Monday, January 25, 2010

The Lies Shall Set You Free

Rabbi Shoshana Hantman of the Reconstructionist Group of Southern Westchester, on justifying what is almost certainly a contrived provenance for the sefer Torah that she purchased from Menachem Youlus:
When Hantman hears about the mystically multiplying Torahs, she pauses and says she has to gather her thoughts: "I hope you've read 'To Kill a Mockingbird.' At the end, a truth is concealed for the better good of the community. ... If there is any deception going on ... also think about what he's done that's good." She wrestles with what she has heard. "Destroying this man, if he is guilty of what you suspect, may very well be in service of the truth but in disservice of a greater truth," Hantman says. What, for Hantman, is the greater truth? "The Jewish reverence for the past, for heritage and for those who suffered and died because of the Nazis."
I recently re-read Terry Pratchett's novel Small Gods and was struck by how much her statement reminded me of this one by Vorbis (head Quisitioner):
"And so it is with truth," said Vorbis. "There are some things which appear to be the truth, which have all the hallmarks of truth, but which are not the real truth. The real truth must sometimes be protected by a labyrinth of lies."
Of course, Vorbis' "real truth" are actually lies while Hartman's "greater truth" are honorable pursuits, but both Hantman and Vorbis consider it proper that deception may be in the service of the greater truth. Both would make great kiruv workers.

Full article on Youlus here.

(By the way, Pratchett is always amazing, but this novel is particularly ripe with passages that will hit home with any religious skeptic. Expect more quotables here!)

Madcap Mikvah Madams

Installing automatic payment machines at mikvaot in Jerusalem has resulted in a 20% increase in revenue. It appears that many mikvah ladies are not such great tzadekot (?) since it is presumed that they were pocketing quite a bit of shekels!

Source here. (Sad, but funny at the same time, is the story about an obese woman who got stuck in the new revolving door of a mikvah. She was stuck for 15 minutes, and it took another ten minutes to free her. Since this was the only entrance, there was a long line of women waiting to get in and many just gave up and went home.)

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Science of Kashrus

Cooking milk and meat dishes (or kosher and non-kosher dishes) in the same oven creates a number of problems vis a vis the laws of kashrus. The biggest problem is when this is done simultaneously and there is the possibility of direct transfer of material from one pot to another. Most problematic is when one pot is above another, or when one is touching another. But even without direct transfer of actual food substance from one dish to another, there are two issues that one must be concerned: aroma and steam. Aroma (reicha milsa) is considered significant under certain circumstances. Thus, one may not cook a fatty meat in a small oven, unventilated oven at the same time as a dairy dish, even if the pots are not touching each other. This is due to transfer of aroma. The prohibition is a priori (l'chatchila), however. If done ex post facto (bedieved) it may be permitted (ask your LOR.)

Steam (zeiah) is a more interesting issue, in my opinion, for the steam of a liquid has the same status as the food from which it was derived. This has implications for not only cooking milk and meat dishes separately, but when cooking one after the other. Thus, the steam from a meat dish will rise up to the roof of the over and make it fleishig. Afterward, if one cooks an uncovered milk dish in the over, the steam will rise up, absorb the meat taste from the roof, and drip back into the milk dish. Uh oh, basar v'chalav - treif!!! So, if one does not have separate ovens for milk and meat, one should "designate" the oven for - say - meat, and ensure that when cooking milk the pot is always covered.

Obviously, this is an oversimplification, since there are issues like bitul, nosem taam lifgam, etc. Again, ask your LOR. (Or Rabbi Abadi, who says that there is no such thing as a "fleishig oven".)

But let's come back to a sentence which should have made you pause. The steam of a liquid has the same status as the food from which it was derived. If you just glossed over it, here is what it is saying: if one distills water from milk, the water is considered milchig. If one distills water from chicken soup, the water is considered fleishig. Now, for those who don't remember their elementary school science, distilled water contains nothing but water. Distilled water from milk is indistinguishable from distilled water from chicken soup, or from dog soup, or from industrial waste.

