Saturday, December 15, 2007

Shemitah, Continued

I have to say that when I first read about the laws of Shemitah, I did not realize that there is a uniform year of Shemitah for every one. I simply assumed that each landowner’s shemitah falls on a different year. Farmer A could have his shemitah in 2007, where farmer B would have his Shemitah year in 2008.

I was stunned to learn that Shemitah year all falls in the same year! There is no place in the Torah that requires that Shemitah years be synchronized. Why then do we do this?

Would it not make more sense if Shemitah years were staggered so that at a given time only a maximum of 1/7th of the land would be at rest? This way, the land of Israel would not have to starve (or rely on imports of food) for a year every seven years. Actually, Israel, if it were completely under the rule of the Shemitah would suffer for 2 out of 7 seven years in that it takes a year to sow and reap.

Can anyone come up with a reason (other than simple tradition) for why staggered shemitah years would be against Halacha?
Similarly, it occurs to me that we as Jews have abandoned the so-called "jubilee" year. This year apparently occurs every seven Shemitah cycles (ie. every 49 years). Here, all leased land reverts to the original owner. I think, in a classic cop-out, where the rabbis, deciding that Jubilee years are decidedly bad and impractical, declared that the year of Jubilee is unknown, AND THEREFORE SHOULD BE IGNORED! If this is not an example of outrageous cynicism, I do not know what is! It would be as if the rabbis declared that it is not possible to measure exactly what time Shabbat begins, SO LET'S IGNORE SHABBAT!
Dear reader, does this make any sense?

Wednesday, December 5, 2007


Chanukah is celebrated along the same general time as Christmas, giving us Jews a way to share in the celebration of the season. But what is Chanukah about? What are the religious origins of Chanukah; what are its traditions and requirements?

I attended a lecture given by an Orthodox Rabbi about Chanukah. This Rabbi stated that there are two historical reasons for why Chanukah is celebrated:

1. Chanukah is celebrated in remembrance of ancient wars fought by the Macabees (a group of Jews) against the Greek Empire.
2. When The Macabees fought the Greeks and won the battle for Jerusalem, and when the Jews recaptured the Holy Temple (Beth Hamighdash), they searched their stores and were able only to find enough oil to light the Holy Temple for one day. Yet, by a miracle, the oil lasted a full eight days! Chanukah is celebrated as a remembrance of this miracle of lights.

Chanukah, therefore, according to this Rabbi celebrates first the Military victory of the Macabees against the Greeks and second the miracle of Hashem in causing the light to last longer than expected. This is the traditional explanation that is given for the festival of Chanukah.

I have heard this explanation before regarding Chanukah, and I am willing to bet that the reader has also heard a substantially identical explanation for this holiday. Sounds good, doesn’t it, that we as Jews fought and won a war, aided by God, and celebrated the outcome, having been gifted a miracle in the process?

As usual, though, when it comes to religion, things are a lot more complicated than they seem. Let us analyze the holiday of Chanukah.

Is Chanukah a religious holiday? I asked my Rabbi whether Chanukah is a religious or secular festival. He looked at me as if I had two heads and said, “of course it is a religious holiday”.

But if Chanukah is a religious holiday, then it should be mentioned in the Torah, right? Well, it turns out that the five books of the Torah do not mention Chanukah at all. In fact, the five books of Torah end with the death of Moses, more than a 1,000 years before the Macabees. I looked up the so called, ‘Tanakh’, which are the later books of the so-called ‘Torah’, and, again, Chanukah is not mentioned in these texts at all.

So I went back to my Rabbi, somewhat timidly, and asked whether he can tell me where in the religious books is the festival of the Chanukah mentioned. He told me that I should look in the “Books of Macabees”.

In the Jewish library at Aish, I found the Books of Macabbes. There are two books of Macabees, in fact, which describe the goings on of the wars of the Syrian division of the Greek Empire with the Jews. The Macabees, it turns out, were a family of Jews, Kohens, who were outraged at the tyranny of the Syrian rule of the Jews around year 170 BC. The Macabees were five brothers, who were amazing fighters and were able to win several battles against their enemies. In one battle, by no means the last, the Macabees were able to capture Jerusalem and to free the Holy Temple. The Book of Macabees describes the devastated state in which the Temple was found, and the desecration that was done to the temple by the Syrians. The Macabees cleaned the temple and resumed the sacrifices. They also proclaimed that from that date forward, the battle should be commemorated as an eight-day holiday.

But here is the problem: the Book of Macabees is not considered to be part of the Torah. I carefully studied the contents of books that are considered to be part of the Torah, and the Book of Macabees is not part of the Torah. In fact, I was able to find documentation, wherein the earlier Rabbis had debated which book to include and exclude into the Torah. The Book of Macabees, alas, did not make it!

So, again, I have a problem: If Chanukah is a religious holiday, then where is this holiday sanctioned? The book of Macabees cannot be such a source, since it is not considered a holy text. As usual, when it comes to religion, things are more complicated than they appear.

At the risk of digression, I want to spend one paragraph pointing out that it seems ludicrous that the Rabbis have decided what text is holy and what text is not. They have decided, for example, that the Book of Jonah, where prophet Jonah is swallowed by a whale only to survive, is indeed a holy book. Questioning the contents of the book of Jonah is therefore tantamount to blasphemy. The Rabbis have included texts into the religious cannon as they saw fit. We must say that the Book of Jonah is the Torah, because they decided that it is so. If we question it, we are heathens! In their ultimate wisdom, they have decided that the Book of Macabees is not part of the Torah. So they have to live with that consequence as well. The tradition of Chanukah as a religious holiday, then, cannot come from this book.

But let us assume for the moment that the Book of Macabees is a holy text. Let us say that it carries religious authority. I have carefully read the book, and there was no mention whatsoever of any miracles of oil lasting longer than its usual time. Nowhere in the book is such a miracle mentioned. Judah Macabee declared the holiday of Chanukah as a joy of a military victory, not as a celebration of a miracle of God. If this event of a case of oil lasting more than one day was so miraculous, why I wonder was it not mentioned at all in a book that chronicles those events from a Jewish perspective?

I went back to my Rabbi and once again asked: “Rabbi, if Chanukah is a religious holiday, where is to be found in the Torah?” This time, the Rabbi told me to look in the Talmud.

Once again, I went to the Aish library and studied the relevant portion of the Talmud. It turns out that even in the Talmud, Chanukah is mentioned very briefly. There is a paragraph, encompassing one third of the page about this holiday. There, indeed, the Talmud mentions the miracle of the oil lasting eight days instead of one, and there, the purpose of the holiday is given to be entirely this miracle. The Talmud does not mention the Macabees and does not at all describe the battles of the Jews. It simply states that a case of oil that was supposed to last one day actually lasted eight days.

So there we have it - the source of Chanukah is the Talmud.

But wait a minute! Isn’t the Talmud a chronicle of the so-called ‘Oral Torah’? I thought that Orthodox Rabbis consider the Talmud as the writings of oral communications of Moses with God on Mount Sinai. This is what the Talmud supposed to be, is it not? Put more simply, I thought that the Talmud was the written communication of oral teachings of God to Moses. So, do the Rabbis mean to say that the Holiday of Chanukah, which occurred over 1,000 years after Moses’ death was communicated to Moses on Mount Sinai? Am I missing something?

Either the Talmud is not the culmination of oral teachings at Mount Sinai, or if it is, the story of Chanukah does not belong in the Talmud. There is, of course, the possibility that the Rabbis have added the story of Chanukah to the Talmud after the fact, conveniently inserting a ‘miracle’ in order to transform a military victory celebration into a religious holiday.

It is important to keep in mind that the Talmud is a vast book, encompassing many sections. The Talmud began to be written about 500 years CE and took hundreds of years to complete (The Mishna was written around 200 CE and the Talmud about 500 CE). At the earliest, then, the passage mentioning the miracle of Chanukah must have been written some six hundred years after the Macabee wars. The so-called miracle of oil was not reported until six hundred years after the event. The book of Macabees, which was written at the time of the war, does not mention the miracle. Yet the Talmud, which was written 600 years later, does. Does this sound suspicious to you as well?

Did a miracle really take place? You can see that there is room for doubt.

But let us assume that the miracle of lights really did take place. Let us say that when the Jews reclaimed the Holy Temple, there was only enough oil left to light the Menorah for one day, but somehow the oil lasted for eight days. Let us assume that this was an intervention from God. My question simply is, SO? Is it really important that the light lasted longer than it was supposed to?

