Saturday, December 31, 2011

Worth A Read 31.01.2011 - And Quote of the Day

Quote of the Day goes to Israel's interior minister Eli Yishai from Shas (A Haredi political party) who explains his objection to splitting Beit Shemesh into two cities - A Haredi and Non Religious city - by stating that a Haredi city can't finance itself without the income from non religious people paying  municipal taxes (arnona) and creating industry.

Did the Tribes Speak Hebrew?

 was reading the list of names of the children of Ya'acov (i.e the tribes) and was struck by the fact that few of these names seem to have a meaning in Hebrew. Here is the list:
ט  וּבְנֵי, רְאוּבֵן--חֲנוֹךְ וּפַלּוּא, וְחֶצְרֹן וְכַרְמִי.
9 And the sons of Reuben: Hanoch, and Pallu, and Hezron, and Carmi.
י  וּבְנֵי שִׁמְעוֹן, יְמוּאֵל וְיָמִין וְאֹהַד--וְיָכִין וְצֹחַר; וְשָׁאוּל, בֶּן-הַכְּנַעֲנִית.
10 And the sons of Simeon: Jemuel, and Jamin, and Ohad, and Jachin, and Zohar, and Shaul the son of a Canaanitish woman.
יא  וּבְנֵי, לֵוִי--גֵּרְשׁוֹן, קְהָת וּמְרָרִי.
11 And the sons of Levi: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari.
יב  וּבְנֵי יְהוּדָה, עֵר וְאוֹנָן וְשֵׁלָה--וָפֶרֶץ וָזָרַח; וַיָּמָת עֵר וְאוֹנָן בְּאֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן, וַיִּהְיוּ בְנֵי-פֶרֶץ חֶצְרֹן וְחָמוּל.
12 And the sons of Judah: Er, and Onan, and Shelah, and Perez, and Zerah; but Er and Onan died in the land of Canaan. And the sons of Perez were Hezron and Hamul.
יג  וּבְנֵי, יִשָּׂשכָר--תּוֹלָע וּפֻוָה, וְיוֹב וְשִׁמְרֹן.
13 And the sons of Issachar: Tola, and Puvah, and Iob, and Shimron.
יד  וּבְנֵי, זְבֻלוּן--סֶרֶד וְאֵלוֹן, וְיַחְלְאֵל.
14 And the sons of Zebulun: Sered, and Elon, and Jahleel.
טו  אֵלֶּה בְּנֵי לֵאָה, אֲשֶׁר יָלְדָה לְיַעֲקֹב בְּפַדַּן אֲרָם, וְאֵת, דִּינָה בִתּוֹ:  כָּל-נֶפֶשׁ בָּנָיו וּבְנוֹתָיו, שְׁלֹשִׁים וְשָׁלֹשׁ.
15 These are the sons of Leah, whom she bore unto Jacob in Paddan-aram, with his daughter Dinah; all the souls of his sons and his daughters were thirty and three.
טז  וּבְנֵי גָד, צִפְיוֹן וְחַגִּי שׁוּנִי וְאֶצְבֹּן, עֵרִי וַאֲרוֹדִי, וְאַרְאֵלִי.
16 And the sons of Gad: Ziphion, and Haggi, Shuni, and Ezbon, Eri, and Arodi, and Areli.
יז  וּבְנֵי אָשֵׁר, יִמְנָה וְיִשְׁוָה וְיִשְׁוִי וּבְרִיעָה--וְשֶׂרַח אֲחֹתָם; וּבְנֵי בְרִיעָה, חֶבֶר וּמַלְכִּיאֵל.
17 And the sons of Asher: Imnah, and Ishvah, and Ishvi, and Beriah, and Serah their sister; and the sons of Beriah: Heber, and Malchiel.
יח  אֵלֶּה בְּנֵי זִלְפָּה, אֲשֶׁר-נָתַן לָבָן לְלֵאָה בִתּוֹ; וַתֵּלֶד אֶת-אֵלֶּה לְיַעֲקֹב, שֵׁשׁ עֶשְׂרֵה נָפֶשׁ.

Update: Bibi Reading Rav Lichtenstein

I was sent this clipping by Email:

The caption at the bottom reads:

In an event that happened two days ago in the Prime Minister's office, Rav Sabato and Rabbi Professor Ahron Lichtenstein presented to Benjamin Netanyahu their book "Searching For Your Face" that was published recently by "Yediot Books". Netanyahu told that the book was received at his house as soon as it was published, and was immediately swiped by his father in law, the author Shmuel Ben Artzi Z"L, who read it with great excitement. The Prime Minister blessed the two authors, and said that a book of philosophical discourse, that is both deep and moderate, written by two important Roshei Yeshivah is an impressive event in today's cultural world, and that the fact that it immediately became a best seller, is a sign of honor for Israeli Culture. 

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Bibi Reading Rav Lichtenstein?

For those who have sharp eyes, you can recognize the cover of Rav Lichtenstein's and Rab Sabbato's new book on the Prime Minister's table -

Worth a Read 29.12.2011

Monday, December 26, 2011

Quote of the Day - Follow up on Haredi PR

Continuing on the theme of my last post. This is without a doubt an example how not to do Haredi PR:

"When the bus drives in reverse, the women are in the front!"
 Rabbi Mordechai Blau explains why segregation on the buses isn't offensive.


Haredi PR - Now With A Smile!

