Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Rabbi Jesus

A bit of controversy about R' Shlomo Riskin making a video with some evangelical Christians where he sounds conciliatory... A bunch of bloggers seem up in arms over the fact that R' Riskin calls Jesus a "rabbi".

The rabbi's video was brought to my attention on Twitter by good old Rafi: "Rabbi Jesus? Has Rabbi Riskin lost his mind?" he asked.

"Yes," I had to reply. At that time, and in that place, a Rabbi was something specific, something Jesus assuredly was not. Being a Rabbi in those days was something like being a Jedi Master. You had to be formally ordained by the Council of Sages, and the title gave you the authority to judge certain types of cases. The idea that Jesus had earned this certification and become a Rabbi in that original sense is suggested by the New Testament. In three books, he is called by that title, but the New Testament is fallible history, written decades after the events it describes, by men who had no first hand knowledge of those events, and a clear interest in embellishing the details, and aggrandizing their subject. To the best of my knowledge, there's no other evidence that Jesus was a qualified Rabbi.

Frankly, of all the things to get upset about, this seems like the oddest... But also, seems wrong.

The title Rabbi as an official recipient of Smicha did not come about until after the destruction of the Second Temple. This is agreed upon by pretty much all Biblical scholars, so clearly Jesus did not need Smicha to be called a Rabbi because even the people who had Smicha were not called "rabbi" (witness Hillel and Shammai for example). The question comes about whether "rabbi" was sort of a generic term at the time of Jesus which meant "teacher". This seems very likely.

Mississippi Fred, perhaps you can post on this topic and set us all straight..

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A love that dare not speak its name, chabibi...

A big flare up in the jblogosphere about frum gay people.

Homosexuality is yet another topic which seems to be so charged that one cannot discuss it rationally any more. You're either a homophobe or a sodomite fellow traveller.

One thing I find interesting is that there is a movement to paint the Orthodox stance against homosexuality as this antiquated, Stone Age view, so out of tune with modern sensibilities. Yet it wasn't even fifty years ago that Canadian(!) criminal code labeled gay men "criminal sexual psychopaths" and "dangerous sexual offenders."[source]

There is something about the mainstream society's inability to come to grips with acceptance of male homosexuality. I don't think it is now, post sexual revolution, a moral problem. The same redneck who would beat the crap out of a "homo", would have no problem having oral or anal sex with some floozy in a cheap motel...

Monday, December 28, 2009

Season of the Witch Monday

An awesome psychedelic cover of Donovan's "Season of the Witch" by Bloomfield, Kooper and Stills...

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Chocolate Girls etc...

A while back I worked with a Chinese guy who once told me - 'Chinese people are very racist. They call negroes "black devils" and "lazy" and aren't that much more fond of white folks either. If you're not Chinese, you're second class'. I guess I wasn't surprised, but it didn't really make an impression on me. Until a couple of days ago. When I read the story about a half-black/half-chinese girl who won some talent competition in China, and people started writing in for her to "get out of the country" or saying it is "better if she'd never been born."

And this got me thinking about the double standards in this world. Developing countries always bitch and moan about European imprerialism and racism, but the funny thing is that they are just as bad if not worse. They don't even feel guilty about it.

It's the same in this country - blacks will bitch about racism but they will be just as racist towards whites, asians and latinos. And vice versa. It's human nature. If the Europeans didn't enslave the Africans, the Chinese would have (look at what they're doing in Africa now). And the Africans would do the same to whoever is lower on the totem pole.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Renaissance Popes, Lehavdil, Lehavdil

I've been thinking some about the recent chareidi scandals. Some thoughts that I don't have a good answer to...

Are the gedolim actually corrupt or are we seeing some bad apples?

If they are corrupt, is this just a period (like the Renaissance popes) where there is corruption in the religious leadership, or is it possible that the gedolim have always been corrupt? Because, let's face it, absolute power corrupts absolutely, and it could just be that prior to the age of mass information dissemination, it was a lot easier to control the message... If that is the case, how far back would the corruption go?

PS - no music today. Hum something Christmasy to yourselves.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Quote of the Day

I don't think the threesome/pimping thing is actually so bad.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Postmortem circumcision

I found a strange comment on the FailedMessiah blog.

By the way as a member of a chevra kadisha - we do have postmortem circumcisions and the 9 kavim of water poured upon the meit are in place of a mikva, and we do have 3 people performing the tahara who are shomrei shabat and mitzvot - kind of sounds like a conversion after the fact.

So I did some googling, and the best I could find is this abstract - which frankly sounds fascinating. I wish I could find the paper.

