Monday, December 25, 2006

James Brown takes the Night Train at 73

James Brown has left the building.
Dramatic to the end, he died the day before that big Christian holiday (did he think he could upstage it? If anyone could...) and the cause of death is unknown.


Saturday, December 23, 2006

My Peculiar Aristocratic Title

Another of those mindless memes going around the internet. (What kind of dog are you, what's your porn star name, that sort of thing)

My Peculiar Aristocratic Title is:
Viscountess Alana the Innocent of Old Throcking in the Hole

Actually, I like this one better, I've always wanted to be Welsh (okay not really, but still):

My Peculiar Aristocratic Title is:
Duchess Alana the Spurious of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch

Get your Peculiar Aristocratic Title

Hattip to D.Glenn Arthur

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

צִיּוֹן בְּמִשְׁפָּט תִּפָּדֶה וְשָׁבֶיהָ בִּצְדָקָה*

The Forward reported yesterday that the Conservative movement is beginning the process of creating a new ethical certification system for kosher food. The ongoing shenanigans in some of the country’s largest slaughterhouses last year (and previously) prompted the movement to set up a special commission to investigate working conditions at the AgriProcessorsInc slaughterhouse in Postville, Iowa (See previous posts: Where’s the beef now? Kashrut update on Rubashkin’s; Another beef with kashrut in the news; Kashrut Brouhaha Has Legs all from earlier this year). Starting with PETA’s allegations of improper slaughter, following with federal subpoenas in connection with a criminal antitrust investigation and rounding up with allegations of improper treatment of workers, such an investigation has been long overdue.

According to the Forward,

The five-person commission, formed by the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and the Rabbinical Assembly, was created following an investigative report in the Forward, which detailed a series of allegations about the treatment of workers at the AgriProcessors plant in Postville, Iowa. Members of the Conservative panel, who visited the Iowa plant in August and September, recently issued a report stating that “there are significant issues of concern at the plant, including issues of health and safety.”

The goal of the committee is to establish a “tsedek hekhsher,” or a oversight that includes justice as a guideline, to ensure that kosher food producers “have met a set of standards that determine the social responsibility of kosher food producers, particularly in the area of workers rights.”

This is the first time that any Jewish denomination has attempted to use labor as a guideline for certifying food and is also the first time that the Conservative movement would be involved in overseeing food nationally.

According to the Rabbinical Assembly Press release,

The commission intends to continue working with these and other kosher food manufacturers to ensure adherence to Jewish values in the production of kosher food and will be conducting other site visits.

As the humane treatment of animals is at the heart of the laws surrounding kosher slaughter, further visits may include assessments of the conditions and treatment of animals. Additional study may also include an assessment of the effects of their products on the environment by these same and other food processors.

The idea of this committee most likely sprang from ongoing conversations within the movement which called into question exactly what it means to certify something as kosher. As we have seen, the laws of kashrut (just for one example) have recently been taken to be exclusively about following certain ritual requirements, and have had less attention paid to other related laws which guide us as Jews to have respect for animals and their comfort, let alone to paying attention to business practices of Jewish organizations and businesses. It has been profoundly disturbing to those of us who take halakhah seriously, to see that Jewish organizations and businesspeople have selectively focused on certain halakhot and felt it within their their rights to ignore others, and still to call themselves observant.

The question arises, specifically in regards to kashrut (Although I wait with bated breath to see this sort of oversight to be directed at other Jewish businesses as well), as to whether ignoring those other, not directly related halakhot, affects in any way the status of the food that is produced by those businesses. This is reflected in a quote from the Forward,

Reached this week, the head of the Orthodox Union’s kosher division, Rabbi Menachem Genack, applauded the Conservative movement for looking at labor issues, given the weight of Jewish law dedicated to the topic. Genack also said he had spoken with AgriProcessors and the United States Department of Agriculture about the working conditions at the plant. But Genack said that the Conservative movement should be careful not to blur the line between Jewish law regarding worker rights and Jewish law regarding the kosher standard of food.

“There are lots of social issues that are really important that could be subsumed under some sort of super certification,” Genack said. “But if we just move away from strict concerns about kashruth — if we talk about what they pay workers — these kinds of standards can be less than 100% clear.”

Another question arises as well: in internal discussions the question always comes up, especially for Conservative Jews: as we are trying to increase the number of people keeping kosher and taking Jewish law seriously, what do we do when one of these places comes up short? Will we drive people away from eating kosher food?

In many places in the USA, there are no other options for meat than that produced by this company. It is no small likelihood that many people will simply take a stamp of disapproval of a kosher slaughterhouse as license to stop keeping kosher. While many of our more liberal colleagues from other movements may simply shrug and say “so?” or suggest vegetarianism, this keeps Conservative rabbis up at night, as we are already engaged in a very difficult balancing act to try and cajole, persuade, encourage, even beg people to be serious about their Judaism, and that part of being serious means taking seriously commandments which aren’t always so easy, whether that means keeping kosher, or it means paying your workers a proper wage.

But I also want to say this: this is potentially what the best of the Conservative movement is about. Conservative Judaism at its best is taking halakhah seriously - not simply confining ourselves to outward observance of ritual mitzvot. This is what we should be doing: serious observance of halakhah, asking people to commit themselves to God’s service broadly; not simply to keep kosher, but also to keep laws about employment and tzaar baalei chaim. To remind people that there are no minor mitzvot - they all count.

It is surely a coincidence that this has been announced shortly after our very difficult proceedings on homosexuality, but in my opinion, there is a connection. Both these matters deeply emphasize the struggle and balancing act of God’s service. Halakhah is not always obvious, and how we keep all the mitzvot is not simple. I don’t suggest that accepting homosexuality in the way that the Dorff/Reisner/ Nevins tshuvah did is necessarily equivalent to the tzedek hekhsher, but I do think that the parallel is the amount of struggle to do good and to do right. I believe that this is step in the right direction for the Consevative movement, and I hope that this initiative will be successful; this is possibly one of the most important steps that the movement has taken in years. May it be the first of many, and may this path be one of increasing observance for Conservative Jews, just as in this season we increase light in the surrounding darkness of winter.

Forward story here

*Isaiah 1:27
Crossposted to Jewschool

Monday, December 18, 2006

I Hate Holiday Music

I hate holiday music. I really hate Christmas music. call me the grinch, but I just can’t bear to listen from Halloween to January to the incessant repetition of the same syrupy, sugary, indigestible brain destroying stuff. And Chanukah music. Don’t get me started. Songs about dreidels? Feh. Oh chanukah, oh chanukah? Oh, Ick. Even the so-called hip stuff that’s out there, let’s face it, mostly, what my father would kindly refer to as “dreck.”

So I am on a quest. Send me something I can listen to without gagging. It can’t be sugary, it can’t be something that a purple dinosaur would sing, and I can’t have heard it at all those public school holiday festivals as the token jewsong.

I have some hopes: I found KlezSka’s Chanukah Oh Chanukah here (hattip to Yo,Yenta!). Just because of the title, I almost didn’t listen, but yeah, it’s not bad. I admit, I laughed myself almost off the chair at the first few bars, but it grew on me pretty quickly. I actually sat through the whole thing, and thought, “hey, not bad!” I will probably listen to it again.
And please, yes, I saw the Hip Hop Hoodios video. Can someone please tell them that Sephardic Jews didn’t eat bagels (at least, not until they came here, I suppose)? That bikini- I may have to put out my eyes with a poker.

Crossposted to Jewschool

Well here's one answer, anyway: Hattip to Danya Ruttenberg/Jerusalem Syndrome!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Hold your nose

I'm indulging in a moment of parental pride.
Maiyan (2.5) has done the following things recently:
-Recited the Shema by himself at bedtime
-Saw a bunch of pvc tubing lying around on a soccer field and noted: "Abba, those are sukkah parts!"
-Offered to give me his entire chocolate scone (since I wasn't there, he sent it home with Abba, who probably shouldn't have bought it for him in the first place. Like he doesn't get enough junk food.)
-Pulled on my sweater towards him and insisted, "Ema, mine!" during amoment of grabby two year old ness.
-Zipped his own pj's up.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Women, Know your limits!

I've been posting far too many videos lately, I know. I suppose this is just the current fad for me (Daf snippets came and went. I think I'll try to get back to that soon, as it at least has some content to it). But this is really funny, an also a really terrific conversation starter if you want to lead a class on talk about brain differences. Okay, I know not everyone who reads this blog does that, but I have, and really I wish I had had this video then!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

I can't imagine that I need to actually make a comment on this...

Better pray for "the rapture..."

OK, I know mash-ups are now the hot thing, but still where else will you get to read a mash-up of marvel comics and one of those wacko Christian religious tracts (they also are good for sving and handing out to door-to- door political blatherers. And vice versa. REcycling is very important, and it clears out your doorway quick when you produce political materials for religious folks, too, just invite them in to hear your theory of why they need to vote for your favorite nutty local candidate, but I digress).
Just remember: Galactacus is coming!

