Friday, September 29, 2006


The custom on the day before Yom Kippur of atoning, with a substitute - in this case, the scapegoat is a chicken.

[Scapegoating in a religious context is best described in Vayikra (Leviticus) chapter 16.]

Shlugn kapores = 'Whacking atonements': the waving of a live chicken (or its monetary equivalent) three times over one's head, while chanting: "zeh khalefosi, zeh tamorosi, zeh kaperosi. Zeh hotarnegol yelekh le misoh, va'ani elekh le chayim tovim arukim ve shalom" ('This is my substitute, this is my commutation, this is my atonement. This rooster will go to death, and I will go to a life both long and peaceful').

[Chickens are notoriously loose in the bowel department - expect to feel sincere regret after doing this.]

The father of the family first does this for himself, and once he has 'atoned', and is newly 'guilt-free', he can do it for all other members of the household, using a chicken of the same gender as the person underneath. For a pregnant woman one uses two birds, one of each gender, for both the woman and the unborn child in the womb.

I recommend that pregnant women wear an old wig (an alte farshlepte sheitel) they didn't much care about anyway on this day. Or maybe borrow one from their mekhutenista ('di alte kokhlefflerin').

[Two panicked chickens, with their respective bowels. You may be much surprised.]

The birds are then sent to be slaughtered, and the flesh or its monetary equivalent given to the poor.

[To be really machmir, one should wave a goat instead. Trust me, you will feel different this year if you do.]

Note that many people nowadays think of using the live chickens as an irrational and superstitious custom, barbaric even, and quite probably cruel to the chicken. I'm not voicing any judgement until I see you do it. After that I'll be plenty judgmental. I'm only interested in your spiritual welfare.


I just reread what I wrote last-night.

Man, that's garbage.

Sounds like a questioning fifteen year old. One with 'issues'. And 'angst'. Who also thinks he's a deep thinker.

Instead of referring to it as random thoughts, I should've called it scattered trash.

I'm going to try to rewrite all that stuff in a more readable way. When I've had more sleep, not nearly so much caffeine, and have thought it over and out better. I might be older then too.

Thursday, September 28, 2006


What follows are semi-random thoughts on emunah and related subjects. Discussion is most definitely welcome, just keep in mind that I am a stubborn git, and my opinions make screechy noises when they change tracks. Please do NOT let that discourage you.


Faith is only possible when you realize that you have no proof, that nothing proves the existence of a deity. Faith exists in the dialogue between skeptical reason and the wish to believe.
So, while it possible that indeed there is a deity, and I hope that He exists, I cannot utterly believe so.
I have doubt. Which makes it possible for me to have 'faith'.

By the same token I have to assume that Torah - Nach - etc. are more like a lab book recording experimentation or experience with the divine than a factual record. Which seems to be backed up by the moshol-like nature of the text. Almost as if someone said "think of it in this way...."

Because of my cultural background, it is also the only possible lab book that I can accept. I have delved into other religions - but other than the sheer Ballsy-ness of Sikhism, there is not enough meat, and too much gristle.


Assuming that something happened in the time between Abraham and Sinai is far less problematic than accepting any part of the Nicaene creed (deity as man / demotic polytheism / Graeco-Roman idolatry / divine absolutism / representationism).
The Abrahamic narrative could probably be a back-formation of the beginning of the tradition, and Sinai demonstrates a transformation of the group, subsequently given an intellectual and cultural context and framework.

Let us assume that Torah to a great extent and Nach to a lesser extent are the lab books of a long and intensive approach to understanding the divine, and the Mishnah and the Gemara represent a dialogue concerning everything that flows therefrom. Compared to xtian writings, there is more meat and more method (and, in some ways, a greater madness).
From the subtexts one can attempt to construct a basis for both a belief system and a moral guide.

The material also forces one to ask questions - it is part of the methodology, part of the message. Questioning is a necessary part of relation to these texts.

I have no proof of the divine, and I don't have no answers. But I must at least try to understand the questions.

If, without a thorough delving into the material, I dare to state something definite, I'm doing so from a position of shallowness. If, at the end of a lifetime of wrestling with the subject, I state that I still do not know and still doubt, I'll be doing so from a position of depth.

The pursuit seems worthwhile.


Why a fellow traveler with the J-BLOG crowd? As you may have noticed, hashkofo and theology are not matters that one can talk about with most Christians - there is no tradition of discussing these matters, and a long tradition of actively discouraging such conversation with bonfires and stakes while considering everyone who believes differently accursed.

Communicating with dogmatic Christians is much like communicating with a convinced communist or fascist. There are the same linguistic rigidities, the same entrenched ideas. They subscribe to the same legitimacies as the political extremists, but have different programmes. The dialectic is rigid, blinkered, and narrow.

Not exactly a favourable environment for inquiry.

Besides which, I cannot take the Christian Subsequentia (aka 'New Testament') seriously - it requires too much credulity to function as anything other than cultural background (much like Grimm's fairytales), and the biggest stumbling block in the theology is that insistence on the son of god bit. What we cannot know by definition cannot be so specifically defined - I prefer instead to assume a Hester Panim, leaving us with the ungraspability of the divine, and, crucially, freedom of thought. The Christian description of God is childish and gnostic, the certainty of Christianity smacks too much of blackmail.

The other thing is that one absolutely cannot discuss Talmud with believing Christians, nor with most skeptic Christians. The methodology of thought is not something that a Christian can really get into, the praeconceptions are too numerous, the interest is not there, and the subject is opaque to their eyes.

Put differently, who else should I try to discuss Talmud with? There is not a wide choice, and there is an imperative to learn and debate.

The rabbinic tradition has spent much thought on man's relationship with each other and man's relation with the divine, whereas Christian thought always veers back into the nature of Jezus, saint worship, angels dancing on pins, the apocalypse, and other hairy figments.

Yes, there are people in the Christian oilam who Godol-Hadorishly believe, but have trouble rationalizing that belief. Problem is that they still believe in the ideology and most of the idolatrous points of their formation-narrative.


We don't know that there is a deity, so it is probably best to operate under the assumption that there may actually be one. But if there is a deity, we really have a problem.

Specifically, anything that tells us precisely what to do and believe, based allegedly on that deity's authority, has to be considered unbelievable - because believing it partly defines or second-guesses the deity - and in that we believe we have a choice, and ergo free will - we cannot believe something that contradicts that, by putting restrictions on our free will - which is exactly what defining or second-guessing a deity would do.

Yet a belief in a deity rather makes us do exactly that. A contradiction.

So we should probably try to map out consistent and decent behaviours, and methods for dealing with circumstances, rather than insist that there is only one way and all other ways are wrong. Basically, the Talmudic process.

That's one approach to the issue.

Another approach is to imagine that God put us here and more or less told us "here's your world, act right, try to become more than you are, and I'll check back with y'all after you croak".

As long as we leave this place better than when we got here, and actually grew in that regard while we were here, we probably have a credit balance.

So we end up trying to figure out how we should act, trying to understand why, and examining underlying principles - again, the Talmudic process.

However you look at it, we cannot make rigid assumptions, and there are no rules set in stone that deal with all eventualities. The point of the process is further understanding, the methodology itself is the guide to the methodology.


The conflict between faith and reason is a necessary part of the deal. It is the tension between the two opposites that creates a discourse within ourselves. On the one hand, hope - speculation - belief, on the other, reason - facts - curiosity.

Someone who doesn't doubt and doesn't question is probably not deeply involved and not capable of any great flexibility.
Someone who, on the other hand, rejects religion entirely, is as shallow and rigid as the first type.

Doubt is necessary, doubt is essential, doubt makes it possible to be human. Without the Hester Panim, we would merely be obedient little monsters.


Fundamentalism is natural for groups, but it isn't natural for individuals. The subtext of parshas Re'eh is one of public adherence to the practices, no matter what privately one thinks, as means of building a strong group identity. One implication is that it is the accepted performance that matters most - and that differing personal levels of faith and doubt are to be assumed.

A logical segue from that might be to ask why certain people, by their chumras, are poresh min ha tzibber. Kiruv rechokim is always better than merachek krovim.


What follows is an out and out theft from a recent posting by the Godol Hador (aka Not The Godol Hador aka XGH).

I lifted these passages from the post (here: ) where he relates what "a senior Orthodox Rabbi" said to him in a recent discussion. This is most-marvelously mechazek my emunah (in the same way that the GodolHador himself is mechazek my skepticism).

Now then. Selective cut-and-paste.

"...Judaism is unique as compared to Islam & Christianity. Both Islam and Xtianity believe that their prophet and their revelation are the exclusive truth, and that you must convert to their religion. Chazal never felt like that. Chazal were perfectly comfortable with other religions being also true, and other prophets having revelations (Bilaam is even in the Torah!), and even other texts being holy and ‘written’ by God. The only promise in this area is that for Jews, no prophet will ever replace Moshe. But Goyim can have prophets, texts and other paths to God. Chazal did not encourage gerim for that reason: other religions might be true too. The Rishonim also took this position, and there is even a baal tosafos who thinks that Zoroastrianism might be true, and many Rishonim who held that Islam might be true too (except for the parts which claims to have superceded Judaism of course)."


