I Remember the Ice Cream…

I remember that our freezer in the States nearly always had ice cream in it. I’d go to the supermarket, and buy a half-gallon of whatever was on sale, generally never more than $3.50, but usually more like $2.50 for premium-brand ice cream. Here, I pay 17 NIS for the Israeli version of Neapolitan – mocha, vanilla, and pistachio. Or maybe a pint of Ben & Jerry’s at 26 NIS (or on sale at 2 for 40 NIS) for a very special treat (like a holiday we celebrate by eating dairy products, for example).

I remember the tubs of generic brand peanut butter that we would buy in the States for next to nothing. Here, it’s the oily, grainy Israeli stuff or an exorbitant price for a small jar of an American premium brand.

I remember buying half gallons of apple juice for $1.50 at most, often cheaper, whereas in Israel you can get a liter on sail for 4 NIS. The best you can do on soda here is just under 4 NIS for 1.5 liters, and never Coke, whereas in the States Coke or Pepsi products – and a wide variety of them at that – could almost always be found for under $1, often even less, and you didn’t need to buy 6 in order to get the deal (often it was LIMIT 6).

I remember drinking orange juice like it was water. $2 for a half-gallon of not-from-concentrate, delicious OJ. Here, good orange juice is like fine wine. We get it ‘lichvod Shabbat’, and it’s like $5 for a half-gallon. Usually it’s good, but sometimes it can be sour, depending on the season.

I remember the variety of good, cheap, non-perishable foods – the ketchups and mustards, coffees and hot chocolates, and artificial sweeteners – that are simply unavailable or exorbitant in Israel.

I remember buying meat at the supermarket that was as red and fresh as it could be, and that was cheap enough that it was not a luxury item.

I remember the fish which we would eat in the States for free, and the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic.

Oh, yeah. My bad. That last one was Egypt.


Having Fun while Writing News

I write news briefs for Arutz Sheva once a week. It keeps me in touch with what’s going on in Israel, and I don’t need to travel far since I work from home. All in all, not a bad little gig.

I like to mix it up a bit, though. I’ll throw in an occasional joke. For example, this one from today.


Nazirism and Pluralism

Since discovering this phenomenon about 4 years ago, I’ve been fascinated by it. The Gemara in Taanit 11a records a machloket between Shmuel and R’ Elazar about whether one who fasts is a sinner (‘chotei’) or a saint (‘kadosh’):

תלמוד בבלי מסכת תענית דף יא עמוד א

אמר שמואל: כל היושב בתענית נקרא חוטא. סבר כי האי תנא, דתניא: רבי אלעזר הקפר ברבי אומר: מה תלמוד לומר +במדבר ו'+ וכפר עליו מאשר חטא על הנפש, וכי באיזה נפש חטא זה? אלא שציער עצמו מן היין, והלא דברים קל וחומר: ומה זה שלא ציער עצמו אלא מן היין נקרא חוטא, המצער עצמו מכל דבר ודבר - על אחת כמה וכמה. רבי אלעזר אומר: נקרא קדוש, שנאמר +במדבר ו'+ קדוש יהיה גדל פרע שער ראשו. ומה זה שלא ציער עצמו אלא מדבר אחד נקרא קדוש, המצער עצמו מכל דבר - על אחת כמה וכמה.

Shmuel said: One who sits in fast is called a sinner. He agrees with the tanna who taught: Why does the Torah say “And it will atone for his sin on the life” (Bamidbar 6, regarding the Nazir)? Against whose life did he sin? Rather, he tormented himself by refraining from wine. And this is a fortiori reasoning; if this person, who only tormented himself by refraining from wine, is called a sinner, how much more so one who refrains from everything.

Rabbi Elazar says: He is called a saint, as it says, “He will be holy, as the locks of his hair grow.” If one who only mortified himself through wine is called a saint, how much more so one who refrains from everything!

Each relies on the Torah’s view of the Nazir to support his position – the Nazir is called a kadosh, but also must bring a sin-offering (‘chatat’) at the end of his period as a Nazir. A somewhat parallel Gemara in Nedarim 10a-b lists a group of pre-Talmudic sages who took a negative view of Nazirism (I blogged about one of them in a discussion of ‘Nazirism and Narcissism’ in an old post). In either case, we have an instance where on the same page of Talmud you have what essentially diametrically opposite views on asceticism in general and Nazirism in particular. Within four lines of each other, the abstinent is called both sinner and saint.

