Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Chilul Shabbos: Coming to a Street Near You

@azigra


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Chaos


"Overall, there are thousands of unmarried girls in their late twenties. It’s total chaos"

"Kelemen told the story of his attempt to arrange a marriage for his daughter: “When I contacted the head of a prestigious American yeshiva [an Orthodox Jewish seminary] to ask if he might have a shidduch for my daughter, he asked me ‘what level boy’ I was interested in. Unsure what he meant, I asked for clarification. ‘Top boys go for $100,000 a year, but we also have boys for $70,000 a year and even $50,000 a year.’ He said that if I was ready to make the commitment, he could begin making recommendations immediately.”
The Orthodox Union’s executive vice president, Rabbi Steven Weil, told me he believed a backlash to the increasingly outlandish dowries was brewing. “You don’t marry for money,” Weil said. “This is not our religion.”
Weil is right, of course. It is not his religion. It is his religion’s demographics."

-see more at http://time.com/dateonomics/


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Sunday, August 23, 2015

So you're a Jewish sex slave


A guest post by Y. Bloch
We all struggle with questions of identity from time to time: Who am I? Why am I here? Am I a Jewish sex slave? This handy guide will help you find the answers!
But first, let's explore some things about you.
  1. Are you a Jewish male?
If so, you have nothing to worry about. Unless you steal something and don't have the means to pay it back, in which case the court may sell you as a slave. At that point (Maimonides, Laws of Slaves 3:3):
When a servant is sold by the court, his master has the option of giving him a Canaanite maid-servant as a wife. This applies to the master who purchased him or the son who becomes his master if the master dies. He may give him a Canaanite maid-servant as a wife and compel him to engage in relations with her so that she gives birth to slaves that he conceived.
Don't worry, you don't have to raise those kids you may be compelled to have: like your slave-wife, your slave-children belong to your master. It might be awkward when you see him in shul, though.
2. Are you a Jewish female?
a) How old are you?
b) How does your father feel about you?
Here's why we need to know (ibid. ch. 4): 
A Hebrew maid-servant is a girl below the age of majority sold by her father. When she manifests signs of physical maturity after reaching twelve years of age and becomes pubescent, he does not have the right to sell her... If the father fled, died or did not have the resources to redeem her, she must work until she is released.


So, you might be a Jewish slave, but if you're in the first grade or younger, at least you'll be out to prepare for being a bat mitzva after your six years of servitude run out. Of course, your master may decide he wants to marry you. That's where the sex comes in.

The mitzva of designating a maid-servant as a wife takes precedence over the mitzva of redeeming the maid-servant. How is the mitzva of designating a maid-servant as a wife performed? The master tells the maid-servant in the presence of two witnesses: "Behold, you are consecrated to me," "You are betrothed to me," or "Behold, you are my wife." This may be done even at the conclusion of the six years of her servitude before the setting of the sun. He need not give her anything, for the first moneys were given with the intent that they could serve for the purpose of consecration.From this point onward, he must treat her as a wife, and not as a servant...
How does a master designate a maid-servant as a wife for his son? If his son is past majority and gives his father permission to designate the maid-servant as his wife, the father tells the maid-servant in the presence of two witnesses: "Behold you are consecrated to my son."
So, your master's son does have a say. You, not so much. But at least you won't be a slave anymore!
3. Are you a non-Jewish male?
Then we won't even bring up sex, because masters are presumed to be male, and we don't even want to talk about that. But congratulations on being alive! Had you been captured in battle as a) an adult or b) one of the nations we really don't like, you wouldn't have made it this far.
4. Are you a non-Jewish female?
Hey, it's all cool, assuming you're not from one of the no-no nations. Oh, and you might be "married" off to a Hebrew slave, see above. Oh, and one more thing, as per this week's Torah portion (Deut. 21:10-14).
From time to time, you men will serve as soldiers and go off to war. The Lord your God will help you defeat your enemies, and you will take many prisoners.  One of these prisoners may be a beautiful woman, and you may want to marry her. But first you must bring her into your home, and have her shave her head, cut her nails, get rid of her foreign clothes, and start wearing Israelite clothes. She will mourn a month for her father and mother, then you can marry her. Later on, if you are not happy with the woman, you can divorce her, and she can go free. But you have slept with her as your wife, so you cannot sell her as a slave or make her into your own slave.
See, sex yes, slave no. Best-case scenario, you live happily ever after with your one-time battlefield rapist. (Unless he's a priest, in which case rape yes, marriage never.) Or maybe he rejects you, but then he can't keep you as a slave or sell you. So that's good, right? You can walk free and clear... bound by the Noahide covenant (Maimonides, Laws of Kings 8:7):
Her captor must be patient with her for twelve months if she refuses to convert. If she still refuses after this interval has passed, she must agree to accept the seven universal laws commanded to Noah's descendants and then, she is set free. Her status is the same as all other resident aliens. Her captor may not marry her, for it is forbidden to marry a woman who has not converted.
Okay, you can't refuse him, but you can refuse his faith... just as long as you don't keep your own (ibid. 9):
A beautiful captive who does not desire to abandon idol worship after twelve months should be executed. Similarly, a treaty cannot be made with a city which desires to accept a peaceful settlement until they deny idol worship, destroy their places of worship, and accept the seven universal laws commanded Noah's descendants. For every non-Jew who does not accept these commandments must be executed if he is under our undisputed authority.
You feel better now, right?
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Thursday, August 20, 2015

