Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Saturday 30 January 2010

Gemara Question

The mishnah in Zevachim 73 brings the following case: A kli sharet made of copper is used to cook a sacrifice.  The kli needs to be scoured and rinsed to remove traces of the sacrifice to avoid the problem of nosar.  Before the kli can be cleaned, it leaves the Temple courtyard and while outside becomes tamei.  The vessel still needs to be scoured and rinsed but because it's tamei it can't be brought back to the Temple and it's only the Temple that it can be cleansed.
The Mishnah's solution is for someone to punch a hole in the utensil so that it loses its designation as a kli.  Once that happens, it's no longer tamei and can be brought back to the Temple where it can be scoured.
However, I have a question: while the Mishnah's solution obviously works, it is my understanding that metal utensils can be made tahor by immersion in a mikveh.  Why does the Mishnah not offer that as a solution in addition to punching a hole in it?
Is there are special rule about utensils that are kli shares?  Or is the answer because the Mishnah first talks about doing the same for an earthenware utensil (which cannot be purified by immersion) so it simply brings the parallel case for a copper utensil?

Anyone know the answer?

Tuesday 26 January 2010

Racism Pure and Simple

Back in 1993, halfway through medical school I did a 7 week elective at a hospital in Israel.  In the first few days I met lots of people and was very interested the various backgrounds.  One of the things that has always amazed me about Israel is the wonderful ethnic diversity of the Jewish population.  As opposed to the homogenized Oreo-cookie model that seems to predominate in most North American community, in Israel we come in all colours and sizes and I think that's a wonderful thing.  We are not a race, we are a nationality and Israel's diversity proves this.
A few days in I met one nice young lady with a darker than average complexion and while talking I asked her where her family was from.  She got an awkward look in her face and said "Morocco.  Did you still want to talk with me?"
Being a naive North American, I had no idea was she was talking about.  Morocco sounded exotic and from what I knew about it (culled mostly from the movie Casablanca) I thought it was quite neat to meet someone from there.  It sure beat the usual "Yeah, where in Poland?" follow-up line.
So the next day I told a friend about the girl's reaction and asked why she had acted like that.  "Oh," he said, "she knows a Morokai's proper place in society, that's all."
Disgusted is probably not quite strong enough to describe how I felt.  Yes, I was aware that there were tensions between the religious and secular in Israel, along with all the difficulties the Russian influx had brought with them but I was really blindsided by the depth of hatred some in the Ashkenazic community felt for our Sephardic brothers.
Another friend of mine experienced something similar when he took a Moroccan bride.  To their credit, most of his chiloni friends didn't care but most of his Chareidi friends stopped talking to him afterwards.  What a shandeh!  A good Ashkenazi boy marrying a Morokai?  Never mind that his marriage has been bliss and produced five beautiful children.  Such a p'gam.
And now, following along in the blogsphere as I do, I notice the regular flow of stories from the Israeli education system on how certain elements would like to keep their pure Ashkenazi children safe and undefiled from contact with the lower Sephardi lifeforms:
Israel - The ultra-Orthodox Beit Yaakov school in Immanuel is not taking measures against parents who are refusing to send their daughters to school in the wake of a High Court of Justice order to integrate the institution's separate classes for girls of Ashkenazi and Mizrahi origin.
About 150 students are enrolled in the school's two tracks: "Hasidic," for girls of Ashkenazi (European) origin, and "General," for those of Mizrahi (Middle Eastern) background.
In August the High Court ordered the removal of "every formal and material sign of this rampant discrimination," and the Education Ministry ordered a merger of the two tracks.
Since mid-December around 75 students, most of them of Ashkenazi descent, have been studying in private homes. In response, the ministry ordered the Immanuel Local Council to take legal action against the parents for violating the mandatory education law.
Several sources say that in a High Court session last week, it was disclosed that the Independent Education Center had instructed principal Rivka Stern not to take measures against the parents on the grounds that such action would be considered a violation of din moser - the religious prohibition against revealing information about a Jew to non-Jewish authorities.
Attorney Menahem Yanovsky, who represents the independent school system, confirmed that Stern would be exposed to din moser if she sent letters to the parents as part of the procedure for getting them to return their daughters to the school or to prosecute them.
"Even the judges told the Education Ministry attorney that the principal will not sign the letters," an education center official said yesterday. "We won't be policemen and the matter doesn't concern us. It's the parents' decision not to send their daughters" to the school.
What's the reason for the hatred?  Jealousy of their superior cooking?  Jealousy of their greater piety?  Jealousy of their great Torah scholarship?
This is a selective application of halacha as bad as, if not worse than anything the Conservatives have ever dreamt up.  Such concern over not being a moser or spreading loshon horo.  What righteous tzidus.  That the observance of these rules is in violation of the rule of dina d'malchusa dina and, even more importantly, in violation of the sin of spreading hatred amongst our people, is completely lost on these moral imbeciles. "We're racist," they are shouting, "and we're proud."
No, they're disgusting and their filth shouldn't be mistaken for yiras Shamayim.

