Thoughts on Judaism

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The Return of the Death Curse

Hat tip: Shmarya

Just when you thought it was safe to enter the 21st century, out come the witch doctors with the holy craft of cursing an evil man to death. And who is their target? Not Palestinian and Al Qaeda militants. No, we have missiles for that. Not the chilonim. No, we have rocks for that. Not even the French! No, they wouldn't even fight back.

Fresh from their victory over Rabin (assassinated a couple of months later by a right wing assassin), and possibly Stalin (according to an old Chabad legend), they are after the Rosh HaMemshala, Arik Sharon. Sharon did not wipe out the Jewish communities of Europe, Bavel, or Russia. He did not bring plague, pestilence or the Jerry Springer show to Israel. Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown showed up, but there is no evidence that Sharon was behind it. He committed the grievous sin of trying to protect the borders of Israel and the people of Israel in a way with which these particular mekubalim disagree. I personally think that the disengagement is a bad idea in many respects. Trading something for nothing, even if that is the relative nothing of Gaza, has just never increased the peace. But politics is for another venue. Sharon is for it, along with alot of Israelis, and they think it help in the big picture.

No doubt, if the PM gets ill or if they successfully have him conventionally murdered (they have obviously examined the possibility as they know the details of Sharon's security arrangements and express dismay that they cannot get passed it), they will claim the credit. I am not sure how many Pulsa D'Nura's have failed to kill the intended victim. But we can be sure that if the PD fails to kill its victim, there will be an adequate answer for why. He was too far away. His advocates were davening against it. The sun was in our eyes. Or perhaps a kabalistic answer, like the potatoes of atzilus were not sufficiently fried in the olive oil of Atik Yomin. And this is to say nothing of the fact that it seems fashionable among certain elements to clamor for death. It seems that everytime a bell rings for dealing with the peace process, an "angel of destruction" gets his wings. The people who speak calmly, gleefully, hopefully, about killing the political or religious opponent du jour remind me of something very deep seeded in world culture. It is the culture of the Taliban, Al Qaeda, the Nazis, the Klan, and now the Jews of the deep right. It is met with a blood curdling passivity in some mainstream circles.

Of what value is this power of death curse, if it can be so easily thwarted? I do not know.

The question that begs to be asked is, if we have this awesome power, why did we have to put up with so much throughout history? Surely, the Maharal could have put the whammy on Thaddeus. The mekubalim and Rebbes of Europe could have stopped Hitler. The misnagdim could have eliminated the Chasidim. (Note: if you are a Chasid, please reverse the terms misnagdim and Chasidim in the previous sentence.) Instead of working out the issues in Beis Din, we could have solved issues by curses at 20 paces.

(Editors note: Rebel, that last comment sounded too much like that Harry Potter kefira stuff! Please consider revising!)

In fact, why do we not mix the prescience and omniscience of the mekubalim with the ability to perform a death curse and really start the party! One mekubal can divine the relative value of children in a particular class while another applies the voodoo to the ones who will grow up to be a car thieves, koferim b'farhesia, or lawyers. Mixing the Nitro of kabala wih the Glycerine of the ability to visit death on thine enemies may be a wonderful stress relieving fantasy, but when Professor McGonagal finds out, many points will be taken from Gryfindor House.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Grip on Reality

As a follow up on the last post, can you tell the difference between real and fake? This is a summary of how Charedim did on the quiz:

Dinosaurs - fake
Demons - real
heliocentrism - fake
geocentrism - real
evolution - fake since it is only a theory
relativity - real, though it is only a theory
Copenhagen QM - real, though it is only a speculative theory
Carbon dating - fake
oriental medicine - real
pigeon cure for hepatitis - real
fossils - fake
Zoo Torah - fake, fake, fake
dybuks - real
The Golem of Prague - totally real
Frankenstein - fake
x+x=2x - huh? (Sorry, only a theory and unprovable)
homeopathy - real
Besht stories - mostly real
scientific discovery - mostly fake
uranium dating - fake
Sunset - fake (it goes behind the Rakia, it does not set)
Sun warming the water from underneath the Earth - real
astrology - real, but not permitted
vaccines - fake
spontaneous generation - real
laws of physics - fake
Psak halacha dictates reality - real (See Copenhagen QM)
Prayer healing study - real
pi r square - fake (pi r round, kugel r square)
Country of Israel - fake
Country of Russia - real
Country of America - FEH! PTUI!
Talking to the dead tzdikim - real
Talking to the gedolim - never, they talk, we listen
Prophetic dreams - real
Hopes and dreams - fake
Affordable yeshivas - Oh come on, you think we are totally naive?
TV - What does that stand for?
Ayin Hara - real
Kollel - real and eternal
Employment - fake
Army service - fake
Taxes - fake
Rocks on Shabbos - real, muktza
Heter for throwing them at chilonim - very real
Vodka - real
Gin - fake
Lincoln Towncar - Real
Hyundai - fake, never heard of it
Government programs - real
Government - fake
Toyra laws - real
Laws - fake
money - it would make the world go round if the world weren't standing still with everything else going around IT
gilgulim - real
galgalim - real
Independent thought - fake, not possible

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Harry Potter and Barney - Unlikely Allies

What do Harry Potter and Barney have in common? Both are banned in fundamentalist Yeshivas and both are fictional.

Barney's crimes against humanity are many, no doubt. First, there is that OBNOXIOUS "I love you" song, implying that nish-Idden could be in the same family as Idden. There are kids of various genders and species dancing together and lying in the same bed, at least until they "roll over". And then the kids are expected to "clean up, clean up everybody everywhere" all by themselves, without the Goyte. But his most notorious crime is being a Darwinian seed of indoctrination, implying that, even though Barney does not exist (unless you "make believe" him), dinosaurs did indeed exist. This is the sneakiest fake purple creature to infiltrate the mind market for our children, since that queer Tinky Winky was run out on a rail by Jerry Falwell.

Harry Potter, pop culture's most popular child hero at the moment, also suffers from being fictional. But he has the misfortune of being a wizard as well. This means he can perform some contrived magic in his contrived little world, which emanates only from the mind of the talented Ms. Rowling and her muses. She is currently working on the seventh installment of the series (kol shviyim chavivim), Harry Potter and the Incipient Encroaching Goyishkeit.

In the books, Harry can go from place to place quickly without even employing kfitzas haderech or folding the land under him. He encounters dubious creatures like centaurs, hippogrifs and phoenices (is that a word, scrabble fans?), as well as confirmed real creatures, mentioned in the Talmud and mefarshim, like giants, unicorns, basilisks, witches / wizards, mazikim (called dementors) and obnoxious little rich kid jerks. Harry often challenges the gedolim and, by not listening, saves the universe from the evil one. Harry is even skeptical about the confirmed, Talmud true arts of astrology and fortunetelling. So it is no wonder that these poisonous stories are banned.

This is silly in my opinion though. It is clearly fiction. I mean, they all go to this huge private school and no one seems to be in charge of the primary function, collecting the tuition. And can't they just make money appear if they are so magical?

Are we going to start banning Goldie Lox (talking animals), parshas Balak (talking animals), Cinderella (magic shoes), Wizard of Oz (magic shoes and witches), Red Riding Hood (don't the animals ever shut up?), Jack and the Beanstalk (magic beans, giants and poverty), Danny and the Dinosaur, Sefer Shmuel (witches, fortunetellers, necromancers), parshas Breishis (talking animals, snakes with arms and legs like dinosaurs that lose them later), Shrek (fairy godmother, more talking donkeys, lots of magical creatures and that nasty Mike Myers) ... you get the idea.

Should we ban Chabad renegade Shmuel Boteach for endorsing Uri Gellar's tired spoonbending, psychic act as real magic, for making a side show of kabalah for the material Ester Ciccone or just for having the audacity of writing a successful book on the you know what subject?