Adorable Abominations


A guest post by Y. Bloch
You've heard of the Ten Commandments, but what about the Nine Abominations?
The former we read three weeks ago, while the latter appear in this weekend's Torah portion (Deut. 18:9-12):
When you come into the land which the LORD your God gives you, you shall not learn to do after the abominations of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone that passes his son or his daughter through the fire, one that uses divination, a soothsayer, or an enchanter, or a sorcerer, or a charmer, or one that consults a ghost or a familiar spirit, or a necromancer. For whosoever does these things is an abomination unto the LORD; and because of these abominations the LORD your God is driving them out from before you.
That is the popular translation, at least, for the term used here: toeva.
However, this rendering is highly misleading, just as "Commandment" is a poor translation for an entry in the Decalogue (the term in Hebrew is not mitzva, but davar, a statement, utterance or thing).
See, Cecil B. DeMille should have used this title.
See, Cecil B. DeMille should have used this title.
You see, abomination etymologically means to regard as an ill omen, and divining by omens is on this very list of toevot! Colloquially, it is used to described something which is morally reprehensible, but that hardly fits the term toeva as it is used in the Torah.
It first appears in Genesis and Exodus as a way of describing the cultural differences between Egyptians and Hebrews. "The toeva of Egypt" is used to describe breaking bread with Hebrews, the profession of shepherding (although Egypt itself has vast flocks) and the Hebrew sacrificial rites. Explaining the last of these (Exod. 8:22), Rabbi S.R. Hirsch writes:
Perhaps this is only a diplomatic term, showing consideration for Pharaoh, denoting what the Egyptians regard more than anything.
Wait, toeva is a term of respect? Shocking as it may seem, Rashi says it nearly a millennium before Hirsch, in his comments on next week's portion (Deut. 22:9), as he tries to define kadosh, a term paradoxically used for both sanctification and contamination.
To anything man regards as toeva, either in a positive sense, e.g., something holy, or in a negative sense, e.g., something forbidden, the term kadosh applies.
It seems that we have to go to the South Seas to find an adequate translation for toeva, namely "taboo." The Torah is listing practices which are off-limits for the Israelites. Similarly, when the Torah says in the previous portion "Do not eat any toeva" (Deut. 14:3), it is not calling every non-kosher creature--99% of God's creation--an abomination. Jacob (Gen. 49) compares many of his sons to certain animals, all of which but one are non-kosher; Judah b. Tema (Mishna, Avot 5:20) charges every child of God to emulate certain animals, all of which but one are non-kosher. It is the eating which is forbidden, not their very existence.
However, not all taboos are created equal. A few lines before the prohibition of eating any toeva, the Torah cautions (12:31): "You shall not do so unto the LORD thy God; for every toeva to the LORD, which He hates, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters do they burn in the fire to their gods."
God hates this toeva--so are other abominations adorable? No, but not all cultural taboos are created equal. That is why "anyone that passes his son or his daughter through the fire" is #1 on our list--it is not the first among equals, but inherently different.
In fact, this is the one thing on which Leviticus and Deuteronomy agree. Like Deut. 18, Lev. 18 has a list of "these toevot"--not nine, but eighteen; not sacerdotal, but sexual. There is just one exception--the worship of Moloch: "And you shall not give your seed to pass through for Moloch, and you shall not profane the name of your God; I am the LORD" (v. 21). What the children pass through, as Nahmanides explains, is fire. It is the same as the prohibition in Deuteronomy.
When we get to Lev. 20, which describes the penalties for these acts, there is a clear distinction made for Moloch. All the other offenses have death penalties, but they are virtually inapplicable by human hands, either because the divine court has the responsibility or because these sorts of things do not happen in front of witnesses giving legal warning. But Moloch is a special case, as there is a specific charge on "the people of the land" to bring him to justice: "he shall surely be put to death; the people of the land shall stone him with stones... And if the people of the land do at all hide their eyes from that man, when he gives of his seed unto Moloch, and put him not to death; then I will set My face against that man, and against his family..." The Talmud (Shevuot 39a) famously notes:
R. Simeon said: If he sinned, what sin did his family commit? But this shows you that there is not a family containing a tax-collector, in which they are not all tax-collectors; or containing a robber, in which they are not all robbers; because they protect him!
When children are being sacrificed, when infants are being burned in the name of God, a moral choice must be made. Is one part of "his family," those who justify his actions, even in the slightest, by hurling terms of hate; or is one part of "the people of the land" who demands justice? This is a fateful decision, for as Rabban Gamaliel explains, pursuing justice and giving no quarter to such outrages is the prerequisite for living here (Sifra ad loc.): "'The people of the land'--the people who are destined to inherit the land by enforcing these very matters."

