Monday, October 31, 2005

The Beginning - Again

Once again we begin at the beginning.

The first two parshayos in Bereishis (parshas Bereishis, psook 1:1 through 6:8, and parshas Noach, psook 6:9 through 11:32) present a picture of a simple, clean start to the universe, heading into utter complexity and moral ambiguity, followed by catastrophe, and the immediate re-introduction of complexity into the world. All framed in relation to man.

How must we understand this text?

One way, which people with whom I would rather not associate favour, is to see it as indisputable truth - the creationist point of view. 'This is how it happened, there is no more to it than this'.

Ober ez iz nit azoy poshut - not only is such a literalist interpretation contradicted by other versions of events (for instance, Derush Ohr Ha Chayim, which can be found in most editions of the Mishnah that include the commentary Tiferes Yisroel (*), AND the Lurianic concept of the breaking of the vessels), but it is flatly contradicted by all the evidence of evolution.

I will not go into either of the two other tale-perspectives I mention here; enough has been written on them already, and they both suffer from the same flaw which the first point of view has, namely ignorance and blindness.

I accept that the evidence for evolution points to actual occurrences, and an actual progression of events over millions of years, which, while we may not know all the details, and may never know all the details, prove that the version in Bereishis is only the slimmest rhetorical outline, given as a preamble to the tales that follow. A glib, offhand set-up, even. The birth of time did not actually happen in so simple a fashion, but as a basis for the subsequent narrative, it is all you need to know about the beginning of things.

[And, within the context of Torah, do you really need to hear all the scientific details? Surely not. What purpose would that serve? The Torah is many things, but it is not a dry text-book requiring no interaction from the reader.]

Think of this part of Sefer Bereishis as the first line in an anecdote: "there were these two naked people, see, and they were driven from their home with a flaming sword...."
A much more gripping start than "there were carbon atoms, and hydrogen atoms, and giant balls of flaming gas whirling through a void.....".

Within mere moments, in the sequence of the tale, we go from the idyllic innocence of Ganeydin to the Byzantine complexity of motives and characters in the era of Noach and the tower of Babel. From the Homer Simpsonesque blankness of Adam and Eve to the glittering variegation of the early middle-east, with its diverse peoples and cultures.

This progression, and the contrasts and facets it highlights, present a much more interesting and stimulating picture than the pshat.

I hold that we should see this portion of the text as decidedly not mere reportage - instead, we should see it as the groundwork for a fascinating epic, a narrative of tribal formation, nationhood, kingship, human relations on multiple levels and the relation between human and the divine, an exploration of psychology, motivations, mystery, romance, and a contractual relationship. Everything, in other words, which we would expect to hold our attention, stimulate thoughts, goad an emotional involvement, prompt our questions, and spur us to find answers.

Reading it as data robs it of significance; both we, and the text, are deeper than that.

As readers, our task is to dig for meaning in the text. We have to question it, wrestle with it, embrace it - we might not fully understand it (rather like with evolution), but if we can get beyond that half-witted logic that accepts it as plain fact, we will at least have given it the respect it deserves.

To do otherwise is sheer laziness.

Blind, blinkered belief in a six day creation mythos requires stupidity and stubbornness - indicative of intellectual bankruptcy, certainly, but quite probably also a moral bankruptcy. If that's all you intend to get out of Torah, why bother?

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

* RE: Derush Ohr Ha Chayim: According to an article by Moshe Lerman in Arutz Sheva dated October 13th., 2004. Surely you didn't think I was well read enough to have discovered that by myself?

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Oodles of noodles

Yesterday evening, Savage Kitten called and left a message on my work phone telling me gleefully that there was a surprise in the kitchen, be sure to get it while it's hot, she'd see me after practice.

Well, she knew that Reuven and I do Torah on Tuesday evenings, so it was going to be room temperature at best when I got there.

On my way home I wondered what she meant by 'surprise'. Sometimes that doesn't mean anything good. A live lobster? A rabid skunk? A life-size Hello-Kitty doll? Perhaps a goat?

With trepidation, I approached the pyrex vessel (ha keli ha pyrexim, if we assume that pyrex is a plural substance) on the counter.

Lokshn kugel. Let me repeat: lokshn kugel.

Sweet little Cantonese girls aren't supposed to make lokshn kugel (well, they're not supposed to run off with weird white men either, but this is San Francisco, and they do).
Evenso yet, lokshn kugel?

What on earth is happening, when sweet little Cantonese girls make lokshn kugel?!?!?

About the only thing I can conclude is, it's a sign of the end of times, the last days are upon us, it's the first coming!

Three weeks ago she made some lekach for a friend who doesn't live at home. I don't know how it turned out, but it wasn't my recipe, so I am (still) curious.
It needs to be said, by the way, that everybody has two variants of lekach in their household, just as they have two recipes for perenkugel (their own, and "that other one, you know").

I can understand lekach - who doesn't like honey cake? And once a year is surely not enough.

But....., lokshn kugel?

No wonder there have been so many ominous occurrences this year!
[Floods, earthquakes, catastrophe, Brownie. And the weather.]

It was good.
We only have one recipe for lokshn kugel.

Other matters: the newst edition of 'HEEB' is on the news-stands. Buy it. It's only $5.95. A metzia.

Ranting - Now more than ever!

Mr. Cheney desires that the CIA be allowed to torture prisoners. And many believe that our troops should also have that option (good heavens! We've become the Russians!).

This despite our own publicly stated opposition to mistreatment of prisoners elsewhere, and several conventions to which we are signatory.
And despite torture being singularly unreliable as a means of interrogation, or the reports of our torture of prisoners being (perhaps more than anything else) a reason for many people in the rest of the world to hate our guts, despise our hypocrisy, and distrust our officials.