Anyone watching the news in Israel over the last few weeks, must be aware that the Haredi community has become the national punching bag. I think the highlight for me, was an interview in the prime time news with a Haredi rabbi trying to explain that when the Hassid spat at a woman in Beit Shemesh - he wasn't trying to be rude, it was just an involuntary reaction of a display of disgust at her immodest dress.

I was therefore somewhat happy to see these instructions for Haredim, how to react to media crews travelling in Beit Shemesh:

Rough Translation:
Let us warn the elders and the youth, spread it to your friends, wife to her friend, that it is recommended and right not to aid and not to answer questions from the media. You don't have to provoke against them, because from their perspective it is a "Good Show" for their ongoing campaign against us. Therefore, answer any queries directed at you:
"No thanks (With a smile), we don't want to be interviewed".It should be stressed that in Beit Shemesh there are public officials that can represent correctly the views of the public. SOmetimes they choose not to respond, and when they do, they have the legal tools to make sure their response is quoted in full. 

The hopeful part is that they chose to add the words "with a smile" in the response.

HT: ICE (an Israeli PR portal)

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Israeli Tzniut Jokes

It seems that the "Women" wars are only heating up. I expect it will reach its zenith this Tuesday with a massive demonstration with NIF backed money being planned in Beit Shemesh. Until then, I was sent this street sign -

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Most of Haman's Children - A Maoz Tzur Thought

For many years I've been wondering about one line of the famous Hanukah song:

רֹב בָּנָיו וְקִנְיָנָיו עַל הָעֵץ תָּלִיתָ 

This is a verse dealing with Haman - and praising the killing of his sons. However if you asked most people what the verse means they would translate it as "Most of his children and his property you hanged on the tree." What has always bugged me, is why do we say only "Most" and not all?

I think there are two answers, one of which is Yeshivish and one of them true.

The yeshivish answer would tell you that somewhere in Masechet Megilla (Talmudic tractate) it says that Haman had many children (some 200 if I remember correctly) other than the famous ten who got hanged. However this answer has a fatal flaw - if we are counting 200 children, then clearly 10 isn't "Most" of his children.

What I think the real answer is that in biblical Hebrew, the word רב instead of meaning MOST means ALL or Many. One good example comes to mind - from the book of Esther:

כי מרדכי היהודי משנה למלך אחשורוש וגדול ליהודים ורצוי לרב אחיו דרש טוב לעמו ודבר שלום לכל זרעו 
(Esther 10:3)

In this Pasuk clearly רב = all or many -  despite the many sermons you hear about it during Purim. 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Consistency and the Place of Women in Religious Life

"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." 
- Ralph Waldo Emerson , Self-Reliance

There are a few topics that I never like to blog about and generally try to avoid. This isn't because I don't have an opinon on them, but rather because  I admit that my own opinons are not really consistent with: Halacha; Liberal morality; Opinons I claim to hold or with other opinons that I do actually hold. On the whole I find that being consistent is somewhat overated. I have met many fascnitaing and wise old men, who are woefully inconsistant. As long as one is willing to admit his inconsistancy, he will generally be somewhat happier with a few contradicting beliefs, than with consistent ones.  

The place of women in Judaism is one of those subjects. I suspect that like many other religious men if asked straight out if we thought that women were the equal of men, we would probably answer in the affirmative. However if we were asked about specific issues - women reading the Torah, female rabbis, mixed davening, women wearing Tefilin or any of the other seasonal issues of modern Jewish life, we would probably be opposed to true equality on some of these issues (but not all). The problem is that we can rarely give a truely good answer, why we reject true gender equality on some issues and not on others. Answering that you are following your "gut instinct" is probably an honest answer - but not an answer that can convince anyone else.

I have a stong feeling that part of the reason why so few "Liberal" Dati Leumi Rabbis are answering the current storm in a teacup over women singing/ Working out in the gym scandel that is enjoying its 15 minutes of fame in Israel, is because they really can't give a good answer. It is time to admit that we are inconsistant. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Sharia Law on Stoning VS Halacha

Following up on yesterday's post on Lebanon, today I happened across a description of the Iranian Penal Code regarding the process of stoning. I'm assuming that this is Sharia law - and not an Iranian invention, but if I have that wrong, please feel free to correct me. What struck me was the difference between it and Halacha.

Slate offers this description of stoning in Iran (I couldn't find the original law):

First, you get buried. Iran's Islamic Penal Codestates that men convicted of adultery are to be buried in the ground up to their waists; women, up to their chests. If the conviction is based on the prisoner's confession, the law says, the presiding judge casts the first stone. If the conviction is based on witness testimony, the witnesses throw the first stones, then the judge, then everyone else—generally other court officials and security forces. Stones must be of medium size, according to the penal code: Not so big that one or two could kill the person, but not so small that you would call it a pebble. In other words, about the size of a tangerine. The whole process takes less than an hour.
One possible upside of getting stoned is that people who manage to escape from the hole are allowed to go free. But this applies only to those who have confessed to their crimes. (If you were sentenced to stoning on the basis of witness testimony, then digging out of the hole does you no good.) In any case, it's very difficult for anyone to escape the punishment: Prisoners are wrapped in a white cloth sack with their hands tied.

