Saturday, June 30, 2007

Just Turn Off Your Brain

Rabbi Avi Weiss' drash on last week Parsha, Parshat Hukkat, is quite illustrative. The section speaks about Moses and Aaron being told they are going to die in the desert along with the rest of the first generation of Israelites, apparently because, "ye believed not in Me." As many commentators have noted, however, this doesn't quite make sense. For a fascinating look at the subject, see here.

the standard accounts of Numbers 20, the story of Mei Meriva (the Waters of Strife), raise more difficult questions than satisfying answers. Foremost among them: What exactly was Moses' sin and why was he punished so severely?

We need not list exhaustively the numerous attempts to resolve these problems; they have troubled and perplexed classical, medieval and modern Jewish commentators. Such a survey would inevitably lead to the conclusion expressed by R. Yitzhak Arama almost five centuries ago: none of the explanations is satisfactory. Particularly troubling is the lack of any specific correlation between the various "sins" suggested and the subsequent punishment.

So, Hukkat and the question of Moses' sin have confounded rabbis throughout the ages. What's Rabbi Weiss' answer?

Well, it turns out Rabbi Weiss' drash doesn't really deal with the questions raised by the parsha itself. It's a little more free-flowing than that. Rather than rehashing the same old discussion, Rabbi Weiss turns his attention to the concept of a hok, or a law for which there is no clear explanation. In some ways this is fitting, since the parsha begins with a long list of hoks, detailing the statutes involving the Red Heifer and the sacrifice procedure- details which, all in all, seem fairly arbitrary and for which, indeed, no explanation is offered. Perhaps in some ways this correlates to the lack of explanation given for Moses and Aaron's punishment to die in the desert.

Rabbi Weiss reaffirms the importance and binding status of the hok, and notes that it runs counter to most modern conceptions of logic and reason:

The most mainstream approach to the meaning of “hok,” is that it is a law that does not and will not ever have a reason besides the fact that it is a decree from God. For this reason alone, it must be kept. In the words of the Talmud "It is an enactment from Me, and you are not permitted to criticize it." (Yoma 67b)

The idea that a law must be observed even if it has no rationale, runs contrary to the modern, critical approach to law -- that everything must have a reasonable explanation. However, this mainstream approach to hok is at the very core of the Jewish legal process.

That process is based on a belief in Torah mi-Sinai, the law given by God at Sinai to which the Jewish people committed itself. Torah mi-Sinai is a form of heteronomous law, a structure of law that operates independent of any individual or group.

Torah mi-Sinai reflects a system of ethics that comes from God. Halakha (from the root halakh, "to go,") is not random; it rather guides us, and is the mechanism through which individuals and society can reach an ideal ethical plateau. In the words of King Solomon: "Its ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace." (Proverbs 3:17) One of the challenges of halakha is to understand how this law contributes to the repairing of the world (tikkun olam).

But this presumes that everything in the Torah is, in fact, from Sinai, and is automatically good or beneficial, and furthermore, that the Oral Law as transmitted and interpreted by the rabbis is also accurate and good. And, as the rabbi is about to point out, we humans are fallible creatures.

This system of God ethics differs from ethical humanism. Ethical humanism is solely based on what human beings consider to be proper conduct. Yet, this can be a dangerous approach to deciding law. Human thinking can be relative. What is unethical to one person is ethical to another. Freud is purported to have said, "When it comes to self deception, human beings are geniuses."

And rabbis, of course, are not human. Gotcha.

If however, the law at its foundation comes from God, it becomes inviolate. No human being can declare it null and void.

But we can interpret it to mean something totally different (is electricity fire or not?), and find various legal loopholes (sell your chametz to a non-Jew), and can figure out ways to get around it when it's extremely difficult to fulfill (the Temple)? That's all well and good, right?

Heteronomous law assures that one does not succumb to one's subjective notions or tastes when the law does not suit her or him. Therefore the law ought be kept even when its ethical underpinnings are not understood.

Oh yeah, because we all know that issues like the laws of niddah and differing views on male vs. female homosexuality totally weren't affected by things like the contemporary social mores of the rabbis.

And this in no small measure is why the idea of “hok” is so central. It reminds us of the limits of the human mind. As Rabbi Elie Munk points out: "An essential component of wisdom is the knowledge that man's failure to understand truth does not make it untrue."

But one cannot "know" something to be true without having the ability to identify it, and without an explanation or reason, things like a hok might just as well be, to continue the philosophical language, "false." The HONEST answer would be that there's no way to know why we have hoks, or even if they are, in fact, good, but that people who want to follow the law have to follow them, even if they don't know why. That's all you have to say. By extending the argument to get in cheap shots at humanism, Rabbi Weiss makes himself look ridiculous. "We're awesome because we do a bunch of seemingly arbitrary things that make no sense! In your face, humanism!"

I can respect people that keep hoks because they believe in following Torah, but trying to make it seem like hok-followers are somehow superior to the rest of us because they don't mind doing things without knowing why is pushing it a bit far. Furthermore, by eliminating any capacity within humans to make moral distinctions, Rabbi Weiss reduces us all to little more than poorly made flesh-robots, which reflects just as poorly on Orthodox Jews as on everybody else. After all, if we can't tell good from evil, how do we know hoks, or Torah, or even God, are good or true in the first place?

Defending things like the hok essentially comes down to "your reason can't be trusted because you're too little, trust ours instead." AKA, "Leave your brain at the door." This is particularly ironic given the intellectual rigor that has traditionally gone into the interpretation of halacha. If with all the greatest minds working on it, we still have no clue about why we should be following hoks, the honest answer should just be, "Because we're hedging our bets," not, "we don't know, but it's not because they make no sense or are arbitrary, it's because WE'RE all dumb."

Not to toss out the cultural relativism card, but couldn't this argument be applied ad infinitum? What Rabbi Weiss is essentially saying is that people shouldn't raise doubts about things that appear not to make sense or have no cause because humans are too small-headed or limited in perspective to understand the true import. Fair enough if we're dealing with an omnipotent being, but the argument eats itself when you realize that Judaism has been interpreted and enforced through the authority OF humans.

If anything, Rabbi Weiss' argument is downright scary if you think about it a little, because it suggests that humans can't make intelligent decisions about logic or reason or morality or ethics AT ALL. In which case, how are we to know that Judaism's ethical values, much less ritual commandments, are true or good? Maybe Shintoism had it right this whole time, and we didn't- and are in fact incapable of figuring it out, because we're all too damn stupid. In his quest to beef up faith at reason's expense, Rabbi Weiss opens up a very tricky can of worms.

Sorry Rabbi. If you want to keep your hoks, go nuts. I can't. Something that has no logical explanation whatsoever does not get to be a requirement for me because you say so. At best, it becomes a very weak recommendation, a-la-Kaplan's vote-not-veto. People should seek out causes, not settle for shrugging their shoulders and accepting the religious status-quo.

I'm backing Moses on this one. Sometimes God's calls make no sense. And there's no shame is saying it.

More on Brits or lack thereof

[N.B. If you're here looking for commentary on Tony Blair or Laurence Olivier, you're at the wrong blog.]

Having responded to a crank letter about circumcision yesterday, and then further stuck my nose in over at Oy Bay (note to self- learn to read people's names), I thought I'd conclude with a brief examination of one of the more rankling arguments raised by Sylvia and co. regarding the bloodless brit. Namely, the issue of selfishness.

I acknowledge that parents deciding not to circumcise their child does contain an element of selfishness. By the same token, however, I think there's a good argument that the alternative is similarly selfish. Either way, the parent imposes THEIR will on the child, who, let's be honest, is not in a position to give much of an opinion.

Frankly I think I come out brit-neutral more than anything else, which is to say, for cultural and nostalgia reasons-- and for some of the supposed health benefits, sure, why not-- I'd be fine with a circumcision, if not an actual brit ceremony. At the same time, I don't think the brit is THE defining Jewish act of a person's life, and I don't think not having one disqualifies you from studying with Rashi under the Tree of Life on a desert island Mandel floating in a sea of cholent when you pass on (note to self- come up with better afterlife scenario). I'd rather keep my distance from the zealots of both camps on this one, thanks very much.

Not having children, I haven't had to deal with the brit issue first-hand. However I have had other discussions about my hypothetical children which seem relevant, particularly the question of how "selfish" it is for someone like me, a post-modern agnostic, largely cultural, somewhat spiritual Jew interested in living some kind of Jewish home life and having a Jewish family, to date non-Jews.

