Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A brief, and biased history of riots.

Paternalism, Parochialism, Pessimism (and maybe some racism) all in one #furgeson tweet

This advisory was released before the DA finished speaking (pessimism)(and maybe some racism). Notice it is directed at St. Louis Jews only (parochrialism), who live nowhere near Furgeson and, assumedly, are adults capable of looking after themselves (paternalism).

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Monday, November 24, 2014

Further proof that anti-hasbrah bloggers are also reality challenged

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New poll destroys everyone's favorite myths about Israel

Results of a new poll have been released in Israel that totally demolish some of the most dearly beloved myths of both the pro and anti-Israel camps. In short, activists on both side are dead wrong about important points.


A poll published by Israel’s Channel 10 shows that the majority of Israeli Arabs oppose the use of terrorism against Israeli citizens.
A massive 68 percent of Israeli Arabs who were polled answered that they oppose the recent wave of terror.
The majority of the Arabs surveyed – 84% – stated that their representatives in the Knesset should condemn the terror attacks.
Israel sovereignty was preferred by a vast 77 percent of the respondents, whereas only 23 percent desired to live under Palestinian rule.
A recent survey conducted by Tel Aviv University (TAU) reveals a most astonishing fact – close to 50 percent of Israel’s Arabs support the right of Jews to worship at the Temple Mount.

SOURCE: See it here 

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Friday, November 21, 2014

#parshanotes: Toldos

Esav served his father roast dog?

Received as a comment:

For the "suggestion box": more Parasha, more Midrash. This leftist-rightist showdown is getting repetitive.

And these weeks, what a controversial discussion can come out! Does Esav have a legitimate complaint against Yaakov, is trying to kill him the right way to deal with it, (for the Open Orthodox: did these guys exist at all, and if not, what's the story about), all the fascinating midrashim on these stories (did Esav really serve his father roast dog? Ewwww...

Um, Roast Dog? Who can elaborate?

Further reading...

DOVBEAR: Pasha Notes: Toldos 2009

Nov 20, 2009 - Pasha NotesToldos 2009. by DovBear at 9:00 AM. What everyone should know. Our midrashim lament Jacob's theft of the brochot, and ..

  1. DOVBEAR: Sforno and the mythical schoolhouse of Shem ...

    Nov 23, 2011 - Sforno's interpretation Jacob had two different tents. One was his shepherd tent, where he lived while he was with the flocks; the other was a ...
  1. DOVBEAR: The Esav Enigma

    Nov 28, 2007 - Elsewhere, my friend Chaim is attempting to tell us that Esav was the epitomy of evil, and he's using midrashic matrial to defend his point.
  2. DOVBEAR: Esav and Rome

    Jul 30, 2009 - A few years back, Bray, some others, and I, argued for months across multiple posts and comments about Esav and Rome. I don't remember ...
  3. DOVBEAR: Esav and the Salt and Straw: What the midrash ...

    Nov 5, 2010 - When school teachers wish to prove that Esav was a dishonest sneak, they usually reference the famous Rashi (based on an older midrash) ...
  4. DOVBEAR: In which I provide additional evidence that Esav ...

    Nov 3, 2008 - Long time readers know, that its my belief that Esau, first son of Issac, was the victim of a rabininc smear job. [In previous posts I have argued ...
    1. DOVBEAR: Parsha Vocabulary

      Nov 13, 2007 - Analysis of Ya'akov's deal with Esav (lentils for birthright) has to include consideration of Esav's physical state at the time of the deal.
    2. DOVBEAR: Misunderstanding the Midrash

      Nov 26, 2006 - Gen 25:28 reads: "And Issac loved Esav because of the game in his mouth." (tzayid b'fiv) This is a hebrew idiom, which suggests Esav as either a kind of lion bringing home food in his mouth, or as a mother bird dropping worms into her chick's gapping beak. In either case, it's a material and, therefore,  .
      1. DOVBEAR: Why was Isaac blind?

        Nov 15, 2007 - The answer to this question is a wonderful illustration of Rashi's way with midrashim, and also an indictment of how our children are taught in the typical Yeshiva. ... Explaining this midrash is beyond the scope of this post (also, ...We're told Issac was blind immediately before the blessing story begins. Why?

        Nov 1, 2013 - Five reasons are given for Isaac's blindnessPerhaps the best known one is cited by Rashi on Gen 27:1 "Another explanation: When Isaac was ..
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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Here's what terrible media criticism looks like

Over at the NYT they ran a story about the synagogue massacre that seemed reasonably well done.  It contained no obvious mistakes, the crimes of the Palestinians were duly itemized and even the tone seemed gentle enough to satisfy even the most sensitive Zionist soul.

