Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Prayer For Napoleon!

Continuing on my recent post regarding the declaration of a Jewish State by Napoleon - The international Napoleonic society has this prayer for Napoleon on their website:

The Napoleonic society is also kind enough to provide this translation:

Prayer of the Children of Israel
Citizens of France and Italy
for the success and prosperity of our Mater's Army
The Emperor, the King Napoleon the Great
(may his glory shine)
Composed in the month of Cheshvan, year 5567 (1807)
Psalms chapter 20,21,27, 147
I implore Thee, Creator of Heaven and the Universe and all who inhabit it. Thou hast established all boundaries and limitations of the world and each nation with its respective language. Thou didst give the Sceptre of power into the hands of their kings to lead the people under their reign with righteousness, justice, an uprightness; that each person in his own place should live in peace.
How fortunate we are, how good is our lot, that from Thy hand glory and beauty were poured out upon the head of a powerful man, full of vibrancy, NAPOLEON the Great, to sit on the Throne of France and Italy. Could another be found as worthy as NAPOLEON deserving of such honours and kingship, who shepherds his people with sincerity and with the understanding of his heart? Thou, GOD, hast wondrously bestowed Thy kindness upon him. As other Kings of the world approached to fight him, Thou didst protect him on the day of war, Thou didst save him from those who stood up against him, until he subdued them and they sought peace from him. With his kind spirit, he spoke words of peace to them.
Kings have now untied to break their treaty and replace peace with the blood of war. They have gathered armies to fight against him and against all those who admire him. They have come to our borders, and our master, the Emperor, the King, is standing with the might of his army to confront them.
O GOD, master of greatness, strength, power and beauty, we implore Thee to stand next to his righteousness; help him, support him with Thy mighty arm: guard him as the apple of Thine eye with an abundance of strength and health. Save him from all evil and tell him "I am your salvation."
Send Thy light and truth, that they may lead him. Render foolish all those who rise against him for evil. Let Thy light shine upon his plans. Strengthen his armies and those of his allies.
May he succeed in all his endeavors and reign over his enemies. May they seek peace from him, for he is a man who loves peace, and peace he will exercise among his nation.
Father of compassion, Master of Peace, implant in the heads of all Kings and their advisors thoughts of peace and tranquility for the benefit of all mankind. Let the Sword not pass through our land and spill the blood of our brethren. Let all nations unite in total peace and tranquility forever.
May the words of our prayers be acceptable to Thee.

As is evident at a glance, this prayer is somewhat more enthusiastic then the normal prayers for heads of states.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Jews In Science Fiction

I just finished reading Dan Simmon's Hyperion - A great science fiction novel set in the far future. The book stands out in that one of its main characters is Jewish. Here is a small taste of some of the great lines generated around the Jewish character:

"Dad, why do Jews feel that things are...less important now than before the Hegira? (Hegira - the destruction of Earth. Probably a play on words on הגירה. - BT)
 Sol spread his hands - strong hands, more those of a stoneworker than an academic. "That's a good question, Rachel. Probably because so much of the dream is dead. Israel is gone. The New Temple lasted less time that the first and second. God broke His word by destroying the Earth a second time in the way He did. And this diaspora is...forever."
"But Jews maintain their ethnic and religious identity in some places," his daughter insisted.
"Oh, sure. On Hebron and isolated areas of the Concourse you can find entire communities...Hassidic, Orthadox, Hasmonean, you name it..but they tend to be..nonvital, picturesque...tourist-oriented." 

After finishing Hyperion, I did a quick search in Google for "Jews in Science Fiction", and came across this website, that lists every sci-fi book in which Jews make an appearance.  Clearly this list is a work of love. Skimming the list though, I couldn't see many books in which the Jew is the obvious main character. Are Jews of the far future (whether with an earth, or ruled by machines) doomed to be no more then anecdotes?
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Why We Relinquish Our Freedom of Thought To the Rabbis

Harav Benny Lau recently called on the religious public to lessen their dependence on Rabbanim:

"There are some who are so fearful of laicization that they strive to a world of obedience and search for a person who will guide their ways," Rabbi Lau argued. "We willingly give up on freedom to reach a safe haven." 
In his opinion the growing strength of the Rabbanim is due to the rise of secularism. The public is so worried of the secular world and lifestyle, that to avoid the confrontation they would prefer a closed world of blind obedience. Harav Lau calls on the public to make the opposite choice:
The crisis of those who make themselves a rabbi and hope to avoid doubt is seven times bigger than that of a person who made choices and didn’t find his way. "Whoever educates his son to ask questions should be ready to receive alternative answers. Educating a person to ask questions is raising a person with internal strength, which creates him as a free man. "The children want to fly to South America and get a bit confused there. Most of them say wholeheartedly, 'We want to search, let us! We may become disoriented, and you may have to send a helicopter to rescue us, but we need this search.'" 'Open gates, ears and hearts'