Last year, in response to an accusatory, xenophobic, rambling redneck e-mail from a friend and former co-worker (whom I shall refer to as 'Dude' in the rest of this post) who could not see anything wrong with abusing prisoners, especially if they were Muslims and foreigners, I wrote the following:


The ends DO NOT justify the means.

Additionally, those methods have been shown repeatedly to be ineffective, and to yield unreliable information.

Further, our people who do such things in the end will end up so thoroughly twisted that neither you nor I will want them walking around on our streets.

Police force for the world? Get off your high horse. A police force run by a bunch of Southern Sheriff wannabes sure ain't the best we can do, and makes us as Americans less welcome and less safe wheresoever we go outside of our own country. And why do WE need to be the police force? Are we pretending the world is better than it actually is?

Trust me on this: the world does NOT want us to be a policeman. They've seen how we go about it.

And stop saying that because the rest of the world, in the estimation of you and every other po' iggerent Mercan, is despicable, it is okay for us to be a bunch of bastards too, as long as we're not as bad as some of the others. You know that that is an unethical load of horse pucky, and utterly false besides.

Because 'they' kill people, it is okay for us to torture?
Because 'they' use brutality, it is okay for us to beat the crap out of prisoners?
Because 'they' rape and slaughter, it is okay if our boys get out of hand?

Dude, civilized folks judge themselves by civilized standards, NOT by the excesses of others.
And bear in mind that most of the folks who are temporarily in our custody are there because the grunts on the street in Baghdad or Ramadi do not understand them, and do not have the time to find out who they are and why they're there. Just yank 'em in, and find out later.

Greatest country on earth?

Perhaps, dude, but that sure as hell does not justify us NOT being better than we are. And it sure doesn't justify us not even trying to match our own inflated saintly self image. We can do better (well, those of us in the civilized states. The rest of you might very well be absolutely unredeemable).

[Minor faults? Any country which includes Texas and Baptists has major faults. And we've also got Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Rice. ]

I sure as hell would not want any boys from the red states over here in California acting like they're the boss, because, like football players and southern sheriffs, they're dumb, arrogant, potentially violent, and occasional rapists, drunks, and thieves.

You really think the rest of the world wants them either?

What has the rest of the world done to you that you would do that to them?

Heck, all those trans-Sierran carpetbaggers who've come to California in the last two generations have spoiled it for those of us who have a valid right to be here. Buncha bloody opportunists! And now we're sending their inbred cousins to places in the rest of the world where we're meddling, to represent us, with not even enough oversight to keep 'em from making asses out of themselves?

Yeah, that is really gonna make people like us!

And further to your ten commandments remark, G_d is very wrong in public, primarily because most of the believers in this country are ignorant heretics and idolaters who besmirch faith with their fundamentalist rantings and false interpretations. You all do not believe in the same G_d, and your theology is a travesty and a misunderstanding.

Some of you heathen even believe in three deities as one, and the intercession of the dead or the non-existent, and the infallibility of a senile old git at the head of the most child-molesting organization of the world - an organization which is responsible for more religious violence than all the other so-called Christian groups combined.

And further, anybody who believes in creationism is a moron. Even hearing such a person utter the word G_d is pollution, how much more so pretending that they and I have anything at all in common as far as religion is concerned.

The only part of America that may qualify as 'greatest country on earth' is the part that voted blue.

The rest of the country is inbred Jed. Despicable, inbred, ignorant, illiterate, Bible-thumping, bigoted, self-righteous Jed.

Screw 'em.

- - - - - - - - - - -

As I said, that was written last year. I still hold the same opinions. Now more than ever.

The original recipient of this e-mail (the gentleman referred to as 'Dude') reacted by writing that I have a "prejudiced racist mindset", and indicated that he no longer wished to continue our correspondence.

While I cannot understand why he calls me a racist (Southern inbreds qualify as a separate race?!?), I respect his wishes, and will not write to him again.

[The ignorance, illogic, and spelling errors were starting to get on my nerves. Which is the same reason I avoid communicating with most supporters of the regime.]

Friday, October 21, 2005

Not an ape in the bunch!

HaRav Moshe Sternbuch, shlita, has authored a most marvelous letter (which you can read in its entirety here: in which he seems to argue that scientists have tried to hold their science up to the Torah, that science has failed the PROOF of Torah, and that science is therefore incorrect.

What an utterly refreshing point of view!

Many people have been irritated for a long time that their dearly held beliefs were demonstrably scientifically wrong.
Now they may celebrate, because it is actually the OTHER WAY AROUND: science is religiously wrong.
And scientists have desperately been trying to find proofs of their scientific "theories" in the Torah.

To quote: "Scientists (...) rush to find isolated statements of our sages, rabbis, and commentaries that seem consistent with contemporary scientific view". These same scientists "are fully aware of the astounding details of G-d's wisdom in creating the world".

But, according to Rav Chaim Brisker, as quoted by HaRav Moshe Sternbuch, "G-d knew that there would always be heretics who would cite verses in the Torah to try and prove the validity of their deviant thoughts", and therefore He "wrote the Torah without concern whether the verses would be misused to justify heresy".

Further on, HaRav Moshe states, based on a decision by the Sanhedrion and the affirmation of the Rambam (Rabbi Moses Ben Maimon), that "surely the accepted view of the age of the universe can not be disregarded. This required acceptance of the traditional age of the universe is all the more obvious since every man and woman and child knows that the world was created 5765 years ago. An additional reason why we must accept the traditional age of the universe is that the calendar system is based on this fact. Consequently, a person who casts doubts on this accepted tradition -- even if he is (a) widely respected person by the Jewish people -- must be carefully investigated. This is because (it) is possible that he might have doubts concerning the foundation principles of faith -- like the academic scholars."