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Thursday, August 13, 2015

BREAKING: Transactional sex doesn't lead to excellent conversations

Started when someone tweeted that she'd written an article that all men in the universe needed to read. Being a man I hopped right over. Found that it was a rant about how all men suck at conversation and what we need to do is be better at it. Ok!

Via Twitter I told the author her piece evidenced self-righteousness and immaturity and that instead of telling all men that they sucked maybe she should meet some new men.

She replied as follows and I'm still trying to get my mouth to stop hanging open.


Who could have possibly guessed that men who are purchasing sex might not be interested in having deep and penetrating conversations with their hookers. A shocker, right?

Needless to say a cute little Twitter horde of about 5 people is all on my case for having suggested that unfair generalizations are, you know, unfair. Walking liberal stereotypes alert!

(PS if any of you know how I can buy or rent a a Twitter horde of my own please pass along the deets)

Required Viewing: Ruth Taub on My Grandmother's Ravioli


I don't want you to ignore the argument or the pair of pants you'll find in the two posts that are directly beneath this one. But I do want you to find 20 minutes to watch this video.

You'll meet Ruth Taub, a nonagenarian Jewish New Yorker who still goes to work everyday and cooks her own chicken soup.

The show she appears on, My Grandmother's Ravioli, may be an insipid cooking show hosted by a reverse pedophile (is a ravioli really always a ravioli?), but Ruth is outstanding.

 Everything about the lady is perfect: Her size, her accent, her moxie.

Spare me your romantic notions of the shtetle and your tales of how the Hungarians invented American Judaism. Ruth, who was born in NY, is as real as all of them.

You'll especially love her recollections of the war years, the way she explains what matzo can do to a digestive system,  and the (way too short) tour she leads of the Lower East Side. Oh, that accent!




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Great pants for you to buy (not)


I should be writing a post about how my buddy a Jew in the City is inadvertently shortchanging the term ezer knegdo in her new post. Instead I'm laughing at this:





Yes. A tad. If you're feeling crazy, you can buy yourself a pair at Bonobos where - lucky you! - they're currently on sale. 

