December 31, 2008

Open quote from our friend XGH

I just don't see how bombing Gaza is morally acceptable, when civilians will certainly get killed. Two wrongs don't make a right. So you'll say, what else is Israel supposed to do? Just sit back and take it? And the answer of course is yes, because bombing them back is not morally acceptable.

-XGH, Lord of the rational thinkers

It amazes me how, the more to the left people get, the more emotional they get to the point that their moral compass goes berserk. Israel should do absolutely nothing. They are as rational as the Arab sympathizers that protest against Israel claiming that Israel is using disproportional attacks (which is so silly and a new concept). Would they be happy if Israel shot one missle for every missle Hamas sent? No of course not. It's simply anti-Israel BS as usual. All I know is, thank God these sorts of people were not sitting with FDR and Churchill deciding whether to go to war. After all, thousands upon thousands of innocents died. But as XGH said, intent does not matter here. Action is all that matters. Amazes me how when all these skeptics start moving toward atheism and cynicism, they start thinking like this. And it has nothing to do with rational thought. Its simply that OJ, for the most part is conservative in ideals. Hence they feel they HAVE to move the other direction.

November 26, 2008

November 19, 2008

Israelite Origins

PBS had a great episode of Nova last night, The Bible’s Buried Secrets (BBS). Not surprisingly, it dealt with the origins of the Israelites, scripture and especially how the idea of monotheism was able to spring up in the most unlikeliest of places. It is two hours long but you can watch individual chapters. The reenactments are interesting but the CGI in recreating villages for example is outstanding. Anyways, given that it was a two hour show, there is no way I can fit in all the arguments they made, but hopefully, just touch upon the new theory as to the origins of the ancient Israelites and they god. I would like to start by first quoting William Dever in this interview (as well as the show).

We want to make the Bible history. Many people think it has to be history or nothing. But there is no word for history in the Hebrew Bible. In other words, what did the biblical writers think they were doing? Writing objective history? No. That's a modern discipline. They were telling stories. They wanted you to know what these purported events mean.

I wonder if James Kugel would consider him an apologist. From reading his site, I get the impression that he says one needs to understand the bible as they, the ancients thought that every incident in scripture ACTUALLY happened as written and any interpretation or meaning came later. Seems to me, Dever is saying from the very get go, the stories themselves were interpretations of events. But I could be wrong. Anyways, I feel that is an important quote given that sometimes people judge the ancients based on how WE would write a text.

Where I want to begin is where the episode discusses the conquest of Canaan. Tradition of course says, that Joshua led the people and conquered city after city in a relatively short amount of time until the country was taken. BBS takes us to one of these cities, Hazor. Like Jericho and AI—two other cities that tradition says Joshua conquers—Hazor has significant evidence of destruction. An idol was even found that had been decapitated. The archeologist on site believes that the only real candidate for this destruction is the Israelites. They are the only ones with a tradition of it happening an no mention of Hazor is mentioned in any of the Egyptian records. It would seem to be good news in favor of our tradition. The problem is, archeologists say that its not so cut and dry. The biggest problem is one of dating. Archeologist date the destruction of Ai to 2,500 BC, the destruction of Jericho to 1,500 BC and Hazor to 1,250 BC. This is over 1000 years and nowhere near what the book of Joshua allows for. The other problem is that most of these sites do not show any signs of a war. Interestingly, the archeologists discuss and important find. They found that Hazor was a city state built on two “levels.” The lower level was mainly inhabited by the serfs and slaves while the top level was inhabited by the elitists. What they found was that the lower level had been abandoned and the top portion of the city started seeing crumbling in its infrastructure. According to the archeologists, this was a time of great upheaval in the entire region, not just in Canaan. They conclude therefore, that Hazor was not destroyed from the outside, but from the inside. A rebellion of sorts as the entire region was crumbling. These freed peasants eventually scattered and created their own identity…the Israelites. More evidence is given from the pottery that has been found within Israelite dwellings. These pottery bare an amazing resemblance to those of the Canaanites

So now we have where the Israelites come from, but where does this odd idea of one god come from? For this, we have to go back to Egypt. Egyptian records tell us that King Seti I (1,300 BC, father of Ramses. Also, this date is close to the rebellion in Hazor) enslaved a group of people called the Shasu. These people come from an interesting place. It is called YHW, and it is located around the area the Torah calls Midian. Could these Shasu people have worshiped a god called YHW or YHWH?

Archeologists in the show are hypothesizing a new theory built on all this information put together. They believe there in fact WAS a group of freed Canaanite slaves leaving Egypt, but on their way back to Canaan, they entered the land of the Shasu and were inspired by the the God YHWH. This God, they believed was the one that had freed them from Egypt.

As they re-entered the land of Canaan, they were greeted by the newly freed slaves (now the Israelites) that had settled the land after the Canaanite states crumbled. The returning Canaanites from Egypt taught this new God that they learned about from the Shasu to the people. Slowly, as these brand new Israelites spread in the land, so did this brand new idea of one God. It inspired them and gave them meaning. As centuries passed and the populations grew the stories became exaggerated to give more meaning. It wasn’t just a small band of freed Canaanites that were freed from Egypt, but that EVERYONE was from God in Egypt. And so, the idea of one God for everyone, was formed. But clearly, old habits are hard to break and that would account for the large amounts of idols found in Israelite cities.

The show earlier discussed a rock that was found in Israel. This rock had the entire Hebrew alphabet on it and was also dated to about 1000 bc. Archeologists now believe that writing was possible long before they had previously thought. In fact, at this time they believe, the writing down of the “Israelite Story” may have begun. Different stories, myths and songs until it took its final form centuries later, the Torah.

I highly recommend watching all the chapters that the site offers. At the very least, it is interesting to get many powerhouse names in archeology in one show giving you the main essence of evidence and theories rather than having to go out read dozens of books. Though I like reading too :) I didn't finish wathcing the whole thing. There is still more discussing the united kingdom, but I just wanted to touch up on this one issue. Let me know what you think. Strengths? Weaknesses? Did I miss anything?

November 13, 2008

Should Mormons Be Punished?

This ex-Mormon says going after their tax exemption status is the wrong way about it.

"There is a legal problem here that we realistically need to account for if we are to hold the LDS Church accountable (as well as the Catholics and all those Evangelical churches): The Mormon church did not break any law. It’s within their rights according to the IRS code to advocate publicly and spend money to advocate for political issues. Like all churches/non-profits, they are only barred from campaigning for candidates.  The website “Mormons Stole Our Rights” is wrong on the legal facts (it ignores subsection (h) of the tax code they site) and this will lose in any court in America. Ask any tax attorney and they’ll spell it out for you.  Even more problematically, the Mormon church itself donated exactly ZERO funds to this campaign anyway and asked its members to donate money; this is also completely within its rights as the law now stands."

November 9, 2008

Propostion 8 and Lessons for the Gay Community in General.

Why did prop 8 pass? Well, to the gay community it is but one reason "Hate." Simple black and white case. If you are against calling their union a marriage it MUST be about hate right? I would like to take a closer look at this and if anything, have the gay community learn something that actually might benefit their cause.

1) Stop playing the "Hate" card. Those that disagree with you, do no automatically hate you. I realize it is easier to indoctrinate a population--ESPECIALLY younger people who tend to have no life experience and that everything is either a case of love or hate-- but it doesn't work and it is wrong. People are sick of hearing it.

For some reason the gay community cannot fathom that people don't want to redifine an institution that has existed for thousands of years, but at the same time, do not hate them.

2) Stop comparing yourself to black people or the plight of the black experience. The establishment does not segregate you. You are politicians, business owners, celebrities and everything else anyone is. What you are basically fighting for, is a word, "marriage," not treatment. You have domestic partnership rights, with the exact same treatment (and if you don't have more rights, I would side with you). But to equate yourself as an oppressed people is a slapin the face to those that truly have been treated like an oppressed people by the majority.

3) Don't blame the mormon church. Don't blame the synagogue. YOU alone are responsible for your message loosing out, not others. It's totally logical that ANY proposition on ANY ballot will be financed by different people from different locations. I am not saying you don't have a right to protest, you do, but its simply a cop-out for your own failure. You are only hurting your cause by picking on this one group when there was so many others behind it.

