Yitzchak Avinu The First FFB

Yitzchak Avinu: The Fisrt FFB

I’ve been trying to post different things here and at Maven Yavin instead of cross-posting. Stuff that I think falls more in the category of ‘Torah’, especially if it’s better thought out, will probably be posted there.

The latest is an analysis of Yitzchak’s story in this week’s parsha, focusing on his experience as ‘the first FFB’.


More on the Bird Story

Well, it appears that the word is out about the MMY bird. Yesterday, I had a hard time finding the Ya Libnan story pasted into the post. Today, it's everywhere! Check out the jpost and ma'ariv stories, and other blogs which picked this up. And remember where it was posted first!

I also find it amusing that Jewish blogs and sites now account for the top 5 links to the Ya Libnan website (I'm #s 2 and 3 in 'importance') according to Technorati.

Here are some of the other sources:

I'd also love to hear more about this from our old friend tmeishar, who is spending the year at MMY.



"And the Dove Found No Rest..."

You can't make this stuff up.
The following article appeared in several Lebanese media outlets:

Kfar Tibnit, Lebanon - A courier pigeon with a love letter from a girl thanking her boyfriend for a "terrific night they spent together" has flown across the border from Israel, triggering bird flue scare throughout southern Lebanon.

postal carrier _pigeon 4.gifThe love letter which was from a girl thanking her boyfriend for a "terrific night they spent together" has flown across the border from Israel and landed on the roof of Ahmed Kamel Zaytoun in south Lebanon's Kfar Tibnit township on Friday. He found the letter concealed in an iron ring with figures identifying the trained carrier.

According to local media, the letter was written in English and Hebrew. The girl from Israel's upper Galilee panhandle speaks fondly of the night she spent with her lover, thanking him and asking him to acknowledge receiving her message to her e-mail address.

postal carrier _pigeon 3.gifShe also wrote in the message a postal address in the Kafar Qassem district in the Galilee, the Beirut daily newspaper As Safir reported. But the name of the lover and his address were not mentioned.

Scared that the pigeon may be carrying a bird flu virus, Zaytoun, who had no difficulty catching the love messenger, rushed it to the police station of Nabatiyeh town, which in turn rushed it to the Lebanese Ministry of Agriculture laboratory in Al Fanar to determine whether it is clean or contaminated.

The Beirut ANB TV network, which aired a full coverage of the pigeon being seized and inserted in a big cage by Zaytoun, said the incident sent a bird flu scare sweeping across the region. The population is awaiting an assurance from the ministry of agriculture, ANB said.

Sources: Naharnet, ANB, Assafir, Ya Libnan

The real story? The following letter was sent by an administrator from the MMY (Michlelet Mevasseret Yerushalayim) seminary for post-high school English-speaking girls:

Last week MMY went on its annual Galil Tiyul. And as we always do, we went on Wednesday night to Mitzpe Hoshaya - to the "Kfar Kedem" site – and rode donkeys, made pita, had a bar b q and ate in a tent (all of course in ancient garb). The whole idea of this site is to recreate what Jewish life was like in the times of the Tanaim when Rav Yehuda Hanasi compiled the Mishna in Tzipori (the mountain across from Hoshaya).

This year, there was something new. As we were leaving, Menachem – the owner of the place, gets us together and says he wants to hear feedback from us the next morning about how we enjoyed our visit. But we shouldn't use modern technology to contact him, rather we should use a homing pigeon. And sure enough he hands us a bird in a box and says "tomorrow morning attach a note to the leg of the bird using this letterhead i am giving you, and send it back from Tzefat. It will take about 2 hours to return home and i will call you to tell you i got your note and then i will email you a copy so you know it is for real".

So sure enough we take the boxed bird with us to the hotel in tzefat, the girls care for it overnight, and we are ready to send it back the next morning. The girls called the bird " Uga" since it was in a box and it looked like a cake-box.

Thursday morning we drove a bit north of Tzefat and at 9:35am we had a whole ceremony to say farewell to our feathered friend. The note was attached and read something like "We love you Uga. Thank you for a wonderful evening. Rabbi Katz you are soo cool (ed. This was an inside joke from earlier that day) Esther Goldstein is our backup pitcher (ed. Also an inside mmy joke). We look forward to your email reply when you get this " It had BS"D on the top and the school email address.

