Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Sheepthroat called attention last week, to the fact that in the story of the plagues, G-d asks Moses to kick off the plague with a wave of the hand or the passing of his staff.

But EVERY SINGLE TIME, Moses does his own thing!

12. The Lord said to Moses, "Stretch forth your hand over the land of Egypt for the locusts, and they will ascend over the land of Egypt, and they will eat all the vegetation of the earth, all that the hail has left over." 13. So Moses stretched forth his staff over the land of Egypt...

Okay. Major problems here. I think he did this about 5 or six times. G-d told him to raise his staff, he raises his hand - G-d says to raise his hand, Moses raises his staff.

What's more problematic is that G-d doesn't say anything to the effect of "Moses. If you don't do what I say, we're gonna have problems." We know nothing is superfluous in the Torah. So WHY IS THIS!?

1. Why does he do his own thing in the first place.
2. Why isn't he rebuked.
3. (And perhaps most importantly) Why can't we find any commentary on this fact!?

Was his hitting of the rock much later, the "straw that broke the camel's back?" At least there's some history of rebellion that G-d can point to. What's odd is that G-d doesn't, and neither do the commentators. (That we know of.)

Any ideas?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

In Response to a Recent Call To Action

To the Following:

Rabbi Leonard Beerman, Sarah Benor, Ra'anan Boustan, Gerald Bubis, Aryeh Cohen, Bernard Friedman, Sharon Gillerman, Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater, Rabbi Steven Jacobs, Baruch Link, Douglas Mirell, David N. Myers, Stephen Rohde, Adam Rubin, Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, Arthur P. Stern, Nomi Stolzenberg, Roger Waldinger.

First of all I'm not a right-wing crackpot. I'm a strict centrist - I've voted for both republican and democratic presidents. I'm not a militant zionist. So it may come as a shock to you that I'm enraged and embarrassed that you would send out such reckless call to action. I'll explain myself in clear and short terms.

Firstly, if you are preaching pacifism, you can make your point more simply and honestly, while saving everyone a ton of time, by saying "We think ALL war is wrong. Everyone stop." or something to that end. If you are not pacifists, I cannot for the life of me understand why this is not seen as a clear case of a country defending herself from continued assault on its innocent civilian population. This friendly rebuke is for you. You ready?

1 -- We call on the State of Israel to cease its ground offensive and air attacks in Gaza, which have led to the loss of lives of innocent civilians without offering any prospect of political resolution to either Israelis or Palestinians.

Two points on this.

i. Do you realize what you're asking for here? Let me restate it. You are calling on Israel, a sovereign nation, which has a responsibility to protect its citizens, to stop a much delayed military DEFENSIVE it launched on UN recognized TERRORIST organization Hamas after more than 400 rockets were fired upon its innocent citizens following a ceasefire agreement (7500 rockets between 2001 and 2009). If a military defensive is ever justified, this certainly qualifies.

ii. While civilian lives are a cost in any war, offensive or defensive, Israel extends itself (likely more than other army in the world) to minimize civilian casualties; Leaflets are dropped to alert civilians of eminent attacks, text messages are sent out, targets are specific to the enemy. Please, if you will, find me evidence of another army taking these measures now or at any other time in history.

2 -- We call on Hamas to cease its rocket attacks on Israeli cities, which have no aim other than to inflict damage on innocent civilians and thus defy all norms of decency.

I'm absolutely dumbfounded.

Fact: The terrorist organization Hamas, has in its charter that "Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it." (Imam Hassan al-Banna).

Are you honestly calling on Hamas to cease its attacks on Israeli cities, "which have no aim other than to inflict damage on innocent civilians..." OF COURSE they have no other aim!!! They do not care about being DECENT. They care about 2 things: Israel being obliterated, and Islam ruling the world. In summation, your second call to action calls Hamas to stop the very thing Hamas was created to do: obliterate Israel by damaging innocent civilians, and defying all norms of decency.

This is not an opinion. Ask them. They will tell you themselves.

3 -- We call on the leaders of the State of Israel and Hamas alike to pursue peace...

You make a mockery of any peace process, when you call on a terrorist organization to "pursue peace and recognize that violence, provoked or not will only beget more violence." Where does this empty rhetoric come from, and how could you think it could have ANY effect on Hamas and its actions?

3 - (cont.) and to recognize that violence -- provoked or not -- will only beget more violence in the long run.

