Rabbi Avi Weinstein

Archive for February, 2009|Monthly archive page

The TSA: Thousands Standing Around for 7 billion

In Airport Security, TSA on February 16, 2009 at 3:39 pm

Goldberg just referenced this article written in November, after witnessing a fellow airline passenger being forced to toss her yogurt by the big bad TSA. I recall that Bush was basically bullied by a terrified public and kneejerk Congress to create the TSA so that America would begin flying again. It turns out that TSA really stands for: Thousands Standing Around, or, maybe Trolling Sanctimonious Aparatchiks, or Terminally Sedated Alcoholics, or Theatrical Security Apparatus, Troglodytes Sucking Air…

ישראל בטח בשם

Parshat Mishpatim: Sometimes "the other" is "another"

In Helping enemies, Parshat Mishpatim on February 16, 2009 at 1:35 am

Values and principles are woven throughout the more expected rules, and a close reading of Parshat Mishpatim yields fruit that is conceptually poetic and marvelous. The Torah requires that one help someone he hates. Not to love him, but to help him. The Torah acknowledges that people hate each other, but that should not get in the way of helping when there is a need to do so. Click on the link above and see how the Midrash understands this Mitzvah.

When are words dirty?

In Uncategorized on February 15, 2009 at 8:46 pm

Wallace Stegner arrives at an astute definition, and it was back in the 60’s, but still rings true.

Words are not obscene: naming things is a legitimate verbal act. And “frank” does not mean “vulgar,” any more than “improper” means “dirty.” What vulgar does mean is “common”; what improper means is “unsuitable.” Under the right circumstances, any word is proper. But when any sort of word, especially a word hitherto taboo and therefore noticeable, is scattered across a page like chocolate chips through a tollhouse cookie, a real impropriety occurs. The sin is not the use of an “obscene” word; it is the use of a loaded word in the wrong place or in the wrong quantity. It is the sin of false emphasis, which is not a moral but a literary lapse, related to sentimentality. It is the sin of advertisers who so plaster a highway with neon signs that you can’t find the bar or liquor store you’re looking for. Like any excess, it quickly becomes comic …

More on Parshat Yitro

In Uncategorized on February 15, 2009 at 8:18 pm

For more on Parshat Yitro, take a look at the following which was posted on Myjewishlearning.com. The Joseph Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Learning gets the attribution, but it was written by me.

Classic Talmudic and Medieval Literature on War & Peace

In Uncategorized on February 15, 2009 at 12:38 pm

The Talmud has always had a moderating influence on the Hebrew Bible and it has been claimed that this accounts for the virtual pacifism of Ashkenazic Jewry up until the creation of Modern Israel. These arguments on whether people can be drafted for wars that do not answer imminent threats do not seem arcane, but downright current, as Rabbi Menachem HaMeiri (1249-1306) comments on a Talmudic dispute:

Where the rabbis and Rabbi Yehuda argue is in the case of a pre-emptive strike where we are fearful of the enemy that they may strike us, or that we know they are preparing to strike us. According to the sages, this is considered an obligatory war, and anyone engaged in the war is absolved from fulfilling other commandments while Rabbi Yehuda considers that as long as the enemy has yet to attack, it has to be an authorized war and one is not absolved from fulfilling other commandments.

Meaning that if someone is engaged in a sacred task, he cannot be drafted for this type of war. The Torah itself allowed for a type of conscientious objector–one who did not have the stomach for it. If your interested in a survey of the literature, and powerpoint click here

Remembering Shabbat According to Rashi

In parshat yitro, shabbat on February 15, 2009 at 4:51 am

On the Commadment זכור את יום השבת לקדשו (Remember the Sabbath in order to sanctify it) Rashi teaches that the way to do this is by keeping shabbat in one’s memory. How does one do this? One should set aside something for shabbat during the week.

