Saturday, September 26, 2015

No Girls Allowed

A guest post by Y. Bloch
Two days from now we will mark the septennial mitzva of Hakhel -- the  assembly, the gathering.
No, not that one.
Not that one either.
On the feast of Booths, at the prescribed time in the year for remission which comes at the end of every seven-year period, when all Israel goes to appear before the LORD, your God, in the place which he will choose, you shall read this law aloud in the presence of all Israel. Assemble (Hakhel) the people -- men, women and children, as well as the resident aliens who live in your communities -- that they may hear and so learn to fear the LORD, your God, and to observe carefully all the words of this law. (Deut. 31:10-12)
The Aramaic rendering of Hakhel is Kenosh, the same root as bei kenishta. You may be more familiar with the Hebrew cognate, beit kenesset, or the Greek-derived equivalent, synagogue. In any case, they all mean the same thing: gathering-place, house of assembly, locus of coming together. This is the essence of Jewish prayer and of a Jewish house of prayer.
In the Talmud (Hagiga 3a), Rabbi Eleazar b. Azariah famously expounds, "If the men came to learn,the women came to hear, but wherefore have the little ones to come? In order to grant reward to those that bring them." But are the children dragged along merely to give extra credit to their parents, since watermelons rarely throw tantrums? The biblical commentator Keli Yakar demurs:
I find it untenable, as if he would command them to bear logs and stones to the House of God "in order to grant reward to those that bring them."
Rather, the whole purpose of Hakhel is for renewal (teshuva), as the Sages say (Lev. R. 30:7) that the first day of Sukkot marks the commencement of a new spiritual reckoning...
Now, when Israel repents, we beg God to forgive our sins, asking for mercy in the name of our blameless children, if we are undeserving. Thus, we ask in the prayer Our Father, Our King, "Pity us, our sucklings and our infants," and similarly we ask, "Act for the sake of the little children," etc.
This is what we mean by "in order to grant reward to those that bring them." They say to God: Act on behalf of these little ones who have been brought to the House of God! This is similar to what Joel speaks of (2:16): "Gather the people, sanctify the assembly; collect the elderly; gather the children, even infants nursing at the breast; [let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her bridal tent]."
The message is clear: in a time of crisis, in a time of climax, we belong together. That is why it is so troubling when the beit kenesset is used to divide rather than unite, to exclude rather than include. Some flip this argument on its head: children don't belong in synagogue because they're disruptive, and since men "have to go to shul" and women don't have to, those little ones are the "problem" of the latter.
The true "problem" here, however, is that this view, while held as axiomatic by far too many observant Jews, has no basis in the classical sources:
Communal prayer is always heard. Even when there are transgressors among them, the Holy One, blessed be He, does not reject the prayers of the many. Therefore, a person should join community and should not pray alone whenever it is possible to pray with the community. (Maimonides, Laws of Prayer 8:1)
One should endeavor to pray in the synagogue with the community, but if circumstances prevent one from doing so, one should should specifically pray at the time the community prays. (Shulhan Arukh, OH 90:9)
Praying with the community is undoubtedly preferable, but no one calls it a binding commandment; on the contrary, the likely eventuality that one may not be able to attend is immediately apparent (considering what Maimonides says about his own busy schedule, this may be from personal experience).
Well, OK, maybe it's not a mitzva mitzva, but still it's a guy thing, right? Actually, Maimonides starts off the Laws of Prayer (1:1-2) by explicitly stating that women are just as obligated as men in the biblical command to pray to God daily. Is there a reason that women should not also avail themselves of the great merit of communal prayer? A stunning legend told in the midrashic compendium Yalkut Shimoni (871) talks about a very elderly woman who was kept alive solely by the merit of attending synagogue at sunrise every morning; without it, she died within three days. And it's not just haggadic; Rabbi Moses Isserles writes quite poignantly in a halakhic context (Shulhan Arukh, OH 88:1) about the pain that women feel at being literally shut out from the High Holiday services in the name of excessive "purity."
Put simply, is there something different about the female soul? Not according to our tradition. After all, it's Hannah, mother of Samuel, whose prayer in the House of God is the template for what we do every day.
There is no doubt that prayer has evolved over the centuries, especially in the absence of a Temple. Prayer has been formalized and regulated by the rabbis. But that cannot touch the essence of God's command that all seek him in prayer, male and female. In the context of the month of Tishrei, prayer is in the category of mitzvot equally binding on man and woman, like repentance, like fasting, like Hakhel itself. Woe to him who makes a daughter of God feel unwelcome in our place of assembly, for it is her house too.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Who is this man and why is he wearing a talis?*

Not one things about this makes me happy. It is beneath the dignity of a Rabbi to let himself be used as a prop in an interfaith pageant. Would the pope - or a cardinal - allow himself to be trotted out to make a show of  homage to any Jewish leader? No, of course not.  So Jewish self-pride demands that we return the non-favor.

