Sunday, September 23, 2007

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Captain

This appears to be from the same conceptual artist who brought us Harry Potter St., except this one falls flat since it lacks the homography of הארי (Ha-Ari) and הארי (Harry).


Does anyone know the story behind this sundial? It's on the wall of "Beit Midrash Zohorei Chamah", which, oddly enough, doesn't seem to have a website.

Kumkum lay lay lay

Boiling water has never been so much fun! Our Israeli electric kettle turns every cup of tea into a disco!

Belated pirate joke

What is a pirate's favorite questionable neighborhood in Jerusalem?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

In Soviet Union...

Forget about the stray apostrophe, what does this mean???


The Hebrew says "The blowing up of...", and is describing a historical event, not giving instructions to the reader. If anyone goes ahead and does it (again), they'll know it was an English speaker.

UPDATE: The other night I saw "Blow up the Railway Station". I wish I had had my camera with me! There are instructions to the Irgun all over this town!


I'll be in the United States (viz. the New York area) from September 25 to October 1. (Mazal tov to ABN and LW!) Drop me a line if you're around.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Fall back

Last night, Israel switched off of Summer Clock (aka Daylight Saving Time) onto Winter Clock. This means that until the US switches (which is now in November, because Congress decided that it was a good idea to have an extra week of waking up in the dark), the time difference between the US and Israel will be one hour less. I.e., we'll now be 6 hours ahead of EDT and 7 hours ahead of CDT.

Until the passage of the Israeli Daylight Saving Law in 2005, there was no fixed algorithm for the beginning and end of DST, and so the Knesset would fight over it every year as if summer had never happened before and would never happen again. Now, it is guaranteed that Winter Clock will begin before Yom Kippur, so that the fast is shorter.

Um, right.

SHF and I used to debate this endlessly. I would argue that the fast is 25 hours no matter what, so if the fast ends an hour earlier, then it also starts an hour earlier, so you don't gain anything. SHF would say that it still makes a difference, because how hungry you feel depends on how much time has elapsed since you woke up. I would respond that the time from when you wake up until the end of the fast isn't going to change, if you're now waking up an hour earlier because services are starting earlier due to the clock change. This assumes that you care about getting there on time. If you don't, then sleep as late as you want, and the clock change doesn't matter. One might respond that the time you'll naturally get up (assuming you're not getting up earlier due to earlier service times) is the time that you're used to getting up, and so the time from when you get up until the end of the fast will indeed be shorter. I would respond that if you just switched off Summer Clock a few days ago, then your biological clock hasn't adjusted yet, so you're not going to instantly start waking up at a different time (unless you want to, which again is a choice you can make without changing your clock). In the end, perhaps the only convincing argument for how the clock change makes the fast easier is psychological sleight of hand: you think it's only 6:00 instead of 7:00.

The one thing that this clock change does accomplish is make Tzom Gedaliah effectively shorter. Yes, the time from sunrise to sunset is unchanged, but if you're not getting up before sunrise to eat, then the time from when you last ate (before going to bed) until the end of the fast is going to be shorter.

Behind the synagogue

מי שהיה עובר אחורי בית הכנסת, או שהיה ביתו סמוך לבית הכנסת, ושמע קול שופר, או קול מגילה--אם כיוון ליבו, יצא; ואם לאו, לא יצא

One who passes behind the synagogue, or whose house is next to the synagogue, and heard the sound of the shofar or the sound of the megillah, if she directed her heart, she has fulfilled her obligation, and if not, she has not fulfilled her obligation.
--Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 3:5

Much has been said about this mishnah, and it is often a jumping-off point for discussions of whether mitzvot require intention. But I never thought about it as a real-life situation until walking around Jerusalem on Rosh Hashanah. Teki'ot and teru'ot can be heard every few blocks, and I'm pretty sure that at least one set was coming from an apartment. So if you're in Jerusalem and want to hear the shofar, there's really no need to go to services; just walk around for a while, or even stay in bed.

Googlewhacking the independent minyan scene

Is the Leader Minyan (Amika de-Bira) the only mechitza minyan where the sha"tz (at least sometimes) includes the imahot in the Amidah? Post your counterexamples if you have them, and post your own googlewhacks of this sort.

(Strictly speaking, I guess the Leader Minyan is really a trichitza minyan, since there is ungendered overflow seating in the back, outside in the courtyard. It's hard to hear out there, since there's a wall between you and the main room with just an open doorway to transport sound, but this is no worse than the women's sections at many places around here.)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


Shanah tovah to everyone!!! (It's not just any year -- see my shemitah post at Jewschool.)

I'll leave you with a Gemara reference in a mall advertisement:

U.S. Americans

Funny, I've lived in the American USA for most of my life, and never come across this brand before:


[made in Taiwan]

As American as apple pie:

Civil disobedience

This is totally juvenile, but I just had to...

(At the bottom it says "It is forbidden to photograph this certificate.")

New traditions

I'm making chana masala for tomorrow night. Why? Because, in the haftarah for Rosh Hashanah, חנה מצלא.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Eilu V'Eilu week 2

Eilu V'Eilu week 2 is up! In this week's installment, Larry Kaufman and I respond to each other's opening statements.

(Here are week 1 and corrections to it.)