"...Judaism is a proven system. Its 2,000 years old at least, and has never been guilty of any major injustice. Of course its not perfect, but compared to Islam & Xtianity we come off way better. Secularism doesn’t have a good track record, especially in the last century (2 world wars, Nazis, communist Russia etc). Judaism has maintained a very good moral touchstone (in general), and builds good, successful communities with low crime rates, divorce rates, etc etc."
"...Other alternatives don’t give you such a moral foundation and framework. Agnosticism is dangerous because people are too good at self-rationalizing and there is a danger they could ‘flip out’. Judaism seems to do well (in general) with not ‘flipping out’."
"...In other words, there are multiple paths to God. The only reason we have to be Jewish is because we were born Jewish, and those are the rules of the community."

"...There's not any other system or ideology out there which is significantly better, or possible even equal, over the long term, so it's worth a shot to try and create a rational Orthodoxy."

"...Firstly, there’s no problem at all in viewing the narrative portions of the Torah as mythological or allegorical (or just plain exaggerated for effect I guess). Chazal clearly viewed early Breishis as allegorical. It’s not a problem. As for the DH, he looked into that in depth but never found it particularly convincing. And anyway, he has no problem with a looser definition of Torah MiSinai. Maybe some bits were added later, some were added earlier (the avos wrote Breishis) etc. "

"...Chazal were always comfortable in allegorizing parts of the Torah."

"...The basic concept of Divine Revelation is within the realm of plausibility. Judaism works well and is a good moral system, it has withstood the test of time. You are not required by Judaism to believe in it 100%, (the) Rambam’s ikkarim are not the ikkarim, so there really is no problem!"

Applicable afterthought - XGH's own words, from a different posting (see here: ):
People need a framework. People need life rituals. People need community. People need moral and ethical rules which they can have confidence in. People need meaning. People need to have something bigger than themselves to believe in.


Over at the Muqata there's a rather sweet post about davening at the kotel (see )
which, in it's own way, proves the vital importance of not giving back even one inch of Jerusalem to the Arabs.

Readers will no doubt remember what the Kotel was used for in the old days when King Hussein of blessed memory still owned that part of Jerusalem?

My readers should know that I am, generally speaking, in favour of giving back some of the liberated territories - Gaza is a poxy hellhole that the Arabs are welcome to, and there are some parts of the Shomron where the Arabs dominate overwhelmingly. Think in terms of population dynamics.

But Jerusalem is a different kettle of fish.

It is only because of the Catholic countries that Jerusalem was not reckoned part of Israel by the United Nations in 1947. From the war of independence till 1967 Jerusalem was partitioned, the Kotel within sight but unreachable, Jews forbidden to come near, the area used as stables and urinals by the Arabs in spite. Since then Jerusalem has been reunited, with all three religions that claim it being allowed to worship there. The Masjid Al Aqsa is STILL a holy place where Muslims worship.

And the Jews are right - the Mosque of Omar and the Dome of the Rock are too lovely to use for stables and urinals.

Jerusalem is holy to three religions - but only because it was holy to one.
Christians and Muslims are, relatively speaking, Johnny-come-latelys. The Christians were content to leave it in Arab and Turkish hands for centuries, the Muslims for their part didn't discover how much Jerusalem could possibly mean to them until it was clear that the Jews wanted it back.
At that point, the Catholics grew kinda upset that not they, but the Jews might liberate the place from the Saracen hordes, and threatened to vote against the partition plan at the United Nations.

It turns out that having voted to partition, and deny the Jews Jerusalem, the Catholics had little interest in further involvement - leaving the Arabs and Jews to duke it out. The rest, as they say, is history. And at present the city is in the hands of the people by whom it was first holy. The heirs have come home, the exile of the sons of Abraham, Jacob, and Josef is over.

So, no division of Jerusalem. Ever.

The Arabs can still worship there. And Arabs yet live there. But the city is not theirs.


Afterthought: One would have assumed that the Catholic nations would have remembered what happened to Iberia - it took several centuries of brutal struggle and horrific sacrifice for the owners to get it back from the Muslims. For several centuries, non-Muslims were often enslaved and exploited, and had to pay a discriminatory head-tax.
One could also discuss the humiliating behaviour and garb which Muslim rulers impose on their non-Muslim subjects - but, given that that presupposes being able to live, and live in peace, doing so would be slightly pointless.
And it has been too long since the reconquista - the Catholic world seems to have a short memory, bless their hearts. Nor do they admit to any problem with Muslims holding the holy places, if Jews are the alternative. Deus used to volt, but deus no longer volts.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


The post below this one is about Indian cooking ('alu makhni'), wherefore you might find it interesting to look at some of my other Indian food posts.

Here are links.
[A robust tribal pilaf; Semi-sweet meat and rice; Electric yellow rice with syrup, pineapple chunks, and ghee; Green chilies in curry sauce - Andhra version and a personal variation.]
[Ghee with a flavouring.]
[Large prawns in a tangy curry gravy.]
[Fried brain, Sindhi style.]
[Indian style lime pickle.]

As always, I welcome your comments.


Earlier today I read several internet-Dutchmen making fun of the NYC Health Department proposal to ban Trans Fats in the food service industry.

I paid it little mind, as Dutchmen will habitually dig their poisonous fangs into any subject, provided they can vent some choice negative spew.

But then I noticed this posting ( from MOChassid, who writes: "Should the government be able to dictate to restaurants which ingredients are acceptable? Next thing you know, we will have Health Department inspectors at kiddushes telling us that the kishke and chulent are off limits."

My interest now quivered.

One of his commenters, Dovbear, wrote: "I am in favor of this legislation.
Why should we the taxpayer have to pay (via medicare, and medicaid) for the heart diseases this chemical causes? Why should all of our health insurance rates go up because some rest. are serving poison?

Normally I see e-Eye to e-Eye with Dovbear, a respected fellow blogger whose rantings I do not fail to read on a daily basis. But he is wrong on this point. Gold-plated wrong. So very very wrong, that I fear he may be deliberately provoking us.

Not exactly something which he is new at.

Khazanchi for someone not named Thakur Prataap Singh (but he could have been).

Nearly seventeen years ago I took a part-time job as cashier/bookkeeper at an Indian restaurant here in the city, and, being a know-it-all manqué, I started reading everything I could find about India, Indian food, Indian culture, Indian society, history, anthropology, minorities, and languages. Primarily so I wouldn't be caught flat-footed when a customer asked a question, or a co-worker made a remark which presumed prior knowledge.

"I do not know" is not one of my favourite phrases.

Learning tons of stuff about India complimented my knowledge of Indonesian things nicely, as there is much that is similar - linguistically, culturally, culinarily. And also much that is different. The contrasts illuminated the "other" nicely. Not quite two sides to the same coin, but two related surfaces on the same Rubik's Cube, as it were.

One of the delightful oddities of Indian food thinking is the veneration of butter, usually in the form of ghee.

Ghee is the great tonic and purifier, prime ingredient in all good dishes, unguent of the divine, and offering of offerings. Ghee is the first thing into the pot, the polish on a getshkeh, the fuel for lamps. When a person of one of the more bloody castes cooks for a multitude, the first thing into the pot must be ghee, so that by coming into contact with this great purifying substance the other ingredients are rendered clean. This last is of particular stress when cooking rice pudding (chaval ki kheer), which is often shared as prasad, or parceled out at celebrations.
And ghee, or butter, is used in excess in certain wonderful dishes.

Ghee is divine.

Ghee is lovely.

[Potatoes in a butter (makhan) sauce]

Three large potatoes.
One and a half cups heavy cream.
Half a cup tomato paste.
Quarter cup butter.
One TBS cumin seeds.
One Tsp. Paprika.
Half a Tsp. Cayenne.
Pinches dry ginger, cloves, mace, salt, pepper.
A little mashed garlic and ginger.

Peel and chunk the potatoes, boil in salted water till the outside softens. Drain.

Roast the cumin seeds in a skillet till deeply fragrant, remove and grind semi-fine.

Cook the potato chunks in the butter with the garlic and ginger for a few minutes, and remove to a plate.
Add the spices to the grease remaining in the pan, stir briefly over heat, then add the tomato paste and heavy cream while stirring. Do not boil. The objective is a rich emulsion, which will form naturally, of a rusty hue, creamy and spicy. Taste it!

And adjust quantities of cream, paste, and butter as you see fit.

When the sauce has become what you have always wanted, slide the potatoes back in and simmer for about ten minutes, adding some sliced green chili and chopped fresh herbs for sparkle. Serve as a side dish. Or as a main dish.

G'wan, eat yerself silly.

Note that the same sauce can be used for stewing whole large green chilies (Anaheim or New Mexico), for a buttery version of Mirch-Masala.

