Monday, December 18, 2017

Altruism and Avoda Zara

A guest post by Chava Safrin

I had a conversation with a friend this week. She told me that anyone who deliberately didn't keep Torah and mitzvos was guilty of avoda zara. Why? Well, keeping Torah/mitzvos is a testament to God's, His creation of the world, and His active involvement in the Universe. Denying that to do, instead, whatever one wishes is self serving. Self serving, of course, is putting the wants, needs, and desires of the self before the will of God. And that is avoda zara (according to my friend and, apparently, Paul in Romans in the New Testament).

That’s a great kiruv argument towards following the Torah, right?

Only it relies on the idea that everything we do on our own is from some base desire that's hedonistic and selfish - our desires are essentially controlling us. It is only by subjugating our will to the will of God do we experience real freedom.

Is that even true? Are we always selfish when we do things we want and always selfless when we serve God?

For that question, I looked at the concept of altruism - the selfless concern for the well-being of others. Is it really selfless? Sure, donating hours of your time serving food to homeless people at a soup kitchen is nice, but is it truly a negation and subjugation of the self?

I don't think it is. On some level, none of us ever really do things we don't want to do. We may not enjoy the experience we are in, but we may be looking for the long term gain, the health benefit, the later payout. Essentially, there is reward for the things we do even if the thing itself isn't immediately rewarding. That doesn't mean the person feeding the homeless is evil or selfish - his actions are still beneficial for others - but he does it because he wants to do it.

We always do things because we want to do them.

Including the choice to serve God.

For some people, it's easy. They enjoy Torah, they love all the mitzvos. They find meaning in every commandment and they are happy to do it. For others, it might be harder to follow all the mitzvos. But maybe they're trying to avoid punishment, or attempting to have a relationship with their Creator, or doing it because they don't want to get in trouble with their parents, or they really need to fit in with their community.

But its always a choice. And it's always something they want to do because they want to do it.

Is there a real difference, then, between the person who does what they want and the person living a Torah life? Is there something inherently more valuable about the choices made in either lifestyles? Can we really say that one is fully subjugating his will to do the will of God?

I don't think there's any difference. But maybe that's just my desires controlling me.

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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Why isn't Cross Current Celebrating the decline of Christianity?

It is hard to overstate just how terrible Alderstein’s latest post is. Once again, we have a supposed representative of the rabbinate and Torah Judaism, forgetting his history and falling to his knees in homage to Christians. At Cross Currents they have been doing this for more than 12 years and still the obsequious awfulness of it takes my breath away. Here’s the fisk I promised (sorry about theformatting)

**The Museum of the Bible (MOTB), the largest privately-funded museum in America, opened to the public on Saturday, November 18th. It was not a Jewish project; the people behind it are largely evangelical Christians. Yet, traditional Jews have a stake in this enterprise.**
While I see the potential appeal of this museum to those of us who have a secular interest in history what stake do traditional Jews have in an institution that offers exhibitions such as (1) the Stations of the Cross (2) Christmas Illuminated (3) The World of Jesus of Nazareth (4) New Testament Theatre and (5) The Art of the Gospels? While there is a bit about the Hebrew Bible, they are entirely overwhelmed by the Christian exhibitions.

**Its opening is welcome news. It is both a powerful voice that reminds Americans of the importance of belief in a Higher Authority, and a showcase for the interconnection of Jews, Judaism, and the Land of Israel.**

Not all higher authorities are created equal. The belief in a Higher Authority professed by the Christians who planned, funded, built and will visit this museum, is the belief in Jesus. Jesus’s teachings are not God’s teaching. The demands he makes of his followers are not the demands the God of the Jews makes on Us. Aldertsein muddles this important distinction at our peril

**America needs this museum, and traditional Jews need an America that is enriched by this project.**

Why does America need a museum that encourages people to put superstition ahead of science, and the parochialism and narrow-mindless of Christianity ahead of the tolerance of the First Amendment? From the Jewish perspective, what exactly will be enriching about any film likely to be shown at something called the New Testament Theater? For us, what is enriching about a museum wing dedicated to Jesus?

**Religious belief and practice in the United States – still one of the most religious countries in the Western world – is not what it used to be. Attendance at religious services is down. **

Meanwhile, traditional Jewish belief and practice in the United States is at all-time high. Orthodox synagogues are packed, and Orthodox communities are bursting at the seams. Isn't this welcome news, Rabbi Alderstein?

While it might be fallacious to link the decline of Christianity with the rise of Judaism, surely we can agree that it is irresponsible and short-sighted to bemoan the weakening of a faith and a culture that has, for thousands of years, been at best a poisonous thorn. More to the point, Orthodox Judaism is flourishing. Why should I worry about the Christians and their problems?

**The fastest-growing religious group, according to Pew, is the “nones,” those who respond to pollsters that they identify with no religious group at all. Christian retention rates (the percentage of those who remain in the religious group in which they were born) range from unacceptable at the upper end (65% for evangelicals) to abysmal (45% for mainline Protestants).**

Given that this group has always been friendly to the Jews, and far more likely to respect the promises of the Bill of the Rights, I fail to see any reason for concern. Liberals don’t try to turn Jews into Christians. They don’t force us to pray to false Gods. They don’t fill the public square with Jesus propaganda. They simply ask us to extend to others the same tolerance that the Constitution has historically guaranteed to our community.

**Even more significantly, the mood of America has shifted. A plethora of lawsuits that would restrict rights of religious people, especially when they run counter to new PC orthodoxies, threatens to shrink the area in which constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion operate. **

Without examples, I can’t respond directly to this complaint. But I will say that I entirely certain that when he talks about lawsuits that “restrict the rights of religious people” what he really means are “lawsuits that seek to prevent religious people from discriminating against gays, woman and non-Christians.”

**First Liberty Institutes’ Undeniable documents 1400 religious liberty incidents. **

As I suspected the first few mentioned in the “Cases” section of their website are exactly the sort of frivolous law suits I described. A teacher wants the right to religiously indoctrinate her public school students. A church wants to break federal law and deny insurance to its employees. A store wants the Jim Crow-era prerogative to deny service to customers the manager considers sub human. These aren’t cases of religious people being denied their rights, but of religious people being required to act like good Americans.