Monday 25 January 2010

Singular Worldview

Years ago a prime minister of Canada, seeking to create a historical legacy for himself, sought to bring Quebec into the Canadian constitution.  As only historic fanatics seem to recall nowadays, when Pierre Trudeau patriated Canada's constitution from Britain in 1981, the province of Quebec refused to sign unless a clause was inserted identifying them as a superior form of life, language and culture.  In one of the few good decisions Trudeau made during his tenure (retiring was the other), he refused and had the constitution signed without French approval.  The subsequent prime minister, Brian Mulroney, hungry for a legacy other than "2nd most hated prime minister in Canadian history" (curiously, no. 1 at the time was Pierre Trudeau) sought to remodel the constitution so that Quebec would sign on.  His first attempt, the Meech Lake accord, was torpedoed by a single native member of the legislature in Manitoba who refused to give unanimous assent to his province's approval of the deal.  The second, the Charlottetown Accord, was sunk after Mulroney was forced to put it to a popular referendum and Canadians across the country, including Quebec, rejected it 60-40.
One could understand the government's disappointment with the failure of Meech Lake.  After all, the national parliament and the legislatures of all the other provinces had approved it.  One vote in one legislature sank what seemed to be the will of the people.  But with the rejection of Charlottetown by the people themselves there should have been no question as to what Canada, as a democracy, wanted in terms of special accomodation for the enfants terribles of Canada.
This is not how some saw it though.  In a classic remark, Joe Clark, a former prime minister himself and then a senior minister in Mulroney's government was asked what he thought about the referendum's result.  His answer?  "I think the people made a mistake."
Whoa, hang on.  The people made a mistake?  Listen, there are lots of cynical comments one can make about democracy.  One can ask about the wisdom of leaving the choosing of the government to people who still buy Toronto Maple Leaf tickets and merchanise.  One might note such pithy sayings as "People always get the government they deserve".  But to say the people made a mistake?  In a democracy, the electorate does not make a mistake.  It chooses the government it wants irrespective of what elistist politicians think it should desire.
This comment has always stuck with me as an example of the difference between left wing and right wing reactions to political defeat.  For the right wing, there is always self-condemnation.  After John McCain was defeated by BH Obama, the Republicans began bashing themselves in a thrashing attempt to discover where they had gone wrong. 
The left wing, on the other hand, doesn't seem to understand the concept of defeat.  If they are rejected by the electorate, their first assumption is that a tremendous mistake has occured.  Was there gerrymandering of districts?  Possible ballot box stuffing?  Perhaps the electorate was high on pot (ironically it's the left wing that wants to legalize that).  But the thought "No, the people rejected our agenda" simply does not occur to them.
Inevitably after a defeat, the left comes up with its signature belief: "The people weren't choosing the right wing.  They really wanted to elect us but we've become arrogant so they wanted to punish us.  Well, message received.  Now can we go back into power?"
This singular worldview, "Democracy only works when we win" isn't confined to politics.  Rights activists on the left also limit their interest in defending the oppressed to chic causes.  As this article in YNet notes:
Yehuda Glick, one of the most prominent rightist activists in the struggle for equalizing the rights of Jews and Arabs on Temple Mount, indeed expressed his protest. He distributed a very harsh condemnation of Elad’s arrest among rightist activists. By doing so, Glick adhered to the democratic principle whereby even if one does not agree to anything another person says, one would nonetheless fight for the other person’s right to speak up.
Yet does the Association for Civil Rights in Israel also adhere to this principle? Not at all. On most days, it does not offer legal and moral assistance to citizens who do not share its worldview on the matters of peace and territories....
In fact, these associations barely made a sound when the rule of law abused rightist protestors during the period of the Gush Katif uprooting operation. Shamefully enough, these groups endorsed the uprooting operation, thereby making their current struggle in Sheikh Jarrah seem ridiculous.
It is up to thinking people to speak out and remind so-called rights activities that not just those people with politically correct views or ethnic/gender backgrounds are entitled to enjoy support.  A right for one is a right for all and until the left realizes this, they must be called out on it.  They are just as discriminatory and biased as their opponents they accuse of similar crimes.