I somewhat agree with Harav Lau's assement, but I suspect it isn't radical enough. I do not think that the modern world has posed any new philosophical challenges.  On a philosophical level – there is no argument for and against religion that has not been adequately stated in ancient times.  Therefore it is not the secular questions that are new, rather it the world they inhabit. Never has information been so readily available, never has choice been so cheap.  All knowledge is available at the click of a button Modernity has freed us from the yoke of the field. We have more free time than ever before. The modern world offers far fewer excuses why you have not achieved the greatness to which you claim to aspire. In my opinion that is the terrifying aspect of modernity – When we reach heaven we have a hard time explaining to past generations how with all our prospects, with all our time, we did not become giants. The shadow of our possibilities is quite staggering. And that is why the people are rushing to rabbinic authority – it is the fear that we will have to make our own decisions within the whirlpool of modern freedom.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Niggun That Leads The Tzaddikim Into Heaven

The post regarding the Beatles Shabbos collection, reminded me of another post I long wanted to post. At the beginning of the year an album was released with some previously unknown Breslov Niggunim:

A lost nigun composed by Rebbe Nachman of Breslev, which was recently miraculously discovered in an archive in the Ukraine, led to the creation of an exciting new album of ancient Breslev niguns, sung in the days of Rebbe Nachman. Amid the collection of lost niguns found about a year and a half ago in a remote archive in the Ukraine, a special nigun was found, recorded in 1913. A recording and notes for this nigun were discovered in this important finding, and next to them, written in Yiddish, were the words, “The nigun that leads the Tzaddikim to heaven, as taught by Rebbe Nachman”.

The Niggun can be heard Here. As Rav Nachman is attributed saying that this will be the niggun that will accompany the Tzaddikim into heaven, I went out of my way to listen. I will admit that I did expect a little more from the heavenly choir -especially considering the musical talent presumably available up there. Personally I would expect something a little more merry and more dramatic, but who am I to argue with Rav Nachman. 


Thursday, May 26, 2011

Lennon is (Rock and) Rolling in his Grave

A new "Shlock Rock" disk doing the rounds features Shabbos songs sung to the tunes of the Beatles. You can hear some examples here or on the video below. Judging by the four songs I listened to, the songs can be differentiated into the Painful, Mildly Painful, and slightly amusing categories. Thank G-d there wasn't a "Yellow Submarine" song.

Jerusalem Syndrome

Just heard on the radio a fascinating talk given by an expert on Jerusalem syndrome. Jerusalem syndrome is when an otherwise mentally healthy person, arrives in Jerusalem and begins to believe he is the Messiah, Jesus, Elijah or sometimes god. These people can often be seen preaching in the street - normally the old city. I was surprised to hear that every year there are between 80-100 people diagnosed with Jerusalem Syndrome.

Another intersting tidbit, is that Jerusalem is not uniqe in having its own mental illness. Mecca for Muslims serves the same purpose as Jerusalem for the Jews and Christians. Florence has a syndrome where normally sane people begin to believe they are great artists. Capital Hill has a syndrome where people request to talk to the president - normally to reveal some conspiracy theory.

It seems however that one case of Jerusalem Syndrome has gone undiagnosed this year. A few weeks ago while visiting Jerusalem, Glenn Beck announced his "Restore Courage" protest, scheduled for 20.08.2011.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Kotel Is Not The Holiest Place For Jews

I just heard on the radio (Reshet Bet) a short historical piece about the Kotel. What shocked me was that the narrator finished by saying "The Kotel - the holiest place for jews throughout the ages". The Kotel is not the holiest place - its not even a "place". The Kotel's holiness is only a byproduct of its physical closeness to the Temple Mount, and it having evolved into a symbol for the entire Temple.

I can't believe how often I hear people making the mistake. I even remember Ehud Barak talking of Jews keeping the Kotel, while the Temple Mount will go to the Palestinians. Evidently in his thinking the holy place for the Jews is the Kotel, and not the Temple Mount. It is time that we make it clear that the Kotel is nothing but a symbol of our wish to return to the Temple Mount.

Update: Answering an Email, I'll clarify my view. Yes the Kotel is holy - as mentioned in the Talmud. However its holiness is really only as a remainder from the temple - and it does not surpass the actual Temple, and location. I think that the reason it has reached its status of holiness is due to it embodying the wish to rebuild the temple. 
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Chief Rabbi Till Death do us Part?

Should the Israeli Chief Rabbis serve until they retire? NRG is reporting that a law with that aim, proposed by Kadima has passed the First Reading stage.

I can't imagine that this is meant to help Haram Metzger - No one supports him. This is clearly a law meant to preserve Harav Shlomo Amar (The sephradic chief rabbi).Harav Amar is popular across the political spectrum, and was instrumental in solving the recent conversion controversy.   Weirdly enough I can't quite figure out what the political angle of this story is. Since Harav Amar was elected in the last Knesset - you would expect that the current Knesset - Led by the Likkud, would be happy to elect a new Rabbi more suited to their aims.

Ynet reported that Science Minister Harav  Hershkowitz (head of the "Mafdal") voted against the law. His reasoning? it would be insulting to the former Chief Rabbanim who were not allowed to stay on. This isn't really the reasoning you expect in a political debate, it sounds more like a half baked talmudic svara. One can assume that this weird reasoning is being used, since he is too embarressed to say that he would allow Harav Amar to stay on but not Harav Metzger. Metzger got the job in 2003 in a political deal that was meant to humiliate the Mafdal. Since the Dati-Leumi public is the only one who cares who the chief rabbi is, we expect Minister  Hershkowitz to stand up a little more openly for his public. 

