I just learned that one of my fellow "applicants" for conversion at the community here has recently converted. There were four of us who had interviews the same day and the community chose her (there was no rabbi involved, they said they can accept only one person because of limited resources, long story). While I am happy for her and wish her luck, I have spent the day thinking about my interview and what I might have said that made them accept her and reject me. And whether or not I should approach them again. And risk being rejected again.

Mazal tov to Morel and Mahmoud

For those who haven’t heard yet, Mahmoud (a Muslim Arab Israeli) and Morel (Jewish-born Israeli, converted to Islam) got married a few days ago in the midst of protests against their intermarriage*. I do not know the two, but I am ashamed that other people who likewise do not know them think it is their business to meddle in their lives becaus of their racist attitudes. What would you say if people protested a catholic girl marrying a Jew? Racism against Arabs is just as bad as antisemitism and especially Jews should know better. And living in a modern society not only means that you can freely live your life the way you please, but also to accept the choices other make, even if you don’t agree with them.

I wish the couple happiness in their marriage. And I hope they will be able to look back on this day together in 25 years and laugh.

* It’s technically not an intermarriage because she converted, they are both Muslim now.

You Can Do It In a Skirt

Just found this blog You Can Do It In a Skirt and thought it’s cute. I can check off hiking, climbing a tree, climbing around a playground, swimming (see my last post), horseback riding. Ok, I’m cheating a bit, sometimes I’m wearing a dress that goes not quite go until the knee over pants. Still I get strange comments from people, so that should count. I don’t think I have ever been hanging upside down in a skirt though. Maybe when I have kids…

I went swimming

I went swimming with friends. This statement in itself wouldn’t be too exciting for most people, but for me it is. I haven’t been swimming with friends for some years now. On the few occasions I was invited to a party at the pool with friends I put my feet into the water and no more.

I have always been rather modest and I never liked myself in a swimsuit. So Jewish modesty rules gave me sort of the excuse not to wear it again. But the price was not swimming. Which was sort of fine with me, but my boyfriend didn’t like it too much. So he got me a "burquini", the muslim version of a modest swimsuit (we didn’t find anything Jewish that was not horribly expensive with overseas shipping).

It consists of leggings that go to the ankle, a dress that goes to the knee with sleeves to the wrist and a hijab (veil). So I look very muslim. The veil is actually rather uncomfortable so I took it off after some time. The only annoying thing is that the skirt goes up in the water, I need to find a way to fix this. But apart from that I rather liked the experience and I felt fine. And I didn’t get any strange comments (but after all, these were my friends). When I wear it to a public pool I’ll report back.

Rebuilding the Temple

In Judaism we pray about the restauration of the temple and the temple service every day in the Amida (the central prayer of every service). At least for me this is sort of automatic and I mostly don’t think about it, but with Tisha BeAv around I couldn’t help it.

I am a modern person. I live in the city with no contact to animals. My food comes from the supermarket and I’m a vegetarian. I don’t want to see animals die. My religion is about prayer, books, morality. Not rituals with blood. When I read about the temple parts in the Torah it seems archaic, disgusting and just totally irrelevant to my life. When I look at how I am feeling when I just read the descriptions, there is no way seeing the temple sacrifices would bring me closer to G-d.

So why am I praying for the rebuilding of the temple? Wouldn’t it be more consistent not to pray for it? This is what Reform Judaism did, they removed all parts about sacrifices and the temple from the prayers (and more, but that’s a different topic). But that puts you out of tradition. And it is actually pretty difficult to define exactly what to remove. What about "rebuild Jerusalem"? Or the messiah (who is supposed to rebuild the temple)? But if I don’t remove it, can I pray things I don’t believe in? Or maybe, do I have to adjust my attitude about the temple?

I am still looking for an answer. Some parts (like in the Mussaf Amida with the description of the Shabat sacrifice) I simply cannot pray and I skip over them. Other parts (like in the workday Amida) I pray without really thinking about them. And sometimes when I pray parts that refer to the messianic age, I pray for peace, a good life for everybody, this sort of things. Not necessarily the temple. And I will wait for the Messiah to sort it out when he comes.