Remember that during the wars talked about in the Macabee period, thousands of Jews died. Entire generations of Jews were lost. The Holy Temple was desecrated. Even when the Jews through the Macabees sustained a victory, the bloodshed did not stop. For years after the Jews retook Jerusalem, the war raged on at a terrible cost to the Jews. Ultimately, the Jews lost the war and were once again subjugated. So if God were to intervene on behalf of the Jews, was it enough that he caused a supply of oil to last longer than it was supposed to?

In what way was the light that lasted eight days a necessary event? If the lights dimmed or went out of the Menorah briefly, would that have been a terrible tragedy? The Holy Temple had been desecrated by the Syrians; Pigs were slaughtered at Beth Hamighdash; unspeakable horror was committed there. Given this, if the Menorah ran out of oil, would it have been such an earth-shattering event? Couldn’t the Jews simply go out and produce some more oil to rekindle the candelabra? This is what God’s miracles are made of? This is the majesty of God?

God did not interfere when hogs were brought to the Holy of Holies and slaughtered at the alter. Yet he caused a miracle of lights such that a can of oil lasted longer. Big deal!

I remember about a year ago, I had bought a cellular phone and forgot to recharge it. But to my pleasant surprise, the phone functioned some two days more than the manufacture’s suggested charge life. A miracle, right? No doubt that six hundred years from now, when my bones have turned into pulp, someone will write about my cellular phone and state that this is a miracle of God, and that we have to celebrate this occasion!

Who are we kidding?

In preparation for this article, I scanned the books that were available for sale at “”. There are many books on the subject of Chanukah. The books deal with a number of subjects from cooking for the occasion, to Chanukah songs, to describing Chanukah to children. I even found a book of Chanukah told from a perspective of a Jewish lesbian in a household composed of a child with “two mommies”. But what I did not find was a realistic treatment of the holiday, its true origins, its true history, and its objective historical analysis. It is as if the Jews have forgotten to ask questions about their religion and their religious holidays. What has become of us?

The story of Chanukah arose out of a military victory. Chanukah is the celebration of a battle won by the Jews – a battle in a war that the Jews ultimately lost. There is nothing magical about this event or this battle. Jews fought, probably courageously, with considerable loss of life. The Macabees were probably brilliant military tacticians who may have overcome military superiority of the enemy. It is not unusual in the military chronicles for a numerically inferior force to win battles, especially in circumstances where the force is defending its homeland. The Jews fought courageously and well. Their winning of a battle is indeed a cause for celebration. To invoke a miracle, and somehow ascribe the achievements to God’s intervention is to cheapen their efforts. To say that Chanukah is a commemoration of a miracle is to lower the value of Jews’ efforts at winning freedom for their homeland.

Forget that the oil was supposed to last one day but lasted longer. I do not care! Remember, instead, that our ancestors rose up against a mighty enemy, and courageously fought back. Remember that the Jews united in an effort to preserve their way of life. Remember the Jewish heroes. Sing songs about Judah and Simeon Macabee who fought brilliant battles. Light candles (in a Menorah if you want) to commemorate the brave Jews who fell in those battles. Remember your fellow Jews who came and went through the arrow of history. Remember your brethren; forget the meaningless ‘miracles’ concocted by the Rabbis’ imaginations. Celebrate Chanukah for what it should be – the commemoration of the triumph of the Jewish people against adversity.
When people ask you, “Why do we celebrate Chanukah?” tell them we celebrate the victory of the Jewish people from their enemies. We light candles to remember the joy of winning as a united nation of Jews. Take religion out of Chanukah.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Shemitah, Continued

As I mentioned in the previous blogs, the law of Shemitah as found in the Torah was an attempt to rest the land from farming every seven years. The Shemitah allowed for a Sabbath for the land. Additionally, upon the commencement of the Shemitah year, all debts were canceled, and all bondages were released.

The law of Shemitah was ostensibly the Torah’s way of being compassionate, allowing the poor to partake of the fruits of an uncultivated land. The poor also were given an opportunity every seven years to escape eternal debt.

There is no doubt that the roots of this law are compassionate. It is clear that the author of the law of Shemitah wished to ease the burden of the poor and orphans in obtaining food and in escaping from eternal debt. Kudos to the author of Torah for having his (?) heart in the right place!

The problem is that the law of Shemitah is not realistic. If I am lender of money and know that the year of Shemitah is approaching, then I would be crazy to lend money to anyone, knowing that the debt would soon be voided. Why would I want to lend any money when I know that the year of Shemitah is approaching? I would imagine that all lending, effectively all business would grind to a halt as the Shemitah year is approaching. The poor and those in need would have trouble borrowing money even if they have every intention to repay their debt.

In many ways, this law of Shemitah reminds me of communism. Both systems were rooted in compassion but in the end they both proved unrealistic. The trouble is that whereas the failed communistic system can be attributed to failings of human social design, the rule of Shemitah is the making of God. Now, the question is, how could an all knowing God, in his design of the Shemitah, fail so spectacularly in failing to foresee the nature of humans, his creation?

Thursday, November 8, 2007

On Shmita (Shemitah), continued

The laws of the Shmita, or the sabattical year, are fascinating. In the coming blogs, I wish to explore the concept of Shmita.

Leviticus 25: "Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them: When ye come into the land which I give you, then shall the land keep a sabbath unto HaShem."

It is clear from this passage that God views the Shmita year as a sort of Sabbath for himself. God is saying that the Shmita year is important to him just as a Sabbath is important to us!

So, it should be that, if Shmita is so important to Hashem, then we should not only honor it in the land of Israel, but everywhere! If God deems that it is important that the land should rest every 7 years, then why would this not apply to lands outside Israel? If Shmita is good, when would it be good only for Israel?

Saturday, November 3, 2007

On Shmita

Shmita, or the Sabbatical year, is a biblical practice, with origins in the Torah. The concept of Shmita, as I understand it, is the practice of refraining to farm a given land every seven years, and of forgiving (or settling) debts every seven years. The origins or the practice have derived from the following passages of the Torah, and later expanded by the rabbinic sages:
Exodus 23:10
And six years you shall sow your land, and gather in the increase thereof; but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of thy people may eat; and what they leave the beast of the field shall eat. In like manner you shall deal with thy vineyard, and with thy oliveyard.
From the above passage, it has been derived that:
1. Farmers must refrain from working in their farms every seven years.
2. Whatever fruits that happen to grow of their own accord would be consumed by the farmer, the poor and by animals.

The Torah further explains elsewhere the following:
Leviticus 25:11 And HaShem spoke unto Moses in mount Sinai, saying:
Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them: When you come into the land which I give you, then shall the land keep a Sabbath unto HaShem. Six years you sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather in the produce thereof. But in the seventh year shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath unto HaShem; you shall neither sow thy field, nor prune thy vineyard. That which grows of itself of your harvest you shall not reap, and the grapes of thy undressed vine you shall not gather; it shall be a year of solemn rest for the land. And the Sabbath-produce of the land shall be for food for you: for you, and for your servant and for your maid, and for your hired servant and for the settler by thy side that sojourn with you; and for your cattle, and for the beasts that are in your land, shall all the increase thereof be for food.
From the above passage we learn that:
1. The law of Shmita is given at Mount Sinai.
2. The law of Shmita applies only to the land of Israel and not elsewhere (derived from the second sentence “when you come into the land…”
3. On the seventh year, much as the Sabbath, no work is allowed on the land.
4. The random produce of an untilled land should be food for the farmer and also for the poor as well as for wild animals.

Furthermore, the sages have declared that the law of shmita also applies to monetary debts such that at the end of Shmita year, all debts are nullified.
The concept of shmita is fascinating and it provides for much commentary. It provide lots to analyze for the skeptical such as I. I wanted to summarize the law of the Sabbatical year to the best of my ability first, before delving into the consequences of these laws. From the knowledgeable reader I ask to read the above summary and find inaccuracies. If I have failed to summarize the laws accurately, I would appreciate some guidance. In the coming blogs I will try to analyze these laws…

Sunday, October 14, 2007

There was a young lady of title,
Who insisted on wearing a sheitel,
Of religion as such
She didn't know much
But thought that a sheitel was vital.

A sheitel is a wig used by orthodox Jewish women to cover their hair. These women use the wig to cover their hair for religious reasons. The wearing of a sheitel is an Ashkenazi tradition. But more and more, from time to time, in gatherings such as weddings or Bar Mitzvahs, I notice that Sephardic Jewish women are beginning to wear them too.

My friend and I like to play a game of identifying the sheitel. She is much better at it than I, and she is able to point out the most subtle sheitels amongst the crowd. I am told that these wigs can get quite expensive, some selling for over $10,000. In some circles in New York, the quality of a sheitel has come to be somewhat of a status symbol. A woman here in Great Neck is distinguished by the Louis Vitton bag that she carries, the Mercedes Benz that she drives and the sheitel that she wears!

