Thoughts on Judaism

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Rav Blumenkrantz rethinks Magic Medicine

Observer noted this little addition, that seems a bit self-contradictory in the famous Pesach guide published by said Rav. Perhaps common sense is slowly seeping in, after all.

Halachic questions remain:
Why does he now hold that only homeopathic remedies with active ingredients are kosher and those that do not, i.e. any dilution at or above 24x / cc, are not? I would think "nothing" would be better for Pesach (and more expensive, as in previous posts). The only guess that I can come up with is that he makes some allowances in the maufacturing process for medicines, but since he does not consider these medicines, the manufacturing process disqualifies them.

Common sense question:
If, in homeopathy parlance, "hyperAvogadro" dilutions are valid on the same logic as "hypoAvogadro" dilutions, then why consider any of it "medicine"? Why cling to the dilusion of efficacy? An example would be if someone were selling dirt, saying that it was more nourishing than food, and safer. Then we found that there was no actual dirt in some of the products sold under this banner. Would we then say that we will only allow products with actual dirt to sold as food?

I wish I shared Observer's optimism on next year's guide.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

The Cost of Nothing

Last week, the fish market told me that they were selling two kinds of fish for Pesach. One type had oil, pepper and perhaps, sugar. Then there was the really mehadrin for Pesach al pi a hamachmir. It had no ingredients other than fish. The fish with "nothing" was twice the price of the other. (Learned from the homeopathy folks, did they?) This sparked me to run some numbers on matzah, you know, that obscenely expensive wallpaper paste, made of flour and water and nothing else.

My cost estimates, which I think err toward the more expensive:

Per hour:
Mashgiach for flour and water $25 (This is the cost to the hechsher)
Baker capable of mixing same $25
Matzah rollers $80 (10 of them)
Equipment & premises $25
Operating expenses (everything is manual) $10 (maybe some fans and light)
Let's round it up to $200 an hour
(Of course, factoring in the cost of nothing, if you want to participate in the rolling and what not, you may pay more for it.)

Estimate of production given said expenses, very conservatively: 600 matzahs (10 rollers, rolling average 1 per minute)

Cost per matzah 33c. Approx $4 per pound.

Let's give a profit margin of 50% befitting a seasonal product. $6 per pound.
Add transportation and distribution, $7.50 a pound.

Average price: $15 per pound
It's half flour and water, ... and half "nothing else".

Now for esrogim - the $80 lemon variant (Yes, I know you can pay 10 times that if you like, but let's be kind for a moment).
They sell them in the markets for about a dollar (exotic fruit and all). Let's pasul 3 out of four and add a mashgiach. What the heck, let's just go $10 per kosher esrog. Add in a 50% seasonal profit margin, $15. But the esrog must be spotless, with NOTHING on it. Ouch! $65 for nothing.

So the next time you try to get more for your money, remember less is more, ... and nothing is even more.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Igros - the challenge

In response to the proposal of Reb Ariel, shiyichye, I asked the igros as he recommends, whether his account of his "false prophecy" is true or not. Wording of my question is copied below. As I expected "the Rebbe answered me" almost immediately, as the algorithm of the website dictates. My free translation follows. My image captured only the second page for some reason, but the books are in print.

To me, the answer in all respects is completely irrelevant to the question that I asked. There is certainly no direct answer. What can be read into this? Can any of you help?

Ariel, your answer, if it is not first, will be copied and prominently displayed, if you wish.

Note: I followed the broadest method possible in interpreting igros, including two full pages to select an applicable answer.

Question as submitted to igros: "Rabbi A. Sokolovsky shyichiye of Boston claims on his website that you told him through igrot that Kerry would win the presidency. He then says that he did not really ask. Then, he says that you mislead him for valid reasons. He has published the account of what happened on his website, and on comments to others, such as my own, under "Igros - the test" and others with which you are, no doubt familiar. Surely in reading these accounts, you will see the question in my mind. He has proposed that I ask whether his account of events is true or false. So, given the apparent contradiction in his own words, I will ask straight from the source. Did you tell him that Kerry would win the election or did you not? "

Free translation: (vol6 pages 278-9)

Letter 1784
13 Menachem Av, 5712 Brooklyn
Peace and Blessing!
In answer to your letter of 7 Menachem Av, in it [you] write regarding the condition of his health, physically and specifically regarding the condition of his eye. My opinion is not favorable on this (my translation of Ain da'ati noche mi'zeh) the [you] write that since two years ago when he first felt what was in his eye, even so, he did not go to doctors. But, let's not cry about the past. And now, IMO, [you] need to ask two expert doctors' advise on the specific matter, and to try with them to do all possible procedures (to weaken the disease) before removing the eye, chas v'shalom. And he should be strong in his faith in Hashem, yisbarech, that this should not be necessary. And surely, it is unnecessary to explain to him, chas v'shalom, to be careful in kidush and havdalah, because as the Chazal say, these are connected with the light source of the eye of a person. And also, he should try to add strength in learning "inner torah" (probably he means Chabad Chasidus) fitting with his position and condition, and I await good news from him. His Pidyon Nefesh, I will read on the gravestone of my father in law (titles of respect follow), and sure great mercy will will be awakened for him. And a blessing for proper health in everything.

