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Ore and let davven.™

Mail: lippomano@gmail.com

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Actor's research

Scan this short article on Al Pacino in a Boro Park shul first.

Why on earth would you learn anything about Venetian Jews this way, 150+ years before Hasidism was invented somewhere else, and 350+ years before modern Ultra-Orthodoxy? So will we have another beard-stroking sidelocks-and-kaftan Shylock?

How about this:

New York - Dustin Hoffman, preparing for the role of Antonio in the Public Theater's upcoming production of "The Merchant of Venice," took his research into Queens this week, visiting a Yonggi Cho Pentecostal church in Flushing.

The actor made the trip with Barry Cheong, director of the Public's Shakespeare Initiative, to observe religious Italians in prayer and learn about the community.

Mr. Hoffman, bareheaded and dressed in a cheap greyish suit, stood at the back of the church and went unrecognized as he observed the Sunday prayer, said Mr. Cheong, who wouldn't name the church at the request of the friend who took them there.

As worshipers spoke in tongues, known as glossolalia, Mr. Cheong said he saw Mr. Hoffman slowly throwing his arms in the air with them, observing their movements.

"It was done with complete respect and a true sense of empathy," said Mr. Cheong.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Eicho trop

Here's a recording of something like the first bit of Eicho (Eikha, Lamentations) in the traditional trop (troppe, trope, cantillation). The poor quality you cherish so about my recordings is enhanced through: sinusitis, juggling a baby, not being able to sing and play the piano at the same time, wrong register.

Eiche is like a baby in the evening, crying and mirth changing from second to second, and it ends in a sweet dream.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Interview with the new president of Basle's 200-year-old Jewish community:

Q: Concerning institutions like Chabad Lubavitch […], there's a certain need to act, too, isn't there? How are you going to deal with this?

A: The collaboration with Chabad Lubavitch, which is meant to be a supplement to, or a support of, the community, has proved to be good so far; there's no contention.

Famous last words.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Why do people eat chulent?

Chulent is objectively bad. So why do people eat it?

There are those who grew up with it. To them it's the best food ever, and what's more, they are seriously not able to understand how you can feel differently, just taste it, man! (Food psychologists have long been aware of this porridge phenomenon™: it's exclusively the connection to childhood that makes people crave for the food of their childhood, entirely independent of the food's actual taste or value and even independent of whether their childhood was any good. Basically a variant of conditioning.) And in addition the idea that chulent is something good has been told to them all the time. Strangely, their parents as well as cooks in their city were raised with a much better version, but the cooks asked everybody not to talk about it, because it's bad for business. Of this group, about one in four either looks for healthier variants of chulent or goes vegan right away. They don't have many doubts about health issues, but they miss the taste from time to time.

Then there are those who didn't grow up with it. As a rule, they recognise the stuff's got a ghastly taste, its nutritional value is on a low level, and the burned parts are even harmful.

But there are some who first ate it clearly after their childhood, and yet profess a great fondness for it now. Of course, some change the recipe, ignore the burnt parts, add spices and all kinds of things until you don't see it anymore, maybe even add some cream that suspiciously looks like milchigs though they say it's soy, put some pot in and top it with a flower.

But there are others who don't and who rather burn it more because they claim that's the "best part" until even the baleboste shakes her head.

The reasons are difficult to pin down. Some heard those of the first group praise chulent, and they themselves simply don't have a well working sense of taste, maybe were born with insufficient tastebuds.

Others do have working tastebuds as such, but they don't work right, also they only note overly strong flavours. They change their preferences sometimes, as long as it's a strong flavour. Some wouldn't have eaten anything but falafel before and couldn't have enough charif on it, and next year they might live on Cuban rum or Soviet-era vodka that can't be highproof enough.

Others were raised with an entirely different cuisine, such as watery knuckles of pork and sausages. They only heard of chulent because when he was young, whereever their grandfather and his friends came across a bowl of it, they used to pee in it. He still chuckles sometimes. So, on the one hand, they are disgusted by Grandpa's pranks, but on the other, they secretly don't like chulent, maybe even because it made them lose respect for Grandpa. People from this group typically claim that someone in Granny family used to burn the pork, too, but nobody's really buying that.

Others again always ate a kind of chulent, just not so burnt. Still bad food, so they quietly took supplement pills or, more pathetically, tried to convince people that the burnt parts contain exactly the same stuff as the supplement pills. Some day they gave up, especially as their own chulent didn't look as fancy as the other one, and they felt a treat should be a treat to look at, too. All the time before, they had the erroneous feeling that their chulent was a diluted version, not that the other one was much like theirs originally, except for the additives maybe.

Others again sadly had great juicy yummy hammin or schalet at home, but hardly anybody knows how to prepare that today - it takes a bit more time and skill and isn't as easily identified in the deli counter, and there are basically no professional cooks left who could help. (By the way, country-style schalet is at least as good as urban nouvelle cuisine schalet.) Some guys actually try to use printed recipes and the like, but they don't get all the ingredients right and they're usually spending most of the day in smoky chulent kitchens. So it's got a somewhat artificial taste and is still burnt anyway.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The end of Neo-Orthodoxy? A breakdown

You might have heard about the unpleasantness at R' Breuer's. In short, the present rabbi declared Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (RSRH) was wrong, especially in consciously embracing culture. (Of course, with a typical hareidist drey, he rather said RSRH was bigger than Moishe Rabeinu, but only He was able to implement His grand prophetic wisdom, while we are stupid worms and so we just have to do what the gedoilim tell us to, that is, the opposite. Or their clerks, de facto.)

Also, an honourable descendant of RSRH's criticised that the community's school system today is educating people to believe work is evil and one should have 13 children and kick one's heels in kollel.

The rabbi left the room at these words, and later made derogatory remarks about "lawyers and grandsons". This also shows the division between omniscient leaders and sheep, incompetent by nature. No space for Jewishly educated, independently thinking ballebattem, a formerly outstanding feature of German Orthodoxy. It fits the hareidist ideal and reality that people either abandon Judaism or are rabbis.

The actual surprise was that the rabbi openly said what he said, though.

Here's an off-hand attempt at a breakdown of German Orthodox communities today. Please correct me or add more in the comments!

R' Breuer's, NY: increasingly hareidified since the fifties or sixties. Now officially no more independent.

Other German Orthodox communities in the US: none left, or no more specifically Yekke (NYC, Baltimore).

R' Munk's, London: Not sure (anyone?), but rather hareidified, too.

Adath Yisroel, London: was minnek Paulen anyway, not Hirschian.

Gateshead, UK: Really, Gateshead had a lot of Germans in the beginning. Of course, today it's a metonym of hareidism.

South America, South Africa: Don't know - anyone?

Paris, France: One shul is using some German tunes and customs (not specifically Hirschian).

Strasbourg, France: same, and one according to the Alsatian custom.

Other places in France, especially Alsace: Don't know.

Basle, Switzerland: Main community is proudly following (some) German customs, but it's quite Zionist. Otherwise yes, you have old-style fully Orthodox and Jewishly educated businessmen and professionals. The tendency is to either go Zionist or join -

Basle's other community (technically not a legitimately founded Austrittsgemeinde), which is hareidified by now. Visually blackblackblack. Nice people - don't get me wrong. Hareidist rabbis since the war, now the son of the former rabbi.

Zurich, Switzerland: Main community is still borderline Orthodox, legitimate Austrittsgemeinde is about like Breuer's. Decided for a hasidist rabbi, then appointed the former rabbi's son. Last Rabbiner Dr. died in 1972. A third community, unhappy with both, was just founded, they're regular Zionist MO.

Lucerne, Switzerland: Well, this is where the current rabbi at Breuer's came from. Very hareidist, and the only community there, so other Jews simply left the community or the city.

Israel: Some shuls were founded, as a subset of hareidism there.

Germany, Austria etc.: Yeah, sure.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Party line

I'm not going to drop by Gil's blog anymore for the time being.

There was a post about tzitzes, starting

Although wearing a Tallit Katan is always a commendable act, it is not always clear however whether doing so is a mitzva on a Torah level or rather a rabbinic one.

In the comments, I asked:

How about "Although wearing a Tallit Katan is quite a universal custom and thus a commmendable act in most situations, it is always clear that doing so is not a mitzva at all, neither on a Torah level nor even a rabbinic one"?
Lipman |

The author wittily replied:


I'm not sure what you're getting at, unless of course, you're a Karaite.

