Monday, November 29, 2010

Amnon Yitzchak and the music ban

I'm not sure if you have been following this story, but for the past many months Amnon Yitzchak, through his 'Rabbinical advisory board' has been lambasting just about every Jewish musician and calling all Jewish music not kosher (it is a good thing I try very hard not to listen to Jewish music - saves a lot of problems). He produces a colourful multi-page parsha sheet each week, and at least one full page, and sometimes two, have been dedicated to pushing the agenda against Jewish music. He published photos of those singers and musicians who he doesn't approve of (which is basically everyone), he published 'ask the rabbi' pages dedicated to boycotting Jewish music, and he had 'haskamos' from Gedolim encouraging his ban (including Rav Elyashiv's signature, despite the fact that Rav Elyashiv doesn't actually support Amnon Yitzchak).

When someone gets this crazy about something, it is clear (unfortunately) that there is a money angle somewhere. I have been waiting each week for the 'kickback'. Well, this week all was explained.

He has launched his own 'hechsher' for music. If you agree to abide by their impossible conditions (literally impossible - you have to agree to listen to whatever they say, even if they say that right is left and left is right) and not have anything to do with any non-kosher musicians, and live a Jewish life, and submit all lyrics and music to their committee for checking, and many other conditions - then they will give you a hechsher for your music. - Oh, did I forget to mention that you also have to give them a 15,000 shekel deposit which they will keep in the event that you don't fulfil any of their conditions.

You can read the terms and conditions here (on page 7) if you read Hebrew.

(The link seems to be unavailable at the moment. I'm not sure if they have removed it from the website, or if they are just updating the website)

If you just want to look at some more photos of forbidden musicians have a look on page 6 for a 'rogues gallery' of 15 singers (including someone called "Klippy Shmeltzer" - perhaps he is related to Flipper).

Unfortunately the best way for Chareidim to make money is to ban something, then charge for the kosher alternative. We have seen this so many times over the past few years, it is quite sickening. Still, at least they don't have to leave Yeshiva and get a job!

The only question remaining, is whether anyone will pay any attention to this hechsher at all. Will it cover the costs of any libel suits if any of the 'banned' singers decide to try to stop his campaign?

As we learnt from the New Zealand anti-shechita campaign - always look for the money. That always explains the real truth behind things.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Shechita in New Zealand

The New Zealand Minister of Agriculture, David Carter (not to be confused with the rugby player All Black Dan Carter - who is now the highest scoring rugby player in the history of Test Matches) had banned ritual Jewish slaughter in New Zealand. This was done against the advice of his own advisory team, and against the advice of his legal team. He ruled that only meat which had been pre-stunned would be acceptable. He claimed that this was done solely for animal welfare purposes. Of course pre-stunning animals is not acceptable for kosher shechita, so in effect he was banning shechita in NZ. Futhermore, because of risk of diseases etc it is forbidden to import chicken into New Zealand, so he was claiming that animal welfare took priority over kosher chicken soup.

The Jewish community objected, and had a temporary reprieve until the case was heard in the high court, which was supposed to take place tomorrow (Monday). On Friday, unexpectedly, the minister backed down, realising that he was going to lose the case. He has permitted slaugter of chickens, and shechita of lambs will remain permitted until a later date when it will be discussed again.

Today (Sunday) it turns out that not only was he acting against all legal advice, but that he was breaking governmental rules by acting based on personal financial gain, rather than for the best interests of New Zealand.

Jonathan Shenken, a member of the Auckland Jewish Community, has been following the money trail, and discovered that Carter is a major shareholder in two companies which export to Saudi Arabia. It was 'suggested' to him that trade would be more lucrative if he would require pre-stunning also for kosher meat, because the Halal market has been questioning why it is permitted for Jews and forbidden for Muslims.

According to the article in the New Zealand Herald:

An allegation of conflict of interest has been made because of that - he holds shares in a company which exports meat and met with senior managers who wanted a ban on shechita to protect their interests.

