A Terrible Irony of Lag Ba-Omer

On the eve of Shabbat before sunset [R. Shimon b. Yochai and his son, R. Eliezer] saw an old man holding two bundles of myrtle and running at twilight. What are these for?' they asked him. 'They are in honor of Shabbat,' he replied. 'But one should suffice you'? — One is for 'Zachor (Commemorate)' and one for 'Shamor (Observe).' Said he to his son, 'See how precious the commandments are to Israel.' Thereupon their minds were put at ease. (Shabbat 33b- see here and here)
The incredible irony, of course, is the massive amount of Chillul Shabbat that will take place this weekend as people get their bonfires started in the middle of the afternoon. I once was ambivalent about this kind of expression of Israeli culture - on one hand, some observances are incredibly widespread, and on the other, they tend to have the cultural currency of a Christmas tree. Simply stated, we Jews are the goyim in Israel, and national holidays are watered down (and occasionally secularized) versions of the original religious holiday (except when the opposite is true, such as on Yom Ha-Atzma'ut, which is a whole other ball of wax). I truly believe that Mordechai Kaplan would see the modern State of Israel as the embodiment of his dreams. Whatever tolerance I have for these phenomena goes out the window when the Chillul is caused by a recently invented holiday like Lag Ba-Omer. It should be pushed off the same way that Yom Ha-Atzma'ut is pushed off to avoid Chillul Shabbat. I tend to think that Rashbi, whose mind was eased by Jews observing Shabbat, would prefer it that way.

Ridiculous WSJ Article

[Warning: This is so completely different from what I usually post, I even surprised my wife with its randomness]

The WSJ published an article about the most hated teams in baseball, using an algorithm developed by Nielsen Co. According to them, the Yankees are only the fifth most hated team in baseball, which is simply impossible. To demonstrate, I came up with two simple algorithms of my own: the hatred index (HI) and the adjusted hatred index (AHI). The hatred index is the total number of hits in a Google search of ["the hated {team name}" baseball] (the last term would exclude, for example, incidences of "the hated Indians" that refer to Custer's Last Stand or "the hated Reds" that refer to the McCarthy era). The AHI divides the HI by the number of hits generated by ["{city}{team name}"]. Thus, a team that has 10 hates out of 100 total references will have a higher AHI than a team with 1,000 hates out of 1 million total references (.1 to .01). Admittedly it's not perfect or scientific, but I believe that it will yield a fairly accurate view. Now to the stats.
You can see my spreadsheet here. It turns out that the Yankees are only the second most hated team (HI) in MLB - the SF Giants take that title, surprisingly. The Yankees fare even better according to AHI (because of the large number of 'neutral' hits). Perhaps the presence of three rivals (Dodgers, A's, and Yankees from back in the day) and a monstrous scandal contributed to the Giants' poor showing. Teams that are recent expansions or are from the Midwest are the least hated, generally (Chicago excepted, presumably due to the intense internal rivalry), and bad teams tend to not be hated.
Still, I think that something must be wrong if the Yankees do not come out on top. Perhaps I should have searched using "damn" instead of "hated." Also surprisingly, the Rays have such a low AHI due to a very high number of general hits - about three times as many as any other team, for some reason. There must be some reason for that; it's certainly not fan base.

Here's the full listing according to AHI, from most hated to least hated.

Team HI HI Rank AHI AHI Rank
Giants 42900 1 0.0136 1
Yankees  38500 2 0.005 4
Mets 34500 3 0.0079 2
White Sox 24300 4 0.0062 3
Cubs 18000 5 0.0029 9
Cardinals 17500 6 0.0037 6
Dodgers 14800 7 0.004 5
Braves 14000 8 0.0034 7
Red Sox 12500 9 0.0018 12
Phillies 11000 10 0.0024 11
Rangers 6910 11 0.0031 8
Angels 6020 12 0.0025 10
Twins 2260 13 0.0004 14
Tigers 927 14 0.0002 17
Astros 920 15 0.00029 15
Orioles 878 16 0.00026 16
A's 739 17 0.0011 13
Brewers 703 18 0.0002 18
Indians 490 19 0.00008 19
Reds 312 20 0.000066 22
Mariners 213 21 0.000072 20
Blue Jays 192 22 0.000067 21
Padres 158 23 0.000061 23
Marlins 55 24 0.000021 24
Pirates 37 25 0.000006 27
Rays 31 26 0.000001 30
Nationals 27 27 0.000008 26
Diamondbacks 21 28 0.000009 25
Royals 10 29 0.000004 28
Rockies 6 30 0.000002 29
Copyright 2010 by Elli Fischer/ ADDeRabbi

New Book that Looks Interesting

Answering a Question with a Question: Contemporary Psychoanalysis and Jewish Thought

I haven't read it, but I edited one of the chapters (the one by Prof. Tuvia Peri: A Freudian and Kleinian Reading of the Garden of Eden Narrative). Some of the other contributions look intriguing as well. If anyone is interested in reviewing it, let me know (adderabbi-at-gmail) and I'll pass it on.