The impact of this dispute can be much further-reaching than other machlokot. Firstly, because it is not merely a dispute about a particular action or object, but about a lifestyle in general. Secondly, because the opinions are in complete opposition. It’s not a machloket about whether something is assur mi-d’orayta or mi-d’rabanan, or whether something is pattur ve-assur or pattur u-muttar

Fast forward to medieval times. The greatest of the Rishonim seem to ‘pasken’ this dispute, as it were. Rambam writes in Hilkhot De’ot 3:1 that:

רמב"ם הלכות דעות פרק ג הלכה א

שמא יאמר אדם הואיל והקנאה והתאוה והכבוד וכיוצא בהם דרך רעה הן ומוציאין את האדם מן העולם, אפרוש מהן ביותר ואתרחק לצד האחרון, עד שלא יאכל בשר ולא ישתה יין ולא ישא אשה ולא ישב בדירה נאה ולא ילבש מלבוש נאה אלא השק והצמר הקשה וכיוצא בהן כגון כהני העובדי כוכבים, גם זה דרך רעה היא ואסור לילך בה, המהלך בדרך זו נקרא חוטא, שהרי הוא אומר בנזיר וכפר עליו מאשר חטא על הנפש, אמרו חכמים ומה אם נזיר שלא פירש אלא מן היין צריך כפרה המונע עצמו מכל דבר ודבר על אחת כמה וכמה, לפיכך צוו חכמים שלא ימנע אדם עצמו אלא מדברים שמנעתו התורה בלבד, ולא יהא אוסר עצמו בנדרים ובשבועות על דברים המותרים, כך אמרו חכמים לא דייך מה שאסרה תורה אלא שאתה אוסר עליך דברים אחרים, ובכלל הזה אלו שמתענין תמיד אינן בדרך טובה, ואסרו חכמים שיהא אדם מסגף עצמו בתענית, ועל כל הדברים האלו וכיוצא בהן צוה שלמה ואמר אל תהי צדיק הרבה ואל תתחכם יותר למה תשומם.

“Lest a person say, ‘since jealousy, lust, glory, and the like are an evil path which destroy a person, I will excessively withdraw from them and distance myself by going to the opposite extreme’ – to the point that he does not eat meat, drink wine, get married, live in a nice home, or wear decent clothing other than sackcloth, burlap, and the like, in the manner of pagan priests; this is also an evil path which it is forbidden to travel. One who follows this path is called a sinner, since it says about a Nazir “And it will atone for his sin on the life”. Oir Sages said, “if a Nazir, who only refrained from wine, requires atonement, how much more so one who holds back from everything. Therefore, Our Sages instructed that one should not hold back from things unless the Torah forbade them… (Rambam, The Book of Love, Laws of Character, 3:1)

Rambam goes on to describe the evils of asceticism and to famously idealize the ‘middle path’ which leads man to God. Note, however, that Rambam completely ignores the position of R’ Elazar.

Ramban ignores the position of Shmuel. In Bamidbar 6:14 (and more briefly in Vayikra 19:1) he emphasizes the sainthood of the Nazir and explain that he must atone for descending from his lofty perch. Similarly, Ramcha”l in the beginning of Chapter 13 of Mesillat Yesharim, where he explains the trait of ‘Prishut’ (asceticism), he ‘rules’ like R’ Elazar in favor of Nazirism and asceticism.

The interesting thing for me is how this issue engenders such strong feelings. When talking about a lifestyle, it is very hartd not to adopt one position or the other. I think it’s clear that nearly everyone has an opinion about whether asceticism is a good thing or a bad thing. It was simply striking to notice that the Gemara is perfectly capable of recording both opinions on the same page, but the Rishonim in general did not. Granted, the Rishonim were generally writing monographs, not compilations, and were therefore less disposed to recond disputes. Nevertheless, each of these records the position as though it is THE Torah position, and with regard to a matter which need not be ‘paskened’.

In today’s world, I think that this machloket is both important and a good example of pluralism within Judaism. Each side, as we’ve seen, feels very strongly that the position they adopt corresponds with the lifestyle that the Torah envisions. We, too, can adopt one side or the other and feel just as strongly that this is what the Torah wants from us. Nevertheless, one cannot ignore the alternative position nor can one say that the other position is ‘not Jewish’. Asceticism has Jewish manifestations, as much as we’d like to believe that mortification of the fless is a Christian concept rooted in original sin and ‘pie-in-the-sky’. As much as some would like to believe that there is something wrong with enjoying this world too much, or that one must feel like the angels are forcing him when experiencing pleasure (ve-hamaven yavin), there are other voices in our religious tradition. I can pick a side, even adopt it strongly, without delegitimizing the alternative. I prefer to stick with Talmudic Judaism – Judaism with dialogue, associative thinking, and ‘comments enabled’ as it were, than to the monographic and monologic renditions of our Rishonim. Not to minimize their contribution in any way – Rambam and Ramban can now appear alongside Shmuel and R’ Elazar, in opposition to each other, but on the same page nonetheless.


