Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Christians accused of killing babies for their blood?

Apparently, the accusations of blood libel which the Christians have used as a pretext for much violence and death for almost two millenia, are (like their religion) also not original:

During the first and second centuries, some Roman commentators had various interpretations of the ritual of the Eucharist and related teachings. While celebrating the Eucharist, Christians drink red wine in response to the words "This is the blood of Christ". Propaganda arguing that the Christians literally drank blood based on their belief in transubstantiation was written and used to persecute Christians. Romans were highly suspicious of Christian adoptions of abandoned Roman babies and this was suggested as a possible source of the blood.

In the Mandaean scripture, the Ginza Rba, a purportedly Christian group called the "Minunei" are accused of it against the Jews: "They kill a Jewish child, they take his blood, they cook it in bread and they proffer it to them as food." (Ginza Rba 9.1).

Source - Wikipedia

A description of the Kishinev Pogrom of 1903

by Vladimir Korolenko can be found here. Read it if you can stand it.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Deconstructing Rosh haShanah

Why me? Why can't I just stop thinking too hard. It makes me miserable, and I feel like I am an idiot, 'cause I don't think anyone else thinks about these things...

One of the key concepts of Rosh haShanah is the concept of Kingship. This has been drilled into me over and over again. Why was RH the sixth day of creation and not the first? It's obvious - you cannot have a king without subjects, and man was created on the sixth day, so this was the first opportunity for G-d to be crowned king.

Except it is completely non-obvious to me. This is similar to my problem with the analogy of the heavenly court. I understand that, for whatever reason, G-d wants us to explicitly acknowledge his dominion over us. Actually it makes no sense to me, because my idea of G-d is very similar to the Rambam's (as I understand it). Why does G-d need our acknowledgement? I don't think that it is even possible to talk about our relationship to G-d outside what were specific mitzvot from the Torah, where we were told explicitly how to worship G-d.

But kingship is such a huge problem for me. It is so human a concept. And so flawed. For one thing, do you really need subjects to be a king? I mean you could be a deposed king living in exile. Does this mean that as long as there are some potential subjects that can be subjugated, you can be called king?

Also, kingship to me connotes so many negative aspects that I can't imagine why we'd bring up this imagery. For one thing, it seems clear from the Tanach, that G-d really didn't want us to have a worldly king and was rather disappointed when the people clamored for one. If one of the concepts of the Yomim Noraim is not to bring up self-incriminating events from the past, then why would we stick that in G-d's face, so to speak?

Also, kingship implies multiplicity - there has never been a king that ruled the entire world. Kingship implies intermediates - a king is usually surrounded by nobility and such, who often vie for the throne. In my mind this invokes images of Mt Olympus, not the G-d of the Torah.

I am guessing that well meaning commenters will tell me that non of it is literal, it is all allegorical, and there is all sorts of symbolism that is behind this that I just need to learn about. Perhaps they are right. However, to me a metaphor that confuses more than helps is a bad metaphor.

And don't get me started on Remembrances...

Friday, September 22, 2006

Check this out...

This guy put into a post what I usually think when I hear about "The Occupation".

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Can't resist - TASHLICH

On the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, there is a ceremony called Tashlich. Jews traditionally go to the ocean or a stream or river to pray and throw bread crumbs into the water. Symbolically, the fish devour their sins.

Occasionally, people ask what kind of bread crumbs should be thrown. Here are suggestions for breads which may be most appropriate for specific sins and misbehaviors:

For ordinary sins
White Bread

For erotic sins
French Bread

For particularly dark sins

For complex sins

For twisted sins

For tasteless sins
Rice Cakes

For sins of indecision

For sins committed in haste

For sins of chutzpah
Fresh Bread

For substance abuse
Stoned Wheat

For u se of heavy drugs
Poppy Seed

For petty larceny

For committing auto theft

For timidity/cowardice
Milk Toast

For ill-temperedness

For silliness, eccentricity
Nut Bread

For not giving full value

For jingoism, chauvinism
Yankee Doodles

For excessive irony
Rye Bread

For unnecessary chances
Hero Bread

For telling bad jokes/puns
Corn Bread

For warmongering
Kaiser Rolls

For dressing immodestly

For causing injury to others

For lechery and promiscuity
Hot Buns

For promiscuity with gentiles
Hot Cross Buns

For racist attitudes

For sophisticated racism
Ritz Crackers

For being holier than hour

For abrasiveness

For dropping in without notice

For overeating

For impetuosity
Quick Bread

For indecent photography

For raising your voice too often

For pride and egotism
Puff Pastry

For sycophancy, ass-kissing

For being overly smothering
Angel Food Cake

For laziness
Any long loaf

For trashing the environment

For those who require a wide selection of crumbs, we suggest a Tashlich Mix available in three grades (Tashlich Lite, Medium, and Industrial Strength) at your favorite Jewish bookstore.

Wishing you and yours a wonderful and PEACEFUL New Year...

