Thursday, December 31, 2009

On Pot and Naturalism

Honestly, it's absurd to say that just because cannabis is natural it's ok to smoke it all the time. Who are we to say in what context it was meant to be smoked? Anyway, all the vices of the world are "natural". Grape fermentation is 'natural', coffee and chocolate beans are 'natural'. Respite is natural, steak is natural and beautiful people are natural, yet unrestrained appetites for sleep or food or cohabitation are also 'natural'. They've all existed since the beginning of time. That doesn't mean that it's not part of our duty as responsible human beings to beware of them, and to ensure we don't develop addictions to them. Thorns are 'natural'. Wild beasts are natural. Cliffs, are 'natural'...

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Papa and the Baba

I have borne witness recently, friends, to what seems to be a recurring theme among those who are relatively new to observant Judaism attempting to marry those who come from more observant families: the guy and the girl are perfectly fine with each other, notwithstanding the difference in their backgrounds, but when it comes time for the Baal Teshuva to be accepted into the religious family, one of the parents is adamantly opposed to such objectionable seed sullying the purity of their clan. The saga usually ends with the family seeking the councel of a Rosh Yeshiva or Mekubal, and discovering that their concerns were well-founded, since the authority figure is usually also in opposition to such unions.

To me the whole thing smacks of a pre-Fiddler on the Roof era; for even in that film, in all three marriages neither the father nor the community had much say in the face of love. To most (unorthodox) Jews today this phenomenon seems quite arcane, yet it's still "מעשים בכל יום" in our religious community "עד עצם היום הזה".

Yet what if a great man, say a descendant of the Abuhassera lineage, ..or your Rosh Yeshiva, ...or the Rebbe of Lubavitch בכבודו ובעצמו, after having been approached by you with the question of whether or not to cave in to parental pressure to turn down a prospective match with whom you've already developed an emotional relationship, tells you to listen to your elders and back down. Would you heed and does it make sense to heed?

It seems to boil down to how much supernatural Divine Inspiration and knowledge, or lack thereof, we aspire to this person, and whether their insights into our lives are true. Yet those who would wish to ascribe such inspiration to these men would use as proof the precept in Avot which states "עשה לך רב והסתלק מן הספק". But this proof insn't entirely convincing, since that Mishna may just be discussing "מילי דשמיא" (heavenly matters), but not necessarily the idea that one must heed a spiritual authority for "מילי דארעא" (earthly matters).

In regard to the latter, which is the topic of discussion here, the concept of "Da'at Torah" must be referred to. You see, many today feel that it's obvious that you must heed the guidance of your Rav in all matters, but upon a critical analysis it can be determined that many are of the opinion that Daat Torah is a relatively recent phenomenon, created by the modern Haredi group as a reaction to modernity.

While that may be true for Ashkenazim though, it is well known that Moroccan Jews always approach their Mystics, the "Mekubal" or "Baba" for advice in temporal matters, and that advice was always heeded. Unfortunately though, I think it is to our shame that we not only brought this institution to Israel, but it became quite popular among religious and irreligious Sefaradim alike, evolved into "big business" and provided opportunity for charlatans. Not to suggest that most Mekubalim in Israel are charlatans, but it is not unheard of. So not only have we, as Moroccan Jews in Israel, not stamped out these false notions, we promulgated them like never before.

Anyway, I grew up on American imagery and conceptualization, where if a man and a woman are in love, they don't let anything get in the way ( in Fiddler on the Roof). Therefore to blindly trust Rabbinic authorities in these matters, is, in my opinion, not only somewhat foolish, but has no basis in Torah.

I wish to speak about this further in the future, in relation to how it affects the halachic process.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Not a Deaf Ear on the Blind Night

As many of you may know, friends, tonight the Christians celebrate the commemoration of the birth of their Deity; Christmas. For the moment I'm not quite interested in discussing Christmas itself, though I admit it's an interesting topic, especially for those of the "Judeo-Christian" tradition.

Though traditionally Christmas has never quite been a rosy time for the Jews, most Jews today seem to celebrate Christmas in one way or another. From going to Christmas eve concerts to reveling in Christmas carols to Chasidic "Shalishsudis"s with Coca Cola bottles that have an absurdly out of place picture of an overly-merry, red-cheeked Santa on the wrapper.

My own form of involvement in this holiday is the aforementioned Christmas carol binges. It should be stated though that the idea of listening to and taking pleasure in songs sung for the glory of a foreign Deity is at least somewhat questionable from a halachic perspective. Yet it's essentially not a question of Christmas songs themselves, but of the music specific to any religion outside of our own, especially those with Pagan leanings. The "G-d of Israel" is in fact known to be very concerned about proper theology, but is there any room for lenience for songs of this nature?

Now, I can't go into the actual halachic specifics of the topic, but suffice it to say that I am generally lenient on religious songs of other monotheistic traditions as long as there is no mention of explicitly polytheistic ideas, even if the the premise of the entire religion is semi-polytheistic. This lenience, in my opinion, is very Maimonidean in origin. He was a proponent of an unprecedented amount of theological inclusion and acceptance.

As you may have noticed, I included some of the Christmas songs I'm fond of on the sidebar. I thought the red color would be amusing, but the truth is I myself find it to be of objectionable taste. Nonetheless, I wish to say a few words about some of these songs separately:

1) The Little Drummer Boy: The first song I wish to mention is this pleasant little tune written early in the previous century by the lovely American composer Katherine Davis. This song, I feel, more than the other Christmas songs, is not only evocative of the most sublime Jewish ideals, but in a strong sense are more typical of Chasidic ideas. For those who are not aware, the song is a narrative of a boy who is stuck in the predicament of having to greet the king, whom everyone else is bestowing lavish gifts to, with nothing but his drum. When his turn comes to greet the monarch, he decides that his best option is to play his drum as best he can, which ultimately finds favor with the king. The meaning of the parable is obvious; the object of Divine service is not "how much" we have to offer G-d, but to be fully sincere with what we actually do. As it says in Avot: אחד המרבה ואחד הממעיט ובלבד שיכוין לבו לשמיים.

There is a well known Chasidic tale told about Rabbi Yisrael ben Eliezer of Medzibizh that bears a great similarity to this: during the Yom Kippur prayers the "Baal Shem" refused to continue because he felt that there was something impeding their prayers. At that moment an unlearned village boy entered and played his flute as a form of prayer, not knowing that such performance is prohibited on the holy day. Yet instead of criticize this boy, the Baal Shem Tov exclaimed that is was this boys absence that was impeding their prayers, and with this performance they can rest assured their payers are reaching heaven's gates.

2) It Came Upon a Midnight Clear: While obviously discussing Christmas, this nineteenth century melody, written by Edmund Sears has no direct reference to Pagan G-ds (probably having something something to do with his being a Unitarian minister). Although this song was written partly as a melancholy critique of his overly materialistic society, it embodies a lot of the positive aspects of Christmas's current form, the main one being to increase in friendliness as the world becomes more desolate (as Christmas takes place in the dead of the winter). The song also beautifully contrasts the mundanity of life with the spiritual ecstasy of the angels, and ends with a yearning for the era of the Redemption.

3) O Come O Come Emmanuel: A metrical version of one of the Antiphons, the hymn was translated into English by John Mason Neale, again, in the nineteenth century. Although the song refers to the Christian god and is directed to him, from a non-Christian standpoint the song is simply about G-d, Israel and the coming Redemption. It's a prayer to and about the Jewish Messiah, to come and save Israel from it's plight in the exile. Essentially the song has surprisingly Jewish themes (aside from the whole "son of god" thing!), the last line for example reads "Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai's height, In ancient times did'st give the Law, In cloud, and majesty and awe. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel. Shall come to thee, O Israel".

4) Carol of the Bells: Translated from Mykola Leontovych's Ukrainian. The significance of this song is more melodical that lyrical, but again, just the idea that people should be kinder at the height of the winter and not miserable is a legitimate idea.

[The title of this post by the way, is based on a now obsolete Eastern European Jewish term for Chistmas, "בלינדע נאַכט" (Blind Night), now replaced by the more common "ניטל נאַכט".]

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

חלום משה בנו יעקוב

During Chanukah I happened upon a cheap edition of a book I'd been looking for: an earlier, dialogue version of Luzzato's ethical opus, Messilat Yesharim. Many of his works were in dialogue form, but this particular work he later felt would work better in a condensed form, and as a monologue (which is all we've known about until a decade ago, when the earlier version was found in a Russian antiquities library). This event is what got me thinking recently of the Ramchal and his influence on later movements.

You see, as is evidenced in his preface (to both works), what the Ramchal would really like to see is people using the same energy, the same logic, the same hair-splitting analyses and the same studiousness not only in the study of the Talmud, but much more so in the study of ones own spiritual existence. That idea is not really mentioned later in the work, but it's the premise of everything he says; to have a regular "seder-iyyun" for "mussar".

