Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Thoughts on 10 Tevet

We fast today in memory of the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem -- and because it was on this day, the very same day, that the prophet Ezekiel was given a prophesy that forewarned what would happen if we did not change our ways. (See chapter 24.) Unfortunately, things did not change, the temple was destroyed, and over three million Jews died according to an account in Gittin 47b.

Traditionally, fast days are days in which we look at what we are doing and how our actions have been associated with calamities in the past. Note that the selichot we read this morning did not emphasize the bloody nature of Nebuchadnezzar's army or that of his general, Nebuzaradan (who, according to Sanhedrin 96b, realized the horror of what he had done, repended, and became a ger tzedek).

During the past few months there has been tremendous apprehension regarding the so-called peace process. Orthodox groups from all across the Torah spectrum have expressed alarm at the possibility of yet another land for peace swap, particularly since part of the city of Jerusalem may be included in such a deal.

Contrast this with past "peace" agreements: Some of the greatest rabbis of the times have paskened that land for peace is mutar and perhaps obligatory if it will bring real peace; among them were Rov Soloveitchik z'tz'l, Rav Shach z'tz'l, and Rav Ovadiah Yosef. There was some significant religious support for the Oslo accords; the Shas party was in the Israeli government at the time and did not object. United Torah Judaism was in the Israeli government at the time of the Gaza disengagement; while Religious Zionist opposition was almost unanimous the debate within RZ circles of whether to encourage mutiny in the IDF generated much more heat than the efforts to prevent the removal of the 1500 Jewish families there.

Contrast this with today: Charedi groups have been expressing loud outrage at the possibility that the Israeli government (possibly pushed by the US government) might agree to give a substantial portion of Jerusalem to the Palestinian Authority. Here is one such example, from the official spokesperson for Agudath Israel of America:

The Orthodox Union has a very similar position:

What is going on here? Charedi and Religous Zionist groups are speaking essentially with one voice! I am not aware of a single orthodox Jewish organization that is supporting the prospective division of Jerusalem. I'm not aware even of a single rabbi who thinks dividing Jerusalem is a good idea. Not since the very first election in Israel, when all religious parties combined to form one parliamentary list, has there been such unity.

And it is apparently having no effect whatsoever.

The "process" is going forward. The Israeli government has a huge parliamentary majority; no single party other than Kadima itself can force new elections. The US has a lame duck President who will do whatever he wants; the new Democratic majority in the Congress hasn't even been able to sucessfully challenge him on any issues that are of far greater interest to the US public.
What is going on here?

It is tempting to blame the leaders of the government of Israel and that of the US. I think on this fast day we may be called to do something different: To look at why we religious Jews have failed to communicate effectively the importance of the City of Jerusalem. In the US, that will of course meaning explaining traditional Judaism to the 98% of the population who are not Jews, but we can at least start by reaching out to the 89% (according to the 2001 National Jewish Population Survey) of American Jews who are not religious. And the same would certainly apply to Israel. Have we not been examples for our fellow Jews? Have we alienated them through our behavior, through intolerance, through extreme positions (halachic, hashgafic, or political)? I am not a prophet, and neither is anyone else in our times, so we can't say for certain why Jerusalem is facing redivision after 40 years of (at least de jure) unity. But we can certainly work to express to our fellow Jews why we think this is such a big deal -- and act in things not directly related in ways that will encourage others to appreciate what we believe.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Where is the Anti-Semitism?

A recent feature in the UK newspaper, The Times, listed what its editors considered the 20 worst anti-religious pieces of art and/or popular culture in recent decades:

What is interesting is that only one of the 20, Monty Python's "Life of Brian", is directed at Jews at all, and "Brian", the only one I've seen as an adult, satirizes the many Jewish factions that spent more time fighting each other than the Romans during the late second temple period -- something our sages might well have done themselves had they known how to do satire! It really is more directed towards Christianity than Judaism as a religion, satirizing the entire nature of the messiah as interpreted 2000 years ago. (The other work that I have seen, "Jesus Christ Superstar", I saw in junior high school and remember little if any of it. From the description it looks like it might have been written by a born again anti-Trinitarian, which is really more heresy than blasphemy as far as Christianity is concerned.) "Brian" is in fact one of the great film comedies of all time, "Superstar" has some great music, but there does not appear to be any redeeming social value in most of the remainder of the works listed.

So where are the other anti-Semitic works? I can't believe there aren't any!

Monday, November 19, 2007

A Jew turns 50

Today is my 50th birthday. When I arrived at shul this morning (a few minutes late) the gabbai asked how I was doing and I told him about my "event". He gave me the third aliyah and there was a brief series of "Mazel tovs!" I casually mentioned the mishnah (Avot 5:22) that says that I am now old enough to give counsel. The rabbi gently replied, "Don't read too much into that mishnah!" A good lesson for us all.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Dangerous philosophy

A popular pastime in some Orthodox Jewish circles is to trash much of the secular world's philosophies. For some of these philosophies there is indeed quite a large amount of justification for some of that trashing. And this week marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of one of the basic texts of one such philosophy that is completely antithetical to Torah: Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, which puts forth much of her philosophy of "Objectivism":

It is difficult to overstate the influence that Ayn Rand (born a Jew) has had. It is used as justification for all kinds of selfish activity that the Torah would criticize. Money quote from the Times: "There is no conflict between private ambition and public benefit."

Chas v'shalom! The whole point of Torah is that we can not do just whatever we please!!! And that is not true just for social relationships or eating, but also for possessions. While there is clearly a limited right to private property under Torah and Rabbinic law, there are restrictions. For example, you can not permanently sell land in Eretz Yisrael. (Did HaShem know that there is no economic value to a free market for something that is in fixed supply, something that economists didn't discover until the 19th century?) While the Torah clearly expects us to run businesses, and property and business halachah takes up a quarter of the Shulchan Aruch, Halachah also grants the rabbinate to restrict business activity in some circumstances. Farmers have the most restrictions -- and the most mitzvot -- as the Torah limits when they can plant and harvest, what crops can be planted together, and imposes mandatory taxation.

One of Ayn Rand's long time disciples was Alan Greenspan. Fortunately, Dr. Greenspan did not follow Ms. Rand's hedonistic policies during his long successful tenure as chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. And judging from this speech, which I was fortunate to hear in person during my 20th college reunion, he is now basically a Classical Free Enterprise Liberal rather than an Objectivist Libertatian:

That Ayn Rand might not be the best mentor can be seen from this anecdote in the Times article:

'Rand had a reputation for living for her own interest. She is said to have seduced her most serious reader, Nathaniel Branden, when he was 24 or 25 and she was at least 50. Each was married to someone else. In fact, Mr. Britting confirmed, they called their spouses to a meeting at which the pair announced their intention to make the mentor-protégé relationship a sexual one.

“She wasn’t a nice person, ” said Darla Moore, vice president of the private investment firm Rainwater Inc. “But what a gift she’s given us.”'

Some gift! Put yourself before others even if it hurts them. NOT!!! It is no accident that yeshivot would traditionally begin talmud study with the second chapter of Bava Metzia, the laws of returning a lost object. It reminds us that not everything is ours, that we can't just take things because we want them, that ultimately everything really belongs to HaShem -- and that life is NOT about pursuing material or sensual pleasure.

In our midrash, our aggadah, our more recent works that describe the actions of the sages of our time, we learn of their good midot -- and of their tshuvah after the times when they err. We should attempt to emulate Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, or the Chofetz Chaim, or Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, just to name three outstanding models for human behavior, and not Ms Rand.

Is it not true?

In yesterday's parsha, we hear HaShem speak the words the words, “Halo im tetiv, s’et?” (Is it not true: If you do good, you will be forgiven?) (Bereshit 4:7a.) This is God’s question to Kayin when the latter gets angry at his minchah offering not being accepted. Rashi states that it should be interpreted according to Targum Onkelos: "Is it not true that if you improve your actions, that it will be forgiven for you?" These brief words may reveal some profound truths about the teachings of Judaism.

