Thursday, December 30, 2004

Don't read this - no posts today

I've decided not to post anything today. So please don't bother reading this. It's a complete waste of your time.

I have some things on my mind, but I'm keeping them to myself for now. It's been one of those days when nothing seems worth writing. Certainly nothing worth bothering my readers with.

So do yourself a favor. Read a book. Take a walk. Learn some Torah. Write your memoirs. Hug your spouse. Or find one, if necessary. (Preferably not mine; I'm keeping her.) Whatever. There's no point hanging around here.

G'on, scram. At least one of us should do something useful today.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Welcome home!

Today's Nefesh B'Nefesh flight makes the Washington Post, which highlights new olim from the D.C. area. This has been the biggest year for North American aliyah in decades.

Welcome home, newcomers.

Googly-eyed ads (aka Sell Your Settlement)

Google's keyword-linked text ads are usually remarkably appropriate to the page they adorn. Not always, though.

Yoel Ben-Avraham at Second Thoughts writes about his opposition to Sharon's disengagement plan. Google (as of this writing) serves up the following ads:

Image Hosted by

The first two are at least on topic, though presumably not to Yoel's liking. The fourth is just wacky. But the third is a gem!

Compare and win, indeed.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Analemma and the Jewish problem

It's late December and the days are growing longer again. So why is sunrise still getting later, making it harder for some to daven Shacharit before leaving for work?

The phenomenon is called the analemma, and you can learn more about it here.

(Hat tip: Rabbi Seth Mandel.)

The cheese mystery: still unsolved

My Cousin the Biologist was visiting a few weeks ago, so I took the opportunity to ask him about the cheesemaking mystery I raised a few months ago.

The rabbis, I mentioned, were certain that only kosher milk can be coagulated to make cheese. "Non-kosher milk doesn't curdle." Why should this be so?

His immediate reaction: Disbelief. A contemptuous scowl transformed his face. "Can't be! I'm sure any milk will curdle if you add rennet!"

I assured him that, aside from the adamant Talmudic statement, I had done a bit of research and had found no evidence of cheese made from non-kosher milk (with the possible exception of camel milk cheese, which has only become possible recently due to modern agricultural technology).

Dairy processing is admittedly not his specialty, but he was stumped. He couldn't suggest why only ruminants' milk should coagulate.

Biology grad students take heed: This could be the route to your Ph.D.!

Monday, December 27, 2004

International e-mail trivia quiz in aid of Ray Fisher's cancer treatment

Please set aside the evening of January 15 (Israel time) for a good cause and a good time.

Ray Fisher, born in Leeds, England, is a travel agent in Ramat Hasharon. He's the National Vice-Chairman of Hitachdut Olei Britannia (Association of British Immigrants) and the past president of the Israel Rugby Union.

Ray has recently been diagnosed with brain cancer. The recommended treatments are not covered by Israel's national health service.

Friends of Ray have organized an e-mail trivia contest to raise funds for Ray's treatment. The idea is to gather a team of at least ten players in your home, collectively donating 500 shekels ($120 US / 80 UK pounds), to compete against other teams by e-mail.

For more information or to register a team, contact or I'm not involved with the project; just a concerned friend of Ray.

Havel Havalim #2; announcing #3

The second edition of Haveil Havalim (or Vanity of Vanities) is up at Soccer Dad.

Edition #3 will be hosted here on Sunday, January 2 / Tevet 21. To nominate an Israel-related or Jewish-related blog posting (your own or another's), please e-mail it to me with a subject line of "VoV #3". Include the permalink to the posting, along with the name and address of your blog.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Economics vs. Psychology

Economics: The study of human behavior based on the assumption that humans are essentially rational.

Psychology: The study of human behavior based on the assumption that humans are essentially irrational.

As the rabbis might say, they're both right.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

QUESTION: Your fantasy blog

Following up on yesterday's post: If you were to invent a fictional blog persona, who would you be?

My response is at the end of this post.

Respond in the comments, please. (And keep it clean - this is a family blog.)

The limits of protest

"No to violence; no to refusal of military service; no to the orange Star of David."

Who issued this bold rebuke to the more militant of the anti-disengagement activists?

None other than the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, the nongovernmental representative body of the settler movement.

So will we now stop hearing all the settlers tarred with the same brush?

Don't count on it.

Bearly in agreement

Odd. After I take issue with many of DovBear's recent arguments about Jews and Christianity, he writes that I "[agree] with most all of [his] central points."

Let's see. I agree with the following of DB's positions:

  • Christianity is based on false beliefs and is heretical according to Judaism

  • Jews are not enriched by the public worship of Christianity

Meanwhile, I disagree with him on the following:

  • Contemporary American Christianity is tantamount to idol-worship

  • Christians are always and everywhere our enemies

  • Jews should hate Christians and work for the downfall of Christianity

  • The only options for the American state are secular liberalism or Christian theocracy

  • American society would be better off banning all religious expression from the public square

  • The public expression of generic Christianity is a threat to American Jews

  • American Jews should be active in supporting the secularization of American public life

  • Devout American Christians pose a threat to the interests of American Jews

  • It is wrong for Jews to cooperate with Christian groups on matters of mutual interest

Yup. Sounds like we're right on the same page.

Then, cleverly, he retroactively anticipates a question I implicitly raised myself in the post he was responding to: Why did I bother to answer him?

Duh! He asked me to, didn't he?

Sheesh! You just can't please some people!

Along the way, he calls my response "long and boring". He may have a point there. For my next blog, I'll be a hassidic ba'al teshuvah from Italy, struggling with his continued passion for his Catholic wife and kids, and fearful of reprisals from his in-laws, who have connections with the Sicilian mafia. What happens when the Besht meets the Godfather?

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Oh, no! Not the Israeli flag! Anything but that!

In case you missed it in yesterday's Washington Post (I first saw it reprinted in today's Maariv:

FBI Agents Allege Abuse of Detainees at Guantanamo Bay detainee was wrapped in an Israeli flag and bombarded with loud music in an apparent attempt to soften his resistance to interrogation.

Fortunately, some Arabs consider it an honor to be wrapped in an Israeli flag. (Welcome home, Azzam!)

On the Internet, nobody knows you're a blog

Once in a while I fantasize about inventing a fictional character and blogging as an imaginary persona. Why be myself all the time?

I could be a frum mother of four coping with her recent extramarital affair!

Or a hassid who is secretly an atheist!

Or a rabbi's wife frustrated with the "rebbetzin" stereotypes!

Or a frum actress who dreams of being a historian!

Or a Jerusalem-based nursing student who's never seen a Star Wars movie!

Or a religious Zionist American-Israeli politically-conservative software engineer! (Oh, that's me. No, too boring to be fictional. Why do I waste my time?)

Am I the only one who sometimes suspects that not everyone in our little Jewish blogoshtetl is for real?

The possibilities make my head spin. (Or maybe it's just dehydration. The fast ends in 20 minutes.)

Newsflash: Jerusalem besieged by Nebuchadnezzar

Today is the Tenth of Teveth, a fast day commemorating, primarily, the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar. (It also mourns the passing of Ezra the Scribe and the translation of the Torah into Greek.)

Audio shiurim can be found at

Rabbi Meir Goldwicht (Hebrew)

Rabbi Mordechai Willig

Point of interest: Along the way, Rabbi Willig manages to discuss Christmas and Jewish attitudes towards Christian society.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Bear baiting and the Christian problem

In which, fed up with the Bear's continued incessant baiting, Yours Truly inexplicably finally takes the bait, while fully expecting a paw blow to the side of the head.

Moved by the holiday spirit, the redundantly-named Dov Bear has lately stepped up his crusade (so to speak) against Christianity, or, more precisely, against those Jews, generally of a conservative bent, who have expressed their sympathy with religious Christians and with the public celebration of Christmas in America.

It's hard to formulate a concise response to his disorganized series of ramblings from this past week, so I'll try to pick out his main points and respond to them directly. (Does he have a real job? Some of us do!)

Before I begin: Naturally, I have no sympathy with some of the loonier sentiments DB has mocked. Unlike Charles Krauthammer, I do not feel "enlarged" by the public celebration of Christmas. Unlike Dennis Prager, I feel no poorer in the absence of garish Christmas displays (and I expect many serious Christians would agree).

