Friday, October 31, 1997

Life in the Styx vol. 4, no. 12 (Old Styx)

Life in the Styx vol. 4, no. 12, Oct 31, 1997 (Excerpt):

COLLECTING

Yesterday's (Oct 30) House & Home section in the Times has an article about people who collect Beanie Babies. No offense if you're a Beanieoid, but these people are morons. Why collect these things? Yes, they're cute, but they just sit there. The whole "collectibles" industry is just a sign of consumerism gone mad; either that or it's a cleverly designed Idiot Tax.

True, I am a collector too, but I collect things like books and CDs. These things are functional items, though, which isn't collecting anymore, it's just "owning." Big difference. I don't 'collect' underwear, or have a paper-napkin collection.
And, double true, I've read only about 5% of all the books I own, but that's because I buy them for reference -- the key to attempting encyclopedic knowledge is not to know the fact as much as knowing where to look it up. So nyaah.

Collecting souvenirs from places you've visited also makes sense, I don't want to whip anyone into a defensive frenzy here. But the whole Beanie thing was created by Ty Toys to prey on these weak people who have a extreme need to collect SOMETHING. The company would purposefully make things obsolete as a cynical ploy to exploit the psychological weakness of the consuming public. Actually, I'm starting to like these guys the more I think about it.

Collecting is the material equivalent of a cliche. Mundane society (as opposed to the educated classes) quotes cliches the same way that the educated people quote literature. So the monied people collect art, as high culture, the mundanity collect Pez dispensers. [The latter comment should in no way be construed as an attack against Pez. I recently acquired a stash of kosher Pez and I'm happier than a pig in swill. You'd understand my emotion if you've ever had good fresh Pez.]

Tuesday, October 21, 1997

Life in the Styx, vol. IV, no. 10 (Old Styx)

Happy Sukkot in the Styx,

CONTENTS
  1. Anniversaries
  2. Seven Samurai
  3. The Top 5 Movies
  4. Cholent-ology
  5. John Denver
  6. Guiliani & Columbus Day
  7. Israel & Extradition
  8. Arab Armies

ANNIVERSARIES

Sunday (10/19) was the 10th anniversary of the Stock Market crash and Monday (10/20) was the 20th anniversary of the Lynyrd Skynrd plane crash.  Related? Let me see... "Freebird" is the greatest guitar rock song in history and was used in a small but crucial scene in "Forrest Gump" (which, remember, I consider a deep movie; although I am having second thoughts after seeing "Contact") to exemplify the ethic of the 70's. The 70's transformed into the 80's just with a steely reptilian packaging and it took the Stock Market crash and the S & L crisis to whup the 80's back into its greasy grave. Tight. Very tight.

The crash enters into the pantheon of 'critical events' of the 80's and as such my formative youth (don't get me wrong, I prefer to have been raised in the 80's than the gutless whiny 90's or the stringy, bell-bottomed out 70's); the crash is up there with the Challenger Disaster and Reagan getting shot as events you can answer the "Where were you when you heard..."

For the record:
  1. Stock Market: at the end of 7th period, PB's Western Civ class, Ithaca High School; from B. Dunham
  2. Challenger: at the end of Mrs. Twomey's Spanish class; from hearing the wail arise from the first floor open-air library where students were watching the lift-off.
  3. Reagan: on the standing school-bus, waiting to go home from Hillel Academy; unknown speakers rumoring that we may not have to go to school the next day

SEVEN SAMURAI

Well I finished seeing all 200 minutes of Akira Kurosawa's "Seven Samurai" all in one sitting. I have been seeing flashing images of half-naked Asians in leather armor in the somnolent moments of my half-awake
existence; this has not put me in a placid state. The movie is Mamish, though, and I do recommend seeing it when you have that much time to expend on a 3 hour long B&W sub-titled Japanese flick from 1954. These are the sacrifices I make to feed the last embers of my only cocktail-party hobby. I rationalize that with all the time I save by not giving a flickering hoot for sports (what about those Jets? Aren't the Marlins somethin'? -- well that takes care of that), I can afford to study the movies as an art form.

[2013 historical note: I decided to give up on movies and take up sports; don't regret it in the least]

Which brings up the question that people have asked about what I consider the Top Five Movies of All Time. As a bred academic I need to qualify my answer. Were I ever a movie-reviewer (which I have given thought to, even more than I have to doing stand-up which was oft recommended to me in my youth; possibly by people who hated me) I need to come up with a ranking system. I love ranking systems. Why reviewers of such renown like The Fat Guy & The Other One would use a polar "thumbs up" system that limits them to a highly imprecise and unhelpful boolean system is just one of the many proofs that the world needs better movie reviewers.

I was considering a the 1 - 100 system of ranking films, or even 1 - 1000 (I *love* ranking systems), but too much precision is unwanted in the realm of aesthetics. Precision may even be counterproductive. Maybe this is what FG & OO are thinking, that there is only Art and Not Art. Naah.

What I then considered is the A - F system we use in education. If it's used in education, it has to be good, eh? There is merit to the matrix, especially when you sprinkle in the + / -, except that it ignores the vast territory of failure. An is commonly ranked as 65 and under; which means that in schools we cram performance into 35% of available numbers.  Why? In a qualitative system, there are as many types of failure as there are success! And failure reveals more about the nature of knowledge, it has texture and smell. Rather than an antiseptic vowel, failures could range through the lower letters instead of leaving off at the F. We could use the real rank letters, misshapen, loathsome consonants like "P" or, ugh, "H."



[2013 Historical Note: I disagree with my younger self, as can be expected after 16 years; I think we need more complexity for good than bad with things that I'm supposed to like.]

Anyway, for now I will use a system of A+ through D-; and when we hit F, we'll go whack-a-mole. For instance, both "Air Force One" and "Batman & Robin," two abhorrent summer movies, had entirely different odors of failure. If someone puts a gun to your head and orders you to watch "Batman & Robin" you should ask what's the gun's caliber. It's that blatantly bad.

But "Air Force One" had many fans out there (it had the highest opening day for any R-rated movie ever) and it takes, uh, reasons to make that movie a stinkeroo. What made me wince for more than half of its playing time went beyond the insipid dialogue and the cardboard acting. "AFO" committed the worst crime of all Theater & Affiliated Audience Based Entertainments -- it violated its internal logic.

I am a good boy about suspending belief when I'm audiencing. I ragged on the nimrods out there who are so intent on scavenging for "movie flubs" that they are forgetting that they are supposed to be witnessing fiction
("there's no way they'd ever have a yellow Windows 95 desktop pattern!").  A movie is allowed to set up their own rules of the universe ("in Star Wars, space-ships BANK and make SOUNDS in deep space, OK?!?!"). With that godlike ability to create reality comes the price: you must be consistent within your wacky rules.

