Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The DAG"Z on Va’eira

(yes i know i'm a week late)

1. Moshedipus

In his infancy, according to a famous legend, Moses was the object of an infanticidal attempt by Pharaoh. At three years old, he took Pharaoh's crown from his head and put it on his own. Pharaoh's advisers, led by Balaam, urge that the child be put to death. Clearly, his gesture is one of usurpation — he aims, like all his Israelite ancestors, to overthrow the superior, the elder rival. The angel Gabriel, disguised as one of the Egyptian sages, proposes a test to determine if there is precocious intent behind the infant Moses' act. An onyx stone and a burning coal are placed before him: if he reaches for the coal, brighter but worthless, he will prove that he is just an infant, attracted to the shiny; if he reaches for the valuable stone, he will prove his precociousness and the sinister nature of his self-crowning. Moses, who is indeed precociously wise, and destined to overthrow Pharaoh, reaches for the stone. But Gabriel supernaturally diverts his hand towards the coal; he burns his hand and puts it instinctively to his mouth, burning that as well. This gesture saves his life, and also explains how he becomes "heavy of mouth and heavy of tongue."

As Robert Paul suggests, Moses' "speech-defect" thus can be understood as the "scar" left by a failed infanticidal attack, like Oedipus's wounded feet. He has survived his "father's" fatal attack; later he will kill this father at the Red Sea...

2. ‘Orla

Moshe describes himself as ‘aral sefatayim — "of uncircumcised lips". When he is attacked by God on the way back from Midyan to Mitzrayim, Tzipora saves his life by circumcising their son. In cutting away their son's foreskin with a stone knife, she circumcises her husband's lips. The child is now unblocked from entry into the Hebrew/Israelite covenant; Moshe is now unblocked from leading the Israelite Nation into the future.

3. Quoting Sartre

"How can anyone choose to reason falsely? It is simply the old yearning for impermeability... there are people who are attracted by the permanence of stone. They would like to be solid and impenetrable, they do not want change: for who knows what change might bring? ...It is as if their own existence were perpetually in suspense. But they want to exist in all ways at once, and all in one instant. They have no wish to acquire ideas, they want them to be innate... they want to adopt a mode of life in which reasoning and the quest for truth play only a subordinate part, in which nothing is sought except what has already been found, in which one never becomes anything else but what one already was."

Saturday, January 28, 2006


This past Sixthday (the th is silent), the 27th of Teiveit, was the jahrzeit for R' Shimshon Refa'el Hirsch, founder of the Torah ‘im Derekh Eretz philosophy of Modern Orthodox Judaism.

On Shabbos, after Minhha and before Ledavid Barukh I heard a speech whose main point could be summarized as "WWRSRHD?"

What Would R' Samson Rafael Hirsch Do?

(more later, because...)

[live, in New York — it's Motza'ey Shabbat!]

Okay, sorry everyone. My computer broke and I finally sent it in to get it fixed today. So it's aggravating and awkward to try and use other people's computers, especially when they don't have a Hebrew keyboard layout. I mean, please, what kind of Jew doesn't have their computer set up to type in Hebrew when necessary? It's a shanda! Anyway, there is nothing more to this post. Maybe some other time.

Monday, January 23, 2006

And Would You Call It To His Face?

(oh, one of these nights at about twelve o'clock
this whole earth's gonna reel and rock
things they'll tremble and cry for pain
for the lord's gonna come in his heavenly airplane)

If God had a name, what would it be?
And would you call it to His face
If you were faced with Him in all His glory?
What would you ask if you had just one question...

— from "One Of Us" by Joan Osborne

Shemot/Exodus 3:13-14:
And then Moshe said to God,
So, I come to the Israelite People,
and I say to them,
The God of your ancestors has sent me to you!
If they say to me, What's his name?
What do I say to them?
And then God said to Moshe,
אהיה אשר אהיה
and he said,
This is what you should say to the Israelite People —
sent me to you.

On this name, which means I-Will-Be or I-Am, R' Shemu’eil ben Mei’ir v-Yokheved bat RaSh"Y (Rashbam) comments in A"T B"Š code(!):
He [=God] calls Himself אהיה (I-Am),
but we call him יהיה (He-Is) —
[with a]
vav instead of a yud,
as in
ki meh hoveh la’adam (Qohelet 2:22)

Rabbeinu Hhizqiya ben R' Manoahh (the Hhizquni) comments on this interpretation of Rashbam, adding:
...And since it would not be proper for this word for existence of Holiness [=God] to be just like all the other words for existence of the mundane, it is differentiated from all the words for existence of the mundane.