Unfortunately when you suffer from a pre-existing condition of Times hatred, there's always something. Here's some of the nutty complaints I saw.

They called Yehuda Glick an agitator
Now, agitator happens to be a perfectly good English word with no especially sinister connotations but if you were raised by wolves or educated in a Jewish Madrassa it may sound like the Times is saying something nasty about Mr. Glick. They are not, A quick dictionary check will reveal that the word simply seems someone who wants the government to change a policy, and urges others to resist that policy.  In other words, agitator is perfectly appropriate one word summary of Yehuda Glck's public activities over the last several years.

They said Har Nof is in West Jerusalem
As with the previous example this is a case of the Times being criticized for telling the truth rather than engaging in politically correct euphemisms. Where is Har Nof? West Jerusalem, right? And if you're mad because you hold Jerusalem is a unified city, and dislike the suggestion that it still has two  divided parts, that's fine, only the New York Times lives in a world where not a single government recognizes this, including the US - even when Republicans were captaining the ship of state. Is the Times supposed to embrace an editorial policy that  humors your view of the world, to the exclusion of how every political entity in the universe views it?  Come on.

They engaged in moral relativism
Most people know that moral relativism has nothing to do with identifying two acts as having equal moral significance. The first problem is the nutty media critics don't realize this. The second problem is they think that any time a writer lists two acts in the same paragraph he's saying they are morally identical. So when the Times recounts the violent events of the last few months, the nutty media critic thinks the Times is really saying all those events are exactly the same. And because he's as bad at vocabulary as he is at reading, he calls that moral relativism. Two mistakes for the price of one,

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Comment of the day: Share with all racists

>how do you defend against the fact that the guy you've known for years can turn deadly in a minute?

ETNACH: Do you really think like this? Do the math. If there was any real possibility that all or even most of the Arabs you've "known for years" (In what capacity, I'm dying to know -- years of washing your car or selling you oranges?) could or even wanted to spontaneously carry out terror attacks Israel would be a parking lot. It's a tired, old racist discourse: you can't trust THEM because they're not like US. Our exterior always matches our interior, and we can be counted on not to betray you and to exercise principled moral choice, but the black guy, he's just waiting for a chance to rape your sister, the Latino'll steal from you first chance he gets, the queer wants to touch your children and the Arab wants to blow you up or stab you. Hell, they can't even help themselves, it's just a defect they have. They're so far beneath choice and morality that the best you can hope for is to manage them not, God forbid, engage them like humans.

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Jews banned from banking industry!

No wait, got that wrong. That should say:

Hasidic men banned from entering preschools!

Whoops. Sorry, sorry still wrong. Here's the actual headline that describes a case of predicting someone's future behavior based on his race or religion:

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Must read: Politics Can't Explain the Israeli Synagogue Attack. Only Hatred Can.

DovBear agrees with every word of this article

Politics Can't Explain the Israeli Synagogue Attack. Only Hatred Can.

By Yishai Schwartz in TNR

They came with meat cleavers and pistols. A little after 7 a.m. on Tuesday, as Jewish worshippers were completing the silentAmidah prayer in a Jerusalem synagogue, two men began shooting and hacking at those trapped inside. Four of the worshippersall rabbis, three of whom were American and one Englishare dead. One of the police respondents, a member of Israel’s Arab Druze community, is in critical condition. Images of the immediate aftermath show sacred books, prayers shawls, and the straps of tefillin strewn among bodies and blood.

How to do Hasbrah properly

Here are examples of CRAP hasbarah

Denouncing newspapers and other publications for petty, nit-picky, irrelevant things. Most everything you see from Honest Reporting and the other self-appointed media watchdogs falls into this category. They moan about word choice. (usually because the watchdog, himself, doesn't know what the word in question actually means) They scream Kristelnacht because a fact or detail was left out, or gripe about "moral equivalence" when two things are mentioned in the same paragraph. (Did I just create an equivalence between Kristenacht and moral? I did use both words in the same sentence.)

Now occasionally media outlets do make serious errors, and I don't include the response to those types of errors in this category, but let's be honest: those types of errors are very far and few between, and usually corrections are issued immediately.

