Thursday, April 16, 2015

Maybe that Lubovitch lady really didn't save an entire airplane?

Okay, this is too funny to keep to myself.

Here's the original headline, and lede, as published Tuesday on CrownHeightsInfo

Lubavitcher Woman Saves Entire Airplane
22-year-old Mussie Weinfeld most likely saved the lives of a plane full of people when she suspected a malfunction with the aircraft just moments before takeoff. Despite being mocked and ridiculed, her insistence led to the plane being grounded after a serious malfunction was discovered.

And here's today's rejoinder from the airline:

After the story of a Lubavitcher woman whose vigilance saved an entire airplane – which was first reported here on – went viral, representatives of the airline – the Russian carrier Transaero – contacted us with a request that they be given the chance to give their side of the story.
The following is the statement sent to us by Transaero Airlines – complete and unedited – outlining the course of events that unfolded that Motzei Shabbos at Ben Gurion Airport, in accordance with their internal investigation:
Transaero Airlines: flight safety is key priority of the airline’s operations
A number of Israel’s media have published an information assuming that a passenger of Transaero’s UN312 flight carried out on April 12, 2015 contributed to detecting a defect in the aircraft condition.
As the initial information was published in the Israel’s media outlets with no comments requested either from the airline nor from independent aviation experts who could have helped to understand the actual state of the matter, the information was misinterpreted.
The airline finds it necessary to clarify the real circumstances. When carrying out the mandatory pre-flight system check at the engine starting point, the flight crew reported the indication of asymmetric work of slats. The flight crew called for specialists of the handling company of Ben Gurion airport. The diagnostics, carried out by the specialists, showed that the aircraft having this defect should not be operated on this flight.
At the time when the flight crew and the specialists of the airport were carrying out checks, one of the passengers reported to the cabin crew that she heard ambient noise. Although the passenger, in dead, drew higher attention to a strange for her noise, the decision to suspend the aircraft from operations was not made upon the information received from her, but as the result of the technical check of the aircraft. The aviation has strict regulations and rules of control over all systems of aircraft as part of pre-flight checks and preparatory operations. They were fully observed by the crew as well as by the specialists of the handling company.
Over 24 years of Transaero’s history, flight safety has always been and, at present, remains one of the top priorities of Transaero Airlines. Transaero has always been following the strict rules of preflight aircraft checks. Due to the airline’s highest consideration to safety issues, Transaero Airlines is included in the top 20 safest airlines in the world and the top 6 safest airlines in Europe in the international ranking of JACDEC research agency.

I should say - and please listen - that I don't think anyone behaved badly here. (though both Transero and CrownHeightInfo need to hire writers who can compose standard English sentences. Here's a winner from the Jews: When she told them her concerns about the plane they too laughed at her. She insisted that she will not fly on the plane if they didn’t check it out.)

The website reported a story (and maybe the woman did save the plane? Who know?) and the airline acted to protect their reputation (and maybe the story did happen exactly as they said it did?)

That's all kosher. Funny, but kosher.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Why I'm not a Republican

On Monday, I explained why I'm still not on board with Hillary Clinton's candidacy. Yesterday, I told you why I'm tentatively flirting with Marco Rubio. Neither post provided what would normally be called "reasons" for these two positions. As I explained, I have no logical reason to oppose Hillary or support Rubio, but something in my gut is pushing me in those directions, and in those posts I attempted to work out what it might be.

Today, I'm looking at my longstanding opposition to the positions and values of the Republican party. While, there are excellent, logical reasons for opposing GOP policies, might there be something else lurking beneath the surface? In addition to the good reasons, I possess deep inward feelings of opposition to Republicans, that (being honest)  have nothing to do with my intellect. What might be behind those feelings? Here are some possibilities.

1. You can't reason with them: Been trying and failing at that for years. They prefer to call names, or to make appeals to emotions, consequences,  authority, tradition or whatever. After a while, you get worn out.

