Monday, January 30, 2012

With Hejab (Hijab) and Without Hejab

Spotted this picture on an Afghan Forum (I read them all). Clearly very offensive, but I'm sure that someone will sooner or later make a similar picture for the Jewish Burqa Cult:

Great Way To Propose!

"I'm Not a Nice Guy, But Not a Sexual Predator"

That seems to be the line of defence used by the Haredi man who was arrested for Sexual Harassment after he called a female soldier a "whore".

"Unpleasant remarks are heard every day in Israel, including some which may be considered humiliating, and most of them are based on a person's sexuality. Those who curse are never put on trial,"
Which is fairly accurate.

 X also claimed that even if cursing a woman "is deserving of moral obloquy, it does not constitute a criminal offense of sexual harassment." 

Which is at least an admission of some guilt.

"I am not a sexual offender," X, father of 12, told his attorney on Thursday. "If anything – she harassed me. I wanted to move away and she kept moving closer." 

Oh, well I take my last comment back.

Fascinating Article About Gur Hasidim

There is an eye opening article in Ha'aretz on the lifestyle and beliefs of Gur Hasidim. The article is a short summary of the doctorate of Dr. Nava Vaserman who tries to understand the theology and peculiar customs of Gur Hasidim. Her basic claim is that Gur has put "Holiness" (which seems to mean asexuality) as their main message. According to the article:

  • Gur Hasidim are taught very little about sexual relations before the wedding.
  • They are instructed how to not see women at all on the street.
  • They keep all the minhags of Nidda during the entire month (well almost..)
  • They won't hug other men, or talk to them when they are not fully dressed.
  • They men don't go to weddings so that they might not meet the females Hasidut.
And more. I recommend you read the entire article.

****update - English version of this article now available, and also a follow up article [Hebrew].

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Will There Be A "Yeshayahu Leibowitz?" Street In Jerusalem?

According to Ma'ariv (Hebrew) there is a strong debate in the Jerusalem City Council on whether to name a street after philosopher Yeshayahu Lebowitz. It seems however that the objection is not rooted in Leibowitz's unusual take on Judaism (Leibowitz was extreme in his view, that you must perform Halacha only because you are commanded to, and for no other reason) but rather due to Leibowitz famously using the phrase "JudeoNazis".

Personally I think that Leibowitz was one of the most original Jewish thinkers in the 20th century. His Judeo-Nazi comment was certainly out of place (and think to our recent reaction to Haredi protesters wearing a Yellow Star to understand how terrible it was), but he should not be judged on that single comment. We should appreciate that he was a complex individual - and not reduce his legacy to a single (disgusting) comment.

Shechianu at Weddings and A New Custom?

  • There are few things that really annoy me in a wedding such as those grooms who insist they need a new Talit in order to bless "Shechianu" (שחיינו) - a blessing which is said on a new object, and when an important event takes place. I know the halachic backround, but I just find that I can't take it seriously - a Talit is important enough to say a blessing over, but a wife isn't?

  • At the wedding I just came from, I saw a new "custom" - the person leading the wedding asked that four unmarried friends of the groom "who need the segulah for a quick marriage" should come on the stage and hold the Talit above the Chupah. Needless to say, those poor unmarried young men, were not too eager to run onstage for the segulah.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Politics Is Not The Realm of The Reasonable

Last week I wrote a long post about Noam Shalit (Schalit) joining politics, but in the end I decided not to publish it. The reason was that despite my nagging feeling that Shalit was doing something wrong by joining politics so soon after the prisoner (or Kidnapping-Prisoner) swap that released his son - I couldn't shake off my other feeling which is that any person is entitled to run for office.

This week another story made the news which has helped me clarify my thoughts. It was widely reported that Yair Lapid had consulted with Ehud Olmert before deciding to launch his own political career. As can be expected, numerous commentators jumped at this and accused Lapid of a low morality due to his association with Olmert. My problem was - Is it not legitimate to ask advice from Olmert even if he was infact crooked? Surely even with a tainted past, no one would deny he has expertise that Lapid might need. Lapid didn't give him any official position - he merely asked for some advice!

