Sunday, December 25, 2011

Ḥanukkah, “Jesus Responds to Rick Perry's "Strong" Ad”, and “Uh Oh! The Dirty Truth About Santa's Carbon Footprint”

Jewish date:  29 Kislew 5772 (Parashath Wayyiggash).

Today’s holidays:  Ḥanukkah (Judaism), Christmas (Christianity), Feast of Robert “Bob” Leroy Ripley/Festival of Fish-Fighting, Fisting and Felching (Church of the SubGenius), Feast of the Greater Mysteries (Thelema).


I have gotten very bad about posting regularly.  I still have not finished reading Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, which at 1,080 pages, much of it lengthy monologues and lectures, takes quite a while to get through, though I am getting close to the end.  Due to the philosophical nature of the work—reportedly it is not a mere work of fiction, but something of a lengthy morality play—I may go on to read her (much shorter) The Virtue of Selfishness as well to get a more solid idea of what her philosophy really is before writing a review.  So please bear with me on this.  Like it or not, a number of Republican politicians—who seem intent on having a big effect on the United States and by extension the rest of the planet—are reportedly Ayn Rand fans, and as Rand’s philosophy falls into the category of “religious fallacies and misinformation”, this is something I have to tackle.  (I am thinking about going back and reading about LaVeyan Satanism, which reportedly is derived from Ayn Rand’s moral code, afterwards.  This should take less time to produce a review, as I have an unpublished review of some of the books already written and Anton Szandor LaVey is a much more fun writer once one realizes how much he is writing really is projecting an image.)

In the meantime, you are getting miscellany.

1) This is Ḥanukkah, and so I present a number of relevant articles:  “The Triumph of Chanukah”, “Hanukka, extremism and religious freedom”, Hanukkah and How War Should Be Celebrated”, “Chanukah: The Fight for What’s Right!”, and for a bit of irony, “Hanukkia lit in spot Hitler decreed Final Solution”.

2) “Jesus Responds to Rick Perry's "Strong" Ad”, submitted by Barry.

This is totally fair and gets what Jesus claims in the Gospels right.

3) And something more or less in the way of religious humor, but with a serious point, for our Christian friends:  “Uh Oh! The Dirty Truth About Santa's Carbon Footprint”.

Peace, happy Ḥannukah, merry Christmas, and happy whatever holiday you celebrate this time of year.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

An open letter of complaint to the Israeli Police

Jewish date:  19 Kislew 5772 (evening) (Parashath Wayyeshev).

Today’s holidays:  New Year for Ḥasidhuth (Judaism), Feast Day of John of the Cross (Roman Catholicism), Whiny Victimization/Co-Dependency Day (Church of the SubGenius).

NOTE:  This letter has not been sent to the police, because they do not seem to have any publicly listed E-mail address, and their complaint-submission software will not run on a Macintosh.  It is being sent, however, to the Prime Minister’s office, the Ministry of Public Security, several political parties, and the Jerusalem Post, as well as being posted on my blog, Divine Misconceptions (

I write this letter with great sadness, but it is necessary to do so.

On Tuesday, 6 December 2011, I tried to visit the Temple Mount.  Most people were waived through with little scrutiny.  I was not.  Not only did the police object to me taking Jewish religious items up on the Temple Mount, which I expected, but they opposed to me taking a pad of paper with me to take notes on.  They did not even want me taking notes at the entrance building.  They wanted to know why I was visiting the Temple Mount.  I had to be stubborn to avoid being turned away immediately, and I was forced to wait for half an hour while they considered whether to admit me.  They ultimately refused, and they best I managed was to guilt-trip a handful of change out of them for wasting the money I spent on bus fare.

Israel has obvious security concerns.  Had the police given me reason to believe that anything I was bringing with me was dangerous or that my presence was somehow dangerous, I could accept their refusing me admission.  However, they refused to give me any reason other than “Because”.  To make things worse, one of the officers suggested I was crazy and that the Western Wall might be a more relevant site to me.  It is very difficult not to interpret this as discrimination against me for being an observant Jew.

Sadly this is not an isolated case.  The second time I visited the Temple Mount, I had to go through the same security procedure.  I was told a list of things I could and could not do on the Temple Mount, and I was followed the entire time I was up there by a police officer and a Waqf official.  Contrast this with the first time I visited the Temple Mount, when I disguised myself as a tourist; the police admitted me without scrutiny and permitted to go practically anywhere and do anything without interference or supervision.  Discrimination similar to what I have experienced has been reported by other observant Jews, too.

This may be more than just anti-Semitism or bowing to Islamic supremacism.  I am also aware of a recent incident in Me’ah She‘arim in which the Seriqriqim, a group of Ḥaredhi thugs, terrorized the owner of a bookstore into acceding to their demands.  In both cases, the police failed to stop people who were willing to use violence to get what they wanted rather than enforce tolerance.  Giving the violent what they say they want may stop the violence in the short run, but it also teaches that violence works, thus making it more likely that they will use violence again.  The policy of appeasement failed long ago; Muslims have rioted repeatedly on the Temple Mount ever since Mosheh Dayyan decided to place it in the hands of the Waqf.  Even if appeasement did work, it is inherently unjust to the victims of appeasement and thus has no place in a just society.  In most of Yerushalayim, the police do their jobs and anyone can go anywhere in safety.  Surely they can do the same on the Temple Mount (and in Me’ah She‘arim) as well.

Dr. Aaron Solomon Adelman

Further reading:

Description of my first trip to the Temple Mount:

Description of my second trip to the Temple Mount:

Description of a failed trip to the Temple Mount:

Discrimination against Jews visiting the Temple Mount: ,

The Seriqriqim incident:

Friday, December 2, 2011

The heresy of Paul in Acts and Romans 1-4

Jewish date:  6 Kislew 5772 (Parashath Wayyeṣe’).

Today’s holidays:  Nativity Fast (Christianity), Friday of the First Week of Advent (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. Rodan (Church of the SubGenius).


I am still reading the New Testament in Koinē Greek, and I am not enjoying it one bit.
The Acts of the Apostles is nothing less than propaganda for Paul.  Once Paul has his famous vision of Jesus on the road to Damascus, he is depicted as perfect and his Jewish opponents as nothing less than hypocritical scum.  Paul engages in preaching and faith-healing like Jesus, only with less personality.  His opponents are depicted as trying to kill him, legally or extralegally on ill-defined charges of heresy.  If there is any historical basis for this, the writer certainly glossed over what anyone found wrong with Paul and probably fabricated any attempts on his life.  Whatever was wrong with Paul, heresy is not sufficient reason for assassination.

Why Jews would hate Paul is made extremely clear in The Epistle to the Romans, in which he explains his belief system, which is nothing less than heresy and worthy of excommunication.  Here are the notes I have written on the first four chapters, which are getting increasingly detailed:

Romans 1—Paul introduces his thesis that faith is all that really matters and cites Habakuk 2:4 to rationalize it, as if any of the prophets ever preached faith without works.  Paul claims that humanity is morally corrupt.

Romans 2—Paul cites Psalms 62:13 and Proverbs 24:12, confirming that YHWH treats humans according to their actions, illogically trying to introduce Jesus into the process.  Paul then accuses Jews of hypocrisy, creating a nonexistent quote by botching Isaiah 52:5 and Ezekiel 36:22—ignoring that the complaints brought in those days may no longer be relevant to those living in later times—and devalues physical circumcision in favor of “circumcision of the spirit”.  This is blatantly illogical.  Since YHWH in the Hebrew Bible puts heavy emphasis on obedience to the Torah, the “circumcision of the heart” mentioned in the Hebrew Bible is dedicating oneself to doing what YHWH commanded, including physical circumcision.

Romans 3—Paul assumes everyone is sinful and should be doomed.  That the Hebrew Bible preaches repentance and the willingness of YHWH to forgive the repentant is utterly ignored.  Psalms 51:6 is torn from context as if it were a pronouncement of doom rather than part of a prayer.  Paul also cites in quick succession, as if they were a continuous passage, a botched version of Ecclesiastes 7:20, a botched version of Psalms 14:1-3/Psalms 53:1-3, Psalms 5:10, Psalms 140:3, a botched version of Psalms 10:7, a botched version of Isaiah 59:7-8, and Psalms 36:2.  None of these passages makes any claim of universal unrighteousness, and many refer directly to the wicked.  (Do note that Psalms is poetry; it is great source material on feelings and prayers, but it is not really useful for statements of fact, as Paul is trying to use it.  Not to mention botching quotes and getting them out of context makes for invalid arguments.)  On this flimsy basis, Paul dishonestly and illogically claims that one cannot be righteous by keeping the Torah and proclaims that justification, for both Jews and non-Jews, is only through faith.

