Tuesday, October 21, 2008

An oddly reassuring blog story...

Modesty Blasé takes a trip to the gym and asks rhetorically if Jews are obligated to exercise in the sukkah. For some reason, this post was very much just the thing I needed to start my day with.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A Reform Response to Chabad - New Voices

Way too little, way too late, and wrongly polarizing...  The problem is that the entirety of the FFB/BH world is tacitly accepted as the holiest of the holy, the archetype of what being a pious Jew means, even by those who oppose them whether ex-BT or never observant ostensibly Reform. That is the problem in this discussion, the source of the impasse. Those who oppose the charedi (and Chabad Lubavitch are a strain of charedi no matter what they and Satmar or Breslov say about each other) a priori concede the spiritual leadership to them.

It's not different from the Christian world where the Catholics are still regarded subconsciously from before the word go as the true protectors and carriers of whatever it means to be Christian. You will notice it isn't Presbyterian ministers in those apocalypse movies who stand up to evil, it's Catholic priests speaking in semi-old Latin, and badly I might add, and tossing holy water about.

Your average Lutheran never really deals with holy water. Catholics rub it on their forehead as they enter church every Sunday. Bet your butt that the Lutheran believes that should one ever come up against a vampire, head for the Catholic church across town.

Similarly, while this rabbi makes some good points, he is way too late and mostly alone. The bulk of Judaism already sees the BH community as the archetype of Jewish spirituality and if you concede the position to your opponent in advance, then your argument is predestined to fail. It's like playing a baseball game when you have every expectation of losing and in fact intend to because you've already decided the other team is better.

Unless and until a new Jewish spirituality, a neo-Chasidut maybe, grows up and splits from the pack and redefines what it is to be religious for Jews, that argument is pointless and Chabad is already acknowledged to be right before the first argument is constructed.

Not that I oppose Chabad. I like them and the Breslovers and so on a lot. Many things are an issue for me, but I don't see the Reform as offering a lot of spirituality that can be embraced. It's a lot of purposely non-judgmental wishy-washiness that leaves way too much fill in the blanks space for people that they ultimately aren't looking for in religion. They want assurance and Orthodoxy promises that. Their mistake is they promise way too specifically and promise way too much and in the name of G-d, making him look like a horse's ass when the mortal men who shill for him fail because let's face it, you sour on Ford altogether when a bad salesman sells you a lemon. Ford had nothing to do with it, but their rep is screwed.

Hence the numbers of disaffected Catholics and Orthodox. One shouldn't set G-d up to get a bad rap that way, but the reason we do is inherent to why we make religions.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Of late it may have been noticed...

...that it my commentaries in other blogs' replies, I am much less reticent to be critical of some of the problems in Judaism today. Why? It occurred to me that joining a religion is a bit like getting married. You make a pledge to honor that which you've joined. To cherish that institution and the other party. In sickness and in health, for better or for worse.

In my marriage I've stuck to that more or less consistently and without fail in the end. It has been a rough marriage at time. Temptation was provided that was easy to go for and quite attractive given the troubles in our relationship. I didn't fall and when my wife tripped, I didn't walk away, didn't divorce her.

I am not telling you this to brag. I am not telling you this to say "look what a good person I am". I am telling you this to say that you can do this too. It is as simple as choosing something and standing by it. I had no proof things would ever go better in the future. I had every bit of evidence against that. That wasn't the point. I made a choice to make a pledge to G-d.

As we are made in G-d's image, so too then are we making a pledge to ourselves and all mankind in that moment. If we cannot even trust ourselves, who can we trust?

To give meaning to my choices, to give value and weight to them, I have to do it. I have to give that meaning. I have to give that value.

A marriage with difficulties is no different from finding disillusionment with G-d. You made a choice to believe He was and when that belief seemed challenged, you must realize that the only thing that can make it a meaningless choice, a worthless choice, a false choice, is if you abandon it.

Give worth to your choices, give worth to yourself, give yourself a chance. Though born of an eminently fallible species, you are potentially capable of so much and all any of it requires is simply making a choice. Simply pick something. It's as simple and easy as that.

I made my choice to become a Jew. That wasn't just for the food, the camaraderie, the fellowship, or just any good parts leaving the bad. It was for better or worse. If you choose to believe in something, choose to love something, choose to love people, it must be for a reason even if you are not sure what it was.

For G-d's sake, have faith in yourself that your choice had meaning and reason. Your choice to believe in G-d had reason. Your choice to practice Judaism had reason. Reason not given by others who can make mistakes and betray or disappoint you, but reason given by your own mind and heart. Reason you chose.

My reasoning is this. If something is worth doing, it is worth doing it well. If something is worth loving, it is worth standing by. If something is worth having, it is worth defending. I may see Judaism imperfect and as filled with imperfect people, but I see that religion as worth doing, I see those people as worth loving, I see that community as worth having. They are worth doing well by, worth standing by, worth defending.

What makes a Jew or anything else is choice and for a choice to have meaning, I have to give it that meaning. I must not be only a Jew when things go well and a timid gentile when other Jews discuss the problems they see. I have to discuss them too. To join in the ongoing perfection, to join in Tikkun Olam, to participate in Judaism not only when it is easy or fulfilling or uplifting but also when it is painful. Not to always agree and never disagree but express my own opinion and reason out of heartfelt love and caring for that which I prize.

So I won't be doing anything but saying the way I see it. I may not be right but to only speak when assured of being right is to not do right.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Some thoughts that came to mind while walking...

Why is Judaism as a culture so much more obsessed with Jews by Birth than Jews by Choice? Why do people default to assuming "Jewishness" of those born to other Jews, even if they are practicing Buddhists, rather than those born to Christians, even though they practice faithfully in the style of Modern Orthodoxy or even Charedi Orthodoxy?

I think it is because of the fear of choice, and a lack of confidence in being Jewish in a variety of ways.

With regard to choice, choice is a variable. Humans don't like variables such as choice unless they are not so much a choice as a guarantee in their favor. They like to choose their own dinner. They don't like other people choosing their own dinner so much. They might choose something that makes them gassy and fart during the cocktails later. Indeterminacy, flexibility, openness to change, and a wide variety of other appellations are automatically open in the fearful and pessimistic human mind to going wrong. If it can go wrong, it will.

Jews by Choice can choose differently later on. They can join now, leave later. Of course, so can a spouse, but that doesn't stop us from getting married. We enact, if we have sense but for other reasons, strong discouragement of divorce, but it is still one of those might go wrong deals. So too are welcoming converts. They might proselytize for a heretical ideal. Ooh, scary.

The other reason is of course lack of confidence as in the response which various rabbis have remarked on which goes along the lines of "are you insane? Have you seen all six hundred and thirteen mitzvot? You'd actually choose this life on purpose?"

Well, I guess you might if you didn't see it as so much of a negative burden as they do (those who make those comments).

Jews by Birth on the other hand are born to it. You don't choose your parents, you don't choose your family's traditions, you pretty much get no choice. They chose to get it on, have kids that result from getting it on. Those who come before you got all the fun choices. You got stuck with a nearsighted dad who rants at you for bad report cards before he finally sees that it was actually a B and not an F and a mom who can't tear herself away from soap operas long enough to make cookies with you.

Also, you always have the old cudgel of the familial relationship to keep you in line. You might have the ability to choose later, but for right now, until you're an adult, you have what, eighteen years to have "being Jewish" reinforced as much as Christians have?

The choices of others and their possible decisions to reverse those choices to our detriment... I think that is what makes the birth rather than choice nature so much more concentrated on. Of course, there was the message firmly beaten in by Rome, Christianity and Islam to not proselytize, and the evolutionary move from faith in miracles and G-d towards rote ritual observance in its place, but I think that fear is the big reason for obsession with birth over choice and I think its not different when it comes to immigration.

However, to those we put through the hoops, we don't usually turn on them and suspect disloyalty just because let's say a naturalized Mexican puts a Mexican flag sticker on his car the way a fifth generation American of Swedish descent puts up a Swedish flag sticker on his car. Forget to observe faithfully, and in religion, it's not so well regarded or felt harmless. Which likely has to do with the rote ritual observance thing being what we place more importance on.

Monday, August 11, 2008

One of my favorite articles online...

Not sure why...

Spring 1997 Michigan Today---The language of the desert

These conditions also may be why the religion of the Hebrews was so appealing. Mendenhall cites Judges 8: 22-3. When various tribes of Israel ask Gideon to accept traditional hereditary rule over them, Gideon replies, "I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you: the Lord shall rule over you."

Yahwism emerged as a sort of peasants' revolt, in Mendenhall's view. "It prohibited graven images. But what were they? They were images of pharaohs and gods, and the purpose of the gods was to furnish authority to the kings as the embodiment of the gods." The ancient Israeli treaty, or covenant, made directly between one God and the people who accepted him, meant that the arrangements between God and the people were immune to kingly authority.

A point I've made regarding atheism versus religion. It's either a system open to challenge based on the dominant central focus, which in the case of atheism is man, which means consequently right and wrong are whatever those ambitious enough to take power and those strong enough to keep it say it is or a system closed to challenge as neither you nor I can proclaim and prove we alone have G-d's ear, despite the attempts of many holy men to claim it.

"Despite the persistence into our own time of an essentially 19th-century view that Biblical narrative is basically historically accurate and supported by the archaeological evidence," Mendenhall says, "there never was a Hebrew conquest of Palestine. But there was a religious conversion to a monotheistic faith of the existing population.