2. They aggressively oppose matters that are irrelevant to them: For example, gay marriage.

3. Primarily populated by paranoid, nominally racist,  ignorant, hyper-religious plutocratic, militaristic, anti-science, white people See Fox News and their viewers. Or specific examples:
  • Paranoid: "The media hates me."  
  • Nominally racist: "You have to understand the Arab mentality"
  • Ignorant: The founding fathers were Christians. Chazal were haredim. etc.
  • Hyper-religious: God belongs in the public square; the government should take sides on matters of theology
  • Plutocratic: The Koches, and all the super wealthy GOP politicians. 
  • Militaristic: Four more wars!! Spend money on tanks, not health care!
  • Anti-science: Global warming is a hoax! Evolution is a lie! You can prevent the rapist from impregnating you if you really try!
4. They posses an unbearable certainty that their religion, or interpretation of the constitution, or view of history - or whatever - is the one sole correct POV to the exclusion of all others. The essential insight of pluralism - that no doctrine or belief system perfectly and completely contains the Absolute - escapes them. Or to put it another way, everything has 70 faces but the GOP accepts only one of them.

Okay, so above I've been cribbing from this weird, androgynous clown dressed in black who I found on the Internet. Now I'll let him talk for himself. What he has to say is certainly satire and propaganda and, yes, he's shooting fish in a barrel but the caricatures of Republicans and their arguments that are shown below aren't entirely false. To the extent that they are true, these caricatures may explain my visceral anti-Republicanism.

Listen to the clown.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Here comes Rubio

Okay, I can't deny it any longer. Something about Marco Rubio appeals to me, and as with my dislike for Hillary this relates to deep inward feelings rather than to the intellect.

I can't think of one good reason to like Marco Rubio, but as of this moment I do. Meanwhile, I can't think of one good reason to oppose Hillary, yet I'm still flinching at the idea of voting for her. How strange.

Why do I like Rubio? Possibilities: (being honest)

Generational loyalty. Like me MR belongs to Generation X. As a result, I suppose I have this entirely unjustified expectation that he'll share my point of view, and see the world the way that I see it.  I know this is blatant tribalism, but I doubt I'll be able to shake it until he gives me a reason to shake it. Cruz, the other Xer in the race, has already done this. 

He's a Gateway Republican Drug It's really no fun being the man without a country who always disagrees with his friends and neighbors on political issues. Perhaps I want to see what its like, for once, to be enthusiastic about the same candidate my neighbors are supporting. Perhaps Rubio can be that guy. Perhaps he's the candidate who can escort me in from the wilderness. Maybe that's what's behind the current Rubio appeal?  At this moment, Rubio seems non-crazy. He hasn't displayed any of the self-righteous stridency, or unbridled lunacy, or simplistic B&W thinking  that makes other Republicans so unappealing. To win the primary, I'll expect he'll have to start letting the crazy out, and when that happens our honeymoon will be over, but for now I can let myself pretend.  (I went through exactly this with John McCain who more or less had my vote until he chose Palin) 

He's non establishment I like outsiders and people who mix up expectations.  Rubio isn't a typical Republican like Cruz, Jeb and Rand are. He's not a boring Christian white guy who likes to talk about God and country and freedom in that phony way that always sounds hollow and insincere. Marco is also a Catholic, Mormon, Cuban, Spanish-speaking America who grew up poor, and climbed over establishment fixtures like Charlie Christ.  All those different experiences are positives, I think. And the fact that he's not a rich businessman who is hardwired to always take the side of rich businessmen is excellent, too.  

Remember all of this lovey-dovey is cancelled once Marco starts acting like Rand and Cruz....

Monday, April 13, 2015

Not ready for Hilary

I haven't gotten on board the Hillary bandwagon yet, and I'm not sure why. Something about her candidacy, and the idea of her becoming our next president, isn't sitting well -- but what is it?

