Saturday, May 16, 2015

If Minhag and Halacha had Started Today…

Yesterday's post got me thinking. The world we live in radically different than that of our ancestors. There are the technological changes, like computers and airplanes, the resultant lifestyle changes, like the lack of open fires in our homes, and the social changes, like the disappearance of the aristocracy and the  recognition of women as men's social and legal equals.

The modern pace of change is unparalleled in history. Had you taken a Roman citizen from 2000 years ago and dropped him in medieval Europe, there would have been new things for him to marvel at, but the world was similar enough to the one he was used to that he could have gotten along. Take someone from the middle ages and bring him forward to today, and the world he finds himself in is an unrecognizable magical place. Yet almost all halacha and minhag developed before the world we live in existed, and reflects a world as foreign to us as ours would be to the medieval time traveler.

What might our rituals and laws look like had they ossified last Tuesday, instead of hundreds or thousands of years ago?

Today, biur chametz is an event, where individuals and communities have a rare excuse to play with fire and build bonfires to burn their chometz. Yet in the recent past, burning your chometz instead of, say, throwing it in the river was a matter of convenience. Everyone had  fireplaces in their home. It was much easier to toss your chometz into the living room fire than to take it outside. Had the minhag been set today, we'd probably flush our chometz down the toilet.

Lighting candles Friday night was initially done for light, so that one wouldn't have to eat their Shabbos meal in the dark. Had the minhag developed today, might women make a bracha before flipping the dining room switch? Would we have a minhag to have a chandelier with one bulb for each person in the family? If a woman forgot to turn on the light one week, might she ever after need to have an extra bulb in the chandelier?

Telephones would have prevented the problems that saddled us with two-day yomim tovim.

And so on…

Friday, May 15, 2015

Lag Be'Omer 2015, London


Images from a Lag Be'Omer celebration you wont see in the Hamodia centerfold.

Click here to see it [Sorry to all who disliked the autop play video with sound that was here before]

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A halacha that actually addresses our life...

Here's a comment written by E The P which deserves a wider audience, feedback and discussion:

While I wish that all non halachic Jews would either commit to Halacha or stop affiliating as Jews, I cannot refute the fact that historically (pre second temple, surely) they can stake a claim to Judaism.

For me, though, religion is completely institutional. Torah Truths are not objective, historical or ontological truths. They are "truths that we accept because they have value religiously". Halacha is crucial because it IS JUDAISM, bc Judaism is institutional and halacha defines the institutions. I think that our modern halachic system lacks the balls to impress anyone or effectively regulate life, but I follow it, bc it is Judaism. It should be different, we should be creating halachot, takanot, gezerot and ignoring all sorts of halachot that do not apply to our times (like our ancestors did with sacrifices etc.)

Sounds reform? Wrong. Reform and Conservative Judaism are concerned with making life easier, more comfortable and more accessible to non committed Jews. I am strongly against that. I don't want anyone who is not committed to be Jewish at all! Think about it this way: If all of world Jewry committed to halacha, we could regrow Halacha. We could have a real Torah sh'b'al Peh that would be relevant and sustainable in our 2015 reality, instead of having an "oral" Canon based in Babylonia 2 millennia ago. Haredim would protest, you say? Even YU might not accept it? Who cares, we would be a majority by 90%!

That was the vision of Proff. Leibowitz. A halacha that actually addresses our life. He had the best answer to the women in Halacha question: Halacha as discussed in Talmud and codified in Rambam and Shulchan Aruch is not aware of and never addresses modern women of today who go out in public, go to university and have professional careers. Therefore it is as if halacha discusses the kashrus of an animal that is almost extinct. Sure, if we find that animal we can apply the relevant halachos, but those halachos are irrelevant to the vast majority of animals. Same thing here. Most women today are not the same 'woman' that is discussed in halacha and so those halachos do not apply, unless we are talking about in Meah Shearim. (Obviously nidda still applies to all women bc all women still menstruate). Therefore, the halachot don't need to be changed, they need to be written in the first place! And so on for many areas of our lives today that Halacha does not touch.

But, all that said, we do still have a functioning Halacha and in it, Judaism lives. To me Judaism IS (Halachic, or) Rabbinic Judaism because it is the only kind that takes Judaism seriously and not just as a social services organization. So, the other denominations are no different to me than Karaism or Christianity (but even Chabad messianism is Judaism because they keep halacha. Again, many Chassidim and kabbalists are not monotheists strictly speaking , and they may call me a deist or an apikorus, but we are both following the same religion) It's not the beliefs that matter, it's the practice.

True,the Rambam wrote off Jews who believed in the corporeality of God as pagans with no share in the world to come, but I'm speaking here historically. Halacha is the only way in the past 2000 years to define Judaism. Otherwise we are left with a he says, he says game of who has the "real beliefs")

There is a lot to say about this. So let's go.

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Thursday, May 14, 2015

Americans hate mothers

You can't go on and on about how much you love mothers, and then fail to support legislation that makes life easier for them.

