Monday, December 31, 2007

Blood on their hands?

I always thought that Ynet was a leftist website. At least that doesn't prevent them laughing at the craziness of the current political situation in Israel.

This could have come straight from Israel Satire Laboratories!

Blood on whose hands?

Avi Rath describes imaginary government session on release of Palestinian murderers

Published: 12.31.07, 00:07 / Israel Opinion

Prime minister: My government colleagues, I asked to hold this urgent session regarding the question of goodwill gestures. Two days have passed since we made the last gesture to our Palestinian friends. I certainly believe that if we are not quick to undertake additional gestures, the moderate factions on the other side would find it difficult to convince their people of the need for peaceful coexistence. I ask that the next list of prisoners to be released be prepared.

Respondent A: Mr. prime minister. The next list includes terrorists with blood on their hands!

Prime minister: I want to clarify this issue of “blood on their hands” once and for all. I’m starting to get sick and tired of those repeated chants of “blood on their hands”. They are all about demagoguery and hypocrisy. The precise definition of “blood” in my dictionary is “a red fluid containing tiny particles and providing oxygen and other nutrients to body cells, while removing waste.” And I ask you, my fellow government members, have you seen with your own eyes those tiny particles on the terrorists’ hands? Moreover, I checked in the dictionary the exact meaning of the word “hand”. The definition is very precise on the one hand, but certainly leaves room for interpretation on the other hand. According to the dictionary, “hand” means “any one of the two upper limbs of a person.” And I ask, what does “upper” mean exactly? Upper compared to what? What is this arrogance? And on top of that, you keep on challenging me with that slogan: Blood on their hands – and I ask: what do you mean by “on”? And what if the blood is only found on the fingertips? Or at the side of the arm?

Respondent B: Mr. prime minister. It will be difficult to face the public and explain to it morally and legally why we intend to release murders who did not even express remorse!

Prime minister: I’m surprised at you, my fellow ministers, over your basic lack of understanding in matters of Hebrew and morality. After all, “remorse” in Hebrew refers to a “feeling of regret over an act that was committed or decision that was taken.” Friends, we are talking about feelings here. And how can we demand freedom fighters to have any feelings? What is this arrogance? Are we prophets who can know when the feeling of regret will emerge, and when it will die down? And what is this talk about “difficult” and “public”? Who is this “public”? A bunch on stubborn teachers? A handful of greedy professors? Students facing strike? They are the ones who will determine what “blood” and what “hands” means?

Respondent C: With all due respect, sir. In the framework of the government culture we committed ourselves to, you pledged not to release despicable murderers.

Prime minister: Come on, dear friends. I regret to see that the nuances of our language are not clear to you. After all, a pledge is defined as a “promise to do something. A certainty”. And I ask you, is there anything certain around here? I have no intention to take back the words I said, and I have nothing to say about my original intentions. I ask that the list be brought to me.

Respondent D: Sir, how would we be able to direct our stare into the eyes of bereaved families whose loved ones were murdered by those killers?

Prime minister: My colleagues, what’s a stare exactly? After all, a stare is a “gaze, an intent look.” And if so, why do we need to direct anything here? Is there anyone lost here who needs directions? Friends, this session is over.

The statement to the press shall be as follows: “The government of Israel has decided to free from prison innocent human beings who as a result of their difficult childhood and realities of occupation saw tiny particles appear at the side of their upper limbs. We shall do so as a goodwill gesture aimed at boosting peace, tolerance, and humanism.”

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Puff's not about drugs

Apparently Puff the Magic Dragon is nothing to do with marijuana. According to Peter Yarrow who wrote the song, it is really about rites of passage, and Jackie Paper becoming Bar Mitzvah.

Here is part of the the article from the Jerusalem Post

St. Louis - Peter Yarrow wants to make something clear: "Puff the Magic Dragon" is not a song about marijuana. And he should know. Yarrow co-wrote the nostalgic ballad as a student at Cornell University before teaming up with Noel Paul Stookey and Mary Travers to turn it into one of Peter, Paul and Mary's most beloved hits.
[Peter Yarrow. ]

Peter Yarrow.
Photo: Courtesy

It is, Yarrow insists, about the lost innocence of childhood. In the song, Puff the Magic Dragon and little Jackie Paper frolic in the autumn mist of a land called Honah Lee until one gray night Jackie Paper doesn't come. While dragons live forever, the lyrics tell us, not so little boys.

So Yarrow informs his audience at a performance this summer that despite the connections others might have made between the name of the song and its origins in the 1960s, "It's not about drugs. It's about getting bar mitzvaed."

You see, he says, "Jackie Paper grew up and he became bar mitzva. And at that point everybody said it's time to do away with childish things. You have to start dealing with life... One day he just knew he had to perform many acts, many mitzvas. He became so involved in that, that that's what Puff's about."

The explanation, which Yarrow admits is fanciful, still elicits a warm response of laughter and cheers from the members of the Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education for whom he is performing. At his earnest behest, scores of the Jewish educators in the audience - both those old enough to have caught "Puff" when it first hit the airwaves and those who only learned it from their parents - have come on stage to join Yarrow in his rendition of the classic tune. He hugs and kisses and poses for photos with as many of them as he can, all while filling them in on the deeper meaning of his words.

But we all know that the real Puff song is about much more than Bar Mitzvah. Check out this fantastic chipmunk style rendition of PUFF THE KOSHER DRAGON!

Amazing stuff Feivel Yosef. I don't know how you do it, but you had me in stitches.