As I've commented in the past, Israel already has a De-Facto chief rabbi for life - Harav Ovadia Yosef. Whenever a real question of Halacha comes up, Harav Amar asks for Rav Ovadia's backing. It is time that we just accept the halachic reality, and give Harav Ovadia the job again.

Ancient Jewish Pirates?

You can't throw a stone in Jerusalem without hitting a historic landmark. In Rechavia there is a little known archeological spot called "Jason's Tomb". Jason was a high priest in 175 BC, and is mostly famous for buying the priesthood, and then building a gymnasium in Jerusalem. Apparently the priests soon decided that throwing the discus was more fun then giving sacrifices:

12 For he built gladly a place of exercise under the tower itself, and brought the chief young men under his subjection, and made them wear a hat.
13 Now such was the height of Greek fashions, and increase of heathenish manners, through the exceeding profaneness of Jason, that ungodly wretch, and no high priest;
14 That the priests had no courage to serve any more at the altar, but despising the temple, and neglecting the sacrifices, hastened to be partakers of the unlawful allowance in the place of exercise, after the game of Discus called them forth; (Macabees 2 chapter 4).

I'm not quite sure what "made them wear a hat" means, or why it seems this is a bad thing. Surely all Jews wore hats??? well maybe not. However I don't know any other source where wearing a hat is considered a bad thing. 

 A tomb belonging to a man named Jason from the same period,  was discovered on Alfasi Street in the Rehavia neighborhood in 1956 when a charge was detonated in order to clear away rocks for a new apartment building. The structure comprises a courtyard and a burial chamber, decorated by a Doric column. The walls are adorned with charcoal drawings and carved inscriptions in Aramaic and Greek.  

Amongst the drawings on the wall of Jason's tomb, you can find this drawing  commonly interpreted as an archer defending from a pirate ship:

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Monday, May 23, 2011

Napoleon Declares a Jewish State!

Most well read Jews know that Napoleon set up a Sanhedrin. However this morning I was surprised to learn, that Napoleon had also prepared a declaration for a Jewish State. This declaration was prepared in 1799 when Napoleon was in Israel and besieging Acre. Expecting his victory to come soon, and for him to occupy Jerusalem, Napoleon prepared this declaration. However history didn't work out that way, and Napoleon never conquered Jerusalem, and the declaration was never released. This translation is by the International Napoleonic Society: 
Letter to the Jewish Nation from the French Commander-in-Chief
Buonaparte (translated from the Original, 1799)

General Headquarters, Jerusalem 1st Floreal, April 20th, 1799,
in the year of 7 of the French Republic

Israelites, unique nation, whom, in thousands of years, lust of conquest and tyranny have been able to be deprived of their ancestral lands, but not of name and national existence!
Attentive and impartial observers of the destinies of nations, even though not endowed with the gifts of seers like Isaiah and Joel, have long since also felt what these, with beautiful and uplifting faith, have foretold when they saw the approaching destruction of their kingdom and fatherland: And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. (Isaiah 35,10)
Arise then, with gladness, ye exiled! A war unexampled In the annals of history, waged in self-defense by a nation whose hereditary lands were regarded by its enemies as plunder to be divided, arbitrarily and at their convenience, by a stroke of the pen of Cabinets, avenges its own shame and the shame of the remotest nations, long forgotten under the yoke of slavery, and also, the almost two-thousand-year-old ignominy put upon you; and, while time and circumstances would seem to be least favourable to a restatement of your claims or even to their expression, and indeed to be compelling their complete abandonment, it offers to you at this very time, and contrary to all expectations, Israel¹s patrimony!
The young army with which Providence has sent me hither, let by justice and accompanied by victory, has made Jerusalem my headquarters and will, within a few days, transfer them to Damascus, a proximity which is no longer terrifying to David's city.
Rightful heirs of Palestine!
The great nation which does not trade in men and countries as did those which sold your ancestors unto all people (Joel,4,6) herewith calls on you not indeed to conquer your patrimony; nay, only to take over that which has been conquered and, with that nation¹s warranty and support, to remain master of it to maintain it against all comers.
Arise! Show that the former overwhelming might of your oppressors has but repressed the courage of the descendants of those heroes who alliance of brothers would have done honour even to Sparta and Rome (Maccabees 12, 15) but that the two thousand years of treatment as slaves have not succeeded in stifling it.
Hasten! Now is the moment, which may not return for thousands of years, to claim the restoration of civic rights among the population of the universe which had been shamefully withheld from you for thousands of years, your political existence as a nation among the nations, and the unlimited natural right to worship Jehovah in accordance with your faith, publicly and most probably forever (Joel 4,20).

