Another Azza Related Kinnah

A friend and commenter has informed me of another Kinnah related to last year’s pinui. His kinnah is more complex and thorough, and much longer, and relates to each of the uprooted settlements individually. I tried to avoid focusing on territorial aspects, but it’s impossible to ignore that dimension of the tragedy.

May this be the last event that finds expression through the medium of Kinnot.


ציון במשפט תפדה, ושביה בצדקה

The verse which forms the title of this post, the final one in the first chapter of Isaiah and of Haftarat Chazon, is well-known and very resonant. Loosely translated, it means “Zion will be redeemed through justice, and her returnees through righteousness”. I just learned over Shabbat that the original Jewish fraternity, Zeta Beta Tau or ZBT took its letters from the acrostic formed by the first three words of the verse, which emphasizes their commitment to social justice, and the fact that it originated as a Zionist movement.

This verse is also the locus of one of my grandfather’s favorite gematriyot. He was a great fan of word and number games, including gematriyot, acrostics, and riddles. This one in particular, which my Zaidy probably told me during my visit on Erev Shabbat Chazon is particularly fascinating.

Most readers will probably imagine that I’m not the biggest gematriya fan. The reasons for this are too numerous to start listing. Even I, however, cannot help but being impressed by this gematriya. It is truly impressive. I must have recalculated it 15 times in my life to make sure it’s really correct, and, by golly, it is. The size of the numbers and the way that it fits with a basic understanding of the difference between Torat Eretz Yisrael and Torat Bavel is simply astounding. Here it is:

ציון במשפט תפדה = 1076 = תלמוד ירושלמי
ושביה בצדקה = 524 = תלמוד בבלי


My Bubby’s Favorite Friday

I was fortunate to have grown up within walking distance from all four of my grandparents. While we visited all of them regularly, my paternal grandmother, aleha ha-shalom, provided a special incentive for us to visit: she was an awesome cook. She lived on the second floor of an apartment building, and we could tell what she was making as soon as we entered the lobby. It was the best-smelling apartment building in the world.

At some point around my bar mitzvah, I discovered that my father's Friday visits to her after work were timed so that he could sample the food she had cooked for Shabbat, and soon I was in the habit of visiting each Friday as well. My younger siblings eventually caught on as well, at which point the portions began to get smaller.

At some point, I think my Bubby became nervous that we were coming for the food, not for her. Sure, we’d chat with her, but it was always Friday afternoon, when we knew we'd be able to sample that delicious Shabbat food. So we made sure to always visit Bubby on the Friday before Tisha Be-Av, Erev Shabbat Chazon. This was the one Friday of the year that we’d be unable to sample the fleishig food. The apartment smelled as tantalizing as ever, mocking our dairy-fueled doldrums. And this is what reassured my Bubby that our weekly visits were really primarily to see her, and that the food was simply a really, really good incentive.



When Greg and I get together, we'll usually wind up having an interesting conversation about something or another. At some point, he had the idea of recording those conversations and podcasting them. I must admit that it's not easy to carry on a 'normal' conversation with the mic recording us. I definitely didn't have my 'A' game. Thus, the result is somewhat contrived, and of suspect quality, but still pretty enjoyable. Of course, I'm biased.

This may be the start of something interesting, though. It's like a multivocal, audio blog post.

Anyhow, here's the result. At this point, the concept is more interesting than the content, but that will improve.

In Defense of New Kinot

As Menachem recently wrote, and as Joel commented here, the Rav, zt”l, didn’t like the idea of ‘new’ Kinnot. Given that I composed one, it would seem fairly obvious that I don’t toe that line, though I was not aware of the Rav’s position when I wrote it. I’d like to submit an explanation as to why I don’t follow the Rav on this.

First of all, it is quite clear that the Rav’s position is not the consensus. Other gedolim, notably R’ Shimon Schwab and the Klausenberger Rebbe composed Kinot for the Holocaust. It has become extremely widespread to recite these Kinot and/or other Holocaust-themed Kinot. In general, the standard kinot earned their status as classics. These were selected from amongst many that were composed in Medieval and Early Modern times (R’ Elazar Ha-Kalir lived during the Geonic Era; he was not a Tanna). Thus, it’s very hard for anyone today to outdo what was done then, but it’s not impossible. Bialik and Agnon are prime examples of modern writers whose prose and poetry could rival the ancients in terms of literary complexity and depth, as well as aesthetic value. I would rather not discuss the Rav’s historical claims regarding the composers of the standard Kinot, ve-hamaven yavin.

‘New’ Kinot are often easier to understand, but that doesn’t mean much. Limericks are easier to understand than sonnets. There’s definitely a trade-off, as with pretty much everything else in life, between complexity and intelligibility (The Rav actually has an awesome exposition of a Gemara in Mo’ed Katan on this theme; it appears as the introduction to his eulogy for R’ Chaim Ozer Grodzensky). It’s not surprising that the Rav stood completely in favor of preserving complexity and not conceding an inch to something less that might resonate with the contemporary crowd. I am in good company with those who don’t stand with the Rav on this issue. Perhaps I might be part of what the Rav would characterize as Korach’s ‘Common Sense Rebellion’. I’ll have to live with that.