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Sacrificial thoughts

When people insist that today's halachic practices, and, to a large extent, today's social practices are part of an unchanging mesorah presented to Moshe on Sinai along with the text of the Chumash (previous phrase isn't mine)  I usually use animal sacrifices as my counter example. Animal sacrifices were an essential component of Judaism 1.0. Now we just don't bother. Surely this shows Judaism has changed?

The response is usually something like this: 
No, no. Judaism hasn't changed at all. Only the political situation has changed. If we could still bring sacrifices we would. 
Really? Well let's think about this:

When I say that Judaism has changed, what I mean is that it changed in response to things like the political situation. Can't go to the Temple Mount anymore? Well, Judaism can adapt to that reality or it can die. Same as with the other famous changes. Can't sustain an economy anymore with debt cancellations every Jubilee, or without interest-based loans? Well, adapt or die. Judaism is still here because it's adapted (i.e changed) in response to countless situations just like these three. The sects that did not survive went out of business because they refused to adapt, while the super-successful sects (hello Judeo-Christianity) performed super-successful adaptions.

Now, let's talk for a moment about those Judeo-Christians. They managed to develop an interpretation of the Bible that allows them to ignore all of the dietary laws and all the ritual law, while simultaneously considering themselves the one true Israel, and the legitimate heirs of the Biblical tradition. As far as interpretations go, this is quite an achievement.

And, to be perfectly fair, we Jews have done the exact same thing with sacrifices. Just as the Christians dropped the dietary laws, etc., we have dropped the whole sacrificial code. And don't blame this on the loss of the Temple. After losing the Temple, we had options, such as:

(1) Reinterpreting to allow sacrifices to be brought anywhere, in imitation of every single person in the Pentateuch. This, by the way, is precisely what we did with lulav. Instead of allowing lulav to die like we allowed animal sacrifice to die, we we reinterpreted to allow lulav everywhere on all 7 days of the holiday.

(2) Forcing our way back on to the Temple Mount during the many moments when this was feasible. One of these famous moments came in 363 when Julian, the last pagan emperor authorized the rebuilding of the Temple. The Jewish response was ambivalent. Why? Perhaps because 363 was an awfully late date to be recommiting yourself to animal sacrifice.
(3)  Some other creative solution, such as requiring money to be donated in place of the animal (as with kaparot). You'll note that we have dozens of zecher l'mikdash practices but how many of them are designed to keep alive the memory of sacrifices? (Along with lulav and shofer zecher l'mikdash practices include daily birkat kohanim in Israel, simchas beis hasho'eva, hakafot, sefirat ha'omer (according to some) and more.)

Instead we chose (4) Drop them completely, with appropriate interpretations and justifications provided (ie: Temple Mount isn't in our hands. So sorry.)

NOTE: Some say davening was instituted to replace korbonot. In which case that's the creative solution I'm looking for in (3) above. However, the suggestion that davening replaced korbonot is problematic for a variety of reasons and it seems to me more correct to say that interest in animal sacrifice declined as interest in other forms of worship developed. So korbonot weren't replaced by design with davening as other practices were consciously and deliberately replaced with the zecher l'mikdas practices described above. The style of worship simply changed.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Judaism changes and evolves and always will.

Judaism is constantly changing and developing, a process that includes dropping untenable practices or manufacturing ways around them, adding new rituals, and investing old rituals with new meaning.

The Judaism of the Torah is not the Judaism of the Mishna. In fact by the time of the Mishna, Judaism had split into several sects, only one of which survived. The winning sect, Phariseeism, which transitioned into Rabbinic Judaism, is popularly considered the authentic Judaism, but the whole idea of authenticity is a fallacy. There is no authentic Jewish condition, only the condition that obtains at the moment.

Ironically, the word Pharisee shows this to be true. It comes from the word פָּרוּשׁ pārûsh, meaning “set apart". Religions develop sects, as new groups find reasons to set themselves apart.

Had the Pharisees came first, it seems unlikely that they would have acquired this name.

Meanwhile, their main rivals, the Sadducees have a name derived from the word for "to be correct". (Think about what happened in the 19th century. The "new" Jews called themselves "reformers", while the "old" Jews were called "conservative" or "orthodox", even as they developed new sects, in part, as a response to the reform. The Pharisees are called "set apart"; their main rivals are called "correct." So who broke away from who?)

Though the Pharisees won the first battle we know about, history didn't end with their victory. Judaism continued to change and new sects developed, including Judeo-Christianity (which transitioned into Christianity) Karaism, Hasidut, and the three responses to modernity namely Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Judaism. Additional sub-sects exist within Hasidut and Orthodox Judaism. And each sect contributed to the changes Judaism has undergone.

Demonstrating that these changes have occurred, and that our current day interpretation of Judaism is not simpicato with the plain Scripture is like shooting fish in a barrel.

Consider the frum shabbos which requires cholent, kugel, zmirot and a nap. Where is that represented in the Chumash? And where, for that matter, are the sacrifices the Chumash says must accompany every festival? Does any frum Pesach require the sacrifice of a goat or a sheep? More to the point, does any frum person really think his Pesach insufficient for not having included a blood sacrifice? (Made impossible by the loss of the Temple, you say? To which I reply: See what I mean about Judaism changing?)

