Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Israel BMI Mystery.


According to this interactive map, Israeli women are just slightly more overweight then Israeli Men (27.14, 27.29 respectively). One thing that does stand out- as far as I can see it is rare in the western world for women to have a higher average BMI then men (So far I noticed only Romania as a European country with the same result) .I have no idea why we seem to be the exception to the rule. Perhaps it has something to do with the large Arab population? Many Arab countries seem to have the same results.

 Second thing which surprised me..Britain is the only Western country which has a normal BMI? How is that possible with a nation who's national food is Fish and Chips?

Worth a Read 31.03.11

Today's list is rather lighthearted, and not as Jewish oriented as I normally post. I'm not sure if this was reflective of my mood, or that yesterday was just a slow Jewish Blogging day. -

  • Rationalist Judaism (Rav Silfkin) found a new monkey with a frightfully big nose. As always when a new animal is discovered, Jews start asking if it is kosher. (Well, at least if it ruins a proof of the divine origin of the torah)
  • Torah Musings asks when a Rabbi isn't enough. Final conclusion is that not all rabbis are created equal. 
  • Kikar Hashabat plays the game "Are these women wearing a burqa or is it a Purim costume". 
  • Air New Zealand has Richard Simmons performing their Pre-Flight safety video. (Ht: Negev Rock City)  Except for being hilarious, I think we can be assured that no Haredim are going to fly Air New Zealand any time soon, unless they use the personal Mechitzah
  • The Gothamist argues that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict needs better publicity stunts. I'll point out that the "Don't Stop Boycotting" song is way better then placing a graffiti filled bomb shelter. (Warning - some language in the article might be is inappropriate). 
  • Treasures of Ashkenaz published a list of endangered Minhagim

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

More on the Controversial Lead Tablets

A few weeks ago reports started to get published regarding a collection of Lead Tablets supposdly found in Jordan, with ancient Hebrew writing and pictures. There is some question regarding their authenticity, which I am in no position to give an opinion about (though this post on Rogue Classicism seems to be quite convincing that they are fake). I recommend reading Paleo-Judaica who have been keeping me updated.There is also a Daily Mail piece, that seems to think that these tablets are Christian in origin.  If they do end up being judged authentic - and once someone deciphers the code they appear to be written in, there is some chance we might have a "dead sea scrolls" event. What I am currently enjoying is looking at some of the images that appear on the too few images available.

In this tablet you can clearly see a Menorah. There also appears to be branches that go to either side..which I can only assume is meant to be olive branches. What is interesting is that this would be very similar to the the modern symbol for the state of Israel - based on the image seen by Zecharyah in his vision.

It also looks very similar to the menorah featured on the 10 agurot:

Not really sure what this one is.  On a very long strech I might have guessed this is meant to be a Lulav with Aravot. I am open to suggestions.

"Having made me according to His will - Not a Man"

Harav Haim Navon has published a new book dealing with women's status in Halacha "Bridge for Jacob`s Daughters" (גשר בנות יעקב).
I've yet to buy my own copy of the book, but when I do I will to post a review.  Until then you can read the first chapter of the book here. Harav  Navon is a young Israeli Rabbi, most famous for his weekly parasha writings and a column in "Nekudah" Magazine. He published a novel last year that did quite well, though it was far from being great literature. He is undoubtedly a talmid chacham,  who is a liberal in his world view, but does not rush into changing halacha.

According to Kipah, one of his suggestions (though not actually a psak) is to change the morning blessings so that both sexes thank god for creating them according to his will. Thus, we shall recognize the equality between the sexes. While admitting that there are differnces in the roles of men and women in halacha, he is not happy with current vogue of rabbis trying to explain the halachic differences between the sexes based on shallow explanations of the differnces between a male and female charecter.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Update to the Korean Talmud Story

I sent this Email yesterday to the blog "Ask a Korean":

Recently in Israel the Korean Ambassador gave an interview where he claimed that " almost every home in South Korea boasts a Korean version of the Talmud, and mothers commonly teach it to their children, who call it the "Light of Knowledge.""

This story has been picked up by numerous newspapers in Israel as well as international Jewish Blogs. I would be highly interested in knowing if this is in fact true, or just a case where an ambassador has found our sweet spot. 
I received this answer today:
Believe it or not, it is true. I read a cartoon version of the Talmud when I was a child also.

Just to make 100% certain, I sent him another question:

Thanks for the reply. I have since started to suspect  that Koreans though seem to think the Talmud is a collection of moral stories. The Talmud is in fact a huge collection of books (some 2000+) pages. I'm assuming you didn't learn / read a book dealing with Jewish religious law, but rather a book of collected Jewish Moral stories?BT  
To which he replied:

Correct. My particular version was like a cartoon version of Aesop's Fables or something like that. If the impression is that Korean children study huge tomes, that would be incorrect.

So firstly I would like to thank "Ask A Korean" for the fast responses. I think at this point there is no doubt  that when Koreans talk about the Talmud they are thinking about some collection of Moral stories - like Aesop's fables. It seems that Ynet has led us astray, and that the Jewish fantasy that  Koreans spend their days trying to understand the logic of talumdic pilpul, will have to be postponed until the messianic age.

What is more interesting is how a story that was so illogical and contrary to common sense became so widely quoted?  

Sidenote: Ask a Korean has told me he is planning a post explaining why Koreans are fascinated with Israel. I will of course link to it, once it is posted.