Maybe Barney should just come with a disclaimer about evolution being a theory, not a fact, and that purple is not an exclusively gay color. Maybe Barney should carry a disclaimer stating that "mystical approach" hashkafa is a fact, not a hodgepodge of nonsensical blather. Maybe Harry Potter should carry a disclaimer saying that no one under 18 should fly more than 50 feet in the air on their broom without adult supervision. After all, can we take the chance with the children?

Thursday, July 14, 2005

New Paradigm of Chinuch

The subject is making its way around the "big blogs", so I thought I would weigh in.

1) It seems that chinuch is ridiculously expensive, especially for a large family. A family with 6 children, paying just $5000 per child, would have to pony up $30,000 each and every year. That's a brand new sportscar, each and every year. This is after tax, so the family would have to earn 45,000 - 60,000 to pay that. Then of course there are the sundry fees per child, amounting to another 2-3 K. And the family has to live. Then there is boarding costs, school supplies, enough already!

2) Chinuch is limited by hashkafa. Even in fairly large cities, there is this or that hashkafa, but most families are not in total agreement with the hashkafa the children get.

3) The mechanchim in town are the ones you get.

4) G-d forbid your child has an actual need for something more than a cookie cutter education. Too smart (as posted on mentalblog), ADHD, slow or whatever. Difference is bad.

In the past, we had little choice. School admins fielded a team of mechanchim and set a tone of hashkafa that most widely acceptable in the community. The golden rule was then applied to make that hashkafa the most profitable. (Note: Rebel's dictionary, Golden Rule - He that has the gold makes the rule.) The school struggles, the families struggle, and everybody is happy with their nisayon mashalim, mesiras nefesh for chinuch or whatever rationalizations they have until people realize that they cannot take a 4th mortgage on their home for this year.

The New Paradigm

Chinuch can be divided into these parts:
1) Delivery - the mechanich delivers the material to the talmid
2) Socialization - the talmid interacts with other talmidim
3) Discipline - the talmid gets attitude properly adjusted
4) Hashpa'a - the talmid gets a warm mushy feeling for his Rebbi
5) Hashkafa - the talmid learns what his parents want him to learn

The solutions could be framed as follows:

1) Online delivery - Mechanchim develop courses that are delivered by computer. You do not need to have the Internet, if you do not want it! Mechanchim are entrepeneurs that sell their courses to school curriculum guides. These guides help parents build a set of courses that fit with their aims and the talmid's level. A talmid in Los Angeles could learn from the best gemora teacher in Buenos Aires. Chumash is important to you? How about a Rashi expert in Leeds.
2) Socialization - Courses are delivered through home school networks, which also provide socializations networks. Alternately, schools can be held in cubicle style buildings, where students congregate. The school is run by proctors and tutors, not teachers. Teh schedules can be synchronized to maximize socialization opportunities and communal activities like davening, lunch and recess.
3) Discipline - Each course is selfpaced, and the adults in the learning center are proctors. Hence, one disruptive student cannot hold up everyone, and a teacher does not have to stop teaching to deal with a discipline problem. Many teachers report that this occupies much of their day.
4) Hashpa'a - Regular contact, personal visits, email, telephone, even video conference, can be arranged with teachers that deliver the material and with local Jewish community leaders. The circle widens for the talmidim, even in smaller towns.
5) Hashkafa - No need for a one size fits all hashkafa. You want all day limudei kodesh in Yiddish? You got it! Science and math concentration? No problem. Chumash focused on the drasha of Reb Chaim Yankel Whomever, with no references to Darwin or chalav Akum? You get my drift.


Given the wider competition, the more efficient use of professionals (teachers for teaching and hashpa'a, discpliners for disciplining), the more flexible environment, the cost would drop to a fraction of what is acceptable now. No need to board, keep the kids home. Imagine, a 14 year old living at home! Larger student bases mean less cost per student, radically less. One teacher can handle gaggles more students and be a better mashpia when he does not have to be en guarde constantly for spitballs.

