Tuesday, June 28, 2022

The Dirtiest Trick

In the 1990s, some Jewish recalcitrant husbands hit upon a new and particularly horrible tactic for hurting and blackmailing their estranged wives. By using kiddushei ketanah, they could report that they secretly betrothed their young daughters to someone, rendering the girls unable to marry. Only two cases were publicized, one from the US and one from Canada, but a men's organization dishonestly named "Shalom Bayis" endorsed the practice and claimed that around 20 others had already implemented it. 

What could be done to stop such dirty tricks? Various solutions were proposed, and a posthumously-discovered solution from Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach was eventually implemented - though not accepted by all. But until this solution was unearthed, several people proposed using secular law. One lawyer was looking into applying laws regarding extortion and endangerment of minors, while Sheldon Silver proposed passing a law making kiddushei ketana a felony. In a chapter on this topic in The Wed-Locked Agunot: Orthodox Jewish Women Chained to Dead Marriages, the authors note that Rabbi J. David Bleich was opposed to this tactic, as per his general approach:

"Rabbi J. David Bleich, a prolific writer on halakhic issues, objected to involving civil law. He noted that halakhic betrothals are meaningless under civil law. After all, he pointed out, the girls are not actually being forced to live with their "husbands," which would be statutory rape. Bleich warned against the danger of harnessing the power of the state to religious law. He did not want civil courts to examine the issue of whether the girls' marriage prospects are harmed. Bleich had a record of opposition to mobilizing civil law to deal with issues regarding halakhic marriage and divorce. He was highly critical of the 1992 New York State Gett Law that had been engineered by Silver and COLPA. Bleich condemned the father but said the girl could not marry unless she received a gett or the death of the unknown husband was proven. He called for a "communal ban" on this practice, meaning that going forward the practice would have no binding effect. But the rabbis did not take up his call, and even had they done so, it would not have helped little girls betrothed by their fathers before such a ban was implemented." (Note that in his Tradition article on the topic, R. Bleich acknowledges that actually implementing an effective communal ban on such a person is unrealistic.)

All this is disturbingly relevant now, thirty years later. The overturning of Roe v. Wade enables the Christian approach to abortion to be enforced in various states. R. Bleich recently welcomed this, declaring that Judaism owes a debt of gratitude to the Catholic church (even though it means that women who should be getting abortions from a halachic perspective will have a difficult time doing so). It is strange that he rejects using secular law to enforce Torah ideals for helping women and girls, even when such laws would be fully in accordance with Torah principles, but he welcomes using Christianity-based law to prohibit abortion, even though such laws are not fully in accordance with Torah principles.

It should be stressed: The Christian approach to abortion is very, very different from the Jewish approach. The opinion of most classical rabbinic authorities is that a fetus is not a life and the prohibition against abortion is not based on it being any form of murder. And accordingly, abortion is permitted and even required in various cases where the Christianity-based laws in several states would not permit it. Thus, as Jews, we cannot welcome the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

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Monday, June 20, 2022

The Disaster That Wasn't

In the last municipal elections in Beit Shemesh, the charedi political movement warned that if the non-charedi candidate was elected, it would be The End Of Torah. There would be buses on Shabbos, treife food being sold in stores, yeshivos would be closed, secularism would run rampant, chassidic children would be in prison camps (see the advertisement on the right)! It could even lead to mixed dancing.

Of course, after Dr. Aliza Bloch was elected, no such thing happened. Religious life in Beit Shemesh - including charedi religious life - is flourishing just as strongly as ever, and probably even more so, especially now that there is a non-corrupt administration. (One of the deputy mayors in the previous, charedi coalition flat-out asked me to bribe him and the mayor.)

Today's news about the opposition's success in collapsing the government reminded me of this terrible religious tragedy in Beit Shemesh that failed to happen. Because the same thing happened (or rather, failed to happen) at a national level. The Bibi-Likud-Smotrich-UTJ camp all cried that the Bennett-Lapid coalition were Evil Leftists who would destroy the country. They screamed about how the government was such a terrible danger that they must be stopped by any and all means, even including previously unthinkable things such as working to protect rapists and to harm the residents of Judea and Samaria. The ends were so crucial that they justified any means.

