Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Great Death Notice

I've no idea who this is, but I like his death notice in the New York Times:

SHUCHMAN--Amos, of New York, on February 1, 2013. Beloved and caring husband of Alice Shuchman for 51 years, father of Daniel (Lori Lesser) and Nina (Brian Roth), grandfather of Jacob, Sarah, Aaron and Ariela. Born in Tel Aviv in 1928, fought bravely in the Haganah. Loved his family, his birth and adopted countries, finance, skiing, opera, ballet and biking in Central Park. Loved everything about NYC, except the New York Times. Services at Beth El Cemetery (Or Zarua section), Paramus, NJ, Sunday at 11am. Memorial contributions to a charity of your choice. His fearless heart still beats within all of us. Shalom, Saba.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Some Haredi Soul Searching

From Israel Hayom:

Yaakov Rivlin, one of the most respected commentators of the haredi system, recently expressed an insight that some would call historic. “The national-religious are about to take the place of the haredim in the religious and political systems of life in this country, and we must resign ourselves to that,” he wrote in the haredi newspaper BaKehila [In the community]. “We can only hope that they will treat us better than we treated them when we controlled the appointments and jobs and left them not even crumbs: not in the city rabbinates, the religious councils or the local authorities. When the next government takes office, we will pay for the humiliating way we treated them. And we will pay dearly.”

I suggest you read the entire article by the insightful Yehudah Shlezinger. I partly agree with his analysis, and will write a full post on it, post Shushan Purim (I live in Jerusalem).

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Most Insensitive Purim Costume 2

I didn't think anyone could beat this costume, but as always, once someone sets the bar, someone else has to  raise it:

The pictures are volunteers and the head of Zaka - an organisation that collects body parts for burial - wearing white robes with blood and a caption on the back saying "Hiss reminds - the body has no spare parts". Hiss is a reference to Israel's notorious pathologist Yehudah Hiss, "The Body has no spare parts" is the slogan for an Israeli vitamin company.

Hattip: Rotter.net

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Comparing Ahmadinejad and Haman Is PC Acceptable

I decided to have this cleared up before the commencement of Purim drunkenness for the year.

BBC Never Heard of the Book Of Esther

I guess the drinking started early:

Before my arak-drenched boozefest commenced, an Israeli friend explained that there are three things you are supposed to do on Purim: read the Megillah (the relevant section of the Talmud, the central religious Jewish text), 
God knows if we actually read out tractate Megillah on purim, there is zero chance we would get any of the kids (or grownups) to actually come.

Via BBCWatch

Friday, February 22, 2013

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Savages in Azerbaijan Lack Sense of Irony

From The Washington Post:

But on Monday the head of the Modern Musavat party, Hafiz Hajiyev, told the Turan Information Agency that the time has come for Aylisli to be punished forportraying Azerbaijanis as savages.
“We have to cut off his ear,” Hajiyev said. “This decision is to be executed by members of the youth branch of the party.”


Terrorists In Britain Are Really Dumb

From The Guardian:

The court previously heard that the men, two of whom are alleged to have received terror training in Pakistan, planned to detonate a series of suicide bombs in an attack that could have been bigger than the 7 July 2005 atrocities.
The jury heard that Ali registered two accounts on eBay's online charity website "half in jest" in September 2006, with the user names "terrorshop" and "shopterror", using the email address be_terror@yahoo.co.uk.
Brian Altman QC, prosecuting, said that eBay closed down one of the accounts in October 2006.
"The second account remains active, but, like the first, has never been used," he said. "However, both reveal his mindset even then, even if the usernames he chose were registered half in jest."

Why We Shouldn't Get Too Upset About George Galloway

Like many of you I was disgusted when I first say the video below showing how Mr Galloway - a British MP - “stormed out” of a debate at Christ Church on Wednesday evening, upon finding out that his opponent, Eylon Aslan-Levy, a third-year student at Brasenose, was an Israeli citizen:

However, I soon saw the following video of Mr Galloway participating on the TV show "Big Brother":

How can you ever take this man seriously after that?

