Tuesday, March 30, 2004

This is nice, and touching. I just did it myself.

Whoa. What a day. Was close to a panic attack there, but I think I'm getting better. Wheeeewww. Hi to all out there, especially one new blogger- Hi!

One thought: Out of England comes this story about how Muslims are trying to actually take over. They don't want a repaired statue of a wild boar put up in a public park because it offends them. Hey, I don't eat pig, but I have no problem with seeing them. I guess Muslims just take their laws a wee bit far (like Avraham Blumenkrantz, whose latest Pesach guide assures us that minhagim are stricter than dinim), or, more likely, just like to make trouble. How often have we heard Muslims playing the "everyone else does it, we don't" card? (Sounds like Chabad, come to think.) An excuse because they don't want to do certain things? A reason to cause trouble? Take your pick.

Come to think, there's this, which I hope to go to, if I ever get around to responding (Edited to add: I did!). Taste "The Fish That Tastes Like Chazir," reads the ad. It tastes like pig, people. Why dance around it?

Monday, March 29, 2004

Jack Valenti is retiring as head of the Motion Picture Association of America. In his farewell speech Thursday, he said, "I have never ceased fighting to make sure that every creative film artist can tell the story as they choose to tell it without any fear that the government would intervene or interrupt or make them stand mute."

Purely out of curiosity, Mr. Valenti, you Johnson-administration-paranoid-liberal-introduced-by-Warren-Beatty you, has the government, in the course of your tenure, ever even attempted such a thing?

Here's another winner from this genius: "Those 45 words that comprise the Constitution is the one clause that guarantees all the others."

Of course, he means "the First Amendment," which he referred to a line before. But it's a telling slip- to these people, the Constitution is what they like. Of course, being an Amendment, it can't "guarantee" the rest of the Constitution- the original seven articles existed before it. But don't try explaining that to this history expert and constitutional scholar.

Speaking of geniuses, WCBS radio just had a breathless report of security being stepped up at synagogues because of the approaching "Jewish high holidays." HA!

Thought that I'd finally finish my Hagaddah bit. I finally looked up the Mishna and Gemara this weekend. Plus, Rabbi Leiman gave a good shiur on it, but that has little to do with my point.

For context, I'll repeat my previous posting here. Damn, a lot's happened since then...ah, to Torah!

"So let's talk about the Haggaddah. Why not? We got a small one from some institution (one of those) in Israel yesterday, and, as keeper of the family's many haggados (I wish my Hebrew capitalization was consistent), I suppose, it was handed off to me.

So there are 15 steps in the Seder, 14 if you combine motzi-matzah. I recall a classmate back in high school, a religious Christian (he was Yugoslavian, if I recall correctly) pointing out a passage in a religious book he had that was trying to make a point about ordering religious ceremonies. For example, they said, anyone who's been to a Seder will notice how everything happens at the right time. He asked me to explain that a bit, and I tried (I tend to be shy about these things). Anyway, back to the steps.

My point- and this appeals to my neurotic mind- is that there are very few actual steps, or actual steps out of the ordinary. Consider:

Kaddesh: Kiddush, same as we make any Shabbos or Yom Tov. Same, in fact, as we'll make on Day Seven. Cup of wine, as always.

Urchatz: Attached to Karpas, below. Should be done whenever eating veggies, but only comes up when we schedule it- i.e., here. This idea will come up again later.

Karpas: A "Keep the kids interested" minhag, as are many of the Seder. Note that the Vilna Gaon didn't even have it on his ke'arah. The Ramah, on the other hand (who I follow) even has salt water on his. Of course, once I'm done, I remove them. The Ramah sets the ke'arah up in the order everything'll be used. No one makes Ramah plates. I also use celery, because it's green (which is the point, Pesach being a spring holiday) and yummy.

Yachatz: Another minhag, also to keep the kids interested. One wonders how people who use two matzos can do this, if motzi must be made on whole "loaves." [Note: I've since found out it's not an issue.]

Maggid: Aha! Mitzvah #1. Sippur Yetzias Mitzraim. L'halacha (as per the Mishna), it would involve Mah Nishtana, Mitechila, repeating the Parshas HaBikkurim with explanation (standardized today by saying the Midrash Halakha on it), the three points of the seder, and the beginning of Hallel. To an extent, we also repeat the mishnah itself as long as we're at it."

Thus far the previous posting. Let's give a bit more about Maggid:

The Mishna lays down most of the text- I'm not sure about Ha Lachma Anya, but there's Ma Nishtana, Avadim, M'tchila, sources on the mitzvah of Sippur Yetzias Mitzraim itself (the Bnei Brak story, etc.), the Parshas Bikkurim with the Sifrei, leading to counting plagues, Dayennu, Rabban Gamliel, B'Chol Dor VaDor, the start of Hallel, and brachot. In fact, it follows naturally point to point. The one point I used to get stuck on was "Barukh HaMakom...Keneged Arba'a Banim," but I've found sources and reasons for that too, and that was the point of Rabbi Leiman's shiur, in fact.

Anyway, we finish with another cup, so that we've performed the mitzvah of Maggid over a cup. So that's cup two, but the first specific to the night.

So...moving right along. Rachtza, Motzi, Matza, Marror, Korech, Shulchan Orech, Tzafun, Barech- are all, basically, the meal. We wash for bread, as always, and say the bracha, as always, adding a bracha for the mitzva of matza. Ditto for the mitzva of marror, with a bracha. Korech simply combines the two (or three, as it was originally), followed by the meal itself. This was the Chagiga in the time of the Beis Hamikdash, followed by one more piece of the Pesach, symbolized here by the afikoman (Tzafun). Finally, we bentsch. That's over a cup, too- I suppose we're supposed to always do it over a cup, but we only do so (like Urchatz) in formalized situations like this. Although there is an opinion in the Gemara that the four cups came first, and they were fit into the seder, which sort of ruins my whole theory.