Admittedly somewhat grander then the Megilat Hatzmaut.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Lag Ba'omer update

Driving last night from Haifa to Jerusalem, I noticed plenty of bonfires along the road, and in Hafia, Netanya, Gadera, Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem. However I did feel that there were less the the normal amount. I expect in the next few hours to see whether I see many bonfires tonight (Sunday), which is probably the clearer test.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Naming Children

Even for someone who is not very mystically inclined, naming a child awakens mystical concerns. Jewish thought through the ages places great significance to names, starting from the bible and ending with Kabbilistic meanings. Names have an elemental power - they somehow transcend mere social purposes to convey elemental power. Names are commonly  believed to influence a person's fate and character.  In the bible Angels have hidden names that give those who know them power over them:

יֹּאמֶר מָנוֹחַ אֶל-מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה, מִי שְׁמֶךָ:  כִּי-יָבֹא דבריך (דְבָרְךָ), וְכִבַּדְנוּךָ.17 And Manoah said unto the angel of the LORD: 'What is thy name, that when thy words come to pass we may do thee honour?'
יח  וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה, לָמָּה זֶּה תִּשְׁאַל לִשְׁמִי--וְהוּא-פֶלִאי.  {פ}18 And the angel of the LORD said unto him: 'Wherefore askest thou after my name, seeing it is hidden?' {P}

And so it is with some anxiaty that my wife and I are searching for a name for an expected child. Below is a collection of rules - some concioucly adopted, and others revealing themselves only after reflection, on how to choose a name for an Israeli child:

  1.  No naming children after anyone who died young. - espousing the belief that the name itself is somehow endowed with the curse of a short life. My objections that many people with a similar name have lived long and happy lives has been refuted by the claim that the act of naming someone in memory of the unlucky deceased links their fates. A possible solution to this problem is adding a second name signifying long life.
  2.  No names of anyone who has sinned in the bible and is remembered in ill repute.
  3.  No names for boys that are primarily names for girls. This rule does not apply the other way round.
  4.  No names of any former boyfriends/girlfriends. Also no names of anyone you ever disliked.
  5. No names that are corny. This rules out all the names that involve "Gift", Light, happiness or anything  kitschy.
  6.  Names in Hebrew should at least sound normal in English. I.E the Hebrew name MORAN is out of the question. (As is Dror - sound like draw, Shy, Guy (especially if your last name is penus like this famous Israeli celebrity).
  7.  You must think of how the name sounds when your family name is added.
  8.  No Facebook inspired names.
Suggestions for names that comply with all said rules, will happily be received in the comment section. 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Worth a Read 18.5.2011

  • Rav Elyashiv has a psak out, defending a Haredi man screaming at a woman on a bus. I was thinking about posting about it, but the whole story sounded a little fishy. Furthermore I just couldn't quite make out my thoughts on the matter. Emes vs Emunah reports the story, but then argues (unconvincingly) that Rav Elyashiv could never have paskened this way. (see also Josh Waxman following a similar line). 
  • New study out (Hebrew): Toward Democratization in the Haredi Leadership? The Doctrine of Da′at Torah at the Turn of the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries by Dr. Benjamin Brown/ 
  • Benjamin Brown
  • Strategy posts on the Israeli Cyber Warfare. 
  • Wired Magazine on  the physics of Angry Birds. 
  • Was that Barak Obama talking about the Maccabeats

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Making Money Out of The Apocalypse

I posted a few days ago about a Christian group who seem to think that the world will end this Saturday. Thankfully where I see only an amusement, some people see a business opportunity - 

You've committed your life to Jesus. You know you're saved.  But when the Rapture comes what's to become of your loving pets who are left behind?   Eternal Earth-Bound Pets takes that burden off your mind. 
We are a group of dedicated animal lovers, and atheists. Each Eternal Earth-Bound Pet representative is a confirmed atheist, and as such will still be here on Earth after you've received your reward.  Our network of animal activists are committed to step in when you step up to Jesus.
We are currently active in 26 states, employing 40 pet rescuers.  Our representatives have been screened to ensure that they are atheists, animal lovers, are moral / ethical with no criminal background, have the ability and desire to  rescue your pet and the means to retrieve them and ensure their care for your pet's natural life.   
...Our service is plain and simple; our fee structure is reasonable. For $135.00 we will guarantee that should the Rapture occur within ten (10) years of receipt of payment, one pet per residence will be saved.  Each additional pet at your residence will be saved for an additional $20.00 fee.   A small price to pay for your peace of mind and the health and safety of your four legged and feathered friends.

I am having a hard time thinking of a Jewish equivalent. As I previously posted, few Jews seem to take their biblical prophesy seriously enough for it to affect the Jerusalem Real Estate market. One other  noteworthy legal end of days conundrums can be found here.

HT: http://twitter.com/#!/neilhimself

Worst Translation Ever?

Supposedly a sign in an Israeli public swimming pool - make sure you follow the instructions to the letter!

HT: Oneg Shabbat (Twice this week!)

Why Did Katzav Cancel The Plea Bargain?

Many people wondered why former president Katzav backed out at the last moment from the lenient plea bargain his lawyers had arranged. Katzav was offered the deal of a lifetime - he would not have been convicted of rape, and would have served any prison time. However Katzav famously backed out of the plea bargain, and declared that he would fight to prove his innocence - and we all know how that ended.