Ari Enkin |

[some other issues, then:]

[…] I thought there was no mitzve to wear such a garment. We're simply in a position to artificially create the opportunity to fulfil the mitzve of tzitzes in an easy way (disregrading tcheiles etc.), as opposed to heshoves gezeile, for instance.
Lipman |

R' Ari,

I would appreciate if you would edit the post with that info. Not everyone reads comments. Thank you.
opinion |

Not every mitzvah is a chiyuv. There is also such a thing as a kiyyum of a mitzvah. Colloquial speech calls most a chiyuv and a kiyyum a mitzvah


It is difficult for me to understand how one who lives in chu"l can be so concerned for the notions suggested in the last paragraph - even if mitzvat yishuv haaretz is a mitzvah kiyumit (which is a minority opion - most hold it is chiyuvit) - when the same statements are applied by chazal to mitzvat yishuv haaretz.
Ben Bayit |

[discussion about if it's easy to move to Israel, Ben Bayit saying it is, and even if it wasn't, you'd have to anyway]


I misunderstood mitzva in the narrow sense, as in, say, a mitzva on a Torah level or rather a rabbinic one. Of course, you can use it in many other ways, up to "Can you do me a mitzve". Anyway, let's not fight about words when we agree about concepts.

Ben Bayit,

opening that can of worms… AFAIK, yishuv hooretz is a mitzve only according to a minority opinion, pretty much limited to the Ramban.
Lipman |

AFAIK only a minority pf poskim regard mitzvat yishuv haaretz as a mitzvah kiyumit and not chuyuvit (similar to tzitzis) and a majority of poskim hold that it is a mitzvah, period.
Ben Bayit |

[more strong statements, trying to establish facts retroactively]

opening that can of worms… AFAIK, yishuv hooretz is a mitzve only according to a minority opinion, pretty much limited to the Ramban.

Oh man, I do not need this discussion today! :)

But, in the interest of putting it out here:

The vast majority of opinions of the rishonim and acharonim hold like the Ramban in M"A hashmata 4, where he writes it is a mitzvah to live in Israel at all times, for all Jews. This includes most rishonim you could mention (I don't have time to list them, but I can if anyone needs).

The Megilas Ester and R Chaim in Tosafos (although there are many achronim who say this was a talmid to'eh, and not really a part of tosfos) are the minority who say that today there is either no mitzvah to live in Israel, until Mashiach comes, or alternatively, that the dangers (maaser, etc) outwiegh the mitzvah.

Rav Moshe Feinstein says clearly that we pasken like the Ramban. However, he adds (without sourcing) that it is a mitzvah kiyumit, like wearing tzitzis. This is very hard, since the Ramban himself uses the word "chiyuv" numerous times in his piece. (I asked Rav Shachter about this and he said that it is a very hard question to answer. I suggested perhaps R Moshe was being melamed zechus, but RHS did not like that as an answer.)

There are many many acharonim who argue on Rav Moshe, including the Tzitz Eliezer (in a very well documented 10 page teshuva), where he shows that it is a chiyuv.

Many acharonim reject the very notion of a mitzvah kiyumit, and explain that it doesn't exist in the mitzvah of living in EY or in tzitzis (I can explain more if needed).

In summary: the majority hold it is a mitzvah chiyuvis. Rav Moshe held it is a mitzvah kiyumis. The megilas ester and R Chaim (and the satmar Rov amongst the acharonim(IIRC the only acharon to seriously pasken like the miut against the vast majority)) are in the minority to say there is no mitzvah today.
mevaseretzion |


Where did Rambam live? Could it have been Egypt where one is not supposed to go back to?
opinion |

I am not sure what the Rambam has to do with the Ramban's opinion.

However, there are many acharonim who explain that the Rambam himself agreed that it's a mitzva and explain why he didn't count it in the 613.

Be that as it may, the Rambam signed his letters with the sentence, 'Rav Moshe ben Maimon, who sins thrice by living in Egypt' or something to that effect, ie he was 'oness' living in Egypt.
mevaseretzion |

Of course, the Rambam's opinion vis a vis Israel is complex, and there is much discussion concerning it.

I can give you mareh mekomos if you like, opinion.
mevaseretzion |


That's an urban legend. Rambam signed his letters "Moshe be-ribbi Maimon," and that's it.
Anonymous |

There is alot of distortion in the above posting re Mitzvat Yishuv HaAretz.

RMF is far from alone in his approach. See:
Maharitatz 1:85
HaElef L'cha Shlomo 118
Rashbash Simman 3 - ראוי להשתדל בעלייתה
Moadim UZmanim 5:346
Tzitz Eliezer 14:72:(7) quoting R' Shmuel Salant
Preface to Toras Zeraim.
Moshe |

Thanks for the extra sources, Moshe. I should not have made it sound like RMF was singular.


But what is "alot" of distortion?
mevaseretzion |

That's an urban legend. Rambam signed his letters "Moshe be-ribbi Maimon," and that's it.

Could be. I didn't research it at all. However, the fact that the Rambam lived in Egypt is no proof for his rejection of the rule not to live in Egypt or to live in EY.
mevaseretzion |


Anonymous-I think that it is very well known and hardly "urban fiction" that the Rambam signed his letters in that manner and that it is undeniable that

Rambam included many halachos that can only be fullfilled in EY in the Yad, as opposed to the more general mitzvah of Yishuv EY simply because one of the Rambam's Shoreshim in the Sefer Hamitzvos, which RYBS viewed as an introduction to the Yad, is that mitzvos of a generalized nature, even if they are permanent in nature, are not counted in the calculation of 613 mitzvos.
Steve Brizel |


Sorry Steve. It is absolutely an urban legend, ie, it isn't true.

That it's "very well known" only makes it an urban legend--because it's not true. We have letters in the Rambam's own hand, and that is simply not how he signed them.
Anonymous |

Anonymous-which edition of the Rambam's letters? Proof please?
Steve Brizel |


Not edition. The actual letters, written by him. All of them.
Anonymous |


I did a bit of research and it seems it is an urban legend.

Not that it changes anything about my original point.

mevaseretzion |

I'm afraid this speaks volumes. Anyway, about at that point, I posted this comment:

I don't understand why people always try to defend their nationalism and sometimes even hateful racism (not referring to the commenters above!) with Jewish sources. Maybe from a bad conscience, consciously or unconsciously, at least in the first generation. The next ones already grow up with it.

It's Herder and Fichte, just as with 19th-century Germans and today's Kosovars, it's American post-melting pot emptiness, it's the unpleasant side effect of trying to establish a place where we Jews aren't killed. Did I mention Herder and Fichte?

I think these were the exact words, but I'm not sure, because when I checked in later, my comment had been killed by the blog administrator(s). No mail to me, nothing, just deleted.

Toodles, then.

(Bli neider, I'll write about something more cheerful during the next days.)

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


(inspired by a visitor who came to this blog, googling for "Pasech 2007", and another one, googling for "pasech things")

In a couple of days, Ashkenazim who insist on adopting the Israeli street pronunciation will celebrate the Chag ha-Pasech, which is also known as the Passover holiday after Shmelke Passover, rebbe of the Passau chasidim, who innovated this in 1954 and was later known as Samwil al-Basaawi, only to get a lot of trouble with that name after he made aliya.

The most prominent feature of the holiday is to get rid of kometz, none of which may be found in the house of a Passever chosid. Ah, what joy fills the family's hearts when, aided by a candle and a quill, the books are searched for this evil remnant of the ghetto Jew, a ceremony known as bedikas kometz.

The rishounem, scholars between 1956 and roughly 1957, debated whether a kometz koton falls under the prohibition, too, as there exists an isser mashu. Today, the consensus is to apply the criterion "a dag wouldn't eat it".

Monday, February 26, 2007

Two deaths

Two German Jews just died at great age: Horav Mordechai (b. Shimshon) Breuer zetza"l, and Mr Heinz Berggruen za"l.

Rav Breuer was a an immensely important Torah scholar, respected by Orthodox Jews as well as by atheist bible scholars, who might not have cared so much about his ideas concerning parallel narratives, though still considering them worth a thought, but acclaimed his important work in the edition of the text. He was from a family that formed large parts of German Jews.

Mr Berggruen was an art dealer and collector with a good nose for Picasso, Matisse and the like when they were already well-known, but before prices started to skyrocket. Some ten years ago, he returned to his native Berlin after 70 years of emigration in the US. Some five years ago, he basically gave his 750 million dollars art collection to the state for free. Oh, and he got back his German passport and voluntarily returned his US citizenship. He was German society's darling. An old, and so by default, wise Jew, with the Jewish sense of art and the Jewish sense for big money, not at all mad because of this unpleasant episode back then.