Finally, we finish up Hallel, again over a cup (or two, over the two types of Hallel), as it's another mitzvah. Nirtzah is all relatively recent additions.

So: Kiddush as always, some minhagim for the kids, Maggid, the meal, and Hallel. Not so complicated, eh?

Peter Ustinov has died, R.I.P.

"Are you foreign?'

"No, I'm British."

Friday, March 26, 2004

Hey! Just checking in. The dinner last night was magnificient. I am so glad I went. I saw Rabbi Hecht, and Rabbi Handel, and many others, and got to say hi to all. I even spoke to Mrs. Jesselson (the big donor and honoree), telling her my father worked for her late husband and sent his fondest regards. And, of course, I congratulated Mrs. Levitt. She gave a great speech- she even mentioned students dressing as Ophelia, which I did. The food was fantastic, and they gave out goodies too. It was full of people, and even the speeches weren't bad. God bless YUHS- as Norman Abrams, the registrar of days past, woould say, "It's a school for schools."

There's a Carlebach davening at the Barris's tonight! And cousin Craig will be by on his way back to California from Israel! And Rabbi Leiman has a shiur! And I'm going to meet this new gal this weekend! I should be dead tired, but I'm really looking forward to this Shabbos.

You know, I had some rants and links, but who cares? Let's all be happy.

Shabbat Shalom, all.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

So the 5:30 news on the radio this morning began with the story of the kid who didn't get to blow himself up yesterday. "They offered him about twenty dollars and seventy-two virgins!" went the opening announcement. (I love that extra "two". It's so much better than just plain "seventy," like the Sanhedrin, l'havdil.) Maybe it's just me, but I wonder if a mentally challenged fourteen year old really appreciates an offer of women. What does he think he's going to do with them? Of course, that whole society is sick. The following is an email I got from my friend Stephen M. Tolany this morning, entitled "literally mind-blowing photographs":

!WARNING! ***The images posted at the link below are extremely graphic and not for the weak of heart (or for anyone who has just eaten lunch).*** But I very highly encourage everyone to look at these pictures and forward them to anyone curious to understand more about the bloodthirsty and bloody culture of the haters of Israel.

Curious to see how Palestinians and their sympathizers want to remember their revered spiritual leader?

Curious to see the brains behind Hamas?

Go to the following link and scroll all the way down:


(No wonder al-Jazeera aired the images of the dead American servicemen. They'd do the same for a beloved religious teacher! THIS is what these people like to watch on TV over their dinners. This is what they like to show their young children in order to get them to to want to blow themselves up to kill Jews and Americans.)

(Back to NL.) No words truer spoken. I do recommend the third comment on this posting at Protocols, though- it's quite funny, but I'll let you read it there.

The Times has a whole sequence of photographs of this incident on their front page- it's really something to see. They don't explain the very good reason why the kid had to strip to his undies (to see if he had more bombs on him), but that's intuitive, and I think it's a good thing they showed the pictures. Funniest part, though- an "only in Israel" scene. The last photo shows them detonating the bomb from a distance. On one of concrete barriers is clearly written, in graffitti (you can only see a few words and letters, but if you speak Hebrew you'd know it automatically), "Mitzvah gedolah l'hiyot b'simcha"- it is a great commandment to always be joyful. I love it.

A link on The Village Idiots takes us to a very disturbing site, pictures of the Neturei Karta burning the Israeli flag around the world as part of their standard Purim celebrations. OK, (well, actually, not OK, but whatever) they disapprove of Israel. But to hate it? And make hating it so formalized? Me, I'll be volunteering at the Salute to Israel parade again this year, sorely tempted to flip these evil people the bird as I pass them. I hope to resist the temptation- the Parade is beautiful (y'all should come), and I think the huge crowd that gathers specifically across from the spot where the Arabs etc. are to yell at them are missing the point of, and, to a certain extent, ruining, the parade. Ignore them and cheer on the marchers, OK?

I do find it ironic that the Neturei Karta people use as their site's symbol a depiction of the Luchos (Tablets) joined, and with round tops- a very non-Jewish way of depicting them. Losers. A funny story- we were learning the sugya in Bava Basra that discusses the dimensions of the Luchos with Rav Wohlgelernter, who's also the rabbi of the Young Israel of Fifth Avenue, long may it last (see the page and you'll know why I say that). The gemara, of course, talks of them as square, at which point the good rabbi looked up. "I know what you're wondering," he said. "'But rebbe, the luchos were round on top!' Well, yes, that's what they look like in many pictures. That's how Michelangelo made them. That's what they looked like above the Aron in my shul- until I got up on a ladder and took them down myself." Heh. I love that man. I'll take one Rabbi Wohlgelernter against a thousand Neturei Karta "rabbis" any day.

I'm going to the Yeshiva University High Schools dinner tonight- they're honoring Mrs. Levitt, the world's best English teacher. I hope to check back here before then, though.

Monday, March 22, 2004

First, a happy birthday to my main man William Shatner. Seventy-three...wow. (Leonard Nimoy's is coming up in a few days- same age.)

Anything else to report before I get to Shapiro? Yeah, sure. The gal I saw last week isn't interested (sniff), but she wants to consider friends for me. And now I have other "offers" too. It's funny how things work out- job, dates, etc. when they're least expected and/or unlikely. God is being good to me lately, not that I deserve it. Praise Him!

I guess I'll miss the Cardozo Federalists event tonight. It's cold and I'm tired- and I don't have the details.

Why does the Jewish Week think it's productive to have high school kids tell us their half-baked (or, more often completely raw), ideas on various topics of import? As Graham Chapman would say, "Stop it, it's getting silly."