Sunday 24 January 2010

Make Up Your Mind

What with the recent troubles the Women of the Wall have been causing at the Kotel, it's not surprising that the Conservative Movement is up in arms at the Wall's status as an Orthodox shul, in that prayers are expected to be conducted al pi halacha as opposed to al pi whatever makes one feel good and connected.
The article in question is full of the usual politically correct bafflegab about inclusion, freedom and the need for the Kotel to reflect the values of all Jews, along with a stirring conclusion that no enlightened non-Orthodox Jew could ignore:
We will continue to struggle for the Western Wall. Last Hanukkah the Masorati movement, along with other groups concerned with the growing extremism in Jerusalem, organized a candle lighting ceremony (mixed, Heaven forbid!) in the Kotel Plaza. Rabbi Gil Nativ, a Masorti rabbi who was among the paratroopers who freed the Kotel during the Six Day War, was honored with lighting one of the candles. When he concluded, he said that he well remembers the day the Kotel was liberated in 1967. Today, 42 years later, there is need to return the Kotel to all of the Jewish people. The Kotel needs to be liberated a second time.
Now, let's take a step back and look at the hypocrisy of the Conservatives demanding a say in how the Kotel runs, shall we?
Yes, the Conservative movement wears its affiliation with secular Zionism on its sleeve.  As a former camper at one of the Ramah camps I can testify about the passion with which Israel is discussed and presented.  My last summer in a Ramah as a camp doctor, I recall how Tisha B'Av itself was subverted from a day of mourning for the Temple into a celebration of the Zionist rebirth.
And perhaps this is where the Conservative protests against Orthodox control of the Kotel all fall apart.  Consider Tisha B'av.  While at Camp Ramah that summer I was informed by the Rosh Chinuch that many Conservatives only fast half a day because "Jerusalem is in our hands".
Really?  So when at the end of the Trei Asar the people living in Yerushalayim after the return from Bavel ask, now that the Second Temple has been built, if they can abolish Tisha B'av and the other related community fasts, why did the Navi tell them "no"?  And if the answer was no, how could it be any different today since the Temple Mount remains in the hands of our vitriolic enemies?
Let's take a step further.  The Conservatives long ago abandoned the time honoured siddur for a prayer book that more accurately reflects their beliefs, called Sim Shalom.  Amongst the significant differences from regular Orthodox siddurim, it completely removed any reference to the korbanos, or the Temple.  In fact, an alternative Mussaf amidah eliminating any mention of the Temple or the sacrificial rites was instituted as well.  The message was very clear: a longing for the rebuilding of the Temple along with an understanding that praying as we know it today is a substitute for "the real thing" was not a Conservative value.
So, put this together and what do you learn?  That the Temple was and is not important to the Conservatives.  A yearning for its rebuilding and a sense of loss at its absence are not part of Conservatism.
Given that, why do they care so much about the Kotel?  Why insist on bringing their non-Orthodox method of worship to a place they have striven to remove from their litury and religion?
Perhaps its for nostalgic purposes, or perceived nationalist purposes.  Perhaps its because since they too descend from 1800 years of Jews fervently praying for a chance to return to Yerushalayim, they still cannot admit they have no real interest in connecting to the true heart of the city.  Perhaps it is all self-delusion.
But again, if that's the case, why should their inability to come to terms with the implications of their beliefs lead to inconvenience on my part with their politically correct shenanigans?

Friday 22 January 2010

Anybody But Him

Rav Avi Shafran, he of the "Bernie Madoff is a greater guy than a pilot who saved a plane full of people" fame has struck once again.  After several months of low level, self-serving Agudah propaganda, he has once again decided to shake the Earth with an understanding of life that defies comprehension
His topic this time in the recent earthquake in Haiti.  Now, since that terrible disaster I have been dreading reading about some rabbi saying "Well, it's because those shvartzes are such sinners into voodoo and all" and fortunately, that hasn't happened yet (thank you Pat Robertson for breaking the ice).  However, Rav Shafran's perspective does lead to some definite head-scratching.
Yes, it's true that Judaism places Jews as the central and most important nation in the world.  (Side note: find me a religion or nationality that doesn't put their own people at the centre and then you can criticize us, okay?)
Yes, Jews to repentance. Jewish religious sources maintain that catastrophes, even when they do not directly affect Jews, are nevertheless messages for them, wake-up calls to change for the better. Insurers call such occurrences “Acts of G-d.” For Jews, the phrase is apt, and every such lamentable event demands a personal response.

