Thursday, November 30, 2000


This is a personal blog, a place where I empty my head and discuss matters that interest me with like-minded people. There's no agenda, no plan to change the world, and no interest in winning converts to my cause (There is no cause.)

For lack of a better metaphor, please consider this blog a very large shabbos table, where we sit together and discuss the parsha, the news, and other events of the day. Sometimes we yell, often we gossip, and, once in a while, the talk turns salacious.

Our arguments are lively, but at the end of the day, its all just talk.

Thursday, October 26, 2000

Friday, April 21, 2000

posted April 21, 2005

I have been told that the piece below appeared in the American Yated Neeman.

A Kinus Hisorerus Concerning Bris Mila
This past Sunday evening, hundreds of people gathered at a Kinus Hisorerus concerning Bris Mila, organized by the Vaad L'Mishmeres Bris Kodesh. It took place in the Khal Bnei Ashkenaz Shul in the heart of Monsey, and was graced by Monsey's leading Rabbonim.

The evening opened with a recitation of Tehillim led by Rabbi Mordechai Berg, Menahel of Yeshiva Shaarei Arazim. The Moroh D'Asra, Rav Shraga Feivel Zimmerman, introduced the featured speaker as a leading Rosh Yeshiva and Posek in the Unites States, and as a Mohel Mumcheh, and called upon Rav Yisroel Belsky to deliver a shiur.

Rav Belsky opened with an erudite discussion of whether Metzitza B'Peh is an integral part of Mila or was instituted by Chazal to prevent sakona. He also discussed its ramifications al pi sod. He invoked the teshuva of Rav Dovid of Karlin, that regardless, the Gemara states that it is prohibited to change the Mesora of Klal Yisroel for no reason.

Rav Belsky highlighted this opinion with two vignettes.

He related that Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky informed his talmidim that the two Mohelim in Vilna who didn't do metzitza B'Peh, died from a dreaded disease of the mouth.

He recounted that when the AIDS virus was discovered, many Mohelim were scared to do Metzitza B'Peh. They asked Rav Moshe Feinstein what to do. Rav Moshe answered, "Chas V'Sholom to be mevatel it," and proclaimed "Shomer Mitzva Lo Yeidah Dovor Ra", that one doing a mitzvah will be protected. Rav Reuven Feinstein, who was present, asked his father, "Isn't it your opinion that metzitza isn't part of the Mitzvas Mila? How then can it be a source of protection?" Rav Moshe answered, "A holy Minhag is also part of a Mitzva that merits protection, even though it isn't a chiyuv." This was, and is, the approach of Poskim, regardless of the source of Metzitza.

Rav Belsky noted that a Rabbinic organization representing one thousand Rabbonim, recently proclaimed that Metzitza B'Peh is not necessary. They said that Mohelim should be persuaded to stop this antiquated and primitive practice. Their strident language was subsequently toned down in a public press release. They based their opinion on a study conducted in Israel associating Metzitza B'Peh with the deaths of infants. Their conclusion is that antibodies for herpes, found in ninety percent of the population, is the cause. This study was also cited by the Health Commissioner of NY, with the addition that of the ninety percent of people with antibodies, nine percent shed viruses in their saliva.

Rav Belsky stated that the Israeli medical profession is known for its inaccuracy and its anti-religious bias. Furthermore, the study doesn't present any proofs, only associations. One of the Mohelim even tested negative for antibodies. In a presentation to the city health commissioners, a famed pediatric urologist asserted that after examining two hundred thousand cases of Metzitza B'Peh, not even one infection was found. Rav Belsky calculated that if the statistics presented were correct, there should be five thousand cases a year, and there is not even one. When Rav Belsky presented this to the health commissioner, he replied, "Based on the statistics, transmission is inevitable."

In other words, my mind is made up; don't confuse me with the facts.

Rav Belsky countered, "We are the modern ones, basing our positions on scientific proofs and supplying statistical evidence. It is clear by the light of logic that there is no connection between Mila and infection. It is others that aren't showing cause and effect, engaging in speculation, using kindergarten-level reasoning. Their position is based on primitive emotions and antiquated superstitions." He observed that it is always Mohelim that are more cautious than doctors, delaying Brisos even when the latter say it's okay.

Rav Belsky declared that it is unprecedented for Jews to ask the government to interfere in religious practice. Even those who don't practice Metzitza B'Peh are shocked and nauseated by this. Furthermore, this approach to the government was concluded long before the unfortunate incident of the death of a child, and wasn't based on concern for this incident, but rather to further an agenda.

