו כמטר תניא היה ר' בנאה אומר כל העוסק בתורה לשמה תורתו נעשית לו סם חיים שנאמר (משלי ג) עץ חיים היא למחזיקים בה ואומר (משלי ג) רפאות תהי לשרך ואומר (משלי ח) כי מוצאי מצא חיים וכל העוסק בתורה שלא לשמה נעשית לו סם המות שנאמר יערף כמטר לקחי ואין עריפה אלא הריגה שנאמר (דברים כא) וערפו שם את העגלה בנחל

It is my impression that we are experiencing that prediction. Whether it be assaults on women praying at the Western Wall or assaulting and verbally abusing women who refuse to obey gender-segregation and move to the rear section of public buses, attacks on moderate Rabbis or anybody having a different opinion; the continuous racist preaching of R. Samuel Eliahu, the chief Rabbi of Sefad, the latest charges against Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger for corruption and plagiarism, and the exposure of Gilles Bernheim, Chief Rabbi of France as a charlatan, fake Doctor and a plagiarist. And then, most recently, Shas’s Council of Torah Sages member Rabbi Shalom Cohen in a sermon (in the presence of "Gedol Hador" R. Ovadiah Yosef (who did not object/protest) made degrading remarks against the religious Zionist sector by questioning their Jewishness and referring to them as “Amalek” – a biblical tribe hostile to the ancient Israelites, toward which we have an eternal obligation to wipe out. Cohen, dean of the Porat Yosef Yeshiva, stated:

כתוב ‘כי יד על כס י-ה מלחמה לה’ בעמלק’, אמרו חכמים ש"אין הכיסא שלם כל עוד יש עמלק""

He then went on to explain that “Kes”, the letters ‘kaf’ and ‘samech’ are kippa sruga (knitted-kippa), adding “When will the Kiseh be complete, when there is no more kippa sruga and for as long as kippa sruga exists, אין כיסא שלם

“the Throne [of God] is not complete as long as there are Amalek, ..when will the Throne be complete? When there are no more [religious Zionists].” R. Cohen warned about the possibility of the election of a religious Zionist chief rabbi, adding that he told this to “Druckman and the other Amalekites…These are Jews?!” he questioned. "How miserable will we be if we will have a chief rabbi with Kipa Seruga".

And I say: How miserable we are with religious leaders such as Rabbi Shalom Cohen.

This is hardly the way of people who claim to be "light unto the nations" and whose scholars "bring peace to the world".

The difference between sane Judaism and venom posing as piety is unmistakably expressed in the words of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Britain's outgoing chief rabbi: "There is a difference between righteousness and self-righteousness. The righteous are humble, the self-righteous are proud. The righteous understand doubt, the self-righteous only certainty. The righteous see the good in people, the self-righteous only the bad. The righteous leave you feeling enlarged, the self-righteous make you feel small" (from The Great Partnership p.296). It is precisely this type of righteous Judaism that should inspire us to honesty, integrity and peace. 

This is exactly the type of exemplary religious leadership we do not have.

So, if a sane Judaism is still important for you dear reader, and you do not want Rabbi Sacks' words to be a "qol qoreh bamidbar" than it is time to wake up! Let us be better informed; Let us become the alarm clock, calling conscience to account; Let us stop reacting and start pro-acting; Let us do not waste another day.

The force is strong with this one

A guest post by Y. Bloch 

I say this with a heavy heart, but I think... that I may have to defend... Cross-Currents.

Hush, now, I can hear your boos from the future. This latest controversy over the writings of Rabbi Dr. Zev Farber, yadin yadin, at has already been addressed on this site by DovBear and Mark Pelta, as well as by Rabbi E. Fink and others elsewhere. Still, I do feel the need to add my two cents, or rather fifty shekels.

About three weeks ago, David Staum posted here: "Devarim 22: a rapist required to marry his victim?" Currently, R. Farber is reworking his own approach to this passage, which originally appeared in his multitudinous survey (Part 4). Cross-Currents still has the original draft (in R. Avrohom Gordimer's "Torah Min-Hashamayim: A Reply to Rabbi Nati Helfgot") though, and it goes like this:

The Oral Torah explanation proffered by the rabbis, i.e. that all of the practices not found in the Bible were either told to Moses directly at Sinai or are derived from midrashic reading of text, does not even begin to realistically address the religious changes Judaism has gone through in a believable way.
Fine, fair enough. I have argued the same. There are certainly those on the right of Orthodoxy who would differ, but I'm with him so far. Then he goes on:
Prophecy does not come as a verbal revelation from God to the prophet, but as a tapping into the divine flow. Even while channeling the divine wrath against the injustice of the rape, the Deuteronomic prophet (i.e. the author of Deuteronomy) was still a human being, his scope remains limited by education and social context. The prophet could not reasonably be expected to work towards correcting faults he did not see. Nevertheless, the injustice of the rape and the consequences to the girl and her family were things that he could see. This is what he worked to correct.
The law of the rapist is actually an example of a human mind tapping into the divine flow—albeit in a way limited by his own societally determined biases…
OK, I guess my next question is this: is a prophet tapping into the divine flow more like George Lucas's Jedi (and Sith) using the Force or Mark Waid's Flashes using the Speed Force? Clearly, in R. Farber's formulation, a prophet can only be asked to address what he would have found objectionable without any interaction with God. I'm not trying to be flippant here; I really think that this approach fundamentally undermines the ultimate distillation of Judaism: God tells us to do stuff. As I read it (and please tell me if I'm wrong), this version of God does not have the authority of a night-shift manager at a fast-food franchise. He can only work through the biases of the prophet. Some troglodyte thought "Fire! Sabbath! Bad!"--and hey, it's in the Torah.

That's why, although I find much that is hypocritical, disingenuous and downright ignorant in what the Cross-Currents writers have voiced about this issue, I can hardly begrudge them the right to draw red lines. If you're "on the derekh," you must by definition have some idea of where the lines of that derekh lie.

Now, I too struggle with this passage, but I find the idea of "channeling the divine wrath against the injustice of the rape" through the muddy mind of a primitive prophet utterly unconvincing. Sorry, there's no divine wrath there that I can find, neither explicitly nor implicitly. That's because the Torah was given to a nation of Near East nomads. Honor killings are still happening widely in this region in the 21st century, and the idea of exonerating a (young) woman raped in wedlock or out is still revolutionary around here. So, the Written Torah gave us a law progressive for its time, the Oral Torah a law progressive for its time, and modern Judaism should give us the same. Yes, I believe that God gives us the commandments that challenge but do not undermine society.

This belief may well put me in the category of heretic for the Cross-Currents writing staff, but I'm willing to argue the point. I eagerly await R. Farber's final word on the matter as well.

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Summer Camp

BY @Azigra 

This weeks This American Life consists of several recorded stories about sleep away camp. There are two stories with Jewish content, one at 21:24 about a Wisconsin Zionist Camp and one at 29:59 about an IDF camp for both American and Israeli kids. 
The rest of the show is worth listening to as well.
  • Do you think camp is necessary? 
  • Should there be an age limit for people attending camps?
  • Should 22 year old yeshiva boys and girls still be going to camp?
  • As a parent would you rather have your son or daughter get a job and experience some real responsibility as a young adult?
  • Is summer camp just another part of our society's infantilization of young men and women?
  • Is there anything creepier than a grown man being excited for summer camp?

I was never a camp person, I never enjoyed or cared about organized sports. When I reached high school I went to a camp which is no longer extant called Heller which had the reputation of being a "learning camp". I thoroughly enjoyed the camping experience there, which may be because it was popular then to seem indifferent to the camping experience. Sneaking out of meals, skipping activities, and ignoring lifeguards was a daily occurrence and that's what made the whole thing enjoyable.

The camp I attended while in elementary school, Romimu,  was more sports oriented. If I were on this weeks show I would have shared this story from then:

For some reason it was a huge honor to claim you knew someone working in the canteen. If you had an "in" with someone on the staff there you might as well have been James Dean, you were cool. One year I knew the head of the canteen, he let me work behind the counter on one or two occasions and I would have done it every day, for free, if he let me.

One year a friend of mine in a different bunk who we all knew to have a canteen connection came into our bunk after curfew to take orders. It was all very thrilling and illegal and we all put in orders and gave him our money. I ordered a frankfurter. About an hour later he came back with a box of food claiming he was only able to fill the frankfurter orders, anything else ordered was not available and he put the box down and left.

There was certainly something fishy about the whole thing. For one the frankfurter was cold and burnt, secondly, there were no buns, and thirdly, how could the canteen be out of onion rings?

I decided we should sneak out to James Dean's bunkhouse a few doors down to investigate the matter. When we got there we learned that he never even went to the canteen. His bunk had a BBQ the night before with many uneaten frankfurters leftover. What he did was turn on his gas BBQ in the shower stall in the back of their bunkhouse to heat up un-refrigerated 24 hour old meat and sold that to us.