Romans 4—Paul tries to bolster his argument that salvation is only through faith by trying to work it into the case of ’Avraham.  Paul hinges this on Genesis 15:6, which he cannot even quote correctly, which says (in the original Hebrew), “And he [’Avram] believed in YHWH, and he thought it for him [as] righteousness.”  The word I have translated as “righteousness”, ṣedhaqhah, also can mean “justice”, and it is commonly used to denote something akin to charity, only with connotations that helping the needy is done not out of compassion, but because it is the right thing to do.  ’Avraham had had multiple prophetic encounters with YHWH.  Furthermore, YHWH had kept him alive on a journey across the Middle East, giving him some reason to believe that he was not hallucinating.  To believe in YHWH was the sensible thing for ’Avraham to do; it is a matter of intellectual honesty, not special piety.  The Hebrew is also  ambiguous as to who considered ’Avraham’s belief righteousness, ’Avraham or YHWH.  Nowhere does YHWH claim that ’Avraham is righteous merely due to belief.  In contradiction to Paul’s thesis, ’Avraham doubts that he will have children and later on that he will have an heir through Sarah, yet YHWH never holds his doubts against him.  Paul tries to bolster his faulty claim with Psalms 32:1-2, which deals with YHWH’s forgiveness, not belief, before returning to ’Avraham and spouting antinomianism, wrongly implying that all nations are descended from ’Avraham by misinterpreting Genesis 17:4 and Genesis 15:5, ignoring that ’Avraham was not so unwavering in his faith.  Paul still does nothing to explain the blatantly obvious problem that it makes no sense whatsoever for YHWH to give the Torah and demand adherence to it over and over again—a matter of action—if what He really is interested in is faith.

To sum up my reading of Romans so far:  Paul is grossly intellectually dishonest and engages in rhetorical fraud to try to prove his points.  Follow him and anyone like him at your own peril.

Peace and Shabbath shalom.


Sunday, November 13, 2011

Yiṣḥaq Rabbin Memorial Day and a would-be visit to the Temple Mount

Jewish date:  16 Marḥeshwan 5772 (Parashath Ḥayye Sarah).

Today’s holidays:  Thirty-Third Sunday of Ordinary Time (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. Otis Campbell (Church of the SubGenius), Feast of Osiris (Thelema).


I know I am doing a bad job about blogging lately.  I am absorbed in reading Atlas Shrugged, I am feeling guilty about not writing about some of the stuff I have been reading in the New Testament, and I have started to watch Mahabharat, a dramatization of the great Indian epic Mahabharata.  Not to mention I am getting distracted by the need for me to do job-hunting.

Last Wednesday I planned to go to the Temple Mount again.  I had actually planned to go during Sukkoth, but I got sick and had to postpone the trip.  I decided to go on Yiṣḥaq Rabbin Memorial Day, the anniversary of his assassination.  Why?  Because it is a quasi-holiday which has no positive significance for observant Jews and no direct connection with the Temple Mount; to be blunt, it strikes me as nothing less than an abomination due to the all-too predictable disaster of Oslo.  This video should give a good idea what I am talking about.  Given this deliberately mismatched symbolism, I presumed it would be a great opportunity to catch the Waqf and police off-guard and engage in my creative interpretation of civil disobedience more easily.  (I intended to try to get the police officer and Waqf official who would follow me around over piles of rubble.)

There was a snag in my plans.  When I got there, I found these signs posted:

These signs say that from November 6 to 9 the Temple Mount would be closed to visitors because of the Muslim holiday, namely ‘Īd al-’Aḍḥá.  That’s right:  someone in the government or the police thought a Muslim holiday was a valid reason to close the Temple Mount to non-Muslims, as if non-Muslims particularly cared if it was a Muslim holiday or not or Muslim intolerance was any more excusable on a Muslim holiday.

I also went to the Chain Gate, which Jews are not supposed to use to visit the Temple Mount.

I did not expect to be admitted—and I was not—but I decided to try anyway as part of my campaign to let the police and government know that the Temple Mount does matter to observant Jews.  The guards had nothing useful to tell me about the closure:  “It’s closed” and “It’s a Muslim holiday”.  They could not give me any cogent reason whatsoever that the Temple Mount should be closed to non-Muslims on a Muslim holiday.  All I can infer is that the police would rather give in to Muslim delusions of grandeur rather that do their job and enforce tolerance.  That is pathetic.

Oh, for the record, whoever is responsible now owes me 32.50 sheqels for bus fare, 5 sheqels for use of a miqweh (yes, they charge), and 7,777 US dollars in wasted time and suffering.

Now I have to go reschedule my trip again, which is not going to be this week due to rain.  And get around to writing about Acts and Romans.  And a bunch of other stuff…



Sunday, October 23, 2011

Harold Camping, Shemini ‘Aṣereth, and heretics who do do not know enough to copy a text straight

Jewish date:  26 Tishri 5772 (evening) (Parashath Noaḥ).

Today’s holidays:  Thirtieth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. Bobby London (Church of the SubGenius).


This is going to be a variety of things.

1) You may remember that Protestant minister Harold Camping predicted that the world as we know it would end on May 21, 2011 (noted in “Mark your calendars for the Rapture, but don’t hold your breath”, “The Rapture and soft maṣṣah”, and “The Rapture and Pesaḥ preparation”), which of course failed to happen.  Well, Camping came up with a new prediction after that that the world as we know it would end on October 21, 2011.  Unless this blog post is a figment of your imagination, this did not happen.  Details can be found at “Oct. 21 'Doomsday' So Far Pretty Quiet” and “Radio prophet gone from airwaves on new Judgment Day eve”.  I hope he will figure out his system does not have good predictive power and quit, but I am not that optimistic.

2) Shemini ‘Aṣereth/Simḥath Torah:  I spent a lot of Sukkoth sick and under self-imposed quarantine in my apartment.  This naturally limited what I could see people do.  I did get out before Shemini ‘Aṣereth/Simḥath Torah (I went to see a doctor and found I was not infectious), so I can report what happened then.  Simḥath Torah is distinguished by the haqqafoth ritual, in which the Torah scrolls are carried around the reading table seven times (nominally, practically much more than this) with singing and dancing to celebrate the end of the annual reading cycle and the start of the new one.  Unhappily for me, the disease I have is a respiratory infection, which made singing for me unrealistic.  Good thing that there were a lot of other people there to take care of that.  Dancing was somewhat more limited than what I am used to.  The synagogue I currently attend for Shabbath and holidays meets in trailers, as their permanent location is currently under construction; this results in crowding even under ordinary conditions.  On Simḥath Torah, this resulted in slower dancing and fewer fancy moves than there might have otherwise been in order to avoid collisions.  Haqqafofth also have a tendency to go on for extended periods of time, which prompted my synagogue to do some creative scheduling.  At night, dinner was served at the synagogue right after services, thus avoiding any delay from people having to go home and get everything ready.  In the morning, qiddush was held at the synagogue between the Torah reading and yizkor (the memorial prayer for the dead), avoiding the need for anyone to wait until a few hours into the afternoon to eat.  There is also the practice of calling up all men to read from the Torah on Simḥath Torah; at first I thought they were skipping this practice entirely, but they placed it at the very end of the services.  This is the first time I have ever heard of such a practice.  I heard mention of secondary haqqafoth being done elsewhere; even though I had not heard of that practice, due to my condition, I declined to investigate it.  Maybe next year.

I have put my willow and myrtle branches into a vase with water in the hopes of growing them.  The willow seem to have grown the beginnings of roots.  I also hope to grow trees from the seeds in my citron, but I plan to wait for it to fully ripen first.  I have no hope for growing anything from the palm frond.

This wraps it up for the Tishri holidays.  The next holiday, other than the monthly Ro’sh Ḥodhesh (new moon) is the very recent Yiṣḥaq Rabbin Memorial Day, which I am eager to find out if anyone really pays any attention to and why.  (Really.  The man committed treason by enabling the enemies of Israel and ignoring that said enemies had no real interest in making peace.  That, if anything is a reason not to dedicate a holiday to him, even if he did get assassinated.)

3) Every year, observant Jews are expected to read through the entire Torah three times, twice in the original Hebrew and once in a language they understand, usually Aramaic.  They also commonly read commentaries on the Torah as well; this year I have chosen to read the classic Hertz’s Ḥummash (Hertz, J. H., ed. The Pentateuch and Haftorahs: Hebrew Text, English Translation and Commentary. London: Defus d’universitah Oxford, 1929-1936. 2nd ed. London: Soncino Press, 1961. Print.) and, since I have this thing about religious fallacies and misinformation, a heretical (“Conservative”) commentary (Lieber, David L., and Jules. Harlow. Etz Hayim: Torah and Commentary. Travel-size ed. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2004. Print.).  To be sure, reading a “Conservative” commentary which makes it clear in the introductions that the people who put it together do not believe in Judaism in the traditional sense of the term is annoying.  But what is more annoying than the commentary is the text of the Torah printed above the commentary.  Why?  Because they dared change the text.  I am well aware that annotations have been added to the printed text of the Torah due to the script being defective.  But the heretics decided that certain passages (Genesis 2:23; 3:14-16; 3:17-19; 4:6-7; 4:23-24; 7:11 in my reading so far, not to mention the entire hafṭarah for Parashath Bere’shith) are poetry, and so they took the liberty of taking liberties with the spacing of the text to show off the poetriness.  This is a direct violation of a great unwritten rule:


Because these idiots have reformatted the text as poetry, some reader who is not so well-informed on the history of the formatting of the Hebrew Bible may get the wrong impression that the poetic formatting is actually part of the text and impose an interpretation which may not be correct.  Good going, heretics.



Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Yom Kippur and Sukkoth

Jewish date:  20 Tishri 5772 (Parashath Bere’shith).

Today’s holidays:  Sukkoth (Judaism), Feast Day of Luke the Evangalist (Christianity), Feast Day of St. Richelieu (Church of the SubGenius).


This is not the best of times for me to be posting.  I have been noticeably sick (fever, coughing, questionable temperature sensations, lethargy, lack of appetite) since Saturday night.  For the sake of avoiding passing on the disease to someone else, I have stayed inside my apartment since then.  The only reason I was able to post anything on my other blog on Sunday was that I had written the post already.  I am doing better now, though still not fully recovered yet.  Being sick not been good for my Divine Misconceptions-related activities.  I had hoped to visit the Temple Mount as far back as Sunday—and have fun leading the police officer and Waqf official following me over big piles of rubble in the name of creative interpretation of civil disobedience—and at this point I do not realistically expect to be able to do so until next Sunday.  My condition has also made writing unrealistic.  (There is recent material by creationists I have felt needs criticism, and my writing the criticism is going to have to wait a while longer.)  At the moment, I do feel up to reporting a bit about Yom Kippur and Sukkoth in Israel.

Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement):  Largely the same as Ro’sh hashShanah, except a lot of fasting.  Unlike other fast days, spending all day at home is usually not an option.  Since no one (except minors and those medically unable to fast) has any meals to go to, there is no push to keep the services short, and thus they can stretch to fill the entire day.  We only got about an hour’s break between musaf and minḥah.  It also can be very tiring.

Sukkoth (Tabernacles):  I have heard mention of the practice of starting to build the sukkah (a ritually prescribed booth to dwell in during Sukkoth) at night right after Yom Kippur.  My landlord actually did so.  There is also an older practice of using actual fruit to decorate the sukkah.  (Most people these days use plastic fruit.)  My landlord has bunches of real dates hanging in and outside of his.

Sukkah decorations vary a lot, depending on the tastes of the owners of the sukkah.  Two I have seen so far have had mirrored balls in them, ones that would look quite normal on a Christmas tree.  These made me think rather of some pictures by M. C. Escher, such as this one:

I rather like the idea an Escher-inspired sukkah and based on this may eventually make a go at it myself.  Though reproducing certain aspects of his work may prove challenging.  I do think this image may be somewhat doable if executed correctly:

OK, off the creative goofiness and on to other things.

In the United States, one normally acquires the ’arba‘ minim (four species:  palm, willow, myrtle, and citron, which get ritually waved) through a synagogue, except maybe in New York City.  I expected to get them from someone sitting out front of the synagogue, as people had done before for other religious purposes, such as selling scrolls of Esther and checking tefillin.  I ended up buying mine from a group who had a kid hand out advertisements.  There were other such advertisements posted, and the alternative would have been to walk into Bene Beraq, where I had already seen some people trying to sell ’ethroghim (citrons) for outrageous prices.  (See the Israeli movie Ha’Ushpizin, which features a 1,000 NIS ’ethrogh.  None of the ones I saw were quite that expensive, but there is some truth to the premise.)  The set of ’arba‘ minim I got was actually good quality, but with one flaw:  usually one also receives a holder for the palm, myrtle, and willow woven out of pieces of palm frond to make the assemblage easier to handle—and somehow I did not realize I had not gotten one until too late.  This does not invalidate the ritual waving in any way, but it is not ideal, and I have been practically paranoid about trying not to accidentally strip leaves off the willow and myrtle.  Also, waving the four species in an apartment dominated by bookshelves (such as mine) without hitting anything is rather tricky.

In the old days, new moons were declared by a special committee, and people in the Diaspora often had to wait for days to find out when the new moon had been.  As a result, many critical holidays were celebrated for an extra day due to doubt on when they actually were.  When the fixed calendar was instituted—thanks to the Roman persecutions making it necessary—the extra days continued to be observed except for Yom Kippur.  (The reason I was told was that people liked having an extra day off and refused to give up the extra days.)  For liturgical purposes, observing the extra days can make a mess of things, as the original doubt is not implemented uniformly.  Pesaḥ (Passover) and Sukkoth are divided into two parts, yom ṭov (the festival proper, on the first and last days) and ḥol hammo‘edh (intermediate days of lesser holiness).  In the Diaspora, the second days of Pesaḥ and Sukkoth are treated as if they were yom ṭov in every respect, which means the technically correct prayers for ḥol hammo‘edh are not said at all.  On Sukkoth specifically, things are worse.  In the musaf prayer, the special sacrifices for that day are recounted, and since different sacrifices are to be brought on every single day of Sukkoth, not only are the wrong sacrifices specified for the second day, but an attempt to compensate by doubling up the sacrificial readings is made on the following days.  It gets even weirder on the eighth day, the semi-independent festival of Shemini ‘Aṣereth (Eighth Day of Assembly).  Unlike the last day of Pesaḥ, it does get treated a bit as doubtfully ḥol hammo‘edh, with (some) people eating and sleeping in the sukkah.  However, due to the extra day added on to the holiday, there is an awkward second eighth day, which to make things a bit less confusing gets dubbed Simḥath Torah (“the joy of the Torah”) and which marks the completion of the annual cycle of reading the Torah.  Here in Israel, we have none of this weirdness of extra doubtful days, and the liturgy makes a lot more sense.

I think that will be all for now.  Peace.


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Seliḥoth, Ro’sh hashShanah, and Fast of Gedhalyah

Jewish date:  7 Tishri 5772 (evening).

Today’s holidays:  The Ten Days of Repentance (Judaism), Feast Day of Francis of Assisi (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. Buster Keaton (Church of the SubGenius).


It has been too long since I last posted.  For one thing, I have been busy with work, trying to get a paper to first draft stage, which helped tire me out.  For another, the previous month on the Jewish calendar, ’Elul, and the current one, Tishri, are themselves very good for tiring people out.  ’Elul is the season to prepare for Tishri and hence given over for repentance.  ’Elul also has a set of penitential prayers known as seliḥoth which are said either late at night or early in the morning.  How long selihḥoth are said varies by ethnic group; Sefaradhim (Jews whose ancestors lived in Spain and Portugal) and ‘Edhuth hamMizraḥ (Middle Eastern Jews) say seliḥoth all of ’Elul, while ’Ashkenazim (Mid- and Eastern European Jews) (such as myself) begin the week before Ro’sh hashShanah.  Even though, seliḥoth do not do a lot of good for getting a good night’s sleep.  And this problem has not ended yet, since seliḥoth are said until Yom Kippur.  So I am feeling somewhat zombie-like and expect to be this way for the rest of the week.  (Yom Kippur is this Saturday.)

OK, let’s try to say something meaningful about ’Elul and Tishri in Israel.  I hope this turns out somewhat intelligible, but considering my condition, if anyone needs translation or further explanation, feel free to ask.

Seliḥoth:  I pray according to the Lithuanian rite, or more precisely, (largely) according to the rite of the Ga’on Rav ’Eliyyahu of Vilna.  The synagogue I pray morning services at during the week does seliḥoth according to the Polish rite.  Ordinarily variations in ’Ashkenazi rites are not large, but the people in Poland included a somewhat different set of liturgical poetry among the seliḥoth, enough that I have found myself losing track of where we were in those early morning prayers.

Advertising:  Muted, as all the Jewish holiday advertising I have seen already.

Ro’sh hashShanah:  On Shabbath and major holidays, I pray in a synagogue known for two things:  1) a musical style of prayer pioneered by Rav Shelomoh Carlebach, taken to the point where I have compared praying there to being in a musical, and 2) being crowded on Shabbath and major holidays.  (People who come late have to stand for the entire service).  Ro’sh hashShanah prayers everywhere tend to be more musical than normal, so there the difference was not so great.  The level of crowding, which everywhere tends to be bad on Ro’sh hashShanah, was worse than normal, with extremely little space available even for people willing to stand the entire service.  I sat in the back next to the partition between the men and women’s sections, and I was pressed for space enough that my left shoulder hurt.  During the musaf service, when we are supposed to prostrate ourselves on the floor, I only had room to crouch.

