Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Burqa Cult Wedding - Leah or Rachel?

Its been awhile since we last had a good story of the Jewish Burqa cult. Be'chadrei Haredim provides a vivid description of a hitherto unknown part of Burqa cult lifestyle - the wedding. As can be expected the cult goes out of its way to fight the lewd standards displayed in most Haredi weddings, where the groom actually sees his future bride to be.

This is supposedly a picture of the chuppah. The curtain you can see in the middle of the chuppah, is there to separate the bride and groom during the ceremony. The Rabbi stands on the male side of the curtain, and begins the ceremony by opening the curtain and making sure that the bride - or at least a person wearing a heavy burqa -  was on the other side. When it was time to give the blushing bride the ring, the curtain was opened but a crack, and the happy groom placed the ring on a finger that emerges through the crack. And they that romance is dead!

However, I have some doubt over the authenticity of this report. Simply put, I highly doubt that a wedding ceremony so conducted would be halachicly valid. How would the witnesses be able to testify that the bride received the ring? the story is also all too reminiscent of the biblical story of Jacob being tricked into marrying Leah rather than Rachel. admittedly the Jewish Burqa Cult is known to have a loose hold on halacha - which is the official reason that the Haredi community does not accept them (the real reason being that they are all terrified that due to the Haredi race-to-Machmir, they will soon have to wear the burqa)

There are other problems with the story. The article describes how the women had to serve themselves as the  waiters were not allowed into the women's section. However, couldn't they just find some female waiters? this is especially vexing as most waiters in Israeli weddings are actually female.

Given these doubts, I'm going to classify this story as possible, but somewhat unlikely. I know that crazyness has no logical boundaries, but while I don't expect a cult wedding to have the bride actually show her face all evening, I'm fairly sure that at the very least she can't stand behind a curtain. well, somewhat sure.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Can Chesed Be Bad?

Is Chesed found in a negative context?

יז  וְאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר-יִקַּח אֶת-אֲחֹתוֹ בַּת-אָבִיו אוֹ בַת-אִמּוֹ וְרָאָה אֶת-עֶרְוָתָהּ וְהִיא-תִרְאֶה אֶת-עֶרְוָתוֹ, חֶסֶד הוּא--וְנִכְרְתוּ, לְעֵינֵי בְּנֵי עַמָּם; עֶרְוַת אֲחֹתוֹ גִּלָּה, עֲו‍ֹנוֹ יִשָּׂא.

17 And if a man shall take his sister, his father's daughter, or his mother's daughter, and see her nakedness, and she see his nakedness: it is a shameful thing; and they shall be cut off in the sight of the children of their people: he hath uncovered his sister's nakedness; he shall bear his iniquity.
In the quote above (Leviticus 20:17) Chesed is translated as "a Shameful thing". This is also how almost all the commentators explain the phrase (Onkelos translates it as "Kalona") See also the following two quotes from Proverbs  14:34 and Proverbs 25:10  -

לד  צְדָקָה תְרוֹמֵם-גּוֹי;    וְחֶסֶד לְאֻמִּים חַטָּאת.34 Righteousness exalteth a nation; but sin is a reproach to any people.

י  פֶּן-יְחַסֶּדְךָ שֹׁמֵעַ;    וְדִבָּתְךָ, לֹא תָשׁוּב.10 Lest he that heareth it revile thee, and thine infamy turn not away
Clearly Chesed can mean shameful or disgusting act. However, I have no explanation why the word has two opposite meanings, but would be delighted if anyone can help.

Can You Speak The Language Of The Hassidic Man?

Oneg Shabbat deciphers this ad:

The one item that seems to be giving them problems is what type of deoderant is meant by "ספריי לזיעה הידוע מארה"ב" - is "קרואקס" just "Axe" or the shoes "Crocs".

Religious Obscenities?

