Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Rosh Chodesh Nisan

We missed it in the United States, but elsewhere in the world (particularly North Africa and the Middle East) they saw a total solar eclipse today. Thus, today was the new moon, the time when the moon is directly between the earth and the sun. (Of course, not every month has a solar eclipse.) According to our mathematical algorithm, tonight is Rosh Chodesh Nisan. In a nod to the old days when the new month was declared based on testimony of witnesses, Rosh Chodesh may be observed on or after the date of the molad (lunar conjunction), but never before. In fact, if the molad occurs any time after noon, then Rosh Chodesh must be delayed to the next day, because it takes 6 hours from the conjunction until the crescent moon is visible (according to Rosh Hashanah 20b).

Back in the day, would the Sanhedrin have accepted testimony about a total solar eclipse as evidence of the new moon? If so, then it wouldn't be necessary to wait 6 hours. Sadly, I'm almost certain that the answer is no, given all the sources that talk about the shape of the crescent moon and such.

It's strange. The rabbis were certainly aware of eclipses (Sukkah 29a has some bubbe meises for solar and lunar eclipses), and were certainly aware of the phases of the moon (duh), but I've seen no evidence that they were aware that eclipses are linked to the phases of the moon (solar eclipses always occur at the new moon, and lunar eclipses at the full moon). Counterexamples, anyone?

Happy New Year! According to Rosh Hashanah 1:1, the 1st of Nisan (tonight) is the new year for kings and festivals.

Kings: On official documents, years were identified as "the nth year of King ____". This number was incremented on 1 Nisan, regardless of when the king took office. For example, in the United States, the 1st year of King George lasted from 20 January 2001 to 1 Nisan 5761. (Actually, any time from 1 Nisan 5760 to 1 Nisan 5761 could be referred to as either "the 9th year of King Bill" or "the 1st year of King George".) The 2nd year of King George was from 1 Nisan 5761 to 2 Nisan 5762. We just finished the 6th year, and are starting the 7th (and antepenultimate, baruch hashem) year of King George.

Festivals: Deuteronomy 23:22 says that if you vow to bring an offering, don't procrastinate! There are different opinions in the Gemara about exactly what the time limit is before you're in violation of bal t'acheir (don't be late). One opinion is that you have one full festival cycle to get everything in, and that cycle begins in Nisan, with Pesach.

But that's not all! Rosh Hashanah 7a says that the 1st of Nisan is also the new year for months, leap years, shekalim, and (some say) renting houses.

Months: Nisan is "the first month", even though the years are incremented in Tishrei (the seventh month).

Leap years: If you didn't add an extra month (Adar) to make the year a leap year, then once the 1st of Nisan rolls around, you've missed your chance.

Shekalim: The 1st of Nisan is the beginning of the fiscal year in regard to the shekel donations to the Temple. The offerings for this year have to be bought out of the shekalim from this year, and the 1st of Nisan is when that flips over.

Renting houses: If a lease says "for this year" (rather than "for one year" or "for 12 months"), then the lease goes until the 1st of Nisan.


The New York Times reports:
After the Florida sentencing, Mr. Abramoff's lawyers, Neal R. Sonnett and Abbe B. Lowell, said they would ask the authorities to place their client in a low-security prison with special facilities for observant Jews.

Exactly what does he claim to be "observant" of? It couldn't possibly be any of:
And that's just some of the biblical commandments whose plain-sense meaning Abramoff has violated. That doesn't even begin to get into rabbinic interpretations, which would expand his violations much further.

But again, adherence to any interpretation of Torah can't be what he means by "observant Jew". He means that he wants shrink-wrapped kosher prison meals (many steps down from the food at Signatures, but probably a step up from the standard prison food). But this alone does not constitute an "observant Jew".

Abramoff's actions over the past decade are a desecration of Torah, and any individual or community who claims him as an "observant Jew" or a "religious Jew" is an accomplice in that desecration.

5 years 10 months

Jack Abramoff is going to prison!

And the 5 years 10 months is just for the SunCruz fraud in Miami; this doesn't even scratch the surface of the federal corruption charges. This is only the beginning.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

99% reporting

  1. Kadima 28
  2. Labor 20
  3. Shas 13
  4. Yisrael Beiteinu 12
  5. [sic] Likud 11
  6. Ichud Leumi / NRP 9
  7. Gil 7
  8. United Torah Judaism 6
  9. Meretz 4
  10. United Arab List 4
  11. Balad 3
  12. Hadash 3

And the other 19 parties don't make it.