4) Moderates don't trust you. They don't mind having gays marry but they wonder where your crusade will end. In Canada, there was a case of a reverend punished for talking against homosexuality. The gay activists have some of the most fanatic activists, and they want to know FOR SURE that the slippery slope will not end up like like Canada, or Illinois ( If you did, but still failed, don't blame the mormon church, blame yourself.

5) Keep your sexuality to yourself. There are many people out there that think the gay lifestyle is either disgusting or immoral. And you know who is to blame? YOU! If you are attempting to show everyone else, that in fact you are no different than they are, stop parading yourself in the most vile intimidating manner for the simple sake of being intimidating. What you do in private is your business, but when you dress up with penises hanging out in public you are only furthering the stereotypes of yourself. In my opinion, no responsible parent wants their kids to see things like that OR be around you.

I myself voted in favor of prop 8. I do not believe one can redefine something simply because of a feeling they have, especially when all the 'actual' rights are given (if I am wrong, let me know). Either way, anything I feel goes out the window if this proposition was implemented illegally. The court has to now see whether this is an amendment or revision. If its an amendment, its legit, if its a revision than it has to go through longer steps which it did not. If it is indeed deemed a revision than the proposition has to be repealed whether I like it or not. Its in everyone's best interest that the majority does not have a free hand to revise a Constitution without going through the proper mechanism the law requires. Because guess what? If you can change the constitution then so can the other side and NO Constitution should be a ping pong table.

Le me know what you think. Right? Wrong? Some things right? Some things wrong?

Update: I saw this posted on this Facebook after writing my post:

Homosexuality has been a faux pax for too many years because of a conservative nation's fear of it's own sexuality. Unfortunately homosexuals are being defined by bedroom activities and not by the content of their character. Sound familiar? And unless they decide to reclassify homosexuality as a disorder there is nothing to say that we are different or 'less than.'

Like I said, gays have NOBODY else to blame but themselves for this. All you have to do is attend ANY gay rally or ANY celebration in the West Hollywood area.

Also, I think this whole "Oh, if we are second class citizens, why should we pay taxes" crap. Or, "no taxation without representation." I just don't understand this sort of stupidity. You DO have representation and this has nothing to do with your marriage rights. Whether gays like it or not, not ALL unions are allowed in the US but yet those people still have to pay taxes.

I am honestly re-considering my vote for prop 8, but the stupidity of the gay activists simply leaves me speechless.

November 6, 2008

Candyman - The Shit of the Nation, Part II

                       - Candyman

Oh well, at least he finally said something nice about the IDF

Candyman - The Shit of the Nation


If you have any brains, you would be appalled by a post like this. In his basic fanatic leftists bullshit, Candyman explains to all of us that those of us that voted McCain have no RIGHT to celebrate Obama

Candyman, nothing describes you better THAN a piece of shit, you don't deserve to live in this country, and for sure you have no right to champion Barack Obama who on his acceptance speech basically blamed himself for not earning the support of the rest of us. I celebrate Barack Obama because I celebrate the sheer awesomeness of how democracy moves in this country. I celebrate because even though I do not agree with the policies he tried to sell the nation, he is still my leader. The point of this nation is NOT to be divisive if we do not get what we want.  My opposition for Obama does not come from the same disgusting hatred that YOU, YOU YOU YOU YOU YOU, a soft tolerant liberal have anyone on the right, but comes from policy only. I NEVER doubt that a person like Barack Obama wants the best for this country, I simply disagree with his views. So does this mean I still don't get to celebrate a new leader? Even if you disagree with a conservative, would one ever not reach over his hand to deny you the right to celebrate with him that our democracy still works? This is a victory for EVERYONE, you shit for brains. Its a victory that the gears of our democracy work and the people get what they wanted. If he does a crappy job, we vote him out. 

You, have no right to claim any allegiance to this country with that attitude. Until you party is made up of saints with no money in their fat pockets, you have no right to judge those on the other side. 

You really think the democrats are some godly party? You really believe the democratic party is NOT responsible for this economic slump? Wake up you moron. You don't think your god Obama didn't have some blood money in his pocket? Wake UP! 

If anyone is the party of emotions it is YOU! Your crusade to always be kind and fait have brought on disastrous laws like the Community Reinvestment Act. It's people like you that never thought that the sexual revolution of love and peace would have any affect on the future generations. It is your party that is  aiming toward more PC bullshit. It is your party that helps the gang mess. You breed an unhealthy tolerance toward the rotten in this society thinking that good might come out of it, when reality dictates they need to be deported. But you don't, cause you kiss the mexican lobbyist to get their votes. You are the party that is always concerned with not hurting anyones feelings. You are NOT the party of freedom. You are a party that has grown to making this country a Nanny State. Legislating what is good for us no less than what the right used to do. 

No wonder I hate these leftist extremists. They condemn the right-wing extremists but think their own shit doesn't stink. I rarely hate people, but Candyman I hate. His posts are routinely  filled with venom and insinuations about other people. He truly is a piece of shit.

November 4, 2008

Post Election Thoughts

What an election huh? I will have to admit it is an amazing thing to have the first black American president. You can't deny this is a great historical moment in this country. Today, I voted for my very first time. It was a great experience (mainly because I got a cool sticker). Voting, made me appreciate what a great system we have. Not just the voting system, but the whole political edifice of this country. Seriously, when I look at other countries, even like Israel, you have to be thankful. What a mess over there. One day you are elected, the next day the government collapses and you have to start all over. It's just not healthy for any nation.

I really wish Obama luck. I hope to God that he will not create a nation of entitlement 10 year olds. Remember what Kennedy said: "Ask not what your country can do to you, but what you can do for your country." Part of the problem with what the democratic party has turned into is that it totally flipped this message. I hope this messiah complex that people have for Obama (cough::candyman::cough) will subside. This country is not based on that. It's based on hard work. It's based on personal responsiblity and that anyone can achieve anything with that hard work. Government does not need to pamper you. If government will always come to your rescue, when will you grow up. Ezzie has a great post on this. I hope some reason will come into the democrats senses rather that build their whole party base on emotions and "fairness" appeals. I hope.

There is a shinning light to Obama's win. Jackson, Sharpton and Farrakan will finally be out of business. They were literally the worst of the worst that the left was able to produce. I truly hope this culture of victimhood and self pitty will end with Obama's win. That it will inspire other black men and woman to work hard and achieve their dreams in a nation that is the greatest on earth and not the horrible racist sespool that the three stooges have portrayed (jackson, sharpton and farrakan). Oh, and I am at least happy this won't be a filibuster proof congress. That's just dangerous. No party should have that level of power

Anyways, its fantastic to be an American and I am really happy to have gotten my citizenship in time to vote.

September 17, 2008

Back to Hammurabi

We already know of the similarities between some of the Hammurabi laws and the Torah laws, so I decided to actually go down the list and read them for once. Law #146 sparked my interest:

If a man take a wife and she give this man a maid-servant as wife and she bear him children, and then this maid assume equality with the wife: because she has borne him children her master shall not sell her for money, but he may keep her as a slave, reckoning her among the maid-servants.

I don't know about you, but this law reminds me a bit about the story of Sarah and Hagar. As you remember, Hagar after giving Abraham a child, "Tafsa Tachat" (as Israelis would say) angering Sarah, her mistress, and eventually being sent away. Sarah, did not sell Hagar. Perhaps, she was not allowed to since this was some sort of common law. Now, I am assuming this story too place. One of the arguments some make in favor of an ancient Torah is that it's laws and customs date to a more ancient time, well before it could have been written by their supposed source authors. Or, could these customs still have existed later on and the authors merely inserted them in the stories of their forefathers? Or, am I simply seeing something here that doesn't exist?