I had one guy tell me that my decision to have a relationship with a non-Jew was selfish because it would constitute a "Jewish castration", forever cutting off my children from having a "true identity." He chided me for contemplating raising my (future) children as "fake", non-halachic Jews. "What if they want to marry someone frum, and they discover that they were never really Jewish in the first place? Do you want to put them through that?"

I told him that I thought this was bunk, and stand by it. First, given my religious views, it's extremely unlikely that any kids of mine would wind up in a situation where they would be marrying someone frum-- this would require them to be frum themselves, and in the course of this, they would encounter, and have to deal with, their halachic status. Second, irregardless of who they choose to marry, my future children's halachic status does not preclude them from converting Orthodox, should that be their choice. By the same token, I find it more than a little alarmist for pro-circ advocates to rail on about how non-circumcised Jewish males will grow up miserable with a major inferiority complex-- if it really bothers them that much, guess what? You can change it. It might be a major pain in the ass, but it's an option.

For all I know, regardless of how they're raised, my children might wind up wanting to become Scandinavian Neo-Pagans. Should I therefore lose sleep over how best to accommodate the future religious needs and possible identity crises my not converting to Paganism? I can see the fights now- "How am I supposed to marry Frigurd Power-crystal with such bad yichus?" Ok, they probably won't say yichus, but you get the idea. The best I can do is try and chart a path that's right for me and has the potential for success with my children. It makes no more sense for me to assume that a non-Orthodox (and non-halachic) family and household will hurt my children than it is to assume that they're likely to become vegans and painfully relive every chicken dinner they're subjected to under my roof. This, incidentally, is why the argument only seems to make sense to frum apologists- if you're convinced that everything not-frum is crap, of course you'll assume they'll be miserable if they're raised reform. Never mind that plenty of people don't seem to like being raised frum, either. (Incidentally, the idea that some of these kids may either join religious communities that don't circumcise, or may simply be bothered about it when they become older, never seems to cross the mind of any of the more vocal pro-circ folks. Or is the idea that it doesn't matter what their kids want, because if they're going to turn away from the derech they don't really count?)

What is unreasonable, in my mind, is to ask me to make a decision that runs counter to my own conscience and beliefs for the sake of a choice my hypothetical children may or may not make in their own lives decades from now. Is that selfish? A little, yeah. Sorry, I'm not so selfless as to let my nonexistent, presently imaginary kids, who for all I know will want to become Maoist rebels, raving Pentecostals or Al Qaeda spokespeople, run the show. (As long as they aren't Shakers or Scientologists, I'll be happy.) They'll get their turn once they actually exist.

Who knows, maybe they'll even get a brit.

Friday, June 29, 2007

More than the sum of one's mitzvot

I'm still in the process of reading through the local Jewish newspaper my parents brought back from Florida. Not surprisingly, me and the elders don't see eye to eye on everything. One of the letters to the editor from a gal named Sylvia, apparently in response to a story on some Jews opting out of circumcision, made our divisions loud and clear:

...For Jews today, there is little discrimination, large acceptance and even a grudging adherence to their faith. So, naturally, it is time for some to trot out the golden calf, and just as naturally for some to come and dance around it.

This golden calf, as you call it- this is what, personal choice? Assimilation? Help me out here.

...[Apparently] some of our Jewish daughters are against circumcision for their babies in order to spare them pain. What a novel idea! Why didn't the Jews set afire in the Spanish Inquisition or the millions of Jews tortured and reduced to ashes in the Holocaust think of this? They would have confounded their enemies! Are they Jews or Christians? Fish or fowl? Think of the pain they would have spared their babies.

So... people should circumcise their babies because all the Jews who died horribly throughout the ages didn't mind? Or is this poor attempt at a guilt-trip more substantive than I'm giving you credit? Maybe something like, "you're a disgrace to those who died because you won't?" or maybe, "they risked being identified and killed, so you choosing not to is some sort of group betrayal or selfish self-preservation?"

Seriously, I ask whether it is ignorance of our history, our teachings, that prompts such outrageous lack of respect for our most important covenant? Is it that they have been taught little, spoiled a lot, and terribly self-indulged that gives rise to such selfish disregard for what makes a Jew a Jew?

Hey lady, how about the fact that maybe they think it's bunk? You can know all about the theology and history of the brit and still not BELIEVE in it- and if you don't, it basically boils down to a cultural decision. Is it so surprising that for some people, nostalgia and cultural attachment might not be enough to justify what is (in their minds) unnecessary surgery? What does being spoiled or indulged have to do with it? Does Sylvia really believe that these couples choosing not to circumcise are doing so because their parents caved and bought them that pony for their sweet sixteen?

Do these people think eating chopped liver and lox and mouthing liberalisms makes them Jews? Do they think chopping away at the bedrock of Judaism is healthy for them and their children? Is it a good thing for Jews in general- for Kol Yisroel? Do they realize that being neither fish nor fowl gets the respect of nobody?

First, Sylvia needs to be careful about throwing around verbs like "chopping" in this context. Second, does she really think that circumcision, in of itself, is the defining trait of Judaism? If so, how do we deal with the fact that millions of non-Jews also practice the rite? How do we address the fact that every Jewish woman in history has NOT been circumcised? Circumcision, in and of itself, does not make or break a Jew, and the modern practices of the 20th century, in which many Jews have non-religious circumcisions (which technically don't count as a full brit) only makes things even more difficult. How are we to deal with all these different groups of Jews who may or may not count, according to Sylvia's narrow definition? Sure, she can claim that bloodless brit advocates may not be religious (they're certainly not frum), and might even go so far as to say that they aren't "good Jews" (though I kind of doubt they care what she thinks). But to say that their kids are being denied membership in the tribe? It's just not the case.

Circumcision is a mitzvah. Hallelujah. So is keeping kosher, observing Shabbat and covering your head (be it with a kippah or a sheitel). Hell, so are sacrifices. But even those who argue that a Judaism without the Temple is incomplete would never claim that all Jews since then haven't really counted. Does she think that walking to shul on Shabbos or eating cholent makes people Jewish, or that someone who drives to shul and eats turkey bacon (maris ayin, don't you know) aren't? Get real. Circumcision is a PART of Jewish practice and identity. Eliminating it from an individual's life does not invalidate them, either as people or Jews. And while young Jews having NO identity may indeed be a problem, circumcision, especially in America, is certainly not the single determinant of identity (which would be like saying one tells fish and fowl apart because one of them has eyes). Furthermore, there are many people in modern society who have multiple or muddled cultural backgrounds- maybe not being clearly Jewish or Irish creates a lack of respect in Sylvia's community (you know how judgmental those old folks can get), but I don't know if it's as endemic as she thinks.

Sylvia continues:

You better believe candidates running for the presidency of this country know the answers to such questions. They are out there, reaffirming their Christian faith before this great nation every chance they get- emphasizing, over and over, their Christian ties.

And THEY'RE the model for our young people? Duplicitous, obsequious politicians who exploit faith and principles to raise their poll numbers? And even if most politicians weren't, well, politicians, why should their behavior be the standard? On what basis should we be looking to them for advice? Yes, not being ashamed of your heritage is a good thing. But let's be honest, Sylvia- circumcision is, out of just about every Jewish practice, one of the most private ones (at least after the fact). By and large, no one's really going to know one way or the other what you had done, and when, and under whose auspices or whether it "really" counts or not. From a communal standpoint at least, this seems to sharply reduce the whole question to a red herring. Indeed, precisely because circumcision is private, not public, most couples' motivations for not circumcising probably come from personal belief and/or apathy, not trying to "pass" as Gentiles- particularly since, at least nowadays, a majority of non-Jews in America are circumcised.

The biggest problem of Sylvia's letter is that she misses the forest for the trees, arguing that a particular rite of the Jewish experience is the defining totality of that experience, implicitly suggesting that a life denied that mitzvah is less than authentic. You could turn that around and apply it to any Jewish life cycle, or really, any mitzvah. Maybe, if you're frum, that worldview actually works- you're basically here as a mitzvah machine, and your primary function is to accumulate bullet-points on your list, fine. But for me, I can't relate. To me, Sylvia's view of any single act as THE single most important Jewish decision (R) is simplistic and demeaning, both to the parents in question but especially to their children. It's reminiscent of TherapyDoc's argument here, and, IMO, flawed for some of the same reasons.

My understanding is that if a Jewish boy is not circumcised according to tradition he is still a Jew, but hasn't fulfilled the commandment of having had a brit milah, meaning he has not accepted the covenant.

A boy who hasn't had a brit hasn't been properly initiated as a Jew. He's not really of the Jewish People. He's not entered the covenant as commanded by the Old Mighty...

