Sunday, April 26, 2015

ApologetLag


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.)
images
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. http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/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:
https://youtu.be/JKWj8pbWEvA

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.

Signed,

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

To add your name email: weareallbeitshemesh@gmail.com


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Monday, April 20, 2015

Let's be factual Global Warming


In what follows, I provide an example of what a factual, blather-free comment* about global warming looks like.

Fact #1: Even George W. Bush admits human beings cause global warming.

Fact #2: He made this admission because the scientific evidence is incontrovertible
Fact #3: The incontrovertible evidence is the reason why 34 national science academies, three regional academies, and both the international InterAcademy Council and International Council of Academies of Engineering and Technological Sciences have made formal declarations confirming human induced global warming and urging nations to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases

Fact #4: No one of significance disagrees with the consensus (which is why climate-change deniers typically resort to a mash of put downs, dime store psychology and rambling semi-coherency, instead of linking to something reputable as I have done in this comment)

If you disagree with anything I've said here, please respond in with a factual, blather-free comment of your own. Such a comment must do one of the following:
  • Provide a list of scientists who disagree with George W. Bush regarding the causes of global warming.
  • Provide a list of national or International scientific academies who have issued statements disagreeing with  George W. Bush regarding the causes of global warming. (Hint: None exist) 
  • Tell us why you're prepared to listen to scientists when it comes to everything else - technology, pharmaceuticals - but are completely disdainful of the scientific consensus when it comes to this particular issue (Note, if you're an anti-vaxx, homeopath-loving moron you need not comment here)
* I know that what I've provided here is an argument from authority; however its also an argument for accepting authority in a case such as this, ie, when all the authorities not only agree, but have also managed to convince a professional science-denier like George W. Bush that their consensus is correct.

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Would you wear it? The Brooks Brother's tish bekishe


Here's what's basically a tish bekishe sold by Brooks Brothers. Cost is 5 hundy, discounted from an even grand.


The first review explains the appeal: Once it's on; I'm a king. Any takers?


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My Rebbe is gone


 A guest post by Y. Bloch 


This morning, we lost one of the greatest Torah minds of our generation, Rabbi Dr. Aharon Lichtenstein, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Har Etzion, PhD in English Literature from Harvard, winner of the Israel Prize for Jewish Literature last Yom HaAtzmaut.

The first and wisest of them all professed  To know this only, that he nothing knew.  JOHN MILTON, Paradise Regained Studying under Rav Aharon and his fellow Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Yehuda Amital (who passed away in 2010), was one of the greatest privileges of my life. It seems like yesterday that I was sitting in the moadon, the gazebo where he gave shiur, waiting for the lesson to begin, wondering if I prepared the sources properly with my havruta (study partner), trying to anticipate what paths this once-in-a-generation scholar would lead us down.

In particular, I recall how, nineteen years ago, we were studying the third chapter of Ketubot, dealing with some of the most dense, complex and sensitive topics of sexuality in the Talmud. We had reached folio 39a, which at its top deals with the contraceptive device known as mookh.  Rav Aharon was ready to go on to the next mishna, but I begged, “Rebbe, what about mookh?” “Ah, mookh,” he replied, and then launched into a meticulous analysis of the varying opinions, the parallel passages, the practical conclusions. All that was at his fingertips.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

What a weird thing the human brain is...


What a weird thing the human brain is...

One of the superstitious guys at shul told me yesterday that his life changed once he started going to the mikva every day.  I didn't write down the claim, word for word, but he said something like, " Ever since I recommitted myself to mikva, God has been sending me unbelievable parnasah opportunities."

All I did was congratulate him, and wish him continued success, but meanwhile I was thinking the following simultaneous thoughts:

  • True/True: Unrelated Or, it may be true that (a) he goes to the mikva and (b) he's making more money, but how do we know that one is causing the other?
  • Is this a Dumbo's feather situation? Maybe this belief in mikva magic is making him more confident, and more willing to take risks and chase opportunities? That might be what's behind his new-found success.
  • What would the Spanish Rishonim say? Would they agree that God really cares about something like mikva? Would they allow that He rewards you for dunking (a custom, not a commandment) if the rest of your house is not in order?  Would they be comfortable with the idea of God taking note of something so minor, and compensating it so munificently? Isn't it something of an insult to suggest that God can be so carelessly manipulated?
And most surprisingly...
  • Can it hurt? Can I get in on this?  Like I said "What a weird thing the human brain is..." because while I was thinking the aforementioned skeptical/logical thoughts I was simultaneously entertaining superstitious hopes of my own.*
On the walk home, I decided this: My superstitious friend and I aren't at all different. Just he articulates his groundless ideas, while I keep mine to myself. 