There are a lot of nice people in the community, and a local rav usually arranges for places for me to eat on Shabbath and major holidays.  (I am relatively new here, single, and without family in the area.  Eating alone on holy days is not ideal or fun.)  At dinner on Ro’sh hashShanah symbolic foods are eaten; this is a sort of prayer through action, though the symbolism is often based on puns which are quite untranslatable.  One of the more translatable symbolic foods is the eating of the head of a fish or mammal.  (“May it be Your will, YHWH our god and god of our ancestors, that we be to the head and not to the tail.”)  Among various other symbolic foods, on the first night we were actually served a fish head.  I found it too repulsive to eat any of it.  (And I watched a sheep get slaughtered without fainting or reverse peristalsis.  Go figure.)  Though I have often heard about the custom of eating a head on Ro’sh hashShanah, this is only the second time I have actually seen it practiced.  (The first time was years ago at Yeshiva University, where someone in the cafeteria had somehow gotten his hands on half of a sheep skull with some meat still on it.)

Another symbolic food, one much more commonly consumed, is pomegranate seeds.  (“May it be Your will, YHWH our god and god of our ancestors, that we be as full of miṣwoth as a pomegranate.”)  On the second night of Ro’sh hashShanah, I was at a communal dinner, and a number of the participants brought pomegranate seeds.  While many of these came from pomegranates purchased intact, there was also there a packet of pomegranate seeds without the rest of pomegranate around them.  This, I presume, was an attempt by someone to make a quick buck (or in this case, a quick sheqel) from people who are too lazy to remove the seeds from a pomegranate themselves.  I would like to note that as far as harnessing laziness for profit goes, this was a failure.  The pomegranate seeds which came packaged inside a pomegranate tasted better than the ones packaged in plastic.  The inclusion on a small black plastic spork with the pomegranateless pomegranate seeds, presumably to get them out of the package, did absolutely nothing to improve the taste or their convenience.

The Fast of Gedhalyah:  Nothing particularly unusual.  Then again, I spent most of the day in my apartment to avoid overheating.

Rain:  The Jewish liturgy includes praying for rain in the winter, but not in the summer.  This accurately reflects the climate in Israel.  We have not had rain all summer, and only recently did we get any again.

I think that’s about all I can produce right now.  Oh, and in the spirit of the season, I extend forgiveness for all those who have inadvertently sinned against me.

May you all be written for a sweet year.


Friday, September 9, 2011

“Reversing the Moral Decay Behind the London Riots”

Jewish date:  10 ’Elul 5771 (Parashath Ki Theṣe’).

Today’s holidays:  Feast Day of Peter Claver (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. Dean Corll (Church of the SubGenius).


Recently Harold sent me a link to an article worth mentioning, “Reversing the Moral Decay Behind the London Riots” by Rav Jonathan Sacks, which deals with the decline of morality (as an extension of religion) starting in the 1960s in the United Kingdom and the West in general as a factor leading to the recent London riots.  And I do think that he has a point.  Human societies are governed by rules, and a what we do is influenced by what we see others do.  When people jettison rules which exist for perfectly good reasons (like rules against selfishness), bad consequences are unsurprising.

Clearly things have changed since the 1960s.  Very apparent is that there have been changes in what is considered acceptable in the media.  For a humorous example, if you will recall the 1960s sit-com Gilligan’s Island, it was followed up in 1978 with Rescue from Gilligan’s Island, which brings the castaways back to civilization after 15 years of isolation; of all the characters, it is Ginger, the sex symbol of the series, who criticizes many of the movies of that time for gratuitous sex and foul language.  I am well aware that things have not gotten better in this regard since 1978.  In fact, a lot of stuff I watch these days (over the Internet) is decades old, not merely out of curiosity of things I have only heard about or nostalgia, but also because of content.  If Gilligan’s Island were made today—and there have been repeated threats of a movie version from time to time—it would almost certainly be a very different show; there is a high probability there would be a good deal of that gratuitous sex that Ginger complained about (certainly something beyond the teasing and manipulation that Ginger actually did), quite likely some foul language, probably more infighting and a good deal less of a sense of community, and probably more violence than the Skipper hitting Gilligan with his hat.

On the other hand, I find myself wondering how much of a trend of moral decay there really is.  Human society consists of billions of people, and thus lots of different trends can happen simultaneously in all sorts of directions.  And I do not think things have been going down uniformly.  For example, there has been a lot of emphasis placed on eliminating racism and creating a more just world starting in the 1960s.  I have also heard that Judaism was largely dying out in the United States until 1948, after which there has been an increasing ba‘al teshuvah movement (to put it in Christian terms, Jews “getting religion”).  To Rav Sacks’s credit, he avoids the clichéd falsehood that moral decline is inevitable and even notes that in the 1820s that the United States and Britain became more religious.

Paradoxically, you can even get things going both ways at the same time in the same group of people.  The United States has a large population of religious Christians—many of which politically take positions which are difficult or impossible to reconcile with anything Jesus taught.  (Republicans, take heed.  This means you.  I am no fan of Jesus, but I know full well that “kick the poor when they’re down” is the exact opposite of what he preached.)  Go figure.

Peace and Shabbath shalom.


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Only in Israel: a public sheḥiṭah demonstration

Jewish date:  30 ’Av 5771 (Parashath Shofeṭim).

Today’s holidays:  Ro’sh Ḥodhesh ’Elul (Judaism), Tuesday of the Twenty-Second Week of Ordinary Time (Roman Catholicism), Chaand Raat (Islam), Feast Day of St. Thor (Church of the SubGenius).


Yesterday, thanks to a friend, I attended a demonstration of sheḥiṭah (AKA kasher ritual slaughter) in Petaḥ Tiqwah (the next town east of here).  Two chickens and a sheep were killed, and a few tens of people got to see what the inside of a sheep looks like.  This was very educational for anyone who wants to know about sheḥiṭah and related ritual phenomena, such as what fat counts as ḥelev (which is forbidden for consumption) and shumman (which is permitted), what portions should be given to a kohen (priest), and gidh hannasheh (the sciatic nerve, which is forbidden for consumption).  I did not take pictures, and if I did, I probably would not post them anyway.  The demonstration was worthwhile attending, but it was only for people with strong stomachs.

What I found very interesting was not so much the demonstration itself, but the circumstances:
  • Attending were not just men, but also women and children, neither of which normally perform sheḥiṭah.
  • No one fainted or vomited.  My friend told me that some children cried, though I did not notice them at all.  In fact, many children stood close to better see the sheep cut up.
  • The demonstration was performed in the front yard of a synagogue, in easy view of the street.
  • There were no protesters, despite the demonstration being publicly advertised in advance.
Now, try to imagine what would have happened had anyone tried holding such a demonstration in the United States.  In the United States, animal slaughter in public is practically taboo and almost never heard of.  I have heard of Santeríans being harassed, in violation of the US Constitution, for performing animal sacrifice.  Had this demonstration been done in the United States, I would have expected People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals to complain bitterly.  Here in Israel, it was an inoffensive curiosity. I am not clear why this cultural difference exists.  I have to remember to start asking about attitudes to animal slaughter in Israel and how common public animal slaughter is over here.

While I am posting, a few other items of interest:


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Dishonest reporting

Jewish date:  26 ’Av 5771 (evening) (Parashath Re’eh).

Today’s holidays:  Feast Day of Louis of France and Joseph Calasanz (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. Heliogabulus (Church of the SubGenius), Feast Day of Friederich Nietzsche (Thelema).


Recently I came across a short article which struck me as off, and Barry independently asked me to comment on it.  The article is “Rabbis Help Gays Find Sexless Marriages To Procreate For God”.

It starts with this:
Ever wish that you could have a sexless marriage, lots of affairs, and still have the approval of God?  Well, now you can, if you are a homosexual Jew — as long as you promise to procreate in the name of the Lord as well.
It was immediately obvious that something was wrong.  Judaism does not condone affairs by anyone, whether they are heterosexual or homosexual, and making children does not excuse such misbehavior.  The rest of the article was also suspicious:
Via Think Progress:
A new Orthodox Jewish service “seeks to help religious homosexuals and lesbians find a partner for procreation purposes – as long as they promise to try to change their sexual orientation,” YNet News reports. An orthodox interpretation of Jewish law forbids homosexual relations, but the match-making website hopes to connect men and women “seeking to start a family in Israel, even without sexual attraction, in order to bring religious children into the world and provide them with traditional education. Thus, a religious gay man will be able to meet a religious lesbian woman through the website and have children with her.”
It’s assumed, of course, that any gay person involved in this sort of arrangement will be having affairs, and according to the service that’s just fine — it’s not cheating if you’re both doing it and your partner knows and approves.  After all, it’s all worth it if it makes more children of the faith.  And the Rabbis themselves believe they are acting under the best of intentions. “Almost everyone understands that there are those who simply cannot change,” [Orthodox Rabbi Arale] Harel admits. “This initiative was designed for them.” 
Still, it’s funny to think, so many religious people are worried that same sex marriage is destroying the “traditional” definition of marriage.
Now, I had already heard about Rav Har’el matchmaking homosexuals (of the opposite sex).  (See “Orthodox Gay Marriage” and “Israeli rabbis launch initiative to marry gay men to lesbian women”.)  However, I had not heard anything about him approving affairs, and when one also takes into account the flippant tone of this article, my suspicions were raised that whoever wrote it did not bother to do any research.