Postmortem Circumcision, Baptism, and Jewish-Christian Polemics
Twelfth and thirteenth-century Hebrew texts describe a seemingly obscure
custom: When a male Jewish infant died before he reached his eighth day
and before the corpse was buried, the dead infant was circumcised at the
open gravesite. Postmortem circumcision became a common custom
throughout the high Middle Ages, as discussions of the custom in various
Hebrew books of law and practice reveal. While there are some cursory
scholarly discussions about the origin and significance of the custom, no study
has been devoted to exploring fully the role and the function of postmortem
circumcision or has investigated its widespread acceptance in medieval Jewish
culture. I posit that the popularity of the custom responded to contemporary
medieval concerns about the fate of infants in the afterlife. The circumcision
of stillborn infants reflected the Jewish belief in the redemptive efficacy of
circumcision. Jews contrasted—particularly in the context of Jewish-Christian
polemics—the redemptive merits of circumcision with the shortcomings of
baptism: While postmortem circumcision enabled marking dead infants as
legitimate members of the Jewish community, baptism could only be effective
when performed before the infant died. Jewish perceptions of the superiority
of postmortem circumcision over baptism contributed as well to the appeal of
the custom. Exploring the significance and appeal of postmortem
circumcision, the paper will first trace the roots of the custom. The custom is
mentioned for the first time in a text written by one of the Gaonim of Babylonia
(early Middle Ages), that is to say in a non-Christian environment. However,
Jewish authorities living throughout Christian Europe in the high Middle Ages
reframed the custom’s rationale, associating it with intercession for the dead
and the afterlife.

Monday, December 14, 2009

"You killed our Saviour" to the tune of Hatikva

Westboro Baptist Church visits "Long Stiffed Neck" Long Island...

I like the part where they sing "You killed our Savior" to the tune of haTikvah...
Evanstonjew posted a link this morning which made me angry, sick, disgusted and frankly I am not sure how to sort it out in my head. It is certainly not a new issue.

A boy died of a brain tumor. The Sephardi Chief Rabbi ruled that because his mother underwent a Masorti conversion, he could not be buried in the Jewish cemetery in Madrid and instead had to be buried outside of the Orthodox section...

I just don't know what to say about this any more - God forbid any of us know that kind of pain - but have this kind of craziness happen as you're burying your son - it is inhuman.

I looked into the source of this Halacha. The Talmud says we cannot bury the righteous with the wicked. Rashi and the other rishonim interpret this to mean that Gentiles are wicked and cannot be buried with Jews who are assumed to be righteous. A lot more can be said by me on this topic, but not now...

I am not advocating abandoning Halacha, but you'd think there would be a way to bend it. I know why the Orthodox refuse - they are concerned that allowing it would implictly condone non-Orthodox conversions. But I guess it just breaks my heart.

Mehndi Music Monday

Love this song from "Monsoon Wedding". Great lyrics too:

O women of the house
Decorate me with henna
Make these fair hands beautiful with henna
Madhorama asks "Which one shall we marry?"
Madhorama says "The Fat One!"
The Fat One needs a bed too large to sleep on
Let's drop her on the wayside! Right on!
We want another! Right on!
We are fancy gentlemen
Brimming with lust and desire
Life intoxicates us
Do I lie? No way!
Madhorama asks "Which one shall we marry?"
Madhorama says "The Fair One!"
The Fair One has the color of butter
She sleeps alone on the roof as her lover pines for her below
This is the one we shall have
This is the one we like
We will marry her

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Golda Meir told Poland: Don't send sick or disabled Jews to Israel

Haaretz reports:

In 1958, then-foreign minister Golda Meir raised the possibility of preventing handicapped and sick Polish Jews from immigrating to Israel, a recently discovered Foreign Ministry document has revealed.

"A proposal was raised in the coordination committee to inform the Polish government that we want to institute selection in aliyah, because we cannot continue accepting sick and handicapped people. Please give your opinion as to whether this can be explained to the Poles without hurting immigration," read the document, written by Meir to Israel's ambassador to Poland, Katriel Katz.

The letter, marked "top secret" and written in April 1958, shortly after Meir became foreign minister, was uncovered by Prof. Szymon Rudnicki, a Polish historian at the University of Warsaw.

We're talking about Holocaust survivors here... Oy, ir narishe tsionistn...

Narishe tsionistn part 2

So about a month back I posted this video from Oy Division doing a song called "Oy Ir Narishe Tsionistn".