And this description of stoning in the Rambam (Sanhedrin chapter 16):

How is the mitzvah of stoning carried out? Four cubits from the place of execution, we remove the clothes of the person to be stoned; we do, however, cover his sexual organ in front. A woman is not executed naked. Instead, she is allowed to wear one cloak.
The place of execution was two storeys high. The convicted person ascends there with his hands tied, together with his witnesses. One of the witnesses pushes him at his loins from behind, he falls over, landing on his heart on the ground. If he dies because of this, they have fulfilled their obligation, for Exodus 19:13 states: "Or he will be cast down or stoned," creating an equation between a person who has a stone fall upon him with one who himself falls on the earth.
If he does not die after this fall, the witnesses pick up a stone that is so large it requires two people to carry it. The second witness lets go and the first casts the stone on the convicted person's heart. If he dies because of this, they have fulfilled their obligation. If not, he should be stoned by the entire Jewish people, as Deuteronomy 17:7 states: "The hand of the witnesses shall be raised up against him first to execute him, and the hand of the entire nation afterwards." Judaism we bring them up on a tower, and throw them in the ground, while in Sharia, they are first buried in the ground. In Judaism we use one large rock (assuming he hasn't died while falling two floors down) while in Sharia they are told not to pick rocks that are too big or too small. I'm not claiming either system, would be described as humane, but I'm wondering why the two systems of laws have gone in opposite directions?  

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Lebanon Following Halacha?

While reading some old Human Rights Watch reports (I clearly have too much time), I noticed the following description of Lebanese (and Palestinian) rape laws:

Forced sex, on the other hand, is inadequately defined in Lebanese law. The definition of rape explicitly excludes forced sex in marriage, and the rape of a virgin by means of deception is potentially subject only to a fine (article 518).  If a rapist marries his victim following the crime, the law exonerates him (article 522). Similar legal provisions pardoning an alleged rapist if he marries his victim exist in countries like Bahrain, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The majority of countries in the region also do not criminalize marital rape.

In the Torah we find that  a man who seduces an unmarried girl, is forced to marry her. Clearly there is a difference between seducing a girl and raping her, and yet I'm sure that the same logic lies behind both rules. The traditional explanation for the rule in the Torah - is that "In those days" once a girl was seduced, no one would want to marry her - and hence the man who seduced her must be made to pay for the her new status - and marry her. I'm sure the same logic applies in Lebanon. While the Rabbinic Halacha long ago made this injunction irrelevant, it appears that some in the Middle East continue to mirror its logic.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

New Explanation for the Jewish Burqa

Ynet was allowed to interview a Burqa cult member. Well almost. They were allowed to write the questions on a piece of paper, then leave the room, and have her husband read her the questions.

I was most amused by the rabbi interviewed at the end of the video. His explanation was that the burqa was a time saver - the woman could wear whatever she wanted, put on her makeup, and not have to worry about modesty - she can just cover up! Then when she goes back home, she just takes off her burqa and...she's all ready again!

Note -if the video doesn't work try watching it here.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Best Handyman Ad Ever?

The Ad reads:

Lady Your Husband is a Tzadik!
He earns a living/ Prays in a shul/ Sets times for Torah Study/ May he be blessed!
Because of all of this…He didn't have time to fix the..
Door of the cupboard/ The net on the window/ The dripping tap/Tthe broken window pane/The lock that doesn't close/Tto hang the picture/Fix the floor etc..

All the work will be done at reasonable prices by a god fearing jew - Motti - 050-5324054

The only curious thing about this ad, is that I'm not sure that in the Haredi public a man should be addressing women..

Hat Tip: Oneg Shabbat

Mysterious Engravings In The City of David

According to Ha'aretz:

Mysterious stone carvings made thousands of years ago and recently uncovered in an excavation underneath Jerusalem have archaeologists stumped.
Israeli diggers who uncovered a complex of rooms carved into the bedrock in the oldest section of the city recently found the markings: Three "V'' shapes cut next to each other into the limestone floor of one of the rooms, about 2 inches (5 centimeters) deep and 50 centimeters long. There were no finds to offer any clues pointing to the identity of who made them or what purpose they served.

Weirdly enough these look somewhat like the "Stargate" symbols. I'm sure all the conspiracy nutcases are going to have a field day with this one.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Does an Eye for an Eye Ever Actually Occur In The Bible?

Jonathan Romain argues in the Guardian:

Perhaps – in keeping with the Trade Descriptions Act – the good book should be renamed The Complicated Bible, a reminder that we have the task of sifting between the acceptable and unacceptable parts, and, just as importantly, not to be worried by such an admission. As the 10th-century Jewish scholar Saadiah Gaon put it: "The main causes of irreligion are the weak and ridiculous arguments advanced in defence of faith."

His example of how Judaism chooses its parts - the interpretation of an eye for an eye. However this led me to thinking an interesting an eye for an eye ever invoked in the bible? Can you think of even one case in the bible where the hero justifies his actions by stating his acts were an "eye for an eye"?

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Perfect and the Good

Opinio Juris has a great post about a failed attempt to promote an international treaty regarding  the use and manufacture of cluster bombs, which is a telling moral story. The new treaty would have been less restrictive than a former 2008 "Oslo treaty". However, very few nations that actually use or manufacture cluster bombs had ever actually signed the Oslo treaty, and hence this new treaty would have been a large improvement on the status quo. The Signatories to the Oslo treaty  refused to "lower the bar", and insisted that all nations should sign the older, stricter, Oslo treaty. The end result was that the newer treaty has collapsed. Opinio Juris sums up:

So we are left with an extremely restrictive cluster bomb treaty that doesn’t reach 85 percent of the world’s cluster bombs, and we reject a less restrictive treaty that would have a wider much more effective reach.  I get the idea that international law has an important expressive value, but surely practical reach has got to considered at some point.
In other words - the international community has rejected a treaty that would have significant gains, because it wasn't perfect, thereby leaving the world with no gain whatsoever.