Esther Inglis-Arkell explores the origin and transformation of certain four letter words:
Golly! Zounds! Gadzooks! These are the kind of things Captain Marvel would say. Almost any other superhero would be too mature for such, childish silly words. And yet, during Shakespeare's time, they made him one of the more edgy writers out there. They're not just random sounds, but contractions, meant to make absolutely shocking sentiments less outright obscene. Golly, zounds, and gadzooks were, in order, god's body, god's wounds, and god's hocks. While thinking about the Almighty's ham hock region might offend a few people, each of these words are the kind of things now deemed perfectly innocent. This shows a huge shift in social mores since the time of the Shakespeare... 
Ironically, the reason they got a toe hold in current society is the same reason they were so scandalous a few centuries ago. They could be genuine swear words, but they could also be expressions of religious ideas. Far, far back in Simpsons history, there was a storyline about how the kids got a lesson on hell in Sunday School. When asked, afterwards, about what they learned, Bart replied, "Hell." When Marge scolded him, he told her that, no, they had learned about the literal hell, and kept saying hell over and over until Marge, tired of hearing a word she considered inappropriate when coming out of her son's mouth, said, "Bart, you're not in church anymore. Don't swear." The line between actual devotion and blasphemy is tougher to delineate than most censors, and most people, imagine. Eventually most English speakers just stopped trying to find it at all, and people saying things like, "Mother of God," just became a noncontroversial emotional outburst.

Obviously the rest of the article contains quite a few other four letter words. I've been trying to think of Hebrew/Rabbinic swear words that have followed a similar path - from outrageous to socially acceptable. There are quite a few common army slang words, that are fairly disgusting if you understand them, but are commonly used (and seldom understood). I couldn't think of a similar term from Chazal.

Any ideas?

H/T Andrew Sullivan

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Shavuot Night Of No Excuses

Just a quick thought - Shavuot comes in just after Shabbat. Hence, my normal excuse "I'm too tired, I worked too hard" will not be as effective. I guess I'll just go back to "I don't really enjoy studying at 3 Am".

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Worst Azerbeijan Hasbara Of The Day

I normally just give this reward out to Israel, but I decided to make an exception:

Senior presidential administration official Ali Hasanov said that human rights campaigners were spreading lies about the ex-Soviet state and Western media were conducting an "anti-Azerbaijani" campaign.
He accused Islamic neighbour Iran of spreading fake rumours that a gay pride march would be held in Azerbaijan's capital Baku during Eurovision week.
"They are making statements about something that does not exist. We are holding Eurovision, not a gay parade," Hasanov told a news conference.
"Actually there is no word in the Azerbaijani language for a gay parade, unlike in their language," he added.
Nothing like answering human rights groups, by lashing out at Iran for having a word for gay parade...

Monday, May 21, 2012

Haredim Try To Stone Sacha Baron Cohen

Wearing a beard, but not Haredi
Sacha Baron Cohen, most famous for portraying Borat on film, seems to have managed to irritate Haredim in Jerusalem:

He outraged them by wearing a camped-up version of their traditional attire, wearing hot pants and a sleeveless top as he starred as one of his comic creations, fashion reporter Bruno."A bunch of Hasidic Jews ran after me with rocks, and I ended up hiding in a bathroom store."Normally, in dangerous situations, I have a getaway car. But as I ran towards the getaway car, it drove away."So I found myself running down the street, running for my life, and being chased by these Hasidic nutcases."
Well I guess that being flagrantly gay is a good way to annoy Haredim. However, I found the next part hilarious:

"I turned round to calm them down, and I shouted in Hebrew 'I am Jewish,' which apparently is the worst thing ever you can tell Hasidic Jews.
"It was then they decided that they wanted to really kill me,"  

If only being Jewish was ever any kind of defence.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Postcolonial Jibber Jabber

Well known post-colonial Antisemite, Gilad Atzmon, asks the following question:

 Or more anecdotally, am I, a person who happens to be wrapped in pale skin and is also attached to a white phallic organ, do I bear responsibility for centuries of European genocides? Would my responsibility lessen once I decide to chop my male organ off? 
Correct answer is No, but we will all be happy if you attempt the experiment.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Christmas Trees And Shavuaot

I was surprised to learn that once a time there was a tradition to put trees (and not just branches) in synagogues during Shavuot:

מגן אברהם: "נוהגין להעמיד אילנות בבית הכנסת ובבתים"
(ס"ק ה)

However the custom was put a stop to by the Vilna Gaon (Gra) due to the similarity to Christmas trees. I for one am all for adding some real trees to my local synagogue. I'm willing to forego the flashing lights, and stars at the top. 