**Behind this is an attitudinal change that augurs for more serious moves away from religion in the future. More than half of all Americans now believe that one does not need to believe in G-d to be moral or have good values.**
Does Alderstein have a counter-argument? Because to me it seems blatantly self-evident that a belief in God does not correlate with good values and good behavior. Like all of you, I know far too many believers with horrible personal morality; meanwhile the few atheists I know tend to be humble, well-mannered and not likely to engage in Catholic-church style pedophilia or Hasidic Judaism style welfare fraud.

**The rapid about-face of Americans regarding gay marriage speaks of a large shift towards autonomy, and away from authority. This has fed a rise in atheism, and hostility to strongly-held religious values.**

Again, I must point out that not all authorities are created equal, and that resisting certain authorities is a moral imperative. Likewise, it can be a moral imperative to resist certain religious values, no matter how strongly they might be held. The fact that, eg, your odious idea about woman or minorities or some other vulnerable minority can be connected to your religion does not entitle it to special protections. If it’s a horrible idea, playing the God card must not be allowed to save it.

**The culture wars are over, claim some people. Religion has lost. There has been much hand-wringing in conservative Christian circles. This is nonsense. I like to call it the Binary Error – as if life can be reduced to decisions between two options, with winner-take-all consequences. The thinking runs something like this: The spiritual cargo that the Mayflower unloaded at Plymouth Rock continued to dominate America, until the US Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision. That reversed things. Paganism scored a knockout; the champ was unseated and shamed; the godless now rule the West
This is crude and untenable reasoning. Belief/disbelief is not a toggle switch. No matter what some shapers of our culture preach, the fact remains that the hundreds of millions of Americans who professed belief in a Creator a few years ago did not vanish into thin air. It is true that they are not yet accustomed to function as part of a sometimes-detested minority, and that they face tough cultural and political challenges ahead. **

More than 70 percent of Americans say a belief in God is an important part of being American, while nine in 10 report that they believe in God. Those “hundreds of millions of Americans who professed belief in a Creator” are not in danger of becoming a minority – detested or otherwise – anytime soon. Alderstein needs to turn off the alarm. Beleivers don’t seem to have any immediate political worries either. The Congress and the Courts are both in the hands of bible thumpers and while the current president, unlike his predecessor, is an adulterer and a pagan with terrible personal morality he remains beloved by evangelicals.

** It is also true that one of the most difficult challenges is the undercurrent of so much of contemporary culture that mocks and derides as primitive anything seen as old. (“Old” generally refers to something that predates the latest version of the iPhone. It contrasts with words like “ancient” and “prehistoric,” which apply to things as old as the Beatles.)**
Lots of things that are old are also primitive. While I agree that designation shouldn’t be made automatically, I also must protest Alderstein’s atttempt to provide special protections to older ideas and practices. Something is not good merely because it’s been around for a while. If that were true, we’d still have slaves and chamber pots, and people dead of plague in the streets.

**No one knows with certainty where this will all lead – whether to a further descent into a swamp of moral decay,**

Further descent? Moral decay? Sorry, but this idea that we are less moral that out ancestors can’t survive even a second of scrutiny. Like most sloppy thinkers of the right, Alderstein chooses not to remember how far we’ve come. Moral atrocities of the past such as slavery, child labor, rampant prostitution, epidemics and sewage-filled rivers are forgotten. (This chart shows how ludicrous it is to suggest that our era is one of moral decay)

Instead of appreciating this progress, he dwells on the glorious Values our ancestors were said to possess -- never once stopping to wonder why those glorious Values did so little to prevent the wars, poverty and plagues that made life in the good old days such a screaming misery. Those miseries only began to vanish as Christianity began to weaken, and only a fool would wish to go backwards.

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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Does Abishag the Shunammite belong on the tanach #metoo?

Does Abishag the Shunammite belong on the tanach #metoo?

I put her on the list, and still think I was right, but elsewhere I have been getting some pushback.

Here's her story, in full:
1 Now King David was old and stricken in years; and they covered him with clothes, but he got no heat.
2 Therefore his servants said unto him, “Let there be sought for my lord the king a young virgin; and let her stand before the king, and let her comfort him, and let her lie in thy bosom, that my lord the king may get heat.”
3 So they sought for a fair damsel throughout all the region of Israel, and found Abishag, a Shunammite, and brought her to the king.
4 And the damsel was very fair, and cherished the king and ministered to him; but the king knew her not.
To me this sounds like someone used his power to compel a much younger woman to perform an intimate task.

Others are suggesting she consented, and may have been paid, and hey, no sex was involved so how terrible was it?

I am sticking to my guns, but would like to hear your thoughts.

#metoo tanach

Elsewhere many are doing #metoo lists for the women in Tanach... Excluding midrashim this would include:
  •  Daughters of men in Genesis 6
  •  Sara who was taken by Pharo and Abimelech
  •  Hagar who was forced into a non consensual marriage 
  • Lot's daughters, who were offered to a mob and impregnated by their drunk father 
  • Dina who was raped by Shchem
  • Leah, Bilha and Zilpa who were forced into non consensual marriages (and Leah suffered emotional neglect and despite my no midrashim rule I feel I must mention one commentator says Jacob beat her) (And Bilha had to deal with Reuven pestering her after Leah died) 
  • Midianite virgins at the end of Numbers
  • Tamar, one was raped and the other was treated like a sexual commodity by her father in law, and ultimately she had to pose as a sex worker to get her due
  • Pilegesh Bgiva
  • Michal who was used by her father as a prize and forcibly separated from the man who loved her
  • Avigayil
  • Batsheva
  • The ten concubines of David that Avshalom cohabitated with on a rooftop
  • David's companion (the shunamite)
  • Any of Solomon's concubines 
  • Ruth, who had to use her body to get what she was owed (and was encouraged by her mother in law to do so)
  • Esther
I think the list of non #metoo women in Tanach would be shorter....

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Why an Esrog?

Do we know how we, as a people, settled on the esrog as the proper fruit for fulfilling the command found in Leviticus 23:40?

The verse merely tells us to take the foliage of a goodly (or majestic, or gorgeous) tree. No particular tree is specified. And it might be argued that during the time of Nehemiah the people took olive boughs instead. [Nehemiah 8:15] So how did we agree on the esrog?

