Author Archives: Josh

Hamevaser – The Song

One of the perks of doing the web page for The Commentator was that I had more input than I should have had with the Purim issues. For example, my first year I got the purim issue titled The Ordinary Potato (the common tater). The second year the purim issue was called Commie Sutra. This was also my doing, the result of an offhanded comment to Yishai Fleisher on the subway.

Around this time, I was also co-Editor-In-Chief of Hamevaser. This didn’t last terribly long. But, as I’ve done on other occasion, when I get too frustrated with something, I write a song parody. As you can imagine, the result is often strange or disturbing (and since I’ve learned to play guitar I can even do live performances). The following was one of my many collaborations with Ben Sandler and originally published in the Commie Sutra.

Hamevaser
In Tribute to Dennis Leary (Sorry – no midi link available)

I’m just a regular Joe, an above average Jew
I spent two years at Gush, then I came toYU
I like Buber, and Plato, and books about Kant
I say “existential” whenever I want
My logic is flawless, my intellect pure
I’m a philosophy major, in Rav Rosenswieg’s shiur

But sometimes that just ain’t enough
To keep a man like me interested
oh no
no way
uh uh

So I’ve gotta go out
and get a mag with an elitist pretense
yea yea,
yea yea,
yea yea
yea yea yea yea yea

They hang out with guys named J, E, P, D
They talk about gout with Rabbi Carmy.

HAMEVASER…

After one issue they fired Josh Yuter
Got Yehudit – ’cause Aton thinks she’s cuter

HAMEVASER…

We try to find spouses in top Revel classes
I hear that the ladies go for guys in thick glasses

HAMEVASER…

What if Tradition won’t publish this song?
What if I’ve strayed from the Rav’s Weltanschauung?
Maybe they’re right when they say that I’m wrong…
Naaaaaaa

The Rant:

You know what I’m gonna do?
I’m gonna go back to that Hesder Yeshiva on a hill
and get myself a big M-16… with no safety
and I’m gonna get a huge kippa sruga
and a Breuer Tanach and big black beard and
a big, smelly, cigarette and a degree from the Machon.

And then I’m gonna come back here and teach intro to Bible
and tell everyone who just came back from Yeshiva in Israel
that the Torah was written by monks in twelfth century Germany
and everything they know is wrong and that the Gemara is really an
allegory for wine and love poetry.

And there isn’t a G-d damn thing anyone can do about it.
You know why? Because we’ve got the Rav. OK?
Harav HaGaon Joseph B. Soloveitchik.
And I was in his shiur for twenty years and I was his closest talmid
and I used to cook him breakfast and clip his coupons.

And the Agudas Yisrael and the Edah Chareidis and Neturei Karta
can have all the Gedolim they want and put me in cherem as many times
as they want, because We’ve got the Rav, OK?

The Rav isn’t dead, he’s just sleeping. And as soon as Dr. Brill
figures out how to revive him, he’s coming back, and he’s gonna be
pretty fed up with all you apikorsim. Imagine sleeping through minyan,
and mutiply that by fifteen million. He’s gonna come back and smash Rav Kahn
back to Mongolia and make YU co-ed just like Maimonides, OK, and…

Hey! You really are elitist!

Yeah, well why don’t you just SHUT UP and sing this song, OK???

HAMEVASER…

HAMEVASER…

H-A-M-E-V-A-S-E-R!

EVERYBODY!

H-A-M-E-V-A-S-E-R!

Posted in Shtick.

Yoreh? Yoreh!

After four years of courses, shiurim, tests, and papers, I finally have the authorization to call myself “Rabbi.” My Revel transcript has all the classes and confirmation of passing the comps and official graduation will be forthcoming. This is however close enough to say I completed my requirements for smikha according to R. Bronstein – the only opinion which matters at this point.

So, now I’m a Rabbi. Technically this is my second smikha if you count this one, but considering how I helped write the “behina,” I don’t think people would take it seriously that I gave myself smikha. (Not like there are any other problems or anything).

I’m still busy with moving from NY to NJ and from NJ to Chicago and setting things straight with the program. So instead of actually thinking, and in honor of smikha, this week I’ll be doing the blogging equvilant of a “clip show” and post some of my more “classic” works from the past four years.

I figure I should show I did something all this time…

Posted in Personal.

Islam vs. Islamism Part II

The New York Post has an interesting exchange between Mr. Taheri and some Muslim readers displeased with his article on the Hijab.