Moshe Ben Baruch, our tour guide who knows everything, quoted the various pesukim in Tanach where the homing pigeon , the "Yona" is used as an allegory for Am Yisrael who knows ultimately how to come back to Eretz yisrael (for example – see the haftara for Parshat Ki Tavo). And after a quick chorus of the song "Uf Gozal" we sent Uga on his way.

But he did not return home. We called and called but the answer was "he didn't come back yet". The girls were very bothered and kept bugging me to call more. But he just wasn't going to come back and at some point we gave up hope and assumed that he was dead.

But then we got the newspaper this morning! Maariv dedicated most of its back page to a story it picked up from the…. Lebanese Press! (and I just heard a rumor that it was on CNN TV in the usa !) The article is long and in Hebrew (I am trying to get a digital copy to send you) but basically the bird landed on the roof of Achmed Kamal Zeitun in the town of "Kfar Tavnit" in Lebanon. They assumed that the message was from an Israeli arab girl from the town of "Kefar Kassam" (notice it looks like kfar kedem) and was being sent to her boyfriend in Lebanon to "thank him for a wonderful evening". But others claimed it was a coded message and thus the bird is being checked at the Lebanese secret service and the agriculture ministry. Everyone was stumped as to why anyone would use a pigeon in today's modern world – especially considering that the message asked for a reply via email!! And of course it was written in English, and had BS"D on the top. Israeli "experts" were stumped because "everyone knows women don't use pigeons". (I am not embellishing!) . And also "it cant be that the bird just got lost. These birds don't make mistakes". Experts were also stumped as they were not aware that letterhead is used for messages on birds.

I contacted both Maariv and CNN is getting a bcc of this email. The Maariv writer wrote a follow up piece with the full story about our American Seminary with pictures of us sending off the bird. We hope it gets published! And if CNN would like to follow this up – I will be in the United States as of Sunday!!!!

As always, the truth is far, far stranger than fiction.

Give Turkey to God, for he is Good

First of all, I've got another new post on Maven Yavin here. It's on the relationship between contemporary Conservative Judaism and is 'Positive-Historical' roots.

Now, to inyana de-yoma. I always thought, with a chuckle, that turkey on Thanksgiving was very appropriate, since the Hebrew word for turkey (tarnegol hodu, or just hodu) also means "Give thanks" or "Give praise".

However, a student of mine recently pointed out that they are pronounced differently. "Give Thanks" is milra - the emphasis on the last syllable, thus hoDOO. The bird is mil'eil, thus HOdu.

Of course, neither is the same as the word from the end of Psalm 148, which is hoD'OH (I spell it that was so Simpson's fans wont forget how to pronounce it), menaing "His Majesty"

Thus "HoDOO HoD'OH al ha-HOdu" means "Give thanks to His Majesty for the turkey!"


