Monday, June 27, 2005

Conservative Apikorus on the Parsha: Shelach Lecha

OK, so I'm a couple of days late. So sue me.

What I'm going to talk about is not the parsha, but rather the haftara. In fact, this fine haftara was what I read for my bar-mitzvah. When I received my little bar mitzvah book with the haftara, I was puzzled at the word "zonah." So I looked it up, and found out that it meant "harlot." OK, so I was a pretty naive 12 year old, I needed to look up the word "harlot" in Webster's.

Well this caused me my first crisis of faith. (No, not my first, that was when I asked my parents why they didn't serve bacon, but ate lobster when we visited Maine.) What's going on here? The spies had been traveling in the midbar for 40 (well maybe less, but still at least 20, I would say) years, having the presence of Hashem as a reminder to them at all times about the miztvos. And what happens when they get a chance to visit a goyische city? The first thing they do is go visit a cathouse! What kind of erlicher frum yidden are these?

So I took my misgivings to "Captain Von Trupp," my Bar Mitzva teacher. He wasn't much help, he gave me a lot of evasive answers, but finally, (after seeing the first draft of my bar-mitzvah speech where I raised the issue), the rabbi agreed to to talk to me. The rabbi wasn't much help, he gave me a lot of jive about how the word "zonah" meant "caterer."

I bought it at the time (and fortunately didn't call the rebbetzin, who was the shul caterer and prepared a very nice luncheon for us, a "zonah.") But thinking back on it, the rabbi's answer was a crock.

First, I dare anyone here to go to Israel, arrange for a catered meal, and then call the caterer a "zonah." That said, you do so at your own risk, and I will not pay any resulting emergency room bills.

Second, if Rachav the Zonah was a caterer, I find it hard to believe that she was a kosher caterer. She was a Canaanite pagan who lived in Jericho, after all. Which means that even if the spies weren't out shtupping and engaging in all sorts of lewdness, then they were eating treif food!

Therefore I can come to only one conclusion. What the Torah text here teaches us is that, if one is on a mission of vital importance to the Jewish people, then one is permitted to either eat treif food, patronize houses of prostitution, or both.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

If Rabbi Daniel Lapin lived 100 years ago


Toward Tradition: Own Own Worst Enemy

I am an Orthodox Jewish rabbi sadly denouncing one of the most popular books of 1904. What has earned my wrath? Here is a clue— "Mark Twain." No, I'm not talking about Mr. Twain's essays regarding the alleged Belgian atrocities in the Congo. The book causing me deep distress was written by a self-hating Jewish shtetl resident who is styled as the "Jewish Mark Twain."

I am reluctant to name the book on account of the implied vulgarity of it's main character. (What kind of name is "Tevye" anyway?) If you are reluctant to part with good money for the privilege of seeing the Jewish people being defamed, you should not buy this book. In spite of being written in Yiddish and having a "Jewish" author who has the temerity to give himself a Hebrew pen name, "Shalom Aleichem," this books’s vile notions of Jews are not too different from those used by Czarist propagandists

I take especial execption to the short story entitled "Chanukah Gelt." In this story, practically every Jewish family depicted is a traditional two-parent, Orthodox, and has a wife who is a full-time homemaker. So far, so good, this is what chazal says that God wants from us. But Mr. Aleichem slanders such families by depicting every single one of them is totally and irredemably dysfunctional and neurotic.

Doesn't Mr. Aleichem realize that 100 years from now, Rabbi Perry Raphael Rank will urge the Jewish people to follow the example of their "great bubbes and zaydes" and return to the lifestyle of the shtetl? Why would they want to do that after reading one of Mr. Aleichem's books? Doesn't Mr. Aleichem realize that 101 years from now, Ms. Toby Katz, a devout rebbitzin, will demonstrate that the "traditional " lifestyle of the shtetl with full-time homemaker moms is the only way to preserve the Jewish people? How will these rightoeus efforts come to anything if the Jewish people believ in the slnaders propagated by Mr. Aleichem?