"The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function" - F. Scott Fitzgerald




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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Maybe that Lubovitch lady really didn't save an entire airplane?


Okay, this is too funny to keep to myself.

Here's the original headline, and lede, as published Tuesday on CrownHeightsInfo

Lubavitcher Woman Saves Entire Airplane
22-year-old Mussie Weinfeld most likely saved the lives of a plane full of people when she suspected a malfunction with the aircraft just moments before takeoff. Despite being mocked and ridiculed, her insistence led to the plane being grounded after a serious malfunction was discovered.

And here's today's rejoinder from the airline:

After the story of a Lubavitcher woman whose vigilance saved an entire airplane – which was first reported here on CrownHeights.info – went viral, representatives of the airline – the Russian carrier Transaero – contacted us with a request that they be given the chance to give their side of the story.
The following is the statement sent to us by Transaero Airlines – complete and unedited – outlining the course of events that unfolded that Motzei Shabbos at Ben Gurion Airport, in accordance with their internal investigation:
Transaero Airlines: flight safety is key priority of the airline’s operations
A number of Israel’s media have published an information assuming that a passenger of Transaero’s UN312 flight carried out on April 12, 2015 contributed to detecting a defect in the aircraft condition.
As the initial information was published in the Israel’s media outlets with no comments requested either from the airline nor from independent aviation experts who could have helped to understand the actual state of the matter, the information was misinterpreted.
The airline finds it necessary to clarify the real circumstances. When carrying out the mandatory pre-flight system check at the engine starting point, the flight crew reported the indication of asymmetric work of slats. The flight crew called for specialists of the handling company of Ben Gurion airport. The diagnostics, carried out by the specialists, showed that the aircraft having this defect should not be operated on this flight.
At the time when the flight crew and the specialists of the airport were carrying out checks, one of the passengers reported to the cabin crew that she heard ambient noise. Although the passenger, in dead, drew higher attention to a strange for her noise, the decision to suspend the aircraft from operations was not made upon the information received from her, but as the result of the technical check of the aircraft. The aviation has strict regulations and rules of control over all systems of aircraft as part of pre-flight checks and preparatory operations. They were fully observed by the crew as well as by the specialists of the handling company.
Over 24 years of Transaero’s history, flight safety has always been and, at present, remains one of the top priorities of Transaero Airlines. Transaero has always been following the strict rules of preflight aircraft checks. Due to the airline’s highest consideration to safety issues, Transaero Airlines is included in the top 20 safest airlines in the world and the top 6 safest airlines in Europe in the international ranking of JACDEC research agency.

I should say - and please listen - that I don't think anyone behaved badly here. (though both Transero and CrownHeightInfo need to hire writers who can compose standard English sentences. Here's a winner from the Jews: When she told them her concerns about the plane they too laughed at her. She insisted that she will not fly on the plane if they didn’t check it out.)

The website reported a story (and maybe the woman did save the plane? Who know?) and the airline acted to protect their reputation (and maybe the story did happen exactly as they said it did?)

That's all kosher. Funny, but kosher.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Why I'm not a Republican


On Monday, I explained why I'm still not on board with Hillary Clinton's candidacy. Yesterday, I told you why I'm tentatively flirting with Marco Rubio. Neither post provided what would normally be called "reasons" for these two positions. As I explained, I have no logical reason to oppose Hillary or support Rubio, but something in my gut is pushing me in those directions, and in those posts I attempted to work out what it might be.