We are all familiar with the story of Kayin killing his brother. The first homicide. But this exchange takes place BEFORE the murder. And the expression is not stated in the form of a commandment but almost as a self-evident truth: God expects Kayin to know the difference between good and bad, and act goodly. Furthermore, it seems like God also expects Kayin to let go of his anger! How can this be? How was Kayin supposed to know? This the first time in chumash that we have heard of tshuvah, or of the danger of negative attitudes. Kayin was not Jewish, and tshuvah is not part of the Noachide laws. How could HaShem have *expected* him to know?

The tone of HaShem's words are that of surprise at Kayin's attitude: It is apparent that HaShem believes that it should have been self-evident that forgiveness is within our power to obtain if we turn our lives around for good. This isn't so much of a Torah argument but a natural law argument! Could HaShem be implying that tshuvah is so important that it is in fact part of the natural order of creation? The fact that it clearly seems to apply to pre-Noach non-Jews such as Kayin would seem to support this possibility.

There is an alternative possibility: There is a tanaitic dispute between Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Nechemia in which Rabbi Yehuda argues that the Torah was given to Adam Rishon, something Rabbi Nechemia denies. One could explain HaShem's language by saying that tshuvah is purely a Torah concept and that Adam Rishon had taught Torah -- or at least the parts relevant here -- to his son. But it is obvious that Rabbi Yehuda's argument is difficult when it comes time to explain later events in Sefer Bereshit. That tshuvah is part of the natural order of the universe is consistent with both Rabbi Yeuhda and Rabbi Nechemia. Such an explanation elevates tshuvah beyond the level of a mitzvah but to something that is universally expected of all humanity, at all times -- and something of which we are all capable.

May this understanding empower us to return to the proper path when we err and to inspire us not only during the season of tshuvah we have recently concluded but throughout the year.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Junk science and holocaust denial

A few months ago, in criticising an article on academic freedom (or the alleged lack of it) authored by David Klinghoffer, I compared some examples of junk science to holocaust denial and got ribbed for it:

(See comment #2.)

Well, I just discovered that my comparison was not original. Ellen Goodman had made a similar comparison months earlier. I had not seen her article until today:

I yield to Ms. Goodman the dubious honor of having to point out the analogy between junk science and junk history. (She got ribbed for this as well.) I ask my right wing blogger opponents the following: Why is holocaust denial taboo in academic circles when equally-unsupported-by-fact junk science is ok?

And why has there been absolutely no cry from the right wing bloggers in support of this academic who was recently denied tenure:

Maybe the right wing bloggers want academic freedom only for those who share their ideology?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Rupert Murdoch will be an improvement

I don't read the Wall Street Journal editorial page. I've been convinced for a long time that they are uninterested in any evidence that might contradict their extreme ideology. A recent example shows that they are willing to distort truth. This has been adequately covered in many other blogs, among them:

It is pretty bad when Rupert Murdoch will be an improvement in credibility. Instead of bogus graphs we can look forward to drawings of nearly naked women.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Physician terrorists

Much surprise is being expressed at the fact that several of the suspects in the recent terrorist attacks in Britain are physicians. "How can someone trained to heal take lives?" we ask.

Unfortunately, medical training does not absolutely insure that one is a moral person. The infamous Nazi medical experiments were carried out by physicians. More recently, Dr. Che Guevara, a dermatologist, tried to spread violent revolution throughout Latin America. Dr. George Habash, a pediatrician from a Christian family, led one of the most violent Palestinian terrorist organizations, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. And Dr. Baruch Goldstein was a graduate of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, murdered 29 unarmed Arabs before he himself was killed by those he was attacking. And of course there have been occasional less publicized incidents of physicians killing their patients, surrupticiously, or publicly a la Dr. Jack Kevorkian.

As a faculty member at the last institution named above, I do my best to install values into my students. I am sure that the professors of all the people described above did as well. But sometimes we fail. Fortunately, examples like this are rare. But that they exist at all is depressing to me.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Why is the heter mechirah so controversial?

As we approach the upcoming shmitah year, interest natually focuses on the use of a rabbinic workaround to avoid the prohibition of the usual use of the produce of that year, as exemplified here.

The heter mechirah -- selling the land to a non-Jew -- was approved by Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan Spector, one of the great rabbinic authorities of the 19th century, and promoted by Rabbi Abraham Yitzchak Kook in the early 20th century. It is a workaround for a prohibition that according to many (most?) poskim is of rabbinic origin today because most Jews do not live in Eretz Yisrael. Yet it produces opposition that is loud, virulent, and not always polite.

I don't understand this. Nobody questions the the heter iska, or mechirat chametz, which are rabbinic workarounds of prohibitions which according to all opinions are in effect at all times in all places and originate from the torah. What is the justification for the virulent objection to the heter mechirah?

Sunday, July 01, 2007

We can tell other religions what they are to believe

Or at least, that is the impression from Zionist Organization of America President Morton Klein in a recent address as reported here. He says that Jerusalem is "not holy to Muslims at all".

Well, maybe it is, maybe it isn't. But that is up to Muslims to decide. Just as it is up to Christians to decide whether a Jewish state in Eretz Yisrael is an important part of their religion or not.

Repeat after me: We have no business telling other religions what they are supposed to believe.

If we do, we can shortly expect them to tell us what to believe. This has happened in the past. The result is not good.

Krauss vs. Dawkins on science and religion

This month's Scientific American has an excerpt of a dialogue between Professors Lawrence M. Krauss and Richard Dawkins entitled, "Should Science Speak to Faith?" If I have time in the next few weeks, I may post my own (rather strongly opinionated) thoughts on the matter. But in the mean time, I strongly recommend the unabridged version of the conversation, available only onlne

Money quotes:

Dawkins: "It might be surprisingly hard to detect, by observation or experiment, whether we live in a god-free universe or a god-endowed one."

Krauss: "It is essential to intellectually separate science and religion. It may be true that faith is not based upon reason, but this fact would only make it bad science if the claims of faith were in general falsifiable."

My own views are much closer to those of Dr. Krauss.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Lies about other religions

In an article published in the Jerusalem Post,
Ira Liebler attacks the Chief Rabbinate of Israel for forbidding Jewish participation in a recent women's conference. Mr. Liebler claims that the reason for this ban, the fear of Christian missionary activity, is unfounded. Mr Liebler says that Evangelicals such as those who sponsor the conference are nothing to worry about:

"In contrast to other Protestant denominations, Evangelicals vigorously reject replacement theology and regard Judaism as the foundation for Christianity rather than being replaced by it. "

The trouble is, Mr. Liebler is wrong on both counts. Here are some examples from the internet site of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Evangelical denomination in the United States:

"There is no salvation apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord....It is the duty and privilege of every follower of Christ and of every church of the Lord Jesus Christ to endeavor to make disciples of all nations."


And they mean it, too: They have targeted exactly 7,822,942 Jews for conversion to Christianity, as shown on this spreadsheet.

Compare this to this statement from the United Church of Christ, a "mainline Protestant" denomination:

"We...affirm that Judaism has not been superseded by Christianity; that Christianity is not to be understood as the successor religion to Judaism; God's covenant with the Jewish people has not been abrogated."


Or this statement from the United Methodist Church, a different "mainline Protestant" denomination:

"God is steadfastly faithful to the biblical covenant with the Jewish people. The covenant God established with the Jewish people through Abraham, Moses, and others continues because it is an eternal covenant. "


It is true that not all evangelicals follow the Southern Baptist Convention in their rejection of the validity of Judaism and the need to target Jews for conversion, a point I have previously made.

However, Mr. Liebler is guilty of spreading false information about non-Evangelical Protestants and at best promotes a misleading generalization about Evangelicals. Is this not putting a stumbling block before the blind -- the huge majority of Jews who don't have a clue about the differences between Christian sects?