Wait. One thing makes me happy. His talis isn't blue and white and its not being worn like a scarf. So there's that.

*It Eliot Cosgrov of the Park Avenue Synagouge and he's wearing it leshem costume.

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Is sex worse than tale-bearing?

More on the case of the sexually active synagogue worker... we've been told by one person (really: one person.) that the pregnant woman had not yet started to show, but was ratted out by a co-worker.

Does the rat still have a job?

Loshon Hara, the Chofetz Chaim says, is a violation of more than 20 Torah laws. (Meanwhile, premarital sex is arguably a violation of zero torah laws and one rabbinic law)  If the rat hasn't been fired, is the synagogue telling the world that they support Loshon Hara? What kind of example does this set for the children? How are they supposed to grow up as moral, upstanding citizens if their synagogue leadership is wantonly and perniciously engaged in such shameless sinning? Clearly a powerful message is needed. Otherwise people might not know that this is a pro Torah shul.

Let's hope the shul took a strong stand for morality, values, and the eternal truth of the Torah whose Ways are Pleasant by kicking that rat to the curb, publicly embarrassing her and depriving her and her children of a much needed income! If I discover they put a human being ahead of their reputations I will be very disappointed!

[I hope its clear that I'm trying to mock the shul here]

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Thursday, September 24, 2015

Double standards at Shearith Israel

Meir Solivetchik fired a pregnant woman for having premarital sex, a new lawsuit alleges.

Read about it here:

Many people are asking the predictable double standard question,  ie would a man have been fired for knocking up his girl friend ahead of the wedding, but by my lights that's the wrong double standard question to ask.

The real double standard question is this one: would she have been fired for wearing shatnez or withholding someone's pay or charging interest? Thw answer is "Of course not" despite the fact that as per Jewish law those are all more serious crimes.

Thanks to the negative influence of the evangelicals we are too hung up on sex and this case proves it.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Politics of Jonah

See on FB:

Sefer Yonah is the story of a Conservative who discovers that God is a Liberal.


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Slow Yom Kippur News Day

On just about every day of the year, Shadow and Custer enjoy a hearty diet of kibbles and the occasional leftover piece of challah or gefilte fish. But come Yom...

I'm not sure what bothers me more... that this women thinks her dogs should fast, or that this paper thought it was newsworthy

Monday, September 21, 2015

Women, toddlers and shul

Women with small children are not being deprived of a fundamental Jewish right when they are asked to stay home from shul to care for their children. They are being exempted from an obligation. Moreover, mitzvoth like prayer are “meaningless,” having no intrinsic value beyond their status as commandments that God requires in his service by men and not women. They do not reflect any exalted status for men or yield access to some sort of religious experience beyond the mere burden of performance.

I say all of this for two reasons. One let it stand as a comfort for women who may be forced to miss Yom Kippur services, due to child care responsibilities and the lack of in-shul child care services and facilities. Two, let it stand as a suggestion for women who insist on dragging their toddlers into the sanctuary, even when its clear they can't be prevented from disturbing other worshipers.

Ultimately everyone should decide for her or himself.. However, there are some things that people might choose to take into consideration, while making that decision, namely that (1) prayer has no intrinsic value: Its just something we're commanded to do (2) the commandment falls on men, not women, so if you're saying that you wish to take part for RELIGIOUS reason, that's a nonstarter, as the one and only religious consideration present here (ie doing Gods will), isn't at play here.

