Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Short Version

More later, hopefully, but in short:

-Attended an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting on Friday with Dana (who is absolutely fabulous) as a student/ to observe. Was lucky enough to get to attend an anniversary meeting. Flipping awesome.
-Bought cookies at a bakery in Boro Park!
-Spent Shabbat in Boro Park!
-Met awesomely fun people over Shabbat.
-Took the F to Queens afterwards, went to get pizza and ice cream from Max & Mina's and then hung out with Serach and Ezzie.
-Went to the Fat Cat
-Took the 1 back to Washington Heights and overheard a strange conversation about tacos.

Life is a lovely conglomeration of wonderful pastries and confections.

Friday, January 29, 2010


Saw "The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus" last night.

The Sorceress and I are so Valentina.

Anyone who liked the film will also like Neil Gaiman's "Mirrormask" and Mikhael Bulgakov's fantastic book The Master and Margarita.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Evacuate The Dance Floor: The Party Don't Start Till I Walk In

Today is an example of total pwnage.

It began with a visit to my incredibly gorgeous (she looks like a supermodel) doctor. She stabbed me up a bit (huzzah for shots and blood samples and the rest of it) but the part that took the cake was the examination. You see, I'm incredibly ticklish. Like, incredibly ticklish. So I laughed my way through the entire exam and my darling doctor seemed perplexed. It was fabulosity incarnate. My beauteous doctor has ordered me to take a dance class and take a woman's multivitamin (apparently all women should be on one.) Does anyone know of any good dance classes in the New York area? Preferably ones that utilize lots of current pop music and fun moves. (I'd do salsa or tango, except that requires dancing with men, and my father isn't so thrilled by that.)

But it gets better! Because now (with an MMR vaccine stabbed into my left shoulder and a bandaid on my inner elbow crease) I decide to stop by Stern to see lovely people such as the Sorceress and Abergakames. Abergakames appears with a bowl of grapes whereas the Sorceress decides to buy a baked good. I eat my knish and strawberry yogurt (too much sugar, alas) and am on my Dramatics! Dramatics is a hair-cuttery salon. Today the welcoming guy was gay, with an absurd mop of curls tied up in a ponytail at the top of his forehead in gold and brown, and a suitjacket that plunged excessively low, so that I kept on staring at his 'Envy' tattoo, which was inked somewhere on the left side of his chest. But a different lady did my hair and she had lots of fun with it. She was telling me all about how she is uberly creative and she loves art with hair. Hurrah for art with hair!

Haircuts aren't complete without getting one's nails done. Having taken a three-month-hiatus from manicures, I decided it was time to resume. Now my nails are all prettified and glittered in golden crimson.

Hair, manicure...all that's left is a makeover! Which is precisely why I went to Sephora and met a darling lady named Ebonie who taught me all about how to apply makeup correctly which means I currently look like a goddess. So I bought all the products and spent over $100 in makeup purchases, which makes me happy.

I dance-partied on the subway train back uptown. It wasn't to the extent that I wanted to, alas, since I didn't want to disturb anyone, but I still had fun pretending (everyone I looked at smiled at me) and when I walked into Gottesman, I saw the happiest sight!

Here's what I love about that: Where else but YU could someone leave out brownies with instructions and actually be paid (as opposed to having people simply take the brownies and not leave any money?) I think it's a beautiful situation when we are able to do that.

So hurrah for the Jews and huzzah for today!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Dazzling Emilie Autumn

One of my favorite musical artists is Emilie Autumn. This may have to do with the fact that she is a fellow Chicagoan, makes fairy wings, draws little hearts on her face, plays my favorite instrument (the violin) with an intensity of passion and verve that is unmatched, has a voice that is totally arresting in its eeriness and haunting nature or has refused to conform to the expectations her industry set for her. I admire her attitude and fearlessness and appreciate the enchanting darkness she speaks of in her music.

I recently discovered an interview with her published in December 2009 in Glide Magazine. It had so much substance in it and fascinated me so much that I thought I would pick out some of my favorite quotes and assemble them here.


I like my art to challenge me. If I’m going to watch a movie or a performance, or look at a painting, I want to think.

To learn something! Yeah, I don’t want to go to feel better. I want it to f--k me up a little bit – even if something is so beautiful that it makes you cry. That’s perfect, that is the point. You can’t be afraid to do that, and if you do, you’re going to be unpopular some of the time. You just can’t care, and if you care, then you just don’t want it badly enough and you should be doing something else – and that’s great.

I don’t mean to sound like a complete ass, but I really believe that the world is divided into the people that should be onstage and the people that should be in the audience, and both are equally valuable. [Emph mine.] We both need each other; we can’t have one without the other, and both are part of the show. I think that so many people wouldn’t want the job that I or that people much bigger than me actually have - it’s not that glamorous.


" I mean, I’m a weirdo who draws a heart on their face every day; how can I take that seriously? I know it’s crazy, but it makes me happy, and I love it, and old ladies smile at me on the street, as do four year olds, because they think I’m a Muppet."


Explain the term “fantasy rock” – like, how did you come up with that idea?

It doesn’t so much apply now; it applied back in the day with the “Enchant” record, before the whole Asylum thing happened, before I was locked up. Obviously, once that happens, you’re never ever the same person again. From then on, when I got out, I looked different, I sounded different – a completely different voice - I thought differently, everything was different. You never, ever can go back to before once you’ve been in, you never really get out, and that’s why I have my cell number tattooed on my arm. Don’t even try to pretend it didn’t happen; don’t even try to run away from it, own it. Say “Yeah, if you’re gonna call me crazy, I’ll show you crazy, and I’ll make a career out of it, and I’ll make crazy pay for the gas on my fucking expensive tour bus.” [Emph mine.]

Passion & Love: What To Choose?

Grey's Anatomy Season 6, Episode 12, entitled "I Like You So Much Better When You're Naked," asked an extremely important question. It's like so: If you're torn between your passion; your art; your gift; what comprises the very essence of you, and your love for another person, who and what do you choose?

In the examples afforded in the show, Dr. Hunt (Cristina's boyfriend) got Dr. Teddy Altman to instruct Cristina in cardio surgery. Teddy is a brilliant teacher and Christina feels alive again under her tutelage. The problem is that Teddy is in love with Dr. Hunt and she confesses this to Cristina. Cristina decides she would rather learn surgery from Teddy than continue her relationship with Hunt. However, going further than that, she shockingly says, "You can have him." She'll give Hunt to Teddy if Teddy remains to teach her surgery.

In another scene, a professional opera singer is told that he has cancer and the doctors may need to remove his lung. He says he would rather die. He explains why in a very moving soliloquy:
    I want my lung. [pause] Dr. Altman. I’m big. Too big. I don’t fit in airplane seats and as Jeff is always telling me, my feelings don’t always fit the situation. If my food is overcooked at a restaurant, I get enraged. I want to kill the waiter. But I don’t. I politely ask him to take my meal back and bring it to me the way I asked for it. I spend my days making myself smaller, more acceptable. And that’s okay, because at night, when I go onstage, I get to experience the world the way I feel it. Indescribable rage and unbearable sadness and huge passion. At night, onstage, I get to kill the waiter and dance on his grave. And if I can’t do that, if all I have is left is a life of making myself smaller, then I don’t want to live. I don’t. [Turns to his lover] And believe me, honey, you don’t want me to live.
The opera singer professes to love his art, his amazing talent for music, more than he loves the human being he is spending his life with. He cannot sacrifice his art in order to stay alive.

In contrast, Teddy tells Hunt what Cristina said- the fact that she told Teddy that she would rather Teddy took Hunt as her boyfriend and remained as her teacher at Seattle Grace. The following scene takes place afterwards:
    Cristina: Where have you been? You just disappeared. I left you, like, 10 messages. [he starts toward her] Are you drunk?
    Hunt: [He kisses her fiercely.]
    Cristina: [pushes him away] Wait…what? What, what?
    Hunt: What you said. [takes a deep breath] You think that surgery’s going to make you feel, you think that a successful career is going to make you happy. You think you know things, you know things and nothing else matters. No one else matters. People do matter. I matter. We [nods his head affirmatively, breathes for a moment] we matter. [exhales] You don’t get to toss me aside. [stares straight into her eyes] I won’t let you.

    Meredith Voiceover: We have to damage the healthy flesh…

    [Cristina tears up, is crying, kisses Hunt.]

    In order to expose the unhealthy.
Hunt won't allow Cristina to marginalize him. He's going to fight for her. She doesn't believe anyone can make her feel alive the way that surgery makes her feel alive, and she might not be mistaken. But he's going to try anyway.

According to Judaism, we are not permitted to take the attitude the opera singer takes. If I had no hands and couldn't write anymore, I wouldn't be permitted to kill myself.

But I think we can all understand the place he's coming from.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Mukas Etz: Ruptured Hymens!