It is, to be sure, a very particularist idea, placing Jews at the center of humankind. But, while Judaism considers all of humanity to possess seeds of holiness, Judaism does in fact cast Jews as a people chosen – to embrace special laws, to be aware of and serve G-d constantly and, amid much else, to perceive Divine messages in humankind’s trials.
 However, there are times to say that out loud so that everyone can hear and times not to.  The day Moshiach appears and announced the completion of the final redemption is an example of the former.  The current disaster in Haiti an excellent example of the latter.  What does Rav Shafran want people to say?  "Ah ha!  It was the Jews' fault!"?
Fine, let's say he's right.  If doing teshuvah, learning with more intensity and concentrating on performing deeds of chesed to our fellows, Jewish or non-Jewish alike, will lead to a better, safer world then who could argue against it?  Let's show the world that gemillus chassadim is our strength by helping the Haitians. 
Unfortunately the article goes downhill from there.  In order to strengthen his point, Rav Shafran feels it necessary to raise two completely irrelevant examples of how the Jewish world is responsible for not reaching its potential and therefore, one assumes, helps create earthquakes and other such things:
No prophet or wise man, only eyes and ears, are necessary to recognize that the Jewish world today is rife with “evil speech” – speaking and writing ill of others (whether the words are true, false or – so often the case – some toxic mixture of the two), and with the hatred that breeds such sins. Jewish media are filled with accusations and “scoops”; they compete gleefully to find the vilest examples of crimes to report, to do the most attention-grabbing job of reporting them, and to be the first to do so.
Is he speaking of the people who maligned and threatened Rav Daniel Eidensohn when he tireless worked to break the recent EJF scandal?  How about the people who continue to defend the Agriprocessors debacle despite the ongoing convictions?  What about people who malign other Orthodox Jews who aren't Chareidi?
Nope, none of them:
The very week of the recent catastrophe in Haiti, a national Jewish newspaper published a comic strip featuring grotesque depictions of religious Jews and aimed at disparaging Jewish outreach to other Jews. And another Jewish newspaper ran an editorial placing the alleged ugly sins of an individual at the feet of Jewish rabbinic leaders, simply because the presumed sinner, before he was exposed, had arranged for several respected rabbis to deliver lectures and had encouraged people to make donations to their institutions. Having thus “established” guilt by that association, the editorialist demanded that every Orthodox organization and rabbinic leader publicly condemn the alleged sinner or be smeared themselves with sin. Then he mocked rabbinic authorities as a group for, instead of issuing condemnations of sinners, rendering decisions on social and halachic matters, as if that were not precisely what rabbis are for.
In other words, it's everyone's fault but ours, says Rav Shafran.  We are just victims.  It's everyone else that has to do a cheshbon hanefesh.
Now, I've seen the cartoon in question and I will agree that it is disgustingly vile, something worthy of Nazi or Arab anti-Jewish propaganda.  However, one must keep in mind its source.  For the artist of the cartoon, Orthodox Jews are clearly a definable group with a consistent and evil agenda who seek to pervert innocent non-religious Jews.  The same artist would, I presume, recoil from a cartoon showing Blacks, Orientals or any other ethnic/religious group in such a light but that's Jewish self-hatred.  Frankly, he doesn't know any better and isn't of being outraged we should feel pity for a man who has shown himself as capable of anti-Semitism as Herman Goebbels himself. 
The logic of the second part of the paragraph, a veiled attack on those who want to hear some condemnation of Rav Leib Tropper from the "gedolim" who supported and enabled him, is also suspect.  It's like the driver of the getaway car telling the police he should be arrested because he didn't actually rob the bank!  Read the paragraph again: Rav Tropper sought out the approval of these leaders, he got them money, he used their names to push his agenda, and they're not somehow responsible?
Orthodox Jews, however, should know better and this is where Rav Avi Shafran's analysis falls flat on its face.  If the average non-religious Jew is spreading loshon horo, so what?  For Orthodox Jews, it is far worse because of the higher standard we hold ourselves too.  People who don't keep kosher can't be expected to know about the intricacies of shemiras haloshon but folks who look for a minimum of three hechshers on their water but don't keep away from speaking gossip and slandering others are committing a grave sin.  By talking about how wrong attacking others is and then launching into an irrelevant screed against his opponents, Rav Shafran shows a complete lack of self-awareness to the problems facing Torah Jewry today.  They are not our worse enemy, we are and it seems he refuses to see it.