NYT article on Orthodoxy and Internet

November 23, 2005
Maintaining Connections, but Keeping the Web at Bay
His blogger pen name is Shtreimel, the Yiddish word for the round fur hat that a Hasidic man wears on Sabbath.
He styles himself a heretic, a Brooklyn Hasid with beard and earlocks who does not believe in God, sneaks away to snack on Yom Kippur and sometimes grabs a hamburger that isn't kosher at McDonald's. On three blogs that he has kept - changing them like safe houses out of fear of exposure - he has confided his spiritual misgivings and mused about hypocrisies he sees among Hasidim, like a willingness to beat up adherents of a rival sect.
Within his community, he scrupulously keeps up appearances because, he said, if he were ever identified as an iconoclastic blogger he would be ostracized and might lose his wife and children.
"People can get connected to each other, and once ideas that are not implanted by the establishment spread, they can explode," said Shtreimel of the Internet, speaking at a Starbuck's on the condition that he and his sect not be named.
Although he and other cyberspace renegades make up a sliver of the ultra-Orthodox world, leaders of insular Orthodox communities are coming to regard the Internet - a gateway to louche American culture and the voices of doubters - as treacherous, even subversive, and are grappling with how far to go in outlawing its use.
Just before Rosh Hashanah, the Orthodox schools and institutions of Lakewood, N.J., a community of 6,500 families in Ocean County, issued a proclamation forbidding children and high school students from using Internet-linked computers.
"Many children (and adults) have fallen prey to the immoral lures that are present on the Internet, and their lives have been destroyed," the seven-page proclamation began.
It barred even adults from going online at home except for the needs of a livelihood - and then only with rabbinical authorization.
Other faiths have also grappled with the Internet, though outright bans are rare. In 2000, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted a "user beware" policy that warned parents to exercise some common-sense precautions like filters to ward off pornography.
More liberal Orthodox believers see the Internet as "an unbelievable tool" that must be used with sensible precautions, said Rabbi Kenneth Brander, dean of the Center for the Jewish Future, a division of Yeshiva University.
"Judaism does not believe in a Robinson Crusoe type of lifestyle," he said. "Our responsibility as Jews is to bring light into a larger society, and you don't do that by retreating."
For many zealously Orthodox Jews, the Internet is fraught with paradox. In some ways, it has proved a godsend. Knowledge of the Talmud is spread on dafyomi.org. The site onlysimachas.com is a bullhorn for gossip about marriages and births. At aish.com, a round-the-clock view of the Western Wall in Jerusalem is offered.
One Hasidic sect, the Lubavitch, aggressively uses the Internet to disperse its messianic message on sites such as Chabad.org .
"The rebbe taught that everything in this world is created for a divine purpose," said Rabbi Zalman Shmotkin, a spokesman for the Lubavitch, referring to Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the grand rabbi who died in 1994. "The medium itself is neutral. How we use it makes all the difference."
In the heavily Hasidic Borough Park section of Brooklyn, Touro College operates an institution called Machon L'Parnassah - or preparation for a livelihood - which instructs young men and women to use Internet-linked computers for such careers as medical billing. Issac Herskowitz, chief academic computing officer, took pains to note that computer labs are always supervised to avoid private surfing.
So many haredim depend on the Internet for their livelihoods that the irony was not lost on them that the Lakewood ban displayed a keen sophistication about the Web.
Hella Winston, author of "Unchosen: The Hidden Lives of Hasidic Rebels" (Beacon Press, 2005), said Hasidim have had to confront the fact that the Internet has sparked Craigslist advertisements for liaisons between "frum," or observant, married people and has made available explorations of maverick philosophers.
And Shtreimel is not alone in posting his doubts in a public forum (conartistic.blogspot.com is his latest address).
Hasidim and other haredim have never been Luddites opposed to technology. But in building what they call a fence to safeguard Torah observance, they discourage enrollment in college, and social contacts between men and women. Some yeshivas will expel a child if they learn the family has a television.
"If television wasn't banned, we wouldn't have kids studying and learning Torah 16 to 18 hours a day," said Rabbi Shalom Storch, principal of Yeshiva Nesivos Ohr, a day school in Lakewood.
In Lakewood, the rabbis were spurred not by worries about dissension but by the dangers of the Internet for young people. They were troubled by online chats they heard about, like one between an 8-year-old yeshiva student on Long Island and a predatory adult.
Shtreimel said that he first dipped into the Internet out of curiosity and soon was confiding his religious skepticism in e-mail messages. Now he gets about 300 readers a day on his blog and savors writing for the same reasons other writers do.
"When I get a comment from a person and he says he likes what I wrote, that's good," he said.


The ADDeRashbam

There's a Rashbam on the Akeida that's doubly contrarian: it's contrary to what everyone else says about the Akeida - in a very fundamental way - and it speaks about contrarianism. I just posted about it over here, at Maven Yavin.

It's nice to know that there were contrarian Rishonim; makes me feel like part of a tradition of contrarianism (if that's not an oxymoron).


