Monday, March 28, 2005


Angry like a pregnant woman? I don't recall being particularly angry. Tired, maybe. Nauseated occasionally. But, angry?

Berachot 29b:
R. JOSHUA SAYS: HE WHO IS WALKING IN A DANGEROUS PLACE SAYS A SHORT PRAYER. . . IN EVERY TIME OF CRISIS. What is ‘TIME OF CRISIS’ [‘ibbur]? R. Hisda said in the name of Mar ‘Ukba: Even at the time when Thou art filled with wrath [‘ebrah] against them like a pregnant woman, may all their need not be overlooked by Thee.

More sensibly:
Said Elijah to Rab Judah the brother of R. Sala the Pious: Do not become angry and you will not sin (Rashi notes: Don't become angry becasue through anger you will come to sin), do not drink excessively and you will not sin; and when you go forth on a journey, seek counsel of your Maker and go forth.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Rabban Gamliel shows humility, blessings on entering a house of study; the death of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai and a discussion of the Amidah

All in all a packed daf.I'll have mercy and not actually require the reading of all of this, but the stroy of rabban gamliel is a must. Most interesting of course is Rabbi Yehoshua's statement "Alas for the generation of which you are the leader, seeing that you know nothing of the troubles of the scholars, their struggles to support and sustain themselves!" It is very suggestive of perhaps how a teacher shuld know his or her students. But also, perhaps, of those who employ rabbis. Just a thought.
First of all, let's get with Rabban Gamliel. Often shown by the gemara to be a less than humble man, he alienates people in several stories in the gemara (not just the ones mentioned in this sugiya, either. In fact, the famous tanur shel achnai incident nearly causes the destruction of the world in part because of him!). Here the gemara shows the rabbis getting a little peeved with this, and having their say about it.

(technically starting at the end of yesterday's daf 27b:
THE EVENING PRAYER HAS NO FIXED LIMIT. What is the meaning of HAS NO FIXED LIMIT? Shall I say it means that if a man wants he can say the Tefillah any time in the night? Then let it state, ‘The time for the evening Tefillah is the ‘whole night’! — But what in fact is the meaning of HAS NO FIXED LIMIT? It is equivalent to saying, The evening Tefillah is optional. For Rab Judah said in the name of Samuel: With regard to the evening Tefillah, Rabban Gamaliel says it is compulsory, whereas R. Joshua says it is optional. Abaye says: The halachah is as stated by the one who says it is compulsory; Raba says the halachah follows the one who says it is optional.

