Friday, January 30, 2015

Parsha Notes B'shalach 5775

You youngsters probably don't remember this, but once upon a time, I used to publish a weekly set of Parsha Notes. They were tres awesome and one day I plan to both finish them up, and produce them in a book. For now, please feel free to read and share following the jump

Thursday, January 29, 2015

This fellow wins the Internet today

The Netanyahu Disaster

When the prime minister of Israel has lost the support of a journalist who is both a prominent Zionist and a card-carrying member of AIPAC you know things are bad.

After the jump, Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic explains that Netanyahu has two jobs, and he's failed at them both. He's not protecting Israel, and he's not staying on the good side of the American president or the American people.

 (And RWers, I know this is very difficult for you to process, but one can both "stand with Israel" and oppose the disastrous policies of Israel's horrible prime minister.)

Further evidence of RW braindamage

This is the sort of snappy statement that counts as learned discourse among our friends on the right. Unfortunately, it can't withstand even an instant of scrutiny. The fallacy: No one is "cool" with the "terror state spinning centrifuges" Everyone in the West opposes it!

And if we go a little deeper, we can see how this tweet reveals exactly what's bankrupt about the RW worldview. They actually believe that Obama is "cool" with Iran going nuclear, when in reality* he's forcefully stated the opposite on numerous occasions. But because the Obama plan for stopping Iran doesn't fulfil the warmongering wishes of the RW, these idiots have concluded that he's "cool" with Iran going nuclear.

*Once again, reality has a liberal bias

You can see the same brain-damaged reasoning at work in any discussion of Israel. According to the RW, opposing their plans and policies = being anti Israel. They simply are unable to process the fact that you can stand with Israel without standing with Bibi Netanyahu.

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The strangeness of a kippa-wearing woman

Thought: to an Orthodox Jew, a woman in a kipa appears... strange. But that must be how Orthodox Jewish men look to everyone else...

As @yaakman pointed out, this really depends. If the Orthodox Jew thinks a kippa looks strange on a woman's head because he associates kippahs with men, the comparison breaks down.

But I think the essential whiplash-delivering point remains solid: We OJ are used to seeing men with headgear, so nothing about it seems odd. We're not used to seeing women dressed similarly so it strikes us as weird. Well, 99% of the gentiles aren't exactly used to seeing men wearing beanies. So, how do you think we Orthodox Jewish men appear to them?

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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

A fair point about offending Islam

The Arab MK has a fair point here...

ח"כ גנאים: "תקיפת האיסלאם - חופש ביטוי, תקיפת יהודים - אנטישמיות"
ח"כ גנאים: "תקיפת האיסלאם - חופש ביטוי, תקיפת יהודים - א...
ynet חדשות: כל העידכונים השוטפים ממערכת החדשות של ynet, דקה אחר דקה, 24 שעות ביממה ובלי הפסקה.
Preview by Yahoo

Writes Mr. Fozzie:

If you struggle with Hebrew, what he's saying is that if someone prints a picture that is offensive to judaism, we call it anti-semitism (and then demand they don't print it anymore); however, if they print a picture that is offensive to Islam, then we invoke freedom of speech (and buy millions of copies)
The counter point, of course,  is that Jew demand it be withdrawn (which is OK) and don't shoot the staff (which isn't); as a result, the manner of the protest becomes the determinant of the response to the content

But that all comes after the fact.
Before the item is printed the publisher probably wont print anti semitic stuff because it's offensive, but might well publish anti-islamic stuff - because it's acceptable.
 Think he's right?

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All the Egyptian livestock die more than once

If your kid is sharp. he or she is going to want to know where the Egyptians found horses with which to chase the fleeing Israelite: Didn't they all die during, the animal plague(9:6)... and again during hail (9:19)?

The first place to look, of course, is the Documentary Sources -- and that's something of a help: Pharaoh's pursuing chariots are mentioned in both P and E, while the plagues that say all the animals died are both J.

However, as noted, two plagues are reported to have killed all the animals, and both are J.

So a better answer comes from Abarbanel, and slightly worse answer is given by Ramban

All doesn't really mean all. It means some, ie, its an exaggeration

The Israelites sold the Egyptians replacement horses and livestock.

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The horrible ad Dominos did

I'm not sure why this ad isn't in Hebrew... or why it exists, for that matter, but Dominos in Israel is trying to cash in on some 50 Shades of Grey excitement with the most horrifying ad you have ever seen.

From Kitchenette: This is a real ad itched by the McCann Erickson Agency to an independent Domino's franchise in Israel for a proposed print campaign. It never actually ran. Nevertheless, this was still a thing an actual professional ad agency thought would encourage people to buy pizza.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Egyptian Circumcision Mystery

After the Isralites crossed the Jordan, on 10 Nissan, in imitation of the crossing of the Red Sea, they were circumcised, in imitation of the mass circumcision that took place (per some authorities) on 10 Nissan,  forty years earlier.

At this second mass circumcision God tells Joshua "Now the shame of  Egypt is removed from you."  What is the shame of Egypt? 

The archeological evidence says there was nothing unique about circumcision in the ancient near East. Lots of people did it. There's especially good evidence that ancient Egyptians were circumcised. So perhaps being uncircumcised was considered the "shame of Egypt?" 

Chazal, of course,  operated under the assumption that only Jews circumcised. So they read the verse as follows.. 

After the 8th plague Pharaoh said:ראו כי רעה נגד פניכם / see the evil is in front of you. 

While it's possible that ra'ah, the word for evil, in this context refers to Ra, the Egyptian solar diety, Chazal understood it to be a particular star. They say that Pharoah is reporting  that he knows by astrology that something evil is waiting for the Israelites in the desert. 

According to this line of interpretation the act of circumcision satisfies the astrological prediction. The stargazers saw rivers of blood in the forecast and thought that meant a massacre. But they were wrong. Really it was the mass circumcision they saw. Thus, the circumcision removed "the shame" (or in this reading "the reproach") of Egypt. 

So vote in the comments. Which reading seems best to you?

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Monday, January 26, 2015

Survivors sing Hatikvah at Auschwitz

As part of the 70th anniversary commemorations some survivors sing Hatikvah at Auschwitz today. (In front of press representatives whose presence seems to cheapen the event)

Long time readers may remember a post from several years ago in contained an audio file with kabbalat shabbos at one of the camps following liberation.

