Monday, July 23, 2007

Secret Connections Revealed

Tzvi Fishman, rabbi and professional anti-masturbation Kabbalist activist, has a post giving people advice on how to deal with their kids using the Internet for porn.

Lay it on, Tzvi:

If you are interested in my humble opinion, I advise throwing all of your home computers out of the house. If this seems too radical, then at least cancel your Internet server, even if it means doing without Arutz Sheva and my informative and entertaining blog.
Whatever you do, or don't do, it is time to admit the truth. If you have Internet in your home, then you have a problem in your house. If you are the parents of growing children, then what are you going to do about it?

A Luddite AND modest!

It gets a lot better than Tzi, though. The comments on this one are just pure gold.

Here's one from "Rescue Team," offering suggestions for someone trying to beat Internet sex addiction:
1. Get rid of your computer.
2. cold mikvah or shower 3X a day
3. learn Torah themes with your wife to deepen your inner connection
4. keep the lights off
5. Rabbi Nachman says that a segula for braking the power of lust is to say out loud "Shema Yisrael" 70 times against the impure forces of the 70 nations which embody the sexual urge.
6. Guard your eyes when you go out to the street.
7. a bad spirit has floated into your head. It will pass.
Oh, I just love it when we get into numerology medicine. I wonder what the gematria for "colon cancer" is?

Then we get into a fun back-and-forth. Rafael from Efrat says,
So what if the kids look at pretty women once in a while. That is the age where they become curious about exploring their own sexuality. I looked at Playboy when I was a kid, and still grew up to have a happy marriage and raise a good (Torah observant) family. This is the least of our problems.

Not surprisingly, some people take issue with this less-than-machmir approach:
Perhaps because you read Playboy, your sons like to watch "pretty women." The point is that the Jewishs People are to be a holy people with holy genes, and how can we achieve this with pornography available in our homes for our children to see?- Josh from Beit Shemesh.

Wait, holy genes? When did this become about eugenics? And sorry, Josh, but I don't think porn affects your genes. Just a hunch.

Yosi from Ramot agrees:
No big deal? Look what the Nefesh HaChaim says in Chapter One: "A man of Israel must understand, know, and establish in his mind and heart that every detail of his deeds, speech, and thoughts, at every second and time, all rise up according to their root source to influence the most exalted worlds. Therefore, when a man entertains an impure, licentious thought in his heart, G-d forbid, he in effect brings a prostitute into the most exalted, celestial Holy of Holies, giving strength to the forces of impurity and evil in this transcendently holy place, to a much greater extent than the impurity caused by Nebuchadnezzar and Titus when they brought a prostitute into the Holy of Holies in the Temple sanctuary on earth."

Guarding our eyes and thoughts is the foundation of everything.
For anyone that still might not be convinced, there's this bit of late-breaking news from Ari in Jerusalem:

J from Nazareth liked looking at women too. That's why he was kicked out of yeshiva. While traveling with Rabbi Yehoshua ben Prachia, J of Nazareth complained that the innkeeper's eyes weren't pretty. It is written that Rabbi Yehoshua pushed him away with both hands for his evil preoccupation with looking at women. (Sotah 47a) Raphael - out of this came Christianity - do you still say, "So what?"

Got that, folks? The Internet leads to porn, which leads to masturbation, which cuts off your Kabbalah soul from the Divine Gloriousness that is the L**d, oh, and it will also make your kids Christians.

Wow, no wonder Tzvi wants his readers to toss their computers!

One last one from a guy named Yoshi:

Apparently Mr. Fishman's own addictions to sex cause him to see the internet as nothing but a vehicle for pornography. Perhaps he also sees the car as "a machine that gets us to prostitutes" and a house as a "place where illicit sexual relations can be carried out in secret."

I do love me some newspeak, especially when Kabbalah's involved.

Too Stupid...

First thing you see on the home page of
The men of the Jewish Legion, Betar, Brit HaBirionim, Brit Hashmonaim, Irgun, and LEHI were brave and selfless souls who forced the British from the Land of Israel and defended Jewish neighborhoods and communities from Arab terrorist attacks.

Uh, really? News to me.

British efforts to defeat the Ottoman Turks in the Near East during World War I were welcomed by many Jews in Palestine and the Diaspora. Zionists saw in the conflict an opportunity to further the movement for a recreated Jewish homeland. The British Govemment was pressed to permit the formation of a Jewish unit that would participate in the liberation of Palestine. Before the war ended five battalions of Jewish volunteers of several nationalities were raised for the British Army, the 38th through 42nd (Service) Battalions of the Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment). Together they were known as the "Jewish Legion." The 39th Battalion was made up almost entirely of Jews who were resident in the United States and Canada.

The idea was first raised, on December 1914, by Vladimir Jabotinsky and was supported by Yosef Trumpeldor, a Zionist who had been the first Jewish military officer in the Russian Army, an honor earned by outstanding bravery. By the end of March 1915, 500 Jewish volunteers from among the Jews in Egypt (deported by the Turks) had started training; Jabotinsky served as an officer. The British military command opposed the participation of Jewish volunteers on the Palestinian front and suggested the volunteers serve as a detachment for mule transport on some other sector of the Turkish front. Trumpeldor succeeded in forming the 650-strong Zion Mule Corps, of whom 562 were sent to the Galipoli front where Trumpeldor led his troops with great distinction. Meanwhile, Jabotinsky pursued his project of a Jewish Legion for the Palestinian front. Finally, on August 1917, the formation of a Jewish regiment was officially announced. The unit was designated as the 38th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers and included British volunteers, members of the former Zion Mule Corps and a large number of Russian Jews. On April 1918, it was joined by the 39th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers, more than 50 percent of whom were American volunteers.

Fought with, forced from... same thing, right?


Sunday, July 22, 2007

Oy Bay

Yours truly has joined the blogging crew over at Oy Bay. My newest fisking of Shmuley is up over there. Check it out, I think you'll like it, you loyal, interested reader, you.


Good news from Avi Shafran: Baal Teshuvahs don't totally suck.

He begins with a heartwarming story about a BT named Dovid, and his new frum from birth wife, Chana. Rav Shafran makes a big show of telling us how enlightened her family is by even considering him as a match:
her parents – somewhat atypically for their circle – would not hesitate to consider an otherwise qualified baal teshuva as a potential marriage-partner for one of their children.

Truly, the next Mandela. Get Stockholm on the phone.

Not all is well and good in Hypothetical Frumville, though. Chana's parents have to search through Dovid's genealogy. And guess whose fault that is?
Sadly, the proliferation of intermarriage and substandard conversions over recent decades have served to call into question the halachic Jewish status of non-Orthodox families. Once upon a time, observant Jews could take for granted that a family, by simple virtue of its affiliation with a Jewish congregation, was halachically Jewish. But those days, tragically, are gone.

Uh huh.
Dovid’s yichus, thankfully, was ascertained to contain no mixed marriages or conversions.

His European forebears had in fact been religious Jews; and his parents, although they were not raised Orthodox, had grown deeply proud of Dovid’s and his siblings’ adoption of Torah and mitzvos.

And what if his forebears had NOT been religious? Exactly how pure does the yichus have to be? At what point does this cease to be a halachic background check and more about maintaining Chana's family's social standing?
They hoped, moreover, that their example might perhaps, in a small way, inspire other “frum-from-birth” Jews to entertain the possibility of such matches from outside their own community.

Seriously, guys. They aren't lepers. Not as long as they take their meds.
The importance of mishpacha is an understandable concern for many, to be sure; and there are other halacha-related issues that also come into play in such cases. To some, such concerns may even be paramount, and that stance is their prerogative.

Yeah, like what to do if your future mother-in-law dresses like a skank around the house. Collarbones? Not in my family!

To be fair, Rav Shafran does conclude on an up-note:
it cannot be denied that there is something real and valuable that is gained, too, when frum Jew from a frum family marries an equally frum Jew from a different background – gained by the latter, by the former and by Klal Yisroel as a whole.

That's right, BTs are always welcome at Rabbi Shafran's house. Remember guys, to him, you're only marginally damaged goods, as best exemplified by the title of his post:

Rabbi Avi Shafran: Returns Welcome

Even without a receipt? What menschlikeit!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Dueling Justifications

The Yated is mad that some people are justifying de Hartog's slap. Their response? Justify Cohen's slur.

MK Rabbi Gafni, who presented the no-confidence motion, said that a large portion of the public in Israel, some one million people whose children study at chareidi schools, woke up last Wednesday morning, the day after the slap, "and they were sure the entire secular media would be irate and deliver a severe criticism on this issue. They woke up in the morning only to find the whole media was justifying the slap. A Galei Tzahal reporter said, it's a shame he didn't give him a harder smack and knock out all his teeth, too, while Ha'aretz wrote that it was a very desirable slap.

"Such sights of beating members of parliament we thought were only in places like Taiwan, but last week it came to the Knesset, too."

