Thoughts on Judaism

Monday, August 29, 2005

The End is Near

It says that in the times of Moshiach, Nevua will return. And I think I can report that this is happening throughout the Jewish world. Blogs like Heshy, R' Lazar Brody (with nod to the ultrareal Orthomom) and others are revealing G-d's reasons for bringing various calamities upon us. For that, a person must have prophetic powers or at least be a tzadik. However, it seems that this awesome power has been turned over to the bloggers. And why should I be left out? I want to do this also, and I can show how G-d has brought various calamities, measure for measure against the Jewish people.

1) The Jewish nation won a war in 1967 and held all of the West Bank and Gaza. But, they invited the Arabs back and created an enemy within their borders ever since. Then, in 1993, Rabin called the PLO back from Tunis, again bringing a bitter enemy in the house. So it is no wonder that G-d paid measure for measure and caused the Boston Red Sox to win the ALCS, even within the very House that Ruth Built. The Yankees had won 3 in a row, including a devasting 6 day rout 19-8. The Gematria of Boston Red Sox is the same as Hisb al Tachrir al Falestine, the full name of the PLO. Ooooooooooh!

2) Hurricane Katrina was not the result of Gaza but of the Jews not wearing black yarmulkas. G-d caused their little knit kefira caps to fly across the bayou.

3) Many Jews put their faith in magic medicine, based on avoda zara and nonsense. These methods are taught by self styled experts in dogma, who know little about science, common sense, or proper observation. They were paid back with the Slifkin ban, where the largest minds in Judaism today, en masse, made utterly clear how little they knew about science, common sense, and proper observation.

4) Young Jewish children disrespect their parents by not eating their vegetables, even after being admonished repeatedly. There is no doubt that Islamic extremism's resurgence was not far behind. Leaving behind the brussel sprouts and feeding them to the dog clearly brought Osama to New York. G-d paid back their insolence measure for measure. The Gematria of "non-kid-friendly green material" is equal to the Gematria of "Al Qaeda will return and destroy the city". Or was that Nostradamus?

5) All Jews know that G-d is a registered democrat, emulated by the vast majority of his chosen people. That is why He showed his displeasure at the repeated election of Republicans by forcing Americans to listen to Ted Kennedy (D,MA), chairman of Senate Committee on Temperance, and Robert Byrd (D,WV), Grand Wizard of the Senate Geriatric Committee, to speak publicly. Next to the verse of "Becharta B'Chaim", every 169th letter spells out "Leiberman '08".

6) Many people touch their shoes and do not wash their hands as Jewish law dictates. There can be no doubt that this caused a tsunami disaster, killing hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom work as slave labor in shoe factories.

While prophecy is an ikar of the Jewish faith, I did not find it particularly difficult. Making a few simple connections should have been easy for our sages over the years, yet they allowed the era of prophecy to end. I suppose they did not have bloggers. Their loss.

Note about Gematria: A certain Chasidic Rebbe would "fer tish" every Shabbos. He noted that the Gematria of Vodka was the same Shabbos Koidesh. One of the Chasidim pointed out that even on cursory examination, one could see that the Gematria of Vodka was nowhere near that of Shabbos Koidesh. The Rebbe thought a moment and concluded that if this Chasid would take some more Vodka, it would add up correctly.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Homeopathy Does It Again

Thanks Observer

Get your excuses ready folks. Here we go again.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Gaza Got Shriller - Part II

How did the right wingers react to Gaza? How do they always react? Predictably of course. Never was there such a steady lot.

1988 - We must have Shamir! Only he can save Israel from Peres.
1991 - Boo! Madrid conference. Anyone but Shamir. How about left wingers like Rabin and Peres to save Israel from the Arabs.
1992 - Boo! Oslo! KILL Rabin! (They do.)
1996 - Only Netanyahu can save us from Peres.
1996 - Skirmishes and Wye agreement. Boo! Anyone but Netanyahu. How about Barak and Peres to save Israel from the Arabs?
2000 - Daily terrorism and Camp David. Boo! Only Sharon can save us from Peres.
2004 - Boo! Roadmap and Gaza! Anyone but Sharon. Peres, you will have your chance, no doubt.

The right wing does not see any problem in the Middle East, you see. They see no need for negotiation or compromise, within Isreali politics or between Israel and other nations. It is like everything else with them, pretend that the Arabs do not exist. Don't seek a negotiated solution. Pretend that the army can continue supply teenagers and youngsters to blast them (and be blasted), and pretend that that will drive the Arabs into submission. It has worked great until now. Probably they will just pick up and leave if we just drop enough bombs on them. We can turn back the clock to 1967 if we just want to. Oh yeah, and the rest of the countries with an interest will all just skulk away. The US can "gai feif". In the world of religious politics, there are only spoiled children. It's all about the principle, ... unless there is money involved. Then it is all about the money first, and then the principle. Vote Shas!

