Monday, February 29, 2016

Republican questions

The few republicans who posses any decency need to stop acting so surprised that a Donald Trump is on the verge of taking over your party thanks, almost entirely, to his loud and nasty appeals to racism and xenophobia.

What's called for now is introspection. You need to ask yourselves some real questions, starting with this: Why do your rank and file see magic and potential in a blustering empty suit of a demagogue who cavalierly bullies women and minorities? What is it about your party that makes it both welcoming and inviting to the dregs of society? Your front runner is so afraid of offending the racist republicans who make up his majority that he spent the weekend playing patty-cake with David Duke! This is your party? These are your people?

This post addresses "decent Republicans" and I don't mean that facetiously. You are decent. You do exist. But why do you continue to be associated with such trash?

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A quick clip that shows us why HRC is a terrible candidate

The tough mean ugly Hillary Clinton who yells at a protester here is the Hillary Clinton I do not like

It happened at a small private fund raising evet.  Hillary was delivering her stump speech when she was interrupted by a black activist who demanded an apology for something Hillary said and had some small role in causing back in the 90s. In response,  Barak Obama would have flashed his smile and disarmed the room. Bill Clinton would have demonstrated believable empathy. But Hillary, caught off guard, flashed only defensive anger and demonstrated nothing but disdain.

That is not the behavior of a winning candidate.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Would you wear it?

Starting to see suit in this color almost everywhere. The picture is from Express but JCREW and Suit Supply have versions and so does Bonobos. Is the color too wierd, light, casual and feminine for shul? Sure looks that way now but I have clear memories of making the same self assured statement about walnut colored shoes.

More reasons to avoid El Al

Reasons to NEVER fly El Al: costs too much, crummy service, hyper entitled passengers and also this:

In brief a 36 year old Bet Shemesh man went on a rampage during a flight back from Poland. Reason: He objected to the movie and created such a commotion that he was arrested when the plane landed  (aside: Is El Al the only airline left in the world that doesn't have seat back screens on every plane?)

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

An original essay by Shulem Deen

Over on the Facebook, someone contributed a very blase piece ordering us all to support Israel 100 percent. Not noteworthy in its own right, except it provoked a response from the great Shulem Deen, author of All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir. He contributed a mini essay on the comment thread that is an absolute MustRead.

I cut and pasted it below, but it loses something because the context is missing. Send your complaints to Zuckerberg, or go look at it here.

Shulem Deen said: This whole discussion is bullshit and insane and sad and a little bit terrifying. It's like if someone complains about a pothole in some godforsaken yishuv, they're being anti-Israel. I don't buy this crap.

Successive Israeli governments have made and continue to make serious errors. Some of them seriously immoral--perhaps with the best of intentions, but immoral nonetheless. The idea that criticism, even very harsh criticism, is inherently anti-Israel is completely illogical.

It's funny, because I feel deeply attached to Israel. I've unfriended people for their anti-Israel views, if I felt they came from a place of pure animosity. I've been dismayed by the very clear strains of anti-Semitism that exist within much of the anti-Israel crowd. There is no doubt in my mind that the ENTIRE Arab-Israeli conflict is rooted in Arab/Islamic anti-Semitism, and is buttressed by classic strains of European anti-Semitism. And in general, I think BEING anti-Israel (as opposed to having specific criticisms about Israeli gov't policies/actions/inactions) is, if not anti-Semitic, an equally vile and noxious bigotry that shares a great number of 'features' with anti-Semitism -- deep-seated and irrational hatred, spread through outright lies, distortions, and the weirdest conspracy theories.

But that doesn't mean that every discussion that isn't 100% pro Israeli govt policies makes one "anti-Israel." That is the most absurd position to take.

It is a cliche to say that I love Israel and criticize it from a place of love. And maybe that has no impact on this particular crowd -- being as the ethno-religio-fascism seems to run thick here at least with some. But it's still true: I love Israel; the land, the people, the history, the feeling that not only does it feel like home when I visit, but it is home to nearly half the world's Jews. That's not a trifling concern. But all of those are reasons to CARE, both about its uniqueness, its achievements, the perils it faces, and ALSO its failings.