A Video Response by The Jewish Burqa Cult

This video has been published, supposedly by someone within the Jewish Burqa cult. This is a response to this documentary that I posted here. The voice is super-imposed on the documentary footage with soothing music in the background - in an attempt to show that without the "scary" music there is nothing scary in the movie about the cult.

One of the first lines I liked was "So many of these women were formerly Hilonim or Mizrachnikim". Ouch. There is little new information in this video, other then the fact that these women seem to see themselves as continuing the authentic dress of the Jews, rather then creating a new Chumra.

Debunking the Korean Talmud Story

Some days ago, Ynet ran a story of an interview with the Korean ambassador to Israel, who claimed the Talmud was required reading for every Korean student:

“We were curious how come the Jews are so successful academically and have a much higher percentage of Nobel Prize winners in all fields… what is their secret?… one of your secrets is studying Talmud,” continued ambassador Young-Sam-Ma. There might be now more (translated) Talmud volumes in South Korean homes than in Israel!
“We tried to understand why the Jews are such geniuses and we concluded that (it is because) they study Talmud,” explained South Korea’s ambassador to Israel.  

This story was picked up by just about every proud Jewish website. However if anyone thought a little, the story makes no sense! even using an explained talmud (i.e Artscroll) the Talmud is hard reading for adults - never mind schoolchildren. Furthermore large parts are so dependant on some other Jewish Knoweldge, that you really couldn't understand anything.
 A quick google search for "talumd" and "Korea", brought me to a catholic forum. In 2005 a poster named "Brogan" wrote the following posts:

I've taken a job in Korea. This is a decission that I now regret becuase I stupidly misred sspx's website and thought that they offered mass every sunday. Its actually only once a month.
Anyways, I just found out that all the little kids have to read the Talmud in elementary school. I couldnt believe this. There arnt even any jews in Korea. I think I'm going to look into whether or not foods here have koser lables on them. This is just rediculis. I truely doubt that even .00001% of the population here is Jewish.
 He followed it up with a few other posts:

So I asked some of my students today and am now even more weirded out than before. One class told me that they all had to read it in elementary school. When I asked them what class they all acted really confused. They didnt understand what I was asking them. Then I asked the next class about it. They told me that it was not part of thier school curiculem yet every single one of them had read it as a child. When I asked them if they had read the Koran both classes burst into laughter. "Of course not thats the Muslim book".
They didnt get it when I was trying to explain to them that the Talmud was a Jewish book. They just kept saying "in Korea it is just a good book." One student told me that he loves the Talmud becuase it is the "light of Knowledge". Mind you, these kids barely speak english yet he said that exact phrase. I dont know what to make of it.
So what I'vwe learned so far is that All of them read it as children and love it yet dont know that it is Jewish. All of them read it during elementary school yet I dont think it was required in any class. But I tell you what they way they acted was more fanatical then american kids about Harry Potter. I mean they LOVED the Talmud.
Something else I found weird was after the first class told me that they had all read it I started talking to them about the Jews. All they knew about the Jews was that they were killed by Hitler. I asked them "who killed more people, Hitler or Stalin?" They all shouted "Hitler Hitler!" The strangest thing about this is that they knew that millions of Korean settelers had been killed by Stalin yet had no idea about the other 60 million or so that he killed.
How strange. The second class didnt have any answer asto why they read it. "its a really goooood book". ""before I read the talmud I used to think that he was ugly" (pointing to another student...everyone laughs). Now I know the truth. "The Talmud is the light of knowledge".
I'm going to find out still more about this. I want an answer asto whether or not its required, becuase if its not why have EVERY SINGLE ONE of them read it in elementary school?
Btw I told them that it was anti-Christian and said to kill Christians. I think this is true but umm...does it specifically say to kill Christians?
 Let us leave aside the strong anti-semitic vibes (that are going to get worse as you read the original thread), Brogan continued his search into the Korean Talmud love affair:
Quote from: francis
I googled korea + talmud and found this
UPDATE: OK just taught my final class of the day and got the full scoop. It's been hard up till now because everyone (except this last class) can barely speak any english (including my co-workers at the school), and I can speak no Korean. Anyways the Myongshimpogan is something altogether different from the Talmud. These students had never heard it called the "korean talmud". They said that the Korean Times must have said that because the actual Talmud is so familiar to people. These students confirmed that they all had read the actual Jewish Talmud. They said it had stories about a Queen and a "Lappi". I guess a "Lappi" is a professor. Anyways they all told me that it was just good stories. Something about how the queen hated the Lappi because he was ugly but then he had people put wine into gold vases and the gold of the containers ruined the taste of the wine. (i.e. its what on the inside that matters). They must have been referencing the exact same story that another student talked about yesterday (except he could barely speak english so he said "before I read Talmud I thought him ugly").
Anyways this class couldn't tell me the name in english of the class that they all read the Talmud in but they could explain to me what they do in the class. They said its just a class where you read literature and then you write about what you have read in the class. I asked them what other books you read in that class and do you know what the first thing they answered?Huh?Huh?Huh?  THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK!!!!!!!! All the other books were Korean and they didnt know any english title for them.

This is tooo creepy.  
And one more:
I did the same thing last night so I asked another teacher today at the school to try and get the bottom of this. I asked her if there  was some Korean book called the Talmud or if it was Jewish. She said "Yes it is Hebrew but it is not bad like the one you read. They have Talmuds for elementary, middle, and high school... Even Christians in Korea LOVE the talmud." I'm still very confused. I mean the students have all told me that its just stories, ect. Could this teacher have been wrong about it being jewish?

