Sunday, March 30, 2008


Holy Cow! Shemini Cricket!

How often does one get to use that? Well, I guess every time that parshas Shemini falls Shabbos Parah ("Cow Sabbath"). In parshas Shemini, we read of the kosher laws (including that four, who knows which, types of locusts, but not their close relatives the crickets, presumably) are kosher. And we also read about the Earth-colored Heifer ... and get asked the riddle: what has awesome powers of purification, but renders all who are involved in making it and transporting it impure?

The ashes of the Red Heifer of course. People act like this is a real kasha, but that just means they haven't really thought about what happens when you clean something: you end up just making something else messy. I'd make a comment that, well, the Red Heifer ashes have some backward causility loop (and hence ritual purity =/= cleanliness), but then, I'm sure making cleaning products is dirty business. I guess that's why my dad always used Simple Green (which he called Benzine, which freaked me out as I confused Benzine with Benzene).

Another question raised, of course, is what the heck kind of bird is a "bat ayya'ane" (daughter of wailing): i.e. is it really true that Ostrich can't be kosher?

Some perhaps, if you'll pardon the pun, meatier questions:

* Did Aaron's sons really die or were they just spiritually dead being overwhelmed with the strange fire?

* Are there then certain religious experiences that are too much and is a certain "direct" communion with God, outside of a certain kind of ritual framework (the sort of experience certain Evangalicals emphasize) really wrong-headed and dangerous? Compare and contrast what happens to Aaron's sons with what happens to Korach (who wanted to have a whole tallis of teheleth -- and what of the class/cost issues of that?)?

* For that matter compare and contrast what happens with Aaron's sons with what happens to Cain with his sacrifice? And what of the distinction between Aaron's sons with their "strange fire" and the fact that we're always supposed to be "on fire" for God anyway (the Tamid offering)? What is the difference? Perhaps some examination of class and the clothing is in order (the whole tallis of teheleth vs. the plain clothes involved in mucking out the ashes)?

* And what of the Haftarah we would have read if it were not for it being a special Shabbos: should Uzziah have been punished for ostensibly saving the ark? What was the sin and who really sinned and why? And what of the downer behavior of Michal? What can we learn of that period in Israel's history from any clues in this Haftarah?

So many questions -- I "bleg" y'all for answers!

Sunday, March 23, 2008


Sex as a Privilege

I've ruminating over the "lonely John" issue lately, and the degree to which the discussion, even on the left side of the nets, has wandered into (well, maybe "wandered into" isn't the correct phrase, given how the issue at hand did indeed involve a rich man) sexist and classist notions of "well, if a guy wants 'companionship', why can't he get a mistress?" as if all Johns are wealthy enough men that they could afford a mistress (and as if that would be moral anyway -- frankly isn't wining and dining a woman so she'll sleep with you as much of a morally problematic I-It relationship as prostitution ... and at some level, no different?). And this has gotten me to thinking in general -- isn't it amazing how much rhetoric both right and even on the left has some very sexist and classist assumptions built into it?

Of course, the classic example is the right-wing's arguments about birth-control and abortion: if you can't afford a child you are not supposed to have sex, I guess. Which makes sex very much a privilege of the upper classes. But scratch beneath the rhetoric even sometimes on the left and you still see sexism and classism.

Whence does this come? Certainly not from Judaism. Is it a residue of Pauline thought? But then again how does "sex as a acceptable, but only in certain contexts" become sex as a privilege?


Update -- sorry about the lack of comprehensibility of this post: I wrote it while having some pretty bad allergy issues. Read my comments on this thread at Pandagon, and you'll see what I was trying to get at. Indeed, I have decided there is a connection between what I'm getting at and the philosophy of Martin Buber ... so certainly, this attitude is not from the Judeo part of the so-called Judeo-Christian morality that the right tries to use as a bludgeon in their rhetoric about sexual issues.


Weekly Parsha Blogging: Tzav

[ Insert standard issue sermon about the Ner Tamid here, complete with contrasts to the strange fire]
[ Insert standard issue sermon about the Priests having to sweep the ashes here ]

Normally in Leviticus focusing on the Prophetic reading over the dry and dull details of the sacrificial cult or the laws of tzaria or what have you is, well, maybe a bit of a cop-out. But this week (especially this last week in particular -- with a certain person named Jeremiah being in the news ... and, considering what the Book of Jeremiah has to say, as NPR points out, how appropriate is his first name), there is good reason to consider the Prophetic reading, which seems to contradict the Torah: the Torah talks of sacrifices while Jeremiah maintains Hashem said "what's this sacrifice business about? who told you to do that?".

