Saturday, November 06, 2010

The Blame Game

A while ago, Rabbi Yehudah Mirsky wrote a very interesting article about Jewish denominations and the limits of their usefulness.
Pre-modern Jewry was organized in communal structures (kehillot). The dissolution of those structures, voluntary in some instances and forcible in others, was one of the defining features of Jewish modernization. The denominations we see today represent an effort to reconstitute some sort of collective identity and institutional heft under the changed circumstances of modernity. They also reflect, in both structure and name, a set of ideological struggles dating back 200 years.
... Recognizing the historical contingency and limits of the old denominational labels is the necessary first step toward thinking about them usefully. Today's American Jewish denominations are very much the products of their time and place and of the specific circumstances of American religious life as a whole, heavily shaped as that life has been by essentially Protestant nomenclature and modes of organization.
While pointing out that there are limitations in the Jewish community being so fragmented (or at least segmented) Mirsky argues that the reason we have seen no real merger between movements (most obviously Reform and Conservative) in America is that real differences continue to exist between them-- differences that outsiders looking in may not always fully consider or appreciate.
It would seem that, quite apart from the inherent difficulties of any institutional change, the movements' enduring and genuine differences—ideological, sociological, and cultural—remain compelling enough to make any large-scale transformation unthinkable: a situation that in turn encourages some to go on exploring the territory beyond or in between the margins.
I think this goes a long way towards explaining why the rank-and-file of the heterodox movements, whose observance and theology may not seem to be all that different, continue to either stick to their group, or decide they no longer care about it and progress beyond it into post-denominationalism. I think increased awareness of what each denomination is about (though perhaps sometimes idealized or intellectualized to its highest denominator) has given people the option of choosing a shul or movement that feels best for them. And, as Mirsky notes, those choices may not always be specifically ideological-- there may be strong cultural ties, too (what makes a not-particularly-observant Conservative family stay in their Conservative shul as opposed to going to a Reform one, for instance?)

Mirsky points out that even though some movements are diminishing in size, all still seem to be have a core philosophy that some people find engaging and meaningful. In a completely opposite perspective we have Forward columnist Jay Michaelson, who (unfairly and foolishly, IMO) singles out heterodox movements' commitment to egalitarianism as the reason their services are boring.
Obviously, there’s no inherent reason that gender-egalitarian and otherwise inclusive congregations can’t offer the same kind of spiritual zets, or punch, as Orthodox ones...
As you said, obviously. There's also no reason to blame boring prayer services on the fact that women aren't sitting in a balcony or behind a mechitza. The fact that non-Orthodox synagogues may both be boring AND egalitarian doesn't mean the two are causal. This isn't helped by the fact that Jay is addressing what is admittedly a subjective topic: "How bored do you get in shul?" isn't exactly something most people are likely to answer on a poll. This means he's just guessing. Basing an argument on a personal opinion substantiated by nothing but, "If I had to guess, I'd say I'm probably right," is always a bad sign.

Just as one counter-example: I happen to have attended nothing but non-Orthodox services in the decade-plus since I started sporadically going to shul, and while some certainly have been boring, others have been quite engaging. Furthermore, I never assumed that one place's style (or lack thereof) was a result of including women. Rather, it always seemed to be a combination of shul traditions, preference of the clergy, and other matters. Saying that people are bored in non-OJ shuls because of egalitarianism makes about as much sense as saying people are bored in non-OJ shuls because they don't pass out cotton candy.