(you can see sources here)

Why Haredim Don't Want To Serve In The IDF

I came across this passage in "The Miracle Of the Gathering of Israel" by Harav Yoel Ben Nun (Pg 262-263), which I've roughly translated below:

The Haredi public on mass does not enlist in the IDF - and not really because the "Torah Is their Living" (תורתם אומנותם) but because the IDF gets its orders only from the Israeli Government, and the "covenant with God" (not literal translation - BOT) is not part of their considerations. This is what I've been told by people who really understand Haredi thinking. That is why a Haredi politician can't act as a minister in the government...the Haredi public has for the last few generations gotten used not to do anything, big or small, without getting the decision of the "Gedolim". 

In other words, the objection to the army is not about ruining the religious lifestyle of the young Bachurim. It is more about breaking the  "Gedolim" monopoly of power in the Haredi world.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Google Measurement Of Rabbinic Influence

I was just about to search for a shiur by a certain rabbi, when Google Autocompleted the following list:

It took me a moment to realise that what I was seeing was a fantastic measurement of their relative importance! Since Google is now a measurment of our lives, this list at the very least, shows what people are searching for.  I was surprised that Herbert Samuel made the #1 spot, but the rest of the list was somewhat illuminating. My only surprise was Harav Motzepi, who really isn't known outside the Haredi circle.

I did the same experiment in English but it didn't seem to work  - only Boteach came up as a rabbi.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Saddest Harediest Clown I Ever Saw

 I have no idea what the context is, who photographed it, or what the event was (purim?), but I just love this picture!

I'm going to open this one up as a caption competition - post your captions in the comments.


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Baby Names, Youth, Politics and Religion.

I am once again in the position where I have to start thinking about naming a soon to arrive baby. This article in NPR has me thinking a little:

The reason for more outlandish-sounding names cropping up in conservative quarters is simple, Wattenberg says. Women in red states tend to have their first children earlier than women in blue states. A 23-year-old mom is more likely to come up with something out of the ordinary than one who is 33.
That's not to say all baby names in places like Mississippi sound much different from those in Massachusetts. Fashionable names such as Emma, Jacob and Jayden are about equally popular all over the country.

For the record, I will not be naming my child Emma, Jacob or Jayden. Well maybe Jacob. But certainly not Jayden or Emma.

However I am wondering how to convert this insight into the Israeli religious reality. I have anecdotal reasons to believe that Israel is experiencing a boom in "modern" (or weird/soppy) names. Is it possible this is because people are getting married younger? at least in the MO community?

 The other trend seems to be into unisex names. I'm wondering what can possibly explain that trend? is it an effect of feminism? This seems likely, since girls with boys names are more common than the other way around.

I'm open to thoughts/Ideas...

Monday, May 14, 2012

Talumdic Data Processing and A RZ/MO Giant

 Dr. Samuel Lebens while trying to justify an exception for yeshiva students has this characterization of the Talmudic learning experience:

 The great sage isn’t merely required to understand problems and to be creative in solving them. The great sage also has to marshal a huge amount of data. To make a convincing halakhic ruling, for example, no Biblical verse, no Talmudic saying, no medieval responsa, and no modern-day opinion can be overlooked. The Talmud was written in such a way that any one page of it assumes that you already know what’s written on all of the other pages. It feels as if there’s no way in. It’s a formidable work. Jewish law constitutes an enormous web of literature that stretches over centuries and refers at each point to every other corner of the web. It simply isn’t possible to make a legal ruling without intimate knowledge of the entire history of the subject.

So yes, Talmudic scholarship (at least certain brands of it) do necessitate vast knowledge. But lets not exaggerate. As anyone who studied Talmud seriously knows, you are not starting from scratch. The commentators often give you the relevant sources, and cross links themselves. Today the job is even easier with computers. Even when facing brand new questions - odds are that after you solve the first question of how to approach it, your sources are fairly easy to find. Additionally a large part of the "Data Marshelling" is really only a result of the casuistic manner of the Talmud, and the lack of a good editor. The Data Marshelling element of Talmudic study is only a minor part of the story.