After davening, the congregation sang Hatikvah using lyrics that lost the test of time and have fallen out of use. Today the well known lyrics were used.

Survivors sing Hatikvah Auschwitz:

Friday, January 23, 2015

Five things that won't ever go out of Orthodox Jewish style

The Black Suit

The rest of the world may prefer grey or charcoal, but for the Orthodox Jew basic black is tried, true and timeless. Considered perfect for weddings, funerals, shopping, and lawn mowing. 

ShownKenneth Cole New York Men's Two-Piece Suit

The Blue Blazer

Makes you look put-together, no matter what. Also, a very convenient way to dress yourself up for davening

Jeans are out of the question, for many of us. So for a casual look, we go with chinos.

Shown: Levi's Men's Straight Chino Pant, Dress Blues

The Black Bit Loafer

While many non-Jewish men have embraced the brown brogue, the standard black bit loafer remains the Orthodox Jew's essential shoe. Wear them for any situation including hiking and basketball.

Shown Allen Edmonds Men's Verona Slip-on,

The Plain White Dress Shirt

Rule of thumb for non-Jews: Wear white for special occasions, and blue for everything else.
Rule of thumb for OJ: Wear white on white for special occasions and plain white for everything else.

Shown: Van Heusen Men's Fitted Poplin Dress Shirt,

Thursday, January 22, 2015


Saw this on Twitter.

I think its a perfect example of a certain strategy certain woman are employing to gain the upperhand in certain interactions.

Now let's be clear: There is absolutely nothing wrong with employing strategies that will help you win. God knows men do it. In fact, the interrupting and appropriating decried in the poster is precisely that: Its a strategy men use because it helps them win. 

See, here's how its used.
Dominant Man : Here's what we're going to do [Outlines plan]
Less Dominant Personality: Well, I think we should consider...
Dominant Men (waving his hand) No, no. We already decided what we're doing and that's it. Meeting adjourned. 
Now, the dominant man in this example is clearly being a jerk, but he doesn't care. He doesn't want to be loved. He wants to win*. 

*as he defines winning. I realize that many of us don't believe we've won if it requires us to be jerks, but the dominant personality in this example doesn't agree. 

** Also (and does this need to be said?) men aren't the only ones who dominate meetings and behave like jerks in the pursuit of a particular goal. Women do it, too. 

The counter-strategy suggested by the flyer I've posted above calls for the group to respond as follows:
Dominant Personality: Here's what we're going to do [Outlines plan]
Less Dominant Personality: Well, I think we should consider...
Dominant Personality (waving his hand) No, no. We already decided what we're doing and that's it. Meeting adjourned.
Other group members: Hey, wait. Let's hear the other point of view.  
On the face, that's fine, but there are some problems
  1. The poster, and the approach, put all the blame on men, and suggest that women are the victims. But like I said men interrupt other men all the time, and women interrupt men, too. The interrupting and appropriating problem has nothing to do with gender. It has to do with personality type.  Less dominant men also have a hard time being heard and getting their ideas across when a type-A personality of either gender is leading the meeting. Making this about gender is straight up mithandry.
  2. Getting everyone to gang up on the dominant man (or woman)  is - in of itself - a fine strategy, and there's nothing wrong with it per se. The problem is logistics: it relies on the cooperation of the other group members, which can be fleeting. Instead, the person who wants to be heard should take responsibility for solving the problem alone. He should train himself to be more dominant. The tricks that the dominant man (or woman) uses to control the conversation can be mimicked. And saying, "Stop interrupting me" or "Let me speak" works just fine most of the time. *
* Dominant men respect toughness. It seems counterintuitive, but if you stand up for yourself and speak to the dominant man directly, you're far more likely to get your point across and win his admiration and friendship. Inciting an anti-dominant man riot, on the other hand, is likely to make the dominant man into your enemy. 

The whole point of this exercise is to neuter dominant men so that less dominant personalities (of either gender) can gain an edge. That's fine. All for letting less dominant personalities be heard. Moreover, I understand that denying this and pretending what you're really doing is standing up for equal rights or whatever is also part of the strategy. But I don't like the dishonesty. Instead just be direct. You want to be heard. You want to be included. These are reasonable, respectable goals that should be clearly and forcefully articulated without any subterfuge and without taking the radical step of indicting all men for dominant personality behaviors exhibited by both genders.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Koran experts

I swear I'm not carrying any special brief for Allah but I go a little nuts when I see people in shul or on Twitter posing as Koran experts.

Not one of these Jewish geniuses has any Arabic or knowledge of the commentaries but this doesn't stop then from pontificating on "what the Koran really says."

They sound exactly like the anti-Semites who,  knowing one famous piece of Talmud about stealing from gentiles, are certain they've got the goods on Judaism. These frauds don't know any Aramaic or rishonim; as a result they are rightly laughed right out of the room. Shouldn't their Jewish doppelgangers be treated identically?

France PM: Jews should move to France where it's safe

Following the attack in Tel Aviv this morning which left 12 Jews injured, the prime minister of France publicly called on the Jews of Tel Aviv to move to Paris, saying:

"All Jews who want to immigrate to France will be welcomed here warmly and with open arms. We will help you in your absorption here in our state that is also your state.”

Just kidding. But how many points for awesome would that win? More importantly, it would make the point that "the world is a dangerous place" Zionists like Bibi are playing a cynical, self-serving game. They knowingly exaggerate the dangers of the diaspora because they need more Jews in Israel to offset the rapidly growing Palestinian population which - irony! -  threatens to make Israel the most dangerous place of all unless Israel works harder on winning their hearts and minds.

Well, I guess I understand the math: I agree that convincing Jews to move to Israel is a much easier sale than convincing Palestinians to accept occupation, disenfranchisement and the rest.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Richard Elliot Friedman and the two priests: A question

Over the long holiday weekend, I revisited WHO WROTE THE BIBLE, a shocking work of heresy, by Richard Elliott Friedman. Though I've read the book before, this time I decided to fact check. Specifically, I wanted to fact check the claims he makes about King David's two high priests.

