Tuesday, March 03, 2015

All About the Benjamins

A guest post by Y. Bloch
Analogies are hard.

Some wags in the late 90s thought that the Lewinsky scandal was a modern Purim story, with Monica as ingenue Esther, Bill Clinton as insatiable Ahasuerus and Hillary as imperious Vashti. Fair enough, but what about Haman, the villain of the piece? Apparently relying on the fact that Iran and Iraq indisputably share 75% of their letters, Saddam Hussein was cast.

In the 2000s, we got a Persian who certainly could play the role, and not just because his last name is an anagram for "I, jaded Haman": Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But the man who became famous for declaring that "Israel will be wiped off the map" and "There are no Persian carpet munchers" (your translation may vary) left office almost two years ago. (I know, a President Mahmoud A. who leaves office when his term is up--those Shiites give up so easily!) The most you can say about his successor, Hassan Rouhani, is that he's an inconsistent New Year's tweeter.

Then The Speech was announced. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu coming to the most prestigious chamber of the world's sole superpower, unbidden, to beg and supplicate for his people to be saved from the ministers of Persia. And doing it on the Fast of Esther! How perfect is that?

Except it's not the Fast of Esther, because that's the 13th of Adar, not the 12th. And even here in Israel, where it will be after sunset when the speech starts, the fast doesn't begin until the next morning. And the Fast of Esther does not commemorate when Esther went before Ahasuerus, which was on Passover, eleven months earlier. And--

You know what, never mind. As I said, analogies are hard. I understand why some are comparing Bibi to Esther. But I think the closer analogue is Mordecai.

And about that... Now, I don't embrace Ayalon Eliach's Haaretz hit-piece, "Mordechai the villain," but he does raise some interesting questions. The text does seem to indicate that Mordecai has no trouble hiding (denying) his Jewish identity until Haman comes on the scene, and this seems to be his main concern with Esther over the previous decade. The comfort with which we accept Esther's being "taken" because Mordecai ultimately gets wealth and prestige in return does the beg the question of how we would look at Sarah's abductions if the God had not intervened.

But the greatest service that Eliach does is remind us of the view of Rava, 4th-century Babylonian sage, who has a somewhat ambiguous view of Mordecai. The Talmud (Megilla 12b-13a) is trying to explain the fact that Mordecai is identified both as a Jew (from the tribe of Judah) and a Benjamite (from the tribe of Benjamin) when he is first mentioned (Est. 2:5). Rava comments:
The community of Israel explained [the two designations] in the contrary sense: ‘See what a Judean did to me and how a Benjamite repaid me!’ What a Judean did to me, viz., that David did not kill Shimei from whom was descended Mordecai who provoked Haman. ‘And how a Benjamite repaid me’, viz., that Saul did not slay Agag from whom was descended Haman who oppressed Israel.
In other words, the Jewish community is equally annoyed at two kings from the Book of Samuel: Saul for not killing Haman's ancestor, and David for not killing Mordecai's ancestor.
Shocking, certainly. But let's consider another aggadic source (Yalkut Shimoni 1054):
They said to him: Know that you cause us to fall by the sword. What did you see to abrogate the king's command?
He said: For I am a Jew.
They said to him: But surely we find that your forefathers bowed down to his forefathers, as it is stated: 'And he bowed down to the ground seven times' (Gen. 33:3).
He said to them: My forefather, Benjamin, was in his mother's womb and did not bow down, and I am his descendant, as it is stated: 'a Benjamite' (Esther 2:5). Just as my forefather did not bow, so I do not bow or bend…
R. Benjamin bar Levi said: "I am the knight of the Holy One, blessed be He; does a knight bow down before a commoner?"
In other words, according to Yalkut Shimoni, Mordecai's refusal to bow before Haman is not due to his Judaism (since Halakha allows this), but due to his tribal pride.

But even if Mordecai is less than perfect (in the view of some sages), we can no doubt say that he saves his people. The Book of Esther ends with a glorious act of self-defense!