Jay's column is particularly annoying because of the sleight of hand he employs, quickly shifting from talking about gender egalitarianism to, well... something else entirely.
Besides gender separation, another supposed inegalitarianism of Orthodox congregations is that if you’re not already familiar with the traditional liturgy, you’re likely to be lost. Conservative and Reform congregations announce page numbers. They sprinkle in English readings. And they tend to sing a lot slower. This, we are told, makes services more inclusive and accessible to everyone.
Or does it? Yes, they make what’s offered accessible. But often, what’s offered isn’t worth accessing in the first place.
Wow, no sweeping statements there! Also since when is accessibility the same thing as egalitarianism?
 I know that for many people, responsive readings are a pleasant way to think happy thoughts in the synagogue. Indeed, most rabbis I know (from all denominations) find that these readings suck the wind — the ruach — right out of the service. They kill momentum, and because they tend to be laden with theological talk that almost no one believes, they tend to alienate the less committed as much as include them.
Right, but A- not every place does this, and B- you're using one element of R/C prayer to argue that there's nothing of value in the enterprise as a whole. Responsive readings are an attempt to include the congregation. If they don't work, then they can be changed. You're acting as if responsive readings are a canonical element of worship for any denomination that isn't Orthodox. You're quibbling over style, not substance.  
Think about it — which is more inclusive: energetically singing words you don’t really understand, in an environment in which people are participating actively, or intoning deeply problematic theological statements in unison with a largely lethargic “audience”?
Why are you presenting these choices as binary? Lots of shuls I've been to now incorporate elements of both. And incidentally, you're conflating prayer style with egalitarianism. I'm really not convinced they're the same. The Evil Minion, for the record, has a very Orthodox, Carlebachian style of worship. But they're egalitarian. And they're following a national trend. This would seem to burst your theory that the only choices are egalitarian and comatose or Orthodox and alive.

Incidentally, another reason why non-Orthodox Jews aren't Orthodox isn't just an issue of style, it's also philosophy and theology. If you're on the fence about Jewish belief, you may actually appreciate having the opportunity to actually think over some of the concepts that stick in your craw, as opposed to singing (or droning, which also happens) the same stuff in a language you can't speak. Just saying.
Of the American denominations, it strikes me that only Jewish Renewal has managed to offer the spiritual experience of an Orthodox or Hasidic davening service without the prerequisite knowledge of Hebrew and liturgical forms. How? By preserving the energy of a Hasidic service while emptying it of linguistic content. Lots of yai-dai-dai, few actual words.
If you think Renewal is the only denomination that has managed to do this, all this means is that you aren't looking very hard.
In contrast, the Conservative and even the Reform siddurim maintain plenty of confusing Hebrew words, and take a long time to recite them. The reason for this is historical: Reform and Conservative grew out of German Reform Judaism, which aped German Protestantism and tried to offer an edifying, formal service of moral instruction and beautiful music. It’s true, that this formality still does work for some people today — and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that — but has there ever been a sociological study to quantify its appeal? I’ll wager that these antique, even archaic forms work only for those who know and feel comfortable with them. But isn’t that exactly the complaint lodged against traditional Orthodoxy — that it includes some, but not others?
If what we’re interested in is inclusiveness and egalitarianism, then we should try to offer a satisfying spiritual experience to as many people as possible.
Sound good, Jay. What's your proposal?
What that experience is, of course, may vary...But whatever the experience is, real egalitarianism, real inclusiveness, should include people in an experience that matters. Otherwise, we’re excluding everybody
Right, though of course, you're the one who's claiming that the experiences don't matter, not the congregation. And you're the one admitting that there's no data to support your assumptions. So you'll beat up on the synagogues for their bad taste choices but then admit that everything is a matter of taste. Wow, this is a waste of time.
Now, as a progressive American Jew I don’t think gender should determine who’s in and who’s out. But I do think that if everybody’s in, nobody’s in
Why? Why should Judaism seek to exclude Jews?
Let’s rethink what we mean by “egalitarianism.” What if it meant “open to all who bother to make the effort”? What if synagogues distributed fliers that said: “Welcome! We are very glad you are here. Our service is somewhat traditional, because that traditional form works for us. You may be a little lost at first. So we warmly invite you to join our weekly Siddur 101 class, where you can learn the ropes.” People who choose to accept the invitation obtain the rewards. Those who don’t, don’t. Not only would such an approach allow longtime participants to get more out of the prayer experience, but it would also suggest to newcomers that there’s something worth working toward.
Oh please. Jay, there are plenty of synagogues that already do this in some form or another. And I'm not saying that shul shouldn't be an investment of time and effort. But you're essentially arguing that the problem with non-Orthodox Judaism is that people aren't aggressively being dicks to newcomers. No matter how you slice it, that really doesn't make for a very convincing argument. In an era when many Jews can't read Hebrew and where unaffiliated Jews amount for a quarter of the American Jewish population, you'd have to be crazy to argue that what Judaism needs right now is to be less accessible to interested parties.