Possibilities: (being honest)
  • She's old. Sorry, but my bias is that oldsters will be out of touch. This is not because they lack any particular skill or facility, but because the world has turned over in ten million different ways over the last 10 years. I don't know how a 50+ person manages or adjusts to such overhauls, and I say this in part because I know people who were 50+ when email arrived and still have not quite grasped it. Note: this was a big point against both Romney and McCain.
  • She's a woman. Intellectually, I'm no sexist. I know, and respect, female lawyers, doctors, engineers, and business owners. I'm the first to say that they are every bit as competent as men (if not more so) , and should be afforded the same opportunities at the same pay. I really and truly believe this.  But I'm also the product of a patriarchal culture. Is it possible that I'm flinching at the idea of putting an XX into the Oval Office because of terrible, primitive, illogical ideas acquired via osmosis during my youth and young adulthood? We know emotions can end up trumping  ideas even when the holder of the idea honestly wants his ideas to defeat his emotions. Could that be what's happening here? It would upset me if this were true, but (again being honest) this requires examination.
  • She belongs to the nineties.  I always liked Bill, but I wouldn't want him to be our president today. In every way, he is a creature of the nineties. Perhaps, I see his wife the same way.
  • She belongs to 2008 She ran an awful campaign in 2008, and allowed herself to be defeated by a nobody from nowhere (who ran a legendary well-executed campaign and has turned out to be a superbly disciplined executive) What makes anyone think she can do better this time around? Shouldn't the bad job she did with her campaign 8 years ago be a point against her now?
  • She's a Clinton: Drama, chaos and disorder follow her and her family around. In this way, she's the very opposite of Obama, who exudes professional cool in every situation. If the lunatic wing of the Republican party was able to derail the government with him in charge, I shudder to think what those crazy, anti-patriots will be able to do if a scandal queen like Hillary is in the top seat. The dysfunctional dance that a Clinton will probably do with a modern Republican Congress is likely to be nightmarish.
Maybe I'll change my mind as the campaign progresses and her message comes into focus, but for now I'm waiting to be dazzled. Cruz and Rand are both bozos, and Jeb Bush hasn't shown me a thing yet. Maybe Rubio - or some until-this-point unremarkable Democrat - will emerge. Let's wait and see, but for now, I'm still not ready for Hillary.

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Sunday, April 05, 2015

Bless You

A guest post by Y. Bloch

The most well-worn pages of our Haggadot are those in the section known as “Barech.” After the Seder night, we have no pressing need for the text of “Dayenu” or “Chad Gadya,” but we still have to say Birkat HaMazon, and as our leavened year-round birkonim have been put away, we pull out our Haggadot. After all, the version we say at the Seder is almost identical to what we say throughout the holiday week—with one exception. Many have the custom, as cited by the Aruch HaShulchan (O.C. 479:2), to say an extended HaRachaman, praying for “a day which is fully long, a day when the righteous sit, with crowns on their heads, enjoying the glow of the Divine Presence (Shechina).”
The first part of this insertion is a variation on a theme we know well. Every Shabbat and Yom Tov, we add a HaRachaman that makes reference to Olam HaBa, the World to Come; in each case, it is, essentially, a play on words, as in Midrashic sources, Olam HaBa is referred to as “a day which is fully restful (shabbat)” (Tamid 7:4, et al.) and “fully good (tov)” (Kiddushin 39b, et al). Thus, on the day of Shabbat, we admit that the true Shabbat is elsewhere, and on Yom Tov, literally “a day of good,” we admit that true good is elsewhere. Olam HaBa is also referred to as “fully long” (ibid), or eternal. However, we have already said the regular formula for Yom Tov, so what does this reference add? After all, if any holiday if called “The Long Day,” it is not Pesach, but Rosh HaShana!
Furthermore, what is the reference in the second part of this special HaRachaman? It seems to come from Rav’s famous statement (Berachot 17a): “The World to Come has neither eating nor drinking... rather, the righteous sit, with crowns on their heads, enjoying the glow of the Shechina.” As such, it seems quite out of place at the Seder—is there any meal in the Jewish calendar which involves more eating and drinking? Are we begging God to relocate us to a world where we won’t have to eat so much matza and drink so many cups of wine?
It seems that in order to understand this HaRachaman, we must reverse our hypothesis. We have assumed that it is connected to the day, and its placement within Birkat HaMazon is coincidental; this is, after all, the template for the ones we recite for Shabbat, Yom Tov, Sukkot, Rosh Chodesh and Rosh HaShana. But what if we were to start from the opposite point of view: that this HaRachaman is essentially connected to Birkat HaMazon, and its recitation on the Seder night is coincidental. This would indicate that there is something unique about this meal as a meal—but what could that be?
Let us return to the three-word source for Birkat HaMazon in the Torah (Devarim 8:10): “Ve-achalta, ve-savata u-verachta,” “You will eat, you will be satisfied, and you will bless.” The Written Torah spells out an obligation only in the case where one has eaten enough to be fully satiated; the Oral Torah expands this to specific amounts, and very small ones at that. In fact, this is God’s response in a beautiful legend in Talmud Berachot (20b). The angels accuse God of being partial to the Jewish people, to which He responds: “How can I not show favor to Israel? I wrote for them in the Torah, ‘You will eat, you will be satisfied, and you will bless Lord, your God,’ but they are so exacting upon themselves, even for an olive’s volume [of bread], even for an egg’s!”
In fact, for every meal we have throughout the year, whether for a mitzva or just for sustenance, we don’t even consider the issue of satisfaction, merely measuring the minimum amount. There is, however, one meal in which we cannot stop until we have fulfilled “ve-savata”—the Seder. We must eat our afikoman, our final portion of matza, which parallels the actual piece of the paschal sacrifice which our ancestors would eat, “al ha-sova,” being satiated. This is the one time when the entire nation fulfills the mitzva of Birkat HaMazon in its most literal sense.
With this in mind, we may return to our HaRachaman. It points out that the long meal of the Seder, where we literally drink and eat our fill, is only a reflection of the true sova, the ultimate satisfaction of being in God’s Presence. Thus, our proper fulfillment of the mitzvot of the Seder night allows us not only to reenact the Exodus, but to reconnect to those practices which define every day of our lives as Jews.

