Lonely Man of Cake

July 22, 2007

Noah Feldman: Today’s Bar-Kamtza?

Filed under: America,Diaspora,Education,Faith,General,Judaism,Orthodoxy,Religion — lonelymanofcake @ 8:14 pm

I read Noah Feldman’s thought-provoking essay which appeared in this weekend’s New York Times Magazine, and knew immediately that the article would draw a firestorm of criticism from members of the modern-Orthodox community, both because of what some might consider the inflammatory nature of some of the author’s comments, but more importantly, because of the timing of the article’s publication: during the nine days preceding the commemoration of the destruction of the Second Temple.

Although material discussing the destruction of the temple in rabbinic literature is scant, one returning theme is that the temple was destroyed because of the baseless hatred of Jews toward each other. Indeed, from the firsthand account of the events preserved by the historian Josephus, we may corroborate this as fact. By the time Titus arrived in Jerusalem, ready to purge the city of its rebels, no fewer than four groups of Jewish extremists fought for control of the city. The infighting verged on the outbreak of all out civil war in Jerusalem and even led to the burning of the precious food stores in the besieged city. The rebels in Jerusalem found themselves at odds with each other and also with the Pharisees and most other Jews in the country, who capitulated to the Romans without offering resistance.

The Talmud perpetuates the interpersonal hatred responsible for bringing down the temple with the story of “Kamtza and Bar-Kamtza”: A fellow is said to have planned a party, and asked his servant to invite his good friend Kamtza. The servant, perhaps out of confusion, invited one Bar-Kamtza instead, who just so happened to be the arch enemy of the host. Bar-Kamtza attended the party, perhaps seeing the invitation as an act of reconciliation on the part of the host. But the host would have no part of it and wished to eject Bar-Kamtza from the party, even after the latter offered to pay for his plate, for half of the cost of the party, and even the full cost of the party. The host grabbed Bar-Kamtza, and physically threw him out of the party. The insulted Bar-Kamtza was made to feel even worse by the fact that the rabbis sitting at the party did not intervene on his behalf. Bar-Kamtza is said to have then engaged in an act of subterfuge which angered the king and brought the destruction of the temple.

Noah Feldman is a 21st century Bar-Kamtza. He’s not perfect, but he has good intentions. He reaches out to the very institutions which leave him feeling embittered. To take the cropped photo as a metaphor, he attended the party, as did Bar-Kamtza, but was forcibly removed, with no explanations or protestations offered by his host, or by the rabbis who sat idly without intervening.

The unfortunate result reminds us of the subterfuge of the original Bar-Kamtza, who, wishing to avenge the silent rabbis, is said to have sabotaged a sacrifice offered by the king, inflicting a wound that the emperor would not have taken notice of but which would matter a great deal to the Jews, as it would invalidate the animal for sacrifice. Feldman did just that. The wound inflicted by his article should be apparent to the very community that rejected him. While people who are not close to the modern-Orthodox community may not fully appreciate the intricacies of Feldman’s criticism, the general repercussion, nonetheless, is the sullying of what had been the perceived pristine image of the modern-Orthodox movement in the eyes of the world.


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.

April 26, 2007

Yeridah Manifesto

Filed under: Diaspora,Israel,Judaism — lonelymanofcake @ 1:33 pm

(DISCLAIMER: I’m grumpy today and there hasn’t been any real sunlight.)

Yeridah (ירידה=descent) is a somewhat pejorative term which refers to the emigration of Jews from Israel. It has the opposite directional connotation of aliyah (עלייה), which is a function of how (many) Israelis view the phenomenon, which is barely offset demographically by yearly aliyah numbers.

A fellow by the name of Idan Ben-Barak emigrated from Israel to Australia, and in a piece which he submitted to Ynet, he urges his former countrymen to follow suit.

I wouldn’t call yeridah an anti-aliyah. I think that both require courage, conviction, and a readiness to sacrifice. The difference is “merely” ideological. For your average post-Zionist, the prevalent, almost axiomatic yearning to live in the Diaspora probably resembles the Zionistic yearnings of their grandparents, albeit without the religious and nationalistic baggage.

To deny that Israel suffers from serious problems in every possible area would be an act of delusion. Many folks want to live here nonetheless, some make the choice of moving here from abroad, and yet others have no choice but to stay. But if you have the goal, and the means, to leave, until this country can install a viable government and get its act together, don’t let anyone stop you.  As strikes seem to be the only way to make things better in Israel, I think that the whole country should show up at the airport one day with packed bags. Maybe that will push through the message a bit more poignantly.

March 28, 2007

Pesach Petrol

Filed under: Biofuel,Diaspora,Faith,Judaism,Orthodoxy,Passover,Religion,Transportation — lonelymanofcake @ 3:59 pm

In thirty years, when rabbis will have issued a real prohibition against fueling with Ethanol on Pesach, people will find it hard to believe that this was a parody. (UPDATE: The New York Times caught the story [Times Select req’d].)