Imperfect leaders

A corollary from the Sinai mass revelation discussion. Another argument for the uniqueness (and by implication divinity) of the Torah that I have heard a few times is that the leading figures in Torah are all imperfect. The Torah describes all their sins very openly. Other (men-written) texts from the time glorify their leaders.

Yes, you have these perfect stories about some leaders. They list victory after victory and nothing else. Every king has a record of his accomplishments which conveniently forgets the defeats. We have many inscriptions of greatness, but who remembers the party that lost. Actually, this is not a phenomenon that we have left behind, even today biographies of great persons are sometimes "cleaned up" because we want our hero to be perfect.

But there are also plenty of non-biblical stories of flawed heroes around. Greek and Roman mythology would be nothing without a character flaw. Romulus, founder of Rome, kills his own brother. Odysseus is overly proud. And so on. For that matter Greek and Roman gods are not better, they are angry, jealous, unfaithful and arrogant. Norse gods (Odin, Thor, etc) are a bunch with pretty much the same qualities as their southern counterparts. Iceland’s famous Njál saga is full of people deceiving and killing each other. And these are just a few examples.

Stories of perfect beings are just not that interesting. And stories are created to teach a character lesson. We need to see the hero overcome their flaws – or go down because of them. So in itself stories with flawed heroes are not rare. Still, I would say there is a difference between the examples I listed above and the stories about the patriarchs, Moses and the other great Jewish leaders. But what exactly is the difference?

10 signs that you don’t understand evolution

This post is a sort of continuation of my previous post about why evolution and belief do not have to stand in contrast with each other. I just found a great post that refutes many arguments that creationists use against evolution. I encourage you to read the whole post, but this is the short version of
The top 10 signs that you don’t understand evolution at all
by Tyler Francke:

1. You think "it hasn’t been observed" is a good argument against it.
— many experiments have made and (successfully) tested predictions of the theory, plus the same argument is also a good argument against G-d.

2. You think we’ve never found a transitional fossil.
— there are links in the article to just such fossils [as I am no expert in the field and haven't followed the links I cannot really say more about this].

3. You think macroevolution is an inherently different process than microevolution.
— macroevolution is just the accumulation of small changes (i.e., microevolution).

4. You think mutations are always negative.
— they are not, most are neutral, some are both, some are positive.

5. You think it has anything to do with the origin of life, let alone the origins of the universe.
— it assumes life exists and then says something about how it develops, how it came into being is a very different story.

6. You use the phrase "it’s only a theory" and think you’ve made some kind of substantive statement.
— the use of the word "theory" in science actually distinguishes a confirmed explanation of facts from "hypothesis&qout; (what your normal person means when he says "I have a theory how he stole my purse&qout;).

7. You think acceptance of evolution is the same as religious faith.
— people are not blindly believing one person, they are believing what is scientific consensus in a group of highly competitive people who have spend years of investigation on it.

8. You think our modern understanding of it rests on a long series of hoaxes perpetuated by scientists.
— scientists are actually the ones to find the occasional errors, misunderstandings and wrong conclusions other scientists make, it has (in the vast majority of cases, not counting a few black sheep) nothing to do with intentionally misleading everybody.

9. You don’t like Pokémon because you think it "promotes" evolution.
— WTF?

10. You think it’s inherently opposed to Christianity or the Bible.
— the error is in the interpretation.

I am especially allergic to people who misunderstand the use of the word "theory&qout; in a scientific context (point 6) or how the scientific process works (points 1 and 8). I would add to point 5 that how/whether G-d interfers in evolution is another very different story. Point 10 is here presented from a Christian point of view, but in the end I would agree that there need not (and should not) be a conflict between science and faith. The Torah is written in the language of man, we do not have to take everything literally. And even if a certain part has been taken literally until now, in the face of new evidence we can say that we have learned only now that G-d did not intend us to take it literally. This does not in any way negate G-d’s existence or my belief in Him. (In some cases it might force me to re-evaluate some religious teachings or even halachot, but that is part of the process of halacha, it is not static but is applied to our contemporary issues.)

