Thursday, June 30, 2011

Why The Torah Weeps Tonight.

When I read the news today, I didn't realize how horribly Israel's Justice Minister Ha'sar Neman was abused in Me'arat Hamachpala today. However having heard the recording of the incident on the radio today, I was totally disgusted. Not only by the behavior of Noam Federman who clearly does not respect neither the state nor holy places, but also by the lack of reaction by other prayers.

Weirdly enough I was reminded of the story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza – specifically the fact that not a single person there who watched this disgraceful display and humiliation of a man who represents the nation stood up for his honor. In the story of Kamtza this lack of action by people who should have known better led to the destruction of the temple.

It is totally irrelevant  what your political views are, or what you stance on the arrest of Harav Lior is. No person should be spoken to in this disrespectful manner, especially when dovening and even more so while praying at a holy site.  What is the most ironic is that this Hillul Shamayim was performed "For the Honor of Torah". I assure them that even were I to accept their views that arresting a Rabbi was some desecration of Torah honor, they have desecrated it far far worse.  

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Worth a Read 29.06

I haven't done one of these worth a read threads in a long while. This is mostly because they don't ever get any feedback, so I never know if anyone enjoys them.

  • Amit Segel - A little mutual understanding wouldn't hurt. (Hebrew). Quite an accurate portrayal of how all elements of Israeli society are misunderstanding one another, regarding the arrest of Harav Dov Lior. 
  • על כדורסל וקידוש השם - Be'sheva (Hebrew) - מערכת 'בשבע' התנהל ויכוח קטן על המאבק הזה. אחת העיתונאיות התקשתה למצוא ערך דתי בעמידה על רף צניעות שהוא למטה מהתקן ההלכתי. איזה ערך יש למאבק על שרוול קצר, בעוד את משחקת לעיני גברים במכנסיים שאפילו לא מכסות את הברכיים? מהצד השני של המחנה הדתי-לאומי היו מי ששיבחו ללא סייג את מאבקה של הכדורסלנית המוכשרת, תוך שהם תומכים בזכותה לבחור בעצמה את גבולות הצניעות שלה "בלי שאחרים יבחרו בשבילה".
  • The books of doctrines - Dante vs Video games -  discusses the High court decision ocensoring video games. 
  •  Goldberg's last post regarding Allison Benedikt

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Jewish Tailor Joke

This is a really cute video, the type that after you watch, you groan but can't deny that it is funny. The one and
 only Jewish Tailor Joke:

Hat Tip: Elder of Zion

The Rebbe and The Rav

Just got sent this video - The video of when Rav Soloveeitchik went to a tish of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, with commentary of Rabbi Herschel Schachter.

You Can't Help But Be Impressed

I had the bad luck of driving by Bnei Brak this morning.  I say bad luck because due to the funeral of  Rabbi Michel Yehuda Lefkowitz Z"l I was stuck in traffic for a good half an hour. However one can't help but be impressed at the sheer masses that came out to honor him. There were buses as far as the eye can see and endless crowds of Yeshivah Boys walking in a tsnumi like manner.

 It is moments like these that you make you remember that there is something quite admirable in a community who's Celebrities are Torah Gedolim. One can't even think what non religious leader in Israel would get a similar turnout for his funeral. 

Monday, June 27, 2011

Religious Freedom of Expression and The Democratic State

The arrest of Harav Dov Lior, will not be good for the relationship between the state and its religious public. Harav Lior, may not be everyone's cup of tea, but he is certainly a tier one religious leader. His arrest is sure to be seen as another step of Hiloni suppression of religion. Already due to his high profile riots are breaking out.

The issue over which he has been arrested is also quite a tough question, one that should not be dealt with by the courts. Harav Lior was arrested on suspicion of incitement, for having written a "Haskama" – a forward to a book certifying its context – for a book dealing with halachic questions of when it is justified to kill non Jews. I have not read the book, so I have no idea whether its context was scholarly or just a right wing extremist rant.  Regardless the book raises the question of the right to religious freedom of speech when dealing with subject matter that portrays certain parts of society in a less then flattering light. 

The Talmud is rife with discussions and Halachic decisions that make liberal minded Jews cringe. Such comments are common in literature even as little as a hundred years ago. However what makes them different is that they have a practical religious context. And this is where the state is in a catch 22. The very fact that they are "Halachic" makes them dangerous as someone might act upon them. On the other hand being part of the Jewish canon of thought (the Talmud) can the state ban an honest discussion of these views, possibly leading to halachic rulings? Banning the publication of discussions of these sayings would effectively be censoring Jewish thought. This is a real threat to the freedom of religion.

When trying to decide my opinion on this matter, I come again and again to the following thought experiment. Let us assume that are we dealing with Sharia law and not Halacha. What would our opinion be if some imam started publishing works dealing with how and when you may kill Jews? Would we still feel such a strong need to defend his religious freedom?

I am not sure what the position of the state should be. Both positions of the argument are fairly clear and with substance. I am sure however that arresting for questioning Harav Dov Lior is not a smart move.  

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U.N Report on the Floatilla Bashing Turkey?

Is it possible that the U.N is about to publish an objective report about the flotilla? According to Ha'aretz:

Turkey has asked Israel to agree to a toned-down version of the UN Secretary-General's report on last year's flotilla to Gaza, according to a senior government official in Jerusalem.
According to the official, the Turks are "very worried" about the harsh criticism of Turkey they expect the report to contain, and want Israel to agree to a softened version as part of a package deal to end the crisis between the two countries over the flotilla, which took place in May 2010.

