Tuesday, July 29, 2008


FL News

Bob Butterworth resigned today.

Does anybody know whether this was planned or whether there's some DFC fecal matter about to hit the air displacement unit? The news reports have been confusing: Bob Butterworth's saying he never planned on taking this position for any length of time and the governor supposedly was begging Butterworth to stay, but somehow this seems to have come right out of the blue as far as I can tell.

I guess I'll get the skinny on what went down in shul this next Shabbos. But until then ... do any of y'all know anything about our politics down here in FL?


Also, if any of y'all readers are local yokels, remember to vote in the judicial election. A certain highly incompetent Jeb Bush appointee needs to be voted out of office ... I'd mention her name, but she's pretty vindictive and is probably searching the blogs for mentions of her name and making an enemies' list based therein (and the last thing I need is to be on somebody's enemies' list): I reckon though her ego wouldn't let her search for phrases like "highly incompetent Jeb Bush appointee", so she'll not get wind of this posting (as that many people read my blog anyway that it'll have an effect on the election).

Still ... if you know who and what I'm talking about -- get out and vote this August and vote the bum-ette out!

Sunday, July 27, 2008


Weekly Parsha Blogging

I've already discussed the notion of essential vs. existential threats and the question of why the commanded war against Midian was such a danger. I'd like to add -- the real threat is not the person who tries to fight you but the one who tries to seduce you into sin. We should think about this in considering "Jewish loving" right and their siren song of seduction.

Some other points --

(1) why did Moses issue such a stern command? The Eitz Chaim Humash points out that Moses might have been concerned about being seen as partial toward the Midianites given his marriage ... this is kinda like how some people in the media who really do think themselves to be liberal (and it shows, thus lending credence to conservative claims about a liberal media) go out of their way to be "objective" by skewering liberals and promoting conservatives.

(2) was the command of genocide ever carried out? what are we to infer from the Torah's silence on this?

(3) assuming the Torah is not historical -- what does it mean that the Torah should describe this "event" and not history? what lesson are we to take?

(4) should we follow the Torah and be better about having "purification rituals" to help soldiers reintegrate into society? even as we are generous toward are veterans (perhaps not enough, but still), we still don't give them perhaps what they need to become civilians again -- I know too many scarred veterans ... OTOH, we do celebrate militarism (see Rev. RMJ's latest post) -- we cheer soldiers who return but we don't really give them rituals of return besides some empty cheering. this is what patriotism is?


Different Day, Same Old #@$%

This morning on NPR, I heard about Israel yet again deciding to conduct some sort of raid on Hamas militants, killing some wanted man (how come they never can manage to bring these people to trial as demanded by Pirke Avos?). Of course, Israel says "this is the West Bank, the cease fire's about Gaza" whilst Hamas is sabre rattling ... and everybody wonders whether this action by Israel means that the cease-fire might not hold anymore ... some even say, in spite of Israel's claim of "l'havdil" Israel did violate the cease-fire which has resulted in a sharp reduction in the rocket attacks from Gaza onto Southern Israel ... yada yada yada ... yet again --

What? Hold on there! "Sharp Reduction"?!?. You thought what I met by "different day, same old #$@%" was a complaint about Israel's stupid addiction to vengeance and retaliation that only feeds into Hamas' strategy of making Israel be widely seen as too violent and too eager to go back on peace agreements that way Hamas gets to keep the position of power (at least in playing the trump card of violence) whilst undermining any hope of real peace for Israel (and if you don't want a peaceful Israel where we Jews can live in peace ... I don't care how 'big' you want Israel to be, in my book that makes you an anti-Semite and not a friend of Israel).

Nope! Yet again, NPR buried the lede, which isn't Israel's action but that fact that this so-called cease-fire didn't really result in a cessation of fire! Yet again, NPR, et al. will report such that everyone will believe Israel "broke" the cease-fire when in reality Hamas has broken it from the get-go! And people wonder why we Jews think there might be some anti-Semitic double standards in regards to coverage about Israel?

No. I've not gone all Likudnik on you all. What Israel did seems profoundly stupid. Nu? The guy they killed is a militant. But why go after him now? Why make sure that Israel is seen as the one who is not committed to peace? Of course, some would argue "they" would hate us anyway ... but maybe, perhaps, new anti-Semites aren't inevitable but get "recruited" in part by the ability of anti-Semites to use Israel's stupid actions to argue to impressionable folk about what kind of people we Jews are? You say "shanda fur dem Goyim" is a retrograde attitude? I say there is a such thing as Hillul Hashem -- we need to do everything to make sure we Jews (and the state with which we are associated) does everything as above board as possible. We should stop being so dedicated to "retaliation" and "showing strength" that we play right into Hamas' hands (you think they don't take into account that Israel keeps doing the same thing? I know -- "what if Israel didn't show strength, it'd be that much worse" ... oh really? how do we know?).