So let us follow the links.  This article refers back to another article in ThinkProgress, “RABBIS MATCH GAYS AND LESBIANS ‘TO BRING RELIGIOUS CHILDREN INTO THE WORLD’”, which was quoted almost in its entirety.  The only part which was not quoted is:
“We are aware of the fact that the man and woman may have extramarital relations according to their sexual inclination, but at least they won’t be cheating on their partners, as it will be done with their consent,” one Orthodox rabbi explained
So far we are still in the midst of suspicious content.  The second article links to a third article on Ynetnews, “Rabbis to match homosexuals, lesbians”:
A new Web initiative seeks to help religious homosexuals and lesbians find a partner for procreation purposes – as long as they promise to try to change their sexual orientation.

Currently, religious gay people are not entitled to use the sector's regular matchmaking service. In the coming days, the Kamoha website for Orthodox homosexuals will introduce a new page resembling leading dating websites. But unlike similar initiatives which have failed in the past, this one enjoys the support of senior Religious Zionism rabbis.

As Jewish Halacha forbids homosexual relations, the initiative will connect between men and women seeking to start a family in Israel, even without sexual attraction, in order to bring religious children into the world and provide them with traditional education. Thus, a religious gay man will be able to meet a religious lesbian woman through the website and have children with her.

The initiative is being led by Orthodox Rabbi Arale Harel, former head of the Shilo hesder yeshiva. According to Harel, the program has the support of additional Religious Zionism rabbis, including Haim Drukman, Yaakov Ariel and Elyakim Levanon.

Harel says he has so far matched more than 10 gay-lesbian couples, and is now seeking to institutionalize the issue.

"There is no rabbi who will approve such a marriage," he explains. "We are aware of the fact that the man and woman may have extramarital relations according to their sexual inclination, but at least they won't be cheating on their partners, as it will be done with their consent."

Nonetheless, Harel has added a condition for the match, which may deter religious homosexuals and lesbians. According to the rabbi, the couple will first have to undergo "psychological conversion therapy aimed at helping the patients change their sexual inclination."

Those seeking to use the website's services will undergo a screening process, and after paying NIS 150 (about $42) in order to prove that they are serious about the issue, they will be able to go out with members of the opposite sex while receiving psychological and rabbinical advice.

"Almost everyone understands that there are those who simply cannot change," Harel admits. "This initiative was designed for them."
This article adds new, unusual details.  First of all, there is the listed requirement of conversion therapy.  Conversion therapy, which aims to change homosexuals into heterosexuals, is not scientifically recognized as actually working and may be harmful.  This requirement is paradoxical, considering that Rav Harel claims that some people cannot change their sexual orientation.  Secondly, there is the obvious contradiction between this matchmaking having rabbinical approval and the claim that no rabbi would approve of such a match.  Also unusual is what is omitted:  a link to this “new Web initiative”.

Given the difficult nature of these three articles, I decided to find Rav Har’el and company and see what they have to say for themselves.  And I did find them.  Their site is Kamokha and their new initiative is ’Anaḥnu.  From the three questionable articles, one might think that rabbis, especially Rav Har’el, were going out their way to get homosexuals to marry people of the opposite sex.  They are not.  Kamokha is an organization of Orthodox Jewish homosexual men who wish to live by Orthodox Judaism.  This includes the prohibition on the practice of homosexuality.  If this seems strange to anyone, do note that just because one has a desire to do something does not mean one will actually do it or even wants to have this desire.  ’Anaḥnu is also their initiative; please note that homosexuals, like heterosexuals, often want to get married and have children.  Kamokha approached Rav Har’el to establish this program.  This is something they want, not something anyone is trying to foist upon anyone else.  They also make it clear that this program is experimental, that it is only for those who have come to terms with not being able to change their sexual orientation, and that this is not a program meant to change sexual orientation.  There is no requirement of conversion therapy whatsoever.  Neither is there any permission for affairs.  To put it bluntly, the people behind the questionable articles lied.  At the most generous, one might think they confounded ’Anaḥnu with another Kamokha initiative, one to provide conversion therapy for free for those who want it—with full recognition that it is controversial—but that would be difficult to do accidentally without being amazingly stupid.

As for the whole business of affairs being allegedly OK for married homosexuals, that may be a perversion of something that Rav Har’el said in an interview pulled out of context:
"Most of the couples agree not to have relationships with members of their own sex, but if there are 'lapses' once every few years, they don't see this as a betrayal," he said. "Generally, it's between them and their Creator."
This is not permission to have an affair by any means, only a statement on the psychology and theology.

Sadly, this display of dishonesty is precedented.  (E.g., see my reviews of His Dark Materials, The God Delusion, Religulous, Expelled:  No Intelligence Allowed, and Godless:  The Church of Liberalism.)  If one wishes to argue that homosexuals should never marry anyone of the opposite sex, fine.  If one wishes to argue that homosexuals should not resist their sexual desires but instead rejoice in them, fine.  If one wishes to argue that homosexuals should never have children, fine.  If one wishes to argue that no one should ever aid and abet a homosexual in marrying someone of the opposite sex and producing children, even if that is what the homosexual wants, fine.  Argue any position you want, but do it on the basis of the actual facts.  If someone has to lie or quote out of context to “prove” that someone is doing something wrong, then that person has given the perfect reason to believe that nothing wrong is being done.  And this goes double when the result is mockery and not even a pathetic excuse for an argument.  Practically anyone can do better than this.



Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Ezekiel 4:9 is not about health food

Jewish date:  23 ’Av 5771 (Parashath Re’eh).

Today’s holidays:  Feast Day of Rose of Lima (Roman Catholicism), Nuclear Accident Day (Church of the SubGenius).


A while ago, Barry sent me some pictures of some unusual bread and asked me to post on it.  Unfortunately, Blogger is not being cooperative about loading pictures, so instead I am going to direct you towards the Web-site for the bread:  Ezekiel 4:9® | Food For Life.  Thus is it written in Ezekiel 4:9 (my translation):
And you, take for yourself wheat and barley and beans and lentils and millet and spelt, and you will put them in one vessel, and you will make them for yourself into bread; [for] the number of days that you are lying on your side, 390 days, you will eat it.
The people making bread based on this seem to be taking it as a recipe for health food, claiming “This Biblical Bread is Truly the Staff of Life”.

Now, as an epidemiologist and thus someone who has been exposed to a good deal of health-related information, I am all for variety in one’s diet.  However, healthy eating is not what this verse is about.  Let us consider the context of this verse.  Yeḥezqe’l (Ezekiel) was living at the end of the First Temple Period.  When he prophesied, he was on the shore of the Kevar in Babylonia, as he had already been exiled.  Yeḥezqe’l’s prophecies deal with the transgressions (severe enough to cause major social problems) that ultimately led to the destruction of the First Temple, the 70 years of exile, and the eventual  return of the Jewish people and rebuilding of the Temple.  In publicizing these prophecies, YHWH instructed Yeḥezqe’el to act in some truly bizarre ways, thus getting people’s attention.  Ezekiel 4:9 is part of a set of instructions that Yeḥezqe’l is to lay siege on a brick and spend over a year lying on his side.  The recipe is representative of what people eat in times of siege; not being able to freely import food, they eat whatever they have available, even if it turns out to be unusual mixture.  Please note that Yeḥezqe’l is supposed to ration his food and water during this time (Ezekiel 4:10-11), and what he is supposed to use as fuel for cooking his food is something that no one with any sense (of hygiene, at least) would use unless they had no other choice (Ezekiel 4:12, 4:16).  (I presume the Food and Drug Administration does not permit that level of authenticity.)  Taking the recipe as being meant as health food is nothing less than a gross violation of context.

Even more far-fetched is their Genesis 1:29® sprouted grain and seed bread.  Thus is it written in Genesis 1:29 (my translation):
’Elohim said, “Behold, I have given you every herb bearing see that is on the face of all the Earth and every tree that on it is the fruit of the tree bearing seed; for you it will be for food.”
This verse is talking about plants in general as food, but somehow the Food for Life people have taken it as inspiring bread made with 19 different plant-based items from around the planet.  Note that at no point does this verse talk about any form of cooking or even of mixing different ingredients.  I have no idea what these people are thinking.

Theological rating for these products:  F.



Sunday, August 14, 2011

Ramāḍan has nothing to offer non-Muslims

Jewish date:  14 ’Av 5771 (Parashath ‘Eqev).

Today’s holidays:  Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Roman Catholicism), Forefeast of the Dormition (Greek Orthodox Christianity), Feast Day of St. Buck Dharma (Church of the SubGenius).

Worthy cause of the day:  “Jewish Rights on the Temple Mount”.  Please sign and tell the government of Israel that Jewish civil rights matter.  Thank you.


