Friday, April 29, 2011

Don't Blame Me; Blame the Crazy People

A bit of background: our Haggadah is not exactly Maxwell House. (Of course, I think this is a good thing.) We are, shall we say, a bit irreverent. Especially in our commentary and our version of the Maggid (Exodus Story). Readers have accused me of even being a bit harsh on God (I figure; he's God, he can take it). But here's the thing: nothing makes it harder to take religious literalism seriously than stories like this one.

For three years, Yehuda Glick has been trying to bring back Passover sacrifices. Never mind that there's no temple, never mind that there's no Messiah. Glick wants to kill him some goats.

Today’s Seders, with their many commemorations of the sacrifice, such as the shank bone on the Seder plate, are largely a tribute to the offering. The rabbis inserted the famous line “Next year in Jerusalem” at the end of the Haggadah to express the hope that subsequent Seders would take place in the Messianic era. 
But Glick, who lives in Otniel, a Modern Orthodox settlement in the West Bank, claims that this declaration of hope is half-hearted without practical preparations. So with the backing of some influential rabbis, he has contracted farmers to provide him with 300 sheep and goats for the sacrifice, should the Messiah arrive. He also put 20 slaughterers on standby; and, for those who wish to take part, but who live outside Jerusalem, he made Seder-night accommodations within walking distance of the Old City.
Those who want a “share” of an animal so that they can take part in the sacrifice can purchase one over the phone, by credit card for 12 shekels, or about $3. At press time, 3,000 people had signed up. 
“A person who is not prepared for the offerings is like somebody who invites all his friends to a wedding and waits until they arrive to make preparations,” Glick said, borrowing a rabbinic metaphor. “The concept of waiting for [the resumption of sacrifices] to happen is totally alien to Judaism; we have to be ready and express to God how badly we want it.”

Which is why we spend all our time eating matzah before Passover, right? To show God how jazzed up we are about performing that mitzvah. Oh wait, we actually don't do that? Hmm. Well, maybe it's like how if you're really excited about Shabbat, you light your candles on Tuesday. No? Put up your Sukkah a month early to show how ready you are? Light menorahs in June? Biblically "know" your fiancee before the chuppah?


Silly me and my non-Orthodox assumptions about consistency.

Just so we're clear, all my (many) frum readers: When I tell my mostly non-Jewish guests about how sacrifices were replaced by the seder, and then have to correct myself to explain about one guy in Israel who's bought his own flock of goats and hired out a bunch of slaughterers just in case the Messiah shows up, and letting people know that if they want to get extra credit points they can pay him money to get in on the action, I'm not the one making Judaism look silly. I'm just not.

My favorite part is at the end:

In the event of the arrival of the Messiah or a U-turn on the part of Israeli authorities, all will be free to watch the sacrifice but only people who paid to sign up to Glick’s program will be able to meet the biblical requirement of eating the sacrificial meat.
 That's right, Yonkel, the Messiah may have shown up but at the end of the day if you snooze, you lose. If you didn't make arrangements ahead of time there'll be no imaginary Messiah-barbecue for you.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Best Thing Ever? Don't be so modest.

World Net Daily prides itself on its awesomeness, and with such high praise from its peers, who can blame it? Peers like, well, World Net Daily:

From abortion-on-demand and same-sex marriage to multicultural madness to banning God in school to "gays" in the military, millions of Americans today accept ideas and behaviors that horrified all previous generations. Why? 
There is just one book that completely and clearly explains how all this is accomplished – how lies are packaged as truth, corruption disguised as freedom, godlessness sold as liberation – and how we can free ourselves from the deception that surrounds us.
That book, of course, would be the hack-job penned by WND's managing editor, David Kupelian.

As proof of how great Kupelian's book is, WND offers something those of us experienced in writing and publishing refer to as "quotes"-- not from his book, of course (you need to shell out your hard-earned 4.95 for that), but from people that read it. You see, some people liked it, and, surprise surprise, some didn't. And WND, out of the goodness of its heart (and desire to get you to spend 5 bucks) has graciously included some of those brilliant quotes on its website for your reading pleasure. Observe such brilliant insights as:

  • "Worst book ever – he is a liar." 

  • 'If you're a hateful, narrow-minded loon, then this book is for you!"

  • And also:

  • "Opening this book is like turning on the Sun. – Mr. David Kupelian has written a remarkable book that reveals how the American public has been taken down the slippery slope of moral relativism." 