(Tip o' the hat to BoingBoing)

Friday, November 17, 2006

Complaint as Art, really.

Thanks to Owlmother via Danya.

The Helsinki Complaints Choir
a choral work written by Finnish artists Tellervo Kalleinen and Oliver Kochta-Kalleinen.

The Complaints Choir invites people to complain as much as they want and to sing their complaints out loud together with fellow complainers. The first choir was organised in Birmingham followed by the Complaints Choir of Helsinki and Hamburg. The lyrics were written by the Choir, Music by Mike Hurley. Project by Tellervo Kalleinen and Oliver Kochta-Kalleinen. You can see the Birmingham choir here, but embedding is disabled. It's also got a cute little rap in the middle.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Speaking of Punk...

Well, sort of. Danielle Dax, whom I remember from the beginning of my interest in punk, was probably not really punk at all, or just the edges (although Wikipedia sort of thinks so...)still, she was experimental, and I still don't mind listening to her music, although it doesn't quite carry the punch that made Joan Jett an icon.

Here's a taste of what I could find.


A Cover of Tomorrow Never Knows. Not bad!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

ROCKville grrls

So now that I live in Rockville (place about which REM wrote "Don't go back to Rockville") and have for some reason once again fallen in love with the punk I was listening to, hrmm, let's say at the tail end of DC's harDCore run in the late 80's, (the origin in fact of the riot grrl movement, so no surprise that we've spawned a lot of grrls here in DC -in Dance of Days: Two Decades of Punk in the Nation's Capital, Mark Andersen says Bratmobile member Jen Smith reacted to the racially charged riots in Mount Pleasant during spring of '91 by writing, "This summer's going to be a girl riot," and that's what is thought to be the origin of the entire phenom. According to Wikipedia, "The musical birth of the Riot Grrl movement centered in Olympia, Washington where the members of Bikini Kill and Bratmobile met, but soon also encompassed Washington DC. " and there was even a riot grrl convention in DC) and started listening to it again, perhaps not quite as obsessively, I have to post that OTHER (besides myself, I mean :) )Rockville grrl icon, - Joan Jett!

Hers was the first album I ever bought for myself (I Love Rock 'n' Roll)
First in her earlier incarnation as a member of The Runaways

School Days

and later Rock 'n' roll icon with the Blackhearts

Cherry Bomb

I Hate Myself For Loving You

Bad Reputation

And for those of us who grew up listening to the Orioles on radio (watch baseball? Are you crazy? Not unless I have seat in the stands) Cal Ripkin Jr is apparently also a fan (She sang the national anthem by request of Baltimore Oriole Cal Ripkin Jr. at the game where he broke Lou Gehrig’s record).

I love Rock N Roll

Joan Jett still rules!
(If only she was Jewish, too, I could have hit all my favorite topics in one post)

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Finally, Someone non-Jewish has to worry about this question...

"...Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Locke cited Webster's Dictionary as well as testimony from a chef and a former high-ranking federal agriculture official in ruling that Qdoba's burritos and other offerings are not sandwiches.

The difference, the judge ruled, comes down to two slices of bread versus one tortilla."

The battle has raged on for some time now (especially in areas where Jews eat lots of tortillas), about whether or not tortillas are bread. I have always held that for purposes of motzi, they are, but now that civil law has taken this on, I am relieved that the question does not rest squarely on my shoulders and that of other rabbis.

Full story here...

Jewish Girls Really Love a Good Bra

I tell ya' what, I'm not even posting the vid here. But I'll give you the perma link where I saw it. It's really funny, but my blog is becoming just a little too risque these days.

Besides, her comments already say pretty much everything I would have added (So…many…reactions…
How offensive…
How true…
Hey, Australian JGirls sure are cute…
Did I pay my Victoria’s Secret bill on time?
Do The Buggles know about this?)

More than a tip o' the hat to Yo!Yenta.

Eh, wot. It's funny. I'm such a sucker for this sortof thing. Pretend I'm not a rabbi, okay?

Friday, October 27, 2006

Does she kiss her mother with that mouth?

My own connection to dear Babs comes only through the fact that as a teenager, people used to tell me that I looked like her and that my sister did a spectacularly funny imitation of the Saturday Nightlive routine (Why we love Babs: her thighs are like butta) back when SNL was still funny. But apparently the old girl has some life in her yet.
When someone recently heckled Babs (that's Barbra Streisand to you all non-fans out there) about her comedic portrayal of George Bush, she responded quite er, forcefully, with some words that mean something nice, but are only used in a not-nice way, shall we say. Now, Revolucien has set it to a beat, and you can dance to it.
Go Babs. Not for the easily offended, or probably even those who are in the mid-range. Also it goes on just a hair too long. Link at your own risk.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Ow! Don't cut me with that edge!

I offer only a question in this post. With all the debate about Judaism's viability, in the end, for most of us it comes down to God. SO I ask you, if we are looking to the future, -and let's assume for the sake of argumentthat Judaism is surviving, and perhaps even thriving- what is the future. What are the frontiers of Jewish thought, and where is God in them. I've been asked to write on this, and I have some firm ideas, but I want to hear from you.
Write to me and tell me what you think.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Today is apparently my day for humourous illegality

OK, no really, I'm not advocating growing pot anywhere. Especially not in your computer. But.... you've got to admire the ingenuity here.

It's as easy to love a rich man as a poor one

This post on Jewschool refers to an essay that appears this week in the New York Times (“Modern Love” ). It's a terribly sad essay, mostly because the author simply has no idea what it is she has given up. She quotes the old proverb that it's as easy to fall in love witha rich man as a poor one, and follows up with the comment that it's not easy to fall in love at all. And she's right, but also completely wrong. She's misunderstood the point of the proverb - that one should set up one's life in a way that will make it possible to live out one's values. If you want to fall in love with someone who is well-off, supposing that's your value, then don't date paupers, because paupers, too are lovable. If you think that Judaism is important, then don't date non-Jews, beause non-Jews are every bit as lovable as Jews are. The proverb is true -it's nothing to do with the person on the receiving end - it's all about the internal drive of the seeker. If you want to be a doctor, you have to at least set yourself up so that you can acquire the education, do the residency, take the exams.

But in another way she's right, and the commenter on Jewschool was way wrong.
This has nothing to do with Indie minyans. For the most part those going to the indie minyans are the success stories. The problem is that this poor woman's parents never gave her a darn thing. She had to find, as an adult, a bunch of letters in a script she could not read that were a last call across the years of people she understood not at all. But she's right; that's not a reason to be Jewish. It has, in fact, zero relationship to Judaism. It's about nazis, not about Jews. The Holocaust obsession that we have developed amongst our tribe, here, in Israel, wherever it pops up, is not only not Judaism, it is biting us, quite sharply, on the A**.
Every person told that the Holocaust has something to do with Judaism is being misled about what Judaism is. It is no more Judaism than being kneaded is what it means to be wheat (not all wheat is kneaded into bread, and even if it were, that's tnot the defining characteristic). It's just a historical accident. It's not even an unprecedented one - in scope only is it staggering, not in intent. Our ancestors already struggled -more than once, by the way- with meaning to come out of senseless slaughter (just take a good look at our canonical writings - say, the Talmud, on the destruction of the Temple), every person who goes around saying that God has something special to answer for can be forgivin only if they themselves were directly affected by the loss, because grief is a great burden, but those of us who were one step removed ought to be reexamining (at most) our traditions, laws and writings for the meaning, which has been struggled with often before.
It makes me sad to see people like this poor woman, who is completely innocent of not what THE meaning of Judaism is, but of any meaning of Judaism. In my opinion, she is quite right to have married her Dubliner - those people who claim that Judaism is racist for not marrying out are correct - when they are talking about those who refuse to marry non-Jews *just because they're Jewish, but they don't know anything about Judaism.*
Jewish life has a purpose. Without that purpose then we are not anything more than Italians, or Irish, or people with any other interesting accent -lacking the accent, after assimilation, there isn't anything special about our heritage. Bagels and lox is not Judaism (not even, forgive me, whitefish). The holocaust is not Judaism. Israel (the state) is not even Judaism (although it is a necessary part of Judaism, as a place, and as people living in a place, and as our brothers and sisters, as our inheritance from God, but that inheritance comes with a price - it's not free). I'm not going to spell out what the mission is here - that takes more than a few sentences, because if it were easy, why would you need an entire nation set apart to do it?- but you can't do it without knowledge. The knowledge doesn't *have* to be instilled early - many have chosen new souls and joined themselves to our people -in fact, some of them have become the greatest and most holy of our people. But like learning a language, fluency can be dependant upon an early start - the earlier the better. This poor girl in the article - is a mute, when it comes to Judaism, who can only at best, hear the words echoing from an earlier time, but not speak back. She is no longer able to be part of the conversation between her ancestors and God.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Wish I'd thought of it first....

