כי לא מחשבותי מחשבותיכם

כִּי לֹא מַחְשְׁבוֹתַי מַחְשְׁבוֹתֵיכֶם, וְלֹא דַרְכֵיכֶם דְּרָכָי

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Oxymoron of the Day: A Meaningful Fast

My wife's niece, a young and idealist OM, wished me an 'easy and meaningful fast' (tzom kal vemashmauti) on this day of 17  Tammuz.

But how meaningful can a fast day be if we commemorate:
  • the beginning of the destruction of a city that now, after so many years of exile, has become a city that is more vibrant than in biblical times (ever)?
  • that Apostomus burned a Torah scrol, when we have had so many other book and Torah burnings at other times: why is this Torah different from all the other ones? 
  • that Moses broke the first set of tablets but we received a new set of Ten Commandments afterwards?
  • that we were not able to sacrifice anymore in the Temple because there were no animals anymore: who needs animal sacrifices anyway?
  • that an idol was placed in the Temple, but what does that matter if the Temple itself got destroyed anyway?
Needless to say that the Turkish showarma today was dedicated to all those fools who think the fast day is meaningful, just because they were told to bellieve so.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Amitnira's Posting on Parshat Yitro, now with English Translation!

My first experiment with translations. And since I am a fan of amitnira, here is her weekly parasha!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Sign of the Times

My thoughts about the latest child molesting scandal

The old sign:


The new sign:


I love my Photoshop! ;)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Textual Variations in Tenach

I vividly remember the time when a friend of mine, at that time studying Semitic languages, told me about textual variations in the Torah.

The example he gave me was Parshas Korach (this week’s Parsha for those ammeratzim that didn’t know ;):

וַיִּקַּח קֹרַח, בֶּן-יִצְהָר בֶּן-קְהָת בֶּן-לֵוִי; וְדָתָן וַאֲבִירָם בְּנֵי אֱלִיאָב, וְאוֹן בֶּן-פֶּלֶת--בְּנֵי רְאוּבֵן

The translation somehow doesn’t seem to flow since vayikach (and he took) does not seem to refer to anyone else than Korach since it doesn’t say “Korach, the son of Izhar took Datan and Aviram the sons of Eliav and On ben Pelet the sons of Reuven took” but it says “Korach, the son of Izhar took and Datan and Aviram the sons of Eliav and On ben Pelet the sons of Reuven”.

So what did they take? Where does the verb (‘took’) act upon?

Rashi says:

He took himself to a different side, to be disassociated from the community and to cast aspersion on the kehunah. This is why Onkelos translates, he separated himself from the rest of the community in order to maintain the dispute. Similarly, "why does your heart take you?"--- (i.e.,) it takes you to separate you from other people. Another interpretation [of] "Korach took": He won over the heads of the Sanhedrin among them, with flattering words, as it is said, "take Aharon,"  "take words with you."

So it either would mean “he took himself” or he convinced the Sanhedrin (‘caused to be taken?), which either way is problematic.

He showed me a different version of Chumash where it said ‘vayakom’ (and he got up), which seemed to fit in better:

And Korach, the son of Izhar stood up, and Datan and Aviram the sons of Eliav, and On ben Pelet the sons of Reuven”.

Now, we were taught that there are hardly any chilufei girsaot (different readings) of the Torah except for 9 differences between our scrolls and the Yemenite scrolls.

However, there are many more manuscripts that can shed light on different verses in the Torah. And I didn’t know about it! I remember how uncomfortable I was in this situation and how I tried to talk myself out of it.

Of course, things are a bit different at the moment.

In light of the above, I can warmly recommend an interesting article on the website of the Biblical Archeological Review by Harvey Minkoff (professor of linguistics at Hunter College in New York City) called “Searching for the Better Text - How errors crept into the Bible and what can be done to correct them”.

Happy reading!