Well now.Accepted views are often wrong - truth is not a matter of acceptance or a vote (where it so, minority opinions would be anathema).

In Maimonides day, every man, woman, and child knew that the world was flat, and several other things that have since been proven to be utter balderdash. Even today men, women, and children know things that are patently false.

The calendar system is based on a postulated date - that does not mean that the date in question was the beginning of the calendar system, and accepting a calendar does not mean necessarily accepting the beginning date of that calendar as having a significance beyond it's being day or year one.
The Roman calendar was based on a mythological event - surely one can accept that such and such are the dates in the Roman calendar when Caesar was killed, Gaul was conquered, Nero died - without accepting that Romulus and Remus ever existed?
I accept the common era calendar, yet I refuse to accept one iota of the claptrap on which it is based.
A calendar is a tool, not an article of faith, nor a basis for a system of belief.

And as for academic scholars, there are plenty of them who accept, without any other basis than what their parents taught them and their faith tells them, any number of religious ideas. Just like there are religious authorities who accept no science whatsoever. None of this proves or disproves science, academic studies, or faith, though it does suggest that ignorance affects critical thinking.

HaRav Sternbuch also states"the obvious truth is that the order and nature of creation is concealed."

Which means exactly what, as far as proving any statement about the origins of the universe?
Though the assertion that it is concealed is tantamount to admitting that what is revealed is unacceptable. Including the very first parsha in Bereishis, and much subsequent material in the five books.

[The obvious is concealed - I like that; 'that which is clear is hidden, that which is incomprehensible is universally known, and so, clearly, the universe is six thousand years old.' Omeyn.]

There's much more in the letter, yet also very little else. In essence, the letter argues that science is wrong when it contradicts scripture, and often wrong in any case, evolution is impossible, we share no common ancestry or biology with other creatures (and certainly not with monkeys!), the world is only 6000 years old, scientists are desperate heretics, and anybody who believes otherwise is an apikoros if not an outright heathen. And should be looked at with extreme disfavour, at the very best.

He concludes with what amounts to a psak against scientific literature, saying that "having scientific writings in your house that are incompatible with the Torah, violates the prohibition (Deuteronomy 4:26): "Do not bring disgusting things in your house.", and "having such heretical scientific books in the home causes much troubles to those who possess them and it is obligated to get rid of them. Furthermore the author of such unacceptable scientific writings must retract such views and subordinate himself to the authority of contemporary rabbinical authorities".

If one were to strip this letter of identifying Judaic markings, and all other clues that the author is a rabbi, then one would have something that, except for the fact that it uses difficult words, might very well have been written by a fundamentalist Southern preacher.
Or a moron from Texas.

It reminds me of a decision made years ago by Hindu fundamentalist politicians to cease teaching algebra in a province where they had won an election, because all worthwhile knowledge was in the Vedas, and goodness gracious, something invented by Muslims couldn't possibly be of any use to anybody, and would probably poison precious little Hindu minds!

The problem with stuff like this is that it cherrypicks among the ideas the author wants to accept, and the scientific facts and proofs that the author is willing to trust, and discards everything else, irrespective of whether the author actually understands, or is even familiar with the field of learning in question. Archeology, geology, biology, physics - all of these, if they do not prove every word of scripture right, are to be seen as wrong and dangerous.

With all due respect for his learning (and his ability to turn the Rambam into a dunce), I would hope that HaRav Sternbuch would realize that science may not be his field of expertise. Adding to the sum total of ignorance in the world is also heresy.

So please, tayere rav, shut up!

- - - - - - - - -
PS. I gratefully acknowledge 'Not The Godol HaDor', at for leading me to this letter ("Relationship of Science to Torah") by HaRav Moshe Sternbuch, shlita. I have printed out a copy of the letter, and shall read and reread it many times.
- - - - - - - - -

Thursday, October 20, 2005


The Raisin, whom I met while walking today, after a three year interval during which he had been working for a software company down in Redwood City, asked me about food.

Three years ago he knew that I was obsessive about the subject ('what am I eating for lunch, why are there no good places to eat around here, is there a good Chinese restaurant nearby that the white folks haven't ruined yet, and WHY ARE THERE NO YEMENI RESTAURANTS in San Francisco?!?!?!?!?!?' - as just hypothetical examples. I'm quoting what he said, when he saw me.).

Somehow the conversation turned to the simple, comfort foods, the ones that everybody remembers from home. Such as jook for the Cantonese, fishballs for HongKongers, herring for the Dutch, and dhansak for Parsees.

The following is a recipe that probably doesn't remind too many people of the simple comfort food that mom used to make. But it is very nice.

[Fried brain, Sindhi style]
Serves 4

Four whole goat brains,
Four TBS butter or ghee.
Two Tsp. cayenne powder
One Tsp. turmeric powder
Generous pinches nutmeg or mace, ground black pepper, and salt.

Rinse the brains. Put a pot of lightly salted water on the fire (about six or so cups), add the cayenne and turmeric, and when the water boils dump in the brains. Cook for fifteen minutes.
Remove brains, drain, and when cool enough to handle remove the thin membranes. Slice each brain into four pieces, and pan-fry in the butter or ghee.
Add nutmeg or mace before removing from the flame, pepper and salt after. Serve hot.

