Thursday, June 28, 2012

Are Soroka Hospital's Adverts Crossing The Line?

Soroka is a large hospital in Be'er Sheva, which due to its proximity to Gaza and the surrounding Israeli villages and towns is where most of those injured by rocket attacks are treated.

Today, I was searching Google for a completely unrelated matter, when I noticed the following ad in my search results::

This is a little too much. The ad is highly misleading, and appears to be a news item rather than advertising. Furthermore, the reader is made to think that there were rocket attacks which resulted in people being injured. 

Normally such a catchy title is a sign of clever advertising. However, in a country such as Israel, which really is a constant target of rockets from Gaza, this type of advertising isn't clever - its morally wrong.  

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Joshua Ben Nun - The Robber!

When the Hebrews had withdrawn from Egypt and had come near the boundaries of Palestine, Moses, a wise man, who was their leader on the journey, died, and the leadership was passed on to Joshua, the son of Nun, who led this people into Palestine, and, by displaying a valour in war greater than that natural to a man, gained possession of the land. And after overthrowing all the nations he [14-24]easily won the cities, and he seemed to be altogether invincible. Now at that time the whole country along the sea from Sidon as far as the boundaries of Egypt was called Phoenicia. And one king in ancient times held sway over it, as is agreed by all who have written the earliest accounts of the Phoenicians. In that country there dwelt very populous tribes, the Gergesites and the Jebusites and some others with other names by which they are called in the history of the Hebrews.[33] Now when these nations saw that the invading general was an irresistible prodigy, they emigrated from their ancestral homes and made their way to Egypt, which adjoined their country. And finding there no place sufficient for them to dwell in, since there has been a great population in Aegypt from ancient times, they proceeded to Libya. And they established numerous cities and took possession of the whole of Libya as far as the Pillars of Heracles, and there they have lived even up to my time, using the Phoenician tongue. They also built a fortress in Numidia, where now is the city called Tigisis. In that place are two columns made of white stone near by the great spring, having Phoenician letters cut in them which say in the Phoenician tongue: "We are they who fled from before the face of Joshua, the robber, the son of Nun."

That was an excerpt from Prcopius History of the wars book IV. Who? Wikipedia enlightens:

Procopius of Caesarea (LatinProcopius CaesarensisAncient GreekΠροκόπιος ὁ Καισαρεύς; c. AD 500 – c. AD 565) was a prominent Byzantinescholar from Palestine. Accompanying the general Belisarius in the wars of the Emperor Justinian I, he became the principal historian of the 6th century, writing the Wars of Justinian, the Buildings of Justinian and the celebrated Secret History. He is commonly held to be the last major historian of the ancient world.
But does anyone else mention these two columns calling Joshua a robber? Weirdly enough they do show up again:

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

When Are Human Rights "Merely Breaking The Law"?

This is how Amnesty Israel explained why they thought the Israeli police alleged use of excessive force against the protesters this weekend was worse than the protester's violence against the police:

With regard to violence committed by the protesters, Amnesty said, "There is no room to compare this violence to the violence displayed by the police. The former is a violation of the law while the latter is a violation of human rights."
I have a hard time understanding Amnesty Israel's position. The protesters were far from innocent. They broke the windows of banks, blocked roads and allegedly attacked the police.  The right to own property is enshrined in  Article 17 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) as follows:
"(1) Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others. (2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property"

 Though it has remained somewhat contreversial ans was not included in later treaties such as The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. I don't think I need to cite a source to show that violence against people is an abuse of human rights. This is, unless Amnesty believes that policemen are somehow deprived of their human rights.  

This is sloppy writing by Amnesty. Amnesty should have equally condemned the use of violence by both sides. Trying to create a legalistic (and wrong) distinction between the two groups merely makes Amnesty looked incredibly biased against the state.

H/T: Israellycool

Hip And Zeitgeist

I just saw this new blog "Pop Jewish" - with the byline "Hip Rabbis Weigh In On The Zeitgeist". I'll admit to being amused. First of all the word Hip is slightly old fashioned. Even more importantly I've never ever seen "Hip" used in the same sentence as "Zeitgeist". 

Quintessentially Jewish Or Quintessentially Human?