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Welcoming Rabbi Menken to Your Facebook Wall

by Mark Pelta

I hear Yaakov Menken's commenting on some Facebook walls. If he comments on yours, I'd advise you to delete it, but keep a copy for your records. When he asks why you deleted his comment, tell him it needs review and is under moderation. Post it a week later and respond by making fun of him in your own comment. When he tries to issue a rebuttal, delete his new comment and PM him that you just call 'em like you see 'em, the thread is closed, you're not accepting any more comments, and if he continues with his obsessive immature demands, you're going to have to block him.

Rinse and repeat.

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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

My Faith and Zev Farber's Faith

On March 19, 2003, I was shipped off to a boarding school for defiant teenagers. It was a crazy place and while "scam" might not be technically accurate, I think that term will cover my alma mater for most purposes. Still, I learned some things there. If I had to choose one overall message that really sums up the lesson they were trying to push there, it would be "Get Out of Your Comfort Zone." I had to direct a skit about arguing with my parents in front of both the entire school and, the next day, in front of my parents. I had to repel and climb,  despite my fear of heights. I liked to read, but the day before the 5th Harry Potter book came out, I was put on bans with pleasure reading and my books confiscated. &c.

It was at my old school that I decided to become an Orthodox Jew. My faith was one based in proofs (or evidence, call it whatever you want), but not Kuzari and the like. No, for me, the Teleological Argument, the Cosmological Argument, and the Argument From Jewish History were quite compelling. I had looked into other religions and denominations (despite the ban on reading, I had a way of getting around that for religion), but I thought Orthodox Judaism just made more sense. While there was a haredi rabbi who came up to the school once a month to give a lecture, nobody "mekarved" me, and in fact that rabbi and I never saw eye-to-eye. I had only a dim sense of skepticism at the time and as a teenager, I immaturely just thought that I had personally figured out The Obvious Truth. Still, it took the lessons about leaving my comfort zone for me to change my life plans and decide to take gradual steps to become an Orthodox Jew. After graduating in 2005, I started attending an Orthodox synagogue which I'd never previously been aware of, and soon ended up in yeshivas in Israel. The rabbis were haredi and I was very into the Rav's writings, so I soon found myself at loggerheads. The conflicts led me to understand they didn't know everything, and I eventually engaged in my own theological navigation on more complex matters of rabbinic authority and what is considered an acceptable Jewish belief; I lost friends over minutiae, e.g. the fact that I didn't think Judaism had necessarily always required that Moses wrote the entire Bible. I was not the only bachur to find some of the proofs sketchy. Still, I agreed with my more extreme brethren on the matter of why we believed. Some of my more Modern Orthodox friends -- and even one of my moderate haredi rabbis! -- saw Judaism as a matter of faith and emotion, but this made no sense to me; as kiruv rabbis told us, that would make Judaism just another emotionally-driven religion. My religion was a litvishe religion, a religion based on facts on the ground. We were different precisely because we had proof that made us different! 5 years after first starting to daven Shacharis consistently, I accidentally caused another friend to leave Orthodox Judaism and he pushed me to reconsider my own beliefs, eventually leading to my going OTD.

I thought of this journey from my life after reading Rabbi Zev Farber's recent essay. His Judaism is foreign to me. My Judaism was a religion of proofs, evidence, and an uncomfortable journey. I think his understanding of the Talmud's fish and fox story demonstrates that his is one of somebody with a historical conscience seeking a comfortable faith in divinely inspired myth. Mine was what Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb calls "living up to the truth," with all the sneering/condescending implications; his is one of finding a narrative which will frame the myths in a way where he both can be a Torah Jew and be comfortable that he's been intellectually honest enough to accept the historical facts.

Some of my friends were disappointed in Rabbi Farber, both on the left and right. A rabbi told me it was just an explication of Conservative Judaism, while an atheist said that he couldn't understand how the guy doesn't recognize the logical implications of his findings. I sympathize with their sentiments and I myself jokingly told Farber on Facebook that he's sooo close to the real red pill, it's right there if he's interested. But I'm not upset; on the contrary, I commend Farber for so lucidly and bravely introducing Orthodox Jews who might otherwise be unaware of the facts to them and I think it's a positive development. I believe that anybody who wants facts should have access to them, and much of the literature is not as straightforward and candid as Farber was.

I wonder though about this Judaism of faith, Judaism of comfort, Judaism of divinely inspired myth. The reasons to believe are, in my opinion, not much different than others' reasons for believing in their own religions. Perhaps I'm just too litvishe, but I don't understand such a faith. This is not to say I think everybody should leave. I certainly understand that after years -- in some cases decades -- of being in a community, it is often impractical for people happy with their shuls and communities to just walk away (and tomorrow I'm going to have a post about failures of us nontheists). I was a young, single, baal teshuva nobody when I did, quite different than people I know who are married to rabbis or who have been entrenched for decades in the same world. But it seems to me that the best solution for them be a slightly subversive skeptical Orthopraxy, perhaps not explicating on exactly what you believe, but always asking questions to show the issues with problematic doctrines. But at the point we admit this is just another myth, who needs it, and why say it's divinely inspired?