I know how amazing Israel is, Gideon Slifkin. I may not live there currently, but I have in the past, and I've visited many, many times, have close family there, and many friends, and I'm well aware of what Israel looks like from the inside. I also know that Israel is so unique, both in human history and in current geopolitical terms that the scrutiny it receives is directly proportional to its uniqueness.

What many lovers of Israel don't realize, though, is Israel's massive strength, and that the ability to take criticism doesn't weaken it. Countries reflect the attitudes of its populace and supporters, and so they're in some way like people themselves. Those who can take smart thoughtful criticism are better for it; it shows maturity, reflectiveness, a willingness to confront difficult issues, and most importantly a secure sense of self. It saddens me, but many of Israel's advocates, at least in the diaspora (I think Israelis themselves suffer less from this) have a long way to go to reach that place.

What's most disheartening is how usually smart people completely lose their shit when Israel is criticized. Even more, there's so much real fear among Jews about losing friends/community over this.

While touring for my book, people competely lost their marbles after THEY asked what I thought about Israel, and I, with exacting diplomacy, shared about my love for Israel with just a few mild remarks on how I wish some things were done differently--but this didn't satisfy many, and I got piles of criticism for it. It's like you're being tested: you're asked a question, but there's only one correct answer.

In my book: I have exactly half a sentence, where I mention that I chose, back in 2003, not blog about Israel because I was no longer sure where I stood, after learning of the decades of Palestinian suffering. (Both at the hands of Israel and others.) Consider: I wrote what I felt in 2003, not currently, or at the time I was writing.

Out of a 300-page book, that half sentence is the single largest source of critical feedback I get in emails from strangers. Not the fact that I don't believe in God, that I am an apikorus by every standard put by Chazal, that I happily chomp down on bacon, but a half-formed thought I had in 2003, and recounting in 2015. THAT'S what gets me hate mail. THAT, my friends, IS INSANE.

For most people, the fear of losing friends and community keeps them quiet. That's not something we should be proud of. Thankfully, the only people I'll lose on this issue are a bunch of Internet hypocrites who like(d) me for confirming their anti-Charedi prejudices, but can't stand to hear an actual opinion they disagree with. But look back on this thread, and think how this would affect the average person in your circles who might not shsare your view: it doesn't change their views,but it forces them into silence. And that is a real terrifying shame.

At the same time, NUMEROUS people have told me privately how they just remain quiet on Israel, because they can't afford to speak their minds. The tragedy in this is that young people, who feel less connected to the institutionalized Jewish community (and therefore have less to lose) are a lot less afraid to speak, and when they encounter hostility from other Jews for it, are pushed even further away.

Two prominent American Jewish newspaper editors told me how they avoid speaking their minds on Israel, because there is just too much irrationality on the issue, and they can't afford this battle.

In New Orleans, a sweet, soft-spoken young Jewish woman came up to me, and whispered: "I want to thank you for one thing you wrote." She was standing in line to have her book signed, and was afraid to say it out loud, so she pointed discreetly to the above-mentioned line in my book. When I asked why that moved her so, she gave me googly eyes. "Are you kidding? I could NEVER say this here!" motioning to the people around her.

All of which is to say, Jews have become very afraid to speak out on this issue, and fear-mongering around discourse regarding any nation-state is never to its credit; it IS a strain of fascism, or something very close to it. And I think smart people, even those who feel strongly protective and defensive of Israel (and I count myself among those), should be worried about what's happening and why.

P.S. The few who complained I unfriended them should get over themselves. I don't know them, and they've each made a succession of idiotic comments, with some ad hominems thrown in because there's nothing like a good ad hominem to show just how logically weak your position is. (In this thread alone -- it's like the idiots can't resist. It's like Roger Waters has become the Godwin's Law of Israel debates.)\Search for more information about ###

Monday, February 22, 2016

Marco looks finished....

