Wednesday, August 31, 2005

SlifKindred Spirits

As advertised, this past Sunday I went uptown to Da Bronx Zoo for one of Rav Natan Slifkin's famous Zoo Torah Tours. Now, despite the fact that I felt somewhat uncomfortable at points participating in a private religious tour in a public area, it was definitely a lot of fun in addition to being religiously edifying and educational. Rabbi Slifkin taught us about the (un/)kosher status of all kinds of exotic animals like giraffes, bison, and turkeys. He also made a number of references to Pereq Shira and the moral lessons it teaches by associating particular animals with specific quotes from the Tanakh.

There were between 20 and 30 people in attendance, including little kids, whole families, and older individuals, including one middle-aged man who had just gotten back from sneaking into and getting thrown out of Gush Qatif.

We saw and learned about all kinds of animals, including camels, okapis, various tropical snakes, bears, and what was according to R' Slifkin one of the most beautiful of God's creations(/evolutions ;-) ), a snow leopard. We even saw a binturong, also known as the South-East Asian "bearcat". The bearcat is neither a bear, nor a cat. Discuss!

Saturday, August 27, 2005

דנאל בן יעקבאל

Just call me Daniel Jackson.

That's Doctor Daniel Jackson.

Dr. Daniel Jackson is a character on the TV show Stargate SG1.

Other fictional characters with whom I have been identified by friends include:


and Sir Didymus.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

In Happier News

Rav Natan (a.k.a. Nosson) Slifkin is coming back to NYC!

(as seen originally on Hirhurim)

(for adults and older children)
led by Rabbi Natan Slifkin
the world-famous "Zoo Rabbi"

author of Nature's Song, The Science of Torah, and Mysterious Creatures

this coming SUNDAY — August 28, 2005 / 23 Av, 5765
at 10:00 AM
(and 2:00 PM, depending on demand)

Price: Adults $25 / Children $20   (does not include admission)

for schedule and registration (required), email
only 30 spots available!   for details, see

If you sent Rav Slifkin an email, and got an automated bounceback message in return saying that his email box is full, DO NOT WORRY. Every email he gets is sent to two accounts; one of them is full and giving error messages; the other one works fine.

A Thousand More Words

Just repeat "What The F—?!" 333 ⅓ times.

(thank you Oleg Popov for bringing this to our attention)

Monday, August 22, 2005

Seven Weeks of Nehama

No, not this Nehama!

Check out Mar Gavriel's brilliant post about the period of Seven Weeks of Consolation Haftarot that we now find ourselves in after Tish‘a B’av, and help us all figure out good ways to highlight and celebrate this happy period in the Jewish calendar. The calendar isn't all about the ‘Omer and the Three Weeks, ya know.

(don't be scared by his technical transliterations)

Friday, August 19, 2005

Big Brother Is Watching (What A Perv)

I have just been recruited into the Gmail cult.
Renegade Rebbetzin got the toaster.

My new email address is:
that H in shtegosaurus is very important, don't forget it!

And with that, I wish a seabáth seálóm (sabóid shona daoibh) to all'a y'all.
Now go dress in white, hang out in the vineyards and make some Jewish babies! ;-)


Thursday, August 18, 2005

I Believe This Is What They Call A "Fisking"

Fisk you, Heshy!   ;-)

Okay, I've never done this before. So let's have an experimental 'fisking' of everybody's favorite iber-rightwing self-proclaimed Hhareidi prophet, Heshy.
Yes, it’s sad to see the children of Gush Katif being torn away from their place of birth, their playgrounds and their friends. Why is G-d doing it? We know everything is for the good, even when it appears not so good.
Heshy begins his declamation with an expression of sympathy towards "the chidren of Gush Katif" who are being taken away from their homes and brought within the Green Line as part of Israel's Hitnatqut (Disengagement) program. He then, in good SAT essay fashion, ends the first paragraph of his post with the essential question of his lesson — "Why is G-d doing it?"
It’s the leaders of the modern religious zionist movement that are to blame. They made a pact with the devil and enemy of Torah and G-d. That enemy is secular zionism. Foolishly, these religious knitted-kippah leaders got their flock to put their emotions and trust in the enemies of G-d.

Many of you here are too young to remember how anti-Torah were the founding secular zionists. They were worse than the reform or conservative heretical sects.
As usual, Heshy is claiming to know the mind of God (or at least the access codes to Ramhhal's Heavenly Karma Komputers). Also as usual, he blames this trauma on Religious Zionism. The question is, though, when he says "they made a pact with the devil" is he just using a figure of speech based in the Euro-Christian American cultural environment in which he lives? Or does he actually believe that Secular Zionism is a demonic, malevolant and metaphysical force that exists independently of and in opposition to the Creator of Worlds?

