Friday, August 22, 2008


The Travails of Taking Public Transport

I'd love to take public transportation to work everyday -- I really would. Especially with gas prices and tolls so high as well as the travails of traffic. I'm even willing to get up an hour earlier because public transport takes more time, and the bus I need to take runs only every hour.

But, in order to take public transportation, I need to be able to walk from the bus stop to my job! Why don't communities have side-walks on more roads?

I also need to know which bus to take. Schematic bus maps indicating only major stops have their roles. But why can't I access a list of all bus stops on my route? And why are some of the online planning sites so very wrong?

If we want to help the environment by encouraging mass transit, we need to actually do things to make mass transit feasible. Not only does this mean more routes more often, but it also means better planning services, more scheduling information and pedestrian access to/from bus/train stops (people need to actually get to public transit, often on foot).

It seems to me we have a large population of under-employed people (I know -- where I lived in Tally was filled with idle young men ... and idle hands are the devil's playthings, as they say): why don't we have a new CCC that'll employ people to build some badly needed infrastructure to really make public transport a possibility for people (e.g. side-walk access to public transportation facilities and also roads with dedicated bus lanes, etc.). And with the information age, there's no excuse for how poor the scheduling of public transport is.

Perhaps maybe a Democratic candidate could remember that we are the party of FDR and propose something bold -- a new deal, so to speak?

Sunday, August 10, 2008


Tisha B'Av Blogging

The question is often raised (I guess this is parallel to the "why should Christians be mad at whomever killed Jesus? after all, without the death of Jesus how would Christianity even exist?" question in Christianity) "why should we lament the destruction(s) of the Temple(s)? after all without the Temple(s) being destroyed, we wouldn't have Rabbinical Judaism as we know and love it". Indeed, some argue that the evolution from a national cult to a universalistic religion was necessary, even if it meant the destruction of the Temple, for Israel to fulfill its role as the "light unto the nations". Some have even gone so far as to argue that, to have "Israel re-enter history" (i.e. as a state) before Moshiach comes (and hence "history" ends) is to betray the role of the Jewish people as "a light unto the nations" and a "holy people" (n.b. the Hebraic distinction between "am", "people", and "goy", nation).

So why do we mourn the destruction of the Temple? As with all things destruction of the Temple related, we must turn to Gittim 55bf and the story of Kamsah and Bar Kamsah (why, btw, is the destruction blamed on Kamsah and Bar Kamsah, when Kamsah isn't even really involved?), which explains how the Temple was destroyed due to senseless hatred (note there are other opinions than those expressed in the link as to why the First Temple was destroyed. Even reading Jeremiah, the issue seems not sexual immorality and such things but rather the need of the land to make up for missed Sabbatical years and the failure of people to ask "where is the Lord?", i.e. the issue was environmental and economic immorality coupled with, literally, self-righteousness).

However, the Talmud itself, while discussing the issue of senseless hatred actually blames the destruction of the Temple on something else, "The humility of R. Zekharya ben Avkolus", or more precisely, "the scrupulousness of R. Zekharya b. Avkolus" (also remember "too humble is half proud"). The Temple wasn't (just) destroyed due to senseless hatred, but due to, at every step of the way, from Bar Kamsah not letting well enough alone (maybe that's why he wasn't liked? nu? maybe the hatred against him was senseless, but a minor dislike wouldn't have been? I imagine Bar Kamsah to be a well meaning, and fwiw very rich, chap who is a bit awkward in his social manner ... maybe a bit of an Aspie. nu? maybe the issue is accepting people as they are and not letting one's discomfort with their quirks devolve into hatred) to the horrendous sin of ommission of the Rabbis in not raising an objection to the treatment of Bar Kamsah to Bar Kamsah's desire for revenge (maybe people sensed this demon inside of him and reacted to it -- which reactions are always self-fulfilling prophecies?) to the very actions of R. Zekharya b. Avkolus, who's very strictness in attempting to maintain the sacrificial cult led to its destruction.