But back to our double-monikered ursine. As far as I can tell, his arguments, some religious and some political, boil down to these:

One at a time, now.

"I object to Christianity because it is false."

No argument here. Christianity is false and heretical. It is incompatible with Judaism - by definition; otherwise, Christians would still be Jews. However, it is no more false or heretical than many other popular systems of belief, from Hinduism to Objectivism to secular humanism. Arguably, it is less false than most of them, as it is substantially rooted in Jewish sources. One might argue that this makes it more dangerous to Jews, but not more false.

Along the same lines, Islam and Baha'i and Buddhism and (lehavdil?) Reform Judaism and certain factions of Chabad are all arguably less heretical than Christianity, but are still false and heretical from a halachic standpoint. That leaves us as maybe a million - two, to be very generous - mitzvah-observant Jews out of a world of six-plus billion. That's a lot of falsehood to object to. I've got other things to do.

"At bottom it is idol worship."

This is far from clear-cut, both philosophically and halachically. Idol worship is the worship of powers other than God, classically meaning the heavenly bodies, animals, statues or humans, or the worship of multiple gods. Whether Christianity is idol worship depends on one's understanding of Christianity.

Any Christian today, certainly in the West, will profess to be a monotheist, worshiping the same God who (they believe) gave the Israelites the Torah at Sinai. So who was Jesus? If he was another god, that's clearly idolatry. If he was merely the one God's representative on earth, he might not be much different from other false prophets. If he was god's human son and the messiah, that may be a foolish belief and it's clearly heresy to Jews, but it's not so clear that it's idolatry. Three-is-one, they say - but is God really three or really one? That may depend on the subtleties of different varieties of Christian theology.

On the halachic side, I'm certainly no expert, but there is a substantial halachic tradition which does not view modern Christianity as idolatry. Rav JB Soloveichik zt"l apparently subscribed to this view, for example. ("Evidently he followed the majority of Hakhmei Ashkenaz -- from Meiri to Rabeinu Tam to Rama to Shakh to Be'er Hagolah to Seridei Aish -- in considering contemporary Christianity not to be identical to classical avodah zarah.")

Besides - what if it is? I'm not aware of any religious injunction against political alliances with idolaters. They've been common throughout our history, from Abraham on.

"For 2000 years Christians and Christian governments have been our enemy."

Make that, "Some Christians and Christian governments have been our enemy." Others have been our friends, or at least allies, from Oliver Cromwell to Franz Josef.

But so what? You have no obligation to forgive Christians for centuries of persecution. But why slander all of today's Christians with the sins of their forebears? (Don't we object furiously when Christians do that to us?)

Christians are a diverse community. Some of them hate us. Some of them "love" us so much they want us to be just like them (how sweet!). Some of them, however, respect us for who we are and are proud to ally themselves to us, without imposing their beliefs on us. We have a right, and indeed a responsibility, to be skeptical towards them, but equally we have a moral obligation to be open to cooperation with those who are sincerely respectful of us. That doesn't mean we need to go out with them for drinks or have them over for bridge.

Certainly, as perhaps the world's smallest religious minority, we have a pragmatic need to seek out allies wherever we can find them. Diplomatic beggars can't be choosers. Political cooperation is not (primarily) about moral endorsement. It is about the leveraging of power and influence to promote our self-interests. Where Jews have potential allies, we must nurture those relationships. We can't afford not to. Equally, we must make the limits of our cooperation clear.

"The choice is Christianity or Freedom. And smart Jews choose freedom every time."

Repeating this doesn't make it so. Western Europe today is virtually free of Christianity; the state churches are dying and religious belief is dwindling. That has not made it a hospitable place for Jews.

Historically, Jews have not necessarily fared well in overly free societies. The Emancipation kicked off one of the greatest waves of assimilation in Jewish history. This "freedom - good, Christianity - bad" mantra is simplistic and unsupported by facts.

This is not to suggest that oppression is good for the Jews; far from it. But the Jewish people today has never been more free of political oppression, yet we continue to dwindle in numbers. This is primarily our own fault, not that of atheists or Christians.

Ultimately, though, the annual December issues that obsess Americans are insignificant. Whether or not City Hall sports a nativity scene, whether or not the school choir sings the Lord's Prayer (generations of Jewish kids survived this without harm), America will not become a theocracy in any conceivable scenario. Its civic religion is the Constitution, and its political and cultural diversity virtually guarantees the continued protection of civil liberties by government. And, frankly, you can't protect your son from a nativity scene on a billboard or a private lawn any more than you can from the one in the city park. Attempts, mainly by Jews, to impose public secularism on a largely religious society can only yield resentment.

Threats to Jewish continuity are far more abundant on university campuses and television screens than in the halls of government. In today's America, freedom arguably poses greater threats to Jews than Christianity does.

I've failed to bite at much of the bear's bait, if only for lack of time. There is much more worth responding to, including his distortions of Jewish doctrines, American constitutional principles and the clear intent of the very columnists he's cited. Some other time, perhaps.

A dip in the pool

Rabbi Yitzchak Abadi, a maverick posek who fields halachic questions on the web through his rabbi sons, has just fleshed out his thinking on whether a swimming pool can be a kosher mikveh. Some excerpts from son Rabbi Aaron Abadi's reply:

The basic idea is that piping does not render a Mikveh not Kosher these days, since our piping is attached to the house and/or ground.

There are however issues that need to be addressed. The water must have come from a river, a resevoir, an ocean, a lake, or anything other than "drawn water." If the first few hundred gallons come from a hose that comes from your home piping, that comes from the local water supply, then the pool is fine. The problem will be if it is initially filled by a tank truck, which in the present days is a common practice in order to fill it with pre-cleaned water and allow you to use the pool immediately, that would be a problem.

The fact that we do not use a regular swimming pool as a Kosher Mikveh for women is an added "chumra" (an extra restriction). It is not based in Jewish Law. The Ra"sh is very clear about it being Kosher (Hilchot Mikvaot #12). The Shulchan Aruch and the Ram"a are clear that it is fine (Yo"D 201:48). Even the Nodeh Beyehuda who is the strictest in this issue would agree that the pool is good in our scenario where the piping is attached to the house and/or the ground, since it is made to be attached that way.

The process that makes water not Kosher for a Mikveh is if the first waters contain water drawn by a "Keli." This would include a pail or a cup or a tank. It would not include piping that is attached to the ground.

But there are some other issues....

As usual, consult your own rabbi for practical halachic advice. Rabbi Abadi's positions are often controversial, to say the least.

Monday, December 20, 2004

All is vanity

If you're familiar with Carnival of the Vanities, the J-version has now arrived. Soccer Dad (aka David Gerstman) has taken the initiative in compiling the first edition of Haveil Havalim, Hebrew for "Vanity of Vanities", to showcase recent blog posts on Jewish or Israel-related themes.

Kol hakavod to David for the idea.

(As Ethan Dor-Shav has argued, though, "hevel" doesn't really mean vanity at all. If you didn't read his essay when I recommended it earlier, read it now!)

Attack of the taxi markings

Image Hosted by

The first time I saw it, I squinted. What was that odd marking on the side of the taxicab? Some new artsy corporate logo?

Then I saw more of them. A new fad? A cabbie fashion statement?

Before I knew it, they were everywhere. Taxis all over Israel were sporting this clunky, lopsided, block logo. What could it mean?

The answer: New directives on taxi marking from Israel's Ministry of Transportation. Ah, who but a government bureaucrat could come up with such a hideous idea?

I wonder what graphic artist is collecting the royalties?

Friday, December 17, 2004

On vacation

No time to write - it's an hour to Shabbat. I'm in the lobby of our hotel in Eilat, where we're spending our 10th anniversary.

It's clear and mostly sunny, but blustery and windy, even cold at night. Still, it's Eilat and it's beautiful.

Shabbat Shalom!

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Yearning for Chanukah carols

I have a confession to make: I enjoy Christmas songs.

Not the sappy elevator music on the pop charts. I mean the hard-core stuff. The traditional religious hymns sung in four-part harmony. I don't need to name names. You know what I'm talking about.

Don't think you've caught me in some clandestine Christian sympathies, chas v'shalom. This is about music, not religion. The melodies are simply beautiful. But I never get past the first couple of bars before I choke on the lyrics.