Here's the reality: Not everybody wants to be Orthodox. Not everybody wants to daven in an Orthodox style. Not everybody wants to pray in Hebrew, or at least exclusively in Hebrew. Apparently you really like davening in Hebrew. I also enjoy davening in Hebrew, though I need transliterations. (You know which transliteration I like? The one in the NEW REFORM SIDDUR.) The Conservative movement also has a transliterated siddur. They seem to already be trying to find a way to have more Hebrew and be inclusive. Forgive me for stereotyping, but I have a hard time imagining that I would be handed a transliterated anything upon entering an Ortho shul.

Your problem, Jay, is that you're operating entirely on the presumption that 6 million Jews all like to pray like you do. Big leap much?

If Jay's column was annoying, Rabbi Harry Maryles' interpretation of it was even worse. R. Harry, of course, is entitled to think being Orthodox is the greatest thing since sliced yarmulkes. But it's a little silly to use Jay's column-- which had next to nothing to do with egalitarianism-- as proof that egalitarianism is hurting heterodox movements.
I truly believe that the pursuit of egalitarianism in many cases sacrifices the essence of one’s religious experience for an ideal that is at best secondary to one’s spirituality -and at worst detrimental to it.
The goal of egalitarianism as most people know is to empower women by equalizing the religious experience with that of men...
If one wants true egalitarianism one must choose one of the non Orthodox movements. Even the most ardent Orthodox feminist has to concede that complete religious equality between the sexes is impossible in an Orthodox setting.
... It is no accident that the Conservative movement where these kinds of innovations are commonplace is rapidly shrinking. Attendance is down in so many of their synagogues that they are being forced to consolidate with each other. As time passes and there is even more attrition, those consolidated shuls will further consolidate. Let’s face it. Although this is not the only reason the Conservative movement is shrinking - the way some of these Shuls operate is so boring that it will put anyone to sleep. And that doesn’t help.

Perhaps, but the problem with boring shuls is that they're boring, it's not that they include women. Reform Judaism continues to grow, and it's just as egalitarian than Conservative and has made even more modifications to the text and prayer.
Michaelson suggests that instead of making so many changes in the traditional service, they should leave it alone. Educating members to learn how to participate in traditional services is a far better option. I would have to agree. The changes innovated by heterodoxy clearly are chasing people away.
And, as noted, this is the direction non-Orthodox movements are already headed. Note that the Mishkan T'fillah is now in its second printing.
Education is the answer. The above anecdote and shrinking numbers in Heterodox Synagogues is a clear indicator that dumbing down Davening is not the answer. Education is. The best form of that is Jewish education starting from day one in the home and continuing in religious elementary schools through high school… and beyond. Adult education is the answer for those who missed out.
Of course, when R. Harry says Jewish education, he really means an Orthodox education. Never mind that you don't need an Orthodox education to read Hebrew.
Those who have received this type of education will be far more involved and the kind of participatory experience that Orthodox Shuls provide.
No, they'll be able to participate in an Orthodox service if that's what they want, which, at the end of the day, is what this discussion is really about. With the shift towards more traditional prayer and transliterated prayerbooks, non-Orthodox synagogues are showing that you don't have to choose an Orthodox shul to Hebrew and traditional prayer. As the more old-fashioned rabbis and congregations gradually change or phase out, the places that are left and continue to do well will be the ones who attract and keep new and younger members. The Hebrew will be an equalizer, and then 21st century Jews will be able to choose their house of worship based less on style and more on other matters.
I know that there are people who will retort that their experience with new innovations has been a positive one. But I wonder how common that experience is. And I wonder if at least in some cases they aren’t deluding themselves because of their belief in the egalitarian ideal.
That's right, any non-Orthodox Jews who like non-Orthodox worship are deluding themselves because of their beliefs! Pot, meet kettle. I'm sure you'll get along fine.

R. Harry concludes by saying that in his opinion, this is a case of Yotza Scahro B’Hefseida,  where a loss becomes greater than the gain. To him, I'm sure that's how it appears. Egalitarianism has nothing to offer, and results in a watering down of the traditional service. But to most non-Orthodox Jews, egalitarianism is an important value; it establishes a baseline for respect among Jews and at this point, forgoing it would be anathema. The non-Orthodox embrace of egalitarianism coincides with their embrace of the 21st century. It exemplifies the kind of relevant and meaningful Judaism they wish to be involved in, and which is part of the reason so many of them would sooner become Buddhist than Orthodox.