This is the concept in short. It is working all over the world as more and more schools go to this model. If we can make a form of this work in the Jewish community, we could solve one of the great trials of our times. Will the status quo hawks squawk? You bet they will. They will fight tooth and nail and assur, ban, cherem and whatever else they have in their arsenal. But this idea takes dozens of people working together to fulfill a goal. And that begins with people who share a vision and are fed up enough to make radical changes.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Chabad Rebbe in Challenge

The Chabad Rebbe zt"l (there are people trying to file out their computer monitors as we speak) had been a particular advocate of young earth creationism, Charedi literalism et al. His views are a target of note, because of his obvious prominence and scholarship. In this letter linked to the title of this post via Shmarya the CR goes for some simple "scientific method" and theory discussion. His arguments are examined by a non-Chabad affiliated physicist. As I have said before, we are picking on the Chabad Rebbe because of his stature and ability to represent Torah views and his adherence to literalism and the mystical approach, but there are millions in the Torah world who espouse the same concepts. (I am not interested in bashing this one or that one.)

Also note, the website and possibly the author of the article have some fundamental biases. Let's concentrate on the arguments, however.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

The Sun went Silent

Today is the day in Jewish history when Joshua made the sun stand still. Many miracles occurred at that moment.

1) The laws of gravity and motion were suspended.
2) The regular motion of the Earth and Sun were resumed immediately thereafter.
3) The other planets maintained their orbits without damage.
4) The climate of the Earth was not affected.
5) The abilities of astrologers were not affected by the change.
6) Oh yeah, and Yehoshua won the war.

Oh yes, and on the Geocentrism front, a reeling blow was dealt the forces of stationary Earth geocentrism with the observation that starlight would have to alter its course and move around the Earth in heliosynchronous (is that a word?) orbit, rather than moving in a more or less straight line. It led me to wonder, if the sun stopped moving around the Earth, did the starlight maintain the sync with the stopped Sun or did it continue on as if the Sun was still moving?

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

The size of the Sun

This is an interpretation of the Part II, Ch. 7 of the Tanya, a book written by Rav Shneur Zalman, the first Chabad Rebbe. It is a treatise on belief in G-d and therein he explains in Chapter 7 that limitations in halacha, like the sun being 170 times the size of the Earth are limitations on G-dly revelations to us, to allow us room to exist, where otherwise we would have none. Fun. However, in this aside, he seems to affirm the Rambam, by quoting this size, and we know that the sun is far more than 170 times the size of the Earth. The late Chabad Rebbe tries a direct apologetic below.


Note of the Rebbe: “Rambam in Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah 5:8 states ’about 170 times,‘ and in Hilchot Shevuot 5:22 he writes ’170 times.‘”

“This, however, poses no difficulty with the Alter Rebbe’s statement, for in Rambam’s introduction to his commentary upon the Mishnah (s.v. VeHineni Noseh) he is more precise and writes ’166 and three-eighths times.‘”

(Rebel's note: Later he will say that the size and pertuberations cause great variances. Here he tries to nail down an even more precise figure. To be consistent, it should have said a range of sizes.)

As to the seeming contradiction between this view and that of present-day astronomy that the sun is 4 or 5 million or more times greater than the earth, the Rebbe has explained as follows:

The view of astronomy applies to the volume of the sun, and that of Maimonides to its diameter.

(Rebel's note: That would be fine, except that the other measurements that Rambam gives are not in terms of diameter, nor volume necessarily. Learn it and see. And give this guy a shout. Also, the diameter of the sun is only 110 times that of the Earth. The CR tries to further extracate it.)

The diameter of the sun, based on present-day astronomy, is about one hundred and ten times that of the earth [not 170], but this measurement takes into consideration only specific layers of the sun and not all of them. For the outermost layers of the sun contract and expand greatly from time to time, and not all the layers are visible to the eye (only their effects are visible). Hence, it is difficult to measure them. Likewise, the protuberance is not taken into account.