It is not hard to relate this to our religious experience. Too often I've seen religious people insist on a standard that is impractical for everyone to follow, only to be left with nothing at all.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

A Cow and A Sheep

Most Hebrew speakers if asked, would tell you that Rachel is a baby Sheep (lamb). However what does Leah actually mean? Some sources explain that Leah actually means a cow - either from Arabic or from the ancient Akkadian.

So basically the two daughters of Lavan were named a Cow and and a Lamb..very fitting for a Shepard. Weirdly not one of the tribes has a name that is connected to the family profession.

Note: I remember that Da'at Mikrah has a similar explanation, but not owning a copy, I couldn't check my memory. Kasuto explains that Le'ah is named after a word for a deer..

Eating a Mummy?

I was reading through the excellent new Hebrew Blog "Jews on the Moon" where he refernced an answer by the Radbaz allowing the eating of ancient Mummy meat. (שו"ת, ח"ג סימן תקמ"ח). Apparently it used to be quite common to seek out dried ancient mummies as medicine - and the Radbaz allows it based on the idea that it is a medicine and not being ate out of a love for the smoky flavor.

Searching online, I found referenced another historic account of this mummy eating in Judaism, at an 1868 book called שערי ירושלים - 

הספרדים עושים עוד היום רפואת (מומיא)
הנעשה משחיקת עצמות יבשים של מתים אשר ימצאו במדבר בין החול. כי בדרך ההולך
למעקא יש מדבר גדול ויש מקום מלא הול ונקרא ים החול וכשבא ח ה סערה מגביה
את החול למעלה מעשרי׳ אמה ומכסה כל אשר יעבור דרך שם אף רחוק מי ל . והולכי׳
לשם אנשי׳ וע״י חיפוש רב ימצאו שמה חתיכות בצורת אדם שחורי׳ יבשי׳ כאבן כי גדול
שבאנשי׳ המונח •תחת החול נהיבש ונעשה כאצבע ומוכרי׳ אוהו לאשטייק. והספרדי׳ כשיש
להם איזה חולה ימים רבי׳ ר״ל. ליקחי׳ וטוחנים אותו היטב הדק וטשטם משקל קצוב
אל מי דבש וישתה החולה מידי פ עם בפע׳ בשלש לילות. לשני שתזתו ירחצו אותו ויעטוהו
בשמלה לבנה וישכבוהו במטה על מצע לבן. הנשי׳ אשר המה בנדת דומן לא יכנסו
להבית. !כל עת האריך המדיה למעניתו. הן יזיק לחולה ולנפשן. החולה ישכב בדד וגם
לא ימצא בבית שום נשש תי או תרנגולי׳ וישמרוהו מריה השום והבצל • מאכל המולה
בכל תשעת הימים רק מלב ממאה ולהם :

The Sefradim to this day make a medicine out of Mummies, that is made out of grounding dried bones that are found in the desert in the sand. On the way to Mecca there is a vast desert known as the the Sea of Sand and when a storm comes it raises the sand more than 20 Ammot, and it covers all that pass there, to an area as wide as a mile. People go there, and after vigarous search they find black pieces in the shape of men, dry as a rock. The greatest of men placed under the sand dries up and becomes like a finger, and they sell this to ???. And the Sefradim when they have a sick man (god forbid) take from this a set amount and add it to honey and water and give the sick man to drink from time to time for three days....

Yuck, though I strongly suspect that many of these mummies were just fakes, and that this is somewhat of an 18th century urban legend. I look forward to a fuller telling at "On the Main Line", as this would seem to be his type of story.

For people searching for more Mummies in medicine -

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Friday, December 2, 2011

Goldberg on the Israeli Media Campaign

Goldberg has just noticed the Israeli campaign to encourage Israelis abroad to return to Israel (I wrote about it weeks ago):

"I don't think I have ever seen a demonstration of Israeli contempt for American Jews as obvious as these ads. I understand the impulse behind them: Israel wants as many of its citizens as possible to live in Israel. This is not an abnormal desire. But the way it is expressed, in wholly negative terms, is somewhat appalling. How about, "Hey, come back to Israel, because our unemployment rate is half that of the U.S.'s"? Or, "It's always sunny in Israel"? Or, "Hey, Shmulik, your mother misses you"? 
These government-sponsored ads suggest that it is impossible for Jews to remain Jewish in America. How else are we supposed to understand the "Christmas" ad? Obviously, assimilation and intermarriage are issues in America in ways they aren't in Israel. Israel has other problems of course, such as the fact that many of its rabbis act like Iranian mullahs. (I'm not even going to try to unpack my complicated beliefs about intermarriage and assimilation and life in the Diaspora here; that's for a book. But let me just say that intermarriage can also be understood as an opportunity.)
The idea, communicated in these ads, that America is no place for a proper Jew, and that a Jew who is concerned about the Jewish future should live in Israel, is archaic, and also chutzpadik (if you don't mind me resorting to the vernacular). The message is: Dear American Jews, thank you for lobbying for American defense aid (and what a great show you put on at the AIPAC convention every year!) but, please, stay away from our sons and daughters.

The one point that I think is arguable, is that the ad isn't against Israelis married to American Jews, but rather married to non Jews. I am not sure why this story has suddenly woken up now. Perhaps they have only just started running the ads in the USA?