An article that recently appeared in the Jerusalem Post, “Ramadan has something to offer all faiths” by Kaled Diab, disturbs me.  This is an article by a secular Muslim on the famous ’Islāmic month-long fast.  The author is clearly dazzled by the holiday, but not in the way someone religious would think of it.  For comparison, when thinking about Christmas in the United States, a serious Christian thinks about the birth of Jesus, while a secularist who enjoys the holiday thinks about Santa Claus, presents, and Christmas trees.  This article is close to the “Santa Claus” level; the rituals, both formal and informal, and the aura get all the attention, while how Ramāḍan relates to ’Allāh is ignored.  While such an article may be useful for understanding how secularists understand Ramāḍan, it is not so useful for understanding how observant Muslims view it.

Fairly disturbing is the ecumenical approach the author takes towards Ramāḍan.  As the title of the article implies, the author does not see Ramāḍan as just for Muslims.  He cites recent interfaith ’ifṭārs (meals eaten to break the fast during Ramāḍan) and the case of (extremely rare) Ṣūfī Jews, one historical (Rav ’Avraham ben Mosheh ben Maymon) and at least one actually living whom he can actually name as having at one point fasted during Ramāḍan.  While the author may see great potential for Ramāḍan as a bridge between different religions, what is glossed over is why these huge gaps between religions exist in the first place and why Jews and Christians for the most part do not observe Ramāḍan at all.  

Anyone who has read the New Testament and Qur’ān knows (or should know) that Christianity has deep elements of rejection of Judaism, and ’Islām has deep elements of rejection of Judaism and Christianity.  Historically these have been acted on, and in the case of ’Islām, they are very much acted upon.  Only recently has Christianity taken serious steps to bridge the divide and come to peace with Judaism.  ’Islām, on the other hand, to a large degree is still at war with the rest of the planet, including Israel.  Individual Muslims, especially secularists, mystics, and heretical groups, may shed anti-Semitism and anti-Christianity, but when the hatred is embraced all too prominently by observant Sunnīs and Shī‘īs, not to mention the leaders of Muslim countries, the gap is too wide to reasonably bridge.  The author of this article unpromisingly displays the anti-Semitic attitude of blaming Israel for the problems of the “Palestinians”, completely ignoring “Palestinian” terrorism and anti-Semitism as the reason for how Israel treats them.  A man like this is not one your humble blogger would bother trying to bridge the gap with.

Also ignored is that Judaism looks coldly on borrowing from other religions.  Any serious religion is believed by its followers to be the truth; if so, why bother borrowing from a false religion?  There are religions which do grant some sort of validity to other religions as ways to the truth or getting closer to whatever god exists or at least becoming better people.  But ’Islām is a heresy to Judaism, not the worst heresy, but a heresy nevertheless and certainly one in direct conflict with Judaism—not a promising source.  Also, one cannot simply graft any practice onto any religion.  Full observance of Ramāḍan is impossible in Judaism.  There is a long list of days in the Jewish calendar in which fasting during the day, the most famous practice of Ramāḍan, is expressly forbidden, and one of these, Shabbath, happens every week.  It is forbidden to fast on Shabbath with very few exceptions (Yom Kippur, emergency conditions, lack of choice, and being scared so badly by a dream which one suspects is a premonition that one seriously feels better off fasting).  That Jews should adopt Ramāḍan simply is unthinkable.

Furthermore, your humble blogger has no idea what Ramāḍan has which is worthwhile that Judaism does not already have.  Fast days we already have, and those who feel the need can always fast a few more.  Some fast on every Monday and Thursday or the day before Ro’sh Ḥodhesh.  “Soul-searching” and “reflection” are handled by the month of ’Elul and the Ten Days of Repentance.  “Bridge-building” and “solidarity, camaraderie, unison and communalism” are handled by Purim.  Communal eating is common in practically every synagogue on Shabbath.  Unless one wants to claim something especially worthwhile about Ramāḍan television shows, there does not seem to be anything useful in Ramāḍan that Judaism needs.

And do Jews really need or want another holiday?  The Jewish calendar is already saturated with holidays, especially after the recent additions since the formation of the State of Israel.  Every month has holidays.  Some of the old holidays, such as Ṭu biShvaṭ and Ṭu be’Av, have gained new meanings.  The State of Israel added a number, many of which seem to be observed based on one’s politics, and a few others, e.g., Jabotinsky Day and Herzl Day, which seem to be ignored.  Unofficial holidays seem to have little attention or popularity over here.  Family Day seems observed only in schools.  Silvester is limited to Russian immigrants.  American immigrants brought Thanksgiving with them, but it does not seem to have caught on.  There is an unofficial holiday, besides the official one, in honor of Yiṣḥaq Rabbin (I have no idea why), and that one’s observance is very politically limited.  Jews (and other non-Muslims) in Israel have had plenty of exposure to Ramāḍan, and I have seen no interest over here in adopting it in any way, even from secularists.

In conclusion:  Jews observing Ramāḍan?  You’ve got to be kidding.



PS:  Expect me this fall to be promoting Yarov‘am ben Nevaṭ Day (15 Marḥeshwan) as a parody holiday alternative to Yiṣḥaq Rabbin Memorial Day (12 Marḥeshwan).  I find it baffling that Yiṣḥaq Rabbin is celebrated at all, considering he committed treason by aiding and abetting the terrorist Yāsir ‘Arafāt (may his name be erased).  If Rabbin deserves a holiday, then why not honor Yarov‘am ben Nevaṭ, an even bigger traitor and promoter of idolatry?  Why honor someone who tried to make peace is an obviously idiotic way when we can honor someone who betrayed the god who made him ruler of an entire kingdom?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Musings on freedom

Jewish date:  9 ’Av 5771 (Parashath Wa’Ethḥannan).

Today’s holidays:  The Fast of ’Av (Judaism)

It is 9 ’Av, the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, and I feel the need to discuss two conversations I had recently with people who shall remain anonymous.  I am also not picking specifically on them, for I have heard similar arguments elsewhere.

One of the conversations was with someone who reacted in alarm to me protesting for Jewish rights on the Temple Mount.  In this conversation, it was questioned whether the majority of Israelis really felt as I did and whether I should be promoting an idea that might be strongly against what they think.  There was also a fear of what other countries might do if I was actually successful.

The other conversation was with someone who was shocked I went up on the Temple Mount.  The person I was talking with was concerned of how the Arabs would react to me being there, presumably negatively.

Both of these conversations disturb me, because there is something in each of them which is fundamentally against the ideals of freedom of religion and a democratic, civil society.  Freedom includes being able to promote ideas that other people disagree with.  Freedom includes being able to do things that other people disagree with.  And everyone is supposed to have these freedoms, not just a few.  It should not matter if someone believes something that everyone else on the planet thinks is wrong; in a democratic society, that person is legally entitled to advocate and live by his/her belief, just as everyone else is entitled to advocate and live by their own belief.  This is especially true when no one is advocating anything out of bounds for a civil society, such as incitement to murder.

There is also the implicit notion that one should not try to challenge the status quo.  I have no idea where the idea that the status quo is sacred and inviolable comes from.  Considering that our lives and beliefs are radically different from our ancestors thousands of years ago, not to mention we are currently living in an era of rapid change, I would say the status quo has been challenged and changed, over and over again.  Now, one could conceivably argue that some aspect of the way things are now should not be changed, but no one is going to say outright “Violation of freedom of religion is the way things are supposed to be, and we should continue violating freedom of religion”, because that is never going to fly.

The conversation on visiting the Temple Mount is also disturbing, because the other person was putting the blame for anything which goes wrong on the wrong party.  If a Jew goes up on the Temple Mount and prays, that is an exercise in freedom of religion.  If a Muslim reacts to that in a way unacceptable in a civil society, such as by throwing rocks, the fault is entirely the Muslim’s.  Blaming and persecuting the victim only gives the perpetrator of the crime the message that committing the crime was acceptable in the first place and encourages further crimes.  There is a very simple solution to this:  do not let them get away with this.  Ever.  This is what the police and the military are for.  In America, the government managed to enforce integration.  If the government here is not willing to enforce religious tolerance, I am going to start looking for a different party to vote for that will.

Both conversations also contain an element of fear.  Appealing to fear is an emotional argument, not a rational argument.  Neither person actually told me that I was actually wrong with regard to freedoms and legal rights.  But is there anything to really fear?  I would be lying if I claimed certain thoughts had never crossed my mind, but on the whole I feel very safe.  Muslim antagonism has goaded Israel into becoming an extremely well-armed and secure country.  Security personnel are everywhere.  Even on the Temple Mount, I did not feel particularly scared.  Yes, being followed around by a policeman is annoying, but only an idiot attacks when a policeman with a big gun is around.  (And, yes, I am presuming that Muslims in general are not idiots.  Just because people believe in something I think is wrong or are my enemy does not make them stupid.)  There are also police with big guns in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, ensuring that the Arab shopkeepers behave themselves.  (Not to mention attacking Jews would be a horrible business decision for anyone trying to sell to Jewish tourists.)  And do remember my trip to Silwan, in which there were police and guards with guns; I was much more scared of the roads, which were so bad that I found myself praying.