  • "David Kupelian has authored a masterpiece that belongs in every home in America next to the Family Bible." 

  • "This book really pulls back the veil on evil. A must read for anyone that cares about the future of our nation."

  • But wait, there's more. WND doesn't just want you to buy overstocked copies of their editor's five year old hardcover book (incidentally, guys, Amazon can do better), they also want you to know that their magazine is freaking awesome. This time it's not just them who thinks so:
    Many readers consider Whistleblower to be simply the world's best newsmagazine.
    Yes, according to some statistics I just made up, a whopping 50% of readers said they consider Whistleblower more important than the sun, while 22% said they thought the sun was more important in terms of life-sustaining abilities, but less useful in terms of spare bathroom reading. 15% said they would marry the magazine if it were legal and if such an option were given official sanction in the Bible but that since it's not they would have to spend a life sublimating their true desires so they could be living examples of Christian morality. And 2% went into crazy fan-girl seizures at the mere mention of Whistleblower magazine and had to be hospitalized overnight.

    Ah, WorldNetDaily. You'll always be my sun. Especially in the "giant ball of hot air" kind of way.

    Wednesday, April 27, 2011

    Find Your Purpose (through bullshit)

    One of the best characters in A.J. Jacob's Year of Living Biblically is his wacky ex-uncle, "Guru Gil." I was very entertained hearing of all of Gil's antics as he went through his years of spiritual searching, only to end up as an Orthodox Jew in Jerusalem. (Though given his extreme personality as described in the book, I wasn't all that surprised.)

    What was surprising was discovering that Guru Gil, or Reb Gutman, as he's known these days, has a blog. I've periodically checked in on it over the past year to look for interesting tidbits. This one caught my attention a while ago:
    When Jewish parents give names to their newborn children, Hashem sends them a hint of prophecy. The name that they will choose has already been allocated to that child in Heaven, and now the parents are coaxed into picking that same name. This means that each of us have Heavenly-ordained names that reflect our mission on Earth. Our names explain and define our potential, our individual uniqueness, our hope.
    Wait, so God brainwashes parents into picking names that have been divinely ordained? What about cases where they don't know, or pick one literally at random? I'm sorry, but I'm pretty sure it happens. Wait, I'm getting a divine coaxing message. What's that, Heaven? Got it. Gutman is not to be questioned. Ok, Gutman, parents have no free will and all Jewish babies' names are chosen by divine providence. Sounds great. So what's the next step towards using this to self-actualize myself, O mighty Guru?

    Look carefully for the meaning of your Hebrew name to see if you are fulfilling your intended task. For instance, if your name is Avraham, your main defining characteristic is kindness. Even if you have not seen this to be true in your life up until now, you must ask yourself why were you given this name, and you must strive to develop this trait.
    Names have individual histories and meanings. Pay attention to the meaning of your name, or you may very well miss the point of your having been created you.

    This soul-name searching came to a halt pretty quickly as I have no Hebrew name. No one likes feeling left out, and I had been very intruiged by the idea of soul-name prophecy. Luckily, Reb Gutman wrote a follow-up:
     Beside your name, there are other places to look for hints. Look at the portion of the Torah that was read on the day, or week, that you were born. Read it carefully a few times, and you will start to see hints about yourself there. After all, nothing is by chance, and this is your Torah portion.
    According to an online calendar I found, I was born on a Sunday. I didn't know if that meant I should look at the Torah portion for the Shabbat the day before, or the one for that week, since Sunday is the start of the new week. The calendar I used said that the previous Shabbat was something called "Shabbat Shekalim." Shabbat of Shekels sounded cool, so I decided to use that day as my starting point.

    The regular portion was Mishpatim, or Exodus 21:1-24:18, which describes the giving of the commandments to Moses. I looked through it, but had some trouble applying it to my life. Chapter 21 is about all the ways you shouldn't abuse your slave and how to take care of your oxen, which, given that I am a poor teacher, is not likely to be an issue. Chapter 22 is a little racier, describing various "bloodguilts" for theft, how to make restitution for assorted crimes, and fun esoteric stuff like forbidding bestiality and witchcraft. Chapter  23 gets pretty exciting. You can't boil a kid in its mother's milk, you should observe the Sabbath and Passover, not oppress a stranger, and, of course, not worship the idols of all the nations God has destroyed on your behalf. Check. The parsha ends with various house-keeping stuff: Moses tells the people the law, gets the tablets, hangs out on the mountain, etc.