Carter was pulled back into line after lawyers told him he was allowed to consider only animal welfare issues. He had been advised trade with Muslim countries might suffer if it emerged kosher meat was allowed to be produced here while restrictions were placed on halal slaughter.

All I can say is that I hope he loses his job for his underhand behaviour, and that my father was right, because he said all along it was based on pressure from the Muslim market! Note to self: Dad is always right!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

I'm still too young to be a grumpy old man

this just in from the New Zealand news website Stuff

Britons find being older than 52 is nothing to laugh about because that's the age when they start becoming grumpy, according to a survey on Friday.

The poll of 2000 Britons found those over 50 laughed far less than their younger counterparts and complained far more.

While infants laughed up to 300 times a day, that figure had fallen to an average of six laughs by teenage years and only 2.5 daily chuckles for those over 60, the survey for cable TV channel Dave found.

Men were also found to be grumpier than women.

One reason for the decline in mirth might be the lack of joke-telling skills. The study found the average Briton only knows two jokes.

So I'm just 11 years too young to be truly grumpy!

(Only 2 jokes?? My neighbour tells everyone that he knows 100 jokes!)

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Ralbag on Noach

Ralbag (Rabbi Levi ben Gershon) has a very interesting explanation of the Tower of Bavel. He says that they really didn't do anything wrong, except that G-d wanted them to spread around the world, rather than stay in one place. Why did they need to spread over the world?

He writes that if they were all living in one place, then if a natural disaster (e.g. earthquake, hurricane, tsunami) happened, the entire human race would be wiped out. G-d wanted them spread to different locations so that even if one part of the world was destroyed the human race would continue.

This means that even though G-d interacts with the world, and watches what goes on (and is directly involved), He does not wish to intervene in the natural course of events, and when nature dictates that disasters occur, G-d choses not to prevent it - even to save the entire human race! G-d would rather perform the one-time miracle of mixing up the languages and separating the nations, than get involved to save a country from 'Acts of G-d' (which according to Ralbag are really not acts of G-d at all, but acts of nature).

You can read it here on Hebrew Books

Next time someone suggests to you that the latest catastrophe is caused by (pick the sin of your choice)
a) gay pride parade
b) tight clothing
c) listening to Shweky disks
d) anything else any Rabbi doesn't like at any time
point out this Ralbag to them and see how they understand it.

Shavua Tov

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Avodah Zara 10a and Jesus

This week in Daf Yomi we learned a lot about Romans. One of the things that Rashi cites on daf 10a is that the Romans have no language or script of their own. For anyone, like me, who spent years studying Latin and learning Virgil, Cattallus, or any of the other Latin authors it is hard to understand this Rashi.

Luckily there is a wonderful shiur online from Rav Shnayer Leiman which explains what Rashi means. The answer is very surprising (and involves Jesus and Peter - sorry to give that away from the beginning).

Here is the shiur Jewish Perspectives on Early Christianity.

Rav Leiman also refers to a little known text "Toldos Yeshu HaNotzri" which can be found online here as a pdf.

Near Miss

Phew! That was a close thing! Cyber pirates tried to hack into an Israeli website, but accidentally hijached the website of a stately home in Israel, according to the Daily Telegraph. I hope this is another encouraging sign for the peace process. If the Palestinians (or Algerians in this case) are happy with stately homes instead of Israeli land I'm sure we can reach some kind of deal with the British. They were the ones who gave land to the Palestinians (though they weren't called that back in '47) in the first place. Surely they could spare a few grand homes, fortresses and castles for Hamas and Fatah. That isn't asking too much is it?

One of Britain’s best-known castles fell victim to a band of hapless Middle-Eastern “cyber-pirates” last week after they mistook it for a Crusader fortress of the same name more than 2,000 miles away.

Belvoir Castle, the family seat of the 11th Duke of Rutland, was mistakenly targeted by a subversive group of Algerian hackers who confused its website with that of Belvoir Fortress in Israel.

The hackers hijacked the castle’s homepage and replaced images of the stately home nestled in rolling Leicestershire countryside with a black page displaying the Algerian flag and a tirade against the Jewish state in Arabic.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

We are worthy!