I deplore every human being's death.

German Google news about Mr Berggruen's death: 148
German Google news about R' Breuer's death: 0

US: 100 vs 1 (from Haaretz' English edition)

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Disappointing lecture

I'm coming back from a talk about Women and Leadership. The local Bes medresh had invited a major expert on this, a dayyen of international repute or even fame, who has published books and article on the topic.

To make it short, it was disappointing. The public was a general one, not just "learned" people, so I fully understand he wasn't talking hardcore heloche. I also take into account that Americans have a style that is different from the European one. But he was very repetitive, very general, and evaded the more delicate issues. All that might be explained by circumstances etc., but what really irrated me was that he might (!) not have known the more detailed facts.

Among the few more concrete things, he explained the helochic concept that the requirements for "rulers" such as being a man, a born Jew etc. are only for rulers that are forced upon the people from above, for instance by a king. (He insensibly compared this to job applications where applicants might be good but "not A1".)

In the Q&A part, I asked something like "You said that according to Rav Uzziel, it might be that a woman cannot be appointed from above, but if she's elected and so chosen by the people that she's 'governing', it would be allowed. What does this approval have to be like? A simple majority? Or unanimous? The whole idea is that this way, the people can't claim their ruler is being forced upon them, so what happens if a single person doesn't agree? Can't (s)he say 'I'm being forced'? And is this different in places where there is only one community, and places where the person might simply join another shul to his likes?"

I think this is a very central question.

I had lerned this tshuve, among others, recently with my chevruse, but only started, and that was a question to which we hadn't yet found an answer. Even after his talk, I thought if anyone can answer it in within a radius of 500 miles, he can. I was a bit afraid that he'd answer it was a difficult question, or that there were contradicting opinions.

He answered: "Hm, I find a simple majority would not be much. Maybe more would be better."

Monday, November 06, 2006

The "right" pronunciation

hebrew pronunciation of hebrew
In a comment thread on Mar Gavriel's blog the question of reclaiming ancestral traditions came up. I'd like to mention some issues and take as an example the question of pronunciation.

Maybe a reasonable compromise might be to go back to the most recent stage that makes sense and is legitimate, either as a whole or deciding each detail. What exactly your criteria are for "legitimacy" isn't easy. For example: If you accept the palestino-tiberian system (which, I think, all communities do today) and you're Ashkenazzi in your pronunciation, you distinguish pasech, chôlem and kometz.

Now, say if you're Dutch, that would be roughly [a] vs. [au] vs. [o]: hatTauro. The [au] clearly developed from an earlier [ou]. Do you consider this a legitimate change or development in minnek? After all, from the POV of phonology, it doesn't play a rôle if you say [au] or [ou] - you won't confuse words because of that. In fact, maybe it's even better from the POV of haloche, because [ou] is closer to [o], and if you slur it a bit or you don't hear well, [au] is more distinct.

But - [ou] is the older one: hatTouro. And it doesn't stop there. Probably it used to be [a] vs. closed [o] like in French or German vs. open [o] like in shawl. Should you go back to that? That's what the massoretes had in mind: hatToraw.

But - there were other massoretes, and I'm not sure the palestino-tiberian system we use today is compulsory. Sefardis and others use it in theory, but that they don't make a difference between pasech and kometz is a heritage of an earlier parallel system: hatTora.

Was the Redak's novel systemisation legitimate?

Up to some time between the 13th and 16th centuries ChE, we Ashkenazzim didn't distinguish between pasech and kometz either (hatTora)! Should we go back to that stage? Does this depend at all on the question if the change to a system that does distinguish came about through the "Babylonian renaissance", i. e. teachers from Mesopotamia where the system had been accepted at the time, like some scholars suggests, or because of inner-Yiddish, or even -German developments, as think others?

Not that it stops with the massoretes. It starts to get halochically and hashkofically precarious here: We have the normative massoretic tradition, but linguists tell us that at the time of the Tôre, it was all different. "She" and "he" in Hebrew would not be hi and hu, but hiwa and huwa, there wouldn't be a fricative pronunciation of the begad-kefas consonants, and these are only some harmless examples. All of this still doesn't scratch on the consonant letters of the Tôre. Should you go and accept that? Does the normative idea that there is an unbroken tradition since Sinai include the vowels?

Personally, going further "back" than the massoretes clearly doesn't seem right to me. Otherwise, I'm just not sure. Personal likes and dislikes, which I certainly have, must be secondary to the question what is right. Then again, if I say I can't adopt the pre-Ashkenazic pronunciation because it doesn't conform to the din, I'm actually saying my ancestors did it wrong for centuries - and they had a continuous tradition, as opposed to a conscious break like maybe the change from pre-A to A, and certainly the change from anything to Israeli Ivrit.

You bet before I go into publishing tefilles, I'll have a very close look at that and more than a casual talk with rabbonem.

(Update: Additional issues in the comment section.)


Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Minnek III (practical)

Minhag, minhag, minhag
You remember the part in the Minneg II post, where I listed the minyonem? Ah, I saved the best for last: only on Yomkipper and Rosheshone, another (increasingly) small minyen forms in a bes medresh. It's commonly simply called "the minyen", though it has another unofficial name after a family, but this lack of formality shouldn't mislead you - it's a tradition of 80 years or more. There, the minneg is Southern German/Alsatian, and much less influenced by minneg Pôlen than in the main shuls - down (or up) to the tunes.

There is no choir there, as associated often but wrongly with a typical Yekkishe shul, and there's no opera trained chazzen, as associated often but wrongly with a typical Yekkishe shul. It's wonderful. No fancy pop songs, no forced whining show, no cheap Mendelssohn-Bartholdy imitations in ridiculous gravity, just incredibly touching low-key tunes that were passed on from generation to generation.

I'll give one short example: Ovinu malkeinu. There are quite a few German/Dutch/Alsatian tunes around, usually serene, some folksier, some less folksy. They have in common that on Yomkipper and Rosheshone, certain lines are highlighted by a more elaborate melody. The last line ("O. m. chonneinu va-aneinu…") is said silently, and certainly not with repetitions.

But enough theory, here is a sample: (click here), sloppily recorded as usual. We're talking about Yekkes, so a harmonising second voice is never far - I just couldn't record it right now.

(I also recorded a yor kaddesh, or "Jahreskaddisch" some days ago, but the quality is even worse and it's about 700 kB. If you'd like to have it, just drop me an e-mail.)


Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Minnek II (personal)

Minhag, minhag, minhag

In my neighbourhood, most of the Jews are of German (and bordering) extraction. Apart from the occasional Maghrebinian, Yemenite or Sephardi, the others are mostly Eastern European whose ancestors came over a hundred or so years ago, and they're more or less assimilated - in any case, everybody is everybody else's cousin or in-law. There are two main shuls,1 and they're proud of being stubbornly Yekkish ever since the synagogues opened. You'd expect them to follow nusech Ashkenez, wouldn't you? Unfortunately, this is not the case.

First of all, 250 years of polonisation left their marks on German Jews even before the war, and it still continues outside of Germany.2 But apart from that, one of the communities has developed into a strongly nationalist community, which also led to it that membership is receding - many simply emigrate to Israel. The other community is more and more chareidist. So you don't see any normal hats anymore: one shul is 80% srugies, the rest baseball caps, normal caps and only the occasional grey or black hat, in summer a selected few straw hats. The other shul is 98% black-hat by now, apart from this baal tshuve with his shtraimel. Mostly uniform oversize fedoras, only one gentleman with a homburg sometimes, or with a more stingy brimmed hat. Still black as black can. In one shul, there's a choir sometimes that turns the shul into a concert hall, in the other, some people shake their fists against the sky when davvening. In one shul's schools, Yiddish more and more replaces the childrens' vernacular; in the other one's, Ivrit is the subject in half of the lessons. In one shul, the current rabbi will be replaced by a young, ambitious uber-Zionist Amiel missionary, in the other shul, mostly those over the age of 45 work, the younger not.

Both engage in very strange and wild hakofes in autumn (I think around Shmini atzeres), they say the Sabbatean (?) Ledovid h' ouri veyish-i, in one they even say Hallel on the night of Pesech, and in both, they took up all the modern Poilishe narishkaaten. Hardly any of the particular customs are continued, except for the choice of piyyutim (not all are said, though).