Then there is that movie term, popularized by Roger Ebert but invented by James Blish, called "The Idiot Plot" = "any plot containing problems which would be solved instantly of all of the characters were not idiots." (Roger Ebert's Movie Home Companion, p. 816)

Movies with idiot plots are almost always deep in the F zone. And, alas, "Air Force One" was one. I won't explain since there are many who have not seen it, but it is possible to create a thriller and an action movie
without resorting to an idiot plot.


THE TOP FIVE

But I seemed to have lost my way yet again. I was explaining the Top Five. Here's the problem; there really is no need for a top five since all movies ranked A or A+ are equal in qualitative value. So what I've done, in order to create the 5, is choose 5 from different directors; and even then, I would need 10 to do this justice. But I am sensitive to the needs of pesak (decisive answer) so I made the list. Other criteria: (a) At least one color movie, (b) I need to have seen it (so no Truffaut or Fellini, I keep meaning to see these puppies but, alas...), and (c) it needs to be a grand example of the medium.

Ya see, each medium of communication has its own unique characteristics; if great movie cannot be just a play on videotape. These 5 are the best because they use cinema's unique strength (what these *are* will await later exposition).

  1. Citizen Kane (1941) - Orson Welles
  2. Casablanca (1942) - Michael Curtiz
  3. Dr. Stangelove (1963) - Stanley Kubrick
  4. Rashomon (1950) - Akira Kurosawa
  5. Apocalypse Now (1979) - Francis Ford Coppola
The last one is controversial; and could be seen as the token movie-of-color (I would have put "Psycho" in there instead since Hitchcock deserves a nod), but Coppola deserves it because of his ability to necromance the modernist Babel of Conrad's work and channel it into purely cinematic form. Also cuz he directed The Godfather.

[2013 Note: This is so cute; that I could think of doing any kind of ranking when I was in my mid-20s.  Ugh]

CHOLENT

Ah, the king of Jewish culinary kitsch, cholent. Like with all dangerous foods, stereotype males declare cholent their domain (like Bar-B-Q and liquor). I won't get into the issue about how stereotype I am, considering that my food-o-philia makes me an ally of all victual genres and exempt from this issue's gender typing. As expected, rather than being a cholent practitioner (a domain I leave for Cambridge and Columbia
students), I am more of a theorist. This past Shabbas I posited the dichotomy of Light vs. Heavy cholent. This does not refer to central mass; all cholents have the density of a white dwarf. Rather, I am referring to theories of ingredients.

Heavy theorists prefer to load their cholents with whatever cannot crawl bodily out of the crock-pot. As reported in the seminal MIT paper "Wave variability and high immateriality as reflected in frequency of cholent reagents" (Rosenthal, Ginsburg, Cohen and Van Orenbrecht, 1986), the amount and type of cholent ingredients have no effect on taste or color, only smell.

Since then, many future theorists have experimented with different reagents (hot dogs, barbecue sauce, Jim Beam, bittersweet chocolate) and confirmed Rosenthal et al.'s findings. These are part of the Heavy School.

The Light School, as reflected in my upcoming paper: "Totalistic modal models in constituent cholent elements" (_Cell_ 1997), claims that cholent can be made with only four elements: (1) barley, (2) potatoes, (3) meat & meat-by-products, (4) water. I haven't *proven* the theory yet, I'm waiting for later labwork (and the slides have not been made yet; have you ever tried to use a micro-pipette in cholent?)

JOHN DENVER

I guess I need to comment on every celebrity death. I didn't really care for his music and due to some mental weirdness, I always link him with Kermit The Frog. And I like Kermit. Even his music (he did a great duet with Animal on "Wild thing"). But despite my apathy, or what can be construed as The Indifference of the Cool Towards the Uncool, I defy all attempts to link his death with any underlying character perversions. Even if it turns out that he was drunk, or whacked out on free-based weed killers, or channeling the Doomed Spirit of Amelia Airhart, he deserves none of these mentioned in the moment of tragedy. The New York Times has not learned this elementary moral dictum; in their prolix obit for the fallen singer they mention all of the charity work he performed with his money and fame; and then soil it all with mentioning his brief run-ins with the law for DWI. Its part of the vast journalistic decay where editorials creep onto the front page and 'objective news' is squirted into eulogy. This isn't the first time that NYT has done this; next time I'm gonna whup 'em. John Denver died Sunday October 12, 1997; he was 53.

GUILIANI & COLUMBUS DAY

I don't know why or when Columbus Day was transformed into the Italian Nation Pride Day, but part of that inherent crazed logic seeped into Rudolph Guiliani's brain and made him do something loathsome enough to honk off at least THIS voter. In his inveterate tirade against the terminally pathetic Democratic challenger Ruth Messinger, Guiliani excoriated her for not showing up to the pre-Columbus Day parade Mass. He soon apologized for saying this thing, but only after he was assaulted by a jackhammer piss-storm from the public.

I do not accept his apology because that type of madness cannot be reversed with mere words. The comment, although doubtless propelled by Guiliani's shark honed blood-lust against his dying opponent -- his mad desire to batter Messenger for anything and everything -- reveals a dark side of Guiliani that we never thought could surface in a modern NY mayor. First of all, it shows that his vengeance and Will to Win is so blinding and stupefying that he's capable of uttering inanities and maybe even acting on them.

But it's the rank stench of his comment which alarms me; for it carries the flaming cross of Shmad. "Shmad" is the Jewish term for 'religious war & persecution' and it has plagued us through our history. People are so lulled by the comfort of wealth purchased security that they forget that Shmad exists. The term goes beyond the hazy nimbus of 'anti-Semitism' and hits the root of that pervasive hate -- the religious source for hatred against Jews that starts with Paul of Tarsus and is perpetuated like a blood bomb through the Christian veins of Western history.

When New York's mayor claims that his Jewish colleague needs to sit in Catholic Mass to fulfill the duties of state, it evokes the bleached skull of Shmad.

I will still vote for him because he is keeping the city safe, which is what I care about. But it should remind me, and ya'll, that a politician purchased with Jewish votes is only a mercenary and he can be turned the moment the votes are meaningless (which is one reason why term limits are asinine -- they obviate one of the main purposes of democracy: voter accountability).

True, Messinger could sell her fellow Jews up the river, as is the wont of her type of blinded-liberal Upper West Side armchair tax-and-spenders; and voting purely on the Jewish Issue is a dangerous sport. This is one of the knotty issues we Jewish-Americans need to deal with.

