Monday, July 31, 2006

The heretic RaMCHaL?

I agreed to join a local study group which is exploring the book "Derech HaShem" by the RaMCHaL. I had heard this rabbi's name before, but really did not know too much about him. I decided to look him up in Wikipedia. What I found there, sounds very disturbing to me...

The turning point in Luzzatto's life came at the age of twenty, when he made the claim that he was receiving direct instruction from a mystical being known as the maggid. While such stories were not unknown in kabbalistic circles, it was unheard of for someone of such a young age. His peers were enthralled by his written accounts of these "Divine lessons," but the leading Italian rabbinical authorities were highly skeptical and threatened to excommunicate him. Just one hundred years earlier another young mystic, Shabbatai Zevi (d.1676), had rocked the Jewish world by claiming to be the Messiah. Although, at one point, Zevi had convinced almost all European and Middle Eastern rabbis of his claim, the episode ended with him recanting and converting to Islam becoming an apostate to Judaism. The global Jewish community was still reeling from that, and the similarities between Luzzatto's writings and Zevi's were perceived as being especially dangerous.

These writings, only some of which have survived, describe Luzzatto's belief that he and his followers were key figures in a messianic drama that was about to take place. He identified one of his followers as the Messiah son of David, but assumed for himself the role of Moses, claiming that he was that biblical figure's reincarnation. According to his writings, Moses was ranked higher than the Messiah and was the real catalyst for the Redemption. Furthermore, he described all of his corporeal actions as a playing out of the redemptive process: his wedding and the consummation of his marriage, for example, were explained as representing the necessary union of the male and female aspects of the mystical Judaic notion of the Godhead according to Judaism.

Threatened with excommunication, Luzzatto finally swore not to write the maggid's lessons or teach mysticism. In 1735, Luzzatto left Italy for Amsterdam, believing that in the more liberal environment there, he would be able to pursue his mystical interests. Passing through Germany, he appealed to the local rabbinical authorities to protect him from the threats of the Italian rabbis. They refused and forced him to sign a document stating that all the teachings of the maggid were false. Most of his writings were burned, though some did survive.

I assume that people are aware of these events in the RaMCHaL's life. Does no one find this disturbing? Why would we be studying a man's writing who was so out there that he was threatened with excommunication by the prominent rabbis of his day?

Wikipedia celebrates...

Monday, July 24, 2006

Sex and Constipation

Listen, do you want to know a secret,

do you promise not to tell, woh, oh, oh
Closer, let me whisper in your ear...

I was never more surprised than when I found out how big a part sex plays in older people's lives. I mean everyone knows that young adults are sexual beings; it's human nature - young love. We know that teenagers always have it on their minds. College is a time for many to engage in all sorts of escapades. Twenty-somethings, thirty-somethings - no problem. But forty-year-olds, fifty-year-olds, sixty-year-olds?

And the sex that these people are obsessed with, obsessed no less than teenagers. It is different from the simple rush of hormones that rules the lives of young people. It's the sex of men in mid life crises, of mistresses, of fetishes, of girlfriends that are decades younger than you. Or perhaps the sex of women who are no longer looking for their true love, but are looking for a man to take care of their families after their divorce. Jaded, perhaps desperate. Like some participants in a tribal ritual equating sexual power with virility, with vitality.

There's something else that plays as much a part in the lives of these people as libido, and that is the state of their bowel movements. It is amazing the types of discussions that go on, the details that are shared. I had never realized how much the state of one's digestive tract can impact one's general health. I guess I have been blessed with not needing to know.

That's it for now. Stay regular,

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Tzomoh Lechoh Nafshi?

I love ethnic music of pretty much all different nations (except Chinese for some reason). Of course, I especially love klezmer and niggunim.

There is one Lubavitch tune (non-instrumental music link) which is really cool, but I have no idea what it means. The refrain is Hebrew from Psalm 63:
My soul thirsts for You, My flesh longs for You...
But then it it switches into Russian/Ukranian and the lyrics are a little strange:
Hey you, fool Marko,
Why are you going to the fair?
You don't sell, you don't buy,
You only cause trouble.

Here's the original, a little hard to transliterate since it's mixed Russian-Ukranian (for Stevin)

Эх ты, дурень Марко,
Що ты едешь на ярмарку.
Не купляешь, не продаешь,
Только робишь сварку.

What could this possibly mean????
Any Lubavitch people reading this?

Jerusalem Post - Dhimmi edition?