My last post on Peter Beinart's meeting with a group of Jbloggers has gotten a lot of coverage. Allison Kaplan Sommer blogged about it in Ha'aretz:

But what really won over the initially hostile bloggers happened when he was asked by a blogger who lives within the Green Line whether he should travel to his parents' house in the West Bank to give a Torah lesson on the yarhtzeit of his grandfather’s death.
In such a situation, he asked, what would Peter Beinart do? Would he go or would he boycott?
Beinart paused only briefly, then said that he would go to the family event. Politics are politics, he said, but the obligation to honor your mother and father trumps ideology.
One blogger at the meeting said that this was the moment Beinart won over the crowd, and confessed he was among Beinart's new fans. 

I don't remember writing that  I was now a fan, but I'm willing to let that slip. Philip Weiss after quoting the paragraph above asks:

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The So-Very-Jewish Peter Beinart

I was lucky enough to join around 20 bloggers who were granted a half hour personal meeting with Peter Beinart during the President's Conference last Thursday. Before I entered the event I was somewhat certain it would be vicious. There was little doubt of the political affiliation of the majority of the bloggers present.

However my fears were quickly turned into amazement. Beinart within moments had the audience charmed. He told of how his younger son wanted to visit Mt Sinai - Beinart remarked that Sinai was given to Egypt as part of the peace process, and his son incredulously asked "You mean they gave Mt. Sinai to Pharaoh?" the audience cracked up. There seemed to be no question for which Beinart could not tell some anecdote, or immediately give a three four minute learned lecture.

However for me Beinart stole the show by answering the final question. Elli Fischer (On The Contrary)  told of how he gives a Shiur (Lesson in Torah) every year at his parents house in a settlement on the yarhtzeit of his grandfather. What would Beinart advise him to do? Beinarts response was almost instantaneous - he should give the Shiur  because nothing is more important than honoring your parents!

The answer was so quintessentially Jewish, that I think many of the bloggers were forced to change their mind about Beinart. I doubt anyone there changed their political views. However, leaving the meeting I felt that though I may disagree with him on many things, I had no doubt that he was a Zionist and a truly concerened Jew.   

Avimayer (@avimayer) had this apt summary of the meeting:

"Just came out of a great session with , which ended with a group of primarily right-leaning bloggers applauding."

*Note - slight edits to the end of the post.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

What Books Impress A Jewish Girl?

The Paris Review answered the following question:

Whats a book I should read to make girls think I'm smart in a hot way? I want to seem like a douchey intellectual instead of my deadbeat self. What should I tell him?

I was wondering what books you would suggest if the question was only relevant to Jewish girls? post your answers in the comments section below! I'll publish my answer in a later post so I won't prejudice the answers people give.

P.s I'm happily married, this is a purely intellectual exercise.

Easier To Believe In 4000 Year Old Miracles

“Our test to see if a similar story would be written about others’ religion is to substitute ‘Jew’ or ‘Jewish,’ ” Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul wrote in objection to a Washington Post article last fall about the candidate’s role as a church leader in Boston.
“Would you write this sentence in describing the Jewish faith?” Saul asked in a November e-mail, adding: “ ‘Jews believe their prophet Moses was delivered tablets on a mountain top

Judaism And Host Cultures

Rabbi Hyim Shafner writes about his experience with the ancient Jewish community of Bene-Israel in India: 
Before I left for India, my first rabbinical position after graduation from Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchonon Theological seminary, Rabbi Norman Lamm, then president of Yeshiva University called me into his office. He related that 30 years prior he had gone to India and met with the Bene Israel. They had had one important question for him which was asked several times and he wanted to be sure I was prepared for it. He said that the answer I would give was very important and had enormous bearing for them on who they are as Jews. The question, which is hardly ever asked of me in the United States, was asked of me often in India: “Rabbi, do we Jews believe in reincarnation?”
The answer I must give them, Rabbi Lamm told me, was not a complex one drawing on Kabbala or the Talmud, but rather, a clear, “no, we Jews do not believe in reincarnation.” Reincarnation is perhaps the central tenant of Hinduism, the Bene Israel’s host culture. The Bene Israel work hard to be separate from their polytheistic Hindu neighbors while still living integrated among them. Knowing full well that much of Kabbala, philosophy, and even Midrash does accept the notion of reincarnation, I tried to muster a definitive “No!”