What happened on Tisha beAv

Tomorrow evening starts Tisha beAv, the biggest of the minor fast days (the only other 25 hour fast besides Yom Kippur). The main reason we fast is to mourn the loss of the temple. Both the first and the second temple were destroyed on this date (the first by the Babylonians in 586 BCE; the second by the Romans in 70 CE). Also supposedly on that day the tewlve spies/scouts returned who had entered Canaan and brought back a negative report which caused the Israelites to wander in the desert for fourty year (Numbers 13:1-14:45).

There are also people who connect many other more or less recent ocurrences with this date. I am always sceptical about numbers and have checked a few (chronological order). Online date converters do not take into account the Gregorian Reformation therefor dates before 1752 have not been checked and are reported as I find them somewhere on the web.

  • The expulsion of the Jews from France. The edict was issued in April 1182 and they had to leave in July (no exact dates given in Wikipedia, but July can be Av).
  • The expulsion of the Jews from England. The edict was issued on 18 July 1290. This date is supposed to be Tisha beAv.
  • Another expulsion of the Jews from France. All Jews were arrested on 22 July 1306 which is supposed to be the day after Tisha B’Av.
  • The expulsion of the Jews from Spain. The Alhambra decree was issued on 31 March 1492 (far away from Av) that all Jews have to leave Spain until 31 July 1492. Judaism 101 claims 31 July 1492 was Tisha beAv. My rabbinate claims 2 August 1492 was Tisha beAv which would make the date of the expulsion 7th of Av. I don’t know.
  • Start of first world war. The war started on 28 July 1914 (5 Av 5674) with Austria-Hungary’s declaration of war against Serbia. Tisha beAv was August 1st, the day when Germany declared war against Russia.
  • Reichskristallnacht. Though tragic, this happened on 9 November 1938 which is definitely nowhere near the month Av (which is always in July/August).
  • Something related to Nazis. The first plans to exterminate all Jews were discussed mid-1941, first small-scale "tests" were conducted end of 1941 and some camps build. The official plan was decided at the Wannsee conference on 20 January 1942 (definitely not in Av). Himmler ordered on 19 April 1942 (not in Av) to start the "re-settlement" of all Jews from the Reich. The deportation of the Warsaw Ghetto inhabitants started on 22 July 1942, the first train to Treblinka left on 23 Juli 1942 (Tisha beAv).
  • First Gulf war. I have found the curious statement "Iraq walks out of talks with Kuwait 1989" but couldn’t match it to anything.
  • AMIA Bombing (Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, Argentina). This happened on 18 July 1994 which was 10 of Av 5754.
  • 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. The attacks happened on 11 September 2001 which was 23 Elul 5761 (not Av).
  • Disengagement from Gaza. The evacuation started on 15 August 2005 which was 10 Av 5765. This is not a coincidence, the date was intentionally pushed back to avoid conflict with the three weeks of mourning ending on Tisha beAv.

Tell me if you hear about more (real or fake) events conneted to Tisha beAv.

More Arabs in Israel

Two small add-ons to my recent post about Israel Arabs:

Arabs in Israel can be ...

An an article about Rasan Alian the "first Druse officer to have been appointed commander of the Golani Brigade" wounded in Gaza.

Listen to Dana Bar-on from Kibbutz Nir Am (near Gaza)

I know I am late to the party, but watch this video from a young women who lives in Kibbutz Nir Am close to gaza:

Hat Tip and more infos: Saving Dana Bar-on (Michael Lumish) on Elder of Ziyon’s blog.

Mass revelation at Sinai

Again I had a run-in with the Kuzari "proof" (or "principle") that Judaism must be true. In a nutshell it goes like this (you can read a longer version at Aish: Did G-d Speak at Sinai or Simpletoremember: A Rational Approach to the Torah’s Divine Origin):

G-d appeared to the entire people on Mount Sinai. The story has been passed down through the generations. Nobody could make up such a story because the people involved would not go along with a lie, they had been there. So the revelation must have taken place and the Torah is true.