Arutz 10  (see also embed video below) has a new theory on the process that led Katzav to decide to decline the plea bargain. Supposedly Katzav was badly advised by two very famous Rabbanim - Harav Mordechai Eliyahu Z"l, and Harav Tau. Harav Eliyahu Z"l supposedly told Katzav that he should "cancel the deal and succeed." (יבטל ויצליח) .Harav Tau, told Katzav that as the president of Israel, he may not agree to a plea bargain - for he represents the honor of all Israel. "זה כבודם של ישראל, זה לא עניין פרטי שלך. חייב לבטל את עסקת הטיעון",

It is hard to say that it was inappropriate for Katzav to ask rabbanim their opinion. We all know that it is becoming more and more common to ask Rabbis advice on topics with which they have no expertise - the best example would be medical questions (should I have the operation?). The legitimacy of the question and answer depend somewhat on the expectations. If the person asking is expecting the rabbi to be a minor seer - his question is illegitimate. Judging by the answer attributed to Harav Eliyahu, this would seem to be the case here. However, if you are looking for a religious perspective - these questions are legitimate. Judging by Harav Tau's answer, it would seem that is the crux of his answer. The important thing is to realize that rabbanim do not often have a direct line to god. Their answer is influenced by their religious life and perspective - but it is not a window into God's plans - as evidenced so clearly in this case. 

El-Al Has Some Strange Ideas Regarding the Makeup Of The Israeli Public.

This screenshot is from El-Al's Frequent Flyer signup:

So what are your options? You can be a Dr, Judge, Lawyer, Lord, Mr., Mrs, Professor or Rebbe. Clearly these are the only options for good Jewish boys. Professions allowed are doctor, judge, lawyer or professor. One can only wonder how many Lords have signed up as frequent flyers with El-AL.  The other interesting point is that they wrote רבי with a י at the end - showing a strong Hassidic bent.

This is the English version:

Interesting that they have added the Rev option in English. I guess no priest is going to speak Hebrew.

Hat tip::חיפושים כמשל

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Lag Ba'omer and Haredi Hypocrisy

Following up on this post, regarding the question of when to celebrate Lag Ba'omer this year, Arutz Sheva has published a poll showing how many Israelis are planning to celebrate Lag Ba'omer on Sunday night as opposed to Saturday. The result of the poll surprised me - supposedly 30% of the population intend to heed the Rabbanut's call and celebrate Lag Ba'omer on Sunday. This is about 20-30% higher then I would have guessed!

However there is another issue worth delving into. The Ashkenazic Haredi community has so far rejected the calls to move Lag ba'omer to Sunday. This is the same community that only recently  rioted violently against other cases where the Shabbat has been desecrated. So, why does the same community not care about the hundreds of policemen that are going to desecrate the Shabbat to secure Meron? one can only come to the conclusion that the sabbath was never really that dear to the Ashkenazic-Haredi heart. 

A Good Op-ed on the Killing of Osama

Jed Rubenfeld,  a professor of law at Yale Law School and a former U.S. representative to the Council of Europe, has written a very good Op-Ed about the legality of killing Osama Bin Laden. His approach is worth noting, for being strongly based on common sense:

These claims are absurd. Under any sane construction of the laws of war, the killing of Bin Laden was lawful regardless of whether he "raised his hands in surrender" or whether the American soldiers were under orders to shoot without giving him a chance to surrender. By suggesting otherwise, human rights lawyers only make international law look out of step with basic morality and common sense.
The view that  a result where killing Osama isn't legal, would make international law seem ridiculously academic, is one I agree with. If we can't kill Osama Bin Laden, who can we kill?

The opportunity to surrender is a cherished, civilized and valuable part of warfare. But accepting an enemy's white flag in the heat of battle is a life-endangering proposition: The flag could be a ruse; a bomb could be hidden; the captors could end up dead. We give enemy soldiers the benefit of this dangerous doubt for two reasons. First, because soldiers who have fought honorably, complying with the laws of war, have earned it. And second, because we want the enemy to treat our soldiers the same way.
Neither reason applies, however, to enemies who flagrantly violate the laws of war, targeting civilians for death, hiding bombs behind burkas, using children as shields or — yes — faking a Red Cross, upraised hands or other symbolic white flags to perpetrate lethal attacks. A white flag makes a statement. It says, I'm giving up; I'm unarmed and pose no threat; I respect the laws of war under which this flag must never be used as a ruse, and I am not using it as a ruse to attack you. Even if we imagine Bin Laden actually waving a little white sock on a stick in Abbottabad, there would have been no reason for our soldiers to credit these statements. No soldier had a duty to take the slightest risk to his own life because Osama bin Laden promised to be good from now on.
Read the whole article, which is well worth a read.

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When the End Of The World Does Not Arrive

I just read about a Christian group that seems to believe the end of the world is coming on the 21st of May - I.E next Shabbat. I can only guess that should they prove right, we will probably all blame those who were planning to light a bonfire come Motzei Shabbat.

However, working under the assumption that the world is not about to end in three days time, one can only wonder how come Sunday, they will explain their continuing existence. History has shown time and again that failed predictions of the coming of the Apocalypse are not an impassable obstacle (Think Mormons). I am sure the come Sunday, we will hear a reasonable explanation of why we are still here.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Torah Scrolls As Prizes Are Now OK.

I recently posted about my feeling of unease over the new fashion to give away torah scrolls as prizes in raffles. On The Main Line, just published a post about a torah scroll raffle that took place 182 years ago, and which the CHIDA seemed to approve of.  I guess there really is nothing new under the sun! my own feeling of unease over the practice continues.

Picture of the day

A picture of an Israeli undercover policeman, during yesterday's riots. Of course Israeli soldiers have a long history of dressing up as women .

Educating the Young

Joining a little late to the party,an Israeli blog "Oneg Shabbat" posted  a week ago, this picture of the educational material found on the wall of a kindergarten in Holon:

The flow chart reads - who wants to kill us? Pharoh, the Greeks, Haman, Nazis and Arabs. What do we need? A Country!