What the bible says about David's two high priests
According to the bible, David appointed two high priests, Abiathar and Zadok. Abiathar is a descendant of Eli and a priest in Nob. Zadok is a descendant of Aaron, via Elazer and a resident of Hebron, which is identified in Chronicles as a possession of Aaron's children. As David lay dying Zadok supported Solomon, while Abiather supported Adonijah. After Solomon took the throne, he expelled Abiather from Jerusalem.

What Richard Elliot Friedman says
REF claims that there were two competing priestly circles, one that traced itself to Moses and the other that traced itself to Aaron. He believes that Abiathar was a Moses-priest, while Zadok was an Aaron priest and that both were appointed co-pontiffs during the fragile moment of David's ascension because the new king needed to satisfy both parties. REF suggests that over the following centuries certain parts of the bible were written by the in-power Aaronic priests, while other parts were written by the out-of-power Moses priests and that their competing agendas, perspectives and political interests are reflected in the texts that are attributed to them. Several chapters of examples and arguments are provided by REF in WWTB.

My problems
I've satisfied myself that Zadok was an Aaron priest. He's identified as a resident of Hebron, an Aaron city and elsewhere his lineage is traced back to Eleazer. Solidifying the argument that Abiather was a Moses priest, however, is much harder. For starters, we don't have any verses that I can find which trace him back to Moses. The only named ancestor of Abiather is Eli, who was a priest in Shiloh. The only thing i can find that connects Eli or Shiloh to Moses is the fact that Samuel, as descendant of Levi (but not of Moses) trained at the Shiloh shrine under Eli. But that's a pretty week connection.

Can anyone tighten this up, or was REF straight out fabricating?

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Friday, January 16, 2015

Portraying the Prophet

A guest post by Y. Bloch

Yes, this post will contain images of the Prophet, but not Muhammad. Instead, I'd like to talk about the first person ever selected by God to be a prophet, navi in Hebrew--that would be the guy on the left.
Cause I be frontispiecin, yo!
Cause I be frontispiecin, yo!
Yes, in this week's Torah portion, we witness God selecting a navi for the first time in Scripture, and it's Aaron (Exod. 7:1): "Then the LORD said to Moses, “See, I make you as God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet."

Prophet in Greek, like navi in Hebrew, refers to a speaker. In this analogy, Moses and Aaron are God and prophet, as Moses has doubts about his own oratorical skills. This parallels what we read last week (4:15-16):
You are to speak to him and put the words in his mouth; and I, even I, will be with your mouth and his mouth, and I will teach you what you are to do. Moreover, he shall speak for you to the people; and he will be as a mouth for you and you will be as God to him.
So a prophet is God's spokesman, the divine mouthpiece, the heavenly press secretary. He takes the celestial communique and presents it in a way that the audience will listen to.
This concept is essential to understanding the gap we often find between our ethical standards and the words of Scripture. Rabbi Dr. Zev Farber writes about this eloquently on, in his "Marrying Your Daughter to Her Rapist: A Test Case in Dealing with Morally Problematic Biblical Laws."
The Torah contains a number of laws that fly in the face of modern ethical notions. In certain ways, this is similar to the question of science and Torah, where many admit that the Torah expresses notions of the universe that contradict modern science. Although a significant number of people in the Orthodox world have made peace with the fact that the Torah speaks in the language of its times when it comes to science, the question is all the more pressing when it comes to ethics, especially for people who find themselves inhabiting both the Torah and modern worlds.
Rabbi Farber notes that the Sages themselves reinterpreted many of the Torah laws which they found morally troubling. But that doesn't solve the issue of why God would gives us such laws in the first place. So, building on the conceptual framework of Professor Tamar Ross, he argues:
But if, as Ross and others have argued, we assume that prophecy is not meant to be understood as a verbal revelation from God to the prophet, but—to use my language—as a tapping into the divine flow, then understanding the historical and intellectual context of the author/prophet is vital. Once we admit that any divine message is refracted through a human perspective, then by definition, the divine message will be incomplete and subject to the perspectives and comprehension of the prophet.
The problem with this approach, of "tapping into the divine flow," is not only that it makes God extremely passive, but that it seems to ignore the role of the people. (Rabbi Farber brings the latter issue up parenthetically.) Consider the compulsion described by Amos (3:8): "The lion has roared-- who will not fear? The Sovereign LORD has spoken-- who can but prophesy?" The prophet does not go out into the wilderness seeking to commune with the divine, dowsing for the word of God--he is gripped by an almost autonomic need to convey his message to the nation.
Using the Amramite example, would we say Aaron was tapping Moses' flow? Moses' problem is not understanding God, but being understood by the people. Thus, if we triangulate God, prophet and people when confronting an idea that seem ethically untenable, we should not find fault with the prophet's limitations, but rather with the people.
Indeed, the role of the navi is not just to convey God's word to the people, but to advocate for them. He knows how to speak not only for God, but also to God.
This is quite evident when we go back to the first person to be referred to as a navi, Abraham. God calls him by this title not when He first reveals Himself, indeed not when speaking to Abraham at all, but rather to Abimelech (Gen. 20:7):
Now therefore, restore the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not restore her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.”

Now, how bizarre is to picture this: God is speaking to Abimelech about what he needs to do to save himself from divine wrath for the kidnapping of Sarah: 1) release Sarah; 2) ask Abraham to pray for him. So God is telling Abimelech to tell Abraham to tell God to heal Abimelech? This seems circular, until we consider the power of the prophet: he alone can put a message in the proper words, shaping it for his audience--even if that audience is Omnipotent and Omniscient.
The role of the prophet is an integral one. But ultimately, prophecy was taken from us, and it is now we people who must do our best, using the revelations of long ago, the facts of today, and the compass of our conscience to figure out what God wants.
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Thursday, January 15, 2015


This morning I started a hashtag game on Twitter at #howyouknowyoureinaShteeble that enjoyed a brief but solid run thanks to the support of @efink @heathenhassid @marksofla @avbronstein and others.

Here are the two that had the most favorites

For your amusement, and perhaps your education as well, I present some of the best of the rest . (They are in no particular order. I don't know how this collection thing works and some of the best ones are at the bottom. If you played and feel I missed yours, no problem. Let me know, and I will add it.)

