Sunday, October 28, 2012

Haredi Breakfast Cereal

H/T: דוסים מצייצים

Quote of the Day

At first blush, the tale sounds preposterous. On the other hand. it makes eminent sense. The murky swamp of Middle East politics has nothing to do with the easy slogans and 30 second sound bites of presidential debates. 
- Fars News Agency (Iran) reporting that Saudi Arabia paid Israel one billion dollars to kill Iranian scientists.

Sheldon Adelson's Inadvertent Obama Connection

I liked this postscript by Anshel Pfiffer in Ha'aretz"

Here is what Barack Obama said in the debate this week when Mitt Romney attacked him for not visiting Israel during his first term:
"I went to Israel as a candidate, I didn't take donors, I didn't attend fund-raisers, I went to Yad Vashem ... to remind myself the nature of evil and why our bond with Israel will be unbreakable. And then I went down to the border town of Sderot ... I saw families there who showed me where missiles had come down near their children's bedrooms."
There is a delicious irony here. Obama is using his visit to the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem to endear himself to Jewish voters. The largest single donor to Yad Vashem is Sheldon Adelson, who gave $50 million for the new museum there, the same man who has pledged the Republican Party $100 million to defeating Obama on November 6.
But beyond irony, how sad it is that the president feels that the best way to connect to the feelings of the most successful community in history is to highlight Jewish suffering, victimhood and vulnerability. And how sad that he's probably right, that's what works.

Racists Or Just Normal "Hate Anyone Who Isn't A Black Hat"

Benjamin Pogrund, a well known South African writer, famous for his activisim against the former Apartheid regime responds to Gideon's Levy publication of a survey that supposedly shows most Israelis favor Apartheid:

Even with all this, the extent of the hostility expressed by Israeli Jews towards the country's Arab citizens, reported in an opinion survey this week, still comes as a shock: among much else, 42% said they don't want their children in the same school class with Arab children and 42% don't want to live in the same building with Arabs.
A second look moderates the shock. The survey notes that those with the strongest anti-Arab prejudices are religious and ultra-Orthodox Jews – and this is no surprise. Rabbis incite feelings against Arabs and issue circulars urging Jews not to rent or sell property to Arabs.

One note. Most Ultra-Orthodox wouldn't be too happy if I lived in their building, or if my children were in the same class with their children. I suspect some so called Dati-Leumi people wouldn't be as well. It is somewhat difficult to differentiate racism in closed social groups from their run-of-the-mill dislike of anyone different   

Saturday, October 27, 2012

A Quick Look At The Israeli Political Parties

Just something I noticed. How many of the parties in Israel actually have primaries to decide their list of candidates for the Knesset?

Likud (Likud Beytenu) - The Likud does use primaries to set their list. However, since it just merged with Yisrael Beytenu, which does not, its next list of candidates will only be partially chosen by primaries. If I understand correctly about, 40% of the list will not be chosen by primaries.

Kadima - No primaries this election. There has been lots of speculation as to why Mofaz cancelled the primaries. The most popular theory is that inorder to win the leadership battle in Kadima, both Mofaz and Livni heavily recruited Israeli-Arabs to join the party. As such, they are now fully 1/3 of the Kadima party members, and there was serious fear that it would lead to an unelectable list of candidates.

Labor - Has primaries! even better, does not have any "reserved" slots for anyone.

Shas - Not a chance. The list is determined by a rabbinic council.

Habait Hayehudy (Mafdal) - Is in the middle of vibrant primaries. However, they have announced (though not yet signed) that they will run together with Haichud Ha'leumi which does not have primaries. It is unclear how they will organize the list between the two parties.

Yesh Atid (Yair Lapid) - no primaries, though as a one-man-show on his first run, I didn't really expect any primaries.

Meretz - Has primaries!

Yahdut Ha'torah - No primaries.

I think all the Arab parties (Hadash and Balad) all have primaries.

So basically, only Labor, Meretz and the Arab parties have a list of candidates that was chosen entirely through primaries.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Is There A "Holy Yeshivah" in Rachel's Tomb?