That's a shame about Meretz. I was hoping for a Kadima-Labor-Meretz-Gil coalition without Shas, but those four parties only add up to 59 seats, so Shas in the government will be inevitable. It looks like Avigdor Lieberman will be the official opposition leader.

We'll announce the results for the March Madness pool soon. Right now, it's looking very close, so I want to give it another day or so, because one seat shifting in any direction could change everything.

In the pool, a number of people answered Gil for the first tiebreaker question (Of the parties that don't get seats, which will be the closest?), but only one person guessed that Gil would end up in the Knesset.

However, no matter how far off your picks were, you can rest assured that you did better than random guessing. I had a random-number algorithm enter the pool, guessing each seat at random. It predicted Prime Minister Azmi Bishara, whose Balad party would lead with 8 seats. It had Aleh Yarok, Lev, and the Jewish National Front tying for second place with 7 seats. The random-number algorithm is quite firmly in last place, so there are no (human) losers.

ol li

After messing around with CSS, I've finally figured out how to edit this Blogger template so that ordered lists are actually numbered. Too bad it's too late for this to be helpful. But look how dazzling it can be.

Mah Rabu readers, what other changes would you like to see in this blog's template?

A minyan of minyanim

I wasn't at the first meeting of Kehilat Romemu this past Shabbat, but it brings the count of NYC independent minyanim up to (at least) 10. "Independent", in this case, is defined as not affiliated with an organized movement or a synagogue. "Synagogue" is defined the way Potter Stewart defined pornography. Almost all of these minyanim have been founded in the last five years. In chronological order of founding, they are:
Other independent minyanim have also come in and out of existence during this period, including the 113th St Minyan (2001-03), the Kesher Minyan (2002-05), and Selah (2004-05).

Please comment if you know of other NYC minyanim that belong on this list, or if you have any corrections to these dates.

Wacky exit poll results

Exit polls are in from the lowest-turnout election in Israeli history.

The biggest surprises so far:
  • Likud is going DOWN. All the polls had predicted that they would come in third (behind Kadima and Labor), but now it looks like they may be fourth (behind Yisrael Beiteinu) or even fifth (behind Shas).
  • Gil (the Pensioners' Party) will be in the Knesset, possibly with as many as 6-8 seats! Where did that come from?

Monday, March 27, 2006

Last chance to enter Israeli election March Madness!

The Israeli election is two days away!!! Therefore, tomorrow is your last chance to enter Mah Rabu's Israeli election March Madness pool. Entry is FREE! To enter, all you have to do is predict how many Knesset seats each party will win. Full instructions are here.

A number of people have expressed concern that they didn’t feel that they could enter, because they haven’t been following the election closely enough. To that I say, humbug. I’ve entered conventional March Madness pools with much much less knowledge about NCAA basketball than you have about Israeli politics. One year I even won (since a large number of upsets knocked out the people who had made more educated choices). And here are some tips to make it easier:

1) Yes, there are 31 parties, and that’s a lot. However, only 13 of them are represented in the current Knesset. It’s a reasonable guess to assume that parties in the current Knesset are most likely to make it into the next Knesset.

2) Wikipedia has been collecting poll results on this election.

3) I’ve written brief summaries of each party over at Jewschool.

Start predicting!

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Shabbat Hachodesh

This past Shabbat, we read Parshat Hachodesh, announcing the new month of Nisan.

הַחֹדֶשׁ הַזֶּה לָכֶם רֹאשׁ חֳדָשִׁים רִאשׁוֹן הוּא לָכֶם לְחָדְשֵׁי הַשָּׁנָה
This month shall be to you the beginning of months; it shall be the first to you of the months of the year. (Exodus 12:2)

This is the first commandment in the Torah given to the entire nation of Israel. (Three of the 613 mitzvot appear in Genesis, but they're all given to individuals: "Be fruitful and multiply" to the first humans, circumcision to Abraham, and the prohibition of the gid hanasheh just appears as a descriptive statement.) Therefore, the very first question that Rashi asks, at the very beginning of the Torah, is "Why didn't the Torah just start with 'hachodesh hazeh lachem'?". And ok, he answers the question. But the point is that "hachodesh hazeh lachem" is considered important enough that it could have been the beginning of the Torah.

According to rabbinic tradition, "hachodesh hazeh lachem" represents the commandment to sanctify each new month, done originally through witnesses observing the new moon, and now through mathematical algorithms. Therefore, all of our calendar geekery is in the service of this mitzvah.