With this post I don’t want to say that Judaism is not true or that G-d does not exists. I truly believe in G-d and I believe that Judaism is the best way to connect to Him (at least for me). But I also think that it is a question of faith and that nobody can prove G-d or the truth or falsity of some religion. And that it is dangerous to build faith on top of one such "proof". Here are a few claims this "proof" makes and short attempts at refuting them. If you have more, write a comment.

Claim: This is the only story of such mass revelation in all religions.
There appear to be mass revelation stories in Aztec mythology, several pagan religions and hinduism.
Also some of Jesus’s miracles were watched not by millions but at least by large groups of people (e.g., giving bread and fish to 5000 people at the lake). So it is certainly possible to claim that some event with a large amount of witnesses happened even though it didn’t (sorry, Jewish blog).
Mohammad once split the moon (allegedly, sorry, Jewish blog), that could have been observed by all people on the planet.

Claim: The people involved wouldn’t believe it if you made such a story up about them.
So this is the situation where one person says "hey, remember, yesterday we all heard G-d speak to us".
Maybe most people really didn’t believe. Maybe of the people spoken to most left and only a few believed and stayed. These few then gave the story to their children as truth. They would still claim "it happened to all 3 million" because they actually believe it did happen and those who left only denied it happened. And they might conveniently forget that most didn’t believe and left the group.
Maybe even those who stayed didn’t all believe the story but played along because of social factors (family, friends, power position) or coercion (stoning people who work on Shabat etc).
In short, there are several ways of making group of people say that something happened to a larger group of people including them.

Claim: You cannot make people believe they were present for something that did not happen.
"The Miracle of the Sun was an event which occurred just after midday on Sunday 13 October 1917, attended by some 30,000 to 100,000 people who were gathered near Fátima, Portugal. Several newspaper reporters were in attendance and they took testimony from many people who claimed to have witnessed extraordinary solar activity." (Wikipedia:Miracle of the sun)
Unless you claim that this miracle really happened (btw it was officially accepted by the Catholic church in 1930) – yes it is possible to get many eyewitnesses for something that never happened. Probably some unusual sun activity took place and the rest is wishful thinking.
How this may work for Sinai: The text talks about fire, smoke and thunder and that it was very terrible for the people who witnessed it. It is conceivable that a group of people comes upon a vulcano, comet or some other natural catastrophe-type event, they all have a horrible time but are amazed at the powers, faint and then afterwards one charismatic leader says that was G-d speaking and he said XYZ.
So here nothing really happened but you have a group of people who really believe something happened.

Claim: There were 3 million people involved in the revelation.
We only have the Torah’s claim that there were this many people. It could have been the story of one family or clan who claimed there were more people around (see above).
Or even they claimed it happened only to them and the story was then adopted by other clans. If we look at it as some conversion-like acceptance of the original clan’s way of life it is absolutely realistic to assume they passed the story on as happening to their own ancestors and so it became more and more people that supposedly should have been present.
Or maybe the story was passed on as "happened to our ancestors" and at some later point in time the numbers were added (and chosen to make it more impressive).
In any case, how many people really left Egypt and were at Sinai is a different question for a different day. But the exact number does not really matter that much here.

Claim: Such a claim would be easily verifiable, nobody would make it up.
We are talking about an age without modern means of transportation and communication. How verifiable is it when a group of 10 or 20 comes and says "we are part of this larger group of 3 million (who are currently unfortunately a year’s worth of travel away or they all unfortunately died in the desert or …) and G-d talked to all of us"?