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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

You can deal with Iranians

A guy from der Froward visited Iran, and filed a long article about it. Here's my Tweet about it:
In that spirit let me co-sign something Thomas Friedman put in today's paper:
To deal with the Iran threat I would not, as Israel’s leader, be pressuring U.S. Jews to go against their own government to try to scuttle the deal — when I have no credible alternative. 
This deal sharply reduces Iran’s bomb-making uranium stockpile for 15 years, and pushes Iran’s ability to break out with a nuclear weapon from three months — where it is now — to a year. I’d be very confident that if I can keep Iran one year away from a bomb for 15 years, during that time Israel’s defense technologists will develop many more ways to detect and eliminate any kind of Iranian breakout. 
So rather than fighting with President Obama, as prime minister I’d be telling him Israel will support this deal but it wants the U.S. to increase what really matters — its deterrence capability — by having Congress authorize this and any future president to use any means necessary to destroy any Iranian attempt to build a bomb. I don’t trust U.N. inspectors; I trust deterrence. And to enhance that I’d ask the U.S. to position in the Middle East the U.S. Air Force’s Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP), a precision-guided, 30,000-pound “bunker buster” bomb that could take out any Iranian reactor hidden in any mountain. The Iranians would get the message.
Why would they "get the message?" Because as the Forward article confirms, Iranians are normal people. While they may hate Israel - due to real and perceived grievances against the Jewish state - they also want to live in the world, make money and play with their grandchildren like everyone else. Which is what makes deals possible.


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A Senators obligations...


Avi says: My take is simple. If a Government official (elected or otherwise) takes an action to aid a foreign power that simultaneously harms his own country, he is betraying his country.

I agree. If, e.g., Senator Schumer knows in his heart that the Iran deal is a win for the USA but chooses to vote against it because he also knows in his heart that the Iran deal will hurt Israel he is betraying his office.

I may have unsuccessfully conveyed that in the earlier post, because I was more focused on a related, and no less important point, which I shall attempt to reiterate now: 

If, e.g., Senator Schumer knows in his heart that the Iran deal is a win for the USA but chooses to vote against it because he also knows in his heart that the Iran deal will hurt Israel he is betraying his office.... HOWEVER, that is not a formal betrayal. A vote for Israel is not a crime, nor is it an act of treason. He hasn't violated the constitution and he hasn't (necessarily) violated any compact with his constituents. Perhaps the constiuents also want to put Israel first? (In the past, Irish politicians have been accused of e.g. siding with the IRA, often to the delight of the people in their districts.)

The Constitution affords senators and representatives a great deal of latitude. They are 100 percent free to vote their conscious. The Constitution does not demand that a Senator vote according to opinion polling, or that he provide the People with explanations or justifications. So long as he hasn't been bribed, he can vote any way he wishes - or skip every vote - and the People have just two remedies: They can vote him out or they can encourage his colleagues to impeach him*

*I belong to the school of thought that says, while it should be a last resort, you can impeach the president or a congressman simply because you want his office. The original Constitution prevents impeachment from becoming a politicized offense by calling for a trial in (what they imagined would be) the politically independent Senate. Unfortunately, following the ratification of the 17th amendment the Senate lost its (relative) independence from politics, yet Senators continue to try impeachments. 

Now you may say that I'm hanging my hat on a technicality when I absolve a Senator who knowingly casts a vote that helps another country at the expense of our own. But to do anything else is to engage in politics - which is certainly a fun and worthwhile endeavor, but at this particular moment I'm trying to be non-political.  If we want to be non-political, we have no choice but to hang our hats on such technicalities, thanks to the power of interpretation. If no law has been broken, and the Senator hasn't openly declared that he made his vote for the purpose of hurting America, what do you have other than interpretations? You think he's putting Israel first, he says he's actually putting America first, she says whats the deference, we're allies... and on and on it goes.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Peek-a-jew (the day the earth stood still)


 An alert reader spotted thi sYiddish headline at minute 22 of 1951's The Day the Earth Stood Still.