Andrew Sullivan has taken it one step further, with a post "Netanyahu's War On Christmas" - explaining that this is a sign of how paranoid Israel has become. This is clearly going a step too far - it is not paranoia. The ad is not really attacking American Jews, so much as showing the Israeli misunderstanding of the diaspora communities.
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Friday, November 18, 2011

Demographics of Army Service

According to statistics published by the IDF, the city with the highest rate of young people serving in the IDF (i.e 18-21 year olds and not career soldiers) belongs to Modiin. At the bottom of the national list - Jerusalem (52nd) and Tel Aviv (62nd).

Jerusalem is fairly easy to explain - large Haredi and Arab population. But what is the explanation for Tel Aviv being at the bottom? Originally I thought that perhaps Bnei Brak was included inside Tel Aviv's status - however in the list you can see that the Haredi towns (Elad, Bnei Brak, Beitar Eilit) are all counted individually. Interestingly enough, when Ynet tried to work out the statistics according to regions - they removed Bnei Brak from the "Mercaz" region - to make it look a little better. This might actually be the dream of many people in Gush Dan, including those living in Bnei-Brak, but it is little more than cheating on the statistics.

I'll also note, that while Ynet, Ma'ariv, Israel Hayom all noted the low rankings of Tel Aviv (though without giving an explanation), in Ha'aretz this fact goes unmentioned. The piece in Ha'aretz actually deals with the ongoing debate about women singing in the IDF, but it is the only mention I could find of the statistics on their webpage.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Moshe Katzav on Google +?

Well not really. However when playing around on Google+ I did find this hilarious fake Moshe Katzav Page -

The fake post, says that Katzav is back at home after the trial, and relaxing watching a movie. The movie 25th hour is about a man just sentenced to seven years of prison..

Monday, November 14, 2011

Quote of the Day

This quote has been widely reported, but never quite in the same fashion, so I've allowed myself to just use the most entertaining one..

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman:

' Israel would be happy to lift its blockade on Hamas-run Gaza if France would pull its weight - by sending in the Foreign Legion to keep order."Don't send girls with olive branches," .

The girls with olive branches is a reference to some french activists who tried to run the blockade. 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

"I'm Just In Love With God" - The Amazing Race Religious Couple

No, that quote isn't from Rav Kook. This is a rough translation of a quote from a religious contestant of the second season of the Israeli version of "The Amazing Race". The quote in Hebrew reads "אני פשוט מתה על אלוקים" literally "I'm dead in love with god."

The religious couple - Anahel and Akiva are this years "curiosity item". The amazing race send couples racing around the globe, fulfilling missions in each country to get ahead. In order to allow the religious couple to play they had to change the format a little - no flying on Shabbat, no eating bugs, no eating non kosher food. In one episode where the couples had to wrestle in chocolate (Ok so this isn't high brow entertainment) Anahel and Akiva had to come to an agreement with the non religious couples, that Anahel would not fight, and they would also sit out a fighter.

However it isn't being religious that is so fascinating about this couple. Its their version of religiosity. Anahel constantly talks of how she loves god - in the most mundane way. Whenever they have a stroke of luck (and they seem to have an awful lot of it) they immediately loudly thank god. Annoyingly the wife also has a habit of screaming a pet name she has for her husband "Shushi" in encouragement.

Personally I'm constantly shocked at how their religion is so open. They constantly talk to god as if he is their friend - something that is even stranger when done in front of a TV camera. God is meant to be a more intimate and private affair. To refer to him so casually - feels cheap. It feels somehow shallow.

This couple seems destined to go into religious folklore.

Quote of the Day

From Conrad Black, in an otherwise interesting article "Middle East truth-telling, from an unlikely source":
"Note: Thanks to reader David Walcott for pointing out that Henry VIII’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon, was the aunt, rather than the niece, of Emperor Charles V. I am in a U.S. federal prison that does not have a proper encyclopedia and I must rely on my generally reliable, but not infallible memory."

Won't someone please donate a proper encyclopedia to this poor man?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

When Your Son Becomes Your Great Grandson

Noticed in this weeks parasha:

  וַיְהִי, בָּעֵת הַהִוא, וַיֹּאמֶר אֲבִימֶלֶךְ וּפִיכֹל שַׂר-צְבָאוֹ, אֶל-אַבְרָהָם לֵאמֹר:  אֱלֹוקים עִמְּךָ, בְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר-אַתָּה עֹשֶׂה.22 And it came to pass at that time, that Abimelech and Phicol the captain of his host spoke unto Abraham, saying: 'God is with thee in all that thou doest.
כג  וְעַתָּה, הִשָּׁבְעָה לִּי בֵאלֹהִים הֵנָּה, אִם-תִּשְׁקֹר לִי, וּלְנִינִי וּלְנֶכְדִּי; כַּחֶסֶד אֲשֶׁר-עָשִׂיתִי עִמְּךָ, תַּעֲשֶׂה עִמָּדִי, וְעִם-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר-גַּרְתָּה בָּהּ.23 Now therefore swear unto me here by God that thou wilt not deal falsely with me, nor with my son, nor with my son's son; but according to the kindness that I have done unto thee, thou shalt do unto me, and to the land wherein thou hast sojourned.'

In modern Hebrew the word "נין" (nin)  means great grandchild. However, while reading the parsha I suddenly asked myself why does he mention a great grandchild, before he mentions the grandchild? a quick look in Onkelos showed that he translated Nin as child, and Neched as grandchild. That is also how it was translated above. Clearly this is a case where the modern meaning of the word, is contrary to its biblical meaning.