Let's have a quick look at another comment Dr lebens wrote:

The founding leaders of Modern-Orthodoxy, whose work really will be studied for centuries, Rabbis Kook and Soloveitchik (and even my Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Lichtenstein) were educated in the ultra-Orthodox world before moving toward modernity. We have to admit that the Ultra-Orthodox Yeshiva system, despite all of its faults, has something going for it. As a Modern-Orthodox Jew, I think that our exposure to secular sources and to the modern world make us more intellectually creative and socially sensitive than many of our ultra-Orthodox counterparts, and yet, where is that Modern-Orthodox produced giant that I’ve been looking for?
hmm. Is Dr Lebens not aware that the MO movement did not yet have the institutions to create giants when Rabbi Kook (and we will ignore the question of whether Rav Kook can be classified as MO) and Soloveitchik were young? Additionally I'm not quite sure what his definition of a "Torah Giant" is? Perhaps some of todays Roshei Yeshivah can be considered Giants? Perhaps some of Rav Kook's students?

To be fair to Dr levens you should read the final paragraph of his essay, where I finally realized that he wasn't arguing for a total Haredi exemption from the IDF. Sadly, I'm not really sure what he was arguing, or what his point was (beyond Talmud is good, Talmud is hard).  Levens chairs  the Association for the Philosophy of Judaism - which I was hoping would find a slightly better argument for why we should excuse people from the IDF for the study of the Talmud, then "It is really tough". 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

What Killed Hats, and Why Haredim Still Wear Them

Robert Krulwich, whose father was a hat designer, explains what killed the hat for most of modern society:
Until cars became the dominant mode of personal transport, there was no architectural reason to take your hat off between home and office. With Dwight Eisenhower's interstate highway system came cars, and cars made hats inconvenient, and for the first time men, crunched by the low ceilings in their automobiles, experimented with hat-removal, and got to like it.
(HatTip: Andrew Sullivan)

I'm willing to accept the explanation with some good humored reserve. However, the question would then be, why did the Haredim keep wearing hats? the easy and immediate answer would be - because Haredim as a social group drive less cars. This is actually factually true, though not really a likely explanation. The true answer would probably be, the Haredim still wear hats because the rest of us don't.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Mofazyahu, Religious Zionists and Tal

In an otherwise excellent analysis David Makovsky of the Washington Institute has this to say about Mofazyahu:

The most immediate impact of the deal will likely be decreased influence by the ultraorthodox Haredim. Netanyahu apparently realized that his previous coalition would not survive a rewrite of the Tal Law. The new coalition's configuration means that three secular parties -- Likud, Kadima, and Yisrael Beitenu -- will now have 70 of the 94 coalition seats. Yet the Likud Central Committee has many religious (albeit not Haredi) members, and the party garners many religious votes. Despite its differences with the Haredim, Likud may press for a more gradualist focus on civilian national service programs that could mitigate the shock to the ultraorthodox community. 

Makovsky is wrong. The National religious public is very much against Haredim not serving in the army. Perhaps, even more than the general public. The source for this is twofold:

1. A feeling by the religious Zionists that Haredim are creating a bad name for the Jewish religion.

2. The RZ are incredibly idealistic, and hence get offended by the Haredim not agreeing with them even more than the non religious.

However, as I've previously argued - the Religious Zionists are ignoring the fact that once the Haredim are made to serve, some people may start asking why the ultra idealistic and nationalist Religious Zionists are not serving a full three years.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Are Dead Sea Soaps The Same As Sifrei Kodesh?

I was trying to find a website that sends Sifrei Kodesh overseas - so I tried and was delighted to see the website is dedicated to selling soaps from the Dead Sea.

I'm wondering what the webmaster was thinking? they go looking for Sifrei Kodesh, but Dead Sea soaps are just as good..

