Monday, June 29, 2009

Interesting Little Question...

I saw a post on Imamother, asking people to daven for a two-year-old boy who is currently suffering from swine flu and pneumonia. The name given on the thread is Yehoshua ben Miriam HaKohen. I hope he has a quick and complete refuah sh'laimah.

This reminds me of a long-standing (but not terribly important) question that I've always had. When someone's full Hebrew name is used the "HaKohen" title is added to it, does the HaKohen refer to the father or the son? IOW, if we call someone up with the name "Yankel ben Ploni HaKohen," are we attesting to the fact that Yankel is a Kohen, or that Ploni is a Kohen?

Of course, in most cases, it doesn't make a difference as they are both Kohanim. But that may not always be the case. It is certainly possible that the child could NOT be a kohen (imagine a non-frum kohanic father marrying a divorcee and the child -- a challal -- later becoming frum) or even that the child is a Kohen and the father is not (as in a case of adoption -- where I have seen teshuvos where the child should be called as the son of the adopted father).

In such cases, how would you call the person to the Torah? Suppose the son is a challal -- I suppose you could call him up as Yankel HaYisroel ben Ploni HaKohen (although I've never seen it done -- but then again, I don't personally know any challalim either). I would think that you shouldn't just call him up as Yankel ben Ploni since that could lead to a question of P'gam Kehunah (his father, despite his sin, is *still* a kohen and may have other, "legitimate" kohanic children). So, how would you call him up?

Likewise, in the case of an adopted kohen, how would he be called up (according to the opinions that hold that you can use the adopted father's name)? I suppose you could say "Yankel HaKohen ben Ploni." I might think that "Yankel ben Ploni HaKohen might be more problematic as it makes it sound like Ploni is a Kohen.

So, to whom does "HaKohen" refer to in someone's Hebrew name? And, if, in truth, it applies to the father, shouldn't this child be called simply Yehoshua ben Miriam? Or maybe Yehoshua HaKohen ben Miriam?*

The Wolf

* Yes, I suppose it's possible that Miriam is a bas Kohen. But I've never heard of a bas Kohen's daughter or son being davened for a ben/bas Plonis HaKohenes...

A Common Sense Shidduch Suggestion... That's Doomed To Failure

Very few issues have generated as much spilled "electronic ink" in recent years as the shidduch crisis. Many people have offered suggestions as to the cause of the crisis and how to best address it.

One Bais Ya'akov woman in her mid-twenties sent a letter to offering a suggestion on how to alleviate the problem. She notes that at any wedding, there are invariably single women and single men who might be right for each other and that can be introduced to each other by married friends. Perhaps, she suggests, it would be a good idea to have married friends make some introductions, since both parties are already present at the wedding and only separated by a mechitza. Perhaps, she says, if the meeting is arranged by someone who is trusted and known, then some of the checking that goes on can be eliminated.

Sadly, what the Bais Ya'akov writer does not understand is that we are a people with a proud tradition. Our traditions and customs go back thousands of years without change. Tinkering with any part of our tradition is recipe for disaster and mass assimilation. She wants a young man and a young woman to possibly meet without the parents asking the requisite questions about Shabbos tablecloths, loafers vs. laced shoes, who the father's chavrusa was, what size dress the mother wears and which yeshiva the kids will go and whether the women of the house wear robes or dresses to the Shabbos or any of the other myriad of questions that our traditions demand that we ask. And then, she wants the young couple to actually meet face to face without the stamp of approval of both sets of parents, their family rabbonim, the Roshei Yeshiva and heads of seminary and the local gossipers?

Her ideas are very dangerous. Why, breaking with such important tradtions can only lead to such dangerous things as the young couple sharing a thought alone without the shadchan intermediating before the fourth date and, of course, mixed dancing. What next? Bowing down to idols?

