Friday, January 30, 2015

Parsha Notes B'shalach 5775

You youngsters probably don't remember this, but once upon a time, I used to publish a weekly set of Parsha Notes. They were tres awesome and one day I plan to both finish them up, and produce them in a book. For now, please feel free to read and share following the jump

Thursday, January 29, 2015

This fellow wins the Internet today

The Netanyahu Disaster

When the prime minister of Israel has lost the support of a journalist who is both a prominent Zionist and a card-carrying member of AIPAC you know things are bad.

After the jump, Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic explains that Netanyahu has two jobs, and he's failed at them both. He's not protecting Israel, and he's not staying on the good side of the American president or the American people.

 (And RWers, I know this is very difficult for you to process, but one can both "stand with Israel" and oppose the disastrous policies of Israel's horrible prime minister.)

Further evidence of RW braindamage

This is the sort of snappy statement that counts as learned discourse among our friends on the right. Unfortunately, it can't withstand even an instant of scrutiny. The fallacy: No one is "cool" with the "terror state spinning centrifuges" Everyone in the West opposes it!

And if we go a little deeper, we can see how this tweet reveals exactly what's bankrupt about the RW worldview. They actually believe that Obama is "cool" with Iran going nuclear, when in reality* he's forcefully stated the opposite on numerous occasions. But because the Obama plan for stopping Iran doesn't fulfil the warmongering wishes of the RW, these idiots have concluded that he's "cool" with Iran going nuclear.

*Once again, reality has a liberal bias

You can see the same brain-damaged reasoning at work in any discussion of Israel. According to the RW, opposing their plans and policies = being anti Israel. They simply are unable to process the fact that you can stand with Israel without standing with Bibi Netanyahu.

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The strangeness of a kippa-wearing woman

Thought: to an Orthodox Jew, a woman in a kipa appears... strange. But that must be how Orthodox Jewish men look to everyone else...

As @yaakman pointed out, this really depends. If the Orthodox Jew thinks a kippa looks strange on a woman's head because he associates kippahs with men, the comparison breaks down.

But I think the essential whiplash-delivering point remains solid: We OJ are used to seeing men with headgear, so nothing about it seems odd. We're not used to seeing women dressed similarly so it strikes us as weird. Well, 99% of the gentiles aren't exactly used to seeing men wearing beanies. So, how do you think we Orthodox Jewish men appear to them?

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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

A fair point about offending Islam

The Arab MK has a fair point here...

ח"כ גנאים: "תקיפת האיסלאם - חופש ביטוי, תקיפת יהודים - אנטישמיות"
ח"כ גנאים: "תקיפת האיסלאם - חופש ביטוי, תקיפת יהודים - א...
ynet חדשות: כל העידכונים השוטפים ממערכת החדשות של ynet, דקה אחר דקה, 24 שעות ביממה ובלי הפסקה.
Preview by Yahoo

Writes Mr. Fozzie:

If you struggle with Hebrew, what he's saying is that if someone prints a picture that is offensive to judaism, we call it anti-semitism (and then demand they don't print it anymore); however, if they print a picture that is offensive to Islam, then we invoke freedom of speech (and buy millions of copies)
The counter point, of course,  is that Jew demand it be withdrawn (which is OK) and don't shoot the staff (which isn't); as a result, the manner of the protest becomes the determinant of the response to the content

But that all comes after the fact.
Before the item is printed the publisher probably wont print anti semitic stuff because it's offensive, but might well publish anti-islamic stuff - because it's acceptable.
 Think he's right?

 Search for more information about Arab MKS

All the Egyptian livestock die more than once

If your kid is sharp. he or she is going to want to know where the Egyptians found horses with which to chase the fleeing Israelite: Didn't they all die during, the animal plague(9:6)... and again during hail (9:19)?

The first place to look, of course, is the Documentary Sources -- and that's something of a help: Pharaoh's pursuing chariots are mentioned in both P and E, while the plagues that say all the animals died are both J.

However, as noted, two plagues are reported to have killed all the animals, and both are J.

So a better answer comes from Abarbanel, and slightly worse answer is given by Ramban

All doesn't really mean all. It means some, ie, its an exaggeration

The Israelites sold the Egyptians replacement horses and livestock.

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The horrible ad Dominos did

I'm not sure why this ad isn't in Hebrew... or why it exists, for that matter, but Dominos in Israel is trying to cash in on some 50 Shades of Grey excitement with the most horrifying ad you have ever seen.

From Kitchenette: This is a real ad itched by the McCann Erickson Agency to an independent Domino's franchise in Israel for a proposed print campaign. It never actually ran. Nevertheless, this was still a thing an actual professional ad agency thought would encourage people to buy pizza.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Egyptian Circumcision Mystery

After the Isralites crossed the Jordan, on 10 Nissan, in imitation of the crossing of the Red Sea, they were circumcised, in imitation of the mass circumcision that took place (per some authorities) on 10 Nissan,  forty years earlier.