What's funny is that while it's known that his works, and especially this work, deeply influenced Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, the founder of the "Mussar Movement" and the generations of thinkers and yeshivot that followed in his path, and even the main opposer of Chassidut when it first emerged, the Gaon of Vilnius, but it's less known that they, in a quieter way, influenced the founding of the Chassidic Movement as well. While Rabbi Yisrael ben Eliezer of Medzhybizh himself was a contemporary of Luzzato, it's difficult to pinpoint Luzzato's influence in his thought, though it is definitely there. One Chassidut in which the influence of Luzzato is still obvious today is, I think, Chassidut Chabad. Anybody in a Chabad Beit Midrash would tell you that an essential difference between them and their non-Chassidic counterparts is the stress and time they put into the study of "spirituality" and proper character training, which is essentially the wish of Luzzatto.

His Kabalah was a little more popular among some Chassidic thinkers. Rabbi Dov Ber of Mezeritch for example, commanded the printing of Luzzattos "Kalach Pitchei Chochmah", though some Rebbes (such as (the ninteenth century) Rabbi Menachem Mendel (Schneersohn) of Lyubavichi, frowned upon or prohibited it's study.

Luzzatto also affected other movements, such as the Zionist and the Reform: as H. N. Bialik was want to mention that "he was the father of the schools of thought of the 'Gra', the 'Besht', 'Ben Menahem' (Moses Mendelssohn) and in him lies the beginning of our own literary development (i.e. that of the "Maskilim"). It's also known that the writings of Rav Kook are based on a synthesis of the ideas of the Gra and the Ramchal. He once said "I feel like I'm a gilgul of Luzzatto".

It's always confused me that so many different groups affiliate with him. Which is really true to his ideology? Well, the reality is that most of his work was in kabbalah (something Graetz criticizes him for), so his true ideology is really quite steeped in mysticism, but he has another side, a "Nigla" side. An ethical side. And most of that side is revealed in both Messilat Yesharims....which is why I'm considering again writing on my blog dedicated to that book, but this time contrasting it with the dialogue version.

..I think the part of my brain that generates conclusions has been removed or something...

Sunday, December 20, 2009

הָקֵם תָּקִים

אין ספק שלעזור לאדם לשחרר את גלגלי מכוניתו מן השלגים הינו בכלל "כִּי תִרְאֶה חֲמוֹר שֹׂנַאֲךָ רֹבֵץ תַּחַת מַשָּׂאוֹ..." ו"הָקֵם תָּקִים עִמּוֹ". ח

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Lomo on Chanukah - '09

I was just looking over my Chanukah post from last year, and while it does badly need to be rewritten, the core idea is correct.

One quirky little idea I've been pondering about Chanukah thus far this year is how different the historical reality of those times are from the historical setting I once imagined: when I think Chanukah I usually think Jews against Greeks, and the Greeks being at the height of their empire and having no rivals. In the meantime the reality of Chanukah is far more complex and unexpected than one would imagine: The original "Greek" conquerors weren't even Greeks but Macedonians who despised real Greeks, and the height of Greek culture had passed long ago (people like Aristotle had lived in the First Temple period, well before there was any Greek Empire, and Antiochus VI was one of the last great Seleucid kings).

One also imagines the Persians as having stepped into the historical background long before then, but they were still very much around at this time. The very same Persians who allowed for the Second Temple to initially be constructed, were in fact, Antiochus's main difficulty outside of the Judeans (he actually died waring against the Persians). The funny thing about the people of Iran is that they keep appearing in history under different names: Medes, Parthians, Sassanids etc. And the Romans, whom one thinks of as having thrived later in history were also very active at that time, and even made a pact with the Haasmonean Judeans against the Seleucids and Helenized Judeans. Since it was essentially some sort of civil war among the Judeans themselves, and the Seleucid king only came at the behest of the (Judean) Tobiads, who were at odds with the Onias/Hasmonean party, which represented the majority of the people, and who favored the Seleucid rival, the Egyptian Ptolemaic kingdom (who, after all, were just as Greek as the Seleucids, and were also an impediment to Judah's autonomy, yet was still preferred over the latter). All these historical complications are what make reading the Book of Maccabees so difficult: "We know the story, the oil burnt for eight days. What's all this with Onias and Romans?"!

I wouldn't have posted this since it bears no lesson,'s better than nothing!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

…This is Man

[In the picture: SS officers in the Auschwitz camp who, despite their busy day murdering millions of our ancestors, find the time to take a pleasant afternoon nap.]

My mind, friends, works in tangents. Seeing a topic discussed in one media makes me interested in finding out about it in another. For example: As a result of my having seen the film The Boy in the Striped Pajamas I became interested in "the Holocaust" in general. One thing that incited my interest was the fact that Jewish critics of the novel/film mentioned have a number of complaints about it regarding the authenticity with which it describes the Holocaust. One exceedingly obvious thing in the film is that the camp inmates aren't emaciated (kind of hard to do that with makeup). Another film I had seen which had questionable representations of the Holocaust was a BBC film ("television play" actually) entitled G-d On Trial (actually pretty interesting).

From there I chanced upon a very well known book that I had heard nothing about; Primo Levi's If This is Man, foolishly published in the United States under the title Survival in Auschwitz). I hadn't even known that Levi was "in the Holocaust". The book, of course, was quite interesting, and it fulfilled one of the main purposes I was reading; getting a real and accurate description of the Nazi concentration and death camps. It's a very detailed description that a movie wouldn't really be able to represent anyway; how cold it was, or how uncomfortable it is to march all day in wooden shoes or in the freezing rain wearing nothing but a shirt and trousers. He speaks about it from the perspective of a thoughtful individual, not a complainer, and he covers many of the great philosophical issues the ordeal brings up.

Once I’m already involved in this, I think I might read his work of labor-camp-inspired poetry, entitled "Shma" in America, as well as Elie Wiesel’s Night; a book I couldn't imagine reading in high school, where it was assigned to me. I might also watch Schindler’s List, a film that, again, I would have found ruthlessly boring in the past.

But from whence comes my newfound interest in the Holocaust? I must admit that I originally, like most people, found no good reason in researching it too much or being obsessed with it. One of my main reasons was that "holocaust studies" should not be what defines Judaism for Jews in America, and non-Jews find Jews who are "too" interested in the holocaust to be of ill taste. They feel that the world has heard quite enough about the holocaust, and that it's not quite the most fascinating or cheery subject to start with. While I still agree that these are legitimate concerns (among other, legitimate, concerns) my feelings about the German solution to the judenfrage changed with age. I used to see the holocaust, as some still do, as something that happened in some primordial past of the 1930's-40's, regarding events about which legends abound in shuls and batei midrash every ninth of Av, and seems to be as distant as the churban itself. Though when I became older and more interested in past events, the 40's didn't seem like so long ago. In fact as far as technological advancements of the 20's century go, it was really very much like today; there were telephones, refrigerators, cars, airplanes etc. Essentially it was very recent. In that case then, its occurrence becomes all the more unbelievable. In the environment that I grew up in (yeshivot), the fact that the 'Goyim' wanted to exterminate the Jews was a given; they're inherently evil, there's nothing to talk about. Yet if we're dealing with the center of world culture, a place where Jews had played an important part in he previous war, a place where Shai Agnon felt safe and comfortable, a place where even he who's philosophy became the cornerstone for Nazism, Friedrich Nietzsche, was violently opposed to German Anti-Semites, that such a country would, just a few years ago, annihilate countless of it's law-abiding citizens within a few years is difficult to comprehend. ..which is the main place from which interest in the holocaust generally stems.

It's not a question of the Jews then, but a question the Germans seem to pose about humanity; not a "Judenfrage", but a "Menschfrage". In fact it was not only Jews that the Germans wanted to annihilate: the very founding of the death camps was for the purpose of eradicating the Slavs. In the long run, the Germans essentially wished to conquer the Eastern European states, eradicate and enslave the native populations, and build German colonies which would eventually become part of Germany (all of which actually happened on a small scale. Auschwitz was to become just one of these future German cities). It’s the enth degree of the colonialist ideology: "If the Americans can wipe out countless of innocent natives because they are 'savages', use their land as lebensraum and bring innocents from the African continent to work for them, and if France and Britain can colonize the relatively civilized countries of the Arab world and India, who's to say we can't remove and enslave the Untermenschen and replace them with ourselves" they would say. It's really just an extension of the same principle, but a very hard concept for any 'Modern' to swallow. ..which is why this can't become a stale or abhorrent subject, but rather one which requires diligent study, for, as I often say, any society, especially that of America, could go downhill like Germany did, and turn on it's minorities who, in some parts of America, seem to almost exclusively be Jews. And besides, the views of contemporary non-Jews on the Holocaust should be concerning enough to us: when they hear tha six million Jews died, instead of saying "how could this happen?", many of them call the Jews liars. They say "it was not six million Jews that perished, as the Jews claim, but rather nine hundred thousand nine hundred and ninety!”. After all that suffering, the only response of the Nations is that not enough of us died! …enough to cause concern..