So basically we have an answer. The Koreans are calling a book of collections of Talmudic stories "The Talmud". I can only guess that the Korean ambassador thinks that the Talmud is a collection of moral stories.

 [Update: I wrote this post last night, but decided to wait and edit it in the morning. It seems Elders of Zion has beaten me to the conclusion using a google translate method that showed that books on the talmud in korean were story collections]

* Further Update: Please see this exchange of Emails with "ask a Korean" blog, that removes all doubt. 

Worth a Read 29.03.11

  • Are Jewish Studies in Decline? Alex Joffe writes an interesting piece analyzing Jewish Studies in Israel. Menachem Mendel has an interesting response, and more importantly he brings an interesting KurtzweilGershom Scholem debate from 1965 regarding the same issue.
  • Life in Israel has picked up the weird story of a Haredi guy caught smuggling human hair into Israel.
  • Yaakov Lozowick (aka Ruminations)  asks how many times has Jerusalem been conquered? however he has yet to publish his answer, so you have to read the comments section for the interesting stuff.  
  • Goldberg writes that his blog "Is a pro Jstreet blog", while Ruminitions writes that he isn't. 
  • For those who didn't get enough Nir Ben Artzi bashing from my own post last week, Parshablog is doing his own attack on the same speech.
  • On the Main Line (the blog I wished I could write) proves that there is nothing new in Judaism by retelling the great wives and wigs controversy of 1890.

Monday, March 28, 2011

A Commonly Missed Miracle

I was at a wedding last night, and I was shocked to see I was the only person who observed the great miracle that occurred that night. I was even more surprised as this is a miracle that occurs at just about every religious wedding, and yet no one seems to notice it.

The miracle is that it seems that no matter how close to sunset the wedding begins, when inevitably after the chuppah they announce that they will be davening Ma'ariv - it turns out that a large amount of religious men have "Already dovened". This miracle seems to increase exponentially if at the same time as Ma'ariv the first course is being offered.  Who could have guessed that the sun sets early for so many men? It's a miracle!

Response to: A Western Heart: How ancient is Judaism?

A Western Heart has a post titled How Ancient is Judaism, which has touched an interesting question. When does religious practice change so much, that we are no longer a continuation of the past, but rather a new religion?

At some risk to my "Goy" self, I occasionally write something about Jews and Judaism. So far, however, I have escaped unscathed (I think) so here goes another foray:
It is a common and proud claim among Israelis that they are still living in the same place and speaking the same language and (sort of) following the same religion as they did 3,000 years ago. That thought gives them great pride and helps make up in some way for the horrendous travail Jews have had to go through to get to today.

But, to be blunt, it is nonsense. After the Roman triumph and the expulsion of most Jews from Israel, Jews had to change their religion radically. Judaism had been a temple-focused religion -- so once the temple was gone, huge changes in thinking and custom were needed.

And the changes took two forms: Those who accepted the ideas of the greatest rabbi (Jesus Christ) and those who laboured to stick more closely to traditional ideas. Even among the latter group, however, the surrounding pagan culture took over to a degree. The modern form of the seder, for instance, is said to be strongly influenced by the form of the Hellenistic symposium.

So Judaism as we know it today is in fact no older than Christianity. They are two branches that had to put out fresh growth after the original tree was cut down. And just as Christian thinking underwent all sorts of disputes in its development (e.g. the Arian/Athanasian controversy) so Jews waited a long while for their new ideas to coalesce -- in the form of teachings by great rabbis such as Rashi and Maimonides...(read the full article at the link above)

Just to make it clear, I think his post is fair enough, though mistaken at its core. He is mistaking an evolution of a religion and the total break of a religion with its past. Basically I would argue that the core concepts have remained similar enough over time, that it is not a new religion, but an evolved one. Think about it as the difference between species, and breeds. There is a very simple thought experiment we can perform to check whether we are dealing with a new religion, or with a change within an existing religion. I call this the "test of recognition". Let us hypothetically transport an orthodox Jew back in time to when the temple existed. Let us ignore issues of speech, funny black hats, and/or the lack of beards. The question that interests us is whether despite all the changes in how they act, would the Jews at that time recognize him as a Jew (even if a rather odd one)? I have little doubt they would.

No one can argue that Judaism has changed. I'm fairly sure most intelligent Jews would admit that the Jews in the second temple period would not know/understand or phrase in a similar manner most of our concepts. However we would still share the same basic holy book (something Christians wouldn't), a similar world view that accepted the concept of commandments (Again, something Christians wouldn't even with early Christians) even if it differed on what they were exactly, and some of the basic oral teachings forming a basis for our understanding of the bible. Most importantly when describing god neither one would think the other was worshiping a different deity. (As I'm sure some would find with Christians). We would be recognized as Jews, and recognize second temple Jews as Jews.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Judaism and Obesity

The Daily Beast has an article attacking a study that linked Faith and Obesity. Without going into details. I would be interested on a study relating Jewish belief and obesity. Some thoughts why I believe a link would be found:

  • Challah + Chulent + Big Shabbos meals in general.
  • 3 day Yomtovs.
  • Matzas x 7 days
  • Doughnuts + Latkas x 7 days.
  • Hamantaschen. 
  • Polish Mother/Grandmother Syndrome.

Moron or Ideological Activist?

Yediot, Artuz 2, and Arutz 10 have all had sympathetic interviews with Anat Kamm over the weekend. Anat Kamm is an Israeli who during her military service stole 2,000 classified documents and then leaked them to an Ha'aretz reporter. On 14 January 2010 Kamm was indicted for severe espionage.