Moreover, the Bible makes no mention of Lag B'omer, or upshurim, or g'broks, or any ritual clothing other than tzitzis. The Bible's Shavuos is a harvest festival, not the fulfilment of Pesach or the day the Torah was revealed. Another pillar of Judaism as we understand it is monotheism, but the Bible, notably the Ten Commandments ("No other God before Me") is, in many places, monolatrist.

None of this should be construed to mean that I think modern forms of Judaism are illegitimate. Quite the contrary. Judaism has always been nothing more and nothing less than what Jews say it is. How we decide which speakers and statements matter is outside the scope of this short blog post, but there can be no doubt that Judaism changes as Jews, as a whole and as specific sects, continue to think and speak about it. And we can expect such morphing, developing, changing and evolving to continue as long as there are Jews who take Judaism seriously.

A comment in which I said this in different words:

Lo Tignov means whatever the Rabbis say it means. And I mean the Rabbis in every generation, with the support of the people. Together they create the limitations applications and exceptions and interpret all that back into the verse. [Machlokes rishonim as to what midrash halacha is by the way]

I agree no one says we're allowed to steal, but you already have many Jews who will say that many things "aren't really stealing." And come back in 2000 or 10000 years and who knows what we'll find. Jews from 3000 years ago would be shocked to see how blithely and cavalierly we ignore the black and white laws of ritual impurity. If you were to return 3000 years from now, you'll be shocked at how Judaism has changed, too - if Judaism has survived. We just don't know what will be doing the shocking.

Another point: Christians consider themselves the true Israel, and the legitimate inheritors of the bible tradition, yet they have manufactured ways to ignore huge swaths of the bible. Perhaps future Jews will do the same (more than we have done so already, I mean

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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Anthropomorphisms continued

The most amusing counterargument I received during last week's discussion of God's attributes went something like this.
Cmon DovBear look in the bible. You'll see its black and white. God has physical attributes and emotions.
To which I might reply, OK look in the bible. It's black and white. If someone knocks out your eye you  get to knock out his eye. Also its black and white that the goat that gets sent to Azazel is set free, not thrown off a cliff. Look in the bible. In fact you'll find dozens, if not hundreds of instances where the halacha contradicts the plain meaning of the text. You'll also find that several of our cherished and beloved current practices are not mentioned anywhere in the Bible.

How did this happen? Simple.

Like it or not, Judaism is a living, evolving religion, which means that the way we think about the theology and the way that we practice the rituals are both able to change over time. And in fact, they have changed.

Over the last several thousands years we've phased out ideas that no longer work, and replaced practices that are no longer tenable. We've also introduced new theology, new rituals, and new understandings of old rituals.

  • Ideas that no longer work: God appearing to people in human form as he did in the Bible; replaced with the idea that He is omniscient. 
  • Practices that are no longer tenable: Animal sacrifice, Jubilee debt cancellation; 
  • New theology: sefirot, Nitzutz kedusha; 
  • New rituals: upshurin, hats
  • New understandings of old rituals: Shavuos transformed from harvest festival to zman matan torataynu
So when I point out that great Jewish thinkers such as Rambam and Sadiah Gaon embraced apophatic theology following their encounter with Greek philosophy via the Muslim world, it really is quite pointless to respond that the Bible's paints a different picture of Gods attributes. Jews haven't really cared about the literal meaning of the Bible since at least the days of the first Pharisees. For more than 2000 years we've been far more concerned with what James Kugel calls the Interpreted Bible. After all, halacha as well as our understanding of Biblical events and personalities are based on the Interpreted Bible, not the Literal Bible. And as I reported both Sadiah and Rambam had ways of interpreting around Biblical anthropomorphisms in defense of their apophatic theologies, just as other Rabbis from both earlier and later eras have interpreted their way around whatever Biblical passages they found inconvenient to theologies and/or practices they wished to support. 

In a comment Avi adds a bunch of other untenable, discarded Jewish practices

Other untenable Biblical practices we don't observe today as written in the Torah: ribit, shmitta, not owning chometz on pesach, not carrying on Shabbat, techum Shabbat, polygamy, monarchy, slavery, stoning rebellious children, tribal land ownership, Amalekite genocide, basar b'chalav as written, and not adding commandments to the Torah (ex: second day Yom Tov outside Israel, which contradicts the explicit number of days each holiday is commanded to last).