Remember that classic line from Wayne's World - "We are not worthy"? Well sometimes I also feel like that.

I was reading Shivchei HaBesht and came across this quote, which I found very powerful. If you have ever been depressed and wondered whether G-d wants your prayers when you feel like a sinner and worthless - this may help:

ושמעתי מפי ר׳ מנדל מבאר שאמר בימי נעורי בעת חתלחבות בשעת
התפלה עלה במחשבתי איך מלא לבי לחתפלל לפני חשי״ת מוכלל
מפשעים ושבר לבי בקרבי. והיה כך זמן רב ולא יכולתי להפטר ממהשבה
זו כי נדמה לי שהיא מהשבה טובה. ואה״כ השבתי בלבי למה לא נופלת
מהשבה זו במותי ובלבי כשאשב לאכול אצל חקערד. אז דחיתי מחשבה זו:

"I heard from Rav Mendel of Ber who said that when he was young, while praying intensely he would think 'How can I be so bold as to pray before G-d when I am a sinner?' My heart would break within me. This bothered me for a long time and I couldn't get rid of this thought, and it seemed to me that it was a good thought. Afterwards I realised that I only have this thought during prayer, and never when I sit down to eat. Then I was able to get rid of this thought."

In other words, why do we only feel inadequate when we pray? G-d wants our prayers, regardless of who we are and what we have done. If we really felt inadequate we would also be bothered at other times, and not only when praying.

And I felt better! Even if I am not worthy, G-d still loves me!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Kosher music

I know that this is not new news, but I actually just saw this hechsher today.

It seems that the main source for his opinions is not the Talmud or Shulchan Aruch, but American Preachers. (Though I can't even find a source for his claim that the saxophone was referred to as the "Devil's Flute" in the '20s)

The best line is that "the use of 2-4 music, and other rock and disco beats is forbidden." Well, I suppose it is Waltzes all the way from now on! And no swaying to the music!

Rabbi Akiva says:
ר' עקיבא אומר המנענע קולו בשיר השירים בבית המשתה ועושה אותו כמין זמר אין לו חלק לעולם הבא (תוספתא סנהדרין יב, ה"י)

(loose translation)
Anyone who sings Shir HaShirim at a wedding and makes it into a tune has not portion in the World to Come? (Tosefta 12:10)

(I know that perhaps it doesn't mean wedding, but pub (see my previous post), and I know that some want to say it only applies to Shir HaShirim - but what other source is there for a ban if not this?)

So either everything is permitted, or everything is forbidden. Who authorised Rabbi Luft to give a hechsher to any music?

So, if we are all doomed anyway, let's go out in style:

Primus - The Devil Went Down To Georgia
Uploaded by Dan_of_the_Land. - News videos hot off the press.

(Do not listen to this if you don't like Devil's music - it has a rock beat in 4/4)

Where was everyone when they were banning alcohol?

According to the Jerusalem Post the Knesset has unanimously passed a law banning the sale of alcohol at night.

By a unanimous vote of 38- 0, MKs outlawed the sale of alcohol at stores between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Restaurants and pubs are not covered by the legislation, but kiosks, gas station convenience stores, markets and pharmacies will be subject to the prohibition, with violators facing a minimum penalty of NIS 9,000.

The law also allows police to seize alcohol being consumed in public and pour out the contents of the bottles.

A few comments:

There are 120 MKs in the Knesset. That means that 82 of them were down at the pub while the vote was taken (or were still hungover from the night before). Why don't their votes count? (My friend suggested that they counted fingers and toes, so actually it was only the Prime Minister and most of one of the Arab MKs)

But more seriously - having lived in both Scotland (where there is no closing time) and England (where there is) I can attest to the fact that there are far fewer fights in Scotland after 11 pm. This is mostly because the Scots are such nice people (and it is hard to fight in a kilt), but also because when they come out of the pub looking for a fight there is nobody else on the streets because everyone is still down the boozer!