Here, they want to show the goyim that Jews believe in evolution, organ donation (just a glorified way of supporting autopsies) and being more modern than Orthodox.
Wait... I don't get it... Heshy, did you finish your thought? Did I miss the if, then? So-called Modern Orthodox leaders in America want to "show the goyim that Jews believe in evolution, organ donation...", okay, I got that... and the Religious Zionist leaders want to what? The same thing? The use of "Here," in the second quoted paragraph seems to indicate an approaching contrast. Here the MOs want blah-blah, and there the RZs want blah-blah-blah — but there's no blah-blah-blah!
Both movements are failures. They are both not in line with G-d and his Torah.

Now, G-d in His mercy will save these good misguided young people in Gush Katif and all the other settlements. They will become disillusioned with zionism and become true G-d serving Jews, black-hat Chereidim. This is G-d’s will.
Okay, so both movements are failures. But Heshy still hasn't said what it is about Religous Zionism that isn't "in line with G-d and his Torah"! Maybe he'll get to it later. It's interesting how Heshy keeps on pushing the black hat so hard. What is it about the hat? Is it a "get in free" card to Heaven? Or does he just believe that it represents certain ideals? We need to do some experimentation with this... get a few case subjects, say, a pseudo-Yeshivish YU guy who dresses monochromaticly but learns secular studies; or a t-shirt-and-jeans-wearing Jew who shares Heshy's Antizionist philosophy but doesn't see borsalinos or gartls as necessarily following. And where are the women? Are they all in the kitchen, making me some pie?
It pays to turn over a whole community just to save a Jew’s soul. To some people it sounds strange, but this is G-d’s way throughout history. The settlers are being rescued from their atheistic partnership with secularism and they will be relocated to a more frum area away from the beach. Once they have joined an authentic Jewish community, they will no longer send their kids to the army so that they won’t become cannon fodder as they did in the Yom Kippur 1973 war by putting hesder yeshiva kids on the front line. This was done by that evil modern day Zerubavel known as Golda Meir. The same was done to the Sfardic Jews as well.
I hope when Heshy talks about "turning over" communities he's only referring to the bloodless (כן יהי רצון) Hitnatqut, and not to, say, the Porrajmos, the Crusades, or the Hhurban of the First and Second Jewish Commonwealths.

"Atheistic partnership with secularism" — does he mean that the Religious Zionists are sinning by teaming up with their fellow Jews who happen to be Secular Zionist Atheists? Or maybe he means that by teaming up with other human beings, instead of with God, they are in a sense rejecting God. That could work. But wouldn't that just mean that they're following the principle of ein somekhin ‘al haneis, 'we don't rely on miracles'?

I don't know enough about Israeli military history to comment on his accusation that hesder soldiers were used as "cannon fodder" during the Yom Kippur war, but...
"that evil modern day Zerubavel known as Golda Meir"?!
Uhm, Heshy? ZERUBAVEL??
The righteous Persian governor of Judea?
The grandson of King Yehoyakhin, and would-be Mashiahh?
You sure you don't mean IZEVEL?
(sigh... what was it a high school Tanakh teacher of mine said about the negative consequences of hhareidi yeshivas not teaching enough Tanakh?)
How can anyone religious entrust their 18 year-old kids to an army that’s anti G-d? By an army that for almost 60 years has been beating up orthodox Jews who were protesting against Shabbos desecration, autopsies, grave desecrations, etc.
Maybe they're trying to change the system from within. Infuse some Jewish values into it. Or is that not a good reason, given that Heshy is Hhareidi, and therefore believes in isolationism?
Gush Katif was taken away because the focus was LANDWORSHIPPING and not issues like Shabbos, modesty and G-d worshipping.
Finally, something we can agree on! Thank you, sir, for working in your own distinctive way to disseminate the ideals of Prof. Yesha‘yahu Leibowitz, who like you was a prophet, but actually managed to warn the people of the future consequences of their actions instead of being a Monday Morning Quarterback!
It’s always been a problem with modesty in the religious zionist movement. Many of the young are changing, but we have to be as modest as the arab women are, otherwise G-d’s wrath comes upon us. Every girl should wear a skirt covering her kneecaps, sleeves covering elbows; high neckline covering collarbone, stockings and married women should cover their hair. Men, too, should dress properly when going to shul and on Shabbos. If this had been done 100%, then Gush Katif would be in Jewish hands. EVERY SETTLEMENT MUST INSTITUTE A DRESS CODE.
Ah hah! Here are the women! Interesting that he talks about everyday tzniusdik dressing for women, but only mentions men's clothing in relation to going to shul and Shabbos. What about the men dressing modestly? Tell all those half-naked Gush Katif boys with their hippy pei’ot, bare torsos and orange shorts to put some clothes on! Although Heshy does talk more about men's dress in other posts, so I guess he doesn't have to go into all the intricate Falkian details of men's clothing here. Although this reminds me, I owe y'all a post about my Dressing for Davenning Dilemma... gotta remember to write that up.