Rabbi Gafni complained that the press, including top journalists who have won prestigious prizes, wrote in favor of de Hartoch's deeds in the Justice Ministry without looking into the matter at all and without any knowledge of de Hartoch's decrees and the claims against him. "The media lowered itself to a level it should never have reached."

He also lodged criticism against de Hartoch's claims that he lost control because he was the son of a Holocaust survivor. "Who among us here in the Jewish people is not a child of a Holocaust survivor? Who? MK Cohen isn't? Three hundred people from his family perished in the Holocaust. To use a defense like that? It's a disgrace that people are still talking about that. There is one dispute. He acted violently, he gave a slap, a slap which was not a tap but rather he flung all his rage for [me] at Yaakov Cohen. The first thing the Justice Minister should have done was to issue a condemnation of the deed."

Good grief. If Cohen has lost people in the Shoah, all the more reason not to call de Hartog a German.

But wait, the Yated claims that de Hartog was actually the one that started throwing around German comparisons!

Irate over de Hartoch's remarks, Rabbi Cohen said, "Why do you lie to us? Why do you scheme against us? You're destroying the Torah world."

"You're an animal," de Hartoch replied. "You're like the Germans."

Rabbi Cohen responded to the harsh words by saying, "What you're doing is like the Germans who wanted to destroy the body and soul."

"Stop talking like that," said de Hartoch. "You don't know me. I'll give you a smack."

"Let's see you," said Rabbi Cohen.

At that point de Hartoch failed to control his rage and slapped the MK very hard across the face.

Most of the media do not report that de Hartoch was the first to accuse Rabbi Cohen of being like the Germans. de Hartoch's lame excuse that he is the son of Holocaust survivors does not account for the fact that the was the first to introduce the theme into the insults.

Christ. Fine, kick both of them out of the Knesset and be done with this stupidity.

And, surprise surprise, all the rebbes and leaders among Israeli Haredim are defending Cohen- even better, they're praising him!

After Rabbi Cohen recounted the incident, HaRav Eliashiv shlita replied, "In Tehillim it says, `Ki hikiso es kol oyvai lechi' (3:8). And why did Dovid Hamelech want all of his enemies to be struck in the cheek? Because a blow to the cheek causes not only pain to the person slapped, but also embarrasses the person who is struck more than another type of blow.

"However, in this case there is no reason to be ashamed. The gemora says, `Hakol lefi hamevayesh vehamisbayesh.' In cases of shame one must assess who is the person doing the shaming and who is being shamed. In this case the person causing the shame is insignificant, thus there is no shame to the person shamed. In fact, you should wear it with pride..." Maran later blessed Rabbi Cohen for success together with the other UTJ representatives in their efforts to pass the Education Law...

Yeah, wear it with pride, maybe make it into a T-shirt: "I'm an asshat, but you can't tell when I wear a shtreimel."
HaRav Shteinman shlita also asked for an account of the incident. After hearing the details he expressed astonishment, saying, "We believe that everything comes from Above, but sometimes we have an opportunity to clearly see how things are handled up Above. The Torah world has long awaited the moment this man would be removed from his post and how it would transpire. Through humiliation and having his disgrace publicly known, Hashem's Hand can be clearly seen. Happy is your lot that the Name of Heaven was sanctified through you."

Jesus. Gag me with a gartel.

A delegation of prominent Vishnitz activists arrived at Rabbi Cohen's home at the behest of the Admor of Vishnitz to convey his blessing: "When one acts for the sake of the [Torah] institutions, one sees siyata deShmaya. [Divine Assistance]"

MK Rabbi Cohen visited the Admor of Gur in Arad and received his blessing: "In the merit of the Torah and hevel pihem shel tinokos shel beis rabbon may you have the merit to continue successfully sanctifying the Name of Heaven."

Rabbi Cohen also received a special brochoh from the Belzer Rebbe, who inquired into his well-being following the grave attack. "May Hashem Yisborach help him regain his strength and may he have the merit to increase kovod Shomayim [the honor of God] with robust health."

The Admor of Tzanz said, "Happy is your lot that you were caught for involvement in Torah ["shenitfasto al divrei Torah"]. You are a representative of the Torah world and as such we are all obligated to protest the harm done to you. All of us must unite to encourage and support him and to protest against he who harmed a public emissary loyal to those he represents." The Admor concluded by blessing Rabbi Cohen "to continue sanctifying the Name of Heaven and may you have protection and success in all your endeavors."

No, rebbe. You sanctify Heaven by working WITHIN the law to get your people the best funding and assistance you can, and, if necessary, by modifying your schools to get more money for the children. Not by hounding the guy holding the purse strings. Do you really think that this incident is going to make the next non-haredi guy in the position more disposed towards UTJ and their constituents? And how was Cohen "caught?"

Agh. The world burns my brain.

Posthumous Victory?

Rav Lazer, who I usually never agree with, had a thought-provoking post a few days ago. Lazer visited his family's home in the Ukraine and shared some of his thoughts about the Holocaust, his family, and his task as a Jew that was saved. As a family genealogist who has documented dozens of relatives that died in the Holocaust, I could relate to the emotion, but not the conclusions.

Lazer shows us a number of touching pictures, including a memorial plaque paid for by him and his family. But it's the commentary on the last picture, showing him standing in the countryside, that I couldn't agree with.

Lazer writes,
We won! My Chabad friends say, "Didan Notzach." In other words, evil did not succeed in finishing us off. On the contrary, North American assimilation murdered many of my relatives' souls even after they escaped from the Cossacks and from Hitler. Yet, despite it all, here we are back in Yanov, wiping away the break of two generations that slid away from Yiddishkeit, looking, dressing, and acting just like my great grandfather Chatzkel, a Breslover chossid and descendant of Rebbe Itzikel Drovitcher zatza'l. We are certainly the winners, and we shall continue to overcome, by clinging to our unwavering emuna, amen.

Now, I'm sorry, but I just can't get behind this. In my mind, every Jew that survived, every child and grandchild and great-grandchild, regardless of frumkeit, is a victory against that evil, a slap in Hitler's face. Lazer claims assimilation murdered his family's souls, suggesting that this was just as bad, or possibly worse, than the physical tortures of his European cousins? Really? That's honestly the way you think about them? What about the relatives living in Europe before the war? Were they all really frum, to a man? Does it matter? Is the death of the frum ones any more a tragedy than their frier cousins?

I'm happy Lazer feels that in choosing the life he chose, he is making a tikkun for his family. I'm happy that he has the confidence and faith to live the way he wants, and that it helps him make a special connection to his ancestors. Despite my skeptical status, I understand, and agree, that roots and traditions are indeed very important. But unlike Lazer, I don't see the copying of everything my old country ancestors did as the ideal. For that matter, I don't see the "break" of generations between old country Orthodox and the many varieties of thought and life exhibited in my family today as necessarily a bad thing, or something that needs to be reversed or atoned for.

True, I wouldn't choose to not have any Jewish interaction, like my father, nor would I choose to baptize my children, as one of my aunts did. But my family's Yiddishkeit, and Jewish identity, has been in flux for many, many generations before me, and it would be, in my mind, not only impossible, but also foolish, to pretend that the uber-Orthodox generations back in Poland were my family's ideal-- and therefore, should be mine. On what basis, other than a preference for beards and a nostalgic affection for Fiddler on the Roof, should I determine that alter-alter-zeide was right, and not his son, who came to America, or his grandson, who went to college and made something of himself?

My family always had its differences and varieties. We had very Orthodox relatives who kept their traditions and beards in America. Others achieved various forms of compromise- shaving beards, sneaking treif. We had Capitalists, Communists, Socialists, and Zionists. Some were poor, some were rich, some knew the value of family, and others didn't. Some broke the law when they thought they could get away with it, others were impeccably honest.

But they were all Jews in their own way. Heck, my g.g.grandmother was Orthodox and SHE was the one that started our tradition of having stockings on Christmas morning!

I have BT cousins, sure. I wish them the best. I find their lives fascinating, and despite my desire to be more observant, I know there will always be a number of fundamental obstacles to my becoming frum. Which is just as well, because I don't want to be frum, and don't think I have to be. On the same note, I wish Lazer the best in his life as a Hasid. But I can't look at my family's history of the past 100-plus years and see it as a mistake. They were people. They were human. They weren't perfect. But I can't erase it. I can't "wipe it away." And what's more, I don't think they would want me to. That's part of my history and identity, too.

I don't know who the "old Orthodox" members of my family were back in the Old Country. We have names and dates but no details. We don't know how religious they were. If I've inherited anything from them, I'd be willing to bet a few of them might have just been going along with the crowd to avoid problems. But even if they mourned the loss of their children when they shaved their beards and went off to university or America, I'd like to think, if they could talk to me, that they wouldn't say they wanted me to be "just like them." Even my BT grandfather wouldn't want me to be "just like him." They--he--would want me to be myself. To be the best Jew, and the best person, that I can be, according to my own intellect and conscience.