Let's look at what does finally happen on the 13th of Adar (Est. 9:1-5):
The enemies of the Jews had hoped to rule over them, and it was turned that the Jews rule over those hating them — the Jews were assembled in their cities, in all provinces of the king Ahasuerus, to put forth a hand upon those seeking their evil, and no man stood in their presence, for their fear had fallen on all the peoples. And all heads of the provinces, and the lieutenants, and the governors, and those doing the work that the king had, were lifting up the Jews, for a fear of Mordecai had fallen upon them... And the Jews smote among all their enemies — a smiting of sword, and slaughter and destruction — and did with those hating them according to their pleasure.
So whom did the Jews kill? Antisemites, certainly--those who hated them. This was a widespread phenomenon during the reign of Ahasuerus (see Ezra 4:6). But this was hardly an act of self-defense, but rather "for the Jews being ready at this day to be avenged of their enemies" (Est. 8:13). It is the Jews who mass, not their enemies. Consider just three points:
  1. The Jews are allowed "to cut off, to slay, and to destroy the whole force of the people and province who are distressing them, infants and women, and their spoil to seize" (8:11). What infants and spoils did the Jews need to defend themselves against? In practice, the Jews only kill men; but the decree is clearly designed to be the mirror image of Haman's decree, targeting Jew-haters instead of Jews, but not limited to self-defense.
  2. "Many of the peoples of the land were becoming Jews, for a fear of the Jews had fallen upon them" (8:17). Now, if they were scared of the Jews, and the Jews would only act in self-defense, how about just not attacking?
  3. "And Esther said, ‘If to the king [it be] good, let it be given also tomorrow, to the Jews who [are] in Susa, to do according to the law of today; and the ten sons of Haman they hang on the tree."' Now, that's the 14th of Adar, a day on which no one was ever allowed to attacked Jews. So why did the Jews go and kill 300 more men in the royal complex?
The confusion is probably due to the phrase "la'amod al nafsham," which many translate "to stand for their lives," i.e. to act in self-defense. But the phrase "al nafsham" recurs in 9:31, where it clearly means "for themselves"--the Jews accept Purim "for themselves and for their seed." They are meant "to stand for themselves"--to settle the score with their foes.

Mordecai the Benjamite is a complex figure. We would do well to study what he does in order to understand the nature of the threats we face today--and what motivates our response.

There's a reason it's the Book of Esther, after all.

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Monday, March 02, 2015

Hey GOP Jews, feeling betrayed?

Wow, but did Bibi Netanyahu throw all of you GOP Jews right under the bus during his speech to AIPAC today:
I deeply appreciate all that President Obama has done for Israel, security cooperation, intelligence sharing, support at the U.N., and much more, some things that I, as prime minister of Israel, cannot even divulge to you because it remains in the realm of the confidences that are kept between an American president and an Israeli prime minister. I am deeply grateful for this support, and so should you be.
Then he slams two of your sainted heros
In 1981, under the leadership of Prime Minister Menachem Begin, Israel destroyed the nuclear reactor at Osirak. The United States [UNDER SAINT RONALD REAGAN PBUH] criticized Israel and suspended arms transfers for three months. And in 2002, after the worst wave of Palestinian terror attacks in Israel's history, Prime Minister Sharon launched Operation Defensive Shield. The United States [UNDER SAINT GEORGE W. BUSH PBUH] demanded that Israel withdraw its troops immediately, but Sharon continued until the operation was completed. There's a reason I mention all these. I mention them to make a point. Despite occasional disagreements, the friendship between America and Israel grew stronger and stronger, decade after decade.
Before concluding by giving his middle finger to the idea that Obama has damaged the relationship
Ladies and gentlemen, Israel and the United States will continue to stand together because America and Israel are more than friends. We're like a family. We're practically mishpocha.
Now, disagreements in the family are always uncomfortable, but we must always remember that we are family. Rooted in a common heritage, upholding common values, sharing a common destiny.