Another issue, far more personal, pertains not to the question of reciting new Kinot, but to the question of writing them. Although the Rav laid the foundation for finding religious value in individual creativity, his application was almost exclusively to Talmud Torah. When it came to the liturgy, his sensibilities were much more conservative. Nevertheless, having now undergone the experience of writing a Kinah, I submit that it is a much more effective means of relating to the themes of the day on a very personal level. If reciting the standard Kinot or learning about select ones – a la Rabbi Weinreb or Rabbi J.J. Schachter – works for you, great. Both are excellent Kinot speakers (Ouch! Awful Rabbinic pun!). But if you can find the opportunity to record your own feelings and formulate them through a literary medium, I’d recommend it. It’s a wholly different level of engagement in the mourning process. And if it’s good enough, it may have posterity.

Gourmet Dairy During the Nine Days

There seems to be a LOT of confusion about the reason that we refrain from meat and wine during the week of Tisha B’av or, more commonly, during the ‘nine days’. The common reason is that these foods are associated with ‘simcha’, and ‘mi-shenikhnas Av mema’atin be-simcha’ – we refrain from joy once the month of Av begins.

The second reason, which, to my mind, makes a lot more sense, is to commemorate the destruction of the Temple, when animal sacrifice and libations ceased. Both of these reasons are alluded to in the halakhic literature (see, for example, Beit Yosef Orach Chaim 551:10.

As I’ve noted before, the famous Talmudic dictum ‘ein simcha ela be-basar ve-yayin’ (there’s no joy without meat and wine) DOESN’T EXIST. It is a paraphrase, and arguably a poor paraphrase, of a longer Talmudic statement. A non-existent Talmudic statement doesn’t seem to be a likely source for this custom. The IS a Talmudic account of those who stopped eating meat and drinking wine after the destruction of the Temple, to commemorate the loss of the sacrifices and libations, until R’ Yehoshua rebuked them that there’s no limit to that impulse, and that life must go on.

Furthermore, refraining from meat and wine has no other application. Mourners may eat meat and drink wine, even though most other customs of the ‘three weeks’ and ‘nine days’ have their parallels in the Laws of Mourning.

A potential ramification between the two reasons, as the title indicates, is eating fancy milechig meals during the nine days. If it’s about feeling the loss of korbanot, then it still does the trick. If it’s about excessive joy, then if eggplant parmesan floats your boat, then cross it off the Av menu. Of course, one can maintain (as the Kol Bo cited in the Beit Yosef) that even if it’s about joy, as long as there’s some form of discomfort, the mission is accomplished. That sort of begs the question, though; why would meat and wine specifically be the method by which we torment ourselves?

Personally, I find the korbanot rationale to be much more satisfying than the other. This period, to my mind, is about experiencing loss. It’s like a temporal zecher le-churban spot, in which this pervasive sense that things are out-of-whack creeps up on us (though, a friend of the ADDeRebbetzin said, “I don’t get depressed not doing laundry for a week; I get depressed the day after, looking at the accumulated pile!”), and the normal routine of things is intruded upon by this sense that something is amiss. That can be accomplished even while enjoying a nice fettuccini Alfredo.


Kinnah for the Azza Evacuees

Last Tisha B’av, I composed this Kinnah for the (then) impending evacuation of the Jewish residents of Azza. It has unfortunately been overshadowed by the latest battles in Lebanon. Perhaps I’ll find the inspiration (and perspiration) to write about the kidnapped soldiers (though that would be more appropriate for the 20th of Sivan, the anniversary of the Battle of Sultan Ya’aqub and the capture of Yehuda Katz, Zachary Baumel, and Zvi Feldman), but I don’t think of this current war as a ‘tragedy’, and I hopefully never will.

If there’s an actual interest in using this in shuls, let me know, and please use משה אליעזר בן יצחק אהרן as the author’s name.

Last years composition also doesn’t reflect the ongoing struggles that the evacuees continue to face. Certain parts of it, such as a veiled reference to Ariel Sharon and a prayer for the mending of the rifts in Israeli society seem, for better or worse, somewhat obsolete.

On a more ‘academic’ note, there’s this post about Bialik’s use of imagery from Eicha and from Haftarat Nachamu in his poem ‘Al Saf Beit Ha-Midrash’.


Shaliach Mitzva Gelt

The widespread practice of giving ‘Shaliach Mitzvah Gelt’ is downright baffling. Ostensibly, it’s predicated upon the Talmudic principle (BT Pesachim 8a), ‘Shluchei Mitzvah Einan Nizokin’ – agents of a mitzvah are not damaged. In other words, the Talmud maintains that while one is on the way to perform (or from performing) a mitzvah, they are protected. Therefore, by giving someone a bit of cash and asking them to give it to a pauper in the destination, the traveler becomes an agent for the delivery of this tzedaka money, and therefore protected.

Without getting into a discussion of practical magic (and this is a textbook case of talismanic magic), let’s just say that I’m curious how the Rambam learns that Gemara. Nevertheless, if it inspires tzedakah, it’s a good thing. I’m sure the destitute are more than pleased with this custom, whether or not they think that the deliverer is magically protected.