The Sukkot Shake

OK, I stole this from Yo! Yenta who herself posted it pretty quickly from another source, but hey, dang, it's great! This is the best of the high holiday flicks I've seen yet!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Baruch Dayan Emet

A friend informed me this morning that my former classmate Abby Spivak died. Abby and I weren't close - we knew each other from being in school together, from having mutual friends, and eating quite a few shabbat dinners together. Nevertheless, at a seminary as small as Ziegler, even people you don't know well, you know pretty well.

I have a class A bullshit detector. It's very sensitive. I can detect bullshit at 30 paces in a dark room of a perfume factory. Abby never set it off. Not once. Abby was one of the genuinely sweetest souls I have ever encountered. Sometimes things she said were naive, but her naivete was not the kind that comes from stupidity. Perhaps it was the Gillman second naivete. I'm not precisely sure, but I know that she spent a lot of her time as a rabbinical student - and long before- workingwith the very ill -AIDS patients - before AIDS was trendy, with children with very special needs, and with those who were ill.
Abby spent the last few years in and out of hospitals, having far too many surgeries on a body that she had struggled with even before she knew the extent of her illness. She was not, ultimately, able to be ordained, but Abby was certainly, and without question a rav.

In the Torah, Noah is described as an "Ish tzadik tamim b'dorotaiv" a righteous man, wholehearted in his generation. What is this tamim? Later, Jacob is described as an ish tam - a person unable to deceive - it seems to me that when we call a person "tam" we mean that they are undivided. Their insides match their outsides, they are genuine. Abby spent her life ministering to the very ill, to those who struggled to live, whose lives were difficult. Her own was no piece of cake, either, and she surely knew, after all that time spent with the ill and the dying, what the future held for her, but her soul was filled with light, and whatever has happened to her body, her "tam-ness," that wholeness that she brought to the world, continues to live and shine.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

לְךָ דֻמִיָּה תְהִלָּה

Over the not yet too distant Yamim Noraim, I was taken by something I hadn't noticed previously. I don't quite know why not, it's pretty obvious when you start looking forit: Everywhere you look in the readings for not just Yom Kippur, but over the yamim noraim, the silence is palpable.
God is silent, prophets are silent, we are silent. What kindof silence is this, and why? Why is everyone so quiet?

The first two lines of the Yom Kippur reading come from Leviticus 16:1-2;

1 The Lord spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron who died when they drew too close to the presence of the Lord. 2 The Lord said to Moses:
Tell your brother Aaron that he is not to come at will into the Shrine behind the curtain, in front of the cover that is upon the ark, lest he die; for I appear in the cloud over the cover
פרשת אחרי מות[ א וַיְדַבֵּר יְהוָֹה אֶל־מֹשֶׁה אַֽחֲרֵי מוֹת שְׁנֵי בְּנֵי אַֽהֲרֹן בְּקָרְבָתָם לִפְנֵֽי־יְהוָֹה וַיָּמֻֽתוּ: ב וַיֹּאמֶר יְהֹוָה אֶל־מֹשֶׁה דַּבֵּר אֶל־אַֽהֲרֹן אָחִיךָ וְאַל־יָבֹא בְכָל־עֵת אֶל־הַקֹּדֶשׁ מִבֵּית לַפָּרֹכֶת אֶל־פְּנֵי הַכַּפֹּרֶת אֲשֶׁר עַל־הָֽאָרֹן וְלֹא יָמוּת כִּי בֶּֽעָנָן אֵֽרָאֶה עַל־הַכַּפֹּֽרֶת:

These lines refer to a story that actually occurred three parshiot earlier (in the regular yearly cycle) the story of the death of Aaron’s sons in parshat shemini, which appers here:
Leviticus Chapter 10
1. And Nadav and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took each of them his censer, and put fire in it, and put incense on it, and offered strange fire before the Lord, which he commanded them not. 2. And there went out fire from the Lord, and devoured them, and they died before the Lord. 3. Then Moses said to Aaron, This is what the Lord spoke, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come near to me, and before all the people I will be glorified. And Aaron held his peace.
וַיִּקְחוּ בְנֵֽי־אַֽהֲרֹן נָדָב וַֽאֲבִיהוּא אִישׁ מַחְתָּתוֹ וַיִּתְּנוּ בָהֵן אֵשׁ וַיָּשִֹימוּ עָלֶיהָ קְטֹרֶת וַיַּקְרִיבוּ לִפְנֵי יְהוָֹה אֵשׁ זָרָה אֲשֶׁר לֹא צִוָּה אֹתָֽם: ב וַתֵּצֵא אֵשׁ מִלִּפְנֵי יְהוָֹה וַתֹּאכַל אוֹתָם וַיָּמֻתוּ לִפְנֵי יְהוָֹֽה: ג וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה אֶֽל־אַֽהֲרֹן הוּא אֲשֶׁר־דִּבֶּר יְהוָֹה | לֵאמֹר בִּקְרֹבַי אֶקָּדֵשׁ וְעַל־פְּנֵי כָל־הָעָם אֶכָּבֵד וַיִּדֹּם אַֽהֲרֹֽן:

What is the relationship between these two parts of the same story? And what have they to do with Yom Kippur?
Aaron held his peace. Really what is says is "vayidom Aharon."
The first part of the story of Aaron’s sons ends with Aaron’s silence. וַיִּדֹּם אַֽהֲרֹֽן
The word "yidom" is from duma, or dumiya, both words referring to silence, or stillness.There are many words for silence in the Torah and Talmud. The Talmud for example offers the famous axiom in Baba metzia 37b
שתיקה כהודאה
Sometimes rendered Shtika k’hodaya damya – silence is like consent. Shtika – meaning quiet.
The medieval commentator Sforno teaches “When a person has the ability to protest and remains silent, his silence is similar to verbal consent. When you do not say something to disagree, it is as if you agree with what was said or done.”
And in fact some commentators accept this as Aaron’s response – his silence is assent to God’s awesomeness and power – he is accepting the fate of his sons as an act of submission.

We find an equivalence between this word shtika and that verb we find in Aaron’s response. In the Talmud Megilah 18a, we find the following:
דרש רבי יהודה איש כפר גבוריא, ואמרי לה איש כפר גבור חיל: מאי דכתיב )תהלים ס"ה( לך דמיה תהלה ־ סמא דכולה משתוקא. כי אתא רב דימי אמר: אמרי במערבא: מלה ־ בסלע, משתוקא ־ בתרין.
R. Judah a man of Kefar Gibboraya, or, as some say, of Kefar Gibbor Hayil, gave the following homily: What is meant by the verse, For you silence is praise?
The best medicine of all is silence.
When R. Dimi came, he said: In the West they say: A word is worth a sela', silence two sela's.

But how could this be applied to our situation? The verse quotes above from psalms is usually translated in context something like “Praise awaits You (O Lord, In Zion)” but here the word dumiya is translated as silence, rendering our verse: "To You, silence is praise" (Psalms 65:2)
לְךָ דֻמִיָּה תְהִלָּה

Onkelus renders the term Vayidom in our story as "silence:" Aharon was silent. However there is another tradition as referenced in the Torah shlemah with an alternative reading of the Targum; instead of ushatik - silence, "Ushavach Aharon" - Aharon praised God.
The Rambam (commentary to the Mishna, Avot 3:3, Kapach Edition) cites this reading of the Targum.
The Rambam compares this verse to Melachim I, 19:12 "And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still (D'mamah) small voice" - clearly not silence, but perhaps implying stillness or a sense of serenity and a revelation. Rambam understands the term as denoting a quiet or secretive communication; if this is silence then it is a silence with sound. Likewise the Rambam teaches that this is the understanding of the use of the word "vayidom" in connection with Aharon: "Ushavach Aharon" - Aharon softly praised God.
This approach is supported by a passage in the Sifri (Piska 58) that compares the verse in Melachim ("...and after the fire a still (D'mamah) small voice") and the phrase "Vayidom Aharon": According to the Sifri, both indicate a type of revelation. To paraphrase the Sifri, "when God speaks, man is silent". Aharon's silence seems to be a response to some Divine statement; what emerged was an inaudible word of praise.

But I find this at best far fetched. To me, Aaron's silence is the silence of the cowed. We love to sy, "Speak truth to power" but what about whenthe power is God - or at least, inthis case, Moses representing what he thiks God's opinion is.
I remember as a child, occasionally I would do something that my father did not like, and his response to was to yell questions like "What do you think you were doing?!" at me. Of course, there is no possible rational answer to such a question, but that's in part because the asker isn't really seeking information, but simply trying to impress upon you what they think you ought to have done.

Rashi links the silence of Aharon with a revelation, explaining that Aharon remained silent - something which was extremely difficult to do - and was consequently rewarded for his silence:
"And Aharon was silent" - He received a reward for his silence; and what was the reward he received? That the subsequent Divine address was made to him alone and not to Moshe also for to him alone was spoken the section (10:8-11) dealing with those who are intoxicated by wine.(4) (See Zevachim: 115b) [Rashi 10:3]
IN my opinion, this at least recognizes that Aaron was not silencing himself internally, not open to some great revelation, achieving great heights, but instead was permorming a kind of submission to God's will, understood or not.