So is there a contradiction here? How does one harmonize the Torah and Haftarah portions? Do we dismiss this as historical* (Jeremiah being of the Deuteronomic school and associated with the Musite Priests while Leviticus is the Priestly Code of the Aaronide Priests)? Do we try to harmonize them and extract a moral lesson from the harmonization? Even if we do take the historical approach -- with whom should we, as moderns, be more comfortable? The Deuteronomaic tradition? The Priestly tradition?

For those who say the former, do we really think so? Is the Priestly tradition really what we think it is? Is it really the sort of purity obsessed wingnutism we call "Levitical"? Wasn't, for example, the message that the Christians ascribe to Jesus, really part of the Priestly tradition wherein it is the Priests who are on the front lines, not of ensuring purity only, but of actually meeting the leper, the impure, where they are, and bringing them back into society as pure people?

OTOH, we tend to view the Prophets as being kinda lovey-dovey. But isn't Jeremiah Wright aptly named? How would we respond to a Jeremiah or Isaiah (any one of them) today? Would we find their insistance on public morality to be backward? Would we say that they were unpatriotic for what they would say about our country? Would we say that Jeremiah and Isaiah were self-hating Jews for what they said about Israel?

When Jeremiah says that Hashem doesn't want sacrifices -- he might not be saying the Hashem prefers our "modern" ways of praying to what really could sometimes be a real kewl BBQ. What would Hashem prefer, according to Jeremiah? For what would God bless us? And for what would God damn us?

And are we even comfortable considering either possibility? And I say comfortable with either possibility remembering the words of Tevye: "we know we're Your chosen people ... but couldn't You choose someone else for a change". Remember what Isaiah said in the song of the suffering servant.

* Speaking of which, I just read an interesting book called The Genesis of Justice, by A. Dershowitz. Now, no matter what you think of him, this is a good book -- people like me tend to dismiss some of the "injustices" of Genesis as being an artifact of J's democratic sympathies and wanting to, while writing a history of her people, sneak in a bit of bias toward even her people's enemies such as Edom -- together with having sometimes contradictory materials from the E source mixed in. But Prof. Dershowitz makes the larger point that Genesis wants to tell us, in terms of God's own "evolution" (or the evolution of our idea of God), about how our notions of justice evolve. While many other religious works seek to tell us what Justice is -- Genesis makes us hungry to pursue Justice (as commanded later) by showing us what Injustice is.

Friday, March 21, 2008


"Here We Are Now / Entertain Us"

It isn't as if I don't have enough to do. And it isn't as if I don't have random things about which I've thought to comment or blog.

But somehow (the allergies ... the fact that Purim celebrations last night were fun, but all too sober ... the fact that I've done the main things I needed to do today ... ) I am not motivated to do anything.

And the intertubes, which are supposed to allow you to waste endless amounts of time, seem completely un-interesting today.

So -- going back to the 1990s in my mindset, I ask of y'all who read this blog: "here we are now / entertain us".


Not that that's the song I have stuck in my head -- I have Folsom Prison Blues and the various songs from which it borrows stuck in my head.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


Um, Duh?

Sometimes we get so confused by "how could 'they' manage to believe both X and Y at the same time?" that we forget there really is something meaningful about the labels "left" and "right" in terms of contemporary American political discource. No matter how incoherent the big-tent parties seem (social conservatives, economic conservatives, etc. all in one party and under one rubric of "conservative"? how can that be?), the whole shtuss about Rev. Wright and what he's said in comparison to what the Revs. of the Religious Right (ha ha! I made a punny!) have said really does illustrate how the left is progressive and the right is reactionary.



Ignorance of the Law is No Excuse ...

... but shouldn't a state make some effort to tell you what it expects?

It has come to my attention that a certain state, infamous for its role in stealing the 2004 election, has a general habit (that transcends party politics) of not informing its citizens of anything: it doesn't tell them when elections are, when their vehicle registrations are due, etc.

Remember in some states, vehicle registrations get renewed every year. In some states, they get renewed on your birthday no matter when you register. If you've always lived in a "renewed on the anniversary of your initial registration" state and then you move to a "renewed on your birthday" state, but they don't tell you (no notification upon registration, no reminder notice or renewal notice) -- when your car has overdue registration, can they really, fairly ticket you?

