Friday, April 29, 2005

Slivovitz -- nectar of HaShem

Good Shabbos Good Yuntiff! So why am I blogging? Why not? After all, did they blog when they built the Mishkan in the Midbar? So blogging is therefore a perfectly Shabbosdik activity. QED. End of discussion.

But to get to the point. Tonight my brain cells hve been assaulted by a good dose of of ethanol in the form of slivovitz, G-d's gift to k'lal yisra'el. Yes, the goyim in eastern Europe drink it too, but this plum distillate is the classic Pesach drink, which was introduced to me by my zayde of blessed memory (even though I called him "grandpa.") Grandpa always had a shot of the holy liquid right before we ate the afikomen. Alas, he passed to the olam haba before I came of legal drinking age, but my uncle accepted the task of serving me when I reached that milestone in my life. Now I return that favor by serving my uncle with a shot when he attends the seders that I host.

Once I started my own household, I was partial to the version produced by Carmel Mizarachi in the late 1980's. In fact, there was a time, on the last night of Hannukah, in about 1988 (or maybe it was '89), I took a bottle to a cabin in a National Park, where I spent the night with some friends in the immortal "brain fry," where we almost burnt down the cabin by lighting my Chanukkah menorah, but in the end it was a kiddush Hashem because my Gentile friends were very impressed with Chanukkah and with slivovitz. (There were other mind-altering substances present besides slivovitz, but I shall not talk of them at this time, except to say that after this experience one of my friends went "on the wagon" "cold turkey." But the "brain fry" did not result in any property damage or personal injury.)

Soon after that Yugoslavia became "the former Yugosalvia" and because of the trade embargo against Serbia, no slivovitz could be found anywhere. Even the Israeli stuff disappeared because (according to the guy at the liquor store) the Israelis had imported their plums from Serbia.

However, by '93 or '94, we began to see slivovitz available from Hungary and from the Czech Republic. At the dawn of the 21st century, after the former Yugoslavia has calmed down a bit, Croatian (Maraska) and Serbian (Navip) slivovitz are now available in the stores. There's even a US slivovitz fesitval complete with the results of a tasting competition.

As they say:

"What is Slivovitz? For you poor wretches who have never had the chance to taste slivovitz, it is pure plum brandy, carefully distilled from the finest plums and aged until the distiller knows it is ready to drink. Sipped, slammed, savored, or shot - Slivovitz will change your outlook on life just as it has for millions of fans for hundreds of years. Na zdravlje!"

This year, we’re working with the Makor-Steinhardt in Manhattan to host a Satellite Slivovitz Festival at the Makor near the 92nd Street Y.)

Anyway, I would say that slivovitz and other forms of ethanol are what is keeping this Conservative Apikoris "on the derech." During the week, I don't particularly care to drink, as I have to get up early in the morning and face a long commute. But on Shabbos and Yuntiff, there's nothing like an alcoholic buzz to make me feel good about HaShem and His creation. And we're talking "buzz" here, not fraternity-party wasted. I do try to get up on Saturday mrning and get to shul before they do the 'amidah.

Tonight, while I was preparing an exquisite Sbaoos/Yom Tove Kosher 'lePasach dinner, I decided to experiment with slivovitz cocktails. Last year, I invented the "Serbian Suicide," which consists of a shot of the alcohollic plum nectar mixed with Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray Tonic. For some reason, our local stores did not stock any Cel-Ray that was kosher for Passover this year. But they did have the Black Cherry and Cream sodas on hand. So this evening, while I was waithing for dinner to cook, I experimented. Slivovitz and black cherry soda is very, very good, the plum notes from the slivovitz complement the cherry flaor very well. Slivowitz and cream soda is also not bad, certainly better than a Serbian Suicide.

Well, that's all for now, I'm starting to fade, better have another shot of slivovitz, or maybe 'arak.

On the other hand, I', supposed to daven pesukei d;zimra tomorrow morning, maybe I shoukd just take a couple of tums and an advil and go to bed.

Good shabbos, good yom tov!

Thursday, April 28, 2005

The real reason for the slavery in Egypt -- Tzefo!

And who is Tzefo, you may ask?

This is what happens when you start reading "Yalkut Me'am Loez," a compendium of Midrash written by a Turkish Rabbi in the 1730's. I swear it must have been the inspiration for Louis Ginzberg's "Legends of the Jews," as it is done in more or less the same format, that of piecing together aggadot (legends) from various sources to generate a continuous and more or less coherent narrative.

Well, Tzefo is the grandson of Esau and the reason why Jewish tradition considers the Roman empire (and, by extension, Western Civilization) to be called "Edom."

Here's the story, as short as I can make it. For more details, see Ginzberg's version.
(FWIW, he spells the name of the main character as "Zepho.")

After Jacob's death, Joseph and his Brothers went to Hebron to bury their father, but gopt into a fight with Esau and his sones and grandsons who claimed prior rights to the place. (Sound familiar?) When the dust settled, Esau and a lot of other Edomites were dead, and Joseph captured Tzefo and brought him back to Egypt in chains.