I admit I never felt this way growing up. Christmas was an annoyance, an all-encompassing, smothering influence, a constant reminder of my position as a religious minority. It conquered everything from the shopping malls to the sitcoms.

One of the comforts of living in Israel is being part of the religious majority in society. The major festivals here are Pesach and Sukkot, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Christmas passes with barely a notice, except in the dwindling Christian areas. (Bill O'Reilly was right: American Jews who are offended by the public pervasiveness of Christianity have the option of moving to Israel. When you're a tiny minority, it's presumptuous to object to the ubiquity of the majority culture.)

With the comfort and self-confidence of a Jewish Israeli, I can now objectively state that many Christmas songs are beautiful. They have a majesty and grace rare in Jewish music.

Taking Chanukah at random, Maoz Tzur is about the only song which fits that description. Otherwise, Chanukah songs fall into three categories: festive neo-Chassidic tunes designed for furious dancing, children's songs about dreidels and candles, or heretical songs written by secular Zionists.

There are also some lovely Shabbat zemirot, and I always enjoy learning new tunes for them, but then a holiday comes around and suddenly everyone sits around the table at a loss for something worth singing. Is it appropriate that our festival meals are less musical than our Shabbatot?

Pesach melodies are either unimaginative chants (Dayenu!) or thinly-veiled drinking tunes suitable for the fourth cup of wine (Chad Gadya). On Purim you're lucky to stay in key. And it's a good thing for Hallel or we'd hardly have anything at all to sing on Sukkot.

Could it be that we instinctively feel that if Jewish music is beautiful and harmonic it sounds goyish? (Certainly much modern Ashkenazi synagogue music was adapted from Christian styles, if not actual melodies.) At least the chassidim of Modzitz don't think so. They're known for their love for music, especially for marches and waltzes.

Lest I sound too gloomy (post-Chanukah blues?), let me leave you with the dulcet tones of the Kol Zimra "vocal simcha ensemble" from Englewood, New Jersey. Audio and video of their performance at the White House menorah lighting is available here. They sang a beautiful rendition of Maoz Tzur, followed by... assorted children's songs.

Oh, well.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Comparative cabinetmaking

Far be it from me to object to calls for efficiency in government. But while the Jerusalem Post's editorialists are on the mark regarding Israel's bloated cabinet, their comparison with the American administration is both meaningless and shockingly ill-informed.

The offending paragraph:

Sharon is a known Bush administration fan. It would be only fitting for him to note how streamlined the Washington cabinet is, though charged with running a far larger country. Health, Education and Welfare, for instance, are compacted within one framework, while here these provide separate latifundia for three ministers with their respective bureaucracies.

Streamlined? The Washington cabinet? Excuse me?

To start with the obvious: The Department of Health, Education and Welfare was abolished by President Carter in 1979,, splitting it into the Department of Education, and the Department of Health and Human Services. How long has it been since the Post editors made aliyah?

Next: Anyone want to guess how large Bush's cabinet is? Including the president, there are 22 cabinet-rank officials, not including the newly created intelligence overlord. Admittedly fewer than Sharon's 28, but hardly a paragon of bureaucratic efficiency. Bush's elite team includes such vital players as the Secretary of Veterans Affairs and the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Really, though, this comparison is irrelevant. Unlike the United States, the State of Israel does not have a federal structure. Israel's government is responsible for all the functions of both the U.S. federal and state governments. Everything from foreign affairs and national defense to small claims courts, drivers' licensing and zoning are functions of the same government. Israel also has a national health care system and state-sponsored religious services. Relative to its size, Israel's government is much larger than America's.

If anything, Bush's cabinet is more bloated, as it includes many members whose jobs should never have been federal responsibilities in the first place. Constitutionally, the federal government should not be involved in education, health, labor relations, agriculture or housing policy, to name a few. These are all functions of the states, which are more than capable of handling them.

You want to see cabinet bloat? Take a state with about the same area and population as Israel: Maryland. Maryland's cabinet - with no responsibility for defense or foreign affairs - has 24 members. They include the Secretary of Disabilities, the Secretary of Juvenile Services, the Secretary of Human Resources and the Secretary of Higher Education, and the state's own Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Add to this "cabinet attendees" such as the Attorney General, the State Comptroller and the State Treasurer, and Maryland's cabinet is easily as large as Israel's, but with fewer responsibilities.

Finally, it should go without saying that Israel's cabinet and America's cabinet serve different constitutional functions. Israel's cabinet is its governing body; the government includes a coalition of political parties and makes decisions by majority vote.

Constitutionally, the U.S. cabinet has no official function whatsoever. The president is not first among equals, like a prime minister; he is the one and only. He sets policies in consultation with his cabinet members, and expects them to implement his decisions. No American president has to negotiate with political allies over cabinet appointments, or risk being toppled by them.

Israel does need to streamline its government. But comparisons with the United States are misleading and unhelpful.

Festival of (star)light

The Geminids put on a nice show, though we only stayed out for an hour and the sky was half clouded over. We saw a good number of meteors, many of which were brighter than the brightest stars in the sky (including Jupiter). Even urban dwellers would have enjoyed this one.

For the first time, the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot blacked out the campus for half an hour to facilitate meteor viewing. As usual, the meteor fanatics camped out in Mitzpe Ramon in the Negev for optimal conditions.

Meteor watching is the easiest way to get started with stargazing. It requires nothing more than your own eyes and some spare time late at night. Bring some folding chairs for comfort, dress warmly and enjoy the show. The darker the location the better.

Stargazing is especially appropriate for Chanukah, in my opinion. The sky is moonless most of the night, and in Israel kids have a few days off school. Symbolically, Chanukah candles resemble stars, in that their light is not for use. You can't see by starlight, just as you're not allowed to use the light of the Chanukah candles. They just flicker prettily. (What does this signify? Beats me.)

On these longest, darkest nights of the year, I hope you enjoyed the light show.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Oseh ma'aseh v'reishit - II

Last time it was the Perseids; tonight's big show: the Geminid meteor shower.

Israelis interested in observing can find more information here.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

A candle, a man, his home

The mitzvah of Chanukah: A candle for each man and his home.

- B.T. Shabbat 21b

This well-known summary of the Chanukah ritual brings together three themes: candle, man and home. I have a few remarks about each.

(Please note that my discussion here is philosophical, not halachic; the sources I bring here are the primary sources, not the final word on the laws of Chanukah. Contemporary rulings are often different, and questions of practice should be referred to a competent rabbi.)

Candle. Despite popular perceptions, candles are used in few Jewish rituals. Aside from Chanukah, we light candles to greet Shabbat and holidays and to search for chametz on Pesach. All these have practical purposes: The Shabbat candles promote "shelom bayit", domestic peace, by lighting up the home pleasantly for a family dinner, and the candle for bedikat chametz is used to shed light in dark corners where chametz may be hidden.

Chanukah candles, by contrast, have no practical purpose: "We have no permission to use them, but only to see them." Their purpose is entirely symbolic: "pirsumei nisa", to publicize the miracle. Why should we light candles we are forbidden to use?

Man. The above statement appears somewhat self-contradictory. Does the obligation to light a candle apply primarily to the man or to the home? Though later sources have shifted towards the personal interpretation, the essence of the halacha appears to be that the obligation falls primarily on the home, not on the man (or woman - the two are equal in this regard).

A few examples demonstrate this point. The essential mitzvah in Talmudic times, as cited above, was to light one candle per household. Only the "mehadrin", those who go beyond the minimum requirement, lit a candle per resident - and even then, there is no indication of an individual obligation for each resident to light a candle, rather that the number of candles lit match the size of the household. Similarly, when staying in a hotel, one need not light candles if candles are being lit on one's behalf at home. Again, it is the home that needs the candles, not the individual.

The original practice also required that the candles be lit "adjacent to the entrance to the home from public property", and if a home had entrances facing different directions, candles were lit in at least one entrance facing each direction so no passerby should suspect that this house lacked Chanukah candles.

Home. Three Jewish festivals feature rituals involving the home. On Passover we eradicate chametz from the home. On Sukkot we leave the home, moving to a temporary dwelling. On Chanukah we light candles in each home.

The connections between Passover and Sukkot and the home are clear. Passover recalls the exodus from Egypt, during which every individual home was saved from slavery and from the plague of the firstborn. Sukkot commemorates the temporary desert dwellings of the Children of Israel after the Exodus.

