Monday, December 31, 2007


Rhythm and Blue Monday

Sharon Jones doing a great cover of a real funky tune... Check out the dancing!!!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

DH Part I - The Bible with Sources Revealed

I just finished reading R.E. Friedman's "The Bible with Sources Revealed" and I find myself in a weird spot. The book consists of an introduction where the author makes his case for the Documentary Hypothesis and then proceeds to reprint the Torah, color coded based on the different sources, with explanatory footnotes. I found the first part to be well written and promising. But yet, as I read through the book, I can't seem to convince myself that this theory is fully baked. This doesn't necessarily mean that I believe that the Torah was dictated to Moshe by God, nor do I reject all the points REF makes, but there are key points that seem to not add up in my mind. Partially, this may have to do with the fact that I have not done much reading and thinking about this yet, so I am certainly not making any definitive statements in this post, just relaying first impressions.

The main struggle that I have is that if there was an editor to the Torah, (REF believes that there were two!), that editor, for all his efforts, seems to have done a very poor job at certain places in the text, while doing a really good job at other spots. In some places, it's like he is a genius, and in others, it's almost as if it were done by someone who doesn't really understand what he's reading, and certainly has no sense of editorial skill. This seems strange to me. If I understand REF correctly, he seems to think that someone literally took several documents side by side and then started gluing various parts together, trying to reconcile various conflicts and trying to smooth out the edges. To me, this seems like a very bizarre way of going about the process.

If it were I doing this, what I think I would do would be to read the stories, have them coalesce in my brain, and then write down one story which would be an amalgam of the others. In other words, I would not rely on the actual texts, but on the concepts. This is how we usually tell stories to one another. We hear bits and pieces of stories, and we craft them into new versions that build on the older fragments. Why work so hard on preserving and editing the original texts? I could posit that this editor was somehow concerned about preserving the original, but then this idea gets negated by his constant tinkering, tampering and rearranging of the originals.

This notion of tampering is really pronounced in the story of Noach, Gen 7,8,10.
Here is Chap 8, according to REF (blue is P, green is J):

1 And G-d remembered Noah, and every living thing, and all the cattle that were with him in the ark; and G-d made a wind to pass over the earth, and the waters assuaged;

2 the fountains also of the deep and the windows of heaven were stopped, and the rain from heaven was restrained.

3 And the waters returned from off the earth continually; and after the end of a hundred and fifty days the waters decreased.

4 And the ark rested in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, upon the mountains of Ararat.

5 And the waters decreased continually until the tenth month; in the tenth month, on the first day of the month, were the tops of the mountains seen.

6 And it came to pass at the end of forty days, that Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made.

7 And he sent forth a raven, and it went forth to and fro, until the waters were dried up from off the earth.

8 And he sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters were abated from off the face of the ground.

9 But the dove found no rest for the sole of her foot, and she returned unto him to the ark, for the waters were on the face of the whole earth; and he put forth his hand, and took her, and brought her in unto him into the ark.

10 And he stayed yet other seven days; and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark.

11 And the dove came in to him at eventide; and lo in her mouth an olive-leaf freshly plucked; so Noah knew that the waters were abated from off the earth.

12 And he stayed yet other seven days; and sent forth the dove; and she returned not again unto him any more.

13 And it came to pass in the six hundred and first year, in the first month, the first day of the month, the waters were dried up from off the earth; and Noah removed the covering of the ark, and looked, and behold, the face of the ground was dried.

14 And in the second month, on the seven and twentieth day of the month, was the earth dry.
It just seems bizarre to me that the editor would be literally cutting and pasting sentences together from the various documents instead of just writing down a story in his own words that would be a coherent composite.

Boulder Eruv Freakout

Thought provoking, ain't it?

(original article found here)

Friday, December 28, 2007


Saw a bottle of Creme de Cassis at Hungarian, just as I was about to pay for the sliced turkey, Jays and mandarin oranges in a can. Suddenly, despair evaporates.

