May 30, 2006

(Reb Yudel)

He was too busy shouting at Pope Pius to speak up!

Pope asks why God was silent at Auschwitz - Yahoo! News

Pope asks why God was silent at Auschwitz

May 25, 2006

(Reb Yudel)

Call to Action: The case of Vicki Polin

From USAJewish:

Some of you may be aware of the fact that for the last five years there has been a movement to glorify the accomplishments of a woman named Vicki Polin and an organization called the Awareness Center. firmly believes there is a problem in doing this. There have been numerous accusations that Vicki Polin abused the Jewish community's trust placed in her by attacking innocent persons, starting with her campaign to brand the Orthodox community of Chicago as Satan worshippers.

more details....

(Reb Yudel)

Updates to Conservative Etz Hayim Humash

Robert Kaiser on mail liberal judaism forwards a lengthy post on revisions to the Conservative Etz Hayim Bible commentary:
Etz Hayim: Corrected Printing

With more than 200,000 copies in print, "Etz Hayim: Torah and Commentary" has now gone into its sixth printing. This printing is noteworthy because it includes the most comprehensive set of corrections since the book first appeared in 2001, and the first set of changes since 2003. The new changes are not as immediately obvious as was, say, the 2002 insertion of a table of "Torah Readings for Holidays and Other Special Days" (which by now appears in about half of the copies of Etz Hayim in existence). Nevertheless, the difference is significant in the new printing, although not formally announced in the book itself.

This post discusses the corrections that have been made, focusing on the most recent ones.

OVERVIEW. In the sixth printing, we have replaced 144 pages for the sake of corrections. Many of the replaced pages contain more than one correction. Of the individual errors now fixed, more than half appeared in Etz Hayim as the result of their having originally appeared in a work upon which Etz Hayim was based. (The majority of those errors, 88, had appeared in the Hebrew text as found in the JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh, including 38 scribal errors in the base manuscript -- a Bible manuscript that literally a thousand years ago its scribe was in the process of copying from older manuscripts -- plus 48 errors introduced when transcribers had copied from that manuscript during the late 20th century. Another 6 of the errors had appeared in previous editions of the NJPS translation.)

BIGGEST CHANGES. The most dramatic change in the Hebrew text is in the back of the book, in the first verse of the Taam Elyon of the Decalogue, page 1509. The prior version matched what is found in many humashim and tikkunim. We have now altered the accentuation of the first verse to match the well-reasoned critique and theoretical reconstruction by Miles B. Cohen and David B. Freedman of JTS, described in their paper "The Dual Accentuation of the Ten Commandments," Proceedings of the International Organization for Masoretic Studies (1974). Their findings anticipated Mordecai Breuer's textual reconstruction from his careful collation of early manuscripts that was published shortly thereafter.

(By the way, Breuer also edited the tikkun that in general is the closest to the Hebrew text in Etz Hayim; it was published by Horev [Jerusalem, 2003; the book is best suited for fluent Hebrew speakers]. Essentially as close to the reading in Etz Hayim are the tikkun sections in the forthcoming series of booklets from URJ Press titled Parashat Hashavua: The Weekly Torah Portion -- The Bar/Bat Mitzvah Study Guide. A free sample of a pilot version is available from the publisher, <> or 888.489.8242.)

Another extensive change in the sixth printing results from Lee Levine having rewritten the biblical archaeology essay that (so I'm told) had generated some popular controversy. The wording is now more precise, akin to how it has appeared in the Travel Companion (2005). In the full-size book, we somehow squeezed the rewritten essay into exactly the same space as before.

A third noteworthy change is in the Halakhah l'Maaseh to Lev. 18:22, prepared by the co-editors for that portion of the commentary. As I understand it, in 2001 the Conservative Movement was not able to speak in a unified voice and still say something cogent on the issue. Given that situation, the final editors of Etz Hayim had decided to include almost nothing at that verse in the original version of the book. The new printing fills in that lacuna to some extent. Because (so I'm told) this comment touches upon an issue currently of keen interest to many readers of this list, I quote it here in full:

<< Many biblical scholars understand this verse to forbid only male anal sex, but the Sages expanded the prohibition to include other forms of male homosexual sex and female homosexual sex as well (Sifra, Aharei Mot 9:8). These prohibitions have engendered considerable debate within the CJLS and the movement as a whole. Some rabbis and congregants believe that these prohibitions should stand as they are, while others say that they should be narrowed to prohibit only what the Torah does, and still others hold that they should be abrogated altogether through enactment (a takkanah). Despite such varied views on sexuality per se, the CJLS is wholly in accord with Conservative Movement resolutions that deplore violence against gay and lesbian persons, that endorse full equality for gays and lesbians in civil law, and that call on congregations to welcome gay and lesbian Jews in all aspects of synagogue life. >>

CRITERIA FOR CHANGE. Aside from the exceptional change just mentioned, corrections have met two criteria: they needed to be significant (that is, the change promised to avoid either misleading readers or undermining their confidence in the book), and they needed to be fairly self-contained (that is, able to be fixed without disturbing other pages).