My problem is with the fact that the custom is sometimes misplaced, especially when the purpose of the journey is itself a mitzvah. For example, I’m making aliyah in three weeks. Several people have offered Shaliach Mitzvah Gelt. I’ve declined each time, owning to the fact that making aliyah is itself a mitzvah (in this past week’s Parsha, no less). If I’d be traveling to Kuala Lumpur on business, then perhaps the gelt would come in handy. But for some reason it’s much more common to give the gelt to those traveling to Israel, i.e., those who are least likely to need it (remember, hundred, if not thousands, travel to Israel to study Torah, to volunteer, or to otherwise engage in full-time mitzvah performance).

It’s also amusing that many ask, when giving the money, to give it to someone soliciting down at the Kotel. Many of them are known charlatans, and it’s actually illegal to solicit there. So, by its own logic, giving away money at the kotel might not really be a mitzvah (aliyah, according to minimalist positions, is at least a mitzvah kiyumis), and hence wouldn’t protect its bearer.

It would make sense, prima facie, for this to work in the other direction. Perhaps those traveling to America should be sent with tzedakah, but it doesn’t really make much economic sense. Maybe Americans should just give money to those journeying to Israel, no strings attached. I promise, we’ll put it to good use.

Giyur: Here We Go Again

The EJF just held a conference in Jerusalem. There, a video was aired where R' Elyashiv called for the dismantling of the Rabbanut's Conversion Authority.

Jpost link

Many readers will remember that in May I wrote that a pro-R' Elyashiv group called the The Vaad HaRabbonim Haolami LeInyonei Giyur was strong within the EJF, and that they were also trying to manipulate the Rabbanut itself to accept their particular standards. This article spells it out, and includes a grat picture of RNE with R' Moshe Klein, Deputy Director of the Conversion Authority (R' Klein is the one with the knit yarmulke).

This will give me the opportunity to continue my posts on giyur 'standards'. The issue sorta died after the RCA-Rabbanut agreement. I'm glad that the hostile takeover failed.

לא קלה היא, לא קלה דרכינו

This inspiring post and video got me thinking about the tefilat ha-derech. Here are some comments on the segment of Gemara which introduces the idea:
אמר ליה אליהו לרב יהודה אחוה דרב סלא חסידא: ... וכשאתה יוצא לדרך - המלך בקונך וצא
?מאי המלך בקונך וצא
אמר רבי יעקב אמר רב חסדא: זו תפלת הדרך
ואמר רבי יעקב אמר רב חסדא: כל היוצא לדרך צריך להתפלל תפלת הדרך
?מאי תפלת הדרך
יהי רצון מלפניך ה' אלהי שתוליכני לשלום ותצעידני לשלום ותסמכני לשלום ותצילני מכף כל אויב ואורב בדרךותשלח ברכה במעשי ידי ותתנני לחן לחסד ולרחמים בעיניך ובעיני כל רואי. ברוך אתה ה' שומע תפלה
Eliyahu said to R' Yehuda, brother of R' Sala the Pious:... and when you leave for the highway, consult with your Creator, then leave.
What does "consult with your creator, then leave" mean?
R' Ya'akov says in the name of R' Hisda: This is the Wayfarer's Prayer (tefillat ha-derech).
And R' Ya'akov says in the name of R' Hisda: Anyone who leaves for the highway must pray tefilat ha-derech.
What is tefillat ha-derech?
May it be Your will, Lord, my God, that you guide me toward peace, and march me toward peace, and support me toward peace, and save me from the hand of any enemy or ambush along the highway. Send blessings and success to all of my endeavors, and place me in the grace, compassion, and mercy of Your eyes and the eyes of all who behold me. Belssed are You, Lord, Who listens to prayer.
There are several striking features of this Gemara. Firstly, the idea of 'taking counsel with God' seems a bit strange. Does one actually take counsel, or, as Rashi ad loc says, get permission from God before embarking on a journey?
Secondly, why would one need to ask permission before hitting the highway? Does everything we do require permission, or God's counsel? In lomdishe terms, why does yetzi'a la-derech require a mattir?
Finally, though two explanations of tefilat ha-derech are given here, both are attributed to the same source, namely, R' Ya'akov in the name of R' Hisda. What is the relationship between the two statements, assuming that he doesn't argue with himself?

It must be stated that the beginning of a journey, literally and symbolically, is a time of great stress. In the ancient world, it was indeed a time of serious danger. Highways are indeed much safer today, but life's journeys often involve more than roadways. When embarking on these journeys, individually or collectively, and experience the stress associated with it, we become obligated to pray to the Almighty. The Biblical perscription for prayer is at a time of danger or distress (ve-acamo"l).

Prayer fulfills a number of functions. In addition to addressing our needs before God, it forces us to contemplate exactly what it is we're requesting of God. R' Soloveitchik, in an essay entitled 'Redemption, Prayer, and Talmud-Torah', writes about the formative power of the Shemoneh Esrei to shape our 'table of needs' in addition to addressing them. Similarly, the act of prayer that we engage in before embarking on our journeys forces us to reflect upon the purpose of the journey; it forces us to ask, "Where am I going? Why am I going there?" Certainly, if my destination is not consonant with by own understanding of God's Will, then my prayer becomes an act of sheer hypocrisy! Shall be ask God to help us fulfill our ungodly wishes?

Thus, the two statements of R' Yaakov in the name of R' Chisda are essentially one and the same. The stress which generates the obligation to pray also forces us to take 'God's counsel', and to measure our goals by His yardstick.

