Wednesday, April 25, 2007

My Fifteen Minutes of [Vicarious] Fame

Or maybe that should be "Fame-By-Association"

I'd like to thank the academy my rav, AMCHA and the other protestors (including Rabbi Ankcorn and Yonah Berman), New York's Finest, my fellow members of the Press, Jewschool, Greg, DovBear, LGF (and all their friends), the Back of the Hill, MoChassid, and everyone else who linked up or commented (or, as my stats indicate, emailed a link to their friends!). As well as Casio and, of course, the Creator of Worlds.

We now return to our regularly-scheduled obscurity.   ;-)

In case you missed it, the post that hit the big time was:

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

A Problematic Custom

 Am I the only one who, when biting into a blue-and-white Israeli Independence Day cupcake, can think of nothing but Tehillim/Psalms 79:6-7?

שפוך חמתך אל הגוים אשר לא ידעוך
ועל ההמלכות אשר בשמך לא קראו
כי אכל את יעקב
ואת נוהו השמו

Pour out Your wrath against the nations who do not know You,
and upon the kingdoms that have not called out in Your name —
For they have devoured Jacob,
and laid waste his dwelling-place.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Yom Hazikaron ... Yom Ha‘atzma’ut

לֹא הַמֵּתִים יְהַלְלוּ יָהּ, וְלֹא כָּל יֹרְדֵי דוּמָה.
וַאֲנַחְנוּ נְבָרֵךְ יָהּ – מֵעַתָּה וְעַד עוֹלָם, הַלְלוּ יָהּ.

(תהלים קטו)

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


mass rabbinic arrest
mass rabbinic a.c.d.
mass rabbinic impact

(no, not the kind that UOJ is waiting for)

or:  וכיתתו חרבותם לאיתים
or:  Dude, Where's My Press Pass?
or:  Someone Had to Hold the Umbrella

Welcome Right-Wing Political Bloggers!
Welcome to the Hall of the Goblin King and its "MASS RABBINIC ARREST" post. Please be aware of two things:

1. This is not a political blog.
2. I am not right-wing.

This post is not about Ahmadinejad being a psycho, or about what the rest of the world should do about it. This post is about spiritual activism, civil disobedience, demonstration-as-holy-ritual-act and people I know getting handcuffed and carted off to Central Booking.

If you would like to dicuss those subjects, by all means comment here!

If, on the other hand, you would like to engage in the kind of self-congratulatory and other-demonizing rhetoric that both Right Wing and Left Wing political blogs are known for, please keep that on your own websites. :–)

Why is this directed to Right Wing Political bloggers
and not to the Left Wing Political bloggers?
Because LGF has linked here,
and whoever their leftist equivalent is has not.
Which is okay, 'cause so far you rightist people
are sympathetic to the protesters and their cause.

— Steg

Yesterday, Rav Avi Weiss and the Jewish activist organization he founded, AMCHA: the Coalition for Jewish Concerns, coordinated a civil disobedience protest at the United Nations.

Around 50 rabbis and rabbinical students, as well as a lay communal leader or few, participated in the protest. They prepared themselves in a staging area near the Iranian Mission to the UN — putting on talleisim and distributing signs — and after a few short speeches and rounds of slogan-shouting, they marched, singing ‘Am Yisra’eil Hhai, to the steps that go down past the Isaiah Wall across the street from the UN buildings.

At the bottom of the steps, they sat down, blocking the public thoroughfare. This is what is called civil disobedience — a purposeful and non-violent violation of a law in order to make a point. Classically, the civil disobedience of leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. was for the purpose of demonstrating the injustice of a law; for instance, people of African descent were unjustly required to sit in the back of the bus and give up their seats to people of European descent, so Rosa Parks sat near the front and refused to move. She broke the law in order to promote a vision of society in which that law didn't exist.

In this case, though, R' Weiss and other speakers stressed multiple times that they have no quarrel with the City of New York or its laws. They were there to step beyond the line as they put it, in order to make their point:
"It's a serious matter to step beyond the line, to violate the law. But we must do so as a moral outcry to the world that it can't be business as usual. The time has come to expel Iran from the United Nations."
A member-nation of the UN which threatens to erase from the pages of history another member-nation does not deserve to be part of that international organization. And in a world with the "fire" of nuclear destruction threatening to burn not just Israel, but Europe and the United States as well, no one can go on with life as usual — even something as simple as walking down the street, or down public stairs.

