Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Kerry Did *NOT* Belittle Our Troops In Iraq

People who know my politics know I lean to the right. Yet, I believe Kerry that he did not belittle our troops in Iraq, but rather it was a botched attack on Bush.

Here is where he explains himself. Scroll towards the bottom:

The original quote:
You know, education--if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework, and you make an effort to be smart, uh, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq.
Nowadays, it is politically acceptable to attack Bush and his policies, as well as Bush's intelligence, but not so much to attack the rank and file. Kerry tried to make a joke at the president's expense on two counts. #1, that "Bush is dumb" compared to him. #2, that Iraq is a quagmire, and if the oh-so-intelligent and educated Kerry were at the helm, this would not have happened.

Alas for Kerry, he sometimes has a slight problem making himself clear. And so, instead of tapping into the "Bush is dumb" and "Iraq is another Vietnam" memes, he tapped into the negative one about himself -- that he attacks the troops, as he did decades earlier when he testified that troops in Vietnam were guilty of war crimes. His joke backfired as it was misunderstood and fed into a negative stereotype about him.

As far as I'm concerned, the "Bush is dumb" meme is inappropriate in and of itself, but it is in fact acceptable in American society today. So I would believe Kerry here. At the same time, I would believe everyone else that they honestly misunderstood Kerry's unclear joke. This isn't a case of dirty tricks.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Tanach Linkify 1.5 Released

For those of you who upgraded to Firefox 2.0, you'll discover that Tanach Linkify no longer works. This is because it was compiled for an earlier version of Firefox. I fixed it so that it now works once again.

You can install it by clicking here.

parshat Noach: Nimrod - Saint or Sinner? The Importance of Eating Meat -- Video

One thing I omitted in this post is how Nimrod's name feeds into the midrashim that he was a sinner. THat is, "nimrod" means "let us rebel," and this is the interpretation of his sin given by Tg Yonatan and Rashi, for example.

Bereishit 10:9-9:
ח וְכוּשׁ, יָלַד אֶת-נִמְרֹד; הוּא הֵחֵל, לִהְיוֹת גִּבֹּר בָּאָרֶץ. 8 And Cush begot Nimrod; he began to be a mighty one in the earth.
ט הוּא-הָיָה גִבֹּר-צַיִד, לִפְנֵי ה; עַל-כֵּן, יֵאָמַר, כְּנִמְרֹד גִּבּוֹר צַיִד, לִפְנֵי ה. 9 He was a mighty hunter before the LORD; wherefore it is said: 'Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the LORD.'

I focus on different interpretations of "lifnei Hashem" is the pasuk about Nimrod. I discuss a Bereishit Rabbati by Rav Moshe haDarshan that casts Nimrod as a good guy, because he hunted and ate meat. I compare this with midrashim and Targum which casts him as a bad guy for fomenting rebellion against God. And I bring up Ibn Ezra who declares that on a peshat-level, he was a good guy, and "lifnei Hashem" implies that he brought sacrifices to God. I end with a suggestion that perhaps "lifnei Hashem" is a mark of the extremity of his strength.

Plus more. All on the video. (Running time 8 min 30 secs.)

Thursday, October 26, 2006

parshat Bereishit: Let Us Make Man -- Video

What is the meaning of Naaseh Adam Betzalmeinu? I would say on a peshat level it is just a syntactic artefact of the plural form (though NOT meaning, as we can see from immediate context) of Elokim. Which is in turn plural, just like certain other nouns which connote mastery. That this carryover of plural form is inconsistestly applied shouldn't matter, except to the extent that it leaves the door open to midrashic interpretation of the divergent yet perfectly syntactically acceptable form. (I also mention the idea that it is a nifal adjective - Adam was created in our (=people, says Moshe Rabbenu) form.

Check out the video here. Running time: About 3 minutes.

parshat Noach: And Cham Was The Father of Canaan - A Video Response To Torah Thoughts

Rafi G. has a nice post which asks a bunch of questions on points brought up by Rashi about why Canaan is punished for Cham's sin and why every time Cham is mentioned, it also mentions that he is the father of Canaan. He gives and answer and asks for comments, and since I'm trying to videoblog more, I made the following video response:

(Runtime 11 min 30 seconds)

Responses welcome.

Update: There was some good stuff in the comments section at Torah thoughts (Rafi G.'s blog mentioned above), and some followup I wanted to post here, which I omitted from the video, so the following is a cut and paste:
Rafi G said...

shkoyach. I tried to post on your site but got an error...

12:16 AM

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

i can't avoid the assumption that Kena‘an must have done something unspeakably and indescribably bad in between his father's seeing Granpa naked and his uncles' covering him, that we just aren't told about.

1:27 AM

Rafi G said...

it must be so. Josh said so as well in his response... it would answer some of it..