Was killing one militant worth potentially ending a so-called cease-fire that has resulted in very real gains of security against mortar attacks? Was taking the life of this militant worth endangering the lives of many Israelis who could be victims of retaliation? I'm sure many people in the USA will think so, but they are not the potential victims of retaliation, are they?

That being said -- NPR and similar news organizations ought to at least get the story right and not bury the lede. The cease-fire was not a cease-fire if there was still firing! NPR should be ashamed of itself for burying that lede so that everyone will think Israel broke the cease-fire when the cease-fire was already broken!


Update: Meanwhile, I guess I could be like Atrios with his "wanker of the day" and make awards for duck-fondler of the day. Except that it would be so tedious as the award would always either have to go to Israel (for it's continued ability to look weak and undermine its security whilst trying so hard to look strong and to be more secure by, e.g., "attacking militants" and "responding to violence" ... here's a hint ... if you're always in "response" mode, you look weak!), the Democratic party (for obvious reasons ... the Dems are the Israel of American politics it seems sometimes -- maybe this is why many of us Jews are Dems?) and China (what can you say about a place so keen to give the world a good Olympic experience it is denying clubs permits to perform live music, when an influx of tourists might actually have a better experience, and spend more money in China, if they get live music? Of course I heard this story on NPR, c.f. above, so who knows what NPR has left out of the story!).

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


I Made It!

At least as a runner up to COTW. Interestingly, this is far, IMHO, from the funniest thing I've posted at the Curmudgeon. I guess I lack the ability to judge my work with any objective distance? Or maybe the competition was lower this time around?

Anyway, I guess I'll have a shot of Powers tonight to celebrate.

Sunday, July 20, 2008


Pinchas Blogging, Round III

A few notes (what I actually ensermoned, after summarizing my planned sermon, since the Friday night sermonizer stole some of my thunder on the subject of transitions in Pinchas):

* Of course, one thing important in providing smooth transitions of power is the continuity of tradition (c.f. the arguments by Burke about "British phlegm" being necessary for democracy -- if we want to export democracy, we can't do it by force, but we must first export this "phlegmatism"?) ... nu? thus the placement of all the sacrificial discriptions in this last week's parsha of transition?

* Why the more severe response commanded of Israel to the Midianites? Unlike the Egyptians and the Edomites who presented "existential threats" to Israel, the Midianites presented an "essential threat" to Israel? And the Moabites, when presenting such a threat did so out of fear, but the Midianites did so out of hatred ... what are we to make of this today? Are the real threats to Israel the supposed existential threats against it (which are, IMHO, highly overstated considering that we in the US somehow managed to have a cold, not hot, war with a bunch of crazy, pinko commies who had the bomb) or the internal threats eating away at Israel?

If one is a Zionist, then the whole point of the Jewish state is to have a place of refuge where we Jews don't have to live in fear. Nu? Doesn't the fearmongering of the right in Israel (or similarly here) constitute an essential threat? Doesn't the argument "we have to do what we have to do to survive, so let's throw out our morals and traditional liberties" constitute an essential threat? Doesn't the whispering in our ears by seducers from another religion saying "we'll 'support' you ... and you know what we'll support" resemble that of the Midianites seducing Hebrews into the orgies at Baal Peor? Even the argument that we should write off the Judaism of most Jews in the name of Tahorkheit is an essential threat.

Nu? Perhaps it is these "essential" threats -- the seduction of fearfulness and that we should give up our morals and standards in the name of "survival" -- that are more of a danger than the very real, if not existential threats that Israel, the US and we the Jewish people all face?

Friday, July 18, 2008


Pinchas Blogging: Round II (The Sermoning)

Fundamentally Parshas Pinchas is about the change in Leadership for the Change in Generations: Pinchas assumes the mantle of priesthood, although part of that is to keep him in line and channel his energies positively (c.f. Jewish legends about thieves whose skill is put to good use, etc. also c.f. how Levi becomes the priestly tribe in the first place). Joshua readies to receive the mantle of political leadership from Moses (and the split between Church and State in Israel becomes more complete as each is no longer headed by the brother of the other ... ooh -- internal rhyme!). And we have the daughters of Zelophohad for whom a new commandment is created that way they can have an inheritance: a passing of property to a new generation.

Meanwhile, in the prophetic reading, we have Elisha receiving the mantle of prophecy from Elijah. And even Hashem gets in on the act -- no longer is he the thunderous divinity of Sinai (too easy to confuse with the storm god Baal -- c.f. another prophetic reading: "no longer am I to be called your Master but only your Spouse") but God is now the still small voice of conscience. And do recall this, for example (in re. Erubim 13b).

I'm still polishing this up (and will probably deliver large parts of this simply extemporaneously as is my wont), but the above will be pretty much on what I'm sermonizing tomorrow.