I think that alcohol is becoming a real problem in Israel - amongst all segments of society. But I'm not convinced that this is the correct solution. Especially if 2/3 of the MKs can't even be bothered showing up for a vote on a major social issue.


Sunday, May 16, 2010

Shani's bat mitzvah

Here is the video of Shani's bat mitzvah. She looked great, and is great (actually, wonderful)

Here is the text of her d'var Torah - it is a little bit difficult to hear her:

Good evening everybody. Thank you all so much for coming.

For the past several months I have been learning the Ein Yaakov on Pesachim with my father. We finished the masechta last week. Ein Yaakov is a collection of all the stories and aggadot from the Talmud.

There were many interesting things I found in Pesachim. I especially enjoyed learning about how the sun moves across the heavens, and the calculation of the size of the world. It was fun learning about King Chizkiya in Pesachim, and then a few days later learning it in school.

Some of the stories seem very strange, and I always wanted to understand what they really mean.

One of the stories, which seemed very odd to me (though there were certainly things that were much more strange), is in Pesachim קיח. It says:

When Rabbi Yishmael bar Yossi was sick, Rebbi asked him to tell him three things that his father had said. One of the things he said was:

“There are 365 (three hundred AND sixty five) markets in a big city in Rome. In each market there are 365 storehouses, and in each storehouse there are 365 levels, and in each level there is enough food to feed the entire world.”

Rabbi Shimon asked him, “Who are all these for?”

He replied, “For you, and your friends and your friends’ friends.”

The Ben Ish Chai, in his book Ben Yehoyada, asks the following questions:

“Why do we need a Rabbi to tell us these things? We could just look at a map, or ask any traveller who has been to that city.
And why was this the most important thing for Rabbi Yishmael to say on his death bed?

He answers: the big city represents the body which is called “a small city”. Therefore a tzadik’s body should be called a ‘big city’, because he has reached the greatest spiritual heights.

The 365 markets represent the 365 parts of the body. And each market has 365 storehouses, which represent the deeper meaning of the 365 tendons. This is the spiritual component of each part of the body.

Each of the storehouses has 365 levels which represent the lights of the 365 negative mitzvos, which feed the whole body, which is called a world. Each spiritual light is so strong that it can feed the entire world.

Of course the number 365 also reminds us of the number of days of the year.

This means that every single time that we keep a single negative commandment we bring life to our whole body. This allows us to survive in the World to Come. And we can build our world every single day of the year.

When Rabbi Shimon asked him who are all these for he was asking, “Who deserves to have all this said about him?”

Rabbi Yishmael bar Yossi replied, “For you and your friends and your friends’ friends. This is said about the tzadikim who learn Torah day and night. The three groups of “You”, “Your friends” and “friends’ friends” refers to the three parts of the Oral Torah (תורה שבעל פה) – the mishna, the talmud and the aggada.

So we see that this story, which at first sight doesn’t seem to have any importance, or any historical truth, is actually teaching us about what we should aim for in our lives. The tzadikim inherit the world, and the cities, and the storehouses. This inspires and teaches us to all strive to be like the friends of Rabbi Yishmael. And it shows us the importance of learning all parts of Torah, because each contains enough life force to earn the World to Come.

I would like to thank our friends from Midreshet Rachel who have helped make tonight possible. Thank you to Nicole, Aviva, Melissa and everyone else who has kept us sane, cleaned the house, did my hair, cut the salad, put the little girls to bed (well they tried), and generally did everything to keep our home running and make this bat mitzvah celebration possible.

Thank you to Selma for helping to set up everything for tonight.

Thank you to Miriam for making the amazing cake.

Thank you to Mrs Schonbrun for making the cake and to Doda Deena for making the chocolate chip cookies and also for helping me develop my artistic talents in her studio.

Thank you to all of you for coming and celebrating this special day with me. I know it was not easy for you all to come, especially those who came from out of town. Thank you very much for making the effort. Family means so much to me, especially having spent many years in Britain, far away from all of you.