I am also not scared of other countries who are hostile to Israel.  According to Wikipedia, there are 1,410,000,000 Muslims on Earth (low estimate) and 5,818,200 Jewish Israelis.  That means that we Jewish Israelis are outnumbered by Muslims over 242 to 1.  If they really wanted to destroy us, they could invade en masse and overwhelm us.  Yes, there would likely be a huge loss of life, but for one person to fight off 242 is extremely difficult and unlikely to occur outside of a video game.  For one person to fight off much smaller numbers that 242 (say, 12) is itself extremely difficult.  If the Muslims have not hit upon this simple strategy after all this time, they either are too stupid to live or they do not really care enough to wipe out Israel.  I consider the latter vastly more probable.  The Muslims already tried to wipe out Israel a few times, and obviously they failed.  The low-level jihad going on now simply does not cut it fighting a war and is more of an annoyance than anything else; to be sure, it is an annoyance that kills a few people from time to time, but there is no way it is going to destroy the country.  So long as the low-level jihad keeps going, the Muslims have an enemy they can blame for all their troubles and they can claim to be fighting against.  If they were to ever succeed, they would not be able to blame Israel for all the evils of the world anymore, which would be very inconvenient.  And as long as Israel does not wipe out the terrorists, the situation remains more or less stable.  To put it in Orwellian terms, jihad is peace.

The person in the latter conversation tried equating modern violent Muslims with the Jews who fought against the British.  I am not proud of some of the things those who fought against the British did, but that was a war, the goal of which was Jewish survival.  Please keep in mind that the Arab-Israeli War started in 1929, and the British in Mandatory Palestine were doing everything they could to get out of the original intent of Palestine as a homeland for the Jews, including caving in to Arab violence.  There never was any intent to wipe out the British or take over the United Kingdom.  Not to mention the war against the British has long been over.  What Muslims are fighting today against Israel is not a war in the Western sense of the term; it is a jihad, the goal of which is the destruction of Israel and the domination of all non-Muslims by Muslims.  These are not comparable situations.

The person in the latter conversation also tried claiming that the more extreme Jewish groups are just as bad as violent Muslims.  Poppycock.  Judaism, unlike Islam, has no sanctions for terrorism or jihad built in.  There have been Jewish terrorists, but these are rare.  Think about it.  When was the last time you heard about Kahana’ Ḥay killing anyone?  Can you ever remember hearing about them killing anyone?  Contrast these with Islamic terrorists, who are in the news regularly killing innocent people.  I have also heard of Ḥaredhim rioting from time to time, but burning tires and clashing with police is not the same thing as terrorism.  You are never, ever going to hear about Ḥaredhim setting off bombs and murdering people.  Nor are you going to ever hear about them trying to engage in conquest, starting wars, or committing genocide.  I have heard plenty of criticism of Ḥaredhim being paranoid and antagonistic towards outsiders, but that does not qualify as terrorism, and it is not morally equivalent to terrorism.  Claiming that they would be the same is attacking them for something they have not actually done and might well never do; this is not morally justified, since one could make the same claim about anyone else.

In short, I have been given no reason to cease and desist from Temple Mount activism.  I also know the situation is not hopeless.  People can and do act to change the world.  I am living in a country which is unprecedented in the history of Earth.  Already the movement is growing and the issue of Jewish rights on the Temple Mount is gaining government interest.  May it be the will of YHWH that this movement reach its logical conclusion, the rebuilding of the Temple, in our days.


Monday, August 1, 2011

Visit to the Temple Mount #2: The Waqf still sucks

Jewish date:  1 ’Av 5771 (Parashath Devarim).

Today’s holidays:  Ro’sh Ḥodhesh (Judaism), the Three Weeks/the Nine Days (Judaism), Feast Day of Alphonsus Liguori (Roman Catholicism), Ramāḍan (Islam), Lammas/Festival of Love (Ritual of the Elements) (Thelema), Lughnasadh (Neopaganism), Feast Day of Drug Side-effects Day (St. Lobster Boy’s Day) (Church of the SubGenius).


You will remember I went up on the Temple Mount on Israeli Independence Day (6 ’Iyyar 5771/10 May 2011).  I went up to the Temple Mount again today (following a call for Jews to ascend today), and I want to get what happened down on paper (so to speak) while the experience is still fresh in my memory.  I have posted every photograph I took (all 117, including two really bad ones) on Facebook.  I apologize that you have to view all the photographs on Facebook; Blogger is not being cooperative about pictures today.

Unlike my first ascent, in which I pretended to be a tourist, I went openly as an Orthodox Jew.  The point off this was to send the message to politicians and the police that the Temple Mount matters to Orthodox Jews.  On my first ascent, I was waved through quickly and was allowed to act with little interference.  On this trip, the discrimination against Orthodox Jews on the Temple Mount which I heard so much about reared its ugly head.  Muslims reportedly often have an inferiority complex and need to suppress the religious activities of non-Muslims in order to feel superior.  (People who act like this in other contexts are conventionally called “bullies” or worse things.)  In this case, they try to suppress Jewish religious activity on the Temple Mount, so they can feel superior to Jews and dissociate the Temple Mount from Judaism.  I was not at the receiving end of the worst abuses I have heard of (such as being dragged off), but what I suffered was blatant discrimination.  I was not allowed to take any Jewish ritual materials up on the Temple Mount; they had a box where these could be left.  I was told that I could not bring water up on the Temple Mount.  I noted that other people were permitted to take water with them, I was told that they were to drink it before they ascended.  (All who believe this, stand on your heads.)  I had to show my identity document and answer questions on what I intended to do up there (looking around and photographing things).  They did not approve of my plan to ask the Waqf official who was to follow me around questions about Islam.  I was also told not to pray up on the Temple Mount.  (All who believe I actually obeyed this directive, also stand on your heads.)

By the way, do not try to photograph the police.  They do not like it.

On the Temple Mount, I was followed around by a policeman and a Waqf official.  I was not allowed to walk as fast as I would have liked.  I was told not to photograph people and to keep away from a certain mosque. Over the course of about 40 minutes, I circumnavigated the entire Temple Mount clockwise, leading my followers across terrain that was not always the nicest to traverse.  To be frank about it, this was fun, because I could drag two people getting in the way of my free practice of religion all over the place; as long as they wanted to keep up the pretense that I was somehow not to be trusted on my own, they were going to have to go wherever I went.  (Next time I go up, I may deliberately choose an unpleasant route.)

Conversation was made difficult, because the policeman spoke to me in a rapid version of Hebrew.  In the United States there is a cliché of people speaking to non-English speakers loudly and slowly.  Over here, I see the wisdom of this, because this is the way you want a language you have trouble understanding spoken to you.

If you were expecting much different physically up there, think again.  There was not much new up there other than more Islamic prayer rugs scattered about.  I concentrated my photographic efforts on graffiti, which my entourage found odd.  (On the other hand, I never have heard of anyone else deliberately looking for religious graffiti, so maybe it is odd.)  Most of it was in Arabic.  (Those who read about my first visit to the Temple Mount will find no surprise there.)  And there was a huge amount of it.  A little of it was in English, one was in Hebrew, and one was an E-mail address.  I am still disgusted at the amount of graffiti up there.  I also noted up there many plants growing between blocks where they could easily be removed.  The amount of rubble and blocks lying around has not changed.  If the Muslims treat what is purportedly their third holiest site this way, I hate to think of what a dump Mecca is.

In summary, the Waqf, aided and abetted by the police, is a pain in the neck when it comes to Orthodox Jewish visitors, and the Temple Mount is still in a state of disgrace.  I encourage all Jews to visit the Temple Mount and be a reciprocal pain in the neck to the Waqf and the police; this is the only way that politicians can be expected to learn anything.



Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Gospel According to the Pharisees, Part 5, or, The Acts of Ya‘aqov, Man of Kefar Sekhanya’

Jewish date: 26 Tammuz 5771 (Parashath Mas‘e).

Today’s holidays: The Three Weeks (Judaism), Thursday of the Seventeenth Week of Ordinary Time (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. Marty Feldman (Church of the SubGenius).

Upcoming events:
  • The group protesting for Jewish rights on the Temple Mount and against the Waqf’s destruction of everything Jewish up there (myself included, I hope) will be at the Shuq in Yerushalayim (Jerusalem) today (28 July 2011), probably around 7:00 PM, in an educational capacity. NOTE: I am still waiting to get final details on this.
  • One of the people at the last protest (this past Thursday) was handing out pamphlets promoting Jews visiting the Temple Mounton Ro’sh Ḥodhesh ’Av (1 August 2011). Visiting hours for Jews are 7:30 AM to 11:00 AM and 1:30 PM to 2:30 PM. One should visit a miqweh, wear non-leather shoes, and bring a one’s identity card. See “The Temple Mount: Bird's Eye Guide to the Temple Mount” and “Ascending the Temple Mount: An Introduction and Brief Guide” and consult a competent Orthodox rav for more information. Remember: The more Jews who show up, the more the police and the politicians know that the Temple Mount matters to Jews and will be less likely to pander to Muslim discrimination.