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

I can't draw...

This is a nasty tweet

David Ward is some kind of hack UK politician, who won his seat four years ago at the age of 57. I think its safe to say that hardly anyone outside of his district knows he's alive or cares what he has to say. After spotting the Prime Minister of Israel at the Paris March he belched out an insulting tweet. The comment is mean. Its nasty. It should also remain irrelevant to anyone other than his political enemies.

But for all his swagger, the self-appointed guardian of all Jews has very thin skin. His ambassador was dispatched to complain to Ward's party boss, one Mr. Nick Clegg. In the formal complaint, Mister Clegg was informed that Ward's remarks were both "shocking" and "offensive" and that somehow it endeavored to "politicise suffering, delegitimise Israel, and justify acts of terror.

C'mon. Nasty it was, but let's not rush to play the anti-semite card at every opportunity.

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Mamivaser strikes again!!!

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The Real Selma

This is a post I expect perhaps five of you will read, which is a shame. It contains the entirety of Renata Adler's wonderful "Letter from Selma" which appeared in the April 10, 1965 edition of the New Yorker.  It describes the third Selma march, the one that actually made it to Montgomery at the end of March, and it provides answers to all sorts of questions about the mood of the marchers, and the logistics of their journey as only first-rate journalism can. You''ll also enjoy the little anecdotes about the marchers who wore yarmulkes, the segregationists who lined the route, the rumors of sabotage that the marchers heard and spread and the moderate whites who weren't sure quite what it all meant. For me it was worth the time investment just to find out where the marchers slept each night, and to learn how the final parade into Montgomery was organized and how it was received by the black and white citizens of the city

Let me know what you think.

 - DB

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The new Charlie is perfect

The new Charlie Hebdo cover is perfect on so many levels

My checklist
  • Depicts Muhammad, which is important. Shows that the journal is uncowed. 
  • Separates Islam from the monsters who gunned down their co-workers
  • Suggests that authentic Islam sides with the newspaper, not the terrorists 
  • Takes the high road, absolving the prophet and his religion from the sins of the followers. 

Best of all the once financially  floundering paper has grown rich on sympathetic donations, and they plan to print 3 million copies of the new issue with its "offensive"  cover rather than the usual 60K. So nice works terrorist jackasses. Your plan has completely backfired. Charlie is stronger than ever and more people than ever before will see your prophets nose. 

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Who's the world's stupidest GOP Congressman?

Meet Randy Weber, age 61, of the fighting 14th in Texas. He seems to think Obama is just like Hitler in that Hitler went to Paris and Obama didn't. Or something.

Anyway, tell us again how Obama should've worked harder toward compromise

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Was Merkel at the rally? Haredim aren't allowed to know.

Angela Merkel has been erased from a picture of the Paris rally by the delicate souls who run on of Israel's fine Haredi papers.

Here she is at the rally.

And here's the front page of Hamevaser

See Mediatate for proof of the alterations. 

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Monday, January 12, 2015

Some from Sunday

Some of Sunday's best Tweets after the jump

Why the fearmongerers about the state of French Judaism are wrong

As usual Leon Wieseltier has the very best answer for Jews and non-Jews seeking to convince us all that the diaspora is about to collapse, and that the time has come to run home to Israel. And yes, he wrote it twelve years ago.

See it after the jump

Daughter of the King: Elle

Elle Magazine has selections from a promising new photo series faturing Orthodox Jewish Women. It's called "Daughter of the King: and you can see it here.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Why I say Nazism is a reactionary Catholic movement.

Here's something pertinent by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen. which I'd like to address to all the ninnies who, on the previous thread, are trying to seperate Nazism from the Catholic universe in which it was born and in which it thrived.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Why you can't blame the Muslims

>>So if a Klansman lynches a Black person, can you pin that on his being a Klansman? Can you say that the Klan has nothing top do with it? When Nazi's chose to gas people, maybe you can't pin that on their being Nazis?

Here's the correct way of thinking about this:

The Klan was a reactionary Protestant Christian movement. They didn't represent all christianity. Not every Christian in the whole world signed on to their program, but some did. And of that group, a smaller minority actually committed acts of violence. You can't pin those acts of violence on Christianity because Christianity is decentralized with lots of competing sects and subsects

Nazism was a reactionary Catholic movement. They didn't represent all of Catholicism. Not every Catholic in the whole world signed on to their program, but some did. And of that group, a smaller minority actually committed acts of violence. You can to some extent pin those acts of violence on Catholicism, but only because Catholicism is centralized and has official church-approved teachings (which were anti-Semitic and, over centuries, made Europe ready for the massacres) but only to some extent: It couldn't have happened without Catholicism, but Catholicism alone didn't produce the Nazis.

The Islamists are a particular type of Muslim movement. They didn't represent all of Islam . Not every Muslim in the whole world has signed on to their program, but some have. And of that group, a smaller minority actually commits acts of violence. You can't pin those acts of violence on Islam because Islam is decentralized with no central authority, no official teachings, and lots of competing sects and subsects

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Friday, January 09, 2015

Golden calves, plural verbs

Here comes another one of those kfira posts you might want to avoid if you're worried about getting your soul tarnished. This is speculative, and does not represent an idea I've accepted; also I'd love to hear counterarguments.

The verse in this weeks sedra says:

כא  וַיְהִי, כִּי-יָרְאוּ הַמְיַלְּדֹת אֶת-הָאֱלֹהִים; וַיַּעַשׂ לָהֶם, בָּתִּים.21 And it came to pass, because the midwives feared God, that He made them houses.

The Torah true tradition says that "houses" are a reward that the midwives received for fearing God, with the most famous suggestion being that the "houses" are lineages and the reward was that the kings and priests of Israel were the descendants of the midwives. Others (Rashbam, Ramban) say the houses are not a reward.

Our friend Josh Waxman radically suggests that the houses are not a reward, and the unlike the specifically hebrew midwives discussed in verse 15, the midwives discussed here are Egyptian, not Hebrew.  He proposes that the verse is telling us that non-Jewish midwives feared Egyptian gods and built shrines or temples for them.

