Saturday, December 31, 2011

Worth A Read 31.01.2011 - And Quote of the Day

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

Did the Tribes Speak Hebrew?

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

Update: Bibi Reading Rav Lichtenstein

I was sent this clipping by Email:

The caption at the bottom reads:

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

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Bibi Reading Rav Lichtenstein?

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

Worth a Read 29.12.2011

Monday, December 26, 2011

Quote of the Day - Follow up on Haredi PR

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

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


Haredi PR - Now With A Smile!

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

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

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

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

HT: ICE (an Israeli PR portal)

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Israeli Tzniut Jokes

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

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Most of Haman's Children - A Maoz Tzur Thought

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

רֹב בָּנָיו וְקִנְיָנָיו עַל הָעֵץ תָּלִיתָ 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Consistency and the Place of Women in Religious Life

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Sharia Law on Stoning VS Halacha

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Lebanon Following Halacha?

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

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

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

Thursday, December 8, 2011

New Explanation for the Jewish Burqa

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Best Handyman Ad Ever?

The Ad reads:

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

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

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

Hat Tip: Oneg Shabbat

Mysterious Engravings In The City of David

According to Ha'aretz:

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

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

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

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

Jonathan Romain argues in the Guardian:

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

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

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Perfect and the Good

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

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

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

Saturday, December 3, 2011

A Cow and A Sheep

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

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

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

Eating a Mummy?

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

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

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

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

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

For people searching for more Mummies in medicine -

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Friday, December 2, 2011

Goldberg on the Israeli Media Campaign

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

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

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

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