Life in Jerusalem

I've been told this isn't a joke:

A new service for Jerusalem residents that will deliver quiches on Fri afternoon. Useful for those of you invited to a meal, who have no idea how to cook.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Who Leads the Religious Zionist Movement?

Responding to the news that Tzipi Livni will be the first to join Netanyahu's new coalition, a Likud spokesman states:

""לבני החלישה משמעותית את כושר המיקוח של בנט ולפיד. אין סיכוי שהרבנים יאפשרו לבנט לפזר את הכנסת. הוא יצטרך לזחול לממשלה בתנאים של נתניהו"
"Livni has significantly weakend the bargining power of Bennett and Lapid. There is no chance that the Rabbis will allow Bennett to call for a new election. He will need to crawl into the government on Netanyahu's conditions". 

This is another example where the general public is under the impression that Rabbis call the shots in the Dati-Leumi (Religious Zionism) movement. For most of the non religious public, there is little difference between the Haredim and the Dati Leumim.  As I've previously stated, it is doubtful just how much influence rabbis really have on the RZ community - certainly less than they are credited with. It is further unclear just how much influence they have on Naftali Bennett, who has at the very least stated that they have only a consulting role.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

When No Answer Is Worth An "A"

"Inside Higher Ed" has this fascinating story, of students coming together to beat a grading system:

Since he started teaching at Johns Hopkins University in 2005, Professor Peter Fröhlich has maintained a grading curve in which each class’s highest grade on the final counts as an A, with all other scores adjusted accordingly. So if a midterm is worth 40 points, and the highest actual score is 36 points, "that person gets 100 percent and everybody else gets a percentage relative to it,” said Fröhlich.
This approach, Fröhlich said, is the "most predictable and consistent way" of comparing students' work to their peers', and it worked well
The student's however found a loophole to the system:

As the semester ended in December, students in Fröhlich’s "Intermediate Programming", "Computer System Fundamentals," and "Introduction to Programming for Scientists and Engineers" classes decided to test the limits of the policy, and collectively planned to boycott the final. Because they all did, a zero was the highest score in each of the three classes, which, by the rules of Fröhlich’s curve, meant every student received an A.
“The students refused to come into the room and take the exam, so we sat there for a while: me on the inside, they on the outside,” Fröhlich said. “After about 20-30 minutes I would give up.... Then we all left.” The students waited outside the rooms to make sure that others honored the boycott, and were poised to go in if someone had. No one did, though 
Top grades to the Professor, who stuck to his system:

Fröhlich took a surprisingly philosophical view of his students' machinations, crediting their collaborative spirit. "The students learned that by coming together, they can achieve something that individually they could never have done," he said via e-mail. “At a school that is known (perhaps unjustly) for competitiveness I didn't expect that reaching such an agreement was possible.”

This story reminded me of one of my beloved urban myths of university life. According to legend, once long ago two students got drunk the night before an important final exam, and subsequently, overslept and missed the exam. Arriving a few hours late, they went to the professor's office and explained that they had been on their way to the exam when their car had a flat tire. The professor was very sympathetic and offered them to tale the exam right there and then. Weirdly however the professor insisted that they sit the exam in two separate rooms. When the students opened the exam they found but a single question worth 100% of the grade: Which tire?

Via: Volokh Conspiracy

The Kotel Is Way Better Than the Giving Tree

Israeli Blog "Oneg Shabbat" spotted these two ads:

The Ad reads: Looking to buy an apartment? A Minyan (10 Jews) of Avrechim will pray for you 40 days in the Kotel, so that with God's Help you will find the best [apartment] for you : 0722-81-85-82

This ad reads: Looking for work? A Minyan (10 Jews) of Avrechim will pray for you 40 days in the Kotel, so that with God's Help you will find the best [apartment work] for you : 0722-81-85-82

The website of the Kollel states clearly that people can add their names to the prayers for free. However, some of the stories they posted, do seem to include some donation to the Kollel.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Samaritans and Ukrainian Brides

The Telegraph reports:

For decades, it seemed as though one of the world's smallest religious communities was doomed. Dwindling and insular, the Samaritans of Mount Gerizim were struggling to survive as inbreeding produced generation after generation of children with serious disabilities on an isolated hilltop in the biblical landscape of the West Bank.

