Thursday, June 28, 2007

New Bog Standard

Language Warning. The blog you are about to read may be unintelligible to non-English speakers (i.e. Americans). See end of blog, or use internet, for glossary.
Subject Warning. This has nothing to do with Judaism or Israel. It refers to the place that Americans charmingly refer to as 'restroom' though I would probably not choose to rest there if I had any alternative. AKA bathroom, though you won't find any bath there. AKA washroom, but please use soap (because - 'where there's lice - there's soap!' - Rabbi Shraga Silverstein)

Breaking news: (from 25 April 2007) - "New toilet designs to help combat bullying in BSF schools"!!

This doesn't even require any further comment. My only question is how will it prevent dehydration? (that is always my question in this heat).

New guidance published today governing the specification of toilet blocks in schools will help tackle bullying in secondary schools. New designs to be used in all BSF schools will make toilets more attractive, cleaner and safer for pupils to use.

The guidance, Toilets in Schools, recommends making hand-washing areas more visible and placing toilet blocks opposite classrooms and staff areas enabling them to be supervised "passively". With the fear of bullies using toilets to threaten and mistreat others reduced, pupils will be more likely to drink water at school and so keep hydrated throughout the day...

Toilets that pupils can be proud of also reduce rates of absenteeism, boost self-esteem, improve relations between pupils and teachers, and encourage willingness and ability to learn.

This was published (seriously) in "The new Guidance – Toilets in Schools – is part of a series of Standard Specifications, Layouts and Dimensions DfES guidance notes produced for the Building Schools for the Future programme."

Don't forget to check out the website:

Bog - slang for toilet/ w.c./ restroom etc.
Bog standard - something ordinary or unremarkable.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

12th Tamuz - Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman

Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman was recognised by everyone as one of the most brilliant Talmudic scholars of his time.

Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman (1875-1941) was a prominent Rabbi and Rosh Yeshiva in pre-World War II Europe. He was one of the Chofetz Chaim's closest disciples and a Torah scholar of note.

His seforim on Talmud are learn in all the major Yeshivot today - 'Kovetz Maamarim' and 'Kovetz He'aros' are the most famous. You can read some exerpts of an article of his on faith here: Reb Elchonon

He was in the USA at the outbreak of WWII (and the holocaust). Although he had many offers to stay in the USA which would have been safer, he knew that his place was with his Yeshiva. A captain always stays with his ship. (In this sense he was the 'frum' version of Janos Korcak). He was arested by the Nazisin 1941 with 20 of his students.

(Quote from Wikipedia)

Rabbi Elchonon was taken and murdered by the Lithuanians on the 12th of Tammuz, 1941. Before he was taken he gave this statement: "In Heaven it appears that they deem us to be righteous because our bodies have been chosen to atone for the Jewish people. Therefore, we must repent now, immediately. There is not much time. We must keep in mind that we will be better offerings if we repent. In this way we will save the lives of our brethren overseas."

"Let no thought enter our minds, God forbid, which is abominable and which renders an offering unfit. We are now fulfilling the greatest mitzvah. With fire she (Jerusalem) was destroyed and with fire she will be rebuilt. The very fire which consumes our bodies will one day rebuild the Jewish people."

One of his books that is well known but not so often learnt is 'ikvusa d'mechicha' in which he talks about the time immediately before the coming of Mashiach. He describes how we should understand the difficult times that will precede the Messianic era beautifully with the following parable.

Once there was a man who knew nothing about agriculture who came to a farmer to learn about farming. The farmer took him to his field and asked him what he saw. He saw a beautiful piece of land full of grass and pleasing to the eye. Then the visitor stood aghast as the farmer plowed up the grass and turned the beautiful green field into a mass of brown ditches. "Why did you ruin the field?" asked the man. "Be patient and you will see," answered the farmer. Then the farmer showed him a sack full of plump kernels of wheat and asked him what he sees. The visitor described the nutritious inviting grain and then once more watched in shock as the farmer ruined something beautiful. This time he walked up and down the furrows and dropped kernels into the open ground wherever he went, then he covered them up with clods of soil. "Are you insane," the man asked, "first you destroy the field, then you take this beautiful grain, and you throw it underneath." The farmer answered, "Be patient and you will see." Time went by, and once more the farmer took his guest out into field. Now they saw endless straight rows and green stalks sprouting up from all of the furrows. The visitor smiled broadly, "I apologize, now I understand what you were doing, you made the field more beautiful than ever; the art of farming is truly marvelous. "No," said the farmer, "we are not done, you must still be patient." More time went by and the stalks were fully grown, then the farmer came with a sickle and chopped them all down as his visitor watched openmouthed, seeing how the orderly field became an ugly scene of destruction. The farmer bound the fallen stalks into bundles and decorated the field with them. Later he took the bundles to another area, where he beat and crushed them until the became a mass of straw and loose kernels. Then he separated the kernels from the chaff and piled them up in a huge hill. Always he told his protesting visitor, "Be patient we are not done." Then the farmer came with the wagon and piled it high with grain which he took to the mill. There this beautiful grain was ground into formless choking dust. The visitor complained again, "You have taken beautiful grain and transformed it into dust." Again he was told to be patient. The farmer put the dust into sacks and took it back home. He took some dust and mixed it with water, while his guest marveled at the foolishness of making whitish mud. Then the farmer fashioned the mud into the shape of a loaf. The visitor saw the perfectly formed loaf and smiled broadly, but his happiness did not last. The farmer lit a fire and put the loaf into the oven. "Now I know you're insane, after all that work you burn what you make." The farmer looked at him and laughed, "Have I not told you to be patient?" Finally the farmer opened the oven took out the freshly baked bread crisp and brown, with an aroma that made the visitors mouth water. "Come," the farmer said. He led his guest to the kitchen table where he cut the bread, and he offered his now-pleased visitor a liberally buttered slice. "Now," the farmer said, "Now you understand."

Rav Elchonon said, "Hashem is the farmer, and we are the fools who do not begin to understand his ways or the outcome of his plan. Only when the process is complete will all the Jewish people know why all this happened. Then, when Moshiach has finally come, we will know why all of this had to be. Until then we must be patient and have faith that everything, even when it seems destructive and painful, is part of the process that will produce goodness and beauty.

May His Soul be Bound in the Bonds of Eternal Life, and May G-d Avenge is Blood.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Pray for Learning

I have just come home from my son's end of year performance (and what a performance it was - don't ask. Just let me tell you that I love him a lot).

The principle spoke told a story about R' Shimon Shkop, who said that once, while learning in Volozhin, he was unable to understand a certain Rashbam on Bava Basra. He broke down crying at the frustration of not being able to understand it. The Netziv walked in, saw him crying, and came over to find out what the matter was. When he realised that he was crying because he didn't understand a piece of Talmud he asked R' Shimon to show him what the problem was. When he saw it, the Netziv said to R' Shimon - "Do you know how many heartfelt tefillos I said at HaRav Chaim's grave to understand this Rashbam?"

The message of the story was that a person has to pray for success in their learning.

Now I love this principle to bits (he reminds me of the principle of my primary school, who knew every student by name, as well as their parents, siblings and anyone else who mattered. He also used to play an indoor version of tennis with us kids after school - and he would win!). But at first I though that his message was wrong. If you have a problem with your learning - shouldn't you keep learning and thinking about it until you come up with a solution? Why is crying and praying the correct response? Surely Torah is only acquired through breaking your head over it until you understand it? (I once had a chevrura who had a theory that if you didn't understand a piece of gemara, you should read it over and over until it makes sense. We never had to read it more than 100 times!). Doesn't the Gemara in Megilla say that if a person claims they have worked hard and not succeeded in their learning that it means they didn't work hard? Doesn't this prove that praying is not part of the equation?

Then I thought about it some more (I was there for over 4 hours, so I had time to think). Perhaps my problem is that I think it is an intellectual pursuit to learn Torah (and I love it). Maybe my approach is wrong. Since it is impossible to understand Torah without help from G-d, maybe I should spend less time getting a headache over it, and more time saying tehillim! (It goes completely against the grain to even write those words).

So now I don't know. Obviously we are talking about some combination of learning and praying, rather than spending all day praying and expecting the Torah to appear by itself. But it is too late for me to think now. And I need your input. Can one learn Torah by learning alone, or does prayer need to be an integral part of the daily 'learning' schedule?