So my friend taught me about the strangest term of all time that shows up in the Gemara, namely mukas etz (which refers to a girl who has a ruptured hymen.) Literally it means that she was injured with a stick and that's how that happened.

Now, my problem is that I have no idea where that term first appears (it seems to be all over Kesuvos) and I want to learn more about it. For instance:

1. Does this only apply when she was literally injured by a stick or is it a term used everywhere for accidental loss of hymen not-through-relations? (It seems not to only be this specific case because there's the argument about the nine-year-old sleeping with the girl and how, since he's a minor, maybe it's mukas etz for her.)

2. Does it have to be accidental? If a girl deliberately manages to rupture the hymen (think the phallic idol-worship scene with wood in that horrible book The Red Tent), is she still mukas etz or is there a different term for that?

Anyway, where should I look to research this further? Thank you!

The Blue Badge of Honor

A couple years ago, I told you about my Green Badge of Honor.

Well, today I'm wearing the Blue Badge of Honor on my arm. Morgenstern Lounge was hosting a blood drive, you see, which is fabulous. But the part that's so exciting is like so: I've tried to give blood a bunch of times, but unfortunately it seems like I have low iron pretty frequently. Today, I was dejectedly told that my iron was only at 11.8, whereas it has to be past 12.4 (or something like that) to donate. I was saddened. Then the lady said: "Can we stick you in the other hand?"

"Please!" I exclaimed happily. I had never realized it made a difference.

Guess what?! My iron count was at 14 in my other hand! (It has to do with circulation, apparently.) So I gave blood and rocked it: I'm a Damn Sexy Blood Donor today!

Also, for the first time ever, I got sick after giving blood. This has never happened to me before. I started feeling nauseous and light-headed just when I was finishing up so the lady had me lie down flat in the chair and gave me apple juice and cookies. She also put an ice pack under my head and opened up the window. And the best part is that she says, "You're not a real donor till you've had a reaction to giving blood. Now you're a real donor!"

And that was very happymaking. So huzzah for me! And hurrah for saving lives!

(If you want to be a Damn Sexy Blood Donor, too, you should donate some blood and join the Facebook group. Rock on!)

You Should Not Say, 'I Have Made Abram Rich'

My friend asked me a great question, namely, after Abram wins the war of the four kings against the five kings, the King of Sodom says: "Give me the people, and take the goods for yourself." Abram replies:
    כב וַיֹּאמֶר אַבְרָם, אֶל-מֶלֶךְ סְדֹם: הֲרִמֹתִי יָדִי אֶל-יְהוָה אֵל עֶלְיוֹן, קֹנֵה שָׁמַיִם וָאָרֶץ. 22 And Abram said to the king of Sodom: 'I have lifted up my hand unto the LORD, God Most High, Maker of heaven and earth,

    כג אִם-מִחוּט וְעַד שְׂרוֹךְ-נַעַל, וְאִם-אֶקַּח מִכָּל-אֲשֶׁר-לָךְ; וְלֹא תֹאמַר, אֲנִי הֶעֱשַׁרְתִּי אֶת-אַבְרָם.23 that I will not take a thread nor a shoe-latchet nor aught that is thine, lest thou shouldest say: I have made Abram rich;

    ~Genesis 14: 22-23
Abram's reasoning seems to be that he doesn't wish the king to be able to say "I have made Abram rich."

Yet if this is so, why does Abram not refrain from taking gifts from Pharoah and Avimelech? Before now, he accepted offerings from Pharoah- see Genesis 12:16:

    טז וּלְאַבְרָם הֵיטִיב, בַּעֲבוּרָהּ; וַיְהִי-לוֹ צֹאן-וּבָקָר, וַחֲמֹרִים, וַעֲבָדִים וּשְׁפָחֹת, וַאֲתֹנֹת וּגְמַלִּים. 16 And he dealt well with Abram for her sake; and he had sheep, and oxen, and he-asses, and men-servants, and maid-servants, and she-asses, and camels.
(When he leaves Egypt, this is commented upon in Genesis 13:2- ב וְאַבְרָם, כָּבֵד מְאֹד, בַּמִּקְנֶה, בַּכֶּסֶף וּבַזָּהָב. 2 And Abram was very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold.)

After the war with the four kings against the five, Abram takes gifts from Avimelech. See Genesis 20:14 -
    וַיִּקַּח אֲבִימֶלֶךְ צֹאן וּבָקָר, וַעֲבָדִים וּשְׁפָחֹת, וַיִּתֵּן, לְאַבְרָהָם; וַיָּשֶׁב לוֹ, אֵת שָׂרָה אִשְׁתּוֹ14 And Abimelech took sheep and oxen, and men-servants and women-servants, and gave them unto Abraham, and restored him Sarah his wife.
Since there is a distinction in Abraham's behavior in these two circumstances, we must analyze it:

1. Perhaps the circumstances of the money being offered differed. One situation was that of battle, in which Abraham would have been given a share of the spoils. This differed from a situation where the king desired to uplift your station because he wished to sleep with the woman he presumes to be your sister. Spoils differ from gifts.

2. Perhaps the King of Sodom was more morally heinous than Pharoah and Avimelech, thus, Abraham did not wish to accept his money specifically. On the one hand, that is hard to argue because Abraham says there is no fear of God in Egypt. On the other hand, neither Egypt nor the land of the Philistines ends up being totally destroyed and overturned. Sedom had created a code of law by which they persecuted others, robbed them, and refused hospitality. Pharoah and Avimelech erred unintentionally, in that they did not know Sarah was Abraham's wife. Thus, perhaps Abraham could accept their money but not that of the King of Sedom's, since the money of the King of Sedom was 'tainted.' (This reminds me of the discussion in the Gemara that a prostitute's pay should not go toward buying sacrifices for the Mikdash, and then the fact that once a heretic suggested that it could go toward creating a privy for the Kohanim, since 'that which comes from filth can go to filth.' It's also similar to the idea that although both the Dor HaMabul and the Dor HaFlaga were bad, God was more merciful toward the Dor HaFlaga because they were kind to one another even though they rebelled against Him. In contrast, the Dor HaMabul stole from one another (chamas) and did not treat one another well.)

3. Perhaps the very character of the King of Sedom differed from that of Abimelech or Pharoah. Abram knew that the King of Sedom would boast and claim that it was he (as opposed to God) who enriched Abram, but perhaps he also knew that Abimelech and Pharoah would not act in such a way.

None of these answers is truly satisfying to me. Do you perhaps have an answer as to the distinction in Abraham's behavior? Why did he not wish the King of Sedom to be able to say he made him rich, but didn't mind if Pharoah or Avimelech said that?

Monday, January 25, 2010

SOY Seforim Sale + FREE Revel Lectures!

The SOY Seforim Sale, otherwise known as the Torah-extravaganza-party of the year, is finally here! The picture below offers the times the sale operates and a calendar of all events taking place at this year's sale. One very special event is that there will be free Revel lectures on certain days! So if you enjoy the taste of Revel you get from reading this blog, you should definitely come.

These are the Revel lectures that are being offered:

1. "Is Tanakh Literature? Opinions of Our Great Mefarshim" by Rabbi Mordechai Cohen at 7:30 PM on Tuesday, January 26

2. "Why Does Medieval Jewish Philosophy Matter?" by Professor Daniel Rynhold at 12:30 PM on Sunday, February 7

o' my beloved tissues

why are there no tissues in Gottesman?!
why are there no tissues in Gottesman?
not for the women, not for the men
alas, no tissues in Gottesman

my nose, it sadly, sorely weeps
imaginary tissues in piles and heaps
strewn around my imaginary bed;
sometimes I wonder if I'm living or dead

am i awake? or am I asleep?
when was the last time i counted sheep...
help, I'm not sure what's going on with me
tired has become a common deficiency

vitamin a! shore me up, help me work!
i think i am slowly going berserk
i need the tissues! TISSUES MUST COME!
don't look at me that don't need to run.

i am quite sane. i just am sick
of my nose and tissueless ick
i'm not crazy; just a little unwell
WHERE ARE THE TISSUES? *rings a death knell*

Sunday, January 24, 2010

R' Samson Raphael Hirsch's Position: Torah and Derekh Eretz Was Not A Hora'at Sha'ah

A friend once asked me why it was that I affiliated myself with the Torah U-Madda perspective within Judaism. I had never really considered it before, and my friend argued that this perspective was recent and not really supported throughout our tradition. I was disturbed by this idea but didn't really know how to argue it. In a quest to learn more about this, I read Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm's book, Torah UMadda (and wrote about it here). Always curious, however, I was elated to discover that Professor Shnayer Z. Leiman had written a book entitled Rabbinic Responses to Modernity (the full text is available for download in PDF format here). I read it tonight in Gottesman (it's fantastic) and found a section that particularly resonated. You see, victim of a Bais Yaakov education, I had been taught that R' Samson Raphael Hirsch's perspective on Torah u'derekh eretz was, in R' Hirsch's point of view, a situation of horaat sha'a (timebound stance). Under other circumstances, I was assured, Hirsch would never have supported such an idea. Leiman proves this is totally incorrect.