That was their message. Iran — specifically, their president, Maḥmūd Aḥmadinejad — is dangerous, and must be expelled from the community of nations. And they were willing to "step beyond the line" of the law in order to get their message across. So they made their speeches on the stairs, and they sang לא ישא גוי אל גוי חרב ולא ילמדו עוד מלחמה a few times under the wall with Yesha‘yahu's words engraved on them. And then they sounded their shofars and sat down. They were obstructing pedestrian traffic (much safer than trying to do the same thing with vehicular traffic in the street).

Soon after they sat down on the steps and went back to singing עם ישראל חי and שומר ישראל, a woman tried to come down the steps, but had a hard time because of all the people sitting in her way. After her, two men tried to walk up the steps, but had the same problem.

That meant it was time for the formal confrontation. A representative from the police department addressed the protestors, explaining to them that they need to cease obstructing pedestrian traffic, or they will be arrested and charged with disorderly conduct (as well as more severe offenses if they actively resist). So about half of the protestors stepped back and dispersed along the upper reaches of the staircase, obeying the police orders, while the other half remained sitting and blocking the steps, expressing their willingness to go all the way and be arrested in order to make their message heard more dramatically.

And so, one by one or two by two, the waiting police officers with their belts full of plasticuffs handcuffed the civilly-disobedient protestors and deposited them in the back of two police vans.

So now you know what they were doing there.

But what the heck was I doing there?

I was being a sympathetic observer...

...and impersonating a press photographer.


Let's start from the beginning. The only reason I had heard about the protest before it took place was because one of the rabbis who participated is my consultant-and-poseiq on aveilut matters. While I was a proud participant in an April Fool's Day Anti-Winter Protest in college, I had never really been up close and personal with a serious demonstration — much less one involving civil disobedience and arrest! And so I felt that I couldn't miss this opportunity to witness a real live action of Jewish Spiritual Activism, especially since it would involve a friend-and-authority-figure I respect getting handcuffed and tossed into a police van! I mean, how many times in your life do you get to see something like that (assuming that you associate primarily with law-abiding folks)?! Especially when it's for a good cause, as opposed to for an actual crime (which would be bad)! As it turns out, a number of other people I know showed up to participate in the protest — and whether they 'wimped out' and stepped back at the end, or went all the way to jail, every one of them displayed impressive dedication to the cause.

So... people I know are getting arrested... what to do, what to do... take pictures, of course! All the pictures in this blog post — and many more — were taken by me, running around (and sometimes between) the protesters and dodging all the other professional and amateur photographers, reporters and videocamera operators, with the obvious exception of the lower-right picture below, which was taken by a participant (Yonah Berman).

My Time In Jail

My impersonation of a news photographer/reporter ends here. For more info of a news type, see the following websites:

The Bergen County Record
     Rabbis' plan: Get arrested at U.N. to protest Iran
     Rabbis arrested in protest
     (post-protest report)

‘Arutz Sheva‘
     22 Jewish Leaders Arrested Calling for Removal of Iran at UN
     (only article i could find within a few days)

     Stop Iran Now!
     (video of the official confrontation and the arrests)

Rabbi Mark Ankcorn
     Protest at the UN
     (cellphone video from inside the police van)

YouTube, Yonah Berman's Video
     Stop Iran Now! 2
     (video taken by one of the non-arrestee participants,
      rabbinical student Yonah Berman)

The Jewish Week
     Tuesday The Rabbi Got Arrested
     (best article title ever)

Yahoo News Photos, Iran Nuclear Issues
     one two three four five six
     seven eight nine ten eleven

AM New York
     Pictures for the Week of April 15th
     (pictures #119-136)

New Jersey Jewish Standard
     Rabbis protest Iran, mourn Virginia victims

The Herald-Argus of LaPorte, Indiana
     Rabbis arrested in protest against Iran
     (laporte, indiana? with an article focussing on teaneck, nj?)

Heritage Florida Jewish News
     Spiritual disobedience: Orlando rabbis arrested protesting Iran
     (very good article focusing on the participants from florida) (Esther D. Kustanowitz)
     Arrested development: is all activism equal?
     (opinion piece)

‘Arutz Sheva‘'s Tovia Singer
     INTERVIEW WITH R' AVI WEISS [4/26/2007]
     (radio interview with the organizer of the protest)

One of the major goals of this kind of protest is the publicity it generates. Rabbis getting arrested should be fairly big news, at least locally around New York — or at least an interesting enough event to get a short video blurb on the evening news. Unfortunately for the organizers, the Spring Nor'easter of 2007 hit a few days before, and the day before the protest, Cho Seung-hui perpetrated the Virginia Tech massacre, the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history. So there were wasn't much room in the news for an article or segment about a bunch of rabbis being arrested in a civil disobedience protest outside the UN.