The Ba'al haTurim points out that the only other time in Tanach that the word "Vayidom" is used with the same spelling is to be found in the book of Yehoshua:
"And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed" (Yehoshua 10:13)
The Talmud teaches that Moshe is compared to the sun:
"The countenance of Moshe was like that of the sun; the countenance of Yehoshua was like that of the moon." (Bava Batra 75a)

It's an interesting image, the two men unnaturally still, as if the sun and moon had ceased to move. Some have interpreted this connection as offering the idea that onthis one occasino Aaron rose to the heights of Moses, similar to Rambam's idea, but I think that this is unlikely. Rather, let's say the sun and moon actually stood still - what would that mean - that the earth had stopped rotating, and the moon's orbit becme fixed; this is not a scenario in which life on earth can remain very long. A stopped earth woudl quickly become uninhabitable, and it is this image that I take away: Aaron stunned into immobility, and Moses staring at him, also struck - until he stammers out some sort of foolishnes about God's will, and everyone is freed to go on, however damaged, the earth again begins to turn, the moon, to orbit.

I think that in fact, the dumiya of Aaron is more related to two other Biblical silences. The first is from the first Book of Kings.
Kings I
19:11. And he said, Go out, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12. And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.

יא וַיֹּאמֶר צֵא וְעָֽמַדְתָּ בָהָר לִפְנֵי יְהֹוָה וְהִנֵּה יְהֹוָה עֹבֵר וְרוּחַ גְּדוֹלָה וְחָזָק מְפָרֵק הָרִים וּמְשַׁבֵּר סְלָעִים לִפְנֵי יְהֹוָה לֹא בָרוּחַ יְהֹוָה וְאַחַר הָרוּחַ רַעַשׁ לֹא בָרַעַשׁ יְהֹוָֽה: יב וְאַחַר הָרַעַשׁ אֵשׁ לֹא בָאֵשׁ יְהֹוָה וְאַחַר הָאֵשׁ קוֹל דְּמָמָה דַקָּֽה:

The second is from the close of the book of Jonah, the haftarah for mincha on Yom Kippur.

Here are the last two chapters of Jonah – the whole book is only four, and there are only 21 lines, so although I won't include the whole story, thisis short enough to keep, so you don't have to go running off to look it up.:

Yona Chapter 3

1. And the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying: Arise!
2. Go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I bid you.
3. And Jonah arose, and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. And Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days’ journey in extent.
4. And Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey, and he cried, and said, Another forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.
5. And the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.
6. And word came to the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he took off his robe, and covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.
7. And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying: Neither man, beast, herd or flock should taste anything! They should not feed nor drink water!
8. And let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; let them turn everyone from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands.
9. Who can tell if God may yet turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, so that we perish not?
10. And God saw their doings, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, which he had said that he would do to them; and he did not do it.

Yona Chapter 4

1. And this displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry.
2. And he prayed to the Lord, and said, I pray you, O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I hastened to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and that you repent of the evil.
3. Therefore now, O Lord, take, I pray you, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.
4. Then says the Lord, Do you do well to be so angry?
5. And Jonah went out of the city, and sat on the east side of the city, and there he made himself a booth, and sat under it in the shadow, till he should see what would become of the city.
6. And the Lord God appointed a castor oil plant, and made it grow over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to save him from his distress. And Jonah was exceedingly glad of the plant.
7. And, when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm, and it attacked the plant so that it withered.
8. And it came to pass, when the sun rose, that God appointed a hot east wind; and the sun beat down upon the head of Jonah, so that he fainted, and wished to die, and said, It is better for me to die than to live.
9. And God said to Jonah: Do you do well to be so angry for the plant? And he said: I do well to be so angry, even to death.
10. Then the Lord said, You had concern for the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night;
11. And should I not spare Nineveh, that great city, where there are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?

In the JPS Bible Commentary on the book of Jonah, Uriel Simon writes: "The designation of Jonah as the haftarah for the Afternoon Service of the Day of Atonement (B. Megillah 31a) reflects the view that this book depicts the concept of repentance so starkly and completely that it can stir hearers to repent their ways and even modify their conduct."1Uriel Simon, The JPS Bible Commentary: Jonah (Phila-delphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1999), vii.

The book of Jonah in Nevi'im (Prophets) is shorter than most other books in the Hebrew Scriptures. A mere four chapters in length, the book ends with Jonah's silence -- and the reader is waiting for him to respond.
And the story ends. Jonah is silent. What does his silence mean? Is שתיקה כהודאה ?

It is possible to interpret Jonah's silence as repentance?
On Yom Kippur, we read the entire book including Jonah's silence. Even though the rabbis include Jonah's silence as part of the Yom Kippur reading, the rabbis appended Micah 7:18-20 to the end of Jonah: "Who is like you, forgiving iniquity and pardoning the transgression of the remnant of Your people? You do not maintain anger forever, but You delight in lovingkind-ness. You will again have compassion upon us, subduing our sins, casting all of our sins into the depths of the sea. You will show faithfulness to Jacob and enduring love to Abraham as You promised our fathers from days of old." By appending this Micah text, the rabbis made it appear as if Jonah is no longer silent.
But our original text doesn't tell us what Jonah thinks. Although God isn't silent, Jonah certainly is. And unlike the silence of Aaron we don't have the silence spelt out - it is simply an absence. Itis curioustht these two passages are linked by the Tanchuma to the Akedah directly. It essentially says thatJonah is a sulky little brat, expecting happiness - whyy shold he behappy, when even God's great friend, Abraham, was not?

Let’s go back to that section from the book of Kings for a minute.

This time, I want to bring a little more of the passage:

ט וַיָּֽבֹא־שָׁם אֶל־הַמְּעָרָה וַיָּלֶן שָׁם וְהִנֵּה דְבַר־יְהֹוָה אֵלָיו וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ מַה־לְּךָ פֹה אֵֽלִיָּֽהוּ: י וַיֹּאמֶר קַנֹּא קִנֵּאתִי לַֽיהֹוָה | אֱלֹהֵי צְבָאוֹת כִּֽי־עָֽזְבוּ בְרִֽיתְךָ בְּנֵי יִשְֹרָאֵל אֶת־מִזְבְּחֹתֶיךָ הָרָסוּ וְאֶת־נְבִיאֶיךָ הָֽרְגוּ בֶחָרֶב וָֽאִוָּתֵר אֲנִי לְבַדִּי וַיְבַקְשׁוּ אֶת־נַפְשִׁי לְקַחְתָּֽהּ: יא וַיֹּאמֶר צֵא וְעָֽמַדְתָּ בָהָר לִפְנֵי יְהֹוָה וְהִנֵּה יְהֹוָה עֹבֵר וְרוּחַ גְּדוֹלָה וְחָזָק מְפָרֵק הָרִים וּמְשַׁבֵּר סְלָעִים לִפְנֵי יְהֹוָה לֹא בָרוּחַ יְהֹוָה וְאַחַר הָרוּחַ רַעַשׁ לֹא בָרַעַשׁ יְהֹוָֽה: יב וְאַחַר הָרַעַשׁ אֵשׁ לֹא בָאֵשׁ יְהֹוָה וְאַחַר הָאֵשׁ קוֹל דְּמָמָה דַקָּֽה: יג וַיְהִי | כִּשְׁמֹעַ אֵֽלִיָּהוּ וַיָּלֶט פָּנָיו בְּאַדַּרְתּוֹ וַיֵּצֵא וַֽיַּֽעֲמֹד פֶּתַח הַמְּעָרָה וְהִנֵּה אֵלָיו קוֹל וַיֹּאמֶר מַה־לְּךָ פֹה אֵֽלִיָּֽהוּ: יד וַיֹּאמֶר קַנֹּא קִנֵּאתִי לַֽיהֹוָה | אֱלֹהֵי צְבָאוֹת כִּֽי־עָֽזְבוּ בְרִֽיתְךָ בְּנֵי יִשְֹרָאֵל אֶת־מִזְבְּחֹתֶיךָ הָרָסוּ וְאֶת־נְבִיאֶיךָ הָֽרְגוּ בֶחָרֶב וָֽאִוָּתֵר אֲנִי לְבַדִּי וַיְבַקְשׁוּ אֶת־נַפְשִׁי לְקַחְתָּֽהּ: טו וַיֹּאמֶר יְהֹוָה אֵלָיו לֵךְ שׁוּב לְדַרְכְּךָ מִדְבַּרָה דַמָּשֶֹק וּבָאתָ וּמָֽשַׁחְתָּ אֶת־חֲזָאֵל לְמֶלֶךְ עַל־אֲרָֽם
9. And he came there to a cave, and lodged there; and, behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and he said to him, What are you doing here, Elijah? 10. And he said, I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; for the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword; and I am the only one left; and they seek my life, to take it away. 11. And he said, Go out, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12. And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. 13. And it was so, when Elijah heard it that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entrance of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice to him, and said, What are you doing here, Elijah? 14. And he said, I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; because the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword; and I am the only one left; and they seek my life, to take it away. 15. And the Lord said to him, Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; and when you come, anoint Hazael to be king over Aram; 16. And Jehu the son of Nimshi shall you anoint to be king over Israel; and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abelmeholah shall you anoint to be prophet in your place.