Reasons include:
  • The antecedent of הַמְיַלְּדֹת is וַיַּעַשׂ while the antecedent of לָהֶם is הָאֱלֹהִים. (Elohim can be a plural noun; the pronoun that follows it, in this interpretation, is plural which additionally suggests that the gods under discussion are the gods of Egypt.)
  • וַיְהִי always introduces something negative. What's negative about rewards for righteous midwives?
  • Egypt was noted for fertility gods. The verse might be telling us that the midwife guild saw that the Jews were multiplying ferociously and appealed to the local fertility gods to make it stop.
There happens to be a precedent for the word elohim being regarded as plural as Josh proposes it does here. 

אֵלֶּה אֱלֹהֶיךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל, אֲשֶׁר הֶעֱלוּךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם

In the verb הֶעֱל֖וּךָ the actor (gods) is plural. The subject is singular.

This phrase appears twice in tanach. Once when Aaron presents the golden calf to the Jews, and a second time in Kings 12 when Jeroboam erects a pair of golden calves

Bible scholars have long maintained that the events in Kings happened first, and that the Aaron episode was invented or modified later by Levite priests who want to damage the reputation of their Aaronic rivals. There are various reasons for this, but the erelevant one here is the plural verb. 

When Jereboam says the words, he is introducing two calves, two elohim, so a plural verb is needed. When Aaron speaks the words he is referring to just one calf, so why use a plural verb? The word Elohim can take a singular verb, in fact it does in many others places in the Bible. According to the Bible scholars this is a good reason to say that the words of Jeroboam were retroactively put in Aaron's mouth.

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Thursday, January 08, 2015

Poor Yehuda Glick...

I feel bad for Yehuda Glick, in that he got shot; also he doesn't seem like a bad guy;  moreover I agree with his central position: Everyone should be  allowed to go anywhere they wish, irrespective of race, religion or creed. But wow did he get his butt kicked on the BBC the other day.

This doesn't mean I think the BBC host fought fairly, or that his position is the correct one. At many points he fights quite unfairly, in fact, and in some places his facts are wrong.

But the show is called HARDtalk, for heavens sake, so I feel certain no one should have expected this to be a gentle and friendly exchange of niceties. And Glick got pounded.

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If God Was One of Us…

Imagine the following:

A hundred thousand years from now, when technology has progressed almost beyond what anyone today could have imagined, an R&D engineer named Bob is fiddling with his company's latest model of long-distance transporter. He serendipitously discovers how to transport himself outside of space-time. After many years of research, Bob has designed and built instruments that let him measure and manipulate the non-space.

Using his futuristic technology, Bob creates a universe - our universe, the same one that he came from. Ignoring the paradox, Bob nurtures the universe. Existing outside of space-time, Bob is eternal and unconstrained by time. His instruments allow him to monitor everything about the universe, and he knows everything that happened/is happening/will happen in the universe. He wants only the best for the inhabitants of the universe, and he can use his technology to manipulate the universe at will. Bob arranges things so that intelligent beings evolve, and he gives them instructions for how to best live their lives. Unfortunately these instructions are almost always clothed in mythology, but Bob decides not to interfere too much, and lets the various intelligent species get on with their lives.

Bob is eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, and omni-benevolent, created the universe and has given revealed wisdom. Is Bob God?

If a human has all of God's attributes is he God? Or does God have to be a mysterious, unknowable Being in order for us to think of Him as God? Would you keep the mitzvos if it was Bob who gave the Torah?

In the 1993 Aish HaTorah Kiruv Primer, "The Eye of a Needle," R' Yitzchak Coopersmith (as part of larger discussion about using proofs for Judaism) writes that for an already-observant Jew, evidence for God's existence reduces His existence to a logical theorem, trivializes Judaism, and deprives him of a much greater religious experience. Why should that be?

Today's Ick Award

Shorter Michelle Rojas-Tal: It's all about meeeeeeeee. What about meeeeeee. Hey! Everybody! Look at meeeee.

 See, here are a few of the things that are so galling about this myopic, self-centered piece:

1) Too soon. Save your whining for after the funerals.

2) There has been PLENTY of outrage over attacks on Jews. What rock does this women live under? She wants us to believe that the "world" sits on its thumbs following shocking displays of violence against Jews - and perhaps some of my similarly myopic and self centered readers feel the same way - but it just isn't so.

In short, imagine standing over a friend's sickbed, while another friend harrumphs "When I was sick no one visited me" when in fact she had plenty of visitors.

How would you feel about that person?

Good. That's how I feel about this.

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Wednesday, January 07, 2015


I am urging ALL of you to do this too. Put the collage of Charlie Hebdo covers (taken from Berlin's BZ paper) on your blogs, your Facebook pages and tell your local papers you want them to take a stand and run this, too. Tell the terrorists that they don't control the public discourse or the free exchange of ideas.  Tell them they aren't going to win this. We get to think. We get to talk, We get to laugh. And they can't stop us.

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Transgender and halacha

JTA reports that an Israeli transgender woman was denied access to both the men and women sections at the Western Wall last week - but responded to the rudeness she experiencesd with class and dignity:
After hundreds of comments and likes, Long on Tuesday morning posted a clarification saying that she had no intention of praying at the Western Wall during her visit, and believes that it was more important for the Orthodox worshippers to be there than for her to make a scene. 
“Inside, I believe that God is everywhere,” she wrote, adding that she believes in a “live and let live” motto.
Though I recognize this is an extremely delicate, and perhaps complicated, halachic issue, I still intend to wade in and shoot from the hip. For starts, prayer space is a minor and inconsequential halachic issue for a woman. A woman can pray in front of a man. Even if the kotel women want to insist that Long is a man, that doesn't bar them from praying together. They are, however, barred from embarrassing her. So sending her away from the woman's section was wrong.

The men have a better case - if they recognize her as a woman. Men aren't allowed to pray with women who are dressed improperly, and to be on the safe side many men have the additional stringency of not praying with women at all. So the guys are on firm ground, but why didn't one of them take Long back to the ladies and tell the sergeant at arms, "We recognize this person as a woman, so she prays with you?"  And any dissenting women could  just be reminded that halacha does not bar women from praying with a man. Wouldn't that have been a kind and compassionate way to solve the problem?  