A draft of the report, due to be released within two weeks, was given to Israel and Turkey about six weeks ago. The committee determined that Israel's naval blockade of Gaza is in keeping with international law, and therefore its actions to stop the flotilla were also legal.
According to a senior government official in Jerusalem, the report criticizes the Turkish government and highlights the relationship between it and IHH, the group that organized the flotilla.
It is slightly too early to rejoince. The report has yet to be published, and frankly knowing Israel we will somehow agree to the toned down report. Plus there is also this:

The report also states that, while Israel Defense Forces soldiers acted in self-defense, they used disproportionate force that led to the death of nine Turkish citizens. The report recommends that Israel pay compensation to the families of the dead and injured Turkish citizens, which Israel has already said it is willing to do.

It seems that our dreams of a fully objective U.N report are still some way off.

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Sunday, June 26, 2011

Harav Kook And the Lubavitcher Rebbe

Arutz Sheva has this interesting tidbit. In a new book that has just been published called "Free Iמ Peace" פדה בשלום" there is this telegram sent by Rav Kook to the Joint. In it Harav Kook urges the Joint to work towards freeing then Lubavitcher Rebbe Yosef Yitzchok (Joseph Isaac) that had just been arrested in Russia. Here is the Wikipedia Summary:

In 1927 he was arrested and imprisoned in the Spalerno prison in Leningrad. He was tried by an armed council of revolutionaries, accused ofcounter-revolutionary activities, and sentenced to death.[3] A world-wide storm of outrage and pressure from Western governments and theInternational Red Cross forced the communist regime to commute the death sentence and instead on 3 Tammuz it banished him to Kostroma in the Urals for an original sentence of three years.[3] Yekaterina Peshkova, a prominent Russian human rights activist, helped from inside as well. This was also commuted following political pressure from the outside, and he was finally allowed to leave Russia for Riga in Latvia, where he lived from 1928 until 1929.
Here is a copy of the telegram sent by Harav Kook: 

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Ladybug Ladybug - A Midrashic origin.

In Hebrew a ladybug is known as פרת משה רבנו lit Moshe Rabeinu's cow. Just why the modest ladybug has earned this highest of accolades remains shrouded in mystery. A few years ago while reading this weeks Parsha (חקת) I believe I came across a likely origin for the name, which no one else seems to have picked up.

Chukat deals with the laws of the Red Heifer:

ב  זֹאת חֻקַּת הַתּוֹרָה, אֲשֶׁר-צִוָּה יְהוָה לֵאמֹר:  דַּבֵּר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְיִקְחוּ אֵלֶיךָ פָרָה אֲדֻמָּה תְּמִימָה אֲשֶׁר אֵין-בָּהּ מוּם, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-עָלָה עָלֶיהָ, עֹל.
2 This is the statute of the law which the LORD hath commanded, saying: Speak unto the children of Israel, that they bring thee a red heifer, faultless, wherein is no blemish, and upon which never came yoke.

Rashi comments on the words "Bring Thee" - Forever it shall be called on your name. What seems to be troubling Rashi is why does the commandment seem to be focused on Moses specifically (i.e why does it not just say "Take a cow" but says they should take it to Moses). His answer is that this Mitzvah will always be associated with Moshe.

So what would a Heifer named after Moshe be called? Moshe Raveinu's cow! If this midrash is to be accepted, then all red cows, were probably nicknamed "Moshe Rabeinu's cow".
It is not a large leap of the imagination from a Red Heifer to the ladybug. Both are red, and the ladybug has spots like a cow. Hence I speculate that over the centuries the ladybug got the nickname of the Red Heifer, but the origin has been forgotten.

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Dalai Lama Pizza Joke

I know, this blog is meant to be Jewish focused. But this is just too funny...

From Language Log:

A clip from Australian TV is rapidly becoming viral. Karl Stefanovic, a TV journalist on Australia's Today show, running out of topics in an interview with the Dalai Lama, tried to tell him a familiar Buddhism joke — a very good one (he says he had heard it the previous night from his 12-year-old son). The joke is brief and simple: The Dalai Lama walks into a pizza joint and says, "Make me one with everything."What's either uproariously funny or twitchingly embarrassing about the video clip (your mileage may differ) is that the Dalai Lama simply doesn't get the joke at all; he has no idea what's going on.

Too Many Books

I grew up in a family with too many books. We had books everywhere. Now that I have my own family and home I'm starting to experiance the same problem. Bookshelves are expensive, and I like buying books.

I came across this solution online: A house made of bookshelves.

You can see more pictures Here.

Now I'm off to Shavuah Hasefer.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Deleting the Wicked Son

I'm hoping most of you are following the great "debate" (actually more of a smackdown) between Goldberg (The Atlantic) and Allison Benedikt (Village Voice). You can find the important links Here, Here and Here.  To sum up a long argument, Allison Benedikt wrote an article telling of how she slowly lost her innocence about Israel. Goldberg called her out, accusing her of being Naive, and intellectually lazy. I would like to comment a little on her response:

Does she think about the sin of the wicked son in the Passover story, and how that sin might echo in her own life? This is not meant to be snide, but John and I lead a seder every year and I've taken to making my own Haggadah because I'm not comfortable with many of the traditional stories and blessings. The wicked child bit is something I've deleted. But anyway, to you, aren't I the one who doesn't know how to ask?

