Monday, February 28, 2005


Last night, I attended a symposium on religious fundamentalism at Cardozo. Since I was in the neighborhood, I took in some "old haunts," and that was about the only worthwhile part of the day.

Let's be honest here- academics discussing current events can be worse than boring (which it nearly always is)- it can be startlingly irrelevant. People who dwell in ivory towers, whether of academe or elsewhere, are remarkably bad at illuminating real life issues. Here's a hint and a half: If, in a discussion on fundamentalism, someone brings up the bugaboo of "Gush Emunim," something that doesn't really exist, you know you're dealing with someone who reads lots of dated books.

Add to that the fact that these academics can be so smug and self-confident in their beliefs- and, oddly, so assured that they alone hold the answers to all the world's problems, and you almost come away with the sense that the real fundamentalists are sitting before you. There's also the patronizing and the anti-Bush sermonizing that I stepped out for, but I'll stop there.

Most sickening moment? One of the (many) introducers, who shall go unnamed (leaving people unnamed was quite the fashion at this fest) actually tried out the "We all believe in one God, so why the bloodshed?" line. (Actually, the exact quote was more like "Why the bloodshed? Why the bloody [as an intensitive, not an adjective] violence?") I felt distinctly embarrassed that one supposedly so educated could say something so stupid and trite. I expected him to bust out, Rodney King-style, with "Can't we all get along?"

Anyway. As something of a fundamentalist myself, I felt more bored than offended. Well, that and upset I wasted time I could have used for ironing my shirts. Instead of staying for the questions (usually the worst part of these things), I grabbed a few cookies (no big spread) and went to Forbidden Planet, where the clerks (no pun intended) were carrying on a much more interesting conversation, to me at least, about the relative qualities of talking Jay and Silent Bob dolls. (The latter says nothing, of course; the former won't stop.) Hilarious.

Oddly, I had a bit of a run-in with fundamentalism myself on my way to the event. Yep, Meah Shearim (and Boro Park) style broadsides have come to Kew Gardens Hills, Hashem Yiracheim. Rav Elyashiv, in his glory, wishes us to know that Metzitza B'Peh (squick) is a fine and safe practice that must not be altered by any means. Leaving alone the fact that it isn't usually practiced in the US (or even in Israel), except by the Chassidim and those influenced by their obscurantism, and leaving alone the chutzpah of he, or his followers, presuming to tell us what to do, was the funny point that first, the poster had to assure us that they had medical advice that this was true- and, in an added line, that a mohel with a sore should not do this. Of course, all three clauses contradict each other. If there's no medical danger, there's no need to fear sores. If medical advice is needed, then it is possible that the procedure should be changed, etc. etc. I shouldn't expect this to be consistent, but it'd be funny if it wasn't so infuriating and just plain scary. (Slifkin's taken down his controversy page. Hmmm.)

Meanwhile, over at Cross-Currents, they're running into the monkeywrench in the numbers question: Homo Flatbushensis, or "cool dudes," or "frum and 'with it,'" or whatever Jdate or Frumster feel like calling them, or what-have-you. We all know the type- I know some personally, and there was a pack of them on a plane with me once. (Remember that full-page ad in the NY Times a while back?) People who live completely modern lives, often much less observant of actual halakha than even the Orthodox left, yet would be shocked to find themselves described as "Modern Orthodox." That messes up lots of numbers and assumptions, I'd think. Of course, HBFIs are the opposite phenomenon, or, perhaps, a somewhat parallel one.

Not to sound like I'm defending Edah and the like. Ever since Saul Berman rather ostentatiously and patronizingly referred to God as "She" in a Commentary symposium, I've been a bit wary of them. I'm reminded of O'Sullivan's Law: Any organization not conservative will become liberal over time (and even many conservative ones will). How much more so an organization devoted to being liberal, in some senses. My point is this: The OU, RCA, YU, etc. do not start out to be Modern Orthodox, but merely synagogue bodies, rabbinical organizations, seminaries, etc. Once you start out to be specifically modern, you've already put yourself on the fringe- and, ironically, conceded the point that modern may not be mainstream. Of course, an organization devoted to modernity is one thing, but a seminary seems wrong. Get your basics, let the other ideas follow.

Whew. That's some rant. Have a good week, all.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

"Bunch of savages in this town."

The above is from a "work of minor genius," as Rich Lowry once referred to another favorite movie of mine. In any event, I've been reminded of it twice in the last two days. But enough on that.