What do you notice that’s odd about the passage?
The curious thing is that God doesn’t really respond, quite, to Elijah’s complaint. He wants God to make it better and stop people from persecuting him, but does God promise this? Later in the verse, God promises Elijah the idolators will be killed but he doesn’t really offer any safety to Elijah, at least not obviously

Rabbi Noton Sternhartz talks a bit about silence in his
Likutei Halachos, Hilchos Shabbos, Halachos 6 and 7
This is good advice for all the difficulties we may encounter: we should simply nullify ourselves for a time, and remind ourselves of the Ultimate Reality. Anyone in the world, without exception, can accomplish this, and thus merge into the Infinite Divine Light. It is impossible to explain this further; for "everyone must understand according to what remains in his heart" (Zohar I, 103b). Nevertheless, all Israel believes that this is the ultimate spiritual goal, and our hope for all eternity. Every person, whatever he may be, whatever may happen to him, can nullify himself to God, even in the midst of his confusions and problems. This is the paradigm of Shabbos, the paradigm of rest (sh'visah) and cessation. Through this, we can destroy all disturbing thoughts, all intellectual entanglements and false wisdoms, and direct all of our doings toward the Ultimate Reality that is beyond time and change. This is the aspect of Shabbos and the principle that "the mind is nourished first." That is, our eating and mundane activities, even the necessity of attending to our physical needs, should be directed to the Shabbos alone: to true wisdom and the Essence of the mind.
For the Shabbos transcends speech  yet all speech comes forth from the Shabbos. It is the supernal silence above speech, the paradigm of "the fence for wisdom (chochmah) is silence" (Avos 3:13). Kabbalistically, this corresponds to the Sefirah of Kesser ("Divine Crown"). In terms of our Divine service, it corresponds to the quality of waiting. For speech is bound up with the Sefirah of Chochmah (wisdom), as the verse states, "God will give wisdom, from His mouth..." (Proverbs 2:6). However, [wisdom and speech] spring forth from the Sefirah of Kesser, the transcendent silence, the "fence for wisdom." This is why we must be silent before we speak, when we need to collect our thoughts. Similarly, we must pause between words, however slightly. As our sages state, "If a word is worth one coin, silence is worth two" (Megilla 18a); for silence is both the source of speech and its tikkun (spiritual rectification). This concept also is suggested by the verse that refers to "a wise man (chacham) among the silent, understanding whispered mysteries" (Isaiah 3:3). Thus, speech is elicited from the paradigm of the Shabbos that corresponds to the Sefirah of Kesser, the aspect of the "covering of coverings," which is the mystery of silence.

I don't really know how to finish here. We have recently become interested as Jews inmeditatin and eastern -especially Buddhist- spirituality. IN these religions, silence, quiet mind, meditation, are positive goods, the eradication of the self and the conquering of desire. But I'm not sure that -despite Rabbi Noton's words- thatsilence is much more complex than we wantto credit. Silence is not always quiet mind, and even if one might find it good, in my opinion, byu labelling silence as an unmitigated positive, we lose track of theother kinds of silence that we encounter in our lives: the silence of oppression, the silence of fear, thesilence of shock - and all of these are silences that we live with in this imperfect world.

On the other hand, we often talk about God’s silence when we have to struggle with difficult things, but I think it’s worth also thinking about our own. We are silent all the time, to God, and though we often try to cast it as neutral, or even positive, I think more often, when we say silence is worth two selas, we are covering up shtika k’hodaya- we are covering up our acquiescence in the way things are. I wonder what Aaron might have said to God, what protest he might have made in his heart?
I also wonder, if that lack of protest is in fact, why in our reading on Yom Kippur morning, the memoy of Aaron’s silence is revisited, if not mentioned. And how does God respond to Aaron’s silence on Yom Kippur morning?
The Lord said to Moses:
Tell your brother Aaron that he is not to come at will into the Shrine behind the curtain, in front of the cover that is upon the ark, lest he die; for I appear in the cloud over the cover
Then he gives him explicit directions as to how he can come into the holy of holies…with the sacrifices not only for the people, but first for himself. SO perhaps our last question should be, what is God’s response to Aaron’s silence?

It’s worth noting that the connection between Yom Kippur and silence falls in another way as well.

VII. Psalm 115 (17) (is one place among others) which we read daily, makes explicit the connection between silence and death
. יז לֹֽא־הַמֵּתִים יְהַֽלְלוּ־יָהּ וְלֹא כָּל־יֹרְדֵי דוּמָֽה
17. The dead cannot praise the Lord, nor can any who go down into silence.

Yom Kippur makes that tension evident

But perhaps the most profound connection between death and Yom Kippur is the mysterious claim The Talmud makes for both of them. Yom Hakippurim atzmo m'caper, u'mitah mcaperet. Both Yom Kippur and death themselves, atone. We say the vidui, the final confession, on two occasions in our lives -- on Yom Kippur and on the day of our death. The word for atonement -- caparah -- means a covering over. Death is a covering over. And Jonah, Abraham and Aaron, all in their silence are covered over, in their pain, in their protest, and maybe we in ours, on Yom Kippur, when we are shocked into silence, are also staring death in the face, struck mute, our hearts struck mute, made silent so that we can face death, and in silence and pain, find forgiveness.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Capitol of Punk

There's a fabulous site at Yellow Arrow which offers an interactive I dunno, what would you call it, cyber walking tour of the 70's and 80's locations for the Washington D.C. punk scene. It has video podcasts with interviews and music, and reminds me of many an ill-spent teenage night with my first love. We've still friends, and thankfully memories remain sweet, so I'll make sure we reminisce of mosh pits and sweat until late into the morning.

Not to be missed. via BoingBoing

D.C.'c harDCore scene birthed among others Bad Brains, Void, The Faith, Dag Nasty, Black Market Baby and Minor Threat, and later Fugazi was a major player. I have to admit, I haven't done the whole tour yet, but I am mystified by the apparent absence of the Slickee Boys - someone: fill in this gap! I also want to give a second-hand shout out to Ian Svenonius, who in addition to his musicianship, is also the son of the infamous philosophy professor, Dr. Lars Svenonius.

HardCore seems to be enjoying a mini revival, as a book came out a couple of years ago (2003)
Dance of Days: Two Decades of Punk in the Nation's Capital
Dance of Days: Two Decades of Punk in the Nation's Capital by Mark Andersen and Mark Jenkins (Paperback - Aug 1, 2003), which mentions my favorite bands promiscuously.

There's also a 1988 book on the DC punk scene:
Banned in D C: Photos and Anecdotes from the Dc Punk Underground
Banned in D C: Photos and Anecdotes from the Dc Punk Underground by Cynthia Connolly, Sharon Cheslow, and Leslie Clague (Paperback - Nov 1, 1988) although I can't vouch for whether it's good or not.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Get Ready for National Talk Like a Pirate Day

Jews get ready, repeat after me, “arrrrrgh, would it kill you to call your mother?”

American Jewish gangster books, move over: apparently lots of pirates were.. Jewish. Tomorrow is National Talk like a Pirate Day, so get ready to celebrate your Jewish pirate heritage.
..Tales of Jewish piracy, which stretch back thousands of years, aren’t in the public’s consciousness, and Hollywood even has been known to remove a pirate’s Jewish background. As a result, we’re stuck with portrayals of pirates as wayward English seamen on a murderous rampage. …

Kritzler has studied pirates for 40 years, and said that the public is fascinated with them because they’re “rugged individuals in a world of conformity. They carved their own identity, independent of the rules and strictures of society.”

But determining the exact number of Jewish pirates is difficult, Kritzler said, because many of them traveled as Conversos, or converts to Christianity, and practiced their Judaism in secret."

crossposted to Jewschool

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Think she'll do something about the agunot?

From JTA breaking news
First female Israeli High Court chief sworn in
The Israeli Supreme Court swore in its first female president.

Dorit Beinisch was sworn in Thursday at a Knesset ceremony attended by Justice Aharon Barak — the court’s outgoing president — Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Interim Justice Minster Meir Sheetrit and Dalia Itzik, the country’s acting president.

Crossposted to Jewschool

As long as you’ve got your health….

My colleague Arieh Lebowitz, at the Jewish Labor Committee posted the article below as a comment, but I think it should get a post of its own.
Here’s another article from Ha’aretz on the topic for a fuller picture.

It’s nice to know that the privatization monster is taking over this territory too. I wonder what else we can undermine by privatizing? Money, after all, should be our top priority when we consider our children’s health, on a national level. But hey, kids are hearty - who needs school nurses?


Israel Public health nurses’ struggle against transfer of school health services to manpower company - more a struggle against sweeping privatization of health services than a battle over employment conditions.