But you, dear reader, might think fondly of a woman who wears a sheitel. After all, wearing a sheitel is to fulfill the Jewish Halachic law and a sheitel is a symbol of modesty, right? So what could possibly be wrong with the sheitel?

It is my purpose to review the Jewish laws that have led the orthodox community to embrace, indeed to require, the wearing of sheitels by women. I want to review the logic used in arriving at the conclusion that exposing one’s own hair is not appropriate. And I want to expose some of the orthodox rabbinic views on women and women’s issues.

If you asked an Orthodox Rabbi to point out the source for the Halacha of sheitels, he is likely to point to the biblical story of “The Sotah”. Now I am almost sure that the reader - even if educated in a Yeshiva - has not learned the biblical story of “The Sotah”. In fact, it is interesting to me how certain stories in the bible are very familiar, being repeated over and over by the rabbis, while other stories wane in the shadows of obscurity. How often, for example, do we hear that there are 613 ‘Mitzvahs’ or good deed yet we are never told that one of those 613 Mitzvahs is to hunt down a certain people called the ‘Amalekites’ and murder them? But I digress. Here is the biblical story of ‘the Sotah’ (Numbers 5:11):

Hashem spoke to Moses, saying:

"Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them - Any man whose wife shall go astray and commit treachery against him: and a man could have lain with her carnally, but it was hidden from the eyes of her husband, …
and a spirit of jealousy had passed over him and he had warned his wife… The man shall bring his wife to the Kohen.
"The Kohen shall bring her near and have her stand before Hashem: …
The Kohen shall have the woman stand before Hashem and uncover the woman's head, and upon her hands he shall put the meal-offering of remembrance -- it is a meal-offering of jealousies, and in the hand of the Kohen shall be the bitter waters that cause a curse: …
"The Kohen shall adjure the woman with the oath of the curse, and the Kohen shall say to the woman, 'May Hashem render you as a curse and as an oath amid your people, when Hashem causes your thigh to collapse and your stomach to distend: …
And the woman shall respond, 'Amen, amen.': …
He shall cause her to drink the water, and it shall be that if she had become defiled and had committed treachery against her husband, the waters that cause curse shall come into her for bitterness, and her stomach shall be distended and her thigh shall collapse, and the woman shall become a curse amid her people:
But if the woman had not become defiled, and she is pure, then she shall be proven innocent and she shall bear seed:
"This is the law of the jealousies, when a woman shall go astray with someone other than her husband and become defiled:…
“The man will be innocent of iniquity, but that woman shall bear her iniquity.”

It is clear that the above passage is describing what happens when a woman is accused of adultery. Her husband brings her before a Kohen, and the Kohen gives her an elixir made up of ‘bitter waters’ to drink. The Kohen curses her and forces the woman to say ‘Amen’. If she in fact is guilty, her thigh and uterus explode; if she is innocent, then she presumably becomes pregnant.

This is an interesting passage, isn’t it?

Now I have said that the purpose of this article is to talk about the religious concept of Sheitels. Believe it or not, this concept derives from this passage, and in due time, I shall relate the relevance to the reader. But I can simply not resist the temptation to digress a bit and comment about the passage itself.

Forget about the demeaning nature in which women are portrayed in the above passage, forget the outrageous fact that the man involved in this adulterous affair is considered innocent, and by all means forget the sexist nature of this passage. My question simply is why do we not do this presently? I see numerous television shows or courtroom reports where a husband is attempting to find out whether his spouse is cheating on him – why doesn’t he simply go to the local Kohen? The Kohen could simply have the woman drink this ‘bitter water’ and determine her guilt or innocence. Who needs DNA testing when we have the Kohen with his concoction that can distend a guilty uterus?

One might think that this drink would be very sought after indeed: What happened to this valuable drink? How did the Kohen come to lose this amazing bitter water? When in the history of Jews did the Kohen lose the recipe for this drink? Or if we have such a recipe, why do we not use it anymore? If you think that the story is a bit weird and difficult to swallow, remember that it is contained within the very scroll that you rush to kiss every Shabbat.

But let us return to the subject at hand. How do religious Jews justify the wearing of sheitels based on this passage? I do not see the word Sheitel mentioned, nor is there anything about wigs said. I must admit I was miffed.

It turns out that the great rabbinic sages actually read the passage of “The Sotah”, and used deductive reasoning. In other words, they ‘derived’ the Halacha of Sheitels from this passage. How, you ask? Let us see their reasoning:

The rabbinic sages point out that in the passage the Kohen uncovers the woman’s hair. They then derive that if the Kohen had to uncover her hair, then it must have been covered in the first place. If this is so, then women normally must have been covering their hair. If this is so, then woman MUST cover their hair!

Let us review the logic:
1. The hair of the woman in ‘The Sotah’ story was uncovered by the Kohen
2. If her hair was uncovered, then it must have been covered to begin with
3. If her hair was covered, then it must have been covered all the time
4. If her hair was covered all the time, then ALL women’s hair must have been covered at all times
5. Therefore all women must have their hair covered!

Talmudic Rabbis go even further. They state that a woman’s hair is akin to her private parts. Thus, just as a woman would not expose her breasts to the public, she cannot expose her hair either. The Rabbis declare further that men are not allowed to pray when a woman has exposed her hair in the synagogue. More modern rabbis have written instruction manuals on what to do if there is a woman in a room or synagogue while they are praying. Their advice to men is to either politely tell the women to leave, or at the least, not to look at the women.

Interestingly, unmarried women’s hair need not be covered at all. Even in the Talmud, exposed hair by unmarried women is allowed. I have not been able to understand why this is so, and I have tried! I once asked a Rabbi: if exposed hair is akin to an exposed breast, why are unmarried women allowed to expose their hair? He merely looked at me scornfully as if I were a troublemaker.

In any case, we can conclude that women (at least married women) must cover their hair because of the story of ‘The Sotah’. Never mind that the story is discredited in that there is currently no remnant of the mentioned ritual; that there is no “bitter water” available; and that there is no forum in which to perform this ritual. Women must still abide by this story nevertheless. It is as if the Rabbis are saying “forget about the reality that the story has proven false. Abide by it anyway!” Personally, if I were a woman, I would only agree to cover my hair if a Kohen could produce the uterus exploding water. “Keep your business out of my hair until you can show me that your water can collapse a thigh”, I would say!

But seriously, does it follow that just because a woman’s hair was uncovered in that act of judgment then all women’s hair must from then on be covered? Maybe the fashion of the time three thousand years ago was to keep hair covered. Does this mean that we must keep with that fashion even now? Should we wear exactly what they were wearing too? Thank goodness the story does not describe the color and the dress this woman was wearing, or else, the rabbis would have required women to wear that dress as well!

A more respectable argument for covering of hair could have been made on grounds of modesty. The rabbis could have said that modesty in dress includes covering hair. Certainly those women who wear hats or otherwise cover their hair tend to be less flamboyant then those who flaunt their hair. An argument could have been made that a dignified woman should cover her hair out of modesty. Unfortunately, when asked, Rabbis always point to ‘The Sotah’ story for justification for this law, and only add the modesty issue as an afterthought.

But for better or worse we have this Jewish law – that women should cover their hair. So where does a Sheitel enter the picture? Does covering one’s hair with someone else’s hair fulfill this Halacha? If god required us to cover our hair, do we believe that it would be acceptable if we covered our hair with someone else’s hair? Is this not cheating?

That Rabbis who liken exposed hair to exposed breasts, and who condone the wearing of a wig – would they then condone exposing a breast with a silicone implant? Or would they like to see women wearing bikinis that have realistic breasts painted on them giving the impression that the women are walking naked on the beach?

If realistic Sheitels mimicking women’s natural hair so well that a man is never sure whether he is looking at a woman’s real hair is justified, then why would realistic looking bikinis with private parts painted on them not be justified?

If modesty is the reason why women are asked to wear a wig, then why are the wigs made so realistic? What happens when the wig is deemed more attractive than a woman’s own hair? How is an imitation of a body part more modest than the body part itself?

Have I made my point?

At the outset, I knew that it was not going to be difficult to debunk a law that compelled women to shave their heads and wear wigs. At the gut level, this practice is so demeaning, that if it were not real and not occurring to my friends, it would be eerily comical. When I began to research the laws concerning Sheitels, I became convinced that these laws are holdovers from the era when sexism and perceived inferiority of women were commonplace.