The Yediot  (I can't find a full transcript) story, and to some extent the Artuz 2 interview both followed the same line - Anat Kam admits she did a mistake, and that she should be punished, but insists that she didn't leak the documents out of a "left wing" agenda - but rather because she wanted the publicity and thrill of the act and of being involved with the news (Yediot) or rather she just didn't think (Arutz 2). In both Anat Kamm tries to stress that she did not act of any storng left wing ideology - but more out of an immature or thoughless act. The whole article in Yediot gave the impression that Anat Kamm really is the immature child she is claiming to be, and I left with the impression that what she really wanted was the publicity. Even as she moans about what she has done, she sounds media obsessed. In the Arutz 2 interview she jokes that at least the media photographed her on her "good side".   So is it better to claim that your actions were either due to thoughtlessness or some secret wish for the thrill of publicity, or rather to claim that you acted out of ideology?  I personally am angrier that someone was willing to betray the trust put in them just for the thrill of it, then if she had performed the same act out of an ideal I disagree with. Similarly I think if my sentencing was based on deterrence rather then moral outrage, I would sentence more harshly those who acted out of a wish for fame then those who acted for ideological reasons.  

Friday, March 25, 2011

Defining who is the Meshugah

Nir Ben-Artzi is a self proclaimed holyman, miracle worker, prophet and suspected messiah. He is in fact a former tractor driver who became a healer, and then a rabbi, without ever achieving any learning. Harav Aviner once famously responded to a question about him by stating:

 "Nir Ben Artzi isn't a talmid chacam, but an ignoramous to this day. He isn't the messiah, or a herald for the messiah, nor does he have Ruach Hakodesh"

""ניר בן ארצי אינו תלמיד חכם אלא עם הארץ, עד עצם היום הזה. כמו כן, אינו המשיח, ואינו מבשר המשיח, ואינו בעל רוח הקודש."

Recently Parshablog has been active about proving what a fraud Nir Ben Artzi is, and I highly recommend everyone reads what he wrote.

Now for the good stuff. Bechadrei Hardeim is reporting on a talk Nir Ben Artzi gave in Bnei Brak. During this talk the audiance was quite happy to hear him predict major earthquakes (next week), nuclear disaster in all nuclear power plants in the world and missiles fired at Israel. He also stated that he knows where gold can be found in Israel, but God won't let him publish it. I recommend at this point to  view the video available here, or you might miss some of the hilarity. You can jump to 2:50 for the good stuff.

After the audience has sat in rapped attention and belief through all the nonsense, Ben-Artzi starts to talk about the messiah. In the most "Life of Brian" moment, a man in the audience gets up and screams, "I am the messiah" Nir Artzi then answers him "sit down, what are you drunk?" ("He's not the messiah he's a naughty little boy!") The audience laughs - clearly the man standing up claiming to be the messiah is a crazy man! and here is where the irony is. Why should a man standing up and confessing to be the messiah be any less believable then the man you have been listening to predicting nuclear holocaust, and claiming to know where gold is..only god won't let him tell.

The correct answer is..all of you are Meshugane.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Why the Premishlaner Rebbe Really Did Give Bad Advice

A few days ago I posted that the Premishlaner rebbe said that the stock market will take a nose dive on Wednesday. This has obviously not happened. However I suddenly had a thought - the original Rotter post claimed that the  Premishlaner rebbe told a prominent banker that he should quickly sell all his stocks because the market was going to crash. However it occurred to me he should of just advised him to go short on the stocks - in todays world knowing the stock market is going to go down is an opportunity to make serious money. In a response to a comment on the original post, I suggested that it is a well known rule that negative prophecy does not have to come true - since in the interim the person might have performed teshuvah. However I now think that any knowledge of the future of the stock market is intrinsically a good prophecy - you can make your money either way - and hence it really should have happened!

John Stewart: The Think Jewish Line

I just thought this was one of the funniest things I've seen for a very long time. I especially liked the eruv being defined as Hebrew for a loophole.

Hat Tip: Dovbear.

Worth a Read 24.03.11

  • PETA an animal's rights group requests that translations of the bible should stop referring to animals as "it"  but rather "he" or "they". "“God’s covenant is with humans and animals. God cares about animals," Friedrich said. "I would think that’s a rather unanimous opinion among biblical scholars today, where that might not have been the case 200 years ago.” (ht: PaleoJudaica)
  • Goldberg catches Reuters refusal to call a terrorist attack by its name:
"This is from a Reuters story on the Jerusalem bombing earlier today:
Police said it was a "terrorist attack" -- Israel's term for a Palestinian strike. It was the first time Jerusalem had been hit by such a bomb since 2004.

Women are conspicuously absent from the Jewish mystical tradition. Even if historically some Jewish women may have experienced mystical revelations and led richly productive spiritual lives, the tradition does not preserve any record of their experiences or insights. Only the chance survival of scant evidence suggests that, at various times and places, individual Jewish women did pursue the path of mystical piety or prophetic spirituality, but it appears that efforts were made to suppress their activities. This contrasts sharply with the fully acknowledged prominence of women in the mystical traditions of both Christianity and Islam. It is against this background that the mystical 17th-century messianic movement known as Sabbatianism stands out as a unique exception. Its attitude to women was highly liberationist: the leader of the movement, Sabbatai Zevi, promised to make them 'as happy as men' by releasing them from the pangs of childbirth and the subjugation to their husbands ordained for women since biblical times. This redemptive vision became an integral part of Sabbatian eschatology: in their view, the messianic era was unfolding in the present, and as part of this their New Law superseded the Old and overturned the traditional halakhic rules governing relations between the sexes. This was expressed not only in the ritual transgression of sexual prohibitions but also in the apparent adoption of the idea - alien to rabbinic Judaism - that virginity, celibacy, or sexual abstinence were conducive to women's spiritual empowerment. In this book, author Ada Rapoport-Albert traces the diverse manifestations of this vision in every phase of Sabbatianism and its offshoots, demonstrating how the culmination of the Sabbatian endeavor was to transcend the traditional gender paradigm that had excluded women from the public arena of Jewish spiritual life." (ht: Menachem Mendel)