I shall be having Kir Royales this Shabbos!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Jeebus and the Shomer Shabbos MDs

Chana has an interesting discussion going on about Shomer Shabbos physicians. Tobie is reading the New Testament...

For some reason I started thinking about the fact that these same arguments were happening 2000 years ago...

And he entered again into the synagogue; and there was a man there which had a withered hand. And they watched him, whether he would heal him on the sabbath day; that they might accuse him. And he saith unto the man which had the withered hand, Stand forth. And he saith unto them, Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? To save life, or to kill? But they held their peace.

And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other. And the Pharisees went forth, and straightway took counsel with the Herodians against him, how they might destroy him.

Mark 3:1-6

An Oral Society

A great article in the New Yorker (Dec 24/31) about reading/writing/oral transmission. According to this article, a society which doesn't rely on writing thinks completely differently...
It’s difficult to prove that oral and literate people think differently; orality, Havelock observed, doesn’t “fossilize” except through its nemesis, writing. But some supporting evidence came to hand in 1974, when Aleksandr R. Luria, a Soviet psychologist, published a study based on interviews conducted in the nineteen-thirties with illiterate and newly literate peasants in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Luria found that illiterates had a “graphic-functional” way of thinking that seemed to vanish as they were schooled. In naming colors, for example, literate people said “dark blue” or “light yellow,” but illiterates used metaphorical names like “liver,” “peach,” “decayed teeth,” and “cotton in bloom.” Literates saw optical illusions; illiterates sometimes didn’t. Experimenters showed peasants drawings of a hammer, a saw, an axe, and a log and then asked them to choose the three items that were similar. Illiterates resisted, saying that all the items were useful. If pressed, they considered throwing out the hammer; the situation of chopping wood seemed more cogent to them than any conceptual category. One peasant, informed that someone had grouped the three tools together, discarding the log, replied, “Whoever told you that must have been crazy,” and another suggested, “Probably he’s got a lot of firewood.” One frustrated experimenter showed a picture of three adults and a child and declared, “Now, clearly the child doesn’t belong in this group,” only to have a peasant answer:

Oh, but the boy must stay with the others! All three of them are working, you see, and if they have to keep running out to fetch things, they’ll never get the job done, but the boy can do the running for them.

Illiterates also resisted giving definitions of words and refused to make logical inferences about hypothetical situations. Asked by Luria’s staff about polar bears, a peasant grew testy: “What the cock knows how to do, he does. What I know, I say, and nothing beyond that!” The illiterates did not talk about themselves except in terms of their tangible possessions. “What can I say about my own heart?” one asked.

Whereas literates can rotate concepts in their minds abstractly, orals embed their thoughts in stories. According to Ong, the best way to preserve ideas in the absence of writing is to “think memorable thoughts,” whose zing insures their transmission. In an oral culture, cliché and stereotype are valued, as accumulations of wisdom, and analysis is frowned upon, for putting those accumulations at risk. There’s no such concept as plagiarism, and redundancy is an asset that helps an audience follow a complex argument. Opponents in struggle are more memorable than calm and abstract investigations, so bards revel in name-calling and in “enthusiastic description of physical violence.” Since there’s no way to erase a mistake invisibly, as one may in writing, speakers tend not to correct themselves at all. Words have their present meanings but no older ones, and if the past seems to tell a story with values different from current ones, it is either forgotten or silently adjusted. As the scholars Jack Goody and Ian Watt observed, it is only in a literate culture that the past’s inconsistencies have to be accounted for, a process that encourages skepticism and forces history to diverge from myth.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Answer to global warming - kangaroos

Suitepotato finds this article:
Kangaroo farts could ease global warming

In the wake of the wake

Well, it seems that my idea of a wake for XGH flopped, which leaves me feeling pretty disappointed. I guess most people weren't really in the mood for reflection and contemplation that week.

Monday, December 24, 2007

A good sermon

What I would not give to hear a good sermon on Shabbos. Alas, it is not my destiny.