(BTW it is obvious to me that in any other subject you need to pray for success - I think anyone who has ever sat an exam will agree with me on that. But Torah is different - isn't it? And even in other subjects, surely doing the time studying and revising must count for something too??)

- Your thoughts please.

Good night.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

So you wanna be a Rabbi??

(also posted on

Jack’s Shack
posted a question about what it takes to be a Rabbi.

I suspect that if you conducted a survey of traits required to become a rabbi piety and devotion might not even make the top of the list. Right up there at the top would be stories and story telling.

The following day I was asked to give a talk about what skills a Rabbi needs and what training or learning would be most effective to prepare people to go into the field of Rabbanus.

So I decided that I’d better put down some thoughts.

The first thing is to ask why someone would want to be a Rabbi? Rabbi Zeira fasted 100 times to pray that nothing happen to Rabbi Eliezer, who was the Gadol hador, Rabbi Zeira was concerned that if the yoke of leadership fell upon him he would not be able to learn Torah properly.
Similarly, Yosef HaTzadik died before all his brothers (though he was second to youngest) because he ruled over them.
The Mishna in Avos is explicit – ‘hate Rabbonus’ (I know it means leadership and authority, but it is the same word as ‘being a Rabbi’).

But, you’ve made your decision and I can’t convince you otherwise – OK, this is what I think you need:

Firstly, it (almost) goes without saying that you will need smicha. Generally this means passing a test in Yoreh Deah (kashrus). The quickest way to do this is through R’ Zalman Nechemiah Goldberg. I don’t believe this qualification will really help you practically with your Rabbanus, but, like every qualification, it is a necessary evil. The truth is that you also must know the laws of Shabbos, Nida and Aveilus, as well as be acquainted with every other area of Halacha. To do this (to a minimal standard) in my opinion would take at least 5 years of full time study. Not as much as a PhD, but more than most people are prepared to spend. In addition, it is essential that you know large sections of Talmud (I was going to say ‘all’ the Talmud, but unfortunately that is not going to happen), most of the Mishna, all of chumash with the major commentaries and the rest of the Bible.

All of those are just the (minimum) academic qualifications. But the real skills that a Rabbi needs are the following (some of which can be taught, some learnt, and some I think are more personality than anything else):

Basic counselling and therapy skills (and even more importantly, the resources to create a network of specialists that you can refer people to, or ask for advice)
This includes marriage counseling, depression counseling, drug awareness, awareness of abuse and how to deal with it, bereavement counseling and a general understanding of the human condition.

Public speaking and writing skills. As a Rabbi you will be judged firstly on your ability to speak in public, both in sermons and to the wider public. You will also be expected to write for the local media, Synagogue magazine, etc.

Teacher training – even if you are never in a classroom situation, you will always be a teacher. Perhaps a gemara shiur, a chumash/ parsha shiur, or just a quick Halacha between mincha and ma’ariv. You have to not only have something to say, but be able to present it clearly and in a way that will engage your students and encourage them to come and learn more from you.

Ability to lein (at least the first aliya of every parsha). When there is nobody else around you have to be able to step into the breach at very short notice.

Knowledge of hashkafa. You must know what is acceptable Jewish thought, what is heresy, and what is ‘what you are supposed to think’ even though it is ridiculous. Included in this is the requirement of ‘know how to answer a heretic’. Resorting to childish responses that you once heard in Yeshiva, or assuming that there is only one right answer to every question (and you know it) is embarrassing and will end in failure.

Political maneuvering. Many a Rabbi comes to his downfall because of bad political moves. Even though it is all ‘vanity’ and false, you must know who are the important players, how to speak to them, how to encourage others to get things done, and how to make sure that your viewpoint is heard and (often) accepted. Even more important, you have to remain strong and know how to say ‘no’ to people without creating enemies and without abusing or undermining your authority.

History – it is embarrassing when Rabbis have no concept of history. You must know at least a basic outline of what happened where and when. Did the story of Chanukah happen before or after the story of Purim? Was the Shulchan Aruch written before or after Shabbetai Tzvi? When was the famous argument between R’ Yaakov Emden and R’ Yonasan Eibeschitz?
Coupled with this, it would help if you have the ability to be a good story teller. Usually every speech or class is enhanced by the right story told well (and can be ruined by the wrong story told badly).

Sense of humour. Goes without saying.

Warm and caring personality. You have to genuinely care about your flock, and relate to their problems and issues as your own. However you also have to be able to leave those issues behind when you come home so that you can function without having a nervous breakdown.

Time management skills.

Stress management skills.

Motivation and desire to continue to learn. Without a passion for learning (both Talmudic texts, and if necessary secular ones) you will not be an effective teacher or communicator. Plus – your own sanity is at stake. If you can’t make time to learn each day you will fail.

Unending patience and understanding

Ability to play guitar (this is an optional extra – essential for all the Carlebach wannabes)

And the most important thing (which is why I left it to the end, so that only those who have the patience to read this far will qualify) – shimush. The Talmud is explicit that the most important thing that qualifies a person to be a Rabbi is serving other Rabbis. Elisha, who was one of the most successful prophets in history, is praised for having poured water on the hands of Eliyahu Hanavi.
You must spend time in the presence of other Rabbis, observing, learning, getting a feel for how to make a decision, how to ask the right questions, how to read between the lines of the question and what to do and where to look if you don’t know the answer. This is the real difference between a Rabbi and a library of books. Anyone can look things up in a book, or search the internet for information. Hopefully the Rabbi is the one who knows what to do with the information and how to understand the question.

This last thing is what is most sorely lacking today, and probably the most difficult thing to get (there is a shortage of Rabbis to apprentice to, and lack of time to do it). But it is this, I think more than anything else, which separates the ‘men’ from the ‘boys’. Any of the other things on this list can be compensated for. Shimush talmidei chachamim is the only thing that a Rabbi absolutely needs.

And of course piety and devotion. Essential. To quote R' Shraga Silverstein "Ideally, the teacher's subject should be himself, and he must do all he can to make the subject worthwhile". Or to quote Shlomo HaMelech "At the end of the day, when all is heard, fear G-d, for that is all there is for a person".

Good luck.

Rabbi David Sedley

Your thoughts please:

The Good L-rd Made Them All

The BBC reported on the 'World's Ugliest Dog Competition'. You can see a video of the winner here: World's ugliest dog crowned.

If you just want to see a photo - here is the winner.

Of course he doesn't hold a candle to the 3 times winner Sam (who only didn't win because he died - if he were alive there is no question that he would have been the winner paws down).
Sam World's Ugliest Dog

You can see all the entrants over here (I think it is too late to actually vote, but you can look at the photos)

The World's Ugliest Dog competition voting page

There is an important message here (apart from yet further evidence that Americans are from a different planet than everyone else - a competition for ugly dogs???). Lovable and cute are not necessarily seen from the outside. It is what is inside that counts. In the words of Frank-n-Furter "Don't judge a book by its cover".

Labels and other externals are only what we see. What a person, or a dog really is, we have to discover for ourselves.

And remember, that G-d loves even the ugly dogs!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Gay Pride March

The Gay Pride March was the hot topic this week. Most of the blogs I've read have been very sensible (I don't like reading blogs that aren't sensible). I've avoided writing about it because I didn't have time to think about how to express myself. My chevrusa cancelled on me this morning, so I'll try and write down some thoughts now, for what they are worth.

the parade was yesterday. What happened (as best I understand) is that 2000 paraders mached for about 200 yards while protected by 8000 police men. There was a Hareidi Tehillim session several blocks away with 3000 people praying. There were 20 arrests, but no violence (although there had been in the week leading up to it).

I don't think those who know me would accuse me of being anti-gay. I have friends who are homosexual and have been involved in classes and sessions (and on the panel discussion for one of the screenings of 'Trembling Before G-d'), not to mention that I invited Rabbi Steve Greenberg to speak in Leeds.

But I was and am against the gay pride parade. I am against any sexual parade, heterosexual or homosexual. I don't think it is appropriate anywhere, and certainly not in our holiest city of Jerusalem. I am not necessarily against equal rights for gays (within most contexts, though I would be against gay marriage ceremonies, just as I am against any marriage ceremony that doesn't conform to halacha). But parading through the streets is not about rights or acceptance, but about flaunting. That is nothing to do with freedom of expression or democracy. Why is there any need for anyone to share their intimate private life with the world?

