Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Lake Freakin Woebegone

A correspondent from the UP of Michigan sends in some local news to this blog:
CO Joe Molnar and Sgt. Chris Morris were checking anglers on Otsego Lake when they encountered three anglers in a boat. Only one angler had caught a fish which happened to be a 14-inch walleye. The subject was advised he would be receiving a ticket for keeping the short fish. One of the other anglers stated, "Do you really want to give my buddy his first ticket?" A computer check showed that he had two prior fish and game arrests which silenced the angler's friend.

I should send him the Evanston police blotter!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Ain't no way...

Why is it that when they talk about Techiat haMeitim, they make it sound so much funkier?

The blood of the Lamb :)

Are you washed, are you washed
In the blood, in the blood,
In the soul cleansing blood of the Lamb?
Are you garments spotless ? Are they white as snow?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?

Monday, April 28, 2008

Chametz u'Matzah

Something I was thinking about this weekend - We eat matzah on Passover because of the fact the Jews left Egypt in haste and their dough did not have time to rise. Also to commemorate the "bread of affliction" that we ate as slaves.

What struck me as a little strange is how did the "positive commandment" notion of eating matzah become such a strict prohibition against eating chametz, so strict that even possessing chametz earns you "kares", your soul being cut off from your people (whatever that means).

It seems slightly weird. Why eliminate all chametz, instead of just adding a commandment to make sure you eat Matzah. My wife speculated that perhaps to heighten the experience of eating Matzah only, you need to enforce total eradication of chametz. I can kind of buy that argument, though it seems that the punishment is still disproportionate. Why get rid of all the chametz? Why not just say, don't eat it for a week.

Disappointed Again

So a little while back, on XGH's blog, our favorite obscurantist and obfuscationist Daganev dropped his typical cryptic aside in response to XGH's comment:
"ALso Yus I'm sure you'll agree that God is pretty awesome wouldn't you say? Awesome enough to back up the assertion that an Intelligent Being created Him?
XGH | 04.15.08 - 5:59 pm | # "


Seriously... read Derech Hashem or something... (I think that is simple enough)
So having read some of Derech Hashem a couple years back, I thought - did I miss something key in that book? Did RAMCHAL have some chiddush that I didn't catch? But when I asked Daganev, what precisely he was alluding to, he replied:
Actually, I don't remember at all what the Ramchal wrote, I read it back in 9th grade. I do however remember the conversation I had with my math teacher regarding infinity and god after I read it. So I thought it would be a simple enough book to go over the necessity of inifnity outside of creation.
You'd think that someone who read a book as a fourteen year old may want to review it before using it in an adult argument, but I decided to give Daganev the benefit of the doubt and I decided to re-visit Derech Hashem.

I'll skip the suspense - it was a disappointment. Here is how the book starts:
[1] Every Jew must believe and know that there exists a first Being, without beginning or end, who brought all things into existence and continues to sustain them. This Being is God.

[2] It is furthermore necessary to know that God's true nature cannot be understood at all by any being other than Himself. The only thing we know about Him is that He is perfect in every possible way and devoid of every possible deficiency.

These things are known by tradition from the Patriarchs and prophets. With the revelation at Sinai, all Israel perceived them and gained a clear grasp of their true nature. They then taught them to their children, generation after generation until this very day. Moshe had thus commanded them (Devarim 4:9), "You shall not forget the things that you saw with your own eyes...and you shall make them known to your children and your children's children."

These concepts can also be logically verified by demonstrable proofs. Their veracity can be demonstrated from what we observ in nature and it's phenomena. Through such scientific disciplines as physics and astronomy, certain basic principles can be derived, and on the basis of these, clear evidence for these concepts deduced. We will not occupy ourselves with this, however, but will rather set forth the well-known basic principles handed down by tradition.
The rest of the book doesn't really seem to deal with anything related to what Daganev implied. It seems to be a fairly conventional exposition of Judaism with a kabbalistic bend. RAMCHAL goes into concepts such as Angels which control trees being overwhelmed temporarily by Angels which control wind, the advent of the Forces of evil during the night time, the way that the stars are used to influence events on Earth, and all sorts of other goodies.

I don't have anything against the RAMCHAL. In the context of his time, his framework seems perfectly reasonable. But to use him as the trump card for arguments of the origin of God and the Universe seems at best misguided and at worst disingenuous.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Music Monday - Ary Barroso

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Zen and the Brain

A reader pointed me towards Zen and the Brain, which attempts to reconcile the relationship between Zen and the neurology of the brain.

