Friday, October 24, 2014

10 Years of Blogging

Ten years of blogging. Today I reached that milestone. You may find this hard to believe but when I started in October of 2004 I planned to wrap things up by January. Never, did I dream that I could sustain a writing project for more than a few months. Then came the first JIBs, a fun blog war or two, and I was hooked. Now, 10 years have passed. I've written nearly 10,000 posts, collected well over a million comments, and made countless friends and, unfortunately, enemies.

I'm not much of a memorist in part because I have an awful memory so I'll leave it to others to describe my contributions to the blogging world and the terrible harm I've done to Judaism (or vice versa).

Instead, let me just mark this day by thanking the readers and commenters who made blogging so addictive. Often you made me laugh, sometimes you made me scream, but almost always you taught me something new. I'm glad to have met almost all of you, even some of the trolls.

Perhaps I'll share more reflections over the next day or two. If you'd like to help things along and prod my memories with a question go right ahead.

Hey, throw something in the tip jar please!

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

In which I ask for some generous contributions

Right, so I need to put together some cash by the end of the month in order to cover a thing. This isn't an emergency. No one is sick, or in danger of losing a house or anything like that, so I don't want to cut ahead of anyone who might be worthy and legitimate, two things I certainly am not, but I do think it is okay to pass the hat from time to time.Street performers do it. How am I any different?

So, guys, if you've enjoyed my blogging shenanigans, and think its worth a shekel or two, please toss something into the begging bowl. With my big ten year anniversary coming up, the timing is right. Thanks

Just hit the link below.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

I agree. God can do anything.

Objections to Noah's flood are being answered with "God can do anything" which is of course true -- God can do anything. But I don't think the people deploying this counterargument quite grasp all that God had to do in the particular case of Noah's flood. So here's a short list:

  1. Erase the worldwide evidence of the global flood 
  2. Replace it with evidence that strongly suggests no such flood occurred
  3. Allow for all the animals to happily coexist on a rather small boat. Miracles here include space for the birds, climate control for the walruses and polar bears, space for the dogs and horses to exercise, and some unimaginable system for containing the insects. Also needed is some kind of automated feeding system, as there wasn't enough man power on the boat to care for millions of animals, and a way of providing nourishment to the carnivores who require live prey. 
  4. Following the flod, the fish stocks need to be replaced. Even if you hold that the fish were able to survive, the fresh water species and the tropical species were certainly imperiled by a flood that covered the mountain tops.  When you bring back the wiped out fish, remember to provide lots of clues that some of these species, such a sharks, have been flourishing successfully for millions of years. 
  5. Post flood you need to help the clumsy animals, such as giraffes, off of mount Ararat, and you have to return the marsupials to Australia. Again you have to erase any evidence that marsupials ever lived in southern turkey while also creating and placing loads of evidence that marsupials evolved naturally and ended up in Australia as the continents separated millions of years ago. Oh,and you have to do the same thing with penguins, polar bears, timber wolves and all the other animals that "belong" to a certain part of the world. Evidence that they were once in Turkey needs to be erased, and all the evidence that they ended up where they are today via natural means has to be created and placed.
And I'm sure there's more I've forgotten.

So yes, God can do anything. Just realize that in order to salvage the flood story you need to be prepared to say He did quite a bit, and some of it apparently was done just to mislead us, which hardly sounds very God-like

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Where did the water come from? ‪#‎breishis‬

Let's remember that the first creation story imagines a universe made from water. On the second day, God creates a smooth dome, the raquia, to hold back some of the water; on the third day he rolls back the rest of the water to reveal dry land. Later, when He gets fed up with the creation and decides to flood it, all he does is open the gates of the heaven and allow the rolled back water to recover the previously revealed dry land ( נִבְקְעוּ֙ כָּֽל־מַעְיְנֹת֙ תְּהֹ֣ום רַבָּ֔ה וַאֲרֻבֹּ֥ת הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם נִפְתָּֽחוּ׃). So again: Where does all the water come from?
This sketch, which shows how the Bible views the universe, sums up the problem. (and remember that until rather late "Judaism" thought the sun went under the land every night, where among other things, it warmed up the Tiberian hot springs)

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Big ten year anniversary coming up...