He asks:
What is this headline? What newspaper is this? Is it a real headline, or just a prop devised by some Yiddish speakers on the set?



Readers?


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My take on Schumer: Both sides are wrong


The truly galling thing about le affair Schumer is the crushing lack of self-awareness on both sides of the aisle.

Israel-firsters* who are now drowning themselves in tears because Shumer was branded a traitor**  have forgotten that it isn't unusual for Congresspeople and presidents to insult each other -- especially during a policy debate.  That's how the game is played***, and many of the people moaning loudest over Schumer's honor have previously played it themselves.

Elected officials who have insulted Obama include:





Meanwhile Shumer's critics seem to have forgotten the key aspect of representative government. A senator like Schumer gets to vote his conscious and doesn't owe anyone explanations. Maybe he is putting Israeli interests ahead of our own. So what? He's allowed to do that. So long as no laws are broken, it isn't a betrayal of either his oath or his office to worry more about Israelis than New Yorkers. A Senator swears only to uphold and defend the constitution. He does not swear to put his constituents first or to allow their wishes and desires to influence his votes.

Schumer has absolutely no formal or legal or contractual -- or for that matter constitutional -- obligation to vote the interests of NYers or to provide them with any explanations.

*by which I mean bloggers and interest groups who, quite literally, put Israel first. Many of these gentlemen and ladies still think its funny to refer to the president as "Hussein Obama" or "that traitor from Kenya" even as they are upbraiding him for supposedly questioning the loyalty of Chuck Schumer.
  

** Obama didn't actually call Schumer a traitor - or anything close. Unfortunately, long experience has taught me that its always impossible to correct a RW lie after the smear-campaign train has left the station.

*** I bet Senator Charles Sumner dearly wishes Senator Preston Brook had merely called him a traitor back in 1856 instead of also causing him traumatic brain injury by beating him on the head with a heavy cane.



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Monday, August 10, 2015

Rabbi hops on Papal bandwagon without embarassing us


Lots of people - Catholics for the most part - are recording welcome greetings to Pope Frank and posting them on Catholic Charities' website. Participants include ordinary folks and Catholic celebrities like the noted secular, atheist hero Stephen Colbert.

The list of participants also includes at least one Rabbi: Peter J. Rubinstein of the Central Synagogue in NYC.

Now, I mightily dislike it when Jews fall over themselves to pay homage to Jesus's earthly embodiment, but even I must admit that Rabbi Peter did a good job. He successfully promoted Judaism, and broke with the requirement that all participants quote Mathew 25:35 in their welcome videos. Instead the Rabbi quoted Hillel. Good on him!


Wednesday, August 05, 2015

J.J Spanks Bibi... but errs... slightly?


I'm not sure if J.J Goldberg deserves a tap on the wrist or a kick in the crotch for the misstep he takes in his great piece in the current Forward.

The article's premise is Netanyahu's response to the events of last week have been tone deaf and diplomatically detrimental. As he writes:

Israelis rightly complain when Palestinian leaders express regret for attacks on Israelis, but then hedge it with excuses or trash-talk about what’s wrong with Israel. The second part undoes the good in the opening words. Israelis should know better than to do the same thing. 
The Palestinian public feels, much as Israelis do, that an attack like the arson murder in Duma village is an attack on all of them. Palestinians need, just like Israelis at such a moment, to hear from the other side that it understands and shares their grief. Statements like Netanyahu’s — which boil down to “It’s too bad but it’s not our fault and anyway you’re worse” — don’t cut it. The moment calls for solace, not insult.
So far so good.

J.J is also on firm ground when  he bludgeons Netanyahu for the little lie, often repeated by the P.M and other Jews, about how "we" put murderers on trial, while "they" name public squares after them. 

The fact is many, many Israeli streets are named after assassins, terrorists and murderers. J.J gives us a list that includes Lord Moyne's assassins, Hersh Lekert, who tried to kill the governor of Vilna, and Sholom Schwartzbard who gunned down a Ukranian rebel leader on a Paris street.