But what does the Chanukah story have to with the home? There was a military victory, the Temple was rededicated, its menorah was relit, there was a miracle involving oil - but how is this connected to my house? The Jewish people were saved on Purim as well, but we do not commemorate this by any ritual involving our homes.

Not only are the Chanukah candles to be lit at the entrance to the home, but, back when that was the practice, they were lit facing the mezuzah, so that when walking through the doorway one passed between the mezuzah and the Chanukah candle. This parallelism with the mezuzah is another mystery. What do Chanukah candles have to do with the mezuzah?

I would suggest that the structuring of the mitzvah around the physical house and the parallelism with the mezuzah, are deliberate efforts to emphasize the role of the home in the events of Chanukah. Just as each individual household was saved from Egypt, so each individual household was saved during the Chanukah story, even if it was less obvious at the time. Just as the mezuzah on our doorposts serves as a public expression of faith in God who released us from Egypt, so does the lighting of the Chanukah candles in the doorway, facing the public street.

The Syrian-Greek oppressors forbade such basic Jewish practices as Shabbat, Brit Milah and Torah learning. Many Jews continued these practices in secret, in the shelter of their homes. With the Hasmonean victory, symbolized by the recapture and rededication of the Temple, they could again follow the Torah publicly.

Lighting Chanukah candles symbolizes the rededication of each individual home to God, just as the Temple itself was rededicated and its candles relit. The candles face outwards, not for use by the home itself but for the symbolic purpose of identification with the Hasmonean victory and the renewed Temple worship. This could not be taken for granted at the time; the public itself was split between traditionalists and hellenists, with many of the cultural elite and the priestly class supporting the "enlightened" Greeks and their cosmopolitan culture. Like the mezuzah, then, the Chanukah candles were an expression of faith, a statement that this household is proudly dedicated to the Torah.

I hope I've managed to shed a bit of light on this subject.

Update (Dec. 13): Rabbi Moshe Taragin of Yeshivat Har Etzion delves into this theme from a Talmudic perspective here.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

The past has been paved

As I feared, the impressive Hasmonean-era archeological site on the edge of modern Modi'in has been razed by Israel's Antiquities Authority to make way for a new luxury neighborhood.

All that remains is the mikveh. The massive adjacent olive press is gone, its millstone having been relocated to the Antiquities Authority's warehouse.

The bulldozers moved in on Chanukah eve and destroyed a site dating to the kingdom established by the Maccabees, adjacent to the modern city bearing the name of their hometown. I'm still stunned.

Local activists were working on getting a court order to stay the execution. This may have actually spurred the authorities to act quickly.

The nearby Chalcolithic site remains in place for now.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Sunny days ahead for Labor?

Kindly consider the following two would-be leaders of Israel's Labor Party:

Am I the only one who finds them uncannily similar - in appearance, personality and overall intelligence - to these colorful characters? (Except Matan Vilnai is missing a tuft of hair, and Haim Ramon could use a rubber ducky.)

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

More on the Archeologer Rebbe

Chakira has more about the maverick hassidic rabbi and museum curator, Rabbi Shaul Shimon Deutsch, whose archeology museum I plugged recently. Sounds like a fascinating man.

Just winding you up - II

I don't know what got into me, but for some odd reason I was listening to National Public Radio yesterday afternoon (that's morning for those of you stateside). It all started because WMAL's streaming was down, and before I knew it I had the dulcet tones of NPR droning in my ear.

Their politics aside, listening to NPR is about as entertaining as watching a web page load. They don't have a patch on the BBC World Service, for example.

Anyway, my ears perked up at a report from the World's Largest Ball of Twine in Cawker City, Kansas.

I had been sure the World's Largest Ball of Twine was in Minnesota, as immortalized in the classic Weird Al Yankovic song.

It turns out - will wonders never cease? - that there are at least two World's Largest Balls of Twine. The original, in Darwin, Minnesota, is no longer the world's largest; it's been surpassed by the one in Kansas. It, however retains the coveted title of the World's Largest Ball of Twine Wrapped by One Man.

If I ever get to Minnesota or Kansas, would I deliberately want to visit either of these sites? The twine balls are sheltered by gazebos, and the local towns hold festivals in tribute of the "achievements". Which just goes to show that there is no obsession so irrational that an American can't find a way to make a buck out of it.

What does one do with an 8-ton ball of twine? Give it to a 96-ton kitten?

Monday, November 29, 2004

Just winding you up

It's time I tried a blog poll. Here goes:

When did you last wind a watch or clock?

My answer: "Today or yesterday".

Hizballah's beacon of hatred

C-SPAN yesterday interviewed Avi Jorish of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, who discussed his new book about al-Manar, Hizballah's television station, which is available by satellite around the world. He spoke clearly and intelligently about the threat posed by what he calls this "beacon of hatred" (al-Manar means "beacon"), while defending himself against charges of bias and of suppression of free speech.

Regarding Israel, he described himself as a supporter of a two-state solution, and expressed his concern that the Palestinian leadership is not preparing its public for such a solution. He mentioned seeing coverage recently on al-Jazeera in which Palestinian leaders assured "refugees" that they would defend their "right of return" to Israel - a position which essentially makes a two-state solution impossible, and implies the end of Israel as a Jewish state. To me, this supports my contention that there will be no Palestinian state.

The interview is not yet available on C-SPAN's web site, but it will presumably be available soon. Look for video of the Washington Journal of November 28.

Update: The video clip is now available for RealPlayer.

November 29, 1947 - November 29, 2004

This BlogBurst piece is cross-posted by participating websites, to

commemorate a milestone in Israel's history. The list of the

participating sites is appended at the end of this post.

November 29, 2004:

Anniversary of the UN vote on Resolution 181

Today is the anniversary of the United Nations General Assembly vote passing Resolution 181. Known colloquially as the Partition Plan, it called for dividing the western part of the Palestine Mandate into two independent states, one predominately Jewish and one predominately Arab. The city of Jerusalem was slated to come under a "Special International Regime".

This was the first time a world body had endorsed the establishment of a Jewish state. The Jews, desperate for a political haven in the wake of World War II, eagerly embraced the proposal, despite its substantial problems: The proposed Jewish state excluded Jerusalem, and its borders were indefensible. It was far less than they had hoped for, but fulfilled their basic needs for political independence and international recognition.

For the Arabs, even this was too much. Though they had never had an independent state in Palestine and were now offered one, they would agree to no arrangement which would offer recognition to the Jews. The Arab states actively opposed Resolution 181, while offering no realistic alternative proposal for the future of Palestine - at least, none that accommodated political rights for Jews.

Like all other proposals before and since to solve the "Question of Palestine", this plan was never implemented. The Jews celebrated its approval as a mini-holiday, known in Hebrew as Kaf Tet b'November ("29 November"). The Arabs, rejecting partition, began an assault on the Jews of Palestine.

The day after the vote, Palestinian Arabs murdered six Jews in a bus to Jerusalem, and another in the Tel-Aviv - Jaffa area. The terror assault continued until the mandate ended in May and the State of Israel was declared, whereupon six Arab states invaded the nascent state with the aim of destroying it. This war claimed the lives of 6,000 Jews, or 1% of the total Jewish population in 1948 - the equivalent of the US today losing 3,000,000 lives or Israel losing 65,000.

After intense lobbying by Zionist representatives and vigorous opposition from the Arab states, the partition plan was approved by a vote of 33 to 13, with 10 abstentions.

The 33 countries casting "Yes" votes: Australia, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Byelorussia, Canada, Costa Rica, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, France, Guatemala, Haiti, Iceland, Liberia, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Sweden, Ukraine, Union of South Africa, USSR, USA, Uruguay, Venezuela. The diversity of this coalition points to the broad support enjoyed by the Jewish state at the moment of its founding.

The 13 countries voting "No": Afghanistan, Cuba, Egypt, Greece, India, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, Yemen. (Ten of these are Moslem countries; Greece has the special distinction of being the only European country to vote no.)

The ten abstainers: Argentina, Chile, China, Colombia, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Honduras, Mexico, United Kingdom, Yugoslavia.

Whatever their merits or demerits on other issues, it is imperative that we recognize with gratitude those countries who stood by our side at this crucial moment in history.