We wonder why mainline Protestants don't support Israel more; why should they when our leaders spread lies about them? Is there any example before the 20th century in which rabbis intervened in intra-Christian theological disputes? Here, we are publically favoring the group that seems to have a less favorable view of Judaism! Is this really in our interests?

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

A lesson from sefer Ruth and tractate Yevamot

We are all familiar with the story of Ruth, born a citizen of Moab, she converts to Judaism, marries Boaz, and becomes the great-grandmother of King David:

Rut 21b-22: …and Boaz begot Obed. And Obed begot Jesse, and Jesse begot David.

Most of us also know the story about how it was not clear to all at the time that the prohibition of Moabites becoming full-fledged Jews applied only to Moabite men, as Rashi shows in his commentary to Rut 6:

Rut 6: And the near kinsman said, "I cannot redeem [it] for myself, lest I mar my heritage. You redeem my redemption for yourself for I cannot redeem [it]." Rashi: lest I mar my heritage my offspring, like (Ps. 127:3): “Behold the heritage of the Lord is sons,” to give my offspring a stigma, as it is said (Deut. 23: 4): “An Ammonite or a Moabite shall not enter the congregation of the Lord,” but he erred by [not interpreting it as] “an Ammonite but not an Ammonitess.”

Four generations later, there was still controversy over this issue, as shown in 1 Shmuel 17:54-56.

54. And David took the head of the Philistine, and brought it to Jerusalem, and his weapons, he put in his tent.
55. And when Saul saw David going out toward the Philistine, he said to Abner, the general of his army, "Whose son is this youth, Abner?" And Abner said, "By your life, O King, I know not."

Rashi: Whose son is this youth, Our Rabbis said: Did he not recognize him? Is it not stated: “And he became his weapon bearer” (supra 16:21)? But, (rather this is the explanation): he saw him behaving in a kingly manner. (Vid. supra v. 38) Said Saul, “If he comes from the family of Perez, he will be a king, for the king may break fences (פורץ, related to פרץ) to make a way for himself, and no one may stop him. If, however, he comes from the family of Zerah, he will merely become an esteemed person. Said Doeg to him, ” Before you ask whether or not he is descended from a family which qualifies him for the throne, ask whether or not he is qualified to enter the congregation, (i.e., whether or not he may marry among Jews) since he is descended from Ruth the Moabitess.“ Said Abner to him, ” We have learned: An Ammonite (is forbidden, Deut. 23:3) but not an Ammonitess. (Similarly, a Moabite is forbidden, but not a Moabitess.) “ Said Doeg to him, ” If so (let us say), a ‘mamzer’ (the male issue of a union forbidden under penalty of extinction is forbidden,) and not a ‘mamzereth’ (the female issue of such a union).“ He replied, ” It is stated here: Because they did not meet you with bread and water (v. 5 ibid.), and it is not customary for a woman to do so.“ He said to him,” Men should have met men, and women should have met women." Abner became silent. Saul said to him:

56. And the king said, "You ask whose son this youth is."
R: You ask whose son this youth is Above (v. 55) it is written: הנער, and here it is written העלם. He said to him, “This law has escaped your memory (נתעלמה). Go out and ask in the academy.” This is as it is stated in Yev. 77a.

Assuming that we accept the idea that Jewishness has been defined through matrilineal descent since matan torah, this at first seems a difficult argument to comprehend. Suppose that Ruth’s conversion was not kosher. Then Boaz would have married a non-Jew, and their son Obed would not have been Jewish. But presumably Obed would have married a Jewish woman – I am aware of no source that implies otherwise – and their son Jesse would have been Jewish according to all opinions. Similarly, Jesse would have married a Jewish woman, and their children, including David, would have been Jewish according to all opinions. What grounds would Doeg have had to complain?

A possible answer is found in Yevamot 16-17. The gemara considers the possibility that the child of a Jewish woman and a gentile man is a mamzer. This is discussed explicitly, and resolved in the negative, in Yevamot 44-45. If the halachah were otherwise, then then Jesse would have been a mamzer and so would his son David. This David would have indeed been ineligible to be King, or to marry a child of a non-mamzer Jew! But it is clear from sefer Shmuel that David married the Michal bat Shaul, the daughter of the first king, and was accepted as king himself after the death of Shaul. Thus the halachah was clearly established and universally accepted more a thousand years before the gemara referenced above.

So why is the gemara even discussing the issue? Should not the unquestioned kingship of David HaMelech dealt with this once and for all?

I think this teaches a lesson in proper understanding of our tradition. Opinions that are clearly not accepted as halachah are still given prominence in the talmud. One reason is clearly to give respect to those who honestly felt that they were correct. But another, more important reason is to elucidate other points that are essential for our Jewish learning, which is the situation in Yevamot.

And in the particular case mentioned in Yevamot 16-17, the talmud is showing the relationship between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel as a model for how to relate with whom we disagree. The definition of a mamzer was a central element in their disputes and effected whether the two schools could intermarry. The gemara is not trying to open up an issue that would bring into question whether David HaMelech was suitable to be king, it is trying to teach us proper behavior! This shows that it is improper to grab little talmudic bullets out of context, and absolutely asur for us to simply say that we are going to follow some convenient talmudic opinion that has been rejected just because we would prefer that the halachah is some way other than the way it is. Such is not the true Jewish way. Yose HaGalili may have eaten chicken parmagiana with real cheese, but we don't.


The real sin of the spies

In this week's parsha we have the sin of the spies: Ten of the twelve spies sent to survey the land of Israel come back with an evil report and the entire generation is condemned to die in the desert.

How could this have happened? "All of them were men of distinction; they were the heads of the children of Israel.." (Bamidbar 13:3). "At that time, they were virtuous." (Rashi to the same verse quoting midrash Tanchuma.) These were the gedolim of the day!

Rabbi Dr. Aaron Adler gives us the answer:

Key section:

The Talmud (Sotah 14a) records: Why did Moshe desire to enter the Landof Israel? Was it the fruit of the Land? Not at all, respond our Sages. A simple calculation of Mitzvot indicated that many many Mitzvot are obligatory only in the Eretz Yisrael. Moshe longed for the opportunity for maximum fulfillment of the Mitzvot.

The dor hamidbar formed the largest kollel in history. There was nothing else to do except to study Torah. But the Torah is not just to be studied, it is to be lived! Angels can study Torah, but the famous disputation recorded in Shabat 68b over whether the Torah belongs in heaven or on the earth ends with HaShem ruling for Moshe and the Torah was given to the Jewish people. The Torah elevates our mundane activites like eating, working, and even having sex to holy levels through the commandments. By accepting the evil reports of the ten spies, dor hamidbar implicitly rejected all the commandments associated with Eretz Yisrael, along with the many commandments related to working and preparing sustenance that are in effect everywhere.

While some died shortly after the decree was given, it took almost 40 years for the dor hamidbar to live out their natural lives. This shows that the condemnation to death wasn't so much as a penalty as it was HaShem's realization that the members of the dor hamidbar -- and in particular, ten or the twelve gedolim of that generation -- were not up to the task of establishing the society that the Torah commanded.

Monday, April 23, 2007


I have now proven that nobody reads links. Even the person who posts the link. Buried at the bottom of the clemency regulations I have linked to twice is this:

"§ 1.11 Advisory nature of regulations.
The regulations contained in this part are advisory only and for the internal guidance of Department of Justice personnel. They create no enforceable rights in persons applying for executive clemency, nor do they restrict the authority granted to the President under Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution."

The strong implication is that a President could indeed ignore the regulations even though the Justice Department could not. This invalidates my point in an earlier post. I regret the error. (It does not invalidate my major points in the most recent post.)

Nevertheless it is still unclear to me why Jonathan Pollard continues to refuse to apply for either pardon or clemency.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Jonathan Pollard and the American Criminal Justice System

First, before reading the rest of this post, I recommend reading the following article which I believe is the most comprehensive and objective essay about Jonathan Pollard's situation to date:

It is now five years old, but little has changed since its publication.