Jews in the next century will read Mr. Aleichem's work and realize that Rabbi Rank and Ms. Katz are full of ... well, they will not follow their advice, and they will continue to be secularist Reform and Conservatives, and most of them will probably vote for liberal Democrats, G-d forbid.

Mr. Aleichem should realize the error of his ways. The entire future of the Jewish people is in his hands. He should refrain from writing untill the Artscroll press is founded, and then make sure his work is edited by a God-fearing right-wing Orthodox rabbi.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Thank you Ms. Katz!

The concept of "Conservative Apikorus" is, of course, something of a joke. I'm not sure that Ms. Toby Katz, "Live Frei, or Die!" Special Commentator, quite understands that, but she has really helped me shape what I am trying to say. Of course that wasn't her intent, I think she just wanted to score cheap debating points.

But I acknowlege any help I get from whatever the source.

Here is my response to her comment on my last post:

Ms. Katz:

I was joking about how hard it is for a Conservative to be an apikorus. Of course Conservative Judaism has standards. They happen to be more reasonable standards than those of the Orthodox.

Our main problem is that too many of our rabbis (like Rabbi Rank, the president of the RA) see us as a sort of "Orthodox Lite." Most of us laity are "religious secularists," we don't believe in a personal God, and we believe that the mitzvot are for our benefit, not God's. I am in opposition to Rabbis like Rabbi Rank, and I think that Conservative rabbis need to come to terms with religious secularism. Unfortunately, most of the rabbis willing to do so are radical feminists who are more interested in the feminist agenda than in leading a community of religious secularists.

Thus, I am alienated from a lot of what's going on in the Conservative movement. The halachic side, which attracts me, because I find value in Jewish ritual, is dominated by the "Orthodox Lite. " The other side is dominated by PC identity politics. Leaders (rabbinic and lay) on both sides are more interested in their ideology and career goals than in the needs of actual Conservative Jews, and I've seen them ride roughshod over people. I complain, but I might as well be pissing into the wind. So what else is there to do, but become a Conservative Apikorus?

Ms. Katz, it's apparent that you find the UO version of halacha meets your needs very well. That's fine. Kol HaKavod lach! But not for me. I refuse to suspend my belief in reality. I know that the UO halacha is not the one and only Word of God, becuase no halacha is the Word of God. It's only our best approximation of what we think God wants.

By the way, don't you have better things to do with your time than engage in fruitless debates with an obscure anonymous blogger?

Shabbat Shalom,


Oy, Toby Katz, our new "Live Frei, or Die!" commentator

Ms. Katz has decided to become a regular comentator here at "Live Frei, or Die!" I'll be curious to see whether she includes this gig on her resume.

Her comments were actually very helpful, and helped me understand what it is that drove me to respond so forcefully:

TK: There is only one way you can become an apikores in the Conservative Movement. Accept Jesus into your heart.

CA: Excuse me. This is my blog. Only Conservative Jews are allowed to criticize Conservative Judaism on this blog.

And aren't you the Toby Katz who says we Jews are supposed to ally ourselves with the Christian Fundies?

CA: Her comment was a gratuitous and innacurate slap at Conservative Judaism.

TK: Actually it was both witty and accurate. You know very well that the Conservative movement will kick you out if you confess that you believe in Jesus. And you also know that there is absolutely nothing else you can do that will get you kicked out.

CA: I stand by my statements. You are incorrect.

First, on the issue of believing in Jesus, there is no difference in the rules between Orthodox and Conservative Judaism. A Jew who believes in Jesus is still a Jew.

As far as the limits of Conservative Judaism, I am not a Conservative rabbi, but I know that a rabbi can be expelled from the Rabbinical Assembly for officiating at mixed marriages. That is, obviously, not "believing in Jesus." So there is at least one example that proves your statement, "there is absolutely nothing else you can do that will get you kicked out." is wrong.

You appear to be totally ignorant of Conservative Judaism. I, on the other hand, while not a talmid chacham, do know quite a bit about the orthodox community, mostly because they are my neighbors, and I occasionally attend Orthodox services. I certainly know more about Orthodoxy than you know about liberal Judaism.