In addition, it seems to me that it is the height of irresponsibility to bring the whole city to a standstill and take police away from their job so that you can prove a point and have a parade. I am equally against closing the city when foreign dignitaries come to visit, or the Prime Minister has a meeting, but those are trials that we have to live with. But (especially at this time, with war on our borders and doorstep) how can anyone feel happy disrupting life of hundreds of thousands of people, and putting lives at risk and taking police from their duties, for a parade?

However, I think the worst part of this parade, is that it shows the Hareidim (some of them at any rate) up for who they are. The biggest chilul Hashem is photos of Hariedim fighting with police, and committing arson. What kind of religion is it where hatred of another group (even if you disagree with them) is justification for damage and destruction, not to mention hate mongering and slander? In fairness, the gadolim told people not to protest (too little, too late, but it is something). Before that I had told someone that i was more anti haredim than I was anti paraders! If you have read what the Talmud (in the last chapter of Yuma) and the Rambam have to say about Chilul Hashem, not to mention the other prohibitions involved, you would agree with me that the parade brought shame, not only to the paraders, but even more so to the protesters.

Of course, the real threat and fear in this is not the couple of thousand marchers and the couple of hundred yards they marched, but what will be in the future. And it is clear that this is not going to be the end.

May G-d protect us from fools who desecrate His name in the pretense of protecting His honour, and may G-d grant wisdom to the parade organisers, government and courts to realise that Jerusalem is not the place for such an event.

And may He Who brings peace in Heaven bring peace in the world and to all of klal yisrael.

Gut Shabbes

Rabbi Sedley

New Siddur

A Big Jewish Blog wants your help. He is writing a new siddur and would like your contributions please.

Siddur Kol Hevel

What are your favorite, most inspiring, most unsettling passages? The ones you turn to, or that shaped you, for better or for worse? Ones you've stumbled across, and that haunt you--or tickle you, for that matter, with their sass and heterodoxy.

I'll post mine, one by one, as the summer goes on. Please post yours, as comments or (if you're a contributor) as a post: the passage, and some sort of attribution, so that I can track it down if need be.

Presumably members of Anshei K'nesset HaGadolah or Shmuel HaKatan are not elligible to contribute (firstly because they are no longer alive, and secondly because they have already composed one siddur - at least the important bits)

Dont feel guilty about buying Harry Potter

At last, the Orthodox can justify purchasing Harry Potter! Forget about the assur magic, or the tameh kissing, or the female author. Much more important reason to purchase is because it stops Reform from printing their siddur. (I can't even believe this is true - but either way it is a classic):

As you may know, the Reform movement has a new prayerbook in-progress, called Mishkan Tefilah. It's been in-progress for a long time; my shul ordered our copies five years ago, and the release date keeps getting pushed forward for one reason or another. (At the Biennial two years ago we davened using proofs, and they told us then that it would be out "soon." Yeah, right.) Anyway, the most recent publication date had been this summer...

...but apparently the paper that the publication committee chose for the prayerbook is the same paper on which the forthcoming seventh Harry Potter book will be published. And because Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is expected to be a really big seller, Mishkan Tefilah is in a kind of suspended animation. They can't print MT until after the Harry Potter rush is over, lest that print job use up paper which might need to be allocated to printing more copies of HP7.

Thanks to Velveteen Rabbi for that. Does this mean that Rav Eliashiv will be ordering all the troops to purchase Harry Potter??

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Happy Birthday Mum

Even on the blog I'm belated. But I still have to post this.
Yesteday was my Mum's birthday (note correct spelling of Mum for non-Americans). It is so difficult being on the other side of the world from my parents - all I can do is chip in with my siblings to buy some flowers and a short phone call. I haven't seen my parents in over 7 years! That is hard (it is even harder for them because they haven't ever seen most of their grandchildren, and certainly haven't had a chance to spend much time with any of them).

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Gaza is Israel's fault cartoons

I should really have titled this post 'proud to be a New Zealander', but some of you may have thought I was being serious.

Let me re-phrase that. I am proud to be a New Zealander (or kiwi as we like to call ourselves) but when I see how anti-Semitic - oops! I mean anti-Israel the media there is, I'm not sure any more.

Look at these cartoons from different Arab countries:

The first one is from Qatar, the second from Bahrain and the third from New Zealand.

Whoops! New Zealand isn't an Arab country. How did that one get in the list. Yet it seems that Mike Moreu is inspired by the Arab media for his ideas and cartoons.
It is the cartoon of the day on Stuff (which is NZs online newspaper). It is not a particularly funny or witty idea, but all three papers seem to view what is going on in Gaza as some sporting event set up by the Israelis to kill Palestinians. Clearly it cannot be the fault of the Palestinians!

Thanks to YID With LID for finding the cartoons from the Arab media.

have a nice day (I love how Americans say that even when they mean 'I have a migraine and an ingrown toenail. Your breath smells and you are driving me crazy for no good reason, and if I had a gun I would seriously consider shooting you right not, but since I don't - 'Have a nice day!')

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Nobel Prize stolen

Poor old Yasser. Not only is he dead, and not only has the Palestinian Authority that he set up fallen apart, but they had the audacity to steal his nobel prize as well!

The Hamas gunmen who broke into the Gaza house of late Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat on Saturday, also stole his Nobel Peace Prize and his widow's evening gowns, the Palestinian news agency Wafa reported.

So be on the lookout for masked armed men wearing evening frocks carrying a nobel prize. Listen to how seriously this is being treated by Fatah:

"This is a real crime which was preceded by crimes of killing, slaughter and theft by the gangs of the Hamas militia and its executing force in the presidential headquarters in Gaza, as well as the execution of Fatah officers.

Sorry, which is worse? Stealing the prize or killing and slaughtering? It is not clear to me (my Arabic grammar is not so good).

In my opinion the real crime was giving him the prize in the first place and rewarding terror by calling it peace. At least with Hamas they say openly what they want to do. They deserve the prize more.

I was thinking of what a nobel prize winner in a dress would look like, and I can't quite figure it out, but the latest recipient of the CBE is Barry Humphries, better known as Dame Edna Everage. Not a terrorist, just a commedian. But this is the news article:

DAME Edna Everage creator Barry Humphries is given a CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.

Comic Humphries, 73 — catchphrase “Hello possums” — admitted: “I am deeply honoured.”

Referring to his comedy alter egos, he added: “At last I can address Sir Les Patterson and Dame Edna Everage on an improved footing.”

And here is the photo:

Well done Barry

Blame Israel for everything

It never takes long for the world to blame Israel for whatever is wrong in the world. This time, of course, it is Gaza. Clearly Israel is responsible for the situation (actually, bizarrely, the critics of the world are right, but not in the way they had intended. If Israel had not negotiated with the PLO and given them control, or withdrawn from Gush Katif, or armed Fatah, Hamas would never have come to power and the situation in Gaza would be very different today - but even Olmert hasn't realised that yet). Abbas was probably the first to accuse Israel without even blaming them for anything when he said that "‘Hamas is drunk with power, acting like Israel!"

Jeopundit found an article in the Guardian that is more explicit in blaming both Israel and the USA for what is going on now.

But cudos to him for also finding an article on the Wall Street Journal which presents a much more (in my opinion) honest assesment. It includes the following information, showing why the world has encouraged the use of terror amongst the Palestinian leadership and rank and file:

In 1972 Palestinian terrorists murdered Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics. Yet only two years later Yasser Arafat addressed the U.N.'s General Assembly--the first non-government official so honored. In 1970 Arafat attempted to overthrow Jordan's King Hussein and tried to do the same a few years later in Lebanon. Yet in 1980, the European Community, in its Venice Declaration, recognized Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization as a legitimate negotiating partner.

In 1973, the National Security Agency recorded Arafat's telephoned instructions to PLO terrorists to murder Cleo Noel, the U.S. ambassador in Sudan, and his deputy George Curtis Moore. Yet in 1993, Arafat was welcomed in the White House for the signing of the Oslo Accords with Israel. That same year, the British National Criminal Intelligence Service reported that the PLO made its money from "extortion, payoffs, illegal arms-dealing, drug trafficking, money laundering and fraud." Yet over the next several years, the Palestinian Authority would become the largest single recipient of foreign aid on a per capita basis.

In 1996, after he had formally renounced terrorism in the Oslo Accords, Arafat told a rally in Gaza that "we are committed to all martyrs who died for the cause of Jerusalem starting with Ahmed Musa until the last martyr Yihye Ayyash"--Musa being the first PLO terrorist to be killed in 1965, and Ayyash, who was killed in 1996, being the Hamas mastermind of a series of suicide bombings in which scores of Israeli civilians were killed. Yet the Clinton Administration continued to pretend that Arafat was an ally in the fight against Hamas. In 2000, Arafat rejected an Israeli offer of statehood midwifed by President Clinton and instead initiated the bloody intifada that left 1,000 Israelis and 3,000 Palestinians dead.

