Friday, August 01, 2014

The Five Towns jewish News thinks genocide might be okay

Thanks to Azi, I see the 5 Towns Jewish News has published a radical and obnoxious op-ed that toys with genocide, suggesting it might be a perfectly OK way to achieve Israel's military goals.

If you're a responsible, non-racist Right Winger I strongly urge you to stop coddling and tolerating these extremists. Do what you always say the Arabs should do in response to Hamas's genocidal rhetoric. Set an example and denounce our own home-grown  pro-genocide morons.

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How tall was Og?

Og, the giant, gets a mention in this week's sedra, which gives me a good opportunity to discuss what the Rabbis said about him and his fantastic height.

Here's the verse:
King Og of Bashan was the last of the Rephaites. His ERES was made of iron and was 9 amot long and 4 amot wide according to the ammah of a man .

**What's an Eres?**
Chizkun: A tower or a fort
Rashbam: A crib
Ramban and Rambam: A bed

**What does the Eres tell us about Og's height?**
Nothing (if you say it was a fort)
He was huge (if you say it was a crib)
He was big (if you say it was a bed)

**How big was this Eres?**
Rashi, TPJ, Ramban: We don't really know because the verse says it was 9 x 4 according to Og's own Amah. (ie 9 of his cubits x 4 of his cubits)
Ibn Ezra and Rambam: We don't measure according to his own Amah; we measure according to an ordinary porson's amah
DovBear: So this would mean the Eres was about 12 feet by 5 feet (using the biblical amah of about 17 inches)

**Does this mean Og was 12 feet tall?**
Not necessarily:
Rambam: A person is always smaller than his bed. Its not an exact fit. So if the bed was 9 amot long, Og himself was around 6 amot tall.
DovBear: using the biblical amah that means he was about 8.5 feet tall, but there is room to say he was even shorter because the amah is about 1/4 your height and the average Israelite was about 5 feet tall which gives an amah of 15 inches meaning Og was 7.5 feet tall which is huge, but perfectly possible.

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Idn Ezra's Four Verses

A comment by Ibn Ezra at the beginning of this week's parsha is one that some fear opens the doors of heresy beneath our feet. With something approaching a wink and a shrug he broadly hints that four Torah verses were added after Moshe died.

From a literary perspective his point is compelling. All four verses are slightly "off" One sounds like a parenthetical that the original audience would not have understood; another sounds like it was written on the Israel side of the Jordan, and so on. From a theological perspective his point is terrifying - until you remind yourself of a few things:

1) This is Ibn Ezra we're talking about. Do you really want to excommunicate a Rishon? Are you prepared to suggest ibn Ezra was in the grips of false ideas?

2) The idea that every word and every letter we have today was part of the original revelation is a relatively new one. Its not hard to find old-time authorities who didn't accept this claim, or who didn't think denying it was heresy.

3) For centuries the Torah was copied by hand and all sorts of weird things happen, over time, when you copy something by hand.

4) We can concede that the Torah we have today is not a letter for letter match with the original revelation and absolutely nothing bad will happen. Accepting ibn Ezra's point is not, in of itself, license to stop keeping commandments or to start eating pork.

It's merely religious permission to embrace the beginnings of a critical understanding.

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Thursday, July 31, 2014

The UN School Bombing Post You Have Been Waiting For

Yesterday, Israel hit a school that was being used to shelter refugees. The UN says that Israel was provided with GPS coordinates of the school on 17 separate occasions. Israel said they were responding to fire from near the school. At least 15 people, mostly children and women, died when the school was hit by five shells.

Crazy people on both sides are saying crazy things.

Pro Hamas people say the school was attacked on purpose, which makes no sense as Israel has nothing to gain from killing sleeping children. Also if Israel wanted to kill sleeping children, why aren't several hundred killed every night? On the other hand, IDF cheerleaders say that school was actually a terrorist base or a depot and the sleeping children were being used as shields. But this contradicts Israel's own account of the incident.

It seems clear that this was an accident, and a terribly damaging accident to boot. Will the people who committed this error be disciplined? Will someone be held accountable? If only for the sake of Hasbarah Israel should, at some later date, announce that the guilty parties received an appropriate punishment. [And if the investigation concludes a minor punishment = appropriate punishment Israel should make that clear, too.]