The conclusion of this prayer is borrowed from the concluding petition of the Shemoneh Esrei (which, incidentally, explains why it's formulated as a bracha he-semukha le-chaverta even though it's recited independently, ve-acamo"l), which encapsulates all of our strivings. Tefilat Ha-derech, then, addresses the totality of our fears as we embark on a new venture.

עם האור נוסיף ללכת הלאה
עוד הדרך רבה, המסע עדיין לא תם
לא קלה היא, לא קלה דרכינו

With the light, we'll continue to go further

The road is still long
The journey is not yet over

It's not easy, our path is not easy


And your Camp Shall be Holy

כִּי ה' אֱלֹהֶיךָ מִתְהַלֵּךְ בְּקֶרֶב מַחֲנֶךָ, לְהַצִּילְךָ וְלָתֵת אֹיְבֶיךָ לְפָנֶיךָ, וְהָיָה מַחֲנֶיךָ, קָדוֹשׁ
For the LORD thy God walketh in the midst of thy camp, to deliver thee, and to give up thine enemies before thee; therefore shall thy camp be holy;
Devarim 23:15

Out of Office: Auto-reply

It happens all the time. We send emails and immediately receive a response indicating that the recipient is away for an extended period. It’s a good system for letting people know that you won’t be getting a response so soon.

I’ve been sending a decent number of email to Israel in anticipation of my aliyah next month. Earlier today, I emailed someone about a job I saw advertised. I got the following response:
I was suddenly called to report to my army reserve unit and will be out of the office as of July 18th for an unknown period of time. Please direct all your emails to *****@*****.co.il
Thank you,


The Manassite Conquests

The very end of the Parsha of Matot records the conquest and settlement of the area known generally as Gil’ad by members of the tribe of Menashe:

במדבר פרק לב

(לט) וילכו בני מכיר בן מנשה גלעדה וילכדה ויורש את האמרי אשר בה:

(מ) ויתן משה את הגלעד למכיר בן מנשה וישב בה:

(מא) ויאיר בן מנשה הלך וילכד את חותיהם ויקרא אתהן חות יאיר:

(מב) ונבח הלך וילכד את קנת ואת בנתיה ויקרא לה נבח בשמו:

Bamidbar 32

39) And the sons of Machir, son of Menashe went to Gilad and captured it, and dispossessed the Emorite who were there.

40) And Moshe gave the Gilad to Machir, son of Menashe, and he settled it.

41) And Ya’ir the son of Menashe went and captured their territories, and he called them ‘the Territories of Ya’ir’.

42) And Novach went and captured Kenat and its subsidiaries and he called it ‘Novach’ after his name.

This passage, in general, is very difficult to understand, and for several reasons:

  • Why were the Bnei Menashe running around fighting their own wars? Until this point, all wars were fought by Israel as a whole, and only under the leadership of Moshe. The exception, the Ma’apilim of Parshat Shelach, were forewarned and ultimately annihilated. Midrashim at the beginning of Parashat Beshalach talk of an early attempt by, ironically, the Bnei Ephraim, to make an early exit from Egypt which also ended in annihilation (I believe that these Midrashim must be understood in light of the Manassite conquests, as will become clear).
  • The territory conquered by the Bnei Menashe is roughly equivalent to the territory that had been ruled by Og, King of Bashan. The textual basis is Devarim 3:13-15 and 4:43, where Bashan is, at least in part, considered Manassite territory. However, Moshe, and not the sons of Menashe, led the war against Og. The Manassite conquests are never mentioned in Chumash (though they are mentioned elsewhere, like in Yehoshua 17:1 and in Divrei Hayamim) other than here, though all other wars are recounted, and it’s always included in the territory conquered by Israel.
  • The conquerors of Gilad are called ‘bnei Machir ben Menashe’, the sons of Machir, son of Menashe. This exact same phrase shows up at the tail end of Sefer Bereishit, describing how Joseph lived to see the sons of Machir ben Menashe, i.e., his great-grandchildren. In Vayechi, it clearly refers to his actual great-grandchildren. Here, however, the presumption is that ‘sons of’ means ‘descendants of’ (as Ibn Ezra and Ramban both state).
  • Machir, son of Menashe, had a son named Gil’ad (Tzelophchad’s zaydie). It would be awfully prescient for him to have named his son after a territory (which had already been named in the times of Jacob) that his descendants would conquer at some future date. Furthermore, the passage in Yehoshua clearly refers to Machir the individual, not the family, but is somewhat cryptic in its reasons for Machir’s descendants being allotted the Gilad (…because he was a man-of-war, and he had the Gilad and the Bashan).
  • According to Divrei Hayamim I 2:21, Ya’ir was not technically from the tribe of Menashe! Machir’s daughter married Chetzron, who was of the tribe of Yehuda (several commentators point this out here). If that’s the case, why is this territory considered Manassite territory? Since when does matrilineage decide one’s tribal affiliation?
  • Both Moshe (here and in Devarim) and Yehoshua (17:1) ‘grant’ this territory to Menashe. If they conquered it, why does Moshe need to grant it to them post factum? Why would it need to be ‘alloted’ to Menashe in Yehoshua’s division of the land?