Now, for the meat of this post:

Periodically, Jewish organizations make some noise about getting Jonathan Pollard released from prison. Here is a recent example:

I've alread posted as to why that won't happen without Pollard himself taking some action:

(UPDATE: The above post is based on my inaccurate understanding. See my next post for a correction.)

What I want to discuss is the alleged unfairness of Pollard's treatment. The fact is, he is indeed being treated unfairly in that the fact that his attorney made a serious screwup that has cost Pollard any chance for a review of his original conviction, ever. That is indeed unjust.

But in that, Pollard is being treated no better and no worse than anyone else in the American criminal justice system. Overworked public defenders can easily make the same kind of mistake that cost Pollard his right to appeal -- and there is utterly no interest from any part of the political spectrum to change that. The conservatives want to prove how tough they are on criminals, and the liberals are so terrified about being called soft on crime they are cowed into submission. As a result, people receive poor legal representation, and thanks to an almost 40 year packing of courts at all levels with law and order judges, the American legal system is now better at producing order than justice.

President Bush has continued this trend, which brings me to the latest outrage which has been getting shockingly little press: The Bush adminstration wants to try former AIPAC lobbyists Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman IN SECRET! The problem with that is that it directly violates the sixth amendment to the US Constitution, which reads:

"In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence. "

It doesn't say, "public trial unless the government doesn't want to". It is pretty absolute, as it should be.

This is even worse than the miscarraige of justice in Jonathan Pollard's case. At least he had a chance for a public trial, which he waived at the (bad?) advise of his attorney in his plea bargain. Where is the National Council of Young Israel in the Rosen/Weissman case? Only one Jewish organization, Rabbi Avi Weiss's Amcha-Coalition for Jewish Concerns, is concerned enough about the case to take any action:

You don't have to agree with the somewhat inflammatory accusations of anti-Semitism to believe that it is absolutely outrageous that the United States government is attempting to deny two United States citizens their basic constitutional rights.

I support parole or clemency for Jonathan Pollard, and I also urge all Jews to support the right of Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman to a fair trial. It is important for the public to know the evidence against them (if there is any).

And it is important that we finally start to turn around the curtailment of civil liberties in the United States. It will be an uphill struggle, as voters have valued "law and order" far more than justice over the past four decades. But it is precisely that lack of justice that keeps people like Jonathan Pollard from having any ability to appeal their convictions. And I don't want to have to see a National Council of Young Israel campaign to free Rosen and Weissman a decade or two from now.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Really, REALLY stupid pro-Israel argument

Aaron Klein, in a recent Jewish Press article, claims to cite recent evidence of Arab construction on Jewish-owned land in East Jerusalem:

Now, I have no doubt that the facts that Mr. Klein reports are correct in that the land was probably owned by Jews before the Israeli War of Independence in 1948. That land and the buildings on it were expropriated by Jordan during the 19 years it controlled that part of Eretz Yisrael. Indeed Jordan annexed that area, placing it under Jordanian law, just as Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1967; neither annexation receieved recognition from the international community. A similar situation exists with sections of Hebron that were once Jewish-owned.

But if Jews can rightfully reclaim such area, Arabs have the right to reclaim areas in Israel that were once Arab owned, including Jerusalem neighborhoods such as Old Katamon and Har Nof, along with large sections of Tel Aviv, Haifa, Tsfat, and other mostly-Jewish cities. WE DON'T WANT TO GO THERE! By arguing for the redress of land expropriations, Mr. Klein is essentially arguing for the expulsion of Jews from their homes in areas such as I have just mentioned because an expropriation is an expropriation, no matter who does it. And it gives additional ammunition to the enemies of Israel who correctly point out that the expropriations have been entirely Israeli over the past 39+ years.

With friends like this....

Ann Coulter screws up again

Ann Coulter has never allowed facts to get in the way of a good slander. And she does it again this week in an interview published in the Jewish Press:

The lie is toward the end of the article, when she argues that President Bush's low popularity shouldn't prevent him from ordering military action against Iran:

"Harry Truman’s approval rating was in the low 20’s when he ordered U.S. troops into Korea."

The Korean War started June 25, 1950; American troops were in action within a few weeks. Here is a link to the Gallup approval ratings during President Truman's adminstration:

The relevant polling data are from June 4-9 and indicate 37% approval.

And if you want to say that the real move was MacArthur's landing at Inchon that turned the tide of the war (temporarily), the landing was on September 15, and the relevant polling data from August 20-25 indicate 43% approval.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Rabbis condemn Pesach price gouging and excessive chumrot

Well, it is that time of year again, so I refer to last year's post on the subject:

It is not necessary to spend your life savings for Pesach. We eat a lot of fresh fish and fresh vegetables; our only major increased expense is for the matzah. (Wheat-allergic folks: there is now a hand made shemurah oat matzah that should be available in kosher stores. We got ours at Riverdale Kosher Market.)

What I found fascinating about the position paper that I hadn't considered in previous readings was this quote:

"Rabbi Rafael G. Grossman, president of the Rabbinical Council of America, called on the public, the manufacturers of kosher products, wholesales and retailers to adhere to ethical practices. He urged those who grant Kashruth endorsements to include compliance with all halachic norms as part of the qualifications for certification and called for removal of such certification for proven violations."

The issue of whether kashrut agencies should be concerned about the ethical practices of the businesses it supervises has generated quite a bit of internet discussion over the past few months. While not taking a position on whether the unethical practices of a businessman makes his food treif, the Rabbinical Council of America would seem to answer "yes" to the question of whether kashrut agencies should concern themselves with matters not directly related to kashrut.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Purim and hiddenness

Much of the world is being treated to an extraordinary event this Purim: A total lunar eclipse, in which the moon is in the shadow of the earth:

It turns out that the lunar eclipse starts within a few minutes of sunset in the New York area (subtract five hours from the universal time on the site above to get US Eastern Time) and the totality will end about the time that most congregations will begin their first Megillah reading. I can't think of a better natural event to emphasize the idea of hiddenness that is so important to Purim. Please do yourself a favor and take a walk outside if you are in an area where the eclipse is visible and appreciate HaShem's miracles.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Frivolous lawsuit against Orthomom

Orthomom is a target in a lawsuit by a public official who has been the target of criticism by blog commenters. The public official filing the lawsuit is also Jewish.

I would like to express my support for Orthomom in this case. Public officials should be able to take criticism. If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. I am willing to contribute to Orthomom's legal defense fund if it comes to that.

That said, some of the attacks (by commenters, not by Orthomom) are not consistent with the way that Orthodox Jews are supposed to behave. There are halachot against motzi shem ra and lashan hara that are violated a lot in the blogosphere. One prominent posek was the subject of a recent motzi shem ra attack -- such is completely inexcusable. And that others do it is no excuse. I post under my real name and am open about my identity partly so that I am less tempted to violate these halachot. I urge all who comment on blogs to be fair and avoid both lashan hara and motzi shem ra.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Religion and Presidents

In this week's Jewish Press, senior editor Jason Maoz interviews Paul Kengor, associate professor of political science and executive director of the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College in Grove City, Pennsylvania.

Grove City College is a college that has as part of its mission statement the following sentence:
"Rejecting relativism and secularism, it fosters intellectual, moral, spiritual, and social development consistent with a commitment to Christian truth, morals, and freedom."

I wondered why the Jewish Press could not have interviewed a prominent Orthodox Jewish political scientist at a Jewish institution such as Prof. David Luchins of Touro, but on to the article itself:

Prof. Kengor quotes Michael Medved as saying that "A de-Christianized Western Europe could be a very bad Europe for Jews" and agreeing with the point. As if Europe has been good for Jews? Hitler wasn't Christian, but many of his henchmen were. And both Chmielnicki and Torquemada were devout Christians, as were the leaders of the Crusades and all the Czars.