Both of these stories revolve around the same thought. In both cases the act isn't really wrong - it merely looks bad in public. However politics is not the realm of the reasonable!

What is a Tzfardeah?

Well obviously a צפרדע is a frog. Or is it?

Ibn Ezra brings two explanations (Exodus 7: 27) - the first is that it is a type of fish found in Egypt that is called in Arabic "Altmesach" - which the commentator at the bottom of the "Torat Haim" torah translates as Crocodiles. This is interesting for two reasons - first of all, I have to say a plague of Crocodiles does sound somewhat more threatening than a plague of frogs, and secondly it seem Ibn Ezra thinks Crocs are fish (Which is fair enough considering the period he lived in).

The second explanation Ibn Ezra gives is that a Tzfardeah is " Those that are found in most rivers and make a noise - and this is the explanation I favor and is well known." in other words..frogs! I have no idea why he felt a need to describe frogs, and didn't just translate the word.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Why The Pig Is The Symbol Of Non Kosher Animals?

Shamrya Rosenberg has published an interesting if unconvincing account of Christopher Hitchens explanation why a pig is not kosher. To sum it up - he believes the similarity between pigs and humans made pigs a semi cannibalistic symbol.

I'm not going to argue, mostly because I honestly believe that the question of why a pig is not kosher is a dead end question. All answers will be little more than theories, and rely on some shaky assumptions.

However, what is an interesting question for me, is why did the pig become THE symbol for non kosher food?

A look at the Torah, shows that there is nothing unusual in the Psukim that forbid eating pigs:

אֶת-הַשָּׁפָן, כִּי-מַעֲלֵה גֵרָה הוּא, וּפַרְסָה, לֹא יַפְרִיס; טָמֵא הוּא, לָכֶם.5 And the rock-badger, because he cheweth the cud but parteth not the hoof, he is unclean unto you.
ו  וְאֶת-הָאַרְנֶבֶת, כִּי-מַעֲלַת גֵּרָה הִוא, וּפַרְסָה, לֹא הִפְרִיסָה; טְמֵאָה הִוא, לָכֶם.6 And the hare, because she cheweth the cud but parteth not the hoof, she is unclean unto you.
ז  וְאֶת-הַחֲזִיר כִּי-מַפְרִיס פַּרְסָה הוּא, וְשֹׁסַע שֶׁסַע פַּרְסָה, וְהוּא, גֵּרָה לֹא-יִגָּר; טָמֵא הוּא, לָכֶם.7 And the swine, because he parteth the hoof, and is cloven-footed, but cheweth not the cud, he is unclean unto you.

(Leviticus 11)
As can be seen the phrasing "unclan unto you" appears in both for the "Rock-badger" and "Hare" (sorry Rabbi Slifkin). A similar Pasuk appears in Deutronomy 14:7 - but it also does not have any unusual language.

The antiquity of the Pig=Unkosher symbol is evident in the Bible. In Isaiah (64:17) we find for example:

יז  הַמִּתְקַדְּשִׁים וְהַמִּטַּהֲרִים אֶל-הַגַּנּוֹת, אַחַר אחד (אַחַת) בַּתָּוֶךְ, אֹכְלֵי בְּשַׂר הַחֲזִיר, וְהַשֶּׁקֶץ וְהָעַכְבָּר--יַחְדָּו יָסֻפוּ, נְאֻם-יְהוָה.17 They that sanctify themselves and purify themselves to go unto the gardens, behind one in the midst, eating swine's flesh, and the detestable thing, and the mouse, shall be consumed together, saith the LORD
This pasuk is interesting because it mentions in one breath the pig, mouse and detestable food. In other words - the pig is a symbol, but so is the mouse.