Whorf-Sapir hypothesis

In Israel, the "snooze" feature on an alarm clock is called the "nudnik".

Sunday, September 09, 2007


You know that Israeli supermarket that you thought was called Supersol?


We're on the Internet!!!

No more stealing wireless! We now have DSL, wireless, and an American phone number!

From Gaza to Berlin

For the last four days I have lived on Rechov (Street) HaRav Berlin, named after Rabbi Chaim Berlin of the eponymous yeshiva. Rechov Berlin intersects, at a very acute angle, Rechov 'Azah (Gaza), so named because it is along the route of the ancient road that connected Jerusalem to Gaza (see also Derech Beit Lechem, Derech Hevron, and I believe Rechov Yafo).

At the intersection is a falafel stand called בין עזה לברלין (Bein 'Azah leVerlin), literally "between Gaza and Berlin", but its English name is "From Gaza to Berlin".

It's a clever name even just on the surface, because it combines two place names far from Jerusalem that, by accident, happen to be names of intersecting streets. (Jerusalem is, of course, not between Gaza and Berlin in any geographic sense.)

But it goes beyond that, because these aren't just any place names; they are particularly evocative. And the way in which they are evocative for different people is an interesting Rohrschach test.

I have discussed this with several people who heard the name and said something along the lines of "Two places where Jews were killed". My interpretation of the name was completely different: Gaza (in light of current events) represents the epitome of chaos, and Berlin (according to its self-perception in the late 19th century or thereabouts) represents the epitome of "civilization", and the rest of us are "bein 'Azah leVerlin" -- somewhere in the vast intermediate space between chaos and civilization.

Maybe it's because my grandmother is from Berlin and my family lived in Germany for centuries, and so I don't look at Berlin (or Germany in general) only through the prism of the Holocaust.

What does the name mean to you?

Watergate Sue

The last installment of "Watergate Sue" runs today, and my predictions were TOTALLY right!

(See the comments for specific spoilers.)

Thursday, September 06, 2007

The view from your window

The Knesset, as seen from my balcony:

In the foreground is the Monastery of the Cross. The tall building in the background is the Crowne Plaza Hotel, which has inspired many legendary snarky comments ("The best view in Jerusalem is from the Crowne Plaza, because it's the only place where you can't see the Crowne Plaza"; "Jerusalem's middle finger"; "If they have to blow up one building..."), but is also home to what may be the only kosher meat Indian restaurant in the world (since the vast majority of kosher Indian restaurants are vegetarian), so it can't be all bad.

Where's an egg?

I'm seriously not complaining about having a dryer. But can anyone make heads or tails of the controls on this one? Is this a piece of postmodern art?

Still no DSL

...but they say the line will be activated at midnight. MUAHAHAHAHA.

Oddest Bezeq Promotion: Buy a new phone and get a 50-shekel gift certificate for Burger King!

Word That Looks Like An Arabic Loanword But Isn't: אלחוטי (wireless)

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Last post from the United States

See you in Israel!

Eilu V'Eilu week 1: clarifications

Upon closer reading of Eilu V'Eilu week 1 as it was posted to the URJ website and sent out on the email list, I see that a number of edits were made to my original statement as I wrote it. Some of these changes were merely cosmetic, but others are significant enough that I feel I should clarify them here for the record, since I have frequently advocated for careful word choice when it comes to these matters.
  • My original draft said "became American by joining a homogenized American culture", and this was changed to "became Americans by becoming assimilated into the general culture". While these mean essentially the same thing, the word "assimilated" has taken on a pejorative connotation in Jewish discourse that I did not intend to invoke.
  • In the last sentence of the first paragraph, I wrote "frowned upon ritual practices that they saw as going too far in maintaining Jewish cultural distinctiveness." The word "cultural" was removed, but I think it is essential, because early Reform leaders certainly believed in Jewish religious distinctiveness (and believed that religion and culture were separable, though this proposition has since been challenged).
  • In the last sentence of the second paragraph, the phrase "like a later start for Friday night services" was made up out of whole cloth. I never said that. My original draft did not have an example in this sentence, and this relatively trivial innovation isn't the example that I would have come up with.
  • In the third paragraph, my original draft said "'Reform' was not a one-time correction whose results were intended to last forever, but is an ongoing process for progressive Jews in every generation." This was changed to "Their pronouncements should not be interpreted as...", but the whole point is that it's not just about "their pronouncements"; the point is that we keep moving.
  • In the last paragraph, my original draft said "classical and modern Jewish sources", and the word "classical" (referring to a particular time period) was replaced with the more loaded word "traditional", which I try not to throw around lightly.

Monday, September 03, 2007

The living words

I'm participating in this month's edition of the URJ's Eilu V'Eilu, and the first week's statements are up! The question (perhaps inspired by recent events) is "Reform Jews are reclaiming Jewish traditions rejected by prior generations. How do you understand and relate to this perception?", and I'm responding along with fellow Chicagoan Larry Kaufman. In week 2, we'll respond to each other's opening statements, and in week 3, we'll respond to questions from readers. So feel free to send in your questions, and to suggest angles for future installments.

If you're getting to Mah Rabu for the first time from the Eilu V'Eilu page, welcome! Here is my longer post on the Pittsburgh Platform.

UPDATE: Corrections appended.