הצעיר לבית שריקי

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

In Lomo's Mind on a Cold Brooklyn Morning

…I step off the subway and realize its cold again in Brooklyn. Again the wayward clouds play their old sun-hiding trick, and again the howling wind rushes between the buildings as if it's a hardened New Yorker on the way to catch a train. Again, Brooklyn is a dismal town. Even the Bangladeshis are wondering if it was really a good idea to come here. "What were we so lacking in Bangladesh that we had to come here?" they ask each other. The Puerto Ricans are asking each other the same question.

Yet they and we still walk these streets and politely let the hurried wind pass. And for what do we trudge through this daily rat-race when we don't really need a lot of money to get by on our own? Just to buy a better one of those accident-mobiles? Why? Just to impress some pampered, self-absorbed witch who wouldn't put-up with the slightest infringement when the time came? To trap yourself in a never-ending load of responsibilities only to raise and support more of the same unappreciative takers? All to continue the circle of Brooklyn life? Perhaps it’s just a mood I get into, but again the whole cycle seems pointless to me. ..or perhaps since I haven’t quite lived yet I can’t imagine giving my life up so fast..

(I’m attempting to write in that narrative style that most people find so natural, but just seems to allude me. Just needs some getting used to, ..but I've still got a ways to go.)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

ההודאה בחג ההודיה

פלא בעיני: אם יש בכדי חג ההודיה לעורר לבבות יהודי אמריקה שומרי התורה והמצוות למנות את ברכותם אשר השפיע עליהם הא"ל ברוב טובו, וכל עצמו של החג נתייסד על הגיעם של הפוריטנים לחוף ההארץ החדש בשלום, והודאתם לא"ל על כך, אינו ק"ו שבחג שנתייסד על הגיענו לארץ ישראל בשלום והקימתינו בה ממשל יהודי שנודה א"לוהינו על שהנחיל לאבותינו ארץ חמדה, טובה, ורחבה, ברית ותורה חיים ומזון?! וכי אינו מן הראוי ביום ההוא לפחות להלל אל"לוהינו בהלל גמור, ולקחת לקח טוב מדוגמת חג ההודיה למנות את ברכותינו ביום שגמל לנו הא"ל כאלה וכאלה טובות וחסדים (דהיינו חג העצמאות)? ח

ראיו לציין גם: וכי חג שכזה יש בכוחה לזרוק צל על חג יותר ראוי? הלא המתיישבים הראשונים האלו נתקלו בקשיי התאקלמות רבים, והם לא הצליחו לפרנס את ישובם אם לא שהאינדיאנים באו לעזרתם. ומה עשו האמריקאים להודות לבעלי טובתם? השמידו את זכרם מעל פני האדמה. בעיני, התנהגות שכזאת מסמלת כפוי טובה ולא הודיה. ח

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Queer Dilemma

I once had a discussion over at Chana's blog with a lady named Megan about homosexuality in the perspective of Jewish law and objective truth. It was in response to a post about how people with homosexual natures in the Jewish community are at a dilemma in regards to what to do with themselves and their futures. I've recently come to recall some of my ideas on the subject and I still feel some of basically still hold true. So this is not necessarily to follow-up on the discussion I was having there, but rather to restate my ideas.

My first argument is legal: although the legal systems of democracies are created to be objectively just and applicable to people of all creeds and religions, there are still a great many laws which are absurd. It seems to me that the laws are just an extension of the Western norms, which themselves are greatly influenced by the norms of Greece and Rome. Yet were the ethics of the Greeks and the Romans objectively just? They would discard newborns that were seen as "unfit". Are the laws here in America just? Less than a century ago eugenics was popular, and the severe mistreatment of African-Americans and discrimination against Jews was part of the law.

They say that it's unjust to even suggest that homosexuality might not be the best thing in the world, yet there are other sexual practices that are not "objectively" evil that are greatly discouraged. For example the cohabitation between an adult and a consenting minor is illegal. For an eighteen year old boy to cohabitate with a seventeen year old girl is illegal yet cohabitation between two of the same sex is beyond reproach? There is even a case of a seventeen year old male being arrested for viewing pornographic images of seventeen year old females. Yet pornographic images of eighteen year old females is fine. Yet prostitution is basically fine as well.

They defend their opinions by saying that homosexuality is natural in some people and therefore can't be discriminated against. Well, the desire to be intimate with minors, children, close relatives and even animals is quite natural to some people as well. If the law is objective who's to say those should not be deemed legal in the ideal state? If it's some sort of sexual or emotional repression we fear, than we should fear the sexual repression of the child molester as well (I saw Little Children recently).

Rather the law in Western lands simply follows the Western tradition, in which homosexuality is not quite as frowned upon as the other practices mentioned. Yet they complain when Muslims suggest homosexuality should be illegal, even though the Oriental tradition condemns homosexuals. We must conclude then, that just as with the Mission, the Western world, rather than trying to spread "Christianity", was trying to spread "Western culture", so too with the wish of the Western Europeans and their descendants throughout the globe to spread "Democracy"; it is not objective law they wish to disseminate, but rather their own view of things.

Another argument I mentioned there that I feel still stands is the idea that it is within our ability to change our sexual natures to an extent, perhaps even from homosexuality to heterosexuality. My very mention of such an idea brought me sharp criticism from the other commentators, as if they're the worlds experts on people's sexual natures. There is practically no scientific evidence saying it's impossible for people to become attracted to people of the same or other gender.In fact there is much evidence suggesting it is possible.

What the critics would respond to this is that some males were simply born with more estrogen in their bodies, and are therefore wholly female from a chemical standpoint. They suggest that there were homosexuals in every era and in every society; that it's quite natural and that it can't be helped. Still, I feel that the truly effeminate men and emasculate women are the minority in today's homo/bi-sexual community. The majority can be heterosexual had the need arose. For example in the European Dark Ages there is not much of a record of homosexual activity. I cannot recount the history of populations with little-to-no homosexual populations, but suffice it to say in the right environment more people are born with heterosexual inclinations. It seems to me that in very affluent societies that can mimic the wealth of the ancient Egyptian, Greek or Roman societies, for example today's Western societies (for example the one we live within here in the coastal United States) more effeminate males and emasculate females are born.

Instead, therefore, of having endless sympathy with the struggles of homosexuals who wish to live religious lives, we are better off attempting to discover what causes homosexuality and trying to change people's innate natures (since it does, in fact, seem to be very possible).

Correct? Incorrect?


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

My New Blog

Well, I’ve finally started a new blog again, entitled “הציוני האחרון”. I start way too many blogs, I know. I’ve actually  been meaning to start it for a while but I kept procrastinating. Tonight I haven't got much to o so I’m starting it up. If anyone has any Israel-related posts they might want to contribute, feel free to join.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

זו אגדה

One of my favorite types of books to read, friends, is the type of book that is so obscure most people (of the cultured class) would be surprised to hear that such a book existed. A set of books I've been reading recently that's met that standard more than some others is the diaries of Theodor Herzl. I've read Der Judenstaat in the past (which, in yeshiva in Jerusalem, was also pretty obscure), but it's far more eye-opening to see the day-to-day entries of the "Visionary of the State" in the late nineteenth century. What strikes me as humorous about Herzl's speeches and writings, or for that matter any of the Western European Zionists of his day, was how well they had the entire endeavor planned out, and how very absurd most of those ideas seem today (though the truth is some of his predictions about the future state are shockingly accurate...but perhaps only because the founders wished to shape things in Herzl's vision).

For example Herzl envisioned a state where the majority of the first immigrants at the time of the state's founding would be from the West, coming out of their own volition in a very organized manner. In reality most of the founding generation came from the East, most of them only as refugees of pogroms or the war, and there would be a great number brought in from the Orient, which he seemed not to have considered.

The best thing about Herzl's ignorance about the future though, is that he sort of knew deep down inside that there could be no state if world politics stayed as they were. The Ottomans swore they would never relinquish the holy sites of Palestine to the Jews, the Pope was thoroughly uninterested in Herzl and even the European leaders weren't so excited about the prospect. It is perhaps for this reason that in the end of his life he gave precedence to the idea that there be a Jewish state than to the idea that it be situated in the historical land of Israel, where Jewish pioneers had been arriving until then. He would never have foreseen that soon after his death the Ottoman Empire would collapse and the Arab lands partitioned by the Western powers. On the other hand he could never have foreseen that the Jews would not leave Europe unless forced out, and that even after a holocaust the nations of the world would still be extremely iffy about allowing a Jewish state.

This last point has always been disturbing to me though; here Herzl thought he had his game made, it was a win-win situation; the Europeans don't want the Jews and the Jews ultimately want to return to Palestine. He thought all it would take was a stroll over to the Kaiser and another over to the sultan and viola; the Jewish question solved. Yet after chatting with some the German Dukes, they say "who said we want to lose our Jews? What will be with the economy?", and three decades later they decimated the Jews but still refused to grant them a homeland. If you don't like them this is your opportunity to be rid of them! To me it seems like a great paradox. A love-hate relationship. They can't live with us and they can't live without us. Even today the Jewish population in the holy land is constantly harassed by their neighbors and by the media, and yet many of them are the very same people who criticize the Jewish population in their own countries (David Duke being an extreme example of someone who doesn't want Jews in America, yet is pro-Palestinian when it comes to Judea, Samaria and Gaza).

