Wednesday, August 31, 2005

A Tale of Two Communities

It was the best of places, it was the worst of places. Community A provides for the needs of every child, preparing them for a life of Torah and a life of Parnasah. B focuses on the Torah, claiming the preparation for Parnasah is bitul zeman.

Both A and B encourage their students to study for some years in Yeshiva Gedola, but those in A who are not going to stay in full time learning, becoming Rebbes, Rabbonim, Roshey Yeshiva and Talmidey Chachamim, have no doors closed to them when it comes to making a parnasah. They can become doctors, lawyers, accountants and do so with alarming regularity. But they are professionals who not only attend daf yomi and have chavrutas, they are often more than capable of giving the shiur itself.

Many of those in B who are not going to become Talmidey Chachamim stay in learning, some by default, others by inertia, a few do it to get a "good" shidduch. A lot of people in B have decided to have large families, yet lacking the wherewithal to provide for their needs, becoming reliant on charity. Some do go out to work, though they are often limited in their choice and range of profession due to their lacking the requisite background.

The religious knowledgeable professionals in A use their wealth to support those in the community who have continued in learning, to enable and allow them to grow into the talmidey chachamim they have the potential to be, unfettered by the millstone of providing their families with daily bread. This symbiotic relationship accurately reflects the age-old Yissachar Zevulun arrangement. There is no supercilious snobbery on the behalf of those who have stayed in learning, they have done so because they are to become the religious leaders of the community and they fully appreciate their partners and supporters in this system.

Those in B who for whatever reason have decided to work are considered dhimmi, second-class citizens, bedieved Jews, less worthy or accomplished than those who sit in learning all day. Even the ones who are only still in learning due to the lack of any reasonable alternative and don't even spend most of the day sitting and learning, still consider themselves and their families superior and more exalted than the worker drones.

Community A has organized its affairs to be self-sufficient, self-supporting, solely reliant on its own members to contribute back to the community to support those in education or studying to become leaders. B depends on outside funding and contributions to support its institutions and families, even those who are in the system by default or inertia, who do not contribute to the workforce and who actually syphon off funds that would be better spent supporting those are will succeed in full-time long-term learning.

Being a product of community A, does it make sense that I feel I should contribute back to A rather than B?


(p.s. I know these are archetypal communities, not real ones, so don't get into that. Also, please try and keep away from the UO/MO debate for now. Furthermore, please just assume that A also produces talmidey chachamim. Thank you)

Booknote: The children shall die for the father's sins

I dug up a small treatise written by Rabbi Solomon Rappaport entitled "Fathers and Children: Collective and Individual Responsibility in Jewish Thought" published in 1963. The main theme running through the book is the contradiction between Exodus 20:5 "visiting the iniquity of the fathers unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me" and Deuteronomy 24:16 "the fathers shall not be put to death for the children, nor the children for the fathers, but every man shall be put to death for his own sin".

These two verses reflect the tension between individual and collective responsibility in Jewish thought and practice, there being ample source material for both ideas in Biblical and Rabbinic thought, as well as other classic and oriental systems that the author surveys.

Some Bible critics resolved the conflict in the Bible by claiming that the original collective viewpoint gave way to the concept of individual responsibility. The author claims there is no systematic approach that can fully resolve the two concepts of retribution. The most rational explanation is one where individual responsibility is applied mainly to crime, while collective responsibility is generally the result of sin. However there are Biblical situations which do not fit into this pattern.

Some fascinating Midrashim and statements are brought to support or explain both individual and collective responsibility.The discussion incorporates the concepts of the merit of the fathers, zechut avot, merit of the children, original sin, as well as Rabbinic attempts to mitigate the harshness of the verse in Exodus by interpreting it to apply only to those children who follow in the ways of their parents in sin, or that the death of minor children comes to atone for the parents. The Talmud brings the incredible viewpoint that the prophets actually abolished this concept in Exodus!