Happy New Year

Don't know if I'll get a chance to post anything before the holidays so I am taking a few moments now to wish all my readers a sweet and happy New Year.

Shana Tova. A gut Yahr to everyone.

Friday, September 15, 2006

How to spook Satan with a Shofar

My Ramchal class is not going well...

Last night we revisited the belief that one of the reasons you blow the shofar on Rosh Hashana is that it confuses Satan who then cannot concentrate on bringing accusations against you before the Heavenly Court. You see, the rabbi told me, the Heavenly Court is kind of set up like the courts on Earth, except you don't get a defense attorney.

Despite my better judgement, I pointed out to the rabbi that since we are not Manichaeans, we believe that Satan is only doing the work that he was assigned by G-d to do. Assuming that G-d wants him to bring accusations against us, and assuming the shofar really messes him up, we are really going against what G-d wants us to do. He'd have to declare a mistrial.

I was then told that really G-d intentionally built in loopholes into this judgement process to give us as many opportunities to "get off the hook" as possible. This made no sense to me, since it really doesn't sound like a loophole to disrupt the process of judgement, but rather some type of miscarriage of justice. But anyway, I was told that the concepts are very different from how humans perceive justice anyway, at which point I was confused about the purpose of bringing up this analogy in the first place.

Best not to think about it, I think.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Death was sometimes an unfortunate side effect...

Falling, Dead Pigeons Mar City Festival

TEXARKANA, Texas (AP) -- Poisoned pigeons began nose-diving into pavement and dying on downtown sidewalks, marring the city's annual festival.

Authorities cleaned up more than 25 sick or dead birds that apparently had eaten poisoned corn from the roof of a nearby bank branch.

"The death of these pigeons was more than an unfortunate accident," local CapitalOne Bank President Lacy McMillen said in Tuesday's online edition of Texarkana Gazette. "It was not the intention of the bank to harm any of these birds."

McMillen said the bank hired an exterminator to handle its pigeon problem after a bird entered the bank and defecated on a customer.

The company hired, Anti-Pest Co. Inc. of Shreveport, La., said its goal with the treated corn was to sicken pigeons so they would leave the rooftop. Death was sometimes an unfortunate side effect, company president Jarrod Horton said.

More details here...

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Александр Блок

It's Elul yet I feel nothing! #@$%$@*!

One of my favorite poems:

Ночь, улица, фонарь, аптека,
Бессмысленный и тусклый свет.
Живи еще хоть четверть века -
Все будет так. Исхода нет.

Умрешь - начнешь опять сначала
И повторится все, как встарь:
Ночь, ледяная рябь канала,
Аптека, улица, фонарь.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

The Virgin Mary's magic dehydrating private parts

On the heels of my discovery of the "Geoffrey Chaucer hath a blog" blog, here's another blog that, though covering medieval topics, is thankfully not written in Myddle Englisc. I found this particular post interesting because, in addition to South Park references, the blogger discusses what appears to be a controversial bit of medieval theological wrangling - whether the Holy Virgin menstruated or not.
As it turns out, the Virgin Mary's menstrual cycle was an issue of great concern to medieval theologians. It's a subject that deserves a longer treatment than I could give in a blog entry, but the main conclusion was that yes, she did indeed need to go to a cave once a month. In order for Christ to be born a human, the Virgin had to menstruate, else there would have been no matter for the body to be created out of, and no milk for the baby Jesus to drink once he was embodied.*** While no menstrual blood was collected for worship, phials of the Virgin's milk we venerated at Walsingham and Oviedo among other places in the middle ages.
I guess I found this interesting because this sounds very much the type of discussion one might find in the Gemara. Check out more about Jesus' prepuce and the dehydrating powers of the Virgin's ***** here.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Clash of Civilizations or "You're such a Zugereister"

I think the biggest reasons why things don't go as planned in world conflicts such as Iraq, Israeli-Palestinian, etc. is the simple fact that we don't understand each other culturally, and therefore we assume that the people we're dealing with generally think the same as us and desire the same things we do, and if they don't, it's because they just haven't realized yet that they should. (At this point many of you are saying "Duh!"). Yes it is obvious, but I guess common sense is not very common.

This morning I was thinking of how unique America is, being the only country where it essentially always harbored a plurality of different ethnic groups and religions. Yes I know it is not as motherhood and apple pie as I make it sound, but comparatively speaking, I think I have a leg to stand on in this assertion.

Anyway, this afternoon I came across the following word in Wikipedia which I've not heard before:

In countries where German is spoken (basically Germany, Switzerland and Austria), a Zugereister (literal translation from German: "someone who has travelled here [and stayed]") is someone who, for whatever reason (job, marriage, free will), has moved to a different region and settled there for good. They will have no or hardly any difficulty communicating with the locals but will forever be recognized by their accent and regarded by them as "not one of us". A man is ein Zugereister, a woman eine Zugereiste.

However, this phenomenon mainly applies to rural areas, whereas people who move to the large cities are usually not stigmatized according to where they come from.