I've scanned the relevant pages so that you can see his argument, but more importantly, see the footnotes where he directs you to further sources regarding the rebuttal of this point. He makes a distinction between others disagreeing with R' Hirsch and claiming that R' Hirsch himself believed his actions were dictated by hora'at sha'ah.

Rabbinic Responses to Modernity- Samson Raphael Hirsch

Here is Dr. Leiman's explanation of the purpose of the book (from his introduction):
    The aim of this essay is to present, if only in outline form, a representative account of gedolei yisrael in the early modern period (i.e., the nineteenth century) who sought to relate Torah teaching to general culture. Our focus will be primarily, if not exclusively, on their differing viewpoints vis-a-vis general culture, on the institutions they engendered, and on their impact on the Jewish community at large. This essay does not purport to be an exercise in either history or biography; nor does it make any claim toward comprehensiveness. Rather, it is an attempt to engage in intellectual prosopography, i.e., to present a portrait of one aspect- albeit a crucial one- of the attitudes of a select group of gedolei yisrael who confronted modernity with an openness to general culture. Any attempt to portray all gedolei yisrael in the modern period who, in one form or another, reacted positively to general culture would have resulted in a lengthy monograph, at the very least. Such a volume would surely have tested the patience of most readers, and - in any event- would have moved well beyond my ability.

    No hidden agenda need be sought in the presentation. It is intended to be largely descriptive and, hopefully, accurate. Wherever possible, the positions of the gedolei yisrael will be presented in their own words.

    One final word. Feelings run high about some of these figures and their respective positions on Torah and general culture. In the heat of argument, their positions have often been misconstrued and misrepresented. It will be no small accomplishment if their views are set out dispassionately and accurately. To the extent that there is an agenda in this presentation, it is a transparent one: to demonstrate that the positions described in this essay are real, not imaginary. They are legitimate alternatives within Orthodoxy, to be accepted, rejected, but not ignored by those genuinely committed to traditional Jewish teaching.

    ~"Rabbinic Responses to Modernity" by Dr. Shnayer Z. Leiman, pages 9-10

Tefillin: Espionage & Explosives

Many people were more than a little entertained by the suggestion that tefillin (phylacteries) are actually explosives. I laughed, because this actually isn't the first time tefillin have been mistaken for frightening military devices. Everyone should read The Fugu Plan: The Untold Story of the Japanese and the Jews During World War II by Marvin Tokayer and Mary Swartz. (Apparently, it is now also sold under the title Desperate Voyagers.) It's brilliant. For your edification and amusement, I offer the following excerpt from pages 148-152. And thanks so much to Dana, since I'm using her copy to type it up.


The two youths stepped out of the elevator at the roof level. They had tried to be casual about stepping into the elevator in the first place. But this was only Gershon's second ride in an elevator. The two youths grinned nervously and clutched the hand rail as the uniformed woman operator took the car up apparently without paying them any attention.

A typical Japanese department store, Daimaru had installed swings and slides up on the roof where children could play while their parents were shopping in the store below. But at this early hour, the play area was deserted. Self-consciously, Yankel introduced his friend to the fine and hitherto unknown joys of swinging on a swing and sliding down a slide. Childhood had never been like this! But gradually, as the elevator brought up a steady flow of young children, the boys began to feel their age. Standing off by themselves in a corner of the roof, Yankel pointed out the few landmarks that he knew: the main railway station, the big shopping area called Motomachi and the general area of Jewcom Headquarters, though the building itself was much too small to be picked out from this distance. Then, quietly, they began the rhythmic wrapping-on of the long leather boxes- one at the forehead, one on the inside of the left arm- which are worn during the recitation of morning prayers. The elevator came and went, the children played, the sun streamed down; and two young Jews praised God for having made the world and put them in it.

Twenty-five minutes later they were under arrest, behind locked doors at a police station.

When Michael Ionis arrived, summoned from Jewcom Headquarters by the police, he found Yankel and Gershom, pale with fear, seated motionless on hard wooden chairs, not comprehending any of the rapid Japanese exchanged by the policemen surrounding them and also bewildered by the English, which the sergeant in charge had been trying to speak. Ionis scarcely looked at them before asking the sergeant what the problem was.

"They were up on the roof of Daimaru Department Store this morning," police sergeant Okuda reported, "taking pictures of the dock area and the railway lines with some kind of camera on their foreheads. We think they also had a secret radio transmitter."

Ionis was relieved at the note of doubt in the voice of the sergeant. Obviously there was something in this that Okuda and the Japanese police didn't understand either. Ionis could not imagine yeshiva boys engaging in anything so worldly as military espionage. However, the truth would have to be brought to light very carefully to keep the sergeant, and by extension, the whole Kobe police force, from losing face.

"I see," he said, nodding gravely. "You have taken from them, of course, these, well, cameras and transmitters.

"Of course, Ionis-san." Okuda pointed to a table a few feet away. There were the embroidered bags, the tefillin (could anyone have mistaken the straps for antennae? Ionis wondered), two small prayer books (that had apparently been taken for the transmitters), two handkerchiefs and two nets of tangerines. "You realize, I am sure, that spying is a very serious business," the sergeant said.

"I do understand of course. If any of our people do any such thing, you are quite right to put them under arrest." He was silent for an instant, so as not even to seem to be taking charge, then said: "Perhaps if we merely asked the two young men about the camera and the transmitter...?"

"Please do so, Ionis-san. We have been unable to question them at all."

For the first time, Ionis turned to the two prisoners. He took care to speak calmly and carefully, in Yiddish. "This situation is, potentially, very serious. I want you to answer me calmly, with no hysterics, no gestures, just spoken words as I am speaking to you now. Do you understand?...Good. Now, they think you were spying from the roof of the Daimaru Department Store."

Yankel let out a small cry. People were executed for spying. Without doubt, they would be sent out of the country, back to Russia, for spying. He wasn't guilty of spying! But maybe this was God's way of punishing him for deeds he definitely was guilty of. Why had he done it? Why had he stolen from his friends? Lo tignov! Thou shalt not steal! Why had he tempted God by not obeying the commandment?

"Were you spying?" Ionis asked as Yankel began trembling almost uncontrollably.

"No, no!"

Behind Ionis, the police sergeant, comprehending the negative answer, pointed toward a table where the youths' phylacteries lay. "Just a second," the Jewcom official said in Japanese. Then, turning back to the two students, he asked, in Yiddish again, "What were you doing on the roof, then?"

"I didn't know it was...restricted," Yankel said, trying to keep his voice from trembling away entirely. "I took Gershon there for morning prayers and to show him the view...and to show him the swings. There are no signs. No one stopped us."

"no, it's not a restricted area. But the police say you were observed with a camera and a radio transmitter. Do you have such things?"

Yankel looked at Gershon who could not restrain himself from declaiming the impossibility of it all, from trying to show that his pockets were too small to contain anything as large as those objects. When Gershon stood up, several of the Japanese policemen started toward him. Terrified, Yankel grabbed his friend by the jacket, roughly pulling him back onto the chair.

"Shush, shaa, Gershon! Don't get them excited!"

Gershon reetreated. "We have no radio," he said, and was quiet.

Ionis nodded and turned to Okuda. "Please excuse his outburst. They say they were not spying. They say they went up to the roof to pray- they wanted to be closer to God, just as Shinto shrines are so often on top of hills to be closer to heaven."

Ionis knew the analogy was not entirely accurate. But it seemed to have the desired effect on Okuda who seemed willing at least to listen to an explanation.

"Sergeant, these boys are country boys. They don't know anything about cameras or radio transmitters. Perhaps there may possibly have been...ummm, some confusion in this matter."

"What are those?" Okuda asked, pointing to but not touching the phylacteries.

Ionis picked up one of the leather boxes, explaining how it was placed on the head and the arm, explaining that it was definitely not a mechanical device of any kind. Okuda took it gingerly, shook it, and signaled to one of his men to bring tools to open it with. When the officer returned with a hammer and a chisel, both the students started to protest. A gesture from Ionis silenced them. Better to lose the phylacteries than their lives.

After Okuda had satisfied himself that, as IOnis had said, the leather boxes contained only inscribed parchment, he stood in silence for a moment.

No one said a word. The two boys looked cautiously at each other again. Yankel silently vowed if he ever got out of this, he would never again venture further than the front door of the yeshiva.

"Who was it who observed these boys on the roof?" Ionis asked.

"The elevator operator," the sergeant replied. "A Japanese lady."

The emphasis on 'Japanese' confirmed Ionis's understanding of the nature of the problem. A Japanese would not be wrong when making an accusation against a foreigner. If it should turn out that the foreigner was in the right, Japan would lose face. The overwhelming nationalism that had been growing since the early thirties had infected even small encounters like this. It was utter nonsense. But this was no time to discuss reality.