Rav Belsky further noted that the government is focusing on a certain Mohel. In his professional opinion, "this Mohel is the best of the best, the superstar Mohel", both in talent and in cleanliness. He has already tested negative in all blood tests. If he can be banned, then everyone else is next. Rav Belsky relayed that these forms of unfounded suspicions are a much larger disease, which will claim many more victims, and is far more contagious than any virus. Rav Belsky concluded that all gezeiros are products of our weakening in Shmiras haMitzvos. "If we will strengthen our adherence to Metzitza B'Peh, the decrees will disappear on their own."

The final speaker was Rav Zimmerman. He quoted the Gemara that states that Mitzvos such as Mila, which were done by our forefathers with Mesiras Nefesh, will always continue. That is the secret of its practice in trying circumstances, such as Communist Russia and during World War II. Even those distant from Shemiras Hamitzvos are attached to Mila, because through Mesiras Nefesh, it has become an integral part of the Jewish Soul. When someone causes the Mitzvah and traditions of Mila to be an object of scorn and mockery in the media, it is an attack on the Jewish soul. The outrage expressed by the masses and the strong and sharp speeches of their Rabbonim, are the primal scream of the Jewish soul in pain.

Rav Zimmerman asked "If there was a question, why weren't the Gedolei Yisroel, such as Rav Elyashiv, Rav Wosner and other manhigim consulted? What allows people to meet with the government and the media, with the express intent to regulate Mitzvah observance? What permits destroying the parnossa and reputation of a renowned Mohel, one that has performed seven thousand Brisos in Russia, at great personal danger and no charge? How can one take a Shliach Tzibbur and turn him into a Korban Tzibbur? How can one heap scorn on Shomrei Mitzvos and their Manhigim? How can one mock Mitzvos and Torah Sheba'al Peh?"

He answered that it comes from the hashkafa pesula of 'enlightened' individuals who consider everyone else primitive barbarians, cavemen dwelling in the dark.

Rav Zimmerman declared, "It is this hashkafa pesula and its ramifications that we are protesting tonight and proclaim 'Lo Yaaseh Kein Bimkomeinu'. It is simply not acceptable."

Rav Zimmerman quoted the commentary of Rav Shamshon Refoel Hirsch on Parshas Pinchas that peace - shalom - isn't quiet or appeasement, but rather the restoration of rights, human and divine, and the creation of harmony between Hashem and His creation. He announced, "We are here tonight to create Shalom. Shalom means; restoring the right of Kehillos to follow their Mesorah and Manhigim restoring Kvod Hatorah and Kvod Shomayim - thus creating harmony between Yisroel, Oraysa and Kudsha Brich Hu".

Rav Zimmerman related a story about the Brisker Rov and Rav Chaikin, the Rosh Yeshiva of Aix Les Ban, France. They were walking together in Switzerland, when an impressive looking figure passed by and greeted them. The Brisker Rav warmly returned the greeting. When he was later informed that this individual had caused great harm to Torah institutions, the Brisker Rav said, "Had I known, I never would have greeted him", and proceeded to communicate this individual's faults at length. Rav Chaikin, who was a noted talmid of the Chofetz Chaim asked "Isn't this loshon hora?" The Brisker Rav asked him, "If you see someone in the midst of pick pocketing, may you scream 'thief'?" Rav Chaikin answered, "Of course, if it is a to'eles, to warn the victim." The Brisker Rav concluded, "And if you see someone pick pocketing all of Klal Yisroel, isn't it also a to'eles to warn them?" So too, if people are trying to pickpocket the Mitzva of Mila and its minhagim from Klal Yisroel, it is our responsibility to warn them."

Rav Zimmerman concluded that it is our duty to increase our Emunah. He noted that external appearance and practice can be deceiving. Two Jews can wear the same Tefillin, eat the same Matzohs, and learn the same daf of Gemara, and nevertheless be different internally. "There are those who believe in the divinity of Torah Sh'Baal Peh and those who don't. There are those that believe in Mesorah and those who don't. There are those who believe in Emunas Chachomim and those who don't." Our obligation is to increase our Emunah which will hasten the Geulah. An appeal was made by the Vaad L'Mishmeres Bris Kodesh to contribute to the expensive legal fees involved in this case, by donating to "Friends of Bris Mila", PO Box 642, Brooklyn, NY 11219. Booklets documenting the facts of the case and letters from Gedolei Yisroel were distributed.

Tuesday, February 08, 2000

Religious police in Saudi Arabia arrest mother for sitting with a man

Religious police in Saudi Arabia arrest mother for sitting with a man
by Sonia Verma
Source: Times of London

A 37-year-old American businesswoman and married mother of three is seeking justice after she was thrown in jail by Saudi Arabia's religious police for sitting with a male colleague at a Starbucks coffee shop in Riyadh.

Yara, who does not want her last name published for fear of retribution, was bruised and crying when she was freed from a day in prison after she was strip-searched, threatened and forced to sign false confessions by the Kingdom's “Mutaween” police.