Bendekit doesn't explain why she finds the Wicked son (she calls him a child) so troubling. However I can only guess that she objects to labeling a "child" as evil.  However I find this approach rather symbolic. The part of the haggadah dealing with the four sons is an educational part. It is in essence advice from the sages how to deal with four different personalities. As such all the characters are stereotypes, meant only as generalizations. What is important is that the sages include the category of "evil", or at least the category of someone with a worldview that can not be accepted. By deleting the wicked son, she is in essence deleting the opinion that anyone may have a view that can not be accepted. In other words she is denying that at some level there is an absolute truth - and more importantly an absolute lie. It is not surprising that Benedikt comes off in her article and response to Goldberg  as someone who is incapable of having her own opinions  She lives in a relativistic world where moral clarity is a very very tough act.


See this Volkh Conspiracy post which has a similar argument.

A Hair Raising Messianic Event?

Lets play a guessing game. What did  Ha'aretz in an opinion piece call " A hair-raising messianic formula"? Another writer described the same event as "Another step in the slippery slope that passes from a people hood to nationalist (ideals) and from democracy to theocracy. "

If you still haven't managed to guess what the writer was talking about, let me give you another hint – The title of the opinion piece is   " The IDF is leading Israel to destruction". What is this hair raising messianic event that is leading Israel to destruction and to theorcracy?

Astonishingly both of the writers referred to the ongoing controversy over the text of the Yizkor service that is used during IDF remembrance services. The question being debated was whether the Yizkor service should read   “May G-d remember His sons and daughters,” instead of the words “The Nation of Israel will remember its sons and daughters.”  Please read my previous post on the matter.

Here is the full quote of the opinion piece:

"May God remember his sons and daughters" is a hair-raising messianic formula. Making it the obligatory wording of the official Yizkor memorial prayer is a true revolution, one that alters the IDF's very essence: It has now become the Israel Divine Offense Forces. Author Haim Gouri wrote of fathers forced to sacrifice their sons, who were born with a knife in their heart. Now it's even worse: Those exempted from the draft are turning the nonreligious into future sacrifices for "God" and the messianic settlements."

Shrill would be the correct term to describe this nonsense. The author is one Sefi Rachlevsky  - a known anti-religious writer, of the type that you do find in Ha'aretz

The second quote however is from supposedly more serious individuals, Dr. Yossi Assaf from the Kibbutizim College and Prof' Yair Karo head of Oranim college. The context of their text is a letter sent this morning to the IDF:

 "To mix God, and therefore religion, in the memory of the fallen and the wars of Israel, may give  in the future of justifying in the name of religion and god the wars of Israel, and may be another step in the slippery slope that passes from a people hood to nationalist (ideals) and from democracy to theocracy. " "לעירוב אלוהים, ועל כן דת, בזכר הנופלים ומלחמות ישראל עשויות להיות גם השלכות בהמשך על הצידוק בשם הדת והאל למלחמות ישראל, והוא עלול להיות צעד נוסף במדרון החלקלק העובר מלאום ללאומנות ומדמוקרטיה לתיאוקרטיה", נכתב. 
My take on this matter is that the shrill anti religious have found a cause they can "score" with. If in the beginning of last week the debate centered on whether the phrasing "God" excluded the non religious, this week the debate is being spinned as a major question of the position of religion in public life. The actual debate - just one word, is being needlesly exaggerated into a major argument - leading to plain silliness such as dubbing ""May God remember his sons and daughters" into a major messianic theocratic god have mercy on us all event. This is a shame as these writers are so ridiculous that they are harming the serious debate that should be going on.  

Who's Behind A Video Game Where You Shoot Rockets To Ben Gurion Airport?

It isn't the Palestinians. This lovely game was developed by a settler committee, to warn Israelies what is going to happen if the west bank settlements are evicted. The game starts by asking you to choose a settlement, and then tells you "If the nightmare vision of the left came to pass, this settelment will no longer exist. What will happen then?" you press continue, and are greeted with a loud Arabic call to prayer. You then get to play and fire your rockets at Israeli towns! I successfully hit Ramat Gan.

I'm not really convinced this is the best method to change Israeli hearts, but at least it is somewhat more entertaining then most.

You can play the game Here.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

What To Do With Chain Letters

I love getting funny emails, but I really hate people sending me Email chain letters, Emails with warm fluffy powerpoint presentations or emails telling me how important it is to drink water. If the mail is in English, I'll normally go to or a similar site, and send it right back. The Hebrew equivalent is a website called "irrelevant" (לא רלוונטי). It is amazing that after a few years of hard work, where I send all these emails back with the comments from irrelevant, I have managed to train some of my friends to stop sending me these emails.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Good Avigdor Lieberman Joke!

Just heard this joke on "Matzav Hauma":

Lieberman this week addressed the story of the so called Israeli spy caught in Egypt:

", אולי קצת מוזר וחסר אחריות, אבל אין לו שום קשר לשום מערכת מודיעין בישראל, בארה"ב או במאדים", 
"He's maybe a little strange and irresponsible, but he has no connection to any intelligence unit in Israel, the U.S or on Mars"

Which is weird, because that is the exact same line that Israel has been using to explain how Avigdor Liberman is the Foreign Minister..
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Naama Shafir -Leaving The Wrong Legacy.