Here is another one that I will admit may be a stretch, but it got me thinking. Law #116

If the prisoner die in prison from blows or maltreatment, the master of the prisoner shall convict the merchant before the judge. If he was a free-born man, the son of the merchant shall be put to death; if it was a slave, he shall pay one-third of a mina of gold, and all that the master of the prisoner gave he shall forfeit.
What I want to focus on here, is the fact that someone else (in this case, the son) can be put to death for the crimes of another. In Sefer Shmuel II 21: 5, it is described that there was a famine for three years. David inquires of God and he is told that it is happening because of what Shaul did to the Givonites. When David approaches them the Givonites demand the sons of Shaul to be put to death for the crimes of their father David, complies and hands them over and they are hung.

Now, is law of Hammurabi and the story of David similar? I'm not sure. The relevant part (for the moment) is that the very concept of having someone else be put to death (for whatever crime) was something accepted. Or is it?

This does seem to contradict many tenants of judicial law that a father cannot be tried for the sins of the son and vice-versa. On the other hand, we do have it saying it in the Torah that God visits the inequities of the father upon the child. Perhaps the sin of Shaul, was basically an immoral act against God, and not a regular legal crime like the Hammurabi law. Meaning, that a legal law like Hammurabi Law #116, would not exist in Israel and that something so sever as the Givonite story only occured due to the horrible moral crime of Shaul against them. I hope my point is cohesive enough. It's late here :P


August 25, 2008

Can Samaritans Sing??

They sure can!

Sofi Tsedaka is a Samaritan that converted to Judaism. For that, she was excommunicated from her family. If you take a look at the video, there is  a part where she sings the first verse of Bereshit where you can hear the distinct Samaritan pronunciations. For more info, watch this interview of her speaking about her past as well as interesting footage of the Samaritans. She also sings in Arabic.

August 22, 2008

In Defense of the Skirt

Rather than give the same old dissertation about skirts and modesty (and yes, the amount of written material out there about modesty and skirts sometimes does feel like a dissertation), I would like to approach this from a slightly different angle and offer why a preference for skirts is not such a bad thing. Let me be clear that I do not believe pants, in general, to be immodest. I’m not sure anyone really can. Do Orthodox Jews believe that Hillary Clinton is immodest for wearing pants? What about your average woman on the street? I believe, when Orthodox Jews discuss “modesty” we are really referring to our peoples requirements for modesty (ie, yes, these women are perfectly modest, but they are not “OJ modest” per our guidelines). This is fine of course. Every group can define its own parameters no matter how subjective it is to the rest of the world. The problem is, it’s for this very reason, that people are questioning it. The halacha itself is causing the problems. Saying something is “halacha” when the reasoning behind it is a bit weak is not going to fly for many women. For this reason, I believe a different and perhaps better value should be placed on the skirt.

Jews, seem to lack something that other cultures around have. I’m not sure exactly how to phrase it, but perhaps it’s a cultural expression to identify the group as one. Different cultures have a particular art or even architecture that identifies them as a whole. Mosques have a certain art form that is very unique to them. Asian countries have a certain art form as well, that is easily recognizable to identify their culture. The same can be said about dress. There are very specific trademark outfits. So for example, you have traditional Greek dancing with traditional Greek dress. Jews seem to lack this, and it’s quite understandable. Jews were dispersed and simply followed the dress, art, dance, and song of whatever culture they were in. Yemenite Jews and Litvak Jews seem very different. The present is no different. We simply dress like westerners. Ahhh, but you can say: "what about halacha, hasn’t that tied the Jews around the world together?" Well, yes. It has. Jews keep halacha. We pray, keep the same diet and wear tzitziot that identify us as one. And that, is my entire point in this. I believe, that even though the original reasoning behind wearing skirts was modesty, we should shift focus and see skirts as an identifying marker for the Jews. Sure it is not as interesting as a Dutch girls outfit, but I believe its the best approach with what we have to work with. I don’t think this is so far fetched. When we were in Yosemite this week, I immediately recognized a Jewish woman by her outfit. There was a certain kinship I felt and it was initially there because of how she was dressed. Israeli folk dancing also has a unique outfit for its female dancers, but that is only Israeli, not necessarily “Jewish.”

My point is simply to take an existing phenomenon and give it a different meaning. Many women believe these rules to be simply male attempts to control what they wear. Of course, to some extent it may be true, and so, if a woman realizes this, should she just chuck the skirts out the window? I say, she donesn't have to. They can take the skirt and give it a better purpose. Not just for themselves, but to add it as a significant cultural marker—you uniform, if you will—for our people. Is this full proof? Will every woman out there immediatly realize the wisdom of the skirts? No, of course not. But I believe it is a better approach then the same old modesty line. And like I said above, it's not that far fetched. We already do identify with each other when we see a common identifying feature.

And, just to help him out- Check out Dovbear's new book. You can buy it for a good friend or someone you really can't stand. This gift can work well for both :)

July 21, 2008

Round Tfillin?

A commenter on GH's post brought up this link regarding Tfillin. The pictures though, show what appears to be round tfillin. I have never seen that before.

Also, if you notice in the first drawing, you will see the arm tfillin box is much smaller than what we are normally accustomed to. The only time I have ever seen one of this size, are the tfillin that were found in the Qumran caves. This link gives you the dimensions, but I recall seeing a photo of one box that was about the size of a dime.

June 30, 2008

A Short Vent and Maybe a Long Vacation

What the hell is this blog about? Hmmmm? I don't know myself. I'll tell you what though. I'm very tired. My soul is tired. I haven't been happy in quite a while. I've been blogging for 3+ years now and I tell you, I'm just tired. I can't work, I can't live, I can't focus on anything. Anything, but religion that is, and there is nothing healthy about that. I mean, how much can you think about DH and morality and God and everything else that is discussed on these blogs ad nauseam. 

I think it's obvious now. The Torah as we have it today, as we have had for at least 2,500 years is NOT all from the time of Moses. I say not all, because I think I do believe in revelation. That something was experienced and something was given (The problem is, "something" is not really going to motivate me to stop shaving with a razor). It seems when reading Tanach, an overall encompassing theme is that God took them out of Egypt and that commandments and laws were given to a man they supposedly all know and love, Moses (no, not me). The word "sefer" is used (I believe scarcely) but that can mean anything. Maybe Moses wrote a bit and things were were added here and there over centuries. Who knows? I am not really a supporter of DH, but that does not automatically make me a believer in the Sefer Torah being written all by Moses.

Everyday I come to work and blog, but it's always the same old crap. Honestly, the only blog worth anything for Jewish (historical) learning is probably On The Main Line. But I falsely deluded myself into thinking some great miracle could be found there. I also came a realization that most people are just sheep. That goes for skeptics too. Most skeptics knowledge of DH is but a "copy & paste" trick. They don't know anything. They know it exists and are eager to pass this information on.  They have no idea of what real linguistics are but are quite capable of tossing Cassutto aside. Why? Because current scholars of tossed him. I am always curious to know if they really DO believe he is outdated, or they believe he is outdated because they are told to say that. Sheep. Of course this says nothing of DH. It might all be totally true, I am merely offering my view of the nature of the beast. 

Anyways, my wife says I need to stop blogging. That if I stop blogging, I won't constantly think about about all this stuff. She might have a slight point. But nothing will change. I will probably always have this stuff in my mind. I think she will see that for herself. So, in light of that, I will be taking some time off. I will give it a month. That's a good start. I mean, honestly, what am I going to miss? If I slip up, then I slip up. It's not easy just quiting after so long after all. 

I will be checking my emails, so feel free to email me anytime you want. Those with my number can even call me. After all, I met some wonderful people here that I consider friends. If anyone has some advice for motivation to keeping halacha or some of it, I would love to hear it. As long as it's not the same ol "even if its not directly from God, the fact that we took it upon ourselves is still a reflection of his will." Sorry guys, I tried that. It doesn't work :)

June 25, 2008

Where's Shifra

Long ago, in another time, in another place there used to live a little  ol' lady. A lady, by the name of, Shifra. She was our official Blogger psychologist and  possibly had the best blog all around. Much funnier than Jameel any day of the week. In fact I would put my money on Shifra that she could easily kick Jameels ass. Anyways she has been MIA for about five months now. 
I am officially offering a reward of $100,000* for her, dead or alive.