In 2005, only months after Arafat's death, Israel dismantled its settlements and withdrew its forces from the Gaza Strip. Palestinians have used the opportunity to intensify their rocket fire at civilian targets within Israel. Last month, Israeli security services arrested two Gazan women, one of them pregnant, who were planning to enter Israel on medical pretexts in order to carry out suicide attacks. Yet the same month, the World Bank issued a report faulting Israel for restricting Palestinian freedom of movement.

Now it appears Hamas has taken control of the Gaza Strip's main road and its border with Egypt, as well as the offices of the so-called Preventive Security Services, traditionally a Fatah stronghold. "They are executing them one by one," a witness told the Associated Press of Hamas's reprisals against the Preventive Security personnel.

We need as many prayers as we can get to work our way out of this hole that we have dug ourselves.

Usually people stop digging at some point, but Olmert would not be one of those kinds of people. The headline today says it all:

PM: New situation an opportunity


Rock music at Jewish weddings - Yated's view

Deah v'Dibur is the online version of Yated Neeman (obviously since the internet is forbidden they can't give the same name to their online version, because that would imply that they use the internet. So, like everyone else, they just pretend that they don't hold of the internet and use it anyway). Yated is the main journal of Chareidi Judaism (that is not an endorsement, just what I think is a statement of fact. You are welcome to disagree).

They have outdone themselves in this article, which combines everything we expect from them: shoddy journalism, bad English, opinions stated as facts etc.

Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight - IN-DEPTH FEATURES

What surprised me somewhat about this article is that they are happy to use racist statements in their propaganda exercise. What does this line say to you?

"According to Allan Bloom (in his book The Closing of the American Mind) rock and roll is indeed no more and no less than the savage and primitive rhythm of darkest Africa." (From Present Tense: Rock and Roll and Culture, Ed. Anthony DeCurtis, p.47)

I looked in Alan Bloom. I don't believe he uses racist language, or blames the 'Africans' for the evils of society. (he is against rock music, and you can choose to agree or not, but why be racist about it).

And this quote comes five lines after this disclaimer:

(It was pointed out to us that one of the sources used was from a racist publication so we have removed it. It was not essential to any of the points of the article.)

- they don't even know racism until it is pointed out to them!!!

(and how about this one:

By the mid 1950s the effects of the singers and their immoral music could be seen in the behavior of American youth. Religious groups, local governments, police authorities and white citizens councils began to denounce rock and roll, connecting it in an unholy alliance to race, immorality and delinquency.

- only the white citizens???)

I am also amazed (though I shouldn't be) that since they claim that everything is the fault of the 'goyim', they happily quote from them when it suits them (since when was Frank Sinatra a Halachic authority) and base themselves on a Catholic p'sak halacha no less!!

In March 1957, fearing the effects of the "hedonistic, tribal rhythms" of rock and roll music, Chicago's Cardinal Stritch banned popular music from all Catholic-run schools. He later called a press conference to educate parents about the negative effects of rock music on their children.

(not to mention which countries they look to as role models:)

Public performances by rock singers were banned in many American cities, but the young people demanded their democratic rights to behave like animals, and only countries with totalitarian governments such as Russia, Cuba, Iran, Iraq and Egypt succeeded in banning the new form of teenage rebellion.

And this alleged quote from an alleged music professor would have Beethoven turning in his grave (although as a 'goy' I'm not sure he is allowed to):

" `I will explain to you what is `rock.' In all music there is a melody and a rhythm. In conventional music the melody is always the main factor and the rhythm is secondary to it. In rock music however, the principal force is always the rhythm, and the whole purpose of the rhythm in this music is just to waste time.'

Huh???? Rhythm in conventional music is secondary to the melody? I don't think that has been true since the gregorian plainchant in the middle ages.

I want to comment on the basic argument that all Jewish rock music should be banned in another post. But I wanted to congratulate Yated and Deah v'Dibur on printing one of the most offensive and idiotic articles I have ever read!
Well done.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Spy vs Spy

This blog entry has been sponsored by the kind people at Webroot Spy Sweeper (in conjunction with Pay Per Post).

I'm not such a good person to speak about internet security, because I'm always too nonchalant about the whole thing. I mean, anyone who wants to find out all my secrets just has to read this blog without having to snoop around my hard drive.

As a result (because the spy people do care a lot more than I do) I am always having to clean out my computer and get rid of all the spyware and other junk that crawls in there while I'm looking the other way.

Which is why anti-spyware is good news. Especially if it is the most award winning anti spyware stuff around. But what is really fun (if you want to be a super spy) is this little gadget to encipher or decipher code.

Copy this sequence:


Then go to this website and paste it in.

What does it say? Pretty cool huh!!

Webroot Spy Sweeper as the most viable option to kill Spyware, and should probably be on your computer. It is an excellent solution for all your spyware needs (and if you are anything like me, those needs are very great).

It even has neat packaging. Look at this:

Thanks for listening (well, reading actually)

Shabbat Shalom

Thursday, June 14, 2007

What's a life worth?

I have a price on my head! I now know how much my life is worth. Well, actually how much my death is worth. I finally bought myself some life insurance. Now, if anything happens to me (chas v'shalom) I am worth one million shekels. Not very much is it.

The question is, how much am I worth alive? I can't figure out if I am worth that much or not. Depends what kind of mood I'm in I suppose.

Life insurance is one of those things that allegedly shows a person has no faith in G-d. If someone really trusts that G-d will provide (so the saying goes), he won't require insurance.

There are many really good stories in 'a Tzadik in our Time' by Simcha Raz. This life insurance one is cute, but slightly dangerous. (it is on pp. 99-100 of the English book).

Someone once tried to sell R' Aryeh Levine a life insurance policy. It was someone who was working on commission and needed the income, so the Rabbi wanted very much to help him. But he decided that he couldn't have life insurance.

Since G-d is a true judge, he must take into account what will happen to a person's relatives and friends if the person were to be punished. Very often we are spared, not in our own merit, but because of the hardship it would cause to our family if something were to happen. This is what he told the insurance seller:

Assume now (said the good Rabbi) that, Heaven forbid, I committed some terrible sins for which I deserved death. There would be a trial before the A-lmighty, and He would prepare to give the fatal verdict - wen suddenly an angel would rise up and say, 'Wait a moment. The man has a wife and children. What of the great hardship they will suffer if his life is ended? Do they desert that?' So to speak, the A-lmighty will shake His head and will prepare to cancel the verdict, to let me live so that I can support my family -when suddenly another angel will arise and say, 'Yes - but the man has life insurance!'

Still, every day when I see flyers requesting tzedaka for orphans and widows who have nothing to live on, I think how good it is to rely on G-d, but how bad it is to substitute that reliance with relying on other people instead. Is it really a good thing to assume that you can become a burden on others to demonstrate your trust in G-d? I know there are many people who have no alternative, or those who took precautions and nevertheless have to come cap in hand to ask for tzedakah, through no fault of their own.

But it seems obvious to me, that even though it is risky to have life insurance, it is better than being dependent on others and being a burden on society.

And at least I know how much I'm worth.

computers, coupons and chochma

I just bought myself a new computer (as you know from a previous blog entry) and it came with Windows Vista. I really don't like it very much. Apart from using up so much memory that I can't do anything else, I can't get my Bar Ilan responsa CD to work. Hopefully they will send me a patch or something to make them compatible. Otherwise I'm not very happy.

Speaking of computers and programmes, a friend just showed me his newest toy - otzar hachochma which is a hard drive that comes with 23,000 books!!! It is on sale this week because of Jewish Book Week for $1380 (do they have that outside of Israel, or is it only a local thing?) It is quite amazing. you get the original text of all these books, including some manuscripts (I think there are 13 different versions of Talmud) but most importantly it is searchable! You can look by word or by topic or by author... Enough books to keep a person happy for a lifetime!

The computer I bought was a Dell laptop, and I thought I had got a good price, but I am kicking myself because I just found this site which has coupons for even bigger discounts off of Dell computers.

Dell computer coupons

I could have probably saved hundreds of dollars (which I could have used to buy Otzar Hachochma). Oh well, I'll know better for next time.