The solution:

But the threat of extinction is now receding after the deployment of the twin weapons of advanced medical science and internet marriage agencies to import brides from Ukraine. In fact, the community of four extended families totalling 320 people is now looking forward to rapid growth.
Much of this hope stems from five young Ukrainian women who have injected fresh blood to Mount Gerizim after swapping a life of bleak prospects, dismal housing and badly paid employment for space, security and strict observance of the religious dictates of the ancient Samaritan community. 
Some of these "shocking" custom:

Her distress was compounded by having to "sit on my own" for 40 days following the termination. The Samaritan religion dictates that women must sleep separately from their husbands, wear special clothes and eat from separate plates for seven days following the start of menstruation, 40 days following the birth of a boy and 80 days after the birth of a girl. Abortion is governed by the same rule as birth.


Jewish Law More Clear Than Sharia? (Kashrut)

The Economist writes on the challenges of defining "Kosher" and "Hallal":

Still, Jews are more united than Muslims about the exact nature of their religion’s dietary rules. Jewish law leaves no doubt that stunning animals before slaughter is prohibited. Muslims disagree about that. Hundreds of halal-certification bodies operate, with varying standards and logos. They differ in their methods of slaughter. Some countries allow products containing a small percentage of non-halal ingredients to be classed as halal. Others do not. “Halal” pies and pasties recently served to Muslim prisoners in British jails turned out to contain traces of pork—but came from a supplier approved by the Halal Food Authority, one of two main British guarantors (it has now delisted the firm).
Good to know that somehow, we found one topic where we are "more" united.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Netanyahu's Ice Cream Budget Gets Cold Reception

Time of Israel reports:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received a NIS 10,000 ($2,700) budget from the government for buying high-end ice cream for his official residence from a late-night shop down the street.
According to Ha'aretz, due to public pressure Netanyahu has ordered his Ice Cream budget cancelled. My question is: How exactly do people Netanyahu to form a new government coalition, without any ice cream?

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ruth Calderon as a Threat to Haredi Society?

Yesterday, new Yesh Atid MK  Ruth Calderon gave her inaugrual speech at the Knesset, analysing a talmudic Aggadata. The speech was deep, insightful and leaps and bounds more stimulating than any of the other inaugrual speeches.However, Kikar Hashabat (Haredi website) had a different interprentation in an op-ed entitled "The True Existential Threat: Ruth Calderone Learning Gemara" (Heb):

"Calderon and the Yesh Atid gang, don't want to erase Torat Yisrael, they don't want to make us into just one of the nations. The opposite, they want to spread the Torah "Rambam for the people" they demand "Talmud for everyone", and this is where the great danger lies.
However, there are also similarities between the rabbis of the 19th century enlightenment movment and Yesh Atid, both make use of the words of Chazal. (מתכסים באיצטלה דרבנן). Rabbi Shai Peron, Dov Lipman and the "Rebbetzen" Ruth Calderon make use of our weapon - the Talmud, Gemara and the Poskim - against us, and also serve as a fig leaf."
However  the article surprises at its conclusion: The author states categorically that there is a differnce between Yair Lapid and his father. Tomi Lapid haded Haredim, while Yair really want to include Haredim in the larger Israeli society. How should Haredim react? like Shamai who used a ruler to push away a cheeky convert, or like Hillel who brought him in with softness? The conclusion of the op-ed leavs the question somewhat open.

It will be fascinating to see the future interactions between Haredi society and Ruth Calderon. Will they acknoweldge her learning? will they be able to respect her brand of Talmudic interprentation?

Sidenotes: I noticed that it is "Harav" Shai Peron, but not Harav Dov Lipman. There was a rumor yesterday, that a Haredi MK asked his rabbi whether Lipman can be joined to a minyan. I suspect that Lipman - himself an anglo Hardi - will be the target of much abuse from Haredi society.