That I am here is already a victory against evil. The goodness I accomplish in my life will testify to that. And it won't be determined by how long my beard is or if I wear the right hat. I will be a Jew in my own way. Not as religious as some ancestors, more religious than others. But it will be what is right for me.

I will be a good Jew. I will do my family proud. But it won't be by pretending to be something I'm not.

Friday, July 20, 2007

The Limists of Inclusivism

Ah, the ways of the universe. This afternoon I wrote a mild rebuke to the spirit among our Orthodox brothers who believe, like the Klausenberger rebbe, that "compromise" between Jews is tantamount to heresy, and that true compromise should be done in a spirit of respect, not coercion or triumphalism.

Soon after I finished davening in a Reform shul this evening (check it out soon on Too Cool for Shul) I happened to come across the summer issue of Reform Judaism Magazine (not the catchiest title, I agree, but at least you know what it's about- hint, hint, Jewish Action). And guess what they had on their letters to the editor page?

I am deeply disappointed by yoiur series of articles promoting kosher wine as defined by Orthodox institutions. The rules of kashrut pertaining to wine are antithetical to our principles as Reform Jews. Do we want to be drinking wine that cannot be touched by non-Jews because of the ancient assumption that non-Jews are idolators?

Other than personal taste or nostalgia, I can see no reason for Reform Jews to purchase kosher wine, and several reasons not to.

Rabbi Justin Jaron Lewis,

Wow. Touche, universe.

Ok. Let's try this slowly. First, I agree with the rabbi that the "goyim can't touch the wine lest they sneak a quick sacrifice in to Zeus" rule is stupid. That said, I would claim that most of kashrut is pretty stupid, if you don't believe in it. That's sort of how hoks work. Yet, last I checked, the Reform movement wasn't trying to lead anti-kashrut campaigns or bash shechita.
There is no more reason to get up in arms over "endorsing" kosher wine (by offering kosher wine reviews) than there is in endorsing kosher slaughter by reviewing, say, Katz's Deli. If anything, Reform Judaism magazine should be praised for not assuming that no one in its readership gives a fig about kashrut, which allows them to claim maximum inclusiveness both within their movement as well as any other potential allies from other denominations.

If Rabbi Lewis has a problem with kosher wines (and the occasionally nutty details of said), he should be invited to write a rant urging people to rethink the system, maybe even institute a counter- (or superogetory) kashrut system, not unlike what's presently being advanced by some MO and Conservative groups in America and Israel (even the Jewish Press seems to like it. Well, kind of.) But the problem is not kashrut as a concept. Or, at least, it doesn't have to be. Like everything else, kashrut can be adapted and repurposed or reinvented, with the same kind of original thinking Reform Judaism is supposed to not only cherish, but exemplify. But Rabbi Lewis' kosher wine chip shouldn't determine movement policy, lest Reform actually become the stilted caricature its opponents like to present it as. If Reform really wants to reach out beyond its own ideological fiefdom, and I think it should, addressing a hypothetically mizvot-observant reader is an excellent start- even if that pisses off liberal zealots within the movement.

On Compromise or Lack Thereof

I was working my way through a book of Hasidic stories, and there's one about the late Klausenberg rebbe. (The following is heavily paraphrased.)

Apparently the rebbe was once visiting South America and a reporter asked him about Jewish unity. Why, if Orthodox and Hasidic Jews want to live together with other Jews, do they fight with them so much, especially in Israel? Why not compromise so they can live together in happiness?

The Rebbe responded, "Before Shechem kidnapped Jacob's daughter, his father Hamor first came to Jacob to ask his blessing of the marriage. He said, 'why not let us become one nation? I will take your daughter and you make take my son, and we will live together.'

"The sons of Jacob said, 'But we are all circumcised, and anyone who is not circumcised is a disgrace among our people. How could we live with you since you are not circumcised? If you will circumcise yourselves so you are like us, then we can live together.'

"The Dubno Maggid wrote that to be a nation means that everybody must be the same, not sects or separate groups but one people and one nation. People cannot pick and choose, they must all do the same things. So with Jacob, there were only two options. Either Hamor and his sons would circumcise themselves, or Jacob and his sons would un-circumcise themselves. But having been circumcised, Jacob and his sons could not go back, so the only option was that Hamor and his sons should become circumcised."

The rebbe continued. "In the camps, I avoided all meat. I didn't touch anything treif. Why? Out of fear of God and his punishment. I fear God, I fear Gehenna. I can't help it, I cannot eat pork, because I fear God. You could push it into my mouth, but I can't eat it. I starved in the camps because I wouldn't eat treyf. Why? Because I fear God. I can't. I can't just go and start eating treif, being treif.

"I can't go and start working on Shabbos. I can't do it. It's something I can't do. But nobody told you that you can't eat kosher. The worst is that you will be uncomfortable if you just eat kosher meat. If you couldn't ride on Shabbos, you would just be uncomfortable. You don't fear to keep Shabbos. That is why the two groups cannot be together. The Orthodox person can't compromise. The only person that can compromise is the one that is not frum, because what is stopping him from becoming frum? He may not believe in it, but he has no fear of becoming frum. He isn't afraid that God will punish him if he becomes frum. It's a free world."

The problem with this model is that it is based on the Dubno Maggid's falacy that being "one people" means everybody acts and believes the same way, something that neither Israel, America, nor even the modern Jewish world (or Orthodox world) reflects. This in turn leads to a second falacy, that "compromise" must be equivalent to surrender. Rather than serving as a way of building bridges and relationships between different kinds of Jews, the Klausenberger sees compromise as a kind of zero-sum game in which the "winner" is the person that achieves religious and cultural hegemony.

I have to say, as a non-Orthodox person, I don't think that this is the goal of non-Orthodox denominations, and certainly not non-Orthodox lay people. Compromise, in my view, is not meant to be a weapon to brandish over other people's heads, but rather a means of continuing communication and basic interaction. I don't want Orthodox people to stop being Orthodox. If they're getting something out of it, that's good enough for me. I don't agree with it, I have some problems with it, but at the end of the day, it's not my business how they live their lives. What I take issue with are things like Orthodox politicians in Israel trying to give Orthodox Judaism preferred legal status within the state. Ultimately, though, I don't ask for- or expect- legitimacy from Orthodox Judaism or its representatives. I don't need it, and I know they can't give it.

But not giving legitimacy is not the same thing as a total lack of dialogue or brotherhood. I'm convinced that there are, indeed, ways for the conversation to go the other way (feminist egalitarian minyans, anyone?) Bloggers like Harry at Emes Ve-Emunah have it right when they tell their fellow Orthodox Jews to reach out.

The Reform Movement has done a 180. They have gone from being defiantly opposed to any Mitzvah observance to actually promoting it. To be sure there is still a very strong faction that opposes Mitzvah observance considering it archaic. But the leadership today is not going that way. Reform rabbis used to make you take off your Yamulkees if you walked into their congregations. Now you will see Reform rabbis themselves wearing them. They now encourage their members to observe as many Mitzvos as they can. True they still do not consider Halacha binding. But they now see the folly of their pioneers removal of ritual observance. It ended up removing Jewish identity. One cannot just be a Jew in the heart. One needs to act in Jewish ways. The way to do that they now understand is by doing Mitzvos.

Changes are occurring now in the Conservative movement too. Though they have been debating moving away from calling themselves Halachic, there is a simultaneous unprecedented move to set up religious elementary and high schools that will almost certainly lead to a more observant Conservative populace.

The question now becomes what should Orthodoxy’s response be? Do we sit idly by and continue to refuse to engage with them? Or do we find ways to engage with them and help them along their quest to be more observant?

Now, obviously, I think that viewing engagement with non-Orthodox Jews in purely kiruv terms is misguided, not to say a little condescending. In a perfect world, inter-denominational conversation, if not cooperation, would be done on its own merits, including its potential to keep Jews and Judaism a more healthy and cohesive family (as well as helping keep the ideas and innovations- including Orthodox ones- flowing). But it's a start, and the attitude, in my mind, seems to be a great departure from the Klausenberger's "frum or nothing" approach. I don't expect Orthodox Jews to ever be "ok" with Reform Judaism. But getting people talking can't be a bad thing.

A Strawman by any Other Name

Kevin McCullough is an idiot. There's no getting around it. Of course, people that read his column already knew this. After all, this is the brilliant mind that's said liberals (and feminists) hate "real" men, actively want to impoverish America, that liberalism and Christianity are oxymorons, described a Democratic debate on a channel focused on gays and lesbians as "pandering to perverts", argued that pro-choice Presidential candidates must therefore have supported Cho Seung-Hui shooting up his school, and my personal favorite, suggested Hillary Clinton's views of black voters are equivalent to a plantation-owner's to house slaves. Yeah, no race card there, asshat.

So it's no surprise that Kevin's newest bit of journalism is a bit, shall we say, sensationalist. Apparently, liberals' newest priority is getting your kid to have as much premarital sex as possible, with double-points for every abortion. So says Kevin, anyway.