Now, for the personal reflection part of this post.

I went to the protest expecting it to be corny. I also went there not understanding the point of getting arrested. Why not just stage a protest, declare your principles and your message to the public, and then disperse? What does getting hauled away in handcuffs and getting a criminal record add?

Now I think I understand, at least a little bit. The protest wasn't corny at all — on the contrary, it was dramatic. It worked. It got under my skin. I was trying to be a relatively objective photographer, recording the event (as well as meta-recording the press/media experience), but I had to constantly fight my instincts and stop myself from cheering the protestors on, singing along with them, and clapping them on the shoulder with a "yishar koahh" as they were led away (although i'm sure if i tried the last one, the cops would've intervened).

What surprised me the most about the experience of watching and recording it as it happened was the ritualistic feeling of it all. It literally felt like a holy symbolic act. Maybe even a form of sacrifice. The protest and its aftermath were all pre-arranged, pre-orchestrated, and pre-coordinated with the police. Watching it happen was like watching people going through the motions or acting in a play; everyone knew what was supposed to happen, and what each person's role was. And they fulfilled their roles happily, conscientiously, and seriously, because they weren't going through the motions mindlessly, without kavana — they were performing this ritual of civil disobedience with solemnity and respect, taking each step as it came, all according to plan. It was like watching someone make havdala, or shake a lulav, or pray — knowing that they really mean it.

The ritualistic atmosphere I felt was also generated by what the protesters were doing, and not just how they did it. This was for them a religious act. If I remember correctly, I read somewhere that Rav Avi Weiss came up with the idea of wearing a tallis while performing acts of activism in order to demonstrate that the acts are motivated by a specifically Jewish religious moral ethic. And so, many of the participants (who, remember, are mostly rabbis and rabbinical students) were wearing talleisim, some tied so that they wouldn't fall off during the arrest process. They were singing religious songs — ‘Am Yisra’eil Hhai as they marched down the sidewalks, Shomeir Yisra’eil as they sat waiting for the consequences of their violation of the law, and Lo’ Yisa’ Goy El Goy Hherev, invoking the Prophet Yesha‘yahu's words as they stood under those same words engraved on the wall.

It was an act of ritual, performed with kavana. It was serious. It was dramatic. And at least for this amateur photographer, it definitely left an impression.

Yishar koahh.

note of warning —

i have seen the disgusting outpourings of vitriol directed against the protesters (even before it happened!) in the comment threads of yeshiva world news and vos iz neias. i do not want to see anything of that kind here. i will delete all comments that attack individuals or groups. this is not vosizneias, and this is also not the yct~yu wars at hirhurim. this is my domain.

you can debate the efficacy or propriety of civil disobedience. you can critique this or other acts of protest organized by amcha. i want healthy discussion and debate — the operative word being 'healthy'.

remember: you are a human being; you are almost certainly a member of a civilization; and the vast majority of those reading these words are ba‘aley berit, contract-mates with each other and with God. any one of those is sufficient reason to express disagreement in an exclusively polite manner.

Monday, April 16, 2007

ליל של שבע שינה טבע

I meant to put this up some time during Hhol Hamo‘eid, so that people would be able to make use of it (if they wished), but I didn't get around to it until now.

Therefore, in commemoration of Yom Hasho’a, I have here a song about vanquishing evil. I'm not sure where or when it's originally from, but I learned it in high school as an Aram Soba (Syrian) Jewish song with a traditional tune. Although we sang it during Hhol Hamo‘eid Sukkot, it's actually (as can be seen from the lyrics) a song for the Seventh Day of Pesahh, also known as Yom Vayosha‘ — the day of the Splitting of the Reed Sea.

