Friday, February 24, 2006

Latest Iranian nuttiness

In this MEMRI translation, an Iranian professor, Hasan Bolkari, gets his facts screwed up:

"There is a cartoon that children like. They like it very much, and so do adults - Tom and Jerry....
Some say that this creation by Walt Disney [sic] will be remembered forever. The Jewish Walt Disney Company gained international fame with this cartoon. It is still shown throughout the world. This cartoon maintains its status because of the cute antics of the cat and mouse - especially the mouse. "

Two problems:

1) Walt Disney was not Jewish. (Disney and Howard Hughes were just about the only major Hollywood studio magnates who were Gentiles back then, but facts are facts.)

2) Tom and Jerry were MGM cartoon characters, not Disney cartoon characters.

For the 1945 movie, "Anchors Aweigh", Gene Kelly dances with Jerry Mouse for about 4 minutes. MGM had wanted Kelly to dance with Mickey Mouse, but Mickey was under contract to Disney and the studio owner would not permit him to appear in an MGM film.

This would all be laughable if the Iranians were not so dangerous.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Respect for leaders

"You shall not curse a judge, and you shall not curse a leader among your people." -Exodus 22:27, from this weeks parsha Mishpatim.

I read this as a strong warning about appropriate conduct and demenor for those of us who express political views. Whether it is George W. Bush or Ariel Sharon or Ehud Olmert, the natural way to interpret this passage is that we should treat them with respect and assume they are /trying to do the right thing even if we think they are wrong.

And that is hard. I've expressed negative views toward George W. Bush many times, most recently

Nobody ever said the Torah isn't supposed to challenge us. Every verse potentially carries a lesson in midot. I have to remind myself that even though I think President Bush is wrong on 99% of domestic issues and about 90% of international issues, and has done a terrible job even on the things for which he may have had the right idea (Iraq, for example), he really has at heart what he believes are the interests of the United States. (Say, who put that prayer for the government in the siddur, anyway?)

It was largely for this reason that I avoided all the anti-disengagement activity. I did not want to be associated with people who compare Sharon to Hitler. This is not consistent with the idea behind this verse! As religious Jews we are held to a higher standard.

And this goes for Jewish religious leaders as well. I have no clue as to why some rabbis condemn Rabbi Slifkin. I would never choose for my own rav someone who had a problem with the content of Rabbi Slifkin's writings. But I'm sure they have their reasoning and have the interests of Am Yisrael at heart. Of course, I think they are 100% wrong and that these acts have damaged Orthodox Judaism pretty seriously. But not only do I not curse them, I still give them respect for the Torah that they know, even if they do not know science at all.

Besides, there is the really really tiny almost inconsequential nearly impossible chance I might be mistaken on something and the people I criticize might actually be right! Chas v'shalom!!! Hmmmm....low probability, so I probably don't need to worry about it. ;-)

Jewish attitudes toward slavery

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

Ok, I surrender

Ok, I finally broke down and started my own blog. Not that I'm sure that I have a lot to say that hasn't already been said by others, but this way I won't clog up other bloggers' comment space. Any thoughts for posts?