Teaching the Bible Through Facebook

Ynet is reporting of a new program created by Lewinsky College to teach the bible using Facebook. The basic idea is to create profile pages for biblical characters - and supposedly the Facebook loving youth are going to find a new enthusiasm for these characters.

Personally this looks to me like a very short fad. Kids are not going to be more interested in the bible just because they now have Facebook pages. It might just about hold one class worth of interest.

Quinoa and Pesach

I have been planning to write about Quinoa and Pesach for some time - Mostly because I really like quinoa, and I really suffer during Pesach.

The basic argument over Quinoa is regarding Kitnyot - does Quinoa enter the kitnyot ban (an Ashkenazic problem only). No one doubts that Quinoa is a grain - however it is a grain that was not known at the time when Kitnyot was banned by rabbis in Europe - and hence there is a strong argument that the ban shouldn't be included to encompass new grains. Additionally certain attributes of Quinoa make it less likely that it would have been mixed with other grains - the conceived basis for the Issur of Kitnyot. Those who want to follow the full halachic discussion can read a good summary here.

The OU 2011 Pesach guide has a whole page dedicated to the question of Quinoa and Passover - but after only a very very brief outline of the problem, ends with this dissapointing line:

The OU has not taken a position about the use of quinoa on Passover and believes
that this decision should be made locally. The information in this article is intended to
enable an informed and enlightened conversation.

Weirdly enough right after the OU states that it does not have a position on Quinoa, it lists it at the bottom of the same page in a list of kitnyot. That list includes potatoes as well (as noticed by Rationalist Judaism). Putting the two together it would seem that the OU thinks Quinoa is kitnyot - but a type of kitnyot that possibly can be eaten during Pesach.

As a public service here are some of the more prominent Israeli poskim, and their cities, to help you make your "decision locally". I hope someone else makes a Quinoa map of Israel, and does a similar list for America.

Quinoa is delicious and good to eat!

Quinoa is a Kitnyot:

  • Harav Ariel - The rav of Ramat Gan. - Quinoa is similar to Corn, and hence kitnyot.
  • Harav Noibert - As quoted here. 
  • Harav Elyashiv - The whole world if you are Haredi, otherwise Bnei-Brak. Quoted in the connected article. 
  • Harav David Lou - Modin
  • Alon Shevut - An answer given in the name of anonymous rabbi from the gush yeshivah. I'll point out that the same Rabbi who answered that Kinoa was Kitnyot said the opposite here - so I'm going to call this one inconclusive. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Did the Rabbis Believe Their Own Midrashim?

 Did the tanaim and amoraim believe that the midrashim they created (Assuming at least some of them were created) were telling a true history, or were useful spiritual tools, but never intended to reflect reality? This question never really bothered me - as I felt it was obvious that some midrashim were never meant to be interprented literally. However, over time I've met more and more people who seem to believe certain midrashim were historical. I started wondering when did people start to believe that all midrashim are meant to be taken as an historical truth. This quickly led me to the question of whether those creating the Midrashim thought they were uncovering history, or whether they believed that their Midrashim are spiritual if not historical truths.

It is evident to me, that there will not be a simple Yes/No answer to all midrashim, Rabbanim or periods of time. However, I believe that trying to find a broad answer is still informative, even if it must be followed by a qualitative  "Lets check the individual case".

I found an essay on this very topic by Chaim Milikowsky "Midrash as Fiction and Midrash as History: What Did the Rabbis mean?" and available in its entirety on Google Books. His answer is that Rabbis did not believe they were telling history. His opinion is based on these arguments:

A. A lot of psychological and historical conjecture that you can either agree with or not.
B.  "Seder Olam Rabba" the classical midrashic work which attempts to date all events from the creation of the world until the end of the first temple, does not date any event that is not specifically mentioned in the bible.
This is a convincing argument, in that it shows that the author of seder olam rabbah did not feel there was a need to date events mentioned in the midrash (like Abraham being thrown into the fire). This shows both an awareness of the difference between the tanach and midrashim, and by the choice not to include midrashim in a text setting chronology- the belief that events described by midrashim  are not historical. Seder Olam uses midrash to determine dates - but does try to date events not in the bible.
C. "Yaackov Avinu is not dead" - An interpentation of this famous midrash as found in Ta'anit 5b. In the story  R' yitzhaq tells his view that Jacob is not dead, based on an exegesis from Jermiah. When asked how this view is possible, since Jacob was embalmed and buried, he answers that he explaining scripture (מקרא אני דורש). Milikowsky understand this answer as saying that he does not believe his view is historical - merely a religious fiction based on a singular verse. Ergo - at least one rabbi seperated midrash from historical truth. The problem with this argument is that traditionally quite a few big rabbanim (Rashba comes to mind) seem to understand the passage in the completely opposite fashion - i.e that the conclusion of the discussion is that Jacob in fact did not die.  Milikowsky's reading (which I like)  is far from being the only possible reading of that story, and hence can not be a cornerstone of his proof.