Different commentators address these question individually, but there’s a single approach, relatively obscure, which explains the entire passage. Though e few commentators allude to this approach (like Abarbanel at the very end of Matot), its fullest expression is found in a commentary to Divrei Hayamim which is attributed to a student of R’ Saadia Gaon. I will reproduce the text here, with my own translation:

ומכיר אבי אמו היה ראש ואב לגלעד, ויאיר תפש לגלעד אחריו. לפיכך נקרא על שם אבי אמו ועל שם הנחלה שתפשו בימי שלטונותו של יוסף שהיה מלך על הארץ. וכשמת יוסף ואחיו נתחזקו האומות ותקפו גוים עליהם ולקחו מידם וישבו בהם עד שבאו בארץ ישראל. ולכך נתאוו בני מכיר לשבת בארץ הגלעד ובתפושת אביהם נתנה משה להם שנאמר (דברים ג:טו) "ולמכיר נתתי את הגלעד". וגם יהושע נתנה להם שנאמר(יהושע יז:א) "ויהי הגורל למטה מנשה כי הוא בכור יוסף, למכיר בכור מנשה אבי הגלעד כי הוא היה איש מלחמה ויהי לו הגלעד והבשן." דע לך באר היטב כי אותם הדברים של חומש של מכיר ויאיר ונבח ספורות לשעבר הן. כי מכיר ויאיר ונבח לא לקחו כלום במדבר.

To paraphrase (a somewhat awkward Hebrew), this commentator is suggesting that Machir and Yair conquered these lands during the time that Joseph was in power in Egypt. During the intervening centuries, these lands were reconquered by other nations. Therefore, the descendants of Menashe desired to settle their ancestral homestead.

Machir was therefore an Egyptian general (hence the verse in Yehoshua)! The members of the tribe preserved some kind of collective memory of their relationship with that territory, and agitated to reconquer and/or resettle it. If Ya’ir led an early expedition, it explains why his conquests would be affiliated with the Manassite conquests, since specifically the children of Joseph were high-ranking enough to do that. In fact, this approach easily resolves every issue that I raised above.

Cool beans.

The Pain and Joy of Life in Israel

[This essay, mostly by the ADDeRebbetzin, was written for our Nefesh B’Nefesh application. They recently contacted us asking if they can use it for an anthology of what they deem to be the best essays they’ve received.]

We lived in the Gush during the craziest time of the Intifada. While expecting our first child, we drove on roads that would often be closed…sometimes halfway through the trip. We knew ahead of time that our daughter would require extensive surgery after birth, and though we had the option of going back to America we decided to stay in Israel and use the best of Israeli medicine. During our many hospital stays over the next couple of years we met incredible people and had some eye-opening experiences. We nicknamed the NICU the UN because of the different types of people there; we were friends with an Arab couple from Ramallah, a Chareidi couple from Beitar, and a couple from Pisgat Ze'ev where the wife was Chiloni and the husband was Dati. During that politically sensitive time, we bonded over our children.
One of the methods of helping preemies breathe is known as Kangaroo care. You take the baby and place it on your chest, skin to skin, to encourage rhythmic breathing. The father from Ramallah refused this repeatedly. The nurses made fun of him, "You don't want us to see your hairy chest!" Finally he broke down and said, with tears, "I carry my stress in my chest; I don't want my twins to feel the stress of the world." He confessed one day that one of his greatest fears was that he would finally get to take his twins home and be shot at by Israelis on the way. I confessed the same fear, but that the shots would come from Arabs.
During another hospital stay over Pesach there were many bombs around the country, and we met some of the casualties first hand. One night in the playroom we experienced something that I will never forget. The TV was showing the aftereffects of the Seder night pigua in Netanya. There were many parents watching, including some Arab families who smiled and cheered at the devastating scenes. I though to myself then, and still think now, that any country whose hospitals treat its own citizens right next to people who cheer for its destruction is a light unto the nations.
Israel—a country so stressful to live in, with people of iron will. A country where the people love and hate each other but won't hesitate to tell each other how to raise children. A country I love so much that it scares me sometimes. A place where every savta feels that your child is hers. A place that is not perfect, but is a dream. A place where everyone's dream can be a reality. A crazy place that we call home. A place where we can raise our children with values that we can be proud of, so that they can be part of a strong-willed people that can accomplish anything, and do.
These are only some of the reasons why our kids walk around with backpacks, and if you ask them where they are going, they reply, "Israel." These are only some of the reasons I am crying while writing this essay. We are realistic. We know it's not going to be easy, but we love this place, even though it's not perfect, because it is home, ours and everyone's.


Interesting Link

This guy is fun to read. Good historical background, and good analysis of the current crisis.


Matzav (Milchama) Musings

Standing a month before Aliyah, you can be darn sure that this war is on my mind. Not that it’s not on all our minds anyway. Here are some thoughts.

  • There will never be a better time than now, with world opinion as favorable to Israel as it’s been in recent memory, with the U.S. Armed Forces in Iraq, the Gulf, and Pakistan, and the Hizballah-Iran nexus perfectly clear, to go after Iran (kick some Farse?) before they get the bomb and it’s too late. The only territory that Israel would have to worry about flying over is Syria; let them start up, too. We’ll see how good those old MiGs are.