Anyway, the entire set makes for an interesting read. Lots of great lines there. I could practically write a running commentary on the thing.

[Shlomo Avineri article on the diaries]

Monday, November 16, 2009

Lomo and Time

[The title, obviously being based on the philosophical work Being and Time, for all you non-Heideggernicks out there]

For various reasons I've recently come to reexamine my relationship with temporal movement and the effect or lack of effect that it has on my existence. I'm sorry to say that my relationship with punctuality hasn't always been the closest, which has actually, strangely enough, made me more punctual at times. For example someone I knew once asked me why I was so 'unusually' punctual. The answer, obviously, was that because I naturally wasn't, I had more of an agenda to prove I was...

In order to discuss this subject though, we should understand that "time" is such a relative word. The passage of time on a stone, for example, has little effect on it's lifestyle. Yet for human beings time is our being, the passage of time over us is more of our life having gone by; the flowing of our blood, the pumping of our hearts. When you "take" someones time therefore, it's not only their time you're taking, but their very life. For what does a life consist of if not years, and what do years consist of if not days, and days consist of hours. So creating a situation in which someone is forced to be idle for one of those hours is undoubtedly snatching away part of their life.

In the slaughterhouse in Wisconsin which had the good fortune of finding me employed therein, we worked on shifts, and since there was little management, ones only hope of being relieved of his shift was the goodwill of his fellow worker to come on time. During my time there I noticed the ways of an old Uzbeki man who was actually our oldest member: despite his age he was always five to fifteen minutes early to his shift, thus affording great relief to the worker of the previous shift, and gaining nothing in return. Personally, at the time his practice didn't sit well with me, seeing as if he would fill my shift early I would be obliged to do the same for him. Yet the truth is that temporal form of giving is in fact the highest form.

Even if you are tardy to a class or meeting or group of any kind where your presence is expected, if you are absent, that loss is felt by the group (hopefully!) and it mars their experience to a small extent, but even the slightest extent should be of concern. It's written that rabbi "Nachman of Bratslav" (founder of the Breslov Chasidut) was very off-put if there were missing faces from his sacred gatherings.

Thus if one does wish to engage in a more scrupulous form of time management one thing he will have to acquire is a foresight of every possible prevention from arriving at his destination at the proper moment.

Do not think, by the way, that these ideas are alien to our religion. Although punctuality was greatly stressed by the proponents of the "Mussar Movement", even authors who preceded that era wrote much about time management (especially in relation to prayer and study), and we see it written in more modern works such as the "עלי שור" (Wolbe) and "אור לציון" (Aba Shaul).

I'm not verbalizing these dictums for didactic reasons, but as a hope that the repeating of these principles will assist myself and others in their fulfillment.

עבד, ס"ט

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

"Shabbos Brachos Party"

Another thing I wanted to mention recently was that I, for reasons beyond my control, had to sit in for a "Brachos Party" this past Shabbat. Now, I'm the youngest of my clan, and I don't often see children, so seeing a whole array of toddlers and young children in their own environment is, to me, ...similar to the experience of watching a group of guinea pigs interact with each other. Perhaps it says something about my being "too interested" in the opposite sex or gender relations, but one thing that caught my eye the most was some of the interactions between the boys and the girls. The two specimens I studied most closely were a pair of toddlers (a male Uzbek and a blond female with Swiss features) and a pair of children (both Uzbek-American).

The toddlers concerned me since the girl was only a month older than the boy yet she seemed to run circles around him intellectually (unfortunately, probably a sign of what their future statuses will be in relation to one another in society when they become adults). Though all-in-all, they seemed not to harbor any particular disposition towards each other, in fact they seemed to get on quite well. Not half as well, though, as the two Uzbek-American children (male: 6, female: 4). If I didn't know better I would think they were just a happily married, albeit very small, couple. The way their personalities complimented one another was uncanny, and even when one wronged the other to the point of causing tears, they were not able to, or perhaps did not want to, recall each others wrongs later on.

To me what these children seemed to be doing was enforcing a theory I had already had regarding the spousal compatibility of men and women, namely that any two people have the potential to live side by side in relative harmony. The only reason two people would not do so is because they are both concentrating their vision on unimportant and negligible differences between them, yet they overlook the vast amount of things they have in common with one another. And even if you grouped people with nothing in common (say, a Polish man and Ethiopian woman stranded on a desrted island), chances are they both manage to live in harmony and work for one anthers welfare.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Lostathon Notes

(I wanted to have written this a while ago, but I've been, not watching TV!)

Diane Winston teaches a "Religion, Media and Holywood" class in USC which "examines how spiritual and ethical issues are addressed in secular forums for mass audiences" (syllabus). I heard of her since she was invited to discuss her work on Speaking of Faith, and I’m generally a fan and follower of the program. Her basic message was that in recent times, and especially in the "post 9/11 era" in America, some television programs have not only greatly improved in quality and production, but are addressing many more moral and ethical issues than they have in the past. The examples she gave were the programs The Wire, House, Lost and Battlestar Galactica. Whereas shows like the original Star Trek had few moral undertones, shows like "Battlestar" send strong messages about moral conflicts that face contemporary society.

As I've mentioned already, partly through the influence of that program, and partly since I had a previous interest, I decided to watch all the episodes of Lost aired thus far, since Mrs. Winston pointed it out as one of the most thought-provoking of the others mentioned. It took me about three weeks to a month to watch it all. One thing I particularly liked about the show was that (in the first few seasons at least) it dedicated each episode to one character, and showed what their backgrounds, motivations and agendas are. So while each character interacts with the other, no character fully understands the reason the other does things expect themselves...which has always been something that's fascinated me about life; the fact that we're all existing and interacting in the same world, yet what's going on in our minds and what drives each of us can be extremely different from one person to the other.

Another aspect I liked about it was the fact that, while there are "good guys" and "bad guys", the heroes aren't totally heroic and the villains aren't exactly villainous (i.e. the heroes aren't beyond reproach since their self interests play a big role in their decisions, and the villains have their legitimate reasons for doing what seems unjust). All-in-all it's a lot more reminiscent of film than of traditional television.

Yet after completing the fifth season I asked myself, what exactly did I gain from watching this? Unfortunately, I feel that more than make me more thoughtful about life and the world around me, all this show accomplished in creating within me is a curiosity regarding what the nature of the island is, what the smoke monster really is, what the fate of the story's protagonists will be, and why the hell Richard Alpert seems to have been wearing a blue shirt and gray pants since 1954 (which, by the way, is another funny aspect of the show; the fact that many of the characters share names with philosophers and famous thinkers), which, of course, have no bearing on my life.

After watching it for a while I was reminded of the first words of the first song in Jewel's first album, "People living their lives for you on TV, they say they're better than you, and you agree". In other words, watching that sort of thing gives you the impression that your doings are of lesser consequence than theirs, since if they weren't, they would be watching you, not vice-versa. Now, that's true about film and even novels and such, but I would say it's more true about television since the viewer has the time to really get to know the characters, since in most cases he's seeing them every week for years on end.
So, in retrospect, it doesn't seem like this aspect of television has rejected the ideals of sensationalism that were a staple of television production in the past.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


I feel silly, friends, that after just recently complaining that my blog has taken on too journal-like a style when I wrote about my attendance at a blogger-oriented event, I am again going to write about my attendance at yet another blogger-oriented event: the "Tweetup" (a word I've found to make a lot more sense written than spoken). Though considering, it's not quite antithetical to record my experiences meeting bloggers here, since it's a blog-related experience (still, I'd rather my blog be filled with more "substance" posts). In fact to me meeting bloggers is not only a social event, it's an experiment of sorts. An experiment attempting to discover what sort of real-life individual ends up writing a blog, and in what way they represent and express themselves different than in reality. You see, if nine out of ten of every Jewish pedestrian strolling down Avenue J in Brooklyn every day was a blog author the need for the experiment wouldn't be so pressing. But as it stands there's only a handful of people who find their ideas important enough that they feel a need to express them online, which is what tells me that these people are unique, and that their words are worth some analysis.

Anyway, I unfortunately came to the place where it was to be held with the intention to leave, since I didn't think I would recognize anyone there, not to mention the event coincided almost exactly with an important exam for my school-career. It was sort of a shame though, since, aside from those I had met in the past, there were many individuals there who I knew about through the Internet but had not yet met. I said hello to Moshe, met Jacob the Jew, and a woman with an unusual idea introduced herself to us. Elke Sudin's blog is actually only a prototype for a book she wishes to create. As someone who's been spending extensive amounts of time in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn for the first time, I found her message interesting; a contrast of similarities between the elegant and urban ('White') European-Americans that reside in Williamsburg and the Chassidim who have long been a trademark of that neighborhood. As someone who's seen the contrast first-hand....well, let's just say such a book would pique the curiosity of many a bookstore-goer.

