Video-Schiur: Psalm 34

August 16, 2010

Psalm 34 wird wöchentlich, beim Schabbatmorgeng”ttesdienst gesprochen.

Was ist das Thema des 34. Psalm, und mit welchen historischen Ereignissen ist es zu verbinden? Erläutern diese historische Umsände den Inhalt des Psalmen?

Die Quellen zum Vortrag können Sie hier herunterladen.

Dieser Vortrag wurde im Schloss Landskron bei Flüh präsentiert, zu einem von der Schomre Thora Basel organisierten Barbeque-Picnic.

We May Have Free Will, After All

August 13, 2010

Just in time for the onset of the month of Elul, with its overarching theme of repentance and preparation for the judgement and acceptance of Divine sovereignty that are the themes of the High Holidays, some important scientific findings were reported.

First some background. A defining feature of Judaism is its belief in the potential of Man. We are not predestined in our righteousness or unrighteousness, but rather possess free will that we can and should properly express. Thus, Moshe admonishes Israel (Devarim 30:19):

I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before thee life and death, the blessing and the curse; therefore choose life, that thou mayest live, thou and thy seed;

A cornerstone of the doctrine of free will is that people can actually change, they can turn around. Yes we can™®.

However, this ability to change is actually hotly debated by the psychological community, and it is refreshing to see them believe in human ability.

Our brain can be taught to control cravings, researchers find

Read the rest of this entry »

Equal Justice for All?

August 1, 2010

The Torah teaches (Devarim 16:19): לֹא־תַטֶּה מִשְׁפָּט לֹא תַכִּיר פָּנִים – Thou shalt not wrest judgment; thou shalt not respect persons. Rashi takes this as a prohibition incumbent upon tribunals: Not only may one not favor one side over the other, but not even give the appearance that this is so. More particularly: Even when the litigants argue their cases before the tribunal, the judge is forewarned not to treat them differently, to be easy with one litigant and hard with the other, not to make one stand while the other is allowed to press his case while seated, for the mere sight of a judge bestowing respect upon one litigant renders the other litigant mute (Based on TB Sanhedrin 30a).

While in theory this principle is well accepted and even obvious, in reality, matters are not everywhere all right. Thus, CBS News reports:

Justice may not be blind after all.

According to a Cornell University study, unattractive defendants are 22 percent more likely to be convicted than good-looking ones. And the unattractive also get slapped with harsher sentences – an average of 22 months longer in prison.

Perhaps it is time to resurrect the ancient Jewish idea, of judges covering their faces (see Rashi Devarim 1:43) so as not to see the litigants while they plead their cases, and not to be influenced by their antics.

Brutal Women of Nazi Germany

July 26, 2010

From the New York Times – Women’s Role in Holocaust May Exceed Old Notions:

JERUSALEM — Amid the horrors of the Holocaust, the atrocities perpetrated by a few brutal women have always stood out, like aberrations of nature.

The Nazi killing machine was undoubtedly a male-dominated affair. But according to new research, the participation of German women in the genocide, as perpetrators, accomplices or passive witnesses, was far greater than previously thought.

While most did not bloody their own hands, the acts of those who did seemed all the more perverse because they operated outside the concentration camp system, on their own initiative.

Only 1 or 2 percent of the perpetrators were women, according to Ms. Lower. But in many cases where genocide was taking place, German women were very close by. Several witnesses have described festive banquets near mass shooting sites in the Ukrainian forests, with German women providing refreshments for the shooting squads whose work often went on for days.

For the full article, click here.

Gibt es in der Unterhaltungsliteratur eine Rolle für G”tt?

July 23, 2010

Kann G”tt – nach jüdischen Verständnis eine Rolle in Unterhaltungsliteratur spielen?
Gott ist nicht nur in der religiösen Literatur ein Begriff. In der letzten Zeit gibt es auch aufregende Unterhaltungsliteratur, in dem Gott einer der Hauptrollen einer Unterhaltungsgeschichte bekommt.

So veröffentlicht Der Spiegel zuletzt ein Artikel über Religions-Comics, unter dem Titel Blasphemie und letzte Fragen:

Wenn ein Werk “Die Chroniken von Wormwood” heißt und von der Freundschaft zwischen Gottes und Satans Sohn handelt, ist nicht viel Ehrfurcht zu erwarten. Auch zwei weitere Comics zollen Gott wenig Respekt.

