Sunday, February 27, 2011

Eat, Pray, Shabbos

I think I've more or less cracked the requirements for classifying someone as religious. I'm not talking about how religious someone is - but just whether he is considered religious or not: By this I mean that most of us have a binary system of classifying people: They are either religious or they are not.  However we accept a very wide range of observance from people classified as religious. And so what I am looking for are those few Mitzvot that are used by us religious folk to determine how to classify others on that binary system of ours. After much thought, I've got it down to just 3 Mitzvot out of 613:  

The Must Keep Mitzvot:

If you are a boy:

1. Kosher food - someone who eats food considered by everyone as not kosher (Meat + Milk) is not religious.
2. Shabbat - Not observing Shabbos would definitely put you outside the religious community.

If you are a girl, the other two plus:

3. Tznius - This is the one I'm not sure about, but I think must enter the list for girls. I can't define what level of Tznius is needed to be religious - its as fluid a concept as you can imagine. However I am certain that people use Tznius as a foremost sign of recognition of the religious community. Those non Tznius girls walking down the street, can claim all they want that they keep Shabbos...mentally we don't classify them as religious.

Every other Mitzvah - I.E how often you pray, whether you put on Tefillin, whether you study Torah on a regular basis, whether you scare away a mother pigeon before stealing her eggs, are not used by us to make the binary decision of whether I am talking to someone religious or not - but just what level of religious the person is. We all know religious guys who don't study Torah or go to Shul. We don't consider them not religious - just less observant. However any guy who we see eating a shrimp - he's automatically considered as non religious. Same with Shabbos - break it on purpose and everyone around you automatically lists you as off the derech. These are the defining minimal levels of the homo-religious.

Friday, February 25, 2011

More on the Rabbanim support of Katzav

I posted a few days ago I posted my views on "Why Rabbanim Love Sex Offenders" - basically a reaction to the letter of support posted by Rabbanim for Katzav. 

A quick read of some of the reactions posted in Israel about the Katzav story has shown me some of the different viewpoints on this story:

Efrat Shapira Rosenberg:  Seed the Rabbanim's support of Katzav as an anti "State" statment. The Rabbanim are actively going against the court - despite never having had access to all the evidence. Their statement of support is a way of showing that they are not bound by the non religious law.

Professor Yedidia Stern: In a similar vain, sees the support of Rabbaim in Katzav, as showing the inability of the Rabbanim to face the reality of a Secular state. The Rabbanim are not willing to share leadership with a non religious state.

Tomer Prisko: Sees the Rabbanim support as evidence for two things: 1. The Rabbanim are astronauts who are totally disconnected with the street and popular culture. 2. The Rabbanim simply don't understand the dynamics of harassment - Especially between a boss/president and his underlings. (I'll add that that the two theories together do make a lot of sense. These Rabbanim do not really live in a mixed society - since they are astronauts - and hence might have trouble understanding the illogical actions performed by Katzav's victims.)

Today some other prominant Rabbanim (Harav Lichtenstien, Harav Rabinovitch and others) published a condemnation of the letter of support of Katzav. 

The Hazon Ish, Kiddush cup.

I remember being told a few years ago (by my father I believe), that scholars who examined the Hazon Ish's kiddush cup, found that the cup was smaller then the measure of Revit (-i.e the amount of wine needed to say the kiddush over) as pakened by the Hazon Ish.

I've just read a good article by Menachem Friedman "A Lost Tradition" (מתוך הקובץ מסע של ההלכה בהוצעת ידיעות) where this story is retold, but with a few crucial differnces. In this telling the Hazon Ish made his Psak halacha that the measure of a Revit is almost double what was previously accepted, and then called on his talmidim to change their too small traditional Kiddush cups. Even when the Kiddush cups of prominent rabbanim from the previous generation were brought in front of him - to prove that previous generations held that the smaller kiddush cups were sufficent, the Hazon Ish did not relent.

Friedman brings the story as an example of how the Halachic books, superseded the passed down tradition. At the end of his article Friedman speculates that the reason the tradition was superseded by written Halacha, had to do with the fact that the generation brought up in the holocaust - felt inferior to the generation brought up by the yeshivot. This is of course the crux of the argument made by Haym Soloveitchik in his famous essay " RUPTURE AND RECONSTRUCTION:THE TRANSFORMATION OF CONTEMPORARY ORTHODOXY". Soloveitchik argues that the holocaust caused a rapture in the passing down of tradition in a "Mimic" function. I.E children no longer copied what their parent used to do - simply because they were not around their parents growing up due to the holocaust. Into this void entered theoretical knowledge in the written Halachic books. Arguments and Psaks that were in the past theoretical - suddenly could enter the opening  created by the ignorance of former tradition. 