This would be foolish to recognize. The Middle East is not in a cycle of violence. Simply put: Israel's enemies continuously try to destroy her, and when they do, Israel defends herself using its army. This is not a cycle of violence. There is an aggressor and a victim, much as you'd HATE to admit that. Still, consider the following written by Jeff McMahan (http://philosophy.rutgers.edu/FACSTAFF/BIOS/mcmahan.html) in his article "The Laws of War" (2007)

In cases of conflict, the moral positions of the protagonists are usually asymmetrical. Both domestic law and morality, for example, recognize that in most cases of justified self-defense, the initial defender is justified in acting in self-defense while the aggressor or wrongdoer is not justified in defending himself against the victim's defensive action. This moral asymmetry between wrongdoer and victim, or potential victim, is often a matter of justice. The morality of self-defense is a matter of preventive justice.

Violence actually does not beget more violence. Warring countries and individuals are not bound in an eternal "cycle of violence". Every violent exchange starts with a single act of violence - that is, someone always throws the first punch - and any violence that follows is directly as a result of the aggressor. MOST IMPORTANTLY - the aggressor, if left alone will very often choose to strike again and again and again. (400 rockets since the most recent mutually agreed upon ceasefire). What then is perpetuating THIS kind of "cycle of violence"? The answer is Evildoers. Bad guys. That dodgey lot who is responsible for the worlds woes. Hamas. Hezbolla. And the rest of them. They are not kept in business by the forceful DEFENSIVE action of their victims. They're kept in business by their own bad-guy ways.

Most importantly - violence almost always is that force that ends conflicts. Wars come to an end. No war in history was ended by a group of 18 Jews (or 18 million people) calling for the pursuit of peace. They were ended as a result of military force. The Holocaust ONLY came to an end because of military force against the Nazis. Can you say "violence begets violence" to a survivor of the holocaust, and then back it up with ideas of what we all SHOULD have done in WW2 instead of waging war on the Nazis? You should all be ashamed of yourselves.

3 - (cont.) reflexes grounded in a politics of honor, vengeance and reprisal

Check out this headline: "South under heavy fire: Mother of four killed on way back from gym as Gaza terrorists fire long-range rockets at city of Ashdod"

Would you tell those orphaned children that the IDF's action in Gaza was because of politics, vengeance and reprisal? Have you not the capacity to imagine another way of looking at it!? How about "Israel went into Gaza because every country has a duty to protect its citizens. They were sending rockets at us - we had to stop it. Ceasefire didn't work."

Here is a list of all the rockets that were aimed at Israeli citizens: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Qassam_rocket_attacks#Timeline_of_attacks

4 -- We call on all sides in the conflict to abide by international law and to protect the human rights of all persons involved -- civilian and military.

You just called on the terrorist organization Hamas to abide by international law. This is as audacious and ineffective as releasing a statement in 1969: "We the leaders of the Jewish community call upon Charlie Manson, his potential victims and arresting police, to stop the violence and abide by the laws of the United States." (I feel the need to explain the parallels. Hamas = Manson - both wish to inflict harm on the innocent. Agreed? Potential victims = Israeli civilians; arresting police = the IDF.)

5 -- Finally, we call on the United States, and especially President-elect Barack Obama, to assume a leading role in pushing the warring parties beyond the cycle of violence and bloodletting. All concerned Americans, Jewish and non-Jewish, should urge the current and new administrations to discard the past eight years of neglect and mobilize American policy toward a diplomatic resolution of the Gaza -- and larger Israeli-Palestinian -- conflicts. The time for action is now.

Any bright ideas? I mean really. "Assume a leading role in pushing the warring parties beyond the cycle of violence?"

If you really want to do this, you can start by understanding what makes that cycle of violence. Is it, as you have suggested, violence itself? Or could it be that this is a case of two Israel - which wants peace and is even willing to make concessions (like, say for instance, the withdrawal its peaceful citizens from Gaza) in order to live in peace; and Hamas - which publicly states that it wants Israel obliterated and will stop at nothing until it is wiped off the map. Clarity is the starting point of any real, lasting resolution to a problem, and it can't get any more clear than that.

How do you expect the US to encourage peace in the Middle East if not to support Israel in its efforts to fight against those bad guys who want to annihilate it!?

Have you any ideas other than a totally limp and meaningless call to just "get along"?

* * *

In closure - I just want to say that it's so painful to me that leaders of our Jewish communities are so terribly blind to what the reality of the situation is in Israel.

In the future, please think more carefully, and do more research, before issuing such a shallow and fruitless call to action. Save your peace sign for those who do not wish to cut off your fingers.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

RAMBAM: Prayer vs. Study

The RAMBAM on Avoda/Devotion to G-d.

Rabbi Aryeh Klapper explained in a lecture forwarded to me by none other than our very own Sheepthroat:

The Rambam says that the highest level of avoda or service to G-d is prayer. But then Rashi says something interesting. He says "But some say it's Talmud." This, the Rabbi explained seems to undercut his whole argument - it can't be both at the same time because there has to be a specific content to the command.