1:31 AM

joshwaxman said...

yeah, unfortunately blogger non-beta has been having a number of issues over the past day.

In terms of Canaan, it would seem so from an Ibn Ezra perspective. From a Rashi perspective (which combines different midrashim), it is unclear. After all, Rashi understands "his youngest son" to be Cham, and while he does mention sodomy or castration (which he cites from a midrash, and which works as a derasha but can also be a good translation in certain contexts of "vayar et ervat aviv") this is what Cham did according to Rashi. And while Rashi (citing Beresihit Rabba) reads in a sin for Canaan as well, this sin merely seems to be seeing and relating. (unless one want to midrashically expand this vayar vayaged as well).

Its an interesting assumption that Canaan's act was in between. Certainly it is quite possible within Ibn Ezra. Rashi would have the sin before any act by Cham, though.

I omitted this by accident at the end of the video-post -- I really should make myself rudimentary outlines of what I want to cover. However, I think one can avoid the assumption that Canaan did anything here, and I think this might very well be peshat:

Consider the awkwardness of "his youngest son" if his is not == Noach. We are binding the pronoun "his" to an R-expression which is not present in the verse. It is possible, but somewhat awkward. *Local to this particular verse*, the best reading is that "his youngest son" is Noach's youngest son.

However, that local optimum might be superseded by a more global optimum. And that is where more semantic information from other verses might kick in.

If one goes for theories of the Documentary Hypothesis ilk, then one can simply say there are competing traditions of who did the bad deed. Indeed, this is what Speiser attempts to advance in Anchor Bible Genesis.

However, beginning to incorporate other pesukim:

1) Well, if this is Cham who did it, Cham is NOT thr youngest son. It is Shem, Cham, and Yefet, so Yefet is youngest!

We can respond by abandoning Cham as "his youngest son" and instead assume it is Canaan, who is Cham's youngest son. And use the fact that Canaan was mentioned with the action above, as Rashi notes, or just assume that the action was so heinous it was omitted, as Ibn seems to do.

Alternatively, we can maintain that this is actually still *Noach's* youngest son, and now that we know that this is Yefet, we say that Noach knew what *Yefet* his youngest son had done -- that is, he covered Noach while not looking at him, thus respecting his father's honor. This is awkward since why isn't Shem mentioned, but perhaps we can say that Yefet took the lead. Then, Noach knowing what his son had done would be positive.

Alternatively, we can say that genealogical listing are not necessarily in age order. They can be listed in order of prominence, or some other factor (e.g. meter, prominence of the various concubines) which is unknown to us. Take the Benot Tzelofchad as a case in point. They are listed in different order in different places, and this need not reflect "different traditions" about their birth order. If so, Cham may indeed be the youngest. And then it was Cham who acted, disgracing his father either by not taking care of it himself but telling others, by looking (vayar) where his brothers did not, or one of Rashi's two suggestions.

(Alternatively, Cham may be called the "youngest" as a result of his actions.)

Why would Canaan be cursed at this point if Cham did it? Again, if we discard order in the pasuk as an indication of birth order, we can ignore the fact that Canaan is listed as the last of a set of four brothers. Indeed, if we understand that "Cham was the father of Canaan" after leaving the ark is an indication that Canaan was born on the ark, and/or Cannan was Cham's first and only son at this point, (whereas Shem and Yefet did not yet have children,) then a curse directed specifically at Canaan makes more sense.

It's all a question of what to optimize as the expense of what else.

Bill Cosby on parshat Noach

Here. Quite funny.

Noach related Amstel Commercial -- Video

See here:

Tower of Babel Translator

Just in time for parshat Noach, we get this from the BBC (carrying over a story from New Scientist), about something being developed at Carnegie Mellon University:

A "Tower of Babel" device that gives the illusion of being bilingual is being developed by US scientists.

Users simply have to silently mouth a word in their own language for it to be translated and read out in another.

The researchers said the effect was like watching a television programme that had been dubbed.

The system, detailed in New Scientist, is not yet fully accurate, but experts said it showed the technology was "within reach".


The team currently has two prototypes: one that can translate Chinese into English and another that can translate English into Spanish or German.


Read it all here.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Beitza: `Uchla de`ifrat Hu` -- text only

Dave at Balashon has an interesting post about bidur, and the idea that there is a class of words that start with bd, and all of which mean "single, separate."

I was having somewhat related thoughts about a class of words that start with pr and mean "scattered, separate." I encountered this while learning through beitza where the objection is made that an egg laid from a hen which stands to be eaten is `uchla de`iphrath hu`, food which merely splits and separates from itself. The root is prt but Rashi translates it as prd.

