Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Blogging Edumacationally

The new school year is fast approaching like a speeding subway train or a late 20th century space impact movie.

And now that I am thoroughly addicted to blogging, I would like to utilize blogging as an educational medium. I'm just not sure how. I could blog short summaries of the topics covered in each class. Or give homework assignments. Aside from that, though, I can't really think of anything else to use it for.

Anyone reading this have any ideas?

Btw, thanks to everyone who helped me out when my employment status was in limbo. Everything worked out fine in the end.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Intelligent Design = Unintelligent Theology

Chana the Curious Jew has an amazingly detailed report on R' Natan Slifkin's speech entitled "The Heresy of Intelligent Design" yesterday evening at Yeshiva University's Stern College.

You can go over to Chana's place for the real deal, but a short summary of R' Slifkin's thesis is this:
'Intelligent Design' asserts that certain features of biology are unexplainable by evolutionary theory, and must have had been purposefully designed by an Outside Agent.
The problem with this from a Jewish perspective is that it's implying that the Creator of Worlds is intelligent enough and powerful enough to pre-design physical laws of the universe that could give rise to mountains, oceans, chimpanzees and venus flytraps, even the human brain — but somehow not well-designed enough to give rise to the bacterial flagellum.

R' Slifkin compared it to the difference between Microsoft and Apple; Microsoft is constantly coming out with patches to fix their programs, since they weren't so intelligently-designed in the first place, whereas Apple doesn't need to as often, because they made sure everything works properly before they release their programs.
To this, someone called out:
Now that's heresy!
Similarly, Judaism has a long history of seeing the glory and power of God through the natural world, through history, through all kinds of seemingly random processes; why would we abandon that perspective now? The idea that God created laws of nature which then work themselves out slowly and methodically towards the desired result is a more respectful view of the Deity than one where God has to keep on filling in the blanks where the original plan didn't work out.

After the lecture, the BrooklynWolf and I went to Eden Wok. I ate sushi. He did not. Sorry to anyone else who I saw there but didn't get a chance to really talk to.

I would also like to point out that when trying to convince people that Evolution is not a bad thing, it might help to pronounce it eh-volution and not evil-ution.


Monday, August 28, 2006

Into the Woods

Me and the Knitter of Shiny Things had an IM (well not actually that IM, but that one works too) conversation about God not being Jewish.

If you would like to read her thoughts on this philosophical matter,

you should go Into the Woods...

Thursday, August 24, 2006

אנא עבדא דקדשא בריך הוא

(אֲנִי הָעֶבֶֿדֿ שֶׁל הַקֹּדֶֿשׁ בָּרוּךְֿ הוּא)

I have some iconoclastic hippie anarchist tendencies.
I also have some deferential societal-order-upholding tendencies.

Each of these inclinations come out in different situations, sometimes individually, sometimes at the same time. But one where the iconoclastic hippie anarchist side comes to the fore is in my relationship towards God. I approach God as a child approaches a loving parent, as a student approaches a witty teacher, and as an amateur approaches a master artist. I am one of God's infinite children, approaching the Creator of Worlds.

It's the "king" and "master"/"lord" imagery I have a problem with. Of course, that kind of imagery and relationship has a very weighty history in Judaism, equal to or greater than the ones I already listed above — see the important combination Avinu Malkeinu (our Father our King), for instance, or the obligatory reading of God's Own Name, Yhvh, as Adonåi (my Master/Lord).

The mizmorim of Tehillim that we read/sing/chant/recite as Haleil include all kinds of ways to relate to God, from Effector of the American Dream, the One who Keeps Nature On Its Toes, and our Living Protector and Benefactor.

Then we get to mizmor 116.
Pasuq 16 says:

אָנָּה ה
כִּי אֲנִי עַבְדֶּךָ
אֲנִי עַבְדְּךָ בֶּן אֲמָתֶךָ
פִּתַּחְתָּ לְמוֹסֵרָי

Which is usually translated something like:

Please, God,
for I am your servant;
I am your servant, son of your [female] servant—
you have opened my chains.

[i.e. we are grateful to God for releasing us from slavery]

The problem, though, is that the verb translated as "opened" or "loosened" or "set free" is ״לְפַתֵּחַ״, the pi‘eil form of the root PTĦ, which may sometimes mean "open", just like the pa‘al form ״לִפְתּוֹחַ״ — but also means to engrave, as here, here, and here.