Education as a Useful Axe

I saw this picture on Facebook, and immediatly loved it. I think the picture accuratly reflects a certain complex relationship in eduation between a teacher and his student. The student, presented as a raw log of wood appears to be terrified of the teacher who is presented as an axe. If the picture did not include other details I would have summised that it was a critique of how education can sometimes destroy a young mind, or that this was a case where the student clearly was not being sent to the right school.However, looking at the picture we caan see that both the father and the students are wooden humonid dolls. Is it possible that they too were once raw logs? who shaped them into their more advanced state? it is not hard to assume that they too were shaped into their advanced state by the teacher - the axe. The picture is telling the complex story, of where the log must surrender some of its freedom to be shaped by the axe into a a young (wooden) human.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Is Bennett A Symbol of the Waning Power of Rabbis in RZ?

Yair Etinger, has written an excellent and erudite article about the frantic pressure being applied by Haredi leadership on religious zionist rabbis, to get them to pressure the Jewish Home party not to go hand in hand with Yesh Atid's plan for enlisting Haredim a.k.a "sharing the burden of army service".

There is one comment I would like to focus on. In the article Etinger claims that Bennett's leadership of the Bayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) is a sign of the waning power of rabbis in Religious Zionism (RZ). In NRG Roee Sharon seems to think so too, though he interprets Bennett's rise as the new found domination of liberal Religious Zionism.

 I can only guess that those who see Bennett as a newfound independance from rabbinic leadership are basing their views on Bennett himself  not  being "very" frum. However, in all honesty we know very little of Bennett's religious beliefs. Not being very frummy is no indication that Bennett will not listen to pushy rabbis. I know plenty of people who may not be the most observant of Jews, but who still consider a particular rabbi to be the final word in any discussion.

I have often argued that the claims of far-right rabbinic leadership in the RZ community are overstated. To put it mildly in the few instances where its been put to the test, it has failed miserably. As a case in point,  there were next to no instances of religious soldiers refusing to follow orders during the disengagement  despite months where rabbis were calling on their yeshiva students to do so.

It will be interesting to see how the coming few weeks play out. Will the Jewish Home abandon their evolving relationship with Lapid's Yesh Atid? Will there be a showdown between the Jewish Home and prominent RZ rabbis? Will there be an emerging schism between liberal RZ rabbis and  more hard-line rabbis? Will the Jewish Home itself split between its two parties (Mafdal and Tekuma)?

Interestingly some of the municipal level politicians of the Jewish Home have already written to the RZ rabbis who have been meeting with their Haredi counterparts, and politely asked them to butt out. Mk Uri Ariel, who is an MK from the Tekuma (Hardalnik party) part of the Jewish Home has also recently stated that the rabbis do not decide things in the Jewish Home, but his party member MK Rabbi Ben-Dahan recently said the opposite. Harav Yuval Cherlow has also written an interesting answer to this question.


Thursday, February 7, 2013

Update: Halachic Lawfare

I recently posted on the attempt by a religious family (bereaved parents) to sue Aryeh Deri in a Rabbinic Tribunal for his part in the Oslo Accords. Apparently, Deri didn't take the issue too seriously and just responded that he is only answerable to the Rabbinic leadership of Shas - whom he represented and did their will.

The rabbinic tribunal was not amused, and issued a temporary order banning Deri from being appointed to any position of authority (שררה) in the new government until the first hearing of the case.

I'm fairly sure Deri will not bother responding again to this tribunal, nor will its ruling have any effect. Next time that people wish to attempt "Halachic Lawfare" they should at least go to a tribunal that Haredim might listen to.

Measurement by regrets

I especially liked this short post on Maverick Philosopher:

Measurement by Regrets

We are measurable by the nature of our regrets.  What do you regret?  Not having drunk enough good wine?  Not having amassed more wealth?  Not having given in to the temptation to commit adultery with willing women or men in faraway places?  Or is it rather your intellectual mistakes and moral failures that you regret?
We can be measured by the nature of our regrets as much as by the altitude of our aspirations.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

On the Expression "Mazal Tov"

Having just congratulated a friend on the birth of a son, I suddenly became curious on the origin of the expression "Mazal Tov". A quick search in Google, found that the origin of the phrase is from Rashi who uses the expression on his commentary on Genesis 30:11

י  וַתֵּלֶד, זִלְפָּה שִׁפְחַת לֵאָה--לְיַעֲקֹב בֵּן.10 And Zilpah Leah's handmaid bore Jacob a son.
יא  וַתֹּאמֶר לֵאָה, בגד (בָּא גָד); וַתִּקְרָא אֶת-שְׁמוֹ, גָּד.11 And Leah said: 'Fortune is come!' And she called his name Gad.