HOWEVER,, anyone who has been reading me for 10 years knows I don't minimize secular benefits. Indeed, I've argued that the secular benefits are usually the only reason to go to shul, and those secular benefits ought to be available to women, too. I would just urge women not to muddy the waters by making religious arguments when the issue is one of secular benefits
[ To clarify (1) I think, generally anyone should be able to do anything they like, so long as it doesn't harm someone else; therefore (2) I think a woman who wants to go to shul should go to shul; moreover (3) I think that we should be encouraging women to go to shul.
However, what shouldn't be lost is that men have an obligation, while women with small children do not, and that this doesn't result from men having any special status.]

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A Good Day to Dinah

A guest blurb by Y. Bloch

One of the responsive poems we say in our penitential prayers concludes, somewhat oddly, "Come to save us as You did Simeon and Levi, brothers of Dinah; Lord, give ear to our outcry." Simeon and Levi are not usually seen as heroes and are in fact strongly rebuked for this act by their father Jacob. So what's up?

I found that Rav Danny Eliner of Yeshivat Or Etzion actually addresses this question in a somewhat provocative manner (Lehosif Or XV, Rosh Hashana 5772).

He argues that as we get closer to Yom Kippur, we stress more and more the idea of forgiveness even without merit, simply because we are God's children. This, he argues, is what Simeon and Levi did: they did not consult their father at all, but nevertheless they strode into Shechem confident that his merit would protect them.

So we approach Judgement Day with the knowledge that even if we anger our Creator, the bond between the Jewish people and their Father in Heaven is unbreakable.

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Thursday, September 17, 2015

Rosh Hashana 5776

Day 1 - 2:00 p.m. 20 minute break. Short speech
Day 2 - 2:00 p.m. Ditto

Break was cake and juice. I didn't do too much reading, but did glance at a few chapters of The God of Old (Kugel).

FUN FACT TO KNOW AND TELL: According to "Life is With People," a cultural study of Eastern European Jews, our shtetle-dwelling ancestors also spent the day after Rosh Hashana discussing the length of the service the quality of the chazan, and so on.

The Koren machzor is wonderful. The translation is better, and more readable than Art Scroll's. Also, the commentary's focus feels more down-to-earth. Unlike ArtScroll, Koren doesn't take magic for granted. It discusses history skeptically and honestly and frequently provides wisdom from non-traditional sources. The discussion of charity that accompanied Unetanh Tokef, for instance, included a brief retelling of a Y.L Peretz story. When I read the Art Scroll commentary I feel like I'm in the company of a smart Rabbi who doesn't share my sensibilities. Koren, on the other hand, feels like it was written by a smart person, who happens to be a rabbi, and is also someone I'd like to get to know a little better. I'd ask for a second date with Koren, while I think I'd dismiss a shadchan who set me up with Art.

ABOUT THE SERVICE ITSELF: Prayed for the first time in many years in one of those places that put a heavy emphasis on warmkeit and heimish-ness. After so many years in a structured and well organized synagogue I felt and saw the style differences in many small ways but overall it was still a Rosh Hashana service and still satisfying (aside for the new place's maddening indifference to time, I mean. Why print a schedule if you're just going to ignore it?)

Notwithstanding the general excellence of the service I still have half a post written describing the worst people in the world on Rosh Hashanah. They include the guy who keeps ramming his chair into your table, the morons who keep saying boruch hu uvaruch shmo during musaf (and the jerks who shush them) and the parents of the kids who were allowed to nearly ruin a letter perfect Kedusha with their noisy games.

Perhaps in keeping with the spirit of the season I won't finish writing it.

ANNUAL LAMENT: The Rosh Hashana kiddush-break is an abomination. In previous years, I've prayed at places that finished at 2 p.m and later, but only because the congregation indulged in 30 or 45 minutes of snacking and gossiping. Why is that necessary? How is that in keeping with the spirit of the day? Without the break we'd have been home for lunch shortly after 1!! This practice, like so many other pimples on the face of contemporary Judaism, was adapted from the Hasidim by pick-and-choose Jews who want to take it easy. Authentic Hasidim have a legitimate reason to break on Rosh Hashana after Torah reading. They finish after 3 p.m because they daven more slowly and because the pre-prayer preparation they make results in a later start time. Going until 3 p.m without refreshment is a hardship. If my shul went until 3 I'd also want a fast snack along the way. But those of us who begin at 8 or 8:30, daven at an ordinary pace and would otherwise finish at lunch-time have no need for it. We've adapted it, I bet, because that's what the Hasidim do, and "every one knows how holy they are."