The errors remaining in the book of which I'm aware are either too minor or too major to be worth correcting. That is, either the cost of correction or the risk of introducing new errors outweighs the benefit that would be gained, in my judgment.

LIST OF CHANGES. A table of the specific changes made in printings of Etz Hayim can be downloaded for free (10 pages, in PDF format) at (third entry on the page).

Thanks to all those who have submitted suspected mistakes for consideration, in particular our "regulars," Ivan Caine and Jeffrey Tigay! Finally, you may distribute this message freely; this initial posting is on Ravnet only.

R. David E. S. Stein (Project Manager, Etz Hayim)
For further information, please contact Rabbi David E. S. Stein by email

May 23, 2006

(Reb Yudel)

State of Candidates' Marriages A Question for Republicans

Atrios had the good sense to write the article which, of course, you'll never see in the New York Times, because they won't write it.
Washington, DC, May 23 - Republicans say it is inevitable that some voters would be concerned and even distracted by the numerous personal indiscretions of the various candidates likely to seek the office of president, and express concern about whether they would be likely to repeat such behavior while in the White House.

While former New York mayor Rudi Giuliani's popularity increased after the events of September 11, pushing his personal issues into the background, Republicans worry he would bring to the White House the kind of activities which marred his tenure at Gracie Mansion.

Giuiliani's behavior led to a judge barring the presence of Judith Nathan, with whom he began having an affair during his last term as mayor, from the mayoral home. The judge's order also criticized Giuliani for the emotional harm he inflicted on his children.

Twice-married Virginia Senator George Allen faces questions over claimed sadistic treatment of his siblings and his fondness for confederate memorabilia despite his having grown up in California. While divorce alone may not disqualify him from the ballot in Republican voters' eyes - they overlooked it in 1980 when Ronald Reagan became the first, and only, divorced man to be elected president - it is still expected to impact his standing with conservative religious voters. Senator McCain of Arizona is in a similar position.

Thrice-married former Speaker of the House New Gingrich also concerns Republicans as he gears up for a potential presidential run. Gingrich, currently 62, began dating his geometry teacher, and future wife, while he was still in high school. He later served her divorce papers at her hospital bed where she was receiving treatment for cancer. He divorced his second wife after it was revealed that he had been having a long-running affair with a staffer 23 years younger than him during the Clinton impeachment saga.
(Reb Yudel)

There Must be a God: Pharyngula fisks Avi Shafran, so I don't have to!

In the category of manna-from-heaven-in-my-rss-reader, Pharyngula stumbles across an Avi Shafran column on atheism, and makes mincemeat of him. It's worth a full read, but the following creed is worth standing on its own for consideration:

I don't believe in a Mandator or a Mandate. I think we humans are truly and completely free to choose—Nature has generated us, and now we stand here, a product of our world and bound by nothing but natural law, with the capacity to shape our own lives by conscious decision. That is the highest and most awful form of morality; not mere blind obedience to authority, but taking independent responsibility here and now and seeing the consequences of our actions played out in the people around us. We have no mandate but the liberty of our conscience. Will you better the world, or will you waste your life in a vain pursuit of some non-existent post-mortem redemption?

I think it is a nobler and more enriching view of humanity to consider us free agents, able to choose our fate, than as lackeys to an imaginary being who regards our servility as our chief virtue. The higher morality is found in using our liberty well, rather than in shackling ourselves to superstition.

I'd find that compelling, even if Avi Shafran hadn't previously written of the obligation to hate apikorsim like vermin.

May 22, 2006

(Reb Yudel)

All the News Reporting That's Not Fit to Acknowledge

Longtime YudelLine readers may recall that I cancelled my New York Times subscriptions some months ago. An "even-handed" portrayal of creationism, deftly edited to make it seem at least 50% true, was the breaking point, but the utter failure of the New York Times to challenge or investigate the American government was another proximate cause. I decided my money would be better spent subscribing to magazines and donating to blogs, and thereby subsidizing real journalism and real science writing.

Turns out that the New York Times is miffed, as this story of its failure to properly credit a blog which is among those that has replaced it as a recipient of my funds:

Josh Marshall, whose Talking Points Memo (and new TPMMuckraker spinoff) regularly breaks news on those stories it focused on, notes with amusement today that the New York Times won't actually credit his site for a scoop about documents relating to bribery in the Dusty Foggo/CIA/Cunningham/Wilkes imbroglio.

