Lonely Man of Cake

June 11, 2007

Pedantic Petulance

Filed under: Academia,Hebrew,Israel — lonelymanofcake @ 8:54 pm

My recent positive posts shouldn’t serve to overshadow my general state of annoyance at the way things are in Israel. Here’s another pet peeve:

Israeli pop-star Harel Moyal has had a song of his yanked by Israel’s state sponsored, commercial free music station, Galgalatz. Why? Galgalatz refuses to continue playing the song because Moyal “mispronounces” a single vowel. His pronunciation reflects the colloquial articulation, which vocalizes the initial vowel in מכיר as mekir, instead of the correct makir. Moyal will need to re-record the entire song as a result.

This instance is but a small illustration of an upsurge of the almost French-like pedantic punctiliousness among Israelis when it comes to the spelling, pronunciation, and accentation of the modern-Hebrew language.  Did the FCC file an injunction to cease broadcast of System of a Down’s song “Lonely Day” because it contains the grammatically incorrect refrain “the most loneliest day of my life”?  Should country music songs containing the contraction “ain’t” also be re-recorded?

Hebrew subtitling on Israel’s channels 1 and 2 will consistently correct the grammar of people being interviewed.  It is a favored pastime of “talkbackistim,” i.e., people who leave comments on Israeli news websites, to point out either the bad grammar and/or spelling of other commenters (commentators?).

Linguistic pride is a wonderful virtue.  A country that takes a recording artist to task for mispronouncing a single vowel should treat its leaders with the same level of accountability.


June 7, 2007

Odd, But Familiar Dream

Filed under: Academia,America,Diaspora,Education,Judaism,Orthodoxy,Reality,Religion — lonelymanofcake @ 8:07 pm

There must have been copious amounts of MSG in my dinner last night, because I had a dream that was off the hook. What really set this dream apart was its vividness and highly realistic feel. Here goes:

I am approached by Richard Joel, the current president of Yeshiva University. He says: “We would like for you to be the next vice-president of Yeshiva University.” I hesitate. On the one hand, this is the institution that left me bereft of a “real college experience,” sold me short on Judaic studies, and that is slowly morphing into a trade school for the intellectually challenged. On the other hand, I have a very strong familial connection with the institution, and if you know who I am and what I’m talking about, it makes Richard Joel’s proposition quite eerie.

Joel clearly senses my hesitation. “Compensation is $100,000 per-month,” he says. I accepted the position immediately.

What does it all mean?
Should I be disturbed that even though I was morally conflicted about accepting the job, it was ultimately the bottom line that tilted the scales? Does it mean that I am hesitant to serve the community in which I was raised?

Or should I look at the positives:
I must have very high self-esteem if I dream about being offered such a powerful position at such a young age. (In the dream, I was myself, at my current age, and even “mentally” questioned how it was that I was being offered the job, given my age.) I felt up to the task and never questioned whether I was qualified to handle the burdens of the position.

My current interpretation is that the dream represents the crossroads at which I stand. The job offer is the looming specter of the probability that one day, come what may, I will invariably be drafted to the ranks of Jewish communal service. This is almost fait accompli. There is then the moral question: as ideal-driven as communal service may be, there are the occasional ethical sacrifices to be made. And finally there is the question of “selling out,” which is something I battle with every day: do I abandon my ideal line of work–whatever that may be–because a healthier income from a less ideologically rewarding job might be the ticket to a “better” life?

Stay tuned. These considerations will begin playing themselves out over the coming weeks.

May 22, 2007

Back to School!!!

Filed under: Academia,Education,Israel — lonelymanofcake @ 1:12 pm

On March 28, 55 days ago, Pesach recess began.  And it will finish only on Thursday.

The representatives of the various student unions finally mustered a vote last night, which unlike three previous voting attempts, was not disrupted by belligerent students who are intent on continuing the strike, citing the continued inadequate offers from the government.  Because of these disruptions, voting was planned, but could not be held on either Saturday or Sunday night.  The representatives attempted to evade the protesters by surreptiously changing venues, but the protesters would quickly discover and converge on the new location.  For the vote last night, the student representatives hired a security firm to facilitate smooth proceedings.  The vote was carried out successfully, with more than 60% of the delegates voting to accept the government’s latest offer and end the strike.

Unfortunately, it appears that students in this academic year will have a heavy price to pay for their benevolence, in both tolerating duration of the strike and implicitly supporting its aims.  This strike was never about the current generation of students.  The government made it quite clear in its first offers to the students that the higher tuition would be “grandfathered in” and apply only to the next generation of students.  It is those students and their parents, as well as future students and their parents, who should have been leading the strike.  Not students who stand to gain nothing, i.e., us.