"Now I think that almost everybody has given up that 19th-century theory, but they don't have anything really to substitute for it, whereas I think I do," he continues. "That is, that Moses and a small band came out of Egypt with a new mission and a new concept of God and religious community, one bound together by a voluntary covenant rather than a monopoly of force. When political systems and empires were being destroyed all over the Near East, it really offered a very welcome alternative to populations who no longer had a community or whose communities had been destroyed."

I know that many will sneer at the idea, but what is better? The idea that G-d sent us to slaughter people the way the peoples we supplanted had done for countless centuries before? Or that G-d sent us out to deal with his great creation, free will, and win the day by overwhelming rightness of what we offered?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Interesting afterlife account, linked at Critical Judaism and Other Thoughts

Critical Judaism and Other Thoughts: Heavenly court proceedings revealed - Finally

I thought the account was... interesting. There's no other word to use that fits as I am not one to judge others' view of the afterlife in near-death experiences. They all seem to vary which fits my view that reality and mentality are not as far apart as we like to think.

To clarify, watch Star Trek: Generations and consider the concept of The Nexus or read the Dungeons and Dragons treatment of the plane of Concordant Opposition. It basically appears much in line with the expectations conscious and unconscious of the viewer, thus denying a totally common and uniform answer to the question, where do we go from here?

That seems like G-d to me.

Friday, August 1, 2008

A word on faith...

As Douglas Adams put it, and rather ironically as he was an atheist, G-d exists on faith and proof denies faith and therefore G-d cannot be proven. Man goes on to posit that the grandeur of the world proves He exists and therefore by His logic, He doesn't and goes poof.

It's a good point though. The search for proof is a search for knowing. That which you know, you have no need of faith in. I know my chair is under my ass. I have no particular faith in my chair. I have no knowledge whatsoever that my wife will find a job in her chosen field. I have faith that she will.

It isn't even that the analogue to proof is belief. It's not. It's suspension of disbelief. You can believe whatever you want. It's when you start to not believe in a specific thing that you head towards proof being needed to establish bonafide knowledge.

Let me give you the example of Star Trek. You don't know that it is real or not, but you have a lot of proof that it isn't. But you choose to suspend disbelief, the process of rejecting faith and instead requiring proof because the lack of knowledge discomfits you. In doing this, suspending disbelief by free will, you can in your mind accept that Captain Kirk is real in that assumption that he is, and get on from there to wishing you were snogging with the green Orion slave girl.

Why do we find it easier to suspend disbelief to "get into" the adventures of fictional people, and yet find it so hard to maintain faith in G-d?

Shabbat Shalom all.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Evidently Jews should not learn about the ancient temple because Muslims thinks it threatens their mosque...

Chabad Temple seminar rankles Islamists | Jewish News | Jerusalem Post

The three-part seminar, which is being held this week and next week at some 200 Chabad Houses throughout the country, comes less than two weeks before Tisha Be'av, which marks the destruction of the Temple.

"We view this as a serious and drastic move toward the fruition of extremist organizations to establish a temple in place of al-Aksa Mosque," Zahi Nujidat said. "This represents a real danger to al-Aksa."

If Islam is threatened by others practicing their religion and embracing their heritage, it is doomed. Pure and simple. Why? Lack of faith. If G-d intends for something, nothing can stop it. If G-d does not intend something, only man can make it happen. If G-d actively opposes something, no one can make it happen.

It is the height of insecurity to believe that Chabadniks learning about the fabled temple necessarily means a plot to destroy al-Aksa. That it would have to happen for the temple to be built a third time on that site is a no-brainer. That the Israeli government populated by strident Jews hasn't lifted a finger to it is also beyond obvious and telling. Namely of the intelligence, wisdom, good nature and neighborliness of those they fear so much.

The temple's strongest foundation is not stone under al-Aksa, it is the heart of the good and decent. A third temple need not be built. As the survival in Diaspora proves, a nation need not have land under its feet. Sincere and pious Jews carry the roof of the temple over the heads of all.

Friday, July 25, 2008

There is no point in fearing G-d if you don't even trust yourself. None. Part Two.

Are the rabbis less fallible than us? Evidently not if you follow the news. Doubly not if you listen to them bicker and make snide comments as to who is more right than another, or more to the point, as to who is less right and capable than another. The fact that they'd snipe each other in defiance of loshon hara tells you right off that they aren't less fallible than you.

And this leads to a terrible path for the rabbinate. On the one hand they are empower by all those who ask for a psak on which socks to wear on a given day, on the other hand, as Senator Palpatine said, all those who gain power are afraid to lose it. The following of people who rely on a rabbi constitutes a tremendously seductive temptation to make use of that power. It also constitutes an understandable force in their minds leading to disregard, disdain, disapproval, and even outright condescension for those who so blindly follow them. The phrase "useful idiots" wasn't invented for nothing.

Further, while those poor and uneducated Jews of the shtetl of prior centuries were definitely viewed with scant regard by the learned and this was noted by the Baal Shem Tov and his immediate circle with disgust and shame, today we have a system of learning for all. The material wealth of food, energy, and housing has led to the ability for just about any Jew to learn all day long. Many do.

No longer are they uneducated in Torah and Talmud, but can read the works and know them perhaps even better than their own rabbis who might in their age have forgotten something. What does this mean? It means that the human tendency to find mysteries and yearn to solve them comes into play. No longer is it that they don't know and must take the rabbi on his word, but when he says something out of bounds with reality as they've experienced it, they will feel that deviation, and think for themselves. As the explanations and reasoning for obvious contradictions become ever more convoluted, the desire to conform and pretend belief is ever more tested by what they know for themselves.

It isn't for nothing that the skeptidox blogging world is dominated by the formerly deeply religious of the Charedi and Chasidic worlds. The most formidable atheist and agnostic people usually hail from strong religious backgrounds whether early on or late such as for disillusioned Baalei Teshuva or Born Again Christians.

This entire focus on fear is setting us up for disaster. We're creating generations yet to be born who will be trained in the deepest writings of Jewish thought, law, and belief without having a shred of faith in any of it. We're making an army of atheists and agnostics who will walk away turning their back on G-d because those who were charged with keeping Him alive in the hearts of the people themselves feigned faith, and acted falsely, and some were out and out liars.

The very foundation of rabbinical Judaism is being set up for a fall but it is also the responsibility of the faithful to call bullshit when a rabbi errs. Were the average Jew who asks for rulings to only ask for rulings when he truly could not see past his inner doubt and conflict, when he truly could not decide for himself, and all other times have faith in G-d and rely on the conscience and heart He gave them, then he would take from that rabbi the corrupting power a good and decent rabbi has no need of and only give him the truest and most special power of truly being needed and not merely being a default device in the living of his followers' lives.

Why do we rely so heavily on them? Why do we not celebrate those our hears tell us are good but listen to whichever rabbi we do by default? We fear that we do not know enough. We fear that G-d is going to punish us for simple mistakes. We fear that G-d will judge with absolute severity anything less than a truly G-dly effort to avoid error in the first place. WHY?

Primarily, because we fear G-d. We don't love G-d, we fear G-d. We fear that the ultimate power in the universe, our Creator, can override our free will, render us irrelevant in our own lives, and take away from us the power to choose for ourselves, most likely the fun things. However, we judge G-d based on our own example. It is other humans who capriciously and whimsically impose on us and take the fun out of our lives and we go by that. Well, I am here to say G-d does NOT work that way. Your free will is the entire point.

As I read a phrase on the Internet once, "everything not forbidden is not compulsory". That is, just because you can do something doesn't mean you need to do it, or should do it. We fear that we will have G-d take away the very possibility of choosing something which in the end when we are good people, we would not do anyhow. You have free will to do anything you want. You also have a nature, a conscience, circumscribing that will. You can choose anything, but what you choose reflects on how you are. As you were made in His image, then so to as you do, so do you reflect on G-d.

If you live in fear of punishment and only do things or not do things for fear of reprisal, of G-d not liking you, and not because they are right or wrong in and of themselves, then you know nothing of right and wrong. You only know punishment and loss versus not being punished and not having something taken away.

When bad things happen, we always look up and ask, "why me". We assume that G-d who made the entire universe and perhaps an infinite number beyond is going to take time out of His schedule of doing whatever it is that He does, to smack you down for not covering your heard or wearing your tefillin right and that's why your car has a flat tire. He is punishing you for doing something wrong. All mankind assumes this. They assume their various deities, or that G-d, or that nature, or whatever is taking time to mess with them.

Humans take pain personally They then share that pain with others, and by the example they set, they judge G-d, and then it all snowballs from there.

We need to stop fearing G-d. Fear is for those who otherwise can't get into the feeling of love for G-d and would otherwise transgress, but not for those who truly feel His love. If you do, act in accordance with that love for G-d as you would someone in your everyday life. If you would not see a parent in disgrace for misdeeds, then would you see disgrace brought upon G-d by those who abuse kids and do not follow the laws and commit fraud? If they are also made in G-d's image, then that which they do reflects on G-d, and, concomitantly, reflects G-d back into them. If you love G-d, then you must also love the transgressor enough to not see them in disgrace but correct them and clean the stains of their disgrace by helping them to change, or if necessary despite all exhortations to teshuva, justice before the community at the earliest possible chance.