NPR Blogging

Last night: "even the liberal NPR thinks the liberal media gives better coverage to Obama than McCain". Funny, they didn't mention anything about the nature of that coverage (positive or negative or concern trolling). And then NPR proceeded itself to give McCain's side of the story on just about everything.

Of course, they did call B.S. on McCain's "we need to apply the lessons of Iraq in Afghanistan" statement (although there was no challenge concerning the efficacy of the Great and Wonderful Surge(TM) opposed by Obama -- 'cause he's an defeato-crat or islamofascist sympathizer or something). Indeed, the liberal NPR displayed extreme liberal bias in having an expert, with direct experience in the military in both Afghanistan and Iraq explain the dealeo.

If you can dig up this story (my skillz with the great gazoogle are less than stellar), do listen to it. Especially "pro-Israeli" types should listen to it because many of the expert's "lessons from Iraq" apply very much to Israel's situation vis-a-vis Palestinian insurgents. Of course, what the expert (I forget his name) said goes 100% against what the "get tough on the Pals" crowd says. Which goes to show that for all of their "we're the non-naive ones" talk, they are either awfully ignorant of what works and what doesn't ... or, they just don't care about actual results or peace for Israel but about vengeance.

I understand why some Jews might feel like a little bit of vengeance after all through which we've been. But the Torah forbids it, so we should be Jews about it. Nu? The world isn't civilized? As the Talmud says, where others do not behave as humans, strive to be human. And let's stop with this "Israel should be tough and we need a US President who 'understands' this, no matter how bad he may be for the US" (and these same people complain when others accuse us Jews of "dual loyalty"?) -- we don't need to wave around our collective dicks ... we need results, which are to be achieved "not by might and not by power, but by the divine spirit".

Remember the Prophets were political advisors. And they spoke words of Truth. And they didn't advise Israel to try and make sure Egypt would remain an ally against Assyria. Nor did they advocate militaristic responses. Let's go with what is in our Teachings and with what works rather than pointless tough talk.

Monday, July 14, 2008


More Niebelungekeit

Ein Troll ist beinahe ein Niebelung. Eine was für Troll nicht ist.

Bonus German: one possible translation of troll into German is "Schleppangel". Maybe this would have a different connotation in German as English Yiddish, but it sure is interesting to think of trolls as schleppers, eh?

Update -- corrected.

Sunday, July 13, 2008


Hoping it would get attention ...

... I made the following, off topic comment at Eschaton:

A conservative friend of mine was asking about how us liberal types feel about Obama "pointing" a lot with his finger and almost "wagging" it.

I hadn't noticed this, but now that he mentions it, I know what he means.

We liberals have an image of being "elitists" and "condescending" (how is it that people think of GW Bush as being perchance arrogant but view Obama as "condescending"?). Perhaps part of the problem is the body language of our candidates?

Does Obama have people looking at these things in order to change that? Of course, if Obama changes that, then we'll get to hear how "slick" he is ...


Another thing -- how come many "conservative" Democrats, e.g. in the Midwest, identify as "social conservatives but economic liberals" then go and support candidates who are really no less socially conservative than the candidates they deem "too liberal" but who are more economically conservative than "the liberal candidate"? Then they ask why Dems emphasize social over economical liberalism?

Sorry to be an elitist, condescending liberal, but what is up with the lower information voters?

Meanwhile, I have a hodgepodge of "Give me money (that's what I want)", "What I say" and "That's alright Mama" in my head. Whatever happened to having acid jazz and Chicago blues style versions of "Dark Holler Blues" in my head?


Pinchas Blogging Round I

(perchance this will not be like History of the World, Part I but there will actually be a "round II" based on my planned sermon regarding Pinchas, Elijah and transfers of power in Torah and Pirkei Avos -- I'm not promising anything ... but I guess it's fair that I have some extra blogging concering my Bar Mitzvah parsha!)

Earlier this year in what I pretty much deemed to be "round 0" of Pinchas blogging, I talked, amongst other things, as to "you shall know them by their fruits". In general, I would say one thing that puzzles us Jews about Christianity is the level of detail given by Christian scriptures about legal issues. Christianity, not being "legalistic" has a tendancy, from a Jewish point of view to stop at a very odd level of detail.

To give an example, I'll use Jesus' comments about "you shall know them by their fruits" where he makes the analogy and then goes on to make a categorical statement about trees and fruits. Imagine a Jewish source on this subject, though. Torah does pretty much say "you shall know them by their fruits" but doesn't really elaborate even as much as the Sermon on the Mount does. Such a statement in Mishna would similarly be cryptic and not even fully state the analogy. Our Prophets and Wisdom literature would fully state the analogy but not elaborate even as much as Jesus does.