Variations on this sauce are used by North-Indians for meat dishes, especially Indian restaurant style Butter-Chicken (Murgh Makhni), which is not the classic Panjabi preparation, but an invention by a bunch of Afghans stuck in Delhi after partition (1947).

They opened a restaurant called the Moti Mahal (pearl palace), serving Tandoori Chicken as they were accustomed to eat in Peshawar - meaty chicken parts marinated in yoghurt, onion paste, salt, pepper, cumin, with garlic and ginger and red food colouring (cock's comb herb), then grilled in an earthen oven till barely tender.
Served with Naan (a bread originally from Persia, but modified by centuries of use in Southwestern Afghanistan and Northern India, much favoured with Muslim dishes), pickled onions, and one or two other very minor things.

The restaurant flourished enormously. Perhaps because most of the other eateries in Delhi at that time were either British clubs, or dining halls in the old Muslim districts, and catered to an old-fashioned clientele of set habits and predictable tastes. Whatever. The Moti Mahal was new, and hip (well, as hip as large sari-clad matrons and junior civil servants could make it).

At the end of day, with customers still lined up, they would often run out of goodies. So, making use of the pan-juices from the cooked chickens, along with the smaller bits and scraps, they added butter, tomatoes, and cream. Plus some spices. And voila. A modern classic.

The recipe got changed slightly in the fifties - Indian cooks in the UK discovered Campbell's tomato soup. And in the seventies, Indian cooks in the US discovered tomato paste. Both of these are now common shortcuts.

PS I. In case you were curious, I worked several evenings per week at that Indian restaurant from 1990 till 2005. In that decade and a half I must have read well over a thousand books about matters Indian, and my collection of books about food grew enormously. So yes, I enjoyed the experience.

Hardly any of the spices or ingredients were new or foreign to me. Indonesian and Indies-Dutch cooking uses many spices which are also found in Indian kitchens.

PS II. About the title of this post. Once the owner of the restaurant, "X"-sahib, was joyfully lecturing a customer about the superior qualities of Indian food, why it was the greatest stuff on earth, tasty, artistic, and ever so healthy!
While he waxed floridly lyrical, I looked at the customer's order. Murgh Makhni (first stick of butter), Chicken Tikka Masala (second stick of butter), and Dum-Alu Vindaloo (third stick of butter). With hot-buttered naan breads.

PS III. Every Indian restaurant should have a smart-aleck Dutchman counting the money - that's what we're good at.
If your local Indian restaurant does not have a smart-aleck Dutchman counting the money, something may be very wrong.

Ask them if they use enough butter.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


I've tried to give answers to several questions about the sabbath lately.

But the one question I have not been able to answer is "why are poundcake, herring, and shots of single malt a perfect breakfast?"

They just are, okay?

I mean, surely you wouldn't eat before shacharis?

And Kiddush clubs are kinda like the Elks or Knights of Columbus for the Goyim.


Jameel: "I find it weird that Jews define themselves as "GOP Jews" or "Democrat Jews." No one in Israel defines themself as a Meretz Jew, Likud Jew, or Kadima Jew. Isn't American Jew a good enough label?"

Ah, now that is where you are wrong. And have clearly spent too much time outside the land (ha Eretz ha Yankel).

We thrive on hyphens, more than ever before.

Take this from a "semi-liberal sort-of-half-assedly Talmudish-inclined Democrat-voting foreign-policy-conservative Dutch-American from a former military family cynical Gentile".

Grisn, und solst hobn a zisn und gebentshte ney yor,


PS. Poresh min ha tzibber? Me? Impossible! My tzibber consists of ALL of me.

Monday, September 25, 2006


This being San Francisco, it is probably worth-while to mention some of the wonderful things I could have done this past weekend.

1. Attend the Love Parade.
[I think that's what it was called - a hippy tribute to the sixties and the love thing, with Haight-Ashbury types, happy morons, and aged drugheads slowly going down Market Street to Civic Center to listen to dated music. Or something like that (I did not go). ]

2. Go to SF Jazz-Festival.
[The less I say about big themed music festivals, the better. I do not party with thousands of my nearest and dearest - if there are thousands, they certainly aren't my nearest and dearest. Bah humbug (I did not go).]

3. Leather it up gaily at the Folsom Street Fair.
[An annual event involving skintights, hot straps, bare cheeks, studs, studs wearing studs, and big fat men with too little clothing. Spanking and beer. Happy wholesome perversion and good cheer. Male bonding. Not my scene, though (I did not go).]

4. Watch the Pittsburg Steelers on teevee over at Dove's house, and witness his head exploding.
[Need I mention that Dove is a Steeler's fan? And that for him the world pretty much came to an end, turned dark and depressing and filled with angst? Yes, his dreams have been shattered, truly a ghastly turn of events, oh sadness, oh fates (I did not go).]

5. Head to the Embarcadero to dump cake-crumbs into the Bay.
[Something to do with symbollically casting-off the sins of the last year. I would remind you of a quote from Adderabbi a few weeks back about who gets called an idiot, and several sarcastic comments from Dovbear in years past. If Dov says anything snarky about tashlich this year, RenReb has threatened to give him one but good (I did not go).]

So what did I do this weekend?

I acted like a cabbage. Stayed at home for two days smoking a pipe and reading Tanya (that is to say, the Rav. Adin Steinsaltz book which translates and mefarshifies - the Liadite's original lashon is a wee bit beyond me).

Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage.

I did not go anywhere.

It was an excellent weekend.

Thursday, September 21, 2006


May we all be zoche to a kesiva ve chasima tovah, u biyas goel tzedek, bekarov, bimheirah, viyameinu.
A zisn und gebentshte yor.


The Pope was right when using that quote to illustrate his particular point (violence cannot be justified by religion). But it was a selective, somewhat blinkered rightness, especially when taking into account the historical impact of several other expansionist religions...
Including, oddly, his own.

He should, perhaps, have realized that mentioning the faults of others is not a substitute for mentioning the fault entirely in the abstract.

Mentioning someone else's faults has the inevitable result that it reminds the accused of the many equivalent faults one has oneself. People who live in glass houses should be somewhat more careful about throwing stones. Even at people in other glass houses.

An old testament reference comes to mind: "Va yedavar sar-hamashkim et Parao, lemor et chatayi ani mazkir ha yom" (then the steward spoke to Pharaoh, saying 'I make mention of my faults today'). A reference often used of statements which also unfortunately remind the listener of previous issues.

That said, what I've read in the comment section of several European newspapers (few of which could EVER be accused of being pro-Israel or Jew-friendly, and whose readers perhaps have best demonstrated the hate-everyone-but-especially-Jews-and-Americans mentality) indicates that this last outburst has generated more than a little dispatience with kvetching Muslims and their poor krenked feelings.

Some Muslims have called this the signal of a new crusade.

Have they forgotten what started the first crusades?

Some Muslims have uttered death-threats at the pope, for daring to suggest that there was violence in their religious history.

How absurd, and how ironic.
[Is there in fact a word for 'irony' in classical Arabic? Or is that just one more idea that doesn't translate?]

Some Muslims have gone on strike (in Kashmir!?!) to really show the Christian world what they think, so there!

That was probably a great convenience for the Indian army in that region, and a great pain in the tuchus for the local (predominantly Muslim) population (so there!).

More such strikes should be encouraged.

I applaud pain in their collective rear.

One is almost tempted to stage a Quran burning to piss off the little dears.

Except that one doesn't want to piss 'em off so glibly, with so purile a gambit, for so minor a point.
And I don't burn books.
[I will need books for toilet paper and cigarettes in the prisoncamp when the Muslims or their Berkeleyite friends win. That isn't particularly likely, but I'm not taking any chances.]

[Not that I grade my library on suitability for such tasks, by any means. Heaven forfend.]

Now, let us now examine the quote from Emperor Manuel Paleologos that got the Pope in trouble.

"In the seventh conversation...the emperor touches on the theme of the holy war. Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels", he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."
The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. "God," he says, "is not pleased by blood - and not acting reasonably is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats."

Got that?

Let me repeat the key clause in that passage:

"God is not pleased by blood -- whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats".

This the Muslims are upset about?

They disagree?

I find myself in the absurd position of siding with a pope.

Note: The torching of several Greek Orthodox churches in the Palestinian territories is an incomprehensible counter-argument. I know that Muslims value eloquence and rhetorical flourishes, but this is ridiculous. Couldn't y'all have simply written an angry letter? It would've made more sense.


Leuk artiekeltje in het Algemeen Dagblad:

Volgens de heer Chavez "zou het hoofdkantoor van de VN uit de Verenigde Staten moeten verdwijnen".

Een voortreffelijk idee!

U kunt toch wel raden waarom ik dat vind?

Laat die lui maar elders hun gezeur voortzetten. Ik stel voor in een van die landen waar men denkt het centrum van beschaving te zijn - China, India, Iran, of Nederland.

Dan is iedereen wel tevreden - wij zijn van dat gedonder af, en de wereld kan ongestoord doorgaan met hun gejeng.