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Wednesday, April 01, 2015

God's Pesach Message to Orthodox Jewry

A guest post by @orthodiction

FROM THE DESK OF: The Almighty, Blessed be Me

Dear Jews:

Like roughly 93% of matzos three seconds after being packaged, Pesach is broken. And you broke it.

When I arranged for you to spend 210 years as slaves in Egypt, I wasn’t thinking, “Hey, I wonder if someone will really pay $11 for a box of potato cookies,” or “Maybe a guy should supervise the wheat 24/7 from the moment it is planted, looking away only briefly while it asexually reproduces.”

It was more like “If you’re going to be responsible for promoting justice on earth, you should probably have an appreciation of what injustice feels like, because, you know, experiential learning and all that.” Spoiler Alert, but if you read my novel, you’ll find that I intone “For you too were once strangers…” a lot more than I remind you to check for that third kosher sign on toilet bowl cleaner.

But somehow, you only seem to be able to relate to me through legalisms and loopholes, deciding when to build electrified fences around my commandments and when to dig tunnels. Is it cute to watch you legislate which materials can be Kashered and precisely how much nuclear fusion is required to Kasher each one? Sure. Do I smile a bit when Rabbis who never saw an olive spend multiple generations arguing about the size of one and somehow come up with something equal to two thirds of a matzo? I guess. But that’s not the point.

The point is very simple. Every spring, I want you to reflect on what it is like to be without freedom, and then I want you to do two things.

  1.  Think about what you can do to bring freedom to those that are lacking it. This can take many forms, and I am not picky. Donate, protest, click “Submit” on an online petition, or share a kind word with someone in a difficult situation. Not to get all metaphorical with you (enough of that in Genesis—am I right?), but there is bondage of all sorts in the world (no 50 Shades jokes, no 50 Shades jokes), of the physical, emotional, and even First World Problem variety. The more you can get rid of, the better. If someone hassles you about why you are only focusing on X when Y is clearly a much bigger issue, tell them they forgot to blowtorch their teeth for Pesach.
  2.  Think about how you are spending your own freedom. As bad as bondage is, it is a legitimate excuse for not getting things done. When you’re spending all day building pyramids (or, alternatively, seducing your mud-encrusted husbands in the fields, which is probably more difficult), no one can blame you for not answering the tent door when the Amnesty International guy shows up with a binder and a naive smile. But once you’re free, and your biggest crisis is the barista misspelling your name (it’s a Y, not a J, for the thousandth time), there is really no reason that you shouldn’t be doing something productive. Freedom is capital, and you need to account for it—to me, if that helps you focus, but ultimately to yourself. It’s not about Me’Avdut Le’Cherut, it’s about Me’Cherut Le’Something Meaningful.

So there you have it. After you’re done enslaving yourselves in grocery store lineup and under couches and squinting at lists of Rabbinically certified deodorant, take a minute (a minute and a half according to the Chazon Ish) to think about why I went through the whole Egypt routine in the first place. It certainly wasn’t so that we could see Christian Bale as Moses (two outstretched thumbs down!).