And that's the message I came to tell you today. Our alliance is sound. Our friendship is strong. And with your efforts it will get even stronger in the years to come.
As I tweeted 

  1. to AIPAC: "I am deeply grateful for [OBAMA's] support, and so should you be." // Feeling betrayed GOP Jews??
  2. to AIPAC "I deeply appreciate all that [POTUS] has done for Israel" // 1000s of uberchacham GOP Jews now baffled
  3. to AIPAC: "[US-Israel] alliance is stronger than ever." Srsly Bibi? Every single one of GOP Jewish followers disagrees with you

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Shmuley's ad

The ad Shmuley Boteach put in the New York Times, likely paid for by Sheldon Adelson, continues to piss people off.

JPost: "The American Jewish Committee called it “revolting,” the Anti-Defamation League called it “spurious and perverse”, the Jewish Federations of North America called it “outrageous” and Josh Block, the president of The Israel Project, said it was “entirely inappropriate.” Also condemning it were the Orthodox Union, J Street, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative movement. In a combined statement, the leaders of the Reform movement’s various arms called it “grotesque,” “abhorrent” and a “sinister slur.”

See the IPF's response after the jump

If you missed it, the ad accuses a US ambassador of being soft on genocide and clearly was some misguided GOP thug's idea of payback for the ambassador's comments last week about Netanyahu's "destructive" decision to blow-up the US-Israel relationship in his pursuit of fame and power.

It's slightly off topic, but I do want to pause for a second to note that this trolling, slanderous, obnoxious advertisement was the work of someone who was using his own real name.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Lots of questions about a Rav Yose Midrash

Last night I saw a Midrash on Psalms that helps to illustrate some of what I wish my fellow Jews would understand about Midrashim.

You Light Up My Life

A guest post by Y. Bloch
  Parashat Tetzaveh, most people will tell you, begins with the mitzva of lighting the Menorah. There's only one problem: the Menorah is not mentioned at all. The location of the nightly lighting is "in the tent of meeting, outside the curtain (parokhet), in front of the testimony." The location, within the Sanctuary, seems to be an integral part of the mitzva.
If we look back at Parashat Teruma, we find that virtually every step is phrased in the second person singular--i.e., to Moses. But there are two exceptions, two cases in which the third person singular is used, "yaaseh otah," "he shall make it"--concerning the Menorah and concerning the hangings which close off the Sanctuary, the Parokhet and the Masakh. These hangings essentially ensure that the light of the Menorah does not leave the Sanctuary.
This stands in dramatic distinction to the Menorah of the Temple. Shlomo builds the Temple with "open closed windows" (I Ki. 6:4), explained by R. Hanina and R. Levi (Lev. Rabbah 31:6) as "narrowing inside, widening outside, in order to illuminate the world."
This is the difference between Mishkan and Mikdash. The Mishkan is a temporary structure, designed to be disassembled and reassembled for travel. It represents a nation--or a person--in the stage of development. Enlightenment at that point is quite insular. One is not ready to illuminate the world.
The Mikdash, on the other hand, represents permanence and maturity. It is literally set in stone. From such an environment, light may go forth to illuminate the entire world.

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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Look who was drunk tweeting tonight (maybe)

I know, I know I'm not here, but this was too awesome to keep to myself. In the Tweets that follow you will see the famous, and beloved John Podhoretz get all mad at me for making a joke about Fox, only, IRONY!, the joke I made about FOX was identical to a joke he had already made about MSNBC!!

Is the guy so humorlessly partisan that he can't recognize  something as funny if its  directed at his own team?

Note: Mr Mayer Fertig is mentioned here only because he re-tweeted the original Podhoretz joke.

Anyway, it came to an end here because he blocked me. Ah well.

Later guys...

For years, I've planned to use this song as my farewell. I even had a parody half-written in which I said "I don't believe in Slifkin... I don't believe in Mis-nagid...." It doesn't mean I've stopped believing in God - I haven't - or that I now worship Yoko - I don't - but it does mean a new phase has begun.