Sindhis are a resettled group in India, like the Parsees and Bohri Muslims.
When India and Pakistan were partitioned, Sindh was included in Pakistan, and almost all Hindu Sindhis emigrated to India, settling largely in Bombay (one of the main cities of Maharashtra).
They are alleged to eat an inordinate number of pappadums - like most clichés, there is some truth to this allegation. Papad was cheap, and in those early years after resettlement no one had a lot of paise.

So, serve the bheja with some nice crisp roasted papad and rice or kich'ri (or even buttered toast), brew some milk-tea with plenty sugar and cardamom, put a Bollywood song-n-dance extravaganza on the telly, and kick back and relax. Life is good!

A little bit of nimboo pickle or aam ka achar is also good to have with the brain - or many other dishes. You should always have some in the house. Always.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

John Gibson is baffled

One of my two favourite collection agents sent me an article this morning.

The article, 'why are the Dutch so angry' is by John Gibson - not a name I was much familiar with - I believe I may have seen his ponim on the tube while flipping channels.

[Tangentially, this has to do with that blonde teenager from Alabama who vanished while partying in the Dutch West Indies. Mr. Gibson has been getting letters from 'Ollandim who are reacting to something he wrote.]

Mr. Gibson asks: "Why are the Dutch so angry? And why do they so readily misconstrue what people like me say?"

Simple. You're a moron.

Write or say something stupid, and people will send letters.
Many of them will misconstrue whatever you said.

Just look at Nancy Grace (where DOES she hide that broomstick?) and her completely twisted take on events in Aruba.
She probably gets tonnes of mail (hate or otherwise).

What I have a hard time figuring out is: ONE: Why does anybody care what happens to a drunken teenager from Alabama who is stupid enough and loose enough to get into a car with three strange men (never mind that she represents the 'flowah of suthern wumminhood beyin tekin advantage uv bah dem hurrible furrenners'); and TWO: Why on earth would any reasonably intelligent person give a hoot about what an employee of Fox says, does, or thinks?

About the only thing we can conclude is that the type of substandard inbreds and morons who in America would be living in trailerparks, in Holland have the education to understand a foreign language (English), access to computers, and the leisure and inclination to write angry letters.

So it seems to me that Mr. Gibson has found his ideal target audience. The only thing left for him to do is learn Dutch. Hell, if they listen to him, they deserve him.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Whenever you say their names...

"Whenever you say their names, they live again"
I cannot remember where that quote came from.

Bert De Bruin (Yonathan Dror Bar-On), on his website 'Dutchblog Israel' (available here: posted a lovely poem by the Yiddish poet and writer Binem Heller (1906 - 1998) which I cannot resist pasting here also (without the translation - sorry, but I don't feel like it; but he has it on his site, which you really should visit).

Mayn shvester Khaye mit di grine oygn

Mayn shvester Khaye mit di grine oygn,
Mayn shvester Khaye mit di shvartse tsep -
Di shvester Khaye, vos hot mikh dertsoygn
Oyf smotshe-gas, in hoyz mit krume trep.

Di mame iz avek fun shtub baginen,
Ven oyfn himl hot ersht koym gehelt.
Zi iz avek in krom arayn fardinen
Dos bidne-drobne groshedike gelt.

Un Khaye iz geblibn mit di brider,
Un zi hot zey gekormet un gehit.
Un zi flegt zingen zey di sheyne lider,
Far nakht, ven kleyne kinder vern mid.

Mayn shvester Khaye mit di grine oygn,
Mayn shvester Khaye mit di lange hor -
Di shvester Khaye, vos hot mikh dertsoygn,
Iz nokh nisht alt geven keyn tsendling yor.

Zi hot geroymt, gekokht, derlangt dos esn,
Zi hot getsvogn undz zi kleyne kep.
Nor shpiln zikh mit undz hot zi fargesn -
Di shvester Khaye mit di shvartse tsep.

Mayn shvester Khaye mit di oygn grine,
A daytsh hot in treblinke zi farbrent.
Un ikh bin in der yidishe medine
Der same letster, vos hot zi gekent.

Far ir shrayb ikh oyf yidish mayne lider
In teg di shreklekhe fun undzer tsayt.
Bay got aleyn iz zi a bas-yekhide -
In himl zitst zi bay zayn rekhter zayt.

- - - - - - - -
I believe that Binem Heller may have been a native of Metzeritch - yes, that Mezeritch, where the Maggid was from. It is spelled Miedzyrzec now.
I do not know more about him than that; the internet is scant help.

Bert, thanks for posting that poem.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Stumbling over the Messes

Steg wrote, in response to a post of mine, that "M. M. Schneersohn wasn't mashiahh ben Yoseif! Mashiahh ben Yoseif was, obviously, a certain Palestinian Jew during the British Mandate who was executed by the British for illegally having weapons to defend himself. Or something like that. His name was [Something] Ben-Yoseif. "

Steg, I'm going to have to get back to you with sources, please be patient.

And I wish to clarify, just to be on the safe side, that my doubts over Messianic matters have utterly clobbered, in my mind, any and all consideration of the idea that Rav Schneerson was the Moshiach. Nor do I believe, in even the slightest particle, that anybody else, ever, has been Messianic, whether Ibn Yusuf OR Ibn Daud.
But the idea is interesting, and many exceedingly odd candidates have been proposed - it's better than a Philippino election in that regard.

I would also, meantime, like to direct your attention to a column that appeared in Arutz Sheva a while back:

[The Footsteps of the Moshiach, by Moshe Lerman, June 01, 2005 ]

Mr. Lerman opines, that "the study of Kabbala by saintly Jews is the greatest cause of human progress."
Which is a remarkable statement, and presupposes a very particular and limited definition of human progress. But I digress.