People whose first language is not German are not referred to as Zugereiste (even if the concept of travelling from A to B and settling down at B is the same).

The word exists in many regional variants, with different spellings and pronunciations. Indeed the term itself is not used very often.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Maybe the funniest blog ever...

Check out "Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog", especially the post where he put himself on and the review of "Snakes on a Plane".

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

I love you, Pumpkin. I love you Honey Bunny.

So, I've always loved the opening music to Pulp Fiction. Dick Dale doing "Misirlou". It's hard not to notice the Middle Eastern scale in that song. I've always wondered why a surf rocker would choose that sound.

Looked for the song on iTunes. Believe it or not there are something like 50 versions of the song on iTunes alone. At this point I decided to find out why this song is so popular, so I turned to Wikipedia.

The word "Misirlou" means Egyptian girl. Misr in Arabic is Egypt. I am guessing it is a cognate of the Hebrew Mitzraim. Perhaps Mississippi Fred can elaborate...

Anyhow, this song was debuted in Greece in 1927 and became a runaway success. Numerous covers have been made, from Klezmer to jazz, surf rock to Black Eyed Peas (Pump It).

Check it out if you get a chance...

PS, how can iTunes not have the "Paranoid" album from Black Sabbath?

The paradox of Jewish survival for Orthodox Jews

In a comment to my previous post on spirituality Tobie said:
But when the modern era invents concepts like self-identity and meaning and humanism, Judaism must either be changed to fill the need or risk getting thrown out entirely.
It's a good segue into something which I've been thinking about lately. It seems to me that Jews in general are always paranoid about the survival of the Jewish people. But for Orthodox Jews this seems like a denial of faith. If we believe that G-d's promise to us is irrevocable and we are bound by this covenant, then doesn't it stand to reason that the Jews will always survive and eventually reap the rewards of the Messianic Age?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006


Tobie has an interesting post on the role of spirituality in Judaism. I think her analysis is solid. My take on it is that spirituality is needed because otherwise people will not stick to a religion. Leaving Judaism aside, it seems clear that most of the mainstream religions serve a role of comforting mankind when facing with either the unknowns, such as what happens when we die, or dealing with the emotional hardships that life brings.

I think that in some ways the rise of spirituality in Judaism came about as the practice of the commandments became more symbolic. The Orthodox say that Torah encompasses everything in the universe, and I believe that this cannot be argued against, at least not for the ancient Israelites. There was no concept of religion. The Torah described what to do in all aspects of life. And since the Israelites were their own nation, many of the commandments also defined how the nation behaved. There may have been individual Jews that were not performing all the commandments, but as a nation, the Torah was a document that was laying out a blueprint for the behavior of the nation.

For whatever reason, whether it is was a commandment of G-d (as the religious believe) or whether it was a custom or superstition(as the atheists believe), the Jews only ate kosher animals. It was the way of the nation, just like compulsory education is something we have in this country. There was no need to imbue it with "spirituality".

As the centuries went by, I think several things happened. The first is that for whatever reason many of these customs were forgotten or not in practice by the majority of the populace. In many ways, it was the Chazal who reinstituted these customs and I think they had to add a little umph to these practices that were no longer "just how things are done". When I read the works and stories about these proto-rabbis I get the sense that they were the first group to say that just performing the commandments is not good enough, in contrast to the Sadducees, for example.

The other thing that happened is that Judaism had to contend with its rival Christianity in most places where Jews lived. Christianity set itself up as the religion where spirituality is a lot more important. As a matter of fact, i think the focus on mitzvos is one of the key faults that the Christians found in Judaism. Partially to address the spiritual needs of the Jews and partially to compete with Christianity, there was a lot of spirituality added to Judaism during the age of Judah the Chassid and the Kabbalists of Provence and Spain.

So this is my comment on Tobie's post. Mostly my opinion, but hopefully based on reasonable statements.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Karl Yankel

My father-in-law asked me recently if I had ever heard of Isaac Babel. It was a strange sounding question, though it wasn't his fault, like asking me if I'd ever heard of James Thurber or Arthur Miller.

Babel was a fairly well known Soviet writer, known for two areas of work. He was embedded with the Budyonny's Red Cavalry and chronicled the rather bloody and turbulent progress of the Soviet Civil War in the Ukraine and Poland. His other well known body of work was a collection of stories about the Jewish underworld in Revolutionary era Odessa. Perhaps it was for this reason that Babel was especially beloved by the Soviet Jews, and by extension, the Soviet Jewish immigrant community in which I grew up.

In one of his stories, a young couple has a baby boy. The father, a staunch Bolshevik, names the child Karl in honor of the father of Communism. However, while the father is at work, his mother-in-law and his wife take the boy to a mohel, where at a bris he is named Yankel. Hilarity ensues, but the end result is that the boy becomes known as Karl Yankel.

Wait for my next post when I relate this story to some heavy philosophical ideas... For now, everyone have a good Shabbos!