Dat VN diplomaten ons met regelmaat publiekelijk uitkafferen is niet verrassend, en dat is ook wel hun taak. Laat ze zich dan ook als gasten gedragen die op andere gronden niets te verwijten blijft..... dus niet rondhoeren, zich misdragen, willekeurig als gekken tekeer gaan, en onder couveur van diplomatieke immuunheid misdaad begaan.

Ik geef toe dat ik zuur ben - aan de VN zie ik nauwelijks baat meer.

Het blijft een stelletje gangster-regime prullen met grote bekken die op koste van de belasting betaler hier mooi de hoge poeha uithangen.
Dat men dan omwille derde-werelds solidariteit niets doet om Darfur, om Zimbabwe, om Somalia, om de kastenlozen in India, om mensenrechtschending in menig prutsland - maar daarentegen de VS (en een ander land - jeweetwelwie) om de haverklap als verantwoordelijk voor al het euvel der aarde bestempeld.....

Een willekeurig ander land mag best wel gastheer wezen. Het zal hun een flinke duit kosten. En laat hun dan maar alle rommel slikken.

Zou de VS uit de VN moeten stappen?

Mijnsinziens scheelt het ons weinig. Men zal toch met ons moeten onderhandelen, en men zal zeker ons om fondsen vragen. Edoch, wat wij wel in VN verband doen geeft niet ons maar 'de internationale gemeenschap' prestige, wat wij niet in VN verband doen.... geeft ook niet ons maar 'de internationale gemeenschap' prestige.

En stel nu dat er ergens weer een oorlog plaatsvind......

Is het niet hoogtijd dat Europa er wat aan doet? Daargelaten dat ze normalitair daar maar net doen alsof er niets aand de hand is en er geen stront aan hun fikkes kleeft.

Balkan een en twee zouden, zonder inmenging van de VS, nog grotere slachtpartijen zijn geweest dan ze al waren. Niet dat dat goed zou zijn geweest, maar die inmenging heeft ons echt geen lof gebracht. Ware wij instede afzijdig geweest, dan zou de hele wereld hebben geweten wat een stel hypokriete nietsnutten de Europeanen zijn. Eerlijk gezegd zou dat mij goed uitkomen.

Echt, laat Amerika zich maar niet in andermans oorlogen mengen, en zich niet met andermans natuurrampen bemoeien.
Als ergens de boel in puin is, triest, maar het kan mij geen klap schelen.
Ja, ik begrijp wel dat zo'n opvatting asociaal is, ook wel kinderachtig, onrealistisch, onhumanistisch, en typisch Amerikaans.
Dat ook kan me niet schelen.
En ik weet wel dat het onze eigen schuld is dat de rest van de wereld de pest aan ons heeft.
Maar ge raad het wel..... ook dat kan mij allang niets meer schelen.

Kijk, de populariteits contest hebben we al verloren, allang verloren. Het heeft dus geen punt om nog te competeren.

Zeven jaar terug dacht ik er echt heel anders over.

Maar hoe zit het met Irak, Iran, en andere testiculaire zaken?

Wat Irak betreft, een stomme zet van ons. Niet alleen omdat die oorlog geen valide basis had, maar meer omdat het zo'n geweldige gelegenheid was voor onze "bondgenoten" ons voor aap te zetten door niet mee aan die stommiteit te doen. Die kans heeft de Bush regering hun stomblind geschonken, de Duitsers en Fransen gingen met die opportuniteit vrolijk aan de haal en genieten er nog van na.

Sindsdien kunnen we om enige medewerking wel fluiten, vooral wat het midden-oosten betreft. Geen mens in Europa die zich aantrekt wat de VS over Irak of Iran zegt, of het zou slechts om te spotten wezen.
Dus moeten we maar dulden dat de Fransen en Duitsers, kalm en doordacht, op subtiele en intelligente wijze, door geduldige diplomatische onderhandelingen met hun ambstgenoten in Iran, het op den duur toch maar niet presteren de Iraniers ervan te overtuigen dat die kernwapen ontwikkeling stop gezet moet worden.
Het word een mislukking, maar een zeer beschaafde mislukking. Een monument van jamitsneemaar.

Als we over een jaar of twee Iran plat moeten bombarderen krijgen we waarschijnlijk van de Europeanen te horen dat we te ongeduldig en ongenuanceerd waren, werkelijk, onderhandelingen waren bijna geslaagd, heus waar, maar wat wil je, die barbaarsche Amerikaansche cowboy mentaliteit.......

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


Ever since it turned out that the American Beef Industry had been lying through their giant bovine molars about mad-cow disease, I have avoided beef. I know that the chances of infection are minimal, given that it is rare, and animal-based animal feed has been eliminated from the diet of most cows (or so we are told), but still.

It isn't just about the risk.

I do not like being lied to about my food.

This came back to me after reading about the Monsey chicken scandal (about which don't ask - it's a complicated matter that has caused much gorge to rise elsewhere, and if you don't already know about it, you can easily find out - or check any of the heimishe blogs if you are that curious).

Food suppliers should not lie about what they sell.
And if they don't have all the answers about their merchandise, they should not be in business.

Still, it's a pity. About the beef.
I very much like a nice spot of beef.

So, as an exercise in masochism, I present for your delectation a recipe.

[Dark-stewed tongue Indonesian style]

One three-pound beef tongue.
One large onion, sliced thin.
Half dozen cloves garlic, slivered.
Some chopped fresh ginger.
Half cup stock.
Half cup sherry or Chinese rice wine.
Quarter cup sweet soy sauce (ketjap manis).
Quarter cup olive oil.
Two TBS lime juice.
Two TBS wine vinegar.
Half TBS ground coriander.
Half Tsp. each: cayenne, turmeric, dry ginger, ground cumin, whole peppercorns.
Half dozen roma tomatoes, or two beefsteak tomatoes - peeled, seeded, and chopped.
A few bay leaves.
A stalk lemon grass.

Boil tongue in salted water for fifteen minutes. Remove, drain and dry, scrape off the skin and trim the root end. Rinse and dry.

Heat oil in a large chetty. Gild the onion, garlic, and ginger. Remove to a plate. Put the tongue in the chetty and brown all over. Re-add the gilded onion, garlic, and ginger. Add the tomatoes and spices, and cook until the fragrance rises and the bottom starts to crust. Now add the remaining ingredients plus water to cover, and simmer on low for three hours.

Remove tongue and let it cool. Reduce the pan-broth to a velvety pourable thickness, removing the bay leaves and lemon grass. Slice the tongue, arrange fan-wise on a serving plate, and nap with the sauce.

Serve with pan-roasted potatoes and crusty bread to sop up the juices.

Note I: A hot sambal (chili-paste condiment) on the side is most appropriate. I suggest Sambal Purtegis or Sambal Badjak.

Note II: Neither sherry nor rice-wine are ingredients that frumme Indonesian Muslimin would use. This recipe does not hail from a frumme Indonesian Muslim background, but is more Chinese-Indonesian or Indies Dutch in origin (which explains the clear Portugese influence).

Note III: Lemon grass is a plant that, in several varieties, grows throughout much of tropical Asia. Cympogon spp., related to Ceylon grass and citronella. It is available fresh from Thai markets and Vietnamese stores. You might also find it in Arab stores - Hashisha al limoon. The Indonesian name is Serai (Sereh), or, in dialect, sae. There is no real substitute - just omit and add a long twist of lemon zest near the end of the cooking time.

Note IV: KETJAP MANIS - Sweet soy sauce, often available from Dutch import shops in the US, or from Chinese groceries that cater to a diverse market. It is used as an ingredient in many dishes, as a condiment for a few. You can make your own, as follows:

Half cup each: cane sugar, good soy sauce.
Two TBS each: sherry, dark vinegar.
One Tsp. salt.
A whole star-anise, a clove or two, and a piece of dried Chinese orange peel.

Simmer sherry briefly with the salt and solids. Add sugar and half the soy sauce. Heat, gently stirring, till the sugar is dissolved, the liquid appears syrupy, and starts foaming up big-time. Add the remaining soy sauce, swirl to mingle the two liquids, and turn off heat. Cool, strain, and bottle. Use the dark vinegar to swirl the pan and take up the last of the soy syrup, add this to the bottle. Keeps best refrigerated.

Note V: Dried Chinese orange peel: Chan pei. Not strictly speaking the peel of an orange, but of a close relative of the orange - citrus aurantium. It is available in many Chinese grocery stores in packets. For cooking purposes dried tangerine peel may be substituted. Chan pei adds a faint citrus perfume, and the pithy part yields benefits to the digestion. It's contribution is both tonifying and mouth-feel improving.

Oh, and one other thing. It isn't a meal unless there is rice. Just remember that.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


On September 12th. Chardal mentioned a methodology of the Rambam.

And so of course, one thing leading to another, I've been working on a comparison of the Rambam's approach (Why? And How?) to that of Brisk (What?).

I'm now in the classic position of thinking that I have it all figgered out (the post, that is), it's just that there are one or two more things I really need to incorporate, which requires a bit more detail, and a clarification........