And what's interesting is that while I do believe that Orthodox Judaism (esepcially any version that holds by da'as Torah) is probably a cult, this doesn't mean that I hold that individual Orthodox Jews are bad people. You, on the other hand, demonize the "liberals" as the source of all the problems in our society. In other words, I may insult what I believe to be shortsighted and foolish Jewish ideologies, you insult your fellow Jews.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

The scene I wished that Cecil B Demille would have included

Moses is up on Sinai receiving the entire Torah. Thunder and lightning, clouds, a pillar a fire and a pillar of smoke. The mountain, held like a beer keg, over the heads to the Israelites as an "inducement" for them to accept the Torah.

God: Thou Shalt NOT boil a kid in it's mother's milk!!

Moses: Huh? Does that mean that we shouldn't eat milk and meat together, cook milk and meat together, or even benefit from such combinations?

God: Thou Shalt NOT boil a kid in it's mother's milk!!

Moses: Does that mean that we should have 2 sets of dishes, one for milk and one for meat?

God: Thou Shalt NOT boil a kid in it's mother's milk!!

Moses: Does that mean that if we get some meat on a ceramic dairy dish, we have to break the dish, but if meat gets on dairy silverware we can boil it?

God (getting a little impatient): Thou Shalt NOT boil a kid in it's mother's milk!!

Moses: Does that mean that, if we eat a dairy meal, we can rinse our mouths out and eat meat, but if we eat a meat meal we have to wait 6 hours (an hour and a half if we're Dutch) before we eat dairy?

God (blowing a gasket) : OK, have it YOUR way!!!!

Sunday, June 19, 2005

More of my take on the Schiavo case and right to lifers

Another of my comments at Dov Bear, reproduced here for your reading pleasure:

I have come to the opinion that this issue [the Schiavo case] is a sideshow for these right-wing bible-thumpers. What really is important for them is banning abortion, and they advocate that on the basis that even a 2-cell embryo is "human life." In order to be consistent, they are also getting involved with keeping animated corpses functioning. But the real issue is abortion.

And why abortion? Becuase it's part of the the suite of technological advances that make sexual activity consequence-free. The religious right has been spectaculalry unsuccessful in convincing most people to obey their overly strict interpreation of the "Judeo-Christian" code of sexual behavior, and so they want to do what they can to make the consequences of sexual activity negative enough so that maybe people will keep their pants zipped up.

This is immoral because it forces their code of behavior on other people who don't believe in their religion. It would be sort of like if the State of Israel banned refrigerated storage in stores that sold pork, just to discourage Jews from buying the tasty, but forbidden meat.

And don't think that the religious right is only targeting sexual behavior outside of marriage. Banning abortion (and also restricting access to birth control) affects married couples, too. No longer is sex simply fun. In fact, as far as I can see, the religious right (including the Jews) is opposed to the very concept of "fun." No, that if a man sticks hs you-know-what into a woman's you-know-what, then a baby should result. As if we don't have enough babies in the world.

The relgious leaders don't want you to have "fun" outside the bounds of organized religious activities, becuase they want you to be constantly thinking about God, or more properly, what the religious teachers say about God. They are like cult leader who want to keep you from being distracted by enjoyable things so that you can focus on obeying the cult leaders and giving them money.

This is all about power. We need to disregard these evil cultmeisters and make for ourselves a religious life in which each of us is sovereign before God, and the charlatan priests, rabbis, ministers,gurus, imans, etc. can all end up like Yertle the Turtle, king of the mud, disregarded by people who are truly spiritual.

Friday, June 17, 2005

The Schiavo case and my recent loss

Here is a copy of a comment I made over at Dov Bear, brought over here for archival purposes:

First, I extremely dislike this insistence on calling Ms. Schiavio "Terri" by people who have never even met her. It's terribly disrespectful. I am leaving instructions that upon my death, I shall be referred to as "Mr. Apikorus" by all except close family and friends when talking amongst themselves. If the rabbi gets up and does a hesped and calls me "Conservative" (my first name), I will send my ghost down from shamyim and haunt him as a dybbuk for his impertinence.