For the last 2 weeks or so Jewish media has been praising Naama Shafir - The Israeli female basketball player who refused to play wearing only a jersey. Don't misunderstand me, Naama Shafir is worthy of all the praise she is getting, and yet one can't help but scratch his head a little. There seems to be a point that is being  weirdly ignored. The simple fact is that the clothing she does wear on a regular basis - i.e. Basketball shorts, and a tee shirt are not really considered Tzniusdik by most of those people who are so busy praising her. I can't think of a liberal rabbi who would openly praise a girl wearing shorts as being "modest". 

So how did this less then Halachic dresser become a poster child of modesty? the Israeli blog דתי לאומי מודאג
seems to interpret the case as showing that the public really doesn't think that basketball shorts are not modest. As such he praises the story as a victory of common sense over cold halacha. 

I suspect that his answer is only partially right. Like it or not, the issue of Tzniut is being defined in the books and not on the street.The common sense approach of what is tznius is clearly the loosing side. The answer I suspect is simple but disturbing. Calling her out on the matter of clothing would ruin the educational role she is being cast in. Naama Shafir has courageously stood up and fought a battle for her beliefs - as such she will become a role model for tznius i.e covering up. When this story will be retold (as it surely will in many a seminar) they will manage to fudge the issue of her exact clothing. There simply is no place in our current lives for a role model who decides things for herself. 

Animation of Harav Amnon Yitzhak

Harav Amnon Yitzhak is the most famous "preacher" rabbi in Israel. His unique style as well as his success in causing Jews to repent their evil ways, has long made him a favorite target of humor. I found this short film online - and just really liked the animation. I'm not quite sure what the message of the film is, but decided it was cute enough to deserve a post:

Watch more cool animation and creative cartoons at Aniboom

Sin As The True Test Of Religious Belief

I previously wrote that the Dati-Leumi community accepts a few core-Mitzvot (Eat, Pray, Kosher, Shabbos) as the signs of a religiosity. However, I'd like to suggest another test, that might be a better reflector of the internal spiritual world of someone who has stopped believing. I think that one is truly no longer religious when he stops believing in the existence of sin.  Sin isn't a question of morality. Many non religious are quite moral (sometimes more then their religious counterparts).  Sin is a feeling that a certain action goes against the will of god. It can overlap morality, or it can be "counter-moral". However sin is a distinct sensation. 

I favor the question of whether you believe in "sin" over an external test of whether you do X or Y, because it reflects more clearly what a person actually believes. I think that many "non religious" are really religious people who for various reasons live in sin.(on this matter read my post "searching for the religious true self"). THis is quite evident by the fact that so many "religious" Jews commit some quite horrendous sins without seeing a conflict to being labeled religious.   

 As long as one has that nagging feeling of guilt stemming from an unshakable belief that God isn't happy (as opposed to guilt stemming from their parents not being happy) he is a religious, if sinful, person. 
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Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Hat Makes The Difference

I"ve Never seen a better argument for why you should put on the Frummy black hat:

Hat tip (pun intended):

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Law of Unintended Consequences

I was sent this story last night. For obvious reasons I will hide the names of the person involved:

In one of the religious settlements there was a young woman who came from a prominent religious family. This girl was considered one of the more religious girls in the yeshiuv, and was always a real role model. However the years passed along and this girl committed the greatest crime a religious girl can do - she didn't get married. Her parents were getting slightly nervous and started putting pressure on the girl to go to Kabbalist (Mekubal) for a consultation. After much badgering, and due to her wishes to perform mitzvat Kibbud Av Ve'em she agreed. The Kabbalist met with her and decided that she must change her name, or she will never marry.

The young woman dutifully changed her name. However the changing of her name started her wondering about who she really is. Since she has a new name, is she a different person? slowly slowy this woman with a different name started becoming less and less religious, until one day she declared that she is no longer religious. Her parents begged her to go back to her old name, but she refused and to safeguard her new freedom she left home.

The person who told me the story, did not know if she got married.

Demons and Funerals

There is a well known custom in Jerusalem and other cities in Israel, that the children of the deceased are not allowed to go to the grave during the funeral. I recently read a book about Rav Yehudah ha-Hassid that claimed the origin of this minhag is in a story told in Sefer Hasidim to do with a man's demon children harassing his real wife's children. Unfortunately I don't have the book at home, and have not found any mention of this story online. I have a dim memory the story was called "מעשה ירושלמי". Can anyone help me find this story? Does anyone know another origin for this custom?

The Cottage Cheese Protest

Day 3 of the the Cottage Cheese protest. Weirdly enough the topic is still opening all the main news broadcasts. It is really being milked for all it is worth. Now for some of the graphics making the rounds:

 This one reads "For your birthday".

And this one is "Only in Savion (One of the most expensive yeshuvim) do you get a house together with your cheese!

Hat Tip: בחדרי חרדים

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Google Eclipse.

Tonight there is a rare full Lunar Eclipse occurring in Israel. Google Israel has this graphic up to celebrate:

The picture is real you move the bar at the bottom of the graphic it shows what the moon looks like in Israel.

Is Israel finally a Boring Nation? On the Price of Cheese...