Will March 1 be Donald's coronation day? Folks, this is getting scary. According to the latest Super Tuesday polls, Trump is neither collapsing nor burning. In fact, the only one who seems to be flaming out is Marco, the great, young Republican hope. (Not that this will stop him from delivering yet another victory speech.)

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On Trump

Is Trump so much worse than the other Republican candidates? No, not really. On some issues, he's actually better, while on others he's just as bad as the rest of them, while possessing the virtue of being upfront and honest about exactly what terrible things he has planned.

Can he beat Hillary? Probably. This is the year of authenticity, and while Hillary is far and away the most experienced and capable candidate in the field, she's also the least authentic. Nothing about her seems real, and even after all these years you're not quite sure what he position is on anything other than a smattering of core concerns. If this was 1820, and Hillary was, you know, a guy, she'd be the hands down winner. But in 2016 the electorate seems to want an outsider, which means Hillary is toast.

Hillary's one advantage over Bernie in a race with Trump, is that the insult king would not be able to be as viscous with her. Call a woman something nasty, and you're a monster, but say the same thing to a guy and its just trash talk. Also, Bernie, I believe, can give as good as he gets. Would be interesting to see a gloves-off, all New York race between a Seinfeld Jewish guy from Brooklyn and an Archie Bunker German-Scottish guy from Queens? Maybe.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Saturday, February 20, 2016

GOP jerks

I'd like to understand how the same GOP jerks who sanctimoniously demand that Jordan throw open its doors and welcome in "their Arab brothers" can simultaneously be applauding Trump's extreme views on immigration.

Don't be a hypocrite, GOP jerks! Extend a warm hand to your Christian Caucasian brothers from the South!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Republicans void elections

Watching Republican Senators claim their deep devotion to the Constitution and the founding principles - aside from the inconvenient one about how the president gets a four year term - is in some ways like watching a repeat of Gore V. Bush.

In 2000 the Republicans, materially aided by Saint Scalia, trashed the constitution and voided the results of an election. They put power over principle. Now they are trying to do it again.

In 2012 the American people elected Barack Obama and gave him four full years to make Supreme Court appointments. Not three. Four.
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Monday, February 15, 2016

YCT vs Satmar: Which community does more to offend the Rambam's big 13?

We've been hearing for months how Yeshiva Chovevei Torah is a stronghold of kefirah, due to the fact that some graduates have made heretical sounding noises about the authorship of the Torah.

Fine. But what about Satmar?

As I told you in a famous post back in 2005, Satmar are sloppy when it comes to the Rambam's big 13.

For example, the Satmars I count among my personal friends don't believe with a firm and complete belief that (ikkar #3) physical concepts do not apply to God, or (ikkar #5) that it is only proper to pray to God, or (ikkar #11) that God rewards and punishes based on mitzvah observance.

In reality, many of them imagine a God that has emotions and can be changed through prayer and consoled by the acts of men. They also direct their prayers to ancestors or boldfaced names like the Noyam Elimelech or the Benai Yissascher. Finally, they rely on segulot and other acts of magic to avoid punishment and secure reward.

Per the Rambam all of these are acts of abject heresy.

So, if Abe Gordimer wants to be a heresy hunter, why is he wasting his time with the amateurs at YCT who are in violation of just one ikkar, when he might be chasing bigger game?

*Satmar is a synecdoche. This applies to all Hasidim
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Let's be immature

Check it!!! Pope John Paul 2 had a GIRLFRIEND... 

Kay eye es es eye en geee

Friday, February 12, 2016

What's the current unemployment rate?

What's the current unemployment rate? Pretty low, actually, but Republicans always complain that the official rate doesn't include people who have given up looking for work, or people who took part-time work when they really want to be employed full time.

And they are right! The official employment rate (also called U-3) does not include those people.

However, the Labor Department does collect additional data and publishes it. In fact, there are five other employment rates, aside from the official one.