ISRAEL & EXTRADITION

Which brings up the issue of the Jewish Maryland 17 year old accused of brutally murdering and dismembering 19 year old Alfred Tello. The suspect's father was an Israeli citizen in the early 50s and the kid fled to Israel seeking asylum (I suspect). For weeks the united states demanded Israel to allow the suspect be extradited to the U.S. Israel, by law, will not extradite an Israeli citizen. As a Jewish-American, where did my loyalties lie? (ironically our resident Marrano Gadol, Albright, personally asked Israel to extradite the suspect).

The suspect's attorneys claim that the kid killed Tello in self-defense. Notice that they do not deny the killing. So we know he's guilty of something.. But it is against Jewish law to turn over a Jew to non-Jewish authorities (the issur of "moseir"). Moreover, the American legal system is the only chink in the grand armor of our political system; you can send a clear murderer in front of the standard 12 morons that they dig up for juries these days, and the murder walks. I have long debated the plusses and minuses of the jury system (the US) versus the judge system (of Israel and most of the world) -- and I still don't know which is better in the long run; but in the short run I'd rather a murderer be tried in front of a judge rather than a jury.

So with all these pluses in Israel's favor, why do I still believe that the kid should be extradited? I guess it's for the simple reason that while all of the above is true, this is not the case to create the ideological stand-off. The kid is clearly guilty; guilty of a crime so horrible that we do not want it even slightly associated with Jews or Israel. If there are times for exceptions, this is one. Israel should have shipped the loathsome beast back to America and THEN debated whether they should ask for him back. This debate could be low profile and only if Israel thinks they should keep him, they can ask for him back. Again, this shouldn't be normative practice; just in this case or of similar high criminals.

I'm saying this conclusion, of course, because I still trust America's justice system and government. This is not a common American belief, ya know. The stock American distrusts the government and trusts his/her fellow citizen. Jews and other persecuted minorities, usually trust the government -- but especially late 20th Century Jews because we have solid voting blocs. While our neighbors may want to lynch us, the government answers to higher powers; i.e Jewish money and votes. That keeps us safe.

But we should never forget that a whole mess o' our fellow citizens hate Jews -- even when they've never met one before. And citizen-power groups, like the Reform Party, carry this danger. Fundamentally Christian groups, especially the Christian Coalition, are especially dangerous because they combine the Shmad element with the natavist xenophobia so epidemic in the American peoplestock.

ISRAEL & ARMIES

On this paranoid note, here's some interesting comparative information:

(IINS News Service -Israel-10/16) According to the London-based Institute for Strategic Studies, the following is the breakdown of weaponry between Israel, Iran, Iraq and Syria.

Israel: standing army-175,000, reserves-430,000, tanks-4,300, combat aircraft-448, combat ships-53, patrol boats-29, naval vessels with missiles-21, nuclear armed warheads-100.

Syria: standing army-320,000, reserves-500,000, tanks-4,600, combat aircraft-589, combat ships-?, patrol boats-11, naval vessels with missiles-16, nuclear armed warheads-none, submarines-3 .

Iran: standing army-518,000, reserves-350,000, tanks-1,394, combat aircraft-297, combat ships-4, patrol boats-48, nuclear armed warheads-none, submarines 3.

Iraq: standing army-350,000, reserves-650,000, tanks-2,700, combat aircraft-?, combat ships-2, patrol boats-6, nuclear armed warheads-none, submarines ?.
Chag sameach everyone!

Styx :]

[Posted Oct 17, 2013]

Wednesday, October 15, 1997

Life in the Styx, vol. IV, no. 09 (Old Styx)

Hello out there in the Styx,

CONTENTS
  1. CONGRATULATIONS
  2. HESPED FOR RAV TWERSKY
  3. YOM KIPPUR AT PRINCETON
CONGRATULATIONS

To Moshe David Simon whose article about Megillat Esther FINALLY came out in Tradition magazine (vol. 31, no. 4 Summer 1997, pp. 5-27).  The article is entitled , "'Many Thoughts in the Heart of Man...' Irony and Theology in the Book of Esther," (working title: 1001 Recipes with Maple Syrup). If you ask nicely, I'm sure Moshe will autograph your copy.

RAV ISADORE TWERSKY zt'l

Someone of Rav Twersky's stature deserves an adequate hesped (eulogy), and I am not one to give it.  He held a special importance for the Boston community of which I have very little contact.  But, being the son-in-law of The Rav Zt'l, I recognize that Rav Twersky had an effect on my community and my definition of Judaism even if for me it was indirect.

Rav Twersky's passing heralds the departure of an era when there were those who triumphantly embodied the synergies of the synthesis of the Torah and secular worlds.  Torah U-Madda is more than just a cheesy slogan for me (and more than a job I now hold), I believe in its possibility to be the height of Torah existence.  It is not a compromise but a confrontation, a struggle towards the complex goals that God intends us to achieve.

Rav Twersky and his generation were able to both understand and attain those goals in a manner that I fear my generation may not, at least in America.  Although I am a committed Zionist, and believe that the only future for Jews is in Israel, I have also thrown my lot in the American community for now, and I fear for the vacuum of leadership here.

Rav Twersky was also a pre-eminent academician as well as a premium talmud-hakham, a shul rebbe and dynastic rebbe.  His students are the leaders of my generation in the academic world.  The conception of being a 'frum professor' was made possible by Rav Twersky.  He may even have been the first.

I am going to be in Harvard for the last days of Sukkot and I am cowed by what condition I expect the community to be in.  I also feel sorry for Rav Twersky's aveilim (mourners).  The Jewish mourning practices contain a proper wisdom in the necessity for both an intense mourning period that gradually lessens over time in stages (1 day - 7 days - 30 days - 11 months).

However, an intervening yom-tov will obviate the rest of shiva (7 days) by counting as 7 full days of mourning.  Since the burial was on Monday, the family will be able to mourn Tuesday and Wednesday before Sukkot starts.  Then they will lose 7 days because of the 1st day of chag, then 6 more days of Sukkot when they cannot mourn, then another 7 days for Shmini Atzeret, then 1 day for Simchat Torah.  By the time the holidays end, the family will have only 8 days left to even mourn for sheloshim.

I recognize that there is still wisdom in this system, but since I have not seen how it works out, I find that I still extend extra sympathy.

YOM KIPPUR IN OLD NASSAU

I had a blast at Princeton for Yom Kippur.  YK has always been very good at school, but I had never really been able to 'enjoy' it (i.e. use the well-run and well behaved services for good use in personal repentance)
since I would normally have been gabbai-ing at the time.  This time I was the guest "rebbe" and it meant I needed to concentrate on my speeches etc, but it was less minute-by-minute hassle.