As I keep saying again and again, though -- the Democratic party needs to do something about these scams. People hate gummint and think gummint's a rip-off (and hence are not happy with the Democratic message of "government programs can help") when they really are ripped-off or otherwise pestered by stupid governance. "Have the police actually police things rather than check drivers' registrations." Etc.

The Democratic party needs to launch an effort to make government friendly (even if it means a massive cleaning of house of political machines) if they want long term success for the sort of big-government liberalism our country needs (c.f. my earlier link proposing a revival of the WPA in a Levitical context).

Monday, March 17, 2008


Biblically Oriented Quickies

(1) People are upset about Rev. Wright wondering why we are supposed to say "God Bless America" and not "Got Damn America"? Have we forgotten that the Prophets said far worse things about Israel/Judah and today we revere those very words? If a Prophet arose today in Israel, we'd call him a self-hating Jew and if a Prophet arose in the US, we'd ship him off to Gitmo. What does that say about us and about how we really feel about God's word?

(2) Meanwhile, I go all Levitical, and commenting on a feminist blog no less.

Sunday, March 16, 2008


Shabbos Zachor Blogging

Some questions: what do we say about the commandment to annhilate the very name of Amalek? Also, what are we to make of Shaul's protestations about how bad of a dead it would be -- but then he kills everyone except the king, rather than killing the most culpable? What does that say about Shaul? What sort of similar behaviors do we see today?

Which is worse: the commandment? Or the behavior of those who claim to condemn attacks on innocents, etc., but then go around and in retaliation for attacks kill all but those most culpable for said attacks?


Belated Pekudei Blogging

The Shabbos before this past Shabbos we read the summary description of the Mishkan in the Torah reading and, if it were not Rosh Hodesh, we would have read about the building of the Temple as well. Also, in Talmud study we looked at the contrast between the Feast of Abraham and the Feast of Solomon.

One interesting contrast is that Solomon, rich as he was, used wild creatures, which had to be caught certainly but which did not require him to give up of his flocks, while Abraham fed his guests domestic creatures. And which category actually is used for sacrifices?

Also, c.f. Rev. RMJ.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


Tally Notes

For y'all local yokels:

(1) Didy'all here 'bout that there incinerator in disguise hwaet they's plannin' to build heres in Tally? There is a public meeting tonight (6:30 PM) in City Hall (2nd Floor). Alas, I cannot make it.

Related links (Environmental Orgs in hwaech all y'all hippy-dippy readers of this here blog-thang might be interested): Greenaction and Global Aliance for Incinerator Alternatives.

(2) We have all sorts of health-care crises hitting our fair city and some in the county want to shut down an advisory board that has some constructive role to play, if only in having public meetings at which people have a forum to talk about what a mess health-care-wise we're in? I don't have any details, but if any of y'all are fellow Tally-folk, you might be interested in gettin' some details.

Monday, March 10, 2008


Autism and Vaccines

I recently heard yet another report about this. Do y'all think there is a link?

It seems to me that this might be a classic case of correlation not implying causation: autism symptoms show up at around the same time as vaccinations, so people tend to link the two.

But what is responsible for the up-surge in autism rates? It could be that here too we have correlation: the same factors (increased, although still insufficient, access to early child-hood health care, etc) allowing for increased vaccination rates also allow for people who otherwise would just be "eccentric" to be diagnosed (for better -- better interventions, etc. -- as well as for worse -- the effect of labeling) as "autistic"?

But if there is a more causal link, here's my guess: it isn't Hg, it isn't some immune system shock (if so, then kids who had childhood diseases all at once, which would sometimes happen in the absense of vaccination, would also tend to have autism) but rather just general PTSD. I imagine giving a bunch of injections to a younger/pre-fully-verbal toddler is bound to be quite traumatic. And I wouldn't be surprised if some toddlers just can't cope, due to genetic differences. And certainly, many of the symptoms of autism (the need for ritualized actions for comfort, etc.) are PTSD-like.

Perhaps one mechanism leading to autism is the response of genetically succeptible pre-verbal kids to trauma? And by giving kids more vaccines, we're increasing the likelihood that genetically succeptable members of the population (who otherwise would go through life OK ... growing out of the succeptability for autism before any triggering sort of trauma would occur) reach a tipping point and become autistic? Maybe we should think more carefully about how we give vaccines (schedules, injection methods, etc) to avoid this?