It is related that a certain disciple came before R. Joshua and asked him, Is the evening Tefillah compulsory or optional? He replied: It is optional. He then presented himself before Rabban Gamaliel and asked him: Is the evening Tefillah compulsory or optional? He replied: It is compulsory. But, he said, did not R. Joshua tell me that it is optional? He said: Wait till the champions enter the Beit ha-Midrash. When the champions came in, someone rose and inquired, Is the evening Tefillah compulsory or optional? Rabban Gamaliel replied: It is compulsory. Said Rabban Gamaliel to the Sages: Is there anyone who disputes this? R. Joshua replied to him: No. He said to him: Did they not report you to me as saying that it is optional? He then went on: Joshua, stand up and let them testify against you! R. Joshua stood up and said: Were I alive and he [the witness] dead, the living could contradict the dead. But now that he is alive and I am alive, how can the living contradict the living?(I.e., how can l deny that I said this?)
Rabban Gamaliel remained sitting and expounding and R. Joshua remained standing, until all the people there began to shout and say to Huzpith the turgeman, Stop! and he stopped. They then said: How long is he [Rabban Gamaliel] to go on insulting him [R. Joshua]? On New Year last year he insulted him;(By telling him to appear before him on the Day of Atonement with his staff and wallet. B.R.H. 25a) he insulted him in the matter of the firstborn in the affair of R. Zadok;(Bek. 36a) now he insults him again! Come, let us depose him! Whom shall we appoint instead? We can hardly appoint R. Joshua, because he is one of the parties involved. We can hardly appoint R. Akiba because perhaps Rabban Gamaliel will bring a curse on him because he has no ancestral merit. Let us then appoint R. Eleazar b. Azariah, who is wise and rich and the tenth in descent from Ezra. He is wise, so that if anyone puts a question to him he will be able to answer it. He is rich, so that if occasion arises for paying court to Caesar he will be able to do so. He is tenth in descent from Ezra, so that he has ancestral merit and he [Rabban Gamaliel] cannot bring a curse on him. They went and said to him: Will your honour consent to become head of the Academy? He replied: I will go and consult the members of my family. He went and consulted his wife. She said to him:
Berachot 28a
Perhaps they will depose you later on. He replied to her: [There is a proverb:] Let a man use a cup of honour for one day even if it be broken the next. She said to him: You have no white hair. He was eighteen years old that day, and a miracle was wrought for him and eighteen rows of hair [on his beard] turned white. That is why R. Eleazar b. Azariah said: Behold I am about seventy years old, and he did not say [simply] seventy years old. A Tanna taught: On that day the doorkeeper was removed and permission was given to the disciples to enter. For Rabban Gamaliel had issued a proclamation [saying]. No disciple whose character does not correspond to his exterior may enter the Beth ha-Midrash. On that day many stools were added. R. Johanan said: There is a difference of opinion on this matter between Abba Joseph b. Dosethai and the Rabbis: one [authority] says that four hundred stools were added, and the other says seven hundred. Rabban Gamaliel became alarmed and said: Perhaps, God forbid, I withheld Torah from Israel! He was shown in his dream white casks full of ashes.(Signifying that those he kept out were in fact not genuine) This, however, really meant nothing; he was only shown this to appease him.
A Tanna taught: Eduyyot was formulated on that day — and wherever the expression ‘on that day’ is used, it refers to that day — and there was no halachah about which any doubt existed in the Beit ha-Midrash which was not fully elucidated. Rabban Gamaliel also did not absent himself from the Beit ha-Midrash a single hour, as we have learnt: On that day Judah, an Ammonite proselyte, came before them in the Beth ha-Midrash. He said to them: Am I permitted to enter the assembly?(I.e., marry a Jewess) R. Joshua said to him: You are permitted to enter the congregation. Said Rabban Gamaliel to him: Is it not already laid down, At Ammonite or a Moabite shall not enter into the assembly of the Lord?(Deut. 23:4) R. Joshua replied to him: Do Ammon and Moab still reside in their original homes? Sennacherib king of Assyria long ago went up and mixed up all the nations, as it says, I have removed the bounds of the peoples and (Isa. X, 13) and whatever strays [from a group] is assumed to belong to the larger section of the group.(E.g., if there are nine shops in a street selling kasher meat and one selling trefa, and we find a piece of meat in the street, we presume that it came from one of the kasher shops, v. Keth. 15a. So here, we presume that this man came from one of the other nations). Said Rabban Gamaliel to him: But has it not been said: But afterward I will bring back the captivity of the children of Ammon, saith the Lord,(Jer. XLIX, 6) so that they have already returned? To which R. Joshua replied: And has it not been said, And I will turn the captivity of My people Israel,(Amos IX, 24) and they have not yet returned? Forthwith they permitted him to enter the congregation. Rabban Gamaliel thereupon said: This being the case, I will go and apologize to R. Joshua. When he reached his house he saw that the walls were black. He said to him: From the walls of your house it is apparent that you are a charcoal-burner(possibly "smith"). He replied: Alas for the generation of which you are the leader, seeing that you know nothing of the troubles of the scholars, their struggles to support and sustain themselves! He said to him: I apologize. forgive me. He paid no attention to him. Do it, he said, out of respect for my father. He then became reconciled to him. They said: Who will go and tell the Rabbis? A certain fuller said to them: I will go. R. Joshua sent a message to the Beth hamidrash saying: Let him who is accustomed to wear the robe wear it; shall he who is not accustomed to wear the robe say to him who is accustomed to wear it, Take off your robe and I will put it on? Said R. Akiba to the Rabbis: Lock the doors so that the servants of Rabban Gamaliel should not come and upset the Rabbis.(The Rabbis did not want Rabban Gamaliel to be restored, being afraid of his autocratic disposition) Said R. Joshua: I had better get up and go to them. He came and knocked at the door. He said to them: Let the sprinkler son of a sprinkler (I.e., a priest, son of a priest, sprinkle the water of purification. The reference is again to Rabban Gamaliel who had an hereditary claim to the presidency) sprinkle; shall he who is neither a sprinkler nor the son of a sprinkler say to a sprinkler son of a sprinkler, Your water is cave water and your ashes are oven ashes? (I.e. niether suitable for use in purification, because ashes must be from the red heifer, and water must be "living" waters) Said R. Akiba to him: R. Joshua, you have received your apology, have we done anything except out of regard for your honour? Tomorrow morning you and I will wait on him.(I.e., on R. Eleazar b. Azariah. Lit., ‘we will rise early to his door’) They said: How shall we do? Shall we depose him [R. Eleazar b. Azariah]? We have a rule that we may raise an object to a higher grade of sanctity but must not degrade it to a lower. If we let one Master preach on one Sabbath and one on the next, this will cause jealousy. Let therefore Rabban Gamaliel preach three Sabbaths and R. Eleazar b. Azariah one Sabbath. And it is in reference to this that a Master said: ‘Whose Sabbath was it? It was the Sabbath of R. Eleazar b. Azariah’. And that disciple was R. Simeon b. Yohai

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Bad Names for Babies

OK, completely non-content, but this is one of the funniest URLs I've come across in ages.

Baby's Named a Bad, Bad Thing
A sample:
I m thinking of naming my baby Vashara Rashea.
That sounds ominously close to part of the chant to summon the demon Pazuzu!