For most of the last ten years my head has been exploding with ideas for posts. During the first year, I put them onto the blog at a rate of seven or eight per day. I probably started slowing down as early as 2006, but I still had plenty of content. Days with more than one post didn't become unusual until rather recently. Now suddenly, unexpectedly, it feels like the well is dry.

Am I done? Have I really run out of posts? Only time will tell. It's very possible that I'll be right back here tomorrow, pounding out a new post just like I've done nearly every day for ten years. I like blogging. I like talking and arguing and interacting with all, ...erm most of you and I like the intellectual development those conversations have generated. I like the fact that so many of my old bad ideas about virtually everything have been corrected thanks to this blog.

Also, habits die hard. Quitting this blog may prove as difficult as quitting finger-nail biting.  Or, I may get back on Facebook and, reconnected with the amazing blog energy I've feasted on for the last ten years, I may embark on a new golden era, a new Summer of Love, as we called that small stretch of 2006 when it felt like this blog was the center of the Jewish blogging universe.

Or I may find myself busy, preoccupied and without anything new to add to the conversation, and another day will go by without something new from DovBear.

I honestly don't know. And I don't think I'm obligated to fix anything in stone. So yes, it may be business as usual tomorrow. It may turn out that what I've done today is simply sound out an idea, and empty out my head - both things I've done here hundreds of times before.

What I do know is that this blog and the people I met through it have changed my life. I'm not talking about trivial changes such as "Previously I thought this was true, now I think something else is true." I mean basic fundamental changes in how I see and think about the work. The cliche is to say that those changes have been for the better, but who really knows? Maybe I'd be better off unaware of how everything - ideas, tastes, genes - evolve over time. Maybe I'd be better off not knowing that society must be pluralist, because reality is plural. Maybe it would be better if I still thought that our customs, and even our laws, had some cosmic significance. Maybe it would be better if I didn't know the truth: They are significant because of what they mean to us, not because of what they mean to Him.

So while I like the smarter, better informed me, and I thank the readers for making it happen, who knows if I'm better off for it?

About regrets? Yes certainly I have a few. I wish the prim and proper establishment members of the blogosphere didn't loathe me. I wish that the worm hadn't turned and that everyone online still had the good sense to remain anonymous. I wish I'd controlled my temper in a million instances. And I wish that I'd done more to cultivate and maintain relationships with the people I met online who would have become good friends.

But mostly I wish that I had put ten years worth of energy into developing my real life brand, but as with everything else, who knows how that would have played out? Perhaps not for the good.

One last thing. I'm really proud of how this blog was an open forum for conversation about everything, and I'm very happy that so many bloggers got their feet wet or grew their audiences by commenting or guest blogging here. A partial list would include Godol Hador, OrthoMom, Amshinover, Shira, Rafi of Life in Israel, Shanna, Lippman, Eliyahu Fink and so many others.

Right, so I may be back tomorrow. In which case forget I said any of this. Kay? Good.

Thanks guys. For every last thing.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

#floodgate lessons

I suppose I owe it to you to say a few words about the #floodlibel, but what do I have to add? In brief, a spurious report, originating from irresponsible sources, alleged that Israel caused a destructive flood in Gaza by opening some dams. The story was picked up by a few, more responsible outlets, and like many lies, made it halfway around the world before the truth got its boots on.

See, Israel has no dams in that area. (I checked.)

What can we learn from this? Not much.

We already knew journalists are lazy. They like to piggy-backing on someone else's work and will often pick-up stories someone else has written.

We already knew that individual journalists carry biases. Like every human being who has ever lived, reporters are subjective creatures who often look for ways to reinforce their existing beliefs or to promote their pet causes. The journalistic process is supposed to act as a check on this, but it doesn't always work.

We already knew that Israel is no longer the darling of the progressive world To some extent Israel has done this to itself by embracing regressive, thuggish policies. And though that explains why some journalists approach Israel with a negative eye, its no excuse for the shoddy work that was on display yesterday or for the complete abdication of ordinary journalistic standards. Remember, we can expect bias from reporters, but the process is supposed to ensure that those biases don't lead to journalistic malpractice.