Wednesday 20 January 2010

Fundamental Misunderstandings

Rav Shlomo Riskin, he of the crying Torah, has found himself in hot water again.  It seems a recent video interview he gave has landed him in hot water for expressing frankly heretical views.  Having watched part of the video, I disagree.  The troublesome views weren't heretical, they were just stupid.
All of this tends to revolve around an uncomfortable question for Jews.  Who exactly was the Chrisian false god?  Was he really a prophet?  Was he really a rabbi?  Was he really from the House of David?  The Chrisian answer to all those questions is "yes and he was more".  However, the Jewish approach has always been quite different.  It seems recently that profound misunderstands have crept even into the Orthodox community, or at least its left feel-good fringe:
. The video was clearly posted for a Christian audience but it has caused shock waves among Orthodox Jews and especially the Charedi community. Rabbi Riskin stated on the video that Jesus was a model rabbi who “lived the life of a Jewish rabbi in Israel”.
Anyone who has learned the Jewish version of the history of that time, as opposed to the Church's, knows that Rav Riskin is completely incorrect.  What we know about J.C. comes from censored sections of the Talmud.  A character named Yeshu HaNotzri appears in a handful of places and in one he is listed as being a student of Yehoshua ben Perachya.  This clearly contradicts the Church's version of history as it means he lived 200 years before the so-called Common Era as opposed to heralding its beginning with  his birth.
Further, in his various appearances in the gemara it is quite clear that Yeshu was not a rabbi.  Remember that in those days the term was reserved for someone who received official semicha from another rabbi.  One didn't just go and do a degree program like JTU and HUC offer to get the title.  If Yeshu couldn't get his teacher to give him semicha then he couldn't become a rabbi and the gemara makes it clear that this process never happened.  Instead he was tossed out of class for inappropriate comments and lustful thoughts, hardly a fitting start for a putative messiah.
Surely, at a minimum, Jewish education today should include learning that Jesus and his family would have been Torah observant, kept Shabbat, circumcised their males, attended synagogue, observed purity laws in relation to childbirth and menstruation, kept kosher, and so on. While the Gospels record disputes about Jesus’s interpretation of a few of these, the notion of a Christian Jesus, who did not live by Torah or only by its ethical values, does not fit historical reality.
Let's look at another annoying historical fact.  Josephus Flavius wrote extensively about the period of time in which Yeshu supposedly lived but never mentioned him.  Yet we know that Josephus was fanatical about details big and small.  This bothered the later Church so much that they altered the text of his books to include a record of Yeshua.  Thus even if a Yeshu had been around at that point he was clearly an insignificant figure, possibly a forgetable rabble rouser, who should have disappeared from history.
Except that not much later after his death Saul of Tarsus decided to change history.  Taking Yeshu's name, he created a new religion, one with much more mass appeal than Judaism, and spread it across the Roman Empire.  Yeshua, either Yehoshua ben Perachya's student or some other, really gave nothing to this new religion other than his name.  He was never a rabbi, or a prophet, or a potential messiah.  And Rav Riskin should know that.
Yes, it is uncomfortable for Chrisians to read that this is the Jewish understanding of their so-called saviour.  However, they must also recognize that their entire religion, including the whole abolition of "the law", the appropriation of the "Chosen people" moniker from us and 1900 years of relentless persecution in the name of Yeshu have been uncomfortable for us.  We should not seek strife with them but we should also not alter our understanding of our history to accomodate them either.
Coincidentally, another Jewish leader is mentioned in the article making another, similar mistake:
However, they have caused as much outrage as the publication in 2002 of Chief Rabbi Sacks’s book, Dignity of Difference, which had to be quickly revised to avoid accusations of heresy.

Sacks was criticised for suggesting that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam were equal on theological grounds, which led him to rephrase some statements. For example, in the second edition he removed the statement that “God has spoken to mankind in many languages: through Judaism to Jews, Christianity to Christians, Islam to Muslims”, which became “As Jews we believe that God has made a covenant with the singular people, but [this] does not exclude the possibility of other peoples, cultures and faith finding their own relationship with God within the shared frame of the Noahide laws.”
I hadn't heard this and was shocked to discover that Rav Sacks, a well-known Talmid Chacham had said this.  His "God has spoken to mankind in many languages" would be explicable if each of the three religions mentioned didn't all contain mutually-exclusive clauses.  The Navi tells us that "You alone have I known of all the peoples in the world".  Chrisianity claims that with the rise of Yeshu the old convenant with the Jews is abrogated and transferred to the Church.  And Islam claims, of course, that Moe spoke with God and became the last prophet, superceding and replacing all previous prophets and laws. 
Does Rav Sacks think that God is a practical joker saying to himself in Heaven "I'll tell each of them that they're the chosen one and watch them fight it out for millenia!"?  If we are right, then they are wrong and vice versa.  Once again, this is an uncomfortable concept for the "can't we all get along" crowd but discomfort does not alter its validity.
Others are entitled to believe and practise as they see fit, of course.  But that right does not also demand that accept their validity.  Rav Riskin should have known better.

The New Rules

As featured recently on Matzav, our spiritual guardians have decided that it is time to extend their benign oversight over our lives and thinking processes into the area of music.  Apparently we are now to look for hechshers not only on water and lettuce but also on music.
(Note that at the bottom of the article, Matzav admits that the spiritual guardians do not include the Chareidi leaders at this time which makes one wonder...)
But that got me to thinking about how hefker listening to music generally is.  So, consulting my well-thumbed 3rd edition Minchas Pinchas and referencing the gemara in Bubbe Maaseh when necessary, I came up with the following rules all yirei Shamayim should follow when listening to music to ensure the highest spiritual benefits:
1) After listening to country music, you must wait 6 hours before listening to rock unless it was German country music in which case you only have to wait 3 hours.
2) One should not listen to classical music and the blues at the same time because of sakanah.
3) If one has played pop music in a CD player, one must wait 24 hours before playing another type of music in the machine.  However, in a time of great need, one can immerse the CD player in boiling water and then put the new CD in.
4) When a CD is removed from its package for the first time, it must be rinsed thoroughly with water, submerged in salt for half an hour and then rinsed again before it can be used.
5) During Pesach, any songs that reference words such as "bread" or other chometz items must be sold to a non-Jew.
I'm sure there's more.  Any suggestions?

