Friday, December 31, 2010

Video of the Decade: Oklahoooooooma!

Since everything will be 'of the decade,' and since that arbitrary (and arguably erroneous) milestone is soon passing, I want to share a discovery: somebody FINALLY put on youtube one of my favorite all-time SNL skits: Wedgie Fever.

Every time someone mentions the word "Oklahoma" I think of this skit. Warning: this is a pure example of male type humor

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Kosher Tooth Fairy

My oldest child lost his first tooth yesterday. This was eagerly awaited; all his friends had lost a tooth already and this is a prepubescent milestone. Considering that I lost a tooth a few weeks ago, his event was much more celebratory.

In any case, he had heard about the tooth fairy but I had planned for this eventuality: how to eliminate the Anglo-Saxon superstitions that our culture is saddled with. It's bad enough that Xmas and other Notzrei Chazarai is in the air for one quarter of the year, but there's Disney and others talking about fairies and wishing upon stars.

My solution is that in every case where there's some intercessory minor divinity required, I bring out Eliyahu Ha-Navi (Elijah). Normally, I'm loath to adduce miracle making whoozits into my religious pantheon - so I eschew sephirot, malachim, Rebbe Meir Baal Ha-Nes, and the sundry Kabbalah Masters who sadly have found locale in contemporary Orthodoxy. Fie on all this avoda zara.

Yet, I am stuck with Eliyahu Ha-Navi as an immortal, ever-present visitor: it's in Tanakh, and all over liturgy. So I might as well use it. If Eliyahu comes to every Havdalah, Bris, and Seder, he can give my kids money for their teeth.

Pic is Gustav Dore's depiction of Eliyahu going up to Heaven.

Sperber Leaves Orthodoxy?

The JTA reports today that Rabbi Dr. Daniel Sperber is the chancellor of a new rabbinical school - the aptly named Canadian Yeshiva and Rabbinical School - which is to be the "middle ground between Conservative Judaism and what they describe as an increasingly rigid Orthodox movement."

So check out the leadership: all but Sperber are Conservative rabbis; faculty? All conservative rabbis, including Joel Roth and Wayne Allen, two of the brightest and most halakhically knowledgeable of Conservative rabbis.

Going through the entire faculty list yields only one non-JTS rabbi, Aaron Levy who's a musmakh of Chovevei... which seriously doesn't help matters for both schools.

So finally finally finally Sperber outs himself for what he really is: a conservative rabbi. Yeah, Dan, we Orthodox are so rigid and have 'moved to the right' - either that or you and your cronies have been pushing the goalposts so far to the left that all I had to do was stand still.

But, you may say, the JTA article does state:
Sperber, who is on the advisory board of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, a liberal Orthodox rabbinical school in New York founded by Rabbi Avi Weiss, says the major hurdle will be attracting more Orthodox faculty. If the new school becomes identified as a Conservative institution -- a possibility, given that most of its leadership is Conservative -- Sperber said he will withdraw.
How seriously should I take that? Well, a hallmark of conservative halakha has been a remarkable short-sightedness; they advocate rapid, jerky change and then wonder why nobody follows D'orytas anymore. In the same vein, Sperber has jumped ship without bothering for the consequences (just as he did by advocating for the so-called partnership minyans).

Bottom line is that he has been a conservative rabbi for a while now. And the crazy part is that people will interpret that statement, and he will react to that statement, by thinking it's a slur. It's only a slur if you are a bigot. I'm not: it's perfectly OK to be a conservative Jew... just don't hide what you're doing behind the veneer of Orthodoxy, that's assur.

Yet for Sperber to believe that the yeshiva is good enough to join as chancellor, but only if it's not 'conservative' means that he's a bigot. Look, Dan, do you agree with your faculty? So what if they're "conservative" in name - you agree with them in what they do. So join them in name. Do everyone a favor and stop being a meisit.

P.S. I love how all the faculty with "s'mikha" are called "Rav." I believe this is in reaction to Rav Moshe Feinstein's practice of phonetically spelling out the English word "rabbi" in Hebrew when referring to non-Orthodox rabbis. Either that or it's the standard 'through the looking glass' way that conservative rabbis take standard halakhic terms and infuse them with their new denomination specific meanings.

Pic is of Sperber from his new yeshiva's website

The Holocaust and Guns

I just finished a stint as a teaching assistant for a Holocaust history class this semester. It was a fascinating class with a brilliant professor but, naturally, it was horrible. I've purposefully kept away from the topic all my life, not because I'm trying to ignore or hide the facts, but because a little bit of emotional dread goes a long way with me (and my family). I lost many relatives; I'm named after two brothers of my grandfather who were murdered; but I have tried to avoid the soul-crushing intensity that a dive into the holocaust waters would bring.

Well, there went that plan out the window. The class met for an hour three times a week, which meant I was depressed for most of the time. True story: I got the last word in class - the last day we have a class-wide discussion and I explained to the mass of undergraduates, many of whom were born the year when I was a college freshman, that studying the Holocaust is different when you're a able-bodied single adult than when you're a married parent. As a 20 year old, you can imagine being in the resistance, escaping a ghetto, hiding out in the woods etc. As a parent, all you imagine is your children being murdered. Again, it was horrible.

One natural response of a study of the Holocaust is Zionism, but it's a bit more complicated than that. One disturbing realization of the history is that while the mass murder started in Western Europe, aided by a culture of anti-semitism that reacted to the gains of liberal Jews in Weimar Germany, for the most part the assimilated Jews of the Western countries managed to escape. E.g. 50% of German Jews escaped, and many more would have survived if they had decided to identify as Jews (and thus flee) and not as loyal Germans (and thus stay, wearing their WWI uniforms).

Who were the overwhelming victims? Orthodox Jews who were estranged from their home countrymen (Poland, Lithuania, Belarus) - and the estrangement led to a mutual hatred. One way to see it is that the assimilated Jews of Germany angered the Western European murderers who took over the backward Slavic nations and slaughtered the unassimilated Jews. One lesson I take from this is another support for Modern Orthodoxy, but the whole subject is too dreary for clean lessons.

A question I do ask is why Jews in the diaspora don't own more guns. Zionism is a natural response to the Holocaust, but Zionism isn't limited to the land of Israel. This is a large topic - the debate between political vs. cultural Zionism - but you don't need to go as crazy as the JDL to wonder why Jews don't have a gun in the tool-shed for protection against our crazy neighbors.

My quick answer is that (a) Jews in the US are primarily urban and the anti-gun laws are severe in cities, and the response time of police is quick (especially since Jews, as prima-facie middle-class Caucasians, are preferred clients of law enforcement); (b) Jews are pro-natalist (i.e. we have many kids) and guns and kids don't mix; (c) Jewish law forbids hunting, and eating food shot to death, so it's not in the culture that way; (d) it's tough to be a Jew in the military and that's where gun familiarization occurs.

Those are at least most of the reasons why I haven't already purchased a load of weapons after a semester of being scared out of my mind with Holocaust horror.