Saturday, May 09, 2015

A plague with a penis is worth more than a treasure without

A guest post by Y. Bloch
Are arakhin misogynistic? Leviticus 27, which we'll read this coming Shabbat, sets valuations by gender and age (vv. 3-7).
The valuation you are to assign to a man between the ages of twenty and sixty years is to be fifty shekels of silver, with the sanctuary shekel being the standard; if a woman, thirty shekels. If it is a child five to twenty years old, assign a valuation of twenty shekels for a boy and ten for a girl; if a baby one month to five years of age, five shekels for a boy and three for a girl; if a person past sixty, fifteen shekels for a man and ten for a woman.
This is not one's theoretical worth on the slave market (damim), which of course varies by training, intelligence and aptitude. Hezekiah (Talmud Arakhin 19a) famously states that "An old man in the house is a plague; an old woman in the house is a treasure" to explain why the relative gap narrows after age 60. (Rashi explicitly says that the former is "only a burden," while the latter "can work hard and labor in her old age.")
Yet the "plague" is still worth more (15 shekel) than the "treasure" (10). By stunning coincidence, the maximum valuation of a woman, 30 shekel, is the fine you pay if your ox gores a slave, male or female (Exodus 21:32). Yet the valuation of a male slave (or random non-Jew) is still more than that of a freeborn Jewish woman--50!
What makes this even more perplexing is that this is in the context of the Tabernacle, to which the money is given. The Torah explicitly states that both men and women took an active part in putting the Tabernacle together.
 Both men and women came, as many as had willing hearts; they brought nose-rings, earrings, signet-rings, belts, all kinds of gold jewelry... All the women who were skilled at spinning got to work and brought what they had spun, the blue, purple and scarlet yarn and the fine linen. Likewise the women whose heart stirred them to use their skill spun the goat’s hair... Thus every man and woman of the people of Israel whose heart impelled him to contribute to any of the work Lord had ordered through Moshe brought it to Lord as a voluntary offering.
So why does the "valuation of souls/ lives" (Lev. 27:2) make such a distinction and value judgement?

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Friday, May 08, 2015

A little protest action

I'd like to see the sensible Jews push back against this new practice of excluding the photos of female honorees from school dinner invitations.

It's easy to see how this latest frum craziness got started. School administrators are notoriously insecure. Their greatest fear is seeing their institutions labeled "insufficiently frum." Hopping on the latest misogynistic trend is an easy way to shore up your bonafides and, hell,  what's a little female self worth and dignity when you're busy proving how frum you are?

So let's organize a response. Here are some ideas:
  • Social Media Shaming. I'm happy to publish your misogynistic dinner invitations on my blog. Send them over.
  • Send back empty envelopes
  • Send back envelopes containing nothing but a short pithy campaign slogan like, I'll support your institution when you support women. 
  • Send in a cash donation with the faces cut out (via @efink) 

Thursday, May 07, 2015

A modern anthropomorphism

But if cattle and horses and lions had hands
or could paint with their hands and create works such as men do,
horses like horses and cattle like cattle
also would depict the gods' shapes and make their bodies
of such a sort as the form they themselves have.

- Xenophanes c 500 BCE

The Bible contains several shocking and frank anthropomorphisms. God gets angry, blows heat through his nose when he suffers jealousy, changes his mind and forgives people. He rests, remembers and relents.  He walks about a garden. He smells a scent and finds it pleasing.  In various places we hear that He has ears and eyes, a face, a palm, a finger, hair, a back, an arm, wings and feet that rest on a sapphire brick.

At the same time, Jews have long maintained that material representations of God are forbidden. 

At first, this restriction was limited to idols. As Judaism encountered more sophisticated theologies, the restriction expanded. Onkelos and Philo, thanks to Greek influence, stripped their commentaries and translations of all anthropomorphisms. Centuries later, Saadiah Gaon and the Rambam, thanks to Muslim influence, went even further. Saadiah held that that all corporeal references to God refer to non corporeal matters, and that that the only the attribute of existence could be ascribed to God, while Rambam insisted on non literal, allegorical understandings of all anthropomorphic expressions and said all who disagreed with him were heretics with no share in the world to come.

And yet, Jews continue to ascribe human characteristics to God, and continue to describe him in positive terms, while remaining blind to the fact that no one has any concrete knowledge of God.

For we explain not what God is but candidly confess that we have not exact knowledge concerning Him. For in what concerns God to confess our ignorance is the best knowledge
 - Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, (c 320)

What I find most amusing about the typical 21st Jewish anthropomorphism is that it is completely out of date. Here's what I mean.

Not having any first-hand information regarding God's attributes, human beings have always imagined that he has the characteristics of a powerful ruler. But powerful rulers are not the same in every era.

When Jews commit the sin of anthropomorphism, the  ruler we have in mind is not a 21st century president or  a 21st century CEO, but a 12th century feudal lord.  Consider the differences:

Moderns believe that respect must be earned, ie commanded, while the medieval ruler takes it as his due. A medieval ruler is concerned about honor, and prestige and image far more than his modern contemporary is. A modern laughs off insults that a medieval would never tolerate..

Moreover, a 21st century leader doesn't throw a hissy fit when he's slighted, or demand ostentatious shows of loyalty and fidelity. He doesn't demand reverence and submission or require that his honor be satisfied. Those are all the behaviors of a medieval king. And its also the behavior of the Jewish God, as he is most commonly anthropomorphized.