And in case you want to sing along at home, here are the words:

Puff the Jewish dragon, lived in Palestine,
And frolicked in the synagogue and drank Manischewitz wine.
Little Rabbi Goldberg loved that dragon Puff,
And fed him lox and matzoh balls and other kosher stuff.

Then one day it happened, Puff was eating pork,
Little Rabbi Goldberg took that dragon for a walk.
Gently he explained that dragons don't eat meat
That comes from little piggies that have dirty filthy feet.

Then Puff became Bar Mitzvah, put on tefillin every day,
Wrapped up in his tallis that's the way that he would pray;
Made brachos before eating, benched after every meal
Imagine how religious it made that dragon feel.

Now there were some people who did things just for spite.
They'd curse Jews and attack them just to get into a fight.
When Puff the dragon saw this, he roared a mighty roar
Now those wicked people are not with us anymore.

Now Puff the Jewish dragon found himself a bride,
Now little kosher dragons are his source of joy and pride.
They'll grow up doing mitzvahs, learning Torah, praying too,
With Rabbi Goldberg teaching them what kosher dragons do.

You who may be listening may think we're making fun,
But deep down in this story is a moral for everyone.
If dragons can wear a kippah, keep Shabbos and Kosher too,
Then you can learn, like Puff did, to be a real good Jew.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Kosher electricity

I wrote last week about the kosher internet, and decided that that it was part of a chareidi conspiracy.

The one obvious flaw in this kosher plan, is that according to many poskim, the electricity in Israel is not kosher and may not be used. So you will have to have a wind up clockwork computer in order to run your kosher internet.

Or at least UNTIL NOW! The Israeli Electric Company (IE) have decided to set up kosher electricity for residents of certain (religious) neighbourhoods.

Having been to see how they make electricity, and having heard the Jewish guy inside the control room show us (I went with a kollel that I was learning in) tell us exactly which button he pushes every Shabbat at the time the Shabbat clocks all switch on the air conditioning (to turn on an extra turbine), I have been bothered for years about using electricity. The lenient opinion says that since hospitals and sick people need electricity, everyone else can also use it (because of pikuach nefesh). This is equivalent to saying that you can drive in a car on Shabbat, provided someone in the car is ill and needs to go to the hospital (even if the car seats several thousand).

So I've relied on this heter, and used electricity (but tried to avoid time clocks). I also discussed it with one of the Rabbis with whom I am very close. He told me that in his neighbourhood they set up an illegal generator to make kosher shabbat electricity. He decided not to join up with it. He felt it would be bad for his spiritual health and his midot. He told me "I'll look out on a Friday night, and see all the lights on in all the other neighbourhoods of Jerusalem, and I'll feel that I'm better than they are".

But now, Israel Electric are planning on providing kosher electricity to anyone who is prepared to pay for it. Clearly their mistake was that they didn't first get R' Elyashiv to say that it is forbidden. That would have created a market and demand. I suspect that now people won't bother with it, since it costs money.

Instead, people will be either using electricity normally, or getting private generators which can be extremely dangerous.

But the truth is that halachically it is a very serious issue, and I hope that the idea works. Hopefully eventually they will offer such a service in Har Nof.

I really hope this one works. Shabbat is something worth getting excited about, and even worth paying money for (after all, Chareidim already pay more for milk that is shomer shabbat, why not electricity?)

This is what the Jerusalem Post has to say:

Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski has directed municipality officials to move forward with plans to connect haredi neighborhoods to "kosher" electricity provided by Israel Electric.

Residents of the designated neighborhoods would pay the higher cost for the electricity produced via "kosher" means.

The move is designed to eradicate pirate generator operators who present potential health hazards and noise pollution. Examples of the hazards include unauthorized high-voltage cables close to houses and parks, and engines and fuel sources that are left exposed.

Some haredi neighborhoods in Jerusalem refuse to use electricity produced by IE on Shabbat. Some Orthodox rabbis are concerned that IE unnecessarily desecrates Shabbat to produce electricity.

These rabbis argue that Jewish workers perform acts forbidden on Shabbat as part of the electricity production process.

In order to operate the power plants that produce electricity, workers, often Jews, are required to operate machinery and regulate the use of combustible substances such as fossil fuels. These actions are prohibited on Shabbat according to Halacha. Many rabbis rule that it is permitted to use electricity on Shabbat because stopping the production of electricity on Shabbat could endanger lives.

In contrast, some rabbis encourage the use of generators since they are operated before the beginning of Shabbat and work unattended throughout Shabbat. This skirts the necessity to perform actions that are prohibited during Shabbat.

In addition to Jerusalem, IE has begun negotiations to put generators in the predominantly haredi cities Betar Illit, Kiryat Sefer and El-Ad. The local residents have not yet agreed to pay for the costs.

IE intends to fund the costs by charging a fixed monthly fee to all residents who use the generator-produced electricity, but all residents will have to agree to foot the bill.

Jerusalem's Ramat Shlomo (Shuafat) was chosen as the first pilot neighborhood to be hooked up to "kosher" electricity. Local Council member Uri Maklev (Degel Hatorah) has met with neighborhood's chief rabbi and in the coming week the residents will be surveyed to find out if they are willing to pay the additional costs.

I have also found another kind of computer that would be much safer for the Chareidim, as it avoids using both electricity, and the internet:

Good luck with that typing!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

'Kosher internet'

YNet is reporting on a new Haredi initiative to approve internet use. Obviously the approval is very limited, and only for essential business use. And only through an approved internet company with an approved filter.

The rest of the world has had filters on their internet for a very long time. A discerning person has control over what they or their family are exposed to on the web.