Now, let's up the difficulty level, by leaving aside the prayer space concern which, as I say, are minor and incosequential, and also by abandoning the it-trumps-all public humiliation issue. I want to know two things: (1) Does halacha recognize a gender change; and (2) at what point would a gender change be recognized? When the hormones start? When the operation is over? And if they person isn't taking that route - if no operation is planned - does halacha recognize a change in gender?

The easiest thing is to say that a person can decide for himself how he wishes to be regarded by halacha, that is if I identify as a woman halacha treats me as a women. But I can't think of any reason  to say that halacha works this way. I don't become a kohen by identifying myself as a kohen, and announcing myself a gentile does not make me one in the eyes of the law. So, to make this more concrete:
  • When is a transgender women no longer required to wear tefillin?
  • When is a transgender women first permitted to see her step-mother naked?
  • When does a transgender man acquire the obligation to keep time bound commandments?
I bet the answer to all three questions is the same, and my hunch is that for a man transitioning to women the switch is recognized when the plumbing changes - and not before. But I have no idea if I am right, and no idea when halacha recognizes the change for a woman intent on becoming a man.

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Black people sound like Jews today

I'll have a few words about the horrific Paris attack in a bit, but first a few words about the horrific Colorado attack.

What's that?

You didn't know that yesterday an NAACP office in Colorado was attacked with a bomb? Well, there are a few possible reasons for that:

1) You get all your news from CSPAN. As the perpetrator was not Muslim, our congressmen had no reason to say or do anything.

2) You get all your news from FOX. As the station has not yet found a way to blame the attackon Obama, they aren't covering it.

3) You get all your news from the New York Times, and the story merited only one paragraph on A13

So yeah, black people sound like Jews today. They are wondering out loud why an attack on one of their institutions was ignored by the mainstream media, which is what Jews do whenever there is any kind of terrorist attack in Israel.

Please learn the appropriate lessons, guys.

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YU TORAH Reaches 100,000.... but

First mad props to the elves at Yeshiva University for collecting and curating 100, 000 shiurim at their almost excellent site The milestone was reached this week.
The growth of YUTorah has been exponential,” said Rabbi Robert Shur, director of YUTorah since 2007. “What started in 2004 with a little over 1,000shiurim grew to 10,000 about two and a half years later. It took another five years to get to 50,000, with the second 50,000 taking less than three years.”
The problem is, the site would be so much better and so much more valuable with one simple, easy not-terribly expensive change. Convert the spoken shiurim to transcripts. Why do this? So many reasons:

1) You can search transcripts by keywords

2) You can skim a transcript in minutes, without having to sit through the nudnik questions and meanderings that are a part of nearly every lecture

3) Transcripts are easier to cite (you can quickly cut and paste the part you need, without having to listen to the passage 20 times)

4) It would make my life much easier. Seriously. I can't tell you how many audio shiurim I've sat through only to discover that the lecture wasn't going to address the main question I had in mind. Again, you can SKIM a transcript; you can't do that with an audio file.

So please, YU? Can you get this done?

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Tuesday, January 06, 2015

I call bias

Here's the Tablet headline:

The Sistine Chapel of the Jews Is Restored to Life in Jerusalem

Sistine Chapel of the Jews? Dude. You've got it backwards.

The little greeting hall in Rome is the Ades Synagogue of the Catholics.

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The inadvertently hysterical thing Steven Pruzanky said today

The rest of the Rabbi's latest blog post is a snoozer, but if you're looking for laughs the first paragraph provides plenty:
It is hard to deny that fear pervades much of the civilized world these days, fear in a variety of forms. There is fear of terror, fear of violence, fear of driving on certain roads or visiting particular neighborhoods, fears stoked by the sense that Western political leaders have no answers, fears of the outsized reach of dictators as evinced by the recent contretemps involving North Korea, Sony, and the awkward release of a movie comedy,  and even fear of repercussions – public ridicule and the like – for saying the “wrong” thing, using politically incorrect language, or otherwise not toeing the ideological line imposed by elite thinkers.
Never mind, that most of this so-called fear has been stoked by irresponsible hacks like Pruz and the loudmouths who provide him with both his ideas and his presentation style 

Never mind, that I perceive that the civilized world is currently pervaded with optimism, thanks to the humming economy and the president's demonstrated competence.

No, what matters is the last sentence. Read it again. Pruz is mad that "elite thinkers" are trying to tell him what to say and think. Um hello?  ALL PRUZ  DOES IS TELL US WHAT TO SAY AND THINK.

Why is it OK for this Rabbi - or any Rabbi, for that matter - to instruct us on how to behave and what to believe, but a terrible crime when non-Rabbis presume to do the same? Either both groups are entitled to boss us around - while responsibility for the final choice remains with us - or neither of them are.

Worse, Pruzansky is personally responsible for threatening repercussions – public ridicule and the like – for saying the “wrong” thing, using politically incorrect language, or otherwise not toeing the ideological line imposed by elite thinkers. 

He's done all of this himself to his own political enemies!

He's threatened Jewish feminists with ostracism and said Open Orthodox Rabbis have no right to call themselves Rabbis.

He's publicly ridiculed both groups, criticized their tone and choice of words, and beaten them up in print and from the pulpit for not toeing the ideological line, he and other elite (religious) thinkers wish to impose.

Now, I may side with Pruzansky on some of the big issues (God exists; Judaism is cool), and I do agree with him on some religious points, but I am not going to let him whine about the mean old elites who try to shut down opposing ideas when he sees himself as an elite, and regularly trys to bully his opponents into silence.

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Agree or disagree?

The New York tourist market is massive and the eventual completion of American Dream Meadowlands will bring some of those tourists to New Jersey year round.

Spotted right here

Background: The Esplanade American Dream Meadowlands Magical Carpet Ride project is a Tony Soprano-sponsored boondoggle that is creating lots of construction jobs building an attraction no one will ever visit.

Or am I being too cruel?