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Being honest

Why does it feel like somehow in the last fifty years or so, war has become some kind of duplicitous game. It used to be really simple. You and your enemy would get on a battlefield and duke it out. The winner would take over your land, make your life miserable, perhaps kill off everyone of your kind. It was simple. Ok, maybe not so simple, but at least you didn't have to pretend that while you are killing your enemy, you'd rather not be doing this. You'd rather live happily side by side with them, but due to [fill in the blank] it is not possible and hence this terrible thing has to happen.

Obviously this is spurred on by the whole Israel-Lebanon thing, but specifically by the whole pictures affair. Why do we have to say things like, "these nastyWestern journalists tricked the kids into writing on those shells". Blah, blah, blah. Why is it not OK to hate people that are bombing you? I don't expect the poor Lebanese that are getting bombs dropped on their babies to love Israel for it. We're not freakin Jedi for Pete's sake!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Hijacking Katyusha

I bet few people know that the word Katyusha is a diminutive for Katya which in itself is a diminutive for Yekaterina, the Russian version of the name Catherine. Russian has a way of making diminutives out of diminutives ad infinitum (much to the chargrin of non-native speakers)

"Katyusha" was the name that Soviet soldiers named the mobile rocket launchers that were very instrumental in turning the tide of the Eastern Front in WWII and helped defeat the Nazi invaders. They named it after a popular wartime song about a girl who is pledging her love and faithfulness to her love who is far away defending her country. It was a name symbolic of love, and hope, and defending your country against a terrible enemy.

Now, these bastards have hijacked the name to use it for their genicidal goals and whenever I hear it, I have to reprogram the way my mind responds to the name.



Like any Arab cares that you kidnapped two Palestinians!
They are willing to sacrifice their own children, why would you think they would exchange soldiers for some poor, no name Palestinians that you kidnapped in Jerusalem.
Why don't you try kidnapping Nasrallah!

Fucking Hypocrite Assholes

"One cannot justify the continued destruction by Israel of the civilian infrastructure in Lebanon and in Palestinian territory, involving the disproportionate use of force in which the civilian population suffers," the Russian foreign ministry said.
The Russian foreign minister has somehow forgotten how they have been handling their own war to hold on to foreign oil rich regions "war against terrorism" in Chechnya. Here are a couple of highlights to jog his memory:
1) On February 5, 2000, Russian forces engaged in widespread killing, arson, rape and looting in Aldi. The victims included an eighty-two-year-old woman, and a one-year-old-boy with his twenty-nine-year-old mother, who was eight months pregnant.

2) Russian and pro-Russian Chechen forces continued to be responsible for numerous arbitrary detentions during raids, looting, physical abuse of villagers, and extrajudicial executions. Those detained face beatings and other forms of torture, aimed at coercing confessions or information about Chechen rebel forces. The forces routinely extort money from detainees’ relatives as a condition for release.

3) The bodies of nine men bearing the marks of extrajudicial execution were found in Chechnya on Friday, Human Rights Watch said today. Eight of the men had been forcibly disappeared two weeks ago after armed men, presumed to be Russian forces, took them from their homes.

I could go on, unfortunately, but I won't. Instead I'll leave you with some before and after pictures of Grozny - the capital of Chechnya.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


Ludwig Zamenhof, who invented the Esperanto language, called himself Doctor Esperanto (the hopeful doctor). His three children perished in the Holocaust. He is worshipped as a god by the Omoto-kyo Japanese religion. One of the more famous followers on Omoto-kyo was Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of the martial art Aikido.

Last night, I saw Syriana. Today, Israel invaded Lebanon.

A book on learning to write Chinese caught my eye in Border's a few days back. Each character takes something like 17 strokes to write. I don't know how they can learn to write that language.

The Green Tea energy drink from AriZona does absolutely nothing for boosting my energy, in spite of containing milk thistle.

Strange Fruit

As I was following the discussion on GodolHador and DovBear about Orthodoxy and Darfur and social responsibility towards gentiles, I thought of this chilling Billie Holiday song, based on a poem which was written by Abel Meeropol, a Jewish schoolteacher from New York.

Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and at the root

Black bodies swingin' in the Southern breeze
Strange fruit hangin' from the poplar trees

Pastoral scene of the gallant South
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth

Scent of magnolia, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh

Here is the fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck

For the sun to rot, for the tree to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop

Friday, July 07, 2006

Burn, baby, burn...

In a previous post, I mentioned my discomfort at the over-politicalization of the 4th of July parade, and even though I tried to head it off, I still got the expected comment "Well, isn't this the best way to celebrate our freedom of speech!?". So I don't know if the commenter just totally missed my point or whether I was not clear enough in my thesis.