Today, I'm looking at my longstanding opposition to the positions and values of the Republican party. While, there are excellent, logical reasons for opposing GOP policies, might there be something else lurking beneath the surface? In addition to the good reasons, I possess deep inward feelings of opposition to Republicans, that (being honest)  have nothing to do with my intellect. What might be behind those feelings? Here are some possibilities.

1. You can't reason with them: Been trying and failing at that for years. They prefer to call names, or to make appeals to emotions, consequences,  authority, tradition or whatever. After a while, you get worn out.

2. They aggressively oppose matters that are irrelevant to them: For example, gay marriage.

3. Primarily populated by paranoid, nominally racist,  ignorant, hyper-religious plutocratic, militaristic, anti-science, white people See Fox News and their viewers. Or specific examples:
  • Paranoid: "The media hates me."  
  • Nominally racist: "You have to understand the Arab mentality"
  • Ignorant: The founding fathers were Christians. Chazal were haredim. etc.
  • Hyper-religious: God belongs in the public square; the government should take sides on matters of theology
  • Plutocratic: The Koches, and all the super wealthy GOP politicians. 
  • Militaristic: Four more wars!! Spend money on tanks, not health care!
  • Anti-science: Global warming is a hoax! Evolution is a lie! You can prevent the rapist from impregnating you if you really try!
4. They posses an unbearable certainty that their religion, or interpretation of the constitution, or view of history - or whatever - is the one sole correct POV to the exclusion of all others. The essential insight of pluralism - that no doctrine or belief system perfectly and completely contains the Absolute - escapes them. Or to put it another way, everything has 70 faces but the GOP accepts only one of them.

Okay, so above I've been cribbing from this weird, androgynous clown dressed in black who I found on the Internet. Now I'll let him talk for himself. What he has to say is certainly satire and propaganda and, yes, he's shooting fish in a barrel but the caricatures of Republicans and their arguments that are shown below aren't entirely false. To the extent that they are true, these caricatures may explain my visceral anti-Republicanism.

Listen to the clown.





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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Here comes Rubio


Okay, I can't deny it any longer. Something about Marco Rubio appeals to me, and as with my dislike for Hillary this relates to deep inward feelings rather than to the intellect.

I can't think of one good reason to like Marco Rubio, but as of this moment I do. Meanwhile, I can't think of one good reason to oppose Hillary, yet I'm still flinching at the idea of voting for her. How strange.

Why do I like Rubio? Possibilities: (being honest)

Generational loyalty. Like me MR belongs to Generation X. As a result, I suppose I have this entirely unjustified expectation that he'll share my point of view, and see the world the way that I see it.  I know this is blatant tribalism, but I doubt I'll be able to shake it until he gives me a reason to shake it. Cruz, the other Xer in the race, has already done this. 

He's a Gateway Republican Drug It's really no fun being the man without a country who always disagrees with his friends and neighbors on political issues. Perhaps I want to see what its like, for once, to be enthusiastic about the same candidate my neighbors are supporting. Perhaps Rubio can be that guy. Perhaps he's the candidate who can escort me in from the wilderness. Maybe that's what's behind the current Rubio appeal?  At this moment, Rubio seems non-crazy. He hasn't displayed any of the self-righteous stridency, or unbridled lunacy, or simplistic B&W thinking  that makes other Republicans so unappealing. To win the primary, I'll expect he'll have to start letting the crazy out, and when that happens our honeymoon will be over, but for now I can let myself pretend.  (I went through exactly this with John McCain who more or less had my vote until he chose Palin) 

He's non establishment I like outsiders and people who mix up expectations.  Rubio isn't a typical Republican like Cruz, Jeb and Rand are. He's not a boring Christian white guy who likes to talk about God and country and freedom in that phony way that always sounds hollow and insincere. Marco is also a Catholic, Mormon, Cuban, Spanish-speaking America who grew up poor, and climbed over establishment fixtures like Charlie Christ.  All those different experiences are positives, I think. And the fact that he's not a rich businessman who is hardwired to always take the side of rich businessmen is excellent, too.  

Remember all of this lovey-dovey is cancelled once Marco starts acting like Rand and Cruz....

Monday, April 13, 2015

Not ready for Hilary


I haven't gotten on board the Hillary bandwagon yet, and I'm not sure why. Something about her candidacy, and the idea of her becoming our next president, isn't sitting well -- but what is it?