(Rebel's note: It is difficult to measure them but above we can get to 166 3/8 Earth diameters rather than the 170 estimate. By protuberance, I think the means the periodic swell and fall "breathing" effect that would cause huge variances in the diameter that were only temporary. He does not make clear what counts and what does not in the 170 x figure. Nor does science today offer any clear layer where the 170 figure is accurate.)

One thing he does make clear is that he means to understand the Rambam literally and infallibly. He would have it that Sinai revealed these unseen layers of the sun, that we have only discovered recently, and that the Rambam received from mesora. Two facts speak against this understanding.

a) The Rambam himself says that he does not bring this astronomy from mesora. He refers the reader to the Sifrei Chachmai Yavan (secular Greek books) right in Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah. In Moreh Nevuchim, the Rambam states outright that he brings astronomy from science, not from Sinai.

b) Though these hidden levels were only to be revealed by the science in recent times, teh Ptolemean astronomers knew all about it because they brought the same exact number. That's right! The hidden wisdom of the science of Mt. Sinai, the Maaseh Breishis that could not be revealed except to special sages of Israel, was WELL KNOWN IN GREEK BOOKS since the 2nd century!

Now, you don't think fundamentalism would stop here, do you? No! The Sanhedrin taught these precept to the Greek / Egyptian sages back in the Ptolemean / Mishna era. Hence they knew it. That's right. It was only secret for Jewish people. They were more than happy to reveal these secrets to the nonJews.

So here we have a top notch Talmid Chacham, ranking with or above any in the recent past, well above most, out on a limb, trying to save an infallibility for the Rambam that he himself denies! This shows how deep the river under the mystical approach runs. The knows the facts as well as I. He knows the Mishna Torah and the Moreh and even the science. Yet, he must cling to a weak raft of apologetics so that the mystical approach is safe. Why? Some might say that he simply knows and it is arrogant to question his logic. Some might say that he sacrifices logic to save a greater precept. I leave that to you.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Pharisee quiz

You maybe a "mystical approach" Pharisee, as described in Mishna Mesichta Sotah 22b. Millions are afflicted. Take the following short quiz to see if you need to see your doctor, mental health professional, or common sense counselor. Assume you are a single male.

1) Someone in your community owns a copy of "Mysterious Creatures" by Rabbi Nasan Slifkin. You should:

a) inform the local beis din immediately of the heretical material. Bug the room and ask the person if they agree with anything in the book.
b) break into the house at night and burn all of their sefarim. Though you may burn chumashim, it is permissible in light of the spread of potential heresy.
c) treat the person as if they were a leper.
d) ask the person if the book has aided them in their Judaism. Invite them for Shabbos to discuss.
e) mind your own business

2) A woman has just been hit by a car. She has fallen in a bloody heap to the pavement and her left leg is exposed. You should:

a) inform beis din immediately to beware of this brazen woman. Though this appears to be an accident, a true aishes chayil would have been careful when falling and would have dressed in clothing that would not have allowed this.
b) act swiftly with compassion. Move your hat so that the brim covers your line of sight and stare at the ground. Find a stick. Turn your back and slowly approach the woman backwards. Use the stick to move her hem until covers her knee.
c) use your cell phone to call a local medical expert, for instance an acupuncturist or homeopathist.
d) mind your own business
e) Render first aid personally by actually touching the woman. (See hint. Hint, hint, wink wink)
(Hint: In many quizzes, there is an obvious throw away answer, inserted strictly for amusement.)

3) An elderly non-Jewish woman who has just said hello in passing. You notice she is carrying heavy packages to her car 20 yards away. You should:

a) inform beis din that there be evil forces lurking about the neighborhood
b) scowl and walk away with your hat brim pulled over your eyes.
c) Return her greeting in an undertone (safa rafa).
d) Offer to help her take the packages to her car.
e) tell her that some of your best friends are also goyim.