In conclusion, this issue is one that has troubled me and continues to do so. Should innocent children perish for their father's sins? Yet children are directly affected by their parent's lifestyle choices, behaviour patterns and education. The author has done a good job drawing together an abundance of sources on this topic, and concludes that "it is difficult to present a normative biblical-rabbinic doctrine on the question of collective and individual responsibility ... The dominant trend constitutes a synthesis between individualism and collectivism ... A healthy society harmonises the mutual responsibitity of individual and community to each other."

May we merit to live in such a society soon.


Thursday, August 18, 2005

Is everything really in the Torah?

I'll be brief. We all know the adage, hafoch bah hafoch bah dekulo bah. Delve in it for everything is in it. Yet it is surely self-evident that there is much that is not in it, nor is it meant to cover everything.

I could go on for hours, but what's your view on the issue?


Wednesday, August 17, 2005

A tearful goodbye

The painful images sear into my mind's eye,
Families led from their homes, their world.

A vale of tears across a strange land,
celebrations for the vanquished, the victors.

Children held aloft, never to see home again,
Their holy earth scorched, sun-baked, lost.

Where did they wrong? Why were they abandoned?
Didn't they follow G-d to a Land not yet sown?

They marched onwards like Lot, not looking back,
Left their people behind, for fear of turning round.

Now they are turning, returning, being turfed out,
Back to the waiting arms of those they forgot.

Let the downtrodden, the endangered, those who lived in fear,
Fear no more and live in peace, Amen.


Tuesday, August 16, 2005

I love being a guy

So you get home running late for a date? Big deal! Five minute shower, couple of sprays under the arms, throw on pants, shirt. Do some teeth care, quick check in the mirror, dab of apres-rasage and out the door we go. Total time taken - 9-11 minutes.

Did I tell you I love being a guy? Girls, fess up as to how long it takes you.


Saturday, August 13, 2005

Newsflash: Jewish Temple burning

We've just received a report that the war in Jerusalem has reached new levels. Over to our reporter who is on the scene:

Yes, thank you. I'm here now overlooking the city of Jerusalem and as you can see behind me the Romans have succeeded in breaking into the Jewish Temple, their most holy place and set it alight. The flames have spread through most of the Temple mount, not before the invading army plundered the area of it's holy artifacts.

I have here the Roman army spokeman. What can you tell me about today's events?
We warned those pesky vermin that if they didn't give in to us, surrender peacefully and dismantle their anti-Roman centers of worship we would have to forcibly destroy their Temple, and we've proven that nobody can stop the might of the Roman Empire.

I also have with me a member of the hard-line Biryoni clan - what is your reaction to today's incredible events?
We will never surrender to the Roman invaders. Our mission is to fight back, to respond with any force we can, down to the last remaining fighter. We shall not give up.

And you over here from the Ben Zaccai faction, what do you say?
We believe is it time to move on and rebuild Jewish life outside Jerusalem, we are planning to convene soon in Yavneh to redefine the concept of Jewish prayer and to ensure that the Jewish religion survives these times of upheaval.

Well, that's all from me here in Jerusalem, over to you back at the studio.

Thank you for that report. In other news, Nero has just bought his first fiddle .....


Friday, August 12, 2005

On Voyeurism and Shyness

I love discovering blogs of people I know, or I think I know and have to read through the blog and emtpy the dark recesses of my memory to figure out who the person could be. It satisifes my g-d-like curiosity, gleaming an insight into people's inner thoughts and lives. There may be one or two out there who gaze pruriently into my blog, hoping to discover new and exciting facts about me, though anyone who knows me well enough can understand and appreciate that the thoughts I expound are merely an extension of my personality.

I recently uncovered a blog of a girl I've met a few times. An eye opening experience. This quiet, shy, demure, seemingly introverted female leads an interesting life, has lots to say and plenty to contribute. So why had she always sat there quietly, letting others do the talking? I know people are shy, even I (the great TRK) gets shy in certain limited surrounding (backstage at the SI swimsuit photoshoot, for example), but peeps, we need to get over it. Especially you single girls out there.