As for insisting on heroic medical measures if there's any "hope," let me tell you all that I lost a very close family member last month. This person had been fighting cancer for a year. About a week before the death, I accompanied this family member to a medical appointment, where the doctor more or less told us that the chemotherapy wasn't working, and he more or less took the patient off the chemo and prescribed some additional painkillers and some other stuff to deal with the associated gastrointestinal side-effects of the painkillers.

Now, the doc wasn't quite so blunt with the patient, he spun a web of bullshit as he described his suggestions, but it was pretty obvious to both of us that we were at the point where all you could do was wait for the malach hamaves to show up. This was confirmed when the doc took me into his office for a private chat. (Though the doc didn't use the term "malach hamaves," even though he was a Jewish doc.)

Now, was what this doc did any worse than what Mr Schiavo wanted to do for his wife? It's possible that we could have found some quack-quack MD who would give us false "hope" that some additional chemotherapy might work, but, basically, our doc was perfectly competent, and he realized that at that point, for all practical purposes, there was no hope left, and it was check-out time for the ol' neshama.

Sure, it was different from Ms. Sciavo's case in that the patient was still concious and even mobile, and had the capacity to make decisions about care, but, really, the decision was to let the patient die.

In fact, I get the impression from the way the "pro-lifers" yammer on that they would appose pulling Ms. Schiavo's feeding tune even if there had been a written living will and power of attorney. They way they talk about their moral code being the only proper code, I would fear that these sort of people would want to change the law to forbid any of us from leaving a directive to let ourselves die.

What would this have meant to my dear departed family member? That this person would have to use all the life savings to pursue treatments of dubious value? That this person would have to die in a hospital surrounded by strangers in a noisy, stressful, unpleasant place? At least this person died at home with family members present.

These aboslutist moral pronouncements sicken me. What do these "halachic experts" and "religious conservatives" know about real people and their the problems? All they do is tell us how to live our life by using instructions from a book. Believe me, the instruction book is just the first step (and a very small one) in learning about something.

The Hassidic Definition of "Meshuga"

I must admit that this is not mine; I found it in the comment section of a Jblog:

A pious hasid went to his redde and told him a tale of woe:

"My son has become meshuga (crazy). He eats chazir (pork) and dances with shiksas (gentile women)."

The rebbe looked at the hasid and said,

"What you described doesn't make your son meshuga. Now if you said that he ate shiksas and danced with chazir, then I would say that he was meshuga."

Thursday, June 16, 2005

An Arab shamed me into observing Shabbos

Last Thursday, my flight home on Northwest Airlines was cancelled becuase of mechanical problems. They put me on the next flight, but they "forgot" to do the same with my checked baggage, which arrived home Friday morning. Of course, I was at work, so I asked them to deliver it in the afternoon, when I got home. Of course, like all such delivery services, they couldn't guarantee a time.

Anyway, the knock on the door came at about 9 PM, right before dinner. I opened the door, and there was this Arabic looking guy who had my suitcase. He says (with anArabic accent), "please sign here, sir," and then notices the yarmulke I was wearing. "Oh, you don't have to sign if you don't want."

Now I am pretty much a heretic when it comes to matters of halacha, and I'd have no problem signing anything, but somehow I got shamed by the thought that this Arab guy probably thinks I'm Orthodox because I'm wearing a yarmulke, and if I sign the damn thing, he'll go home and start speaking lashon hara about the "Orthodox Jew" who violated the Sabbath. So I was shamed into observing Shabbos in an halachic manner by an Arab.

However, I am impressed by Northwest Airlines, who have obviously trained their employees to have enough cultural sensitivity to undertsand that Jews aren't supposed to sign documents on Shabbos and make allowances for it. Such philo-semitism completely counteracts my annoyance at them for the delayed flight, the damn center seat in the last row they forced me into (I had an aisle seat at the front on the plane that was cancelled), and the rotgut Chilean wine they serve on board and have the nerve to charge $5. Not to mention the turbulence.