Right wing religious response:
We warned you all about a nonreligious government in Israel back in the 40s. Only a Torah government can save Israel. Our Gedolim should run the country according to Torah.

Rebel's response:
Well, whose Torah? Chabad's and Ponavitch's Torahs seem diametrically opposed. Neturei Karta and NRP certainly could find a compromise al pi Torah, couldn't they? Would Breslov accept anyone but Na Nach Nachman M'Uman to be ruler? What about Chabad and Men Mena Menachem? The concept that the country could be run by the frum PTB is laughable. They cannot even run communities and synagogues without civil war. To them, there is no compromise, there is no political expediency. There is just our vision, we'll call that the "right way", and their vision, we'll call that the "wrong way", and an angry G-d who wants THEM defeated (even though eilu v'eilu, but that only applies when ...). A country has real issues and real lives to deal with, not just high principles and dogma. The frum would quickly turn the country into Afghanistan, by shifting to the most charedi version (in the name of keeping them on board) and then trying to shift reality to match their conceptions. Of course, everyone would be willing to compromise to make the country work al pi Torah, right?

Imagine the Charedi run Israel. Just imagine it from a practical perspective. Was that scary enough?

Gaza Got Shriller - Part I

Politics is not my bag, but I must comment on Gaza, because it is central to the rebellion of rationalism. I will introduce the subject by saying that I think that the Gaza withdrawal is ill advised at this time, and I agree with the slippery slope arguments that this will set a precedent for future withdrawals in more critical areas. Stripping away the hyperbole, the references to the Holocaust, the references to the destruction of the Temple (good timing Arik, which genius in the administration came up with that idea?), the beating of tomtoms blaming Sharon, the rising sentiment against President Bush, and the uprooting of the families involved (for whom I have nothing but respect, sympathy and admiration), the Gaza withdrawal itself, in political terms, is not a horrible result, were it to end there. Put those rocks down!! You must first understand the history.

A long time ago, in a wasteland far far away ...

In 1967 and 1973, Israel threw back invasions that left it in control of territories, the West Bank, rich in holy places and originally part of the modern "Jewish homeland" vision, and a desolate swath called Gaza, and the desert of Sinai. Gaza was always viewed as expendable, in exchange for a peace treaty, Like Sinai, it was simply a buffer zone to prevent a lightening invasion from Egypt. When the Arabs would not deal, the Eshkol and Meir governments (both Labor) decided to allow colonization of the new territories. Otherwise, they were just holding these territories until the Arabs took them back, strengthening the Arabs in any negotiation. In the West Bank, religious and military implications inspired the government to consider annexing the territory and taking permanent control. Gaza was held as a bargaining chip for peace, and some stalworts moved there, with the government's blessings. Israel concluded that, while Jerusalem could not be defended without holding the West Bank mountains, the flat, barren, Philistine Gaza was expendable for a deal.

There is an excellent book called "Place Among the Nations", written in 1992, It recounts Zionism from the 1880s until 1992, and it states the facts mentioned here. It clearly expounds that Gaza was always considered expendable. The author was in a postion to know. It was then terrorism expert MK ... Binyamin Netanyahu. That's right! The same Netanyahu that is roundly criticizing Sharon for leaving Gaza, advocates that solution, and states that the territory is expendable.

So that leaves us Gaza, a bunch of Israelis who were used and lied to, a bunch of politicians who are rapidly in flux, and a few pieces of value to the Arabs like a seaport, an airport, a smuggling route to Egypt, and a safe area for al Qaeda. Our only hope is that Sharon got something good for it from Bush, and it seems that he did get something. In the past, the roadmap consisted of the 2000 Barak - Clinton deal, with all of the West Bank going to the Arabs, and a vow of military restraint. Now it seems that the deal is that the Us will support the annexation of the West Bank settlements and holy places, with the wall in place, and will green light any military operations that the Israelis see fit. This was evidenced by the fact that when Sharon threatened the Arabs yesterday, the US did not warn for restraint and Abbas and even Hamas seem to have taken notice. Perhaps Bush also sees Gaza as a place where al Qaeda might gather, an easier target than Iraq.

OK that is as far into politics as I care to venture, FEH I need to shower now. However, I would like to commend Sharon, the police and the IDF on how the mission was conducted (even if I cannot be so appreciative THAT it was conducted.) Sharon warned the troops that were dealing with brothers and not enemies, the troops seem to have been moved by the sacrifice of the settlers, and some officers even joined the vigils and human chains in a show of moral solidarity. This is a welcome change from the silly belligerence that has accompanied such matters in the past. The settlers should be recognized for protesting peacefully, trying to win the soldiers and police morally, and keeping their perspective in sight enough not to allow the Arabs a victory here. They showed true courage under fire and were able to win the respect of the nation for what they were trying to do. The headlines should read "Resistance Was Fierce"'.