OK, I've had my fun with sarcasm. But all sarcasm aside, it seems to me that we've spent the last few decades building a system where dating occurs in a very ritualized manner. Each step in this production is planned and plotted in a choreographed ballet. Each person in this complicated dance -- the boy, the girl, the shadchan, his parents, her parents, the references, the family friends and the extended family -- each one has their role to play. And no one may make a misstep for fear of ruining the mating ritual: the boy and girl have to wait X number of dates before they can ask for each other's phone number so they can speak directly without the shadchan. By the third date, they have to pass one milestone, by the fifth date, another. In no event should they go past eight or nine dates without announcing the engagement already.

Any devitation from the prescribed ritual is fraught with potential danger. If the boy chooses the wrong sort of venue for a "first date" or a "third date;" if he dares tell her directly that he's interested in a second date (instead of delivering the message through the shadchan); if she wears something that is slightly too flashy or too demure; if he doesn't hit the correct topics of conversation on the date... any of these (or potentially thousands of other) missteps in the complicated dance spells the end of the show. And an ever-increasing part of this dance is the pre-date inquisition.

I seem to remember a time when it was assumed that if you were mature enough to get married, you were also mature enough to question your date on the areas of halacha/hashkafah (or anything else) that was important to you and form a opinion from there as to whether or not to continue dating. If it's important to you that your father in law learn in a certain type of yeshiva, then that was a topic that was to be brought up on a first date. If it was important that your future wife be interested in making aliyah, or settling in Monsey or whatever, then that was a topic that was brought up on a date. But nowadays, it seems, we don't trust young men and women (whom we judge to be mature enough for marriage) to find out this information. Nowadays, all this stuff has to be found out beforehand by the investigational committee that each side assembles. And this, too, has become an essential part of the dating ritual which is to be discarded only at the extreme peril of being branded a "rebel" and "undatable."

So, while the Bais Ya'akov letter writer should be commended for her common-sense appraoch, she sadly does not realize the reality that she is up against. I suppose it's a good thing that her letter is anonymous... having common sense and an original thought can also be dangerous errors in the shidduch dance.

The Wolf

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Wolf, Howl @ Thyself First...

As I was davening Ma'ariv in shul last night, I had a most hypocritical moment. The Chazzan had just finished the Kaddish after Shmoneh Esrei and had started Aleinu. As we all started saying Aleinu, I noticed that the Chazzan was not paying attention to the prayer he was saying - he picked up one of these sheets of paper with divrei Torah on them that seem to litter many shuls in Brooklyn and was reading one of the divrei Torah while his mouth was reciting the words to Aleinu. I mentally* screamed at him to pay attention to the prayer that he was saying and not to read papers.

And then, of course, it hit me. While I was busy mentally screaming at him for his "sin," I was engaging in exactly the same behavior -- reciting Aleinu and not paying attention. Instead of concentrating on the words that I was saying, I was concentrating on the Chazzan's actions!

Sigh. The struggle to self-improve never ends.

The Wolf

* I would probably never have even mentioned to him in private, let alone publicly castigate him for it. I'm not much of a hocheiach tochiach kind of person.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Potential End of a United World Jewry.

Rabbi Avraham Sherman, the head of the Israel's High Rabbinical Court, has been making some very threatening and ominous statements concerning conversions. He started out by stating at the Eternal Jewish Family conference in Israel last week that the majority of potential converts do not intend to keep the commandments (generally viewed as a sine qua non of conversion). This is the same Rabbi Sherman who made the decision to annul thousands of conversions performed by Rabbi Haim Druckman, who was the head of the state Conversion Courts. This is also the same Rabbi Sherman who, this past week, invalidated another conversion (although, to be fair, I don't know the grounds on which this was done).