"Certainly a Japanese lady would never wrongly accuse anyone," Ionis said. "Could it be, Okuda-san, that perhaps she had never before seen someone wearing these leather boxes and long straps? No doubt, they do look a bit strange. And she would have been quite right in calling it to the attention of the police...just to investigate even if not actually to accuse anyone of spying."

Okuda's eyes narrowed with suspicion, but Ionis continued.

"Of course, it is we ourselves who have made the mistake. We have brought these people here without sufficient introduction to the people of Kobe. Do you think we could rectify this mistake by explaining who these people are and explaining that they have come to Japan because Japan has been the only country in the world humane and kind enough to let them come?" Okuda crossed his arms over his chest. Ionis did have a point. Japan was indeed the most humane country in the world. But she might not appear so if he clapped these two in jail without being able to prove they were spying. Foreigners were nothing but trouble. He had been specifically ordered on the one hand to look out for spies, but on the other hand, word had come down, all the way from Gaimusho he had heard, to treat them with respect and understanding and even some latitude as far as applying the precise letter of the law to every small infraction.

At least, he thought, this foreigner was wise enough to take the responsibility for the mistake.

"All right, he decided. "Do that- do a better job of telling people who these visitors are. Japanese are very patriotic, Ionis-san .If they see anything strange from a foreigner, they will definitely report it to us."

Having ended comfortably with a threat, Okuda felt free to dismiss all three of them. At a gesture, one of the guards unlocked the door. Ionis bowed. Okuda nodded in return Gershon and Yankel fairly flew from the police station. No one said a word till they had returned to the Jewcom office. Then both exploded in loud, tension-releasing expositions of their absolute innocence in the entire matter while Ionis recounted the story to Ponve.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Introduction To Bible: The Order, Chapters, Text & Vocalization of the Bible

The Adept is a brilliant man who allows me to disseminate his Torah so long as I don't reveal his name. If you know his name, I'd appreciate it if you also refrained from revealing it. In order to understand the following notes, you MUST HAVE a copy of Tanakh with you (and an online Tanakh will not cut it.) It is preferable that you have the Koren Tanakh (the standard one, in layperson's English) in addition to another kind so that you can compare and contrast the two as indicated. As usual, these are my notes and any and all mistakes are mine. Prepare to have The Adept blow your mind. (And if you learn anything, you really ought to donate something to Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies, because they are flipping awesome.)


The Order of the Biblical Books

There's a passage in Mesechet Bava Basra where the Talmud details the order of the books of the Torah. Open up to Bava Basra 14b. Now, first they list the order of the books of Tanakh: Bereishis, Shemos, Vayikra, Bamidbar, Devarim. So far so good. But now notice this statement:

ת"ר סדרן של נביאים יהושע ושופטים שמואל ומלכים ירמיה ויחזקאל ישעיה

Now take a look at your Tanakh. What comes after Melachim (The Book of Kings) in your Tanakh?

*insert our minds boggling* Isaiah! Every Tanakh in our class is against halakha. Now I will cite you from the Rambam to Hilchos Sefer Torah 7:15:

טו מותר לדבק תורה נביאים וכתובים בכרך אחד, ומניח בין כל חומש וחומש ארבע שיטין, ובין כל נביא ונביא שלוש שיטין, ובין כל נביא ונביא משנים עשר שלוש שיטין--שאם בא לחתוך, חותך. וסידורן של נביאים, כך הוא--יהושוע, ושופטים, שמואל, ומלכים, ירמיה, ויחזקאל, ישעיה, ותרי עשר; וסדר הכתובים--רות, ותילים, ואיוב, ומשלי, וקוהלת, ושיר השירים, וקינות, ודנייאל, ומגילת אסתר, ועזרא, ודברי הימים.

There's no machlokes in the Gemara: the unanimous opinion is that Jeremiah comes before Isaiah. It's also in every edition of Shulchan Aruch. Look at Yoreh Deiah, RP"G, Chapter 283, Siman Hey (5). (רפג – שיכול לדבק תורה נביאים וכתובים יחד )

סדרן של נביאים יהושע שופטים שמואל מלכים ירמיה יחזקאל ישעיה תרי עשר וסדר הכתובים רות תהלים איוב משלי קהלת שיר השירים קינות דניאל מגילת אסתר עזרא דברי הימים - it's a pesak halakha that says Jeremiah, then Ezekiel, then Isaiah. And in every manuscript of haftoros ____.

The Adept is pointing out something that should trouble us! We have to figure out who preserved the manuscripts, printed Tanakh. etc.

The same beraita in Bava Basra says regarding Kesuvim that the order is: סידרן של כתובים רות וספר תהלים ואיוב ומשלי קהלת שיר השירים וקינות דניאל ומגילת אסתר עזרא ודברי הימים

Now look at Tehillim in your Tanakh. The class sees that at least some of us have Tanakhs which have the order of Tehillim, Mishlei and then Iyov. The Adept notes that only 2 major Tanakhs have a different order. He cites the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, which has everything the way we said it (is based on the Leningrad manuscript.) And if you look at the order of Kesuvim in your Tanakh, what order do you have? Some people in the class (including me) have the Koren Tanakh. Thus, our order is Shir HaShirim, Rus, Eicha, Koheles, Esther but nothing that accords with the order we are supposed to have. Others in the class with fancier Tanakhs have different orders.

So even in terms of ordering the biblical books, there's significant variation. Now let's look at the chapters of the biblical books.

The Chapters of the Biblical Books

Please open your Tanakh to Genesis 31:55 in the Koren Tanakh. You have that verse. Others in the class have that as the first verse of Chapter 32.

Now look at Jeremiah 30:25 in the Koren Tanakh. You have that verse. Others in the class have that verse as Jeremiah 31:1.

Chazal, of course, knew no chapters. The Tanaim and Amoraim knew Tanakh by heart and thus knew where things were. These chapters are not of Jewish origin. They appear in no Hebrew manuscript. These are Christian in origin. There's much more in Tanakh that is Christian in origin, so you have to be careful (regarding what you are reading.)

The Adept gave us a handout, but there weren't enough copies so I don't have it. (This is a shame, as otherwise I could have scanned it. For the record, the edition I assume The Adept was using isn't in Gottesman Preserve (all the other volumes are) but only in the Rare Book Room, and currently that room's locked. Even if I come back before 5:00 PM on Monday, I'm doubtful they'll let me photocopy it. So someone else in my class should please provide me with the scan.) Thanks so much to the wonderful guy who scanned this for me! Courtesy of our anonymous friend, you can all understand what I am referring to now. Here is the handout:
Modah L'Bina Masoretic Summary Bereishis

In any case, this handout is a page from the end of Sefer Bereishis that comes from the Chumash Modah L'Bina in a rare & out-of-print 19th century version. And in the middle of the page on the right it gives you the sikkum pesukei d'sefer Bereishis. And it tells you as follows: There are 1534 verses in Bereishis. Now see how it gives you this statement: אך ל"ד סימן? So the gematriah of אך is 1000 for the aleph plus 500 for the chaf. And ל"ד is 34. So this is a סימן to remember that there are 1534 verses in Bereishis. And the middle point of these pesukim is Genesis 27:40. And there are 12 parshiyos. What do they refer to when they reference parshiyos? They mean: Bereishis, Noach, Lech Lecha, etc. Now it says: זה שמי לעולם is a סימן. You see, זה is the gematriyah of 12 and thus a sign for the 12 parshiyos. Next it states that there are 43 סדרים. What does that mean?

Those of you who have a Koren Tanakh, please open it up. Now, you will notice that there are two sets of chapter numbers in the Koren Tanakh. That's because one of these sets refers to the sedarim of the Baalei HaMesorah and the other refers to the Christian chapter divisions. The number of the sedarim of the Baalei HaMesorah in Sefer Bereishis is 43 (see how there's a מג there?)

(Adds The Adept: And that's why it's a mitzvah to own a Koren Tanakh even though it is far from the best edition.)

Returning to this page from Moda L'Bina: it says here that there are 29 peskitos. What's that? Look at Genesis 1:5. Look at the verse. You see that little vertical line after the words וַיִּקְרָא אֱלֹהִים ? What is that line? That's a pesikta.

And then it says (per the Baalei HaMesorah) that there are 50 chapters. And there they are referring to the Christian chapters!

Now look at the bottom of the page. The editor who is publishing this Tanakh is astounded by what he just read. His name, adds The Adept, is Wolf Heidenheim. He published the best Machzor & Siddur and is one of the great Baalei HaMesorah of Frankfort. So he said: "Many people have no idea how to read this paragraph. They don't know what sedarim are because no edition of Tanakh mentions this. Here I'll inform you of what it's all about." (He gives a history of where the chapters came from in the Latin Bible. Basically, Jews had to have public debates with Christians and had to respond to Christians with exact references, thus the use of Christian chapters.) Heidenheim discusses the true chapter divisions, aka the 43 sedarim that belong to the Baalei HaMesorah.

