Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Kinor or Bore?

Naomi Shemer died on Saturday, and if you're like most of us, you were humming Yerushalayim Shel Zahav before you reached the end of this sentance.

Why does that song touch us? The tune is unimpressive. The words are too dense to be parsed by anyone non-fluent in Hebrew. And it's not even the best of Namoi Shemer's three famous songs. That honor goes to Al Kol Eyleh. (The worst of the the big three, Lu Yehee, is a treacly derivitive of the Beatle's Let It Be)

So why Yerushalayim Shel Zahav? The histroy of the song, written first as a hymm to a divided city, and then, a few shorts months later, revised to celebrate a great victory, is wonderful, of course, but other songs have great histories. Maybe the glory of the song is the way it weaves talmudic and midrashic material into something new, something now. (A fine example of this also occurs at the end of Al Kol Eyla when the compser pleas "Hashivenu v'ashuva el ha'aaretz hatovah.)The title metaphor is wonderful, too. Anyone who has been to Israel understands instantly why Jerusalem is described as a city of gold, and, on deeper reflection, the metaphor suggests the city's holiness, its rich history, and the vestaments of the priest who once reigned there supreme.

But does all of this - the history, the language, the rich source materiel, the deathless metaphor - does all of this add up to a great song? Or is it, at bottom, just sentimentalism? Do we like the song because it reminds us of a better time, a time when Israel was younger and innocent, and we were, too? Do I like the song because I can remeber singing it as a second grader, when my only worry was would I beat my sister to the good spot on the ottoman in front of the TV? Because I can remeber hearing it on a bus radio in Jerusalem when I was living something like klal yisroel in the desert? Is it really just a bad sentimental song?

Halachic evolution

How ‘Halacha’ Evolves

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

OOOPS! (and the grey lady blushes)

From the NYT's correction box:

An account in the Soccer Report column on June 22 about Ethan Zohn, a former player in Zimbabwe who won $1 million on the CBS reality show "Survivor: Africa" in 2002 and has capitalized on his moment of fame by starting an international nonprofit AIDS awareness foundation on the continent, misstated a word in a comment he made. Mr. Zohn said, "We can make value judgments all we want, but through some cultural differences it has been all right for men in Africa to have multiple sex partners"—not "all right for me."

Der Furor - Bush plays the Nazi card.

Der Furor - Bush plays the Nazi card.

What is wrong with Bush? He runs an advert suggesting Kerry = Hitler? I am not sure what's funnier, the ad itself, or the commentary in the article you can reach using the link above. (You can reach the add this way, too)

As one of the writers asks: What are they snoking in Karl Rove's office?

USA Patriot Act

OK- How many of you out there were aware that this is an acronym?

Now; without doing a web search- can anyone tell me what this stands for?

Kos Shel Brocha

What is the idea behind the kos shel brocha? Are we saying that God is handcuffed, and unable to give us schar until we drink from a certain cup? Or is there something else to it?

Monday, June 28, 2004

The King is the people, and the people are the King

"The King is the people, and the people are the King"

That's what Rashi says (citing an aggada, no doubt) to explain an anomaly in parshat Chukas. The trouble is this: In one verse, we're told that Moshe sent a messenger to a foreign king; in another verse the messenger was sent by Israel. Rashi's solution: there's no distinction between the king and the people.

Some questions: Is Rashi speaking theologically? Or is he speaking philosophically? And may we make a distinction between the two?

The medieval world, to which Rashi belonged, would certainly have agreed that King and country could not be separated. But 800 years later, that view is no longer viable. We believe that the king (or president) derives his authority from the people, and that a legitimate king is one who honors and respects the source of his authority.

So, per Rashi, are we in error, and is the whole of modern political philosophy a mistake? (this, incidentally, was the view of Pius IX who tried to correct the world, and turn back the tide, by publishing the Syllabus of Errors, a list that included "Democracy and Americanism")

Or can we say that Rashi was talking about his own time? Intellectually, that view is satisfying, and I think theologically permitted, but it leaves us with an unsolved problem: How should we, in 2004, address that pesky anomaly?