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Observations On MofazYahu

Some quick thoughts on yesterday's surprise announcement that Kadima will be joining the Likud led government:

1. The Mafdal and Haichud Haleumi just signed an agreement to run on a shared list in the next elections. Not a good position for a coalition party (Mafdal) to be in.

2. Ariyeh Deri did not declare on a new party. He was hence saved the embarrassment of having a year and a half long attack on his character from Shas before the next election.

3.  Mofaz's answer of "We have agreed to put this behind us" in response to his past accusations that Bibi was a liar, is actually a surprisingly mature answer.

4. Lapid just can't get a break. He leaves his post as Channel 2 anchor, because of a law that never got passed and he reveals his party - and his campaigns -  before an election that never happens.

Jews In Glass Houses...

Recently The  Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs criticized  a curriculum issued by the Toronto-based East End Madrassah contains anti-semitic themes, (press release)

National Post columnist Jonathan Kay (who is very pro Israel, before anyone asks), has taken the CIJA to task:

Given this massive build-up, readers will expect a really epic anti-Semitic hatefest. But Jew-hatred-wise, the 160-page East End Madrassah document is a major let down.
Most notably, it doesn’t “equate” Judaism with Nazism. It merely lumps the two together (on page 71, along with “the beliefs of the ancient Romans”) as thought systems that are “restricted to a certain community or a certain race” — as opposed to Islam, which is “for all human beings.”
I agree that choosing Jews, Romans and Nazis as a three-pronged control group is weird and offensive, sounding more like the premise to a misfired three-guys-walk-into-a-bar joke than anything else. But the point is accurate from a purely technical perspective. (As anyone who has gone through the Jewish conversion process can attest, becoming an official Jew is very

Lag Ba'Omer - Why Have You Abandoned Me?

I think Lag Ba'omer is unique, in that of all the festivals (Yes, it isn't really one) it is the only one where adults have nothing whatsoever to do. Even worse - we suffer.

When I was young I loved nothing better than Lag Ba'omer. There's fire, burning stuff, burning potatoes in the fire, burning anything made of wood that isn't bolted down, and seeing what stuff not made of wood will burn.

However, now as an adult I loath Lag Ba'omer. Suddenly burning stuff just isn't fun anymore. I feel especially bitter as I remember how much I used to love it. However, every year Lag Ba'omer seems to insist on reminding me how much I've grown up. Instead of loving fires, I think they stink. I hate the smokey smell. I know that potatoes in a fire, are really not tasty. I'm more than aware that those fires are dangerous, and can't stop worrying some kid is gonna get himself (or my kid) burned. Lag Ba'omer has turned from a celebration of wild burning freedom, into a hell of smokey worries.

And so I find myself wondering - Lag Ba'omer - Why have you abandoned me?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Some Thoughts On Today's Political Bombshell

1. I don't really care if Mofaz has been zigzagging.
2. The government now has the biggest coalition in Israeli history.
3. This might be the biggest chance to fix the outstanding issues: Haredi conscription, Iran, Fixing a constitution, Social justice.
4. Don't blow it.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Worst Haredi Hasbara Of The Day Award

As the discussions on the Tal Law get heated up, I'm sure I'll find plenty of articles worthy of this new award. However this opinion piece in Ynet, is a clear winner - the title more or less explains it all [Hebrew]:

"No Murderers Emerge From The Haredi School System"

oh my. FailedMessiah?

Great Moments In Lawyering

From today's Israeli High Court Of Justice decision denying the release of prisoners taking part in a lengthy hunger strike - the defence explained why the fact that one of the prisoners alleged access to weaponry should not be taken too seriously:

"access to weapons in the territories is widespread, and if this is the criteria [For administrative detention] we should arrest every body".

 עוד נאמר,
כי נגישות לנשק בשטחים היא רבה, ועל פי אמת מידה זו יש לעצור את כולם.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Paradigm Shift In the Mafdal/Bait Yehudi

Four years ago there was a popular explanation why the Mafdal was doing so badly - namely it was that it had been focusing too long on being a "right wing" party (a.k.a settler party). The solution was to refocus on classic National Religious issues - Hesder Yeshivot, and "bridging" the divide between the Haredim and non religious.