But what terrible things actually happened as a result of the Bennett-Lapid government? None at all. The fight against enemy states and terrorism continued just as before, in some cases even more decisively so. The economy had its improvements and problems just as before and in line with the rest of the world. None of the terrible (from a right-wing perspective) withdrawals and prisoner releases that happened under previous Likud governments happened under this government. And on the undeniably positive side, there was actually a functioning government and a budget was finally passed, for the first time in years.

What about the allegedly terrible thing of having an Arab party, Ra'am, in the government? Well, this was hardly an innovation - it used to happen regularly. And again, nothing bad actually happened as a result. In fact, considering that neither right-wing nor left-wing politics has any kind of realistic solution for Judea and Samaria, the cooperation of Ra'am provided some much-needed good news that there is hope for long-term change. 

Actually, the only novel and serious harm that happened over the last year was caused by Bibi, the Likud, Smotrich, and UTJ. For the first time in Israel, it became acceptable to deliberately and systemically and explicitly cause harm to the country for the sake of political power.

Well, they got what they wanted. Israel is heading for elections again. And perhaps Bibi will return to power, followed by his adoring groupies who do not know or care that they are compromising the country's interests for the sake of one man's ego and lust for power. Or perhaps we'll be in another endless, expensive, paralyzing cycle of elections. And all for the crucial, all-important need of avoiding the disaster that wasn't.

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Sunday, June 19, 2022

The Kosher Octopus

Well, this was a miscalculation.

Last week, the Biblical Museum of Natural History hosted a "Feast of Legends from the Sea" in Beverly Hills. This is one of our three different banquets in which we serve foods that are kosher but highly unusual from either a halachic or culinary perspective. The full photo gallery and article is yet to come, but in the meanwhile, I posted the following photo on Facebook, with the comment that he was so charming that it seemed almost a crime to eat him:

To my mind, it was perfectly obvious that we did not actually serve octopus at the event. But much to my surprise, several people - all educated religious Jews - expressed their surprise that there is such thing as a kosher octopus!

I suppose the mistake is ultimately mine. Considering that we serve many foods that people do not expect to be kosher, such as sparrows and piranhas and locusts, it's to be expected that some people expect to be surprised to learn that various creatures are actually kosher. (And it's not such an outrageous mistake - in fact there really is a species of squid, the Grimaldi squid, which has scales and sort-of fins and is arguably kosher!)

In general, while there is a halachic concept of maris ayin - that a permissible act can be forbidden if it gives the appearance of doing a forbidden act - this does not apply where there is no concern that onlookers will err. For example, cooking meat with margarine does not create any problem of maris ayin, since everyone knows that there is such a thing as margarine and that it is not butter. The same is true for pareve coffee creamer and Pesach “bagels.” 

I had assumed that this would also be true for these museum special dinners. We often think that maris ayin is about not doing something which make people think that we are sinning, and clearly nobody thinks that we are serving food that is not kosher. But it is also (and in fact primarily) about not misleading people into thinking that something forbidden is permissible. I had thought that nobody would think that octopus is kosher, but this was evidently a mistake.

So, let me state for the record that which was made very clear to everybody at the event - octopus is NOT KOSHER. As for the octopus that we presented, which took a lot of planning and craftsmanship, you should be able to figure out the truth about him. (Incidentally, we all found it impossible to refer to him as an "it," and he was affectionately named Timothy.) The clue is that we served him for dessert. I must confess, although it was incredible to watch him be wheeled out amidst swirling smoke and thundering music, I found the sight of Timothy being cut up to be extremely disturbing!

Photos by Jonah Light photography.

Thursday, June 16, 2022

The Jews and The Scientists

Some people wonder why it's antisemitic to say that the Jews run Hollywood. After all, with the exception of Disney, pretty much every movie studio was started and run by Jews.

There are two answers to this. One is that studios are one part of enormous corporations with many levels of involvement, and so it's meaningless to talk about anyone running them.

The other answer is that there is an enormous difference between saying that Jews run Hollywood and saying that "the" Jews run Hollywood. Yes, there are many Jews in prominent positions in the industry, but when you say "the Jews run Hollywood," this implies that they are running it as a coordinated unit, separate from everyone else, with a further implication that there is a distinct agenda.

I was reminded of this recently while having a conversation with a terrific yeshivish guy about science. He made reference to what "the scientists" say. It occurred to me that this is a style of speech that you don't hear outside of the yeshiva world. People talk about what science says, or perhaps about what scientists say, but not about what the scientists say.