So the reason we mourn the destruction of the Temple, in spite of its "good fruit" is not only to demonstrate that we do not believe the ends justify the means, but also because of how senseless that destruction was. Perhaps the Temple was destroyed because not only did we not need it anymore in our spiritual evolution away from sacrifice and toward Rabbinnic Judaism (and ultimately, hopefully, toward Moshiach consciousness), but the Temple had become an active distraction from that goal.

If R. Zekharya b. Avkolus would have demonstrated a certain amount of tact and thinking about the needs of others (including the need to maintain peace), he would have maybe let the sacrificial offering be sacrificed -- turning a blind eye to the flaw. And that would have demonstrated that we could still have the Temple yet also expand as Jews. OTOH, what instead was demonstrated was that we could not both maintain the sacrificial system and see matters of Tahor and Tamei on their face (c.f. Erubim 13b for this usage). Nu? The sacrificial system had to go.

At first the sacrificial system encouraged spiritual growth. But when it became a distraction, the synagogue had to be destroyed. And we mourn the senselessness of it -- that system didn't have to be a distrction: it could have been everyone getting together for a BBQ and thus praising God with our Fellowship. And when we can demonstrate that a sacrificial system will no longer be a distraction -- that is when Moshiach will come and we can rebuild the Mishkan. When we truly can return to the Lord, in the words of Eicha, than the Lord shall return to us.


OTOH, perhaps R. Yochanan is merely diverting the blame, given his problems with Lashon Ha-rah (e.g. his comments to Reish Lakish in Baba Metzia 84a). BTW -- the legends around R. Yochanan are interesting -- he is pictured as extremely attactive (enough to turn straight men gay and so that the most expensive prostitutes would pay twice their rate to sleep with him). Is this a legend based in fact or a kind of code about something else entirely? Yochanan means "the grace of God", doesn't it? Is the Sod in the legends about R. Yochanan some critical commentary on the doctrine that later Christians would call "irrestible grace"? If so, what is the critique here? And how does this relate to it being "irrestible grace" that blames the destruction of the Temple on "scrupulousness" whilst said grace speaks a fatal Lashon Harah of someone who has turned away from the low-life of his past in order to turn to God?

Meanwhile, it is perhaps a bit ironic that while we Jews, normally thought of as having a law-based religion, blame the destruction of the Temple on a too strict observance of the law (following the letter of the law and not its spirit to use a cliche), while the Christians (pace certain Protestant notions of a "pre-Catholic" Church), whose religion is typically conceived (if you'll pardon the unintended pun) of as being based on "faith" and "grace", fairly quickly established a religion with its own priesthood, Temple (the Vatican), sacrificial system, etc. There is less irony here than one might think, though. While we tend to think of Jesus as representing the "Prophetic" tradition of Judaism (especially in his preaching), he actually, in meeting the sinners where they were (c.f. the commandment of the priest to make "house calls" to visit suspected lepers where they are), is more of the Priestly tradition -- nu? it should be so suprising that the self-appointed heirs to the Great Assembly and hence the Prophets should develop a religion emphasizing following the laws but also which also critiques following the laws in an empty manner, whilst the heir to a Priestly tradition of direct outreach to sinners should be the "god" of a religion that tried to establish a New Jerusalem on the banks of the Tiber?

Saturday, August 09, 2008


Found This Looking for Eicha Trope

Y'all think I'm quite the Epicurean? Well, here's a real Apikorus ... or at least someone claiming to be such. Appropriately enough, recipes are available ;)

Friday, August 08, 2008


Early Yom Kippur Blogging

I decided my response to this was just too long, so I'd blog it rather than leave it as a comment:

Actually the point of Jonah is that, masculine depictions aside, God is a Jewish Mother. I can just imagine if I were ever as whiny as Jonah, my mom giving me the same verbal smackdown as God gives Jonah.

More seriously, isn't the point of Jonah -- I never thought of the tie-in with Daniel ... that's a good point -- almost in the end the same as that of Koheleth as well as Daniel?

Jonah didn't make that tree ... yet he mourns for it as if he did? Mistaking his own selfish needs for the order of the universe is pretty much the reason why he gave to God for fleeing his call -- Jonah needs vengeance as much as he needs shade. Which is actually an interesting comment on the human condition, isn't it?