“If I want to make a difference I have to stick around. If I leave they win. I can't just surrender to the terrorist acts of these people,” said Yara, who moved to Jeddah eight years ago with her husband, a prominent businessman.

Her ordeal began with a routine visit to the new Riyadh offices of her finance company, where she is a managing partner.

The electricity temporarily cut out, so Yara and her colleagues — who are all men — went to a nearby Starbucks to use its wireless internet.

She sat in a curtained booth with her business partner in the café's “family” area, the only seats where men and women are allowed to mix.

For Yara, it was a matter of convenience. But in Saudi Arabia, public contact between unrelated men and women is strictly prohibited.

“Some men came up to us with very long beards and white dresses. They asked ‘Why are you here together?'. I explained about the power being out in our office. They got very angry and told me what I was doing was a great sin,” recalled Yara, who wears an abaya and headscarf, like most Saudi women.

The men were from Saudi Arabia's Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, a police force of several thousand men charged with enforcing dress codes, sex segregation and the observance of prayers.

Yara, whose parents are Jordanian and grew up in Salt Lake City, once believed that life in Saudi Arabia was becoming more liberal. But on Monday the religious police took her mobile phone, pushed her into a cab and drove her to Malaz prison in Riyadh. She was interrogated, strip-searched and forced to sign and fingerprint a series of confessions pleading guilty to her “crime”.

“They took me into a filthy bathroom, full of water and dirt. They made me take off my clothes and squat and they threw my clothes in this slush and made me put them back on,” she said. Eventually she was taken before a judge.

“He said 'You are sinful and you are going to burn in hell'. I told him I was sorry. I was very submissive. I had given up. I felt hopeless,” she said.

Yara's husband, Hatim, used his political contacts in Jeddah to track her whereabouts. He was able to secure her release.

“I was lucky. I met other women in that prison who don't have the connections I did,” she said. Her story has received rare coverage in Saudi Arabia, where the press has been sharply critical of the police.

Yara was visited yesterday by officials from the American Embassy, who promised they would file a report.

An embassy official told The Times that it was being treated as “an internal Saudi matter” and refused to comment on her case.

Tough justice

— Saudi Arabia’s Mutaween has 10,000 members in almost 500 offices

— Ahmad al-Bluwi, 50, died in custody in 2007 in the city of Tabuk after he invited a woman outside his immediate family into his car

— In 2007 the victim of a gang rape was sentenced to 200 lashes and six years in jail for having been in an unrelated man’s car at the time. She was pardoned by King Abdullah, although he maintained the sentence had been fair

Source: Archives

McCain Seals GOP Nomination As Romney Suspends Campaign

McCain Seals GOP Nomination As Romney Suspends Campaign

AP News

Feb 07, 2008 13:04 EST

John McCain effectively sealed the Republican presidential nomination on Thursday as chief rival Mitt Romney suspended his faltering presidential campaign. "I must now stand aside, for our party and our country," Romney told conservatives.

"If I fight on in my campaign, all the way to the convention, I would forestall the launch of a national campaign and make it more likely that Senator Clinton or Obama would win. And in this time of war, I simply cannot let my campaign, be a part of aiding a surrender to terror," Romney told the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington.

Romney's decision leaves McCain as the top man standing in the GOP race, with Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul far behind in the delegate hunt. It was a remarkable turnaround for McCain, who some seven months ago was barely viable, out of cash and losing staff. The four-term Arizona senator, denied his party's nomination in 2000, was poised to succeed George W. Bush as the GOP standard-bearer.

Romney launched his campaign almost a year ago in his native Michigan. The former Massachusetts governor and venture capitalist invested more than $40 million of his own money into the race, counted on early wins in Iowa and New Hampshire that never materialized and won just seven states on Super Tuesday, mostly small caucus states.

McCain took the big prizes of New York and California.

"This is not an easy decision for me. I hate to lose. My family, my friends and our supporters... many of you right here in this room... have given a great deal to get me where I have a shot at becoming President. If this were only about me, I would go on. But I entered this race because I love America."

McCain prevailed in most of the Super Tuesday states, moving closer to the numbers needed to officially win the nomination. Overall, McCain led with 707 delegates, to 294 for Romney and 195 for Huckabee. It takes 1,191 to win the nomination at this summer's convention in St. Paul, Minn.

"I disagree with Senator McCain on a number of issues, as you know. But I agree with him on doing whatever it takes to be successful in Iraq, on finding and executing Osama bin Laden, and on eliminating al-Qaida and terror," Romney said.

Romney acknowledged the obstacles to beating McCain.

"As of today, more than 4 million people have given me their vote for president, that's of course, less than Senator McCain's 4.7 million, but quite a statement nonetheless. Eleven states have given me their nod, compared to his 13. Of course, because size does matter, he's doing quite a bit better with the number of delegates he's got," Romney said.