Hmmm...I could go on with various LammTrivia, but let's go to Shapiro.

He likes handouts, I see, which is nice. His main point was about mistakes in the Rambam- that is, places where the Rambam quotes a pasuk or midrash from memory, and gets it wrong. Now, it's clear as day that Shapiro has an agenda, here and elsewhere. To put it simply, Shapiro would like to stir things up. He sees himself as someone who's going to turn the Jewish comunity upside-down. In this instance, he's fighting against people making chakiras in the Rambam- after all, if the Rambam made mistakes (as he himself admitted), then why split hairs trying to explain apparent errors and/or contradictions? And, of course, this goes further- starting with this, it becomes easier to rejuggle halakhic ideas and long-held firm beliefs (such as, dare I say it, the Ani Maamins).

Now there are those- even those who know Shapiro well- who don't quite get this about him. They begin analysis of him as if he was writing solid academic stuff only, and critique him based on that. Thus, they can say, for example, "Ah, but Dr. Shapiro- just because people argued with individual Ani Maamins doesn't mean they're illegitimate!" and so on. I'm not taking sides in any of this- but I'd like to point out that it's irrelevant, as I'll show below.

Others "see" what Shapiro is aiming at- and find it wrong. "Ah, Dr. Shapiro- you show how German Jewish leaders wrote a letter to Hitler without providing context- context of the decadence of Weimar, or the lack of understanding of Nazi anti-Semitism, and so on. You're a sensationalist!" The last point is true- but I don't have a problem with that.

You see, I think Orthodoxy has settled into certain rigid modes of thinking. And I think Shapiro (or anyone)has to shake it up. "No! The Ani Maamins (even individually) were not universally accepted! Yes! The Seridei Aish had Reform friends! Yes! The Rambam made mistakes!" I don't know if he's out to make wider points, or have deeper effects. But in this much, at least, he's doing a good thing. Point out uncomfortable truths (and, despite what one questioner asked, the truth is the truth), shake people up, make them think. And as that Twilight Zone episode (The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street) said, sit back and watch what happens. Of course, perhaps some guidance is good, so things don't spin out of control- but there's not much of that either nowadays.

Anyway, that's what I saw at the conference. Then I hit all my Broadway spots- Virgin, Forbidden Planet, Strand, Tower. Got the Sherman CD, which has nice liner notes. Home, bed, wake, shul, work, here...Monday evening.
The Maimonides Conference kicked off yesterday. The keynote, and official opening, was last night, but before it, during the afternoon was, what I think, will be the best of the sessions- I'm glad it was held then, so I could make it. The auditorium was packed, and, to paraphrase the song, "everyone who should be there was there."

Professor Blidstein gave a presentation about the Rambam's ideas of halakhic authority. Interesting, if a bit wooden. But I forgot about it completely and had to go online to remind myself what the topic was. I'll be generous and say it's because he was first.

The Grach (a jocular name for Prof. Hayim Soloveitchik) gave a very good speech indeed. I'd forgotten that he speaks well, and hadn't been expecting that. Perhaps it's because the first time I heard him was when he gave a somewhat disjointed (to my mind) eulogy for his father, back in 1993. But I suppose someone in that spot has to be cut lots of slack.

His topic was covert (and overt) agendas in the Rambam, and he focused on how the Yad is an answer to Karaism. One flaw I saw with his argument was that he's willing to accept that the Rambam sacrificed clarity in writing the halakha for polemic- and covert polemic, at that. I don't like the sound of that- he seems to be missing the forest for the trees, or suggesting the Rambam meant us to. In fact, he argued that he (Soloveitchik) is looking at a much broader picture of the Yad- if so, he's missing the forest for a broader forest. Or something.

The question session after he spoke reminded me of why I restrain myself from asking questions of the Grach. (The last time I did was ten years ago.) As a friend of mine who was sitting next to me said, "He doesn't suffer fools lightly. For that matter, he doesn't suffer intelligent people lightly either." Ask a stupid or irrelevant question, or one whose premise he feels is fundamentally flawed, he'll tell you, point by point. I'm reminded of something national treasure (and, one hopes, future Chief Justice) Clarence Thomas once said: He was asked why, unlike other justices, he doesn't ask a lot of questions. He answered that, first, he grew up speaking Gullah and thus was embarrassed to talk up in class. As he got older, he realized that many people ask questions just to hear themselves speak, and they often know the answer already. Finally, he realized that if your question is really important, you can keep your mouth shut and somebody else will ask it eventually. So I waited, and, sure enough, other people brought up my points. Needless to say, the Grach was not fazed.

Over at Protocols, Steven I. Weiss (who I finally got to meet) records another exchange: "Prof. Haym Soloveitchik in refusing to speak to me as a reporter: 'Your job is to simplify and my job is to find nuance.'" Ha! I remember the famous "Superman" speech from my senior year of college, when the Grach told my roommate, in front of a full Weissberg Commons, to get himself therapy.

Finally, there was Marc Shapiro...gotta run. I'll put in more later, so check back!

Continued above.

Friday, March 19, 2004

I went to the TWOP reading last night, and it rocked. Three of the writers for the site- djb, Sars, and Miss Alli- read from their stuff. You can find links to what they read here (too lazy to post all that).

The place was packed to the gills- I could barely get in the door. But it was a good time.

Ah, but this is Lammpost, so there has to be a rant, right? Of course.

The bar where it was held is called "KGB." There was a large Soviet flag over the bar, and the walls were covered with propaganda pictures of Lenin, workers, etc. etc. This is a big pet peeve of mine- Communism has killed over 100 million people and counting, after all. Sure, the argument goes, but this is kitsch, plain and simple. Perhaps so- if not for a few inconvenient facts:

-Can you imagine a bar called "SS" adorned with swastikas and pictures of Hitler? Nazis are about as far left-wing as Communists, but popular belief says otherwise- and you'd never see something like that.