At the end of the day, I have too many red lines to be comfortable as an Orthodox Jew, and I suspect it would take a very, very tolerant Orthodox community to be comfortable with me. But that's ok, since I don't want to be Orthodox. And, Michaelson's anectdote notwithstanding, there are many non-Orthodox Jews today who have not only consciously and deliberately chosen their denominations; they have just as consciously established-- if only on a basic level-- that Orthodoxy is probably not viable for them, be it over issues of style, theology, or lack of egalitarianism. Non-Orthodox movements are going to continue to find ways to engage with the tradition and make it connect with their lives. At t the end of the day this argument is over style, not philosophy. There is no reason you have to choose between Hebrew and egalitarianism, or a lively prayer service and egalitarianism. Bottom line: egalitarianism does not cause boredom, and egalitarianism is most likely not the reason some synagogues are declining. People will just have to look for another scapegoat.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Science vs Religion

Judge Snyder: As for science vs. religion, I'm issuing a restraining order. Religion must stay 500 yards from science at all times.
- The Simpsons
I'm a great believer that knowing more about how the world works can make it seem an even more magical and incredible place. And that science and religion don't have to be mutually exclusive. While learning about science has always made me feel in awe of how spectacular nature and the universe is and how minuscule humans are, I can also see how it could inform and strengthen one's faith, too.

That said, there is such a thing as stupid religion. And stupid religion, sorry to say, needs to stay the hell away from science.

First, Tzvi Fishman plugged his anti-sex website on his blog. As he put it, "Have a good time." Whatever you say, Tzvi.

Question: My wife is usually too tired to have marital relations at night. She prefers the morning, after sending the kids off to school, when she feels more refreshed and uninhibited. Is this OK?
Answer: A husband is permitted to engage in marital relations during the day if his wife shows her desire for it, or if he feels that he will otherwise think about other women and thus fall into sinful fantasies or actions. However, because it is generally forbidden to have marital relations by day, or in a lighted room, we will quote the laws as summarized by Rabbi Mordechai Eliahu, former Chief Rabbi of Israel, in his book, "Darkei Taharah," Chapter 22:
A person should not engage in marital relations where there is light because of modesty, whether it be daylight, moonlight, candlelight, or electricity, etc. Someone who has relations by candlelight may cause his offspring to be epileptic, even if the wife is already pregnant.
Oh sweet crap. So now light is considered as dangerous as lead poisoning? You do know that Song of Songs happens during the day, right?
...It is forbidden to have relations by candlelight, electric light, and the like, even if the light is darkened by a covering. If the candlelight is in another room which lights up the room where they are, a Torah scholar can cover themselves with a covering and engage in marital relations. If the candle or light are in the same room, he can set up a curtain (mechitzah) that divides the room into two, making it like two rooms, and thus a Torah scholar can cover themselves with a covering and conduct relations. The length of this room divider must be 192 centimeters with a height of at least 80 centimeters. It must be sturdy so that it will not sway if there is wind. On the Sabbath day, one should not set up a divider like this, unless there are special requirements that can be met.
So, if they do it with the lights on, the baby gets deformed, but this can be stopped by the magical powers of... a sheet? Wow, that's some sheet. 
There is another possibility if he cannot extinguish the light, and that is to cover it with a vessel or thick towel, or the like, even if a weak dim light remains, and this may even be done freely on the Sabbath and Festival Days, but on these days, he must be careful not to extinguish the light in so doing.
How about being careful not to cover a candle with a freaking towel
An alternative solution is that your wife take a nap in the afternoon or early evening, or in the morning after sending the kids off to school. That way, you could most properly conduct marital relations at the most propitious time, after midnight, when the kids are fast asleep and your wife is more refreshed because of her nap.
Wait, really? The proper time for sexual relations is after midnight? Do these folks not have jobs? (Oh, right...)
Not mind-numbingly painful enough? Oh good:
QuestionIf a man can control himself and not "spill seed" when engaging in different positions or when engaging in oral sex, why are they forbidden?
Answer: We have clarified in several places on this site (example 1example 2) the serious consequences of spilling seed (semen) in vain, be it through premature ejaculation, masturbation, or literally spilling from the woman's reproductive organ due to change in her position.
In answer to your question: Firstly, most men cannot control themselves during bouts of sexual gymnastics and very often semen is spilled. It is similar to a tightrope and high-wire act. While there may be a circus performer who can balance his way across the wire without falling, most people would plunge to their deaths.
Dramatic much?
Furthermore, in the heat of sexual passion, a thin clear fluid is often released from the male organ. According to the Kabbalah, this fluid originates in a very high spiritual sphere, and wasting it causes a blemish on the brain.
Ok, guys, really-- it's one thing to say that not spilling your seed helps you "spiritually," it's enough thing to claim that losing it causes brain damage. Two words: wet dreams.
Regarding abnormal positions, for instance if the wife is on top of the man, they cause a reversal of the spiritual order in G-d's blueprint for the world and bring about harsh judgments.
So, what, to God woman on top is like, the spiritual equivalent of Reform Judaism? Is it as bad as a BLT?
Regarding oral sex, remember that the reproductive organs are also the channel for urination and menstruation in women. In addition to the prohibition of looking at the sexual organs, oral sex transfers these impurities to the mouth, which is considered the "goblet of the King," associated with the sefirah [illumination] of "Malchut." After polluting your mouth in this fashion, your prayers will certainly not be found pleasing in the Heavenly Court above. 
Am I the only one thinking that calling the mouth "goblet of the king" sounds much dirtier than anything secular folks could come up with? Also, I like the fact that spiritual impurity in your mouth stops you from offering "pleasing" prayers to God. Does this apply to everything you put in there? What about alcohol? Pot? Pork?
According to Lazer's friend Moe, the answer is apparently yes. As part of a "coming to teshuvah" tale in which he describes slowly getting over his pot habit, he offers this insight:
non- Kosher food also puts a coating on the body, not allowing Divine Light to seep through
So, lobster is spiritual sun-block. God-kryptonite, if you will. Wow, you make this whole "taking religion seriously" thing really hard.
And speaking of Lazer, he has 5,000 new CDs for you to buy. He can help you get rich, lose weight, be a better spouse, parent, whatever. What's that? You don't care about stuff like that? All you care about is looking good? Fear not, Lazer's got you covered:
Natural & Spiritual Remedy for Acne
Oh just kill me now.