And if you think the answer is "The esrog was identified as the pri etz hadar in the Oral Torah received at Sinai" let me remind you that the Oral Torah is several different categories of things:

1) halachot le-Moshe mi-sinai
2) Dibre Ḳabbalah which are laws established by the prophets
3) Dibre Sofrim which are laws created by the scribes
4) midrash halacha
5) Takanot
6) gezayrot
7) hilchot Medina

Of this list only #1 and #4 are from Sinai (and rishonim argue about #4)

The decision to use an esrog as the pri etz hadar seems to be either #3 or #5 which means it's perfectly consistent to say that at first many fruits were used AND the choice of an esrog is Oral Law.

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Monday, October 02, 2017

Yom Kippur 2017

Ordinary Yom Kippur here. We started at 8 and finished at three, but due to various lags in the service I think we could have been done about 45 minutes earlier. These lags included a pointless speech and an incompetent Torah reader who may have set a record for shleppy reading. The prayer leaders were solid but they didn't get much support from the very large, very lazy congregation. Had it consented to sing along the service would have been quite nice.

Final meal: Traditional fare, including roast chicken and a chicken soup with kreplach.

First meal: Bagels, eggs potato soup. I know the rabbis say the first meal should be a festive seuda but we're not in that habit.

Oddities: Many of the men didn't wear kittels. I've never seen that before.

Best moment: Another oddity but one so strange I feel it must be unique to this synagogue. For privacy reasons I can't mention it.

Thought on Hashem Hu Elokhim; We say it 7 times, but only because 7 is a magic number. How did that happen? Because the ancients recognized just 7 heavenly bodies: Sun, moon, and five planets.

So, put another way 7 is a magic number only because people didn't have telescopes. If Hashem Hu Elokaynu had been established now we would say it 9 times. And if it was established 20 years ago, before Pluto was dropped, we would say it 10 times.

How was it in your neck of the woods?

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Friday, September 29, 2017

Kol Nidrei experiences

[ANNUAL TRADITION] I think I started collecting Kol Nidrei experiences in 2007. Over the years many of you added your own. My first one follows, and you can see more by clicking the link... 

What's your place like on the holiest day of the year?

The Shul Where I Grew Up

Attendance: 90 percent of the shul is in their seats by the time the pregame starts. 20-50 percent are wearing white kippot. Most of the women are wearing something white, too.

Pre-game: Every Torah is taken out of the Aron, and the pillars of the community are honored with the privilege of carrying them. (This is one honor that isn't auctioned to the highest bidder.) The rabbi leads the procession to the shulchan, reciting Ohr Zeruah l'tzadik every few steps. We answer him. When the men reach the shulchan they crowd around the chazan who has been waiting there, pushing in as tightly as possible. All of this began within 30 seconds of the announced start time.

The show: Takes about 10 minutes. The chazan always uses the same tune, the traditional tune that can be heard on any number of cantorial tapes. His voices gets louder each of the three times he recites it. We hum along, and answer thunderously when the time comes to scream: solachti kidvorecha. After the chazan intones the shehechayanu the Torahs are silently returned to their place.

Post game: The children exit, and the Rabbi delivers words of encouragement or rebuke, and in some years, an appeal is also conducted for some worthy charity. (not the bedek habayis fund). Marriv begins afterwards, led by the chazan, who also selects the tunes for the slichos which are sung responsively.
Many more here >

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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Rambam and Moshe's prophecy

I understand the Rambam on prophecy as follows; All of us have capacity for imagination, which can at times seem to operate on its own. Examples are dreams or when we let our minds wander. A person who has removed himself from the world, and spent his time thinking about philosophy and God will have bursts of imagination and dreams that are about philosophy and God. Like all dreams and and bursts of imagination they need decoding via the intellect. This process - the burst of imagination, stemming from an uncorrupted mind and the interpretation by a refined intellect - is what the Rambam called prophecy for everyone but Moshe.

Any verses in which we are told that God speaks to man, are meant to be understood the same way we understand verses that tell us about God's hand or his nose: as figurative language.

How did Moshe's prophecy work? Rambam seems to have kept this a secret. While he insists in the Guide that Moshe's prophecy was categorically different, to the best of my knowledge he never tells us exactly how it was different or how it worked. Why would he have omitted to do this?

Possible explanations:

1) he didn't know.
2) he didn't want us to know.
3) he was trying to rework the tradition to fit with his preconceived philosophical doctrines (ie he was a scholastic) and Moses's prophecy is a dead end, because you can't reconcile the tradition's insistence that God directly spoke to Moshe with the philosophical doctrine that God never changes.

I wonder if the Muslim and Catholic scholastics had better luck with this problem...

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Monday, September 25, 2017

Rosh Hashana Review 2017

I've been away, but let's see if I make it back in the new year. If you've been around more than me recently, thanks.

So a few things went right this year. First, and foremost I attended a synagogue that offered a fat-free service. By this, I mean we were served none of the unnecessary lard that clogs things up and slows things down, things like: An auction, a speech and a kiddush.

Skipping them saved us more than an hour.

Next, I ate well. The work of the next week and a half is to shed some of the weight.

Finally, I solved a pressing theological problem. For months I've been struggling with this idea that tefilla changes us, causing God to react to us differently. (Long time readers will remember this excellent post on the subject). While I can concede the idea may work on an individual basis, its hard to understand how changing ourselves via prayer cures a sick person or ends a drought.

Appropriately the thunderbolt hit me during Unetaneh Tokef, when I realized the true meaning of the words ma'avirin et roah hagezayrah.

The correct translation - and cheers if you beat me to this - is "remove the evil from the decree," and not anything like "cancel the evil decree," which is what I'd previously thought. The difference is important.

Because, as I understand it now, the prayer isn't insisting that repentance, prayer and charity can change or negate a divine decree. We aren't asserting that our words and action will have some supernatural effect on someone else's illness or on the weather or the decisions other people make regarding us. We're only saying that the "evil can be taken out of the decree"

The decree itself goes forward - people die, remain impoverished and so on - but thanks to the effect repentance, prayer and charity have had on our thinking, we no longer experience these tragedies as something evil. When we use repentance, prayer and charity to re-calibrate your perspective in keeping with Jewish values, the terrible events that are the fate of all men, no longer appear evil.

Let me explain what I mean, with a few examples.

SICKNESS: Certainly, its unpleasant to suffer from an illness, but someone who has trained himself to think about the world in the true Jewish sense won't experience it as an evil. Instead, he'll frame it as an opportunity, or a punishment, or a brute act of a nature. However much he might suffer, he won't experience the suffering as something evil. Thanks to how repentance, prayer and charity have reorganized his thinking there is, to his mind, no evil in the decree.