My hunch is that it won't take long for the posters to go up offering exclusive 'kosher' internet access. This will obviously have some kind of label so that it is clear to everyone in the world who is using the 'approved' version and who isn't. After a few weeks Haredi magazines and newspapers will ban advertisements from anyone not using the approved 'kosher' internet.

And at the end of it will be a small 'committee' - working for the good of the community, who will be making lots of money out of this.

Then others will come out with their own versions of the kosher internet. Then the original group will claim that they are encroaching on their territory and that they had been offered exclusive kosher internet by all the top Rabbis (not to mention their investment in technology).

Sound familiar? This is what happened with the kosher phone. And the kosher newspaper before that. Simple formula. Declare something forbidden. Find a permitted way (with Rabbinic approval). Then wait for the cash (and bonus mitzvah points for saving klal yisrael from certain destruction) to roll in.

I do love the last quote though, from R' Wosner (who doesn't actually speak like that in real life):

"Blessed is he needeth not a computer. He that requireth the internet – he shall connect solely through the track supervised by the Rabbinical Commission on Media Affairs."

Haredi rabbis approve internet use for business

A special rabbinical commission for media issues comes to agreement on internet use 'for business purposes only.' The approval is conditioned on connecting to a server especially for Haredim that filters undesirable content

Cracks are beginning to form in the high wall of Haredi internet-phobia: The Rabbinical Commission for Media Affairs, established by leading Haredi rabbis, published in the Monday's Haredi press an announcement permitting the use of the internet "solely for business purposes, through kosher means."

The rabbis explained that the need to solve the problem presented by the internet came from the growing use of computer information systems, email and the internet in the business world.

According to the rabbis, "after consulting with experts, we have found a solution to the impasse which will allow those requiring it to access email only or sites connected to their livelihood."

"This special solution was reached after much labor and sophisticated, technical investments aimed at removing the serious dangers of spiritual obstacles and injuries,' reported the Haredi press."The fact is that the evil inclination has in this generation adopted unsupervised technology and computers as the main weapon in its war (against spirituality)."

According to articles, many appealed to the community's Rabbis to find a solution for the problem of the internet as anyone required to use it to provide himself with a livelihood felt like he was "living on the edge."

The rabbis turned to communications companies that provide filtering services to create a solution for the God-fearing community in a special track under their supervision.

The rabbis further clarify their intentions in the announcement: "It is our opinion that our words do not permit using computers, and consequently, not computerized communications, for purposes not essential for business."

Sunday night a delegation from the commission paid a visit to Lithuanian Chief Rabbi Yosef Shalom Eliyashiv, who told them that "preventing computerized obstacles (to faith) constitutes banishing abomination and following the Torah's command 'so shalt thou put evil away from among you.'" Rabbi Elyashiv emboldened the delegation in its "war on the computer blight, and (its efforts) to stop the great danger from harming the people of Israel, young and old alike."

Rabbi Yossef Binyamin Halevy Wazner, member of the commission and the son of Rabbi Shmuel Halevi Wazner, considered one of the great jurisprudents of the Hassidic community, told his grandson: "Blessed is he needeth not a computer. He that requireth the internet – he shall connect solely through the track supervised by the Rabbinical Commission on Media Affairs."

Monday, December 17, 2007

Mei Shiloach - Yarzheit 7th Tevet

Today (8th Tevet) is the beginning of the three days of darkness. Look at my blog (the story so far) for more details.

Yesterday was the yarzheit of the Izhbitzer Rebbe, R' Mordechai Yosef Leiner. He was a Chasidic Rebbe and a radical thinker, taking the classical views of Chasidut (based on the Baal HaTanya) to extremes. He basically held that the world did not exist, and therefore there was no evil in the world, no suffering and no free choice.

Although he only wrote one book, his two students, his son, the Beis Yaakov, and his protege, R' Tzadok of Lublin, took his ideas and elaborated on them.

Here is the wikipedia entry on the Izbicer (Ishbitzer?)

Rabbi Mordechai Yosef Leiner of Izbica (Yiddish: איזשביצא, איזביצא Izhbitse, Izbitse) (1804-1854) was a Hasidic thinker and founder of the Izhbitzer dyansty of Hasidic Judaism. A student of the Rebbe Reb Simcha Bunim of Peshischa (Polish: Przysucha and Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk (Polish: Kock). He originally settled in Tomashov (Polish: Tomaszów), then moved with his teacher to Kock and then in 1839 moved to Izbica. His leading disciple was Rabbi Yehuda Leib Eiger (1816-1888), grandson of Rabbi Akiva Eiger. His students included Rabbi Zadok HaKohen of Lublin (1823-1900), his son, Rabbi Yaacov Leiner (1828-1878) and Rabbi Gershon Henoch of Radzyn, his grandson.


Rabbi Leiner is best known for a doctrine of radical determinism: all events, including human actions, are absolutely under God's control, or as Rabbinic discourse would phrase it, by "hasgachah pratit." His second most famous idea is that if everything is determined by God, then even sin is done because God determines it. He presents defenses of various Biblical sinners, such as Korach, Pinchas, and Judah (in the incident with Tamar).

One of his most cited comments is on Leviticus 21:1 None shall defile himself for any [dead] person among his kin. Rabbi Leiner read the verse as a warning against the defilement of the soul. The soul is defiled when it is infected with the bitterness and rage that comes with senseless suffering and tragedy. Those who — like the Kohanim— would serve God, are commanded to find the resources to resist the defilements of despair and darkness. Despair is the ultimate denial of God, and surrender to darkness is the ultimate blasphemy.