I can’t say I’m terribly surprised at the reaction or the response. A traditional religious mindset is challenged by a modern rational position. Compare this discussion in the Islamic world to the attitudes expressed in contemporary literature on women’s issues in Judaism.

Posted in Religion.

YU Rank Out

Some of us “old timers” remember the Yeshiva University PR machine working overtime when YU was ranked in US News’ top tier of US colleges.

Side note: Of the Top 50 schools, YU was the only one to publicize its ranking (normally in the 40’s) on its website. This provided us with endless amusement as we were able to navigate the internet kiosks in Furst and Belfer through US News’ site to get to the other colleges. Few things looked as funny as YU’s internet kiosks displaying the home pages for Harvard or even Holy Cross University. YUPR has removed this front page link, probably because US News has restricted its rankings to paying customers.

Anyway, MSNBC has an article about Princeton Review’s own ranking system which is far more detailed than US News’.

YU isn’t mentioned under any category.

Understandably, YU isn’t a Jock, Party, “Reefer”, or Hippie school.

But one would probably expect YU to be in the top 5 Stone Cold Sober schools, or even Future Rotarians and Daughters of The American Revolution.

Is there something going on at YU that we don’t know about? Maybe they just visited us on Purim? If so how are we so low on either list?

It seems that the new president will have to choose the direction of YU in more ways than one.

Update: I just noticed Princeton Review’s entry for YU. Of particular note is the part at the bottom: “Students Who Apply to Yeshiva Also Apply To Brandeis University, Touro College, City University of New York.” (The link to Cuny doesn’t work). Interestingly, no one reciprocates.

Posted in Academia. Tagged with , .

Islam vs. Islamism

Danny Hirshtal sends in an insightful piece from National Post regarding the Hijab – the headgear of Muslim women.

It’s a fascinating read, although I’m not sure how accurate it is. For example, the author claims, “It is not sanctioned anywhere in the Koran, the fundamental text of Islam, or the hadith (traditions) attributed to the Prophet.”

However, as cited in the above link, Qur’an 33:59 states, “O Prophet, tell your wives and daughters and the believing women to draw their outer garments around them (when they go out or are among men). That is better in order that they may be known (to be Muslims) and not annoyed…”

While the Hijab might not have been mentioned by name, and could have been instituted in the 70’s, it’s not such a stretch to make this “midrash halakha.” Also, I’m sure there are excellent comparisons to the laws and customs of Jewish headcoverings for both men and women. I find it interested that from one perspective the Hijab is a sign of “aparthied” but from another it represents a positive religious experience.

No doubt there is some social conditioning on both sides. Perhaps I can revisit this issue when I get to Chicago.

Posted in Religion.

The Historical Meaning of Tish’a B’av (9 Av)

The following was given as a shiur of a given on 9 Av 5763, Aug 7th 2003

Introduction

For those of you who haven’t been following this blog, I’ll give you a quick recap. A week ago, someone asked me what happened on 9 Av. My first resposne was quoting M. Ta’anit 4:6. She then asked what else happened on 9 Av, meaning event that happened later in Jewish history – the Spanish Expiulsion and World War I (WWI) in particular. Not being confident to answer either way at that time, I started doing research.

Ohr Torah has a thorough chart of these events. For reasons which will be explained later, I will divide these events into three categories:

  • Hazal – M. Ta’anit 4:6
    1. Decree that the dor ha-midbar wouldn’t enter Eretz Yisrael
    2. Hurban I
    3. Hurban II
    4. Beitar destroyed
    5. Yerushalayim destroyed

  • Post-Hazal, Pre-1792
    1. First Crusade
    2. English Expulsion
    3. Spanish Expulsion

  • Post-1792
    1. Start of World War I (WWI)
    2. Liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto
    3. Iraq Walks out of Talks with Kuwait
    4. AMIA Bombing in Argentina

Hazal

M. Taanit 4:6 lists the more “traditional” events for which we mourn on 9 Av. The Gemara (bTan 29a) attempts to prove the accuracy of the Mishna’s statement through available canonical material. Although there is no specific date given for narrative of the spies, the gemara uses the verses to count from the days which are given, and come up with 8 Av. Rabba citing R. Yonahan explains that the spies came back on the 8th, and the events actually happened on the 9th.

