At the request of a dear family member, who I love and respect, I have disabled the comments on the Noah Feldman thread. Please do not attempt to continue the discussion on this or prior posts, as those comments will be deleted.
July 25, 2007
July 22, 2007
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.
July 4, 2007
It’s July 4th, and as promised, I’m back blogging. Things have been quite topsy turvy since I last posted. Though I (somehow) got out of one major assignment which would have been due two days ago, I was not afforded any extra time for blogging because I’ve been taking care of the insurance claim on a stolen car for someone near and dear to me. That has occupied the past week, and dealing with some insensitive people and major bureaucratic hurdles sent me into an outrage so deep that on Sunday I was ready to pack a small bag, take a taxi to the airport, get my open ticket stamped, and get on the next flight back to the States. I recovered towards Sunday evening, but it happened again on Monday. I recovered once again, but suffice it to say that if the insurance company comes up with some lame ass excuse not to dole out a full settlement (or anything at all)…
Here’s what’s been going on:
- The heat in Jerusalem was unbearable last week and did not even give the usual nightly respite of your typical Jerusalem summer. Thankfully, a cool front moved in on Saturday night and the weather has been hot, but pleasant.
- Israel’s eighth president, Moshe Katsav, was offered–and accepted–a watered down plea bargain which is an affront to the justice system and any woman who has ever stepped forward in Israel after being sexually assaulted. While Katsav is indeed innocent until proven guilty, it boggles the mind that this case was allowed to circumvent the court system. No detailed explanation has been proffered, as of yet, from Israel’s attorney general, who drafted and offered the plea deal.
- Israelis enjoy the various satirical programs offered on television, but nothing comes close to the incisiveness and intensity of satire and criticism found in Anglo blogs writing on life in Israel (my own included). Here is an article (Hebrew only) from the Israeli portal Nana (Israel’s “Yahoo”) which reflects on the electronic musings of Anglos, with specific reference to the blog Zabaj, which I have mentioned here in the past. As is my custom, I perused through the comments to the article to assess how Israelis handle their portrayal. Some comments are flattering towards Anglos, while others (surprise, surprise) assert the superiority of Israeli tact, poor pronunciation of English, and overall bad manners.
- Wine, as you know, plays a central function in my
sociallife. In a period of snobbishness, in which I shunned Merlot and vowed to drink only Cabernet, I completely lost my appreciation for other red varietals and especially white wines. So I resolved that I would get back into whites, especially considering that I deem my palate for whites much more evolved than for reds. (It’s easier to say that a wine has aromas and flavors of peach, pear, and apple than blackberry, blueberry, and raspberry when I am much more attuned to the differences between the former group than the latter.) I enjoyed, along with company, an inexpensive bottle of Gamla Sauvignon Blanc last week, which was delicious considering that it was chilled and the heat oppressive. I’ve also been foraying into Rose`, but haven’t yet found anything to write home about.
- Speaking of wine, Gary Vaynerchuk, the host of Wine Library TV, the daily video blog which I urged you to watch over the “break,” was featured in TIME Magazine. I haven’t had the fortune of meeting Gary personally, but having watched the show for a few months now, I agree with everything stated in the article. Go Gary!
- MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann is my hero. Watch this video to understand why.
- The iPhone is now a reality. As much as I covet the device, I’ll hold out (minimally) until the next generation of the phone.
- Pursuant to this article and the appended recipe, I prepared my first batch of cold brewed iced coffee. I’ll let you know how it is after I’ve mustered up the bravery to drink it.
June 19, 2007
It looks like I might have to put blogging on the back burner for the next two weeks or so because of a whole bunch of jobs that I’m juggling along with some major projects that I need to complete for my studies.
I think that my link-bar to the right gives a pretty fair representation of the sites that I visit, so feel free to check them out. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one of my favorite sites of late, Wine Library TV. Wine Library is (I think) a wine superstore in Springfield, NJ and they run a very entertaining daily video-blog on everything wine. I have a few personal favorites:
- If you’ve always wondered how it is that wine critics are able to sniff out and taste all of those esoteric flavors, this episode will show you how to train your palate.
