Thursday, February 28, 2008


"Hold your head up", said the executioner, putting on the noose.

Stanisław Jerzy Lec (6 March 1909 – 7 May 1966) (born baron Stanisław Jerzy de Tusch-Letz) was a Polish poet and aphorist of Polish and Jewish noble origin. Often mentioned among the greatest writers of post-WW2 Poland. One of the most influential aphorists on the 20th century.

He was born on March 6, 1909 in Lviv (then Lemberg, Austro-Hungarian Empire), the son of the baron Benon de Tusch-Letz and Adela Safrin. His well-educated parents were
noted Jewish eccentrics who converted to Protestantism in a Catholic country.

How can you not become an aphorist when your father gives himself the name "Letz"?!

Joe Lieberman ate treif at Buckley's house?

or do you think that he brought his own food?
My wife and I had the privilege of spending wonderful evenings with him and his late wife, Patricia, at their home in Stamford, Connecticut. These were classic evenings of great food, some drink, and good, spirited conversation - cigar and brandy to follow - but always open to ideas and always with a ready willingness to laugh.

A personal relationship with God

One of the hallmarks of Evangelical Christianity, or at least as I understand it, is a personal relationship with God. I believe that in Judaism this is also something that exists, though I believe it is the Chassidim that focus on it more than other streams of Judaism.

What I don't recall is anything of this type of thought among Chazal. Is it my ignorance, or is it really the case? I recall places where Chazal address the relationship of God to the community of Jews, and there are certainly many biblical and post-biblical stories of individuals who have a close relationship with God, but I can't think of a place where regular people are told that each of us can have this special, close relationship.

The Garin Death Ray

When I was a kid, one of my favorite Sci-Fi books was called The Hyperboloid of Engineer Garin (published in English as "The Garin Death Ray"). The story is of a megalomaniacal scientist who invents a laser like machine which he uses to drill down to the Earth's core and mine the gold and other precious metals that exist there in abundance. Using this gold he crashes the world's financial markets by devaluing gold completely, and making himself an absolute dictator.

A good story, written by Alexei Tolstoy, the other Tolstoy's distant, poor relation;although extremely ideological, communist propaganda.

Why did I bring this up? In the story, when Garin sets up his mining operations, he brings in a multitude of workers of different ethnicities and races. They are all segregated from one another and inter-ethnic strife is encouraged as a way to prevent the workers from organizing and overcoming the people in charge.

The place where I am working right now is pretty unusual; at least I've never encountered this type of environment before. People seem to be hanging out purely with their ethnic groups - the Filipinos with other Filipinos, Indians with Indians, Russians with Russians, Chinese with Chinese. This always happens to some degree, but here it is very pronounced. Weird.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Prayer in the Temple

The Acts of the Apostles (Acts 3:1), an early book of the New Testament (probably written between 60-100 CE) makes the following mention:
Now Peter and John went up together to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour.(NKJV)
I've heard conjectures that the Cohanim and Leviim had instituted some kind of liturgy along with the sacrifices, but this seems to imply that Jews in Jerusalem had a set our of prayer at the Temple?

It was one of Wilde's!

Tobie's mention of Oscar Wilde brought to mind this classic Monty Python skit...

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Postmodernism - Amok

Running amok, sometimes referred to as simply amok (also spelled amuck or amuk), is derived from the Malay word amuk, meaning "mad with rage" (uncontrollable rage). Although commonly used in a colloquial and less-violent sense, the phrase is particularly associated with a specific sociopathic culture-bound syndrome in Malaysian culture. In a typical case of running amok, a male who has shown no previous sign of anger or any inclination to violence will acquire a weapon and, in a sudden frenzy, will attempt to kill or seriously injure anyone he encounters. Amok episodes of this kind normally end with the attacker being killed by bystanders, or committing suicide.(wikipedia)

So there is this article in the Feb 11 New Yorker talking about a murder case in Poland. The story is a bit like the plot of Basic Instinct. An unsolved murder. A connection is made to a writer, Krystian Bala, who happens to write a sadistic, violent book, Amock, with events strikingly similar to real life. The writer is a bit of a boundary tester, a philosopher, an anti-establishment figure.

What struck me as ironic about this story is that this Bala guy fancied himself quite the postmodernist - he was very clever, all Derrida and Foucalt. What does anything mean, blah, blah, blah... Until he was sitting in a cage in the courtroom and the prosecution was using postmodernism against him. "The author has no more clue about the text than anyone else." Boy, did he flip out when he heard that statement. He was screaming "Bullshit - I am the author, I knew what I meant when I wrote it!" (I'm paraphrasing)

I guess a murder trial is a good test of the strength of one's convictions... ;)

Monday, February 25, 2008

Music Monday - Oop Bop Sh'bam!

I bet you thought I was going to post the Dizzie Gillespie jazz standard? Nope. Here is Jazzkantine, a German reggae, afro-jazz band with a song inspired by the Dizzie song. Well worth checking out...