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All the way to Gaza

A guest post by Y. Bloch
And the Avvim who dwelt in villages all the way to Gaza, the Caphtorim, who came forth out of Caphtor, destroyed them, and dwelt in their stead. (Deut. 2:23)
This verse is a striking one in the middle of this week's Torah portion, Parashat Devarim. Moses is giving a recap of the conquest of the East Bank, explaining why the Israelites avoided conflict with some nations and engaged others: the former were cousins to the Jews, part of the Abrahamic covenant, and so protected by God; the latter were Amorites, one of the seven nations whose lands Israel was to inherit.
However, this verse interrupts the flow. The previous ones discuss the rightful inheritances of the descendants of Esau and Lot, Abraham's grandson and nephew respectively; in the next one, Moses relates God's words to him, "Behold I have given into your hand Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon, and his land." The discussion is exclusively about the nations residing on the East Bank of the Jordan; why does the Torah suddenly throw in this random detail about the inhabitants of the the Mediterranean coast of the Promised Land--literally on the other side of the country?
The fact is that this phrase, "all the way to Gaza ('ad 'Azza)" is quite a momentous one. The previous time it appears, in the beginning of the Torah, it defines the furthest extreme of Canaanite expansion (Gen. 10:18-19):

And afterward were the families of the Canaanites spread abroad. And the border of the Canaanites was from Sidon, as you come to Gerar, all the way to Gaza.
So, we have the Canaanites moving south, along the coast, from Sidon (still a major port city in Lebanon). But our verse speaks of two other peoples: the Avvim and the Caphtorim.
We don't know the who of the Avvim, but we know the whence: they came from the east. That much is clear from their appearances in chapters 17-19 of II Kings, where their city is one of the early conquests of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, in modern-day Iraq or Iran. Their migration westward is indicated by the fact that a city in the land given to the tribe of Benjamin, stretching from Jericho to Jerusalem, is called "The Avvim" (Josh. 18:23).
So we have Semites coming westward "all the way to Gaza," Phoenicians coming southward "all the way to Gaza"--but that is not who's in possession in Moses' time. It's now the Caphtorim. Where do they come from? Once again, we turn to the global genealogy of Gen. 10, where the Torah clearly states that the Caphtorim are of Egyptian origin. That would be yet another invading force, this time from the southwest, through the Sinai (or possibly just sailing up the coast).
Gaza is the nexus, the fulcrum, the crucible of empires--not only in Canaanite times, but for the Israelites as well.
So Joshua struck all the country of the hills, and of the South, and of the lowland, and of the slopes, and all their kings... And Joshua struck them from Kadesh Barnea all the way to Gaza... And all these kings and their land did Joshua take at one time, because the LORD God of Israel fought for Israel. (Josh. 10:40-42)
Joshua first sets out from Kadesh Barnea as one of the Scouts, only completing his mission and making it "all the way to Gaza" 45 years later.
Similarly, the verse says of Solomon (I Kings 4:24; 5:4 in Tanakh):
For he had dominion over all the region on this side of the river, from Tiphsah all the way to Gaza, over all the kings on this side of the river: and he had peace on all sides round about him.
Indeed, the effusive praise for King Hezekiah, the Davidic heir whose righteousness made him a candidate for Messiah (according to the Talmud) concludes (II Kings 18:8): "He struck the Philistines all the way to Gaza, and the borders thereof, from the tower of the watchmen to the fortified city."
Gaza has been the farthest extent of at least four ancient empires, and its symbolism has not been diminished over four millennia. The fates of nations are decided in Gaza, and the decisions Israelis, Palestinians and the world must make now are fateful ones. We must call on the bravery of Joshua, the wisdom of Solomon and the piety of Hezekiah to find a solution that brings justice, peace and truth all the way to Gaza.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Explain Moderate Arabs to me

If extremists and terrorists like Hamas et al stopped fighting a few excellent things (from the point of view of the moderate Arabs) would happen:

(1) Far fewer civilians would die;
(2) It would become much easier for moderate Arabs to make their moral arguments and to articulate their grievances
(3) It would become much easier for moderate Arabs to shine a light on the flaws of the occupation
(4) It would create room for an Arab Ghandi or an Arab MLK to emerge

Meanwhile, if the Jews stopped fighting nothing excellent would happen, as all the Jews would be murdered, and Hamas et al would impose a theocracy with rules that would make it far more difficult for moderate Arabs to enjoy the sort of lives they are currently enjoying.