Moshe goes on to write:

"....... a horrendous tragedy happened: Rabbi Meir Kahane was murdered. It was 434 years after the Arizal started his study of the Zohar. Could it be that more words of Daniel were fulfilled in 5751? We read: "And after 62 weeks a Moshiach will be cut off, and none will be left to him (Daniel 9:26)." Seven times 62 equals 434. Could there be a more appropriate description of the rejected prophet Rabbi Meir Kahane than "none will be left to him?"

He then suggests that Rabbi Kahane was Moshiach ben Yosef, "because of his unique labor for a truly Jewish state, and because of what happened to him."

The rest of the article is a confusing jumble of mathematics and number-symbolism, which is a bit more than I'm willing to whack my way through - though I would love to see what others (hello Steg, Mar Gabriel, Dov Bear!) think about it.

I am of two minds regarding the Mosiach: While we wait, there is hope. Once he comes, hope ends. It is the promise that he will come that is important, but the realization of that promise, on the other hand, would leave us with precisely what?

I will be patient, even though he may tarry. I prefer that He tarry a lot longer - I would rather not have faith and discourse destroyed by certainty and finality, much preferring instead to have the promise and the hope.

Perhaps the concept of the moshiach is merely a way for the malchus beis Dovid to redeem itself, or a hope that it will actually do so. King David, while a magnificent culture-hero in the David and Goliyas mi Gas tale, turns into the frat-boy from hell later on (as I'm sure Uriah the Hittite would agree).

Thoughts? Feedback?

On no! It's the Mahdi!

I have my doubts. Seriously.

You see, there have been so many announcements in the last millennium, by scholars both sincere and wise, that person alef, sujet beit, or dingbat gimel is/was/will be the Moshiach, that I have to doubt.

Nevertheless, for what it's worth, here are some quotes from an article in Arutz Sheva (entitled: 'Leading Kabbalist Urges Jews to Israel - More Disasters Coming'. And surely you don't need a link? You have A7 bookmarked!):

"---On Thursday night, Rabbi Yitzhak Kaduri said, "Jews must come to the land of Israel to receive our righteous Mashiach (Messiah), who has begun his influence and will reveal himself in the future."

Well, that fits in with the theory (like 'creationism' is a theory) that der Lubavitser was the Moshiach Ben Yoisef.

"---the Kabbalist scholar surprised his students and fellow worshippers with secrets relating to the coming of the Mashiach. "

I'll bet he did.

"---During the service, Rabbi Kaduri lowered his head and entered a deep mystical concentration which lasted uninterrupted for some 45 minutes."

Dyspepsia? A nap? Elu v'elu....

"---Students who thought the elderly Rabbi was suffering an attack of sort tried to communicate with him, but he did not break his intense concentration for a moment, even to nod. "

And surely their concern is appreciated.

"---With a broad smile on his face familiar to his students when he has a revelation, he declared, "With the help of G-d, the soul of the Mashiach has attached itself to a person in Israel" [In the original Hebrew: 'Hit'abra bezrat hashem nishmat mashiach b'adam m'yisrael']."

Okay, I'm a cynic. I really cannot believe that Shabbatai Zvi has been reincarnated. But keep talking, please.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Pushing the envelope

In an article in Ha'aretz (Religious MKs blast court decision not to fund meals in Haredi schools - which can be found at, there are some rather surprising assertions. Apparently, Deputy Social Welfare Minister Avraham Ravits believes that the decision to not fund meals in Hareidi schools was motivated by racism. To quote: "Today I was proven wrong, The court again proved itself to be the conduit of racism in the state of Israel... and then they're surprised that the Haredi community has no faith in the system of law?"

One would really like to know what race the right honourable Avraham Ravits thinks is involved. Is some non-Jewish ethnic group in charge of the Israeli High Court? Are Hareidim a different race? Are Apikorsim (as no doubt Avrumel thinks of secular yidden) not of the same stock as Hareidim?

Or should we jump to a logical conclusion, namely that ultra-orthodoxy leads to such a level of inbreeding that within mere generations one can speak of ethnic differentiation?
Why is every attempt at evenhanded non-sectarianism greeted with screams of discrimination and outrage from the ultra religious?

And why must the ultra orthodox, who normally shun any and all contact with heathens who are not exactly like them, so enthusiastically jump to take advantage of EVERY POSSIBLE HANDOUT they can claim?
If they do not wish to be part of the fabric of society, it would be more suitable for them to reject handouts - insulation has to work in both directions.

Dayan Michael Cheshin said parents who decide not to accept free national schooling services and opt for private education "have no right to ask the state to fund their children's school fees."
Implied herein is that it's a one-way street and a package deal; the state provides a service, the Hareidi schools choose not to accept that service.

Part of the deal, one would think, is that if you don't adhere to the standards which have been set, and oversight by society, you relinquish much of your claim to the common soup pot.

But shame may not be a Hareidi concept. After all, it's not a mitzvah.

A system of law, however, IS a mitzvah. Having faith in it is not the point; sorry that y'all thought it was. You are supposed to interact with it, and be part of the system (and the Rambam clarifies much on this issue, you might want to look him up).

Itza plot, I tell ya! An evil international plot!