My last name is Tinkletop. For some reason my wife objects to naming our son Timothy, Timmy for short. I think it's a good, memorable name.

You're right.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

More etiquette lessons from the rabbis

From Today's daf Berachot 24b:

‘One who says the Tefillah so that it can be heard is of the small of faith (as if God couldn't hear a prayer recited quietly- Rashi, also cf 31a); he who raises his voice in praying is of the false prophets (like the prophets of Ba'al who called out loudly on Mt. Carmel in the showdown with ELijah); he who belches and yawns is of the arrogant; if he sneezes during his prayer it is a bad sign for him — some say, it shows that he is a low fellow (as Rashi explains this is someone who deliberately sneezes - this also applies to belching and yawning, that it's deliberate); one who spits during his prayer is like one who spits before a king’. Now in regard to belching and yawning there is no difficulty; in the one case it was involuntary, in the other case deliberate. But the sneezing in Rabbi's case does seem to contradict the sneezing in the other? — There is no contradiction between sneezing and sneezing either; in the one case it is above (that is, the nose), in the other below (er, from a smellier bit of anatomy...)
For R. Zera said: This dictum was casually imparted to me in the school of R. Hamnuna, and it is worth all the rest of my learning (rashi: because it praises sneezers, and I sneeze a lot): If one sneezes in his prayer it is a good sign for him, that as they give him relief below [on earth](Rashi: sneezes offer nachat ruach - satisfaction or ease- to a person) so they give him relief above [in heaven].
But there is surely a contradiction between the spitting in the one case and the other? — There is no contradiction between the two cases of spitting either, since it can be done as suggested by Rab Judah. For Rab Judah said: If a man is standing saying the Tefillah, and spittle collects in his mouth, he covers it up in his robe, or, if it is a fine robe, in his turban. Rabina was once standing behind R. Ashi and he wanted to spit, so he spat out behind him. Said R. Ashi to him: Does not the Master accept the dictum of Rab Judah, that he covers it up in his turban? He replied: I am rather squeamish.

... R. Abba kept away from Rab Judah because he wanted to go up to Eretz Israel; for Rab Judah said, Whoever goes up from Babylon to Eretz Israel transgresses a positive precept, since it says, They shall be carried to Babylon and there shall they be, until the day that I remember them, saith the Lord. He said: I will go and listen to what he is saying from outside the Academy. So he went and found the Tanna10 reciting in the presence of Rab Judah: If a man was standing saying the Tefillah and he broke wind, he waits until the odour passes off and begins praying again. Some say: If he was standing saying the Tefillah and he wanted to break wind, he steps back four cubits and breaks wind and waits till the wind passes off and resumes his prayer, saying, Sovereign of the Universe, Thou hast formed us with various hollows and various vents. It is revealed and known before You our shame and humiliation in our lives, and that our latter end is worms and maggots!
Then he begins again from the place where he stopped. He said: Had I come only to hear this, it would have been worth my while.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Hermaneutics and other religious tracts

From two great sites:
first: the Slacktivist
A Christian take on hermaneutics, very funny...

Our Text:

So this gorilla walks into a bar. The gorilla slaps a $10 bill on the counter and says, "Give me a beer."

Bartender figures what does a gorilla know? So he gives him the beer, but only gives him $1 in change. It's a slow night, though, so the bartender figures he should make some conversation. "We don't get many gorillas in here," he says.

Gorilla says, "Yeah, well at $9 a beer I'm not surprised."

The Fundamentalist Interpretation

(Fundamentalists read the text literally. This means they adhere as closely as possible to the simplest, most obvious reading of its meaning.)

The talking gorilla indicates that the great apes, perhaps all beasts, once were able to speak. This, like the great longevity of the early patriarchs, seems incomprehensible to us. Yet the text says it is so, so therefore it is so.

How is it that gorillas could speak? How is it that Methuselah could live to the ripe old age of 969? Those of you who have been attending our Wednesday night Bible study series, "Six Days; 6,000 Years Ago," already know the answer to these questions.

In Matthew 24:38, Jesus says that, "in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking ..." Our story is set in a bar, a place designated for eating and drinking, so we can conclude that it takes place "in the days that were before the flood."

Please note, however, that this was not what we today understand as the sin of drinking. The "beer" in our text is not the alcoholic beverage we think of today, just as the "wine" the Bible speaks of is not what we think of as wine. (Drinking wine is a sin. Jesus was without sin. Jesus drank "wine." Therefore "wine" is not wine.) The "beer" the story speaks of thus was probably a nonalcoholic drink similar to malta.

In the days that were before the flood, the earth was still protected by the great vapor canopy, or "firmament" (Genesis 1:6-8, KJV only, of course). This canopy shielded the earth, protecting the grandchildren of Adam and Eve and allowing them to live much longer than humans can today without the benefit of its protection. Creation scientists have posited that another consequence of this canopy may have been that, um, gorillas could talk. They lost this ability of speech after God unleashed the canopy, creating the Great Flood.