BANKRUPTCY: The Koren machzor includes an anecdote about Abarbanel, in which the rabbi tells the Spanish king that all he really owns is what he has given to the poor and needy. The rest can be seized by the king in an instant. Someone who has adopted this view, a view that can be cultivated through acts of charity, sees no evil in the loss of his fortune. The money was never really his at all. While the privatization that come with poverty can be terrible, the person who has adjusted his thinking in the way I am attempting to describe does not see any evil in it. It's simply his lot.

UNTIMELY DEATH: I have no wish to minimize the pain of losing a loved one, just as I have tried not to minimize the pains of illness or poverty\, but the theory I am attempting to develop holds true in this case, as well. We can think of an untimely death of a great injustice, or we can think of it as something natural. We can see ourselves and our loved ones as immortal or we can view ourselves as human beings, prone to the sharp vicissitudes of fortune. The Unetaneh Tokef tells us this:
A man's origin is from dust and his destiny is back to dust, at risk of his life he earns his bread; he is likened to a broken shard, withering grass, a fading flower, a passing shade, a dissipating cloud, a blowing wind, flying dust, and a fleeting dream."
We aren't meant to last, the poem reminds us. We aren't meant to ride through life without ups and downs. Only the King, the Living and Enduring God, is eternal, unaffected, unchanged. He endures. We decline and disappear. Thorough repentance, prayer and charity we come to recognize our mortality, our vulnerability and our impermanence. And, having accepted these facts of our existence we can, I am proposing, serenely face all that life has to offer, seeing no evil in it.

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Monday, August 07, 2017

Why are poor people fundraising for a wedding?

Oops. Kupat Ha'ir's latest Facebook ad caught the attention of some non-Jews who can't quite understand why poor people are fundraising for a wedding. They are asking what seem like solid questions: Can't you just go to the court house? Or live together? Why are you aspiring to a wedding you can't afford?

Truth is you can make a perfectly fine Jewish wedding for very little, but the issue is this: If you and I aren't going to pinch pennies when it comes to making a wedding, it is wrong to tell the orphans to do it. And this refusal to let others be embarrassed (along with the whole pre-marital sex thing) is what the non-Jews are missing when they question the idea of hachnachas kalla.

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Thursday, July 27, 2017

RW Charlie Gard hypocricy

Elsewhere, Sam Hülsenrath comments in his distinctive style on poor Charlie Gard and the RW Ameri-duh response to his situation.

>be Americorn Christian Republic
>force citizens to spend 17% of their earnings on overall inferior healthcare
>citizens that can't pay usually die or go into crippling debt
>elect slightly more Christian Republicorn government and president
>shut down abortion clinics, withdraw further funding from public healthcare in name of Christian Republicornism
>hear about a brain dead child in another continent having his life support turned off
>scream autistically
>Jesus didn't want us not to shove tubes up the orifices of brain dead children
>president with enough money to pay for treatment for all Americorn childrens' surgeries but has never offered to do so offers to do so for foreign brain dead baby
>Chief Americorn Republic Scientist of Christian Medicine offers to cure the brain dead baby by slowing down the progressive death of his already dead brain
>slowing down has only worked on mice anyway and even then not very well
>Chief Scientist denies difference between human and mouse physiology
>Chief Republicorn Scientist promoted to God's Chief Republicorn Scientist Doctor
>efforts to secure brain dead baby's corpse for further frankensteinesque treatment redoubled
>courts look like giving in
>Chief Republicorn Scientist of God's Right Hand and Jesus' Left Buttcheek wikipedias mice and realises they are not the same as people
>Quickly withdraws offer, claims it's *now* too late to stop the progression of brain death in already brain dead child
>Americorns continue to scream autistically
>Monies and efforts and treatment promised *not* donated to actual suffering Americornlets

Letting "gorgeous" Charlie go is "the hardest thing we'll ever have to do", his parents say.

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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

That terrible 9 Days WhatsApp Screed

If you belong to an Orthodox Jewish WhatsApp group it is ultra likely you've received the following 9 Days screed.

My small fisks of this stupid thing are in BOLD

Nine days menu ideas.

Have your ever gone to be menachem Avel a woman who lost her young husband?

Have your ever been in a shiva home where a woman is mourning the loss of her vibrant father? Have you ever offered  comfort to a girl who lost her mother?

Sadly, all of us have been in these situations. We come, carrying pans of food and we leave the offerings of our heart on the overflowing counters and tables.

But, take a look at the aveilim. The young woman , with the seven orphaned children. Is she talking about the Pistachio Sea Bass ? If she is, everyone understands that it's just to divert her mind from her burning pain.

All year, we divert our mind from our loss.

Sure, most of us fast on Tisha B'Av , and we all have a Zecher L'Churban in our foyer.

DB: We all have a what in our where? Ok, sure fine, I am familiar with the commemoration the author has in mind, but do all of us really have foyers??

But really, when is the last time we cried as we davened that Ha shem should return us to Eretz Yisroel?

Once a year, we get a chance to seriously focus on our huge loss. The tragedy of being sent away from our land where we all lived together and Torah was the law of the land.

DB: Our prophets and sages have provided theological explanations for the destruction. Torah not being the law of the land if one them. Infighting, which would suggest we didn't quite "live together" is another.

Our Chachomim knew that's as time would go by, It would be hard for us to cry and feel the pain of all that was taken away from us.

So they gave us laws that would help put us In a mourning mood.

DB: No. The purpose of the laws [sic more correctly "rabbinic decree"] is to reduce joy, not to create mourning

No meat! No chicken! No wine! No grape juice!

There are so many other laws, but for now let's look at these.

A succulent standing rib roast, a glazed roasted turkey, lamb chops and grilled baby chicken; we don't prepare these foods unless it's for a Seudas mitzva or a Siyum.

DB: We have grilled chicken at least once per week

So what should we eat in [sic: "during"] the Nine Days?

DB: Anything but.... Meat! Chicken! Wine! and Grape Juice!

Well, how about Roasted Portabella with marinated Goat Cheese and Arugula over artisanal bread?

What about Authentic hand rolled Tortellini with homemade Tomato and just snipped Basil sauce?

Is this really what Chazal had in mind?

DB: Chazal lived in the ANE. I am therefore altogether certain they didn't have in mind pasta, tomatoes or basil. On the other hand, they probably ate goat cheese and artisanal bread every day!! (Artisanal means "food made in a non-mechanized way" or, in other words, "everything Chazal ate every single day

Was it just a change in menu?