But back to Koheleth -- why does Jonah need vengeance? Why does he feel the tree is his? He has this almost childish need for "fairness" (note how kids always whine about "you're not being fair" ... and isn't, as many have pointed out, the apocolyptic mode one of wanting God to come down in his divine kingliness and make everything "fair"?). But Koheleth warns us that life is not fair -- "the race does not go to the swift, nor wealth to the wise", etc.

It's interesting that we Jews read Jonah on Yom Kippur. The standard explanation is that the lesson of Jonah is one of the importance of repentance and forgiveness. But the Book of Jonah at a more basic level teaches us that God is not just Malkeinu -- our tough, but just King -- but also is our Parent. And that part of life is accepting that not everything works out according to our human needs for the sinners to get punished and the good to do well.

It's interesting that many think of God, Our King as being the "tough" aspect of God and God, Our Parent as being the loving aspect. Now, you'll never get more loving parents than my own, but when I think of how my parents raised us, there was a certain toughness. A king might hear one of his subjects say "that's not fair -- he took my watch" and the king -- the police, etc., would investigate the matter and, in a truly just kingdom, the kind, or his agents, would punish wrong-doing. OTOH, what would my parents say if I whined to them "that's not fair -- he took my watch"? They'd say -- "if you can't work this out, neither of you gets the watch".

Jonah thought that the tree was his, even though he did nothing to make it come to be. He thinks that he is owed a just universe in which sinner get punished -- on an apocolyptic scale. But God, like a Jewish Mother, knows how Her universe is ... that the arc of justice is very long, perhaps too long: to thousands of generations. And this is the lesson of Jonah ... and Daniel ... and Koheleth ... isn't it?

Wednesday, August 06, 2008



David Brooks' latest column is quite interesting. But it only hints around the issue, although quite cleverly enough that I can guess that Brooks' thesis is exactly what I'm thinking it is ... but Brooks, after the whole neo=Jewish fiasco, just doesn't want to say it.

Obama a "sojourner"? Not really ever "fitting in"? And that's why people don't quite fully "support" Obama? Essentially part of what Obama has going against him is not his race (although there still are, alas, all too many racists about) but his perceived religion. And "Muslim" is merely a code word here for "Jew".

Of course, by "Jew", I don't mean people like me of the Hebrew faith. I mean the "Jew" that anti-Semites would have to invent if we didn't exist.

Interestingly, as pointed out in that New Yorker article everybody ignored because they were too busy arguing about the cover (and even if people paid attention -- all that would happen is that anti-Obama people would say "see, this article proves everything we said about Obama is true" and pro-Obama people would say "nu? what's in here that we didn't know?"), at one time Obama was definitely perceived as a "tool" of "the Jews".

Which makes the constant fretting of certain elements within the Jewish community about Obama quite ironic. However, this fretting is merely a synecdoche for how these elements view anti-Semitism as a whole ... they are so paranoid about it, they view any criticism of Israel as possibly being anti-Semitic yet at the same time they get into bed (no matter what diseases they could catch, so to speak) with some people who truly are anti-Semites.

If I were a sociologist, I think I could write a book and get tenure here ...

Sunday, August 03, 2008


Weekly Parsha Blogging: Jeremiad Edition

Notes from which I gave the sermon yesterday:

(n.b. can only trace this to Gerald Heard, but I know ternary classification here predates him) Western, Indian and Chinese civilizations may be distinguished by which questions their philosophies primarily seek to answer. In the West, seeking the answer of "where am I?" leads to a focus on the external world -- to science, etc. In India, seeking the answer to "who am I?" leads to a focus on the mental world. In China, seeking the answer to "what am I?" leads to a humanistic focus. N.B. that Judaism also is concerned with answering the question "what am I?" (c.f. Pirkei Avos, Ch. 1, saying 14).

