Thoughts on Judaism

Friday, February 24, 2006


This week marked the first anniversary of this blog. Surely, you read all about the gala event in the New York Times. All the wires carried it. It has been a long haul since I began by discussing Rambam, magic and Judaism, Rambam's astronomy and whether or not the Chabad Rebbe was actually dead. Since then we have covered magic medicine, the Daas Emes, the Igros, apologetics and QM. We have seen the experience of the BT. We have visited the Rebel's dictionary, Dr. Suess and poetry corner, just for some laughs. We have challenged our kehila with quizzes from time to time. And we watched life move along. Most of the posts are categorized on the right column of this blog.

This blog was even given a great honor when popular blogger Dov Bear recognized great potential here. There are many blogs in my blogroll that will take up the drumbeat of the rebel cause, to stop the fundamentalists from driving the last of our frummy friends far from the fold of faith. I want to thank them all for making this such an enjoyable ride, for arguing with me, for agreeing with me, laughing with me, and for just leaving some plain weird comments.

I will be back from time to time, when subjects are provocative enough, or if I need an outlet for my sophomoric silly moods. But I feel other blogging pursuits calling me. Again, thanks to those who have made the trip so enjoyable.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Are You Chabad? - Part 2

After the previous test , I decided to tone it down. By popular request, here are some of the other questions. All references to real people living or dead are deleted. Still, there are those who will be offended, though no offense is intended. Deal wid it.

1) How much spit is mopped off the floor of 770 after the final aleinu of Yom Kippur? (Express answer to the nearest litre.)

2) When is the most chasidishe time for shacharis to begin?
a) 1 PM
b) 5 PM
c) 8 PM
d) tomorrow morning

3) My beard contains:

a) the remains of my last 3 meals
b) the remains of the baby's last 3 meals
c) the remains of unknown birds and possibly reptiles
d) a few grey hairs
e) OK, a more than a few
f) all of the above

4) Bobby has just walked into chabad house for the first time. He has never met a frum Jew before, and he is 18 years old. You should:

a) have him chant Yechi 3 times
b) tell him you have nothing to do with those crazy Yechi people
c) run every Yechi person out of town
d) tell him about the Rebbe's miracles
e) say "hi, I am Rabbi __________"
f) find out serepticiously if he has money

5) Friday night davening has ended at 5:45. You live 10 minutes walk from the shul. You should:

a) sprint home with all of the children, prepare kidush and challah, get through Shalom Aleichem and get in kidush at 5:59:55.
b) use white wine
c) fail to believe in the astrology behind this "custom"
d) sit in shul and batul until 6:50
e) learn a sicha until 8:00
f) set your clock back an hour

6) Complete the following sentence: The wedding will be at Oileh Toireh ________
a) if the misnagdim don't come and wreck up the place
b) if the musicians are available
c) if, chas v'chalilah, the unthinkable happens, lo aleinu, and moshiach doesn't come by then, so it can be in Yerushalyim ir hakodesh, im yirzeh hashem, bimhera byameinu mamash takeh mamash shbemamash, at which point Oileh Toireh will fly to Yerushalayim so it makes no difference, baruch hashem
d) if the goyim don't come and wreck the place
e) yechi adoneinu moreinu etc.

7) If you hear a Besht story, the proper attitude is that:
a) it is absolutely true like a pasuk Toireh
b) it could definitely be true but might have been true of someone else
c) he could have done it
d) it is historically true, like the Golem of Prague, but may have been exaggerated a bit
e) the story is not about the Rebbe so who cares

8) What do Aish, Ner Yisroel, Ohr Samaiach have in common?
a) All are institutions of Torah learning
b) All are institutions of torah learning, but are not our derech
c) All are institutions of Torah learning, but are lacking basic fundamentals of Torah thought
d) All are run by scumbag misnagdim for scumbag misnagdim
e) All are satanic

9) Complete the following sentence: Long live our lord, our teacher __________
a) our Rebbe, King Christ forever and ever
b) our Creator, who lives forever
c) our supernal superman, who does miracles forever and ever
d) the Messiah, nuff said
e) the Messiah and then some

10) You are at a farbrengen, when someone questions the judgement of the Rebbe in instituting a particular custom. You try to speak sense to him, but to no avail. He still does not think that the new custom or its reasoning to be sound. You should:
a) slash his tires
b) break a vodka bottle over his head
c) throw herring and pickles at him
d) consider if what he is saying has any merit, however slight
e) call him a frei-ya chutzpan at the top of your lungs, so that he will see the error of his ways
f) threaten to spread rumors that he is a child molester

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Science Test

Science / Torah midterm. Go for it.