Pimp My Ride, Zeke

While nodding off and listening to my brother-in-law chant the Maase Merkava early Shavu’ot morning, I thought that it would make one hell of a ‘Pimp My Ride’ episode. Isaiah 6 and Ezekiel 1 can be the ‘Before and After’ (Note: I've never actually seen the shw, just heard abut it).

That reminded me of what a friend pointed out – that the reason that this haftarah is read when it is ensures that anyone is too delirious to actually listen to it, thus maintaining its status as something esoteric.

Would Rut Have Been Accepted Today?

The answer to this one is simple (and is actually the beginning of my response to the RCA-Rabbanut agreement): there is not a snowball’s chance in hell that Rut’s giyur would have been accepted by the Rabbanut if it existed then. Of course, that’s a bit misleading – there w1uld have been some encouraging the wholesale conversion of Moabite women, and others saying that none can convert, and if they did, the conversion is invalid.

The Gemara discusses, in the 2nd Chapter of Sanhedrin, how even in the times of David Ha-Melech there were still those who cast aspersions on his yiches. Ploni Almoni didn’t want to touch that one, either. Boaz had a family tradition that Moabitesses weren’t included in the prohibition, but family traditions hold very little weight in large bureaucracies.

I can also only imagine what the Rabbino-pundits were saying about Boaz the night he died, which, according to tradition, was his wedding night. Especially after the original husbands, Machlon and Kilyon, also died/ See? They were punished for being megayer her and marrying her.

Heck. There are dayanim who are retroactively annulling the conversions of well-known and respected Rabbanim. I can only imagine someone trying to undo Rut’s conversion. Look what she has against her:

  • There’s a question whether a Moabitess can convert in the first place
  • She converted in order to marry
  • Boaz, who paskened that her conversion was OK, then went and married her. Isn’t that like a guy being me’id that a woman’s husband died, in which case he’s forbidden to marry her? Certainly seems fishy…

So what does this have to do with the RCA? Stay tuned.


How Quickly We Forget

I was sort of whining about the fact that we will most probably be having 2 milchig meals this Shavu’ot. My wife pointed out that I grew up with that, because my parents are also making both meals milchig this year. I pointed out that when I grew up in my parents’ home, we actually had 4 meals on Shavu’ot, and 1 or 2 were usually dairy.

Last week, I was at a staff meeting for the seminary that I’ll be working at next year. I was asked to give a shiur on the different perspectives on keeping 2 days Yom Tov for chutznikim in Israel. I said I couldn’t – that I felt too strongly about the topic. For me, second day is quintessential galus halakha ­– by definition. It’s straight up ‘minahg avoteinu be-yadeinu’ – just keep it the same. Live in fear that the next regime will want to abolish your religion. Don’t acknowledge the fact that we know full well exactly which day is Yom Tov and which day is not.

When I think about the second day of Yom Tov, all I think is, “Good bye and good riddance”. I would advocate any legitimate position that if someone comes to Israel, they should keep one day of Yom Tov. There’s no balance here- the Torah says to keep one day. I have very little sympathy for those still stuck keeping two days.

I will never forget the fact that I once kept 2 days, though it’s been over 11 years (including several that I was keeping one but not doing melacha while I was in the States). I’m glad that I had that experience, unlike most Israelis. But I’m also glad that I don’t have to be embarrassed when I read the Chumash.

Curt Schilling, the Yankees, and Translation

I was translating a piece earlier today, when I came across the phrase "ha-kesem ve-hahila", and was trying to figure out a way to translate it in a way that would keep the two as a literary unit. Remembering Curt Schilling's famous line before the 2001 World Series between the D-Backs and Yankees, I decided to translate the phrase as "mystique and aura". My apologies to nightclub dancers.


JIB Awards

You may have noticed, looking to the right-hand sidebar - that I won two JIB awards for best posts. The links are under the badges. I must say, I'm darn proud of the Silver in the 'Best Torah Post' category, even though I don't think that post was even amongst my own top three Torah posts.

It's very gratifying when your original Torah is recognized. The JIBs are one way that happens. I've also received feedback from readers that I've never actually met - including one just today. It's often most gratifying when it's 'peer review' - comments and complements from fellow men of the cloth or whatever the Jewish equivalent is.