Public schools refuse to acknowledge that gorillas could ever speak. This is an example of the persecution that we face as believers.

The Premillennial Dispensationalist Interpretation

(Premillennial dispensationalists also consider their interpretation of the text to be literal, but they also believe that we must "rightly divide" the word of truth [see 1 Tim. 2:15]. The dispensational approach provides a key -- a kind of codebreaker -- for interpreting the text, which is explained in simple charts like this one.)

The meaning of this passage is made clear through its use of the number nine: 9 = 3 + 6, or three sixes, or 666. The bartender thus clearly represents the Antichrist, who gives this number to the gorilla, or Beast.

The beer represents the alcoholic wine consumed by the apostate church of Rome. The $10 presented by the gorilla represents the 10 kings of the rebuilt Roman Empire, also represented by the 10 horns of the Beast described in Revelation 13:1. The apostle John, of course, would never have seen a gorilla firsthand and thus could not known what to call this Beast, but consider the description John provides in Revelation 13:2: "The beast I saw resembled a leopard, but had feet like those of a bear [i.e., Soviet Russia] and a mouth like that of a lion." That sounds very much like a gorilla (or, perhaps, a gorilla in a leopard suit).

Thus our text makes it clear that the Antichrist is none other than the Roman Pope and that his servant is Leonid Brezhnev Saddam Hussein.

I have read that in many bars and restaurants in places like New York City it is not uncommon for patrons to be charged $9 for a beer. Such prices were unheard of before the recreation of the state of Israel in 1948.

The signs therefore are clear: We are living in the Last Days. Even now, the Bartender and his servant the Gorilla are preparing for a one-world government and a New World Order that will mark the beginning of the Tribulation.

Also Cthulu mirror Tired of the same old religious tracts? Try this one... Not for the faint of heart!


This has to be one of themor gut-wrenching cases around. It was interesting to discuss this with my 7th graders: from the perspetive of Jewish law, the possibilities are limited, and actually pretty clear: it's murder to starve someone to death. And yet, and yet... 15 years of PVS. NO upper brain function. No hope of recovery. I cannot say anything other than that God values us all, disabled, brain dead, or whole and healthy. The fact that decisions like this are made all the time on the basis of economics -often when the family would like to continue to try to maintain their loved one - and sometimes even when there might really be hope for recovery...
If Terry Schiavo was a 50 year old garage mechanic, or a 70 year old African American woman, no one would ever have heard of her. I wonder if Schiavo's parents came to me and asked me whatto do, what I would say. I could tell them what Jewish law is; but I also feel that I would have to say to them that hope of recovery is pure fantasy, and htat as painful as it is, the need to move on and accept that thir beloved daughter will never return to them in this world.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

The modesty of the rabbis

Nothing like stating the facts plainly. Too humble is, after all, as bad as not humble at all.

Berachot 20a:
R. Johanan was accustomed to go and sit at the gates of the bathing place. He said: When the daughters of Israel come up from bathing they look at me and they have children as handsome as I am.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

And honoring the living

Today's daf: continuing the theme of having respect for one another:
Berachot 19b:
Come and hear. ‘Great is human dignity, since it overrides a negative precept of the Torah’.(Men. 37b) Why should it? Let us apply the rule, ‘There is no wisdom nor understanding nor counsel against the Lord? — Rab b. Shaba explained the dictum in the presence of R. Kahana to refer to the negative precept of ‘thou shalt not turn aside’.(Deut. 17:11) They laughed at him. The negative precept of ‘thou shalt not turn aside’ is also from the Torah!

Respecting the dead

It seems to me that this piceof gemara is a very important one when we're dealing with the question of whether a man might be permitted to take an aliyah or other honor in a place where women are not counted.

Berachot 18a
it has been taught: A man should not walk in a cemetery with tefillin on his head or a scroll of the Law in his arm, and recite the Shema’, and if he does so, he comes under the heading of ‘He that mocketh the poor blasphemeth his Maker’? — In that case the act is forbidden within four cubits of the dead, but beyond four cubits the obligation [to say Shema’ etc.] devolves. For a Master has said: A dead body affects four cubits in respect of the recital of the Shema’. But in this case he is exempt even beyond four cubits.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

The importance of tefilin

I suppose it's no surprise why the mitzvah of tzitzit (that is, wearing a tallit) is one that has been taken up by women, but tefillin, for the most part, hasn't. At least in part, it's because most people only come to shul on shabbat (if they come at all) and so never see tefillin put on - even by men, let alone by women. But in truth, the mitzvah of tefilin is more important: tzitzit one must only wear if one wears a garment with four corners; tefillin must be worn on weekdays, period.
I'd love to see tefillin become a more regarded mitzvah. I have all these great metaphors which I love to use to talk about tefillin: the tefillin as vine: one in which we are the rtellis, but also in which the vine supports the trellis, so to speak. The batim are fruit, with jeweled words, like pomegranates.
Or else tefillin as compass (בשם אמרו My friend Rabbi Scott Slarskey taught me that one).