Republicans are (naturally) focused on the highest one. Called the "U-6" this employment rate includes the U-3 (total unemployed,) PLUS discouraged workers PLUS all persons marginally attached to the labor force, PLUS total employed part time for economic reasons.

Republicans such as Donald Trump claim the U-6 is at least 29 percent, and possibly as high as 42 percent but they are full of crap.

Its actually 9.9.


-- During 8 years of Bush, the U-6 went from 7.3 (Jan 2001) to 14 (Jan 2009); Meanwhile...

-- During almost 8 years of Obama it went from 14 (Jan 2009) to 9.9 (now)

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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Cruz climbs into bed with someone even less appealing than he

I see the least likable candidate is now touting the most repulsive endorsement. Fitting.

In brief, Cruz has warmly accepted an endorsement from a preacher who says that the Holocaust came to punish Jews who had not accepted Jesus.

This warm and cuddly Christian also thinks that many of us are going to find ourselves in death camps and prison camps on the happy day when Jesus returns.

GOP candidate has been touting endorsement from Mike Bickle, who notoriously said God sent Hitler to hunt Jews for not accepting Jesus as messiah

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Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Why won't they teach Jewish kids math?

This is the sort of Tweet I write after discovering that four of the last seven Cross Current posts are criticism of Natan Sharansky's admirable attempt to make the Kotel a welcoming place for all Jews, while nothing at all has been said Naftuli Moster's Op-Ed post about the deplorable state of secular education in NY yeshivas.
Each year, approximately 32,000 boys in New York City [DB: and another 18,000 in upstate NY.] are not being taught science, history and geography among other subjects. If they’re lucky to be under the age of 13, they get 90 minutes of English and math, taught by untrained and unlicensed teachers. 
Alarmingly, when these boys turn 14, most of them spend 14 hours a day in school, from around 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., yet learn no general subjects at all. An estimated 17,500 additional boys attending schools in Rockland and Orange Counties are subjected to the same. 
That is because they are attending ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic yeshivas, private religious schools where the primary focus is on Judaic studies, almost to the exclusion of non-Judaic studies. (This problem is most prevalent among boys. Girls aren’t expected to engage in intensive Torah learning, so they are allowed to study secular studies for the practical benefits.)
Something is desperately wrong with our communal priorities.

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Thursday, February 04, 2016

Natan Sharansky's plan to destroy an archaeological site at the Kotel

My feelings about Natan Sharansky's plan to destroy an archaeological site at the Kotel so that men and women can have an egalitarian prayer site are mixed. While I want the Kotel to be a welcoming place for all Jews, I also appreciate the value of archaeological site. I'd like to have both.

Wouldn't the old status quo be a better solution? I don't mean the disgrace and the disaster created by the Women FOR the Wall who turned every Rosh Chodesh into riot day at the Kotel. I mean the status quo that came before that when women met at the Kotel without incident. That's how it was for over 20 years.

For over 20 years WOW members read from the Torah and donned Talis and Tefillin at the Kotel and no one cared. Can we go back to that? Can we return to the day when the Haredim behaved like grown-ups and WOW was left alone, just as Christians praying to Jesus are left alone and just as Calbachians with their strange ecstatic rituals are left alone?

No, of course we can't. The genie is out of the bottle, and thanks to police inaction and women FOR the Wall incitement every Haredi carrying pent up rage against women, now knows that on the first day of the month, he can go to the most sacred place in Judaism and vent his anger without consequence.

Thanks to police inaction and women FOR the Wall incitement the Kotel became a circus every month.

Thanks to police inaction and women FOR the Wall incitement we, all of us, the family of Israel, were made to look petty, stupid, violent, misogynistic and backward.

And now thanks to police inaction and women FOR the Wall incitement we're going to lose an archaeological treasure -- and all because a bunch of mini-ayatollah fanatics refused to practice elementary tolerance.

Less than 48 hours after cabinet approved historic overhaul for a gender-neutral prayer space, Hebrew University professor says construction will “absolutely…

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Wednesday, February 03, 2016

If the 5 front-runners attended my shul...