I started thinking about a couple of things:

First - Buddhism and the concept of suffering. The notion that the solution to suffering is detachment from this world seems odd. I am sure there is more to it that I don't understand yet.

Which brings up the second point. It seems like most other popular ideas, others took Buddha's ideas and greatly expanded and complicated them. And just like every other set of "Big Ideas" there was a counter reaction to the complexity and intellectualism which focused on simplification and going back to the basics.

And lastly, that just like every other human endeavor, the reality of human beings means that often the behavior of people is the opposite of their core beliefs. Hence, despite the ideals of non-violence in Buddhism, there have been plenty of violence and killing that was done by Buddhists throughout history.

But the book sounds like an interesting read...

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

More Morality Musings - Revenge Killings

In 1992, when Daniel Wemp was about twenty-two years old, his beloved paternal uncle Soll was killed in a battle against the neighboring Ombal clan. In the New Guinea Highlands, where Daniel and his Handa clan live, uncles and aunts play a big role in raising children, so an uncle’s death represents a much heavier blow than it might to most Americans. Daniel often did not even distinguish between his biological father and other male clansmen of his father’s generation. And Soll had been very good to Daniel, who recalled him as a tall and handsome man, destined to become a leader. Soll’s death demanded vengeance.

Daniel told me that responsibility for arranging revenge usually falls on the victim’s firstborn son or, failing that, on one of his brothers. “Soll did have a son, but he was only six years old at the time of his father’s death, much too young to organize the revenge,” Daniel said. “On the other hand, my father was felt to be too old and weak by then; the avenger should be a strong young man in his prime. So I was the one who became expected to avenge Soll.” As it turned out, it took three years, twenty-nine more killings, and the sacrifice of three hundred pigs before Daniel succeeded in discharging this responsibility.

I first met Daniel half a dozen years after these events, while he was working for the Papua New Guinea branch of ChevronTexaco, which was then managing oil fields in the Southern Highlands, about thirty miles from Daniel’s home village. The fields, where I was doing environmental studies, lie in forest-covered hills near the beautiful Lake Kutubu. The weather is warm but wet—the region gets hundreds of inches of rain a year. As the driver assigned to me, Daniel picked me up an hour before dawn each day, drove me out along narrow dirt roads, waited while I jumped out every mile or so to record birdsongs, and drove me back to the oil camp in time for lunch. He was slim but muscular, and, like other New Guinea Highlanders, dark-skinned, with tightly coiled dark hair, dark eyes, and a strongly contoured face. From the outset, I found him to be a happy, enthusiastic, sociable person. During our hours together on the road, we enjoyed sharing our life stories. Despite some big differences between our backgrounds—Daniel’s Highland village life focussed on growing sweet potatoes, raising pigs, and fighting, and my American city life focussed on college teaching and research—we enjoyed many of the same things, such as our wives and children, conversation, sports, birds, and driving cars. It was in these conversations that he told me the story of his revenge.

Daniel’s homeland and other parts of the New Guinea Highlands have been of interest to anthropologists ever since the nineteen-thirties, when Australian and Dutch prospectors and patrols “discovered” a million stone-tool-using tribespeople previously unknown to the outside world, and began to introduce them to metal, writing, missionaries, and state government. Since then, changes have been rapid. When I first visited New Guinea as a scientist, in 1964, most Highlanders still lived in thatched huts with walls of hand-hewn planks, and many wore grass skirts and no shirts; now many huts have tin roofs and most people wear T-shirts and shorts or trousers. And yet Highlanders still inhabit two worlds simultaneously. Daniel’s loyalties are first to his Handa clan and to his Nipa tribe, and then to his nation of Papua New Guinea, which is attempting to weld its thousands of clans and hundreds of tribes into a peaceful democracy.

State government is now so nearly universal around the globe that we forget how recent an innovation it is; the first states are thought to have arisen only about fifty-five hundred years ago, in the Fertile Crescent. Before there were states, Daniel’s method of resolving major disputes—either violently or by payment of compensation—was the worldwide norm. Papua New Guinea is not the only place where those traditional methods of dispute resolution still coexist uneasily with the methods of state government. For example, Daniel’s methods might seem quite familiar to members of urban gangs in America, and also to Somalis, Afghans, Kenyans, and peoples of other countries where tribal ties remain strong and state control weak. As I eventually came to realize, Daniel’s thirst for vengeance and his hostility to rival clans are really not so far from our own habits of mind as we might like to think.