Read God's Sukkos Message to Orthodox Jewry

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Monday, March 30, 2015

The matzo longing for its mate

Several of us were confused this morning after reading All Grown Up and In Charge of the Seder a wonderful description of Seder nostalgia published in the Sunday Times by Jennifer Weiner.

She writes:
As a child, and as a young adult, I would savor the meal and collect memories — like, no matter where he was sitting, my brother Jake always ended up reading the portion of the Haggadah about bare breasts and the matzo longing for its mate
Having been teenage boys ourselves, we all knew where to find the passage about breasts --
and populous-- as it is stated:"I made you as numerous as the plants of the field. You grew and developed, becoming very attractive, your breasts firm and your hair grown long; but you were naked and bare."
-- but where does the haggadah say anything about a matzo longing for its mate?

Our Twitter pal Shlomo Kaye found the answer.

The excerpt above is from On Wings of Feedom: The Hillel Haggadah for the nights of Passover by Rabbi Richard N. Levy where this interesting recitation / meditation / kavanah is given for Yachatz. Its absent from Orthodox versions of the Haggadah, which explains why no one from my OJ set could place it.

Connecting the broken matzah to the verse from Songs is a clever bit of interpretation - note the verse's mention of reclining. and recall that the matzo is hid in the "place where [we] recline"  -  but whose interpretation is it? Is it something old that the Reform authors of this haggadah retained after Orthodoxy forgot it? Or is the interpretation an example of Reform creativity?

I went to Midrash Shir Hashirim first to see if any of Our Rabbis made this association, but came up empty. In that collection of interpretations, no one connects this verse to matzoh, or to Pesach reclining. 

Nonetheless, the idea of longing - for God, for redemption, for freedom - is not an idea that's foreign to Pesach or the Seder. 

In fact, the theme of longing - by which I mean a strong, persistent desire or craving - is one that runs through Shir Hashirim, the love poem that has been allegorized as the story of Israel's relationship with God. This allegorization is one reason why Shir Hashirim has become a Pesach text, second only to the Hagadah. 

I rather like the idea of picking up these delicate threads, however tenuously, at Yachatz. I like using the separated matzohs as a symbol for the break that exists between God and His people and for the mutual craving that followed. I like the idea of starting the Seder with the idea that we are separated from God, and the thought that the ritual meal will reunify us with Him. Orthodox Jews aren't taught to think about Yachatz this way. For us, this interpretation is revelatory. 

Framing Yachatz this way, also connects the separation of the matzo to the separation of the two Yom Kippur goats, and all that represents, and to the two birds that are brought to cure us of various forms of impurity. One piece of matzo, remains on the table while the other is hidden away. Likewise one goat remains in the Temple, while the other is sent into the wilderness and one bird is sacrificed as an olah, while the other becomes a chatas. Both the birds and the goats are considered "mates" to each other. 

Its a simple thing, imagining the matzo longing for its mate, but it unlocks so much excellent and powerful symbolism!

Fire theodicy: Wallenstein

As a community can we please resolve not to tolerate conclusions such as the one reached by Zecharia Wallenstein? He is the clown who allowed himself to be videotaped giving a religious explanation for the fire that killed 7 children.

His conclusions are too stupid and too convoluted to summarize in full, but briefly Wallenstein worships a monster God, and this monster God murdered seven innocent children in a specific way because He doesn't like it when we use the 18 minutes to finish our shabbos presentations. See it here

Now I want to be fair. I don't think Wallenstein's approach is entirely invalid. I agree that its proper and constructive to introspect after a tragedy. I support any efforts at self-improvement.

But what I can not abide - what I insist that we as a community refuse to tolerate - is this idea that we have the ability to reliably uncover whatever one-to-one connections between tragedy and sins that may exist.

You can use the fire to strengthen your shabbos observance if you wish - that's fine - but don't allow yourself to become convinced, as Wallenstein has become convinced,  that God murdered seven children for the sake of delivering this message to you. God's ways are inscrutable.  

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Thursday, March 26, 2015

Men Seder

Our friends at the Wall Street Journal seem to have just discovered that men like to drink alcohol in the company of other men. They are running a story today about a Congregation in Michigan that hosted a Man Seder complete with ribs and scotch. The purpose of the event was to draw men together to learn about Pesach and the Seder in a congenial atmosphere.