I thought it might just be replacing the voiceless dental (t) for the voiced dental (d), but then I thought it might be standard Aramaic switching of certain shin for tav, thus coming from pr$. Jastrow lists this as a separate word and root.

Thus, we have:
prg - a separation (see pargod, separating curtain, and related Greek word)
prd - to separate
prz - scatter
prk - also to separate
prs - a piece
pr' - to peel off
prtz - a break in something
prq - a section
prr - a piece, a crumb, to crumble
prt - as above, to separate

There are also a series of these words that mean to bloom (e.g. pry, prhh).

parshat Noach: "Thus did Noach" - Different Girsa or Harmonization? -- text only

An interesting Targumic feature may betray a different available girsa of a pasuk in parshat Noach. The last pasuk of perek 6:

כב וַיַּעַשׂ, נֹחַ: כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה אֹתוֹ, אֱלֹהִים--כֵּן עָשָׂה. 22 Thus did Noah; according to all that God commanded him, so did he.
I might have translated it as "Thus did Noah according to all that God commanded him; so did he do." However, the translation above accords to the trup.

Tg Onkelos on this pasuk:
ו,כב וַיַּעַשׂ, נֹחַ: כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה אֹתוֹ, אֱלֹהִים--כֵּן עָשָׂה. וַעֲבַד, נוֹחַ: כְּכֹל דְּפַקֵּיד יָתֵיהּ, יְיָ--כֵּין עֲבַד.
However, Tg. Pseudo-Yonatan omits the translation of the end - כֵּין עֲבַד! Does this mean that Tg Yonatan did not have this end of the pasuk?

I don't think so. Rather, I believe that accidental harmonization is in play. A pasuk a bit later, in the 7'th perek, with the Tg Onkelos:

ז,ה וַיַּעַשׂ, נֹחַ, כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר-צִוָּהוּ, ה. וַעֲבַד, נוֹחַ, כְּכֹל דְּפַקְּדֵיהּ, יְיָ.
The Tg Yonatan to this pasuk is identical - simply because both YKVK and Elokim map to yud yud in the Targumim. I think there was therefore accidental transference of the Targum from the later to the earlier pasuk, or omission of the end because indeed the end is missing in the Targum to the later verse.

One must always be aware of this trend towards harmonization, and view harmonizing alternate girsaot with the appropriate suspicion as it is due.

Cute parshat Noach related commercial -- video

Not from me. It's a commercial. Check it out:

Removing the Stumbling Block of Yerushalmi Kugel

Forwarded by Dr. Samuel Heilman, but my guess is that this is a Kol Koreh from Dr. Moshe Koppel. Will try to update, beli neder, with proper attribution.

Right click to see a larger picture.

Update: Its not Moshe Koppel. So it might be Dr. Heilman, or else someone else (and Dr. Heilman saw it)...

parshat Noach: Parsing Tzadik Tamim -- Video

The last one was also a video, but I forgot to mention it in the title. There are teo or three different ways of parsing the first pasuk in parashat Noach: {Bereishit 6:9}:

ט אֵלֶּה, תּוֹלְדֹת נֹחַ--נֹחַ אִישׁ צַדִּיק תָּמִים הָיָה, בְּדֹרֹתָיו: אֶת-הָאֱלֹהִים, הִתְהַלֶּךְ-נֹחַ. 9 These are the generations of Noah. Noah was in his generations a man righteous and whole-hearted; Noah walked with God.
It is ish tzaddik tamim - a wholly righteous man; or is it noach ish tzaddik + also tamim hayah; also, does bedorotav distribute over the nearest phrase or across both phrases. I discuss the midrashic parse, the Targumic one, that of Rashi, Ramban, and Ibn Ezra. All on the video:

Comments welcome on this and previous video posts. I'll see if I can respond to them in videos as well!

Update: I was a bit off in my trup-based analysis in the video. Specifically, if we consider:
נֹחַ אִישׁ צַדִּיק תָּמִים הָיָה, בְּדֹרֹתָיו

it does indeed split off initially into
נֹחַ אִישׁ צַדִּיק תָּמִים הָיָה

but the next thing to split off is נֹחַ, since the revii on נֹחַ is a disjunctive accent on a clause ending in tipcha. Thus, we have:
אִישׁ צַדִּיק תָּמִים הָיָה

which would seem at this point to still be acceptable as "a wholly righteous man" as per Rashi. Thus, Noach would also seem to be distributive, a point I did not make in the video.

At this point, we get the tevir on tzaddiq, which gives us:
אִישׁ צַדִּיק
תָּמִים הָיָה

Which would seem to give us definitively the Ibn Ezra/Targum Yonatan rendition of two separate nouns. Indeed, from the trup perspective, we should have the tevir on the word before haya - as Wickes indeed states in general. On the other hand, Wickes does mention that with a series of nouns in status constructus, one may find disjunctive accents therein -- but his examples don't show that this is true over and above the previous requirement of disjunctive accents - I would think it does not. But if it did, it could preserve as Rashi-oriented analysis.