We used to be so close to Avinu Shebashamayim. We visited our father in His House!

We saw, heard, smelled and tasted His presence. We knew with every part of our body that He loves us.

We left His House with gifts. Gifts of awareness and clarity that held us until we came again.

DB: If the Temple made such a magnificent positive impression on everybody as this article suggests why did they worship the idols that led to its destruction?

And when we missed our Father so much and we couldn't visit, we had a Neviah. She told us what our Father wants.She told us how to be a better wife, mother and daughter.

DB: Who is this Neviah? Anyone know?
And it was way different than therapy.

DB: I bet it was, not that the author of this piece should be so quick to write off therapy.
When we listened to the Neviah, we had success in every relationship.

DB: And it rained golden coins, and the kids obeyed, and the cows gave scotch whiskey. What a time it was! 

Oh! How painful is this void!

DB: Well, yes, if you're going to conjure up an imaginary world where everyone was happy and perfect and holy and satisfied you are going to feel a "painful void" when you compare it with the actual, real world.

Here we are searching for answers wishing we could have this type of guidance.

DB: Show of hands: Who among you have wished for guidance from a Neviah? Also, is it just me or does this author sound mournfully unhappy?

Every tragedy today has its roots in the Churban.

Have some sun dried tomato tilapia ?

We are in pain! And if we aren't , we are to act like we are.

DB: Chzal did not say act like you are in pain. Chazal said reduce joy

Eating gourmet foods? Dining in fine restaurants? Standing and assembling complicated dairy recipes?!

Not for us. Those recipes are for Shavuos.

These Nine Days I want to focus and think. I want to feel what I have lost.

We are mourning. We lost our husband, mother, and father.

DB: People who have lost actual parents rather than the figurative parents discussed in this article still get hungry and eat meat. During shiva people eat meat. You can be super sad and super conscious of loss while you are eating meat. The issue, as already noted, is meat (esp. in the old days) is associated with joy, and we don't display outward signs of joy during the 9 days.

And so my dear sisters, what do you eat when you're writhing in pain and sadness? What do you cook when you are so depressed that tears are falling into your pots?

DB: Sisters?! Apparently the author lives in a world where everyone has a foyer, grilled chicken is reserved for special occasions, and no male people cook.

What do you serve your family when grief is so strong it surrounds you?

A tuna wrap. Eggs. Macaroni and cheese.Pizza.

DB: Ok so chazal had pizza in mind, but not artisanal bread?  Really? Also, "when grief is so strong it surrounds you" many people reach for what is called comfort food, and no one in history ever used that phrase to describe a tuna wrap

Anything that takes fifteen minutes to prepare.

DB: But not sixteen! Otherwise you are literally trampling on the ashes of the Temple!

No one will starve. And if the kids ask, "Why are we having scrambled eggs and toast for supper?"

DB: ...because the rest of the year all the other women make me feel bad with the FB snaps of their gourmet meals, and now I can shame them for showing me up: BUT WHAT ABOUT THE TEMPLES?! HOW CAN YOU EVEN EAT FANCY FOOD?!  ITS SO SAD!]

Look at them in their eyes.

And say,"Cuz I'm sad. And I can't eat or cook fancy foods when I'm sad."

DB: What if cooking is something I can actually do when I am sad? But never mind:  Hey ladyz who hate to cook: this is your get out of jail free card!

And maybe then we and our families will feel the sadness of the Churban and be zoche to see the words of our Neviim come true, and eat with happiness on the new Yom Tov on our calendar: Tisha B'Av

DB: And maybe when self-righteous people with no understanding of halacha or reality stop shaming people with silly and judgmental WhatsApp screeds about how we all need to eat pizza we will be zoche, etc, etc, bemhayra bayomaynu amen.

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Thursday, July 20, 2017

Another feminist rabbinic text

מעשה באשה אחת שהזקינה הרבה ובאת לפני ר' יוסי בן חלפתא אמרה ליה רבי הזקנתי יותר מדאי ומעכשיו חיים של נוול הם שאיני טועמת לא מאכל ולא משקה ואני מבקשת להפטר מן העולם, א"ל מה מצוה את למודה לעשות בכל יום, א"ל למודה אני אפילו יש לי דבר חביב אני מנחת אותו ומשכמת לבית הכנסת בכל יום, א"ל מנעי עצמך מבית הכנסת שלשה ימים זה אחר זה, הלכה ועשתה כן וביום השלישי חלתה ומתה, לכך אמר שלמה אשרי אדם שומע לי וגו'


Once this super old lady went Rabbi Yosi ben Chalafta and said: [GROAN] Ize so old. Life sucks. I can't even taste my food. I wants to die.

Replied Rabbi Jay: What mitzvah do you do every day?

She answered: I go to shul every day even if it means skipping out on something fun.

Advised Rabbi Jay: Knock it off for three days in a row.

She did, and on the third day [spooky noises] she got sick and died.

Like it says in the verse: "Blessed is the man that heareth me, [watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors. For whoso findeth me findeth life, and shall obtain the favor of the Lord." The posts of my door = the entrance to the shul]

  • What was this old lady doing in the shul every day? Sweeping up? Answering the Rabbi's phone?
  • We can assume that she also made time for important feminine mitzvot like bracha parties and taking challah, right?
  • How do we explain the apparent existence of anti Torah feminism in the time of Yosi ben Chalifta?
This sounds for all the world like a pro go to shul polemic, and it stars a woman... why?

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Thursday, May 11, 2017

Great moments in Yeshiva World News reporting (all sic)

Here's the latest bit of genius, wisdom reporting from our friends, the professional journalists at YWN.

"Speculation is that the previous Pope was Polish, and went out of his way to be nice to Jews in response to the atrocities of the Holocaust."

Ok, guys, can I point out some stuff?
  1. Previous Pope was German
  2. The one before him was Polish, but it wasnt a matter of speculation
  3. He didnt "go out of his ways to be nice to Jews"; notably he paskened as a matter of church law that Jewish children who had been baptized couldn't be returned to their parents
  4. Also he spent his Papacy denying Catholic complicity in the Holocaust and whitewashing Catholic moral failures
  5. Edith Stein. Edith. Stein.