(The Adept went into a fascinating digression here about the mistakes people make when they assume things are from Sinai, but I can't repeat it without publicly shaming a Gadol. I don't think The Adept would like me to do that, so if you want to know about it, you can ask me to email it to you. I'm going to refrain from making the information available forevermore upon the Web.)

In case we are ever on a quiz show and need to know, Jerome helped invent biblical chapters and Stephen Langton perfected them. All of this is discussed in The Canon and Masorah of the Hebrew Bible.

The Text of the Biblical Books

Please open to Deuteronomy 23:2. Look at the verse.

ב לֹא-יָבֹא פְצוּעַ-דַּכָּא וּכְרוּת שָׁפְכָה, בִּקְהַל יְהוָה. {ס} 2 He that is crushed or maimed in his privy parts shall not enter into the assembly of the LORD.

If you have the Koren Tanakh, you've got the word 'daka' spelled with a 'hey.' Everybody else has an aleph. The question is: Which one is right? This can make the Torah pasul! These aren't small matters.

Please open up to Mishlei 8:16. Look at the verse.

טז בִּי, שָׂרִים יָשֹׂרוּ; וּנְדִיבִים, כָּל-שֹׁפְטֵי צֶדֶק. 16 By me princes rule, and nobles, even all the judges of the earth.

Here, some of you have the verse ending with the word 'tzedek.' But others have the word 'aretz.'

Look at I Samuel 30:30- there's a list of towns there.

ל וְלַאֲשֶׁר {ר} בְּחָרְמָה {ס} וְלַאֲשֶׁר בְּבוֹר-עָשָׁן, {ס} וְלַאֲשֶׁר {ר} בַעֲתָךְ. {ס} 30 and to them that were in Hormah, and to them that were in Bor-ashan, and to them that were in Athach;

If you have the Koren Tanakh, you will see that verse says 'BECHOR Ashan,' while others have 'BeVOR Ashan.'

Here's a fun one. Look at Joshua 21:35-36. Some of you have 'm'mateh Gad' but others have 'm'mateh Reuven.' And if you have the Lublin edition of the Mikraos Gedolos (aka the one with the navy blue cover) you have two whole extra verses there!

The Vocalization of the Biblical Books

Let's look at Jeremiah 11. The differences here are legion. Verse 11:2, for instance, either has v'dibartem or v'dibartam depending on your Tanakh. That's a difference between singular or plural! That's a tremendous difference!


So we've raised the issues. But how to resolve them? For that we have the readings on this section which will provide the background material to answer this. The first readings are:

1. C.D. Ginsburg, Introduction to the Massoretico-Critical Edition of the Hebrew Bible (London, 1897; reissued: New York, 1966), pp. 779-976.

2. M B. Cohen and D.B. Freedman, “The Snaith Bible -- A Critical Examination of the Hebrew Bible Published in 1958 by the Brtitish and Foreign Bible Society,” HUCA 45(1974)97-132.

3. M.H. Goshen-Gottstein, ed., The Hebrew University Bible: The Book of Isaiah — (Jerusalem, 1995), English section, pp. xi-xlviii.

4. M. Cohen, “(Hebrew) Mavo LiMahadurat HaKeter” appended to “Mikro'ot Gedolot HaKeter: Yehoshua/Shofetim”, Ramat Gan, 1992, pp. 1-100.


Since the advent of printing (which was approximately created in 1415), you would think the text would be frozen and yet you see that is not so! The ultimate goal of the Baalei HaMesorah was to preserve a perfect copy of Tanakh. Printing should have accomplished this goal but it didn't.

The most important reading of the four mentioned above is C.D. Ginsburg's. He was a meshumad and a pretty good scholar. It's worth reading his books. The late R' Yaakov Kamenetsky in his Emes L'Yaakov quotes C.D. Ginsburg. And don't think he didn't know he was a meshumad! R' Kamenetsky, whenever he had a doubt about vocalization, etc, looked at C.D. Ginsburg Bibles.

What Ginsburg properly recalls is that all printed bibles simply reflect the manuscripts. The manuscripts differed from each other (some were poor; others were better) and printers added printers' errors to add to the mess. There were many first printed editions of Tanakh that were based on terrible manuscripts. The great turning point came in 1524/ 1525 when the Venice Edition of the Mikraos Gedolos was published. It has masoretic notes (which are crucial.) There, for the first time, the editors made a deliberate effort to gather together many manuscripts of Tanakh in an attempt to publish the perfect copy. And that's the model for our Tanakh nowadays.

The Baalei Mesorah would write notes saying how many times certain words (like for example ays vs. es or David with a yud vs. without) would appear in Tanakh and the spelling thereof and would list the places for you. So a sofer writing every book of Tanakh will know that they did this for every word of Tanakh!

We are fortunate to be living in the 21st century. For the first time, Jews are becmoing independent, have their own printing houses (don't have to answer to the Russian cencor, etc.) They can try to publish the perfect copy of Tanakh. Of course, that means one must determine which manuscripts are trustworthy and which are not.

(For those of you who are going to say holchim achar ha'rov, the rule is that you ONLY follow the majority when you are not sure. You only do it when you are not certain. It is a last resort! When we do know which manuscripts are better, we want to focus on those. For example, if we had a manuscript authorized by Rambam, that would be much better than the majority. You could have a sofer who copies poorly who floods the market, etc, so majority means nothing.)

Deliberate attempts were made to produce perfect copies of Tanakh. The best editions of Tanakh are:

1. The Hebrew University Bible Project (they're publishing every book of Tanakh per the best manuscripts.) They read every manuscript just to check who is a sloppy scribe/ who are the best scribes (you can tell this by looking to see which manuscripts have correct or incorrect spelling, pesukim repeating or left out, etc.) They have columns giving every variant reading in Chazal, then every variant reading per the good manuscripts, etc. The one drawback is that they are functioning for about 60 years and yet they've only finished Isaiah, Jeremiah & Ezekiel. At this rate they will not be finished until the Messiah comes.

2. Bar-Ilan's הכתר which publishes a wonderful text of Tanakh, the masoretic text, and some of the mefarshim as well. (Menachem Cohen is in charge of this and they've put out about 15 volumes.)

The only thing that rivals these texts are actual copies of the Aleppo Codex or Leningrad Codex. (No other Tanakh, including Breuers, is based on one single text.)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

History of the Jews' Creative Torah-Derived Literature

Rabbi Professor Elazar Hurvitz is brilliant. He is also a kind and grandfatherly person who makes me really happy. The stuff he taught was way too cool not to share, so here are the notes. (Notes and not quotes. I paraphrased parts.) Did you ever want to know who exactly the Amoraim/ Tannaim were and what they did/ why they did it? Here's a crash course. As usual, all mistakes are mine.


The essence of Israel is embodied through their creative capacity. Thus, throughout the ages, Israel has chosen to proceed in the field of literary study, always choosing to create. At the beginning, God gave us the Torah. By this we refer to the Five Books of Moses. But was that all? What about Nach? How did we receive Nach?

The Neviim said things and only later did they decide to write down their prophecies. The Anshei Kneses HaGedolah and Sofrim decided to put together what was said in some coherent way. And what of Kesuvim? In contrast to Navi, Kesuvim was given written down. When it came to Neviim, the transmission of prophecy was oral and then they made a record of it. Kesuvim means whoever created the book wrote it down.

Chazal decided that they were going to treat the whole Tanakh as one unit: everything is legitimate. What do we mean when we say everything is legitimate? That if they bring a proof of a certain point that they want to say, they can bring the proof from Mishlei to reflect upon Bereishis. They made everything one unit at the time of the end of prophecy. After the last Navi prophecied, that was the cutting line- nothing else can go into the text of Tanakh.

Torah She'Baal Peh: Tannaim

After Tanakh comes Torah She'Baal Peh. How? Well, the question of the time was: What can we get out of the Torah? Is it emotional points of view or laws? Well, narrative doesn't yield a composite of laws. So they said to themselves, "Let's see how practical we can be when studying the text of the Torah. What's the halakha from the pasuk? Can we dig up the halakha of the pasuk?" All the Tanaim were interested in was halakha. They were interested in halakhic consequences. So their desire was to find the halakha as a result of what we know till now.

At that point in time, they realized that when a person reads the Torah, he cannot tell which mitzvos are where and derived from what. So they decided to take all the mitzvos and classify them in an enyclopedic way in order to tell people the subject matter of the halakha. If you look at Shabbos, Berachos, Yuma, you will say that they are all arranged according to subject matter. Sometimes you encounter an argument but basically it's halakhos based on subject matter, which yields Mishnayos.

So Mishnayos are halakhos of the Torah classified according to subject.