Another two members of the blogging community who I didn't expect to see were the authors of the Frum Female (who I commend for following my blog!) and Wolfish Musings (who himself has a good fourty follwers) blogs (the latter of whom I was later able to have an extensive discussion with on the train). Both relatively well-known, yet prefer to stay as anonymous as possible. A little latter Mottel arrived with his wife and filled-out the Chabad-blogger niche in the gathering. There were obviously a few Twitter updaters, but since I'm still generally at a loss as to what the purpose of Twitter is, I wasn't able to comprehend their contributions as much as I was those of the bloggers.

All in all it was interesting to see all of them, and Heshy Fried is commendable for being an arbiter of pulling it together (for no apparent financial gain). Perhaps there will be more in the future.. The only down-side was that those social interactions stuck a little too tightly in my head while I was later trying to take my exam...

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Jew

Names, my friends, are often lost in translation, and it is a good show of sensitivity to names to attempt to render them as loyal to their language of origin as possible. One simple example is that what are today known as ‘Muslims’ in English were once known as Muhamadeans, or ‘followers of Muhammad’ (a word which even the spell check today doesn’t pick up), but after prolonged interactions between the British and the Arabs the former became more aware of how absurd a name Muhamadeans was, and ultimately called the Arabs as they call themselves, ‘Muslims’ (in today’s day the American president is known to be setting precedents in regards to pronouncing names more correctly, such as pronounciations of ‘Iraq’ and ‘Iran’ in which they don’t rhyme with ‘rack’ and ‘ran’).

I bring this up, friends, because the word to describe my own religion is not the word with the most exquisite intonation in the English language. In fact it’s a monosyllable name: ‘Jew’. In my mind there is no question that the way this word evolved in Romance, Germanic and other European languages had a lot to do with how Jews were seen for time immemorial, namely hated beyond all hate and despised beyond all spite. I think it’s quite possible the name could have been rendered ‘Judean’ or ‘Israelite’ or something along those lines, had the original transliteratiors of that name not had a disposition towards us, especially considering they gave themselves the long, flowery two syllable name of ‘Christians’.

That is without mentioning that in the English language the word ‘Jew’ has become a byword for every vice and degeneracy that one may conjure up. To call a Jew a ‘Jew’ is slander enough. And not the word ‘Jew’ alone, but also the English title for our holy sages the bearers of the tradition and authors of the Mishna and Talmud has become a despicable word. A ‘Pharisee’ is the most acute kind of hypocrite.

Yet our own hands are not completely clean of this behavior, since in our literature we give ourselves the flattering name of ‘Yisrael’, whereas a member of the nations gets the one syllable title which has become a byword for unruliness and ung-dliness in its own right: ‘Goy’.

Should we then, as the Muslims, demand we be called by a more flattering name? Our ancestors in Germany two hundred years ago tried a similar thing; they demanded to be called ‘Germans of the Mosaic Faith’. The name worked for a while, but anytime the Western European powers were in the Jew-hating mood they passed legislation that they should officially be called ‘Jews’.

One current approach to the issue that I’ve been hearing since I was young is to use the word ‘Yehudi’ in English as opposed to ‘Jew’ (which seems to be the approach our friend Ehav Ever has taken). My own approach has been similar, which is to at least call ourselves by the name of Yisrael if we’re speaking in a religious context. Though as far as official linguistic usages are concerned, I usually feel far more comfortable using a name that’s already found in the dictionary, even if it has a ‘goolis-yeed’, bourgeoisie sort of swindling connotation to it which is the epitome of every ill ever associated with our nation.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Slam II: מחלוקת במחיצות

So there seems to have been some major beef over at e and TRS's blogs about the very poetry gathering I just wrote about. It seems to be a culmination of sorts, between TRS and his ideologies and Mottel and his. Between the Liberal and open to secularism aspect of Chabad and it's conservative counterpart. While TRS is accepting of the idea of communication between the sexes online and even in real-life social situations where there is nothing to bar the mingling of the sexes, Mottel sees it as a cancer in the heart of Crown Heights, and laments the fact that in the very epicenter of everything that Chabad stands for, and from where it emanates to the world, there should be gatherings that not only bring to question principles of Chassidut, but principles of halacha as well.

To me the disagreement is of interest since I was not aware of this schism until very recently. It seems that the children of the founding generation of Chabad Chassidut in America have spawned a generation that, to an extent, has become just as Americanized as many of their parents before the light of Chabad shone upon them. Yet which is correct (in regards to mingling)? Obviously neither and both, but I wish here not to speak of the objective truth, but of my own experiences on the subject:

In the past I took the stringent approach to this subject. The smallest hole in a dam is likely to cause an entire breach. Halacha and the ideals of Jewish spirituality don't allow for concessions in this realm. Yet upon reflection I questioned whether halacha was not the only factor which affected my behavior. I was by nature the type to be constantly bent over an oversized tome of Talmud, to separate himself from society into a world of individualist spirituality and by nature shun the society of the womenfolk. I concluded that it was not only halacha and tzniut that kept me from socializing, but it was part of my natural disturbing level of timidness. I was only using halacha as an excuse to fall deeper into the trap of my own pathologically unsocial personality. It's not that I didn't believe in speaking to women, it's that I was unable to, even if the situation called for it. Instead of becoming more religious I was actually becoming a social hermit of sorts.

But there are also more generalistic concerns at play here, such as whether total separation of the sexes from an early age is really the best and socially 'healthiest' way to go about things. You see, while it could be it is the religious ideal, the fact is that in many cases the only representation one receives of the opposite sex is the gross misrepresentations of the media. Which in turn causes what I see as a derivative of the principle that "separation makes the heart grow fonder", which is that upon the absence of a person or thing a person can develop a fanciful nostalgia for them. I'm not certain this is always true, but for young men at least, a certain untrue and unhealthy glorification of the fairer sex can develop upon the lengthy lack of a female presence. In my opinion most of us are far more corrupted than the type of individual these halachot were intended for. If anything we require the unideal reality of "rehabilitation". In this instance of "עת לעשות לה הפרו תורתך" one of the only potent forms of rehabilitation is to interact with actual individuals of the opposite sex with the hopes of dampening of this false glorification.

That is if one views the problem from a psychological perspective, but from an ideological perspective there are also good reasons to be flirting. But it is only one of two legitimate, but fundamentally different, outlooks on Judaism. One approach is exclusive, as I was when I was younger, and states that every evil inclination that has ever entered the minds of our people to cause them to sin have been caused by the direct or indirect influence of the ung-dly nations whom we have lived amongst, but during eras when the people of G-d have shunned all influences that were not our own, and cleansed the heathen spirit from within them and without, they were capable of creating a Utopian, g-dly, purely Jewish, society. And if we followed in their footsteps, and threw off of ourselves all the corruptions of the alien gods in our midst, we would be capable of the same spiritual utopia.

The other, absurdly inclusive approach, suggests that "Torah" means 'teachings' or 'instructions'. The instructions are for life itself. If one hides themselves away in a Beit Midrash all the time what opportunity will they have to apply the Torah to their lives. The Torah supposes you engage in life in all it's aspects. In the time of the Talmud our sages were part and parcel of the society around them, and were able to employ EVERY rule of the Torah in reality, the same rules that, to our loss, have become mere theory and intellectual speculation in our time. According to this outlook then, engaging in life and in real world situations (like interacting with females), yet acting in a lofty manner though the application of Torah principles is the very essence of our propose here in this world.

All this is from my own experience though, and does not reflect the Chasidic approach to the subject which spurred the argument I mentioned. Yet I am not discussing the issue with those premises in mind since I believe that much of that movement was founded fallaciously, so it's not worth considering...

And to think; all this and I haven't even mentioned how this relates to the shidduchim issue!

Sunday, October 25, 2009


I hate to write things here that would give a journal-like feel, since that would suggest a poverty in ideas, but for me there are ideas of lasting value to be gleaned from this, so: I finally ended up attending one of Cheerio's poetry sessions. It was very....informative. And I saw two blog authors who I had not yet seen in person (Dowy and Altie,'s only right to link).

First of all in regards to poetry: Now, if you were to approach me in the past asking if there is any correlation between Chassidut Chabad and a great appreciation of poetry I'm afraid I would have had to answer in the negative. My surprise, therefore, at such a love for poetry as displayed by adherents of that Chassidut, in which each and every individual present was called up to read just as on Simchat Torah, was not small. Personally it was not only the approach but also the very content and form of the poetry that I found eye-opening, since, as with most things, I've only recently come to decipher what is appreciable about modern forms of this art.

I personally come from a background of great appreciation for the beautiful verse and form of the Hebrew prose of Halevi, Ben Gevirol and the like, and I scoffed at the idea that there could be such beauty in English poetry in the same way the French used to mock the idea of beautiful German poetry. But as I've begun to meet poets (they seem to be everywhere in my life all of a sudden) and read more modern poetry I've come to see that today's poetry is not at all about beauty or form, but purely about moods and ideas. And the sort of idea that's lauded most is one that displays the principles of "realism". So far all I can say is that it seems to be a method of great potential for describing ideas and feelings. I shall have to research the subject.