[Next paragraph had too many personal names/connections, so the whole paragraph has been redacted]

I gave two drashot, Kol Nidrei and Neila, as well as a shiur on Friday night.  (STANDARD PROMISE, PAY NO HEED) If I get my act together I'll write up my comments.  The shiur, on the Book of Jonah, I thought was so kick-butt that I may try and write that baby up for a journal somewhere (maybe I'll get it printed in a couple o'years after I submit it, see above). [Historical note, as of 2013 none of this has happened, sigh]

What made YK even extra cool was the surprise appearance of an all-star cast of alums.  First there was my brother [name redacted] who knows a good service when he sees it.  But along for the ride was [name redacted] who was representing the Medallin Cartel, wait, no, uh, right, A. D. Little in a job fair on Friday afternoon and swung YK with us.  Even more fortuitous was the appearance of [name redacted] who I hadn't seen for a heckuva long time.

It was a very easy fast (love Joy's cookin') and my legendary allergies were surprisingly docile.  I think this confirms that I am just allergic to Washington Heights.   After YK, Saturday night, I took the opportunity
of great weather to wander around campus and dig up the ol' nostalgia roots.

Whoa Baby did I ever.  I was being smacked with high intensity nostalgia rays all night.  I wandered around Mathey and the Grad College trying to reminisce and maybe slay a few demons (no such luck although I did injure a squirrel).  Since the trip was getting to intense (flashbacks to Tet, Jimi Hendrix wailing in my subconscious) I decided to spend it as a characteristic Princeton evening: I made a 'Wa run for Herr's cheese
popcorn.

They changed the layout in the 'Wa dudes!  I was so confused I almost walked out with some spaghetti-Os cuz, hey, when yer used to buying things in yer sleep you trust your memory of the store layout over any physical appearances (and you certainly can't go by smell in the Wa).

They expanded the deli counter (that night's special: the Fried-Lard Cheesecake Burger.  On a taco) and relocated the Mac machine.  Heathens!

I stayed till the next day in order to have a Yavneh Sunday: davening at 8:30, waiting around till 11:30 in a ravenous torpor, gorging on brunch, and then plundering the Princeton Record Exchange's trove of $3.99 CDs (that last part is my own variation).

[personal data redacted]

Have fun shakin' the lulav!

Styx :]

[Posted Oct 17, 2013]

Monday, April 21, 1997

Life in the Styx, vol. II, no. 39 (Old Styx)

Hello everyone, Chag Sameach

I have been in the treacherous grasp of the nasty black-pig death flu.  Or at least it feels like it.  On the plus side, it has enabled me to get around much of the Pesach cleaning which requires higher computational power (I still need to behave as a pack animal, no dispensation there).  On the rather extensive downside, though, I have not been able to learn very much Torah nor write papers or write email letters -- hence the dearth o' Styxen in the past few days (which should be especially notable considering the heavy doses of sick weirdness which has afflicted the Jewish people.)

I did have some of the heavenly kosher Dunkin Donuts that are in the area, and I have re-read some of my Hunter Thompson stash, so my pleasant temper and equilibrium was restored somewhat; but it is very difficult to operate right now (and I dread the Seders). Anyway, I need to make up for some of the lost time, so...

BAD CRAZINESS

Was I sleeping when they allowed rabbis to act in a publicly disgraceful manner?  I know there's a heter for prime ministers to act like spayed swine but who allowed:

(1) the Agudas ha-Rabbanim trying to make up for all the peace and quiet that has existed for the past few years among the denominations by issuing rancorous statements of low-grade ignorance and thuggery,

and (2) Schorch, chancellor of JTS, in a vain attempt to show how Conservative Jews can be just as legitimate as orthodox Jews by being equally as rancorous and black-hearted taking the infighting all the more public on the front page of the New York Times (last Thursday, 4/17/97).

I'm sure we all feel proud.

It is especially ironic, as we rapidly scurry around in the Annual Pesach Prep Frenzy, the holiday of Jewish nationhood, of family, that we should take this opportunity to blast our fellow Jews with both barrels.  Rov Lamm, in the flaccidly impotent quarter-page ad in the NYT that was intended to counteract the blind bigotry of the Agudas ha-Rabbanim,  stated that in the song "Dayyenu" that we sing at the Seder, we claim that "Had He brought us before Mount Sinai but not given us the Torah, dayyenu -- it would have sufficed us."

But before we resort to puckish homiletics, we can learn "tolerance" just by looking at the Exodus as told through the Haggadah.  That is, the entire holiday of Pesach is about Jewish unity and spiritual equality.

PESACH, SINCERITY, HUMILITY & FEAR

Pesach is more than a holiday where you stuff 5 matzas in yer mouth in 2 seconds to satisfy some myopic shiur of kezayit ("according to modern scientific measurements, which we normally reject except when we need to be holier-than-thou, an olive weighed 35 lbs. and was the size of a woman's bowling ball").  Pesach is a holiday of humility.

We are told (by the Rabbis, go figure) that even though the Jewish people had reached the second lowest level of spiritual contamination possible in Egypt, we were still redeemed.  According to the Mishna, the story we tell at the seder should have the theme of "le-ganai le-shevach" -- from degradation to glory.  We are given two different ways of doing that -- (1) by showing that at one point all the Jewish people were slaves yet Gd redeemed us; or (2) showing that at one point we were all idol worshipers, yet Gd chose us.

The entire *message* of the haggadah is that at one point in life all Jews were spiritually bankrupt -- we were slaves, idol worshipers, "Arami Oved Avi" and all that jazz -- worse than we were ever worse before.  There are many reasons for this message (it shows the bounds of Gd's love; it shows the strength of the Covenant of the Patriarchs;  it shows that the one mitzvah we were given -- the korban Pesach -- was all it took to make us Chosen people again, just like one mitzvah can doom us, like the Garden of Eden).  But an essential message is of Jewish unity and religious humility.

UNITY

Even though this is taken to extremes by many segments, we are bound together as a people and we are responsible for one another as brothers and sisters. At the same time, let's not take Jewish nationhood or unity as the end-zone of all Judaism.  We are not defined by the same rules as an "ethnicity" -- Judaism is a religion, with a Gd, a set of laws, and a covenant.  Any conception of Judaism with fewer characteristics than that is doing the definition a disservice.

We see the direction of "religion as ethnicity" in today's (Monday, 4/21/97) NYT op-ed piece by Thomas Friedman.  I'm on record claiming that Friedman is too arrogant to be taken seriously.  I am surprised, though, that he has revealed himself far more in today's editorial than I ever expected.

He has the audacity to link Netanyahu's scandal to the orthodox drive to remain in control of the Israel rabbinate: "What this religious dispute and the current political scandal involving Mr. Netanyahu have in common is that they are both rooted in a disregard for the balances and red lines necessary to hold Israeli society and world Jewry together."