When we love G-d enough to trust G-d, we will only give such power to the rabbinate as those within it deserve, and only the deserving. Those who are not will eventually not be rabbis and in the future, no one will be a rabbi who does not deserve the trust of that position's responsibilities. We will be doing the entire rabbinate a favor in thinking for ourselves for no longer will we seem like ignorant frightened children, but worthy of more of the word of G-d, deeper thoughts and cogitations on the meanings and import, and worthy to bantered back and forth on the issues because we will raise no issues that we all know are nonsense, and only those we believe in our hearts are relevant and good to G-d, and His posterity and integrity and honor out of love.

In short, love G-d, do not fear. Think for yourself, and feel for yourself, and know He has undying compassion and forgiveness for you beyond all mankind, so that your errors are not sins worthy of condemnation when you learn from them and change what it is within you that made you commit them, and so do them no longer, or on the way, not so much. Do not unduly press on your rabbi's shoulders with expectations of guiding every juncture in your life. Offer them instead any service you can to lighten their load and help them with their awesome burdens. Care for your fellow man whether Jew or goy because G-d made them all and all are an aspect of Him and if you love Him then so should you love them. Care for their posterity and honor and do not countenance their own self-created disgrace to continue without intervention to change their path from darkness to light. Do not maintain a tight-lipped silence allowing misdeeds to go unaddressed for not a bit of good do you do by the misbehaving, but only let them heap more shame on themselves.

(Brought about because of a week of posts at Failed Messiah, The Kvetcher, and other places reporting more sad signs of fear-centric religious practice instead of love-centric worship. We worship best when we simply truly allow G-d into our lives. He wants to know us. We need desperately to let Him.)

There is no point in fearing G-d if you don't even trust yourself. None. Part One.

As I read on in theology, especially Orthodox Jewish philosophy, I am struck by the constant theme of fear. Fear it is posited must be in the hearts and minds of everyone who would do G-d's will. I understand the viewpoint. It's laid out quickly and simply in the movie Dogma when Barnaby tells a boardroom of about-to-be-executed sinners basically that lacking fear, they feel free to do whatever. Only fear of ticking G-d off will make people behave.

This is a simplistic notion, really, and one that smacks of distrust of human potential for goodness, for love, for faith. It says that by default, without fear of punishment, people will choose the bad course and do the wrong thing.

Okay, then if that is so, how can the story of the Besht and Elijah where the Besht refuses to tell what he did on his Bar Mitzvah to Elijah have any weight whatsoever? Did he do it strictly in fear of G-d? No, he did whatever it was in service of G-d. We do not serve those we fear, we merely do what they tell us when they tell us, or do without being told because we fear reprisal, but we are not serving. Service requires some measure of affection. We do service for love of G-d. The Besht did a good deed out of love for G-d, and that was all he needed to know. It wasn't for reward or fear of punishment or fear of not being rewarded and he purposely didn't answer Elijah despite the prodding, knowing full well that he wasn't going to get the promised reward if he maintained his silence.

NOT out of fear did the Besht act, but out of love. Are we expected to believe we are inherently so much less worthy that we default to doing worse? The story of the Besht is that of a simple soul who had a choice and chose well. We each can do as well and the Besht himself taught that.

Yet do we teach it today?

Today we teach fear and distrust. We've given up on enlightened self-interest and embraced the fallback of ages, unenlightened self-interest. The first of course takes into account positive emotional concerns such as love and caring for others and that we will out of desire for those things do many other things to ensure them, some out of fear of loss, others merely as a constant way of maintaining them which feels natural to us.

The second revolves around fear and greed and while I am all in favor of using the fear and other negativity of others to counteract those same things, it must always be towards a goal of bringing about amplification of their positive affectations. We must not encourage selfish unenlightened self-interest for in that way there is no reliability. Those who do only for fear of punishment if they fail can be fairly guaranteed to not act of their own accord should they either not be ordered to, or should the act not present itself as obvious enough to make sense to avoid punishment. Further, other actions they might in their heads see in fear as needing doing to avoiding punishment might be done and they might be wrong. Act in haste, repent in leisure they say. It is as equally valid when you replace the word haste with fear.

We teach fear first of others, secondly of not having a rabbi to follow, and lastly ourselves. We internalize it, and then we make it our guiding force.

You may wonder why I put fear of not having a rabbi in there. Do I mean to badmouth the entire rabbinate? Heck no. I mean to badmouth our collective dependency on the position and those who hold it without any proper recognition of the great responsibility which goes with it on the part of everyone, both rabbi and congregant.

The responsibility that goes with being a rabbi is that of the spiritual guidance of those that ask for it in all trust. If G-d gives us Torah, and the rabbis then are the position of authority on its meaning and application, then the desire of G-d to educate and guide us is being handled by them. This is clearly an awesome responsibility. One must never try to be an intermediate between someone else and their Creator, but must be a scout and ranger to lead them through the wilderness of unbelief and ignorance to the Torah.

How can any rabbi do that in fear? In fear, do we not slow our progress on the trail? Do we not in fear poke bushes with our staff and timidly take only the safest and most boring way possible, missing out on all of the other places G-d put in the way for us? Of course we do. We take the path most traveled, not the path less traveled. A path where everything is the same, we are put to no challenges, our character decides nothing because all is rote, all is programmed response. Known boulder, walk left and follow path. Step over log one hundred feet on. Continue down hill to your right. Sidestep the gravel.

Is not much in Charedi Orthodoxy of today a clear expression of this fear? Dress the same, look the same, speak the same, do not expose yourself to anything which might require your decision, do not think for yourself, simply do and learn as told.

I think it is and I think the Besht thought it then of the Judaism of his time. I think all the fear first and foremost brought out a reaction of revulsion and sickness from this loving man and his response was to lead from love more than fear. Fear of disappointing someone you love outranks fear of being punished by someone you don't love. The latter takes the course of least resistance and effort, the former takes whatever course may come and often, all the effort in the world.

When I say sickness and revulsion, I do not mean to imply hate or dislike or even disregard for those who were steeped in it. One does not necessarily follow from the other. Sometimes, the feeling of sickness and pain is in the love of someone else, namely fearing that those you care for are in serious error that will harm them and damage their spirits. When a loved one is filled with hate and anger, do you not care that they are hurting their own hearts, and perhaps pray for them to see a better outlook and a calmer mind?

Another place we proceed in fear is fear of not being religious, or righteous, or good enough. Not for fear G-d will be dissatisfied but because we fear that WE will not be satisfied or more to the point that we will not have the satisfaction we yearn for. At what point will you be religious, righteous, or pious enough? People never ask that. They need to. What is the yardstick? The point of a goal is that it defines a journey. Even an endless journey to an unreachable ultimate destination still has the definition of that destination. What is the definition of righteousness? Ask an Ashkenazi and a Sephardi. Ask a Reform, a Conservative, and a Modern Orthodox. See how many definitions you get.

Without an idea of whether we're getting any closer, it's no different than a starship traveling in a void with no landmarks. We have no idea if we're better. When it comes to righteousness, absent a yardstick, we instinctively say, well, more must be better. More conservatism, more suppression, more oppression, more holding back.

Remember what I said about fear, timidity, and choosing the path more traveled. We are at two counts in favor of more stringency. Is it getting easier to see why we keep defaulting in religion to more and more suppression?

However, there is another path. The path of love. The path of effusive good feelings, of embracing openness and caring. The doing of right things because they are right, because your heart tells you that they are right, and not because G-d might smite you.

No, we experience fear. Fear that we do not know enough to make our decisions in religion for ourselves. Fear that we do not know enough to help make decisions in religion for ourselves with the rabbinate. Fear that we can do nothing. The only way to salvation is to follow the rabbis.

(to be continued shortly)

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Simpsons Talmud - By Noah Gradofsky

If you need something amusing and light then this is probably what you're looking for. I thought it was a hoot. I only found it because I was searching Google for an idea of how often Talmudic content is someone saying something in someone else's name, which is often as well many know.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Sitting on a ledge...

I sit on a ledge, looking out on the world.

I sit on a ledge, looking out on the world, and wondering if there's anyone still left out there.

I sit on a ledge, looking out on the world, and wondering if there's anyone still left out there, who is thinking and feeling and wondering still.

In my travels around the JBlog world, I've seen a lot of things that make me smile, and a lot of things that make me cringe.

I've seen promise and sorrow, genius and idiocy, and all the other dynamics of societies the world over that strain credulity for anyone who wants to believe it can all work out somehow.

Not stopping though.

My local synagogue has lost our rabbi to the needs of family and age. She's moving to be closer to loved ones. She and her husband are wished well by the congregation, but it leaves us sans rabbi for two months at least and indeed, we have not even Shabbat services for July and August. Since when do spiritual needs of the religious community go on summer hiatus?

Oh well, can't have my conversion overseen by multiple rabbis each inheriting unfinished business. Besides, I have a long way to go before I feel comfortable making it official there and I have work previously agreed to. The mark of us is how we stand up to our word, right?