Nobody should be denied their right to express their thoughts. But there are lots of ways of doing this. It seems to me that what we call "freedom of speech" is really freedom to persuade. Why else would anyone care about what anyone else says in public? And by persuade, I mean to effect significant change in the lives of other people.

So, repeating an ancient aphorism, you get more flies with honey, and really this is one of the points I was trying to express in that post. It seems like these days everyone of these "protesters" is just focused on testing the limits of free speech, to the extent that they are not really interested in the ultimate reasons why this right was given to us all. It isn't to piss off as many people as possible, it is to convince people that they should do something different from what they are doing now.

This is not a new idea, right? If you want to convince someone of the correctness of your ideas, you need to first not make them defensive, not make them feel like they're stupid, or wrong (even if they are!). Look at how people do kiruv, for example.

Which brings me to my second topic - flag burning. For a long time, I was vehemently against any kind of repression of flag burning by the government, and I still am against any kind of amendment or government interference. However, I have been thinking about the implications of flag burning. The flag is not just a square of cloth with some patterns on it. The flag represents the United States of America and all which it stands for, including the ability to express your opinion. But what opinion are people expressing when they burn the flag? They are saying they don't like America and all that it stands for. Not the policies of the current President, not anything minor. You are symbolically denying the founding principles of this country, the nebulous intangibles that separate one nation from the others, that make each country unique in its own way.

So why should the rest of us Americans tolerate this? To get back to my previous point, what are these protesters asking us to change by this "free expression" of their opinion? Are they saying that America should commit suicide, it should no longer be America? What country can tolerate people that advocate it's dissolution? Because that is what burning the flag communicates to me. If this is not what they are trying to communicate, then I think they need to find a better way of doing it.

Shabbat Shalom.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

King Tut

Skipped out of work today at lunch to catch the Tut-ankh-amun exhibit at the Field Museum. It was a pretty good show, except that it didn't feature his sarcophagus. Don't know if it was a matter of security or what, but it was somewhat disappointing.

King Tut was the son of Akhen-aten, who is infamous for uprooting the traditional Egyptian polytheism and instilling a monotheistic worship of the Sun disk. Tut-ankh-amun reversed this decision and re-instated the traditional pantheon of Egypt.

As I was walking through this exhibit looking at the faces of these two pharaohs I could not help thinking about what was going through their mind. What would cause a pharaoh to abandon a religion that was at least 1000 years old by that point, forcefully demolish temples and statues, move his capital, and force his people into a new religion? And what caused his son to abandon his father's legacy, to go back to tradition? Was he forced to do this by the old priests or did he do this of his own volition? Did he have "issues" with his father and this was a way to "pay him back"?

Teacher arrested at JFK

To balance out the egregious right-wing bias of the j-blogosphere, I am posting this article which was apparently missed by the evil NeoCon loons.

NEW YORK -- Shortly after midnight today, a man was arrested while trying to board an international flight at JFK airport in New York City while in possession of a ruler, protractor, setsquare, slide rule, log tables, and a calculator. The 37-year-old man, whom officials declined to identify pending further investigation by the homeland security team, was revealed to be a math teacher in the New York City public school system.

At a press conference this morning, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales said he believes the man is a member of the notorious Al-Gebra movement. He is being charged with transporting weapons of math instruction.

"Al-Gebra is a fearsome cult," Gonzales said. "They desire average solutions by means and extremes, and sometimes go off on tangents in search of absolute values. They use secret code names like 'x' and 'y' and refer to themselves as 'unknowns,' but we have determined that they belong to a common denominator of the axis of medieval, with co-ordinates in every country. They test the limits. As the Greek philanderer Isosceles used to say: 'There are three sides to every triangle'."

When asked to comment on the arrest, President Bush said, "If God had wanted us to have better weapons of math instruction, he would have given us more fingers and toes."

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Divided we stand

Yesterday, we took the kids to a 4th of July parade in our town. We live in a town that is known for its progressive values, even though there are many wealthy Republicans who also make their home here.

What really put me off was the floats and placards from the various peace protesters, and groups like Amnesty International. I suppose some would say that their right to express their opinion is the point of this holiday, but I say that it totally detracts from it.

The point of a national holiday is to unite people not divide them. It's like being at a dinner party, people. You make smalltalk. You talk about non-controversial things because that's what you do to be inclusive, to make everyone feel welcome, regardless of the political beliefs they hold.