Possibilities: (being honest)
  • She's old. Sorry, but my bias is that oldsters will be out of touch. This is not because they lack any particular skill or facility, but because the world has turned over in ten million different ways over the last 10 years. I don't know how a 50+ person manages or adjusts to such overhauls, and I say this in part because I know people who were 50+ when email arrived and still have not quite grasped it. Note: this was a big point against both Romney and McCain.
  • She's a woman. Intellectually, I'm no sexist. I know, and respect, female lawyers, doctors, engineers, and business owners. I'm the first to say that they are every bit as competent as men (if not more so) , and should be afforded the same opportunities at the same pay. I really and truly believe this.  But I'm also the product of a patriarchal culture. Is it possible that I'm flinching at the idea of putting an XX into the Oval Office because of terrible, primitive, illogical ideas acquired via osmosis during my youth and young adulthood? We know emotions can end up trumping  ideas even when the holder of the idea honestly wants his ideas to defeat his emotions. Could that be what's happening here? It would upset me if this were true, but (again being honest) this requires examination.
  • She belongs to the nineties.  I always liked Bill, but I wouldn't want him to be our president today. In every way, he is a creature of the nineties. Perhaps, I see his wife the same way.
  • She belongs to 2008 She ran an awful campaign in 2008, and allowed herself to be defeated by a nobody from nowhere (who ran a legendary well-executed campaign and has turned out to be a superbly disciplined executive) What makes anyone think she can do better this time around? Shouldn't the bad job she did with her campaign 8 years ago be a point against her now?
  • She's a Clinton: Drama, chaos and disorder follow her and her family around. In this way, she's the very opposite of Obama, who exudes professional cool in every situation. If the lunatic wing of the Republican party was able to derail the government with him in charge, I shudder to think what those crazy, anti-patriots will be able to do if a scandal queen like Hillary is in the top seat. The dysfunctional dance that a Clinton will probably do with a modern Republican Congress is likely to be nightmarish.
Maybe I'll change my mind as the campaign progresses and her message comes into focus, but for now I'm waiting to be dazzled. Cruz and Rand are both bozos, and Jeb Bush hasn't shown me a thing yet. Maybe Rubio - or some until-this-point unremarkable Democrat - will emerge. Let's wait and see, but for now, I'm still not ready for Hillary.