The word "zeh" ("this") is often understood by the rabbis to mean that someone is pointing to something. Thus, the Rambam (in Hilchot Kiddush Hachodesh 1:1, quoting the Mechilta) says that the Holy One showed Moses the image of the moon in a prophetic vision and said "See it like this and sanctify it". However, Hilchot Kiddush Hachodesh 5:1 goes on to say:
Everything that we have said about determining Rosh Chodesh by sighting [the moon] and intercalating the year based on time or need, is only done by a Sanhedrin in the land of Israel, or a court ordained in the land of Israel whom the Sanhedrin has given authority. For this was said to Moses and Aaron: “This month shall be to you the beginning of months”, and via oral transmission one person learned from another from our teacher Moses that this is its interpretation: This testimony is delivered to you, and anyone who stands in your place after you. But in a time when there is no Sanhedrin in the land of Israel, new months are determined and years are intercalated only by the calculation by which we calculate today.

Nevertheless, we're the ones who are authorized to set up the calendar algorithm. The U.S. Constitution says "Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors...", commanding the state legislatures to set up a system for choosing presidential electors, whose results are binding on the federal government (until the Supreme Court trampled this, but that's another story). Likewise, the Torah says "hachodesh hazeh lachem", commanding Israel to set up a system for sanctifying the new month, whose results are binding even on God. That's right, you read that correctly. Rosh Hashanah 8b interprets Psalm 81:4-5 ("Sound the shofar on the new moon ... for it is [1st] a law for Israel, [2nd] a ruling of the God of Jacob") to mean that the court above does not enter into judgment [on Rosh Hashanah] until the court below has sanctified the new month.

According to the algorithm we have set up, Nisan (the 1st month) begins this Thursday.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The "ph" in standing waves stands for poetry

The Physics of Music class was given a similar charge to the AP Physics class, to write poems about standing waves, resonance, or the physics of music in general. Does Physics of Music attract the more creative types? You decide.

node, antinode, node
you would think it was some kind of code
but in strings and a open tube
wavelength equals length over n times two

Node here, node there
but no movement
Antinode here, antinode there
Where did it go?

Physics is actually really hard
This is not the poem of a traveling bard
Beacuase it's really lame
But - resonance is cool
And music is awesome!

standing waves, oh how they stand
y = 2A cos (2πx/λ) cos 2πft is how they do it
if the medium they're in let's them stand
then they resonate, that's about it

Standing waves are really cool
Resonance makes them work.
Learning about them relieves the taste of gruel
and it doesn't even make you a dork.

Standing waves do not stand
they resonate

Waves vibrating in the distance
Slowly forming words
Resonating light accompanies the letters.
Physics of Music reigns supreme!

You stay in one place all day
You're not going anywhere anyway
You looked best on that bridge in the movay (movie - ghetto version)
You're on every string I play.

As I take a shower, I sing a diddly tune,
certain one "vibrate" and I think its coming from the moon
but I realize its only one frequency,
hence meaning its resonance.

Haikus were back with a vengeance:

Waves Haiku

(5) standing waves are fun.
(7) Which like phyics is spelled with
(5) a "P." "H.", not "f."

5 Physics of Music
7 Oh how resonance is great
5 Guitars, flutes, and boots



the odd world we see -
sounds sounding, bridges falling:
man is physics phun

"Haikus for Waves"

Waves, I say, unite!
For you must stand against those
who resist your sound.

Tuba or kazoo,
Sing your supersonic boom
and crush oppression

Another student thought a haiku was 3-5-3:

Wave Haiku
music waves
they can resonate
to make sounds

More haiku innovation, this time with the 7-7-7 form:

Resonance is confusing
Standing waves are important
I like Physics of Music

One student wrote an acrostic, which they called a "line poem":

P - phun
h - hungry
y - yearn for waves
s - slinky day
i - intensity of the power
c - calculator
s - songs

This student said "I hate sappy poetry" while handing in his/her test:

Only for one does my heart resonate
Like a column of air in the wind
I seek the one whose frequency suits me
To release the sound within.

A Sir Mix-a-lot homage:

I like standing waves and I cannot lie,
You other musicians can't deny,
When a girl walks in with a kazoo on her chin,
and a trombone in your face
you resonate.

The minimal approach:

Physics is phun? lol.... no time

The "ph" in physics stands for poetry

Today is World Poetry Day! Therefore, I gave my AP Physics class an extra-credit question on this morning's test asking them to write a poem about electric circuits. (This was in addition to the other extra-credit question that asked for the equivalent resistance of an infinite circuit with parallel resistors of 1 Ω, 4 Ω, 9 Ω, 16 Ω, 25 Ω... The answer is fun!)