In the Talmud, there is no shortage of Midrashim that show that the Pig was clearly an established symbol. So I'm guessing that somewhere between the biblical times and the Talmud, the pig was elevated to being the ultimate symbol of non kosher food. Some have speculated, that it is because the roman legion which burned down the temple (Legion X Fretensis) had a boar as one of its symbols - and hence the pig became the symbol for the destruction of the temple. (I somewhat doubt this explanation, but it does make me wonder about the Aggadah that the Romans sent a pig as a sacrifice, and when his hooves touched the walls of the Temple, Jerusalem shook).

I'm happy to hear any suggestions.

Sounds Delicious!

No explanation needed..

H/T: Keshel

Friday, January 13, 2012

Joseph The Perfect Egyptian?

I was listening yesterday to a class on the Parasha by Rabbi Meir Spiglman. The classes are available online, and I really recommend them as Rav Spiglman is incredibly original.

One of his comments on this parasha, was that Joseph died at the age of 110 years. Apparently, in Egypt 110 was considered the full life of a perfect Egyptian - much as we talk of 120 years. I was slightly skeptical, however an online search showed that this was a valid fact. Rav Spiglman seems to read this as the Torah saying that Joseph died as a perfect Egyptian. This of course leads to the question of just how "Egyptian" vs "Jewish" Joseph's lifestyle (remember he was married to the daughter of an Egyptian priest) really was..

Monday, January 9, 2012

Not Another Political Party!

Yair Lapid, a prominent TV journalist has announced that he is leaving Channel 2, to start a new political party. Polls show that he will get anywhere from 7-20 mandates in the Knesset. The problem is that those same polls show that the biggest party in the Knesset - Likud will get approximately 24 mandates. This isn't so different from the current situation where the largest party Kadima has 29 mandates, however the situation must end. How can any party rule effectively when it only has roughly 20% of the electorate? this is why small parties in Israel can often set the policy of the country. Israel desperately needs to change its system, so that parties that win elections can actually rule!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Who Divided the Torah into 5 books?

With the ending of the the book of Genesis in the weekly Torah reading, I was reminded of a post I intended to publish a year ago, but never got around to finishing. What bothered me, was the question of who had divided the Torah into 5 books.

As far as I'm aware Ibn Caspi is the first and only Rishon to address the question, as he wonders why the book of Exodus begins with a "vav":

לא נדע באמת *מי היה ראשון להפסיק הפרשיות גם לעשות מהתורה חמשה חלקים*, ונכון מאוד שהיה משה עצמו מפי השם ,...". 

We will never know who was the first to divide the Parshiot, and who made the Torah into 5 parts. And it seems very true that Moses himself did so, instructed by God.
Ibn Caspi doesn't really add to our knoweldge. However there are some Midrashim which seem to suggest that the division into 5 books wasn't always a given:

Yalkut Shimoni:
בר קפרא פתר קריא בתורה, בנתה ביתה זו תורה שנאמר ה' קנני ראשית דרכו, חצבה עמודיה שבעה אלו שבעה ספרי תורה, ולא חמשה הם? בר קפרא עביד מרישיה דוידבר...". 

Bar Kapra explains the Pasuk in Mishli "Wisdom has built her house;  she has set up[a] its seven pillars. " as referring to the SEVEN books of the Torah! (see the geomorah in שבת קטז עמ' א where an opinon of Rava is mentioned that "ויהי בנסע אהרון" is a book upon itself - Rashi explains that those who see the torah as seven books, have really divided Bamidbar into 3).

I have a dim memory of the Zohar stating there are 9 books, but I couldn't find a quote online. I was also somewhat surprised at the lack of sources on this issue, and I somewhat expected someone to have suggested that all the Torah used to be one book. I'm very interested if anyone has any more sources on this issue.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Worth A Read 3.02.2012

·         Thoughts on the yellow star

·         Gender Segregation as Sexual Harassment

·         How does Israeli TV translate to U.S. audiences? Very well

Whisky Map!