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RYA enters the fray, and I respond

The Cross Currents team confronts R. Farber
My, but Cross Currents is certainly serious about heresy. In a new article, RYA explains why we must be forever vigilant against this insidious threat.  Unfortunately, he doesn't provide a single actual anti-heresy argument nor, from where I sit, does he do an especially good job of explaining why any of this matters. So Zev Farber meets some narrow, arbitrary definition of heresy. And therefore?

Here's his attempt to tell us why all of this is important, with my fisk.

Monday, July 22, 2013

TMS debate continues

R' Gordimer writing on Cross Currents:
"It is critical to realize that there exist some undeniable and dispositive  common denominators that are essential elements of acceptable belief in all of the views cited by R. Helfgot: that the words of the Torah are the direct and literal Word of God, that the words of God reported in the Torah as having been communicated directly from God to Moshe were indeed communicated as such, that the Torah was given at Sinai in a tangible manner of historical veracity, that the historical events in the Torah that form the basis of our faith (such as the Exodus) did occur, and that Torah She-b’al Peh is of direct Mosaic origin and is part and parcel of the Torah itself. "
He wrote these words in response to an article written by R' Nati Helfgot, but the passage makes it clear that he didn't read Helfgott very caregully. RNH quoted Ibn Ezra and Tananim who said the last [x] number of verses were not "communicated directly from God to Moshe" and he quoted a Rishon who allowed for the possibility that lots of Torah material was revealed by prophets long after Moshe died. So how can those ideas be "essential elements of acceptable belief" if bold name rabbis didn't believe them? How can they be "common denominators?"

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Peek a Jew (@1:30)

Hat tip: Lots of you (thanks!)

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Scam of the day

If you have some extra money and wish to participate in what can only be described as a witch doctor ceremony,  be sure to click here

Holy excerpts:
The event, which is shrouded in an aura of holiness and reverence, begins with mincha, as it says, "Eliyahu was answered only at mincha." Afterwards, Rav Abuchatzeira will lead the crowd in the recitation of seder hatikkun.
The Rav will then take out a shofar that is 150 years old, an inheritance from his grandfather, the admor Rabi Massoud Abuchatzeira, who received it from his father, the Abir Yaakov. Rabi Massoud is the father of the Baba Sali and of the Rav's father, the Baba Chaki. Before blowing it, the Rav will ask those assembled to have kavana that the prayers they offer on behalf of men and women in need of a shidduch will be answered quickly. [Baba Sali and Baba Chaki both had a lifelong relationship with Yad L’Achim and would constantly offer words of chizuk to Yad L’Achim to continue in their Avodas Hakodesh.]

The admor will ascend the roof of the holy tziyun and circle it seven times, holding lists of those who have donated to the mitzvah of Pidyon Shvuyim. He will recite relevant chapters of Tehilim and again blow the shofar, followed by the recitation of the moving Ana BeKo'ach prayer.
Rav Abuchatzeira will then enter the tziyun, and after spending long minutes lighting candles, will begin reading the names of those in need of shidduchim, carefully enunciating each one in a heartfelt plea.
At the conclusion of the tefillah, Rav Abuchatzeira davens: "Let it be His Will that our tefillot are accepted by the Holy Throne, and the donors whose names we read now will merit mercy and salvation and to quickly establish a bayit ne'eman beYisrael, among all of Klal Yisrael in need of a yeshuah."

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Sunday, July 21, 2013


A guest post by Y. Bloch
Tu beAv, the Fifteenth of Av, which begins shortly here in Israel, has a somewhat nebulous identity. The Mishna (Taanit 4:8) states:
Rabban Simeon ben Gamaliel said: Never were there any more joyous festivals in Israel than the 15th of Av and the Day of Atonement, for on them the maidens of Jerusalem used to go out dressed in white garments--borrowed ones, however, in order not to cause shame to those who had none of their own. These clothes were also to be previously immersed, and thus the maidens went out and danced in the vineyards, saying: Young men, look and observe well whom you are about to choose...
To archaeologists, it is a semi-Dionysian midsummer festival, celebrating fertility and fermentation. To romantics, it is the Jewish Valentine's Day. To traditionalists, it marks the repeal of various harsh decrees, as recorded in the Talmud ad loc. (30b-31a)--at most, a partial consolation for the ancillary tragedies of 9 Av.