In regards to the readers: A very interesting crowd. All from religious-Chabad households and yet all well educated, well spoken, well written and well trained in any which talent they may surpass at. Truly a well-rounded sort of folk, the kind one rarely sees turn up on the shores of Brooklyn--yet an interesting phenomenon on the American Jewish scene as a whole. Wholly religious and yet wholly American and wholly secular--the sort of thing the Modern Orthodox seem to be striving for. Quite an accomplishment and hopefully a lesson to others as well. I myself on the other hand, have never been quite as well rounded, but rather grapple with every aspect of life as if I were learning to walk for the first time. Yet I don't believe there is any sort of intrinsic difference that separates us; if I had been raised as them there is no question that I too would have been just as well rounded. But it would seem that as for me, G-d had other plans.

I would go on with more meaningless minutiae about my evening, but it is not my custom to be lengthy here.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

פנים חדשות

Well friends, I've decided it's time for me to again record a few of my thoughts here. As I said in a comment to the previous post some of my reasons for not writing for a while are depression, off-hour employment at a home for those with "special needs" and an attempt to watch all the episodes of the "Lost" television program in a short amount of time....among other things...

Nonetheless, one fleeting thought (if it can be called that) that came upon me last night was a recollection of something a friend of mine once told me. This was a friend who had advanced in years and who had been married for quite a while, who I suspected of utilizing the services of prostitutes (though I don't think he detected it in me). Either way, he once told me the same justification one hears for any sexual misdemeanor; a comparison between a diversification of food to a diversification in sexuality. If one were to eat the same thing every day the monotony would become unbearable. So with ones wife; according to him having experienced intimacy with the same person too often causes an unrestrainable and unblameable need for diversification.

To me, the fact that a person's very appearance changes often seemed relevant to the subject. For a face of twenty is not that of thirty, nor that of thirty similar to that of forty. The face that you married is not the same one that will be for all time. Perhaps taking note of these changes would have helped someone as my friend overcome this urge for change...

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

איסור דלֹא תְחָנֵּם

In a recent, strange post from our friend e, he led us to a discussion on “” (a site I actually know little of) that gives the impression that some of the laws of Judaism are mean to non-Jews, especially those based on the pasuk of “lo teh’onem”. Is the Torah a “mean” religion? k
Well obviously the Torah is very hard on Pagans in Israel who might be influencing the Israelites with their ways. Some of these hard-line rules of the Torah in regards to Israel’s native Pagan inhabitants can be found in the seventh chapter of Deuteronomy. For example verse two tells us not to “show mercy to them” (“לא תחנם”). (The truth is though that this commandment is by far not the “meanest” commandment regarding the ‘seven nations’ .In fact the conquest of Israel in general was to be pretty cruel to the Pagan natives and their religion (for example not to leave women, children, cattle or religious objects alive or unharmed), so I’m not sure why they decided on this command as an example of cruelty to “goyim”.)

The sages of Israel, not only understood this command as applying to further generations, but in accordance with the Verbal Law, listed three more ways to read this verse (based on three variant ways to read the word “תחנם” without making pre-supposed assumptions about what the vowel marks should be): Selling land to Pagans in Israel, giving gifts to Pagans and praising Pagans.

These three laws have been expounded upon in the Talmud and recorded as normative halacha in books such as the Rambam and the Shulchan Aruch (Y.D. 151), usually referring to said Pagans as “עכו"ם” (an acronym for “עובדי כוכבים ומזלות”). One huuuuge misunderstanding that gets created with these types of halachot though is the question whether they were said only regarding Polytheists but not monotheistic gentiles or if the word “עכום” in the Shulchan Aruch just a thin, censure-related cover-up for the word “גוי”, which obviously also refers to monotheistic gentiles such as the Muslims and the Sikhs (perhaps some forms of Christianity as well)?

My opinion has always sided with the Rambam in this matter, that it’s quite clear that the agenda of the Torah is not to “be mean to goyim”, but to be very stern with polytheists, especially when they have the potential to influence Jews with their theology, which in most cases, also means influencing Jews with a “pre-monotheistic” set of morals. In other words if someone who was born Jewish becomes a polytheist he is hated in G-d’s eyes and deserves to be killed, just like any other polytheist influencing monotheists (“Jews”), and if someone who wasn’t born into “the faith” becomes monotheistic he is beloved by G-d. The Torah is extremely concerned with theology (in the sense of polytheism vs. monotheism), not at all with race and not really with the religion of the gentiles as long as they’re monotheistic. Now, it’s obviously impossible to say that none of the halachot which were said about polytheists refer to monotheistic gentiles, but certainly not these..

In that case then, there should be no lack of praise and friendly interactions between the Jews and their (not necessarily “Jewish”) fellow monotheists (1). That’s about monotheists, but what about polytheists (such as Hindus) or those who’s monotheistic status can be brought into serious question (such as most Christians) (2)? It is clear from the words of the Rambam that since polytheism in general has lost a lot of its attraction to people, even the laws which deal specifically with polytheists are not necessarily applied to the polytheists of today, since the concerns of the Torah in regards to the ‘seven nations’ of Israel can scarcely be said to apply to polytheistic people from India, China or other parts of Asia. be honest, there’s not a whole lot I really know about e personally, but what I do know is that there are religious institutions that give their students far from enough of a background in halacha and its sources with the excuse that the exclusive study of Gemara is precicely the point that the founders of Chassidut didn’t find favor with in the theology of the pre-Chassidic Jews, and that it’s better instead to spend more time either studying the more spiritual aspects of Judaism or learning halacha with the express intent of becoming a rabbi in some far-flung Jewish community. While I admit the world needs rabbis, and that in many places they would be sorely lacking if not for these efforts, I also admit that quickly skimming over the “sea of the Talmud” can lead to a lack of clarity in regards to the foundations of halacha.

(1) It should be noted though that the terrible treatment of the Jews by their neighbors for the past centuries/millennia has lead many Jews to a understandable amount of bitterness to those who hate them. Yet all many can see is the hatred (or rather "healthy suspicion") of the Jews towards the gentiles, and not the millennia of persecution that the gentiles have wrought upon the Jews.
(2) Some consider the "Monistic Theism" of the Hindus and the "Trinitarian monotheism" of the Christians to be more-or-less legitimate forms of monotheism.

Putting a word in for איסיות

[Something I would have liked to have said here recently is a thought that came to my mind on erev Yom Kippur while I was, ..strangely enough, coming out of the Bobov mikve (1) (for the first time in a little while. ..I used to go almost daily). ]

Although I’m generally a proponent of what might be called "Modern Orthodoxy’ and look critically on the exaggerated ways of the Kabalists and the Neo-Chassidim (2) (some of which are uncannily similar to the practices of the ancient Essene sect (איסיים), hence the title), I do admit that in some situations desperate times call for desperate measures in regards to the mitzvot.

משל למה הדבר דומה? …the most a propos analogy I could think of was from the zombie-movie “Resident Evil” (1, 2 or 3). The protagonists of the story go everywhere heavily armed, since most of the world’s population has become violent zombies who understand nothing but the force of the bullet. Yet is that an the most ideal situation? The best situation is obviously for a people to be unarmed and be free to travel about without fear of being harmed. But the reality (in that movie) was that without weapons they would be in grave danger, and therefore had to put themselves in the unideal situation of carrying weapons everywhere they go.

So it is with our own lives: there were times when the יצה"ר went about it’s business getting people to sin in more tame and discreet ways. But now that the יצה"ר has called against us all the uncouth denizens of the netherworld to coerce us to sin against g-d, we have to serve g-d “Resident Evil-style”, consistently utilizing "כלי מלחמה". What are these "כלי מלחמה"? Are they not the חומרות and הקפדות of the ירא חטא that they utilize in the "מלחמת היצר"? If we cannot lead the lifestyle of a fanatic to the fullest extent then at least the minimum; having a 'seder', studying Mussar/Chassidut every day, minimizing on recorded entertainment programs that can be seen on televisions and computers and maximizing on our reading of the sacred books, etc etc etc…

(1) The Word "Mikve" ends with a segol, not a kamatz.
(2) A more acccurate terminology than "Chassidim".

Saturday, September 26, 2009

יום לכיפורים

חתם לבי טרם בוא היום הנורה. ח
אין לי
פה להשיב
לב לריב
עזות להגיב
ולא מצח להרים פני אל אלו"הי. ח
דרך אגב, כתבתי אודות מנהג הכפרות שנה שעברה (בלשון אדום). קחנו משם. ח

Monday, September 21, 2009

רצח גדליה של ימינו

ראוי לציין ש"צום השביעי" נוסדה בגלל מאורעות פוליטיות, ולא רוחניות. תקציר הסיפור זה שיהודים מנעו מיהודים אחרים לקיים אוטונומיה יהודית בארץ ישראל. וזה נחשב ל"חורבן" אפילו שגדליה משל רק על כמות מועטת של יהודים בארץ ישראל, ואפילו הם לא היו אלא כורמים ויוגבים. ויש לזכור שעם ה' הנשאר בציון אחרי חורבן הבית הראשון לא היו דווקא יותר צדיקים מעם ישראל בארץ ישראל דהיום, אלא עובדי עבודה זרה היו. גם היום יש יהודים שרוצים למנוע מיהודים אחרים לקיים ריבונותם השלימה על כל חלקי ארץ ישראל, וגם זה צריך להיחשב לחורבן לא קטנה במידתה מעל מה שאנחנו צמים עליו היום. ח

Friday, September 18, 2009

הזיקה בין "יום הזיכרון" המקראית לבין "ראש השנה" התלמודית

Something interesting about Rosh Hashana that isn't often considered is the apparent gap that exists between the biblical descriptions of the day and the Mishnaic/Talmudic descriptions. All that is written in the Bible regarding it is that the first day of the seventh month should be what we consider a "holiday" and that it should be a day of "remembrance" and "horn soundings".