Prof. Kengor then makes some statements that are misleading if not outright false. For example, he claims that all 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence were Christians. That only is true if you count John Adams as a Congregationalist, Thomas Jefferson as an Anglican, and Benjamin Rush as a Presbyterian. Their heretical views would never be taught at Grove City! He is correct about John Winthrop's views -- but neglects to point out that Jews were not welcome in Winthrop's "City on a hill", or that New Amsterdam (later New York) worshiped moneymaking at least as much as any transcendent creator. (Some would argue that this is still true!)

He continues:

"You can draw a straight line from Winthrop to Washington to Woodrow Wilson to Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush. This piety is embedded in the very fabric of this nation."

I don't argue that the US isn't pious. But "straight line" from Puritan minister Winthrop to Anglican vestryman Washington to Presbyterian elder Wilson had to detour past out and out heretics like Jefferson, Unitarians John Quincy Adams (co-founder of All Soul's Unitarian Church in Washington, DC), Millard Fillmore, and William Howard Taft (later President of the American Unitarian Association) not to mention Andrew Johnson, who appears never to have set foot in a church in his life. (If anyone can find credible evidence to the contrary, please post!)
Many 19th century Presidents seemed to have had very little interest in organized religion although most had affiliated with some Protestant church at some point in their lives. (The aforementioned Unitarians, Lincoln, and Johnson were exceptions.) At least Prof. Kengor does give Jefferson credit for believing in God, which some of his contemporary political opponents did not.

Prof. Kengor makes the valid point that no American President has ever been actively hostile to religious expression. However, some folks on the right are unable to distinguish that truth from the fact that many 19th century Presidents, including Jefferson, Madison, and Jackson, took strict-constructionist views of the First Amendment that are similar to that of the ACLU today and confuse the ACLU position with hostility. Nothing could be further from the truth.

There is little to argue about in Prof. Kengor's description of the evils of communism, which were well understood by most of the US left as well as the right. But in caricaturing the liberal view of President George W. Bush as a 'supposedly rigid fundamentalist Protestant' he fails to note that this liberal writer is well aware the younger President Bush belongs to a church that rejects fundamentalist theology and intolerance. Jews don't oppose President Bush because of his religious views, but because of his administration's policies, incompetance, and corruption.

Parshat Mishpatim

Here I recycle the very first substantive post on this blog, from February 2006.

"One of the main issues that the Torah deals with in this week's *parsha* is that of slavery."

So says Rabbi Berel Wein in his commentary:

Rather than try to add to what Rabbi Wein has written, I'd like to move to something more recent: The chattel slavery in the United States. It ought to be obvious to anyone that it didn't have a lot in common with the institution with the same name that was instituted in the Torah. Yet, amazingly, there was quite a bit of Jewish support for it -- much of it Orthodox.
Consider for example this essay by Rabbi Morris Raphall, of Congregation Bnai Jeshurun in Manhattan. (Back then, BJ was solidly Orthodox, as was its rabbi.)

In the preface to the essay he writes,


The capitals are those of the Rabbi, who brushes off the fact that slaveholding in a manner contrary to halachah is definitely a sin. Consider the haftarah that we would be reading this week if it were not Shabat Shekelim – the prophet Jeremiah tells Klal Yisrael that this particular sin will result in the first exile! Rabbi Raphall does accept that southern slaveholding is not in accordance with the Torah model, but isn’t particularly concerned about what the non-Jews are doing. Never mind the fact that there were some JEWS who were slaveowners.

Also note the use of Christian sources to justify his position. I found that bizarre.

On the very same day Orthodox Jews in Baltimore heard this from their rabbi, Issachar Ber Illowy:

“Who can blame our brethren of the South for seceding from a society whose government can not, or will not, protect the property rights and privileges of a great portion of the Union against the encroachments of a majority misguided by some influential, ambitious aspirants and selfish politicians who, under the color of religion and the disguise of philanthropy, have thrown the country into a general state of confusion, and millions into want and poverty?”

Property rights? At least Rabbi Raphall accepted that the “property” owned by the slaveowners had been treated as less than human.

“We have no right to exercise violence against the institutions of other states or countries, even if religious feelings and philanthropic sentiments bit us disapprove of them.”
Never mind that no shots would not be fired for three months – and that the secessionists would fire the first shot. And it seems Rabbi Illowy didn’t disapprove, given his next career move (see below).

Michael Heilprin, also Orthodox but not a Rabbi, takes Rabbi Raphall to task exactly one week later:

‘Have we not had enough of the "reproach of Egypt?" Must the stigma of Egyptian principles be fastened on the people of Israel by Israelitish lips themselves?’

He goes on to give the Rabbi a lecture on Hebrew vocabulary, citing Mendelssohn and Zunz! (Is it worse to cite heterodox or infidel views?) Later, he wonders if it is possible to condemn the then-current Mormon practice of plural marriage if one accepts Rabbi Raphall’s methodology:
‘should the people of Utah, before or after their admission into the Union as a sovereign State (on which occasion they would, no doubt, avail themselves of the precedent of the Cotton States, immediately to secede from the Union), establish certain peculiar domestic institutions of an incestuous character, "the eloquent preacher of Brooklyn" could not speak against it without incurring the guilt of blasphemy, Jacob having married two sisters, and our Rabbi being unable to discover "the precise time when" an act that was permitted to a patriarch and prohibited by Moses only to the Hebrews, "ceased to be permitted and became sinful" to all others.’

The most prominent Jew to oppose slavery was the Baltimore Reform Rabbi, David Einhorn.
Here is what he has to say on the matter:

“The question simply is: Is Slavery a moral evil or not? And it took Dr. Raphall, a Jewish preacher, to concoct the deplorable farce in the name of divine authority, to proclaim the justification, the moral blamelessness of servitude, and to lay down the law to Christian preachers of opposite convictions. The Jew, a descendant of the race that offers daily praises to God for deliverance out of the house of bondage in Egypt, and even today suffers under the yoke of slavery in most places of the old world, crying out to God, undertook to designate slavery as a perfectly sinless institution, sanctioned by God.”

Rabbi Einhorn’s essay has references to tanakh, Talmud, and rishonim in contrast to Rabbi Raphall’s bizarre references to Christian sources. Who is the Orthodox rabbi here, anyway? And

Rabbi Einhorn twists the knife:

“Dr. Raphall's demonstrations from the New Testament appear about as sound as those from the Mosaic Books. But in this sphere we will not compete with the orthodox Rabbi. It may be that Dr. Raphall possesses greater erudition in the Christian Scripture than he does in the Jewish…. Had a Christian clergyman in Europe delivered the Raphall address—the Jewish-orthodox as well as Jewish-reform press would have been set going to call the wrath of heaven and earth upon such falsehoods, to denounce such disgrace, and חלול השם.”

I'm Orthodox, but in this case it was the Reform Rabbi who got this one right. Both Illowy and Einhorn left Baltimore shortly after those words. Illowy went to New Orleans where the Orthodox Jews there approved of his support for slavery. Einhorn fled Baltimore for Philadelphia where his anti-slavery views caused less controversy. The Orthodox Rabbi there, Rabbi Sabato Morais, was also an opponent of slavery although possibly not as outspoken. Einhorn and Morais may have agreed on little else, but on that issue they were both on the correct side of the issue.

A large amount of primary source material from that time has been placed online at

Mazel Tov!

The College Board just released the results of last year's Advanced Placement examinations, which are an opportunity for high school students to earn college credit for college level courses in high school. It included lists of high schools that did unusually well.

And the top performing school among all high schools of under 300 students in grades 10 through 12 on the Advanced Placement Biology exam is....SAR High School, a Modern Orthodox High School located in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, just a few blocks from my home! Even more amazing is that SAR, a brand new school, did not even have a grade 12 last year and has not yet graduated a single student -- yet bested every single other small high school in the United States.

Mazel tov to SAR Principal, Rabbi Tully Harcsztark, to AP Biology teacher Robert S. Goodman, and to all the students. This a tremendous kiddush HaShem. I look forward to seeing some of you in graduate school or medical school in a few years!

The entire AP report is online here. SAR is mentioned on page 20 (page 22 in my version of Acrobat Reader).