Rabbi Shafner knows that the belief in reincarnation exists in Judaism, but chooses to deny the belief out of a wish to distinguish and separate the Jewish community from its surrounding Hindu culture. Is this legitimate? what if reincarnation is such an accepted belief for them and their culture that denying it would turn them away from Judaism? What about intellectual honesty and "letting the heavens fall?"

I understand the reasoning, but I'm not sure I would have decided in a similar manner.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Suha Arafat Scam

A friend recently forwarded to me this email:

Date: Thu, 15 Dec 2011 22:51:15 -0800 (PST)

[Waiting Urgent Respond.doc application/msword (38870 bytes)] 



I am MRS. SUHA ARAFAT, wife of late Palestinian leader YASSER ARAFAT, who died in Paris. After his death and even prior to the announcement, I have been thrown into a state of antagonism by the present leadership of the Palestinian Liberation Organization and the new Prime Minister. I have even been subjected to physical and psychological torture.

As a widow so traumatized, I have lost confidence on everybody within the country and I have no other option but to seek for foreign assistance. I got your contact details from a trusted ally at the Palestinian Chamber of Commerce and Foreign Business Relations, during my quest for an honest partner in a monetary transaction.

Funds in my husband's personal and family bank accounts have been frozen and valuable assets confiscated but unknown to these corrupt Palestine officials undiscovered to them is approximately $6.5 Billion Dollars distributed in different secret accounts by my late husband. Though they are not relenting on their effort to make me poor for life, I have also made up my mind not to disclose about these funds deposited in the secret accounts. The sum of USD$21M [twenty-one million, United States Dollars] is deposited with a Banking Securities and Financial firm in Europe. I shall be grateful if you can help me retrieve this fund into any bank account nominated by you, for safe keeping and any Investment opportunity in your country.

This arrangement will be known to only you, me and my lawyer, all our correspondence should be strictly on email because my phone lines are monitored. We shall negotiate your percentage share of the total sum upon your acceptance to help me lodge the money in any bank account nominated by you. You can open up a new bank account for this purpose considering you might be afraid to disclose to me your personal account details. Please expedite action, do not hesitate to discontinue further communication if this transaction is not of interest to you.

Mrs. Suha Arafat
(For the Family) 

Well I'm honored that someone in the Palestinian Chamber of Commerce thought of me, but sadly I will have to pass on this fantastic opportunity.

Modernizing Halacha - What Does It Mean?

I just read the recently published (Hebrew) article by Harav Yossi Sofer,  "The Challenge of Modernizing Halacha" in Musaf Shabat of Makor Rishon. The article in effect scans three different meanings of the term, which people often confuse:

A. Technological changes - places where the Halacha is based on what we today perceive as faulty science. The example is "Metziza Ba'peh" - the sucking of the blood performed orally after circumcision, which originally was believed to be healthy, and now is considered a major source of infection.

B. Lifestyle changes - When a Halacha is based on assumptions on the social norm. The example given is the time for saying Shema - which was defined as "when people wake up" and "when they go to sleep". Today very few people's day-cycle is closely linked to sunrise and sunset, and hence the halachic definitions are out of sync with modern life. 

C. Ethical changes - Halachot that reflect ethics - the example the article gives is beating your wife, and giving a Get (Divorce). You can also think of various halachot of Tzniut such as head coverings, which there is a strong reason to believe were reflective of the culture of the time, and not a "Torah" ethic. 

I think there is a fourth case which many people mean when they speak of modernizing halacha, but which in reality is a combination of A+B:

D. Technological Lifestyle Changes - The obvious example is electricity on Shabbat. No matter how many times you explain the rational for electricity being forbidden on Shabbat, people are not really convinced. To me it seems somewhat obvious that when the Chazon Ish decided that electricity on Shabbat was forbidden he was thinking of certain acts - namely working, Cars etc. which he was determined not to allow on Shabbat. However, in today's reality light bulbs are not seen as any type of work, or interfering with a day of rest (though some televisions can be considered a pumped up light bulb, and still be considered not suitable for Shabbat).