*will be paid via a one time $10 Coffee Bean gift card 

June 24, 2008

Rabbi Joseph ben Isaac

Frumheretic has an interesting post, comparing the two accounts of the Israelites complaining to God regarding their food situation. In one case in Exodus they complain and are given Manna and in Numbers they complain and God gives them meat. To tell you the truth, I never thought about this incident so hard, but apparently Frumheretic believes this is an obvious case of two separate traditions. You can find a nice little graph on his site.

The most interesting part of that post is at the end. When doing some online sloothing, he not only found that his observation has been talked about before, but that it was brought up all the way back in the 12th century by a commentator by the name of Joseph ben Isaac, known as the Bekhor Shor, a student of Rabbenu Tam. A bit of googling led me to this file discussing biblical criticism and has a section titled "Classical rabbinical views that suggest multiple origins." This is what was said about Rabbi Joseph ben Isaac.
In the twelfth century, the commentator R. Joseph ben Isaac, known as the Bekhor Shor, noted that a number of wilderness narratives in Exodus and Numbers are very similar, in particular, the incidents of water from the rock, and the stories about manna and the quail. He theorized that both of these incidents actually happened once, but that parallel traditions about these events eventually developed, both of which made their way into the Torah.
If true, I am a bit confused as to what to make of this. Did he believe in post-Mosaic additions to the Torah? Did he simply believe that God took one incident and repeated it in the Torah for whatever reason? Did he really believe in two separate traditions regarding this part of the text? This is something I am terribly ignorant on and would like some help.

Who was this rabbi? What did he believe? Are the critics simply taking a comment of his out of context?

June 23, 2008

King Solomon Entertains a Bible Critic- From 'On The Main Line' Archives

I am sure S. won't mind me putting this up from his archives. Going through his archives is always fun. It reminds me of going through my Grandfather's garage to find any little "chachke" to look at. Anyways, this is an little piece that I thought would be interesting to share. I am sure many of the new bloggers have never see it before either.

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June 16, 2008

Friedman's "Hidden Book in the Bible"

I was curious if anyone has read Richard Friedman's Hidden Book in the Bible. From the reviews I am reading on the Amazon site, it looks as if Friedman has done a good job at reconstructing the "book of J" from the beginning of creation to the coronation of King Solomon. Any thoughts on the book?
In some interesting or surprising side news, a rabbi in my shul has informed us that he is (or will be) starting to discuss higher biblical criticism in his high school classrooms. He mentioned bringing in Cassutto which he readily admitted to being outdated, but that it is at least a starting point. I wish him luck

June 11, 2008

Other Side of the Jordan and Ruth

אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים, אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר מֹשֶׁה אֶל-כָּל-יִשְׂרָאֵל, בְּעֵבֶר, הַיַּרְדֵּן
These are the words which Moses spoke unto all Israel beyond the Jordan; in the wilderness, in the Arabah, over against Suph, between Paran and Tophel, and Laban, and Hazeroth, and Di-zahab.
Bible critics inform us that the very first pasuk suggests that it was written by someone inside Israel much later on, due to the fact that it says בְּעֵבֶר, הַיַּרְדֵּן (beyond the Jordan, or, on the other side of the Jordan). I never fully thought that this was an issue because I felt that one can easily interpret בְּעֵבֶר, הַיַּרְדֵּן as a specific location (X), regardless of it being compared to another location. Basically, being on the east bank of the Jordan was referred to as בְּעֵבֶר, הַיַּרְדֵּן because their goal in my mind is to be in Israel. While reading the book of Joshua, I found this same phrase right in the beginning.

Joshua 1:14
נְשֵׁיכֶם טַפְּכֶם, וּמִקְנֵיכֶם, יֵשְׁבוּ, בָּאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר נָתַן לָכֶם מֹשֶׁה בְּעֵבֶר הַיַּרְדֵּן; וְאַתֶּם תַּעַבְרוּ חֲמֻשִׁים לִפְנֵי אֲחֵיכֶם
Your wives, your little ones, and your cattle, shall abide in the land which Moses gave you beyond the Jordan; but ye shall pass over before your brethren armed...
Joshua uses the same phrase when stating that the women, children and cattle will stay put at their present location (בְּעֵבֶר הַיַּרְדֵּן). Clearly Joshua has not crossed the Jordan yet, where it would have matched the bible critics, instead, he uses it as a delineation of a specific location regardless of where he is currently standing.

Next Subject: Ruth

The last portion of Megillat Ruth is devoted to the geneology of Peretz to David:

Ruth 4:18

אֵלֶּה תּוֹלְדוֹת פָּרֶץ, פֶּרֶץ הוֹלִיד אֶת-חֶצְרוֹן. יט וְחֶצְרוֹן הוֹלִיד אֶת-רָם, וְרָם הוֹלִיד אֶת-עַמִּינָדָב. כ וְעַמִּינָדָב הוֹלִיד אֶת-נַחְשׁוֹן, וְנַחְשׁוֹן הוֹלִיד אֶת-שַׂלְמָה. כא וְשַׂלְמוֹן הוֹלִיד אֶת-בֹּעַז, וּבֹעַז הוֹלִיד אֶת-עוֹבֵד. כב וְעֹבֵד הוֹלִיד אֶת-יִשָׁי, וְיִשַׁי הוֹלִיד אֶת-דָּוִד
Now these are the generations of Perez: Perez begot Hezron; 19 and Hezron begot Ram, and Ram begot Amminadab; 20 and Amminadab begot Nahshon, and Nahshon begot Salmon; 21 and Salmon begot Boaz, and Boaz begot Obed; 22 and Obed begot Jesse, and Jesse begot David.
I'm not sure if anyone has mentioned this before, but I find this geneology to be a bit short. Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe a span of approximately 600-700 years pass between the birth of Perez and the birth of David. The list seems to be lacking for such a wide span of time.

If you look closely at the text you will see something interesting. In the english translation it says Nachshon begot Salmon and Salmon begot Boaz, but that is not what the hebrew says. The hebrew says Nashshon begot Salma and Salmon begot Boaz. I have a feeling most people think they are the same name (as well as those at Machon Mamre). But what if they aren't? Perhaps these are two separate people and the author was basically missing a whole slew of other names to fit in the geneology.


June 5, 2008

Kudos to Gil

Gil Student has decided to post a book review on Bondage of the Mind by R.D. Gold. But its not going to be any regular book review, he is going to be discussing this chapter by chapter. Now, I think only reason he would do this is because the book DOES in fact have some merit to its arguments. The truth is, I commend him for it. Even though its just some regular shmoe that wrote the book, its delivered in a very simple but thought provoking manner that DOES need to addressed. As Gils says:

Additionally, I am reviewing this book because I believe that it is the beginning (or middle) of a growing trend of anti-Orthodox arguments that we ignore at our own peril. After consultation with a rabbinic advisor, I have decided to publish this detailed review.

For many years we Orthodox have had the luxury of presenting any argument we want without challenge, and as long as someone was convinced (or we convinced ourselves) no one objected. We are finally being challenged and I think that it will only make us stronger.

I trust Gil is at least going to give it his best shot and hopefully be honest enough when Gold does have a point. After all, even Gil said Gold had some good arguments. At least this review won’t be anything like another “award winning blog.”I personally look forward to these next few posts of his and I recommend you don’t miss it either. So give him hell ;)

June 4, 2008

The Origins of the Magen David Revealed?

There are a few theories out there as to the origins of the Magen David. Most of them can be find right here. I recently heard of a new theory proposed that the Magen is actually the flower cups on top of the menorahs that hold the oil. Looking  down from above, you would see a Lily(?) shaped cup with 6 points. I think someone is even making a DVD about it. 
Anyways, last night I received an email with a powerpoint presentation as to the origins of the Magen David. (Disregard the orange blocks. It's just a font issue). This was a new one and actually quite creative.
1) It starts off by giving you the name of  Hashem

2) Then, it does something odd by converting the text into some lined version of the above text.

3) After that, the pieces are cut and placed together, though, as you notice, you the arrow tells you that you have to rotate it first in order for all the pieces to fit at its appropriate place. 