I have no idea why the word נין(nin) suddenly jumped two generations in modern Hebrew.

Political Motives and Iran

Not having any particular expertise, I have no real view on whether Israel should attack Iran or not. However I am certain of one aspect of this discussion - all of those who are ascribing narrow political motives to Binyamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak or even to Obama are living in an alternate reality. No sane person - not even a politician would ever embark on a possible nuclear war out of such narrow motives.

The immensityh of the situation - a potentially life and death decision for the State of Israel is simply too large for personal egos. 

Some of you might argue that this argument should be true of all wars. However, when the nuclear consideration is added, it isn't just a "war" - it is a national existential moment. I believe those who are arguing that Bibi is acting as he is, due to cynical election considerations are mostly showing their own lack of appreciation of the historical weight of the decision.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Papua New Guinea And Shema

First of all I apologize for very slow blogging lately. I've just been swamped with work.

And now for this unusual video - of natives of Papua New Guinea reciting the shema. Haaretz doesn't really have much detail on why these natives were taught the Shema in Hebrew, other than some speculation (that doesn't ring true to me) that christian missionaries taught them the Shema "to recite the Sh’ma to demonstrate their love and respect for Christianity’s Jewish roots."

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Thursday, November 3, 2011

Surprising Google Searches

Go to and do these searches (make sure you press "enter" and don't just let the instant search work):

  • Do a barrel roll
  • tilt or Askew
  • Google Gravity (and press "I'm feeling lucky")
(Some of these seem to only work in Chrome or Firefox)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

It Appears That I Am Also Paranoid

This morning I was walking in Bar Ilan University this morning, when suddenly I saw what could only be a missile flying in the air. It was obvious this was a missile by the steep way it rose in the air, and by the ball of fire that seemed to be surrounding it. This is a video of the event from NRG:

In the first instance I thought this must be a rocket from Gaza about to hit Tel Aviv. However a second later I thought it was simply too high to be such a short range rocket - and then I froze. I was sure I was seeing the first rockets of an attack on Iran. People around me were reacting in a similar fashion, and within seconds you could hear everyone whispering/calling on the phone and saying Iran Iran...

Of course by now we know that armageddon has not started. However this only shows the unbelievable situation that Israelis are living in - where on a normal day they can all seriously believe that  World War Three has just started just because of a flash in the sky.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Burqa update: Clearly Not Empowerment

Hadrei Haredim has the scoop on what is perhaps the most bizarre wedding to take place in Meah Shearim this year (and that is a hard title to win).

According to the report last Friday a young Haredi man who could not receive a Get (divorce), and therefore had to get the permission of 100 rabbis to remarry wed his new beloved in a private ceremony. However the ceremony was not closed and private just due to the unusual circumstances of the groom, it was also due to the fact that the girl he was marrying was a member of the Burqa cult.

This would be weird enough by itself, however the report also states that for the girl this was a double celebration - not only was she getting married, but this was the first time she was out of the house in a year and a half!

Enigmatically we are told that the grandfather of the Chatan is an unnamed yet famous Haredi rabbi, who is quoted as saying "Anyone who sees a woman in a Burqa should spit on her - she is part of the evil side (סיטרא אחרא).

Clearly this is a marriage made in heaven.
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Saturday, October 29, 2011

On Judaism and Beards

Slate has an interesting if ultimately lacking article on the religious significance of beards:
An Amish splinter group has gone on a crime spree, forcibly cutting the beards off of their rivals. Many religions, including Sikhism, Islam, and sects of Judaism, encourage or require their men to keep beards. Jesus Christ is often depicted with a beard. Why does God like facial hair so much?
Because it’s manly. Although beards appear repeatedly in religious texts, God never explicitly tells us why they’re so holy.

I was reminded of an article I randomly read of the late Chaim Bermant  z"l on his love of the beard:

I recently heard a broadcast by Mr John Sparrow, a former Warden of All Souls, which made me bristle. It was an attack on beards, the proliferation which he regards as a reversion to savagery. Mr Sparrow is a classical scholar and his aversion falls within the classical tradition

Haredi Men Selling Their Wives - A Pashkevil I'm Not Getting

Oneg Shabbat has this Pashkevil up - supposedly from Har Nof - that has me a little stumped:

The Pashkevil literally says "67 divorced and sold their wives and children in 2011 (Hebrew date) because of the Internet and non kosher media" the bottom line reads "They have gone mad may god help us".

The simple meaning would seem to be that the writer knows of 67 couples that got divorced because of the internet. However I highly doubt anyone could have such a statistic, nor do I understand why they use the word "Sold". I'm open to anyone offering an explanation.

The same blog (if you don't follow it you really should) has this lovely Haredi comic:

I especially liked how by picture three the kid already doesn't have any peot..

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Update: Schalit (shalit) and the Dollar Bill

A few days ago I wrote about the story of the Lubavitcher Rebbe and Gilad Shalit:

According to the tale told a few weeks ago a local Habad Rabbi named Eliyahu Kenterman gave the mother of Gilad Shalit a dollar he had received many years ago from the Lubavitcher Rebbe z"l. Gilad Shalit's mother kept the dollar and carried it everywhere in her purse. On the day when Gilad was released (20th of tishrei) she happened to look at the dollar and saw that on the dollar was written "Tuesday the 20th of Tishrei - May you have success at all your ventures!".