Lazer's tips include such obvious suggestions as adjusting diet and washing your damn face, as well as more creative ones like throwing away any medications, drinking lots of water, not gossiping, and of course, asking God to heal your skin (while also thanking him for giving you this character-building challenge. You know, the challenge you're totally trying to cop out of). Simple, no?
In related news: Cross-Currents made Dovbear similarly sad.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

The Return of Abir

Funny, I thought I had finished with this silly issue a while ago. But intrepid Abir advocate Ehav Ever won't let it go. He's back, and he's got "proof." Proof of what, exactly? I'll let him tell it:
Looks like the Aluf Abir Yehoshua Sofer is Yemenite after all and there is a history for Abir.
Ehav provides a Youtube link showing Sofer interviewing an old man, Mori Awadh bin Sleiman. He repeatedly acknowledges that Sofer's patrilineal line was Yemenite, and affirms a family connection between them. It also has various clips of bearded Middle Eastern men (presumably Yemenite Jews) dancing. I guess this is supposed to prove Abir's authentic dance-house heritage.

Here's the big problem, Ehav. Since 2007 you've been particularly offended at my claim (based on my admittedly limited information) that Sofer was Ashkenazi, not Yemenite. (I freely admit that my skepticism about Sofer's heritage based on skin color was unfair and reflective of my lack of knowledge about the topic.) However I have nothing invested in disproving Sofer's Yemenite-ness. It doesn't matter whether he's the Chief Rabbi of Sa'aana or a descendant of Confucius. The central issue has always been whether Abir-- and all the associated mythology Sofer and his followers constructed and perpetuated about it-- was true. I'll stipulate that Sofer is Yemenite on his father's side. It still doesn't address the bigger questions.