4) And presto, you have a Magen David

The Powerpoint presentation claims this the secret behind the Magen David. I'm sure this is going to appear in the next kiruv seminars. Actually its quite funny, because if anyone has ever been to one, and in this case, an Israeli one, you will notice the dialogue in the Powerpoint presentation of "simu lev" (pay attention) is often used in seminars when they are in front of some projector screen showing you a recently discovered proof. I could just picture a particular rabbi saying it right now :)

If anyone is interested in the Powerpoint file, just drop me an email.

June 1, 2008

A Geek Is...

Someone that goes around discussing the LOST season finale with everyone in shul, including the rabbi's wife, and then spends his Saturday night reading On The Main Line archives.

OK. Off to bed.

May 29, 2008

Jews??? History?? LOL

You guys ever get chain emails? You know, the ones that tell of an incredibly inspirational story or ones that tell of some event that happened. Either way, the sender asks you to pass it on to as many people as possible so they will either be inspired, or, keep that event alive in their memory. In the end half the people will delete them, and the other half will pass them on. Ultimately, both sides have not noticed something remarkable that just transpired.
Today, I received a chain letter.
It is a matter of history that when Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces, General Dwight Eisenhower, found the victims of the death camps, he ordered all possible photographs to be taken, and for the German people from surrounding villages to be ushered through the camps and even made to bury the dead..
He did this because he said in words to this effect:'Get it all on record now - get the films - get the witnesses - because somewhere down the track of history some bastard will get up and say that this never happened. All that is necessary for the triumph of evil, is for good men to do nothing'.
This week, the University of Kentucky removed The Holocaust from its school curriculum because it 'offended' the Muslim population which claims it never occurred.This is a frightening portent of the fear that is gripping t h e world and how easily each country is giving into it.It is now more than 60 years after the Second World War in Europe ended.
This e-mail is being sent as a memorial chain, in memory of the 6 million Jews, 20 million Russians, 10 million Christians and 1,900 Catholic priests who were murdered, massacred, raped, burned, starved and humiliated with the German and Russian peoples looking the other way!
Now, more than ever, with Iran, among others, claiming the Holocaust to be 'a myth,' it is imperative to make sure the world never forgets.
This e-mail is intended to reach 40 million people worldwide! Be a link in the memorial chain and help distribute this around the world.
Don't just delete this.
It will only take a minute to pass this along
Ok, sounds important right? But is it true? So I checked. Turns out, the whole thing is false. Nu, so what is the big deal here you ask. The big deal is this: We live in a time of unprecedented ease of finding information and correct information at that. But yet, millions of people send out false information to millions of other people on the internet without EVER bothering to check if that information is true on that very same internet. It's just assumed that it is true because it is so fantastic and written well. If in our day and age, false historical information can be passed to so many believing people, then how much more so in ancient times?
Ultimately, this is the biggest problem I have with Judaism. As much as Judaism has a lot of inspiring stuff, its backbone is that of historical events. How on earth can I trust people back then to pass information accurately if even today people are having difficulties.

May 28, 2008

In 100 Years...

I'm a pessimist. My wife can totally confirm that. So depending on your POV this post might not be a bad thing at all. Lately, I have been feeling like I am part of a loosing team.  That team being Orthodox Judaism. I've been asking myself whether OJ will even be around in 100 years and  if so, what will it look like. "Orthodox Judaism" changed in the past. It was called the Enlightenment and because of it, certain OJ's responded by hiding, and some responded by meeting it head on. In many instances, "head on" meant reconciliation. How do we reconcile our text with science or even philosophy? Judaism is always at a need to be reconciled with something else. But for how much longer can that be done?
There is this new invention out there called the "Internet," and with this new invention, information is able to cross all boundaries. Now before you say "duh,"  realize the power of the interent is fairly new in the grand scheme of passing on information. And yet, all of us have already see what the internet has done. We have ALL been shown information that we never even dreamed existed, and if it did exist, it would have been almost impossible to access it. But no more. Information is everywhere, and not only that, social networking is immediately accessible for us to ask others what they think of this new information. So its not just information, but its the ability to cross check this information with everyone all over the world.
If this is the case, if this is obviously the state of the world, and its only going to spread, how on earth can OJ survive? Everyone all around is able to read about the ancient near east and compare it to Judaism. Everyone will be able to participate in debates and have their most cherished beliefs pulled apart. And it doesn't even need to be something so large as TMS. How many people out there were shocked to learn about the real meaning of Chanukah? How many people were suprised when you found out what really happened to the students of R' Akiva? Now, sure, you can say those aren't core to Judaism, but the fact is, they ARE part of OJ and how it is passed down from generation to generation. And when one card starts wobbling, they soon discover some more evidence of more hardcore issues and the whole thing starts collapsing.  I guess the real question is, is OJ only sustainable through ignorance? And since ignorance is ever at a loosing battle (at least with religion) in our age, what will happen to OJ in the future? I guess charedim will be around still since people will always be drawn to fundamentalism, but is charediism really an accomplishment we can be proud of? How will MO look like? Since its so open to the outside culture, there is no way to shield its adherents from the available information. So I am not saying Judaism will disapear in 100 years, only that it will most likely not be anything like it is today. What do you think?

OK, I vented a bit. Now I feel a bit better.

May 18, 2008

What's In A Name?

I just bought an interesting little book called "Understanding Hieroglyphics" by Hilary Wilson. Yes, soon enough, I will be able to read ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. Anyways, I wanted to share with you two little interesting tidbits in the first chapter titled "Whats In A Name?"
In ancient Egypt a person's name was not just identifying label, it was part of that person's very being, and as such was far more important than names are in our modern, Western society. Knowledge of the true names of things gave power over those things. According to Egyptian myth, the god Re-Atum had only to conceive a thing in his mind and speak its name for it to come into being. Thus, as he had given everything a name at its creation, he alone had powers over all things. This same idea is expressed in Genesis 2:19-20, in which God is described as giving Adam the power of naming all the animals of creation so that man might have dominion over beasts.
Like the author, I have no idea that one can connect the two stories, and perhaps even say the Israelites were influenced by this story. But really, I believe there is a very powerful contrast between the two. For both cultures, and probably more in the ancient near east, names are highly important and symbolic. But in one story, you have a God using his power to create anything he wants and the other, you have God bestowing that power on to man as a sort of partner. Also, if you keep reading the story of Re-Atum, you see its pretty standard in terms of dieties battling on another. While walking around earth disguised as an old drooling man, Re-Atum is ambushed by a snake created from his own spittle that the goddess Isis found on the floor.While suffering great pain from the venom, he calls upon all his venomous creations, but none of them can help him. He could not summon the one snake that bit him, because he did not create him and name him, and hence, did not have power over him. So Isis basically blackmails him and eventually he yields to her demands.

Here is another little tidbit:
Egyptian gods also had many names. Some religious text include lengthy sections devoted to the naming of gods in their various aspects so that the appropriate form of a particular deity might be invoked for a specific purpose. The sun-god for example, was known by many names, each seens as a different god. The supreme solar deity was Re (or Ra), the god of the sun at its height [noon]... The creator Atum was also associated with the sun, often being named as Re-Atum. He was the sun in its descent from the noon to sunset in the west and especially in the dangerous realms of the underworld through which it had to travel each night to reappear in the east at dawn the next day... The sun at its rising and setting was Harakhty, meaning 'Horus of the Two Horizons,' seen as a soaring or diving falcon. The sun-god who was seen to ascend through the morning sky was Khepri, the scarab beetle, pushing the sun before him as a the insect rolls its ball of dung.
Ok, not too little. A little confusing, but from what I understand, a God basically had more than one name, depending on its aspect or its job. Not only that, but they basically made that aspect a god onto its own. So does this give a defense (if one is needed) to the idea that Elohim and YHWH are certainly one God, but called two different names depending on the aspect, which obviously Chazal, and, probably earlier Israelites were always sensitive to? Well, I don't know. I wikied Re-Atum and it came up with something interesting. It says he is basically a composite diety of two seperate myths:
Atum-Ra (or Ra-Atum) was another composite deity formed from two completely separate deities. However, Ra shared more similarities with Atum than with Amun. Atum was more closely linked with the sun, and was also a creator god of the Ennead. Both Ra and Atum were regarded as the father of the gods and Pharaohs, and were widely worshiped. So, it was almost inevitable that the two cults were merged under the name of Atum-Ra.
Sound familiar? Your call.