Anderseits, gibt es die der Religion und Gott gegenüber ehrfurchtsvolle Literatur, die auch literarisch überzeugt wie z.B. Die Hütte – Ein Wochenende mit Gott. Dort geht es um einen Mann, der in Depression versinkt, nach dem seine jüngste Tochter verschwunden und vermutlich gewalttätig umgekommen ist. Eines Tages erhält der Held des Buches einen Brief, unterzeichnet mit „Papa“, der ihn auffordert, sich dieses Wochenende mit ihm in einer Hütte zu treffen. Er verlässt seine Familie und begibt sich allein zur Hütte, unsicher, was er dort antreffen wird. Bei seiner Ankunft findet er nichts Besonderes, außer dem Blutfleck seiner kleinen Missy, doch als er wieder gehen will, verwandeln sich die Hütte und die umgebende Landschaft in eine paradiesische, einladende Umgebung. Er betritt die veränderte Hütte und begegnet dort Verkörperungen der drei Personen der Dreieinigkeit. Der “Vater,” erscheint als Afroamerikanerin, die sich selbst Papa nennt, Jesus als Handwerker aus dem Nahen Osten und der Heilige Geist als asiatische Frau mit Namen Sarayu. (Zusammenfassung basiert auf Wikipedia) Das Buch erschien er 2007 im Selbstverlag Windblown Media als The Shack. Bis März 2009 wurden fast ausschließlich durch Mundpropaganda über 6 Millionen Exemplare der Originalausgabe verkauft. (Ebd.)

Die obigen Büchern sind sehr deutlich von dem christlichen Gottesverständnis geprägt. Die Person Jesus, oder mindestens die eines menschlich verkörperten Gott, spielt in jedem diesen Büchern eine wichtige Rolle.

Kann über G”tt nach dem jüdischen Verständnis auch so geschrieben werden (obwohl ich abraten würde die respektlose Geschichten zu schreiben)? Oder nicht? Read the rest of this entry »

If You Work With Garbage, You Will Get Dirty

July 21, 2010

Orthodox Jews play a careful dance in judging which cultural phenomena are seen as acceptable, possibly beneficial, and what they reject from surrounding society. While Modern Orthodox and Fervently Orthodox Jews may disagree on the level of media exposure that is accepted into their homes, most all have red lines, elements of culture which they reject. See the end of this post for an inspiring remark on the effect of this self imposed cultural isolation, by a popular American radio talk show host.

In contrast, secular society has endlessly debated whether violent or explicit video games negatively influence gamers, and generally, society will consider much objectionable material “art” and protect it (at least the critics will). Implicit is the premise that exposure to objectionable material doesn’t harm people, or if it does, barely harms, and only in a passing way.

In this light, the following New York Times article, Policing the Web’s Lurid Precincts, is particularly telling:

An Internet content reviewer, … sifts through photographs that people upload to a big social networking site and keeps the illicit material — and there is plenty of it — from being posted. His is an obscure job that is repeated thousands of times over, from office parks in suburban Florida to outsourcing hubs like the Philippines.

With the rise of Web sites built around material submitted by users, screeners have never been in greater demand. Some Internet firms have tried to get by with software that scans photos for, say, a large area of flesh tones, but nothing is a substitute for a discerning human eye.

The surge in Internet screening services has brought a growing awareness that the jobs can have mental health consequences for the reviewers, Read the rest of this entry »

Cows moo-ve over: camel milk coming to Europe

July 8, 2010

Is Chalav Stam endangered?

The Talmud prohibited the consumption of unsupervised milk of gentile provenance, lest it contain an admixture of kosher and non kosher milk. However, as the codified halakhah also stretched the definition of supervision to include potential supervision (i.e. the Jewish supervisor sits behind a fence and if he would get up, he could see whether the non-Jew was milking a non-kosher animal, e.g. a camel or a mare), therefore, some authorities ruled that milk produced in a farms that have no none kosher animals to milk, is permissible.

Consequently, some Jewish communities have customarily allowed themselves to consume the milk on the general market, since non kosher animals are not customarily milked in Europe.

Now, however, that may be set to change. Reuters UK reports that:

European grocery shelves may soon be invaded by milk from that proverbial ship of the desert, the camel.

An animal famous for bad breath and ill humour might seem an unlikely source of liquid to lubricate a bowl of breakfast cereal or froth up a latte, but promoters from the United Arab Emirates say it is healthy — and almost like mother’s own.

The European Commission recently approved plans for screening camel milk, and will send an EU panel to inspect the UAE’s two dairy farms producing camel milk — Al Ain Dairy, with “Camelait,” and the Emirates Industry for Camel Milk and Products’ “Camelicious,” found in most UAE grocery stores. (hat tip: SBA)

Will the kosher consumer still be able to argue that milk on the general market is permissible? Read the rest of this entry »