Let's recap some of the sticking points:

- The ever-changing family ties. When I first heard about Abir back in 2006, what little online information was available was inconsistent and confusing.  Most notable was Sofer simultaneously pushing his grandfather's Yemenite roots and then talking about him serving in the Russian army while on a pilgrimage to Uman.and subsequently learning wrestling and jujitsu. Elsewhere he mentioned being descended from Nachman of Breslov's brother. When I questioned this, you said Sofer's grandmother was Ukrainian. So why was the Yemenite grandfather in Uman? Did he marry into a Breslov family and then become a Yemenite Breslover? I'm not saying this couldn't be true, I'm saying I'm very confused, and a big part of it is because Sofer has connected Abir so closely with his family history and then released that history in an extremely fragmentary way.

In other interviews, Sofer has claimed that his Yemenite ancestors' name was Sofer. He has identified his uncles as having the surname Sofer, and apparently his grandfather Brihim bin-Hassan also went by the name Nachman Sofer (which wasn't clarified until relatively recently, BTW. I was still thinking that Brihim and Nachman were two separate grandfathers). So here's a question: why was Sofer born Nigel Winston? I don't particularly care about the answer, and I doubt Sofer is outright lying about his last name. But it's another example of something fishy coming up. Here's another question: if he was trained and raised knowing his destiny was to bring Abir back to the yearning Jewish masses, why did he waste several years of his life trying to be a proto-Matisyahu ska rapper? Sofer is like Madonna; he has reinvented himself and retconned his and Abir's origin stories so many times it's impossible to keep it all straight.

- Dreaming too big, changing the stories, and not keeping them straight. Sofer has made the simultaneous claims that A- Abir is an ancient authentic Jewish practice going back to Biblical times; B- all Jews in antiquity knew and practiced Abir, and C-  while this knowledge was widely lost among most Jews in modern times (which is why no one had heard of it before 2001), the isolated and exotic Habbani managed to keep the secret alive through traditional dances. Frankly, there's so much on this ball of yarn it's hard to even unpack it, but the biggest problem is that his stories sound way too good to be true.

I can buy the Habbani being tough bastards. I can accept that they may have been good with their fists. Maybe they even had a martial art system. But it's pretty hard to believe that ten Habbani Jews killed 1,000 attackers bare-handed. I'm sorry, but that's a fairy tale. Same thing for Sofer's claim about how old Abir is. I can accept Abir being a Habbani tradition. Maybe it's even quite old. But to claim that King David knew Abir? To say that it's knowledge that's been passed down unbroken from Abraham is like having a restaurant and claiming your lentil stew was the exact recipe Jacob used to steal Esau's birthright. Also, Sofer now claims Abraham learned Abir from Terah! First of all, this seems to complicate the concept of it being a "Jewish martial art" as it would make it ripped off from the pagan Babylonians. It certainly doesn't seem like it would count as "Torah study," as Sofer has said. But wait, if Abir came from the Babylonians, how can it based on the ancient Hebrew alphabet? How can it have super-secret mystical Kabbalah connections?

All this stuff makes me think that Sofer is selling something, which, coincidentally, he is.

Now let's talk about your video: I notice that in the video Sofer seems to nudge the older gentleman pretty hard towards trying to confirm some of his Abir stories. Yet the farthest Mr. Bin Sleiman seems willing to go is to say that their clan could "fight without weapons" and that Sofer's ancestors were "very mighty" and that Arabs feared them. At one point he tells an anectdote about Sofer's grandfather putting sand in a bag and using it as a blackjack on people who tried to mess with him. That's cool and all, but it's not the same thing as saying that the Habbani were a bunch of Jewish ninjas. By my count, he only even said Abir twice-- once when referring to warriors in a story of Jewish conquest of Yemen, and once when talking about Sofer's grandfather who used it as part of his nickname.

It's odd that given his long association with the family, Bin Sleiman never actually says anything that confirms Sofer's wilder stories. The most Sofer gets out of him is that his family were tough guys that didn't take crap from gentiles. (BTW, I was very intrigued by Sofer's comment that his grandfather "was a bodyguard for Sultans and in Uman." A, I notice that Bin Sleiman says nothing to confirm this, and B, again, I'm confused why the Yemenite grandfather was in Uman.) Also, in Sofer's story his relatives have now gone from guarding a single king, Abdullah, to multiple Sultans. This increase in bodyguard work seems to correspond to the Wikipedia page, which now says that the Sofers guarded Lawrence of Arabia. Yes, all these things could be true (in which case someone should really write a book about this amazing, stupendous fantabulous family), but at a certain point, you begin testing the limits of believability and leading people to assume you're just making stuff up.