Finally,we already knew that the RWers were going to make this into more than it is. Though there were some failures yesterday, most media outlets - including the liberals ones - ignored the story. Others, notably the Daily Mail, which I must say at first did an absolutely terrible job, quickly corrected their errors. Most of the really indefensible reporting came from publications no one considers reputable and (like Russia Today) aren't generally considered left-wing.

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Chofetz Chaim Footage


I imagine most readers have already seen this newly found footage of R. Israel Meir Kagan (1839–1933), popularly known as the Chofetz Chaim.

There is this "modern" looking fellow in a bowtie, who at the last moments of this section of the clip, runs up to the camera to cover it with two hands. 

You can see bow tie outside of the gate even after the CC walks through:

Here he is clearly rushing towards the camera :

This fellow rushes back seemingly to block or stop bow tie, but he pushes through: 

And here he is about to ruin the footage: 

  • Was he connected to the CC entourage?

  • Why did someone try to stop him from getting past the CC?

  • Was he acting on knowledge that the CC was unhappy about being videotaped?

  • Was he just a random loon?

Friday, February 20, 2015

The only three thoughts you need to enjoy Parshas Terumah

Terumah is one of a few parashot that we moderns find mind-numbingly boring. The whole thing reads like a construction plan. What's the point? And I say this as someone who does not dislike HGTV. Still, all that endless detail about hooks and rings and curtains... it's a little much, no?

Here are the thoughts that come back to me every year as I suffer through the tedium:

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Jeb stabs America in the back

Good job Jeb! Simpering before a foreign leader and disloyaly supporting him against your own president are exactly the traits and behaviors we expect from the next leader of the free world.

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Gulliani offends the Jews

Yesterday, the former mayor of New York accused the president of insufficiently loving America. Crazy stuff, right? I mean Obama (like every president) spends his every waking moment thinking about how to make America stronger and better, and Giuliani wants us to believe this supreme effort isn't the product of extreme patriotism?

But amazingly his comment about Obama wasn't the stupidest or most offensive thing he said yesterday:
You criticize Christianity for the part of Christianity that is wrong. I’m not sure how wrong the Crusades are. The Crusades were kind of an equal battle between two groups of barbarians
Here Giuliani is guilty of exactly the same sin Obama is alleged to have committed. He mentions the Crusades, but can't seem to remember that the Crusaders specifically targeted Jews!!  In fact, he doesn't think the Crusades, which included the massacre of several Jewish communities, were wrong!

Will the random-gate people make a commotion? No. And why? Either because Giuliani (thank God) is a nobody, and not worth the time to criticize,  or because they can't overcome their own pro-Giuliani biases.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Part 2 of yesterday's Messiah post

The most basic Jewish idea of Moshiach, that is the core belief found in most, if not all the interpretations, predictions and writings on the subject, is that when Moshiach arrives (whatever that means; more below) things are going to be GOOD.
  • We don't know what laws or practices will be brought back, or discontinued. 
  • We don't know if life will change dramatically with a new supernatural order being introduced, or if things will carry on pretty much as they did before.
  • We don't even know if the Temple service will be restored. (Authorities argue about all these points; anyway their predictions have no influence over how reality, over time, unfolds.) 
  • In fact, if we're going to be honest and precise, we don't even know if "Messiah" is an authentic Jewish idea going back to Sinai. The whole thing might be the invention of disappointed, impatient and tired-of-being-persecuted Jews during the Persian or Greek periods.[*] 
All we do know, and I mean really know, is this one thing: Whenever a Jewish thinker made a prediction, or shared a deduction about Moshiach he always, always, always predicted or deduced that things post-Moshiach would be GOOD.

So let's go with that.

In my post yesterday, I made my own prediction. I said that, unless God magically lobotomizes everyone,  Moshiach and his followers will crack down on those Jews who were expecting a different kind of Moshiach, and aren't ready to accept the New Order. I imagined that Moshiach would inevitably advocate a style of Judaism that some other Jews would find intolerable and that infighting would be the inevitable result. 