The minister said that he would not have decided to go to war had he known what its outcome would be.
oy am I glad we have such smart, responsible leadership. I bet he wouldn't have even gotten on the Titanic had he known what its fate was.



ON ONE HAND – readers of this blog know that I’m a big fan of open and honest confrontation of all sorts of Jewish issues, taking a cue (but not totally taking a cue) from R’ Kahana in Brachot – “It is Torah, and therefore we must learn it”. ON THE OTHER HAND, this website seems a bit bizarre. The goal is to treat adult subjects in an adult way, not adult subjects in a naarish way. I haven’t read the articles yet, but I don’t like the prospects.

Speaking of education, I think I have an idea – inspired by commenter elana – why the Shlah’s prayer became so popular recently: parents are looking for answers how to raise their kids, but are more looking for shortcuts than anything else. People invest a lot in their careers, etc., abd have unrealistic expectations about how far their tuition $$$ can really go. It’s a scary situation. Personally, I think that spending quality time with your kids can be really helpful in raising them. But hey, what the heck do I know. Go with the Shlah’s prayer.

And all of this leads me to the following statement, which is really so obvious that it should not need to be spelled out, but apparently does:

Parents should not blame schools/others for failing to do that which is essentially the parents’ job.


Shlah Awareness Day

Last Thursday, I received three separate email telling me about a special prayer, ostensibly composed by the Shlah, to be recited on the day before Rosh Chodesh Sivan. It happens to be a truly beautiful prayer, as are many of our prayers. It just so happens that this is the first I’ve ever heard of this prayer. The prayer petitions God for good children.

I have no idea why this thing caught on, but I think it’s a bit strange. I’m not a big believer in any kind of special mystical powers of any particular prayer, and in general think that the current schedule of prayers is a bit too heavy, and should be trimmed back. I think it would be nice to have a ‘Shlah Awareness Day’, and I guess that 29 Iyar is as good as any, though it’s a bit tough coming right after Yom Yerushalayim / Shmuel Hanavi Awareness Day (28th of Iyar is ostensibly his yahrzeit and is observed by many as a minor holiday; thousands make a pilgrimage to Nebi Samwil, his ostensible tomb). I’m just weirded out by the sudden massive popularity that this prayer gained. I have no good explanation.


Bamidbar: Names and Numbers

There is a philosophical tradition from Aristotle to Sartre which seeks to mediate the tension between the individual as an individual and as a member of a group. This is a significant question on several levels: one can question the degree to which it is even possible to conceive of a separate individual identity in isolation from the world around – this completely independent of the question of individual rights. Aristotle’s characterization of man as a ‘political animal’ means that there is something fundamentally human about arranging in sociopolitical groups, just like it’s natural for hyenas to travel in packs and geese to fly in V-formation. Enlightenment philosophers (especially Hobbes) saw this as a function of self-interest; my own ‘enlightened self-interest’ dictates that I enter into a relationship with those around me rather than competing with them for resources. For them, my identity is fundamentally formulated as an autonomous individual, with certain concessions made to the fact that I must exist within a social group. At the other extreme stands Sartre, who denies that there’s such a thing as an autonomously constructed human being. My entire being is constructed socially, with reference to my ‘others’. Man as an absolute individual is not a man. My ‘I’, according to Sartre, develops as a response and reaction to those around me. It is impossible to conceive an identity in isolation from others.

As usual, the Torah and Chaza”l tend to formulate questions like this in non-discursive form (and it was only last century that people like Sartre began to acknowledge the superiority of narrative and myth in formulating ‘truth’). In a sense, it is the fundamental question of the Book of Bamidbar. It describes the structure of Israelite society, assigns roles, introduces different types of leadership and their failure. It begins with a census – an alienating, quantifying process which gives man identity as a statistic. The standard English title for the fourth book, in fact, is ‘Numbers’ – statistics, quantities.

Even so, right as the census is introduced, the Torah subtly acknowledges that it is ‘names’ that are being counted (1:2). In fact, there are more names and lists of names in Bamidbar than in any Biblical book other than genealogy-heavy Bereishit. The Israelites are constantly being named, and constantly being numbered throughout the book. A name is the ultimate symbol of individual identity and achievement. Someone ‘makes a name’ for himself. I rely on my good name professionally. It seems that the Torah is acknowledging the tension that exists between being a ‘name’ and being a ‘number’. There are several other verses which reflect this tension as well: “He counts all the stars by number, calling a name to each one” (Tehillim 147) – stars are addressed by name as well as by number; each aspect has something important to contribute.