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Sunday, April 05, 2015

Bless You


A guest post by Y. Bloch

The most well-worn pages of our Haggadot are those in the section known as “Barech.” After the Seder night, we have no pressing need for the text of “Dayenu” or “Chad Gadya,” but we still have to say Birkat HaMazon, and as our leavened year-round birkonim have been put away, we pull out our Haggadot. After all, the version we say at the Seder is almost identical to what we say throughout the holiday week—with one exception. Many have the custom, as cited by the Aruch HaShulchan (O.C. 479:2), to say an extended HaRachaman, praying for “a day which is fully long, a day when the righteous sit, with crowns on their heads, enjoying the glow of the Divine Presence (Shechina).”
The first part of this insertion is a variation on a theme we know well. Every Shabbat and Yom Tov, we add a HaRachaman that makes reference to Olam HaBa, the World to Come; in each case, it is, essentially, a play on words, as in Midrashic sources, Olam HaBa is referred to as “a day which is fully restful (shabbat)” (Tamid 7:4, et al.) and “fully good (tov)” (Kiddushin 39b, et al). Thus, on the day of Shabbat, we admit that the true Shabbat is elsewhere, and on Yom Tov, literally “a day of good,” we admit that true good is elsewhere. Olam HaBa is also referred to as “fully long” (ibid), or eternal. However, we have already said the regular formula for Yom Tov, so what does this reference add? After all, if any holiday if called “The Long Day,” it is not Pesach, but Rosh HaShana!
Furthermore, what is the reference in the second part of this special HaRachaman? It seems to come from Rav’s famous statement (Berachot 17a): “The World to Come has neither eating nor drinking... rather, the righteous sit, with crowns on their heads, enjoying the glow of the Shechina.” As such, it seems quite out of place at the Seder—is there any meal in the Jewish calendar which involves more eating and drinking? Are we begging God to relocate us to a world where we won’t have to eat so much matza and drink so many cups of wine?
It seems that in order to understand this HaRachaman, we must reverse our hypothesis. We have assumed that it is connected to the day, and its placement within Birkat HaMazon is coincidental; this is, after all, the template for the ones we recite for Shabbat, Yom Tov, Sukkot, Rosh Chodesh and Rosh HaShana. But what if we were to start from the opposite point of view: that this HaRachaman is essentially connected to Birkat HaMazon, and its recitation on the Seder night is coincidental. This would indicate that there is something unique about this meal as a meal—but what could that be?
Let us return to the three-word source for Birkat HaMazon in the Torah (Devarim 8:10): “Ve-achalta, ve-savata u-verachta,” “You will eat, you will be satisfied, and you will bless.” The Written Torah spells out an obligation only in the case where one has eaten enough to be fully satiated; the Oral Torah expands this to specific amounts, and very small ones at that. In fact, this is God’s response in a beautiful legend in Talmud Berachot (20b). The angels accuse God of being partial to the Jewish people, to which He responds: “How can I not show favor to Israel? I wrote for them in the Torah, ‘You will eat, you will be satisfied, and you will bless Lord, your God,’ but they are so exacting upon themselves, even for an olive’s volume [of bread], even for an egg’s!”
In fact, for every meal we have throughout the year, whether for a mitzva or just for sustenance, we don’t even consider the issue of satisfaction, merely measuring the minimum amount. There is, however, one meal in which we cannot stop until we have fulfilled “ve-savata”—the Seder. We must eat our afikoman, our final portion of matza, which parallels the actual piece of the paschal sacrifice which our ancestors would eat, “al ha-sova,” being satiated. This is the one time when the entire nation fulfills the mitzva of Birkat HaMazon in its most literal sense.
With this in mind, we may return to our HaRachaman. It points out that the long meal of the Seder, where we literally drink and eat our fill, is only a reflection of the true sova, the ultimate satisfaction of being in God’s Presence. Thus, our proper fulfillment of the mitzvot of the Seder night allows us not only to reenact the Exodus, but to reconnect to those practices which define every day of our lives as Jews.

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Wednesday, April 01, 2015

God's Pesach Message to Orthodox Jewry


A guest post by @orthodiction


FROM THE DESK OF: The Almighty, Blessed be Me

Dear Jews:

Like roughly 93% of matzos three seconds after being packaged, Pesach is broken. And you broke it.

When I arranged for you to spend 210 years as slaves in Egypt, I wasn’t thinking, “Hey, I wonder if someone will really pay $11 for a box of potato cookies,” or “Maybe a guy should supervise the wheat 24/7 from the moment it is planted, looking away only briefly while it asexually reproduces.”

It was more like “If you’re going to be responsible for promoting justice on earth, you should probably have an appreciation of what injustice feels like, because, you know, experiential learning and all that.” Spoiler Alert, but if you read my novel, you’ll find that I intone “For you too were once strangers…” a lot more than I remind you to check for that third kosher sign on toilet bowl cleaner.

But somehow, you only seem to be able to relate to me through legalisms and loopholes, deciding when to build electrified fences around my commandments and when to dig tunnels. Is it cute to watch you legislate which materials can be Kashered and precisely how much nuclear fusion is required to Kasher each one? Sure. Do I smile a bit when Rabbis who never saw an olive spend multiple generations arguing about the size of one and somehow come up with something equal to two thirds of a matzo? I guess. But that’s not the point.

The point is very simple. Every spring, I want you to reflect on what it is like to be without freedom, and then I want you to do two things.