When they finished this, that was the end. But the problem now was: they neglected the actual text of the Torah! Where are these halakhos coming from? The Chumash! So they said, now we must go to the Chumash and learn HOW the halakha was created. We must give you the process of recovering the halakhos from the Torah.

When you learn Mishna, the pasuk does not play a role in the Mishnayos. It doesn't say 'she'neemar' (or when it does, the percentage of 'sheneemars' is very low). That wasn't the issue here. When it comes to learning the text of the Torah, there they decided to figure out the origins. This is the distinction between Midrash Halakha and Mishna. The Midrash is the research on each pasuk: where the halakha stems from. Non-halakhic material was not of interest to then, though (which is why they did not cover Genesis.) When they finished the process of arranging everything and going through the text of the Torah, that was the end of Tekufas HaTanaaim.


Halakha was already arranged by subject matter. The Tannaim also showed you how they got to the idea. So what should the Amoraim do? They decided to go back to the Mishnayos and draw a comparative study between the Mishna and the Medrish. They were curious to see if the consequences of the halakha in Midrash Halakha will match the Mishna. You see, the Tannaim had done two different things separately:

1. First, they had created an encyclopedic assembly of halakhos (Mishnayos.)
2. Secondly, they had explained how those halakhos derived from the Torah (Midrash Halakha).

The Amoraim came to say: Can we compare those two texts to each other?

In the Mishna itself there was a Tosefta. It was a supplement rather than a major text. So the Amoraim re-check this. After that, they went to the baraita and want to see how Midrash Halakha quotes the halakha- how it got it. After the mishna comes the baraita to interrogate and see if what the Mishna is saying is a healthy consequence of the Midrash. Thus, they created the Talmud. The first layer of Gemara after the Mishna is the beraita, then questions and everything else. Everyone was adding until one day someone said, 'Enough.' That comparative study between Mishna and Midrash Halakha is the first layer of the Gemara.

Every Amora jumping on a mishna is trying to find a discrepancy between the mishna and midrash. Only in the Shas Vilna at the end of ___ meforah that makes a list of midrashim whenever talking about a beraita.

Now the question becomes: What did the Amoraim do with Chumash? Can they touch the Chumash or not?

Tannaim already did everything! So Amoraim decided to take the non-halakhic material and only dealt with Aggadah. So Sefer Bereishis they could do (because the Tannaim had not touched that.) The Amoraim tried to work with non-halakhic material. Their question was: Can we explain the Torah from the emotional/ philosophical point of view? That was the art.

Then added a pesikta on Chagim, Pirkei D'Rebbe Eliezer, etc, and the one guiding principle in all of these was: no halakha.

But who was the audience for everything the Amoraim were doing? Can this be taught in the classroom? No. You cannot put aggadah in a yeshiva environment. The reason why is because by aggadah anything goes. By halakha, we have machlokes. Therefore the Amoraim's main contribution was to the outside world of people who couldn't learn Chumash/ where halakha was not their piece of bread.

So Tannaim are operating for the elite students who are in the yeshiva/ classroom. The Amoraim are working with the Chumash to create something you can learn with people in the synogogue. So to get that clear:

Midrishei Tanaim: Halakha
Midrishei Amoraim: Aggadah

How did it work in the system in the community? Well, when a person's in shul, you have to give him variety. It can't just be gefilte fish in every dish. According to the Rambam, in very early times everyone used to daven what he felt. But then we got the nussach ha'tefillah (long subject we are not addressing right now) and what was the centerpiece of it? Kerias HaTorah. But someone is in shul, so why should he only know Torah and not Navi? So okay, we'll give you pieces every Shabbos of Navi, and that's how we get the Haftorah. (This is dedicated to the knowledge of the people.) What's missing? Kesuvim. Well, that too was given to us! Because the biur of the Parshas Ha'Shavua was based on Kesuvim.

(Take Bereishis Rabbah- you can see it yourself. [He pulls out a Bereishis Rabbah and gives it to us- sure enough, every opening statement is taken from Mishlei, Tehillim, Daniel, etc- all from Kesuvim.])

And in the Gemara sometimes the Amoraim would overflow. They would tell their students during the week what they gave as a derasha in shul, and that's how we get aggada in the Talmud Bavli. They include mashal, sippur, everything. So Talmud becomes an open door as long as it fits in somehow. So you have sections of Aggadah, sometimes united, sometimes not. Mesechet Megillah is a whole peirush on Megillas Esther.

So the Amoraim finish their job. What happens then?


The Savoraim polish things. It's like when someone digs up a diamond and transports it to a different place; it's the raw diamond and has to be polished. But you didn't create the diamond. So the Savoraim don't create- they just polish the text linguistically, etc. (R' Sherira says so.) They also may add a sugya to ask questions but no halakha.


Then came the Geonim who start a new type of literature which is called 'Shaalos and Teshuvos.' Also Parshanut HaTorah in Arabic, Hebrew, etc- flood of parshanim until today. And what happened with the Talmud? Chiddushim (Ran, Nimukei Yosef, everyone until today.)

Today every Rav in the world, if he wants to exist on the map, has to write Shaalos and Teshuvos.


Alas, today people are not creative anymore; they're just encyclopedic. It's all Kol Bo. Since the 2nd World War, creativity is going down- I'm not referring to literature. When it comes to literature, the poems and the books that we have! I'm talking about rabbinic texts. We need people to contribute, not to inform. To have something original. We are lacking this.

here comes the smile brigade

Me: You know who doesn't have a Wii?
Benjy: Who?
Me: Me!
Benjy: (looks at me sweetly, tilts head to the side) Should I get you one?
Me: No, no, that's unnecessary.

Oh, Benjy- you are awesome.

my poor aylmer

I had a waking dream that I was climbing up the rungs to You.
I decided I didn't want to be here anymore.
That's it- enough- I'm tired of it- let's go back.
Back to You.
But my feet were bloodied and the rungs of the ladder turned into thorns.
And I thought that was obscene because our religion isn't Christianity.
So why should I be climbing on crowns of thorns to reach you?
And then my bloodied feet gave way; they were wrapped in strips of gauze
and I was falling, much like the lead singer in 'Evanescence' in that video of hers,
"Bring Me To Life." Remember it?
And as I was falling, suddenly the world flashed by in silver, and the dust of heaven seemed like so many stars to me. And I reached out for it, as though to anchor myself. And I caught hold of a star.
And there I was, hanging on a star in the middle of your sky.
I started laughing at the sheer absurdity of it.
And the strains of violin music from "Let Me Fall" came on, in addition to Josh Groban's crooning and I laughed for another moment before I let go.
I landed on solid ground. It was quiet. There were scars on my feet.
I'm walking to nowhere. You know that; I know that. And nonetheless, the fierceness of your pleasure in this totally unimportant task is consuming. And you won't let me climb up the rungs to you- not yet.
I keep on living in anticipation of your changing your mind.
But in the meantime, since you haven't, I'm improvising my own ladder.
Got the tutu of a five-year-old girl's ballet skirt and the shoes off a fisherman in a storybook.
If I pile them up high enough, maybe I will get back to You someday.
Maybe early. (That's what I'm hoping for.)
If only there were another vainglorious man willing to remove the hand-shaped birthmark from my face...
I'd slip away so quietly no one would know I was gone.

Let Me Climb Up To You

יב וַיַּחֲלֹם, וְהִנֵּה סֻלָּם מֻצָּב אַרְצָה, וְרֹאשׁוֹ, מַגִּיעַ הַשָּׁמָיְמָה; וְהִנֵּה מַלְאֲכֵי אֱלֹהִים, עֹלִים וְיֹרְדִים בּוֹ. 12 And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it.

~Genesis 28:12


You and I must make a pact.
We must bring salvation back.

~"I'll Be There" by The Jackson 5


The question asked in order
To save her life or take it
The answer no to avoid death
The answer yes would make it
Make it

Do you believe in God
Written on the bullet
Say yes to pull the trigger
Do you believe in God
Written on the bullet
And Cassie pulled the trigger

~"Cassie" by Flyleaf


Then I'll see your face
I know I'm finally yours
I find everything I thought I lost before
You call my name
I come to you in pieces
So you can make me whole

I've come undone
But you make sense of who I am
Like puzzle pieces in your eye

~"Pieces" by Red

טז יָבֵשׁ כַּחֶרֶשׂ, כֹּחִי, וּלְשׁוֹנִי, מֻדְבָּק מַלְקוֹחָי; וְלַעֲפַר-מָוֶת תִּשְׁפְּתֵנִי. 16 My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my throat; and Thou layest me in the dust of death.