Any thoughts on how to celebrate it?

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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Molester Rabbi Mad Libs

A guest post by Y. Bloch
Talking about sex crimes in an insular religious community is hard. That is why I offer you today a handy form for dealing with the latest rabbinical sex-criminal story. Just fill in the biographical and geographical details, and you're ready to go!

The Jewish community of __________ was shocked to learn today that respected local Rabbi __________ has been implicated in a sex crime.
"We're so shocked to hear this," said one community member. "And it's so totally unprecedented!"
Local police said they are investigating the allegations of __________, against Rabbi __________including putting his __________ on the __________ of unsuspecting community members who came to him for guidance and counseling.
"We're flabbergasted, gobsmacked and dumbfounded," said the head of the rabbinical council of __________. "There was no way any of us could have seen this coming. I mean, there were allegations of sexual and professional impropriety, and we gave them all the weight that we would any such accusations coming from women, children, non-Jews or non-religious Jews, all of whose testimony is deemed inadmissible by the Torah. Perhaps there had been some transgression of Jewish law, but certainly a man who violates what he spends his entire career exhorting others to follow would not dare commit a crime! I mean, in this case, he did, but did I mention how awestruck, dumbstruck and thunderstruck we are? And it's so totally unprecedented!"
However, some in the community cautioned against premature adjudication. "Let's not rush to judgment," said longtime supporter __________. "Let's wait until after arrest, indictment, trial, conviction, sentencing, appeal and the civil suit to discuss this issue. At that point, I will remind you that a) Rabbi __________ has paid his debt to society; b) no one really knows what went on behind closed doors except Rabbi __________, the complainant and any electronic recording devices present; c) you apparently haven't heard of the Jewish concept of repentance. Look, he once gave a sermon I really liked. Could such a man commit such a crime? It just doesn't add up. And it's so totally unprecedented!"
Others argued that the failure was systemic. "We must face the grim reality and an issue which haunts our community," opined one observer. "It's high time our schools, synagogues and communities face the real problem: insufficient Internet connectivity. Surely if Rabbi __________ had access streaming high-definition pornography, this heinous crime would never have been committed." Other likely culprits identified were bible criticism, leftist media, female rabbis and the gays.
Jewish leaders across the greater __________ area were particularly alarmed. "I am extremely concerned about what this means for our community," said __________. "Wait, what does he wear on his head? Well, that's not my style of headgear. I'm not surprised that a practitioner of that type of Judaism would do such a foul thing. Even though it's so totally unprecedented."
Rabbi __________ has been suspended while the investigation continues. While this community digests its shock, everyone agrees on one thing: there is absolutely nothing to be learnt from this experience.
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Wednesday, October 15, 2014


Ways in which we know Kesher Israel is not an Agudah shul
  1. Their president is a woman
  2. The board behaved responsibly (1 and 2 might be connected)
  3. The sex crime involved adult women
Ma od?
And, I bet poor Rabbi Doctor Barry Freundel wishes he had affiliated haredi as it appears as if his own board of directors ratted him out -- and without doing the ragalayim ldovar dance beforehand.
For sure, Avi strongly disapproves.

Meanwhile Sarah Bronson wins the Internet
Although it must have been heart-wrenching for them, [Kesher Israel's Board] cared about their congregants' safety, dignity, and right to privacy more than they care about the synagogue's reputation or the reputation of Orthodox Judaism - as it should be. To me, this isn't a story about a rabbi behaving badly. This is a story about an Orthodox synagogue’s Board of Directors acting courageously. I applaud them for doing the right thing under very difficult circumstances.”
[Meanwhile in other news, the Novominsker Rebbe, Yaakov Perlow, the head of Agudath Israel, is continuing to insist that he can do nothing about Kolko, the child molester, because "this is a Flatbush matter, while he is a Boro Park Rabbi"]
The shocking charges that Rabbi Barry Freundel in Washington, D.C. videotaped women congregants in their most vulnerable moments are uniquely horrifying.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Lulav envy

Why doesn't this pathologically insecure fellow get a sports car like a normal guy?  