Claim: You cannot say at a later point ‘your ancestors were there’, you would not believe this if your family does not have such a tradition.
Apparently this works, check 2nd Kings 22/23 where king Josiah finds a Torah scroll and they seem to have forgotten everything in it (including minor details like Pesach) and then they go on to re-institute Torah law. Nobody seems to come and say "hey I didn’t hear that from my parents".
Another example are midrashim, handed down as accurate oral tradition. Many of them talk about experiences witnessed by the whole people such as during the exodus. Many of them contradict each other, so they cannot all be true. Nobody said "this is not what my father told me", they have been recorded and handed down to us.
It might be hard to introduce a completely new story of this magnitude, but here the story might build on an existing story like "we all heard from this prophet who spoke to G-d on the mountain" and modify it over time slightly from adding "and we all stood at the mountain, too" to "actually G-d spoke to all of us directly" over a long period of time.
Also, remember that people were for the most part illiterate, more superstitious and less analytical as we are today. And even today people can be made to believe all sorts of things that alledgedly happened to their forefathers. Ask Egyptians about the Yom Kippur war for example, you’ll get a truly amazing story of a war victory. And the generation who actually lived during the war is still alive.
King Arthur is also brought as an example for a figure who probably never existed but is taken as a real identity-building figure of history by many.
Maybe the story was introduced originally as a myth and everybody knew it was not true, but they retold it as if it were true anyway (after all, it’s a great story). People in ancient times did not have the same idea of history = objective truth than we do today. It was common to exagerate or tell stories to make a point, objectivity was not the main value. So the story was passed on originally as myth and only at some later point the literal understanding of the story took over.

Claim: This experience was a key element of faith that was passed on faithfully through all generations until today.
A few days after this experience the Israelites went back to worship a golden calf. All over Tanach are examples where the Israelites go astray and G-d needs to send prophets to bring them back on the right track. And the revelation basically consists in G-d saying "I am the only G-d, don’t worship others". How memorable can the experience have been? How faithfully has it been transmitted to the future generations?

Claim: All our ancestors heard the whole Torah at Sinai.
Actually the text says they only heard the first part and then couldn’t handle it any more (Exodus 20). It is actually pretty unclear what exactly they heard (which by the way is in itself curious). Most people say it’s the first verses, some say it is the whole 10 commandments. Nobody I ever met says they heard the whole Chumash (books of Moses). Interpretations that they heard only a "loud voice", but no discernible words, are also consistent with the text.
Even if we could prove with absolute certainty that this one event of mass revelation happened and they heard verses XYZ – so what? This says nothing about the truth of the rest of the Torah, all the do-s and don’t-s and the interpretations over centuries. Even if you say that Moses received the whole written and oral Torah at this point, it was still only Moses, one person, receiving it. The people heard maybe a voice, maybe 2 verses, mabey the whole 10 commandments. This doesn’t automatically lead to all of Judaism being true.

Again, I am speaking out against using the above claims as a "proof" of the truth of Judaism. People will either believe or not. But if their belief is based on a falsehood like this "proof" it will shatter the moment they are faced with a counterargument. Better tell them that faith cannot have proof. That this "proof" does not really proof anything has nothing to do with me believing that the Torah is true or that G-d exists. Let people appreciate the beauty of Judaism and of G-d, build a connection and then they can decide for themselves to believe.

A few links if you want to further read about this topic:
Mark Perakh: Dreaming Up… – Israel in Sinai
Baruch J. Schwartz: What Really Happened at Mount Sinai?
DovBear: Demolishing dumb arguments (The mass revelation argument for the Torah’s Historical Veracity)
Larry Tanner: Definitively Refuting the Kuzari Principle (also see the Index of Kuzari posts and Kuzari Principle Round 3 for more)
Skeptic but Jewish: Main Argument for Judaism: Refuted
Torahphilosophy: Truth of Judaism (read the comments)
Sam Lebens: The Kuzari Principle
Orthoprax: Aztecs National Revelation II
FailedMessiah: The Kuzari Proof, The Exodus And Passover

Just wondering …

… if Hamas rockets are inconsequential* why did they** stop all flights to Tel Aviv airport?