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Should we all move to Utah?

The Utah legislature has just approved the broadest private school tuition voucher program in the United States:,1249,660194371,00.html

The program offers vouchers of from $500 to $3000 depending on income, with higher income parents receiving less. The governor is expected to sign the bill.

If the law passes the expected court test, should Jews all flock to Salt Lake City to start yeshivot? We might want to hold off until the court test, though: Utah's Blaine Amendment appears pretty stringent: And public support for the bill is definitely lukewarm if the recent poll showing 50% opposition is to be believed. And the anti-tax crazies haven't weighed in yet -- this law will represent a substantial commitment of resources from the state's general fund.

Rabbi Michael Lerner is beyond the pale

As someone who publicly identifies with the left, it is particularly important that when someone else identified with the left makes a public statement that is completely unacceptable, that I single it out for criticism. Such a statement was made by Rabbi Michael Lerner this week when he suggested that it is possible that the US government might have had something to do with the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001:

There is zero evidence that the US government had anything to do with the attacks. There is tremendous evidence that the terrorists were associated with Al Qaeda, which claimed responsiblity. The anti-Semites of the Arab world who blame Israel choose to ignore this, which means they think Al Qaeda lies! Rabbi Lerner makes the same error and he should be ashamed to be associated with such.

I have found plenty of reason to criticize the Bush administration, in both domestic and foregn policy. But this is not such. And to do so is beyond the pale -- it is essentially suggesting treasonous behavior. Although I have publicly said that George W. Bush is the worst US President in my lifetime, he would never even think of such. Rabbi Lerner should reconsider and apologize.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

More public thank yous

Two years ago today (on the secular calendar) my wife and I were married. I'd like to thank her for putting up with my occasional arrogance, and frequent running off to minyanim and shiurim (including tonight!), not to mention too much time spent on the internet. I'd also like to thank for making the Shidduch. (We are match #152.) We didn't do anything special tonight but I sent a dozen roses to her office. And we had treated ourselves to a nice kosher dinner Sunday night, which was the 104 week anniversary of our wedding. (Yes, we got married on Super Bowl Sunday. And restaurants that lack televisions are nice and quiet on the night of the Super Bowl.)

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Jews do not worship free markets

The title of this post is the kind of thing that ought to be self-evident. We worship God, not markets. Yet many Jews, even Orthodox Jews, seem to think that there is something magical about free market capitalism. This despite the many intrusions into the operation of such markets that are mandated by the Torah. The most famous example is the explicitly prohibition against freehold land tenure in Eretz Yisrael. Taanit 20b offers an example when interference in the market, even when not required by the Torah, is meritorious. Rav Huna, who was very wealthy, took it upon himself to try to protect agricultural producers from the merciless free market: "On every eve of Sabbath he would send his servants to the markets with instructions to purchase all the vegetables, which the marketers had left on their hands, and throw them into the stream, in order that they might not be put on sale again the following week in an unwholesome condition." (Rodkinson translation.)

Rav Huna as making sure that the growers would continue to produce goods for the market, so that buyers would have a plentiful supply. This is not much different from what governments in Europe, the United States, and some other countries do to this very day. It is precisely the kind of market interference that free market economists rail against. But the hashgafah is not according to the economists, as this brief aggadic material shows.

A public thank you

I was on the road this week, and had a meeting that was scheduled to end at 5pm on Friday -- in a place where candlelighting was at 5:11pm! Fortunately, about a half a mile a way, was a wonderful Orthodox synagogue whose rabbi is fellow blogger Rabbi Joshua Maroof. Rabbi Maroof was a wonderfully gracious host and I wish to publicly thank him and his community for their hospitality.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The beast is starving -- except that it isn't a beast

"Starve the beast" has been the slogan of tax-cutting conservatives for decades. Starting with the Reagan administration, they have attempted to reduce the capability of government to do anything by cutting off its revenue sources through tax cuts. And in this, they have been sucessful.

And those conservatives now regret it. President Bush is planning to send a few tens of thousands of additional troops to Iraq, despite the fact that nobody really believes that such a small increment will do any good. Why not send more? Well, even if there were still popular support for the war, there aren't any troops to send. And there isn't the money to enlarge the military. Why? The sucess of the tax cuts. They worked.

I do not gloat over this situation. President Bush has no capability to do anything about the real dangers like the actions of the current government of Iran. He seems to have bought the idea that forcing Israel to make peace with the Palestinians will solve a substantial part of the problems of the middle east. It won't, partly because the Palestinians don't want peace (look who won their last election) and partly because the problems in Iraq and Lebanon would still be there even if Israel were to disappear tomorrow.

The conservatives have been successful. And for that we all lose.

And I haven't even begun to enumerate the tremendous domestic problems for which government might be able to contribute to a solution.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

First Muslim in Congress is more American than Dennis Prager or Virgil Goode

Congressman-elect Keith Ellison, the first Muslim ever elected to serve in the US Congress, has chosen to be sworn in using a copy of a translation of the Koran that was once owned by Thomas Jefferson:

Mr. Jefferson's ancestors arrived in Virginia in the 17th century. Mr. Jefferson himself wrote the Declaration of Independence. Mr. Jefferson separated Church and State in Virginia and campaigned for a degree of separation (he originated the term "wall") that the ACLU would approve of today. I think that Congressman Ellison is teaching America a lot by using Mr. Jefferson's Koran. It is a history and civics lesson that Mr. Prager and Congressman Goode could use.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Jewish Press, Jonathan Pollard, and Presidential Candidates

The Jewish Press made two factual errors in its recent editorial calling for Presidential candidates to be asked to do something regarding the plight of Jonathan Pollard:

The first excerpt is blatant:

"Mr. Pollard is the only person in U.S. history to have received a life sentence, or anything even approaching it, for spying on behalf of an American ally."

To the contrary, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed for spying for the Soviet Union at the time that it was an ally during World War II.

UPDATE: The below is not accurate. See for a retraction.

The second is more subtle. The assumption of the editorial writers is that there is in fact something that a President can do to release Pollard from prison. In fact, by current regulations having the force of law, Pollard must take the first step and apply for parole or clemency. AFAIK he has never done so despite the fact that he has been eligible for parole for over 10 years. An excerpt from the clemency regulations:

"A person seeking executive clemency by pardon, reprieve, commutation of sentence, or remission of fine shall execute a formal petition."

The entire regulations are at

And from the parole regulations:

"Everyone except those committed under juvenile delinquency procedures who wish to be considered for parole must complete a parole application."


It is clear that barring a change in statuatory law to repeal the current regulations, or an attempt by the President to change the regulations to allow clemency or parole to someone who does not ask for it, Jonathan Pollard must take the first step in the process if he is not to spend the rest of his life in prison. Without that, no President can help him.

Rabbi Boteach and US history

Rabbi Shumuley Boteach gives former President Jimmy Carter a well-deserved bashing in his recent Jewish Press article:

But one sentence in his essay goes over the top:

"It would not be a stretch to say that Jimmy Carter was arguably the most hapless president in all American history, and indeed most presidential historians rate him at or near the very bottom of the list."

While nobody considers Carter to have been a successful President, his ranking by presidential historians ranges from 19 to 34 (out of 43). That isn't great, but he isn't at the very bottom:

His consensus ranking is a tie for 27th with Gerald Ford!

Regarding haplessness, Rabbi Boteach should read up on the administrations of Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, and Andrew Johnson -- the incompetance of the first two precipitated the American Civil war, and that of the latter resulted in a failed reconstruction and many of the difficulties the US faced in the 20th century. Only Harding ranks lower in the historians' consensus.

Or, even worse, cry a bit regarding the deer in the headlights paralysis of the current president, who doesn't seem to have a clue as to what to do in Iraq. His last press conference was downright depressing. Bush's consensus ranking, currently a mediocre 22nd, will probably drop as the consequences of the Iraq war sink in over time and are considered by history. But there is a big gap between Ford and Carter, and the 29th place President (Hoover) and all below him. I doubt Bush will ever drop below Hoover, whose (in)action precipitated the Great Depression.