Not to contradict the illustrious rabbis of old, but I've got news for you. Regardless of what the law books say, being snipped doesn't determine whether or not you accept the covenant. How many Jews throughout history were given brits according to the "proper" tradition and have actively rejected the covenant? And I find it hard to imagine that there weren't a few Jews over the course of the last thousand years who weren't circumcised and still turned out all right. Again, what about all the exceptions to Sylvia's would-be hard-fast rule? Hospital circumcisions? Women? Is Sylvia herself any less of a Jew for not having this rite? Are Jewish women to be pitied? Here's a question for the super-halachic thinkers: if the brit is the key to Jewishness, what about properly circumcised children who only have Jewish fathers? If the brit is the equivalent to a membership card, what about people that are supposed to be automatically excluded from the club?

I'm sorry, but I don't buy it. I don't accept that Judaism is all or nothing, and I'm certainly not convinced that I have to follow certain practices that have been deemed "super important" by people that have made their own decisions over what to pick and choose. Even the Orthodox, if they're honest, are picking and choosing (or following in the traditions of others who made their own choices). One of the founding principles of Rabbinic Judaism is the legitimacy of interpretation and of looking beyond mere literalism. We don't do sacrifices or have altars anymore because Yochanan Ben Zakkai and his buddies were brave enough to change the system when it needed changing. The key of Ben Zakkai's revolution was not merely in switching observances from the Temple to the home and synagogue, but in saying that this change was legitimate, and declaring that innovation was not automatic heresy. How could he have done that, his peers might have asked. The Temple, with sacrifices and pilgrimages, was what made a Jew a Jew. It says so right in the Torah. Who was Ben Zakkai to do otherwise?

We know what happened to Ben Zakkai and the rabbis. We also know what happened to their counterparts. I'm not saying that Sylvia is going to go the way of the Sadducees, but it's important to realize that while the bloodless brit is new, innovation, even of the radical kind, is not new to Judaism.

Sylvia doesn't have to like bloodless brits (and to be honest, I think they're a little silly), but she should get off her high horse when it comes to determining other people's Jewishness based on what mitzvot they follow. When she starts sacrificing goats with the Samaritans or sitting at home on Shabbat with the lights off like the Karaites, she can get back to me. Until then, she should watch who she casts out of the club for daring to pick and choose.

It's not about being spoiled. It's not about not caring about Judaism or Jewish identity. It's about what people honestly believe and trying to follow through on those beliefs as best as they can. It's about believing that a Jew is made up of more than merely the mitzvot and life cycles they managed to keep and follow and the decisions they're lucky enough to have others decide for them- including brit, bar mitzvah, or a Jewish burial. People like Sylvia can write off "the youth" all they want. I'm sure they're used to it, and they've got thick skins. But I can only hope that regardless of what Sylvia's generation thinks of the parents who choose not to circumcise, they will remember not to hold it against the children affected by the decision. Circumcision is an important issue, as are many questions of modern day Jewish observance. But at the end of the day, these parents are motivated by their personal consciences, their beliefs, and wanting the best for their children. Whatever our positions, on that we can all agree.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The importance of names

Dennis Prager opines on character assassination and the value of one's good name. Granted, he uses the opportunity to bash the left with his examples, but that's Dennis for you.

The rape of a name can be as vicious a crime and as destructive an act as the rape of a body. Sometimes the rape of a body is worse; sometimes the rape of a name is worse. But they are both rapes. And morally likening the two is in no way meant to lessen the horror of rape; it is meant only to heighten awareness of the horror of intentionally destroying the name of an innocent person.

Upon first hearing a comparison of name-rape to body-rape, most people are likely to recoil. But upon reflection, it becomes clear that the two are morally comparable. In fact, I have had women listeners to my radio show call and e-mail me to say that they have been raped – one woman had been gang raped – and felt they were better able to go on with their lives than men they loved who had been falsely accused of rape or molestation.

Just gang-raped? That's your best trump card example? Nothing about a woman being raped in the eye, or possibly her lung? "During the Cambodian genocide, one woman was raped by a Communist monkey under the influence of peyote, and she totally agrees with me." Bush league stuff, Dennis.

If you are a woman and this seems far-fetched, imagine that a man you love – such as your father, brother, husband or son – was publicly accused of a rape he had not committed. Imagine the pain he and your family would endure. Why is that pain not comparable to the pain suffered by at least some women who are raped?

"Which office do I go to to get my reputation back?" That was the question the secretary of labor in the Reagan administration, Raymond Donovan, asked, after being acquitted of all charges of larceny and fraud.

Where, indeed, does one go after having one's reputation unjustly ruined?

I don't know, should we ask the Clintons, who folks like WND still insinuate were responsible for murdering various political associates? (Debunked here, if you need it.)

To this day, a decent human being named Clarence Thomas, who has become a major Supreme Court thinker, is identified by his political enemies with sexual harassment (of the most innocuous variety, even if true) and of having looked at pornography (along with the majority of other decent men in America), as if those charges define his life.

Yeah, man, it sure is a good thing no Republicans ever blew incidents of sexual misconduct out of proportion. Otherwise Dennis would be, oh, I don't know, a hypocritical jackass. Way to dodge a bullet there.

The lying woman in the Duke lacrosse case, Crystal Mangum, raped three men. Generally speaking, it is meaningless to speak of women raping men's bodies; it is men who rape women's bodies. What women can rape is a man's name.
Actually, if you saw that episode of Law & Order SVU, you'd know that's not always true...

Dennis closes with a quote from the Talmud about how slandering someone is equivalent to shedding their blood. And, despite his hyperbolic rhetoric, he does indeed have a point.

Which is why I was more than a little saddened to see, on the same page as Dennis' column, a link to a WND news piece on the totalitarianism of Germany's hate speech laws. The link reads, "Comparing abortion, Auschwitz, lands jail time."

Let's be clear. I oppose jailing people for unpopular speech. I think the answer to "bad" speech, and especially misinformation, is more information, is to challenge people and expose their ideas as being flawed, hateful, full of crap, what have you.

But to go from hearing about the sanctity of names and words to seeing WND defending a guy who "
compared Germany's abortion rate of 150,000 annually to the murder of Jews in Auschwitz during the Holocaust"? Sorry Dennis, it's just too easy.

Au Naturel

Our old friend Rav Lazer, master of Emuna and our ambassador to the wonderful world of Abir, has important news for us. Apparently not all food is good for you.

Lazer got the scoop from Peggy, a loyal reader.

As a nurse and as an objective observer, I've arrived at the following conclusion as far as choosing the best foods for your health: If Hashem made it - it is good for you and eat it. If man made it - beware, it is not good for you. As for Hashem's foods, there's no need to count calories; Hashem doesn't use dangerous additives to make money off of people. There's no such thing as junk foods that grow in the soil or on a tree.

Man's use of chemicals, preservatives, and fats don't lead to good health. Hashem's perfectly balanced foods, such as the whole-grain wheat kernel, certainly do lead to good health. Hashem does a better job. Thanks and many blessings to you and best wishes, Peggy from Indiana

Well said, Peggy. With Hashem's help, we hope to do more posts on natural eating and health in the future, for a healthy body is so very conducive to a healthy soul.

You know, it's times like this that I can't help thinking I know too much for my own good. I can only hope no tells Peggy or Lazer about "natural" things like pokeweed, hemlock or my favorite, deadly nightshade. And I sure hope she takes her own advice when it comes to processed things like soy and margarine, popular dairy substitutes in pareve cooking. (To be fair, there is indeed some research suggesting that too much soy can be bad for you. Especially if you're a homophobic pseudoscientific nutjob.) And of course, there's the fantastic point about not needing to count calories if you're only eating natural foods (assuming, of course, your food is natural to begin with). Say, what happened to my 20th serving of oranges? What do you mean, I'm obese?

Incidentally, speaking of Jews and healthy diets, I recently came across an interesting article a relative brought back from a local Florida Jewish newspaper discussing the role of Jewish diets in causing illness. The money quote:

When it comes to the Jewish diet and disease, [Susan] Silberstein said, there is good news and bad news. "The good news is that pork and shellfish are bad for your health. The bad news is that Jewish cooking is very high in calories and fat and can lead to a myriad of diseases, including heart disease and cancer."

Some of the traditionally high-fat items... are beef brisket, stuffed kishka, corned beef and cabbage, and kugel. She also said Passover is her hardest holiday to observe because of the cottonseed and corn oils contained in matzah and almost all kosher for Passover foods.

Hmm. Maybe the rabbis should be spending less time worrying about Kosher for Passover bleach and more time making sure their flocks aren't giving themselves colon cancer by having thirds on cholent. Or the Breslovers could all become vegetarians. That'd be a start. Oh well. Win some, lose some, I guess.