Although this person was refreshingly well educated and was not anti-science, he was referring to the scientists in the context of a point about what religion knows and scientists do not. And it made me think that perhaps yeshivish people talk about The Scientists for the same reasons that some people talk about The Jews. Referring to them as "The" seems to imply that they are a coordinated unit, separate from everyone else, with a distinct agenda. 

What do The Rationalist Judaism readers think?

Sunday, June 12, 2022

The Hunt for the Legend

At six this morning, I headed out to the California coastline to search for a certain legendary "baby sea bird" to present at tomorrow's Biblical Feast of Legends from the Sea. Fortunately, I was able to capture some very quickly and easily, so I decided that I had time to explore further along the coastline. And I found some very interesting things!

First, I found something very handy:

Then, I spotted a heron on a successful fishing expedition:

Next I discovered a tragic sight:

And finally something extraordinary - the wreckage of some sort of spacecraft!

That's it for now - I have to go deal with a complicated halachic issue involving a cephalopod for the feast tomorrow!

Thursday, June 2, 2022

Teaneck Event

On my way back from the Biblical Feast of Exotic Kosher Legends in Beverly Hills, I'll be doing the following event in Teaneck:

Space is very limited for this event, which includes an exclusive viewing of minerals & gems. To learn more about joining our family of patrons, see www.biblicalnaturalhistory.org/patronage

(On the morning of the 15th, I'm looking for a responsible teenager or adult to assist me in cataloguing an extraordinary collection of Noah's Arks that is being donated to the museum. If you'd like to assist with this, please write to me.) 


Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Revelation: I'm A Palestinian!

Analyzing Dr. Elizabeth Bentley's writings about "Palestinian crocodiles," I was led into a new direction of research, and I discovered something amazing: I'm a Palestinian - and an indigenous one!

Here is how I came to that realization.

There are different definitions of the word "indigenous." According to Wikipedia, indigenous peoples are "culturally distinct ethnic groups whose members are directly descended from the earliest known inhabitants of a particular geographic region and, to some extent, maintain the language and culture of those original peoples." With that definition, neither Palestinians nor Jews are indigenous inhabitants of Palestine - the Canaanites were here before either of us. 

However, many people prefer to use the term more broadly. According to Dr. Bentley, representing the Journal of Palestine Studies, the Ghawarna Bedouin are indigenous Palestinians. This is the case even though they are largely descended from African refugees who came to Palestine within the last few centuries. 

Yasser Arafat was likewise a Palestinian, even though he personally was born in Egypt and grew up there. And the same goes for all the people born to Palestinians around the world, who are classified as Palestinian.

And the main Muslim population of the Land of Israel are likewise Palestinian, even though they are descended from Muslim Arabs of the Arabian Peninsula who violently conquered Palestine in the 7th century, or from groups that came in the 19th century. (Perhaps the 7th century invaders should be called settler-colonials?)

Accordingly, in order to be Palestinian, you can be born outside of Palestine, and you can be descended from people who immigrated to Palestine, whether they did so by way of seeking refuge from persecution or by way of violent conquest. As long there is some point in your history or ancestry which involves living in Palestine, you are classified as an indigenous Palestinian.

The ramifications of this are very interesting. I live here now, and I am descended from ancestors that lived here. (And there has been a continuous Jewish presence in Palestine/Israel since Temple times, such as with the Jews of Peki'in pictured here, and those who left always dreamed of coming back.)  And so I qualify as an indigenous Palestinian on two counts!

The only way to not classify me as an indigenous Palestinian is to use a racist definition whereby Muslims and Christians can be Palestinians but not Jews. And surely nobody wants to be racist!

Maybe this can be a new tactic in countering anti-Israel propaganda. We can point out that we are indigenous Palestinians, too!

For an excellent full-length study of this topic, see "Zionism, Imperialism, and Indigeneity in Israel/Palestine: A Critical Analysis" by Ran Ukashi, which you can freely download here. The final sentence notes that "Despite the complexity and emotions involved in this iconic conflict, it is apparent that by any measure in which Palestinian Arabs can express legitimate indigeneity to the land, so too can the Jewish People."

Hashtag #IamaJewishIsraeliIndigenousPalestinian!

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The Dirtiest Trick

In the 1990s, some Jewish recalcitrant husbands hit upon a new and particularly horrible tactic for hurting and blackmailing their estranged...