The ball is now in your court, Mr. Sharon. You have ripped our hearts out. WE trusted you. Make it worth it!

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Moshiach is Born

In Jewish tradition, today is the day that Moshiach was born. The known principle is that G-d provides the cure when He creates the sickness. In the Talmud, Rabbi Akiva saw a fox on the ruins of the Har HaBayis and he laughed. He said that this sign, mentioned in Aicha, was a harbinger of Moshiach. The principle of Moshiach was central to the Rishonim and earlier in their writings. The Rambam summarizes it together with the "Ikkarim" of the faith. That means that just as we believe that Torah is Emes and that Navi is Emes and that G-d is one, we also must believe that Moshiach will arrive and that the dead will be revived. Not only that, but I would argue that there is no way to mysticize, spiritualize or redefine this as anything other than what it literally means.

Not only must we believe in the coming of Moshiach, but according to Rambam, we must "wait" for him "every day". Though he has never come before, we expectantly wait for him today, tomorrow and into the future that he will come. Normally, we geeky science types would be miffed, but the Rambam, king of the geeky science types, prewarns us. Science is based on repetitive and reproduceable experience, and he specifically states that "af al pi shehismahmayah", even though he delays, we must expect him to come. Even though, we have no experience to compare it to, we have to believe in this supernatural event, the hope that lights the end of the tunnel of Judaism.

But, does not the Rambam quote the Gemorra in stating that there is no difference between now and the "days of Moshiach" except the "subjugation of the nations"? Yet, he immediately follows this with the Ikkar that one must believe in the revival of the dead, clearly a miracle that has never happened and would be readily evident. So it is obvious that the Rambam believes that there are stages in the events. Moshiach comes and is recognized by Chazaka, he removes the subjugation, he builds the Temple and gathers the people, and then the real fun begins. One cannot believe in Techiyas HaMaisim without believing in miraculous events. (Mishna Torah, Hilchos Melachim U'Milchamosayhem 11 and 12)

It is precisely because of this that a rationalist can believe with whole faith in the coming of Moshiach and in Techiyas HaMaisim. When we say that something is "possible" in science, we speak from experience with the physical laws of the world, and project what we expect based on our experience. With Moshiach, there is no "experience", except from millenia ago with David and Shlomo. Hence, he envisions a first stage that is comparable to David and Shlomo, without foreign subjugation, and later stages with miracles that have never been seen before. As a rationalist, one can accept the miracle because admittedly, it will violate known protocols of the physical world.

In many ways, it is easier to believe in Moshaich and Techiya than it is to believe in other problematic stories in the Torah and Navi. Stopping the sun which has global implications, a global flood with dozens of unlikely miracles that are not even mentioned, talking animals related as if they happen every day are difficult to reconcile because the miraculous nature of these things is not emphasized in the story. In the matter of Moshiach, it is miraculous from beginning to end. By removing all pretense of it being a natural event, the scientific observer no longer has a compass on which to get bearings. That is why we must believe it with "Emunah Shlaimah". Though it may be a natural progression of events, the coming of Moshaich in concept, is miraculous, without precedent. And its results are also without precedent by definition.

I will leave it to those wiser than I to discern whether they have seen the signs mentioned in the prophets in recent events or whatever. These are self contradictory. If we are to wait for Moshiach every day, how can we discern signs that he is coming Wednesday and not Thursday? Of what meaning is this to us? According the Rambam, a Jew believes with perfect faith that Moshiach is coming today, not because we saw the sign mentioned in Aicha or Zecharia or that one person or another made some pronouncement. May we merit this miracle speedily in our days.

P.S. Please stop putting silly things on invitations to weddings, like, if we will not all be spiritied to Yerushayim on the wings of Moshiach by then chas v'shalom, the wedding will take place, Im Yirtze Hashem in the main ballroom of the huge hotel at ______. This shtick is getting old ad naseum.

New Layout

Down the right column with links to interseting places, I have organized previous posts so that they can be accessed by subject. If you remember something that you want to refer to or link to, or if you want to find more posts on the subject of your choice, just look through the listing. If you have any recommendations fo the layout, please share them.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Chasidic Story Template

Is it just me or do Chasidic stories all seem to be the same story, rewarmed as leftovers?

First of all, all of the characters in the story are either good or evil. There is never any multidimentional, dillema torn Yidel who keeps what he needs for expenses. Secondly, the good guys (black hats in this case) always win. Period. Thirdly, the mystical magic works, even in the reality of the story. Fourthly, no part of the plot is ever left unresolved, as in real life. The designated tzadik of the story will converse with heavenly beings if necessary to make sure that every aspect of the story is concluded positively.