רַחוּם אַתָּה כִּי גָּאַלְתָּ לָנוּ לָנוּ מִמִּשְׁמָר
מִיַּד פַּרְעֹה הוּא וְזַרְעוֹ בַּיָּם טֻבְּעוּ בַּשַּׁחַר

פְּדֵה עַתָּה זוֹ הַשַּׁתָּא לְעַמָּךְ עַם הַנִּבְחָר
שְׁלַח לָנוּ אֵלִיָּהוּ יְבַשְּׂרֵהוּ בַּשּׁוֹפָר

אָז נָשִׁירָה אֶת הַשִּׁירָה לָאֵל פּוֹדֶה מִכָּל צָר
שִׁיר וַיּוֹשַׁע מוֹחֵה פֶּשַׁע לְעָם נוֹשַׁע מִכָּל צָר

לֵיל שֶׁל שֶׁבַע שִׁנָּה טֶבַע בְּמַטֶּה יַם סוּף נִגְזַר
עַמוֹ כֻלָּם הֵם וְעֶדְיָם עָבְרוּ בַיָּם וְחָזַר

You are merciful, for you freed us, us from imprisonment —
From the hand of Pharoah; him and his descendents were drowned in the sea at dawn.

Redeem now — this is the year for your people, the chosen people;
Send us Elijah, he will announce him with a shofar.

Then we will sing the song to the God who redeems from every enemy —
The song of "And then [God]," the eraser of sin, "saved..." the people saved from every enemy.

The night of the seventh, nature changed — the Sea of Reeds was split by a staff;
His people, all of them — them and their ornament — passed through the sea and returned.

you can find a recording of the tune HERE

Sunday, April 15, 2007

How To Wear A Hat...

...Without Being "Black Hat"

Are you going bald? Do you want to protect your head from UV radiation? Do you think hats are coming back into style? Are you a gangster (or maybe a gangsta) or a detective? Do you associate with both the Yeshivish and Modern worlds, but don't necessarily identify with either one? Or maybe you, your community, or your shul are stuck in a fashion time-warp from the early-to-mid 20th century?

If the answer to any of those questions is 'yes', this is the blog post for you!

How To Wear A Hat Without Being "Black Hat"

  1. First of all, do not wear a black hat. It's actually that simple. If your hat isn't black, you can't be "black hat", right? Gray is also a respectable hat color; there are lighter grays that could never be mistaken for any other color, and darker ones that look black at night. For a more rustic or adventurous look, try brown. Dark blue hats can 'pass' as black sometimes, which can be good or bad depending on what you want. Straw hats are good during the summer, but they should always be a 'natural' tan, brown or offwhite color.

  2. Never ever wear a yarmulka under your hat. There's nothing less fashionable than having one hat (which, after all, is what a kipa is) sticking out of the back of another hat. Even if it's a brightly colored kipa seruga and you're certain that therefore, no matter how dark your hat is, no one could ever mistake you for Hhareidi or Yeshivish, don't do it! The only excuse for wearing a kipa underneath a baseball cap, fedora, turban, or other head-covering, is if 1) it's Shabbos, 2) there's no ‘eiruv, 3) you don't want to be wearing the larger hat all day, and 4) the kipa is completely hidden underneath the other hat. Otherwise, please, keep it in your pocket.

  3. Just say no to Borsalino. There are other hat companies out there, such as Bailey and Stetson. <pandering-to-stereotypes>Wouldn't you rather be an All-American cowboy than an Italian mafioso?</pandering-to-stereotypes>

  4. Only get a wiiiiide-brim hat if it actually fits your face. Airplanes are for travel, not for wearing on your head. And they might even be assur on Shabbos.

  5. Avoid other parts of the Yeshivish/Hhareidi 'uniform'. Wear shirts that aren't white. Jackets and/or pants that aren't black. If your hat is black, wear it with a leather jacket and jeans.

  6. from Anonymous 4/16/2007 2:25 AM:
    There are other types of hats besides fedoras!
    For instance, I believe that homburgs are popular among the Spanish-Portuguese Jews of New York and Philadelphia.

  7. from Lipman (and Greg agrees about the bags):
    Don't wear a plastic bag on your hat when it rains. Even if it's a bespoke transparent cover. Hats are there to show reverence to God's presence, but their second function is to protect you from the inconvenience of unfavourable weather, so it doesn't make sense to wear them in fair weather and then cover it when it when the first drops fall. As a Jew, you should know that a hat is not a piece of costume but a regular piece of clothing. And a normal rainfall won't ruin your hat.
    Don't always wear your hat far back in the neck, though that's convenient for lerning gemore or hammering your new blog post scoop into your typewriter. Pull it down, snap the brim, tilt it - just try several ways.

  8. JoeSettler reminds us:
    Feathers! Although I personally am not a big fan of feathers, if you wear a feather in your hat you cannot be mistaken for a "black hat" wearer. They never have feathers.

If anyone else has any suggestions to add to the list, feel free to put them in the comments.