We are used to thinking in binary terms – is my value as an individual, or as a member of society/community/state? Does the Torah/God view each of us individually, or all of us collectively? Can I ever treat a group of human beings as a single unit – a family, a country, a race? There are times that we seem to fall on either side of these questions. There are also certain Jewish thinkers more likely to fall on either side – when someone talks about ‘acceptable losses’, or compares loss of human life to amputation within a single organism (contributing to the ‘overall health’ of the organism), the individual is being defined first and foremost as the member of a group. There are other ideas and statements that seems to reflect the opposite – certain thinkers conceived things almost exclusively in terms of individual dilemmas, even when the recommended course of action for the individual would be disastrous for the community.

The Torah affirms each approach without necessarily formulating it in a binary way. After all, the problem is not so much a philosophical one, to be discussed and formulated in the ivory towers, but a very real tension that each of us lives with. The Torah is more concerned with providing paradigms – through law and narrative, primarily – for successful mediation of that tension, or successful integration of both perspectives. I can live with that tension successfully by developing attitudes and developing intuitions, even if I never pick up Hobbes or Sartre. I may understand myself better if I have a background in social philosophy, but ultimately my goal is to become comfortable with my role as an individual entity and also as a cog in the wheel. The psukim demonstrate that God sees us as both simultaneously. Commenting on the verse from Tehillim, the Midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 11:7) says: “When the Holy One, Blessed be He calls them, he calls each by name, and they respond; it is impossible for flesh and blood to call out two names at once” – we are addressed by God both as members of a group and as individuals. This Midrash says that it is impossible for humans to achieve this: we can’t be a part and a whole at the same time. Perhaps not. But we can be aware that there is an ultimate resolution, and acknowledge that each perspective has value in various contexts.

Keep this tension in mind as we begin to read the Book of Bamidbar; it can make for some fruitful insight.

Last week, I mentioned Dr. Lewis Bernstein in a post about a Shabbat he spent at UMD, and that his daughter is a student there.

She was just diagnosed with Lymphoma. Please keep Yakira Rivka Bina Bat Gaya Shulamit Ahava in your thoughts and prayers. Her prognosis and attitude are both excellent.



We had a couple of seminary girls for Shabbat. One is a cousin of mine, the other her friend. In all, it was a really nice Shabbat. The girls are both students at a very ‘Bais Yaakov’ – oriented seminary in Jerusalem. Mainline American-style chareidi if ever there was one.

I noticed at some point on Friday night that each of them was wearing more than just the standard ‘red bendel’. They each had a few others as well. That intrigued me, so I started asking about them, but in my own somewhat sarcastic sort of way (“What religion are these bendelach a part of?”). I asked such a question, and nothing – and I mean, nothing – could have prepared me for the response I got:

I asked, “Is there a ‘Safe Darfur’ bendel?”
The response: “Who is Darfur?”

Neither of the girls had ever heard of Darfur. One of them had heard of the Sudan, but was completely unaware that anything of any significance was going on there. I explained a bit about the Janjaweed and the ethnic cleansing happening in the Sudan, but that’s really not the point, is it? I was simply amazed that the educational system teaching these girls can be so utterly oblivious to the rest of the world.

A Pseudo-intellectual D’Var Torah

I was reading one of those ‘divrei Torah that are distributed weekly by what seems like every organization in Israel. This one in particular was written by someone whom I’ve heard speak – a first class demagogue. What I read in this DT just annoyed me. Not because of the content, but because of the pretentiousness. The author is a pseudo-intellectual (Heb. ‘shvitzer’), and writes like one, too. To wit:
· He quotes Milton Friedman like he knows something about him, but speaks of him as though he’s still alive. The man died last October or November (and it was pretty big news). He’d have known that had he tried to give some minimal biographical detail, instead of just lauding him as “one of the greatest economists in the world”.

· Later in the essay, he refers to the same noted economist simply as ‘Milton’. Either he was on a first-name basis with a Nobel prizewinner a half-century his senior (but news of whose death eluded him for half a year and more), or he is getting the 20th century American economist confused with the 17th Century English poet. Probably trying to impress the Gushies.

· He referred to Tyrannus Rufus (presumably Quintus Tineius Rufus, Roman governor of Judea during the Bar Kokhba Revolt) as the ‘Gentile philosopher’. I know that people try to associate ‘Antoninus’, friend to Rabbeinu Ha-Kadosh, with Marcus Aurelius, but turning a brute like Rufus into a philosopher is just too much.

· Referring to the dialogue between Rufus and R. Akiva in Bava Batra 10a, he assumes that Rufus’ point was that it’s God’s job, not man’s job, to fight poverty. That’s not the point at all. His point it that poor people deserve to be poor, that we have no right to feed them if God doesn’t want to feed them.