Friday, June 25, 2004


How come Michael Jacksons eyesite becomes bad when he is in court? You never see him wearing glasses when he is on stage, spinning around, or reading bed time stories to children.

Not only can you see he is wearing glasses in court, but you can also see the silly puddy on his nose starting to melt or slip or something. His face looks like it should be on display at Madame Tussauds

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Rebbe Shlita

Shlita? So these pictures where taken, like, yesterday or something?


Heard a good bit of a reasonably long interview with him this morning on NPR. It followed his book signing on 5th avenue. You've got to hand it to the guy, 4 years out of the presidency and he still sounds like he's got a better handle on things than "W". At the same time, he spoke of our current CEO very respectfully.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Billam, and the closing of the Jewish mind

Go to Google. Type in the word "Billam." Read some of the devray torahs that pop up. Notice anything that they have in common? In almost all of them, Billam is identified as a true prophet.

Now, certainly there are some commentators who take this view, and say that Billam's prophetic abilities were equal to Moshe. But there is another view, the view of the Ramban among others, which holds that Billam was a charlatan, who earned his living
playing tricks and cons, until the climax of parshas Balak, when, for the sake of Israel he was given a one-time only prophetic gift. The rest of the time Billam was just like that divination teacher in the Potter books: A fake, a phony and a fraud.

Why is the Ramban's view so unpopular? When I first encountered it, at the age of 25, I was startled, first because it seemed impossible given what I had always been taught, but also because I couldn't understand why none of my teachers had ever mentioned it.

Every year since then, around parasha Balak, I've had the occasion to reference this Ramban, and the reaction I get is always the same: denial. "That can't be," I'm always told, as the other person's face scrunches into an angry mask, "You must have read the Ramban wrong." And even after I pull the volume off the shelf, and show them the offending passages, some stubborn souls insist that the Ramban doesn't really say what it says, or better yet, they'll cite a Rishon or (better still) an achron or (best of all) their third grade rebbe as "proof" that the Ramban was mistaken.

What is it about this little idea that is so frightening? Why do people "need" for Billam to have been a real prophet? Why is the Ramban so under-represented on online devray torah? Why do people who recognize that there are a multitude of opinions among the commentators when it comes to matters of halacha, demonstrate such hostility to the fact that the commentators disagreed on matters of aggada, too?

What do you think it means?

Monday, June 21, 2004

Llamas . . .

Have you ever been chased by one?

It isn't really any fun . . . .

Boy can those suckers run!!!

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Happy Bloomsday

One of these days, I need to slog through that book, and see for myself if it's really all that.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Wireless Networks

Ok, so I am working in the kitchen. I'm running on my battery, the phone line is not plugged in. I'm completely wireless. Then I notice the network icon on the bottom of my screen. I figure it is going to tell me that one or more wireless networks are available. Usually it is Emily, or something like that, but it never really works.

This time, it was linksys. I asked to sign on, even though it is not a secure network, and bingo- I'm on at 11.0 Mbs. I don't think I've ever connected at such a high speed. It's like being on a rocket- and wireless too, at my Kitchen table. I feel so freeeeee!!!!!

Should I be a little nervous- that I'm exposed to some horrible worm or something like that. Or should I feel bad that I am pirating band width from some poor old sap. Or that whomever this connection belongs to is reading this blog as I write it?

What do you say now, Jimmy?

Earlier, I wrote about James Inhofe, the gung-ho righty congressmen, whose response to Abu Ghreb was, "I'm outraged more by the outrage."

I have not heard much recently from Inhofe. Wonder why. Could it be because the second round of graphic videos and photographs that have so far been shown only to Congress are _much_ worse?

God Save the Pledge

Any insights from the lawyers in the gallary?
God Save the Pledge

kee lachmaynu hem

Ten spies were violently opposed to entering Israel. It is a land that eats its inhabitants, they argued, a land where we will be like grasshoppers.