  1.  Think about what you can do to bring freedom to those that are lacking it. This can take many forms, and I am not picky. Donate, protest, click “Submit” on an online petition, or share a kind word with someone in a difficult situation. Not to get all metaphorical with you (enough of that in Genesis—am I right?), but there is bondage of all sorts in the world (no 50 Shades jokes, no 50 Shades jokes), of the physical, emotional, and even First World Problem variety. The more you can get rid of, the better. If someone hassles you about why you are only focusing on X when Y is clearly a much bigger issue, tell them they forgot to blowtorch their teeth for Pesach.
  2.  Think about how you are spending your own freedom. As bad as bondage is, it is a legitimate excuse for not getting things done. When you’re spending all day building pyramids (or, alternatively, seducing your mud-encrusted husbands in the fields, which is probably more difficult), no one can blame you for not answering the tent door when the Amnesty International guy shows up with a binder and a naive smile. But once you’re free, and your biggest crisis is the barista misspelling your name (it’s a Y, not a J, for the thousandth time), there is really no reason that you shouldn’t be doing something productive. Freedom is capital, and you need to account for it—to me, if that helps you focus, but ultimately to yourself. It’s not about Me’Avdut Le’Cherut, it’s about Me’Cherut Le’Something Meaningful.

So there you have it. After you’re done enslaving yourselves in grocery store lineup and under couches and squinting at lists of Rabbinically certified deodorant, take a minute (a minute and a half according to the Chazon Ish) to think about why I went through the whole Egypt routine in the first place. It certainly wasn’t so that we could see Christian Bale as Moses (two outstretched thumbs down!).

Read God's Sukkos Message to Orthodox Jewry


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Monday, March 30, 2015

The matzo longing for its mate


Several of us were confused this morning after reading All Grown Up and In Charge of the Seder a wonderful description of Seder nostalgia published in the Sunday Times by Jennifer Weiner.

She writes:
As a child, and as a young adult, I would savor the meal and collect memories — like, no matter where he was sitting, my brother Jake always ended up reading the portion of the Haggadah about bare breasts and the matzo longing for its mate
Having been teenage boys ourselves, we all knew where to find the passage about breasts --
and populous-- as it is stated:"I made you as numerous as the plants of the field. You grew and developed, becoming very attractive, your breasts firm and your hair grown long; but you were naked and bare."
-- but where does the haggadah say anything about a matzo longing for its mate?

Our Twitter pal Shlomo Kaye found the answer.



The excerpt above is from On Wings of Feedom: The Hillel Haggadah for the nights of Passover by Rabbi Richard N. Levy where this interesting recitation / meditation / kavanah is given for Yachatz. Its absent from Orthodox versions of the Haggadah, which explains why no one from my OJ set could place it.

Connecting the broken matzah to the verse from Songs is a clever bit of interpretation - note the verse's mention of reclining. and recall that the matzo is hid in the "place where [we] recline"  -  but whose interpretation is it? Is it something old that the Reform authors of this haggadah retained after Orthodoxy forgot it? Or is the interpretation an example of Reform creativity?

I went to Midrash Shir Hashirim first to see if any of Our Rabbis made this association, but came up empty. In that collection of interpretations, no one connects this verse to matzoh, or to Pesach reclining. 

Nonetheless, the idea of longing - for God, for redemption, for freedom - is not an idea that's foreign to Pesach or the Seder. 

In fact, the theme of longing - by which I mean a strong, persistent desire or craving - is one that runs through Shir Hashirim, the love poem that has been allegorized as the story of Israel's relationship with God. This allegorization is one reason why Shir Hashirim has become a Pesach text, second only to the Hagadah. 

I rather like the idea of picking up these delicate threads, however tenuously, at Yachatz. I like using the separated matzohs as a symbol for the break that exists between God and His people and for the mutual craving that followed. I like the idea of starting the Seder with the idea that we are separated from God, and the thought that the ritual meal will reunify us with Him. Orthodox Jews aren't taught to think about Yachatz this way. For us, this interpretation is revelatory. 

Framing Yachatz this way, also connects the separation of the matzo to the separation of the two Yom Kippur goats, and all that represents, and to the two birds that are brought to cure us of various forms of impurity. One piece of matzo, remains on the table while the other is hidden away. Likewise one goat remains in the Temple, while the other is sent into the wilderness and one bird is sacrificed as an olah, while the other becomes a chatas. Both the birds and the goats are considered "mates" to each other. 

Its a simple thing, imagining the matzo longing for its mate, but it unlocks so much excellent and powerful symbolism!