I still think there is something to that, but I recognize its not the only possible outcome. 

See, maybe Moshiach doesn't come on a donkey. Maybe "Moshiach" is a word to describe the goodness that results as mankind gets its act together. I don't know if we're there yet, but our Southern States are certainly closer to Moshiach then they were when Jim Crow was the rule of their land. We may have miles to go, but Russia is closer than it was 30 years ago, isn't it? 

As mankind improves, and puts away its ancient prejudices and pettiness, aren't we getting closer to the GOOD? Might that be what's meant by Moshiach? People getting along, and treating one another with justice? 

Moshiach may not appear in the Pentateuch or the Prophets, but this idea that Zion is only redeemed with justice, and that we're all going to suffer until the widow and the orphan are treated properly is everywhere in those books. Everywhere.

[*]I am aware the Talmud and virtually every Jewish thinker of note  - from the Mishna on - thought Moshiach was an old, old Jewish idea. However, what can't be denied is that no mention of him appears until Daniel (though hints are discovered in other books) and that nothing overt is said about him, or what he will do anywhere in the Hebrew bible. If you're of a skeptical bent, this is strange and troubling, and perhaps strongly suggestive of something at least quasi heretical.  

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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Do you really long for the arrival of the Messiah? Think about this question carefully.

Do you really long for the arrival of the Messiah? Think about this question carefully.

There are many views about what the Messiah will do. Among the Orthodox, the most common expectation is that when the Messiah arrives the whole world, or at least the whole of Jewry, will live under the law of the Torah.

This is less cool than it sounds. 

Living according to Torah law means bringing back kings, and permitting slavery. It means permitting child marriage and polygamy and several brutal forms of execution. If the Messiah is a Haredi, his arrival also means the imposition of severe limitations on personal freedom and fewer rights and opportunities for women. A Haredi Messiah, with teachings that are in line with current Haredi ideology, would also mean the elimination of all the non-Torah industries and the widespread unemployment that would follow. All of the lawyers, entertainers, journalists, politicians and the people who depend on them will need new vocations.

But will the Messiah actually be Haredi? Unclear. He might be some other flavor of Orthodox Jew. Or perhaps he won't be Orthodox, at all. In any event, his arrival and anticipated preference for one expression of Judaism to the exclusion of all others will also mean the elimination of Jewish diversity. If you're like most Jews you sort of unreflectively expect that the messianic era means your sect will dominate, but how can you be sure? 

Perhaps the King Messiah will be a reform Jew. Perhaps he'll insist that all the familiar and cherished rabbinic pieties we've accumulated over the last 2000 years are invalid, or no longer needed. Will the Orthodox stand for that? And even if he's Orthodox, he might not be your kind of Orthodox. What if he's a Litvak? Will the Hasidic rebbes resign their authority and recognize his? Unlikely. And what if he's Satmar? Would Lubovitch stick around for a Satmar king? No chance.

In short, the whole beautiful idea of one unified Judaism under a universally accepted Jewish king sounds impossible unless quite a few heads are broken first. The King Messiah will need an army of secret police to root out and destroy all the competing flavors of Judaism, even within Orthodoxy. It will be like something out of an Orwellian nightmare, at least at until the opposition is defeated. Perform the wrong ritual, think the wrong thought, worship God in a way not authorized by the King, and you can expect severe punishment. That's the Torah way, isn't it? And no out-of-favor-sect will be safe. If the King is a Maimonidean all of you who believe in magic, demons, and specific divine providence will require re-education. Utter any of the well known, beloved prayers which reference the saving powers of angles, and the Maimonidean king will have not just the grounds, but the obligation, to execute you for heresy. And similar examples can easily be found no matter what style of king has the throne. Every Jewish sect does something terribly wrong by the lights of the other sects. Unless these real, entrenched, differences of opinion are made to magically disappear the king will be required to root out the opposition and to bring the rest of Judaism into line by force.