Finally A guide to the whiskey perplexed!

Reducto Ad Arabium

Andrew Sullivan quotes some writers who ascribe Israel's current internal strife with its Haredi population to the occupation:

[U]ltra-Orthodox coercion stems in large part from ultra-Orthodox control of key ministries in the Israeli government. Israeli prime ministers give the ultra-Orthodox control over these ministries in return for the Knesset votes that keep them in power. And why must Israeli prime ministers include ultra-Orthodox parties in their governments? In large measure because they will not include Israel’s Arab parties. ...
What gives the ultra-Orthodox the ability to oppress women, in other words, is partly a political system in which Israel’s Arab citizens are largely barred from power. What the protesters in Beit Shemesh and their supporters in the United States need to remember is the fundamental interconnectedness of equal citizenship. When you deny it to one group, you produce ripple effects that undermine the equality of others as well 

Must every single issue in Israel somehow be reduced to the occupation? Can Israel only ever be seen thorough this single prism? Are we a one topic country?

Clearly this is little more than intellectual gymnastics written by those who lack any historical depth. Israel has other problems other than the Arab-Israeli conflict. It is true that the arabs are barred from power - however considering that at least on the topics of Education, Lack of empathy to Zionist causes, and a wish for cultural autonomy they are more or less inline with the Haredi political parties, one can't imagine that were Arab Parties in government the situation would be any better.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Rabbi Kanyevsky Doesn't Know Where Beit Shemesh Is?

This video, posted on Youtube a few days ago, seems to show that one of the leading Rabbanim of the Haredi community doesn't know where Beit Shemesh is. He can clearly be heard asking if Beit Shemesh is in America.

After the news stories about Beit Shemesh of the last few days, it is amazing that any Haredi - especially one of the biggest leaders, doesn't know where Beit Shemesh is. This is another example of how secluded the Gedolim really are from the day to day happening of the Israeli and the Haredi world.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Weirdest attempt to annoy the Haredim?

Seems today is the official day to try and annoy the Haredim. Two people dressed up (?) as priests stood on the corner of the Davidka - right outside Geula the main Haredi area of Jerusalem, and screamed "Sunday, Sunday" - I think trying to mock Haredim who scream "Shabbos, Shabbos" at cars on Sabbath.

They seem to be lucky not to have been lynched -

on another unrelated post..I saw this and thought it was funny:

(Hat tip: Life in Israel)

Bibi and Rabbi Lichtenstein - Update 2

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's interest in Rav Lichtenstein's new book, has already been commented on here and here. However, Ha'aretz had another small addition to this saga, which I hope will be the final post on this matter:

בנאומים בכנסת שלשום כרכו לבני וגלאון, כל אחת בתורה, את כל החבילה יחד והטיחו אותה בפרצופו של נתניהו שהתעמק באותה עת, בהפגנתיות, בספר "מבקשי פניך, שיחות עם הרב אהרון ליכטנשטיין" מאת חיים סבתו. רק אצלנו ראש ממשלה נוהג כך. ראש ממשלה בריטי לעולם לא היה מעז לעיין בספרות ביושבו מול יריביו בפרלמנט.

 Roughly Translated:

In the speeches in the Knesset two days ago, Livni, Galon, each one in her turn, connected all these matters together (Women singing, anti democratic laws, "Tag Mechir" - BoT) and accused all of these ills at Netanyahu, who at the time was theatratically concentrating in the book "In quest of your presence, discussions with Rabbi Lichtenstein" written by Haim Sabato. Only here does a Prime Minister act in this manner. A British Prime Minister would never have dared to read literature while sitting opposite his parliamentary opponents.   
I'm not sure Rabbi Lichtenstein would approve of his book being used to "ignore" the female members of Knesset, but I guess this is the best evidence we have so far, that Bibi is actually reading the book.