Alan Brill of Yeshiva University has suggested that the teachings of Rabbi Jonathan Eybeschutz may have influenced Rabbi Leiner's thinking.

Relationship with the Kotzker Rebbe

Rabbi Leiner was the right-hand man of the Kotzker rebbe, by whom he was charged with overseeing the chasidim. In 1839 Leiner had a public and dramatic falling out with the Kotzker Rebbe. On the day after Simchat Torah of that year, Leiner left Kotzk with many of his followers to form his own hasidic circle.

The reasons given for the break are varied.


His thought influenced the mussar of Rabbi Isaac Hutner and Rabbi Moshe Wolfson.

Leiner's thought continues to have influence in the twentieth century, especially on Neo-Hasidism, and the teachings of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach is credited with the recent popularization of Rabbi Leiner's teachings. He apparently came across Rabbi Leiner's work in an old Jewish book store. He is quoted as saying that after initially being perplexed as to the peculiar nature of the teachings he quickly realized that in it lay the "secret for turning Jews onto the deeper meanings of Judaism".


Mei Hashiloach 2 volumes

Living Waters : The Mei HaShiloach translated by Betsalel Philip Edwards

May His Soul be Bound in the Bonds of Eternal Life

Friday, December 14, 2007

Erev Shabbos viewing

This doesn't really have anything at all to do with Judaism or Parshat Vayigash, but I was just reminiscing (again) about old TV shows. I was wondering whether there were any 'Vision On' clips on YouTube.

While looking for that I found this clip. Blue Peter is a long running British children's TV show (famous for using 'sticky back plastic' because they weren't allowed to mention the brand name 'sellotape'). I didn't grow up with Blue Peter, because they didn't show it in NZ, so I really wasn't expecting this to happen. This is one of the funniest clips I have seen for a while. Enjoy:

Oh, and by the way, here is Vision On, but this clip doesn't really do it justice.

Shabbat Shalom

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Graphic Chanukah images

I saw this picture posted on It shows a chanukah crime scene, with a sufganiya (jelly donut) brutally attacked and murdered.

However, without wishing to justify violent crime, I would like to suggest that it may have been self-defence. I only ate one of them, and this is what they did to me!

(Picture courtesy of my almost 7 year old son Moshe Pesach)

Wishing you a very happy 'Zos Chanukah'. No more candles, no more sufganiyot. Now we can get on with winter and enjoying being miserable.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Demons and rationalism

Someone asked me last week about how to view a machlokes in hashkafic reality. For example, there is a disgreement about whether reincarnation is true or not (or more specifically, whether it is an acceptable Jewish belief or not). R' Saadiah Gaon, and others, are explicit that there is no reincarnation. The AriZal, the Ramchal and others describe in detail how reincarnation works.

Are we to understand that one opinion is wrong and the other right? (and if so, how does that relate to our understanding of tradition from Sinai?) Is it possible that they are both right? Or is it possible to say that one was right in his time and place, and the other is correct in his time and place (whatever that means)?

For example, someone one said: I have heard that since the Rambam said they don't exist, there are no demons. Someone else replied: Bunk, as far as I know.

This requires clarification.

Rambam (Hilchos Avoda Zara chapter 11 halacha 16) writes:

All these matters [i.e. necromancy, enchantment, et cetera] are all matters of falsehood and deceit, and it was with these that the early idolaters made the other [non-idolatrous] gentiles deviate and follow them. It is not fitting for Jews, who are the cleverest of the clever, to use such nonsense, or even to think that they are of any use, for it is written, "Surely there is no enchantment in Jacob, or divination in Israel", and it is also written, "For these nations, whom you shall dispossess, listen to soothsayers and diviners; but as for you, the L-rd your G-d has not permitted you to do so". Anyone who believes in these or similar things and privately thinks that they are true and wise, but that [we don't practice them because] the Torah forbade them, is an idiot and lacks knowledge, and is in the category of women and children, who are of an deficient mentality. But those people who are wise and of a perfect mentality know very clearly that all these things that the Torah forbade are not wise, but are merely stuff and nonsense which those lacking in knowledge follow and because of which abandon the ways of truth. Because of this, when warning us against these nonsenses, the Torah says, "You shall be perfect with the L-rd your G-d". (translation from Panix)

Although he doesn't explicilty mention demons in that chapter, it seems that he would include them in all of the other forbidden practices he lists (and Hagahos Maimonios explicitly includes demons as foolishness).

In his commentary on the Mishna (Avoda Zara 4: 7) Rambam writes:

I said this because I konw that most people, and perhaps even all of them are misled by them in a big way, with these things and similar things, and they think that they are true. But this is not so. Even some of the great and good of our Torah thinkn that these things [demons, magic, etc.] are correct, but that they are forbidden by our Torah. They don't konw that these things are null and false and the Torah warned against them like it warns against all falsehood...

So Rambam almost certainly holds that demons don't exist.

The Vilna Gaon certainly understood that as Rambam's meaning, when he writes in Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 179: 6 - note 13):

"This is based on Rambam (ibid), and he also wrote this in his commentary on the Mishna chapter 4 Avodah Zara. But everyone who came after him disagreed with him, because many spells were mentioned in the Talmud. He [Rambam] was drawn after philosophy, and therefore he wrote that magic, spells, demons and amulets, everything is lies. But they [the later commentators] have already hit him over the head, because we find many cases in the Talmud using names and magic.... Philosophy misled him with its sweeping attempt to explain the Talmud as euphemisms and to ignore the simple meaning. Chas V'Shalom beleive in them, and they are not worthy of belief. All the words [of the Talmud] are like their simple meaning, but they have a deeper meaning. Not the deeper meaning [ascribed to them by] the philosophers, which is not a hidden meaning, but [the hidden meaning] of those with the truth [the Kabbalists].