· He notes that the Parsha (Behar) makes the point that ‘not everything is ours’. In my Chumash, the point is that NOTHING is ours.

· He makes really stupid and inaccurate blanket claims, like saying that nobody can really predict what the market will do and that justifications and reasons are only given post facto. Big talk from a rabbi, knocking down a pretty big industry of people making lots of money predicting – admittedly, with verying degrees of accuracy – what the market will do. That’s like criticizing a basketball player for missing half his shots. Of course nobody’s right every single time; you’re hoping for overall success, and people can and do show that they can do that. Point is, it’s just not smart to make big generalizations like that.

· He makes some kind of claim that ‘postmoderns’ would be enraged at the idea that people who say ‘what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours’ are like the people of Sodom. What does postmodernism have to do with anything? (mah inyan shmitah etzel har Sinai?!) Is he just trying to sound sophisticated?

Ultimately, the issue is that this guy is basically a high school teacher and demagogue. His job is to make 10th grade boys think he knows jack, and he can probably do that with the average 10th grader. But this dvar Torah goes out to people in the business community, adults, who know BS when they smell it. Every yeshiva has one or two of these guys – guys who read pop junk in the John so they can be the man with one eye in the land of the blind. One such bozo once tried to convince me that the Rambam wrote the Moreh in Ladino. Idiot. I’d prefer that these guys just remain silent and be thought fools than to open their pie-holes and remove all doubt (that’s a paraphrase).


Retranslations: A Pet Peeve

In my continuing work as a freelance translator, I get to do some interesting things. Yesterday I got to translate a newscast about a suspected police forgery. That was fun. The evidence looks pretty damning (Ben Chorin posed about it as well).
Then there was another translation. It was of a weekly dvar Torah, and it was horribly annoying because it violated two of my pet peeves.
The first was that it included a retranslation. A retranslation (as I use the word) is when there’s a quote that I’m supposed to translate back into its original language. It’s a real pain, because you actually have to find the original quote, which may be in some obscure place. That’s exactly what happened here. The author began the Dvar Torah with a quote from Milton Friedman on the paradoxical relationship that the Jews have with capitalism.
But it gets worse. He quoted the introduction to Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom as the source of the quote. As is obvious in hindsight, but took a while to figure out the regular way, that quote would have no place in the intro to Friedman’s book in English, but would have PLENTY of reason to be in the intro to the Hebrew version of the book. Thanks for writing ‘from the translator’s/publisher’s intro. He makes it sound like Friedman himself is writing.
It also turns out that it wasn’t a quote, it was a paraphrase. After Googling a number of combinations of words which it seemed clearly had to be in the quote, and after growing sufficiently annoyed, I called a friend who is a professor of economics at a couple of colleges and universities here in Israel. He knew right away that it wasn’t from the book. I had figured that out by then, and already strongly suspected that it was in an article called “Capitalism and the Jews: Confronting a Paradox”. My friend had the article – actually used it in a course he taught on economics and religion. The actual quote was in the first paragraph.
To demonstrate, I will produce the original English, the Hebrew translation/paraphrase that I was working from, and my initial English translation, when it looked like I wouldn’t find the article:
Two propositions can be readily demonstrated: The Jews owe an enormous debt to free enterprise and competitive capitalism. For at least the past century, the Jews have been consistently opposed to capitalism and have done much on an ideological level to undermine it.

"מעטים האנשים אשר הפיקו תועלת רבה כל כך מהיוזמה החופשית ומהקפיטליזם התחרותי כמו היהודים, ומעטים האנשים אשר התנגדו בצורה כה עקבית לקפיטליזם ופעלו כה רבות כדי לערער את יסודותיו האידיאולוגיים כמו היהודים"

“There are few who drew so much benefit from free enterprise and competitive capitalism as the Jews, and few who so consistently opposed capitalism and worked so hard to undermine its ideological foundations as the Jews”

And you thought translations were just about shalom=peace chatul=cat.


Put Down the Duckie (Reducks)

I guess it was about a year ago. My last semester as Rabbi at UMD was winding down, so things tended to get a bit a bit emotional for me and for all seniors. It was the end of an era –a good era – and we’d all be moving on to whatever, not knowing if we’d ever see each other again, etc. One particular Shabbat, near the end of the semester, Hillel hosted, as they occasionally did, a “theme” Shabbat on the theme of Sesame Street. The scholar-in-residence was UMD parent and Executive Vice President of the Sesame Workshop Dr. Lewis Bernstein (my father was there that Shabbat as well, but wasn’t scholar-in-residence). The whole program was wonderful. Sesame Street has been the single most successful organization to use mass media for educational purposes. Full stop. It was fantastic to hear about the inner working of the whole process, its dilemmas, etc.

