Monday, June 30, 2014

The Torah true response to evidence

What follows will illustrate the difference between regular people and torah true people.

Claim: the moon is made from green cheese.
Counter - evidence: astronauts return from the moon with rocks
Regular person: Well what do you know. I guess the moon is made from rocks.

Claim: the moon is made from green cheese.
Counter - evidence: astronauts return from the moon with rocks
Torah true person #1: obviously the astronaut is lying. All he wants to do is destroy our emunah to justify his own love for pork and loose women
TT #2: When we said the moon was made from cheese we meant the other moons not this one
TT #3: The moon used to be made from cheese but the teva changed and now it isn't
TT #4: the moon is both cheese and rock in a spiritual way that none of us are holy enough to understand
TT #5: when we said the moon was made from cheese we were speaking allegoricall
TT#6: Tomorrow the scientists will just change their minds again and tell us the moon is made from cheese


TT#8 To understand why the rocks are not a problem, you will first need to understand neo platonian metaphysics, aristotelian meta linguistics, maharal, moreh nevuchim, ralbag, rashbag, ben bag bag, Kant, Heidigger, Schilling, and Plantinga. But of course you're just an intellectually lightweight blogger, influenced by the current zeitgeist, with no deep understanding of anything, only interested in scoring cheap shots and preaching to your echo chamber, so I'm not going to waste my time explaining it to you.

TT#9: The rocks were put there on purpose at time of creation to fool the scientists/to test who's emuna is real.

TT#9 People died going to the gas chambers singing ani maamin that the moon is made of green cheese, how could you question that?

TT#10 My father told me its made of green cheese, and his father told him, all the way back to the original green cheese revelation. Are you calling my father a liar?

TT#11: GCM (Green Cheese Moon) has sustained our people for 3000 years (insert Mark Twain quote here). Those who questioned GCM are now consigned to the dustbin of history. They have no past, no future and no present. In fact, if it wasnt for me constantly reminding you of how bad the GCM deniers are, you wouldn't even know about them.

TT#12: Maicheesidies has paskened that GCM is a required belief. There's nothing to debate.

TT#13: If Chazal said GCM is true, then thats more real than anything else, even astronauts with rocks. Chazal create reality, its emes veyatziv.

TT#14: True, its a kashyeh. But no one ever died from a kashyeh. When Eliyahu Hanavi comes he will provide the tirutz

TT#15: Its pure gaavoh to think you can answer such questions, or even ask such questions. We know Chazal were 100% right.

Don't forget those who simply compartmentalize: "I believe religiously that the moon is made of cheese, but that has no bearing on my secular understanding that it is made of rock"

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Thursday, June 26, 2014

MKs Pray

I see, some MKs went into the Knesset chapel and said tehillim for the missing boys. Kol Hakovod. plus nice one, MKs!

Unfortunately, certain parties won't let it stop there.

For example, we're told by Cross Currents that this is "not your mother's knesset" because some MKs prayed --and with a mechitza!! Only, please tell us who BUILT the chapel, mechitzah included, in the first place? Oh right. The members of our "mother's knesset".

Next we have various parties who think its just awful the UTJ didn't participate, when in fact a handful of their members did show up. Anyway, does it really matter that the UTJ MKs missed a photo op? Why?

We also find ourselves wondering if the ARAB MKs participated? (and why doesn't anyone boasting about how the "whole Knesset said Tehillim" care to remember that the whole knesset includes Arabs?) Their absence - if indeed they were absent - bothers me more than the missing UTJ members.

Finally, let's all complain about the incredibly thoughtless way the chapel was built. Really? Men in front women in the back? Men with plenty of room, and women crowded together in a tenth of the space? Not cool, guys. And not the way to win friends and influence people either.

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Knowing the mind of God

Is God using the kidnapping to send us a message? 