Thanks to the miracle of the internet, we now have confirmation (being, in Journalese, THREE INDEPENDENT sources), for the following facts:

1. There's rat faeces in the glue on envelopes.
2. The companies that make soft drinks are atheists who refuse to put "Under God" on their cans.
3. Saran wrap, used in the microwave, causes cancer.
4. There's a needle infected with AIDS in the coin return on pay phones.
5. Flashing your headlights on a country road will get you killed by vicious drug gangs.
6. Deodorants cause cancer.
7. Pajamas spontaneously combust.
8. So do chess-players.
9. Perfume samples often contain addictive narcotics.
10. Several major package delivery services are actually Al Qaeda in disguise.
11. Commercial fried chickens are actually horrible mutant freaks with no eyes or feathers.
12. God only answers prayers if you forward an e-mail to seven friends and make a wish within five minutes.
13. Sick children in hospitals want you to forward entirely pointless and sappy e-mails around the world. Either that, or they want bottle caps. Millions of bottle caps. They'll get better if they get what they want. Really. You're heartless if you don't let everyone else know.
14. Participating in special email programs will earn $15,000.00. Or sneakers. Or you can change the world by forwarding instructions of some sort.
15. Flyers on windshields are a clever way to distract you before you drive off - someone will mug you as you remove it, and take your car. Because, naturally, you didn't notice the flyer until you put the key in the ignition.
16. After the floods receded in New Orleans, they discovered hundreds of people with their kidneys removed.
17. Tight underwear is a plot to lessen our ability to fight world domination by foreigners.
18. The United Nations is in charge of Area 51, which is guarded by genetically altered troops from Iraq.

- - - - - - - -

We can all rest easy, the truth is out.

The authorities will deal with these 18 threats, which they now finally know about, thanks to alert citizens like yourself.

[Why 18 threats? Somekind of Kabalistic significance. Just ask Esther.]

[PS. A shout out to Gerry D. in somewhere far north of here, whose eloquent venom is infectious - an e-mail of his was the ""source"" , to which I would have reacted, 'cept that I'm a little tired of all that gezeur on the list.]

Elu v'elu divrei Elokim chayim

For Rabbi Pinky's drashas hashavua:

For the RABAM's annotation and commentary:

To paraphrase a coworker, "those without wit should probably not have religion". So enter the sites given at your own risk.

Thursday, October 13, 2005


This post is not chronologically in place. It was actually written in Autumn 2010, and put here to keep it more-or-less out of sight.

Ve hamaven, yaven.

It serves merely to give a comment-field which you may use to contact me, if you need to say something in private.

Don't forget to include your e-mail address.



Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Dastarkhwan e Awadh & Itr-tempered ghee

The cookbook mentioned (Dastarkhwan e Awadh), can be obtained through the publisher :
Harper Collins (INDIA) Private Limited,7/16 Ansari Road, Daryaganj,NEW DELHI-110 002. INDIATel. 91-11-3278586

One picky little detail, which while I sneer at it I will nevertheless have to put to the test, is the tempering of ghee with itr - adding a spoonfull or two of kewra jal (pandanus or screwpine water) to warm (not hot) ghee, and simmering off the water content, leaving some kind of trace behind in the clarified grease.
This could probably also be done with mayet e zahar (orange-blossom water) or mayet e warda (rosewater), which are also used in Muslim cuisine, particularly Persian (which has been an influence on Awadhi cooking) and North-African (from Misr el Qahira all the way to Dar el Beid, el maghreb el aqsa).

Some cooks swear by it; I have my doubts. But I budget for culinary experimentation.

Which reminds me, I'll have to make Merouzia (lamb chunks in a honey and raisin sauce, with the usual aromatic spices) sometime soon - the idea still intrigues. One could make it as well with olive oil as with butter, I suppose.

The 'Ulama of Farangi Mahall and Islamic Culture in South Asia

The 'Ulama of Farangi Mahall and Islamic Culture in South Asia
By Francis Robinson.

This is one of my favourite books, which I am re-reading for the umpteenth time. It describes the habitus and yichus of a family resident in Awadh (Lucknow) since 1695, who excelled at the literate arts of Muslim scholars.
As a taste, which may give a sense of why I like this book, this passage from the introduction: "As many Muslim families do, they trace their line back to the time of the Prophet: in this case to Ayyub Ansari, the host of the Prophet in Medina. Thus when Mawlana 'Abd al-Bari of Farangi Mahall contemplated his third Hajj in 1912-13 he sought permission to visit the shrine of Ayyub Ansari at Eyup on the Golden Horn outside Istanbul."

Now note that Eyup is simply the Turkish phoneticization of Ayyub (thus Abu Ayyub Ansari, in Turkish becomes Ebu Eyup El-Sari). Ayyub, the companion of the Prophet, was killed in the Muslim assault on Constantinople in 668 C.E. , but the magnificent Mazar-Mosque marking his grave wasn't built until 1485, shortly after the Ottomans finally conquered Constantinople. The district of Eyup was of course named after the man entombed within its precincts. The mosque is (probably) the oldest masjid in the city.

Mawlana 'Abd al-Bari descended from 'Abdullah Ansari of Herat (Sheikh al Islam Abu Ismael Abdullah Ansari al Harawi bin Abu Mansur Muhammad Ansari, 1006 CE to 1085 or 1090 CE), a Sufi mystic, and hafiz of note. Four and a half centuries after Abdullah Ansari al Harawi died, his descendants entered Hind, where within only a few generations they established themselves among the top ranks of Islamic scholars and jurists. A remarkable family, whose activities are well documented.

Though the book touches lightely on the individuals and the family history, it alas mentions not at all how they lived, and how that compared to other Musharrafi groups in Lucknow and the Awadhi hinterland.

A slight impression of the life-style of that class during their heyday can be found in Dastarkhwan-e-Awadh, a delightful cookbook by Sangeeta Batnagar and R. K. Saxena.

The name Farangi Mahall refers to the original owner of the muhalla, that being a European merchant whose property was sequestered. The emperor Aurangzeb granted the property to the Ansari family after Qutb ad-Din Ansari was killed in a real-estate dispute.

Even Ulama lead exciting lives.