And what that really means is that an entire week has gone by, I've posted nothing in that time, and the post I was working on has been deleted because it was crap. Trust me.
I may say something worthwhile about what I've been reading in the last week at some point in the future, but at even a superficial level, what I know I cannot formulate, and what I can formulate simply illustrates how little I know.

There are several other posts that have been put on the blech, so to speak, and will probably not be coming out soon.

For which I apologize.

I need more coffee.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


So, pursuant one of yesterday's posts (see here: ) a correspondent best left unnamed shreibs: "Dude, I didn't understand a single friggin' word of this. Just what the balazes is a Yeshiva - some kind of rock group?! And are you on crack?"

Dear 'best-left-unnamed',
Yes. To both. Yeshiva Chipass Emess West Coast is the hottest heavy metal band this side of the Alleghenies. Trust me.

The one and only Boropark Pyro asks if there is such a thing as a Modern Orthodox Yeshiva (see here: ), and poses that "We need a place where people can go to do nothing but learn, intensively and seriously"

And remarkably, the response to his shaylah is the virtually the same.

Yes. To both. Yeshiva Chipass Emess West Coast is the hottest M.O. Yeshiva this side of the Alleghenies. Trust me.

Let me prove that be reproducing the latest issue of the weekly 'RABAM Commentary On Pinky Schmeckelstein' (Parshas Kee Suhvoh -- With The Commentary of the RABAM) below.
Please note that the small bold text is the commentary of the Rabam. The original shiur text by Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein (sollst sein shtark und gazunt) is in large type, italics.



Ki Savo, the seventh parsha in this Seyfer. The title means "when you enter". Taken together with the previous parsha it’s a mess, but even more so by itself. Better you should read it in between some light TV – we suggest ‘Di Taglishes Sho’ with Rav Yonosson Stevartabam.
Psookim 26:1 through 29:8.
‘When you enter’, as title, contrast with the name of the previous parsha, Kee Saitzay, ‘when you exit’.

"When you enter, do not wake the owner" (Chiddushei Baal Ha Turetz).

This week's Parsha, Parshas Kee Suhvoh, features the most acidic chapter in the entire Toiras Moishe: the Toichecha, or Rebuke, in which Moishe Rabbeinu lays out the negative consequences of Klal Yisroel disobeying the Rebboinoisheloilum. The punishments include death, insanity, poverty, exile, children taken away from parents, and significantly higher taxes.

The Toichecha = Quite unreadable. The admonitions and punishments. The nasty things that will happen if you do not obey, being like the fine print in a rental contract, which is why it is customarily read fast. A paradigm of boilerplate.

Let's be perfectly frank -- You do not want to go to shul this week to hear the parsha! Stay home, put your feet up, watch a pay-per- view, do a little mitzvah with your wife, do a little work in the garage, unstop the toilets, change the cat litter, clean for Pesach eight months early -- anything to not have to listen to this Parsha. And if you do you go to shul, bring plenty of reading material. I highly recommend the new issue of The Knish at (

The Knish = All hail Bodek, without whom we have nothing to read during the Tocheicha.

Of course, you should also re-read this vort from Y.C.E., as well as all previous gitteverter, but if you’re caught with it, everyone will know whence come your deep insights. Including that hard to impress yenta whose daughter you married.

Why, the stuff in this Parsha is so harsh, it can even get my mother-in-law to stop talking for a few minutes, Imirtza Hashem.

Imirtza Hashem = Im yirtze Hashem: Aimishteh willing - with the help of the Aimishte. The phrase ‘be ezras Hashem’ (with the help of the Aimishteh – Aimishteh willing) means virtually the same. Abbreviated respectively as IYH and B’H.

Mother-in-law = Mechutenista; Schviver. B’siyata de-shemaya you should have a better one. After all, there’s more than one kind of chicken soup in the sea.

A gemarra in Baba Metzia cites a Braisa in which Rabbi Akiva asks: Why is Hakkadoshboruchhu so damn angry at Klal Yisroel all the time? Rav Huna answers that when we were young, the Aimishteh once sent us to the store to buy eggs, but we never gave Him back all the change, and he has held a grudge ever since.

Gemarra = A term both singular and plural. In the plural it refers to the superstructure of Talmud, being sixty three masechtes (tractates, volumes) of Aramaic commentary and discourse on the Mishna. In the singular it usually refers to the individual passages which encompass an entire chain of thought, such as back-story, historical incidents, and anecdotes, in addition to the margin scribbles of other students, and the phone numbers of hot shiksas.

Bava Metzia = The Middle Gate, one of three masechtes named Baba in the order of Nezikin (Damages). The other two are Bava Kamma (First Gate), and Bava Batra (Last Gate).

Originally they were combined into one very large gate, but as the Gemara for these gates in the Bavli are clearly edited by different redactors, the division into a triple-headed monster seems logical. Bava Metzia deals with resolving disputes, witness-oaths, possession, acquisition, transfer of title, loans, repossession, legal documents, and tithes.

Note: Metzia in Ivrit and Yiddish is NOT the same word, even though it looks identical. In Aramaic, middle; in Ivrit, a good find, and by extension of that meaning, in Yiddish, a bargain, a good purchase. Such a metzia = Such a bargain dearie.

Bava Kamma = First Gate: damages in several categories, liabilities, compensation.

Bava Batra = Last Gate: Land ownership, inheritance and succession, court transactions relating thereto, claims, relatives, disinheritances.

Nezikin = Damages. That order of the Talmud devoted to civil law (mostly), being the administration of justice, procedures and protocols, personal law, and a few crimes not covered elsewhere. Ten tractates: Bava Kamma (First Gate), Bava Metzia (Second Gate), Bava Batra (Last Gate), Sanhedrin (The Supreme Council), Makkot (Whippings), Shevuot (Oaths), Eduyot (Testimony), Avodah Zarah (Heathen Practices), Avot (Pirkei Avos - The Chapters or Ethics of the Fathers; Perek = chapter, Avos = fathers), Horayot (Decisions - mostly sin-offerings for Sanhedrinal error).

Rabbi Akiva = Talmudic noodge. A great scholar and teacher of the third century, student of Nahum of Gimtso, Rabbi Eliezer, and Rabbi Tarfon, who also are Talmudic noodges. He was sentenced to death by the Romans for teaching Torah to even more Talmudic noodges, and ripped to shreds with iron spikes as he recited the Shema Yisroel, expiring on the word 'echad' (one, signifying the unity of the divine).

Rav Huna = Another Talmudic noodge.

And are you really that fond of your mechutenista's jellied carp? You should visit Dovbear’s house for a proper boiled carp in jelly instead.

However, Rabbi Abba suggests that the Rebboinoisheloilum's anger is linked to the definition of the Jews being the "Chosen People." Rabbi Abba cites the traditional view of Shir HaShirim in which the male Hakkadoshboruchhu sees Klal Yisroel as the nation chosen to be His wife. And when a Jew is unfaithful and does something against a direct command, such as worshiping idols or eating fish and meat with the same plastic fork at a kiddush, He gives in to His uncontrollable jealous temper and smacks us around a bit. Rabbi Abba goes on to say that we really did deserve it, and promise not to tell the neighbors how we got our black eye, just He should please not do it ever again.

Chosen People = Because we said "we will do and we will listen" at Matan Toireh, thus becoming tied into a contractual relationship with the party of the ultimate first part. Hence we are chosen, as it says "asher bahar banu mi kol ha amim" (who has chosen us among all the peoples), and we are to be a priestly nation. However the status is conditional upon obedience, according to some authorities, and one might wonder what to make of our frequently not very favourable treatment by fate and the nations – being ‘chosen’ might not be an unalloyed blessing after all, choleelah.

Rabbi Abba = Talmudic noodge. Abba Shaul, a scholar quoted in Pirkei Avos (Chapters of the fathers), chapter two, psook 9: ‘He (R. Yochanan) used to say "If all the sages of Israel were to be on one side of a balance-scale, and Eliezer Ben Hyrkanos were on the other, he would tip them all. Abba Shaul said, in his (namely R. Yochanan Ben Zakkai’s) name "If all the sages of Israel were to be on one side of a balance-scale, Eliezer Ben Hyrkanos also, and Elazar Ben Arach were on the other, he would tip them all".’

This was said in reference to Yochanan Ben Zakkai's five famous students: Rabbi Eliezer Ben Hyrkanos, Rabbi Joshua Ben Chanania, Rabbi Yossei Ha Kohen, Rabbi Shimon Ben Netanel and Rabbi Elazar ben Arach. Who were Talmudic noodges.

Rabbi Abba was the scribe to whom Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai dictated the Zohar before his death, expiring at nightfall on the thirty-third day of the Omer (thirty three days after Peysach). It is said that to allow Rabbi Yochanan to finish dictating, the sun stood still, refusing to set, for so long that fire burst out all around the house where Rabbi Yochanan and his talmedim were gathered. When the last word was written down, a brilliant glow enveloped the building, and Rabbi Yochanan returned his soul to his maker. And the sun set.