In other words:
  1. The Name YHVH is a form of the verb HYH ("to be").
    It's third-person masculine singular.
  2. The Name actually is the same as YiHYeH (He-Is or He-Will-Be), but we replace the Y with a V in order to differentiate God from the regular verb.
  3. God's Name is not actually YHVH.
    That's what we call God, in third person.
    God actually calls Godself ʔHVH, in first person.

When me and my brother discovered this Rashbam years ago, we were blown away. God's name isn't actually YHVH? No wonder Rashi's illustrious grandson wrote this comment in ATB"Š code! It's shocking! It's scandalous! It makes so much sense!

It is impossible to truly know God. God's personal name — the one so holy that we've purposely forgotten how it was properly pronounced — is not even God's true name. It's a verb. God is not Yhvh. God is That which can only be described as "Is". God Is. And when God refers to Godself, God says "I am". God is yihyeh, the verb. And God is ehyeh.

So to bring back Joan Osborne's question...
If God had a name, what would it be?
And would you call it to His face
If you were faced with Him in all His glory?
What would you ask if you had just one question...

If God has a name, God's name is Ehyeh (»ʔHVH).
And if I were faced with God, in all God's glory,
I wouldn't call God Yihyeh (»YHVH) either.
Because that's the name we use, to refer to God in third person.

If I were faced with God, in all God's glory,
I would call God to God's face...
You Are.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Eh, Hhabibi!

ספר ואלה שמות
ספר יציאת מצרים
ספר הגאולה
פרק ג פסוק ג
(Moshe has just encountered the Burning Bush)

וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה
אָסֻרָה נָּא וְאֶרְאֶה
אֶת הַמַּרְאֶה
הַגָּדֹל הַזֶּה
מַדּוּעַ לֹא יִבְעַר הַסְּנֶה

vayomer Mosheh
asura na’ ve’er’eh
et hamar’eh
hagadol hazeh
madua‘ lo’ yiv‘ar haseneh

Yeah, I'm pretty sure that if I saw a bush that burned and was not consumed I would be going "eh..." or "uh..." too. There's a good song of that phrase vehaseneh einenu ukal that a friend of one of my Jerusalem apartmentmates used to sing. I thought it should be the theme song of JTS, since after all that's their motto. Now if only I could remember how the song went...

Thursday, January 19, 2006

OMG! (Not the Teenage Guide to Popularity)

for the next 9 days

(feel free to scroll down for other new posts)

Somebody nominated me for a
Jewish & Israeli Blog Award in the
BEST NEW BLOG 2005 (group A)

(thanks, whoever nominated me!)

As they say at my local bakery,
"If you like what you get,
If you don't,
tell me!"



Wednesday, January 18, 2006

But He Was Still... TROGDOR!

Strong Bad Email #58, Homestar Runner:
Trogdor was a man
I mean, he was a dragon man
Er, maybe he was just a dragon
But he was still TROGDOR!

Burninating the countryside
Burninating the peasants
Burninating all the peoples
In their thatched roof COTTAGES!


And the Trogdor comes in the NIIIIIGHT!

Unfortunately, everyone's favorite blogging musical doctor, Psycho Toddler (not to be confused with the psycho toddler, his youngest daughter), is in New York City because his father (Eliezer ben Perel) had some serious surgery.

Fortunately, that gave us a chance to meet up after a few previous attempts had failed! So we went to meet and eat at すし・メツヤン in Queens. Amshi would be so proud. But we didn't have sashimi, because that's a little too extreme. And I had this crazy oversized sushi roll with three kinds of fish and three kinds of vegetables and unfortunately the menu didn't mention that it includes cucumber. Anyway, in attempting to maneuver this oversized monster of a sushi roll slice with chopsticks, I accidentally scooped up almost a teaspoon's worth of wasabi and shoved it also into my mouth. And suddenly wondered why it tasted like Pesahh. And why I had no water. Yes, I'm hardcore. No, I am not interested in doing that again.

So we talked about how small 'out of town' communities are good, and more people should move there, but how annoying it can be when you live in a community where everyone else thinks you're weird for not fitting into their exact religio-social category. And we talked about our relatives. And the ethics of meeting anonymous or pseudo-anonymous bloggers. And New York drivers. And afterwards we had a long conversation about computer, video, table-top, and live action RPGs. And I'm pretty sure I heard him say "cwap" at least once.