List of participating sites, in alphabetical order of site name

Anti Idiotarian Rottweiler

Arkansas Bushwacker

Armies Of Liberation

Bama Pachyderm

Biur Chametz



Blog Willy

Blue Rev

Canadian Comment

Cao's Blog

Catholic Friends of Israel

Christian Patriot

Christian Action for Israel

Clarity and Resolve

Crusader War College



Daniel Davis


God Pigeon

Harald Tribune


Heretics Almanac

Hidden Nook

History Nerd


I Love America

Instant Knowledge News


Israel Commentary


Jerusalem Posts

Leaning Right News


Live Journal





Mugged By Reality

Mystery Achievement

Mystical Paths



Nice Jewish Boy


Protect Our Heritage


Red Tigress




Spitball Defense


Tampa Bay Primer

Techie Vampire


Tex The Pontificator

The Autism Homepage

The Conservative

The Homeland

The Seal Club


Who's Your Rabbi


Yoan Hermida

Weblog of a Wondering Jew

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Welcome to the Styx

Thanks to Life in the Styx for linking to my discussion of whether or not to rejoice over Arafat's death.

Styx's angle was a bit different from mine. He addressed the question of whether or not to omit Tachanun on the day of Arafat's death. Styx is the Orthodox rabbi of an American congregation, and he ruled that Tachanun should be omitted, as it is on many days of mild joy, and that appropriate chapters of Tehilim should be recited.

On an unrelated note: Styx doesn't seem to realize that we're actually friends. We've known each other for years. I know who he is; he apparently doesn't know who I am, and refers to me as "some blogger"! I won't reveal his name here, though I gather he isn't deliberately blogging anonymously. He probably just forgot to identify himself on his site.

Finally, as a caution to readers, let me paraphrase him:

DO NOT BE FOOLED - his blog "Life in the Styx" looks exactly like mine.

But I have no intention of changing my template. I like the shades of orange; they go with the "Biur Chametz" theme.

Things to do in Israel

G. Green has asked in a comment:

I hope to be in in The Holy Land - Jerusalem this week.... I havent been for a while and havent much planned, what do you suggest I do?

I'm not sure where to start. I'll kick off with a few recommendations, and I encourage readers to contribute their own in the comments.

If you haven't been to the new Davidson visitors center at the southern excavations of the kotel, it's highly recommended. They have a computer-designed three-dimensional model of the Second Temple.

It's a great time of year to go out into nature. The bird migration is at its peak in much of the country, if you're into that sort of thing. There are beautiful parks around Jerusalem, such as Sataf and Ein Hemed. If you plan to visit national parks, it may be worth getting a visitor's pass.

Neot Kedumim isn't new, but it's a special place: A biblical nature reserve. Located between the airport and Modiin, it features landscapes with biblical species, along with explanations of their significance. They have, for example, a large etrog grove! Great for kids, too.

A must for book enthusiasts: This week only, the Jewish National and University Library at the Hebrew University's Givat Ram campus, Israel's equivalent of the British Library, is having a sale of redundant books.

In Kfar Daniel, also not far from the airport, is the visitors center of Hazorfim, makers of silver Judaica. You can tour the factory and learn how they make candlesticks, wine cups, and more. Call ahead to book a tour.

Remember, it's low season for tourists here. If you can afford it, spend some money at the shops and cafes in downtown Jerusalem. They're still hurting pretty badly.

That's it for me - it's your turn, folks!

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Locusts, yum! - IV

The locusts go marching one million by one million, hurrah, hurrah!

The locusts have reached as far north as Ein Gedi, and they're feeding and possibly breeding. The Agriculture Ministry is spraying, but with limited success. The fear is that they'll find their way towards central Israel before the cold and rain deter them.

Meanwhile, "The ministry announced Wednesday night that it has coordinated with the Civil Administration to transfer 200 kg. of insecticides to the Palestinian Authority." Suddenly they expect the Palestinians to start controlling their vermin?

At work the other day, I asked the mashgiach in the cafeteria (we have such things in Israel). He's Yemenite, and he reminisced fondly of his childhood. Locusts were delicious, he said. He didn't suggest introducing them to the cafeteria's menu, though.

Maybe we'll visit the Dead Sea resort tomorrow for a snack? (I, II, III)

Update (2:30pm): Latest reports include locust sightings in the Golan, Galilee and Rishon Lezion!

The UN: Two steps forward?

The UN General Assembly has just passed two unprecedented resolutions: the first to condemn antisemitism among other forms of religious hatred, and the second to condemn suicide bombings against Israeli civilians. Better late than never, I suppose.

Still, the overall picture of the UN's attitude to Jew-hatred is pretty sad. Anne Bayefsky has the details.

No, not more turkey!

With relatives visiting this year and a simcha last year, this is the second year in a row I'll be attending a Thanksgiving dinner, after about a hiatus of about a decade since I've been living abroad. If it weren't for the web I'd probably forget about Thanksgiving entirely.

I can't say I'm that excited about turkey, though. Did you know that Israel boasts the world's highest per capita consumption of turkey? It's not even close; the figure is some 30% higher than the US!

(Israel also proudly has a high concentration of turkeys in public office.)

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Does Clinton have trouble with the truth?

The facts:

  • "In the 30 months after the signing of the [Oslo Accords], more Israelis were killed in terror attacks (213) than in the preceding decade (203 from January 1983 to September 1993)"

  • "In contrast, there was a drastic decline in the number of fatalities during the Netanyahu government (1996-1999).... That period marks the lowest number of fatalities since the beginning of the Oslo process."

  • "Notably, the sharpest increase in the number of terrorist victims during the Oslo years was that of Israeli citizens within Israel's pre-1967 boundaries."

And, finally, after the collapse of the Clinton-sponsored Camp David talks in 2000 came a terror assault dwarfing even that of the Oslo years.

Clinton's analysis? He takes credit for the lull in 1998:

"When we had seven years of progress toward peace, there was one whole year when for the first time in the history of the state of Israel not one person died of a terrorist attack...."

...without taking responsibility for the massive increases in terrorism both before and after!

Now, I don't think Clinton was responsible for the terrorism (at least not primarily responsible), any more than I think he was responsible for the lull. But Jewish blogger DovBear seems eager to give him the credit, though not the responsibility!

We knew Clinton had trouble with the truth. Should we expect more from his sycophants?

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Prediction: There will be no Palestinian state

Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.

-- Niels Bohr, Danish physicist (1885 - 1962)

I try to avoid making predictions, but sometimes I can't resist. I admit my record has been mixed. In April 1990 I predicted there would be a war with Iraq. In September 1993 I predicted the Oslo Accords would eventually lead to war. On the other hand, in late 2002 I didn't think Bush would go ahead with the invasion of Iraq. Can't win 'em all.

So I'm either brave or foolhardy today in making the following prediction:

There will be no Palestinian Arab state.

Do I mean "never", you ask? Never is a long time. My intuition does say never, but for the purposes of this official prediction, I'll stick with "for the foreseeable future," say, the next ten or twenty years. I'm saying this regardless of my position on whether or not such a state would be good for Israel (I think it wouldn't); it's my objective assessment.

Am I nuts? After all, the circumstances for its establishment have apparently never been better.

For the past two years both Israel and the U.S., for the first time since Israel's creation, have supported the near-term establishment of a Palestinian state; Bush's original target date was 2005. The international diplomatic "quartet" endorsed a road map to bring it about. Meanwhile, our favorite obstacle to peace has gone to the netherworld, allegedly clearing the way for a new generation of pragmatic Palestinian leadership (right?). Finally, Sharon's busy promoting a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and part of Samaria, leaving a vacuum which could presumably be filled by a new Palestinian government.

And here I am, saying there will be no Palestinian state?

Let me explain.

Has anyone else noticed that the Palestinian leadership has virtually stopped talking about a Palestinian state? Googling "Arafat Palestinian state" yields few declarations of support from Arafat since the year 2000. Recall that from 1998 through 2000 the speculation was that Arafat would unilaterally declare an independent state despite Israeli opposition, or else would establish one in negotiations with Israel. Recently, though, mentions of aspirations for statehood have been infrequent and perfunctory. This year, even November 15, anniversary of the impotent 1988 declaration of statehood, usually marked as Palestinian independence day, passed without notice.