The documents simply "appeared on the Internet Tuesday," the Times story says. Apparently they simply materialized.

This is like writing about the Times' scoop on NSA spying by writing, "News of the program appeared on paper last month."
(Reb Yudel)

Warning to Arnie Eisen: As Orthodoxy shifts left, be very afraid

Interesting paragraph found on a live journal blog:

Three Jews. One raised and still practicing Reform, one raised Con-form and practicing egalitarian neo-Chassidism, one raised Orthodox and practicing flexible halachic observance (got that?).

All sitting in the campus coffeeshop and discussing the future of the American Jewish community as inspired by Rabbi Avi Weiss, the founder of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah.

Among the topics discussed: How do you create community? What does "open Orthodoxy" mean? what are its limits, especially vis a vis women's participation and welcoming queer Jews?

How amazing is it to have a charismatic leader who understands the importance of making religious Judiasm emotionally supportive, socially conscious, and spiritually creative, all while maintaining the credibility of respect for halacha?

Isn't it so much cooler to be a modern Orthodox rabbi with wide-ranging knowledge about topics secular and religious, with a sharp critical perspective, than to be a cookie-cutter parroter of a movement's party line (*cough* JTS *cough*)?

Emphasis added.

May 19, 2006

(Reb Yudel)

Rabbis Soloveichik and Weinreb prop up Dobson and Rove

The Senate -- you know, the legislative body that can't bother holding oversight hearings over presidential misconduct when it doesn't involve a penis -- is scheduled to debate a "Marriage Protection Amendment" to the US Constitution next month. Regardless of whether such an amendment would be any more effective than the ones currently on the books and ignored by the administration and the Republican Congress -- this is an admittedly political ploy, designed to fire up the Evangelicals in support of the party that has stood in goosestep with the least popular president in decades, and the worst two-term president ever.

So it's worth noting that two would-be Orthodox communal luminaries have signed on to the Religious Coalition for Marriage:
Rabbi Meir Soloveichik
Associate Rabbi, Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun of Manhattan, NY

Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb
Executive Vice President, Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America
IMNSHO, signing up with those who would make America a Christian nation is not just bad politics -- it's a hilul hashem and a sign of ignorance.

The Jewish arguments for the amendment are so thin that, well, the page on the website where they would go is still blank.

In fact, I believe that a strong case can be made that in signing this petition, the rabbis have broken the letter and spirit of Rav Soloveitchik's z'l psak against interfaith ecumenical dialogue.

I'll make that argument another time. Meanwhile, here is a discussion on the topic I conducted over at the Hirhurim blog (translations from yeshivish added post facto). Note how at the end of the conversation, with the going gets rough, the erstwhile frum conservative I debate.... turns on the television!
It is indeed interesting to see that erstwhile rabbis have signed up with Karl Rove's summer agenda to rally the gay-bashing base for the fall elections.

Really: What part of m'dvar sheker tirhak [the Biblical command: Stay far away from a false thing] don't they understand?
Larry Yudelson 

I guess the same part of "toevah" ["abomination"] that you seem to have a problem with.

Nachum, You mean, like the shrimp industry which is funded with our tax dollars?

Or do you mean like the Sodomy laws (which are *not* part of Rove's current initiative) which behavior between man and wife which may be mutar [permitted] and, in fact, mitzuveh [commanded] under certain circumstances?

Has the OU's silence until now meant that they accept the American legal system's recognition of marriage between kohen and giyuret [divorcee], or between yisrael and moabi?

Does the alliance with the Catholic Church mean they accept the notion that marriage is b'dieved, that Beit Hillel was wrong about divorce, and that In Vitro Fertilization is likewise a sin?
(Reb Yudel)

Just because they talk about God, doesn't mean they're not fools

If Jews are the people of the Book, are Christianists people of the deep, abiding stupidity? It's just embarassing, really, watching Orthodox rabbis continue to sidle up to the sort of people at whose schools teachers have to deal with this:

Root gave his class a fictional example of the State of Nature, in
which two people were stranded on a lifeboat that would only be able to
save the life of one person. What would ensue? In Hobbes’ State of
Nature, the result would likely not be pretty. This example, Stacey
said, was perceived as an example of postmodern deconstruction and used
to break down morality. So Root's lifeboat example was gone.
This hypothetical was addressed, more or less, by Rabbi Akiva, the better part of two millenia before Hobbes. That the Christians at Patrick Henry College dismiss the discussion as "postmodern" shows them to be people of profound foolishness.