Monday 18 January 2010

Some Things Don't Change

I haven't had much to comment on the current EJF scandal involving Rav Leib Tropper for two reasons.  First, because others far more qualified to write on the subject than me have already done so.  Adding my condemnation is like bringing straw to Ofrayim.  Second, because I don't think getting enraged and shouting about it will end up doing any good.  Today most people, especially bloggers, have the attention span of three year old children.  The really successful bloggers like FailedMessiah have the ability to stick with a story for years if need be but the rest of us tend to get titillated by the latest scandal for a few weeks and then we move on... to the next scandal.
Meanwhile the villians in each piece have learned a valuable lesson.  There's no point in fighting back against a wave of indignant bloggers.  Lie low, refuse to admit wrongdoing or at most issue a meaningless and vague apology and keep on doing what you're doing.  The attention will pass and then you'll be free to go back to whatever wrongs you were doing before.  Rav Tropper has relinquished none of his power, remains a Rosh Yeshiva and guiding force at EJF and does anyone believe he has been chastened and humbled?
Watching all the scmutz coming out of the Torah world reminds me of a relevant passage in Shmuel I which I am surprised I haven't seen quote elsewhere until now:
"Even before they would burn the fat, the Kohen's attendant would come and say to the man who was bringing the offering: "Give some meat for roasting for the Kohen; he will not take cooked meat from you but only raw.  The man would say 'Let him first burn the fat and then take for yourself whatever your soul desires.  But the attendant would say 'No, give it now or else I will take it by force.'  The sin of the attendants was very great before Hashem, for the men had disgraced Hashem's offering." (2:15-17)
"Eli became very old.  He heard about all that his sons were doing to all of Israel and that they would lie with the women who congregated at the entrace of the Tent of Meeting." (2:22)
Most commentators don't understand the sins of the sons of Eli literally, especially the one mentioned in verse 22.  To their ears, it was simply not possible that a holy priest of God would conduct himself in such a way. Thus Chazal have given alternative understandings as to what the Tanach meant.
But really, with all that's happened I sometimes think that the literal meaning of the verses is to be preferred.  Certainly it is far more relevant to what's happening to day.  Keep reading in Shmuel and you see what happened next because Eli couldn't stop his sons.

Hidden Censorship

Over the last couple of weeks, the internet has been full of stories on how Google China is bucking the government's demands to censor internet searches.  The Beinjin dictatorship is expected to respond by banning Google from the country.
Responses to this initiative have come in two forms.  The more cynical note that a homemade browser has the majority of the market in China so Google isn't losing that much by leaving the market.  The more optimistic are excitedt that Google is standing up to repressive censorship, especially at a time when the so-called leader of the free world refuses to meet with dissidents representing freedom from oppression in a bid to placate the dictators.
But is it that simple?  A column in The National Post on the weekend caught my attention and provided me with information that it isn't.  In fact, Google censors quite a bit although not with the ham-handed techniques of China's government. 
This week, Google announced an end to its long-standing collaboration with the Chinese Communists — it will no longer censor users inside China.
That’s good of it. Maybe Google will now also stop using its search engine to censor the rest of us, in the Western countries.
Search for “Googlegate” on Google and you’ll get a paltry result (my result yesterday was 29,300). Search for “Googlegate” on Bing, Microsoft’s search engine competitor, and the result numbers an eye-popping 72.4 million. If you’re a regular Google user, as opposed to a Bing user, you might not even know that “Googlegate” has been a hot topic for years in the blogosphere — that’s the power that comes of being able to control information.
Despite Google’s motto of “Do No Evil,” it has long been controversial and suspected of evil-doing — and not just in its cooperation with China, or in protecting itself by hiding criticism of itself from unsuspecting Google users. In recent months, most of the evil-doing has focused on the Climategate scandal, the startling emails from the Climate Research Unit in the UK that show climate change scientists to be cooking the books.
For many weeks now, readers have been sending me emails describing how Google has been doing its best to hide information relating to Climategate, which has been the single biggest story on the Internet since the Climategate emails came to light on November 19. By Nov. 26, the term had gone viral and Google returned more results for “climategate” (10.4 million) than for “global warming” (10.1 million). As the Climate Scandal exploded, and increasing numbers of blog sites covered it, the number of web pages with Climategate continued to climb. On Dec. 7, Google’s search engine found 31.6 million hits for people who searched for “Climategate.”
Sometime around then, in early December, Google began to minimize the Climategate scandal by hiding Climategate pages from its users. By Dec. 17, the number of climategate pages that a Google search found dropped by almost 10 million, to 22.2 million. One day later Google dropped its find by another 8 million pages, to 14.1 million. By Dec. 23, Google could find only 7.5 million hits and on Dec. 24 just 6 million. And yesterday, when I checked, Google reported a mere 1.8 million climategate pages.
This morning it's down to 1.74 million.  But the article brings another eye-popping fact to mind, one which I also confirmed myself:
But search for Googlegate and you’ll also see that more than money is at stake. The accusations against Google of censorship are wide-spread, involving schemes to elect Barack Obama, attacks on Christianity (key in “Christianity is” and Google will suggest unflattering completions to the phrase), and political correctness (key in “Islam is” and nothing negative is suggested).
My preference for Google relates back to the days when I used dial-up to access the internet.  The simple search page loaded almost instantly while Yahoo and Altavista took several minutes.  However, now with ubiquitous high speed access combined with these revelations, I think I'm switching to Bing.  I don't mind principled stands but I can't stand when they're combined with such rank hypocrisy.