However, the final answer in the Talmud (the only one voiced by two sages) may give us a clue. This relates it to the cutting of wood for the Altar. Earlier in the chapter, the Mishna lists a number of days set aside for different distinguished groups to bring wood, the simplest of donations, to the Temple. However, the 15th of Av is special because this is when "the priests, Levites and anyone who was mistaken about his tribe, and the family of the pestle-smugglers and the family of the fig-pressers" would bring. The priests and Levites mentioned here do not seem to be the high-ranking and wealthy Sadducees, as they would not associate with the unwashed masses. Tu beAv is the day for even the lowliest minimum-wage earner to bring something to the Temple. In fact, Megillat Taanit, which predates the Mishna by a century, lists this day specifically as a happy one. Its scholium (commentary) refers to this as the day designated for "the family of priests and Levites, converts, serfs, bastards and freed slaves" and notes that originally the day set aside was 9 Av, but with the great numbers of exiles returning, the Sages pushed it off a week, until the 15th. In Greek, it is called Xylophory, the Day of Wood-bearing.
However, it is at the time of the Great Revolt, in the year 66, when this day becomes truly remarkable. Josephus Flavius records (Wars of the Jews, Book II, Chapter 17):
5. Upon this the men of power, with the high priests, as also all the part of the multitude that were desirous of peace, took courage, and seized upon the upper city [Mount Sion;] for the seditious part had the lower city and the temple in their power; so they made use of stones and slings perpetually against one another, and threw darts continually on both sides; and sometimes it happened that they made incursions by troops, and fought it out hand to hand, while the seditious were superior in boldness, but the king's soldiers in skill. These last strove chiefly to gain the temple, and to drive those out of it who profaned it; as did the seditious, with Eleazar, besides what they had already, labor to gain the upper city. Thus were there perpetual slaughters on both sides for seven days' time; but neither side would yield up the parts they had seized on.
6. Now the next day was the festival of Xylophory; upon which the custom was for every one to bring wood for the altar (that there might never be a want of fuel for that fire which was unquenchable and always burning). Upon that day... they grew bolder, and carried their undertaking further; insomuch that the king's soldiers were overpowered by their multitude and boldness; and so they gave way, and were driven out of the upper city by force. The others then set fire to the house of Ananias the high priest, and to the palaces of Agrippa and Bernice; after which they carried the fire to the place where the archives were reposited, and made haste to burn the contracts belonging to their creditors, and thereby to dissolve their obligations for paying their debts; and this was done in order to gain the multitude of those who had been debtors, and that they might persuade the poorer sort to join in their insurrection with safety against the more wealthy; so the keepers of the records fled away, and the rest set fire to them. And when they had thus burnt down the nerves of the city, they fell upon their enemies; at which time some of the men of power, and of the high priests, went into the vaults under ground, and concealed themselves, while others fled with the king's soldiers to the upper palace, and shut the gates immediately; among whom were Ananias the high priest, and the ambassadors that had been sent to Agrippa. And now the seditious were contented with the victory they had gotten, and the buildings they had burnt down, and proceeded no further.
This helps us understand why Tu beAv is such a mystery in the Mishna. It represents the height of Jewish victory against Rome; under Caesar's rule, it can hardly be celebrated as such. The mourning of Tisha beAv conveys the foolhardiness of rebellion, but rejoicing on Tu beAv? That had to be concealed. Nevertheless, the core of it, the erasure of social barriers and the celebration of Jewish survival, remains to this day.

Isn't it time we start realizing what Tu beAv is really about? Search for more information about Tu beAv

Friday, July 19, 2013

The nature of evil

Apparently, I'm evil. This post-Tisha B'av message of good cheer was delivered to me on Facebook, in the exchange the follows. After the jump, I reproduce it in full, with names redacted, so that you can all see, first hand, what evil looks like. Bear witness!

For those who won't read it all, a quick summary:

a) All I did was recite certain facts about the age of the Hebrew used in the Torah's songs. Those facts are not "politically correct", but they are still facts. I did not attempt to interpret or explain those facts. I merely presented them.

b) My correspondent judged this "evil" and responded in the manner of a Mea Shearim thug, though the rocks he threw were verbal. 

c) The interesting issue raised here is this: My correspondent seems under the impression that something essential will be destroyed if people are told that the Hebrew used in the Torah's songs is (generally)  much older than the the Hebrew used in the narrative parts.

But isn't this putting the cart ahead of the horse? 

Because if the older style of Hebrew is a reality, how can anything important be endangered by recognizing it? All that's put in danger is an error, and whatever else was based on that error. Why should a mistake be protected?

