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 »


Scharfe Analyse der Gaza-Flotte auf ARD

June 24, 2010

Videovortrag: Wer hat die Psalmen verfasst?

June 2, 2010

Es ist allgemein bekannt, dass König David als Verfasser der Tehillim (Psalmen) angesehen wird. Allerdings gibt es im Talmud, in zahlreichen Midraschím und auch im Text der Tehillim Hiweise darauf, dass König David nicht der einzige Verfasser der Tehillim ist.

Wer denn waren die anderen Verfasser der Tehillim, und was wissen wir über sie?


Dieser Schi’úr (Vortrag) wurde am So. 7. März ’10 in der Schomre Thora Basel vorgetragen und ist der zweite in einer Reihenfolge von Video-Schi’úrim (Vorträge) zu den Psalmen. Der frühere Vortrag heisst Tehillim als Gebet.

[Sie können sich diesen Video auch bei Vimeo anschauen.]


Die Gaza-Hilfsflotte kritisch betrachtet

June 2, 2010

Jürg Bischoff schreibt in der NZZ:

Die Erstürmung der Schiffe wurde zu einem Blutbad, weil die israelischen Militärs zwischen einer Kriegssituation und zivilem Widerstand in der Regel keinen Unterschied machen. Seit Jahren setzen israelische Soldaten in den besetzten Gebieten ihre Schusswaffen ein, ob sie sich nun bewaffneten Kämpfern oder unbewaffneten Demonstranten gegenübersehen.

Seine Gedanken wiederspiegeln die von vielen anderen Journalisten im Westen.

Peter Münch schreibt in BaZ:

Es wird nicht reichen, sich damit zu rechtfertigen, dass die Soldaten beim Kapern von den Aktivisten angegriffen worden seien. Es klingt angesichts der Kräfteverhältnisse und der Opferzahlen fast obszön, wenn der Armeesprecher angibt, die Soldaten hätten sich gegen Lynch-Attacken zur Wehr setzen müssen.

Waren die Kräfteverhältnisse richtig obszön? Schauen Sie sich die folgenden Videos an, und beschliessen Sie selber.
Read the rest of this entry »


Ansprache anlässlich des G”ttesdienst in der historischen Synagoge von Endingen, an Chol-HaMo’ed-Pessach

April 7, 2010

Was noch könnte Pessach bedeuten?

Numerii Kap. IX: Während der vierzig Jahren, dass die Israeliten in der Wüsste weilten, vor dass sie ins heilige Land einziehen durften, wurde kein Pessachopfer gebracht. Kein einziges? Nein, ein einziges mal wurde das Pessachopfer doch gebracht: zum ersten Pessachfest nach dem Auszug. Einige Leute durften das Opfer aber nicht bringen, weil sie zu einer Beerdigung usw. tamé (rituell veruntreinigt) wurden.

Jedoch wollten sie unbedingt das Pessachopfer bringen. Moses wendete sich zu G”tt, der das sgn. Pessach-Schení-Fest verordnete: der, der es fürs erste mal nicht schaffte, durfte es ein Monat später nachholen.

Aber: wieso wollten jene Leute unbedingt das Opfer bringen? Sie hatten ja eine legitime Dispensation?

Oder direkt von Vimeo.

PS: Weil es eher kalt war, wurde die Predigt nicht während des G”ttesdienstes, sondern zum Frühstück nachher, im Pflegeheim Margoa – Lengnau, gesprochen.


Is Mu’ammar Al-Qadhafi Jewish

February 1, 2010

In the spirit of the halakha that one begins studying matters relevant to a holiday thirty days before the onset of that holiday, I am interrupting regular programming for this remarkable (and serious) television report, tackling the question whether the Libyan revolutionary leader Mu’ammar Al-Qadhafi is Jewish.

As a matter of introduction, I should note the remarkable prophecy at the end of the book of Yesha’yahu (66:18-21):

… the time cometh, that I will gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come, and shall see My glory. And I will work a sign among them [i.e. among the Gentile Nations], and I will send such as escape of them unto the nations, to Tarshish, Pul and Lud, that draw the bow, to Tubal and Javan, to the isles afar off, that have not heard My fame, neither have seen My glory; and they shall declare My glory among the nations. And they shall bring all your brethren out of all the nations for an offering unto HASHEM, upon horses, and in chariots, and in fitters, and upon mules, and upon swift beasts, to My holy mountain Jerusalem, saith HASHEM, as the children of Israel bring their offering in a clean vessel into the house of HASHEM. And of them also will I take for the Kohanim and for the Levites, saith HASHEM.