Segula is Live

UPDATE: Here's a link to a .pdf of the entire issue. The link will expire in 2 days. Hopefully there will be a link to a full color .pdf from the site by then. For those interested, here's a link to the Hebrew edition.

The first English issue of Segula is out and can be viewed in its entirety here. It can even be printed or viewed as a .pdf. As I mentioned I'm the translation and literary editor (even though they forgot to put my name in the first issue; I'm told that will be remedied!). And check out my brother-in-law's review of Sara Stroumsa's Maimonides in His World: Portrait of a Mediterranean Thinker (Jews, Christians, and Muslims from the Ancient to the Modern World).
I doubt that the publication will remain free in the long term, but this should give an idea of what it will be like. I'm not objective about it, but I've found that it's a very interesting, beautiful, and diverse popular Jewish history magazine. No need to take my word for it, though. Read the first issue - and then subscribe!


On South Park Censorship

The decision of the creator's of South Park not to air a segment in which they poke fun at Muhammad is really scary. This is a show that has slaughtered the sacred cows of Judaism, Christianity, Scientology, Mormonism, and more (my favorite such episode - not that I've watched so many of them - is the one in which Jesus is in a boxing match with Satan; everyone bets on Satan, except Satan, who bets on Jesus and throws the match. Brilliant!). I can't articulate this better than David Hazony has.
Long time readers, however, may remember that after the Danish cartoon scandal four years ago, I was asked to participate in a panel discussion on humor and religion at UMD. Here's a link to my write-up of my presentation. I just reread it for the first time in several years, and much of it rings as true as ever (apologies for the shorthand).


Second Annual Jahrzeit Shiur

Like last year, I will be giving a shiur Tuesday night (4/27) in memory of my maternal grandparents, Ruth and Eric Levi z"l, at 8:30 at the Ramat Modiin Synagogue (Glenwood) in Hashmonaim. The yahrzeits of both grandparents fall during sefirat ha-omer.

The topic of this year's shiur is:

When Judaism Confronts a New Culture - a Reading of the Talmudic Story of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his Colleagues (Shabbat 33b) 

Light refreshments will be served.


Introducing Segula: A New Jewish History Magazine

A new magazine has been published in Israel - the Hebrew edition hit the stands last week and the English will be coming out this week or the beginning of next. The two versions are very similar but not identical.

There's a lot I can say about this publication, but since I have a vested interest - I'm the translation manager/ editor and literary editor of the English edition - I'll let readers form their own opinions.



A Linguistic Observation about Hillel and Shammai

 I just (literally, minutes ago) realized something about the famous names of Hillel and Shammai.

The name 'Hillel' means 'praised'; the name 'Shammai' means 'appraiser'. I wonder if thee meanings correlate to the positions ascribed to them - with Shammai more inclined to evaluate things as the truly are and Hillel inclined to allow for generous leeway. A few of their famous disputes seem to go in that direction:
  • The well-known dispute of 'KeitzadMerakdin', in which the Hillelites instruct that every groom must be praised for his choice of a bride, whereas the Shammites ruled that a spade must be called a spade.
  • The Shammites placed a 'real' value on kiddushei kessef, whereas the Hillelites placed a symbolic value.
  • In the set of three narratives about potential converts who approach Hillel and Shammai, Hillel is willing to look beyond the present reality, whereas Shammai looks at the present situation; indeed, Shammai chases one prospective convert out with a yardstick. (I discussed this set of narratives here and here).
 So what does this mean? Did Hillel and Shammai choose positions based on their names? Are 'Beit Hillel' and 'Bait Shammai' actually philosophies or attitudes, with the characters of Hillel and Shammai being later literary constructs? Were they real historical figures who were later 'enlisted' as paradigms? Some combination? Does this entire endeavor smack of 19th century Eastern European Wissenschaft?


On Cigarettes and Pig's Blood

Thanks to Joel, I was interviewed for Hungarian national radio today on the issue of trace amounts of pig's blood in cigarette filters. As you can probably imagine, the main thrust of my comments was that pig's blood is the least of a smoker's halakhic concerns. I do not like smoke and have little patience for smokers, and I believe that smoking is forbidden halakhically (even though I recently heard a story about how smoking saved lives - apparently the body adapts to decreased pulmonary function, allowing smokers to remain conscious and living much longer in lox-oxygen environments).

The interviewer wondered how it can be forbidden if the Torah says nothing about smoking (gotta love it when people fundamentally misunderstand fundamentalism).

In a nutshell, having given a disclaimer that I do not know the science of the issue and have not researched all of the halakhic implications, I gave the following reasons that it would not be forbidden to inhale pig's blood - they're pretty obvious reasons:
  • You inhale it, you don't eat it (can you smell bacon?).
  • By the time it enters your mouth, it's smoke.
  • The taste is batel.
It's really a no-brainer, if you ask me, and the 'scientist' who suggested that his findings might have religious implications is barking up the wrong tree, at least as far as keeping kosher is concerned.