Liberals want your child to have sex. They want this to occur in spite of your religious, health, or parental objections. They are willing to substitute false thinking for solid fact on the consequences of what will happen. And they do so while simultaneously insulting you and your child's ability to comprehend, discern, and choose behaviors that make the most sense.

Speaking as a liberal, Kevin, I'd have to say you're full of crap. I could care less who has sex with who, or how. If it's consensual and both parties are of age, I say go nuts. (This, by the way, has not been the position of social conservatives that want to legislate what people can do in the privacy of their own bedrooms, or failing that, the backseat of their car. Apparently liberty only applies above the belt.)

In the best of all possible worlds, there would be no conflicts between teenagers' desires and those of their parents. Kids wouldn't be pressured into having sex, or, alternately, threatened with being disowned and evicted by Mom and Dad if they were caught kissing a boy.

The reality is that I have no right, and frankly no business, to tell people how to raise their children within their own homes. I might disagree with your decision to go through one of those creepy Father-Daughter-Chastity Wedding Oath things, but I can't do anything about it.

The public schools, however, are supposed to be above ideology. The public schools are supposed to be about information. And so it is a problem when social conservatives, in government and outside it, work to ban sex education from the classroom because they think it's wrong. Not only is that moronic (and, when their kids are in the minority, self-absorbed), it's downright dangerous. You can screw up a high school science class by telling the kids that the universe was made last week and at worst, they're going to be laughed at once they get to college. But giving kids no information about sex- or actual misinformation- can really screw them up, especially if they wind up having sex later without any idea of what's safe. The idea that the best way to encourage people to not have sex is to withhold information about it makes the whole exercise seem almost punitive, even malicious, not unlike refusing a teenager driving lessons to ensure they don't go joy-riding in your car. I want to plan ahead to the worst-case scenario, and the reality is that there is no fail-safe in place for abstinence-only education. As soon as you go "off the derech" and begin experimenting, you're in free-fall, especially if people have actively misled you on things like how you get STDs or told you lies about condom effectiveness.

common sense tells us that the chances of incurring a teen pregnancy and then the possible tragic consequence of abortion, or the still very difficult consequence of a teen birth are affected by one's behavior. If a teen girl chooses to save sexual activity until she is married, she has zero chances of getting an STD, becoming pregnant, having an abortion, or out of wedlock birth. If a teen boy chooses to enhance his skills of communication, consideration, and leadership - instead of always trying to get in a girl's bed then he too avoids the heartbreak of STD's and responsibilities of pregnancy that he is not prepared for.

Wrong again, Kev. Obviously, part of it is behavior, but part of it is also education. A teen girl can choose to have sex monogamously (or with multiple partners) and, if she knows what she's doing, can avoid all of those negative consequences. Denying her the ability to know what she's doing and what her options are actually negates the possibility of her making any choice for herself. You've already decided for her.

The truth is kids understand these simple concepts. And it is an insult to the teen's intelligence and nature to presume they don't. Faith based parents are pro-actively teaching their kids about the very simple reasons why sex before marriage will bring them confusion and destruction. Liberal parents do not, thus why they view all children as unable to control their drives any better than rabbits in the spring time.

If you're so confident in the ability of "faith-based parents" (??) to properly educate their children the way they want to, then why push absintence-only ed on all public school students? Let them learn that masturbation is a sin in church, and save the lectures on condoms for the Sex Ed teacher. That way everyone can make the right choice for them.

Kevin concludes with one last barb:

The truth is we humans are capable of controlling every choice we make, and if we simply understood the natural outcomes of those choices perhaps we'd make better ones.
Perhaps the truth also includes the reality that as teens, liberals did not control their choices. Perhaps they did live their lives as animals copulating with anyone, and in people like President Clinton's case nearly everyone they ever had an eye for.

For what it's worth, Kev, there was very little sex ed talk in my (liberal) house- I already knew the basics before it was an issue, and was fairly uninterested in any of my peers. That and social awkwardness were enough to keep me away from dating until college. For me, the decision came down to the fact that it wasn't worth all the trouble, hassle and anxiety, particularly during adolescence, to bother with- but that was a choice I was able to make precisely because I knew at least some of the nitty-gritty details about sex and the risks involved.
If all I'd been told was, "don't do it," and had no knowledge about why or how to practice safe sex, I might have been more likely to experiment and, when I did, to not know what I was doing, or how to do so intelligently.
Can't wait to see Kevin's latest e-crap. I'm thinking the next one will be something like, "Why Liberals want to Sodomize your Children with Fair-Trade Asparagus." No, that'd be too witty.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Yes, I'm lazy. But the first step is admitting it.

This whole webring thing is really helping me get a lot more hits. Kudos to whoever invented it. Let's go to the searches:

- "amnon de hartog." Is that how he spells his name? Are we sure? Positive it doesn't have an x in there somewhere? If not, give it a few days, I have faith in the Israeli press.

- "friar yid." I'm here, I'm weird, get used to it- everybody else does.

- "hartog cohen mk." The bitchslap heard round the world.

"abir warrior arts controversy." See? See? Now it's a controversy. Who says one person can't change the world. Why, if I didn't have a modicum of self-control and much better things to do, I might just go stuff a "controversy" section right over on the Wikipedia page. Of course, once you're as famous as me and Stephen Colbert, you don't need to do your own internet dirty work, or as we in the biz call it, "dirt-e work." Fly, my wiki-minions, fly!

- ariel angel torah." Let me tell you, Ariel is one angel you do not want to screw around with, especially since he has that huge chip on his shoulder from everyone thinking he's a girl. "Call me a mermaid, huh? How's a fiery thunderbolt?"

- "de hartoch." See?

- "kuck sool marital arts." Kuck what? I'm sorry, we don't talk about fake martial arts here. You must be thinking of that pathetic Korean forgery of the ancient asskicking patrimony of the Jewish people.

Hey, maybe de Hartog is an Abir fighter! After all, how else could a mere government paper-pusher hit such a stately statesman with enough force to make "his world go dark"? Why, Cohen's beard alone should have cushioned most of the potential energy. Unless... that's right. Abir.

- "what is the name of a friar women." Shiksa Girlfriend. But don't tell her I said so.

- "nutbaggery." My own little gift to English. Not that it would ever send me a card, the jerk.

- "yehoshua sofer." SHHH! His name is too holy to be spoken aloud. Not only that, but now I probably have to genize my monitor.

- "what's in the name shimon." All sorts of stuff. Him Son, Shim No, Shin Mo, and a little birdie told me it gets even cooler if you do it with gematria.

- "how does one turn off the brain." Depends what you're into. Pills, booze, electric shocks, Fox News...

- "da hartuch lawyer." God dammit!

- "hasidic master simcha bunim." Simcha Bunim Alter, the only rebbe to date who got an MK publicly beaten in shul after accusing him of senility. Elyashiv's got some big shoes to fill.

- "ageism and aliyah." Who says sabras can't be wrinkly?

- "satmar july 12 2007." A day that will live in infamy, no doubt. What, did someone burn something down? Or maybe some poor woman accidentally walked past the rebbe's Lincoln Continental showing too much ankle? I hope they spritzed her with the kosher bleach.

"rabbi cohen hartoch." A match made in Heaven.

- "is dennis miller jewish." Nope, just stupid. Incidentally, neither is this guy.

- "d'var torah dealing with dishonest people." Swish.

- "amnon de hartog." Ok, guys, now it's starting to get old.

- "yiddish backhanded compliment." Hmm, how about this: "Nu, Shloime, it's good to see you aren't letting the brain damage stop you from talking." What, too soon?

- "gerrer sex." You know what they say about guys with big hats.

- "hasidic heretic." Spinoza didn't know how easy he had it. Damn Sfard.

- "hartuch smack." Ker. Pow.

- "amiel salutin." What? I don't even know what this is.

- "maher urban legends cheney." They both live in the sewers and feed on impressionable young idiots. Also, money.

- "yeshiva world eckstein." Just two dollars a day can help stuff this old invalid woman on a plane and dump her ass in Israel, and after that, she's their problem! Seriously though, help the Jews, folks. In the meantime, I'm going to be playing a rousing game of nude discus-throwing using gold-plated yarmulkes. Your serve, Hagee!

- "milk braised lamb." Mmm, mmm, good.

- "abir yehoshua sofer fake." Hey, hey, hey. Don't go saying that stuff around here. I'd like to keep my neck, thanks. All I need is to have psycho Jewish ninjas and their blind grandfathers stalking me (though I have to admit, I would pay to see that movie. Just not very much).

- "hitchens vs. shmuley." They're both schmucks. But at least Hitchens isn't claiming to speak for me and my culture. Seriously, Shmuley, shut the hell up.

- "eruv countryside." Pastoral eruv portrait, by Monet. Now selling at auction for some multiple of 18, no doubt.

And of course, the thing that makes this whole blogging thing worthwhile...

- "chuck norris, satanist."

...I should just take out the life insurance now, shouldn't I?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Democracy of Convenience

Folks like Dennis Prager are hard for me to understand. Somehow, no matter what he's talking about, Dennis has a rare ability to be a smarmy jackass AND to claim the moral high road.