He shows the same religious insensitivity, in fact the same evil-spirited bigotry, that we all condemn in the Agudas ha-Rabbanim.  The orthodox rabbinate in Israel isn't small minded or foolish for wanting to exclude non-orthodox conversions, marriages, and divorces.  It is a natural outgrowth of orthodox belief to make these institutions definitionally rigid.  To delegitimize the orthodox belief that non-orthodox conversion is invalid is to delegitimize orthodoxy.  Which may be the end goal, but if so then we are in an impasse that can only be broken with recriminations and dirty tactics.

And, the Agudas ha-Rabbanim aside -- since they are not the mainstream voice of orthodoxy, modern or otherwise (only the RCA & the OU can really speak for 'modern', and the 'Agudah' speaks for the Charedim; in fact that was one of the main crimes of the Agudas ha-Rabbanim, they had the hubris to claim they spoke for more people than gave them permission to do so) -- Chancellor Schorch joins with Friedman to delegitimize orthodoxy.

Take President Hertzog, who died earlier this week.  I have mixed feelings about lauding Hertzog as a hero because he was brazenly irreligious while his father was the Chief Rabbi of Israel.  If that isn't a symbol of Israel, I don't know what is.  But I don't *like* that symbol.  I don't like the idea that to be a modern Israeli hero you had to spit in the face of your father and turn your back on Tradition.

But here Friedman says: "Overlooked in all this legal brouhaha was the fact that Israel's former President Chaim Herzog died of a heart attack last week. Or was it a broken heart?"  To take the style of Friedman -- who is well known to role-play and address policy-makers personally in his columns in a vein attempt to be a policy maker himself -- "Yo Tommy!  Cheap sentimentalism and moral bankruptcy don't play well compared to the rest of your career!"

What's the broken heart?  Because, Friedman intimates, the state he built was being torn apart by the "desert of moral and spiritual leadership."  This sounds very similar to Schorch's claim that we need a "piety with sanity" -- as opposed to the orthodox in Israel.

HUMILITY

This brings us to the second message of the Haggadah: humility.  We need far more humility in Judaism today.  We need people to stop believing that they can hold a press conference and wave Jewish dirty laundry to the rest of the world.  We need the superlatively arrogant Prime Minister Netanyahu to start being competent instead of being pompous.  But most impotently we need religious humility.  And that is the core of the haggadah.

We all began as scum.  As idol worshipers and slaves.  Every one of us.  Therefore we cannot look to our fellow Jew and say that he or she is worse than we are.  (Note: some have called the trait of religious arrogance as "religious triumphalism" -- I find that buzzword so repugnant that I swear I'll never use it seriously (I may use it when a conversation has degraded to buzzword-level, but at that point our souls have been bought & sold on the open market, so asinine buzzwords would be the least of my worries)).

But humility is the key to understand part of the religious dispute within orthodoxy.  Liberal Orthodoxy, let's say in the issue of women's minyans, claims that it is 'sincere.'  And if someone is sincere, then that is the highest level a person can reach, right?

The problem is that sincerity is a cheap emotion because all 'sincere' means is that you are pure in your belief.  But if the belief is an incorrect one, then the sincerity is negligible.  What the frummies are claiming is that the Liberals don't possess enough "yirat-shamayim" -- fear of Gd, and fear of sin.  Rather liberals are sincere in being liberal; in wanting personal autonomy over religious authority, of have rabbinic will equal a halachic way (and all the rest of the triumphalist buzzwords).

But Liberal Jews logically respond, consciously or sub-consciously, that if what they see frummie-jews do is considered 'yirat-shamayim' then they want nothing of it.  Because 'yirat-shamayim' -- following the law to the utmost detail -- is often just a cover for aggressive, holier-than-thou, arrogance and pettiness.  I demand that my vegetables be checked with a Lakewood Super-Soaker 3000 not because I'm really worried about the bugs, but because I want to show that I am closer to Gd than you are.

And I can't say that both sides are wrong in their characterization of the other.  Nor can I say that the stereotypes are true.  We cannot afford to be na├»ve (everyone is a wonderful swingin' cat), nor cynical (everyone is out for rank and base desires).  We must be humble.  Humility means honesty -- honest in your beliefs and honest in your assessment of others.   And when you are humble, even though it means you may still, eventually condemn another person's practice -- you will be so busy criticizing your own shortcomings, you won't have time for anyone else.

Remember, the haggadah teaches us that:

(1) we are saved only when we do sincere actions directed purely towards Gd, no matter how small (like taking the Korban Pesach and sprinkling the doorposts), and

(2) no Jew can feel arrogant in being Jewish because at one point we were all the lowest of the low.

Ach!  Enough ranting before the holiday.  The above is ill-formed and filled with the combined frustration of the current evil state of affairs that we are bringing on ourselves as a people with the personal frustration of being consumed by this black-pig flu.  Maybe during chol-ha-moed I can make up for this bile and recrimination by writing down some more torah (there is a dvar-torah wrapped up in the above screed if you look closely).

Have a chag kasher ve-sameach.
And remember, only you can prevent forest fires.  Only you.

Styx :]

[Posted on Oct 17, 2013]

Thursday, April 17, 1997

Life in the Styx, vol. II, no. 38 (Old Styx)

Hello to the Styx,

Beware, Pesach is right around the bend!

MAZEL TOV!

[names redacted to protect the innocent]

FEATURED FEATURES

Gratefully, nothing super extraordinarily evil has been inflicted on Israel in the past few days -- especially since we have become accustomed to such evil -- so I am finally able to compose some good text about recent events. Because while there isn't great evil being done against us in the world-sphere, we take over and start whacking each other. In that vein, I'd like to relate some of the Torah and craziness I have endured in the past few days (not so much since Sunday since I have been struggling to rid myself of an odd Spring flu thang; it's either the flu or I have been simultaneously been tromped on by a drunken hippo and attacked by the Phlegm Monster. Either or, eh?)

NECHAMA LIEBOWITZ

I sent the message out about Nechama Liebowitz Zt'l on Sunday as soon as I saw the news -- which was 5 minutes before I needed to be at minyan, so I was unable to address the sad news with the honor and gravity that such a great sage deserved.

It's too late now to rectify the affront, to add the fancy things I try to reserve for such a figure (double dark lines, etc.), so, even though she publicly requested that there be no public eulogizing (hespedim), I don't feel obligated to honor that. Because, honestly, even though Chazal say that the eulogy enables the Defending Angel to make a better case for you in the heavenly court, a eulogy is mainly for the surviving loved ones. It is we who are comforted by the eulogies; and when it comes to a Torah Great the imperative is even more important since all of us who have read her works, who have lived in the revolutionary wake of her impact on Bible study, need to find some outlet for the shock and grief -- and to spread to the world how much her Torah was valued.