Increasingly, Palestinians and their supporters are rejecting territorial partition, talking instead about a "one-state solution". Such a "solution", of course, is a solution only in the same sense as the "Final Solution". Instead of a Jewish state, Israel would become an Arab state with a Jewish minority, or at best a bare majority. It would be the end of Zionism, no matter how you define it.

Meanwhile, though once anathema to all mainstream Israeli leaders, a Palestinian state is now supported by all of Israel's Labor party, by the centrist Shinui party, and by nearly half of the Likud, including Sharon and his senior deputies. A majority of Israelis are apparently in favor. The intelligentsia claim it is the only alternative to Israel losing its Jewish character as part of a "one-state solution" or else becoming an undemocratic "apartheid regime".

What's going on here? Why the sudden turnabout? Six years ago, the Palestinians were threatening to declare statehood and Israel threatened a hostile response; today, Israel and the US are pushing for Palestinian statehood and the Palestinians are lukewarm at best, if not outright opposed!

I have a shockingly simple explanation: The Palestinians believe that their conflict with Israel is a zero-sum game. What's good for Israel is bad for them, by definition. This has always been their attitude, and likely always will be.

By implication, if Israel is willing to agree to a particular plan, it must be against Palestinian interests. At least, the fact that Israel offers a certain set of concessions indicates that it must be possible to extract even more through other means, whether diplomatic pressure or violence. Furthermore, accepting the Israeli offer, rather than continuing the struggle, would indicate a voluntary decision to forfeit the possibility of wringing further concessions, a conscious betrayal of their dreams. The focus is always on what they are giving up rather than on what they are achieving.

Thus, every time a Palestinian Arab state has been on offer alongside the Jewish state, whether offered by Israel or by an international power, the Palestinians have rejected it. They rejected the 1937-38 partition plan of the Peel Commission and the 1947 partition approved by the U.N., since both would have given the Jews a state too. From 1948-67, rather than agitate for a Palestinian state, the Arabs concentrated on continuing their assault on Israel.

Only after 1967, when Israel had captured all of the original disputed territory, did the Palestinians start calling for statehood, seeing it as a new tactic to fight Israel. Knowing the same, Israel persistently opposed the idea, intending instead to return the territories to Jordan and Egypt. Later, Israel endorsed limited autonomy under Israeli sovereignty; the Palestinians continued to agitate for statehood.

The only apparent deviation from this pattern was the 1993 Oslo Accord, in which the PLO agreed with Israel on a plan of national self-government. But the Palestinians accepted this program only because 1) Arafat made the decision, and he had both clout and credibility; 2) It was not a permanent peace but a temporary truce establishing a temporary authority; and 3) He insisted (in Arabic) that it was the implementation of the PLO's 1974 Plan of Phases, and its eventual aim was the eradication of Israel.

Hence even Arafat could not have accepted Barak's Camp David proposals, no matter how generous Barak had been. Accepting statehood while recognizing Israel, admitting Jewish rights to the Temple Mount, and forfeiting the right of return for "refugees", would have been seen as a betrayal of the Palestinian people and an admission that their aspirations were out of reach, possibly forever. (Certainly, no putative future Palestinian leader can now ever accept the deal Saint Arafat rejected.)

Today, with Israel and the U.S. advocating a Palestinian state, the Palestinians naturally conclude they can do better than accepting it. Israeli leaders explain that a Palestinian state must be established now to solve the demographic problem and ensure Israel's survival; this alone is a reason for the Palestinians not to play along. Israel is effectively telling them that if they hold out longer, they'll get more, since demographics are on their side.

Assume Israel "disengages" from Gaza. The Palestinians can declare a state there, establish a civil society and live normal lives. But they will fear they have implicitly given up the fight for the rest of the territory, including Jerusalem and the refugees, not to mention the rest of Israel. They will feel they could have achieved more had they been patient.

Or they can continue the haphazard "Palestinian Authority", with chaos and internal violence, offering a haven for terrorists - while continuing to pressure Israel through both diplomacy and force. Israel will be forced to continue its anti-terrrorist military raids, which they will portray as legitimate grievances deserving of counterattacks. Remember Fatah's perennial slogan: "Revolution until victory!"

However much Bush and Sharon may want to, they cannot create a Palestinian state. Only the Palestinians can do that. If Israel is opposed, no Palestinian state can survive; if Israel is in favor, the Palestinians will oppose, almost by definition.

If I were a conspiracy theorist, I could suggest that Sharon has endorsed a Palestinian state in order to prevent it from coming into existence. I don't believe that; I think Sharon is sincere. Regardless, my conclusion is clear.

There will be no Palestinian state. Not for the foreseeable future.

Locusts, yum! - III

"Do you take your locusts with ketchup or mayonnaise?" asks the Jerusalem Post.

They taste like french fries, says Dr. Zohar Amar of Bar-Ilan University, who conveniently published a book just four months ago entitled The Locust in Jewish Tradition. Regarding the blessing, Dr. Amar explains:

"Rabbi Yehuda said that no blessing should be said because locusts were a plague. But the sages decreed that the blessing shehakol be recited, thereby acknowledging that though it causes damage, the locust was also a good source of food. In fact, it consists of 60 percent protein and provides plenty of vitamins."

The taste, he says, "varies, depending on what the locusts have eaten. A locust that has just gorged himself in a sesame field will taste of sesame seeds."

Monday, November 22, 2004

Soccer Dad donates platelets

Maybe you should too? Read all about it.

Brooklyn's frum archeology museum

A museum of biblical archeology located in Brooklyn?

Above a shteeble?

Created and run by its rabbi?

The November/December 2004 issue of Biblical Archeology Review has the story (not online, unfortunately) of the Living Torah Museum, curated by Rabbi Shaul Shimon Deutsch.

Rabbi Deutsch collects artifacts primarily from biblical and Talmudic times. His aim, as the name indicates: to help bring the Torah to life. How did everyday objects really look 1500-4000 years ago? What does the Torah mean when it discusses them?

Next time I'm in Brooklyn I'll have to schedule a visit.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Locusts, yum! - II

The locusts have officially arrived, not via Cyprus as first expected, but via Egypt and the Sinai desert. They have "conquered" Eilat, reads the headline in Ma'ariv:

Locust swarms "conquer" Eilat

After they were driven from the agricultural areas of the Negev, the insects turned towards the city. "Eilat is under attack, we are fighting valiantly," say residents. Assessment: The "foreign tourists" will stay in town for the next few days.

Don't worry, though; aerial pesticide spraying is expected to keep the invasion under control.

Regarding the kashrut question, Dr. Zohar Amar of Bar Ilan University summarized the halachic debate over locusts in this 1999 essay.

Ma'ariv religion columnist Avishai Ben-Chaim quotes Yemenite Rabbi Shlomo Amram Korach from Bnei Brak, who notes that the kosher status of the current wave of locusts would have to be checked; this is difficult since most Jewish communities stopped eating locusts decades ago. Regardless, Ben-Chaim offers kosher recipes:

For immediate consumption, place live locusts in a pot of boiling oil and fry until crispy.

Or try this tasty dish:

Locust Skewers

Ingredients: Locusts, salt, paprika, olive oil.

Directions: First, rinse locusts well. Then skewer them and sprinkle with salt. Season with paprika and add a bit of olive oil. Finally, roast the skewers over a flame or in the oven until the locusts become crispy and yellow.

Mmm.... I think I'll stick with chicken....

Palestinian editor: Arafat expected Oslo to force Jews to flee Israel

Listen, Abdel Bari, I know that you are opposed to the Oslo Accords, but you must always remember what I'm going to tell you. The day will come when you will see thousands of Jews fleeing Palestine. I will not live to see this, but you will definitely see it in your lifetime. The Oslo Accords will help bring this about.

-- PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat to Abdel Bari Atwan, editor of the London-based daily al-Quds al-Arabi, 1994.

Other new revelations from Abdel Bari:

  • "President Arafat was the one who established the Aksa Martyrs Brigades in response to the attempt to marginalize him after the failure of the Camp David summit."

  • At the 2000 Camp David summit, Arafat "wasn't prepared to sign a final agreement with the Jewish state. He was well aware that such an agreement would make him go down in history as a traitor because he would have to give up the right of return for the refugees and most of the sovereignty over east Jerusalem."