Let's say the five front-runners were members of my shul. Which roles would they play?

Clinton would be the Rabbi. Not because she's godly, learned or trustworthy but because she is wonkish, deeply experienced and capable of standing on a stage with gravitas while making platitudes sound fresh.

Marco is the shul president, of course, but bare in mind that a shul president is usually a fresh faced little eager beaver who is fully controlled by the back room oligarchs who actually run things.

Cruz can be the Gabbai, which I realize is deeply unfair to all the excellent gabbais in the world. But a subset of the profession are venal, little Uriah Heeps who weasel their way into everything, leaving behind a thin trace of grease on everything they touch. With deep apologies to the good gabbaim, that's the sort of Gabbai Cruz would be.

Trump leads the kiddush club. He loves to talk, has racist and misogynistic bluster to spare and no respect for anyone. Also, he can be counted on to deliver a good bottle every week.

Bernie is the crank in the back of the shul. Now, back room cranks are my favorite. I love how they toss spitballs at the Rabbi and always have something new to complain about. (when the complaints and spitballs aren't gratuitous trolling, I mean) So maybe that explains my growing affection for Bernie.

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Tuesday, February 02, 2016

A brief elegy for Failed Messiah: A valuable and important blogger

FailedMessiah has hung up his sneakers.

I didn't know Shamrya as well as I would have liked, but I had a real respect for his ability to ferret out scandals. He was muckracker in the grand old tradition of muckrackers, shining a bright light on the dank corners of Orthodox Judaism.

Lots of people thought he was an embarrassment to Judaism, but I dissent from that opinion. Shamrya wasn't an embarrassment to his people. Shmarya was a national treasure. The corrupt, thieving, phonies who were daily described on the pages of Failed Messiah were the Jewish embarrassment. If they didn't exist, Shamrya wouldn't have come to point them out.

Some people were disturbed that Shmarya, in the style of an Old Testament prophet, chose to focus primarily on Orthodox Jewish malfeasance. It should bother you more that such a focus was possible. If Jews were as great as we say we are, Shmarya would have been out of business a long time ago.

I usually didn't like what Shamrya found, but I was glad he was out there looking. I hope his presence kept some people honest.

As a send off here are some posts of mine in which he is mentioned. Read them all:

Query: Now that Shmarya is gone, am I the longest serving Jewish blogger? Who's left from the area other than Gil?

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Who will the men in shul support?

I think the sharpers in my shul are going to have a problem this time around. While they are innately inclined to vote Republican which of the Big Three are they supposed to rally around in 2016?

Trump, certainly, has macho douche-bag characteristics the Big Swinging Dicks in my shul will find appealing; however, he's also gone bankrupt several times and, let's be honest, everyone who is not a moron Christian gun-lover sees right through the cynical game that is his candidacy.

Cruz has his religiosity going for him because many of the men in my shul have a sickening respect for Christianity, but Cruz is also about as likable as a stink bug.

So that leave Marco. He's certainly eligible to receive the "Best Friend Israel Has Ever Had" appellation that always seems to accompany the GOP nomination but does he have the credentials the shrewd wheeler-dealers in my shul will demand? I don't know.

Too bad for Jeb. He definitely would have been their guy. Also too bad for Hillary (because Girl) and Bernie (because Socialist) Neither stand a chance of winning their support.
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Iowa 2016

My main takeaway from listening to the five frontrunners last night is that all but one of them were acting.

Rubio, a Roman Catholic who came in third, was acting like a generic and chipper Ned Flanders Christian who had won the whole thing.

On the other stage, Clinton was putting everything she had into acting like an alpha dog in control Bill Clinton. While she lacks his warmth and magnetic personal charm she can miminc his cadences and hand motions.

Cruz looked like he was auditioning for the role of venal, God-pandering, sleazebucket politician. Nothing about him seems real (or likable). When he takes the stage and affectates that speaker's voice all you see is a little kid struggling to act like some grown-up he once saw in a movie.