[Full article in the New Yorker]

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Morality Discussions

Orthoprax and others have been discussing whether morality is objective or subjective... I weighed in on the issue in the comment section, but this article about the polygamists brought the topic back to my mind:

In the wide-ranging interview, Rodriguez asked, “After all this, can you see why society looks upon you and says, ‘A girl who's younger than 18 shouldn't be married and having sex?’ Has this forced you to reconsider?”

I am not even sure what she is saying. Many states allow marriages between parties younger than 18, as long as there is parental consent. Or is her point that marriage between the older men, in their 30's, for example, and the 18 year old girls is wrong? Because, frankly, up until 80 years ago or so, it was fairly normal for older men to marry young women.

All consuming...

My wife was telling me something or other over the weekend, and I realized that she thinks about all sorts of stuff, kind of going over and over things in her head. And then I realized that I no longer do that; haven't done that for many years now. There is only one thing I think about now, obsessively, incessantly - this biblical, Judaic, religious stuff, and it seems to consume all my brain processing cycles, like some runaway program.

I don't think it is healthy, but I can't seem to break out of this loop.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Music Monday - Dead Kennedys

Four cups of wine leaves you "Too Drunk to ****".

Sorry, parental discretion is DEFINITELY advised...

Forget Lipa - Chareidi Rabbonim ban smoking during Pesach!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Good timing:"When and How the Jewish People Was Invented?"

Of all the national heroes who have arisen from among the Jewish people over the generations, fate has not been kind to Dahia al-Kahina, a leader of the Berbers in the Aures Mountains. Although she was a proud Jewess, few Israelis have ever heard the name of this warrior-queen who, in the seventh century C.E., united a number of Berber tribes and pushed back the Muslim army that invaded North Africa. It is possible that the reason for this is that al-Kahina was the daughter of a Berber tribe that had converted to Judaism, apparently several generations before she was born, sometime around the 6th century C.E.

According to the Tel Aviv University historian, Prof. Shlomo Sand, author of "Matai ve'ech humtza ha'am hayehudi?" ("When and How the Jewish People Was Invented?"; Resling, in Hebrew), the queen's tribe and other local tribes that converted to Judaism are the main sources from which Spanish Jewry sprang. This claim that the Jews of North Africa originated in indigenous tribes that became Jewish - and not in communities exiled from Jerusalem - is just one element of the far- reaching argument set forth in Sand's new book.

In this work, the author attempts to prove that the Jews now living in Israel and other places in the world are not at all descendants of the ancient people who inhabited the Kingdom of Judea during the First and Second Temple period. Their origins, according to him, are in varied peoples that converted to Judaism during the course of history, in different corners of the Mediterranean Basin and the adjacent regions. Not only are the North African Jews for the most part descendants of pagans who converted to Judaism, but so are the Jews of Yemen (remnants of the Himyar Kingdom in the Arab Peninsula, who converted to Judaism in the fourth century) and the Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe (refugees from the Kingdom of the Khazars, who converted in the eighth century).

[full story here]

This has bearing on the discussion with EvanstonJew about falsehoods and self fulfilling prophecies. More, b'li neder, after Pesach.


My wife asked me a question, and I have no idea what the answer is.

Our understanding of why the Ashkenazim don't eat kitniot for Pesach is because the various grains and legumes were often ground at the same mill and so it was possible that the legumes would be contaminated by grains or one would be mistaken for the other. But what is the reason for prohibiting the eating of non-ground corn or beans? Surely, these cannot be mistaken for grain? Why can't we eat corn on the cob with our Passover brisket?

Though this year the cRc seems to be a lot more lenient. They allowed fennel greens to be eaten for Passover. Fennel seeds are still forbidden as kitniot.

In general, this year the cRc Passover guide seems to be a lot more lenient. I wonder what's going on?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

It's about Heidegger, Derrida -- all this stuff...


Jonathan Yegge, a 24-year-old scholar at the San Francisco Art Institute, is angry, anxious, resentful.