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Saturday, April 08, 2017

The Pesach Story

Guest post

It will be Pesach in a few days. Millions of Jewish people, myself included, will be sitting around their tables with family and friends recounting the story of our ancestors' miraculous rescue from slavery in Egypt. What is it that we'll be discussing? Is it history, handed down to us as a faithful transmission of real events that happened to real people? Or is it mythology, grand, fantastic stories that happened long ago in a golden age? Stories meant to explain why the world is the way it is and to provide lessons that guide us in the best way to live our lives. And where does the holiday of Pesach come from? Has it been celebrated by all the generations since our ancestors left Egypt?

Navi tells us that Pesach has not been celebrated in an unbroken tradition passed from parent to child.

And the king commanded all the people, "Keep the Passover to the LORD your God, as it is written in this book of the covenant." For no such Passover had been kept since the days of the judges who judged Israel, or during all the days of the kings of Israel or of the kings of Judah; but in the eighteenth year of King Josiah this Passover was kept to the LORD in Jerusalem. (2 Kings 23:21-23)

At the very least, Yoshiyahu was resurrecting a long-defunct holiday. More likely is that he, or the Dueteronmist Kohanim he supported, invented Pesach as an annual national holiday. The seminal event of Yoshiyahu's reign was the discovery of "the Book of the Law," thought to be Sefer Devarim and associated Dueteronomist works. It is in this sefer that Pesach, and many other laws, are defined. It guided Yoshiyahu's reforms in consolidating religious worship in the Beis HaMikdash in Yerushalayim under royal patronage and gave religious imprimatur to his ambitions to expand his kingdom. The Duteronomist works reflect the conditions in seventh-century Judah so closely that most scholars think that it was written at the time as part of Yoshiyahu's religious reforms and political ambitions. Its "discovery" during the renovation of the Beis HaMikdash was the first step in Yoshiyahu's plans.[1]

So Pesach hasn't been celebrated continuously since the events it memorializes, and it may have been a seventh-century BCE invention. But that still means that Jews have been celebrating Pesach for over two-and-a-half thousand years. What is it that we've been discussing at our sedarim for all of these centuries?

It almost certainly isn't the literal emancipation of two to three million Jewish slaves from bondage in Egypt. For one thing, the entire population of Egypt in the Late Bronze Age, when yetzias Mitzrayim took place, was three to three-and-a-half million people.[2] Two to three million people leaving Egypt would have left the country empty. There is no record, written or archaeological, of the demographic and economic devastation this would have caused.

There is also evidence that the number must have been much lower from the Torah itself.[3]  Hashem tells the Bnei Yisroel that he will drive out the inhabitants of Canaan slowly, because if the natives all left at once, "the land would become desolate and the wild animals too numerous for you."[4] Three million people would have been more than enough to fully populate the land. A few perakim later, the Torah describes Moshe as setting up a tent outside the camp, and everyone in the camp standing at the door to their tent and watching Moshe until he entered the tent.[5] A camp of three million people would have been enormous. All of the people couldn't possibly have watched Moshe walk to a tent some distance outside the camp. Nor would it have been practical for the people to go to the tent outside the camp to "inquire of the Lord," a distance that would have been several days' walk.

The story itself also provides clues that it isn't literal history. Details of the story of yetzias Mitzrayim have recognizable mythic motifs which would have resonated with the ancient Israelites who were its original audience. One of its central scenes, Krias Yam Suf, echoes these earlier myths. Marduk, a Mesopotamian god, split the sea serpent Tiamat in two to create the world of men, who live between her halves. Baal, a Canaanite god, battled with Yam, the god of seas and rivers, and tore him to pieces.

If our a ancestors didn't leave Egypt in a great mass, then what did happen? Is there any truth to the story at all?

There probably is some historical truth in it. Groups of slaves did escape from Egypt from time to time. And there are parts of the story that make sense in historical context, such as the decision to take the southern route rather than the more direct northern route. The northern trade route was protected by a string of Egyptian forts. So who were the group of escaped slaves that would become the Jewish people?

Archeologists have recovered hundreds of clay tablets that refer to a group called the "Habiru" or "Apiru." They were people on the fringes of society, bandits, fugitives,  and escaped slaves who lived in the Canaanite highlands at the edges of the settled Canaanite kingdoms.[6] The name of the group in Akkadian is similar to "Ivri." It may be that the Akkadian "Apiru" became  the Hebrew "Ivri."

With this in mind, we can reconstruct a probable historical Exodus. A group of slaves escaped from Egypt and spent some time at a desert oasis. From there, they joined the bands of Habiru in the Canaanite highlands. They brought with them their religion, a henotheistic faith with a jealous God Who commanded His followers to "Have no other gods before me," but didn't deny the existence of those other deities. They may have been influenced by the same currents in Egyptian society that led the pharaoh Akhenaton around the same time to briefly adopt the monotheistic worship of the sun-disc, Aten. In time the newcomers' religion was adopted by the rest of the Habiru, and the escaped slaves became the religious leaders. As latecomers, this new priestly class, who came to be known as Leviim, had no hereditary territory.[7]

The story of the slaves' escape from Egypt was adopted as a founding myth of the Habiru, even though most of them were not descended from that group. In the same way that the story of the Mayflower is one of the United States' founding myths, even though most Americans are not descended from the group that came over on the Mayflower. The highlands remained the Habiru's seat of power, even when their religion spread to the rest of Canaan. This was the center of the kingdom of Judah, from which the Jewish people got our name.

This is a story of real people. It is an epic that can speak to us across time, and in it can be seen the seeds of modern Enlightenment values. People who started as slaves, at the lowest rung of society, rose to regard themselves as the Chosen Nation and to spread their ideas around the world. Many of their laws were progressive for their time, stressing equality before the law (for free men, anyway). On Pesach we retell the myth of our origin as slaves and our redemption from bondage. We remind ourselves that we are descended from slaves, that society once considered our ancestors contemptible, and that those slaves, when given the opportunity, created a rich culture and mythos that has been one of the most influential in history.

Why was the historical story of leaving Egypt expressed as a myth? Why inflate the numbers and add other impossible elements? Were our ancestors trying to fool their audiences? Probably not. Myths were the genre that spoke to the original audience. It is an open question how literally ancient peoples took their myths. Did the ancient Mesopotamians really believe that the universe was literally made of a dismembered sea serpent? Did the Romans really believe that Remus and Romulus founded their city? Do Americans really believe that their country has its origins in the passengers on the Mayflower?