About which more later.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Healthy young things

"Healthy young animals are the future of your business. That's why it's crucial to choose a nutritious milk replacer. "

A few days ago, Dov Bear mentioned a number of blogs he visits regularly. So I checked 'em out. Several are more than interesting (and I haven't checked all of them, so these are not the ONLY interesting ones):
Godol Hador <> ,
Hirhurim <> ,
RenReb <> ,
Velveteen <> ,
PsychoToddler <> ,
YitzhakEyezik <> ,
Amshinover <> .

Dov Bear himself is at:
Read Dov Bear's blog. You won't regret it. Unless you voted for Bush, in which case you should call a priest and have that daemon cast out. Seriously. Get help.

Another favourite blog is Mar Gabriel,
Mar Gabriel fascinates because he writes, often with great charm, about a lifestyle almost mediaeval - the obsessive scholarly interests, the almost frantic pursuit of talmedish shabbesdikke involvement (trying to answer the eternal question: what and where am I eating this shabbes, and how will this shabbes differ from the ones that went before), and the habitus of a lomdishe olam.
All rather reminiscent of either the scholar at Oxenforde from Chaucer, or clerks at the University of Paris in the late middle-ages.
It is also refreshing to find writing that, almost obsessively, employs diacritical markings.

And if you visit Mar Gabriel, also visit Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) at
Just be carefull not to ask him about his lesson plans.


Imagine the scene.... a smelly, smoke-filled tavern near the Spui square in Amsterdam nearly four centuries ago. A youngish fellow (Bredero), with a sharp intelligent face, happily recites his latest poem. It is an appalling slander of a person known to all, and very eloquent. There is much laughter and applause, and rounds of drink provided, if only he will recite it again. And one more time.

Unfortunately some friends of the butt of this verse are present and a violent riot ensues, in which the smart-aleck poet barely escapes with his life.
Follows a quick paraphrasis of the poem in question - Dutch first, English immediately underneath each line.

Daer ick gister avond quam
What I observed last night...

De Gierighe Gerrit, die lebbige dief,
[Penurious Jerry, that lusty thief, ]
Die vrijt nu zijns ghelijck,
[Is courting now an ugly bitch.]
Wangt hy het Modde van Gompen lief,
[He is enamoured of 'Muddy' from Gompen, ]
Die leelijck is en rijck.
[Who is horrible, but rich. ]

Sy het ien asingt ruym van vel,
[There is a peculiarity to her skin, ]
Niet muisvael, noch niet bongt,
[Tis neither mousy nor ruddy, ]
Na 't rotte-graeu gelijcket wel,
[But appears rotten grey, and seems ]
Maer swart wst inde grongt.
[To border on the hue of clay. ]

Haer tangden zijn Kastangie bruyn,
[Her teeth are chestnut brown, ]
Heur lippen pimpelpaers,
[Her lips are pimple-purple. ]
Se het ien veurhooft tot heur kruyn,
[Her forehead extends unto her crown, ]
En hier en daer wat haers.
[With here and there... some hair. ]

In haer vermaelde wangen blieck,
[In her pale marble-like cheeks, ]
En in heur moye kin,
[And in her monumental chin, ]
Daet sietmen 't leger vande Grieck
[Are vistas that recall the Greeks... ]
En trotsche Troyen in.
[Most particularly the sack of Troy. ]

Se is geborst, gebuyckt, gebilt
[She is breasted, bellied, buttocked, ]
En louter inde vangh,
[Generously, and way too broad. ]
Praet van Rosbaijer soo ghy wilt,
[Speak of your famous steeds, ]
Dees het ien ander gangh.
[This one lumbers like a carter's nag. ]

Dit monstrum oft gediert
[This monstrous exemplar, this ghastly beast, ]
Dat voert soo hooghen pracht,
[Adorned with an excess of fripperies, ]
Daer wordt ghien snof, gien snee versiert,
[There is no frill, ribbon, or fashionable tuck, ]
Of't is heur daegh'lijcx dracht.
[That she doesn't wear each day.]

Gerrit is wat root en wat blaeu,
[Jerry is a bit ruddy, a bit blue, ]
Wat paers, wat kakelbongt,
[Purplish, and mottled; ]
Sen tangden an ien wouw klaeu
[His teeth, like misplaced claws, ]
Staen averechts in sen mongt.
[Stand at right angles to his jaws. ]

Hy sieter no soo Jongetjes uyt,
[He still looks quite youngish, ]
Wangt hy het corts ehaert,
[Short of hair, a youthfull cut... ]
Na dat hy schoon wat uyt eruyt,
[But half of his chin hairs have fallen out, ]
Kreegh hy sen twiede baert.
[And he's got a veritable pelt from the neck down. ]

Hy is soo anxstelijcke moy,
[He is indeed so gut-wrenchingly ugly, ]
Men vreest datmen hun siet,
[That he terrifies at first glance. ]
Sijn Vaer het brieven van Octroy,
[His daddy, who owns the 'copyright' on this product, ]
Men macht na-drucken niet.
[Is forbidden to ever reproduce it again. ]

So yemandt noch een stempel vindt,
[If any should ever find the molds (from which these two were made) ]
Die kaptse vry an twee
[Feel free to split them in two, ]
En drijftse met die woeste wint
[And cast them to the winds, ]
Diep inde Zuyer Zee.
[Deep in the middle of the Yssel lake. ]

Gerbrandt Adriaensz. Bredero (1585-1618)

Kolmi No Patio

A few years ago a friend went to India to visit her parents in Poona for a month.
A few days later, I received an e-mail from her asking me if I had a recipe for Prawn Patia.