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Red Auerbach

There have been a large number of deaths of public figures who were a major part of my consciousness in my younger years. I will be commenting on some of them over the next week or two. And I start today with the one whom I only remember from the end of his career: the late Red Auerbach. (I should add that I did not know that Coach Auerbach was Jewish until I was an adult.)

I was born in 1957 so by 1966 I had no memory of any team other than the Boston Celtics winning an NBA championship. (The St. Louis Hawks actually had won in 1958.) And despite a roster full of great players, the most notable figure on the team was the coach. He always seemed to be screaming at everyone, especially referees.

So I wanted to see if my recollections were really accurate. Thanks to New York Times Select, I was able to type "Red Auerbach" into the newspaper's search engine and what appeared were a huge number of articles with the kind of descriptions I highlight now:


Gordon S. White, Jr., Dec. 19, 1955. "Knicks Downed by Celtics in Basketball; BOSTON CAPTURES ROUGH GAME, 95-92 Celtics Rally to Top Knicks at Garden -- Felix of Local Five, Loscutoff Fight"
'Red Auerbach, the fiery coach of the Boston Celtics, received many gifts, including a fire-engine red automobile, during ceremonies before the Knickbocker-Celtic basketball game at Madison Square Garden yesterday. He made a nice speech thanking all for the "Auerbach Day" and then retired to his bench and coaxed, yelled and master minded his squad to a 95-92 victory over the New York quintet. '
'The game was played to order for the hot-tempered Auerbach....'


'Arnold (Red) Auerbach, coach of the Boston Celtics, learned that the punch he took at Ben Kerner, owner of the St. Louis Hawks, on Saturday was $300 worth of "unbecoming conduct."
(blogger note: The argument was over the height of the hoops at Kiel Auditorium in St. Louis, the site for game 3. Auerbach thought that they were higher than the ten feet specified in the rules. The fact that Auerbach had coached the St. Louis team for owner Kerner when it was known as the Tri-Cities Blackhawks didn't seem to matter to Auerbach. St. Louis won that game, but the Celtics went on to win the series in a double overtime seventh game. The team had three rookies named Bill Russell, Tom Heinsohn, and K.C. Jones.)


October 29, 1958. "CELTICS' AUERBACH DRAWS FINE OF $150"'Arnold (Red) Auerbach, the explosive coach of the Boston Celtics, was fined $150 yesterday by Maurice Podoloff, the president of the National Basketball Association, "for his complete defiance" of a league rule during last Saturday's game with the New York Knickerbockers.' (blogger note: He refused to leave the floor after having been ejected from the game. The Celtics lost this one to the Knicks, 127-125, in overtime.)


Anonymous, October 2, 1963. "CELTICS SET BACK KNICKS, 95 TO 92; Auerbach Pulls Boston Five Off Floor After Referee Puts Him Out of Game"
"Red Auerbach, the coach of the Boston Celtics, pulled his National Basketball Association champions off the floor of Oceanside High School's court tonight in protest of his being ejected from the game with the New York Knickerbockers. "
(blogger note: This was an exhibition game! But yes, it really was played in Oceanside, Long Island. Not that it helped the Knicks. Or gave Coach Auerbach an excuse to refrain from his usual antics.)
"Near the end of the third quarter, referee Mendy Rudolph assessed Auerbach a technical foul. Auerbach strode on the court and Rudolph called another technical foul and ordered him out of the game."
"When the Celtics put the ball in play, Auerbach was still on the bench. Rudolph charged him with a third technical foul and Auerbach jumped up and ordered all his players to follow him to the locker room. Sid Borgia, the N. B. A. referee who has been called "the worst in the league" by Auerbach, was a fan tonight. He went into the locker room and convinced Auerbach to send his players back on the court."
"The Celtics returned, without Auerbach, and rallied to defeat the Knicks."


Anonymous, Feb. 2, 1965. "GALLATIN RENEWS AUERBACH BATTLE Coaches Exchange Insults -- Both Fined by N.B.A."
"Harry Gallatin, coach of the New York Knickerbockers, and Red Auerbach, coach of the Boston Celtics insulted one another and one another's teams yesterday as a feud between the two continued. The verbal battle came less than 24 hours after the coaches nearly came to blows during a National Basketball Association game at the Boston Garden Sunday night."


Gordon S. White, Jr., April 30, 1966. "Auerbach Is in Form to the End; Celtic Coach Fined $150 for Criticizing Playoff Referees." (Blogger note: He had just won his eight straight NBA championship when his Celtics defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 95-93 in game 7 of the championship series.)..."Red has been a controversial and at times unpopular man in basketball. He is jumpy on the sidelines, is none to gracious to opponents, and rarely has a kind word for officials. Somehow he puts it all together to get the most out of his teams. He gets the respect of professionals if not their friendship."


No major professional coach other than Auerbach ever won eight straight championships (out of a total of nine). Casey Stengel won five World Series in a row from 1949 to 1953, and Hector "Toe" Blake won five Stanley Cups in a row from 1956-1960 with the Montreal Canadiens, and few think even those records will be passed. And Auerbach contined as General Manager and then President of the Celtics, winning a nother seven championships with players he selected. He is right up there with Hank Greenberg, Sid Luckman, Sandy Koufax, and Mark Spitz as being among the greatest Jewish sports figures ever.

But I would not want to have the kind of personality that led to the kinds of news articles excerpted above. Is it really necessary to intimidate everyone in sight with obnoxious behavior in order to be successful? I surely hope not. I would rather be mediocre and a mensch.

New Year's Eve

Anyone keeping up with the daf yomi, or anyone who is two weeks behind, or even anyone who has ever read the first mishnah of Rosh Hashanah, is well aware that Jews have a lot of New Years. On top of that, today is a fast day on which we remember the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem before the destruction of the first temple. So why would a Jew want to party tonight?

Years ago, I went to Times Square on the night of December 31. I've never seen as many people in one place in my life. It was unbelievably crowded -- one struggled to move more than a few feet per minute. And someone tried to pick my pocket -- he had his hand in my back pocket where my wallet was and I turned around and gave him possibly the meanest look I've ever given anyone in my life. I disappeared into the crowd, without my wallet, probably to pick on his next victim.

I'm not saying that New Year's Eve is evil. And I don't object to Jews celebrating secular holidays. I make a point of deliberately celebrating July 4 (and not just because my mother of blessed memory was born on July 4, 1931). But the secular New Year sure seems silly. The entire secular calendar is arbitrary -- the secular New Year is the anniversary of nothing. I don't plan on doing anything special tonight other than ending my fast with a nice home cooked dinner.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Dennis Prager doesn't get it about the Left

In his most recent column, Dennis Prager shows again that he does not understand the religious motivations regarding much of political discourse:


'And they [the religious Bible believers of many faiths] line up together on virtually every major social/moral issue.

Name the issue: same-sex marriage; the morality of medically unnecessary abortions; capital punishment for murder....strong support for Israel'

Actually, no. A large fraction of religious Christians -- most non-evangelical Protestants -- don't have a problem withe abortion. Most Christian Churches, including the Roman Catholic Church, oppose capital punishment -- and I've been told by two different rabbis independently not to serve on a jury in a capital case because the protections our legal system provides defendents in such cases fall so far beneath the Torah standard.

'the hatred that much of the Left has for Jewish, Protestant, Catholic and Mormon Bible-believers'

Actually, much of the Left consists of such Bible believers. Talk to a devout Mennonite about the morality of war, for example. Or an Orthodox Jewish scientist about the importance of not having politics interfere with medical research. (I am such a scientist.) Or a Catholic priest who is ready to go to prison for helping undocumented immigrants. Or any reasonable Christian or Jew who has read the prophets about the importance of society taking care of those who are not as fortunate.

We believe. We are of the Left. And we aren't going anywhere. Mr. Prager may not understand this, but we don't fit into his simple system.