What would happen if we were to update our anthropomorphisms, and imagine our God as a modern CEO instead of as a medieval king? Possible?

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Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Pleasing God

This is a battle I have no chance of winning, but I feel it must be fought all the same. I am talking about the ongoing Jewish habit of anthropomorphizing God, a recent example of which can be found in this passage written by RYA.

While I have little use for water with a hechsher, I would guess that HKBH loves the dedication of the individual consumer who insists on what he or she believes are hidurim in kashrus. I am staking a lot on a conviction that He also appreciates those with a dogged commitment to the bottom line in Shulchan Aruch that does not demand those hidurim as a matter of law, and to the approach of many sugyos in Chulin where Chazal permitted entire classes of foodstuffs – without supervion [sic] at all – because they considered any objections to be not of real halachic concern.
Nearly 1000 years ago the Rambam went to war against the philosophical errors and logical fallacies contained within this brief passage - and lost the argument. Still I'm compelled to respond to this piece of writing with some points of my own

I would guess that HKBH loves the dedication of the individual consumer who insists on what he or she believes are hidurim in kashrus
You can't say that God "loves" anything; in fact you can't say use any positive terminology to describe or refer to God at all. All we can do is say what God isn't. This is because human beings can not describe or define something as large or as complex as the Divine. Any attempted description will, ultimately, be false and should be avoided. Also why would God love "dedication?" Dedication, like sincerity, is not necessarily something positive, as both dedication and sincerity can be put to the service of something evil. (Hitler was both dedicated and sincere)

I am staking a lot on a conviction that He also appreciates those with a dogged commitment to the bottom line in Shulchan Aruch
You're not staking anything. The goal of religion isn't to please God (who can't, by definition, be pleased. If you are capable of pleasing Him, you're saying He can change.) The goal of religion is to produce behavior that changes people and societies for the better. Anyone who performs commandments for the sole purpose of receiving a gold star on his heavenly report card is an infant operating under a delusion.

Here's the Midrash disagreeing with RYA: What difference does it make to God whether one slaughters from the front of the neck or the back of the neck? Rather the mitzvot were given in order to  refine men (letzaref bahem et habriyot)

I have something else to say about how we anthropomorphize God, but that will have to wait until the next post.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Halacha Loopholes

I'm sure I've forgotten some so suggest your own.

OrthoDiction adds "Lending money with interest"

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Monday, May 04, 2015

#blacklivesmatter in Baltimore

I hope this is my last post about Baltimore for a while...
The fundamental error here is in assuming that #blacklivesmatter is some kind of code for "get whitey." It isn't.

When Baltimore protesters chant that #blacklivesmatter they aren't forgetting that Baltimore has a black police chief, and a black mayor, and diverse police force. They are protesting yet another extrajudicial killing of a black man, irrespective of who the culprit was. #blacklivesmatter isn't about white on black violence. Its about cop on black violence.

When people like Menken willfully ignore that, and instead set up some red herring definition of the slogan that they can easily undermine, they are either trolling or expressing tacit support for police brutality against black people.

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Friday, May 01, 2015

Baltimore Medical Examiner: It was a homicide

Thanks to irresponsible blogs like Cross Currents, you're going to encounter people in shul this weekend who will insist that Freddie Gray severed his own spinal cord.

You'll want to tell them two, or possibly three, things:

(1) The medical examiner has ruled the case a homicide.

(2) Six Baltimore police officers have been charged with murder and manslaughter. According to the state attorney: "Mr. Gray suffered a fatal spinal injury on April 12 while being transported in a police van — and not earlier, while being arrested — and pointed to the failure of the police to put a seatbelt on him as a crucial factor. “Mr. Gray suffered a critical neck injury as a result of being handcuffed, shackled by his feet and unrestrained inside the BPD wagon,”

Read the story here:

At your option you may also wish to (3) remind people that victim-blaming is reprehensible.

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Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Yated on Baltimore

While the most reprehensible Jewish response to the Baltimore riots remains Yaakov Menken's ongoing attempt to persuade us that Freddie Gray's injuries were self-inflicted, this drivel from the Yated takes a close second. 

Money quote:
But we are not like them. We respond to a higher calling. We are the children of Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov. We have been mistreated and persecuted for thousands of years, and yet we don’t lash out.

By way of response, let me start with some photos:

Image result for meah shearim riots Image result for meah shearim riots Image result for meah shearim riots Image result for meah shearim riots Image result for meah shearim riotsImage result for meah shearim riots Image result for meah shearim riots

Next some headlines

2015 - Haredim Riot Across Israel, Dozens Injured ...

2014- 13 Haredim charged for anti-draft rioting | The Times of Israel

2013 - Haredim riot in Jerusalem as soldiers cross Mea Shearim

2013- Haredim riot in Beit Shemesh

2010 - Hundreds of haredim riot in Jaffa 

2006 - Chareidim Threaten Riot in Defense of Infanticide ...

Followed by some logic...

