Chodesh HaAviv

FotB (Friend of the Blog) Moishe tweeted this earlier:

And got me thinking (as I tweeted in response to him – you can see them in the sidebar), what if things were a little different.  As we know, the interpretation of the torah calling Pesach “Chag HaAviv” means that the holiday has to occur in spring.  This has wide-ranging implications, and is the primary foundation (together with using lunar months) upon which the entire Jewish calendar is based.  Pesach has to happen in the spring, and that means after the Vernal Equinox.

But I got to wondering, what if Chazal had interpreted to that to mean spring, in a real climatic sense, as opposed to a calenderical one?  What if they had ruled that when Pesach comes, you MUST BE somewhere it’s warm and springy weather.

I joked: “Think about living in New York and having to fly to Israel or Miami for Pesach. That’s crazy!”  Well, because obviously.

But can you imagine the halachic machinations that would have gone on over time?  The questions and t’shuvos?  Does where you are for Pesach depend on how early or late it is?  The average historical temperate in NY for March 21 (about the time of the equinox) is 49 degrees for a high and 35 degrees for a low. Not exactly springy.  But by April 21 the range is 60/44.  Getting there.

Or does the temperature have to be warm enough outside at night, at the time of the Seder, because then NY is out.

What if you go to place that’s normally warm (say, Miami: 80/66 on March 21; 83/70 on April 21), but you encounter a cold snap, and the temperatures drop to the 50s?Do you have to pack up and go somewhere else?

“K’Vod Harav: my family arrived a day before Yom Tov in Miami, where it is normally warm, but the temperatures are brisk, around 50 degrees. We are all wearing coats and sweatshirts, and don’t ‘feel springy.’ Is this a problem?”

“Nir’eh Li, it would be min hamuvchar that you should move; you can rely on a forecast (no longer than 5 day forecasts are acceptable, 10 day forecasts are not reliable) from a known, reliable weather service, that predicts a warming trend, and stay, if the tircheh of moving is great (you have elderly people in your family, for instance). If the forecast calls for more cold temepratures, then you should go to what I presume are your alternate arrangements in warmer weather.”

Yeah, I’m a little loopy today.


Esav the Dutiful; Esav the Acquiescent

This past shabbos, I was thinking about the fascinating encounter between Yakov and Esav

Yakov had been gone for 20 years, and Esav very likely felt guilt over it.  It was a combination of Esav’s threat on Yakov’s life and Rivka’s pretext about marriage that sent him away.  And even if Rivka’s pretext has truth (see that Esav immediately responds by marrying “from the family” i.e. Yishmael’s daughter), Esav likely feels some guilt that Yakov ran in a hurry, without the entourage and gifts his grandfather sent to bring his mother.  Esav might feel that he caused Yakov to run to Charan with nothing, and significantly hampered his ability to find said wife, coming to down with no money for a dowry.  And yet Yakov returns with a huge family: not just one wife, but two, with two concubines on top of that; 11 boys and a girl; and massive wealth.  Esav is relieved and genuinely happy to see that Yakov is successful.

Moreoever, he’s happy to see his brother, with genuine love and wanting to reconcile.

But there’s another element underlying the happy reunion.  Esav must remember the brachos from Yitzchak, the ones he perceives were intended for him but went to Yakov.  Yakov’s family and massive wealth can surely be seen as a fulfillment of the bracha he got from Yitzchak, and form the undercurrent of the interaction. Esav tells Yakov to keep his gift, “Yesh li rav” – I have a lot – meaning, “Father blessed me with material wealth, I don’t need sheep from you.”  What’s not said, is what Esav DOES need from Yakov.  And Yakov sticks a dagger in right away.  Implicit in Esav’s words are a recognition that with the material blessings fulfilled, the other part of the bracha is fulfilled as well: Yakov has essentially been put in charge of the family. Despite being the older brother, Esav is subordinate to Yakov. What’s fascinating to me is that he knows it, and accepts it.  And Yakov knows it to. Yakov’s response to “I have much” is “I have everything” – “yesh li col.” As if to say “yes, I know you have material wealth, and a strong army, but so do I, and I have one more thing: father’s designated leadership.