“Luck has come”: Heb. בָּא גָּד. Good luck has come [Targum Jonathan ben Uzziel] similar to (Shab. 67b)“ May my fate be lucky (גָד גַדִּי) and not fatigued,” and similar to this (Isa. 65:11), “who set a table for Gad.” According to the Aggadah [Midrash Aggadah in the name of“some say”], he was born circumcised גָּד, meaning “cut off”), like Dan. 4:11,“cut down (גֹּדוּ) the tree,” .. בא גד: בא מזל טוב, כמו (שבת סז ב) גד גדי וסנוק לא, ודומה לו (ישעיה סה יא) העורכים לגד שלחן. ומדרש אגדה שנולד מהול, כמו (דניאל ד כ) גדו אילנא..

The original meaning of the word Mazal - is a constellation of stars, which astrologists believed would influence your life.

See also this article [Hebrew] on how Sephradic (specifically Iraqi) communities would use "Mazal Tov" only for male children, and "Siman Tov" for females.

The Israeli Supreme Court and The Trial of Jesus

I'm slowly working my way through the autobiography of former Supreme Court Justice Haim Cohn, which I recently inherited. I was somewhat amused by the following paragraph (As always I apologize in advance for the roughness of my translation):

During 1948, not long after the establishment of the Supreme Court, I then still the State Prosecutor, was called to Moshe Smoira, our first president [of the court], and he showed me some files, filled to the rim, with petitions for the Supreme Court to have a retrial for Jesus the Christian (ישו הנוצרי). The petitioners were protestant reverends from various countries, all arguing that now, with the establishment of the Supreme Court in a Jewish state, our first duty was to correct the mistake of our immediate predecessor, the Sanhedrin, 1900 years ago. The president informed me that he had discussed the matter with the the other Justices, and they -obviously- decided that they don't have the authority to hear these petitions....He also asked me to respond in his name to the petitioners and explain why we didn't feel we had the jurisdiction.
(Haim Cohn, A Personal Introduction, pg 305)

Haim Cohn went on to write the book "The Trial and Death of Jesus", which you can buy at Amazon second hand for just one penny!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Burying John Grauel (Guest Post)


A reader of this blog, Paul Shaviv from New York, recently connected with someone who had given a talk in Ireland about Christian Zionists, including John Grauel.  It prompted him to write the following memoir, which he was kind enough to share with me:

In 1986 I was the Director of the (grandly-named) B’nai Brith World Center[1] in Jerusalem, the representative office of B’nai Brith International in Israel, reporting directly to BB International in Washington DC.   The job was, in its own way, interesting, and dealt a lot with diplomatic and interfaith contacts.
One day in September I received an unusual call from Dr Dan Thursz in Washington DC.   A former Methodist minister called John Grauel had passed away in New Jersey, where he lived.  Moved by Jewish suffering under the Nazis, Rev. John Grauel became a leading Christian Zionist, and was well known as the only Christian volunteer on the ‘Exodus’.   Having left the Ministry (perhaps under slightly unclear circumstances), he partly or completely earned a living lecturing to Jewish audiences about his story.  He did a lot of work for American B’nal Brith, speaking at its youth camps and other gatherings; and was also, apparently, a regular speaker for UJA.
Grauel’s family (not clear who this was; he had two adopted Palestinian Christian sons, who may have lived in the USA with him) claimed that ‘Golda Meir promised him that he would be buried in Jerusalem’.  No written record of this promise existed, but no–one wanted the embarrassment that could follow publicity if the ‘promise’ was unfulfilled.  The Israeli Consulate in NY could not help.  UJA New York had promised to cover the costs of sending the body to Israel and costs of a funeral – but on condition that someone else arranged it.  Dr Thursz asked me if our office in Jerusalem could help.  Could I arrange a funeral for John Grauel?  I have to say that arranging the burial of a Christian minister in Jerusalem was not something I had expected to tackle.
It took a week or so[2] to arrange.  I decided to start at the end – find a cemetery and a burial plot.  If there was no grave – there could not be a funeral.  I called my friend Ake Skoog at the Swedish Theological Institute on Rehov Haneviim, whom I knew through interfaith activity.  He gave me some telephone numbers of leaders of the Christian communities in Jerusalem.  Not all could be approached – the deceased was a Methodist and a Zionist….  But eventually I spoke to the local clergyman who was in charge of the former Templars Cemetery in Emek Refaim in the German Colony.  He readily agreed that if we could get the body to Israel, he would open the cemetery and open a grave.  This was a major achievement, and we now tackled the next issues – how could we handle the body once it arrived in Israel; who would conduct the service; and what was the appropriate format of the funeral?
There were some relatively bizarre dimensions to the exercise.   I called the Jerusalem Chevra Kadisha for advice.  They told me immediately that there was only one company in Israel that specialized in handling Christian bodies, typically including the nuns and priests also brought for burial in the Holy Land  (or Christian tourists who died while in the country)– and that was ‘Ambulance Bnei Brak’.  It sounded inherently unlikely, but I called the number they gave me. “Ambulance Bnai Brak?” I asked when the phone was answered.  “A shulem!” replied the voice at the other end in a thick Hungarian Yiddish accent.  It turned out that in an ‘Only in Israel’ scenario, this was a completely Haredi/Hassidic operation.
I arranged with them that they would collect the coffin from Ben-Gurion when it arrived, and deliver it the next morning to the cemetery in Jerusalem.  They told me that they would probably bring the body to Jerusalem the night before “and we’ll leave it in the Chevra Kadisha in Rehov Shamgar”. I didn’t argue.
I knew the Pastor of the Scottish Church in Jerusalem (next to Yemin Moshe, and opposite the Old City), because of our negotiations over the adjacent site (see footnote 1).  He agreed to conduct the graveside funeral service. “If y’say he was a Man of God, we should give him a Christian burial”.
So we had the grave, the logistics and the clergyman.  We fixed the date (I think it was a Friday morning), and got Washington to confirm the transport of the body with El Al.  Next, we had to arrange the funeral.  A few calls to Misrad haBittachon promised us a Naval Guard of Honour.  Israel TV were interested in covering the event.  The Jerusalem Municipality agreed to send a representative.  We contacted the organization of ‘Exodus’ survivors, and were promised that the legendary captain of the ship, ‘Ike’ Aharonovitch would attend (“If he’s sober”, I remember our contact gloomily promising).  We seemed to be set.
On a bright Jerusalem morning the huge iron gates of the cemetery were wide open.  A crowd of perhaps fifty or sixty people gathered.  A grave had been dug and the gravediggers stood by, watching.  A grey bus drew up, and a about a dozen or so young Israeli sailors in full white dress uniform got out, and were lined up near the grave.  It was impressive.  The camera crew from Israel TV, a couple of reporters and various VIP’s trickled in.  ‘Ike’ Aharonovich arrived and was escorted to a place of honour at the front.  The Scottish pastor, resplendent in his colourful canonicals, stood with open bible.  The only person missing was John Grauel….
We waited.  Outside the gates, I noticed a blue van pass by, then reverse back past the entrance.  A minute or so later a face peered round the entrance to the gate – black hat, beard, long peyos dangling. He grinned, stepped forward and gestured to others, whom we couldn’t see.  A minute or two later six ‘avreichim’ entered the cemetery gates, on their shoulders the coffin of the Rev John Grauel whom they carried to his last resting place….. 
The honour guard snapped to ‘Attention’. 
The Pastor, visibly amused, composed himself and intoned the burial service.  As the coffin was lowered into the grave, in his broad Scottish accent he recited Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous ‘Requiem’:

Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie,
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.