Yet already in the Mishna we find some statements that clearly place this day at the beginning of the year:
"באחד בתשרי ראש השנה לשנים ולשמיטין וליובלות, לנטיעה ולירקות"
"בראש השנה כל באי העולם עוברים לפניו כבני מרון, שנאמר: 'היוצר יחד לבם המבין אל כל מעשיהם'" Etc...

How are these to be reconciled? Here, like in most places, it is the job of the Talmud and the Rishonim to display the congruity between these two works. Already in the Torah itself it is written regarding Succot that it takes place "at the exiting of the previous year", so it's clear from here as well as many other verses that the Torah's calander is loyal to the agricultural calander.

Rabbi Moshe ben Nah'man (as well as other commentators) attempt to bridge the gap: He points out that the general year starts in the "seventh month" of the Torah but out of respect of the Exodus it counts from the spring, and even the general world counted the new year from the beginning of the fall at that time. He also says that it's clear that the very reason for the horn soundings and why it should be a day of "remembrance" (which in biblical Hebrew always means remembrance to a judge for a positive verdict) and the reason it's a time of "holy gathering" is because the Torah acknowledges this season as the beginning of the year and some sort of judgement seems to be taking place, in which our participation is a key aspect, hence Mishnaic statements such as the one likening it to a sheep-herd count.

Yet what of the horn-blowing? What does this act that is generally considered in the bible one of aggression or announcement have to do with our being examined by G-d on the new year, or with "making G-d king over us"? I once saw a simplistic and innovative explanation for this: The two words to describe the sounds that are to be created on this day (and by horns in general for that matter) are "לתקוע\תקיעה" and "תרועה". The first word comes from the word "nailed into place" (תקוע) and is a strong constant sound. It is used when an army is confidently marching forward. The second word, which comes from the word "unstable" (רעוע) is used when the group is scattering in a guerrilla-warfare-like battle. It is evident, therefore, that the intention of the Torah's command to utilize these war instruments on this day of “remembrance” and the intention behind these confidence and alarm-soundings is, of course, a representation of the confidence/alarm that should be traversing our minds on this day.....

לטובה תחתמו

הצעיר, ס"ט

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Superpower Meme!

Well! Strangely enough I've been tagged twice in regards to this 'superpower meme' that's going around. My sincere thanks to Jessica and C for tagging me regarding it.

Superpowers, suerpowers.......? Was it not the Jew who invented the superhero to make-up for his shortcomings and the failings of a nation? The ‘Super-Man’, the ‘Über-Mensch’? Not Nietzsche’s Übermensch, but a man endowed with physical prowess alone, based, of course, on mythologies and legends of gods and men capable of extraordinary things, dating back to the most ancient civilizations.

Yet can it really be said that this superhero is totally divorced from the Übermensch? They are obviously not the same, but both, I feel, share a similar core idea; for the concept of the Greek god too, as with the Nietzschean hero, came from the premise that in this world some are naturally stronger than others, and it is up to them to usurp the power from the meek in order to properly govern society (like Batman’s relationship with the police). From Gilgamesh to Samson to Hercules to Zorro to Batman, the superhero is the manifestation of the male ego, which feels that it is singlehandedly capable of setting the world straight….

But enough of empty concepts! Let us talk ‘tachlis’! My personal favorite super-hero when I was a kid was Nightcrwaler of the Excalibur spin-off of the X-Men comic-book. It wasn’t really his power I was interested in (teleportation) but his personality; he was a cool, laid-back bourgeois type of German dude. He just never fretted about anything. ..he refused to. .(Oh yeah, him and Pete Wisdom! Memories!)

Aaaaanyway, I noticed most of the people who responded to this chose some form of mind-reading (I guess x-ray vision went out of style pretty quickly when guys realized that it wasn’t just girls’ clothes they were able to see through, but skin and ligaments as well). Personally, I like the mind-reading idea (since people are the key to power, and understanding them and how they think of you is they key to people), but as long as you're reading the mind, you might as well be able to manipulate it as well. ….though mind-manipulation is not something specific to superpowers…

In truth though, one of the responsibilities of this meme is to tag seven others (which is partly responsible for my being tagged), the only problem is that by the time this kind of thing gets around to me pretty much everyone else who I might have tagged has already been! So…

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Of Africans and Israelites

Strangely enough, I recently happened upon seeing the film about Malcolm X (entitled, of course, Malcolm X).

I have always been impressed by X and some other influential members of the NOI (Nation of Islam) organization, but his particular story is not just the story of ‘Homo-Africanus’, or ‘Homo-Sapienus’, but of ‘Homo-Religiosus’ as well. It is the story of inspiration, of disillusionment and of starting anew. So, while I do respect the sincerity of what he and his followers and affiliates preach, I also think it is lamentable that X himself and leaders who follow in a similar spirit to that of Mr. X, such as his opponent Mr. Louis Farrakhan, see the Jew in very much the same light as they see the Anglo-Saxon. It is lamentable that these leaders of the 40's and 50's overlooked even the holocaust as an example of how we are just as downtrodden as they in the eyes of the European Man. X claimed that his nation was mistreated by Anglo-Americans as well as by Jews, but that mistreatment stemmed from a mutual misunderstanding and was relatively recent. In essence the Jew has been very much in the same boat as the African in America. This is also concurrent with the racial theme of the movement, since the hatred of the Aryan towards the Jew is (supposedly) because he is a Semite; someone who comes from the same middle east that the founders of the religions that X so much respected originated from.

So while on the one hand I would rather the African, and for that matter the Arabian saw the Jew as their kin, I’m also happy when the Aryan sees Jewesses like 'Alyssa Silverstone' and say, "perhaps these Jews are not so foreign", but then again, there is nothing 'Jewish' about such people, so what does it help.

Now, it is true that Jews, as part-and-parcel of European and Colonial American society were in charge of slave operations in America and perhaps caused much distress to the Africans brought here, but the Jews were part of every society; African society as well. So it's obviously wrong to lump all Jews together for such past events, and definitely not to lump them with the Europeans.

In regards to the future of the African in America: To me it is clear to me that while the Afro-American in the 21st century is not as concerned about the kinds of things that concerned X, due in part to new migrations of foreigners to this land which have placed the Afro-American in a place of more stability in this land, it seems to me that "the vices that were planted in the hearts of the African by the White Devil" have far from been removed, and he lets the hour of his salvation pass him and be given to others. It is given instead to the Indian and to the Asian, not because the African is discriminated against anymore, but because he has become so accustomed to his downtroddenness that he can no longer remove himself from vice and take advantage of the opportunities afforded the privileged citizens of this land.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

מילים ושיוערים לר"ה

It seems that with the advent of this years' Day of Judgment my tongue has become heavy. There were a few things I wanted to speak about that weren't quite 'in the spirit of the moment', so I refrained from saying them until the time is more neutral. I did want to mention that I would like to start a new blog called "הציוני האחרון" (obviously based on the 'Subliminal' song), which would deal solely with reasons for American Jews to emigrate to the Holy Land and of the supremacy of the arguments of the conservative party in Israel. I feel a need to because I've been seeing the attitudes of my fellow Jewish bloggers on the subject of their relationship with the Jewish state a lot recently, and, as usual, their attitudes distress me greatly. But first I'd have to formulate some related articles here, which I find very difficult. The premises of my ideals are so ingrained in me that it would be difficult for me to start rethinking why I feel how I feel about the subject.

But perhaps a word about the little I've been doing in the way of T'shuva: There's a Rabbi in Israel (Mechon Meir) who has a very similar last name to me (הרב אורי שרקי), and is one of the leading Sefaradi/North African thinkers in Israel in the spirit of Rav Kook and Religious Zionism in general. He has a series available online about T'shuva (among a vast number of other topics) where he explains the Hilchot T'shuva of the Rambam based on the Orot Ha'Tshuva of Rav Kook and his own explanations. His words and explanations are so pristine, clear and correct that I'm thinking about becoming a "chasid" of his. As a result of his speeches I also started delving in to Kook's "Orot Ha'Tshuva" a little for myself. ...he's very poetic. ..and very broad and dramatic about the ideas he expresses. It's kind of stuff I think I'd write myself if I was so inclined. That, by the way, is how you know when an author or a thinker is for you; when you feel it's the kind of subject matter you yourself could have written, but you just wouldn't be able to find the right words to express it yourself.