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Gadhafi is a Bond Villain

Well any doubt lingering about Gadhafi's sanity can now be safely dismissed. According to CNN:

 Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi on Thursday blamed the violence in his country on young people, who he said are taking some sort of pills and being exploited by Osama bin Laden.

Which has led me to the conclusion - Those bond villains were not that far from the truth. Sure they were one dimensional insane characters but hey it seems real life is imitating art. There is even the classic Bondesque twist..the villain was a member of the UN Human Rights Council - never would have expected him to turn out to be the arch killing madman! However I understand how the world was fooled for so long about Gadhafi. Contrary to what we have been taught to believe in how to spot crazy villains ( dismissing the culturally explainable signs such as the repression and killing of libyan citizins), Gadhafi does not wear a bowler hat, not does he appear in public holding a cat. 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Why Rabbanim love sex offenders.

Ynet is reporting on a letter of support sent to Ex-President, now sex offender Katzav by some prominent Dati-Leumi Rabbanim.Anyone following the Jewish blogsphere has probably noticed ongoing scandals as rabbanim come to defence of convicted sex offenders (e.g Weingarten). The question is what pushes these rabbanim to go out of their way to defend these guys?

It is easy enough to explain why the religious establishment feels it needs to defend former role models, behind bars. How is it possible that someone who learnt so much torah, was really a monster in a black hat? How is it possible that so much torah learning did not manage to soften his heart and make him a mench?

It is harder for me to understand the Katzav story. Why are the rabbanim trying so hard to defend him? There is a possible answer - they really do believe he is innocent. There are lots of Israelies who share that belief at some level, but regardless of whether you believe Katzav is a rapist, I think no one believes he is a good guy anymore. The Katzav story makes me wonder, if there is some strong Rabbinic impulse to deny the likelihood of sex offences being committed by anyone who at least wore a kippah.It is a mental barrier, that refuses to accept that those offences are within the realm of possibiilities of anyone who is somewhat religious. Admitting otherwise might make life almost unbearable.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

No Longer A Halachic Argument

Harav Yoel Ben-Nun has managed to put into words, what many of us have been feeling. The fact that there was going to be a demonstration against Harav Ovadia's Psak Halacha regarding conversions, is the final proof that we are not dealing with a Halachic argument, but with a political one. The very idea that you could hold a rally against a psak Halacha is ridiculous. If you disagree - prove your point by the force of your arguments.

(I'll point out that Harav Yoel  has some very harsh words against Harav Elyashiv, which are sure to make Harav Yoel's life much more difficult).

Saturday, February 19, 2011

How To Build IKEA Again : Israellycool

Israeliscool has put up this little Gem. One of the two IKEA stores in Israel burned down last week, and hence this cartoon:
How To Build IKEA Again : Israellycool

I'll point out that those arab workers look really cute..

Understanding the Israeli Left Wing

Recently the Israeli Education Minister announced that schools would be encouraged to have school trips to Hebron to see the Tomb of the Patriarchs.

This immediately turned into a political affair, with the left and the right weighing in, and with no real surprises by either side. 

"Former MK and Gush Shalom founder Uri Avnery said that “Gideon Sa’ar has ceased to be the minister of education and turned into Israel’s minister of propaganda, aiming to instill an extreme right-wing ideology” into Israel’s school system.
“Every year we hear the heartrending stories of pupils whose parents can’t afford the required fee and therefore can’t participate in school trips with their classmates, and feel ashamed and humiliated,” Avneri continued.
“Instead of helping these cases, Minister Sa’ar is opening the public treasury wide to finance trips that are nothing but a political provocation in the service of the settlers. 

And Ynet managed to find some leftist school boy -

But Yotam Berger, a high school student and member of Peace Now's youth group, opposes the plan. He and his friends have even written a petition against it and are collecting signatures.  "We think it is very important to discuss Jewish values, but it must be done through joint lessons for Jews and Arabs. It should not be done through total disregard for the Palestinian public and the harming of democracy," Berger said. "Just as religious students are not made to drive on Saturday, students must not be forced to visit a place in which democracy does not exist and a military force occupies a civilian population. The education minister's initiative reeks of politics and is intended to promote a right-wing agenda," the petition says.

Here is what I don't understand. Even people with a left wing leaning (such as myself) must acknowledge the Jewish link to the city. You can go see an important site such as the Tomb of the Patriarchs without it being "Political". Even if in your worldview in the future it should become Palestinian territory, it will not negate the three thousand years of Jewish history in the spot.