Privatization today, illness tomorrow
By Avirama Golan / Ha’aretz / September 13, 2006

The public health nurses’ struggle against the transfer of school health services to a manpower company can of course be described - as Finance Ministry officials are doing - as a battle over employment conditions. Not that that’s so terrible: After all, there seems to be some logic in a person’s desire to preserve job security. But in the case of the nurses, who in recent years began working under a private association and are not civil servants in any case - that is not the main thing. At the heart of the attempt to minimize the blow to these services lies a much more important struggle - against the sweeping privatization of the health services.

The case of the schools exposes privatization’s failure in preventive medicine in particular, and in the health services in general. Preventive medicine is the mainstay of a developed society. It is not by chance that the OECD countries decided preventive medicine is a condition for growth, and defined it as a threshold requirement for joining the organization. A World Bank paper states, “In places in the world where preventive medicine services have been transferred to competitive bodies, there has been a decline in immunization coverage and an increase in the extent of illnesses requiring immunization.”

Nobody in the treasury can claim not to know these things. What is also known is the simple calculation that shows, in black and white, that when hearing or vision problems, eating disorders, depression - or even abuse - of children are not diagnosed in time, these children soon become a heavy burden on the education, health and welfare systems. Even if they drop out of - or are dropped by - all the systems and fall ill or disabled, or turn to crime, they will cost society and the government much more than a nurse’s salary or pension.

But for years the treasury has been waging a stubborn and systemic war of attrition against the health services, a war whose most blatant symptom is the blow to preventive medicine. Every few months a focus of privatization erupts into public awareness. There was the transfer of the well-baby clinics to the health services organizations, thus eliminating - for reasons of economic feasibility - preventive treatment for remote, weak populations: small peripheral communities, the Bedouin, foreign workers without residence permits, et al. There was the plan to privatize the hospitals for the mentally ill, and now there are the school health services.

In all these cases, the direct victims are those who cannot afford the increasingly expensive health services, and worse, anyone who is unable - due to economic or geographic reasons, or simply due to a lack of awareness - to arrange diagnostic tests for himself and his children. Israel is justifiably proud of its hospital system, which in spite of overcrowding and budgetary problems entitles everyone to emergency treatments and complex operations. But these treatments are the last (and most expensive) stage, and should be rendered superfluous by preventive medicine, including diagnoses, inoculations and counseling.

Economically speaking, this is a big mistake. A comparison between Israel, where the health care privatization process is still moving slowly, and the United States, which has fulfilled the dream - reveals the infant mortality rate there is higher than here, and life expectancy is lower, despite the fact that the U.S. government spends far more on health care per person than the Israeli government. In every other respect - social, humanitarian, civil-democratic - this is a matter of dangerous neglect.

The percentage of children per capita in Israel is the highest in the western world. (38 percent of the population is 18 and under). Since 1997 the number of students in Israel has grown by 33 percent, whereas the budget for school health services (which in 1997 was transferred from the Education Ministry to the Health Ministry, by dint of a government health law) has declined steadily. Public health nurses visit not only the state schools but also churches and mosques where children study. The treasury, which is pleased about erasing expenditure items, may not be interested in who replaces them. They should know: In every Arab community where the state avoids its civic duties, it is replaced by charities of the Islamic Movement, which distances its members from the state and leads them to political radicalism.

The Arab periphery is only the most extreme example of the folly. A society where only the children of the rich receive inoculations and diagnostic tests, whose public health nurses - once the clear symbol of the system’s responsible, professional and human touch - speedily leaf through the files of thousands of children at record pace, while being tyrannized and exploited by manpower companies (see: security and caregiving firms) - is a society conducting its expenditure accounts blindly and obtusely, because it has apparently given up on tomorrow.

crossposted to Jewschool

“Tikkun Olam” -the new “kosher?”

English is an amazing language. It will chew up and digest anything. Here is the apparently latest gastronomic adventure of my native language: Tikkun Olam.

See the story here. As one poster on Jewschool noted, it is a better way to pander to Jewish voters than the usual pandering.

Crossposted to Jewschool

Hot in DC right now

Actually, temperature-wise it’s pretty moderate for September. Probably because of the rain. But there are a lot of events going on right now inthe Jewish community. Here’s a couple.

An article today in Express (the free Washington Post owned daily - really it’s just something to read while riding the metro. Unfortunately it doesn’t appear actually post online what appears in its pages. Sorry.) mentions the D.C. Labor Film Festival which takes place this weekend (largely on shabbat - sigh). GO, commiserate with the evils of bosses, and remember, “Don’t oppress your fellow, and don’t steal; don’t leave the worker’s hire with you until morning” (Vayikra 19:13); and “Don’t oppress the hire of the poor and needy from your brother or the proselyte in our land and gates; give him his hire the same day, don’t let the sun set on it, for he is poor and his soul is set on it; so that he should not call against you to HaShem, and it will considered a sin in you.” (Devarim 24:14-15.)

DCJCC is sponsoring the Jewish literary festival: The Annual Hyman S. and Freda Bernstein Jewish Literary Festival is September 10 - 20
“The Hyman S. and Freda Bernstein Jewish Literary Festival brings books to life each autumn by featuring the writers and personalities behind the pen. It offers our nation’s capital a unique glimpse at the year’s best in American and international Jewish letters, recognizing both emerging and well-established writers. ”

The International Spy Museum has a new exhibit starting this Sunday: The Secret History of History Moe Berg: Baseball’s Man of Mystery about Moe Berg an apparently mediocre baseball player who nevertheless played with five major league baseball teams (Including the Washington Senators), spoke five languages, and a photography hobbiest…. which after ending his baseball career, he turned into a career as a spy for the OSS.

Crossposted to Jewschool

Monday, September 04, 2006

A political statement for mature audiences only

This is ladies underwear with , along one leghole, a fringe of "hair" sewn in as a statement against shving pubic hair. Of course the question is to whom one is making the statement... after all, you don't need to buy these if you aren't shaving the hair already, and to whom are you showing them, anyway?
Of course, you could make a more public statement -if you're feeling European- with under arm hair shirts.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

How could I have missed THIS?

Reader Becca pointed out that in my post on the delightfully obvious toy made from tampons, the tampon gun, I clearly neglected to surf the rest of the site from which this delight was culled. I have to admit, it never occurred to me that there might be additional Judaica found on this site, but nevertheless, here it is: the tampon menorah. Not to be missed. Thank you, Becca!

P.S. Please - no one write in to tell me about the earrings. *shudder*

"Hanukkah - festival of lights, now the festival of feminine
hygiene. Pull up on the "wicks" to light these menorah candles."

Friday, September 01, 2006

It's not just the meat!

I have no idea how I end up putting up all these meat-related posts. While I like a good burger as much as the next carnivore - I’m rarely a carnivore, since our house is dairy-kosher, nd there are desperately few kosher meat restaurants where I live (and truthfully, even fewer that I would consider palatable, let alone worth the money and the trip to get to them. Ah to be back in the kosher meat restaurant paradise of Los Angeles). Oh well. This note at least is about a bit more than just meat. As it points out, kashrut in general has been raised up to new levels of fences. From discussions that I, and colleagues of mine, have had with formerly mainstream mashgichim who are now considered unacceptable (except when most people don’t see the names out front - such as a certain individual whose hechsher is generally considered not acceptable, but whose supervision of certain here unspecified products in the USA is more or less hegemonous - and thus accepted) it seems clear that the business of hashgacha in the USA is in serious trouble in all sorts of ways.

Glatt Kosher Meat Is Not All It Is Cut Out To Be

Marc Shapiro | Fri. August 18, 2006

Due in no small part to the recent controversy at the AgriProcessors slaughterhouse in Postville, Iowa, there has been a lot of talk of late about how glatt kosher meat is produced. Yet for all the sensational headlines about whether the standards of kashrut are being met, little attention has been paid to how those standards are actually determined.
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In nearly every Orthodox community today, glatt kosher has come to stand for unquestionably kosher, with the result being that food carrying the regular kosher label is shunned.

This is more than simply an issue of certification. It is a significant transformation in the religious lifestyle of the Orthodox, a group that, ironically, claims to embody religious continuity.

Regular kosher might be okay if you’re in, say, Montana, and it’s the only meat available. Even then, though, you might want to think twice before bringing home such food. If you’re thinking of having a barbecue for Orthodox friends and throwing some regular kosher hot dogs on the grill, don’t be surprised if your guests suddenly develop a distaste for meat and profess that they’ve recently become vegetarians. You might as well be serving Oscar Mayer franks, because the reaction will be little different.

For hundreds of years, halachic authorities disagreed as to what exactly could be considered kosher. The “Shulhan Arukh” insisted on no adhesions — glatt means smooth, and refers to the fact that the lungs of animals slaughtered according to glatt kashrut do not have any adhesions. Rabbi Moses Isserles disagreed, and ruled that an animal could be declared kosher even with certain adhesions.

In the Ashkenazic lands, regular kosher was the standard, with glatt being reserved for the exceptionally pious, who were also willing to pay more. This is also how matters were in America until about 30 years ago.

Since then, the Orthodox have adopted a new standard in kashrut, one that defines only glatt kosher as acceptable. Regular kosher has been relegated to Conservative Jews and others who don’t take kashrut as seriously as the Orthodox.