Are you really desirous of a Messianic era ushered in with vicious infighting and a murderous civil war? Given what you know about human nature, and the history of Judaism do you think it could happen any other way?

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Sunday, February 15, 2015

Why Rashi rearranges the verses about Na'aseh V'nishma

On Friday, I wrote that we don't know why Rashi rearranges the sequence of events at Har Sinai. Over Shabbos, I consulted Robert Alter and discovered the correct answer is both simple and obvious. Here's the verse from Exodus 24:1:
...וְאֶל־מֹשֶׁ֨ה אָמַ֜ר עֲלֵ֣ה אֶל־יְהוָ֗ה
Here's Alter's comment:
The form of the verb (perfective instead of the usual imperfective prefixed by waw) may well indicate a pluperfect, and Rashi, no doubt noting that what Moses does here is go up to the mountain and bring back God's words claims, "This passage was said before the Ten Commandments."
The significant nuance is lost in translation, but Alter's point is here the verb אָמַר means "had said" putting the events described in the passage in the past. Like Rashi, he reads Exodus 24:1 as "And God had said to Moses..." Also, noteworthy is that the usual verb for a divine command - וַיְדַבֵּ֣ר - is not employed here.

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Friday, February 13, 2015

When did we say Na'asheh V'nishma?

One of the more confusing disagreements is found at the end of Parshas Mishpatim. Though the sequence of events at Mount Sinai seem perfectly straightforward, one minority opinion rearranges them creating all sorts of interesting ramifications.

First, here is the chronology given by the verses 

1. Exodus 19: 1 – 25
Preparation for the revelation at Mount sinai. Various rules are given.

2. Exodus 20: 1- 17
The revelation at Sinai, and the announcement of the Ten Commandments

3. Exodus 20: 18 - 23:33
The "Ko Tomar" section in which God gives Moshe a set of commandments

  • 20: 18-22 Three mitzvos
  • 21:1-23:33 A long set of civil laws introduced with the phrase "And these are the mishpatim [ordinances]"

4. Exodus 24: 1-2
Two puzzling verses

And He said unto Moses, “Come up unto the Lord, thou and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and worship ye afar off.
And Moses alone shall come near the Lord; but they shall not come nigh, neither shall the people go up with him

5. Exodus 24: 3- 8
Moses announces the words of God and the mishpatim. A covenant ceremony is performed with blood splashed on the people. Sacrifices are offered and eaten. The leaders experience a divine revelation. The people proclaim Na'asheh V'nishma

6. Exodus 24: 9-18
Moshe goes up to Har Sinai as commanded in 24:1 - 2

According to Ramban, Ibn Ezra, Ohr Hachaim, and Rashbam this is the order of events at Har Sinai. Thus, the famous proclamation of Na'asheh V'nishma was declared after the torah was given.

There is one minority opinion that disagrees. According to Rashi, section #5 [Exodus 24: 3- 8] occurred at the same time as section #1 [Exodus 19: 1 – 25]. Thus, Naaseh V'nishma (along with the covenant ceremony, offerings and the meal and the divine revelation) occurred before the torah was given.

Why does Rashi re-arrange the sequence of events?

This is one of the big mysteries. Here are some of the answers, I've seen
  • In Exodus 24:1 Moses is told to "Come up to the Lord"; however according to the plain reading, he's already on the mountain when this command is given.
  • A covenant ceremony rightly belongs before the deal is executed. You sign papers, before you take possession of the house. So, too, the blood needs to be sprinkled before the Torah is received. 
  • The events of Exodus 24:2-8 sound like a second revelation, which Rashi would have found untenable. 
  • UPDATE: Thanks to Robert Alter, I now see that obvious and simple explanation. Its written up here
Why does it matter?