Maybe I should try to study and publish this? ...

Sunday, March 09, 2008


New Blog

I dunno if I fully agree with their positions, and I doubt if those most interested in such a blog would agree much at all, but there is a new blog up that some of y'all might find interesting. South Jerusalem.

Friday, March 07, 2008


All That Stuff Hillel Said ...

While too many Palestinians, in cheering for the recent murders in Jerusalem have demonstrated themselves to be truly on the side of evil and perhaps one could argue that liberal moonbats like me are naive, let's be careful not to be carried away.

I have read, circulating via e-mails, some kinda disturbing stuff about the inhumanity of Palestinians. Certainly too many Palestinians are acting in an inhumane manner -- but the question is, how is that different than maybe not so many but still too many Jews act when Palestinians get caught in the cross-fire of counter-productive Israeli "responses" to attacks on Israel(*)? I know, there is a difference here: Israeli actions are at least within the context of a legitimate, if perhaps disproportionate and wrong-headed military response while terrorism is terrorism ...

... but still, isn't the whole problem that too many Palestinians do not view Israeli Jews as human? Isn't that how "they are like Hitler"? Well, when we Jews start viewing Palestinians as un-human, aren't we merely doing what we criticize others for doing? Whatever happened to "do not do unto others what you would have them not do unto you"? Nu? even if the Middle East is filled with non-humans, what of "In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man."?

Pehraps this is too soon (or maybe not: "if not now, when?"). But what do we say as Jews as we morn? We say the Kaddish which asks not for vengeance, not even for justice and certainly does not eulogize the dead, but rather asks God to establish the Messianic Kingdom, "swiftly and soon".

So while Israel should and indeed must respond to such horrid attacks and we must remember the degree to which radicalized Palestinians do represent a threat to Israel (**), we must not, even now -- "if not now, when?" -- abandon our humanity, for to do so would simply grant Hamas a final victory of being right about our humanity.

* how did Israel's show of "strength" and "resolve" help the Yeshiva Bochers recently killed?

** many liberals forget that part of the indefensiveness of apartheid was that the alternative clearly would not, e.g., result in a massacre of whites. When the most radical terrorist/"freedom fighter" is Nelson "the Teddy Bear" Mandela, it's hard to justify fear of a backlash ... OTOH, Israelis have much to fear from the Palestinian side. Some moonbats may dismiss this reasoning as victim blaming, but it really is the case that if the Palestinians were led by the likes of Nehru and Gandhi, they'd have a state by now (***) ... which makes the Palestinian cause less morally defensible for the same reason (and more extremely so) that Israeli "responses" are less morally defensible: if you could have had as much or more success without hurting so many people, it's wrong to have done things with such violence!

To criticize Israel for their disproportionate responses to violence without similar criticism of the Palestinians is frankly an outrageous double standard -- although it is not always just anti-Semitic. Sometimes lurking beneath the surface is a very anti-Arab racist attitude of "those Jews should know better, but maybe the Palestinians, poor victims, don't know better".

*** and not just because you attract more flies with honey than vinegar, as my dad always says, but also because if the Palestinians actually built a functioning state like Nehru and Gandhi built India, then recognition of Palestinian independence would be such a non-event anyway as there would be a de facto state of Palestine, that even the most ardent of Revisionist Zionists wouldn't care! ...

(Update) ... OTOH (wow! we Jews really do have a lot of hands!), c.f. the old joke:

A schnorrer goes to Rothschild's house and raises such a ruckus that Rothschild himself comes out and gives the schnorrer a mark saying "you've got your money, you best go ... and you know, if you didn't raise such a ruckus, I woulda given you two marks". The schnorrer replies "look Rothschild -- I'm not a banker and I don't give you banking advice ... you're obviously not a schnorrer so please don't give me schnorring advice".

We Jews seem to have lost a key aspect of our temperament (which is, as far as classical Zionism is concerned, not a bug, but a feature) and that is what must have at one time been called our "special Jewish genius": we simply aren't as clever as we used to be -- now we wonder how come those Palestinians do what they do? In the past we might not have been happy about it, but we would have understood better and hence been more clever about our responses.