Just proves you never know where you will find some quality teaching material! Not sure they are going to get the peace prize of the year.Some responses:

This effort is from the liberal camp - it reads who are our neighbors? Jews, Muslims, Christians, Hilonim and religious - we are all humans! love your neighbor .. Interesting the we have both a Jewish, Hilonim and Religious group. I was taught they were all the same.

And then a response from a right wing corner, pretending to be the left wing:

Who wants to kill us? people who write comments online, Arsim (yeah, hard word to translate. Literally Riff Raff), Taxi drivers, Im Tirzu (Right wing organization) and Liberman - What do we need? A foreign passport!

Updated: Found some More. You can go to this page, to see even more.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Urban Legends Gush Students Believe

I had the pleasure today of talking to a current Student in "The Gush" (Yeshivat Har Etzion) as well as to an alumni who is a few years older then I am. Within a few minutes two commonly believed stories that have passed through all three generations of students emerged:

1. Rav Lichtenstein stated that no one should read books by Ayn Rand. - I've heard this one in several variants ranging from an outright ban, to just a general statement of dislike. Of course this story has lead to the fact that all self respecting Gush students have read "The Fountainhead" and "Atlas Shrugged".

2. At least one former Gush student is now a priest.- I've never heard of anyone actually claiming to know who that priest is, but everyone has heard it once. Personally I think statistics would more or less make this story likely for any religious institution with the the amount of students and alumni the Gush has.

I find the fact that these stories keep getting passed down as Gush lore to be fascinating. I can just about understand why the Ayn Rand comment keeps getting passed down. Yeshivah students are in that slim window of age where Ayn Rand is thrilling (And even they probably skip 100-200 pages of John Galt speech - anything else is Bitul Torah).  However as to why the urban legend of the priest keeps being considered interesting, I have no idea.
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A Test of Rabbinic Power

You almost couldn't wish for a better test of Rabbinic influence. The Rabanut harashit and Harav Ovadia Yosef (The defacto chief rabbi) ruled that Lag Ba-omer should not be observed on the 33rd day of the omer, since it is  Motzei Shabbat. The fear is that it would cause mass desecration of the Sabbath by security forces and I suppose some less frum Jews. However will the Israeli public really be willing to delay the fun of setting stuff on fire?
I've posted in the past my own opinion that it is overestimated the amount of influence Rabbanim actually have over the religious public. The test case in my opinion was the lack of any mass "refusal" by religious soldiers to follow orders during the Hitnatkut – despite months of rabbinical priming. However in this case we are dealing with a purely halachic matter – and so this should be a no brainer for the religious public. Additionally the very public nature of the bonfire should make it easy to see what the chosen result really is.

Somehow I suspect that come next week on the 33rd day of the Omer, I will see many a bonfire grace every spare spot of land. 

Might be interesting to see if anyone tries to keep both days!

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Halacha In Exile

An interesting argument is playing out at the excellent Israeli Blog "Rav Tzair" (A Young Rabbi). A few days ago, the blog reviewed the recent book ""Bridge for Jacob`s Daughters" by Harav Haim Navon. The book deals with the status of women in Halacha.  (see my original post about the book here).  Rav Tzair finishes his review by criticizing the conservative tone of the book: 

(My own rough translation)
Harav Navon thinks it is correct to justify the Halachic tools at our disposal, even while emphasizing that there are many issues in Halacha which he can't justify, but nonetheless accepts them as part of his belief in Torah. Contrarily, I don't see a reason or need to justify those part of Halacha with which I don’t relate (agree). Instead of justifying Halacha, I yearn that an institution should arise with a wide point of view,   and the halachic authority to advance Halacha, and adjust it to our modern reality. Until that happens, I accept that the Shechinah is in exile, and similarly  in certain aspects  the Halacha exist in exile. in my opinion, in the matter of gender equality Halacha is in exile.  
הרב נבון מוצא לנכון להצדיק את הכלים ההלכתיים הנתונים בידינו, תוך כדי שהוא מדגיש שיש הרבה תחומים בהם הוא אינו יכול להצדיק את הקיים אך הוא מקבל זאת כחלק מאמונתו בתורה. לעומתו, אני אינני רואה סיבה או צורך להצדיק חלקים מההלכה שאינני מזדהה איתם. במקום הצדקת ההלכה אני מייחל שיקום גוף בעל ראייה ארוכת טווח ורוחב כתפיים שיקדם אותה ויתאים אותה למציאות ימינו. עד שזה יקרה, כחלק מההכרה שהשכינה הנמצאת בגלות, כך גם ההלכה נמצאת בגלות במובנים מסויימים. אחד התחומים בהם ההלכה היא בגלות, לטעמי, זה ביחס בין המינים.