This is an example of a left wing view which I can never participate in. It has slowly moved from a worldview which was willing to give up parts of our ancestral homeland due to considerations of Morality and/or security, and moved to just denying any right of Jews to the land.  Gone are the days when the left would cry over every centimeter it would be willing to give up. 

Friday, February 18, 2011

Kafka would be so proud!

It turns out that there is an ongoing dispute over the inheritance of Franz Kafka..and it is taking place in the family courts in Israel. Ha'aretz is reporting on some of the weird stuff happening in the trial. It seems that due to a computer bug, the Judge can't access the files of the case - and that the trial is filled with baseless accusations between the family which claims the inheritance rights, and the National Library.

The Least Religious - Religious Dating site?

The following Dating website has been advertising itself quite heavily on all the Israeli Religious websites. It brands itself as a big free Dating website specifically for religious Jews. However what caught my eye was the fact that not even one of the people who they show on their banners - looks remotely religious. I couldn't spot a Kippah on any head, and lets just say that none of the religious girls I know dress the way the girls in the banner do..

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Some Documentaries Making the rounds

This Documentary of Harav Ovadia Yosef has gotten some attention in Israel - mostly for the favorable view on Harav Ovadia. I've not had the chance to view it yet, so I can't really comment on it:

Untitled from bhol on Vimeo.

Also getting alot of attention has been this documentary about the Jewish Burqa cult:

Who signed the Pashkevil?

A few weeks ago I posted some of the Pashkevilim that were being posted against Harav Ovadia Yosef, and Harav Amar. These were signed by some of the great Haredi Rabbanim.

In a weird twist, that sheds new light on who exactly are the leaders of the haredi world, One of these Haredi Rabbanim -  Harav Vozner has declared that despite his signature being published on one of the Pashkevilim denouncing Harav Ovadia - he did not actually sign that pashkevil, and had he known about its contents he would not have agreed for his name to be on it. Kikar Hashabat  summarized the confusion as follows:

"Did he sign or didn't he sign? Lets try and sort it out: Haredi Machers asked Harav Vozner to sign a Pashkevil to do with strengthening conversion in accordance with the spirit of Halacha. Harav Vozner agreed - and his signature was added to the Pashkevil against Harav Ovadia's Psak.
חתם או לא חתם? בואו נעשה סדר: עסקנים ביקשו מהגר"ש וואזנר להצטרף למודעה שמחזקת את עניין הגיור על-פי רוח ההלכה. הגר"ש אישר, וחתימתו הודבקה על מודעה נגד פסיקתו של מרן הגר"ע.

The real question is how could anyone with a public role allow his name to be used so freely. I'm having some trouble accepting the telling of events Kikar Hashabat would have us believe. Anyone who could not guess that any Pashkevil about conversion, printed in the last few weeks was referring to Rav Ovadia - is clearly someone who has is not following the news too closely. That is perfectly acceptable in a great torah personality. However if you happen to be that kind of great torah personality – please refrain from letting your name be printed on Pashkevilim that adorn Jerusalem walls.

Sidenote: I would be grateful for anyone who could suggest a good translation for the word עסקנים

Keep your "Naughty Eyes" off my bagel!

Kikar Hashabat is reporting that the following ad for flat bagels was refused for publication in Hamodia:

And what was so offensive in this Ad, that Hamodia felt it count not run it? It appears the paper has a strict Haredi Rabbi who has to approve all the Ads in the paper. This Ad was turned down because the Elderely Haredi man in the center's eyes were thought to be "naughty". Looking at the Ad myself I'll agree they do seem a little too mischevous. This is clearly a guy from whom no self respecting Jew would or should ever accept a bagel from.

The advertising agency quickly corrected their faux-pas (what were they thinking!) and photoshopped the Ad. The following is the Kosher version, as published in Hamodia:

Can't spot the difference? the eyes of the guy reaching for the bagels have been changed so that they are staring into the distance, and not giving a mischievous look.