The misstep occurs as J.J reaches the end of his list of Jewish terrorists who are honored with streets when he writes: "...and Herschel Grynszpan, who assassinated a Nazi diplomat in Paris in November 1938, touching off Kristallnacht."

Are we blaming Grynszpan for Kristallnacht? Grynszpan was a pretext. The Nazi rampage was planned long before Grynzpan walked into the embassy and shot Ernst von Rath. Had Grysnzpan not provided the fake reason, the Nazis would have manufactured something else.  

NEXT POST: How do we make a distinction between the  Jewish terrorists J.J mentions and the Arab terrorists who also have streets named in their honor? And is Herschel Grynspan really a terrorist? If you can't shoot a Nazi, who can you shoot?

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Two cheers for the Chief Rabbis


Let's commend Israel's chief rabbis for co-signing an anti-violence message that was placed on the front page of at least one newspaper. Other versions of the ad, including a Hebrew translation, appeared elsewhere.



While I appreciate the face-value sentiment - Stop beating up gays and Muslims! - its hard for me to take this at face-value. The Chief Rabbis are political creatures and they lead political bureaucracies. This wasn't done simply to remind everyone that -- guess what! - violence is wrong, and because the Chief Rabbis know that RW terrorists don't look to the Rabbanut for moral or religious guidance its unlikely that this ad was placed to discourage copy cats.

So what's this about? Imagine some rabbinic underling proposed this strategy to his bosses in a memo. What would he have listed as "benefits"? Here are two ideas. Perhaps you have some others.

1) Reclaim the moral high ground. Orthodox Judaism took a bad PR blow last week. A statement such as this, prominently placed, helps to scrub away the tarnish. Instead of focusing on Jewish terrorists, we can focus on the Rabbis and their noble, yet hackneyed, announcement.

Related: Conventional wisdom says that Muslim clerics "never" denounce violence. By putting their statement on the front page of a major newspaper, the Chief Rabbis have given us all an opportunity to restate this platitude. Hardly anyone I know is merely saying, "Look what the Chief Rabbis did." Instead, they are also saying "How come you never see Muslim leaders do that?"

2) Provide some cover for terrorist-supporting Rabbis. Orthodox Rabbis often perform a delicate dance. Even those who oppose violence (and tons of them do)  don't always  disagree with the Torah teachings that can sometimes lead to violence. While the Chief Rabbis certainly don't want Jews stabbing each other on the street, they also don't want preachers to stop reminding everyone that Judaism (as they interpret it) views homosexuality as immoral and destructive to the fiber of civilization. They want extra-judicial gay violence to stop, but they want the anti-gay ideas to survive, and would probably be okay with legal gay violence, such as gruesome executions for sodomists as the Torah demands.  A splashy statement like this makes it harder for speech police to target Rabbis, and helps to ensure that the anti-gay messaging can continue.


Note Below:

The Rabbis claim that "Violence is not the way of our holy Torah." While I fully support this statement, I feel I must point out that this is a re-interpretation. Once upon a time, violence was the way of the Torah, as the Midanites, Amalakites, or anyone sentenced to death by burning, beheading or stoning would be glad to remind you.  The Rabbis are either re-interpreting (which is fine) or mean to say "[Extrajudicial] violence is not the way of our holy Torah."

This second reading is probably the correct one. The Chiefs aren't going to get behind a Joshua-style war of extermination against civilians, but I feel confident stating that they don't oppose legal violence.

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Monday, August 03, 2015

Decline of Christianity = Good for the Jews.

Those of you who've been here for a while already know my feelings on the subject of declining Church attendance, and the secularization of the Western world. But to recap for newbies...

Xtianity = idolatry & falsehood. Less of it the better.
Seeing that Christianity has been the cause of untold suffering, particularly Jewish suffering, I hold, of course, that the decline Christian fervor is one of the great blessings of our time.

This is a point GOP Jews don't like to face: Christianity is false, and categorically the same as the idol worship our forefathers were bidden to wipe out. If we Jews shed no tears over the disapearence of Baal and Thor cults, why do so many of us weep for vanishing Christianity?