-Many of these people are actual Communists, or Socialists, or something close. They still haven't learned the lesson. (Come to think, they'd never make a bar called "GOP" with pictures of Reagan and American flags, unless it was "kitsch," but their sympathies here are with the exhibits.) We've never had "de-Communist" programs like there was "de-Nazification" after World War II.

Reading David Frum this morning, I thought of another point- he points out how Spain's new Prime Minister is publicly hoping Kerry will win this year (he actually expects him to, probably believing the anti-Bush propaganda that passes for "news" in Europe). Frum suggests it has to do with Europe wanting to be at the center of things again. I have a further point- Socialists have always been about internationalism. Rush Limbaugh recently wondered how Americans could not place America first. Easy- they're Socialists (Democrats), and feel more sympathy with like-minded people around the world, in addition to the fact that they're uncomfortable asserting the greatness of their own country.

Perhaps we need a Right International. There is a movement like that, but I think it needs to be stronger. Diplomacy aside, people should be allowed to say, "I think that the Tories should win tomorrow" or something. As icing on the cake, they'd be better allies of the US anyway. As much as the Forward accuses Bush, cutely, of not supporting democracy in Spain (because he disapproves of the results of the election) when he ostensibly does in Iraq, Bush has never said anything of the sort. Perhaps he should. Perhaps he- or someone else- should say, "Yes, this is bad. It's a victory for the terrorists, the other party was on our side, and, besides, socialism is just plain bad."

Anyway. It'll be a long road. On my way down 4th Street heading home, I passed a nice little Irish place with an American flag out front. It was a nice antidote, especially seeing it in that neighborhood. I wish I could've gone in and had something, but it was late, and, more importantly, I was alone. Another time. I did go into Tower Records and get a Python CD (the only one I didn't own already) dirt cheap- less than the label, which was low already. I pondered getting an Allan Sherman "Best of" as well- maybe if they're slicing prices, I'll pick it another time. The music business must be in bad shape.

And so home, and so to bed, as Samuel Pepys would say.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Whoa. I might have erased all comments by changing the template. Testing now.

Whew. That was close. I think I'll stick with this one.

So, news is that Mel Gibson wants to make a Maccabbee movie. Bully for him. Foxman isn't happy, of course, but who cares? On National Review, Dave Kopel links to two articles he wrote on the subject. The latter is jam-packed with awful errrors.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Happy St. Patrick's Day! I'm wearing my Irish tie from J. Press- the one with the shield of the four provinces of Ireland on it. I doubt many Irish-Americans (or many Irish) would recognize it, though- and it's the blue, not the green variety. But hey, why not? It's my favorite anyway, because I'm such a flag nut- the second I saw it in the store I knew I had to get it, and this is actually the second identical one I bought, the first having mostly worn out and kept in the office for emergencies.

The parade lined up right under my window (girls' school band with US, Irish, Vatican flags). The grand marshal and his crew assembled in the Irish bar across the street. They were holding large plastic orange hammers, oddly- orange?!? There was a piper and drummer in full dress greeting them.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

And still I haven't heard back from the young lady. Ah, these social conventions- do I call her directly? Call the go-betweens? Call others? Sit and wait? I wish it was simpler. Or maybe I wish I wasn't such a wimp.

So, another halacha piece from the Rav (not the Rav, my Rav). He has published a very nice parsha sheet for many years- I think he may have been the first. This week he had a piece about the luchos- we're told that Moshe dropped them because their "neshama," so to speak, left them when they "saw" the eigel and what was going on. So they became to heavy (like a dead person, I guess) and he dropped them.

He continues by pointing out how this shows us how it's difficult to maintain our spirituality in places devoid of it. Lesson: We should live in areas where there is spirituality.

OK, true. But many of us don't have that option. Wouldn't it have been nicer if the lesson had been: "We see from this how great are those who maintain their spirituality in areas devoid of it"?

Yeah, like I'm one to talk.

Anyway. He also had bits about how everything is contained in the Torah (just because the sun rose every day for thousands of years doesn't mean it will tomorrow, unless there's a proof in the Torah) and another spinning an old Midrash which says that one of the eleven spices used for ketores smelled bad, to show us how even sinners have a place in the klal. The spin? "Well, yeah, but you still need a minyan (i.e., the ten spices) as well."

I don't think that's too productive- and I think there's too much spinning. For example, there's the famous story of how the Maggid told the Vilna Gaon that he was only great because he was able to stay cooped up in his house and learn all day. "Try heading out into the world like every other Jew," he said, "and see if you can remain the Vilna Gaon." The Gaon started to cry.

This, of course, fits well with my point above about maintaining ourselves in this world. Alas, the story has been spun in recent years so the Gaon gets the last word, either telling the Maggid that his life is tough too, or that life doesn't have to be tough. Not only are those silly and callous responses, they reduce the Gaon to someone who couldn't take mussar, and dilute the meaning of a powerful story to defend a political position.

Some happy links, now:

See if you can figure it out. It took me a while, and I needed help from my Hebrew-speaking parents.

A new book by Slifkin! Maybe I'll get this one. Maybe I'll go on his tour come Pesach.

Funny little piece on National Review's The Corner yesterday. A bit of background: There's been some controversy about the funding the federal government gives to Middle East studies programs at universities around the country. Said programs (or Said programs, heh heh) are accused of often being Arabist, not practical, anti-American, and so on. Following September 11, it was said that the programs did not produce experts in needed fields, such as confronting threats from the Mideast, and discourage students from working for the government.

I'm no expert, but I can believe this, just from knowing how the academy works. So I'm all in favor of the proposed oversight of the funding and the like (I hate government, but once you accept money from them, at least how you spend that money, if not more, should be fair game).