I blogged about the possible dangers of retroactive nullification of conversions last year. Rabbi Zvi Zohar, a professor of Sephardic Law and Ethics at Bar-Ilan University, showed how it possible that, taken to it's logical conclusion, a convert could never participate in Jewish society. Since his or her conversion is always subject to nullification at a later date, how can you rely on them for anything? Can you allow a convert to be the 10th man in your minyan? Perhaps he's not Jewish? Can he daven for the amud, receive an aliyah or become a ba'al kriah? Can he join with you in a zimmun when there are only three of you? Can you use him for hataras nedarim? What if he wrote your mezuzzos or tefillin?

And how about things that have long-reaching consequences? What if you use a convert as a witness to your wedding? Or even worse, what if a convert servs on a bais din (or is a witness) to a divorce? Can you imagine the halachic nightmare that would result from a witness (or judge) on a divorce case (or multiple cases) being found to be not Jewish retrocactively, throwing all those divorcees, their new spouses and children (and grandchildren) into some halachic purgatory from which they and their descendants may never escape? What about a convert who sits on a bais din for other conversions -- you could have multiple "generations" of invalidated conversions, each wreaking havoc on countless individuals and society as a whole. And, don't forget, this doesn't go just for the convert, but for any descendant of a female convert as well!

The problem is further compounded by the fact that there are almost certainly people who have been converted in past generations that would not pass muster even by some of the more lenient rabbis in our community. As any student of quality control can tell you, in any human endeavor and with a large enough production run, you are going to find some products that are outside the range of what you would consider acceptable. Applied to conversions, it means that if you convert enough people, you are practically guaranteed to find a number of people that are accepted as converts that should not be. There are bound to be a few people who are admitted to the Jewish nation who do not meet the halachic standards.

Of course, this situation has persisted for generations -- and for generations we have learned to take things at face value. We have standards by which people are believed for certain matters -- if a woman shows up in a town where no one knows her and announces that she is not married, she is believed. If a man shows up in a town with a boy and announces that the boy is his son, no DNA test is required... he is given the halachic status of his son (along with the possible status of a kohen), whether or not that is the actual reality. If a woman gives birth to a child, the child is automatically assumed to be the husband's (absent any evidnece to the contrary, of course). If her husband is a kohen, so is the child -- we don't test him for the Cohen Modal Haplotype gene. And we do this despite the fact that there certainly are some kohanim that are not *really* kohanim (either because an ancestor of theirs lied, or was lied to, or because some ancestress of theirs might have cheated on her husband). We don't require a DNA test to prove paternity before not branding them a mamzer -- again -- almost despite the fact that there are certainly people who are mamzerim in our midst. (As a side note, see this comment thread from a DovBear post where someone tries to make the case that perhaps we're ALL mamzerim). In short, when it comes to personal status issues, we generally take a position that absent any evidnece to the contrary, we accept people as they present themselves to be. I can't think of a single shul that would require a visiting kohen to present genealogical proof of his status before giving him the first aliyah on Shabbos morning.

Yet, when it comes to conversion, Rabbi Sherman seems to want to go in the opposite direction. Rather than accepting all conversions as valid (barring evidence to the contrary), his opinion seems to be that all conversions are to be viewed as suspect until and unless there is evidnece validating it. Indeed, according to a Ynet article, Rabbi Sherman has instructed municipal registrars to question every conversion certificate that they are presented with.

At this rate, one has to wonder... why bother with conversions at all? Why would anyone in their right mind want to consider a conversion when it can be challanged years down the road? Why would anyone consider a conversion in the United States when there is no guarntee that it will be accepted when one gets to Israel, despite one's best efforts to get the highest standards of Orthodox conversion? Why would anyone want to start the process of conversion when they know, in the back of their mind that years down the road, after they are enmeshed in a marriage and have children and grandchildren that it could all come crashing down on them... even for factors over which they had no control?

So far, it seems, this particular form of madness seems to be restricted to the area of conversion in Israel. But does it have to stop there? What about divorces in Israel? If a woman marries, divorces and remarries (and has children with her second husband) in the Diaspora and then makes aliyah, does she always have to fear that her family will be thrown into a halachic quagmire because the Chief Rabbi of the day does not accept the divorce from her first husband? Does a woman who went through chalitzah have to fear that the Israeli battei din will not recognize the bais din she used -- again despite her best efforts to get the most Orthodox rabbis she could find?