It is important when you are having the argument about  Modernizing Halacha that you know which argument you are having. All too often the two people arguing are not aware that they are arguing different arguments. Additionally, there is no logical reason that you have to give the same answer to every one of the four meanings of the term. You can believe that halacha should be based on modern science, but that the ethics that halacha espouses are eternal truths. Or you could believe that Chazal had a perfect knowledge of the physical world, yet some of their halacha reflected their social norms. Any of these combinations are legitimate, but they all lead to different answers on what halachot you believe should "modernize". 

Funny Ad (MOSTLY kosher)

I cracked up..

H/T The Dish

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Ever Wonder What Happened To The Bund?

The Bund once the greatest Jewish Socalist movement has all but died. Here is a short documentary on the last few Bundists living in Israel, and trying to remain loyal to the movement of their youth.

A Bird On The Hat Is Not The Way To Go

This is the logo for a newish NGO in Israel, Chefs for Peace. On seeing this logo I had two immediate thoughts:

A. That Chefs Hat looks awfully like a certain male organ.
B. A bird on a baker's hat is awfully reminiscent of the Baker's dream that Joseph interpreted. In that dream a bird eating food off the head of the baker signified his coming death.

I wish Chefs for Peace the best of luck. If there is any country that needs another NGO promoting peace it is clearly Israel.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Re: The Attractions of Haredi Life

I'm not sure why Hadassah Levy's guest post on TorahMusings "The Attractions of Haredi Life" is being so widely attacked in the comments section. Yes, she makes some generalizations -
 "Haredi society is perceived by many to contain more spirituality and more religious sincerity than the national religious camp."

(news to me...the Israeli public I'm in contact with would probably choke at such a statement)  or :

"Values such as hesed appear to be stronger in this society, making the community more attractive." 

However, overall the essay is interesting and well argued. One point which I strongly agree with Levy -

Anglo-Saxons are particularly vulnerable to misunderstanding this society, because the Israeli Haredi society is so different from ultra-Orthodoxy in their country of origin. In the United States, most Haredim participate in the workforce and are much more open-minded than their Israeli counterparts.

I've had this discussion numerous times, especially with young British boys studying a year at the Gush Yeshivah. Wearing a black hat in Israel is a completely different statement than wearing one in England. Happily I can testify that most of them "get it" by the end of their year in Israel. Normally after they spend a Shabbat in Bnei-Brak.  

Monday, June 11, 2012

Jews or Israelis? Ynet Vs Al Arabya

Same story, more or less the same text:

Al Arabiya News June 10 -

Iranian textbooks in Canada depict Israelis as ‘apes’
Canadian school children taking Persian language classes, study from Iranian textbooks depicting Israelis as “apes,” news website Ynet News reported Saturday.
Director of the International and Terrorist Intelligence Program at INSIGNIS Strategic Research Inc. David Harris said that textbooks issued by the Iranian Education Ministry were being used in public Canadian schools.

Ynetnews June 9 -

Canada: Iranian textbook depicts Jews as apesWhile Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper believes Iran is the biggest threat to world peace and security, some Canadian school kids taking Persian weekend classes, study from Iranian text books depicting Jews as "sons of apes", Canadian network Sun News reported. 

So are all Jews apes or just Israelis? weirdly enough when you read the Ynet article you find the following explanation:

"The Israeli soldiers (in the book) looked ape-like and very much reminiscent of the popular Jihadist portrayal of Jews as the 'sons of apes,'" he said. 
"There was a grade three text that portrayed a situation in which a six-year-old Palestinian was instructing his three-year-old brother how to stone Israeli soldiers, and then the passage ends with one of the soldiers beating the young child over the head with blood flowing everywhere." 

As such, I'm going to give the accuracy mark to Al Arabya on this story.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Can't Even Agree On The Date...

Four days ago the Palestinians and left leaning Israelis held protests marking the Six Day War.  The state of Israel as a whole celebrated "Yom Yerushalim" - Jerusalem Day - The crowning achievement of the Six Day War, roughly a month ago according to the Jewish Calendar. As a friend of mine remarked - what chance do we have of ever making peace if we can't even agree on the date of the war?