And the gemara brings support from today's daf (Berachot 14b):
‘Ulla said: If one recites the Shema’ without tefillin it is as if he bore false witness against himself.16 R. Hiyya b. Abba said in the name of R. Johanan: It is as if he offered a burnt-offering without a meal-offering and a sacrifice without drink-offering.

R. Johanan also said: If one desires to accept upon himself the yoke of the kingdom of heaven in the most complete manner (cont. 15a), he should consult nature and wash his hands and put on tefillin and recite the Shema’ and say the tefillah: this is the complete acknowledgment of the kingdom of heaven. R. Hiyya b. Abba said in the name of R. Johanan: If one consults nature and washes his hands and puts on tefillin and recites the Shema’ and says the tefillah, Scripture accounts it to him as if he had built an altar and offered a sacrifice upon it, as it is written, I will wash my hands in innocency and I will compass Thine altar, O Lord. Said Raba to him: Does not your honour think that it is as if he had bathed himself, since it is written, I will wash in purity and it is not written, ‘I will wash my hands’.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

A dream

A very odd dream. Most of it has faded by now (the irritating thing about my dreams- they always fade -especially the interesting ones- before I can get them down somewhere), but I do remember one part in which Maiyan had somehow been grabbed by the head by a dog. I got him away from the dog terified that the dog had really hurt him, and in fact the dog had left little teeth imprints on his head, but he had miraculously not been hurt, and only cried for a couple of minutes (very like the non-dream Maiyan, who seems to be rarely fazed by anything for very long, unless he's really tired). But the weird part was someone noticing how quickly he stopped crying and admired his easygoing nature, then some kind of weird segue into a discussion about how when he's grown if I just let him know what I want from him, it will make his life so much easier and a story about some woman whose mother finally told her what she wanted fromher, and the report that this made the daughter 65% happier with the situation. I really dug that my dream actually produced a statistic for me on this...

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Friday and Shabbat daffage: Torah blessings, praying for others

So first of all, I've noticed that in some circles it seems to have become de rigeur to substitute for the proper blessing before the Torah an invented one (contrary to halacha, which tells us that that we don't add to the blessings of the rabbis). This is apparently done because of dislike of the notion of chosenness. What I'm curious about is why the made-up blessing is used when the gemara actually offers one:

(from Berachot 11b) What benediction is said [before the study of the Torah]? — Rab Judah said in the name of Samuel: [Blessed art Thou . . . ] who hast sanctified us by Thy commandments, and commanded us to study the Torah. R. Yochanan used to conclude as follows: ‘Make pleasant, therefore, we beseech Thee, O Lord our God, the words of Thy Torah in our mouth and in the mouth of Thy people the house of Israel, so that we with our offspring and the offspring of Thy people the house of Israel may all know Thy name and study Thy Torah. Blessed art Thou, O Lord, who teachest Torah to Thy people Israel’. That is: הערב נא ה אלהינו את דברי תורתך בפינו ובפיפיות עמך בית ישראל ונהיה אנחנו וצאצאינו וצאצאי עמך בית ישראל כלנו יודעי שמך ועוםקי תורתך. ברוך אתה ה המלמד תורה לעמו ישראל R. Hamnuna said: ‘[Blessed art Thou . . . ] who hast chosen us from all the nations and given us Thy Torah. Blessed art Thou, O Lord, who givest the Torah’. R. Hamnuna said: This is the finest of the benedictions. Therefore let us say all of them.

From 12a: ‘On Sabbath they said an additional blessing on account of the outgoing watch’. What was this benediction? — R. Helbo said: The outgoing watch said to the incoming one, May He who has caused His name to dwell in this house cause to dwell among you love and brotherhood and peace and friendship.

From 12b: Raba b. Hinena the elder said further in the name of Rab: If one is in a position to pray on behalf of his fellow and does not do so, he is called a sinner, as it says, Moreover as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you

Thursday, March 10, 2005

The gemara does SAT analogies

But rather beautifully:

Berachot 10a
To whom did David refer in these five verses beginning with ‘Bless the Lord, O my soul’?
He was alluding only to the Holy One, blessed be He, and to the soul.

Just as the Holy One, blessed be He, fills the whole world, so the soul fills the body.
Just as the Holy One, blessed be He, sees, but is not seen, so the soul sees but is not itself seen.
Just as the Holy One, blessed be He, feeds the whole world, so the soul feeds the whole body.
Just as the Holy One, blessed be He, is pure, so the soul is pure.
Just as the Holy One, blessed be He, abides in the innermost precincts, so the soul abides in the innermost precincts.

Let that which has these five qualities come and praise Him who has these five qualities.

From the "Don't they have something better to do" file...