And does this madness have to remain confined to Israel? What's to stop splinter groups from not recognizing divorces or conversions done by other Orthodox groups? Some rabbis have gone on the record as saying that Zionism is a form of avodah zarah. How long before they use that rhetoric to refuse to recognize divorces, marriages or conversions performed by Zionist rabbis on the basis that they are not fit to be rabbis? Will they then declare those converts to be non-Jewish and the divorcees' children to be mamzerim?

I believe that there is a very real danger here in Rabbi Sherman's approach. I believe that his approach has the possibility to put thousands and tens of thousands of people into halachic situations from which they cannot escape. I believe that his approach, carried to it's logical conclusion, can end up fracturing k'lal yisroel irreperably. It's one thing (and a separate debate) to set up higher standards for conversions going forward. But it's another to start demanding extra evidence of converts (and whose to stop him from requiring it of descendants of converts) that their conversion from years ago is valid when they have a valid certification. To start questioning every past conversion (or marriage, or divorce) is not only a complete departure from established precedent, but also can only lead to irreperable harm to the Jewish nation.

The Wolf

Hat tip: Failed Messiah

Friday, June 19, 2009

Listening to Secular Music that is Bible Based In the Bathroom

We all know the halacha that states that divrei Torah should not be thought about while in the bathroom. However, I'm curious about secular material based on divrei Torah.

This question came to hanut me this past week, I was listening to Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat on my MP3 player while working around the house. At one point I needed to go to the bathroom and, without thinking about it, continued to listen to Joseph.

Now, I don't want to say that Joseph is a "davar sheb'kedusha;" I'm fairly certain it's not. But it can very easily lead one to think about the personages and the story involved -- and that clearly DOES count as divrei Torah.

So, where does one draw the line between the secular and permitted and the holy and the not permitted? When the secular and the holy are sort of mixed in this fashion, where is the dividing line.

(Related question: Can one discuss think about the recently canceled NBC series Kings in the bathroom).

The Wolf

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Perhaps We Some Should Return To Fully Arranged Marriages?

Yesterday, ProfK posted a story about an acquaintance of hers who was has a son or daughter (she didn't say which) who was in the process of shidduch dating. The young man or woman had gone out with someone else on a total of seven dates. After the seventh date, the couple decided that the match wasn't right for them.

Rather than simply letting it go and trying to find someone that their kids actually might want to marry, both mothers decided to go after the shadchan. ProfK, who was asked to get involved was surprised that the shadchan was still involved in the process after seven dates. Upon expressing this surprise to her acquaintance, Prof K was told by one of the mothers:

"Of course the shadchan is still involved! You think that kids this young should just be left alone to have to make important decisions like this?! They need someone with experience guiding them. Es past nit that they should be the ones to ask the delicate questions or to put themselves into situations that could get awkward if they don't know what the right answer should be."

Now then, I don't want you to think that this mother comes from some sheltered world where she could not possibly conceive of the idea that a young adult could make a choice for themselves regarding marriage and dating. On the contrary, this woman met her husband by herself and went on many more than seven dates with him. And, yes, they were frum at the time. But I don't really want to address that issue. What I want to address is this woman's attitude toward her child and her quoted statement above.

There are just so many things wrong with it that, when I first read it yesterday, I was completely left speechless. Having had some time to get over my state of flabbergastedness, I have a few thoughts to share on these sixty seven words.

I find it amazing that this woman does not trust her own child enough to come up with the "right answers" to questions posed by the other side, but yet thinks that s/he is actually ready for marriage. What would be next? Would she also think that her kids are too young to be "left alone" to the tasks of running a household and childrearing, or will she engage professionals for them in those areas as well?