Also, I heard Rav Goldvicht of YU once claim that God is letting the Arab-Muslim world kick us around because of the merits they have due to 1) their devotion to tznius (physical modesty) and 2) their pride in their religion. He specificly contrasted Muslims' willingness to whip out a prayer mat wherever they are and daven in public without regard for looking silly, while Jews play all sorts of 'hide in the phone booth' games because we're afraid that people will stare at us or think we're weird when we pray.
I received calls from friends in Gush Katif that they got the Rabbis there to speak about women’s modesty. But this needed to be done months ago and was only done now the last days of the eviction. In the Holocaust, there were Jews who prayed the last minute instead of fighting the reform heretics years before.
Here we are, the obligatory Sho’a reference. And with that, we will invoke Godwin's Law. The End.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

2000 Years (or was it Words?)

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Mar Steg's Sabbath Activities

Tishabav is over, and the Hitnatqut is about to start.
Sitting here in the eye of the metaphorical hurricane, let's stick our heads in the sand for a little bit and enjoy the peace and quiet of a Shabbat flashback...

I spent this past Shabbos on the (in)famous Upper West Side of Manhattan, that intellectual playground of university students and singles' wonderland of J-Date proportions. Me and a few friends went up to the UWS to stay by another of our friends who now lives there. It was a lot of fun — Friday Night we went to daven at the famous "OZ", and I was completely shocked to run into not one but two people I know there! Usually, when I go to one of these places that people say "oh, everyone always meets someone random they know there" I don't meet anyone. This time, however, was different! The Upper West Side is a magical wonderland! Anyway, I bumped into two friends from college, and was able to talk to them each for a few minutes before the buffeting flows of The Scene separated us. Then me and my friends went back to — I think I need to come up with a pithy nickname or few here, this is getting too repetitive... eh... — "Proton"'s place, where him, his new apartmentmate, me, "Etios", and "the General" had dinner with two more of Proton's friends from college. "Maverick" joined us midway through the meal. Much of the conversation centered around the fact that one of the participants at the dinner is lucky enough to work at Google, and was regaling us all with stories of the mad perks that people who work there get. Oh, and "Proton" makes great food. Thanks!

The next morning, New Aptmate, "Etios" and I went to KOE for davening. We got there about half an hour early due to scheduling misinformation, and as we walk in I see a guy sitting on one of the already-set-up chairs, making sure to recite the Shema‘ before the time ends. And he was saying "...wǝƹŏsu lŏhĕm ṣiṣiþ..."

Mar Gavriel?!
Why yes it was!

Somehow I was offered the opportunity to hhazan Shahhris, which I did. And I have a sneaking suspicion that Mr. Gavriel 'pulled some strings' in order to test my RL DiqduqGeekosity. And I don't doubt that when I stepped up to the ‘amud with my *wierd accent there must have been at least one person in the shul who thought "oh no, not another one!" Heh. Anyway, I had yet another run-in with someone I know, this time from Israel, and Kehilat Orach Eliezer seemed to be an all-around nice place to daven. It reminded me of Yedidya back in Jerusalem. Except without the kids. Or the married people. Or the new building.

I had lunch with Mar and his friends, including "Springbird", "Rav Nahman & Yalta" and "DJR", and I also got to meet "Taylweaver". Let me just say that it was very complicated to keep track of everyone's real names and nicknames, but I eventually got it. The lunchtime conversation centered around (guess what? yes, it was) diqduq. Duh. But we were also able to slip in a few other interesting topics, including the insane "1 Degree of Separation" density of Jewish Geography, especially on the Upper West Side, which was amply demonstrated by the surprisingly close judeogeographic connections we discovered exist between me and some of Gavriel's friends, without even considering the blog connection. MG is also a good cook, but unfortunately I neglected to consume enough liquids, and after lunch, a continuing friendly chat with MG and "DJR", and heading back to "Proton"'s place, I fell asleep on a sleeping bag in a dehydrated lump.

When I woke up for shalashudes, I knew that I was dehydrated and tried to stuff as much water and other liquids in my body as I could. This method, though, backfired, and I became very nauseous (at first we thought it was because of the expired hhumus), and ended up unable to go to shul to hear Eikha.

Toda la’Eil, after a few hours of rest I got better, and me and "Etios" headed home. I had a good night's sleep, and survived the Fast.

As I said to some of Mar Gavriel's friends:
It really isn't so sketchy to meet up with people you met on the Internet. You only have to be worried if you're meeting them for dating purposes. That's when all the freaks and ax-murderers come out!

Thanks to "Proton", my other friends, Mar Gavriel, his friends, and the people at OZ and KOE for a great Sh(l)abbos!

[  aside from that dehydration thing ;-)  ]

Saturday, August 13, 2005

A Quote for the Fast of the Fifth Month

A dedication to all the refugees worldwide...
One time — say, say, say...