Thank g-d for Hamodia protecting our young from those naughty eyes! I'd add a smiley to this sentence, but I am not sure his eyes are quite modest enough.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Thoughts on Egypt

There is a famous Rav Kook quote in the beginning of Orot "When there is a great war in the world the force of the Messiah is awakened". The connection between war and the Messiah is to do with social change which historically was brought about by war. Egypt so far has not descended into absolute chaos, but it is experiencing a social revolution.  I have little doubt that for the average Egyptian the air is carrying the distinctive smell of the messiah. A few weeks ago I wrote about Rav Kook's writings about the souls from the world of chaos:

"The great intellectuals want an order of goodness and beauty, Material and great, that has no correspondence to reality, and so they ruin that which is built by the standard of the world. The great know how to rebuild the destroyed world, but the bad, that the call of idealism of the highest order touched them only a fleeting touch, they just destroy and ruin, and their (souls) are rooted in the sphere of chaos at its lowest level.The souls of chaos are higher the the souls of Tikkun (fixing). They are so great, that they demand much of reality, what their (keilim) casings can not hold. They search for a great light, and all that is limited, measured and available, they can't bear."
(my own translation to Zironim page 122)

At the time of writing, it is still unclear what the Egyptian people are rallying after. Are they able to build a new world, or are they doomed to tear the old one down, and leave only chaos behind?  

Listening to Mubarak's speech yesterday, I was reminded of Sulla - the very first great Roman dictator. Sulla was without doubt one of the most bloodthirsty dictators – he had the habit of posting lists of those he wanted killed at the forum in Rome. Yet history has judged him favorably, no doubt for his unique example in history of having stepped down after achieving absolute power. Can Mubarak secure a favorable image in history, by having the strength of will to step away?  

Thursday, February 10, 2011

At Least This Fish Aint Talking

It seems that all you need for a good story, is a hassid and a fish. Some worker in the supermarket chain "Rami Levy" found a gold necklace in a fish, and immediately got everyone talking of the similarity to the famous children's story of the tzaddik who found a diamond in a fish!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

What A Circumcision Isn't..

I was at a Brit (circumcision) today, where the father spoke about how the Brit Milah is the entry point into the Jewish people. I'll admit that the father spoke well and showed some learning – However his fundamental point was wrong.

The Brit Milah is not a covenant between God and the Jewish people. It is a covenant between God and ALL the descendents of Abraham including those who are not Jewish.  Some of you are probably staring at me right now, as has every person I've stated this to.  Here is the Rambam's phrasing, found in Hilchot Melachim (chapter 10, Hilchot 7 and 8):

Halacha 7Only Abraham and his descendants were commanded regarding circumcision as Genesis 17:9-10 states: 'Keep My covenant, you and your offspring... circumcise every male.'The descendants of Ishmael are excluded as implied by Genesis 21:12: 'It is through Isaac, that your offspring will be called.' Esau's descendants are also excluded, for Isaac told Jacob Genesis 28:4: 'May God grant Abraham's blessing to you and your descendants,' implying that only he is the true offspring of Abraham who maintains his faith and his upright behavior. Thus, they alone are obligated in circumcision.
Halacha 8Our Sages related that the descendants of Keturah who are the offspring of Abraham that came after Isaac and Ishmael are also obligated in circumcision. Since, at present, the descendants of Ishmael have become intermingled with the descendants of Keturah, they are all obligated to be circumcised on the eighth day. However, they are not executed for failure to perform this mitzvah.
I'll add that you should not belittle a covenant between god and Abraham, even if it does not make you Jewish. There are other covenants with Abraham that are limited to the Jews, but not Brit Milah. Brit Milah is not the covenant of the Jews (That is actually Pesach) but rather the covenant where we accept God as our God.
וַהֲקִמֹתִי אֶת-בְּרִיתִי בֵּינִי וּבֵינֶךָ, וּבֵין זַרְעֲךָ אַחֲרֶיךָ לְדֹרֹתָם--לִבְרִית עוֹלָם:  לִהְיוֹת לְךָ לֵאלֹהִים, וּלְזַרְעֲךָ אַחֲרֶיךָ.
7 And I will establish My covenant between Me and thee and thy seed after thee throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee and to thy seed after thee.
Genesis 17, 7.

Other nations descended from Abraham have accepted god – but have not become Jewish. I'll leave it open to people to argue the theological implications of that statement.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Homemade helmets

The following pictures are supposedly homemade helmets being used by protesters in Egypt - supposdly since so many rocks are being thrown. Personally I'm skeptical, but at least they are entertaining!

This one makes some sense, even if it looks a little silly.

This second one is clearly a poor man's helmet, and I am a little sceptical of its usefulness.

 Well someone Isn't really trying here.

A helmet made of bread? If it doesn't stop the stones, it will at least make sure that the paramedics are well fed.
Not really going to help you, but I do understand that bread has become expensive in Egypt.
 Better off with the rock helmet.