  • It’s way too early for anti-disengagement folks to say ‘I told you so’. The fact that there are two recognizable borders that have been crossed makes these acts of provocation much easier to define and explain. It’s much easier to fight an ‘external’ enemy. I will characterize this point with a joke. [Please note that I’m not saying the disengagement was a good thing, only that seeking proof for its failure in the current outbreak is premature and a bit misguided] :

A dog urinated on the leg of a blind man. The man reached into his pocket to get a biscuit to give the dog. A bystander wondered aloud, “Why are you rewarding the dog for peeing on your leg!?” The blind man replied, “Because once I know where his face is, I can kick his tuches.”

  • With Hamas as the democratically-elected heads of the PA, and Hizbollah sitting in the Lebanese parliament, there are no more excuses and doublespeak about fringe elements or isolated incidents. These acts are the acts of recognized governing authorities, who bear responsibility for their actions and against whom war can be declared. See above joke.

And a couple of personal stories related to the situation and aliyah:
  • At the rally for Gilad on Monday at the Syrian Embassy, my activist career began. I was extemporaneously asked to recite, translate and lead the singing of ‘acheynu’. Personally, I think that song, especially the right songs (for this occasion, I’d have selected ‘Kol be-Ramah’, ‘Le-ma’an Achai’, ‘U-va’u Ha-ovdim’, and others in addition to ‘Acheynu’ ) should be used as a protest tool more often; I’m not into shouting slogans like  “2-4-6-8, Syria is a terrorist state” (yes, a group actually chanted that; it was one of the better ones, actually).

  • I was interviewed earlier tonight by the Washington Times about our upcoming Aliyah. The woman doing the interviewing asked, me being a Rabbi and all, if I was familiar with a verse that another interviewee of hers, something like ‘vashavoo’. I responded that it was probably a reference to ‘ve-shavu vanim le-g’vulam’, which is found in Jeremiah 31:16 (I said that immediately). Now it so happens that I looked that passuk up earlier this week, when thinking about the captives, so I knew exactly where it was. This woman, however, was totally blown away. I told her that I can lie to her and tell her that I know the entire Torah by heart, but that it’s not true and this was a fluke. But for that one second, she was absolutely floored.

HaGaon Emo Phillips on the Limits of Rationality

Inspired by this. I think Emo hits the nail on the head with this one:

I used to think the brain was the most amazing organ in the body. Then I realized, "Well, look what's telling me that!"

Yiches from Yosef

Last week, Josh pointed out an oddity in the list of spies in Parshat Shelach, namely, that Ephraim's spy is mentioned first, but only Menashe's spy is considered 'le-mateh Yosef'.

I'm not sure I have an answer, but there's something in this week's Parsha (Pinchas, le-chol ha-de'ot) that leapt out as being relevant to the discussion. The Torah recounts the ancestry of Tzelophchad's daughters back to Yosef, through Menashe. Midrashim point out that there's a common theme of desire to be a part of the Land of Israel. Yosef insists that his bones be brought back, and the daughters of Tzelophchad argues sucessfully to inherit their father's portion.

There's also a theme in the story of Tzelophchad's daughters that considers them to be the tikkun for the sin of the spies (this is from memory; I don't have chapters and verses to cite). Thus, being meyacheis the Tribe of Menashe's spy to Yosef highlights the fact that this spy was indeed an heir of Yosef, but who nevertheless went against the grain of his heritage when he gave a false report. It was the daughters of Tzelophchad who re-asserted the Josephite relationship with the land.


HaGaon Emo Phillips

DYM comments on this post that similarities between faith systems often increases animosity, rather than decreasing. Too true, but pretty obvious to anyone not living in a bubble. Heck, even those living in sheltered environments like Monroe and Williamsburg know that.

However, it reminded me of a part of a routine by a comedian named Emo Phillips, of whom I was a big fan in High School:

I was in San Fransisco once, walking along the Golden Gate Bridge, and I saw this guy on the bridge about to jump...

I said, "Are you a Christian or a Jew?" He said, "A Christian."

I said, "Me too. Protestant or Catholic?" He said, "Protestant."

I said, "Me too! What franchise?" He says, "Baptist."

I said, "Me too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?" He says, "Northern Baptist."

I said, "Me too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?" He says, "Northern Conservative Baptist."

I say, "Me too! Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist or Northern Conservative Reform Baptist?" He says, "Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist."

I say, "Me too! Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Great Lakes Region or Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Eastern Region?" He says, "Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Great Lakes Region."

I say, "Me too! Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879 or Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?" He says, "Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912."

I said, "Die, heretic!" And I pushed him off.


Brilliant. Just Brilliant.

The common visual representation of a 'good idea' is something like this:

I'm unaware of any universal image representing the opposite, but might I suggest something like this?
I'd say that after reading an article like that, I'm at a loss for words, but I'm not. It's just that I can't really use the words that I'm not at a loss for. I'm sorely tempted to regress into a fit of bathroom humor and innuendo (like 'just friggin' brilliant', for a tame example). It's still a big yetzer ha-ra for me. But I'll hold off and keep AlanLaz happy.



There will be a number of rallies to FREE GILAD tomorrow (7/10). I will be attending the one outside the Syrian Embassy in Washington, DC, which is located at 2215 Wyoming Ave, NW, 1 block west of Connecticut Ave), in between the Dupont Circle and Woodley Park Metro stations. The rally is set to begin at 12pm.
May our efforts help to return Gilad to his family speedily and unscathed.