[Note: I don't mean to suggest there's anything wrong with picking-and choosing. We all do it. The problem isn't picking-and-choosing. The problem is the failure to acknowledge it. I have no objection to the hybrid Judaism all of us practice today. What I object to is the idea that this hybrid is in any way "authentic" or superior to other expressions.]

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Sunday, September 13, 2015


A guest post by Daf Aleph

Rosh Hashanah is almost upon us, but does it really mean all that much to us? “God, I sinned”. Yeah, I know, and I’m gonna do it again, too. I mean, let’s face the facts. What are we really doing on this day? Can I promise God that I will always do X or never do Y? No. I suppose, if there’s real anxiety for your sins there, that’s okay, but is that even the focus of Rosh Hashanah? There’s no viduy, no confession, no nothing. It’s a very human, very cosmopolitan sort of holiday, actually. You don’t have to be Orthodox to enjoy it. Basically, in a word, it’s a day we spend devoted to the idea that we want the whole world to realize that God created, and that God is the king of said world — whatever that means. 

What is one supposed to have in mind when they say that God is the king of the universe? The Royal Family? Henry the 8th? Is that what “king” means? We’re going to say melech, melech, melech over and over again — but what does that mean to you?

Even during the shofar we don’t mention anything about sinning. All of that stuff is relegated to Yom Kippur — but none of that makes its way into Rosh Hashanah. Instead, Rosh Hashanah is a day aspiring to God’s Kingdom. Sounds pretty Christian if you ask me. And not just that — but we ask that everyone, not just the Jews, recognize God’s sovereignty:

“Veyeda kol pa’ul ki at a pe-alto veyavin kol yetzur ki at a yetzarto”: “Let everything that has been made know that You are its Maker, let everything that has been molded understand that You are its Molder.”

That’s not a very typical Jewish idea at all! And it gets worse, too. See, we all grew up in a democracy (at least I did). The very idea of a monarchy is archaic at best. What does any of this mean?! What do we want here?! What are we asking for?! We want the whole world to give up democracy and revert back to a monarchy? That’s what we’re praying for?

It’s not even just that — we actually ask God to instill the fear of the Lord into everyone. We pray for fear and terror for all of humanity in V’chein tain pachdecha in order to achieve unity. That is the opening paragraph of our Rosh Hashanah Shemoneh Esrei. Artscroll and others sort of cheat with the translations with words like “awe” and so forth, but that is not accurate. We ask for fear and terror. “Pachad” and “eima”. Basically, we’re asking God to please terrorize the entire world until we all come together. How in the world are supposed to relate to this? Why do we feel comfortable saying this?

And we need a solution to this problem least of all because God does not want us to lie when we talk to Him. Saying meaningless words that we don’t understand — or worse, disagree with or cannot even stomach — is not what we’re going for here. On this most holy of days you are encountering God and He wants the Truth. If not, what is the use?! 

So, God is a King. We have to define “king”. Yes, indeed, it does imply a monarchy. See, some people loom larger than life. Jefferson. Lincoln. Churchill, just to name a few. One looks at these people and sees an embodiment of a cultural identity. When we look at a kingdom, we don’t really look at a person. We look at the idea that they embody. We we respect each individual in Congress? No! But we sure as heck respect the institution, the governing body, and all that it stands for. 

The Gemara writes that we are currently in the Kingdom of Rome. Last I checked, there’s not much of a kingdom left! What does that mean, that we are under the Kingdom of Rome? And the answer is simple: we are not talking about a political dominance; we are talking about a cultural reality. We live today and see the world very very much influenced by all that took place in Italy all those years ago. We are Westerners, today, that believe in a tradition, and laws, and commandments. But culturally, we are American. Our world of thought is more informed by The Beatles than Rava or Abaye. Shakespeare informs our interpretation of Tanach more than Ramban, probably (— and that’s if you’re well-read). This is just the reality. 

Take the Beis Hamikdash and animal sacrifices as just one example. This is very, very foreign to our western palates. I don’t know what I would do if it were to happen today. I feel quite queasy at the idea of priests dressed in, well, dresses, walking around and slaughtering cows and goats left and right in order to sprinkle their blood on some alter, all while singing nasal oriental music. I’d prefer Coldplay. Culturally, where really are we? Does our religion translate to our value systems? Not really, unfortunately. If we had animal sacrifices today, I guess I’d have to do it, but wow would I be scratching my head. 