I remember when we used to sit / in the government yard in Brooklyn,
Observing the crookedness / as it mingled with the good people we meet —
Good friends we had, oh, / good friends we've lost / along the way.
In this great future you can't forget your past, / so dry your tears
I say, and to my peeps who passed away,

No, woman — no cry / no, woman — no cry; say, say, say...
Hey little sister / don't shed no tears,
No, woman — no cry; say say say...

I remember when we used to rock / in a project yard in Jersey,
And little Georgie would make the firelight / as stolen cars passed through the night.
And then we'd hit the corner store / for roots, paper, and brew
My drink's my only remedy / for pain of losing family.
But while I'm gone, Shorty,

Everything is gonna be alright, / everything is gonna be alright;
'Fugees come to the dance tonight, / everything is gonna be alright.
Everything is gonna be alright, / oh everything is gonna be alright;
The gun man's in the house tonight —
But everything is gonna be alright.

Oh ah, oh ah / oh ah, oh ah...
Oh ah, oh ah / oh ah, oh ah
No, woman — no cry / no, woman — no cry;
No, woman — no cry / no, woman — no cry; say, say, say...

I remember when we used to sit / in a government yard in Trenchtown,
Observing the hypocrites / as they would mingle with the good people we meet —
Good friends we had, oh, / good friends we've lost / along the way.
In this great future you can't forget your past, / so dry your tears, I say...

No, woman — no cry / no, woman — no cry;
Hey little sister / don't shed no tears,
No, woman — no cry...

-- No Woman No Cry, according to the Fugees

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

News at 11!

Chakira mattirs electricity on Shabbos — and no one says a word.

בְּזֵעַתֿ אַפֶּיךָֿ תֹּאכַֿל לֶחֶם עַדֿ שׁוּבְֿךָֿ אֶל הָאֲדָֿמָה

You will eat bread with the sweat of your face
until you return to the earth...

בראשית ג׳ י״ט


Paleodiet is a genre of Healthy Eating theories which revolve around one basic assumption:
In order to be healthy, we should be eating the foods that our ancestors ate as they were evolving and becoming us. Our bodies haven't had time to adapt properly to all the new foods we've been eating in the few hundred generations since the first Agricultural Revolution, like dairy products and processed grains. And our bodies have most definitely not had enough time to adapt to all the chemicals we've been putting in our food for only the last hundred years or so!

Therefore, according to devotees of these "Caveman" and "Hunter-Gatherer" type diets, we should give up foods like wheat, milk and potatoes, and instead live on (preferably wild) meat, fish, and plant foods that can be eaten without processing — preferably foods that our ancestors probably ate back in Pleistocene Africa, as well as similar foods that some humans have continued to eat in Paleolithic or 'Stone Age' style civilizations up through today.

Sounds sensible enough to me. If you are a nutritionist or doctor who can poke holes through this theory, feel free to do so in the comments. But what I'm interested most in at the moment is how Paleodiet theories interface with Judaism. After all, if the ideal that these people and others have is Stone Age pre-Agriculture society, is there a place for that in a Torah that assumes that the Neolithic Revolution has already taken place? Was Paleolithic humanity ‘Eiden? And if it was, is it right to try and 'storm the walls' past the "ever-flipping fiery sword" to try and get back there?

Monday, August 08, 2005

Lost in Translation

Going to the Modern Orthodox and ‘Ivrit B‘ivrit high school that I went to, I was a big fan of Frank's Practical Talmud Dictionary. It fulfilled my grammar needs, as well as explaining the contextual significance of key Talmudic terms, and it gave each word or phrase both an English and a Hebrew translation. This fit in perfectly with my ‘Ivritocentric schooling, and to this day in learning Gemara (or anything in Aramaic) I translate it into Hebrew instead of English.

Late in the game, I discovered Jastrow, who at the time was much too technical and 'Latinate' for my tastes. And then I found the blue dictionary of R' ‘Ezra Tziyon Melamed. Love at first cite. Here was an Aramaic-Hebrew dictionary which included conjugated verbs, many more words than R' Frank's, and had short and to the point translations. Frank was for keywords and expressions; Melamed was for vocabulary. And not only that, but it included footnotes explaining the Greek, Latin, and Persian sources of many words in Talmudic Aramaic.

Recently, a new English version of R' Melamed's dictionary came out — an Aramaic-Hebrew-English dictionary with a green cover, with each vocabulary item translated also into English, removing the necessity of looking up unfamiliar Hebrew words when the translation from Aramaic to Hebrew was insufficient.

A friend of mine just called me up (cellphone ringtone: Magical Trevor) and told me that he saw this new dictionary, and that the philological footnotes with Greek, Latin and Persian etymologies of words had disappeared! Do they think Anglophones aren't interested in Linguistics? Could it be somehow "frummer" to not have Indo-European etymologies for Talmudic terms? Doesn't everyone use Jastrow anyway? He's chock full of that kind of stuff! It's a mystery...