Offering a knee-jerk denial to every Palestinian claim of injustice. Can we be honest, please, here among ourselves? Sometimes the IDF and the police and other authorities make mistakes. Sometimes they commit outright crimes. I don't say any of this happens frequently,  but it does happen. The abject denial of this reality by hasbrahniks makes all of us look stupid.

Also, the claim that every child shot by the IDF was a dangerous "terrorist" is not helpful. Better to just tell the truth, and admit the facts. This is how you win credibility.

Tin-foil hat interpretations of CCTV videos Occasionally, IDF crimes or mistakes are captured on video. Now, I agree that a video doesn't tell the whole story, and that occasionally important information is missing. I also agree that the difference between a "mistake" and a "crime" is not easily spotted. Making both of these points is legitimate and are NOT examples of crap hasbarah.

What is unacceptable, however, is the practice of denying what the video clearly shows, after subjecting it to the full-on Zapruder film analysis. For example, CNN published a video that clearly showed an Israeli in uniform firing the bullet that hit Nadeem Nawara. One self-appointed hasbrahnik preposterously argued that the video actually showed a soldier firing a rubber bullet, and concluded that Nawara had to have been killed in the ambulance by other Palestinians. Don't do that. You look like an idiot, and no one with any sense is convinced.

Here are examples of LEGITIMATE hasbarah

Setting the record straight. When you see people on Facebook or Twitter saying things that are clearly untrue, a clear, direct, polite response (with sources) is the right way to go. Some people (like Hasbrah bloggers) aren't interested in facts, and of course people like that exist on the Arab side. But you also have people like me who just want to know what really happened, and like me they are happy to recalibrate their thinking in the light of new information. A polite correction works.

Pointing out fallacies You'll also see people drawing unjustified conclusion or making claims that aren't supported by evidence. You should point this out, too. For example, in the hours after the death of the bus driver, the Arab Twitterverse was positive that he had been "lynched by settlers" The right thing to do in that case, is simply to ask each of them: How do you know that? Most brushed off the question or responded in anger, but some realized they were jumping to baseless conclusions.

Bring barbarism to the light of day When you spot something outrageous, retweet it, facebook it or send it to me for posting. It's important for people to know what some Arabs are actually saying and actually doing. But don't do this if dozens of people have already beaten you to it.

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CNN is stupid, but...


Clearly, whoever typed the headline was not paying attention and deserves a swift reprimand.

But the rest of CNN - including the anchors and the people on the scene - knew they were reporting about an attack on a synagogue. So yes, CNN employs idiots, but no they did not "report that the attack happened in a mosque" as many are claiming. #truth

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Of course, some Rabbis took magical drashot literally.

In certain communities, it's become fashionable to claim that our Rabbis did not mean what they said, when they provided supernatural or magical interpretations of Bible verses. Drawing on the Ramchal and others they insist that these interpretations are really meant to convey lessons and ideas, and tat the sages always spoke in parables.

Though, I fully agree that this is true in some cases, the claim fails as a general rule for several reasons: 1) At times, the statement is clearly based on a reading of the verse, rather than an interpretation. I've provided many examples of this. 2) At times halachot are established based on these statements.  3) At times, ethical principles are based on those statements.

Here's a case study of #3

 וְהַנַּעֲרָ, טֹבַת מַרְאֶה מְאֹד--בְּתוּלָה, וְאִישׁ לֹא יְדָעָהּ; וַתֵּרֶד הָעַיְנָה, וַתְּמַלֵּא כַדָּהּ וַתָּעַל.16 And the damsel was very fair to look upon, a virgin, neither had any man known her; and she went down to the fountain, and filled her pitcher, and came up.
יז  וַיָּרָץ הָעֶבֶד, לִקְרָאתָהּ; וַיֹּאמֶר, הַגְמִיאִינִי נָא מְעַט-מַיִם מִכַּדֵּךְ.17 And the servant ran to meet her, and said: 'Give me to drink, I pray thee, a little water of thy pitcher.'


1) In Verse 16 we're missing a verb that appears later when the Torah described how the damsel [Rebekka] gave water to the camils.

  וַתְּמַהֵר, וַתְּעַר כַּדָּהּ אֶל-הַשֹּׁקֶת, וַתָּרָץ עוֹד אֶל-הַבְּאֵר, לִשְׁאֹב; וַתִּשְׁאַב, לְכָל-גְּמַלָּיו.20 And she hastened, and emptied her pitcher into the trough, and ran again unto the well to draw, and drew for all his camels.

As you can see, we're told in verse 20 that she "drew" the water, while in verse 16 she merely went down to the well and filled her pitcher, without "drawing" the water.