A similar thing happens in the next clip: the other old guy says that he remembers attending dances as a child and tells his friend that "these Abir techniques were in our dances." Sofer goes on to mime out the Abir moves. Bin Sleiman looks at him and smiles politely. No confirmation, no agreement.

Sorry Ehav, but this is hardly a smoking gun. One guy is convinced by Sofer's pitch. Good for him. The fact that Sofer's martial arts use similar moves to Yemenite dances does not prove that the dances were secret methods of communicating Abir moves. If anything, it shows that Sofer or his family may have borrowed some of their ideas from Yemenite dances.

Ehav, I understand my half-assed "expose" three years ago touched a raw nerve. And it's cute that you still care so much. But it's not about whether Sofer is Yemenite. It's about whether he's full of crap.

Monday, November 01, 2010

More Election Silliness

As if Dennis proclaiming that Tuesday's elections are going to be the cornerstone of the next civil war weren't enough, we have others out in the crazy-o-sphere with equally strident rhetoric. Here's a sample:

- Anti-Boxer Comments on WND columnist Patrice Lewis' personal blog:
Barbara Boxer makes my blood boil. We finally have a real chance of dumping her, so I hope a majority of the voters here in CA wise up and kick her out of her fatcatbird seat. She is not only a crook, she's a New York carpetbagger who represents a state she cares nothing for and knows little about.
Interesting; according to her website Boxer moved to California in 1965. Apparently 45 years still isn't long enough to be considered a Californian. By that logic, I suppose Whitman must be at least one-third as big a carpetbagger. I wonder if that means they're voting Brown for Governor.
Boxer even being close at this stage is a horrible wonder to me. Oh Califonia, how far down do you have to go to hit bottom? This is your time to shine. You can lead us as we try to dig out of this mess or you can go begging to the rest of America to bail you out.
Not quite sure how voting for a long-serving Congresswoman constitutes begging America to bail out California, but ok, sure.

- Then there's Prop 19, which would legalize marijuana in California (though not federally). Showing a rare ability to join forces in the face of anything too potentially positive, we have the combined evangelical bozos of the Christian Post and the Haredi wackos at Vos Iz Neias.

First up, the CP:
Legalized Marijuana 'Unnecessary,' Christians Say
Medical marijuana is “unnecessary” and legalizing it will worsen drug problems, lead to increased adolescent usage, and increase family problems, says Christian Medical Association CEO David Stevens and religious freedom legal defense group Pacific Justice Institute.
Wow, I like how it starts off fooling you that it's going to be talking about legalization and then it does a complete 180 and starts harping on something that's been standard case law for 10 years. Way to stay current!
Stevens says legalized marijuana will mean increased usage among adolescents. Adolescents using marijuana, he says, suffer a number of side effects such as decreased focus, isolation and even psychological dysfunction.
Right, which is the reason we outlaw all other substances teenagers can use to screw themselves up, like alcohol, prescription drugs and glue. Of course.

“We know adolescents who use marijuana regularly experience higher rates of depression,” noted Stevens. He also says marijuana is a “gateway” drug, meaning it may lead to use of other more potent drugs.
Riiight, except it's... not. I say this as someone who has smoked pot around seven times in as many years and not felt attracted towards any other drugs. And as someone with close family members who have been regular smokers for decades. They may have dabbled with other substances a little in the 80s, but these days their only drugs are pot and a beer or glass of wine once or twice a week. No crack, no heroin, no oxy. Try again.
Stevens stresses that “medical marijuana is useless” because there are several prescriptions, such as Marinol, that have similar chemical compounds and produce the same results.
Except, again, Stevens is wrong. Marinol does not work for many patients, such as cancer sufferers. Pot does. There are any number of reasons for this, not the least of which may have to do with the fact that inhalation gets THC to the bloodstream faster than ingestion, but the bottom line is that it doesn't work. (Add to that the fact that Marinol is not being created at a high enough rate to be a valid alternative.) Maybe if Stevens was an oncologist or a pharmacologist rather than just a GP who's spent most of his career as an administrator he would know these things, or at least be smart enough to ask about them before using his credentials as an excuse to spout off nonsense.