Another Giyur Story

We had a Shabbat meal with a woman that will become Jewish shortly. In an earlier post, I called her Sarah. She told us a remarkable story, funny and inspiring, at the table, and I’ll repeat it, filling in some details.

Sarah’s family is expatriates of a Moslem country, and is itself nominally Muslim, though non-practicing. It’s been difficult for them to accept their daughter’s decision to become Jewish, but have accepted it and become supportive, especially her father.

Recently, a cousin of Sarah’s visited from the ‘old country’. The cousin, a teenager, is a devout Muslim. During this visit, the cousin couldn’t help but notice that Sarah had become more religious. When the family went out to eat, Sarah brought her own food. All of Sarah’s clothing is modest. When shopping with Sarah’s mother, she commented that a particular skirt would be ‘too short for Sarah’.

The cousin was impressed with Sarah’s religiosity, but had a few unanswered questions. She asked Sarah why she didn’t cover her head. Sarah replied that she would do that, too, eventually. Without confirming or denying, she allowed her cousin to draw her own conclusions. Finally, the cousin asked Sarah’s parents why she didn’t even eat dairy products that they had around the house. They informed the cousin that, indeed, Sarah was becoming more religious, but of the Jewish, not the Muslim, variety.

The surprised cousin replied, “If that’s what Jews are like, then why does my country hate Israel so much?”

Lichtenstonianisms: Procrustean Sarcophagi and the Wisdom of Hazel

Menachem and I both recently referred to a term that R' Lichtenstein invented at the end of this letter to the Forward- the Procrustean Sarcophagus. Typical of RAL, it's brilliant, terse, and very obscure. The Hebrew equivalent would probably be kever Sedom or aron Sedom (though I'd advocate tachrichei Sedom), none of which are as obscure as RAL's term.

Few have noticed that there's a typo in that letter, specifically at the beginning of the third column, which says:
If you didn't catch the typo, reread the post title. It baffled me at first, but I figured it out relatively quickly.

This letter appeared when I was studying at Machon Gruss, YU's Kollel in Jerusalem. Gruss always has an interesting chevre, and my year there was no different. There were all sorts. Especially prominent, however, was a group of what would be called 'YU Yeshivish' guiys. MO backgrounds, but somewhat enamored of yeshivish trappings, ideas, and attitudes. At Gruss, this group experiences a sort of repeat of Shana Aleph, but I digress. Interestingly, RAL is the nominal Rosh Kollel of Gruss, giving 2 weekly shiurim, one Gemara and one Hashkafa, and having a presence in various other ways. The Rosh Kollel in practice, R' David Miller, is a very close disciple of RAL. Since RAL is so difficult to understand on so many levels, and since the hareidi establishment views him as something of a misguided genius, many of the fellows never bother to attend RAL's shiurim and allow their misunderstandings and presuppositions to rule their opinion of him, even as they learned from one of his closest students. I found it to be very bizarre.

So to prove a point, I went around the Beit Midrash with a copy of that letter, and asked people one very simple question: Who is/was Hazel?

Most simply skimmed the paragraph and said "Eh, probably some goyishe philosopher." So I pressed further, expressing my amazement that this Hazel dude, whomever he is, is predicated as an authoritative polestar in the Rav's religious philosophy, according to R' Lichtenstein. Some simply didn't seem shocked. It was perfectly plausible for them that some obscure goyishe philosopher would serve as the basis for RAL's philosophy, or that he would see it as the basis for the Rav's philosophy. Others were truly taken aback, and very perturbed by this prospect. Very few caught the typo.

After playing games for awhile, I let them in on it. Was it cruel? Probably. Unfair, too. But a lot of fun. And it helped ease my frustration that RAL wasn't being accorded proper respect even in his own kollel.

If you still haven't gotten it, Hazel is supposed to be Hazal (as in, Chaza"l). Makes much more sense that way, no?


Rated H - Intended for Halakhic Audiences

This post from the Wolf (my own review of Ushpizin can be found here) reminded me of something that happened during a yeshiva trip during my post-high school years at KBY.

We were on a bus, heading down to Eilat after Sukkot, just us chutznikim and a few faculty members. The bus had a VCR on it, and a small selection of movies. Given the sensibilities of shana aleph guys, the only option that we could achieve consensus on was Disney's "The Lion King". We went to the mashgiach, who is Israeli, and let him know. He asked the name of the film and we responded with the Hebrew title: Melech Ha-Arayot. The man's eyes nearly popped out of his head, until we insisted that the latter word is spelled with an aleph, not an ayin.

[Explanation: The title was translated as "The King of the Lions"; by substituting that one letter, which sounds identical in common Hebrew pronuncuiation, it becomes, basically, "The King of Sex".]

I wonder what he thought of us during that brief moment.

Anyhow, the upshot is that one of the more farchnyukte members of our group insisted that we couldn't watch because the film has a love theme, and according to so-and-so it's forbidden to watch romantic films.

Y'know, the Arava is beautiful, but gets old pretty fast.

From the Archives: Speak Softly, but Carry a Big Stick

Last year, I posted a D'var Torah in this weeks Parsha which is truly one of my favorites. It's called Speak Softly, but Carry a Big Stick
And to my Israeli readers, sorry I'm a week late. I won't let it happen again.