The latest gem:

Jacob's burial is interrupted by Esau who comes out of nowhere to dispute Jacob's ownership of his burial plot. Naphtali, who seems to have almost supernatural speed runs back to Egypt to retrieve the deed to the plot which would prove ownership, when Hushim ben Dan, Jacob's grandson, a deaf man, asks what's going on. When the situation is explained to him, he acts by decapitating Esau to defend his grandfather's honor(Gemorah in Sota 13).

Now I must admit, I was intrigued at this point about where this was going to lead. I mean, what moral can you learn from such a story? Esau, being Jacob's twin, is no spring chicken at his 130 years of age. Basically, an old man shows up and starts arguing a stupid point about something that happened decades ago. Instead of waiting to peacefully resolve the situation, someone bashes his brains in, and then they go on with their business.

OK, so you can take a Kahanist angle, I suppose, and argue for national pride, for taking crap from nobody, even from your uncle. But here is where our rabbi took us all by surprise. At this point, he switched gears and proclaimed that the biggest concern that Jacob had was for his sons to all get along with one another, and it really pained him that the brothers threw Joseph into the pit. All you need is love, tum tada tada...


Mesopotamian Monday: TMBG - Sargon, Hammurabi, Ashurbanipal, and Gilgamesh

A great song by They Might Be Giants...

My favorite line:
"Hey, man, I thought that you were dead
I thought you crashed your car"
"No, man, I've been right here this whole time playing bass guitar"

How true...

"The life of every man is a diary in which he means to write one story, and writes another."
J M Barrie

Friday, December 21, 2007

SCIENCE is SATAN spelled backwards

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Lakota Indians declare independence from US - US doesn't notice

THE Lakota Indians, who gave the world legendary warriors Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, have withdrawn from treaties with the US.

"We are no longer citizens of the United States of America and all those who live in the five-state area that encompasses our country are free to join us,'' long-time Indian rights activist Russell Means said.
(full story)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

How to buy a brown cow from a Dutchman while speaking Old English

Regarding a previous topic of conversation...

How a man speaking Old English buys a cow from a Dutchman:

Jewish Languedoc

Still thinking about the Montpellier controversy, I became curious about what that Jewish community was like. The first thing I was curious about was the size of these kehillot. Here is what Benjamin of Tudela reports from his visits to the area about 150 years prior.

Narbonne - 300 Jews (I assume he means households)
Lunel - 300 Jews
Posquières - 40 Jews
Bourg de St. Gilles - 100 Jews
Marseilles - 300 Jews

The total population of Montpellier was around 30 to 40 thousand people, so the Jews seem to be a fairly small part of the community.

Here is a map of the area:

God, Plato, Forms, and Queers

So I was perusing the Medieval Club of New York website, when I came across an article about a conference on Hetero/Queer sexuality in the Middle Ages. One of the key ideas that seems to permeate this area of studies is that unlike today's conception of homosexuality, which views it as a deviation from the heterosexual norm, the Medievals conceived both hetero and homo sexual activity to be deviations from the "ideal" of sex, which in the minds of the medieval Christian philosophers was viewed as the sex that Adam and Eve had prior to the Fall. Here is how St Augustine envisions it in Chapter 26 of the City of God:
Surely, every member of the body was equally submissive to the mind and, surely, a man and his wife could play their active and passive roles in the drama of conception without the lecherous promptings of lust, with perfect serenity of soul and with no sense of disintegration between body and soul . . . the seminal flow could have reached the womb with as little rupture of the hymen and by the same vaginal ducts as it at present the case, in reverse, with the menstrual flux. And just as the maturity of the fetus could have brought the child to birth without the moanings of the mother in pain, so could connection and conception have occurred by a mutually deliberate union unhurried by the hunger of lust.

So this really brought home how much that whole worldview was dependent on the Platonic ideas of Forms. And I started thinking that the notion that God is the ultimate Perfection, which seems to be the thrust of the rationalists, such as the Rambam and Rabbeinu Bachya, is really a Platonic concept. [I know it is not much of a revelation]. I don't know if these ideas existed in the much earlier Jewish rabbinic works. Anyone?

So, following my flight of fancy, I googled Plato Forms and God and came across this book.

