Monday, January 31, 2011

Crazies Threaten Us All

Apparently the readers of World Net Daily have really, really easy problems. So easy that, having dealt with all other issues that could possibly come up in their lives, they've decided to go looking for nonexistent outrages to complain about. WND is happy to help, especially if it involves making crap up about Muslims.

Case in point:
Are you eating food sacrificed to idols?
All you guys that make fun of mevushaling wine, take notice! Apparently Zeus and the gang have gotten a real boost from this whole Percy Jackson thing and they're back in prime time, gaining new strength after each idolatrous libation! The time to act is nigh! Start looting the stores and replacing all the Cianti with Magen David.

... Oh wait, hang on. Turns out it's dumber than that.
When you bite into a delicious pizza, succulent sandwich or luscious lamb chops, are you possibly eating food that has been sacrificed to idols?
I suppose... how exactly does one sacrifice a pizza?
An outspoken American pastor says yes, and he's sounding the alarm for Christians to be aware of the Islamic influence he calls "backdoor Shariah" now nibbling its way across the fruited plain.
Judging by the unfortunate puns, even the writer of this hit piece can't take the pastor seriously.
At issue, says Mark Biltz of El Shaddai Ministries in Bonney Lake, Wash., is eating food that's "halal," in other words "lawful" or "permitted" for the Muslim diet. 
El Shaddai ministries? Really? WHY?
Muslims join many Jews and some Christians in avoiding the consumption of certain animals such as pigs and birds of prey, but those of the Islamic faith also have their meat blessed in the name of their god, Allah.
"From the Christian standpoint, Allah would be an idol," Biltz told WND.
How do you figure? What's the textual evidence for that? AFAIK, Allah is another name for the same diety. That's not idolatry, that's translation.
In a sermon last weekend which he posted online, Biltz explained, "In order for it to be halal, they have to slaughter the animal facing Mecca ... and they have to say this prayer about Allah is great and greater than all other gods. Muslims can only eat food that is halal, that has been sacrificed to their idol, Allah ... and with Allah's name prayed over it."
But again, that's not idolatry if you believe that Allah and the "God" of the Bible are the same, which has historically been the Muslim position. You may believe that this is not true, but from the Islamic perspective, saying that prayer is not a way to dump on the Christian god. It's talking about the same personality.
"You could be eating beef, chicken, etc., offered up to Allah and not even know it. I can just imagine at a Passover Seder the caterer unbeknownst to anyone is serving halal meat! It could be on your pizza without you knowing it, or at your favorite restaurant. People don't realize they could be eating meat sacrificed to idols!"
Hey stupid, why can't you leave us out of this?

Ok, let's work this one through. If you're having a seder, you are either keeping kosher or not. If you are, there is a 99.9% chance that your food is most certainly NOT halal. If you're eating non-kosher, I suppose it's a possibility... but it's likely you don't care. See how that works? No outrage, no issue. Move on.
He notes New Testament instructions specifically warning Christians:
"Stay away from food that has been offered to idols (which makes it unclean), any kind of sexual sin, eating animals that have been strangled, and blood." (Acts 15:20, New Century Version)
"As for the Gentile Christians, all we ask of them is what we already told them in a letter: They should not eat food offered to idols, nor consume blood, nor eat meat from strangled animals, and they should stay away from all sexual immorality." (Acts 21:25 New Living Translation)
Hang on, NOW Christians are going to start being dietary literalists? A little late to the party, guys. You'll ignore the myriad of Old Testament passages about what to eat, but no way you're going to eat idolatrous pot roast! Incidentally, if you're worried about eating meat from strangled animals, here's a question: how do you think we kill fish? Unless your local fisherman is tasering them or using a cool speargun, they're getting lifted out of the water and suffocating without air. Sounds like strangling to me.