Of course, there is no (current) prohibition against deriving benefit from kitniyot, of which Ethanol is a derivative. I put “current” in parentheses because earlier last century kitniyot derivatives, like corn syrup, were permitted for use on Pesach as they fall under neither of the main “rationales” for kitniyot. This is no longer the case, with the Kosher for Pesach Coca Cola craze being a prime example. It wouldn’t surprise me if those who follow the mistaken custom of not consuming kitniyot on Pesach continue to expand the scope of the ban, much as they already have, until the innovated stringencies are so expansive that the people forget that kitniyot are not chametz. It is precisely in that type of atmosphere in which the ground would be fertile for a declaration that would prohibit even benefiting from kitniyot, Ethanol fueled vehicles included.

Many folks have extra sets of dishes for Pesach. Some people even have a totally separate kitchen for Pesach. Are we going to see special Pesach cars?

March 27, 2007

Matzah Bus

Filed under: America,Culinary,Diaspora,Judaism,Orthodoxy,Passover,Religion — lonelymanofcake @ 3:28 pm

Read about the matzah bus, or watch the video.  And is it just me, or do local news shows take themselves way too seriously?

March 25, 2007

America’s Top 50 Rabbis

Filed under: America,Diaspora,Faith,Judaism,Religion — lonelymanofcake @ 10:31 pm

Newsweek’s list of America’s 50 most influential rabbis.

Aw, no family members this year… Maybe next time around.

March 15, 2007

‘Tis the Season

Filed under: America,Culinary,Diaspora,Israel,Judaism — lonelymanofcake @ 11:21 am

If you live in the American Diaspora, these days you can get a taste of “authentic” Coca-Cola now that the yellow-capped Kosher for Passover Coke–made with sugar and not HFCS–has hit supermarket shelves.  It’s also a taste of Israel, where Coke is made with sugar year round, albeit without the discourteousness, corruption, and taxes.

(via Jewschool)

February 14, 2007

Divine Providence and Sports

Filed under: Diaspora,Faith,Judaism,Religion — lonelymanofcake @ 11:31 pm

In light of a recent article (terrible quality scan, here) from the New Yorker which caused quite a stir, I thought that the below clip was most appropriate:

BREAKING: Toaff Pulls Libel Book

Filed under: Academia,Diaspora,History,Israel,Judaism,Religion,Toaff — lonelymanofcake @ 5:16 pm

Professor Ariel ToaffProfessor Ariel Toaff has decided to suspend the distribution of his book Pasque di Sangue (Easter of Blood / Bloody Passovers: The Jews of Europe and Ritual Murders), bowing to pressure from Bar-Ilan University, where he serves as a tenured professor, and parties who he says “distorted” the claims of the book.

Haaretz reports that Toaff has not withdrawn the book altogether. Rather, Toaff has suspended publication to facilitate his “[emendation of] contentious sections.” In his comments printed in Haaretz, Toaff reiterated his claim that he wished to expose the existence of fundamentalist, and violent, elements in Ashkenazic Jewry. Though I know nothing about the contents of the book, I am relatively sure that his claims build to a large extent on the Hebrew Crusade-narratives, of which I have already quoted a short excerpt. I hope to post some preliminary comments in the near future.

By the way, the “talkbacks” (i.e., comments) on Israeli news websites are seeing some of Toaff’s (purported) students from Bar-Ilan alleging ulterior (i.e., contemporary) motives for the publication of this controversial theory, which Toaff would often hint to in his lectures. In this case, the claim would go: If religious fundamentalists would go so far as to butcher children in the Middle Ages, we need to be wary of contemporary religious fundamentalists as well for fear of what they might perpetrate.

ואין כאן מקום להאריך

February 13, 2007

On Blood and Libels

Filed under: Academia,Diaspora,History,Judaism,Religion,Toaff — lonelymanofcake @ 11:22 am

The women there girded their loins with strength and slew their sons and their daughters and then themselves. Many men, too, plucked up courage and killed their wives, their sons, their infants. The tender and delicate mother slaughtered the babe she had played with, all of them, men and women arose and slaughtered one another…A father turning to his son or brother, a brother to his sister, a woman to her son or daughter neighbor to a neighbor or a friend, a groom to a bride, a fiancé to fiancee, would kill and would be killed, and blood touched blood. The blood of the men mingled with their wives, the blood of the fathers with their children’s, the blood of the brothers with the sisters, the blood of the teachers with their disciples, the blood of the grooms with their brides, the blood of the leaders with the cantors, the blood of the judges with their scribes, and the blood of infants and sucklings with their mothers.

This is Jewish-Ashkenazic literature; a Hebrew narrative composed in the aftermath of the Crusades of 1096.

We’ll discuss the historicity and implications of these passages for the Toaff controversy in a subsequent post.

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