2) The servant runs to her (verse 17) but no explanation for his hurry is provided.


Here's Rashi drawing on Beraishis Raba

And the servant ran toward her: Because he saw that the water had risen toward her. — [Gen. Rabbah ad loc.]

Rebekka didn't need to draw the water, because it rose up from the well to meet her. Seeing this obvious miracle, the servant ran to her.


The midrash ends here, but later interpreters asked further questions on it, and from their questions we can see they did not think the miracle of the rising water was meant to be understood figuratively.

R. Chaim Shmulevitz asks (paraphrase) If the servant saw that Rebekka was worthy enough to experience a miracle, why did he subject her to the test he had conceived in an earlier verse?

הָיָה הַנַּעֲרָ, אֲשֶׁר אֹמַר אֵלֶיהָ הַטִּי-נָא כַדֵּךְ וְאֶשְׁתֶּה, וְאָמְרָה שְׁתֵה, וְגַם-גְּמַלֶּיךָ אַשְׁקֶה--אֹתָהּ הֹכַחְתָּ, לְעַבְדְּךָ לְיִצְחָק, וּבָהּ אֵדַע, כִּי-עָשִׂיתָ חֶסֶד עִם-אֲדֹנִי.14 So let it come to pass, that the damsel to whom I shall say: Let down thy pitcher, I pray thee, that I may drink; and she shall say: Drink, and I will give thy camels drink also; let the same be she that Thou hast appointed for Thy servant, even for Isaac; and thereby shall I know that Thou hast shown kindness unto my master.'

Why go through with this trial? Why ask her to water the camels? Why wasn't the water miracle taken as an indication that this was the right woman for Isaac?

Because, R. Shmulevitch continues (paraphrase) the house of Abraham is a house of chesed (charity and good deeds) not a house of miracles.  The servant knew Abraham didn't want a miracle-worker for his daughter in law. He wanted someone who cared about others and was willing to make sacrifices on their behalf. That's why the servant proposed the test in the first place, and that's why he went through with it even after witnessing the miracle.


I, personally, don't think that the water rose up to meet Rebekka, but I do acknowledge that this interpretation is a very clever way to solve the perceived problem in the narrative. I also admire the very clever supercommentary provided by R. Shmulevitch even if I don't agree with him about the historicity of the miracle upon which his teaching is based. What can't be denied, however, is that R. Shmulevitch's lesson only makes in-context sense if he [R. Shmulevitch] accepted the historicity of the miracle.


Once upon a time, we'd argue for hours about stuff like this on Facebook. If you have access to the people I fought with, and the groups where the arguments occurred (God Save us From Your Opinion and others) please pass on the word that here, in exile, a new post has been published. Thanks.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Tragedy tweets: The Har Nof Massacre

Horrifying news this morning, of course, and kol hakovod to those who responded quickly and prevented the carnage from being much worse. Thoughts and prayers are with the victims, and their families.

Some unrelated thoughts, connected to posts I put on Twitter earlier:
Of course, the news out of Har Nof was immediately met by complaints about moderate Arabs, and their alleged unwillingness to confront and condemn the extremists in their midst. I happen to know that plenty of moderate Arabs did denounce the crimes committed today in Har Nof, but that 's really not the point. Yelling about the other side is useless. If you want to do something that matters focus on your own circles of influence. Instead of yelling into the void about what Arabs should be doing, speak to your own friends and neighbors about what we can do together to break the cycle of violence. Jerusalem is on the brink. The situation has to be defused - and fast.
Along with yelling about Arabs, lots of people rhetorically demanded to know what the world, or the media, would say and do had Jews marched into a mosque and murdered people at prayer. Of course, these all the same people who seem programmed to ignore all the negative things leaders and journalists say about Arabs. If you want to have some fun on Facebook tonight (sigh) keep your eye out for people complaining that the president "still hasn't" said anything about Har Nof. You'll find scores of them, despite the fact that the president issued a powerful condemnation almost immediately.
So there were two noteworthy things about this article (which has already been retitled " Four Rabbis Killed..." First, the Times broke the universal journalistic convention of putting the most recent event (ie the Israeli response)  in the headline. Second, some of the comments were written by people who are dead certain that the Times is a pro-Zionist and Israeli-controlled - or at least Israeli-sympathetic. Now of course, I think that's as funny as the idea that the Times hates Israel, but its important for our extremists friends to be aware that their ideological opponents are reading the exact same articles in the exact same paper and coming to the exact opposite conclusions.