(We said the exact same thing during the age of the universe battles. Some said, "recognizing the reality will endanger [something]," but if the old universe is a reality what is threatened other than a mistake? And if the seal of God is truth, isn't defeating such mistakes a way of serving Him?)

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Self-fulfilling prophecies

A guest post by MARK SoFla

The Kibbutz Movement is undertaking a protection program for haredi soldiers needing to enter the ultra-Orthodox – and increasingly radical – Jerusalem neighborhood of Mea Shearim, the group announced on Wednesday
So far the charedi plan regarding their soldiers is working perfectly.

1) Vilify charedi soldiers publicly.
2) Wait for the hooligans to start attacking them physically.
3) Then they have to seek refuge elsewhere.
4) They will be influenced by the nice people who take them in.
5) Eventually they cease being charedi (because charedim are nasty to them and others are nice to them)
6) Charedi leaders can then declare "See! Going to the army causes you to stop being charedi."

Well, that didn't take long

We call for peace, love and understanding! Jews must stop insulting each other! Join us in this campaign to end sectarian attacks! 
 - Yitzchak Alderstien writing on Cross Currents a few hours before Tisha B'av started

We hate Open Orthodoxy and everything it stands for! Down with Open Orthodoxy! 
- Avrohom Gordimer, writing on Cross Currents a few hours after Tisha B'av ended.

Above, the respective posts are paraphrased. 

Here are real quotes:

We recall the words of the Netziv in his introduction to Bereishis. He describes a generation of “chassidim, tzadikim and amalei Torah (righteous and learned people),” who nonetheless were not viewed as acceptable to Hashem, because “they treated anyone whose ways were not to their liking, as suspect of …heresy and through this, came to bloodshed and to all the evils of the world.”  - Yitzchak Alderstien

And then...

"Outright heresy is emanating from the heart of the YCT rabbinic world." - Avrohom Gordimer,

Is there an award for fastest flip-flop by a fraudulently frum website?

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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Parents, prepare to be judged

 Yet another post by Y. Bloch, lest a day go by postless on this blog:

As one of the foremost moral philosophers of our day, Adam Carolla, is wont to say, "We, as a society, could stand a little more judging." Indeed, in 21st-cenutry Western society, we have reached a bizarre point with our judging. We no longer judge people based on ethnicity, creed, gender or sexual orientation, but we do judge people who appear to do so. We no longer judge our politicians for their peccadilloes, but we do judge their attire, athleticism, humor and humility. And we no longer judge parents for their ability to keep their children safe, but we do judge them for their ability to keep their children smiling. Just try raising your voice (or, God forbid, your hand) against your child in public, regardless of how dangerous the child's actions may have just been, and see if you escape judgment.
This paradox makes it hard to digest the reactions to twin tragedies from earlier this week, infants who died after being left for 6 hours in parked cars by their parents. A similar incident happened earlier this month. To put this in perspective, since 2008, there have been more than 200 cases of young children found left in vehicles in Israel, including 188 injuries and 12 fatalities. In the United States, 12 is the annual average death toll. For comparison, America has 40 times the population, so per capita, this tragedy is about eight times (787%) as frequent in Israel.

Nevertheless, the responses, at least the ones I have seen, seem to share one guiding principle: don't judge. Numerous people have sent me the link to Gene Weingartern's Pulitzer Prize-winning piece on this phenomenen, Fatal Distraction (2009). A few days ago on Times of Israel, Sarah Tuttle-Singer, posted "What kind of mom forgets her baby? This Mom," which has been recommended 10,000 times. Later, Susie Mayerfeld added her voice to the chorus with "What is Wrong With Us?" Apparently, it's the judging, which she mentions 14 times in an 800-word post.

I, for one, respectfully disagree. I am haunted by the thought of the agony in which those children died and others like them languished; of the suffering shared by their families; of the guilt felt by those parents who, in attempting to take care of their children, made this fatal error.

But a fatal error it is. It is not force majeure, an act of God, a bolt of lightning from a cloudless sky. That would be an image I still cannot shake, of something I never saw, but which was shared in one of my wife's support groups, the story of a new father holding his infant (conceived after years of infertility) who suffered a sudden heart attack and collapsed on his child. He survived; the baby did not. Forgotten Baby Syndrome should not be lumped in with that case, or with SIDS, or with pediatric cancer. It is also not abuse or neglect, criminal offenses for which we prosecute perpetrators, even though they may have suffered trauma or be suffering from addiction. No, FBS lies in between these two spheres, and it is ludicrous to subsume it under either.

