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.


April 23, 2007

Frumkeit Confidential

Filed under: Faith,Judaism,Orthodoxy — lonelymanofcake @ 4:45 pm

I’ve been observing a trend for a number of years, and I feel that the time has come for me to publish my observations.  The premise is very simple: the practice of withholding what I consider to be “shareable” information has become a trademark of haredi circles and is increasingly infiltrating Modern Orthodoxy as well.

A typical example: Chanah Leah is dating Moshe Zalman, and the relationship is headed towards marriage.  As a relative of Chanah Leah, I would not be privy to the existence of the relationship until just before the engagement.  Neither Chanah Leah nor her family would dare disclose this premarital fraternizing of the sexes.

Another example: Chanah Leah and Moshe Zalman marry.  A few weeks later, she’s expecting.  A few months later, she’s showing and wearing maternity clothing.  But word of the pregnancy is not disclosed officially until the seventh, or even eighth, month.

Final example: Chanah Leah applied, and was accepted to a prestigious graduate program.  She denied to her friends that she had been accepted to any program, and only later came out with the news.

Why must impending happiness be treated, in some circles, as impending doom?

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 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 21, 2007

You Know You’re an Apologist…

Filed under: Faith,Judaism,Orthodoxy,Religion — lonelymanofcake @ 1:10 pm

…for Orthodox Judaism, when the metaphor you need to resort to when attempting to justify the self-imposed cessation of halakhic development is… dirt.

February 25, 2007

R. Mordechai Breuer (1921-2007)

Filed under: Academia,Education,Faith,Israel,Judaism,Orthodoxy,Religion — lonelymanofcake @ 10:40 am

I just found out that Rabbi Mordechai Breuer, a respected rabbi and academic, has passed away at the age of 85.  I had the chance to take a number of classes with R. Breuer during my post high school studies in Israel.  His classroom demeanor was always a big draw; I would say that 100-150 students attended each lecture.  I was coached beforehand and told specifically not to ask questions or participate.  The lone American fellow who dared speak up was called “Clinton” by R. Breuer (in honor of Bill, who was President back in 1999).

The uniqueness of R. Breuer can be distilled from his academic approach.  Orthodox Judaism never developed or adopted an approach to deal with the difficulties raised by Bible critics, who claim that the Bible was written by at least four different people (Moses not among them) and then woven together into an elaborate narrative (the Pentateuch) by a redactor.  R. Breuer didn’t settle for the usual “solutions”: that’s why faith is difficult, etc.  Instead, he embraced the source critical approach and put forth a theory which illustrated that some of the principles of Bible criticism are still compatible with Orthodoxy.

The apex of his approach is the “theory of perspectives.”  While your typical Bible critic will point to two obvious editorial strands in the first two chapters of Genesis, for example, R. Breuer did not see in the two strands the necessity to assert different authors.  Rather, he saw both strands as divine, but approaching the narrative from different perspectives based on the infinite attributes of God.  He first set out this approach in a 1960 article, “Faith and Scholarship in Biblical Exegesis” [in Hebrew], and developed it over the course of the next 40 years in various books and articles.

May his memory be blessed.

February 21, 2007

Not Haredi? Shop Elsewhere.

Filed under: Faith,General,Israel,Orthodoxy,Religion — lonelymanofcake @ 2:04 pm

The city of Bet Shemesh, with its fast growing ultra-Orthodox population, is seeing a tremendous amount of growth and development these days. A major housing project undertaken by the Resido Group specifically for the ultra-Orthodox will also have a shopping/commerical center complete with medical offices, stores, and a branch of the ever important National Insurance Institute (ביטוח לאומי).

What’s the catch? The ultra-Orthodox locals will not allow anyone “not their own” to benefit from the commercial center. The reason? They find the “secular mode of dress” offensive to their religious sensibilities. The legality? Ambiguous; probably illegal.  It is also unclear whether the neighboring, largely Anglo “National/Modern-Orthodox” community will be allowed access either.

This video (Hebrew only; sorry again) has interviews of the locals and their skewed claims.

February 15, 2007

Temple Mount Excavation Video

Two videos of note regarding what’s really going on at the Mugrabi Bridge:

Dumbing Down the American Mind

Filed under: America,Faith,General,Politics,Reality,Religion — lonelymanofcake @ 9:29 am

I pretty much agree with this article, which outlines a rationale for what the author terms “a nearly willful tendency for Americans to forgo reality in favor of believing what they want to believe.” (I can’t vouch, though, for the website on which in appears).

The author’s approach is nowhere nearly as well developed as that of Ron Suskind‘s magnum opus article “Without a Doubt,” which appeared in the NY Times Magazine in October 2004. Suskind’s eye-opening, and profoundly disturbing, article gave me some insight as to why religious voters were more prone to vote for Bush in 2004. It wasn’t just his support of faith-based initiatives and his erosion of the separation between church and state. It is, I believe, a function of how people perceive Bush’s policymaking.

Supporting Bush entails committments akin to those required by religion:

  1. Unquestioning faith in policy and the motives behind it.
  2. Acceptance of reality as described by the leadership, even if all indications are otherwise (e.g., we’re winning the war in Iraq).
  3. Clear dualism differentiating the righteous from the damned.

Thus the religious crowd, be it Evangelical Christian or Orthodox Jewish, finds solace not only in the purported “Judeo-Christian” values of the Bush administration, but also in the way that their continued support of the administration has required committment to a belief system not unlike what is dictated by religion.

30% of Americans still subscribe to the Bush-religion. The remaining 70%… Well, I guess they’ve decided to become political atheists.

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:

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