Anyway, sometimes I feel like someone has to come in to the ME and be a parent (call me a neo-con here). And what do parents do? Do they take sides? Even if they know one side is right in claiming s/he owns the toy or whatever is in dispute, it gets taken away from both sides until they can play nicely. Zionist-nationalists and Hamas-ites alike should be glad they are not getting the "go to your rooms treatment": otherwise Israel would be told to go to its corner of the room (pre-1967 borders or some such) and the Palestinians to theirs (some small subset of the West-Bank and Gaza strip) with the rest of the land completely left depopulated. Is that what people want?

I know ... the Hamas-ites claim that there is no "your room" for Israelis. But a parent would say "well, that's what you claim, I claim otherwise" and punish the kid for lip. Is that what people want?

People might wine and complain about what's fair or not, but what would your parents say about that?


Not Just My Favorite Irish Whiskey

One of the reasons why I like(d) Obama is Samantha Power. I'd much rather have her running our foreign policy than many of the other people who would otherwise be running our foreign policy.

And now Obama's not stood by her? If Obama is not tough enough to deal with Clinton, how'll he deal with the GOP? And if he's not tough enough to deal with the GOP, how'll he be able to deal with those scary terrorists?

Remember how Bush won in 2004?

Sunday, March 02, 2008


Weekly Parsha Blogging

Many Rabbis and lay leaders consider this last week's parsha, a recapitulation of what's involved in rebuilding the Mishkan, to be a difficult one from which to extract sermons.

'Cept there is tons of Hassidic commentary on various turns of phrase: the similarity in the Hebrew word for "socket" and for Lord, the basin (in the Haftarah), the mirrors used to make the lavar (c.f. Lacan's remarks about mirrors and identity -- mirrors are what allowed the Jewish people to continue even as we were slaves in the Land of the Narrow Straights -- a literal translation of the Hebrew name for Egypt), Chochma, Binah and Da'at, etc.

Let me add (c.f. my earlier blog post about the calyxes) the role of collaborations between Judeans and Danites is also a trope (pardon the pun) worthy of comment. Nu? What does it say that the Priestly Chronicles record the tradition that Hiram was part Danite while the Deuteronomaic source of Kings has Hiram being from the quasi-Phoenecian tribe of Naphtali?


Oy Vey, not Again

Yet again, after Shabbos, I get to hear news of "today, Israel and Palestinian militants had the bloodiest day of fighting this week". How come is it that it seems that the day in which Israel launches its big offensive is Shabbos? Is it because Hamas, et al., time their shelling such that Israel will get fed up just in time for Shabbos?

I understand the need for Israel to defend itself ... even on the Shabbos. But there seems to be a pattern here. Anyway, in the end, what is Israel getting for its "vigorous responses"? It's one thing, a mitzvah in fact, to respond to a pursuer intent of killing (or raping) with even deadly force and even on the Shabbos. But it's another thing if the pattern keeps happening over and over again and yet everytime, somehow you have to have that response on Shabbos ... perhaps if doing [X] doesn't work, it's no longer a mitzvah since it is not in fact a constructive response to the pursuer? At the very least, it's, according to old saws, the very definition of insanity and stupidity.

There is a saying: "Who is the bravest hero ? He who turns his enemy into a friend." (Abot de-R. Nathan). Of course, this saying is in the context of a disputation for heaven's sake. But still, the base idea that what could be violence is channeled into a disputation for heaven's sake (and the underlying violence is very obvious in some parts of Talmud, c.f. what happens when R. Eliezar is excommunicated following the incident with the 'aknai over) is something very powerful and very Jewish.

So when will Israel learn how to be heroic from Jewish sources? Perhaps when those in Israel who proclaim themselves the guardians of Israel's morality stop violating the Shabbos themselves by throwing rocks at cars, etc., and start actually opening their hearts to the real lessons of Torah?


In other news, in addition to Israel's cross border incursions this weekend, some other country (in Latin America, but I forget which one) also had a similar cross-border incursion to capture militants. Now which incursion will be more criticized? Which has already gotten the more negative coverage? And some people wonder why we Jews, even those of us who are not 100% Zionists, think that there is a double standard redolent of anti-Semitism when it comes to Israel?


Update -- now a terrorist has killed 8 Yeshiva Bochers. I suspect this'll be used as proof of why Israel needs to attack even more strongly. Is that the correct approach? I dunno ... one could also ask, how did Israel's actions prevent terrorists from killing 8 Yeshiva Bochers ... but really, we shouldn't make political arguments about this now. What frightens me is the general trend of marginal people attacking educational institutions: whether its nuts with guns in the US or terrorists in Israel. What's happening here?

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