I suppose the new mall might become as popular as, well, a Mall, but will it really steal tourists from Manhattan? Even the tourists with lousy taste who make poor spending decisions already have stuff in Manhattan like the Rodeo Clown Cafe to waste their money on,

The tragedy is the American Dream is owned by Jews (surprise) who despite being mega-wealthy have solid charitable reputations and are known to be Good People. (Their family name is Ghermazian)

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Monday, January 05, 2015

Who said it? [Updated]

Who said this:

"Sure, God promised it to us, but what does that matter to them? There has been anti-Semitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault? They only see one thing: We have come here and stolen their country.”

And no checking Google, cheaters.

Source: Right here

All abusive comments were deleted. I don't know why people get so angry about stuff like this. Ben Gurion said it. Shrug. Doesn't make him a Jew-hater and it doesn't make me a Jew-hater for agreeing with him. This seems elementary and obvious]

ALSO - and I am shocked this isn't obvious  - Ben Gurion isn't confessing to stealing land. He is saying that he understands the Arab perspective., He isn't agreeing with it. I don't know why this has to be said - its patently clear - but people are people.

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Israel was badly outnumbered during the 48 war, right?

 There are lots of myths surrounding the establishment of the state of Israel, and in the fullness of time I hope to address them all. Here's the next one in our series. Though the Society of DovBear Haters will disbelieve or ignore the following statement let me make it anyway: I'm glad Israel was established. I am not necessarily opposed to any of the acts described below. I am only trying to set the record straight regarding what actually occurred. 

CLAIM: In 1948 a tiny group of vastly outnumbered and ill-equipped Jews fought off the massed strength of the combined armies of several neighboring Arab states. 
Let's leave aside the fact that the Jews didn't not return to Israel in the 40s; also, lets not attempt the messy business of trying to adjudicate "who started it."

Instead let's talk numbers:

1) The size of the Israeli army is overstated. At its peak there were maybe 110,000 Israeli soldiers. Not half a million.

2) Only four of the seven members of the Arab League invaded Israel and attacked Jewish settlements immediately after the mandate ended. (Israel, on the other hand, began attacking Arab settlements in November; also, between April 1 and May 15, the day of the invasion, Israel conducted eight military operations outside of the area that the UN had made a Jewish state. But like I said, deciding "who started" is messy).

The four invading armies were:
  • Egypt, with 20,000 troops
  • Iraq, with 18,000 troops
  • Syria, with 5,000 troops
  • TransJordan, with 10,000 troops. These were the only troops that had any real training or went to war with a reasonable goal, a goal that they achieved (capturing the West Bank) 
Additionally, Yemen, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia combined to send another 2000 men (volunteers not army members) , and the Arab Liberation Army sent another 5,000, or so.

Grand Total for the Arabs: Somewhere around 68,000 soldiers.

Now, it is true that when the war started in May, Israel was vastly outnumbered. On May 15, there were only about 30,000 Israeli soldiers and they faced a combined, uncoordinated, largely untrained force of more than 65,000.

But during the first truce (June 11 - July 8) the Israeli army increased its manpower from approximately 30,000 men to almost 65,000  due to mobilization and immigration into Israel.  By the end of the second truce (July 18-October 15) Israel has almost 95,000 men in the field, and far outnumbered the Arabs. During the last phase of the war (October 15 - March 10) Israel has as many as 110,000 men in the field.

See: Jews only attacked military targets, and called in warnings first. Right?

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Saturday, January 03, 2015

Princess Leah

 A guest post by Y. Bloch
When Star Wars premiered in 1977, my mother was thrilled. The name Leah wasn't exactly popular when she grew up, in 1950's America, and the proper Hebrew pronunciation Leia was absolutely unheard-of. But here came an instant pop-culture icon: Princess Leia, diplomat, spy, rebel. And she was portrayed by Eddie Fisher's daughter. Now my Zeidy and Bubby seemed amazingly prescient! (Remind me to tell you about my Uncle Moishy...)
Carrie-Fisher-as-Princess-Leia-in-travels-in-transmedia-David-kirkpatricks-blog.-jpgLook, she even covers her hair? How frum is that!
However, this didn't solve the problem of the Torah's portrayal of Leia/ Leah. She seems to be constantly overshadowed by her younger sister Rachel. Even though Leah bears Jacob 7 of his 13 children, she never seems to get her due.
This is particularly striking when it comes to their respective passings. Rachel's tragic death is described in painstaking, breathtaking detail in Gen. 35, and then Jacob retells the story in this week's portion, Parashat Vaychi. Both Samuel and Jeremiah refer to it in their prophecies.
Leah gets five anticlimactic words (four in Hebrew): "and there I buried Leah."
But let's look at that line in context--namely, Jacob's last words (literally). Jacob is adjuring his sons to bury him in his ancestral plot in Hebron (Gen. 49:30-32):
In the cave that is in the field of Machpelah, which is before Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought with the field from Ephron the Hittite for a possession of a burying-place. There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife; there they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife; and there I buried Leah. The field and the cave that is therein, which was purchased from the children of Heth.
Notice that Jacob speaks of the other burials in the third person, "they buried," despite the fact that he was presumably present at Abraham's and definitely participated in Isaac's ("And he was buried by his sons Esau and Jacob," 35:29). Leah's death is personal, even more so than that of Isaac.
The Midrashic chronology Seder Olam Rabbah (Ch. II) highlights this by noting that Leah and Jacob's marriage lasted for 22 years--a crucial length of time in Jacob's life. He spends 22 years away from his father and 22 years away from Joseph. And, according to this tradition, Leah was 22 when they married. In fact, that would put Leah's passing a year or two before the sale of Joseph, which dovetails with the fact that Bilhah and Zilpah are referred to as "the wives of his father" at the beginning of Joseph's story.
Moreover, this simple statement has national significance, as Nahmanides points out (ad loc.):
It may very well be that "and there I buried Leah" indicates that Jacob already exercised possession of the cave. This would frustrate any claim by Esau and his sons at the funeral, claiming that the cave should be his birthright and that he deserves to be buried with his forebears--that even though he went to another land, his sons should bear him just as Jacob's sons bore him, as he desired to be buried with his holy forebears and to be united with them in burial.
Leah's presence precludes Esau's burial there. In fact, this may be seen as the first public expression of Jacob's precedence. Every other instance of Jacob's supplanting Esau occurs in private: between the two brothers, between them and their father, between him and God. However, Leah's burial in the Cave of Machpelah (Couples' Cave), which happens a decade and a half before the death of Isaac, conclusively demonstrates that only one of his sons is destined to be his heir and the bearer of the legacy of Abraham.
Maybe we shouldn't be surprised. The one thing we know about Leah before her marriage is that she had "eyes of refinement" (Gen. 29:17). As Isaiah (47:1-2) makes clear, the only place for a woman of delicacy and refinement is on the throne. In fact, various Midrashic sources (e.g. Gen. Rabbah, Vayera) identify her father Laban as none other than Kemuel, Lord of Aram. Which would make Leah a princess.
In any case, for forty years, Leah safeguards the field in Hebron which is the first property acquired by the Hebrews in the land of Canaan, guaranteeing that it is Jacob's progeny (hers and her sister's) which will have sovereignty in the land.
This is the ultimate distinction between Leah and Rachel. Rachel is buried on the way to Bethlehem, on the way back from Israel's first exile, symbolizing that the Jewish people will always return to their land. But Leah is buried in Hebron, the city which symbolizes Jewish sovereignty. When the Israelites first return almost two centuries later to survey the land and conquer it, Hebron is the first stop (Num 13:22). When David, the shepherd from Bethlehem, is first crowned, he rules from Hebron.
This is the legacy of Leah our Mother.