At this second mass circumcision God tells Joshua "Now the shame of  Egypt is removed from you."  What is the shame of Egypt? 

The archeological evidence says there was nothing unique about circumcision in the ancient near East. Lots of people did it. There's especially good evidence that ancient Egyptians were circumcised. So perhaps being uncircumcised was considered the "shame of Egypt?" 

Chazal, of course,  operated under the assumption that only Jews circumcised. So they read the verse as follows.. 

After the 8th plague Pharaoh said:ראו כי רעה נגד פניכם / see the evil is in front of you. 

While it's possible that ra'ah, the word for evil, in this context refers to Ra, the Egyptian solar diety, Chazal understood it to be a particular star. They say that Pharoah is reporting  that he knows by astrology that something evil is waiting for the Israelites in the desert. 

According to this line of interpretation the act of circumcision satisfies the astrological prediction. The stargazers saw rivers of blood in the forecast and thought that meant a massacre. But they were wrong. Really it was the mass circumcision they saw. Thus, the circumcision removed "the shame" (or in this reading "the reproach") of Egypt. 

So vote in the comments. Which reading seems best to you?

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Monday, January 26, 2015

Survivors sing Hatikvah at Auschwitz

As part of the 70th anniversary commemorations some survivors sing Hatikvah at Auschwitz today. (In front of press representatives whose presence seems to cheapen the event)

Long time readers may remember a post from several years ago in contained an audio file with kabbalat shabbos at one of the camps following liberation.

After davening, the congregation sang Hatikvah using lyrics that lost the test of time and have fallen out of use. Today the well known lyrics were used.

Survivors sing Hatikvah Auschwitz:

Friday, January 23, 2015

Five things that won't ever go out of Orthodox Jewish style

The Black Suit

The rest of the world may prefer grey or charcoal, but for the Orthodox Jew basic black is tried, true and timeless. Considered perfect for weddings, funerals, shopping, and lawn mowing. 

ShownKenneth Cole New York Men's Two-Piece Suit

The Blue Blazer

Makes you look put-together, no matter what. Also, a very convenient way to dress yourself up for davening

Jeans are out of the question, for many of us. So for a casual look, we go with chinos.

Shown: Levi's Men's Straight Chino Pant, Dress Blues

The Black Bit Loafer

While many non-Jewish men have embraced the brown brogue, the standard black bit loafer remains the Orthodox Jew's essential shoe. Wear them for any situation including hiking and basketball.

Shown Allen Edmonds Men's Verona Slip-on,

The Plain White Dress Shirt

Rule of thumb for non-Jews: Wear white for special occasions, and blue for everything else.
Rule of thumb for OJ: Wear white on white for special occasions and plain white for everything else.

Shown: Van Heusen Men's Fitted Poplin Dress Shirt,

Thursday, January 22, 2015


Saw this on Twitter.

I think its a perfect example of a certain strategy certain woman are employing to gain the upperhand in certain interactions.

Now let's be clear: There is absolutely nothing wrong with employing strategies that will help you win. God knows men do it. In fact, the interrupting and appropriating decried in the poster is precisely that: Its a strategy men use because it helps them win. 

See, here's how its used.
Dominant Man : Here's what we're going to do [Outlines plan]
Less Dominant Personality: Well, I think we should consider...
Dominant Men (waving his hand) No, no. We already decided what we're doing and that's it. Meeting adjourned. 
Now, the dominant man in this example is clearly being a jerk, but he doesn't care. He doesn't want to be loved. He wants to win*. 

*as he defines winning. I realize that many of us don't believe we've won if it requires us to be jerks, but the dominant personality in this example doesn't agree. 

** Also (and does this need to be said?) men aren't the only ones who dominate meetings and behave like jerks in the pursuit of a particular goal. Women do it, too. 