Not stopping, no not now.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

My Orthodoxy Nerd Test

I swear I gave the most honest answers I could:

Your Test Scores

Left Wing Modern Orthodox: 57%
Right Wing Modern Orthodox: 88%
Left Wing Yeshivish/Chareidi: 43%
Right Wing Yeshivish/Chareidi: 14%

The Orthodoxy Test
says that I'm Modern Orthodox

The link is at the bottom of the right side column.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

There is no nation in the world like the State of Israel' | Jerusalem Post

I kept the article title for the blog post title because it says it all. Congratulations Israelis, Jews, and everyone else on not killing each other which given the last 27,000 years of history is a bonafide miracle of human will.

Though, this paragraph at the bottom was loltastic:

US President George W. Bush will attend a conference in Jerusalem next week marking the anniversary, along with Tony Blair, Henry Kissinger, Mikhail Gorbachev, Rupert Murdoch and the founders of Google and Facebook.

Emphasis mine of course.

Dov Bear must be apoplectic at Darth Foxius being there, the conservative outlet that it is.

Google and Facebook? Hello? Are they really snubbing bangitout.com?

Here's the article, go read it, and say a congratulations to another milestone.

Friday, May 2, 2008

High Rabbinic Court: Annul conversions | Jerusalem Post


In an unprecedented decision, the High Rabbinical Court of Israel has called to invalidate all conversions performed since 1999 by Rabbi Haim Drukman, the head of the Conversion Authority.

The decision was made after the court rejected an appeal of a ruling by Ashdod's Regional Rabbinical Court rendering a woman's conversion invalid.

In a 50-page decision, a panel of three high court judges ruled that all conversions conducted since 1999 by Rabbi Drukman - who heads the Conversion Authority - and another rabbi, must be declared invalid.

They also ruled that it was permitted to retroactively cancel the conversion of someone who does not observe the Sabbath.

High Rabbinic Court: Annul conversions | Jerusalem Post

Emphasis mine.

Oh this was good too:

Out of extra caution, her husband was also added to the list of illegal marriages despite his being a Jew by birth.


Meanwhile, conversion rates AWAY from Judaism continue to climb unabated, observance continues to fall, Baalei Teshuva continue to drift away after a fitful start of observance, and conversion rates TO Judaism are... anyone?

Next up, born Jews will be excommunicated officially by the state of Israel for not being shomer shabbos.

Way to go rabbis! What a great decision!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A really sensible article I agree with...

The Sephardi Perspective: The Kitniyot debate: between tradition and unity |JPost.com | BlogCentral

...and so does my family. Other than my wife's room clearing joke*, we actually are somewhat more observing this. Beans and rice, absolutely.



*When I asked her what she is planning for Passover while in line at the grocery, she retorted without missing a beat, "a big ham like we do every year!" A Jewish woman nearby nearly choked and I quickly covered and said, "she gets Easter and Passover confused... Pay it no mind."

Monday, March 24, 2008

How do I feel?

Ever watch City of Angels? Note the way the angels look at the world almost blankly with just a hint of some secret knowledge so secret even they don't know what it is, but there is nonetheless an air of having a clue or maybe just faith, in whatever it is they know or might know.

Note Seth's expression as he watches Maggie at first. Not so much interest in her as in what she does. How she does things. What is happening around her.

That's how I feel. Really separated from the world, but something I don't understand assures me that it is basically alright. I don't know what it is and as long as I just accept it then it is okay... for a time. If I don't accept it and question I just have more questions.

I feel it about my conversion as well. As I've said long before I ever get to the beit din I want to be cool with it in my heart honestly. I want the contradictions if any to be surmounted and shackled to my purposes. I want to suspend disbelief and as with not questioning and just accepting without accepting, stipulating to nothing, just let those things slide. I want to embrace the bigger picture and deeper message.

So I continue to sit on a high perch watching people, watching their ways, hopes, anger, questions... and sometimes taking part with few understanding exactly where I am coming from but all knowing there's something odd about me.

Some think the conversion odd given that my reasons for leaving Christianity as it is practiced behind to adopt the ways of Judaism. Even stranger still for such a secular person is that I want to sit in the middle of the Jewish theological road between the extremes of unaffiliation and Charedi ultra-Orthodoxy in Conservativeville.

It's not what it appears and not the same as the kvetching skeptidox.

All my life I was told about Jesus of Nazareth following a path that anyone could see was headed towards a lethal impasse. Either to his soul by recanting his mission and abandoning it, or to his body by continuing to stay honest to what he believed.

It was never about the schizophrenic view that the king of the Jews was somehow separate from them. You know, the internalized and overlooked contradiction that Catholicism and the rest skate past. I never saw it that way. It was a paradigm shifting without popping the clutch as Scott Adams' Dilbert strip might put it rather than the SEP or Someone Else's Problem as Douglas Adams would call it which the other Christians treated it as.

In other words I had a fair amount of cognitive dissonance even as those who I had been with seemed to be enjoying a measure of schadenfreude at it much as some snickering kannoim have towards skeptics and like them, because they have internalized the contradictions, swallowed them whole, and perhaps in some bizarre human way made them stop causing mental ulcers by surrounding them like an oyster makes a pearl.

I'd like to think in that dichotomy there was something so valuable as a pearl. I think XGH more than most is trying like all the apprentices of Hephasteus to hammer it hot and fast into something that makes sense and makes all of the anguish worthwhile. I'd also like to think that there's a certain lesson in simply acting as though there was a redeeming thing already found and get on with it.

Shock, anger, denial, and acceptance are supposed to be the four main psychological stages of of getting past the contradictions which in these skeptical religious introspections seem like Hegelian dialectic that keeps failing to reach a synthesis and thus the mediator never vanishes and we're left with the endless argument; and it would seem the counter-argument that we should have no argument for that matter.

So with respect to the issue from five and four paragraphs respectively, I always felt a drive to do honor by someone who'd never met me, but felt the moral path they were on was so important to the future which necessarily includes me that they went to a really horrible death but at the same time, I always felt constrained by the Catholic and Christian ideas about the new religion.

When you throw off the intellectual chains of a given system to the free fall space of making it up for yourself yet still encompassed by the spacesuit-like framework of your deepest beliefs and nature, you find yourself poking outward trying to find boundaries that you initially don't think should be there, and usually you smack into them when you think they aren't.

So what I came to was the realization that of all I felt, I felt most strongly that my fellow humans were idiots. Sometimes well meaning idiots, but still pretty dippy. Like a dog that runs headfirst into closed doors paying no heed to the fact that they aren't open. Internalized and insulated contradictions seem to be one of their fortes and I had little facility for it. It was a kind of comfort with their own imbecilic ignorance even when it was purposeful and chosen as such that I lacked. Excessive honesty with myself might have been one way of putting it. Guilty angst is another. My way of wrapping that annoying grit was to put it under the heading of Human Fallibility.

When I did that, immediately everything in religion from creation onward became merely a cute story, but something miraculously remained... that seeming downgrade from This is the Truth to Merely a Cute Story did not with it bring a similar downgrade in how seriously I took it. It merely changed why it was important.

Previously, whether it was factual or not determined whether I was right. Now it didn't matter and it was a matter instead of whether or not it said something to me and others that was of any importance to us.

You know, someone had to have the same or at least a similar idea by setting down the Mishna and Gemara. If nothing in the Torah was of any importance, then why explain it? If it was totally important, why not explain it? Can something be so important that you must not explain it? How then could anyone find the importance if someone who found it important did not share with them the reasons they found it important and the framework of reasoning by which they came to that feeling?

Granted, humans can be pretty thick. Read www.somethingawful.com or daily.rotten.com and you'll see what I mean. We're not talking natural born giants of philosophy. Nevertheless they have a weird way of internalizing various things they don't understand and therefore cannot argue in any way, much less formally by the Socratic method, the way those things have meaning and importance to them. I've begun to think some things have importance even their protectors and guardians don't understand. Sometimes, especially them.

In the case of Christianity, the importance that is generally missed without ever getting properly internalized and leading to the ongoing cognitive dissonance they have much as many others of other religions have a similar thing, is that Jesus was first and foremost a righteous Jew who never tried to start a new religion.

So why build a new religion then? It's sort of like going out to the home improvement store for putty to fix bathroom tile and instead going to the supermarket for bread and soup and after ten years of never getting to the putty, you wonder to yourself how long the wife will stand the crappy shower. We sat in church wondering when someone was going to say that it was all bullshit and we should try to understand the world through Jesus' eyes.

Isn't it strange that instead of getting the putty in the first place that people still have to engage in hermeneutics to figure out what belief system they belong in?

Like I said, humans have an amazing ability for duct taping over contradictory things and just doing things because that's how they have always been doing them.

I think the new religious system didn't work quite right. There are others who believe it did and really, I am cool with that and happy for them. Me personally? I'm drawn to the story of this person that thought something was going wrong between G-d and His children so strongly that he set on a course he knew would certainly lead to his own end in a most bloody painful manner. What was his view on the world framed by?

Maybe that explains my fascination with Hillel and Shammai. I don't know.

I do know that the new religious system isn't for me. It doesn't speak to me. I wish it did and I didn't have to leave. I wish there was something to keep me there. Sadly, there isn't.

I can't internalize this contradiction. I don't feel anything to counterbalance and make it palatable or at least tasteless.

The only honor I can do this man is to try to see the world from his point of view. For that you have to practice fundamentalism in its truest form: proceeding from fundamental premises.

The fundamental premise is that the man was a Jew and his ways were those of Jews from two thousand years ago. He knew the prayers commonly expected as a matter of dogma and doctrine in his day. He knew the reasons. He like others knew of the problems and promises of his people. The dichotomies and the contradictions. He knew what he thought to be right and what he thought to be wrong. These he learned from others of his people.