The Huckabee campaign said the former Arkansas governor would push on.

"We're still in the race and we're still competing for delegates, and today demonstrates how long and windy to the White House this is," said Chip Saltsman, Huckabee's campaign manager.

Romney's departure from the race came almost a year after his formal entrance, when the Michigan native declared his candidacy on Feb. 12, 2007, at the Henry Ford Museum of Innovation in Dearborn, Mich.

Over the ensuing 12 months, Romney sought the support of conservatives with a family values campaign, emphasizing his opposition to abortion and gay marriage, as well as his support for tax cuts and health insurance that would benefit middle-class families.

"We need to teach our children that before they have babies, they get married," he told voters at his campaign events.

But he was dogged by charges of flip-flopping, a criticism that undermined the candidacy of another Massachusetts hopeful — John Kerry in 2004. In seeking to unseat Sen. Edward M. Kennedy in 1994, Romney said he would be a better advocate for gay rights than his rival and he favored abortion rights.

Throughout his campaign, Romney was questioned by voters and the media about his Mormon faith. Hoping assuage voters skeptical of electing a Mormon president, Romney gave speech on Dec. 6 in College Station, Texas, that explicitly recalled remarks John F. Kennedy made in 1960 in an effort to quell anti-Catholic bias. He vowed to serve the interests of the nation, not the church, if elected president.

In early voting Iowa, Romney sought votes by casting himself as the guardian of the Reagan-era conservative triad — a three-legged stool, as the candidate put it — of a strong national defense, strong economy and strong families.

Fueled by what would grow to more than $35 million of personal donations, his campaign hired top-notch staff in the early voting states, and Romney scored an early win when his organization topped the field at the Iowa Straw Poll in August.

By that time, the national front-runners, McCain and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, had virtually ceded the lead-voting state to Romney.

Instead, McCain focused on New Hampshire, second on the calendar, while Giuliani employed an untested strategy of waiting out the early primary contests and instead staking his candidacy on a strong showing in the Jan. 29 Florida primary.

Romney's goal was to score back-to-back wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, clearing the field and creating momentum to roll through Florida — where he enjoyed the support of top aides to former Gov. Jeb Bush — and seal the nomination in the Super Tuesday contests.

Instead, Romney was beaten Jan. 3 in Iowa by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a former Southern Baptist minister who received an unexpected outpouring of support in the caucuses from voters identifying themselves as evangelicals.

Five days later, Romney suffered a second consecutive defeat in New Hampshire, when McCain won the primary in part with the support of independents attracted to his self-styled maverick campaign.

Romney, who headed the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, tried to cast each defeat in competitive terms, saying his second-place finishes amount to "silver medals." He also highlighted the "gold" he won in between and in the little-watched Wyoming caucuses.

Nonetheless, Romney took a cue from Huckabee's win, as well as Democrat Barack Obama's Iowa upset of rival Hillary Rodham Clinton, as a sign voters wanted change in Washington.

On the stump, he retooled his speech to harken back to the theme he broached in Dearborn, that America's future, and that of its government, were dependent on innovation. His campaign also hung new banners reading, "Washington is Broken," as well as a to-do list Romney would complete as president.

Romney and McCain went head-to-head in the Jan. 13 Michigan primary, and Romney won, in part by highlighting his background as a business consultant and venture capitalist. When McCain acknowledged what seemed to be obvious, that not all of Detroit's lost auto industry jobs would be recovered, Romney pounced.

He accused the senator of pessimism, outlining a $20 billion industry recovery package and telling audiences in economically ailing Michigan, "I will fight for every single job."

Romney also tweaked his stump speech to criticize McCain for stating that he was more familiar with foreign affairs and military matters than economic issues.

Highlighting his 25-year business career, he told audiences, "Senator McCain says the economy is not his strong suit; well, it is my strong suit."

As the calendar progressed, however, McCain picked up a big-ticket win in the Jan. 19 South Carolina primary. Romney instead focused on his victory in the Nevada caucuses the same day.

Ten days later, the two squared off again in the Florida primary, where McCain scored a major upset after winning endorsements from the state's two top elected Republicans — Gov. Charlie Crist, a popular figure who had previously said he planned to remain neutral in the race, and Sen. Mel Martinez.

The following day, Giuliani dropped out of the race and endorsed McCain. A day later, popular California Gov. Arnold Schwarzeneger announced his endorsement of McCain, reflecting a coalescing of Republican support behind the senator as he approached a Super Tuesday showdown with Romney.

Romney's final pitch was to label McCain a liberal like Clinton and Obama, a charge tantamount to heresy in the GOP. He was backed by conservative media voices like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter.

Source: AP News