So what it might really mean is:

Please, God,
for I am your slave;
I am your slave, son of your [female] slave —
you have engraved my chains.

Not quite as harsh as branding, but definitely a stark image of our total dependence on God, and God's total authority over us.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

"Guns and Monkeys" by Jason Spitz

For those of you who are illin' for a post on Science and Torah, R' Slifkin, Evolution, etc. — Bereishit is just around the corner! — as I was driving up on Sunday to visit MPMYF/Ághám and The Guy Cropped Out Of This Old Profile Picture, I thought of this song, by a young Jewish musician from [if I remember correctly] Texas.

Guns and Monkeys by Jason Spitz

I remember back in 7th grade
My teacher rained on my parade —
He told me something I could not believe.
Within the walls of that institution
He taught us all about Evolution;
He said that apes were Adam and that chimpanzees were Eve.
And he told me Darwin's word was like the law,
And that Australopithecus was my great-great-great-grandpa;
And he said, "Pay attention — there's a test next week."
I raised my hand and began to speak;
I said, "Excuse me, sir, with all due respect,
If you believe our little heads'll
Buy that crap that you just said, sir,
You're the biggest idiot that I have ever met —

'Cause monkeys don't have shotguns and gorillas don't make war;
If you gave an ape a dollar, he wouldn't know quite what it's for.
They don't have Jerry Springer, and they don't have World War II,
And it seems to me the chimpanzees are just one step ahead
Of me and you.

My intellectual dissension
Got me three days of detention
And I had to take the pop quiz anyway,
But from that day I knew for certain —
Biology was really hurtin'
For a revised explanation of how people got this way.
'Cause a primate is a peaceful, loving thing,
And I'm sure it has no interest in professional wrestling;
It don't care for Mercedes-Benz,
Just hanging out, making friends
With all the other monkeys of its kind.
It's never racist, hardly rude —
It ain't got no bad attitude —
A human being just like that is getting hard to find.

'Cause monkeys don't have shotguns and gorillas don't make war;
If you gave an ape a cell-phone, he wouldn't know quite what it's for.
They don't have Whoopi Goldberg, and they don't have drugs & booze,
And it seems to me the chimpanzees are just one step ahead
Of me and you.

This topic needs to be addressed,
And I'm sure Jane Goodall can attest
To what I'm sayin' 'bout humanity.
Respect is what these chimps deserve,
Cause it took an awful lot of nerve
To stick ourselves upon these friendly creatures' family tree.
There's a lot that we can learn from these little guys —
Like how to swing from treetops, and how to not tell lies.
And I think that it'd be pretty neat
To have some thumbs on both my feet;
Perhaps a tail for all my friends to see.
And maybe if we change our ways
And end our self-destructive days,
The human race can catch up to the chimps eventually.

'Cause monkeys don't have shotguns and gorillas don't make war;
If you gave an ape a crack-pipe, he wouldn't know quite what it's for.
And maybe we're the ones who need to be locked in the zoo,
'Cause it seems to me the chimpanzees are just one step ahead
Of me and you.

The claims made in this song about other primate species being "peaceful, loving thing"s are not quite accurate. In particular, chimpanzees have been known to kill each other as well as human babies.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

״הם היחיד״ מן התורה מנין؟

(Where do we find a Torah source for "Singular They"?)

Devarim/Deuteronomy 17:2-5

כִּי יִמָּצֵא בְקִרְבְּךָ בְּאַחַד שְׁעָרֶיךָ אֲשֶׁר ƶ׳ ⊁-ֶיךָ נֹתֵן לָךְ
אִישׁ אוֹ אִשָּׁה אֲשֶׁר יַעֲשֶׂה אֶת הָרַע בְּעֵינֵי ƶ׳ ⊁-ֶיךָ לַעֲבֹר בְּרִיתוֹ

If there is found among you, in one of your gates which God is giving you,
a man or woman who does that which is evil in God's eyes, to transgress his covenant,

וַיֵּלֶךְ וַיַּעֲבֹד אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ, לָהֶם
וְלַשֶּׁמֶשׁ אוֹ לַיָּרֵחַ אוֹ לְכָל צְבָא הַשָּׁמַיִם אֲשֶׁר לֹא צִוִּיתִי

and he went and he worshipped other gods, and he bowed to them —
and to the sun or to the moon, or to the whole host of the heavens which I did not command —

וְהֻגַּד לְךָ וְשָׁמָעְתָּ
וְדָרַשְׁתָּ הֵיטֵב
וְהִנֵּה אֱמֶת נָכוֹן הַדָּבָר נֶעֶשְׂתָה הַתּוֹעֵבָה הַזֹּאת בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל

and it will be told to you, and you will listen,
and you will enquire well;
and yo, it's true &mdash the thing is correct — this abomination was done in Israel!