What puzzles me, though, is that we continue to submit ourselves to these laws. We continue to snicker and murmur about these halachas, yet we continue to obey them. Or if we do not obey them, we comment on the so and so Jew who has taken things too far. But the root of many of these laws is the same. The same group of Rabbis who state that women must wear wigs also declare that we couldn’t have a microphone in the synagogue. They are the same Rabbis who state that we cannot sit in our cars and drive in order to visit our families. They are the same Rabbis who say that you may not eat at yours daughter’s house, lest her house not be Glatt Kosher. If they can produce an absurd law of the Sheitels, they can produce other laws too. The same Rabbis!

Is in not up to us to evaluate these laws – to check them against logic and common sense? Are we not ultimately responsible for our lives? Must we always wearily shrug and obey blindly? Is our faith so pervasive that we as men are compelled to ask our wives to shave their heads and place someone else’s hair upon them?

Burn your Sheitels!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Rosh Hashana

This year, on the Thirteenth of September, we celebrate the Jewish new year. There was a time when the Jews believed truly that the world was some 5000 years old. Numerous Rabbis, in their infinite wisdom, had carefully reviewed the events recorded in the Torah and concluded that the world must be exactly 5768 years old. The Rabbis taught that 5768 years ago, God created the sun, the moon and the star systems, together with the earth and all that is within it. The Rabbis taught that the first man, Adam, and the first woman, Eve, were created 5768 years ago essentially out of nothingness. They taught that the entire planet, with its myriad plants, animals, entire civilizations, and the human race are less than 6000 years old.

Happy New Year!

As humans have acquired more scientific knowledge, we have come to understand that indeed the earth and the solar system are much older than what the Rabbis taught. We have found remnants of humans and animals that are hundreds of thousands of years old. And we have come to realize that the age of the earth measures in the billions of years rather than thousands.

Revisionist Rabbis, confronted with the extensive evidence that the world is much older than what the Torah would have suggested now have changed their tune somewhat. They now claim that maybe the six days that comprise the first week of creation may in fact be much longer than actual 6 days. They say, “Since the sun was not created until the third day, who says that the first two days were 24 hour days?” When faced with fossil records dating millions of years, they claim that the evidence is fabricated and should not trusted.

The truth, for all who are willing to open their eyes, is plain to see: The world is not 5765 years old!

But calendars measure time, and the Jewish time is as good as any. Years must begin and come to an end, and for the sake of complicity, let us accept that our new year, this year, begins on September 13th.

Happy New Year!

And so we purchase our admission tickets, attend the synagogues, celebrate, and congratulate our friends and congregants. We gather at our friends’ and family’s homes, sit around the table together, sing songs, and eat.

We eat apple and honey so that in the coming year we can be happy and full of sweetness. We eat tongue so that we may be wise. We eat pumpkins so that our sins may be light….And at night’s end, when we are satiated and content, we usher in the New Year, full of good wishes and hope.

In the ensuing ten days, we remember our dealings of the past year, come to recon and reconcile our deeds, and prepare for the Day of Atonement. The wise amongst us sit in the synagogue on Yom Kippur, remember the sins of the past year, ask God for forgiveness and act contrite. The rest of us, unskilled in the knowledge of Hebrew or skill of the intricate readings of the sacred texts, sit in the synagogue, gossip, and with growling stomachs, yearn for a distraction.

We sit in the synagogue and witness or participate in the auctioning of the Torah readings to the highest bidder. We witness this year’s wealthy family who bids $25,000 for the Naalia portion and wonder how it is that they came to so much money. We gossip that so and so paid $6,000 for the Torah reading because his daughter has come of age and is in need of a suitor. And we contribute money to the synagogue in the mistaken belief that this money will buy favors in the heavens.

And we witness the obligatory event of a woman who rises from the back of the woman’s section, pledges thousands of dollars to the synagogue in the hope of restoring fecundity to her sterile daughter. Rest assured that the money bought nothing!

And we see the Gabbay of the synagogue who happily accepts a donation in the name of some sick boy, whose father donated money in desperation, in hopes of finding favor with God. Know that the Gabbay, like the snake-oil salesman, has sold nothing to the desperate father and taken his money.

Do we believe that God and his favors are for sale? That the representatives of the synagogue are God’s middlemen, sprinkling heavenly favors to the highest bidder? If you believe so, then you are not practicing Judaism.

We cannot eat apple and honey on Rosh Hashanah and expect next year to brim with sweetness. Our hearts must fill with kindness and joy first.

We cannot eat tongue and expect wisdom. We must purchase it in the labor of honest study.

We cannot eat pumpkins and lighten our sins. We must strive to do good deeds and refrain from harming others.

And we cannot rise vainly, for the entire congregation to see, and fill the Rabbis’ hands handsomely with money and expect redemption. The way to charity begins with desire on the part of a charitable heart and ends in fulfilling the yearning of the truly needy.

It is said that the last prayer of Yom Kippur, the Naalia, culminates into the hour of decision, when the books of judgment are reconciled before God, and the course of the coming year is decided. It is said that in that hour the Angels of God seal the Book of Life for the coming year. Who will come to wealth and who will be burdened with bankruptcy; who will enjoy health and who will suffer illness; who will be blessed with happiness, and who will be cursed with sorrow – it will all be decided on the day of Rosh Hashana and sealed on the night of Yom Kippur.

But will it? Does God on that night seal and remove our free will? Will our future be set before us like a train marching within its tracks? Will God cease to have us retain control of our future?

Lacking free will, should we stop obtaining drugs for our children because God sealed our children’s fate on that fateful Yom Kippur night? Should we stop striving? Should we shelf our ambitions because our fate has been sealed? Are we that helpless?

Or should we stop defending our beloved nation of Israel because a set of loathsome Rabbis have decided that Israel cannot be a nation until Messiah comes?


My intention is not to discourage prayer. On the contrary. We must lift our heads, look to the skies, and ask for the strength and assistance in striving to commit justice and refrain from the temptation of evil. We must increase our resolve to treat one another justly and to defend our nation and people from harm. We must stop relying on religious symbolism to cover our misdeeds like thick syrup on bad bread. And we must refrain from contributing to the corruption of our rabbis by contributing corruptly.

May we all bask in the sweetness of a happy and joyous new year.

Happy New Year!

Monday, July 9, 2007

It has been over a year since Gilad Shalit was kidnapped by Hamas Terrorists. His 21st birthday is coming up in August. Israel has not yet been able to secure his release. We have not forgotten him!

Friday, July 6, 2007

Milk and Meat

I recently visited an orthodox Jewish friend at his house and shared a meal. My friend is Persian, and needless to say, his wife cooked a meal fit for a king. We feasted for what seemed to be hours, while passing a wonderful Sabbath afternoon. While satiated, and intoxicated with the wonderful sleepiness of a gluttonous Saturday afternoon, my mind drifted to philosophy and religion.

I noticed that my friend and his wife had 2 refrigerators in the kitchen. They had two sets of plates, one for dairy and one for meat. They had separate utensils placed in separate cabinets. I joked with my friend and told him that his expenses are doubled with this life style of his. He laughed and said that he actually has three sets of dishes, the third set for Passover.

The following day, I decided to study the Jewish laws concerning the eating of dairy and meat, which are briefly as follows:

Dairy food (such as Milk or butter) cannot be eaten with meat products.
Meat products are those that are derived from animal flesh, so for example cow, lamb, and chicken are considered “meat”. Interestingly, fish is not considered to be meat.
There are some foods that are considered neither meat (“fleishik” in Yiddish) nor dairy (“milchik”), but rather are neutral (“pareve”) and may be eaten with meat or milk. For example, eggs are considered pareve and can be eaten both with dairy as well as meat products.
There are also some food products, such as fish meat that are “pareve”, but cannot be eaten with meat, though they can be eaten with dairy.
Time must elapse between the consumption of meat and dairy products. Most rabbis state that at least six hours must pass following the eating of meat before it is permissible to eat dairy. On the other hand, if dairy products are consumed first, one needs only to rinse his mouth in order to begin to eat meat.
Utensils such as pots and pans take the character of the meal that is being prepared in them. Thus, if you are cooking meat in a pot, the pot becomes “meat”. If you drink milk in a cup, the cup itself becomes “dairy”. Thus, you cannot mix the “meat” pots and pans with “dairy” pots and pans.
The smallest quantity of meat or dairy products in a dish renders the entire meal “meat” or “dairy”. Therefore, one can not eat meat in a “milk” pot and vice versa - hence the need for separate “meat” and “dairy” dishes, pots, pans, and refrigerators.