And then this proceeds one step further.  Esav acknowledges Yakov’s leadership, and essentially asks to be maintain his status as part of the family.  Let us live together, come with me.  Let me have a part of our ancestral. divinely gifted homeland.  And Yakov rejects him.  He makes up an excuse that’s easily deflected (“ok, no problem, we’ll *all* travel slowly”) and tells Esav to be on his way.  Fascinatingly, Esav submits to Yakov’s will.  Esav wants to be part of the Abrahamic tradition, the chosen family, and Yakov says no, and Esav accepts this!

To me, Esav shows both tremendous maturity and strength at this, as well as further evidence of his fatal flaw.

Esav is frequently demonized in the rabinnic literature as the evil diametric opposite of saintly Yakov.  The text, however, doesn’t usually bear this out.  Esav submits to his father’s will and allows his brother take the leadership role and sole proprietorship of the Abrahamic family.  There is a certain strength to acknowledging and accepting the will of the leadership.

However, to me, Esav’s fatal flaw (and perhaps the reason he was excluded from the family?) is that he, perhaps, is *too* willing to accept “fate” or “destiny.”  Aside from this episode, when perhaps Esav should have protested, or insisted to Yakov to allow him into the family, or gone to Yitzchak and Rivka (still alive at this point) and, having conceded leadership, begged to at least remain part of the family.  But he doesn’t.  He moves on, moves out and goes away.  There’s another episode where he does a similar thing.  When the boys are younger, at the story of the sale of the birthright.  Esav has sold his birthright, and even the most favorable reading of the story (that he truly was starving, and the initial bargaining was under duress), faults Esav for failing to protest the sale afterward.  Having recovered from his imminent doom, and being fed and revived, it was incumbent on Esav to protest the sale, unwind the transaction as being under duress and reclaim his birthright.  But he doesn’t.  He accepts his fate and walks away.  And it is only at that point that Torah describes him as despising his birthright.

Why is this so important?  Let’s think back to the actions of the father of the family Esav seeks to maintain status in: Avraham.  Though there are instances where Avraham acquiesces (the akeida being a famous example) to the word of God, perhaps the story most indicative of Avraham’s caring for others and his general world view is his “negotiation” with God over the fate of Sodom.  He doesn’t accept fate; he fights back.  He “argues” with God, going back and forth for six rounds of negotiating (50, 45, 40, 30, 20, 10).

This is Avraham’s central quality: acquiescent to the word of God at times, but unwilling to accept fate at others.  There are times when it is right to fight (even if the the fight is a losing cause).  Esav, despite his description as a hunter and man of the field, may have been just a bit too passive when it came to matters of spirituality and the family future.  It was thus that he could not serve as leader, ceding the role to Yakov, and it was thus that he even gave away his place in the family.

Responding to Idiots on Twitter

One of @ChipAphelion‘s early critiques of Twitter had to do with the idea that the character limit inherently stifled your ability to give fully thought out, reasoned analysis and instead reduced your argument to vaguely abbreviated bits.  Obviously, he’s correct (but if his tweet count is an indication, he’s overcome that particular problem).  Anyway, he’s not the idiot I’m referring to in the title.

That idiot is Anthony De Rosa, who describes himself as “Reuters columnist, social media editor, host of Reuters TV Tech Tonic.”  This is the kind of person who calls everyone who reads his twitter profile a “dummy,” so you know the kind of antagonistic-just-for-the-sake-of-being-a-dick-because-I’m-so-edgy-and-real-and-hardcore person we’re dealing with.  The kind I fully believe needs to be ignored.  The kind that responding to on Twitter becomes an exercise in self-aggravation because you’d need 100 tweets just to really flesh out all the arguments against him, and the average Twitter user has an attention span of 1 tweet.  Nevertheless, Dani Klein (someone I have never met in real life despite the fact that we apparently live in the same neighborhood; yay, social networking!) specifically asked for people to respond to De Rosa’s inflammatory tweet:

with this:

So because I don’t want to reduce my argument to a series of sure-to-be-ignored tweets that will get lost in the noise of @ replies he’s getting, I’d rather write it out in full, clearly, for a sure-t0-be-ignored blogpost.