Abdel Bari takes heart, though: "The Jews did not escape from Palestine by the thousands as President Arafat predicted. But they have started packing their bags to run away from the Gaza Strip and some settlements in the West Bank. There are also signs of emigration to Europe, the US and Canada following the suicide bombings and the sense of insecurity among Israelis."

This is consistent with the late Faisal Husseini's remark that Oslo was intended as a "Trojan Horse" to bring about the destruction of Israel.

Azure 19

I've been remiss in not mentioning the latest issue of Azure, which arrived in the mailbox a week or two ago. Lots of promising material; I'm gradually working my way through it.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Yoreh, Yoreh!

No, I haven't been granted semikha - I'm just excited about the rain!

The first significant rainfall of the season in Israel is called the "yoreh" (the last rains are the "malkosh" - see the second paragraph of Shma).

They're a bit late this year; usually we expect them in Cheshvan. Instead, they arrived yesterday, 4 Kislev. The Talmud discusses on what dates the yoreh should be expected; if it's substantially delayed, public fast days are proclaimed.

Yesterday we had a pretty heavy thunderstorm, continuing intermittently into the night. Sleeping was a challenge. It felt like someone was blasting dynamite just overhead.

I actually used an umbrella yesterday and wore a light denim jacket. Overnight low temperatures are in the 50s now (Fahrenheit; 11-16 Celsius) - a bit low for the time of year.

Yes, winter is setting in.

Chanuka's biblical roots

In this two-part shiur, Rabbi Menachem Liebtag argues that it is no coincidence that Chanuka falls on the 25th of Kislev - the date had significance in Tanakh long before the Chanuka story took place. I just heard him give this talk and I recommend it with enthusiasm.

Terminal longing

Meanwhile, Jerusalem Post columnist Calev Ben-David says goodbye to Ben Gurion Airport's now-closed Terminal 1.

Does anyone know whether the new terminal still offers ice cream snakes?

Leftists making sense - II

Jerusalem Post columnist Larry Derfner gets it right again
, this time correctly arguing that, in exchange for forcing some 8,000 settlers out of their homes, the Israeli government should at least be showering them with financial compensation, even if it seems unfair:

Give the settlers the benefit of the doubt. And with so much doubt, that's a lot of benefit. Give them $300,000 or so per family, enough to buy houses in the country like they've got now.

Is that unfair? Unfair to whom - to the Israelis who didn't become settlers and instead had to work and save and hit up their parents and use their inheritance to buy their country homes? They'll survive the indignity.

Would it be too generous to the settlers? Let's see: We're pushing them out of their homes, out of their surroundings, in many cases out of their jobs. We're uprooting their lives, often when they're in middle age. We're forcing their children to give up their friends, their schools, everything they know.

He is particularly angered by the claim that Israel can't afford to offer more; the difference, says Derfner, would cost the Israeli taxpayer only $50 per person, "a token gesture to share the burden".

Derfner may be missing the real issue here. A tax of $50 per person to compensate 8,000 evacuees would indeed be bearable. Presumably, though, the government fears the precedent.

The process that starts today with the evacuation of 8,000 residents, mostly from Gaza, will inevitably continue in due course with the evacuation of at least 80,000 from remote areas of Judea and Samaria, and possibly up to 160,000, encompassing everyone outside the large settlement blocs. That $50 tax could quickly become $500 or $1000 - totalling $5000 for a family of five. Is that a burden he'd be eager to share?

The "Israel can't afford it" claim is the surest evidence that the current disengagement plan is only meant to be phase one of a process of unilateral destruction of the bulk of the settlement enterprise. Let no one on the right have any illusions.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

A tasty reason to make aliyah

The U.S. is suffering a major tomato shortage, with retail prices running at $2-3 a pound! For Israelis, that's 20-30 shekels/kg!

I just paid 5 shekels a kilo this morning, making the American price some 4-6 times higher.

And everyone knows Israeli tomatoes are much tastier, at any price.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Why "Biur Chametz"?

Not surprisingly, websurfers often find this site when searching for "chametz" (not to be confused with "searching for chametz" - see below). It currently appears on the first page of Google's results for "chametz", and it's been the number 1 result for "biur chametz" since shortly after I started the blog.

A while back, in a magnanimous attempt to help those poor souls seeking practical information but finding instead a useless weblog, I added a link to the OU's Passover information page. Still, I think I owe my readers a fuller explanation.

Nobody's ever actually asked me these questions, so I can't very well call them Frequently Asked Questions. I would call them Frequently Unasked Questions, but this is a family publication. Call them what you will, here they are:

Q: What does "Biur Chametz" mean?

A: It's Hebrew.

"Biur" means "Destruction, especially by fire". "Chametz" means "Leavened bread, of the sort Jews are forbidden from consuming or possessing during the Passover (Pesach) festival. Unleavened bread is called matzah."

Thus, "Biur Chametz" is "the destruction of leaven", an annual pre-Passover ceremony in which one's home must be rid of leavened products, at least a symbolic amount of which must preferably be burnt. This process begins with "Bedikat Chametz", "the search for chametz" (not be confused with a search for "chametz" - see above).

Q: What does "Zman Biur" mean?

A: "Zman" means "time", so "Zman Biur" means "destruction time". It refers to the deadline by which Biur Chametz must be completed, which is midmorning Passover Eve.

Q: Oh. What does that have to do with a blog?

A: Not much.

Q: Then why did you choose that name?

A: Dunno - I was starting a blog and needed a name quick. "Biur Chametz" met a few of my criteria:

  • For a Jewish/Zionist blog, I wanted a clearly Jewish name, preferably in Hebrew.
  • It's quirky, original, and not in use elsewhere.
  • It's a pun of sorts. In addition to "destruction", "Biur" can represent a different Hebrew word, a near-homophone with a different spelling, meaning "explanation". Several classical Jewish commentaries incorporate the word in their names: "Biur HaGra", "Biur Halacha". "Biur Chametz" is something of a satire on that.
  • I have a soft spot for a particular drasha (exegesis, creative interpretation) related to biur chametz and Passover in general. I won't go into it here, though.

Q: Any regrets?

A: Well, "Zman Biur" is a weird moniker. It bears no resemblance to any actual human name. Guess I'm stuck with it now.

Also, I feel a bit guilty about drawing all those hits from people geniunely seeking Passover information. This posting will hopefully draw many of those hits, since it mentions lots of chametz-related keywords. If you're one of those Pesach researchers, please accept my apologies for wasting your time. (Unfortunately, this posting will probably draw even more of them than before!)

Q: Incidentally, who are you really?

A: You don't expect me to answer that, do you? That's why I'm using a pseudonym!

All I will say is that the descriptions of myself which appear in this blog are generally accurate. I try to give as much detail as is relevant, while keeping it unlikely that anyone but my closest friends can guess who I am. As far as I know, only one person knows my "true identity", and that's because I let it slip once in a technical glitch. (You know who you are!)

Update (March 2006): Okay, now three people know who I am. As far as I know, that is.

Further update (March 2006): Q: How is "chametz" pronounced?

Update (July 2006): Make it five people.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Dispelling rumors of my resignation

To put a stop to the rampant media speculation, I just wanted to make this perfectly clear: Unlike some administration officials, I have no intention of stepping down after the inauguration. I would be happy to continue to blog as long as my services are still needed, as long as there is chametz which needs biur. I am here to serve the public.

(I was surprised to read that "Administration officials said the departures would be staggered." Staggered? Don't take it so hard, guys! It's just a job.)

I needn't have worried

I wrote: "We can't let the stately respect of a massive formal funeral procession be Arafat's last public impression."

I needn't have worried. Despite the best efforts of the French and Egyptian honor guards, Arafat's funeral in Ramallah was - how can I put this gently? - not particularly dignified. Crowds mobbing the helicopter, preventing the "dignitaries" from leaving; random gunfire from random places; spectators perched on electricity poles - as Jerusalem Post columnist Yosef Goell puts it, "These people deserve a state?"

I got a good laugh watching serious foreign reporters explain how Palestinian events are often "passionate", while clearly trying to suppress their shock and revulsion at the proceedings. Imagine how they would have reported on such goings-on at an Israeli funeral!

In retrospect, the media coverage of Arafat's passing wasn't as bad as it could have been. Sky News interviewed terror victims, and CNN and the New York Times reported extensively on Arafat's financial shenanigans. The optimistic media talk about how his death opens up an "opportunity for peace" just emphasized how little Arafat himself was a man of peace. He was not unambiguously honored and feted in death; far from it.