Also, a common refrain in the Twitter activity among the Arabs I follow was the certainty that "the Times and CNN" were going to ignore what they, at the time, believed was the lynching of a Palestinian bus driver, Then, barely a day later, I saw Jews expressing the exact same fear following their own tragedy. By the way, whenever I saw an Arab announcing the bus driver had been "lynched by settlers" I tweeted this back:
Tweets such as that one, and the followups I sent after the coroner ruling are what I consider real Hasbrah.

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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Rabbinic explanations from Glen Beck

Here's condescending moron Glen Beck attempting to explain why Jews keep kosher. Apparently death is bad. Who knew? Also, Glen hates snuff films most of all. Watch the video here

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Friday, November 14, 2014

One Mean Aramean

A guest post by Y. Bloch

Laban,who appears for the first time in this weekend's Torah portion, is an intriguing figure. Unlike Patriarchal antagonists Pharaoh, Abimelech and Esau, we never hear the refrain "He will kill me" concerning Laban. He seems nice. However, in the Haggadah, Laban is presented as our arch-nemesis. On Passover, we would expect Pharaoh to be the Big Bad, but apparently he plays second fiddle while Memphis burns. We read:
Come and learn what Laban the Aramean sought to do to our patriarch Jacob. For Pharaoh issued his edict against only the males, but Laban sought to uproot it all, as it is said (Deut. 26:5), "My father was lost to an Aramean, and he went down to Egypt and he became there a nation, great, mighty and populous."
This is stunning. Pharaoh murders thousands and enslaves millions, but Laban surpasses him for thought crimes?
However, we must bear in mind that the Haggadah is a Midrashic work. In the Midrash, Laban is merely one name for a nigh-immortal character who plagues the Jews repeatedly. You may know him by a different name.
Balaam is Laban, as it says (Deut. 26:5), "My father was lost to an Aramean;" because he sought to eradicate Israel, he is called an Aramean. (Midrash Tanhuma, Vayetze 13)
Now, at least, we enter the same ballpark. Balaam also has bad intentions, but he actually does some damage, as Moses states: (Num. 31:16): "Behold, these, on Balaam’s advice, caused the people of Israel to act treacherously against the LORD in the incident of Peor, and so the plague came among the congregation of the LORD." This plague kills 24,000.
Still, tragic as that event is, can it really compare to the centuries of slavery and genocide courtesy of the Pharaohs?
Interestingly, the Midrash does connect Pharaoh to Balaam's execratory consulting business.
Said R. Hiya b. Abba, quoting R. Simai: "There were part of that council, Balaam, Job and Jethro. Balaam, who counseled, was killed; Job, who was silent, was sentenced to suffering; Jethro, who fled, merited to have grandchildren sit on the Supreme Court." (Talmud, Sota 11a)

The Rabbis taught: "Pharaoh had three counselors, and when he contracted leprosy, he asked the physicians what would cure him. Balaam counseled him to take Jews, slaughter them, and shower in their blood, thereby curing himself." (Midrash Ha-gadol, Exod. 2:23)
These two legends describe the bookends of Egyptian slavery, from the initial "Come, let's deal wisely with them" (Exod. 1:10) to the gruesome finale (2:23), "But the Israelites continued to groan under their burden of slavery. They cried out for help, and their cry rose up to God." Immediately afterwards, God appears to Moses and sends him to Egypt to redeem his people.
Now let's look at that line from the Haggadah again. "For Pharaoh issued his edict against only the males, but Laban sought to uproot it all." Who are "only the males"? This may refer to the baby boys Pharaoh orders cast into the Nile, but those are mentioned later in the Haggadah as "the boys," not "the males." "The males" is usually a term applied to men, those who would be combatants in war (cf. Num. 31:7, Deut. 20:13). In fact, in the verse cited above (Exod. 1:10), Pharaoh identifies the threat in the following way: "Otherwise they will continue to multiply, and if a war breaks out, they will ally themselves with our enemies and fight against us and leave the country." In the previous verse, he explains why he is concerned: the Israelites are "atzum mimenu," "mightier than we." In Numbers 22, King Balak of Moab, Balaam's other royal client, expresses the exact same concern, "atzum hu mimeni," "it is mightier than I." He too speaks of the Israelite threat in military terms: "Perhaps I will be able to strike it and drive it out of the land... Perhaps I will be able to wage war against it and drive it out."
However, Balaam-Laban takes this national-security threat and recasts it as an existential, eschatological fight. After he fails to curse the Israelites and is fired by Balak, he says: "Now I am going back to my people, but come, let me counsel you of what this people will do to your people in the end of days" (ibid. 24:14). If Moab does not destroy Israel, they will be destroyed by them. It is the same approach he used with Pharaoh: Egypt can survive the Hebrew threat only if the Nile turns red with their blood. It is genocide or suicide.
In this light, Laban-Balaam is indeed worse than Pharaoh or Balak. He seeks "to uproot it all," "to eradicate Israel." The king is merely the tool, the means to carry out this plan. It is Laban-Balaam who recasts the military/ national-security threat as an existential clash of peoples, nations and faiths.
These are dangerous times in the Middle East. We have to be vigilant against the forces of Pharaoh. But the true threat is the counsel of Laban, inflaming and inciting all-out war.