As is my habit, I asked my Rabbi to point me to the root of these religious laws. Proudly, he told me that the Torah orders all Jews to practice the above rules. He cited the following passages:

Exodus 23:19 “The choicest first fruit of your land shall you bring to the House of Hashem, your God; you shall not cook a kid in the milk of its mother”

Exodus 34:26 The first of your land's early produce you shall bring to the Temple of Hashem, your God. Do not cook a kid in its mother's milk."

Deuteronomy 14:21 “You shall not eat any carcass; to the stranger who is in your cities shall you give it that he may eat it, or sell it to a gentile, for you are a holy people to Hashem, your God; you shall not cook a kid in its mother's milk”

Unless I am seriously mistaken, the passages seem to say that a “kid” (meaning a young cow) should not be cooked in its own mother’s milk. The passages repeat three times so that there is no room for vagaries – We should not cook a cow in its mother’s milk. It could have said, “you shall not cook a kid (meat) with milk”, which would have prohibited eating meat with milk, but it didn’t.

Ok, then. I read these passages and remember that according to most Orthodox Rabbis, the Torah must be respected and its content - word for word - must be followed.

To the religious Jew who reads the Torah and decides not to eat cow meat cooked in the milk of its mother, I say “well done”. More power to such a Jew!

But what about meat that has been cooked in the milk of a cow not related to the “kid”? What about the meat of, say, lamb cooked in cow’s milk? Why have the Rabbis prohibited us from eating these?

These days, when we eat a cheeseburger, it is a very safe bet that the milk used to produce the cheese is not related to the cow whose meat became hamburger! Why then is a cheeseburger denied us?

What about chicken cooked with milk? Chickens do no even produce milk! We couldn’t cook a chicken in its mother’s milk even if we wanted to! Why then can we not eat chicken with milk?

What is this business with fish not being considered ‘meat’? Who decided that and why? I do not see the passages in the Torah that relate to this particular rule. Where did this rule come from?

And how does it come about that a utensil becomes “meat” or “dairy”? Does the meat’s spirit invade the dish?


To the reader who reads this and says that I am taking too literal a meaning from the words of the Torah, I say you are correct. To those who say that one must read the Torah as an illustrative or spiritual text, I say that they are also correct. Many a Rabbi has chastised me, saying that I apply a very strict meaning to the letter of the Torah’s text. These Rabbis say that we should pay attention to the meaning or spiritual message of the Torah rather than the strict application of its words. To those Rabbis I say they are also correct.

These are the same Rabbis who take the words of the Torah and twist them until all sense has been wiped from them, who complain that I take the words of the Torah too literally! These are the same Rabbis who take the edict “you shall rest on Shabbat” to such extremes as to dissociate themselves from society on Saturdays, who tell me that I am being too literal in reading the Torah. But ok, I am being too literal.

I agree that the Torah should not be taken literally when it states that we should not cook a kid in its mother’s milk. Instead, we should take a more spiritual meaning from this passage. What then is the Torah teaching us? What are we to learn from the passage?

Personally, I believe that the Torah is teaching that we should not require a close family member such as a mother to participate in the harm of its loved one. The Torah, I think, is saying that we should not require a mother to provide of its produce in the destruction of its children. In human terms, it is saying for example that we should not require a mother to put her child to death. A similar and modern version of this halakha is that a wife or mother cannot be compelled to testify against her husband or child in a court of law. I think the Torah is hinting at a similar concept.

What the Torah is not hinting at is the nonsense that we have come to endure from our Rabbis. From a beautiful concept that the Torah has expounded – the compassion toward a mother so that she is not compelled to participate in its child’s death – the Rabbis have derived that pots and pans are considered “dairy” if dairy products are eaten in them! From a thoughtful passage in the Torah that seems to display compassion towards the suffering of mothers for their children, the Rabbis have derived that meat can be eaten following drinking milk as long as the mouth is wiped!

Come on!

The Torah has nothing against eating milk and meat together. It states so clearly in the Genesis in describing the experience of Abraham, our patriarch. In genesis, the Torah tells us that three men were passing through and Abraham saw them from his tent. He hurried over to them and
Genesis 18: 3 He said, "My Lord, if I find favor in Your eyes, please pass not away from Your servant.": 4. "Let some water be brought and wash your feet, and recline beneath the tree: 5. I will fetch a morsel of bread that you may sustain yourselves, then go on – in as much as you have passed your servant's way." … 7. Then Abraham ran to the cattle, took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the youth who hurried to prepare it: 8. He took cream and milk and the calf which he had prepared, and placed these before them; he stood over them beneath the tree and they ate.

Clearly Abraham prepared milk and meat together, and clearly the men (whom the Rabbis say were angels) ate this meal. Furthermore, most Rabbis comment in this passage that God himself was in the tent with Abraham. Yet God did not raise any objections about Abraham’s preparing and the angels’ eating such a meal.

If by “you shall not cook a kid in its mother’s milk”, God meant to say that milk and meat don’t go together, then God would not have written the above passage in Genesis. If on the other hand, God is teaching a lesson in compassion by prohibiting the consumption of the flesh of a child and mother together, then the passage in genesis would not be contradictory.

In short, I think, the Rabbis have it all wrong in ordering us not to eat dairy and meat together. Furthermore, by such rigid interpretation of the bible, I think the Rabbis are hijacking a religion that is beautiful and transforming it into a religion full of superstition, gratuitous rules and nonsensical customs. They should stop it. And we should stop listening to every word they utter as if they are conduits for God’s word.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Story of Cain and Able

Genesis Chapter 4

10Then He said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground! 11Therefore you are cursed more than the ground, which opened wide its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield its strength to you. You shall become a vagrant and a wanderer on earth.”

Let me slow down for a moment and give due to each of these sentences:

He said “What have you done?”
I am assuming that questions like ‘what have you done?’ are rhetorical; God obviously knows what has happened and need not ask the question. God is asking the question perhaps to test Cain’s honesty. But He does not wait for the response, so we have to assume that God talks this way for effect. In effect, He is saying “look what you have done!” This is more an expression of rage rather than a query.

The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground!

Here again, I am assuming that it is not implied that blood actually has a voice and that blood is crying. This phrase, in fact, has been interpreted in various ways. Orthadox rabbis state that by ‘blood’, what is in fact meant is the ‘soul’. They state that it was the soul of Abel that is protesting. Further evidence for this interpretation comes from the Torah’s assertion that the soul is contained in its blood. The Torah cautions against eating blood in several places and mentions that the reason for this is that the soul resides in blood (see for example, Leviticus 17:10 “Any man of the House of Israel or of the Proselyte who dwells among them who will consume any blood…I will cut it off from the midst of its people.11For the soul of the flesh is in the blood…”)

Now we have apparently come to a monumental finding: the soul of man is to be found in his blood. Well, then, at long last, based on this passage, we can begin to guide the multitude of scientists and truth seekers who have looked for a sign of the soul in the proper direction. We can tell them that the long sought soul resides in the blood of a man. Surely if we were to replace the blood of a person with someone else’s, then the soul of the blood donor would invade the recipient, no? Here, once and for all, the religious among us can wait for the results of such an experiment with baited breath for at last the existence of a soul would be well established. Alas, though, this is not the case. In fact, blood is routinely donated. Victims of trauma, for example, who have lost large quantities of blood are typically given blood. No ‘soul’ exchanges have been noted to date! Either the soul does not reside in blood, or it finds a place to hide when the body loses blood!

What then, does “the blood cries out from the ground” mean? Once again, the burden of explanation falls on the believing orthodox who take the words of the Torah to be wholly true and without fault.

11Therefore you are cursed more than the ground, which opened wide its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield its strength to you. You shall become a vagrant and a wanderer on earth.”

Previously, I argued that Cain aught not have been punished, as he apparently did not have the knowledge of the Ten Commandments, and thus did not know that murder was a sin. But, alright, for one reason or another, Hashem has decided that Cain should nevertheless be punished for what he has done. Hashem is sore with Cain for having killed his brother and he chooses to curse. He tells Cain that the earth will no longer bear fruit for him, so there is no point to his becoming a farmer. He, Cain, is sentenced to wander the earth.

But are we not told that the punishment for taking life is forfeiting one’s life? We will later come to Genesis 9:6, saying “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed”. How is it that genesis 9:6 seems to clearly demand the shedding of the murderer’s blood and yet God has chosen to make a vagrant out of a murder in this case?

If we are to learn morality from the Torah, which of these lessons are we to take? Who decides which lesson is the correct one?

13Then he said to Hashem, “Is my iniquity too great to be borne? 14Behold, you have banished me this day from the face of the earth – can I be hidden from your presence? I must become a vagrant and wanderer on earth; whoever meets me will kill me!”