Could you imagine the Midrashim that could be written about orchards and fruits that would not only enrich the p'shat (literal meaning) of "you shall know them by their fruits" and explicate the ramez (allegorical meaning) but also tell the d'rash (extended reading) and illuminate the sod (secret meaning -- together these hermeneutical methods spell out PaRDeS -- a cognate to paradise and alluded to previously on this blog ... PaRDeS of course also is the Persian translation of "Gan" -- as in "Gan Eden" and is used as a synechdoche for sod in particular)?

I similarly imagined this morning what Gemara would do with a Mishna including the passage "you shall know them by their fruit":

This means that just as a good tree bears good fruit and a bad tree bears bad fruit, so it is with prophecy and teaching: a true wise man is noted by the good fruits of his decisions whilst a boor is known by the boorishness of his deeds and words. R. Ishmael, however, asked "does not a good tree occassionally bear rotten fruit?" and the Sages accepted his point. R. Akiba said "does not a bad tree occassionally bear good fruit?". The sages responded, that would be a sign or wonder. R. Assi added, the Holy One, praised be He, regularly works such miracles.

R. Akiba stated "many trees are poisonous but for their fruits, which are delectible". R. Eliezar ben Hyrcanus wondered if one ought to eat the fruit of a poison tree. R. Meir taught in a Baraisa "trees which are entirely poisonous but for their fruits have been created by the Creator just for the purpose of their fruits: the poison is the back of the tree but the fruits of the tree are its face".

Abaye asked, "does not the grower of apples plant apple trees?" Why did the Sages not teach "you shall know what fruit you will get by knowing the trees"? Rava responded, for all the reasons thus given. R. Papa added "we give the good field a benefit of the doubt as to the quality of its barley and do not destroy the field for one bad ear". Reish Lakish said "we should be cautious about, but not prejudiced against, the fruit from an orchard built on bad soil." R. Yochanan, applying the teachings of Hillel, added "this is the importance of having a good name".

[And so on with more aggaddah, etc.].

Does Christianity have anything like this? Certainly they have their Bible stories much like Midrash Rabba, but how much d'rash (drawing out) do those stories do? And, while the Sermon on the Mount explicates the notion, as old as Torah, of "you shall know them by their fruits", it stops at an awkward place, making a key insight of pragmatic Hebraic morality take a very un-Hebraic aretaic turn. Does Christianity have any sources that either stop at the degree of detail given in Hebraic "Biblical" literature or, not stopping, actually bothering to explain the matter in full instead of stopping at an awkward place thus going so far in categorically arguing for a position they ultimately argue against the world-view of that position?

Is the issue, though, one of the chain of transmission (c.f. "blessed are the cheesemakers" in Life of Brian) -- perhaps Jesus, a Jew, did go into more detail, but all we have is what the gospel writers, whose interests were not pragmatic but rather rhetorical, deemed fit to actually record of a tradition which is now lost? In any case, what does get written down and what does not is indicative of the world view at hand, is it not?

Thursday, July 10, 2008


Worth Reading

... the comments too: a discussion of left-wing politics, anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, sorta.

... and WestEndGal nails it: why we Jews distrust the left as anti-Semitic. Still, read on ... there is some interesting commentary (including, if I do say so myself, by yours truly) as we go on.

Also, David Schraub's critique of left wing privilege is exactly what I'm getting at when I refer to the Puritanism of some of the left. Some on the left are like Puritans if they would have taken more heed of the Beatitudes: the meek, the poor, et al. possess the kingdom of heaven, therefore they are the elected saints. The "privileged" are sinners ... and the left gets to decide who is elect and who isn't. P.J. O'Rourke (and me in the thread under discussion) link this attitude to Marxism, but it is also Puritanism. It's also why, as I point out in the linked thread, the left lacks traction where it should have it -- at the very least, why would Southerners and (spiritual) descendents of Cavaliers go for (New England) Puritanical thinking?

Remember folks, Puritanism was not, pace later conceptions of it, all about teh hawt sex or avoidance thereof: even still, note the obsessions of the left no less than the oft-called Puritanical right about sexual mores ... some of which no doubt represent reasonable applications of "the personal is political" whilst some represent the degree to which such a statement belongs with the Puritans and Nesbitt rather than on the left.

I should also point out that part of why Jews, working class white, etc. might "blame" liberals and moonbats more for their "Puritanism" than they blame conservatives is that nobody expects anything but a vigorous defense of privilege from the right. From the left people expect more (which is why charges of liberal hypocrisy stick so well but IOKIYAR, so to speak) and when they don't get it, it "rankles". And if the left rights off underprivileged groups as nonetheless privileged, should the left be surprised when those groups say "if we're privileged, then let's take up the right wing politics that maintain privilege"?

To use a book title of yore -- some left-thinking people are wont to declaim that Kansans are privileged and then, when Kansans vote GOP in spite of on what side their economic bread is buttered, they whine and complain "what's the matter with Kansas?". Let's leave pissing in the wind and complaining about it raining to the political right (who are so much better at it than we ... and it's bad enough that they project their skill at it onto us ... need we engage in it in reality as well?) shall we?


