Friday, December 19, 2014

Now all we need is an Israeli memorial honoring Arab heroes

According to the Washington Post:
Earlier this week, authorities in Tehran unveiled a monument to slain Iranian Jewish soldiers who died during the country's long and bitter war with Iraq between 1980 and 1988. Death tolls for the hideous conflict differ, but casualty counts usually reach more than 1 million for both countries. 
A public ceremony marked the memorial's opening on Monday, with speeches that took place at a dais flanked by the Iranian flag and a menorah. Banners showed the images of fallen soldiers, hailed as "martyrs" in Farsi and Hebrew inscriptions.
Now all we need is an Israeli memorial honoring Arab heroes, who fought and died in Israel's wars... oh. wait.

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Ohr Hachaim denies divine providence


Sorry for the sensationalist headline. Of course, the Ohr Hachaim (hakodosh!) doesn't really deny divine providence. Just he has an understanding of it that doesn't coincide with the official position we all were taught in Yeshiva. Here are the differences:

Official Position: EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENS TO YOU IS MINUTELY AND DIRECTLY CONTROLLED BY GOD. Not even a leaf can fall without God's express permission. If something terrible befalls you, its because God wanted it that way.

Ohr Hachaim: People have free will, and someone can exercise his (or her!) free will in a way that undermines God's plan

The Ohr Hachaim sees evidence he is right in the behavior of the Jacob's 12 sons over the last two parshas.

In Vayeshev, Reuven acts to save Yosef from the wrath after his brother's say, "Then we'll see what happens to his dreams.” According to the Ohr Hachaim, Ruven offers the following argument: "If you want to see if his dreams are true, you can't kill him, because no matter what God intends for Joseph, we can over-ride that divinely-intended destiny by exercising our own  free will. Instead, let's throw him in the pit. Its full of animals, and animals have no free will. If the animals eat him, we'll know his dreams were nonsense, but if he survives we'll know God has something great in mind for him."

In Miketz, the brothers are imprisoned by Joseph for three days; afterwards, they are released and Joseph offers them a deal. Leave Shimon here as a my hostage, and the rest of you can go home. At that point, the brothers investigate their deeds and conclude that they are being punished for how they treated Joseph. Asks the Ohr Hachim, why are they performing this self-investigation now? Shouldn't they have looked into their deeds during the three days of imprisonment, when it was far from clear that they would ever be released? Why wait until now, when Joseph is delivering what appears to be good news and the ordeal, largely, appears to be over,  to start searching for the cause of their misfortune?

The answer: The brothers didn't think their imprisonment was a function of God's will. They thought they were the victim of a free agent acting through his own free will. Only when they were released, and Shimon was separated from them did they start to notice parallels between their current situation, and the way the treated Yosef. Once again, a brother was being taken away, and that brother was the very one who had initiated the plot against Josef. The review of their deeds wasn't prompted by misfortune, but by the eerie parallels. 

Colbert's last song


Colbert's finale was virtually perfect, wasn't it? It can be so hard to stick the landing on a last episode but Team Colbert got it right. See it for yourself below



I was surprised to learn about the heritage of the song used for the musical finale. While it was playing, I thought I recognized it as a Muppet song. Turns out its a World War II era hit, that relates to boys going off to war. The lyrics are actually a promise to meet again in heaven, if things don't work out
We'll meet again, Don't know where,don't know when, But I know we'll meet again, some sunny day. Keep smiling through, Just like you always do,T ill the blue skies drive the dark clouds, far away. 
With Colbert defeating death in the episodes last segment, and being carried of into eternity by Santa Claus, Alec Trebek, and Unicorn Lincoln, that sort of makes sense...

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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Liberal Zionists aren't unicorns (they exist!)

Like you, I am sick unto death of the ultra nationalist idea that all liberals hate Israel, and that no real Zionist could possibly oppose Israeli expansion in the West Bank or child-killing in Gaza and the suspension of civil rights in the territories.

I'm tired of being called "anti-Israel" when what I am, simply, is anti scary zealots like Naftali Bennett, and their contention that some nebulous idea of "security" justifies all.