This reminds me of one of the events which happened last Sunday (April 6) -- we had a Hachnasat Sefer Torah in YU in honor of HaRav Dovid Lifshitz Zt'l. I came to late to witness his greatness and tzidkut, but the eulogies delivered at the service made it clear that Rov Dovid was universally known as a tzaddik who exuded tremendous ahavat ha-briot, love for his fellowman; a trait sorely missing from most of the major rabbeim we all seem to hear about.

For those unfamiliar, a Hachnasat Sefer Torah is an installation ceremony to celebrate the writing and completion of a new Torah scroll. It is a joyous occasion where the Torah is danced around and escorted into synagogue.

It is a wonderfully appropriate ritual to employ to honor the memory of a great Torah Sage. Because the honor we attribute to a Sage, the reason why we stand for him is the same reason we stand when a Sefer Torah is present -- because of the honor we bestow to a physical embodiment of Torah. The comment "he's a living Sefer Torah" reflects this honor.

The ceremony in honor of Rov Lifshitz, and the Sefer Torah that was crafted/created to "replace" him (even though he is, duh, irreplaceable) was very inspiring [and this practice of writing a Sefer Torah to honor the passing of a Torah great to whom a community is indebted may solve our -- by which I mean Princeton Yavneh's -- Rabbi Teitz problem. As I discussed last year; R'Pinchas Teitz was the Prometheus of Princeton's Jewish community, it was through his influence and might that there was a Kosher Kitchen at Princeton all the way back in 1960. We had been searching for a proper way to honor him and the best we had come up with was to rename the CJL Beis Medresh for him. But since it was already named after some rich stooge, we were at a loss. Here is a solution. More later]

In any case, during the whole ceremony and dancing for the Rov Lifshitz sefer Torah, I got a hopeful feeling that amidst all of the rancor and degradation that have been swirling within the Jewish polity, some of our core values can still remain intact. Also, it was satisfying to dance a Torah down Amsterdam towards the Beis Medresh with a few hundred YU students and rabbis considering I had slowly walked down Amsterdam in the other direction a few weeks beforehand during the funeral for Rov Romm Zt'l. A measure-for-measure of tragedy and celebration is always good for the soul, even considering that both were honoring the passing of Torah giants.

Which brings me full circle to Nechama Liebowitz. Here she is Torah giant; the honor we give her is not because of her as much as the living Torah personality that she became. We need to honor and spread that Torah fame! I'm sure there is a good chunk of the Styxlist that has not read her work, or have heard of her even. So let me construct a meager eulogy the best I can.

###########################################################################
We mourn the passing of Nechama Liebowitz, who changed the face of Parshanut ha-Mikra for our and future generations. Her expertise was in elucidating the purpose and direction of major commentators, and tying together their positions into a organized instruction; she took parshanut to a new level. She was above all a superb teacher, not only on the personal level, but with her ubiquitous publications (those turquoise and blue books that many received as bar/bas-mitzvah presents) she opened up the tangled meanings of the Torah.

One of her long time students, Dr. Gavriel Cohen, is quoted by Arutz-7 as saying:
"She insisted that the student know not only what Rashi or Ramban [the two premier medieval Bible commentators] said, but she demanded that he struggle with WHY they said what they said, and think about which one seemed more correct. In this way the student became part of the Torah study, 'creating' the commentary himself. This was a totally new method, and she wrote once that this is part of a system where the student 'reproduces' the Torah from his own soul, and in this way becomes one with it. .... She wrote a little booklet on Psalms, in which she wrote that her goal was that the student should not only hear King David singing, but should hear himself within the songs of King David. In this way the Torah would become a true "Living Torah."
###########################################################################

WOMEN'S ISSUES & AGUDAS HA-RABBANIM

How darkly fortuitous that I can use the above subscreed to segue into two crucial topics. Nechama Liebowitz was a crucial figure in the history of the struggle for women's learning. She was so well recognized and respected that her Torah couldn't be hidden or suppressed. This is similar as the Rav -- who while being spurned by the black-hatty world, had to be accepted at least as a premier scholar (of course the same is said about Elisha ben Abuyah, but we won't go into that now).

It is a lesson for any revolutionary figure -- that being The Fastest Gun in the West will often make one chary of fame -- because the notoriety will draw attackers instead of letting the virtuoso sit a practice his/her craft. But with a revolutionary skill of silence, great changes can be wrought.

Part of the current problems in the struggle of Orthodox Jewish feminism is that the votaries and activists are perceived to be both loud and impatient. While the feminists will argue that the impatience comes from long desperation -- who can blame the gasp of air of one who's drowning? -- to the Outside it appears not as sincere desire but greed.

This is of course detrimental to both sides. If both camps are similarly self-righteous then how can they not assume the other side to be guilty of many crimes from insincerity to oppression/insurrection? But I have spent many months analyzing this issue with the personal-ideology that being trained to understand another person's perspective would allow me to penetrate the worldview of both the Feminist and the Charedi camps. All in the hope that were I to understand both sides, I could help both sides understand -- and eventually compromise -- with each other.

Fearfully, I have come to the temporary conclusion that there may be no compromises. The two sides may be in a shooting war.

I did not want to take this space to be my screed on Women & Judaism, so I will end this here; but suffice it to say that I have spent especially the past few weeks in intense study on the subject.

HOW DARE YOU CALL THEM IDIOTS?

The proper segue, though, would be for me to lead from Nechama Liebowitz to the Agudas ha-Rabbanim. L'havdil.

I'm sure many of you sensitive to the issue wondered how I would dare call the Agudas ha-Rabbanim, alias the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of America and Canada, the Union of Orthodox Idiots. Aren't I transgressing the serious rule of Kavod ha-Rav (showing respect and honor to rabbis)?

No.

First of all, let me say that I take Kavod ha-Rav *extremely* seriously. I am a stickler for order and authority -- especially when it is Gdly. But with the same ardor and vigor that I uphold the honor of authority when it is duly earned, I repudiate those who violate the sanctity of their rank and responsibility.

As I set forth clearly above, a Rabbi is only given honor commensurate to the Torah they embody. And, pardon my French, I don't give a rat's ass how much Torah these Agudas Idiots may have learned, how many pages of gemara they packed into their weensie little minds, they do not practice what they have learned. And learning gemara without practicing it, is avoda-zara. How can they blather about Reform and Conservative Jews being anti-Torah when they themselves rolled out the Torah and Gd for use as a public relations latrine?

How many good Jews were lost because of the Agudas ha-Rabbanim? How much rancor, how much hatred, spitting on the name of Gd, did they increase? They should shave off their beards and join Baruch Goldstein with the bastards and apostates. At least *he* may agree with them and their strategy of well timed blasphemy of Gd's Holy Name.