For instance, the Iraq war. Dennis castigates Republican politicos for jumping ship on the war in response to polls indicating that large numbers of Americans oppose it.

Is it possible that some of these Republicans have simply consulted their consciences and decided to abandon positions they have held since the beginning of the war? It is possible. But consider this: If the American people continued to support the war, does one reader of this column believe that one Republican defector would have in fact defected?
Yeah, representative Democracy is a real bitch, isn't it? Look, Dennis, you may not like the fact that a lot of Americans are sick of the war, and yeah, being a political whore regardless of one's own personal convictions isn't a terribly nice character trait, but if this was any other issue (say, immigration?) you wouldn't be whining about Congress actually listening to their constitutants for a change.

The sad truth is moral courage is rare – whether among private citizens or among political leaders. Even opponents of the war have to admit that, given the polls, it takes no courage for a politician to call for American withdrawal from Iraq. Whether or not you agree with those who want American forces to stay in Iraq, that is a far more courageous position in today's America – just as, right or wrong, it admittedly took more courage for a politician to oppose the war when America deposed Saddam Hussein's regime.

So, was Dennis praising the courage of the war opposers as the war began in 2003? Let's look:
Let it be said before we know the outcome of the war in Iraq that America and the world are inordinately lucky to have George W. Bush as America's president. In fact, I would go further.

To the extent that one is ever able to see the hand of God in history -- and since biblical times, one has never been given certitude in this regard -- I believe that either divine intervention or good luck on the magnitude of a lottery win explains George W. Bush's rise to the position of president.
Uh huh. And just a few weeks before, this thoughtful bit o' satire (or something).
My fellow Americans: After consulting with our loyal allies in Europe, speaking with United Nations officials, reading major American newspapers, listening to National Public Radio, consulting with Hollywood movie stars, and meeting with professors from our universities, I have changed my mind. They are right. I now realize that the most important goal America and its president can pursue is to be liked, hopefully loved, by mankind, and especially by France, Germany, China, and the Arab world. I now realize that we Americans who think in terms of good and evil are simpletons. We should think, as the professors do, in multicultural terms and, therefore, render no moral judgment over Iraq or any other nation except Israel. Who am I to declare any regimes an "axis of evil"? I now realize that it was arrogance to make such a judgment on three regimes governed by men whom I should have tried better to understand.

Now that I realize America's primary goal is to be liked, I will never again call any regime evil. In fact, in consultation with the presidents and deans of our major universities, I have decided to rename the governments of Iraq, Iran and North Korea an Axis of Diversity. I now realize that the only reason I ever considered putting thousands of young American lives in jeopardy was because of oil. I was deluded in thinking that Saddam Hussein might use his weapons of destruction against vast numbers of innocents, or to think because Saddam erased a sovereign nation from the map in 1991, he would contemplate doing such a thing again...The left, whom I used to foolishly identify with appeasing and defending evil, have opened my eyes. They are right that nothing America does is out of a sense of mission to lead humanity in confronting evil. That was all a cover up for our true motivation -- more wealth.

...My fellow Americans, I will no longer be calling you "my fellow Americans," but rather, "my fellow earthlings" or "my fellow citizens of the world." Nor will I conclude this or any future address by asking that God bless America. That annoys secular Europe, and if we aim to be loved, we can no longer speak in religious terms.
Good ol' Dennis. I must have missed the "I respect your courage" line, but I'm sure it's in there somewhere.

So, with the mainstream media and the Democrats – often interchangeable entities – relentlessly pushing for withdrawal from an increasingly unpopular war led by an unpopular president, it takes a lot of courage to argue against what would be the most costly defeat for America in its history. And how often in history did the right thing not take courage? And how often was the right position the most popular position?

Tune in next week when Dennis takes this reverence of the political minority to its logical conclusion and starts fighting against banning same-sex marriage, supporting Mike Nifong, and opposing Jessica's Law. Also, he'll probably start endorsing someone from the Reform Party.

Excellent turnaround, Dennis. When conservatives are for something, it's the will of the people. When things don't go your way, you get to be noble and courageous, fighting for your principles against implacable odds. All that's missing is the Fabio cover.

Despite all this, however, in this matter victory will go to the courageous. If America stays in Iraq, America will win and then the courageous will surely be victorious.
What's your basis for saying the bravest wins? Is brave the same thing as being in the minority? Relative to the rest of the world, the Axis Powers were in the minority, which was how we were able to DEFEAT them! It takes a lot of mental gymnastics to present America as the underdog here. And how do you know we'll win? What constitutes a victory? At what point does it become Pyhrric?

But the courageous will gain a victory even if they lose their fight for America staying in Iraq – for then the supporters of the American presence in Iraq will be quickly proven right as Iraq descends into ethnic cleansing, creates millions of refugees who destabilize nearby countries, emboldens Iran to enter directly Iraqi life, spawns a potential genocide and produces the largest base for Islamic terror in the world. These are not the predictions of pro-war advocates. Every one of these consequences of an American withdrawal was acknowledged as likely in a recent New York Times editorial arguing for American withdrawal from Iraq.

So being proven right is the same thing as gaining a victory? Good to know- because the war in Iraq has proven that the original war opponents were right IN THE FIRST PLACE. Moron. Incidentally, most of the things on Dennis' list have already started happening (Refugees? Ethnic cleansing? Base for terror? Read a damn newspaper!), and at the moment, there doesn't seem to be a lot to indicate that we have much of a chance of stopping them. The question is no longer if things will become a super-clusterfuck, only how long it takes to completely implode.

What will Americans who called for American withdrawal – especially among those who supported the war until now – tell future historians? That 3,600 American lives in four and a half years was too high a price to pay to fight the cruelest individuals and ideology on earth at that time? (By contrast, in World War II, America lost more than 300,000 lives in three and a half years, fighting the cruelest ideology of that era.) That they thought an Islamist victory in Iraq would make America more secure? And what will Republican senators and representatives tell their descendants? That they read the polls and saw that most Americans supported withdrawal, so they changed their minds and abandoned the cause of freedom in Iraq and fled an unpopular Republican war president?

How about, "We realized we fucked up and that the best way to try to stop it was to stop pretending it was something we alone had the power to fix." Just as a starting point.

History may not harshly judge those who opposed entering Iraq at the outset. But that is not what matters now. All that matters now – and what history will judge – is an American's position on whether to stay and fight in Iraq or whether to leave Iraq.

If "history" ("eminent" historian D. Prager IV, perhaps?) wants to bitch us out retroactively, it can feel free. We all have to live with what we allow to be done in our names. Dennis' hypothetical, "the history books of the future will say you sucked" fearmongering could just as easily be applied to any situation. Whatever your positions, on any issue, this ridiculous argument is no way to make decisions. Any reasonable person OBVIOUSLY takes future judgments into account when making far-reaching decisions- just look at those stupid commercials for people apologizing to their grandkids for fucking up the ozone layer. But the reality is that people need to take a hard look at the facts of Iraq and decide whether they think it's still fixable AT ALL, much less by the United States alone. They need to reassess exactly what victory looks like, and whether it is still achievable.

Me, I'd settle for an Iraq, federated or not, hell, "Security Fenced" or not, where people aren't killing each other. Anything else is gravy. That's MY top priority. If I thought the US being there could achieve that, I'd want them to stay. But I don't know if that's true anymore.

Dennis concludes with a last dollop of stupidity, including a cheap shot at a religion that's been defunct for about 400 years.

Just about every generation has some horrific evil that it must fight. For the Democratic Party today, that evil is carbon dioxide emissions. For the rest of us, it is an ideology that teaches that its deity is sanctified by the blood of innocents, just as the Aztec deities were.

History will see that clearly. And judge accordingly.

In your face, Aztecs! This is Senior Conquistador Prager, signing off.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

I honestly did not know that

It's not everyday you learn something new. Ok, maybe if you're not like me and actually read the news or go outside. But certainly regarding halacha, I have to kind of work at it.

That's why I was so happy that Lazer had a new teaching for us. Specifically, about what the treyf, non-Jewish world calls "incest." Now, the modern-day, Jew-hating Babylonians of the world don't like us Torah-true yidden following our God-given directives to marry our nieces or cousins, even though the great sages of the Talmud said it was cool. Just ask Rashi!
since a man naturally loves his sister, says Rashi, he will have a special affection for a wife who is the daughter of his sister.

That's right, anyone who's ever had a hot sister knows there's nothing you'd like more than to have an excuse to spend some quality time with her kid. Or something. Anyway, thanks Rashi.
Rabbenu Tam agrees with Rashi, and says that the mitzva is to marry the daughter of a sister specifically (more than a brother), because the daughter of a sister will bring her husband good fortune and sons who resemble the father.