This imposed altruism cost us, the students of today, over one month of the semester and has also created an erosion of faith in the student government.  We will pay for the watered down agreement with a semester that will now extend long into July, extended class hours (some classes will go until midnight!), classes on Friday, and an exam period which ends around Rosh Hashana.  One of the principal aims of the strike was to bring tuition to an affordable level for all students.  This aim was not achieved, and irreparable financial harm will now be inflicted on those students who designate the summer months as the period in which they take jobs in order to afford tuition and the cost of living.

The National Union of Israeli Students, the organization which led the strike, though its director himself attends an institution which did not strike (!), will no doubt declare victory and highlight the concessions of the government.  In doing so, they will have emulated the government’s penchant for doing the same: declaring victory where they are the unambiguous loser, and leaving the citizens/students to pay the price.

May 7, 2007

BREAKING: Herod’s Tomb Discovered

Filed under: Academia,Archaeology,History,Israel,Judaism — lonelymanofcake @ 10:49 pm

UPDATE: Hebrew University press release.

Archaeologist Ehud Netzer of Hebrew University will announce tomorrow morning that he has, after a quest which lasted over 30 years, discovered the location of Herod’s tomb. Apparently, Herod is entombed at the Herodium, “a fortified palace built by Herod some 12 kilometers south of Jerusalem,” confirming the location noted by the historian Flavius Josephus some 2000 years ago.

The Herodium, or Herodion, is a wonderful archaeological site which is unfortunately visited rarely because of its remote location in the territories. I had the fortune of visiting two years ago. A picture from that visit below:


May 4, 2007

Israel University Strike Update

Filed under: Academia,Education,Israel — lonelymanofcake @ 9:27 am

The strike at Israel’s universities and colleges has now finished its third week. With a weakened government and an education minister who would like nothing more than to resolve the strike before the dissolution of the government (looks good on the resume for the next government, right Yuli?), the students are now in the driver’s seat. Most importantly, the students have been consistently drawing sympathetic coverage from the press, which is all to eager to cover yet more instances of unprovoked police brutality and the inability of the government to negotiate with the people.

One of the scarier prospects of the strike has been contemplating the status of the current semester. The student leaders at the helm of the strike assured the students that the semester would not be extended (which for us, means well into July) and that the instructors would work with the students to make up lost lectures and assignments. The worst case scenario was that the university administrations would cancel the semester, a threat–with its attendant repercussions–that the student leaders assured us would not materialize.

As hundreds of thousands of concerned citizens gathered yesterday in Rabin Square, the an e-mail was sent out to university students around the country by the Committee of University Heads in Israel.

Here is a summary of what is stated in the e-mail:

  • Classes will resume on Sunday, May 6, regardless of how many students attend.
  • The semester will be extended by two weeks.
  • Students who do not return to classes beginning Sunday will not receive the same consideration for making up material and completing assignments.
  • The threat looming over the entire notice is that if students do not return to classes beginning Sunday, it will cost them the semester, whatever that entails. While it’s not spelled out in this letter, it was widely reported in the press that students who would not return to classes would lose this semester’s credits.

    The letter was greeted with an uproar from the public, who found it outrageous that the university presidents/heads–who receive their 700,000 NIS (an extraordinary salary in Israel) from the university budget–had the audacity to threaten the student strike. The “talkbacks” for newspaper articles reporting on this development were filled with invective regarding the cushy lifestyles of the university heads when students have to juggle three minimum-wage jobs to just make ends meet. Naturally, the students leading the strike immediately condemned the threat and called on students to take the strike up a notch.

    The cherry on top for students is that this morning, the committee of university instructors (professors, etc.) announced that they will not fold to the idle threat of the university heads and turn their backs on striking students. The professors, who also stand to benefit from a successful strike, which would return over one billion NIS to university coffers, declared that they would not fail students who continued striking.

    I don’t have class Sundays, but I’m curious as to what will be. I suspect that students will chain the university gates and block access to the campuses. Stay tuned.

    April 29, 2007

    Creative, But Incorrect, Protest Sign

    Filed under: Academia,Education,Hebrew,Israel — lonelymanofcake @ 5:33 pm

    The Israeli universities, for those not in the know, have been on strike for almost three weeks now in protestation of a government committee’s plans to raise tuition by almost 300%.

    Here is a creative sign (on the right) held at one of the many student protests.

    The sign on the right is a parody of the חד גדיא song, which is the final part of the Pesah Haggadah. Here’s what the sign says:

    ואתא דשוחט
    ושחט לסטודנט
    שכר לימודיא
    בתרי זוזי

    Translation and Commentary:
    1. “And the Shochat came,” i.e., the committee convened by the government is led by a fellow whose last name is Shochat. That whoever put this cute sign together was trying really hard to imitate Aramaic is apparent in this line. Even though the linguistic style of the song in the Hagaddah is a mix of Hebrew and Aramaic (e.g., in the Hagaddah, this line reads ואתא השוחט, and not ואתא שוחטא, or whatever the Aramaic word for slaughterer is, with a terminal alef), nonetheless the students chose to add a “ד,” maybe to give the impression of Aramaic. Either way, with the daled, the translation is impossible, so I translated according to what they probably intended.