Anyway, I bring this up because the Times has a nice feature today on people the ultra-nationalists deny exist: Liberal Zionists. Meet Rabbi Daniel Zemel, a real ohavai tzion, who presides over a politically-powerful liberal congregation in Washington and feels nothing but anguish over the direction Israel has taken.
The entire year 5774, in fact, was a trying one for Zemel and other liberal Zionists, who increasingly find themselves torn between their liberalism and Zionism and stranded in the disappearing middle between the extremes of a polarized American Jewish community. [His synagogues] liberal Zionists remained wedded to a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians and estranged from the policies of a right-wing Israeli government, along with the reflexively Israel-can-do-no-wrong sentiment on Capitol Hill. But they also felt alienated by Jewish groups to their left, some of which chanted, “Stop the murder, stop the hate, Israel is a racist state.
Last Rosh Hashana, he delivered a sermon that seems to coincide with my own views,
He bemoaned the growing ultranationalism in Israel by saying it had “dragged through the mud” what he called “the greatest ethical tradition in history.” Heads nodded in the pews. “In many segments of American Jewry,” Zemel said, “one is free to disagree with the president of the United States, but the prime minister of Israel is sacrosanct. How patently absurd!” Zemel’s criticism of the current Israeli government pivoted to a discussion of how the Holocaust and that summer’s flare-ups of anti-Semitism in Europe reminded them all that Israel was existentially necessary. “We must love Israel even harder,” he concluded, quoting from the Israeli national anthem. “Od lo avda tikvateinu. We have not yet lost our hope.”

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

You meet the strangest people on Twitter...


It all started with what I thought was a simple, innocent joke. I saw that some small-time mayor had elected not to participate in his town's Chanukah lighting ceremony, so I tweeted the headline with a small joke attached.
Now, I don't think this is the funniest joke ever written. Its barely Leno-worthy. But the wisecrack sort of works because it plays on the idea that Chabad is deeply associated with candle lighting ceremonies. That's part of their brand. Its what they do. So I made a little joke about it. Harmless, right?

Well, not according to one gentleman who, in his profile, ironically identifies himself as a "funny Jew." He thinks my tweet qualified as a hate crime.
I responded calmly, but it was no use and we were off to the races:

Monday, December 15, 2014

Why do we say that Chanuka remembers an oil miracle?


Why do we say that Chanuka remembers an oil miracle?  The only miracle discussed in the Book of Macabees is the military victory, the same miracle we talk about in the Al HaNissim. The small jug of oil first appears in the Talmud, codified about 600 years after the events of Chanuka. In the interim, a variety of rabbinic stories were told to answer the questions: (1) Why do we light candles on Hanukah? (2) Why is Hanukah 8 days? 

As you'll see, these stories show how the relationship between the Rabbis and the Hashmoneans changed over time:

"[At Hanukah] we commemorate the dedication of the Temple by the Hasmoneans who fought and defeated the Hellenists, and we kindle lights -- just as when [we] finished the Tabernacle in the Wilderness . . . ." (Pesikta Rabbati, ch. 6)

"Why do we kindle lights on Hanukah? Because when the sons of the Hasmoneans, the High Priest, defeated the Hellenists, they entered the Temple and found there eight iron spears. They stuck candles on them and lit them." (Pesikta Rabbati ch. 2)

"Why did the rabbis make Hanukah eight days? Because . . . the Hasmoneans entered the Temple and erected the altar and whitewashed it and repaired all of the ritual utensils. They were kept busy for eight days. And why do we light candles? Because . . . when the Hasmoneans entered the Temple there were eight iron spears in their hands. They covered them with wood and lit candles on them. They did this each of the 8 days." (Megilat Ta'anit ch. 9)

"What is Hanukah? When the Hellenists entered the Temple, they desecrated all of the oil. And when the Hasmonean dynasty grew and defeated them, they searched but found only one cruse of oil sealed with the stamp of the High Priest, and there was only enough in it to burn for one day. A miracle happened and it burned for eight days. The next year they made these days a fixed annual commemoration . . ." (TB Shabbat 21b; also Schol. Megilat Taanith 25 Kislev)

Why did the story change from a glorification of the military victory, to an oil miracle?