Israelis abroad always comment on how boring other countries are - and prove it by exclaiming something along the lines of how the top story in their news is about the price of X. Since today every single paper and news broadcast opened with a discussion on the price of cottage cheese, one can't help but wonder if we are finally a boring nation?

A little on the Jewish Practice to Sway While Praying

I think the first time I ever started wondering about the origin of the Jewish custom to sway (Shokeling) while they pray was when I read the Kuzari explanation of the origin of the custom. It was so prevalent, that somehow it just seemed so normal. Then suddenly one day you stop and wonder "Is it normal?"

On the Main Line in his usual erudite style collected a plethora of the early writings about the origin of the custom. I suspect that the only one of these sources that is generally well known is the explanation found in the Kuzari:

79. Al-Khazari: I should like to ask whether thou knowest the reason why Jews move to and fro when reading the Bible?
80. The Rabbi: It is said that it is done in order to arouse natural heat. My personal belief is that it stands in connexion with the subject under discussion. As it often happened that many persons read at the same time, it was possible that ten or more read from one volume. This is the reason why our books are so large. Each of them was obliged to bend down in his turn in order to read a passage, and to turn back again. This resulted in a continual bending and sitting up, the book lying on the ground. This was one reason. Then it became a habit through constant seeing, observing and imitating, which is in man's nature. Other people read each out of his own book, either bringing it near to his eyes, or, if he pleased, bending down to it without inconveniencing his neighbour. There was, therefore, no necessity of bending and sitting up...

 My problem with this explanation is that it really doesn't make much sense. Anyone who has studied chavrutah, or with three people, knows that you don't sway. At the very least there is not "Fast Swaying". When people read from the same book, each one reads a large passage. Normally then you move the book around. Even assuming they were using "Big Books" they wouldn't sway. There is also a simple limit of how many people can sit around a book facing the right way up. You would have to assume people were swaying and reading upside down. Interestingly when I brought up this objection in Yeshivah, some of my Yemenite friends immediately claimed this was exactly what happened in Yemen. However, when questioned, none of them actually saw it happen. I'm skeptical by nature, and especially over some of the claims my Yemenite friends make over what happened in Yemen.

I'm not saying it isn't possible. Clearly it is, however my own experiance has shown that this explanation is not likely. I await the Youtube videos to prove me wrong.
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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

"Yizkor" In The IDF

Joseph Trumpeldor's Monument (also Known as &q...Image via WikipediaHa'aretz (Hebrew) broke the story this morning on a change of the liturgy in memorial services for fallen soldiers by the IDF. The change is minor but full of meaning - the Yizkor memorial text will begin with the words “May G-d remember His sons and daughters,” instead of the words “The Nation of Israel will remember its sons and daughters.” 

However anyone who reads the Ha'aretz story, might miss an important fact. The text was actually changed in 1967.  The original prayer of Yizkor was based on the text written by Berel Katznelson for those who fell at Tel Chai (Trumpeldor in particular). Being non religous he naturally wrote "The Nation of Israel" and not "God". In 1967 Rabbi Goren, Chief rabbi of the IDF changed the text of the service to "God" - similar to the text read on Yom Kippur. So why is Ha'aretz suddenly digging up a 40 year old fight? The simple answer is that despite Harav Goren changing the official text, the army never fully changed the words it used in the service. For 40 odd years you could more or less hear either text based on who was giving the service. In the last few years as the older soldiers who were conducting the official memorial services retired, the new conductors all started using the official text. Hence the sudden interest.

Memorial services are always tricky.From their very nature emotions run high. It is hard to believe that you can find a text that would make everyone happy. This is espically true of Israel with its myriad of beliefs. Another factor is the changing face of the Army. The old guard used to be secular Kibbutzics. Today the religious community has taken the leading role of combat duty. Those old soldiers are looking at the younger ones, and are feeling that "their army" has been stolen from them. As such any change towards religion is going to be sensitive. 
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Worst Use of A Jewish Metaphor?

Newsweek has Alan Dershowitz commenting on the legal tactics in the former IMF head Strauss-Kahn (DSK) case. Dershowitz explains that the victim and DSK are probably looking to make a deal, where DSK pays a large amount of money, for the victim to refuse to testify against him. However, such deals are an obstruction of Justice. So, how does one get around the problem? 

The problem is the high-wire dance is going to be very hard to orchestrate here. Because nobody can say: “I will give you a million dollars, $2 million, $3 million, and you have to not testify.” That’s obstruction of justice, that’s a crime. So the request essentially has to come from the victim. Did you ever hear of the concept of the Shabbos goy? The Shabbos goy is when an Orthodox Jew wants the light to be on, on a Saturday, and he sees a Gentile. He can’t ask the Gentile to turn on the light, because that would be a sin. But he can say to the Gentile, “Boy, it’s really dark here.” And then the Gentile has to come up with the idea, “Hmmm, it would be nice if I turned on the light.” [The defense lawyer], because he’s an Orthodox Jew, understands that he needs a Shabbos goy here. He needs somebody who will understand that he can’t ask for something that he wants. And what he wants is for this witness to go away.

Couldn't we find a non Jewish metaphor to suggest doing something illegal?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Smile Boogie!