Probably not. However, its lack of existence does not stop people collecting (AKA Schnorring) for it!

For the last few months, I've been receiving calls (at least once a month, sometimes twice a week) from the "Holy Yeshivah" in Rachel's Tomb. Here is a transcript of the call (you can also hear it here):

קריין:] זוהי הודעה אישית עבורכם מהישיבה הקדושה בקבר רחל. [שירה]. אחים ואחיות יקרים, עם ישראל זקוק לרחמי שמיים מרובים. מי מאיתנו לא זקוק לישועות גדולות? רק אמא יכולה להבין את הכאב והצער שלנו. [שירה] ביום חמישי הקרוב יעמדו רבני ישיבת רחל אמנו על קברה של אמא רחל ויערכו עבורכם את התיקון הקדוש לישועה קרובה. אני קורא אליכם – אם אתם רוצים לזכות השנה לזיווג הגון, לרפואה שלמה, לפרנסה בשפע ולכל מי שרוצה לזכות לישועה, שילחץ כעת אחת וימסור כעת את שמותיו לתיקון הקדוש בקבר רחל. [קריין:] למסירת שמות לתיקון הקדוש בקבר רחל, הקישו 1, לשמיעה חוזרת הקישו 2″.

 So is there such a Yeshivah?

Ha'aretz reports that the call is a scam. When you call the number from which the calls originiate, you are told "you just won a radio" or something similar. The Yeshivah is registered with a POB somewhere in Efrat, and the number provided in official documents belongs to a family which claims they have no connection to the place.

The Blog Room 404 reports that a real Yeshivah called "Rachel's Tomb Yeshivah" which despite the name  isn't actually located at Rachel's Tomb is constantly harassed by people complaining of the Telemarketing.

A shame these people are giving "Mama Rachel" another reason to cry.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Israel's Horses And Bayonets

Turkish Mounted Lancers, Battle of Beer Sheba 1917
(from Picture a day website)
It appears that the most memorable moment from last night’s presidential debate occurred when President Obama answered Mitt Romney’s complaint that the US Navy has fewer ships today than in 1916: “Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military has changed.”

Israel's history is certainly filled with Cavalry (horse) charges through its 4000 odd years of history. However, when was its final Cavalry charge? Interestingly Israel (then Palestine) appears to have been the last place where a British Cavalry charge occurred, though there are different opinions of which battle has that honor:

According to the last British Cavalry charge was:

The last British Army cavalry charge was at the Battle of El Mughar, near Jerusalem, on 13 November 1917. The Buckinghamshire Hussars, supported by the Dorset and Berkshire Yeomanry Regiments, overran a Turkish position, taking several hundred prisoners.
However, has a later date for a British Charge:

Australian light horsemen riding in north Jerusalem in this badly
damaged photo from the Library of Congress collection
(from A picture a day)
On 19 September 1918, British infantry, cavalry, and air forces under command of Gen Edmund H. H. "Bull" Allenby stormed through Turkish defenses at the battle of Megiddo. It was one of the greatest exhibitions of mobility and pursuit in the history of World War I. The British missed a rare opportunity to learn what Megiddo might hold for the future of warfare. They focused on the romanticism of the "last cavalry charge" instead of on the efficacy of combined arms operations.
I think that the expression "last cavalry charge" is probably a reference to military tactics and not a historical reference, however the date is later than the one on 

The terrific A Picture a day website (pictures of Israel from the Library of Congress) has some great pictures of World War I cavalries in Israel, including a detailed account of the Battle of Beer-Sheba

Are Religious People Less Racist In English?

Ha'aretz today publishes a "Survey" showing that " Most Israeli Jews support apartheid regime in Israel". I wish I could debunk this smear, unfortunately the survey does not appear to be available. However, I do have some points to make:

  • All the groupings are by religious affiliation: 
"The survey distinguishes among the various communities in Israeli society - secular, observant, religious, ultra-Orthodox and former Soviet immigrants."
Since when are former Soviet immigrants a distinct religious group? are there no secular soviet immigrants? no religious ones?