Ancestor Excellence

Regarding the article below someone wrote: This desert rat MK should remember that while our ancestors were building Temples of gold on this mountain thousands of years ago, his were uncivilised nomads burying their children alive and shovelling camel crap in the Arabian gulf.

Ok, its racist, sure, but I'm more offended by the bad fact: His ancestors were also building temples of gold, and ours were also Arab nomads. We share ancestors, see?  A  DNA study by Almut  Nebel found genetic evidence that "part, or perhaps the majority" of Muslim Palestinians descend from "local inhabitants, mainly Christians and Jews, who had converted after the Islamic conquest in the seventh century AD"

This desert rat MK should remember that while our ancestors were building Temples of gold on this mountain thousands of years ago, his were uncivilised nomads burying their children alive and shovelling camel crap in the Arabian gulf.
As tensions escalate over holy site, Jewish MK calls for exclusive Israeli sovereignty over mountain

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Hey Avi what about the people?

In his ludicrous article about how global warming protesters remind him of anti Semitic mobs, Avi Safran celebrates the polar bears who, thanks to warmer weather, now have lots of geese to eat. See he crows. Every Ying has a Yang. The earth can care for itself.

But what selfish Safran isn't seeing is that even if he's right that global warming may not be a danger to the long term health of the planet, it most certainly is a danger to people - like those who live in coastal areas.

We can also use some of that pesky empirical evidence to demonstrate that higher temperatures are making floods, fires and droughts more frequent and severe. Again, the planet may be able to withstand this, but the people affected by the floods, fires and droughts can't. Extreme heat waves caused by climate change kill tens of thousands of people each year and diseases once limited to the tropics are finding hospitable conditions in regions that were once too cold to support them.

So, yes, the earth might be able to take care of itself, but that doesn't necessarily bode well for the people living on it.

Related: Climate Change Harms Human Health

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Monday, October 13, 2014

Avi vs the green people

Our friend Fred MacDowell says the new Avi contains "16 kinds of crazy"

I can only find four. Can you help?

Craziness aside, I think we have to accept a few things. Avi is paid to represent Flatbush-style and Hasidic style Judaism. Both styles of Judaism are all about conspicuous consumerism. Think McMansions, fat guts, ginormous lichters, thick fur hats, weddings for 500, and shabbos dinners that would satisfy a medium sized army. 

These people just aren't going to coexist with dirty hippies who want to make things greener.
The powerful swell of voices on Broadway, thirteen stories below Agudath Israel’s offices, did more than disturb my concentration. A thou

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Wednesday, October 08, 2014

God and Sukkot

Have you noticed that Sukkot is the holiday in which we ascribe to God characteristics and personality traits we would find despicable in human beings?

He evaluates us based on the quality of the fruit we're toting around? He wants to hear us scream for rain at the end of the holiday? But if He makes it rain at the start of the holiday it's because He's feeling petulant about our previous behavior? Marching around in a parade with our vegetables give him pleasure? He decides if he likes us or not based on how vigorously we shake a twig?

I would not want to hang out with a human being who exhibited such shallow behavior, yet that's the deity I'm supposed to worship?

Note: I am aware that this mode of thinking is leftover from the days when feudal lords ruled the world, and dancing around their temper was the only way to get through the day. We had to simper and grovel, and they were often petulant, short-tempered and unreasonable. And we tend to think about God the same way we think about flesh and blood leaders. But today such behaviors are unacceptable in an authority figure. Tony Soprano has been replaced by Ronald Reagan. We respond to leaders who are fair, charismatic, selfless, rational and predictable. So how can we update the way we think about God and Sukkot to reflect this new mode of thinking?