וְהוֹצֵאתָ אֶת הָאִישׁ הַהוּא אוֹ אֶת הָאִשָּׁה הַהִוא אֲשֶׁר עָשׂוּ אֶת הַדָּבָר הָרָע הַזֶּה אֶל שְׁעָרֶיךָ
אֶת הָאִישׁ אוֹ אֶת הָאִשָּׁה
וּסְקַלְתָּם בָּאֲבָנִים וָמֵתוּ

Then you will take out that man or that woman, who did this evil thing, to your gates —
the man or the woman
and you will stone them with rocks, and they will die.

For more information, see:
— Language Log's They Are A Prophet (and here's another relevant post)
— Uncle Jazzbeau’s Gallimaufrey's mistakes in the third person plural
— Henry Churchyard's Everybody Loves THEIR Jane Austen

So remember, if anyone tries to tell you that "singular they" is incorrect, smack them upside the head with a well-thumped Tanakh and tell 'em, if it was good enough for Moshe it's good enough for me!
(and they've implicated themself as a heretic by implying otherwise)

This blogger does not condone the thumping of Tanakhs or any other religious text.
It's disrespectful. Don't do it. Friends don't let friends thump books.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Furry Lining

I wonder if, thanks to the Slifkin controversy, more people are now aware that שפן means not "rabbit" or "hare", but HYRAX. That would be good. Then all we'd need to do is go around smacking upside the head everyone who translates נשר as "eagle" instead of GRIFFIN VULTURE, veshalom ‘al yisra’eil.

Stare at the Wonder of the Hyrax!
(and the Griffin Vulture Griffin)

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Mr. Goldish? Your Report, Sir

On at least two separate occasions, Ezzie, partycrasher (check the list of his collaborations here) of the Judeoblogosphere, asked me for a full and updated Checklist Checklist of Bloggy people who I've met. So I told him I would do it once I meet him. Vehameivin yavin (viyhhakeh ‘ad hasof).

= have met in RL
√! = met in RL before knowing about their blog
√* = met in an unplanned situation in RL, stalker-style
√^ = they "stalked" me!
√? = pretty sure met in RL, but no independent verification
√~ = communicated with by an RL medium, but no physical encounter
√º = sushi with Steg™
X = almost met in RL

OrthoMom — X
Mar Gavriel
Alan (not Scott) — √!
Trep (and Zahava) —
R' Gil
Shira Salamone
Pres. Menachem Butler√*
Dr. PT, MDü
Ya‘aqov Ben-Yehuda√(^)
R' Micha
Mike Miller√^
Rabbi Fleischmann
Drew Kaplan√!
The LabRab (and siblings) — √(!)
Steve Brizel (my nemesis) — √^
Robbie — X
Knitter of Shiny Things
(R') Saul Mashbaum
Out of Step in Kfar Saba — √~X
Ezzieü (we didn't actually eat sushi at the sushi place, but could've)
The Hedyot√^
Larry Lennhoff
Ari Kinsberg√^
Habib (almost with "!")
Rabbi Josh Yuter
The Town Crier (introduced by RJY above)
ALG of Abacaxi Mamao√^
Larry Lennhoff
Charlie Hall
Ben Greenberg√*
Moe (.30cal) —
R' Joshua Maroof

If I've forgotten you, drop me a comment.
Just not on my head, please.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

With All Your Heart And With All Your Soul

Yesterday, Prof. James Kugel spoke at Yedidya during Sholla-Shooddiss. This is a reconstruction of what he discussed.