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Saplings of Hatred

I just spent Shabbos in my adopted upstate community.

I was not the only visitor there, however — there were a group of yeshiva bochurs (bachurs? bahhurs? bokhers?) who were sent there for about a week (starting this immediately-past Shabbos and ending after Tishabav) to help invigorate the community with extra Torah learning and exposure to "the Yeshiva world". This was all made possible by a program that does this in many small communities, sending out Yeshiva students and kollelniks during their "bein hazemanim" break.

I'm not very impressed. It's a great idea, don't get me wrong, but it just seems to not be helping. The very little I've seen of what these yeshiva guys teach amounts to Antigoyist bigotry. One of them gave a devar tora at šalešudes whose point amounted to "Jews rock, because we have respect for life. Goyim suck, because they don't."

Around the same time last year, I visited for another Shabbos when these guys were there, and one of them gave a shi‘ur whose point amounted to "Jews rock, because we're good parents. Goyim suck, because they aren't."

Double-U Tee Eff?

First of all, going out into small communities and teaching them contempt for their neighbors isn't just morally reprehensible, it's stupid. And based on the reactions of the community members I talked to after the speech — one of whom poked halakhic and hashqafic holes through it, and the other who commented "they don't seem to get out much, do they?" — I fail to see how these kinds of 'lessons' are supposed to invigorate the community with Torah or expose them to the Yeshiva world. Maybe expose them to the slimy underbelly of the Yeshiva world, but somehow I doubt that's what the founders of the program were thinking.

Hopefully, the two speeches/lessons I heard are not typical of the things they teach. But considering that I only heard one lesson each year, and they both had the same Antigoyist theme, I'm not feeling very hopeful.

אהבת חינם: זאת ההלכה היחידה
Well, not the only one, but you get the point.
Speaking of Antigoyism, I have no words to express the anger and shame I feel at ‘Eiden Natan Zada's act of terrorism in Shefar‘am (Šafā ‘Amr). Anyone who tries to justify him is no better than those who try to justify Palestinian terrorism. Kol Yisra’eil ‘areivim zeh lazeh — the entire Jewish People is accountable for each other, and we just did something unthinkable.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

My [non-chassidishe shechita] Beef With Chabad

Here it is.
The big controversial post you all've been waiting for.
"STEG BASHES CHABAD"! (oooh....)

Let's get this party started. What we have here are a series of anecdotes of my interactions with Chabadians (Lubavitchers), with a bit of philosophy added. As you will see, much of my interactions with Chabad have been negative. I tried for a few years to be accomodating and try to see their point of view, but it just didn't work. I even went on a shabbaton in Crown Heights, and visited their world headquarters. But unfortunately, the more I got acquainted with what their point of view actually seems to be, the more I wanted nothing to do with their movement.

I'm Shaking

One Sukkos during college, my brother went out to the suka in back of the local Chabad House, where they had conveniently set up a table with an etrog and lulav to shake. The high-school-age son of the Chabad rabbi and rebbetzin was out there, and seemed to be in a bit of a rush trying to help people shake the lulav. My brother knew what to do from previous years (after all, we've been shaking lulavs our whole lives), but just needed a few seconds to recall exactly how to do it. While he was searching his brain for the proper pattern of shaking, "Guy" (that's what we'll call the son) started giving him directions that just didn't sound right, so my brother said (all quotes are paraphrased), "Hold on, I'm trying to remember my family's custom; that's not how we do it." To which Guy responded, "well that's how the shulchan oruch says to do it."

At that point, in my brother's words, i think that my custom's probably older than the shulchan aruch / but i just graduated from jewish high school / and i'm all smart / so i want to look it up in the shulchan aruch as a little learning thing.

So "Guy" goes inside, brings out a Shulhhan ‘Arukh + Mishna Berura, they find the correct section and begin researching. And the researching consisted of Guy finding the proper place, glancing at it, and then poking at it repeatedly and saying that it's saying what he's been saying. And then he left. After he left, my brother continued to work through the words of R' Yoseif Karo and R' Yisrael Mei’ir Hakohein Mi-Rodin, and realized that they were describing not Chabad's custom, but his own!
Shulhhan ‘Arukh « Orahh-Hhayim « section TRN"A « laws 9, 10
This ni‘nua‘ (shaking) means that one moves their arm in front of them forwards, shaking there three times in moving away and three times in moving back; and afterwards tilting the hand to one side, and doing the same thing — and similarly for every side of the four directions, and up and down.
[Then R' Moshe Isserliss explains that it's the moving back and forth which constitute the 'shaking'.]
The 'shaking' is done circling around rightwards: east, south, west, north.

In R' Yisrael Mei’ir Hakohein Mi-Rodin's Mishna Berura, he explains the same sequence of shaking — starting facing east, and then proceeding clockwise, followed by up and down — and goes into more detail.