Update: I received the "poem" from my wife's shul's listserv. I don't agree with it -- we Jews have a duty to be humans where others are not. But still, there is something very important about this sentament. For the "left", the behavior of Israel is beyond the norms of "civilization". But what if civilization is itself suspect? Some on the left would reject this "narrative" in its entirety and shut down any conversation about it. Some on the left, who are empathetic toward almost everyone and would happily excuse all sorts of wrong-doing because "those poor, persecuted souls had no other option", would lack empathy for the point of view expressed below and not excuse the rejection of civilized norms by Ms. Regen. Why the blind-spot? What's the difference? And many on the left wonder why so many Jews, traditionally so left-leaning, don't trust the left?

Naomi Ragen

I was a new oleh when the PFLP and two Germans hijacked a plane
full of Israelis to Entebbe. I remember well those nail-biting
days, the moral dilemma of freeing dangerous terrorists for live
hostages; the idea that negotiations would just lead to more
hijackings. But what other choice did we have? After all, they
were in Uganda, so far away .

We found a way.

I will never forget the morning of July 4, 1976, waking up to the
news. Our soldiers had gone in, at great personal risk. They had
saved almost everyone, and killed the terrorists. We were not
helpless victims anymore, the Jews. No, we were clever, and
resourceful and courageous. We showed the world how to behave.
We led the way.

I wake up this morning of July 16, 2008 with quite another
feeling. Our soldiers, kidnapped on our own land, not across any
international border, are brought back to us in caskets after two
years of sadistic playfulness with the hearts of their families
by Hezbollah terrorists, who led us to believe they were alive.
And in exchange for dead bodies, we turn over a despicable
baby-killer, Sami Kuntar.

Oh, you will hear the boosters of the Israeli government sigh.
What can we do? We are civilized and they are not. We care
about our soldiers and their families.

No, I'm afraid you do not. If you cared, then you would have a
death penalty for people like Kuntar, so that they too can be
released in caskets. And if you cared, you would be intelligent
enough, seeing our soldiers brought back to us dead, to have put
a bullet through Kuntar and then turned him over to his friends.

Civilized is a euphemism for weak and helpless. Civilized is not
a moral value, because we all know what Western civilization is
capable of. Concentration camps. Civilian round-ups, the gassing
of children. All this under the banner of laws and policemen and
governments. On the other hand, the moral thing to do to a tried
and convicted murderer like Kuntar is to spill his blood, because
he has spilled the blood of others. That may not fit in with
current civilized niceties, but let no one say it is immoral.

When it comes to immoral, to release Kuntar to a hero's welcome
and the opportunity to murder others is on the top of the scale.

My government, the Israeli government, arranged this. They let
it happen. They oversaw it and implemented it.

I am deeply ashamed to be an Israeli today. And I'm not very
proud of being a Jew either, if this is how a Jewish country
behaves. To lead the world in ever more despicable acts of
appeasement is nothing to be proud of. The torch we always
carried, the "light unto the nations" has been blown out by the
hot-air of our politicians.

If we cared about our soldiers, we would not be showing our
enemies that kidnapping and terrorism pay. We would not be
setting the stage for the next murderous terrorist raid and
hostage standoff. We would be passing laws with a mandatory
death penalty for convicted terrorists with blood on their hands,
as well as their accomplices. We would be making these laws
retroactive. Then, we would be cutting off all water and
electricity to Gaza until Gilad Shalit is released. If that
didn't work, we'd begin executions within one week, increasing
the number convicted terrorists facing firing squads with each
passing day until Gilad is returned to us safe and sound. And if
that didn't work, we would begin daily bombings of Gaza, with the
same number and frequency of attacks that our own city Sderot has
suffered over the past three years from the Gazans. Not
civilized? Perhaps. But moral. Extremely moral.

My fantasy is that Israelis will rise up and overturn the
political system which has left them with the dregs of their
nation as leaders- a bunch of self-serving crooks and syncophants
who will do anything to stay in office; an electoral system in
which a party like Kadima, with its collection of felons and
moral imbeciles , who got only 23% of the vote, is allowed to
rule us into the ground. We have Mr. Olmert, and Ms. Livni, and
Mr. Peres, and Mr. Ramon (a convicted sex offender, who is now
in line to take over from Olmert) and many, many others to thank,
for creating this day of infamy.

May G-d redeem us from them.


Balak B-logging

Again ... an actual "weekly parsha blogging" entry during the week of the parsha! Don't expect this to become a habit, though.

Anyway, just something short -- this week's parsha contains the verse (Numbers 24:2 -- describing what Balaam saw in the Israelite camp) from which the R. Yohannan deduces that one has a right to privacy (BT Bava Batra 60a) ... I think there might be a more direct verse about this elsewhere in the Torah, but the Talmud cites this verse.