I cannot go back two thousand years, so what happened to his people?

That's why I dove into the sea of modern Jewish questioning and culture long before learning the dogma and doctrine. The people in a given system internalize and systematize the dogma and doctrine of that system. They then retransmit these things in their own way through the filter of their own experiences and natures. Just as Jesus learned from his people, I want to learn from them.

So I began to do so and my cognitive dissonance went away. These people I was learning from made more sense than those I'd come from as if I was always a 110VAC American hair dryer trying to be plugged into a 220VAC socket in Europe.

I don't think the skeptidox are going to find the same breath of fresh air experience in Christianity. I rather think that instead of the ability to pare away a later framework and reduce they will be forced to swallow Torah AND the New Testament. If the motor oil is the wrong weight, mixing it with more oil of a still wrong weight probably isn't going to help.

In that, I was lucky I had a more fundamental premise to go back to and a people who stuck with it even if they did so in an evolutionary manner which between the Ashkenazi and Sephardi shows a great difference from the period of the Second Temple.

Was I lucky? Or was it always supposed to have been, exemplified by the puzzle piece fit I found for myself? Can the eventual future have something to do with the past which preceded it?

Maybe. It's one of those internalized things which I'll never get a nice comfortable layer of pearl around, but at least that question doesn't frighten me and though I don't know why, I don't care why I don't know why either and I'll be thankful for that moment of peace in a world I watch with rapt attention like an angel who doesn't understand but knows something he doesn't understand which makes the first not understanding somehow okay.  

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Thank you CAIR for reaching across the aisle!

“In a nation as religiously diverse as America, it is important that we all make the extra effort to accommodate the beliefs and practices of others,” said CAIR Communications Coordinator Amina Rubin. “Student athletes should not be forced to choose between their faith and participation in sports.”

CAIR: Muslims Urge Accommodation for Jewish B-Ball Team

As I've said elsewhere, it's not that Christians of whatever level of practice if any are anti-Jewish or anti-Muslim or pro-Christian as much as there's a common human tendency to see the world through one's own experiences and environment. Christians are in the majority and just like other humans, see the world through Christian filters, and other ways and practices aren't wrong, they simply DON'T EXIST. When something pops up demanding that they do, ignore it and be inflexible as if the other person is being irrational and wanting to take time off to hug trees or something.

If Jews or Muslims were the majority, they too would have to be prodded to remember that other ways of life exist just as much. The thing is, we don't give up and act like this blissful ignorance in others is okay, and if we are people of honor we will recognize this human fault, and counteract it in ourselves and leave an opening in our world for others.

Thank you Rabbi Jeremy Rosen for noting this CAIR posting.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

G-d spoke again...

I was half asleep as I started hearing Him. I had just woken from a dream which was about something that's been bothering me. Nothing odd. I just was somewhere I didn't want to be, in the presence of someone I can't speak with because she won't speak to me. Several years now.

In the dream I said, "well, it's been nice. My time is up now though." Then I fell to the floor, and stopped breathing. I remember voices and then darkness. I felt really peaceful. I was ready to die.

When I woke from this I heard that voice inside saying, "please, stop. Don't go. It's not time."

I answered, "I know, you love me. You don't want me to let go. And I'm sorry, I don't want to let you down. I just don't know how much longer I have. I'm failing fast and there's a part of me ready to move on now, even though You don't want me to. I'm sorry for that."

"It's okay... don't go. Please. I can't say I have anything special for you to do, but everyone has a part to play somehow in the world and you've been trying so hard. Don't let go. I can't stop you from going, but I can ask."

"I'm sorry. I'll keep trying."

"I know what's bothering you."

"And I know you can't make people feel something they don't choose to. Just... I don't know. Let her stop hating me some day before either of us lets go. If there's a way..."

So something inside is warning me. G-d, conscience, whatever you want to believe. Warning me to not let go. Which tells me that you can simply will yourself to die. That you can let go of this life and die without actually doing anything to kill yourself. No matter how depressed I've gotten, no matter how suicidal I was in younger years, I never heard this one before.

Something inside me doesn't want me to let go, and some part of me wants to. Why does the sunny warm day, the blooming flower, the smile of my wife bring me no comfort? What is the darkness now at the edge of my world threatening to come on like a storm? Financially, we're doing great, we're making progress on the house renovations, getting ourselves together after years of scraping by. We're a closer family than we've been ever before. I'm happy with my path to conversion. My wife has a new job. I don't want to die, that I know. I'm not remotely suicidal.

So why is there a part of me that wants to let go, even if it's to quiet darkness? Is it frustration at running in place and the gulf between where I am and where I am going and the speed of progress? What exactly is bothering me? So my mother isn't speaking to me. I wasn't the one who wronged her, she turned her back on me and cut me out of her life mere months before my grandfather's death. I didn't do that.

So she's a BAC. I don't think it is any of her business if I convert. I'm pushing forty and that's my business.

If she gave a damn, she'd call. In two plus years, she hasn't. For all the years before that I called her. If she wants to say something, she knows where I am and what my numbers are. Conscious and waking, I don't really care either way any more.

Maybe the dream was just a convenient framework to hang my doubts on. Maybe it meant nothing. The voice telling me not to let go and move on meant something. I think I need to be a little more skeptical of myself and just suspend judgment. Sit back, give it time, be patient. This I rationally know, but inside, a part of me is tired of waiting... for what I don't know.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Masthead change...

Previously, I wanted to express how I seem to a lot of people. Functional, but out of place.

Now, I want to express an idea forming in my mind and namely a similarity between quantum mechanics and human realism when it comes to religion. You can't know if something is true or not until you check, and wait! Do you really want to look? If you do and the result isn't what you wanted, will you be honest enough to admit it? Will you perceive it correctly or incorrectly to begin with? Are you a depressive cynical sort or an optimistic bouncy sort?

As Douglas Adams pointed out, faith is often beliefs that not only can't be proven, but might well be disproven by any attempt at proving them.

In line with the fanatic BAC/BAJ stereotype problem, what do you do when the appearance is that you were wrong? Redouble your efforts anyhow? Turn away? Chart a third course?

Therefore I ask a question soon to be my next masthead...

What Is The Third Choice?

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Why do I hang around Orthodox Jewish blogs?

Because most Ba'al Teshuva, Born Again Christians, Ger Tzedek, etc. want to jump right in with their eyes closed. I want to be honest and jump right in with my eyes open.

If you were to study all the angles regarding Chabad-Lubavitch, you'd probably not go frum and all BT.

If you were to study all the angles regarding Evangelical Christianity, you'd probably not go all Jayzus and pumping grace.

I don't want to be those things. Not that many CL people or ECs aren't good, they definitely are. I know a lot of them. I just don't want to be one of those outreach besotted people who goes all... well, Born Again Jewish. All wishful thinking with blinders on and no idea of what they're really doing or getting into.

With that, you either have to become ever more detached from reality to keep from facing up to the shortfall from reality or you have to eventually hit that shortfall dead on and make a decision. That can lead to being an AO (Agnostic Orthodox) which a lot of bloggers seem to be. I've done the agnostic thing, and more against myself as in, I wasn't really sure I existed or was important. Trying to believe in G-d when you don't believe in yourself is a fruitless hollow exercise.

So I want to take in the breadth and depth of Jewish religious misery, all the self-conscious soul-searching dubiousness. I wanted to stare the dark side of my new home in the face and then when I say to G-d that I am truly made up in mind, that I'd rather die a Jew than live as whatever the heck it was that I used to be, I can say in all honesty it was a choice freely made with totally fair disclosure. G-d didn't stop them from showing themselves to be the wonderfully imperfect people they are with all their nuances, and I saw it and joined anyhow.

I've seen the complaints and kvetching. It hasn't changed my mind that I've come to a fairly cool people with a great history and wonderful rapport with the human idea of G-d.

After all, if people were perfect, would would not want to join the perfect people? The trueness of a choice is in the imperfections and seeing beyond them to what can still easily be.

Sort of like getting married, really.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Wolfish Musings: The Gedolim And How They Relate To The Common Person

Go read this at the link below. Excellent set of premises and very well put together. Highly recommended blog in general by the way.

Wolfish Musings: The Gedolim And How They Relate To The Common Person

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

On the heels of the last part, some article addressing...

Let the Vatican pray for my soul - The Jewish Chronicle

A few decades ago, if you wanted to play music, you would have bought a record player. Then came cassettes, then CDs. By the turn of the millennium, lots of people had all three formats happily sharing shelf space.

But today, you go for Third Generation (3G) technology, the iPod. Why is it Third Generation? Because it does not sit alongside what came before, but rather replaces it. The whole point about an iPod is that you load on all your music, hold your entire collection in the palm of your hand, and never need your records, cassettes or CDs again.

But the first to come up with the 3G concept was not Apple, but early Christians. As the Preaching of Peter puts it, “The ways of the Greeks and Jews are old, but we are they that worship Him in a new way, in a third generation.”

I am jumping ahead to this bit because I cannot overstate my general instinctive disgust with relating religion to digital audio technology. I don't want anyone anywhere ever again to use "3G" and anything religious in the same article. Not ever. I mean that.