    I checked out the portion for Shabbat Shekalim to see if that was any better. Unfortunately, no dice. It's all about paying money to God in exchange for not being wiped out while taking a census. Uh, okayyy....

    I suppose if I was being a little more charitable I could have some ground-breaking epiphanies here. I could notice that there are lots of ritual mitzvot in Mishpatim that I don't follow, for instance, or that I should "render unto God what is God's," as in Shabbat Shekalim. But at the end of the day, I just think it's kind of silly. (Not oppressing the stranger sounds good, though.)

    Does the good Gutman have any other suggestions?
    Add up the gematria (Hebrew numerical equivalents) of your name and add in your mother’s name. Then add your name to your father’s name. Now look in the gematria book for all of the words in the Torah that share your gematria. For some reason, these words share the same numerical value as your name.
    Let's back up. You just told me to look my name up in the gematria book to find the words that have the same numerical value as my name. Now I'm supposed to be impressed by the "magic coincidence" that they have the same value? Is the special reason supposed to be "that's how the alphabet works?" Again, can't really do this since I don't have a Hebrew name.
    G-d gave us the exact tools that we need in order to do the job that He sent us here to do. We say that G-d sent us, but in truth, our own prior deeds in our previous lifetime set up the waves of creation that caused us to come into this world as we are.
    I guess the up-side of this cosmological view is that it implies there's a Divine Will behind me not having a Hebrew name or being Hebrew literate. Take that, Jewish guilt!

    Look at the things that you are very good at, the things that you find yourself doing more than others around you, or possibly the things that most people like to do but you alone do not. Your uniqueness shows you the tools that you came into the world to use.
         Now take your specific skills, coordinate them with your overall mission, and apply them happily in your life. Your overall mission is determined by your obvious birthright. Are you a Jew? A Kohen? A Levi? Were you born into a family that enjoys special privileges?
    Let's see, is mental illness a privilege? What about food allergies? Flat feet? Wait, I've got it... awesome facial hair. Done.

    *                   *                   *                   *                   *                   *                   *                   *                   *
    Sigh. Another let down from someone claiming to have a magic system to unlock the secrets of the universe in general and my cosmic destiny in particular. Looks I'll just have to muddy through on my own. Again.

    Let me know if you come up with anything else to figure out my destiny, Reb Gutman.

    Tuesday, April 26, 2011

    Mid-year Resolutions

    A friend left a comment, which led me to her blog, which she hasn't updated in a while, and it reminded me that New Year's Resolutions are fun.

    Yes, they are. Too bad it's May. Oh well. Mid-year resolutions will have to do:

    1. Be healthier-ish. I bought a Wii last August and was fairly diligent about using its exercise program through December. That combined with some increased awareness about diet and portion control helped me drop close to ten pounds. Since then I have plateaued. I should try to stick with exercising and such at least a few times a week to be consistent. On the plus side, I've started seeing a physical therapist to help figure out why I have the flexibility of an 80-year-old man. (True, I have a personality to match, but I don't think cantankerousness is supposed to affect your joints, too.)

    2. Be positive (and proactive) about work. Work continues to be up and down. All my teachers like me, the kids are mostly cute, and I'm slowly getting more responsibilities in and out of class. The administration, however, continues to be clueless and it's a total crap shoot whether this will be the year I finally progress to becoming a real teacher. Still, I need to not let that big picture stuff get me down (too much). The school has potential and all the new hiring may make things improve significantly. (That said, being told in not so many words that me getting a promotion depends less on anything I can do and more on whether more experienced people wind up being incompetent is not fun.) There's no telling what might happen at school (or at another one) so I need to keep applying for things, keep my eyes and ears open, while also trying to ignore the glass ceiling I'm currently pressed up against.

    3. Try to stay patient, gracious and supportive to close family (and friends) about the wedding. Though there are some things about the wedding I'm looking forward to never discussing ever, ever, again, I know that everybody coming wants to be there and have it go well because they love me and Shiksa Fiancee. It can hard to remember that sometimes, but that's the bottom line and I need to remember it more often. (Still feeling pretty uncharitable about Aunt Bozette's "WTF no RSVP card" email, though.)