The counter-strategy suggested by the flyer I've posted above calls for the group to respond as follows:
Dominant Personality: Here's what we're going to do [Outlines plan]
Less Dominant Personality: Well, I think we should consider...
Dominant Personality (waving his hand) No, no. We already decided what we're doing and that's it. Meeting adjourned.
Other group members: Hey, wait. Let's hear the other point of view.  
On the face, that's fine, but there are some problems
  1. The poster, and the approach, put all the blame on men, and suggest that women are the victims. But like I said men interrupt other men all the time, and women interrupt men, too. The interrupting and appropriating problem has nothing to do with gender. It has to do with personality type.  Less dominant men also have a hard time being heard and getting their ideas across when a type-A personality of either gender is leading the meeting. Making this about gender is straight up mithandry.
  2. Getting everyone to gang up on the dominant man (or woman)  is - in of itself - a fine strategy, and there's nothing wrong with it per se. The problem is logistics: it relies on the cooperation of the other group members, which can be fleeting. Instead, the person who wants to be heard should take responsibility for solving the problem alone. He should train himself to be more dominant. The tricks that the dominant man (or woman) uses to control the conversation can be mimicked. And saying, "Stop interrupting me" or "Let me speak" works just fine most of the time. *
* Dominant men respect toughness. It seems counterintuitive, but if you stand up for yourself and speak to the dominant man directly, you're far more likely to get your point across and win his admiration and friendship. Inciting an anti-dominant man riot, on the other hand, is likely to make the dominant man into your enemy. 

The whole point of this exercise is to neuter dominant men so that less dominant personalities (of either gender) can gain an edge. That's fine. All for letting less dominant personalities be heard. Moreover, I understand that denying this and pretending what you're really doing is standing up for equal rights or whatever is also part of the strategy. But I don't like the dishonesty. Instead just be direct. You want to be heard. You want to be included. These are reasonable, respectable goals that should be clearly and forcefully articulated without any subterfuge and without taking the radical step of indicting all men for dominant personality behaviors exhibited by both genders.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Koran experts

I swear I'm not carrying any special brief for Allah but I go a little nuts when I see people in shul or on Twitter posing as Koran experts.

Not one of these Jewish geniuses has any Arabic or knowledge of the commentaries but this doesn't stop then from pontificating on "what the Koran really says."

They sound exactly like the anti-Semites who,  knowing one famous piece of Talmud about stealing from gentiles, are certain they've got the goods on Judaism. These frauds don't know any Aramaic or rishonim; as a result they are rightly laughed right out of the room. Shouldn't their Jewish doppelgangers be treated identically?

France PM: Jews should move to France where it's safe

Following the attack in Tel Aviv this morning which left 12 Jews injured, the prime minister of France publicly called on the Jews of Tel Aviv to move to Paris, saying:

"All Jews who want to immigrate to France will be welcomed here warmly and with open arms. We will help you in your absorption here in our state that is also your state.”

Just kidding. But how many points for awesome would that win? More importantly, it would make the point that "the world is a dangerous place" Zionists like Bibi are playing a cynical, self-serving game. They knowingly exaggerate the dangers of the diaspora because they need more Jews in Israel to offset the rapidly growing Palestinian population which - irony! -  threatens to make Israel the most dangerous place of all unless Israel works harder on winning their hearts and minds.

Well, I guess I understand the math: I agree that convincing Jews to move to Israel is a much easier sale than convincing Palestinians to accept occupation, disenfranchisement and the rest.

 Search for more information about why Bibi really wants Jews in Israel

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Richard Elliot Friedman and the two priests: A question

Over the long holiday weekend, I revisited WHO WROTE THE BIBLE, a shocking work of heresy, by Richard Elliott Friedman. Though I've read the book before, this time I decided to fact check. Specifically, I wanted to fact check the claims he makes about King David's two high priests.

What the bible says about David's two high priests
According to the bible, David appointed two high priests, Abiathar and Zadok. Abiathar is a descendant of Eli and a priest in Nob. Zadok is a descendant of Aaron, via Elazer and a resident of Hebron, which is identified in Chronicles as a possession of Aaron's children. As David lay dying Zadok supported Solomon, while Abiather supported Adonijah. After Solomon took the throne, he expelled Abiather from Jerusalem.

What Richard Elliot Friedman says
REF claims that there were two competing priestly circles, one that traced itself to Moses and the other that traced itself to Aaron. He believes that Abiathar was a Moses-priest, while Zadok was an Aaron priest and that both were appointed co-pontiffs during the fragile moment of David's ascension because the new king needed to satisfy both parties. REF suggests that over the following centuries certain parts of the bible were written by the in-power Aaronic priests, while other parts were written by the out-of-power Moses priests and that their competing agendas, perspectives and political interests are reflected in the texts that are attributed to them. Several chapters of examples and arguments are provided by REF in WWTB.

My problems
I've satisfied myself that Zadok was an Aaron priest. He's identified as a resident of Hebron, an Aaron city and elsewhere his lineage is traced back to Eleazer. Solidifying the argument that Abiather was a Moses priest, however, is much harder. For starters, we don't have any verses that I can find which trace him back to Moses. The only named ancestor of Abiather is Eli, who was a priest in Shiloh. The only thing i can find that connects Eli or Shiloh to Moses is the fact that Samuel, as descendant of Levi (but not of Moses) trained at the Shiloh shrine under Eli. But that's a pretty week connection.