Um... actually, they'll resemble the GRANDPARENTS, but, you know, details. I guess Rabbenu Tam didn't know from Mendel.
The Rashbam disagrees with Rashi and with Rabbenu Tam, and says that marrying the daughter of a brother is just as good a mitzva as marrying the daughter of a sister.The Rambam, in agreement with the rationale of the Rashbam stipulates (Hilchot Issure Beia, 2:14), that it's a "mitzvat khakhamim", a rabbinical ordnance, to marry a niece, whether she's the daughter of a sister or a brother.

How dare they! Stop being all logical and harshing our buzz, Rashbam. You and Rambam can go jump in a mystical lake or something. I mean, jeez, "marrying your brother's daughter is JUST as good as your sister's?" What are you, Reform?

Ok, so the sages are cool with it. But what about the, you know, potential for Elephant Man-ism or Lobster Claw?

No fear, says Lazer.
the Melitzer Rebbe shlit'a in the name of his grandfather, the holy Shatzer Rov of blessed and saintly memory, that ever since Abraham married his niece Sarah, there has been a blessing among Jews for marrying nieces. Also, the Shatzer Rov wrote that the doctor's warnings about hemophilia and other genetic or medical flaws as in the case of the European monarchies does not apply to a family that observes halacha, most specifically, family purity and refraining from forbidden relations. In short, if you have a worthy niece, whether the daughter of a brother or a sister, you are allowed to marry her; not only that, but you will merit the blessings of our sages from the Gemorra.

Really? No fooling? Because I heard about a rebbe, I think he was head of the Bankrobber Hasidim, and he said that ever since Abraham almost sacrificed Isaac, there's been a blessing among Jews for robbing banks, and that federal and state laws about bank heists and grand larceny do not apply to Jews that observe halacha, especially family purity.

Except that then all his Hasidim went to jail. Go figure.

It's interesting; despite Lazer's great trust in his rebbe/rebbe's dead grandfather and the rabbis of the Talmud's blessing, he still seems to not be entirely sold on this whole "your genes have magical Abraham-blessing fairy-dust encoded on them" thing:
In any event, I strongly urge to test for Tay-Sach's disease before you even begin approaching the prospective match.

Hang on! Either Abraham's blessing is in effect and covers genetic diseases or it doesn't. You don't get to have it both ways! That's like Reform rabbis who don't observe second-day yontif but count it as a day off. I call you out, Lazer! If you really believe in the Shatzer Rov's teaching, you should feel REQUIRED to tell everyone who reads your blog to marry their nieces and cousins, Tay-Sachs be damned. In fact, they should especially marry if they have Tay-Sachs.

I guess what I'm trying to say is... where's your emunah, Lazer? Just trust in Hashem, man.

Friday, July 13, 2007

A Low Blow

It takes quite a lot for me to defend George Bush. But seriously, what the hell is this?

The real question is why George W. Bush has elected to lead this ill-advised crusade. There are those who thought his reason was political, that he foolishly believed he'd provide the GOP with millions of grateful Hispanic voters. That's a possible motive. One must remember that this is the same fellow who thought he'd garner a lot of black votes by putting Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice in his Cabinet.

Then there are those who believed that because brother Jeb was married to a woman born in Mexico, thus making his niece and nephews half-Latino, George was just overly sympathetic to the plight of poor Hispanics.

The latest theory I've heard espoused was that young George may have had a Mexican nanny to whom he was particularly attached. Although most people might regard that as a frivolous reason for endangering our national sovereignty, not to mention scuttling the GOP's chances of recovering from the 2006 elections, it's certainly within the realm of possibility. If Charles Foster Kane's implausible life could be traced all the way back to a sled named Rosebud in the movie classic "Citizen Kane," I'm willing to accept that in pushing so aggressively for this lousy piece of legislation, the president was merely trying to atone for some youthful shenanigan that provoked his beloved Maria, Consuela or Esperanza.

So, instead of dismissing the bill as amnesty in sheep's clothing, perhaps we should merely think of it as the nanny bill. After all, there's no getting around the fact that those childhood experiences often have a very profound effect on us. For instance, do any of you have the slightest doubt that Ted Kennedy was a bottle baby?

And these are the same guys that I'm sure would have been having conniptions not a year ago if someone on the left had made insinuations about the Prez's Latino connections influencing his opinions or judgment, particularly if they brought up Jeb's kids. "Racism!" "Low blow!" "At least respect the office!"


Thursday, July 12, 2007

False Outrage and Misdirection

Let's be upfront about this- hitting people is wrong. Bitch-slapping people is also wrong. Amnon de Hartog's conduct toward MK Yaakov Cohen was totally inappropriate and should be criticized.

By the same token, the vilification of this guy by the Haredi sector seems to have been going on for a long time, and the conversation instigated by MK Cohen was also totally out of line. It is immaterial if he called de Hartog a Nazi or merely "a German"- it shows poor impulse control and an inability to keep personal attacks out of policy debates.

Enter Tali Farkash, writing for Ynet:

My ears are still ringing from the slap given to MK Ya'acov Cohen Tuesday, in the name of every haredi, wherever he may be. A slap against his views, values and faith, which go against the worldview of Muhammad Ali’s heir at the Justice Ministry.

Actually, if anyone brought faith and views into the discussion, it was Cohen, who provoked the discussion by claiming de Hartog was "destroying the Torah world," which is particularly rich since de Hartog graduated from a yeshiva and has approved funds to go to Religious Zionist schools.

In a chilling timing, this whole incident took place only 15 days before Tisha B’Av, which marks the destruction of the Temple, the source for all the troubles that have been haunting us for the last 2000 years.

Yeah, that's right, having the Temple would solve all our problems. Nothing gets rid of factional infighting like smearing heifer blood on an altar. Even the Reform believe that one.

The exchange of words between the two appears to me to have been delusional, aggressive and out of order. But, like I teach my little son, even when you’re very angry you do not hit someone else. Unfortunately, what is clear and obvious to a five-year-old is not clear to the attorney appointed by the State on enforcing law and order, who allows himself to hand out slaps to public officials when the debate heats up.

When do you teach him about ad hominem attacks? Late 60s? Is that another feature of the curriculum haredi schools opt out of?

It is ironic that a lawyer who presumes to understand what good education is gives an “example” and makes it clear to all those who may have had a doubt about what kind of education he got and what it’s worth. Amnon De Hartog, the representative of integrity, truth and justice aims to “shape things up” among the haredim and cut funding to their entire education system. The man doesn’t approve of the fact that at some of the boys’ education institutions, the curriculum will not include the exact components of the digestive system, while I still find it hard to digest his own behavior.
Witty curriculum/personal behavior puns! I love it. Let me try: How about-MK Cohen doesn't like that the state has standards about getting funding, which is fitting, since he ignores standards of appropriate speech! Ok, I admit this particular bit of wordsmitthery is trickier than it looks. Point to you, random Haredi-apologist. I'd doff my hat, but it's not tznius. Also, it might accidentally touch you during your period of uncleanliness, and then I think I have to purify it by fire or something.

Back to Tisha B’Av. I know that comparing between then and now is extremely trite, but it appears that history continues to repeat itself after all.

Yeah, Jews still like to argue after 2,000 years. Who'd have thunk?

The hatred of ‘the Other’ fills us like poison, and destroys each good place with pure evil. The Temple, the source of all good, the core of the Jewish people, was not destroyed because the worshippers chose Roman and Assyrian paganism over God. It was destroyed because we as a people ruined ourselves.

Actually, I'm pretty sure it was destroyed because the Jews kept defying regional superpowers and were vastly outnumbered and outgunned. But your explanation's good, too.

That same hatred has already destroyed us once, but we fail to learn the lesson, and wait for everything to crumble down once again.

Just once? Come on, now. There have been at LEAST two Temples. Add all the other major expulsions and assorted disasters, I'm sure you can get at least into double-digits. I bet some of them even happened in vague proximity to Tisha B'Av! Double Kabbalah-gematria-nuttiness word score!

With his haredi outfit and Yiddish accent, MK Cohen represents exactly what every Israeli hates, even without ever exchanging one word with him. There is no end to stereotypes.

Stereotypes are indeed a problem, and should be confronted. One way to do this is through education. I wonder how haredi educational systems address "the other?" Be it other Jews, or dare I say it, Gentiles? What stereotypes was MK Cohen operating on when he accused a kippa sruga government employee of wanting to continue Hitler's work? Sorry Tali, you can attack de Hartog for losing his cool and resorting to violence, but claiming he was bigoted against Cohen because of his accent? Not buying it. Just a hunch, but I don't think the Yiddish pronunciation is what pushed him over the edge, it was the words themselves.

Worst of all is the fact that even after all the excuses people give themselves for hating haredim disappear, the hatred will remain. I find this truth the most hard to deal with.

Right back at you. What excuses are there for the Haredi population to "hate" de Hartog? Disagree with him, fine, but hate?
De Hartog’s slap took me back to the teary eyes of a colleague several years ago. After doing full army service, both he and his wife were working, paying taxes and being “productive citizens” according to every criterion. And still he experiences the hatred, the humiliating and degrading treatment, the arrogance towards the “primitive haredi” because of his dress and looks. He’s only one of many who go through this every day.