(Yes, I know some rishonim wrote that it is permissible for a non-Jew to worship as a Christian. But it doesn't follow from this that the teachings of the religion are true, nor is this an argument for the survival of the falsehoods it promotes. I'm quite sure the Rishonim who made this ruling would be pleased to learn that Christianity has lost it's teeth and no longer menaces the Jewish people.)

Xtianity is historically anti-freedom and anti-Judaism... less of that is also better
The counterargument to this is "Christianity has changed." I agree, it has changed but not by choice. See, while it is true Christians no longer lock people in ghettos, or teach that Jews "through their own fault were condemned by God to eternal slavery" we must remember how this happened. The Church didn't embrace liberal ideas on its own; rather it was dragged kicking and screaming into something approaching common sense by liberals and reformers.

Why move backwards? Out of some strange conviction that Orthodox Judaism won't flourish unless the gentiles are also religious? Hasn't the American experience shown us the very opposite? As America becomes less religious, its the heterodox movements who have trouble holding members, not the Orthodox. Thanks to the freedoms and protections offered by secular America, Orthodox Judaism is stronger than ever and shuls and yeshivas are easier to build and fund. (Here's a cynical take on how secular America helps Orthodoxy flourish: Skeptics, doubters and others who might help move Orthodoxy in a more liberal direction, were they forced, as in days of old, to remain part of the community, are able to drop out instead.)

If the fox lost interest in eating chickens, what kind of crazy bird wld say that's a bad thing?
Again, I'm amazed that some of the same people who criticize me for doubting Sages are themselves willing to to do the same, and to cast aside traditional teachings when it becomes convinient. Our daily religious life is full of Chazal-instituted reminders that gentile religion is to be despised. These include "sfoch chamoscha" at the end of the seder, "l'malshinim" in the Amidah, "Av Harachamin" on shabbos, dozens of kinos, as well as the rules of bishul akum, and pas akum. To suggest that gentile religion has been rehabilitated is akin to suggesting that the Sages lacked devine wisdom when they instituted these practices and safeguards. If you're ready to start second-guessing Chazal, that's fine with me, but don't hold me to a standard you can't keep yourself. 

END NOTES 

(1) I recognize the the Catholic Church has made some serious attempts to reform its views on Jews. I respect and admire these efforts. However, I wish to issue some important qualifications:

The changes the Church made occurred over the protests of traditionalists, and weren't the result of careful study and introspection. The changes were made not for reasons of truth, but for reasons of politics. After 2000 years, the Church woke up to the fact that its teachings on Jews were no longer viable, and that if it wished to remain relevant in the post-Holocaust world, the teachings that helped make the Holocaust possible needed to be reformed. 

Though the Church, perhaps, deserves some credit for this, its rather like the credit we might give to someone in 2015 who has finally updated from Windows 3.x. In other words, it was about freaking time. 

Ultimately, the victory belongs to liberalism, for it was liberalism that dragged the Church into Vatican II, and it must be remembered that the changes came at the expense of traditional Church teachings which were modified long after sensible people already knew that these teachings were dangerous and wrong.

The work of reform is not yet done. Though Vatican II removed specific obscenities from the Catholic liturgy and announced that Jews and Christians are equally responsible for the death of Christ, more work is required. For instance, the Church might further revises its theology and acknowledge that Jews, in fact, are not at all responsible for Jesus's death. Also, the Vatican still must revise its theology-tainted policy toward Israel, repudiate the dozens of anti-Semitic popes (some of whom, the Vatican, instead, hopes to canonize), and repent for its own role in paving the way to the Holocaust. As Leon Wieseltier has aptly observed, until these steps are taken, the Vatican is a tovel v'sheretz b'yado (one who immerses himself in purifying waters while he holds in his hand an insect that makes him impure.)