I was at a wedding some time ago - the singing of Shir hamma-alôs ashrei kol yerei was impatiently tolerated, and the rest was oyoyoy and ayayay. (The people are mixed in simches, but if the couple would have been from the Zionist shul, they'd have sung 50% oyoyoy and 50% amis rael CHAI.)

So, after this wedding where you really couldn't see the couple because of the sea of black hats, I was a bit sad.

Then, a week or two afterwards, my in-laws told me about a bar-mitzve party they went to. The community is officially Orthodox. First a smaller-scale reception on Friday evening. The (Orthodox) rabbi wasn't invited. People who coyly went outside for a smoke were told by friendly other guests they don't have to go out, it wasn't that strict. The actual party with 180 guests was the next day, starting some hours before Shabbes ended. The rabbi was invited, and a table in the corner had paper cups and plates for that purpose. I'm not sure for what food, because that was treife - maybe they had some fruits somewhere. Or they thought kashres was about the plates. They did some stuff with 13 candles dedicated to 13 people (the rabbi wasn't among them). Then a group of women performed a kind of show - they came in different costumes in honour of the places the boy's relatives were coming from. So, there were people from Brazil, and they did a sexy dance in bikinis and feather boas, or from Texas, and the did a sexy dance with cowboy hats, and embarrassed guests by sitting on their laps here and there to the amusement of other guests. I think it was during this Texas part that the "girls" poured Tequila more or less succesfully in the guests' mouths - you know these bottles that have a thin spout? And in the boy's mouth. I'm not making this up.

When I heard that, I asked myself what on earth I'd got het up over. The form of hats, and that people said "hizraell" or "isrool" instead of Yisroel? In both of my shuls, people take the Tôre seriously, in both, they're warm and open towards people that are different, in the schools there's still Tôre being taught. And if you look close, we're still more Yekkish than in many other places. Even in the nusech-Sfard shtibl3, people will push their chairs under the table when they stand up for shumenesre. And in the course of the 15 years that the chasidist chazzen has been here, he learned some of the old piyyutim tunes.

I don't want to hide that deep inside, there's a small nagging voice asking if the kind of change that shuls like my two undergo has anything to do with the state of things in the second type of community, but still I got a tad more relaxed about israelisation and chareidisation.

1. There's also a Lubavitcher missionary around, a nisech Sfard minyen, a mainstream Artscroll/Israeli-style minyen in an old-age home, some Liberal second-Sunday-in-month-or-whatnot minyen, and the extremist Reform guys where even the Liberals won't go. (back to text)

2. In Germany today, the vast majority of the Jews are neither traditional nor of pre-war German extraction, so the question of a Yekkishe minnek in most places doesn't really come up. (back to text)

3. I filed an application for asylum there at least for those Shabbosem on which the choir performs. It was complied with, and behold, I'm not the only hardcore Yekke there. (back to text)


Minnek I (technical)

Minhag, minhag, minhag
Different things are called minnek1, usually translated as 'custom'. It can denote one out of several concrete ways of doing something, in particular something that is seen from outside as ritual. An example: Litvakes, Polakes, German Jews and Alsatian Jews all say sliches in the days around Rosheshone, but they don't have (necessarily) the same sliches for a given day - in fact, this often used to be different from village to village.

It can also mean doing something in addition. Example: Chasidists have the minnek of "opsheiren", cutting a boy's hair for the first time on his third birthday. My Gateshead cousin once mixed these meanings when he remarked "Yekkes have a lot of minhogim, just like the Chasidim." What he probably meant was Yekkes wash before kiddesh, and most others make kiddesh first. (But all wash, make kiddesh over wine, and eat bread - it's just about the concrete execution.) Chasidists however feature all kinds of funny novelties at a third kiddesh in the afternoon.

In addition, minnek in Chôshen mishpet has a different aspect and meaning. And, for the sake of completeness, minnek can also mean the whole set of menogem, similar to nusech.

Anyway, what I really want to suggest is a classification of legitimacy. Please feel free to discuss this, it's more a draft, and the numbers and letters are just for reference, not to imply an exhaustive analysis:

1. On equal foot

There are two or more menogem, none of which can be shown to have more legitimacy in terms of din, history or other. You follow your tradition.

Example: Choice of sliches.

2. Different reasoning, and only one makes sense

The reasons for the conflicting menogem concerning a mitzve are known. This is much more difficult, because a situation might arise where you come to the conclusion that only minnek A makes sense, but your tradition is to follow minnek B. In fact, if this is so clear, and no proponent of (your own) minnek B can convince you that it makes at least equal sense, you should abandon your minnek.

Example: Calculating the times of the day according to a day that lasts from dusk till dawn ("shittes Mogen Avrohm"), or from sunrise till sunset ("shittes haggônem", a. k. a. "shittes haGro").

3. Different reasoning, but they all make sense

This is easier, because that makes them actually equivalent, and you follow your tradition. Of course, in real life, this and #2 aren't so clearcut, and you might have a case where both rationales do make sense, but one is stronger.

Example: Washing before or after kiddesh.

4. Other conflicts

There is a saying that claims minnek invalidates the (Jewish) law. That is not so, except for certain cases in financial law, where minnek is a different concept, as I mentioned above. So, where there's a conflict between a law and a minnek, for example one of the chumre type, the custom has to cede.

Example: Say, in a community it's common to consume milk only when it's been supervised by an Orthodox Jew right from the milking on. The rabbi's stance is that FDA supervised milk is actually kosher, but that it's the minnek to have the other one. If somebody is offered an "FDA milk" dish by somebody kosher and declines it, he might violate the law that forbids to abash people.

5. Making use of a difference

If you can't do something because it's the minnek not do, even if the strict letter of the law allows it, a situation might occur where somebody who has a diferent minnek can do it (even specifically for you), and you benefit from that. That might seem like a foul trick, but it makes sense if you keep in mind that the law does allow this in the first place. It just starts to cross the line if it is done with differences in minnek that are based on differences in the interpretation of the law, because that would actually imply you think it's forbidden, but you don't mind if another one breaks the law for your benefit.

Examples: "Sfardiya shel shabat", who handles certain food for an Ashkenazzi on a shabbes blech in a way that is understood to be forbidden by Ashkenazic authorities.

Now for types:

A. Traceable menogem

Earlier, there was a uniform minnek, but at a certain point, a minnek was changed or introduced. Here it depends heavily on the circumstances, as the next categories will show, but certain menogem were introduced as takkones and so are in fact binding for the community in question, though not necessarily for others. It is a question if this is still binding if you change the community, if the community is discontinued, and if the cause for the change is no more extant. In general, historic cases show that the minneg lives on, but this might not be true for this category. (Several years after the Jews of Worms were dispelled, others went there, and they strictly adhered to the minnek of Worms.)

Example: During WWI, the Würzburger rav ruled to say "shômer yisroel" in Tachnun every workday in Würzburg, instead of only on fast days, as per the Ashkenazic minnek including the older Polish minneg.

B. Chumres

Chumres can be personal, but there are also menogem that are basically chumres. Though the scope for a rabbi to disregard this kind of rules under given circumstances is obviously wider than with actual mitzves, the principle is that they're binding for the pertinent group.

Example: waiting three (Germany), four (Iran?), more than five (Eastern Europe) or six (Morocco) hours before eating dairy food after having eaten meat, while the law demands only one hour.

(Note: I don't touch on similar notions like gezeires here, because their implications are different.)

C. Nonsensical menogem

If they are otherwise harmless and it's your tradition, go ahead. But they usually aren't, for instance because of illegal imitations of non-Jewish practice or maybe also because those who introduced them weren't entitled to at the time.

Example: Kappores hinkel, in the eyes of the Sefardic Shulchen Orech a minnek shtus.

D. Erroneous menogem

Similar reserves like concerning nonsensical menogem. Many of these are rather recent and came about as changes to what thousands of years of chachomem didn't find problematical, or they were taken over from other contexts where they might have made sense.

Example: Putting off tefillin on roshchôdesh and chollemôed before mussef. The origin (keser vs. keser) might be regarded a nonsensical minneg anyway, but in addition, this is erroneous (minneg toes) in nusech Ashkenez, because there, you don't even have a kedushes keser at all, and so, no "conflict" of keser vs. keser.

E. Menogem of dubious or illegitimate origin

Well, mainly Shabse-Tzvi related, but depending on your cognition and to a certain degree outlook, this might include chasidist and Liberal innovations or the earlier novelties of the seifer hazzôer. Those menogem should probably be abolished even if they're harmless "as such", because their continuation gives legitimacy to their sources. An aspect that shouldn't be overlooked, though, is that whoever is the first to be associated with a minneg in a surviving source might well have adopted it from a contemporary community or the like.