A friend, citing a sicha prepared by the Lubovitch Rebbe, suggested that the spies worried that in Israel they would lose their status and their way of life. Perhaps the spies thought that in Israel, they'd no longer be leaders; instead they'd be small, like grasshoppers. Perhaps they woried that in Israel they'd no longer be able to enjoy the splendid isolation of the midbar, where their every need was met through divine providence; instead they would be required to work the land for their daily bread, an endeavor that can be souless and back-breaking, mindless and corrupting.

The spies wanted to stay in the midbar, the sicha suggests, because in the midbar the people were surrounded by holiness. They did not have to work. They did not have to build. In the midbar, they were always in the precense of God.

Is there a parralel between the attitude of the spies, as explained by the Rebbe, and the attitude of anti-Zionists who, before world war II, encouraged their people to stay in Europe, rather than emigrate to irreligious Israel?

Monday, June 14, 2004


Why was this guy named after a sandwhich from Pesach? (koreich) Hyuck Hyuck!

V'chagotem oto Chag

It occurred to me that last week Washington DC looked a little like ancient Jerusalem at holiday time. True, those who waited on line were not bringing animal sacrifice. But they did wait, some up to 8 hours, for the chance to enter a magnificent building and pay tribute. And when they were done, they spoke of an atmosphere charged with reverence and gratitude. One even called it a mini-festival, an uplifting experience.

An old religious impulse was at work in the capital last week, an impulse recognized by Judaism thousands of years ago.

Shlach Licha

Shlach licha anashim: Send for yourself men
We’ve all learnt, as Rashi points out, that the “licha”, the “for yourself”, means that Hashem is allowing Bnei Yisroel to do as they please. If Bnei Yisroel want to send spies, Bnei Yisroel should.

My problem is that when Hashem says “Shlach licha anashim” it is a commandment. Hashem is commanding Bnei Yisroel to send the spies. If it is a commandment, how can Bnei Yisroel be doing it for themselves?

Friday, June 11, 2004

Power to the People

Clinton is famous for using polls to help him develop policies, and the conservative dislike of his approach is equally well-known. But I don't understand their objections.

First, why are the president's convictions necessarily superior to my own? Don't Clinton's polls tell us something reassuring about the man's humility? Rather than arrogantly trusting only himself, he checked to see what other people thought and wanted. That's admirable, and unusual in a man of power.

Second, if the majority of the people in this country want something - be it gays in the military, or a radical tax cut - isn't the president morally obligated to deliver it? What's the president's authority for ignoring the will of the people, if it is clearly expressed in an instrument like a statistically valid poll?

Certainly, all questions aren't equal. No one would expect the president to poll issues that can only be decided by military, economic, or medical experts, and indeed Clinton never put these sort of questions to the public. But if the question is purely one of opinion or if, as in the case of tax cuts, or gays in the military, the experts are divided, what better way to settle the question than a poll?

Conservatives claim to oppose elitism. On matters like abortion they insist the people must be heard, and that judges - regardless of their expertise - have no right to oppose the public mood. Wasn't Clinton's polling a clear acknowledgment of this theory? Don't polls recognize our right to shape our own destinies, and reject elitism?

kee kol ha"am b"shgaga

Among Orthodox Jews, why was Clinton's sexual relationships proof that civilization is on the decline, while George W.Bush's idol-worship is proof that civilization is on the rebound?

From the perspective of the Troah, aren't they categorically the same?

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

American Friends of Yeshivat R' Meir . . .

. . . Is on the Treasury's list of Specialy Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons.

Moral clarity?

What's all this bilge about Reagan's moral clarity? First, you can be perfectly sure of what you want to do, and still be dead wrong. Hitler had clarity, and believed his cause was moral and righteous. So, you wouldn't be making a mistake if you claimed that Hitler had moral clarity, but, as I hope this shows, moral clarity isn't always a good thing.

Second, was Reagan really so moral? Where was this famous morality during Iran-contra? If you recall, during that scandal, he lied, then lied again, then lied some more, then played dumb about it all. And these lies weren't about something harmless like an intern under the desk. Reagan was lying about matters that directly affected our national security. His administration secretly sold arms to Iran and diverted the proceeds to the Contra rebels fighting to overthrow the _democratically-elected_ government of Nicaragua.