Well, maybe, but the problem with this approach is "the message" we discover God is sending always ends up confirming our pre existing biases and supporting whatever changes we already thought the world required. A total coincidence I am sure but for me that recurring coincidence renders the whole exercise invalid. (For instance, will anyone allow that the kidnapping might be God's way of telling us to get out of the West Bank? Could it be a mida kneged mida for how we've treated Arabs? No, of course no one will suggest those messages are what God has in mind but as messages aren't they just as viable as any other message our subjective, imperfect, self interested minds might dream up?)

Moreover, what good is a message when it doesn't come with a decoder that makes the message comprehensible? Why would God make three boys suffer for the purpose of sending us a message when realistically there is no way for his subjective, imperfect. self interested humans to figure out what it is?
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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Answer to YU's Money Problems

A writer at the Yeshiva World thinks YU should solve its financial problems by shlepping down to Lakewood for instruction on shnurring from synagogues.

This is a match made in heaven, I think. Lakewood is great at setting up financial scams and YU is great at falling for them. What could go wrong??
This is a tale of two cities. It is a tale of two cities, or rather two communities – that are both in...

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Make God Dance by Baking Challah

It's always amusing and interesting to see how customs shift and develop over time. A new example is the fetish many are making over "challah baking" and the belief that the act of kneading some dough and putting it in the oven can win divine mercy and cause the creator of the universe to drop everything and act on your behalf. (See the shared link below)

The origins of the custom are as follows:

1: Yechezkel announces that giving gifts to the priests causes a blessing to rest on your house. (Total Unrelated Coincidence: Yechezkel was a priest!!) See Ezek: 44:30

(By the way, in this context: "Challah" is one of the gifts a priest gets (the first of the dough.))

2: The Mishna warns that women will die in childbirth if they don't take Challah (by which we mean, giving the priest his gift from the dough.)

3: The Gemarah says that lots of bad things will happen to you if you neglect to deliver challah to the priest. See Shabbat 32:B

  •  Though Ezekiel promises a blessing, he does not disclose the nature of the blessing. He just says it will "rest on the house"
  • The rule about giving the priest a gift of dough can be carried out by anyone. It does not have to be a women. And, presumably, if a man does it the blessing is delivered all the same.
  • Bad things happen to you irrespective of who (man or woman) fails to deliver the dough to the priest
  • All people get their sins examined when they are in danger. Women are in danger when they are in childbirth, hence their sins are examined at that time.
SUM UP: None of this has anything to do with BAKING Challah or women per se, or groups of women gathering to bake challah. The point is the gift of dough (which can be dough used for any type of bread) and getting it delivered to a kohen by either a man OR a woman.

However, somehow (and you can probably connect the dots yourself) this old idea that bringing dough to the priest invites blessing has morphed into this new idea that baking challah compels God to do what you want.

And of course, there is probably no way, at this late date, to stamp it out. 
Women in our community believe that challah baking assists children with cancer and injuries in some positive way.

Picture taken from post in a Jewish cooking group.
(Name of the person posting and group have been blocked out to avoid from embarrassing them as their intentions are certainly pure)

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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Great moments in AH (*the* reason for the kidnapping)

Great moments in ass hattery
"We'll maybe there is a connection between the 16 annual gay parade in tel aviv and the two 16 year old boys kidnapped. It could lead to the destruction of israel when Jews spit on the torah by making a rebellion such as this filthy parade."
I can sort of forgive the author of this snippet for believing that God shares his own personal prejudices. After all, every single one of us projects our own likes and dislikes on to God. We're all trapped in the fantasy that God understands the world in precisely the same way that we do. Our enemies are always His enemies. What offends us offends Him. And so on.

What I can't forgive is the snippet's characterization of God as a petty jerk who has a fascination with numbers and secret codes. God doesn't make a random 16 year old suffer because He's been made crazy thanks to some kind of psychological trauma caused by the 16th pride parade. God is not a villain in a batman comic book... Unless...

Hmm. Maybe he really IS a petty jerk and in the second paragraph I am guilty of the sin I decried in the first paragraph?

Great comment:Ortho Diction Watch out next year, 17 year olds.