Now, where did I get such a crazy idea? As you might expect from a rabbi, I got it from the Torah. Consider the Mishna (Bava Metzia 7:8):
There are four watchers: a volunteer, a borrower, a hiree, and a renter. A volunteer swears for everything. A borrower pays for everything. A hiree or a renter swears concerning an animal that was injured, captured, or that perished; but pays for loss or theft.
As the Talmud explains (ad loc. 93 ff), there is a basic responsibility of all guardians to avoid peshia, negligence; ones, an overwhelming force, is the highest level of liability. However, most of us live in the intermediate realm, in between peshia and ones, dealing with unexpected but not unimaginable challenges.

This also carries over into the realm of the Temple; one is required to bring a sin-offering if, and only if, one may be categorized as a shogeg, an inadvertent sinner. The entire tractate of Keritot is dedicated to defining this category; gross negligence puts one in the category of willfulness, while force majeure puts one in the category of ones.

Finally, we may turn to this week's Torah portion, in which Moses separates three cities of refuge (Deut. 4:42):
There may flee a killer who killed his fellow unknowingly, without having hated him previously; he may flee to one of these cities and live.
As noted in Num. 35 and Josh. 20, the cities of refuge are designed for the shogeg. Indeed, the second chapter of tractate Makkot is dedicated to defining this status, splitting the difference between murder and tragic acts of God.

The point is that, from a Jewish perspective, we do judge. There is a gray area between legal liability and total innocence.

But surely there's nothing to gain by judging now? Isn't it sheer vindictiveness to discuss it in these terms?

No, there is something to be gained: the lives of innocents. Judging, as a society, has helped us change attitudes towards smoking around children, drunk driving, child abuse and sexual abuse. Perhaps we can do the same here, making it socially unacceptable to leave one's baby (or pet, but that's a discussion for another day) in a parked car for any length of time. Either you're in the car with your child, or your door (or gas cap) is open. We can change, but not if we're afraid to judge.
I welcome your comments on this matter, but I would appreciate it if you leave my 2 sons (aged 6 years and 6 months respectively) out of it.

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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Tisha Bav / 9 Av Readings #3

Lamentations 5

The Message (MSG)

1-22 “Remember, God, all we’ve been through.
    Study our plight, the black mark we’ve made in history.
Our precious land has been given to outsiders,
    our homes to strangers.
Orphans we are, not a father in sight,
    and our mothers no better than widows.
We have to pay to drink our own water.
    Even our firewood comes at a price.
We’re nothing but slaves, bullied and bowed,
    worn out and without any rest.
We sold ourselves to Assyria and Egypt
    just to get something to eat.
Our parents sinned and are no more,
    and now we’re paying for the wrongs they did.
Slaves rule over us;
    there’s no escape from their grip.
We risk our lives to gather food
    in the bandit-infested desert.
Our skin has turned black as an oven,
    dried out like old leather from the famine.
Our wives were raped in the streets in Zion,
    and our virgins in the cities of Judah.
They hanged our princes by their hands,
    dishonored our elders.
Strapping young men were put to women’s work,
    mere boys forced to do men’s work.
The city gate is empty of wise elders.
    Music from the young is heard no more.
All the joy is gone from our hearts.
    Our dances have turned into dirges.
The crown of glory has toppled from our head.
    Woe! Woe! Would that we’d never sinned!
Because of all this we’re heartsick;
    we can’t see through the tears.
On Mount Zion, wrecked and ruined,
    jackals pace and prowl.
And yet, God, you’re sovereign still,
    your throne intact and eternal.
So why do you keep forgetting us?
    Why dump us and leave us like this?
Bring us back to you, God—we’re ready to come back.
    Give us a fresh start.
As it is, you’ve cruelly disowned us.
    You’ve been so very angry with us.”

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Tisha Bav / 9 Av Readings #2

Jeremiah 8:12-9:23

The Message (MSG)