THE MEANING OF IDIOCY

P.S. The term 'idiot' has a very specific meaning to me. I use it to refer to people who may technically be smart, but act with extreme stupidity. That is, a person who believes that they are more intelligent than they actually are, and speaks and acts on this belief, is an idiot. Idiots, ironically, in the Cypess tongue, are most often people that less perceptive people would label 'smart.' But smart people don't shoot prime ministers, do they?

THE HELICOPTER CRASH

There was a tragic helicopter crash in Manhattan on Tuesday. What makes it extraordinarily, and personally, stirring, is that my brother was an eyewitness. His lab in Rockefeller University overlooks the East River and has a great view of the helicopter port. Aaron told me that he was working when he heard his advisor, Dr. Tom Sakmar, utter interjections. Aaron ran to look out the window and saw the chopper pinwheel around in the sky then plummet into the East River. At least this is what he told me over the phone.

Here is part of the New York Times story:
NEW YORK (April 16) -- A corporate executive was killed and three other people were injured when their helicopter crashed into the East River moments after lifting off from the heliport at 60th Street in Manhattan.

Witnesses said the helicopter plunged into the river about 15 feet from shore after the rear rotor flew off the aircraft and lodged in the heliport's one-story terminal.

Police officials said the pilot and co-pilot of the six-seat BK-117 helicopter escaped on their own, but the two passengers were underwater for 10 to 15 minutes before being pulled from the helicopter by police divers. One died, and the other was taken to a hospital in critical condition. [...]

The helicopter had just come from Piscataway, had let off two passengers in Manhattan and was taking off for White Plains, N.Y., about 5:35 p.m. when the accident occurred, said Police Commissioner Howard Safir.

"It rose about 30, 35 feet and it started sparking in the rear," said Jose Collado, a livery-cab driver who was waiting at the heliport for someone to arrive. "You heard cracking in the back and then the helicopter turned and went into the water." [...]

By the time police divers arrived, the pilot and co-pilot had got out of the helicopter, but the two passengers were stuck inside the helicopter in the darkness of 35 feet of water.

"We couldn't see anything," said Police Officer John Drzal, a member of the police scuba team that came to the scene from Floyd Bennett Field. "It was black."

The officers said they searched for an opening in the helicopter, broke the door off its hinges and pulled out the two unconscious passengers.

The passengers were taken to New York Hospital, where one was pronounced dead on arrival. The other was listed in critical condition. The helicopter's crew members were listed in stable condition. Police did not release the names of the victims because their families had not been notified. [...]
STYX:

After I downloaded the story from the Times online and included the transcript in the Styx, my brother filed this eyewitness report. The "Tom," mentioned is Dr. Sakmar who runs [his] lab (and is not a PhD, but one o'dem research MDs).
[Styx],

I got your message about the copter crash, but here's some more material that actually may never get reported:

At 5:30 a blue and white helicopter began to take off from the 60th street heliport along the East River. From Tom's office, I heard him yell (I don't remember exactly what he said--it was a measure of disgust and alarm). I stood up to see the copter spinning. At that point, the tail hit the building and the copter went into the water. It dropped immediately, from about 10 feet above the river. At 5:35.

My immediate reaction was, "I didn't catch all of that--let me see the replay." And I was hit with the extreme discomfort of the realization that this was REAL. We had a good view, and a pair of binoculars. The entire lab started to watch.

....Except Tom. He grabbed on his leather jacket, ran outside, across the pedestrian bridge, and entered the heliport. He disappeared behind the building, and we couldn't see him for the rest of the time.

Meanwhile, the police, fire, and coast guard all converged on the scene. News helicopters started to set up above the scene and film the events. Soon, a police helicopter arrived, flying UNDER the Queensboro Bridge and over the site of the catastrophe. Two divers jumped out and started to search for the submerged copter. By now, though, it was fifteen to twenty minutes after the copter sank. Being in medicine, we knew that it was too long for anyone still inside to survive. The probably was no air...the water was not cold enough....

But Tom had actually found something to do. As he arrived on the scene, he noticed the EMS people attending to one person, who was the copilot. He had escaped before the copter sank. Nearby was another man, lying face down on the ground, blue in the face. It was the pilot, who also escaped. But nobody was helping the pilot! All of these cops and fireman were beginning to stand around, but the EMS guys were opening and closing bags, looking for things. Well, it'd been over 10 years since he worked the trauma wings at Massachusetts General, but he knew what to do. He started to resuscitate the pilot, who had a pulse, it turned out. After some assistance, they got the pilot into an ambulance and headed up the ramp to York Avenue. There was confusion on the ramp, with cars heading down and up, so Tom told the EMS guy to clear the way. Shortly afterward they arrived at the New York Hospital emergency room, where Tom gave his report to the doctors, and answered a police statement. He then came back to lab.

All in a day's work.
STYX:

Now THAT's job satisfaction!

Wow. Hats off to doctors! And to all of you stalwarts still in Med school, I assume this is why you are slaving away for years, in order to be able to be the right person at the right time. To be a quotidian superman. In this vein, all other professions seem pale; I doubt that in my rounds as a rabbi I will ever have the life-or-death ability or impact ("Rabbi saves woman's chicken from being treife, news at 11.").

That's all for now. I'll hopefully get to write the R'Lamm - R'Rosensweig - R'Lichtenstein - D'Letterman stuff up before the end of the week.

bye now

Wednesday, March 05, 1997

Life in the Styx vol. 4, no. 29 (Old Styx)

Life in the Styx vol. 4, no. 29, March 5, 1997 (Excerpts):

NEWS BRIEFS

The cover of Tuesday's New York Times, featuring the picture of Clinton about to plant a wet sloppy kiss of Arafat's behind was only marginally less disgusting than the picture of Rudy Giuliani dressed in drag. I have no idea what Clinton is doing anymore. I have given up trying. I wonder what will happen when Arafat declares a Palestinian state the moment a spade-ful of dirt is raised from Har Homa. AS I have said in the past, a state is a very good thing since it will allow Israel to deal with the Palestinians as a belligerent neighbor -- which the Palestinian's seem determined to remain -- as opposed to the overlord-vassal relationship we have now. Remember, the Palestinians have declared war against Israel and they are winning handily. The war is fought on many fronts with many weapons. Israel's inability to see this, especially the otiose astigmatism of the Right, is the main cause of our failures to this date. Cut and Run, Bibi.

SHABBAS IN QUEENS

I spent this past Shabbas in Kew Garden's Hills, Queens for my roommate'S aufrauf (oof-roof?). This was the first extended time I have spent in the Royal Borough, and although I was tempted, David Letterman-like, to use "woman's minyan" as the punch-line for every third joke, I showed admirable restraint. I few comments about Queens, though:

(1) It is a very nice area in terms of having green, leafy thangs lying around in the dirt, but there's a BIIIIG problem with the street names.