OK, for those of you too chicken to expand your musical horizons, here is the original Oop Bop Sh'bam!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Wanna take a break from OJ?

Then read Rokhl's blog. She kills!

How about this?
Given Israel's historic animosity towards Yiddish, I was surprised to learn of the existence of Manger Square in Bethlehem. As you probably know, Itzik Manger was a Czernowitz born poet (b. 1901) and one of the most talented, and tormented, of the European Yiddish poets to survive World War II. Manger's Megille Lider is absolutely required reading (or listening) if you're curious about modern Yiddish culture.

I was also surprised to learn that Bethlehem is now under Palestinian control.

I was also surprised to learn that Manger means something totally different to goyim than to Yidn.

I was also surprised to learn that Chile now has an equal amount of Palestinian Christians as Palestine, does, and that in 2004 both Chilean Presidential candidates were Palestinian Christians.

I'm also easily surprised.
Or this?
I am not an anti-Zionist. I am not even a post-Zionist. More controversial than either of those labels, I refuse to define myself in relation to Zionism. I am a Yiddish American, a Diaspora Nationalist. To be a Diaspora Nationalist is to be wary of all nationalisms and the violence that they engender. I care deeply about the State of Israel because I care deeply about the people Israel. But I live here, I vote here, and that's not going to change. I did not create the nightmare which continues to unfold in the occupied territories and there's precious little I can do to change its course. I refuse to defer my Jewish life here while waiting for an aliyah which I know is never going to come. I will not spend my life enabling and apologizing for the mistakes made by a government which does not speak for me. There's too much work to do here. I've unpacked my bags, and so should you.

Tales of Brave Ulysses

So last night was the lunar eclipse, which we saw perfectly clearly through our windows - a good thing given that it was freezing outside.

My third grader was duly impressed - I also showed him Saturn and Regulus which made a triangle with the moon. He remembered that Regulus was the name of Sirius Black's brother; the kid has got an unbelievable memory for trivia! A few minutes later, he called me to look out the window again. he said that he found Orion's belt. I was pretty dubious, but sure enough, he did. he started telling me the story of Orion.

I guess they are doing a unit on Greek mythology, and so he was telling me also about Hercules and the Golden Apples, and all sorts of other stuff. I was pleasantly surprised, because I figured that kind of stuff would not be taught in an Orthodox day school. Good for them!

All this talk put me in the mood to listen to some old Cream( listen along if you are so inclined):
Her name is Aphrodite and she rides a crimson shell,
And you know you cannot leave her for you touched the distant sands
With tales of brave Ulysses; how his naked ears were tortured
By the sirens sweetly singing.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Justinian vs The Gemorah

Over at LubabNoMore, I posted a link to a SHAS MK who quoted a Gemora blaming gays for earthquakes. It seems like the great minds think alike, as evidenced by this excerpt from Novel 77 of Justinian:

…since certain men, seized by diabolical incitement practice among themselves the most disgraceful lusts, and act contrary to nature: we enjoin them to take to heart the fear of God and the judgment to come, and to abstain from suchlike diabolical and unlawful lusts, so that they may not be visited by the just wrath of God on account of these impious acts, with the result that cities perish with all their inhabitants. For we are taught by the Holy Scriptures that because of like impious conduct cities have indeed perish, together with all the men in them.

#1: [there follows a section condemning various blasphemies -- swearing by God's Hairs', or "by God's head"]…For because of such crimes [not clear if this means just blasphemies or homosexual practices as well] there are famines, earthquakes, and pestilences; wherefore we admonish men to abstain from the aforesaid unlawful acts, that they may not loose their souls. But if, after this our admonition any are found persisting in such offenses, first they render themselves unworthy of the mercy of God, and then they are subjugated to the punishment enjoined by law.

Blood is the Rose of Mysterious Union

A bunch of clueless young people are giving curiousjew a hard time about calling blood donation 'sexy'. As often is the case, my mind inexplicably latched on to the association between blood and sex, and specifically that strange phrase from The Doors' song Peace Frog - "Blood is the rose of mysterious union". What the heck do you think that line means?

I don't think anyone knows, but it sounds pretty cool. Some people think that it is a reference to Jim Morrison's Wiccan wedding to Patricia Keneally:
One of Patricia’s friends, a high priestess of a coven, conducted the ceremony, assisted by a high priest. They led Jim and Patricia through a traditional handfasting, with prayers and an invocation of the Goddess, blessings, the making of two small cuts on each partner’s wrist and forearm, and the mixing of a few drops of their blood into a consecrated cup of wine from which they later drank, a ritual stepping over a broomstick, the exchanging of certain vows, and the final calling down of the Goddess’s presence.

To Patricia, this was a perfectly natural ceremony in her religion, but Jim was totally caught up in the ritual. He gave Patricia a silver claddagh, the traditional Irish wedding ring, and she gave him a matching gold one. The officiating priestess and Patricia, in her capacity as a priestess, made out two hand-printed documents, one in English, one in witch runes. Everybody present signed, with Jim and Patricia required to mark their signatures in blood. The pair were declared wedded, and Jim fainted.