(2)  I recognize that individual Catholics have already taken some of these steps, and have fully repudiated their Church on these matters. I think that's great, and note that this represents  a defeat for the Church. If I haven't yet made it clear, let me do it now: The problem is Church doctrine and policy, not the beliefs and behaviors of individual Catholics who rejected these doctrines and policies. Christians who no longer accept offensive Christian doctrines are, in a some sense, "less Christian" which is something to be encouraged. Likewise, many non-Catholics have repudiated their sect's anti-Jewish teachings, and this is also something to respected and encouraged.

(3) I also wish to acknowledge that just as all Christians are not created equal, some Christian sects are less offensive than others. Some sects, like some Christians, have broken faith with older teachings. (the Catholics at Vatican II for instance.) Perhaps someone would like to rank the sects by how much or how little they hate Jews?

(4) My overarching point remains: Christianity has become less dangerous to Jews only as it moved away from traditional teachings, becoming, in effect, "less Christian" and "more liberal." I hope that the transition of Christianity into something new, something that is unthreatening to Jews, continues


Friday, July 31, 2015

What does our God do for a living?


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Biblical writers such as Ezekiel and the Psalmist conceived of God as a shepherd. Its not hard to work out why. In those days, shepherding was a common profession, and from the perspective of the sheep a shepherd is something of a God. He guides and directs the flock, and is responsible for leading it to food and water, and for protecting it from wild animals. Working as a shepherd gave men a template for imagining how God works with men. They were shepherds themselves so they came to think of God as one, too.

We aren't shepherds anymore, and the template has changed. Now most of us work at office jobs, and the God most of us worship would fit right in.

In the current popular imagination, God is no longer a shepherd guiding and protecting His flock, from a comfortable e distance.  Now we think of Him as a micro-manager who gets His hands dirty. Instead of guarding and guiding us like a shepherd, this God causes and, more importantly, cares about every small thing that happens. Instead of protecting us, He spends a lot of time worrying about our job performance. How many mitzvos did you do today? Are you doing more or less than last week? And like the worst boss you ever had, this God is capricious and petty, demanding flattery and praise in exchange for favors. Instead of God as a shepherd, we have God as a small businessman

There is more to this shift in thinking then the fact that our jobs have changed. I've noticed that the people most committed to the idea of God as micro-manager tend not to be lawyers or employees of large corporations. Aside from the rabbis and teachers, the men who use this template are almost all salesmen or petty business owners. I surmise that the men who do this sort of work are more likely to think of God this way because the men who do this sort of work are more susceptible to magical thinking, which is just an unkind way of saying that they need God more.

Think about it this way: A guy who work for ACME International gets a regular paycheck. It comes every two weeks, whether he earns it or not. If that's your set-up, you start taking the money for granted. You stop worrying about how the Big Guy in the sky might be persuaded to keep the checks coming. Even if you watch porn and eat treif the checks won't be interrupted. Not at first anyway.

A guy who sells or runs his own business, on the other hand, is always cognizant of how fragile his finances are. Unlike Mr. Corporate, the salesman or small businessman only eats when he has customers, and who can say why customers come calling on one day, and not on another? Those of you who have worked in sales know how this can go. One day you hit the bushes and nothing happens. The next day you take it easy, and the phone rings off the hook. On Monday, the client yawns at your presentation. On Wednesday the exact same presentation scores a big contract. What's going on? Why are you making money one day, and nothing the next day? It becomes easy to chalk up your successes and failures to luck. Or to God.

So what happens next? Because God can control the clients, Mr Small Businessman starts to look for ways to control God. He dabbles in superstition. He looks for segulot. He becomes a prisoner to ritual. And, significant to the change described up in paragraph three, our Jewish small businessman also becomes deeply invested in the idea that God controls every little thing, and its corollary, viz, that God can be controlled through the performance of mitzvoth. This has to be true. It absolutely must be true. Otherwise, what chance does our guy, the small salesman or businessman, have at making a buck in the world? If God is indifferent there's nothing a magical thinker can actually do to make his business grow.

Our sheep-tending ancestors didn't have such worries and didn't think such thoughts. As a result they didn't conceive of God the same way that we do. Their God was a God who merely watched over a flock. He has been supplanted by a modern God, the God who "runs" things.