This is being recorded on video (hopefully) so I want to say how sad I am that Grampa and Grandma are not able to be with us tonight. I spoke to Grandma this morning, and she told me that when she wakes up at 4:30 in the morning (New Zealand time – which is now) she will be thinking of me.

I would like to say an especially big thank you to my Safta and Zeidy. I am so glad that we moved back to Israel five years ago so that we can be so close to you. I love being able to spend Shabbos on my own with you in the Old City, and to feel like an only child for a little while. Tonights celebrations are only possible because of both of you. And thank you so much to Safta for working so hard to make it the wonderful event that you see.

I want to thank Avi, Mo, Tamar and Ella for keeping the house messy so that I always have some cleaning to do. Even though you sometimes drive me crazy, I still love you.

I want to give a big thank you to my Abba for spending so much of his precious time learning with me these past months. Not only did I learn a lot, but I really appreciated the time we spent together. I hope that I can continue learning with you in the future, even though the bat mitzvah is finished. I loved the fact that I was learning Ein Yaakov with you and some of the girls in my class do not even know what Ein Yaakov is!

Mummy - thank you so much for being my Mummy. You do everything for me, from school homework, to creative ideas. You give me a shoulder to cry on and a companion to laugh with. I only hope that you get back on your feet very soon and have the energy to continue with everything that you do for me, and for all of us.

One final thought - Yesterday was Yom Yerushalayim when we saw the miracle of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount was given back to us. Tonight is Rosh Chodesh, a time of the rebirth of the moon. It is my prayer that all of us should merit to see the final rebuilding of Yerushalayim, with the coming of Mashiach and the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash.

And here are the words to Avi's song (so that you at home can sing along):

Our sister, her name is Shoshana
To sing at her Bat Mitzvah’s an honor

Soooooo –
Shoshana, Shoshana, Shoshana
As a sister, you really would “wanna”

Twelve years ago – she was born
On erev Pessach – it wasn’t the morn

Her first Seder she was less than a day
And Avi agreed she could stay.

Shoshana, Shoshana, Shoshana
As a sister, you really would “wanna”

As a Scotsgirl, she spoke with a brogue
But to us it sounded like a frog!

In England it got a bit posher
Then her words were really quite kosher.

After Aliyah – you never would know
Hebrew and English she speaks like a pro.

Shoshana, Shoshana, Shoshana
As a sister, you really would “wanna”

She ‘s nice, she’s pretty and funny
And her mood is usually (?) sunny

She works hard as a babysitter
Even when her siblings hit her.

Shoshana, Shoshana, Shoshana
As a sister, you really would “wanna”

When she’s grown, she wants to be a teacher
So she practices on us Sedley creatures

That’s when we drive her real crazy
And she yells at us that we’re lazy

So she makes us work even more
Until we can escape out the door –

Shoshana, Shoshana, Shoshana
As a sister, you really would “wanna”

But today we want her to know
We love her – though it doesn’t always show

And anyone would be proud of Shoshana
To be her sister you really would “wanna”

And finally, Here is Savta's poem:

Twas the Night Before Pessach

Twas the night before Pessach, 12 years ago

Not a creature was stirring, no one with a woe.

The house, it was cleaned by us with care

Knowing that Pessach soon would be there.

Avi was nestled all snug in his bed

While visions of matzoh danced in his head

But Alit and David were not to be seen

They were at the hospital creating a scene.

When out of the kitchen, there arose such a clatter

I sprang from my chair to see what was the matter.

The phone was ringing so loud, you see,

I breathlessly answered and a voice said to me…

“A little girl has been born this night

Oh, WOW, is she a beautiful sight.

To my wondering eyes, this princess appears

And my eyes got filled with lots of tears.”

After I checked that all was fine

I sat down and drank a full glass of wine

In less than a day – the seder would start

With the Sedley guest list – Oh my heart!

But it turned out this seder was really the best

Because we had such a special guest –

This tiny baby, less than one day old

Joined us that evening as the Exodus was told.

Now twelve years later, on Shani’s Bat Mitzvah day

There is so much that I want to say

But it all comes down to – Zeide and I love you so

You are precious to us as we watch you grow.