In short, Doctor Skee-yay, it was an honor to meet you. May your father have a refu’a sheleima beqarov.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Great Orthodox Schism of the 21st Century

Seconday, 9th of Teiveit, 5766 / Monday, January 9th, 2006:


Evolution and Orthodoxy
In the current Ha'aretz Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, head of the OU, expresses an idea that most of the RW UO world would call kefirah:
Let me explain my position. I am convinced that there is a strong scientific case to be made for Darwin's theory of evolution as it is currently understood... I have studied and I find convincing the view of contemporary brain science that much of our mental and emotional function is the product of an evolutionary process. The theory of evolution, for me, is not inconsistent with the traditional Jewish view of the origin of the Universe or of the development of humanity.
Rabbi Weinreb concludes saying that he is on "solid ground." And he's right. Examples:

* Talmud Chaggiga 13b states that there were 974 generations before God created Adam.
* Midrash Bereshit Rabba 14 states that humans were created with tails.
* Midrash Tanchuma Genesis 6 states that people born before the time of Noah had webbed fingers.
* Midrash Bereshit Rabbah 23 states that in the days of Enosh the faces of men became ape like.
And more

Hattip Bloghead

In response to this post of DovBear's, Alan Scott commented:
And this is where the Great Orthodox Schism of the 21st century began...

It does make a lot of sense, after all. If parts of the Hhareidi Orthodox world are declaring beliefs held not only by some of their own people, but by the vast majority of the Modern Orthodox community, to be heresy, how are we supposed to stay united as "Orthodoxy"? What's holding us together? Fidelity to halakha? Not when new taqanot are being enacted every day against things like cellphones and women attending the end of davening! Not being Conservative or Reform? That certainly won't hold us together if we're considered the new enemy of "Torah-True Judaism" and our "gedolim" like R' Shimshon [ben] Refael Hirsch and the Rambam are being written out of 'The' mesora!
Godol Hador received an email which he included here, near the end of the post, that said:

This past shabbos I heard Rabbi X speak at a shalasheudes. He asked why do we say "veAl haMilchamos" in the al hanissim. shouldn't we remember the victory but not the milchama? Says Rabbi X, quoting, IIRC the Nesivas Shalom (ironically) that the reason is because the "milchama" is not yet over. We continue to fight the misyavnim.
And don't think, said Rabbi X, that the misyavnim of today are the Reform or Conservative. No, they're the Modern Orthodox rabbis (verbatim quote) who want to chepper with bris milah (metzitza bapeh) and shabbos! (eruvin?)

Some of my [Far?] Left Wing Modern Orthodox friends have been waiting for a schism like this for years, so that the rest of us will finally realize that the Modern and Ultra worlds have nothing in common and we should stop looking 'rightwards' for guidance in halakha or hashqafa...

But who could have guessed that the
Great Orthodox Schism of the 21st Century
would be VIOLENT?

Thirday, 17th of Teiveit, 5766 / Tuesday, January 17th, 2006:

the Jerusalem Post.

'Irreligious' Beit Shemesh haredi family told to move
A family living in Ramat Beit Shemesh has been targeted by a group of haredi extremists in the community who deemed that members of the family were not "religious enough" for its taste, police and the family said Monday.

The family, which is haredi and has lived in the predominantly haredi community for the last six years, has been subject to four nights of protests outside their home.

The target of the demonstrators has been the family's two eldest sons, 22 and 20, who no longer wear haredi garb and are modern Orthodox, the mother of the family said.

Her two sons were beaten up on the way home Friday night by extremists, who have held a demonstration outside their home every night since then, calling on the family to move out, she said.

"These people are not normal," she said. "It's like we are living in the Wild West."

After police arrested two haredi protesters who took part in the Sunday night demonstration, hundreds of haredim rioted Monday afternoon on a main road leading into the neighborhood in Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet, setting trash bins on fire and pelting police with stones, Jerusalem police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said.

Five demonstrators were arrested.

The mother said she had "no idea" why her family was suddenly being targeted, adding that the whole story was "very strange and troublesome," but that it had happened once before to a different family in the area.

She added that local rabbis on Monday intervened in an attempt to stop the harassment.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., zç"l

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said:
"Martin Luther King is a sign that God has not forsaken the United States of America. God has sent him to us... his mission is sacred... I call upon every Jew to hearken to his voice, to share his vision, to follow his way. The whole future of America will depend upon the influence of Dr. King."