Or perhaps, it is a reference to the Catholic symbolism of a rose representing the Virgin Mary, whose "mysterious union" with God created Jesus, whose blood saved the world?

Or perhaps it is just a bunch of crazy words strung together by a guy drugged out of his mind...

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

He Was Older Than Her


He was older than her, she was quite pretty.
Inside her tiny body was a real soul.
They strolled together, they didn't quarrel about trifles.
And all around them said - what a husband and wife
And only one bit of nonsense drove him out of his mind -
He loved her, she loved to fly at night.

He suffered when it was dark outside.
He wept, shut the window at night.
He didn't sleep, drank bitter tea in the kitchen
In the hour when she flew at night.
And afterwards, in the morning she swore
that last night was the last time.
He forgave, but at night it's dark outside
And she would fly away nonetheless.

He gave her roses, bought her perfume,
Dedicated songs to her, read her poems,
He grasped at straws like a complete fool.
He feared that one day under the full moon
She would forget her way home.
And this is exactly what happened one night.

And for three days and three nights he didn't sleep, didn't eat.
He sat by the window and stared at the sky.
He muttered her name, came out to meet her on the ledge.
But when the moon began to wane
He stepped out of the window like she used to do,
He took off, like she did,
Though not upward, but down.

Hotel Lobby Dates

I need some help here. I keep reading about frum young people that seem to go on dates to hotel lobbies.


Is this some kind of code? I've been through a few hotel lobbies in my life, and never in my wildest dreams did a thought cross my mind "Hey, this would be a great place to bring a date!"

Monday, February 18, 2008

Ever see a Glock in action?

I am pretty uncomfortable around guns. With the thing that happened at NIU, which is about an hour from my house, I got curious and went to the website of the guy that sold the killer his guns. Found this video... - Watch more free videos

A "Legal System"?

One of the things that keeps turning over and over in my mind is the claim made by many that Halacha is a "legal system". I suppose in some respects it is true, but there is something about that moniker that strikes me as wrong and misleading, though I am not sure why. It doesn't help that I am neither a lawyer nor someone familiar with the history and concepts of law. So I guess the only way for me to open this game of poker is to lay my misgivings on the table...

It is my presumption that the primary purpose of a legal system is to govern relations in a society of human beings. How should human beings behave in a society - how do they handle disputes, how do they ensure fair treatment, how do they ensure their rights, etc... In torah-talk this would be "bein adam v'chaveiroh".

It is also true that there are aspects of a legal system that try to legislate "morality" to some degree. Polygamy may be a good example. Not being able to buy liquor on Sunday morning (my favorite pet peeve). In many cases, these are vestiges of a more theocratic society that have been preserved to varying extents in legal systems around the world. In torah-talk this is "bein adam v'hamakom".

I don't know if there is a third category that exists in Halacha or whether it is an overdeveloped case of the latter category, but one of the key things that rubs be the wrong way about calling it a "legal system" is the disproportionate amount of "laws" that seem to be absurd from a legal perspective. What direction to align your bed, which shoe to put on your foot first, how to make tuna salad on Shabbos, how to chase away birds from their nests to take their eggs even if you don't have any need for them. When added up, these seemingly minor grains of halacha add up to enormous boulders. What other legal system exists out there where such minutia are regulated with the force of law?

Which brings me to the next question - the origin of many of these laws. What I am about to state is personal opinion and I am sure many will disagree, but the origins of many of these laws seem quite bizarre. We can talk about Bismark and his line about laws and sausages, but frankly, there has to be a limit? I can certainly buy the concept of certain laws being given as Divine Revelation - we can argue about whether they were or weren't, but there is a huge gap between Divine chukkim and reasoning such as:
"The Scriptural source for this advice is derived from the verse: "The belly you fill with your treasure (Tzfuncha) who have sons in plenty" as if to say that placing one's bed from the "tzafon" (north) will lead to having "sons in plenty". Considering that God's presence is said to hover between east and west, it was felt that engaging in marital relations within this corridor would be inappropriate. Therefore one places one's bed north-south so as to avoid a direct collision with the Shechina during marital relations." (Hirhurim blog)2/05/2008

Which brings me to my final point - it has been argued that Halacha is a flexible system. And perhaps it is more flexible than some people admit. But is it possible to have a legal system where it seems like nothing can ever be admitted to require change? Sure your individual case might get a dispensation, but we can never say, this was a mistake and it needs to be changed for everyone. Imagine the situation in the case of Civil Rights for blacks where the United States never ruled that racial segregation was wrong, and instead they said, well, if you ask your local Board of Education, they can look at your case and perhaps allow it, but on the record it is still enforced?

I don't know, am I completely insane in asking these questions? I am not a lawyer, nor am I a talmid chacham, and really my point is not to criticize Halacha, but to ask "Is Halacha something sui generis, or is it just a variant of a legal system?

Ain't No Sunshine Music Monday

Ain't no sunshine in Chi-town, so here's a little Bill Withers to set the mood. Listen for the twenty six(count them) "I know"s in the song.

