Of Revolutionary Women and Straw Men

This piece will appear as a cross-post tomorrow, at which time I'll re-post here.


Another Baltimore Petira

As has been well chronicled in the media, the recently murdered Ben-Yosef Livnat was the nephew of Minister Limor Livnat. Less known is the fact that his mother, Eva Blumberg Livnat, is a Baltimorean, a graduate of Bais Yaakov. An uncle of the deceased, Raphael Blumberg, is a friend, colleague in the field of translation, and fellow TA graduate. I reviewed his biography of R. Boruch Milikowsky here. The deceased's grandfather was Prof. Arnold Blumberg, who taught history and Jewish studies at Towson University for over 4 decades. Here's his Baltimore Sun obit. And here's his Where-What-When obit. I hope that these institutions and publications have the decency to acknowledge this senseless murder.

Among his other works, Professor Blumberg wrote a textbook on the History of Israel and another work on the "prehistory" of Zionism. His grandson has now become part of a tragic chapter of that history.

Long-time readers of this blog have an inkling of my politics and know that I certainly cannot be neatly categorized as right-wing. But there is no doubt at all that there will never be peace in this land until a Jew can go and pray unimpeded and unmolested at a venerated Jewish site. Aside from the fact that it is specifically mandated in the Oslo accords, as Yisrael has noted, peace will only come when each side acknowledges the other's attachment to the land; that acknowledgement is all but absent from the Palestinian narrative. Perhaps, in her capacity as Minister of Culture, Limor Livnat will now add Joseph's Tomb to the list of national heritage sites. Not that it will lessen the pain of her family and the Blumberg family.


Petira of R. Manuel M. Poliakoff

Rabbi Menachem Mendel (Manuel M.) Poliakoff, an alter Telzer who was a well-respected fixture of the Baltimore rabbinic establishment for well over half a century, passed away on Wednesday. The funeral took place in Jerusalem today.

I barely knew R. Poliakoff - met him maybe once or twice. He was a friend of my grandfather, who was a rav in Baltimore for much of the same period and who was about the same age. I crossed paths with several of his children and grandchildren over the years - I tutored one of his grandchildren and was tutored by another of them.

He was known as a classic Lithuanian independent thinker, as evidenced by his book Minhagei Lita, reviewed here and here, and by his position on using a microphone on Shabbat (perhaps the RCA will allow for temporary circumvention of their pay-wall). Though both exhibit independence, the former example is a diatribe against the contemporary yeshivishe world, which he claims has deviated far from the Lithuanian Torah world that it claims to imitate, and the latter is an exercise in real lomdus.

For many years, Baltimore has been blessed with interesting and fascinating rabbanim and talmidei chakhamim who seem to slip under the radar. Rabbi Poliakoff and R. Mendel Feldman, who I wrote about a few years ago, belonged to one generation of such rabbis, but their ranks are in no way depleted (ve-hamaskil yidom). I was gratified to see that R. Ezra Schwartz recently cited from the Torah of R. Michoel Forshlager, perhaps the greatest of Baltimore's unknown giants (a recent article about him is here, though I seem to recall that R. Dovid Katz wrote an earlier article, which I can't seem to find).

Here's a picture (from this archive) of R. Poliakoff as a US Army chaplain in France in 1945. I believe he's the once standing directly behind the young boy:


Q&A: Matza Balls on Shabbat Ha-Gadol

Since this question actually came up twice already today, I figure I'll write it up. The question was whether it is permissible to eat matza balls this Shabbat.

Let's preface with an intro. The Palestinian Talmud (yes, the Palestinians have a Talmud, too) records the following statement: "R. Levi said, 'one who eats matza on erev Pesach is akin to one who has sex with his fiancee in his father-in-law's house.'" Indeed, quite the simile. Achad Ha'am (or perhaps Bialik - either way, a kofer who knew how to learn) allegedly commented on this: "I did both, and they were nothing alike."

Be that as it may, this law is codified by the Rambam (Laws of Chametz and Matza 6:12). However, the halakha only applies on the day before Pesach.

There are, however, various customs that extend the matza-free zone from one day to two weeks or even a month. So the question is whether eating matza balls tonight would violate the minhag.