These are the only proofs given to his view, which rely on Midrashic sources and not general theorizing. I found the argument deriving from Seder Olam Rabba to be relatively convincing as opposed to his argument from the Jacob isn't dead midrash- which at any rate is one midrash in the sea of the talmud. However it seems that his article didn't really prove his view, and that there is much work to be done on this topic.

Part two coming soon!

Worth a Read 23.2.11

  • Benny Morris reviews Ilan Pappe books. The opening lines more or less summarize the article "At best, Ilan Pappe must be one of the world’s sloppiest historians; at worst, one of the most dishonest. In truth, he probably merits a place somewhere between the two." (HT: Ruminations)
  • Ynet has an article(in Hebrew) by Avigdor Feldman, Israel's most famous criminal lawyer (And Katzav's defense attorney) attacks the court for ignoring the evidence in the Katzav case, and convicting Katzav despite there being more then reasonable doubt. 
  • Ha'aretz and Ynet both reported that at the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton the Jewish custom of breaking a glass at the end of the wedding would be observed. Sadly the whole story was a hoax created by the Jewish Chronicle for purim.  
  • Richard Posner on "What is a college degree really worth". 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Will the Stock Market Collapse Tomorrow?

A post on (Israeli forum dedicated to posting "scoops") claims that the Premishlaner Rebbe האדמו"ר מפרמישלאן) has confided that tomorrow the stock market will take a nosedive.

I'll be honest, I've never heard of this particular hassidut (wikipedia page here),  but at least this "prophecy" will be easily checked. I've long had a policy of not taking my stock advice based on random postings on forums, or based on anyone's Ruach Hakodesh - though I'll admit that so far this policy has not generated any great revenue for me. In keeping with my policy, I'm willing to confide that I've yet to change my stock holdings, but I am interested in seeing how this will play out. If the stock market really does do a major nosedive tomorrow, I will repent my lack of faith by posting a picture of myself eating a hat on Thursday (not black - I don't own a black hat). Comments on the Rotter forum, seem to suggest that there are not enough Premishlaner Hassidim to make this prophecy a self fulfilling one.

I was intrigued to discover who the Premishlaner rebbe was - and have found this video of him - playing a violin no less. The tune he is playing does sound rather tragic.

I've also managed to find this video - A tish during Hanukah:

Worth a Read

  • Jpost has a piece on a 17th century female Rosh Yeshivah. Sadly there really doesn't seem to be that much that is known about her other then the fact that she was female. (HT: Hirhurim)
  • Hirhurim has published "Hilchot Monkeys" literally all the torah it could find dealing with monkeys in Jewish law. Did you know a monkey can not be a shochet?
  • Andrew Sullivan neatly collect a wide variety of views on the U.S involvement in Libya.
  • Ancient metal tablets with Hebrew coded writing were found in Jordan - supposdly 2000 years old. Arre they a Hoax? More on this topic including official press release Here.

Bilking Money by Selling Segulot

It seems like the Haredi market has recently been envious of the Kabbalah water - and decided to join the fun of getting fools to part from their money.

For the last few weeks this ad has been running in the Shabbat Alonim:

The ad is for buying wine blessed by Harav Kanievski. The line under the bottle says that his wife testifies to the great wonders this wine has performed (apparently women are allowed to testify to such things). This was bad, but it seems it was only the opening shot of a whole segulah brand being developed around Harav Kanievski.

(hat tip: Rav Tzair)

This card is offering to sell leafs from the Arava that Harav Kanievsky used on Hoshana Raba. Can't they just sell red strings and kabbalah water?
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Thoughts About The Katzav Sentencing

Former president Katzav has been sentenced to seven years in prison. Minutes later the newspapers were already filled with Knesset members, Women groups etc, all celebrating the sentencing as a great day for Israeli democracy. I pointed out a few weeks ago, that finding the man guilty was not a great day for democracy - and anyone claiming it was, has proven a lack of confidence in the courts. What would have happened if Katzav had been found innocent? would it then have been a tragic day for democracy? the belief that a certain position showed that all citizens are equal is an oxymoron.

The sentence was harsh by Israeli standards, but not really a surprise. From the second Katzav was found guilty there could be little doubt that as a public figure his sentence would be harsh. Reports indicate that Katzav did not take his sentence in a stoic fashion, but instead called out during the reading, and finally burst in tears. It is hard not to feel some sympathy for a man who's position in history has so dramatically altered. However it is important to remember that he is not the victim but rather the convicted rapist.

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Saturday, March 19, 2011

"Intellectual Psychopaths"

Worth reading what Martin Peretz editor-in-chief emeritus of The New Republic wrote last week about Ha'aretz:  
I have a different view of Ha’aretz than Remnick. In fact, I think that many of its columnists are intellectual psychopaths. From this cohort you have to exclude Aluf Bennand Ari Shavit. But if you like grim fantasies all you have to do is read Amira Hass, Akiva Elder, or Gideon Levy, now doing honest reporting from Tokyo, or Amos Harel. If you want one reason for why the international press is so hostile to Israel, it is because the only paper foreign journalists read is Ha’aretz in English. It is an exemplar of Jewish self-hate, full of ridicule, righteousness, and loathing. Its circulation is going down, down, down. It would have already gone broke if it hadn’t invested in a spiffy new printing press on which it produces Israel Hayom, a free right-wing daily owned by Sheldon Adelson who, from the casino business, was said by Forbes this year to be worth $23.3 billion, which makes him the sixteenth richest man in the world

This will be my last Ha'aretz bashing of the week - mostly because I am a daily reader of their website, and I'm starting to feel like I'm spitting into the well I drink from. Also it managed to annoy me too much last week with their editorials, that I feel I'm better off not responding to anything they wrote.