Secondly, this line in the Hebrew version more than irked me: 

 החילונים מתגלים, כצפוי, כפחות גזענים מכל המגזרים - ל-68% מהם לא היה מפריע להתגורר באותו בניין עם שכנים ערבים, 73% לא מתנגדים לתלמידים ערבים בכיתה של ילדיהם, ו-50% סבורים שלא רצוי שתתקיים אפליה בקבלה למקומות עבוד 
 (emphasis added)
Translated that reads "The secular public, as expected, comes out as the least racist" - Who expected exactly? I didn't know it was a known truth that all religious people are racists. Thank you Ha'artz for enlightening me.  In the English article the same comment reads differently "Secular Israelis appear to be the least racist" so it is possible that this anti religious belief is the work of a translator and not the author Gideon Ha'levi. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Silence Following Man's Evil Heart

כא  וַיָּרַח יְהוָה, אֶת-רֵיחַ הַנִּיחֹחַ, וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל-לִבּוֹ לֹא-אֹסִף לְקַלֵּל עוֹד אֶת-הָאֲדָמָה בַּעֲבוּר הָאָדָם, כִּי יֵצֶר לֵב הָאָדָם רַע מִנְּעֻרָיו; וְלֹא-אֹסִף עוֹד לְהַכּוֹת אֶת-כָּל-חַי, כַּאֲשֶׁר עָשִׂיתִי.
 And the LORD smelled the sweet savour; and the LORD said in His heart: 'I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake; for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done.
(Gen 8:21)

This verse has become a theologically loaded starting point for any discussion of man's nature. However, what most surprised me when I was going over it today was the fact that not one of the classic commentators on the bible, bothers to go into any great length to explain the verse, certainly not attempting to reverse its meaning. Rashi, who normally defends Israel, is surprising in that he just explains that the word "מנעריו" should be understood as from the moment of birth, and not youth (as translated above).

Is it possible that the classic commentators were all willing to accept the premise that mankind in inherently evil?

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Some Thoughts On Noah And Lot


  • Noah sees the destruction of the world, Lot sees destruction of Sdom.
  • In the story of Noah the destruction is caused by water, in Lot by water.
  • Both are told to close themselves from the world - Noah in an Ark, Lot in his house.
  • In both cases the root ש.ח.ת is used: (Noah - Gen 6:13, Lot- Gen 19:13-14).
  • In both cases G-d "Rains" his punishment (מטר):  Noah - Gen 7:4, Lot - Gen 19:24)
  • After the destruction, both Noah and Lot drink  wine, and then are raped by a family member . In Noah's case A son (and another son saves him - see what I previously wrote about on this topic here), in Lot's case two daughters.

I'm not sure what to do with these similarities. The story of Sdom seems like a repeat of the story of the flood, though on a much smaller scale. The ending of both stories, family incest is where I'm really puzzled. Why does the destruction of the world, automatically lead to incest? Why does the torah need to retell the story twice? It is also noteworthy that Noah and Lot are the only two people to get drunk in the book of Genesis. 

Want To Pray Near Noah's Ark?

From the Travels of Benjamin of Tudela:

It is one day hence to the ancient place of Haran, 34 which contains twenty Jewish inhabitants, who also possess a synagogue erected by Esra. Nobody is allowed to construct any building on the spot where the house of our father Abraham was situated; even the Mohammedans pay respect to the place, and resort thither to pray. Two days' journey from thence is . . .  35 at the mouth of the El-Khabur, the Habor of Scripture. This river takes its course through Media, and loses itself in the Kizil Ozein. About two hundred Jews dwell near this place. Two days to Nisibin, a large city plentifully watered, and containing about one thousand Jews. Two days to Jezireh ben Omar, an island in the Tigris, at the foot of Mount Ararat, 36 and four miles distant from the spot where the ark of Noah rested; Omar Ben al-Khatab removed the ark from the summit of the two mountains and made a mosque of it. There still exists in the vicinity of the ark a synagogue of Esra the scribe, which is visited by the Jews of the city on the 9th of Ah. 