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Monday, June 23, 2014

More on the 3 finger salute

Well, clearly the three finger salute is real now. Thanks guys. Making a whole big thing out of what was originally a harmless show of support for a reality show contestant was not helpful.

Quick Checklist:
  • Does this show that some Palestinians support the kidnapping? YES
  • Is this a travesty and an abomination? YES
  • Is it lamentable? YES
  • Does it tell me anything about the Palestinian "mentality"? NO. It only tells me something about the mentality of those who are doing it.
[Candy for the first person to say this is "justifying" the Palestinian response]

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Great Moments in Marketing!! - Adopt a Kolel

Great Moments in Marketing!!

Hey, everyone, please help the well-fed guy who refuses to leave his kolel shtender while his own kid lays starving at his feet.

Last Friday's questions about the candle lighting idea

Received by email:
The mothers of the three kidnapped boys went to Rav Dovid Abuchatzira. He said if 3 million candles are lit for them there will be good news. The mothers ask all to light 2 extra candles this week
Sorry for being a thinker, not a feeler, but I have to ask:
  • Why 3 million? 
  • What's magic or significant about candle lighting as opposed to any other mitzvah? 
  • Did he take any money in exchange for this advice? (Probably not... This is a great advert for him and if it works he's golden)
  • What is his torah source for claiming lots of candle lighting will produce "good news"?
  • How many people light candles on a typical Friday? Is 3 million realistic? 
  • If we, chas vsholom, don't hear good news will the rabbi shrug and say sorry guys. I told you to light 3 million candles and you didn't.
  • What is "good news?" Seems a little open ended. Will he claim success if say Netanyahu steps up the search? That can be construed as "good news."
Now I hurry to point out that I am not attempting to destroy faith, or undermine religious authority, or damage whatever unity might have formed around this suggestion. The only thing I am attempting to attack or undermine is the idea that Abuchatzira is a legitimate source of information about how to win God's mercy. He isn't. He's just a guy who tells lies for money, and because the people who fall for his lies are usually poor and in pain, he's someone who should be shouted down at every opportunity.

In the merit of these questions and my attempt to expose a probable charlatan who has gotten rich peddling bogus cures and false hopes may the boys be found very soon.

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Thursday, June 19, 2014

"If Israelis kidnapped three Arabs it would be all over the news!!"

Lots of you are saying "If Israelis kidnapped three Arabs it would be all over the news!!"

To which I reply, "Ok, please identify Nadeem Nawara and Mohammad Salameh"

(The answer: They are Hebron residents, ages 17 and 16, who were shot and killed by Israeli soldiers as they walked home from school a few weeks ago.

Security camera footage shows the killed boys harmlessly walking down the street, and the autopsy confirmed live rounds were used in violation of IDF rules. see the shooting here:

First guy to wrongly accuse me of condoning the kidnapping or to scream "Pallywood" wins a candy.

Simply waving your arms and screaming "Pallywood" doesn't convince normal people. You need to supply something in the way of evidence (and if that evidence turns up, of course I will adjust my view in light of new information, but not before)

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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The three fingered salute

These are Arab Idol fans showing
support for Mohammed Assaf, a contestant,
in June of 2013

Remind me to never trust a hasbarah blogger again.

It turns out that what I thought was an obscene three-finger pro-kidnapper salute is really nothing of the sort. Most of the pictures being touted as evidence of Arab callousness are more than a year old and were created to support a reality show contestant. So please unlearn all the lessons those photos of cute girls holding up three fingers mistakenly taught you about the Arab mentality.

See here

Now, you'll note I said **Most** of the pictures being touted as evidence of Arab callousness are more than a year old and were created to support a reality show contestant. 

Here's the thing: After the Palestinian and Israeli media picked up on the old pictures and wrongly identified them as part of a pro-kidnapper social media campaign, some new pictures were created by people who actually are communicating support for the kidnapping. Those people are behaving obscenely. 