Recall that Adam and Eve had borne two children, Cain and Able. We have come to learn that the former has killed the latter. Thus, there are now 3 people left on ‘the face of the earth’. What then does ‘whoever meets me will kill me’ mean? Is Cain afraid that his parents will come upon him and murder him? Or is he thinking way ahead of the possibility that his parents will bare more children who will then grow up and come to kill him? Do you, dear reader, see that the author of this section of the Torah has apparently slipped and forgotten that there are no other people on earth at the time of Cain? I am sure that the Torah apologists will simply assert that Cain was fearful of his future prospects. I will leave it to the reader to decide the veracity of such assertions.

15Hashem said to him, “Therefore, whoever slays Cain, before seven generations have passed he will be punished.”

Here is another peculiar moral code. If Cain’s blood is shed, then God will punish the killer within 140 year (seven generations)! It is weird justice indeed to meet punishment on a murderer no later than 140 years! I guess even back in those days the appeals processes must have been exhausting!

And Hashem placed a mark upon Cain, so that none that meet him might kill him.

I am not certain what that mark was, but it must have been some version of ‘DO NOT KILL THIS PIECE OF SHIT”!

16Cain left the presence of Hashem and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.

So we have just heard that God’s punishment for Cain having murdered his brother was to banish him from farming, and making him a ‘vagrant and a wanderer’. Thus Cain comes to Nod and promptly ‘settles’ there! So much for the punishment of God!
It is interesting how God meets Justice. He tells Eve ‘on the day that you eat of it’, meaning the forbidden fruit, ‘you shall surely die’. Yet she surely does not die on that day. Then he tells Cain that if someone were to murder him, God would exact revenge within 140 years! Finally, he tells Cain that he is to be a wanderer so he immediately leaves the presence of God and settles somewhere else. My hat’s off to the reader who has managed to retain even a remnant of credulity!

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Messhiah is in the Mail

A long time ago, I sold a customer a service, and he promised to pay me. A few weeks went by and I still had not been paid. I called this customer and asked whether he had sent me a check. He told me that he had forgotten about it and he would immediately write me a check and send it.
Another month went by and I still had not received my money, so I called him again. He assured me that he had sent the check, and that the envelope is probably still in the post office being delivered. So I waited another month, and called him again. He expressed surprise that I had not received the check. I told him that if he did not mind, to cancel the sent check and to send me another one. He huffed and puffed as if I was asking him to do a great favor and finally said that he would.
Another month went by and I had yet to receive the check. So I called the customer once again, and asked him where my check was. He told me he had sent it to me and again suggested that the check might be in the mail. I told him that I had waited several months and it was unlikely that he had sent the check to me. He became angry and indignantly said “are you calling me a liar?” I told him that I was not calling him a liar but that I had been waiting for the money for over six months and had not received it. He replied that the inadequacies of the mail system in the United States are not his problem. I suggested then that I come in person to get the check. He said that would be fine, but he had to go on a trip and would not be back for another 3 months.
Like a fool, I waited another 3 months and called him again. He said that he would send the check to me by mail. When I said that we had tried that already and the check never arrived, he became angry with me, saying ‘if you do not trust me, I do not want to do business with you. Do not call again!’
It is now many years since that incident. In a wedding recently, I saw the gentleman who swindled me out of the money. I did not want to cross paths with him since I had long forgotten about the account and did not wish to start unpleasant conversations. Instead he came to me and said that if I had only treated him a little bit better he would have paid me my money! He blamed me for the whole affair, saying that he is a righteous man but that business is business.
Now, I realize this blog is not the forum to air bad business deals, and this is not the purpose for this. But it strikes me that our dealings as Jews with our rabbis are somewhat similar. When the Holy temple, the Beth Hamighdash, was destroyed approximately 2000 years ago, we were told that our savior, our Messiah, would shortly arrive to rescue us. Rabbi Akiva, arguably one of the greatest sages of all time, promised that the Messiah is just around the corner. In fact, he mistakenly identified Bar Kokhba, a Jewish military leader, as the Messiah, with disastrous consequences.
Following the disastrous invasion of the Romans into Judea, and following the slaughter of over 1 million Jews, we were told once again, that the Messiah is coming soon. It seems that Hashem took us out of Egypt and into more peril. Yet, we were promised Messiah. Any minute we should expect his coming.
We were then subjugated by the Romans, only to be persecuted by the Muslims. The Spaniards then rescued us only to torment us with the Spanish Inquisition. We then suffered at the hand of the Russians in Pogroms, and at the hand of western Europeans in the form of Purges. Time and time again, we suffered and our blood was shed. Again and again we were told that Messiah is around the corner. Then we experienced the Holocaust, and over half of our population was killed in firing squads and in gas chambers.
We are still waiting for this Messiah. When we say to our rabbis that it has been 2000 years since we were promised this Savior - where is he? – they reply that we have to ‘deserve’ his coming. The rabbis tell us that we are too wicked for the Messiah to come. They tell us that we don’t keep Shabbat else he would come. It is our fault that he is not coming.
And in the wait for the Messiah, I realize that his coming is no different than the check I have been waiting for. The Messiah is the proverbial check in the mail, perpetually being sent by the one who owes you money, and yet it never seems to arrive. The Rabbi is your debtor, always promising that the check is going to arrive any minute; if we can only squeeze a little more Halacha and a slight Tzadakah that Messiah will sooner arrive.Dear Moshe, my check never came and Messiah is never coming. The astute businessman would know to put that account receivable in the ‘bad debt’ column and move on!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

TurtleDoves Revised

In my previous blog, I talked about sacrifices of doves required of women who menstruate. In the comment section, I was accused of misrepresenting (or misinterpreting) the passage. Apparently, the reading of the relevant parts of the Torah are supposed to be that only women with unusual ‘discharges’ above and beyond their menstrual discharge were required to bring sacrifices of doves. Rather than responding in the comment section, I thought it would be good to answer in a blog:

Lest I be accused of misrepresenting the Torah, here, I have provided all the verses of the Torah verbatim:
15:19 When a woman has a discharge, it can consist of any blood that emerges from her body. For seven days she is then ritually unclean because of her menstruation, and anyone touching her shall be unclean until evening.
15:20 As long as she is in her menstrual state, anything upon which she lies shall be unclean, and anyone sitting on it is likewise unclean.
15:21 Whoever touches her bed must immerse his clothing and his body in a mikvah, and then remain unclean until evening.
15:22 [Similarly], anyone who sits on any article upon which she has sat must immerse his clothing and his body in a mikvah and [then] remain unclean until evening.
15:23 Thus, if he is on the bed or any other article upon which she sat, whether he touches it [or not], he is unclean until evening.
15:24 If a man has intercourse with her, her menstrual impurity is transferred to him, and he shall be unclean for seven days. Any bed upon which he lies shall be unclean.
15:25 If a woman has a discharge of blood for a number of days when it is not time for her menstrual period, or if she has such a discharge right after her period, then as long as she has this discharge she is unclean, just as she is when she has her period.
15:26 As long as she has the discharge, any bed upon which she lies shall have the same status as it has while she is menstruating. Similarly, any article upon which she sits shall be unclean, just as it is unclean when she is menstruating.
15:27 Anyone touching them must immerse his clothing and his body in a mikvah, and [then] remain unclean until evening.
15:28 When she is rid of her discharge, she must count seven days for herself, and only then can she undergo purification.
15:29 On the eighth day, she shall take for herself two turtle doves or two young common doves, and bring them to the priest, to the Communion Tent entrance.
15:30 The priest shall prepare one as a sin offering and one as a burnt offering, and the priest shall thus make atonement for her before God, from her unclean discharge.
15:31 You must warn the Israelites about their impurity, so that their impurity not cause them to die if they defile the tabernacle that I have placed among them.
15:32 This then is the law concerning the man who is unclean because of a discharge or seminal emission,
15:33 as well as the woman who has her monthly period, the man or woman who has a discharge, and the man who lies with a ritually unclean woman.

OK, so what have I missed? Is it really true that 15:28 refers only to women who have a ‘discharge’ beyond their menstruation? Well, OK, but I submit that this is a reach and a tortured explanation.

But let’s go with that for a moment. What exactly is ‘discharge’ beyond menstruation? If a woman has a period lasting, say, 10 days – is that considered a ‘discharge’ beyond menstruation? What about 5 days? When is a discharge considered 'unusual'?