Friday, January 13, 2006

Wrathful Dispersion Theory

Over at LiveJournal, A Roguish Chrestomathy posted The Wrathful Dispersion controversy: A Canadian perspective:
Linguists here in Canada have been following closely, with a mixture of amusement, bemusement, and, it must be admitted, a little trepidation, the deliberations of our neighbours to the south, who are currently considering, in a courtroom in Pennsylvania, whether "Wrathful Dispersion Theory," as it is called, should be taught in the public schools alongside evolutionary theories of historical linguistics. It is an emotionally charged question, for linguistics is widely and justifiably seen as the centrepiece of the high-school science curriculum—a hard science, but not a difficult one to do in the classroom; an area of study that teaches students the essentials of scientific reasoning, but that at the same time touches on the spiritual essence of what it means to be human, for it is of course language that separates us from our cousins the apes.

The opponents of Wrathful Dispersion maintain that it is really just Babelism, rechristened so that it might fly under the radar of those who insist that religion has no place in the state-funded classroom. Babelism was clearly rooted in the Judeo-Christian story of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11: 1–9); it held that the whole array of modern languages was created by God at a single stroke, for the immediate purpose of disrupting humanity's hubristic attempt to build a tower that would reach to heaven: "Let us go down," God says to Himself, "and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech." Wrathful Dispersion is couched in more cautiously neutral language; rather than tying linguistic diversity to a specific biblical event, it merely argues that the differences among modern languages are too perverse to have arisen spontaneously, and must therefore be the work of some wrathful (and powerful) disperser who deliberately set out to accomplish a confusion of tongues. When asked in court to speculate about the possible identity of the disperser, Michael Moringa, a prominent proponent of WD, demurred, saying that the theory makes no claims about the answer to that question, and that it certainly does not insist that the Disperser is the God of Genesis. Moringa has, however, elsewhere avowed a deep personal belief in the Christian God as the power responsible, as have other WD theorists. Indeed, there appear to be no atheists in the foxholes on the WD side of this war, and for that matter, no Jews or Muslims, either; the WD movement is composed almost exclusively of evangelical Protestants.

Wrathful Dispersion appears to owe a great deal of its tenacity to its steadfast refusal to offer specific answers to just about any question. Unlike "young-tongue" Babelism, WD makes no claim as to precisely when the great dispersion took place; faced with evidence of distinct languages reaching back for several thousands of years, the proponents of WD simply say that, well, the dispersion must have occurred prior to that. In the early days of evolutionary linguistics, Babelists used to taunt French-speaking evolutionists with cries of "Your father was a Roman!" WD, by contrast, acknowledges that languages can indeed change over time, and some Wrathful Dispersionists even concede that modern French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, and so on may actually have developed from Latin after all. The existence of Latin itself, however, and its mutual unintelligibility with, say, Old Church Slavonic or Proto-Bantu, could only have arisen through the wrath of the disperser. When asked to provide evidence for the existence of a single global language in pre-dispersion times, they reply that of course no such evidence can be found, because the disperser in his wrath was quite careful to obliterate all traces of it.

In lieu of offering any evidence for their own proposal, most Wrathful Dispersionists prefer to devote their energy to attacking the evolutionary approach to historical linguistics, which they generally refer to as Grimmism. Much of their animus is directed against the lone figure of Jakob Grimm, whom they depict as having made up the idea of linguistic evolution off the top of his head, and they delight in pointing out novel "exceptions" to Grimm's Law, such as the fact that English has the word paternal where Grimm's Law obviously predicts fathernal. The evolutionists respond that paternal was a later borrowing into English from Latin, to which the Wrathful Dispersionists reply triumphantly, "So your trees and waves can't explain everything!"

Perhaps paradoxically, proponents of WD have also been known, at times, to play up the religious aspect of their theory when it suits them. The suppression of their ideas about the origin of languages, they have been heard to complain, is tantamount to religious persecution, but at the same time they insist that the use of the public school systems to propagate those ideas would not in any way violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. One cynical observer has likened WD to Scientology, which "is a religion for purposes of tax assessment, a science for purposes of propaganda, and a work of fiction for purposes of copyright."