Lots of reasons. Here are some of the ramifications.
  • In Exodus 24:3, we're told that Moses gave over "the words of God" and the mishpatim [ordinances]. According to the straightforward reading these are all found in the Ko Tomar section [Exodus 20: 18 - 23:33] a large part of which is introduced with the words "And these are the mishpatim" If you read like Rashi, Exodus 24:3 occurred BEFORE that section and  can't be referring to it. As a result, Rashi is forced to reinterpret the words. He says the  "the words of God" are the regulations about staying away from women, and the mountain during the days before the revelation, while the mishpatim are the Noahide laws and the rules given at Marah. He does not explain why these laws were repeated at this juncture; not having this explanation leaves his answer unsatisfactory. 
  • As mentioned, it changes the timing and also the meaning of Naaseh V'nishma. According to Rashi, this declaration comes before the Torah is given and is an act of blind faith. According to everyone else, it is made after the torah was given, and means only we'll do (what we've heard so far) and we'll listen (to the rest of it).
  • It also changes the timing and the meaning of the feasting and revelations. According to Rashi, these acts are part of the preparation for the revelation. According to everyone else, these acts are themselves part of the revelation. The meal is one of celebration. In fact, Rabbeinu Bachaye says the post-revelation meal is identical to the meal hosted by the high Priest upon his successful completion of the Yom Kippur service.
  • Finally, it changes the view of the meal itself. According to Rashi, the meal was a sin, committed by just two of Aaron's sons, for which they were later punished. According to everyone else, the meal was a perfectly appropriate response to the wonderful events at Sinai, and it was enjoyed by all the leaders who simultaneously experienced a divine vision. 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Why the Jews aren't in the president's resolution

A proposal was sent by the White House to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to formally give the president the power to continue the airstrikes he has been conducting since last fall against the Islamic State. 

Let's count the things about this that are excellent
  1. Airstrikes against ISIS
  2. ISIs is referred to as a terrorist organization
  3. Congressional authorization requested, as per the constitution
  4. A three-year limit was requested, meaning the president can't pull a George W. Bush and attempt to wage a never-ending war was against a nebulous shape-shifting entity. 
But if you're a RWer nothing this president does is ever excellent. Of course the picky-sticky RW complainers found something to hate.

In the proposed resolution, which can be found here, the president gives 5 examples of terrible things ISIS has done:
  • Whereas ISIL leaders have stated that they intend to conduct terrorist attacks internationally, including against the United States, its citizens, and interests; 
  • Whereas ISIL has committed despicable acts of violence and mass executions against Muslims, regardless of sect, who do not subscribe to ISIL’s depraved, violent, and oppressive ideology; 
  • Whereas ISIL has threatened genocide and committed vicious acts of violence against religious and ethnic minority groups, including Iraqi Christian, Yezidi, and Turkmen populations; 
  • Whereas ISIL has targeted innocent women and girls with horrific acts of violence, including abduction, enslavement, torture, rape, and forced marriage; 
  • Whereas ISIL is responsible for the deaths of innocent United States citizens, including James Foley, Steven Sotloff, Abdul-Rahman Peter Kassig, and Kayla Mueller;
But because attacks against the Jews aren't included in this catalog of offenses, some on the RW have concluded that the president, who they take for a Jew-hating moron, doesn't realize that ISIS is also anti-Semitic. And instead of applauding the president for taking the action that they have been begging him to take* they are slaughtering him for the way that he worded the authorization request. 

* Our RW friends either don't know or refuse to acknowledge that under the leadership of a president they deride as feckless and weak, the US has carried out 80 percent of the air strikes against ISIS to date

As per usual, the RW is not being fair or reasonable. They prefer to bash Obama when the obvious answer in right  front of their nose. The war against ISIS requires help from countries like Jordan, Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Including Israel or the Jews in the resolution would invite pro ISIS propagandists to announce that the US is fighting a Zionist-sponsored war, making it impossible for our Arab allies to participate fully. 

By omitting Israel from the resolution, he invites criticism from haters and morons without jeopardizing needed support and assistance from the Arab world. Clearly, that's the right call. And if it had been made by a RW hero like George W. Bush you can be sure this would have been acknowledged.