Or here’s another example: We ask in Shemoneh Esrei to reinstate the Beis Din. That means capital punishment, people! That means pouring hot lead down someone’s throat! That means pushing people off of a cliff and pelting them with stones until they die! That means public lashes! This stuff makes Saudi Arabia look pretty good! Do we really mean any of this when we say it? Do we really want this? I see people rocking back and forth, hands in the air, eyes tightly shut seemingly in deep concentration while asking for these things every day, and I cannot help but wonder if they even know what they are saying…

As was explained to me by my Rebbe, today, we can only look at these paragraphs and say: “God, I really wish, to will, to want, to aspire to this. At the moment, I’ll try my best. I subscribe to it. I believe it. I know it’s what you want, and I know it will bring the world to its ultimate goal. I think it’s crazy, but hey, I’ll do it.”

The fact of the matter is that God takes for granted a certain cultural identity. But we grew up in a different world. We have lost the cultural context that God expected us to have when he commanded these things. That means that our religion no longer shapes how we view things. Judaism was supposed to be an expression of reality, of how we think, feel, and act. But it’s not anymore.

You see, what we ask for on Rosh Hashanah is for God to help with with a cultural metamorphosis. For our values to fall into line with His. To actually see God as our King. To see God as our cultural identity. We don’t have that. We lost that. 

Throughout history, and we need only look at Tanach, we see that we were not always quite so religious. We were quite selective with certain things for quite a while. But culturally, we were there. We were religious, but not observant. Culturally, we were quite Jewish back then. We were “OrthoDOX”. Now, times have turned. Even those who are practicers, have, by and large, lost the culture. We’re really all “OrthoPRAX” these days.

But we need that culture of Judaism in the world again. We have indeed become great practitioners. But most all of our religious failings are because it protrudes on our own thoughts and feelings. When Judaism conflicts with our own thoughts and feelings, we dump the religion. But Judaism should be synonymous with our own thoughts and feelings. But it isn’t. It is not our cultural reality. And so, over time, we cut things out. Some laws are just on rotation. When the culture doesn’t present the problems, then we can live with it. When our culture conflicts, we drop it.

Because I like living the way that I live — and it’s Judaism that often gets in the way of that. Do we really want to stop? Do we even really want to live like the ideal Jew? It’s hard to even fathom a reality in which we are not really interested in the culture around us. We specifically want to be “a part of it all”. We specifically want to be involved and steeped in the world around us. We love Western culture and Western thought. After all, it’s how we have lived our whole lives! It’s hard, if not impossible, to fathom a reality in which our culture is synonymous with our religion. It would need some sort of Divine intervention…

The great prayer of Rosh Hashanah is for not just me, but the whole world to recognize Sinai, and what occurred there. For there, God created two covenants: one for the Jews, and one for the whole world. And yes, we want the world to undergo this paradigm shift. The world will be a better place for it.

But, you know, the thing is that people only move when they are in dire straights. When you look at history, it’s only when things become quite decrepit that things change. When things are good, it’s almost impossible to undergo a metamorphoses. Such is the terrible truth of the human condition. So yes, we are actually praying for the world to fall apart. We pray for the decrepit morales around us to fall apart. For the world to just stop for a moment, and to think, and to come back. “God, can you please stop the train? It’s moving too fast, and it’s going downhill.” And this is not to say that the world today is any worse off than it was years and years ago — many things are infantile better, and many are much worse. But Free Will continues to fail, on a massive scale. So, God, can you please just stop the train?

This is the really heavy reality that is Rosh Hashanah. It’s beyond just yourself and your sins. It’s a day of figuring out what it is that we really want, and what it is that is truly important — and it’s a day of asking God to help us get there.