Devarim/Deuteronomy 6:5

״וְאָ֣הַבְתָּ֔ אֵת֖ ƶ׳֣ אֱלֹהֶי֑ךָ בְּכָל־לְבָֽבְךָ֥ וּבְכָל־נַפְשְׁךָ֖ וּבְכָל־מְאֹדֶֽךָ״

There are two well-known drashes on this verse:

1. BEKHOL LEVAVEKHÁ = with both your selfless and selfish inclinations
(because "your heart" is written with two bets לְבָבְך and not one לִבְּך)

2. BEKHOL NAFSHEKHÁ UVEKHOL ME’ODÉKHA = there are some people who value life more than property, and others who value property more than life
(this is from Talmud Bavli Sanhedrin 74a)

The second drash is understanding the pasuq to mean And you shall love God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your stuff. However, מְאֹד as a noun is very rare. It only appears here, whereas everywhere else it appears in the Tanakh it has the adverbial meaning of "very" or "a lot" (Colloquial American English: mad).

Prof. Kugel sources this understanding of me’od in the Septuagint, the translation of the Greek-speaking Jewish diaspora. In the Septuagint (a.k.a. Targum Hashiv‘im), the noun מאד is translated as δύναμις dýnamis (source of the English word "dynamic"), which means power... but can also mean stuff. And so the Hebrew word מאד, which may have originally only meant "power" (fitting very well with the use of מאד for "very"), absorbed the additional connotation of its Greek translation dýnamis, namely "stuff, objects, material possessions". This is what we call a calque, or 'loan-translation'. The other, seemingly original meaning of מאד is expressed in other translations, like the JPS linked to above, that translate ובכל מאדך as and with all your might.

There's another well-known drash on this pasuq.

3. UVEKHOL ME’ODÉKHA = R' ‘Aqiva says that one should acknowledge God for both the good and the bad.

Based on the evidence of the Dead Sea Scrolls, where מאד is spelled מודה (ignore the extra hei at the end; the DSS people were fond of adding /a/ to the ends of adverbs, as well as other places), it's very likely that the alef was elided or dropped in the speech of Late Second Temple period Jews. So while R' ‘Aqiva may have been careful when leining to enunciate מאד as מְאֹד, it's possible that when speaking colloquially he may have read it מוֹד like the writers of the Dead Sea Scrolls (compare contemporary Ashkenazim who pronounce Hebrew differently depending on register).

Instead of reading the pasuq as

ואהבת את ה' אלקיך בכל לבבך ובכל נפשך וּבְכָל מְאֹדֶךָ

he drashed it as:

וְאָהַבְתָּ אֵת ה' אלקיך בְּכָל לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל נַפְשְׁךָ —
וּבַכֹּל [אֲנִי] מוֹדֶךָּ

"...and for everything I acknowledge/thank you."

Friday, August 04, 2006

I Hate Sarah McLachlan

Well, no, not really. I don't actually hate (and after Tish‘a B’av, no less!) Sarah McLachlan, the singer-songwriter-musician who released such songs as "Building a Mystery", "Sweet Surrender" and "Adia" — I'm just a little annoyed with her.

Why do I have this abiding hatred of annoyance with Sarah McLachlan?

Two words:
Lilith Fair.

There is a modern myth meandering amidst the memeverse which goes something like this:
Once upon a time, God created humanity — male and female, in the image of God — out of the earth. The man was named Adam (אָדָם); the woman, Lilith (לִילִית). They were equally-made, but Adam claimed superiority and the right to have intercourse with him on top. Lilith, asserting her equality — after all, they were both made by God, in God's image, out of the earth — refused. God came in on Adam's side. Lilith upped and left, and so Eve (חַוָּה) was created out of Adam's rib so that she would accept her inferior place and not get so uppity.

"Here, declare the feminists matronizingly," writes Prof. Eliezer Segal in his article Looking for Lilith, "we have a clear statement of the Rabbinic Attitude Towards Women!"

The only problem with this is, as Prof. Segal points out (READ THE ARTICLE), is that the clearest source we have for this story is a mysterious work called the Alphabet of Ben-Sira. Now, whatever the Alphabet may be — anti-Jewish or anti-Rabbinic satire, Jewish scholarly or folkloric parody — it is not a serious text of Midrash.

And yet, due to various factors, the story of Lilith-Adam's-First-Wife has become enshrined in popular culture, and Lilith herself — who in mainstream Jewish sources is nothing but a baby-killing demon/שד and in Kabbalistic sources is the female aspect of the Evil "Other Side" — has become a feminist icon. Very much thanks to Sarah McLachlan, who named her women-power musical festival after her.