* because Israel’s response is "disproportionate", because nearly nobody has died, because "the rockets are self-made", because Israel should just let them be, …
** USA, several EU states

Arabs in Israel

Israel has
– Arabic as second official language
– Arab parties in the parliament (United Arab List; Balad; Ta’al; …)
– therefore Arab members of the parliament
– Arab judges in the supreme court (retired Abdel Rahman Zuabi; Salim Joubran)
– Arab diplomats (ex-ambassador to Finland, now ambassador to Greece Ali Yahya; Walid Mansour; ex-vice consul in San Francisco Ishmael Khaldi; …)
– Arab soldiers serving in the army (mandatory service for Druze and volunteers from other minorities)
– Arab high-ranking military (ex-Major General Yusuf Mishleb; Major General Hussain Fares, …)
– Arab singers who represent Israel at the Eurovision (Mira Awwad 2009)
– Arab finalists in the Miss Israel contest (Angelina Fares 2007)
– Arab control over the temple mount and the Muslim holy sites (Temple mount management and access)

This does not mean that Arabs are not discriminated in Israel ever, there is a problem there (for a positive view read Philippe Assouline: Telling Israel like it is – in Arabic). But there is no "Apartheid", no institutionalized "second-class citizenship".

What does rejoicing mean for shabat?

In a previous post we have seen that we have a mitzva (commandment) to rejoice on the shabat and festivals and in another post we have discussed what rejoicing entails for festivals. Now we will see in a bit more detail what it means to "rejoice" on shabat (which is called oneg in Hebrew, in contrast to simcha for festivals).

First the Talmud:

Wherewith does one show his delight therein? — Rab Judah son of R. Samuel b. Shilath said in Rab’s name: With a dish of beets, large fish, and heads of garlic. R. Hiyya b. Ashi said in Rab’s name: Even a trifle, if it is prepared in honor of the Sabbath, is delight. What is it [the trifle]? — Said R. Papa: A pie of fish-hash.
(Talmud, Shabat 118b)

There are some people who give kabbalistic reasons for the fish-eating, I’d tend to the explanation that fish was something that the sages liked. Fish is still commonly eaten as a first course on shabat. But I have never met anyone who insisted on eating heads of garlic – although now that I think about it the dishes in our community do have a lot of garlic in them…

Ok, let’s fast forward to Rambam who has more detailed ideas about shabat delight:

Halacha 7
What is meant by [Sabbath] delight? This refers to our Sages’ statement that a person must prepare a particularly sumptuous dish and a pleasantly flavored beverage for the Sabbath.
Halacha 9
A person is obligated to eat three meals on the Sabbath: one in the evening, one in the morning, and one in the afternoon.
Halacha 10
Eating meat and drinking wine on the Sabbath is a form of pleasure for a person, provided this is within his [financial] capacity.
(Rambam, Mishne Tora, Hilchot Shabat 30)

Summarized, you have have three good and plentiful meals with a good drink. What about the meat? I have been told several times that it is absolutely necessary to eat meat on shabat. The text is not as strong as the part about meat on festivals which reads "Men should eat meat and drink wine, for there is no happiness without partaking of meat". Here it is clearer that meat and wine are added because these are foods that usually give pleasure. The intent is that you eat something you like, which is also how it is explained by the commentators (see footnote 37 which references Shulchan Aruch HaRav 242:2, Mishnah Berurah 242:1, I’ve also seen mentioned Magen Avraham 696:15, Darkei Teshuvah 89:19, Shaagas Aryeh 65). Even Chabad says it’s not required!

In other words, what exactly the menu should consist of is entirely up to the tastes of the individual, with the stipulation that it be the best he can afford. The main thing is how you enjoy a meal—not how others think you should enjoy it. On the contrary, for people such as yourself, eating meat may be counter to Isaiah’s “delighting the Shabbat.”
(Moshe Goldman: Do I Have to Eat Meat on Shabbat?)

Oh, and let’s not forget the most important delight (of course only if you’re married, only with your wife, at the appropriate times, yada yada):

Sexual relations are considered a dimension of Sabbath pleasure.
(Rambam, Mishne Tora, Hilchot Shabat 30:14)

A Day in the Life of a COR Mashgiach

Ever wondered what a mashgiach (sort of kashrut superviser) does the whole day? Find out in this video "A Day in the Life of a COR Mashgiach" by the Kashruth Council of Canada:

A Day in the Life of a COR Mashgiach from COR Kosher on Vimeo.