Chasiva v’chasima tova…

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

We are all Sodomites

A guest post by Y. Bloch
Sodom and Gomorrah are two of the most famous cities in the Bible, but Moses doesn't even mention them until the very end of his life, as he describes in this week's Torah portion what Israel will look like if the people violate God's covenant (Deut. 29:23):
The whole land is brimstone and salt, a burning waste, unsown and unproductive, and no grass grows there, like the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboyim, which the Lord overthrew in His anger and wrath.
So, like the weather we've had this past week, but smelling much worse.
A few chapters later, Moses describes this is in a more poetic way (32:32-33):
For their vine is from the vine of Sodom
    and from the fields of Gomorrah;
their grapes are grapes of poison;
    their clusters are bitter.
Their wine is the venom of dragons
    and the cruel poison of cobras.
Interestingly, Moses traces all this cruelty, bitterness and poison to a specific individual or type, "a root bearing poisonous and caustic fruit...when he hears the words of this covenant, he blesses himself in his heart, saying, 'I shall have peace, even though I proceed according to the capriciousness of my heart,' so that the saturated destroys the thirsty" (29:18-19).
Saturated is how, of course, Sodom and its sister cities are first described (Gen. 13:10): "the valley of the Jordan, which was well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt as you go to Zoar. This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah." The Jordan Valley is contrasted with "the land of Canaan," famine-prone and always thirsting for rain. Metaphorically, the well-watered are the well-off, and Ezekiel (16:49-50) makes it clear that this is the root of Sodom's poisonous cruelty:
This was the iniquity of your sister Sodom. Pride, abundance of bread, and careless ease was in her and in her daughters, but she would not strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. They were haughty and did what is taboo before Me. Therefore I took them away when I saw it.
Yes, like that term taboo (toeva), sodomy (middat Sedom) is often misunderstood. Toeva is biblical, while middat Sedom only appears in rabbinical literature; nevertheless, some have an almost pathological need to associate these terms with sexual orientation and ignore their original context. Take what Maimonides (Laws of Neighbors 12:1) says about the Talmudic definition of sodomy--in the context of partners dividing property:
If one of the partners said: "Give me my portion on this side so that it will be close to another field which I own, so that they will be one large field, " his request is heeded, and we compel the other partner to grant him this privilege. For holding back in such a situation would be the character of a Sodomite.
When one withholds benefit from another out of pure caprice, that is sodomy. The Mishnaic Ethics of the Fathers puts it this way (5:10):
There are four types of people: One who says, "What is mine is yours, and what is yours is mine" is an ignoramus. One who says "What is mine is mine, and what is yours is yours" -- this is the intermediate characteristic; others say that this is the character of a Sodomite. One who says, "What is mine is yours, and what is yours is yours" is a pious person. And one who says "What is mine is mine, and what is yours is mine" is wicked.
Perhaps the most shocking element of that dissection of human personality is not the reference to Sodom, but what "others" refer to it as: "the intermediate characteristic." This is not a dissenting view, as the "others" agree as to the definition of the pious and wicked poles. Instead, this underscores that sodomy is not unusual; it is average, mundane, the default setting. The citizens of Sodom and its daughter cities fall far below this, as their vine produces venomous wine--but it all starts with a shockingly simple and so-so statement: "What is mine is mine, and what is yours is yours." It is the meridian of mediocrity, telling the thirsty to keep off their well-watered lawn.
The "intermediate" status is one with special resonance this time of year, as the Talmud teaches (Rosh Hashana 16b):
R. Kruspedai said in the name of R. Johanan: Three books are opened [in heaven] on the New Year, one for the thoroughly wicked, one for the thoroughly righteous, and one for the intermediate. The thoroughly righteous are forthwith inscribed definitively in the book of life; the thoroughly wicked are forthwith inscribed definitively in the book of death; the doom of the intermediate is suspended from the New Year till the Day of Atonement; if they deserve well, they are inscribed in the book of life; if they do not deserve well, they are inscribed in the book of death.
Mediocrity is no place to live; one inexorably moves towards one pole or the other. That is why we have the period of the Ten Days of Repentance: for the intermediate. For the average Sodomite. For us.

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Prtizus posters for sukkot

An enterprising Israeli is selling these subversive sukka posters.

You should buy ten.

You should also see if Mishpacha magazine will run an ad for them. Dare the SOBs to ex out THESE faces.

And when they refuse to publish come back with another ad claiming that staring at such holy faces is a powerful and ancient segula known to all kabbalists.

Not only will Mishpacha run that ad but you'll be able to charge three times as much for the poster.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Sorry! Time for some poetry!