There is also a main page for other kinds of coupons (over 1000 different participating stores) so if you want to buy anything at all it is probably worth a look.

Happy shopping.

(for the record this post has been sponsored by

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Mazel Tov Peres

Well, the impossible has happened! Shimon Peres has won an election (well, technically he didn't win because the other candidates both pulled out, but he would have won). He is now the president elect of Israel in an honest and open election. In two months he will be 84 years old, and he has just been elected for a 7 year term of office. By the end surely he will be one of the oldest politicians in the world (and who can imagine anything ever happening to him? He seems to be immortal, certainly he is politically eternal). So I was wrong, thinking that he could never win.

On the other hand, Barak won his election as leader of the Labour Party with only a small amount of cheating (and only by Arabs and Druze, so it is probably OK).

Barak received a total of 34,542, while Ayalon got 32,117 of the votes (47.7 percent), while 683 of the party's registered voters abstained from voting. That means the difference between them was 2,425! That is a very small margin of victory. Ayalon was gracious in defeat. Listen to this:

Ayalon praised Barak for his victory and said that he would cooperate with the new chairman. However, he told Israel Radio that irrespective of the result, which he said he accepted, he would submit a complaint to police and to the attorney general over misdemeanors he claimed were witnessed at several polling stations. "Labor is my house and my house must be clean," he said.

The head of a polling station in Shfaram was allegedly caught stuffing dozens of ballots for Barak. In Tira, police came to the polling station after its chairman complained he was attacked by a Barak loyalist. The Ayalon campaign asked to stop the voting in Julis, because people were voting there without identification.

I am beginning to like Ayalon more and more. The truth is that I knew nothing about him before these elections. Now he seems to be an honest person (which is impossible in politics), and even though I don't agree with his views, I can respect someone who respects me. This is what Wikipedia has to say about him:

On 25 June 2003, Ayalon launched, together with Palestinian professor Sari Nusseibeh, a peace initiative called "The People's Voice". The goal of the initiative is to collect as many signatures of Israelis and Palestinians as possible for the peace plan guidelines supporting a two-state solution without the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

Although Ayalon promotes traditional left-wing ideas, he insists he is not a part of the Israeli left and spurns the Israeli peace camp for its hostility toward the Israeli public and especially toward the settlers. Ayalon managed to outrage many left-wing activists when he said that only Ariel Sharon and the Likud could bring peace.

He took part in the "Mate ha-Rov" demonstration in support of the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and made a very critical speech against the Israeli peace camp. He said:

We, who protest here, did not succeed in sinking through to the majority of the people. The majority is silent and therefore has no influence. I will tell you why the majority is not here. They are not here because we didn't manage to settle in the hearts [Hebrew: להתנחל בלבבות, originally a phrase invented by the settlers] of this true majority, the majority that makes the difference. We didn't manage to talk and perhaps we didn't even want to. We turned the settlers of Yesha into enemies and in an overbearing manner we banished them to the outskirts. We will only succeed when the grief of the evacuees will overcome the joyous cry of the evacuators. We claimed the desire for peace solely as our own. The majority sits at home and is quiet, although it wants out of Gaza the same as we do. The majority doesn't care, and shouldn't care, which person signs the accords to end the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict. In order to get out of Gaza, the majority of the people must not be silent. [2]

So, (apart from the fact that he teamed up with Peretz in this second round,) the only thing I have against him (and this is definitely tongue in cheek in case you thought I was serious) is that he bears an uncanny resemblance to Riff Raff (aka Richard O'Brian from New Zealand). Can you tell them apart?

Let's hope that somehow his the two victories of the two 'old' leaders will somehow usher in a 'new' era of politics. Unfortunately I don't think Israel is ready for the new just yet though (at least the politicians aren't). And when it goes pear shaped for Barak (probably within the year) I hope Ayalon tries again and does well.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Making money with blogs

I have to be honest - one of the reasons that I started writing a blog was to try and make some money. I had read all these stories of bloggers earning 6 figure incomes, and I figured - why not me?

It is true that I enjoy blogging, and it is nice to think that there are also some people who read what I have to say. The feedback through comments and e-mails is great. I also hope that somehow through this blog and my other blogs ( and there is more Torah in the world (of cyberspace).

But it is nice to make money from it.

You will have noticed a button at the end of my posts with 'get paid to review this blog' - well you can. The nice people at Pay Per Post want to give you money to write stuff in your blog. Like this entry, for example. They will also pay you to review my blog on your blog.

It is really simple. You just click here ads on blogs and hopefully you will start earning money.

Since this is my first post for them, I will have to report back later on how good they are at customer service. But it is worth a try - right?

Brother Ben's music video

My baby brother Ben has just made his first music video. You can see it here at you tube. (It is much better than MBD, which is not saying anything at all). I think its good. Make sure you leave a comment for him about it.

You are what you eat - brachot and competitive eating

I am going to begin teaching the laws of brachot from next week, both at Shapells and at Midreshet Rachel (and I just found out in the middle of writing this that I'll be teaching a bekiyus shiur of gemara brachos - the 7th perek). Brachot is by far the most complicated halachic area that I teach, and it is quite unfair that it is one of the most basic areas of halacha, which even kids are expected to know how to keep.
One of the many difficulties is to know what bracha to say on which food, a problem exacerbated by the complex food production techniques - we don't even know what we are eating some of the time! Not to mention what is the main component and what is secondary. Life would be so much simpler if we just ate simple foods that were prepared at home.

Random thoughts- Do they have meaning?: What The World Eats has a link to a wonderful little photo essay showing what different peoples in different countries eat (and how much they spend on food a week). Wouldn't life be simpler if we spent only $5 a week of food and ate more healthily. The essay is here - well worth a look: Time photo essay

At the other extreme we have 'achila gassa' which is eating not for enjoyment or pleasure but just to stuff food in. This kind of eating does not require a bracha at all. But did you know there are world rankings for 'competitive eating'? Number 1 in the world is Takeru Kobayashi.

He competed against a kodayak bear for goodness sake!!!

But June 2nd was a significant date (apart from being my birthday) because he was finally beaten then (last week in fact). He was beaten by an American called Joey Chestnut. He ate 59 hotdogs in 12 minutes!!!

If you are really up to it you can watch a clip of him here:

Bon Apetit!

Monday, June 11, 2007

25th Sivan - yarzheit of Rabban Shimon...

Three of the 'Ten Martyrs' were killed on this date: Rabbi Chanina S'gan HaCohanim, Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel and Rabbi Yishmael ben Elisha. (this is brought down in the Tur and Shulchan Aruch OC 580). Their deaths are remembered in the kinah of Tisha B'Av 'Eileh Ezkera'.

Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel was the grandson of Hillel. He was the nasi durign the end of the Second Temple period and after the destruction, at the time when Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai was the Rosh Yeshiva. His grandson was Rebbe Yehuda HaNasi.

Rabbi Yishmael, Cohen Gadol went to learn Torah from Rabbi Nechuniah ben Hakanah at the age of 13. He was able to speak to angels, and when the Sages heard the decree that ten of their number were to be killed as atonement for the sin of Yosef's brothers it was R' Yishmael who ascended to Heaven to hear whether this was decreed from on High.
He was very beautiful, and the Talmud tells that when he was being taken out to be killed, Caesar's daughter saw him and asked that his skin be flayed from his face and made into a mask so that she could gaze at his beauty (Avodah Zarah chapter 1).
The Talmud in Brachot (7a) tells that he used to go into the Holy of Holies each Yom Kippur and would be escorted in and out by an 'old man'. G-d asked R' Yishmael to give Him a blessing, which was turned into the well known song 'tanya'
He is credited as the author of the mechilta (a halachic commentary on the book of Shemot).

Rabbi Chanina S'gan HaCohanim (deputy cohen gadol) appears in Masechet Avot and says (chapter 2) 'pray for the welfare of the governement for if it were not for the fear of them, each person would swallow his neighbour alive.

Put your money where your mouth is!

I know he is trying to become Prime Minister, and he is probably not completely squeaky clean, but I would vote for him. Arkady Gaydamak's latest bid to gain popularity is purchasing the entire chain of Tiv Taam stores and is going to make them all kosher (until now they have controlled something like 70% of the non-kosher meat market)! Here is the link on Ynet: Gaydamak to make Tiv Taam kosher.

This is much better than protesting, writing letters to the editor, picketing, burning garbage cans and putting up posters. Why doesn't he buy out the 'rainbow pride parade' next?