But then he explains that they actually meet at the highest level of each of them...silence.

Silent meditation, silent contemplation.

The highest level of prayer is silent meditation, and the highest level of Talmud is silent contemplation.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

War - What's a Jew To Do?

What to do for Israel

Here's something that takes the standard and sadly ineffective plea, "Say prayers. Do mitzvas", to a new level where it actually feels like your tefilla and mitzvot are having a direct effect.

Operation Tefillah, Torah & Troops (launched by Rabbi Simcha HaCohen Kook and the Bostoner Rebbe), partners people from around the world with soldiers in the IDF. Each person is paired with an Israeli soldier, and is responsible to say tefillot (prayers), learn Torah, and do special acts of chesed (kindness) on behalf of that solider.*
To participate in "Operation Tefillah, Torah & Troops" and receive the name of an Israeli soldier who needs your prayers, send an e-mail to the office of Rabbi Kook at maortlmo@gmail.com. To request the name of a soldier by phone or fax, call the National Council of Young Israel at 212-929-1525 x100,20or send a fax to 212-727-9526. Members of the IDF who wish to have a "partner" praying for them are urged to e-mail the office of Rabbi Kook as well.

*Rabbi Kook and the Bostoner Rebbe noted that this concept is one that has been a part of the Jewish people for thousands of years. When Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses) led the Jewish people to war with the nation of Midyon, for every person who went to battle, there was a designated person who was responsible for praying and learning for him. Throughout his reign, David HaMelech (King David) utilized this practice as well. During the war in Lebanon in the summer of 2006, more than 50,000 people worldwide participated in this initiative spearheaded by Rabbi Kook and the Bostoner Rebbe, and facilitated in North America by the National Council of Young Israel.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Easy Fast?

Fast? More like slow.

So what's the point. Tonight I heard a rabbi say that part of the point is to suffer. I've also heard that the point is not to suffer; hence the expression "have an easy fast" - or else we'd be saying "I hope you consume yourself from the inside in agony."

Both takes make sense to me, but here's one thing I've heard that makes the most:

No animal can be hungry, be in front of food and resist. Only humans can do this.* When we fast it is a reminder to ourselves that we are ultimately spiritual beings. That we animate, ultimately, for spiritual ends.

The first Temple's walls were breached on this day. But it wasn't just a building it was our spiritual hub. When we mourn its loss, we take the day to remind ourselves what we're here for. Hint: it ain't grub.

Sheepthroat: according to the Aruch HaShulchan, the purpose of the fast is 'to awaken the hearts and open the pathways of repentance, such that it will be a reminder of our evil deeds and the deeds of our forefathers, which were like our deeds now which caused them and us such troubles, and by remembering these things, we will return to good

He goes on to say that there is no prohibition on bathing in hot water on the 3 rabbinic fasts (besides Tisha b'Av); but that the custom is to not to, unless it's with cold water (which is only done to remove sweat or dirt, but not for enjoyment).

Sheepthroat: "So it would seem that we are supposed to be uncomfortable, in analogy to a true Public Fast (e.g. Tisha b'Av), but with some of the restrictions lifted because we accepted to fast on the 3 other fasts of our own volition.

Have an easy fast? Maybe not. With all the ambiguity and with this latter bit of clarity, my favorite well-wishing on this day remains "Have a meaningful fast."

Seems to cover it.

*Apparently, says Sheepthroat, the Mishna actually says that a dog can have food in front of it and not eat. Hopefully he'll be able to find the exact text. It seems to me, however in this case it's a survival mechanism - to hide the food from competing predators or scavengers. This mechanism is equally as base as feeding ones self immediately for survival. The point is - I can think of no scenario where an animal would not eat for some spiritual (animal-to-God relationship) or moral (animal-to-animal relationship) end.

Monday, January 5, 2009

UN Security Council's Shocking Moral Clarity on Israel's Actions Against Hamas


In reference to: the United State's ambassador to the UN Alejandro Wolff's report on the latest UN Security Council meeting.

Source: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/video_and_audio/7810241.stm

Many of us have accepted the UN's incompetence and impotence, certainly with regard to Israel and her right to defend herself against terror.

But although the BBC dishonestly characterizes the United State's ambassador to the UN Alejandro Wolff's report as "his country's position on the issue", he is clearly speaking on behalf of the UN Security Council. This report shows unwaivering support of Israel's right to defend itself, and places strong emphasis on the difference between the UN's recognition of the inequality of Hamas as a terrorist organization and the country Israel which is a member state of the UN.