There are two verses in the Navi which give dates for the first hurban. II Melakhim 25:8 (can’t find Hebrew searchable on-line nach) has the first hurban happening on the 7th day of the 5th month(5th month being Av, Nissan being the first). Yirmiyahu 52:12 says the hurban happened on the 10th of the month. So, not only are these dates not consistent, but neither one matches 9 Av. The Gemara explains that the Temple was breached on the 7th, started burning on the end of the 9th, with the majority of the destruction occuring on the 10th. Although R. Yohanan would have had the mourning on the 10th, the Rabbis legislated that we mourn at the beginning of the destruction – 9 Av.

There are no biblical sources for the remaining three events, and hazal do not even ask the question minalan – from where do we know this – for the final event. For the second hurban the Gemara simple states that we “roll over” positive events to positive days and negative events to negative days and for Beitar the Gemara simply says that it’s a “gemara” or tradition.

Post-Hazal, Pre 1752

After the time of Hazal, we have a more accessible calendar which makes it easier to determine what happened when. An excellent program for converting Hebrew and English calendars is Hebcal. However, this program does not take into account the switch from the Gregorian to Julian system and will return the following message:

WARNING: Results for year 1752 C.E. and before may not be accurate. Hebcal does not take into account a correction of ten days that was introduced by Pope Gregory XIII known as the Gregorian Reformation.

Despite Hebcal’s limitations, it is possible to do the calculation manually by following the Papal Bull of February 1582.

Date Range Divided By 400 Difference of Days
1900 4.75 -13
1800 4.5 -12
1700 4.25 -11
1600 4 -10
1500 3.75 -10
1400 3.5 -9
1300 3.25 -8
1200 3 -8
1100 2.75 -7
1000 2.5 -6

Of course, following this pattern tapers off towards the end.

There is another excelent downloadable program called Kaluach which does compute the Hebrew dates for the Julian calendar, but I cannot confirm how accurate it is.

Despite the complication in the calendar systems, some events are obviously way off. Pope Urban II issued his proclamation starting the first Crusade on November 27th 1095 – a few months after 9 Av.

The Jews were expelled from England on July 18th 1290. Hebcal returns 2 Av 5050, but Kaluach does indeed give us 9 Av. (I don’t see an on-line interface to provide a link, but you can download the program and run the tests yourself.

The edict expelling the Jews from Spain was signed on March 30th 1492 set to take effect on July 30th. Kaluach returns 2 Nissan 5252 for March 30th and 6 Av for July 30th. If we rely on Kaluach for the English Expulsion, we cannot accept that the Spanish Expulsion also took place on 9 Av.

Post-1752

The start of WWI easily falls within Hebcal’s range. The question is which date should we use? Archduke Ferdinand was assasinated on June, 28th 1914. This translates to 4 Tammuz 5674.

The first formal declaration of war came on July 28th when Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. Hebcal returns 5 Av.

Russia mobilizes against Austria and on July 31 (8 Av), Germany gives Russia an ultimatum to either disarm or face war. Due to Russia’s refusal, Germany formally declared war on Russia on Aug 1st. This was in fact 9 Av. The fighting began on Aug 2nd when
Germany invaded Luxembourg, and Britain joined in on Aug 4th (this blogger’s B-Day) when Germany invaded Belgium.

So the first declaration of war came on June 28th and fighting actually began on Aug 2nd. Neither one of which is 9 Av.

The liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto began on July 22nd 1942 (Also see the timelines of The Raoul Wallenberg Museum, Bronx School of Science. Yad Vashem only says the deportations started sometime in July with no specific date.)

However July 22nd 1942 returns 8 Av 5702 – unless they started after sunset.

The uprising began on April 19th 1943 (14 Nissan 5703) and ended on May 16th (11 Iyyar). The Warsaw Ghetto was ultimately destroyed on June 3rd 1943 or 29 Iyyar.

I haven’t been able to confirm the date of the Iraq / Kuwait talks. War was actually declared on August 2, 1990, or 11 Av 5750.

The AMIA bombing took place on July 18th 1994 or 10 Av 5754.

What does this all mean?

Overall, we hardly have a convincing set of 9 Av events. But why does any of this matter? What’s the big deal? So it’s off by a day or two – who cares?

Since I’ve started this project, I’ve gotten these and numerous related questions. So why am I making such a big deal about this?

Historical Accuracy
First, I think there is merit simply in getting history straight, especically that which is easily verifiable. Deut. 32:7 tells us to remember the days of the world. Lev. 19:11 prohibits lying and Ex. 23:7 commands to “stay far away” from falsehood. Some might argue that all history is didactic – the lessons of history are more important than the facts themselves. However, if a lesson is predicated on innacurate data, the lesson is lost when the truth is discovered.