So moderate Arabs, how can you support the extremists? If you Moderate Arabs want the occupation to end, why are you supporting attacks on civilians by Hamas? That won't end the occupation. Their attacks will only cause Israel to clamp down harder. If you want the occupation to end why aren't you denouncing Hamas's genocidal threats? That kind of rehtoric end the occupation either. It will only make Israel trust the Arabs less.

All Hamas is doing is causing more of your people to die, and giving your worst extremists undeserved power and undeserved influence. They and their missiles are doing nothing to end the occupation.

If you want to end the occupation you should be developing your own Gandhi or your own Martin Luther King, as civil disobedience is what's been shown to work, while killing civilians and spouting on about genocide doesn't.

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In defense of the IDF

From time to time I feel the need to pull back the curtain and reveal to my well-mannered detractors that I am really not a Pro-Hamas, terrorist sympathizing, useful idiot, Muslim running dog. This is one of those times.

I am a member of a top secret, Facebook invisible group where pre-vetted people get to have civil, but no-holds, barred arguments about Israel. The group is full of nice people who disagree fundamentally about Israel, but in good faith mostly, and usually for non-insane reasons

Today, one of the members posted a bit of a rambling diatribe about the civilian death rate in Gaza. This was definitely not the sort of good-faith, non-insane thing you usually see posted there, and the poster went a little overboard in the choice of adjectives she used to describe the IDF.

Here's my [excerpted] response:

You know what's sick [NAME]? Here. I'm going to tell you. Hamas purposefully stores weapons and soldiers in schools and mosques. Do you know why? Because Hamas depends on on the "evil sadistic IDF killing machine" to avoid those targets. Hamas knows that Israel wishes to minimize the civilian death toll. . This is why Hamas chooses to put weapons in schools and mosques. Its a specific, strategic, cynical choice that is based fully on Hamas's recognition of the fact that the IDF generally tries to avoid such targets (when they aren't being used to house missiles.)

Now, let's flip this around. Suppose Israel played the same trick. Suppose Israel used women and children to protect IDF soldiers and weapons. Do you think for a second that would deter Hamas? Of course it wouldn't. Hamas's stated aim is to kill as many as women and children as possible. If Israel used women and children as shields Hamas would not be deterred. Hamas would say "Thank you for making things easier for me."

This is not an unimportant difference.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2014


I am sorry to announce that I have taken the highly unusual step...

Sam Harris Shows How Hasbarah Should be Done

Here's a wonderful example of how to promote Israel in a way that is honest, sensible, non racist, non jingoistic and non obnoxious. Hasbarah bloggers should take note.

Why I don't criticize Israel, by Sam Harris >

Read the essay before the discussion below please.

Epic thread

I promise not to make a regular practice of this, but occasionally a conversation thread on Facebook rises to the level of a masterpiece and must be preserved for the ages. This one starts simply enough, asking Muslims to describe how their home country's treat Jews, but over several hundred comments it crosses into Hajj practices, kotel customs and more, while always remaining perfectly civil and constructive.

I wanted to embed it here, but can't because it was originally posted in a moderated group. You can see it via this link, I think

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Friday, July 25, 2014

Crucifying Haman

I was recently astounded to learn that the idea that Haman was crucified appears in our tradition, notably in the Slichot said on the Fast of Esther and in Josephus. This is pretty cool, I think, because its a clear example of Judaism retrofitting a trope from a later strata of history back on to an older story.