(Reb Yudel)

Bush: America is a nation of excrement!

A recent quote from the Cheney Administration's fearless figurehead:

"America is a nation of prayer. It's impossible to tell the story of our nation without telling the story of people who pray," Bush said during a White House celebration of the National Day of Prayer. "At decisive moments in our history and in quiet times around family tables, we are a people humbled and strengthened and blessed by prayer."
Fascinating that the sentence would be equally true if you substitute the word defecation for prayer.

May 18, 2006

(Reb Yudel)

Why a Democratic Congress can't shy away from investigating the imperial presidency

From Digby's Hullabaloo:

I simply cannot understand why there is even a debate among Democrats, much less a public debate, about whether or not they should openly call for investigations if they win office. I realize that the Republicans are mau-mauing the hell out of them on this --- and the press is hungrily eating it up --- but it still makes no sense to me.

First, on principle, the congress has a constitutional duty to do this. If Democrats want people to know that we stand for something, they need to start with the constitution. It is, regardless of the political challenge, their obligation as citizens and elected officials to provide oversight to any executive, much less an openly lawless one. Sorry, kids. You have no choice. I know it would be nice to pretend all this ugliness never happened, but it did. Precedents have been set, wars have been waged, lives have been lost, billions have been wasted, one of our great cities has been destroyed, our moral standing around the globe is nil and everybody knows it. The congress is mandated to oversee the executive and they have failed to do that for the past five years. If the Democrats continue in that failure, they are also guilty of shirking their constitutional duty. It's that simple.

Second, as a matter of long term political consideration there is the moral hazard of letting the Republicans skate again on what they've done. After three Republican administrations out of the last four were revealed to have ignored the will of the congress and operated imperial presidencies, I think it's pretty clear that they do not believe in a neutral system of checks and balances between the branches; they believe that Republican presidents have unfettered power to do whatever they wish and that Democratic presidents must submit to non-stop harrassment by the congress. This is not a matter of opinion. This is how they have behaved when they have had power, either executive, legislative or both. To let these actions go unexplored, undebated, unchallenged by the congress is to validate this premise. It will happen again --- and why shouldn't it? The Republicans know that the only thing they will suffer from doing this is a temporary loss of power (time for them to catch their breath and count their profits) until things improve and they can go back in and experiment, consolidate and plunder some more. This has been the pattern for the last 40 years. There has been no price to pay. The Republican party is not going to have a "come to Jesus" moment and recognize that they have been on the wrong track lo these many years and they need to clean up their act. This is how they do things and will continue to do things unless the country calls a halt. They cannot do that if they are not informed of the scope and meaning of these actions.

May 17, 2006

(Reb Yudel)

Debra Nussbaum Cohen gives good advice to Conservative Movement

From the Jewish Week:

Conservative Judaism is currently a movement in search of a message and a good slogan will distill and communicate it clearly. “God is Still Speaking” neatly sums up what the Conservative movement ought to be projecting.

In four simple words it says that Conservative Judaism is a movement of faith and fidelity to what it understands God wants of us. It also makes clear Conservative Judaism’s belief in Jewish law as an evolving, rather than closed, body of work.

Really, that's only a small change from its current motto: "God is still speaking, but only to Ismar Schorch and Jack Wertheimer... neither of whom have checked the Brush fifth floor fax lately anyways."
Heres hoping Arnie Eisen brings some much-needed perestroika to 3080 Broadway.

(Reb Yudel)

The Urgency of the Immigration Debate

AMERICAblog: explains:

Mexican, it's the new fag

Whatever the merits of the immigration debate, we're having it for one reason. George Bush's approval rating is at 29% and the Republicans are afraid they're going to lose control of the Congress in the fall elections.Simple enough, isn't it!

Really, there's no need to humor a president who is no more likely than the Omer count to top 50 ever again.

May 15, 2006

(Reb Yudel)

Because you never can have too many reminders that Glenn "Instapundit" Reynolds is ultimately a Party hack

Matthew Yglesias writes:

Massive new government program open to any number of abuses is just fine because some individuals talk loudly on cell phones in public places. Yes, there's no difference at all between those situations. I can't imagine what these liberals are complaining about.

(Reb Yudel)

Cheney/Gonzales administration: We're tracking dissident journalists

ABC News reports:

A senior federal law enforcement official tells ABC News the government is tracking the phone numbers we call in an effort to root out confidential sources.

"It's time for you to get some new cell phones, quick," the source told us in an in-person conversation.

ABC News does not know how the government determined who we are calling, or whether our phone records were provided to the government as part of the recently-disclosed NSA collection of domestic phone calls.

May 14, 2006

(Reb Yudel)

Big Brother Bush says: Laws are for Losers!