The "Minister for Stratgic Affairs" Moshe Yalon, commonly known as Boogie, was a guest on the satirical show "State of the Nation". Every week a different Israeli politician agrees to come to the show, be mocked, insulted and generally grilled. Most politicians manage to say a joke or two, or at least laugh at jokes at their expense. Not Boogie. Not even a small smile.  This is somewhat surprising since Boogie is actually well known for having a sense of humor.

 Here is a partial video of Boogie on the show (Hebrew):


The Guardian (hey when it isn't writing about Israel, I can read it!) has a disturbing predicitions/analysis regarding Turkey and Syria. According to the Guardian one of the possibilities is that Turkey might invade Syria to establish a "safe zone". What might lead to such a move?
Yassin-Kassab said: "Turkish military intervention remains unlikely but if the estimated 4,000 refugees who have crossed the border thus far swell to a greater flood, particularly if Kurds begin crossing in large numbers, Turkey may decide to create a safe haven in north or north-eastern Syria.

If I read that paregraph correctly, what Turkey does not want is more Kurds. They would be willing to go to war with another state, just to make sure that Syria's Kurds, stay in Syria. The bottom line is that it would not be humanitarian concerns that would prompt Turkey into action, but rather domestic concerns.

 At the moment I am fairly confident that Turkey has no plans to do anything - Mostly because Debka reported that they were invading syria a few days ago. Experience has shown that what Debka predicts/reports just never ever ever happens (or we would have all died long ago). However if the last few months have taught us anything - it is that the Middle East is totally unpredictable.
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Stupid Publicity Stunt Watch

Mk Ben Ari did a silly publicity stunt, as described by the Jerusalem Post:

brought dozens of Sudanese refugees to the pool at Tel Aviv's Gordon Beach on Sunday. They intended to make a statement about the refugee situation in south Tel Aviv. 

"You northerners care about human rights? Then give them human rights in Gordon, Afeka, and Ramat Aviv,"said Ben-Gvir to a group of pool-goers. He continued, "south Tel Aviv is the back yard of the State of Israel... and we want to make the division equal, refugees everywhere, not just in Tikva neighborhood," Army Radio reported.

The stunt was intended to show that the "Rich" and "Left Wing" Tel Aviv yuppies, are only really so tolerant in other people's neighberhood. Did the stunt work? depends what newspaper you read. Rotter.Net - a scoop forum that is frequented by right wing religious demographic is filled with threads reporting that the local Tel Aviv population fled the swimming pool amidst racist comments. NRG covered the story but didn't report on the reaction of the Native Tel Aviv population. Glatz (Army Radio) reported that the pool did indeed become empty from swimmers - but claimed that this was due to the commotion caused by the press and Mk Ben Ari.

Does this stunt prove anything? nope. Most people would leave a pool that suddenly gets swamped by 40 new swimmers, and one annoying Mk. What it does prove is a certain cynicism of Mk Ben Ari, who is using the illegal immigrants to make a point. The NRG story finished with a quote that sums it up. When the reporter asked one of the immigrants why he came he answered "The boss (בעל הבית) said to come - I don't know why, but the boss said to come".

How to Trick A Griffyn Into Saving Your Life

If you ever get stuck on a desert Island, or on a ship in the ocean, here is some useful advice from the Jewish 12th Century wandering Jew, Benjamin Of Tudela:

Thence to cross over to the land of Zin (China) is a voyage of forty days. Zin is in the uttermost East, and some say that there is the Sea of Nikpa (Ning-po?), where the star Orion predominates and stormy winds prevail[174]. At times the helmsman cannot govern his ship, as a fierce wind drives her into this Sea of Nikpa, where she cannot move from her place; and the crew have to remain where they are till their stores of food are exhausted and then they die. In this way many a ship has been lost, but men eventually discovered a device by which to escape from this evil place. The crew provide themselves with hides of oxen.p.95 And when this evil wind blows which drives them into the Sea of Nikpa, they wrap themselves up in the skins, which they make waterproof, and, armed with knives, plunge into the sea. A great bird called the griffin spies them out, and in the belief that the sailor is an animal, the griffin seizes hold of him, brings him to dry land, and puts him down on a mountain or in a hollow in order to devour him. The man then quickly thrusts at the bird with a knife and slays him. Then the man issues forth from the skin and walks till he comes to an inhabited place. And in this manner many a man escapes[175]. (The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela page 132)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Why are we creating a false story about Harav Lau?

Rotter has a weird story posted - Supposedly at some past meeting between former Chief Rabbi of Israel Harav Yisrael Lau and the former  Pope (Z"l), Harav Lau told the following story: During the Holocaust a boy was left by his parents with some christians for safe keeping. At the end of the war, the parents of the boy never came back. The adoptive family wanted to baptize the child, but consulted the local priest. The local priest told the parents that they must respect the biological parent's wishes and send the child to a Jewish education. The parents complied, and the child eventually found his way to Israel.

The punchline - Rabbi Lau tells the pope "I was that orphan, and you were that priest". Problem? the story isn't true. At least not so far as Harav Lau is concerned. Harav Lau was not left by his family at the care of a  Christian family during the war, but rather he famously survived  the Buchenwald concentration camp.

So why do people feel a need to create such false stories? Pope John Paul II is actually credited with saving at least one 13 year old girl at the end of the war. Assuming that there is any historical truth in this story (a premise that google does not seem to support), my own guess is that someone heard the real story, and through the retelling the story got pegged to Rabbi Lau. Us humans hate anonymous stories, and after a few "broken telephones" the story is likely to end with a great punchline involving a well known rabbi and the pope.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Is Shaking Hands During Birkat Halevanah A Thing of the Past?