Harav Navon responded in a lengthy  but respectful answer, stating that he does not think that Rav Tzairs position is legitimate, The crux of his argument was that you can not reject the elemental viewpoint of Halacha – Just argue specific cases. He also attacked the view of someone who observes Halacha while believing that its basic principals are wrong:

Why is this so harsh? Because most of us don't "find God" (מגיעים לקב"ה) via philosophical wonderings, like Maimonides aspired.  I somewhat doubt if even Maimonides himself connected to God in this manner (philosophy). Our relationship with God is through the Jewish way of life. We experience the Jewish Sabbath, Jewish family life, Jewish prayer, the laws of kashrus - and we see goodness of God. When a man comes and says that he fulfills a large portion of his Jewish life as if there was a gun to his head, he doubts a central aspect of our encounter with God. 
We need a basic trust in Chazal. They were human too, and I'm sure they erred here and there. But we must suppose that fundamentally they are true interpreters of God's will. If not -to where are we headed? So did
למה הדברים קשים כל כך? משום שרובנו לא מגיעים לקב"ה דרך הפשטות פילוסופיות, כפי ששאף הרמב"ם. תמהני אם אפילו הרמב"ם עצמו הגיע לקב"ה בדרך זו. אנחנו מגיעים לקב"ה דרך אורח החיים היהודי. אנחנו טועמים מהשבת היהודית, מחיי המשפחה היהודיים, מהתפילה היהודית, מהלכות כשרות - ורואים כי טוב ה'. כאשר אדם בא ואומר שהוא מקיים נתח נכבד של החיים היהודיים כמי שכפאו שד, הוא מטיל ספק בממד בסיסי של מפגשנו עם הקב"ה.
צריך להיות לנו אמון בסיסי בחז"ל. גם הם היו בני אדם, וגם הם מן הסתם טעו פה ושם. אך אנו צריכים להניח שבאופן בסיסי חז"ל הם פרשנים נאמנים של רצון ה'. שאם לא כן - אנא אנו באים.

I think a correct reading of the argument is not whether the Halacha is perfect – both writers assume it is not. Rather the argument is how we should respond when basic premises of halacha are found to be contrary to our own beliefs. Harav Navon being intellectually honest agrees that Halacha does not preach full gender equality. He states his belief that this inequality is due to Chazal's belief that Men and Women have different traits or roles (but refuses adamantly to try and theorize what they are) and stoically accepts it as a truth that he can not comprehend. Rav Tzair on the other hand believes that even basic philosophical positions in Halacha can be changed, in the proper Halachic process. He is not willing to accept the viewpoint that a position he can not understand and he disagrees with (And I assume that isn't clearly stated in the torah) should be justified as part of the Torah.

Disclaimers: I've Known Harav Navon for many years, and I just really like Rav Tzair's blog. I had a hard time translating their writings, and my translation isn't perfect - and I apologize in advance for any inexact wording. 
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Saturday, May 7, 2011

Osama is Bad Case Law

 Famously "hard cases make bad law" Difficult cases cause the clarity of the law to be obscured by exceptions and strained interpretations. Similarly Easy Moral cases make bad law. Osama in the popular scale of ultimate evil villain is in the murky Hitler category. Intuitively and a-priori we all know and feel that killing Osama was more then justified - Just like killing Hitler would be (no trial needed). However,  finding the exact legal justification is going to lead to some very bad precedents. 

And so basically - this is a clear case where the uniqueness of the case matter, should not be used as a general precedent. 

Thoughts on an Eye For A Dollar

A quick thought I had in Shul today:

One of the most famous cases of non literal readings by the Oral Law of the Torah is reading an "Eye for an Eye" as monetary payment. I won't go over the many proofs given by the the midrash for this reading, but will focus on a different question. Lets assume that God really did want us to pay monetary compensation for bodily injuries, and not literally  to repay them with hacking off our own eyes, teeth, hands and ears. Why didn't God just say that, and save us all the possible painful arguments?

My answer is that we should imagine what would happen if the Torah had literally written that we should pay X dollars (allright, shekels) for an eye, etc. Given the current Halacha=Morality mindset that is prevalent in some black hat communities, I have no doubt that we would soon find some community believing  that it was all right to cut off other peoples limbs, so long as we pay them back. The rich would find advantages in blind servants or knocking out teeth as a form of discipline. I am sure that in such a world, people who made sure they paid the full sum owed to an intentionally injured man, would be considered a mensch.  The Torah had to set a punishment severe enough to make sure that the principal that it is not ok to harm another person was clearly perceived. God left it to the oral law, to make sure that the harsh and impractical principal was translated into a working legal system - i.e. paying monetary compensation. 
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Friday, May 6, 2011

The Chabbad Rebbe and The Nazis

The story of the escape of the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson from Warsaw during world war two is noteworthy since it was achieved through the US foreign office, with the aid of the Nazi regime. It has remained a point of some controversy ever since.  Last wee Channel 1 in Israel aired this documentary , by  Larry Price "The Chabad Rebbe and the German Officer," this week, and I thought that everyone might enjoy it. I found it fascinating - The full video can be seen here.

For those of you who want a little more of the controversy you can have a look at Failed Messiah's post, here:

What Ha'aretz doesn't tell you is that the moment Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn crossed into Latvia he was met by US State Department officials. Why? Because the US Government had arranged the rescue because Chabad convinced gullible US Government officials and elected leaders that Schneersohn was the "pope of all the Protestant Jews in the world."
What did this great Jewish 'leader' do when he got to freedom?
The first act taken by Schneersohn was to ask the US Government to send representatives back to war ravaged Poland to rescue his book collection (the vast majority were secular books like Sherlock Holmes stories translated into Yiddish), his household goods and his silver.
No mention was made of saving Jews – even of saving other members of his own family.
During the war, Schneersohn wrote several letters to US President Roosevelt. Never once did Schneersohn ask that Jews be saved or that the Nazi extermination machine be targeted by Allied troops.