According to most commentaries, the emphasized verse at the end says that also from among the gentile nations will G”d take Kohanim. The problem is that while any gentile can choose to convert and become part of the Jewish people, there is no conversion process to the Kohen-hood. Now one could argue, as IIRC R’ David Kimchi proposes, that this is not to be taken literally, but rather to mean that also from among the nations will G”d choose pious, righteous people, for religious leadership by example. Such as Shemaya and Avtalyon, who were either the sons of converts, or were themselves converts, and on account of their great piety and scholarship became the top leaders of the Nation of Israel, including presiding over the Sanhedrin.

But most commentators take the verse literally. They resolve the difficulty by stating that among those who were believed to be gentiles, there will be discovered many Jews, who had assimilated away over the ages, who had forgotten they were Jewish. Some of those Jews will be the descendents of Kohanim, however, that would not be enough for them to still be Kohanim. Kohanim must descend from a Kohen on the paternal line, and none of the female ancestors may have been women legally prohibited from marrying Kohanim. Thus, the posit that some of the originally exiled and assimilated Kohanim and their descendants will unknowingly always have married Jewishly born women who were not divorcees.

This reminds me of a large painting of a bride on her wedding day, which is displayed in the Jewish Museum of Berlin. The bride stands by the window, and on the window sill lays a Bible, but not a Jewish Bible. It prominently features a cross on the cover. But the woman was Jewish, one of the possibly 100’000 Jews who are estimated to have converted to Christianity out of social ambitions, in the 19th century. However, she did not marry out. While she did marry in the church, intentionally or not, since she married a grandson of Moses Mendelsohn, theirs was a Jewish couple. Their story is only unique in that we can identify the players, but that story repeated itself countless times, and it is a recurring story that people discover they are really Jewish, and decide to return to the Jewish fold. Some of those people even discover that both their parents were Jewish, or that, unbeknownst to them, they had married a Jew. Such is the touch of Providence.

So is Qadhafi also one of those Jews, who will come back “Tarshish, Pul and Lud, … Tubal and Javan”? Watch the report below [hat tip: SE], and leave your opinion in the comments section:


After the Tefillin Terror Scare

January 29, 2010

One morning last week, a young man was flying with his sister from New York’s La Guardia Airport to Kentucky. The young man, being an observant Jew, wanted to recite the morning prayers on the plane, as he had not had the opportunity to do so before going to the airport. This, he did just like in the synagogue, and as countless flying Dutchmen Jews before him, by praying while wearing tefillin. Unfortunately, that particular crew did not know what tefillin are, and in this post-shoe bomber, post-underwear bomber era, the crew grew suspicious, and after conferring with the pilot, they maImage juxtaposing tefillin clad boy with Islamic terroristde an emergency stopover in Philadelphia, where a SWAT team “welcomed” the brother and sister team, arrested them, escorted them out of the plane, and treated them like wanna-be leather-straps-on-arm-and-forehead-bombers.  Of course, it didn’t take too long to figure out that this was an innocent pair, though for the convenience of flight crew training, I am including a graphic (hat tip: R’JF) that should hammer this point home rather clearly. A video news report is included at the end of this post.

Anyway, ever since this incident, the blogosphere and mailing list are alight, discussing whether or not one must pray with tefillin even when flying, what the alternatives are, if any, whether we should expect such reactions in the future and hence should as much as possible abstain from praying with tefillin while flying, in this post-shoe bomber, post-underwear bomber era, and whether the crew was properly trained. These issues have already been discussed extensively elsewhere.

While the security issues are new, Jews have faced the issues with praying while travelling since time immemorial. Over a hundred years ago, a similar discussion was aired in the German Jewish press. A certain Chief Rabbi J. Kahn of Treves / Trier wrote an article attacking the practice, and suggested that travellers put their tefillin on before leaving home, even if that was before day break, when the tefillin should ordinarily not be worn. R’ Esriel Hildesheimer responded in his usual learned, witty, slightly acerbic manner. Below, I am excerpting some relevant passages.

For the benefit of the practically minded, I shall give some practical tips at the end of the post. Read the rest of this entry »