"Happy is the one who takes your babies and smashes them against the rocks!"

An Israeli Blog, has called for the book of Esther to be censored so that all the joy over the killing of the persian should be removed - and more specifically the killing of the persian women and children. The book of Esther make a joyful point of the fact that not only were the men intending of killing the jews killed - but also their wives and children (Esther 8:11)

 11In them the king granted the Jews who were in each and every city the right (A)to assemble and to defend their lives, (B)to destroy, to kill and to annihilate the entire army of any people or province which might attack them, including children and women, and (C)to plunder their spoil,

This is a sensitive week to be talking about the topic. We have just spent a week of outrage over the muder of a family including children in Itamar, and yet we find Esther asking for the same thing.
This reminded me of a similar point made to me by a famous Jewish educator, regarding the psalm "on the rivers of Babylon". Its final verse regarding the Babylonians reads "Happy is the one who takes your babies and smashes them against the rocks!".  Yikes. 

The question is not one of whether their actions are moral. I'm willing to accept that morality is an evolving and relative concept. By the standards of their times I'm sure both Esther and the Jewish population in Babylon were Tzadikkim. However the educational question remains. What are we teaching our own children? Purim is a very child oriented Hag. They are hearing us rejoicing over the revenge the Jews wrought over their Persian enemies - including their families (hey were the 10 children of Haman really responsible for their father's actions?).  How do we handle biblical verses that are so far from our current beliefs of moral actions? Especially when there isn't a rabbinic tradition condemning those actions?

Regarding the "Rivers of Babylon" wish to smash children on rocks, I think any sensible reading sees it as a literary symbol of the depth of the hurt of the Jewish people, and not a wish to be translated into reality. However, the Megillah is read as an historical account. I would hazard that the answer is simply that in perspective the Megillah as whole is a story of redemption. We may not agree with 100% of it, but it is a minor part in a major story - and as such we have to put our trust in our children's intelligence and in our own education, that when they grow up, their reading of Esther will be the same as ours, and not as a source for unspeakable acts.   

There is only one Amalek

I had a thought, while listening to the drasha this morning. The main question of the Drasha was why does it say both "remember" (זכור)Amalek, and " Not forget" (לא תשכח), aren't they the same thing? I apologize to whomever was giving the Drasha, since I don't remember his answer. However an answer did occur to me while he was speaking.

Every year around shabbat Zachor some rabbi is sure to find a new Amalek -both physical and spiritual. They can be the Palestinians, Germans,  Persians, Left winger, Zilzul, Pride, Materialism or whatever happens to be  bad guy of that week. My insight was the torah was telling us two things. The first commandment "Remember" is to remember who Amalek are so that we can kill/annihilate them. The second commandment - "Don't Forget" is a commandment to remember them specifically, for the purpose of identification - namely to make sure that we don't by mistake identify anyone else as an Amalek.

The torah command against Amalek is so harsh - that you have to be careful not to expand it. Not every bad guy/bad charecter trait is worthy of being Amalek. Don't forget who Amalek really are - because if you do you will start thinking everyone is Amalek.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Origin of the "Meshnichnas Adar" Tune

Michtavim Blog, has managed to surprise me. It put up a youtube video (Below) showing that the popular tune all of us use for the song "משנכנס אדר מרבים בשמחה" uses an old blues song, about picking cotton. I guess it really is a small little world.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Book of The Absent God

Yehudah Mirsky got the book of Esther right:

Part of Esther's strangeness lies, oddly, in its very familiarity. It takes place in a world where God hardly figures, where prophecy is but a memory, where lust, vanity, and arrogance call the tunes, and where flat-out redemption is too much to hope for.
Esther is the book of the Absent God. The Rabbinic reading is to make God not absent, so much as hidden. Regardless Esther remains the book most relevant for modern life - A world where Prophecy is silent, where miracles are a matter of belief, and where man seems to have to rely on his fellow man. It is a book that calls on the reader to find the Hidden god, and not the absent God.

Worth a Read

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

"I Don't Have A Telephone Line To God"

Quote of the Day:

Harav Aharon Lichtenstein when asked why he doesn't give his views on current events:

""I Don't Have A Telephone Line To God, as opposed to some other people."
Harav Lichtenstein goes on to say that true modesty would mean that you must realise the difference between you and God, and act in accordance. Bilam didn't know what his donkey was thinking - how could he think he knew what God was thinking?
Publish Post
Read the entire interview here.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Ha'aretz vs Ma'ariv and Yediot

This kind of really struck me. These are photos of Ma'ariv, Yediot and Ha'aretz's front-page from today. Ma'ariv and Yediot have a whole page dedicated to the terror attack in Itamar, and at the bottom a banner about the earth quake in Japan. Ha'aretz did the opposite. Their top title is about Japan, and the next article is about Itamar, with no commentary.

I'm not belittling the scope of the tragedy in Japan. I'm sure in the wider scheme of things Japan's tragedy is the bigger story. However for an Israeli paper to choose to put Japan above (and bigger then) a terrorist attack in their own country - especially given the gruesome nature of the attack, is either really bad taste or just a reflection of how disconnected they feel from the those murdered and the public they represent. This is probably as good a sign as any that Ha'aretz is the paper of a very small and elitist public.

It is a real shame that this is the paper most read by the international community.