This is the template more or less:
Once upon a time, a long time ago in (Eastern Europe town), there was a Chasid who was (humble / poor /extremely wealthy but philanthropic / a hidden tzadik) but totally unlearned. He was completely nullified in existence to his rebbe, whom he saw once every several years. He had to travel (uphill in twenty feet of snow / across raging rivers / in his Lincoln Towncar / with no shoes / with shoes no laces / his horse had no shoes / no snowshoes / no snow tires) to see his rebbe, to whom his life was devoted. After a long day's work as a (water carrier / tailor / tax consultant / real estate con man), he began his two week trek to see his rebbe about a very important, life consuming problem he was having. He was (poor / childless / ill or dying, himself or relative/ smart and his children were ignoramuses / an ignoramus and his children were smart / being investigated for real estate fraud / a monomonastical fundamentalist whackjob). Upon arriving in town, he immediately found lodging even though he was extremely poor, because when you are going to see your rebbe, everything is magically prepared for you.

At Shacharis the next morning, he went right up to the rebbe who recognized him immediately. After shacharis, he sat down with the rebbe who had nothing better to do than listen to this guy kvetch. After hearing the problem, the rebbe consulted with (his gabbaim / the malachai hasharais / the Satan / a real estate criminal lawyer / his relatives who all had their own chasidic sect, since they were all the grandsons of HaRav Aryeh Dreitmirakopf of (East Europe town), who was the only descendant of the Rav of (even harder to pronounce East Europe town) who all happen to be in town that very day / an invisible visitor, whom he referred to as Eliyahu). The rebbe disappeared into his private room, where we can assume he (flew across the ocean by magic / obtained some magical cure by magic / obtained some holy object with kabalistic, ie magic, powers / bent a spoon with the power of his mind). When he emerged, he (had salt water in his beard / gave the magic object to the Chasid). He told the Chasid to (do some unintelligible thing with the magic object / mix the magic cure into some unknown potion / go to some far away place / sit with a therapist and deal with his issues), any of which should have no effect on his problem, but will miraculously at the end of our story prove the wisdom of this particular flavor of Judaism, and backhandedly put down some other group with which our flavor is perpetually at war.

In this town, there also lived a poretz (a goy, who is by definition, evil, stupid, antisemitic, and always drunk). He was planning to (commit a pogrom / harm a Jew / raise taxes / commit real estate fraud, which for him would be a bad thing / open a competing business with a Jew / open a university). Somehow, this Jew, whom the rebbe sent on this adventure, goes on this quest, even though his starving wife and 85 children are at home and he is not even earning the meager living that he normally does to sustain them over the course of several weeks. Since they should of all rights starve to death waiting for the father to return, we do not include this aspect in the story. Meanwhile, he runs into the poretz, the situation becomes dire, he telepathically communicates with the rebbe or finds the instructions that the rebbe had presciently written on a note and sereptitiously hidden on the person of the Chasid, which tells him what to do with the magic or holy object or whatever at the very last possible second, and by following the rebbe's advice, the Jew's problem is solved, the poretz is (thwarted / killed / thrown in jail, even though he is the only guy who throws people in jail in this town / meets with unfortunate circumstances), everyone is safe at their respective bases, even though, by common sense, the rebbe's advice should have resulted in the deaths of millions of people, or at least an inning ending double play. The rebbe then (talks to the angels again / talks to the mysterious beggar, Eliyahu, again / opens a sefer and reads a random page / consults the local Yenta) and explains the hashgacha protis behind all of this maaseh in every detail, and the rebbe's cryptic instructions.

The moral of the story is:
1) Always listen to your rebbe, even if his advice makes no sense or sounds dangerous.
2) Always trust in holy objects and magic, if you are guided by chasidic custom.
3) Our flavor of Chasidus is good, not like other people who shall remain nameless.
4) Your rebbe wears a giant R on his shirt under his (sartuk / capota / Old Navy sweatshirt)
5) Everyone is either good or evil, and such is evident in each person.

Oh yes, and remember the old Yiddish dictum:
Oif a maaseh, freg nisht kashas.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Echinacea Bubble Bursts

Everyone knows that echinacea cures the common cold, along with flu symptoms and tons of other stuff. Now there is proof. Proof that is does NOT do any such thing. A properly controlled study published in the NE Journal of Medicine concludes that there is no significant difference between taking echinacea and taking a placebo.

For a real laugh, look at some of the analysis on magic medicine web sites. Just Google "echinacea study" and see for yourself. It seems the sun was in their eyes again.