And in the most convincing performance of the night Trump acted like he didn't care that he'd lost the race the last eight Iowa polls assured him that he would win. He was quick, breezy and indifferent. Which is a shame because i was hoping hard for a Howard Dean style meltdown.

Meanwhile, that old socalist jew didn't seem to be acting at all. I felt like I was seeing the real man. True, the real man is a curmudgeonly, socialist, billionaire-basher with a bit of a Jeremiah complex but that is who was on stage last night.

And I'll tell you something else. That old socialist Jew pushed a lot of my buttons. At long last I think I understand why GOP Jerks are always so flushed and breathless when their guys talk about guns and God. I'm not quite ready to join seemingly all of my Twitter feed and jump on the Bernie bandwagon but I admit that last night, for the very first time... I felt the Bern

Monday, February 01, 2016

Last night Ted Cruz asked Iowa voters to ""awaken the body of Christ that we may pull back from the abyss." What did he mean here?

My suggestion is "body of Christ" is intended as an allegory for the Christian voter's conscious. When he says he wants the body of Christ to wake up, he means the each individual voter should rouse his or her own sense of Christian morality and cast his or her vote through that frame of reference. Or at least that's what I think.

I mention this because it brings to mind a fascinating Rashi. Numbers 20:15 says: " our fathers went down into Egypt, and we have dwelt in Egypt a long time; and the Egyptians vexed us, and our fathers." [King James]

Rashi tells us "From here [we learn] that when Israel is afflicted with punishment, the Patriarchs grieve in the grave."

Is this also an allegory? Or is Rashi [*] simply trying to describe an event with no underlying meaning? Is he saying something in code as Ted Cruz presumably did when he called for Jesus to wake up? Or does Rashi think that Abraham, Issac and Jacob are actually "grieving in the grave" when Jews are afflicted?

My answer: There are two reasons to conclude that Rashi is describing an event here:

(1) He's responding to a specific grammatical cue. he vocalization of the word "v'la'avoseinu" suggests that the fathers this verse has in mind are specific and particular fathers. The patach under the lamed indicates a definitearticle, so the last part of the verse should be read "to THE fathers." This tells us that the fathers spoken about here are not ordinary and generic ancestors, but specific fathers,

(2) Rashi did not consider himself a darshan. Though he will at times cite a drash (by which I mean something not suggested by a reading) he almost always introduces it with a formula like "And our Rabbis darshaned as follows." Even when he does this, he almost always provides the pshat first and only introduces a drash when there is some shortcoming in the pshat.

On Numbers 20:15 Rashi offers only one reading. Typically, when Rashi offers just one reading, that reading is what he understands to be the pshat.

[Please note: Rashi is citing the Tanchuma, but the discussion I wish to have is about what Rashi imagined happens to the Patriarchs when Israel suffers, not what the author of the Tanchuma thought]

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Please Let Cruz Lose

As we reach the first milestone of this awful and disgraceful election I see that someone who works for Ted Cruz, someone who presumably has an actual brain, is under the mistaken impression that Shmuley Boteach is some kind of noted expert or leader. This is posted on the Cruz website

Right. because supporting Israel in the US Senate requires bravery.

Meanwhile, in other Ted Cruz news, the least liked person in the history of the US senate called on Iowa voters to "awaken the body of Christ that we may pull back from the abyss.” Not being extremely well versed on evangelical Christian nightmares, I can't work out what exactly Cruz wants.

Is he just asking people to get psyched up about their religion, and to use their newly awakened enthusiasm to oppose at the ballot box all of the things the evangelical Christian God is said to dislike? Probably. But how does that help Ted? All of his opponents are squarely in line with Evangelical Christian God's tastes. They all hate homosexuals and abortion and brown people. The all support robber barons and anti-poor policies. They are all very much in line with the teachings of Republican Jesus.

So even if Ted does manage to wake up Jesus - which I take as an allegory for the Christian voter's conscious - how can he be certain that this will help him at the polls? Wouldn't a vote for Rubio or Trump also pull us back from the abyss?

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