Neither of them mention the AR"Y's custom (which Chabad follows) — south, north, east, up, down, west — although it is cited in two other commentaries: Be’eir Heiteiv and Sha‘arey Teshuva.
*Sha‘arey Teshuva, interestingly enough, quotes "the rabbis of Italy" who hold by the same system as R' Karo — circling around rightwards — but understand it to mean in a counterclockwise order!

After this, I thought about it, and came to the conclusion that "Guy" must have been remembering reading his custom in Chabad's "Shulhhan ‘Arukh", which was written not by R' Yoseif Karo in Safed in the late 1500s, but by the founder of Chabad, R' Shneur Zalman of Liadi, 200 years later. So I found a copy of that, and found the correct section, but it was lacking in directions for how to shake a lulav. Eventually the source was found: it was in the Chabad siddur. "The custom", "the way it's done", which Guy was so insistent was codified in the more-or-less universal law code of the Shulhhan ‘Arukh, wasn't even in their "Shulhhan ‘Arukh" — it was a note in the uniquely Lubavitch siddur.

And Wet

There's this Chabad rabbi who used to be the assistant rabbi of a Chabad House, and is now the rabbi of a [non-Chabad] synagogue. Let's call him... "Driver". You'll see why later. Anyway, Driver invited me and a number of other friends over to his house for shalishudes (se‘uda shelishit) one Shabbos afternoon. After the meal was over and we were about to bentš, he started passing around a washing bowl for mayim ahharonim. Now, I'm sure that I had heard of the custom of washing not only before a meal but afterwards also, but I wasn't familiar with it. No one I had ever eaten with had done it, and so I was interested in learning about it. As the washing bowl headed my way, I asked Driver, "So, where does mayim ahharonim come from?"

His answer?
"It says in the Shulhhan ‘Arukh you have to do it."
Now, I don't know what he was thinking, but where I come from, when someone asks you "where does this come from?" they're not making an appeal to authority — they're asking for understanding and explanation. They're asking minayin? as it's used in the Talmud. "From where do we learn this? What Tanakhic or Talmudic sources exist for this practice? How is it done in different communities? How did it evolve from the time of the Gemara until today?"

So he didn't satisfactorily answer my question. His idea of what a question is seemed completely different than mine. And since I didn't want to cause conflict, I just did it.

Afterwards I looked it up.

And I found out that, yes, it's true that the Shulhhan ‘Arukh declares that mayim ahharonim is obligatory. However, hundreds of years before R' Yoseif Karo, the Ba‘aley Hatosafot had declared the practice non-obligatory and unnecessary on behalf of Ashkenazic Jewry, due to the fact that what they saw as the primary reason for the practice had become no longer applicable to Jews living in a changed geographic and economic situation. And although there had been Ashkenazic authorities who disagreed with the Tosafot, their rationale had stood the test of time as a valid Ashkenazic opinion.

Maybe Driver was referring to his "Shulhhan ‘Arukh"?

And Scruffy By Choice

Another story about my brother.

It was the period of Sefirat Ha‘omer, and in a friendly conversation with him and our friend "Magz", the assistant rabbi of a Chabad House (let's call him... "Weaver") told them that it was absolutely 100% forbidden to remove hair from one's face, at any time of the year. Completely asur. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. Except for one single heteir given in extraordinary circumstances, that allows men to shave for business reasons — and is only around 150 years old. And since there are laws against religious discriminaton in the USA, Magz should just let his beard grow all year long and not complain about it being itchy, since he can't lose a job over it.

This was news to both my brother, who remembered learning about the permissiblity of shaving in halakha class in high school, and Magz, who although lacking in formal Jewish education, had many other observant and learnèd friends who shaved. So my brother, Magz, and Weaver all got on the computer and did a quick online search. But they couldn't find anything definitive either way.

A few days later, my brother goes and looks up all the sources. Mishna, Gemara, Mishneh Torah, Mishna Berura... and he finds that in all of them there's a distinction between forbidden methods of facial hair removal, and permitted methods of facial hair removal. So he takes the sources, and brings them to show to Weaver, who was shocked. It then took him around two hours to prove to Weaver that if all of these halakhic sources say that there are permissible ways to remove hair from your face, they can't all be joking!

Weaver, however, wasn't completely convinced. In my brother's words, he accepted the halacha as the halacha, but said that the pshat of "lo tashchit" means that shaving, even in a halachicaly permissible way, is against the "spirit of the law".

But Not Drunk

So, one weekday morning I made the mistake of accepting a ride with Driver back from shul to the neighborhood we both lived in. It was not that long before Purim, and Driver asked me what my plans were. So I told him that since I'm not a big fan of smelly piss-drunk people, I was going to avoid the college and Chabad and instead go to the Purim se‘uda of the local shul.
DRIVER: But it's a mitzva to get as drunk as possible on Purim!
STEG: According to some people (i.e. many great halakhic authorities over the centuries), all you need to do is drink a little and then go to sleep; or drink slightly more than you would normally. According to some, you don't even have to drink at all.
DRIVER: Yeah, well, some people also work on Shabbos and eat on Yom Kippur.