4) You have accidentally cut your fingernails in the wrong order. You should:

a) immediately check your mezuzos and tefillin. Inform beis din to ask for advice.
b) contact a mekubal and ask for a kamia.
c) do something involving live pigeons.
d) say a Yom Kippur al chet.
e) open a book and randomly select a page. Try to fit some appropriate advice into the wording on the page, using parable or like situation. Follow the advice.
f) Try to avoid walking under ladders and crossing the trails of black cats, even though these would normally be considered superstitions.

5) Someone in your shul made kiddush on red wine between 6 and 7 PM, local standard time. You should:

a) inform beis din of the heresy.
b) move your telescope to focus on Mars and watch for strange signs until after 7 PM.
c) read War of the Worlds by H G Welles.
d) mind your own business
e) open a book and randomly select a page. Try to fit some appropriate advice into the wording on the page, using parable or like situation. Follow the advice.

6) A non-religious Jew in your neighborhood is reading a nonkosher book while sitting in a public park. You should:

a) threaten him with bodily harm. For best effect, imply that the neighborhood is full of young men who would like to "get involved".
b) casually hold your cigarette in your hand, act natural and pass by REAL close. OOPS!
c) a nonreligious Jew? In MY neighborhood???!!!
d) ask him if the book has helped him in his service to G-d.
e) do something involving live chickens.

7) Someone has put up a plaque in front of your synagogue honoring your venerable Rebbe, who died a decade earlier, but implying that he is, in fact, dead. You should:

a) threaten the others with bodily harm over the issue.
b) sneak over at night and file out the offending passages. Tell everyone that you see, including newspaper reporters, that you consider the Rebbe to be alive.
c) hire 24x7 security guards to defend the plaque.
d) secure large community bases by enforcing a single point of view. Intimidate and scare away any nonconforming citizens, regardless of position or roots in the community. Squelch all discussion and accuse any nonconformist of lashon hara and machlokes.
e) Take out full page ads in the NY Times proclaiming the age of the Messiah has arrived. Walk around the subways with placards that read "the end is neer". Mispell to affirm that you have never learned secular subjects in school.
f) proclaim that the Rebbe appeared to you in a dream and says to tear down the plaque. Proclaim that people still see the Rebbe, if they can perceive true reality. They primarily see him in bus stations talking to Elvis.
g) open a book and randomly select a page. Try to fit some appropriate advice into the wording on the page, using parable or like situation. Follow the advice.

8) You have had a disturbing dream. You should:

a) avoid pizza before bed time.
b) fast for three straight days, including Shabbos
c) spit three times toward the east.
d) forget about it.
e) attach life-changing spiritual significance, based on your mekubal's interpretation of the dream.
f) change the course of medical treatment of a sick relative based on the vividness of the dream.

9) A person in your synagogue drives to shul on Shabbos and is married to a goy. You should:

a) calculate the person's total net worth. Judge accordingly.
b) calculate the person's total annual donations. Judge accordingly.
c) consider the person's character and level of observance. Judge accordingly.
d) Don't judge. Mind your own flipping business.
e) calculate the person's batting average. Judge accordingly.
f) consider the person's last name, wife's and mother's maiden name, and possible allies.
g) consider the cost / benefit of inflicting bodily harm. Threaten with gang action as indicated, if you can get away with it.

10) During davening, you should:

a) watch carefully to make sure everyone is davening properly. Inform them if they are not.
b) walk around the synagogue reminding people that they should not be talking during davening.
c) walk around the syngogue reminding people that your organization lives on tzedaka.
d) walk around the shul and casually inform everyone of who is and isn't davening.
e) walk around the shul and casually inform everyone of who is and isn't present.
f) mind your own business, ... oh, yeah, and daven.

If you answered any of these questions, you may be a total psycho. Get help and stay away from my children. The Rebeltzin has a baseball bat.