Let’s break this down, bit by anti-Israel, hateful, purposely antagonistic, trolling bit:

If Iron Dome is so successful…

What does “so successful” mean?  The IDF posts daily recaps along the lines of this:

that show that while Iron Dome is extremely successful, it’s not nearly perfect.  So, De Rosa’s premise that implies that Israel’s defense system is working, so really Israel has nothing to be upset about, is flawed, because it’s simply not factual.  It’s actually flawed in another way, too.  Aside from the fact that despite Iron Dome, rockets are still hitting Israel by the dozen, daily, even if Iron Dome WAS perfect, the premise is flawed.  As one response tweeted, if a criminal fired a gun at an NYPD Officer who was wearing a vest, and the vest stopped the bullet and didn’t harm the officer (not fully accurate, but for the sake of the argument, go with it), would you ignore the attempt on the Officer because the defense worked so well?  Of course not.  And you certainly wouldn’t use body armor as an argument to defend the use of firearms by criminals (unless you were a dick and troll, like De Rosa).  “Hey, let all the criminals have guns and shoot indiscriminately at police officers without any sort of repercussions, because they have body armor, so they shouldn’t care.”  Sounds absurd in that context, no?  Well, it’s just as absurd in the rockets from Gaza context, too.

…what’s the purpose of killing so many in retaliation…

Here De Rosa lets his bias show through simply in his choice of language.  You see how he categorizes Israel’s action as retaliation?  He’s attempting to delegitimize the action.  If this is retaliation, then the otherwise ridiculous notion of proportionality and equality of casualty counts come into play.  “You harmed me X, I get to harm you back X, and anything more is unjustified and unfair.”  That’s the basic premise, in De Rosa’s warped thinking, of why Israel is wrong, and he’s shown it by calling it retaliation.  De Rosa wants you to think there should be a natural limit on what Israel can do.  Almost a one-for-one type thing.   (Which, by the way, even if true, is sick in the head).

But it’s NOT retaliation.  What Israel is doing isn’t “getting Hamas back.”  They are trying to destroy a terrorist infrastructure by destroying the rockets that are fired, the launchers that fire them, the warehouses that store them, the tunnels that smuggle them and the terrorists that plan the whole thing. The people that are targeted aren’t innocents, and they are usually not even low-level foot soldiers. Those guys die because they are inevitably near exploding rockets  and targeted infrastructure sites. The guys that are targeted assassinations are higher-level planners, and are as much a part of the terrorist infrastructure as the launchers and rockets.  But, of course, De Rose wilfully ignores this point, and calls the action “retaliation” in an effort to make Israel look like the evil actor here.

Of course, his question is his bias, too.  “What’s the purpose of killing so many?”  Well, killing people ISN’T the purpose, as evidenced by all the actions the IDF takes to avoid it.  Of course, those are ignored by media members like De Rosa (or worse, turned around and criminalized, and called “psychological warfare” and “indimidation” by Hamas and her mouthpieces like Reuters).  But when you frame the question like that, you ignore all that and demonize Israel.

…especially “human shield” casualties?

And here’s the capper.  See how he puts human shield in quotes?  As if every time Israel calls for the world to recognize that Hamas uses it’s civilians as human shields, it’s not really true, it’s just what Israel calls it.

But there’s a deeper, and even worse, implication here.  What De Rosa is suggesting is that Israel should allow Hamas to get away with using civilians as Human Shields!!  What Israel does to minimize unintended civilian deaths (which he, in the same breath, dismisses and ignores) isn’t enough.  Israel should stop the operation completely because there’s just no safe enough way to do it.  Think about it: De Rosa is blaming the death of human shields on the shooter and completely absolving the one who hides behind it!

Worse yet, if he had his way, and Israel called off its military because there’s no perfect way to preserve innocents, what message does that send to Hamas?  It basically tells them that his is a perfect strategy that should be continually employed to protect it’s terrorists and installations.  Keep firing rockets at Israel, you can’t be harmed if you put a child next to you!

Of course, to an Anti-Semite, Jew and Israel hater like De Rosa, that’s exactly the perfect solution.