Or as quoted to me in the name of Jacob Neusner, “You can’t make good theology from bad facts.”

Cheapening 9 Av and the Events
Again assuming that history is merely didactic and meant to teach lessons as opposed to facts we must also consider the unintended consequences. Presumeably, the reason why we would try to fit other events into 9 Av is to give more significance to 9 Av – it demonstrates the auspiciousness of 9 Av throughout Jewish History. However, the very need to add more significance to 9 Av implies that there isn’t enough significance on its own. 9 Av is somehow lacking, and we need to make it more meaningful. Furthermore, the events themselves become more meaningful because the happened on 9 Av – again implying that these events aren’t intrinsicly important, but need the added bonus of occuring on 9 Av. And what of the other tragedies that didn’t happen on 9 Av? Are they somehow less important?

This is not to say that we should not connect the tragedies of Jewish History to 9 Av. On the contrary, we are so far removed from the Hurban that we would need some tragedy in our own lives to begin to grasp what it’s like. Those in the European shtetl during the Crusades and Holocaust knew destruction. They experienced and internalized descruction. For them, remembering the Hurban is something real.

Distorting history for a derasha is a gimmick which cheapens both the day and the events.

Differences Between Hazal and Us
Although it might seem that in the modern era we’ve done nothing different than the rabbis of the Mishna, I think that there are some important distinctions to be made. The Mishna was written in the shadow of the Hurban, painfully aware of its consequences. The examples given are not random tragedies; they all relate to losing Eretz Yisrael. The Mishna was not written in a vacuum, but was speaking to the Jews of its time. I think the Gemara understood this in its analyisis. The Gemara starts by meticulously calculating the date of the Spies and ends not even asking the about the date Yerushalayim was destroyed. They could have had a tradtion, being close enough to the events, that they didn’t need to justify the dates. They were common knowledge. Or perhaps they realized that ultimately, the dates are not important.

The Forgotten Message of 9 Av
This religious revisionism is not an isolated phenomenon but part of a larger pattern in Judaism – the worshipping of symbols. We know that the 9 Av is a terrible day initially because of the hurban. But over time, 9 Av takes on a life of its own as a day of tragedy for the Jewish people. We get sidetracked from the meaning of the hurban and instead take a fatalistic approach to the day – that it is a day of tragedy. 9 Av is inherently infamous, and the hurban is relegated to just another event which happened.

Another example of this phenomenon is how we treat the halakhot of the three weeks / 9 days. According to the Gemara (bTan 29b30a) the only prohibitions during this time are against laundry and haircutting and these only apply for the week preceeding 9 Av. However, various customs have arisen including prohibiting eating meat and listening to music. These extra prohibitions presumably help us feel the loss of the Temple.

Assuming we follow the tradition that the temple was destroyed because of sinat hinam – baseless hatred – then how does not eating meat or listening to music help? Most people I’ve asked admitted that they would think less of someone who violated these customs of mourning. Ironically these customs which were created to help feel the hurban engender the feelings which destroyed it in the first place. The ultimate meaning of the Hurban gets lost in the symbols we’ve created.

Conclusion

In the Haftara we read the shabbat before 9 Av, Yeshayahu Ha-Navi chastizes Israel for essentially missing the point of their religion. Benei Yisrael were giving the sacrifices and performing all the r
ituals, but they were morally corrupt. Like we do today, Israel subsituded external rituals for internal commitment.

It’s easy to accept prohibitions and to have it look like we’re doing it for God. It’s much harder look within ourselves and try to change and improve ourselves – as individuals and as a community – to undo the hurban for which we are mourning.

Posted in Jewish History, Jewish Thought, Theology, and Machshava. Tagged with , .

Crime And Punishment

Real quick posting today. There’s an editorial in the NYTimes today lamenting the increase in the prison population.

“Federal, state and local governments have been putting more people behind bars even though crime, including violent crime, is down sharply. The driving force has been an array of get-tough policies, many adopted in another era, when fear of crime was greater.” [emphasis mine]

In case you’re not following the logic, the Times is suggesting that since crime is down, we don’t need to be so aggressive in inaceration. The Times avoids making the correlation that perhaps crime is down because of the very policies it decries.