We do not find shyness attractive. Having to break our teeth just to get a sentence out of you, not feeling that we could conduct a fascinating conversation with you. So forget all your fears, build up some dutch courage (you gotta love the dutch and their courage - helped me achieve some of my finest moments in life) and open your mouth. Don't be afraid. Be outgoing, happy, friendly, talkative, show us who you are. Trust me.

Gnight and G-d bless


Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Spammers should be shot at dawn

I just merited to receive my first bunch of spamming comments. My cool. calm, collected response is that spamming should be made a capital offence, akin to piracy, and that there should be no jurisdictional issues so that any country can prosecute, torture and slowly kill by leaving the said spammer in a vacuum with my smelly socks.

Imagine how awful it is to see that you have lots of comments, your heartbeat goes faster, your hand excitedly grips the mouse as you teasingly click on the "15 comments" link, savoring the pleasure that comes from knowing people have taken the time out to tell you what crap you write. As you scroll down blogger's box, the excited high becomes a sinking low, reality kicks in and you realize your only commenter is an advanced computer program somewhere in the Phillipines written by a 15 yr old four-eyed geek with no friends and no life. That kind of pain and anguish should be punishable by a brutal, nasty and slow death - the smelly-sock routine - perfectly proportionate in my eyes.

I remember when I got my first p*nis enlargement email. My first thought was an eye opening "How the hell could they know?" followed by a quick "Who could've told them?" after which a thorough search of my bedroom and bathroom for hidden webcams followed, one which would make the FBI proud. It was only after receiving my seventh or eighth that I realized I wasn't being targeted here and I felt comfortable enough tenderly broaching the subject to my friends to see if they got them as well. I then had the idea that if each one PROMISES to increase by 2-4 inches, then if I sign up to 3 or 4 of them I shall soon become King Dong. Let's just say that didn't work, and I have the references to prove it.

Then there was the loveable trustworthy Nigerian man who only needed me to open up a bank account for him so he could transfer his 20 million dollars outside the country, and he was nice enough to promise me 10% of that. I'm still waiting. The Microsoft Beta test which guaranteed me a check for every person I forwarded it to, but after swamping my family and friends' inboxes for weeks it seems that only the people before me in the chain got paid, I must've done it too late. Story of my life.

Dear Spammers, please stop ruining my life. I'm building up my smelly sock collection as we speak, just for you.


Modern Mussar: Abstinence makes the eyes wander

Poor Josh Hartnett in "40 days and 40 nights" decideds to give up sex and other related matters for Lent. Despite it being a dumb Hollywood comedy I feel there are some things I can learn.

There's one scene where he is struggling, it's a hot sunny day, and he perceives all the females to be walking around naked. Ladies, just so as you should know what we have to deal with, in our darker moments life can be like that.

Judaism's Lent is probably Elul and the Aseret Yemey Teshuva. It's time I started practicing what I feel I should give up or improve upon in the run up to Yom Kippur. Thank you JH for inspiring me.

Pirkey Avot states that a love which is dependant on something will not last. When that thing disappears, so too will the love. If my relationships and my marriage is mainly based on the physical and I choose my spouse due to my animalistic lust after her curvaceous body, then after 7 kids and 20 years I might prefer my hot young thing of a secretary. Speaking personally, a better connection can be had when a relationship isn't focused on the physical. It blinds me, distorts my view and urges me to boldly go where no man has gone before.

I do believe there has to be physical attraction, however, Mrs TRK, whoever you may be, please respect that I want to get an emotional, intellectual, deep connection with you first.


Monday, August 08, 2005

Sunday Bloody Sunday

How we use our leisure time is a real test of who we are. There is a whole world out there to be experienced, tasted, studied and enjoyed. Watching terrible television or checking my sports team's latest news on the web doesn't match up to that. There are museums and theatre to try out, parks and forests to explore, weird and wonderful people with fascinating stories to hear. G-d's beautiful enigmatic universe is right outside my door. I just have to get up, get out and get to it while I still can.