Both actions were contrary to acts of Congress which prohibited the sale of weapons to Iran, as well as in violation of UN sanctions.

As the Tower report put it: Reagan bore "ultimate responsibility" for wrongdoing by his aides and his administration exhibited "secrecy, deception, and disdain for the law." Two of his aids, Oliver North and John Poindexter, were indicted on charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States. North was convicted of three charges and Poindexter was convicted on several felony counts of lying to Congress, obstruction of justice, conspiracy, and altering and destroying documents pertinent to the investigation.

I'd prefer a sex scandal any day. They are certainly discomfiting and vulgar, but show no disdain for Congress or to the rule of law.

Some apikursis to start your day

In Rashi's commentary to Numbers 11:15, he uses the words "tikun sofrim" to explain what seems to be a textual anomaly. Tikun sofrim means "a correction of the scribes."

Here is the verse, as the King James version has it. The anomaly Rashi spotted is clearer in English:

"And if thou deal thus with me, kill me, I pray thee, out of hand, if I have found favor in thy sight; and let me not see my wretchedness."

"My wretchedness" should be "your wretchedness" or even "their wretchedness." What had Moshe done that was wretched? Rashi tells us the scribes changed the word (and in Hebrew the changing "your wretchedness" to "my wretchedness" is a matter of deleting just two letters) because "your wretchedness" seemed disrespectful to their ears.

Some argue that Rashi's words should be understood euphamistacly. The words, as they appear in our text are the original words that God dictated to Moshe, but God behaved like a scribe and used the word "my wretchedness" so that Moshe would not appear to be using rude or disrespectful language. According to this interpretation of Rashi God was the editor, and not the later, human scribes.

If we take Rashi literally, though, we have a problem. After all, isn't the immutableness of the Torah one of our 13 core beliefs? Yet, here we have a rishon, a rishon that the Ramban said "had the right of the first born" when it came to biblical exegis, claiming that the scribes had made changes to the torah's text.

Is it possible to take Rashi literally? Suprisingly, the answer is yes: On Job 32:3 Rashi writes, "This is one of the verses in which the Scribes fixed the language of the text. It should have read, 'And they condemned G-d in their silence' but the text used a euphemism (kinah hakatuv)."

From here it seems clear that Rashi's use of the phrase "tikun sofrim" is not meant to be euphamistic. He thought the scribes had, in some instances, altered the text. And apparently, other Rishonim agreed with him (though some, plainly did not)

Further evidence, perhaps, that some rishonim would have chuckled at our generation's affectations of piety when confronted with questions of this sort?

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

. . . Cooking with Rum

For every tablespoon of dark rum called for in a recipe, use 2 tablespoons of rum extract. For every 5 tablespoons of light rum, use just 1 tablespoon of natural rum extract.

mmmmmmmmmm . . .

Jerry Parr - Hero

I heard Jim McLishevsky(sp?) on Imus this morning. He reported on the Reagan life attempt and got undisclosed info as to how close the life of Reagan was taken.

When the shots rang, Reagan was pushed into the car by Jerry Parr. Once in the car, Parr searched Reagan for moisture or wounds and found none. On the way to the White House, Reagan wasn't feeling well at all (I think he said he might have coughed blood). Parr said go to the hospital. At the hospital Reagan collapsed and 10 guys around him lifted him up over their heads to an ER and work started to save his life. When he blood pressure was taken, it registered 0. He had lost half his blood due to internal bleeding.

The bullet from the .22 caliber hit the side of Reagan's car. It flattened to the size of a dime and bounced off the car. It sliced into Reagan below his armpit. Because of the bullets size, sharpness and speed now, the wound closed up right after it entered Reagan. Thus, there was no external wound.

If Parr said to drive Reagan to the White House to get checked out by the local doctor instead of the Hospital, Reagan would surely be dead. A quick and life saving decision by Parr makes him a Hero, not some other people involved (see March 30, 1981 post).