WTF— Huh?
Did he just call the Hhafeitz Hhayim, the Me’iri, the Ran, Rav Efrayim and other well-accepted Torah scholars brazen sinning heretics? I think he just did...

I ended up seeing him on Purim, and he was completely trashed. And he claimed that he only does it because of the obligation. That's a little hard to believe, though, since I've seen him just as drunk and out of it on Simhhas Torah, when no such obligation exists.

Nor Soulless

Once upon a time, I was at Weaver's for a Friday Night dinner. His 'devar tora' (which amounted to reading some old essay of his rebbe's) mentioned the doctrine of multiple souls — the idea that every individual has a number of different souls, including Animal and Human levels. So I asked him if that was the official Chabad cosmology, that everyone has multiple souls; after all, the Rambam said that each individual only has one soul, which just happens to perform various different functions depending on whether it's a human's human soul, a cow's cow soul, or whatnot.
I was wondering why they chose one theory of souls over another.

He had no idea that the other theory even existed, and couldn't quite conceive of the idea that Maimonides would explicitly disagree with the opinions of his rebbes.

According to Chabad philosophy, as expressed in their "Written Torah" (their words not mine), the Tanya of their first rebbe, Shneur Zalman of Liadi, not only does everyone have multiple souls, but even among human beings our souls are qualitatively different. According to him, Non-Jews have purely evil souls. However, there's nothing in the Tanakh, Talmud, or other early Jewish literature that supports that claim (He "proves" it by quoting a rejected opinion in the Gemara as authoritative, and it doesn't even say what he wants it to say). The Torah says, instead, that we were all created in the "Image of God". And the Mishna explicitly states that claiming any kind of intrinsic superiority over the rest of Humanity is a violation of God's plan of creation, when it says:
Why did God create the human race from only one original individual? ...In order to promote peace among humanity, so that no one could tell anyone else, "My Daddy's bigger than your Daddy!"...
— Mishna, Sanhedrin 4:5

And I Follow My Ancestors

Open up the introduction to the Hebrew-English edition of Chabad's siddur. It talks about how the original Nusahh ha-AR"Y was created by the Qabbalist R' Yitzhhaq Luria in order to form a special "comprehensive gate of prayer" that anyone could use to guarantee that their prayers got to Heaven. And how no records of his original text survived, and many kabbalists and early hhasidim tried to reconstruct it, until the First Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch, Shneur Zalman of Liadi, restored it and published it.

I have no problem with that. Our prayers have changed over time, that's obvious. If people want to go grafting pieces of the traditional texts of different Jewish cultures together in order to form one unified nosahh that could serve mixed communities, more power to 'em. If they want to edit their own ancestral texts for grammatical correctness or poetic beauty, that doesn't bother me either.

What the intro to Chabad's siddur does, however, is go on to quote early hhasidic leaders who claimed that this new text isn't an extra style, to be used in addition to the traditional siddur texts of Ashkenaz, Sefarad, Aram Soba, Romaniote, or whichever else — it's a replacement. We all need to throw out our old sidurim that we inherited from our ancestors, and start using this newfangled hybrid text because otherwise, they pretty much say outright, our prayers might not even be able to reach God.

I've encountered this attitude from Chabad books and people many times — the rejection of "Traditional Judaism" as unfulfilling, and the need to replace it with something new and improved: Chabad Chasidism.

Where does this attitude come from?

Maybe from here:
It's part of a letter supposedly written by the Ba‘al Shem Tov, where he says:
I asked Moshiach, "When will you come, master?" And he replied, "By this you shall know: it will be a time when your teachings become publicized and revealed to the world, and your well-springs have overflowed to the outside. [It will be when] that which I have taught you — and that which you have perceived of your own efforts — become known, so that others, too, will be able to perform mystical unifications and ascents of the soul like you. Then all the evil klippos will be destroyed, and it will be a time of grace and salvation."

In other words, the messiah will only come when the Ba‘al Shem Tov's teachings are embraced by the world. The Torah wasn't enough. Sinai wasn't enough. We've all just been going through the motions, wasting our time and not getting anywhere because the ultimate Goal — mashiahh, tiqun ‘olam, the fulfillment of all our prophecies — has been impossible to reach without this New Revelation of Hhasidism and (especially!) Chabadism.