The lyrics are:
Oy ir narishe tsionistn (Oh you foolish zionists)
Mit ayer ketsenem moyechl, (With your cat's brains)
Kumt aroys tsu dem arbaytsman, (Come out to the workingman)
Un lernt aych bay im seychl (And learn some common sense from him)

Naturally I figured the song was written by some Bundist, but that's because I didn't know about the next verse

Ir kluge bundistn (You smart Bundists)
Oyf ale birzhes tut ir loyfn (You run to all the exchanges)
Ven es bevvayzt zich nor a kozakl, (No sooner does a little Cossack appear)
Hoybt ir bald on tsu antloyfn (Then you being to run)

So, it turns out that this song was written by some guy who was staying on the sidelines and making fun of both of these parties...

And then I found out that the tune and the words were a parody of an older song making fun of Chassidim. That song was called "Kum aher du filozof" and it went like this:

Kum aher, du filozof
Mit dayn kortzn maychl
Un zets zich tsu tsum rebn’s tish
Dort vestu lernen seychl.
Yam, bam, bam, bam…

[Found this info in this book]

Balance Sheet

I guess the replacement costs of the constantly lost kippot and the constantly tangled tzitzit for three boys still pale in comparison to the three weddings I'd have to pay for if they were girls...

But I have to say, I think it will be close!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009


From here
[The Bostoner Rebbe] was one of the very first Orthodox Rabbis to be more inclusive of women. He had engineers from MIT design the traditional mechitza (separation) between men and women using one-way glass, so the men could not look at the women while praying, which is forbidden, while offering the women an unobstructed view of the proceedings. He also had the mikvah (ritualarium) designed with two chambers so that in effect, each woman could immerse in fresh water, while technically adhering to the requirement that a mikvah must contain 40 se’ah (24 cubic feet) of rain water. He also ensured that the mikvah was beautifully tiled and had the latest in salon equipment. Also, unlike many fervently Orthodox Rebbis, he counseled both men and women, and never refused to shake a woman’s extended hand.


Monday, December 07, 2009

Lo Bashamayim Hee

I don't think any movement or ideology became successful by first thinking through a plan and then implementing it. Instead, it seems like people adopt an idea, run with it (either due to exhuberance or because of baser drives like power) and make it happen.

Once it is done, it is done and the winners get to write history. Ideas that are unthinkable become a fait accompli once there are "facts on the ground". This is what happened with the Rabbis who decided that their interpretation of the Torah trumps everything else.

It reminds me of the scene from Shogun, where Toranaga is yelling at Blackthorne:

"Therefore the Netherlands - your allies - are in a state of rebellion against their lawful king?"

"They're fighting against the Spaniards, yes. But - "

"Isn't that rebellion? Yes or no?"

"Yes. But there are mitigating circumstances. Serious miti-"

"There are no 'mitigating circumstances' when it comes to rebellion against a sovereign lord."

"Unless you win."

Coupe de Boule Music Monday

This one's an oldie but a goodie - remember when Zidane lost the World Cup for France after he headbutted the Italian who insulted his mother... These guys wrote a catchy little song about it.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

The importance of theology

It's funny, a few weeks back I (experiencing a sudden lack of judgement) engaged in an argument with a guy name Moshe and some others on XGH's blog, who were trying to argue that the concept of Revelation at Sinai was not a critical belief in Orthodox Judaism.

One of the things they flung at me was - "Theology is not a big deal in Orthodox Judaism. It's what you do that matters, not what you believe. What are you, a Christian?"

So, today I run across this BT Lubavitch Rabbi who is arguing that we need to get back to theology.

The problem is, though he is pictured in front of an impressive bookshelf, his answers in this interview barely seem to hold together... I hope that it was poor editing on the part of the Jewish Press...

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Shades of Grey

The last New Yorker had two articles which really got me thinking. The first was about Caster Semenya, the South African runner who was embroiled in the gender controversy. The second article was about Karen Ann Quinlan, the girl who because the lightning rod of the Right to Life/Right to Die controversy in the 1970.

These two very different subjects have at their heart the same problem - what should be a simple black and white concept, isn't. Is the person male or female? Is the person alive or dead?

So you'd think this is lunacy - have them drop their drawers and take a peek. How can you not know if they're male or female? Well, so you do this with a girl of 8 and you say, she is definitely female. Then she hits puberty, and all of a sudden, she has testes which descend into her labia, her clitoris elongates into a short penis, and voom - she became a he. Without going into details, it seems that no approach you take, physical examinations, hormone testing, genetic testing, is going to give you a clear cut answer.

And this is what freaks me out. Humans make sense of the world hierarchically. We start with things we're sure of and build on them. However, the more I look into the things that we're supposed to be sure of, the more I learn that some of these we cannot be so sure of 100%.