Shir HaShirim = The Song of Songs, which is Solomon’s. One of the most exciting pieces of poetry ever. Lush, lyrical, intoxicating, a veritable fandango of erotic imagery. Oh my rebbele!

I’ll never think of fruit the same way again. Neither should you.
Particularly, bananas.

Rabbi Abba quotes a beautiful medrish that says that in the heavenly realm of the Aimishteh, where He sits on His throne of fire surrounded by angels playing harps, violins, flutes and accordions, as the human world recites this Parsha once a year, after each passuk (verse) the Rebboinoisheloilum responds "One of these days Alice, one of these days! POW, right in the kisser!"

Medrish = A derivational example, often in narrative or simile format.

Accordions = Polka if you’re bad, Cajun dances if you’re good. North Korean hymns if you’ve been truly awful. Which reminds me – why does she STILL make p’tcha? Horrible jiggly boiled down cattle-feet gelée. Yakkes!

Rava disagrees. He suggests that indeed Klal Yisroel was chosen, but not as a wife. Rather, we were chosen to be a pet dog. And just like a pet dog, we require discipline whenever we go on the carpet. And we shouldn't complain, because if He ever really tires of us we might get dropped off at the local pound. Or even worse, sold to a Korean restaurant.

Rava = Talmudic noodge. The study companion and successor to Abaya (a Talmudic noodge) as head of the academies in Bavel Born circa 270 CE, died 350 CE.

Korean restaurant = Great food, but truly horrible taste in music. Accordions. Socialist-hero of the working class pep-rally marches. High pitched kinderlech singing old-style soviet lieder, and revolutionary paeans to the great immortal leader, ill sung. A fate worse than death.
A fate worse than death? Her lokshn kugel! If you don’t have another helping, tocheicha, tocheicha, tocheicha!

Abaye agrees that we are like pets. However, he suggests that we are more like a pet goldfish. We are surrounded by other fish, some larger and some smaller. We get fed once a day if we're lucky. We have little or no real interaction with our benefactor. Other fish are constantly nipping at out tailfins. There is poop on the bottom of the tank and algae building up on the walls. The filter breaks down once in a while. And the best we can hope for is that at the end of 120 years we will die a natural death and be flushed down the toilet. Says Abaye, this Parsha is the best reason yet to convert to Catholicism. The only reason he doesn't is because he would rather have someone nipping at his tails than fondling his fins, if you know what I mean.

Abaye = Talmudic noodge. Study-partner of Rava (see above), one of the greatest of Amoraim (Talmudic noodges), head of the academies at Sura and at Pumbedita, who dwelt in Ma’ozah on the Tigris. Died 338 C.E.

Rava and Abaya = Nudzhein Ha Talmudeinu.

Catholicism = An all-embracing and yet all-excluding religion known by Ollandim as the tofel emunah (the ‘old religion’), because so many of the first Yidden in the Netherlands were refugees from Spain and Portugal, where they had been forced to convert. It is a religion with some bizarre rituals – white smoke means "we have another pontiff", black smoke means "we’re burning down the Gran’ Esnoga, again". Pax vobiscum.

Ollandim = Netherlandish Jews. In 1593, over twenty years after the Netherlands rebelled against the Spanish king Philip (who had inherited the united provinces), ten families fleeing Spain landed in Holland, and learned from Mozes Oerie Asjkenazie (Rabbi Moishe Uri, a Rabbi from Germany) that while the Dutch were suspicious of Spaniards, they were not so about Jews. Upon his advice, they took lodging in Amsterdam, and shortly afterwards all the males underwent Bris Millah, with the oldest of them, Don Jacob Tirado, going first.

Within months, their numbers had been augmented by other Iberian refugees, and that autumn the new community observed Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur in a safety that they had not enjoyed in Spain in generations.

Within a decade, in 1602, they built a synagogue which they named Beit Jacob after the man who had taken them up from Spain.

More synagogues followed - Neve Shalom was founded between 1608 and 1612, Beit Israel in 1618. The Grand Synagogue (the ‘Esnoga' or 'Gran' Esnoga') was built between 1671 and 1675.

A similar pattern occurred in Rotterdam, when Abraham De Pinto (Don Gyl Lopes Pinto, born Lisbon 1588, died Rotterdam 1668) fled from Antwerp with his entire family and his dependents to the north in 1647, and converted back to the faith of his ancestors.

Less than three years later the Yesiba De Los Pintos was inaugurated in Rotterdam, with Chacham Josiau Pardo (son of David Pardo, and grandson of Yoseph Pardo, chief Rabbi of Amsterdam) as Ros Yesiba.

Like Jacob Tirado, Abraham De Pinto was a converso nobleman whose family had fled to Portugal when the heat of the inquisition became too fierce in Spain. And like Jacob Tirado, he brought wealth plus business skills and commercial relationships with him when he came, having prepared his escape over a period of many years.

In the centuries following, more synagogues were built, printing presses founded, Rabbis educated (among them Menasseh Ben Israel (Manoel Dias Soeiro), 1604 - 1657). At the height of the community there were nearly five thousand Dutch Sefardim, at present a scant eight hundred.

In addition to the Esnoga, one other Sefardic treasure of note remains in the Netherlands, namely the Ets Haim library (which contains also the Livraria Montezinos, being the private library of David Montezinos, donated to Ets Haim in 1889), which is in the Esnoga complex, and was part of Yesiba Ets Haim (Academia Y Yesiba Ets Haim, fundado en 1616). It is one of the world’s great book collections. Six incunabula, five hundred original manuscripts and over thirty-thousand printed books, on many subjects, in over a dozen languages.

In relation to Ets Haim (the tree of life, as the Torah is to all who cleave to her), it is appropriate to quote visitors to Amsterdam who were amazed by the freedom enjoyed by Jews there, and the brazen effrontery represented by so splendid a building as the Esnoga.

Let us start with the Papal Nuncio of Cologne, Lazaro Opizio Palavicino, who wrote: "Fra i nuovi edificii, viddi la synagoga degl’Hebrei, fabrica veramente magnifica e della quale non è degna quella gente vile" (between the new buildings I saw the synagogue of the Jews, truly magnificent, and which so odious a people do not deserve). A pox on his name.

The next is Rector Johannes Schudt of Frankfurt, who wrote as follows: "Eine allzu grosse Juden Freyheit in Holland is es, dasz man denen Juden verstattet, so gar kostbahre magnifique Synagogen zu bauen, die selbige noch als Gottes Haus lobet" (a too great freedom in Holland is, that they permit the Jews to build a maginificently expensive Synagogue, that even may represent the house of G-d).

He continues "Es setzet uns billig in die gröste verwunderung, is aber auch recht schändlich und unchristlich, dasz gar Christen für die Juden Freyheit gesucht, solche synagog erbauen dürffen" (It easily causes us the greatest wonderment, being however downright scandalous and unchristian, that even Christians should have sought for the Jews the freedom to dare build such a synagogue). It was his opinion that the officials of Amsterdam were a disgrace, and degeneratim for permitting such an affront. A pox on his name.

On the other hand, an Italian nobleman, Guido De Bovio, who visited Amsterdam in 1677, had nothing but praise for the synagogue, describing it as splendid building, well designed, and full of light, which he delighted in visiting. His name remains fragrant.

The final word on the Esnoga, deservedly, goes to the engraver Romeyn de Hooghe, who kvelled:
"Dits ‘t leerhuys van de Wet, ‘t gebeedenhuys der Jooden,
Een bouwmans meesterstuck, de eer van ‘t nieuwe werck ,
Aan d’Aemstel en het Y; dees Godt gewyede Kerck ,
Vreest geen gewetensdrang, noch pijnigen noch dooden.
Wast eedle Juddaestam en laet uw looten bloeyen ,
Wat doet de kracht van ‘t land als burgers aenwas groeyen."
[‘This is the academy of the Law, the prayer house of the Jews, An architect’s masterpiece, and pride of the new projects At the Amstel and Y (rivers); this sanctified kirk Fears no forced faith, nor torture, nor killings. Wax, noble trunk of Judah’s tribe, and let your new growth flower, That shall strengthen the country as her citizens thrive.’]

Sefardim from Spain (and Portugal and Livorno, where many of the Sefardim had originally sought refuge) were not the main, just the first Jewish population in the Netherlands.
Shortly after the Sefardim established themselves in Mokum Alef (Amsterdam), Ashkenazim from Germany flocked in, primarily to get away from the sumptuary laws, residential restrictions, and vile treatment that was traditional in Germany as regards Jews. The first Ashkenazic synagogue in Amsterdam was founded in 1635.

Even so, real equality had to wait till the Napoleonic era, though the House of Orange (ancient princely family of the Netherlands, hereditary stadtholders from the fifteenth to the nineteenth century, monarchs since 1815) consistently over-ruled local government when some city fathers sought to keep Jews out (which did not prevent certain cities whose legal ties to the Princes of Orange was 'ally' rather than 'subject' from restricting them). The States General had generally legislated tolerance, but left it up to the cities and states to 'enforce' same.