1) Science is to Torah as Red Sox are to:

a) Patriots
b) Yankees
c) Red Sox general manager
d) Torah

2) Dinosaurs

a) never existed
b) all died in the Mabul
c) were called "Taninim gedolim" in Beraishis
d) were killed by a comet
e) were killed by eating a lot of food with high fat and cholesterol
f) were turned purple, giddy and touchy feely by a comet

3) Fossils are

a) faked by scientists
b) faked by dinosaurs
c) not mentioned in the Gemora
d) not evidence of anything
e) apikorsus

4) Torah is to Slifkin as Gemora is to

a) Gedolim
b) Elisha ben Avuya
c) Martin Buber
d) Pope Benedict
e) the Satan
f) Hitler, Saddam, Osama bin Laden, the Grand Wizard
g) Slifkin

5) Geological strata

a) show that the Earth is about 6000 years old
b) show evidence of a universal flood
c) seem to imply that the Earth is much older than 6000 years
d) are lying
e) geo … WHAT?!

6) Evolution

a) is a theory not a fact
b) is faked by scientists
c) is faked by dinosaurs
d) takes millions of years
e) is the realm of the Satan

7) Medicine works by:

a) advanced knowledge of infections
b) advanced knowledge of genetics
c) magic
d) scientific method
e) advanced knowledge of traditional methods
f) the hand of G-d
g) sucking the poison out through the navel, via a live pigeon
h) condensing “nothing” into pill form
i) sticking a needle somewhere I’d rather not discuss

8) Astrology

a) only worked in the old days
b) still works for kabalists
c) still works for Jeanne Dixon
d) has magical predictive powers
e) is scientific

9) The best evidence for a scientific fact is:

a) Three people say it’s true
b) Everyone in my shul says its true
c) Falsifiable, reproducible, predictive evidence
d) If it says it in the Gemorah or not
e) If a circuitous apologetic can link it to something in Torah
f) Anecdotes and stories of tzadikim
g) All scientific facts are false, because they are from evil science
h) The devil finds work for idle hands, the devil finds work for idle hands, the devil finds …

10) Claims that science is efficacious are evidence of:

a) misguidedness
b) brain damage
c) extreme brain damage
d) psychosis
e) extreme psychosis
f) effi… Wha?

11) Chicken soup cures:

a) migraines
b) colds and flu
c) shingles
d) insomnia
e) all of the above

12) How many diseases have been eradicated using traditional, nonscientific medical techniques?

Express your answer to the nearest factor of zero. ________________

13) Astrology is to astronomy as:

a) Chasidus is to kabala
b) Engineering is to science research
c) Theodicy is to theology
d) superstition is to science research
e) prophecy is to modern Judaism
f) Red Sox are to Yankees
g) Geology is to geometry
h) Biorhythms are to biology

14) Estimate the number of Jews driven away from Judaism by each of the following:
Express your answer to the nearest 10,000.

a) Fundamentalism and Charedism
b) Silly kiruv apologetics
c) The Slifkin ban
d) Internal politics
e) Closedmindedness
f) Regular kiruv apologetics
g) Ba’al Tshuvas being a bunch of whackos
h) Nepotism, yichus worship, and injustices
i) Wealth worship and favoritism
j) Impotence of batei din

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Anniversary Coming

Oh joy! The anniversary of this blog is coming shortly, and it promises to be quite a bash. We never know who will show up. Of course, the party is planned for Yerushalayim, but if moshiach doesn't come chas v'chalillah a million times kein hora, lo aleinu, rachmana l'tzlan, it will be right here on this site, G-d forbid. We may have our own million dollar challenge akin to Mr. Randi's. I saw posted on a video of Rav Kaduri speaking to the Chabad Rebbe in 1980. The Rebbe seemed pleased that Rav Kaduri had developed a yeshiva with a curriculum of practical kabbalah, not just sefarim. Perhaps he meant avodah, but obviously the imagination takes us to the more colorful parts of kabalah, amulets and magic.

Perhaps, we may offer to pretest for the million dollar reward if any student of the Kaduri yeshiva can demonstrate any effect that is "paranormal". No requirements for explanations of how it happened. Just demonstration under controlled conditions of a paranormal event, magic, psychic, astrological prediction, create a golem if you like.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Yud Shvat Kiruv

In the chabad world, many a tale, spiritual and physical, is spun around the passing of the previous Rebbe, Rayatz, on Yud Shvat, 5710 (Jan, 1950) . When one attends Chabad at this time, he will likely hear of tales of mesiras nefesh, unflinching heroism, and the bursting of spiritual realms, previously sealed to mere mortal humans. He may hear of the encounter of the Rayatz with the Golem of Prague (legend has it that he encountered the golem in the Maharal shul, another legend has it that he transported it to 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn), how he was moser nefesh for every Jew (Rayatz, not the golem), how he was an ohaiv yisroel for every Jew (except for those misnagdim and maskilim who had earned his dislike, of course), and how there would be no frumkeit in America today without him. He will likely not hear of the Rayatz's early holocaust experiences, miraculous escape, nor the theodicy of the Rayatz on why the holocaust occurred. He will likely hear how, when the Chabad Rebbe referred to Rayatz as the Moshiach and leader of the generation, he was really referring to himself. And doubtless, he will hear of the famous Chasidic ma'amar, Basi L'Gani. The Rayatz was to say this ma'amar on that fateful day in 1950, and the late Chabad Rebbe spoke it in his place. This in itself is a wonder, since these ma'amarim come from heaven and are spoken without any notes, but I am sure that the Chabad historians out there can explain how it happened this time.