Yegge's plight, his mood, and his outlook are a small -- no, minuscule -- portion of the aftermath of a performance art piece he crafted three weeks ago for an art class in the school's New Genres department, led by sometimes-controversial professor Tony Labat.

Yegge asked for a volunteer from the class, got one, then took the young man aside into an empty room. Yegge handed the soon-to-be subject of his artwork a makeshift contract stating that the volunteer was agreeing to participate in a performance piece containing acts "including and up to a sexual or violent nature." The volunteer signed the contract.

Yegge led the volunteer out into a campus public area, in front of Labat's class and anyone else who happened by, and then ... well, maybe it's best to let Yegge explain.

"He was tied up. He had a blindfold and a gag, but he could see and talk through it. He had freedom of movement of his pelvis," Yegge says, by way of defending his piece. "I engaged in oral sex with him and he engaged in oral sex with me. I had given him an enema, and I had taken a shit and stuffed it in his ass. That goes on, he shits all over me, I shit in him. There was a security guard present. There was an instructor from the school present. It was videoed, and the piece was over."


And Yegge's intellectual defense of his piece might -- might -- come across as a bit dilute.

"It's about Heidegger, Derrida -- all this stuff," he says. "It's about pushing the notion of gay sex, pushing the notion of consent, pushing the notion of what's legal. We are living in the era of AIDS. This is about his responsibility, my responsibility.

"During your tenure in this school you're required to read The Tears of Eros by Georges Bataille, where he discusses pain and the history of erotic art.

"You jump across time and you jump across eras. You might present this performance art, then the students might read Bataille and it might make sense. Or they might see this performance and then see Bataille."

Perhaps, or perhaps not.

[Full story here]

And here is another modern age Rembrand at Yale:

Art major Aliza Shvarts '08 wants to make a statement.

Beginning next Tuesday, Shvarts will be displaying her senior art project, a documentation of a nine-month process during which she artificially inseminated herself "as often as possible" while periodically taking abortifacient drugs to induce miscarriages. Her exhibition will feature video recordings of these forced miscarriages as well as preserved collections of the blood from the process.

[Full story here]


Even more bizarre!

Cantor vs Cantor

Cantor Israel Rand is suspected of sending a woman to entrap the cantor of Jerusalem's Great Synagogue, Naftali Hershtik, in an attempt to have him removed from his job.

According to the suspicions, Rand recruited the young woman and recorded an intimate meeting between her and the married Hershtik in a Tel Aviv hotel room. Rand then sent pictures of the two along with an anonymous letter demanding Hershtik be fired.

[full story]

Positive Thinking, The little engine that could, and IngSoc

evanstonjew commenting on XGH:(my comments in red)
The religion of the Jews and the political aspirations of the Jews are not easily separable. [Except all the Zionists that founded the State were areligious Socialists]When in time you get around to talking about what is it to be committed to being Jewish you might not want to frame it in terms of why we should be committed to falsity.

Second, the outcome of an enterprise depends not just on the provable facts but also on expectations which are colored by emotions, dreams and attitudes. If you are a stock trader you know that 2 companies can have the exact same quants and one trades at 30PE and the other at 10PE. Enterprises are facts (financials) under a description, the latter being determined by perceptions, framing attitudes, and creative imaginings. But these 'dreams' are very real, create hard facts and are very costly if disregarded. Bear Stearns on the way down and Google on the way up are good examples.[ And this is why the markets have long stopped trading on fundamentals and are all trading on herd mentality. It is a fancy pyramid scheme]

If the Zionists had used your notions of reality they never would have fought in 1948 and would today leave en masse. [They probably said that about Bar Kokhba back in the day. Up until Betar fell and the rivers of blood drained into the Sea.]If the Jews during our long galus had been realistic about their chances for coming back as a major power most would have converted. Jews live by a romantic swerving from the hard reality, sometimes even constructing myths as we go along. The creativity of these myths might even serve false grandiose ideals...we can fly, we are special, we will prevail no matter what. Many times these 'falsehoods' make all the difference to the success of the enterprise and when they shatter it is straight downhill. But if they succeed they give new meaning to what constitutes truth.

This last pair of sentences truly bothers me. As I replied to EJ on XGH's blog, the notion of using falsehoods for the common good is ancient, starting with Plato's noble lie, and continuing to all the major 'isms' of the 20th century, including Zionism. It is effective, but is it right?