Okay, that stone in my sandal dealt with, I'll back up to:

The fact is that the desire to convert the Jews is basic to Christianity, and it is only the Church’s efforts to reach out to the Jews in recent years to make up for centuries of persecution that has somehow convinced us otherwise. That, and that fact the Jews, en masse, have come to accept in recent decades to a fiction called the “shared Judeo-Christian heritage”.

I am not sure where to start with this. Did the writer even talk to a Catholic, or any Christian at all? If they had, they might know that no, the Christians aren't looking to convert anyone. They simple treat the world as if everyone already was a Christian and any time reality deviates... ignore it and forge ahead. This is why I can wear a kippah at work and have a translated Torah on my desk and STILL people treat me no differently than them. Other ways of thinking simply don't exist and they don't care.

We Jews do (caveat: as a specific group consciousness thing and the Catholic Church hierarchy does as well), and it shows. We get steamed whenever things like this papal idiocy crops up, we often think that if no one will react to our dressing and doing things differently, well, we have to find a new way to make non-Jews react. Won't work the way you want. Not ever. The Christians dominate because of this detachment from reality, much like British royalty's, where the world is always assumed to be whatever they assume it is, and reality not be damned, but doesn't exist. Reality simply is what they believe it to be. No one and nothing can change that. They live it 24x7.

I know, I'm a former Christian and former Catholic to boot. The church cares. The ones who wrangle the official released theology. The rank and file? No. Not at all. Look out upon the masses of reform and other Jews, largely irreligious. They don't care. We care in official religious capacities. In our ordinary life, the world is what we decide it is.

For instance, I notice kosher symbols on food as I go shopping. To me, the world is cognizant of Jews and their dietary requirements. There is kosher food everywhere. To a Christian, they see the exact same supermarket and the exact same food packages, but those kosher symbols just do not register. They don't occur to them because they are not part of their world.

I treat the world as if everyone was a Jew. I am friendly, outgoing (to a point, I am a nerd and introvert), and polite. I'm down home, familiar, like a piece of the scenery that people expect there like a convenient bench to sit on. They perceive me as just another might-be-Christian. I don't wear a big star of David, and if I did wear a tallit katan and tzitzit out and flapping, they'd notice nothing of it and think nothing of it, and out in public I wear a baseball cap or bandana or winter hat depending on time of year and they don't know why my head is more often than not covered. It never occurs to them to ask, I never ask them why their dress choices.

That secular side is something important. It spackles over things like that no one goes through the father but through Jesus nonsense. It pares away the extraneous and superfluous. What do you get down to? Well, for most Christians not concerned with official stamped and registered with theology, Christ becomes a man by the side of the road pointing the way to G-d.


Yeah, surprise surprise, the Catholic Church spends more time on G-d the creator than it does Jesus of Nazareth. The Jesus obsessed are largely Protestant johnny-come-lately types. Especially the Christian equivalent of a Baal Teshuva, the Born Again Christian. BACs are big on Jesus because as with most of the new testament they can spin it any way they want.

The historical picture of Jesus is that of a good and loyal Jew who wanted an end to corruption, wanted an end to the Roman domination, and wanted people to heed the sages, to follow the ways he followed all his life but to do it with love and honesty. Without hypocrisy and deception and double-talk. If anything, I see that very same mindset on the part of Skeptidox bloggers constantly.

Of course, Paul never met Jesus during his life and his conversion was after the fact. He had issues to be sure. And he and his fellows were trying to sell the word they had to Romans. ROMANS EXECUTED JESUS. Does any sane rational person think that the Romans would say "mea culpa" and bow before the memory of he who they nailed to a cross? Of course not.

So Bar-Abba became Barabbas, and that entire story got concocted. The Romans were made to seem the tools of a far more corrupt than they ever were Sanhedrin. Pontious Pilate is made to look like a reluctant bad guy, and to show a glimmer of future Roman redemption but without the Romans ever acknowledging any wrongdoing. The inference at the center becomes that Jews killed Jesus.

Rome is made to look like they were always and forever faithful to this newly concocted religion that Jesus himself never tried to create, never tried to build, but realistically had no way to combat before his death. The believers who listen to your message never really do. They hear what they want to hear and they fill in the blanks themselves. Unless you're a control freak psycho like Jim Jones, that kind of thing can never be better than a sorry side-effect of getting people to supposedly agree with you. There's the part they agree to, then there's the loads of baggage they toss on after it and no amount of setting them straight can change it.

Look at the dead-end quandry that Chabad finds themselves in. Do you really think that Schneerson didn't know how he was adored? Or that he wanted people to think him moshiach? Everything I've ever read on Schneerson tells me he wasn't stupid enough to think himself even a piece of G-d, nor stupid enough to not know what was going on with the adulation and raising up of his name all the time. I think like anyone else in that position he came up against the no-escape briar patch of knowing that no matter what he said, the adoring followers cared more about reading into him and his work what they wanted, than about any Torah teaching he gave.

Today though is not the heady time of the Second Temple Period as it is called. Today is a cynical mass market time where even Mennonites from Pennsylvania eventually have to go to WalMart. Everyone is banging up against everyone else. And everyone is like normal, making up their own personal theology for themselves.

I tell you this honestly and truly... do not look for trouble where there is none, or you will lose friends and make enemies and G-d does not want that. Many many Christians don't think about Jesus as much as they think about G-d. They heard the bible part about "no other other gods before Me". They heard the iffy insubstantial and colliding and contradicting later books about Jesus. When you pare away in Christianity the parts that contradict, you can come to no other picture than that the Romans killed a man who seemed to be a threat to their nice and relatively peaceful stability of rule which was nothing new, he was a good and righteous Jew, and the father, the one uncreated creator G-d was the one we should all revere, and it all got rewritten and revamped and retconned mercilessly on the altar of marketing and reselling it to people.

THAT was the image presented to me, by nuns, in Catholic school.

You can stop worrying what the new pope cares about. It's not about what the alleged leaders say, it's about the what the rank and file believes. Politicians know that. Why don't religious people notice? Probably because like with everyone else, we assume the world to be what we assume it to be. The Vatican, your local rabbi, that ayatollah on TV, everyone... Everyone sees the world the way they want to. Time to see what's really there and make use of those openings to bridge gaps. Whether or not moshiach has come, will come, etc. matters not. What matters is, who do we all believe is ultimately in charge? Who alone needs to accept us? Who alone judges us?

That is our shared heritage. The retcon by Paul and his successors and most especially the Roman Empire  notwithstanding, G-d is above all else, and that is what we all believe when you pare everything else away, we are naked and in the mud, the Torah or bible not there, when it is down to that last breath and we're headed for learning what no living person can know, that we have in common.

Let's start working from that.

Vatican steps back a few centuries, RA does two-step in place

Let the Vatican pray for my soul - The Jewish Chronicle

Quoted loltasticness:

The Rabbinical Assembly, the international association of Conservative rabbis, went as far as threatening a motion declaring itself dismayed and deeply disturbed.

They "threatened" a motion that would state they were "dismayed"? What are they waiting for? For the Charedi world to okay the MO world to okay us Conservatives to be dismayed and deeply disturbed? I ask it that way because that's basically how Conservativeville works if you hadn't noticed.

Next thing you know, they'll go ahead on their own and declare themselves considering a declaration of discomfort.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Purim Katan

Read about it here: Purim Katan

Keep hope alive...

Hitler IS fodder for comedy, and here's why...


Maybe it's just me, but I find using Hitler for humor extremely distasteful. The man was the epitome of evil in the last century and the murderer of most of our people.

Yehudi Hilchati: Hitler and comedy

Some might think as a ger tzedek (I know they shouldn't but people are people, yadda yadda) I should not merit a say on this subject but I must disagree.

From before I entered school, from as early as three, my grandfather spoke of his World War II experience. I heard about the blood, guts, and whole bodies floating in the water at Normandy, days after the invasion. He arrived two days on and they were still cleaning up the mess. The waves were still foaming red he said.

He spoke of the sight of bodies run over by tanks as they advanced, the effect on internal organs as they exploded under the pressure.

But... most of all... he spoke as he motioned at my uncle's house three acres distant, of the bodies at the camps. Impossibly thin, gaunt, skeletal. They stunk of rot. The whole camp stunk of burning human flesh. It stunk of sewage and human body odor. He pointed at my uncle's house and said that they were stacked farther than that, as far as he could see, like cordwood.

He'd trail off then with a distant look on his face as if he no longer wanted to live, for just a moment. That look of horror that says you have just become disconnected, please call back later.

I also grew up with Jewish comedians like Mel Brooks making fun of Nazis. At first I didn't understand, but then it made sense. The minute you fear these creeps, is the minute you grant them the first bit of false legitimacy on which every other piece of their evil is hung. Not knocked from the table, they will nail it down, here, there, everywhere. Soon they are entrenched, established, and we fight with them.

For there to be an argument, there have to be at least two sides. Nazis don't have  a side. None. Zip. Zero. EVER.

They were given that first piece of legitimacy during the beer hall putsch maybe. Maybe before that. Instead of being patted on the head and herded into mental facilities with comfortable pajamas and heavy medication, they were taken seriously. People actually argued with them as if they had any point to make, any side to argue. Their side was so monumentally insanely indefensible it amounted to not being a side. More like the kind of Internet Performance Art done by trolls, and with the same idea that argument was just amusement and distraction and never the real point of any of it. In the case of Nazis though as with all such political loons, it was about getting some of the power over their fellow man that being in government offers. And from there... Same as all other political movements and people. More power.