Point 1: In ye days of old, plenty of people suffered oppression. Americans oppressed Africans, Asians, and Native Americans. Catholic Europeans oppressed Protestants. Protestant Europeans oppressed Catholics. Both types of Christians oppressed Jews, Africans, Muslims, and Gypsies. Everyone oppressed women, serfs, peasants and other low status groups, subjecting them to atrocities far worse than anything the Baltimore police have inflicted on black people.

Before the 20th century how many times did these oppressed minorities "lash out?" If they controlled a country, they may have gone to war against another country, but did minority oppressed residents ever do anything in their own self-defense?   Did Southern Catholics riot against the Ku Klux Klan? Did English Catholics take to the streets against King James? Did Southern slaves revolt? Did gypsies ever stand up for themselves? What about women and peasants? Pre-20th century, you can count the times any of these groups pushed back on one hand.

So to congratulate pre 20th century Jews for not fighting back against European oppression is a little like congratulating pre 21st century Jews for avoiding Internet porn. It was a different era.

Point 2: While pre-20th century Jews were (regrettably) as docile as other groups, post-20th century Jews have done their share of "lashing out" - just like everyone else. Think of the Irgun and the Lechi. While both terrorist groups attacked civilians (often without warnings) they also fought against British oppression. Moreover, for the last 60 years, or so, the #1 source of Jewish misery - ie middle eastern Arabs, have certainly felt the pain of a Jewish response. True, the ordinary Jew in the street isn't personally delivering that response, but his sons and daughters are and/or he's writing the check.

Point 3: The Yated tells us that the sons of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are special, because we don't fight back. Well what about the forefathers themselves?

1 - After his nephew is kidnapped, Abraham assembles a war party.
2 - After his daughter is raped, Jacob's other children massacre a city.

And the bible continues in this vein

3 - After the Amalekites commit an atrocious act of brutality against defenseless Israelites, an eternal war on that nation is declared. Battles in that war were fought by Joshua, Saul and David.

And finally, some current events

Just a few weeks ago, Jews "lashed out" at the kotel, and they weren't reacting to police brutality, or to persecution or to an infringement on their civil rights. No, the violence at the kotel was a response to this:

Image result for women of wall attack

Sunday, April 26, 2015


A guest post by Y. Bloch
Apologetics is hard. Arguing defensively for one's faith is always a dicey proposition, compounded by the fact that one is always fighting last generation's battle.
This was very clear to me growing up in 80s America in an Orthodox Jewish community. In 1985, we finally had an answer for the society of 1955. Now it's 2015, and we've come up with responses as fresh as 1985. (Sorry, as a child of the 80s, I can only think of time in Back to the Future settings.)
Hat, beard, peyos, jacket--1885 was such a mechayeh!
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the way contemporary halakhic Judaism grapples with homosexuality. Whenever religious Jews try to talk about gay issues, they end up sounding like recent arrivals from another era. Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties make no bones about it: they won't even put a female on their lists, as part of their commitment to 18th-century ideals.
But it's particularly irksome when you encounter some of the opinions offered by members of Bayit Yehudi, the Jewish Home Party, ostensibly representing the dati (translation: let's just go with the barely serviceable "Modern Orthodox") perspective. Party Leader Naftali Bennett, a moderate, explained that same-sex marriage is as kosher as a cheeseburger, while Rabbi Eli Ben Dahan, once (and future?) Deputy Minister of Religious Affairs called it "a recipe for the destruction of the Jewish people." Yehudit Shilat, director of the Takana Forum dedicated to helping victims of sexual abuse, has stated that since most homosexuals choose to be that way, "advancing the gay-lesbian agenda legislatively" leads to "collective suicide." Bezalel Smotrich reported that he now regrets organizing the Beast Parade in 2006 to compete with the Jerusalem Pride Parade, but he's still a self-identified "proud homophobe" (see, proud is gay-eh in Hebrew; get it?) who declared ("normal," in modern Hebrew, is a synonym for "sane" or "free of mental illness"):
Any person can decide he doesn't want to live a normal life. That's his right. But they don’t have the right — just because they are uncomfortable being abnormal — to demand of us all to redefine the norm and claim "there is no such thing as normal."
And that's not even getting into the mortifying video of Bayit Yehudi candidates responding to the issue of same-sex marriage.