Friday, February 15, 2008


The pessimism of the creative person is not decadence but a mighty passion for redemption of man. While the poet entertains he continues to search for eternal truths, for the essence of being. In his own fashion he tries to solve the riddle of time and change, to find an answer to suffering, to reveal love in the very abyss of cruelty and injustice.

-Isaac Bashevis-Singer (Nobel Acceptance Speech, 1978)

Click for full speech text

The storyteller of our time, as in any other time, must be an entertainer of the spirit in the full sense of the word, not just a preacher of social and political ideals. There is no paradise for bored readers and no excuse for tedious literature that does not intrigue the reader, uplift his spirit, give him the joy and the escape that true art always grants.

Nevertheless, it is also true that the serious writer of our time must be deeply concerned about the problems of his generation. He cannot but see that the power of religion, especially belief in revelation, is weaker today than it was in any other epoch in human history. More and more children grow up without faith in God, without belief in reward and punishment, in the immortality of the soul and even in the validity of ethics.

The genuine writer cannot ignore the fact that the family is losing its spiritual foundation. All the dismal prophecies of Oswald Spengler have become realities since World War II. No technological achievements can mitigate the disappointment of modern man, his loneliness, his feeling of inferiority, and his fear of war, revolution and terror. Not only has our generation lost faith in Providence but also in man himself, in his institutions and often in those who are nearest to him.

In their despair a number of those who no longer have confidence in the leadership of our society look up to the writer, the master of words. They hope again hope that the man of talent and sensitivity can perhaps rescue civilization. Maybe there is a spark of the prophet in the artist after all.

A New Hope Always Emerges

As the son of a people who received the worst blows that human madness can inflict, I must brood about the forthcoming dangers. I have many times resigned myself to never finding a true way out. But a new hope always emerges telling me that it is not yet too late for all of us to take stock and make a decision.

I was brought up to believe in a free will. Although I came to doubt all revelation, I can never accept the idea that the universe is a physical or chemical accident, a result of blind evolution. Even though I learned to recognize the lies, cliches and idolatries of the human mind, I still cling to some truths which I think all of us might accept some day.

There must be a way for a man to attain all possible pleasures, all the powers and knowledge that nature can grant him, and still serve God--a God who speaks in deeds, not in words, and whose vocabulary is the cosmos.

I am not ashamed to admit that I belong to those who fantasize that literature is capable of bringing new horizons and new perspectives--philosophical, religious, esthetical and even social. In the history of old Jewish literature there was never any basic difference between the poet and the prophet. Our ancient poetry often became law and a way of life.

Some of my cronies in the cafeteria near The Jewish Daily Forward in New York call me a pessimist and a decadent, but there is always a background of faith behind resignation. I found comfort in such pessimists and decadents as Baudelaire, Verlaine, Edgar Allan Poe, and Strindberg.

Solace, Mystics and a Poet

My interest in psychic research made me find solace in such mystics as your Swedenborg and in our own Rabbi Nachman Brazlaver, as well as in a great poet of my time, my friend Aaron Zeitlin, who died a few years ago and left a spiritual inheritance of high quality, most of it in Yiddish.

The pessimism of the creative person is not decadence but a mighty passion for redemption of man. While the poet entertains he continues to search for eternal truths, for the essence of being. In his own fashion he tries to solve the riddle of time and change, to find an answer to suffering, to reveal love in the very abyss of cruelty and injustice.

Strange as these words may sound I often play with the idea that when all the social theories collapse and wars and revolutions leave humanity in utter gloom, the poet--whom Plato banned from his Republic--may rise up to save us all.


The high honor bestowed upon me by the Swedish Academy is also a recognition of the Yiddish language--a language of exile, without a land, without frontiers, not supported by any government, a language which possesses no words for weapons, ammunition, military exercises, war tactics, a language that was despised by both gentiles and emancipated Jews.

The truth is that what the great religions preached, the Yiddish-speaking people of the ghettos practiced day in and day out. They were the people of the book in the truest sense of the word. They knew of no greater joy that the study of man and human relations, which they called Torah, Talmud, Musar, cabala.

Ghetto Was an Experiment in Peace

The ghetto was not only a place of refuge for a persecuted minority but a great experiment in peace, in self-discipline and in humanism. As such it still exists and refuses to give up in spite of all the brutality that surrounds it. I was brought up among those people. My father's home on Krochmalna Street in Warsaw was a study house, a court of justice, a house of prayer, of storytelling, as well as a place for weddings and Hasidic banquets.

As a child I had heard from my older brother and master, I.J. Singer, who later wrote ''The Brothers Ashkenazi,'' all the arguments that the rationalists from Spinoza to Max Nordau brought out against religion.

I have heard from my father and mother all the answers that faith in God could offer to those who doubt and search for the truth. In our home and in many other homes the eternal questions were more actual than the latest news in the Yiddish newspaper. In spite of all the disenchantments and all my skepticism I believe that the nations can learn much from those Jews, their way of thinking, their way of bringing up children, their finding happiness where others see nothing but misery and humiliation. To me the Yiddish language and the conduct of those who spoke it are identical.