Tanchum wrote this excellent post about the story for

Gaydamak, When Are You Comin’ Back?

He offered to fortify the buildings of the besieged city of Sderot, which has been under Qassam missile fire emanating from Gaza for the past two years. His offer was rebuffed by the defense establishment, which had thus far done nothing adequate to protect Sderot’s residents. It should have been obvious to everyone that the umbrage taken by the Israeli government was due to the fact that this guy was just putting his money where his mouth is--something that rarely happens in the Knesset.

Who is he? A rich guy named Arkady Gaydamak. Gaydamak was born in the Ukraine in 1952, and moved, with his family, to Moscow four years later. His family emigrated to Israel fairly early for Soviet Jews--in 1971. He enlisted in the Israeli Army the following year, and by the following year had already left Israel for France. Although he started out doing menial labor, he eventually founded Gaydamak Translations, which facilitated commercial contacts between Russian and French corporations; the venture was successful, and he opened up a branch in Canada. Key to his success has been the business contacts that have accrued over time, people with whom he has been able to create a network of import/export companies throughout Europe. His combination of businesses have earned him billions of dollars. Did I mention that he owns several sports teams including Betar Jerusalem and a bunch of newspapers like the Moscow News, as well?

He returned to Israel at the age of 48 (although he still maintains a permanent residence in Moscow; I can’t keep track of it all), which was, well, only seven years ago. Why? Well, for one thing he became a wanted man in France; the French government still has an active request for his extradition. He was allegedly involved in arms dealing while trying to further his oil interests in Angola. Angola was in desperate need of weapons to suppress a rebellion, and Gaydamak was able to facilitate a deal between the Angolan government and a Russian arms manufacturer via a Slovakian company called ZTS-OSOS. The payment to ZTS-OSOS was in oil, the value of which was deposited in the company’s French bank account, controlled by Gaydamak and his associate, Pierre Falcone. According to Gaydamak, their profit was simply the difference between the buy and sell prices of the oil. But the enormity of the profit led to a whole money-laundering investigation, allegations of fraud, etc. etc. The scandal affected the upper echelons of the French government. Never mind.

While he’s been in Israel, he has provided help to thousands of people from Nitzanim and Sderot, constructing tent cities for them. He’s thrown big parties on Chol HaMoed for the religious public. And the latest and greatest is, Gaydamak just purchased the Tiv Taam supermarket chain.

Tiv Taam is significant as being Israel’s largest provider of non-kosher meats in the Israeli marketplace, having purchased Kibbutz Mizra’s processing plant some years ago. Mizra, founded 84 years ago in the Jezreel Valley, was the Factory of Treife in Israel until the waves of immigration from the former Soviet Union created competition in the industry. At some point, Tiv Taam bought Mizra’s plant and the supermarket chain itself became the Porkapallooza of Palestine. Now Gaydamak just bought it for 80% more than its market value. For a shrewd businessman, that seems a bit dissonant. What was his motivation?

“In my view, as a Jew and as a public figure in Jewish society, the promotion, distribution and sale of pork products in Israel offends the Jewish tradition. Therefore, my first order of business will be to ban the distribution and sale of pork products,” Gaydamak explained to Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot in an interview. “I believe that in a Jewish state, in which there is a large Muslim minority, selling pork is a provocation,” the Russian-Israeli billionaire told Army Radio.

In addition to banning Tiv Taam’s sale of treife, Gaydamak is restructuring the company’s schedule. The supermarkets will now be closed on the Sabbath and holidays, as compared to its historical one-day-per-year closure on Yom Kippur. Never mind the fact that this move is likely to reflect Gaydamak’s political ambitions; this change is a major upset for a longstanding cultural icon in secular Israel. The thing is, it is also an example of a less familiar trend in Israel, with its odd, socialist/non-profit and idealistic hobby horse: the idea that--no matter where you stand--money talks and suckers walk.

Freedom of expression

This is really interesting. I'm not used to such openness and honesty. The latest blog to join JBlog! central is Window Into Palestine.

JBlog! define themselves as:

JBlog Central provides an easy way to find Jewish blogs of interest.

It's amazing how the phenomenon of blogging has exploded into popular culture. And, as the popularity of blogs grew by leaps and bounds, so did the sheer volume of blogs. Each day, thousands more are added, to the point that it has become virtually impossible to get a handle on which blogs do a good job of covering any single topic.

That's where we enter the picture.

Five years ago, we launched the -- a site dedicated to providing information and discussion about Israel, Judaism, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and much more. Even though many similar sites exist, quickly became known as a place for high-quality discussion and debate. It has flourished ever since, because it was able to cut through the noise and make its voice heard.

These days, readers of blogs face two challenges: First, how to keep up with the rapidly expanding number of blogs and, second, how to know which of the hundreds (if not thousands) of blogs are worth a read.

In response to the first challenge, certain sites began to offer aggregation services, whereby they provide a single destination with content from many sources. But there is still another challenge to overcome. Finding a good-quality blog is like finding a needle in a haystack.

This site is our attempt to make sense of the Blogosphere. Not only do we aggregate blog entries from a wide variety of bloggers, but we also enable the audience to vote on their favorite posts. By analyzing the votes of confidence of our readers, it becomes apparent which blogs shine.

When they claim that they have a 'wide variety of bloggers' they really mean it!

Good for them. They still have a long way to go before they counter all the anti-Palestinian blogs, but this is a start. Doesn't mean I agree with this blogger, but isn't it great to have free speech/ blogging rights!

Well done JBlog!

Looking Bad(ly)

Last week we read the Torah portion of the spies. They were punished for bringing back a bad report about the land of Israel. As a result of this report and its acceptance by the people, the Israelites had to wander in the desert for 40 years (corresponding to the 40 days the spies were spying out the land) until that generation had died and the new generation, their children, were finally able to enter the land of Israel.
R’ Chaim Shmuelevitz asks why they were punished for 40 years if the sin was only the speaking and acceptance of the evil report about Israel. In other words, why were the spies punished for doing their job of scouting out the land? And why were the people punished for doing nothing during those 40 days?
R’ Matis Weinberg points out that the Hebrew words for speaking evil, lashon hara, don’t actually means ‘bad language/ tongue’ (that would be ‘lashon ra’ah, since lashon is a feminine word). Rather it means ‘the language of evil’. The real sin of lashon hara is not causing damage to someone else, or offending them, but is more fundamental. It is the sin of seeing the world in a way that everything looks bad. Speaking about the bad things that one sees is just the consequence of viewing the world in this way. R’ Matis also points out that Rambam puts the laws of lashon hara in the book of ‘de’os’, which talks about perfection of character traits, rather than in a section of forbidden speech or damages.
The main prohibition of lashon hara is viewing the world in a certain way, where everything looks bad. This was the sin of the spies – for 40 days they only saw the negative aspects of the land of Israel. All the miracles that G-d did for them while they were there, and all the Divine protection they received, they managed to twist into seeing how bad the land was.
Similarly, the people who were so keen to send the spies were not looking at the positive aspects of Israel. They wanted spies who would seek out the negatives and allow them to remain in the desert, or even return to Egypt, rather than having to fight a war to enter the land. The whole enterprise was therefore doomed from the outset. This is why they were punished for 40 years. Moshe realized that things were going wrong from the beginning, which is why he prayed for Yehoshua that he should be saved from this wicked counsel.
I always wondered how people could view Israel in such a negative light that they were punished with 40 years of exile. Sure, there are some things in Israeli society, mentality or geography that I complain about from time to time, but how could the whole country be viewed so negatively? What about the daily miracles of survival and blessing? What about the homeland for the Jewish people? What about the ingathering of the exiles?
Luckily I have found the answer to my question – from the ostensibly unbiased news service of the BBC (I say ostensibly, because the Arabs in Britain complain that their news service is biased in favor of Israel – bear that in mind as you look at this article!).
Just to clarify – they don’t tell too many outright lies. But they manage to distort the facts to see only the negative side (from the Israeli/ Jewish perspective) of every main area of the modern political situation in Israel.
So, if you have the stomach to read what might have come directly from the words of the spies (and you will need a strong stomach) – here is the summary of the Middle East story, and obstacles to peace, by the BBC:

Obstacles to peace: Moveable frontiers
Obstacles to peace: Refugees
Obstacles to peace: Water
Obstacles to peace: Jerusalem

And for a final stomach wrenching personal account:
Samia Zaru, Palestinian refugee sculptor living in Jordan

Or perhaps you don’t agree with me. If you think these are fair and honest reports please leave your comments at the bottom of the page. And if you think they are seeing the real picture and I am wearing rose colored glasses, please let me know.