"no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten

no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough

go home blacks
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off

or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
your legs
or the insults are easier
to swallow
than rubble
than bone
than your child body
in pieces.
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
be hunger
forget pride
your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here"

'Home', by Warsan Shire
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Monday, September 07, 2015

Rabbis who oppose vaccines have blood on their hands

It gives me no pleasure at all to insult a Torah sage but I'm not going to sugarcoat it: Rabbi Shmuel Kanievsky is an anti vaxx moron* and the letter he signed ordering Lakewood schools to admit unvaccinated kids puts children in mortal danger.

This is not the time or the place to rehash the facts of herd immunity or to explain again how science works. Anyone truly interested in the emes can consult wikipedia. Instead I want to urge you to tell your schools and rabbis to stop playing fast and loose with the health of our children. If a blue shirt or a short skirt or a TV set puts children at terrible risk what does the measles or whooping cough virus do? If a striped shirt or a blue pair of shoes are banned from entering our schools why are we opening the door for deadly pathogens?

*This doesn't detract from his formidable torah knowledge or his sterling character. You can simultaneously be a wonderful person a torah giant and a flaming ignoramus regarding natural sciences.

Friday, September 04, 2015

Lets Jewify the Kim Davis Case

Orthodox Jews... suppose you're a county clerk in Kentucky. In walks a Jewish Shabbos desecrator. He wants a license for a strip club he plans to keep open seven days per week where he will also be serving pork and shellfish. Do you issue the license?

(Note this is a stronger case. By denying the strip club owner his license you'll actually be preventing znus (licentious behavior) and Chilul Shabbos. Meanwhile over in Kentucky Kim Davis hasn't prevented anything. Her unmarried gays are presumably still having sex.)

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Thursday, September 03, 2015

Five things to look forward to at the High Holidays

(1) SHUL

I know some of you hate shul and can't stand piyutim. I'm of a different mind. I like pretending to be a monk three times per year. I enjoy the poetry, the mummer of prayer, the music. A day devoted entirely to pursuits of the soul and mind, with all other obligations suspended. Perhaps the difference is that I don't pretend that I am praying for life. Instead I pretend I've joined a beloved community, and I try to groove on the all-inclusive spirit of brotherhood the pervades the sanctuary during the Days of Awe.

(2) FOOD

I know this might be inconsistent with what I just said, but im ein kemach, ein Torah. Honey cake, Canard au Miel, (duck with honey) and round challah with raisins are some of the many delights I anticipate.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Kim David

If you know exactly what God wants you to do, it's weird you've only risen to the position of county clerk in Kentucky. (via LOLGOP)

I feel bad for Kim David. Sure, she's a backwards bigot who is violating her elected oath and her professional obligations, but at the same time can't Orthodox Jews relate? We know what its like to have professional obligations that don't coincide with our religious beliefs.

Our forefathers often were told to choose between Shabbos and employment. Their forefathers were asked to earn a living without charging interest.

In the case of Shabbos, those dirty liberals saved us by convincing the industrialists that a shorter work week helped us all.. In the case of interest, the Rabbis came to the rescue by creating the heter iska. Will some similar machination save Kim David? Probably not.

Meanwhile, she should quit instead of advancing the dangerous and pernicious notion that you, in your lone and personal wisdom, hold a veto over the Supreme Court.

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Yeshiva Education

In odd confluence of events, I heard Frimet Goldberger's excellent radio piece on Lipa Smeltzer on the same day I saw this unsavory bit of spin in the New York Post, written by Eliyahu Federman and Jason Bedrick:
Activists wrongly assume that being “educated” means whatever the government says it means. But there is and always has been a legitimate diversity of views about the meaning and purpose of education, what children should learn and how best to teach them. 
Yeshivas have educational priorities that differ from mainstream society, but that doesn’t mean their students are uneducated. Most people would be impressed to hear that students were studying Aristotle and Plato in their original Greek and Virgil in his original Latin. 
Yeshiva students spend most of their day studying the ancient Jewish texts in their original Hebrew and Aramaic. And like studying law or philosophy, vigorous Talmud study develops highly analytical and critical thinking skills.
Meanwhile, Lipa is on the radio complaining to Frimet how the yeshiva he attended robbed him of an education, leaving him functionally illiterate in English and barely competent in elementary school math.