When the Babylonian priests entered the Holy of Holies in the great ziggurat during the New Year's festival to recite the Enumah Elish, they didn't believe that it was a literal account of creation, or that the gods had built the ziggurat, as their epic claimed. They knew that their ancestors had built the temple, and that it was maintained through their own mundane efforts. And they knew that no one knew what had happened during creation. The myth wasn't meant to convey history. It was meant to convey ideas. So too, the story of yetzias Mitzrayim is written as a myth, meant to convey ideas rather than history.[8]

Like the ancients, people today don't really believe in the literal truth of modern myths. Americans don't really believe that the United States had its origins in the passengers on the Mayflower. The myth expresses an ideal, not the historical reality. The ideal of religious freedom expressed in the Mayflower myth is historically inaccurate. The Pilgrims did leave England because the Church of England was intolerant of them, but that's not because the Church of England was generally intolerant. It was because the Puritans were so intolerant of other faiths and were exceedingly harsh towards religious infractions within their own congregations. Yet the myth of the Mayflower passengers coming to the New World in search of religious freedom informs Americans of their ideals.

The myth of yetzias Mitzrayim, while not historically accurate, informs the Jewish people of their ideals. Ideals of kindness towards even the least among us, for we were once slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt. It sets its lessons in the mythic language of the Ancient Near East, yet it also tells us that we can be efficacious in realizing its ideals in the real world. It places common mythic elements like the splitting of the sea not it the age of the gods, as do the myths of Marduk and Baal, but in the age of men, the age in which we live.[9]

This post was inspired by a post a few days ago on another blog. That post discussed academic interpretations of yetzias mitzrayim that the author had seen on While the author expresses compassion for those who are "troubled" by an academic understanding of the Torah, he condemns interpretations informed by an understanding of Biblical scholarship and mythology as kefirah, and those who hold such views as apikorsim. He may be right, but being heretical and being true are not mutually exclusive. When the Catholic Church condemned Galileo for heresy, they were right that claiming the Earth orbits the Sun was heretical. And yet, it moves.

The author refused to allow any discussion of the views he condemned, as per his policy of protecting the innocent person with emunah peshutah who might stumble across it on his blog and be led astray. The reader is instead left with a one-sided impression of the rightness of the traditional view and the rishus of the academic /synthetic view of ancient Jewish history. The latter are bad because they are apikorsus, forbidden heretical ideas. Whether these ideas are true, whether they reflect reality, is irrelevant. They are apikorsus, and, it follows, one who accepts these ideas is an apikores and a rasha.

Of the four sons in the Hagaddah, I identify most with the Rasha, the questioner who doesn't take things for granted but, unlike the Hagaddah's interpretation of his question, is interested in the history and practices of his people, even if he doesn't take their theology for granted. I don't think we should have to believe in impossible things to have access to or benefit from the rich mythical and historical tradition all Jews are heirs to.

A story of a rag-tag group of slaves who escaped their bondage, eked out lives on the fringes of society, and rose to prominence as the creators of a mythos whose ideas are echoed by half the world's population and which have shaped the history of humanity is inspiring. More inspiring, to me, than a literal understanding of the Exodus myth, full of impossible things that I can't hope to emulate happening to people who have little agency. Myths communicate grand ideas, but history teaches us what real people have done, and inspires us to emulate them.

Other Pesach posts: What is Chometz?

[1] Finkelstein, I., & Silberman, N.A. (2001). The Bible Unearthed. New York, NY: The Free Press.
[2] Butzer, Karl W. (1999). "Demographics". In Bard, K. A., Shubert, S. Encyclopedia of the archaeology of ancient Egypt.
[3] Berman, J. (2015). Was There an Exodus? Mosaic.  Retrieved from
[4] Exodus 23:29
[5] Exodus 33:7-8
[6] Wolfe, R. (2011). From Habiru to Hebrews and Other Essays. Minneapolis, MN: Mill City Press. p. 2-3
[7] Wolfe, R. (2011). From Habiru to Hebrews and Other Essays. Minneapolis, MN: Mill City Press. p. 12
[8] Armstrong, K. (1994). A History of God. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf. p. 7, 9
[9] Armstrong, K. (1994). A History of God. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf. p. 19

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Kimchis's Careless Kohanim and the Flashy Princess

Guest post

My impression from what I've read and conversations I've had with friends who went to Bais Yaakov is that there are two frequently cited prooftexts for the importance of tznius. Particularly, for the primary importance tznius is given in frum women's religious life.

The first is the story of Kimchis. As the story is told to talmidos, Kimchis was zoche to have all seven of her sons serve as Kohen Gadol. The rabbonim asked her what she had done to merit this honor, and she replied that the beams of her house had never seen her hair. This proves how important tznius is. If you are careful about tznius, the girls are told, you will merit great things. Things like all of your sons serving in the highest religious position.

Unfortunately for those who want to use Kimchis's example as a guide to the ideal way a bas Yisrael should behave, there is more to the story. There are two versions of the story, one in the Yerushalmi[1] and one in the Bavli[2]. They have similar outlines, but different details.  In both stories, there is a woman named Kimchis whose son is the Kohen Gadol. He goes for a walk and some spit from a person he is talking to lands on him, making him taamei, and one of his brothers performs the avodah in his place. The names of the sons, the people the Kohen Gadol talks to, and the circumstances of his excursion are differ between the two versions of the story.

The differing details, including the name of the Kohen Gadol involved, make it likely that this was a folktale and/or a polemic rather than something that really happened. Both versions are subtly critical of the Kohen Gadol, and the story revolves around an issue of tumah and tahara, which was a point of contention between the Perushim and the Tzedukim[3]. The Tzedukim, the priestly class, thought that the common people didn't need to concern themselves with purity. It you were taamei, don't come to the Beis HaMikdash, but unless you were a cohen who needed to perform the avodah, it wasn't something to be concerned about. The Perushim, who were populists, felt that everyone should try to remain tahar.

In the version of the story in the Bavli, Kimchis's son Rabbi Yishmael was Kohen Gadol[4]. He apparently had a habit of carelessly conversing with people in the market, because twice saliva from a person he was talking with landed on his clothes and made him taamie. In one incident, his brother Yesheivav performs the avodah for him, and in the other, his brother Yosef. The Gemara quotes a bareisa that says all seven of Kimchis's sons served as Kohen Gadol, implying that Rabbi Yishmael was often  invalidated for service and his brothers had to fill in for him. 