(cross posted from

Friday, June 08, 2007

What's worse than Jewish music?

NOTHING! Not even the original dodgy 70s disco eurovision pop song that it was ripped off from!

[caution: possible kol isha warning! and definite dodgy 70s disco warning!!]

(I know this is old news, but I thought this edit was well done. The only problem is that I have had this tune in my head for the past 24 hours!!!)

On the other hand, if you want some real Jewish music, check out Blog in Dm. A great collection of everything good in the Jewish music scene today. (and Deep Purple's 'Smoke on the Water')

Back to the disco:

Wikipedia know all about them

Dschinghis Khan (Pronounced "Jingis" Khan (IPA pronunciation: 'dʒɪŋ.ɪs kaːn)) was a German pop band, created in 1979 to compete in the Eurovision Song Contest. The name of the band was chosen to fit the song of the same name, written and produced by Ralph Siegel with lyrics by Bernd Meinunger.

Appearing at the height of the disco boom and following on the heels of other German-produced bands such as Boney M, Arabesque, and Silver Convention, the band achieved wide popularity throughout the world, especially in Europe, Russia, Australia and Japan, though they went wholly unnoticed in the United States. Their songs invariably were themed on historical figures and exotic cultures and locales.

Though the group broke up in the mid-1980s, it has enjoyed a recent resurgence in popularity on the Internet due to the discovery of a video of them performing their hit song Moskau. The video and the song associated with it have become a popular topic on blogs and can be considered an Internet fad. The specific video was a part of the show "Disco", very popular on ZDF through the 70s.

On Wikipedia they even know the truth about this song:
The Yiddish song on Jerusalem Not For Sale (1986) (with chorus, "Yidden, Yidden") is an adaption of "Dschinghis Khan" (English: Genghis Khan), from the German band Dschinghis Khan.

Shabbos Torah - Lech Lecha

Some things to read over Shabbos (my wife is waiting for the computer, so this will have to be quick)

We read chapter 3 of Pirkei Avos this week I am working on a translation of Rabbeinu Yona's commentary of Avos which will hopefully be published soon. In the mean time you can look at my first rough draft of it over here:

Rabbeinu Yona

Please send me your thoughts and comments. There is still a lot of work to be done on it, but I would very much appreciate your feedback. Also don't forget to check out the latest on the parsha from

I have written a few things on the parsha, Shelach Lecha, which may be of interest (click on the links for each one).

A summary of the portion

My thoughts on the parsha (written many years ago while I was in Edinburgh)

And my translation of selections from Tosefes Bracha's commentary on the parsha (by R' Baruch Halevi Epstein - the Torah Temima)

Shabbat Shalom (I know I can't make up my mind how to pronounce Hebrew words - that's always been one of my many problems)

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Mussar from headphones

I recently purchased a pair of headphones manufactured by Maxell. They say on the outside of the packaging 'LIFETIME WARANTY'. They look like this, only white and black:

This is pretty impressive for fairly cheap headphones, but I was curious as to whose lifetime they were referring to (and how they know I won't pass it on as a yerusha to my children.

Luckily all my questions were answered as soon as I opened up the packaging and read the terms of the warranty:

Maxell warrants this product to be free from all defects for a period of 90 dys from the date of original purchase. This Warranty does not apply to normal wear or damage due to accident, abnormal use, misuse or neglect...

So in fact it must be referring to the lifetime of a geriatric moth. AND this warranty covers neither normal wear and tear, nor abnormal use. Huh??? So what exactly would be covered??

Luckily they were cheap, and I didn't expect them to last a lifetime anyway, but it started me thinking about how things appear from the outside and how the truth on the inside is very different. We also imagine ourselves to be immortal, we think that we have a lifetime guarantee. Yet our days are finite, and we should make the most of them now while we can!

This is actually always the ploy of the yetzer hara (anyone have a good translation of that? evil urge? evil desire? evil inclination?). Enjoy yourself now, it says in our heads, because there is always tomorrow. Why put off until tomorrow what you can put off until the day after tomorrow?

But then it catches up with us, and we run out of time. In the words of Pink Floyd, "We run and we run to catch up with the sun, but its fleeting" Once the 90 days is up, who knows what will happen. The lifetime warranty runs out only too fast.

You see, we can even learn a lesson from little headphones. Now if I could only get the online shiur to download I'd be able to learn a lesson with the headphones as well.

Carry on.

Life Coaching and invisible ice cream cones

Ben Goldfarb is a good friend of mine (it makes me feel very old to think how long I've known him for). And yet he still continues to amaze me. He sits and learns every morning, and is an NLP life coach in the afternoons. He he has worked in the hi-tech
industry in Israel. He served in a reserve combat engineering unit of the IDF since 1991 and was transferred to a reserve unit of the IDF's Military
Intelligence Branch in 1999.not to mention public speaking trainer, father, and now - comedian! Here is his standup routine on Stimulus Response:

Don't press my buttons!!

As always, the trick is to translate thoughts into actions. It is all mind over matter (but if I don't mind it doesn't matter).

What could be more important in life than a keyboard for pushing your butons? Unless of course it is an invisible ice cream cone. You can't have anything better than that surely! (Lefty sells one to Ernie in this classic Sesame Street sketch):

Watch out for Lenny the Lip and don't drop your invisible ice cream cone. I always thought that Ernie's favourite flavour was pistachio!

Grandma Rose's Song

I was introducing the kids to the beauty of Simon and Garfunkel last night (my wife went out, and when she isn't at home who knows what may happen!) We listened to a few songs and then I took out the guitar and we tried to sing a few.
It seems that whenever I ask another Rabbi if it is permitted to listen to non-Jewish music they tell me that if it is Simon and Garfunkel it is OK. Do they not know of any other bands to give as examples? It doesn't really help me because I am far more likely to listen to Whitesnake or Ozzy than some Jewish boys with acoustic guitars.

I remembered that Lazer Beams holds that S&G are really chasidim. Poor things!

Emuna is a bridge that takes you over the troubled waters of this perilous earth, and gets you safely to the other side. Two good Jewish boys, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, are really Breslevers at heart, even though they don't yet know it. Such a beautiful melody could only come from the upper portals. I've often sailed through an hour or more of personal prayer, talking and singing to Hashem with this niggun. Personal prayer takes on a powerful dimension when you set it to music.

But that elicited a strong response from CosmicX:

I am wondering if Lazer Brody is aware to the depths of Tum'ah that Simon and Garfunkel have fallen. Can one oppose the "shame parade" and sing the praises of these assimilated singers at the same time? Is this what Rabbi Brody calls "shmirat habrit"? I personally don't think that Torah Jews should look to ride the backs of Jewish celebrities that have turned their backs on the Jewish people.

Oh well, can't please all the people all of the time. At least W. Axl Rose has never claimed to be Jewish, so we don't have to worry about him turning his back!

All this was brought together in a post from written by Peter Himmelman. Not only was he the only frum Jew in the music biz until Matissiyahu came along (and I don't count Shlock Rock), but I believe he is also Bob Dylan's son-in-law. Two good reasons to like him, even if his music is not your cup of tea. Even though the end of the article is a bit too 'they got what they deserved' for my liking, I thought it was a cute piece. Let me know what you think. (It also provided me with an education into what secular American Jews eat! In NZ it was never like that!)

Grandma Rose's Song by Peter Himmelman

When I tell you I used to help my mom stud ham with cloves, don't get the wrong idea.

Our family wasn't assimilated, we just didn't know anything about keeping kosher and besides, we liked ham. Remember, for Jews who don't keep kosher, there exists a kind of "pork/kashrut hierarchy". It goes like this: All Jews eat bacon, especially in BLT's; they're widely thought of as completely kosher. Barbecued spareribs are almost as kosher as bacon, but some feel guilty about eating them and will refrain, (unless the ribs in question are especially well prepared). Most Jews have a problem with ham. However, a ham sandwich is not as bad as when ham constitutes the main dish. Lastly, we come to the issue of pork chops. In the Minneapolis suburb where I grew up, I never met anyone who had even dreamed of eating them...much less preparing them in the home.

Why this is, I have no idea; nonetheless, it's a verifiable fact.