But I do have a confession to make. In Hebron, more than 100,000 people are frozen in place. They are being subjected to extra-judicial searches, detentions, and worse. If 100,000 Jews were being treated that way, I might be tempted to do something obscene myself.

Warning: Do not interpret  this confession as a statement of support for the terrorists or as a condemnation of the search. It was nothing of the sort.  I believe that the search should continue and that the Hebron operation should go on without much too modification. Just be alert to the unintended consequences and the shared humanity, that's all.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Avi reminds me of Dwight Shrute

Too precious!!! Avi Safran thinks we owe ad hoc Jewish "leaders" the same deference and respect afforded to Raban Gamliel who both led a correctly constituted Sanhedrin and held an office invested with temporal powers.

To clinch his case, Avi cites Rosh Hashana 25a where we learn that all the leading Rabbis once agreed to respect one of Rabban Gamliel's ruling though they all knew he was wrong. The only problem is this: Raban Gamliel's high-handed behavior during that episode cost him the respect of his peers who forced him to resign.

So Avi errs not only in the equivalency he creates between Rabban Gamliel and the Rabbis of our day who hold no national office, and in many cases have inherited their stature or married into it. He also forgets that Rabban Gamliel was rejected specifically for demonstrating the sort of peremptory behavior he thinks we're obligated to obey.
I received much feedback concerning a piece I posted here several weeks ago (here) and a follow-up on my personal website (here), about seco

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Hillary uses the O word

Hillary Haters, you have outdone yourselves. In the new social media meme, Hillary is demonized for calling Israel an "occupying force" in her new book. This, apparently, is the worst thing anyone can say or do and yet more unneeded proof that Hillary hates Israel more than she hates God, religion, the troops, baseball and apple pie. Quote:

"Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accuses Israel of being an occupying force in her new memoir Hard Choices... Pro-Israel officials and insiders on Capitol Hill have called Clinton’s comments tone deaf and said that her claim that Israel is an occupying force reveals a bias against the Jewish state."

Only - YE GODS - his Sainted Excellency, the BEST FRIEND ISRAEL HAS EVER HAD, George Walker Bush also called Israel an occupying force. Not only that, he also demanded that Israel "end the occupation!"

"Speaking after a meeting with the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, Bush said: "There should be an end to the occupation that began in 1967. An agreement must establish Palestine as a homeland for the Palestinian people, just as Israel is a homeland for the Jewish people." - January 10, 2008

How confusing this must be to the drooling Hilary Haters!! You've been taught that "occupation" is a bad, naughty word, yet your hero and role model also used it promiscuously. Poor dears. The cognitive dissonance must hurt.

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Abraham Gordiner on Yaakov avinu lo mes

Here is Abraham Gordiner on Yaakov avinu lo mes:

"This is the meaning of Chazal's statement that "Yaakov Avinu lo mes" - "Yaakov our father has not died", for the optimism and inspiration instilled by Yaakov Avinu eternally sustains the Jewish nation, giving it the courage to continue and prepare for God's future redemption".

This can't be right but before I explain why he is wrong let's first acknowledge that the leader of the Inquisition against Open Orthodoxy is plainly and openly disagreeing with Rashi, who says that the Yaakov actually continues to live. Such nerve!

Anyway this interpretation can't be right. We are provided on Taanis 5b with the origins of this drash and we can see it has nothing to do with something so trite and ordinary as Jacob's eternal optimism.

The drash is based on a verse in Jeremiah where a hekesh, attributed to R Yitzchak, reveals that just as Israel will return from captivity, Jacob will also return from captivity and just as returning Israel will be alive, returning Jacob will also be alive.

Now you can allegorize this, of course, but not by ignoring the hekesh! (We can guess that Abraham Gordimer neglected to look at the drash "inside" because he attributes the statement to "Chazal" rather than to it's actual author, R' Yitzchak) 

If you allegorize the drasha without ignoring the hekesh the drash is about the survival and continuity of Israel, and the authenticity of the returnees, not the optimism of the forefather.

(Yes I am also disagreeing with Rashi but I am not a staunch traditionalist.)