Example: Saying Ledovid h' ouri veyish-i in Ellel might well be an example.

F. Obsolete menogem

Those might be a subdivision of erroneous or nonsensical menogem. On the one hand, menogem are worth to be kept, on the other the question often is if the case is one of minnek at all. If not, then there's at least no duty to continue a habit.

Example: Eastern European winter clothing at 40°C (104°F) and high humidity.

1. Ashkenazzi pronunciation ['mınək], plural [mə'no:gəm] or [mın'ho:gəm], Christian pronunciation with Ukrainer accent [mi'na(·)g], sometimes [min'a(·)g] or [min'ha(·)g], plural [mina'gi(·)m]. I'm writing the singular with a -k because in English, a -g would actually be pronounced as a voiced sound. (In case you see a box instead of a schwa sign, you might consider changing your browser.) (back to text)


Friday, October 06, 2006

Jews in rural Germany again

In the English Yated - and here online - is a piece by the editor, R' Mordecai Plaut yetz"u, touching a topic I wrote about last Ador here.

Only a few additions to this interesting article:

The melammed described was very typical: He taught the yelodem, was the regular baaltefille, baalkrie, baaltekeye, shechted tarnegôlem, sometimes even beheimes, and malled the boys. Often he was the de-facto raaf and paskened more common shaales, even without a formal mereine brif. Only if it got more koshe, he'd pass on the shaale to a raaf in the next godeler mokem of the medine. Such a klikôdesh was called a shatzmAtz, a double acronym of shliech-tzibber and môre-tzedek. (Confused by words you don't understand? This might help.)

The author writes "the salary cannot have been overly generous, because the Lehrer also had a textile store." Though this might very well have been the case, it might also be a feature of pre-chareidi Judaism.

The community is described as religious. I would rather express this as shômer mitzves or even simply traditional. This might look like nitpicking, but to me, religious davke doesn't fit to this kind of society in that period. Doesn't change the facts, though.

The name of the city of Witzenhausen does not mean "place of wit", but is connected to an Old High German name Wizo. The other explanation doesn't match documented older linguistic forms. Nevertheless, it was indeed a centre of Jewish learning, and the place of the rabbinate for quite a large region. (Aggev orche: ancestors of mine lived in Abterode for some time, and used to visit and learn with the Witzenhausen rabbi some 300 or 350 years ago.)

Hebrew in grammar schools wasn't and isn't taught "for those who were studying for a religious (Christian) career", or at least not any more so than Latin and Greek. The study of all three languages in European schools originally had Christian motives, but already long ago this was shifted to a more general "humanistic" field. (Still it's an issue if one is allowed to attend such classes, and it might depend on details of the concrete class.)

Concerning the annihilation and survival of German Jews, the rule of thumb I heard was: a third escaped, a third survived in hiding, a third was murdered. I must confess I have difficulties to believe a third was hidden and not denounced or found. I gather this includes "half-Jews", who were treated differently in the beginning and might have had more opportunities of disguise.


Friday, September 29, 2006

To the sceptics

Anyone who's following the posts and comments of Jewish blogs even from afar will note a recurring tension between belief and reason which seems to contradict belief. In fact, this is probably an important reason why some of the big-traffic bloggers prefer pseudonyms. Personally, I don't think the danger of estranging hitherto Orthodox Jews is big, on the contrary, I think a lot of lerning for the sake and the advancement of Tôre is going on here.

The more serious among the more sceptic seem to bear the biggest tension, probably not to be envied. Still, I think you're not on the fringe of Tôre-true Judaism. The unwritten mishne was always:

ספק ה' ספק אינו ה' שומרין את המצוות ודורשין את האמת

E gute sime tôve!


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Mat-tôvu ôholecho ya-akôv

A modern-day Bil-om tried to say something bad about the Jews, and couldn't but say praise:

Sudanese blames Jewish groups on Darfur

The president of Sudan said Jewish groups are lying about violence in Darfur to raise money for Israel.

Speaking Tuesday at the U.N. General Assembly, Omar Hassan al-Bashir said reports of deaths and refugees in Darfur are “fictions,” and that those “who made the publicity, who mobilized the people, invariably, are Jewish organizations.”

The U.S. Jewish community has taken the lead in organizing against the mass violence in Darfur, but has been led by the American Jewish World Service, which does not raise funds for Israel.

Bashir’s comments came the same day President Bush denounced government-sponsored violence in Darfur and named Andrew Natsios as his special envoy to the region.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Second Generation Syndrome

There's a phenomenon psychologists call the Second Generation Syndrome; it has been studied in connexion with higher rates of suicide, suppression, feelings of guilt, failure to succeed in personal relationships and in jobs and the like among those who were still little children during the chorben (Holocaust) or were even born to survivors after it.

Luckily, in my wife's family, the question of a Second Generation Syndrome doesn't apply, as they were in Bucharest during the war. For reasons that are still not completely clear, Bucharest's Jews didn't share the terrible fate of the Jews in Romania's other regions. In Bucharest, they were typically thrown out of their jobs, had to move to smaller flats and still accomodate German soldiers - all of which happened with my wife's family - and so on, but they weren't deported and killed. My father-in-law's grandparents from Czernovitz had died long before the war already anyway, and the grandmother from Riga lived with them in Bucharest and so survived. An uncle Michel had immigrated to Palestine in time, and another uncle Ernst had died in the 30s (car accident?).

As I said, luckily they were touched by the chorben only marginally, so that the question of this syndrome doesn't apply.

Some years ago, we managed to find a second cousin from the Riga side of the family. First, some people didn't want me to contact him, fearing that they probably aren't related at all, and are just interested in material matters. I told them this person doesn't even know about our existence, and anyway, we don't have money and chances are he's got more. Very reluctantly, they gave in. It was a good thing.

It's unbelievable how similar the two cousins are, not only do they share the same interests etc., but they have the same good character traits, and they even look more alike than you'd expect for people who share just one out of four pairs of great-grandparents. All that despite their entirely different biographies, with one growing up in communist, but still Central European Bucharest, and emigrating to the West as a student, and the other growing up in Siberia, where the family was "relocated" under Stalin, and then emigrating to Israel in the early 90s. When they talk, one talks German, and the other English, because French and Hebrew won't do.

Great guy with a great family - we meet them when and whereever we can. Anyway, a still more distantly related person had given him a genealogical chart once. I was eager to match the data with our computerised family tree, and was amazed how many people there were. We had thought before it was rather a small family, with one or two children per generation. When we looked at the names, my father-in-law faintly remembered a funny anecdote about this person after all, or that that person was a convinced communist, and things like that. When I entered the data, I saw there was an asterisk next to the large majority of the dozens of cousins. The sign indicated victims of the holocaust.

Now, this isn't my wife's immediate family - in fact, nobody even knew they existed, as obviously, there wasn't much contact, and as I said, the immediate family were touched by the chorben only marginally, so that the question of the syndrome mentioned above doesn't apply.

A couple of days ago, we went and saw my in-laws. We talked about Switzerland somehow, and our conversation turned to unclaimed fortunes. My father-in-law said he actually filled out a webform, but never even receiced an answer, probably because only those who had an expensive lawyer were looked at. (He sometimes has a conspirational twist. Could be right in this case, of course.) It was about money that a distant cousin had owed the family, and he had said he had opened a Swiss numbered account when he paid it back, obviously when it was already no more safe to transfer the money to a Romanian bank. Maybe he did, maybe he didn't - we don't know. My wife's maternal great-grandmother (Riga) lost the number and password, and died in Bucharest in 1957. So that day, when we were talking, my wife came up with the idea to look this guy up in the rather new Yad Vashem database, because to our knowledge, the Germans, in this case of the Austrian variety, had killed him. We didn't find him, though.

As we don't know very much about the paternal line earlier than the 20th century, I took the opportunity and checked this not too common family name. (The original one actually, for they had changed it during the war to a less conspicuously Jewish one. This has led to it that people of the same original name, and probably somehow related, were living in the same city as my wife's family for 20 years, and never knew of them.) To my surprise, I saw that uncle "car-accident-in-the-thirties" Ernst was shot dead in a concentration camp.

It was a kind of surprise to my f-i-l, too, though he says he never met him, maybe because he was merely his father's older half-brother.

Curious thing, though as I said, the immediate family were touched by the chorben only marginally, so that the question of the syndrome mentioned above doesn't apply.