Interesting that Rashi doesn’t quote the Talmudic passage that required us to make Kiddush on wine זכרהו על היין (Remember it (shabbat) with wine). Instead, he gives us the custom of Shammai the elder as quoted in the Gemara Beitza where he differs with Hillel.

If Shammai found a plump calf on one day, he would set it aside for Shabbat, while Hillel would use it on that day, quoting the verse ברוך השם יום יום (Praise be God everyday).


Shammai, however, did not create this custom in order to remember shabbat, but to honor shabbat. Why does Rashi seem to conflate honor with memory?

Rashi likes Shammai’s custom because it achieves both qualities simultaneously. Shabbat is honored materially by setting aside the animal, but in so doing, it fulfills the requirement of memory, removing it from being a passive activity to being an active one. He actively recalls the shabbat as he sets aside the calf. By saying this calf will be saved for shabbat, he is remembering that it is special and he honors it by preparing ahead of time. If he finds a nicer calf the following day, he will set that aside and eat the previous calf. Each day affords an opportunity where shabbat may be remembered, but it is guaranteed that this active memory will be invoked at least once.

Rashi understands that “Remembering shabbat” needs to happen outside of Shabbat and therefore it is part and parcel of honoring shabbat. It is the ideal way to invest every day with the purpose of preparing and remembering shabbat.

Hello world!

In Uncategorized on February 15, 2009 at 1:28 am

Welcome to WordPress.com. This is your first post. Edit or delete it and start blogging!

Hardware Getting Soft?

In Uncategorized on February 13, 2009 at 7:04 pm

My mail server is down. Can you use the femail server? No she quit cooperating when we stopped using (e)unix.

Sullivan quotes Walt

In Uncategorized on February 13, 2009 at 12:52 pm

Just to update you on Andrew Sullivan’s subtle assault on Israel…He’s now quoting Walt, of Walt and Mearsheimer fame as a “realist” on M.E. Policy. This at a time when Hugo Chavez is targeting Jews in Venezuela. At least, they have a place to go…and I would suggest they get going. I wonder when Sullivan will begin blaming Israel and AIPAC for the Iraqi war like the crackpots he is now quoting. Andrew, you don’t have to be a theo-con-neo-con to be a gentile Israel supporter–even though it seems that way sometimes.

Stay tuned for Jewish sources on War and Peace.

What did we do to Andrew Sullivan?

In Uncategorized on February 11, 2009 at 2:34 pm

In 2006, during the war against Hizballah, Andrew Sullivan might as well have been working for the Israeli consulate. Quoting relentlessly from pro-Israel bloggers, vigilantly condemning Reuters doctored photos, and unequivocally identifying Hizballah as the aggressors, we had Andrew on our side. Questions of proportionality did not enter his discourse–at least not that I can remember.

Now, it is true that Israel did not destroy the bunkers and that Hizballah has storehouses full of rockets, but it is also true that the border has been quiet for three years (Kin ahora, pu, pu, pu) and that Hizballah decided to sit this war out.

Now, he raises all the just war issues in Gaza when he knows that once Israel decided to go in, there would be significant civilian casualties. His claim was that this incursion would not have the desired result and would only serve to further radicalize the people of Gaza. How much more they have been radicalized is an open question, given that the propaganda machine was operating against Jews and Israel full blast before the war.

Now, there has been an Israeli election where southern Israel has voted in droves for Avigdor Lieberman, a thug, because they have been radicalized by the rockets of Hamas. The thug’s party has eclipsed Barak and Labor as a potential power broker for forming the next coalition government. Where is the outrage regarding the radicalization of the next generation of Israelis who, according to Haaretz columnist, Tom Segev, no longer believe in peace? Why would they? They only believe in ensuring some quiet and order for a few years until the next time. Are they to blame for this unfortunate turn “against peace”, or do we offer them the same understanding that we so generously give to the noble citizens of Gaza?

This is disturbing, but all the fancy talk of “just wars” is risible given the present reality.

Andrew, what happened to you? I really thought you knew better.