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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Bad day for Pallywood Pushers

Opening disclaimer
  • I concede that some of the videos purporting to show Israeli crimes against Palestinians are doctored, stripped of context, or even staged. No need to remind me of this.

Some bloggers make a living pointing out alleged discrepancies and errors in videos that purport to show Israeli crimes against Palestinians. I tend to ignore them, like I generally ignore the videos themselves. But last June during the crises over the three missing boys, I saw some variation of this whiny complaint all over the social networks

"If Israelis kidnapped three Arabs it would be all over the news!!"

I replied by asking:

Ok, please identify Nadeem Nawara and Mohammad Salameh*

Instead of conceding the point, with a "Hmm, you're right. The media didn't say one word about the two Arab kids who were shot by Israeli forces" most double-downed and insisted the videos that showed them being shot had been staged and I was directed to various websites, that "proved" the videos were fake.

Well, yesterday an Israeli border police officer was arrested for killing Nadeem Nawara. In violation of the engagement rules he fired live ammunition at a teenager who was not behaving violently. And the video that depicted this was legit.

  • How often does this kind of thing happen without it being caught on video tape?
  • How many of the other so-called Pallywood videos are also legit?
  • Pretty much every self-proclaimed pro-Israel blogger I know takes the automatic position that all of these videos are fake. Will they rethink that position? Will they realize that this position is false? Will they care?
  • Can we agree that the bloggers and others advocates who continue to scream Pallywood whenever one of these videos emerges are actually hurting Israel's reputation?
If you agree, that Israel and the Jewish people are stronger when we're honest and truthful, please do me the favor of sharing this on Facebook, as I am still unable to do it myself. 

(*They are Hebron residents, ages 17 and 16, who were shot and killed by Israeli soldiers as they walked home from school in May)

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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Let's straighten this out..

So a comment from Garnel made me realize something. Let me show you.

He said: Or maybe the news of another Israeli Jew getting stabbed distracted me. But we see what you care about, eh?

I replied: Never understood this line of criticism. I am not here to report the news. I am here to poke at dopes. Here I poke at Jewish dopes, ie the people who think Obama chewed too much gum,. Elsewhere I poke at atheist dopes, or christian dopes, or - yes - even Arab dopes.

What I realized: Lots of you guys have absolutely no clue. You think I run this blog because I want to attack Zionist or Republicans or whatever subject you're most passionate about. But that's just incidental. The real point - what has always been the real point - of this blog is to attack stupid attitudes and arguments. When I am around Jews who say stupid things, I criticize the stupid things Jews say.When I am around non-Jews who say stupid things, I criticize the stupid things non-Jews. say It just happens to be that Jews are at their most stupid when they're pontificating about Zionism and the latest Fox outrage, and this blog is a Jewish blog. . 

What you don't know - and how could you? I never told you - is that in other forums I behave differently. 

For example,on Facebook I was part of a group called Abraham's Tent where pre-screened Jews and Muslims met for interfaith dialog. The rules on being polite were strict, and the moderators were unyielding, but when Muslims said stupid things, I found a way to point it out. 

Abraham's Tent has a secret, private side group, where members of the main group can yell at each other without being bothered by the moderators. On that forum, I jumped on every dumb Islamic talking point that got repeated (though to be fair, the moderators didn't admit idiots to the secret group, so no one was as bombastically jingoistic as say, Temujin, but we had our arguments.) 

And on Twitter, I respond to Catholics, Muslims, Atheists, Peacniks - anyone really who says something self-evidently dumb. You can follow me and see for yourself.