It's amazing how much genealogical information you can find in the internet if you know where to look for it. For instance, in this database, I finally found the maiden name of my wife's great-grandmother who had died in peace long before the Nazis in 1934 or '35! I had been looking for it for quite some time. Now I had it on the screen:

Rosa X nee Y was born in Chernowitz, Romania in 1878 to Michel and Sara. She was married to Adolf X. Prior to WWII she lived in Chernowitz, Romania. During the war was in Transnistria, Ukraine (ussr). Rosa perished in a camp in Transnistria, Ukraine (ussr).

Luckily, in my wife's family, the question of a Second Generation Syndrome doesn't apply, as they were in Bucharest during the war.

This is part of the syndrome.


Wednesday, July 26, 2006


(Mar Gavriel was attacked by some blogtrolls for proposing to copy a scholarly book that is expensive. Here is a half- and fast-baked overview of some aspects of the question.)

There are several issues here:

US law. I'm not an expert in this, but as far as know, it allows to make partial copies under these circumstances. I'm not sure about complete copies - there was a de-facto guideline for courts once that held it was legal to make copies for non-commercial purposes and not exceeding a certain number - often 7 is stated.

Newer legislation might have changed, though, among other reasons because with newer media like CDs (music) and CD-ROMs (software) the loss of quality is less. Also lobbies have been more pronounced.

Dine demalchuse. Much disputed, as you might know. Some say it only refers to laws that have to do with the king's treasury, read taxes, customs, official fees. Others say it refers to simply everything including laws that the majority of the people don't care about, like jaywalking which actually only plays a rôle in determining the guilty part in case of an accident. Frankly, those that hold the minimum are more convincing, and those that have a broader definition often argue with secondary (but maybe important) things like preventing anti-Semitism.

Din. Wow, you really want to know, huh? For this is a very difficult field. In short, you'll have difficulties to find many poskem who'd simply state yô, no problem, go ahead, copy and sell it. But there is no concept of intellectual property in Haloche. This is what haskomes in sforem were originally for: They weren't imprimatur stamps, blurbs or sale-increasing forewords by celebrity rabbis, but their main purpose was to say something like "The honourable rabbi Plôni has put a lot of work and time into his project, which came out nicely, and so I declare that anyone who'll reprint it during the next 20 years without his approval shall be under cherem." This alone shows that without such a device, copying wasn't considered forbidden.

Another possibility for a halachically valid copyright is a partial sale. The seller states at the time of sale what exactly is excluded from the sale, for example the right to reproduce it. (An interesting turn is that you could get the opposite problem of dine demalchuse: If you forbid to copy any part, this would violate rights you have according to US law.) Anyway, even for those who hold partial sales are possible for non-material issues, still the conditions of the seller stating at the time of the sale aren't usually fulfilled. It certainly isn't enough to have a sticker on the software CD saying if you break the seal you accept the conditions, because it's yours already. (Back to dine demalchuse - there are more and more court decisions saying these seals or the end-user licences you have to click OK when you install a programme aren't good, because it's known that nobody reads them anyway.) Maybe though, it might be considered self-understood that the seller makes this kind of partial sale - I'm not sure if this is halachically enough.

Next thing is the question if you have to pay the publisher something. If you wouldn't have bought it, you'll hardly find a dayyen who says you still have to pay - it's a case of "this one gains, and that one doesn't lose anything." If you would have bought it, rather than use the library copy, and disregarding all the points above, you'd still not have to pay the full price, because a photocopy (or a copied CD) doesn't have the same value as an original.

If it comes to the crunch, the publisher would have other disadvantages in addition. He is the one who wants money from you (hammôtze meichaveire olev horaye), and you have the right to invoke halachic opinions in your favour, even if the dayyen holds differently (kim li).

Morals. Fuzzy thing that. I could claim "we call that mitzves and haloche", but there is an element of codified morals. (By the way, personally I feel bootlegs are not fair towards the author, and to a lesser degree, the publisher.) Still, I wonder why in pre-modern times, neither Jews nor goyyim cared much about copyright, and if such an obviously time-bound feeling is relevant or not. Pressure from lobby groups is not a legitimate part of morals, unless it fits the moral anyway, in which case it doesn't add anything.

Lastly, publishing houses are producing books for money, as a rule. But authors might be happy if they get publicised, and authors of scholarly works typically even more so.

I hope it's clear that I don't simply give a hetter here. Go and see YLOR for more and a psak. When I'm grown up and open a publishing house, I'll see to it that I include a cherem haskome.

Update: more in the comments section.


Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Eli Tziyôn

Here (click) is the Eli Tziyôn tune, as in the Yekke tradition. It has a very fitting and moving middle part - I'm not sure if this was traditional in earlier times, too. It might astonish those who know me, but even if Abraham Baer composed it from scratch about 150 years ago, I wouldn't mind.

As usual, I apologise for my long untrained voice.

...במהירה בימינו



The news this morning reported seven civilian neighbours were injured when the Israeli military destroyed the house of an alleged extremist in Gaza, where a weapons cache was supposedly located.

Summary: The IDF managed to blow up the bloody arsenal without killing a single person!

(Further details: A quick internet research turns out it was four persons, not seven - I gather the newspeople relied on local "eyewitnesses" and hospital receptionists. I have no information about the alleged supposed civilians' reported claimed civilian status. Concerning the avoidance of the word terrorist see here - scroll down to the Slip-Of-The-Tongue Award.)

Bottom line for the innocent viewer: The military Israelis nearly killed a family, destroyed a house - the old oppression routine of those vindictive Old Testament people - and now they produce this paltry excuse. Anyway the freedom fighters are right.

I have this horrible feeling of powerlessness you had as a child.
And I'm a non-Zionist leftist.


Friday, July 21, 2006


The other day, I saw a not particularly interesting poll in a forum, where the question was roughly if the forum readers believe today's world came into existence through evolution or creation. One of the posters remarked the following:

"The bottom line is this...evolution explains how I got here, the Bible explains why I am here. I believe in one God and I accept that evolution is a part of His creative handiwork."

Never mind that the writer is a Christian, and means something different by Bible. (Or by 'one', for that matter.) Don't even focus about the part-of-handiwork part.

Pretty much the traditional balebattishe stance since the late 56th century:

Evolution explains how I got here, the Tôre explains why I'm here and how I'm to behave here.



A short vort:

In general society, arrogance is all in all something people don't like. Nevertheless, it has a strong side of positive associations - purveying a kind of superiority or aplomb. Even if seen as unwanted, it is regarded to be something sophisticated and refined - it often goes together with wittiness, even though there's no original connexion.

Not so with us Jews. The modern Ivrit word is שחצנות, which goes back to Mishnaic Hebrew, but actually means (or meant) rather pride, like gaave.

The traditional expression however (see ShO ChM 10:1 for a good example) is גסות רוח, literally 'grossness of mind', the exact opposite of refinement!



We received an invitation to a chasne from a friend, the bride's father. The families are associated with rather the chareidi community. As far as I know, of the grandparents six are or were Yekkish, one a (kosher) convert, and one nebbich e Polak. Or maybe more, what do I know?

In the names alone, there's so much to see, but see for yourself.

I. The bridal couple
I. 1. text
I. 1. a) Hebrew letters: אברהם - שמחה פרידה
I. 1. b) Latin letters: Simchah - Avi
I. 2 commentary
I. 2. a) order

The bride is on the left in both cases - coincidence? Or among Jews, the man is first, while in "general" culture's conventions, it's a matter of politeness to mention the woman first? If this is so, both would be sexist, or at least pronouncedly non-egalitarian.

I. 2. b) whatever (I'll stop that classification stuff, alright?)

- name of the guy: obviously he's normally called Avi, which is Israeli secular and increasingly "religious" (they're not Israelis). I'm not sure if he's called [a:vi] or [avi] though, the former would keep a diaspora touch, the latter would clearly be Israeli. (Note: there's no difference in vowel length in Ivrit, but here, the vowel would be perceived as short.) I guess in shul, he'd be called up as [avro:hom] or less formally [avro:m].

- name of the girl: called ['simxa], that is, with a clear [a] sound at the end, as opposed to Simcheh or Simchoh.

- The name in Hebrew is written strictly biblically, without the letter י. Oh, this is the time to point out it's not a gay marriage - though traditionally exclusively a name for Ashkenazi boys, Simchah is mmeile a girl!