Knight Rider DWI

Jun 7, 2004
David Hasselhoff was arrested over the weekend on charges of driving while intoxicated, police said Monday.

I am not sure how Hasselhoff got pulled over. He drives KITT. KITT takes care of everything.

The Foundation's most important asset in achieving its goals of fighting crime and protecting the innocent is a top-secret super "car" known as the Knight Industries Two Thousand (KITT). In addition to being virtually indestructible, KITT possesses advanced artificial intelligence capable of accepting voice commands, as well as interacting with its operator and making decisions on its own. In fact, KITT's artificial intelligence is so advanced, that it has formed a kind of personality. This human characteristic has enabled KITT to gradually form a unique bond and partnership with Michael and the rest of the FLAG crew. Although his purpose is to fight criminals, KITT by nature is benevolent and compassionate. KITT is programmed in such a way that his top priority is to protect human life, and thus he does not utilize lethal force.

If KITT is so cool, how could he let Hasselhoff get pulled over for DWI?!

Monday, June 07, 2004

March 30, 1981

An attempt on the Presidents life takes place. Four people are shot. One of these people is Secret Service Agent Timothy McCarthy.

Some would call him a hero for reacting to the situtation and using his body as a shield to accept a bullet instead of the president. Some would call him brave for becoming the human forcefield to a .22 caliber shot.

I call him clueless.

Let's go to the video tape(requires Real player):

He seems to hear shots, circles in confusion, gets hit in the stomach, and fall down. He was not jumping in front of a bullet. He was not using his own life to save another on purpose. He was shot because he had no idea how to react. Like a deer in headlights, Tim McCarthy, was hit.

Thank you Mr McCarthy for being totally clueless and being hit by a bullet. I salute you.

BJJ Barbie and Kollel Ken

EL SEGUNDO, CALIFORNIA - [] In an effort to prop up lagging sales for their Barbie doll and Ken doll line, Mattel has targeted the little Jewish girl market with Barbie dolls that reflect Jewish culture.

Kollel Barbie comes with several jobs as her accessories and a tummy that inflates and deflates in nine month cycles. Kollel Ken comes with a bench to sit on and a table to put his gemara on. Ken's head fits perfectly into the contours of the gemorah accessory and is equipped to drool and snore away the day while Barbie tends to the babies and her 17 jobs.

Hasidic Barbie comes with permanent stockings and is bald, but you'll never know because it's covered with a state-of-the-art shpitzel and pillbox hat. Hasidic Ken comes with downward-looking eyes because he's not allowed to look at other dolls.

Yeshivish Barbie comes with 84 snoods, 174 hats, 24 non-Indian hair sheitels and one tichel that allows her hair to show a bit when she's feeling naughty. Yeshivish Ken comes with one suit, one crumpled hat, and one pair of tzitzis that drag on the ground.

Modern Barbie comes with pants, plus a helmet and body armor to protect her from the stones thrown at her by ultra-orthodox Ken dolls that come with the Meah Shearim playset.

Upper West Side Barbie comes with 74 single Ken dolls she considers friends because she doesn't think of them "that way." Little does she know that 37 of the Ken dolls have like this totally huge crush on her. She also comes with Kleenexes to wipe away the tears that she sheds every time Skipper reminds her that "Friends" is over.

These new dolls, with their controversial accessories, did not go uncontested. Several organizations, including the Anti Defamation Kollel League, the Anti Defamation Hasidic League, the Anti Defamation Yeshivish League, the Anti Defamation Modern League and the Anti Defamation Upper West Side League have voiced concern over the stereotypes these dolls represent.

In a press release, Mattel said, "Tough noogies, just WAIT till we come out with Nidah Barbie, we KNOW that's gonna push some buttons!"

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Adelbert Claflin . . .

Now that's a name!

NYC Water

Who can explain the controvery to me?

Yes, NYC water is full of micrscopic organisms, but so is the air around us. Does the torah prohibit breathing? What is the issue?