So the Vilna Gaon holds that Rambam was wrong when he denied the existence of demons, magic etc. (It is also clear that even though the Gaon was a rationalist, and some claim that he is part of the haskalah, the truth is that for him the Talmud was always the final word, even if it contradicted rationality and/or science)

Is it possible that in Rambam's time they didn't exist, but in the Gaon's time they did? Was Rambam just plain wrong?

Presumably, bottom line, nowadays we would follow the opinion of the Gaon (?)

So is it 'bunk' or is that just a two storey bed?

Answers on the back of a postcard please.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Yiddish words - a reply

Gzuckier posted a comment on Digg to my Top 10 Words that Sound Yiddish (But Aren't) with a link to a great article.

Some poor geezer got his knickers in a twist over the use of the word Kaffufle in an article, which led to an anti-Israel/ antisemitic diatribe.

What does "Israelization of American culture" mean? Since when do they speak Yiddish in Israel? (Of course 'Israelization' is not in the dictionary, but is synonymous with Judeification. Classic antisemitism!)

Anyway, the last laugh was left for the editor (see below).

Thank you for that wonderful comment. Here is the article from Concord Monitor

A language kafuffle

Peter Davis, Laconia
Letter to the editor

For the Monitor
November 14. 2007 12:45AM

What is a "kafuffle"? It's not in the dictionary. Is it just another proofreading error? Or is it a further example of your acquiescence to the Israelization of American culture by attempting to pass obscure Yiddish words into the mainstream of the American language?

It's bad enough that we are steered toward war with the entire Arab world and beyond because our "friend" Israel won't relinquish its occupation of Palestine and make peace with its neighbors. Still we are suckered into giving Israel, the 14th richest country on earth, billions and billions of our tax dollars in foreign aid every year, and we gave it carte blanche to rampage through Lebanon destroying everything in its path and inflicting collective punishment on its people, an aggression internationally condemned as a war crime, yet condoned by the Bush administration and sheepishly accepted by the American people.

How can we hold our heads high and proud when our own county illegally attacks and invades an Arab country that had done nothing to us, killing hundreds of thousands of civilians and wrecking their entire infrastructure, clearly Bush war crimes, all for the benefit of Israel because Saddam was assisting the families of Palestinian martyrs in their struggle against the illegal Israeli occupation of their land? We shouldn't be proud to be associated with Israel, and I don't appreciate their insidious adulteration of our language.



(The word "kafuffle" appeared in a Sunday Monitor Viewpoints column called "A tip for Clinton: Change the subject" by Hillary Nelson on Nov. 11. Webster's New Millennium Dictionary of English defines it as "disorder" or "commotion." It can also be spelled curfuffle, kafuffle and gefuffle. The etymology is not Yiddish but rather Gaelic. Ed.)

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Microsoft Menorah in the Window (TM)

My neighbour has just put up Mezuzot on all the doors of the elevator (on every floor - don't even ask what the halachah is - (as Nike would say) just do it! Because apparently frumkeit is nothing to do with halachah or bein adam l'chaveiro).

That set me thinking. What other chumras are we lacking today? Specifically, what can we do to make our computers frumer?

By now I'm sure you all have your eMezuzah on your windows desktop.


(this program will place a Mezuzah (your choice of Ashkenazi or Sefardi) on your desktop (either angled or straight) which you can kiss whenever you feel the urge. It also shows the entire text of the Mezuzah in either English or Hebrew).

hat tip to Michael

The real question, though, is whether you can put a chanukiah (or menorah if you prefer) in your Microsoft Window (TM).

We all know that the Chanukiah should be placed in a window facing a public domain. Provided you are connected to the (kosher) internet, your window is now facing the biggest public domain in the history of the world. Presumably this would enable you to do mehadrin min hamehadrin MIN HAMEHADRIN!

However, there is a problem, because Rabbi Tanchum in the Talmud (Shabbat 22a) tells us that a menorah placed lower than 10 tefachim or higher than 20 amot is not kosher. Since the internet is viewed at all altitudes one may think that a virtual chanukiah is therefore not kosher.

But if you read the next line in the Talmud you see that Rabbi Tanchum also says that when Yosef's brothers threw him in the pit, the pit was empty of water, but full of snakes and scorpions.

This is clearly the earliest extant reference to the internet. The internet is empty of water, but is full of snakes and scorpions, and many other dangerous things as well. So it seems that the Talmud is giving specific dispensation for an internet menorah.

The obvious question that arises is when to light your menorah. It must be lit after dark (or just before), but in virtual reality there is no time (and furthermore, everyone who sees your menorah is in a different time zone).

Obviously for this we can rely on the Baal HaTanya in Kuntres Acharon who writes that the kedusha applies according to the time that you are in. Therefore in cyberspace we would use cybertime which is always dark (the sun never shines in cyberspace), so until the markets close should be fine (obviously refering to e-bay and as well as a host of others. This therefore seems to be a Talmudic way of saying 'when hell freezes over').

So, order yours today. For a modest fee you too can have a cyber menorah in your microsoft window!

Chanukah Sameach.

Bah! Humbug!