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Monday, October 06, 2014

RYA says its okay to disregard daas torah

Shorter RYA:

I am fully in favor of daas torah except when I am not fully in favor of daas torah.

He continues: [Dass Torah] does not mean:

• Relying on their opinion in matters of general culture or science, particularly when one has strong, well-founded opinions himself.

DB: We, by which I mean the educated world, have not just well-founded opinions, but unimpeachable evidence when it comes to things like evolution, Noah's flood, the fact that homosexuality is not a choice, the deterministic qualities of race, and much more. Is he really giving us his written permission to break with the Torah world on these things?

There is no contradiction. Anyone who finds one has targeted a straw man. I have had the benefit of association with three generations of

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DovBear's Helpful Tips for High Holiday Cantors

DovBear's Helpful Tips for High Holiday Cantors

1 - Keep it moving. We want to sing, we want to pray, we want to finish on time. We're not there for a concert. You can show off at Kol Nidrei and a few other moments, but that's it.
2 - If the tune is overly familiar don't use it, unless its your synagogue's official, expected melody for a particular part of the service.
3 - If the tune has any secular connotation don't use it.
4 - Err on the side of tradition. Use a traditional tune, before some bouncy shiny shoe thing. We do not want to sing timeless poetry to the Jewish equivalent of a top 40 hit.
5 -THREE things remove the evil decree. Not two. Be sure to say uTeshuva, uTefilah, uTzedaka, not u'teshuva, utefillahutzedaka.
6 - Hebrew words, generally, are accented on the last syllable. Please get this right. Please. When you mispronounce every single word in Kee Anu Amecha my head fills with thoughts that are not appropriate for Yom Kippur.
7 - Let us answer kaddish. Save the tune for AFTER yehay shmay rabba Related: Let us hear Hayom Tevarchaynu etc so we can say omein!
8 - Eh LO ah slichot, not EloHA slichot.
9 - I don't know why you slap the table to let us know you're done with Hineni. Its not necessary. Either say the blessing in an audible tone or just start kaddish
10 - We don't have to sing every single stitch of Imru Laylokim, or Vchol Maamim or the other long piyutim. Its okay if we just sing the first few and the last few.

Note: This is a compilation of errors noted over several years. I've never met one chazan guilty of all of these things, and the men who led the services I attended this year were quite excellent

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Sunday, October 05, 2014

How'd it go? Yom Kippur 2014 run down

Pesicha for Neillah: 4k
Highest appeal pledge: 8k
Length of break 90 minutes
Lateness of shofar: 6 minutes

Best crowd participation: Solachti
Best Chazan performance: Kol nidrei

Worst Chazan decision: hayom. We have an excellent traditional tune. Why use a Shiney shoe melody?

Number of people who owned up to using caffeine suppositories:2
Post Kol nidre bathroom line: formidable
Flavor of the snuff: menthol

Sermons: pre appeal introduction and a pre Neillah exhortation. Both short and quality.

Top high holiday piyutim
  • Labrit Hebet, the pizmon for Maariv. As explained by chief rabbi Saks it's thrilling in its audacity. (and let ArtScroll be criticized for providing an incorrect, neutering translation)
  • Unetana tokef, the musaf siluk. Its origin story may be bogus but it's still a masterpiece
  • Bmozei Menucha, the pizmon for the first night of slichot.
  • The other three Maariv slichot. All four are jewels.
  • Every mechaye that seems to take for granted that Issac was killed during the akeida and brought back to life.
  • Elah ezkira
  • Amitz koach
  • Melech Elyon. Chief rabbi Saks tells me half the piyut is ignored today. In the back of his machzor the entire thing is presented, with all the mortal king insults included. Wow. 
  • Al Yisroel. 
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Friday, October 03, 2014

Gmar Chatima Tova, guys

Some things to chew on....