And now for the final planned installment on Jesus-related material in the Talmudh. (See also “The Gospel According to the Pharisees”, “The Gospel According to the Pharisees, part 2”, “The Gospel According to the Pharisees, Part 3”, and “The Gospel According to the Pharisees, Part 4, or, The Gospel of Ben Seṭadha’”.) This last passage, which occurs in two versions, deals with a disciple of Yeshu the Noṣri.

Talmudh Bavil, ‘Avodhah Zara’ 16b-17a:
Our Masters taught: When Rabbi ’El‘azar was arrested for sectarianism, they brought him up to the scaffold for judgement.

That governor said to him, “An old [man] like you should keep busy in these empty matters?”

[Rabbi ’El‘azar] said to him, “Trustworthy on me is the judge.”

As that governor thinks on him he says, “And he does not speak but concerning his Father that is in Heaven.”

[The governor] said to him, “Since I believed you, [by] Dimos [= Deimos, a Greek god whose name means “dread”], you are exempt.”

When [Rabbi ’El‘azar] came to his house, his students entered near him to comfort him, and he did not accept upon himself their condolences.

Rabbi ‘Aqiva’ said to him, “Rabbi, will you permit me to say one thing from what you taught me?”

[Rabbi ’El‘azar] said to him, “Say [it].”

[Rabbi ‘Aqiva’] said to him, “Rabbi, perhaps sectarianism came to your hand and it pleased you, and because of it you were arrested?”

[Rabbi ’El‘azar] said to him, “‘Aqiva’, you reminded me [that] one time I was walking around in the upper market of Ṣippori [Sepphoris, a city in the Galilee], and I found one human from the students of Yeshu the Noṣri, and Ya‘aqov, man of Kefar Sekhanya’, [was] his name.

“He said to me, ‘It is written in your Torah, ‘You will not bring a prostitute’s fee (etc.) [or the price of a dog [to] the house of YHWH your god for any vow, for an abomination [to] YHWH your god are also these two]’ (Deuteronomy 23:19). What about to make from it a toilet for the Chief Priest?’

“And I said to him nothing.

“He said to me, ‘Thus taught me Yeshu the Noṣri: ‘For from a prostitute’s fee she gathered, and until a prostitute’s they will return’ (Micah 1:7)—from the place of filth they came; to the place of filth they will go.’

“And the thing pleased me, and because of this I was arrested for sectarianism, and I transgressed that which is written in the Torah: ‘Keep far from her your way’—this is sectarianism—‘and do not approach the entrance of her house’ (Proverbs 5:8)—this is the [Roman] government.”

And there are those that say: “Keep far from her your way”—this is sectarianism and the [Roman] government—“and do not approach the entrance of her house”—this is prostitution.

Qoheleth [Ecclesiastes] Rabbah 1:8:

[NOTE: Qoheleth Rabbah is not part of either Talmudh, but rather is a collection of midhrash (exegesis and legends passed down about the Hebrew Bible and which have grown up around it). This passage is included here, because it is clearly a version of the previous passage.]
Another thing: “All words are weary” (Ecclesiastes 1:8)—words of sectarianism weary humanity.

A deed of Rabbi ’El‘azar, who was arrested for sectarianism: They took him [to] the governor and brought him up on the platform to judge him.

[The governor] said to him, “A great human like you should busy himself in these empty matters?”

[Rabbi ’El‘azar] said to him, “Trustworthy on me is the judge.”

And he [the governor] thought that he spoke about him, but he did not speak but concerning Heaven.

[The governor] said to him, “Since you believed me about you, even I am thinking and say: it is possible that these academies err in these empty matters. [By] Dimos, you are exempt.”

After Rabbi ’El‘azar was dismissed from the platform, he was distressed that he was he was arrested on matters of sectarianism. His students entered near him to comfort him, and he did not accept [their condolences].

Rabbi ‘Aqiva’ entered near him. He said to him, “Perhaps one of the sectarians spoke in front of you something, and it was pleasing before you.”

[Rabbi ’El‘azar] said to him, “Behold, the heavens! You have reminded me: one time I was going up into the court in Ṣippori, and came to me one human from the students of Yeshu the Noṣri, and Ya‘aqov, man of Kefar Sekhanya’, [was] his name.

“And he said to me one thing, and it pleased me, and this thing was: ‘It is written in your Torah, ‘You will not bring a prostitute’s fee or the price of a dog [to the house of YHWH your god for any vow, for an abomination to YHWH your god are also these two]’ (Deuteronomy 23:19). What are they?’

“I said to him, ‘Prohibited.’

“He said to him [should be: to me], ‘For a sacrifice, [they are] prohibited; for ruin, it is permitted.’

“I said to him, ‘And if so, what will one do with them?’

“He said to me, ‘Let one make with them bathhouses and toilets.’

“I said to him, ‘Beautifully have you spoken.’

“And hidden from me was the halakhah [how one rules in Jewish law] for a moment.

“Since he saw that I acknowledged his words, he said to me, ‘From excrement they came, and to excrement they will go out, as it is said, ‘For from a prostitute’s fee she gathered, and until a prostitute’s they will return’ (Micah 1:7). Let them make thrones [probably a euphemism for toilets] for the masses.’

“And it pleased me.

“And because of this I was arrested for sectarianism. Moreover I transgressed that which is written in the Torah: ‘Keep far from her your way, and do not approach the entrance of her house” (Proverbs 5:8). ‘Keep far from her your way’—this is sectarianism—‘and do not approach the entrance of her house’—this is prostitution.

“Why? ‘For many slain has she caused to fall, and tremendous are all those killed by her’ (Proverbs 7:26).”

How much [should one remove oneself]? Rav Ḥisda’ said, “Until four cubits.”

From here died Rabbi ’El‘azar ben Dama’, son of the sister of Rabbi Yishma‘e’l, whom a snake bit. And Ya‘aqov, Man of Kefar Sekhanya’ came to heal him, and Rabbi Yishma‘e’l did not let him.

[Rabbi Yishma‘e’l] said, “You are not allowed, Ben Dama’”.

[Rabbi ’El‘azar ben Dama’] said to him, “Allow me, and I will bring you proof from the Torah that it is permitted.” But he did not bring him enough proof before he died.

And Rabbi Yishma‘e’l rejoiced and said, “Happy are you, Ben Dama’, that your soul went out in purity and you did not breach the fence of the Sages [to submit to the ministrations of one such as Ya‘aqov, Man of Kefar Sekhanya’]. For all who breach the fence of the Sages [his] end is that calamities come upon him, as it is written, ‘And one who breaches a fence, a snake will bite him’ (Ecclesiastes 1:8).”

And he was not bitten except that a snake should not bite him in the future to come [in the afterlife as a punishment].

And what was to him [Rabbi ’El‘azar ben Dama’] in it [that he should submit to the ministrations of Ya‘aqov, Man of Kefar Sekhanya’]? “That the human will do them and live by them” (Leviticus 11:5)—and not that he should die by them.

I find the timing of these passages rather difficult. The king of Yehudhah (Judea) at the time of Yeshu the Noṣri was Yanna’y (Alexander Jannaeus), who died in 76 BCE. Rabbi ‘Aqiva’, however, lived at the time of the Bar Kokhba’ revolt in 132 CE. Rabbi ‘Aqiva’ is said to have lived 120 years, but even if we place this incident at the beginning of his teaching career, 40 years before he was executed by the Romans, that still leaves us with a gap of about 168 years between Yeshu the Noṣri in Egypt and this incident with Ya‘aqov, Man of Kefar Sekhanya’. Perhaps Ya‘aqov, Man of Kefar Sekhanya’ was not being literal about having been taught by Yeshu the Noṣri, but rather is claiming to have received traditions which go back to him. Alternatively, there could have been multiple people named “Yeshu the Noṣri”.

There is also the question of what Ya‘aqov, Man of Kefar Sekhanya’ would have done in treating Rabbi ’El‘azar ben Dama’ that would have been in violation of Jewish law. Medical treatment is not prohibited, so it had to be known or at least suspected that Ya‘aqov, Man of Kefar Sekhanya’ was doing something forbidden. Since Yeshu the Noṣri is depicted as a magician, Ya‘aqov, Man of Kefar Sekhanya’ may have followed in his footsteps and used magic for healing. This may be related to many incidents in the Gospels where Jesus is depicted as faith-healing. (What one person views as a legitimate religious practice may be easily viewed by others as magic. The term “magic” comes from magus, the Latin term for a Zoroastrian priest.) Considering that Yeshu the Noṣri committed idolatry, the magic of Ya‘aqov, Man of Kefar Sekhanya’ may have also contained an idolatrous component. If so, Rabbi Yishma‘e’l was completely right in prohibiting it even to save a life; one is obligated to die rather than commit idolatry.



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