I responded that since the main reason for the custom is so that the taste of matza is new at the Seder, one may eat it a few days earlier as long as it doesn't taste like plain old crispy delicious matza. Matza balls don't. I'd even say that one may use matza as soup croutons this Shabbat, as long as it's soaked through when you eat it.

In a nutshell:
1) It doesn't violate the letter because it's not erev Pesach.
2) It doesn't violate the spirit because the taste is altered.

Shabbat shalom and Chag kasher ve-same'ach


The Music of Pesach

I've been meaning - for months now - to review the album "Have No Fear" by the Breslov Bar Band, and I finally got down to really putting something together, when I realized that in about a week a large part of their potential listenership will be shutting off the CD players for a month. So I'll hold the review until Lag B'Omer and merely state that I really like the album.

Speaking of music and Pesach, the Jewish-a cappella-holiday-parody trend remains in full force. No less than four such music videos have his the airwaves in recent weeks: The Fountainheads, Kol Ish, Six13, and KOLture Shock. I'll admit that some of it isn't bad. What's more, UMD students are involved in at least 2 of the groups. But isn't it enough that we'll have only a cappella to listen to during the month of sefira? Do we really need to start 2 weeks early? Enough is enough! Dayenu!

It is time to return to the classic Pesach songs to cleanse our ears from a cappella the way that compote clears out the matza. Here is one such classic (lyrics can be viewed here):


News and Notes

  1. Some parts of Israel - mainly in the north, around the Kinneret, have now received above-average quantities of rainfall, and some have even exceeded the average for the entire season. The rain is expected to continue at least through the weekend, so more sites will probably pass that threshold. Considering that it didn't really start to rain until December, this is really good news. Israel's meteorological service has a good interactive website here, so you can follow it on your own. This is what you do in a country with a dearth of good sports teams.
  2. Regarding the whole Goldstone business, I think it's a marvelous coincidence that the story broke during the parshiyot of Tazria and Metzora. Here you have a man who, in a manner of speaking, spoke "lashon ha-ra" and was consequently cast "mi-chutz la-machaneh." As Rashi points out in Vayikra 14:4, tzara'at is caused by hubris and cured by contrition. I've written before about the "descent" of the tza'ra'at patient from being a person of stature - "adam ki yihyeh be-or besaro" - to being completely identified with his flaw, a metzora, but that this identification is the basis for his purification. It doesn't exactly parallel Goldstone, but if I was giving a drasha this Shabbat, I'd definitely work it in.
  3. Speaking of Goldstone, in last year's Purim Shpiel we had a bit where an Emily Litella-type character called for a boycott of Coldstone Creamery in response to the Goldstone Report. Most people didn't get it, but those who did were ROTFL.
  4. I can't help but find the Naama Shafir story inspiring. I sympathize with some of the ambivalence raised in this Jewish Press article from 2009, and I'm not sure how I would counsel someone in a similar situation.
  5. Apparently, R. Hershel Schachter approves soft matza for Ashkenazim.
  6. In this article about Spain's new museums of Jewish heritage, it is asserted that "the effort has left some Jews feeling that Spain is exploiting a history that rightfully belongs to contemporary Spanish Jews, and in the process is relegating a living culture to a museum piece." Who are these offended contemporary Spanish Jews? The local Chabad rabbi, for one. Why does the history belong to him more than a museum? Why does he think what he practices is part of the "living culture" of classical Spanish Jewry?
  7. Rabbi Mintz introduced a line of Rabbi Mints. First of all, it's just not all that funny. Good for a Purim shpiel, lame for a product line. Second of all, I'll bet that kiddush club membership in his shul triples this week. Just pop a Rabbi Mint and you can deny, deny, deny.
  8. This guy gets his britches in a twist trying to figure out what kind of insanity must be gripping the Russian-American-Jewish community to make them vote Republican. Never mind that Russians are also the most consistently right-wing voters in Israel (a fact that is completely ignored in the article, which asserts that in America they vote Republican because they've got a stronger attachment to Israel; is that also why Russian-Israelis vote for Lieberman, or is this guy just plain missing the boat?) 
  9. Go O's.

Kol Ish: Just Had Chametz

In case you still weren't clear on what "Ironic Orthodoxy" is, here's exhibit A (from UMD, a bastion of Ironic Orthodoxy).

By the way, if the Maccabeats are considering doing a Pesach video, I have only this to say: Dayenu!