Happy Shushan Purim Katan, all! I've celebrated a bit already (including a shorter davening this morning), but here's a cute line in the spirit of the day, from TKS:
We remember Sen. Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington stating, "We've got to
ask, why is this man [Bin Laden] so popular around the world... He's been out in
these countries for decades, building schools, building roads, building
infrastructure, building day-care facilities, building health care facilities,
and the people are extremely grateful. We haven't done that."
Notice how Sen. Murray has so absorbed left-wing block-talk that she includes "day-care facilities." Oh, sure. Um, aren't day-care facilities meant for the kids of women who are working? Last I checked, Bin Laden wasn't a big fan of that.

A question: What's the point of a diet lemon soda without calories, carbs, sugar, or caffeine, especially if it tastes awful? (I'm looking at you, Sierra Mist.) Might as well squeeze a lemon into water. Or vodka.

An interesting take on Daf Yomi.

Marvin Schick is upset over a study saying that 75% of New York Orthodoxy is Modern (with a solid majority even in Brooklyn). How does he respond to this blatantly factual assertion? By using a trick he has in the past: Redefine "Modern Orthodox" to include only the left-wing of that movement (Edah, etc.), and creating a new category called "Centrist" (generally, the two terms are used interchangeably) into which he puts YU (separating RIETS, interestingly) and most others. Ergo, if YU isn't "Modern Orthodox" (ha!), neither is anybody else. (Nor, it seems, is anyone ultra-Orthodox either.) A very cute, and very disingenuous, way of arguing. Obviously, under most definitions, even Mr. Schick would have to admit that the numbers are correct.

Perhaps Mr. Schick figures if he obscures the truth enough, people (say, actual charedim who don't want to face the truth) will have reason to doubt it. Or perhaps he's trying to define himself out of the Modern Orthodoxy to which he clearly belongs? That's too deep for me.

Unfortunately, Mr. Schick begins by labeling the left-wing as not being Orthodox at all. Being charitable, I'd say that he still hasn't quite grasped the difference between "religious" and "frumkeit." (Many haven't.) Just because someone is vigorously in favor of modernity doesn't mean they're any less religious than the Moetzes. Or that you can call them "modern" and more "frum modern" types "centrist."

Mr. Gil Student has the right idea about rereading posts to make them more civil, although I can't promise I've succeeded.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The Secret of Success

Speaking of Joel, and chatting about the OU, reminds me of an old theory of mine; namely, that Joel owes the presidency position to none other than Baruch Lanner. Joel for quite a while was seen, I think, as a Jewish leader who happened to be Orthodox, nothing more. After all, the organization he headed wasn't Orthodox, so while he was there in people's consciousnesses, I don't think people ever really thought of him as, say, a possible successor to Norman Lamm.

Which perhaps was why he was chosen to head the commission of inquiry at NCSY. After all, he wasn't an "inside" type possibly tainted by any associations. And that, in turn- I think- led people to start associating him with Orthodoxy as a movement, not just his personal faith. So when the time came for a new YU president, his name came up, and he eventually got the job.

This isn't, of course, to take anything away from Joel- I think he's doing an excellent job. It's just one of those little ironies of history.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Alma Mater

This story in today's Forward made me a bit upset. Why is it that every story out of YU has to be turned into a "left vs. right" thing? Granted, Joel may just be making excuses so as not to attend the Edah conference. (I will say, some of their sessions look quite interesting, but I doubt I can make it.) But perhaps there are simply more prosaic reasons he's not going: Before his mind started spinning "appeasement of the right" fantasies, didn't it occur to Mr. Eden that Joel may simply not want to publicly support what has become a competitor (of sorts) for him? Or try this one on, to blow your mind: Perhaps the very fact that he's pushing for Modern Orthodoxy on his own campus- which is, after all, the whole point of the article- leads Joel to believe that he will one day make Edah superfluous.

In any event, all we get here are dated depictions of how the "right" can't stand Joel (he even mentions the Tehillim rally), on the one hand, and how Joel (and Lamm!) are too weak to enforce modernity, on the other. Not only are those two ideas contradictory, neither is true, at least any longer (and not just for the crass monetary reasons the article suggests). Granted, God on the Quad makes similar claims- but that's a book, with greater lead time and based on older articles. For the Forward to lapse into these cliches is inexcusable.