Monday 11 January 2010

The Moving Line of Denial

It's always fun to watch when true believers in something demonstrably false have to adjust their principles in order ot maintain their original belief.
The great example is that of the great global warming fraud.  Only a few years ago we were assured the Earth was getting measurably warmer.  Suddenly it turned out that this wasn't happening so "global warming" was rebranded to "climate change".
A similar process has been happening for a couple of centuries now when it comes to so-called academic analysis of the Bible in general and the Torah in particular.  An entire field of study has arisen dedicated to proving that the Torah was written relatively late in Jewish history, after the return from Bavel, and that it is composed of segments from 4-5 different pre-exisiting manuscripts, most likely written during the late First Temple period.
Yet as time goes on, more and more evidences accumulates that shatters the basic assumptions of the Documentary Hypothesis school of thinking.  Some brief examples:
1) For a long time it was held that camels were introduced into the Levant long after the time period claimed for Avraham Avinu, surely proof of late authorship of the stories about him.  Then it turned out that there were camels in use at that time.  Oops.
2) Avraham Avinu could not have met a Philistine either, we were told since the Philistines of the Bible were known to have arrived around or just after the putative time of Yehoshua entering Israel.  Only later it turned out that there was a smaller, earlier wave that settled north of 'Aza just before the time of Avraham.  As well, it seems "Philistine" derives from the root "P.L.Sh" which means "invader" and was a generic term for the various waves of sea peoples that reached the shores of Israel over the centuries.  Oops.
And now Shemarya at FailedMessiah reports on the latest find, a piece of pottery with Hebrew on it dating way back to the 10th century BCE, long before Hebrew should have existed as a distinct language.  What's more, it appears to be quoting from the Torah.
Naturally Shemarya falls back on the academic orthodoxy (irony of ironies) and concludes that all this proves is that Hebrew became a distinct language from Canaanite earlier than previously thought.
What I see is different - yet another piece of proof of the antiquity of the Torah, another piece of evidence that shows that all the theories and suppositions of the Documentary Hypothesis school are just that - theories and suppositions with increasingly less evidence.
But don't expect them to admit it, of course.

Tuesday 5 January 2010

Politics and the Army

The role of the army in national life is always like walking on a tightrope.  The army's basic and only job is to ensure the security of the country it protects.  Period.  However, as history shows, ideology often plays a role in how an army performs its job.  In most banana republics, soldiers become an arm of the government's dictatorial policies.  In Turkey, the army ensures that the country does not stray from Kemal Ataturk's founding principles of secularism, throwing out governments that violate those rules even if they were democratically elected.
In Israel, the army often finds itself in even more of a bind, given the deep divisions within society there.  On one side are those who will, through moral conscience and post-Zionist guilt, not accept duty within Yehuda and Shomron. On the other are those who, through religious conscience and an adherence to halacha, not accept orders that they feel violate their Torah beliefs.
In general the Israeli army has tried to balance these extremes and walk the tightrope as much as possible.  Despite some aberrations (Yitchak Rabin's creation, for example, of brigades full of leftist soldiers and officers to send into Yehuda, Shomron and 'Aza in the event of a withdrawal) Tzahal has been quite successful at this task.
Nor do average citizens take kindly to the thought of the army being used for political ends.  A couple of years ago several dozen youth famously organized a protest and refused to report for army duty because of their aversion to serving in Yehuda and Shomron.  Thousands more responded by showing up for voluntary duty.  These people came from different sections of Israeli society, united by their opposition to the army politicizing itself.
The latest crisis now seems to be coming from the Dati Leumi community.  The recent events involving the Har Bracha yeshiva in which the authority of the army over its soldiers was challenged have thrust this community, the most patriotic in Israel, into a negative spotlight.  It's one thing to be a Chareidi draft-avoider cloitered in a dingy yeshivah out of sight, quite another to be Dati Leumi, in full view and challenged the authority of the State.
Fortunately, many in a position of leadership in the community have come out and strongly denounced this trend while it is still in its infancy:
Rabbis Aharon Lichtenstein, Yehuda Amital, Baruch Gigi, Moshe Lichtenstein, and Yaaqov Medan, said in their statement that they object to any political displays in the military and that any yeshiva students to take part in political protests in the army will be dealt with severely.
The rabbis, who are considered among the moderates of the hesder yeshivas, stressed in their document, which is to be distributed to thousands of yeshiva graduates that "the yeshiva considers itself part of the people residing in Zion, and considers the strength of the State of Israel and the IDF a very important value."
According to the rabbis: "The yeshiva students are soldiers, with all this implies, during their military service, and are obligated to display complete loyalty to the military and its command."
The rabbis stressed that in the event of receiving an order that goes against a soldier's conscience, the soldier in question must 'walk between the drops' and avoid, as much as possible, any conflict between the military orders and the mitzvoth of the Torah and halacha.
"The yeshiva instructs its students, as a general policy, to try and minimize the strife as much as possible, and reach solutions that are compatible with the halacha on the one hand, and the military's ability to function in an acceptable manner on the other hand," the statement said.
The yeshiva stated that it, together with the Hesder Yeshiva Association, would work to build a joint mechanism with the IDF to treat such tense points, "in cooperation, mutual respect, solidarity, and a desire to work the problem out rather than make bigger.
In any democracy, change in policy must be accomplished through participation in government, not through illegal activities.  A soldier who has a problem with an order has options like accepting a discharge or even being court martialled.  Certainly if a large group of soldiers does not wish to follow orders, it can pursue proper channels of protest.  However, if the Dati Leumi community wishes to participate in national life, it must recognize that participating in the army will mean being part of decisions that may be against its ideology.  The only way to avoid that is the Chareidi option of simply avoiding the problem altogether.
Hopefull with the help of this leadership, this situation can be defused and cooler heads can prevail.