Trumpeldor Farming in Migdal and Kinneret- 1913

Starting the nostalgia of Yom Hatzmaut, this video of Trumpeldor farming in Degania in 1913 is currently doing the rounds. The video was made for the 11th zionist congress and is a part of the film called " The life of the Jews in the land of Israel 1913". The video, thought to be lost after the first world war,  was rediscoverd in 1997 in Paris.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Holocaust Education in the Arab Public

Amnon Be’eri-Sulitzeanu wrote a thought provoking article in  Ha'aretz regarding Arab attitudes to the Holocaust:

In advance of the coming school year, the Education Ministry has decided that the matriculation exam in history in the Arabic-language school system will include a mandatory question about the Holocaust, and that it will be worth 24 points − almost a quarter of the maximum score.This decision came in the wake of the state comptroller’s report on the subject of Holocaust education in the various population sectors, and the “grave results” of a survey on “Holocaust denial” among Israel’s Arab citizens. That survey, which was conducted four years ago, found that about 40 percent of Arabs polled said that “the Holocaust didn’t happen at all.” 
Amnon Be’eri-Sulitzeanu continues, by arguing that since Holocaust education has been mandatory in Israel for Arabs for years, it stands to reason that the poll results need to be explained. His explanation is:

In a correct reading of the situation of Arab citizens, the “denial” of the Holocaust should not be understood as a lack of knowledge of the subject or as a failure to recognize its importance for the Jewish people, but as simple defiance: “If you don’t recognize us and our pain, we will retaliate by not recognizing your pain.” Paradoxically, the painful use of “denial” by the Arabs polled in the survey actually implies recognition of the Holocaust and of the depth of the pain it represents for the Jews.

Normblog (higly recommended) has the following critique:

This argument confuses the motive with the act. Denying that something is the case doesn't cease to be denial because one knows that it is the case, or because one has a motive for the denial distinct from mere ignorance. Indeed, the implication that other cases of Holocaust denial (than that under discussion here) are based on not knowing about what happened to the Jews of Europe is highly questionable. Some Holocaust deniers probably don't know the core facts; but it's likely that many also do know them. Their denial is motivated by hatred and a desire to diminish and wound. To suggest that Holocaust denial is standardly based on genuine ignorance is to fail to understand the dynamics of a form of deliberate racism 

In my opinion Normblog slightly missed the point. Amnon Sulitzeanu justification of the Arab refusal to acknoweldge the holocaust wasn't really about right or wrong (Though Normblog is correct in reading the subtext), just an explanation of the motavation. More fundementally he was arguing that there is no gain to be had by mandating a Holocaust question on a public that (supposedly) already knows the truth.  

The idea however that Arabs feel that denying the Holocaust is a defiant act is intriguing if somewhat unnerving. The only thing I can think of is that perhaps the more universal side of the holocaust should be taught to Israeli Arabs - i.e. the holocaust not only as a Jewish story but also as a universal moral warning. This isn't from much sympathy to the Arab narrative - but rather out of a feeling that it is better to teach them something about the holocaust that they will learn, then teach them a viewpoint that they are sure to reject.

Why Would Anyone Want To Be The Head Of Labor?

Amram Mitzna - Former Labor Party Chairman has officially announced on Wednesday that he will run for the seat once again. Mitzna ran in a general election against Ariel Sharon (then head of the Likud), and weirdly enough his main platform was for a disengagement from the Gaza Strip. Ariel Sharon won the election largely by frighting the public of the dangers of a disengagement from Gaza - famously stating that Netzarim is as much Israel as Tel Aviv.

The elections were a failure for Labor, achieving only 18 Knesset seats - a figure that would be considered a huge success today.  However despite Labor's failure, Ariel Sharon as prime minister did a massive U-turn and enacted Mitzna's plan (Actually he went much further then Mitzna ever suggested). Mitzna ended up leaving the leadership of Labor shortly after the elections - calling the rest of his party all kinds of names (all well deserved). He spent the last few years as the much acclaimed mayor of Yerucham - a poverty stricken city in the Negev.

Mitzna always made a good impression as an honest and serious man. Unfortunately he never made a great impression as an able politician on the national level. Personally I was dismayed at his campaign slogan last time round "We believe in you Mitzna - Because only you can" - which smacks of ego. In truth Mitzna was a national figure for so little time, that it was hard to judge him properly.  And so Mitzna remains somewhat of an enigma. Is he the honest leader we have all been yearning for, or is he just  well meaning but politically inept?

Labor has a habit of bringing in outside leaders just before an election -MitznaBarakPeretz - were all "stars" brought from outside to lead the party before an election. The inability to grow talent in-house is a clear sign of a party that has lost its way. Today Labor is a bankrupt (literally and ideologically) party, who's former party chairman split the party, is at an all time low at the polls (and might soon become as small as Meretz), and which has more people running to be its next chairman then it has Knesset members. 

I would argue that my doubts as to Mitzna's ability have been resolved by the fact that he is running in the race of Labor Party chairman. Anyone who would wish that job, must have his sanity brought into serious doubt.