There is, however, such a thing as the figure of First Eve, only* found in a single reference quoted in Bereishit Raba 22 and Yalqut Shim‘oni:
And then Qayin said to Hevel his brother; and it was when they were in the field...

What were they arguing about?

They said: "Let's split up the world!"
One took the real estate,
one took the movable objects.
This one said, "The ground on which you are standing is mine,"
and that one said, "What you're wearing is mine."
This one said, "Take it off!"
and that one said, "Fly!"
And from this,
and then Qayin got up on Hevel his brother and killed him.

Ribbí Yehoshua‘ of Sakhnin, in the name of Ribbí Leivi, said:
...This one said, "The Temple will be built on my territory,"
and that one said, "The Temple will be built on my territory,"
since it is said:
and it was when they were in the field
field means nothing other than the Temple:
...Tziyon will be plowed as a field.
And from this,
and then Qayin got up on Hevel his brother and killed him.

Yehuda bar Ami said:
They were arguing about First Hhava (חוה ראשונה).

Ribbí Aivu said:
But First Hhava had already returned to her dust!

So then what were they arguing about?

R' Huna said:
An extra girl-twin was born with Hevel —
This one said, "I will take [=marry] her, since i'm the eldest,"
and that one said, "I will take her, since she was born with me."
And from this,
and then Qayin got up on Hevel his brother and killed him.
Interestingly enough, it seems that R' Avraham ben Mei’ir Ibn-‘Ezra knew of the Alphabet story, since he dismisses it as drash (i.e., not the straightforward meaning of the verse) in his commentary to Bereishit/Genesis 2:23.

Let me just say, Lilith Magazine shoulda known better.

And one last point — Hhava wasn't created from Adam's rib, but from his side — hence the common interpretation that Human was created hermaphroditic before being split into Man and Woman. See the use of the term צֵלָע by the Mishkan.

Oh wait, another Building A Mystery!

According to an interesting Tanakh Geneology website I just found, the Torah commentaries of Tosafot and Roqeiahh make reference to a shady figure known as Arnůs or Agdimůs, the son of Adam and First Hhava. What's up with that?

* And here's another one...
Aside from Bereishit Raba and Yalqut Shim‘oni, there are two other references to a חוה ראשונה First Hhava (according to Bar Ilan's ShU"T Project program). One, in Markevet haMishna leR' Y. Al’Ashqar on Avot 5:14, seems to only be using the expression as the parallel to the term אדם הראשון, First Man/Adam, and doesn't distinguish between First and Second Eve; you can tell because it talks about חוה ראשונה and the sin of the fruit, when according to the Two Eves theorists only Second Hhava had anything to do with the fruit.

And then there's Zohar Hhadash 1 Bereishit 28b:

זוהר חדש כרך א (תורה) פרשת בראשית דף כח עמוד ב

א"ר יצחק אמר רב אדם וזווגו עמו נבראו ביחד הה"ד זכר ונקבה בראם ונטלה מגביו והכינה והביאה אל האדם הה"ד ויקח אחת מצלעותיו. ר' יהושע אמר חוה הראשונה היתה ולקחה ממנו והיא נזקי דברייתא הה"ד ויקח אחת מצלעותיו זו היא הראשונה שנלקחה ממנו על שהיא רוח מזקת ויסגור בשר תחתנה שהקים אחרת במקומה. רבא אמר זו היתה בשר והאחרת לא היתה בשר ומאי הוות א"ר יצחק זוהמא דארעא ושמריה.

R' Yitzhhaq said Rav said, Adam and his partner were created together, this is what it means when it says "God created them male and female"; and he took her from his back, and prepared her, and brought her to the man, this is what it means when it says "and he took one of his sides".
R' Yehoshua‘ said, she was First Hhava, and he [=God] took her from him; and she (was?) נזקי דברייתא (damages of outside? the harmful thing mentioned in a Braita?), this is what it means when it says "he took one of his sides" — that is the first one who was taken from him because she was רוח מזקת (a damaging spirit?), "and he closed the flesh underneath it/her", since he [=God] set up another one instead of her.
Rava said, that one was flesh and the other wasn't flesh.
So what was she?
R' Yitzhhaq said, זוהמא דארעא וזמריה (disgusting dirt and....?)