Oh, I'm sorry, I forgot, this is an excuse to yell about Muslims. You know how I get off track.
Biltz quotes directly from a Muslim-run site titled, "The Islamic Guidelines to Slaughtering Animals" to let Christians know some of the procedures involved in making sure meat is halal.
Those bastards! How dare they explain their customs to others. The last time I was this offended was when I was in a shul and noticed a sign that asked people to "Please remove your tallis before going into the restroom." Who are they to tell me how they do things?
Biltz is also publicizing a Muslim website called which bills itself as the world's largest guide to halal restaurants and products. Consumers wondering where they can purchase halal food simply need to click on their geographic location.
Wow, someone better hope we never get on this guy's bad side. I imagine that sites like the Kosher Food Interface will not fare well.
"This is coming to a store near you. This is all over," says Biltz, who is especially concerned about restaurants serving halal meats.
"At a restaurant, you're not going to know [if the food is halal] unless you ask," he said. "I think we need to be aware of these things because they don't want Christians to know because they just want to sell it and get it out there. ... A lot of people don't want you to know it's going all over the world. Christians are upset as they're finding out about this because Christians are saying, 'How come you didn't tell me?'"
Maybe they assumed you wouldn't care... you know, because there's no good reason for you to care. Halal meat is not "unclean" for Christians to eat. Yes, of course you should have the right to eat or not eat whatever you want. But there's a not-so-subtle undercurrent of xenophobia here that is really quite creepy. It's like Blitz is blaming Muslims for having the audacity to start their own businesses to feed themselves, or for becoming a big enough market that food companies are starting to cater to them.
If someone is shopping in a supermarket, there are numerous symbols that help consumers know if a product is indeed certified as halal-compliant, some of which can be seen here:

Hmm, a list of logos that pretends to be for "informational" purposes but which is really designed to facilitate a xenophobic boycott/freak-out? Where have I seen something like this before? Oh yeah:

And here's the thing: the reasoning between the Kosher Tax myth and the crap Blitz is spewing out are closer than you might realize at first blush. Both are predicated on foundational misunderstandings about another culture's dietary laws and religious teachings about food. Both imagine that outsiders are somehow being harmed if they eat kosher or halal products, and that even if they're not, the mere fact that businesses are catering to them is some sort of threat or violation of their own rights. Both arguments masquerade as just wanting to "inform" people while actually sowing misinformation, distrust, and division between people. Both depend on turning "the other" into someone totally foreign from "us real Americans", or whatever. What's new (and worse) is that now the trope of "creeping Shariah" is being used to suggest that wherever a Subway starts serving halal food, a terrorist training camp can't be far behind.

Sadly, this crap isn't restricted to just American wackos like Blitz or most of WND's readership:
Bryan Fischer, director of issue analysis for government and public policy at the American Family Association, said Americans need to look at what's been taking place in Britain when it comes to the expansion of Islamic food standards.
"Folks in hospitals, schools, and pubs across the U.K. have been eating food that has first been blessed in the name of the demon-God Allah but know nothing about it," Fischer wrote in a column last fall.
"So Christians in the U.K. have been eating meat over which Islamic rituals have been pronounced, and most of the lamb sold there has had an Islamic prayer said over it at the point of slaughter. ... The prayer? 'Bismillah Allah-hu-Akbar,' which means 'In the name of Allah, who is the greatest.' Some chicken butchers in the U.K. slaughter chickens using an automatic circular saw while a tape recorder intones the Islamic prayer. I kid you not."
Um, ok? And? I don't understand what I'm supposed to be offended about. Is it the saw? The tape recorder? I don't get it.
Biltz stresses he's not against halal food, halal stores or Muslims, but says "Christians may want to know that they're eating halal food. It's not so much a religious thing, but an awareness thing."
Yeah, and I'm a magical flying salmon. (Now offered in a tasty Halal version!)

Friday, January 28, 2011


First, let me make a happy announcement: Shiksa Girlfriend is now Shiksa Fiancee!

The proposal went very nicely, she is happy, and so am I.


I put off being engaged because of the assorted stress and bullshit I anticipated it would bring, assuming (correctly), that these things were not things we were perhaps not best equipped to deal with in the midst of finishing grad school or slogging through first years of employment.