I also find it amazing that she believes that while her child is clearly not ready to talk about sensitive topics with his/her date, s/he is ready to actually get married and live with said date.

I find it even more amazing that, at the point where she feels that at the point where an engagement should be in the works that honesty is not the best policy. Notice that she says that things "could get awkward if they don't know what the right answer should be." Um... at the point of an engagement, don't you think that honesty should be the only answer? And don't you think that it could be even *more* awkward if the "wrong answer" were said after marriage? (And, yes, if there is a "wrong answer" to a question, it will come out after marriage. Secrets don't stay buried.)

Sometimes, I wonder if, for people such as these, we shouldn't simply go back to the model of completely arranged marriages. Simply tell the bride and groom when and where to show up and that's that -- they'll meet on their wedding day. Seriously -- if you're going to take the point of view that your child isn't mature enough for the shidduch process but yet mature enough to get married, then why not just skip right to the ceremony?

The Wolf

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

For When One Segulah Just Isn't Enough...

From comes this exciting offer of not one, but two segulos from the organization Chaya Mushka Yad leKallah...

Double Segulah for shidduch or any other blessings…until this Wed.

For segulah#1, all you have to do is give a contribution destitute Anash in Israel who are struggling to marry off their children.

Segulah #2 is available in two versions. A representative of Chaya Mushka Yad leKallah will be traveling to the grave of Yonasan ben Uziel for his yahrtzeit on 26 Sivan (this Thursday). For a small donation of $100, you can send the name of the person for whom you want divine favors with the representative.

However, for a donation of $300, you can get the segulah super deluxe. In addition to having your name (or the name of someone you want prayed for) to the grave, you can also write a full letter that he will read for you there, as well as at the grave of Rachel, the wife of Rabbi Akiva, R. Shimon bar Yochai, R. Meir Ba'al Hanes and R. Yehuda bar Ilai.* You can use that letter to pray for shidduchim, livelihood, health or anything else at all.

Hurry now! Don't let this valuable opportunity to curry Divine favor pass you by! Make sure you get your brownie points upstairs!!


OK, all sarcasm aside, I think that this reflects two sorry aspects of the way we as a community do things in the charity fundraising world.

The first sorry aspect is the way that "segulah" has become the new marketing buzzword of the tzedaka business. Everything is a segulah these days. Give to this organization, it's a segulah. Give to that organization, it's a segulah. What's it a segulah for? Shidduchim? Yeah, it's good for that. Livelihood? Yep, got you covered there too. Getting rid of warts? Sure, why not?

Back when I was kid, there was a word for that... prayer. But nowadays it appears that to be competitive in the market for the ever-scarce tzedaka dollar, you can't simply say that you'll daven for someone. You have to use the term "segulah." In fact, you might say that using the term "segualah" is a segulah in itself... to increase contributions. And, of course, one segulah is not enough. To truly complete, you have to offer the double segulah, with a super deluxe option.

The second sorry aspect of this whole thing is that the entire meaning behind the mitzvah gets completely lost. Heck, I'm all in favor of helping out destitute people. I don't personally know anything about
Chaya Mushka Yad leKallah, but I'd give better than even odds that they are an organization that does wonderful things to help people get married. Giving to people in need is a great mitzvah, whether it's to help with their everyday expenses or for those once-in-a-lifetime events like marriage.

But these organizations are beginning to realize that it's far better to tell people what "in it for them" rather than about the good work that they do. Notice that there is not one word in the advertisement that tells how many people Chaya Mushka Yad leKallah helped to get married, or what their goals are for the next two years. There's no mention of how many poor Anash were helped in Israel through this program over the last year, or how many people they plan to try to help this year. It's no longer about actually helping people who need help, it's about getting as many Divine brownie points as you can. And that's just sad.