Recognition of the change in kashrut standards has, by all indications, been picked up by the Jewish community at large. On numerous occasions I have been informed by non-Orthodox relatives or colleagues that I can eat the food that is being served since, they told me, it is glatt kosher, with the emphasis on glatt. This community-wide acceptance of glatt in the United States is quite significant, as things are rather different in Israel and Europe, where regular kosher is still very popular among the Orthodox.

In previous years, it wasn’t simply the masses who ate regular kosher. The great rabbis did as well. Many of them, including Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, even provided hashgachot, or kosher supervision, for non-glatt kosher meat.

So how did we reach this point in the United States where a practice that was basic to Orthodox society simply disappeared and came to be no longer regarded as acceptable? Much of the blame — or praise, depending on your outlook — falls on the Orthodox Union, which is considered the gold standard of kashrut supervision in the United States.

As part of its effort to achieve universal acceptance, even in the most right-wing circles, about 30 years ago the O.U. stopped providing supervision to non-glatt meat. Once the O.U. no longer recognized the validity of non-glatt, it soon became verboten for the average Orthodox Jew. The great irony here is that the leading Modern Orthodox organization is itself responsible for creating a situation where virtually all Orthodox Jews in this country, even the most liberal among them, would not dream of buying anything but glatt kosher. It is also impossible for a restaurant or hotel to attract an Orthodox clientele without being exclusively glatt.

The O.U.’s move to glatt is not the only example of the organization adopting policies that are not in line with the Modern Orthodox tradition of its founders. Many Forward readers, I am sure, have wondered about the Popsicles and other products that have absolutely no milk in them yet are still stamped “OU-D.” Or, for that matter, the yearly Passover guide that tells people that their candles and laundry detergent do not need a special Passover hashgachah, but do need a regular one.

It was the O.U.’s move to glatt, however, that had a truly momentous impact and changed the religious landscape of American Orthodoxy. Other hashgachot soon followed the O.U.’s path, leaving supervision over regular kosher in the hands of hashgachot that in many people’s minds were regarded as less reliable. Even if these hashgachot were, in truth, completely dependable, the fact that they agreed to certify meat that the O.U. and others would not reinforced the idea in people’s minds that there were problems with regular kosher. It took just a few years following the O.U.’s decision before regular kosher was no longer regarded as acceptable in American Orthodoxy.

Yet this is not all there is to the story, and here things get even more interesting. The very meaning of glatt kosher in the United States is not what most people think, namely, meat that has no adhesions. While this is indeed the original meaning of glatt and the meaning most people identify it with, the word as used today means something more expansive, depending on which kashrut organization you ask.

For some, it simply means that they hold themselves to a very high halachic standard in all areas of meat production. For others, it means that they permit only a couple of small, easily removed adhesions, a type of glatt that was actually quite common among Hasidim in prewar Europe. One thing that is certain is that glatt in the United States does not mean that an animal’s lung is completely smooth. Sephardim, who are supposed to eat only real glatt, are under normal circumstances not permitted to eat the typical “American glatt,” and they therefore have their own special “Beit Yosef glatt.”

While the kashrut organizations have not exactly hidden this information, and will tell you the truth if you ask, they have not been exactly forthcoming about it either. There is, for example, no explanation on the O.U. Web site as to what it means when it stamps a product glatt. The closest you get is an article titled the “The Kosher Primer,” which explains that real glatt is free of all adhesions on its lungs. The primer does acknowledge that, “Recently, the term ‘glatt kosher’ is increasingly used more broadly as a generic phrase, implying that the product is kosher without question.” Yet there is no clarification that the O.U.’s glatt falls into the second category — which also explains how the organization believes it appropriate to certify “glatt chickens.”

A great deal has been written about how the Orthodox have in recent years adopted new religious standards. The turn to glatt, however, is in its own category, because here the Orthodox have indeed adopted a new standard, but it is not what most people think it is. If they knew the facts, they might not be so attached to the glatt-only culture of contemporary Orthodoxy — which is something worth chewing over the next time you munch on a Hebrew National regular kosher salami.

Marc Shapiro is a professor of Judaic Studies at the University of Scranton
crossposted to Jewschool

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Moving blues

well, I suppose I have officially settled in (Don't go back to...) Rockville. (See also)It's not that it's all that bad as suburbs go; it's just that it's a suburb. I really liked being able to walk to the corner and hop on the metro - here I have to walk minimum half an hour to get there. I've never really understood why anyone would want to move to the burbs. What the hell was wrong with people in the 50's, anyway?
SO, to be specific: we didn't have aback yard living in DC. But we did have two public parks within walking distance (more, really, but there were two that we used alot). One was about he same distance that the metro is now for us, and the other was about five or so blocks away. The parks were almost always full of kids - obviously there were ebbs and flows at naptime hours, but by and large, there were always a few kids at either of them, and often there were lots of kids.
Here in Rockville, there are - oh, I don't know, 10 parks within walking distance of our house, and there are no kids in any of them. Once I went to a park and there were three or four kids from a cooperative preschool playing there (it was the church parking lot, but they didn't mind my son's joining in) and once my spouse took the babe to a park and there was one child there, who was leaving as he arrived. And once we went to a neighborhood park and there were three kidsplaying there, desultorily. All significantly older. I'm guessing this is more of that overscheduing, playgroup sickness. move to the burbs, and you have to join a playgroup, because people no longer just take their kids to go play. Apprently, in the burbs, even the nannies don't do this.
Okay, well, that sucks, but whatver, we can walk half an hour to metro, then ride another half hour, then wlak to the parks at the other end, where boychik's little friends are. Butthen there's the grocery store dilemma. It isn't really just grocery stores. It's just that there isn't really anything around. A fifteen minute walk (not too bad) will bring me to the library and a grocery store. But to actually do anything else, it's really pretty necessary to get into your car and drive.
And the library! OK, this is too weird. In DC, all you ever hear about are how little money DC has, and how all its public facilities stink. but the Cleveland park library - run by the DC government- has a prettyt okay selection of books. It's kids section is actually decent. And it has several very pleasant librarians, who know my son by name, and like to hang out with him - more or less.
The Twinbrook library, has.. not much. It's a very nice building. Much newer and nicer than Cleveland Park's, but uh, there seems to be a lack of soemthing. Something one usually finds in libraries, something. . . it's on the tip of my tongue, uh, uh, uh.. books!
The kids section is sparse, the adults section is...streamlined. There are computers, but not all that many. The audio section... I don't even know how to say this. They have a box of CDs. They do seem to have some more stuff if you want to learn languages, that's good. But - I'm sorry, libraries are supposed to have books.
I'm feeling very whiny about all this, but it's just too much to have alibrary close by, relatively speaking, and have it be so... disappointing.

I know we're spending less money to get twice as much space here, but can someone please remind me why I agreed to this?
I just keep chanting to myself: One year lease, one year lease, one year lease, one year lease.

it's actually a very nice house, but... it's in the burbs.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The New IDF

My chaver sent me to this website, I share with you the newest inductees to Israel's military service:

The New IDF

A recent Israeli Supreme Court decision ruled that the deferment presently
available to the Charedi community is no longer valid. In response to this
decision, in an unprecedented show of solidarity, three hundred and fifty
thousand members of the Charedi community gathered in Jerusalem.

In what is now being called a minor slip up, one of the leaders of the rally
inadvertently read the part of the court ruling that repeated the Oath used
to induct soldiers into the army. The entire gathering, assuming it was part
of a new Sephardic tefilla, answered Amen and were duly sworn in as members
of the IDF.


In keeping with the harmonious nature of Israeli politics, the IDF agreed
that there will have to be a few accommodations made to incorporate this new
fighting force into the army. The following is a list of proposed changes.

Because some of the new soldiers are used to davening at a later minyan,
wake up time will need to be changed from 5:00 am until 9:00 am on Mondays
and Thursdays and 9:15 on Sundays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays when
there is no laining. Rosh Chodesh and Yom Tov reveille will be left to the
discretion of the division commanders.

Black velvet steel reinforced yarmulkas will be standard issue. (White
yarmulkas for Yerushalmis are available but without the tassle.) Chasidic
soldiers will be required to wear olive green bekashas for dress conditions
and camouflage bekashas under battle conditions. Kevlar tzizis are presently
under development and will be made available when the engineers have resolved
how many black stripes are required. Payos protectors are obtainable upon
request and all soldiers will be issued the new light weight Borcelino combat
helmet with flak protecting brim.

All new inductees will have the rank of captain. Rebbes with less than
10,000 chasidim will be Majors. Rebbes with more than 20,000 chasidim will
be one star generals. Rebbes with 30,000 chasidim will be two star generals.
Rebbes with 40,000 or more chasicism will be three star generals and get
their own mikvah (a specially adapted humvee with a shvitz and a mikvah).
Only live rebbes will be granted any rank.