The interesting thing about this book is that the author is a Professor of Philosophy and Classics with a focus on Queer Studies.

The circle is complete!

Menachem Meiri and Abba Mari

Following up a bit more on the Montpellier controversy, I was reading some of the correspondence between R'Abba Mari and R' Menachem Meiri. Meiri, though believing that Abba Mari had good intentions, and agreeing with the need to curb the activity of the allegorists, takes him to task for going outside of the community and involving outside rabbis in the controversy, especially those who may not be sympathetic to the rational branch of Judaism. He is very concerned about the reputation of the community as a whole and fears that the entire town will be judged unfavorably, especially prominent scholars like him. Furthermore, he fears that this ban would throw away the baby with the bathwater and destroy the spirit of enlightenment and knowledge which had blossomed in Languedoc.

I know, my lord [Abba Mari], I know that many have aroused the arrow of your intellect, and have induced you and our lord, the Rabbi [Rashba], to put an end to the sciences [hochmah], and to expel them almost entirely from our heritage...
The nakedness of this country [Languedoc] and our shame, that ignorant men continuously rise against us and preach in public. They teach antinomian interpretations of the Torah and out of the literal sense of Scripture produce far-fetched figurae [siyyurim], which have no basis in the biblical text or rabbinic tradition.
They [in Barcelona] have added transgression to their words saying, 'Once philosophy spread out over that country [Languedoc], piety and fear of sin ceased. There is no one who knows [philosophy] from his youth who fears God.' But God is indeed in this Place! You [Abba Mari] know well that there is [fear of Him] here! Put out your hand [in covenantal agreement, so that we can pull you aboard]!


The Meiri was an interesting man. Here is what Wikipedia has to say about his works:

His commentary, the Beit HaBechirah (The building of choice), is one of the most monumental works written on the Talmud. This work is less a commentary and more of a digest of all of the comments in the Talmud, arranged in a manner similar to the Talmud - presenting first the mishnah and then laying out the discussions that are raised concerning it. This commentary cites many of the major Rishonim, referring to them not by name but rather by distinguished titles.[1]

His commentary was largely unknown for centuries until being republished in modern times. Thus, it has had much less influence on subsequent halachic development than would have been expected given its stature. Some modern poskim even refuse to take its arguments into consideration, on the grounds that a work so long unknown has ceased to be part of the process of halachic development. This is despite the respect they nevertheless have for the commentary and for its author.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Stone him?

This has been bothering me since Saturday morning...

When I got to shul, I realized that it was pretty warm inside, which was surprising since there weren't a ton of people there, and given that it was December in Chicago. A cursory glance at the thermostat, which happens to be right next to my seat, revealed that the temp was set to 73 degrees instead of the usual 68. I shrugged my shoulders and prepared myself for a couple of hours of being uncomfortable.

Half an hour later, JS walks into shul. JS is an FFB, a man with some personality issues, a gambler and alcoholic, and a very wealthy man. After approximately fifteen minutes, he too realizes that the shul is unusually warm. He stands up, walks across the room into the row of seats in front of me, grins at a few people looking at his actions, and proceeds to press the buttons on the thermostat.

Everyone grins back. I am not sure if the rabbi, whose seat faces the congregation, caught this little drama.

How this can happen in a "Centrist Modern Orthodox" shul, without any reprecussions, disgusts me. Not that I care about what JS does, but the feeling I get that most of the people that call themselves MO, really never spend much time thinking about the O part of that label.

Question for my readers - does this happen in other communities as well?

What about the sausage?

Except when pregnant, my wife leads a mostly vegetarian existence and, I suspect, only eats meat as a concession my carnivorous urges. I can't help it - Eastern Europe is not known for its traditions of vegetarianism. When we saw this scene from "Everything is Illuminated" we both were rolling on the floor laughing, since this is almost exactly how my family reacted to my wife's food preferences when they first met.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Documentary Hypothesis

I have to admit, I know nothing about the DH except the very high level ideas. Multiple documents, one redactor... Perhaps it is time to educate myself.