I can vaguely recall D&D being accused of causing devil worship in the US some time ago. Please, folks, get a grip...

From YNET news
Army frowns on Dungeons and Dragons

IDF says players are detached from reality and automatically given a low security clearance
By Hanan Greenberg

Does the Israel Defense Forces believe incoming recruits and soldiers who play Dungeons and Dragons are unfit for elite units? Ynet has learned that 18-year-olds who tell recruiters they play the popular fantasy game are automatically given low security clearance.

“They're detached from reality and suscepitble to influence,” the army says.

Fans of the popular roleplaying game had spoken of rumors of this strange policy by the IDF, but now the army has confirmed that it has a negative image of teens who play the game and labels them as problematic in regard to their draft status.

So if you like fantasy games, go see the military psychologist.

Dungeons and Dragons (also known as D&D) has been a popular roleplaying game for decades and is based on a fantasy world.

One player assumes the role of “Dungeon Master,” which entails directing the game and controlling the labyrinth, while the others select from a large selection of characters that includes warriors, magicians, dwarfs and thieves.

The game focuses on the results of decisions made by the players as determined by the roll of the dice.

In a more "active" version of the game, players leave the table and go out, dressed as the characters they assume for the game, along with the requisite equipment of swords (not real) to play outside, usually in the forest or woods. Most D&D players do not don costumes, and participants in such costume games are called "LARPers" (for live-action role playing).

'Simply detached from reality'

Thousands of youth and teens in Israel play D&D, fighting dragons and demons using their rich imaginations. The game has also increased in popularity due to the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy.

However the IDF does not approve of this unusual hobby and prevents D&D players from being considered for sensitive army positions by labeling them with low security clearance.

"We have discovered that some of them are simply detached from reality," a security source told Ynet.

Game enthusiasts are aware of their problematic image in the army and prefer to maintain their anonymity. Many of them are from the former Soviet Union, where the game is very popular.

In Israel there are thousands of players, between the ages 16 to 35, and include lawyers, high-tech workers and businessmen. Matan, 22, and Igor, a 21-year-old IDF soldier, organize activities for groups of players. Soon hundreds of fans are expected to meet in a forest in the southern part of Israel for a two-day game of pure fantasy.

"It's not a game of winners and losers," Matan says,
"but rather entry into another world with stories and plot changes."

He is aware of the game's problematic reputation, especially in the IDF. The army is not indifferent to the unique hobby and is trying to locate soldiers who in their free time dress up as witches and play in forests.

'The game indicates a weak personality'

A security official tells Ynet there are specific criteria for deciding the level of a soldier's security clearance.

"One of the tests we do, either by asking soldiers directly or through information provided us, is to ask whether they take part in the game," he says. "If a soldier answers in the affirmative, he is sent to a professional for an evaluation, usually a psychologist."

More than half of the soldiers sent for evaluation receive low security clearances, thus preventing them from serving in sensitive IDF positions, he says.

Igor says exposing soldiers who play the game could result in the soldiers being sent to a military psychologist or even being kicked out of the army.

"Exposing them could also harm their chances at being accepted to other military courses," he says.

Matan says he has personally met soldiers whose military career was harmed due to their connection to the game. Most soldiers who play Dungeons and Dragons simply do not admit to it while they are in the army, he says.

Why does IDF believe game is dangerous?

"These people have a tendency to be influenced by external factors which could cloud their judgment, a military official says. "They may be detached from reality or have a weak personality - elements which lower a person's security clearance, allowing them to serve in the army, but not in sensitive positions."

Unsurprisingly, Igor, Matan and thier friends do not approve of this IDF policy. They say the game is only a colorful, non-violent hobby.

"Many people who play served in the most classified units," David says. "They are intelligent and any attempt to label them as 'weird' is incorrect and unfair."

But in the struggle between the gameplayers and the Defense Minister, the latter wins - or at least this is the case in the real world of the IDF

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Thank You Roberta Flack!

Israeli 'survivor' flower boasts cells in shape of Star of DavidBy Leora Eren Frucht March 06, 2005

Thank you Roberta Flack!

"We have never before seen a structure like this in the cell walls of plants," says Dr. Rina Kamenetsky. "This is a very rare structure - maybe even unique."