May 16, 2008

On Whether Ezra was the Redactor

Jewish Atheists takes another look at the question of Ezra being the Redactor. Yes, I know its nothing new, but it's still always an interesting topic.

May 12, 2008

Pharisees vs Saduccees of Today?

I don't remember who, (maybe S.), said that with the splinter sect within Chabad thinking the Rebbe is mashiach , scholars can gain a better understand of how Christianity developed. Everyone here has heard these Chabadnicks being compared to Christians and probably with some good merit. With the ongoing controversies recently coming from the Charedi world, I was thinking, could scholars in the future looking back at our times, get a better understanding of the split between the Pharisees and Sadducee's and how it played itself out? It looks as if there is almost a calculated attempt on the part of the Charedim to delegitimize anyone on the left (from their perspective the left being MO and RZ and anyone else). Right now we are dealing with the conversion crisis. I believe last year, the Charedim wanted to have full authority in conversions even in the US. There is even call to have the Chief rav of the IDF booted for desecrating shabbat which I believe is just an attempt to delegitimize RZ and the authority behind it. Was this what the pharisees did to the Sadducees (and vice versa)?

How much information DO we have on the Pharisees and Sadducees? Not much. Stuff in the Talmud which can hardly be taken as impartial and Josephus. These two groups, like todays MO/RZ and Charedim, obviously had some sort of relationship albeit a strained one. They even sat together in the beit din, though with obvious friction. But still, all of that information exists scantly in our text and we could never reall get a feeling of what it was like then. Thats why I would find it interesting if someone does write something about the era in which we live and do some comparison analysis of how it might have looked back in the past.

Of course, I am not trying to paint a doomsday scenerio, but for one example, what if Israel WERE to fall? RZ would most likely see its end. Like the Sadducee connection to the Temple, the RZ connection to the Land itself. Charedi Judaism would win a great victory, if one can call it such. Charedi Judaism is solely connected to the Torah and rabbinic authority which is very practical in the sense that it is very portable to take anywhere and continue from where they left off last.

May 1, 2008

THE Question of Survival

Is the answer to the uniqueness of our survival, and even  the re-establishing of Israel, nothing more than a self-fulfilling prophesy? This is the answer I have come across from some bloggers. What do you think?

April 28, 2008


OneFrumSkeptic recently wrote a post, blasting what she sees as the ever growing drift of frummies to conform. In her case, she sees her frum friends all basically heading into the same career field. While this is true, this sort of conformity in choosing career fields is present in all sub-parts of our culture to varying degrees. My secular friends all went into fields of finances and those in the Persian community always lean toward either being a doctor or lawyer. Every community out there has its own values and priorities that generally might affect certain decisions in life (in this case, a career). Now even though OFS agrees that at some level, conformity is inevitable, I still feel she was overly cynical.

Anyways, while (re)reading "This Is My God," by Herman Wouk, I stumbled on this:
Human Life cannot be formless. The only true nonconformists are in the asylums; the only radically free spirits are in the death house awaiting the chair. We live by patterns. We move in comradeships. We cannot move hand or foot without high signs and passwords, no matter what our work or our station may be; and while life lasts, we all wear uniforms. Conformity is evil when it distorts, flattens, and erases fruitful ways strong ideas, natural identities; it is evil when it is a streamroller. But a man cannot escape being part of a milieu-and a recognizable part- unless he flees naked to a cave, never to return.
Coincidentally, both OneFrumskeptic and the person Herman Wouk was responding to are college girls.

April 24, 2008

Thinking About Death

I think about death a bit too much. More than what would probably be considered healthy. I am very sentimental about life and everything that defines it—people, places, memories— and so when someone dies, its hard for me to take in that all those experiences and what define that person, are gone as well. Why am I writing this now? Well, my company is working with a local mortuary doing some TV spots for them. It basically consists of interviews with a family member talking about someone that they lost. Well, I have been given the task of scanning in lots and lots of pictures of the relatives that have passed away. I find myself starring at those photos. Thinking that this person is gone. This person was once a young child, far from thoughts of death. This person experienced different things in this world and accumulated many fond memories that they cherished in their hearts. But now they are gone. This, person, which I am scanning, was a world or even a universe of his own, but no more.

I tell you, discussions of biblical criticism and how to raise my children pale in consideration to the emptiness I feel not knowing what happens afterwards. And add to that feeling that it can come at any given second. We walk through Deaths shadow all day long and it’s at his discretion that we keep walking. But sooner or later, his finger points at you, and you are gone. And yes, the usual response is to lead a meaningful life and to make the best with the time we’ve got, but still, how depressing.

April 10, 2008

The Venetian Haggadah and Modern Sensitivities

Many years ago I got a reprinted, softcover edition of the famous Venetian (or Venice) Haggadah from Arachim (yes, the kiruv organization). There were two editions. The first was printed in 1609 and then it was reprinted in 1629. None of the images were changed, only some commentary was added. I have a feeling my version is the 1629 one because I do see some addition commentary inside. It has amazing wood cut drawings of not only the biblical episodes but also of things you find in the Midrash. I don't want to get too deep in the history of this haggadah right now. Anyone interested is more than welcome to do some further readings.

With this post, I would like to basically show you modern day censorship that I happen to have found in the Venetian Haggadah. Some of it may be correct and following halacha and perhaps some are just a bit silly in my opinion. To tell you the truth, with something as old as this haggadah, I had a strong feeling from the get go that I would find some things, and indeed I did. All the information I got on the original haggadah can be found right here.

The originals will be on the left and my edition is on the right. You may need to click on the image to see it larger.

This image has the Egyptians dying on one side while the Jews are dancing on the other. But if you look carefully, the reprinted edition has erased the two statues found on top of the column (inside the red circle.

In this image, you will notice that in the original, the moon in the background had a face to it while the reprinted does not.

You will notice that this image of people bowing down to idols and Terach and Abraham leaving in the background totally changed. The idols of celestials beings are removed and so are the people bowing down. Instead a man with a boy are put in which I am not sure where they got from.

There is an angel with a sword on the top left of the original, but it was taken out of reprint.

This image is of Avraham during the Brit bein HaBetarim (Covenant of the Parts). You will notice that not only was the sun removed, but the image of Avraham was changed as well. I'm not sure why. Maybe the way he was standing was a bit too Jesusesque for their taste.

Now, of course there had to be some tzniut issues. Well, if you notice the top left picture from the original has the woman showing some cleavage. In the bottom left image, you can clearly see the women's sleeves are rolled up. Well, in the reprinted edition, and it's a bit hard seeing it on the monitor, you can see the exposed skin was painted over, making you think everything is all covered.

Here's an interesting one. The scene is supposed to depict the Jews spreading and multipling. You can clearly see naked children in the original. In the reprinted they were all taken out except for the center part of the image which has everyone covered. Not only that, the entire background was changed. So where did they get that new background from? This one right here...

You can tell it's the same background. Look at the tree. They simply erased the other objects and colored over it.

Now, nothing was changed here, but I decided to add this because it has it's own fascinating story to it. You can read more about it right here.

The illustration in Plate 2 shows black idolaters. The caption below reads, in Italian Jewish vernacular, "Let the foolish nations perish, who serve devils and believe in witchcraft [raising the dead]." That language even gave the magical act of raising the dead, with its clear links to idolatry [Miamonides, Hilkot Avodah Zara 77: 11,13] a name that linked it to black sources, negromanzia. Blacks became identified with such activity within the Christian culture of the time. The source was popular etymology that associated teh similar phonetic sounds of the Greek nekros, a deady body, and 'negros.' Clearly this was no mere language error, but an associative link with the accepted cultural image of the black, with which the artist/printer of the Venetian Haggadah, so clearly identified.

Lastly are some images that were all together removed from my reprinted haggadah entirely.