Well seems the story is true. Ynet has this picture up of the miraculous dollar bill:

 Weirdly I can't see the supposed blessing on the dollar, but I think this is close enough to be considered a true story.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Steve Jobs Meets Moses

HatTip: Oneg Shabbat

The Lubavitcher Rebbe As Spiderman

I liked this quote recently posted by AIWAC:

“Miracle stories convert rabbis into poor imitations of Batman and Superman. At least those superheroes occasionally face challenges that demand courage and dedication. A rabbinic clapping of the hands takes neither.”
- Rabbi Yitzhak Blau, “Miracles And Morals: Choices In Educational Storytelling

It just so happened that a new miracle story is making its way through the web. It may even be true! According to the tale told a few weeks ago a local Habad Rabbi named Eliyahu Kenterman gave the mother of Gilad Shalit a dollar he had received many years ago from the Lubavitcher Rebbe z"l. Gilad Shalit's mother kept the dollar and carried it everywhere in her purse. On the day when Gilad was released (20th of tishrei) she happened to look at the dollar and saw that on the dollar was written "Tuesday the 20th of Tishrei - May you have success at all your ventures!".

I've no idea if this story is true or not. There are enough details in the story (i.e the name of the rabbi, and using a still living personality) that the story can be checked up upon - and i'm sure in the coming days someone will. However what I am certain in, is that these kind of stories do not create any real belief in God. 

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What Did Canaan Do?

יח  וַיִּהְיוּ בְנֵי-נֹחַ, הַיֹּצְאִים מִן-הַתֵּבָה--שֵׁם, וְחָם וָיָפֶת; וְחָם, הוּא אֲבִי כְנָעַן.
18 And the sons of Noah, that went forth from the ark, were Shem, and Ham, and Japheth; and Ham is the father of Canaan.
יט  שְׁלֹשָׁה אֵלֶּה, בְּנֵי-נֹחַ; וּמֵאֵלֶּה, נָפְצָה כָל-הָאָרֶץ.
19 These three were the sons of Noah, and of these was the whole earth overspread.
כ  וַיָּחֶל נֹחַ, אִישׁ הָאֲדָמָה; וַיִּטַּע, כָּרֶם.
20 And Noah the husbandman began, and planted a vineyard.
כא  וַיֵּשְׁתְּ מִן-הַיַּיִן, וַיִּשְׁכָּר; וַיִּתְגַּל, בְּתוֹךְ אָהֳלֹה.
21 And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent.
כב  וַיַּרְא, חָם אֲבִי כְנַעַן, אֵת, עֶרְוַת אָבִיו; וַיַּגֵּד לִשְׁנֵי-אֶחָיו, בַּחוּץ.
22 And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without.
כג  וַיִּקַּח שֵׁם וָיֶפֶת אֶת-הַשִּׂמְלָה, וַיָּשִׂימוּ עַל-שְׁכֶם שְׁנֵיהֶם, וַיֵּלְכוּ אֲחֹרַנִּית, וַיְכַסּוּ אֵת עֶרְוַת אֲבִיהֶם; וּפְנֵיהֶם, אֲחֹרַנִּית, וְעֶרְוַת אֲבִיהֶם, לֹא רָאוּ.
23 And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father's nakedness.
כד  וַיִּיקֶץ נֹחַ, מִיֵּינוֹ; וַיֵּדַע, אֵת אֲשֶׁר-עָשָׂה לוֹ בְּנוֹ הַקָּטָן.
24 And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his youngest son had done unto him.
כה  וַיֹּאמֶר, אָרוּר כְּנָעַן:  עֶבֶד עֲבָדִים, יִהְיֶה לְאֶחָיו.
25 And he said: Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.
כו  וַיֹּאמֶר, בָּרוּךְ יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵי שֵׁם; וִיהִי כְנַעַן, עֶבֶד לָמוֹ.
26 And he said: Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem; and let Canaan be their servant.
כז  יַפְתְּ אֱלֹהִים לְיֶפֶת, וְיִשְׁכֹּן בְּאָהֳלֵי-שֵׁם; וִיהִי כְנַעַן, עֶבֶד לָמוֹ.
27 God enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and let Canaan be their servant.

There are a few major questions with these pesukim. The first – which may seem minor, but is of some importance, is why in pasuk 18 are we told that Ham (oink) was the father of Canaan. The second is what does seeing ערות אביו actually mean? Is it nakedness as the translation above would have it? Is that really so terrible a thing? The third question is why does Noah upon waking up choose to curse Canaan and not Ham? What did Canaan do?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Clever Democracy Ad

This ad is in Arabic - but you don't need it to understand what is going on. The person on the poster is former Tunisian dictator Ben Ali.

Hat tip: Michael Totten

Death Penalty for Terrorists

One of the interesting public reactions to the Shalit (Schalit) release has been a sudden public debate on the death penalty for terrorists. 

Advocates for the idea include ministers, rabbis and a plethora of Op-ed writers. What is interesting about the current writers is that they are not arguing for the moral "Just desserts" argument, but rather for a unique - lets kill them or they will end up being released argument. This is clearly a utilitarian argument - but surely one of the weakest you can make. I'm against the death penalty (as i'm fairly sure is Halacha) except for the most severe and extreme cases. However, I always find utilitarian arguments (i.e inherent danger or the need to set a deterrence) to be lacking. In this specific case, if you are worried about the terrorists being released by a future government, the correct response is either:

A. Grow a backbone, and stop releasing terrorists.
B. Push through legislation that will stop future releases.
C. Make some peace deal that will end the whole mess.

Any of the above would actually suffice - and all are far less extreme than jumping to option D - "Lets kill em all".   