“‘I went out to see if I could salvage anything’”
    God’s Decree—
    “‘but found nothing:
Not a grape, not a fig,
    just a few withered leaves.
I’m taking back
    everything I gave them.’”
14-16 So why are we sitting here, doing nothing?
    Let’s get organized.
Let’s go to the big city
    and at least die fighting.
We’ve gotten God’s ultimatum:
    We’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t—
    damned because of our sin against him.
We hoped things would turn out for the best,
    but it didn’t happen that way.
We were waiting around for healing—
    and terror showed up!
From Dan at the northern borders
    we hear the hooves of horses,
Horses galloping, horses neighing.
    The ground shudders and quakes.
They’re going to swallow up the whole country.
    Towns and people alike—fodder for war.
17 “‘What’s more, I’m dispatching
    poisonous snakes among you,
Snakes that can’t be charmed,
    snakes that will bite you and kill you.’”
        God’s Decree!
18-22 I drown in grief.
    I’m heartsick.
Oh, listen! Please listen! It’s the cry of my dear people
    reverberating through the country.
Is God no longer in Zion?
    Has the King gone away?
Can you tell me why they flaunt their plaything-gods,
    their silly, imported no-gods before me?
The crops are in, the summer is over,
    but for us nothing’s changed.
    We’re still waiting to be rescued.
For my dear broken people, I’m heartbroken.
    I weep, seized by grief.
Are there no healing ointments in Gilead?
    Isn’t there a doctor in the house?
So why can’t something be done
    to heal and save my dear, dear people?
1-2 I wish my head were a well of water
    and my eyes fountains of tears
So I could weep day and night
    for casualties among my dear, dear people.
At times I wish I had a wilderness hut,
    a backwoods cabin,
Where I could get away from my people
    and never see them again.
They’re a faithless, feckless bunch,
    a congregation of degenerates.
3-6 “Their tongues shoot out lies
    like a bow shoots arrows—
A mighty army of liars,
    the sworn enemies of truth.
They advance from one evil to the next,
    ignorant of me.”
            God’s Decree.
“Be wary of even longtime neighbors.
    Don’t even trust your grandmother!
Brother schemes against brother,
    like old cheating Jacob.
Friend against friend
    spreads malicious gossip.
Neighbors gyp neighbors,
    never telling the truth.
They’ve trained their tongues to tell lies,
    and now they can’t tell the truth.
They pile wrong upon wrong, stack lie upon lie,
    and refuse to know me.”
        God’s Decree.
7-9 Therefore, God-of-the-Angel-Armies says:
“Watch this! I’ll melt them down
    and see what they’re made of.
What else can I do
    with a people this wicked?
Their tongues are poison arrows!
    Deadly lies stream from their mouths.
Neighbor greets neighbor with a smile,
    ‘Good morning! How’re things?’
    while scheming to do away with him.
Do you think I’m going to stand around and do nothing?”
    God’s Decree.
“Don’t you think I’ll take serious measures
    against a people like this?
10-11 “I’m lamenting the loss of the mountain pastures.
    I’m chanting dirges for the old grazing grounds.
They’ve become deserted wastelands too dangerous for travelers.
    No sounds of sheep bleating or cattle mooing.
Birds and wild animals, all gone.
    Nothing stirring, no sounds of life.
I’m going to make Jerusalem a pile of rubble,
    fit for nothing but stray cats and dogs.
I’m going to reduce Judah’s towns to piles of ruins
    where no one lives!”
12 I asked, “Is there anyone around bright enough to tell us what’s going on here? Anyone who has the inside story fromGod and can let us in on it?
“Why is the country wasted?
“Why no travelers in this desert?”

13-15 God’s answer: “Because they abandoned my plain teaching. They wouldn’t listen to anything I said, refused to live the way I told them to. Instead they lived any way they wanted and took up with the Baal gods, who they thought would give them what they wanted—following the example of their parents.” And this is the consequence. God-of-the-Angel-Armies says so:
“I’ll feed them with pig slop.
“I’ll give them poison to drink.

16 “Then I’ll scatter them far and wide among godless peoples that neither they nor their parents have ever heard of, and I’ll send Death in pursuit until there’s nothing left of them.”

17-19 A Message from God-of-the-Angel-Armies:
“Look over the trouble we’re in and call for help.
    Send for some singers who can help us mourn our loss.
Tell them to hurry—
    to help us express our loss and lament,
Help us get our tears flowing,
    make tearful music of our crying.
Listen to it!
    Listen to that torrent of tears out of Zion:
‘We’re a ruined people,
    we’re a shamed people!
We’ve been driven from our homes
    and must leave our land!’”
20-21 Mourning women! Oh, listen to God’s Message!
    Open your ears. Take in what he says.
Teach your daughters songs for the dead
    and your friends the songs of heartbreak.
Death has climbed in through the window,
    broken into our bedrooms.
Children on the playgrounds drop dead,
    and young men and women collapse at their games.
22 Speak up! “God’s Message:
“‘Dead bodies everywhere, scattered at random
    like sheep and goat dung in the fields,
Like wheat cut down by reapers
    and left to rot where it falls.’”
23-24 God’s Message:
“Don’t let the wise brag of their wisdom.
    Don’t let heroes brag of their exploits.
Don’t let the rich brag of their riches.
    If you brag, brag of this and this only:
That you understand and know me.
    I’m God, and I act in loyal love.
I do what’s right and set things right and fair,
    and delight in those who do the same things.
These are my trademarks.”
    God’s Decree.

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