But I find the quote linked above cute: "signed by nearly every important Jewish group in the nation." Interested, I clicked on the link (go ahead, you do it too- but you have to scroll). Bwah!

American Israel Public Affairs Committee
American Jewish Committee
American Jewish Congress
Anti-Defamation League
B’nai B’rith International
Jewish War Veterans
Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations

That's it (in all fairness, the National Review poster isn't Jewish, I don't think, despite his name, and the website itself doesn't use that term, but speaks, correctly, of "an impressive coalition"). Now, the first six certainly are seen as major Jewish organizations, much as I may think they're completely useless. And I think the OU is pretty important (although they messed up the name). But only eight? I imagine the Reform and Conservative bodies are pretty important too, for example.

I guess that leads to another question of what Jewish organizations today really are significant. One good measure is the Zionist elections, I think- few people actually vote, but it may be the best measure there is- and even Hadassah no longer runs. The ZOA gets bubkes. It's the three big religious bodies that get all the votes. And if the flap over "The Passion" doesn't prove once and for all how irrelevant the "defense" organizations are, there's no justice. Hmmm. Maybe I'd put AIPAC, and the UJC, up there. Not sure what else. Anyone?

Stopping by the local Duane Reade, I saw a sign (advertising candy) that read something like "It's almost Easter time." [I misremembered- see below.] It's at moments like that that I feel like the author of the book "Eats Shoots and Leaves," on proper punctuation, who stood in front of a sign advertising the movie "Two Weeks Notice" with a giant apostrophe held in place. I need to get a "negative apostrophe" sign.

Last night, in another Duane Read, getting some personal stuff, I saw that the M&M's at the counter had an odd colored bag. Yup, they're selling grey (gray?) M&M's. Some sort of "where did the colors go?" promotion. Gotta love Madison Ave.

Edited to correct: I misquoted the sign. It was more like, "Easter is on it's way."

There's a website I like called WebExhibits. It's got some interesting essays, particularly on the calendar.

And now I see that they have an anti-Bush piece up. It's not just them- all sorts of sites, boards, and so on, on topics completely unrelated to politics, have all this anti-Bush stuff up. This is a serious and disturbing obsession these lefties have.

Monday, March 15, 2004

The issues are basically these:

Some guy in Israel (turns out our family knows [of] him somehow, but that's a whole 'nother story) is publishing a series of books on insects in food, checking for them, etc. (For those not in on this particular Orthodox Jewish obsession, insects ain't kosher, so they have to be removed. Of course, as with any religious law, lots of people go over the top.) The books are very impressive- color plates of photographs and the like.

My rabbi spent "half his salary" on the two volumes out so far, and spoke a bit about them. He said that some people pointed out to the author that the infestation situation as presented in the books is so daunting, people never will eat again. The author's response was as follows: When the Chafetz Chaim wrote his famous works on the laws of Lashon Hara (forbidden gossip), people worried that with so many laws, they'd never be able to talk again. Responded the Chafetz Chaim, au contraire! Now that you have the laws, you know exactly what you can say, for the first time.

So too, it is supposedly with this book. Now, for the first time, you know how to properly check veggies for bugs.

I'm not going to touch the gossip issue- I'll concede people have always been a bit lax about that one. But the attitude here is widespread today in many areas, and disturbing- the idea that only we are observing the laws properly. Is the implication that previous generations were, simply, eating non-kosher, and ignoring significant laws, just because they didn't have color photographs? Or shouldn't we admit, at least, that we're being stringent beyond requirements here?

My father pointed out that many of the tougher veggies to check (broccoli, say- which he doesn't like anyway) weren't widely eaten back in the day. Maybe, but I'm not buying that- people always had stuff to check, so they were, by implication, being lax. I don't like people making that implication- it's too cavalier.

Gotta go, so other points will follow later.

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Well, back. Eyes are OK, thank God. Now maybe I'll finally get those new glasses. Anyone want to go shopping with me, raise your hands.

Hmmm...what else? Papers mostly out, and...oh, yeah, the date. Nice. I hope the feeling of it not continuing is just me worrying too much, as usual. Damn mating rituals.

More tomorrow, homes!

Just checking in briefly. Some stuff (Toyreh stuff) came up over the holy Shabbat, and I still have to finish that Haggadah thing, and R. Leiman had a great shiur- but I have a jam-packed day. Off to the eye doctor for a checkup (God, I hope nothing's wrong- no insurance), papers to throw out, schedules to check, shows to tape, a date to go out on- whoa. Hope I can get back to you soon.

Hope you all have a great week!

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Why don't architects believe in building buildings that look like, well, buildings anymore? The various designs for the Olympic village all look awful. (Of course, modern architects loooove them.) These structures look like they're gonna fall over. Most of the various World Trade Center plans were similar- Liebskind was pretty bad too, but they've been cleaning that up. I hope more is to come.

Someone just told me this blog is "more depressing than a country song." I'll try to be cheerier.

Steven Weiss, of Protocols, has an article in the Forward today (registration required, see the top of his blog) about Marc Shapiro's book and the response to it. Among other gems? The Boro Park Eichler's returned all but one (!) of the copies it had due to "community pressure," but it's selling well at the Flatbush branch. (Apparently, the latter is under separate ownership- I always wondered why the card of the Manhattan store lists it, but not the B.P. one.) I seem to be saying this a lot lately, but yuck.

I also see, from Protocols as well, that the Skverrer embezzeler is dead in jail. I wonder if the Rebbe will mention it on his visit to my neighborhood this week. I don't plan on finding out. The posters heralding this great event actually read "Ki gadol bekirbeich kedosh yisrael." Of course, Yeshaya is talking about God there, but Chassidim (and Charedim in general, and Boro Park) are known to be crazy. See how it all ties together? You can refer to a human in divine terms, but Marc Shapiro's book is assur. Violations of the Ani Maamins are allowed only by some.