    4. Have more fun. This is a tricky one. I'm feeling stressed about most things these days, and while I look forward to my days off, it always feels like I waste them by either doing nothing, or using the time to do chores that otherwise don't get done (I just finished cleaning the house and doing all the dishes in the aftermath of last week's seders, for instance). It's a tough balance and seems slightly counter-intuitive, but I think I might actually feel like I'm making more of my down time if I make more plans with it. I may still just be hanging out, but if I'm hanging out with someone else, it might seem more relaxing. Or something. Still playing around with this one.

    Post Seder Wrap-up

    Apropos of getting things done (if belatedly), here's the skinny on our Passover holiday, a semi-meme lifted from Dovbear.

    Finishing time:

    9ish both nights (such is the sad reality of weeknight seders, I'm afraid). One interesting observation was the difference in when each seder started. On night one (where we invite our 20-something friends) there was about a 1-hour lag time in starting as people trickled in from work. On night two (where we have my family and various family friends in their 50s & 60s), people actually got there early. The secret, I realized, is that a big percentage of those people either drove over and/or are retired.

    Highlight we'll still be talking about next year:

    One of our friends telling another one (who unfortunately was sitting right across from her), "I don't mean to be rude, but you're being really loud and I'm kind of done with it." Ouch.

    (Mini) Arguments:

    Night 1: Chocolate chip cookies and the appropriateness of them being at the seder table. (This was primarily our fault for making cookies two days before Passover and forgetting to put them in Chametz jail. Next year we should just wrap them up and give them away at the end.)

    Night 2: No, seriously, old people. I don't care that you're full of food and drank more than you should (How is this night different from all other nights, indeed). Get your butts up and look for the Afikomen.

    (Related: My brother's laptop and the appropriateness of it being at the seder table.)

    Afikomen Presents:

    Night 1: John Travolta's weird-ass children's book about a strange kid who likes planes. Also, booby prize lollipops (one was dill pickle flavored and the other was hot sauce, I believe.)

    Night 2: Still trying to give away those lollipops. The 'winner' wouldn't take them, I'm afraid. (There was also some brief discussion about him wanting to present the Afikomen to us at our wedding as some sort of symbol of something. Not quite sure how that works.)

    Books I read:

    The Smart-Ass Haggadah, 2nd edition. Also, a brief excerpt of John Travolta's terrible book.


    Night 1:

    Veggies & Humus, Hard-boiled eggs
    Indian-style stewed spinach with onions & tomatoes
    Poached salmon with tumeric (Shiksa Fiancee's take on chicken liver, which she compares to cat food)
    Mushroom potato kugel
    Homemade falafel (baked)
    Roasted chicken with potatoes
    Sampler platter of fancy chocolates we're having at the wedding

    Night 2:

    More veggies & eggs
    Poached salmon
    Mother Superior Yid's chicken liver
    More falafel
    Kugel, veggie & non-
    Brisket with plum sauce

    Most Thankful For:

    Everyone had a good time and I didn't lose my voice entirely (I was feeling sick on 2nd night and was worried I would need to stay home the next day).

    Monday, April 25, 2011

    Earth to Dingus

    Dear Aunt Bozette,

    We are glad you got your invitation to the wedding. We are glad you think it is pretty, because we spent a lot of time and money on getting it printed-- which was precisely one of the reasons we decided not to deal with any extraneous printing stuff. Not only is the postal service inefficient and inconvenient; in an age of electronic options, it's become largely unnecessary. To this end, we started a wedding blog to keep people informed and to give them an electronic way to RSVP and let us know if they were coming. Since we don't expect people to be mind-readers, we opted to put the URL directly on the printed invitations, along with the (we thought) very direct phrase, "To RSVP, please visit X"

    We were worried some of the seniors wouldn't get it, but surprisingly, almost everyone has managed to do this. Even 88-year old Bubbe Yid managed to pull it off (if only to email me that she couldn't come). You are the only person who got the invitation, assumed it was incomplete, and wrote me to say "My invitation is missing the RSVP card."

    Might I suggest re-reading your card? Failing that, you can just skip the whole invitation entirely and email me to let me know if you're coming. You know, like you just did to complain about a nonexistent RSVP card.

    Looking back on it, I can't imagine why we thought it wouldn't be a good idea to include extra pieces of expensive printed material that we would need to pay more to mail to you so you could mail them back to me so I could wait several days for them to come and learn about your ongoing struggles with literacy. Still, I suppose it's too late for that now. We'll all just have to suffer on, thinking about what might have been.

    I hope this helps. I look forward to hearing from you.

    Your ever-patient nephew,

    Friar Yid