Wrathful Dispersionists are also fond of pointing out gaps in the written record, noting that there is no physical evidence of different languages dating back any earlier than five thousand years ago, a date which is suggestively close to the one commonly attributed to the Tower of Babel by biblical literalists. The bulk of their case against evolutionism, though, is based on the notion of irreducible perversity. For example, they argue that the sheer alienness of Basque—its apparent lack of any resemblance to any other living language—could only have come about by deliberate, wrathful (and, the Babelists would add, divine) intervention. Similarly, they claim that the notorious "ruki rule" in Sanskrit (/s/ becomes retroflex in the environment of /r/, /u/, /k/, or /i/—a "calculatedly chaotic conglomeration comprising two vowels, a rhotic, and a surd") is so arbitrary and so confusing that it must have been the conscious invention of someone who was absolutely determined that Sanskrit should be thoroughly incomprehensible to native speakers of any other language, such as Finnish.

Most evolutionists have been reluctant to dignify WD by arguing against it, although a few have pointed out that while evolutionary models make a few wrong predictions, WD makes no predictions whatsoever, and others have taken on the ruki rule question, pointing to the feature [+high] as a potential means of herding the offending segments into a natural class. Much of the public opposition to WD, however, has come in the form of parody. In particular, a satirical Web-based grassroots pseudo-cult has grown up around the theory that all modern languages were in fact "shat out of the arse of the Flying Stratificational Grammar Monster," with adherents claiming to have achieved enlightenment upon being "touched by His Boolean Appendage" or "washed in the blood of Sydney Lamb."

From where I sit in the Great White North, the whole debate looks more than a little silly, but there is still a considerable measure of unease among Canadian linguists. The new year will bring to Canada an election and a new government, and there is a non-negligible chance that that government will be formed by the Conservative Party of Stephen Harper, who has already shown himself not to be averse to reopening questions that many of us believed to have been closed for good. Will Canada, too, soon find itself debating the merits of Wrathful Dispersion, and asking its judges to map the boundary between religion and linguistic science? Only time will tell.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

יְשִׁמְךָֿ א' כְּאֶפְֿרַיִם וְכִֿמְנַשֶּׁה

Bereishit/Genesis 48:13-14:
And then Yoseif took the two of them — Efrayim in his right, at Yisra’eil's left; and Menashe in his left, at Yisra’eil's right — and approached him [Yisra’eil/Ya‘aqov]. And then Yisra’eil stretched out his right hand, and placed it on Efrayim's head, him being the younger one, and his left hand on Menashe's head; he switched his hands, for Menashe was the firstborn.

There's a lot of emphasis on directions here — Yoseif placing his sons in the proper order, Yisra’eil switching his hands and fouling up Yoseif's preparations... all this 'right' and 'left' side, and 'right' and 'left' hand.

What I find interesting is that we know that 'right' and 'left' in Semitic languages are not just relative directions, but objective directions as well. Avraham tells Lot:
אם השמאל ואימנה
ואם הימין ואשמאילה

If you go left/north, I'll go right/south;
and if you go right/south, I'll go left/north.

We know that there are a number of words for each cardinal direction, and one set is based on directions relative to a human body:
  • East is קדם, forwards (assumedly facing the rising sun)
  • West is אחור, behind, as in הים האחרון 'the Sea Behind' (=the Mediterranean)
  • North is שמאל, left, and cognate with the normal Arabic word for 'north', شمال (šamāl)
  • South is ימין, right, as in the place-name Yemen — اليمن (alyaman) in Arabic, תימן in Hebrew

So my point is this...
Ya‘aqov Avinu insists on blessing Efrayim with his right hand and Menashe with his left hand. Correspondingly, within the overall tribal territory of the Children of Yoseif, the tribe of Efrayim receives its tribal territory in the south (right), and Menashe receives its in the north (left)!
Coincidence? I think not!
See maps here, here, and here

Sunday, January 08, 2006

מה תחזו בשולמית כמחולת המחנים

Things I learned on the AishDas/YavnehMinyan shabbaton:

  1. (Rabbi) Micha Berger is a very real person, not simply an Internet Torah-bot.
  2. I seem to be doing pretty well so far at looking at the world through God-colored lenses.
  3. Some people wear gangster hats to look "frum"; other people not only wear gangster hats, but also sound like gangsters when they speak.
  4. You can be an Orthodox Jewish Scifi Nerd while being a respected member in good standing in your community!
  5. One meaning of the ideal of ma‘avir ‘al midotav is 'living life without keeping score'.
  6. Jewish geography and small Upstate Jewish communities are the bomb!
  7. Some people still blame Rambam and his Rationalist friends for the downfall of Iberian Jewry. They need to read this for the opposite view.
  8. The Cheat rare European ngayin is not dead!
  9. While some people can tell from the way I write that I'm a Gamer Geek, others come to the erroneous conclusion that I'm some kind of pedantic PhD student with a stick you-know-where. What's up with that?
  10. Yekkish sheliahh-tzibur hats (and similar headcoverings) are the next big thing (when borsalinos go out of style).
  11. When 5 or more different bloggers/commentors within one Shabbos ask you what the heck is up with "(dos iz nit der šteg)" you think seriously about dropping it; and then when someone says they think that שטעג should actually be שטעגער in proper Yiddish...
  12. Some people seem to take their cues as to what constitutes 'authentic Torah mesora' by seeing what fundamentalist Christians say about our Scripture, and then copying them.
  13. 'Simple faith' is anything but simple.
  14. Apple strudel is a side dish, not a desert (typo) dessert?

Yishar koahh to everyone involved in the shabbaton!

btw, anyone get the pun/reference in the titles of these two posts?

Thursday, January 05, 2006

שובי שובי השולמית שובי שובי ונחזה בך

Our friends over at AishDas
and the Yavneh Minyan of Flatbush
are teaming up for a shabbatón.

The Shevil haZahav

Finding Balance:
Socially, Emotionally, Spiritually

Ma'avir al Midosav: are we (to be) a nation of doormats?
Choosing Ahavah: can emotions be commanded?
Simple Emunah and Philosophical Knowledge

R' Moshe Sokol: Rav, Yavneh Minyan of Flatbush; Dean, Lander College.
R' Micha Berger: Founder, AishDas Society, lecturer on Mussar.
R' Yaakov Feldman: Director, Machon Binah; Hospice care; Translator.
R' Gil Student: Founder, Yashar Books.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

4 Is Symbolic of Something or Other

Yes, you heard me right — another numeric meme!

DovBear » Krum as a Bagel » me(me)


Four jobs you've had in your life:

computer geek // tutor // camp counselor // teacher

Four movies you could watch over and over:

prince of egypt // land before time // lord of the rings // legend of billie jean

(liable to change at any moment)

Four places you've lived:

spring valley // valley of the aboriginal ghosts // boropark // upstate

Four TV shows you love(d) to watch:

babylon 5 // buffy // she-wolf of london // road rules

Four places you've been on vacation:

florida // appalachian trail // maryland // israel

Four websites you visit daily:

jrants & judeoblogs // weather channel // google // nytimes or haaretz

Four of your favorite foods:

curry chicken // midnight shawarma // sushi // fake meat

Four places you'd rather be:

israel // newfoundland // upstate // colonizing mars

Four books you'll read over and over again:

the tanakh // anything by tolkien // guns germs and steel // jonathan livingston seagull

Four friends to tag with this meme:

rabbi neil fleischmann // fudge // mississippi fred macdowell // labrab

Monday, January 02, 2006

An Old-New-Age Judaism

R' Micha Berger has a very interesting post over on his Aspaqlaria blog, about differences between the Semitic (=Jewish, Eastern) and Yefetic (=Greek, Western) perspectives on the world.
Yefes is reductionist, believing the world can be understood as the sum of its smallest pieces. Sheim is holistic, looking at the interconnections between those pieces, and the pieces only gaining meaning from the relationships in which they partake.
He also discusses the ability of the Jewish holistic way of looking at the world to accept multiple contradictory premises, something impossible in Greek logic. I discussed this in one of my earliest posts, calling it the issue of P and Not-P.

What I find incredibly interesting about R' Berger's post is that he associates the Semitic/Jewish perspective with the perspectives of other cultures, such as the Hindu and Buddhist cultures of South and East Asia, in distinction to the Yefetic/Greek perspective of European/Western cultures. In fact, in a response to a comment of mine, he explicitly states:
I was intentionally implying that Judaism is an Eastern Religion. The Zohar does too, by saying that the meditative arts were the gift that Avraham gave the children of Keturah before sending them east to India and China.