It's known as the ultimate survivor. It grows wild in Israel, thriving in the harsh dry conditions that would kill many other plants. And what do the cells of this hardy survivor - a native Israeli Persian buttercup - look like under a microscope? A Star of David. "It really is symbolic," says Dr. Rina Kamenetsky, a researcher at Israel's Volcani Institute, who made the surprising discovery while trying to understand the survival mechanisms of this resilient bulb, known in Hebrew as nurit, and in Latin as Ranunculus asiaticus. The flower from the Holy Land is also known in botanical circles as a type of 'resurrection plant' which, explains Kamenetsky, means that it can live without water, and is 'resurrected' when water becomes available. Kamenetsky brought samples of the native Israeli type of this Mediterranean species to study during a sabbatical leave at the University of Guelph in Canada last year. She and her Canadian colleagues discovered that the storage roots of this particular Persian buttercup have a special mechanism for resisting drought and heat that is found in no other plant to date - a finding they published recently in the journal New Phytologist. But Kamenetsky also found an additional surprise: under a microscope the cells of the root assume the form of interlocking Stars of David. "When my Canadian colleague Professor Larry Peterson saw it, he called me over right away and said: 'Look, Rina: here's something especially for you.' I was truly amazed," she told ISRAEL21c. It was the first time that Kamenetsky, a leading floriculturist, had seen a Star of David pattern on the cells of any plant. It turns out that the cell walls of the storage roots of this particular plant serve as a shield. In winter, when the first rain comes, the cell walls block the sudden influx of water which could cause the cells to burst. At the same time, they protect the cells from dehydration by absorbing water. The cell walls that serve as a year-round shield also happen to look like a shield - the shield of David. "We have never before seen a structure like this in the cell walls of plants," she says. "This is a very rare structure - maybe even unique." Kamenetsky heads the Volcani Institute's Department of Ornamental Horticulture - part of the research arm of the Israel Ministry of Agriculture responsible for planning, organizing and implementing the greater part of Israel's agricultural research effort. She's now planning collaboration with researchers from France, Italy and South Africa to understand the unique survival mechanism of the Israeli varieties of the Persian buttercup. The most common wild type is a red, five-petaled flower with a black center which bears some resemblance to an anemone. In summer, its roots are exposed to the scorching heat - up to 60 degrees centigrade - of the desert earth. The cultivated type - sold commercially as bulbs - has multiple layers of petals and comes in a variety of colors, including white, yellow, pink, red and magenta. Both wild and cultivated types have the same unusual survival mechanism, says Kamenetsky. "The value of this research is that if we can understand these mechanisms, we can endow other plants with these abilities - something that is of growing importance in a world undergoing desertification," she explains. Kamenetsky notes that there are various heat- and drought-resistant plants growing in Africa, all of which have a special mechanism in their leaves. But this is the first time that scientists have ever encountered a drought-resistant mechanism in the roots of a plant. "When I lecture about this research, I call it: 'How to cope with stressful life in Israel.' It could be that when it comes to survival, our own Nurit has something to teach the plants of the world." Kamenetsky, who was born in Kazakhstan, immigrated to Israel in 1990 and has since made an international name for herself in the field of ornamental horticulture - developing native plants into ornamental crops which can be grown commercially and sold as cut flowers or potted plants. Israel is at the cutting edge of this field. Some 20-40 percent of the flowers Israel markets every year are new varieties, notes Kamenetsky, adding that no other country but Holland has such a high percentage of novel varieties. Kamenetsky is also one of the world's leading experts on the Allium (garlic) species which can be grown as ornamental flowers and is being widely studied for its medicinal properties.

Daf of the day: respect the elderly & why we like Persians

Berachot 8b:

Be careful to respect an old man who has forgotten his knowledge through no fault of his own, for it was said: Both the whole tables and the fragments of the tables were placed in the Ark(Baba batra 14b; cf Deut. 10:2).

It has been taught: R. Gamaliel says: For three things do I like the Persians: They are temperate in their eating, modest in the privy, and chaste in another matter (sex).

'Nuff said.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Peculiar Daf of the day #1

Having just started daf yomi (at least, started seriously to attempt to complete it), I'm getting to run up against some of my favorite aggadic passages in the Talmud. BErachot is full of wonderful, but also often incredibly weird sugiyot, so from time to time, I'm thinking of posting some of them. Today's snippet is weird, rather than awe-inspiring. YMMV:

Berachot 6a:
It has been taught: Abba Benjamin says, If the eye had the power to see them, no creature could endure the demons. Abaye says: They are more numerous than we are and they surround us like the ridge round a field. R. Huna says: Every one among us has a thousand on his left hand and ten thousand on his right hand. Raba says: The crushing in the Kallah lectures comes from them. Fatigue in the knees comes from them. The wearing out of the clothes of the scholars is due to their rubbing against them. The bruising of the feet comes from them. If one wants to discover them, let him take sifted ashes and sprinkle around his bed, and in the morning he will see something like the footprints of a cock. If one wishes to see them, let him take the after-birth of a black she-cat, the offspring of a black she-cat, the first-born of a first-born, let him roast it in fire and grind it to powder, and then let him put some into his eye, and he will see them. Let him also pour it into an iron tube and seal it with an iron signet that they should not steal it from him. Let him also close his mouth, lest he come to harm. R. Bibi b. Abaye did so, saw them and came to harm. The scholars, however, prayed for him and he recovered.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Too smart for whose good?