For another fascinating view of the relationship between Jewish food and diseases, check out this 47-year-old TIME article on Yemenite Jews- real ones this time, I swear.

A Change of Heart

Oyster's comment to my last post made me wonder if I was being too hard on Sensei Sofer. I did some reading online and, lo and behold, I found a solution for the great Abir dilemma- how can someone claim that an object has magically become something else, when all evidence points to the contrary?

As usual, the Church shows us the way.

Hell, if it works for them and bread, why can't it work for all us skeptics and "the holy ways of our forefathers?"

So for those who, like me, may be so quick to chasten the Abirites (hey! maybe they got the name from Habiru), maybe all we really need is faith, I mean, emuna.

Don't think I've forgotten about the Abir send-off. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Abir Revealed

I didn't want to do this. I was just ridiculing some morons on the Internet, it was all in good fun. But then I had to go and open my big mouth to someone who actually knows Grand Master Jackass Sofer, who told me the secret of Abir.

And that was cool. I could keep it under my ninja spodik. I had self-control.

Until I saw this.

According to Grandmaster Yehoshua Sofer:

My family lived in Israel for 100 generations, since the time of Saraya Sofer—a royal scribe and warrior who served the kingdom of Israel. Both ancient Israelite writing and martial arts traditions, were handed down in my family from generation to generation.[16]

The Sofer family has a tradition that, following the wars of Bar Kokhba, their ancestors lived in Piq'in near Tiberias for one thousand years, and at the time of the Crusades, moved to Hevron, where they lived for another one thousand years, some of them moving back and forth between Israel and Yemen all the while. This is substantiated by two photographs the Abir has: one is that of his uncles in the 1920s, who lived in Hevron, in service of the Khalif of Jordan. The other, from only a few years earlier, is of his grandfather's brother, was in Oman, in service of the son of the Sultan.

Members of the Sofer family moved between Jerusalem and Habban in eastern Aden to cities such as Baidha. "Baidha" means "white" in Yemeni Arabic. While in Israel, Nachman Sofer and his youngest son, Ya`aqov Mosha, Grandmaster Yehoshua Sofer's father, left the region for Jamaica following the Hevron massacres of 1929, in which two of his uncles were murdered. From there they would move to the United States and later back to Israel.

The Abir Concept

...According to the Abir web-site:

The Twelve Tribes Principles and The Ten Emanations (These are very esoteric and intricate educational tools to understand the nature of combined movement and force in an application of the other principles directed into specific points of energy, mass or “targets” as well as the use of telepathy and hypnosis to direct or disable one's adversary)

This science as described in great depth in sources found throughout The Holy Torah are taught to “performers” of Abir, who regardless of their background in Jewish study and Torah Life, commitment/observance (or the lack of these) can begin training in this dance form that houses a deadly form…or formless system of self defense that is as effective today as it was in defeating the ancient military forces of Median, Ai, Eglon, Lah’ish, Canaanim, Khittim, Amorim, Prizim, Yebusim and Girgashim.

An Abir can be viewed as one who defends the palace that houses the Neshama (the soul), the Ruah (spirit), and the Gouf (physical body) within a circumference that is called one's Dalled (four) Amoth (designated spaces used as measurements) as commanded by G-d to defend; because inside a true Abir is housed a living Torah, for through its study the Abir seeks to internalize its wisdom, to become holy, pure, and to exemplify the very virtues that indeed describe the Abir of Israel that comprises the initials of this ancient Hebrew word (Aleph, Bet, Yod, Resh).

The Abir approach is based on a combination of the following elements.

  • Judaic principles found in the Torah
  • The Ancient Hebrew alphabet.
  • Philosophical principles and movements based on symbols surrounding the 12 Tribes of Israel.
  • Techniques passed down by Jewish communities such as the (Habbani Jews and Daghestani Jews)
  • Jewish dances from various exotic or ancient communities, which anciently were a part of the ancient Abir combat system.
AAAGH! Get your fake martial arts HORSE CRAP off Wikipedia!

It gets even worse on the talk page.

...I understand about being skeptical about Abir, I was also based on the same articles. I was very skeptical when I first heard about it, because the web-sites and the articles weren't clear. It wasn't until I actually contacted some Teimanim in Israel about it and I also contacted Grandmaster Sofer concerning proof that I changed my mind about it. As mentioned before I received letters from a Yemenite Rabbi and an Ashkenazi Rabbi who state that Abir is ancient and authentic. In terms of the article, it only reflects what is on the web-site which Grandmaster Sofer states is not completely accurate. Grandmaster Sofer mentioned to me that he is working on getting his website corrected.

My brains, my beautiful brains, they're leaking all over the floor...

Ok, that's it. Sorry to break it to all you Abir fans, but here's the skinny on the "ancient art" and the Abir Master as explained to me by a trusted source who actually knows Senor Sofer.

A- Among friends, the esteemed master Abir Aluf Mori Yehoshua Sofer is affectionately known as "Yehoshuass."

B- This seems to be at least partially related to the fact that Mr. Sofer is an incorrigible practical joker.

C- Mr. Sofer is indeed highly proficient in Kuk Sul Won, a martial art which he studied for years to master. This discipline, which, I should point out, has the extra advantage of actually existing, is, as far as anyone can tell, what Mr. Sofer has spent much of his professional life teaching people.

D- Martial arts enthusiasts have observed that despite Mr. Sofer's many impressive claims to be teaching people an ancient Jewish martial art, complete with Hebrew alphabet-inspired moves and combinations, Abir seems to look remarkably like Kuk Sul Won.

E- Hebrew alphabet enthusiasts have observed that in order to have enough letters to make all of Abir's moves work, Mr. Sofer had to add Rashi script. It has yet to be explained exactly how this medieval Sephardic writing innovation made its way to the Sofers in Israel, but most theories presumably involve Crusaders killing some Jews in Europe and stealing their books, then accidentally dropping them after arriving in the Holy Land, whereupon the Sofers got hold of them and realized, "hey, this will allow us to have more than 27 moves!" Or maybe a Crusader brought a talking severed Jew's head along with him tied to his belt and the Sofers rescued it and made it tell them secrets.

F- Mr. Sofer, inheritor of Yemeni traditions for two thousand years, is actually a New Yorker of Ashkenazi extraction.

G- It is unclear whether Mr. Sofer's many glowing endorsements from rabbis, Internet rebbes (hi, Lazer!) and stupid newspeople and random schmoes are in-jokes, or whether said people are just profoundly stupid. It is also highly likely that some of these rabbis know that Mr. Sofer's backstory is sufficiently ludicrous as to be absurd and go along with it for the sake of getting their chubby yeshiva bochers some much-needed exercise.

H- There is nothing wrong with making up your own (admittedly amusing) cool Jew-Fu backstory to teach Jewish kids Kuk Sul Won. There is also nothing wrong with being up front about your bullshit.

I'm sorry if I ruined Abir for everyone. In the interests of being respectful, I think I'm going to retire the "ridiculing Abir" category from the blog, since, as I'm sure you'll all agree, there's something not quite funny about making fun of someone when they're actually kidding (even if they've managed to convince everyone that they're not).

I hope you'll stick around for the next post, when we say goodbye to Abir forever.

It never gets old

Don't tell me otherwise. I couldn't bear it.

Recent Searches:

- "male chauvinism and chasid and women." Male Chauvanism? From Chasidim? Are you crazy? Everyone knows that the Chasids are the cool ones. The Hasids, by contrast, are are total dicks. Chasids respect their women more than rubies, and even certain kinds of emeralds (sapphires, of course, are negotiable. If you can cut them a deal, they might be able to swing something)

- "emasculated shuls." I'm just saying, cupolas look a little yonic to me. Not like those powerful, thrusting, cathedrals.

- "shoah and martyr." Hi, Grandma!

- "jenny heineman tattoo." Look, I don't care what you heard, I have no idea how the girl got my picture tattooed on her butt.

- "david wolpe brain tumor." Hey guys, fun is fun, but wishing brain tumors on people isn't nice. Besides, it sounds like David Wolpe has enough problems at the moment. Let's concentrate on sending out nice vibes and prayers into the world, and hoping that any collective negative energy in the universe gets sent in the direction of, I don't know, some other Wolpe.

- "catholic confession unhealthy." AMEN!

- abir warrior arts." FINE, I'll write the stupid post! God, you ridicule a few schmucks for thinking they're the second coming of Ninja Christ, and all of a sudden the whole Internet explodes. Geez.

Oy is just "shiruken" backwards.