Every soldier will be equipped with an M16 rifle with detachable compartments
for both Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam tefillin. The standard issue gun belt with
three hundred rounds of ammunition and two grenades can also double as a
gartel. No soldier will be allowed his own tank until he passes the test,
which consists of driving through Meah Shearim, stopping for a falafel,
parking near Kikar Shabbat, all without hitting a stroller or the #1 bus.
Nuclear weapons will be available on a first come first served basis.

Traning will begin every midmorning after the Daf Yomi shiur depending on how
hard the blatt is (members of the Chofetz Chaim division will still not be
required to learn more than two lines a day). Training will consist of the
proper use of military equipment and tactics and will be taught in a mixture
of Yiddish, Hebrew, and Aramaic (commonly referred to as Yeshivish). The
instructors will be highly qualified personnel from Hesder Yeshivos who will
attempt by Talmudic logic to teach the soldiers proper military procedures.
Because most of the inductees never had to take any tests, all exams will be
open book and the instructors will encourage the soldiers to discuss the
questions with their chavrusas and come up with a consensus opinion. After
minchah and an afternoon nap, soldiers will be required to perform twenty
minutes of strenuous exercise consisting of precision shukaling, bais medrash
pacing, and minyan hopping. No smoking will be allowed during exercise periods.

All provisions will be required to have at least six reliable hechsharim and
the star K. There will be separate kitchens for each different chasidish sect
and every chicken will be walked around the camp and then schechted
simultaneously by a minimim of three different schochtim. All the vegetables
will be checked for bugs by an electron microscope, the milk will be yoshon,
and the bread will be baked by a bas yisroel. Arbos and beer will be
available every Shabbos and the division with the poorest performance record
each week will be required to sponsor a cholent kiddush for the entire camp.
Because most of the provisions are acquired from Sheva Mile Makolet, no
chometz will be available from a week before Purim until after Pesach.

Leave Policy:
All non-married personnel will be entitled to the standard yeshiva leave
policy consisting of two days before the date to prepare, one day for the date,
and one day to recover and be debriefed by his parents. All other soldiers will
have regular leave every sixth Shabbos unless there is a tish that Friday night.
Solders will be entitled to switch their weekend passes upon proof of severe
hardship, or if their in-laws are visiting that Shabbos.

The barracks will be inspected every erev Shabbos and showers are required even
if it is not Rosh Chodesh. A very comprehensive inspection will take place on
the thirteenth of Nisan.

New recruits:
New recruits will be allowed to have their mothers assist in cleaning the
barracks and with the laundry, but soldiers will still be required to field
strip and maintain their own weapons.

Military police:
Once the troops have completed their training a special police force will be
established, preferable from the Gur division. It will be their job to protect
the Friday night cholent pot from marauding troops and to deal with rioting
left-wingers who are protesting the charedi takeover of the army and the closing
of theaters on Shabbos.

Tour of duty:
Soldiers will be expected to complete at least eight Mesechtas with Rashi and
Tosefos and to fire six rounds of ammunition without injuring themselves.
Officer training will require a working knowledge of Yoreh Daya, Choshen
Mishpat, and the F16 Split Wing attack fighter. After active duty soldiers
will have the option to report to the reserves for the two weeks prior to
Pesach for refresher courses. In a further concession to the charedi community,
Chief Justice Barak and the other justices have agreed to take up their Jewish
education where they left off and are now attending third grade at a Chinuch
Atzmoi school.

Moshiach will need an army. Come take your place among the few, the proud,
the all Charedi army!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Just go watch it

Okay, it's completely puerile. That didn't stop me from laughing out loud. Thankfully, I wasn't in a library at the time. Hilarious short movie

Sex matters

In this article from Neva Chonin in the San Francisco Chronicle the author says what many have said before, butstill doesn't seem to be getting the message to us. I think she says it quite nicely for herself, so I include the article below. The only comment: I keep reading in supposedly hip - even feminist- magazines all about sex positive movements - pro-prostitution, pro-stripping, etc. And every time, I can't help but think, "what is wrong with you people?"
It's not liberating or positive to take off your clothes for men. That isn't power - it's the lack of power. These are only positive choices in a society where other positive choices are lacking. If you want power, storm the Bastille: insist on equal pay for equal work, demand that womnen be hired for high level, high paying jobs, elect more women legislators, and make sure there are more women on high-court benches. And make sure that we have the power to control our own reproduction. Put abusers in jail. Make sure laws are enforced,and where lacking, pass them. That's power. Taking off your clothes isn't power, it's pathetic.

Oh, yeah, and Claire, what he did was assault. Press charges.

He Hit Me (and It Felt Like a Dis)
- Neva Chonin
Sunday, August 20, 2006

A few weeks ago, the Los Angeles Times published a profile of "Girls Gone Wild" creator Joe Francis ("Baby, Give Me a Kiss") that dropped jaws from Poughkeepsie to Chino. Oh, the clatter. It started with a line that applied to a specific act of physical intimidation by Francis against Times writer Claire Hoffman, but I suspect it resonated for many women who long for an invisibility cloak or chador in an era of "show us your tits" sexploitation. Hoffman began her piece by saying, "Joe Francis, the founder of the 'Girls Gone Wild' empire, is humiliating me."

I felt her pain. Not the physical pain of being slammed against a car by a cable-TV honcho gone wild, but the mental ache of channel surfing into "Girls Gone Wild" and suddenly feeling embarrassed to be female. Heck, "Girls Gone Wild" makes me embarrassed to be human. The show is a carnival staffed with exploitation freaks, from the guys behind the cameras to the women struggling out of their tiny T's to the viewers who gobble it up with an order of stupid on the side.

It's not the program's sexuality that bothers me but the fact that, in a country rife with vestigial puritanism, it views sexuality through a leering lens. Continental Europeans see far more nudity on their televisions and in their daily lives than we do. They don't bat an eye because, you know, human bodies. We all have them. Ah, but America. Marked by repression on the one hand (magazines condemned for cover images of breast-feeding babies and nude expectant mothers) and masturbatory excess on the other ("Girls Gone Wild" and any men's magazine that isn't GQ or Esquire), we are forever looping between scolding and ogling. We are never at peace.

Contemplating the hoopla about showing breast feeding and pregnant mamas in magazines, I begin to suspect that a simple principle might be at play: A woman's body has no right being bared unless it is for the purpose of arousing a man. I'd bet lunch at Chez Panisse that many of the guys who like strip clubs and read Maxim would be appalled to see a woman nursing in a restaurant. I'd throw in dinner at the French Laundry if the doods who so enjoy watching girl-on-girl action in porn flicks didn't find real lesbians -- the ones whose sex lives aren't simply warm-up acts for straight men -- disgusting and, yeah, threatening.

In last week's column, I suggested that, in today's cult of the leer, "girls have actually grown tamer rather than wilder. Sure, they flash their breasts more readily, just like monkeys perform tricks for peanuts at the San Francisco Zoo. But neither act symbolizes freedom." To those who think it does, and that these budding sexbots are liberated while I'm oh-so-old-school, I can only offer this: America might be the land of liberty, but it's also the land where freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose. And when he's done molesting journalists, Joe Francis is laughing all the way to the bank, your dough in one hand and your freewheelin' girl's mammary in the other. Oh, America, my America. We truly enjoy an embarrassment of riches.

While Joe Francis was abusing Claire Hoffman in Los Angeles, Britain's Daily Mail was running an article by Nirpal Dhaliwal titled "How Feminism Destroyed Real Men." In it, he bemoans the "feminization of men" instigated by the women's movement. He laments that women are now "lumped with flabby he invertebrates, little more than doormats, whom they secretly despise." Deep down, he adds, women want "men who will look them in the eye and tell them to shut up when their hormonal bickering has become too much."

It gets better. Dhaliwal writes, "People might call me a sexist pig, but I am the opposite. I love women." Let us now hopscotch across the Atlantic to the L.A. Times, where Hoffman observes that the "Girls Gone Wild" creator destined to physically assault her "says he loves women, is crazy about them. But sometimes it doesn't sound as though he is."

A warning sound should be going off in the reader's head about now, and the reader should listen. Because at the close of his Daily Mail editorial, Dhaliwal starts preparing an assault of his own. "The female orgasm is the natural mechanism by which men assert dominion over women," he writes, before going on to relate, fairly graphically, how he asserted dominion over his wife after she discovered he was cheating. In sum, he "made strong, passionate love to her," giving "a manful bravura performance" that culminated with the demand, "Who's the boss?"

Dhaliwal's wife happens to be Daily Mail columnist Liz Jones. His essay is illustrated by a picture of the happy couple, looking happy. By the way? The same day her husband's essay ran, Jones offered her own little self-assessment in her regular column: "I am a middle-aged anorexic. I don't know which of those two epithets I found harder to say -- that I am middle-aged, or that I still suffer from an eating disorder. The two, for me, are inextricably linked. I have a fear of growing old, and a fear of growing fat."

Forgive me, America! Stupidity is indeed universal. OK, yes, I'll say it, baby, stop pulling my hair: You're the boss.

Tell Neva to shut up with her hormonal bickering at

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