I guess, its finally become important to me that some of you understand that I'm not an anti-Zionist who supports terrorism. I'm actually a guy who's entirely pro-Zionist (though not pro-Likud). I just can't stand racism, xenophobia, selfishness, sloppy reasoning and the absence of human decency and when some of you Likudniks get riled up that's what comes out.** 

So I poke at it. 

** Yes Garnel, when leftists become riled up some of them go stupid, too. But I'm not around of them. They aren't members of my real or online communities. 

Big Day For Barry!

While the always professional and reliable US media focused on President Obama and how he chewed some gum, he reached a historic agreement with China on Climate Change.

Awkward: Watch a supercut of Republicans using China as an excuse to do nothing about climate http://bit.ly/10XKWri

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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

First the Mormons, now us?

Now that the Mormons have formally and publicly acknowledged that their founder and prophet had 40 wives, what are the top five things that our non-existent central church should concede?

My List
  • Age of the universe
  • Fallibility of the Sages (At least when it came to their acceptance of Zoroastrian superstition)
  • Origin of the Kabbalah
  • Maculations in the Torah (Heck: Chazal admitted it)
  • Orthodox Judaism is relatively new.
The Mormon concession about their founder's polygamy came about because too many impressionable young Mormons were discovering the truth on the Internet. Sound familiar?
The younger generation of Mormons will benefit from this step, said Samantha Shelley, co-founder of the website MillennialMormons.com in Provo, Utah.
She said she knew of Smith’s polygamous past, but “it’s so easy for people these days to stumble upon something on the Internet, and it rocks their world and they don’t know where to turn.” [SNIP] 
“What you want to do is get out ahead of the problem, and not have someone say, ‘Look at this damaging thing I found that you were trying to keep secret,’ ” [Sarah Barringer Gordon] said.
Hey do you think Mormons have their own Cross Currents or Torah Musings. If so, I wonder how they're dealing with this change of official doctrine? It's never easy for establishment tools when the establishment joins hands with the reformers.

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Monday, November 10, 2014

Has the fuse been lit? (updated)

Over the past few days, the north of Israel caught fire...

Read the Daily Beast's even-handed, non judgemental account of the conflagration here. I thought it was excellent, and can't wait for Garnel and Temujin to tell me why it was actually written by the ghost of Joseph Goebbels.

Unless Israel makes a dramatic gesture, such as indicting the police officers who shot the kid in Cana,  [UPDATE: I am not saying the cop should be indicted only as a gesture. I believe there is probable cause. This should have been clearer] or arresting the punks who lit the other kid on fire, [UPDATE: This refers to the 22 year old who was set on fire last weekend] I don't see how the situation can improve before it gets much worse.

Israel needs courage and leadership. Israel needs to demonstrate that the religious and civil rights of the million plus Palestinians who have neither stabbed anyone nor rammed anyone with a car will be honored and protected.

But all Israel stands to get is bluster and jingoism from angry clowns like Bennet and Netanyahu.

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Good day to avoid FB

Today is probably a good day for me to be off Facebook. Worrying about the situation in Israel is bad enough without also being pissed at the crazy, hyperbolic racists.

If you can let my Facebook interlocutor M. Zoldan know that the post beneath this one is for him, that would be swell. TY

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Here's what Pshat is (updated)

What's Pshat? This is a tricky question because the words pshat and drash were not used the same way in every era, but you can usually determine which is which by remembering a few simple rules:

1) Pshat answers the question "what is written here?" A commenter using the pshat approach wants to know what the text is saying. Usually he will rely on information provided by the text itself, and will not use outside information; also, he will not be concerned with messages, moral or hidden meanings and allusions.

2) Though many medieval pshat interpreters were biased against supernatural interpretations (ibn Ezra, Rashbam, etc) other pshat interpreters such as Rashi and the pshat interpreters among Chazal did not share this prejudice. They allowed for pshat interpretation that invoked the supernatural.

3) Though we think of Chazal as being primarily concerned with drash, this isn't so. Often Chazal are attempting to tell us "what is written here" and nothing else. This puts the comment into the category of pshat. This rule holds even if the comment is collected in a midrash anthology like Genesis Rabba. Not everything found there is a drash comment.



Verse: In Genesis 19:26 we're told that Lots wife became a pillar of salt.
But Lot's wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.