That said, SG (SF?) was right in smacking me down a peg over dinner several weeks ago (right before my proposal) when she said that life is rarely convenient, and you don't always get to plan things like you want. So here we are.

Now the troubles begin. SF, having waited five-plus years of dating to be engaged, is good and ready to be married. Given that her siblings are still in school, she decided that summer would be a good time. Except Abbot and Mother Superior Yid and I have a family trip to Poland planned in July, and since I don't know what school I'll be at in the fall, my August is one big question mark. This leaves June, specifically mid-June, to avoid conflicting with school ending and other relative misheggos.

So, we have a date. Next problem- venue and food. SF and my tastes and expectations tend to skew low, as Abbot Yid has said, we have "beer tastes on a beer budget."

Mama Yid, on the other hand, does not. As part of her ongoing quest to reincarnate into her mother before age 60, Mama Yid continues to offer lots of advice (some even solicited!) about how to make sure the wedding is "elegant."

One area where this has come up again and again is over food. We like food. Our friends and family like food. We don't like it when food is bad, or when a lack of thoughtfulness about people's dietary restrictions prevents them from enjoying said food. We want good food at the wedding. We also want to be able to accommodate:

- People who are lactose-intolerant (Abbot Yid and me)
- People who are gluten-intolerant (Abboy Yid and Granny Yid)
- People who are vegetarian (three or four college friends)

So there's a need for some creativity. So far epic verbal duels have been fought over Mama Yid's first idea- "Get everything catered", which got a fiery riposte from SF, "How about ordering a large take-out selection from the Sandwich Shoppe?" Things have slowly improved from there.

Another area of contention is the venue. We have decided to go with a lovely building near our apartment that is meaningful for us (local blog readers will know it as the lair of Evil Minion). This, however, has proven to be a big issue with the Yids, who think we should have it in the neighborhood association clubhouse behind their house. Yes, it is a nice place, and yes, there is a discount, but it is somewhat marred by the fact that it is directly behind my parents' house. SF has told them over and over that she doesn't want to do it there, but for some reason they can't let it go. We're hoping this will stop once we finally sign a contract with the Lair.

Another odd phenomenon we're running into is SF's parents slowly coming around to the idea that this is going to be a Jewish wedding, inasmuch as any religious content will be Jewish. I think they've finally accepted that SF is not coming back to the Protestant fold, though this has manifested itself in surprising ways, to wit:

- Habakkuk checked a coffee-table book out from the library entitled Planning Your Jewish Wedding.

- He emailed us a list of suggested Israeli songs and nigguns to consider adding to our playlist.

Oddly enough, Habakkuk is very strongly convinced of the importance of music at this event. When he asked me what hymns were traditional at weddings, I responded, "Hava Negila?" He was not amused.

Then, in our most recent conversation, this happened:

Habakkuk: You know, part of making special memories is having live music. You should hire a band. I'll even pay for it.
Me: Ok, what kind of band? (Assuming, like my mother, Habakkuk has some strange esoteric interest in ballroom dancing. Because why not.)
Habakkuk: This book says Klezmer is traditional. How about that?
Me: Um, ok. I'll write that down in the suggestion notebook!

One hour later:

Me: Hi Mom, so the latest from Habakkuk is that he thinks we should have live music.
Mama Yid: I couldn't agree more. That way we can have some dancing. People will expect it, after all.
Me: Yeah, funny thing is, he thinks it should be a Klezmer band.
Mama Yid:.........
Me: Hello? Are you there?
Mama Yid (strained): You go ahead and decide what you're doing, and then I'll decide if I'm coming.

Man, you try to please some people and it gets you nowhere. Poor us Habakkuk.

More to come, I'm sure.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Fun with pictures

Tzvi and Lazer have been busy in the New Year. Lazer's revamped his site a little, adding a snappy new frontispiece:

Though I know it's supposed to show his deep spiritual side, I can't help instantly coming up with "Rabbi Blockhead." Does this make me a terrible person?