I'd actually like to respond to something RM"B said parenthetically, since it didn't seem so relevant to put in his comment stream, although it probably was. Maybe I just didn't want to risk getting into one of those debates on reading Bereishit non-literally and reconciling it with secular sources of knowledge.
Anyway, what he said was:
    And besides, even though Canaanites were around Semites enough for their language to look Semitic, they are Hamites according to the the chumash.
Now, all the archeological evidence I've ever seen seems to indicate that the Kena‘anites were just as 'Semitic' as we were; our language, the language God picked to give the Torah in, is a dialect of the Cana‘anite branch of Northwest Semitic. It makes much more sense that our Aramaic- or Hurrian-speaking Ancestors picked up Canaanite when they arrived in The Land, rather than the other way around. That said, as a person who leans towards what Godol Hador calls 'moshological' readings of the Primal Narratives, I feel that the familial connection between Hham and Kena‘an is probably meant to represent the Egyptian cultural-political influence on the inhabitants of The Land during the Patriarchal period. And since the Torah writes Kena‘an out of the House of Sheim, it would seem to be writing them out of the 'Semitic Worldview' as well. I guess then the only question is, we know what Sheim and Yefet stand for — what's up with Hham? R' S. R. Hirsch identified Hham as representing the emotional component of human civilization, but that wouldn't really fit in this system. Anyway, back to the topic...

What struck me about the post was that it seems to be a good representative of "Indigenous Judaism" — the idea that Yahadut is not a [blasé] universally-leaning Western religion like a certain daughter religion with which it is all-too-frequently bundled והמשכיל ייקח לקח וייזהר בדבריו, but is instead an [exotic] ethnic religion whose primary concern is with the life of a certain People and their relationship to their Land and to the God who gave it to them. Therefore, Judaism should not be contemplated in relation to Christianity, but instead in relation to other indigenous ethnic religions of the world, from Native America to Africa and all over the world. Now, R' Berger is not endorsing Jewish Shamanism, but it comes from the same basic shift of perspective — as Jews, Judeans, Israelites, Hebrews, we (ironically enough) actually have more in common with cultures that frequently seem very idolatrous than with those more identifiably monotheistic faiths that appropriated our Scriptures and identity but missed the all-important connection to People and Land, and (depending on how exclusivist you want to be) God.

Now, there are many expressions of Indigenous Judaism; after all, it's not a movement or a philosophy, it's a lens. Secular Zionists celebrating the regalim as the harvest festivals that were once a central part of their identity; 'Hilltop Youth' sprouting across the West Bank (whatever we think of their politics); Kabbalists innovating T"u biShvat seders; "Jewish Pagans" instilling traditional rituals with 'holy passion'; Jews in the Woods shabbatons; and any number of other things.

Some of these ideas may be heretical, or come straight out of traditional sources. Rituals and practices may be mutar or asur according to Halakha. But it all stems from the same realization — the Old-New appreciation of Judaism as our ancestors felt it, following the cycle of life and nature, tracking the pace of the year and worshipping God in The Land, with the produce of The Land as God commanded, davar yom beyomo everything at its proper time.

Building on that, let us now contemplate Hhanuka. I always felt that the Festival of Light and Guerrilla Warfare was a fairly simple holiday, tied to a specific historical event and to the hidden and obvious miracles that accompanied that event. Then I discovered the aggada told in the Talmud Bavli, masekhet ‘Avoda Zara 8a:
Our Rabbis taught: When the first Adam saw the day getting gradually shorter, he said, ‘Woe is me, perhaps because I have sinned, the world around me is being darkened and returning to its state of chaos and confusion. This then is the kind of death to which I have been sentenced from Heaven!’ So he began keeping an eight days’ fast. But as he observed the winter equinox and noted the day getting increasingly longer, he said, ‘This is the world's course’, and he set forth to keep an eight days’ festivity. In the following year he appointed both as festivals. Now, he fixed them for the sake of Heaven, but the [heathens] appointed them for the sake of idolatry.
(translation from here)
While the context is unmistakably giving an etiology for idolatrous Roman holidays, from the first time I encountered this aggada I couldn't help but associate it with Hhanuka. Eight day festival of light, during the darkest part of the winter. Adam Harishon celebrating the re-lengthening of the days after the solstice. Remember that for next year, when we once again count up in candles, following the opinion of Beit Hillel...

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Don't Be Scared Now

When the Jewish year 5766 began, I commented that ה'תשס"ו isn't a year, it's the sound you make when you sneeze.

Now that it's the Gregorian year 2006, I feel the need to point out that it too is not a year. Especially if we were to write it Hebrew-style, in gematriya. ב'"ו is the sound you make when you're trying to scare someone. Like the drunk crazy people on the subway last night, for instance.