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Monday, June 16, 2014

The spies and lo bashamayim hee

In Numbers 14, the spies come back from their mission and 10 of them report that Canaan is unconquerable. Two other spies disagree and argue that, with God, anything is possible. Instead of settling the matter, Moshe responds to the claims and counter claims by falling on his face and saying nothing. The thesis of this post is that Moshe's reaction was wrong, and contrary to well-established principles of Judaism. Instead, of suggesting with his body language that the two dissenting spies were correct, he should have ruled plainly and forcefully in favor of the ten.

A thousand years after the events of Numbers 14, the great Rabbi Joshua found himself caught between Eliezer bin Hurkanus and all the Sages of Israel. According to the Mishna Rabbi Eliezer's merit outweighed the rest of the Sages combined, and he was convinced a certain type of oven was ritually unfit. To make his case he mustered brilliant arguments; when they failed he called for miracles and omens. "If the law agrees with me, let the stream of water prove it!” he said, and the stream flowed backwards. "If the law agrees with me let the walls of the study house prove it" and the walls began to collapse. When he saw that neither his arguments nor his omens had swayed the other sages he called for the support of heaven, and a divine voice was heard saying "Why do you disagree with Eliezer bin Hurkanus who is always right?"

According to the Babylonian Temple, Rabbi Joshua protested: Lo Bashamayim Hi “The Torah is not in heaven!” We pay no attention to a divine voice because long ago at Mount Sinai it was written "incline after the majority."

The ten spies who said it was safer and smarter to stay in the desert were not ordinary men. They were, according to Rashi (citing the Tanchuma) virtuous men. Men of great distinction. They'd been at Mount Sinai. They were the leaders of their tribes. In the language of 21st century Orthodox Judaism, they were "gedolim." Tzadikim. And they were of the opinion that Israel's destiny was in the desert. By what right did Moshe disagree with them, in favor of the minority? Lo bashamayim he. We pay no attention to a divine voice. God Himself has no power to overrule the majority.

Some have attempted to argue that the 10 spies were "reshaim" but that's circular reasoning: We only call them "reshaim" because they went against the will of God, but how do we know they went againt the will of God? Why don't we say that the will of God is represented by their decision? Because they're reshaim! (see? Circular.)

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NYT-haters glide right over the word "further"

The NYT-haters are really reaching at straws this morning in the rush led by Tamar Sternthal of Camera to condemn the paper for writing a perfectly true, perfectly accurate sentence.

The offending sentence appears in the article's fourth paragraph. The article's first three paragraphs are entirely given over to a report about the kidnapping of the three Israeli boys. A quote from Netanyahu, in full rage, is provided. Then in paragraph four, we see this:

"The growing search for them and their captors further destabilized Israeli-Palestinian relations, and challenged the new Palestinian government’s ability to hold together disparate political factions and reunite the West Bank and Gaza after a seven-year split."

According to the NYT-haters this sentence is impossibly offensive as it "Singles out Israeli efforts to bring the boys home as the key cause of friction."

But that interpretation only makes sense if you ignore what the sentence actually says. Here it is once more:

"The growing search for them and their captors FURTHER destabilized Israeli-Palestinian relations, and challenged the new Palestinian government’s ability to hold together disparate political factions and reunite the West Bank and Gaza after a seven-year split."

The word FURTHER is key. The word FURTHER is there for a reason. FURTHER means "Beyond what has come before", namely the kidnapping described in the first three paragraphs!!

So Israel is not being singled out at all.
Israel’s attempts to rescue three kidnapped teens are endangering Palestinian-Israeli relations,...

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Reality and the Glory of God

Someone* says the spies attempted to prevent the people from entering the promised land because the spies wanted to prevent the people from losing sight of the Godly and the spiritual. In the desert the people lived through miracles. They ate magic food and drank magic water. After entering the land all that was destined to end. The maana would be replaced with manual labor and the idea that "By the strength of my own hand I have done it." Consequently, their acute, first-hand awareness of God's providence would fade. This loss is what the spies resolved to prevent. They were willing to ignore the reality of a divine promise -  'I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever' - for the sake of protecting the people's relationship with God.