Basically what the article is claiming is that the job is more important than spouses or families, that men and women should ignore the messages that the women's movement has been striving to instill for forty years - and that companies that are expecting to demand ridiculous work hours from their employees are furious that the employees aren't thrilled to death to provide them. Well, I say, "Good for Gen Y!" Ms. Powell is right: after you make so much money, it IS enough!

We still have a long way to go, but refusing to assume that the attitude of articles like this one - that jobs take precedence over everything else- are right or good, is a great first step. Kol hakavod, Gen Y. Live long and prosper - with your families! I hope your "bad" attitude is highly contagious!
Law Firms Mull the 'Gen Y' EquationWednesday March 2, 3:01 am ET Leigh Jones, The National Law Journal
Some call them slackers. Others are more diplomatic. But whatever the moniker, "Generation Y" associates are getting a bad rap for what some say is a flabby work ethic and an off-putting sense of entitlement.

Attorneys from Generation Y -- those born in 1978 or later -- are plenty smart and generally well educated, say firm leaders and industry experts. But these young attorneys also are lacking in loyalty, initiative and energy, so the criticism goes.
And though some associates sharply dispute the assessment, the perception is forcing managing partners to rethink their motivation strategies and their expectations for their firms' future.
Big money at large firms may be intoxicating for young lawyers with mounds of school debt, but new associates often are not willing to make the sacrifice that those salaries demand, said Bruce McLean, chairman of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld.
"It entices people to come to big firms who really don't want to do what we do," said McLean, adding that Akin Gump has a "significant number" of hardworking associates.
Generation Y associates often come from the nation's top schools and have other impressive credentials, McLean said, but what many do not have is unbridled ambition. "Just being successful and a partner in a firm is not enough of a motivating tool," he said.
But third-year associate Moe Keshavarzi at Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton in Los Angeles said that firms with unhappy Generation Y associates are not tapping into their potential.
"I have friends who are fourth-year associates at other firms who are sitting in the library researching," he said.
Studies indicate that young workers are less willing to put in long hours and instead are more focused on pursuing interests outside work than were their predecessors. A report issued by the Families and Work Institute in October, Generation and Gender in the Workplace, found that younger employees are less likely to be "work-centric." The study also found that young men and women are more interested in staying at the same rung on the career ladder in order to preserve their quality of life.
With regard to law firms specifically, a study conducted by Edge International, a professional services consulting firm, found that the 25- to 30-year-old group ranked the following factors as motivators at their jobs: time for personal life; opportunities for advancement; professional growth; achievement; intrinsic nature of work; security; leadership; and being a member of a team.
"This group wants to grow professionally and advance to partnership, but not while compromising their personal lives," said Karen MacKay, a partner with Edge International. The survey, "Motivating the Next Generation," was sent to about 4,000 members of the law firm network Multilaw. About 800 attorneys responded.
It may be that new associates simply are more vocal about what they perceive as meaningless work, even if they are handsomely paid, said Reed Smith fifth-year associate Alicia Powell.
"After you make so much money, it's enough," Powell said.
Part of what is fueling management's perception relates to the dot-com bust, said Morrison & Foerster chairman Keith Wetmore. Older partners may view any grousing by associates who receive assignments from them as a sign of being ungrateful for work that three years ago was scarce, he said.
"It may be more in the eyes of the observer than in the associate," he said.
But other firm leaders are less forgiving. One managing partner at a New York firm cited a "failure to take charge of their career" as a common problem with young associates. "They are more willing to sit back and wait for things to happen to them instead of making them happen for themselves," the attorney said, adding that new associates today are more brazen than those in previous years. "They are willing to turn down work they don't want to do. They don't volunteer for committee or other firm work."
Another managing partner at a national firm said that many new associates, unlike associates before them, no longer "feel lucky" to have their jobs. The attorney also said that associates now operate under a pack mentality.
"[Newer associates] have a very strong connection with each other as opposed to the institution. If someone is treated badly, they all react to it," the attorney said.
"Vigorously" rejecting the Generation Y characterization, however, is Jonathan Cole, immediate past chairman of the American Bar Association's Young Lawyers Division. Associates today work harder, if not more effectively, than in previous generations, said Cole, who made partner in 2003 at the Nashville, Tenn., office of Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz.
He acknowledged, however, that associates, who in the past may have blindly met a firm's demands, now more closely consider the tradeoff to their personal life. "People are looking more 'big picture,'" he said. "It's a good trend."
Generation Y workers may be too smart for their own good, which contributes to management's perceptions, said Carolyn Martin, co-author of "Managing Generation Y" (HRD Press, 2001).
Employees in that generation, especially those in professional positions, place a high value on education, something their parents drilled into them, she said. Consequently, young associates have a low tolerance for less-than-challenging tasks that management often relegates to them, she said.
In addition, the group has a greater degree of cynicism than in generations past, she said, stemming from the dot-com failure and 9/11 terrorist attacks. The result is diminished long-term loyalty to their employers.
"They're saying, 'I've looked at the world and there's no such thing as job security,'" she said.