In 1934 Hank Greenberg of the Detroit Tigers skipped a World Series game that coincided with Yom Kippur, a holiday no one in America knew about prior to the mass influx of refugees after World War II. A syndicated poet (the "people's poet" Eddie Guest) congratulated him with the following ditty:

by Edgar A. Guest, 1934

The Irish didn’t like it when they heard of Greenberg’s fame
For they thought a good first baseman should possess an Irish name;
And the Murphy’s and Mulrooney’s said they never dreamed they’d see
A Jewish boy from Bronxville out where Casey used to be.
In the early days of April not a Dugan tipped his hat
Or prayed to see a “double” when Hank Greenberg came to bat.

In July the Irish wondered where he’d ever learned to play.
“He makes me think of Casey!” Old Man Murphy Dared to say;
And with fifty-seven doubles and a score of homers made
The respect they had for Greenberg was being openly displayed.
But on the Jewish New Year when Hank Greenberg came to bat
And made two home runs off pitcher Rhodes-they cheered like mad for that.

Came Yom Kippur-holy fast day world wide over to the Jew-
And Hank Greenberg to his teaching and the old tradition true
Spent the day among his people and he didn’t come to play.
Said Murphy to Mulrooney, “We shall lose the game today!”
We shall miss him on the infield and shall miss him at the bat,
But he’s true to his religion-and I honor him for that!”

One fan responded with the following barb, "Rosh Hashanah comes every year but the Tigers haven't won the pennant since 1909."

(Greenberg played on Rosh Hashana that year but sat out the Yom Kippur game)

From the New Yorker, in 1928, back before the holy Hungarians got here, in the days when no one cared about the Jewish God or religion and the water alongside Ellis Island was thick with the tefillin new Jewish immigrants had thrown away.

Finally a throw-away reference to Yom Kippur in Babbit, a great book everyone should read. The main character, not a Jew, is on a train gabbing with a group of men described as "The Best Fellows You''ll Ever Meet - Real Good Mixers," and the "knife-edge man in a green velour hat" is telling about the time he asked a Chicago hotel clerk for a room with a bath: "You'd a thought I'd sold him a second, or asked him to work on Yom Kippur," is how the knife-edge man describes the clerk's dismay.

Babbit was published in 1922. How its author, Sinclair Lewis, knew about Yom Kippur at that early date eons before the holy shabbos-keeping Jews arrived following the war and brought Judaism to these shores is anyone's guess.
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Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Music for the holiday

Take a poll, and I bet you'll find most people agree that the music is the best part of the YN davening. When we speak of a meaningful or spiritual Rosh Hashana or Yom Kippur, what we usually mean is that the chazan did a good job with the song selection and that the crowd participated in a manner we found enjoyable. Conversely, when we complain that the service felt flat, we usually mean that the chazan chose lousy tunes or that the congregation took the day off.

Previously, I thought this was all well and good. Now I think its something of an indictment of our generation. Now all our singing seems like a defense mechanism, because when we're humming along with the chazan we're not reading the prayer-poems or letting their words touch our hearts and minds. Those who sit studying while the rest of us pray are hiding from the piyutim in the same way. And, yes, I know the piyutim were originally written to be sung, or chanted, but not antiphonally in the style of the modern shteeble. An 11th century Jew would not have oi-boy-boyed a melody while the reader sang; he'd have sung along. (‪#‎irony‬ singing along is now called "modern")

On the other hand, my theory is that the piyutim were originally written to make the services more enjoyable, that is they originally served a secular purpose. In ye days of old members of all faiths and creeds seemed to have honestly enjoyed reading and reciting long, elaborate poems. Both Catholic and Muslim piyutim exist, and they share important characteristics with our poems. So allowing the piyutim to continue to entertain us may not be such a terrible idea. Just know that once upon a time, the ideas contained in the poem, as well as the skill and talent that went into its composition, seem to have been as much a part of the entertainment package as the melody.

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