Anyone who knows me is aware that I come down firmly in ninja camp when it comes to the great pirates vs. ninjas debate. And this is despite my well-known beard bias.

Anyway, it turns out I now have another reason to like ninjas- sort of. A Slate op-ed faithfully chronicles the longstanding relationship between Jews and ninjas- a covenant, if you will.

The Israeli affinity for ninjas makes sense when you consider that ninjas are basically supercool Jews. Both practice esoteric traditions that must be kept pure or they'll lose their power, both wear black outfits, and both can destroy much larger and more numerous opponents. The main difference is that while observant Jews spend a lot of time praying, observant ninjas spend a lot of time hiding and killing people. The most financially successful ninja movie produced by Cannon, Firstenberg's American Ninja (1985), featured Michael Dudikoff as an assimilated ninja who has forgotten his traditions and only defeats his enemies when he rediscovers his heritage. Its trailer, preserved on YouTube, allows you to taste its exquisite pleasures.

While I think this tortured comparison is very awesome indeed, I can't help pointing out that there are plenty of observant Jews that hid and killed people- King David, the Maccabees, WWII Partisans, Nachal Haredi, and of course our favorite nutcases. Come on, Slate, do your research. Or I'll hire one of those super-rabbis to go after you.

Hmm... maybe this finally explains that weird Eisenberg quote where he claims some Satmar once broke up a Chabad parade through Williamsburg by beating them with nunchucks.

Monday, June 25, 2007

A new blogging project, for all my shul-hopping adventures.

Spread the word. Or just go read it.

What's in a Name? (What's in a Brain?)

Sultan Knish is a tad irked at the latest rabbinical declaration. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef's son Avraham took valuable time out from his schedule (wait, what does he do again?) to answer halachic questions on a radio show. Asked by a caller about changing one's name, Yosef the Younger responded:

The rabbi answered that a name must never be changed, though another name can be added to the first name, unless one carries the name of “an evil, indecent figure” like Herzl, the founder of Zionism, or the biblical Nimrod. “One must be careful not to name his children by these names,” Yosef stressed.

Sultan is understandably miffed. He writes,

Had the gaonim who run Shas studied something besides the exchange rate in the Swiss markets, they might know that Herzl is actually a longstanding Jewish name.

A better question might be if you can name your son Shimon Megadef [Idolatry] or Ovadya Yosef. One is reminded of Esav asking about taking Maaser on salt while engaging in wholesale theft, bloodshed and adultery.

But I propose a useful list of alternative names for any Shas voter who wishes to trade in the name of one of the figures who helped build the State of Israel, as off the Derech as he might have been, for a more Shas approved name from the party that has done a lot to destroy the State of Israel.

Oslo and Yasir, for the Oslo process which would not have happened without Shas. Peres, for Shas's rotten godfather. Kesef [money], for the only thing that Shas' leadership has shown itself to care about. Kayin [Cain], for when an accounting is demanded for the blood that has been spilled because of Shas' greed, like Kayin they fold their hands and claim not to know what all this is about.

Not to show my Hebrew ignorance, but when I read that line about Shimon Megadef, I thought of this. Oops.

Ynet helpfully reminds us exactly what it is mini-Yosef does for a living, and just how absurd his comment is.

The rabbi’s ruling, and his statement that Herzl was an evil person, is surprising in light of the fact that Yosef serves as the chief rabbi of the city of Holon on behalf of the Chief Rabbinate – an institution that is affiliated with the State of Israel.

Furthermore, his father, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, is the leader of a political party that is very much involved in the public life of the state.

Oopsies. Oh well, here's hoping the Rabbi's followers don't read Yediot (a pretty safe guess).

Incidentally, I understand why some people might find this upsetting or moronic, but don't be surprised. This isn't the first time. Anyone remember this?

A group of Israeli rabbis has put together a list of names they say should be off-limits to Jewish children — including Ariel and Omri, the given names of Israel's prime minister and his eldest son.

Uttering the name Ariel is problematic because it could beckon an angel namesake instead, drawing down his wrath, they caution.

Omri — the name of an evil biblical king — should be taboo because of the highly negative connotation.

And naming children after dismantled Gaza settlements, like Katif, is another bad idea, they say, because of the controversy involved, they say. Jewish settlers, who are predominantly religious, unsuccessfully opposed the withdrawal.

The rabbis' list, presented in Hebrew on the Internet, also offers preferred names. Rabbis said they compiled the list in response to a flood of requests from parents concerned they may accidentally give their children names that could shame them for life.

What other names raise rabbinical ire? All those that sound non-Jewish — like Donna, Barr and Shirly. So do typically male names given to girls — like Roni and Danielle. Names that include the suffix or prefix "el," which means God in Hebrew.

That's right, better to call your child Shithead rather than risk the angel Ariel whipping them with a pulsa denura. Good thinking there.

And incidentally, geniuses, you wouldn't really have to change Shirly to anything- Shirli is a Hebrew name.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Some Belated Father's Day Idiocy

Courtesy of, who else? Sock it to me, Dave.

"Father knows best."

How do those three words make you feel? Turn them over in your mind a couple of times and be aware of the subtlest of feelings. Be honest.

Do they make you feel slightly squeamish? A little discomfort in your solar plexus? Is something deep down inside you repelled by those words?

Not really. More like reflexively skeptical. But that's my natural reaction to blank check statements of authority, not unlike, "The Pope/President/Government/Chief Rabbi knows best."

If so, you're not alone. Contempt for male authority – as if to say, "Give me a break, father sure didn't know best in my life" – is everywhere around us. We're swimming in it. You see, men, boys and masculinity itself have been under withering national assault for decades.

But what about the many cases where that may be true?

"Father Knows Best," of course, was a popular TV show during the '50s, when I was a little boy. Set in the wholesome Midwestern town of "Springfield," insurance agent Jim Anderson (played by Robert Young) would come home from work each evening, trade his sport jacket for a nice, comfortable sweater, and then deal with the everyday growing-up problems of his family. Both Jim and wife Margaret (played by Jane Wyatt) were cast as thoughtful and mature grown-ups. Jim could always be counted on to resolve that week's crisis with a combination of kindness, fatherly strength and good old common sense.

Sounds insipid and totally unrealistic. And honestly, how many crises are solved through "fatherly strength?" What does that even mean? And why can't the mother have common sense? Is she too busy making cookies?

Today, more often than not, television portrays husbands as bumbling losers or contemptible, self-absorbed egomaniacs.

A legitimate complaint.

Whether in dramas, comedies or commercials, the patriarchy is dead, at least on TV where men are fools – unless of course they're gay. On "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," the "fab five" are supremely knowledgeable on all things hip, their life's highest purpose being to help those less fortunate than themselves – that is, straight men – to become cool.

Yeah, but come on, isn't that like, at least a semi-victory for men? Or do you only count as the patriarchy if you're off inseminating people?

However, it's not only in Hollywood, but on Main Street, that masculinity has become uncool and even despised. The evidence is everywhere:

  • In public school classrooms across America, in every category and every demographic group, boys are falling behind.

    Girls are excelling and moving on to college, where almost three out of every five students today are female. At the same time, young boys – who don't naturally thrive when forced to sit still at a desk listening to a teacher lecture for six hours a day – are diagnosed by the millions with new diseases that didn't exist a generation ago. To "treat" them and make their behavior more acceptable, we force them to take dangerous psycho-stimulant drugs.

  • So you're saying ADD is caused by boys not being allowed to go off and hunt ducks down by the swimming hole? And how sure are we that all these "new diseases" primarily affect males? And speaking of new diseases, I'm pretty sure AIDS hasn't' been around that long. Does that make it imaginary?

  • What about marriage and divorce? We've all heard that about one in every two of America's marriages are ending in divorce, but did you know that two out of three of those divorces are initiated by the wives?
  • Once again, Judaism is ahead of the curve. Three cheers for the Get!

    How on earth did we get here? What happened to the great feminist revolution that was supposed to make ours a better, more equal society? Women are being liberated – or so we have been assured for decades – from their traditional roles, breaking the bonds of their former "servitude" and developing themselves personally, professionally, spiritually and sexually as never before. Meanwhile, men were supposed to develop and express their softer, more sensitive, nurturing and feminine side. Society was supposed to evolve into this great big happy androgynous paradise where everyone is equal to everyone else in every way.

    Androgynous? Where the hell did you get that?

    How utterly stupid.

    I agree; it makes you look like an idiot.

    But even if such radical "equality" were possible and desirable, why on earth do we now find ourselves in cultural hell rather than heaven? Why are men being denigrated as never before? Why are boys floundering in school as never before? Why are our family courts so flagrantly biased against fathers? Why, in short, if this is all about equality, is there such an unrelenting war against boys and men?