Here are some samples. On the one hand, keep in mind that these are high school seniors headed for elite colleges. On the other hand, keep in mind that they were writing these under severe time constraints.

O electricity
What fun you can be
Life would be a fright
If there were no light!

Electrix fields are cool
Electric fields are fun
Electric flux is the integral
Of E·dA, son.

Electric circuits are cool
We learn about them when we go to school
Right now they're on my test
Because electric circuits are the best

Loops are fun,
And so are junctions.
R's, and C's,
And exponential functions.
Don't be scared.
Just remember two things:
ΔV is 0
And i out equals i in.

Electric circuits are cool.
They come in many different forms.
Sometimes with both resistors and capacitors,
which makes them SUPER cool.

Zap! Bang! Flow!
Ohm, Mho & Joules
run around your electric grid like mules
Will a lightning shock kill a cow?
Or will an electric eel cause a Pow!
Only volt ampere and watt
can tell you.

Electric circuit round you go
over resistors, capacitors you row
batteries help you move around
but if you're short you will be bound

Electric circuits are very fun
Just like the currents run
from capacitor A to capacitor B
Just like a bee
that flies from the honey cake
that the electric circuits bake.

Resistors are good,
capacitors - better
But both these components are perfect together
The power that "R"'s, sometimes dissipate,
can lots of commotion in atoms create

Some poems expressed existential angst.

Taking a journey through an R.C. circuit,
I walk pass a resistor and drop some voltage,
I walk pass a capacitor and bring some charge,
I walk pass a emf and repeat,
from now till the end of time.

Trying to satisfy two plates' capacitance
Through resistors with great reluctance,
Electrons move through low conductivity.
Making them have a low drift velocity
Slowly pushing in line
to go nowhere

Some poems expressed pessimism about the test.

(1) The calculator
is made up
electrical circuits

(2) But its
inner workings do
enlighten me

(3) on this test

Circuits, how you plague me so
with constants like epsilon and rho
resistors, capacitors, opposite in series
this circuit test gives me the heebie jeebies
Theres Kirkhoff's rules, junctions, loops
And capacitor cubes, spheres and hoops

Some students expressed their pessimism through haikus.

An AP Haiku

Big RC Circuits
Are probably on AP
5, impossible

Some non-pessimistic students wrote haikus anyway.

Circuits have voltage
sometimes with capacitors
resistors as well

electric circuit
When I lick and I touch it
oh how it shocks me

Oh woe onto me
electromotive force is
now just emf

Have you ev

Shorted a circuit (5)
Circuit shorted it should not (7)
Long live the circuits (5)

One student got confused and thought haikus were supposed to be 3-5-3, rather than 5-7-5.

and capacitance
in circuits

Kirchhoff's Rules
are: the Junction Rule
the Loop Rule

One student claimed that his/her poem was iambic pentameter, but either didn't realize that this means more than just having 10 syllables per line, or has a very odd pronunciation of some words.

Circuits really are amazing gadgets
resistors, capacitors, doodads, gadgets,
The current continually runs galore
making shocks, till people say please, no more

Some poems had a safety theme.

electric currents are cool
but don't experiment in the pool!
Because if you do you are a fool.
And will get a really big booboo!

Roses are red,
my finger is blue
Don't play with circuits,
It'll happen to you.

Safety or not, this was a popular riff.

Roses are red
Violets are blue
C€(1 - e^-t/RC) is
equal to Q

Some students barely tried.

Time Constant Time Constant Time Constant

Monday, March 20, 2006

I can't forget to turn the earth so both sides get their share of darkness and of light

Today, at 1:26 PM EST, was the vernal equinox!!! (I was going to wear one black sock and one white sock today, but I forgot.)

"Equinox" means "equal night", and if the earth were perfectly spherical and had no atmosphere, then there would have been exactly 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of night today everywhere on earth. In fact, sunrise in NYC was at 6:00 AM, and sunset was at 6:08 PM. The extra 8 minutes are because the atmosphere refracts the sun's light so that we can still see the sun for about, oh, 4 minutes before we would otherwise see it rise, and about 4 minutes after we would otherwise see it set.

At 1:26 PM today, the sun was directly overhead at the equator. From now until the autumnal equinox (12:03 AM EDT, September 23, 2006), the sun will be directly overhead at various points north of the equator, as the northern hemisphere heads toward summer.

Everywhere on Earth today, the sun rose in the east and set in the west. Like, really really east and west. From now until September, the sun will rise slightly north of east, and set slightly north of west. (However, everywhere north of the Tropic of Cancer, the sun will always make it to the southern half of the sky by noon.)

No, you can't balance an egg on its end today, or no more easily than any other day, anyway.