This story is making fun of the Tzedukim, who claimed to be uniquely concerned about their purity. The Kohen Gadol, who should have been the most careful, became tammei all the time! So much for the Tzeduki claim that tumah and tahara were too much trouble for the commoners, concerns only for the elite. If even the most elite, the Kohen Gadol, couldn't stay tahor, then the Tzedukim could not claim ritual purity as their special concern.

The rabbonim asked Kimchis, "What did you do to merit this?" (Having all of your sons serve as Kohen Gadol.) Their question could be read as sarcastic, but Kimchis takes it at face value and answers that it was because of her exceptional purity, "In all my days, the beams of my house did not see the braids of my hair." The rabbis dismiss her explanation, saying that it was commonplace, nothing special, and none of the other women who had this practice were so rewarded for it. They refute Kimchis's suggestion that her Tzeduki devotion to purity is anything special or praiseworthy.

Kimchis, then, is not an exemplar of tznius who was rewarded for her exceptional modesty, but a foil for the rabbonim in a polemic about purity. Holding her up as a model a pure bas Yisroel should strive to emulate is to not only miss the point, but to mangle it.

The version of the story in the Yerushalmi is kinder to Kimchis, but harder on her son. In this version, the Kohen Gadol is named Shimon. He took a walk with the king on erev Yom Kippur. When a drop of spit from the king's mouth made him taamei, his brother Yehuda performed the avodah in his place. This is a stronger condemnation of Tzeduki claim of being an elite unuiqly concerned with purity than is the Bavli version of the story. Not only does the Kohen Gadol, the most elite member of the priestly class, carelessly allow himself to become tammei, he allows it to happen on erev Yom Kippur, when he is supposed to be sequestered to prevent exactly this sort of thing from happening. Nor was this a one time thing. It happened so often that all of his brothers serve as Kohen Gadol!

The biggest difference between the two versions of the story is that in the Yerushalmi version when Kimchis tells the rabbonim that she merited all of her sons serving as Kohen Gadol because her house never saw her hair (and in this version, her undergarments), they agree with her that this is praiseworthy. They praise her with the pasuk from tehillim[5], "Kol kevudah bas melech pnimia; Mimishbi'tzos zahav livusha," "All glorious is the princess within the palace; her clothing is of checker work interwoven with gold." Yet even here, the focus seems not to be on tznius, per se, but on reading the pasuk as describing cause and effect. The "princess," Kimchis, kept her "glory" hidden even in the "palace," her house, and therefore she merited "clothing… interwoven with gold," the clothing of the Kohen Gadol which are described as being interwoven with gold. Her care for her purity was the cause of her seven sons wearing the clothing of the Kohen Gadol. Yet even here, in their praise for her, one can detect the rabbonim poking fun at the idea of purity as a priestly concern. Kimchis's obsession with her purity might have merited her seven sons who served as Kohen Gadol, but what of the sons? They failed at keeping themselves pure.

The pasuk the rabbonim cite is the second commonly cited prooftext for the central importance of tznius for Jewish women. More accurately, the first half of the pasuk, "Kol kevudah bas melech pnimia," is repeated as a mantra for tznius. It's taken out of context and mistranslated as, "The glory of a princess is inside." A princess doesn't wear flashy clothes or draw attention to herself. She is reserved, and her glory is not in her physical appearance, but her inner attributes. Every bas Yisrael is a bas melech, the girls are told, and should comport themselves appropriately.

There is no small irony in trying to convince women that focusing on their appearance is improper with the first half of a pasuk that goes on to describe magnificent gold-embroidered clothing in its second half. This is not exactly a modest outfit. The pasuk is part of a passage describing the wedding procession of a princess. It is not a prescription of an ideal of modesty for the metaphorical daughters of the King, i.e., Jewish women to whom God is a King and Father. Rather, it is a description of a literal princess as she goes to meet her future husband in his palace.

So it seems that two of the frequently cited sources used to support the centrality of tznius in Jewish women's religious life are misunderstanding or misrepresentations of those sources. The story of Kimchis isn't a morality tale about a paragon of purity we should seek to emulate. It's a farce undercutting the Tzeduki claim that tummah and tahara were a special concern of the priestly elite.  And "Kol kevudah bas melech pnimia" isn't a prescription teaching Jewish women that they shouldn't focus on their appearance, but a truncated pasuk about a radiantly attired princess that's been quoted wildly out of context.

[1] Yerushalmi. Yoma 1:1 (38d)
[2] Bavli Yoma 47a
[3] Schiffman, L.H. (2003), Understanding Second Temple and Rabbinic Judaism. Jersey City, NJ: Ktav Publishing House
[4] It's interesting that he's given the title "Rabbi," a Perushi honorific. At the same time the rabbonim are making fun of him in a polemic undermining the elitist attitudes of the Tzedukim, they also give him a title that lets them claim the position of Kohen Gadol for one of their own.
[5] Psalms 45

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Jared and Ivanka's Shabbos Inauguration Psak

It won't be a surprise to you to learn that I do not like Donald Trump, but you may be surprised to hear that I am tried of reading the petty and uninformed criticism of Jared and Ivanka's rabbinicaly sanctioned decision to use a car on the night of the Inauguration.

Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner Get Rabbinic Pass To Ride in Car on Inauguration Shabbat
Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner have been given a free rabbinical pass to travel by car following Donald Trump’s inauguration Friday.

I don't know if they got an actual psak or not, but they said they did. That's where the whole matter should end. If they spoke to a rabbi, and are relying on his ruling, their choice is no longer open to criticism.

Now, I fully admit to not being able to fully understand the rationale behind such a psak, as the parties they attended on Friday evening were optional, but at the same time, I know that being driven in a car is not the very worst thing a Jew can do on shabbos.

For example, I know from experience that a child under a certain age (6 or 9) can be driven home from the emergency room or hospital on shabbos, and an adult guardian can go along. I know, also from experience, that a doctor can be driven to the hospital on shabbos to perform ordinary, non-life saving services. And from experience again I know that if you're stuck on the road after the zman on Friday night, with kids and luggage a non-Jewish driver can pick you up and bring you to your destination.

So its not true to say, as many have, that the dispensation the Kushners received is available only for serious life-saving situations.

I am not especially well trained in psak halacha and as a result I can't tell you how the Trump case matches up with these examples of mine. Perhaps they do, perhaps they don't. The point though is that my own experiences satisfy me that their psak passes the smell test

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