Purim Costume - Settler

I was quite amused to see that there is a new Purim costume being offered - "Noar Hagevahot" (נוער הגבעות). Basically a costume of a specific subset of the settler movement - the young and most extreme members, who have no authority and normally work the land with their own hands.

The costume seemed to be just a big Kippah - what would once have been called a Bratslav kippah (or a Na-nach-nachman kippah).

What this shows is that No'ar Hagevahot have managed to enter the Israeli mainstream consciousness.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

I Guess This Is Why Ibn-Caspi Is Not Well Known Today

As I've previously stated, this year I'm reading Ibn-Caspi on the parasha. I was quite surprised by what he had to say regarding this weeks parasha

Basically Ibn-Caspi states that he doesn't feel a need to explain parashat "Vayera" or the next few Parshiot since it is "well known that Moshe Rabenu was forced to write them" since God isn't really interested in sacrifices, and that it was an accomedation for  that generation. Therefore there is little harm at not knowing these parashas at all.
The view that sacrifices were the lesser evil is a well known Ramabamic view. However I've never seen anyone take it so far, as "therefore I won't bother explaining them". Its these kind of views that explain why a really brilliant commentator is almost unheard of in the modern Jewish life. 

Black Hat = Good Father?

So my daughter (2 years old) is going to be "Imma shel Shabbat" at Gan. Basically every week a girl and boy pretend they are the parents in the kindergarten, and light shabbos candles, hand out grape juice etc etc. All of this is really sweet, but what bothers me is that they dress the kids up as Haredim. The father gets to wear a nice big black hat, and a "suit" and the mother wears a big head-covering. This is a Dati-Leumi Gan. I'm worried my lil girl is learning that good fathers must wear black hats!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Has A Line Been Drawn?

More and more Rabbanim of the Dati-Leumi fold are coming out openly against those Rabbanim who signed in support of Katzav. This incident has brought forward into the open the schism that all members of the Dati-Leumi movement have long felt - Basically the Haral (initals of Haredi-Leumi) and Dati-Leumi factions.

Here are some quick summaries of the more interesting writers:

Harav Beni Lou,'s article in Ynet is probably the most talked about call to arms. The article titled "We have established in Israel the Kingdom of Hardal)" attacked Harav Aviner strongly for his letter of support of Katzav, and stated that it appears that Harav Aviner has adopted an ideology of glorifying the state, but demonizing its institutions. This is interpreted as an ideology leading to segregation - and in essence being a Haredi ideology. The article ends  (My own translation ):

"You can't in the name of "the state" destroy the little we have. We must gather the forces of the Dati-Leumi public that wishes to free itself from the world of these Rabbanim. This is the moment that the religious leadership that wishes to connect the Zionist movment to its' Jewish roots - must shake off this sect and lead the vision of redemtion to an earthly sphere, where vision meets the Israeli reality at a realistic level." אי-אפשר בשם "המדינה" להחריב את המעט שיש לנו. מוכרחים לרכז כוחות של ציבור דתי-ציוני שמבקש להשתחרר מעוּלם של רבנים אלו. זה הרגע שבו ההנהגה הדתית, המבקשת לחבר את הציונות אל שורשיה היהודיים - צריכה להתנער מהכת הזו, ולהוביל את חזון הגאולה אל מחוזות ארציים, שבהם ייפגש החזון עם המציאות הישראלית בגובהה האמיתי. 

Harav Yoel Ben Nun follows the same line stating that anyone who claims that the Israeli Courts are "Courts of Goyim" (I.e a halachic concept meaning courts that don't follow Halacha - and where justice isn't done - and therefore can be ignored) does not see the state in a positive religious status (Malchut) regardless of whether he says Hallel on Independence day. In another article Harav Yoel calls for parents to stop sending their children to institutions that identify the state as a problem 
"On the day when most of the parents of children in "Bnei Akiva" (Lit: the tribe) that defining the state and its institutions as a threat and enemy is worse then possibly becoming Hiloni (because it involves Hilul Hashem), and that it is very dangerous to our children - then the change will begin. "
ביום שיבינו רוב ההורים בשבט, שהגדרת המדינה ומוסדותיה כאיום וכאויב, חמורה יותר מפריקת עול חילונית (כי יש בה גם חילול השם), והיא מסוכנת לילדינו מאד, יתחיל השינוי. 

Harav Yoel continues and states that Bnei Akiva has been taken over by "Midreshet Harova". I.E that it is led by an ideology of the Hardal camp. He though does not go as far as Prof Avi Sagi, who recently published an article where he called on abandoning the drowning ship of Bnei Akiva - for much of the same reasons. Harav Yoel just calls for a retaking of Bnei Akiva.  

Following similar lines, Harav Piron openly accuses the Hardal camp of bringing a Haredi normative reality into the Dati-Leumi fold. He even states that he preferres allowing Haredi Rabbanim to teach in the Dati-Leumi schools, then allowing Rabbanim of the Hardal disposition to teach there - because the Haredi ones are at least open about what they believe, and are clearly "Not us". 

I'm happy that so many leaders have awoken due to the last two "Rabbanim Letters". It seems that if nothing else, the Rabbanim who signed those letters have succeeded in brining out into the open the schism that is developing within the Dati-Leumi community. This division has been growing more and more obvious - with the spreading of Yeshivot that teach no secular education, and with the slow spread of influence of Rabbanim as Poskim in political matters. The old Mizrachi ideals, are starting to review the spread of the influence of the Merkaz Harav teachings and leadership.

Source: Most of the articles mentioned were collected in this Srugim article.