Saturday, January 29, 2005

Parshat Yitro: On “outside” influence—if it was good enough for Moshe Rabbenu . . .

. . . why should it not be good enough for us? Yitro (Jethro), the father-in-law of Moshe Rabbenu (Moses our Teacher) was a priest of Midian, yet Moshe accepted his suggestion concerning the delegation of legal decision-making.

Gedolei Yisrael (Great Ones of Israel/the Jewish People), a group of Torah scholars, have recently banned the Torah-and-science books by Rabbi Nosson Slifkin on the grounds that they’re heretical, since they don’t accept a literal interpretation of the Torah’s description of G-d’s creation of the world. Maybe I’m missing something—which, given my limited Jewish education, would hardly be suprising—but is part of the problem that Slifkin actually pays attention to ideas of non-rabbinic, and even, chas v’chalilah (rough translation: heaven forbid), non-Jewish origin? Should we stop sending our children to medical school because the Hippocratic oath was written by a Greek pagan? Should we stop using computers because neither Bill Gates nor Steven Jobs is Jewish (to the best of my knowledge)? Will the Modern Orthodox cease to exist within the next 35 years, and the entire Orthodox community retreat back within the imaginary walls of self-created ghettos? Where does it end?

Where does it end? You might find an answer—and you probably won’t like it—here:

Sat., Jan. 29, 11:21 PM update: I just saw Paul Shaviv's Friday, January 28, 2005 post on the Slifkin controversy at, in which he says that " . . . our community is being dragged another step into witch-hunts, heresy-hunts, the persecution of individuals and massively powerful 'thought control'. " Does this give you the creeps, too, or is it just me?

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Morning madness--on davvenning Shacharit

Until I was well into my twenties, the only prayers that I knew in the original Hebrew were the ones that were said or sung aloud in my childhood and early-adulthood synagogues. Learning to davven (pray) in Hebrew (and/or Aramaic, depending on the prayer) has been my personal project for several decades, and my knowledge of the traditional siddur (prayerbook) has expanded greatly over the years. Of late, I’ve taken to davvenning the Shacharit (morning service) at home on Shabbat just to give myself time to say more prayers and to say them with kavvanah/intention/focus. I go to shul (synagogue) afterward to hear the k’riat haTorah (Torah reading) and davven Musaf (the “additional” service). But my latest grand experiment was a colossal disaster.

Last Shabbat, I decided to start the Birkot HaShachar (Morning Blessings section) at “al n’tilat yadayim,” davven everything except the Akedah (“Binding of Isaac”) and korbanot (Temple sacrifices) sections (not my thing), and davven the entire P’sukei D’Zimra (“Verses of Song,” a.k.a. Introductory Prayers). Are you sitting down, folks? By the time I got to the Matbéah shel Tefillah (the core of the service), yours truly, the world’s slowest Hebrew reader, had been davvenning for an entire hour!

Correct me if I’m wrong, but my understanding of the development of the siddur is that the rabbis of the Talmud required only the recitation of the Matbéah shel Tefillah, which consists, to the best of my knowledge, of the brachot (blessings) before the Sh’ma, the Sh’ma itself, the brachot after the Sh’ma, and the Amidah (prayer recited while standing). Even I can davven the entire Matbéah shel Tefillah in about 15 minutes! But how can anyone possibly davven all the prayers that have been added both before and after with any degree of kavannah when the only way to davven the entire morning service in a reasonable amount of time is to “speed-davven?” Does anyone but me see anything wrong with the fact that the preliminary prayers take four times as long as the essential prayers? How did we get from there to here? And is there any way to get back to “there?” Or is tefillah (prayer) like everything else in Jewish religious practice, ever expanding, never contracting, as with chumrot (extra-stringent observance of Jewish laws)? When and where will it end?

Update: For your entertainment and amusement, check out DovBear's Thursday, January 27, 2005 post, "WHY DAVENING IS LONG," at (Keep looking--it's his 13th post of the day, if I counted correctly. I hope he took time off to eat. :) )

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Ki miTzion tetze Torah . . .??!—Shooting ourselves in the collective foot: On banning books & exploiting employees

“For out of Zion will go forth the Torah …?”

I begin with the sad saga of the banning of Rabbi Nosson Slifkin’s books on science and Torah, which has been all over the Jewish blogosphere. Since everyone else has already said everything that there is to say, and said it a lot more eloquently than I could, I’ll link you to some good posts on the subject:
“BANNED!!!,” at;
“R. Slifkin defends himself,” and “Kefira [atheism]-last word of the day(from me),” two Thursday, January 13 posts at;
Slifkin Ban Spurs Innovation!,” (for your amusement, at at;
“The Rise of Fundamentalism,” at and “Issues of the Slifkin Controversy,” at;
“The ban, the halachic process, and haredi posekim,” at;
the Monday, 17 January 2005 post “Defining the Borders of the Traditional Community: Slifkingate, Ideology and the Guys on Cellphones on the Steps of Mir Yeshiva,” at ;
and the Thursday, January 20 post, “Ignoring Reality,” at

To read what the banned author himself has to say, go to his website,

For the believers among my readers, I think the last word on the Slifkin controversy goes to the Out of Step in Kfar Saba at “too many RZ's [Religious Zionists?] (especially the rabbis)in Israel haven't a clue as to what science or the scientific method is. they don't realize that if the Torah is true - then by definition it cannot contradict scientific fact ...”