And while we are on the subject, let's say a few words about the bodek vegetable people. The bugs in the water were discovered when someone accused an Israeli vegetable man of supplying produce that was certified clean, but was in fact infested with bugs. "Not so, said the veggie man, my produce is clean. The bugs are introduced when you rinse the greens in NYC water." So they investigated and found the squirmers in the tap water.

Can we remind for a second? Why are we checking vegetables with microscopes in the first place? The bodek people even have a microscope in their logo! If the invisible stuff isn't a problem (right?) then why are they using microscopes?

y et eeve

I ave a et eeve hat I ould ike o hare ith ou.

gain, nd gain, I ncouneter he ebrew ord "netz," nd rom he ontext t's lear hat he riter eans unrise. his s ot orrect. A netz s n eagle. unrise s hanetz. ee ow nnoying -nd onfusing t an e - hen he irst etter of a ord s ropped?

By way of explanation, and I'll write normally now, the letter hay in "henetz" is _not_ a hay ha-y'dia (an article, like the word "the" in English) but part of the word itself (as in heter, heset, hebet, hekesh, etc.) Incidently, the word often appears with a segol, ie: henetz, which gramamtically speaking, might make more sense.

Megalgalin Zechus al yadei Zakai (Rashi, Bamidbar, 9,7)

Recently, certain members of this blog participated in an illicit (read “off-line”) conversation which brushed on the subject of Hashgacha Klalit vs. Hashgacha Pratit.

I noticed a Rash in this weeks sedra which is relevant to this general discussion. There were sound reasons for keeping that discussion off the web, but I see no good reason not to blog this, so here goes-

The Rashi is commenting on the Parsha of Pesach Sheini. For those who don’t remember, Pesach Sheini is introduced in the Torah in a slightly peculiar fashion. Instead of the Torah simply stating the law, we are told that individuals who were unable to participate in the Karban Pesach-Midbar, because they were Tamei, approached Moshe on Pesach to advocate a process by which their participation could be permitted. Moshe responded that he would check with The Boss. The Parsha of Pesach Sheini follows.

There are a number of subjects addressed in the Rashi I have cited. The one that interested me was Rashi’s statement that “It would have been fit for the subject of Pesach Sheini to have been stated through Moshe, but “Megalgalin Zechus al yadie Zakai.” I have not translated this last line because I am not certain exactly what it means. Disclaimer: there are a number of things about Rashi’s comment that I don’t understand, but I have remained focused here on the subject matter at hand.

Rashi seems to be bothered by the fact that the Parsha of Pesach Sheini needed this special introduction. It seems as if Rashi is wondering, did Moshe do something which warranted losing the Zechus of having the Parsha stated through him? His answer seems to be, no. Moshe did not do anything to warrant losing the zechus, rather- “Megalgalin Zechus al yadie Zakai.”

On the surface Rashi’s explanation seems to be satisfactory. Moshe didn’t lose the zechus, the Tamei guys just deserved some sort of Recognition, and this how G-d through them a bone, because HKBH is not “mepakeach schar kol beria”(See pasachim, Perek Kol Shaah “lekelev tashlichun Osso”).

But don’t we believe that “Hatzur Taamim Poalo?” Is it reasonable to suggest that Moshe Rabbeinu lost a Zechus without having merited losing the zechus? Even under a Hashgacha Klalit approach wouldn’t a Moses Rabbeinu merit Dikduk K’chut hasaira?

I have a number of thoughts on the matter- but I think I’ll shut up now and listen to what you guys have to say?

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

tales of ducks

Let's assume The Beagle Boys were able to steal Scrooge McDucks lucky dime. Let's even assume they were able to hold on to it and not give it back.

Do you think they would realize that all they got was a stinking dime?

...ducktales, ah WOO woo.....

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

The new Iraq/Israel connection

The new Iraqi Flag:

The article points out the color of the stripes approaches the colors used on the Israeli flag, but isn't the design itself reminiscent of the Israeli flag?

Put words in Cheny's Mouth!

Nice contest here:


Do you think if New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez was holding a leaf blower, instead of a bat, all the girls would still want to marry him?