Seeking to answer the question "What is written here" some pshat commentators say that Lots wife delayed and was simply killed in the storm of sulfur and salt that destroyed the city. They read "looked back" as an idiom for "took it slowly" or "neglected to move as fast as necessary." And they read "she became a pillar of salt" as a naturalistic event. Salt was falling on the city, and some of it landed on her. [Note: There can be more than one pshat reading of the same verse, as Rashi said: הלא כה דברי כאש נאם ה' וכפטיש יפוצץ סלע, מתחלק לכמה ניצוצות:]

Other pshat commentators like Rashi seem to think that the transformation into a pillar of salt was a supernatural one. (Perhaps he reads this way because the text here only mentions sulfur, with salt only introduced later in Deuteronomy.) Following the midrash, Rashi additionally supplies an explanation for Mrs. Lots fate, and that explanation which (a) uses material not found in the text and (b) supplies a moral message is drash, but his view of HOW (as opposed to why) she was transformed into salt is a pshat interpretation as that's what he sees written in the text.)


Verse: Exodus 2:5 says that daughter of Paro stretched out her ama to grab the little basket that carried baby Moses.
Then Pharaoh's daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the riverbank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her [something] to get it.

On BT Sota 12A R. Judah and R. Nechamia argue about the meaning of the word ama. As I understand it [see my post here] this is a pshat argument. Both commentators are trying to determine "What is written here" and both [really: see my discussion here] are informed only by information provided in the text. And neither man suggests that there was anything magical or supernatural about how her arm was stretched out. It seems clear that what they have in mind is an ordinary, natural, non-miraculous stretch.

However, later an unnamed amora has a follow-up pshat question: Why did the Torah use the word ama (an unusual word for hand) if it could have said yad (the expected work) His pshat answer: It teaches us that [her arm] became lengthened. Again, because he is using information found in the text to explain "What is written here" this comment belongs to the category of pshat. There is no message, or moral or secret allusion here. The goal is simply to find out what the text is trying to convey.

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Why the Israelis aren't like Rosa Parks.

I think the rules against Jews going on the Temple Mount are absurd and wrong, but guys, it's not worth risking lives over. Sure Israeli Jews have rights. They also have brains. Use them.

NOTE: Don't compare this to Rosa Parks, ok? The civil rights struggle was not about getting a better seat on a bus. It was about being recognized as fully human by the ethnic group that held all the strings. If you were black in America you couldn't vote, or get most jobs, or a decent education, or expect to be treated equally under the law. Rosa Parks moved ot the front of the bus because she wanted those things, not a better view of the driver, and these are all things Israelis Jews already have. In Israel, the dominant ethnic group (ie them) already recognizes them as fully human. 

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Friday, November 07, 2014

What is the Facebook struggle really about?

Some who support Facebook's decision to ban me, Pinky Shmekletein, the drag queens and countless others say Facebook is correct to expel us because they (the decision supporters) want to interact with "real people." But what does that mean? Is Pinky a bot? Am I a ghost? In what sense aren't we real people?

Ironically, what they are actually demanding is the opportunity to interact with people who are less real. When people use their real names they hide parts of themselves, especially when they are participating on a wide open platform like Facebook. How can you be real when an employer, or co-worker might be reading your thread? How can you be real when there's a chance your child might see it one day?

You've probably responded to the preceding paragraph in one of two ways. Either you understand exactly what I mean, and are nodding your head or you're protesting that the parts of your self that aren't suitable for public consumption don't belong on Facebook in the first place. But  the problem with that argument is that we can't know in advance which "public" will be seeing our Facebook activities nor can we predict how our future selves will feel about the views and behaviors of our present selves. Facebook behavior isn't like ordinary public behavior. After, I've e.g confessed my abiding crush on Keira Knightley to a friend in private, the experience fades and is soon forgotten. But if I do the same on a Facebook thread, its there forever, where anyone can find it. Under the current Facebook system your only choice is to conceal, ie, be less real or to roll the dice.

Those of us arguing for the right to be our authentic selves on Facebook, using names that we've chosen to represent those authentic selves, are asking for a third option. We don't want to participate on Facebook using our chosen names so that we can bully or intimidate. We have no interest in disrupting your experience. We simply want to use our chosen names so that we can share our true selves - our real views and our real behaviors - with friends who have chosen to interact with us.

Honestly, I think the only sort of people who would object to this, are people with very dark souls, indeed.  Because instead of simply choosing to block or ignore our Facebook presence, they want us to forfeit the Facebook experience entirely. Instead of tolerating (or ignoring or engaging with) our unconventional opinions they want us to stop talking, or to face social consequences for continuing to speak.  They're Monica of Friends, at her very worst, who needs everything just so and doesn't care about the damage her abiding need for order and control might cause others.

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