    Tell us, Dave! Inquiring minds want, nay, need, to know. Who's to blame? Is it the gays?

    As Ph.D. scholar Christina Hoff Sommers writes in her groundbreaking book, "The War Against Boys": "It's a bad time to be a boy in America." She cites example after example of how America's cultural, academic and political elite have had an extended field day maligning and redefining masculinity.

    ...Sommers shows how the chic, politically correct '90s "discovery" that girls are being shortchanged by American society – which has resulted in the profound transformation of our schools, laws, parenting and culture to favor female success – is largely unsupported by either research or common sense. She goes on to show that it is actually boys who not only are being shortchanged, but are being targeted for radical reprogramming by a society increasingly offended by masculinity itself.

    Those daughters of bitches! But wait, if the feminist elites are in charge, how come they still haven't figured out a way to get paid an equal wage? Stupid lazy feminists. Now the Illuminati, THEY know how to operate a shadow government.

    Mountains have been written about this feminist-inspired assault on men, this mysterious hostility we've lived with for so long. So let's skip over the usual litany of evidence – the fiery denunciations of marriage (which some feminist professors condemn as "slavery" and "legalized rape"), the militant demonstrations of the '60s, the toxic books maligning homemaking in favor of corporate ladder-climbing, and so on. Instead, let's get right to the very heart of the matter. Let's dive down deep, so deep it's almost scary – and then dredge up what truly lurks underneath today's "war on fathers."

    Sounds good. Cut to the chase and all that. What's the scoop?

    Let's make a crucial point at the outset: It's simply impossible to understand this issue – man-woman relations, marriage, masculinity, femininity, gender identity and so on – unless we understand that there is, in reality, an all-powerful and all-knowing God, that He created us and the world we live in, and that He has ordained laws and principles for us to live by. Further, that there is a realm of good and a realm of evil, and that both of these dimensions are powerfully vying for our allegiance all the time – and that, whether we realize it or not, we obey the impulses from one spiritual authority or the other. That's it – there's no neutral zone, no secular space that's off-limits to this cosmic tug-of-war over each one of us. Only in our vain imaginings does such a God-free zone exist.

    Huh? Sorry Dave, you just lost me. So we can't discuss feminism without agreeing to the existence of God, good and evil? Sounds a little strange.

    Indeed, this world we live in, despite its magnificence and natural beauty and order, is a war zone and always has been. I'm not speaking only of the armed conflicts that have erupted throughout history, wracking nations, cities, villages and families, but also the ultimate war that rages within each one of us. There's an ongoing battle between heaven and hell – and we're the prize. Will we follow the higher, noble and unselfish impulses that beckon to us from the heavenly realm? Or will we give in to the lower, ignoble, selfish, lustful impulses that also appeal to us from just beyond the three dimensions of our earthly existence?

    Cut the crap and make a point soon, Dave, or I'm leaving.

    OK, I'm with you so far, you might say. But what does this have to do with hating men and masculinity?

    Let's focus for a moment on a profound truth that wasn't the slightest bit controversial for the last 3,000 years or so, but is now: God is our Father in Heaven – our Father, not our Mother. Calling God "Father" – despite some of the recent, politically correct Bible versions that neuter or feminize such masculine references to the Almighty – is not due to culture, church dogma or linguistics. It's for real, folks. The Creator of the Universe doesn't have a mother's nature. He's a strong but loving, just but merciful, Father, King and Judge.

    And guess what? More than any other single factor in our lives, our relationship with our earthly father sets the pattern for how we will relate to our Heavenly Father. That is to say, if we have a good father, whose maturity and character make him easy to respect, it's natural for a child to transfer that bond he has with his earthly father to his Heavenly Father later on.

    So... because God is (theoretically) male, we should recognize and respect all men? Or just those with kids?

    Moreover, what's true for individuals applies to entire civilizations. When we encourage the bond between fathers and their children, our society prospers. When we separate fathers from their kids – through destructive feminist philosophies, subversive no-fault divorce laws and the like – our society not only fragments, but loses its very identity, which is exactly what we see happening today.

    I don't know, Dave. There have been plenty of destructive societies run by assholes that were able to keep going precisely because of intense group loyalty to kings, priests, and fathers (look at, say, the Vikings). Isn't the issue just as much WHAT KIND of Dad you have than whether or not you listen to him? Isn't part of his burden to EARN and be worthy of respect and emulation?

    Oh, sorry, there I go again blaspheming against my Heavenly Father.

    Why is this true? Because, contrary to feminist orthodoxy, men are different from women! In this confused era of feminized men who wear earrings and are embarrassed at their own masculinity, this may be hard to accept, but there really is a reason Jesus was a man and that all of His 12 disciples were men and that the Bible was written by men and that the vast majority of pastors, priests and rabbis are men.

    EARRINGS? You're going after earrings now? Ok, I'll bite. What's the reason?

    And that reason is not, as radical feminists insist, that a bunch of sexist, patriarchal pigs created the Christian religion just to enslave and control women. Rather, men were simply designed by the Creator to love and protect and defend and lead women and children – in every way, including spiritually. (And yes, I realize there were also very godly women surrounding Jesus, just as there are wonderfully righteous women around today, but the point is, it is men who are meant to bear the ultimate responsibility and burden of leadership.)

    OH! I get it now! So the reason patriarchy is a good thing is because God has a wang and Jesus had a wang and all the important religious founders and leaders had wangs, and so even though some wangless folks had some good ideas now and again, the ULTIMATE RESPONSIBILITY is in the hands of the wang-ed. Gotcha, you moron!

    The simple truth, which most of us understood when we were little children, is that "father" – if he is bonded to our Heavenly Father – "knows best." But what exactly do those words, "bonded to our Heavenly Father," mean? Are they some sort of religious mumbo-jumbo meant to subjugate women?

    Hardly. Let me tell you what those words don't mean. They don't refer to a phony, prideful, pretentious hypocrite hiding behind his religion. Rather, they refer to an ordinary man living in the light of constant, honest self-examination, progressively giving up his own selfishness, anger and self-doubt, and accepting full responsibility for the lives of his family members. Such a man is worthy of being followed, respected and loved. One important proof of this "heavenly bonding" comes when he sees that his wife is right and is willing to submit to her correct discernment. Remember, a good man serves a Higher Right. What's important to him is what is right, not who is right. So, sometimes "mother knows best," but it is father who decides the question. Otherwise no one is ultimately responsible.

    I don't know, isn't that sort of like cheating on a test? "Honey, you were so right about how we needed to buy a new washing machine that I went ahead and got you the money from the bank that I never let you touch on your own. Incidentally, Happy Valentine's Day."

    Incidentally, I like that the only good fathers in Dave's universe are apparently religious. That's actually not surprising, considering this bit:

    ...a godly man, a truly masculine man, a truly "manly" man, is a reflection of God's nature. (Remember, we're supposed to be created in His image.)

    The ultimate "real man," of course, was Jesus of Nazareth. He was strong, outspoken and God-centered – also patient, sensitive and caring (but not effeminate). He was a "force of one," who comforted the afflicted and afflicted the comfortable. He confronted people with their sins and hypocrisy, while offering nothing less than the way to God and everlasting happiness.

    So what happened to Him? The ultimate man was so threatening to the political and religious elite of his day that they executed Him.

    Stupid Metrosexual Feminist Jews and/or Romans! I bet they wore earrings.

    On today's secular, matrix-like world stage, where God's reality is seen as discredited myth, and alien philosophies and sexual obsession embraced as enlightenment and liberation, we simply have lost sight of who and what we actually are. Men are meant to be Christ-like – righteous, strong, courageous, assertive, butt-kicking, sacrificial doers of what's right. Women are meant to be their righteous, strong, courageous, noble helpers and partners.

    Yet, even though all men fall short of the mark at one point or another, remember that they still have that divine spark within, somewhere. Just remember that it's there – and seek it out and serve it. And men, remember that your beloved, whatever her faults, has a divine spark, an innocent angelic nature buried inside, even if you can't see it right now. Seek it out and serve it.

    Hey, am I the only one totally creeped out by Dave's seamless interweaving of klippot theology and saying that the benchmark for acceptable masculinity is Jesus? And did I catch a Matrix reference, too? Careful, Dave. Someone will accuse you of being a cafeteria Christian.

    Dave ends with a plea: No matter how crappy your marriage, remember:

    reject divorce as an option. Statistics prove second marriages are even more likely to fail, and you will lose forever the youth you shared and the life you lived – and your children will suffer most of all.