This great man's teaching reminds me of two things.

First, I once knew a father who didn't want his son to learn about evaporation and condensation on the grounds that his son "needed to know rain comes from God". This father wantedt his son remain ignorant of the natural world, because it meant his son's acute recognition of God's hand in all things remained intact.

Second, the teaching reminds me of the rabbis who wish to conceal the age of the universe on the grounds that Shabbos becomes meaningless if it isn't remembered as the crown on a week of creation. They fear that shabbos will be forgotten, or treated with less reverence, if we accept scientific observations.

The father and the rabbis are both  meraglim. Both wish to conceal reality for the sake of God's glory. I reject that. I say the glory of God is found in reality - or not at all

*I'd name him, but I do not wish to provoke a firestorm

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Sunday, June 15, 2014


A guest post by Y. Bloch
Bring back our boys--it really is that simple.
Of course, my feed has been flooded for the past 24 hours with a dozen other distractions, e.g.:
  • But not through negotiations, because we don't negotiate with terrorists.
  • But make sure to teach the kidnappers and their supporters a "lesson" too.
  • But first let's shut off all electricity and water to the Palestinians--and shut down their hospitals too!
  • But don't forget to share the alleged picture of sweets distributed in Gaza--because they're not looking forward to a trade of prisoners, but just to torture!
  • But first protest Obama's silence, because when Kerry speaks, that doesn't represent America. Oh, but Canada's run by a conservative, so his representative's statement does count.
  • But first make sure you have his mother's middle name, because how can Hashem understand you otherwise?
  • But let's make a cool graphic representing these bahurim as eight-year-olds, because that's more poignant.
  • But first let's condemn the international media for not covering the story, or not covering it enough, or using the term "settler." 
  • But let's berate the leftists for not caring about Israelis on the West Bank--wait, what's this? 
I would say we should get our priorities straight, but there's only one issue at stake. I trust the professionals to do their job, and I pray to God to help them. That's really all there is to say.

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Friday, June 13, 2014

RJ fires OJ: Of course you think its antisemitism

I see on the social networks, that a Reform Temple on Long Island has fired their Orthodox Jewish Director of Education, amid accusations of insulting remarks made by the Reform Rabbi about the chosen sect of the chosen people.

Sorry but, he-said/she-said comments aside, this doesn't sound like a case of antisemitism to me. Reform Judaism and Orthodox Judaism are two very different things, and neither group should be expected to hire a Director of Education who is going to teach things to their kids that are not in line with their own beliefs. Our black hat schools don't hire MO rebbes either, and that's just fine.

An Orthodox Jewish religious teacher says her temple bosses canned her — because she was too observant and doesn’t work on the Sabbath! Ellen Gastwirth, 41, says in a new...

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Thursday, June 12, 2014

Look what's flying over the US embassy in Tel Aviv!

Look what's flying over the US embassy in Tel Aviv! 

That's right: A gay friendly ambassador, representing a gay friendly administration, in a gay friendly city, has flown a gay friendly flag during Pride Week.

Naturally, this proves Obama hates Jews.

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Neturai Karta goons for hire

Check out the ringers hired to hold signs at the We Hate Homosexuals Protest that took place alongside the We Love Israel Parade.  

 OH HOW THE MIGHTY HAVE FALLEN. Just a few short years ago, the Neturai Karta had the clout to recruit their own people to stand in the sun and yell insults.
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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Lakewood Lunatics, again

Too sexy for Lakewood?
I am loving this new practice of publicizing the crazy ass things that bored Lakewood woman leave on voice mail. The latest involves a bullying diatribe from some self-appointed tznius czar who can't even find the words to tell us how mad she is that a little boy in a clothing store advert is wearing tight short pants.