Fire theodicy: Wallenstein


As a community can we please resolve not to tolerate conclusions such as the one reached by Zecharia Wallenstein? He is the clown who allowed himself to be videotaped giving a religious explanation for the fire that killed 7 children.

His conclusions are too stupid and too convoluted to summarize in full, but briefly Wallenstein worships a monster God, and this monster God murdered seven innocent children in a specific way because He doesn't like it when we use the 18 minutes to finish our shabbos presentations. See it here

Now I want to be fair. I don't think Wallenstein's approach is entirely invalid. I agree that its proper and constructive to introspect after a tragedy. I support any efforts at self-improvement.

But what I can not abide - what I insist that we as a community refuse to tolerate - is this idea that we have the ability to reliably uncover whatever one-to-one connections between tragedy and sins that may exist.

You can use the fire to strengthen your shabbos observance if you wish - that's fine - but don't allow yourself to become convinced, as Wallenstein has become convinced,  that God murdered seven children for the sake of delivering this message to you. God's ways are inscrutable.  



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Thursday, March 26, 2015

Men Seder


Our friends at the Wall Street Journal seem to have just discovered that men like to drink alcohol in the company of other men. They are running a story today about a Congregation in Michigan that hosted a Man Seder complete with ribs and scotch. The purpose of the event was to draw men together to learn about Pesach and the Seder in a congenial atmosphere.



Capitalizing on base male instincts - yes, surprise:  we like meat, booze and hanging-out- for Jewish outreach purposes is certainly a good idea, but is it news? Is it a trend?

Moreover, and  though its only briefly eluded to in the article, I think the really interesting thing is how men tend to drop out of roles and occupations after women arrive and assert themselves. For examples, see the nursing and teaching professions, and the whole of heterodox Judaism.



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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Cardinal in shul again


I see on the Interwebs that Cardinal Timothy Dolan was invited to preach in a shul* one Friday night last February. Naturally, I find this horrifying.

*Temple Emanuel, the Reform prayer house. Let's not quibble over my use of the word shul

Back in 2013 an Orthodox shul made the same mistake. What I said then, applies now and I repeat it here:

The Church is an anti-Semitic organization that subjected us to two-thousands years of suffering, while cultivating the soil of Europe for the Holocaust. To date, they haven't repudiated their anti-Semitic Popes, or their bulls or their encyclicals; in fact, the Church currently is in the process of beatifying one of these Jew hating popes. During the Holocaust, which, let's be clear, the Church helped cause and did precious little to prevent, churchmen stole Jewish children and, with the blessing of every subsequent Pope, refused to return the ones who had been baptized. But their representative should be welcomed into a shul on Shabbos and invited to preach?

In short: To allow a Cardinal to address a Jewish congregation on shabbos is demeaning. It demeans the shabbos. It demeans the sanctuary. It demeans the congregation. To celebrate it is a confession of insecurity and an act of obsequiousness. Until the Church renounces its shameful past, and completes a true and painful teshuva process, there's no reason for Jews to kiss the toes of St. Peter. The Church, by the grace of God, no longer has any power over us, and nothing to offer us. Self pride demands we remember that, and also what they did to us.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A Fairy Tale?

@azigra

The groom mentioned in the below article from February 24, 1954 is the current day Rachmastrifk Rebbe of Boro Park. The bride is the sister of the current Skver Rebbe of New Square. 

The article refers to another paper's report of people pushing to "touch" the bride's father Yaakov Yosef Twersky, founder of New Square. However, a family member told the reporter that "there was no such foolishness about touching the father of the bride or that kind of thing."

Did this family member lie about Chasidish thought and practice for the purposes of not appearing foolish to the general public? Even if there honestly is no concept of benefiting from touching a Rebbe, is it so much different than the other forms of Rebbe veneration shown, ie shirayim? I've seen chasidim push or wait on lines for a long time to shake a Rebbe's hand. I was even trampled over once by a crowd of non Chasidim pushing to run along side a car containing a Rebbe. 

Rebbes are miracle workers in the minds and tales of Chasidim. It is not hard to understand how the devolution of the Zaddik system resulted in this possible mind set. 


(Unnecessary disclosure: the groom was my 'sandek'.) 




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