Can anyone tighten this up, or was REF straight out fabricating?

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Friday, January 16, 2015

Portraying the Prophet

A guest post by Y. Bloch

Yes, this post will contain images of the Prophet, but not Muhammad. Instead, I'd like to talk about the first person ever selected by God to be a prophet, navi in Hebrew--that would be the guy on the left.
Cause I be frontispiecin, yo!
Cause I be frontispiecin, yo!
Yes, in this week's Torah portion, we witness God selecting a navi for the first time in Scripture, and it's Aaron (Exod. 7:1): "Then the LORD said to Moses, “See, I make you as God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet."

Prophet in Greek, like navi in Hebrew, refers to a speaker. In this analogy, Moses and Aaron are God and prophet, as Moses has doubts about his own oratorical skills. This parallels what we read last week (4:15-16):
You are to speak to him and put the words in his mouth; and I, even I, will be with your mouth and his mouth, and I will teach you what you are to do. Moreover, he shall speak for you to the people; and he will be as a mouth for you and you will be as God to him.
So a prophet is God's spokesman, the divine mouthpiece, the heavenly press secretary. He takes the celestial communique and presents it in a way that the audience will listen to.
This concept is essential to understanding the gap we often find between our ethical standards and the words of Scripture. Rabbi Dr. Zev Farber writes about this eloquently on, in his "Marrying Your Daughter to Her Rapist: A Test Case in Dealing with Morally Problematic Biblical Laws."
The Torah contains a number of laws that fly in the face of modern ethical notions. In certain ways, this is similar to the question of science and Torah, where many admit that the Torah expresses notions of the universe that contradict modern science. Although a significant number of people in the Orthodox world have made peace with the fact that the Torah speaks in the language of its times when it comes to science, the question is all the more pressing when it comes to ethics, especially for people who find themselves inhabiting both the Torah and modern worlds.
Rabbi Farber notes that the Sages themselves reinterpreted many of the Torah laws which they found morally troubling. But that doesn't solve the issue of why God would gives us such laws in the first place. So, building on the conceptual framework of Professor Tamar Ross, he argues:
But if, as Ross and others have argued, we assume that prophecy is not meant to be understood as a verbal revelation from God to the prophet, but—to use my language—as a tapping into the divine flow, then understanding the historical and intellectual context of the author/prophet is vital. Once we admit that any divine message is refracted through a human perspective, then by definition, the divine message will be incomplete and subject to the perspectives and comprehension of the prophet.
The problem with this approach, of "tapping into the divine flow," is not only that it makes God extremely passive, but that it seems to ignore the role of the people. (Rabbi Farber brings the latter issue up parenthetically.) Consider the compulsion described by Amos (3:8): "The lion has roared-- who will not fear? The Sovereign LORD has spoken-- who can but prophesy?" The prophet does not go out into the wilderness seeking to commune with the divine, dowsing for the word of God--he is gripped by an almost autonomic need to convey his message to the nation.
Using the Amramite example, would we say Aaron was tapping Moses' flow? Moses' problem is not understanding God, but being understood by the people. Thus, if we triangulate God, prophet and people when confronting an idea that seem ethically untenable, we should not find fault with the prophet's limitations, but rather with the people.
Indeed, the role of the navi is not just to convey God's word to the people, but to advocate for them. He knows how to speak not only for God, but also to God.
This is quite evident when we go back to the first person to be referred to as a navi, Abraham. God calls him by this title not when He first reveals Himself, indeed not when speaking to Abraham at all, but rather to Abimelech (Gen. 20:7):
Now therefore, restore the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not restore her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.”

Now, how bizarre is to picture this: God is speaking to Abimelech about what he needs to do to save himself from divine wrath for the kidnapping of Sarah: 1) release Sarah; 2) ask Abraham to pray for him. So God is telling Abimelech to tell Abraham to tell God to heal Abimelech? This seems circular, until we consider the power of the prophet: he alone can put a message in the proper words, shaping it for his audience--even if that audience is Omnipotent and Omniscient.
The role of the prophet is an integral one. But ultimately, prophecy was taken from us, and it is now we people who must do our best, using the revelations of long ago, the facts of today, and the compass of our conscience to figure out what God wants.
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Thursday, January 15, 2015


This morning I started a hashtag game on Twitter at #howyouknowyoureinaShteeble that enjoyed a brief but solid run thanks to the support of @efink @heathenhassid @marksofla @avbronstein and others.

Here are the two that had the most favorites

For your amusement, and perhaps your education as well, I present some of the best of the rest . (They are in no particular order. I don't know how this collection thing works and some of the best ones are at the bottom. If you played and feel I missed yours, no problem. Let me know, and I will add it.)