Matthew Yglesias on the all-too-appropriately-named Tapped:

FUN WITH SURVEILLANCE. Turns out the NSA, with the collaboration of every phone company except Qwest, is monitoring all of our calls -- not to listen in to what's being said, but simply to gather data about the calls and draw inferences from that. It's important to link this up to the broader chain. One thing the Bush administration says it can do with this meta-data is to start tapping your calls and listening in, without getting a warrant from anyone. Having listened in on your calls, the administration asserts that if it doesn't like what it hears, it has the authority to detain you indefinitely without trial or charges, torture you until you confess or implicate others, extradite you to a Third World country to be tortured, ship you to a secret prison facility in Eastern Europe, or all of the above. If, having kidnapped and tortured you, the administration determines you were innocent after all, you'll be dumped without papers somewhere in Albania left to fend for yourself.

Once you start in with this business, it's a widening cycle of lawlessness with almost endless possibilities for abuse. Tellingly, the reason Qwest wound up not cooperating with the NSA on this is that the NSA couldn't be bothered to get a court order. Shame on the other phone companies for simply giving in to a request without legal backing.

(Reb Yudel)

Madison warned us there'd be days like these

Greenwald writes:

We continuously hear that the Bush administration has legal authority
to do anything the President orders. Claims that he is acting illegally
are just frivolous and the by-product of Bush hatred. And yet, as I detailed here,
each and every time the administration has the opportunity to obtain an
adjudication of the legality of its conduct from a federal court
(which, unbeknownst to the administration, is the branch of our
government which has the authority and responsibility to interpret and
apply the law), it does everything possible to avoid that adjudication.

continuous evasion of judicial review by the administration is much
more serious and disturbing than has been discussed and realized. By
proclaiming the power to ignore Congressional law and to do whatever it
wants in the area of national security, it is seizing the powers of the
legislative branch. But by blocking courts from ruling on the multiple
claims of illegality which have been made against it, the
administration is essentially seizing the judicial power as well. It
becomes the creator, the executor, and the interpreter of the law. And
with that, the powers of all three branches become consolidated in The
President, the single greatest nightmare of the founders. As Madison warned in Federalist 47:

From these facts, by which Montesquieu was guided, it may clearly be inferred that, in saying "There
can be no liberty where the legislative and executive powers are united
in the same person, or body of magistrates," or, "if the power of
judging be not separated from the legislative and executive powers,"
he did not mean that these departments ought to have no partial agency in, or no control over, the acts of each other.

meaning, as his own words import, and still more conclusively as
illustrated by the example in his eye, can amount to no more than this,
that where the whole power of one department is exercised by
the same hands which possess the whole power of another department, the
fundamental principles of a free constitution are subverted
This would have been the case in the constitution examined by him, if
the king, who is the sole executive magistrate, had possessed also the
complete legislative power, or the supreme administration of justice;
or if the entire legislative body had possessed the supreme judiciary,
or the supreme executive authority.

The attribute
which most singularly defines this administration is its insistence
that our Government is based on unilateral and unreviewed Presidential
Decree. The President directs the telecom companies to turn over this
information and they obey. That’s how our Government works, as they see
it. And if the telecom companies are concerned about their legal
liability as a result of laws which strongly suggest that they are
acting illegally if they comply with the President’s Decree, and thus
request a judicial ruling first, that request, too, is denied. There is
no need for a judicial ruling once the President speaks. What he orders
is, by definition, legal, and nobody can say otherwise, including

Amazingly, again and again, they don't even want their own Justice Department to know what they are doing because they are afraid that DoJ lawyers will tell them that it is against the law. They don't want to hear that it is against the law. As USA Today reported: "For similar reasons, this person said, NSA rejected Qwest's suggestion of getting a letter of authorization from the U.S. attorney general's office.
A second person confirmed this version of events." They know very well
that their conduct might be, and in some cases that it is definitely
is, illegal, but they are purposely avoiding having the DoJ be able to
opine on the legality of their behavior.

That is the same inherently corrupt motive which led the NSA to refuse to give
DoJ lawyers security clearance to enable the DoJ to investigate whether
their lawyers acted unethically in connection with the NSA illegal
eavesdropping program. As intended, that refusal caused the DoJ to shut
down its investigation. As Jack Balkin notes about that

the irony: While private phone company employees at AT&T and other
corporations must have sufficient security clearances to know what is
going on in the NSA program- because they are helping to run it-- the
Justice Department's own ethics lawyers do not. It's a convenient way
to forestall any investigation into wrongdoing.

desperately avoid not only a ruling from a court as to whether their
conduct is legal, but also opinions from their own Justice Department
lawyers, likely driven by the fact that many DoJ lawyers opined that
the NSA program was illegal -- something they do not want to ever hear
cover-up, also disclosed yesterday:

May 12, 2006

(Reb Yudel)

29 with a blessing!

l'shem yichud.... Today is the 29th day of the Omer, the day on which the Omer has caught up to Bush's 29% approval rating.