After Joseph died, Tzefo (who had a big grudge against the Israelites and the Egyptians) managed to escape and joined up with a certain King Agnias of "Africa" (meaning north Africa, i.e., Carthage.) Tzefo was a sort of neocon of his day trying to provoke Angias/"Bush" to fight with Egypt in order to settle scores with Israel. Agnias was avoiding this, and after a lot of intrigue and war, Tzefo abandoned Angias and went to Kittim (Italy), where he eventually became king. He changed his name to janus and his son was named Latinus. Then Tzefo/Janus provoked Agnias into a war, and he wiped the Africans all over the map.

At this point, Tzefo called in his markers with the Edomite relatives and raised a huge army (certainly a larger one than as raised by Mr. Bush to invade Iraq.) This was opposed by a force of 300,000 Egyptians and 150 Israelites. But the Egyptians didn't trust the Israelites, as they thought that the Israelites, being related to the Edomites, might not be reliable allies. [This is a plot hole, if you ask me. The whole reaosn why Tzefo was attacking Egypt was to get the Israelites. If I were an Egyptian general, I'd certainly use the occasion to give the Israelites the honor of being shock troops.]

Before too long, the battle was not going well for Egypt, so they called in the Israelites, who (why is this not a surprise?) wiped the Edomites all over the map. But in the meanwhile, the Egyptians had all fled, leaving the Israelites alone to finish the job.

So the Israelites came back to camp rather pissed at the Egyptian soldiers who abandoned them on the battlefield, and so before you could say "Abu Ghraib" there were a lot of "accidental" "friendly fire" "collateral damage" type incidents, and a couple hundred Egyptian soliders needed some emergency mummification services.

And this was the start of the bad blood between the Egyptians and the Israelites. And given that 150 Israelites wiped out a humongous Edomite/Italian army, perhaps Pharaoh wasn't being totally irrational when he started fearing Israel.

Meanwhile, the Edomite Tzefo/Janus and his son Latinus went off and started the Roman Empire, and the rest, as they say is History. (of a sort.)

Not the usual sort of Bible story they teach in Hebrew School, but I think it would make a rally cool movie, a sword 'n' sandal epic to rival DeMille's Ten Commandments or Ben Hur. I would certainly entertain suggestions for casting.

Anyway, that's the story I told at the seder this year. The traditional story was getting so-o-o-o boring....

Monday, April 25, 2005

Hormones win again

..why can't our religious "leaders" accept that God granted us sexuality and stop trying to enslave us by stifling it?

Here's a little item from Ynet, passed on via Jack's Shack:

Sex and the city - the Orthodox version

Pub near Tel Aviv becomes a magnet for religious youngsters looking for some fun
By Haim Levinson

This is not the Israel I remember from my Zionist hachshara year in 1971.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

The new Pharaohs

Ah, it's that time of year agin, Pesach, when the Jews go collectivly nuts over their kitchens. Well, at least nuts are kosher for Passover...

Now, during my Conservative/Masorti BT days, I would get very annoyed at the PC liberals who would try to make Pesach into a festival of political liberation. It's obvious from the story that the story of the Exodus has nothing to do with freedom and liberation as we know it, rather, God (who allowed the Israelites to be enslaved in the first place), is using their liberation as a way to show the world who's boss. And, of course, the whole purpose of the Exodus for the Jews is to get them out of the "fleshpots of Egypt" and over to Sinai, where YHVH, that megalomanic deity, can enslave them with the Torah:

"For the Children Of Israel are my slaves, my slaves they are, whom I brought out of the Land of Egypt. I am the LORD your God."

-Leviticus 25:55

So there Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King!
(Of course, Jeff Davis, Robert E. Lee, Bull Connor, George Wallace et. l. were also wrong in thinking that they had the right to enslave people. Only God has that right.)

Well, fine, so God has the right to enslave us. But look! Since the time of the Talmus, who has arrogated themselves the role of speaking for God? Who are those who interpret the meaning of God's law? Yes, you guessed it.

The Rabbis.

The rabbis, who, as Mis-Nagid has pointed out, will twist and turn the Torah in any way that suits their purpose. With no accountability, no transparency, whether they are Hareidi "gedolim," or the humblest mara d'atra of a left-wing Conservative shul.

Yes, the rabbis, who enslave us with their halakhic commands, they are the new Pharohs.

chag sameach.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Goodwin's Law -- doesn't apply to modern Germany or Japan

I'm sitting in the Club Acela in the DC Union Station, being subjected to CNN Headline News when the following news story flashes across the screen.

Japan protection call over protests

BEIJING, China (CNN) -- Japan's ambassador has called on the Chinese government to take stronger measures to protect its citizens as thousands of protesters demand a boycott of Japanese products and shout anti-Japanese slogans.