Which I guess explains why most of the Lubavitchers I've met have barely any knowledge at all outside of their own movement. It makes sense that they're unfamiliar with R' Soloveitchik and R' Shimshon [ben] Refa’eil Hirš, as the leaders of a competing conception of contemporary Judaism (a.k.a. Modern Orthodoxy). But R' Yoseif Karo? The RM"A? Maimonides? It also explains why R' Shneur Zalman of Liadi called his halakhic work "Shulhhan ‘Arukh", appropriating the name of a previous generation's halakhic code. This is what happens when you believe that your own movement — your immediate 4 amot — is the be-all and end-all of Judaism. It's all very logical — if all of history depends on you spreading the Good News, you're going to spend your time learning the "prophetic" essays of your semi-divine Rebbe, and not worry so much about all the outdated and useless halakhic and philosophical opinions of a bunch of rabbis who don't really matter anyway, in the grand scheme of things.

This is my beef with Chabad, the negative impression I've gotten of their movement and their ideology. I know that there are good Lubavitchers out there, such as one Chabad House rabbi my brother knows who "never implies that other people's Halakhic Judaisms aren't good enough" and "also gets along respectfully and jokes around with the [Conservatives] and the [Reforms]; he never implies they're bad." But I missed meeting him the last time I was in his area. So I'm stuck with the ones I know, who, for instance, were horrified that anyone would want to arrange a mínyan where they can daven their own ancestral nusahh, and didn't see the light and benefit of becoming one with the New World Order.

Monday, August 01, 2005


Babylonian Talmud » Order Neziqin
» Tractate Bava Qama » Page 48 » side B
אמר רב, במועד ליפול על בני אדם בבורות עסקינן
Rav says:
"What we are dealing with here is [a cow] already well-known for falling on people in cisterns."

For more homicidal bovine action, check out Cows With Guns!

Aslanus Nāzarēnus Rex Narniēnsum (SPOILERS)

I've gone through three main stages in literacy in my life:
  1. Books with many pictures
  2. Books with a single picture at the start of each chapter
  3. Books with no pictures

The Chronicles of Narnia books by CS Lewis were the climax of stage #2 (I read them in publishing order, btw). After finishing them, I moved on to stage #3 with JRR Tolkien's The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings in fourth grade.

I loved the Narnia books, and reread them a number of times, although I had always found them a bit weird. For instance, in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, why the heck would Aslan let himself be killed in place of Edmund? I mean, it's all heroic and stuff to be self-sacrificing, but c'mon, just waste the witch! She's evil, she's killing people, she's killed enough people already. Just kick her scrawny snow-white butt back to Charn and be done with it! What's with all the show?

Oh, and then the biggest let-down was the end of the series. After reading 6 books about the struggle to create, maintain, recreate and protect Narnia (and hey, what's Archenland been doing all this time, anyway?), CS Lewis just goes and destroys the whole world at the end! What the heck is up with that? Everything's just supposed to be all good now, since everyone's in "Heaven"? The whole world's GONE! That's not a happy ending! That's not even a tragic ending! It's just.... gah!

Anyway, eventually I realized why i just didn't get it. Because the whole thing is one big Christian Allegory. Aslan = Jesus. Aslan getting killed on the stone altar to free Edmund and save Narnia = Jesus getting crucified to save our souls. "Happy" ending with everyone dead and in Heaven = "Kingdom of Heaven" is more important than this world. At least we don't get any scenes of eternal burning torment of sinners in Hell. CS Lewis was actually a pretty accepting Christian philosopher — Aslan says that all good deeds, even if done in the name of Tash (the evil 'Satanic' god of the dark-skinned desert-dwelling people of Calormen), are accepted by him. None of this Southern Baptist "God does not hear the prayers of a Jew" stuff.

So the realization that all of Narnia is just one big Christian Allegory sort of ruined it for me. It's hard to enjoy a story when the author's underlying and overarching themes keep on poking at you and you don't agree with them. So I started thinking, what would Narnia look like as a Jewish Allegory?

First of all, the world wouldn't just end like that. That's no fun, and sort of useless. Instead, the world itself would be repaired, and made better, and the moor giants would lie down with the fauns, and the Calormenes and Narnians would beat their weapons into agricultural implements, and everyone would live happily ever after.

And needless to say, Aslan wouldn't have sacrificed himself on the altar. He would have led the humans and all the furry talking animals in an epic battle, with regular people in charge, and they would have vanquished evil all together with their own effort. And he wouldn't be "the Son of the Emperor-Over-Sea", that's for sure.

While we're at it, is there some kind of mysterious connection going on between Aslan, Tash, and the archeological site of Arslan-Tash in Syria? What's up with that? Hmm... it seems that aslan and taş are Turkish for "lion" and "stone" respectively. That's pretty cool.

And if you're wondering why I care and how this is possibly relevant (relevance? on a blog?), there's a new Narnia movie coming out in a few months!

Alan Scott brought up a good point in response to this post, and asked me:
     so in narnia, who's the ice witch?
     the yehudim?

That could very well be. After all, she's a relic of a dying world, interfering in the New order; and she's also a Shylock-esque figure, obsessed with the proper enforcement of laws and rules and using them to hurt (read: kill) people.