How much evil, prejudice and distortions can a public stand?

Don't know, how many pashkevilles does UTJ have lying around?

Look lady, this is a two-way-street. Yes, people should not hate or smear haredim, especially those working to counter negative stereotypes of them by being productive members of society (which obviously is already skewed to a non-Haredi POV, but there you go). But by the same token, you can't pretend that the Haredi public, particularly the politicians, don't have a fair degree of contempt for their non-religious-- or in this case, merely differently religious-- peers.

What MK Cohen said in rage was the essence of the Jewish experience in the world. It’s the spirit that’s important. The parent has the right to determine what his children learn in school. A parent who wants to leave the non-religious studies to the age of 20, as many in the religious public do, is entitled to do so. And no you, Amnon, or anyone else, are not allowed to slap him for this.

The parent ONLY has the right to determine what the child learns in school if THEY'RE the one paying for it. If the Haredim want to teach their children nothing but Jewish studies and thereby prevent them from higher education or employment, they're welcome to do so. The issue is that they are simultaneously demanding that the state subsidize them, and have used the lamentable weaknesses in the parliamentary system to blackmail the dominant coalitions to get their way since the state's founding. And on top of all of it, the Haredi leaders act as if this funding is somehow owed to them, irrespective of their behavior or attitudes towards the state. The Haredim see state funding of their institutions as an entitlement, and the reality is that it's really not. There are standards they need to follow in order to get funding, and if they are so ideologically opposed to them, they should put their money where their mouths are, and start supporting their schools themselves. No one's forcing them to ask the state for money. The issue of the spirit is not relevant here. This is about law and educational standards. Don't like it? Get out of the system and start a private school-- like in America.

The haredi public is very protective of his children, and for a good reason. He will fight for the principle of the spirit, as he did in Masada and in medieval Europe. If it wasn’t for them and their bravery, where would we be today?

Wait, today's Haredim, many of whom refuse service in the military, are the inheritors of Masada? Funny, that's not the first group I would have thought of...

The painful answer is that we would have been extinct, like the Moabites, the Canaanites and the ancient Egyptians. The inappropriate words were not said out of disrespect for the Holocaust, which I think also claimed the lives of many of Cohen’s family.

So, essentially, Cohen was justified in suggesting de Hartog was following in the Nazis' footsteps because in his eyes, it's true? Anyone who opposes Haredi schools (or demands they actually teach the state curriculum) is an enemy of Israel wanting to make the Jews extinct? Sorry, I can't respect that way of thinking. It's moronic, it's myopic, and entirely unjustified. Cohen's behavior, and Farkash's defense of it, are symptomatic of something far more disturbing than merely a heated argument or a slap to the face. They demonstrate that, at least among some segments of the Haredi public, anyone who thinks differently, anyone on the wrong side of the Haredi agenda, is apparently to be regarded as evil and on par with the Romans or Inquisition.

Forget the hype about Tisha B'Av and senseless hatred, we could go there but there's no need. Just this: if MK Cohen said what he said because he actually believes de Hartog's motivation in doing his job is to hurt Jews, then there's a much bigger problem going on here.

Edit: Shmarya fisked the same article. I really need to move quicker. And Harry over at Emes Ve-Emunah comes to some of the same conclusions as me, only, you know, without the bitter sniping.


WND has seen the light and is finally campaigning for facts to be included in sex ed classrooms. Yes, facts!

State ignores plea to teach sex factually

You tell 'em, guys!

I'm all a-twitter with excitement. Will they start advocating education about STDs, or even, dare I say it, safe sex? Be still my heart.

Oh wait. Never mind.
State education officials in Maryland have rejected a plea from 270 Montgomery County area physicians to require the local school board to include factual information about sex in a new curriculum that establishes homosexuality as "innate" and features a 45-minute lesson on how to use a condom.

Silly me, I thought this was going to be about facts, like, abstinence-only education doesn't help kids that don't practice abstinence, or maybe how a lot of abstinence-only education is filled with unfactual scaremongering. My bad. Turns out it's about the gays.

A local group, Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, and others had told the state the curriculum's demand for "non-judgmental" language violated the rights of religious parents who believe homosexual behavior is wrong, but their concerns were dismissed.

The organization has announced plans for a federal lawsuit

The poor things. Coming up next week, the KKK sues their local school district after refusing to respect their beliefs that blacks are mud people and Jews are the spawn of Satan. Why do they have to be so intolerant, man?

WND has documented a number of earlier cases in which educators have been shown to be promoting a homosexual lifestyle to children.

WND had reported California Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell, under whose supervision hundreds of thousands of children are being educated, has used his state position and taxpayer-funded stationery to praise a "gay" pride event that has been used in the past to expose children to sexually explicit activities.

That drew vehement objections from several, including Priscilla Schreiber, the president of the Grossmont Unified High School District governing board.

"I am outraged that a person in this high-ranking elected position would advocate an event where diversity is not just being celebrated but where pornography and indecent exposure is being perpetrated on the young and innocent children of our communities," she said.

Yeah, I mean, you're already scarring those kids for life by just celebrating diversity, how much worse can it get? Jesus, think of the children!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Small World

Barak at Am Kshe Oref has two recent posts about an altercation between UTJ MK Yaakov Cohen and a Justice Ministry Attorney. Now I feel sad, no one told me about Israel's version of the Sumner caning.

It seems MK Cohen, angry about cuts to the Haredi education budget the Attorney had made, compared him to the Nazis:

MK Cohen told De Hartog he was "worse than the Germans; they wanted to destroy the body, while you want to destroy our soul." At which point de Hartog threatened to slap him. Cohen did, and De Hartog knocked Cohen out of his chair. As I said previously, GOOD FOR DE HARTOG! Cohen crossed a line one simply does not cross.

Here's what I didn't know: De Hartog is frum. He is a Religious Zionist.

He's also a hesder yeshiva graduate and apparently the son of Holocaust survivors. Hmm.

The attorney said he was not qualifying his apology, but felt people should understand the circumstances of his action.

"[MK Cohen] said this to a man, part of whose family perished in Aushwitz and whose father suffered the horrors of the Holocaust for four consecutive years," De Hartog told Israel Radio.

"This is what a member of the Knesset - and a rabbi - said to a Jew."

...During a Knesset Education Committee meeting, Cohen harshly criticized the attorney's decision to block budget appropriations for Haredi schools on the grounds that they have an independent curriculum that doesn't cover the core subjects required for state funding.

Cohen told De Hartog that he was "more evil and terrible than the Nazis," at which point the attorney struck him.

Cohen was taken to the Knesset clinic where he was treated for high blood pressure and was later taken to Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital for further examinations. Knesset guards detained De Hartog and summoned the police.

De Hartog later announced that he was taking a leave of absence.

Arutz Sheva has more:

The argument heated up when De-Hartuch called Cohen an "animal," and Cohen retorted by saying, "You're worse than the Germans; they wanted to destroy the body, while you want to destroy our soul." De-Hartuch said, "I'll smack you," the MK then said, "I'm waiting for that," and De-Hartuch delivered.

MK Cohen fell to the floor, and was treated by medics on the site for bruises and high blood pressure. He was then taken to the hospital, upon the recommendation of the Knesset's doctor, where his condition was said to be stable.

The Knesset secretariat later decided to ban De-Hartuch from the Knesset forever...

Well, that was pleasant.

Maybe MK Cohen should have backed off a little. But then he wouldn't have gotten in the news and really, what other chances was he going to have? Between MK Gafni holding the reigns on the budget and MK Porush holding the reigning title of "scariest beard in Knesset", it's got to be kind of lonely being MK Cohen right now. All he's got going for him is being a lowly Rosh Yeshiva. Sometimes you've got to take it on yourself to make some publicity for the good of the band, er... political party.

Now here's the interesting bit. Guess who the Attorney in question was? Why it's none other than our old pal, Amnon de Hartoch! I guess the Dei'ah article wasn't just about taking a random crap on Ha'aretz, it was a TOPICAL hit job. Also, apparently Hartog's banning from the Knesset was at UTJ's urging. The rabbis reacted to the news with predictable dignity and grace:

Both Shas and UTJ condemned Hartog for his actions.

In addition, studies were suspended at the schools of the Gur Hasidic sect, which Cohen represents; students chanted Psalms to "avert the decrees" against Hasidism.

For United Torah Judaism, the shock of the incident had a silver lining:- the removal from the Knesset of Hartog, who has long been tagged as the ultra-Orthodox's Public Enemy No. 1.

Yesterday's incident was the climax of a long-running, overt conflict between them and the person responsible for approving the criteria for budget allocations. When Hartog raised his hand against Cohen, it left UTJ with the upper hand.

"Hartog attempted to expel the Haredim from Israeli society as if we were Darfur refugees, to keep us from receiving the bare minimum. The slap demonstrates the hate he has accumulated, merely because we tell him to his face what we think about his tricky tactics," MK Avraham Ravitz (UTJ) said.