    When we break the bond between fathers and their children, we're breaking the bond between God the Father and our nation. When we restore that connection, our society will be healed. It's as simple as that.

    That's God's way. Listen to Him. He's your Father, and believe me, He knows best.

    Yeah, I suppose things are a lot simpler... when you're a schmuck.

    What the Hell are you talking about, Dennis?

    Someone please translate this for me. I don't speak jackass.

    It seems Dennis is mad because Christopher Hitchens' new book tells an unflattering story about a stupid hypothetical Dennis once used on him to try to get him to admit that deep down, even dirty atheists intuitively know that religious people tend to be ethical:

    This is how the story appears in Hitchens's book:

    "A week before the events of Sept. 11, 2001, I was on a panel with Dennis Prager, who is one of America's better-known religious broadcasters. He challenged me in public to answer what he called a 'straight yes/no question,' and I happily agreed. 'Very well,' he said. I was to imagine myself in a strange city as the evening was coming on. Toward me I was to imagine that I saw a large group of men approaching. Now – would I feel safer, or less safe, if I was to learn that they were just coming from a prayer meeting? As the reader will see, this is not a question to which a yes/no answer can be given. But I was able to answer as if it were not hypothetical. 'Just to stay within the letter B, I have actually had that experience in Belfast, Beirut, Bombay, Belgrade, Bethlehem and Baghdad. In each case I can say absolutely, and can give my reasons, why I would feel immediately threatened if I thought that the group of men approaching me in the dusk were coming from a religious observance.'"

    As it happens, Hitchens did not relate my question entirely accurately, as hundreds of thousands of my listeners can attest to and as many written sources can attest to. I have always asked the question about 10 men in a dark alley coming out of a "Bible class." I wrote a piece for National Review in 1999 in which I posed this question and wrote "Bible class," not "prayer meeting." And Father Richard Neuhaus, in his journal, First Things, quoted me asking this question about men leaving a "Bible class" in 1992. (I have always posed this question to Americans and therefore assumed the question related only to America, but I did not specify "America" in my question to Hitchens as I did "Bible class.")

    I have always specified "Bible class" because I assume that in America, anyone with common sense would in fact be very relieved if they knew that the 10 strangers, all men, approaching them in a dark alley were committed to either Judaism or Christianity and studying the Bible. I never stated "prayer class" because, unlike a Bible class, which more or less confines us to normative Judeo-Christian religions, "prayer meeting" can signify anyone in any religion or even in some dangerous cult.

    Yeah! In your face, Hitchens! I mean, "prayer meeting", that could be anything! Quakers, Hare Krishnas, even Santeria. Get serious, Chris. Other religions could be dangerous, but Judeo-Christians are always safe.

    Oh wait, a bunch of Hitchens' examples could pertain to Christians. Belfast, Belgrade, Beirut... Hmm.

    But wait, Dennis did say AMERICA, and we all know that no American Christians are violent.

    Unless we're talking about the KKK... or fundamentalist gay-bashers... or people that blow up abortion clinics.

    Can we get clarification on the example? Are any of them dressed in military fatigues? Or holding pipe bombs? Or Chick tracts?

    Even atheists would have to admit that in America today, they would be very grateful to learn that those 10 men had just been studying Genesis or Isaiah. One does not hear of many Bible classes with students mugging passersby.

    "Grateful?" I don't think so. Cautiously relieved, maybe, unless they were a black guy in the South in the 1930s, or a gay guy in, oh, now. Frankly, I get freaked out by roving minyans of any denomination.

    I therefore pose this question to make the rather obvious point that nearly all of us instinctively assume some positive things about normative Judaism and Christianity in America.

    A- What if we don't?

    B- Even if we do, so what? Some of us assume SOME positive traits about priests and policemen, too. Does that mean that those traits are sacrosanct? Does it preclude priests or policemen from having faults? What does this supposed test demonstrate?

    From here, Dennis gets bogged down in more bizarre details.

    The most common [secular response] is that any of us would also be relieved if we learned that the 10 men walking toward us in a dark alley had just come from a secular humanism seminar or one on photosynthesis. I fully acknowledge that I would be relieved in such cases as well. The problem with this response, however, is that in the real world, in bad parts of our cities, 10 men are rather more likely to be studying the Bible than photosynthesis or secular humanism or any other subject that would bring us relief in that dark alley.

    And plenty of others are more likely to be studying the finer details of Glock repair! What the hell are you talking about, Dennis?

    Every response I have seen to this question is an attempt to evade the only honest response. We would all be relieved because when push comes to shove – when we have to make real-life decisions and not theoretical ones – we know that at least in America, the dominant Judeo-Christian values and the religions that adhere to them have generally made better people.

    Real-life decisions? When have you EVER made a real-life decision based on whether or not someone goes to Bible study? And, again, so what? Plenty of other belief systems do this too, theistic and otherwise. Is there an actual argument here?

    This does not mean that all religious Jews and Christians in America have been, or are today, good people, and it certainly does not mean all irreligious people are bad. It means simply that if our lives were hanging in the balance, we would be inexpressively happy to know that 10 men we did not know, walking toward us in a bad neighborhood, had just come out of a Bible class.

    But that is no small thing. And nothing has ever replaced that book and the American religious expressions based on it to make good people in the same numbers that it has.

    THAT'S NOT AN ARGUMENT! There's no point here! You've just led us back to your original hypothetical: "Most people (according to me, anyway) would agree that the Bible makes people good, based on the fact that we intuitively trust Bible-readers more than gang-bangers. Furthermore, while other things MAY make people good, they aren't as popular. Therefore, Bible good." What kind of logic is that?

    And if you're arguing that Judeo-Christianity is so great, why are you just limiting it to America? After all, there's that whole Northern Ireland/Orthodox Serbs, Catholic Croats/Christian Phalangists thing. Ask some people there about your Bible study example and see what they say.

    If this hypothetical only really works (to the degree it does at all) in the U.S., exactly what have you demonstrated? American Christianity's Number One?

    Wednesday, June 20, 2007

    WorldNetDaily- It's like Pot for Idiots

    Why so harsh? Maybe because you've got to be super duper high to think that arguments like this make sense:

    Hey WND, make a stupid comparison that somehow bashes liberals!

    What do you know, I found one. Imagine that.

    Most people don’t make a habit of visiting the website of the Communist Party USA. But if you do, in the upper corner you’ll see the familiar hammer and sickle that symbolizes the union of the industrial workers and peasantry following the Russian Revolution of 1918.

    But take a second look, because the traditional communist logo has been revamped. It now sports a gear, and the elements have been arranged in the shape of – no doubt about it! – the feminist looking-glass symbol. Is it possible that gender liberation ideology is rooted the manifestos of Karl Marx and tactics of Vladimir Lenin?

    Keep looking, and you’ll see the platform of U.S. Communist Party proclaims, "Among the forms of oppression women experience are attacks on their reproductive rights; lack of quality, affordable day care; inequality in child rearing and household work; sexual harassment on the job; and domestic and sexual violence."

    Now let’s pay a visit to the website of the National Organization for Women and compare agendas:

    Reproductive rights? Yep.

    Day care and child-rearing? Check.

    Sexual harassment? Yes, of course.

    Domestic violence? You bet!

    Do you detect a scintilla of difference between the positions advocated by the U.S. Communist Party and the NOW? Neither do I.

    Scroll down the home page, and you’ll bump into this headline: "NOW Political Action Committee Proudly Endorses Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton."

    Then do a Google search that matches "Hillary Clinton" to each of the CPUSA demands. Is it a mere coincidence that the Communist Party, the National Organization for Women and Hillary Clinton are marching in lockstep with each other?

    For those in need of explanation of why the aforementioned drivel is such, let's enumerate some issues here:

    1. The claim that the Communist Party USA is identical with the ideological systems espoused by Bolsheviks in the 1920s, under Stalin, or by his predecessors. Sorry, I'm just not buying it.

    2. The argument that anyone who supports women's reproductive rights, some government or private subsidy of day care, or opposes sexual harassment or women getting beaten to pulps is a Communist. (Because of course, all Communists and Feminists can be reduced to four easy demands.)

    3. That anyone these supposed Communists support is also a Communist.

    Not to violate my cherished Godwin's Law, but I'm about to.

    Let's try this:

    You know who liked pants? Hitler.

    You know who wear pants? Republicans. They also wear footwear, including shoes and, you guessed it, boots. Sometimes they even wear, that's right, BROWN shirts. BROWN! Some even have mustaches.

    And you know who (some) Republicans like? WorldNetDaily!

