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.

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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.

June 4, 2007

Hesder Army News IV

Filed under: Army,Israel,Religion,Security — lonelymanofcake @ 10:00 am

Amir Peretz, in perhaps one of his final significant meetings as Defense Minister before either Ami Ayalon or Ehud Barak take over the Labor Party, has officially placed a moratorium on General Elazar Stern’s plans (previously discussed here) to prevent Hesder students from joining Golani and the Paratroops in the upcoming August draft.

It appears–assuming that the chain of command places the Defense Minister over the Chief of Staff–that the ultimate arrangements for the August draft will be to the satisfaction of the Hesder students.

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.

(Source)

April 27, 2007

Hesder Army News

Filed under: Army,Israel,Religion,Security — lonelymanofcake @ 1:42 pm

UPDATE: Please see reader/cousin Yaacov’s important clarifications in the comments.

A Hesder Yeshiva sandwiches a shortened army service between two two-year periods of study. Until now, hesder students who qualified for combat service served in any of the infantry brigades of the IDF (e.g., Golani, Nahal, Givati, Kfir), with the final placement determined by some sort of rough rotation. Those who elected for a greater challenge were given the opportunity to try out for the Paratroops. And a handful of students (though I never met one in person) completed the so-called Hesder-Sayeret program, which combines extended service in one of the IDF’s elite reconnaissance with yeshiva study.

That’s all about to change. An e-mail was apparently sent out to students with an August 2007 draft date informing them that Golani will no longer be included in the infantry rotation, that they will be unable to serve in the Paratroops, and that the Hesder-Sayeret program has been terminated.

More information to follow.

But here’s an unrelated, and heartwarming, army story brought to you by NRG (Maariv):

Pictured above are 20 year-old twins Shuey and Aharon Osbourne, who serve together in Nahal Haredi (Netzah Yehuda, if you will). It appears that they are from London and decided to serve after beginning their university studies in business management. Kol haKavod, and stay safe!

April 10, 2007

Passover Prohibition Predictions

Filed under: Culinary,Judaism,Orthodoxy,Passover,Religion — lonelymanofcake @ 8:24 am

I predict that 50 years from now, the following will have become normative prohibitions on Passover:

  1. Potatoes: There is no reason that potatoes should not be included in the same category as kitniyot. As potato flour can be easily confused with wheat flour, one should be able to consume neither potato flour nor potatoes.
  2. Matzah: Same as above. Ashkenazim will no longer be allowed to consume matzah as it will be considered kitniyot, given that matzah meal and flour can be confused.
  3. Matzah II: If you don’t eat gebrochts, you won’t be able to eat matzah either. Why? Because your saliva is no different than any other fluid that, according to this specific custom, can potentially cause fermentation (!) in the already baked matzah. Potential solution? Eating matzah with a dentist type suction device.
  4. Sugar: Potentially kitniyot. Why? Can be confused for flour.
  5. Cocaine: See above.
  6. Cranberries: Some folks refrain from eating pickles on Pesach because in Hebrew they are called חמוצים (chamutzim), and they have fabricated a custom which prohibits the consumption of foods containing the three letters of חמץ. Cranberries are called חמוציות (chamutziyot) in Hebrew…
  7. Oxygen: See above (חמצן).

Please share your ideas. I’ll update this post as soon as I can think of more.

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

Cannabis Kitniyos

Filed under: Israel,Judaism,Orthodoxy,Passover,Politics,Religion — lonelymanofcake @ 4:51 pm

Israel’s (very secular) pro-marijuana party עלה ירוק (Green Leaf) has apparently entered the halakhic sphere and issued a notice which states that marijuana is considered kitniyot (definition), as it is related to hemp (or not), which is apparently kitniyot.

Some musings:

  1. It would be funny if marijuana was actually considered chametz. Would selling your chametz then be considered a criminal act? (Note: Kitniyot need not be sold.)
  2. Does inhalation amount to the halakhic standards for consumption? (The Gemara in Tractate Avodah Zarah speaks about this with regard to inhaling smells emanating from an idol worship ceremony. If I’m not mistaken, the Tosafists say that inhalation is to be considered a category of drinking… I’ll dig up the source.)
  3. What of hashish, which is a marijuana derivative?

I’m not sure how to read into the fact that this “psak” has so far appeared only in English language publications.

(Hat tip: yeho)

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.

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