While Shilat did not get into Knesset and the Jewish Home lost 1/3 of its seats, the others are now proudly serving. If two of Likud's current members move on and Amir Ohana, number 32 on the Likud list, takes his seat, I wonder how the gay Tel Aviv lawyer will be welcomed by his party's "natural partners" in the Jewish Home.
For a man who ran on a platform of "No apologies," Bennett surely seemed apologetic when presenting his offer to the LGBT community, "Rights, yes. Recognition, no." He talked about how much he loves all Jews, even the gay ones, and how he served alongside them, but "Look, I've got a kipa on my head! Formalistic Judaism does not recognize same sex-marriage."
I might note that formalistic Judaism does not recognize weddings performed in Cyprus either, but I digress. What does formalistic Judaism actually say? And since it looks like the Jewish Home will, almost against its will, accept the Education Ministry, what will they teach?
It all starts with that perplexing pair of verses in Leviticus, 18:22 and 20:13, which we read yesterday in Israel and will be read by Jews abroad this week, prohibiting and penalizing "bedding a male the beddings of a woman." What exactly that means on the literal level is unclear, as I wrote two years ago (Rabbeinu Hananel seems to have suggested the same thing a thousand years ago), but halakhically it definitely forbids anal sex between men. But what if they're not men?
They must both be stoned if they are both adults, as it states: "Do not bed a man," whether he is the active or passive partner.
If a minor of nine years and a day or more is involved, the man who enters into relations or has the minor enter into relations with him should be stoned and the minor is not liable.
If the male [minor] was less than nine years old, they are both free of liability.
(Maimonides, Laws of Forbidden Relations 1:14)
Here is where the apologeticists' heads explode. You see, they love to explain how the severe penalties for sex between men is really about pedophilia, launching into lusty descriptions of Greek culture. But the fact is that by Torah law, a man having consensual sex with an adult is liable to the death penalty, but one raping an eight-year-old gets off scot-free. This is explicitly laid out in the Talmud, Sanhedrin 54b. Maimonides himself seems bothered by this, so he concludes:
It is, however, appropriate for the court to subject the adult to lashing for rebellious conduct for homosexual relations although his companion was less than nine years old.
Well, that's something. Except of course that the Hinukh, a comprehensive listing of the 613 commandments based on Maimonides' count, thinks another party should be subject to lashing:
If one was a minor below thirteen years and a day, but above nine years and a day, the adult is stoned whether he was the active or passive partner, while the minor is biblically exempt but lashed by rabbinical law.
So, Naftali, I wear a kipa too. And if I lived in a Jewish state that followed this ruling, I would do everything in my power to burn it to the ground. I guess the question is when you're willing to apply the rule promulgated in the last line of the first tractate of the Mishna, Berachot (9:5):
And it says, “It is time to act for God, they have nullified your Torah.” (Psalms 119:126) Rabbi Nathan says, “'They nullified your Torah' – because it is time to act for God.”
The best way to avoid apologetics is to have nothing to apologize for in the first place.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Your freedom of speech silences me

A guest post by Shoshana Keats JaskollL

There is an increasing trend in the Orthodox Jewish world- one that can be seen here in Bet Shemesh and worldwide.

The erasing of girls and women from magazines, newspapers and billboards.

It has gotten to the point where hardly any of the circulars delivered to local homes have images of females, or even images that hint at the feminine.

To understand the issue and the problems with it we suggest taking a look at this post - Vanishing Women.
A group of us, being concerned about the future of this city and sympathetic to the women who are harmed by this practice, produced a flyer to raise awareness of the damage of this policy.

This post is a response to certain feedback that we have received. The overwhelming reaction to our efforts has been positive. Charedi and Dati women contacted us and have spoken about the difficulties they are having due to this phenomenon.

For example: female speakers are prohibited from publicizing their pictures, newspapers alter photographs and history by erasing women, phonebooks list only the husband’s name, families are honored but only the men accept the awards, etc. This causes the women to feel increasingly marginalized. It also severely hampers kiruv efforts.

Some feedback was not positive. Responders who oppose our view that erasing females is wrong, told us that we “do not understand”. We have been called everything from ‘misguided’, to ‘dead wrong’. One local resident actually referred to us as ‘Satan’.

These are quotes from actual letters, our response follows:
  • If it bothers you, just don’t buy them, its really that simple. 
  • Women are so sexualized in the world that we must do the opposite:
  • A woman’s worth, her beauty is internal. 
  • Achdus! Why must you start up?
  • Its always been this way
  • We are telling our daughters that their externals are not important.
  • Preserving women’s privacy does not prevent them from having a major influence in our lives.
  • It’s our right

If it bothers you, just don’t buy them, its really that simple.

Well, no its not. Because these circulars are delivered to our homes and then our families are exposed to this distorted, offensive worldview- a view where women are objects and men are uncontrollable.

We are forced to throw away these circulars without opening them and yet, we are counted as numbers to the poor advertisers who actually pay because they think we are reading them. (Is this not dishonest by the way?) 

It is offensive to us to see publications that discriminate against women. We do not want them delivered to our doors. Yet we are given no choice. 

Moreover, you fail to consider the women who are put at significant disadvantage to their male counterparts. Open the RBS Views and you will see smiling male doctors, male real estate agents, male store owners, male health practitioners, but you will not see one woman. There is a reason that people put their pictures in ads. It elicits trust and recognition. By not allowing women to advertise with their pictures you are directly harming their parnasah. Is that ok? 

We should also mention here that it is illegal. 

It is illegal to discriminate according to one’s sex. 

We realize this will not matter to some, but we feel it is worth mentioning.

If a magazine feels it cannot print women, it must also not print men. Having one without the other is blatant discrimination.