[Prawn Patia (Kolmi No Patio) is a well-know Parsee dish - Curried shrimp in a thickish tangy curry sauce. Usually served with a plain lentil side dish, and rice.

Quote: "My mother still wants you to give her the best Kolmi Patia recipe you can think of. She claims she has been winging it all these years, and after tasting her latest effort, I believe her."

Going through some old e-mails just now I re-discovered what I sent her then.
So, just for the hell of it, here it is


Half pound prawns - shelled, deveined, rinsed.
Half dozen (or less) fresh green chilies.
Half dozen (or less) cloves of garlic.
A little bit of fresh ginger (approx. fingertip sized amount).
Two medium onions, chopped.
Two or three tomatoes, chopped (more if skinned and deseeded).
Half TBS tamarind pulp.
Fresh lime (for a squeeze of juice).
Vinegar (for a dash or jigger).
Between half to one TBS jaggery / palm sugar (golden sugar may be substituted).
Four TBS chopped cilantro / kothmir.
Oil, ghee, water (as needed).
One teaspoon EACH: Ground coriander seed, ground cumin (preferably both toasted before grinding).
Half to one teaspoon EACH: Cayenne, Turmeric, Garam Masala (Delhwi or Northern style).

Soak tamarind pulp in one cup hot water for half an hour. Kneed and strain. Set aside.
Grind chilies, garlic, ginger to a coarse paste.
Prepare the gravy first: Fry onion in oil and ghee till golden but not browned, on medium heat. Add the chilies garlic ginger paste, stir well, add turmeric, stir well, add remaining ground spices, stir well. After a few seconds add the tomatoes, tamarind water, jaggery, dash of vinegar, and salt. Once it has boiled for a minute or so, taste, and adjust the sweet-sour balance as appropriate - add more vinegar or jaggery.
Cook for five to ten minutes to develop the flavour and thicken the gravy - it should be semi-thick, not runny or soupy.
Add the prawns to the pan. Add the chopped cilantro once the colour of the prawns changes, and stir briefly. Note that prawns cook very fast - it only takes two or three minutes for them to change colour.
Adjust flavour with a quick squeeze of fresh lime juice, and remove from heat.
Serve with moong dal simply cooked, yellow rice, and rotli.


1. For a somewhat more intense prawn flavour, boil the shells and a couple of extra prawns (chopped) in the water in which you will soak the tamarind.

2. Some curry leaf / kari patta may be added to the gravy at the same time as the tomatoes. They need not be removed later.

3. Some cooks add fenugreek / methi and coconut milk. But this is neither standard nor necessary.

4. Garam masala: The reason why Delhwi garam masala is specified is because, due to the inclusion of ground coriander and cumin, it is appropriate to add during early stages of cooking. If you are using a Sindhi garam masala, add just a pinch near the end of the cooking time, and increase the proportion of ground coriander and cumin.

5. Aromatics: Two or three whole cloves can be added, as well as pinches of ground cinnamon and star anise. Sour dishes benefit from aromatics, but should not be overwhelmed with them. The use of tomatoes begs for a touch of cinnamon.

6. Proportions: Adapt quantity of chilies, garlic, and tomatoes as needed. There is great variation in chilies, with d'arbol being very hot, serrano resinous in taste and milder, and jalapeno zesty-peppy. Garlic, while not as variable, may not please all people equally. And sweet tomatoes will give a different taste to the dish than slightly unripe tomatoes. The sour taste of the dish depends primarily on the tamarind, with tomato, vinegar, and lime juice filling it out. As for the spices, it is seldom good to use too much turmeric, and it should always be cooked to remove the raw taste. But it is good for the skin and the digestion, and does add flavour. One inch of turmeric root is roughly equivalent to one teaspoon.

7. Measurements: One teaspoon is an amount roughly equal to a fingertip in volume (unless one has unusually small or large fingers), and can easily be measured out in the palm of the hand. There are three teaspoons to the tablespoon, which is roughly equal in volume to the thumb from the ball to the nail. There are sixteen tablespoons in a cup.

8. Prawns should not be overcooked. It is actually best to slightly undercook them, especially in a sour dish such as this. They only take a very short while to cook, even if they are large. What are often called giant tiger prawns are actually estuarine crayfish or langouste, and should be treated as if they were small lobsters instead.

9. Cayenne: commercial cayenne is actually African birdpepper grown bred to a specific heat level. But it is seldom fresh, and flavourwise it is not very good even when it is. The same can be said about paprika. Instead of cayenne and paprika, I prefer to use ground toasted dry Thai peppers and sweet Spanish pepper. If you have access to a sweet and brilliantly red pepper powder, one or two teaspoons of that may also be added, in addition to whatever hot red pepper powder you actually prefer to use.

10. Ghee is clarified butter (regular butter also can), Garam Masala is a mixture of aromatic spices (pinches of cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, and black pepper can be substituted), rotli is a type of flatbread. Everything else, except kari patta ('curry leaf', optional in any case), should present no problem.


Monday, October 10, 2005

Oh crap!

Perhaps I shouldn't try to figger out how to post links on the side until I've had more sleep - it's too much like programming. Links I want to add, in addition to Mar Gabriel, are Dov Bear, Steg-who-is-not-that-steg, the Jewropean, and Rav Pinky Schmeckelstein. But I'll do that tomorrow.

In the beginning.....

I'm tired, I haven't had enough sleep, and I'm jangly on too much coffee and tea. So why am I doing this?

Partly because some of the conversations which I've started on the blogsites of others may need to continue without cluttering up their comments-sections (see the interesting stuff that gets added underneath Dov Bear's posts, for instance), partly because a new year is the right time to start something new.

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