One can find in the Yiddish tongue and in the Yiddish spirit expressions of pious joy, lust for life, longing for the Messiah, patience and deep appreciation of human individuality. There is a quiet humor in Yiddish and a gratitude for every day of life, every crumb of success, each encounter of love.

Yiddish Mentality Is Not Haughty

The Yiddish mentality is not haughty. It does not take victory for granted. It does not demand and command but it muddles through, sneaks by, smuggles itself amidst the powers of destruction, knowing somewhere that God's plan for creation is still at the very beginning.

There are some who call Yiddish a dead language, but so was Hebrew called for 2,000 years. It has been revived in our time in a most remarkable, almost miraculous way. Aramaic was certainly a dead language for centuries but then it brought to light the Zohar, a work of mysticism of sublime value. It is a fact that the classics of Yiddish literature are also the classics of the modern Hebrew literature.

Yiddish has not yet said its last word. It contains treasures that have not been revealed to the eyes of the world. It was the tongue of martyrs and saints, of dreamers and cabalists--rich in humor and in memories that mankind may never forget. In a figurative way, Yiddish is the wise and humble language of us all, the idiom of the frightened and hopeful humanity.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Cockney Cabbalist

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Credo in unum Deum, Patrem omnipoténtem

The next time someone tells me "Judaism, unlike X, doesn't believe in Y..." I will either punch them in the teeth or laugh in their face.

You name it, and I will find you a sect of Jews, mainstream or fringe, open or covert, who do it, or believe in it. And, damn it to hell if they don't have some way of justifying their belief as legitimate.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Good Samaritan(s)

(from the Jerusalem Post via Suitepotato...)

One of the most compelling studies compared the small Samaritan population in Israel with Druse, Palestinians and Jews from various parts of the Diaspora. The results appear to corroborate the traditional Samaritan belief that they have lived in Samaria since antiquity and are closely related to the Jews. Only four Samaritan family lineages survive, but of those four male lines, three carry the kohen modal haplotype, while the fourth, the Cohen family of priests, does not. The data indicate that the Samaritans generally married other Samaritans. Y chromosome DNA shows the Samaritan male line to have "a much greater affinity" to Jews than to the Palestinian Arabs who have surrounded them since the Arab conquest.

[full article here]

Christ of the Andes gets zapped

Monday, February 11, 2008

Have you pray'd tonight ?

I know not if't be true;
But I, for mere suspicion in that kind,
Will do as if for surety.
Another mob beating the dead horse of Orthopraxy (LF via Dovbear)

Thought provoking article in WJD

On the fence

Came across this book and would like to buy it, but the price is a bit steep.

I read a review of it and it is pretty fascinating - basically demolishing many of the preconceived notions about Jewish life in Poland in the 17th and 18th century.

The Catholic Church, far from being dominant in Poland is actually feeling threatened by both religious heretics (Protestants, Arians) and by the wealthy landed gentry who refuse to buckle to Church authority on worldly matters. In many cases, these wealthy nobles hired Jews to run their estates, even to the extent of having authority to corporally punish the peasants. It is customary to hear of Jews being forced to work on Shabbat, but here we see cases of Christian servants being made to work on Sunday and holidays. We see a wealthy Jewish widow, a landowner, taking her Polish neighbor to court.

Anyway, seems like an interesting book...

Here is an excerpt

OTOH, my The Cambridge Companion to the Talmud and Rabbinic Literature is on its way..

Music Monday - Tom Waits

The piano has been drinking
my necktie is asleep
and the combo went back to New York
the jukebox has to take a leak
and the carpet needs a haircut
and the spotlight looks like a prison break
cause the telephone's out of cigarettes
and the balcony's on the make
and the piano has been drinking
the piano has been drinking...

Friday, February 08, 2008

Frum Principal Kicks Some Butt in the Bronx

Junior High School 22, in the South Bronx, had run through six principals in just over two years when Shimon Waronker was named the seventh.

On his first visit, in October 2004, he found a police officer arresting a student and calling for backup to handle the swelling crowd. Students roamed the hallways with abandon; in one class of 30, only 5 students had bothered to show up. “It was chaos,” Mr. Waronker recalled. “I was like, this can’t be real.”

Teachers, parents and students at the school, which is mostly Hispanic and black, were equally taken aback by the sight of their new leader: A member of the Chabad-Lubavitch sect of Hasidic Judaism with a beard, a black hat and a velvet yarmulke.


Berkeley $2M to the Marines?

One giant sign said, "No Military Predators in Our Town." Another message on a pink placard read, "Join the Marines. Travel to Exotic Lands. Meet Exciting and Unusual People -- And Kill Them."

This is what protesters in Berkeley are writing on their signs. And now, lawmakers in DC introduced the Semper Fi Act of 2008 - which would take $2M rom Berkeley funds and transfer it to the Marines. And I say- more power to them!