    Now then, do you detect a scintilla of difference between Hitler and, say, Joseph Farah? Is it mere coincidence that Joseph Farah, the Republican Party, and HITLER are all marching in goose-step lockstep with each other?

    And don't say it's that one of them smiles.

    See, I think of everything.

    Tuesday, June 19, 2007

    O'Reilly's Amnesia

    O'Reilly talking to Kevin Naff, who is organizing a boycott against the Hairspray movie because he doesn't want gay money going to John Travolta, who is a Scientologist (seems the Scientologists offer a nifty "treatment service" for gay folks).

    Best line-

    O: Look, you can say what you want, that's your right. But why go after Travolta? He's just an actor trying to make a living. He can believe whatever he wants. He's an American.

    REALLY? This coming from the guy who's gone after countless actors (George Clooney, Charlie Sheen, Ludacris), and led a boycott against FRANCE?

    Irony Alert

    Regarding Salman Rushdie being knighted:

    Religious affairs minister Mohammed Ijaz ul-Haq told the parliament in Islamabad:

    "This is an occasion for the (world's) 1.5 billion Muslims to look at the seriousness of this decision.

    The West is accusing Muslims of extremism and terrorism. If someone exploded a bomb on his body he would be right to do so unless the British Government apologises and withdraws the 'Sir' title."

    These guys really make it too easy.

    Saturday, June 16, 2007

    Boredom makes the world go round

    Recent searches:

    - "Nicole Andersen transgender." Beg pardon?

    - "Abir Sofer." Give me a day.

    - "Friar Took." I took your Mom's friar last night.

    - "Alderstein Yitzhok." Last I heard, he was up in arms about the NRP trying to make Sunday a day off. Next he'll be saying Jews shouldn't wear pants because goyim do that, too.

    - "Jenny Heinemen." The hottest ex-stripper to make Bill O'Reilly look stupid (this month).

    - And lastly, "Yid Nude." Why readers, I didn't know you cared.

    Friday, June 15, 2007

    Hamastan Good for the Jews? Not likely.

    As the Gaza civil war winds down and Hamas stands triumphant, pundits and lowly schmoes like your humble correspondent alike scratch their heads and wonder the all-important question: Good for the Jews?

    Some people, amazingly enough, are saying yes. Various Arutz Sheva commentators, and this random guy, are saying that Hamastan could be good, or at least useful, for Israel. The logic, as best as I can follow it, is that the more power Hamas gets, the stronger the case that there is no real peace partner among the Palestinians- especially if Fatah (which rightist Zionists would argue, with some justification, is not al that "moderate" in the first place) is increasingly losing support. This in turn further erodes any reason to pressure Israel into making concessions, territorial or otherwise, to the Palestinians (of course, this remains to be seen). One optimistic writer said the following:

    One specific ramification of a Hamas victory is that without Hamas recognition of the Oslo Accords, it cannot demand that Israel fulfill its Oslo-obligation to provide a land-corridor between Gaza and Judea. Fatah, however, does recognize Olso.

    And so any deterioration of Fatah's position is great for anyone (Jew, Christian, what have you) who's against Two States. A-7 writer Gerald Honigman writes,

    The fight Abbas & Co. have with Hamas is basically over who gets control of the money, which is and will be pouring in. Arafat made zillions this way. It is also about, of course, which group will be calling the shots - literally and figuratively speaking.

    So, guess what? I'm backing a Hamas victory. No more bull manure.

    Israel must not be lured once again to fight according to the Arabs' game plan. A Hamas "win" must turn into its own destruction. As President George W. Bush has said, those who support terrorists will suffer their fate. When America warred with Germany and Japan, it didn't worry much about civilians killed along the way during the fire bombings and so forth. Unlike those World War II conflicts, the war the Jews have been continuously forced to fight is about the very existence of their sole, tiny, reborn nation.

    Hamastan will give Israel a chance to face its mortal, genocidal, rejectionist enemies head on, with gloves removed. And it must do so this time in a way that will remove the smirk Arabs have been wearing since the war in Lebanon last year.

    Of course, there are a few problems with this analysis. It seems to rest on the assumption that the Two-State-Solution model is inherently flawed, since what the Palestinians really want to do is kill Jews, not have peace. Ironically, in this scenario Hamas actually becomes a great asset to the Zionist right, not unlike the IRA to the British- the more violent and radical your opponents, the less you have to take them seriously, and the more you can justify shooting them all and let God sort them out, a-la Honigman. Any Hamas victory castrates diplomatic options and leaves only military action or "defensive hunkering." Or, as Sultan puts it,

    The world had put its hope in a Fatah regime that was rotten to the core all along. Arafat's government was nothing more than a nepotist clique of relatives and the relatives of political allies. The vast majority of the billions that the world poured into Ramallah went back overseas into foreign bank account and into the mansions and luxury automobiles of the Fatah elite. But when Arafat died, Fatah's ability to rule in Arafat's place ended.

    ...Once the end comes for Fatah, the Oslo Accords die their final death. Continued negotiations with Hamas is something that even the doves find tricky because it's hard to negotiate with people who won't agree to peace accords and only negotiate for truces in the fighting and don't recognize the people across the table from them.

    ...Only two options remain. The military option and the surrender option. To either retake the territories and expel the terrorists or to surrender and evacuate Israel. Oslo is dead. The final phase begins.

    Sad to say, but I think he's right about the Two-State-Solution for now. Regardless of what you thought of Fatah, there's no way in hell peace is coming from Hamas anytime soon.

    Of course, if you're convinced that all the Palestinians are potential enemies and the only reasonable solution is to run them off the land, I can see how the marginalization of Fatah or open demonstrations that it's not as enlightened as it likes to pretend might be nice, but I still don't see how this can be seen as a "good" turn of events. Some former generals seem to agree. (Of course, they also say the only way to deal with Hamastan is for the IDF to go back into Gaza and flatten it.)

    Fatah has many problems. Hell, Abbas has a lot of problems too (and his dissertation is the least of it). Its commitment to the peace process, or even peace as a basic idea, is questionable and its track record is spotty, to say the least. It has major issues with corruption and double-talk, not only to Israel and the West, but to its own people, too. Even on the street level, Fatah seems to still be trying to play both sides- chatting up its pragmatism and moderation to the West, while still sponsoring, enabling, and condoning jihad. Abbas says all the right things in English, but when push comes to shove, his nice speeches don't seem to make it into the Arabic version. The PA had decades to confront the cult of the suicide bomber being developed in Palestinian media and schools. As recently as last year, it could have taken Gaza as an opportunity to pursue peace, and it squandered it.

    So why give a fig what happens to Fatah?

    One simple reason: As two-faced as the PA is, as potentially untrustworthy as Abbas and his camp are, if there is to be ANY group among the Palestinians from which a real peace camp will emerge, Fatah was it. No one has to love Fatah to know that Hamas is worse. ANY gain for Hamas has to be seen as a loss for Israel. The new situation will, in no particular order:

    -be worse for the Gazans, who are living through a civil war and executions in the streets, and are going to be able to enjoy a mini- repressive Islamic state of their very own;

    -be worse for the West Bank, where Fatah is already moving against Hamas supporters and showing it can be just as bloody as they can (at least Fatah people could run to Egypt when Hamas took over- where are Hamasniks going to run in Ramallah?)

    And yes, it will be worse for Israel, too. Any future dealings with the Palestinians, diplomatic or military, just got a hell of a lot more complicated (unless, of course, one opts for simply shelling Gaza back to the stone age, which, frankly, I don't even see the rightist of the right-wing governments doing). You think it was hard controlling weapons getting in from Egypt before? Let's see how well it works now. Hard to get the Palestinians to keep their promises? Good luck seeing if you can even TALK to Hamas without Abbas as a middle man. People who like goodies versus baddies can now rejoice, because Hamas is definitely an easy bad guy. But for anyone who had any hope of things improving any time soon, go take a nap, Honi, we'll wake you when it's over. The only reason the right is celebrating over this is that they think it will finally give justification to wipe Gaza out entirely. In the event this doesn't happen (and it probably won't), you can look forward to things getting much worse before they get better.

    One last point. Even if you think that "the Palestinians showing their true colors" is a good thing, one thing is for certain: while Gaza might now become a paragon of "law and order" (or so says Hamas), getting rid of their primary rival means that Hamastan only has ONE visible- and vulnerable- enemy. After all, it's not like the two territories are contiguous. Winning Gaza so quickly means that while their Hamas brothers fight it out in the West Bank, Gazans can turn their undivided attention to improving their weapons and targetting more Israeli cities. A united Hamas state in Gaza? Kiss Sderot goodbye.