Hitchens - A Rebuttal

Christopher Hitchens has written a masterpiece of idiocy and foolishness on The Slate. This shows the true triumph of distorted ideas and baseless convictions in the face of evidence, logic or scholarship. I haven't laughed so much in ages. In fact, since I really don't like Chanukah, this is probably the best thing that has happened all week!

This rebuttal of what Christopher Hitchens says is only scratching the surface of his mistakes and errors. But I have to leave room for others as well.

The basis of his arguments is that Chanukah celebrates the triumph of theocratic darkness against the enlightenment of Greek philosophy and science. He obviously didn't go to cheder, or to history class, because this is the opposite of what historical records show.

Although there are claims that Alexander the Great was a student of Aristotle and a philosopher in his own right, no such claims are extended to Antiochus IV Epiphanes. He was the first king to declare himself to be a god, and was considered a boor by his own people. (Apparently, though I haven't found a source, he was referred to by the people as 'Epimanes' - the madman). There was no enlightenment of Greek culture in the Selucid Syria, but rather bitter in fighting (and even more fighting against the Ptolemys in Egypt) and conquest. There is no science or philosophy happening at this time in the Selucid empire.

The Chashmonaim were fighting primarily against the celebration of physicality (taken sometimes to its lowest forms). They were not against intellectual discovery or growth, and in fact, as Cohanim (and even the High Priest) they were amongst the most educated and refined people in the country. (Hitchens decides for some reason to call them peasants. Perhaps his dictionary definition of that word is different than mine, and would include Chashmanim who are olive pressers - considered a craft at those times, and the spiritual and political leaders of the people).

Hitchens states that
The Seleucid Empire, an inheritance of Alexander the Great—Alexander still being a popular name among Jews—had weaned many people away from the sacrifices, the circumcisions, the belief in a special relationship with God, and the other reactionary manifestations of an ancient and cruel faith.

The only line of truth in there is that Alexander is a popular name to this day amongst religious Jews. But what is his basis for saying that the Selucids wanted to wean people away from the sacrifices? Does he think that even Alexander himself didn't believe in sacrifices and appeasing the gods? Clearly lies are more interesting than fact. (And for the record, Chanukah is nothing to do with Epicureanism or Apikorsim. It has everything to do with Hellenism, which is certainly not the refined philosophy that Hitchens claims to believe in).

The best part of his article (and the main body of it) is that ultimately the Macabbees were responisble for all the ills of religion in the world today.

This reasoning reaches new levels of idiocy, not to mention the antisemitic implications in what he says.

Had it not been for this no-less imperial event, we would never have had to hear of Jesus of Nazareth or his sect—which was a plagiarism from fundamentalist Judaism

Jesus lived almost 2 centuries after the Chanukah story took place. By this time the remnants of the Chashmonaim had become more Hellenist than the Hellenists. They had perverted Jewish values, killed the Rabbis and slowly wiped themselves out by killing each other.

Jesus (and Chrisitanity) arose as a reaction to the events in his time. He felt that the 'soul' had gone out of religion and only the external physicality was left.

To locate the basis of Christianity in an event several centuries earlier, is to ignore modern science and mathematics. Has Hitchens never heard of chaos theory? Sure it was the fault of the Chanukah story, but it was also that pesky butterfly that keeps flapping its wings somewhere near Taiwan!

(Bear in mind also, that the 'Jewish backwardness' that he writes about also led to theory of relativity, much of the greatest literature of the 20th century, discoveries in recombinant-DNA, developments in monetary history and theory and many other things that shape the world we live in - with thanks to

Hitchens utimately reverts to doing what almost all bankrupt 'thinkers' throughout time have done - blame the Jews. He has no shame in blaming the Jews (and particularly the Macabbees, but also any Jews who light a chanukiah or play dreidel) for Christian fundamentalism and Islamic fundamentalism. It is only a small step from here to say that we should lock up all the Jews for inciting 9/11.

He actually writes that:

Every Jew who honors the Hanukkah holiday because it gives his child an excuse to mingle the dreidel with the Christmas tree and the sleigh ... is celebrating the making of a series of rods for his own back

I won't even mention his complete misunderstanding of the miracle of Chanukah (has he bothered reading even the text of the siddur, which clearly shows that the miracle was military. The oil was almost an afterthought. And halachically comletely redundant!)

His philosophy is bankrupt. His logic and reasoning are at best false (though probably non-existant). His facts are made up and irrelevant. And his writing bears no resemblance to that of Aristotle or Epicurus whom he so much admires.

Nor is it surprising that it was published - in todays age stupidity sells.

So all that can be said is, thanks for the laughs. Happy Chanukah.

Here is the full text of his article. Enjoy!

Bah, Hanukkah: The holiday celebrates the triumph of tribal Jewish backwardness.

By Christopher Hitchens

Posted Monday, Dec. 3, 2007, at 11:57 AM ET

High on the list of idiotic commonplace expressions is the old maxim that "it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness." How do such fatuous pieces of folk wisdom ever get started on their careers of glib quotation? Of course it would be preferable to light a candle than to complain about the darkness. You would only be bitching about the darkness if you didn't have ­a candle to begin with. Talk about a false antithesis. But at this time of year, any holy foolishness is permitted. And so we have a semiofficial celebration of Hanukkah, complete with menorah, to celebrate not the ignition of a light but the imposition of theocratic darkness.