“Women are so sexualized in the world that we must do the opposite”:

Let's put this clearly. We have a Torah. God created male and female. God gave us laws. We are meant to live Torah, choose life and not sway right or left. The middle ground is the holy ground- so says the Rambam. Far from being reactive and simply swinging far away from the world. We should be the guiding light. We must show that women are not to be exploited, not through nudity and not by erasing them.

“A woman’s worth, her beauty is internal. She is precious and her image should be guarded and reserved for her and her husband alone.” 

This amounts to telling a woman where she should and should not be. We will counter by saying that we are not jewels to be put into and taken out of a drawer when you so choose. Women are p e o p l e who have been trusted by God to know right from wrong. We have been given sachel and mitzvot to act appropriately and with honor-- and most of us do.

And we want to tell you a secret. 

When and if there is a woman who is less modest than you believe she should be, it is your commandment to look away. Yours. And the pasuk that people like to throw about “Kol Kevudah Bat Melech Pnima” and claim that it means that her worth is internal and that she must remain behind the scenes. That pasuk-- from tehillim, is used by Chazal to exempt a woman from activities requiring her appearance in public. It does not prohibit her from such activities. If she chooses, she can abstain. The key of course here is that it is her choice. It was not meant to manipulate a woman into staying out of sight.

Achdus! Why must you start up?

Well, this is a very difficult thing to discuss as this word is thrown into the faces of those people who tirelessly work to make things better. Achdus does not mean keeping silent when people are being hurt. It does not mean avoiding discussing problems in a community. Judaism has always been about encouraged arguing L’shem Shamayim and it shouldn’t stop now. But why, when people say, “Hey, this is damaging and its getting out of control” are we the ones being accused of sowing discord?
We have seen a chumash, the Torah itself -- edited for content in a girls school. They took out the stories of Lot and his daughters and that of Tamar and Yehuda-- the subjects they think God should have left out. We have seen Megillat Esthers, with no image of Esther- the same with female free hagadot etc. and picture books for children with no drawings of girls or women.

When you remove women and girls, you are altering the way Hashem made the world and you are removing the balance Hashem intended. You are also removing personal responsibility which is a core value of Judaism. 

Allowing people to bully others -- and many of these publications are bullied into this policy -- is not Achdus. Enabling the discrimination of women business owners is not achdus. Teaching little girls that they must be hidden and little boys that they are lust filled creatures who cannot be trusted, is not achdus.

And if we are going to speak of achdus, why do our sensitivities not come into the equation? What about the bullied publications and store owners?

It’s always been this way.
No. No, it hasn’t. It is part of the growing extremism. Please watch this:

As I woman, I feel that preserving women’s privacy does not prevent them from having a major influence in our lives.

This is simply untrue. This is not a privacy issue. No one is publicizing women who do not want to be publicized. What is happening is censorship of women who do want their name, face, product out there for parnasah purposes. Moreover, it is a censorship of an entire gender that is being normalized and it is a fallacy of logic to not see where it leads. When women are made pasul they are taken less seriously. They have less of a voice and will be seen as less worthy. It is a natural and inevitable conclusion. As mentioned above, it is not only faces that are being censored. Even anonymous photos of stockinged ankles, or skirts are not being allowed in these publications.

“We are telling our daughters to be modest and that their contribution to the community has nothing to do with their outward appearance. 

No, you are telling them that their appearance is a PROBLEM that it causes sin and is offensive and thus they must be hidden. What you are saying is that even a modest, respectable woman is a problem and that men cannot be trusted not to lust and so YOU girls, must hide and YOU boys, are lust filled creatures who cannot normally interact with a female because she is not a person, a spark of God you can respect, you can only see her as a sexual thing (YES that is what you are saying) and so we cannot allow you to have normal interactions.

And this. This is our very favorite:

“Must everybody do as you do? Don’t we also have the right to free speech?” 

Apparently, sir, the irony lost on you that your free speech silences all women. 

What you call a ‘right’ not to see women means removing their right to be seen.

And so, when you claim that it is a community’s right to hide, to shame, to put a girl in the back of the bus, you are not only physically erasing her but you are silencing her as well.

Friends, erasing women and girls from books and magazines is not a holy thing. It is a thing that comes from one of two places. It comes from misogyny, from thinking it is your right to tell a woman where she belongs. Or, it comes from a place of over sexualization, a place where men and women cannot interact normally because men cannot see a woman as more than her parts.

Is this who we are? We desperately hope not. 

It certainly isn't who we are meant to be.


Concerned Jews who want to stop the madness,

Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll, Gary Swickley, Mark Granat, Michael Lipkin, Eve Finkelstein, Yehuda Fulda, Chuck Davidson, Alisa Coleman, Nili Philipp, Naava Swirsky, Rena Hollander, Miriam Weed, Etana Hecht, Yaakov Har-Oz, Leah Berman, Gillian Kay, Sandy Cash, Daniel Goldman, Naomi Silverman, Miriam Friedman Zussman, Irena Gossels, Len Gossels, Alana Assaraf, Ashley Coleman, Shifra Friedman, Bracha Epstein, Jessica Golomb, Helen Abelesz , Sorcha Mildiner, Marta Berman

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