But OK, let’s even grant that ‘discharges’ of women are well defined and are distinct from menstruation. Let’s say that what we are talking about is unusual discharges. This ‘unusual’ discharge, in medical language, is called dysmenorrhea. According to medical authorities (will provide references if needed), the incidence of primary dysmenorrhea is greater than 50% in healthy women. This incidence, with some notable exceptions, is relatively stable amongst diverse population.

So, let’s say that the critiques of the previous blog are right, and the Torah passage refers to dysmenorrhea. The number would thus be revised as follows:

Let’s assume that 50% of women will have at least 1 episode of dysmenorrhea per year.
Since there were 500,000 adult women in the Sinai desert, then there would have been
500,000 X 50% = 250,000 episodes of ‘discharges’ among women per year. We will ignore men’s discharges for this purpose.

For the duration of the 40 years, then, there would have been 250,000 X 40 = 10 million ‘discharges’. Since there are 2 doves required per discharge, we have to find 20 million doves. This is just for women! I have not even considered the men, as I do not know how to calculate the incidence of discharges amongst males!

So there you have it. Perhaps not 480 million doves, but, depending on how you interpret the Torah, there may be as little as 20 million doves needed.

Did the Sinai desert have 20 million doves for the purposes of sacrifice? How did the Jews, who wandered the desert, often engaging in brutal wars, occasionally enduring plagues as a consequence of the wrath of God, manage to come up with 20 million doves?

Is it possible, that perhaps there were not 3 million people in the desert?Is it possible that the Jews, even if they were that numerous, did not in fact engage in this practice of mass animal sacrifice?

Monday, May 21, 2007

Sinai Revelation and Some Numbers

I was just thinking about the claims that some 3 million people were at the Sinai desert when the Jews were taken out of Egypt. Orthodox Jews claim that there were 600,000 able bodied adult males who were at the base of Mount Sinai when the Ten Commandments were given. The Orthodox Rabbis then extrapolate that since there were 600,000 adult males, there had to have been 3 million Jews in the desert.

So, if the above is correct, then there had to have been 600,000 adult females as well. It is interesting, then, to read the following passage in the Torah:

Leviticus 15:

19 " 'When a woman has her regular flow of blood, the impurity of her monthly period will last seven days, and anyone who touches her will be unclean till evening…

29 On the eighth day she must take two doves or two young pigeons and bring them to the priest at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. 30 The priest is to sacrifice one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering. In this way he will make atonement for her before the LORD for the uncleanness of her discharge.”

As I understand these passages, the Torah requires that a woman, following her menstruation, bring 2 doves to the Cohen for sacrifice. Ok, clear enough!

There were 600,000 adult women in the Sinai desert. Obviously, most women - save the diseased and postmenopausal - menstruated monthly. Let us for the sake of argument say that there were 500,000 healthy women. Thus, each one of them would have to provide for 2 doves every month. Let us consider the numbers:

2 doves required per woman per month = 24 doves per woman per year.

24 doves per woman per year X 500,000 women = 12 million doves!

Since the Jews wandered in the desert for 40 years, then, just to comply with this one requirement, there are some 12 X 40 = 480 million doves needed.

Forget about all the other sacrifices that the Torah mandates. Forget, for example, about the sin offerings, guilt offerings, burnt offerings, etc. Forget that the Torah requires that an animal be brought to sacrifice every time a child is born. Forget that on Passover every Jewish family was to bring a lamb for ritual slaughter. Forget all that!

Remember simply the requirement that upon women’s menstruation, 2 doves were to be sacrificed. Some 480 million doves would be necessary for that!

Where did all these doves come from? The Jews were wandering in the desert, living in tents, having to subsist on manna from heaven. 480 million doves?

Does this statistic alone not make you wonder that perhaps the story of the exodus did not happen the way the Orthodox Rabbis say it happened?

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Kuzari Schoomzari

Saturday May 12, 2007

Many Orthodox Jews point to the so-called "Kuzari Principle" is bolstering their beliefs in the Torah. The Kuzari principle is based on the medieval works of the Jewish philosopher Rabbi Yehuda Halevi. It purports to ‘prove' that events of the Jewish exodus from Egypt are plausible and reasonable. The proofs offered are actually simple and are outlined as follows:

The Kuzari Principle: Let us say that one or more significant events occur over a short period of time. These events can be the parting of a sea, or the descent of God to the top of a mountain and the giving of a holy document. These events, because of their enormity, would have left a lot of easily identifiable evidence. Thus, to logically illustrate the principle of Kuzari, as one internet site framed it, paraphrasing from Dr. Dovid Gottlieb's book: Let E be a possible event which, had it really occurred, would have left behind enormous, easily available evidence of its occurrence. If the evidence does not exist, people will not believe that E occurred.

Now let E be the Sinai revelation; since it is claimed that 3 million Jews saw the revelation, and since the 3 million Jews raised no objection once this claim was made, then necessarily the fact of revelation did occur. If Moses falsely claimed that he parted the sea, if he claimed that 3 million people crossed the Sea of Reeds, well, then the 3 million people would have said to Moses "no, you did no such thing. We don't remember crossing a parted sea - you are a liar!" But since the Jewish people of the time did no such thing and believe the revelation and the desert story, then the story is plausible, even probable.

I do hope that I have done some justice to the Kuzari Principle. If I have not, I do apologize. Please correct me if I am not understanding this principle.

But here is my issue with the principle: All of the events that the Jews have witnessed are chronicled in the 5 books of the Torah. The parting of the sea, the revelation at Sinai, Manna from heaven, miracles, etc., are all in the 5 books. These 5 books were all written by Moses according to orthodox Jews. The 5 books describe events from creation up to the death of Moses. Thus, at the earliest, the 5 books of the Torah had to have been completed at the time of the death of Moses.

At the earliest, Torah's claims would have been presented to the Jewish people - the so-called 3 million witnesses - shortly after the death of Moses. At that time, the Jews would have already crossed the Jordon River, being led by Joshua, preparing for the battles for the land of Israel. Joshua, or a priest would have shown the newly finished 5 books to the Jewish people.

Now, note that according to the Torah tradition, all of the people who originally left Egypt, some 3 million people, died in the desert. No one, except for Joshua and Caleb who crossed the parted sea actually made it to the Jordon River. They died of plagues, battles, God's wrath, purges etc. Not even Aaron or Moses made it to the land of Israel.

Those who made it to the Jordon River were the second generation of the exodus. Again, if I am wrong about this, please tell me.

Now, when the Torah is presented to the second generation, and the various miracles etc. are mentioned, the people would have no way of verifying the veracity of the claims since THEY WERE NOT THERE! As you know, the Torah was given 49 days after the exodus. All the people who witnessed the revelation at Sinai would have been dead by the time the Torah was completed 40 years later! Of course Caleb and Joshua are exceptions to this.

Note, then, that the Kuzari Principle is no longer valid in the case of Jewish exodus. The only witnesses to Torah's claims were Joshua and Caleb. There are only 2 witnesses to a purported event. I will not go into the obvious interest of these two to support the claims of the bible. I will only mention that there were not 3 million witnesses, nor 10,000. Rather, there are only 2 witnesses to the multitude of miraculous events that Jews say occurred.To summarize, at the time when the Torah made its supernatural claims, there were only 2 witnesses available to verify such claims. These claims, then, are no different from claims of other religions. The veracity of the Torah is no more witnessed than that of Mohammad's Quran or Smith's Mormon Bible.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Torah Commentary

Bereshit Chapter 4

1Now the man had known his wife Eve, and she conceived and born Cain, saying, “I have acquired a man with Hashem.” 2And additionally she bore his brother Abel. Abel became a shepherd, and Cain became a tiller of the ground.

Thus the first children were born. One of them became raiser of sheep and the other a farmer. The passage “I have acquired a man with Hashem” is not clear though allusions similar to Christianity’s claim of Jesus being the product of God and Mary come to mind.

This passage also implies that Man, from the beginning had the ability to farm and to domesticate animals. Needless to say, this idea is at odds with the conventional wisdom as well as common sense. It is widely believed that humans evolved the ability to farm – they did not have this capacity innately.

3After a period of time, Cain brought an offering to Hashem of the fruit of the ground; 4and as for Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of the flock and from their choicest. Hashem turned to Abel and to his offering, 5but to Cain and to his offering He did not turn. This annoyed Cain exceedingly, and his countenance fell.

Apparently God had favored Abel and liked Abel’s offering; he liked neither Cain nor his offering. Understandably, Cain was not happy with this…

6And Hashem said to Cain, “Why are you annoyed, and why has your countenance fallen? 7Surely, if you improve yourself, you will be forgiven. But if you do not improve yourself, sin rests at the door. Its desire is toward you, yet you can conquer it.”