Even if I want to stay inside, there is a wealth of information I could glean from books, culinary adventures I could have in the kitchen, expand my horizons on the net. As always, the net has a lot of good but can easily lead you into a world of pain.

I used to be a hardcore member of the Bittul Zman fellowship, i.e. learn Torah unless you are doing something else absolutely necessary. That ideology has gone off the rails for me somewhat, but I still believe in the theory of living a productive life. Something for me to work on. Anyone understand? Got any advice?

Sunday Bloody Sunday


Thursday, August 04, 2005

Dear G-d, sorry for those who kill in Your name

I'm sorry. Al Cheyt:
For the madmen who claim to kill in Your Name.
For the innocent victims of Your "holy messengers" who merely want to travel in peace to their destination.
For the Rabbis and Imams who incite people to violence, who indoctrinate them to destroy Your beautiful creations whom You formed in Your likeness.
For the simple disturbed fools who are so brainwashed that they believe their murderous actions will help matters, or will reward them with heavenly virgins.
For those of us who sit quietly by while the killers do their dirty work.
For those who will condemn, yet add a "but ... ".
For those who always point their finger at the Other, never at themselves.
For those callously removed from their homes, forcibly evicted from their abodes.
For the orphans and widows who will never again merit their parent's love, their spouse's embrace.
For the flicker of lost hope, that gets steadily extinguished in the bloodbath of the innocents.

For all of us.


Ah, look at all the lonely people

Where do they all come from? My loneliness is killing me, I must confess I still believe.
We all get attacked by the demons of depression, the lows of loneliness. But believe, there is a way to fight it. It feeds off itself, viciously drawing you further and further into the darkness. Struggle out of it, push yourself into the light. Escape from the howls of despair. Pamper yourself. Eat something you enjoy. Hang with friends that make you feel good about yourself. Unburden yourself to them, unlock your soul, unfetter your chains, untie the straitjacket of solitude. Trust me, it works. Like a miracle charm. Get out there, see and experience G-d's incredible world. Be happy to be alive, with friends, on this amazing planet.

When you’re down and troubled
And you need a helping hand
And nothing, whoa nothing is going right.
Close your eyes and think of me
And soon I will be there
To brighten up even your darkest nights.

You just call out my name,
And you know whereever I am
I’ll come running, oh yeah baby
To see you again.
Winter, spring, summer, or fall,
All you have to do is call
And I’ll be there, yeah, yeah, yeah.
You’ve got a friend.


Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Finding G-d part deux: Getting to know His world

(Part 1 is here). G-d gave us His Torah and His world. Two ways of getting to know Him, different paths, different aspects. Every time we understand one iota of His magnificent universe, we advance our knowledge of Him and His gift to us.

I'm not just referring to the incredible wonders of biology, physics, astrophysics, chemistry, the human eye, DNA, the brain etc. Don't forget everything relating to G-d's creations, including mankind and human society. History, psychology, social studies, philosophy, law, accounting, marketing, finance, etc. Any knowledge and insight we gain concerning ourselves, our world, our lives is an insight into G-d. After all, who created us, our needs and our desires? Who gave us our ability to socialize and interact? It is all from G-d.

Even sports - a soaring MJ, like an angel sent to slam-dunk the demons of Satan, is a religious sight. His ability is a gift from Heaven, combined with a lot of hard work and probably some luck thrown in there as well. Mozart - divine. Rembrandt - sublime. Shakespeare - godly.

Every experience we have, every step further we take individually and collectively, we further our understanding and appreciation of the Ribono Shel Olam and His incredible world, if we would only open our eyes.


Monday, August 01, 2005

Booknote - Bible Translations

I dug up from the Rabbi's collection "The Story of Bible Translations" by Max Margolis written in 1917 and published by JPS in 1943. It deals with an area I know too little about, yet is fascinating and gives a window into some important eras in Jewish and Christian history.