You can hear it here, thanks to Frimet Goldberger 

Special points for how the crazy lady promises to fight the tznius war via loshon hara!! ("I am going to spread this") Isn't it amazing how immoral people can be once they have become certain that they are acting for God?

Women in Hasidic communities are ramping up the modesty pressure,...

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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Rangers and Zionism

I've decided that I am a Zionist in the same way that I am a Ranger fan. 

Most of the time I'm not too interested in how the team is doing, but the history of the team interests me and when something exciting is happening in the here and now I pay close attention. If the Rangers win the Cup, I'll be happy. If they get swept I'll be embarrassed. In either case, I'll enjoy the camaraderie and support of other Ranger fans, even if they are far more passionate about the team than I am. I hope they will accept me in turn. 

What I can't abide, though, are Ranger fans who are inclined to turn two blind eyes to every mistake the team makes or to accuse the media, the ref and the fans of other teams of being partners in some huge anti-Ranger conspiracy that leaves our perfect, flawless team with no choice but to violate the rules of the game. Those types of Ranger fans I want nothing to do with, and I hope you remember that I am speaking allegorically.
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Monday, June 09, 2014

12 ways to read a midrash

My new theory is that every midrash that describes an event can be read in one of the following 12 ways. 

In brief, I think there are three ways to describe how the Sages thought about their midrashim, and four ways to describe how they knew about their midrashim, yielding 12 possible outcomes.

I think most Haredim default to #1 and most self-described rationalists default to #11 or #12. My own view is that most midrashim are #7 #8 or #11 but I confess that in my youth I also held #1, #2 and the whole row of  #9 - #12

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Midrashic Fan Fiction: Preserving Pinchas's eligibility for the Sanherdin

I see in the Meshech Chochma that Moshe's infamous separation from his wife was made necessary due to his halachic obligation to include a kohen in his sanhedrin. As they were Moshe's close relatives, Aaron and his sons could not be included. This left Pinchas, Aaron's grandson, as the ranking eligible candidate. Only small problem: Moshe's wife and Pinchas's mother were sisters, a close connection that would have crossed Pinchas off the list, too, had not Moshe rescued Pinchas's eligibility by divorcing his aunt.

This is a neat bit of fan fiction that would deftly explain why the story of Moshe's separation follows the story of the creation of moshes sanhedrin were it not for one oversight: Pinchas was not yet a kohen.

As I can't imagine the Meshech Chochma forgetting something so well known as he wove together so many arcane bits of Torah. I am sure the oversight is mine. But what have I missed?

AN ANSWER: The Talmud identifies three moments when Pinchas might have been created a kohen. One of them fits the timeline reequired to make this piece of Torah succesful.

A NEW PROBLEM: Fanfiction is when someone takes either the story or characters (or both) of a certain piece of work and uses that material to create their own story. Above I describe a particular piece of rabbinics as "fan fiction". The rabbi in question invented new story details to solve a halachic problem created only by his own, perfectly valid, reading of the text.

Did I misuse the term?

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Friday, June 06, 2014

Anti Vaxx morons - Anti-Climate Change morons

Dedicated to my most favorite anti-science, reality-denying readers.
Samantha Bee uncovers the reason that preventable infection diseases are making a comeback.

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Tuesday, June 03, 2014

The Modesty of Ruth.

All talk of Ruth's modesty seems a bit silly when you realize that in Perek 2 Boaz is likely criticizing Ruth for her lack of modesty.

The verse (2:3) tells us that Ruth gleaned with the male reapers [וַתְּלַקֵּט בַּשָּׂדֶה, אַחֲרֵי הַקֹּצְרִים] and further (2:5) tells us that this breach of modesty scandalized Boaz, leading him to demand her identity [לְמִי הַנַּעֲרָה הַזֹּאת]. After the male reapers pin Ruth's blunder (2:6) on her foreign birth [וַיֹּאמַר: נַעֲרָה מוֹאֲבִיָּה הִיא] Boaz diplomatically (2:8) tries to encourage her to glean with the women instead [וְכֹה תִדְבָּקִין, עִם-נַעֲרֹתָי] She doesn't get the hint (2:21) [ גַּם כִּי-אָמַר אֵלַי, עִם-הַנְּעָרִים אֲשֶׁר-לִי תִּדְבָּקִין] and it needs to be reinforced by her mother-in-law (2:22) [טוֹב בִּתִּי, כִּי תֵצְאִי עִם-נַעֲרוֹתָיו]