This be the verse you ‘grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be,
Home is the sailor, home from sea,

And the hunter home from the hill.

 The crowd shook hands, murmured to each other, and left.  The grave was filled; the clergy closed the cemetery gates. ‘Ambulance Bnai Brak’ wanted to know who the deceased was, and why he was so important. They shared with me that when they had opened the coffin (as they were legally required to do) they were worried because he was ‘wearing a sort of tallit’[3]. I reassured them that the deceased was definitely not Jewish.  That day Israel TV carried a nice item reporting the funeral.  A neighbor of ours remarked that they had seen it, and were sure that they had glimpsed someone in a kippah ‘one of those Reform rabbis’ who seemed to have been in charge…..
Jon Grauel had been buried in Jerusalem.[4]

[1]  This project was intended to be a permanent Israel-Diaspora Center in Jerusalem, funded by BBI.  The building that is now the Begin center was commissioned and designed for this purpose.  BBI abandoned the project  and the building plans and site were sold to the Begin Center when Dr Daniel Thursz (d. 2000), the then Executive Vice president of BBI, left the organisation, and the lay leadership changed.   Fortuitously for this story – see below in the article – the site was overlooked by the Scottish Church in Jerusalem.
[2] For three days in the middle of this, I had to fly to Istanbul to represent BBI in the funeral of the victims of the terrorist attack on the Neve Shalom Synagogue.  But that is another story entirely.
[3] Was this a tallit – probably an American-style silk scarf-like tallit, which he might have worn as a philo-semite – or some priestly vestment?
[4] Sometime later a tombstone was erected over his grave, bearing the inscription in Hebrew ‘Yonatan ha-komer’ (John the Priest).  I have no knowledge of who did this.   Photos are online -- http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/4/40/Grauel.jpg/220px-Grauel.jpg

Monday, February 4, 2013

Haredi Political Parties Are Trying to Influence the Jewish Home Party- Some Thoughts

There are  reports (here,  and here) of intense lobbying by Haredi rabbis of Religious Zionist (RZ) ones, with the aim of influencing the Jewish Home party not to join with Yesh Atid, and changing the religious status-quo.

Some thoughts:

  • The list of RZ rabbis is quite telling: Harav Dov Lior, Melamed, Shmuel Eliyahu,  Levanon, Haim Druckman, Shapira and Harav Ariel. All, with the possible exception of Harav Druckman are considered Hardal (חרדי דתי לאומי) rabbis. The choice is partially explained by the fact that Tekuma - a Hardal party that is part of the "Jewish Home" - is controlled by its rabbis, as opposed to the Mafdal which has no clear rabbinic leaders. However, it is still vary much an open question how much influence such rabbis can have on the not especially frum Naftali Bennett. Personally, I would have recommended that the Haredi rabbis meet with the more liberal RZ rabbis who might have more influence on Bennett.
  • As usual, the RZ are the ones going to meet the Haredi ones and not the other way around. This is despite the fact that it is the Haredi rabbis who initiated the meetings, and the fact that all the RZ rabbis are far older than the Haredi ones they are meeting.
  • On Bechadrei Haredim, the only RZ rabbi to get the title of "Gaon"  is Harav Dov Lior. (On twitter @Ravtzair responded that i'm nitpicking, and that in other articles they referred to other RZ rabbis with that title)
  • (updated) The story in Kikar Hashabat adds another dimension few insights. First, is the explanation why Shas is out of this story - since the politicians in the Jewish Home are still angry over being called Goyim by Harav Ovadia during the campaign. Second, some of the RZ Rabbis are being targeted because their Yeshivot would also be harmed by any change to the status quo. For example, Mercaz Harav students often serve only 9 (or even 3) months in the army, as opposed to the usual 18 months in most Hesder Yeshivot. 
Late edit: In Ha'aretz, Harav Drori says that the Jewish Home leadership must consult with the Rabbis on this issue, because otherwise they "will be dead politically". 