An alternative the Times suggests:

“And special attention should be given to releasing older inmates, a fast-growing part of the prisoner population.”

Perhaps the reason the older inmates are a fast growing part of the population is because they commited heinous crimes in their youth and consequently received lenthy prison terms. After all, isn’t prison more humane than the dealth penalty?

One would think with the way physics work these days that all inmates get older over time, thus increasing the population, and perhaps they actually deserve to be locked up – or we deserve not to have lunatics running around on the streets.

Update: This link was accepted to OpinionJournal’s Best of the Web.

Posted in News & Events.

More on 9 Av – Addendum

I’ve been getting swamped with e-mails and IM’s about the historical accuracy of 9 Av events. Even Protocols is getting in on the action.

This is going to take much longer to explain – including the possiblity of adjusting for Hebcal’s limitation of 1752. Basically, this is getting way out of hand for blogging right now.

I think this topic of historical accuracy and religious significance of 9 Av will make for a good topic for my 9 Av shiur at the Bridge Shul.

That should also allow me to think things through better and hopefully elliminate the need for several blogs updating or correcting one topic.

Posted in Jewish History, Random Acts of Scholarship.

More on 9 Av

Abdicate.net gives us a few other infamous events which took place on 9 Av, all of which “are verifiable in the history books”. We already demonstrated the WWI date to be wrong. The only other event which we can verify with Hebcal is the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto. Abdicate.net gives us July 10th 1942 as the day deportations began. This however corresponds to 25 Tammuz 5702.

From quick net research, I’m seeing the liquidation began on July 22nd 1942 (Also see the timelines of The Raoul Wallenberg Museum, Bronx School of Science. Yad Vashem only says the deportations started sometime in July with no specific date.)

However July 22nd 1942 returns 8 Av 5702 – unless they started after sunset.

The uprising began on April 19th 1943 (14 Nissan 5703) and ended on May 16th (11 Iyyar). The Warsaw Ghetto was ultimately destroyed on June 3rd 1943 or 29 Iyyar.

And as always, if anyone out there catches a mistake, please let me know.

You may be wondering why I’m making such a big deal of this. These are horribly tragic events in Jewish history. Does it really matter whether or not they actually happened on 9 Av exactly?

I think so.

Will explain in a later post.

Posted in Jewish History, Random Acts of Scholarship.

Events of 9 Av

Someone asked me tonight about what happened on 9 av. M. Taanit 4:6 lists 5 things:

  1. Decree that the dor midbar wouldn’t enter Eretz Yisrael
  2. Hurban I
  3. Hurban II
  4. Beitar destroyed
  5. Yerushalayim destroyed

But I was also asked about other later historical events, like the Spanish expulsion and WWI. Did these events occur (or start) on 9 Av? Let’s put it to the test with some help from our good freinds at Hebcal. (What can I say, I’m a skeptic).

The Spanish Expulsion
The edict expelling the Jews was signed on July 30th 1492. Hebcal returns 26 Tamuz, 5252 but with the following disclaimer:

“WARNING: Results for year 1752 C.E. and before may not be accurate. Hebcal does not take into account a correction of ten days that was introduced by Pope Gregory XIII known as the Gregorian Reformation. “

Hebcal also includes a nice link with all the Gregorian details. (Hey, it’s my blog and I haven’t had any really horrible puns yet).

So as far as the expulsion in concerned, Hebcal can’t help us. Any math majors out there who want to figure this out?

WWI Corrected
The start of WWI easily falls within Hebcal’s range. The question is which date should we use? Archduke Ferdinand was assasinated on June, 28th 1914. This translates to 4 Tammuz 5674.

The first formal declaration of war came on July 28th when Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. Hebcal returns 5 Av.

Russia mobilizes against Austria and on July 31 (8 Av), Germany gives Russia an ultimatum to either disarm or face war. Due to Russia’s refusal, Germany formally declared war on Russia on Aug 1st. This was in fact 9 Av. The fighting began on Aug 2nd when Germany invaded Luxembourg, and Britain joined in on Aug 4th (this blogger’s B-Day) when Germany invaded Belgium.

So the first declaration of war came on June 28th and fighting actually began on Aug 2nd. Neither one of which is 9 Av.

Many thanks to Maxim Smyrnyi for the correction!

End result: One inconclusive, and one close but no cigar.

BTW – I’d love to hear from math or history buffs out there who could provide any more info and/or correct any mistakes I made.

Posted in Jewish History, Random Acts of Scholarship.