- The second part is a kinnuy: Freide, Fraade or Fraide (from older German and Yiddish vreude or vröude, meaning delight, pleasure; not at all a rare name in Ashkenez), maybe hypercorrectly Fraida (I've seen hybrid Yiddish-Israeli forms like that). I'll ask some time and update the post. Could be the German name of Fri(e)da as well, some great-grandmother's name maybe.

- Written with a פ: the פֿ is seen less and less, and unless the name is in fact Frida, the diphthong is written with only one י, as if biblical. Same is true for the ending ה instead of א.

Kalle's parents: Zwi and Mirjam צבי אליקים ומרים:

- He officially goes by the name of Harry, too, after a relative, but didn't like it many years ago, and is actually called (Reb) Tzvi by people (or an endearing secondary form of this), Tzvi Elyokim in shul. Names starting with an H are still coupled with the names of Tzvi and Naftoli, because formerly, bearers of those were very often called Hersh and Hertz, resp., in everyday life. That's where most of the Jewish Heinrichs, in Northern Germany and after immigration Henrys and Harrys come from.

- She's normally called Miryam or Miri (they're not Israelis either).

Chosen's parents: Josef and Rosie יוסף ישי ורייזל.

Of the grandparents, only three are alive, and so, mentioned (Latin letters only): the kalle's maternal grandparents Mr and Mrs Alexander __, and the chosen's paternal grandmother Alice.

That makes for the oldest generation: German names widespread among Jews (Alexander might have the Hebrew name of Aleksander as well). For the middle generation: two Biblical names in neutral/Christian writing and pronunciation (Mirjam, Josef), one Hebrew name (Zwi) that was consciously detached from its kinnuy, and one neutral, often Jewish name (Rosie) that corresponds to an older Yiddish form (Raizl) which is retained in the Hebrew version. For the youngest generation: Israeli names, with strong allusions to (family?) tradition.

Let me add that the family names are in one case written ivritishly, but if there's a tradition, this writing might be old as well, in the other case germanised, that is with a German mute letter imitated in Hebrew.

How much you can learn from a couple of names on an invitation.


Monday, June 19, 2006


DLC writes about several proposed etymologies of the word parve, meaning 'neither considered dairy nor meat in Jewish dietary laws'. He writes:

the "correct" answer isn't really what interests me this time. What this really shows is just how interesting etymology can be - to the point that everyone wants to come up with a possible answer

Welcome back to the seventies. :-) But lets go from the ideal of parve discussions to a discussion of parve.

There are answers that are more, and others that are less possible, or plausible. They are between nice and nonsense, but my vote clearly goes to 'steamed'. I didn't know others had ideas at least in this direction, though the meaning isn't connected to the fact that steam doesn't have a taste. I think it's much easier:

1. Polish parowe (where w is pronounced v) means 'steamy', 'steam-'. As all adjectives in the neutral gender, it can actually mean '(the) steam stuff'. I wouldn't even go so far as to claim it means 'cooked in steam, neither with butter, nor with lard'. Just 'steamed (sc. vegetables)'. I concede that the usual word for 'steamed' is rather parowany or duszony ('braised'), but the difference in preference is even less than between English steamed vegetables and steam vegetables.

2. It fits the Polish way of preparing vegetables, rather not raw.

3. According to my knowledge, the word came into use exactly there, that is in Polish speaking regions. Even Litvakes have a word of their own, bur! Western Yiddish doesn't know the word parve, but uses minnich.

Sefardic regions don't know it either, it's simply neither kezo nor karne. Also in halachic literature still just a couple of centuries ago, one finds only paraphrases like dogem virokes/dagim virakot ('fish and vegetables'), and sometimes it's simply called "fish". (As if British chareidim would say fish 'n' chips instead of parve.)

The Israeli word stami is a modern coinage, of course.

Some of the deductions from Hebrew are so פֿארפֿעטשט, I'm afraid they're ideologically motivated. And why should Jews use a Latin term just because we are familiar with it from Christian bible scholarship (Masorah parva)? Anyway, "poor bread", that's matzes to us, not parve bread. In fact, if one knows the law, one would understand that nearly all kosher bread, rich or poor, is parve, and only under certain circumstances is it allowed to bake or eat bread that isn't.

Yes, párový in Czech does mean "coming in pairs, twin", but the connexion in sense is very forced. Also, the word appears later only in Yiddish, and I'm not aware of a Polish word parowy meaning 'pairwise'. (As an aside, Slavic par(a) might be taken from German rather than directly from Latin.)

Pareil - why only in the East, how does the word get its present form, where's the similarity in meaning? Je regrette.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Kos shelle-elye

Just to inform you I consider using davke a regular cup, maybe a whole place setting, for the 'כוס שלאלי next year, hopefully in Yerushelayem.

It's commonly called Kos shel Eliyohu because we hope for him to appear in particular, but the reason behind the whole extra cup is to be ready for a suprise guest - kol dichfen…, kol ditzrech….

As an aside, it steals the feminist Kos shel Miryem idea's thunder, and shows that this is another example of a recent reinterpretation that was even more recently (mis)interpreted as being patriarchal and subsequently still more recently fought by Doña Miriam Quixote.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Yekkes that are neither Neo-Orthodox nor Reform - where is this going to end?!

Steg has an interesting post about the synthesis of Jewish and "general" life, where I raised the topic of rural Jews in pre-WWII Germany.

(Steg had asked: What's the difference between cityfied and rural Jews?)

Usually, Germany's landjudentum, or, country Jewry, is forgotten. People know about Reform, and that "the" Orthodox nearly vanished, only to be saved through Neo-Orthodoxy, or even more simply put, "by Hirsch".

What tends to be overlooked is that in large and densely populated parts of Western and Southern Germany (as well as Alsace, which was administered by Germany between 1871 and 1918), Jews stayed Orthodox in most cases, except for the cities, where the community in some cases stayed O, and in others went R, in which case usually a separate Orthodox austrittsgemeinde formed. Those latter were certainly influenced by Neo-Orthodoxy, but the villages much less so. There, in spite of assimilation in (rural) cultural and often in linguistic terms, the danger to be absorbed without traces or to run over to Reform was much smaller, and so was the need for a religious [sic] ideology that proves one can live in two worlds, or that there isn't a contradiction anyway.

People might go to the pub, confine themselves to kosher food like beer, and play cards with Christians. There was not much of a spiritual danger in that, because all of them were standing firmly in their traditions.

I find this type of German Jew to be much more typical than the Hirschian, and aggev orche, I also see parallels to the Oriental and Sefardic type both in their relation to co-territorial goyyim and because the concept of Orthodoxy hasn't really got a grip there, let alone C or R. People are shomer tora umisvot or not. They behave as a Jew should, or less so. But "orthodox" - shu haadha?

(Personally, though I certainly acknowledge the work of the Neo-Orthodox gedaulim, I see myself rather as pre-hyphenated or altorthodox, too.)

Thursday, February 16, 2006

The answer

The FOX show 24 is very well made, has lots of suspense, an impressive stylish design, even over-average believable characters, who only rarely overdo it and get ridiculous.

It works like this:1

The bad guys do everything to achieve their evil aims, like blowing up nuclear power plants, poisoning whole cities etc., mostly for revenge or financial reasons.

The good guys do everything to save America and the world.

Consequently, they are equal in their methods, only not in their ends. The good guys torture their own friends, kill them if "necessary" etc. (The only difference is maybe that the bad guys, as is their habit, usually kill people that have become "useless" to them, while the good guys nick them, which, as a rule, will either pay because they turn out to be useful later on, or be bad because they break out killing lots of innocents or the like.)

The point is, the good guys act according to a very strict form of "ethics of responsibility". Very convincingly, the main characters are portrayed as highly intelligent and emotionally neutral. It's not of any interest if the good guy likes executing his boss. The bad guy somewhere else threatens to kill a much larger amount of people if he doesn't comply, and so, the calculation is easy. Sure, the boss isn't exactly comfortable with the thought and even tries to escape half-heartedly, but he agrees 100% concerning the facts.

The Tôre holds the alternative view, an "ethics of ideology" or "of intention". You could kill one person, and then the bad guys will let you and/or the others go? You can trust his words because he's done so before? No way.

A system of ethics of ideology is, of course, dependent on the concrete values or rules the ideology in question has, but in principle, the good guys of "24", or Christianity, or the U.S.A. have basic values that look similar to ours. Only if you look at the ethics they use, you see that after all, life is sacrificed very easily. The point is, the form of ethics is part of the ideology, for there is an ideology anyway behind the ethics.