They were obviously created by a damaged mind. Get this: [My roommate] lives on 71st Road. But there is a 71st Street, 71st Drive, and 71st Lane as well. All right next to each other. It's like that for every number. Makes you want to pitch the city planners into a vat o'boiling goo and scream in their ears with a bullhorn:

"YO! Jerky! The reason why we use cardinal numbers in the first place is cuz you will NEVER RUN OUT OF THEM! [scream like Sam Kenison]."

Note: there is no functional difference between a street, road, drive, or lane. None. Never had it. Never will. [Laugh like the 7Up guy] (But I'm sure there's some Nimrod out there who will defend the Kings' County Planning Commission; save it for someone who cares).

(2) There are sooo many Jews in Queens. When I was walking to shul in my ol' home-towns, one could find where the synagogue you were going to by playing "follow the Jew." Not so in Kew Gardens! It felt like I was in pre-war Krakow. Hundreds o'Jews going into houses, shuls, yeshivas, park benches, ... everything was turned into a shul there. Not that I'm complaining, it was kinda cool actually, but verrry verrry different from my experiences.

(3) In the bedroom I stayed in, my hosts has their collection of Intellivision cartridges. This brought back immense memories of the whole Atari Culture I grew up in. Of the three denominations, Atari, Intellivision, Coleco, I was of the orthodox Atari faith. Just thinking about it over shabbas made me realize what love and joy I have and had for my Atari 2600. I and [my other roommate](also an Atari acolyte), went through all the great games of our youth -- Warlords, Adventure, Berserk, Yar's Revenge, Superman. So, publicly, I want to thank my parents for allowing me to get an Atari (and to get all those cartridges). This should be good proof to some parents out there that yes, your kids do remember these things. [I'll wax more philosophic about Atari elsewhen].

(4) That Weird Aufrauf feeling. For all those out there unacquainted, an aufrauf is a Shabbat before the wedding that is dedicated to honor the groom and his family; it is held in the groom's home synagogue, as opposed to the wedding which is held usually in the bride's hometown. The groom's friends come in for the aufrauf, are put up in neighbors' houses, and usually eat meals in the synagogue. The weird feeling I refer to is the identity one has as the groom's friend, cuz you are oftentimes a complete stranger in the groom's shul, yet the should becomes your place of meals and you are given a special status more so than a usual guest.

Anyway, I hope the wedding goes through well. It will be in St. Louis; I may take notes.

EMPIRE STATE KILLER

I want people to know that in n my comments in Styxii27, in ever considered the attack on the empire state building to be considered 'terrorism' at all. Rather, I put it under a special, growing, category 'wacko with a gun' (WWAG). Even though this wacko blames the Zionists -- he's a Palestinian and they blame Zionists like wacko Americans blame the UN, it's their term for the secularized devil (why is the Medieval hairy man-goat any different from Timothy McVeigh's black helicopters?) Hamas calls Arafat a Zionist tool (when those guilty of civil disobedience are tortured by Arafat's regime, I'd bet their first thought is 'why is Arafat such a Zionist?')

It is sad, though, that I can put Ali Amu Kamal in a set category (i.e. WWAG). He is an honorary member of Disgruntleds Anonymous (have you noticed that 'disgruntled' has taken on a specific meaning -- the adjective meant to modify a formerly quiet man who kept to himself who one day turns into a mass murderer). Being disgruntled in this highly specific meaning is an American specialty -- and despite the fact that it happened recently in Devonshire & Tasmania, it is an American regularity. Maybe its the full force of Modernity in America with its seismic uncertainties that pry apart weak minds, minds that in simpler times would have been mildly unhinged are blown apart by the bombardment of media images, war, weapons, technology, buzzing like nuclear bees around our heads.

It is as if American society is saying: "Makes sense to me; Kamal was annoyed at the world so he bought a gun and started firing." It's his god given right as an American to bear arms and express his personal opinions with an unmistakable 9mm diction. In fact it should be protected by the First amendment not the second -- because what else conveys the particular message that Kamal wanted to express besides semi-automatic pistol fire?

The WWAG are people who feel that complex problems can be solved with a gun. Call 'em Gordian Knot-Heads. A gun is so glorious, so powerful, so beautiful. In our culture, the gun is turned into a symbol of the fullest expression of the power of man -- a natural extension of will, what we are born to use to set things right. No wonder a gun is called an "equalizer" (it's also called a "mohaska," at least according to Sean Connery in The Untouchables, but that doesn't help my argument much). Weak minds -- the Wackos -- a gun is a natural item to be drawn to (one can extend this to rapists as well). This leads to:

THE FLORIDA ASSASSIN

If you saw the Wednesday 2/26/97 New York Times, you know that right under the follow-up article about the Empire State killer is a story about another YC Grad (JSS) who planted a bomb in a Jacksonville, Florida synagogue in an attempted assassination of Shimon Peres. [Note about the title, I consider anyone who attempts an assassination, yet misses, is still an assassin]. The bomb didn't go off and was found 9 days later by a bunch of kids who were playing with the package during a bat mitzvah. This shows a few things:

(1) This man, Harry Shapiro, is a monster whose brain is a big ol' sack o'puppy chow.

(2) The FBI can solve a case! (Now all the FBI has to hope for is that all criminals turn themselves in on their own accord like Shapiro did). Shapiro also called 911 and warned them about the bomb, claiming he was the Islamic Jihad (which would have fooled no one in Israel cuz we all know the Islamic Jihad has no need to kill Peres).

(3) The GSS (Israel's security agency) is as bad as the FBI. How could they not find the bomb? Shows you that they protect Peres as well as they protected Rabin, eh?

In any case, even though Noam Friedman (from the recent Hebron shooting) and Baruch Goldstein are under the category of WWAG, Yigal Amir and now Harry Shapiro are not so easy to place in the wacko bin. They are more sane; stupid but sane. But maybe not -- it could just be a different style of crazy. They are best described as Extreme.

The Disgruntleds are transferring their need for anxiety relief into an act of violence. People like Friedman, a full-blown whack-a-mole delusional schizophrenic, are drawn to extreme philosophies cuz (a) wacko groups don't really mind the people they take in (b) it's hard to separate the Extreme from the Insane. Whatever the case may be, it just reinforces our need to patrol the wacky denizens of the yeshivas even more.

AVI WEISS


If anyone wants a copy of the remarks Rav Avi Weiss made at the recent conference of Orthodoxy and Feminism, I have a copy I can email out. Don't ask me for my opinions on the matter; I fear that no matter what I say on the matter I will get resoundingly schmeitzed. And we all know that discretion is the better part of valor, and cowardice is just prudence with bad PR.