Of course, the signs say "Queens Welcomes." As my brother's chavrusah puts it, "I didn't welcome him!"

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Still delaying my followup to the haggadah, because I'm pissed.

I'm a board member of the Kew Gardens Hills [Queens] Civic Association. (It's not as impressive as it sounds, but I think it's important.) There was a board meeting last night, I was tired and really wanted to hook up with the now-ex, but I went. Came a few minutes late, OK. Didn't stay till the bitter end, OK. But we got to discuss some important stuff. And then comes this:

The president announces we have some visitors- three couples (I thought I saw some new people). They're from the block of Yeshiva Or Hachaim, which is Touro-affiliated and run by Touro College president Bernard Lander's son (natch), R. Daniel (YU-won't-admit-it type). Two are from across the street, but it's the ones from down the block that have the biggest issue.

A bit of history: There was a co-ed day school in Forest Hills called Yeshiva Dov Revel (named after the first Yeshiva University president, but not affiliated). Touro College, which loves to take stuff- particularly land and buildings- over, took it over, threw out the girls, established a school (continuing ed or something) in the building, shut down Dov Revel and merged it with Tiferes Moshe, another yeshiva in Kew Gardens (my alma mater), with classes split between the two buildings. They also opened a high school affiliated with Or Hachaim there.

Now Lander Jr. wants to move the HS to Kew Gardens Hills, next door to his yeshiva, probably to free up space for his dad to teach Russians in Forest Hills. He wants to build a gym, dorms- one look at how narrow the street is and you'll see why people across the street are concerned. He owns a few houses down- uses them for dorms- but wants more. And so he wants to buy out the next house, owned by the people who were at the meeting. They don't want to move. And so he's threatening to build anyway, right up to them- and it's an attached home! He'd be knocking down one wall, getting in their way...yuck.

Worst part was when they said, "But he's a rabbi! He shouldn't be acting like that!" And someone else had to inform them that rabbis can be just as rude as other people. I hate chilul hashems. And there was nothing we could do about it. He can do whatever he wants. I left after a bit, didn't want to hear more. I wish I could have said something to them, but what? Condolences?

Think I fixed the comments issue. I had noticed their note, but didn't think it applied to me.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

My good friend Rav K. went out to eat with me. It cheered me up, y'know? Then I came back uptown only to be sent back down to court. The lovely clerk was there, but she didn't wait on me. Ah well.

Let me check to see where I am in the Haggadah.

So let's talk about the Haggaddah. Why not? We got a small one from some institution (one of those) in Israel yesterday, and, as keeper of the family's many haggados (I wish my Hebrew capitalization was consistent), I suppose, it was handed off to me.

So there are 15 steps in the Seder, 14 if you combine motzi-matzah. I recall a classmate back in high school, a religious Christian (he was Yugoslavian, if I recall correctly) pointing out a passage in a religious book he had that was trying to make a point about ordering religious ceremonies. For example, they said, anyone who's been to a Seder will notice how everything happens at the right time. He asked me to explain that a bit, and I tried (I tend to be shy about these things). Anyway, back to the steps.

My point- and this appeals to my neurotic mind- is that there are very few actual steps, or actual steps out of the ordinary. Consider:

Kaddesh: Kiddush, same as we make any Shabbos or Yom Tov. Same, in fact, as we'll make on Day Seven. Cup of wine, as always.

Urchatz: Attached to Karpas, below. Should be done whenever eating veggies, but only comes up when we schedule it- i.e., here. This idea will come up again later.

Karpas: A "Keep the kids interested" minhag, as are many of the Seder. Note that the Vilna Gaon didn't even have it on his ke'arah. The Ramah, on the other hand (who I follow) even has salt water on his. Of course, once I'm done, I remove them. The Ramah sets the ke'arah up in the order everything'll be used. No one makes Ramah plates. I also use celery, because it's green (which is the point, Pesach being a spring holiday) and yummy.

Yachatz: Another minhag, also to keep the kids interested. One wonders how people who use two matzos can do this, if motzi must be made on whole "loaves."

Maggid: Aha! Mitzvah #1. Sippur Yetzias Mitzraim. L'halacha (as per the Mishna), it would involve Mah Nishtana, Mitechila, repeating the Parshas HaBikkurim with explanation (standardized today by saying the Midrash Halakha on it), the three points of the seder, and the beginning of Hallel. To an extent, we also repeat the mishnah itself as long as we're at it.

I have to cut this off. Be back later.

Sunday, March 07, 2004

Well, Purim is over but for no Tachanun tomorrow. It wasn't bad, y'know? Ate at the Penns Shabbos, which was all good. They came by with Shalach Manos today. Of course, we disconnect our doorbell on Purim, so Raizel knew to call ahead. They were dressed as M&Ms- the cartoon character kind. Very cute. I even got to do the actual mitzvah by handing him some of our stuff.

We had the long-lost relations- a cousin of my mother and his ladyfriend- over for the seudah. Also very nice. The women of the family, as always, went all out with the food. Oh my.

You know, nothing about the people above (really), but I'm beginning to wonder about private or potentially embarrassing information on blogs (especially about me). Either I rid this page of personal details, adopt pseudonyms, or be discrete. For now, I'll try the last.

Spent the next hour or so ironing my shirts. Listened to a Jack Benny show while doing it. The singer sang a song about loving someone who doesn't love back, loving from afar, not being able to make someone love you, and wanting permission to dream. It got me right here.

OK, enough personal stuff. Showered and turning in soon (tired). Alias is cool, but only if I don't try to figure out the MacGuffin.

TWoP Forums are down. Yuck.