Jewish orthodoxy possesses the interesting feature of naming and combating the idea of the apikoros or "Epicurean"—the intellectual renegade who prefers Athens to Jerusalem and the schools of philosophy to the grim old routines of the Torah. About a century and a half before the alleged birth of the supposed Jesus of Nazareth (another event that receives semiofficial recognition at this time of the year), the Greek or Epicurean style had begun to gain immense ground among the Jews of Syria and Palestine. The Seleucid Empire, an inheritance of Alexander the Great—Alexander still being a popular name among Jews—had weaned many people away from the sacrifices, the circumcisions, the belief in a special relationship with God, and the other reactionary manifestations of an ancient and cruel faith. I quote Rabbi Michael Lerner, an allegedly liberal spokesman for Judaism who nonetheless knows what he hates:

Along with Greek science and military prowess came a whole culture that celebrated beauty both in art and in the human body, presented the world with the triumph of rational thought in the works of Plato and Aristotle, and rejoiced in the complexities of life presented in the theater of Aeschylus, Euripides and Aristophanes.

But away with all that, says Lerner. Let us instead celebrate the Maccabean peasants who wanted to destroy Hellenism and restore what he actually calls "oldtime religion." His excuse for preferring fundamentalist thuggery to secularism and philosophy is that Hellenism was "imperialistic," but the Hasmonean regime that resulted from the Maccabean revolt soon became exorbitantly corrupt, vicious, and divided, and encouraged the Roman annexation of Judea. Had it not been for this no-less imperial event, we would never have had to hear of Jesus of Nazareth or his sect—which was a plagiarism from fundamentalist Judaism—and the Jewish people would never have been accused of being deicidal "Christ killers." Thus, to celebrate Hanukkah is to celebrate not just the triumph of tribal Jewish backwardness but also the accidental birth of Judaism's bastard child in the shape of Christianity. You might think that masochism could do no more. Except that it always can. Without the precedents of Orthodox Judaism and Roman Christianity, on which it is based and from which it is borrowed, there would be no Islam, either. Every Jew who honors the Hanukkah holiday because it gives his child an excuse to mingle the dreidel with the Christmas tree and the sleigh (neither of these absurd symbols having the least thing to do with Palestine two millenniums past) is celebrating the making of a series of rods for his own back. And this is not just a disaster for the Jews. When the fanatics of Palestine won that victory, and when Judaism repudiated Athens for Jerusalem, the development of the whole of humanity was terribly retarded.

And, of course and as ever, one stands aghast at the pathetic scale of the supposed "miracle." As a consequence of the successful Maccabean revolt against Hellenism, so it is said, a puddle of olive oil that should have lasted only for one day managed to burn for eight days. Wow! Certain proof, not just of an Almighty, but of an Almighty with a special fondness for fundamentalists. Epicurus and Democritus had brilliantly discovered that the world was made up of atoms, but who cares about a mere fact like that when there is miraculous oil to be goggled at by credulous peasants?

We are about to have the annual culture war about the display of cribs, mangers, conifers, and other symbols on public land. Most of this argument is phony and tawdry and secondhand and has nothing whatever to do with "faith" as its protagonists understand it. The burning of a Yule log or the display of a Scandinavian tree is nothing more than paganism and the observance of a winter solstice; it makes no more acknowledgment of the Christian religion than I do. The fierce partisanship of the holly bush and mistletoe believers convicts them of nothing more than ignorance and simple-mindedness. They would have been just as pious under the reign of the Druids or the Vikings, and just as much attached to their bucolic icons. Everybody knows, furthermore, that there was no moving star in the east, that Quirinius was not the governor of Syria in the time of King Herod, that no worldwide tax census was conducted in that period of the rule of Augustus, and that no "stable" is mentioned even in any of the mutually contradictory books of the New Testament. So, to put a star on top of a pine tree or to arrange various farm animals around a crib is to be as accurate and inventive as that Japanese department store that, as urban legend has it, did its best to emulate the Christmas spirit by displaying a red-and-white bearded Santa snugly nailed to a crucifix.

This is childish stuff and if only for that reason should obviously not receive any public endorsement or financing. The display of the menorah at this season, however, has a precise meaning and is an explicit celebration of the original victory of bloody-minded faith over enlightenment and reason. As such it is a direct negation of the First Amendment and it is time for the secularists and the civil libertarians to find the courage to say so.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Kosher for Hamukah

WHOOPS!! This monumental goof was posted on Badvertising

This is what happens when political correctness is combined with rabid consumerism and complete lack of brains or knowledge!

Here is the thought process behind this.

We want to sell products to our Jewish customers too. We can't label everything for Xmas because that would be insensitive to our clientele. And we REALLY want to sell this product. So this is the sign we should put on it. (Please don't try this at home kids!)

Bah Humbug (or should that be Hambug?)

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Building the Beis HaMikdash

Today is the day before Chanukah (which is a bit like the day before Xmas, except completely different). It is the 24th of Kislev.

Historically this is the day of the foundation of the Second Beis HaMikdash, as recorded in the prophecy of Chaggai (2: 10-29). The Kaf HaChaim brings that there is a minhag to learn this section of Navi today. So without further ado - here it is.

On the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month of Darius’ second year, the L-rd spoke again to the prophet Chaggai. “The L-rd who rules over all says, ‘Ask the priests about the law. If someone carries holy meat in a fold of his garment and that fold touches bread, a boiled dish, wine, olive oil, or any other food, will that item become holy?’” The priests answered, “It will not.” Then Chaggai asked, “If a person who is ritually impure because of touching a dead body comes in contact with one of these items, will it become impure?” The priests answered, “It will be impure.”