Is Vos Iz Neas any better? Of course not, you fool. (Though I did enjoy the typo in their URL.)
If you want to get high, get stoned, act like a tower of poverty and sin. Maybe you think thats your priviledge. I would certainly allow a cancer patient access to Marijuana, but to let the general population toke it up because they dont know how to read or socialize in general makes little sense.
Wait, people get high because they don't know how to read or socialize? What happened to the stereotype of rich, pampered college kids being major stoners? The only thing potheads do besides reading and socializing is listen to Phish and Marley. Well, and eat cookies.

Yes legalize mary jane and than next year legalize other types of drugs; Slowly but surely legalize all drugs. Get people drugged up so they don't know what is going on and than vote for the lefty. Legalizing Mary Jane will lead to more car accidents, and victims Even if it takes the drugs out of the trade how long do you think before they create some new drug which everybody needs to try. Soros made billions destroying others. He wants to destroy america by legalizing drugs. People seem to forget
mary jane stays in your system for days. Another thing we have outlaw smoking in most places since it is bad for your health and now you want to legalize marijuana which is worst for your lungs. CAN'T FIGURE THIS OUT; JUST DID PEOPLE DON'T THINK WHEN THE YETZOR HORA IS INVOLVE

What an argument. I'm just speechless. Also, did you notice this guy's spelling? I bet he smokes...

- In local issues, one of the people running for SF Board of Ed is a libertarian Erotic Service Provider named Starchild. Need I say more? I hope not, because I'm kind of speechless.

- Speaking of the Board of Ed, SF's Prop D lets any immigrant residents of the city, including illegal aliens, vote for the school board. Abbot Yid didn't care for it, but I think it's got the benefit of being consistent: if you're going to let illegals live in the city and not be prosecuted, and if you're going to let them send their kids to public school, I'm not quite sure why the straw that breaks the camel's back should be voting for the School Board.

Local crazyman Dr. Terrence Faulker, J.D., however, seriously objects:
What Prop D backers call "immigrant voting" does not mean just legal immigrants. Prop D also proposes that illegal aliens and even those in the process of being deported from the United States be allowed to vote for SF's Board of Education... It is an interesting question whether legal aliens might be allowed to vote for our boards of education on a national basis, but that should be regulated by future international treaties. Such future treaties, if approved by the President and a two-thirds vote of the US Senate, should also provide for similar voting rights for American citizens who are legal residents of foreign countries.
Ah yes, because if you're being deported, clearly the most pressing thing on your mind will be voting for Starchild and not say, getting a lawyer or figuring out what country your kids are going to finish third grade in.

- Dr. T chimed in elsewhere, too. Prop I would let us have elections on Saturday as well as Tuesday. You know, so people will actually come vote. Interestingly enough, it has a stipulation that it would only hold Saturday elections if it received enough donated money from individuals and organizations to fund it.

Yet Dr. T remains unimpressed. But, since he apparently didn't have time to write a coherent counter-argument, he decided to just toss out any ideas that popped into his head. Observe:
In the June 2010 Primary Election some 59% of SF voters cast absentee ballots.
Many elections in Oregon are now conducted by mail.
An extra day of precinct voting would be a big economic waste.
Holding elections on Saturday causes problems for a number of major religious minorities...
Really? A number of major religious minorities? Which ones would those be? I can think of Jews (Orthodox, specifically) and Seventh-Day Adventists. If there are any others, I'd love to hear about it. Incidentally, wouldn't those folks just stick to the regular Tuesday voting or use the absentee ballot we already have? I mean, if you're going to appeal to religious sensitivity, you might at least want to show you've actually done your homework and aren't just using any random excuse you can think of. It's just lazy.

- Last, of course, we have the always level-headed voice of reason, Chuck Norris:
"I think our country, if we don't wind up getting a conservative majority mainly in the House, I really perceive some disastrous things in the next two years in our country. We may not have an America in two years," he told Fox News in a recent interview.
Tell you what, Chuck, I'll be sure to send you an apology note the moment we turn into Mexi-Soviet-stan.