While there may "a legitimate diversity of views about the meaning and purpose of education" I think we can agree that the Hasidic schools are failing in their basic, bottom-line  obligation to provide an education; also, the comparison to Virgil and Aristotle is laughable. There's nothing impressive about a kid who can read Greek, but can't find his way through a Judy Blume book. Besides, Federman and Bedrock are lying by omission. Only MALE yeshiva students are studying the ancient Jewish texts in Hebrew and Aramaic. Girls, on the other hand,  might get a some bible stories... maybe. And the way in which boys are learning the ancient texts is primitive at best.

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Yeshaya Liebowitz is over my head

Let me complain to you about Yeshaya Liebowitz for a moment. Oh, I know he's from the biggest geniuses, and I am not, but that's exactly the problem: In my smallness, I'm having difficulty understanding one of his central ideas.

He says, if I am right, that we should do Mitzvoth for the sake of doing Mitzvoth, and that those of us who imagine that we get anything concrete from their performance, such as God's favor, are kidding ourselves. In fact, the very point of doing Mitzvoth, he says, is that we get nothing, for if we got anything we'd be doing the Mitzvoth for ourselves, and not for God.

He also says (and this is almost a quote) that when your religiosity expresses your personal values, your morals, or your conscious, the religious act you perform is an act of rebellion against God.

I can agree with him on the part about how Mitzvoth-performing can't possibly sway or influence God, but don't we always get some reward at some point, in some sense? That feeling of satisfaction is a reward, isn't it? Self-righteousness is a reward. And so is the admiration of your wife and neighbors.

And while it might be true that the performance of a religious act motivated by anything other that a no-strings-attached desire to serve the One Above is an act of idolatry, we humans aren't capable of such a thing.

If we do anything, anything at all, its because we're expecting some sort of payout. That payout might be something as inchoate as a feeling, and for the non-mentally stable even a negative or painful feeling will suffice. But the point is we humans don't get out of bed unless there's something in it for us. So how can Leibowitz be taken seriously when he demands that we do otherwise when it comes to serving God?
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Chewing the fatwa

A guest blurb by Y. Bloch  

"How dare you take me at my word? Anyone who thinks that should be arrested or institutionalized!" Rav Aviner does a spot-on Trumpression...

Should we laugh or cry? “Just like there is one prime minister and one military chief of staff, so too there can only be one Chief Rabbinate.” Except there are TWO chief rabbis...

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Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Gender double standards in Judaism

I think there is a real disconnect in our Jewish culture.

We reward men for (a) doing stupid things, that were (b) invented yesterday, while simultaneously discouraging women from doing things that (a) they have always done and (b) Judaism has historically considered to be both worthwhile and valuable.

What stupid, new things do men get points for? Let's start with the Uman pilgrimage. While individual voices have been raised against it, society still generally approves of men who ditch their families during the High Holidays for two days of fun with the guys in the Ukraine.

Meanwhile, woman who wish to wear tzitzis or to pray with a minyan or to create their own zimun are stigmatized. Instead of relying on the Rishonim and Achronim who either permit or encourage women to embrace such practices,  we tend to see such women as rebels and to treat them like pariahs.

I don't want to sound like a voice howling against the wind but... why? Why do we do this? Why do we commend men who take on new practices, while criticizing women who wish to follow old practices. And why do we choose to criticize these women, when other choices are available? For instance, we might just as easily choose to keep our mouths shut. For that matter, we might also choose to rely on the Talmud and the Rishonim who explicitly permit women to wear tzitzis,  or on the sages who called minyan-attendance a great segulah, or on the Achronim who encouraged women to bentch together.

It seems to me that any of these practices are on stronger halachic footing than the men's pilgrimages to Uman but, counter-intuitively, we mock the women and congratulate the men. 
Another thing. Wouldn't it be harder for men to pretend women don't exist, if women made more of an effort to, you know, be around. Maybe if women went to shul, to the extent possible, the vicious cycle of women skipping shul, thereby permitting men to build shuls that don't accommodate women, thereby causing women to skip shul, would be broken.

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One cheer for Cross Currents.

Over at Cross Currents, the one semi-sensible member of the team has initiated a mild call to arms over the matter of women being excluded from Haredi publications.

Two posts, both by R. Alderstan appeared in August. And while one post  consisted mostly of material written by someone else, and the other was sort of lazy we're still glad to see Cross Currents standing up for a good cause.

Perhaps, in the fullness of time, a good cause like this will receive as much attention, and from as many different CC team members, as various bad causes often get from CC (e.g. the OO Inquisition, or the travails of Ted Haggard)

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