But wait, there's more. Tzvi's been writing about his favorite topic again, masturbation. To try to encourage all wayward Jews to repent during the six-week Shovavim period, when the Torah readings cover the Exodus section of the Torah. Tzvi says that scoffers should be careful about making fun of the Jewish tradition of treating Shovavim as a great time for working on sexual transgressions. In particular, he says porn surfers and folks who don't observe niddah should know that it's just a matter of time before their sins get unleashed on their innocent family members. (Truly, our God is an awesome God...)
For this reason, our Sages call out to us to return in repentance at this time of “Shovavim,” saying, “Shuvu banim shovavim,” (Jeremiah, 3:14) “Return you rebellious children.”
Quite. However Tzvi's next move is truly awe-inspiring for its randomness. Tzvi now transfers the identity of the "children" from lost Jews to their lost seed. Um, gross.
Because semen contains myriads of living souls, when a person willfully transgresses, or errs in whatever manner, these souls, and the Holy Names of Hashem which they possess, are lost and compelled to wander painfully in an impure netherworld, unless they are rectified through the sincere t’shuva of the person who sinned. The best time for this repentance, to rescue these spiritual “children,” “banim shovavim,” from bondage, is the period of “Shovavim.”
I don't want to picture what this particular rescue would look like. Presumably it would be called something like "Operation Sticky Carpet."

To wrap up this bizarre train of thought, Tzvi provides us with a delightfully brain-melting image: A (prayer?)-robot rescuing a lost sperm, complete with kamikaze-esque battle cry.

My God, why hast thou forsaken me?

The Meaning of Things

Despite the wide political gulf between my would-be hippy father Abbot Yid and his more McCain- (or Goldwater)-esque brothers, Milt and Moe, one thing that everyone agreed on the last time politics were discussed was that they can't stand Sarah Palin.

In discussing her ridiculous use of the "blood libel" to complain about the media attacking her for attacking people who were then physically attacked, Rabbi Andy Bachman illustrates some of the reasons why:
Sarah Palin is smart; but not particularly deep or capable of rendering historical terms with accuracy or nuance.  She is passionately sanctimonious and deeply committed to her Evangelical Christian faith, promising to care for America "with a servant's heart" while at the same time deeply isolated by a bubble of advisers who seem to aid her plotting machinations with a singularity of purpose that is impressively focused, if only on herself.  And typical of the pathological narcissism that runs through the veins of so many celebrities in our country, she can rarely have the humility to know the difference between moral scrutiny and self-reflection and that pernicious expression of victimhood and martyrdom that she does so well.  The act of true political bravery she pretends to have by selling her image was another missed opportunity.  "You know, all of us say or represent ideas irresponsibly sometimes; and I will admit that targeting political opponents with the graphic representation of the cross-hairs of a gun was a bad idea."  We know she didn't pull the trigger; but what would have been so wrong about taking responsibility for an overly partisan political climate?  We are all responsible.
...I don't think she hates Jews; I think she admires us.  I don't think she hates Israel; I think she admires it.  So when she uses the term "blood-libel," in her own weird way, she's actually identifying with us.  Guilt by association!

...Ironically, both Pain and Dershowitz are guilty--not of blood libel but of an ahistorical hubris and a politically self-righteous arrogance that only further debases our already noisy civil discourse.  The notion that we have a "victim" in a multi-millionaire celebrity, whose every opinion is carefully crafted and broadcast throughout the world, who is in the rarest of positions to serve her nation in higher office, is one of the great absurdities of the day.

I think some of Rabbi Bachman's observations are spot on. However there are a few areas where we differ: I wouldn't describe Palin as smart but rather extremely ambitious. Obviously it takes some intelligence to be able to properly position yourself within the political system and to play the media and your base against each other so that in any discussion, your name keeps coming up, but I see that as being more about having good marketing instincts rather than any particularly deep thoughtfulness or intellectual curiosity.