By the end of the seventeenth century most Jews in the Netherlands were Ashkenazim, in proportions that, roughly speaking, have been maintained ever since – over 90 percent Ashkenazim, scarcely 3 percent Sephardim. The remainder? Mixtures of differing Jewish background, plus mixtures of Jew and Gentile.

Most Jews lived in the Amsterdam - Rotterdam axis (about 80%), with the largest block outside being in Groningen and Drenthe provinces.
A noteworthy development in many places was the gradual take-over of Jewish institutions by Ashkenazim, especially as the easterners rose in social class, and the Sefardim faded in proportion and prominence. In some areas, synagogues were fought over for three or four generations or more. In Naarden, for instance, the Ashkenazim formed their own 'illegal' synagogue (the Sefardim had the only permit, and were the officially acknowledged leaders of the community there), and by the time the last absentee keepers of the keys (Joseph Teixeira de Mattos Henriques de Castro, David Henriques de Castro, Rachel Henriques de Castro, and Hanna Henriques de Castro, having succeeded Abraham van David Teixeira de Mattos) yielded their authority over the main synagogue (Beit Shalom) in 1885 it was nearly two centuries later, the ceiling had partially caved in, the walls were mildewed, the Ark had many years since been removed for safekeeping, and there were only about half a dozen resident members of the Sefardic kehilla left.

Another odd development were the so-called marginal or bog-Jews (similar to the hedge-Christians during the Spanish oppression): unregistered to any kehal (and so not paying any fees or dues), who, to the local Gentiles, were often just ‘those folks who don't go to our church'. Some of these were so utterly unconnected with any officially constituted Jewish bodies that a fair number were 'under the radar' during the war years. An old friend of the RABAM’s family named Chaim was birth-registered as Harry, because local officials did not know what a 'Chaim' was... Same situation with uncle Henry, also Chaim, who like Harry also survived those years under Gentile colours.

The middle class provincial Jews, however, who formed the link between the bog-Jews and the wider Jewish Oilam, were largely extinguished during the Shoah, and with their disappearance, many of the surviving marginal Jews disappeared from Jewish radar entirely.

In 1945, barely twenty percent of the Jewish population of the Netherlands (over 140 thousand in the nineteen-thirties, approximately thirty-thousand in 1945) had survived the war; they returned to communities which did not recognize them, and which were not particularly happy to see them back (as their betrayers often had survived the war unscathed, and many people at all levels of society had profited from the destruction that befell the Jews). There are now approximately 45 thousand Jews in the Netherlands, of whom 35 thousand can be said to be unquestionably Jewish, with the remaining ten thousand being mixed, mostly vader joods (father-Jewish).

On September 29th, 2005, the Dutch Railway Company officially apologized for having fully co-operated with the Germans in the deportation Dutch Jews. It was because of their efficiency, professionalism, and sheer dedication that the Germans could boast that the destruction of Dutch Jewry happened with greater ease than was the case anywhere else. It couldn’t have been done without them.

Thanks for the apology, dudes.

It’s a little late.

Ma’ase shehaya, kach haya (a tale that happened, as follows): Many years ago, on a wintry Friday evening, a family in Den Haag has one of the kids keep an eye out for a passerby to ask to stoke the stove for them (though it is beastly cold, shabbes-melacha is out of the question). A very dignified looking gentleman comes strolling down the street, is asked in, the situation explained, and the request made. Of course he will light the stove for them, with pleasure! When he has done so, they thank him, and as was customary give him an apple for his 'labour', asking his name at the same time.

He introduces himself, and hands them his card, on which can be read that their shabbes goy is a chief justice - and, coincidentally, a fellow Jew!

Jacob Tirado = Original name: Guimes Lopes Da Costa. He is described in correspondence as "Al muy illustre senyor Jacob Tyrado, parnas de la naçion Portuguese que reside en esta muy noble y opulenta villa de Amstradama" (The greatly illustrious gentleman Jacob Tirado, administrator of the Portugese nation, residing in the very noble and rich city Amsterdam). It should be remembered that ‘nation’ in those days did not have the connotation it has today, but referred to ethnic or national group, often residing among other such groups, much like tongue (lingua) could mean the speakers of a particular language in the armies of kings.

Commenting on this Gemarra, Reb Saadya Goyn offers a completely different interpretation. He suggests that the Rebboinoisheloilum would never threaten Klal Yisroel with such hostility as we read in this Parsha. And neither would Moishe. Rather, it was the fault of one of Moishe's speechwriters. Moishe told him, "hey, I gotta make a speech, and make it dark." Moshe was referring to adding in some elements that would appeal to his constituency in the olive skinned tribe of Naphtali. But the speechwriter thought he meant thematically dark, and the rest is history. (Meyla, this is the same writer who, years earlier, when told by Moishe that he had seen a burning bush in the desert, thought that Moishe was telling him that he had spotted a hot red head skinny dipping at an oasis.)

Saadya Goyn = Rabbeinu Saadya Ben Yosef (Said Ibn Yusuf El-Fayyumi, 892 - 942), a philosopher, grammarian, linguist, and rosh yeshiva(and Talmudic noodge) from Egypt, who settled in Baghdad. The book he is probably best know for is the Kitab Al-Amanat W’al Itikadat - The Book of Doctrines & Beliefs, known in Hebrew as Sefer Ha Emunot Ve Ha Deot.

He is also largely remembered for ripping the Karaites another one.

Naphtali = A tribe with a reputation for aggressiveness, sprung from the loins of Yakov and Rachel’s slave Bilhah. Naftali derives from patal – wrestle. But note that there are words that suggest tar, oil, and foreign origins that have similar sounds. Hence, perhaps, a reference to skin-pigmentation or hue. But this is speculative.

Regarding Bilhah, know also that Reuven lost his rights when he "yishkav et Bilhah" (‘(And) he lay TO Bilhah’), rather than "yishkav im Bilhah" (‘(and) he lay WITH Bilhah’). In this non-standard construction we may read a euphemism for rape. And perversion, because of the family relationship. Disgusting little man.

Meyla = An expression indicating a result, or a premise that is irrelevant to the main statement. But which might nevertheless be of interest. Frequently used to give back-story data.

Hot red-head skinny dipping at an oasis = Oooh! Got to take a break!




Back now. Better much.

The RAMBAM takes a completely separate approach. He suggests that indeed Hakkadoshboruch did mean to make the threats as written. And the reason He takes such a tough stand is that he is obviously a Republican. Look at the facts: He is tough on Law and Order, He takes a no-compromising stand against the Babylonians, and He favors using the death penalty as frequently as possible. Sums up the RAMBAM: the Aimishteh wants us to stop behaving like "stiff-necked Israelite Girly-men."

The RAMBAM = Talmudic noodge, post-Amoraic era. Rabbi Moishe Ben Maimon (1135 - 1204), a doctor from Cordova who moved to Cairo to get away from the harshness then prevalent in Moorish Spain. He wrote about everything under the sun, is the author of one of the most authoritative listings of commandments and the explanations for same: the ‘Sefer HaMitzvos’, but is probably most famous for his Halachic works, of which the Mishneh Torah (the Restatement of the Law) is one. Surely the noodge she be noodgim.

The RASHBAM disagrees, suggesting that the RAMBAN had probably taken to sampling items in his medicine bag when no one was looking. The RASHBAM holds farkert -- the Rebboinoisheloilum is actually a card carrying Democratic. As proof he points to the key social legislation mentioned elsewhere in this week's Parsha:
-- The insistence that we care for orphans and widows, that we set aside a portion of our Maiser, our tithing, for their benefit (Welfare? In the Toirah? Am I reading this correctly?);
-- The concern for the integrity of the legal system (What's pshat you can't give a bribe?); -
- The recognition and care that we grant to the Gair, the non- Israelite/ non-Jewish resident who lives among us.

Rashbam = Rabbi Shmuel Ben Meier(1083 or 1085 - 1174), a farmer in northern France, brother of Rabbeinu Tam (Rabbi Yakov Ben Meyer, 1100 - 1170) and the Ribam (Rabbeinu Yitzhak Ben Meier, also called the Rivam, which in addition to being an acceptable acronymic, also means ‘battle, as in ‘ravta et rivam" – and then you "fought their battles", from the prayer Al Ha Nisim (For The Miracles), recited on Chanuka and Purim), and one of the Tosafist greats. He studied under his grandfather Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Ben Yitzhok, 1040 - 1105).

Ger, Gair = The foreigner or stranger. One who, provided he commits no offense, has the right to safety and protection. What resident Gentile’s are in relation to Judah.

That’s ‘ger’, NOT mechutenista.

The RASHBAM concludes that the harsh words of the Toichecha simply point out once again that, at the end of the day, Hakkadoshboruchhu is a "pessimistic flip-flopper." To back up his point, the RASHBAM cites a medrish which says that the Aimishteh didn't even split the sea during the exodus from Egypt -- It split through natural causes, but He has tried to claim credit ever since.