Its not cool, however, because Christians (surprise) used this to justify moments of persecutions and hatred, claiming that the so-called fact that Haman was crucified "proves" that the Jews wanted Jesus crucified, too

IN THE PICTURE: Michealangelo's "Punishment of Haman" showing a crucifiction

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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Red Jews

You probably know the Jews are allegedly big-nosed, but did you know that according to official anti-Semitic lore Jews also have red hair? Italian and Spanish art depict Jews as red-haired, and both Shakespeare and Dickens gave red hair to their Jewish characters. In medieval paintings, Judas Iscariot, the first evil Jew, often has crimson hair and beard.

All of which makes me a little annoyed that a great show like South Park opted to give Kyle Broflovski a red Jewfro. I don't take it personally. I just think its a little cheap and a little easy. (I'll also note that Family Guy, a far inferior show, also gave its local Jew red hair.)

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Slate's stupid Taglit Article

Posting this simply to protest that profoundly stupid Slate article that said Taglit/Birthright was to blame for the death of an idf soldier. 
The story below appeared on Gawker and it  is so pro-Israel, and so unabashedly propagandist I think I am now entitled to say that Israel is not the very  most perfect place on earth at least one more time without getting yelled at by the unforgiving, uber-patriotic hordes. 

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Another series of senseless deaths leaves me shaken up

These men were real people, who existed in the world, and mattered to their friends and families in ways that were vibrant, significant and genuine. They are being mourned with real tears. Just saying.

Acheinu kol beit yisrael,
han'nutunim b'tzara uvashivyah,
haomdim bein bayam uvein bayabasha.

Hamakom Y'racheim Aleihem
v'yotziem mitzra lirvacha
um'afaila l'orah umishiabud lig'ulah,
hashta ba'agala uvizman kariv.

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Obama does everything right, gets no love from Pruz

Here's Pruz killing the president both coming and going:

"By the way, is anything more repugnant that Obama’s repeated assertion that “Israel has the right of self-defense,” as if that is not obvious, as if it is a major concession on his part designed to win him plaudits from liberal Jews, and…as if he has to keep saying it in order to talk himself into it?"

Did you catch that? He find it REPUGNANT that the president is repeatedly saying the exact words everyone wants him to say. He'd rather Obama did not say this because it's "obvious" and would prefer Obama didn't "talk himself into it"

Of course, the real truth is Pruz hates the president for wholly irrational reasons and would still hate the president even if he moved to Israel and became a Rabbi. When you hate that much, facts cease to matter.

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A short post to debunk the latest RW false claim

Because some of you are sure that this is a big biased anti Israel move orchestrated by Obama to squeeze the Jewish state, let me assure you that the FAA is also banning flights to Ukraine

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Silencing Tactics

A silencing tactic is an attempt to shut down a critic without addressing the actual argument the critic is using. In other words, its a fancy way of saying SHUT UP

For those of you who wish to have actual conversations, here's a brief primer on some of the silencing techniques people will use to attempt to end those conversations:

(1) Suggesting you're being frivolous
RW example: Why are you talking about dead Palestinian civilians when there are so many more dead Syrian civilians
LW Example: (help?)
From FB:  Suggesting Palestinians are at all responsible for the occupation is blaming the victim

(2) Questioning your motives:
RW Example: You just hate Israel
LW Example: You just hate Arabs

(3) "Othering" You
RW Example: You 're a self hater. You're pro Hamas
LW example: What can you expect from a conservative lunatic?

(4) Assuming you just don't understand, or you would agree with them.

(5) Privileging their position/appealing to authority.
RW Example: I live in Israel! I served in the IDF I know what I'm talking about
LW Example: (help?)

(6) Telling you that the upset you're causing is more important than the problem you're pointing out.
RW Example: Stop being divisive during a war!
LW Example: (Help?)
From FB: Your blaming of the victim is offensive.

(7) Gaslighting
RW Example: You're being too sensitive
LW Example: You've been brainwashed by religion

PS: FAR TOO OFTEN angry right wingers attempt to shut down all conversation and silence anyone they perceive as an opponent by screaming about equivalency. This is what they sound like:

A: 2 and 15 are both integers.
B: How dare you equate 2 and 15, they're clearly not equal! 2 is even and 15 is odd. Moreover, 2 is prime and 15 is not. Also, 15 is much greater than 2!
A: I didn't say 2 = 15, I just said that they both belong to the set of integers.


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