Here is a scene of Akeidat Yitzhak. I am assuming the problem was with the angel on the top right. BTW, did you just notice something, cause I just did after putting up this image. Here is the man and the boy that were inserted to the photo above after the idol worshipers were erased. Now we understand why they simply didn't erase the angel. It's because they needed to use part of this image for something else and did not want people noticing them photoshoping an image and putting it someplace as well.

I guess it's not tzanuah showing a couple in separate beds. This is the description of this image from the website where I got the originals from: The lower image [the one I used] illustrates the rabbinic passage that the Israelites refrained from conjugal relations so as not to bring children into the world only to have them be drowned by Pharaoh’s men. The background picture shows infants being drowned in the Nile as their parents cry out to God.

This is my favorite one. Here is the description from the website: The image on this page illustrates the text which says that God will send evil angels to punish the Egyptians. The evil angels are depicted as demons whose breath emits one of the 10 plagues. For example, one of the demons crouches by the shore of the Nile while breathing on it and causing the water to turn to blood. Another emits lice from his mouth and a third locust.

So, are all of these changes being a bit too churadick, or are some changs halachically mandated. I just got out of a class tonight that mentions halacha forbids making images of anything in the heavens. So maybe its justified to make some changes. But I have to say, the painting the women's arms is rather silly, yet not something unheard of in the charedi community.

I emailed Arachim to see if they have any explanation for these changes. I haven't gotten a response yet, but I have a feeling I won't even get one and if I do, they won't even know what I am talking about. Could be, this wasn't even their call and this reprinted edition was changed by somone else and only later Arachim decided to use it. If they do respond, I will let you know what they say.

Israel Prayer....Too Offensive

JTA has a story about an egalitarian shul that are having some problems with this prayer for Israel. Apparently, they think it is too militeralistic, "Conflation of religion and politics, its tone of Jewish triumphalism and exclusivity."

Here are some quotes:
Expecting everyone to stand and recite, in unison, something so political clearly sends a message: If you don't identify with the vision of Israel that is expressed in this prayer, then you are wrong,"
What vision bothers this poor soul?
Alpert says the prayer should account for the consequences of Israel's creation for the land's other inhabitants.
I feel such triumphalism in the face of the conflict in Israel and Palestine is irresponsible."
I think this person needs a hug.
Aviva Bock, a member of the Newton Centre Minyan who teaches psychotherapy at Harvard University, says there is something problematic about simply reciting this formula.

"The prayer should be a reflection of our hopes and prayers in the context of today rather than something that feels to me like it was written at a very different moment in time," she said.
Well, what could you expect from a psychotherapist? Sorry 
Kalmanofsky himself recommended an alteration of the passage that speaks of Israeli soldiers achieving "victory," substituting instead a verse from Isaiah asking that they return in peace
At Manhattan's Jewish Center, a modern Orthodox shul, the congregation for many years had substituted an alternate version of the Israel prayer due to discomfort over the messianic element in the line characterizing Israel as "the first flowering of the redemption."

I really don't understand people sometimes. First of all, it says this shul (not the OJ one) follows a traditional siddur liturgy. Have they opened up the siddur lately. It's full of stuff about Israels exclusivity. Its full of places where we hope God will deliver us from its enemies. And messianic yearnings??? Ya, I think it mentions it there too. I wonder if this shul has a problem with the Torah's telling the Israelites to destroy the original inhabitants of Canaan. Perhaps we should add prayers for the souls of the Hittites. What about Tanakh?

I don't know. The way people conceive the world boggles my mind. Wanting those that want you destroyed, to be destroyed, is now politically incorrect. Victory is assur. It's offensive to the sensitivies of those that are defeated I guess. And why does it bother them calling Israel the first budding of the redemption? I mean, isn't that what these people are davening for? A redemption? In Judaism IIRC, redemption and a return to the land go hand and hand. So why do they get so offended by it all?

I would love to get a list of all the "offensive" things in the siddur and email this shul and see if they have a problem with it too. Or is just Israel? Anyone up for the challenge?

And then you have types like Gil, that have no problem tinkering with the prayer or ommitting it. Why? Two reasons. One, because it is recent. Well, weren't all prayers recent at some point or another? And the second, which I feel is for more sad is the fact that he says its political. The fact that Gil can say THIS prayer is political bothers me. How can it be political Gil? You are praying for its safety. You are praying for it being victorious. You are praying for its leaders to make right choices. And yes, you are praying that it is the beginning of a redemption. A redemption that you OBVIOUSLY believe is coming. If anything Gil, Israel should be a cause for all us to say thank you to God without you having to catogorize it into some sort of ideology first. I am SURE we can scroll through the siddur and even Talmud and find many "political" references.

April 9, 2008

Ben Avuyah 2008?

There is a story in the news about a man who was killed in an auto accident a day after he gave $5.6 million dollars in charity for Purim. Onionsoupmix discusses this here and even brings up the similarities between this story and that of Ben Avuyah's OTD journy after seeing the death of a person who sent a mother bird away to retrieve her eggs. The reward for this, the torah says is that your days will be lengthened (Deut. 22:7). The Gemera says that the reward actual is for the next world, though it also mentions that for Charity it can also be to prolong your days

Beyond granting monetary success and protecting one's possessions, giving Tzedakah even protects one's life.

In Mishlei (10:2; 11:4) we read, "Tzedakah saves from death." The Gemara (Bava Batra 10a) explains that Tzedakah saves a person from two kinds of death: from "death" (i.e., non-participation) in the world to come, and from dying an unnatural death. In Shabbat 156b the Gemara extends the power of Tzedakah to preventing (that is, postponing) death altogether. (See the Gemara in Shabbat ibid., which records a number of true stories that illustrate this fact.)

It is for this reason that the Gemara (Rosh Hahsanah 16b) tells us that before Rosh Hashanah a person should give charity. Charity, the Gemara tells us, is one of the three things that have the power to change an evil heavenly decree concerning a person's fate. Even if it has been decreed that a person is to pass away during the coming year, giving charity may change that decree and extend his life.

Perhaps this is what the Gemara means in Sanhedrin 35a when it says, "If a fast day is declared and Tzedakah is not given on that very day, it is as if innocent blood had been shed." Why should the withholding of charity be compared to bloodshed (see Rashi ad loc.)? According to what we have said, we may suggest the following explanation. A fast day called for by the prevailing rabbinic authorities is usually declared in the face of a current or imminent disaster. If a catastrophic heavenly decree is indeed in store for the fasters, then by not giving Tzedakah to prolong their own lives that are at stake, it is as if they have shed blood -- their own blood.

In Bava Batra 10a we learn that Rav Elazar used to set aside a small amount of money for charity before his prayers. The explanation for this practice is perhaps also based on this same theme. A person asks his Creator for health and long years to use for the service of Hashem, when he prays. In order for these prayers to be fully effective, a person must complement them with the life-giving effects of Tzedaka.

Measure for measure is the reward for giving charity.

The passuk they are talking about is is Proverbs 10:2

לֹא-יוֹעִילוּ, אוֹצְרוֹת רֶשַׁע; וּצְדָקָה, תַּצִּיל מִמָּוֶת
There is also this section from a book called Gates of Light, Sha'are Orah that seems to also imply one gets his life prolonged for giving tzedakah or a righteous act.

So it seems there is a lot of sources for it being a reward here. So, what's up with chazal saying it's a reward for the next world? Is Onionsoupmix correct in saying this is an example of cognative dissonance? Did Chazal simply try to cover all their bases? I mean when it comes to the mitzvah of driving away the mother bird, it explicitly says your days will be prolonged. And aren't all mitzvot rewarding in the next world which makes this then redundant and unnecassary if one understands it the way chazal did? Is there actually more to this than meets the eye? (hint hint to upcoming post)

Personally, when such horrible tragedy occurs, I am a big fan of simply saying "I don't know." I would rather that, than explanations that seem forced. And to tell you the truth, I am not so much bothered by chazal, than I am by people today simply parroting chazal's manner of thinking without carefully thinking about it themselves.

April 8, 2008

Useful Resources

I must have been asleep, but I just read a comment on GH's site about these two wonderful websites that have thousands of collections of online books.

They have the Prolegomena to the History of Israel by Julius Wellhausen. It's very long, but I'm really interested in at least attempting this "classic." I pdf'd it and it came out to be 414 pages.
I will add them both to the side bar.