Current Reading List

some of you have asked for an updated reading/learning list. Here goes:

Ke-afapei Shachar by Haim Sabato
Tormented Master by Arthur Green
(still reading) Apologia Pro Vita Sua - John Henry Newman
The Hedgehog and the Fox - Isaiah Berlin
The Social Construction of Reality - Peter Berger
Seinfeld and Philosophy (trash) - William Irwin

Gemara Eruvin (i'm giving a Daf Yomi shiur)
Gemara Ta'anit
Sefer Yirmiyahu
Pirke Avot
Shulchan Arukh Hilchot Bishul
And the coolest thing on the list: Sefer Motza'ei Mayim by R' Chaim Hirschenson. Thanks to a reccomendation by Menachem.

Maven Yavin: The utility of heresy

Mississippi Fred discusses R' Nathan Lopez-Cardozo's lecture in which he suggests that heretics perform a valuable service for the community. I remember once suggesting that good 'ol Mis-nagid is a 'Holy Heretic'. I posted about this topic a while ago, in a post called 'Holy Heresy' and another, which was a reading of a famous Gemara in Menachot, which talks about the paradox of those who would move our religious consciousness forward.


Matza Min Es Mino

Note: The post title is a double entendre.

After the last post on Ibn Ezra, I was thinking of changing this blog's name to 'Hamaskil Yidom'. Well, I didn't, but I did join Lamed, S, and Krum in 'Maven Yavin'.

With our combined readerships and intellects, perhaps we can make some REAL money with GoogleAds.


Who Wrote the Bible (according to Ibn Ezra)?

Who Wrote the Bible (according to Ibn Ezra)?

     Ibn Ezra famously makes a very cryptic statement in his commentary to Bereishis 12:6:
     “and the Canaanites were then in the land” – it makes sense that Canaan [the man – AR] took the land from another. And if that’s not the case, then there’s a secret here, and one who is enlightened will remain silent.

     The standard interpretation of this passage is that Ibn Ezra believes that these three words, “Ve-hacna’ani az ba-aretz” were a later addition to the Biblical text. This interpretation, obviously flies in the face of the Rambam’s principles of faith which denies any non-Mosaic authorship and is the standard Orthodox belief.

     In the Chareidi world, this interpretation of Ibn Ezra is rejected outright; I once heard the following argument against this interpretation from R’ Yehuda Copperman, one of the most well-known and well-respected master teachers of Parshanut Ha-Torah in the world, author of the annotations to the Meshech Chochmah, and founder of the Michlalah College for Women in Jerusalem (I’ve paraphrased the arguments, but believe that I understood his intent correctly):
  • Ramban, in his introduction to his commentrary to the Torah states that he has “open repuke but hidden love” for Ibn Ezra. Ramban doesn’t take issue with this comment of Ibn Ezra [though he gives an alternative explanation – AR], which implies that he didn’t think this comment of Ibn Ezra was problematic, or else he wouldn’t have ‘hidden love’ for Ibn Ezra.

  • The originator of the ‘heretical’ interpretation of Ibn Ezra was Baruch Spinoza [The philosopher, not the blog commenter – AR].

  • When there’s a machlokes between Ramban and Spinoza about what Ibn Ezra meant, we go with Ramban.

The argument fails in two ways. I will grant that when there’s a machloket between Ramban and Spinoza, that we follow Ramban (WADR to Alan Brill). I will, however, take issue with his other two premises:
  • Ramban’s ‘hidden love’ for Ibn Ezra doesn’t preclude the possibility that Ibn Ezra believed that certain verses were of non-Mosaic origin. Perhaps Ramban didn’t think that this belief warranted hatred, either because it wasn’t heresy or wasn’t terribly problematic. Perhaps he was unaware of the true meaning of that comment. Perhaps he thought that Ibn Ezra mentions it but doesn’t believe it himself, and was going good by remaining cryptic about it. Regardless, it’s certainly by no means a logical conclusion that since Ramban speaks of a ‘hidden love’ for Ibn Ezra in his Intro, and that Ibn Ezra makes a cryptic and potentially problematic statement in Chapter 12 of Bereishis, that the true meaning of the passage must be in line with Ramban or Rambam’s view of biblical authorship.