Letter 1785
17 Menachem Av 5712
Shalom u'bracha!
In answer to your letter of 14 and 15 Menachem Av.

I do not understand what he concluded that my answer caused alot of weakening of his health. Because, MiMaNafshach (the statement is indefensible in any way of looking at the matter), whether he is relying on me or whether he is not relying on me, there is no place to weaken at all. And my mission is not to make healthy or to bless and obviously not, chas v'shalom the opposite. And regarding his question once more regarding the treatment, that they are telling him that there is mortal danger without the treatment, my father in law did not like such exaggerations. Lay out the matter before 3 good friends, and G-d will give them the proper knowledge to teach him for his good, physically and spiritually together.

In blessing for a "rest of the soul and the body" and for serving Hashem in true prosperity.

Letter 1786
20 Menachem Av, 5712
Brooklyn, NY

Aguch in Israel, it should be rebuilt and established
Hashem Aleihem Yichyu

Peace and blessing!
I must recognize before you the hardworking, famous (titles of respect) Yitzchak Almali, Sephardi of Morocco, who has prepared to visit the Holy Land (its should be built and established) regarding an important matter connected with Sephardic children that came from North Africa to the Holy Land (T'V).

The hardworker aforementioned is amomng the important, good, hardworkers of the Sephardim in Morrocco and among our friends and establishers of Mosdos Ohalei YY Lubavitch that is there. An honored man, with a good heart, feeling and traits, given over to proper education for the children of Morrocco etc.

And I ask them to receive him with a happy countenance and with respect befitting his stature and spirit. And to help him in the extremely important matter aforementioned as much as possible, both with their positions, and with introductions in every place where that is necessary.

And please inform me what comes of this.

With Blessings,
M. Schneersohn

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Igros Part II- the test

In Part I, we learn how Igros "works". The question is, though, does it work?

Igros could be easily tested by asking a direct question and then designating what would be a yes or no answer, and what would be considered an irrelevant answer. Thankfully this work was already done by believer, Ariel S. and the BostonChabad team. The following is lifted, unedited, from their site, dated October 19th, presumably of '04. Enjoy!

Beginning of quote:

Urgent update! October 19 : Dear readers! Looking at the current US presidential election campaigns I was saddened and perplexed by the almost total support given by my fellow Chabadniks and other Orthodox Jews to the incumbent president Bush Jr. when there are clear instructions of the Rebbe King Moshiach Shlit"a (May He live forever and ever!) not to reelect anyone who even said anything to split the holy land of Israel (think of Road Map). My dear readers Bush Jr. will lose like his father did for exacly the same reason which is ingratitude and lack of moral fortitude. His dad went into the Gulf War having advance scoop about the prophetic details of the upcoming war publiciced by the Rebbe King Moshiach Shlit"a (May He live forever and ever!) however once he won he decided that "my strenght and the power of my hands achieved all of this" and followed the evil council of James Baker to push Yitzhak Shamir to negotiate with acursed PLO in Madrid threatining not to give Israel the loan guarantees (which are worth millions to Israel and cost $0 to USA) . Bush Jr. also had advance knowlege of the King Moshiach's prophecy since mid summer 5762 (2002) (I'll post the story about that shortly) yet once G-d granted him the easy victory he rerbelled against the G-d who made him and haven't publicly repented to date therefore it's my pleasure to inform you in the Rebbe King Moshiach's name (This answer was was deduced thru common sense (or may be ruach ha'koidesh- Devine inspiration... see article on prophecy posted bellow ...) and then confirmed thru a letter to the Rebbe King Moshiach see for more on that, and thru a sign the G-d Almighty have sent me that few days ago: a guy named Kerry Presly -Kerry Press. ly - Kerry is my President ( Hebrew) tried to steal my back pack from the Yeshivah lobby at 824 Eastern Pkway Brooklyn were I was staying for the Sukot holydays at that time, the dude even pulled a knife on a Jew who tried to stop him but for some reason the DAs office declined to prosecute him ... I guess the angels clothed in bodies of the authorities decided that the poor guy should be let free since the whole thing was orchestrated from above for our benefit and noone was hurt anyway and I was able to cause a Jewish policeman to stand on the path of Teshuvah (repentance-Return to G-d) :-) that Sen. John Kerry is going to be the next US president and any support given to reelect the current president is a waste of time and money same way the protests about the then upcoming war with Iraq were a total waste of time and money.May G-d bless of my readers with common sense and or obidience to the will of the Rebbe King Moshiach Shlit"a who transmits us the will of the Almighty G-d . PS.If you are from among those who have trust in my honesty and trust in the Rebbe King Moshiach Shlit"a (May he live forever and ever!) you may even proffit from the above info by betting that Kerry will win at place like and you'll about double your money by the election date (this is 100% kosher according to Jewish law and the Rebbes answer also authorizes me to sugest this to people so I'll ignore angry comments from anyone on this topic . See prophecy being used for "commercial" purposes in Tanach ( the Bible) starting with Yosef haTzadik - Joseph the Righteous - Nabi Yusuf (Arabic spelling search engine bait) and all the way to Yeremia - Jeremia and more and people who chose to have trust in their holy words :-) PPS.The answer from Moshiach also stated that after both Bush and Sharon will not be reelected they will repent and do much G-d for the Rebbes causes (find word Sharon in Yishaiahu 65 -Issaiah 65 - you'll see what I mean in particular see classic comentarys on this.