What kind of morons are these protesters? (Rhetorical question!) Do they think that the Marines are some kind of lawless militia that just decided to go to Iraq and kill people? That they are not a branch of the US military, which takes order from the US Government? Do they teach basic government in California public schools?

Thank God that we live in a country where if you have a beef against our foreign policy you have the ability to influence it. Write your government officials, but don't go out there verbally abusing young men and women that are only doing their duty.

Who says halacha is inflexible?

...Today, Goldblatt is the hottest, and only, frum porn star on record. His years of careful study proved to be the money shot which allowed him to pursue his career.

Concerning yichud, the cast and crew present during filming alleviate that concern. Nevertheless, the studio door is left open a wee bit to satisfy any chumras that may exist.

Concerning seeing a woman with her hair uncovered, most of Goldblatt's costars are single and if they're not they're usually adorned with hair extenstions, which qualifies as a sheitel. The Maikeldigeh Rav is always present to inspect for any traces of Indian hair.

Concerning spilling his semen in vain, he doesn't. Ever. By mandate of the JAPS (Jewish American Porn Stars) organization, all actors must wear condoms. This allows him to fake it and avoid trangression.

Concerning shomer negiah, Goldblatt has endured several intense meditations and numerous desensitization techniques to allow himself to reach a point where he is able to perform his job bli derech chiba.

Being frum has surprising conveniences in this field.[cont...]

Thursday, February 07, 2008

The Holy Prepuce

DovBear has a post about a pregnancy segulah of Eating a Foreskin of a Newborn,upon which BOTH left a comment about Jesus' foreskin. This brought to mind the general history of the Holy Prepuce (Money quote from Wikipedia article - "Most of the Holy Prepuces were lost or destroyed during the Reformation and the French Revolution.")

And let's not forget the theological debate of whether such a foreskin could even be found on Earth. You see, there was a school of belief that said since Jesus was resurrected bodily after his death, and Jesus was perfection himself, his foreskin had to have risen (no pun intended) as well. Opposing this thesis was a group of theologians who said that the discarded foreskin was no different than clipped fingernails or hair...

And lastly, here is a bit of stumbled upon knowledge that I was not familiar with:
The modern, peri'ah style of circumcision did not become the standard mode until around the time of the revolt led by Simon bar Kokhba in AD 132–135, whereas the style of circumcision practised by Jews in Judea prior to bar Kokhba removed only the 'tip' of the foreskin, not all of it.
Wow, talk about going the extra mile - I wonder what happened during this time that made guys go from "Just take a little off the top" to "Give me a full buzz"?

Better know a heretic - Uriel da Costa

As I was reading Hirhurim about whether my bed should point north-south or east-west I thought of Reb Uriel... (and the progression of thought among certain well known bloggers)
However, upon arriving in the Netherlands, Da Costa very quickly became disenchanted with the kind of Judaism he saw in practice there. He came to believe that the rabbinic leadership was too consumed by ritualism and legalistic posturing. In 1624 he published a book titled An Examination of the Traditions of the Pharisees which questioned the fundamental idea of the immortality of the soul. Da Costa believed that this was not an idea deeply rooted in biblical Judaism, but rather had been formulated primarily by the Rabbis. The work further pointed out the discrepancies between biblical Judaism and Rabbinic Judaism; he declared the latter to be an accumulation of mechanical ceremonies and practices. In his view, it was thoroughly devoid of spiritual and philosophical concepts.

The book became very controversial and was burned publicly. Da Costa was called before the rabbinic leadership of Amsterdam for uttering blasphemous views against Judaism and Christianity. He was fined a significant sum and excommunicated.

He ultimately fled Amsterdam for Hamburg, Germany (also a prominent Sephardic center), where he was ostracized from the local Jewish community. He did not understand German, which further compounded his difficulties. Left with no place to turn, in 1633 he returned to Amsterdam and sought a reconciliation with the community. He claimed that he would go back to being "an ape amongst the apes"; he would follow the traditions and practices, but with little real conviction.

However, he soon again began to express rationalistic and skeptical views; he expressed doubts whether biblical law was divinely sanctioned or whether it was simply written down by Moses. He came to the conclusion that all religion was a human invention. Ultimately he came to reject formalized, ritualized religion. In his view, religion was to be based only on natural law; God had no use for empty ceremony. In many ways his beliefs were Deistic; he believed that God resides in nature, which is full of peace and harmony, whereas organized religion is marked by blood, violence, and strife.

Eventually da Costa came across two Christians who expressed to him their desire to convert to Judaism. In accordance with his views, he dissuaded them from doing so. For the communal leadership of Amsterdam, this was the final straw. He was thus again excommunicated. For seven years he lived in virtual isolation, shunned by his family and loved ones. Ultimately, the loneliness was too much for him to handle, and he again returned to Holland and recanted.