Note: this post is not meant to be insulting towards Yeshivish/Hhareidi/BlackHat people. Unless your yarmulka is sticking out of the back of your hat. Then all bets are off.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

This Is A FFD"H Shoutout

This is a shoutout to the woman who accosted me and MarGavriel a little over a year ago one Shabbos morning, to her family, and to MG's other fans in the neighborhood (or connected to the neighborhood).

Thanks to you all, gut moed, and have a gutyontef!

I'm off to Upstate for the Last Days.

Oh, and MG, they want you to write more!  ;-)

Friday, April 06, 2007

The Way of Land

What is דֶּרֶךְֿ אֶרֶץ?

We usually use the term derekh eretz to mean mentšlixkeit (menschlichkeit) — being a polite, caring member of society; following communal norms and mores; acting as a member of a civilization.

There are many examples of this in Jewish religious literature;
here's one from R' Shelomo Yarhhi/Yitzhhaqi's commentary on
Shemot/Exodus 19:8
Did Moshe really need to bring back the nation's response to God? [Of course not!] The text is just coming to teach you derekh eretz from Moshe, who did not say, "since the One who sent me already knows, there's no need to bring back the response."
Moshe is fulfilling his duty, acting in his assigned role as intermediary even though it's only really necessary in one direction.

R' Shamson [ben] Refa’eil Hirsch's philosophy of Torah ‘im Derekh Eretz understands the term to mean not only proper behavior in and among society (both Jewish and Non-Jewish), but also general education about the world.

We find another meaning of derekh eretz in the Tanakh, where both Yehoshua‘ and David Hamelekh describe their impending death as "walking bederekh kol ha’aretz" — 'in the way of all the land'.

Maybe their warning their followers/successors that they're about to depart is the 'polite' thing to do, but how is death derekh eretz?

Complicating the picture even more, we have the following interpretation on Bereishit/Genesis 4:1 in Bereishit Raba:
“And the man had known [Hhava, his wife, and then she became pregant, and gave birth...]”

R' Huna and R' Ya‘aqov beribbí Avin in the name of R' Aba bar Kahana said:
No creature ever had intercourse before First Adam...
he publicized derekh eretz to all.
So not only does derekh eretz mean death — it means life/sex/reproduction as well?!

It seems to me that what דרך ארץ basically means is that which keeps life/society/civilization running normally. Part of that is how we interact with each other; part of it is earning a living; part of it is understanding the world. And of course, part of it is the cycle of life and death. Death happens. It's part of how the world works — and a necessary part of it — no matter how much it hurts. And on the other side, so is sex. Even with all the taboos we have surrounding the process of reproduction — the forbidden pairings, tum’a of bodily fluids, and modesty restrictions on objects and actions — Yahadut still tells us that sex, the creation of new life, is a part of life. And not just a necessary part of life — a normal part of life.

The midrash of Maggid in the Haggada, in expanding upon the Short Summary of Israelite History known as the Bikurim Text, explains...
...and then [God] saw our affliction...

This is the separation from derekh eretz, as was said:
And then God saw the Israelites, and then God knew.
The separation of the Israelites from normal life, from marital relations, from reproduction (whether according to the midrash about ‘Amram and Miryam or according to a peshatic extrapolation based on the realia of slavery) is here also called a separation from derekh eretz — but what's the connection to the particular prooftext offered? As my brother pointed out over the First Days, the pasuq ends וידע אלהים. God knew that Beney Yisra’eil could know longer "know" each other intimately in the way that Adam and Hhava 'knew' each other and gave birth to the human race. Miryam and the women under the apple trees had to 'jump start' this knowledge in order so that ‘Am Yisra’eil could be born.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Not My Pun

The Goblin King is out doing battle with two particularly fearsome Satyr Knights, but is certain to emerge victorious.

until then, have a
חג כשר ושמח

For Discussion:
This past Shabbos, I was on the Upper West Side, and took a walk with friends in the afternoon through Central Park. As we passed within sight of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which includes the Egyptian Temple of Dendur, I suggested that we could sneak in and graffiti the place with slogans such as Pharoah sucks! and Let my people go! etc. One friend thought my comment was funny and in the Pesahh spirit; another one was horribly offended and rebuked me for turning an ancient miracle into a modern-day vendetta. What do you think?

Sunday, April 01, 2007

The Sixty Second Seder

For those of you, like me, who miss the הגדה של פסח בשישים שניות animation from a few years ago, have no fear! The Web.Archive saved a few copies of it! Just click HERE...

See here for more info.