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Feeding the Birds on Shabbat Shira

My father has requested my assistance in finding the origin of the custom (minhag) to give birds crumbs (or grains) on Shabbat Shira. Classicly this custom is attributed to a midrash stating that the birds ate the manner that Datan and Aviram placed on a Friday night. Here is the midrash as retold by Rabbi Prof. David Glinkin:

The most well-known explanation is that given by Rabbi Avraham Eliezer Hirshowitz (quoting Ma'aseh Alfass). He reports that it says "in the Yalkut" on Exodus 16:27 "And behold on the seventh day some of the people went out to gather [manna] and did not find any". Why does it say "and did not find any"? Because Datan and Aviram went out on Friday night outside the camp and spread some manna, in order to make Moshe a liar, since he said there would be no manna on Shabbat. They then said to the people: go out and see that there is manna in the fields! Therefore, some people went out to gather, but found nothing because the birds had eaten the manna which Datan and Aviram had strewn about. We give them their reward on Shabbat Shirah since we also read the story of the manna on that day.

What is the problem with this explanation? Rabbi Glinkin explains:

So says "the Yalkut", but as Rabbi Menahem Mendel Kasher points out, this midrash is not found in Yalkut Shimoni or any other collection of midrash. Indeed, in Sefer Matamim it is quoted in the name of Rabbi Bunim of Parsischa, while in Sefer Ta'amey Haminhagim it is quoted in the name of the Holy Seer of Lublin. Therefore, this midrash is really a hassidic explanation from the nineteenth century.
(Sidenote - read this Jewish Ideas Daily article which clearly had not searched for the origin, and reached far reaching conclusions based on this error)

Glinkin offers four other explanations, and then comments that when there are so many different explanations for the origin of a minhag, we can assume the true reason has been lost to history. Wise words, not just in Midrashic scholarship, but for all academic pursuit.

So the question. for me at least, becomes not the origin of the custom, but what is the earliest accounts of the custom we can find? According to this website the custom is attributed to the Mahral (1520-1609), though it does not actually quote him, nor could I find a quote from the Mahral. Otherwise it is easy to find plenty of ahronim (footnote 8) from the 17th century on-wards who mention the minhag (I believe the  Magen Avraham  is the earliest).

So can anyone find an earlier mention of this minhag?

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Ultimate Kippah Clip?

In Israel the Kippah Clip is often jokingly referred to as the Leatherdos (combination of Leatherman and Dos meaning religious) as religious men are known to use it as a handy almost-swiss army knife. It seems someone has taken the idea to the next level

You can order your very own Leatherdos on Ebay.

Friday, February 1, 2013

The "Jew-Ear" Mushroom

Who wouldn't be excited about discovering a patch of Jew-Ear mushrooms?

Of course at first glance you would be forgiven for thinking that the name Jew’s ear is offensive and politically incorrect – not least because the fungus looks exactly like a large brown ear. Indeed it would be tempting to add that Fagin couldn’t have done better, but I’d probably better not go there.
Auricularia auricula-judae means much the same in Latin, save for one important difference. Longer ago the fungus was known as Judas’s ear, rather than Jew’s ear....
Throughout much of Europe legend had it that Judas hung himself from an elder tree – and that the appearance of Judas’s ears on elder trees is a combination of the reappearance of his accursed spirit and a perpetual reminder of his suicide (unless you live in the far north of Scotland, that is).
It is also interesting to note in passing that during the Middle Ages it was thought that witches lived in elder trees and that was why it was considered unwise to cut them down. A present day reference to this folklore occurs in JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books where the most powerful wand of them all is the Elder Wand, otherwise known as the Deathstick or the Wand of Destiny.
Alas, in clearing the elders away from the redundant hen run and burning them I may well have done myself unexpected mischief. Whatever. Anyway you read it here first.
And can you eat a Jew’s (or Judas’s) ear? Apparently you can – and a gargled infusion of Jew’s ear and hot water is supposed to cure sore throats. However, eating the fungus itself has been compared to "eating an Indian rubber with bones in" and, not fancying this description, I have left the fungi where I found them: growing on an old elder branch below the dyke where the hen pheasants take the winter sun.