As a punishment for his heretical views he was publicly given thirty-nine lashes at the Portuguese synagogue in Amsterdam. He was then forced to lie on the floor while the congregation trampled over him. This left him so demoralized and depressed that he was unable to live with himself. After writing his autobiography, Exemplar Humanae Vitae (1640), in which he wrote about his experience as a victim of intolerance, he set out to end the lives of both his cousin and himself. Seeing his relative approach one day, he grabbed a pistol and pulled the trigger. It misfired. Then he reached for another, turned it on himself, and fired, dying, they said, a terrible death.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

A baptised Jew is like a pardoned thief

So there's a bit of a brouhaha brewing in the russian livejournals that I enjoy reading once in a while. Apparently some Russian Orthodox lady put up a post with a story about a church meeting which had a jewish character advising the missionaries on how to make them more effective.

Then these two frum Jewish ladies called her an anti-semite and a bitch, and then a religious but progressive daati type and an apikorus accused the frum ladies of not having a sense of humor which resulted in a pretty impressive response of cursing from the frum ladies towards the critiquing parties.

At this point, the original offender got involved in the secondary fray and proved to all parties that she is indeed a dyed in the wool anti-semite, in the proud tradition of the Russian Orthodox Church.

What's wild is that this lady is convinced that Orthodox rabbis are involved in planting Jewish converts to Christianity into the hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church in order to essentially destabilize it, or more accurately corrupt it from its original mission. Like she says "Christian form, but Jewish content". The title of this post is another of her favorite expressions.

What's kinda interesting about this theory to me is that it is essentially a rehashing of the story in Toledoth Yeshua:
[After the death of Jesus]The erring followers amongst Israel said: "You have slain the Messiah of the Lord." The Israelites answered: "You have believed in a false prophet." There was endless strife and discord for thirty years.

The Sages desired to separate from Israel those who continued to claim Yeshu as the Messiah, and they called upon a greatly learned man, Simeon Kepha, for help. Simeon went to Antioch, main city of the Nazarenes and proclaimed to them: "I am the disciple of Yeshu. He has sent me to show you the way. I will give you a sign as Yeshu has done."

Simeon, having gained the secret of the Ineffable Name, healed a leper and a lame man by means of it and thus found acceptance as a true disciple. He told them that Yeshu was in heaven, at the right hand of his Father, in fulfillment of Psalm 110:1. He added that Yeshu desired that they separate themselves from the Jews and no longer follow their practices, as Isaiah had said, "Your new moons and your feasts my soul abhorreth." They were now to observe the first day of the week instead of the seventh, the Resurrection instead of the Passover, the Ascension into Heaven instead of the Feast of Weeks, the finding of the Cross instead of the New Year, the Feast of the Circumcision instead of the Day of Atonement, the New Year instead of Chanukah; they were to be indifferent with regard to circumcision and the dietary laws. Also they were to follow the teaching of turning the right if smitten on the left and the meek acceptance of suffering. All these new ordinances which Simeon Kepha (or Peter, as he was known to the Nazarenes) taught them were really meant to separate these Nazarenes from the people of Israel and to bring the internal strife to an end.

So Simon Peter the Apostle was really planted by Chazal to convince the Jewish Christians to stop practicing Judaism altogether.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Girls, Girls, Girls...

I almost never post about work - this may be the first time.

So I am looking for a dedicated server hosting provider and doing some leg work checking out the potential candidates. I come across one that seems reasonable. Here is what I find on their website... The SingleHop girls.

And is it my imagination or did the guy in the picture wet himself?

Beep Beep

evanstonjew writes:
I fail to see why everyone is fixated on when it was written and not on the redaction. An Orthodox Jew focuses on the finished redacted text. Knowing the source critical literature he sees how these texts are combined to make up a composite picture of God that is complex and religiously challenging. It works equally well if at Sinai Hashem gave us a text that WE would say is composed of different scrolls. What is revealed in the text we have are the different partzufim of Hashem...God the creator, the destroyer,the warrior, the personal God of a particular family, but now seen as One God instead of different beings at war with each other. Whatever conflicts occur are internal to God himself, with only a few exceptions (Rahab, Leviathan, Yamm);what chazal and kabbalah call the confrontation between midas hadin and midas harachamim.It is this confrontation that drives the narrative of the bible.I think JEPD talk maps pretty nicely onto aspects talk. One is more old fasioned and post redaction, the other more modern and reductionist.

As for what really happened...chazal have an expression...mah dehavei ,havei, what was, was.
This seems like a fine argument for shalom bayis among orthodox jews, but it feels a little circular. The Chazal were the culmination of a certain school of Biblical interpretation which we inherited as Orthodox Judaism. Of course they have the expression "what was, was" because their goal was to promote their particular interpretation of "what was". What is striking to me is that this is very similar to the argument Kugel proposes at the end of his book:
The texts that make up the Bible were originally composed under whatever circumstances they were composed. What made them the Bible, however, weas their definitive reinterpretation, along the lines of the Four Assumptions of the ancient interpreters-a way of reading that was established in Judaism in the form of the Oral Torah. Read the Bible in this way and you are reading it properly, that is, in keeping with the understanding o f those who made and cannonized the Bible. Read it any other way and you have drastically misconstrued the intentions of the Bible's framers.

