Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Jerusalem Syndrome

Der Fuhrer und Lehrer Der Menschheit im Kampf fur Frieden, Demokratie und Sozialismus


The notion of heresy always involves something which both the true believers and the heretics hold in common. I don't think that Catholics would consider Buddhists to be heretics in the same way they would Arianists or Ebionites. However, both of these sects' beliefs were a fairly radical departure from what became orthodox Christianity.

A more fascinating situation is when a sect is accused of heresy over very subtle matters. For example, in the great schism between the Mitnagdim and the Chassidim, a major theological disagreement seemed to be the degree of G-d's immanence in the world. This seemed to be the crux of the GRA's famous letter to the Jewish communities in White Russia and the Ukraine.

This is similar in my mind to the great controversy in the Catholic church of the thirteenth century over the notion of Christ's poverty. Interestingly, while the Franciscan brotherhood preached poverty, it was not declared heretical, while other groups such as the Fraticelli and the Waldensians were.

Interestingly, in both cases, there were also secondary motivations for declaring the new groups heretical. both Chassidim and the Catholic poverty movements opposed elitism and endorsed power of the common people.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Scary article about fascism among the "Putinjugend" in the Motherland.

Friday, July 27, 2007

The miracle of language...

Chana wrote a post today, thinking that no one would understand her. It turns out many people, including myself share her feelings to some degree. I pointed her to a post that I wrote in April which was triggered by me listening to some excerpts from "Notes from the Underground".

There is something amazing in this chain of cause and effect. Steven Pinker starts his phenomenal book "The Language Instinct" with these words:

As you are reading these words, you are taking part in one of the wonders of the natural world. For you and I belong to a species with a remarkable ability: we can shape events in each other's brains with exquisite precision. I am not referring to telepathy or mind control or the other obsessions of fringe science; even in the depictions of believers these are blunt instruments compared to an ability that is uncontroversially present in every one of us. That ability is language. Simply by making noises with our mouths, we can reliably cause precise new combinations of ideas to arise in each other's minds. The ability comes so naturally that we are apt to forget what a miracle it is...

I completely agree with Dr. Pinker. The ability to transmit this shared consciousness is nothing short of miraculous. I believe it is one of the foundations of our humanity.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

mens rea

How many people in this country actively commit crime? By this I don't mean offenses that I would consider 'technically illegal' but essentially victimless crimes, e.g. letting your 16 year old kid drink a glass of wine with dinner or even smoking pot or downloading music illegally.

I am talking about the real deal, where you are stealing, pimping whores, or selling crystal meth to kids... I get the sense that outside of the bubble in which I live, stuff like this happens a lot. Which basically makes me think about the fact that a large percentage of our population, maybe 30 percent (pure SWAG), is ignoring the laws which theoretically they consented to abiding by.

I don't think this was a problem in previous modes of society where laws were imposed by a religious authority or by the upper classes upon the lower classes. But it seems weirdly hypocritical in a supposedly democratic system.


Laugh, gypsy!

The last time I saw gypsies was in Rome, when two girls tried to steal something from my wife's purse, using the old trick of pretending to ask for directions and sticking a map into our faces. Luckily we knew what was up and shoo'ed them away.

Before that, when I was a child back in Kiev. Saw quite a few of them. And of course was threatened by my grandparents that the gypsies would steal me if I misbehaved. Strangely enough, I haven't seen any around Chicago. I don't know if they are just blending in better, or if they have disappeared completely.

It used to be that it was hard to miss a gypsy when you saw them. Especially back in the Ukraine. Just as Jews don't look like Slavs, neither do the gypsies, who hail from the Indian subcontinent. Plus the distinctive dress, both men and women favoring red and other bright colored, loudly patterned clothing...

Here's a clip from an old Soviet movie featuring a real gypsy singer. His song is the epitome of gypsy life - he brags - "Lock up my freedom behind iron bars, I'll steal it along with the bars!... Lock up your black stallion behind five locks, I'll steal it along with the locks!... Lock up your girl behind a high fence, I'll steal her along with the fence!". And the music - the traditional three chord gypsy music which Lizst and the rest of the Europeans adopted so extensively...

And here's another clip from a movie about gypsies based on a short story by Maxim Gorky. The clip starts with one gypsy telling a newly arrived gypsy from another tribe - "...And our young women here - they are walking icons!" Of course he is right.

OK. A couple more things... The second clip here is sung in the Roma/Gypsy language, as opposed to the first one which was sung in Russian. Gypsies are polyglots by necessity being a wandering nation, but they retain their own language, which is very close to Hindi. As a matter of fact, gypsies have been known to watch Indian films and understand the gist of what is said.