Monday, December 25, 2006


I haven't said anything about recent news about alleged sexual abuse in the Orthodox community because (1) I don't know all the facts of any particular incident, and (2) I don't have anything to say that hasn't been said elsewhere.

However, I now break that silence by giving commendation to Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, who seems to be doing the right things and is in a position to have an impact:

I hope that he may have the kind of impact on the problem of abuse that Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski has had for substance abuse in the Jewish community.

A Gentile behaves very badly

Congressman Virgil Goode has, throughout his political career, been known as someone who marches to his own tune. Unfortunately, that tune no longer is consistent with the US Constitution.

When Dennis Prager criticized congressman-elect Keith Ellison for planning a symbolic swearing-in ceremony using a copy of the Koran, criticism was quick to come from right and left. But Prager is just a writer and talk show host, with no influence over anyone who doesn't choose to listen to him. (And Prager is actually correct on a lot of things -- just not this one!) Goode, on the other hand, is a member of the US House of Representatives -- thankfully, soon to be part of the minority party which will have little influence -- and he went even further than Prager in expressing bigotry.

Here is Congressman Goode's letter:

An excerpt:

"if American citizens don't wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran....we will have many more Muslims in the United States if we do not adopt the strict immigration policies that I believe are necessary to preserve the values and beliefs traditional to the United States of America..."

Never mind the fact that the US Constitution prohibits religious tests for any public office, and guarantees free expression of religion (including use of the Koran for any purpose). And never mind that Ellison is not an immigrant but someone who had ancestors here during colonial times.

The question here is whether Goode should be sworn in at all, since it is questionable whether he is willing to uphold the Constution himself. The Richmond Times-Dispatch, a newspaper which for generations has been known for its far right wing editorial positions, took Goode to task for this:

An excerpt:

"Goode's idea of traditional values and beliefs doesn't include some of the basic tenets of our democracy....As he holds up his right hand, Goode should remember what he's swearing to uphold. "

Well said.

Gentiles behaving well

Those of us on the political left who are supporters of Israel were surprised this fall by two shows of support for Israel's position from unexpected sources:

First Congressman John Conyers, who has never been known as a supporter of Israel and will be the chairman of the Judiciary Committee of the US House of Representatives for the next two years, publically criticized Jimmy Carter's new book for its use of the term "Apartheid" to describe Israel's policies. As reported in the Forward:

“I cannot agree with the book’s title and its implications about apartheid,” the lawmaker wrote in a statement. “I recently called the former president to express my concerns about the title of the book, and to request that the title be changed.”

I hope that Conyers, the second most senior member of the US House of Representatives, continues to see the light.

Second, Ségolène Royal, the Socialist Party candidate for President of France, who has also not been known as a friend to Israel, suggested that Iran not be permitted ANY nuclear program for any reason -- that the line between civilian and military nuclear programs was so small that the world can't take the risk.

This, of course, led to much criticism from the French Right -- even from the mainstream non-anti-Semitic part. FWIW, Iran has a right under the nuclear nonproliferation treaty to have a civilian nuclear power program. But treaties are for countries that can be trusted. At least in this instance, Royal is a leftist who gets it.

Jews behaving badly

So in the past few months, we've had a few examples of Jews doing things that Jews aren't supposed to do. (And I'm not even going to get to the problem of abusing children on this post -- that will be a later post.) Here are some examples:

Christmas is not a Jewish holiday. But you wouldn't know it from the attitudes of these Jews:

Dr. Laura is having a Christmas tree in her home, and is inviting listeners to send an ornament:

And Cindy Chupack wrote about her family getting a tree:

Michael Medved might excuse them, saying that Christmas trees can be thought of as a secular symbol:

Mr. Medved's fellow Seattle resident, Rabbi Daniel Lapin, isn't concerned about the fact that Dr. Laura or Ms. Chupack are engaged in avodah zarah. No, Rabbi Lapin is more concerned about defending Christmas!

I agree that it was really silly and stupid for the Seattle Tacoma Airport Authority to remove Christmas trees rather than allow a rabbi to erect a Chanukiah. But when did promoting a symbol that is unquestionably Christian become mutar? There is a substantial body of halachic support for the idea that Christianity is a religion forbidden even to non-Jews. While my own rabbis do not hold like that, and I personally have no problem with Christians practicing Christianity, shouldn't we be more concerned about the souls of Jews who find Christmas tempting? Can't Mr. Medved or Rabbi Lapin call upon their fellow right wing Jewish radio commentator, Dr. Laura, to give up the avodah zarah?

Finally, another right wing Jewish commentator, Dennis Prager, went way over the line in objecting to congressman-elect Keith Ellison's plan to have a symbolic swearing in using a copy of the Koran. Ellison is the first practicing Muslim to be elected to congress. Mr. Prager does not realize that the US Constitution's forbidding of any religious test for public office applies here as well, and if a Muslim must use a Christian Bible, so must a Jew. Even Michael Medved took exception on this one. (This also produced a Gentile behaving badly...more on that later.)


To my five fans who check this blog -- I am going to start posting occasionally again. I had six grant proposals in a six week period, and then my wife has had a difficult job transition that isn't complete yet. I've also been keeping up with daf yomi and attending two regular shiurim -- chas v'shalom that blogging interfere with torah study! I also found that I didn't have a lot original to say and didn't want to clog up the internet. But I have a few (hopefully original) things to say and will post some things within the next few days. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The King of Crete

The Deutche Oper Berlin cancelled four performances of Mozart's "Idomeneo" because of the perception that they might be offensive to Islam:,1518,439393,00.html

"The Deutsche Oper, one of Berlin's three opera houses, was due to show a controversial production of Mozart's "Idomeneo" by director Hans Neuenfels in which the severed heads of the Prophet Muhammad, Jesus and Buddha are placed on four chairs. "

It turns out that the very same opera opened at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City the very next night. But there is no mention of Buddha, Jesus, or Mohammed in the plot synopsis:

What Buddha, Jesus and Mohammad are doing in a story set many centuries before either were born is beyond me. Maybe I'm a purist, but why do artists need to take such liberties? So my wife and I decided to see the Metropolitan Opera's more pure production.

Short review: Beautiful music. Boring plot. Buddha, Jesus, and Mohammed are not relevant.

Well, eventually the Deutche Oper had a change of heart, and allowed the production to go on:

Thomas Jefferson might be happy. I'm not sure about his contemporary and fellow Mason, Mozart.

Futher thought: Are Wagner operas performed in Israel?

Thursday, September 21, 2006

A difficult time

I haven't posted anything for a while here. Part of the reason is that I've been very busy with work, another is that I've realized that I have a lot less original to say than I thought I had when I started this blog! I had composed a nice post about the fifth anniversay of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, but it disappeared into cyberspace somewhere between pressing "Publish" and its appearance.

I've also been saddened by repeated evidence of improper behavior among my fellow Orthodox Jews. Kashrut scandals, sexual abuse scandals, agunah outrages, riots, property disputes that spill out into the non-Jewish media and court system -- all make me worry, two days before Rosh Hashanah, how HaShem will judge us. My rav suggested that the publicity should remind us of how close any of us, even the most outwardly frum, is just one act away from very serious moral and ethical offenses. I will be thinking of that during the Yomin Norayim this year. It will be a time for reflection for me.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Just a few thoughts on the war

I'm travelling outside the United States right now, to a country whose head of government has been very supportive of Israel so far (and been criticized for that support). I've been following the war on the internet very closely and hope that this will finally bring an end to Hezbollah -- with as few casualties (on either side) as possible. I'm very grateful for the support of Israel from almost all sides of the political spectrum in the US.

I took a few minutes to write an email to an old friend in Zefat with whom I'd fallen out of contact. He responded "between bombardments" that he was still there, that it was great to hear from me, and to keep praying.

I also saw some awful anti-Muslim graffitti here near where I'm staying. It reminded me that Jews are not the only hated people in the world. I pray for this conflict to end soon, and for good.