I'm not sure if this is an Israeli Thing or a cultural trend. However I remember that years ago whenever we did the blessing of the New Moon (ברכת הלבנה, או ברכת החודש) birkat hachodesh we all used to shake hands when we greeted each other with "Shalom Aleichem". 

It has been years since I last shook hands during Birkat Hachodesh. So much so, that I've started to doubt my own memory of the custom in Chutz La'aretz. Is this an Israeli thing, or simply a memory of a custom that never existed? 

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Looking for the Religious True Self

The NYT has a blog post asking what is a person's true self? To sum up a long article (Though I suggest you read the entire thing) the question being tackled is what is a person's "true self"? are they his thoughts or his emotions?. The example used in the article is of a gay preacher (Mark Pierpont) - who teaches that being gay is a sin. Is his true self the belief (thought) he has that being gay is a sin, or rather the attraction to men he feels?

Yet, though there is a great deal of consensus on the importance of this ideal, there is far less agreement about what it actually tells us to do in any concrete situation.  Consider again the case of Mark Pierpont.  One person might look at his predicament and say: “Deep down, he has always wanted to be with another man, but he somehow picked up from society the idea that this desire was immoral or forbidden.  If he could only escape the shackles of his religious beliefs, he would be able to fully express the person he really is.”
But then another person could look at exactly the same case and arrive at the very opposite conclusion: “Fundamentally, Pierpont is a Christian who is struggling to pursue a Christian life, but these desires he has make it difficult for him to live by his own values.  If he ever gives in to them and chooses to sleep with another man, he will be betraying what was is most essential to the person he really is.”
From a religious perspective the question is quite acute. Every time I sin - do I really express my true self or am I acting against my true God loving Torah believing self? Is every sin really revealing a deeper lack of belief?

A Talmudic sugyah that comes to mind is the discussion on forcing a man to give a "Get" (divorce) to his wife. Halacha necessitates that the Get can only be given willingly, however there are certain conditions when the Beit Din can force a husband to give a get. How then can we claim that a man who is literally being beaten until he says "I want to give the Get" is really expressing his true self? Maimondes gives an answer that has become classic:

Why is this get not void? For he is being compelled - either by Jews or by gentiles - [to divorce] against his will [and a get must be given voluntarily].
Because the concept of being compelled against one's will applies only when speaking about a person who is being compelled and forced to do something that the Torah does not obligate him to do - e.g., a person who was beaten until he consented to a sale,54 or to give a present. If, however, a person's evil inclination presses him to negate [the observance of] a mitzvah or to commit a transgression, and he was beaten until he performed the action he was obligated to perform, or he dissociated himself from the forbidden action, he is not considered to have been forced against his will. On the contrary, it is he himself who is forcing [his own conduct to become debased].55
With regard to this person who [outwardly] refuses to divorce [his wife] - he wants to be part of the Jewish people, and he wants to perform all themitzvot and eschew all the transgressions; it is only his evil inclination that presses him. Therefore, when he is beaten until his [evil] inclination has been weakened, and he consents [to the divorce], he is considered to have performed the divorce willfully. (Rambam Mishne Torah, Gittin chap 2 Hal 20)

In other words the Rambam believes that a Jew's true self is a wish to obey Halacha, and the beating he is recieving is nothing more then a helpful medium to overcome his meddling evil yetzer. There have been many attempts to explain this stance, but I think that it correctly portrays Jewish religious thought. Judaism believes that god gave us commandmants, and that we all wish to follow them. The true Jew, really wants to fulfill god's will. As such Jewish thinkers are likely to always claim that at the deepest level man's true self wants to fulfill God's will. (There are obviously many more posts needed to give this claim even superficial justice).

What about a non religious perspective? The blog bigthink has this to say:
In secular life today, this religious notion (become yourself!) has been unmoored from obligation and fatalism. The "true self" still comes clothed in sacred rhetoric—"I was born to do this"; "I guess it was Fate"; "I am as God made me"—but our culture depicts the discovery as a pleasure and a relief. That means we've kept religion's language but turned its meaning inside out. Religion's "true self" diminishes the consumer-self that seeks satisfaction and ease. (You want to be a happy merchant? Too bad, you have to give it all up and lead the faithful in war.) In contrast, the modern secular notion expands the self that wants to be at ease.
The older, metaphysical concept offered certainty. It might not feel right or be in accord with your desires, but you can be sure that a self is true if it aligns with the cosmic Plan. When we invert the idea of true self, though, we lose that assurance. When the map is, instead, your own changeable feelings, it's much harder to know what you're doing. Emotions, satisfactions and the encouragement of other people—these experiences are so fleeting and changeable that it's hard to use them as a guide. Are we our true selves when we're exuberantly expressing and exploring our sexuality? Sometimes we feel we are; at other times we don't. How we feel about ourselves, then, isn't a reliable way to find that "true self."
I'm not quite sure I agree with all I Bigthink wrote, but there is an intersting idea here. For some reason modern culture thinks that expressions of true self bring about happiness. Bigthink seems to think that the religious expression of "true self" is duty centered and not happiness centered. I.E a good Jew expressing his true self isn't necessarily a happy one.

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Bibi Can't Swim!