“Obama Hates Israel” Suuuuuuuuuuure

From the statement of State Department Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner:
“We strongly condemn the barrage of rocket fire from Gaza into southern Israel, and we regret the death and injury of innocent Israeli and Palestinian civilians caused by the ensuing violence.  There is no justification for the violence that Hamas and other terrorist organizations are employing against the people of Israel. We call on those responsible to stop these cowardly acts immediately. We support Israel’s right to defend itself, and we encourage Israel to continue to take every effort to avoid civilian casualties.”  (For more, see here)
Also, the Jerusalem Post is reporting (confirmed by IDF) that Iron Dome intercepted 25 rockets (as of this writing) today that were heading for major population centers.  Iron Dome was funded in large part by the US.
So, yeah, Obama is terrible for Israel.  Really hates Israel.  We’re in major trouble.
Also, in case you missed it, today was an EPIC BADASS day for the IDF.  First, the official twitter feed of the IDF Spokersperson (@IDFSpokesperson) tweeted a video of the strike that killed Ahmed Jabari (Hamas’s military leader and a terrorist “mastermind” – read up about him here).
Then they tweeted this awesome threat: “We recommend that no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead.” BAD. ASS!
So, to recap. Hamas starts raining missiles down on Israel.  Israel decides that’s enough, starts an intensive attack on Hamas in Gaza designed to take out as much terrorist infrastructure as it can.  Despite targeted attackes and killing, there were unfortunate, unintentional collateral deaths.  And yet, even so, the Obama administration unequivocally denounces the terrorism and voices clear support for Israel and today’s actions.


Welp.  I’ve agreed to embarrass myself for charity, and attempt to grow a moustache during the month of November to raise money for charity.

(More information on the Movember movement here:

Update: We’re raising money for the American Cancer Society.

If I raise enough money to make it worthwhile, I will post pictures online (or send by email by request) of myself documenting my “journey”.

Please consider sponsoring me by pledging some small amount per day that you think I can last (November is 30 days) until Mrs. G makes me shave.  Alternatively, you can pledge a flat amount.

Thanks for your time and consideration.

A Lingering Thought from Yom Kippur

On Yom Kippur we ask God to deposit our sins in a place where they cannot be remembered [by him] so that our “record” (as it were) would be clean and we could be forgiven.

Everyone I’m sure is familiar with the philosophical “Omnipotence Paradox” (see here) that asks “can an omnipotent being create a task that it can’t perform” frequently articulated as a rock so heavy that even he cannot lift it.

Well, here was my thought/philosophical paradox from Yom Kippur: can an omniscient/omnipotent God create a place that he can’t remember? We ask God to put our sins away in a place where they can’t be remembered, but can such a place really exist?  Can God “forget” something, even if he affirmatively chooses to?

I know this is liturgical and meant to convey the concept of forgiveness and not be taken literally, but these are the deep thoughts I had.

Cleaning the Pipes

If you’re not following Dr. Ruth on Twitter, you are missing out.

For instance, there was this nugget a little earlier today:

Men who ejaculate 5x/week in their 20s reduce risk of getting prostate cancer later by a third. Protect yourself guys.

I love that she not only lays out the science, but encourages men to “protect” themselves by, ya know, 5x/week.

And here’s where I get to thinking deeply in terms of religion.  Our particular brand (and this is by no means specific to Judaism) frowns on what is probably the most common male method for getting to ejaculation.  Wasting and all that.  And unless a guy’s sexual partner is a real champ (and even if so, during those two weeks he’s not allowed to do anything), pretty much the only way to get to 5 times a week.

So what does this mean?  If the halacha knew that there were tangible, identifiable benefits to masturbation, would it still be assur?  With slightly better knowledge, scientifically, of men’s health and internal plumbing, should the halachic attitudes change?

For instance, if it’s shown that regular maintenance of the plumbing system (flushing the old, to make way for fresh new sperm) is beneficial not only for a man’s health (as above) but also increases the likelihood of insemination and healthy children during copulation, does that change the calculus?

I know my overall mentality on almost everything is that halachah should adapt, especially in the face of better scientific knowledge, and this is no different.  I guess I just wanted a reason to write about masturbation, ejaculation and halachah.

/Achievement unlocked