I'd like to add links, a comments option, etc., but I'm not too good on HTML. Give me time.

See y'all tomorrow, here and elsewhere!
In addition to being Purim, of course, today is the tenth yahrzeit of Dr. Baruch Goldstein, Hy"d.

On that note, let's move right on to the question of Amalek. Many who tend to be made uncomfortable by certain laws of the Torah try to find all sorts of rationalizations which essentially negate the halacha of wiping out Amalek. Others will stress that they in no way mean to deny the actual halacha, but find many more spiritual and esoteric meanings to the concept.

As the dedication above may indicate, I'm not one to be made uncomfortable by halachos, especially this one. However- and bearing in mind that I find some of the various points made by those just mentioned quite attractive- listening the haftorah of Parshas Zachor yesterday reminded me once more of my question why such pursuits are even necessary.

To put it simply: The text in Shmuel makes it quite clear that Shaul killed every member of the nation of Amalek except for Agag, who was then killed by Shmuel. According to P'shat, then, the mitzvah of Mechiyas Amalek, in the literal sense, no longer applies. True, Midrashim tell us about others surviving, about Agag impregnating women in the meantime, and so on, but since when are halachos learned from Aggadata?

One response to this is to point out that within less than the span of a generation, in the same sefer, Amalek is once again referred to as a living, vibrant nation. Perhaps the Midrashim mean to explain that. So we can then move a step further:

It's a basic point of halacha that the various nations at issue in Tanach simply don't exist anymore. For this reason, we don't have to worry if a ger, say, is from Moav, Ammon, Mitzraim, or Edom, all of which would have issues. We also don't worry about the seven nations of Canaan, and so on. Jewish tradition attributes this fact to Assyria engaging in their practice of mixing up nations. We don't even have to go back that far, as a simple examination of today's Middle East shows us that all of the areas discussed in Tanach are now populated by people whose ethnicity is Arab and/or Muslim, erasing all previous civilizations.

Now- if halacha has erased, say, Ammon and Moav, why are we to assume it hasn't erased Amalek as well?

Despite all that, I hasten to point out that Amalek- and, I daresay, the halachos of eliminating it- clearly lives today in the form of those who would kill Jews, unfortunately all too common today. Hence the dedication to the late Dr. Goldstein, one of my grandfather's later talmidim and a hero of Israel. Yehi Zichro Baruch.

On a lighter note (it is Purim, after all):

Reading the Megillah for the womenfolk of the family last night, I was struck by the masterful use of language throughout. No, more than masterful- utterly human. Again and again we see the plain and unchanging human psychology of both the characters and author of the Megillah. To give a couple of examples:

-Haman asks Zeresh and his "ohavov" (literally "loved ones," or, more accurately, "close friends) for advice. Later, his plans in ruins, he returns to them and tells them (once again, his "ohavov") the story. And who answers him (in the same pasuk!)? His "chachamav," his wise men. All of a sudden, to use the old joke, they've stopped saying "we." You're goin' down, H-man, to paraphrase Chili Palmer.

-When Esther first appears before Achashveirosh to ask his help, he offers her half his kingdom. Serious? Of course not. But he doesn't treat her seriously as well. He probably thinks she wants a new dress or something. (Hey, I'm not the sexist, he is.) Again and again he makes this offer- until she says what she wants. Suddenly, he realizes that there's a lot more to this queen than he thought. The next time she appears before him to ask for something, the language he uses is the same- but the offer of half the kingdom is dropped. In the spirit of Purim, we can suggest that now he's worried she'll actually take him up on it (well, no, not that she wouldn't do a better job of it), but, more seriously, we can suggest that all joking is done now.

Also note that while she touches the staff he extends to her the first time around, she doesn't do so the second time. I'm not sure what to read into that (although I know a certain professor of mine would think of something appropriately ribald), but it seems to indicate a changed status of Esther.

There are a number of similar touches throughout the Megillah. There are those who doubt the historicity of the book, but without going into that, it certainly seems like the portraits of the people within are quite true to life.

One final point about the Megillah- or, to be a bit more accurate, the Megillah I read from last night:

This Megillah was written by a Sofer in Europe- Mir, to be exact (there's a stamp)- sometime in, if I had to guess, the late 1920's or early 1930's and was passed down through a generation or two thus far. It's really quite gorgeous- nowadays, sifrei torah and the like are very cookie-cutter exact, with precisely written letters and the like, with no individual stamp or handwriting. This Megillah harkens back to the days of calligraphy. Ahhhh.

Anyway, you may have heard of the famous bit about how a series of small and large letters in the list of Haman's sons, which have been written that way for at least a thousand years or so, point out the final fate of the Nazis at Nuremeberg. I'm not one for Torah codes and the like, but this is one bit of compelling stuff I can go for.

Whenever I see that in this Megillah, written by a sofer who I feel safe in assuming was a victim (in one way or another, at least) of Hitler, it gives me a bit of comfort- here he was, writing those letters simply because they'd always been written that way, with no idea what was about to break out in Europe- and that he was writing about part of what would be the ultimate salvation. Scant comfort, I know, to he himself as he suffered, but it's part of the overall message of Purim- the hidden hand of God, the salvation prepared before the disaster even strikes.

Tomorrow is Shushan Purim, and thus thirty days before Pesach. Since we're supposed to start learning about Pesach a month before it begins, maybe I'll have an observation about the seder then. Keep tuned...

Friday, March 05, 2004

Hmmm. Let's lay off National Review for a second, and try the New York Times. People ask me why I read the paper if I dislike it so much, and I answer with Cyprus. Let's say I want the latest news about (for example) Cyprus reunification. Now, I could check Yahoo news every day, or open the Times. Other papers don't have that sort of coverage. Add to that the non-news section, and you've got an important must-read.