Unlike Nazis however, most political people today aren't jonesing to put people in camps and systematically wipe them out. Which is what separates them. Their ultimate idea of what to do with all that power eliminated any rational sane claim that they had a side. That they had any rational sane claim. To anything.

The Nazis must remain for all time locked beyond the veil of legitimacy and relegated to cartoon characters. The cranks who spew their bullshit to the streets, who wear white hoods, who publish how-to guides on domestic terror, and so forth... they must NEVER be seen as anything more than the unfortunate mildew on society's edge that they are.  Not for fear of them, because they are not anything to fear, but for fear of what WE cause to happen by putting our prodigious powers of the mob of society behind a broken steering wheel of intellectual worthlessness like them.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Have faith... life will out

Where did that central Asian haplotype come from? Most Jews are vaguely aware of the Khazars; their king plays the role of interlocutor in Yehuda Halevi's 12th-century defense of Jewish doctrine, The Kuzari. The Khazars, however, were not a mere literary device. They were a real people with a major kingdom north of the Caspian Sea, and in the eighth or ninth century the Khazar leaders and some of the people converted to Judaism. After the 10th century, they disappear from history. The common ancestor of the Ashkenazi Levi'im who carry this particular haplotype lived less than 2,000 years ago. A good guess is that at roughly the time the Khazar kingdom disappeared, a very small number of closely related individuals with the tradition of being Levi'im, or perhaps only a single male, came from the general region of the Khazar kingdom to join the then-small Ashkenazi community in Europe. If this is so, it may indicate that the Khazar Jews had created a native class of Levi'im.

Genetics and the Jewish identity | Jerusalem Post

This post runs three pages and for those who are quick to judge and argue, it DOES bring up the difference between legal, ethnicity, halacha, etc. What this article is about is proving that despite our common misconceptions, historical inaccuracies, personal biases, and other pitfalls, common threads of the whole scene keep running through physical reality leaving telltale bits behind to find.

Friday, February 1, 2008

E-Kvetcher comes through again...

Search for Emes: Ecce Homo

Read this article he's thrown together from a few books and Wikipedia on Barabbas and Jesus. If ever the name Barabbas bothered you and you were wondering what was going on there, well, this might make light bulbs go off in your head.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

A really good article at BreslovWorld.com

Excerpt of note...

Hashem wants to lavish His magnificent illumination on each of us, as a loving father desires to give to his beloved child. Yet, our misdeeds cause concealment. When a person falls into the darkness of concealment, Hashem is deeply sorry and prays for that person. The Gemara in tractate Berachot, page 7a, teaches us that Hashem Himself prays, for Hashem says: "'I shall bring them to My holy mountain and I shall gladden them in My house of prayer' My house of prayer not their house of prayer, to teach that Hashem prays. And what does Hashem pray? Mar Zutra bar Tuvia says in the name of Rav: May it be My will that My mercy overcomes My wrath, and may mercy permeate all of My traits, and may I act with My children with the measure of mercy, and may I judge them with lenience.

BreslovWorld.com - Spiritual Growth: No Reason for Despair

Now aside from the usual skeptic criticism that this ignores basic and well known biochemistry regarding moods, this article does have one really notable thing which in all my studies has not been brought up by anyone else... G-d is said in the Talmud to have feelings and pray. Just like me.

Believe me, no one in all of Christendom that I've ever read has ever broached this. I have, but then I'm considered a chinstrap on a yarmulke. Functional in some way in certain exigent circumstances but generally odd and unsettling.


Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A word from G-d...

"You're not supposed to be perfect so stop hating yourself when you fall short of some goal that for all you know, I never had any design on you for."

This idea keeps flitting through my conscience when I am hard on myself. I feel His hand on my shoulder and I want to cry. I want a hug. I know that's human emotionality, but it is what it is. I wonder if I'm going to get to ask Him what it means or if He's right and why and in what context. He tells me, but my doubt gets in the way of holding the belief. Yet still I tread on, numb, and headed where he sends me.

I tried to walk away before, and was tortured near to insanity by the reminders He'd leave in my path. All of it boils down to that simple statement from Buckaroo Banzai... "Wherever you go, there you are."

He made me, and in His image. I can no more run from Him than I can escape myself. I know he doesn't expect perfection but I want so much to make Him proud somehow. Just one redeeming thing before I go. I fear I'll never get to do it. He says not to worry, but why do I want so much to prove myself? If I am in His image, does He want to prove something to someone, and if so, to who? Where does G-d hang His head when he wants to cry or needs a hug?

Maybe there's a reason I feel so alone. Maybe in that... I'm not.

Friday, January 25, 2008

orthomom returns with an excellent post...

orthomom: Freakonomics on Shemita and the Law of Unintended Consequences

After you read that, I have some questions and ideas. Ruminations and vague thoughts.

The Torah is nowhere near as strict as the corpus of Jewish law afterwards collectively known as halacha when it comes to chametz. Back when the original negative mitzvah was handed down, everyone pretty much made their own bread. Later on, not so much. Why such interest in making it more strict to include things that no sane Jew would ever try to eat? To keep the same sense of importance and urgency as in millennia past?

Maybe only the actually sane edible chametz could be destroyed and the inedible chametz containing products could be escrowed with righteous Gentiles instead during Pesach and bought back afterwards for a nominal fee? Maybe someone could find self-storage operators who were fitting and acceptable, and get them to have a Pesach Escrow Service. Just an idea.

AM gives this comment:

heter mechira was instituted in the late 1800s because it was considered pikuach nefesh. The farmers would starve without it, and that's why R Yitzchok ELchanan Spektor (the godol hador at the time) agreed to it as a necesarry measure. I think the original stipulation was that the fields would be sold and worked by non-jews.
The main objection to heter mechira was related to "Lo Tachenem" a prohibition in the Torah against selling land in Eretz Yisrael to non-jews. Those opposed felt that by selling you would violate a Torah prohibition to remedy a rabbinic prohibition. (Most poskim hold that shmitta today is d'rabannan)
With regard to chutz la'aretz, it was never pikuach nefesh, so perhaps the heter would not apply.
I heard R' Herschel Schachter say that Rav Soloveitchik instrutced Rabbi Genack and the OU not to rely on heter mechira for this reason.
I think most Kashrus agencies follow the smae reasoning.

I agree with this largely, but am I agreeing because I wish for a more lenient outcome, because I believe G-d to be generally lenient and not intending for us to create perverse incentives and unintended consequences despite free will to do so? I wonder to myself.

Perhaps the more important rule of not selling Israeli land to non-Jews would then imply that Israel needs a nearby but trustworthy and low-cost source of imports. Perhaps hydroponics on converted cargo freighters, registered to somewhere other than Israel by non-Jews and docked in Israeli waters? So they would be within Israeli security and control, but not actually Israeli land and thus not running afoul of the injunction.


Monday, January 21, 2008

My reply to: Rabbi without a cause: Poland's Jewish Cultural Festival

Rabbi without a cause: Poland's Jewish Cultural Festival

People do horrible things under the pressure of fear of dying, under the fear of displacement, fear fear fear... Even the seeming most evil people do things on automatic pilot without much thought like fleeing death at their heels through a hotel, hall to hall to stair to hall to room to room. Slaloming this way and that hurtling forward through events knocking others this way and that in a cascade failure.

No one pebble thinks it is the avalanche and no one drop of rain thinks it makes the flood. It just happens that way.

There's a lot of people dead now, gone and there's a lot of living people who didn't do those things of decades past. People who were just children when the Nazis were removed from the world. I don't hold the sons or daughters of those who wrong me to account for the sins of their parents and won't now.

I get the feeling there's plenty of Poles today whose ancestry two or three generations back, maybe more, was Jewish and under the fear of ostracism from the greater whole of Polish society or pogroms and death , whatever drives people to throw away their religion, and maybe we should leave the door open to people healing, some returning.

If we don't have the capacity to forgive, we don't have the capacity to heal. We don't heal, then the evil wins. And we take up the mantle of those who wronged us, and we wrong ourselves and generations undreamt of.

I see sheepish half-hearted attempts at making pain go away, pain people don't know what to do with. The sons and daughters of those who wrong me aren't their parents and I won't hold to blaming them for what someone else did. Nor will I keep on the argument that wasn't and the fight that didn't. It was never the point, not for the parents, not for the grandchildren, not for anyone.

Evil is more in the absence of us and between us in the empty places we define by where we're not for our fears and anger. I won't let that be.

That ain't stopped others though the the war that isn't keeps on going. It's time to steal the thunder from the darkness and let it lay. Let those who didn't cause it and would gladly die to make the past different cry out their sorrows on our shoulders and clap hands to their backs and get ourselves back together with our neighbors. It's long past time to close the gap where evil lives and give it no place at all.

I've wronged others myself and in the moment didn't know what I was doing and for the lack of sense of it after when I finally knew, I've hurt. Hurt as bad as any I've hurt. That's the price of doing wrong by others. When your conscience is awake and you know, you will hurt. The Germans, the Poles, they're hurting. Many many many of them are hurting over a pain they didn't inflict on people who aren't alive to scream out and can't make it get out of their heads.

We feel free to represent and speak for the dead every other time and issue, but when it comes to forgiving, never.