~Psalms 22:16


Still falling
Breathless and on again
Inside today
Inside me today
Around broken in two
Til your eyes share into dust
Like two strangers turning into dust
Til my hand shook with the weight of fear
I could possibly be fading
Or have something more to gain
I could feel myself growing colder
I could feel myself under your fate
Under your fate
It was you, breathless and torn
I could feel my eyes turning into dust
Into strangers, turning into dust
Turning into dust
Turning into dust

~"Into Dust" by Mazzy Star


Leave me out with the waste
This is not what I do
It's the wrong kind of place
To be thinking of you
It's the wrong time
For somebody new
It's a small crime
And I've got no excuse

~"Nine Crimes" by Damien Rice


She loves her momma's lemonade
Hates the sounds that goodbyes make
She prays one day she'll find someone to need her
She swears that there's no difference between the lies and compliments
It's all the same if everybody leaves her

And every magazine tells her she's not good enough
The pictures that she sees makes her cry

She would change everything, everything, just ask her
Caught in the in between of beautiful disaster
She just needs someone to take her home

~"Beautiful Disaster" by Jon McLaughlin


I know the light, the light that guides
I'll join the line that walks behind you
You shine, you shine
In my life I know you shine
You shine
Like a window to your heart I see
All the possibilities
You shine
And everyday's another opportunity
To shine

~"Shine" by Aly & AJ

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Dov In A Play!

Today I went to see my Scarsdale cousin perform in "The Me Nobody Knows." It was a really interesting play- very different from the norm. Not the conventional narrative structure but rather, bits and pieces that enable you to learn about everybody starring within it.

I always feel wistful watching these plays. I love professionally done coed high school plays. North Shore had them. I would have loved to be in them. There's such a beauty to theater- joy and passion and life and full-out happiness. There was one girl who performed who reminded me of me. If I were Conservative, I'd have been her (would have been cast as her role and suchlike.) She had such joy in what she was doing. She is lucky to have that.

In any case, huzzah for Dov!

Olly & Becky, Scarves and Hip-Hop Artists


Today I was on the F train at 5:00 AM with Joseph the Dreamer (coming back from Brooklyn) and I saw a homeless lady on the train. I recognized her as Becky! (Remember Becky?! Her full name is Becky Trisha, by the way. I asked her.) She still has her caravan and considers herself a traveler. Can you believe it? Becky! So I ran over to her and gave her a hug and spoke with her and found out that thank God she's doing reasonably well; I bought a $10 scarf off of her and the best part of all of this is that she recognized me, too! The first question out of her mouth to Joseph and I was: "Are you going dancing again?" (Because she remembers Columbus Circle.)

To which I explained that Joseph wasn't Jordan and told her the news with you and she was happy and the point is that I met Becky and took pictures with her and it was so fabulous. And I wished you could have been there. She wants you and me and Joseph to all go out to lunch together. I told her I didn't think that would quite happen.

As for this evening, Joseph the Dreamer came over. We watched the film "A Life Apart," which is totally brilliant. Then I decided I wanted to walk the Brooklyn Bridge. So we decided to go to Chambers Street on the A Train to walk the Brooklyn Bridge. We did that (you get the whole bridge to yourself at 2:30 AM- it was awesome and utterly beautiful) and then we went to this fantastic hidden little store. After enjoying the store, we met a nice black man who is interested in hip-hop who literally "sang for his supper." He rapped hip-hop to us and we paid him enough money to go purchase a hero sandwich (over six dollars). He also gave us directions to the A train. But the A didn't run from that stop so we had to take the F to West 4th and THAT IS HOW WE MET BECKY! And I am euphoric because of that.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

little pleasures

you cannot imagine the rapture that ensues from:

-clean linens & sheets!
-having no water on your bedroom floor AKA my room didn't flood last night!
-pretty clothes against your skin
-lovely people and lovely shabbat meals
-AARON KOGUT IS HERE. KOGUT, come visit me now!! I want to see you!
-the heat working
-being able to sleep
-having people I like in my dream

it is godly. i am enraptured with everybody!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Prayers for Bobby: Mrs. Griffith's Answer

Another Frum Gay Jew mentioned the film "Prayers for Bobby" in his blogpost. Therefore, I watched it this morning. It reminded me of Harold Kushner's book When Bad Things Happen To Good People. He surmises that there's an evil force outside of God that God can't control and that's why bad happens. Similarly, Bobby's mother decides that if God didn't cure her son and make him not gay, it must be that's because it's not wrong to be gay. (I will add the caveat, which should be clear, that Judaism does not permit the homosexual act, but does not forbid the feeling, and so differs from her statement.)

As for me, my understanding is that found in Isaiah 45:7- ז יוֹצֵר אוֹר וּבוֹרֵא חֹשֶׁךְ, עֹשֶׂה שָׁלוֹם וּבוֹרֵא רָע; אֲנִי יְהוָה, עֹשֶׂה כָל-אֵלֶּה. {פ} 7 I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil; I am the LORD, that doeth all these things. {P}

Evil, challenge, darkness, suffering...all come from God as well.

Arguments based on emotion, while heartwrenching, don't prove points. There are a lot of distinctions between the presentation of Presbyterian religion in the film and Orthodox Judaism. In contrast to Presbyterianism, we have an Oral Law which clarifies and explicates laws. So while she may be persuaded by the argument that 'children who are disobedient are supposed to be stoned to death' and we don't interpret words that way anymore, a religious Jew wouldn't be. Also, while she may state that love and compassion is what it's all about in terms of her religion, that's not the bottom line in ours, even though it certainly plays a major role.

So in terms of the point the film is trying to make, I'm reminded of Isaiah 5:20-onward:

כ הוֹי הָאֹמְרִים לָרַע טוֹב, וְלַטּוֹב רָע: שָׂמִים חֹשֶׁךְ לְאוֹר וְאוֹר לְחֹשֶׁךְ, שָׂמִים מַר לְמָתוֹק וּמָתוֹק לְמָר. {ס}20 Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that change darkness into light, and light into darkness; that change bitter into sweet, and sweet into bitter! {S}
כא הוֹי, חֲכָמִים בְּעֵינֵיהֶם; וְנֶגֶד פְּנֵיהֶם, נְבֹנִים. {ס}21 Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight! {S}
כב הוֹי, גִּבּוֹרִים לִשְׁתּוֹת יָיִן; וְאַנְשֵׁי-חַיִל, לִמְסֹךְ שֵׁכָר.22 Woe unto them that are mighty to drink wine, and men of strength to mingle strong drink;
כג מַצְדִּיקֵי רָשָׁע, עֵקֶב שֹׁחַד; וְצִדְקַת צַדִּיקִים, יָסִירוּ מִמֶּנּוּ. {פ}23 That justify the wicked for a reward, and take away the righteousness of the righteous from him! {P}
And because I need to make everything eminently clear: no, I do not mean to suggest people who are attracted to other men are wicked or evil. But I think that people who use the justification, "Religion is difficult and hurts people; therefore, it's not true" fail to realize that how one emotionally feels about something has nothing to do with the veracity of it.

Having stated all that: You don't have a heart if you don't cry when you watch this film. But then again, I was the first girl in the theaters to see "Brokeback Mountain" and I cried at that, too. And at "Trembling Before God." This stuff kills me. I know you will find that surprising, those of you who find me alternatively odious, morally repugnant, homophobic, bigoted, backwards, living in the dark ages, and I don't remember all the other labels you've given me. How can something emotionally kill you but you intellectually live by it anyway?

Welcome to my life.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Note To Self: 1.7!

Tonight's one of the happiest nights of my life.
So let's remember January 14, 2010.
And whenever you've decided you're stupid, dear Chana- just remember tonight.
That and Lightman, who is a god.
One point seven forever and ever!

P.S. Think how happy the Little Old Lady will be for you! Though truth be told, she probably won't be surprised. Why is nobody ever surprised by the things that surprise me?

P.P.S. I'm not just good at making circles. I'M GREAT AT IT! Because, in contrast to what I said before, I didn't just find something else I'm good at- I ROCKED what I'm not good at. And that's because Lightman believes in me. I love Lightman.

odd and happy things that have happened lately

1. I am very dizzy. This is specific to today. I think I finally understand what the term lightheaded means. I feel like I'm going to faint, except I haven't yet. So I guess I'll just stay dizzy instead.

2. A bunch of people have separately asked me (in completely different contexts) if I am a singer and told me that if I'm not, I should sing. This is both flattering and strange.

3. A bunch of people have also asked me if I am Oriental, Russian or some other ethnicity lately. Guess that's the Bukharian in my blood. People always try to describe why they think I'm different and fail. Ah well. The best was the guy who said "your eyes aren't set in your face like a normal white chick's." Thanks...I think?

4. The lady at Barnes & Noble today had awesome fingernails. They were all black, except one, which was painted in red and gold sparkly polish. I complimented her and we became friends. Her name is Stephanie.

5. I discovered the song "Afterglow" by INXS and I really like it. Mostly I like the concept of living in people's afterglows in general. I think that's a beautiful concept. That way you never lose anyone. You just keep them with you forever.