Indeed, everything about the public Palin seems to exude contempt for those who think, for those who aren't always sure of things, for those who question and doubt-- much less research-- before they form an opinion. Palin is all about the (seemingly) quick answers, the immediate, folksy wisdom about what to do in every situation, an always friendly, bubbly confidence. A beauty queen with a shot-gun. What to do about creationism and evolution? Teach them both. Or don't, whatever. What about the tricky ethical issues of abortion in cases of rape and incest? "Choose life."  What we do about Afghanistan? "We can win." Counseling about end-of-life choices and living wills become "Death Panels." Palin isn't a thinker or a doer, she's a sloganeer in search of a cause to make posters for.

The problem is that Palin's rhetoric about how great or tough or knowledgeable she is never seems to match what she's capable of delivering. Palin spends lots of time pretending she knows what she's talking about, and her ego is such that regardless of how many times it's shown she's wrong, she can never acknowledge it. Instead everything is a smear, an attack, a blood libel. Because there's no substance to her positions, there's no room for discussing the nuances of disagreement.

Palin is always on the attack, whether she has someone or something in particular to go after or not. And this is really where, in my view, her anti-intellectualism comes out. When Palin is attacking something, details stop mattering. Palin exemplifies the new media politics, which uses the short bursts of Twitter over in person, sometimes drawn out discussions of, say, an in-person debate. Palin has done an excellent job of capitalizing off a political and cultural atmosphere in which people's attention span is limited to 180 characters.

This is what gets under my skin about her. At the end of the day, I don't think most politicians are so different from Palin. I think lots of them are ambitious, wishy-washy, intellectually lazy, and probably more than a little hypocritical. But when she wraps herself in the mantle of a would-be Founding Mother-- and when she uses her position as one of the top figures in the increasingly loud (but unfocused) Tea Party-- to continue describing a vision of an America of good guys and bad guys, patriots and traitors, authentic heartland-ers and clueless coastal elitists, she is demonstrating that she doesn't care about the truth. She is saying that truth, facts, and details don't matter. That history doesn't matter, that nuance and context don't matter. In Palin's worldview, the important thing is what side you're on, not the nitty-gritty of what you say, do, or believe. That everything is black and white, and that since she's a good guy, you had better make sure you're one, too. For Palin, it truly doesn't matter what "blood libel" means, because Palin and the Jews are on the same side. The true meaning of words don't matter, they're just weapons to be used. Palin's approach to knowledge is purely utilitarian.

With such a background, how can you even be surprised at anything that comes out of Palin's mouth? So, no, I can't be as charitable as Rabbi Bachman. To me, Sarah Palin isn't wrong. She's a jackass.

I'd like to say that I look forward to Palin disappearing from the political scene, but honestly, I think she's more a sign of the times. The sad thing is that as long as people like Palin are defended by equally complacent hacks like BuchananBoteach and Dershowitz who care more about getting noticed and selling books than examining whether this further trend of downplaying details in favor of promoting absurd rhetoric is good for the political discourse, I think we'll be seeing a lot more Palins in the future.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

There's Bad Taste, Then There's Obscene

Am I alone on this? Prime Minister Netanyahu went to a memorial service for the 40-plus people killed in a horrible fire last month in Israel. Speaking to the victims' families, he said this:
“They left from here on the Carmel, soaring to the heavens on a chariot of fire
Uh, Bibi? Maybe you think you're being poetic or something, but you really can't mention "chariot of fire" when a bunch of the victims died in a burning bus. Just like you wouldn't tell the widow of a man lost at sea that "Joe's finally found a safe harbor", or console the family of someone who died of cardiac arrest that "Bob was the heart and soul of the company."

This is the textbook definition of being a dick.

Am I being oversensitive, readers? Or is Bibi suffering from rhetorical Asperger's?

Hat-tip to Failed Messiah.

Monday, January 03, 2011

PSA from 1929

Things have been slow here on the blog, so I decided to try to look in some old newspapers for inspiration. By amazing coincidence, I stumbled upon a thorny issue that remains as relevant today as it did to the residents of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, back in the late 20s:

So true.