One easy answer (and beware of easy answers) is that the Rabbis wanted to de-emphasize the majesty of the Hasmoneans after they (the Hasmoneans) either (1) joined forces with the Sadducees and/or (2) presided over a civil war (ca. 67-61 BC) during which perhaps more than 100,000 Jews were killed. 

Support for this answer appears on the same page of Talmud where the oil miracle is first mentioned. On Shabbat 21b the Rabbis tell you that "in times of danger" Chanuka candles can be lit on a table: in other words, don't be a martyr like Judah and his brothers. Risking your life for the sake of Chanuka is not needed.

A second easy answer (same caveat) is that the Rabbis were wary of capricious rulers, and thought it wise to stay silent about that time in the past when we rose up and overthrew the ruling powers.

A third answer might seem more familiar to American Jews. The Mishnah has some brief references to the rules for Chanuka , indicating that by the end of the second century C.E. there was already a custom of kindling lights at the darkest period of the year. This was a custom that may have been imported from the northern latitudes during Roman rule -- perhaps in imitation of the Roman Saturnalia observances. Sometime between then and the completion of Gemara, the celebration of lights assumed greater significance and, just as today we elevate the observance of Chanuka in order to offset the influence of Christmas, the rabbis of the Talmud may have built up the idea of a miracle connected with lights, to show Jews that we had our own basis for a solstice observance.

Which is the right answer? No clue. Its one of the mysteries.
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Torture told you so


Boy, do I wish there was a way to go back in time and face down all the sniveling, sputtering torture apologists who used to hang out here.

As we now know, the CIA  torture program produced no useful intelligence, and was managed in a haphazard, irresponsible way. It produced nothing but a stain on our values.  All that happened is a group of lunatics worked themselves into a self-righteous frenzy, and convinced of the rightness of their cause and the nobleness of their character, they committed unspeakable abuses. This is precisely what I said would be discovered if the true story of the torture program was ever released, and now that the Senate has completed its investigation we know that I was right, and the feckless, Republican syncopaths who defended atrocities that were committed in our name were wrong.


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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Jews only attacked military targets, and called in warnings first. 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. Today, I'm going after the one that comes up whenever you point out that Jews engaged in terrorism back in the 30s and 40s when they were trying to beat back the Arabs and drive out the British.

CLAIM: Jews only attacked military targets, and always called in warnings first
STATUS: Myth

This claim is so easy to disprove, its almost embarrassing to go to the effort. Where to begin...

Here's the list of Irgun attacks provided by Wikipedia. You can easily see that many of the attacks are against non-military targets. But here are some highlights (and really this is the tip of the iceberg; the Irgun perpetrated dozens of shooting and bombing attacks on civilians)

July 25, 1938
43 Arabs were killed by a bomb at a marketplace in Haifa.

February 27, 1939
33 Arabs killed in multiple attacks, incl. 24 by bomb in Arab market in Suk Quarter of Haifa and 4 by bomb in Arab vegetable market in Jerusalem.

June 2, 1939
5 Arabs killed by a bomb left at the Jaffa Gate

June 19, 1939
20 Arabs were killed by explosives mounted on a donkey at a marketplace in Haifa.

June 29, 1939
13 Arabs were killed in several shooting attacks around Jaffa during a one-hour period.

November 1, 1945
Night of the Trains. Palmach units sabotage railway networks around the country

June 16, 1946
Night of the Bridges Palmach units destroy 8 bridges linking Palestine to neighboring countries.

December 30, 1947
Irgun operatives kill 6 Arabs and injure 42 by throwing grenades at a crowd of 100 Arab day-labourers who had gathered outside the main gate of the Haifa Oil Refinery looking for work. Arabs on the spot responded by killing 39 Jews.

January 1, 1948 
Palmach members respond to the massacre at the refinery by firing into the town of Balad al-Shaykh from the slopes of Mt. Carmel. The raiding unit's orders were to 'kill maximum adult males'. Haganah reports put Arab casualties variously at 'about 70 killed', and 21 killed ('including two women and five children') and 41 injured

March 31, 1938
Lechi mines the train near Binyamena killing 40 civilians

April 9, 1948
120 Arabs killed in Deir Yassin

To the best of my knowledge, the only time an advance warning was called in was when the Irgun bombed the King David Hotel. Other attacked on military installations, such as the Lechi truck loaded with explosives that was driven into a British police station on January 12, 1947, were not preceded with warnings.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Neo Chasidus is all about feeling good.