April 7, 2008

The Real Tax Collector

Who ever said Rosh Hashanah is the day God judges you and basically sets out what the rest of your year will be like was wrong. It's not Rosh Hashanah, its tax season. This is the time of year where God sees what kind of Jew you really are. Nobody is watching you. This is the time when you can get away with a lot and never get caught. But in the end, will you be honest?

April 6, 2008

Ancient Cherubim

The reason this post is titled “Ancient Cherubim” is because the topic of the cherubim spans centuries, well into the medieval ages, but I prefer to home in on the cherubim of the biblical age; what were they, and how the Jews viewed them. There is no way I can do this topic justice. I am by no means a scholar on ancient mythologies and archeology, but it fascinates me so I will share with you some of my own insights.

Lets first discuss the etymology of the word cherub. Wikipedia mentions it’s a cognate of the Assyrian/Akkadian karabu or kuribu meaning great and mighty or blessed. Raphael Patai’s book The Hebrew Goddess takes the Akkadian karibu theory but says it means an intermediary between man and the Gods (ie. The one that brings the prayers of man to the Gods). For the heck of it, I decided to see what Shadal thinks of the word. In his commentary to Genesis, he says the word cherub is metathesized from the rakhuv [“that which is ridden’]. His source for this is in 2 Samuel 22:11. “He mounted a cherub and flew, He appeared on the wings of the wind.

I believe the only way to understand, or at least, to attempt to understand how the Israelites viewed the Cherubim is not only looking at our own scripture, but looking at outside sources and seeing how they overlap. For anyone that has only read our commentaries on this subject matter and not looked at the outside sources, a great deal is being missed. Much to my surprise, this is a much layered subject with many ANE sources helping explain other sources. It is quite interlocked in some aspects and in others, not so. I shall attempt to talk about the cherubs of the kapporet, the cherubs of Solomon’s Temple as well as Ezekiels vision.

Reading the Torah only, you are left with more questions as the identity and purpose of the cherubim than you are with answers. All you are told is one Cherub is left to guard Eden, and another pair is to be fashioned on top of the ark as the place where God communicates with Moses. It is these pair of cherubs that I would like to begin with. The Torah gives no description of what these cherubs are to look like. It is almost as if they knew or had their own vision of what cherubs looked like and God simply let artistic vision flow. No problem here, right? Well, I will let you know, that the Ark of the Covenant was the first thing that led me to skepticism. Doing my own little research, I saw pictures of ancient Egyptian artificacts and drawings that showed basically the same concept. I had thought our idea was somehow unique. But I saw an ark, being carried by slaves with a Pharaoh (God) seating on a throne with cherub like creatures with wings spread out on the sides of his throne. Here is an example of King Tut’s throne, with a winged Horus God on the side:

And here is an artifact showing King Hiram of Byblos seated atop of a throne, with a cherub on the side.

Cherubs and thrones for a God seem to go hand in hand in the ancient near east (ANE). It is not unique to the Israelites. You see this in Egypt all the way to the Phoenicians. One could argue that God, for his throne, was merely utilizing a method of expression that was incredibly common in those days. But this still does not tell us anything about what the Cherubim were and what significance they were to ancient people including the Israelites. Let us now move forward to the cherubs of Solomon.

After constructing his temple, he has two large cherubs placed over the Ark, and, has the entire wall in the inside engraved with cherubim and palm trees and blossoming flowers. Like I said above, anyone that has not looked at other sources other than our own would be baffled for this strange need to engrave cherubs and palm trees into the inner walls. What was the purpose? Weren’t Egyptians the ones that had engraved hieroglyphics inside their temples? How was Solomon constructing a temple with such obvious ‘outside’ influences? I have to admit, it does bother me somewhat. But I think it bothers me, because a) I live in the 21st century, and b) I received a pretty pathetic summary of Jewish history. In order for us to perhaps understand Solomon, we need to try to picture ourselves in those days. We will find, to all of our surprise that Solomon was merely utilizing what every other culture back then was doing. To a lesser degree it is probably not so much different than Jewish synagogues looking like mosques and churches. Architecture and the art that goes inside is always influenced by the time and place in which one lives. Solomon’s Temple was no different. As you can see in these examples, there were other nations that used cherubs with palm trees in their design. IMO, one can argue the merits of documentary hypothesis, but to argue that the Jewish expression of worship of their God is NOT influenced by outside influences is by now pointless. Also, lets not forget the Melachim mentions craftsmen of Chiram were also responsible for sculpting the stones. 

As you can see, a cherub or a cherub like creature next to a palm tree or, a sacred tree is quite common. Something interesting to notice in the last picture is that even though there is no palm tree, the cherub’s in Ahab’s “Ivory House” looks almost Egyptian. Odd, is it not? (update: I forgot to add the image of Ahab's "Ivory House" from The Hebrew Goddess previously)

Let us now move to one of the most famous portrayals of the cherubs. Ezekiel’s vision of the chariot with the four cherubs is probably one of the main focuses of mysticism. In it, he describes the cherub as a four winged, four faced human formed creature with eyes all over and a wheel attached to it. Where did this vision come from? What does it mean? Is there anything comparable to it in the ANE? I believe the only thing that comes close to Ezekiel’s cherubs are the Babylonian Genii pictured above (with the trees) and this one here:

Nothing else seems to come close to what Ezekiel describes. But what exactly was he describing? I think when looking at ANE one seems to come to the conclusion that one need not go to Jewish mysticism for an answer. Ezekiel was describing a chariot. More importantly he was describing a chariot inside a cloud. The cloud is God’s manifestation on earth and the cherubs and wheels and chariot are, “kivyachol" the clouds inner workings. Where else do we see this cloud? Well, we see this directly related to the mishkan and the Ark of The Covenant. God would manifest himself by a cloud descending into the mishkan and communicate through the Ark of the Covenant (his throne). We can perhaps now understand the pasuk in 2 Samuel 22:11

“He mounted a cherub and flew, He appeared on the wings of the wind.”

This is describing God’s means of locomotion and I am guessing, the the Israelites then mean't a cloud; since that is how it was believed God presented himself to his nation. David is more or less giving us a less detailed version of Ezekiels vision, and, it matches to how other ANE nations described some of their own God’s traveling by means of cherubs or other winged creatures. Here you have an image of a God traveling on the back of a cherub, or as composite animal.

As a quick side note, a rabbi I know had a theory that OUR cherubs might actually be ox. He gets this from another pasuk in Ezekiel’s description of the four faces of the cherubim. The text instead of saying Ox, it said had the face of a cherub. Hence a cherub is an ox. Ezekiel 10: 14

Each one had the four faces; the one face, the face of the cherub, the second face, the face of a man, the third face, the face of a lion, and the fourth, the face of an eagle.

After giving this some thought, I don’t think it works. It may be that the word ‘cherub’ can be used instead of an ox, since many cherubim had bodies of oxes like this image.

It’s not that a cherub IS an ox, but simply that they both share some characteristics and the words can be swiped and the available audience in that time were able to understand. Also, our cherub’s can’t actually mean an ox because the very same text is telling you that the actual cherub with four wings had a human form to it.

So in the end, do we make out of all of our findings. It looks like different cultures expressed the cherubim a bit differently, but maintained certain characteristics. It was the direct carrier of God and the closest to Him. It was the way He manifested himself in this world and communicated with man. I have to admit, I am still not sure what the palm tree in Solomon’s temple means, but I am sure with a bit more reading as to what it mean’t to other cultures, we can find out. The idea of cherubim was as international to them as a regular angel is to mankind in our times. Every culture utilized the cherubim for their specific belief. It could be that Hashem, to the Jews, does not go around and change all cultural aspects to a society. He simply uses it for his benefit. It is obviously very hard for us to relate to something like this which, for me, highlights even more Shadal’s insistence that we take ourselves out of our present time and into the days when our texts were written. There is obviously much more to discuss, and I am no scholar, but hopefully, this will give all of us a bit of push to do some further reading. It is something that can only help us better our understanding of the Israelite interest in cherubim that are found throughout our scriptures.