Anyway, I was at a Chabad shul on shabas when one of the young shluchim spoke on Basi L'Gani. He is a frequent visitor to our part of town, and he had in tow a young college student. This particular shliach is not dogmatic, unintelligent or even misguided, as Chabad shluchim go, quite the opposite. He is a decent and earnest fellow, and a quite a good speaker, besides. On this occasion, he delivered a personal translation of the four words that open the ma'amar (a pasuk from Shir HaShirim), Basi l'gani achosi kalah. His translation was "Come to my garden, my sister, my beloved". The ma'amar continues "l'gani, l'ganuni", which he left out as he continued. The actual translation is "Come to my garden, my sister, my bride" "my garden, meaning my bedchamber". Now all of the Chabad chevra understand that this refers to the sh'china, on two levels, as sister and as bride. They understand that this verse is not to be taken literally, that it is exclusively a parable. On this occasion, though, the speaker saw fit to dodge the obvious literal translation. When called to the mat, he was helped along, that "kalah" actually means "bride" not "my bride" and that "achosi" can mean "relative" not just "sister", as with Sarah and Lot. This is not withstanding the clear meaning of the ma'amar and other Chasidus, in which context "relative" makes no sense. IOW, in front of the uninitiated, they preferred the apologetics to simply commenting that this was a parable. WHY?

It was an odd moment, transfixed in time, whatever that means. The fundamentalists were calling for a nonliteral translation and interpretation. The rebels were calling for a literal reading. And the machine of kiruv rolled on, and I, ambivalently, with it.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

DaatEmet - Treifos

In the Gemorra Chulin, 53, the laws of a drusa are discussed. They are codified in the Mishneh Torah, hilchos Shchita, and particularly, ch 5 on which we will focus. As DaatEmet points out, the only Torah treifah is a drusah, an animal that has been clawed by a predator beyond the ability to recover. All of the toehr 7 signs and numerous restrictions are Rabinic. However, in the Gemora, it states that a drusah dies because of the poison that the claws of the predator inject into the animal. According to their science, the poison is injected at the withdrawal of the claw. Such a poison is assumed to be part of the physiology of predatory large felines, birds, and there is argument about canines. Thus, the gemorra brings the case where a lion's claw is severed during attack and it never withdraws its claw, concluding that it is not drusah. Two poskim stand out. The Tosfos points out that such a case is not practical because the predator may have attacked many times and we have only witnessed the final attack. The Rambam does not mention the poison at all, but indicates that one might examine the inwardds of the prey to determine if were indeed a drusah. One thing is clear from both of the answers. It is the apparent condition of the animal rather than the theory that determines the halacha.

DaatEmet uses this theory of poison to conclude that there is no such thing in reality as a treifah, since a drusah is depends on poison that does not exist. He successfully refutes the Michtav M'eliyahu zt"l, one the most brilliant rationalist rabanim of modern times, who says that the poison is actually the spoiled remains of prey around the nails, which cause infections. The obvious refutation is that this poison is introduced at penetration, not at retraction. And here hinges the big point. A fundamentalist is now forced to conclude something preposterous to defend the poisnon injection. However, if one looks at the matter, it is clear what happened.

Contemporary science saw that predator claws cause redness, swelling and wasting flesh in the vast majority of cases. Its students concluded that some poison was the culprit and therefore, that it was introduced at retraction, like snake poison or any glandular poison. Halacha concluded similarly, and added legal implications. The Tosfos and Rambam make this clear. The Tosfos refutes the practical implications of the case in the gemorra, saying that it is never possible to know for sure that the animal did not retract its claws. On the contrary, appearance of the diseased inwards would effectively prove that retraction had occurred. The Rambam does not even bring the gemorra's theoretical case and bids the observer to look at the flesh itself in determining whether the animal is drusah or not. IOW, the halacha clearly and definitively goes according to the apparent observation of the layman, not according to the carefully controlled observation someone who seeks a deeper explanation. If you see X, conclude Y. In halacha, this is called "chazaka", and the entire sea of Jewish Law depends it. In fact, the entire sea if Rabinic Law that is designated as "fences" was developed, by and large, to protect the lay observer from these gaps. In the case of treifos, the Rambam clearly states the matter that the chazakas of the rabanim stand, regardless of observed reality.

So as we discuss astronomy, zoology, cryptozoology, biology and the like, keep in mind that the attacks largely fall on the fundamentalist approach, though the rationalists are not entirely immune, as we saw before.