In the equatorial coordinate system, the sun is at right ascension 0 today.

If we weren't still stuck with the Julian calendar, today would be tekufat Nisan.

It's spring!

Sunday, March 19, 2006

March Madness update

I hear that some people have been kept away from entering the Israeli election March Madness pool because they're not into blogging and thus not interested in the prize. Therefore, I hereby declare that the grand prize is optional, and an alternative prize can be substituted if you wish (e.g., a blog post will be dedicated in your honor; a post will be written on a topic of your choice, etc.).

Enter now, it's free!

On "patrilineal descent"

This post is an expanded version of an email conversation with the Fleischer Rebbe, which he has posted as a comment.

The topic is the old "Who is a Jew?" question. The question doesn't affect me personally, because all of my known ancestors (later than Lavan ha-Arami, anyway) have been Jewish, so I'm Jewish according to all opinions, and because I hold no position of religious authority, so it's not my place to adjudicate anyone else's Jewish status. However, I can still comment, as an interested observer, on the discourse surrounding the question.

In 1983, the Reform movement's Central Conference of American Rabbis passed a resolution stating "that the child of one Jewish parent is under the presumption of Jewish descent. This presumption of the Jewish status of the offspring of any mixed marriage is to be established through appropriate and timely public and formal acts of identification with the Jewish faith and people." This resolution is often confusingly referred to (including by the CCAR itself) as "patrilineal descent", creating the misleading impression that the Reform movement traces Jewish lineage only through the father, rather than only through the mother. In fact, as the resolution states clearly, the child of one Jewish parent is to be treated the same regardless of whether the Jewish parent is male or female. One of the justifications for this position is the Reform movement's commitment to egalitarianism.

I'm not going to argue the merits of this position. The CCAR already argues it convincingly if you accept their premises, or unconvincingly if you don't. So it goes.

I am instead going to respond to the frequent allegation that the CCAR's resolution has singlehandedly split the Jewish people, an allegation made by Orthodox leaders claiming a monopoly on authentic Judaism, or by Conservative leaders looking for a Sister Souljah moment (and thus declaring the recognition of equilineal descent to be one of their Unforgivable Curses). The allegation goes like this: the Reform movement recognizes as Jewish a set of people whom the Orthodox movements and the Conservative movement considers not to be Jewish, and therefore, down the line, all Reform Jews will be of questionable status and we won't be able to marry each other.

Let's examine the practical consequences of the policy.

(But first, two postulates. 1) Intermarriage is a fact of American Jewish life that will be unaffected by any rabbinic pronouncements. 2) To the extent that Jewish communities are anything worth being a part of, intermarried families will want to be a part of them.)

Suppose a Reform Jewish man (call him Moshe) marries a non-Jewish woman (call her Tzipporah). They have a child (call him Gershom). Gershom is raised with a fully Jewish identity. According to the Reform movement, Gershom is Jewish. According to the Orthodox world, Gershom is not Jewish.

Now suppose the CCAR had never passed its equilineal descent policy, but this family still wants to make sure that Gershom is recognized as Jewish within their community. They have two options: 1) Tzipporah can convert before Gershom is born, so that Gershom is born to a Jewish mother. 2) Gershom can convert. But the problem with both of these solutions is that the Orthodox world doesn't recognize non-Orthodox conversions. Therefore, if Tzipporah or Gershom converts.... According to the Reform movement, Gershom is Jewish. According to the Orthodox world, Gershom is not Jewish. Presto, nothing has changed!

Okay, you ask, then why doesn't Tzipporah or Gershom get a conversion that will be recognized by the Orthodox? Well, if it were only a matter of going to the mikvah (as many, though not all, Reform converts do anyway), and in Gershom's case, having berit milah lesheim geirut, then this would seem like a reasonable price to pay for kelal Yisrael. But a central part of the conversion process is kabbalat 'ol mitzvot, accepting the yoke of the commandments. This is understood in different ways by different movements, and in an Orthodox conversion, this requires accepting the Orthodox understanding of the mitzvot. Orthodox batei din require conversion candidates to take on an Orthodox lifestyle completely, including davening only at Orthodox synagogues and sending their children to Orthodox day schools. It is completely unreasonable to expect that the Reform movement will require its converts to take on an Orthodox lifestyle!

Therefore, let's look at the practical effects of the CCAR's policy: The Reform movement gets to put its money where its mouth is about egalitarianism, and many people are welcomed into Jewish communities who otherwise wouldn't be, and there is zero adverse effect on kelal Yisrael.