Both archeology and geologic evidence indicate that the sea in question was hardly half a foot deep at that time. The miracle? That, in effect, the Egyptians drowned in a bath-tub.

But was it reed sea or red sea?

In Ivrit, both words sound as similar as they do in English. Reed sea suggests a marsh through which heavy chariots could not go. Heavily armed cavalry would have sunk into the mud, much like that Spanish army which sank beneath the water and muck of the Malpy Fens between Valkenswaard and Achel (the natives subsequently built a cloistery near the site, possibly to keep the Spaniards down).

However, the Moireh Nevuchim has a much simpler answer. LeOilum, he holds that the Rebboinoisheloilum did make all the threats mentioned in the Toichecha. And the reason that Hakkadoshboruchhu speaks so harshly is simply because He is an anti-Semite. Let's examine the facts: He asks us to do the impossible and complains when we cannot achieve it; He treats us differently than He treats others; He singles us out for persecution; He casts us into exile and then gets angry when we assimilate; He gives us a geopolitical conundrum and places obstacles at every potential solution.

Moreh Nevuchim = The Guide for the perplexed, by Rav Moishe Ben Maimon of Cordoba. Es iz a sehr bavuste sefer, oyf elegantes lashoin, perhaps the most bakante sefer the Rambam ever wrote. Don’t wait for the movie.

In short, the Aimishteh is an anti-Semite. He doesn't like Jews with our hook noses and penny counting, the horns on our heads, our control of the media, or our aspiration for setting up a world government. He in particular is angry at us for rejecting Christ, Mohammed, the Buddha, the Hindu Pantheon, and L. Ron Hubbard.

Rejecting Christ, Mohammed, Buddha, and all those other noodges, etc. = Would THEY have eaten that lokshn kugel either? I don’t think so. In-edible! Not even Moishe Rabbeeno would. He slaughtered Midian because of it, or something. So the question, ‘why is HE raggin’ on US’, is legit. Inquiring minds want to know.

He’s got issues maybe?


I am reminded of a famous story about the Dubner Maggid. One Shabbos afternoon he sat in shul surrounded by both children and adults as he regaled them for three hours with inspirational stories of the great sages, and shared wise parables that explained the cosmic, loving relationship between the Rebboinoisheloilum and Klal Yisroel. At one point a five year old boy asked him, "But mister Maggid, if Hakkadoshboruchhu loves the Jews so much, why must we spend our lives in exile?"

Dubner Maggid = Yakov Ben Wolf Kranz of Dubno (1741 – 1804), an itinerant preacher who illuminated his discourse ad nauseum with meshalim (parables and homilies).

As we head towards the days of awe (from Rosh Hashana to Yom Kippur), I am reminded of a story my holy ancestor the Rebbe of Prolicz heard from the Dubner Maggid, as follows: Yankel, a poor peasant, was forced to move to a large city to pursue his livelihood. As he and his wife were busy unpacking their possessions at their new abode, a local official dropped by, and Yankel invited him in, asking his wife to make something tasty for the important man, and pulling out his last bottle of GlenMorangie to give him a drink. For two hours, the official ate, drank, and conversed with these new residents of the ward, and left at last looking wel-fed, tiddly, and ever so pleased.

A neighbor across the street, having observed much from his front stoop, figured that he would also enjoy a free lunch off these yokels. So, putting on his best clothes, he crosses the street, knocks at the door, and introduces himself, welcoming Yankel "in the name of the gonze gasse". "How nice", says Yankel, "a sheynem dank, have a nice day yourself", and turns to go back inside. "Aren’t you going to ask me in?" says the neighbor. "Sorry", says Yankel, "it is quite late, and we still have much to do, perhaps another time". And slams the door.

A few years later, Yankel has to appear before the local tax commission. Alas, the freeluncher is one of the commissioners. The case drags on a few weeks, and one day, as the freeluncher passes by Yankel’s house, Yankel rushes out, and frantically invites him in, putting delicacies and some very nice Balvenie 24 year old in front of the man. "Well", says the man, "this is quite a change from a few years ago, when you wouldn’t even give me the time of day…, and now all of a sudden I’m worthy of the same hospitality as that official?"

"Of course", says Yankel, "A few years ago you were just a schmuck looking for a free lunch. Now, however, I need you on my side. So please, eat, drink, enjoy yourself, and be sure to remember me favourably when the time comes to decide my case."

And so it is with us, at Rosh Hashana and Yoim Kipper - Be sure to remember us favourably when the time comes.

"Why must we spend our lives in exile" = The Rebbe of Prolicz used to explain this with another mashal: Reb Yussele the landlord used to drop by the McGuires every Saturday evening to have a drop whiskey, all friendly-like, and to scope out lovely Colleen. Old Mrs. McGuire, not at all stupid, realized that the landlord would make a fine son-in-law, and took every opportunity to highlight the charms of her daughter. A roaring fire in the grate to encourage Colleen to dress lightly, bright candles to show off the creamy skin on her well-turned arms and the golden glints in her luxurious hair, and a nice comfy chair near the hearth for Reb Yussele to sit in, angled just ever so.

After several months, the inevitable happens. Fair Colleen McGuire becomes Mrs. Yussele Oleiristein. And at this point, the hospitality at ‘chez McGuires’ changes radically. No more turf on the fire. Only one small candle when it’s dark. A rickety old chair in the draft near the door, instead of the comfy fauteuil near the hearth. And the whiskey stops flowing! Finally Reb Yussele can’t stand it any longer, and asks her why she’s treating him so mean. "Because", says Mrs. McGuire, "You married the bitch".
This week's parsha makes one wonder if this is how the Reboinoisheloilum feels about us sometimes.
At that, the Dubner Maggid stopped speaking. After a long, uncomfortable pause, he replied in a very low voice that was almost a whisper, "Oh damn. I never thought of that one." The very next day he shaved his long beard and opened up a shoe store.

Indeed, this week's Parsha highlights the complexity of religion and the price of faith. While some view their faith, and its rewards, with the cup half full, other view them as half empty. However, I think that they are both wrong. If you look at the chapter of the Toichecha, Perek Chuff Chess in Devarim, only the first 14 (of 68) Pesukim talk about the potential rewards of faithfullness. However, the VAST majority -- the next 54 Pesukim -- speak in aweful detail of the potential punishments. So, rounding out the numbers, one should either see the cup at one fifth full, or four fifths empty. I personally don't like 5 to 1 odds against, so I suggest we look at betting on a different horse.

54 Pesukim = The same number as there are Parshas. This isn’t a coincidence. One potentially awful smacking for each and every oversight. You really should read more.

5 to 1 =The perfect proportions for a Manhattan cocktail: Five parts Bourbon, one part Noilly Pratt, shaken over ice, with a twist of lemon peel.

A Maraschino cherry, in lieu of a twist, is common, but suggests gender ambivalence, and is not our minhag.

Perhaps it is yours.

Damn’ hippie.

Ah gutten Shabbos, you Minuval.

-----Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein

- - - - - - - - - -


For those of you who are not zoiche to live near Yeshivas Chipas Emmess West Coast, here are the important dates for September and October, which WILL be observed by the West Coast campus. You’re so lucky we tell you these things.

Erev Rosh HaShana: Friday September 22nd. * Rosh HaShana: Saturday September 23rd.. * Fast of Gedalia: Monday September 25th. * Erev Yom Kippur: Sunday October 1st. * Yom Kippur: Monday October 2nd.. * Erev Sukkos: Friday October 6th. * Sukkos: Saturday October 7th. * Chol Ha Moed Sukkos: Sunday October 8th through Friday Ocober 13. * Hoshana Raba: Friday October 13th. * Shmini Atzeres, Simchas Toirah, Hairy Hassid Dancing Day: Saturday October 14th. * Isru Chag Sukkos: Sunday October 15th. * Chag Ha Levine: Tuesday October 31st. *

You will note that three different events are scheduled for Saturday October 14th. What are the chances?!? Get a good night’s sleep. We expect you to be zrizusdik.


Further note: Hoshanna Raba coincides with the Rabam's birthday this year. I happen to know that he is hoping for a nicely bound set of Shas from the Talmedim this time - you all remember what a disaster last year's birthday was, and how we had to shoot the horse (and mention of the horse was ONLY an expression, fercrapsakes!). And you'll perhaps also recall that following that Purim debacle he had to hock his other set of Shas to cover bail.

So make it happen, you behaymas!

And some chocolate cake. The Rabam particularly likes chocolate cake. Which he didn't have any of last year on his gaburtztog, it being yoim kipper and all.

Chocolate cake is a mitzvah.

A sheynem dank foroys.

Final note: Actually, it isn't 'the latest' - it's simply last year's shiur, with some very minor updates. We see no reason to fix it if it ain't broken, and the terms of our probation require us to stay at least three hundred feet away from computers and their fragile little insecure mechanical egos. Or something.
Dense Goyishe legalese you expect me to read?
Are you nuts already?

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