Update (Nov. 16): For a sense of how bad the media coverage really was - even though not as bad as it could have been - please read Tom Gross's column.

Overall, the weeks-long circus surrounding the man's death was particularly fitting. Arab commentators went so far as to say that he would have wanted it that way. Chaos was his modus operandi. No doubt he will leave plenty of it behind for us.

Now, about that party... it was a pretty sedate affair. No rowdy revelers, to say the least. About a dozen friends gathered Thursday night in Jerusalem for a nosh and a l'chaim, watching CNN with the sound turned down. CNN is surprisingly entertaining when accompanied by a contemporary Israeli rock soundtrack. We reminisced about the havoc this one cretin wreaked on the world, and on the Jews in particular. The world won't be the same without him.

We also read some appropriate passages from Tehilim: Psalm 129 and Psalm 94:1-7.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

A time to rejoice? - II

Chayyei Sarah comments on my post about whether or not to celebrate Arafat's death. Thanks, Sarah, for the thoughtful remarks. I'd like to respond to a few of them.

Given that very few of us are on such a spiritual level that we'd be celebrating out of "love and gratitude to God"

I don't think thanking God requires such a high spiritual level. Thanking God for mundane pleasures is a central everyday Jewish practice. We do it when we eat and when we buy new things. Surely we can thank him for (finally) ending the life of an oppressor?

(and, note that we have not witnessed a miracle - Arafat died of natural causes in old age - hardly a sign that God is about to deliver us from evil . . . )

I'm not aware that praising God requires us to have witnessed a miracle. On the contrary. We need only to have experienced his benevolence. For that matter, no miracles were involved in the Purim story, and we have an entire festival about it.

I think the appropriate reaction at this time is not rejoicing, but rather grim satisfaction.

Clearly one can feel joyful without rejoicing. I don't think we need to feel grim, though.

I wonder who will watch that footage and think...

I don't know what people will think. I do know that we can't let the stately respect of a massive formal funeral procession be Arafat's last public impression.

Question: Has anyone seen any obits that say straight out that while Arafat may have been famous and somewhat powerful, he was a lowlife?

Tom Gross mentions one today:

In the Times of India, for example, Lalita Panicker wrote last week that Arafat's record "has been disastrous."

"It is cause for celebration for the Palestinians," she wrote, as he lay near death in a Paris hospital, that he "will never again control their destiny."

"Dressed in ridiculous battle fatigues," she went on, " he has demonstrated that he neither wants nor can he deliver peace. Arafat's lasting and most pernicious legacy is that he has contributed to completely changing the Palestinian psyche. The Palestinians were once the most secular, tolerant, and educated people in the Arab world. Today, Palestinian classrooms have become the hotbeds of recruitment for jihad... As a result, an entire younger generation has grown up on a diet of hate and fanaticism."

Arafat party accessories

Image Hosted by

Yes, get your Arafat dartboards here!

(Disclaimer: I have no connection with the site, have not purchased from it and cannot vouch for it.)

A time to rejoice?

Several years ago, a friend of mine announced his plans to hold a party when Arafat (yimach shmo) dies. Sure enough, as the blessed event approached this week he e-mailed with the details. The only remaining question is whether it is appropriate to attend (tonight at 10pm!).

Simcha from Hirhurim has addressed this question recently (here and here). Simcha (not his real name), an Orthodox rabbi by ordination though not by profession, discusses halachic issues, but not for purposes of psak; "Consult your rabbi before following any practices advocated here," he warns.

Simcha brings various sources to argue that one should not rejoice at Arafat's death. To summarize very briefly, he argues:

  1. That one rejoices in the enemy's downfall only when it follows the salvation of Israel from its enemies; this is not the case today. "Our enemies are still very much alive and powerful."

  2. That only the pure of heart is prepared to rejoice in the destruction of the wicked; one must be motivated by love of God, not pleasure in another's calamity; this requires a lofty spiritual status which we lack today.

  3. That while it is good when evildoers die, it would be better had they repented. We should not rejoice in this.

  4. That the Israelites rejoiced at the Red Sea because they were personally saved from Egypt by a miracle. "Applying this to our current situation, no one is being saved by a miracle when a terrorist like Arafat lives to the ripe old age of 70+ and then dies of natural causes. This is not a miracle and no one is saved by this."

Several prominent Israeli rabbis have already publicly ruled that one should feel joy at Arafat's death, though the question of whether it is proper to celebrate seems less clear.

Rabbi Shlomo Aviner of Yeshivat Ateret Cohanim compares Arafat to Haman (hat tip), emphasizing the extent of his enmity and cruelty towards the Jews. He argues that the difference between the angels, who were scolded for praising God at the destruction of the Egyptians, and the Israelites who sang God's praises, is that the angels never suffered at the hands of Egypt. The Israelites, who did, rightfully praised God at Egypt's downfall. "Regarding Arafat, one should say, 'let rejoicing pass through the camp' (Kings I 22:36) and one should say, 'At the destruction of evildoers, rejoicing' (Proverbs 11:10)."

Rabbi Yosef Elnekaveh, rabbi of the Gaza communities, appears to object to publicly celebrating Arafat's death, noting that we must remember with sadness all the evil Arafat perpetrated and the people killed and maimed by his hand. At the same time, we should be joyful that he will do so no longer. He rejects suggestions that Arafat may have repented. He also dismisses questions about who may replace him, noting that he was deserving of death long ago regardless of who his successor may be. Overall, he emphasizes that we must not allow Arafat's evil to be forgotten or blurred. (He further objects to Israel permitting his burial in Eretz Yisrael.)

Rabbi Ratzon Arusi, chief rabbi of Kiryat Ono and a member of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate council, says that regarding enemies of the Jewish people who work to destroy us, we must fight them and mock them, citing the verse, "At the destruction of evildoers, rejoicing." But he warns that this joy must not derive from cruelty or meanspiritedness, but rather must be an expression of gratitude to God.

Rabbi Yuval Sherlo, head of the hesder yeshiva of Petach Tikva, writes, "At the death of a murderer and the destruction of evildoers there is great rejoicing. We are very happy that the world is released from such a murderer. This happiness comes despite the fact that his successor may be worse for us, and this possibility does not cancel the great joy in the death of an evildoer."

Rabbi Sherlo further notes that on hearing the good news of Arafat's death, one should make the blessing of "hatov v'hametiv," "He who is good and does good." He notes that this blessing is made even if there is a chance that something bad may follow the good. "It will be a joyous day when he [Arafat] releases us from his presence."

To return to Simcha's arguments, he appears to me to have deliberately selected sources to support his position (see his prefatory comments to this post). True, Israel has not been saved from its enemies. But we have substantially defeated the intifada, eliminating many of its leaders and clearly breaking its back. Israel has survived Arafat and continues to grow stronger, more vibrant, more successful, despite our many enemies. Arafat died humiliated and isolated, his once-glorious compound reduced to rubble (all the more reason it's a mistake to allow him to be entombed there respectfully), having failed to achieve his political objectives or even to chart out a route towards them.

The Palestinians have no clear successor to Arafat, who singlehandedly symbolized their fight against us and controlled their organizations with an iron fist. They rightfully see his passing as the end of an era for them; we should not underestimate its significance. He was the embodiment of evil, the inventor of modern terrorism, the ally of dictators and thugs the world over, the inspiration for al-Qaeda and many others. The world is a better place without him. We would be remiss not to be thankful that God has finally taken him - even though we would have preferred him to die long ago.

I'd like to conclude by again quoting Simcha:

All the Jews I know seem to be relishing the prospect of Arafat's death. I dread it. The obituaries for this Nobel Peace Prize winner are likely to be so frustratingly full of lies and misinformation.

This alone, in my mind, is a strong argument in favor of celebrating at his death. He will be laid to rest in a formal state funeral, with world leaders paying their respects and the media praising his statesmanship and his "courage in seeking peace". It is imperative that we not play this game. We must not allow him any more respect than we would a dead dog. That means, in part, that we must somberly recall his victims and the depth of his evil. It means, as well, that we must publicly demonstrate how glad we are that he is gone. We must show the world our joy at his passing, our gratitude that he will do no more evil, our satisfaction at outlasting our enemy.

May his memory be cursed.