That said, I grew up in a home that was very Jewishly identified. My mother lit Shabbos candles, my father made Kiddush over the Welch's grape juice, and mostly, there was my Grandma Rose.

She came to America from Romania when she was eight years old and though she spoke English well, I personally never heard her use a sentence that didn't contain some Yiddish. And there was the Yiddish song that she used to sing to my siblings and me. A tragic folksong really, composed by a woman whose husband had died of tuberculosis. Grandma Rose learned it while rocking the cradle of the woman's fatherless daughter.

Though the song was born of tragedy, it never stopped my grandma from singing it to us as she tucked us into bed, or bathed us, or served us her noodle kugel.

Growing up, I have to admit, I often took her for granted. But all that changed one afternoon in 1974 when I got the brilliant idea of "borrowing" some plastic tubing and Pyrex beakers from the eighth grade science lab to create the world's most elaborate hookah pipe. Pant-legs bulging with newly liberated science equipment, I passed Grandma Rose in the kitchen as she chopped eggplant and onions.

After spending half an hour in the basement with my new invention, I went back upstairs and found her still busy; humming quietly to herself. I stood in the hallway watching. "Grandma," I finally said, "would you sing that song...the Yiddish one that you always sing? I want to write it down."

From that day forward, those eight familiar stanzas had become much more to me than a quaint old tune. With it, I began to forge a link with a part of myself that had been hidden away. I learned to play it on guitar and later, when my grandma had lapsed into senility, my family called on me to sing it for her -- as if to temporarily pull her back to us. It worked for a while. The song made her sit up straighter. It made her eyes lighten...sometimes she would even mouth the words. At some point though, something pulled her beyond even the reach of that fragile tune.

But music continued to pull at me and one night, years later, I was playing a show in Los Angeles. The record company people were out in force. The talent booker from the Tonight Show was there. And I still don't know why, but in the middle of that set, I stopped the show and quietly sang my Grandma Rose's song.

When I got backstage, my agent and my music attorney, (both Jews of course), were clearly upset. Arms folded across his chest, the attorney spoke first. "Pete, you gotta understand, what you did out there tonight was fine for a JCC, but for the Roxy? C'mon, it was way too Jewish!" My agent was nodding in agreement.

After collecting my thoughts I said, "You fools. If I were a Seminole Indian and I started playin' a song that I learned from my grandma ...about the Great Spirit or whatever, you guys would have been moved to tears. But since you're both so filled with self-loathing, none of the beauty of that song could touch you."

Now I'm not saying that Grandma Rose's song has mystical powers or anything like that... but the end of the story is this: The agent is currently...uh, "between" jobs and the attorney...well, he's grown a long beard and is living with his wife and five kids in the Old City of Jerusalem.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Life made simple - simple information for windows

This programme just made my life a whole lot easier. I bought myself a new computer on my way to England, and now I have the fun job of transferring all the old files and programmes from this to that. Of course I am not clever enough to keep the keys and codes that I need in a safe place. Instead of having to run around the house finding evrything I need, this simple programme showed me everything I will ever need to know about every programme and every password on my computer.


I'm sure you would never use this programme for nefarious acts such as illegal copies of software and things. Or stealing passwords. Please don't.
But if you have forgotten the password for an internet site, or need to reinstall a programme onto your computer, this little thing gives you all the answers.

I know this is well off topic from my normal blogging (don't worry - more to come soon - it seems that people like my ideas of quantum halacha, so hopefully I'll put up some more on that soon. And I also have some thoughts on music, and particularly Simon and Garfunkel), but I had to quickly share this with you, in case any of you are having a computer crisis at the moment.
Back to work (on the computer)

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Quantum Halacha

I've been investigating the nature and development of halacha for the past few months. It is extremely interesting to try and figure out how the pieces all fit together.
How are we to understand the famous statement of Rabbi Yehoshua (Bava Metzia 59b) that 'Torah is not in Heaven' (lo bashamayim hi). According to the simple reading, G-d no longer has a say in the halacha since he has given the authority to the Rabbis (at least until the closing of the Talmud, but probably even until today) to decide what Jews should and should not be doing. But how can G-d not decide the halacha if it is supposed to be Divine?
There is an idea which I have heard from others, which makes a lot of sense to me (even though the Talmud and Rambam can't have known of it in these terms) which is that halacha behaves like a subatomic particle - in a quantum manner. Heisenberg's uncertainty principle holds that we can never know both the momentum and the position of an electron. If we know the position, the electron has, in effect, no momentum. Conversely, if we know the momentum it has no location but appears as a cloud. It was on this point that Einstein famously said "G-d doesn't play dice" (to which Niels Bohr replied "Albert, stop telling G-d what he can do!").
It is even worse than that if you like the billiard ball model of the universe. Most scientists agree that the electron doesn't even have a position or a momentum until we look for it. In other words it is neither until we decide what it should be by looking for it. The observer changes the facts by doing the experiment. This is basically Schroedinger's cat in a nutshell.
People don't like the idea of quantum mechanics because it is really hard to get your head around. I was just rereading 'The Fire in the Equations' by Kitty Ferguson (an excellent book by the way). She gives an analogy in the name of Professor John Wheeler.
Here is his version of Twenty Questions, Quantum Style.
Professor Wheeler is IT. We all assume that he has chosen a secret word, but he decides to play a trick on us. He doesn't choose any word at all. The game begins. 'Animal, vegetable or mineral?' we ask. Prof. Wheeler, having no secret word in mind, just a blur of every noun in his English vocabulary, is free to choose any of the three categories. 'Animal' he answers. As we all shift our attention to the animal kingdom, the blur of possibilities becomes smaller. 'Mammal?' someone asks. 'No answers Prof. Wheeler, though he could just as honestly have answered 'yes'. 'Reptile?' is then next question. 'Yes,' says Prof. Wheeler with a congratulatory nod, although he might just as truthfully have said 'no'. now we all think of snakes and lizards and the like, a blur of reptilian life in our minds. A blur of reptilian life in Prof. Wheeler's mind too. There is no definite reptile lurking there in his mind's eye. As the game goes on Prof. Wheeler may have to be very clever in order to keep each answer consistent with all his other answers, but if he does, can you see that in the end we will arrive at a definite word, although there was not one waiting to be found in Prof. Wheeler's mind? The avenue our questions have taken has helped create the hidden word.

Perhaps halacha operates in a similar way? If we substitute Prof. Wheeler for (l'havdil) G-d, and the 20 questions for the development of halacha, we can arrive at the correct halachic decision using the process without contradicting the intention of G-d.
Lo bashamayim hi - it is not in Heaven. We can make the halacha (as long as we use the correct system). If we do, we will always reach the intention of G-d!
This is a difficult concept, and I'm not sure if it is right, but it helps me to understand why we do what we do. It also removes many of the questions that people have about halacha and tradition. Perhaps more about that later.
Hope you enjoyed this interesting idea (and please excuse the pop science book - a bad habit of mine).
Good night

Just surfing

This is an article on a blog about the difficulties of keeping nida for a deaf person. I don't think I've ever read a better explanation of the positive aspects of hilchot nida than this. Fantastic read.

Jewish Deaf Motorcycling Dad: The Niddah Difference

Does conservative Judaism always have to be wrong on principle? I don't think so, and neither do the people at 'This is Babylon'. Look at this post about the state of kashrut and ethical behaviour:

This is Babylon.

Even as a vegetarian (or perhaps because I'm a vegetarian) I think that kashrus cannot be used as an excuse to avoid hygiene, health or humanitarian laws (or any other laws for that matter, but that is a different topic).

There is an interesting (if flawed) article here about the impossibility of evolution based on the staggeringly large numbers involved:

Math Formula for the Impossibility of Evolution

(I think the obvious flaw, even if all the numbers are correct is that we are here. Therefore whatever the statistics say, it is a certainty. Statistics only tell us the chances of things happening, but once they have happened the statistics don't mean anything. Otherwise none of us would exist, because the statistical chances of our DNA lining up (with all the things that went before that) and our being born and growing to adulthood are infinitesimally small. But we do - I think (as Descartes would say))

Poor old (young) Gavi is trying to make Aliya. But it is not easy. I wish her and the family every success. Perhaps there is someone who has better connections than me and can help them?

Read about it here

And finally, on a lighter note, what happens if you stick a toothpick in two 'Easter peeps' and stick them in the microwave? Peep jousting of course. A battle to the death! Enjoy (and there are plenty more where that came from).

That was my Monday! Have a happy Tuesday.