Similarly, we can ask these questions theologically: paganism sees natural wonders and asks "who created them?" and hence "who is God?" and comes up with myriad mythologies to answer this question. Christianity is concerned with "what is God?" and has been divided over such questions as whether "the Son is made from the same or like substance as the Father". In reaction to this, the Muslim world (and especially Jews within the Muslim world) outlined a negative theology (c.f. Dr. Seuss's "calculatus eliminatus" in The Cat in the Hat) that we cannot know the answer of "what is God?" but we can only begin to answer the question of "what God is not".

But we Jews generally ask "where is God?" (btw -- one may note a correspondence: asking "who am I?" is related to asking "who is God?"; asking "what am I?" is related to asking "where is God?"; and asking "where am I?" is related to asking "what is God?").

We typically ask "where is God?" during our times of trouble. E.g. as we think about the destruction of the Temple during this "three weeks" period, we ask "where was God?" Well ... as Ezekiel points out in the "Merkaba", God was gettin' the heck outa Dodge, so to speak.

While later on in his eponymous book, Jeremiah too notes that we ask the location of God during times of crisis, in this last week's parsha, Jeremiah notes that we should ask "where is the Lord?" (2:6 and 2:8) when we are doing well. We may think that God is on our side when we are prosperous, but do we really know? How can we have any sort of knowledge (c.f. the scientific endeavor) unless we seek to test our knowledge and ask questions?

Jeremiah points out that the very (often self-proclaimed) guardians of morality too often do not ask "where is God" and too often do not walk in God's paths (halacha). Instead, they worship some idea of God as Master (Baal ... c.f. Hosea 2:16) and, because they are too self-assured in their view of God as Baal, they miss where God really is -- not some master, but within each of us (even during this time of year, when the Haftarah and Torah portions are not ostensibly directly connected, they still relate ... the Torah portion last week obliquely introduces the idea of the "Shekhina", the indwelling presence of God ... the Torah portion also speaks of keeping the land free from "tamei", which has an environmental connection -- and note that the Babylonian exile happened, according to tradition, not because of breaches in what the Guardians of Morality would consider to be the sum total of morality -- sexual mores, but because the Sabbatical year was not kept, so the land needed to rest ... i.e. the Guardians of Morality got it wrong -- because they failed to ask "where is the Lord" but instead thought the Lord was on their side when it was only "Baal" from whom they prophesized ... their prophecy was based on a mistaken idea of the Lord as a potentially cruel master and not as a loving Parent or Just King).

One thing to consider, though, is that this is all a polemic. And Rev. RMJ points out the danger of polemics. Even the tradition understands that Jeremiah and his school wrote the "Deuteronomaic history" (the only thing the source critics add is Deuteronomy itself) -- did Jeremiah write his didactic "history" to address concerns of the sort raised by Rev. RMJ? Is part of our "vital lie" that we were personally at Sinai so that we remember that the polemics of Barmidbar are directed to us (as if we were at Sinai we were there as well?). Of course, note also "where God is found" ... in the desert (c.f. the comments to the above linked post).

And we learn a lot reading the prophets as history -- as I keep mentioning here about the geo-political situation and the danger of Israel relying on the US, er Egypt. We need to be really careful that, if we want the US to be Israel's friend, we need to be a true friend, and know when to stand back and let Israel be independent as well as knowing when to intervene. And a true friend sometimes criticizes as well as supports. To use a phrase from this last week's Torah portion (and see the commentary in Eitz Chaim about this phrase) -- some apparent friends are really "thorns in the side".

I had some sort of repetitive yet cool sounding ending as well ... but that is beyond for what I have notes ...

Friday, August 01, 2008



To celebrate getting another paper out after so long, I smoked a Hoyo de Monterrey Excalibur Maduro Cigar I've had for some time, accompanied by some Benjamin (Australian) Tawny Port. I thought I had lost my taste for cigars (the last Onyx Reserve I smoked was a disappointment) but I guess I just needed a change of pace. The Tawny Port (and an excellent one -- cheaper than the Portuguese stuff, but just as good if not better ... it had the creamy and slightly maritime richness of certain sherries) brought out violet and other floral notes that I had not noticed before in this cigar (although it suppressed the coffee and tea notes, transmuting them to a pleasant, but too subtle note of cocoa).

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