Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Legislating the Neighborhood

There was an article in the news today about various concessions to which Netanyahu had agreed in order to have the charedi parties support his coalition. It's the issues of unlimited military deferrals and no Shabbos construction which get most of the public attention, but buried in this article was something remarkable:
"Another clause stated that anything that might “injure” a religious or haredi way of life should be prevented in neighborhoods where these sectors constitute a majority."
This was particularly interesting in light of an article on Yeshiva World News yesterday titled "Secular Residents Protest The Coming Of The Chareidim To Charish." There have often been secular complaints and protests when charedim move into a city or neighborhood, with Kiryat HaYovel as another example. Charedim respond that this is discriminatory and hateful. But if the charedim are trying to legislate that as soon as they become the majority of a neighborhood, other residents cannot do anything that might "injure" a charedi way of life, then how can they possibly complain when other people do not want charedim to live in their neighborhood?

Of course, my own home town of Ramat Beit Shemesh is a case in point. When I moved here, eighteen years ago, it was around a third charedi, a third dati-leumi, and a third secular. Within a few years the secular all moved out, as life here had become quite uncomfortable for them. Then the charedi community tried to impose its standards on the rest of Ramat Beit Shemesh, with signs and letters in the commercial center demanding charedi standards of modesty, and local rabbis (including Anglo-charedi rabbis) trying to prevent restaurants from having outside seating areas. Imagine if they had the legal power to do this!

If you're going to demand that other people conform to your restrictive social mores, don't be surprised when those people don't want you to move into the neighborhood!

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

The Cuddly Hyrax and the Two-Headed Rhino

Following taking Torah-in-Motion's 2019 African Adventure group to Zimbabwe and Botswana, where we saw astonishing elephants, hippos and monster crocodiles, we went down to Capetown in South Africa. There, we took the cable car up to the top of Table Mountain. This is one of my favorite places, because it is pretty much the only place outside of Israel where you will see an important Biblical creature: the hyrax. I posted the following photo to Facebook:

Now to my mind this looks like I bought a cuddly toy hyrax and put it on the mountain for a photo. Which is indeed exactly what I did; the real hyraxes were (unlike in other years) too far away to get a good picture of them. But, much to my surprise, a number of people on Facebook thought that it was a photo of a real hyrax!

Okay, I guess most people are not as intimately familiar with hyraxes as I am. But then yesterday, I was able to post a truly extraordinary photo:

As I wrote on Facebook, this is "Possibly the most extraordinary wildlife photo that I have ever taken. A two-headed rhino!"

This photo got an enormous amount of attention! Many people were marveling at the incredible phenomenon of a two-headed rhinoceros. But others were wondering: could such a thing really exist?

The answer is that it's certainly possible for such a creature to exist. The phenomenon of a creature possessing two heads (or perhaps it should be phrased as twins possessing a single body) has been documented with numerous species. Two-headed snakes appear to be particularly common; there was one exhibited for many years at a reptile zoo near Eilat. I've also seen two-headed turtles. And at the Biblical Museum of Natural History, we have the skull of a two-faced cow.

Most remarkable of all are Abigail and Brittany Hensel. They are adult twins who possess a single body, with Abigail controlling the arm and leg on one side, and Brittany controlling the arm and leg on the other side. The Hensel twins are fully functional, and can even drive!

What about a two-headed rhinoceros? In fact, there is a webpage, titled "Five Bizarre (Yet Real) Two-Headed Animals," which features photos not only of a two-headed snake, turtle, kitten and piglet, but also of a two-headed rhino!

Yet at the same time, one should ask oneself: What is more likely? Is it more likely that I saw a two-headed rhino, or is it more likely that there is some other trickery involved? For example, it's possible that the photo was digitally manipulated on Photoshop. Or that there were two rhinos which were standing with their legs perfectly lined up, giving the impression that there was a single four-legged body - which would still make for a fabulous photo, albeit not quite as fabulous as a two-headed rhino!

(For the record, I hereby attest that I did not alter my photo in any way! But as for the photo of the two-headed rhino on the aforementioned webpage of "Five Bizarre (Yet Real) Two-Headed Animals," shown here, I am convinced that it is digitally manipulated.)

Many people focus on what is theoretically possible, rather than on what is likely. This is something that I encounter quite often in arguing various topics surrounding Rationalist Judaism. To give but one example: Is it theoretically possible that when the Gemara said that the atalef lays eggs, that it was not referring to a bat, but rather to a duck-billed platypus from Australia, and just happened to describe it with the exact name that everyone has always understood to refer to the bat, which is a creature that is birdlike and often mistakenly thought to lay eggs? Yes, it's theoretically possible. But is it likely? Not in the slightest!

When evaluating claims, it's always important to think about what is most likely and reasonable, not what is theoretically possible. And to be aware of all the different possibilities to exist - and their probabilities. Of course, different people will have different ways of weighing up various probabilities. But the first step is to at least be aware that that is what should be done.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Zimbabwe and Botswana

I'm currently leading the Torah-in-Motion 2019 African adventure, so I thought I'd share some photos. These are from the Zimbabwe and Botswana segment:

The Great Baobab Tree in Zimbabwe

Victoria Falls 

This is how I know that crocodiles are big enough to eat buffalo

If the food was a little higher, would he jump to get at it?


Legislating the Neighborhood

There was an article in the news today about various concessions to which Netanyahu had agreed in order to have the charedi parties suppo...