That was three years ago. Famously the Mafdal did terribly in the last election, and frankly hasn't really managed to re-brand itself. So what is this elections explanation of why no one is interested in the Mafdal?

1. We are not right wing enough. This is being said, but no one seems to really believe it.
2. The religious public no longer feels that it "seperate". The public feels that its real mission is to connect with Israeli culture (E.g Srugim), and hence is going to the big parties like the likkud.
3. People are scared that the Mafdal is becoming too illiberal or over religious. A large group of the public feels that voting for a "national religious" party is identifying with all the scandals of the last year  - Women singing.

There seems to be a consensus that the Mafdal will not win back those who left it for being too right wing. That is partly why it is willing to run with the Ichud Haelumi - including some of their openly racist figures. However, this miserable choice of joining with the most extreme right wing party in Israeli politics, will make it impossible for someone like me (who does feel indebted to the religious zionist institutions that gave him so much) actually "come home".

Worst Hasbara Of The Day - 6.05.12

Ha'aretz gets a prize, for identifying the armed terroritst of the IHH on board the Mavi Marmara, as Israeli Commandos:

Clearly differentiating between thugs with bats, and soldiers is too hard to do..

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Tal Law And Hesder Yeshivot

I think it is fair to say that the hot topic of the upcoming elections will revolve around replacing the Tal Law - the law exempting the Haredi public from serving in the IDF. It is also safe to speculate that at some level the Haredi community's free ride is about to end - and a large portion of that society will end up either serving in the IDF or doing some version of national (or civil) service.

Traditionally the National Religious (Dati Leumi) public has been a vocal critic of the Haredi position on the IDF. However, I think the Dati Leumi public is about to get a rude wake up call. Because as equal service for all become the national rallying cry, the public (almost certainly urged on by the Haredi media) will start asking about the preferential treatment given to Hesder Yeshivot.

So long as the Haredi public wasn't serving at all, the Hesder program seemed like the "good" option. However, with the elimination of the "extreme" pole of the Haredi yeshivot, it will become increasingly hard to defend the Hesder program.

 * In Hesder Yeshivot, the Dati Leumi men serve only 18 months of active service in the IDF, and another 3.5 years studying in the Yeshivah.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Opening Pandora's Box - Haredi Politician And Haredi Beit Din

According to reports in the Haredi Website Kikar Hashabat, Haredi Member of Knesset (MK) Moshe Gafni is being sued in a Haredi Beit Din, by families from Gush Katif. The claim is that Moshe Gafni voted for one of the laws that allowed the Disengagment Plan to occur (Specifically the law creating the framework for compensation) - against the instructions he was given by Harav Elyashiv.

I don't have the halachic knoweldge to analyse the claim. It would seem slightly weird to single out an MK for a government decision, even more so as the law passed by over 20 votes. (Ignoring the nonsical view that any MK is responsible for the actions of the state). Furthermore, I don't really understand what Gafni misleading Harav Elyashiv has to do with anything - unless they are arguing that Gafni MUST vote according to Harav Elyashiv - something that might be true in a Social context, but is certainly false in every legal framework.

However there is a reason why this case is being fought in a Haredi Beit Din. In the civil courts (and I'm guessing Dati-Leumi Beit Din) the case would have been thrown out due to an MK's immunity. This case is a true example of why such an immunity is needed. How can an MK ever vote, if his every decision can then be a source for claims of  personal damages?

Only a Beit Din that has no concept of a "state" and elected leaders would allow such a case to be heard. Regardless of the decision - just agreeing to hear the case, has opened a Pandora's Box. No Haredi MK can ever feel comfortable to vote ever again.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Organizing Google Reader

I do my blog reading through Google Reader. Today for some reason I decided it is time to start deleting those blogs that I no longer really read. So I deleted around 20 blogs, that I never look at anymore. I then decided that I would rearrange the listing of the blogs. So I moved the blogs I always read to the top, and arranged them by topics.

However half an hour later, I realized that this arrangement had a major problem. I was now no longer seeing the blogs that were out of my comfort zone. I had locked myself in to just a handful of blogs. This seems to be a much poorer Google Reader experience.