The protests are aimed at Japan's bid to become a permanent U.N. Security Council member and have been made more emotional by Chinese objections to how Japanese school textbooks recount Japan's 20th century military campaigns

Apparently, the Japanese have never properly apologized for the atrocities committed by Tojo's government during the 1930's and 40's. Including the deaths of 4 million Chinese -- no wonder the Chinese are pissed!) This is in great contrast to the example of Germany, where there is a very strong effort (including cash reparations to Holocaust vicitims.) I guess there must be some cultural difference that allows modern Germans to acknowlede what their country committed (and, for that matter, allows Americans to acknowledge what they did to the Indian Nations), but somehow make it very difficult for official Japan to acknowledge the facts of history.

Anyway, it's curious that Goodwin's Law only applies to the German dictator. When was the last internet discussion brought to a screeching halt becuase someone was compared to Tojo.?

The wisdom of Omi-San

I have found thst there's often more truth to be found in works of fiction than what might be available in works that are supposed to be fact. Perhaps that's why I still haven't totally given up on the Bible, even if it is a pastiche of several different documents and has little support in the archeological eveidence for its main storyline.

In this post, we can see how a more recent work of popular fiction contains valuabkle nsights to the Arab-Israeli conflict. The work in question is Shogun, by James Clavell, published in 1975. This work is essentially a roman a clef about the life of Will Adams, the first Englishman to visit Japan.

We join the story at the point where Capatin John Blackthorne (Adams' alter ego) is totally at the mercy of the inscrubtable Omi-san, the samurai vassal of the sadistic Lord Yabu. The only other westerner is an evil Portugese Jesuit priest who would like nothing better than to turn the heretical Protestant Blackthorne over to the Inquisition for the usual treatment. Yabu and Omi hate the Catholics and the Portugese who they consider (proabably correctly) to be invaders, and they want to use these new "anti-Catholics" as pawns in their political s truggle. But they are disgusted at the "uncivilized" behavior of Blackthorne and his Dutch crew. Unfortunately for Blackthorne, he can only communicate with his Japanese captors through the services of the Portugese Jesuit:

Blackthorne: “What does he want me to do? What does it mean to’behave?’”

Jesuit: “Omi-san says it means to obey. To do what you are told. To eat dung, if need be.”

Blackthorne: “Tell Him to go to hell. Tell him I piss on him and his whole country – and his daimyo.”.

Jesuit “I recommend you agree to wh –“

Blackthorne “Tell him what I said, exactly, by God!”

Jesuit: “Very well, but I warn you, Pilot.”

Omi listened to the priest. The knuckles on his sword hand whitened. All his men shifted uneasily, their eyes knifing into Blackthorne.

Then Omi gave a quiet order.

Instantly, two samurai went down into the pit. And brought out Croocq the boy. They dragged him over to the cauldron, and trussed him while others brought firewood and water. They put the petrified boy into the brimming cauldron an ignited the wood.

. . .

Jesuit: “Omi san says lie down. Immediately.”

Blackthorne did as he was ordered.

Jesuit: “Omi-san says that he did not insult you personally, neither was there any cause for you to insult him. Because you are a barbarian and know not better yet, you will not be killed. But you will be taught manners. Do you understand?”

Blackthorne: “Yes.”

. ...

He [Blackthorne] saw Omi hitch up his kimono and ease his penis out of his loincloth. He had expected the man to piss him on his face. But Omi did not. He pissed on his back. By the Lord God, Blackthorne swore to himself, I will remember this day and somehow, somewhere, Omi will pay.

Jesuit: “Omi-san says it is bad manners to say you will piss on anyone. Very bad. It is bad manners and very stupid to say you will piss on anyone when you are unarmed. It is very bad manners and even more stupid to say you will piss on anyone when you are unarmed, powerless, and not prepared to let your friends, family or whomever to perish first."

-from Shogun, by James Clavell

This selection demonstrates the futility of blustering rhetoric as a way to force others to do what you want them to. Kind of like the Israeli ultra-nationalists who continue to build West Bank settlements and say "piss on the Goyim.." The only problem is that there are no more than 5.4 million Israeli Jews, but there are more than 6.4 billion goyim. The Israelis might be armed, but even with nukes, it's silly to offend the 6.4 billion goyim, especially when more than half of the Jews of the world live in the Diaspora, among the goyim. Unless, of course, these militant nationalists are so focused on their messianic aims that they're willing to let us galut Jews "perish first."

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

A ma'aseh for Pesach

This is the time of the year when it's time to start avoiding to think about Pesach cleaning. This task is so time-consuming that even the Chief Rabbis of israel are so busy that they can't attend the funeral of Pope John Paul II.

So, before you get up to haul your dishes into the basement and scrob everyhting, here's a little story:

It happed, back in the Middle Ages, that there was a poor Jewish couple eking out a precarious living keeping a stall in the market. Life was so hard for them as Jews that they decided to stop resisting the pressure of the gentile world, and converted to Christianity. Well, this radical move did nothing to make their lives better. The Jews now avoided doing business with them becuase they were apostates, and the Christians avoided them because they didn't trust the sincerity of their conversion. So, one day in the late winter, the man finally talks to his wife:

"You know, maybe we should go back to being Jewish."

His wife replied,

"That's fine, but let's wait until after Pesach."