Saturday, October 22, 2011

I like Genesis

I'm not ashamed to admit that I have favorites in my Torah reading. I'm always happy when we are back to reading Breishit (book of Genesis) - a book filled with stories, characters and just a touch of mythology. 

Breishit feels personal and warm. This is the part of the Torah where you really feel a connection with the characters, and where the story itself is strong enough to stand on its own even without the holiness ascribed to the bible. This isn't to say that the rest of the Torah is any less holy - however I think most of us can admit that after the middle of the book of Exodus it does become a little harder to read. Breishit is fun - lets enjoy it again while it lasts!

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

One More Bibi Picture

I thought this one was hilarious:

Update: This website is collecting them all. Some of the pictures are "Mostly" not kosher. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Some Gilad Shalit Humor

The Israeli website Mako collected some of the funnier humor from yesterday's release of Gilad Shalit. Some of it is in bad taste, ergo its a perfect fit for this website.

First of all some Tweets (translated):

@israelnonews: There is a special alert - The media may try to kidnapp Gilad.

 יוסי דהן: Don't those bastards understand that they are giving legitimacy for them to ask for a higher price next time? its great they released him after all the talks - but come on its only an Iphone 4s - not even a 5!

נדב רביב: "Gilad was diagnosed with malnutrition and lack of exposure to sunlight" - great the IDF doctors just realised that Gilad is Ashkenazic.

and I quite liked these series of Mems, making fun of Bibi's smile. Here is the original picture:

and this is what they did with it:

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Did God Ever Tell A Joke?

I just read a weird piece called Can God Take A Joke? Sadly the piece isn't about God's sense of humor, but rather about religious comedians. The title though did get me thinking whether there was a single instance of intentional humor in the bible. Namely, has God ever told a Joke?

Some quick Googling found this "The Straight Dope" post, which lists only one "joke" in the old testament:

(1) Wordplay. Told by the Lord that his 90-year-old wife Sarah will bear a son, Abraham laughs to himself. And what's more, continueth the Lord, obviously a little peeved at Abe's attitude, "you shall call his name Isaac," from Yitzak, "he laughed." Not a line that's going to kill them in Vegas, but I didn't claim these were going to score big on the laugh-o-meter.
Clearly this isn't actually a joke, but rather god disliking Abraham's (and I guess Sarah's too) attitude. For the first time I was struck that the name Yitzhak is actually somewhat rubbing Abraham's nose in his own misconduct.

The Bible does attribute Laughter to God a few times, for example:

יב  זֹמֵם רָשָׁע, לַצַּדִּיק;    וְחֹרֵק עָלָיו שִׁנָּיו.12 The wicked plotteth against the righteous, and gnasheth at him with his teeth.
יג  אֲדֹנָי יִשְׂחַק-לוֹ:    כִּי-רָאָה, כִּי-יָבֹא יוֹמוֹ.13 The Lord doth laugh at him; for He seeth that his day is coming.

(psalms 37:13)
However as far as I remember they are God laughing at men - and not really a show of humor. (See psalm 59:9, Psalm 2:4)

This question of whether there was ever a joke in the bible, seems to come up in the internet quite often (See, HereHere and Here) however it seems no one can actually find an intentional joke in the bible - beyond some puns. I've tried hard to think, and while I can think of the Talmud mentioning God laughing (נצחוני בני) I cannot remember a story where humor is ever attributed to God.

Fourteen Biblical Ways To Acquire A Wife

While looking in my previous post for jokes in the bible, I did come across this list which I found rather funny:

1. Find an attractive prisoner of war, bring her home, shave her head, trim her nails, and give her new clothes. Then she's yours. (Deuteronomy 21:11-13)
2. Find a prostitute and marry her. (Hosea 1:1-3)
3. Find a man with seven daughters, and impress him by watering his flock. -Moses (Exodus 2:16-21)
4. Purchase a piece of property, and get a woman as part of the deal. -Boaz (Ruth 4:5-10)
5. Go to a party and hide. When the women come out to dance, grab one and carry her off to be your wife. -Benjaminites (Judges 21:19-25)
6. Have God create a wife for you while you sleep. Note: This will cost you. -Adam (Genesis 2:19-24)
7. Agree to work seven years in exchange for a woman's hand in marriage. Get tricked into marrying the wrong woman. Then work another seven years for the woman you wanted to marry in the first place. That's right. Fourteen years of hard labor for a wife. -Jacob (Genesis 29:15-30)
8. Cut 200 foreskins off of your future father-in-law's enemies and get his daughter for a wife. -David (I Samuel 18:27)
9. Even if no one is out there, just wander around a bit and you'll definitely find someone. (It's all relative, of course.) -Cain (Genesis 4:16-17)
10. Become the emperor of a huge nation and hold a beauty contest. -Xerxes or Ahasuerus (Esther 2:3-4)
11. When you see someone you like, go home and tell your parents, "I have seen a ... woman; now get her for me." If your parents question your decision, simply say, "Get her for me. She's the one for me." -Samson (Judges 14:1-3)
12. Kill any husband and take HIS wife (Prepare to lose four sons, though). -David (2 Samuel 11)
13. Wait for your brother to die. Take his widow. (It's not just a good idea; it's the law.) -Onan and Boaz (Deuteronomy or Leviticus, example in Ruth)
14. Don't be so picky. Make up for quality with quantity. -Solomon (1 Kings 11:1-3)

Srugim Season 3

The first episode of season 3 is now available online (legally!)..