Capitalizing on base male instincts - yes, surprise:  we like meat, booze and hanging-out- for Jewish outreach purposes is certainly a good idea, but is it news? Is it a trend?

Moreover, and  though its only briefly eluded to in the article, I think the really interesting thing is how men tend to drop out of roles and occupations after women arrive and assert themselves. For examples, see the nursing and teaching professions, and the whole of heterodox Judaism.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Cardinal in shul again

I see on the Interwebs that Cardinal Timothy Dolan was invited to preach in a shul* one Friday night last February. Naturally, I find this horrifying.

*Temple Emanuel, the Reform prayer house. Let's not quibble over my use of the word shul

Back in 2013 an Orthodox shul made the same mistake. What I said then, applies now and I repeat it here:

The Church is an anti-Semitic organization that subjected us to two-thousands years of suffering, while cultivating the soil of Europe for the Holocaust. To date, they haven't repudiated their anti-Semitic Popes, or their bulls or their encyclicals; in fact, the Church currently is in the process of beatifying one of these Jew hating popes. During the Holocaust, which, let's be clear, the Church helped cause and did precious little to prevent, churchmen stole Jewish children and, with the blessing of every subsequent Pope, refused to return the ones who had been baptized. But their representative should be welcomed into a shul on Shabbos and invited to preach?

In short: To allow a Cardinal to address a Jewish congregation on shabbos is demeaning. It demeans the shabbos. It demeans the sanctuary. It demeans the congregation. To celebrate it is a confession of insecurity and an act of obsequiousness. Until the Church renounces its shameful past, and completes a true and painful teshuva process, there's no reason for Jews to kiss the toes of St. Peter. The Church, by the grace of God, no longer has any power over us, and nothing to offer us. Self pride demands we remember that, and also what they did to us.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A Fairy Tale?


The groom mentioned in the below article from February 24, 1954 is the current day Rachmastrifk Rebbe of Boro Park. The bride is the sister of the current Skver Rebbe of New Square. 

The article refers to another paper's report of people pushing to "touch" the bride's father Yaakov Yosef Twersky, founder of New Square. However, a family member told the reporter that "there was no such foolishness about touching the father of the bride or that kind of thing."

Did this family member lie about Chasidish thought and practice for the purposes of not appearing foolish to the general public? Even if there honestly is no concept of benefiting from touching a Rebbe, is it so much different than the other forms of Rebbe veneration shown, ie shirayim? I've seen chasidim push or wait on lines for a long time to shake a Rebbe's hand. I was even trampled over once by a crowd of non Chasidim pushing to run along side a car containing a Rebbe. 

Rebbes are miracle workers in the minds and tales of Chasidim. It is not hard to understand how the devolution of the Zaddik system resulted in this possible mind set. 

(Unnecessary disclosure: the groom was my 'sandek'.) 

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Ground rules for a #midrashchat

I'm going to be blunt and unkind: Most people I know, both here on the blogs and in real life, are in the grips of false and indefensible ideas about midrashim. People on the right are too eager to accept everything literally, while people on the left have the maddening habit of waving everything away as a "metaphor"* Meanwhile, neither group attempts to consider what the author of the midrash has in mind or is attempting to do. When you have a #midrashchat with either group the end result is anger, frustration and then you get accused of either (a) being a heretic or (b) demeaning the Rabbis

*Also frustrating is the serial misuse of the word metaphor. Lefties who label every midrash a "metaphor" almost always have in mind an "allegory" not a "metaphor"

So in the interest of my own piece of mind, I am establishing the following ground rules for a #midrashchat