Hat tip: Weasel zippers

The Hard Parashas

I have been attempting to write a little about parashat hashavua on this blog. It is my custom every year to choose a different commentator to learn - which hopefully leads to something new every year. And yet every year we arrive at these Parasha's. Yes it is time to admit that it is incredibly hard to read, never mind write anything about Terumah. Some people may get excited by reading minute details of the construction of the Mishkan.. but most of us don't.  

This year's commentator of choice is the under appreciated Ibn-Caspi. So far I've found that at least once every parasha he manages to overturn some understanding I believed was pshat. So I turned to him full of hope, that perhaps he will rescue parashat terumah for me.  Luckily for you I can bring you his full commentary:

פרשת תרומה - תצוה.
  לא אחדש דבר באלו
 שתי הפרשיות ואין עניגם הכרחי, ודי במה שקדמיגי רש־י וא״ע:

Parashat Terumah-Tezaveh
I have nothing new to note on these parasha's, and their matter isn't necessary, and it is sufficient what has already been written by Rashi and Ibn-Ezra. 

I guess somebody took the easy way out!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Baskets of Reptiles and Public office

Rab Judah said in the name of Samuel: Why did the kingdom of Saul not endure? Because no reproach rested on him, for R. Johanan had said in the name of R. Simeon b. Jehozadak: One should not appoint any one administrator of a community, unless he carries a basket of reptiles on his back, so that if he became arrogant, one could tell him: Turn around!
(Yoma 22B)

A basket of reptiles is a Hebrew expression that is similar to "A skeleton in his closet". I thought of this saying Talmudic saying as I was listening to Ehud Barak interviewing on channel 2 today. Had he known this Talmudic axiom, I'm sure he would have quoted it. He was trying to defend General Galant, after he yesterday had to revoke his elevation to the role of IDF head of staff. The crux of Barak's argument was that regardless of whether Galant was a man without blemish, as a soldier he was the best man for the job.

It may be time for us to admit, that in our haste to burn out corruption we have set the bar too high. Two different arguments come to mind. The first is that demanding a spotless record might lead to worse leadership, rather then better. Having a skeleton in the closet, might lead people to be more cautious, or more wise then those who are sinless.

The second argument is that the skill set we should be looking for in soldiers is different then those we are looking for in say Judges. I want a general who will win wars, more then I want an honest looser. A quick reading through the bible, finds that most generals were not exactly great moral figures (Yoav comes to mind first).

There is clearly some balance that must be reached. I'm not saying we should ignore moral character in our generals, but rather that we should not treat them differently then other people.

My overall impression is that we are setting such a high standard – that we may find that those who pass it, are not those we would really want.   

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The First Religious General

In a weird twist of fate Yair Naveh has been appointed as temporary Chief of the general staff of the IDF. The Kippah Serugah community should be overjoyed - the long dream of having a religious Head of the IDF is about to be temporarily (and most likely permanently) achieved. However, Yair Naveh is not well liked at all by the Dati-Leumi community. He is remembered for being tough on the right wing extremists while he was in charge of  "Central Command" - basically the territories. He is also remembered for his role in the disengagement. If rumors are to be believed he has a hard time joining a minyan near his house in Giva't Shemuel. Sadly, in the Dati-Leumi community being tough on extremists is somehow considered a blemish. It is a shame that yet again we find that religiousness is going to be defined by political views, and so Naveh is not going to be considered a "religious" general, ergo, we will see no large celebration by the Dati-Leumi public on its achievements.

On a side note. General Naveh spent some time out of the army in the last few years. After his military service, Naveh was appointed as CEO of CityPass, the consortium building theJerusalem Light Rail. Galant lost his position as head of the general staff for possibly stealing some 30 Dunam of public land. I would say that the job done on the Jerusalem light rail, has caused a lot more damage then 30 dunam of land. I sure hope Naveh does a better job running the army!

Israel in the U.S.A

A few weeks ago I blogged about a map that re-arranged the worlds countries based on the size of their population.

The Economist has done something similar, and replaced the US states with countries with similar GDP levels. 

Turns out Israel is closest to the fine southern state of Louisiana. Weirdly our next door neighbors - Texas is now Russia. Which for most of us Israelis is actually more or less our real life neighbors. We also have the joy of meeting Bangladesh ( Mississippi), and Kazakhstan (Arkansas) on our borders.

On their next map the Economist did the same thing, but this time with Population. Sadly it seems Israel does not get to be on that map.

I couldn't help but wonder, which state Israel would replace if we were to try to replace the states based on cultural sterotypes. My own guess is that we would like to imagine it was New-York or Florida, but in truth we are closer to Texas or some redneck state.