Suppose Gershom grows up and wants to marry an Orthodox or Conservative woman (or, perhaps after this December, a Conservative man). Then the answer is the same, regardless of whether Gershom's Reform community recognizes him as Jewish from birth or whether he converts under Reform auspices: Gershom can convert (or reconvert) through a beit din that his would-be spouse recognizes. If Gershom is unwilling to do this, and they can't arrive at an agreement on the matter, then they shouldn't be getting married. One can cross this bridge when one comes to it.

Saturday, March 18, 2006


The good news: The gossip column in Kol No'ar, OSRUI's newsletter, got word that I'm co-chairing the National Havurah Committee Summer Institute. It's free publicity for the Institute!

The bad news: They misspelled the name of the organization, and got the name of the event wrong -- they called it the National Chavurah Institute.

It's a common error, and I fear that if people read about the National Chavurah Institute and then google it, they'll end up at the wrong place. Googling National Chavurah Institute at least asks if people are looking for National Havurah Institute, but National Havurah Institute isn't actually the correct name either. And the organization is called National Havurah Committee, not National Chavurah Committee. Perhaps this post will help ensure that people looking for the National Havurah Institute or National Chavurah Institute or National Chavurah Committee will end up at the National Havurah Commitee, where they're trying to go in the first place.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Eivel gadol laYehudim

This blog has been getting a number of hits over the last few days from Google search terms such as "can you have a funeral on purim", mainly due to this post.

I don't know why I didn't think of this earlier, and it's too late for this to be of any help this year, but people were probably doing those searches for a reason. :( I'll answer the question now (since this post isn't so helpful in determining contemporary practice), in case someone ends up at this blog next year for the same reason.

First of all, if you got to this post through a search about funerals on Purim, I offer sincere condolences on your loss.

Second of all, the answer is yes. There can be funerals on Purim.

I had the misfortune of attending one when I lived in Israel. (The funeral was on 14 Adar, outside Jerusalem.) Traditionally, eulogies are not delivered on Purim and other joyous holidays. However, in practice, this can be waived with "Today is Purim; this is not a eulogy" boilerplate at the beginning.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Three-cornered pi

The copy of the writing, to be given out for a decree in every province, was to be published unto all peoples, that they should be ready against that day.

--Esther 3:14

This year had the amazing confluence of Purim and Pi Day, not to be seen again until 2033, when Erev Purim is Pi Day, so they'll overlap for a few hours. (Pi Day 2025, 19 years from now, will be Purim Katan.)

Last night, in honor of this confluence, a group of us dressed up as various forms of pi. I was cow pi, and others were American pi, sweetie pi, pi in the sky, pea-can pi, and the pied piper (accompanied by a pi rat). Unused ideas included pumpkin pi, kidney pi, shepherd's pi, humble pi, honey pi, and wild honey pi.

[UPDATE: Ruby K blogs about it too.]

[UPDATE 2: Here's a picture!]

This time around, people had less trouble figuring out what my costume was. Last year, Purim fell on Good Friday, so I dressed up as Jesus. Since I'm already a Jewish dude with long hair and a beard, this costume took little additional effort; I wore a white sheet and a halo. And people at the dar couldn't figure out who I was supposed to be!!! The halo threw them off. "Are you an angel?" "It's Good Friday and we're in the basement of a Catholic church; who do you think I am?!". They didn't know that Jesus is represented with a halo in art from the Middle Ages to South Park. I blame day-school education. Frustrated, I borrowed someone's lipstick and made stigmata and other Gibsonesque wounds. Someone said "You've gone from Protestant Jesus to Catholic Jesus." In contrast, on the subway going downtown afterwards, no one was unclear about who I was. But on the Upper West Side, people are more familiar with cow pi.

In addition to the usual mangled nusach and inside jokes, maariv included the Sesame Street theme, "Layla" (to Maariv Aravim, with the word "Layla" set to the word "layla" each time), "Particle Man", "Like a Prayer" (the one crowd pleaser that stays around from year to year like the etrog), "I Know What I Know", "We Are the World", "Pinball Wizard", and the Looney Tunes theme ("That's all, folks" at the end).

I followed along with the megillah reading from JT Waldman's Megillat Esther graphic novel.

This morning, the students brought in six pies.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

With the earth far below them they'd tumble and dive through the clouds

This blog's word cloud speaks for itself.

March Madness, Israeli style

Mah Rabu is proud to announce a March Madness prediction pool for the Israeli election! Enter by predicting the number of seats that each party will receive in the election on March 28. The winner gets to guest-blog here on Mah Rabu for a week! Entrance is free, but there is a suggested donation of $10 to the New Israel Fund or any other organization dedicated to making Israel the best it can be. (Of course, no one in the blogosphere will know whether you donate or not. Also, this pool is not affiliated with the New Israel Fund or any other organization.)