All in all, I would say that the trup is in accordance with the JPS translation, as I stated in the video, just even more so.

parshat Noach: "Toledot" - Generations or Events?

I discuss the first pasuk of Noach and the meaning of "Toledot," according to Rashi, according to Ibn Ezra, and according to Shadal. Some motivations of choosing each of these, And more. All on the video:

Monday, October 23, 2006

Video Blogging Beitza

Cross-listed to the Alfasi blog. Rif Beitza Video Edition 1a-1b {Beitza 2a-3b}
I'm going to try my hand at video blogging, including video-blogging the Rif. The format is a work in progress - I may modify it as this progresses. Running time: 11 minutes.

{Update: Oh, and feel free to embed this Youtube video on your own blog, if you wish.}

Right click to open these images in another tab, though I include the relevant portion of gemara in the video.

Rif Beitza 1a

Rif Beitza 1b

Friday, October 06, 2006

Some Thoughts About the Monsey Kashrut Situation - 1

Let me start off with this caveat -- I know nothing. I know enough to know that I am unqualified to make halachic pronouncements with wide applications in kashrut. What follows are just my musings.

I saw the following at the end of a Letter to the Editor in the Jewish Press:

No, the concern must be how we as a community can fix an obviously broken system. Whatever the validity of the old practice of relying on the integrity of the merchant, this approach is, at the very least, problematic in today’s world.

And no, this is not a non-Orthodox approach – i.e., changing halacha to conform with newly emergent realities. No one ever said that reliance on the merchant was halachically required, only that it was acceptable. This is no different from the common plaint one hears from Orthodox leaders that, given the times we live in, special precautions must be taken in many areas of life. If the profit motive has become such an important factor, we must react accordingly.
This approach unfortunately leads to adopting chumra upon chumra as time goes on, such that the direction halacha takes is more and more strict.

I also take issue with the phrasing "how we as a community can fix an obviously broken system." If there is something to be fixed, I do not think it should be fixed by the "community," which on the whole, even with Jewish education what it is, are not experts in these matters, and are thus prone to overreaction or hysterical reaction. Any response should be taken by experts in the matter of Jewish law, and in this subsection in Jewish law, not by the community.

I also take issue with the idea that this is "an obviously broken system," and that the approach of "relying on the integrity of the merchant" is "at the very least, problematic in today’s world." The letter writer qualifies this by saying he only means this towards chumra, so it is OK. But I wonder at such liberties in re-evaluating entrenched assumptions within the halachic system. For example, Those who say that modern times prove that the old assumptions no longer hold true -- would they be willing to say the same thing for Resh Lakish's statement טב למיתב טן דו מלמיתב ארמלו? I would guess not.

Further, I take issue with the statement "If the profit motive has become such an important factor, we must react accordingly." This is not the first time that this type of thing has happened. Consider the famous case in Cracow in the early 1600's. There, there was also profit motive. Yet they did not entirely eliminate the reliance upon the integrity of the merchant.

Also, we have at hand a single case. Even though this case effected many many people, we are dealing with the actions of a single individual. We do not know, at this point, exactly what his motivations were. Probably profit motive factored into it, but we do not know his internal thought process, or other pressures on him. Even if we did and could ascribe this purely to profit motive, we are dealing with a single individual. This is, in other words, anecdotal evidence. In the field of science, one does not make broad deductions from anecdotal evidence. This is one data point. If one has many anecdotes, and thus many data points, one could possibly draw some conclusion. But we should not deduce from this case that this is true in general. This one individual may well have been the exception to the rule.

Chazaka means different things in different contexts - it could mean rov, umdena, or assumption that the status quo is maintained. We see that we can rely on certain chazaka even when counter-examples occur. Thus, a mikveh can have a chezkat kashrut (and we needn't remeasure it each time to ascertain that it does not have less than 40 seah) even though incidents occurred in which the amount of water reduced to less that 40 seah (at which point we have to decide at what point it changed). A shliach can be depended upon to have fulfilled his shlichut because חזקה שליח עושה שליחותו, and this is true even though I am sure there was on occassion a lazy shliach who did not fulfill his duties. The nature of the chezkat kashrut every religious Jew has, and how ed echad neeman beIssurin applies - that is an interesting and detailed discussion, for those in the know. But I don't think that one can merely cite one or two counter-examples and conclude that the well-founded halachic assumptions have been overturned in modern times, and that, therefore, "this approach is, at the very least, problematic in today’s world."

Then again, perhaps I am wrong. Be'ezrat Hashem, more thoughts later.


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