Then Chaggai responded, “‘The people of this nation are impure in my sight,’ says the L-rd. ‘And so is all their effort; everything they offer is also impure. Now therefore reflect carefully on the recent past, before one stone was laid on another in the L-rd’s temple. From that time when one came expecting a heap of twenty measures, there were only ten; when one came to the wine vat to draw out fifty measures from it, there were only twenty. I struck all the products of your labor with blight, disease, and hail, and yet you brought nothing to me,’ says the L-rd. ‘Think carefully about the past from today, the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, to the day work on the temple of the Lord was resumed, think about it. The seed is still in the storehouse, isn’t it? And the vine, fig tree, pomegranate, and olive tree have not produced. Nevertheless, from today on I will bless you.’”

G-d will bless us, even when we are not worthy of His blessings. How much more so if we strive to draw closer to Him and his laws and His Beis HaMikdash.

We are about to celebrate the rededication of the Beis HaMikdash by the Chashmonaim, and all the miracles of Chanukah. Today is the anniversary of the building of the Beis HaMikdash. Let us strengthen our faith in the future rebuilding and dedication of the third Beis HaMikdash, and whatever the government decides or promises, let us never lose sight of the fact that G-d runs the show, and that He will perform miracles for us at the right time. May that time come soon and we all merit to celebrate the rededication of the Beis HaMikdash speedily in our days.

Chanukah Sameach.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Phones are sooo 1975!

I sometimes wonder whether the current Israeli leadership understands what is going on. Perhaps they just don't see things properly. Or hear. Or think...

It seems that the government is out of touch with their electorate, world Jewish opinion, and current Arab and Palestinian thinking.

Perhaps they got their wires crossed.

This is a transcript of the conversation between President Gerald Ford and President Anwar Sadat just after the 'first' peace talks between Israel and Egypt.

After you have read it, go back and imagine it is Olmert phoning Abbas. Instead of all the politeness ("we would love to have you and your family to visit in the fall!") imagine Olmert is 'negotiating' in the only way he knows how - by offering more and more pieces of Israel with every line. (and of course, the last line is not "I'll write you a letter", but "I'll turn off the lights" when everyone has left the country).

Apparently this is true. It must be - I read it on the Jerusalem Post website!

Delighted at his success, the American president, Gerald Ford, immediately phoned Rabin in Jerusalem to express his congratulations. It was a four-minute call of unexceptional platitudes. He then telephoned Sadat in Alexandria.

What follows is the verbatim record of that call, courtesy of the Presidential Papers of Gerald Ford:

FORD: Hello. President Sadat?

SADAT: Hello. This is President Sadat.

FORD: How are you this morning? I wanted to call you and congratulate you on the great role that you played in the negotiations that have culminated in this agreement.

SADAT: Hello? [Inaudible]

FORD: Unfortunately, I don't hear you too well, Mr. President. I hope that my conversation is coming through more clearly. Let me express most emphatically on behalf of my government the appreciation for your statesmanship, despite adversity and some criticism, the spirit in which you have approached the need for an agreement. I am most grateful for the leadership that you have given, and look forward to continuing the work with you…

SADAT: Hello?

FORD: Hello. Can you hear me, Mr. President?

SADAT: Hello?

FORD: I am asking, can you hear me, Mr. President?

SADAT: This is President Sadat.

FORD: I am asking, can you hear me, Mr. President?

SADAT: Not very well.

FORD: I know that you and I recognize that stagnation and stalemate in the Middle East would have been potentially disastrous, and your leadership in working with secretary Kissinger and with the Israelis, all of us are most grateful for. And as we continue to work together, personally, as well as government-to-government…

SADAT: Hello? This is President Sadat speaking.

FORD: Yes, I can hear you, Mr. President. I hope you can hear me, Mr. President.

SADAT: President Ford? Hello.

FORD: I don't hear you too well, Mr. President.

SADAT: Is that President Ford speaking?

FORD: Yes, this is President Ford.

SADAT: Go ahead, please.

FORD: The connection, unfortunately, is not too good for me to hear your comments, Mr. President. Let me say, if I might, despite the difficulties, that Mrs. Ford and I hope that Mrs. Sadat and you and your children will visit the United States some time this fall. Secretary Kissinger has told me of the very warm hospitality that you have extended to him and Mrs. Kissinger, and we look forward to reciprocating when you come to the United States in the fall of 1975.

SADAT: Hello?

FORD: I regret that I can't hear you. The connection is very bad. I hope you can hear me and my comments from the United States. Mr. President, I understand that Secretary Kissinger is coming to Alexandria to personally deliver the documents for your initialing, and I have asked Henry to extend to you on that occasion the gratitude…

SADAT: Hello?

FORD: Hello, Mr. President.

SADAT: Hello, Mr. President.

FORD: I can hear you better now.

SADAT: Mr. President, I hope you and your family are well.

FORD: I am feeling very well, Mr. President, and I hope you are, too.

SADAT: I want to thank you for your personal message [Inaudible].

FORD: I, unfortunately, could not hear as well as I would like the last comments you made. The connection from here is not, apparently, as good as I hope you have there, but…

SADAT: I hear you quite well.

FORD: The efforts of Secretary Kissinger and myself, we feel, were completely worth what we have done, but our efforts could not have been successful without your leadership and statesmanship.

SADAT: Thank you, Mr. President, very much.

FORD: We will see you soon, I hope.

SADAT: We are looking forward to coming, with pleasure, and convey my good wishes to your family.

FORD: And my best to yours, sir.

SADAT: Thank you very much.

FORD: I would just wish to add…

SADAT: Hello?

FORD: Hello? [Inaudible].

SADAT: Hello! Hello!

FORD: I shall write you a letter.

SADAT: Hello.

At this point the line went dead.