The blogger that seems to be most pedantic about the DH, who seems to have an infinite amount of patience to analyze every chapter and verse of the Tanach is littlefoxling. As I was re-reading some of his older posts, I came across this quote:
I stumbled upon S. R. Driver’s “Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament,” which was published in 1913.

I was mortified. The book was absolutely chock full of completely irrefutable proof for the DH.
This seems like an incredibly strong statement. Irrefutable proof?

Anyway, I found this introduction to the book on GoogleBooks - it is interesting that while the DH seems like a fatal blow to Orthodox Jews and fundamentalist Christians, Driver and many others seem to have no problem with reconciling their religiosity with their denial of the literal Divine origin of the text.

It is objected however that some of the conclusions of critics respecting the Old Testament are incompatible with the authority of our blessed Lord and that in loyalty to Him we are precluded from accepting them. That our Lord appealed to the Old Testament as the record of a revelation in the past and as pointing forward to Himself is undoubted but these aspects of the Old Testament are perfectly consistent with a critical view of its structure and growth. That our Lord in so appealing to it designed to pronounce a verdict on the authorship and age of its different parts and to foreclose all future inquiry into these subjects is an assumption for which no sufficient ground can be alleged. Had such been His aim it would have been out of harmony with the entire method and tenor of His teaching. In no single instance so far as we are aware did He anticipate the results of scientific inquiry or historical research. The aim of His teaching was a religious one it was to set before men the pattern of a perfect life to move them to imitate it to bring them to Himself. He accepted as the basis of His teaching the opinions respecting the Old Testament current around Him. He assumed in His allusions to it the premises which His opponents recognised and which could not have been questioned even had it been necessary to question them without raising issues for which the time was not yet ripe and which had they been raised would have interfered seriously with the paramount purpose of His life. There is no record of the question whether a particular portion of the Old Testament was written by Moses or David or Isaiah having been ever submitted to Him and had it been so submitted we have no means of knowing what His answer would have been. The purposes for which our Lord appealed to the Old Testament its prophetic significance and the spiritual lessons deducible from it are not as has been already remarked above affected by critical inquiries. Criticism in the hands of Christian scholars does not banish or destroy the inspiration of the Old Testament it presupposes it it seeks only to determine the conditions under which it operates and the literary forms through which it manifests itself and it thus helps us to frame truer conceptions of the methods which it has pleased God to employ in revealing Himself to His ancient people of Israel and in preparing the way for the fuller manifestation of Himself in Christ Jesus.

Conversion Mania

The story of the conversion of the Khazars is of course well known, but how many of you have heard of DHU NUWAS, ZUR'AH YUSUF IBN TUBAN AS'AD ABI KARIB, the Jewish convert king of Yemen?

Music Monday - תומר יוסף - את אהובתי

Something a little different from Moshav Band and Blue Fringe...

Friday, December 14, 2007

A Wake for XGH

OK, so it's not a Jewish tradition, but I think it is fitting to hold a wake to celebrate the passing of XGH's blog. A few days ago I had a moment of reflection, and I said to myself - "Self, after all these years of reading that blog, how has it impacted your life?" And then I thought, perhaps this would be a good time for the others, people who have spent so much mental energy reading and posting on that blog, to also reflect what impact the blog had on their lives. It would be a fitting tribute...

So with this in mind I call on the friends and foes of XGH to post a few paragraphs sharing how XGH's blog influenced them. Feel free to post it in comments on this post, or if you have your own blog, post it there, and link to this post.

b. spinoza
David Guttman
holy hyrax
Yehudi Hilchati
Jacob Stein
lakewood yid
Rabban Gamliel

anyone else I missed...

Starting with myself, I think the blog had several big impacts. The biggest was just the sheer number of references to books and ideas that I was not aware of. Each mention was an opportunity to look into the book or the person and learn about them. I was exposed to so many new ideas in theology and philosophy, that I will be busy for decades absorbing all this new information.