Friday, June 4, 2010

OJ and Schools for Suicide Bombers: A Comparison

Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy gave a presentation for TED called “Inside a school for suicide bombers”.
TED introduces her speech like this:
Filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy takes on a terrifying question: How does the Taliban convince children to become suicide bombers? Propaganda footage from a training camp is intercut with her interviews of young camp graduates. A shocking vision.
Here is the excellent video:

After the video, I could not help but seeing some disturbing parallels to the insular world of Orthodox Judaism.
Some excerpts from her presentation:
“I, in my research, have seen that the Taliban have perfected the way in which they recruit and train children. And I think it's a five step process:
Step one is that the Taliban prey on families that are large, that are poor, that live in rural areas. They separate the parents from the children be promising to provide food, clothing, shelter to these children. Then they ship them off, hundreds of miles away to hard-line schools that run along the Taliban agenda.
Step two: They teach the children the Koran, which is Islam's holiest book, in Arabic, a language these children do not understand and cannot speak. They rely very heavily on teachers who I have personally seen distort the message to these children as and when it suits their purpose to. These children are explicitly forbidden from reading newspapers, listening to radio, reading any books that the teachers do not prescribe them. If any child is found violating these rules, he is severely reprimanded. Effectively, the Taliban create a complete blackout of any other source of information for these children.
Step three: The Taliban want these children to hate the world that they currently live in. So they beat these children. I have seen it. They feed them twice a day dried bread and water. They rarely allow them to play games. They tell them that, for eight hours at a time, all they have to do is read the Koran. The children are virtual prisoners. They cannot leave; they cannot go home. Their parents are so poor, they have no resources to get them back.
Step four: The older members of the Taliban, the fighters, start talking to the younger boys about the glories of martyrdom. They talk to them about how, when they die, they will be received up with lakes of honey and milk, how there will be 72 virgins waiting for them in paradise, how there will be unlimited food and how this glory is going to propel them to become heroes in their neighborhoods. Effectively, this is the brainwashing process that has begun.
Step five: I believe the Taliban have one of the most effective means of propaganda. Their videos that they use are intercut with photographs of men and women and children dying in Iraq and Afghanistan and in Pakistan. And the basic message is that the Western powers do not care about civilian deaths, so those people who live in areas and support governments that work with Western powers are fair game. That's why Pakistani civilians, over 6,000 of whom have been killed in the last two years alone, are fair game. Now these children are primed to become suicide bombers. They're ready to go out and fight because they've been told that this is effectively their only way to glorify Islam.”
OK, OJ is not that extreme. But there are many parallels that can be found on ‘this end of the extreme’. Let’s go through the steps in our imagination and replace for one moment the Taliban movement with Orthodox Judaism…
Step 1: If you ensure that families are large and therefore poor, they are more likely to become extremists. This is almost a prerequisite to the politicizing of religion. You cut their funds and they become dependent on you. (“Rebbe, I have financial problems, what should I do?”. “Pray harder, my son! And are you sure you gave 10% of your money to tzedokah?”) As a side effect, large families create a political time bomb that will ensure political influence.
Step 2: One does not learn how to rely on his own interpretations. Pesukim are distorted, raped by the Rabbis (we call that midrash, btw) and taken out of context altogether. Also, we are supposed to avoid sforim chitzoiniyim, radio, television, Internet, etc. and are warned to be careful not to befriend off the derech and non-OJ people (unless for kiruv purposes).
Step 3: We were taught that we are different from the goyim, that we should not mingle with them, to hate their aveiros and machshovahs. We are taught that Kach hi darkah shel Torah: Pas bemelach tochal. Frum people are encouraged to go to Kolel and be poor (or marry rich in-laws). We are supposed to learn Torah day and night. We are virtual prisoners of the system.
Step 4: Brainwashing starts at a very young age. My toddler son already knows that goyim are different from us and that we have mitzvos (boruch Hashem) and they don’t (nebbach). The earlier, the better!
Step 5: We  believe that there is almost no holier thing than to die, like Rabbi Akiva, al kiddush Hashem, with Shema on our lips. But thankfully, it is not a Jewish thing to actively peruse this martyrdom.
This is where the comparison ends. For now.