“ . . . u’d’var HaShem miYerushalayim?”/and the word of the L-rd from Jerusalem?”

Thanks to Miriam Shaviv of for bringing this to my attention:

And this is how the State of Israel encourages aliyah from North America??!

Update, also from Miriam Shaviv of
Tuesday, January 25, 2005
Still no sign of any Sabras caring....
Rabbi Michael Melchior, Israel's deputy Education Minister, has vowed to overturn by the end of the month (!) the ministry's policy of not recognizing undergraduate diplomas issued by U.S. universities that accept a year of yeshiva study in Israel as degree credits.Not that he's done it yet -- but of-course it took an immigrant to feel strongly about this injustice and take up the case.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Jewish blogging—a learning experience

Thanks to all those who’ve tried to help me improve my non-existent tech skills. With your help, I’ve managed to get a “hit counter” (from and to get myself included—finally!—in the Jewish Bloggers Webring ( I haven’t yet gotten around to setting up a blogroll or figuring out how to create hyperlinks in a fancier manner than just by pasting the whole URL into my post, but I may yet take the instructions I’ve been given and get there, eventually. For the moment, I’m too busy reading everyone else’s blogs to do anything more technically elaborate with my own.

Thanks, also, to all those who’ve encouraged me to dust off the old pocket Ben-Yehuda and look things up. First, there was my embarrassing misunderstanding—it took me several weeks of trying to figure out where on earth ‘s Adam Ragil got such an unusual name to realize that it wasn’t a name at all. Ragil—hmm—“usual, normal, habitual.” Oh. Adam Ragil: Normal Person, “Regular Guy,” “Everyman.”

Next on the list was “haskafa.” Fortunately, one of my sometime co-workers is a Modern Orthodox woman open-minded enough not to give me the fish-eyed stare every time I ask a dumb question. “Approach, viewpoint.” Thanks.

And now for a confession: It’s not only because we disagree 90% of the time that I never post a comment on “Simcha”/Rabbi Gil Student’s It’s also because an am ha-aretz/Jewish illiterate like me who barely reads Hebrew well enough to davven/pray has nothing to contribute—once Rabbi Student and his commenters start quoting Mishna and Gemara, I might as well pack my bags and go home. Nevertheless, his website is a good information source, even if I ain’t buyin’. (Sorry, Charlie, but the skin on my knuckles is already painfully cracked from the winter weather, as it is every winter, and no amount of halachic reasoning is going to persuade me to go outdoors without gloves every Shabbat just to avoid accidentally carrying the gloves in public.)

At the moment, however, I offer Rabbi Student my thanks for taking it upon himself to have his own publishing company assume the role of publishing the recently-banned science-and-Torah books by Rabbi Nosson Slifkin. This brings me to my word of the week, “kofer” (spelled with a kaf, not a koof). Say what???!!!! The Gedolei Yisroel, rabbinic scholars and leaders of the charedi/fervently Orthodox, are calling fellow charedi Rabbi Slifkin an atheist???!!!!!!!!!

Monday, January 17, 2005

“It Ain’t Necessarily So”

I’m not sure which of the Gershwin brothers (George or Ira) penned that particular lyric, but it seems appropriate for the occasion: One of my more tech-savvy correspondents has informed me that something about my e-mail tips people off as to my location. Well, close, but not quite—I do not live in that neighborhood of that city. In point of fact, not only do I not live in a frum/Orthodox neighborhood, I don’t even live in a Jewish one: The last kosher butcher left almost two decades ago, and the few remaining synagogues are barely hanging on. So there, snoops. :)

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Priorities versus Prejudice

Zman Biur, of, said of my recent disagreement with my rabbi, “Shira Salamone is in shock that a rabbi might argue against aiding the tsunami victims. From her brief description of his words, it sounds to me that he argued that we are not required to contribute to their aid, not that it would be wrong to do so. Regardless, it's not a matter of being "against giving tzedakah." It's a question of priorities and degrees of responsibility. Tzedakah funds come from a limited pool. As individuals and as a community, we have to decide how best to allocate them.”

Zman Biur is, at least, arguing a question of priorities. My rabbi, on the other hand, is arguing from prejudice. Perhaps I wasn't clear about my rabbi's logic. His problem with giving tzedakah to aid the tzunami victims was not *only* that Jews have priority and that, in any case, the U.S. government was using our tax money to do the job, but *also* that we shouldn't help the tsunami victims because their governments are anti-Zionist. Not having had the benefit of a day school education, I’ll need the help of some of my better-educated friends to cite the parsha, chapter, and verse: Doesn’t the Torah state that, if a beast of burden falls, we are obligated to help it get up, even if it belongs to our enemy? What do politics have to do with a toddler who’s dying of thirst for lack of safe drinking water? It’s exactly this kind of intolerant attitude that’s driving our son away from Judaism.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Two Jews, three opinions—“Stiff-necked” is an understatement

I didn’t get a single nomination for the Jewish/Israeli Blog awards. :(

Mumble, mumble, kvetch and grumble
Stumble, pride , and ego crumble

Oh, well, there are always next year’s JIB awards.