Good old Jewish Action has a cover story this month about something called "Neo Chasidus" The article, like most conversations about Hasidut, is overloaded with mumbo jumbo buzzwords that don't mean anything. Inner light. Soul of the Torah. And so on

From what I can gather, Neo-Chasidus is when an ordinary MO kid chooses to grow out his payis and spend an inordinate amount of time sitting in a circle singing Carlebach songs. It also has something to do with using instruments during davening on Rosh Chodesh and fabrenging whenever possible. Part of this is also pretending that your "spirituality" has been enhanced and that all the singing, and dancing and, you know, all that feeling, has brought you closer to God.

Naturally, YU is all over this trend and has brought in a legitimate heavyweight, viz Rabbi Moshe Weinberger, to look after all the little Neo Hasidim running around its campus. They sing, and they dance, and - most importantly, judging from the article - they congratulate themselves on how warm and soulful they are vs. the chilly, cold, dry iterations of Judaism they've left behind

It's hard for me to take any of this too seriously. For starters, I don't agree that the styles of Judaism they reject are flawed. The coolness and the dryness are features, not bugs. I prefer the Angelican High Church to the snake charmer's basement.

Moreover, from where I sit this looks no different from, say, the Black Pride movement that got everyone wearing dashikis. For some people, there's something appealing about "authenticity" and because authenticity is a chimera, you approximate it by embracing various affectations. So George from Manhattan becomes Kwami and starts keeping Kwanza and tells himself this is precisely how his ancestors behaved. Sam from Teaneck, now Shmuel, is doing the same thing, as a result of the same forces, when he puts on a gartel and announces himself a Neo-Hassid. And never mind, that no one in George's family tree is from West Africa, or that Sam is a descendant of Misnagdim.

Now of course, I think all of this is perfectly harmless, and of course anyone can choose to embrace any fad they wish. I only object when embracing the fad involves making false statements. Own a pet rock if you wish, but don't promise me that the thing can think and breathe.

Likewise, grow out your payis and become a full-fledged hippie if that's what makes you feel good. Just spare me the nonsense about how the affectations you've embraced are so much more than an exercise in feeling good.

Judaism, please recall,  is about torah, tzedaka and avoda. If acting like some 21st century approximation of a Polish farm boy makes you learn more Torah and do more good in the world, that's excellent. But if, it doesn't (and in most cases it doesn't) let's just be upfront about that, ok?


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Peek-A-Jew: Royal Edition


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Yikes, but they sure did let that Yid get awfully close to his and her Highness at the Nets game last night.

HT: MarkSofLA

Monday, December 08, 2014

Praying the Lapid away


We told you someone of the Haredi persuasion would take credit for the dissolution of the Israeli Knesset and lo and behold someone did:

"התפללתי שבזכות מצוות השמיטה הממשלה תיפול"

מר שר התורה הגר"ח קנייבסקי התבטא בצורה חריגה בשיחה עם בני ביתו ואמר כי "התפללתי הרבה שתהיה לממשלה מפלה, שמעתי שגם ר' אהרן לייב התפלל. התפללתי שהלפיד של השמיטה יגבור עליהם". 


Loose translation
"I prayed for the failure of the government in the merit of our keeping Shmita 
Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, the great Torah leader, said,  "I prayed a lot for the government to fail. I heard that Rabbi Aharon Leib prayed. I prayed for the Shmita observances to overcome them."
To be perfectly, fair, I believe he prayed and I believe he thinks his prayers worked.

HT Rafi G.

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Those of you who say all I do is bash Israel will want to bookmark this


Here's another one of those things that completely undermines the idea that Israel is an apartheid state
The Israeli military announced Saturday that it had ordered criminal investigations of its own actions in eight additional incidents in the Gaza Strip during the war this summer, and provided unusually detailed justifications for seven other operations that had prompted complaints from human rights groups.
This doesn't mean that Israel is as perfect as those God-drunk hasbarah bloggers claim. It simply means that Israel's angriest opponents are wrong, too.