Ad kan l'shono

Friday, April 08, 2005

Real reality has Real Effect

100 years ago, infections, asthma, flu epidemics, encephalitis, polio, smallpox and any number of other "itis"es took young lives with ugly regularity. The average life expectancy, factoring out the rampant infant and maternal mortality, was late 50s to early 60s. In a USA dominated by homeopathic treatment, the reality is recorded history for all to see. Nowadays, using evidence based medicine, 60 year olds are not even old, most infections are easily treated, asthma is treatable and survivable, infant and maternal mortality are rare, polio even rarer, and smallpox exists only in test tubes. The same is true of the Far East then and now. Their acupuncture, Ayurveda, reiki etc. pale in performance against real medicine. Can we imagine a world where these things were actually effective?

This got me to thinking. How would our world be if our favorite superstitions had actual effect? If people could speak to the dead, we could solve every mystery murder, find missing children, and win wars with ease. If people could read the minds of others and view remotely, there would be no need for police officers, lawyers and juries. Our militaries and law enforcement agencies would have found these talents invaluable. Osama, Zarqawi, and Zawahri would be safely in jail or dead. We would have had no need of the tipsters who turned in Saddam and his sons.

This is an amazing seed for thought. All of the psychics, astrologers, prophets (like Nostradamus), and magic peddlers of all generations could not tell us that Uranus and Neptune even existed. Today, these huge bodies and even those circling other stars can be discerned with incredible accuracy. While astrologers were plotting the future based on the positions of the moon, sun and planets that they knew about, today, we know they had no conception of how far away these bodies really were. That is because we know the exact position of the moon to the millimeter. We know where the sun and each planet will be tonight and tomorrow and in 700 years (relative to us, anyway). They could not predict or solve any problem of the world before it happened. Civil War, World War, Holocaust continued unabated, even though these people supposedly existed. People died in earthquakes, tsunamis, sudden natural disasters, premeditated murders. If there were people who knew the future and know it now, why did this happen and why does it continue to happen today?

This is the difference between real reality and imagined reality. Real reality does not require credulity. It does not require leaps of logic. It simply works, overcomes boundaries, and imposes itself on the world, regardless of the world's attitude toward it. The next time some magic peddler comes to sell you nonsense, instead of considering packaged anecdotes, consider what the world might be like if what they were selling really had any effect. Me'hin ata shomaya lav.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Terry Shiavo thoughts

Terry Shiavo was a person, not a political football. Her case filed under "right to die", even though she was not dying, or brain dead. She was severely brain damaged.

Those who feel that emotion tried to trump science miss some points here. This was not about science or religion.

1) Only one judge looked at this case. The other courts only looked at the handling of the case, not the case itself.
2) The matter of "permanent vegetative state" was simply not fully explored. It needed to be examined in light of her presumed stated wish of what circumstances she claimed the "right to die".
3) The matter of whether she actually expressed a wish for "right to die" is uncorroborated.
4) The guardianship of a husband who had effectively written her off and remarried was rabidly guarded by the court. Her family WANTED to take care of her. If she had not expressed a wish to die, they should have been allowed to do so.
5) She was not dying or brain-dead. She was not on "life support", but only assisted feeding and hydration. That is very different from ventilator, dialysis, cardiac machine type life support.
6) No one conclusive demonstrated that she only had brain stem function and not higher level brain function, nor that she would not feel the pain of dehydration.

Advocates for Terry did not help her case by claiming that she had spoken discernable words, or by trying to build a Michael Shiavo conspiracy without evidence.

In balance, though, there was a lot more to know before the tube came out.