The Wolf

* Did Rachel, Rabbi Akiva's wife, actually marry all those other tanaaim after his death? Seems unlikely to me given what her age must have been. Or am I reading it wrong and it's her grave and the graves of the other tanaaim?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Kuzari and Science Fiction

A while ago, I read Off Armageddon Reef, a science fiction novel by David Weber. In this novel (no spoilers here), set a few hundred years in the future, humanity is hunted to near extinction by an alien race known as the Gbaba. Even hidden colonies in distant star systems were discovered and destroyed by the Gbaba. Eventually, the remaining humans realize that the reason the Gbaba were able to find the hidden colonies was because of the radio emissions that they emitted. If any future colonies were to survive, they reasoned, they would have to be radio-silent to the extreme.

As a result, a new colony was set up on a planet that they named Safehold. The eight million colonists of Safehold agreed to have their memories wiped and to live a life without advanced technology. The colonists wake up one morning on Safehold, believing they've been created by a god. The "archangels" (the planners/administrators of the colonization fleet who still used the advanced technology) set up a new religion which proscribed the use of advanced technology as a safeguard against the last remnants of humanity ever achieving the technology that would alert the Gbaba to their presence.

The colonists on this planet have a bible -- the books given to them by the archangels. They also have the Testimonies, which are the writings of the eight million Adams and Eves who kept journals of their new lives on Safehold, including their first awakening and the subsequent visits of the archangels who flew through the air in glowing chairs and could perform "miracles." As a result, even hundreds of years later, after the "archangels" are all dead, the Church of God Awaiting is very strong and believed throughout Safehold.

Without intending to, David Weber constructed a form "Kuzari scenario" in this novel. There are a number of reasons why the church on Safehold is still very strong even hundreds of years after the last visit from an archangel, but one of the main reasons is because of the Testimonies. It's very difficult to say a religion is false when eight million people woke up together on the first day of creation, saw the wonders performed by the archangels and left behind written journals for their descendants. And, yet, ultimately, the religion of Safehold was a lie -- a fabrication designed of a mix between the megalomania of some of the colony administrators and a desire to forever retard human technological progress.

I'm not suggesting that Judaism is a deliberate hoax planted by people with or without advanced technology thousands of years ago. There are enough differences between what happened at Sinai and what is described in the novel to scuttle any serious comparison. Nonetheless, I did find it interesting how a "Kuzari"-type scenario could be both true in some respects and false in others at the same time.

The Wolf

Note: As an aside, if you're a sci-fi fan, the book was pretty good. The second book, By Schism Rent Asunder, was even better.

Monday, June 08, 2009

The YWN CoffeeRoom, Plagiarism and Multiple Personalities

It seems that there is a rash of plagiarism going on over at the YWN CoffeeRoom.

In a discussion on evolution, four consecutive posters simply copied and pasted their anti-evolution arguments directly from Frumteens (without attribution). Mind you, this is *after* I called out another poster for plagiarizing (although, I suspect, he was merely copying himself under a different username).

"Toras Moshe" has a post that starts:

Once should never confuse science with scientists. Science is knowledge; scientists are people, complete with their own agendas, weaknesses, and dishonesties. Their PhD’s do not make them any more moral or honest or objective than truck drivers.

The Frumteens Moderator posted that back in September 2005 here.

"Hill of Beans" wrote an essay that starts:

Scientists are involved in finding "scientific fact", which is not the same as "truth", or even plain "fact." This is because scientists - not science - have agreed to restrict "scientific proof" to things that fulfill their own self-imposed criteria, which limits the type of truth they will find. Example: If an experiment cannot be reproduced in the laboratoy, it is not considered scientifically proven.

However, he stole that from the Frumteens moderator here (second post).

"Bogen" starts his piece with:

That Hashem first made man from dirt and then blew into him a Neshama is not in question. But to say that the Torah can agree with the theory of evolution is another matter entirely. The theory of evolution - and the word itself, which means slow change, the opposite of "revolution," which means sudden change - requires many generations of gradual development, and man was already functioning on the day he was created.

However, that, too, is ripped from FT here.