Heal Us, o Great Physicist Hacker

I'm not so intp this whole evolution vs. ID thing, but this article was really interesting. There are probably a few hundred 'Physicabbalists' ready to read this theory into countless ma'amarei chazal.
Hat Tip: DYM


Naming our Kids, Part IV: Zechariah Yehuda

So we arrive at the birth of our third, who we named Zechariah Yehuda. Ruchama wasn’t named for anyone, Raphi was named for my wife’s maternal grandfather, so the next one, all else being equal, would be named for someone from my family. In our family, there are many overlapping names. For example, my maternal grandfather had the same name as, yibadel le-chayim, my father-in-law. This limits the relatives who we could conceivably name after.

So we decided to name after my paternal grandfather, Rabbi Zev Yehuda (Leopold), whom I wrote about him here. The name Ze’ev didn’t really speak to us – as much of an X-Men fan as I am, wolves have a connotation of violence. And forget Leopold.

So we had chosen the name Yehuda, but wished to combine it with something to reflect our hopes and aspirations. Once again, a number of factors conspired to bring us to the name Zechariah.

Zechariah was the name of the prophet who prophesied about the rebuilding of the Second Temple, and the repopulation of Judea by Judeans. He ascended to Judea with Zerubabel’s campaign, and actually agitated for the Temple to be rebuilt. Given our impending Aliyah, the name Zechariah resonated with us.

Furthermore, the names Zechariah and Yehuda are linked. Zechariah the Prophet was the first to use the term ‘Yehudi’, and his homeland was Judea, or Yehuda, and it is about Yehuda that he prophesied. The Haftarah that we read (in chu”l) the morning our baby was born, we read from the Book of Zechariah and his prophecies concerning Yehuda, including this verse(2:16 – note also that one of the occurrences of the name ‘Bat-Zionas a metaphor for Jerusalem occurs two verses earlier, again linking our kids’ names):

And the LORD shall inherit Judah as His portion in the holy land, and shall choose Jerusalem again.

The two names together express a statement of faith/prayer, “God (has) remember(ed) Yehuda”, which reflect our own hopes and fears about settling there.

Finally, these two names, coincidentally or not, are names of two of the soldiers who were captured 24 years, almost to the day, before my son’s birth (20th Sivan 5742, 22nd Sivan 5766). I have had the good fortune of studying both at Kerem B’Yavneh, where Yehuda Katz was studying, and at Yeshivat Har Etzion, where Zachary Baumel was studying, where the memory of those bachurim and the hope for their return lives on.

We did not name after these MIAs, because we don’t name after the living. Rather, we felt we need to remember those who are in danger of being forgotten as we implore God to remember us. The dream of Shivat Zion comes in many forms, from the time of Zechariah until our own time. Tragically, just a few hours before our Zechariah Yehuda entered into Abraham’s covenant, and unbeknownst to us at the time, a name was added to the list of missing Israeli soldiers. And thus we continue to implore, “God, remember Yehuda!”

Quiet Shabbos, Tough Question

The combination of Zechariah Yehuda’s arrival two weeks ago and the holiday weekend meant that my mishpacha was pretty much alone in CP for Shabbos. We managed to scrape together a minyan for Kabbalat Shabbat, but we didn’t even bother trying to get one this morning. That’s life in a college town. Late to bed, later to rise. Amazingly, our eruv was checked and was operational, even with nary a soul to use it.

Thus, Shabbos was ridiculously relaxing. Just hanging out with the kids, good food, provided by kind souls who deliver meals to families with recent additions, and strong air conditioning. It’s actually nice when you can spend a Shabbos outside of any established community. It’s even nicer when you can stay put and everybody else leaves.

In the late morning, after an early lunch, I took the two older kids to the park, so their mother and baby brother could nap. On the way home, I saw a student – Jewishly involved and pretty traditional – leaving his house to get into his car. I said hello and ‘Good Shabbos’, we chatted for a minute or two, and went our merry ways. My daughter, who misses nothing, asked if that boy is Jewish. I responded that he is.

So now comes the moment every parent dreads, right? I want her to absorb my values and beliefs, but don’t want her to think ill of people who don’t do things our way. It’s a real tightrope. Fortunately, she made it easy. She simply asked, “Then he’s not supposed to drive his car on Shabbos, right?” And I said, “Right.”


The Spectrum of RYBS's Students

I just noticed this line in a guest post by Steve at Harry’s blog:

all of RYBS's Talmidie (sic) Muvhakim ranging from RAL to RHS

I’ve often heard and seen R’ Hershel Schachter and R’ Aharon Lichtenstein portrayed as the opposite ends of the spectrum of the Rav, zt”l’s talmidim. It is ironic that Steve accuses Heilman of having a ‘highly simplistic view of RYBS’. The spectrum of the Rav’s students runs from Rav Michel Shurkin to R’ Dr. David Hartman. R’ Schachter and R’ Lichtenstein are standing pretty close to each other along that spectrum.
It’s typical, though, that dyed-in-the-wool YU people miss the full range of what’s actually out there (which I suspect is true of most institutions, and which is why I made a point of spending enough time in many of them to learn their different cultures), even when it comes to the various interpreters of RYBS’s oeuvre.
When we do that, we run the risk, to paraphrase RAL, of interring the Rav in a Procrustean sarcophagus. It doesn’t matter if the interment takes place on the right, left, or center.