Thursday, February 10, 2005


Maybe I'm over-sensitive, but I notice something a bit troubling in the first picture here. The second, on the other hand, is hi-larious. The article isn't that thorough- not really any criticism or background- but nice overall.

Further thoughts:

First, I find the second photo troubling as well, for other reasons.

The more I think about it, the more this whole thing troubles me. As you may know, I already have problems with Artscroll's obscurantism, most notably this example, but also others. ("The Second Temple stood for 420 years." Period.) So of course, this sort of uncritical lionization of the Artscroll is bad. But this goes even further: What we have here is a translation of the Talmud aimed at- let's be honest here- American Orthodox Jews, modern and ultra, learning Daf Yomi, who can't "lein" a Gemara. (Don't get offended, I include myself.) It's not even the first complete Talmud in English, as Soncino's (far superior, scholarship-wise) edition filled that role fifty years ago. So why is a "presentation" to the Library of Congress treated as such a big event? It's almost- others have commented on this in similar circumstances- as if the Charedi world needs validation from the "outside," particularly the non-Jewish world. (They don't need validation from Modern Orthodox or non-Orthodox Jews [as such], just money.)

Notice, for example, this. At first blush, I thought, "Good for them! Being consistent, at least." (If stupid, in more ways than one, both in terms of educational priorities and, well, earning money- and asking the wrong people, from a halakhic angle.) But then I saw that they decided to employ the most outrageous libels against a state that has been unusually generous to them (especially compared to the US situation)- and to non-Jewish governments specifically! Disgusting.

Interesting things you find while searching the Jerusalem Post. Like Shmuely Boteach using the word "chickenfeed" in place of a more obvious one. And this article, where some idiot announces for the world what he thinks the biggest priority of Israeli marriage ceremonies should be (bad it's there; worse he's announcing).

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Rav Michael Katz, Zt'l

When R' David Lifshitz passed away over ten years ago, I went to the funeral, held at YU's main campus, with my father, who'd been very close to him (he married my parents). It was in the middle of the summer, a broiling hot day, but we, being kohanim, couldn't go inside to the Beis Midrash, where the funeral was held, or to the auditorium, which they opened, with loudspeakers, for the overflow crowd. So we stood out front with all the other kohanim, which happened to include a number of YU Roshei Yeshiva, and listened over the outside loudspeakers.

One thing sticks out in my mind from that day above all else: Rav Michael Katz, who'd been my father's ninth grade rebbe back in 1950 and was by then a senior YU Rosh Yeshiva, standing with all of his kohen colleagues for the duration of the funeral. Seats were provided, but he, already in his seventies, I think, somewhat frail, in his hat and jacket- in that heat!- refused to sit down. I think eventually he was literally placed in a seat by his students.

Unfortunately, I never got to learn with him. I only met him once, when he drove me to a bar mitzvah or some similar event. I remember him being so...real, I think, is the right word. Almost like he wasn't one of the world's top talmedei chachamim and I wasn't some kid.

He passed away last night. Baruch Dayan HaEmes. At his funeral today, I'm sure that he will rightfully receive kavod of the kind that he gave to others throughout his life. T'hei Nishmaso Tzrura B'Tzror Hachayim.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Via The Corner, a few links I'd like to post here as well:

Patton's speech. To get the blood pumping.

Mark Steyn. The last line of paragraph two is precious.

One smart parrot.

Check out the stirring video here.

New York Mag sez, "[Columbia University President Lee] Bollinger is a First Amendment scholar, a useful credential for a man who’s been forced to fathom the limits of academic freedom."

Um, I hope his scholarship tells him enough that he should know that the First Amendment has nothing to do with what happens in a private university like Columbia.

The ACLU is like a stopped clock- right twice a day.

This Super Bowl ad- a salute to the troops from Anheuser-Busch- (see also here and here) really had me choked up. Leave it to the New York Times to make a snarky remark: "A gauzy valentine to American troops, which ended with the Anheuser-Busch corporate logo superimposed on screen, was touching, but some viewers may have wondered whether "Busch" had been misspelled."

Uh-huh. Equate patriotism and support of troops with one political view, liberals, and you're gonna keep wondering why people question your patriotism.

Ronald Reagan's birthday was yesterday, and here's a nice piece of history to go with that.

Finally, all those people criticizing Bloomberg (pareve as he's being) for not being ra-ra about the courts forcing gay marriage on us should read this.