Interestingly I could not find any other reference to the Ark being made into a mosque - possibly because the Islamic tradition places the resting place of the Ark quite far away from Ararat.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Goldberg Has A Point

Jeffery Goldberg brings up this point on the US vice presidential debate:

3) Bibi Netanyahu. All across the globe, 200 foreign leaders are asking their advisers, "How can we get mentioned in an American presidential debate the way Bibi gets mentioned?" It is remarkable, these two men fighting over who agrees with Bibi more, and who knows him better. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Frummiest Kettle Ever?

I saw this Kettle on sale today. I was somewhat intrigued about the bibilical quote at the top

"And runneing water shall be put into a vessal". The verse seemed incredibly fitting, and exactly what I would want in a kettle. However,  I couldn't quite place the quote , and made a mental note to look it up when I got home.

And so here is the full quote, from Numbers 19:17 -
יז  וְלָקְחוּ, לַטָּמֵא, מֵעֲפַר, שְׂרֵפַת הַחַטָּאת; וְנָתַן עָלָיו מַיִם חַיִּים, אֶל-כֶּלִי.17 And for the unclean they shall take of the ashes of the burning of the purification from sin, and running water shall be put thereto in a vessel.
Well somehow having the ashes of the unclean put into my kettle, made me less than eager to buy it.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Ushpezin And Educating My Three Year Old Daughter

I was trying to teach my three-year-old  daughter all about Ushpezin last night. Ushpezin are so-called mystical "guests" that arrive each night at the Sukka - each night a different guest. My problem was that my daughter simply couldn't understand if these guests were really there, or if we were just "pretending".  The idea of symbolism was just going over her head. And so I found myself having to choose...are there really Ushpezin or not?

I chose to tell her that they were really there. I may not believe that mysical men arrive each night at my Sukkah, but I think it is better that three year olds believe they are really there, then understand that this is just a game of pretend..

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Outsourcing Democracy

While only Israeli citizens have the right to vote in Knesset elections, foreign nationals can, by virtue of their money, to a large extent determine the identity of the head of the Likud list, and by extension, that of the prime minister as well. This phenomenon exists in other parties too, but this is the first time a case has come to light in which the overwhelming majority of donors were foreign nationals.

Such donations are of course legal nowadays, but we are nevertheless talking about foreigners taking over the Israeli democratic process. Granted, they are all good Jews, and some of them probably also contribute to worthy social objectives in Israel, for which they deserve praise. But this situation expropriates democratic decisions from the hands of Israel's citizens. I know of no similar situation in any other democratic country. 

Here is the catch. Avineri is right. There is something deeply troubling about the fact that foreign money is the one determining your political representatives. But here is the catch - those who would argue against foreign money supporting Netanyahu -  are exactly those who only a few months ago explained to us why the law that NGOs must declare their foreign funding were undemocratic (think the NIF). So, is there a significant difference between funding influential NGOs, and funding the candidates directly?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Worst Correction Of The Day

FARS news, an Iranian semi-official news agency ran a story last week of a poll showing that more Americans supported Ahmadinjad, than Obama. The problem was that it was an Onion spoof. Fair enough. This however was their apology -

"Unfortunately an incorrect item was released on our website on Friday which included a fake opinion poll on popularity rate of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and US President Barack Obama. The news item was extracted from the Satirical Magazine, The Onion, by mistake and it was taken down from our outlook in less two hours," Editor-in-chief of FNA's English Service said. 

"We offer our formal apologies for that mistake," he added. 

"FNA makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of its reports, however very occasionally mistakes do happen," he said. 

Until here I had no quelms. However, it continues -

"Although it does not justify our mistake, we do believe that if a free opinion poll is conducted in the US, a majority of Americans would prefer anyone outside the US political system to President Barack Obama and American statesmen," he added. 

Ahhh. Well, that clarifies your position.