Harachaman hu yivarech et Artzot Ha-Brit be-America, ve-yagen aleiha me-oyveiha ve-sareiha.

May 5, 2006

(Reb Yudel)

Did Bush win re-election because of the false propaganda his government fed to the corporate media?

Columbia Journalism Review looks at the illegal propaganda efforts behind the Iraq war.. and the Bush reeelection:

When the United States launched Operation Iraqi Freedom in March 2003, Sam Gardiner, a sixty-four-year-old retired Air Force colonel, was a regular on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS, where it was his job to place the day’s events in context. As the campaign wore on, and he monitored the press coverage and parsed the public statements of military and administration officials, he at first became uneasy, then deeply concerned.

A longtime Defense Department consultant who has taught strategy at three of the military’s top war colleges, Gardiner had participated throughout the 1990s in a series of war games that simulated attacks on Iraq. He was familiar with Iraq’s military and was therefore surprised to hear officials, such as the Army Brigadier General Vincent Brooks, the deputy director of operations of Central Command’s headquarters in Qatar, tell the press of ongoing operations to eliminate “terrorist death squads.” The allegation struck Gardiner as odd. Matter-of-fact and precise in their speech, military officers would not typically refer to irregulars as “death squads.” More important, as far as Gardiner knew, in 2003, when the invasion began, Iraq had no “terrorist death squads.”

Gardiner believes that this formulation, which first entered the official vernacular a week after the invasion began, was a skillful execution of a classic propaganda technique known as the “excluded middle.” The excluded middle is premised on the idea that people, provided with incomplete but suggestive information, will draw false assumptions — in this case that Saddam Hussein had ties to terrorism and therefore to Al Qaeda (a connection that administration officials actively pushed during the run-up to the war).

As Gardiner further analyzed the coverage in the early days of the invasion, he saw what he believed was a pattern of misinformation being fed to the press. There was the report, carried by The Associated Press, CNN, and The New York Times, among many other news outlets, that Iraq was seeking uniforms worn by U.S. and British troops (“identical down to the last detail”) so that atrocities carried out on Iraqis by Saddam’s Fedayeen could be blamed on the coalition. There was the claim that prisoners of war had been executed by their Iraqi captors, and there was the announced surrender of Iraq’s entire Fifty-first Division. Government officials eventually eased off the POW assertion, and the story of the uniforms was never corroborated and soon disappeared. As for the Fifty-first Division, on March 21 a cascade of news stories, citing anonymous British and American military officials, reported its mass surrender. “Hordes of Iraqi soldiers, underfed and overwhelmed, surrendered Friday in the face of a state-of-the-art allied assault,” the AP reported. “An entire division gave itself up to the advancing allied forces, U.S. military officials said.” Unnamed “officials in Washington” told The Washington Post that the division had been taken “out of the fight for Basra.” Days later, however, coalition troops were still clashing with units of the Fifty-first there. And two days after it was reported that General Khaled Saleh al-Hashimi and the 8,000 men under his command had surrendered, the general was interviewed in Basra by Al Jazeera. “I am with my men . . . . We continue to defend the people and riches” of this city, he told the network. Was this the fog of war or was something else at play?

Gardiner believes that the story of the Fifty-first’s mass capitulation may have been part of a psychological operation, its goal to “broadcast to the other units in Iraq that troops were giving up en masse and very quickly, so there was no reason to resist,” he said. “That’s a valid psychological operation. But it was directly entered into a press briefing.” Gardiner eventually concluded that the flow of misinformation to the press was no accident. It was a well-coordinated campaign, intended not only to confound Iraqi combatants but to shape perceptions of the war back home.

Throughout the summer of 2003, Gardiner documented incidents that he saw as information-warfare campaigns directed both at targeted foreign populations and the American public. By the fall, he had collected his analysis into a lengthy treatise, called “Truth from These Podia,” which concluded that “the war was handled like a political campaign,” in which the emphasis was not on the truth but on the message.

As his paper circulated among government and military officials that fall, Gardiner says he received a call at home one night from a spokesman for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He told Gardiner that his conclusions were on target. “But I want you to know,” the spokesman added, “that it was civilians who did this.”
much more....