  • This interpretation did not originate with Spinoza. Spinoza popularized it, by seeing Ibn Ezra as an antecedent to his own views that the Torah was of human origin. However, this interpretation of Ibn Ezra can actually be found in the 13th century supercommentary of Ibn Ezra composed by R’ Yosef Tuv Elem (Bonfils). His comments are so unequivocal, and so jarring, that it’s worth citing the whole thing.

R’ Yosef Tuv Elem on Ibn Ezra to Bereishit 12:6:
     “If that’s not the case there’s a secret, and one who is enlightened will remain silent”. The explanation: If the word ‘az’ [of Ve-hacana’ani az ba’aretz] is not coming to acknowledge that it was then that the Canaanites took it from others, then its explanation is difficult and obscure and ought to be suppressed, and he hinted at his ‘secret’ at the beginning of the book of Devarim (1:2). Its explanation relates to the problem with using the word ‘az’ – ‘then’ in this context, which implies that at the time of the writing they were no longer there, whereas Moshe wrote the Torah and in his lifetime the land was in possession of the Canaanites! It doesn’t make sense that Moshe would use the word ‘az’ because logic dictates that it was written at a time that the Canaanites were no longer in the land, and we know that they were not removed from the land until Yehoshua’s conquest after Moshe’s death![i.e., the use of the term ‘az’, if from Moshe, is anachronistic – AR].
     Therefore, it appears that Moshe did not write this word, rather, Joshua or another prophet wrote it; we find similarly in the Book of Mishlei (25:1) which states “These, too, are parables of Shlomo which the men of Chizkiya King of Judah transcribed”. If Shlomo authored the book, why would it mention Chizkiya, who was born many generations later? Rather, they had an oral tradition back to Shlomo which they wrote and considered it as though is was written by Shlomo himself. So, too, here, Israel had a tradition that the Canaanites were in the land during the days of Avraham, and one of the prophets wrote it in here, and since we must believe in the words of the tradition and the words of the prophets, what do I care if it was written by Moshe or another prophet since all of their words are true and prophetic.
     One can ask, doesn’t the Torah write of itself “Do not add to it” (Devarim 13:1)? The answer is that which R’ Abraham (Ibn Ezra) himself wrote in his commentary to Va-etchanan (Devarim 5:5) that the words are like bodies and their meanings like souls; therefore, there are many sections of the Torah which are repeated two or three times, where each adds something that the others don’t, yet are not considered ‘additions’ to the Torah. Furthermore, in his first comment in Lech-Lecha (Bereishis 12:4) he states that ‘do not add to it’ was only said with regard to the commandments, meaning, that when the Torah warned us not to add, it only warned not to add to the number of mitzvoth or to their fundamentals, but not about adding words. Thus, if a prophet added a word or words to explain something about which he had a tradition, this is not considered an ‘addition’.
     A proof to this can be adduced from the story of the elders who translated the Torah into Greek for King Ptolemy, as I mentioned in Parshat Noach, who made 13 emendations, as is written in Mas. Sofrim (1:9) and BT Megillah (9a). And should you suggest that they merely replaced words but didn’t add any, the response is that the in fact replaced words with phrases, like “he drove them upon a donkey” (Shemot 4:20) with “…upon a person carrier” of “and the hare” (Devarim 14:7 – and yes, it’s definitely a hare! – AR) which they translated as “the short-legged”. And if you suggest that they only did that out of fear from the king, who authorized them to change, add, and subtract because of a king’s threat? And if the king would have learned our writing and seen that they emended, this would have been a public desecration of god’s name, about which our Rabbis ob”m said that in such a situation one should die and not transgress by desecrating God’s name (BT Sanhedrin 84a). And since they were unconcerned with all of this, it becomes clear that they had the power to add words in order to clarify, and so certainly (orig. – Kal Va-chomer) that a prophet had the power to add a word to the words of a [fellow – AR] prophet to explain his words, and especially since it’s not a matter of commandments, rather the narration of past events, it therefore wouldn’t be considered an ‘addition’.
     And if you ask, behold, our Rabbis ob”m state in Sanhedrin, Chapter ‘Chelek’ (99a) that even if one says that the entire Torah with the exception of a single verse that God did not say, regarding him Scripture says “he has despised the word of God” (Bamidbar 15:31), one can respond that this pertains to the commandments, as we have stated, and not about the narratives. And I need not elaborate since R’ Yehuda and R’ Nechemiah expounded in Makkot, Chapter ‘Elu Hein Ha-Golin’ (11a) [the following verse – AR]: “And Yehoshua wrote these words into the book of the Torah of God” – and one of them says that it refers to the “eight” verses in the Torah [i.e., the final verses – AR], and one says it refers to the segment about the cities of refuge, and there you have it explicitly. And that which it states in Chapter ‘Ha-Kometz Rabbah’ (BT Menachot 30a) requires further study.
     This secret ought not be made known to people [i.e., non-bloggers – AR] so that they don’t disparage the Torah, because one who is unenlightened cannot distinguish between verses in which commandments are written and verses in which events are recounted, and also because of nations [i.e., Muslims – AR] who tell us that our Torah was true but we substituted and changed it. Therefore, he {Ibn Ezra – AR] writes that ‘the enlightened shall remain silent’, because the enlightened know that this will not cause damage. Only the fools will find fault with it.