Habayit Hayehudi - Habayit or Yehudi?

Interesting news coming out of the Mafdal (currently calling itself Habayit Hayehudi = The Jewish Home), where for the first time Ayelet Shaked -  a non religious person (and a female!) is running to be on their Kneesset list.

Ayelet Shaked is best known for being the driving force behind Israel Sheli. Israel Sheli is credited as representing the non religious right of center (or right of right) Israeli camp.  She is part of Naftali Bennet's political camp, and is openly supporting him to head the party. But what does it mean when someone non religious is trying to represent the Religious Zionist party?

Option A: This is the triumph of "Nationalism" over the "Religious".  The Mafdal is more associated with the nationalist camp then representing the RZ camp.

Option B: This is the first sign that the RZ camp can finally become the "bridge" it always imagined itself to be in Israeli society. It is an acceptance that the RZ camp is part of the general Israeli personality and no longer a small closed subgroup.

I'm not quite ready to make the call between the two options. My cynical self believes option A - however, option B is quite possible. As I've argued previously the declining power of the Mafdal can be linked to the fact that the RZ public no longer feels that it needs its own representation. If RZ politicians are increasingly going to the general parties such as the Likkud, why should the same process not work in reverse?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Simchat Torah 1663

My father every year around Simchat Torah quotes this passage (actually he uses it as a test of whether someone is educated or not) from Samuel Pepys:

Wednesday 14 October 1663
Up and to my office, where all the morning, and part of it Sir J. Minnesspent, as he do every thing else, like a fool, reading the Anatomy of the body to me, but so sillily as to the making of me understand any thing that I was weary of him, and so I toward the ‘Change and met with Mr. Grant, and he and I to the Coffee-house, where I understand by him that Sir W. Petty and his vessel are coming, and the King intends to go to Portsmouthto meet it. Thence home and after dinner my wife and I, by Mr. Rawlinson’s conduct, to the Jewish Synagogue: where the men and boys in their vayles, and the women behind a lattice out of sight; and some things stand up, which I believe is their Law, in a press to which all coming in do bow; and at the putting on their vayles do say something, to which others that hear him do cry Amen, and the party do kiss his vayle. Their service all in a singing way, and in Hebrew. And anon their Laws that they take out of the press are carried by several men, four or five several burthens in all, and they do relieve one another; and whether it is that every one desires to have the carrying of it, I cannot tell, thus they carried it round about the room while such a service is singing. And in the end they had a prayer for the King, which they pronounced his name in Portugall; but the prayer, like the rest, in Hebrew. But, Lord! to see the disorder, laughing, sporting, and no attention, but confusion in all their service, more like brutes than people knowing the true God, would make a man forswear ever seeing them more and indeed I never did see so much, or could have imagined there had been any religion in the whole world so absurdly performed as this. 

Pepys was unlucky enough to visit the synagogue on Simchat Torah. Vayles = Talit. Press= Sefer Torah.
Who was Samuel Pepys?

Samuel Pepys was born in London on 23 February 1633, the fifth of eleven children, although by the time he was seven only three of his siblings, all younger, had survived. He was sent to grammar school at Huntingdon during the English Civil War (1642-1651), returning later to London and attending St Paul’s School. Following this he went to Cambridge where he attended Trinity Hall and thenMagdalene colleges. Not long after taking his degree in 1654 he was employed as secretary in London by Edward Mountagu, a distant relative who was now aCouncillor of State.
In 1655 Pepys married Elizabeth St Michel and at some point after 1656, while still attached to Mountagu’s service, Pepys became clerk to George Downing, a Teller of the Receipt in the Exchequer. However, he and his wife separated for a while (for unknown reasons) and in 1658 he had a bladder stone removed in a dangerous operation. Later the same year Pepys and his wife moved from a single room in Mountagu’s lodgings to Axe Yard near the palace of Westminster, where he was living when starting the diary in 1660.
I think his description of Simchat Torah is fairly accurate up to this day, and he would have made an excellent modern day blogger.

I was reading this because of a reference in the Jewish Chronicle of the saying of the King's Prayer - but I have no idea why "British" Jews were saying the king's name in Portuguese.