(Reb Yudel)

Beware the Whining Republicans of Weimar


You see, the real difference between the Right blogoshpere and the Left is that the Left blogosphere is angry at the ideology and governance of the Republican party and the media who report on it. We believe the political press has been complicit where it has not been weak and we are taking our complaint directly to them, loudly and in no uncertain terms. It's angry and vitriolic, but it's political.

The right blogosphere, on the other hand, is no longer outraged at the Democratic party. They think they are clowns --- they can barely get off a good Teddy Kennedy joke before nodding off. And except for the war correspondents whom they believe are cowardly and are refusing to report the good news in Iraq, the energy has gone out of their liberal media critique. But, make no mistake, they are still very, very angry --- at rank and file Americans like me.

The gripe on the right side is that "liberals" literally shouldn't exist. We are Godless, death-loving traitors whose very existence is a blight on the American way of life. They don't hate our leadership. They hate us personally.

(Reb Yudel)

Republican Christians vote for insensitive, intolerant prayer

Should military chaplains have the freedom to pray that Jewish soldiers find Jesus, and that American Muslims be struck dead?

Hell yes! say the Republicans on the U.S. House of Representatives’ Armed Services Committee.

According to JTA,
JTA - Breaking News,

Republicans approved an amendment to a military bill that would allow chaplains to pray “according to their own conscience,” but rejected a change calling for “sensitivity” to other faiths.

“Each chaplain shall have the prerogative to pray according to the dictates of the chaplain’s own conscience, except as must be limited by military necessity, with any such limitation being imposed in the least restrictive manner feasible,” said the amendment passed Wednesday night by the U.S. House of Representatives’ Armed Services Committee.

The amendment addresses evangelical Christian anger at the military for preventing pastors from including references to Jesus in communal prayers or in ministrations to non-Christians.

Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) attempted to modify the amendment by adding a clause calling for chaplains to “demonstrate sensitivity, respect and tolerance for all faiths present on each occasion at which prayers are offered.

His proposal failed, with all but one Republican, Candice Miller of Michigan, voting against. Israel, who is Jewish, told JTA that the vote “undermines the values of pluralism.”

I assume Miller's fellow Republicans have asked the House chaplain to stop praying for the salvation of Miller's soul, and start praying that the Jewboy drop dead for breaking party loyalty.

(Reb Yudel)

When politics become heresy

Those of us on the religious left are frequently accused of letting our politics guide our theology. Fact is, like most right-wing attacks, it's a project of the right-wing game plan. But give the Republicans credit: They're willing to put their money where their mouth is. Vis Street Prophets: Follow The Money

The Episcopal Diocese of Washington has released what by all rights should be considered a landmark study authored by former New York Times reporter Jim McNaughton tracking how a handful of wealthy political reactionaries has funded much of the current strife within the Episcopal Church in the USA, as well as fomented schism in the Worldwide Anglican Communion. Read the whole thing, if for no better reason than that it's an excellent introduction to the shenanigans of the "dominionist" right.

McNaughton focuses on Howard Ahmanson, who seems to be the leading money man behind the conservative "renewal" movement in the ECUSA. Along with apparently being a major benefactor of the Richard Scaife-affiliated Institute for Religion and Democracy - which began life with smears against mainline denominations' foreign missions boards, and continues today with campaigns to undermine those denominations from within.

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

Yoffie break

I talk with Rabbi Eric Yoffie about his recent visit to Jerry Falwell's Liberty U:

Yoffie said there is some talk of a follow-up to his speech at Liberty, although it was too early to discuss details. One option does not seem to be in the offing, however: Asked if Yoffie might invite Falwell to speak at a URJ biennial, Yoffie paused for a good long moment. “Realistically — I don’t think it is terribly likely that if he were to speak in front of a Jewish audience, that is one he would choose,” said Yoffie, hinting at the limits of “public debate.” “We have no objection to hearing from someone with profound disagreements, [but] I don’t think that would be the Jewish audience he would be searching for.”
(Reb Yudel)

And it shall be an ipod upon your arm, and an MTV between your eyes...

Engadget has the details behind these media players which sure look like tefillin to me.

(Reb Yudel)

Douglas Rushkoff: Fight Fundamentalism with Scripture

:: Douglas Rushkoff - Weblog ::

Right now, America's true believers are locking down its laws along with its Bible. They are fighting the science of evolution because it accepts that things change over time - and such change is incompatible with static, everlasting truths. They are doing to today's progressives the very same thing that the Bible's Egyptians were doing to the Israelites. And they're doing it in the name of a God who they believe they'll meet when they die. This is the very mindset and behavior the Bible was written to stop.