Supposedly this joke was told by Prime Minister Netanyahu. The context for the joke is that Bibi has long complained that the press goes out of its way to portray him in a negative manner:
 "Do you know what the headlines in the papers would be, if I was to go to Galilee and walk on the water of the kinneret?"Bibi does not know how to swim".
Some quick Googling showed that this is far from an original joke.

Sarah Palin version: ; If Sarah were to walk across the waters of the Sea of Galilee, the media would triumphantly proclaim “SARAH CAN’T SWIM!!!

Helmut Kohl versionMy good friend Stefan Claass from Mainz once told me a joke which was doing the rounds in Germany when Helmut Kohl was Chancellor having a tough time of it.   “God could see that Helmut needed a little help and so sent an angel to him. ‘Helmut you are having a rough time’, said the angel, ‘God will grant you one wish’. Helmut replied, ‘great, I would like to walk on water.’ The wish was duly granted. Two Germans were standing looking across the Rhine River, they saw the Chancellor walking on water, one said to the other, ‘Look at that he can’t even swim!’”

Bill Clinton Version: Which reminds me, of course, of the joke told about President Bill Clinton, who, on his visit to Israel, took a boat ride in the Sea of Galilee, with the press boat following behind. When Hillary’s hat fell, President Clinton walked on water and retrieved it. The press’ reaction: “Clinton can’t swim.”

Conclusion: The joke is still funny. Bibi finds himself in some good company.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Won't Someone Show The Gedolim Some Compassion?

Kikar Hashabat (Originally published in Srugim) has published a clever satirical piece for Shavuot. I'm afraid I don't have time to translate it, but the general gist is that the story of Boaz and Ruth is told through a Haredi perspective - "A Gadol Hador Marries a Geyoret Who's Jewishness is Under Doubt". Immediately the Haredi press starts criticizing the Gadol Hador, and rabbanim suggest that he should leave his post at the head of a Beit DIn. And then the twist - the Gadol Hador who acted in such an inappropriate manner - was Boaz, grandfather of David.

Up until this point, while I rolled my eyes at the expected twist, I actually more or less enjoyed the article. However, now we get to the moral of the story:

הלקח הנלמד מכל הפרשה, שכאשר באים לבקר תלמידי חכמים ורבנים, לא צריך לעשות את זה בצורה פופוליסטית.
לפני שמבזים רב על פסיקה שלו, יש לבדוק היטב מדוע הוא פסק כך, מהם מקורותיו, האם עשה זאת לכתחילה או בדיעבד לכלל הציבור או רק ליחידים. פסילה על הסף של רב, ובפרט בגלל שיקולים לא ענייניים – הוא ציוני, הוא ספרדי, הוא מתון, הוא קיצוני, הבן שלו חזר בשאלה – היא לא הלכתית ולא קבילה.

According to the writer the moral of the story is that we shouldn't criticize the Rabbanim too quickly and in a populist manner. Now, I'm not objecting to this moral. A little respect for those who think differently from you, would go a long way towards making Haredi  world-view a little nicer. However, the Rabbanim are not exactly the most hard done by social group of the Haredi world.

 In the last year or two Rabbanim from Haredi circles have asked converts to perform sexual favors in return for accepting their conversion, and have attacked all conversions performed by the IDF. Really if the story of Ruth and Boaz should have been spun into Haredi modern life, the moral of the story should have been to be a little nicer, and a little more tolerant of those asking to convert. You never know but that somewhat hallachically doubtful convert may just be the grand mother of the messiah!

We will add one more thought. The chance of a Ruth type story happening in a Haredi community today, is somewhat less then Zero. Can you imagine a great Rabbi maarying a convert? what about a convert who attracted him by acting in a not so Tznius manner (I.E laying at his feet)? I am reminded of a story in germarah stating that Eliyahu couldn't visit a certain rabbi because his gate was always locked. In the same manner those who choose to live in a closed community, will never have a Ruth.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Rav Riskin on Entering a Church

Rav Riskin continues to surprise. A few weeks ago he was publicly attacked for his positive views on Christians - supposedly even calling Jesus "Rabbi Joshua". Rather then avoiding the subject, Rav Riskin continues to stand bravely by his beliefs. This Q&A was posted on Ohr Torah Stone's website:

Am I allowed to attend my friend’s wedding in a church? Are Jews allowed to enter churches at all?
Evangelical churches do not have icons or statues and it is certainly permissible to enter Evangelical churches. Catholic and most Protestant churches do have icons as well as paintings and sculptures. If you enter the church in order to appreciate the art with an eye towards understanding Christianity and the differences between Judaism and Christianity so that you can hold your own in discussions with Christians, then it is permissible. Participating in a church religious service is forbidden unless it is for learning purposes or unless it would be a desecration of God’s name if you don’t attend, as in the case of Chief Rabbi Sack’s attendance at Prince William’s wedding.

The answer is interesting firstly for its differentiation between the Christian Sects. Additionally it would seem that he would allow Jews to enter churches of all sects if the reason is educational - even during a service. This is certainly an original view. I vividly remember a Rabbi in the gush yeshivah who is also one of the Rav's students when asked whether one can visit the Churches in Jerusalem answering "It isn't  Yahreg ve'bal Yavor (I.E a sin you should kill yourself rather then commit) but not much better".

Hat Tip: Book of Doctrines and opinons

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