Pope John Paul II - RIP

Since WWII, the Church has been on the outs with Jews. One breakthrough came in the 1960s when Pope John enacting some sweeping reforms which changed official policy toward the Jewish people. It was Politically Correct, but it made it respectable to reconcile with the Jewish people once again. Since then there have been numerous setbacks, especially in matters concerning holocaust and Israel.

To Pope John Paul II's credit, he went farther than any Pope in the past to try and reverse the long standing anti-Jewish bias in the real, popular Church. In other words, he worked to change attitudes, not just official bulls. Many will quarrel with the Pope, saying he needed to go much farther, and I certainly agree. But, he did go farther than any of his predecessors in a positive direction. He even used the word "holocaust" which has never been acknowledged by the Church, and one senses that he would have gone further if he could have. During the actual events of WWII, he was among those that bucked official policy of neutrality and supported Jewish rescue. During the current MidEast conflict, he took a far more even approach than any of his predecessors. At least it was a step in the right direction. Coming from a Polish non Jew of his era, that was remarkable. We have seen how he put Joseph Glemp and others in their place.

In general, he was a strong leader who asserted the Church beliefs and his own without apology. Recently, he openly stood with the Shindler's efforts to save their daughter Terri Shiavo. He openly opposed communism and went under threat to Poland and Cuba. He did not (entirely) try to softsoap on the issue of pedaphile priests. He advocated dealing with the issue and protecting children, instead of becoming fully absorbed in spin control. He advocated freedom throughout the world.

Though I disagree with many of his positions obviously, I think that he pursued them in a forthright fashion and he returned force and influence to a papacy in rapid decline.

With the passing of this Pope, I will cautiously say that the Jews have one less ally in the world, and the Church will have difficulty filling his shoes.

This is a news box with the same sentiments from Debka.

DEBKAfile Special Report

2 April:

The most peripatetic of all pontiffs, the white-cassocked figure of Pope John Paul II waving from his popemobile – bulletproofed since the 1981 attempt on his life – became a legendary figure as he crisscrossed the world’s map for more than 20 years.

One of the longest and most moving of his trips was his weeklong millennium pilgrimage to the Holy Land, not only as a Christian but as a Pole who grew up with Jews and mourned Jewish friends, neighbors and former playmates, who perished in the Nazi Holocaust. His tearful embrace with a Shoah survivor at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Center in Jerusalem was spontaneous and heartfelt.

A certain disappointment with the papal visitor’s failure to apologize for the record of his predecessor Pius XII in the Nazi era faded quickly when he stood at the Western Wall and said: “Personally, I have always wanted to be counted among those who work, on both sides, to overcome old prejudices, and to secure ever wider and fuller recognition of the spiritual patrimony shared by Jews and Christians. I repeat what I said on the occasion of my visit to the Jewish Community in Rome, that we Christians recognize that the Jewish religious heritage is intrinsic to our own faith: “You are our elder brothers.”

That said, he inserted the written text into a crevice of the Wall.

The statement was perfectly consistent with his lifelong work, from before the time when Karol Wojtyla as a young priest took part in drafting the groundbreaking 1965 Vatican II document that ended centuries of Christian anathema of the Jews. The document condemned “hatred and persecutions of the Jews,” affirmed the validity of Judaism as a religious way of life with which Catholics must establish relations of “mutual knowledge and respect” and repudiated the idea of “the Jewish people as one rejected, cursed, or guilty of deicide…”

Never one for pompous or pious speeches, the pontiff took often revolutionary steps to make that edict come true.

In 1993, the Vatican extended long-overdue recognition to the State of Israel and in 1994, they exchanged ambassadors. He was the first pope since the founding of the Catholic Church to visit a synagogue when he paid his respects at the Great Synagogue of Rome in the ancient Jewish Ghetto. There, he said: “The Jewish religion is not extrinsic to us, but in a certain way is intrinsic to our own religion. With Judaism, therefore, we have a relationship which we do not have with any other religion.”

He was the first pontiff to visit Auschwitz. And, in 2001, he stood beside Ukraine’s Chief Rabbi Yaacov Bleich and prayed at the main Babi Yar Memorial for the souls of 200,000 dead, including 150,000 Jews, who were massacred by the Nazis in 1941 at this ravine region. In the first two days of the slaughter, Ukrainian Jewry was destroyed.

The pope’s gesture followed criticism for his failure to respond to an anti-Semitic diatribe from Bashar Assad during a visit to Syria.

In 2003, the Vatican opened some of its archives on the pontificate of Pius XII covering the Nazi period.

In January, 2005, his health already in decline, John Paul II warmly received more than 100 Jewish leaders, rabbis and cantors at the Vatican. Shalom Aleichem, he said and urged them to do more for stronger dialogue between Jews and Catholics. That may have been almost his last audience for a large group of visitors.