Pathetic and Hypocritical

Sometimes Israel's enemies are sauve and convincing even as they lie through their teeth.  And sometimes the hatred they spew is so obvious that even as they stand on their home made thrones of self-righteousness, everyone around them can tell that they are full of male bovine excrement.  Case in point:
I find it appropriate that the Israeli public be notified of the emerging movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel (BDS), which has been growing at a breathtaking pace.

Following bewildered reports published by Yedioth Ahronoth journalist Sever Plocker, who noticed that BDS has moved from the circles of the radical western Left to the circles of the bourgeois centre, I can add that this is now true for Israel-loving Jews as well.
Obviously, this shift is taking place against the backdrop of Israel’s war on Gaza, waged one year ago, the publication of the Goldstone Report, and the local strain of apartheid policy nurtured by Israel, which differs from the old South African one in some aspects.
How many stupid statements can you spot?  Growing at a breathtaking pace?  So far not one civilized democratic government has signed on to such a thing.  Most academic groups that have tend to reveal their true feelings with slogans like "Israel=Nazis" and other such Jew-hating rubbish.  In fact, the BDS movement remains the pet child of the Jew-hating left.  As for bourgeois centre, does this moron not know that in Marx' theory there is no centre, only the proletariat on one side and the bourgeois on the other.  Marx didn't understand what middle class was.
Then there's the old canard about Israeli apartheid.  Ah, but Udi Aloni now has to qualify that statement.  It differs "in some aspects".  What would those aspects be?  Arab citizens of Israel can vote, serve in the government find employment in every sector of the economy and travel on an Israeli passport.  It's true that they can't serve in the army but with many secular Israelis trying to duck out of service (why is it that only the Chareidim get castigated but not the Ramat Aviv'niks?) who says they're not ahead of the curve? 
All these civil rights are bestowed on them despite their insistence that they are not Israeli but rather so-called Palestinians whose first allegiance is to two terrorist organizations, Fatah and Hamas. 
Is he perhaps referring to Arabs in Yehuda and Shomron?  That's possible but they're not Israeli citizens despite having had the offer open to them since 1967.  No country elsewhere gives full civil rights to non-citizens, especially not hostile ones.  Why must Israel be the exception to that rule?
His final part is the easiest to refute, of course:
The three very basic principles of BDS are:

An immediate end of the occupation
Full equality to all Palestinian citizens of the state of Israel
Legal and moral Recognition of the Palestinian refugees’ right of return
An end to the occupation?  Is he serious?  After the 'Aza experience, what prime minister of Israel would give more territories to murderers and terrorists?  Does he really expect Israel  to uproot half a million lives from land that it legally took in war?
Full equality to all Palestinians citizens?  Arabs in Israel already have that.  Is he calling for the extension of those rights to non-citizens?
Recognition of the so-called right of return?  This is where the author's true agenda comes in.  He is not interested in justice.  He is not interested in a peaceful end to the Jewish-Arab conflict.  He is interested in an end to the state of Israel as a Jewish state, or anything else, obviously preferring a Muslim Palestine from sea to river in place of it.  Perhaps it's his high society post-Zionist guilt, perhaps he's just another self-hating Jew (bad term: I'm sure he loves himself a great deal).  Whatever it is, his ignorance and filth is best shouted down before others are tricked into thinking he has a point.