Then there was the social aspect of hanging on at the blog. It drew some of the wittiest, quickest, funniest people I've known. What can I say, we Jews can do humor like no one else. It was like a frum Algonquin table.

Finally, the blog allowed me to practice self control and learning how to let things go and not argue when the cause is lost, even if you feel you are in the right.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Mitzvah goreret mitzvah

A few of you may know who Jean Astruc was. It was he who first came up with the idea of the Documentary Hypothesis. Of course, at the time he was trying to defend the Bible from the attacks of atheists who brought up apparent anachronisms and inconsistencies in an effort to disprove Mosaic authorship. Astruc theorized that Moshe wrote four books, and then a later writer compiled them into a single work. However, the road to hell being paved with good intentions, the baton was picked up by guys like Wellhausen, who used Astruc's argument against him.

Amazingly, Astruc, though a Christian, had good yichus, coming fromthe same medieval Jewish family which produced rabbi Abba Mari of Lunel, AKA The Yarchi. The Yarchi, of course, being famous for the cherem of Montpellier. Here's what Wikipedia has to say about the controversy:
Abba Mari possessed considerable Talmudic knowledge and some poetical talent; but his zeal for the Law made him an agitator and a persecutor of all the advocates of liberal thought. Being himself without sufficient authority, he appealed in a number of letters, afterward published under the title of Minḥat Ḳenaot (Jealousy Offering), to Solomon ben Adret of Barcelona, the most influential rabbi of the time, to use his powerful authority to check the source of evil by hurling his anathema against both the study of philosophy and the allegorical interpretations of the Bible, which did away with all belief in miracles. Ben Adret, while reluctant to interfere in the affairs of other congregations, was in perfect accord with Abba Mari as to the danger of the new rationalistic systems, and advised him to organize the conservative forces in defense of the Law. Abba Mari, through Ben Adret's aid, obtained allies eager to take up his cause, among whom were Don Bonafoux Vidal of Barcelona and his brother, Don Crescas Vidal, then in Perpignan. The proposition of the latter to prohibit, under penalty of excommunication, the study of philosophy and any of the sciences except medicine, by one under thirty years of age, met with the approval of Ben Adret. Accordingly, Ben Adret addressed to the congregation of Montpellier a letter, signed by fifteen other rabbis, proposing to issue a decree pronouncing the anathema against all those who should pursue the study of philosophy and science before due maturity in age and in rabbinical knowledge. On a Sabbath in September, 1304, the letter was to be read before the congregation, when Jacob Machir Don Profiat Tibbon, the renowned astronomical and mathematical writer, entered his protest against such unlawful interference by the Barcelona rabbis, and a schism ensued. Twenty-eight members signed Abba Mari's letter of approval; the others, under Tibbon's leadership, addressed another letter to Ben Adret, rebuking him and his colleagues for condemning a whole community without knowledge of the local conditions. Finally, the agitation for and against the liberal ideas brought about a schism in the entire Jewish population in southern France and Spain.

Encouraged, however, by letters signed by the rabbis of Argentière and Lunel, and particularly by the support of Kalonymus ben Todros, the nasi of Narbonne, and of the eminent Talmudist Asheri of Toledo, Ben Adret issued a decree, signed by thirty-three rabbis of Barcelona, excommunicating those who should, within the next fifty years, study physics or metaphysics before their thirtieth year of age (basing his action on the principle laid down by Maimonides, Guide for the Perplexed part one chapter 34), and had the order promulgated in the synagogue on Sabbath, July 26, 1305. When this heresy-decree, to be made effective, was forwarded to other congregations for approval, the friends of liberal thought, under the leadership of the Tibbonites, issued a counter-ban, and the conflict threatened to assume a serious character, as blind party zeal (this time on the liberal side) did not shrink from asking the civil powers to intervene. But an unlooked-for calamity brought the warfare to an end. The expulsion of the Jews from France by Philip IV ("the Fair"), in 1306, caused the Jews of Montpellier to take refuge, partly in Provence, partly in Perpignan and partly in Majorca. Consequently, Abba Mari removed first to Arles, and, within the same year, to Perpignan, where he finally settled and disappeared from public view. There he published his correspondence with Ben Adret and his colleagues.