And there is something chilling about the detached way EJ reveals this sentiment, though I am sure it was not meant that way. He reminds me of O'Brien in Room 101.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Spoken Word Monday

Here's a bit of poetry from Linton Kwesi Johnson. I despise his politics, but love his work. Here's a performance of Inglan is a Bitch.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Pesach Marathon

So there's an article about a rabbi running the Boston marathon on during Pesach and having to carbo-load on matza and potatoes. When I reached this line, I did a double take:
The level of observance varies. An Orthodox Jew, for instance, does not work or drive on the first two and the last two days of Passover, so he or she would not run a marathon on those days.

It's not an issue for Pesner, whose liberal Reform branch generally suggests followers hold a seder on just the first day of the holiday, though the dietary rules are observed the entire week.

What? This guy is Reform? And what branch of Reform recommends observing dietary rules during all of Pesach?

America's Palestinians

Y'all probably have heard about the furor caused by the Absolut Mexico map. Here's an interesting editorial at the Investor's Business Daily:

This isn't the first ad campaign targeted at what some Mexican activists call the "Reconquista" movement of those who dream and work toward the day when the American Southwest will be reconquered. To them, illegal aliens crossing the U.S. border are merely returning home.

In 2005, a Los Angeles billboard advertising a Spanish-language newscast showed the Angel of Independence, a well-known monument in Mexico City, in the center of the L.A. skyline, with "CA" crossed out after "Los Angeles" and the word "Mexico" in bold red letters put in its place.

The activists working for this cause actually see themselves as "America's Palestinians" and view the Southwest as their Palestine and Los Angeles as their lost Jerusalem.

An editorial in the newspaper La Voz de Aztlan in Los Angeles stated: "There are great similarities between the political and economic condition of the Palestinians in occupied Palestine and that of La Raza in the southwest United States."

The editorial went on to say: "The similarities are many. The primary one, of course, is the fact that both La Raza and the Palestinians have been displaced by invaders that have used military means to conquer and occupy our territories."

A key player in the "Reconquista" movement is the National Council of La Raza. Its motto: "For the Race, everything. For those outside the Race, nothing."

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

A unique lawsuit

[translation is mine]
A Ekaterinburg consumer rights advocate, Aleksei Konev, has filed a suit against the Russian Orthodox Church. He accuses the ROC that it violates consumer rights.

In August of last year he paid money for the rite of a funeral service for his relative, but was unhappy with the quality of the service offered by the priests and therefore went to court, reports the "New Region", siting the "Ural-News" as its source.

"The funeral service was happening in mass volume, i.e. several deceased. In reality, as I understand funeral services, each should be done individually," says Aleksei Konev. "We are asking that the diocese follow the "Law of defense of consumer rights" because from our point of view, the Church is a service provider, just like, for example, a cleaners or a dental office."

The court date has been set for April 18th. Both the rights activist and the priests admit that such a suit has not been brought for the entire history of the Orthodox Church. Aleksei Konev is demanding that in every cathedral there should be created a "consumer's corner", analogous to the one that exists in all stores and malls today. A special stand should list the religious services, their type, quality and volume. Besides this, by the entrance there should be a corresponding sign and table with the hours of operation.

The church staff are calling these demands absurd. The activity of the Church, according to the Russian laws, has nothing in common with business. All money coming from parishioners for religious services and goods, according to the Diocese Law, counts as a voluntary donation and has nothing to do with consumer services. Besides, in the case of Aleksei Konev's relative, the direct consumer of the service, that is the deceased, did not express any complaints. In the words of the priest of the John-Predtechensky cathedral, father Alexander, the plaintiff believes that "consumer's rights were violated, as he says, for services. But the consumer of these services here is the deceased, because the Church, praying for him, asks God to rest of his soul."

Monday, April 07, 2008

Seven clean days

Still making my way through the Cambridge Companion to the Talmud and Rabbinic Literature. Very good article by Yaakov Elman placing Rabbinic Judaism in the context of Persian culture. Essentially, he is making a couple of interesting points that I was not aware of. One is he is pointing out the similarities between Zoroastrianism and Judaism which I was not previously aware of. I knew that a lot of the demonology and angel-related stuff came from Zoroastrianism, but I was not aware that Zoroastrianism was heavily focused on the concept of ritual impurity (tum'a). Like Judaism, there was a concept of tum'at met (from corpses), tum'at nevelah (from dead animals) and niddah (from menstruating women). As a matter of fact, the stringencies of niddah were much stricter for Zoroastrians. Menstruating women had to retire to a windowless hut. Elman's theory is that the notion of "seven clean days", whereupon the women took up this stringency to remain niddah, may have come from the fact that compared to Zoroastrianism, Judaism seemed lax, and so the entire populace, Rabbis and common folk, felt that adding that stringency would make us "compete" in the religious marketplace (in terms of the image of Judaism). Nobody wanted to be "outfrummed" by the Persians.