"The master doesn't like it when the Jewboy tells him to his face what he thinks about him."

Hang on, so now Ravitz is suggesting that haredim are the government's house-slaves?

All this rhetoric seems par for the course per the Jerusalem Post's background reporting:

As inexcusable as the physical assault of an MK by a government official is, for Dehartuch this was the culmination of years of vicious vilification he has been forced to undergo from the ultra-Orthodox media and politicians for simply doing his job.

The "Germans" slur on Tuesday might have been a new low point, but in the past he has been compared to just about every other historical enemy of the Jewish people, including Pharaoh, Haman and Antiokhus. He has been accused of having a pathological hatred of Judaism and of pursuing an ideological against the haredi community.
Some interesting stuff. Stupid, sad, a wee pathetic, but certainly interesting. (Incidentally, guys- please work on the standardized spelling. Hartoch, Hartog, Hartuch, Dehartuch? Take some pity on me and my poor Google.)

Skeptic, Me?

Arutz-Sheva's Tzvi Fishman shares some miracle stories about his Kabbalist rabbi. And you thought Lazer was nuts.

I'll give him this, Tzvi (a former Hollywood screenwriter turned BT) has a very poetic writing style.

“The rabbi wants to talk with you,” he said.

After a moment, a rich sefardic accent sounded over the cell phone, followed by a river of blessings. The truth is, the Hebrew came out so fast, I had trouble understanding every word. The startling thing was that each blessing was like a ballistic missile targeted for precisely my life, my problems, and my ups and downs in serving Hashem [G-d], as if the rabbi was looking through a window into our house.

I can honestly say I have yet to receive a ballistic-missile-like blessing. Maybe one of those would fix me up.

The rabbi's blessings are one thing, but the scary bit is his miracle-cure advice. According to Tzvi, the Rabbi suggested the following for his father, who had one blocked artery and another on its way:

“Your father is depressed and extremely nervous,” he continued. “He worries over every small thing. The arteries in his neck are clogging, but he needn’t worry about that. He needs to get more fresh air, that’s all, and take him to the shopping mall where he can see lots of people in order to cheer him up.”


“Uh oh,” I thought, certain that the rabbi was going to turn his x-ray vision on me. But instead, he started speaking about problems of the circulation system. Gently, without mentioning any wrongdoing, he led us to understand that transgressions, and improper character traits like anger and depression, affect the nefesh (soul), and the nefesh effects the blood, and the blood circulates to all of the organs of the body, eventually causing a disorder in the region that corresponds to the transgression or faulty attribute...

Rabbi, what the hell are you talking about?

Oh, but there's more.

The following Thursday morning, I returned to Bnei Brak with a list of questions for the rabbi. Once again the waiting room was filled with people. The rabbi nodded when I entered the synagogue, and continued on with his prayers. I sat down near his desk, waiting for an opportunity to ask my questions. After a while I realized that without an official place on the list, I wouldn’t be permitted to talk with the rabbi. But no one asked to me leave, so I sat there as inconspicuously as possible, happy to be in his presence and the special atmosphere of holiness that surrounds him.

Suddenly, a man burst into the study area followed by a woman in what I guessed was her ninth month of pregnancy. The hysterical husband held up an x-ray and shouted, “They want to operate! They want to operate!”

“Of course they want to operate,” the rabbi said calmly. “Your wife has a massive growth in her stomach.”

She wasn’t pregnant, I realized. Her over-swollen belly was the result of a malignancy.

“They want to operate on Tuesday,” the husband shouted. “Here’s the x-ray. Here’s the x-ray!”

“What do you expect?” the rabbi told him. “You don’t keep the the laws of family purity.”

Suddenly, the husband was silent.

“And you are violent with your wife, demanding your way, without thinking about what she wants, or maybe I am wrong?”

The man looked as if he wanted to disappear under the table.

“Those are very big sins,” the rabbi said. “Do you regret them?”

“Yes,” the man said meekly.

“Do you promise that from now on you will keep the laws of family purity and be considerate of your wife?”

“Yes,” the man repeated.

Rabbi Leon turned to the woman. “The growth in your belly is your anger at your husband. But you have to realize that he never learned otherwise. He doesn’t mean wrong. He’s a high tempered person. He doesn’t know any better. But now he will change. Can you forgive him?”

The woman nodded, yes.

“Give your belly a hit,” the rabbi told her.

Gently, she tapped on her stomach.

“Harder!” the rabbi said.

Again, she tapped on her belly.

“Harder!” the rabbi commanded.

This time she gave her belly a punch. Like a punctured beach ball that loses its air, the big round swelling in her stomach simply disappeared. I was sitting no more than a few feet away. Right before my eyes, the swelling shrunk and vanished. The woman burst into tears. Once again, the husband started shouting in utter disbelief, “But I have the x-ray! I have the x-ray!”

“You can throw the x-ray in the garbage,” the rabbi told him. “It’s over. It’s gone. Your wife is healthy again.”

“But the operation. The appointment is next week,” the dazed husband muttered. “What will I tell the doctor?”

“You won’t have to tell him. He will see for himself.”

Then Rabbi Leon turned to the woman, who was still weeping in shock. “Why are you crying?” he asked. “You should be happy. HaKodesh Baruch Hu has done a miracle for you.”

*Slams head against the wall*

In a short time, tables were laden with a kingly feast for the seventy people present. The rabbi told us to make our blessings over the food out loud so that everyone could answer “Amen.” After completing the Tehillim and the readings from the Zohar, the rabbi told everyone to wash hands for the meal from the nearby water pipe, whose source was from the rivers of the Garden of Eden. During the meal, the rabbi gave a dvar Torah, saying that rains are held back because of transgressions to the Covenant-Brit, as explained in the Zohar, regarding the Shema:

Those who do not guard the sign of the holy Brit [Covenant of sexual purity] cause a separation between Israel and their Father in Heaven, as is written, And you turn aside and worship other gods, and bow down to them. And afterward, it says, He shut up the heaven, so that there be no rain. For to be false to the holy Covenant is considered like bowing down to another god. But when the holy Covenant is properly guarded by mankind, HaKodesh Baruch Hu showers blessings from above down to this world.” (Zohar, Bereshit 189b)

Immediately after the meal, the rabbi had everyone stand in four lines, facing all four directions while he stood in the middle. In unison, in loud, fervent voices, everyone recited a kabbalistic prayer based on the incense service. Even before we had finished, there was the sound of distant thunder over the peaks of the Hermon. At first, we thought it might be tank fire on the Lebanon border. The sun was still bright in the afternoon sky. The thundering grew louder as we continued to pray. The first drops of rain fell while we were packing the tables back into the minibus at the end of the tikun. On the drive back to Bnei Brak, the sky darkened, and rain poured down in gushes. Hailstones bigger than marbles rumbled atop of car roofs, shattering windshields. Four students collected insurance to compensate for the damage. To be sure, we were not the only people in Israel praying for rain at that time. But it is hard to say that the sudden rainstorm was a mere coincidence after our prayers. Plus, it wasn’t the first time that rain fell after a tikun by Rabbi Leon and his students.

I like how Tzvi's first thought is not, "maybe praying didn't cause the rain," but rather, "who knows? Maybe someone else's super-prayers caused the rain." Incidentally, Tzvi, who prayed for skull-crushing hailstones? How can a water pipe be from the Garden of Eden? How is masturbation "turning to another god?" Am I just missing something here?

For the rabbi, everything is very logical, you see. Sickness is caused by God punishing you for being a twit. You get angry at your husband, you get stomach cancer. Innocently touch a statue in a church, God withers your arm. Touch yourself, God turns the fertile crescent into the Sahara. Oh yeah, but he's still a good God. In fact, for questioning His goodness, you just got cursed. Let's say... boils.

Apparently the good rabbi can even fight computer viruses.

One of the Rabbi’s students, Yigal Vanazi, works in Tel Aviv for a computer software firm. One time, the company was attacked by a virus, and 180 computers shut down. For two days they struggled in vain on their own to find a solution. When a company specializing in computer viruses asked for $400,000 to fix the problem, Yigal thought of the Rabbi.

“I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me immediately,” he relates. “I called up the Rabbi and told him the problem. He instructed me to put my hand on one of the computers. After a minute, he said he saw the virus, and described it to me. Later he showed me the sketch he made in the yeshiva. It looked just like diagrams of computer viruses that I had seen with a long curving tail. Then, over the phone, he told me that he had caught the virus and locked it up in a spiritual safe. He told me to hit the “enter” key on the keyboard. Immediately, the computer lit up, along with all of the 180 computers in the building. It was amazing!”

What the hell is a spiritual safe? And why is it cool for the rabbi to deprive a virus-fighting company of THEIR income? Maybe that other company should hire their own miracle-worker. What do you mean you don't know why it didn't occur to you immediately? Hey, I can't find my car keys- I know, the Kabbalist!

Agh. I read things like this and start to understand how strange- and challenging- a world the Haskalah guys must have had to deal with.