That needs to change. People not born, not responsible partaking adults when the crimes happened need to be forgiven by we who weren't born, not responsible partaking adults either. We need to stop hurting. All of us. We're holding people responsible who weren't for the deaths of those they never met, knew or could have.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Shabbat or Vote? A couple thoughts...

Caucus deals Shabbat blow to Vegas rabbi | Jerusalem Post

The Nevada caucuses to determine the presidential nominee for Democrats and Republicans had been scheduled for January 19, this Saturday.

I have a couple thoughts about this...

  • If it is an important contribution to be made to the community, family, continued subsistence... then you have to decide if for you it rises to the level of being important enough to set Shabbat aside.  For instance, I converted AFTER having accepted a job wherein I agreed at the outset to work any hours given. That means Friday and Saturday are on the menu. The essence of Judaism for me is to recognize ethics and morals as actually existing and mattering and to attempt to live in accord with that recognition. I gave my word. I will work as I agreed until I can create a new agreement which is freely accepted by all parties.
  • Las Vegas is a "twenty-four seven" city like New York and more than New York is predicated on an irreligious secular basis where the calendar is nothing more than a way of arranging our events ongoing. The only reason Sunday isn't chosen is because the majority of the nation are ostensibly one variety of Christian or another. Had the history of Christianity been a little different, it might have been Judaism that was in the majority but that's not what happened. We work around that and maintain our faith that sets us apart as well as the ties that bind us to our fellow countrymen.

Besides all that, major league football is played on Sunday and the betting businesses in Las Vegas thrive on that at this time of year. Football knows no observance of anything but football.

This quote is exactly correct:

"In Las Vegas, every day is a workday. Every day is also going to have some significance. So Saturday was the day when the least number of people went to work, so we could encourage participation," said party spokesman Jamal Simmons.


Steve Wark, the communications director for the Nevada Republican caucus, also expressed regret that certain voters would be excluded from the process, pointing out that Seventh-Day Adventists and residents who couldn't be in town - including overseas servicemen - would also not be able to participate.

The realities of the world are that we must always face some sort of hardship in observing spiritual matters versus secular physical matters. While over thousands of years Jews have gotten very good at working the outer world into the inner world, sometimes things don't go the way we want. We then have to do away with the CNC Spirituality and use our hearts and minds to weigh various ideas and options ourselves. Then again, G-d must have made us able to do so for a reason. Maybe so important a thing is why.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Ethnic, religious, national...

Palestinians Who Prefer Israel - article by Daniel Pipes

I am of various ethnic backgrounds. Italian, Irish, Polish, and many others.

I was born to Christianity and am now a Jew by choice.

I am an American.

Maybe there are more Palestinians who are cognizant of the differences between those things than the press likes to tell us. Palestinian by ethnicity, Muslim (or Christian or Druse or other) by religion, Israeli by nationality?

Like I said, on a purely secular, realistic, and functional basis, I favor a one state solution. Not a religious state like Saudi Arabia has become, not a Jewish state, but a state that is inherently safe and sound for Jews.  Better a single state where no matter what the religion of the citizens, they are as one under that nationality much as we Americans are when the chips truly fall, where Jews can know their neighbors rise and fall with them and have that inherent interdependent relationship.

Please oh please G-d let this sanity be infectious. We're getting down to a dangerous time on this planet and a glorious future sits perched on a sharp precipice of our own making.

Does it matter if Barack Obama was a Muslim, practicing or not?

Daniel Pipes seems to think so...

All this matters, for if Obama once was a Muslim, he is now what Islamic law calls a murtadd (apostate), an ex-Muslim converted to another religion who must be executed. Were he elected president of the United States, this status, clearly, would have large potential implications for his relationship with the Muslim world.

...but I don't.

In fact, I cannot see this as an issue other than as perhaps the radicals like Al Queda might see him as an even more legitimate target than they already see our president, and perhaps that Saudi Arabia and Iran might be put in a tight theological spot in being forced to deal with an elected leader who under their (allegedly) literalist interpretation is a heretic.

However, that very thing would probably work in our favor by forcing the point into sharp relief, that extremist orthodoxy in religion does not mix with intra- and inter- national governance.

Personally, I am not voting for Obama, but it is strictly because of his politics and the party he is representing that is trying to put a new and more conservative face on an infrastructure that remains unchanged from the previously revealed hyperdelusional leftism we saw with the Dean campaign. It's like putting a new paint job on a wreck and thinking that is enough. It's a pretty wreck, but the Democratic Party is still a wreck nonetheless.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Not sure what is going on when a Ghandi writes things like this...

Gandhi's grandson blasts Israel, Jews | Jerusalem Post


"Apparently, in the modern world, so determined to live by the bomb, this is an alien concept," he wrote, concluding: "You don't befriend anyone, you dominate them. We have created a culture of violence (Israel and the Jews are the biggest players) and that culture of violence is eventually going to destroy humanity."

Later on this clarification/retraction/ass covering...

"I am writing to correct some regrettable misimpressions I have given in my comments on my blog this week. While I stand behind my criticisms of the use of violence by recent Israeli governments - and I have criticized the governments of the US, India and China in much the same way - I want to correct statements that I made with insufficient care, and that have inflicted unnecessary hurt and caused anger," he wrote.

I think part of the problem is that Ghandi and company don't understand the situation which goes back well over a thousand years. How can they? Modern Israelis and Jews at large have precious little understanding themselves, but they're closer to the problem and more in a position to feel their way through. It's sort of like my own town. We haven't got a clue how to fix our town, but we still have more relevance than the state much less federal government.

One parallel however is that the modern state of Israel has whether they like it or not become as occupational a government as the apartheid government of South Africa was, even though they were all native to that land as much as those who were oppressed. It matters not at all that the Israeli people have a long-standing claim to the land predating the Arab peoples there now, but you could also say that the Italians via their Roman predecessors have a claim as well. They were also occupiers too even if they were there long enough for citizens of the empire to be born, raised, and serve there. It didn't matter. The fact is, you have a government making a claim to rightful dominion and a very large number of governed people in opposition.

Some might wonder what my view are of the whole place and the solutions. I'll tell you.

First, I am for a one state solution with a constitution protecting the freedom of religious practices of all who live there within reason of doing no harm. Human sacrifice for instance would be right out. I am inherently against religious states be they Islamic, Christian, Jewish, etc. It is not a matter of the dominant religious affiliation of the citizenry. Anyone can by simple choice separate their religious beliefs from their secular beliefs. I see people do it without even trying every single day in the USA. We're not some strange mutant variety of people here. If we can do it, any humans can.

Second, while I believe on a religious basis in the right of Israel to exist, I am more concerned with the rights of collectives* in most cases needing to be earned. Otherwise they are privileges at best, and onerous burdens to the rest of the planet's population at worst. Does Israel deserve another chance at existing? I believe that the answer is most surely yes. No one else who has governed the area has done very much with it if anything, treating it as an afterthought on a day to day basis while holding on to it for dear life at the cost of much bloodshed in the name of religion. Vatican City for instance is ornate and well taken care of. Jerusalem under it's emissaries never was. Mecca is well maintained by Muslims. Jerusalem under them never was.

Who has bothered to install proper water, sewer, gas, and electrical infrastructure? Who has bothered to put in multilingual schools? Who has bothered to build an economic system with international ties of long term and deep substance? You know that answer and it wasn't Great Britain, Turkey, Egypt, etc.

I therefore would leave the current Israeli system largely intact, but with a reformed constitution and system to absorb and embrace the Muslims, Christians, and others. Some will say that Jews exclusively by prophecy have a right to the land, but G-d has put to us that charity, piety, love, and compassion are important to Him. How can we deny anyone their home, which they under various rulers have lived in for centuries, and say we cannot be denied a home? G-d so loved us that He gave us a whole world to our selves with no other intelligent creatures on it. He spoiled us by not making us right up front learn sharing with an entirely other intelligent race. Perhaps He believed we'd sooner or later learn to share amongst ourselves, but sadly we seem ill able to figure it out. Our ability to relate to others and have empathy for them seems running out and all of us taking inflexible positions.

Do I expect the Palestinians to go along with it? No. I only wish they'd see that as much as the returning Jews coming back from centuries in other places, everyone there has a right to live in peace. Nor do I expect Israel in reflexive defensive position to embrace the Palestinians either. Yet... If they do not all learn to get along soon, the rest of the world may involve itself to death.


*As opposed to the rights of individuals which I feel are far more important to us as religiously, I feel that G-d's first relation to us is personal and individual, not collective, when He allots for us to be in His universe

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

WordPress MultiUser test verdict: Fail

I've been tossing around in my head an idea for a Jewish blogger site that gathered multiple blogs together in a better community format.

My first attempt at studying the structures and software out there was to install XAMPP from Apache Friends on my machine and try WordPress MU on it. The bugs and problems were many but thanks to relatively good Google-Fu, I managed to fight my way to what I found to be a common problem of such things: blind spot in smtp linkage.

No plugin I could find would allow external SMTP server usage for it, all were apparently written for regular WP.

Also, it creates subdomain blogs as in user.domain.topdomain and has no system to properly tie them together that doesn't involve immense geekery and I spend enough time entering things of the sort, ip route, all day long. I don't want to have to master PHP programming on top of everything else I do to make something as simple as WP on Apache work.

So, fail. Big time fail, WP. On to phpBB version whatever.