Perhaps the best way to kill their God, in fact, is to take charge of the Bible. It is - in my own opinion as a media theorist - the Greatest Story Ever Told, and deserving of our continued support and analysis. For my part, I'm writing Testament, which I hope will bring these stories - told both in their Biblical context and as a near-future sci-fi fable - to people who might never have stumbled across them before.

For others - especially our friends involved in the occult arts - I'd hope they consider using some Bible imagery and characters in their work and rituals. They're just as potent as anything in the Mahabharata, and far more resonant with the Western popular culture in which most of us actually grew up. For those of you looking for an authentic tradition in which to base your art, music, or fiction, consider the themes of revolution, universal justice and mind expansion a they're depicted in allegories from Eden to Babel and characters from Joseph to Jesus.

By appropriating these characters and metaphors as our own, we instill them with the power they require to release the stranglehold that true believers have over the myths built to help us face the truth, instead. Their success in making the Bible seem like a sanctimonious tome is just another testament to the deleterious effect of surrendering one of the best books ever written about sacred magick to people whose lives depend on ignoring the possibility of escape from the nightmare of eternal bondage to a vengeful deity.

The more we can make its mythology relevant to our present, the more easily we'll bring those who believe in it out of the past.

May 4, 2006

(Reb Yudel)

Death for the honest anti-Darwinists....

... will come as they have the courage of their convictions to refuse to benefit from medical advances premised on evolutionary theory. Carl Zimmer tells an interesting tale of evolving proteins, diverging hominids, and a drug trial gone horrible awry. A paper published this week suggest a theory of what went on, and Zimmer concludes:

If it does hold up, it may offer a cautionary lesson about drug tests. Testing a drug on a mouse or a monkey may tell you something about how the drug will work in humans--but only if it acts on biology that we share with those animals. And in some cases, where a drug is affecting proteins that evolved after our split with chimpanzees, no living animal may offer a reliable clue. The more we learn about our evolutionary history, the more we'll understand about how drugs work.
If Klinghoffer and his supporters are correct, and Darwinism is just idolatry repackaged, I hope they appreciate that idolatry -- unlike, say, pig-derived medicines -- is yihoreg v'al ya`avor -- that is, it is better to die than transgress.

(Reb Yudel)

Something Creepy This Way Opines

Courtesy of the Jewish Week, Steven Bayme masticates my kids' school:

“School is critical for the future of the Conservative movement,” Bayme said. “Kids need their high school years to explore intellectually. This is critical to forming a Conservative constituency.”

I suppose Bayme's meaningless (and for him, quite harmless) bloviating wouldn't seem quite so creepy if the article about the Schechter High School merger actually examined some of the issues, such as whether any kids will transfer out to New Jersey, whether other Manhattan schools are willing to take in transfer students, and why is Heschel High apparently thriving while Schechter New York is not?

Credit at least goes to Marvin Shick, who was able to state the obvious for the Week:

“In a way, they’re going out of business,” said Marvin Schick, senior advisor to the Avi Chai Foundation, of the Manhattan-based school, adding that he anticipated that some families would not be willing to make the move to Teaneck, especially those already traveling from the outer boroughs.

“The Schechter movement is somewhat in trouble, schools are closing or becoming trans-denominational. But the question is, down the road, will kids from New York go to New Jersey?”

Now all we need is for someone to tell us why this is happening.

May 3, 2006

(Reb Yudel)

Viswanathan Victim of Ivy Vying?

As the YudelClan begins the college admissions ordeal expect to see more expose's of the college admissions racket industry, such as this timely piece on New Jersey's own teen-age literary sensation / plagiarism cautionary tale: Left2Right: The admissions counselor and the plagiarist gets the clear impression that the admissions counselor and the literary agent drew Viswanathan into a commitment that was understandably over her 17-year-old head.

Viswanathan put a line on her resume and, before she knew it, an adolescent creative-writing project had become a half-million-dollar sensation, thanks to two marketing specialists -- one a marketer of college applicants, the other a marketer of literary properties.  Viswanathan was left to fulfill the ambitions of these adults while keeping up with her high-school coursework.

(Reb Yudel)

Mom on MySpace

Dispatch from modern momhood, via

I've covered murders, grisly accidents, airplanes falling out of the sky and, occasionally, dirty politics. But in nearly two decades of journalism, nothing has made my insides churn like seeing what my 13-year-old daughter and her friends are up to on

Here's a bulletin I recently found posted to her site:

"OMG! Add this hott guy! He will whore the first 20 people added to his friends list Add him! You can do it in his van!"

Loosely translated, the teenage girl was "pimping" a teenage boy, shown smooching his guitar, as a potential new friend -- or more -- for my daughter. If Taylor added him to her MySpace "friends" list, the tousled-hair teen would be able to look at her Web site and send messages to her.