Ego aside, I would be remiss in my responsibility as a member in good standing of the Jewish blogosphere if I didn’t refer you, forthwith, to, sponsor of the JIB awards, if for no other reason than that the links to the nominated blogs help let me off the hook for not knowing how to set up my own blogroll. Some pretty interesting blogs have been nominated.

On the other hand, as in the old jokes about two Jews having three opinions and every Jew having two synagogues, namely, his/hers and the one he/she won’t set foot in, I did encounter in some of the linked blogs some ideas that didn’t sit too well with me. For example, one blogger proposed making the Internet safe for the Orthodox not only by making filtered Internet Service Providers (ISPs) more readily available, but also by creating an electronic reporting system to report “web sites visited by each user and perhaps e-mail addresses for a spot check review by a reliable and close mouthed individual or committee chosen by of the respective Rav of each community. If something inappropriate is found, the Rav can then decide how to approach the issue in a dignified manner.” Hasn’t this guy ever read 1984? The “Big Brother is Watching You” approach to the Internet advocated at gives me the creeps.

Speaking of ideas that don’t sit well with me, my rabbi got me really upset this past Shabbat by suggesting that, since, according to his interpretation of halachah, Jews should come first when we give charity, and since the U.S. government is already providing millions in aid, it’s not really necessary for us to contribute to funds aiding the tsunami victims. Apparently, I’m naïve and lacking experience in the ways of the Orthodox rabbinate—this is the first time in my life that I’ve ever heard any rabbi come out against giving tzedakah. (For further comment on this issue, I strongly recommend that you visit, and don’t forget to read the comments.) What makes this even worse is that some of the congregants agree with him. Frankly, I’m in shock.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

“Meteorological Judaism,” or Reward and Punishment: What did *anyone* do to deserve a tsunami?

Coming out of the closet as a science fiction fan, I’d like to share this quote (from the third-season episode “A Late Delivery from Avalon”) from the 1990’s series Babylon 5 (chief writer J. Michael Straczynski), spoken by Ranger Marcus Cole to Babylon 5 space station’s chief physician, Dr. Stephen Franklin: “You know, I used to think it was awful that life was so unfair. Then I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be much worse if life were fair, and all the terrible things that happen to us come because we actually deserve them?’ So now I take great comfort in the general hostility and unfairness of the universe.”

Much as I hate to upset the Orthodox visitors to my blog, I’ve always had a great deal of difficulty in accepting the literal meaning of the second paragraph of the Sh’ma, which the founder of the Jewish Reconstructionist Movement, Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan, described as “meteorological Judaism.” Here’s my version of an ArtScroll siddur’s/prayerbook’s translation: “And it will be that if you continually hear [hearken to, obey?] My commandments that I command you today, to love HaShem your G-d and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul, that I will provide rain for your land in its time, the early [Birnbaum siddur’s translation—autumn] and the late [Birnbaum—spring] rains, and you will gather in your gain, your wine, and your oil. And I will give grass in your field for your cattle and you will eat and be satisfied. Beware [guard yourself?], lest your heart be seduced and you turn aside and serve other gods and bow down to them. And the wrath of HaShem will blaze against you, and He will restrain the heaven, and there will not be rain, and the land will not give its produce. And you will swiftly be banished [Birnbaum: “and you will quickly perish”] from the good land that HaShem gives you.” Sorry, but I simply don’t buy it. My sins affect me and those around me, but what difference do they make to an indifferent natural world? Will the rain not come in its season simply because I eat broiled salmon in a non-kosher restaurant, or because I ride to synagogue on Shabbat? What does anything that anyone does, or doesn’t do, have to do with an earthquake causing a tsunami that kills over 120,000 people?

I may be an egalitarian Conservative in terms of ritual, but disasters such as last Sunday’s tsunami bring out the theological Reconstructionist in me. Zocher chasdé avot (v’imahot)? We should be the ones to remember the kindnesses of our ancestors—and to follow in their footsteps. Soméch noflim v’rofé cholim? Let us be the ones to raise the fallen and heal the sick. Unfortunately, there are plenty of fallen and sick at the moment. Pikuach nefesh (roughly translated, saving lives) is a mitzvah/commandment. Even a donation of chai ($18) could help save lives by paying for a few jugs of safe drinking water. The sooner you donate, the more lives may be saved. Same pitch as last time: Those wishing to donate through Jewish organizations can contact the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee ("The Joint") at or the American Jewish World Service at, among others.
<< List
Jewish Bloggers
Join >>