KEY RULE #1:  A #midrashchat must be about the midrash qua the midrash itself. As a result, we will avoid people who:
  • Think every word of every midrash is capital T true in a literal historical sense. These people are not interested in discovering what the midrash is actually saying. They are interested in announcing facts about the world. 
  • Think its cool to present the midrash's hidden or "real" meaning when they haven't bothered to consult the original source material. As with the first group, these people are not interested in dealing with the midrash itself. They are interested in spreading a message, and they are using the midrash as its vehicle. 
KEY RULE #2: A #midrashchat is best enjoyed with people who have been nominally educated. As a result we will avoid people who: 
  • Are not aware that many of our most cherished midrashim are first found in some form or another in the Pseudepigrapha
  • Are not aware that midrashim often contradict other midrashim
  • Are not aware that some midrashim actually do contain literal or historical truths
  • Are not aware that Chazal composed midrashim and,  at times, modified the midrashim they inherited. 
KEY RULE #3: To participate in a #midrashchat you need to be able to think historically. This means:
  • You must be able distinguish the facts of a midrash from the views of its author. For example, you need to be able to wrap your head around the possibility the Rabbi XYZ firmly believed that [whatever] happened even if you and I and other residents of the 21st century are positive that [whatever] could not have happened.
  • You must recognize that ancient standards of proof were much lower than modern standards of proof, in part because our epistemology is different,(we've become more skeptical.) As a result, our ideas of what constitutes science and history are very different from theirs.
  • You must be ok with the possibility that Chazal believed things you and I and other residents of the 21st century  find fanciful or barbaric, and you must be able to recognize that saying this is not a criticism of Chazal. 
Without a promise, I am hereby promising not to get sucked into any more #midrashchats that would violate any of these rules.

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Monday, March 23, 2015

Fire the NYT fact-checkers

This is just a bad job by the Times.

This is NY. The paper employs plenty of Jews and a team of professional fact checkers. To get two, basic, easily verified things wrong in the same article speaks to the sort of casual arrogance I get from my non-Jewish friends and neighbors who are certain I'm lying when I, e.g, tell them that kosher food hasn't been "blessed by a rabbi" or that a Bar Mitzvah isn't a confirmation.

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Haroset Ice Cream

Internet research tells me that Ben & Jerry has been offering Charoset flavored ice-cream since 2012 at least, but I heard about it for the first time this morning.

My initial reaction was ewwww. My second reaction was to tweet suggested Jewish-themed flavors that seemed even more vile (herring ice cream anyone?) But by my third reaction I had realized that this charoset ice cream idea might work: Cinnamon, nuts and apples - all of it ought to play well with premium ice cream.

Grossest ice cream flavors?

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Friday, March 20, 2015

2017 election results are in!

A guest post by Y. Bloch
Let me apologize again for our earlier error. We mistakenly reported that the Pirate Party had won 79 seats; what we meant to say was that the Pittsburgh Pirates won the '79 World Series. We were looking up the results on our phone, and it isn't Hebrew-enabled... Never mind.

Anyway, here are the confirmed results. In what is being called (by us right now) "a once-in-a-millennium revolution," Prime Minister Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu is the stunning winner, as the right-wing parties have scored 42 seats. Remember how last time it was 44, and the time before that 43? Undoubtedly, this is the most significant event in human history since the earth cooled 2.5 billion years ago. (CORRECTION: Bibi's likely haredi coalition partners are telling us that it was 5776 years ago.) Apparently, his slogan: "Third Intifadah, Fourth Gaza War, Fifth Term" truly resonated with voters.

Labor Leader Meirav Michaeli was stunned by the results, as her party received only 20 seats. In her concession speech, she said, "What? You didn't want another journalist? But I'm the scion of an important family too! Don't you think--" At this point, she was replaced by Eitan Cabel, who promised a new direction for Labor.

Within the right, Naftali Bennett was mystified as to why his party has shrunk to 5 seats. Some have criticized his choice to rename it the Jewish No Homo Party, but Bennett remains convinced that he will take over the Likud within 18 months.

Avigdor Lieberman has scored 8 seats, with his Red-handed Army initiative, committing him to bring to Knesset only politicians who are under ethics investigation. Of course, he faced some stiff opposition from Aryeh Makhloufeasance Deri's Maranimum Security Party, which includes only convicted felons. Readers may recall that Ehud Olmert was granted early parole in order to run, in the famous Supreme Court ruling We Don't Really Give a Flying F Anymore (And Before You Ask, Zoabi and Marzel Can Run Too).

BREAKING: Eitan Cabel has been replaced by Stav Shaffir.

The biggest surprise may be that the Righters' Bloc cleared the electoral threshold. "We kept trying to forge alliances between the political right and the religious right," said a spokesman, "but then we realized we needed the economic right, right-fielders, and right-hand men (and women. Just kidding, obviously no women)."