"Will Hill" starts his piece with:

Evolution, by definition, means "slow progress", the opposite of revolution, which means sudden progress. When did this "evolution" supposedly occur?

That, too, comes from FT here (second post).

That four *consecutive* posts simply rip their arguments from another source (and the same source, at that), tells me that something stinks in the CoffeeRoom.

I don't mind a paragraph copied and pasted (with attribution) to support a point you're making, but to simply mass-copy your argument and present them as your own is simply wrong (and doing it under four different names so as to make it appear that you have a multitude on your side is even worse). How about a little honesty guys...

The Wolf

(P.S. -- For the record, I posted in the CR thread about my findings. Let's see if the post is actually approved. UPDATE: It went up.)

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Kill Men, Women and Children (and Cattle)

Moment Magazine has a feature called "Ask the Rabbis" where they ask a question to a number of rabbis from different denominations of Judaism. This month's question was "How Should Jews Treat Their Arab Neighbors?"

After presenting answers from various frum and non-frum rabbis, Moment gives us the answer from a Chabad rabbi:

I don’t believe in western morality, i.e. don’t kill civilians or children, don’t destroy holy sites, don’t fight during holiday seasons, don’t bomb cemeteries, don’t shoot until they shoot first because it is immoral.

The only way to fight a moral war is the Jewish way: Destroy their holy sites. Kill men, women and children (and cattle).

The first Israeli prime minister who declares that he will follow the Old Testament will finally bring peace to the Middle East. First, the Arabs will stop using children as shields. Second, they will stop taking hostages knowing that we will not be intimidated. Third, with their holy sites destroyed, they will stop believing that G-d is on their side. Result: no civilian casualties, no children in the line of fire, no false sense of righteousness, in fact, no war.

Zero tolerance for stone throwing, for rockets, for kidnapping will mean that the state has achieved sovereignty. Living by Torah values will make us a light unto the nations who suffer defeat because of a disastrous morality of human invention.

This answer comes to us courtesy of Rabbi Manis Friedman. If the name sounds familiar to you, it might be because I twice discussed his opinion that babies conceived through artificial methods are spiritually defective. Well, it seems that Rabbi Friedman has brought another unpopular opinion to the public eye. But unlike his opinions on babies that might be spiritually defective, this one has much broader implications.

The Torah has an interesting problem that it must overcome: it is, at it's core, a static written document that must remain relevant to all Jews in all places at all times despite changes in values and morals around the world. It's easy to say that in the time that the Torah was given, total war was the standard. It was often either kill or be killed -- and for any group that was fighting a war in the Bronze Age, those were the rules you had to follow if you wanted to survive. The rape of the vanquished female population, and the sale into slavery of women and children was to be expected. Applying modern-day war ethics (is "war ethics" an oxymoron?) during that time period could easily be the cause of your army being destroyed. But yet, if these things were to happen today, we'd be appalled. Ethics in war have evolved beyond the need for total genocide. Indeed, one of the main distinctions between what we view as legitimate war and terror is the willingness to target civilian noncombatants. Don't we repeatedly trumpet Israel's moral superiority by making the point that while Hamas, Hezbollah, et al are willing to target anyone to accomplish their goals, Israel only targets terrorists as much as is humanly possible?

But you can't have it both ways. You can't say "it's immoral for Hamas to blow up babies in pizza shops" while at the same time saying that the Jews in Israel should "Kill men, women and children (and cattle)." Rabbi Friedman can say that total war is the "moral" way and "Jewish way" to fight a war against the Arabs. And, it's even possible that he's right -- I'm not going to rule out that there are times and circumstances when total war might be called for (although I'm very hard pressed to come up with any in the modern world). But when you resort to using the tactics of your enemy that you have condemned as being immoral, you lose all right to then say that you are a "light unto the nations."

The Wolf

Note: To follow some of the Chabad reaction to Rabbi Friedman's words, click here and here.