I spoke to the crowd at the main (Carlebach-Orthodox) minyan that Friday night. I darshened the Sesame Street classic “Put Down the Duckie”, which I blogged about 18 months ago and recently reposted) and how it’s appropriate for those moving on to another stage of life. I'm a big fan of quality Kiddie Lit in general, and this song's really good. Nevertheless, I don’t think I ‘put down the duckie’ myself until January, when I went back for Natan’s wedding (his Kallah doesn’t have a blog, or she’d get a link, too). Seeing that others were moving on gave me a sense of closure.

There are still regrets, though. How can there not be? I’m struggling to re-invent myself here, while things were just great over there. Sitting at home sick for the past few days things begin to gnaw at you again.

So tonight, out of the blue, a good friend (comments on this blog as “c”) sent this link to a dynamite rip-roarin version of the song. It’s all there, and it’s awesome. I’ve long held that mussar ba-goyim ta’amin. I still hold that CS Lewis’ “The Screwtape Letters” is perhaps the greatest mussar sefer ever written. This song is great mussar. Listen, watch, and be inspired.

(A brief warning for readers to whom this applies – there are a few short segments, each lasting a few seconds, of kol ishah in the middle part when they have celebrities joining in.)

Really Dumb Pun Quiz #2

These two are homonyms in both Hebrew and English, though pronounced slightly differently:
Keeper of Keys and Grounds
Master of the Mesorah
Like the previous quiz, the answer isn’t really hard; I just think it’s funny.


It looks like 4 posts of mine made it to the JIB finals. Yippy skippy.

In news from the alter heim, a bit of a brouhaha erupted over a UMD student proudly displaying Zionist sympathies. You would think that on a campus where a star female basketball player is Israeli you wouldn’t have to deal with this. The good news is, that whenever it happens, it provokes a sleeping giant, and there are MANY silent Zionists at UMD. An not every school newspaper would consider this interesting, but UMD is different.

Joining the Silly Quiz Epidemic

Well, Josh and DLC are doing it, so I figured I’ll try my hand:

In Jewish lore
In days of yore
I made miracles in a pinch
nary moving an inch

But should I arrive
At 4 Privet Drive
They would not deem it tragic
That I know not of magic

Who am I?

Strep Makes ADD Worse

I’ve had strep for a few days now, and my brain has felt like it’s swimming. I can barely tell the difference between asleep and awake. I’m felling a bit better today, though. A few things:
  • Earlier today, I went to the local store to pick up some things. The proprietor wished me a good day, and I said I’ll try, but I have strep. The guy then pointed out that I’m wearing a kipa (he wasn’t) and so I should pray or say Tehillim and I’d get better. I answered him two-fold: a) you can pray even if you’re not wearing a kipa (he agreed, and then pulled out his own pocket Tehillim), and b) prayer usually works best when it’s in combination with antibiotics (and we won’t speculate whether antibiotics works better when in the presence of prayer – chutz mi-tzinim pachim, ve-acamo”l)
  • TSTBA – the reason strikes work is because when certain groups don’t go to work, it cripples various parts of the national infrastructure, economy, etc. When students strike, it does no such thing. People in this country think that a strike is a way of saying “and we really, really mean it!”
  • Am I the only one who thiks of Megillat Esther when I hear the name Carmona? If he makes a relief appearance and halts a rally, but doesn’t get a win or save, would we say “gam Carmona zakhur la-tov”?


Why I Attended Last Night’s Rally

My first instinct was to go. After reading the Winograd Report, and hearing about the plan for a protest rally in Tel Aviv, I thought it was important to go, to put pressure on Olmert to resign. Then I thought that it’s useless. I mean, the guy must know what the public thinks of him, and so who cares if there’s a rally telling him what everyone already knows – that people want him out. Furthermore, I’m in my 30s. I went to rallies as a teenager in Yeshiva; the last rally I was at in Israel was ten years ago. Aren’t I a bit old for this?

In the end, I decided to go. I feel very strongly that Olmert must step down one way or another; no CEO of any company would ever be allowed to screw up that royally and continue in office. The line of “give me a chance to fix my mistakes” is painfully stupid. “You break it, you pay for it” is a much better slogan. Furthermore, as far as the residents of the north and the families of soldiers who died in the Second Lebanon War are concerned, it is too late to fix things.