6. I saw an old man zipping up two little boys' jackets today and almost started crying. I really miss you, Grandpa. I was remembering how you and Grandma used to pick us up from the JCC. I wish I had appreciated you more then. Oddly, I heard a baby crying in Barnes & Noble and also wanted to (but didn't) cry. It upsets me when babies cry; I want to comfort them. (On the other hand, Midrashically speaking, maybe that's proof of the Egyptian method of bringing babies to the Jewish women's house, hitting their Egyptian baby so it cried in order to find out the Hebrew babies.)

7. This one cannot be overstated: I love The Little Old Lady, I love The Little Old Lady, I love The Little Old Lady. I think she and Abergakames are the only ones who have some kind of cheer-up drug in their very voices. All you have to do is talk to them and you suddenly feel like you've been shot up with some kind of joy elixir. It's insanely fabulous.

The Swan Thieves

"Madame, I observe that your heart is broken. Allow me to repair it for you."

~The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

the tears of a clown

My favorite Eminem songs are "Lose Yourself" and "Beautiful." They're what I consider the human songs. I like "Mockingbird" and "Toy Soldier" as well (we used to bond over this in the computer lab at North Shore; my friend would swear by "Mockingbird.")

Violence doesn't speak to me and I've always been disturbed by his songs like "Kim," but then he shows his softer, and to my mind, more human side. That's the Eminem I like.

(I also love the songs with the devil voice: "My Darling" and "Deja Vu." Those are powerful.)

the words came tumbling

The words came exploding out of skin, hot and cold and sewn-together, some of them scarred or rotted over with rust. They were dark and light and forgotten, illuminating one another with the faint glow of the kisses that had been bestowed upon them. The flesh vomited words, throwing them out into the sky to be caught by those who came to collect them, men in white suits with dapper silk ties and silver hats, who walked around trying to convince everybody that they weren't lying in the first place.

They fought their way out, words covered in margarine from their journey to the frying pan, and dripping hot fat as they made their way out from beneath the bacon wedges. They were grilled, basted and tortured, juicy drippings straight off the rack allowing a kind of wine-and-turkey smell to penetrate the house. The words kept right on coming, spewing forth as though out of a sewer, forgetting themselves in their anxiety, tripping over one another as they tried to see the pretty little girl in the white dress with the blue flower in her hair.

I saw the words; they sunk into my skin. I looked at them, scarcely there, transparent, translucent, within the blue blood that ran in my veins. They swam, forgotten, beneath the opaque veins and blood vessels, bursting into being like an aneurysm, struggling to survive like a a man with smoker's lung trying to breathe. Eventually, they choked me to death. But first came my little boy and the effervescent words hanging on the edge of his spangled dress, smoky, acrid, a little too sweet: "Have you got a cigarette?"

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

R' Zalman Sorotzkin on Female Creativity

So I'm in the midst of reading Artscroll's Insights in the Torah on Devarim, which is a translation of R' Zalman Sorotzkin's Aznaim L'Torah. And R' Sorotzkin has the coolest understanding of Devarim 5:23:

כג קְרַב אַתָּה וּשְׁמָע, אֵת כָּל-אֲשֶׁר יֹאמַר יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ; וְאַתְּ תְּדַבֵּר אֵלֵינוּ, אֵת כָּל-אֲשֶׁר יְדַבֵּר יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ אֵלֶיךָ--וְשָׁמַעְנוּ וְעָשִׂינוּ. 23 Go thou near, and hear all that the LORD our God may say; and thou shalt speak unto us all that the LORD our God may speak unto thee; and we will hear it and do it.'

The question here is: Why is the female form of 'you' utilized? Why does it say אַתְּ?

Here's Artscroll's rendering of R' Sorotzkin (I would look up the exact wording except Aznaim L'Torah is on reference at Gottesman and thus that would require going there and only using the book in the library):
    And you should speak to us. Why did they address Moses with the word at, the feminine form of 'you?' Rashi (q.v.) explains that Moses was so dismayed at this request of theirs that he "became as weak as a woman."

    I think that we can understand Rashi's last few words thus: A woman is not merely on the receiving end of creation. She does not just "receive" a seed and then have it grow into a baby; she also shapes the growing fetus. For consider: one drop enters her, and in the end a living being is born. No one in the world can tell what will become of this tiny seed: whether it will come to be a child at all, and if so whether male or female, wise or foolish, strong or weak, beautiful or ugly. Only the woman, who grows and shapes this seed, helps develop all of these characteristics to recognizable form. At birth all can see the baby's gender and its physical characteristics, and soon after its mental abilities, too, none of which could be recognized in the original seed.

    Now, when the Children of Israel heard God's voice speaking from the midst of the fire, their souls fled from them. They could not understand the Divine word nor comprehend what was expected of them, for this was suddenly beyond their comprehension. So they said to Moses, "Since you can listen and understand all this, you approach and hear everything that God has to say. But don't repeat things exactly as you heard them, because we cannot understand these things as they are. Instead, you [at] speak to us: do for us what a woman can do, who shapes from a seemingly meaningless drop a lovely child whose nature and gifts can be clearly seen. You, at, absorb all that God says, and form it into clear, plain words for us, that we can 'hear and do.'

    We can understand in the same way why the Haggadah says of the son who does not know how to ask, "You- at- open the way for him." If this child is so limited in his abilities that, although he sees how different everything is on this Seder night, he cannot even think how to ask about it, you make yourself like a woman and shape the words for him into a form he can understand.

    -Insights in the Torah: Devarim, the commentary of the Oznayim LaTorah, translated by Rabbi Yaakov Lavon, pages 82-83
Thus, rather than Moshe making himself as weak as a woman, he actually had to utilize the special characteristics of a woman's creativity and clarity of understanding. Huzzah for women!

Shakespeare Got It From Rashi

See Rashi to Devarim 1:10:

(י) והנכם היום ככוכבי השמים - וכי ככוכבי השמים היו באותו היום, והלא לא היו אלא שישים רבוא, מהו והנכם היום, הנכם משולים כיום, קיימים כחמה וכלבנה וככוכבים:

That means as follows: "But on that day, were they as the stars in the heaven? Indeed, they were no more than 600,000 [adult men]!" Actually, Moshe was saying hayom, literally 'the day'- "You may be compared to the day; you are everlasting like the sun, the moon, and the stars." (Hat-Tip: Artscroll.)

Every English major who has ever read Shakespeare's Sonnet 18, otherwise entitled 'Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer's Day?' should be laughing their heads off right now.

(And no, I don't really think that Shakespeare read Rashi and took the comparison from there. But! It's all Torah, it's all Torah, and anyone who says it's not Torah or claims s/he doesn't see Torah in supposed secular studies just doesn't know how to read.)

Monday, January 11, 2010

Retroactive Gittin? - Halakhic Time Travel

So Heshy and I got into an interesting discussion regarding gittin and more specifically David & Bathsheba. Now, as most of us learned in high school, the sin with David & Bathsheba wasn't really a sin because there was a rule that men divorced their wives before they went out to battle. (See Abarbanel if you want to argue that it was a sin. He takes that point of view.)

Anyway, simple Chana thought that meant the men actually wrote their wives a writ of divorce and from the time they went off to battle, poof! The women are all unmarried. But Heshy said it's actually not that way; there's a concept called למפרע which effectively ensures a retroactive get. Or as Heshy put it:

"Let's say the get was written at July 1st 2010 at 10pm. So Uriah writes, "If I don't return after the war is over, this get is effective as of this instant that I sign the get."

So let's think about that logically. When David and Bathsheba first sleep with one another, she is still technically married to Uriah. Then she finds out she is pregnant. David tries to have Uriah sleep with her but he won't hear of it. David then resorts to having Uriah killed. Since Uriah doesn't come home from the battle, the get retroactively becomes effective from the moment he first signed it. Because of that, Bathsheba was a magically unmarried woman at the time she slept with David.

Does that boggle anyone else's mind?

I'm curious about a practical application of this למפרע idea. Heshy said the same idea exists by Kiddushin. Therefore, a man can say as follows: "I am mekadesh you now on the condition that you don't eat chocolate for 30 days." If she ends up not eating chocolate after 30 days have passed, it is as though the kiddushin had gone into effect from the very moment the man had spoken, not at the end of the 30 days. Retroactive kiddushin, in other words.

So here's my question: We know that if a maiden is raped, there's a totally different penalty that occurs if she is betrothed and raped than if she is a maiden who is not betrothed. So let's say our girl, who is not eating chocolate for 30 days in order to accept the kiddushin, is raped on the 3rd day. Is she halakhically speaking a betrothed maiden or not? And if you say she is, doesn't that mean the kiddushin went into effect at precisely the moment at which he spoke (in which case it's not retroactive- it happened right then!) And if she's not, then aren't you saying the kiddushin only goes into effect after the 30 days? It seems to me you have to make a choice at some point. How can you just have this idea of time-travelling gittin? Or is there maybe a difference between kiddushin and when a maiden is meorasa?

So please explain and boy, am I jealous of you yeshiva guys. You learn such fascinating things!