So this is almost precisely in sync with evanstonjew's first point. But here is the irony - in some ways this feels less a point of religion than literary criticism. HEY - there is a bigger question at stake here - are we doing the will of God? We have commited ourselves to a particular interpretation of God's will, one that survived among many that were around. If God has an idea of how a Jew should behave, and if this idea happens to be different from the ideas of Rabbinic Judaism, we may not get "credit" for being "Orthodox". Hell, if you are a believer in theodicy, and how can we not be given that it is the main theme of the Bible, we, as jews, haven't had it so good, since the rise of Chazal. Who knows, maybe God wanted us to be Sadducees?

Of course, the other side of the coin is that focusing on the redaction is pointless if by digging deep enough you uncover enough evidence that shows that there is no God of the Old Testament, that none of the events described in the Bible actually happened. Then the notion of an Orthodox Jew becomes kinda rootless, doesn't it? Sure you can keep going and you can trumpet all the wonderful benefits of an Orthodox lifestyle, but it's a bit of a sham, isn't it? It's kinda like the Roadrunner cartoons; as soon as the Coyote realizes that he is running through the air, and looks down, he falls into the gorge.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Dawkins of the Gaps


Suicide is Painless - M*A*S*H Music Monday

I'd like to comment on Miri's post, but don't have time today...

Friday, February 01, 2008

The day after the wedding:

-Darling, why have you stopped calling me your "goddess"?
-Forgive me, dear, I've become an atheist in the past few days.

Ecce Homo

The name Barabbas is composed of two elements: bar, meaning "son of", and Abba.

Abba has been found as a personal name in a first century burial at Giv'at ha-Mivtar and Abba also appears as a personal name frequently in the Gemara section of the Talmud, dating from 200-400. This would mean that Barabbas was the son of one named Abba.

Abba also means "father" in Aramaic. Jesus sometimes referred to God as "father;" Jesus' use of the Aramaic word Abba survives untranslated (in most English translations) in Mark 14:36. In the gospels, Jesus rarely refers to himself as "son of God" and never refers to himself as "son of the father.". However, some scholars like Michael Magee and Mary Whitehouse speculate that "bar-Abbâ" could refer to Jesus himself as "son of the father".

Hyam Maccoby and some other scholars have averred that Jesus was known as "bar-Abba", because of his custom of addressing God as 'Abba' in prayer, and referring to God as Abba in his preaching. It follows that when the Jewish crowd clamored before Pontius Pilate to "free Bar Abba" they could have meant Jesus. Anti-Semitic elements in the Christian church, the argument goes, altered the narrative to make it appear that the demand was for the freedom of somebody else (a brigand or insurrectionist) named "Barabbas". This was in, the theory goes, part of the tendency to shift the blame for the Crucifixion towards the Jews and away from the Romans. (See Hyam Maccoby, Revolution in Judea.)

Maccoby identifies Paul of Tarsus for this shifting of blame in The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention Of Christianity, which explains extensively why it was necessary to appease Roman sentiment prior to Constantine I's Edict of Milan (Edict of Tolerance) in 313, which legalized Christianity.

The appeasing of Roman sentiment was, Maccoby suggests, confined to the matters of the blame for Crucifixion and over Jesus' "true" mission in life. Maccoby argues that Jesus was an anti-Roman revolutionary and that Paul, who had never met Jesus during his life-time, disagreed strongly with Jesus' actual followers over what Jesus' mission was.

In his role of Apostle to the Gentiles, Paul absolved Rome of any blame for the crucifixion so that new Roman converts could more easily accept the miracle of Jesus' resurrection with no guilt for the murder that made it possible. For a Roman convert to accept that Jesus was the messiah he would also be accepting that Rome killed God's only son - so Paul shifted the blame on to the Jews, and the Barabbas/Pilate story and, more famously, the Judas myth, were used as blame shifting tactics to get new recruits to Paul's newly formed religion.

Benjamin Urrutia, co-author with Guy Davenport of The Logia of Yeshua: The Sayings of Jesus agrees with Maccoby and others who aver that Yeshua Bar Abba or Jesus Barabbas must be none other than Jesus of Nazareth, and that the choice between two prisoners is a fiction. However, Urrutia opposes the notion that Jesus may have either led or planned a violent insurrection. Jesus was a strong advocate of "turning the other cheek" - which means not submission but strong and courageous, though nonviolent, defiance and resistance. Jesus, in this view, must have been the planner and leader of the Jewish nonviolent resistance to Pilate's plan to set up Roman Eagle standards on Jerusalem's Temple Mount. The story of this successful resistance is told by Josephus — who, curiously, does not say who was the leader, but does tell of Pilate's crucifixion of Jesus just two paragraphs later in a passage whose authenticity is heavily disputed. (See article Josephus on Jesus, in particular the section "Arabic Version." This version seems to be free of the postulated Christian interpolations, but still makes it clear that Pilate ordered the crucifixion of Jesus.)