To enter: Send an email to mahrabu at gmail dot com, containing:
  • your name (or blognomen), by which you will be recognized in public if you win
  • a contact email address (this will not be published)
  • A list of 31 numbers, representing the number of seats that each party will win according to your predictions. The list of all 31 parties (in English alphabetical order) is below; your numbers should be submitted in this order. All numbers should be non-negative integers (0 is allowed), and should add up to 120; your entry will be disqualified if the numbers do not add up to 120.
  • Optional tiebreaker question #1: Among the parties that do not meet the threshold for Knesset seats, which one will come the closest?
  • Optional tiebreaker question #2: Which party will receive the fewest votes?
The deadline for submissions is Monday, March 27, 2006, 11:59 PM Israel Standard Time (4:59 PM EST).

The list of parties, in English alphabetical order, is below, taken from the Knesset website. The Knesset website also contains each party's list of candidates. The English site lists only the top 14 candidates; for the full lists, see the Hebrew site. The links below provide more information about each party's platform. For information on the parties that aren't big enough to have their own websites, the Wikipedia article on the election provides short descriptions.

In this list, an asterisk (*) in front of a party's name means that the party has representation in the current Knesset. The name in parentheses is the #1 candidate on the party's list (who will become prime minister if the party receives the most seats). A slash indicates multiple names for the same party (e.g. "Ichud Leumi / National Union"), and a hyphen indicates multiple parties that are running a joint list (e.g. "Labor-Meimad").
  1. Brit Olam (Ofer Lifschitz)
  2. Da-am / Organization for Democratic Action (Agvaria Asama)
  3. Gil (Eitan Pentman Rephael)
  4. Green Leaf / Aleh Yarok (Boaz Wachtel)
  5. Greens / Hayerukim (Pe'er Weissner)
  6. *Hadash (Mohammed Barake)
  7. Herut (Michael Kleiner)
  8. *Hetz / Secular Zionist Movement (Avraham Poraz)
  9. *Ichud Leumi / National Union - *Mafdal / National Religious Party (Benyamin Elon)
  10. *Kadima (Ehud Olmert)
  11. *Labor-Meimad (Amir Peretz)
  12. Lechem (Yisrael Tvito)
  13. Leeder (Alexander Radko)
  14. Lev (Ovadia Fatchov)
  15. *Likud (Benjamin Netanyahu)
  16. *Meretz (Yossi Beilin)
  17. National Arab Party (Muhamad Kanan)
  18. *National Democratic Assembly / Balad (Azmi Bishara)
  19. National Jewish Front / Hayil (Baruch Marzel)
  20. New Zionism (Yaakov Kfir)
  21. One Future / Atid Echad (Avraham Negusa)
  22. Party for the Struggle with the Banks / Halev (Eliezer Levinger)
  23. *Shas (Eliyahu Yishai)
  24. *Shinui (Ron Levintal)
  25. Strength to the Poor / Oz La'aniyim (Felix Angel)
  26. Tafnit (Uzi Dayan)
  27. *Torah and Shabbat Judaism / United Torah Judaism (Yakov Litzman)
  28. Tzedek Lakol / Men's Rights (Yaakov Shlusser)
  29. Tzomet (Moshe Green)
  30. *United Arab List / Ra'am - Arab Renewal / Ta'al (Ibrahim Tzartzur)
  31. *Yisrael Beiteinu (Avigdor Lieberman)
The winner will be chosen by the following algorithm: For each party, your predicted number of seats will be subtracted from the actual number of seats, and the absolute value will be taken. These absolute values will be added up to obtain your total score. The entry with the lowest total score will be the winner. If there is a tie, it will be broken by comparing the predicted number of seats for the party that gets the most seats. If the tied entries are equally close, we'll look at the party with the second-most seats, and so on down the list of all 31 parties. If a tie remains after this, it will be settled by the tiebreaker questions above.

Good luck!

Lema'an yezamercha chavod velo yidom

Purim, like other non-yom-tov holidays, isn't so convenient for working people. The last two years were nice, because Purim was on Sunday and Good Friday respectively, so I had the whole day off. This year I don't know whether I'll hear the megillah during the day.

Does anyone know of an egalitarian megillah reading anywhere in Manhattan (or downtownish Brooklyn) on Tuesday afternoon, starting after 3:30 PM? Failing that, I suppose I would be yotzei bedi'avad from a non-egalitarian reading; any suggestions in that realm? Alternatively, does anyone know of a megillah reading in the morning that would be finished by 8 AM? (Sunrise is at 6:11, so it's possible.) Thanks!