You’ve become young woman with beautiful midot

What else can I say in this little note

Just a prayer you continue to shed your light

On everyone who enters your sight.

And so I’ll end this little poem

So we can all return on home.

I’ll just finish this with a wish just right –

Happy Bat Mitzvah to you, and to all – a good night.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

9th Adar - Beis Hillel and Beis Shamai

Today is the 9th of Adar, and according to the Shulchan Aruch (Orech Chaim 580) it is a fast day for tzadikim. The reason for the fast is that on this day Beis Hillel and Beis Shammai argued!

בט' נחלקו בית שמאי ובית הלל:
"On the ninth [of Adar] Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel argued"

None of the commentaries on the page of Shulchan Aruch speak about what this means, nor in his Beis Yosef commentary, nor in Mishna Brura. In fact, nobody even brings a source for this minhag! As far as I can tell it doesn't appear anywhere in Chazal (not even in Megillas Taanis).

The earliest mention of it is in Seder Rav Amram Gaon (p. 5 in the pdf)

בט' בו גזרו על שנחלקו בית שמאי ובית הלל זה על זה
"On the ninth of [Adar] they decreed because Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel argued with each other"

The Aruch HaShulchan (as always) brings a bit more information (but not much). He writes:
בתשעה בו נחלקו בית שמאי ובית הלל, והיה הדבר קשה לישראל, וגזרו תענית על זה.
On the ninth Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel argued, and this day was as difficult for Israel, and they decreed a fast because of this.

I think the source for his words 'difficult for Israel' is the Raviah (vol. 2 889 in Hilchot Taanit)

He adds: the day was as difficult for them as the day on which the Jews sinned with the Golden Calf.

The source for this seems to be the Yerushalmi, which says:
דף ט,א פרק א הלכה ד משנה ואלו הן ההלכות שאמרו בעליית חנניה בן חזקיה בן גרון שעלו לבקרו ונמנו ורבו ב"ש על ב"ה ושמנה עשר דברים גזרו בו ביום:
גמרא אותו היום היה קשה לישראל כיום שנעשה בו העגל.

"Mishna: These are the laws which were said in the attic of Chananiah ben Chizkiya ben Garon, when they went to visit him. They counted and [found that] there were more of Beis Shammai than of Beis Hillel, and they decreed 18 decrees on that day.
Gemara: That day was as difficult for Israel as the day that the Golden Calf was made."

So if that is the source for the fast (and I don't know how they know the date) it would seem that the reason for fasting is not because Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel argued (which is what the Shulchan Aruch says), but because Beis Shammai had the upper hand, and passed their laws.

I'm not sure whether it is connected to the argument between Beis Hillel and Beis Shammai in Eruvin about existentialism:

ת"ר שתי שנים ומחצה נחלקו ב"ש וב"ה הללו אומרים נוח לו לאדם שלא נברא יותר משנברא והללו אומרים נוח לו לאדם שנברא יותר משלא נברא נמנו וגמרו נוח לו לאדם שלא נברא יותר משנברא עכשיו שנברא יפשפש במעשיו ואמרי לה ימשמש במעשיו:
It was taught: for two and half years Beis Shammai argued with Beis Hillel. One said that it is preferable for a person not to be created rather than to be created, and the other said that it is preferable for a person to be created rather than not be created. They counted [the majority] and concluded that it is better for a person not to be created, rather than to be created, but now that he has been created he should check his actions, and others say examine his actions.

I'm really not sure where else to go with this. It seems to raise more questions that it answers. Any thoughts? Post your answers in the comments.

Happy fasting!

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

I'm giving a shiur on Tuesday

I know that I haven't blogged in a really long time. There are many reasons, but not for now.

But here is an important announcement. I will be giving a shiur this coming Tuesday evening in Nachlaot on the laws of Purim and the Four Parshiyos. It is for women only (sorry boys), but provided you have two X chromosomes you are welcome to come. I look forward to seeing you there.

Here is the poster, with the details. (You can contact me directly if you want more details, or just to say 'hi').