Also note that the clothing of the women is very similar to what women wear on the Indian subcontinent...

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Monsieur Chouchani

I should stop being surprised when I come across people that I'd never heard of before though it seems I should have. Perhaps Mississippi Fred has a post in waiting about him?

Vigoda describes Chouchani's method of teaching Talmud thus: He would explain an issue in a certain way, then he would challenge the foundations of the approach used and interpret the issue in an entirely new manner; he would then challenge that approach and continue this process again and again. His teaching relied on questions and skepticism; he was not much interested in answers. Some of his students feared his approach even more than they dreaded his rebuke of their ignorance.

Wiesel relates how a friend who had studied with him under Chouchani in France warned Wiesel that their teacher wanted to weaken the foundations of their belief and admitted that he found Chouchani frightening. That person, notes Wiesel, later traveled to Brooklyn and became the head of a yeshiva and one of the greatest rabbinical authorities of his generation.

Read the entire fascinating story here...

Friday, July 20, 2007

Meaningful or Cruel?

"Speaking of Tisha B'Av at camp, I don't know if I've ever posted what happened that summer, but I was 12, and our division was made up of 10-12 year olds. The week leading up to Tisha B'Av, we had arts and crafts every day but Shabbat. They gave us a piece of construction paper, and our assignment was to decorate it with our ideas about Judaism, Israel and Jerusalem.
For those of you who've never been to camp, a week at camp is like a month or more back in the real world. We really poured our hearts into those little projects.
When Eicha was finished, kinot started, but the littler kids, which included me that year, were led out before that. They took us back to one of the sports fields, and when we were all standing there, they turned on a light, and we saw that they had assembled all of our art projects into a magnificent tapestry. It was beautiful, and they had it up on two poles with the light shining on it. I don't think I'll ever forget the way it looked.
And then they torched it.
Of course, if someone were to try this stunt in 2005, they'd be sued into financial oblivion for traumatizing the children, and I was certainly traumatized by it. Hell, that was 30 years ago, and it's vivid in my memory. But I think it was great.
We had discussion groups the next day where we talked about it. Of course, losing a piece of paper that you'd spent maybe 4-5 hours decorating hardly compares to what we're remembering on Tisha B'Av, but for kids, it's something that's small enough to be grasped, and enough of a loss to hurt."

Found this at "Jew without Labels"

Thursday, July 19, 2007


Saw a survivor yesterday in Bagel Country. He was there with his wife and looks like some friends/relatives from out of town. The tattoo jumped out at me, surprised me with its presence. I guess you're supposed to just ignore it when you see it. Not much of a conversation piece. His name is Eli, btw, - I peeked at his credit card.

Its been a few years since I last saw a tattoo. Caught a glimpse of it on the forearm of one of the guys who used to work at the Kaboff deli in Northbrook. Always joking around among themselves as they sliced the orders. Razzing one another, telling dirty jokes... Regular guys.

Before that, the baal korei at the Northbrook shul. The guy could barely walk up to the bimah. Grew up secular in Poland. Wound up in Palestine after the camps. Learned to speak Hebrew there. Moved to the States some time ago and decided to learn how to layn.

Every picture tells a story, don't it...

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Il nome della rosa

I understood at that moment my master's method of reasoning, and it seemed to me quite alien to that of the philosopher, who reasons by first principles, so that his intellect almost assumes the ways of the divine intellect. I understood that, when he didn't have an answer, William proposed many to himself, very different one from another. I remained puzzled.

"But then... " I ventured to remark, "you are still far from a solution... "

"I am very close to one," William said, "but I don't know which."

"Therefore you don't have a single answer to your questions."

"Adso, if I did I would teach theology in Paris."

"In Paris do they always have the true answer?"

"Never," William said, "but they are very sure of their errors."

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Svyatoslav Richter and Young Frankenstein

separated at birth?

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by
madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at
dawn looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient
heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the
machinery of night,
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high
sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of
cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities
contemplating jazz...

I was thinking about how unimpressed I am by "Howl" above, Alan Ginsberg, and William S . Burroughs with his "Naked Lunch", and Ken KeseyJack Kerouac with his "On the Road", and how I don't find Lenny Bruce very shocking and how much the perception of what is shocking is really just a reaction to what is considered the norm for society and really can only be viewed in the context of their time, and so in some ways they fail the test of greatness, because, IMHO, outside of their zeitgeist they don't shine very bright...

Monday, July 09, 2007

If you're planning to run with the bulls...

please don't wear a kilt!

Friday, July 06, 2007

אני מאמין באמונה שלמה בביאת המשיח, ואף-על-פי שיתמהמה - עם כל זה אחכה לו בכל יום שיבוא