The Tôre is the opposite of 24. 42, in a way.

1. Of course, the real rules are:

a) It all happens during exactly 24 hours.

b) Apart from that, everthing can happen, including the main character dying in the first five minutes (and for good). (back to text)

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Guide to Tu bishvat

Importance in Jewish year cycle:


Changes in liturgy:


Traditional customs:


1. Numbers may be rounded for convenience. (back to text)

2. Some Poilishe have started skipping tachnun recently, I hear. And in the improbable case that you use a different tune for Borchu on Rôsh chôdesh, you might use the same tune for Tu bishvat at shachres. (back to text)

3. As an aside to Tu be-av, it is mentioned that teachers and their pupils have a little drink at this occasion and also on Tu bishvat. Also, some mediæval sources mention the idea of eating fruits, certainly a good idea in Europe's brumal cold. (back to text)

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Stam Cholov Yisroel

LabRab (or is it the LabRab?) posted some pertinent responsa by R' Môshe Feinstein zetza"l, concerning the supervision of milk.

I'm not keben shivvem, but at least till today, I never understood part of these tshuves, to wit the Baal nefesh aspect. Please, dear commenters, enlighten me!

I'll start with (the) LabRab's concluding words:

In the final analysis, the law is what it is, and the practice is how the practice is, and may there be peace over Israel.

Please correct me, if you meant that differently, but I take it you mean:

- The law is: Milk that is supervised by the FDA is allowed. It is not an emergency-case leniency. If you only use milk that is partly supervised by Jews, then it's a chumre.

- The practice is: Milk that is supervised by the FDA is used by most Tôre-true Jews. A minority exclusively use milk that is partly supervised by Jews, though more today than when R' Môshe Feinstein wrote הרוב בנ"א שומרי תורה וגם הרבה רבנים.

Several times in these tshuves, RMF states that it fits a Baal nefesh to be machmer and use only milk supervised by Jews, explicitly adding that there's nothing wrong or not kosher at all with FDA-supervised milk.

So, what is a Baal nefesh? Someone who is "scrupulous with his soul"? What does that mean? That the majority of frum yidden including rabbonem (his words) aren't scrupulous with their souls, or at the least not behaving as they should? And this isn't considered yuhre (arrogance)?!

Or does it mean they have weak souls, and are more in danger of going off the derech? Makes sense, but I can't imagine this is what RMF meant. Apart from that he uses the expression Ben tôre as well.

He zetza"l gives some hints to the reasons:

הוא מעניני חינוך ולמוד שידעו שכדאי וראוי לבני תורה להחמיר אף כשיש רק חשש איסור

So, what's that? There is a choshesh isser? How can he allow it then? Did he trust the FDA in connection with law inforcement, or didn't he? Wait, he said very strongly he did:
וזה שאם יערבו יענשו ויצטרכו לסגור העסק שלהם שהוא הרוחה של כמה אלפים והממשלה משגחת אליהם הוא ודאי ידיעה ברורה שהיא כראיה שלא היה בכלל איסורם. וזה הוא גם לכו"ע דאין טעם לחלוק בזה

No isser at all, no reason whatsoever to doubt. No difference between supervision by the FDA and by Jews. His descendents even state RMF considered this cholov yisroel.

And a maase shehoyo to close: Some years ago, there was a conference of European rabbis in Poland. Some of the participants didn't trust Polish supermarket milk and being somewhere on the countryside, they simply went to a farm and bought the milk straight from the peasant. They supervised him milk the cow, of course. Towards the end of the conference, they proudly told the peasant that Jewish law had made them avoid the industrial supermarket milk, and so they came to benefit from this wonderful, mellow straight-from-the-cow milk. He thanked them for the compliment, and told that's because he greases his vats with lard, and the mass producers of milk don't take the trouble.

I was told this by one of the rabbis who went and shômered. With all reservations about generalising single incidents, I think there is something to learn from it. The more industrialised, the more standardised.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Medines Raisen

The press reports:

A 19-year-old Russian man was sentenced to five days in jail yesterday for an attack on a synagogue in the southern city of Rostov-[na]-Don[u], the second such incident in Russia in the past week.

So, a little quiz:

What is most frightening about this incident?

A. A young man in Moscow attacks people in a shul with a knife, and another young man in Rostov sees this in TV and thinks "Yo, fun, I'll do the same."

B. He gets only five days in jail for what is actually attempted multiple murder.

C. Five days in a Russian jail might easily correspond to US capital punishment,

D. ... though maybe not for a patriotic Jewhater.

E. He was sentenced the morning after the incident.

Answer: E.


Wednesday, December 28, 2005

1000 hits

Just saw I'm at 1016 hits (site, not page).
#1000 was someone out of town (Massapequa, NY) who looked for "LIPMAN" at MSN Search.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Raise Your Glasses

onto your noses and read this. I tried it, and it's not at all bad.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

White Chnukke

Here is the recently found original version of Yisroel ben Moishe Balin's (later Irving Berlin's) not entirely unkown Chnukke* zemerl "White Chnukke".

* The writing Chnukke has been ordered by the Committee for the Standardisation of Ashkenazic Abhorrences with the reasoning "Antepenultimate stress? Where is this going to end?"

And the original text next to the later version:


I'm dreaming of a white Chnukke
Just like the ones I used to know,
Where just the treetops listen,
And children glisten
To shmear snowballs till parshes Bo.

I'm dreaming of a white Chnukke
With every Christmas card I light.
May your days be merry and bright,
And may all your Chnukkes be bright.

Later version

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
Just like the ones I used to know,
Where the treetops glisten,
And children listen
To hear sleigh bells in the snow.

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
With every Christmas card I write.
May your days be merry and bright,
And may all your Christmases be white.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Simply a haftore

Haftoras Vayiggash, not very nicely, without broches, in one go. I recorded it rather perfunctorily for a friend some time ago, who needed it fast.

Monday, November 14, 2005

World Premiere

Here (click) is an unskilful unspoilt authentic recording of Mar Gavriel's tune for Pe-ullôs Eil, which is from the Djerban ritual for Maarev shelleyontef, right before half kaddesh.

The text:

פְּעֻלּוֹת אֵל מַה נּוֹרָאוֹת וְעָצְמַת יָדוֹ מָה רַבָּה
רָם עַל כָּל שְׁבָח וְהוֹדָאוֹת וְנַעֲלָה עַל כָּל מֶרְכָּבָה
גָּאׁה גָּאָה עַל נִבְרָאוֹת יוֹם שָׁת הַיָּם לְחָרָבָה
יִתְגַּדַּל עוֹשֵׂה נִּפְלָאוֹת וְיִתְקַדַּשׁ שְׁמֵיהּ רַבָּא׃

Stay tuned for the piano-accompanied version, the four-part fugue and the mobile ringtone!

Sunday, October 30, 2005


"Ashkenazi" r is a bit of a puzzle, because:

- Iraqi Jews have it as well.

- In German, the surrounding vernacular, it's rather recent and not at all used in all regions. (It somehow spread from Northern urban French.)

- Davke the Franconian dialects, often seen as the basis for Yiddish, have an apical flapped/trilled r until today. (For that matter, even Southern French varieties retained this, though, on the other hand, some Northern Italian dialects have the uvular r.)

- Most Yidden in Eastern Europe had the uvular r, in spite of the fact that at the time of (their ancestors') emigration from Germany, Germans had the apical, as have the Slavic languages from Polish eastwards, the Baltic languages and coterritorial Eastern German dialects until today.

- Reish can't be "geminated" according to the massoretes, which is (otherwise?) typical of velar and uvular consonants.

The whole thing isn't easy, or, in other words, I'm not simply claiming this was the pronunciation since Môshe Ghabbeinu.

Tidbits: In Russian, the uv. pr. is seen as a Jewish accent, in Czech as aristocratic, in Hungarian as dandyish, in Swedish it's typical of the Southerners, in Italy of the Northeners, whereas the apical r is seen as rural/Southern in French, rural/Southern/Frisian in German, low-prestige/Mizrachi in Ivrit, formal/snobbish/Scotch [sic!] in English.

And: If it isn't the "Parisian" gh fricative, but still a flap/trill, though uvular, many people don't hear the difference! (Try finding a sound clip of Václav Havel.)

Iraqi pronunciation doesn't differentiate between gimel degushe and gimel refuye, but I wonder if at the time they still did, the difference between gh and r was fricative vs. trill. Of course, gh could have been more palatal.

It's still not entirely clear how and where cats produce their purring sound.