Anyway, there's something I wanted to say about actual T'shuva: There's a difference of opinion between two Spanish rabbis; "Moshe of Cordoba" and "Moshe of Girona". The Rambam felt that the actual "מצוות עשה" of T'shuva was not T'shuva itself, but the act of 'vidduy', a pronouncement of confession to G-d regarding sin. The opinion of the Ramban was that this is untrue; the mitzva is in fact the act of T'shuva itself. Reasons and arguments for their opinions vary, and border on some very deep Judaic topics. What I wish to say for the moment is that, according to the Rambam especially, if you're not totally sincere with your vidduy that is a serious offence. Yet the prayers established for these days are full of vidduyim; and we might not always be sincere in saying them.

I've always felt that how vidduy is said and what thoughts to with it, is without question the crux of these "ימים נוראים", and that what is really required is a "true vidduy", the kind of vidduy described in Shaarei T'shuva, something I myself have never done, but at least look towards with longing.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

בין נדה לעשור

כמו באיסור קירוב לאשה בנידת טומאתה כן בחגי ישראל החלים תמיד בתקופות חקלייות מסוימות (וכמו כן במצוות אחרות), רואים אנו שהתורה ודרכי הטבע אחד הם, ולא רצה הא"ל בנתינת התורה אלה שמירה מעולה על החיים הטבעיים בלבד...ד...ח

Monday, September 7, 2009

יסוד דת

OK, um, ..there are a few things which I wanted to have been written on here by now and which are not...due to no other reason than sloth! ..that and a keyboard which is constantly switching the caps lock on and off...and skipping random typed letters...

Anyway, I would like to comment on one of Chana's posts (September 3rd). I know I nominated her to go to Israel but that does not in any way mean I agree with her opinions all the time. In a recent post she came to the conclusion that the most logical stance is that of the Agnostics, and that while she does agree with them, she'll stay an Orthodox Jew because it "seems" right:
"I cannot prove my religion; I do not think I will ever be able to. Indeed, the greatest question is what to do when the vast majority of what I read or learn about simply seems to disprove what I have been taught. But you see, above all logic there is emotion, and my emotion and intuition point to the fact that there is a God, He exists, and He listens to me."

I consider this reversion back to emotion and intuition to be perhaps characteristic of the female sex, and something that the Spanish Rationalist Rabbis would revile from due to it’s independence from pure logic. She said herself that the Torah demands truth ("the stamp of G-d is truth"), and this is a "dishonest" way of viewing religion.
Let me start with a chart of the main issues debated upon (in this situation):

1) "Adeism" v.s. Deism

2) Atheism v.s. Theism

3) Religions v.s. Judaism

In other words the first issue that must be dealt with is whether primordial matter was brought into existence by some being, or whether it existed for infinity.

The second is if this being interacts with human beings and conveys to them information on how to properly live.

When I was fourteen I formulated theories about both of these issues, and, while I may by now see them as a little juvenile, I still do see them as making sense. Firstly, I thought it’s more likely that primordial matter was put into being by something immortal than it itself having been around forever. Secondly, I considered it unlikely the creator would go through the trouble of creating us if it wasn’t going to interact with us in any way…kind of a long story about that actually..

In regards to the third question though, which is the focus of my attention here, I think it’s clear that for centuries the foolishness of the Christians has negatively influenced well-meaning Jews (whether they know it or not). One aspect in which this is very evident is the subject of “faith” (and what comes into the realm of faith). A few centuries ago in the Christian world if someone suggested the world went around the sun they would burn them on the cross for “blasphemy”. Now, this is not the place to carry out a long exposition on the subject, but suffice it to say “faith” without doubt is a Christian invention. The main concern of the Torah is not “faith” but living a G-dly life according to the commandments, since, in the realm of faith, nothing can be verified and the Torah has never been concerned with its verification. The Jews themselves have never been concerned about this verification; for example the first people to look for Mt. Sinai were the Christians in the third century. Not even the Jewish but the Gentile Christians! How could it be in all their history no Jew cared to see the mountain of G-d? Rather it seems the Jews were never overly bothered by the verification of these events since they knew that the events themselves could simply not be physically verified.
Whether the Torah was written by (Moses in accordance with he words of) G-d, by Moses or by a group of Israelite priests during the First Temple period or later cannot be "proven" in any way shape or form. People can have convincing propositions about one theory or the other, but nothing can be scientifically (i.e. empirically) proven, and without that all you can rely on is how likely each side of argument might seem to you. On the other hand we are encouraged to be intellectually honest. So we are, in essence, all "agnostics", since we admit that we cannot verify things in a real sense. We are allowed to be agnostics, but we must decide which proposition sounds more correct to us. More "likely". My own judgement and evaluation of the arguments has always told me that it is more correct to assume that the creator did, in fact, have some sort of communication with Moses, as is described in the Torah. I admit that I cannot know the reality of what occurred; I wasn't there, no one from among us was, but this seems to be the most likely scenario and therefore ample reason to abide by the "teachings" of "the book of teaching" (ספר התורה).

This is an article from the Anglo-Israeli Conservative or "Masorati" Rabbi, Simchah Roth, and I've always felt it nips this whole misunderstanding in the bud. All the articles are worthwhile for anyone to read through.


Friday, September 4, 2009

Blog Plug

It's not generally my custom here to plug blogs (although I just did in the previous post!), I would like to encourage the readership of a new blog created by a friend of mine from yeshiva, Shim'on. He's an interesting fellow; a Dutch-American from Washington State who converted to Judaism. His blog deals with proper diet and weight loss (called "Kosher Weight Loss"). He writes as he speaks; funny, assertive and right to the point. So if you struggle with your relationship with food-consumption (and who doesn't, really) his blog will be beneficial to you.

In other news, the author of the Bad for Shidduchim blog ended up winning the trip to the Blogger Convention. I'm happy, yet at the same time concerned about what it says about our community if our most popular blog is not one about religion or philosophy, but one about dating stories. Oh well...

Personally, in my haughtiness, I find fault in almost all the blogs in my blogroll (which is why I write one myself!). Many of them are about the totally unimportant and uninteresting things that occur in peoples lives, others are constantly complaining about the Ultra Orthodox community, and yet themselves still choose to be part of it, others are about dating and still others about raising a family. So while many of them can be helpful to read, I don't consider them the most earth-shattering subjects...

[This just in!: another friend from the same yeshiva just started a blog (though almost nothing is written in it at the moment) at]

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Blogger Convention Nomination

In the land chosen by G-d as a gift to His people, which they refuse due to their obstinacy, in the city on which the name of G-d is called upon it, there has begun a tradition of yearly meetings for people who write popular electronic journals (bloggers). This year’s situation is a bit awkward, since there are three equally worthy people (among a few others) who very much wish to attend this gathering, but need to be nominated by other bloggers.

I understand why each of them has a legitimate claim for being the best candidate; Chaviva is someone who, of her own volition, decided to become part of our religious and national consciousness. Chana is a masterful and professional author and Jewish thinker, and “Bad for Shidduchim” also has a quite popular blog and is eager to go. If I want to donate my two cents to the cause though, only one of these three lovely ladies must be nominated.

I therefore choose Mrs. Wiznitzer, since, as she mentioned on her blog, she's been writing longer than anyone else, writes longer and more quality posts, and has more to offer the public as a speaker and influencer due to the depth of her religious and philosophical thought.

If you have a few moments, I would suggest that you too choose someone to nominate (since none of the candidates seem to have enough nominations yet)...


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

ניקוי ירקות: נוסח אלול

[Upon cutting spoilage out of a cabbage]

It seems queer to me; this cabbage that has such deeply ingrained spoilage that a foul odor emanates from it also has parts with a palpable freshness. Is it a spoiled cabbage? No. Is it a fresh cabbage? No! But from it's exterior one would consider it spoiled. All that can redeem it is an amputation of the affected tissue.

What is of gravest concern is if the spoilage reaches our core, our id. Of course even such a growth can be removed, but at that point all that would be left is a very small and awkwardly shaped piece of cabbage . The non-soiled parts are so negligible that it might as well be discarded. It should not be that the only purity within us is such a negligible part of our personalities that we aren't "worth keeping" in the day of judgement.

This conflict is by far one of the most crucial; the fight for our core; what defines us. Will it be the spoilage within us or crisp cabbagy freshness. And what better time to engage in this conflict if not now, during the month which precedes our judgment? Even if it seems that the lions-share of our "מהות" is spoilage, what can often be found during Ellul is that the spoilage is not intrinsic within us. Our fresh parts testify that we have our source in steadfast and fertile ground; ground that yields only the freshest of cabbages. Rather it is, many times, external influences (from other spoiled produce) that has blackened our exterior. That or disuse. But the "pintele cabbage" is, and always will be, pure and ruggedly fresh.

All that can be done in this struggle then, aside from attempting to expressly amputate major parts of ourselves is a removal from these spoiled exteriors, into the world of the interior. The interior world of Ellul. It's not quite the same as placing the cabbage in an exterior that encourages freshness, such as a refrigerator (a yeshiva, or any other place of potential spiritual growth), but even within our daily drudgeries there must be a place made for introspections of this sort.

העבד, ס"ט

[I forgot why I ever stopped signing my name.]