    2. “And slaughtered the student.” This is a play on the name Shochat and its slaughtering connotations. This line is linguistically sound and fits with the song.

    3. “Who pays.”

    4. “Tuition fees.” Here’s another mistake in the Aramaic. The Hebrew phrase for tuition (fees) is שכר לימוד. The equivalent of the (pseudo) Aramaic here would be שכר לימודים, in the plural (which doesn’t translate into English).

    5. “For two zuzim.” It looks like this line is a secondary addition. Not really sure what it has to do with the protest, unless it means that students formerly paid very little in tuition.

    Yeah, going back to school might not be the worst idea.

    March 27, 2007

    On Hebrish

    Filed under: Academia,America,Hebrew,Hebrish,Israel — lonelymanofcake @ 4:06 pm

    I was looking for literature on the penetration of Hebrew into the daily lexicons of English speakers in Israel (e.g., I need to get an ishur [permit] from the Iriyya [municipality] for the shiputzim [renovations] we’re doing on the mirpeset [deck/porch]), as I was mitlabet-ing (contemplating) a post on the subject.

    I used “Hebrish” as my search term and came across a wonderful article from the JPost (from the year 2000, when said paper was producing better quality material) which discusses the converse of what I was looking for: the penetration of English terms into the Hebrew lexicon.

    Call it the effects of globalization, the proliferation of the Internet in Israeli homes, or even a side-effect of post-Zionism, English has become a driving force in the modernization of the Hebrew lexicon, even to the extent that some English idioms have crept into Hebrew.  I hope to come back to this topic later in greater depth.

    March 25, 2007


    Filed under: Academia,Culinary,General,Israel,Religion — lonelymanofcake @ 5:02 pm

    Balashon has a nice piece regarding the etymology of the word חזרת (hazeret), which is said by the Mishna (Pesahim 2:6) to constitute one of the viable alternatives for Maror, the bitter herb which was once consumed together with the Pesah sacrifice and is nowadays eaten symbolically at the Seder.

    He notes that none of the great lexicographers offered an etymology for the word, which he suspects might be related to the root חזר (to return).

    Immediately upon reading his post, I felt a sneaking suspicion that the word derives from the name for a Greek vegetable. After poking around a bit, I came up with a suitable candidate – the horta (pictured), which is said to be a little bitter.

    At this point, I hypothesized that חזרת is a corrupt Hebrew transliteration of the Greek horta (χορτα). If transliterated correctly into Hebrew, the word should resemble this:חורת. There is already a resemblance between the word in question, חזרת, and the Greek vegetable, חורת.

    You’ll then ask why our pronunciation of חזרת (hazeret) sounds nothing like hort(a). I consulted with one of the better manuscripts of the Mishna, MS Kaufmann (excerpt below, courtesy of the Jewish National and University Library Online Treasury of Talmudic Manuscripts). You’ll see that the difference between the vav and zayin, is quite subtle, much like it is in modern Hebrew print; the difference of one small jutting piece.

    As for the pronunciation of the word, we know that MS Kaufmann was vocalized secondarily, i.e., not by the scribe responsible for the manuscript, but by a later hand. Thus, he may have pointed this word not according to a received tradition, but according to his own judgment.

    Though pure conjecture, and though I have not looked in any books, which would be the responsible thing to do before making such a sweeping assertion, I think that this theory might actually hold some water. I’ll annotate as soon as I get to the library.

    March 9, 2007

    Some Good Shabbat Reading

    1. Steven I. Weiss of Canonist has been duking it out with sociologist Samuel Heilman after Weiss reviewed Heilman’s latest book and pointed out some statistics which do not jive with math or logic. Start here for the book review (and comments), continue here (also with comments), and round it out here.
      1. Apropos Steven I. Weiss, if you ever feel like “you’ve reached the end of the Internet” and want some fantastic material, check out Weiss’s pioneering J-blog “Protocols.”  Though defunct for over two years now, Weiss and a small team of bloggers covered every major story of (Orthodox) Jewish interest since December 2002.
    2. The eventual impact of global warming may have global consequences far more devastating than “mere” environmental damage.  Read the introduction here, and the 25-page white paper, here.
    3. Dikembe Mutombo, the 7-foot 2-inch center for the Houston Rockets and the oldest player in the NBA, authored a groundbreaking study when he was a student at Georgetown in which he assailed “one of the sillier ideas of modern linguistics… that one language is as good as another, that no language is clearly superior to any other.”  His idea has been further developed with added criteria.  Spanish comes out on top; English is in second place.

    March 7, 2007

    YouTube for Books

    Filed under: Academia,Education,General,Internet,Technology,Web 2.0 — lonelymanofcake @ 10:00 am

    That’s right.  A YouTube style site, but for documents and e-books.  It’s called Scribd.  It looks like too few people know about the site for there to be any critical mass of good content.  But keep checking.

    (via MetaFilter)

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