This is an interesting passage. Apparently Cain is mad that God has not found favor with him and with his offerings. God tells Cain that if he improves himself he will be forgiven. The passage does not state what it is that Cain has done for which he should seek forgiveness. Perhaps he has given an offering to God that is not to God’s liking. But is this a sin?

Abel apparently has given an offering of animals to God and has found favor. Cain has offered farming products and apparently God did not like the offering. The passage does not say what it is about the offering that God does not like. Perhaps Cain did not offer from his ‘choicest’, or perhaps God prefers gifts of animals to farm gifts!

More importantly, the passage seems to imply that if we give an offering and God does not like the offering, then we have sinned. This is an interesting interpretation of an ‘offering’, implying that a sacrifice or ‘offering’ is an obligation and not a choice.

Suppose you give a gift to your mother for her birthday. If your mother does not like the gift, are you deserving of blame, worthy of punishment?

“Its desire is toward you, yet you can conquer it.”

This is an important statement and is worthy of some comment. If the reader attends lectures given by rabbis, as I often have, he or she would note that rabbis often speak of ‘free will’. The concept of ‘free will’ is that man has been given the gift of making choices throughout his life. Man is free to choose between good and bad and these choices determine whether man would be considered righteous or evil. Many rabbis take the position that man has this free will. This passage is consistent with this teaching.

At that same time, often by the same rabbis, the concept of ‘beshert’ is taught. These rabbis speak of beshert, equating the concept with destiny. They say that things are ‘meant to be’. One Persian rabbi familiar to most readers states that ‘if a thing is meant to be, if it is beshert, then no matter what we do, it will happen’. In Persian, we equate the concept of ‘beshert’ with ‘ghesmat’. How often so and so boy marries so and so girl despite adversity and we say ‘it is ghesmat’? Or how often does a business deal fall through and we sigh and say ‘it was not meant to be’? Most rabbis teach this concept of destiny, stating that things are out of our hands and they will happen if they are meant to be.

Yet, notice that the concepts of ‘free will’ which the rabbis teach and the concept of ‘destiny’ which the same rabbis teach are totally at odds with one another. You can not say that we have ‘free will’ to shape our destiny and in the same breath say that destiny is out of our control and what will be will be. This is a supreme example of rabbis speaking out of both sides of their mouths!

Dear reader, the next time you hear a rabbi preach about ‘beshert’, please ask “but what about free will?” Or when he teaches you about ‘freedom of choice’ and ‘free will’ please ask “but what about beshert and destiny?” I sometimes find it interesting to see rabbis fidgeting and perspiring at the prospect of attempting to reconcile the two concepts. In these cases, they fall into reciting their familiar mantra: “the reply to stupid people is silence”!

In any case, God, in the passage appears to imply that if we improve ourselves, then we can find favor with him. He seems to state that we indeed have the freedom to shape our futures. In effect, God seems to imply that there is no such a thing as beshert or destiny! If I am wrong in this analysis, please let me know!

8Cain spoke with his brother Abel. And it happened when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.
9Hashem said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?”
And he said, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”
10Then He said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground! 11Therefore you are cursed more than the ground, which opened wide its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield its strength to you. You shall become a vagrant and a wanderer on earth.”

Here we have the jealousy of one brother against another. Cain’s first error is the murderous jealousy of Abel. Because of this intense jealousy, Cain murders Abel. Thus Cain’s second error was to murder. Next, God comes to Cain and asks him the whereabouts of his brother, and Cain lies to God. Cain’s third error is that he lied to God.

If you, dear reader, were the prosecutor, you would bring three charges against Cain:

And as a prosecutor you would lay your case against Cain to God and be confident that you would have a strong case. Perhaps you might seek the death penalty against Cain. Perhaps, since Cain had no previous offenses, you may get a life sentence.

Now suppose that I were the defense attorney for Cain, and presented Cain’s defense in the court of law, with God as judge. I would come to court, look the judge in the eye and ask “your honor, what crime is my client being charged with?”

“Why, that is simple” the prosecutor would reply. “The defendant, Cain, is being accused of murder, and lying and jealousy. As you know, the act of murder is contrary to the 6th commandment, jealousy is contrary to the 10th commandment, and lying is contrary to 9th commandment.”

(I actually looked up the above commandments to make sure that offenses correspond to the number of commandments. To my astonishment, I realized that in the Torah there are at least two sets of Ten Commandments, each of which is somewhat different. In the above, I am using the version of Ten Commandments mentioned in the Book of Exodus. For the interested readers who wish to see the different versions of the Ten Commandments, as well as the Christian versions of the Ten Commandments, I refer them to the following web site

But to get back to the original accusations that Cain violated 3 of the Ten Commandments, I would reply, “But your honor, the Ten Commandments have not yet been given. They will not have been given for another 3 thousand years. You have not, your honor, told Cain that murder is wrong. You have not explained that lying is wrong. Nor have you decreed that Jealousy and coveting are wrongful acts. Thus, there were no laws against murder or lying or coveting at the time this act was committed. My client therefore has not broken any laws, since, Judge, God, you have not yet given any laws. So how was my client supposed to know that murder was against your wishes? How was Cain supposed to know that lying and jealousy are contrary to God’s wishes?

“Your honor, there is a fundamental principle in justice and that is that you can not prosecute someone against an act that is not illegal! If an act is not illegal, a court can not hold people liable for that act. My client has not violated any law as you have not, dear God, made any laws. In fact you will not do so until after the flood of Noah. You must therefore release my client!”

I would make a good lawyer, right? Actually, I think I would make a lousy lawyer as I think that God apparently does not play by the rules of justice. As we shall see later, Cain in fact is punished severely for his acts. I would thus have lost the case!

I write the above in parody but my purpose is to illustrate a critically important principle. Prior to Cain’s murdering his brother, he either knew that murder was wrong or he did not. After all, the Ten Commandments which supposedly establish the moral foundation of humans, and which clearly state that murder is a sin, were not given until thousands of years after Cain. It is possible to assume that Cain did not know that murder was wrong. If he did not know that murder was wrong, since God did not tell him so, then how can God hold Cain accountable for his ‘sin’?

If on the other hand, Cain knew that murder was wrong, how did he know? We can guess that Cain knew that murder is wrong, because he tried to cover up his act when he was questioned by God. If Cain did not know that murder was wrong, when God asked him where his brother was, he would have simply said “oh, I spilled his blood so that he is dead. You want to go have a drink with me dear God?” Instead, Cain attempted to deceive God and claimed that he does not know where his brother was. Cain knew he was guilty of an immoral act and he tried to hide his act from God.

But how did he know? Did God tell Cain and Able about the Ten Commandments thousands of years in advance? If He did, then it is fair to say that the Ten Commandments were not given at Mount Sinai but given first to Cain and Abel! Would any rabbi be willing to admit that?

So if the Ten Commandments were not yet given to Cain, how did he know that murder was wrong?

Here we come to the most fundamental concept of morality. Dear reader, I have been writing articles for years now, and I have analyzed various aspects of religion. I have spoken against some customs of Shabbat; I have spoken about some laws of Kashrus, against the wearing of Sheytels, against the custom of animal sacrifices, and many other things. I am sure that the reader has read some of these articles and agreed with some of what I had written and disagreed with other articles. But if I can impress the reader with one concept – only one concept – it would be the following:

Morality, the ability to know right from wrong is within all of us as human beings. To know that murder is wrong, to realize the lying is immoral is innate within us. We did not come to realize that murder is immoral from the writings of the Ten Commandments. Rather, we knew that Murder was wrong, that Lying is wrong, that Jealousy and Coveting are wrong long before the Torah was given to us. These moral principals are wired into us. We do not need any book to provide us with this fundamental set of morality.

It was not the Torah that taught us that Murder is wrong. The very story of Cain and Abel teaches us this critical reality. We need not resort to the Torah to realize that lying is wrong, and equally, we do not need the Torah to explain that honoring our parents is important or that adultery is wrong. This realization is critical to secreting the heavy yoke of religion from the realm of morality. It is interesting that the very story of Cain and Abel teaches that religion and morality do not necessarily go hand in hand.

Thus, to me, the story of Cain and Abel clearly demonstrate that the bible supports the notion of ‘free will’ and confirms the concept that morality is innate in our human souls and not given to us by the Torah. This notion is obvious to a reasonable thinking person, whose logic has not been warped or tainted by religion. But to a religious person, be it a Jew or Christian, it is somehow clear that it is the Torah that gives us morality. This religious person would have you believe that without the Torah people would be roaming the street, murdering at will. Such is obviously not the case. I am glad to point out that such is not the case even by the Torah’s own claim.

To be continued…..