Friday, February 04, 2005


Have I ever shared my prequel theory with you? In light of the cancellation of Enterprise, here's a good enough time to share it as any. It's pretty simple: A good sign that something has entered our "modern mythology" is whether it's spawned a prequel. That is, if we're interested in a story enough to find out the backstory of its characters, it shows that we've become pretty invested in it. (I note that this isn't always true.)

Interestingly, the main examples I can think of are science fiction and the like. There are the Star Wars prequels, of course, and the reason for this post, Star Trek's latest series. The comics have been giving us backstories of superheroes for decades, of course. It may just be a way of making sure that new audiences "get it," but it seems that most superhero movies begin again with the origin of the character (the 70's Superman, the 80's Batman, the recent Spiderman and other Marvel movies, the upcoming Batman and Superman films, etc.). Of course, now there's Smallville as well.

Although The Hobbit was written well before The Lord of the Rings, it's usually described as a "prelude" to the later stories, and I imagine most of its appeal (good as it is on its own) lies in that fact. Of course, after Tolkien's death, quite a few more posthumous books of "backstory" to the Middle-Earth stories came out.

Outside of sci-fi (but not always!), our modern myth par excellance, Sherlock Holmes, has gotten the prequel treatment as well. Even some of the original stories may be described as such.

Anyway, it's not too profound, I know, but an interesting note. Shabbat Shalom and a good weekend, y'all.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

So some Shinui minister proposes that Israel make it illegal to put people into Cherem (excommunication), considering the real consequences such things can have in the ultra-Orthodox world. And Arutz-7 labels this an "anti-religious" proposal. Please. It's an anti-fanatic law. Why does Arutz-7 try so hard to flatter the crazies? It's not like said crazies care at all about the sentiments of the national-religious community. Eh. I guess this is a worldwide question for the modern Orthodox.

Speaking of which, it's fun to watch Luke Ford asking Tova Mirvis about the Rambam's Ikkarim. He acts like an Ani Ma'amin accurately reflects the Rambam's point of view, and labels it "Yigdal." For her part, Mirvis doesn't seem to know what he's talking about. And Ford doesn't seem to have delved any further than Potok novels for his answers. Talk about the blind leading the blind. Not that doesn't mean that SHA-lit (whoops, Sha-LEET, can't offend those '60's yordim ["Reform" my tuchis] sentiments) isn't completely off base herself.

Hmmm...aren't we lucky to have this President? Inaugural, on the Iraqi election, State of the Union- for the ages, every one.

So the big news of today, the most tragic for me (yes, this should be the worst of my tragedies): Star Trek is no more. Possibly forever. A major part of my life...gone. Alas and alack.

After having had one scratched-up Blockbuster DVD too many, I'm back to ordering some from Amazon (or DeepDiscountDVD, if I can make up my mind). And now I see that new editions of some are yet to be out? This is not good for my already-fragile decision-making process.

Kojo Annan is said to be singing like a canary. Still no picture.

Some more blegs:

What's a "car-park service?" The Times, in all its elitism, mentions it like we all know what it is. (I should also say "in all its anti-Semitism" after this Sunday's Week in Review.)

Can anyone name a real right-wing dictator? I got a bit disgusted when an op-ed piece on Phillip Johnson once again equated "fascist" with "right-wing" (and suggested that dead Communists and Fascists alike don't get breaks in their obits- yeah, right). Remarkably, Huey Long becomes "right-wing" in this equation. OK, I've got Latin American dictators here. I guess they count, somewhat, if you ignore their eventual legacy.

Everyone's upset over this now-pulled Superbowl ad that included a priest lusting over a car and a shot of a girl. (Nothing really to do with each other.) I wonder how many of these scandals actually involved girls (not to minimize them, of course).

Some interesting links:

The entire new edition of the Guide. Thanks to Gil. That Salanter book looks interesting.

Brill's Modern Orthodoxy class, which I'll have to sit down with one day.

Brisk. Hat-tip to Menachem. See ya at the sale, dude.

"Ain't the most masculine fella in the world, if you know what I mean."

In another interview with [Geraldo] Rivera last November, [Michael] Jackson
commented that the Eminem video is "not just about Michael Jackson but a pattern
of disrespect that he's shown to our community."
Um, what community would that be, Michael? The "freakshows who dye their skin white" community? Because if you meant the black community (like O.J., once prosecuted, Michael found his race like some find religion, hooking up with the Fruit of Islam and buying into the "White men can't rap" stuff), well, I can't think of anyone who "disrespected" them- and separated himself from them- in the way you did.