However, despite this textual evidence that Ruth was simply unaware of the local Judean ideas about modesty, the lesson the Midrash shoehorns into the text is that Ruth demonstrated exemplary modesty by bending her knees to glean, and not her back, thus exposing less of her legs. (!)

TaliAdler marvelously solves all problems.

She says: That's part of the point, though. Throughout the book, people are subtly criticizing Ruth for her Moabite lack of modesty, correcting her every time she talks about gathering with the nearim. (Boaz and Noami both do that.) Ultimately, though, it's Naomi who tells Ruth to do something very immodest--dress up, perfume herself, go down to the threshing floor at night, presumably to seduce Boaz and get him to marry her. Ruth instead does that in a very modest way, not dressing up, not using physical charms, and instead speaking to Boaz directly. It's the supposedly immodest Moabite woman who ultimately values modesty in a way that Noami, a religious Israelite woman, doesn't.

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Why do we love coercion?

We have lots of midrashim that describe maamad har Sinai as a moment of agreement or consent. Israel is a bride. God is an old man full of mercy.

On the other side we have one midrash that imagines the Sinai moment as one of coercion. God held a mountain over our heads! And even though we have amoraim, rishonim, and achronim who express real discomfort over this possibility that we were forced to accept the Torah this image of Sinai as both a moment and a tool of coercion is still the one that prevails in the popular imagination. Among the masses all the consent midrashim and the objections of the bold names to the idea of coercion have been forgotten. What remains is this idea that God forced us to accept the Torah.

Is there perhaps a psychologist in the audience who can help us understand why modern jews- or at least the ones I know -  are so attached to this picture of a big bully God?

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Monday, June 02, 2014

What "rational and historical" -- isn't

It's tiring to see people continue to misstate and misrepresent the rational/historical position.

For example, this:
"Someone once asked Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l the following question; If I stay up on Leil Shavuos to learn, I will be exhausted for the entire chag and it will prevent me from learning properly. Is it better for me to go to sleep as usual rather than stay awake?
How might you have answered the question? Perhaps, if you were into being totally rational and historical you could have said as follows. The 'custom” of staying awake on Leil Shavuos is only about 500 years old. None of the Rishonim practiced it. It's not found in the gemara. The story that lead to it, involving the Ari and Rav Yosef Karo is hard to understand and believe. Thus, if you will lose more learning than you will gain, go to sleep as usual. 

That's called being "being totally rational and historical?"

Why is it "rational and historical" to discount, discredit and dismiss a custom that is several centuries old, and provides meaning and significance to countless people? Its not "rational and historical" to write a real practice out of existence. Its not "rational and historical" to pretend something doesn't exist. The "rational and historical" approach doesn't ask you to discontinue meaningful practices, nor does it ask you to stand at distance from the community. It simply asks (demands?) that you recognize and acknowledge the truth about how things originate and develop.

There's this nonsense idea that being rational and historical requires deconstructing and discontinuing cherished beliefs so that Judaism is stripped of all that makes it magical and mysterious. But a "rational and historical" approach does nothing of the sort. A "rational and historical" approach to the practice of learning on shavuot night only requires you to be honest about how we ended up with the custom. The "rational and historical" approach doesn't say anything about dropping or continuing it. More importantly, it doesn't attempt to de-legitimize the way you happen to feel about the custom.


Who is the perpetrator? Is it the enemies of the rational approach who are falsely suggesting that rationalists want to drop all meaning from Judaism? Or are there actual (so called) rationalists out there who are foolishly forgetting that personal meaning and personal significance are both things a rationalist approach needs to take into account?

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