Which, of course, makes it all the worse that it's an awful paper. Simply awful. So why don't I launch on them? There's a breathless article (disguised, badly, as "news") about gays trying to get married in New York City yesterday (I passed by the Municipal Building, where people get marriage licenses, shortly before and saw all the cops, but didn't ask why they were there- plus the Martha Stewart trial had a whole circus there too) in today's paper. One thing that struck me was, in listing areas going for this, the line "Massachusetts has signaled its approval" was used. Now, Massachusetts didn't signal anything. Technically, Massachusetts, being a theoretical construct, can't signal anything. But more to the point, a few judges, opposed by most Massachusettsians, signaled something. Don't make it sound better (and less undemocratic) than it was.

One interesting thing I learned, from a photo, was that the mayor of upstate Nyack, touted on the radio yesterday as trying to license gay marriage, is himself gay and trying to "marry" his partner. The radio didn't think that was relevant. And, of course, the number of Jews on the gay side in the article, is overwhelming. There's even a Rabbi Nancy Wiener of Hebrew Union College trying to get a license. Just a thought. Interesting that while Rosenthal was editor, they couldn't even use the word "gay" in the Times.

Anything else? Sure. A review of a movie from Israel depicting Israelis as- well, how do you expect Israeli movies to depict Israelis? If you said "well," you obviously don't know Israeli cinema- refers to "political violence and ethnic hatred" in Israel. Beautiful. Arabs kill Jews because they hate them. Period. I don't see how "political violence and ethnic hatred" covers that.

Another pet peeve? A glowing review of the new season of The Sopranos which concludes by assuring us that a murder of a completely innocent character is actually rather touching. Really, do we need this?

That said, it's nice to see the Times hoist by its own petard now and then. There's a picture of a group of City Councilmen, about five people total. We're told that Council Speaker Gifford Miller is "second from left," Councilman John Liu is there, and so is Councilman Michael McMahon, "in striped tie."

Notice something missing? That's right, where Liu is. Now, it's simple- he's between Miller and McMahon, so why elaborate? That's what I would say, but then again, I'm not obssessed with race. The Times is, though, so I thought I'd ask them: Are we just to assume that Liu is the only Asian in the picture?
In his latest colum on National Review Online, John O'Sullivan (the former editor of the "dead tree" edition of the magazine, as they put it) ponders Pontius Pilate. (Guess why the subject came up.) At the end, he has this bit:

"We can be reasonably sure, however, of the falsity of Anatole France's cynical little story in which Pilate in retirement is asked if he recalls a crucified Jewish carpenter called Christ and has no memory of Him."

Can we be sure of that? With all due respect to Mr. O'Sullivan, I take France's position here. Even if we take the Gospels as representing a historical truth- or even the historical truth- which, fortunately, I'm under no obligation to do- I don't see how France would be wrong.

A relevant quote:

Pilate: Centurion! Do we have many...cwwwwuuucifixions scheduled for today?

Centurion: Oh, yes, my liege. One hundred and forty-nine, sir. Big day, sir. Passover, sir.

Pilate: Well, now we have one hundred fifty. Nice round number, eh?

As much as Christians may like to believe it, the whole Jesus thing was likely a flash in the pan at the time, and for a number of decades later. Then he got good PR men to take over.

As the quote indicates, I'm leading to an obvious area: Monty Python! My long-awaited (well, for a few days) DVDs came yesterday, and among them is the troupe's masterpiece, The Life of Brian. Appropriately enough, I think I'll watch them on Purim.

But there's a serious point here: One paper, I think the Daily News, commented regarding the opening of Mel Gibson's "Passion" that The Life of Brian gives a much more accurate historical picture. And they're right. Hundreds of prophets, messiahs, zealots, and assorted loons and hangers-on are running around Jerusalem. One is Jesus, another is Brian (a point missed by the movie's critics- including another National Review personality, William F. Buckley- back when it was released). Who's to say one was any more noticed than another? And even though even Python stresses Jesus's larger and more serious following, who's to say they're right?

Come to think, I've got more to say about National Review (which is, I hasten to add, one of my favorite magazines- I've subscribed for years- and websites) and its Christianity/Catholicism, but that's for another time.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Hey, this is fun. More blogging, then!

Jason, a coworker of mine, stopped by. Great guy, but he's usually in another office. He took in the view from my office window (I overlook a side street in Midtown Manhattan, right off Fifth Avenue), and, spying an attractive woman in the building across the way, we had a nice conversation about "Rear Window," one of my favorite movies.

"Ms. Torso," a tall, blonde, attractive dancer, spends the movie running around her apartment in her undies, ogled by Jimmy Stewart (who seems not to notice that Grace Kelly- Grace Kelly, for God's sake- is throwing herself at him) and every other guy around. She has guys coming over, etc. etc. Then, at the very end, her boyfriend comes home from the army. He's, well, not tall, blonde, and attractive. First words out of his mouth: "The Army's made me hungry! What's in the icebox?" Heh.
So hello to all my loyal readers! (All two of you, may they increase.) First, a word about the name: "Lammpost" was the website of the famous Rabbi Maurice Lamm, a distant relation. The friend who set this up was hocking me about getting a blog- they seem to be fashionable nowadays, I just hope I haven't jumped on the bandwagon too late- and wanted a name for to give this. Frustrated (work, fasting, slow websites) I told him "Lammpost." (It's a pun, see? Lamm, post, lamppost, etc.) He and I both knew the source, but Rabbi Maurice's site is down, and has been for a while, I think, so I hope he doesn't mind me taking the name.

Second...I have nothing else yet. More to come.
Hey. New to blogging (well, actually doing it, instead of reading and posting comments) here, and a friend set this up. Nice of him. Alas, it's a fast today, and my brain is not working. I'll try to think of something more creative shortly.