Meretz gained a seat, but leader Zehava Gal-On was heard to say: "We used to have 12! Forgive me, Mother Shulamit!" This statement was a bit muffled, as she had her head in an oven at the time. As the Israeli medical establishment has never had to treat a case of accountability, Deputy Minister of Health Yaakov Litzman has recommended she be transported abroad for treatment. As leader of United Torah Judaism, neither Litzman nor his followers will accept the title of minister, though they will take the office, car and money. It is unclear if Bibi's tactic of making everyone else in the party chief rabbi is sufficient, as Satmar Hasidim cannot make do with only one. Bibi contacted the Shahidy Pines Retirement Home to see if Abu Mazen can offer Neturei Karta a Chief Rabbi of the Palestinian Authority position, but Abbas was too busy eating tapioca pudding to take his call.

BREAKING: Stav Shaffir has been replaced by Tzipi Livni, but no one knows if she's still in the party. Her whereabouts remain unknown at press time. Also her whyabouts.

However, the greatest comeback of this election cycle must be that of Eli Yishai. Just last month, he won a primary for the polygamist slot in the Joint List, and he has already taken over the party by offering women chocolate bars for each room they clean for Eid al-Adha. When asked how she felt about his new wives, the first Mrs. Yishai had no comment, because she is invisible. Ousted leader Ayman Oudeh noted that like haredi women, Arab citizens of Israel "were used to being screwed by Jewish men."

Undoubtedly, the true power lies in the brand-new centrist socio- economic party, filled with brilliant people who are political novices, led by former Likudnik Gideon Saar, Mistaarim. With his dozen seats, he plans to take over the Finance Ministry and "blah, blah, blah." When his predecessor Moshe Kahlon was asked why he was still smiling after failing to pass the electoral threshold, he responded,
"No, my face is stuck this way. Help." Yesh Atid held on with four seats, and leader Yair Lapid lamented, "At least Kahlon gets to go home. What the hell am I supposed to do?" Then he remembered that he is still hot and rich, and started smiling as well.

BREAKING: Tzipi Livni has been replaced by Shimon Peres, but no one tell him, because he's 93 and the shock might kill him.

But the question remains if Bibi can govern after some of the extreme statements he made in the last days of the campaign. He clarified that when he said "Blow the Dome of the Rock and rebuild the Temple," he meant: "I know to take stock and restrain my temper." As for his infamous "towelhead" comment, he explained: "That was taken totally out of context. I was talking about that scene in romantic comedies when the female lead comes out in a bathrobe and a towel wrapped elaborately on her head. I find it trite and cliched." As for his statement to President Hillary Clinton that "America can suck a dick," he elucidated, "I meant that one. But don't get me wrong, America is still Israel's greatest vassal--I mean, ally."

When asked about the prospects of this government serving a full term, all 120 members of Knesset issued a rare joint statement: "You've gotta be f-cking kidding me."

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The truth behind why Orthodox Jews really like Shabbos

This post from January 3, 2011 was a big hit here and on Facebook, for the same reason any of my posts succeed: Lots of people think I'm dead right, while simultaneously lots of people think I'm dead wrong.

In the Secular Orthodox Jewish Shabbos I discuss the dozens and dozens of secular benefits offered to those who observe an Orthodox Jewish Shabbos and argue that, as a whole,  these benefits outweigh any of the individual inconveniences shabbos haters moan about.

So which side are you on? Am I dead wrong, or dead right? See the post here.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Let's not ignore the social aspects

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For your entertainment today, I've combined two classic posts from 2007 in which I attempted to popularize a new and improved way of describing Orthoprax Jews. It failed to catch on, but I think the idea is sound. With all the focus on ritual law, and serving God, we often forget that the social aspects of Orthodox Judaism are among its top draws.

In previous generations, non-Jews went out of there way to create fraternal clubs and orders like the Freemasons, or the Moose Lodge, or the Elks, or any WASP country club,  that replicated some of the wonderful features that are built right in to Orthodox Jewish culture. Some of those features include:
  • A safe zone, where you can more or less be as racist or misogynistic as you wish 
  • A privileged zone where you can imagine your devotion to secret rituals and rules affords you various benefits 
  • A party zone, where you can eat and drink and hang out
  • A business zone, where you can network with likeminded people from similar backgrounds
See more of what I mean after the jump