I'm beside myself of what I heard in this latest video, which the BBC couldn't resist characterizing as a "Failure", referring to the "council's inability to reach a united stance towards the continued violence in Gaza".

I see this as a small, but deeply important victory in favor of Israel, coming from the UN for the first time in my memory. Please spread the word.
A spokesman for the United Nations Security Council said the following in a press conference Sunday, 4 January 2009

Alejandro Wolff: It is important that we do not return to the status quo anti by simply freezing the situation, allowing Hamas rockets to threaten 300,000 Israeli citizens, and [it is important that we do not] continue to allow Hamas to bring the deprivation of the Palestinian population in Gaza suffering as a result of that action.

As you've heard we were not able to come to an agreement on any product today.

It is our firm view that Hamas is in violation of [resolution 1850] and has been since the calm was agreed to since resolution 1850 was adopted and since the press statement was issued last week. We don't see any prospect of Hamas abiding by these terms. And [the UNSC] issuing a statement at this time that would not be adhered to and would have no underpinning for success would not do credit to the council.

Press Question: Did you oppose having an open meeting at this time?

Alejandro Wolff: The issue did not come up.

Now pay close attention to the following question from the press which is meant to prompt condemnation of Israel.

Press Question: You made no mention of any Israeli violation of those agreements that you mentioned, particularly in the opening of the crossings, and then there is a major development today of Israel's land attack and it threatening to kill hundreds of civilians. Doesn't this deserve a request for Israel at least [inaudible] to stop its ground military attack, sir?

Alejandro Wolff: Again, we are not going to equate the actions of Israel, a member state of the United Nations, with the actions of the terrorist group Hamas. There is no equivalence there. This council has spoken many times about the concerns we've had about Hamas's military attacks on Israel.

The charter of this organization respects the right of every member state to exercise its self defense, and Israel's self defense is not negotiable.
Did I just hear a definitive a statement in favor of Israel and its right to defend itself coming from the UN Security Council? If I'm dreaming don't wake me up. If I'm not, let this be a wake-up call to the rest of the world - starting with France, and Nicolas Sarkozy. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said yesterday, "France condemns the Israeli ground offensive against Gaza just as it condemns the continuing firing of rockets."

Something tells me they're wide awake - just existing in a deep state of stupidity.


Sunday, December 28, 2008



I have a problem. I grew up listening to Stevie Wonder, Duran Duran, the Beatles, the Smiths, Beastie Boys, J.S. Bach, the Stones, Ray Charles, Run DMC, Ella Fitzgerald, Sex Pistols, Led Zeppelin, Tina Turner, Bonnie Raitt... you get the idea.

Ever since I've become more observant, I've had to grapple with the fact that Jewish music (overtly Jewish themed music) forgive me - sucks. I realize that's a subjective statement, but it's an opinion shared by many who have had exposure to secular music.

Why is this? First lets look at the lyrics.

At first glance, what seems to be missing in most religious Jewish music (in terms of the lyrical content) is the lack of expression of a full range of emotions that are a part of real, Man-to-God relationship & Man-to-Man relationships.

Most religious Jewish songwriters are afraid to venture beyond the basic "Praise God" theme in the Man-to-God relationship.

Granted, it's valid that a "Praise God" song can be created as a badge or showpiece representing the artist's dedication to God. And yes, there's value in the fact that they are often used by listeners as tools to deepen their relationship with God.

But, while this is true and valuable, we miss being given a song which communicates and validates a wide array of other real emotions: feelings of confusion, frustration, awe, fear, skepticism and the entire range of pleasant and uncomfortable emotions that come with any real relationship, even between Man and God.

An artist may have an obligation to help direct their listener to a productive, positive end - but how much more so will they be effective in this if they can identify with and validate their listener's experience?

King David's psalms relate his rich emotional relationship with Hashem, Who he often referred to in musical terms - the Conductor, the Choirmaster. "Why, O Lord, do You stand afar, do You hide Yourself in times of distress?"

The fact is, most of us feel that from time to time - it's a valid emotional response to tragedy and hardship. Yet, most religious songwriters won't allow themselves to express this.

I almost never hear religious Jewish songs where the subject of the lyric is one of a relationship between two people, certainly not a romantic one. There must be a reason for this, and it's probably in the realm of tzniut or modesty.

But I have trouble with this as a Neosemite. Love between two people, certainly a romantic love, is quite possibly the most powerful experience one can have on God's green earth. Its been said that love between two people is the closest you can come to God.

Why then, do we not hear more Jewish music with these themes? Does the song become indistinguishable from a secular song at that point? Maybe, but of course, one can write such a song in a Jewish context.