The primary ancient Jewish translations are the Targumim and the Septuagint. The Jewish people on their return from the Babylonian exile gradually spoke Hebrew less and less, thereby necessitating a translator - Meturgeman for the reading of the Torah. The Rabbis of the time ordered the translators not to stray too far from the original text and looked askance at written versions of the translation.

Onkelos is the foremost Meturgeman, his version is printed in the standard Chumash with the text. His work is probably a product of Rabbi Akiva's school and many fables have been written about him. Obviously no translation is free of interpretation, nor can it be, and Onkelos' work is most famous for his stance against anthropomorphism and incorporeality. The Rambam could use Onkelos and the other Targumim as a source for the view that G-d has neither form nor figure, a view not discussed in the Talmud and one that was still widely held by many Rabbis in the Middle Ages (cf the Raavad, Teshuvot HaRosh etc - Ein Kan Makom Lehaarich).

The Septuagint/Targum Shivim holds a difficult and controversial place in Jewish history and thought. Without it, Christianity might well have foundered and gone the way of all the other messianic movements of the time, into the trashcan of history. Tradition has it that 72 scholars translated the Torah into Greek in Alexandria, the great city of Egypt, at the behest of the second King Ptolemy.

As the Church became Latinized, Jerome produced an updated and revised Christian translation into Latin in the fourth century, known as the Vulgate.

The Jewish work of the Middle Ages is characterized by treatises on grammar and commentaries to the Bible. Rav Saadiah Gaon wrote on Hebrew grammar and a Hebrew dictionary, as well as translating the Torah into Arabic. Menachem ben Saruk compiled a famous dictionary. Rashi wrote his commentary which included the translation of many difficult words into French. Hebrew grammar developed rapidly in Spain with the likes of Ibn Ezra and his ilk, and Radak (David Kimchi) and his brother Moses Kimchi furthered the cause. Radak's work spread to the Christian world and influenced them heavily.

What intrigued me was the battle waged in the Christian world over translations during the late middle ages and reformation, as well as the effect the invention of the printing press had. Luther's German Bible, intended for the common people, spread through central Europe. Many of the sects and groups in Europe produced their own trnaslations of the Bible as an act of rebellion and for theological purposes. The King James version of 1611 was a response to this, it involved the collaboration of numerous bishops in England and is known as the Authorized version.

Mendelssohn's translation, the Biur, helped emancipate the Jews and bring them into contact with German literature and culture, and was banned by the Chatam Sofer. Shmuel David Luzzato (Shadal) in Italy and Shimshon Raphael Hirsch in Germany fought on behalf of traditional interpretations of the Torah. The Malbim and David Zvi Hoffman were also in that camp. The JPS committee under Marcus Jastrow and then under Solomon Shechter, together with the assistance of the author of the book, eventually produced an American version after many years of work.

The author devotes a chapter to those who funded and sponsored the preparation, publication and distribution of the various works, as well as a list of the various languages and dialects the Bible had been translated to by his time (quite impressive!).

His final chapter discusses the difficulties inherent in any translation - "Words are but sounds and symbols of things, and these things pass away with the civilization that produced them ... Translation, according to Maimonides, is a species of original composition, and the translator a companion to the author ... The Rabbis frown upon all translations. With them the multiple sense of the scriptural word is an accepted fact ... A few passages there are on which the versions of the Church and the translations of the Synagogue must differ, and modern Christian commentators are forced to acknowledge that the Jews are right."

He finished with "The ink may have faded and the parchment may have become brittle, but withal the fiery Word still speaks to us through letters and dots, and with unimpaired force the faith that was implanted in the heart of the Jew is translated to untold millions in the diverse tongues of mankind."

This little gem certainly opened my eyes, broadened my horizons and gave me a new appreciation for many works or commentaries that I may have studied or often ignored till now. It obviously needs updating, it being nearly a century old, yet many of his historical ideas and surveys are unmatched (cf section 2 here). Another fascinating subject (to me) that I hope I shed some light on for you.