Orthodox poskim allow abortion

As reported by Shahar Ilan in Haaretz:

Rabbi Moshe Tzuriel, a former mashgiah ruhani (spiritual mentor) at the Sha'alabim hesder yeshiva, argues,

"It is incorrect to state unequivocally and authoritatively that the ban [on abortion] is absolute," and that in a case of a disagreement among poskim, it is appropriate in this case to follow those with a permissive approach."

"Most poskim [halakhic arbiters] in our generation have permitted the aborting of a fetus, even when there is no danger to the mother."

"the late head of the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva, Rabbi Shaul Yisraeli - who permitted abortion due to the great anguish that may lie ahead for the parents "who will see the fruit of their womb suffering and living a life that is not a life";

Oh my goodness, what about the "culture of life?" and life being an absolute good, no matter how difficult? and "difficulties in life are a test from God to see how you'll respond?"

Sunday, June 12, 2005

A look at Shavuos -- via Hollywood, circa 1956

Here at the CA household, I started a new Shavuous tradition -- the screening of Cecil B. Demille's 1956 remake of The Ten Commandments. As the credits rolled, my teenaged daughter started rolling with laughter. "This was where Monty Python got their ideas!" She couldn't stop laughing for the first 20 to thrity minutes of the 3 1/2 hour endurance-fest. Obviously our 21st century tastes regarding acting styles has changed somewhat. Just a few comments:

My daughter was impressed with all those bare-chested "hunks," running around. And this movie garnered a "G" rating when it was reissued! Hmph! All the ladies are pretty well covered, considering the Egyptian climate, though I will admit the dresses were tight enough. The hypocrisy of of ratings board is evident. Show a bare female chest, and you get an "adult" rating, show a bare male chest in a Bible epic, and, no problem. This discriminates against heterosexual males, and I protest!

Also the teen-aged verdict is that the 1956 Charlton Heston was much "hotter" in his Egyptian costume, without a beard, though we both agree that we don't want to encounter God or a burning bush, because it seems that afterward, you have to get fitted with a very cheesy wig. Let's just hope the producers didn't use Indian hair.

Speaking of cheesy special effects.....Well, perhaps we should judge the producers to their merit, as everything was hand-drawn animation, that fitted pretty well into the live-action shots. Actually, I'm pretty impressed how well they did without cgi animation, though the production values veered between cartoon and real-life (nice location shots) a bit too abruptly at times.

The Hollywood "alterations" to the story" are less of a problem with tradition than many realize: There's something called Midrash. Even the scene in the movie where Moses gets the job done by giving the slaves a Sabbath to rest them is right out of the Talmud or something. (I read it in Yalkut Me'am Loez; who'd have thunk that 1950's Hollywood screenwriters would have been reading a Ladino treatise from the 1700's? And they say those Hollywood Jews are a bunch of secular ingnomauses!) As for storyline about Joshua's girlfriend, well, why not? At least, unlike most of Hollywood's output, the male Jewish main characters all end up marrying nice Jewish girls.

Anyone who reads the credits will do a double-take when they learn that the chariot work was done using the "Cavalry Corps of the Egyptian Army." Hello? The Cavalry Corps? This was 1956! Mounted troops againsts tanks and airplanes! Makes sense. If you're the ones with the tanks and airplanes, that is. No wonder the Israelis took the Sinai so easily that year.

Though the movie is called "the Ten Commandments," that event actually makes up a small fraction of the total running time. It would be better to have called it Prince of Egypt, or the Passover Story, or something. When filming the Shavuos scene, DeMille seemed more interested shifting ahead to 17 Tammuz and filming the Golden Calf scene. Unfortunately the film prduction standards of the era (equivalent to today's G rating) didn't allow him to give justice to his vision of what allegedly happened. Personally, I would have like to have seen God holding the mountain over everyone's head and threatening to kill them all if they didn't accept the Torah . But I guess that wouldn't have played too well in 1956, even if the story comes straight out of the Talmud (BT Shabbat 88a).