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Great moments in newspaper editing


Great photo placement decision here!


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Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Lapid fired. Bad news for haredi activists

I'm sure haredi neighborhoods will be celebrating Lapid's downfall well into the night, but what I want to know is this: which Haredi triumphalist will be first to take credit for his demise? How long before some rabbi announces it was his own personal prayers that finally provoked God to take action against the anti-Haredi leader?

I also would like to know what this means for fundraising. For over a year we hard working Americans have been urged to "send money now" to the poor, suffering avrechim who stood to lose everything because of Lapid. Well, now there is no Lapid. The poor, suffering avrechim should be ok now, right?  Or at least that's what people will think, meaning the haredi al sharptons who line their pockets with the proceeds of every crises will need to dream up a fresh pitch.

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Monday, December 01, 2014

My late remarks on pruzansky's latest indiscretion

Dear Friends

I apologize for not doing my part to trounce pruzansky for his latest indiscretion.

As you probably know by now,  he recently published an article that even he (eventually) found embarrassing and had to delete but not before the Arab Hasbaraniks on social media were using it to prove that all Jews everywhere are racist and murderous at heart.

Only Jews like that Pruzansky are racist and murderous in their hearts, I told them. For whatever good that did.

In brief, Pruz reacted to the horrible events in Har Nof by calling on Israel to expel all the Arabs.  You can review the smoking snippet here.

http://m.forward.com/articles/209763/new-jersey-rabbi-steven-pruzansky-spews-savage-hat/

Certainly Pruz was writing from the perspective of the pain all of us felt viewing those horrible photos of blood drenched talitot, but that's no excuse.  Not all of us who felt that pain allowed ourselves to devolve into barbarism. Those of us with character, and respect for human life did not react to the horror by advocating for Jews to commit a new horror of our own.

Pruzansky isn't a terrorist.  He'd never pick up a weapon and actually follow through with any of his insane prescriptions. The same can be said for the overwhelming majority of Arabs.

We Jews like to pretend that we'd be murdered in an instant were we to enter an Arab town but it isn't true.  Most Arabs,  like most Jews,  aren't murderous at heart. Like most Jews,  most Arabs simply want to coexist, make a few dollars, raise their kids and stay out of trouble.

If this sounds like a wishful, liberal fantasy you can thank the Arab murderers and loudmouths. Though they make up perhaps 1 percent of the Arab population they are loud and vicious enough to make it seem like all Arabs are drooling madmen.

Pruzansky is loud and vicious, but not violent. I'd never equate words with actions. You can't kill someone with an insult. Pruzansky is just a preacher with an intemperate streak and that's no crime. But the damage his tirade did to our national reputation is real. Just as I want every Arab to know pruzansky does not speak for me, there are multitudes of Arabs who desperately want us to accept that the terrorists do not act for them.

Me and my little Thanksgiving


So do I have any Thanksgiving traditions? That's what "Jane" a reader from Teaneck wants to know. "You religiously provide us with rundowns for yom Kippur and pesach", she writes, "so what about Thanksgiving?" 

The true answer is it varies, which makes me accidentally in compliance with Rav Moshe who ruled that keeping Thanksgiving was OK for a religious Jew as long as you didn't make it into a binding annual obligation. 

Some years we celebrate with friends or family and a turkey. Other years we skip the feast and treat it like any other day. A few things happen every year:

My kids gripe about going to school

My wife points out that preparing a typical American Thanksgiving feast is about as difficult as making a shabbos dinner. She can't understand why people need reams of instruction and several days of advance preparation in order to put one main dish and a couple of sides on the table. "I could do it in three hours she says" 

I get into a fight with some yokel who thinks Thanksgiving has a religious component and is therefore off limits for Jews. 

In the years that we do make a dinner party the menu usually looks something like this 

Squash soup 
Turkey
Roasted sweet potatoes 
String beans with garlic
Apple crisp
Pumpkin pie

Though next year I think we'll try frog eye salad,  a concoction of pasta and cool whip that the New York Times says is a staple of the Mormon Thanksgiving. 




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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A brief, and biased history of riots.