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.


July 5, 2007

New 2 Shekel Coin

Filed under: Currency,Israel,Judaism — lonelymanofcake @ 8:52 am

The Bank of Israel is set to issue a preliminary run of a new 2 Shekel coin, which, if successful in answering to various tests and sets of standards, will be mass produced in the coming weeks.

Information about the pending release is scant, and explanations regarding the need for such a coin are nowhere to be found.  There is also something of an uproar regarding the fact that the coin will be produced in Holland, and not in Israel.   What we do know is that the coin will be larger than the 1 Shekel coin and smaller than the 5 Shekel coin.

A sample of reactions (talkbacks) to the news:

  • How about a 99 Agorot coin?
  • Why a “Hellenistic” motif on the coin and not a Jewish one?
  • Will vending machines recognize the new coin?
  • Why does the English on the coin (and all coins and bills) mix languages and say “New Sheqalim” and not “New Sheqels”?

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 16, 2007

Hesder Army News III

Filed under: Army,Israel,Judaism,Religion,Security — lonelymanofcake @ 11:46 am

IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi has responded to the petition sent to him by Hesder students angered by a policy change which would prevent them from serving in the Golani brigade or Paratroops in homogeneous Hesder platoons.

It appears that the petition did the Hesderniks more harm than good.  Under the previous proposal, the students would at least have the option to serve in Golani and Paratroops, albeit in mixed platoons.  Ashkenazi took this one step further and decreed that this latter option would be unavailable as well and that Hesder students would under no circumstances be allowed to serve in Golani and Paratroops, not even in mixed platoons. According to Ashkenazi, the decision emanates from the popularity of the two latter brigades, the recent exponential growth of Hesder programs, and the army’s logistical need to fill the ranks of less popular units.


May 10, 2007

JIB Award Surprise

Filed under: Blogging,Israel,Judaism — lonelymanofcake @ 5:58 pm

Turns out that I completely overlooked the fact that my post, “The Truth About the Temple Mount Excavations,” was both nominated for a JIB in the “Best Jewish News Post” category and advanced to the finals!


If you haven’t yet read the post, which was written at the height of the manufactured controversy over Israel’s repairs to the structurally unsafe Mugrabi Bridge, or if you want to refresh your memory, check it out here.

And of course, VOTE HERE!

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 3, 2007

Hesder Army News II

Filed under: Army,Israel,Judaism,Orthodoxy — lonelymanofcake @ 1:52 pm

The story that I brought to you on Friday regarding the new limitations on Hesder army service has (finally) been picked up by Ynet.

Reader/Cousin Yaacov hit the nail on the head with his important clarifications, but there is apparently more to the story. Under a program spearheaded by General Elazar Stern, the army has been trying for some two years already to “integrate” Hesder students into “regular” platoons. Until then, Hesderniks, or in the army parlance, Beinishim, served in homogeneous platoons, composed only of other Hesderniks.

To eliminate any ambiguity, Hesderniks can still serve in Golani and the Paratroops, but by doing so, they relinquish their “right” to serve in a homogeneous Hesder platoon, and must serve in an integrated platoon. The reason for the singling out of Golani and Paratroops given by a senior army official in the Ynet article: as it is, motivation to serve in these two brigades is high, and there would be no problem filling the platoons. In other words, even Hesderniks want to serve in Golani and Paratroops so badly, that they would have no problem serving in an integrated platoon. Many Hesderniks think otherwise and have sent a petition with hundreds of signatures to Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi.

The army’s motivation for ending a 30 year tradition of homogeneous Hesder platoons does seem a bit dubious. The commonly invoked rationalization that the army needs to be a melting pot and integrated experience holds true, from personal experience, even when Hesderniks have their own platoon.

A few years ago, I had occasion to sit down with General Stern and ask him a few questions about his planned changes to the Hesder system. Stern, though religious, did not go to Hesder and went through his army service as one of the few (if only) religious soldiers in his company. I think that this important biographical piece of information sheds light on where Stern is coming from. I asked him, from a logistical perspective, what happens when you scatter all of the religious soldiers among the three platoons that are in each company. Each platoon has a different time schedule. What happens if the religious soldiers from one platoon go the synagogue and start praying, and only 20 minutes later, the religious soldiers from another platoon are given time to pray? With a homogeneous platoon of Hesderniks, everyone prays together! Stern answered without flinching: They should pray outside of the synagogue.

I’m all for integration.  But there was nothing wrong with the status quo that warranted such drastic changes.

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.

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?

JIB Preliminary Voting

Filed under: Blogging,Internet,Israel,Judaism — lonelymanofcake @ 11:55 am

I know I’ve been somewhat lazy with the posting lately, but that shouldn’t stop you from voting me into the next round of contention for the JIB Best New Blog award.

You can vote here.

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