According to wiki, the knowledge of distillation was known in Mesopotamia at least back to the 2nd millenium BCE. So why don't the poskim (who rely on the Rosh who relies on a mishnah in Machshirim) seem to know about this??

Addendum! I should have done a search on this topic before posting it, but please also refer to this entry by Orthoprax, posted over three years ago.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Gedolei haDor - Bereft of Knowledge

Rabbi Mark Angel, in Maimonides, Spinoza and Us: Toward an Intellectually Vibrant Judaism, pulls no punches in his disdain for how superstition and anti-intellectualism has permeated the Hareidi Orthodox world. Not even such gedolim as the Vilna Gaon (whose words are "shocking examples of a defective, superstitious world view") and the Hazon Ish (whose obscurantist geocentric belief was somewhat mitigated by his "liberal" outlook in which heliocentrists are not to be considered heretics) are immune from Angel's derision, since they were so influential in promulgating irrational beliefs that persist to this day.

Although Angel expresses admiration for Spinoza's faith in reason, he does question the philosopher's overall approach to religion since Spinoza rejects "divine revelation, miracles, and providence." This, to Angel, means that Spinoza cannot "give the Bible an objective reading"! Strange logic, no? I guess that similarly, Angel cannot give the "New Testament" an objective reading since he rejects the resurrection!

One could, of course, argue that Angel has inscribed the pentagram of reason around himself while casting out others who similarly rely on faith-based notions: after all, Angel obviously accepts "divine revelation, miracles, and providence" which many believe to be nothing more than superstition and fairy tales. Nor is it likely that he would honestly confront whether his fundamental beliefs are, in fact, ultimately based on myth. Probably he would rely on one of his axioms regarding the limits of human reason, such as this prize winning one of fuzzy logic: Spinoza's "trust in reason ultimately is itself based on 'faith' and not on reason". Unfortunately, this and similar statements (such as the superficial "there can be no proof that the laws of science are eternal") only serve to blur the boundaries of science from those of faith. And, ironically, are often relied upon by the very people who Angel is most at odds with both religiously and philosophically (k'vitel toting Kupat Hair-niks, young earth creationists, red-string Kabbalah devotees, Meshichist Rebbe worshipers...)

Regardless of the above criticism (and this is anything but a comprehensive book review!), the following quote was worth the price of admission:
How could any thinking person have respect for the opinions of "Gedolei haDor" who are not only bereft of scientific and philosophical knowledge, but whose very worldview precludes an open and intellectually sound approach to the attainment of knowledge?"

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Donation for the Haiti Tragedy

I made one via Oxfam America. These folks know what they're doing in disaster areas and get very high marks when charitable organizations are rated.


Addendum: anonymous and some emailers didn't like Oxfam because of their anti-Israel stance. I did some additional research, and the following organizations are rated the highest by both Charity Navigator and Charity Watch:

Action Against Hunger-USA
American Jewish World Service
Doctors Without Borders, USA
Medical Teams International
Operation USA
Oxfam America

I removed from the list the following organizations due to their very high salaries ($360K plus to their CEOs): CARE, International Rescue Committee, and Save the Children. I also removed the United Methodist Committee on Relief (their motto: "Connecting the Church in Mission". No thanks.)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Your Simple Guide to Prostate Health

1) Drink lots of coffee
2) Have frequent ejaculations

Donkey drivers, camel drivers and sailors (Ketubot 61B) - as well as single and gay men - at high risk for prostate cancer should consult a halachic authority regarding permissible means of effectuating the second preventative method.

Friday, January 1, 2010

How Do You Know That It's Shabbat in Tel Aviv?

Simple: "You feel it only because the best gay parties are on Shabbat evening, are on Friday night, so that's how we know if Shabbat arrived."

From the NPR piece, Tale Of Two Cities Illustrates Battle For Israel's Soul. Check it out here.