As Ari Harow, Executive Director of Likud Anglo Division put it to me at the rally, “This is not about the last war; it’s about the next one”. Do we really believe that Olmert can restore the IDF to what it was? Do we think that our neighbors will be afraid to start up with him like they were afraid to start up with Begin, Shamir, Bibi, Rabin, Barak, or Sharon? Even Peres knew when and how to flex muscles. Olmert and Peretz? Please.

The Prime Minister of Israel is an elected position. He rules by public mandate. If he can screw up that bad, and still remain in power, what does that means for Israeli democracy? Is he not accountable for the deaths of hundreds and displacement of hundreds of thousands? Can you run a war by the seat of your pants and then not have to pay for your mistakes, with yor job at the very least?

So I went to the rally because I thought it’s important for there to be a strong, diverse (young and old, left and right, religious and secular), and large attendance. If I didn’t go, then I couldn’t complain that there weren’t enough people there to make a difference. At first I was nervous – the bus was mostly empty, and when it started to fill up, it was with Bnei Akiva kids. Am I going to a rally with a bunch of right-wing kids? But when I got there, the picture was completely different. There were young and old, religious and secular, right-wing and left-wing. I even saw some Druze there. The message and tone of the rally were surprisingly apolitical. The speakers were bereft parents and reservists, musicians and poets. The message was “Olmert, resign”. You had your chance; you messed up, now step down. It’s the responsible thing to do.

I know that I left there thinking that the people of this country – the whole people – really want to get rid of this guy. I know that 120,000 – 200,000 others feel that way, too. I think a message was sent loud and clear, if not to Olmert, then to those elected leaders who have the power and responsibility to remove him from his job.

A few other points:

'ki shem' and 'semikhat ge'ula le-tefilla'

Gil writes about a chiddush he came up with a while ago, then saw in a commentary on the Shuchan Arukh. I'm glad to hear it, because I always assumed that to be the case - we only say 'ki shem Hashem ekra' when there's no problem of 'Semikhat Ge'ula le-Tefilla'.

There are a few ramifications to this:
When it comes to Ma'ariv, the requirement of 'semichat ge'ula le-tefilla' is superseded by 'tefilla be-tzibbur'. Thus if one shows up to ma'ariv as the minyan is starting shemoneh esrei, he should start with them, and say the first part - Shema and its brachot - only afterwards. Since there's no 'ge'ulah le-tefilla' here, he should say 'ki shem' at maariv as well, no?
There are a few ohter scenarios like this (e.g., tefillat tashlumin) - would this be the proper course of action?

Truthfully, as Gil pointed out, this is a relatively late custom anyway and is not an integral part of tefilla. So if you don't say it at mincha even, no biggie. I just wanted to point out certain conceptual ramifications of a prevalent custom.



Every blogger knows the feeling: you read or here about something which is getting a lot of attention, but think that the whole thing is just stupid and a waste of time and energy. A good recent example might be the kosher-certified gas station in New Jersey. Everybody wants to talk about it, but it’s really just not worth it. You feel like you should mention it in the blog, but, on the other hand, you think it demeans your blog to even mention it.

Allow me to unsheathe the way to address these annoying topics: the TSTBA link. TSTBA stands for “too stupid to blog about”. When you run across s/t which is just SO stupid but you just HAVE to blog about it, you put up a one word post: TSTBA – with a link to the offending news item. Like so: TSTBA


Minor Holidays and Chamar Medina

Like happened earlier this year, there are a bunch of minor holidays which just happen to fall all in a row about now. Today (and tomorrow) is/are Pesach Sheni, celebrated basically by skipping tachanun and eating a bit of matzah. I’ll observe both.

As is well known, this Saturday night/ Sunday is Lag B’Omer. Bonfires, archery, whatever. If you’re a detached piece of wood somewhere in Israel, you will be found and incinerated by a budding pyromaniac. For the more tame, you can read my series on R’ Shimon bar Yochai (and then vote for it), whose yahrzeit is traditionally observed then.

Moving to the Gregorian calendar, there are two other holidays that are observed these days (probably more, but these two were observed to at least a degree where I’ve been, so I’m generally conscious of them). The first is May Day, largely observed as a socialist/communist holiday.

The second is Cinco de Mayo, a Mexican-American holiday celebrated, as its name indicates, on May 5. In honor of this holiday, I will be making Kiddush this Shabbat day on Corona. Since I also made Kiddush on Guiness on St. Patrick’s Day, it looks like this is turning into a bit of a thing for me. I kind of like it. I like recognizing the chamar medina of different medinot in times that are special for that culture. I’m sure I can think of more, though I don’t want to go overboard with this, and I want to stick with drinks I enjoy, like beer.