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Friday, January 02, 2015

Did Yaakov cross his hands?

It's one of the more famous pictures in the Torah. Old man Yaakov, striken with blindness, sitting on his deathbed with his hands crossed over the heads of his two most favorite grandchildren. [Aside: Doesn't Yaakov seem to be repeating the mistake he made with Yosef, by not only raising Ephraim ahead of Menashe, but by raising the two of them ahead of all the other older, cousins.)

Only at least one great Rabbi saw the scene differently. According to the standard translation Genesis 48:14 says this*
And Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on the head of Ephraim, who was the younger, and his left hand on the head of Manasseh, crossing his hands (for Manasseh was the firstborn).
But at least one Spanish rishon sees it differently. Acording to Jonah ibn Janah the verse is not telling us the Jacob switched his hands. Its telling us how Yaakov figured out that Menasha was the bechor. Remember two things (1) By now, Yaakov is blind (Gen 48:10)  So how does Yaakov know which of the two boys in front of him is Menshe? Also (2) We're not sure Yaakov ever met Menashe or been told that he's the oldest son, so how does Yaakov know which of the two boys (that he can't see) is the oldest son?

The answer is in verse 48:14. According to ibn Janah the verse is telling us Jacob has deduced from the position of the two boys in front of him which is Menshae, and which is the oldest, as he guessed (correctly) that the first born would be on his right. Ibn Janah reads the verse this way:
And Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on the head of Ephraim, who was the younger, and his left hand on the head of Manasseh, because he had realized based on what Yosef  had done with his hands [ie how Yosef placed the boys] that Manasseh [who had been placed on his right] was the firstborn.
The innovations here are as follows:

(1) את־ידיו refers to Yosef's hands
(2) שכל tells us that Yaakov figured something out based on Yosef's hands; and
(3) כי מנשה הבכור tells us what exactly Yaakov figured out

Notably, this reading does not say that Yaakov crossed his hands. It merely tells us how he knew which son was which. It's possible he asked the boys to switch places. The Torah doesn't say.

*וישלח ישראל את־ימינו וישת על־ראש אפרים והוא הצעיר ואת־שמאלו על־ראש מנשה שכל את־ידיו כי מנשה הבכור׃

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I don't understand the Shechinah's logic in Gen: 48

I don't understand the Shechinah, or how it works in Genesis 8, as interpreted by Rashi. Here are the passages:

Then Israel saw Joseph's sons, and he said, "Who are these?"ח. וַיַּרְא יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת בְּנֵי יוֹסֵף וַיֹּאמֶר מִי אֵלֶּה:
Then Israel saw Joseph’s sons: He attempted to bless them, but the Shechinah withdrew from him because of Jeroboam and Ahab, who were destined to be born from Ephraim, and Jehu and his sons, [who were destined to be born] from Manasseh. — [from Tanchuma Vayechi 6] [Jeroboam the son of Nebat, the first king of the Northern Kingdom, and Ahab the son of Omri were notorious idolaters.]וירא ישראל את בני יוסף: בקש לברכם ונסתלקה שכינה ממנו, לפי שעתיד ירבעם ואחאב לצאת מאפרים, ויהוא ובניו ממנשה

Did the Shechina also withdraw when Issac attempted to bless Yaakov? Jeroboam and Ahab and Jehu were decendants of Yaakov, too. For that matter, how did the Shechina allow Yaakov to bless Joseph? He wa also a forefather of Jeroboam and Ahab and Jehu? And what about the other 11 brothers? Didn't they have any evil decendants? Levi gave us Korach. Shimi ben Gerah came from Binyamin. Countless kings of Judah were evil. Yet the Shechina didn't withdraw when Yaakov went to bless Levi, Benjamin or Judah.

Even worse we see that Yosef is able to address the Shechina's concern, allowing it to return and permit the blessing.

Joseph said to his father, "They are my sons, whom God gave me here." So he said, "Now bring them near to me, so that I may bless them."ט. וַיֹּאמֶר יוֹסֵף אֶל אָבִיו בָּנַי הֵם אֲשֶׁר נָתַן לִי אֱלֹהִים בָּזֶה וַיֹּאמַר קָחֶם נָא אֵלַי וַאֲבָרֲכֵם:

here: Heb. בָּזֶה, lit., in this, or with this. He (Joseph) showed him (Jacob) the document of betrothal and the kethubah , and Joseph prayed for mercy concerning the matter, and the Holy Spirit [returned and] rested upon him (Jacob). - [from Kallah Rabbathi 3:19]בזה: [הראה לו] שטר אירוסין ושטר כתובה, ובקש יוסף רחמים על הדבר ונחה עליו רוח הקדש:

Joseph produces his marriage documents, and the shechinah is satisfied. Why didn't the Sehchinah know that Yosef has produced his sons thorugh a legal marriage? And why did that eliminate the Shechina's concern about Jehu Ahab and Jereboam.

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