Two questions on the Documentray Hypothesis from the Parsha

1) The 2 verses that describes Noah’s ‘olah’ use terminology of Sefer Yayikra. The term ‘rayach nichoach’ especially. It’s also a very abrupt shift – Elokim to Havaya for the Korban (korbanot always have shem havaya) and immediately beck to Elokim. Korban terminology, in the DH, is much later, from the P source, whereas the flood story is a classic ‘J/E’ couplet. These 2 verses are a problem for the DH.

2) When God re-establishes His covenant w/ Noah, the Torah exclusively uses the name Elokim. DH scholars see the 2 accounts of covenants w/ Abraham from next week’s parsha as being a J/E couplet; the brit bein habetarim being an E source, and Brit Milah from a J source. However, the Brit Milah episode is much more closely linked, textually and thematically, to the covenant established w/ Noah, which ostensibly is from a different source.

Considering that the flood narrative is ostensibly the neatest couplet in the entire Torah, the fact that the DH runs into problems even here can give a decent impression of the difficulties w/ the theory in general.


Happy or Pathetic?

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything. Partly because I’ve been insanely busy. And partly for another reason that’s been bugging me.

Living with ADD presents many challenges and opportunities. It means finding the best way to live and work and relate to those around you. Part of what makes it work is finding the right combination of pharmaceuticals, exercise, diet, etc.

About a month ago, I went back to a drug which I hadn’t used for a while called Zoloft, an antidepressant. For me, Adderall had the effect of helping me to focus, which meant that I could stay on tasks and control where I place my attention without overfocusing. It also had the effect that I became somewhat brooding and overly pensive. The Zoloft, which I take in a small dose, basically is a set of rose-colored glasses. Especially my interactions with others, a very crucial component of my job, improve because of this. It’s for that reason that I stay with it, even though I personally don’t mind being a bit too serious or grumpy sometimes.

I think that contributes to the fact that I don’t feel as agitated about issues, bothered by questions, etc. I don’t feel the same pressure to record my thoughts, and creative thinking itself is less a part of my life. It comes and goes.

On one hand, I really miss that part of myself. On the other hand, I’m on Zoloft, so even though I miss myself, it’s no big deal, ‘cuz the chemicals keep me happy, and because my professional life has improved. Everyone seems to like me better this way, except me. I think I sold out, but don’t feel bad about it (probably because of the drugs).

Part of me think that I’m like the guy from ‘A Beautiful Mind’; part of me says ‘get over yourself’.

I’m going to try to start blogging again. Steg – I still have your meme-request to contend with (though it’s SO 5 minutes ago), and I’ve finally finished the RSB”Y exposition but haven’t yet written it down in any kind of coherent form.

For the record, it’s not that I have no free time, it’s just that it hasn’t gone to blogging or reading, rather, to computer games and sports.

If my brain wasn’t taking a dopamine bath, I’d probably feel pretty pathetic.