- Here is an episode on Kosher wines! I’m not so happy with the selection, i.e., I think that there are far better wines that do justice to the kosher wine industry, but I’ve been in touch with the host, and maybe we’ll get an episode on fine Kosher Israeli wines.
- And it is always entertaining to see professionals disagree with one another over expensive, and purportedly excellent, bottles of wine. In this episode, the host takes issue with four wines that were given 95-point scores.
Enjoy! Leave comments (even though I know you won’t)! And I’ll see you again starting on July 4th (depending on how bad my fast-day headache is)!
June 1, 2007
This past week or so has been quite busy. A good friend of mine flew in last week and sponsored a weekend of wine tasting in the Golan and Galilee. I already began typing up my impressions of each of the six wineries that we visited, and just attempting to remember the name and vintage of each wine that we tasted is quite an effort. The weekend, in addition to giving me a break from life in Jerusalem (and its residents!), also afforded me with a very timely opportunity to reassess my personal position vis-a-vis where I stand as a resident-alien in Israel, especially given my very opinionated, often negative, views of life in the Holy Land.
The dramatic change in topography, plentiful forests, and change of scenery must have done something to my head (or maybe it was having tasted some 30 wines), because once again I do see some sense in staying in Israel, even if only temporarily. Or maybe it was the vintners, with their passion for the land, down to earth ways, and the satisfaction they display when they talk about what they do.
Our last stop before heading back south to Jerusalem was at a boutique winery called Nahal Amud, which is near Mt. Meron. The owner of the winery was unable to give us the requisite tour/tastings because of personal obligations, but he said that his son was in the vineyards doing some spraying. We had been looking forward all weekend long to walking through some actual vineyards but hadn’t had the opportunity to do so. So I coordinated with the fellow in the field and we were given a detailed explanation and orientation about the agricultural side of grapes. The fellow, who must have been in his mid 30s, told us of his love for the vineyards and how he spends his nights with the grapes rather than at bars or clubs.
This was the first time in a while that my positive experiences in Israel, on a day-to-day basis, overwhelmingly outweighed the negative ones. Maybe its time to leave Jerusalem. Or maybe this was a rare exception to the rule. It’s probably a good idea to leave Jerusalem anyway. Someone else can live in my hot, noisy, overpriced apartment for two years before they come to the same conclusion.
April 11, 2007
The Israeli Shekel continues to strengthen against the US Dollar, and today reached the level of 4.10 NIS to the Dollar for the first time since February 2001. Other world currencies have been improving consistently against the Dollar in recent months, but according to Professor Stanley Fisher, Governor of the Bank of Israel, there are local reasons as well for the Shekel’s impressive performance:
In economic terms 2006 was one of Israel’s most successful years. This was reflected in the high rate of growth, the decline in unemployment, the improvement in employment, the impressive surplus in the current account, the amount of foreign investment in Israel, and price and financial stability. All this took place against the background of rapid global economic growth, but also in a year in which Israel was engaged in a war.
March 27, 2007
As much as I dislike using Windows, the geeks over at Microsoft attempt to make the experience a bit more pleasant by including some stunning wallpaper images which you can use as a background for your desktop. Like this one (in which the color is a bit off):
It’s called “Autumn” and a writer for Vanity Fair became obsessed with the photo and locating where it was taken. It took him over a year to find it. Read the story here.
March 25, 2007
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 21, 2007
In a previous post, we noted that Israelis spend more time on the Internet than almost anyone else in the world. What are they doing online?
Israel was the most highly ranked country for malicious activity per Internet user. If one person from each of the top 25 countries were to represent their country’s Internet-connected population, the average Internet user in Israel would carry out nine percent of the group’s malicious activity. (Source)
Is this another manifestation of notorious Israeli road rage, albeit on the information superhighway?