Another interesting fact is that like Judaism, Zoroastrianism also had a ancient oral tradition, over a millenium old. Both the Rabbis and the Magi had to defend the authority of the oral tradition against religions such as Manichaeism, which tried to play it down. As a matter of fact, the writing down of the Talmud, and the Avestas(Zoroastrian holy writings) happened about the same time and may have been motivated by this same competition with Manichaeism.

Overall, this article was quite enlightening. I remember how blown away I was when I found out that the sacrificial cult of Ugarit was almost identical to the Biblical order of sacrifices. In many ways, this article was just as illuminating in it's drawing of parallels between Zoroastrian and Jewish beliefs and practices.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

MusicMinor Swing Monday

I love Django Reinhardt...

Transvestite Hermaphrodites, standing for absolutely nothing.

Don't care much for Vonnegut's novels, but I love his short stories. Here's an excerpt from a 2003 speech an UW-Madison.

I realize that some of you may have come in hopes of hearing tips on how to become a professional writer. I say to you, ''If you really want to hurt your parents, and you don’t have the nerve to be a homosexual, the least you can do is go into the arts. But do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites, standing for absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.''

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Expelled: No Intelligence Alllowed

So there is this movie coming out just before Pesach. It aims to "expose" the fraudulent "scientific establishment" and its systematic repression of ideas.

This movie is about Intelligent Design. Most of what I want to say about it is already written in Wikipedia, so I will direct you there first.

A few observations:
Anyone who does not recognize that academia, like any other complex power structure is not just a bunch of scientists working in labs and presenting their findings, is beyond naive. Of course there are politics, back stabbing, dishonesty. However, it is fascinating to watch this group claim a conspiracy of suppression and systematic persecution. And claim that evolution leads to Nazism.

It is fascinating because without a doubt if the people backing this movie (right wing Christian organizations) had their say, evolution would be banned, as would probably be astrophysics, and a whole bunch of other sciences which may lead to conflicts with traditional Biblical interpretation. Let's recall that the Scopes monkey trial was not very long ago.

This of course is a classic tactic of demagogues. Accuse your opponent of doing the very thing you are doing yourself (A certain commenter from XGH's blog comes to mind).

In general, this seems to be a purely American phenomenon, and I think ultimately all that will happen from it is just the further lagging of the American scientific establishment.

Oh well...

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Jacob Neusner

So, all I know about Jacob Neusner I learned from other people. I mean I read one or two of his books, and I guess they seemed as reasonable as any other books, but until I started reading some of the more scholarly blogs, I did not realize that the majority of those people, at least in the jblogosphere seem to hold a not so high opinion of Dr. Neusner. Essentially they seem to think that for all his prodigious productivity, he is not a very impressive scholar.

So when I came across the following in the Cambridge Companion to the Talmud and Rabbinic Literature, I was taken a little by surprise:
Over the past several decades, the most important answer to this question has been offered by the brilliant contemporary scholar Jacob Neusner.[What? Was I wrong to listen to those anonymous blog commentators?]. In a series of studies of virtually every rabbinic composition of Late Antiquity, Neusner proposes that the very essence of rabbinic literary creativity is to gather intermediate units of tradition into carefully plotted compositions (documents) that use received textual material to convey fresh propositions about topics crucial to rabbinic Judaism. In short, every rabbinic document, in his view, is supervised by an organizing literary hand that shapes every line in terms of some larger rhetorical, philosophical, legal, or theological program. The important thing about Neusner's proposal is that it is almost certainly wrong. But as historians of ideas well know, one error if a brilliant mind is often more useful than thousands of correct judgements by the rest of us.

Sincere or mocking? A backhanded compliment?


He's baaaack!
[I guess in retrospect, the wake was premature. Good think no one took me up on it :(]