Also of interest (via the JTS e-mail I get via my wife's shul's listserv): the theological meaning of Garfield without Garfield (warning -- link might not work on Mozilla Firefox ... which seems to alas be happening more and more often nowadays ... oy gevalt! first Lynx goes by the wayside, now Mozilla Firefox).

Wednesday, July 09, 2008


With apologies to Nietzsche (and Wagner) ...

... ein Niebelung ist beinahe schon ein Troll (I guess).

Again I have been mistaken for a regressive sexist pig-troll on a feminist site simply because I dared question the Puritanism (which they would mis-understand and attribute to the right) of the place. While I know "Timmy" (IIRC, that's what Nate calls him on these here internets, so I'll continue that tradition -- and, I am aware of all internet traditions. I hope "Timmy" doesn't mind me quoting this personal communication ... I figure I'm not divulging anything here anyway) questions my facebook identification of being "very liberal", I might boast that where I deviate from political correctness is not because I am less than liberal (although it is where I am "conservative", c.f. various posts on this here blog) I see the face (to use the language of Talmudic aggaddah) of liberalism whereas the others see the back of liberalism.

To whit, the issue at hand: there seem to be some in the feminist community that seem to feel that, I guess as redress for a history of men using and objectifying women, that the tables should now turn (Talmudic allusion not intended) and men should now be, and only be, at the, um, service of women. But (watch out for the Puritanism) a man should not feel any pleasure at being of service or, shall we say, pride in a job well done -- because then "it becomes about the man's ego" which is teh evil. I'm all for a bit of affirmative action to redress past wrongs, but this is a bit ridiculous.

Maybe I'm getting something wrong because I'm new to this sort of thing but it seems to me that healthy relationships are based on compromise. Healthy relationships are based on give and take. To expect one person to make changes without being meant half-way is patently unfair and sexist -- whether you expect the man to make changes or the woman to make changes.

How is it being sexist and regressive to ask that if one person in a relationship asks another to change, that person should be willing to change as well? How is it sexist to expect your partner to meet you half way? How is it sexist to expect that a woman take some degree of charge of her own wants, desires and needs and to actually bother to communicate them rather than expecting us men to magically know what our partners needs are? If anything, the so-called feminists were devolving into stereotypes about women themselves.

I guess I'm very lucky to have married such a lovely woman who believes in communication and in partnership. Some people who you'd think would be the first to believe in equality and partnership evidently are not -- and label you a regressive, sexist troll-pig just for being a Niebelung ;)

Sunday, July 06, 2008


Our Works Testify to Our Faith

I heard the song Fashioned in Clay (scroll down for lyrics) on Midnight Special last night. It's kinda how a Jew might respond to the notion of "justification by faith" isn't it? Suppose we are justified by our faith? How do we show our faith? our hopes? We show our faith by doing works.

Saturday, July 05, 2008


That's in Judaism?

Commentary related to this last week's parsha contains a lot of concepts we typically don't associate with Judaism. For example, linked to the subject of the relation between the death of Miriam and the sacrificial ritual of the Red Hefer, the Talmud (alas I forgot the citation) claims that the death of the righteous atones just as a sacrifice does (although Jewish tradition is meritocratic -- the death of all righteous atones for sin -- and it gives a mechanism rather different than Christianity does). Implicit in both the positive and the negative results of Jepthah's legalistic wranglings as well as the association between his legalism and his being freebooting whoreson is a critique of legalism that could come from Paul of Tarsis.

Interestingly, a similar line of thinking (that Halacha is only seeing the back of God's head and that in seeing the face of the matter, R. Meir, e.g., could even see how the Tahor was really Tamei and the Tamei was really Tahor, c.f. the story of Lepers breaking the Aramean siege in Kings but also c.f. the aggadah on R. Eliezer in Baba Metzia 59a, IIRC the citation, as well as what happened to R. Meir's teacher when he went into the Pardes) was pursued in the Talmud we studied this last Shabbos (Eruvin 13b, IIRC the citation).

What is the meaning of this implicit critique of legalism within the Jewish, legalistic tradition? Is it like the role of "mu" and the koans in Zen Buddhism? Is it to help break our minds of dualistic thinking so that we may truly believe in divine unity?

Of course, the reference to Pardes, which can be a synonym for Gan as in Gan Eden is interesting: human evolution took a decisive step when we humans "ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil" and broke with our evolution as animals to become moral agents, etc. But the next step in evolution (c.f. Ken Wilbur) is the evolution of consciousness to "Moshiach consciousness" in which we go beyond good and evil (c.f. Nietzsche) and binary thinking -- and thus we return to the Garden of Eden in the Messianic days (as we no longer are "corrupted" by our eating from the tree of knowledge, but we return as in our full potential as humans rather than as mere animals, c.f. 2001, A Space Odyssee).