איה כורם - קיץ

In Defense of Science

Inspired (actually, despaired) by the discussion on XGH's blog about the credibility of Science, I was about to put up a post, when the prolific bugger beat me to it.

The Money Quote

"I can argue either side of any subject equally well."

This is why I made up my mind not to argue with this guy. Which is a shame because he is not an idiot, and he will sometimes say things that are insightful. However, most of the time, he will argue for days about something and in the end the argument will always be a bust because it turns out he has his own definitions of pretty much anything.

Good! Got THAT off my chest...

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Tolstoy - Confession

I am still making my way through Tolstoy's 'Confession'. It is a marvelously written essay, although I have to say that having read through it once, I don't think I understand the conclusions he reached. So I am re-reading the end of it again.

The first 3/4 of the work describe his disenchantment with religion, his descent first into epicurianism, then into writing and teaching, and business affairs. The crux of the work is the buildup to his existential crisis and his search for the meaning of life and his purpose, first in the rational world, and then concluding that he would not find the answers in the rational world, embracing the irrational world of faith...

Tosltoy's biggest struggle is looking for a reason to live:

These are the direct replies that human wisdom gives when it replies to life’s question.

“The life of the body is an evil and a lie. Therefore the destruction of the life of the body is a blessing, and we should desire it,” says Socrates.

“Life is that which should not be — an evil; and the passage into Nothingness is the only good in life,” says Schopenhauer.

“All that is in the world — folly and wisdom and riches and poverty and mirth and grief — is vanity and emptiness. Man dies and nothing is left of him. And that is stupid,” says Solomon.

“To life in the consciousness of the inevitability of suffering, of becoming enfeebled, of old age and of death, is impossible — we must free ourselves from life, from all possible life,” says Buddha.

And what these strong minds said has been said and thought and felt by millions upon millions of people like them. And I have thought it and felt it.

So my wandering among the sciences, far from freeing me from my despair, only strengthened it. One kind of knowledge did not reply to life’s question, the other kind replied directly confirming my despair, indicating not that the result at which I had arrived was the fruit of error or of a diseased state of my mind, but on the contrary that I had thought correctly, and that my thoughts coincided with the conclusions of the most powerful of human minds.

It is no good deceiving oneself. It is all — vanity! Happy is he who has not been born: death is better than life, and one must free oneself from life.
Reason leads him to believe that the only reasonable thing to do is to end his life and first attributed his inability to kill himself to weakness and hypocracy. But as he thought more about it, he was troubled by the fact that millions of people, simple, uneducated, managed to find a reason to live. Tolstoy felt that perhaps there was something there which he needed to explore and understand...

Monday, December 10, 2007

Converts in Positions on Communal Authority

It all started when XGH posted about members being dissatisfied with the NCYI. Among the multitude of reasons was this one:

Ban against women and converts being shul presidents.

I was really taken by surprise when I was informed in the comments that this is dictated by halacha. Actually, surprised is probably the wrong adjective. Disheartened, disappointed? Here is yet another injustice I have to defend to myself. Many of the arguments against the rationality of this halacha are brought up in the Hirhurim article I linked to above. Blu Greenberg wrote in one of her books, "where there's a rabbinic will, there's a halachic way". Is there any interest in changing this halacha? Does anyone care?

Mexicali Blues Monday

Check out this kazoo and ukuleli rendition of the Grateful Dead masterpiece...

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Codex Seraphinianus

Not too long ago, I wrote about Tlön. And I've heard about the Voynich Manuscript... But this thing I stumbled across yesterday really blew my mind!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Ransom of Red Chief

Mississippi Fred's passing reference to O. Henry reminded me of one of my favorite O. Henry short stories (made into a Soviet comedy film)

Hope you enjoy it...

It looked like a good thing: but wait till I tell you. We were down South, in Alabama--Bill Driscoll and myself-when this kidnapping idea struck us. It was, as Bill afterward expressed it, 'during a moment of temporary mental apparition'; but we didn't find that out till later.