Monday, March 06, 2006

The New York Times gets framed

Yesterday at the NHC Chesapeake Retreat, at "an undisclosed site near Baltimore" (tee hee), I taught a repeat of "Don't Think of an Elephant: How Can Liberal Jews Express Our Values?". Once again, it sparked creative thinking about framing in Jewish discourse. If we keep doing this, eventually we'll be using our own frames.

Meanwhile, as the Conservative movement's Committee on Jewish Law and Standards prepares to sequester itself at "an undisclosed site near Baltimore" and seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit, today's New York Times provides some excellent textbook examples of framing. Let's fisk:

In 1992, this same group, the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, declared that Jewish law clearly prohibited commitment ceremonies for same-sex couples and the admission of openly gay people to rabbinical or cantorial schools.

How do you say "cantorial school" in Aramaic?

The direction taken by Conservative Jews, who occupy the centrist position in Judaism between the more liberal Reform and the more strict Orthodox, will be closely watched at a time when many Christian denominations are torn over the same issue. Conservative Judaism claims to distinguish itself by adhering to Jewish law and tradition, or halacha, while bending to accommodate modern conditions.

As I've already discussed at length, the Conservative movement's self-identity may be all about having exclusive claim to "the center", but that doesn't make it objectively true. Conservative Judaism is very different from "Centrist" Orthodoxy. And in fact, this week's CJLS meeting (the very topic of the article) highlights one axis on which the C movement is not in the center at all, but at the extreme: neither Reform nor Orthodox Judaism (other than perhaps some Hasidic sects) gives this degree of authority to any body of living rabbis. But the Times gets points for including the qualifier "claims to distinguish itself".

"There are those who are saying, don't change the halacha because the paradigm model of the heterosexual family has to be maintained," said Rabbi Meyers, a stance he said he shared. "On the other hand is a group within the movement who say, look, we will lose thoughtful younger people if we don't make this change, and the movement will look stodgy and behind the times."

Oh boy oh boy. As someone pointed out yesterday (responding to a similar quote in the AP article we were studying in chavruta), this suggests that those who support the status quo are committed to principles, while those who advocate equality are concerned only about image and impressing the cool kids. (I wrote a letter to the editor to the Times on this topic; we'll see if they run it, but my track record is not good so far. I think I might be in their Spam folder.) According to Meyers (and the frame in which he's operating), there are serious Jews, and then there are Jews to be marketed to. Just for fun, let's rewrite his quote from another perspective: "There are those who are saying, change the policy because the principle that all people are created in God's image has to be maintained. On the other hand is a group within the movement who say, look, we will lose older people if we don't make this change, and the movement will look wacky and then the Orthodox will never ask us to the prom and I'll end up an old maid."

Jonathan D. Sarna, a professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University and author of "American Judaism: A History," said, "In the 1950's when Americans believed everybody should be in the middle, the Conservative movement was deeply in sync with a culture that privileged the center. What happens as American society divides on a liberal-conservative axis is that the middle is a very difficult place to be."

Right, go on believing that the Conservative movement's decline is an inevitable consequence of the polarization of America. No one has any interest in combining tradition and modernity anymore, so the movement's leaders take none of the blame. Here, they sound like Joe Lieberman, who claimed in 2004 to be a political martyr because everyone is moving to the extremes, never mind the other reasons why Democrats don't support him.

Rabbi Meyers, vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly, said he worried that any decision on homosexuality could cause Conservative Jews to migrate to either Reform, which accepts homosexuality, or Orthodoxy, which condemns it.

"Accepts homosexuality"! The Reform movement also accepts freckles.
Also, if Conservative Jews are migrating somewhere else, it must be either Reform or Orthodox, since that's all there is.

Few congregants are as preoccupied about homosexuality as are their leaders, said Rabbi Burton L. Visotzky, a professor of Talmud and interreligious studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary, who spends weekends at synagogues around the country as a visiting scholar.

"There are so many laws in the Torah about sexual behavior that we choose to ignore, so when we zero in on this one, I have to wonder what's really behind it," Rabbi Visotzky said.

Ha. So true. If the Conservative movement were to crack down on same-sex relationships as harshly as it cracks down on heterosexuals who have sex without going to the mikvah, dayeinu. (That comment wasn't sarcastic.)

UPDATE: The Rooftopper Rav posts a letter from Keshet to the CJLS over at the 'school.