But what is the danger? Well, it's obvious -- those who go into the Pardes don't come out fully right. Even a success story like R. Akiba ended up going and supporting Bar Kochba, and we all know how that turned out ... of course, what does it mean in this context that Pardes is a word of Persian origin? That it's original meaning in Persian is "enclosure" (not a very non-dualistic notion -- as an enclosure marks boundaries, thus back to Tahor vs. Tamei ... of course, c.f. the dual meaning of the Hebrew word Eruv, a boundary itself is a place of mixing, also c.f. various references in the Bible to both "gates" and liminal spaces). Another thing to note is that either/or thinking sometimes does have a place -- witness the "enemy combatant" issue: wouldn't it be better if we just classed people caught on battlefields, etc. as "POWs" (who have rights under Geneva Conventions) vs. "suspected terrorists" (who would receive due process of law under our Constitution) than to have the legal limbo we currently have? And c.f. the famous argument between Roper and More in A Man for All Seasons on the importance of the Forest of Laws to keep us safe (as opposed to the BushCO approach of cutting down laws to get at Satan).

Another note is the substance of Jepthah's, who seems like a rather typical revisionist Zionist in his arguments, negotiations. In that his argument is pretty sound, what does that say about similar arguments used by Israelis against the Palestinian side? In that the enemies of Israel are not arguing in good faith, what does that say about similar arguments made by enemies of Israel today? OTOH, given who it is that makes these arguments and what happens later to his daughter, what does that say about the kinds of people who make the more extreme Zionist argument and what will happen to our daughters (and sons) if we follow their lines of thinking?

Wednesday, July 02, 2008


In Case Prof Wombat (*) Wanders Over ...

A blast from the past, reposted in its entirety --

... we read the famous story where R. Eliezer disagrees with the majority and appeals to divine revelation, which rules in his favor. Whereupon R. Joshua and R. Jeremiah (a Karaite conspiracy theorist would have a field day with these names being "used" by the Gemarah to voice this opinion) famously respond that the Torah, having been given at Sinai is now ours to interpret according to reason.

Religious liberals often use this story as justification for modifying the law for our own time -- the Torah was given to us at Sinai and it is now ours to interpret. However, within the context of the Talmud (Bava Metzia, Folio 59), it is R. Eliezar's opinion which is lenient (although in general, R. Eliezar was rather strict and austere). The reasonable majority is actually being, in the view of us liberals, rather un-reasonably conservative. We liberals would do well to remember that the Puritans (and to some degree certain quarters of liberalism are more Puritan than they'd like to think) came out of the Age of Reason and that many of the tropes of modern fundamentalism emerged from the Enlightenment: a faith in reason is not necessarily a liberal faith.

And interestingly, even though R. Eliezar is excommunicated, this is depicted as something that leads to all sorts of further calamities because R. Eliezar does seem to have a hotline to God. So is the Talmud, which elsewhere celebrates R. Eliezar (a very enigmatic figure, actually -- feel free to discuss this in comments: my thoughts on the subject are not yet coherent, otherwise I'd say more here), really trying to place reason above revelation? Or is the real liberal lesson of the Talmud that God doesn't like it when reason, tradition and majority rule are used to justify un-reasonable demands of religious orthodoxy?

Remember, of course, this story comes within a discussion of why you should be very careful with what you say lest you embarrass someone so much their blood runs from their face, which would be tantamount to physically shedding blood. Which teaching comes in the context of laws against price-fraud. So how does this all connect? Hmm ... what think y'all?

-- so y'all can feel free to comment on this and figure that I might see it.

Also, of course, c.f. the wikipedia entry on R. Eliezer and note the possible connection to Christianity and remember that Jesus very much came from the Priestly tradition (as I've discussed on this here blog and elsewhere) and that, pace Paul, Jesus "came to fulfil the law not to abrogate it" according to even the Christian Bible -- the early Jesus movement was rather quite different than what we know today as Christianity and strains of that early movement (Ebionites, etc.) did persist for some time and no doubt could have influence R. Eliezer, both in his austerity and when he was a strict constructionist and ruled things tahor as in the example above.


* referencing the exchange, at least the parts between Prof. Wombat and myself, from here, or perhaps better here, down ... quoted below is the relevant part of my blog post related to the sermon I reference:

One thing that caught my eye (there is a pun intended, as you, the reader, will soon see), though is the Sh'ma. It is the custom of many to cover our eyes when saying the first verse of the Sh'ma. Normally this is justified as a method to ensure concentration in reading this very important verse witnessing God's unity. But there is another possible explanation. The Baal Shem Tov once said something to the effect of "the world is filled with wonders and miracles yet man takes his little hand and covers his eyes and sees nothing". It is important to recognize the God's wonder in creation, but that is a relatively simple task. What is more complicated is, when facing a catastrophe or even an essential threat, as Israel faces today (more on what I mean by "essential threat" should be coming on this blog soon), to still see God. The Deuteronomist was inspired to commit these words of witness to the scroll at a time when Judah was perhaps doomed by the Babylonian threat. He also wrote of the importance of not "testing" God with demands for miracles. If we can manage to still be witness to God's unity and glory, even when we cannot see the Divine presence, if only because we have covered our eyes to block out the miracles all around us, then we truly demonstrate our faith when we say its watchword. The Deuteronomic school taught us not to offer sacrifices in local, inherently heathen (cf. the origin of the word "heathen") shrines, but also gave us rituals that allowed us to transcend sacrificial worship at even the centralized shrine, so that we could still witness God's unity even in the absence of seeing the wondrous land which God had promised us. When we cover our eyes during the Sh'ma, we fulfill the true purpose of the Deuteronomist, to worship God even in God's apparent absence.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008


Even the Liberal Brookings Institution ...

NPR had someone from the Brookings Institution talking about the legal issues in re. Gitmo, etc. (evidently he's hawking a book he wrote on the matter). He made sure to dis the Pres. so that way the Brookings Institution could continue to be dismissed as a liberal bastion of Bush hatred so that way when we moonbats go further left of Brookings (*) we'll be met with the rejoinder "even the liberal Brookings Institution".

OTOH, his views were, in the sense in which I am conservative, rather liberal -- he indicated that Congress needs to work out new laws to deal with our new situation in the war on terror. But is that the case? What new laws (or executive procedures ... BushCO is hardly being "conservative" here) do we need?

It seems to me that we have the legal framework we need to deal with terrorists: we capture "enemy combatants" and quickly classify them as "prisoners of war" or "criminal suspects" (not subject to standard due process procedures but subject to appropriate review and classification switching later on). Those who are POWs get Geneva Conventions. Those who are "criminal suspects" get tried as criminals with appropriate legal procedures and review. I don't get what the difficulty here is ... it isn't as if we've not managed to figure out ways to prosecute international terrorists before that we need new laws under which to prosecute them ....

The issue is not that Congress needs to pass laws to guide the executive branch in how to deal with suspected terrorists. The issue is that BushCO has failed to enforce the wonderful system of laws we already have because they side with, to allude to A Man for All Seasons, Roper over More. Given BushCO more laws to guide them won't make a difference ... how could it when they, either as a matter of political convenience/nefariousness or due to a sincere ideological faith (c.f. Paul's Epistle to the Romans), don't fundamentally believe in the rule of law?

* if Brookings, which I generally respect, is liberal, that would make someone like me "very liberal", regardless of my views on the Arab/Israeli conflict, doesn't it?


Korach and Legislation of Morality

Historically Evangelicals have been amongst the greatest supporters of religious liberty (and indeed, their antecedents, were the primary force behind what would become the 1st Ammendment). Yet now we associate Evangelical-friendly politics with a desire to legislate morality. What is the connection, if any?

I would suggest that in each case, the Evangelical claim is that of Korach -- that the mantle of priesthood falls on all people, both individually and collectively. Moral authority does not rest with "experts" but with everyone. But when moral authority rests with the demos by whose will laws are made, then moral authority can rest with the democracy. Am I the only one who sees the slippery slope here? As much as the ideal government is a democratic republic (and as much as Judaism democratizes morality by making sure everyone understands, engages, debates, etc., the laws they are to follow as a nation of priests), it must have limits in the moral sphere as morality is not subject to democracy, hence moral law should be beyond the scope of democratic legislation.

Consider the case of abortion: Judaism may say that under some appropriate measure of the probability space whose outcomes are unwanted pregnancies "most abortions are wrong". And Halacha supplies a Way (pun intended) to decide which abortions are wrong, which are allowable and which are Mitzvos. But whose authority is it to make that decision and to provide advice in that decision: the physician is an expert on medicine, the Rabbi on Halacha and the woman herself is entrusted as the steward of the body God has given her. Thus, the decision rests with the woman who should consult her physician and clerical advisor.

And, like in the days of the Torah in which the Priest had to see the leper where he was, both the physician and the clerical advisor, in order to provide true advice, have to place themselves in the shoes of the woman (and make house calls ;) ) and not moralize from a high perch.

But the Korach/"democratic" approach is that morality shouldn't be left to the experts (the physician on matters of health, the cleric on matters of religion, the woman who seeks an abortion on matters of her own body which only she ultimately knows) but is the sphere of any person. Even those who think that the judgment of morality is ickiness. E.g., in the case of abortion, anti-abortion legislation would inevitably ban late-term abortions (made due to health concerns) that are perfectly morally justifiable as they are oh-so "icky".

The democratic republic is the best form of government around. But God's response to Korach should remind us that democracy means nothing in the absence of liberty and that certain things, such as the determination of moral authority, should remain out of reach of those demogogues who claim merely to want to democratize that which cannot be democratized.

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