There was a town down there, as flat as a flannel-cake, and called Summit, of course. It contained inhabitants of as undeleterious and self-satisfied a class of peasantry as ever clustered around a Maypole.

Bill and me had a joint capital of about six hundred dollars, and we needed just two thousand dollars more to pull off a fraudulent town-lot scheme in Western Illinois with. We talked it over on the front steps of the hotel. Philoprogenitiveness, says we, is strong in semi-rural communities therefore, and for other reasons, a kidnapping project ought to do better there than in the radius of newspapers that send reporters out in plain clothes to stir up talk about such things. We knew that Summit couldn't get after us with anything stronger than constables and, maybe, some lackadaisical bloodhounds and a diatribe or two in the Weekly Farmers' Budget. So, it looked good.

We selected for our victim the only child of a prominent citizen named Ebenezer Dorset. The father was respectable and tight, a mortgage fancier and a stern, upright collection-plate passer and forecloser. The kid was a boy of ten, with bas-relief freckles, and hair the colour of the cover of the magazine you buy at the news-stand when you want to catch a train. Bill and me figured that Ebenezer would melt down for a ransom of two thousand dollars to a cent. But wait till I tell you.


Tuesday, December 04, 2007

And speaking of LiveJournal...

how about some S(o)UP?

Cherry Blossoms

About six months ago I found out about a whole Universe of blogs out there which is only accessible to Russian speakers. For some reasons, Russians, and Russian Israelis all hang out on livejournal. Lately I have been reading random blogs. Here is a tiny excerpt from a Russian Israeli woman who lives in Japan, apparently working as a language teacher (not sure which language).
There is, apparently, in the Japanese language this concept - Chirighiva. Well, it is not surprising, in Japanese you can find practically all concepts, except perhaps a few... Chirighiva - it is when the cherry blossoms fall, baring the dark wood of the branches, introducing a slight turmoil into the soul and at the same time an inexpressible sense of beauty and harmony. Because, as it is well known, the charm of beauty is in its transiency. Or, as Somerset Maugham, I think, wrote -in beauty there is always a certain pain for the soul.
I envy the Japanese language that can express this concept in a single word; I envy the Japanese people who can develop such an idea; and I envy this Russian Israeli woman who is there experiencing Chirighiva.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Evolution - Language of the Torah

Fæder ure þu þe eart on heofonum,
Si þin nama gehalgod.
To becume þin rice,
gewurþe ðin willa, on eorðan swa swa on heofonum.
Urne gedæghwamlican hlaf syle us todæg,
and forgyf us ure gyltas, swa swa we forgyfað urum gyltendum.
And ne gelæd þu us on costnunge, ac alys us of yfele.

The text above is the Lord's Prayer written in Old English - a language that was spoken between 1600 and 900 years ago. I cannot make out anything that I could recognize out of it, can you?

What struck as odd, sitting in shul this Shabbos, is why do we not see larger variations between the Biblical Hebrew of the Torah and subsequent Mishnaic, and post-Mishnaic Hebrew. I can theorize that as the usage of Hebrew in everyday speech dropped off in favor of Aramaic and Greek, the language essentially ossified. But prior to that time, I would assume that as a living and changing language, it would have changed no less drastically in the thousand plus years since Moses.

Is the Old English example just an odd case, do other languages not evolve that dramatically? It seems like in the question of dating the Torah, the characteristics of the language would have been an easy map marker.

Zydeco Monday

I remember, it must have been around 1993, that I saw that C.J. Chenier was going to play in some bar in Chicago. I was pretty excited, because I had just discovered Zydeco and fell in love with it. I called up the bar to see if there were any tickets left and while talking to the guy I mentioned how excited I was to see Clifton Chenier, "The King of Zydeco". Imagine my embarrassment when the guy told me that Clifton died about six years back, and this was his son CJ's show, who was a sax player.

Anyway, here is a clip of "The King of the Bayou" doing his thing.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Who wants a stroller in the winter?

when you can buy one of these: